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. How many interviews should it take to find a job?

How many interviews do people have, on average, before being given an offer? I just graduated, and am looking for my first full-time job. I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few interviews at many companies (some even progressing to the 2nd and 3rd round), but have never been offered a full-time position. I know you say it’s a numbers game (and it’s different for everyone), but when does it become an indication that there may be another problem with why I am not getting hired?

Additional info: I’ve been told that my resume is great, and that I interview well enough – so now I’m just worried that maybe my personality is holding me back (I’m extremely introverted).

I don’t think there’s a real answer to the question of how many interviews without an offer indicates there’s a problem. There are too many possible explanations — yes, it could be your interviewing skills, but it could also be the economy, a competitive field, etc. The fact that you’re getting second and third round interviews indicates that you’re not bombing them, or you wouldn’t be getting past the first.

However, because you’re worried about it, I’d suggest role-playing some interviews with the most blunt person you know. Ideally this would be someone who has some experience interviewing people, but if you don’t have any obvious choice in your circle, ask your bluntest friend, and make it clear you want a real critique. You could also try asking for feedback from any interviewers who you felt a particular rapport with. (Here’s advice on how to do that, and here too, although also be aware that — like I discussed earlier today — not all employers will do this … but some will.)

2. How long should an offer take?

Two weeks ago, I received a call from an HR rep who indicated that they were trying to put together an offer for me. I responded that this was good news and asked when that might happen. She said it took a while due to the many approval levels, equity analysis, etc.

Should I be concerned that I have not yet received an offer? I would hate to think an HR professional would initiate that call and not be truthful, especially if something changed. What’s your take?

Well, never count an offer until you see it in front of you, because things do change. However, you can absolutely follow up with her and ask her to give you a sense of the likely timeline for moving forward. And if you’re nearing the end stages of interviewing with other companies, you can mention that as well.

3. Calling to follow up on a job application

I just graduated from school and I am getting back into the job market. I been telling employers in cover letters that I will call them back within the week. But then I ran across your blog and it said contacting by phone will annoy your potential employer. I want to seem enthusiastic about working for them, because I really am, but not to the point that it turns them off to my application. Should I not contact them or just send e-mail instead as a follow-up within the week?

Also an employer sent an email, that was automatic, that said that they would contact me if they need more information for current and future jobs. Should I follow up with them within the week or just follow up later or not at all? It seemed like they where discouraging a follow-up.

Unless you’re in sales, don’t say in your cover letter that you’ll call them in a week (or whatever) to follow up. They have your application; they know you’re interested.

Interrupting someone with an unnecessary phone call is annoying and even arguably rude. Email is much more courteous, because it allows the person to respond when it’s convenient, rather than having to stop whatever they’re doing to take a call. And remember, you’re not the only one applying; you’ve got to multiply your phone call by the 200+ applicants they likely have for the job.

But even email follow-ups tend to be unnecessary and not especially useful. They know you’re interested; they’ll contact you if they want to talk further.

4. Applying to internships and regular jobs at the same company

I’m a recent grad with some work (and a lot of internship) experience, and have been having trouble finding a job. I’ve been applying mostly for full-time, entry-level positions, but some companies also offer internships that are similar to the entry-level jobs (similar work, same dept., etc.). Is it a good idea to apply for both positions at the same time? I’ve noticed that the few times I have, I hear back from the company right away about the internship position and never hear anything about the full-time job. I’m worried that when they see that I applied for the internship, they see that I’m willing to work for little to no money, and would rather offer me an internship than consider me for a salaried position.

They want to hire the best person for the salaried position. If that’s you, they’re not going to funnel you into the internship position instead. (Although if you’re borderline, they might want to try you as an intern first before committing to the full-time job.) However, you might be signaling a lack of confidence or a lack of direction by applying to both types of jobs at the same company — you might try just doing one or the other per employer.

