Friday night question queue

It’s the Friday night question queue! Here we go…

1. Interviewers who tell you how well everyone there gets along

I’ve been in the following situation a few times and don’t really know what to make of it: Someone interviewing me will discuss how close their office/department/team is, or how well everyone gets along, or how much fun they have together, etc. I usually just smile and say something like “That’s great” or “Sounds like fun,” which are sincere but kind of lame responses. It’s good information to know, but what am I supposed to do with it? Am I missing something? Is it a test? (If so, I’ve failed.)

Part of the interviewing process is the employer giving you information about their culture, so that you can see if it’s a culture you’d like or not. It’s fine to just say “that’s great to hear” or whatever. (Or, if you’re like some of us, you can silently think in your head, “Your idea of fun at work does not match mine.”)

2. Should you explain in a cover letter why you left your last job?

I want to know if I should address, in cover letters, the reason I just resigned from my job as an attorney in the worst legal market in history. My instinct is that something like that should be left for the interview stage (and I have an articulate answer prepared), but I am concerned that I won’t get interviews at all, as I am now unemployed and it might even look on my resume like I was fired. So I am thinking of including a sentence like, “Although my experience as a contract attorney at Wage, Law, and Violators LLP provided wonderful opportunities to develop my courtroom advocacy skills, unfortunately, in order to become an Associate I was asked to consent to certain employment terms that I felt were deeply unfair and possibly illegal, and I was not permitted time to closely review the terms before making a decision. Thus, I felt compelled to decline the Associate position.”

Ooooh, no, do not put anything like that in your cover letter. Fairly or unfairly, you will scare off employers because it’ll look as if you don’t understand the professional conventions around this stuff (which say that you don’t go around proactively badmouthing past employers to other employers). I know you’re worried they’ll wonder why you left otherwise, but if you include this, you will not get interviews. Wait until the interview to address it (and even at that point, you’ll need to tone this down a little — probably to just “we weren’t able to come to terms for moving me from a contract position to an associate”).

3. Interviewing people who would be your peers

I am currently in my first post-college job, and have been here for about a year now. We are starting to hire new people at my level. The in-person interviews consist of 8 half-hour long 1-on-1 interviews, with people of all levels at the organization. Any tips or recommended questions for interviewing a potential peer that would differ from the advice that is out there for hiring managers?

Eight half-interviews in a row is way too many. Waaaayyyyy too many. I know you can’t change that, but holy hell. I feel like you should just throw water on them like with marathon runners.

But what you want to know is how they operate. So probe around into past experiences and really dig — “Why did you handle it that way? What other options did you consider? What happened next? I imagine X must have been challenging — how did you handle that?” Etc. Your goal is to get real insight into how the person thinks and operates on the job.

4. Including non-professional membership on a resume

What are your thoughts on listing memberships in volunteer or other non-job-related groups on your resume? Like fraternities or other organizations?

Do it. Definitely include volunteer stuff, and enough people like the fraternity stuff that you should include it, even though I personally find it odd.

5. What do background checks entail?

I have a question in regard to job postings that state that applicants will be required to submit to a background check. What exactly does the background check entail? Is salary history one of them? And does my company’s HR have to disclose my salary history when asked? What are my rights if applicable?

It depends on the specific check. Some just verify education and dates of employment and titles, some check credit, some do criminal records checks, some do detailed references, and yes, some check salary history. You can certainly decline to authorize parts of this, but doing so will generally raise red flags.

6. Salary expectations for jobs overseas

I have kicked my job hunt into gear and have now reached the second-interview stage with a couple companies. One company is based overseas; I have had two successful interviews with them and believe I have a good shot at an offer based on the feedback with the people I’ve spoken with there.

I want to be prepared if they do extend an offer and ask what my salary expectations are — but I feel as though I’m totally in the dark in coming up with an answer. Cost-of-living calculators don’t cover cities overseas as well, I’m not even sure whether they would pay me in the local currency or US dollars, most cost-of-living discussions focus on family- rather than individual-sized estimates, I don’t have much idea how taxation from each country might affect my salary. I’ve found salary ranges for similar positions in the US, and the fact that the job is overseas, a bit more challenging, with more responsibilities, would lead me to increase the range a bit. Money isn’t my priority (this job will likely pay less than the other company, but I’d still prefer it), and the relatively recent hire I interviewed with gave the impression that they found the salary perfectly adequate. I just don’t want to worry that I’ll be totally lowballed. Do you have any ideas or suggestions for resources for estimating salary expectations for jobs overseas?

