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. Explaining why other companies didn’t hire me

I’ve been unemployed for over a year now, but I keep sending out applications and sometimes manage to get a interview. And a question I’ve been asked several times is, “Do you know why you weren’t hired by those other companies?” It usually starts when they ask, “Where else have you been applying?” and I say hospitals, universities, and biotech companies. Then I get asked, “Do you know why you weren’t hired by Other Place?” or “Did you get any feedback from Other Place as to why they didn’t hire you?”

The truth is that I usually hear nothing back, but once in a while I get a personal rejection letter that goes along the lines of “You were a great candidate but unfortunately another candidate had more experience.” So I say lack of experience, although it could of course be any reason. But am I supposed to do a little soul-searching to answer that question? Are my interviewers wondering if I showed some red flag that is preventing me from getting hired for over a year? I don’t think I’m any weirder than the next person, but do interviewers think there must be something wrong with me, otherwise someplace would have hired me by now? Or is there is really something wrong with me?

This is really odd. It’s an odd question for any interviewer to ask, and so it’s really odd that you’re being asked it by multiple different interviewers. And it’s not like you’re going to tell them anything useful, like “Oh yeah, Company X said that I showed up drunk, and Company Y thought my degree was BS.”

In any case, I wouldn’t let it worry you too much. Just smile and say something like, “I think it’s just a tough job market right now and there are lots of good candidates.” Frankly, you could also add, “But if you have any feedback, I’d love it!” Because if they’re asking such an odd question, you’re entitled to ask them that back.

2. Employer isn’t being clear about paid holidays

Upon receiving an offer letter, I noticed nothing was noted about paid holidays. This is a full time salaried position directly under the HR supervisor. I emailed the HR supervisor asking her about this, and she quickly sent back an email quoting the company’s vacation day policy. I wrote back explaining that I was actually asking if there were any paid holidays, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. that the office would be closed for. Four hours later, no response, so I called and she told me that she was asking the owner to answer my question. I told her I understood but asked if it would be safe to assume something like Christmas day. She told me she wouldn’t comment.

I feel like this is a huge red flag, not only because of the possible lack of holiday pay with only five vacation days per year, but because I would be working in the HR department and the HR director doesn’t seem to have a concrete answer to what I think is a pretty basic question.

The office is small, but the company is not. It’s a restaurant group that owns two large bars and one restaurant. This position is being created to help the woman running HR with her overflowing work load. She’s been there for a few years, so I thought she would at least tell me if they were closed for Christmas. I don’t know if that means they weren’t planning on paying me for holidays, or what. I still haven’t heard back.

The uncertainty might be because bars and restaurants are often open on holidays, so it’s possible that this company is too, even though you’d be working in their administrative office. But honestly, the whole exchange feels a bit adversarial to me (on both sides — you calling her after only four hours of not hearing back, her refusing “to comment,” etc.), and that’s the bigger red flag to me than whatever their holiday policy is.

3. Employer was interested in me for a job but I didn’t pass their electronic “values” screening

I was recommended for a role by a freelancer who works with me and for the company which was creating the role. The manager was given my CV and was really impressed and forwarded it on to their recruitment person, who called me. We had a good talk and she said my experience and qualifications were a perfect fit for the role and that at the end of our conversation she felt I was what they were looking for. However, they had to advertise the role to satisfy their HR policy and so she asked me to officially apply online, which would go to their outsourced recruitment provider and she’d look out for my name when the candidate list came through.

So I filled out the 8-page application form (lots of competanc- based questions needing lots of examples), which I submitted, and this then led me to a values questionnaire. Of the 20 questions, I struggled with at least 5 because I felt they were hard to answer without knowing the company’s policy on certain areas (refunds, etc.) where you may want to take bold actions but until you know if you have the support of your employer in those decisions, you wouldn’t.

I have since received a computer-generated email saying I have been rejected because I don’t share enough of their values. Should I call the recruitment person and talk to her again? I’m disappointed that because of 20 questions, a computer has decided I don’t even get an interview despite already being told I have the qualities they’re looking for. Or should I just accept the rejection and move on?

Sure, you can contact her and see if she’d be willing to interview you anyway. It’ll depend on how rigid they are about their computer screening (which I agree sounds dumb).

4. Listing volunteer work that includes multiple roles

If you’ve volunteered for a while with the same organization but in different positions, how would you recommend putting the experience on your resume without taking up too much space by listing each role? In my case, I’ve been volunteering for an organization that provides adult English as a Second Language classes, and I’ve done individual tutoring, teaching a small class (once a week), and soon I’m planning to be a substitute teacher, as other responsibilities have become more demanding.

