wee answer Wednesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s wee answer Wednesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Should I assume I didn’t get this job?

I was interviewed last week (Wednesday) for a position that I really want. The interview went well, and I really think we got on well since we shared quite a lot of banter. I was asked how much notice I had to give my current employer and was told that I would either hear from them the next day (Thursday) or by the end of the week.

By 4:00 Friday, I still hadn’t heard anything so decided to call them just to ask if the position had been filled. The recruiter I was speaking to went to check in the filing cabinet to see if anything had been filed and nothing had. She said that she’d speak to my interviewer to ask for an update and she took my telephone number and said that she’d call on Monday. It’s now Tuesday and I still haven’t heard anything. Do I assume that I haven’t got the job?

There’s no way to know; hiring often takes a lot longer than people think it will, and employers routinely miss the windows of time they give candidates by days and even weeks. However, the best thing that you can do at this point is to move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do call you with an offer. You have nothing to gain by agonizing over it.

Also, the recruiter checked the filing cabinet? Is the job located in the year 1953, by any chance? If so, the time travel element could also explain the lag time.

2. When a reference dies

I have been invited for a job interview, but I have a delicate situation with one of my references. My former department chair, who knew my work very well and was absolutely dear to me, passed away suddenly in the time between submission of my application (which asked for references) and the call for an interview. One of my other colleagues has already offered to serve as an alternate reference. My question is this — should I notify the agency where I am applying about this change now, or should I wait until I know for certain that they are contacting references? I know that there is variation regarding if/when agencies contact references (i.e., only contact references for top candidate after interviews, contact references for all candidates interviewed). I do not wish to appear presumptuous, but above all, I want to handle this situation gently, with grace.

I’m sorry to hear that. Wait until you’re further along in the process and closer to the time that they might be checking references. (A possible exception this: Some academic jobs check references at the outset — although I’ll never understand why. If that’s the case here, alert them now. It won’t come across as presumptuous.)

3. I took a counteroffer but now I want to leave anyway

I have been at my company for four years. In May, I was offered a position at another organization but accepted a retention offer from my current job. I am pleased with the promotion, but recently applied for another job that is more suited to my interests and overall career goals. The interview process is moving along well. I know that I don’t have a decision to make until I know the outcome of this application, but how do I bring this up with my manager? She had to go through several rounds of negotiations with HR to make my promotion go through quickly, and I know she did so with the expectation that I would stay for at least a year (although we have no written agreement about this). She has no idea that I’m pursuing another opportunity. If I do receive an offer, how do I bring this up?

With extreme mortification and the knowledge that you’re burning this bridge permanently. You accepted a counteroffer and let her go to bat for you, knowing that you were planning to continue looking. You’re not going to be able to salvage the relationship — that’s the price you pay for operating this way. Yuck.

4. Can I tell a prospective employer I’m more interested in a different position?

I applied for a position the other day — a local company with an out-of state HR office. They responded in just 2 days, but not for the position I applied for with them. They would like me to do a phone interview for an entirely different position. It is sales and I do want to get out of that career. The HR assistant said I am “more qualified for the sales job.” Actually, I have skills in both areas. I accepted a phone interview this week. During this phone call for the sales job, can I mention the other position that I really want? I did not apply for the sales job.

I am fearful of not taking the first thing that moves. I live in a very small market and although I just started unemployment a month ago, don’t want to end up broke and on the street (live alone).

You should absolutely tell them that you’re very interested in the other position, but if they think you’re a stronger candidate for the sales job, that might be the track they put you on anyway … unless you tell them you’re not interested in the sales job at all. So you might have to decide if you’re willing to push for the other job with the risk of getting neither position, or whether you’d be willing to take the sales job just to increase your chances of having something.  That’s a tough calculation to make.

5. Can I ask about an opening at a branch that just rejected me?

I’m working a seasonal job now, but I interviewed for a permanent position at a different branch of the company. I found out Thursday I didn’t get the job because they’ve “decided to go in a different direction”… but then on Saturday, I saw a newly-posted opening on the jobs page for a position just like it at the same branch. Huh?