5. When references are slow to respond

I’ve been asked by a recruiting company for my references. I provided three professional references; one is a professor from graduate school, and the other two are advisors from my internship. My professor did not fill out the survey attached to the email sent by the recruiting company but sent a response back anyway, and my other two references never got the email in the first place. A week later, I got a call from the recruiting company asking if I knew what happened, as this is a time-sensitive manner (the position I am being considered for starts next week). I got in touch with all my references and have been assured that everything will be sent out tomorrow. I called the recruiting company back apologizing for the inconvenience and let them know that I got in touch with everyone and they should be receiving everything.

How badly does this reflect on me? I would give up both my legs for this position and I don’t want something like issues with my references to jeopardize me getting this job. I feel like I’ve done the right thing and apologized (as I truly am mortified that this happened) and now I’m just crossing my fingers. Thoughts?

It sounds like you handled it correctly. I’d follow up with your recruiter this week to make sure that they’ve received everything (both to make sure they did and also to signal that you’re on top of it). It shouldn’t reflect on you as long as everything does show up.

6. Tactfully saying that you know the previous person in a job sucked

At my previous company, I worked in a group with an individual who was really a terrible employee in every sense. She was grossly unprofessional with colleagues (calling her reps “sexy pants,” etc.), had no sense of accountability, she lied constantly about herself, and about other colleagues, took advantage of sick time, and gossiped incessantly. In short, she was a nightmare. I left that organization for another opportunity, and she left shortly after to work for another local company.

Fast forward to present, and she has recently been fired from that employer (for what, I’m not entirely sure) and they are currently accepting applications to replace her. I am really interested in this position, and believe I have the necessary skills and experience to really add value to the division. I sent my resume to the recruiter two weeks ago. However, I have yet to hear anything back and I am concerned that they may be hesitant to hire anyone who had worked with this person for fear that they might end up with someone with similar traits. Is there a tactful way to follow up with the recruiter in a manner that says, “I understand if you want to distance your organization from anyone who might be even remotely similar to X, but I have what it takes to do this job and be an asset to the company. Is there any way that I can assure you that I am a very different type of employee?”

I don’t think there’s any way to say that without sounding like you’re trash-talking someone to a stranger (which is rarely appropriate), but I do think you could say that you were always very interested in the work of that position when you were employed there and would love the opportunity to show what you could do in the role (or something like that). But I also wouldn’t worry about the fact that you worked with her; presumably the employer knows your work ethic and work habits and knows that they’re different from hers.

7. Forwarding praise to your manager

One of the people I work for, not my supervisor, emailed me a glowing compliment on how I’m doing my job. I’ve been at this position for almost 3 months. Is it bragging (or otherwise annoying) if I forward that to my supervisor? I have worked in this department for 7 years, but this supervisor I’ve only worked for 3 months as well.

Not bragging or annoying. Normal and appreciated. Forward it to your manager with a note like “This was nice to see” or “Wanted to share this with you.”

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    Theoretically, if you make it to the final stage of interviewing you’ve got about at most a 1 in 5 shot of getting the job. At that point there’s typically not a lot of separation between candidates. But getting a first interview is a bit more complicated because it depends on the size of the pool, and the quality of everyone’s qualifications as they relate to the job.

  2. fposte*

    On #5–just checking, but did you notify the references to look for contact from this specific employer? If you didn’t, I think you’ll find alerting your references that there’ll be incoming queries can help them put it on their mental calendar; it’s a lot more effective than just leaving it at their agreement to be references if the need arises.

    However, most employers are aware that references (especially academic references) often work on their own timetables no matter how much applicants prep them, and they won’t hold it against you.

    1. ChristineH*

      Additionally, giving your references a heads up may prompt them to check their junk/spam folders in the event the recruiter’s email went there by mistake.

      1. Kimmie Sue*

        +1 Especially if the hiring company is using an automated screening tool from an outside vendor. These often go to junk/spam.

        1. Natalie*

          I got one with the subject heading “A Five Minute Request” or something like that – it sounded exactly like some idiotic “inspiring” email forward. Even worse, it had the candidate’s email address as the sender, even though I think it was generated by the website. I didn’t even open it until the referencee alerted me that it was coming.

