short answer Sunday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s short answer Sunday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. Moving from retail into office jobs

My husband has been in retail since he graduated from college seven years ago with a BBA in Management. His positions have included manager, team leads, customer service leader, inventory, sales, and currently a bike repair technician for a large sporting goods retailer. He’s had long tenure at each company, moving around in different positions, as he would always become the store’s “go to” person.

As most people will tell you, retail is hard and he’s ready to get out. At this point, he would take anything that’s more of an office job with regular hours and he’s willing to start at the bottom and work his way up. But he’s struggling getting attention for anything that’s not a commissioned sales job (the kind that they try to get any business major right out of college for) or another retail position. I know he could nail the interview and intelligently explain wanting to change to a long-term career with stable hours and he has proven his work ethic in his positions. But it’s getting them to not dismiss him as another retail employee. Do you have any specific tips on getting someone to pay attention to a retail employee trying to get out?

Well, it’s not easy to change fields in this job market. No matter how great he might be, and no matter how transferrable his skills, the reality is that employers usually have plenty of candidates who meet all the job’s qualifications and have already worked in their field. So even though he might excel at the job if just given the chance, employers don’t have much of an incentive to take a chance on him. That means that he’s probably going to need to put a lot more emphasis on networking and working his way into a position that way, because if he’s just answering ads where they don’t already know him, he’s likely to be at a disadvantage.

2. Interviewers say I’m too soft-spoken, but I’m not

I’m really at a loss, and I’m wondering if you can give me some advice. I have been on several interviews for executive admin assistant positions lately. In a few of the interviews, I got feedback from my recruiter that the interviewers were concerned that I was too shy, timid or meek. I’m not any of those things. I am rather soft-spoken, but am not timid or shy in least. In all of these interviews, I had no problem answering questions, talking about myself and my goals, etc. I have never been nervous in interviews, I actually kind of enjoy it (a fallback from my days in speech and debate club). In the most recent one, a CEO stopped in and ended up chatting with me for several minutes about foreign travel (he was impressed that I spent a summer backpacking in a foreign country by myself, NOT something a shy person would do). I have never had an interviewer ask me any questions related to my being “timid” or question whether or not I would be able to “push back” on occasions where it was needed.

My current position as an EA is a very public role. The person I support currently is a public figure, and I act as his gateway. I interact with people from all walks of life, from CEO’s and high-level government officials (I met a foreign prime minister on one occasion) to local community members and I even handle national press on occasion. I have talked about all these things during my interviews. I am really and truly at loss as to how anyone could perceive me as shy. The only thing I can think of is that I am soft-spoken. It is something that people have commented on: “Oh, you sound so sweet, you have such a nice, soft voice”. But, that’s not really something I can change. My voice doesn’t make me less capable, and it is not a harbinger of my personality. But, it just seems to be the sticking point. Even with a list of my accomplishments before them that portray me as an outgoing person that likes challenging situations, all they seem to hear is my voice. What can I do to change this perception?

Hmmm. If just one interviewer gave you this feedback, I’d ignore it — but if multiple people are saying it, then there’s something about the way you’re coming across that you’re unaware of. It might be useful to roleplay an interview with someone you trust to give you honest and objective feedback, so that you can pinpoint exactly what you’re doing that’s causing the impression.

On the other hand, has all this feedback come through the same recruiter? There’s a chance that this is being filtered incorrectly by him, if so. It would be interesting to see what feedback you get from other recruiters, or from interviewers directly.

3. Employer told me to leave after I gave notice and won’t pay me for my notice period

I gave two weeks notice at my old job, and they told me to leave immediately. Now they are not paying me for the last two weeks. Is this legal? Am I missing something? I gave two weeks as is required.

They aren’t required to pay you for weeks you didn’t work, even if the reason you didn’t work those weeks is because they told you to leave immediately. You can probably get unemployment for those two weeks, however.

4. Explaining that you were fired for stealing

I was terminated for stealing. If asked during an interview why I was terminated, how do I approach this? Do I tell them just that? I know what I did was wrong and I am paying back what I stole. I just need to know how to answer this.

I don’t think there’s any way to say “I stole from my last job” and still get hired. So I think the only thing you can do is to leave that job off your resume entirely, no matter how long you were there. Having to explain that you were fired from your last job is going to be far more of an obstacle than just appearing to have been out of work for however long that period of time is.

5. Submitting an updated cover letter

I’m a recent college graduate and I’m very new to the search for a job. Unfortunately, I’ve been learning as I go, and it wasn’t until several weeks into my job search that I discovered Ask a Manager. One of the best improvements I’ve made has been in my cover letters. But it sucks to think that I’ve ruined the possibility of landing really awesome positions that I know I’m super qualified for, with subpar cover letters.

Can I resubmit a new cover letter for a job I’ve already applied to? I just know now that the cover letters I’ve been submitting have been really bad. Now that I’m writing much better ones, I want to know if I can submit those even with my old letters possibly still on file. Will mangers consider me anew with a better cover letter?

Well … it might not help, but you have nothing to lose so you might as well try it. On a related note…

6. Applying with a new resume

Last year, I applied for a position, but I didn’t get it. It’s not just the job I didn’t get, but how also to write an effective resume, prepare for interviews, etc. Naively, I sent resumes to several organizations I would like to work for, but received only rejection letters. Since then, I’ve improved my resume and learned how to answer interview questions (for example, “tell me abut yourself” shouldn’t include kids or surviving cancer). I feel like I understand job-hunting etiquette better.

Now that these places I want to work have already seen my less-than-stellar resume, how long should I wait before applying for their future openings? Is there any hope that they’ll forget my old resume?

Sure, there’s definitely hope. I’d wait at least a few months, and then try again.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

    1. Josh S*

      Management, hiring, and office protocol are Alison’s strengths. Counting? Not so much. LOL ;)

      (For all the millions of posts and thousands of Short Answer posts, I’m frankly amazed this doesn’t happen more frequently.)

