mini answer Monday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. Interviewing a candidate with a horrible resume

My boss has asked me to interview a potential candidate, but the candidate has one of the worst resumes I have ever read. My boss already thinks her resume is “bland,” but feels obligated to interview her as she is the daughter of a friend. Based on the resume alone, I would never recommend her for hiring as there are too many grammatical errors and writing inconsistencies for someone who claims to have an “attention to detail” and for a job that has a strong writing component.

Am I obligated to let know her resume is horrible and where she could improve it? Any advice on what questions to ask someone who I don’t feel would do well or benefit the company?

Nope, you’re not obligated to let her know that, although if you have a rapport with her, you could certainly offer her advice. (However, since your boss is having you do this out of an obligation to a friend, she might be planning to use a bland, generic reason for the rejection and might not appreciate you making it clear that it’s probably based on something else.) As for how to interview you, ask her the same sorts of questions you’d ask anyone; there’s no need to do it any differently just because you know there’s a foregone conclusion.

2. Applying for a different role at a company you used to work for

I have a science degree that, apart from some volunteering and teaching, has been essentially languishing in a shoebox since I graduated a few years ago. I recently saw an ad posted by a local brewery, looking for lab technicians. I actually used to work for the brewery, for over three years, but in a different role: I was a line cook in their attached restaurant. I know lots of people who work there! This is an actual, real-life chance for me to network! Which, of course, I have no idea how to do. I’m Facebook friends with my old sous chef, who’s still working there, so earlier today I sent him a message asking if he knew anything about the opening, like who was in charge of hiring for the position and how best to contact them. Is this the right way to go about using my connections, or should I have left him alone and just applied through the proper channels and hoped my candidacy spoke for itself? I’m really clueless here.

No, that’s exactly right. Since you knew people there and even used to work there yourself, reach out to the people you know there and tell them you’re really interested in the opening and ask what the next best step would be. Don’t feel weird about this; it’s normal and people do it all the time. (In fact, what would be weird is if you just applied without contacting anyone you knew there or alluding to your previous experience there.)

3. Backing out of an internal move

A position opened on internal audit in my current company. I tried my luck and applied. I was hired, but a month before my start date, I realized that I don’t want to leave my present team. I already signed the offer. If I will back out, what will be the consequences?

It depends. If they’ve already hired a replacement for you in your current role, your current job may not be available to you anymore. If it is, they might let you stay in it, but I can’t imagine they’re going to be pleased. At a minimum, you’re looking at them being frustrated and not considering you for promotions in the future. It could potentially be more than that, but it’ll depend on the people involved and the reasons you give them for backing out.

4. Will a new manager take away my recent promotion?

Our department recently hired a new manager, and I’m wondering how this might change things and how, in general, a new manager steps in and evaluates the existing staff. As a bit of background, our old manager had been let go and as a result, our department Senior was put in charge of everything until a replacement could be found. He ended up being in charge for about 8 months, and during that time, he gave me the opportunity to try my hand in a position of higher responsibility.

I have been training in the new position for about 5 months now and I thoroughly enjoy it, but I’m afraid this will all go away when our new manager gets settled in. Out of everyone in the department, I am the person with the least amount of experience. I have only 2 years of experience (I am a recent college graduate in my mid twenties), whereas everyone else in the department has anywhere from 10, 15, to 20 years of experience.

Do you think it’s likely the new manager might demote me back to my old, lesser responsibilities based upon my experience? How do managers in this new position typically evaluate the staff? We had a luncheon where we all introduced ourselves, and he seemed a bit shocked when he discovered I was brought on with so little experience.

Sure, it’s possible, but it’s also possible that won’t happen and it doesn’t sound like you have any reason to think it will, so far.

If the new manager is good, he’ll take some time to assess how you’re doing in the new role and whether it makes sense to keep you there. If he’s not good, he’s more likely to make decisions based on other factors.

I’d recommend meeting with him and saying that you know it’s unusual for someone at your level to be in the role you’re at, and so you wanted to give him some background about how it came about and how you’ve been doing in the job. Don’t leave his decision to just “happen” to you; talk to him and let that become part of his viewpoint.

5. What skills can I obtain for these three jobs?

What skills that I can obtain on my own (not through school) would you consider assets in the job like HR manager or executive assistant or event planner? I think they might be similar to all of these jobs. I would love to make myself the most desirable candidate by upgrading/learning skills.

Those are three very different jobs. The last two both require extreme attention to detail, but aside from that, they don’t have a lot in common. If you’re very interested in each, I’d talk to people in each field and learn more about what they do, so you can narrow down what you’re interested in and what you could do to make yourself a stronger candidate.

6. Should I apply to these organizations again?

I had two interviews in two organizations that I like a lot. One was phone, one in person. With the first, I was asked a bunch of questions relating to my personal thoughts, and althought I felt it went okay, I didn’t get an in-person interview. With the other one, the interview was with a very tired/annoyed/bored supervisor. It wasn’t related to my answers; she was like that before I even approached her and the whole 50 minutes of the interview. I didn’t get hired, got a generic rejection email, thanked nicely, and that’s it.

Should I apply again if they hire again in the next months or a year? I believe they will remember me, since I have a unique background. You advise to add them on LinkedIn, but how would I know if maybe they just hated me?

There’s no reason to assume they hated you. Perfectly good candidates get rejected for jobs all the time simply because someone else was better. Unless you have direct evidence that they hated you, that would be an odd assumption to make. It’s fine to apply again in the future if they have another opening that you’d be a good fit for.

7. Was this interviewer trying to signal that I didn’t get the job?

This Wednesday was my second interview with a very large firm for the position of regional sales manager. I am up against another candidate, and I was told that this was the last step before a formal job offer. The interview was 2 hours long. Some parts went very well but there were some things that I found very bizarre. First, the hiring manager had told me that he previously worked with my “rival” candidate on a large RFQ. I found this very strange. Why would my potential new boss talk to me about the other candidate? Is he sending me a message or is this a case of divulging too much information?

Then at one point, the hiring manager saw that behind him was a “white board” with some meeting notes (gibberish) on it. He quickly got up and erased the board as if I was some spy. It did not make me feel like I was part of their group at that point. Did he purposely do this to send me a message?

