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. Emailing prospective coworkers about a job opening

I’m going to apply to a job at a research position and noticed that the website for the employer lists the current research analysts. Would it be inappropriate to contact these analysts and asking about the nature of their work? They’re doing the same job that I would be doing. While I have the educational background for the position, I have never worked in that field. I’m also curious about a quantitative exam that is part of the interview process. I feel uncomfortable thinking about the possibility of taking a test that I can’t prepare for.

Don’t do it — for the same reasons that it wouldn’t be appropriate to contact the hiring manager to ask about this stuff at this stage. First, you’d be asking the employer to spend time with you before they’ve even determined that you’re a candidate they’re interested in interviewing (and yes, it’s not the hiring manager, but asking the potential peers is still asking the employer to spend time/resources talking with you about the job prematurely). Second, in asking about the exam, you’re asking for an unfair advantage over other candidates, and that’s unlikely to reflect well on you.

Apply for the job, and if you get far along in the process — to a second interview or beyond — at that point it could be appropriate to ask to talk to potential coworkers.

2. Asking job candidates about their experience with Microsoft Office

For the first time, I have to interview a number of people for a job opening in my office, so you have to pardon my skills as an interviewer! We are a boutique investment firm. We are hiring for an entry-level administrative person to support an advisor and his associates. I am one of the associates who has to conduct the first round of interviews.

Among other things, we want to hire someone who has strong computer skills and can work on complicated project on Microsofl Office. Obviously, we recognize that not everyone has the superior skills for working on a complicated Excel document or creating a nice PowerPoint with interesting graphics. However, for a few candidates I have interviewed so far, when I asked if they were good with Microsoft Office, most of them said something to the effect of, “Trust me, I can do everything you want!” However, when I pressed further and asked if they had experience doing mail merge or creating a pie chart, they would give me a blank face. So far, I only have one candidate who I believed was honest with her computer skills.

I am wondering if I should ask this question a different way. Or I should read their answer differently? At this moment, I can only understand this answer as that they are desperate for a job.

Yes, the question is the problem. “Are you good with Microsoft Office?” is unclear and totally open to the candidate’s interpretation. Lots of people think they’re good at Office but can’t do mail merges. You don’t really care about their own subjective self-assessment anyway; what you care about is what they can actually do in the program. So instead, ask specifically what you want to know: What experience do you have doing mail merges? How often have you used Excel to create charts? Etc. (And absolutely make sure that you see these skills in action before you hire anyone.)

3. Company wants employees not to mention her upcoming departure to coworkers or customers

I am at a loss to give my daughter advice, although I know what I would do. Briefly: Friday she submitted her 2-week resignation (after working for 5 years there) due to a conflict with a manager (not her team leader, but the manager above her). She has been asked to perform “business as usual” to her customers and her coworkers during an upcoming conference (Monday) and subsequent meetings (even though they have her letter of resignation). Her job entails extensive travel, and she has to schedule meetings weeks in advance and she will be meeting some of her customers Monday (knowing full well she will not be the person servicing their accounts a month from now). The company has put a gag order on her and she is not to indicate to either customers or coworkers she has resigned during this 2-week period. She is conflicted on how to handle this situation, on both a professional level as well as ethical (lying to her customers).

The company is certainly entitled to tell her that they’re not ready to announce her resignation yet … and she’s also entitled to explain that she’s not comfortable misleading coworkers or customers into believing that she’ll be there longer than she will. If she decides to say that to them, she should be prepared for the possibility that they’ll tell her to leave immediately rather than working out the notice period, but she’s certainly entitled to take that stance if she wants to.

4. Store wants me to hire more women than men

I am a store manager at a medium-sized retail store in Massachusetts. We are currently hiring for spring, and I do the interviews and make the hiring decisions. At a recent meeting with my regional manager, I was told that because our company’s product leans towards women, our employees must be at least 80% female. What are the legalities of this? I have plenty of well-qualified male applicants, but I can’t even call them in for an interview. They would rather see young, good looking females on the sales floor, whether they are qualified are not. I am not comfortable with this, and am actually afraid of a lawsuit. Any advice?

It’s illegal to make hiring decisions based on gender, unless the company can show that gender is a bona fide occupational requirement. For instance, part of the job is helping female customers in dressing rooms and your customers are mainly female, you might be able to legitimately favor women in the hiring process. But if a man could do the job just as effectively, then favoring women would be illegal.

You mentioned they also want you to hire “young” women. That’s almost certainly illegal, because it’s illegal to discriminate against people over 40 in hiring.

I’d point this all out to them and tell them that you’re not comfortable violating these laws.

5. Following up on an interview that is supposed to be rescheduled

I’m so frustrated and need your advice. I had a first-round interview over the phone that went well and led to an in-person interview scheduled for the following week. The day of the interview arrives and I meet with the HR rep in person first. He was then about to bring me upstairs to meet the department director when his assistant told him that there was an important phone call. Turns out the director had an emergency meeting and that I had to re-schedule my interview with her. The HR rep told me someone would be calling me that afternoon or the following day to reschedule.

It’s now the following day and I have heard nothing. I don’t want this opportunity to pass me by but I don’t want to appear like a stalker either. I’ve already left one voicemail and plan to follow up Monday. Do you recommend me just bypassing HR and contacting the director to schedule the interview? I’m so upset, as this is my dream company.

No, don’t go around the HR person; that will come across as circumventing the company’s own practices for your own convenience and you’ll risk annoying both people.

Whenever you’re in a hiring process, assume that “within a couple of days” means “within a week or so, maybe a a bit longer.” It’s fine to follow up today and say that you’re eager to reschedule, but ultimately this is in their court and you can’t force them to move at your preferred speed.

Meanwhile, it might help to remember that this probably isn’t your dream company, as much as you might feel sure that it is. That’s the kind of thing that’s pretty impossible to know from the outside.

6. Employer decided to restructure, freezing the opening I was applying for

I was interviewed for a position I was really excited for back on the 15th of January. Everything went really well, and a week and a half later they contacted my references. After another week, I became anxious and decided to send a follow-up email to the HR rep. She sent me a really cryptic email saying, “Please give me a call.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, and sure enough, when I phoned, she explained to me that she had a job offer ready and then she was told to cancel everything and put the position on hold, as they were going to restructure the department.

What I’m wondering is if this was just bad timing or does this kind of thing happen often? Should I wait and send another follow-up in a few weeks or should I just give up on the position? I mean, I was sooooo close, wasn’t I?

Yes, it was bad timing, and yes, this kind of thing isn’t uncommon. Departments sometimes get restructured, and if that happens while there’s an ongoing hiring process, it makes sense to halt the hiring until the restructure is done. While it’s frustrating if you’re a candidate in the middle of that, this is actually a lot better than getting hired, having the restructure happen a few weeks later, and finding yourself restructured out of your new position after only a month into it.

You can absolutely send a follow-up in a few weeks to ask about the likely timeline for making any decisions, but in the meantime, try to put this job out of your head and proceed with your job search as if this was a rejection — because there may be no opening remaining when they’re done.