  1. QQ*

    #4 – I am a little confused by this advice. Assuming the person was at the job for more than a a few months, isn’t it likely that an interviewer will ask “what have you been doing for the last X years?” or “why haven’t you been working?” Isn’t this setting the person up for a situation in which he’s going to have to choose between telling a flat out lie or coming clean about having had a long term job that is not on his resume?

    1. just me*

      I have the same question. We don’t know how long the OP has been the job and I think that might answer that question better. A couple months yes I can see just not saying anything about the job. But longer? How does the OP then explain lets say 6 months or more of “not working” without lying?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I don’t know how they’re going to handle that; it’s going to be tough to navigate. But saying you were fired for stealing at your last job is not going to get you hired. Not every situation has a easy solution; this one doesn’t.

      1. Josh S*

        Is it possible that an up-front confession and an attitude of honest contrition would be one way to mitigate the horrible nature of the situation?

        “Why did you leave this job?”
        “To my continuing shame, I stole from my previous employer. And I’m embarrassed to have done it — not just that I got caught, but that I was foolish enough to have done it in the first place. I know that raises a major red flag about my candidacy and I wouldn’t blame you for disqualifying me simply based on that. But I am really, truly sorry for that lapse in judgement. I’m making amends with my former employer, and I won’t ever let myself get in that sort of position again. And I think that if you’ll give me the chance, you may see that X, Y, and Z skills make me worth considering.”

        If the guy worked at this employer for any length of time (years, not months), I don’t think there’s any way to get around the fact that this job is going to come up, and he’ll have to have an answer for this.

        Would that even come close?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Unless the OP has an extremely rare skill and is applying for very hard-to-fill jobs, I just don’t see an employer being willing to overlook that and take a chance. (And even if she did have a rare skill, I’m still not sure an employer would.) If she’d had several jobs in between with glowing references, maybe — but not when it’s so recent and the last job she had. If you put yourself in the employer’s shoes, where’s the incentive to take the risk?

          1. Anonymous*

            Allison, if you had to estimate, what percentage of employers actually give a reason for leaving? At our company, we (read: I) are limited to giving the start and end date of employment. Nothing else.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’ve literally never done a reference check where I wasn’t told the reason the person left, if I asked. HR departments sometimes stick to start and end dates, but managers generally don’t. (And good reference checkers will go to the person’s manager, not HR.)

        2. KarenT*

          Maybe in a better economy. It’s not that the stealing is unforgivable, but if the person is competing against strong candidates, I just can’t imagine how this would ever go their way.

    3. Anonymous*

      I don’t think there are any good options for the OP in this case and frankly, I don’t have an issue with that. Stealing from your employer is a crime and I’m not especially motivated to help figure out a way for this person to get someone else to hire them. There would need to be extremely extenuating circumstances for candor in coming clean about it to mitigate the seriousness of the issue and enable me to even consider hiring them.

      1. V*

        Agreed. Removing it from their resume is very disingenuous–lying by omission, really, since even their old manager won’t be contacted. I would be pretty upset if I hired this person not knowing about that major past event and found out about it later.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, people remove jobs from their resumes all the time if they won’t strengthen their candidacies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem here is that they’ll probably be asked what they were doing during that time, and they’d have to lie. So either way, there’s no good answer.

          1. Joey*

            The real problem isn’t the résumé its the application. So many applications now ask for every job. It’s easier to leave off a short one, but leaving off a job of significance is a lot harder. All it takes is a former co worker coming on board and you’re toast. While that’s not super likely its going to be hanging over your head the whole time you’re there.

            After stealing I think the only real option absent lying is to start over- take a crap job where they probably don’t check references and just need a warm body.

      2. K*

        I sort of agree with you on an individual level (which I realize is what this blog is about; the rest of this comment is just musing). But on a societal level, we’re all better off if people who take responsibility and accept the punishment for a crime they commit are able to earn a legitimate living going forward, and I think it behooves us all, when considering issues like this, to think about how we should structure things so that can happen. Given this, I like to think that I might be willing to take the chance on someone who had committed a crime and (a) had accepted the consequences, and (b) seemed legitimately remorseful. Not in all positions, but for some.

        Of course, this gets to the issue that there’s a dearth of jobs and so the person is displacing someone who never did screw up to begin with. That’s a problem and ideally we’d have full employment (which, of course, does mean that some people are out of work at any given time) and that’d be less of an issue.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Well said K. We (society) do not motivate a person to walk the straight and narrow by putting him/her on perpetual punishment.

          I don’t know the answers.

          But I do know business people that are willing to take a chance. It would be a matter of finding out who these people are in OPs area. Then just tell them the truth and point blank ask “are you willing to take a chance on me?”
          Amazingly, some business owners will say yes.

          In my area, I can easily name 6 or more businesses that would consider hiring OP. And that is based on my limited knowledge- the number is probably larger than that.

          I am sure there are many reasons why some people do this. I suspect that one reason is the business owner themselves has a “past life” and has turned over a new leaf. These business owners know that it can be done.

          1. Canadian mom*

            It’s possible, of course.

            However, my son works at a national company that does criminal-background-checks. While he’s not involved in doing the checks himself (he’s in the marketing department) – apparently the instances where the employer really needs to do a background check are the ones where the candidates own up to having had one conviction. They can be relying on the employer having the attitude that anyone deserves a second chance, and isn’t it good that they came clean about it?

            More often than not, a candidate who asserts one conviction later on turns out to have had 10 or more, once a background check is done. I realize that this is not necessarily analogous to the OP (it’s quite possible that the employer decided against pressing charges). I agree, no one here knows all the answers. But if an employer is thinking about hiring a person who was upfront about stealing from the previous employer – it’s likely a good idea to get a criminal background check, even if the employer does not routinely do them.