At the end of the interview i got the “We will let you know either way. if you are not chosen, we will send you a letter.” Is this common practice in HR or did I receive the proverbial kiss of death? Am I overreacting?

You’re reading way too much into all of this. Who knows why he mentioned the other candidate, but it’s the kind of thing that someone could easily say without thinking too much about how it might come across to you. And the white-board erasing — again, who knows, but he’s not trying to send you coded messages, believe me.

In general, assume that interviewers are rarely trying to send coded messages. If they want to reject you, they’ll reject you. Typically they’re just flawed communicators just like the rest of us who don’t always have perfectly polished conversation.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. Henning Makholm

    #7 “It did not make me feel like I was part of their group at that point.” But you aren’t, until you’re hired, or am I misreading something?

    (By the way, if I picture myself suddenly and quickly erasing a whiteboard during a meeting, it would be because I had in mind to draw a diagram to explain some point I was planning to make. If a diagram didn’t get drawn, that would be because I changed my mind letter).

    1. Jamie

      Or it could have just been information he didn’t want you to see and nothing to do with other candidates.

      I’ve used mine when I was teaching something to calculate labor to billing ratio – if I had inadvertently left it up and someone came in I’d have gotten up to erase it – not because they were a spy or even interested, but just to not have payroll information (however broad) visible to an external party.

      I’ve also gotten up in an informal meeting to erase it because my leg fell asleep and it was an excuse to stand up and stomp it back to life.

      1. Or Maybe

        Where I work, we have a rule about whiteboards in conference rooms. They MUST be erased at the end of meetings. Nothing annoys me more than someone leaving stuff on the whiteboard. Inconsiderate of the next group using the whiteboard. I know several managers who will erase it not caring if the other group got a picture of the board before leaving. Maybe this manager is like that.

        1. Lulula

          Ugh, I tried SO hard to get this kind of rule implemented where I worked, both for consideration and security reasons. For somewhere so concerned about confidentiality, they were awfully resistant to common sense things like this!

          Since the OP is not actually an employee, of course there is probably a wide range of information they wouldn’t want you or any other non-employee to be privy to.

      2. Kelly L.

        This. There was likely confidential info on it that only internal people were supposed to see for legal or intellectual property reasons.

    2. Vin

      I am probably exagerating but I really pay attention to non verbal communication and there were certain things that I did not appreciate from this hiring manager.

      1. Vin

        Why i may have exaggerated a bit is that I originally interviewed for this position back in October. Immediately following the interview i sent 2 thank you notes and I never got a call back from them. I naturally assumed i didn’t get the job and carried on in my current role. Last week ( February ), all of a sudden, I get a call asking me to come in for a second interview. What do you think was on my mind when i got that unexpected call? ” Oh so they hired someone else, it didn’t work out and now they call me in. What happened to the other person?”

        I asked the HR and the hiring manager why so much time had elapsed between the two interviews. I told them I was pleasantly surprised to get the call because i thought that my candidacy was not being retained. I think it was a valid question, and I deserved to have a response. Unfortunately the hiring manager was not happy by my asking the question as he replied that the position was on hold because he was too busy to work on the hiring process. His non verbal communication was that of annoyance and anger. I am sorry, but when a company doesn’t get back to a candidate after the first interview, i think it is normal to think that the job was given to someone else. It was in my right to ask what happened , as three months between interviews is not usually the norm.

        1. -X-

          “Oh so they hired someone else, it didn’t work out and now they call me in. What happened to the other person?”

          Assuming there was another person (big assumption):
          Got another job? References didn’t work out? Couldn’t agree on salary? Had to leave town due to spouse moving? Died? There are surely other possibilities.

          If you’re asking what happened to the other person because you think it’ll inform your decisions about the job, that makes sense. If you’re asking just because you want to know, you’re wasting energy.

        2. Meghan

          To be honest, I don’t think there is a “norm” when it comes to the time lapsed between interviews. Alison has said on countless occasions that the hiring process takes a very long time, longer than we usually expect it to.

        3. fposte

          It’s your right to ask them anything you please. It’s not, however, your right to do so and remain a strong candidate. I can’t tell from here whether you basically posed a complaint as a question (which some of your wording suggests) or whether you asked more generally about timelines, the reason the position was vacant, and the difference between those who were strong in the position and those who struggled.

          Absolutely they should have contacted you since October, if they told you an earlier timeframe. But the interview isn’t the time to express your frustration about that.

          1. Vin

            The reason i was asking was to find out if and why someone was let go during the probation period. I was not frustrated at all. I needed to know that If i was going to leave my job to join this company, that it would be one that would encourage integration and learning. I make my decisions, or manage my facts. Without facts or evidence i cannot make an informed decision.

            1. fposte

              I can understand the feeling, and, as I said, there are ways to ask that shouldn’t get a sane hiring manager annoyed. If you asked in one of those ways and he was still peeved at you, then that and the communications delay are definitely pieces of information for your decision.

              I hope you get a satisfying outcome whichever road appears.

              1. Vin

                Thanks. Its’s frustrating because some human resource managers are neither Human or resourceful. We will see what happens. I sent my thank you’s reaffirmed why i would be good for the position and if offered the job, I will then make a decision based on the facts that i collected during this very bizarre interview process.

                1. Juliet

                  I’m with Vin on seeing red flags here. When there is a long gap between first and second interviews, that tells me one of two things: either the hiring people are so overwhelmed that they can’t move efficiently through the process (not a good sign at all – if HR is swamped, it’s a good bet everyone else is too) or something went very wrong with the first hire. What went wrong is anyone’s guess, but if the interviewer was uncomfortable with your question, it probably means they knew they screwed up somewhere. Nobody reacts badly to that question when the answer is innocuous, like “Jim’s wife got into Harvard Law and they needed to move.” This also doesn’t speak well for how the company handles difficult situations in general. I’d be wary.

                2. AnotherAlison

                  @Juliet:

                  I respectfully disagree that it’s one of two things – swamped hiring people or something went wrong with their top choice candidate.

