wee answer Wednesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s wee answer Wednesday! Here we go…

1. Reapplying at a company that rejected me a few months ago

Several months ago, I applied for an admin position at a large, well-known company. I made it through two phone interviews and was even flown in to interview in person. The in-house interview was grueling (6 people in 4 hours, with no breaks), but ultimately a great experience. Unfortunately, two days after I returned home, I got a call from the recruiting manager telling me I was out and when I pressed for feedback, all I was granted was that I was “long-winded.” Until that point, I was actually fairly confident on my performance throughout.

A few weeks ago, I posted an interview review on Glassdoor.com. It was quite positive. Two days later, I got notification that the recruiting manager had found me and started following me on Twitter. The timing seems too suspect to be coincidence, as it had been months since I had any contact with the company. This company has postings all the time for positions that I’m interested in, and I’ve been told by several sources that it’s a great place to work. What should I do? Do I keep reapplying online? Should I email the recruiting manager directly to see what my chances are?

Normally I’d say to simply apply and drop the recruiter a short email letting her know and reminding her who you are, but since you’re talking about frequent postings, do this instead: Email her and say, “You often have positions I think I’d be a good match for, but I don’t want to bombard you with applications. Would you encourage my applications for jobs like the X and the Y you currently have open, or based on my interview in June, do you think it’s not quite the right fit?”

Also, take seriously that feedback about being long-winded. That can indeed kill an otherwise good candidacy, and you’re lucky they told you — that’s the kind of reason for rejecting someone that a lot of employers feel too awkward about explaining.

2. Government intern with questions

I’ve been working a federal government job for the past 5 months. When I started, they hired me as an intern working 37.5 hours a week. I hardly asked for time off, only to go to doctor’s appointments when needed. The “internship” was only to be for 4 months with the possibility to hire permanently. Well after the 4 months, they decided to keep me until the end of the year (which is great). I’m getting paid double what I was getting paid before. This is where I get confused. Now they’re calling me a “part-time intern” with no benefits or vacation time. But if I’m “part-time,” doesn’t that mean that I would be working less hours and less money? Plus during this whole internship, they never kept me updated until weeks later when I started asking questions. The manager is very slack when it comes to management skills. They never gave me an official title for my job. How do I ask these questions without overstepping my boundaries and learning more about what I’m doing for when its time to find another job? Is the “part-time” title and no benefits working for the federal government fair by law?

They probably define anything less than 40 hours a week as part-time (so you were part-time earlier too), but just ask them. It’s normal for internships not to include benefits and not to have a title beyond “intern.” (On your resume, though, you can simply write “intern” and not “part-time intern.”) And don’t resent the fact that you had to ask them questions about your future rather than them coming to you; this is often the case at work.

Whenever you’re wondering about stuff like this, it’s fine just to ask your employer.

3. My reference doesn’t answer calls from unknown numbers

I recently emailed my reference from an internship because I’d like to use her a reference for a job I’m interviewing for, and she asked if it would be possible for her to call the place I’m applying to instead of having them call her (she has personal reasons for not answering unknown numbers). I don’t know what to do. Should I just give the place her email instead of a phone number? Should I ask the place if they can give me the phone number they’d be calling from to give to my reference because she screens calls? Should I ask them if they could give me a phone number for her to call?

Give them her email with a note that she often doesn’t answer calls from unknown numbers. They can work it out with her from there. (Or they can call her and leave a voicemail, and she’ll presumably get the message and call them back.)

4. Negotiating up from a low salary requirement

Is there any way to negotiate up from a low minimum salary requirement that I put on an application during the interviewing stage? My boyfriend seems to think they’re only going to offer me my minimum (if I do get an offer), but I took the term “minimum” for what was — the absolute lowest non-negotiable number I could go to consider the position (the HR manager had suggested that they would be able to hit my minimum without any problems). Was I being naive? This position is in a higher cost of living city than the one i’m currently residing in. Is there any way of bringing the number back up without looking uninformed?

Your boyfriend is probably right, since many employers want to hire you for the lowest wage you’ll accept, and once they know what that is, that’s what they’ll offer. However, you can certainly try to negotiate, especially if you emphasize that you hadn’t factored in the difference in cost of living. (Which will be much more compelling than “that was just my minimum” — since your minimum is what they want.)

Note: Not all employers operate this way. Better ones realize that to attract and keep good employees, they need to pay competitively, not just the bare minimum.

