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. When should you let your employer know you’re looking for a new job?

When is the best time to tell your current employer that you are looking for/about to get a new job elsewhere? I’ve heard of various scenarios–letting them know early that you are “just looking,” in which case they might feel compelled (and have the time) to promote you or give you a raise. Or letting them know that you are actually in the midst of interviewing, which could give them more incentive to try to retain you. Or only tell them once you have a hard offer from another company so they have clear numbers to work with in case they want to counter offer.

In all scenarios, the individual is ready and willing to leave; it’s not a ploy to stay and get more money.

This depends 100% of how your employer handles the knowledge that someone is planning to leave but hasn’t given official notice yet, and how they handle generous notice periods (of longer than two weeks). If your manager has a track record of handling these things well — of being appreciative of the long notice or informal heads-up — rather than penalizing people or even pushing them out the door earlier than they wanted to go, then great — you know how they operate, and it’s reasonably safe for you to be candid. But if, on the other hand, your manager has a track record of not handling it well (firing people, pushing them out early, denying you raises, bonuses, or good projects that you’d otherwise get for the remainder of your employment), then let that be your guide — meaning give only two notice (or give more, but be prepared for the consequences). In other words, there’s no blanket rule here; you need to know your employer/manager and act accordingly.

All that said, however, if your goal in telling them is because you hope they’ll give you a raise or promotion, that’s not the way to do it. If you want those things, you should make a case for them independently of mentioning your job search. If you can’t get them that way and it takes a threat of leaving to get them, you need to stick with your plan to leave. Somewhere that only acts when you have one foot out the door isn’t a great place to work. (And taking a counteroffer is usually a bad idea for all the reasons discussed here.)

2. Job ads that ask you to describe how interesting you are

I’m having trouble with job ads that ask to describe how interesting you are. I don’t find myself very interesting. This isn’t a self esteem issue. I don’t have any interesting hobbies like skydiving or founding a burlesque troop. Or even any exotic pets like a ferret or lemur. What should I do?

I’d love to know what industry you’re in that you’re encountering a lot of these requests; it’s an odd one. In any case, if you described why you’re obsessed with ___ (fill in the type of work you do), where that comes from, and how it manifests in your life, even outside of work, I’d find that pretty damn interesting if I were hiring for a job. But then that’s the kind of thing I want to know all the time anyway — not what your hobbies or pets are.

These ads are telling you something about their culture, and it might not be something you like.

3. How to back out of a job offer you’ve already accepted

My department recently restructured, and I was put into a role that was far less “important” than my previous position, though title and salary didn’t change. I went from managing a team and reporting directly in to an EVP to having one direct report and reporting to someone who has more or less the same experience as I do. Based on that, I started looking and secured an offer from another company, which I accepted (in writing).

Well, as it turns out, that was a terrible decision. The area I was put into, which I considered a demotion, is undergoing a large expansion, and the boss I am currently reporting to is leaving the company; the reporting situation was simply so I could be trained.

Hindsight is 20/20; obviously I should have communicated my concerns when the move happened. But now I’m in the awkward position of having to un-accept the offer. I haven’t received any compensation from the new company, and I only accepted earlier this week. There’s no specific language in my acceptance that reads exactly like a contract, though it clearly states I am accepting the offer. Does the other company have any recourse (other, obviously, than never hiring me again — I’m accepting that the bridge is probably a charred mess) against me? Do a lot of people accept and then rescind acceptance of offers?

No, they have no legal recourse against if you if you’re not breaking a contract (and just accepting the offer letter isn’t a contact, just like it doesn’t prevent them from pulling the offer or firing you on week two). You will burn the bridge, and you will probably harm your reputation with people who hear about it, but there aren’t any legal repercussions.

You asked if if a lot of people accept offers and then back out, and the answer is no. Most people have a story about someone who did it to their company — but it tends to be a notorious story about That Awful Bob Who Backed Out After We’d Already Turned Loose Our Other Candidates and Set Up His Computer. You will be Awful Bob at that company, so prepare yourself for that! (And talk to your employer the next time you’re unhappy about a restructure!)

4. Explaining in a cover letter that you’re switching fields

I recently decided that I need a career change in my life and was wondering if that is something worth mentioning in your cover letter. All of my experience lands in one field graphic design, but I also managed teams and provided customer service. I’m now looking into a recruitment position. Should I mention in my cover letter that I’m changing careers?