7. Following up with a contact who mentioned a possible job opening

I’m currently a student in library school and in December I had an informational interview with a librarian at a law library. During the course of the interview with the librarian, she casually mentioned a project relating to the history of the law firm that she was considering hiring a student to complete in the summer, after she mentioned it she said that she might think of me for it because I have a background in history.

Would be appropriate to contact her in the upcoming weeks about the possibility of that position happening (because she did mention she’d need to get the required permission from her employer, the proper grants, etc.)? Personally, I feel a bit uncomfortable contacting her about that position for fear of being seen as annoying and desperate. However, lots of people I know are telling me that I should contact her again and ask her about it. If it is appropriate to contact her, what is the best way to do so with, again, not appearing as annoying or desperate. I’m a bit new to networking and I really want to be careful with what I do, but I feel conflicted about what I should be doing here.

Yes, you should contact her. Email her and say that you’ve been thinking about the project she mentioned and that you’d love to throw your hat in the ring for it if she’s going to move forward with it. Ask her to keep you in mind if she does, and tell her you’d be glad to formally apply once she’s ready for that. This is normal and not annoying.

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK

    #4: The loophole I was given when working retail was this: all employees are required to wear the store’s clothing. The store only sold women’s clothing. VIOLA!

    Technically, a man could work there if he was willing to wear the clothing, but it self-selected them out.

    I don’t know if this applies to the OP, but it’s just one way retailers address this.

    1. AG

      I was wondering if this would work, making wearing the store’s clothes a BFOQ.. Then again, I never understood why someone would want to work in a clothing store where they wouldn’t/couldn’t wear the clothes, because isn’t an employee discount one of the huge perks? Also I am extremely uncomfortable when there are men working at stores like Victoria’s Secret!

      1. Blue Dog

        There is a certain Owl-themed restaurant that is famous for its Chicken Wings that circumvents traditional hiring laws this way as well. They claim it is a job requirement to wear tight t-shirts and orange dolphin shorts because it is part of their brand and people come there for the experience. (And, actually, that probably is accurate because why else would anyone choose to eat there?)

        1. Kelly L.

          Yup, and they only come in small sizes, so it weeds out anyone who doesn’t have the figure type they prefer.

        2. Natalie

          Actually, said owl-themed restaurant has been sued for discriminatory hiring practices and argued in court that simply being female was a BFOQ for their employees. (The lawsuit was settled, so who knows if that claim would have been accepted by the courts.)

    2. Noah

      That was the loophole when I worked at Abercrombie in college too. You had to wear the clothes, and they only went up to a size whatever, so anyone larger was out of luck.

      1. kristinyc

        I worked at Limited in college… definitely did NOT wear the store’s clothing (it was for little girls!). At the time, if I had worked at a store I could shop at, I would have spent all my money there.

    3. Mike C.

      Uh, I’m pretty sure I’m physically able to wear a dress. Not that I would look good, or that it would fit me well, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t that difficult to put on.

      1. Anonymous

        Physically able and willing to daily to work are different. I’m physically able to do a lot of things I’m not willing to daily at work. That’s what they are counting on with something like that.

    4. Jubilance

      The last time I worked in a clothing store (granted this was almost 10yrs ago, so take with a grain of salt), the company told us that they couldn’t require that everyone wear clothing from the store, but if it didn’t come from the store it needed to look like it COULD have come from the store. So no wearing tee with Hollister all over it when working at Express.

      When I read this letter I was thinking maybe this is a lingerie store like Victoria’s Secret? In that kind of instance, i can see how have majority women would be needed, since most women won’t want to be measured or helped in the fitting room by a man.

      1. A Bug!

        Often, the reason they can’t require you to wear clothing from the store is that if they did so, it would qualify as a “uniform” and be subject to special laws.

        For example, where I live, there’s a requirement that if an employer requires its employees to wear “special clothing,” they are required to provide that clothing to the employee at no cost and also either provide laundering services or reimburse for the cost of laundering.

      2. some1

        “When I read this letter I was thinking maybe this is a lingerie store like Victoria’s Secret? In that kind of instance, i can see how have majority women would be needed, since most women won’t want to be measured or helped in the fitting room by a man.”

        Actually, I had a friend who worked at VS for years. They have male customers, too. (Male customers who buy for themselves, that is.) Obviously not VS’s bread and butter, but there are some.

  2. Anonymous

    #2 – If you can’t do onsite testing for Office, you can always ask the candidate to email you examples of their work, for example send them some data and ask them to create a chart, spreadsheet, do a letter etc. Whatever it is you use Office for. In advance of the interview. Mind you, someone can always cheat, but then again, they would only be cheating themselves and setting themselves up for failure by doing that.

    1. Runon

      I’d really try to do onsite. More because of the ability to time the task than anything. And honestly I’d let the person use google without penalty if someone is able to google, use a solution they hadn’t known before, and get the task accomplished…to me that shows the person is going to be able to be comfortable with whatever weird new things you ask them to do. The doing it at home cheating to worry about would be having someone else do it for them or taking 12 hours to do a simple mail merge. But time it. I’m guessing you don’t care much what resources people use on the job as long as they get it done quickly and correct.

      1. FormerManager

        When I was tested on Excel by a temp agency I took it at home but the test in question showed how long it took someone to answer a question. Plus, I think it was timed as well. I think after about an hour it would time out and you couldn’t take it again.

        Still, I would do the test onsite. It would be so easy to have someone take the test for them at home. In fact, I always wondered why the temp agency I tested for didn’t take that in to account…

        1. Kelly O

          I think they assume that you’re a reasonable, honest human being who understands if you’re hired because you blew out the curve on your Excel test, you may very well be required to do a lot of that same thing.

          And granted, if you wind up faking it on a test, you’re going to show your true colors sooner rather than later.

          1. FormerManager

            I would hope that would happen. It just felt frustrating that I might be losing out on jobs to someone who cheated. Not that it can be prevented.

            (I compare this to the students who do projects all by themselves only to lose out to those whose parents basically did the project for them–a big pet peeve of mine.)

            1. FakingSkillsDoesn'tWork

              FormerManager,

              I think it’s much easier for someone to cheat at school — once you pass the test, you don’t need to continuously prove your skills on a daily basis. With Excel and other technical skills, unless the company was being unreasonable and asking for proof of skills that would never be used, someone would be stupid to cheat because the person would be quickly caught on the job.

              This reminds me of what happened at my husband’s company. They interviewed a programmer from India over the phone, hired the person and brought to the U.S. with a visa. Then the programmer started to perform at a much lower level than the skills he demonstrated on the phone interview. Turns out a top skilled programmer was being hired to do the phone interviews, and then the recruiting agency would just send anyone to take the position in the U.S. Quickly the fraud was discovered and the programmer’s visa was revoked and he had to go back to his native country.

      2. Peaches

        +1 to the google comment. I know, from personal experience, many young professionalys (think those between gen Y and millenials) were taught these programs in school and may have become very proficient with them at once point, but if they haven’t used specific features in a long time, they might be a little rusty. For example, I know I can make a graph with an excel spreadsheet, but the first time or two would just be a bit slower as I refreshed my memory. Once I got the hang of it again, I know I could do it quickly. Same with mail mergers. Not every office uses them frequently, but they aren’t *that* hard to learn, especially if they have some experience with it in the past.