This is a huge company with hundreds of locations across the country, so it’s entirely possible that the manager for this branch doesn’t even know about the new posting– when I contacted another branch’s manager about a posting for her branch, she insisted they didn’t have an opening. Would calling him to ask about it (calmly and non-confrontationally, duh) be out of line?

It sounds like they simply re-posted the job because they haven’t hired anyone for it yet, but that they did take you out of the running for it. You can certainly inquire though. I’d say something like, “I saw the new post for the X job and wasn’t sure if that was the same one we’d talked about or not. If not, I’d love to be considered for it if you think I’d be a strong candidate.” But be prepared for the likely prospect that they already did consider you and reject you, and that that’s what “we’re going in a different direction” was intended to convey.

6. Should I get a letter of reference from my employer?

I am leaving my current employer on very good terms to continue my education. The vice president of the company has expressed that he is willing to act as reference for me in the future. My question: should I ask for a written reference for any reason, or just wait until my graduate program is done and start using him as a reference?

Use him as a reference who employers can call and skip the letter. Most employers don’t care one bit about written letters of recommendation. (Again, academia is often an exception to this. In fact, let’s implement blanket exceptions for academia and California in all discussions here.)

7. Do employers respond to EmailYourInterviewer.com?

Thank you for setting up the “Email Your Interviewer” website. I am really intrigued by it and might have to use it if I don’t hear back soon from a certain organization. I am just curious if you can share with the readers whether employers ever respond to the website or if anyone has reached out to you to reply?

Occasionally. I’d estimate it gets a response from maybe 2-3% of the employers who receive the anonymous letter telling them how rude they are for never getting back to candidates they interviewed. Of those responses, about half are apologetic and say it’s not their normal procedure and the other half are indignant, particularly about the anonymity factor.

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Charlotte

    Love the blanket exceptions remake! (Ah, California, you crazy state…) Also, I know it wasn’t this thread, but I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of Skyler and Jesse getting married.

        1. ruby

          I will pay more not to have it written (Skylar is the worst, I know I should feel sorry for her but I don’t.).

    1. Mele

      Lol. Living in California myself, I am constantly confused when people tell me stories of work related things in other states. “You mean they DO that?!” I always see California as the norm, and other stories as exceptions, (though I am constantly irritated by California’s legislation practices). I feel like I should apply as a foreign exchange student if I ever travel outside of this great state. :)

  2. Josh S

    Wait, interviewers are indignant that candidates to whom they are rude don’t want their names attached to their feedback?

    “How dare you set up such a site that allows people to call me rude for acting rudely? And to do it so they don’t even have to give their names!?!”

    Really drives home the crazy, doesn’t it.

    1. Anonymous

      I can see situations where that would happen – if the interviewers hadn’t been rude, say if the e-mail ended up overlooked in someone’s junk mail, etc., etc.

  3. Counter Offer Defector

    That’s what I was afraid you’d say (#3 above)– I’ve been having weird feelings about it since I started applying for the new position. My boss claims to be big on “transparency,” and there has been a lot of upheaval in our department lately- she has said she would rather know if people are thinking of leaving, which to me seems unrealistic. Guess I have a decision to make…

      1. Counter Offer Defector

        I saw a listing that sounded compelling and thought, what the hell, I’ll apply and see what happens. I know that the promotion was an investment in me as a leader on our team, and I’m reluctant to give that up, but I’ve also been encouraged to “look out for number one” and to use the promotion as leverage.

        1. ruby

          “but I’ve also been encouraged to “look out for number one” and to use the promotion as leverage.”

          Don’t know where you got that advice but it seems short-sighted. If you want to look out for your own best interests, burning a bridge with a company that you have been with for 4 years could backfire on you. Ultimately, you need to decide if you are OK leaving this job on bad terms with your boss and not being able to use her as a reference since I would anticipate that would be the outcome if you leave before the end of the year.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Of course you should look out for yourself — but that includes your reputation and relationships too, which you’re now about to trash.