Your best bet is probably to find people with experience working overseas in your field themselves and ask them for insight … but I bet some readers will have additional advice for you too.

7. Applying for jobs that are a reach

I am 24 years old and I have been out of college for just over a year. I have been told that I have good experience, and I have been getting some interviews over the last couple of months. However, I usually hear back after the interview that they were looking for more experience. I usually won’t apply for jobs that require more experience than I have, but I do apply for those jobs that require less experience than I have. Is it worth applying for jobs that might be a reach for me or should I stick to applying for jobs that I think I fit or I am overqualified for?

Don’t apply to jobs that are a big reach — like jobs asking for five years of experience when you have one, or jobs asking for experience with things that you know you’re clueless about. But you can definitely stretch a little bit — say, applying for jobs where you meet 80% of the requirements. That said, continue applying for the jobs that you’re fully qualified for too, so that you have as many options as possible. (Note I didn’t say “overqualified.” At one year out of college, you’re probably not overqualified for much. And I mean that sincerely, not snidely.)

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberlee, Esq.

    AAM, I loved the response to #4. I assume you weren’t in a sorority or fraternity! I wasn’t either, but I’ve heard enough about how much this can work in your favor that I’m convinced. My understanding is that especially in the South, sorority and fraternity connections could be the thing that differentiate you from another equally qualified candidate.

    It’s one of those things that non-members do not care a lick about, but if a member happens to be one of the people who reviews your resume, it can be significant!

    1. Ellie H.

      I always wonder how much/if people roll their eyes at college activity type stuff. I have on my resume under “activities” my house council participation in college (I was house president, made some budgetary decisions, and did some event planning & newsletter writing, but I now have done more advanced tasks of the same sort in my most recent & current job) but I’m 25 now so I feel like maybe I should just take the college stuff off? I do alumni admissions interviews now so I have that for an “activity.”

      1. Sam.i.am

        I’ve been out of college for a while, but depending in the job, I’ll occasionally put a college-era accomplishment on my resume. I was a DJ and music director for the radio station and I participated in a symposium, which people always ask me about when they see it in my resume.

        As for the sorority thing, I go back and forth. In the days when I was a member of other things (Rotary, professional organizations) I included it, but otherwise, I usually leave it off, or include a leadership retreat I went to as “professional development”.

    2. SC in SC

      If I may give a counter opinion, being a Southerner and a member of a national fraternity I give this almost ZERO consideration in my hiring decisions. It’s not necessarily a negative but I tend to look at it in the same light as hobbies or interests – not really pertinent and a bit naive at times. The only time I give it any consideration is when the candidate is fairly new to the work force and held a position with some responsibility in the organization or if they gained valuable experience through activities.

      As for whether to include it or not, I’d say that it was situational. If a candidate can tie the experience and responsibilities to the job they are seeking then by all means include it. If they don’t have much experience but can demonstrate skills and responsibility through the organization..same answer. If someone has been out of school for 5-10 years, I hope they have better things to include on their resume.

    3. Anonymous

      Born and raised in the South and review resumes for IT positions. Unless you were including it to demonstrate leadership or project management skills for specific positions or projects (president of your regional chapter or chaired fund-raising to build a Habitat house, for example), I have zero interest in your sorority and fraternity membership and would think it a waste of space on your resume. I’m far more interested in your technical or project management skills and connections.

  2. Brett

    For #3…I’m guessing it’s more like 4 before lunch and 4 after, and probably some kind of natural gaps as people come and go in between them.

    A full day of 45 minute to hour long interviews is pretty standard in the tech industry. Usually 6 or 7. I’ve done this at maybe 6-8 companies, including many fortune 100 tech companies.

    And yup, it’s exhausting. Probably unnecessary too. If I were in charge I’d arrange 3-4 people strategically selected to either cover various areas of expertise OR to cover various levels of seniority, plus a long (1.5-2 hour) lunch with the manager just to chat and see how they would fit.

    1. Vicki

      Having been through this sort of thing, I can honestly say that the interviewee is likely to be tired and a little burned out by the end of the day. It’s difficult to maintain a level of “Upness” when you’ve been asked the same questions over and over for 6 hours.