          2. Luis Zach*

            My wife was fired for having a depressive episode on the job. Her boss said this proved her to be unreliable and he simply could not have employees with mental health issues handling his accounting and taxes. What he didn’t know was that my wife (and I) had fallen into such a deep depression because we were ensnared in the bowels of a 6-year-long drug addiction that had finally spiraled out of control. It took us moving from Texas to New York, ditching all of our old junkie friends, and starting new jobs and new lives to recover.

            One thing that worked for my wife was to list the former employer as a client. I should mention that a couple things worked in her favor: she had an otherwise impeccable work history with no resume gaps, we legitimately owned a consulting business so this wasn’t a stretch, and she got her new job in our current city through a word-of-mouth recommendation and the insight of one of my friends, who was impressed by her talents in accounting and tax law. What worked for my wife may not exactly be the answer for you.

            But I mention it because it can be a starting point to get you thinking about how you can present your work history to minimize the gap. And more importantly, to think about how you can network and get yourself back into the working world without starting all over again. Bear in mind, you may have to start on a lower rung of the ladder than you’re used to, to rebuild your professional life. We took paycuts because our addiction kept me out of work for almost 3 years and my wife away for 17 months. But if you have a strong support system and an adequate professional network, the time will eventually come when one of your friends or acquaintances may be able to use you in his/her business.

            1. Luis Zach*

              One more thing: my wife was only at that job for four months and otherwise used our tax business to fill in the gaps. Depending on how long you worked at this job you stole from it may or may not harm you to leave it off the resume. Either way, I wish you the best of luck, man. I know how rough it can be to get your life back on track when it spirals out of control.

  2. B*

    #1 – I tried to change fields in this job market. It was not a smart move. My suggestion woul be to apply to retail main offices. He could swing it as knowing that area or do sales tht is commissioned to get a foot in the door. And not all sale jobs are what college kids are offered. Many friends are in the commissioned sales fields who have years of experience. It is what they like.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This could work. He already knows the business pretty well, so that would be an advantage. It’s similar to people coming into the office off the manufacturing floor. We had several people do that at OldJob. While their transitions were to sales and engineering, they already knew the product intimately. With floor, management, and customer service experience, the OP’s husband already has plenty of transitional skills.

    2. Elise*

      That was exactly what I was going to suggest. If he tries to get a job at an insurance company or manufacturing company, his retail experience won’t really help for much. But, if he applies at Target or Wal-mart corporate offices then the retail experience is great.

      1. AG*

        I agree. I have a friend who used to be a barista at a fairly large coffee chain, and was able to get a job in their corporate office.

        1. Anonymous*

          Actually, I work for a Fortune 100 insurance company and we’d kill for anyone with such sales and customer servive experience. The problem is most jobs are in non-salaried sales as agents.

    3. Luis Zach*

      Sales, marketing, product management, customer service management…all of those use transferable skills from retail. And you can find lots of jobs in those areas, in almost any industry you could think of. The people skills are what count and working retail, you’re sure to develop those.

      Try a search on Indeed just to get some ideas.

  3. doreen*

    #1 My husband moved from retail into an office job (inside sales/customer service) with one of the wholesalers. He’s now in outside sales (non-commissioned) and most of his coworkers also have a related retail background. Apparently, experience in a widget store is helpful in getting a job with a widget wholesaler.

    1. Josh S*

      This is a good point. Every retailer has a significant supply chain. Most of the companies in that supply chain — whether manufacturers, wholesalers, or distributors — have a bunch of office jobs. Many of those office jobs could benefit from someone with the front-line sales & customer service experience, especially if they’re dealing with customers (businesses further down the supply chain).

      If OP’s spouse worked at a bike repair shop, consider looking up and applying to any of the bike manufacturers or distributors in the area. Likewise sporting goods companies have HUGE supply chains. It’s a great place to start because he already has familiarity with the product, the suppliers, and the end-customer.

  4. Nameless*

    6. Applying with a new resume

    To those who work in HR, how long does companies keep previous resumes on file? Especially for the fortune 500 and companies that you have to fill online profile. When you update your profile/resume, do they discard the old resume/changes or do they keep a backup. I want to know because I am curious if they will have the whole file when I reapply and see all the changes I’ve made.

    1. Josh S*

      Depends on the company, I’m sure.

      There are those that ‘keep your resume on file’ in the round basket under the desk until the cleaning person comes that night. There are others that keep them 6 months or more.

      I applied for a job in early September. I never heard anything back and the position got filled. Then last week, out of the blue, I got a call from their recruiter for another identical position that opened up (growing department). So I know they keep the resumes/applications on file for at least 5 months… :)

      1. Nameless*

        That I understand but what I am not sure about is if the company that uses online profile/upload will track all the changes or if I change the resume do they still keep the old one *for the record or not.

        1. Malissa*

          I would think that in a period of a year that the company would expect resume changes. If the second one is way better than the first this can also show growth and learning. The only way I can see this working against a candidate is if the resumes got worse.

    2. Job seeker*

      #6. I really wish you the best of luck resubmitting a new resume. I understand completely how you feel. I interviewed with a application (no resume or cover letter) with a place I applied for on-line. This was before I knew how to interview or write a decent resume or cover letter. I did not get the job that time because they hired from within. I am so embarrassed with the way I interviewed. Thinking back I talked to much the whole time. I didn’t know how to answer tell me about yourself. Oh, I told them about myself now I wonder what in the world was I thinking. The HR person told me they told her I interviewed quite well, but I wonder if she was just being kind. Sometimes there are second chances and sometimes not. I just wish there was a undo button. Good luck and I really hope your situation works out good for you.

    3. Your Mileage May Vary*

      When we moved offices, I was helping my boss pack up her files. Apparently, she kept paper copies of every resumes she had ever received, going back 15 years. It filled up an entire filing cabinet!

  5. Sabrina*

    My husband had a lot of retail experience with a bit of IT experience and an associates degree in IT. He was able to get an IT job at a corporate HQ of a retail store because it was a good fit on both sides. Unfortunately they recently merged and his HQ shut down and he’s now looking again. But, it is possible.