God, yes. Otherwise they’ll have no idea why you’re applying for a position that doesn’t relate to the work they see on your resume. In fact, not only do you need to mention it, you need to make the case for why you’ll be good at it and why your experience translates to the new field. Don’t expect them to make that case on their own — you’re going to need to figure it out and be compelling about it. (You should also be prepared for the fact that it’s hard to change fields in this job market, because employers generally have tons of qualified candidates who have worked in the field, and not much incentive to take a chance on someone switching careers. So you’ve really got to be compelling.)

5. Is this salary too low?

Via grapevine networking through a family member, I’ve been alerted to a job opening for a receptionist+ position at a small (less than 30 employees) company. As the “+” entails all of the marketing experience (3+ years) I bring to the table, they have added to the position responsibilities, but are still looking to pay close to what they originally conceived for the post — a full $17,000 less than what my last position paid, and still $10,000 less than the first role listed on my resume.

I know this is impossible to gauge, but just how low is too low? I live in a very expensive city, have high student loan bills, and chose my apartment based on my salary and budgeting of my last few positions’ salaries.

I don’t know. You’d need to look at what similar work pays for people with your experience in your particular geographic area. That’s what market rate is based on, not your last salary, your student loans, or your rent.

6. Dealing with a board of directors that oversteps their role

Have you or could you do a post about dealing with a dysfunctional board? My husband has been the executive director for two nonprofits, and his major issues have always been with the board. For example: board members who use their positions to promote their personal projects at official events; members who micromanage the staff when it’s the ED’s responsibility; members who backtrack on policies they’ve implemented to suit their current needs; members responding to disgruntled former chair instead of ignoring him.

You say that reputation is so important, and I worry that husband will have a reputation for not being able to work well with boards. He gets great results with his staff, receives recognition by industry experts, and is effective in his job (increased revenue, reduced expenses, removed problem employees, etc.). Instead of recognizing his efforts, his current board has started to micromanage his staff to the point that two key staff members want to quit and he is looking for another job. Any guidance that you can provide? and both have good advice on dealing with boards, including on the appropriate role of the board (big-picture oversight and managing the ED) versus the appropriate role of the ED (managing the staff and the day-to-day operations of the organization). When you’ve got a board committed to doing the ED’s role rather than their own — and when they’re resistant to learning about best practices for boards and adjusting their behavior — it’s nearly always a nightmare for the ED (and often for the organization). Personally, I’d get the hell out of there and go somewhere that would let me do my job … which your husband probably needs to more carefully screen for in the future, really asking questions about how the board, ED, and staff interact, and doing some diligent research into the experiences of past EDs in the organization.

7. Managing bad apples

I manage 12 people, two of whom are bad apples. These two have a negative attitude and try to influence others to be negative. How can I stop this?

Um, manage them? Set standards for what is and isn’t appropriate behavior and consequences for not meeting that bar. Warn them that they’re in danger of losing their jobs if they don’t improve in areas A, B, and C, set a short period of time to evaluate whether they’ve moved to where you need them to be (meaning weeks, not months), and replace them if they haven’t.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West*

    #4–switching fields

    Maybe see if you can find a job that incorporates some elements of your intended field, if you can’t do a full-on switch right away? That will give you a little more direct experience.

  2. Mike C.*

    OP #7: Maybe if you invited those two bad apples to your drunken sleepovers their attitude would improve. ;)

    More seriously, is there a good reason why they’re not happy?

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I was wondering that too. Labeling someone a “bad apple” seems lame. Why do they have a bad attitude? Do their complaints have merit? When good employees suddenly turn bad it is almost always the result of bad management.

      1. fposte*

        Though we have no indication that these two were ever good employees. I was thinking–or hoping–that this was a new manager walking into a team.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          I’m concerned about the name calling – “bad apples” and the lack of specifics on the issues. If this were a true performance issue then there would be behaviors being described. There are not. This makes me think that scapegoating is going on over problems in the group.

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m basically torn between two options:

            1. No specifics to preserve anonymity.
            2. One of those “any sort of negativity at any time is UnProfessional ™” types who worries about their employees eating lunch with “The Wrong Sort Of People ™”.

  3. KarenT*

    # 2

    I’ve seen those job ads before, and it’s usually for start-ups who are screening for someone who will fit in with their culture.

    Lame, I say, but I’m sure that would attract exactly the person they are hoping to attract!

