short answer Saturday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. Can I apply for a job now but not start until May?

I am a current senior set to graduate college the first weekend in May 2013. I have always been ambitious and always have a job. Naturally, I’m getting antsy and I’ve started to scout out PR entry positions/internships in Atlanta. I have about 60 places that I have researched. This week I sent about 10 personalized cover letters and resumes. My question, am I applying too soon? These companies don’t even have positions opened but I want to get my foot in the door. What should I do and how should I go about applying?

How far in advance you should begin applying depends on your industry. Most places hire for 1-3 months out, but there are also industries where it’s normal to start applying now for jobs in the spring — although I’d be surprised if PR was one of them. This is something where you really just need to know how your field works. If you don’t, try talking to a handful of people who can tell you first-hand.

2. Interviewing far in advance, part 2

I have an interview on Monday with a major company for a job that I really want and fits my skills set perfectly. The only issue is that I graduate in December and cant start until then. How do I negotiate or convince them to hire me with them knowing I can’t start for 3 months? I actually haven’t talked to the recruiter yet about my availability.

The company called me a day after applying for the job which makes me believe that they may want to close this position soon. I also indicated on my resume a December graduation date — if that helps. Also, when is the right time to apply for jobs for graduates wanting to have a job right out of college?

See above. You probably can’t really convince them to wait for you if they’re planning an earlier start date — most places aren’t going to leave a vacancy open months longer than planned, unless the candidate is ridiculously fantastic … and right out of school, you probably don’t have that kind of track record yet.

And this is too late for this situation since your interview is Monday, but in general, do not go to interviews without talking to them about your availability first; I would not be pleased if I didn’t find out until someone showed up for an interview that they couldn’t start for four months if I was looking for someone to start in, say, four weeks. This is the kind of thing you want to mention up-front so as not to waste people’s time (yours or theirs) and so as not to irritate people.

3. Past tense or present tense on a resume?

I’m trying to create a skills-focused resume because I’ve worked only part time for the last 12 years to focus on my kids. However, when I start trying to list those skills, I have to decide which tense to use, because some of them I use currently and others I used for jobs in the past. But then it might look like I don’t know how to be consistent with tense, which would be a big problem! But if I keep the tense consistent and use only the past tense, it seems odd since I am currently employed at a couple of those positions. Agh!

Any ideas about how to fix this? My husband says it’s conventional to put it all in the past tense, but that feels odd…

Generally, you put work you’re currently doing in present tense, and everything else in past tense.

Also, if you’re going to use this resume format, be aware that most hiring managers hate it. You still might decide it’s worth it in your particular situation, but at least be aware that it is a much despised format among the people you’ll be sending it to!

4. Job hunting soon after starting a new job

I recently took a job (just one month ago) in my field after begin unemployed for a year and a half. The job has a long commute and isn’t exactly what I’m looking for, but I took the job because after a year and a half of no work, I felt like I couldn’t turn it down. So my question is twofold: First, should I update my resume with this new job as I continue to look for another job, or should I just keep my most recent work as “freelance,” which is what I had it as when I found this current job. Secondly, if you do suggest I update my resume, how do I discuss the situation with a prospective employer during an interview? Do I just tell them the truth, that I took the job because I felt like I had to but it’s not the right fit and that’s why I’m still looking for a job?

Don’t put it on your resume; it’ll be too big of a red flag about why you’re leaving so soon.

5. Job searching because of a looming layoff

The company I’ve worked at for the past 7 months was recently acquired and our office is going to be closed sometime in November. I’ve been looking for a new job but am not sure when I should first mention that I’m losing my job. Do I put it in the cover letter? If so, what is the best way to word that? I don’t want people to think I’m “giving up” on this position so quickly!

Explain in your cover letter that your office is closing in November. For that matter, you could also list the job on your resume like this:

Chocolate Teapot Company, March 2012 – November 2012

6. Job searching without it getting back to your boss

I’ve been engaged in an aggressive job search since January 2012. I’ve submitted my resume to numerous companies and staffing agencies (who are impressed, but don’t have opportunities for me), and have gotten one telephone interview and one physical interview. I want to amp up my search by delving into my connections, but a few particular connections know my boss because of their close affiliations in the art and museum industry. How can I ask them to recommend me for jobs without them going back and mentioning my job search to my boss, if at all possible?