  6. Cody C*

    Wouldn’t it be better to say I wallet go for a breach of company policy that I can’t discuss because of confidentiality or something along those lines. If you leave the job off wouldn’t a routine background check reveal you as a liar. Seems to me you would be compounding an already bad situation.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think Alison was suggesting that you lie if directly asked about it (like on those forms that ask if you’ve ever been fired); I think she was suggesting that that job not appear on your resume to raise the questions in the first place. It would be inadvisable to apply to a place that does background checks either way at this point–the behavior is too recent to frame in a way that will set a prospective employer at ease.

      In general, if I heard “confidential breach of company policy” I’d assume it was a cover story for malfeasance anyway.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If they call the place to check references, it’s likely the story will come out, and then the person will look even worse for both stealing and lying about it.

  7. Cody C*

    I don’t know what I got wallet means but I am going to start using it in everyday life. I meant I got let go

  8. Cathy*

    #2 — I think Alison’s advice to role play would be helpful. Try to do this with someone you don’t know well (maybe a friend of a friend) but who has experience as a hiring manager.

    Are you taking time to think over the question before answering? This is generally a good thing to do, but if you make people wait for an answer and then speak softly, you’ll sound unsure of yourself. Try not to ponder over every question before responding and use filler phrases like “well, let me think…” if necessary.

    Are you demonstrating that you’re assertive? You’re working in and interviewing for positions where you need to be a little bit pushy sometimes so show that you can be in charge instead of telling them. Initiate the hand shake when you meet the interviewer; make eye contact throughout; sit up straight. Have a conversation, don’t just answer a question and then wait for the next one — direct things a little bit by asking your own questions in response.

    Wear something brightly colored. If you’re wearing a gray suit and white blouse, either switch out the blouse for something brighter or add a scarf.

    Of course I have no way of knowing if you’re already doing these things, but if you’re naturally soft spoken (and especially if you’re also petite), you might have to put on a bit of an act and be more vibrant than usual to get people to look past their first impressions of you.

  9. Monica*

    #1 – does his current company have a corporate office? If so, see if they hire from within. That’s how I got my office job!

  10. jane*

    #2 – I might be extra negative today, but maybe they are looking for any excuse to reject you. So you are female with a soft voice, and they latch onto this BS “you are timid”. While I agree with Alison’s response and the other advice, there may not be much you can do. Good luck!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, they don’t need an excuse to reject you. They just tell you that they’re going with other candidates. It would be pretty odd for them to come up with this just as an excuse. But it’s certainly possible that this is more a hangup of the recruiter’s than the multiple interviewers.

      1. Anonymous*

        Perception is reality, so change the perception and the reality will follow. I suggest that to counterbalance your soft voice you wear dark, solid colors to the interviews. No pink, no frills, no soft inviting colors.

        I, on the other hand, will do the opposite: pink or mauve shirts and ties; any color that will ‘tone down’ my alleged ‘aggressiveness’ that appears real to interviewers. Ever since I shaved my head, I’ve noticed a shift in people’s response to me, interviwers included. More and more I have had to defend myself against the suggestion that I would not being satisfied with the position I was applying for, that I was more a leader than a teamplayer or that I would not get along with all types of personalities. One hiring manager asked me point blank whether I got along with geeks and nerds.

        It shocked me as I’d always seen myself as one, as I’ve studied and worked all over the world, including third and first world countries. Even on the streets, strangers have actually urged me to ‘smile more.’

        Anyway, I needed a second opinion so I asked my sister who lives here in the states and my best friend who is German. They said the same thing: I look ‘fierce’ as though to say, “Don’t mess with me, or else.” Their preception and my inner reality are completely at odds. Thus the pink and mauve colors in my interviews.

        1. EM*

          It’s interesting you should mention considering one’s sartorial choices to play up or tone down the appearance of assertiveness. I’m a pretty assertive/dominant person, and I know I can be fairly loud (for some reason, I will talk very loudly without realizing it). I’m also a fairly petite woman, and I think that’s a good thing. People, including a coworker who is 6’4″, constantly overestimate my height. I would probably seem much more threatening if I were a tall or big person. :)

        2. girlreading*

          #2- by soft-spoken, do you mean you have a quiet voice? If so, you really need to practice speaking in an audible voice. You said you were in speech and debate, so I assume you understand the need to project your voice for an audience. If you’re naturally soft-spoken, then you probably need to do this in interview, not just public speaking forums. Practice with a recorder (your phone voice notes or video) or with a friend. Also make sure you’re sitting up straight, smiling and appearing confident. And I agree with others about not dressing too girly; this goes for hair too, if you have long hair, put it up in a french twist or something professional instead of leaving it down. And make sure you’re giving a good handshake; I practiced mine with my family because it’s not something I ever pay attention to and wasn’t sure if I had a good one.

          @Anonymous @ 1:39PM- first impressions are about the way you look and whether you like it or not, or it’s fair or not, people will perceive things about your personality based on your appearance-but particularly based on things about your appearance you can control (hair cut and color, clothes, makeup, etc). I’m guessing you’re a woman since you’re wearing feminine colors to interview, so I can definitely say if I saw a woman with a shaved head and no explanation was given (like an illness or something), I’d assume she was kind of tough and irreverent. Think of it like costume design for a film or tv show, character’s costumes (from clothes to hair to jewelry and accessories) tell us something about the character’s personality and attitude and maybe profession or social status. We subconsciously pick up these non-verbal cues to understand more about the character than what’s directly told to us. Of course, this is done on purpose for the audience, but how you present yourself does the same thing in real life. Certain determinations may not be accurate, but majority rules. If most people with dyed black hair, black lipstick, clothes and nails and white makeup are goth, I’m gonna assume someone wearing that look is goth even if they’re just wearing it because they think it looks nice.

