short answer Saturday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. When your interviewers are stiff and not conversational

I have a friend who had an interview this morning for an assistant position (she’s been out of college for a year). I had her read your blog to prepare and I helped her as well. After her interview, she called me and told me that she thought it went ok. Her biggest concern was that the two men interviewing her did not give much feedback or really attempt to make the conversation conversational, if that makes sense. My gut instinct told me it is a sign of an inexperienced interviewer because I have only had 1 interview out of dozens like that. I guess I’m wondering if it’s more a reflection on them or does the interviewee need to try harder to keep the conversation flowing? And how do you handle an interview when it feels like you’re talking to the wall?

It could be inexperienced interviewers, but it could also just be their personal style. Some people are fairly formal in interview situations, and not everyone gives feedback on the spot (or ever). If you’re a candidate in that situation, the best thing to do is not to take it personally; if you start feeling it’s a reflection on you, you can get anxious and lose focus. Just treat it like a normal interview, since for them, it may be.

2. Pre-planned vacation when interviewing with a tiny office

I have read through your archives regarding interviews and waiting until an offer has been made to mention a pre-planned vacation. I agree with this approach as it doesn’t seem appropriate to bring up days I’d want off during an interview.

I recently interviewed for a position with a large company with offices nationwide. However, I’d be working in a very small satellite office that covers a small part of the country. When I say small satellite office, I mean the smallest you can get: my potential future boss and whomever is hired to be his assistant.

I have a vacation planned in about 6.5 weeks that will require me to miss 6 days of work. I already have plane tickets and have paid deposits on rentals. This vacation cannot be rescheduled because its purpose is for me to run a marathon for which I’ve been training for months. I don’t want to shorten the vacation because of my non-refundable plane tickets and rental deposits. Should I email my potential employer and let him know of these plans, or wait until I am offered the position? Normally I would wait until an offer has been made but I feel this situation is different due to the size of the office. I’m afraid if I wait he will feel duped and I don’t want to tick off my one-and-only coworker before I even start working. My interview was Monday and he said he hopes to make a decision by the end of this week.

Nope, just like always, wait until you have an offer and then negotiate it then as part of your overall negotiation. Employers don’t want to get into the specifics of what days candidates will need off; they want to wait until they’ve determined who they’d like to hire, and deal with it then.

3. Should I leave if I get demoted?

My company is going through an organizational change which will result in the elimination of my job. The company has been very vocal about wanting to keep all employees, and has offered three alternatives: a promotion with enough positions for 10% of the people with my job title, a demotion with loss of some PTO benefits and salary, or a lateral transfer to an entirely different job type. Although there is no formal interview process, I sent a cover letter style email to my bosses regarding my interest in the promotion, and have since met with all three of them to discuss the changes in the company. Although they’ve assured me that they like my work and my attitude, they’ve also emphasized that I’m competing against 100 other people. I’ve been in this industry for 5 years, but in this particular company for less than 2. Many of my colleagues have more than 10+ years of experience and are 5+ years older than I am. I’m confident in my abilities, but not confident that I’ll be chosen.

My question is whether or not I should stay with this company if I don’t receive the promotion. I would likely be placed in the lower paying job with less PTO and incentives, and would also lose my job title and many of my responsibilities. I’m worried that I will be stuck in a position I find unfulfilling and if I do choose to leave in the future, this demotion will impact my resume. I could take a severance package, but I’m also worried that I would be placing a time limit on myself to find a new career. I’ve never been in this position before, and I would appreciate any advice you may have!

It’s easier to find a new job when you’re still employed, so if you don’t want to stay in the position you end up in, you can always stay in it while embarking on a job search and leave when you find something else. (In fact, you should probably start looking now so that you get a head start on your search. You can always curtail it if you get the promotion or otherwise decide not to leave.) If you leave quickly enough after the demotion, if indeed it happens, you can simply leave it off your resume.

4. Listing seasonal work on your resume

I saw you say that it’s bad form to leave months off resumes because it looks like you’re trying to hide rapid job-hopping. Does that apply to jobs that are very specifically seasonal? I’m in the education/youth org sphere and I have a few jobs on my resume listed as “Summer ____” because they were positions akin to a summer camp counselor that didn’t say so in the title. My thinking is that it provides a more accurate impression of my time there, it looks neater, and people in schools or other youth organizations are familiar with that type of job since many teachers and other professionals spend their summers that way. Someone who works in recruiting told me he liked that way of phrasing it, but I wanted a second opinion, or thoughts on whether it should be altered for certain jobs (maybe it’s more appropriate, for example, for my upcoming search for a summer job, since it signifies I’m experienced with the kind of position I’m applying for, than if I were to apply for an office-based position in a youth org that does similar work year-round).