This is tricky. Basically, you’ve got to rely on your judgment about who you can trust to be discreet. And you need to tell them explicitly that your boss doesn’t yet know that you’re looking.

7. Where is my offer letter?

I interviewed at a place a few weeks ago and was told last week, via email, that they wanted to extend an offer to me. I talked with the HR recruiter the following day to talk about salary and she said that I should hear back from her about an offer letter yesterday. It’s been about a week since I got that email, so when is a good time to follow up? How long can it take to get an offer letter? Throughout the whole process, this company has been slow. Waiting around is nerve-wracking and I would love nothing more than to finalize this deal!

Follow up! They’ve basically got you in limbo — feeling like you can stop searching but not really able to stop searching because WHERE IS THE OFFER. So email her and ask her when you’re likely to receive the letter.

Do be aware, though, that some companies can take a ridiculously long time to get offers out. It is bizarre but true.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. kristinyc*

    For #1 – I majored in PR. I would wait until at least March or so to start actually applying. But all the research you’re doing is great, so keep that up! If possible, you could try to do an internship during the spring semester (and now would be the appropriate time to start looking for that).

    Also, be open to other similar fields (and keep in mind that entry level PR jobs, especially at agencies, do not pay very well). I had trouble finding a PR job in my area in the midwest, so I started applying for marketing instead. I’ve now worked in marketing for more than 5 years, and evolved from copywriter to email marketer, and I totally love what I’m doing now. My PR education has been helpful (especially the writing classes!), but I can’t imagine actually working in PR now.

    For both #1 and #2 – If you happen to get an offer months before you graduate, is your class schedule flexible enough that you could work suggest working part time until you graduate, and then full-time after? Not every employer will go for that, but I’ve worked at places where people did this. Good luck to both of you!

    1. Forrest*

      I couldn’t find a PR job either when I graduated and now I work in Development for a nonprofit. In this economy, its hard to find a use for your degree. Got to be willing to think outside the box.

      Worked out for me though, because I love fundraising.

  2. Danni*

    I’m in the same position as 1 and 2. It’s so frustrating. And on top of that, I’m trying to job search for 4 months in the future…in a different country. Gahhh.

  3. Jill of All Trades*

    #1 &#2: you may want to check with you campus recruiting office. They work with companies hiring new grads and they tend to interview now for June start dates (at least at the graduate level, it may be different for undergrads). A December graduation isn’t that far off-there may some advice they can give you for managing the timing. You can also check with the alumni association to see if they can refer you to alumni who work in your field or at your companies of choice. That way you could ask them about their hiring practices and get a feel for what you can do between now and graduation. Good luck!

    #7 I know your pain. I had 2 interviews with a company last October and November. Right before Thanksgiving the HR recruiter told me they wanted to make me a verbal offer, and he would have more info after the holiday. In December I followed up and was told they were busy with the holidays and the paperwork was still making it’s way along. In January I followed up and was told that they were verbally offering $x and a start date of Jan 23rd, and they would send an offer in writing when the paperwork was done. They were doing the background check, and I’ve had a few of those because of industry, so I proposed that it might be better to set my start date as Feb 1st to make sure everything was clear and ready to go. He said they didn’t want to wait that long and the background check would be quick, so I agreed. I didn’t get anything in writing from him so the Tuesday before I was to start I sent him a followup by email and got no response. I called him the Friday before I was supposed to start and he told me they were still working on the paperwork, and to please let him know if I had an offer elsewhere. I wonder what would have happened if if I’d shown up on Jan 23rd without calling? I gave up and kept looking. In April I was curious so I called him and he FINALLY confessed that the CFO had never approved the creation of the position. That company is a hot mess. I hope your results are different but please do not stop looking until you are sure that they are making you a solid offer. Sorry for the long post. Good luck to you as well!

    1. Serendipitous*

      What a waste of time for not only them (interviewing candidates) but YOU (following up and anticipating the offer while you are mentally thinking that you have the job). I don’t know if you stopped looking but this is a good warning to not stop until you have a written (and agreed upon) offer.