          1. Anonymous*

            Male, 6’1 (though everyone believes I’m much taller) and about 190 lbs and muscle-y (again everyone thinks I’m well over 200 lbs).

            1. girlreading*

              Well that’s different. How did you shave your head? Bald or do you still have fuzz? Some men who shave their heads bald look like neo-Nazis, so that could be the problem. But I don’t see why people would perceive you badly if you just have a buzz cut, it’s a pretty common haircut. Make sure you smile more and have warm eyes (if that makes sense), you won’t come off tough unfriendly.

  11. Henning Makholm*

    For #5, wouldn’t the old cover letter need to be extremely bad before a for a new one could be so much better as to offset the impression of disorganization that comes with applying twice for the same job?

    Without knowing how the old cover letter was bad, it seems to be a dangerous assumption that it must have been so bad that there is nothing to lose by double-applying.

    1. AP*

      It kind of depends on the job and the hiring manager – if I get in 200 resumes, 80% of them are going to have such bad cover letters (or be in some other way completely unqualified) that I’m going to put them in to “no” file right away. If thats the case, I wouldn’t remember their names and am unlikely to notice that they applied twice. Unless they stood out in some extremely memorably bad way.

      If it’s in the 80-90% “eh” range I’m going to remember them and possibly ask about it, especially if the new application package is good enough to get them bumped up to the “good” pile.

      I don’t have an automated system, just a dedicated email account with mailbox sorting. If you’re working in a big corporation with an online system that might be a very different answer.

  12. Dawn*

    #2 As someone who has a similar personality, I might be able to help. I come across as “shy and timid” but I’m really not. You may be displaying behaviors that reinforce someone’s opinion of you (especially if you are young, petite or have a really feminine voice).

    I’d suggest being aware of your eye contact because if you are looking down a lot then you will appear shy.

    Be aware of the volume of your voice, if you talk softly or have a high voice then you might appear timid. Most people naturally have a voice range so you could also try using a slightly deeper voice but only if you’re comfortable and it doesn’t sound weird.

    Wear “confident colors”, colors like black or red will help to make you appear confident while soft colors such pastels will reinforce the “shy and timid”.

    And lastly try to take up space when you’re sitting during your interview. I’m assuming you’re a woman and many women try to make themselves smaller by sitting with their legs crossed and arms close to their body or in their lap (by making themselves appear smaller, they can come across as more demure.) So I’d suggest, take up more room. Lean forward with your arms on the table, have a pen and paper in front of you. Make yourself appear as an equal at a meeting.

    Good luck :)

    1. Chris Hogg*

      Uh, arms on the table is a no-no. We need to be sensitive to and respect other people’s space and things. The rest is very good.

      1. fposte*

        Huh, I ‘ve never batted an eye at candidates who put their arms on the table during an interview. You don’t want to do something goofy like prop your face on your hand or stretch out or anything, but it’s okay to rest your arms on it (how can you write notes without doing so?). I might notice more if it was my personal desk, but not in a meeting room at a long table.

  13. Elise*

    #2 – also be sure you are starting the interview correctly, with a proper handshake. Many people (men and women) give very weak, insecure seeming handshakes. It sets a bad tone for the rest of the interview. There are a lot of great articles online to do it proper–not sure if AAM has had a handshake post or I’d direct you there.

    1. Emma*

      I have this problem where I try to give a good handshake, and receive this wet-fish of a shake in return. I’m sure other women have experienced it. How can you fix that?

  14. Lexy*

    One of my favorite radio shows (Destination DIY) did an episode on representing yourself ( one of the people they spoke to was a woman who did time for aiding a robbery (armed, very bad) from the bar she used to work at. It’s only about 2 minutes of the whole episode at about the 15 minute mark (but listen to the whole thing, it’s great). She had a lot of trouble finding a job after she got out of prison, but finally got a job through someone she met while volunteering.

    I think if what you have to explain is something as egregious as stealing from your employer (granted, it doesn’t sound like your case is an armed robbery, but I bet employers would be just as reluctant as they were with the woman in that episode), the only way you’re going to get a break is to show someone that you’re trustworthy, which is a whole lot harder than the traditional job application/interview/hire situation.

  15. Not So NewReader*

    OP #2. I had to read your post twice.
    The problem I am seeing is the term “soft-spoken” has two meanings.
    It can mean a person’s voice does not have much volume. Or it can be construed to mean that a person is timid and afraid to speak up.

    I am thinking that the former is the problem. With the examples you gave in your post- I would never think of you as a shy person. Perhaps you need to work on how you project your voice. Toastmasters, maybe?
    The other thing that hit me is how much of the time did you spend talking about the job and the company vs how much time did you spend telling them about you? Maybe that weighed in some where.

    Judging from what you have done so far, my guess would be once you find your plan it will not take you long to get a good handle on fixing this.

  16. Anonymous*

    4) “I don’t think there’s any way to say “I stole from my last job” and still get hired.”

    Sure there is. But you have to have unrepentantly stolen millions or billions of dollars to get those second chances.

  17. Elle*


    There is something a bit strange about LW2’s reasoning. She acts like a soft spoken voice is some sort of immutable characteristic, like race or gender. It’s possible to speak more assertively for limited periods of time! We all have verbal and physical habits that we curb for interviews. I have a nervous laugh. It’s something I do a lot. In interviews, I don’t do it because I work hard to curb it. It’s not an important part of my personality. If it is possible to speak more assertively, do so. Roleplay in advance and *record* the encounter.

    You’ve noted many times that people comment about your soft spoken voice in other circumstances. Generally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put yourself in a situation where you are being forced to correct an initial impression that people have of you with later data. If people meet you and your mannerisms say one thing, it’s difficult to correct that first impression, even with a lot of compelling data. I’m not saying you have to fake it, but attempting to speak more firmly cannot hurt.