    2. Kelly O

      Lots of agencies use testing software like Prove It for putting numbers to your claim about expertise levels with software packages. However, I will say that one thing that continually frustrates me with those tests is that you have to perform the task in the way that particular testing program wants you to.

      Other times, it will specifically say “don’t use X method” which feels a bit daft to me, since that might be the easiest and most efficient way of doing that task. I understand wanting people who can go about something from different perspectives, but it just seems odd to me.

      I would probably ask about specific examples of things like mail merges they’ve done and how long it’s been, or their past experiences with pivot tables, or whatever it is you want to know. Most reasonable people know how to use the help functions or internet searches if they bump up against something they don’t know.

      (From a personal perspective, I have learned a lot about software packages by not knowing exactly what I needed to do and having to put some work into finding answers.)

      1. Jane Doe

        It took me so much longer to do the Excel and Word tests at the temp agency than it would take normally because I couldn’t use any keyboard shortcuts, so there were things I had to go hunting around for in the menus.

        1. Josh S

          My favorite: “Copy the formula in cell D3 to cells D4 through D12.” And of course the ‘autofill’ function where you drag the corner of the selected cell was disabled. As were Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V.

          I had to use the mouse and right click after trying two faster & more efficient methods.

        2. BeenThere

          They switched off shortcuts??? *headdesk* if I were hiring for someone that needed excel skills they would have to be proficient with keyboard shortcuts.

          1. Jamie

            Why? I think it’s ridiculous to test for only menu routes, because the more advanced you are the less likely that will be your go-to 100%, but if I’m hiring I could care less if people use shortcuts, menu, or a combo of both as long as they can do what they need to do.

          2. Kelly O

            I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried using keyboard shortcuts on those tests, and they very rarely work.

            Sometimes there is a notification as you start that keyboard shortcuts won’t work. Some questions specifically say you can’t use a particular method (and it is seriously almost always the simplest method of doing whatever.)

            Beyond frustrating. And in some of the tests, if you mess up two or three times, it automatically moves you on to the next question.

        3. Suzanne

          Exactly Jane Doe! I hate those online Microsoft tests because they usually only allow one way to do things even though Microsoft products generally have multiple ways of doing the same task. I have taken these tests, and thankfully passed, but it was much more difficult than necessary. I KNEW how to do all the tasks, but went at it differently than the test allowed. Frustrating.

    3. Julie K

      I think it’s also important to be really thorough if the skills you need the person to have are essential to the job. A while ago when my then-manager was hiring a software trainer, one candidate was doing a test-teach, and she couldn’t figure out how to delete a PowerPoint slide. She had done everything else well, so when she said she was a bit rusty, they believed her (it didn’t help that the candidate pool was pretty small). We give people time to get acclimated to the company and to how we use/teach the software, so it was a few weeks before it became clear that she wasn’t familiar with Office applications at all. They had to let her go and start the hiring process all over again.

      1. Josh S

        Start the hiring process all over again? Couldn’t they have just reached out to the next-highest candidate or two?

    4. Josh S

      Yeah, it should be quite simple to provide a couple files in a folder and tell the candidate to do a mail merge and create a pie chart.

      MailMerge.xlsx (has 6 ‘records’ with first name, last name, position)
      MailMerge.docx (a letter that says something like “Dear ____, Thank you for applying for _______. We look forward to the interview later. Sincerely, Hiring manager”)
      PieChart.xlsx (a simple set of data. Please make an embedded pie chart showing the number of types of employees that make up the whole team. Please include labels and a legend, and ensure that it is legible and somewhat pleasing to the eye.)

      Have them “save as” the final result under “their name” in a certain folder. Give the person, I dunno, a half hour to complete the two tasks. It should be simple for that set of data.

      There are more ‘official’ testing things out there that track the ways in which people actually accomplish these tasks. But really, the ‘how’ doesn’t matter so much as the “can they do it in a reasonable amount of time?”, so it makes just as much sense to whip something up yourself.

      1. Julie

        So true. One of my biggest frustrations with the official Office testing software (or at least the ones that have been used on me) is that you MUST do something in a specified way. For example, you need to use a particular menu item, no keyboard shortcuts. You can’t google the answers.

        I much prefer Josh’s method: “Do this, have it ready in a half-hour,” and then judge by results.

        1. Josh S

          Besides, you can test for the specific functions you care about rather than the everything-under-the-sun approach that the testing software seems to use.

      2. Kelly O

        I would only counsel that perhaps half an hour is not adequate time.

        If your candidate is employed, he or she may not be able to jump on something like that at work. (I feel like I have to stand up for all the employed job-seekers out there, not to mention the unemployed who are volunteering or trying to do something while they’re job searching, rather than sitting in front of the computer all day.)

        1. KellyK

          Yeah, if it’s a half-hour task, it should be *during* an in-person or phone interview that they’ve already set aside time for, or you should schedule it separately. For example, “Okay, our next step before the in-person interview is a Word & Excel skills test, which you’ll have an hour to complete. What would be a good time in the next couple days for you to do that?” and then send them the questions at the agreed-upon time.

        2. Josh S

          Oh, I was doing that in the context of “a simple test while you’re at our offices to interview.” Not a “Here’s an email, return it in 30 minutes,” which would be totally ick for the reasons you mention.

          And 30 minutes was just an off-the-cuff estimate. I would probably do the task myself and then double the time it took me.

        3. Elizabeth West

          I had a WEEK to do my editing test. Thank God I did, because it took me an hour to get over not being able to understand a word of what the text was saying (I had no frame of reference). If they’d done it in-house–“Here, you have 45 minutes to do this,” I would have probably run out of the building crying.

  3. XT

    Ugh @ yet another “mah dream company” statement, I don’t know if I’m just disillusioned or realistic but I get pretty tired of my constantly unemployed acquaintances passing up job openings I mention to them or refusing to take a job unless its their “dream job” or for their “dream company.” It just spells naive and high-maintenance especially when they haven’t even started working at said company yet! Sorry for rant that just struck a nerve with me and I am definitely going to read that linked article :D

    1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise

      “……With dreams comes nightmares.” I sigh with you. There is no such thing (to me) as a dream position/company or opportunity; you take the good with the bad. Also, how can one think it is ok to be soooo super selective while job searching unless they have rare skills?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I know it makes me sound like a curmudgeon and that you meant that jokingly, but for the record, I’m not here to reassure! I hate those job advice sites that give reassurance at the expense of a realistic view. If my answers are sometimes reassuring, that’s only because the truth is sometimes reassuring. But the site isn’t intended as that specifically.

        1. Jamie

          I actually think the truth is always reassuring – even when it isn’t comforting.

          The more information people have – true, genuine, real life information – the better they can navigate these murky and sometimes very confusing waters. This blog gives them the knowledge they need to get where they need to go – even if it’s not always a pleasant or scenic path. It’s real.

          The comforting sites – that map is all the same and it looks like a Candyland board. As much fun as the Peppermint Forrest may be, most people won’t find gainful employment there.