      I actually received a verbal offer on my first interview with a company. It was unexpected so I asked to have a few days to make a decision. He encouraged me to think about it, call him with any questions, etc. I called after 2 days, left a voicemail. Followed up the next day, voicemail. Never heard back since. We even set a start date… Wonder what would happen if I showed up lol

      1. Jill of All Trades*

        I did slow down my looking for a while there. I guess I wanted to believe that they were acting in good faith. One of my classmates interviewed with them at the same time I did, they moved really slowly with him as well, and he ended up starting about 2 weeks after I would have. They are a complete mess all around, so I dodged a bullet, but man it was a huge waste of time.

  4. Stacie*

    #2 I’m surprised the recruiter didn’t mention the fact that you’re graduating and confirm when you were available. I graduated last December and every employer who called me double checked that I was indicating that I wouldn’t be available to start until December. It would be obvious to them (I would think) if the position is one that requires a bachelors degree. Can you work as an intern for them before graduating and transition to full time when you do graduate?

  5. Anonymous*

    #1 – As a pr person do not bother applying now for months ahead of time. It does not show initiative and you will need to reapply when positions are actually open. An internship in or can be very helpful to get your foot in the door. And as a previous poster said be aware that entry level pr does not pay well at all and you will be doing the grunt work, not the glam.

  6. Neeta*

    Question #7:
    I’ve actually been debating about sending a similar email to AAM, myself, so good thing this was brought up.

    Back in February, I interviewed for with a company that loved me. They were ecstatic about my competences, quick thinking on my feet… and sent me an e-mail merely 2 hours after the interview asking what my salary requirements would be, so that they wouldn’t need to haggle with my current company.

    I answer, and… nothing.
    I hesitated to follow up a day or two after, because I wasn’t sure I liked them too much. After two weeks, I decide to e-mail them, and ask about the status of the offer.

    The hiring manager claims he was on holiday, which is why he didn’t reply, and then says that my salary range would be too high. If I were willing to settle for 0.5k less, and agree to get my desired salary after 6 months, they were willing to extend an offer.
    In my country’s currency, 0.5k is basically “pocket change” for my industry, so I obviously declined.

    From the tone of the e-mail, I got the impression that they would NEVER have even answered my email, had I not followed up.

    Is this common? It seemed odd, given that they were very eager to get my reply via email.

    1. Steve G*

      if 0.5K is pocket change why would it matter? That would be more of a reason to accept desired salary minus 0.5K?

      1. Neeta*

        Two reasons mainly:
        – 0.5K was lower than the minimum I asked for
        – they sort of hinted that I’d get so much for a raise after a year

        Also, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the interviewers themselves, and their lack of timely answer (after they pressed me for a quick reply)… so I figured they didn’t really want me that much after all.
        Sure enough, when I said that sum was unacceptable, they just said “OK, good luck”.

  7. OP #2*

    Hi, I’m the OP for #2. Thanks for the advice.

    It’s actually a phone interview that I have on Monday. I think the recruiter is really interested in me because of my strong work history in the field. I have over 5 years of its a combinations of work history and education. I have worked it out well with my current employer to work full time and go to school as well.

    I just think with this company that I will be interviewing with ( 9-5 Mon-Fri schedule) will not have the flexibility as my current company. I do plan on mentioning on Monday to the recruiter about when I will be available to start so we aren’t wasting each other time like you said!

    Thanks all for the good luck wishes!

  8. Meg*

    #3 re: skills-based format:
    Like Alison said, the “functional” type resume is often used to hide gaps in employment or to take the focus off the work experience and put it on the skills. That being said, there are some industries where highlighting your skills is beneficial. This is not the same thing as a functional resume. This is more like a hybrid. You focus on the skills at the top, but you do not leave off your work experience either.

    Industries this hybrid format that highlights skills works in is usually some sort of IT or web developer field. For instance, if you have a particular skill set (Java, C#, .NET, ASP, PHP, Ruby, HTML, CSS, Javascript and libraries, MySQL/MySQL Lite/MSSQL/Oracle) and you need to make that first and foremost, then by all means, put the focus on your skill set, but do not do not do not leave off the work experience.