    1. NotGeorgiana*

      I’ve considered the idea of trying to change my voice for an interview, but have ultimately decided against it for several reasons. First, in an interview I would prefer to focus on what is being said, and what I’m saying rather than having the distraction of focusing on how my voice is coming out. Second, I’m afraid that I’ll come off a little like Christian Bale as Batman, that it will sound fake and unnatural. Finally, I would rather go into an interview and be myself.

      The timbre of your voice isn’t exactly an immutable characteristic, but neither is it something as easy to change as a nervous laugh. I’m not much of an actress. I am an assertive person, and have no problem speaking assertively, nor do I have a lot of nervous ticks (years of public speaking have helped me with that) this is really why I find this to be such a conundrum.

      1. fposte*

        Volume and pitch are pretty mutable, though. And while I get that you might prefer to focus on what’s being said more than presentation, this is feedback coming from separate entities describing a presentation aspect that’s hurting you. It’s significant that they’re not seeing you as “speaking assertively.”

        I think Emily’s videorecording idea is an interesting one as well as it would give you more personal specifics–right now we’re speaking generally about what “soft-spoken” *might* mean, but there’s not much point in you adjusting an aspect that isn’t actually what’s causing the impression for you.

      2. Elizabeth*

        You don’t need to imitate Christian Bale. By the way, he’s concerned that he did permanent damage to his vocal cords with the super-scratchy voice, and it is one of the reasons he spent most of the time in the 3rd movie as Bruce Wayne, rather than Batman.

        I had a very personal reason to lower the pitch of my voice: my father-in-law couldn’t hear me. Thirty years in building aircraft had left him almost deaf in certain frequency ranges. I made a point to drop my voice by 2 whole steps, so that I was in the top of the alto range rather than the low to middle of the soprano range, and we could have a conversation. If I allowed it to creep up, we couldn’t.

        Voice pitch is completely mutable. You can change it as much as half an octave with about 20 minutes training, according to the speech therapist at our hospital who helps staff adjust their voice pitch so that they can communicate with patients effectively. It is a matter of finding that there is proper incentive, deciding that it needs to be done and doing it.

        1. Heather*

          I thought you were going to say that your father-in-law couldn’t hear low pitches, so you lowered your voice to keep him from hearing you talk about him ;)

          But yes on being able to change the pitch of your voice. Even if voice lessons are out of the OP’s budget, there are tons of book/CD combos that are at least a start.

        2. Lily*

          I spent some time with a voice coach trying to lower my voice. It is doable, but he warned me against trying to keep the volume at the same time and then hurting my throat. If I want to be heard in a crowd, it only works at a higher pitch.

      3. Ellie H.*

        I am very sympathetic. I actually was dismissed from a job once because they thought I was too shy and reserved. If you have a quiet personality it can be really hard to try to come across differently.

      4. JohnQPublic*

        We’d all prefer to focus on the facts, but unfortunately communication happens at many levels and only 7% of what you are telling the other person are your words. The other 93% are the way you say them and the body language you use while you are in the room with them. If you want to send the message “You should hire me because I’m your best candidate” you need to make sure you’re not sending signals that contradict that message. This includes the speed, timbre, and accent you use, as well as the body language that accompanies it.
        I don’t make the rules, but reality has a way of enforcing them. Still looking for the cheat codes to that :)

  18. NotGeorgiana*

    Hi, I’m the OP for #2. Thank you, Alison, for answering my letter, and thanks to everyone for your advice. It’s good timing because I have two more interviews coming up (wish me luck!).

    The feedback I’ve been getting is from the same recruiter, kind of. The feedback has actually been the e-mails the companies have sent to the recruiter after the interview. So I’m seeing exactly what they said.

    Prior to deciding to my starting to look for a new job, I worked with a few people (some friends of my parents and in-laws) to do practice interviews and to have them look over my resume so I could brush up and be ready. I’ve been careful to follow their advice about firm handshakes, eye contact, sitting forward in my seat and using gestures when I talk.

    As some of the responses have suggested, I’ve worn bright-colored blouses or scarves with my suits. I also already belong to the local Toastmasters (I do a lot of speech writing) and am a National Forensics League alum.

    Some of my family have suggested that, if I get the “tell me about yourself question” (and so far, I haven’t been to an interview that hasn’t asked that), that I should tell them that first impressions of me are deceiving, and that I’m not shy but a “go-getter”. But, that seems just a little cheesy to me, and a little presumptuous.

    1. NotGeorgiana*

      Bah… I should have read that over before I sent it. *Prior to my starting to look*, please ignore the deciding part.

      1. Emily M*


        My partner gave me a great suggestion to prepare for interviews that might help here. English is his second language and in preparation for interviews in the US, he and some of his buddies recorded themselves answering common interview questions and then reviewed the recordings together to improve their accents and fluency. I did it myself in preparation for an intense round of Skype interviews (six 50-minute interviews with 10 minute break after each one and 20 minute lunch break….insanity) and was surprised (mortified) at how young I came across. After reviewing the first few minutes (I couldn’t watch it all) I decided to pull my hair back to ensure I didn’t touch it, practice not looking up at the ceiling, and keep my tone more level as I spoke. This could allow you to make your own judgement about how you’re presenting yourself.

        A friend of mine who works in a top consulting firm and is brilliant but suffers from a squeaky voice like a 14 year old girl hired a professional image consultant. This consultant also suggested she pull her hair back everyday since it looks more put together and keeps her from touching her hair as she talks.

        Good luck with your upcoming interviews!

        1. NotGeorgiana*

          That is really good advice. It’s one thing for me to talk to someone and have them give me feedback, it’s something completely different for me to actually see what’s going on. I will have to try doing a skype interview.

          Hiring an image consultant may be something I do in the future, but at the present I don’t think it’s really feasible.