5. Would it be appropriate to reach out to this former coworker?

I recently found a listing for a position with a company I really admire, and in reviewing the company’s website, I realized that a former coworker of mine now works there. We were at a large office together but didn’t work in the same department, and he was also higher up in the company than I was, so I don’t think he’ll remember me, although he would understand what my role was within the company. Another coworker of mine who was much closer to him gave me his personal contact information and said he thought he would be open to answering any questions I might have, but I’m still trying to decide if it is appropriate to contact him and politely ask how he feels about the company, if he knows anything about the position I’ve applied for (hiring schedule, does he think it would be comparable to my previous position, etc.), or if it would be better to just let the company’s online application process run its course (unfortunately I don’t have a lot of faith in online application systems, for all the same reasons you’ve discussed in previous blog posts).

I think I’m a strong candidate for the job, but I also know that in this job market, there will probably be quite a few strong candidates. It would be nice to have a connection to the company, but I don’t want to inadvertently violate networking etiquette by asking too much of someone I don’t really know.

Not a violation at all! Email him. Totally normal.

6. CEO’s comments in our interview confused me

I interviewed with a small nonprofit this morning, where I presented a project that I had done, as well as met with the CEO of the organization. I thought everything was going really well, but then the CEO divulged that they are working with three other people for the job and how great the other candidates are. He said, “If this isn’t the place for you, we are happy to help you find something else.” He continued on this way, then said, “We would be honored if you would join our team.” What?!

What does all this mean?! I felt good about everything, and I am still really interested but it seems that they aren’t sure how they feel about me.

It means that this is a normal hiring process where they are interviewing more than one candidate, and that yes, they’re absolutely not sure yet how they feel about you. They won’t be sure about that until they’ve finished all their interviews and had a chance to think everything over and talk to each other. This is nearly always the case, and you should always assume it. It doesn’t matter what other signals you think you might be getting; always, always assume this is the case, because it almost always is.

The only unusual thing here is his offer to help you find something else if this doesn’t work out. That’s quite unusual, and I don’t know if he was just being overly effusive or if he really meant it.

7. Interviewers want me to give a presentation

I have an interview next week that is a 2-day affair for a consulting company. Part of the interview is for me to give a 20 minute presentation on a subject matter that is directly correlated to the job but not something with which I’m terribly familiar. I’ve never given a formal presentation during an interview, and I just really don’t know what to expect or what they expect. PowerPoint or no? 15 minutes of talking with Q&A or dialogue style? Might there be a Q&A, or would it be just me talking and then a “thank you” from them? All of the presentations we did in school were pretty well spelled out by the professor, and all of the presentations I did at work were in such a familiar subject that I honestly didn’t give it that much thought.

Ask. It could be any of those things, and it’s completely fine to ask: “Do you generally like people to include PowerPoint for these?” or whatever. If they tell you it’s up to you, then do whatever you think will make for the strongest presentation. Personally, I’d do 15 minutes of talking with five minutes for Q&A, and I’d only use PowerPoint if it truly enhanced the talk. And I might be prepared with a few extra tidbits for those five minutes if no one had any questions. Good luck!

{ 36 comments… read them below }

  1. Laura

    Regarding #7- Consulting interview Powerpoint

    First- I want to note that I work for a consulting firm (strategy consulting). Although my firm doesnt require presentation interviews, I know many do.
    I think it is fine to email and ask for more clarification, but I would also do a few other things.

    1) look in the internet to find an example presentation the company did. It may be a a professional conference or a conference where they were selling their services. This will give you an idea if they have presentations with simple slides or presentations that serve as reports with very dense slides.

    2) the point is to see how you present, talk, and synthesize ideas. Think about what you consider a great presentation. I think it should be running through the slides, focusing on the takeaway (tagline at the top), pointing out the INSIGHTS on each slide (not just restating facts), and telling a COHESIVE STORY throughout the presentation. One slide should flow into another. Dont just present on the history of chocolate teapots. Tell them the “so what?” Why do chocolate teapots matter? How do they change the industry?

    Leave ample time for questions at the end and expect questions!

    1. Nev

      Just an addition to this great piece of advice: Presentation format and styling matter in the consulting business more than in most other businesses. So make sure that after you develop a story and presented in a cohesive way, focusing on the insights, not on the data, you might want to work on:
      1. professional and consistent layout throughout the presentation;
      2. text at the bare minimum, more charts.
      3. if you have data in a table format, make it into a graph/chart.
      4. nice looking charts/diagrams – with titles, axes labelled, trend lines and percentages that check.