    1. Jamie*

      Yep – those kind of ads fall in the same category for me as ads looking for a “rockstar” or a “guru” and spend more real estate in the ad waxing rhapsodic about their pinball machines, pool table, and awesome work environment rather than the job itself.

      Nothing wrong with that, in fact it helps so people like me would self-select away from a job (I have no desire to be Gramma Wendy to a company full of Peter Pans) for which I would never be hired and would make me miserable if I were.

      Explaining how I’m interesting? I actually think I’m one of the most interesting people I know – I’d be quite happy living exclusively in my head…but I would have no delusions that other people would find me as entertaining as I do…nor would I be comfortable selling that part of me in a cover letter.

  4. Lora*

    #3 Seems like…I dunno, are you sure it was a really bad decision?

    I’ve seen more than one company, usually a big company, bring in an axe-man for restructuring. Axe-man does not take the time to learn how the business actually runs, ends up selecting incorrect people to move/get rid of/re-org. Key people in business get righteously unhappy, look for new opportunities, if they are really good they will find other opportunities without a lot of struggle. The Grapevine gets back to Key People’s bosses before Key People have put in an official letter of resignation, bosses freak and promptly correct the situation.

    There’s also the situation where Company is not managing a bad situation very well, does something hurtful to many employees but they are taking the risk that some will leave–placing a bet, if you will, that you won’t leave. Then they lose the bet and are scrambling to cover themselves.

    And the situation where you were under-valued and your boss, upon sending out feelers or talking to HR about finding another one of you, realized your true value. That happens too.

    If the demotion was temporary, you should have been told that at the outset. Am I missing some option here for clueful management doing something hurtful to employees and not imagining that some staff will bail on them? Maybe the OP is in an area of high unemployment and therefore the company thought folks would just deal?

    1. Christine*

      I too was wondering why the reason for the restructure wasn’t made clear from the get-go, and your post raises a good point. OP should think carefully about whether sticking around really is a good idea in light of this, particularly if there’s any possibility that this was a CYA situation.

    2. Lulula*

      Good point – if they really were intentionally grooming the OP for something, it makes zero sense that they would have made it some kind of secret test. It makes more sense that they’re trying to spin a bad situation, or are just clueless, neither of which necessarily sets up a scenario that’s worth backing out of a presumably appealing new position for. Or burning bridges that could be needed sooner rather than later if things don’t go well. Something for the OP to take into consideration, at least…

  5. Hello Vino*

    #2 – Small companies and startups look for people who will fit in with their culture, but I’ve always found it odd when a job ad asks you to describe how interesting you are. It’s usually pretty clear whether someone will fit in once you meet them in person. Save that stuff for the interview.

    On the other hand, I’ve come across applicants (for creative positions) who describe how fun and interesting they are even though the job ad didn’t ask for it. It’s almost always applicants who have a somewhat unimpressive resume and portfolio to begin with.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      *dies of embarrassment*

      I’ve done the latter. It’s no surprise I didn’t get a response.

      1. The B*

        I don’t think it’s a big deal to do that, depending on how you do it. For example, we are interviewing for a communications position and the cover letters are so dry. I think there’s only one person who wasn’t dry. Mentioned something like “I love animated TV shows, I know every Simpsons song ever sung on the snow.” And that’s kind of relevant to us because we are hiring for an advertising/TV position. Much better than one of the other applicants who started by saying “I am sure that from your pile of applicants, I am the most qualified person for this job.”

        1. MMooreThanThat*

          Wow- where has this job posting been hiding?! This aligns PERFECTLY with what I’ve been searching for!

          (And I promise to save all of the ‘Here’s Why I’m Oh-So-Interesting Stuff’ for the cover letter.)

    2. Sunshine DC*

      For fans of NBC’s Parks & Recreation, The ad OP cites sounds like they’re hiring for John-Ralphio’s latest venture!

  6. Jamie*

    #5 – I’m not really sure what the question is. Whether the salary is too low for the job itself is a totally different question than whether the salary is too low for you to accept.

    As Alison said – what a position is worth has zero to do with your bills. I have two kids in college and the third is heading there next fall (God help me) – unfortunately that doesn’t make me worth one more year of tuition and books more valuable to my employer.

    It just means if the mo0d struck me I couldn’t switch careers to something that paid considerably less because that would be too low for me and my current expenses…not that the jobs themselves would be underpaid. You have to separate the two issues.