    2. OP#3

      Yes, there is an hour and a half for lunch scheduled in the middle. But of course that is with 2 other people you may or may not be interviewing with, so it isn’t like you can 100% relax and recharge during this.
      I guess we want everyone to meet the potential hire before they have to work with them. Like Allison said, not something I can control.
      As a candidate, I know by the last one that I was completely exhausted, barely able to pay attention to what I was being asked.

    3. Anonymous

      I had this done, not in a tech industry, and it was a bit much. I like your idea about strategically selected people because in my case, they all asked me pretty much the exact same questions. It was exhausting to have back to back interviews all day (with a half hour lunch break), only to be asked the exact same questions. Hard to muster the energy and enthusiasm for that by the end of the day.

    4. TW

      We hire a mostly Ph.D.s in our clinic and have a fairly exhausting interview schedule. Most candidates have a 30-60 min interview with around 8 people plus a one hour job talk and lunch. I am always impressed by those who still seem excited and coherent by day end.

    5. Zed

      I’m in academia, so very long interviews are the norm. The interview for my current position went like this, roughly:

      First day:
      One hour interview with the head of department.
      One hour interview with the search committee.
      Lunch with four potential coworkers.
      Break.
      One hour to give a presentation and answer questions.
      One hour meet and greet with everyone in the department.
      One hour tour.
      Break.
      Dinner with department head and one potential coworker.

      Second day:
      One and a half hour drive to the main campus of university with potential coworker.
      Lunch with four Higher Ups.
      One hour interview with the department head’s Boss.
      One hour interview with HR.
      One and a half hour drive home with potential coworker.

      1. Jamie

        I’d have withdrawn at the mention of a 1.5 hour car ride with a stranger.

        The more I hear about academia the more grateful I am that I was too lazy to ever want a job in that field.

        That sounds like a recipe for anxiety for me.

  3. The IT Manager

    For number 6, I can’t imagine that you’d be paid in US dollars while working overseas unless it was for the US goverment or (small) possibly a US-based company with an overseas office. Even then, though, no one wants to worry about their monthly paycheck fluxuating with the US exchange rate when all their bills are in the foreign currency. I think you need to do math in the local currency because that’s what you’ll be paying your rent and bills in and you must cover that before worrying about how much extra you need.

    1. Jen in RO

      However, if overseas is in Europe, you might negotiate in euros even if the country’s currency is not the euro. How that works might vary:
      * When I negotiated my salary, I asked for X euros. They converted that amount in lei and that’s what they’ve paid me (no adjustment for the exchange rate).
      * My boyfriend negotiated his previous and current salary is euros too. Previous company converted euros to lei at the “company’s rate” (basically a worse rate than the market rate). His current company uses the exchange rate from the day they pay the salary, so that’s more convenient.

      Also, would it be possible to just say “I want to get X amount after tax”? That way you don’t have to research all the taxes in the country.

      1. JT

        Jen – that would be trusting/asking the employer to calculate the taxes for you, and know your situation with regards to other taxable income (if any), deductions, etc.

        1. Jen in RO

          I guess it’s a matter of local laws and/or customs. I only had to file a tax form thing when I was a freelancer. For regular employees, the company always pays all the taxes in Romania, you don’t have a choice. So, maybe the OP should start figuring out how this works in his country of choice?

          1. The IT Manager

            The OP should research this himself before the interview and then ask. I understand the difficulty, but seriously this strikes me as as bad as showing up for an interview with no info about the company. If you’re interviewing with an foreign company you should have appear to have some research to understand what living there would be like.

            I do agree that the OP should ask to confirm his understanding, but he should not go into it expecting them to provide all the answers.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yeah — I don’t think I’d ask about it in the interview. Possibly once you receive an offer, but they probably don’t want to spend interview time walking you through something that they’re not your only source for (and might think you should do your own research). Once you have an offer, though, I’d think they’d at least point you in the right direction.

            2. Jamie

              This is great advice. There is nothing wrong with verification of your understanding on these topics during the offer stage, but you definitely don’t want them to be your oly source of information.

    2. Robyn Fraser

      Even the US government, at least the postings I’ve seen in Europe, pay in local currency. I’ve actually never seen any job posting with an American company, that doesn’t pay in local currency.

      And for the response below, you won’t be able to get paid in Euro if you’re overseas post is in the UK. It will be in Pounds Sterling. Which, until recently, was stronger anyway!

      I moved to Belfast in 2003. I figured cost of living by searching real estate adverts, looking at online supermarkets etc. I wasn’t allowed to work over here until I was married in 2004, but I still did a bit of that sort of research before I moved over.