  3. Laurie*

    #4 – is it possible that these companies think you are only qualified for their intern position, and not for their salaried position? I’ve experienced this before when I was just out of school and applying to fortune 500 firms who would list intern, analyst and associate positions all in the same department. I’d get call-backs for intern but not for analyst from these f500 firms, while at other smaller firms, I would get call-backs for the analyst position.

    1. OP #4*

      Yes, that’s possible. While I generally only apply for entry-level jobs I am qualified for (with prior work/internship experience), the companies that also offer internships tend to be large ones that probably get a ton of applicants. My experience so far has been pretty similar to what you describe. I’m also trying to get into a very competitive industry.

      1. Ali*

        That’s the same situation with me. The only calls for jobs I get in my field are for internships. Then when I try to apply outside my desired field for actual jobs, I don’t get called. I feel like I’m either underqualified or overqualified, but never just right haha.

  4. Another Jamie*

    It surprises me that #7 is considered normal. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I’d feel uncomfortable forwarding personal praise from another co-worker to my boss. How does a manager or boss respond to such a forward?

    When I get praise emails, I save them to a folder in my inbox for later use if I ever want to ask for a raise, have an annual review coming up, or need ideas on how to start a cover letter. Maybe if my boss didn’t think I was doing a good job, I might forward them. But even that feels kind of awkward.

    (LW#7: I am ridiculously socially awkward in most situations, so don’t put too much weight on my opinion.)

    1. blu*

      I love it when my team shares this kind of feedback with me for several reasons:

      1. I’m just generally pleased that they are making a positive impression on the people they work with.

      2. It’s reinforces that the positive perception I have of them is shared by others.

      3. I have found that other people are much more likely to share complaints with me (the boss) and only share the positive stuff with the actual individual, so it’s helpful for my team to send these over just so I know they exist.

      1. Kimmie Sue*

        I agree with all of these points, but would add that when I managed people, I’d create a special praise file. I’d always revisit during the annual performance review cycle. Very helpful in remembering the time an employee provided excellent support or service.

        1. NewReader*

          Definitely, do not forget to print out a copy and keep it in that special file. Very important.

          I have friends that have whipped themselves up to even asking for something in writing. They work it like this.
          1) They do NOT ask often- once every 18-24 months tops
          2) They ask customers/clients who have expressed unusually high praise for their work.
          3) They ask simply and modestly. “Would you mind sharing that with my boss?”

          My friends never get NO for an answer.

          People can be really great.

    2. -X-*

      “How does a manager or boss respond to such a forward?”

      No immediate response is necessary, but they can keep the info in mind in making decisions in the future. Just docket it for now.

      Depending on the nature of the comments, they might also use it to show their bosses what their team is doing.

    3. Sabrina*

      For most of the time I was an AA I had a manager who was also an AA. So the praise I got was from the people I worked for, not under. If that makes sense. Frequently people I supported did not give her feedback about my performance directly unless I forwarded it. On the road of life no one is going to lean over and honk your horn, you have to do it yourself.

    4. Liz*

      That’s what I do too. I save them all so if/when I get a review (they’ve been consistently inconsistent here – I’ve only had 1 in 7 years!) or am chatting with my boss I can mention it.

    5. Another Jamie*

      Thanks for the replies. It’s good to hear that other managers don’t find this weird, along with reasons why they like it.

    6. jesicka309*

      From another perspective, whenever I send an email that praises an employee (eg. awesome help with the weekend prep yesterday, it really helps and you’ve improved heaps! Keep it up!), I CC their immediate manager.
      Like someone up there says, too often people send the bosses complaints, and don’t let them know when their team is performing well. And they always appreciate it, as sometimes those quiet achievers who don’t jump up and down and crow about their achievements need that extra praise, and are relieved they are getting seen by othe rstaff, and their manager. :)

    7. M-C*

      I usually cc people’s supervisors directly when I send this kind of praise, which saves everyone this kind of ankwardness :-). But sometimes you don’t know the supervisor, or not as well. In any case you shouldn’t hesitate to forward it yourself. And be sure to keep a personal copy in a special folder, forwarded to your personal email, so you still have it when you work elsewhere..