                  I’ve seen hiring for a position put on hold due to restructuring that neither HR or the hiring manager was privvy to during the interviewing process. Or, filling a position was a top priority until someone else quit, and dealing with staffing that position took precedence. With this one being at year-end, it could have had something to do with budget. Numbers could have come in between interview 1 and 2 that made them have to move some budget around to be able to make a hire.

                  I wish an employer would tell a candidate XYZ happened, and I’m so sorry about the long delay, but I can see where they wouldn’t want to do that for fear of scaring a candidate or simply confidentiality issues.

        4. AnotherAlison

          I’m just wondering if there’s anything Vin could have done differently.

          A person has an interview, no one responds to his thank-yous, he assumes he just didn’t get the job.

          I know Alison says mentally move on as soon as possible, but are people supposed to assume a job is still open if they weren’t formally rejected? Should Vin have called back sometime in the past 4 months to check the status or try to get closure?

          I’m thinking he’s in the best-case scenario now. It looks like he was patiently waiting, and then he got an interview, but I couldn’t have been that patient. I’d have probably called to check the status about 1-mo out (not that they would respond). This kind of long-term limbo is just ridiculous & it makes me mad that companies do this.

          1. AnotherAlison

            (I realize he wasn’t waiting for their call – he assumed he was rejected. From the company’s side, though, it looks like he has been waiting nicely without bothering them.)

          2. fposte

            So long as they didn’t say “We’re going to hit a lull over the holidays and won’t be back with you until well into the New Year” I think following up after a month would have been fine (and maybe he did and got no answer, as you suggest). I also wouldn’t blame him for looking at this job with a jaundiced eye, because that’s a long time to keep people dangling.

        5. AG

          I don’t know what the exact protocol is here, but I agree that if you have an interview you should expect some kind of follow up email – whether it’s an outright rejection, or letting you know that they’re putting hiring on hold, whatever.

          1. Vin

            Thats the thing. My last email was to wish them happy holidays and if my candidacy was not retained, I wanted to wish them luck in the future. Very professional, basic stuff. There was no reply to that email so i moved on. If there would have been some dialogue between the 3-4 months i would not have had a red flagged my second interview.

            1. fposte

              Just curious–did you ask them about a timeframe in the followups? I suspect it wouldn’t have made a difference from the sound of the place, but I’m wondering if they actually ignored a direct request for a timeframe.

                1. fposte

                  Hum. Yeah. Interesting.

                  I think this may relate to the gut feeling post a few weeks ago–none of the things you say about the interview behavior in your actual email to Alison are significant, either individually or collectively. But when you tell the story of your interactions with this organization in the comments, it’s a whole different story; while I still don’t think the stuff you mentioned at first matters, I think the rest of the stuff really does–not to whether you’ll get the job or not but to whether you’ll want the job or not.

    3. Ellie H.

      He probably erased it because he thought it looked messy and had been planning to erase it before the interview, then forgot. Or something like that.

      1. Vin

        At the end of the day, i think we can all agree that not all managers are created equal. If i do not get offered this position, then it wasnt meant to be. Thats all. I think we can easily drive ourselves batty by trying to analyze what they may or may not be thinking. I cannot under any circumstances blame myself for feeling as I did, but I realized that it is futile to waste time and energy over it. I wish companies were as transparent as we would like them to be but unfortunatly the real world does not work this way.

        Cheers:)

        1. AB

          Vin,

          I think you are spending too much energy trying to guess whether you are going to be offered the job, and too little on whether you would accept the offer if received.

          Because, there are some signs that things won’t be perfect — in particular, this part would make me do as much homework as possible (and ask probing questions) to make sure it would be a good fit:

          “Unfortunately the hiring manager was not happy by my asking the question as he replied that the position was on hold because he was too busy to work on the hiring process. His non verbal communication was that of annoyance and anger. ”

          I’d be worried if during the hiring process the person who was hiring me reacted badly to what I thought was a normal question (doesn’t matter who is right or wrong; if the perception is so different, it does raise a red flag to me).

          In any case, good luck, and I hope you only take this job if your gut feeling isn’t telling you to run.

  2. jesicka309

    RE. #6 – What about applying at the same organisation if they’ve done the wrong thing? My industry only has 5-6 big players, and while I’ve worked for two, and one is in deep financial trouble, I interviewed at the fourth last month. They never called back (no email, phonecall, telegram, and no way to contact them) to let me know I was unsuccessful (a big burn, considering they even rang my references before cutting all contact!).
    But now they have other roles in other departments that I would be a fit for…but I am really nervous about applying due to the experience with their company last time. Am I right to be hesitant? There could be something I did in the interview that turned them off in a big way, but I have no idea what it is!

    1. CatB (Europe)

      Contacting your references is usually part of the “good signs”, I guess (I wouldn’t call if I wasn’t interested in the smallest bit). If you are any good at reading people and situations (as in “at least average”, which I tend to think you are) and you got no alarm bells during interview about major missteps, then I guess it’s just your regular unpolite hiring manager. Maybe it is also worth checking with your references – have all of them spoken highly of you?

  3. Jamie

    #3 – Just as an FYI internal auditing is pretty awesome. Assuming you have the skill set and temperament to enjoy it – it’s one of those things people generally either love or hate. You don’t say why you’ve changed your mind, but taking my IT hat off and speaking as the ISO Mgt. Rep and head of the audit team at my company I don’t want anyone on my team that doesn’t want to be there…it’s too important…but I would expect people to decide that before accepting the position. Flaking out after plans were in motion would be highly irregular and anything less than a really compelling reason for doing so would hurt your credibility with me.

    And the audit team tend to be people you don’t want to piss off. :)

    #5 – Wow – pretty disparate careers, there. I would only argue with Alison a little by saying imo all three need extreme attention to detail. Usually the HR manager is in charge of payroll, insurance, keeping track of right to work documentation – eight bazillion forms which have to be signed and initialed as well as unemployment hearings and dealing with the labor attorneys.

    1. T

      We had a bad situation at our company awhile back where a person had accepted an exec position and just did a total no show on her hiring date (she had requested 3 months delay before starting since she had to relocate).

      We now call a no-shows “pulling a Linda”

      1. Canuck

        Wow – did Linda at least have the courtesy to eventually tell your company that she would not be taking the job, or give a reason why? Or did she just not show up and you never heard from her again?