Yes, “summer 2012” or whatever is totally fine and normal.

5. Negotiating with a J.D. but not much experience

I graduated in May of 2012 with a J.D., and have been searching for jobs since then. I am applying to jobs that are J.D. required/preferred, but not necessarily “traditional” law firm jobs. A lot of these jobs ask for so many years of experience (which I don’t have as a new grad) or will substitute having a J.D. for the required number of years. They list the salary as either a range or as negotiable.

I am wondering how, as a new grad, I can negotiate for a salary and come across as deserving of that salary, especially as a new graduate with minimal years of experience.

You’d negotiate the same way anyone else does, by making a case for why you deserve more than what they’re offering. That said, without much work experience, you don’t have a lot of negotiating power / standing to justify more, so you want to be aware of that so that you don’t come across as out of touch about your current market value. Good luck!

6. Getting a job with a vendor my company just rejected

I would appreciate your advice on how to get a job with a vendor my company just rejected. Currently I work in sourcing for a large manufacturing company and have responsibility for vetting potential vendors. Recently I came across a really exciting startup company who could really provide a boost to our business. I spent several months reviewing their company, analyzing their business model, and realized this was a truly remarkable company with a great management team. I also presented my recommendation to several senior leaders and received very positive feedback about this partnership. Right before closing terms on the contract, we got a huge surprise, though. My company was no longer interested in the deal due to a sudden strategy shift.

The problem is I like the vendor more than my current company. How do I approach them to let them know I would be interested in joining them even though my company turned them down? I know I have a lot to offer them from my background and experience, plus I know their business and industry very well. Should I just ask them to keep me in mind for future openings? Or offer to do some moonlighting? I am worried about a potential conflict of interest with my current employer. I only know a few people at the company, including the founder. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Tell the founder you’re interested. Say something like, “I got to know so much about your company over the last few months and am impressed. If you’re ever looking for someone to do X, I’d love to talk with you.”

7. Convincing my manager that I need to quit due to health issues

I started working at a salon as a receptionist (part-time) to have a little extra spending money. My husband makes enough to cover our living expenses, but my extra income allows us to travel occasionally and not worry about money. Overall, I’m alright with my job; it’s not the best job I’ve ever had, but it’s not the worst either. However, in the six months I’ve worked at the salon I have had severe bronchitis four times. After an extreme lifestyle search with my doctor (I’m a nonsmoker, and have never had bronchitis before six months ago), he believes working at the hair salon could be what is causing my bronchitis. He said he would be more than happy to speak with my boss about it and has strongly encouraged me to resign.

How do I quit without burning the bridge at the salon? How do you professionally explain that you have to quit because the environment is making you ill? I’ve broached the topic with the owner several times before and she laughed and thought I was joking because “that doesn’t happen to anybody.” I’ve tried being direct and she has just blown me off. This sounds horrible, but she really has been a good boss to me other than this issue. Basically, as long as I go with her flow, I am golden in her eyes. Should I just write this off as a bridge that must be burned?

You don’t need to justify quitting for health reasons, and you definitely don’t need your doctor to talk to them. Just say something like, “My doctor has believes something about the salon is causing bronchitis in me, and has strongly urged me to resign. I feel I need to take his advice, so X will be my last day.”

If your manager mocks you or tells you you’re wrong, it doesn’t matter. Just stay pleasant and say, “This is the decision I’ve made. I really appreciate the chance to work here, and I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer.”

No sane manager would consider this a bridge burned. If she does, then she’s irrational enough that something else was likely to burn it anyway. But by staying pleasant but firm, you might be able to avoid that.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. B*

    Op #1 – Sorry to say, but I have also run into this when they have already made their choice for the position. They just need to run through interviews to say they did them. It sucks, but if that is the case your friend should look at it as a good way to get some practice interviewing.

    1. Sharon*

      I agree with this. There are many reasons for a stiff interviewer. I’ve also been interviewed by people who weren’t originally supposed to interview me, but their boss foisted me off on them and that had similar results. They were stiff, formal and even slightly hostile.