    3. CatB (Europe)

      If OP #6 is willing to disclose the country, there is a good chance an AAM reader living there (or having a working knowledge of the area) will step in with at least some orientation.

      Then againg, I’ve seen companies that had a diferent wage scale for expats that they had for local workforce, at least at higher levels. You might want to see industry forums pertaining to the area, if you know the tongue or can get hold of someone who can translate.

      1. EngineerGirlUK

        Indeed if #6 is in the UK I knwo the estimated range for most industries. I can also give a guide for living costs as well for most parts of the country.

      2. OP #6

        Hi everyone, thanks for your advice! The job is actually in Singapore, so I imagine I would be paid in Singapore dollars. There are a lot of expats there so the expat forums have been very helpful, but taxation is still the trickiest part for me to understand.

  4. Elise

    #3 – Four hours of interviews with 8 different people for an entry level position! Makes me curious what they do for those higher in the organization.

    If they must have everyone’s input, I wonder why they can’t figure out to do some kind of panel thing. Give the CEO and hiring manager each their own half hour, then the other six can do a one hour panel interview. Drops it from four hours to two and eliminates the repetitive questions.

  5. Charlotte

    What a wonderful surprise to get short answers on a Friday night…

    I like the avatar update by the way…but the cup always made me think of the Chocolate Teapots. : )

  6. snuck

    Re number 4… it’s a bit like working interstate – even if you find out the local tax rules you will also need to find out everything from the cost of living (transport, licences, housing, food) to the local laws and how they’ll pertain to you.

    I’d suggest reaching out to people who live in the cities you are applying for and find some expats online in those places and ask them your questions, and what else you’ve forgotten to ask.

  7. Anonymous

    Curious about #7– I’ve repeatedly seen the advice to apply to jobs you’re 75-90% qualified for, with the rationale that a listing is for an ideal person and they assume the actual best candidate may be slightly different. However, I’ve also repeatedly seen hiring managers writing advice pieces to say how much they hate getting applicants that aren’t 100% qualified. And they always sound extremely exasperated, like, “Oh my GOD we get so many people who aren’t even qualified! Our listing said five years, and people apply with only FOUR years, we automatically disqualify them and it wastes our time!”

    I’ve seen both opinions in pretty equal measure, but the former is usually from job-hunting advice sources and the latter from executives being interviewed about the job market or asked to give tips by someone else.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ve never really heard an employer complain about getting someone with a year’s less experience than they asked for — it’s more about larger disparities — 2 years versus 10 and so forth.

      I do think you should discard advice from members of the job-hunting advice industry who don’t have significant hiring experience (about 95% of them), but as someone who does … a small stretch is fine. It’s normal. A large stretch is silly.

      But employers frequently end up hiring someone who doesn’t have 100% of what they asked for. Not for every position, certainly, but for plenty.

    2. Jen in RO

      No one on my team matched the job description of our job… but we got the jobs, because no one better applied and we had transferable skills. I say go for it if you match most of the job description!

  8. Alex

    To #6,

    I am a recruiter working in Japan, so I have some experience working with overseas companies (primarily in Asia), and I myself an am American.

    You should probably ask them as soon as possible about their basic salary structure. Overseas opportunities are all different. I would imagine that with most countries, they will pay you in the local currency. And unless you are being hired for a C-level type position, or to start-up a new branch, or something like that, they probably won’t cover relocation costs/airfare/etc. That can perhaps be negotiated, but I would definitely not expect that to come with the deal. Figure out what the exchange rate (and the history of exchange rates) between dollars and the currency of the country you have worked in have been like, and make a judgement on salary from there.

    As for cost of living- do some research. There are calculators that can give you a good idea, but when I have moved abroad I have always gone directly to online forums for expats living in said country, and asked them straight up what is the minimum wage someone would need to survive, what is a decent wage that you could live decently off of with some nights out on the town, and what is a “rich” type wage. People will generally be very helpful.

    Definitely look at this now. When I was considering moving to China, I did a lot of research and ultimately decided that because of the exchange rate and low salaries and comparatively high cost of living, I would not be able to save enough money for it to be meaningful in the states. Now I am in Japan, and because of the great exchange rate and comparable salaries, I am doing very well.

    Another option is contacting with recruiters located in that country. Tell them you are interested in job opportunities, and talk to them about what kind of salary they would expect for a candidate with your profile.