          Also, “looking out for yourself” doesn’t mean taking whatever you can get and not giving anything yourself; you have a boss who really went to bat for you. Why would you accept that if you didn’t plan to treat her well in return?

          I think there’s a cavernous hole in your thinking here.

        3. Jubilance

          So were you unhappy after you took the counter offer? I’m wondering why you kept looking for jobs after you accepted the counter offer.

          It may be a compelling position, but I think you’ll do severe harm to your career if you pursue another opportunity so soon after accepting the raise. If your boss expected you to be there for a year, you should honor that committment.

    1. Anonymous

      You obviously wanted to leave your current position, right? Then, why did you take the counter-offer? How soon after did you accept the counter-offer did you start looking again?

      Not only did you hurt yourself, but you probably hurt other people along the way (including those who want your boss to bat for them but the boss probably won’t do from now on).

      1. EAC

        Not only that, but the poster stated that they were happy with the promotion that they got. If he/she was so happy with the promotion, why start applying for other jobs again.

        The only thing that I can think of is that if there has been lot’s of “upheaval” in their department the poster may have started to think that they are on a sinking ship and it’s time to jump.

    2. A Bug!

      From my perspective, accepting a counter-offer isn’t just an agreement on your part to decline the external offer you’d received. It’s more like accepting a regular offer from a new employer in that it kind of re-sets the clock in terms of how long the employer can reasonably expect you to stay with them.

      Except in this case, you have four years of knowledge informing your decision to stay and accept the counteroffer, which makes you look like you took advantage of your manager’s expectations knowing those expectations were misplaced. (And from my understanding of your letter, you kind of did, if you go before next spring. The boss will feel pretty burned and will be less likely to help anyone else in this manner.)

      1. Dana

        I agree. And if your manager doesn’t give the most glowing reference in your future job search? Four years is a really long gap in your work history if you burn this bridge.

  4. BW

    #3 – “Yuck” is a gross understatement. The worst part is that this manager may be reluctant in the future to go to bat for other employees for any reason after getting what amounts to a swift kick in the teeth by this one.

    1. moss

      Yep pretty much. You are burning the bridge and making it tougher for other people. No wonder you have a “weird feeling.” That would be your conscience, trying desperately to be heard.

    2. Anonymous

      Agreed. A similar situation just happened in our department. A team member was obviously unhappy in his current position so his boss worked hard to get him a promotion into a project-based position that would mean more responsibility and higher-level work. About a month into the new role, he quit and moved on to another company. His reputation with his old boss and team members is ruined and I would think the boss would be reluctant to do the same with any of her other team members now.

      In the end, the company he moved onto got bought out by a foreign entity and there are talks of layoffs. In that industry it’s always “first in, first out”. So.. moral of the story? Don’t burn bridges.

      1. cf

        Dang. If only it were FIFO at my old employer. I would have a job and the dinosaurs who have run the company into the ground would be gone. But they have a strict LIFO policy.

        1. starts & ends with A

          eh, not sure if I agree – clearly there was uncertainty of whether he would get that promotion or not, so he would have been looking regardless…

  5. Tater B.

    LOL @ the filing cabinet in number one. Makes me nostalgic for all the things of yesteryear–Walkmans, floppy disks, Cabbage Patch Kids, etc.

    #3: I feel for you, I really do. It sounds like you didn’t set out to intentionally burn this bridge, but it’s probably going to happen. Take it as a lesson learned.

  6. Katie

    Am I the only one that’s a little put out by the “duh” in letter #5? It seems unprofessional and immature to write a letter into a column like this and use “duh”, which to me assumes the reader/columnist wouldn’t have come to this conclusion. OP #5, if you are frequently using phrases like this at work, you may be portraying yourself in a way you didn’t intend.

    1. Arts Nerd

      I interpreted the “duh” as indicating that OP #5 didn’t want to start a tangent discussion about having the discussion in a professional manner.

      While a calm, non-confrontational approach is a given among the commenters here, there are plenty of candidates who would come across as entitled and aggressive, and I think OP #5 wanted to distance him/herself from those.