          1. TL*

            As a supplement to this, you might look into the book “Be Heard the First Time! The Woman’s Guide to Powerful Speaking” by Susan Miller:

            She covers a bunch of different vocal issues, and gives instructions for some basic vocal warm-ups and targeted exercises for the different problems. It’s an easy read; the hard part is doing the exercises consistently. (Your question was a good reminder to me, another soft-spoken person, to go ahead and tackle them!) She also has instructions for finding your optimal pitch, so that you don’t strain your voice by speaking artificially higher or lower in a futile attempt to be louder/softer/what have you.

      2. Elle*

        Well, then I would accept that this may limit your job opportunities. You keep implying that you are confused by this advice. But it’s clear what you need to do to change this impression. You just don’t want to do it. That’s fine. You are getting a lot of interviews. I’m sure you will get a job eventually even if this issue is not corrected.

        1. NotGeorgiana*

          I think that’s an unfair assumption on your part. I am happy to do what I can within realistic limits. I think Emily M’s advice was great, and I will definitely try it.

          However, attempting to change one’s voice is something that would take a great deal of practice for me to feel confident enough to do so in an interview. As I said, I neither want it to come off as fake or forced, nor do I want it to be a distraction. Both of which would be serious detriments. Perhaps it’s something I can do for the future, but the problem is the here and now. I have upcoming interviews, and realistically that is simply not an option.

      3. Anon*

        Since I’m short (4’11”) and look a solid 10 years younger, if not more, than my actual age (30), I work very hard to change my physical appearance (both sight and sound), so that it isn’t held against me.

        I have what I call my phone voice. It’s much deeper than my normal speaking voice. So much so that people often don’t recognize me on the phone. I try to smooth out the bouncing of my speech pattern. I sing in the upper soprano range and know my voice can be very high.

        I also put on my “adult face” for important meetings. Hair pulled back, more careful with my makeup, wear my glasses and certain jewellery. It’s all about the image.

        When I think of soft-spoken, I think of the skinny nun from the first sister act movie that whoopi got to sing louder.

        1. Anon for now*

          Have you experimented with speaking with the same support you use for singing? In my experience, that gives a different impression of the voice even at the same pitch & volume. It’s also good for my singing – reinforcement of better habits. This is helpful to me in that issues of pitch & volume are obviates by having a clearer “core” in the voice as well as relying on a single, practiced technique rather than managing pitch & volume & tone (I have to be more attentive to tone when looking for more volume) in business conversations. It also allows me to sound more like the same person between supported & unsupported voice, rather than seeming to have or use two different voices. You might want to experiment with it, to see if it proves useful.

  19. glennis*

    For #4, you say you are paying back what you stole, so presumably you have a continuing relationship of sorts with your former employer. Can you speak with their HR people and ask what their policy is regarding inquiries about work history? Perhaps if you knew how they would respond, you might be able to craft a statement that is consistent with theirs.

  20. Chuck*

    Re: #4 – (Stealing from previous employer) – Josh S makes a good point. There are job search help groups (e.g. those run by churches, charities) that often have lists of companies willing to hire convicted felons. There are good employers out there willing to give people a second chance.

    You didn’t mention, OP, whether your theft was a felony or misdemeanor (or even if charges were filed). There is hope! Don’t give up. If you were convicted, network with the legal system (parole officer) to investigate companies that might be willing to take a chance on you.

    And, if you find such an employer, make certain you give 110% in every possible way. Make the most of your second chance. I am counting on people like you to pay my Social Security.

  21. Chris Hogg*

    #4 – This is a very difficult situation to be in. But I would opt for honesty as Josh S suggested, and to re-visit this with the former employer, as suggested by glennis (who knows, there might even be an opportunity there for a re-hire). I just heard a proverb last week from a foreign country: one lie brings 100 more. As a former (and fairly prolific) liar, I can attest to how difficult it can be to keep our stories straight once we tell that first lie. Yes, we can omit a job from our resume, but, if we omit it from our application, and are found out, and *then* disclose why we were fired, it’s most likely all over anyway. Not everyone will hire someone who was fired for stealing . . . but some will, for a variety of reasons. For the follower of Jesus Christ, Proverbs 3:5-6 would apply here.

    AAM asked: “If you put yourself in the employer’s shoes, where’s the incentive to take the risk (in hiring someone who confessed to being fired for stealing)?” Ah, here’s the rub in every hiring decision, the risk of bringing any employee on board. Having been a reader of AAM for only about six months or so, I am learning that all of us are a risk to our employer, that all of us are flawed and fail (some more, some less) in some aspect of our work. I would argue that the incentive in hiring this person is that the employer is getting someone who is apparently honest and open, and that that is a strength that most likely will benefit the employer over the long haul.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the problem here is that it’s so recent that it’s going to come across as the OP only telling the truth because she got caught and has to.

      1. Chris Hogg*

        It seems to me that a person who got caught and is only confessing because they “have to” would be doing everything in their power to hide the situation and avoid confessing at all costs. I get the sense here that OP is trying to be open, honest and transparent, and is trying to put this in the past but without hiding anything. I could be wrong. Hey OP, can you give us a little more feedback?

        1. PEBCAK*

          I disagree. As a hiring manager, it’s not just “do I want to give this person a chance?”, it’s “am I willing to put my career on the line for this person?” If you are a small business owner and willing to risk someone stealing from you, go ahead, give them that second chance. However, if you work for someone else, a hire that goes horribly awry can have serious professional consequences.

          1. Anonymous*

            I guess that depends on the place this person is applying to. I think his best bet would be to find a place where he wont have to handle valuable goods, so the employer got less risk and will be more willing to try.

        2. fposte*

          The problem is that the very recent dishonesty isn’t cancelled out by honesty about it. It takes a lot of subsequent honesty before the needle moves back over on the “honest person” side after you’ve stolen when you were in a position of trust.

        3. Joey*

          Nope. That’s typically the first reaction – lie and hide. But when that doesn’t work pouring your soul out and giving too much info is the next mistake. You’ve got to take the past of least resistance if you want to get to work quickly. So scratch off the good jobs where you’ll be competing against clean backgrounds.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is actually a great tip for OP, Alison.