    I’m in a more creative aspect of IT (web design and development), so my resume layout is little more creative, but I have a short blurb about me and my attitude and interpersonal skills, then a section about my skill set (specific software, CMS, and programming languages), then a section on experience which starts with projects I’ve worked on or currently working on (large websites, various freelance clients), then another section about Other Experience (not as detailed as the projects) where I list my current day job (as I work in an unrelated field currently, and have a strong background in that field), and then my education.

    There’s always a strategy to the resume. It is first and foremost your marketing tool. The key is to know what hiring managers are looking for and tailor the resume to what they want to see from you and what you want to present. I want to present my skills first, then experience, then education. Some people with a more extensive work history and prestigious background (like you worked for Google or something) would put that first. Fresh graduates tend to put education first.

    Re: Past/Present Tense–
    I tend to put everything in past tense. It shows what I DID on the project or at the job. If you’re still employed or still doing the project, mismatching tenses turn me off… if you’ve done them, regardless if you’re still doing it, I would put it in past tense.

  9. Laurie*

    #1 and #2 – if you go through your campus recruitment, interview during job fairs or apply using your school’s career website, there is a general expectation that they will have to wait for you to graduate. Some employers will wait for the December graduates, others (mostly larger corporations with established funnels for entry level graduates) will wait till June.

    It looks like both OPs here have taken initiative and found jobs to interview for outside of the school system – for that, I agree with AAM and the other commenters – most companies have a 1 month horizon in which they will fill the position. Waiting 9 months or even 3 months doesn’t sound likely.

  10. Another Emily*

    I like Meg’s advice if you stick with a skills based resume.

    I get the feeling from your letter though, that you only picked skills-based because you want to hide the fact that you worked part time so you could spend more time with your family.

    I don’t think you should feel like you need to hide this. Working part time isn’t a red flag. If you have gaps between jobs that you want to explain, maybe mention in your cover letter that after focusing on your family and working part-time for the last 12 years, you’re excited for full-time work?

  11. SP*

    Many companies go through a yearly “college recruiting” process where they will interview now (and in the spring) for both December and May graduation dates. They want to get “top talent”, and you actually can be an exceptional college hire even with limited experience, because they know they WANT someone fresh out of school.

    This type of thing is probably not common at small companies, but larger companies may be trying to grow their head count without absolute strict timelines

    1. AnotherAlison*

      It is common in my industry for seniors to interview in the fall for May start dates. If you wait until spring, most new grad positions are filled. I got my first job in November and started June 5. The only caveat is that if economic conditions change, they could rescind the offer. I knew someone that had that happen and then had to scramble for a job at the last minute. OTOH, I also had a friend accept an offer and then decline it for something else later.

    1. Jill of All Trades*

      30 Rock! I could totally see Liz Lemon wokring there for a whole day before getting fired for eating all the samples.

  12. Ellie H.*

    In response to #3: I use the imperfect(ive) tense on my resume . . . like it says “Helping adults and children find books, assisting with event planning, opening and closing the store.” And then the implied part could either be “Responsibilities included” or “Responsibilities include.” Is this normal or does it make it sounds like everything’s in the present tense? I had never thought of it before.

    Actually, I might have recently changed everything to past tense . . . I can’t remember. Is past tense always better looking?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That tense is fairly unusual — I’d be more inclined to stick with the conventional (past tense for past jobs and present tense for the current one).

  13. Job Seeker*

    #3. I have recently learned the value of a great cover letter. My resume is that of a stay-at-home mom working part-time a little. My amazing and wonderful son helped me Thursday night write the best cover letter. I got a response to a job I applied for yesterday with this letter. Same resume but a good cover letter. Even if this job doesn’t turn out, I now know my letter is getting attention. My son told me the way I was writing my cover letter was boring. I would suggest concentrating on your cover letter too.

  14. Chocolate Teapot*

    Question 7

    Dispatch a few more applications whilst you are waiting to use up the nervous energy. Oddly enough, on several occasions after having signed a contract and waiting to start the new job, I have been contacted with requests for interviews!