      You might get challenging questions during the presentation (I doubt they will let you finish). Make sure you don’t get defensive, be confident, but not cocky, and practice that case interview approach when you get questions you don’t know the answer to.

      Good luck!

      1. OP #7

        Thanks Nev! I don’t know if this changes the great advice I’m getting, but I’ll give you a bit more info just in case. The company’s main business line is an ERP system. The subject for presentation is how ERP systems interact with Lean manufacturing. I’ve been pretty strongly indoctrinated in the 3 point “Tell em what you’re gonna tell em, tell em, then tell em what you told em”. So far, I’ve decided to define ERP and how they support business activities at a really high level, define Lean manufacturing at a really high level, and then show the power of bringing them together. Is that way off or does it sound like it would be on track?

        I was also really strongly indoctrinated in being able to field questions during the presentation, but it’s good to know that will probably be part of the experience. There’s nothing like being in the middle of something when you get questions, so I try to remember to ask if there are questions any time I get to any kind of stopping point.

        1. Jamie

          I have no advice on the presentation, but the subject matter is dead center in my wheelhouse. I’m IT (including admin of the ERP) and cost accounting in a lean mfg plant.

          As you said you weren’t all that familiar with the material, if you had any questions about content I’d be happy to help if I can. You can contact me through the LinkedIn group if you like.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’m going to be the wet blanket, I realize, but: Be careful about how much guidance you get. If they’re looking for a demonstration of your knowledge on the subject, you don’t want to fudge it at all — because you want to make sure you if end up in the job, it’s truly the right fit.

              1. Jamie

                I’m not all that helpful :).

                I was just thinking it could be useful to have someone who is familiar with the subject matter offer some pointers on the outline and maybe advise on some questions which are likely to arise in the Q & A. Like a practice interview.

                ITA that if one doesn’t know the content you don’t want to ever fake it. It’s just not sustainable.

              2. OP #7

                Nope, no fudging. But I do want to be able to speak to something like how sunk is your ship if your ERP has unexpected downtime, getting buy in from those who believe the investment outweighs the benefits, or segregation of duties for those under SOX compliance. Those are some of the questions I see coming during the presentation. I haven’t been through their training, so I can’t speak to everything and in no way am I endorsing myself as an expert, but I’m really just looking to show that I thought about it and took into consideration more than just the nuts and bolts. So no wet blanketing, but I do really appreciate everyone’s help and insight.

        2. Nev

          Dear OP, I have no idea what lean manufacturing is and a quite broad understanding about ERPs. I assume you have been given a case on a company that deploys an ERP system, so based on the case info & data you need to present on how ERPs enable companies to align with lean manufacturing principles. My reasoning will be as follows:
          1. Why the presentation? – not to test how deep is your knowledge of the subject, but to see how you synthesize a 15 min story out of 10 page case, to listen to your logic, and to test your presentation skills.
          2. Why the subject of the presentation? – my guess is that your potential employer could have an ERP company as client, or lean manufacturing consulting is a major service of theirs, or lean manufacturing is major reason why companies want to integrate ERPs, etc . Try to find out what the connection is, so that you can guess what perspective on the case the audience would like to hear the most.
          3. Most case presentations follow this structure: 1. summary of given info, a bunch of analyses of the available data (or more research if you have it), insights, short recommendations. In 15 min you can cover about 15-20 slides, so don’t waste time/space for definitions unless they’re critical to the case.
          Idea: if the case doesn’t make it clear, you might want to dig into the Linkedin groups’s discussions about ERPs & lean manufacturing and talk to Jamie to find out what the issues are in this field. Maybe this will give you an idea how to build your story.

          1. OP #7

            They didn’t give me a case, just the topic, so it looks to be a test of my presentation and research skills. Interesting you brought it up though, since I’m digging around for cases on ERP and Lean.
            Lean is what came out of Toyota’s Total Quality Management program in the 80’s. Basically, it strives to eliminate all the waste possible from manufacturing, and it’s different than Six Sigma (and that is the sum total of my knowledge on this subject before I started this project :D). So my tie in with ERP systems is how you have all of your information in one software package, eliminating the waste of not having real time info, delayed interfaces, extra training on additional software, etc.
            On #2 you’re right; their clients are Lean manufacturers and they specialize in a specific ERP system. I’m quite familiar with a competing ERP, and I have the option of using that one in my presentation, but I think I’ll stick with learning all I can about theirs. I just don’t think it would be a great idea to talk about a competing product too much.