    That said, to get them to come up in the neighborhood of 17K would be a feat of magic. That’s a significant difference and in most companies denotes a different classification for the position.

    1. Mike C.*

      Echoing the “salary has nothing to do with your bills”. Outside of ensuring that full time work pay enough to cover basic living expenses, it’s not my employer’s fault if I decide to start a Porsche collection.

      1. Dan*

        Hm. I’m not even sure that your employer is obligated to pay you enough to even that much. Besides, what does “basic living expenses” even mean? In a high COL area, we could be talking about renting a room in a shared housing arrangement, a basement, a studio, or a one-bedroom apartment.

        1. Mike C.*

          Without going into too much detail, what I’m trying to say is that if you work 40 hours a week, you should be paid enough not to need government aid for food, housing and the like. How many hours per week or jobs should someone have to take on so that they can finally make enough not to qualify for food stamps or section 8 housing?

          While I don’t begrudge for a second my taxes going to help others eat or have shelter, I do begrudge the need for such assistance so a company can increase their own profits. It feels like an organization can artificially lower their wages and force the rest of us to come up with the rest. Looking at the record gains of the stock market, I think they’re doing fine.

          It’s a moral obligation that you’re free to agree or disagree with, but I live in the state with the highest (and inflation adjusted) minimum wage in the country, and I see the benefits of that every day.

          1. Valmont*

            While I don’t begrudge for a second my taxes going to help others eat or have shelter, I do begrudge the need for such assistance so a company can increase their own profits. It feels like an organization can artificially lower their wages and force the rest of us to come up with the rest.

            I have never seen this elucidated so well. I hope you don’t mind if I steal it.

          2. Sunshine DC*

            In DC or NYC, you’re going to need $800 or $900 a month just to SHARE an apartment with other people. Ugh.

            1. Jamie*

              It really is amazing how much housing costs vary. For about $1500 you can rent a 3 bedroom house with an attached 2.5 car garage and large yard in a relatively nice suburb of Chicago.

              When I see what an average split level house goes for in parts of California and NY I truly don’t know how regular middle class people get by in those areas. Are the salaries that much higher?

              1. Lora*

                SFBay, no.

                Boston and NYC are OK if you live in the suburbs and commute. Take the train, it’s less painful and they have wifi.

                1. Justin*

                  NYC isn’t really that bad, it’s just that people choose to live in fashionable areas that are really expensive. NYC is a huge place and there are cheap areas like Staten Island and parts of Queens. It’s just that most people won’t live there.

              2. K*

                They’re higher but not that much higher; most people either (a) resign themselves to a hellish commute, or (b) decide they like the city enough that they don’t mind not having a lot of space at home.

  7. some1*

    +1: Another suggestion I would make when deciding when to give notice is to check your company handbook about being able to use certain benefits during your notice period. My old employer didn’t allow employees to use vacation days or their employee discount on our products after notice was given.

  8. Chinook*

    #6 – Bad board – I don’t know if this will work if the board is full of micromanagers, but I had one former boss who worked for a board with a woman who was horrible (being a small town, my boss had heard stories but thought they were exaggerations). My boss then put on her own personal membership drive and stacked the group with people of similar mind set who were then able to vote the board member out. This had added bonus of bringing in a lot of new blood to the organization and giving support to the board members (especially the peers if the meddling old biddy) who were open to trusting their staff.

    They did honour the woman for her work, since she was a founding member. Too bad she refused all the honours because she felt she was right and the project would fail without her.

    1. Gcubed*

      I was the one who submitted the question regarding boards to AAM. My husband actually had to discourage an industry peer from joining the board because of the dysfunction. The peer joined anyway and shortly after, conceded that my husband was right.

      Alison was spot on about getting the hell out of there, but my husband really cares about the non-profit and his staff. He is actively looking for another job but it stings when he has done a good job at turning the organization around.

  9. OP#1*

    Question-asker #1 here!

    I definitely agree with Alison that it depends on the employer. I was just wondering if there was a kind of general “etiquette” to it. I’m guessing they’re just playing the victim here, but I’ve heard stories of people giving their two weeks’ notice without an earlier heads-up to their companies, and the manager says something to the likes of “If you had just told me that you were looking elsewhere earlier, we might have worked something out for you! I guess it’s too late now.”