  4. Not So NewReader

    OP #7. I just had the same thing happen to me on an interview. The boss-to-be mentioned the other candidates. She gave a two or three sentence description of each one.
    I said nothing but “oh, ok.” I came home and kicked myself HARD for not having a stronger response.

    I got the job. (YAH!) Turned out the boss was thinking out loud. She thinks out loud a lot- this is what extroverts do. She did not expect me to engage in the discussion of other candidates she was simply going through her sorting process.

    Try to frame it in the context of “This boss is having a hard time choosing because we are both good candidates.” Which is what your setting sounds like to me.

    1. Vin

      Thank you for your input and congrats for getting the job! I know what type of a manager i will be if get this position and I believe that it is very important to be careful of how you convey messages in your interview. If you want to attract talent, you need to be charismatic, transparent and a fluent communicator. If i was interviewing elsewhere for a similar position ( at the same time) and the other manager was all of the above, where do you think i would go? ( Maybe even for slightly less money)

      1. Jamie

        If you want to attract talent, you need to be charismatic, transparent and a fluent communicator.

        Really? It’s certainly within your rights to hold an interviewer to that criteria – but I’ve never had an interviewer that could meet that standard. And I’ve had excellent bosses over the years and that wouldn’t describe any of them…or myself.

        Even if the position calls for those things, it’s possible the reason the position is open is because they are looking for someone to bring the charisma, etc. to the table because they don’t have it in house.

        1. Vin

          Jamie,

          The changing demographics of the job market, the injection gen y’ers and nexters into the fold has to be acknowledged by management. The old ways of doing business might not cut it anymore for some of the younger guys like me. The best examples of “the new leaders” would be found in professional sports. In hockey for example, there are not many coaches that havent learned to adapt to the new reality of the spoiled athelete. You might say that I am the equivilant of the spoiled athlete :) . I may have lofty standards but people in my age group might feel the same way as I do. ( 33 years old)

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I’m only six years older than you, and I have to say that I don’t know of anyone who’s looking for the things you described in an interview. You want to look for things like candor, fairness, competence in their field and at managing, the ability to set the right goals, the ability to advocate for you, etc. … not charisma.

            … and I think it’s pretty dangerous to think of yourself as a spoiled athlete. The best managers are unlikely to hire someone with that attitude.

            1. Vin

              Alison,

              I was trying to be funny. I guess it did not come across as that. Of course i am looking for competencies, candour and fairness. It would not be a deal breaker for me if my manager was unable to be charismatic, it’s a”nice to have” not a must “have”.

              The most important thing for me is transparency and a good communicator. Would you or wouldn’t you agree that communication ( Active listening ) is a very important skill for a manager to have. I would need a manager who can communicate properly and give me feed back as to what I am doing or not doing well.

          2. Juliet

            Vin raises an interesting point. I do think that the changing age demographic will have a profound effect on business in general, and sooner rather than later. As us old folks die off or retire, the so-called “entitlement generation” will form the bulk of the workforce, and they haven’t been taught to tolerate being treated poorly, as we were.

            1. vin

              Juliette,

              The point i was trying to make with my little jokes about being a spoiled athelete is that many kids think they are entitled. I am finishing my degree in organizational psychology ( part time) and the twenty somethings, i can confirm, will not be an easy group to manage. They really do feel like they are entitled. Us older guys ( 30-40’s age group) often get into heated debates with younger ones because we are full time professionals who see reality in front of us. When i started off in sales 9 years ago, I was paid penuts as to what i am being paid now. I had a lot of proving to do and there were many bumps on the road. Kids at my university think that they are going to land a 90k job as soon as the last exam is done. This is the reality management faces today. Managers either need to get with the progeam or find another career because these entitled children are now entering the work force and it is only going to get worse.

              Managers need to find way’s to adapt . Find motivational triggers for the nexters, isolate them , and use them to get the most output as possible. Loyalty will unfortunatly be a thing of the past and in my courses, we are learning new management techniques to hopefully deal with these issues.

              We have fun at the university…full time employees getting into heated arguments with kids driving Mom and Dad’s BMW who think they know the real world :)

              1. JT

                ” Kids at my university think that they are going to land a 90k job as soon as the last exam is done.”

                I find this extremely hard to believe. Or at least, your experience is not generalizable to a broader population of college students in the US.

                “kids driving Mom and Dad’s BMW”

                What portion of college population is that wealthy? I don’t think you’re looking at an “average” set of college students.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yeah, that doesn’t sound typical to me either. And actually, I haven’t found most 20somethings to be entitled at all, even though the media likes to portray them that way. They graduated into one of the worst job markets in a long time, and they’re generally painfully aware of that.

                  Vin, your sample seems somewhat skewed!

                2. vin

                  Up in Canada tuition is about 3 k a semester. Perhaps our reality is a little different than the u.s. But because education is readily available to everyone, its normal that here in Canada we get more of these situations.

                3. vin

                  Trust me at mcgill university (our Harvard) some students drive better vehichles than some profs. Canada is great because of very affordable tuition but it has its downfalls as you can see from my above comment.

                4. JT

                  It doesn’t make sense to generalize from what is arguably the most elite school in your country about student attitudes in general.

                  And I didn’t say that some students don’t drive better cars than your professors (I went to a school with some extremely wealthy kids). Rather, I’m saying it’s not typical.

              2. V

                Well, Vin, despite you being an elite “athlete” of the business world with all your low-cost education and your belief that you’d be a “fluent communicator,” you seem to have forgotten to learn how to spell or type properly. Maybe that’s something my entitled, child-like generation could teach you if you’d employ us.

            2. V

              the so-called “entitlement generation” will form the bulk of the workforce, and they haven’t been taught to tolerate being treated poorly, as we were

              I’m pretty sure you weren’t stuck working illegal unpaid internships or short-term contract after short-term contract, and having an enormous unemployment rate, struggling to locate work even with years and years of higher education. I’m sure you had to walk uphill both ways barefoot to get to work too, right?