    8. Beth*

      I supervise three people and I always like to hear people praise them and would appreciate such an email. This is useful information for a manager to have about the employee. Also, remember that such praise is in a way reflected praise for the boss in that she chose wisely in hiring and is managing her team well. So if I were the letter writer I would definitely forward the email.

  5. Job Seeker*

    I have a interview tomorrow with a company that I don’t know a lot about. This is in the medical field and I have googled it and still cannot find a lot of information. I have Alison’s e-book that I am looking over today and I am trying to think of everything possible that could be thrown at me. The job is part-time which is what I need at the moment. I was a stay-at-home mom for a long time and only worked part-time and volunteered so I don’t know what I will say when asked have I been looking long? I went back to school and have not worked or volunteered since December. That is a long time and I don’t know how to explain this. I have been helping my mother with some health concerns and going to doctors with her. Should I even mention this? I am also a middle-age lady and I know I will probably be competing with much younger people. This job deals with extensive patient contact and requires strong communication skills. In person, I know I can come across fine. I am just worried about my age and not working recently being seen negative. I know my resume and cover letter was good, but how do I explain not working since December?

    1. fposte*

      In this market, not working since December is nothing unusual, and being key support for your ailing mother while she was getting treatment is perfectly legitimate. For a cover letter, you might actually want to talk about how much you noticed the effect of the front-office people at the facility where you were taking your mother for regular treatment earlier this year, and how much difference they made to patient experience. (No badmouthing, though–just appreciation for the role or for individuals who were particularly good at it.) That way you’re subtly filling them in in the context of something that’s actually relevant to the position rather than defensively stating “Here’s why I didn’t have a job earlier this year” to people who might not have thought about it otherwise.

    2. Jamie*

      I wouldn’t worry about your age – people waste a lot of energy worrying about things they can’t change.

      Some things just are what they are, your age isn’t good or bad – it just is.

      I’m in a male dominated field (although that’s changing – slowly) in a predominately industry. If I were going for an interview I wouldn’t worry about being a woman – not a whole lot I could do about it and I wouldn’t even if I could.

      I feel the same way about my age – it is what it is. I’m in my 40s and if someone thought I was too old to hire, well they would be wrong…but it’s not like I can turn back time so it is what it is.

      I think going through Alison’s book and trying to find out about the company is a fabulous idea. Prep the areas where you can prepare and don’t worry about the stuff you can’t change.

        1. Job Seeker*

          Thank you both. I appreciate the encouragement so much. I can’t do anything about not being in my 20’s or 30s anymore. God help me accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

          1. NewReader*

            Right on.

            Added tidbit of info. Some employers PREFER middle aged people. Although they cannot discriminate, they are desperate for someone who is a rock of Gibraltar type person.
            Be sure to let them know how you are a steady, reliable worker.
            This skates by the whole age thing and focuses on what you have to offer.

            1. Job Seeker*

              I had a very good interview today. The person that was suppose to interview me was out sick, so a RN manager and another person there interviewed me. They told me they would probably have to have second interviews. The only question I found myself having trouble with was my greatest weakness. I practiced last night, read their website and looked over Alison’s interview guide and e-book. I believe I connected well with these two individuals, I believe I will be called back. But how do you answer this one question? I have taken the advice here and applied again to another job after I came home from my interview. For the future, what is a good answer? How do you tell someone your greatest weakness?

              1. Zed*

                Before my most recent job interview (which lead to my first full-time position), I struggled a lot with preparing an answer to this question. As it happened, I was asked, “What are you most confident about and where do you need to improve?”

                My answer was something along these lines:

                “This job has two main components, X and Y. As you know, I have two years experience with X, and [talk more about specific accomplishments with X]. However, I have less experience with Y, and one of the reasons I am interested in this position is that I really want to improve. I have struggled with Y in the past, but I have been making a concerted effort to develop my Y skills. In graduate school, I completed a course on Y and received positive feedback. Last year I volunteered to [complete tasks that involved Y with another organization] and this year I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to [complete Y tasks with this organization]. I was observed by [contact at interviewing organization], who also provided me with feedback. I am looking forward to working with [person] and developing these skills even further.”