      Generally, I think a good rule of thumb is that an interview is SUPPOSED to be a conversation between two parties. Give and take, exploring each other to evaluate the personality fit as well as the qualifications. Any time the interviewers treat you like a suspect being interrogated, that’s not likely to have a good outcome. (Even if you get the job, do you really want to work for someone who treats people like that?)

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Eh, I really think it’s probably just someone who’s bad or new at interviewing. Did they have a list of questions in front of them? Some people think that the “right” or “fair” way to interview is to tick through the same list of questions with every candidate without deviation.

        … but I have to say, some of this is on the inteviewee, too. You can make it a conversation by asking questions of them. “… and the result was we increased participation by over 50% in two years. That’s actually what excites me about this role – I’d love to hear more about your vision for member engagement.”

        1. College Career Counselor*

          While the decision may have been made already (just running interviews to fulfill requirements), or the person was new/bad at interviewing, another possibility occurs to me. Sometimes interviewers are coached to ask questions in exactly the same way and order for every single candidate. Further, they are told to keep nuance, inflection and “personality” out of their interactions to keep from compromising the objectivity of the interview process or give the appearance of favoring certain candidates. This is stupid for at least two reasons. One, who wants to work with people who act like robots? Two, you’re going to favor one candidate (by making an offer, presumably) over the others at the end of the process.

      2. Jamie*

        I’ve also been interviewed by people who weren’t originally supposed to interview me, but their boss foisted me off on them and that had similar results. They were stiff, formal and even slightly hostile.

        This. I certainly haven’t been hostile, but I am completely thrown off when I’m dragged into an interview with zero time to prepare. Interviewing doesn’t come naturally to everyone and when I’m seeing a resume for the first time with the person sitting in front of me – I’m irritated. Not with the candidate, but with the lack of organization on our end – but I’m irritated none the less.

        And I am absolutely not conversational in those instances. One, conversational with people I have never met is pretty formal for me under the best circumstances…but a fluid chatty flow will never happen while I’m scanning a resume and trying to figure out what questions I need answered.

        It hasn’t happened in ages – because I wasn’t shy about bitching about it so I’ve since gotten advanced warning – but that scenario isn’t fair to anyone involved.

  2. Anon*

    I use “Summer 2012” even for professional internships during law school. (Now on my second full-time job after law school, so that stuff is still relevant experience.) It really is neater and I think it helps the reader contextualize my resume at a glance–this is what my summers looked like, this is something I did as a student during the school year, etc.

  3. Not So NewReader*

    For OP 7:
    “This sounds horrible, but she really has been a good boss to me other than this issue. Basically, as long as I go with her flow, I am golden in her eyes. ”

    I am not so sure I would define this as a good boss. As a supervisor I have had to listen to many things I did not want to hear. I tried not to push by people, because the topic was difficult or I did not understand.

    Bottom line though, what she needs to understand is that you will not be there after X date. And you would like her to know that you feel she was a good boss to you. Period. Focus on getting this main message across and forget the rest.

    As an aside, I know few people that have quit salon work because the chemicals interfere with their lung function. Personally, I have quit having my hair colored for health reasons- one less chemical to deal with. I think your doctor is a very wise man.

    1. EM*

      If the salon does keratin treatments, you could be getting exposed to formaldehyde, which can cause respiratory problems. You’re definitely not being unreasonable.

      1. Jamie*

        I just looked up what that was and that freaked me out – and I don’t even have chemical sensitivities.

        I can’t even get past the whole Botox is botulism thing and why the hell is this offered by my dentist’s office now. Bring my kid in for a cleaning and have to stare at posters making me feel bad for not wanting to get toxins injected into my face.

        On the safe side – I have noticed improvement in this one line I have between my eyebrows…when I’m thinking or angry it gets deeper so I blame it on work. Someone here mentioned using post-its to keep from brow furrowing and I’ve been doing that at home and between that and more expensive moisturizer it’s way less noticeable. Unless post-its cause cancer I should be okay.

  4. Heather*

    Re #7 – you really don’t have to give a reason as to why you are quitting either. Most people do (better opportunities, schedules blah blah) but you really don’t. As long as you give notice and stay professional you don’t even have to say it’s because of health reasons. And come on who doesn’t know that environments and chemicals can cause health issues?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Probably the boss is very aware of how toxic the chemicals are but for some strange reason she feels if she pretends she does not know then that will protect her somehow.

      1. AG*

        Yeah you don’t have to give justification for leaving, you don’t need your boss’s permission!