  15. Good_Intentions*

    Question #3: Tenses on Resume

    Letter writer, please adhere to Alison’s advice and avoid using a standard functional resume. It really does a disservice to you as a candidate by casting a very dark shadow of unanswered questions over your abilities and the veracity of your claims.

    As Meg succinctly phrased it, your resume is a marketing tool; therefore, it should answer questions for prospective employers and distinguish you from other candidates.

    You, a working mother, have strong time-management skills that you could highlight on a reverse chronological resume (most recent position first, including dates, and ending with a distantly held job) and know how to effectively prioritize, keep a calendar, and meet deadlines. These are all fantastic skills that employers look for in a variety of professions.

    It also might be in your best interest– time permitting– to seek out a free resume review via your local public library, a nearby college (your alma mater?), a government agency (Department of Job and Family Services often provide resume reviews and access to job listings to under- and unemployed residents who contact them), or even a nonprofit specializing in job training and employment placement.

    Please keep in mind that I am merely making suggestions based on information from your letter and my own rather varied job-hunting experiences. Take anything I write with a grain of salt.

  16. Heather*

    I think that while it depends on the industry, reports I’ve been seeing show that college grads are among the groups having the hardest time finding work right now. That should be taken into account, too.

    If anyone’s wondering why you’re applying so early, could they blame you for that? Also, I like the suggestion of working out some kind of part-time deal until you graduate. Great idea! Can’t imagine an employer who wouldn’t be up for that.

  17. Laura*

    #1- applying in advance of graduation:

    IT DEPENDS ON THE FIELD…I am in consulting and was so surprised to hear that for the August group of new graduates, they all applied in September and were hired in October (a year in advance) at their schools career fair. Anyone who applied after that start date was at a severe disadvantage (like myself) but it is still do-able.

      1. Jill of All Trades*

        At my school, McKinsey, North Highland, Bain, BCG, and Infosys all recruited in the fall for spring graduation dates. In the beginning of spring semester is when they come back for the summer interns.

  18. KL*

    Follow-u #7: Where is my offer letter?

    Is it normal for a company not to give offer letters if you are doing an internal transfer?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not unusual, but you can and should ask for the details to be confirmed in writing. (Could even just send an email yourself summarizing the details and asking them to confirm.)

      1. The Dishwasher*

        Wow, I’m in this boat right now.
        I was soft-offered an internal promotion/new position (senior sales) in June, with a formal offer to be presented in July and the position to start in August.
        We’re a small company, my work is great. and I’m in some kind of contact with the GM and sales manager on a daily basis. But all summer I’ve been waiting for the formal offer. As recent as 10 days ago I was told that everything is “cool” and an offer will be emailed soon.
        Any suggestions?

        1. KL*

          I was in the same situation too. I e-mailed the HR rep and rather than getting an e-mail response back for confirmation, I got a phone call instead saying that there is no formal letter for internal transfers. Working there for sometime, I don’t see any red flags or anything so I just let it go, although it would be nice to get it in writing.

          Thanks AAM for the response though! It gave me a sigh of relief knowing this is not the only company that handles things this way.

  19. Karl Sakas*

    Re: #1 (PR jobs) — First, congrats on your initiative. Second, yes, it’s too early to be applying (unless they’re big firms with annual hiring classes, most marketing/PR agencies hire because they need someone ASAP). Third, do you have internship experience? If not, see what you can find during the semester (part-time). It’ll help you stand out later.

    Instead of hard “hire me now” job applications, I think you’d be better served in using the next few months to connect with people at your list of firms. I later hired one person I’d met informally for coffee and I’ve interviewed a few others from coffee or networking events for agency account positions. There’s a lot of competition, yes, but many recent PR grads don’t have great applications. The personal touch helps, as long as you accept that not everyone will want to connect.

    To connect with people, get involved with the PR trade association(s) in Atlanta (student memberships are often under $100) and interact with PR folks (they’re likely active on Twitter and probably blog regularly as an individual or on their firm’s blog). Don’t underestimate the power of blog commenting – I got an interview after making two thoughtful comments on the CEO’s blog. It helps to have your own blog as a platform for your ideas, although that’s definitely a bigger project.