    I’ve also worked at a place where the unwritten rule was that no raises were given unless another offer was on the table. Thus, everyone went out and interviewed to get outside offers with no intent to actually leave, and then got the current company to match it. I was given a raise there without bringing an outside offer to the table, but that was because they had hired a new supervisor for me who was absolutely horrendous and they were afraid I’d leave because of her. Yes, they claimed it was because of my “outstanding work”, but we all knew what was going on there. The entire office was abuzz with talk of people trying to leave. Luckily, they fired that supervisor after a few months.

    “Somewhere that only acts when you have one foot out the door isn’t a great place to work.” I think having this mindset is just too idealistic, really. Maybe this mentality is true in Fortune 500 companies that go out of their way to recruit and retain talent, but the vast majority of The Real World does not function that way. Employees are expendable cogs in a machine. Companies’ ultimate goal is to retain their employees because turnover is expensive and a hassle–not reward them. “Rewards” are just another means to retain.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you want a raise or promotion, then you go to your employer and make the case for it. Any sane employer knows that the subtext to that conversation is “or else I’ll consider looking for it somewhere else.” You don’t need to say it out loud.

    2. Chriama*

      I don’t think that’s a healthy attitude to have towards your employer. Lots of companies have great management, and while every organization has a bottom line, whether employee satisfaction is a direct part of that bottom line or just a means to an end depends on their organizational philosophy.

      That aside, you need to consider what you want. Do you want a raise/promotion, or do you want a new job? If there’s something about your current job that needs to change in order for you to stay there, construct a logical, well-reasoned case and present it. The subtext, as AAM says, is always that a dissatisfied employee will consider looking at other companies.

      The general etiquette is that you tell your employer when you’ve made the decision to leave. If management is willing to take the gamble that you’ll leave but then turns around and says you should have told them you were unhappy, they are Bad Management and it almost certainly shows up in other aspects of the organization.

  10. Lulula*

    #2 I’ve seen ads like this (or with other odd questions), and agree they seem to be screening for cultural fit early on. The companies are usually creative or unusual in some way, so I tend to assume this is an opportunity to indicate you get what they’re about on that level in a way that doesn’t appear on your resume and that they assume you won’t think to include in your cover letter. If you have trouble coming up with a way you might be “interesting” in the context of their business culture, that may mean it’s not a place you’d be happy. (I’m thinking specifically of one company that also included a question asking something like “explain the difference between Reddit and Alexa”, and my first thought was “Alexa’s still around?” – I didn’t apply!)

    #5 As others have said, “too” + anything is pretty subjective. I would take a look at (or similar) to get an idea of what the going rate seems to be in your area for similar positions. One thing I have found is that The New Normal features a lot of salaries that are very low in comparison to what I was making previously. Large candidate pools and many companies cutting budgets seems to have created the hiring strategy of requiring as much as possible for as little as they can conceivably offer, at least in non-management roles. So you may be dealing with a crap market, or you could have been making “too much” relative to your real value before, or differences in industries… Small companies and receptionist positions definitely tend to be at the low end of low.

    Ultimately, you can only command whatever the market will bear, regardless of your personal obligations, so if it’s “too low” for you personally, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it and whether it’s likely you’ll find something that pays any better. (Personally, I had to come to grips with the fact that I’d have to accept a 20-50% cut unless a networking miracle occurred.) You can always apply and if you get an interview, make a point of finding out whether & when there are opportunities to grow, in case they are open to it being a stepping stone into something higher-paying. In which case you may be more able/willing to deal with the low pay to begin with. Although I definitely caution you not to make the decision counting on that happening, even if they SAY it could, as plenty of things could derail that process.

  11. perrik*

    #1 – So why are you job hunting, because you want a new job or because you want a bargaining chip to get a raise in your current one? If you are looking for a new job, there’s no need to tell your boss that you’re looking. What if it takes you many months – or years – to find the right position? If you’re just looking to scare your boss into offering you more money, listen to AAM. If you say, “Boss, eh, things are okay here but I’m looking for a new job because I want bigger bucks,” she’ll think you have one foot out the door already. And that means she won’t give you the promotion or important client or highly-visible project because you’ve declared that you won’t be around much longer. If you like your job but think you deserve a promotion, higher salary, or more responsibility, go to your boss and lay out a case for why you deserve it.

    #3 – I agree with those who noted that your current company sucks at communication. It’s almost like they pulled a prank on you. “Ha ha, we’re actually training you for a promotion! Wasn’t that hilarious that we pretended to demote you without telling you? By the way, is your refrigerator running?”