            1. Jamie

              I would ask them if you could get a demo of their product – so if you want to use screen shots as visuals you can use theirs.

              Also, the demo will help you familiarize yourself with the way transactions flow through the system.

            2. Job Hunter

              OP 7, this is starting to take over this page with comments that are only reallyl relevant to you. Maybe could talk to people are who willing to help you off-line.

  2. OP #7

    Thanks Laura. Oh, if only it were on Chocolate Teapots – I could tear that up! Those of us who are looking for a job should consider banding together and starting the Chocolate Teapot Company.

    Fortunately, I tend to be pretty good at getting the heart of why the chocolate teapots matter, I’m just psyching myself out a little on the unfamiliarity of it. I will try your suggestions – thanks again!

    1. Laura

      I am always surprised by the amount of people in fields that require tons of presentations (like consultants) that cant speak well or don’t know their material enough to field questions. I bet that is precisely why they have these type of interviews. Just practice, be confident, and I bet you will be great!

  3. Jen

    #7 In my field (academia) we usually have to give a presentation for an interview. Stick to the time allotted. Be yourself. Smile and maintain eye contact and don’t read from a script. Try to really engage your audience. Find out if you can ahead of time what the room will be like — size of audience? etc? I agree with Alison, don’t use technology unless it truly enhances what you’re doing. If you do, always have your presentation or data backed up. Bring paper handouts or bulletpoints if it seems appropriate so they can refer later on to what you presented. Format this in a way they’ll be able to relate to. And just think of it as an experience that will give you an idea of what it would really be like to work for them.

  4. KT

    We often have candidates do presentations in interviews as many employees are required to give presentations to clients. PowerPoints or other “extras” like a handout, playing a related video etc., can very impressive when well-done and an instant deal-breaker when poorly executed. If you bring a presentation or something else BE PREPARED FOR TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY. As in, if the laptop or whatever isn’t working, be able to proceed without.
    Be prepared to answer questions; we are really looking for people who don’t look panicked if they don’t know the answer. Saying “Ive never thought about it from that perspective, what a great question! I’d love to follow up with you.” is a perfectly fine answer (unless it’s used repeatedly).

    1. OP #7

      Thanks Jen and KT! So, in follow-up: should I break out some of my fancier PPT skills to add interest (professional fancy, not setting the whole thing to music or having a kitten avatar playing with yarn at the bottom of each slide)? So, something I’m thinking of is if I have a pie graph, should I just have a plain but labeled pie chart, or if I’m elaborating briefly on each pie slice I could add animation to “push” the pie slice forward or out to the side to emphasize it for that moment? I’m looking to avoid having to use the laser pointer.

      1. KT

        My answer to this is based on the assumption that if you are giving a presentation, presenting is a key part of this job. I would say yes to using fancier PowerPoint skills because you would likely be expected to use PowerPoint or other presentation software. It sounds like you have good instincts (no kittens ;) ) but I’d make a friend or someone whose opinion you trust look at the presentation before to make sure the transitions are never distracting or silly. Also, don’t put your heart and soul into the presentation. How many times have you sen presenters not be able to get the equipment working?

      2. Josh S

        This probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: PRACTICE your presentation. Be comfortable with the material. If you can, leave 40-50% of the stuff you know out of the presentation so you can ‘wow’ with the depth of your knowledge.

        And then, when you’re done practicing *with* the PPT slides, practice once or twice WITHOUT any slides. You never know if the set up will fail to boot, or if it glitches in the middle. It’s SO much more impressive to see someone seamlessly continue in the presentation without the ‘crutch’ of PPT, than the person who must fiddle with a computer for 10 minutes because they can’t remember what comes next.

        1. OP #7

          That’s true. I am an extremely visual person, so would it be terrible to have a back up sheet of paper with the slides to peek at to make sure I don’t accidentally skip something important? Not reading from the sheet, just a quick peek.

          1. khilde

            As I was reading Josh’s comments, I was just going to suggest having your slides printed out as backup! I suppose if you’re really even concerned about the technology failing you, you could have a handful of copies ready to handout to the interviewers should that happen (but I wouldn’t hand them out automatically; only in case of failure). Like Josh said, it’s impressive when someone can continue to flow the presntation without the use of slides.