  4. Tasha

    #4 I hope you choose not to participate if possible in this kind of discrimination. I had to deal with that at a job from a manager who blocked my transfer into the electronics department because I was female and would only be good at doing clothes (and only baby clothes since I wasn’t “pretty” i.e. thin). Never mind the weekly questions from the electronics staff since they knew I would know the answers for the customers.

    Also honestly I rarely encounter good service at boutiques that do this kind of staffing with the rare exception of some bra stores. When the girls know they are there just to look pretty, it doesn’t give them much incentive to actually help the customers or give good customer service. But I will admit I might be biased since I’ve mostly gotten poor service from those types of places for being a plus sized woman.

    1. Tasha

      +1. I hope that speaking up about that discrimination by raising the issue with a manager will encourage that company to rethink its policy, if only because they fear legal repercussions. Except in cases where employees are doing bra fittings or other “intimate” work, there really isn’t a good reason for requiring that they be of one particular gender.

      Off-topic: I occasionally comment and am also Tasha, but I have a Gravatar, so I hope there isn’t any confusion. If that could be a problem, just let me know and I’ll start going by my full name.

      1. Jamie

        I can see it being relevant even if it isn’t as intimate as bra fittings. I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of petite women working at the Big and Tall store for men or a lot of guys working the floor at a bridal shop. The same way a ski shop will move more equipment if their staff has skiing experience there’s a comfort level or informal expertise in having a familiarity with what they’re selling.

        There are exceptions, sure, but if my husband is getting fitted for a suit in the Big and Tall store he’s going to be more comfortable with a man who has had the same type of fitting issues in the same type of garments.

        That should have nothing to do with positions that don’t have direct customer contact though.

        Although when he comes to lingere, bras, panties, etc. staffing with men – even with no fittings – may well hurt business. I won’t shop for new bras if there are male customers I the department and I’m not the only woman who circles the store and comes back when they’re gone. It’s a comfort level thing.

        1. AnotherAlison

          You’re funny.

          I lost all modesty when I had a group of 8 med students watch the resident break my water. I wouldn’t say I’m Lena Dunham comfortable, but I’m pretty darn comfortable.

          Not necessarily on bras, but men sometimes have better ideas about clothes. . .no man is going to sell you harem pants.

          1. Kelly O

            This is true.

            There is nothing like feeling like you ought to have to say “is there anyone else in the greater Houston area who would like to see my girlie bits?” And I even did the whole thing about not wanting students in the delivery room, but it did feel like a Ringling Brothers parade at one point.

  5. Elizabeth

    OP#2, a more optimistic-of-human-nature way to interpret the candidates’ answers is that people are often pretty bad at assessing their own competence. Ironically, the less experienced someone actually is, the more likely they are to over-rate their competence at it! The less you know about a subject, the more likely you are to believe that the subject is pretty simple. As you learn more, you realize additional complexity.

    The people you’re interviewing may think to themselves, “Well, I can do anything I want to do when I use Office, so I must be very good with it!” They aren’t aware of the features that Office has that they don’t ever use, so they definitely don’t know that they don’t know how to use them. They aren’t trying to pull one over on you – they honestly think they’re experts.

    Asking more specific questions, or giving them a hands-on assessment, will give you a lot more information, like Alison says.

      1. Construction HR

        Dunning-Kruger Effect. The least competent among us are the most overconfident. That overconfidence prevents them from learning the necessary skills to improve competence.

        Witness the American Idol tryouts, or stupid criminal antics. Did they really think they would succeed? Really? Yes, yes they did.

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          And then when you’re called to self-assess yourself for a review, you find out that your not so competent co-worker got a good raise, because “he’s great at everything” and you didn’t because you’re only mediocre.

      2. Sharon

        This is so true and really makes you wonder about the current hiring method of trying to find candidates that claim to be gurus and ninjas. Anybody who self-identifies that way is all ego and probably moderate skill. And by the same rule, anybody who is modest is probably the candidate you WANT.

        I know after 20 years (yes, I’m old!) of software engineering on one OS, I had a pretty good grasp of the system capabilities. But at the same time I was aware of many things that I’d never gotten the opportunity to use, so I didn’t feel comfortable calling myself an expert. I probably missed out on a lot of great jobs because I wouldn’t apply to jobs asking for experts, because I didn’t feel that I was one and so felt that if I claimed I was I wouldn’t be able to prove it!

    1. AG

      Agreed. Many people don’t know the full capacities of programs they use!

      I think a basic skills test is totally appropriate for this kind of situation. You don’t need fancy software, just sit them in front of a computer with a few basic assignments.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Yes, and depending on the job, not many people use all those program capabilities. Basic stuff even falls through the cracks sometimes. I got typing-tested all the time, and very rarely did my typing speed ever come up on the job.

    2. Dan

      Yeah… I always hate “rate your skills” questions, because TBH, I honestly don’t know most of the capabilities of various software packages I use. I know what I know, I do what I need to, I just don’t know what exists beyond that.

      My wife was taking a temp placement test with Office, and I watched her do most of it. Turns out I’d flunk the MS Outlook portion, because there’s a lot more to Outlook than sending an email and scheduling a meeting. Who knew?

      I do a bit of computer programming, so if someone asks me to “rate my skills” I have to ask them what they want done. Do they want someone who can hack together code with reasonable complexity? Sure, no sweat. Do you want someone who can do threading and sockets? If so, I’m not your guy. Just tell me what you want done, I’ll tell you if I can do it.

      1. Construction HR

        Exactly. I can do a lot of things in Word, but never had occasion to use Mail Merge. Similarly with Excel with macros & charts, but never done a Pivot Chart.

      2. Esra

        Rate your skills with programming is the worst. Am I good? Compared to most designers? Sure. Compared to a good programmer? Uhm….

    3. jesicka309

      I hate when they ask you about Office, because a lot of Office is trial and error. You may be brilliant at Office on your home computer, but suddenly on the Apple Mac they use you have no idea where the menus are.
      Sure, I’m pretty smart, and I can work out how to do something pretty quickly. If I can’t do mail merge first time, you’ll be damn sure I’m looking up help and googling how to do it.
      If someone asks me “Are you good with Microsoft Office?” I want to say “I’m not a moron. I’ve used it before. Which specific functions do you want? I’m fairly proficient, but I’m also self-sufficient. Most of Office is about knowing how to use F1 properly!” Seriously, their help sections have step by step instructions on how to do everything you want!

      1. Sharon

        Another thing that bothers me about this kind of thing is that any intelligent person can learn most of these things really quickly. I’ve lost a few job opportunities because I didn’t already have experience with some software. But I’ve also gotten some jobs where they didn’t screen for that, and I simply jumped in and learned it in a few weeks. I’ve gotten the question about pivot tables in job interviews and admitted that I didn’t know how to do them. Then I got a job where they didn’t ask, just assumed that it was known. And indeed, I saw how others in the company had done them, and started doing my own, and now I’m really honestly puzzled that pivot tables are seen as some really advanced, complicated skill. With newer versions of Excel, it’s really easy to make a pivot table!