    In your case, I’d hand over my resignation letter and note that I accepted a position elsewhere due to the demotion and the utter lack of communication regarding their actual plans for you. Is the new position a step up, with a clueful company? Go.

    #5 – If the salary is that far below your expectations for the responsibilities of the position, then it’s too low. From your description, it sounds like they added the marketing duties onto the receptionist duties because you had the skill set, but still expect to pay you like a receptionist. I assume you’re not working now because otherwise why would you even consider taking this position? It’s time for a frank talk with the hiring manager there. “I’m interested in working with you, but the salary you’re offering is not in line with the responsibilities you’ve added to the position based on my skill set.”

    1. perrik*

      Ah, just saw the followup from OP#1.

      Your former company sucked. Not giving raises except as counter-offers is craptacular management.

      If the only reason you’re job hunting is because you want a raise, then go to your boss and illustrate why you deserve a raise (and yes, there’s an implied “I’m not satisfied” message that will come through). Your next step depends on her response.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      From your description, it sounds like they added the marketing duties onto the receptionist duties because you had the skill set, but still expect to pay you like a receptionist.

      This is exactly what I ran into when I was job-hunting, only it was accounting duties. Really? You want the one person who gets interrupted 9,562 times a day to help with the books? For minimum wage? Get real.

          1. The IT Manager*

            put these three characters right next to each other to start

            To stop the italics add an fourth character


            It’s html code and should also work for bold using a “b” instead of an “i”

              1. Original Dan*


                Testing… 1… 2…. 3… Testing…


                “Meesa waiting by the phone!”

    3. MMooreThanThat*

      Kudos, perrik!

      I couldn’t agree more with what you said about #5. I don’t know why people attached themselves to the part about bills, but I think you hit the nail on the head for what was actually being asked: the marketing duties definitely sound as if they were added based on the skill set with which they were presented, and they wanted to get a deal by paying what they would have paid a simple receptionist position.

  12. Chriama*

    #7 — thank you for not being *that* manager. You know, the one who refuses to address problematic employees?
    But I’m also not quite sure what you mean by “bad apples”. Are they bad workers because their negativity comes across in substandard work or lowered productivity for the rest of the group, or are they annoying and catty but no one really minds them. I just say that because “trying to influence other employees to be negative” attitude could mean a whole host of different things, and they require different solutions.
    Bottom line: you should have a standard of behaviour and performance for all your employees, and hold them to it equally. Make sure the standard is communicated clearly to all employees, and if the “bad apples” act in a way that makes them fall short of the standard, tell them what they need to do to improve and what will happen if they don’t improve (ultimate consequence, of course, being a termination of their employment).

  13. AG*

    My main concern for the “Receptionist+” position is that the company doesn’t think highly enough of marketing to actually create a marketing position.

    1. Jamie*

      Not every company needs a marketing department, per se.

      If you have B2B sales your marketing will be very difference and much less extensive than if you are selling to the public.

      For a lot of companies marketing is an ancillary task because it’s no where near a full time or even weekly position.

    2. Chriama*

      My main concern is that they are taking into advantage the abilities of the job candidate in creating the position, but not in determining compensation. This could be idealistic ignorance (they think the candidate is great and want to create an engaging work environment by utilizing their skills in ways that benefit the company), or a deliberate effort to undercut the OP (get the candidate to use their skills in ways that benefit the company but pay them only for the “official” advertised position)

      Bottom line OP — the only question to ask when determining salary is this: “what are other people getting paid to this type of work (in terms of job duties & experience required for the role)?”

    3. Lulula*

      Unfortunately I didn’t save the listing, but I recently saw an ad for a pretty low-paid Marketing Coordinator whose responsibilities would also include getting lunch for meetings, sharing receptionist duties, graphic design work and about 5 other not-marketing line items. My continuing impression is that companies are continuing to consolidate more rather than less, so particularly at a company this small, it’s not unusual to find hybrids that may not have previously existed. (And as Jamie said, not everyone has high-level marketing needs.) I suppose better to acknowledge the position is a Receptionist + rather than convincing someone to take a Marketing role only to find that it will primarily involve answering the phones…

      1. Elizabeth West*

        The problem with these: how do you hire for them? If your posting says “Receptionist+,” you’re going to get resumes from people who have only been front desk. With low salaries and the combination of duties, it’s easy to assume the job IS a receptionist job and the company will train on the other stuff. Which isn’t always the case.