        I also wonder if her total denial of the problem has to do with her own health – admitting that it’s making you sick might make her question her own health and safety, and she doesn’t want to do that.

        1. just me*

          Yeah… Your boss has nothing to say about your decision to leave. Give the 2 week notice and leave.

          If she asks why or you feel you would like to explain if she seriously doesn’t get that odors and chemicals off beauty products can cause health issues she is not that great.

          It is not that uncommon for people to have reactions to chemicals like that. For me, I need very mild scented and even that is iffy depending on scent or no scented products. Coughing starts and headaches start.

          As the head of a salon I really think she would know this.

  5. Forrest*

    AAM, does the vacation advice apply if the vacation is a year after your interview? I’m looking at jobs now but I’m planning a two week vacation for summer 2014. I can still arrange the dates for they’re better for my new company (for example, if they have a large event in October, I would take it early summer.)

    1. fposte*

      Will you have earned enough vacation in the new position to take it by then? Will you still take it if you have to go unpaid for those weeks?

      1. Forrest*

        I would – its an all expense paid trip to Europe. I would be willing to cut it short a little bit though if its a dealbreaker.

        At my current position, I certainly have enough vacation time to go.

        1. fposte*

          Sorry, I failed to realize that you of course don’t know what vacation policies are at a job you don’t have yet.

          It wouldn’t hurt to mention it casually at the offer stage, but I think the need level varies. The factors are your likely start date, their vacation policy, and the information you have about their scheduling and obligations throughout the period. If you’d starting this April with a job that gives you three weeks’ annual vacation that are front-loaded and that has a known slack time in summer, I might not bother even to mention it; if you’re starting this September in a job with 5 days’ vacation per year that accrue as you go and that has a big push on over the summer for a September event, I’d mention it and say that you’re happy to be flexible and to take it unpaid if vacation days can’t be arranged. Those are two extremes, but it gives you the idea–it’s based on how much you’d need manager latitude and manager scheduling or would otherwise leave a manager unpleasantly surprised.

          You’re being very flexible and forward-thinking here, and I don’t think most sane managers would have a problem working with this. Though they might be jealous–I know I am!

          1. Editor*

            One place I worked provided people with one to six weeks of vacation annually but didn’t allow people to take more than one week at a time, and summer was the most difficult time to get time off. In addition, seniority determined who got off when, so newly hired people often didn’t get their first choice vacation weeks in the summer.

            To ensure no one claims to be surprised when you want two weeks off for a special trip, I’d do as Alison often recommends and bring it up if or when there’s an offer.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would mention it, for the same reasons that you’d mention any time you wanted to take off to a current employer. If you were working for this employer now, and wanted to make those plans, you probably wouldn’t just schedule it with at least a heads-up to your manager. Same thing here — you’re planning to take it, so let them know now, so that later after you’re working there, you’re not simply announcing it as a done deal.

  6. apopculturalist*

    To OP7:

    Your boss is wrong. People can and *do* become ill because of the salon environment.

    Brazilian Keratin treatments, for example, have been known to contain formaldehyde, which has led to cancer among some stylists. (Many stylists now wear face masks when doing them, which makes for a pretty crazy occupational hazard, right?) Not to mention fumes from commonly used products and other chemical treatments.

    If it’s making you ill, get out.

    1. Andrew*

      I just read the Wikipedia entry on Brazilian keratin treatments: why would any sane person go within 100 yards of this, and why is it even legal?

      1. Sissa*

        For the same reason tobacco is still legal :) (Though I’m sure that for beauty treatments the amount of money flowing around is considerably smaller, but still).

      2. apopculturalist*

        I know, right? There’s actually mandates and restrictions going into place because of the Brazilian Keratin treatment; the company that does them was sued.

        However, other keratin straightening treatments remain and while they’re not as dangerous as the Brazilian, the fumes can be aggravating.

        As dangerous as they can be, salons aren’t likely to quit them anytime soon; some charge as much as $400 for the service!

  7. Janet W.*

    #7 – Everyone telling you to quit is right. Not only does it happen, it happens fairly often. Three of my friends and my sister-in-law all had to give up working with hair because the chemicals made them chronically ill.

  8. Mike C.*

    #7 With regards to future interviews, it’s perfectly professional to tell employers that you couldn’t handle the expose to chemicals and that your boss at the time was frustrated at the news. There is no reason that quitting for this reason should be held up nor cost you future opportunities.