                To be fair, I took a bit of a gamble identifying one of the core job responsibilities as my weakness. I decided it was worth it to show that I could speak thoughtfully about challenges and also demonstrate the steps I had taken to develop my qualifications and my skillset. I also knew that the workplace was very big on mentoring and that they were interested in me because I was early in my career. And of course I certainly wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t prepared to talk about how I had already improved!

            2. mh_76*

              I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor magazine (a few weeks ago) about how some employers prefer middle-aged and older workers. I’ll have to look for the link because I read it on paper and will post it here if there’s interest.

              1. Job Seeker*

                Thank you both. I was asked how I felt about working for someone younger than me. I told them it did not bother me one bit. It doesn’t, age is not a issue with me. I do know however, some people do not feel like this. Funny thing, until I started back to work I never thought of myself as a older worker.

                1. Jamie*

                  I’ll be honest – I think we’re close in age (judging by some other things you’ve posted) and I never think of myself as an older worker unless I’m reading one of your comments…then it occurs to me that there is this perception out there.

                  I think you and I just see this very differently. I’m in my mid-40s – that’s neither good nor bad – it just is. I certainly don’t think of myself as young, but not old either…until I read someone near my own age talking about how old they are and then I’m like – oh yeah – me too…but it’s not visceral for me.

                  It’s not like – oh gosh some people think I’m old so I feel bad. I don’t – it’s just like a weird neutral observation where I’m reminded that some people think I am.

                  Although – now that I think about it…if I could have now the looks I had at 22 and combine it with all these freaking years of experience…

                  I truly believe I could handily achieve world domination :)

                1. Hope*

                  Interesting article! Just thought I’d share that I’m in my late ’50’s (although I’m told I don’t look it) and I have been hired twice in two years, both good jobs. (The first one turned out to be not a great fit.) A lot of it is attitude IMHO. Yes, I’m working with people a lot younger than I, many the age of my kids. But I keep up on life, I have a sense of humor and I’m always eager to learn new things. A positive attitude and good people skills go a long way. Oh, and I also took a break from working to care for my aging father, and people totally understand that gap. It’s never been a problem for me.

                2. Job Seeker*

                  Thank you for all this encouragement. I don’t think of myself as old either Jamie. I don’t look my age, I am slender and petite. I keep up with fashion and makeup and like to dress nice. I just remember one place that interviewed me several months ago, I think they wanted a younger person. The manager that interviewed me said she had fired the person that had the position I was interviewing for because they had problems working for a younger person. The lady that was fired was around my age and did not like this manager being younger according to this interviewer. You do not think about age, unless you realize your competing against the young 20 and 30 year old group for entry-level. You want to be able to fit in.

  6. KayDay*

    #1 – Since your a recent grad, does your school offer mock-interviews? The best thing I got from my career center was their mock interviews, where they conduct a fake interview (either for a “general” position, or you could bring in a real job description) and provide feedback. (You could even have it video taped so you could review yourself). It was really helpful.

  7. Wilton Businessman*

    #5: You might also start priming your network for other references. You might tell the recruiter that you will be happy to provide other references if those references don’t respond in a timely manner.

  8. V*

    Re # 6 – Maybe I am misreading it, but I interpreted the questions this way: #6 worked at Company A with Ms. Crazy. #6 left Company A for Company B; Ms. Crazy left Company A for Company C and then was fired from Company C. #6 now wants ot work at Company C and is concerned that Comapny C is wary of anyone who worked with Ms. Crazy (or perhaps anyone who worked at Company A).

    Even if that isn’t the question, I’d be intrerested in how to address that situation.

    1. fposte*

      Actually, I read it that way too (“she left shortly after to work for another local company”), and I suspect that in most cases people won’t even notice that this candidate and their former staffer worked together at a different employer previously. I would find it very strange and probably somewhat offputting if an applicant brought up a former staffer in this kind of context.

      1. Emily*

        That’s how I read it too. I would never assume that everyone who worked for the same employer in the past had the same work habits.

    2. Jamie*

      That’s how I read it, too.