        Unfortunately, I ran into companies who wanted you to already have those other skills (in my case, accounting), and I did not. Some of them got around it by calling it an “Administrative Assistant,” but when I read the job description, I could tell they had consolidated.

        I guess the only way to avoid the snafu is to very clearly spell out what and how much of these things are expected in the position.

    4. Lora*

      It depends on the company and their definition of “Marketing”.

      For MegaCorp in Regulated Industry, Marketing means compliance with a whole host of international law, being a polyglot, knowing the cultural signifiers of various colors and symbols, demographic studies and media monitoring.

      For Joe’s House Of Little Plastic Widgets, Marketing means, “send our customers a box of chocolates for the holidays,” once a year giving out keychains at a trade show, checking the brochure for typos and mass-mailing coupons.

  14. Rana*

    #4 – The cover letter is absolutely essential, and you’re going to need to carefully tailor your resume as well, and prep for a lot of potentially awkward interview questions if you get that far.

    Based on my own experience trying to shift careers (grain of salt time – I ended up freelancing because I wasn’t be persuasive enough) you face two main challenges, depending on which level of job you’re applying at. If you apply for entry-level jobs, out of concern of matching up your experience with the job requirements, you will get asked why someone with your other experience is willing to do a lower-level job, and they will be worried that you’re going to leave soon, be a prima donna, cost too much, etc. If you apply for higher-level jobs, they are going to be sceptical about your ability to do the job relative to people with more in-field experience, so you’re going to have to do a lot of translating for them, explaining precisely how your other jobs prepared you for this one. Basically, you’re going to look like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole if you leave it up to your job experiences alone; use your letter and your interviews to explain how you’re much more well-rounded (hee) than you look at at first glance.

    Good luck!

  15. Vicki*

    #3 “That Awful Bob Who Backed Out After We’d Already Turned Loose Our Other Candidates and Set Up His Computer.”

    They can always call back the other candidates.
    And can practically guarantee you they didn’t set up his computer.

    I’ve been on the other end of this sort of thing, able to interview for a position because the person they initially thought they were hiring backed out. I’ve also been the person who backed out (but that was because I realized the job was Not A Good Fit not because I decided I might want to stay where I was.)

    The important thing is to seriously consider your motives. As others (above) point out, the restructuring may not be a “good thing” after all. Proceed with caution. You do NOT want to rethink again in 3 months and wish you could go back over that bridge you burned!

    1. Jamie*

      And can practically guarantee you they didn’t set up his computer.

      Absolutely. Because they weren’t going to get around to notifying IT that he needed one until after Bob had already worked there a week. And then send him alone wandering to look for the IT office sticking his head in and out of offices asking “are you Jamie?” until he found me.

      And then had him ask when his computer would be ready…but first he had to tell me who the hell he was since I had no idea.

      Not that it’s ever happened to me before… :)

      1. Lora*

        OMG you used to work at Big Blue Pharma too???

        Solution for Bob: Find someone who is quitting and has admin rights on their computer. Preferably someone with a really great computer and access to the most powerful server in the company. Buy them a beer in exchange for their Linux box + 100 core array. Write yourself a happy little setup script and stick a Dell logo over the lenovo/HP logo.

        Manager: Oh, I see IT got your computer!
        Bob: I took care of it myself.

        Not that I have ever done this because my computer-illiterate bosses gave me a $300 word processor or anything. Ahem.

  16. TL*

    Hi OP #2, are you me? Because I’m always thrown for a loop when interviewers ask about my hobbies. I feel like most of them would only point out how decidedly introverted I am (reading!), which can be seen as a negative in customer-facing roles – and others might be perceived by an employer as evidence that I would be too bored by the entry-level work I’m applying for, or that I’m too creative to want to work in their widget industry.

    FWIW, job listings like the ones you mention seem to come from companies that expect you to be incredibly outgoing and think a ping-pong table in the office is the best job perk ever. This is not me, so I avoid ads that ask me to prove what a fascinating person I am.

    1. Another Emily*

      Good point. People often have pre-conceived notions about what one’s hobbies say about a person. I took my own hobbies off my resume years ago because of this.

      Also, as a fellow reader, I feel compelled that I think it’s one of the most interesting hobbies in existence. :)

  17. Elizabeth West*

    #2 – interesting

    I’ve never seen this in a job ad, but I’ve been asked about outside activities in interviews. Like “What do you like to do outside of work?” Um….are you asking me out? :P

    If they really really want to know, I’ll tell them I take figure skating lessons on weekends. But I always wonder if they’re sitting there thinking I’ll miss work due to a broken leg or something.