  5. KC

    #5 –

    I’d say that in any of those roles, having really strong skills in MS Office, Word, and Excel are a must (and I mean you know some tips and tricks that general users might not). It might be useful to look into some productivity/task tracking software too, and becoming skilled in using it. Because these roles require attention to detail and the ability to juggle many things without dropping the ball, I think all of those are a good place to start (and things you can do on your own).

    1. KC

      And by “MS Office,” I meant “Outlook.” — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across people at my current role who don’t know how to set up a meeting, use flags in their inbox, or edit their own signature.

      1. Flynn

        People keep saying Outlook, and I’ve never known anyone that uses it. I tried it once and found it clunky and annoying, my parents moved on years ago (and they’re not exactly geeky!) and wherever I work, they use some other email client – e.g. GroupWise.

        I don’t know if the difference is cultural (non-US); generational or functional (e.g. is Outlook tied to a specific computer? Or can you just log into the network from anywhere?)

        1. Oxford Comma

          We have to use Outlook. I personally hate it but that’s the mandate at the university so that’s what we use.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit

          Outlook is pretty standard in the U.S. I’ve used it at every job, as have my friends and family, with two exceptions: One very large mutual fund company (where my husband used to work) uses LotusNotes, and one media company/nonprofit uses Gmail.

          1. The IT Manager

            Outlook is pretty standard in the US for work email. It’s the client portion of an enterprise email system with MS Exchange serving as the email server. (So maybe it’s a US business culture thing.) I don’t know of many people that use it at home though.

            Users are not tied to a single computer, but they must be on the network to use the outlook client. Organizations can also make their email available via Outlook web mail if they choose.

            The integration of calendar, meeting invites, and LiveMeeting makes it popular for work especially at places that already use the rest of the MS Office suite.

        3. fposte

          It’s not just Outlook Express, it’s a whole calendaring system and mail server. I currently use a different mail software, but my university, like Oxford Comma’s, runs its mail and calendaring on Outlook and an Exchange server.

          1. Chinook

            Yes. As someone who has used both, Outlook Express is nothing like Outlook (especially the newest version that even let’s you sort by conversation). Outlook is a true CRM and seems to be a North American Standard (used in Canada too). When you know how to use it, you realize there is so much you can do with it (just like Excel).

        4. KC

          In all my prior office experience (working in Software/Tech companies), we were a Microsoft shop. Meaning that we used the MS suite of products, including Outlook, for pretty much everything. And it was a requirement. I don’t love Outlook, but it’s been a necessary evil, and I’m not sure it’s going away any time soon. Though I’ve heard rumors that we’ll be moving to Office 365, which is a cloud-based solution, so that may function differently.

        5. Jamie

          I’ve never worked in an office that didn’t use Outlook – as IT Manager noted it’s standard for MS shops due to inherent integration with Exchange.

          I don’t hate it. I’m not a fangirl of any one vendor – but I like MS products. They get the job done and there are no conflicts with external file sharing.

          I’ll admit it – I like Outlook.

        6. Ellie H.

          Everyone at the university I work at uses Outlook. I could not love Outlook more. I think everything about it is intuitive and perfect. It does everything I could ever imagine wanting to do with an email program, calendar, address book, task organizer, etc. However, I really hate gmail, and I’m well aware that I have an uncommon perspective about these programs. I think the Outlook web app is fine, not awesome, but fine. I find its preview pane a little frustrating (I forget exactly what I don’t like about it, but something) and it really bugs me that it doesn’t have the Calibri font, the default for the program itself, in the web app.

          1. Jamie

            Yes! I am so glad someone else shares my frustration over lack of calibri – the best of all possible fonts.

            Besides that the only thing I don’t like about the web based app as it can be kind of temperamental with pushing out uniform sig tags.

          2. Chinook

            I think there is a collorary between those who like Outlook (usually because we use it for calendars and tasks as well as email) and those who don’t like Gmail after having used both and vice versa. They seem to organize your work/life in 2 different ways.

            1. Elizabeth

              I use Outlook professional & Gmail personally. Each has their place in my life.

              I can’t imagine using Outlook in my personal life, and I would refuse to use Gmail in my professional life. The things that make Gmail great for my personal email would drive me insane in a professional setting, and the reverse is true for Outlook.

            2. Ellie H.

              This is so interesting – care to say more about that? I definitely know what you mean, but am having trouble articulating it. I mostly can’t stand the lack of folders in gmail (labels just do not do it for me), and I think its search function, frankly, doesn’t work.

  6. Runon

    #5. Most of the things that are going to be useful across all three of these career paths are going to be useful in any job. Communication skills, writing, dealing with people in a professional manner, etc.

    I’m going to guess that the op is looking for a job that works with people a lot. I would really recommend thinking about what you really like to do and digging into those kinds of careers. Or looking at very small organizations where those kinds of disparate role could be wrapped together.

  7. Jubilance

    1 – it seems like your boss is doing their friend & the friend’s daughter a disservice by interviewing her & not telling her about the glaring issues with her resume. I’m sure they are going to be thinking she has it in the bag, with the connection. I wonder if you can convince your boss to have a candid conversation with the friend & the friend’s daughter about the state of her resume & how fixing it could improve her chances at employment.

    1. FormerManager

      This. One thing I learned early on when I first got involved in the hiring process is that there’s nothing to be gained for either party by doing a pity interview.

    2. B

      This! Because they are not qualified and the resume is bad perhaps he could help critique it/give his input. A pity interview is the worst. And even moreso when you are qualified. If there is someone in the bag already for the job, just let that person have it. Do not make others waste their time, energy, and money on something there is no shot of. (I realize you have no control over this)

    3. AG

      I agree, it’s not helping anyone. It’s giving the candidate false hopes and wasting her time, and also potentially giving her false confidence in that “well I did get one interview so my resume can’t be that bad.”

      1. Jamie

        It’s possible the interview and calling her a candidate is a formality and they have every intention of hiring her.

        Feeling obligated to interview can easily turn into feeling obligated to hire.

        1. FormerManager

          I would hope in this case, either the OP or someone else could take the person aside sometime after they’re hired and gently mention the issues with the resume. Probably won’t happen, though…

          1. Jamie

            Probably wouldn’t happen – I know that if someone at my work came to me with suggestions on how to improve my resume I’d be pretty paranoid about why.