    If you have any followup questions, feel free to email me via my blog (linked above). Good luck!

  20. K Too*

    I’m in the same boat as #4 but there are other factors that have started my search as well.

    AAM what if you are 3-4 months into your new job and begin looking? Would you still leave it off your resume? I’ve received various responses from peers in regards this.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Really depends on the totality of your situation; you’ve got to balance the “why are you leaving so soon?” red flag against having to explain why you left your last job for nothing if you leave it off.

  21. danza*

    I am on the same boat with #7, with slightly modified results or shall we say, non-result.

    I interviewed for the first time about a month ago. For my second interview which was right after a huge holiday season, I arrived early and received a call barely 30 minutes before interview from the HR who was apologizing sheepishly and told me that the interviewer (a member of BoD) was still out of town and he only just found out. He made up for this with a meal and drinks (this is restaurant business). We rescheduled for that Friday, where I waited for almost 2 hours by the same interviewer, who hasn’t arrived yet. I was prepared for this because 1. She is THE big boss. 2. She is famous for this in the industry. The result of the interview was that she said she would like me to “try the x managerial position” and it ended with the salary negotiation. She said she needed to talk with her partners first. My understanding was that the offer has been made and I was only waiting for salary nego and written offer.

    Fast forward today, about 10 days after last interview, I called HR for a follow up, and I am now scheduled for yet another interview with the other members of BoD. He said because of the position and the salary I asked for (which is not even close to being over the top) the others asked to meet me. I was confused as HR did say on my second interview that that was my last. I asked him if this means that the job offer is still in question, and he said no. After a little bit of explaining and questioning, he said “well if that is your way of explanation then yes, consider the job offer not made yet.”

    I would like to know if my confusion is unwarranted. I shared to a friend and he scolded me for being so. I understand that I am unemployed (doing freelance work now) but the cost of going to the third interview and my fourth trip, and the waiting… I am more than annoyed and actually nervous about the position because I feel like I’ve failed to convince them in the last interview.

    I’m wondering how I should feel about all this. Are these one too many red flags, or does this mean they are a little underwhelmed by me, hence yet another meeting? (P.S. I know I’m the only one still in the running, but aside from the red flags they are a very attractive company to work for and qualified people in this field is rare)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To me, this doesn’t seem so confusing. The big boss liked you and was interested in making an offer, but said she had to talk to her board first. That means there wasn’t an offer; it still needed to be discussed with her board. She talked to the board about it and they said they wanted to meet you. Hence, the next interview. HR had told you the second interview would be the last interview because they didn’t know the CEO would want to talk to her board. There hasn’t been an offer yet; the board wants to meet you before there’s a decision on that. This all actually seems to make sense. You’re getting confused because you thought the CEO made you an offer, but she didn’t.

      1. danza*

        Now I’m the one sheepish.

        Well, I do feel slightly better because I called up a friend who’s in the slot of taking up the PR manager position, and despite being familiar with some other managers in the company and CEO herself, he sent a message to CEO about update and apparently she hasn’t replied yet. He has gotten a start date (15th) that I knew from meeting him during my wait for second interview but no written offer, contract or further confirmation… yet. I guess the hiring process is taking some time.

  22. Lisa*


    I am now on week 7 of waiting for my offer letter. Every few days the VP of marketing claims its coming but can’t until some big deal goes through. I was able to get health insurance info during the first week of waiting, then I finally tried pitting him against another company, to force him to give details. He was AGHAST that I was upset about waiting (that was at 5 weeks) They reposted the job on craigslist the day I started saying I want details about where the offer was! At week 6, I was finally given a salary range, stock option explanation (with no number of shares), and insurance promise of within 30days. Still no offer though, so I started applying again. The VP stopped emailing me so my asking got them to back off from ever giving me the offer on paper. Never trust a verbal offer, get it in writing.

  23. CB*

    Thank you for answering my question (number 4)! I just sent my resume out this week for a job I’m really interested in and I feel more confident leaving off my new job info after reading your answer.

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