  18. Em*

    Frequent reader, infrequent commenter, but I just wanted to throw this out and see if I’m alone.

    I’ve noticed a trend of unemployed people (on this board, in real life, etc.) not being okay with making less at their next job than they were making in the job they were laid off from. I’ve only been laid off once, and I was able to secure a new job at a higher salary before I was actually unemployed, so I’m speaking from lack of personal experience, but this just seems batty to me. Why do job hunters feel they are worth what they were paid when they were laid off? If it’s a true lay off, I’d assume that the company didn’t feel that what they were paying the employee was worth what they were getting from them, and so when it came time to cut costs, that’s where they cut first. And if it’s a firing instead, well then, typically there were problems performing to the needs of the job at the given salary.

    Also, isn’t any income better than no income? Isn’t it better to be underpaid than not paid at all? (Assuming you have bills to pay, that is, and can’t afford to not work. I understand that ideally you would always be making every cent of what you’re worth, and that current salary impacts future salary. But, paying for food and shelter seems more important to me.)

    I guess this is coming from someone I work with who kept saying she “took a pay cut” when she began working at my company, when in my mind, since she had been unemployed for 6 months, that just wasn’t the case.

    1. Original Dan*

      Why would ANYONE be ok with a pay cut? Deserved of not, a pay cut means one’s financial habits will need to change. That sucks and it makes sense that people would be unhappy with it.

      Additionally, a lay off does not mean “…that the company didn’t feel that what they were paying the employee was worth what they were getting from them…” Companies lay off workers for any number of reasons not related to their pay.

      And furthermore, low income is not necessarily better than no income when you consider that a full time job takes you away from the job search for at least 8 hours per day. It may be cliché, but “Looking for work is a full-time job” is true. So no, I will not be accepting that fast food job, instead I will hold out for a job that will require me to use my engineering skills and that pays better.

      Unfortunately, you’re not alone. There are plenty of other people out there that look down at the unemployed/underemployed as somehow deserving of their misfortune.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think Em’s point is that if you used to earn $80K but you can now only find a job that will pay you $60K, and that’s after many months of unemployment, it’s not “taking a pay cut” in the sense that many people mean it — i.e., it’s not “I’m agreeing to take this lower pay even though I could earn more elsewhere.” Her point is about recognizing that in some cases you can’t earn more elsewhere anymore, and it’s valuable to really understand that when it happens.

        1. Em*

          Yes, that’s it, exactly. I honestly don’t feel like unemployed or underemployed people are “deserving of their misfortune,” but it just seems like if after months (or years) of looking, if you’re not able to find a job that will pay you what you were making before you lost your previous job, it may suggest that you can’t make what you were making in the current market, and that it’s not a productive attitude to view making anything less than you used to make as a “pay cut.”

          Also, in my mind, if you are not currently employed, you are making $0. No job will be a pay cut from that.

          1. AMD*

            I think that as someone who has not experienced it firsthand, you might not be the best person to call out what’s right and wrong in this situation.

            I agree with Original Dan on this note.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t know that you need to have experienced it firsthand to be able to see that logically someone’s market value is what the current market will pay them.

            2. Em*

              I think as someone who hasn’t been in this situation, I can be more objective about it. I can see how it’d be easy to be less influenced by logic when it’s you and your “worth” rather than a hypothetical.

          2. Jamie*

            FWIW I didn’t read it as you blaming the unemployed for their own misfortune.

            I agree – if I’m making 100K and I leave to take a job I find more interesting or challenging or whatever for 80K then I’m taking a pay cut. Because I’m consciously choosing to make less money when I have the option of making more.

            If I’m unemployed it doesn’t matter if I’ve previously made 200K – the 80K isn’t a pay cut because it’s not less than the nothing I was making while not working. If that’s the highest offer I can get then that’s what my market rate is at that point in time – regardless of what it was before.

  19. Dave33*

    Regarding the nonprofit ED and his board, I just want to note how extremely common this is. Dysfunctional boards are a horrible experience for an ED and I would wager at least 1/4 if not a lot more of nonprofits end up in this kind of terrible situation. Perhaps the writer’s husband could arrange a really good seminar or retreat with a consultant who specializes in these issues, and make sure the entire board is there.

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