            1. FormerManager

              I know, I would have felt the same way, though when I was laid off from my first post-college job and took a look at my resume for the first time in three few years, my first thought was “how did this horrid thing net me a job?!”

              (And I’d found the job through a classified ad, no networking or nepotism involved….that resume still makes me shudder.)

    4. Anon

      But what if there are other things going on behind the scenes that the OP doesn’t know about? Like the friend is asking the OP’s boss to do this favor, and in return, the friend puts the OP’s boss in line to win a client or contract, etc? I think there is more going on behind the scenes, and I don’t think the OP should put themselves out there. Too much risk in this case.

      1. fposte

        Even if it’s not that elaborate, the boss may not want to run the risk of making his friend’s daughter cry when he was trying to do a favor.

        Much as I like the idea of turning this into useful time, I think it could be kind of a dirty trick for the candidate (“candidate”?) to be called in for an interview and to find herself in the middle of a resume critique. I’d want these ducks to be in a row before it happened: permission from the boss to turn things informational, trust between the boss and interviewing employee, and demonstrated keenness and resilience on the part of the interviewee.

    5. Job seeker

      I think this is just horrible. I would hate for anyone to give me a interview knowing upfront I did not have a chance. If my resume was so terrible I would appreciate someone being kind enough to clue me in. I would consider this a act of kindness and a huge favor. I hope this person does not get the interview if they already know she is not a fit. How awful to sit and think you might have a job and they are interested when it is the furthest from the truth. I think being a friend is also telling you the truth and what you need to know. It might hurt to hear but the truth gives her a chance to change things.

      1. A Bug!

        Yeah, I agree with this. I feel like if the boss really wanted to do a useful favor that it should be in the form of minor mentoring – “I can arrange a meeting with my friend, who runs a business, and she’s willing to go over your resume with you and give you a mock interview for practice. Take it seriously, because you never know, you might be applying there one day.”

        Then, if it turns out when she shows up for her meeting, that she’s actually really promising and would make a strong candidate despite the resume problems, the boss can invite her to apply and compete for the position. With a fixed-up resume.

    6. OP #1

      Hi everybody! Thanks so much for your great feedback. I interviewed the candidate and she was extremely nice and pleasant. However, I didn’t feel she adequately prepared for the interview (no research on the company, our industry, etc.) and was a bit reluctant to put herself out there (ex. “If X happened, what would you do?”). She definitely expressed an attitude to learn and develop new skills, so I think she’s trainable, but at this time we just don’t have the time or resources to nurture someone.

      We’re also close in age, so it’s astonishing to me to see the differences in our approach to job searches and interviews. When I was job hunting, I extensively researched how to write resumes and sought out critical feed back (in addition to reading AAM obsessively). Also, I research interview questions, write out answers, and research current clients/business practices of companies in case I might get a question where I can showcase creativity.

      I still need to write up my report on the interview and it will likely take a few days for my superiors to get back to the candidate about her candidacy. I think I will write in the report I’d recommend for the candidate to consider editing her resume to include relevant information (i.e. no photo necessary) and let other info (such as her personal interests, etc.) come across during the interview.

  8. Lily in NYC

    Re #5 – I do actually think there are very similar qualities to executive assistant and event planning jobs. I’m an EA and there is a huge event planning component to my position because of the kind of work done by my division. Two of the other EAs in my dept. have left here to go on to full-time event planning roles elsewhere. Alison is correct that attention to detail is essential in both roles. You need the same type of detail-oriented personality, but that doesn’t mean you will necessarily like both jobs. Honestly, I despise event planning and am so thrilled that someone else will be taking it over for me so I can concentrae on my regular EA work.
    For skills to learn, I would look into things like typing speed (not all that necessary for the job but places like to test), Microsoft Office suite, databases, and make sure you know how to do mail merges and formatting in Word and how to import/export from excel. If you really want to learn something very specific – look into CRM (client relationship management) databases. Many, many companies (not just sales-based) use them and look for people that are more than just basic data-entry users.

    1. Jamie

      If you really want to learn something very specific – look into CRM (client relationship management) databases. Many, many companies (not just sales-based) use them and look for people that are more than just basic data-entry users.

      This is really good advice, and if you can somehow figure out what they use brushing on their particular CRM is even better. Everyone I’ve ever used has had detailed information on like – including videos.

      It won’t give you hands on experience, but can help bridge the gap. If I have experience with CRM A and I brush up on CRM Z I can explain how familiarity with some similar things would make it a quicker learning curve. And I’d be impressed someone did their homework.

      Same advice applies to ERPs.

    2. AnotherAlison

      Why CRM?

      I’m up to my eyeballs in SAP CRM at various times, & “learn CRM” seems like odd advice to me. Learn it in what capacity? There’s everything from specification to coding, testing, implementation, end-use. If you can use other databases, you can be an end-user of CRM with a day of training. Most of the people I work with who are involved in CRM are doing data entry or reporting. I have been involved in specification, testing & end-use, but don’t consider this experience something that makes me super-valuable in the market.

      I think if you have CRM consulting experience, you’re probably pretty employable, but I’m wondering what you would specifically advise the OP to learn.

      1. Lily in NYC

        I’m talking about actually learning to use the system as a power user. There are classes for this. It’s not just consulting, it’s being the one person in your division that can fiddle with the settings and tailor the software to your company’s needs as they change. It’s a very malleable program – for example, we mainly use it as a contacts database and for event planning. It has fantastic event planning capabilities with email blast software built in, but only because we tailored the program in-house to fit our needs. The person in my dept. that does all this work for us (not the data entry – the more technical part like adding fields or helping people run complicated reports) is an executive assistant. She does everything up to the point where we need programming help from IT.

        1. AnotherAlison

          I guess that makes sense. Our system is more complicated (I think), and we’ve more or less eliminated the ability of end-users to do anything beyond data entry and report-running. We have bolt-on packages for reporting so that it’s “check a box” to pick the prospects/accounts/division/etc. you want to include. The report format is pre-built by programming folks. (As we transitioned from a different CRM a while back and were in the limbo while this system was built, I did create custom reports, but we’re not supposed to do that anymore.)