          2. Josh S

            I’d suggest note cards with an outline. Unless you have a lectern that you’ll be able to have notes on, in which case, have a folder.

            But the more you have it rehearsed and familiar without the need for aids, the better.

            If you’re really ambitious, have a friend sit and listen to your presentation–and INTERRUPT you when they have a question at some point. And have a plan for how to deal with the interruption.

            In consulting environments, when presenting to a client/3rd party, there’s a pretty reasonable expectation that they will ignore your planned remarks to get at the meat of what they want to know/understand. Don’t let them derail you or railroad you into a corner–assert yourself and maintain control as the presenter. :)

            And remember–it’s your job to win! Good luck.

  5. Just Me

    Ironically I just had a call on a resume today. When I called HR back he wanted to get a basic idea of salary. He told me he wasn’t going to hold me to it as such but just get an idea of what range I was looking for. He didn’t want to bring me in if I was not aligned with their range.
    I explained I had more background in the field then on my resume ( more than 10 years ago ) and shot him a figure that was probably on the min level, but at least it gave him an idea of where I was at. I have a pretty good idea of what these types of jobs are paying so I was OK with the $$ I told hm.

    I hope if I even get an offer they don’t say… this is what you said. Although the salary is more than I am making now I would still negotiate for more.

    He was good with what I told him and will be setting up an interview with the hiring manager.

    1. OP 4

      Yeah, I hope that we can both negotiate. AAM says always negotiate on an offer anyway, so it couldn’t hurt. The only reason salary even came up was because the hiring manager was trying to redirect me to a job posting that was a step lower in title and pay grade – in her trying to convince me to consider, she said what she said about my minimum. So I really must’ve underestimated!

      I’ve been working at the same company for over six years and from what i gathered from my peers in my industry, I thought I was doing okay. But this company I’m applying to has an excellent reputation of valuing its employees so perhaps I was just used to what I expected from where I was.

      Sorry this is longwinded – I’m just dang excited that Alison answered my letter! My bf is going to gloat about being right though. *sad trombone*

  6. Letter Writer #3

    Thanks for answering, Alison!

    I like your suggestion. It’s simple and unobtrusive if that makes sense. I was worried about “raising red flags” or making it seem like dealing with my application would be a hastle.

    1. Jamie

      If it makes you feel better, the only people I know who answer unknown numbers are in sales. Screening is more common than not, so leaving a voicemail and a round or two of phone tag isn’t out of the ordinary.

      1. Letter Writer #3

        Meant “hassle” not “hastle” in my first post. Stupid typos. >_>

        I thought maybe because my reference was supposed to be expecting a random call, that whoever was dealing with calling references would expect her to pick up and be annoyed if she didn’t. Though they can’t expect people to drop everything to talk to them… I might be over-thinking this. I kind of have a tendency of doing that.

        Thanks for pointing out that screening is more common than not. I hadn’t really thought about it, but now that I am, a lot of people I know screen calls too.

  7. danr

    #3…. I don’t answer the phone when the caller id says ‘unknown’ or ‘private caller’. I just let it go to the answering machine and pick up if the message is from a place that I know. I don’t know why companies don’t have their name attached to a phone number for caller id. If nothing else, it’s advertising. My old company came up ‘unknown’ and most of the phones were extensions on a main number.

  8. Job Seeker

    #1… I am considering re-applying to a company I had a interview with before. I am encouraged today about this. Last night my wonderful 22 year old son and I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning just talking. I am the mother of three amazing young people. This particular son told me one of the reasons I was probably having a harder time job looking was my confidence in myself was not there. He then told me all the things he thought were wonderful about me as his mom. He told me the skills I have acquired that could transfer on paper that fit this job. He then went through how I could word this on a cover letter to explain how I was the perfect fit. He said he would look over a outline I composed and help me pull up the keywords. He suggested to me that he thought one of my challenges was lack of confidence and not knowing how to market myself. I feel so lucky and blessed to have him as my cheerleader now.

    1. Dana

      What a great story! Good luck on your application, and yay to your son for being such a help in your job search :)

    2. anomanomnom

      That’s wonderful! You’ve clearly already done a wonderful job raising a son like him – I hope you get an outside job that pays just as much. :)

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