        A truly remorseful person thinks deeper than an insincere person. Therefore, sometimes the truly remorseful person can distinguish themselves by the uniqueness of what they think of to say. The listener gets the impression that there is more going on than robotic remorse and an automatic payment plan.

        OP, this comes from inside you. Only you know what you can tell the new employer about what you learned and why you are motivated to behave differently in the future. The new employer will get glimpses of the depth of your thought process and decide from there. Unfortunately, no one can tell you exactly what to say because this experience is uniquely yours.

        However, I do remain optimistic for you. You owned your actions. You are making repayments. And now you are on AAM asking for advice. Going forward- keep using this open attitude of willingness to work at the situation. It will benefit you well.

        Take Alison’s tough question here and figure out your reply. This is a good interview question for you to prep.

  22. Zee*

    #1 – The answer here scared me at first because I too am in a retail job I want to move out of hopefully sometime this year.

    However, I do have some slight advantage over the OP’s husband because I do have my foot in another job that is in my field. I’m hoping with that I can maneuver better into a job that’s full-time in my field. But that question/answer made me stop and think about the potential challenges that lay ahead. When will this economy get better? One thing’s for sure, even if the Dow Jones has reached over 14K at one point, it sure hasn’t trickled down yet.

    1. Anonymous*

      My sister went from retail to personal banking a few years ago. I wouldn’t necessarily advise that move as those positions are disappearing in the droves.

  23. Anonymous*

    #4 and #1 have a little something in common. Employers, in general, do not have the incentive to hire either for the positions the OP want to attain. Each has to find a specific employer who knows their full work history and is will willing to give them a chance.

    For #4, Small gigs–part-time and/or volunteer–are a good option if you can swing it financially. First, they pass the time. The greater the distance between the theft and now will be better for all. Second, they may provide more recent references who can speak in contrast to the information that might be conveyed from your last employer.

    Failing to disclose or lying about that job simply is not a good idea. You’ve got to be upfront about it all. Telling your story, including the theft, is part of letting the employers know you’ve learned a lesson, matured, grown, however you want to say it.

    I expect getting the 2nd job after the theft will be easier than getting the 1st. Good luck.

  24. Kinrowan*

    #2 – I don’t know if this applies in your case but was also told I was too soft-spoken, although I can give presentations and be “on” for shorter periods of time.

    I decided to go to a speech therapist to check it out and it was really a great investment. We basically did different exercises that call on different speech “muscles”. Most things she found I had to work on were relatively small but working on them has made a tremendous difference in how audible I am – for example, I was not being conscious of when I would breathe in a sentence so would run out of breathe at odd moments – it translated to the person hearing as “not as audible” – it didn’t even have to do with the volume of my voice, it’s just one of the aspects of how we determine (unconsciously) what is audible and understandable and what is not.

    I don’t know if this applies to you, but if you really think it’s your voice, it might be worth investigating.

    1. NotGeorgiana*

      Thanks for your feedback. I’ve never even thought about when I breathe in a sentence. It’s something I may need to look into for the future.

  25. Steve*

    OP #4

    You might want to have a professional sounding friend give your formal employer a call for a fake reference check. Many companies will just provide start and end dates, in which case you’ll be doing yourself a major disservice by volunteering that you were fired for committing theft.

    This really depends on how long you worked there though, if you’re a 22 year old who got fired from a two month stint a Wal-Mart for scimming the register I’d probably just never mention you worked there.

  26. Melissa*

    OP#4: I would recommend contacting Goodwill Industries, which offers career counseling services for people with “barriers to employment.” My mother used to work as a career counselor and had clients who had served time in prison for felonies, as well as for other barriers such as physical and mental disabilities and lack of work experience. At least when my mom worked there, there was a program which allowed some clients to work at Goodwill in the retail/warehouse area, which allowed them to list the experience on their resume and provide them with a reference.

    Good luck!

  27. some1*

    I was able to switch from only retail to an office position by going through a temp agency. I did such a good job that the first job I got temping ended up hiring me. My current employer uses a lot of temps and most of them end up getting hired as employees after a few months.

  28. jennie*

    #1 I was in this situation 10 years ago – hating retail management and trying to get out. I was lucky enough to stumble across a hiring manager who had operations experience and saw the value of all my store opening, hiring and managing experience. It was pure luck since I certainly wasn’t marketing myself well at that point, but that manager changed my life. I moved from retail manager to agency recruiter to a corporate recruiting position with escalating responsibilities.

    Networking and applying to head office are great ideas, but I’d recommend you look at the areas in your current role where you really excel and show great accomplishments and try to translate those to an office role. Mine was recruiting and training, but for some it may be inventory, accounting, payroll, sales, merchandising… one of the dozens of hats a retail manager wears must be your speciality.

    At the time my main motivation was to get away from irregular hours and working on my feet all day. I do greatly prefer my office job but the pace is very different and I sometimes miss the hectic energy of those busy periods in retail.

    1. hooRah*

      100% agree. When I left sales a few years ago, I desperately wanted to move into office work more on par with my degree and found it an uphill battle to say the least. I’d had some low level admin experience in college, but the majority was retail, sales, and sales management. Focusing on the more “office work” parts of my work really helped; I completely rewrote my resume and pitched my administrative and operations experience, highlighting the things I really liked and wanted to do more of (operations, inventory and supply management) and downplaying things I didn’t want to do (sales management).

      Keep in mind that the market might be flooded with entry level office job candidates who have more experience and will work for less. Good luck!

  29. Beth Anne*

    #2 I feel for you. I for real am very shy but part of it is my introverted personality. If you don’t talk to me I won’t talk to you. I’m a really hard worker but those interviews are hard for me.

    Also I am very shy but I’m also introverted so I would LOVE to backpack around Europe alone.

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