    2. moss

      You’re not the only one. It sounds like a kid trying to cut his parents off from another lecture. Not a professional image.

      Substitute “Of course” or “Naturally” there and it doesn’t sound so bad. The “Duh” is confrontational.

    3. SC in SC

      As I am most likely doing with my comment, I believe that you may be reading a bit too much into the inclusion of “duh”. Let’s face it, we are not following typical business protocols on this blog or in it’s comments. The postings are all peppered with slang, emoticons, shortcuts and even the occasional profanity. However, that’s what makes it so readable. I find it much closer to a normal conversation I would have with a friend or a colleague because of those things. As for the “duh”, I agree it may have been a bit insulting but maybe not. It’s really hard to tell what the OP was trying to convey since the written word is probably the worst form of communication and we’re probably all a little guilty of reading between the lines and coming to conclusions based on very little information. I’m inclined to give the OP a pass on this one.

      1. moss

        In the context of the OP’s letter I think it’s worth pointing out. According to her she’s brought another manager to the point of “insisting” and she’s already been rejected from the job she wants. Therefore, it’s worth saying, hey, maybe you’re not coming across as adorable and cheeky as you think you are. Maybe people are reacting to you negatively. I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt but in a situation like this I would think the OP would like to consider all possibilities.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think you guys are reading waaaayyyyy too much into it. Seriously. This isn’t a super formal blog. It doesn’t bother me in the least. (And I agree with SC in SC — the fact that this site isn’t super formal is why it’s readable. I don’t want to write an uptight site, and most readers don’t want to read one.)

          1. Katie

            I was looking at it more from the standpoint of if she uses it here, it might be used elsewhere. I guess I have worked with WAY too many college students that seem to think “Well, duh!” and “Whatever” are professional in an office. But then that is one of my personal pet peeves, so I’m probably WAY too over sensitive about it.

    1. Eric

      I’m told most academics are exempt, but I hear they may have a rule against that in California. :)

    2. Another anon

      I’m both in academia and in California. So do those cancel each other out, like a double negative?

    3. Anonymous

      Dungeons and Dragons scenario:

      Academia rolls to disbelieve in laws. Academia rolls a natural 20! Critical success! Academia ignores your petty mortal laws and substitutes in its own unique rule set.

      California rolls a saving throw vs. laws. California rolls a natural 1! Critical failure! Laws multiply wildly throughout California. A disclaimer is added to each new law that notes “This is known to the State of California to cause cancer.”

      1. Rana

        *giggling madly*

        (As both a graduate of the California university system, and a former employee of it, I salute your perspicacity!)

  7. Anonymous

    For #2, if you have a method of contacting the people doing your job interview, then I don’t see any reason not to tell them right away. While they (probably) aren’t checking your references yet, I can’t imagine that they would hold this new information against you in any way. Why not just tell them right away in a brief email?

    I wouldn’t go into any details about the nature of the death unless asked, but I’d state that he died and here’s a new reference’s contact information. If questions arise, I’d point them toward a newspaper obituary as confirmation of the death (they’re usually available online). I’d also reconfirm the new reference contact info after the interview, just to make sure that they’d actually recorded the correct information.

    1. Judy

      Yes, especially if any of the contact information is his home information.

      About 6 months after my cousin’s death after a 2 year journey through breast cancer at 40, I was standing talking in the Y lobby with my uncle when someone walked up and asked how she was doing. It was hard enough for me, much less what he was feeling at that point.

      After that I’ve volunteered to help several friends after the death of a spouse or parent to go through their calendar and cancel the doctor’s appointments for them.

  8. EAC

    #4. Is this a company that you really want to work for? Would it be worth it to you to accept a sales position with them just to get into the company and then laterral to a more desirable position after you’ve been there for a while?

    1. JLH

      I’d be wary of anyone suggesting one would be better fit for a sales position than the one being applied for. Generally, people offer to interview for sales jobs to practically anyone–for them, like all sales, it’s a numbers game. I wouldn’t be flattered or thought they actually think it’s a “better” fit.