    Good luck

    1. OP #6

      Thanks for the advice Alex! The job is actually in Asia (Singapore), and the expat forums have definitely been my best resource so far. As for relocation, I doubt they will pay for my flight over, but my interviewer mentioned that they do give new hires housing for the couple of weeks it takes them to find their own place, so that’s something.

      As an American living abroad, do you have any advice for finding a (relatively) straightforward explanation of taxation on overseas income?

  9. A. Dylan

    #3 – I think AAM’s advice is spot-on. I’m also young-ish and have been on both sides of peer interviews.

    Though there’s absolutely nothing in your question that indicates a need for concern (the question itself actually indicates otherwise: that you’re thoughtful, goal-oriented, etc.), I’d also like to caution against an over-casual, chummy approach.

    I was recently interviewing with a company and, during two hour-long peer interview sessions, was asked nothing about my experience, work habits, or interest in the company. Instead, they wanted to “take a break” and “chat” about anything else: TV shows, sports, music, favorite foods, etc. I tried to gently steer the conversation back to the job at every opportunity (“Oh, yeah, I think Adele’s great and it’s cool she writes her own songs. So, do you think that this job allows you to use a lot of creativity?”) but, in all, it was a really frustrating experience.

    My point is, I think that some really well-intentioned people are tempted to put the emphasis on PEER (i.e. potential friend) instead of on INTERVIEW (i.e. potential coworker). Like I said, this does not at all sound like it’s applicable to you, but it’s something I’ve seen that I feel is worth noting. Good luck!

    1. Flumoxed

      Thanks for this comment. In an interview, I’d rather focus on the job duties and expectations.

      I’m the person who asked question #1 (thanks for including it, Alison!), and I guess this issue of peer v. coworker is at the heart of why I asked it. I can get along with pretty much anyone at work, as long as we’re *working* well together.

  10. Jen

    #6 Also be sure to talk to your tax adviser because as a U.S. citizen, foreign earned income is taxable in the U.S.!! Yes, it is likely you will have to file a U.S. federal income tax return and pay taxes in the U.S. on this income, in addition to the taxes you pay in the foreign country. If a chunk of your income is going to be taxed (twice), you may decide this will affect how you negotiate.

    1. Anon1

      Unless you are talking about a very senior position or one that is specifically looking for an American, double taxation isn’t something that a foreign hiring company would care about. Look at the local salaries for that position and use that as a reference.

      As far as US taxes, talk to a good cross-border tax person (find someone who deals with expats routinely as it is a specialized area where many US based accountants don’t have the background). It is worth the money for them to tell you the impact (your US tax bill might be zero depending on your salary), but also go through all of the US forms that the US gov’t now requires. The information forms can be worse than actual US tax returns.

      One thing to note – check with US expats for banking help. I’ve been told that a number of non-US banks are simply banning US citizens from holding accounts – they don’t want to deal with the paperwork.

  11. Meg

    #2: Don’t put extra information in the cover letter. For a while, I did the same thing. I always felt like I wasn’t getting interviews due to the lack of degree in my field (web design/development), but I have 10 years “experience” in it (in another post, I mentioned my geeky HP background, creating the largest and one of the longest running HP RPG online… 11 years ago, and still running). I used to mention that straight up that I was self-taught in the field, and never getting called for interview. So I took it out and left the experience part in, and been getting called.

    Information like that, if it comes up, is best disclosed in the interview process. If it doesn’t come up, don’t bother. Right now, I’m on the last stage of interview with a company for front-end developer, and they’ve only picked apart my work samples and commented on it. Nothing brought up about previous employers or lack of degree, and I’m not going bring it up either.

    tl;dr Don’t disclose any unnecessary information unless specifically asked about it.

  12. Hari

    Re #7. More experience doesn’t necessarily mean years of professional experience total, they could just have wanted a person with more experience doing X task in Y job when your experience could have entailed doing Y job but never having to do task X.

    Re #3. Once for an internship at an ad agency (who I personally thought took themselves a bit too seriously considering lack of prestige) process consisted of pre-screen 2 page essay, 5 back to back interviews, and a in-house 1 hour writing test. I didn’t end up getting the internship but in hind sight I am thankful for it.

  13. Jamie

    #1 – I think that’s often code for “you have the requisite skills which got you to the interview portion. This is my way of telling you we’re now going to hire 100% based on who we think will be the most fun at lunch.”

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