          I didn’t mean to challenge what you were saying, but of all the possible business tools one could pick to learn, CRM didn’t seem that critical/universal to me because only a small group of people really need to know it in-depth at my company. I can see how more staff in an event-planning group might be using it regularly, so for the OP, it could be a good idea.

      2. Lily in NYC

        LOL, my comment below must sound ridiculous to you because you obviously know a lot more about CRM than I do.

    3. Lulula

      I see CRM mentioned frequently, and while I know what the letters stand for, I don’t know what specific programs fall under the description – would one of you be able to list a few common ones? I keep thinking maybe I’ve used CRM but no one called it that… (like we used “Oracle”, but not really – I think what we used were actually Oracle apps, but since everyone just referred to it as Oracle, it took me awhile to figure out what I really had experience in!) Or maybe it’s a case of “If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you haven’t used these programs”?

      1. Chinook

        I understand CRM to mean a database that starts with contact information but allows you to track all interactions with the contacts listed. Need to know if you sent client A the invite last year? Who that president’s daughter is? How much did we will bill client B? A properly used CRM can give you this info and more.

        I used one that was tied to our billings in an accounting firm and it was useful if kept up to date. For tracking my interactions with others, the easiest to use it ever found was Outlook as I can search emails, appointments and tasks associated with a contact or keyword. When I was forced to use iContacts, iCal and Mail on Mountain Lion, I had the hardest time staying organized and finding information since I was used to everything being cross referenced. I think this may also be why I am not keen on Gmail, but I haven’t had to investigate if this type of thing is even possible.

        1. Lulula

          Thanks for the insight, Chinook… although I’m still a bit confused ;) I was assuming CRM involved a database (maybe like Access?), but I think of Outlook as an email client with a calendar component, not CRM-related. Maybe because I haven’t been customer-facing for @15 years, I’m just not privy to how one might use it that way? I’m probably grasping at straws here for another angle at employability, as I usually skip any ad asking for CRM experiencee, but if knowing Outlook counts…

  9. Andrea P.

    #2 – This is why “networking” is so daunting. This proactive approach definitely seems like the best strategy to get the hiring manager’s attention, but I’m worried that my emails will sound vague/”empty”, so I’d appreciate clarification on exactly what could be said.
    This is how I imagine it could sound:
    “I’ve applied to your position as outlined in the ad. When do you expect to begin interviews? I’m very interested because…[explanation of good match]”
    “I was speaking with my connection about my job search and interest in working in such-and-such a role for such-and-such a company, and he suggested I contact you. Please find my resume attached. If you have any need for someone with ____, I’d love to speak with you…”
    “I’ve submitted my materials as directed but have attached them here to be sure they’re received, and would like to reiterate my …”
    (…in a slightly more articulate/tactful way, of course!)

    Is that it, generally? I don’t want to seem like I’m pushing to schedule an interview or -at the other extreme- send a wishy-washy message with no solid purpose.

    Als0 – this has come up in previous posts: referral by connection AND reaching out to the contact yourself – does anyone else feel that’s overkill?

    1. fposte

      It probably doesn’t matter hugely, but what about foregrounding the connection a little more: “I’ve worked with Wakeen on Professional Committee for years, and he’s always spoken so highly of your organization that I knew I’d be interested in a position there. He suggested that I contact you in regards to your opening for Teapot Juggler. I’ve attached my resume and cover letter, which I’ve also sent to Hiring Manager.”

      I’m not quite parsing “referral by connection” and “reaching out to the contact yourself,” but in general it’s good to have an opportunity to reach out yourself even if Wakeen promised to put in a good word for you.

      1. Jamie

        I like that wording a lot. And I agree – reaching out yourself doesn’t preclude Wakeen also dropping a mention…it’s not either/or.

      1. fposte

        Do you mean you don’t think Wakeen’s saying “Give fposte your name” should be enough for a contact, or that you wouldn’t make the contact unless Wakeen said that? I agree with the latter, but if it’s somebody you have respect for, I think it’s fair to trust their judgment on the former, too. Just don’t invoke your connection if your connection hasn’t offered!

    2. John Quincy Adding Machine

      “I’ve submitted my materials as directed but have attached them here to be sure they’re received, and would like to reiterate my …”

      I was thinking of doing something like this (I’m OP #2 — thanks for answering my letter so quickly, AAM!), but had some worries about it. What if the email in the ad forwards to the email of the guy that my contact told me to email, and he ends up with 2 copies of my CL and resume? Does that look stupid and over-eager? This stuff is all so confusing. Sometimes I wish we had job-identity chips in our hands like on Futurama. :(

      1. fposte

        No, it doesn’t look stupid and overeager. And if it’s a good contact, the chances of that helping you are likely greater than the chances that being thought slightly overeager could hurt you.

  10. Mike C.

    RE: #7 – Don’t worry so much about board erasing. There might be issues with data security, unintended exports or just the fact it might have been proprietary. Or maybe it wasn’t but the interviewer was being careful. Or they hate dirty whiteboards.

    Or maybe, just maybe you are a spy – after all, wouldn’t it be just a like a spy to deny it in the first place? :)

    1. Jamie

      Ha! Nice work, Mike, catching spies on the internet hiding in plain sight!

      Am I the only one with an urge to clean their whiteboard? I’ve got a couple of formulas up there that I need and it’s a superstition of mine that they don’t come down till the project is done (or until I need the board for something else, pragmatism trumps superstition every time.)

      Oh, and a helpful tip – I really like whiteboard capture pro as a phone/iPad app for being able to take a pic and save whiteboard data so you can erase. It’s way better than the regular camera and you don’t lose the details.

  11. shellbell

    To # 5, working as an executive assistant (an assistant to an actual high level company exec.)is almost never an entry level job. There are skills that will help, but they needed to be gained on the job as part of relevant work experience. This is a job the requires work experience and maturity. This title varies widely, but for an example: I know executive assistants with MBAs who make 6 figures. They have power/authority and integral parts of the team. Some “exec assistants” are just general clerical/office assistants. If you truly want to work as an exec assistant you need experience writing, planning complex travel (domestic and international), taking minutes, and diplomatic skills. You must also be 100% trust worthy with extremely confidential info. Like never ever ever gossip and folks will press you for info daily. That is just my two cents.