  9. RJ

    Maybe I should write in with my own question, but this is sort of similar to question #3. My boss just went to bat to get me a promotion; she told me what level/title she was requesting for me beforehand. This wasn’t a counter-offer though; I hadn’t been looking elsewhere. Anyway I did get a small increase in “level” and a 9% raise that I know she fought hard for. But it didn’t come back at the level she had requested or with any title change. (At the same time, two employees that I work closely with were reclassified from exempt to non-exempt, so I didn’t have the worst outcome of the day at all.) While I appreciate the raise, this has convinced me that I’m in a dead-end job. Do I owe her and the company another year?

    1. Student

      I don’t think so – that’s a rather different situation. I’d be gracious and considerate of your manager in whatever professional capacity you can, but you aren’t obligated to continue working for her.

      I’d say more that you owe her the best work you can put forward for the time you’re still working for her, and you owe her as smooth of a transition as you can provide when you finally do leave.

      I’d probably balk at quitting within a month of getting that raise, but at 3 months out I’d have no concern. That’s a gut reaction though and I can’t say I have any concrete basis for that timetable.

      1. Jamie

        I agree with most of this – the exception being is I wouldn’t put a time line on when it’s okay to give notice.

        This isn’t a counter-offer and you owe her nothing other than good work and a smooth transition – exactly as Student said.

        If you got an offer (in writing) tomorrow I don’t think you should feel bad about giving notice.

    2. Stells

      I have a similar problem. I’ve interviewed for one of those “dream job” positions, and the recruiter told me that they’ve submitted an offer that needs to be approved. It’s been a couple of weeks, which, while not uncommon for the company, still puts me in the “you don’t have an offer until you have the offer” category.

      The problem is my (newish) manager has been hinting at putting me in a project management/leadership role. I don’t want to turn it down in case dream job falls through, but I don’t want to take it and leave in less than a month or two.

      It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

        1. Stells

          That’s my plan, although I want to wait until my manager gives me some actual details on what he has planned for me. I have a call this afternoon, so hopefully I can get enough information from there to word a nice email to the recruiter.

  10. Wilton Businessman

    #1. We’re talking about 4 business days, right? It’s not that kind of job market. Hold tight, don’t assume anything.

    #2. If this is business, wait to see where it goes. If you go to an interview, you can always email the HR person and explain the situation.

    #3. Rule #1: Never take a counter-offer.
    Rule #2: When in doubt, see rule #1.

    #4. I disagree with Alison here. If you didn’t apply for the sales job and that’s not the job you want, politely say that you were really interested in the teapot maker position and the sales job would not be a good fit. If you’re not going to be passionate about your position, you’re not going to be successful. OTOH, happiness don’t pay the cell phone bill either.

    #5. Same position at the same branch? They’re just bumping it up to make it look fresh.

    #6. Nobody cares about a letter of recommendation (assuming you’re in business). Get his contact info and keep him informed of what you are doing. In other words, feed your network.

    1. Anon2

      lol, I would so take a p/t job helping them scan and oragnize those files. ;)

      For real though, efficient use of some salaries already being paid would be to put service personnel to work with the huge job that represents as our military pulls back from Afghanistan and as the overall forces can start reducing numbers again.

  11. Vicki

    > Also, the recruiter checked the filing cabinet? Is the job located in the year 1953, by any chance? If so, the time travel element could also explain the lag time.

    Allison, I love you!

  12. Vicki

    > let’s implement blanket exceptions for academia and California in all discussions here.

    And IT. We already have a “Suits at interviews” exception for IT.

    (Imagining someone interviewing for a University IT position in CA…)

    1. Anonymous

      So IT + CA = No Suit + No Suit = No Suit
      But (No Suit) + University = No Suit + “prof wear” = ???
      Gah. :D

  13. Gemma

    Hello Allison. Thank you for answering my question (#1) and found out that I didn’t get the job but I was their second choice. I guess that’s an achievement but it’s so frustrating knowing I was so close!!

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