        1. Jamie

          Another thing that bothers me about this kind of thing is that any intelligent person can learn most of these things really quickly

          You’d think, but truly the lack of the ability to do this fascinates me. People who are very, very intelligent and quite skilled in highly technical fields are brought to a standstill over really basic Office functions.

          I can’t chalk it up to learned helplessness, because these same people don’t mind making their own copies, doing their own filing, or any other admin tasks that offices without a lot of admins expect people to do for themselves.

          It’s some weird block. I’m talking about people who have exceptional intellect and skill but printing to an Avery label format? Might as well test them on quantum mechanics.

          It’s really pervasive though, it needs a name.

          1. Kelly O

            Oh y’all, I worked with a doctor once. Super-nice guy, quite literally just about the smartest person I have ever known. Completely flummoxed by the computer.

            I had access to his inbox, because he seriously could never figure out how to accept a meeting in Outlook. (For this one, I had to manage his meetings in Outlook, and transfer them all over to a paper calendar for him to carry.)

          2. Elizabeth

            Some of it is generational. I wrote all my essays for school, from middle school onward, in Microsoft Word. My father wrote his longhand and maybe, maybe typed them for the final draft. (Or hired someone to type them for him!)

            The terms I like the most for this phenomenon is “digital native” vs. “digital immigrant.”

          3. Lynn

            Yes! What is it with people like that? It’s so common, and really alien to me. Just poke around, and if nothing within the software itself looks promising, a quick google will usually turn up answers. Why are there so many, many people who are otherwise competent adults who just throw up their hands in defeat without even trying?

            1. Lindsay

              I think there is a fear – especially in those from older generations – that if they do something “wrong” on the computer that it is going to cause some sort of catastrophic failure (delete all the data, break the computer, start a fire, who knows?)

              Those of us that are comfortable with computers know that it is difficult to cause permanent damage without really meaning to, but they don’t.

              Since the perceived consequences are higher, they are afraid to try anything that might be the wrong thing to do.

              The perceived high consequences also lead to a fear paralysis when they are given simple instructions (if you’re afraid one wrong click will break the computer, you will go “I don’t know which one that it” when told to “Click the Internet Explorer button – it’s the picture of a blue ‘e'” rather than click on something you think is correct but just might now be).

              1. Jamie

                Truly – I’ve known people in their 20-30s to have these issues and I’ve got users in their 60s who have embraced it and have none of these problems.

                Age may be a factor in many instances – but it’s not a direct correlation.

                The fear thing is very real, though. Those are the users I have the hardest time with – those who think they can take down the system if they click wrong. No matter how many times I’ve assured them that they don’t have the access to do the damage they think they can do.

                My mantra is make a copy. I teach them how to make a copy of the doc or spreadsheet on which they are working so they can try things they find in the help files without the risk of altering the original.

                “Click the Internet Explorer button – it’s the picture of a blue ‘e’”

                I was on with tech support that shall not be named, a couple of years ago, and I had already told them I was the Director of IT before he explained to me that he wanted me to click “the little blue ‘e’ with the halo – which will take me to the internet.”

                So helpful.

        2. Non-mouse

          +1. While I’ll agree that some people are less innately and less quickly able to learn this stuff —and some people make themselves less capable by being too afraid to learn it— it can all be learned relatively easily. It’s just a matter of time and practice. Now, if the hiring company is really, really short on time, on staff or whatever, then I can certainly see a *preference* for the candidate who already knows the skills, everything else being equal. But I’ve also observed how some employers make this kind of thing too much of an obstacle by interpreting it as representing more general incompetence than it actually does. There’s also sometimes an almost bully-ish attitude about having to train someone on a few basic things like this (particularly, and perhaps understandably, on the part of the co-workers who might get stuck doing it). Instead of looking at the fact that a few days or weeks in the short-term is likely to be a small price to pay in the long-term for a well-trained employee in possession of many other fine and equally important job qualities, some people in the workplace focus only on their resentment at being temporarily inconvenienced. It can become this big-deal thing that’s lorded over or thrown in an employee’s face, unnecessarily, if heaven forbid someone has to answer a few extra questions for a little while. In general I’d say that, when possible, it’d be better for management to avoid making a new employee’s co-workers into “go-to”s for this training period— there’s too much of a conflict of interest and too much possible resentment about it.

      2. Noah

        Our entire company had to relearn Office when we moved from the 2003 version to the 2010 version. I still have trouble finding things sometimes.

        I agree with the consensus though. If you are comfortable using Office, you can probably figure out almost anything with some trial and error combined with good Google-fu.

        1. Zahra

          My last phone interview asked me what is the thing I’m most skilled at (to which I said I’m the internet research queen “Google is my very best friend”). And then how I’d rate my skills on Excel, Access, etc. compared to that one thing. I liked how they went about it, but it’s a position where there’s a wide range of skill levels that could work depending on the other skills you bring to the table.

          If your requirements are specific, you should ask about those specific tasks in your interview.

      3. AG

        “Most of Office is about knowing how to use F1 properly!”

        SO TRUE!

        So many times at my last job someone would ask me how to do something in Office, and I would just end up looking it up in the help menus (or on Google) for them!

        1. Jamie

          Honestly though, were I interviewing for a position requiring Office that’s something I want to hear. The comment about F1 tells me you’re self sufficient, know where to go, and your initial response to a new function is self help and not handholding.

      4. Chinook

        +1. I am fairly proficient with various versions of Office, but when I got put in from of a Mac with the Office suite, my fluency and speed went down and my swearing went up! I swear MS set it up to convince converts to Mac that they aren’t as user friendly as they claim to be and that we should really go back to PCs (which worked it my case. I kiss my PC daily and thank my Outlook for performing how it is suppose to)

      5. Elizabeth West

        Except for Access. Good God, Access is incomprehensible if you’re not a freaking programmer. I always, ALWAYS use Google if I have a problem in Access. There’s usually someone else in some forum who had the same issue and got a simple explanation in plain English.

    4. Julie K

      When I applied for my second software training job, the hiring manager asked me what my level of competence was in various software. I answered “beginner,” “intermediate,” or “advanced,” depending on what level I had taught at my previous company. What I didn’t know at the time is that different companies have different definitions of “intermediate,” etc. I got the job, and after I was hired and sitting in on the classes I was preparing to teach, I learned quickly that there were a lot of features covered in the “intermediate” class that I had never heard of. It’s kind of funny now, but it was embarrassing at the time.

  6. AG

    I appreciate AAM talking people out of the notion of a “dream company” and “dream job.” I interned at my so-called dream company in college, and I was really disappointed to find out what jerks most of the employees were!

    1. Dan

      Yeah… TBH, unless someone has some reasonably in-depth knowledge about my company that most people wouldn’t have, I’d knock them down a few pegs for being naive. I mean, if you hadn’t interned, contracted, or otherwise had a close affiliation with my company (perhaps you are really good friends with a handful of my staff?) just how much can you know about my company such that it is your “dream”?

  7. Mike

    Re #2: Pet peeve of mine is asking about microsoft office while ignoring all the other office suites (some which are better IMO).