  9. Colette*

    #2 Even if it’s a small office, you will need to be able to take time off at some point. It is probably less disruptive for you to do so early on, while you’re still learning the ropes. You may not be paid for it, though.

  10. ggg*

    Re #1, at our company, the formal interview questions must be approved by HR and the answers to those questions painstakingly documented. I had an interview with someone I knew well, that I had worked with for 10 years, and it was really bizarre. Awkwardly phrased formal question, answer, then SILENCE as he noted what I said, repeat 23 times. If I hadn’t known ahead of time it was going to be that way, I would have been freaked out. I just tried to be as conversational as possible in my responses.

    Re #7, my stylist refuses to do some popular hair treatments because they make her sick and she decided the money was not worth it. She has had to leave salons over it and has been honest about why she quit. I totally agree with AAM’s response.

    1. AP*

      That is so strange! At the very least someone should try using a tape recorder so HR can just listen or transcribe it later.

  11. glennis*

    I’m in a similar situation to #3 – of some 22 employees, 10 have found positions in the organization, one has retired, and the rest of us are left.

    In my case, I’m not far from retirement, and the wisest choice financially for me is to stay with the organization, even with a demotion, retaining the same benefits. There are no promotional opportunities; the best to hope for would be a lateral, but there are no current opportunities – although one is rumored to be coming up.

    I’m just applying for anything within the organization I’m qualified for. It’s still depressing, though.

    It’s really odd to be in a department where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is juggling with the same dilemma. As the end of the fiscal year approaches, I’m wondering how badly the morale is going to erode.

    1. Original Dan*

      This exact thing happened to me. Two years ago we were called in to a department meeting and told that our operation would be moving to Minnesota in one year and that we would all lose our positions. There would be some positions open in Minnesota, but not enough for everyone.

      Some chose to retire, some moved to Minnesota, and some of us found openings in other departments.

      I was one of the ones who was able to move to another group. It’s been great, but I still remember everyone being in a funk for months while we all tried to figure out what we were going to do.

  12. Maria*

    #5, I did what you’re trying to do, but it took awhile. Sadly, I don’t believe the J.D. is the automatic qualifier for jobs or salary requirements we were led to believe it would be, especially not in the economy right now. Focus on the skills you learned in law school if you don’t have a lot of experience…did you clerk, participate in any clubs or work on a journal? How will those be an asset to the organization you’re applying to? I had a similar issue with my most recent interview re: salary, but luckily it all worked out. I think it had a lot to do with my law degree being valuable in the particular industry (HR). Best of luck.

  13. Rory Trotter*

    Thanks for sharing this, Alison.

    I just want to add that concerning the employee who may be getting demoted, I agree with you that its better to keep the job while continuing the job search.

    Taking a step back and staying with the company you work for is never a good idea in my opinion, however, *unless* there was a large scale layoff (say, a third of the function) and you’re one of the people they kept. In that case the company probably values you a lot, but things have just gotten flatter. It may make sense to stick it out for a while in that case if things are otherwise good.

    Thanks for sharing, and as always keep writing.



  14. Anonymous*

    One thought on #1: Some employers require ticking off a standard list of questions for all candidates, though some can improvise to meet all the questions, or can at least add to them at the end. For example, many government interviews have standardized questions (often designed to replace a civil service exam, also standardized).

  15. Neeta*

    Re #2: I’ve seen this question many times, and was wondering how to approach it if you had already paid for the trip and can’t cancel it.

    I was in such a position three years ago. Was contacted by HR to come for an interview at the end of February. I really unhappy at my job at the time, and I had intended to start actively looking for a job after I came back. So while I was not actively interviewing, I was really glad for the opportunity.

    I had already paid for a trip that was due in June (so basically 3 months after start date), and since I was going with a friend, there was no way I could cancel. I didn’t feel like “stringing” these people on, so I ended up bringing it up at the end of the HR interview (the first out of three interviews I would have: HR, technical and final discussion about the offer).
    The HR was really surprised but didn’t comment on it otherwise.

    I ended up getting the job, and there didn’t seem to be any issues with my pre-planned holiday. Still I felt that I shouldn’t have mentioned my holiday so son.
    Problem is that if I didn’t want to wait till the final round, I could have only mentioned this during the technical interview, which wouldn’t have been appropriate at all.

    What’s your opinion Alison? For future reference: should I wait till the last round and negotiate it then along with the salary, or was this fine.

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