      So unless they are well versed in the former employee’s history (both place and time line) they may not even put it together than #6 would know her.

      What you do have is a little insider knowledge…so the worst traits of the ex-employee? Make it clear in your interview that you are not those things.

    3. Anonymous*

      You are both correct. I have no reputation with this company, and am worried that any association with “Crazy” may be enough to get my resume sent to the bottom of the pile…. or the circular file.

      1. Jamie*

        As long as you aren’t listing her as a reference, it probably won’t matter. :)

        Even if they do make the connection, I really hope I’m correct in that we live in a world where we’re not judged by the work ethics of our co-workers.

      2. fposte*

        Not unless you were co-CEOs of AIG or something.

        More broadly speaking, yes, there are occasionally workplaces that garner a bad rep in their industry. But the way to combat that is with your application package–saying “I’m not like those other losers at ChocTePo” is 1) going to raise their suspicion that you are exactly like them; 2) going to look defensive; and 3) making that “badmouthing former employers” mistake.

        1. TL*

          ChocTePo being the main competitor of the Chocolate Teapot Company and thus the grounds of all things awful?

          I kinda like it as an “anti-AAM” company.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, they sold out to some big conglomerate and haven’t made a decent teapot since; employee turnover there is crazy.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, I misread that. In that case, my advice remains the same, minus the part about potentially noting that you were always very interested in the work of that position when you were employed there (which was so subtle that it probably didn’t really signal anything anyway).

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Interesting distinctions made here (above.)

        AAM: It would also be excluding the part about how the employer knows they’re 2 different types of employee, right?
        Since we now know that the applicant (#6) is brand new to them, is there a way she could strongly phrase “professionalism is of the utmost importance to me” that might get them to at least think, ‘Hey, that’s a keyword/buzzword that Ms. Cray wouldn’t even *know*’ ?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          She could definitely find ways to talk about the stuff she does well that she knows the other person did not … although they’re so unlikely to assume she must be like her former coworker that she probably doesn’t need to strategize around this at all, really.

    1. Daisy*

      I read that to mean he or she would be receiving stock as part of his or her compensation (or as some sort of signing bonus, or in a partnership – perhaps be expected to buy in). If that’s not what this refers to, I’d also be very curious what sort of equity analysis they are doing.

      1. Anonymous*

        Pay equity perhaps? “We pay Manager A $x for y responsibilities, so we need to pay this person…”. This sort of thing really should’ve been done before this point though

  9. mh_76*

    re: #7 – also don’t be afraid to cc: someone’s direct supervior(s) when emailing praise. Verbal praise is great, emailed praise is even greater, and emailed cc: boss praise is *&^@in’ awesome!!
    (also awesome is being referred to as “THE mh_76” by a grinning boss-type when I was helping in the office today at Large NonProfit – I run one of their [field volunteer] teams and sometimes help out in the office…at least until the next job comes around).

  10. Cube Ninja*

    #4 correction: “If that you, they’re not going to funnel you…”

    Alison write blog about manage good. Thog like. Learn stuff.

    I would apologize for being so silly/flippant/omgyoudaretocorrectmygrammar, but I love those sorts of typos because I immediately hear caveman-speak in my head as I read. :)

  11. LK*

    3. Calling to follow up on a job application:

    Over the summer, I taught career development to academically gifted HS seniors. One of the assignments I gave was a resume & cover letter – and EVERY SINGLE ONE closed with “I’ll call you on Friday Sept. 28 to follow up on my application and schedule an interview.” There were 40 students from 6 or 7 different high schools so there’s a lot of people perpetuating bad information like this. It took me weeks to convince the kids that the employer will call them if they’re interested.

    1. Jamie*

      Good for you – and I wonder if you taught at my daughter’s school.

      When she was in high school one of her classes had a career development unit and her teacher taught as if she was using AAM for a textbook. Tailored cover letters which add to the resume, not repeating information, resumes which talk about achievements not duties, using the interview to make sure it’s a good fit for you as well…

      I shot her an email to thank her for preparing these kids properly. So there are at least two of you out there doing it right – that’s a wonderful thing.

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