    Ask about what you need accomplished and then test them on it. I haven’t used MS Office in 6 years but doing things like mail merges and pie charts are pretty common functions of any suite and I’ll figure it out which a little help from Uncle Google.

    1. fposte

      But if they’re using Microsoft Office, that’s what they want to know about, not the others. (And it doesn’t necessarily translate easily.)

  8. MFM

    re: #3. Company wants employee not to mention her upcoming departure to coworkers or customers

    Slippery slope here AAM. How can a hard working, honest person in a face to face meeting with a long time client ‘flat out’ lie about her current status. It seems she is risking her reputation should word ever get out that she was not truthful about her status at the time.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary

      I guess I can’t figure out why not telling people she is leaving is a lie. She is seeing her customers, representing the company, making promises to them that the company will fulfill, not her personally. So she’s not lying to say, for instance, “Great. We’ll get your order out to you next month.” The only possible lie I can think of would be if she said, “See you next month.” But it seems like she could avoid that.

      1. MFM

        excellent post YMMV, the problem is her position is very individual oriented, and she has worked one on one with these clients for years and will be seeing many of them at a conference this week presenting ‘her’ action plans (yes, she creates them herself) and scheduling visits throughout her territory to implement them to the individual clients. Tough to say face to face to a trusted client “I will see you March 15th” when she knows she won’t.
        In the case of delivering product, your point is certainly applicable.

  9. Julie

    #2: If it’s crucial to the job that they be able to use some function of the Office suite, test them on it. It’s the only way to be sure.

    That said, you have to be prepared that a lot of computer-savvy people might not know the specific function you’re talking about, but may be able to pick it up pretty fast once it’s needed. (It was a joke at my old job that if someone needed something computer-related done, they’d ask me if I could do it. My usual answer was, “I have no idea. Give me a half-hour and I’ll find out.”)

    1. Kelly L.

      I’m the same way. I started my current job only knowing the bare bones of the Office programs, but I’ve learned a ton on the fly, just from having people ask “Is it possible to do xyz in Word/Excel?” and having to look up the answer.

    2. Xay

      Exactly. I don’t know every single function that Excel can do, but I know how to use Excel well enough that I can get the work done with some Googling and a practice worksheet.

    3. Mike C.

      This is what I keep thinking whenever someone asks me about Office. It isn’t that difficult to hit F1 or search google for tutorials.

      1. Jamie

        It isn’t – but I’ve found in practice that well over 50% of people I’ve worked with wont do this.

        “I can’t do (basic thing like copy a formula or export data) in Excel.”

        “The help files explain that”

        “No, I can’t find it, I looked.”

        “Search for (I give them keywords)”

        “I still can’t find it.”

        “Here’s the link to the page in the help files”

        “I still can’t make it work, can you show me?”

        Believe me, I’ve had this conversation 100s of times in trying to teach people to fish and not give them fish. I don’t know if following written instructions is harder for most people, because MS Office has pretty good help available not to mention tons of website guides.

        That’s why I think the tests should be how to get it done and not about can you do XYZ, because if you show me you know how to use help files and google to be self sufficient then I agree with Mike – who cares if they know this specific task. But I would really need to see they can do that.

          1. Jamie

            Ha – I love that. Unfortunately I’m too professional and that doesn’t work with the smart alecky impaired – they get offended.

            1. Jen in RO

              This, sadly. I work with a couple of people who need a big dose of lmgtfy but they’d be offended.

              On topic, I got hired 3 years ago to work with a software I’d never seen in my life. People who’ve been with the company for 10 years are now asking me for advice. All my ‘advanced’ knowledge is based on a lit of googling and pushing buttons to sees what they do… pretty basic stuff to me, but I guess that I just have that tinkering personality.

        1. AnotherAlison

          This is my pet peeve AT HOME.

          DS got an iPhone last week. He couldn’t get it to connect to our wifi, so guess who had to do it? Yeah, me, the same person who also had to fix DH’s scanner/wireless laptop connection issue. I don’t have an iPhone, and my laptop connected to our scanner just fine. . .

          If you can google how to set up the suspension on your dirt bike, you can google computer stuff.

          /end rant

          (I don’t complain too much, lest I find myself in charge of fixing the seems-to-be-unfixable mole problem.)

      2. Jamie

        This brings up another good point, though. If you’re tested and score really high I’m still nervous because it just shows you know that. I really want to test for what you do when you come up against seething you don’t know off the top of your head – so back to I want to see how you find information.

        Fwiw when I started temping all those years ago I tested at the expert level for everything except Access, where I tested advanced. This was due to spending the day before taking online tests – I had never worked with the programs even once. So I personally take those tests with several hundred grains of salt.

        1. Kelly O

          So, in thinking that through, wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask about a time when that person didn’t know the answer? It might give you some insight into their thought process – do they default to asking someone else? Do they try to find out themselves? Do they move into the realm of wasting too much time trying to figure it out themselves? Do they attempt to document the new knowledge, or find a way to use that information in a different way?

          1. Jamie

            Yes. And for me the answer isn’t that they never ask for help…but what I’d be looking for is that the initial response would be to try to find the solution on their own and then if its taking an excessive amount of time to ask.

            Because of someone comes to me with a question and they tell me they looked in the files and tried X and Y – I’m more than happy to assist them. It’s when people treat me like I’m the help file that grates.

            And I do let them know anything I know about Office has nothing to do with IT. I picked it up doing other things – except for license management and installs Office shouldn’t fall to that department by default. And 100% of the time it’s things I’ve learned by F1 or google somewhere along the way.

            1. Kelly O

              Husband used to get upset because people would come to him asking for Excel help, and looked confused when he said “go ask Kelly. I’m just an IT guy.”

              I mean, he can do some things, but pivot tables, what-if analysis and stuff like that is my realm, not his. I think some people think if you do it on a computer, then it is by default IT.

  10. Anon

    #2: Test them on the job interview on mail merges, pie charts, etc. Tell the person up front while scheduling that this testing portion will be part of the interview. Lots of people say they know how to do this and they don’t. And yes, it is easy enough to look up how to do it, but somehow, those folks don’t know how to do that either.

    1. Legal Eagle

      Yes, tell them up front and then test them. I haven’t done a mail merge in years. I would prefer to figure out where it is on the new versions of MS office without an interviewer staring at me.

    2. Chinook

      And, if you are giving the a heads up, let them know version of the software they will be using. As someone pointed out earlier, there is a huge difference between 2003 and 2010 and, while I may be great at doing a mail merge with the newer versions, I would have to google the process if I was doing it on one of my coworkers computers that still has 2003.

  11. AdAgencyChick

    OP #3, I’ve been there and it’s not a comfortable situation. I’d suggest being a bit of a pest about it, so that management shares your discomfort and maybe decides that it’s less of a pain to just tell people than it is to keep things under wraps. So, if a client sends a meeting request for the week after you leave, you go to your boss and say, “Joe wants to have a meeting next Thursday. What would you like me to do?” If the boss responds with, “Well, don’t tell him you’re leaving?” then you come back with, “Yes, I understand you’ve asked me not to do that, but what *would* you like me to say?” This at least forces the boss to say out loud that s/he wants you to lie, which I’m hoping s/he won’t feel comfortable doing and might prod the boss to take some action.