    1. Waiting Patiently

      I’ve seen people who hold that title do everything from being in charge of hr and accounting as well as being the personal assistant to the top level executive. And the pay wasn’t compensated as such.

      1. shellbell

        I would generally assume when someone says Executive Assistant, that means they are talking about working as an assistant to an executive (I think that is what the OP meant). I realized all kinds of jobs that have nothing to do with supporting an executive have this title. Job titles are stupid like that. I have a job title that makes no sense and has nothing to do with what I actually do.

        1. Waiting Patiently

          To clarify a bit, what I meant …the OP should be prepared that in some industries Executive Assistant may have to handle ALL the job titles mentioned earlier.
          For instance in the smaller hospitality management companies the executive assistant was the accountant, the hr person as well as the personal assistant to the General Manager.

  12. anon-2

    #1 – I recently went through a friend’s resume. He has been out a year and had a very BLAND resume – I coached him – told him to punch it up – list what he has done, and what he can do.

    – example – he had expertise in three computer languages – LIST THAT UP FRONT.

    – I asked him, “have you done field support? Customer support?” Yes – LIST THOSE THINGS.

    – Do you know Microsoft Office? “Yes, I took a course in that at the unemployment bureau.” Don’t say WHERE you learned it – if you have a working knowledge – LIST IT.

    Also – he was receiving counseling and advice from the people at the unemployment office. Who, do not work in his field. I also mentioned his contact lists on LinkedIn – try to make a list of contacts of people who ARE working.

    I also suggested , let’s go through mock interviews.

    1. Jamie

      Some of the absolute worst resumes I’ve ever seen have come from highly skilled technical people.

      (Including my own – you should have seen mine before I started reading AAM – it’s a wonder I’m employed.)

      My cover letters were always pretty good – I’ve always been okay when it comes to conversational writing…but my resume was a joke. I just assumed that if I said I was X at this company they would know that included DBA, system analysis, whatever…it was like I was afraid of insulting someone by stating the obvious so I didn’t bother stating much of anything.

      Once I worked through a plant closing and helped one of the maintenance engineers do his resume. It was maybe 4 sentences long and he referred to himself as the maintenance man. Reading the resume you’d assume janitorial. He was actually the head of maintenance with 3 direct reports and was solely responsible for 20+ machines in two locations – millions and millions of dollars worth of equipment he PMed with ridiculous uptime rates. He was HVAC certified – had some other electrical certifications – and you would have known exactly none of this from his resume. After I rewrote it for him adding nothing but the truth – he was embarrassed because he thought it sounded like bragging.

      That mind set will kill you!

      1. Ellie H.

        I have a friend who’s a student at the university I work at and he has a bunch of typos in his CV (his program posts students’ CVs on their department website so I came across it). I really, really, really want to point them out to him, but I don’t want to either sound creepy or offend him; also he got accepted here with it, so it’s technically not THAT bad. If we’re still in touch when he graduates, I do plan on telling him before he applies to jobs or postdocs with it but in the meantime I really struggle with my urge to edit and improve . . .

      2. the gold digger

        Jamie, I have a friend in a similar situation. He is literally a rocket scientist – worked at NASA until they downsized last year. I looked at his resume. It was so modest! At the very end, he had listed some serious accomplishments, but you had to go through an entire page of outplacement agency BS to get there. He is really good but you wouldn’t know it unless you bothered to scour his resume.

  13. EM

    This. Read some of Jim Collins’ books. He specifically notes that the most successful companies don’t have charismatic leaders. Probably because the success of the company doesn’t depend on one person and then fade when they leave.

    1. the gold digger

      From Good to Great! The CEOs who are about the company and not about themselves!

      That is such a fabulous book. I think of it every time I see a Walgreen’s on a corner. :)

      1. the gold digger

        And I think even more about it when I see the 14 strategies that my organization is pursuing for the year. Which are different from the nine strategies they pursued last year.

  14. anon-2

    Continuing with the above – as an interviewer you don’t owe this to any candidate – but if it’s a friend – you DO.

  15. NDR

    I’d be happy to email with OP #5 about the event planning industry, if Alison will put us in touch. I’ll send her my contact information.

  16. Vin

    #3 – I personally believe that backing out of an internal position that you have signed and accepted can hurt your chances at being offered future job opps. The question you would have to ask yourself is: What happened that made me change my mind so quickly? Is my change of heart based on facts or emotions? Finally: Are my answers valid and do I still feel the same way after reflecting on them?

  17. Lulula

    #5 in addition to informational interviewing, you might just look at some job boards (i.e. indeed.com) to see what skills employers are requiring for each of those types of positions. It will give you an idea of the range of opportunities out there – not all titles are equal across industries or different companies – as well as which hard skills are most often in demand.

    In my admin experience, I also became the default event planner (despite my hatred for it) – both required project management skills and a lot of patience on my part, as well as the things that others have described upthread. I have a feeling that in the current “job consolidation” environment, you might even find opportunities that combine those three jobs (more or less), particularly in smaller companies. There are entry level HR coordinator and admin positions that would give you visibility to the larger picture of what the more advanced positions entail – sometimes you can’t tell what you’ll actually like/dislike until you’ve had some direct exposure!

    1. Waiting Patiently

      – not all titles are equal across industries or different companies – as well as which hard skills are most often in demand.
      In my admin experience, I also became the default event planner (despite my hatred for it) – both required project management skills and a lot of patience on my part, as well as the things that others have described upthread. I have a feeling that in the current “job consolidation” environment, you might even find opportunities that combine those three jobs (more or less), particularly in smaller companies.
      – See more at: https://www.askamanager.org/2013/02/mini-answer-monday-7-short-answers-to-7-short-questions-12.html#comment-162545

      This is what I was saying upthread.
      It definitely depends on the size of the company and possibly the industry.
      When I worked for a larger hospitality management company the Executive Assistant did just that Assist the Executive.The smaller the company the more varied the role.

  18. Kristel

    #3. Thanks Alison. I chose to push through with the transfer. My former boss told me that there is no problem with her if I will chose to stay however, she’s more concerned of my career’s future in the company. It will just ruin my very good record.

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