    When this happened to me, I’m sorry to say I meekly did what I was told (without outright lying; I simply avoided talking about future meetings with clients or coworkers), although I did nag my boss about it. I was finally allowed to tell coworkers one week before my departure, and the clients weren’t told until my last day, a Friday — and then only because I went to the head of the team and told him, “There’s a meeting on Monday and the clients are expecting me there, will you please do something about that?” If I had it to do over again, I’d be less willing to dodge questions and more assertive about telling my boss, “I need to know how to answer this question.”

  12. Mike C.

    What’s the point in telling an employee not to mention a resignation? The whole thing feels creepy and paternalistic to me.

    1. MFM

      Good observation. My guess is the company is posturing themselves to make it appear she was terminated vs. resigning

      1. AdAgencyChick

        I wouldn’t say that. I think it’s often the case, especially when an employee has forged relationships with clients, that management is uncomfortable having the difficult conversation with the client that the person they’ve grown to like is no longer going to be working with them. Sometimes they just don’t want to alert the client to the employee’s departure until a replacement has been identified, so that they can present the situation as “We’re all very sad to lose Jane, but we’re very excited for you to meet Betty, who will be handling all your needs going forward.” I think that’s okay if the process happens VERY quickly, but too often the process drags out and the departing employee gets put in an impossible position.

        I do wish management wouldn’t wuss out on these conversations so often!

    2. Stella

      I don’t know, but I wonder if some of it is a fear that clients will leave with the employee. If the clients know she’s leaving, they could ask for her new contact information. If they don’t find out until she’s gone, they might have no way of contacting her. (Yes, I know we now have LinkedIn, but just a few years ago we didn’t.)

      1. Josh S

        ^^This.

        In a client/account management situation where the individual holding the position forges a trust relationship with the customer, a lot of clients are willing to ‘go with’ the account manager when she leaves. This can hurt business significantly.

        Now obviously, a non-compete/non-solicitation clause as part of the employment/hiring process can take care of much of that worry (as can trusting that your good employees won’t want to burn their reputation by poaching clients). But for the fearful managers who can’t see anything but the downside, it kind of makes sense that they wouldn’t want you to give your clients a heads up that you were leaving for somewhere else.

        Now as for co-workers…I don’t understand this at all. Presumably there will be a transition period where the clients will get transferred to other co-workers til a new person is hired, and having no notification of that or time to prep/get info on the new clients is just…weird.

        1. Oxford Comma

          Is there fear that the co-workers will tell the clients? But if so, it seems to me that management could just make an announcement: “So-and-so will be leaving us on Date X to take up another opportunity. We are very sorry to see her/him go. Please do not communicate this to our clients as we wish to handle that aspect of the transitions blah blah blah.”

      2. AdAgencyChick

        Yes, that too — although in this age of clients having personal cell phone numbers of some vendor contacts, and of course LinkedIn, I think you can’t stop a client who really wants to follow someone. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t managers who think they can.

    3. Elle D.

      This doesn’t sound like it’s the case for the OP, but my manager once had an understandable reason for asking me not to tell anyone I resigned. He didn’t give me an explanation at first, but a week into my notice period he presented me with a counter-offer. He explained he needed the week to work out the terms with upper management, and didn’t want me to announce my resignation on the off chance I’d accept the counter and stay. Unfortunately I wouldn’t have stayed no matter what the terms were (great company, but I needed to relocate for personal reasons and working remotely wasn’t an option for my role). I wished he would’ve been candid with his intentions up front so I could have avoided that awkward week, but I can at least understand why he asked me not to say anything.

  13. Anonymous

    #3 – this is ridiculous, they would prefer to schedule travel than tell the person who schedules it that she is leaving? That means flights and hotels?? That is stupid, how do you know that the person scheduling isn’t getting a non-refundable flights that doesn’t allow name changes? This is so stupid, and OP shouldn’t focus her concern on “not comfortable misleading coworkers or customers”, but rather the bottom line for the travel coordinator’s time spent on booking travel that won’t take place. Or assuring that the company has traveler’s insurance or the travel coordinator is purchasing refundable tickets, ones that can be transfered, etc.

  14. KayDay

    My 2 cents on #2 (MS Office interview question). You need to first ask people if they have done the specific task. Most people applying for the job “are good at” MS Office, because it’s so ubiquitous. Ask, how often do you use the mail merge feature? What types of things did you make with mail merge? Have you made XYZ in excel? Do you know how to hide the background in PowerPoint?

    Also, when you test them, I suggest giving them a normal computer with normal software, and asking them to complete a task in __ amount of time, just as you would with an employee. Let them google it, or use the help key, as long as they get it done in time. Especially with excel and/or newer versions of office, some very computer-competent people may not know exactly how to do a specific task, but can figure it out very quickly.

  15. Suzanne

    I am a little confused on #1. How would this be different than contacting one of these employees and asking for an informational interview. It seems to be both would be accomplishing the same thing–finding out what the job involves and if your skills could fit that. Is it because the OP should be contacting the department head and asking these questions?

      1. Allison

        I learned this the hard way. I did get an informational interview with the company, but it was pretty obvious that I was doing it to show interest in a particular job, and it didn’t work. Best to do this sort of thing in advance, long before you apply for a job with the company.

        1. Rana

          Yes. The purpose of an informational interview is to learn about the industry in general, and the sorts of experience you need to succeed in it. Then you do what you can on your own to acquire that experience, so that you can be a good candidate when an opening comes up later. Two separate processes, those.

  16. Julie K

    #3 seems like a very frustrating situation. If it were me, I think I would have already mentioned my new job to my close colleagues, so keeping it secret wouldn’t be possible. But if not, I honestly don’t know what I would do if my employer asked me to keep clients in the dark. And, I guess I should ask for opinions on whether it’s a mistake to tell anyone else in the office about leaving for a new job before you tell the employer. Or does it depend on the employer?

      1. MFM

        I would agree with AAM, and she did submit her letter to her team leader and HR on Friday, and as of now she has told no one else at the company.

    1. MFM

      Thanks for the reply Julie K

      “……I honestly don’t know what I would do if my employer asked me to keep clients in the dark….”

      and therein is what we are trying to determine to give her some guidance and input. I now remember why I am (and have been) self employed since 1979

  17. Mike B.

    Re #3: My company has a delicate relationship with some of its clients for various reasons, and there are therefore some account managers who are anxious about key staff changes. At the start of the year, one of my direct reports gave two weeks’ notice and immediately strode off to inform her team members despite my instructions to the contrary (“I’ve worked with these people for years; they’re not going to hear about it second hand”)–we had to push her out immediately since we couldn’t trust her not to create havoc. It’s entirely reasonable for the employer to want to control how the transition is related to the rest of the organization and its partners.

    That said, I don’t think anyone internally could fault her for wanting some assurance that the company is planning the transition carefully. But if she gave notice on Friday and it’s only Monday now, she has no reason to conclude that this isn’t the case.

    1. Anon

      Wow, her behavior was odd. I usually take the hiring manager’s lead on how to relay this kind of information internally and externally. It’s never been a big deal to me. Also, I totally understand the sensitivity in relaying this kind of information to clients. Some clients just lose their minds over this kind of thing. I think that behavior is silly too. I’ve never seen work or an account fall apart over one single person leaving. Usually things transition just fine.

      1. MFM

        “…I usually take the hiring manager’s lead on how to relay this kind of information internally and externally.”

        Her requests for guidance has fallen on deaf ears (no replies to her requests for guidance).

        Please don’t miss the original question. She has been asked to keep her clients and her coworkers in the dark for the duration of her 2 week notice.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Right, I think we do all understand that. MFM, are you looking for something other than what I said in the original post? Those are her two basic options. From your follow-up comments, it sounds like you’re looking for something else….?

          1. MFM

            AAM….fair question…
            no, when you extract all the extrenous factors, your initial reply was right on the mark.
            Having been so disconnected from the corporate culture I found it educational and enlightening to read all the different perspectives on this issue.

  18. OP #2

    Hi! I asked question #2. Many thanks for your advices! Yes, I agree that those testing software used by many temp agencies were very difficult!

    We have already planned to test the candidates their computer skills if we are to bring them back for the 2nd interview. However, what is mind-boggling to me is that once I asked them if they had done a specific task, they just sit there, stared at me, as if they got caught with a lie. It happened to a few candidates that we brought in. They didn’t even attempt to say something in the effect of that they would try their best to learn what would be required for the job. Among other things, their responses lead me to wonder if they have the problem solving skills required for the job; or they were just nervous and didn’t know what to say.

    I aware that many people might not have the Micsosoft Office skills that is beyond what is needed to create a nice resume. But I agree with a few of you who said that if we hire the right person, he or she should be able to learn quickly.

    1. Rana

      It sounds like your interview process is effective, then! That is, you clearly want people who, when confronted with something as simple as being asked to perform a basic task, either know how to do it, or can figure out to do it. Freezing and staring isn’t an acceptable response.

      I mean, imagine their first day on the job: “Could you work up a pivot table on this report?” Stare. “Could you do a mail merge for this letter going out tomorrow?” Stare. “You do know how to do this, right?” Stare.

      Contrast that with “Could you work up a pivot table on this report?” “Sure! When do you need it?” or “Could you do a mail merge for this letter going out tomorrow?” “I’m not as familiar with that process as I’d like, but I’ll figure something out. If I can’t make it work, I’ll let you know in an hour so we can have someone else do it before the deadline. Or would you prefer to give me a different task now, and I’ll read up on the process over the weekend?”

  19. B

    My take on #3…who do you need to leave on better terms with. I would say that a business/boss that could give you a good or bad referral in the future carries a lot more weight than clients.

    Clients will understand afterwards when you say “I am sorry I could not tell you earlier. The company wanted to keep it quiet until they had a transition plan in place.” It puts the onus back on the company, you are apologizing, and it moves on.

  20. Allison

    I second #1, people need to stop trying to bypass the application process. Yes, your resume might not get seen if it’s not well written or if you’re not really qualified. Yes, networking is a good idea, yes there are times when it’s appropriate to contact the hiring manager or recruiter directly to stand out among the other applicants. That said, messaging someone asking them to look at your profile is not an application. Neither is messaging them with your life story and asking if you’re qualified. If there is an application process and you don’t follow it, you’re not efficient or innovative – you will appear lazy, unable to follow directions, and/or a pain in the neck.

  21. Elizabeth West

    #2 MS Office
    Everyone says “Don’t put this on your resume,” but it’s still popping up in loads of job postings, probably for this reason. So if I leave it off, the the keyword checker isn’t going to catch it.

    Testing is a good idea. I’m pretty honest about my skills, but sometimes they want something I’m not very good at or don’t know how to do. I got tested for a job once that checked every applicant for data entry speed; if you didn’t qualify for that part, you weren’t selected for an interview. It sucked, but that was better than getting the job and finding out they wanted 5000 keystrokes a minute and struggling the whole time. Ditto with charts, etc. in Excel.

    #4 hiring more women than men

    Did no one learn anything from the Abercrombie and B***h fiasco? :P

    #5 rescheduling waiting

    Relax; whatever the emergency was, it may be taking longer to clear up than they thought. Just keep looking and try not to think about it for now.

    1. Lulu

      I finally caved and included it on my resume, as well as the particular elements that I have used, and any other software (and hardware) I have had some level of experience with. It’s just so prevalent in the job postings, I wasn’t comfortable leaving it off. Plus someone forwarding my resume for a particular position mentioned that it would require my using some internal applications, so it would be beneficial if I mentioned anything I’d worked with.

      That said, the Computer Skills section is at the end of my resume, and merely cites “experience includes”, no self-rating. This whole beginning/intermediate/advanced thing is SO subjective as to me utterly meaningless, for all the reasons mentioned in this thread, particularly Google. And “proficient” – what does that even mean? I’ve mentioned in other posts I’m not comfortable applying for jobs requiring proficiency because to me that implies a very high level of experience with all facets of _____, and I am fully aware that I haven’t even had to touch the full capabilities of any software package. But obviously, there are people for whom even knowing how to sort an Excel column = “proficient”. (And I’ve ruled out far too many jobs on that point by now, so am starting to ignore the term entirely.)

      I completely agree with the earlier commenters who advised mentioning the specific tasks that you need. Don’t tell me you need “Intermediate Excel” – tell me you need someone who can do pie charts quickly from Day 1, or who will be able to sort that out, or whatever the actual task is. You may be able to rule out people on that alone before even getting to an interview or test. Or rule in good people who know what they don’t know, but can figure it out.

      1. OP #2

        Hi there!

        Actually, I am looking more for problem solving skills than for a Miscrosoft wizard. I happened to interview a few people, after realized that they didn’t know what a mail merge is or they didn’t know how to do a chart on excel, they couldn’t even tell me that they would try their best to learn all the new skills needed for the job. They just appearred not knowing what to do during the interview!

        My question to AAM was whether these candidates were nervous, whether I should give them a second chance, or they were just bad candidates whom I should not hire. Looks like that there’s no real way of doing it besides actually put them in front of a computer!

        To anyone who is looking for a job now – I would say you should be upfront about not knowing everything about the computer software. Don’t tell the interviewer that you can do everything – because, in reality, no one can be everything at a work place.

  22. DA

    Can we get an embargo on ‘OMG, I found my dream job/company, but now they are breaking my heart’ postings? It seems like they have been coming in hot and heavy of late. I’m sure Alison could use a break from those types of emails ;)

  23. cncx

    #5 the worst job i ever had was one where i got interviews rescheduled for “emergencies.” If they don’t have time for you at the interview they won’t have time for you when you are an employee. Just say no!

  24. Cheryl (OP #4)

    I am the OP of question #4. I approached my regional manager and told him that I knew what the company was doing was illegal, and I also expressed that I was very uncomfortable as a hiring manager to be forced to discriminate. I was basically told to shut my mouth, and if I didn’t like it, I could leave. I suppose I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place now. I’m not being discriminated against myself, so there is nothing I can do. Right?

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