I’d list it all as one volunteer role, explaining briefly (in a single line) what the specifics are. For instance:

Volunteer Teacher, XYZ Organization: teach weekly ESL class, provide one-on-one tutoring to three students, fill in as substitute teacher for advanced classes

5. What to ask when considering working internationally

I’ve applied for a job that is right in line with my experience and qualifications. The interesting thing is that it is an international position, where I would work about half-time from home and about half-time at international client sites. The position would be quite interesting, but it is the international travel that I’m wondering about. I’m excited about the potential opportunity, but I’m not even sure what I should be asking when considering a position in which I would be working in other countries significantly, as I’ve only had brief work-related experiences before. Any advice you (or your esteemed readers) might have would be much appreciated.

Readers, what advice do you have?

6. Pursuing more education to change careers

Nearly 5 years ago, I graduated with a Master’s in English. I pursued a Master’s in part because so many of my undergrad mentors/advisors/professors said that many more job opportunities would be open to me. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, and I’ve been stuck as an adjunct since I graduated. It’s become clear that I will probably never get a full-time teaching job. And the MA seems to make me appear overqualified for most other jobs (and lack of experience outside of academia makes me under-qualified).

I’ve toyed with the idea of returning to school for an AA or AS, perhaps in something like HR, just so I can get my foot in the door in another profession. But I know BA to MA to AA would look strange. Ultimately, I don’t know what to do: take on a little more debt in order to hopefully find a full-time job or take on no more debt (I still owe for my BA and MA) but perhaps work part-time forever.

Ugh, I’m sorry — this sucks. And yeah, BA to MA to AA is going to look strange, and there’s no point in taking on more debt. I wonder if a better path is to network your ass off and convince someone that you’re passionate about HR (or whatever you settle on) and to take a chance on you. Consider interning or volunteering in whatever field you want to move into too — that will help you get experience and also make contacts who you can then lobby to let you try your hand at more. (Also, the people who told you a MA in English would make you more marketable need their licenses to advise revoked.)

7. Making a presentation in a job interview

I’m applying for a marketing manager position. I passed the first round and now have the personal meeting with my potential director. Do you think it would be fine to make a short presentation (4 or 5 slides of powerpoint) of how my skills and experience can attend his/company’s needs? Although it hasn’t been required, the development of presentations is part of the job description.

If you mean something like your resume in presentation form, no. That’s going to be overkill and annoying. But if you mean a presentation about ideas you have for excelling in the role you’re interviewing for, then potentially yes … but the only way this works is if it’s incredibly compelling. If it’s not, it can actually hurt you. So the answer depends on what the content is and how truly awesome it’s going to be.

{ 135 comments… read them below }

  1. quix

    #6

    In the same boat with a Communication MA.

    I want to go back to the colleges I attended with a stack of flyers to post in the admin building that say, “When they tell you not to worry about direct degree applicability because many graduates land jobs not in their field, by ‘jobs not in their field’ they mean cashiers, ticket takers, and order pickers. Good luck.”

    1. Frank

      This is really poor advice, you’ve simply failed to leverage your qualification and haven’t understood how to manipulate supply and demand to find yourself a well paying job. I’ve been in HR for about six years now, no qualifications in HR – what I do have is undergraduate qualifications in Psychology, Gender Studies, and Sociology (all the degrees that typically people advice others not to do), topped off with a masters in psychology. Early last year I finally entered a six figure role in HR – not sales, just plain old HR in a capital city. It can be done, and I see it being done most days of the week with the people I interview.

      1. TychaBrahe

        A masters in psychology relates to HR (the management of people). A degree in English literature does not.

      2. Lillie Lane

        Yes, but 6 years ago it was a completely different ball game. It was probably a lot easier to convince an employer to give you a chance if the position was outside of your experience and field. Now, unless you have a great network, it’s extremely difficult.

        1. Shelley

          I would think an MA in communications would be extremely useful. There are so many communications jobs now with 24 hour media, internet, social media, and other technologies that there is an increased need for comms people. Though it is a saturated market and highly competitive. Every job I apply for asks for a degree in Communications,marketing or public relations. I would think experience plus an MA in comms would set you apart.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do a masters in communications — that’s a skill that you can easily learn on the job (and honestly either have or don’t have, to some extent), and I don’t think I’ve ever hired for a job where a masters in communications excited me. It’s a neutral, sometimes a minus if it means you weren’t getting work experience during that time when your competition was.

  2. Dan

    #3

    I’m just being pedantic, but the “computer” itself only rejected you in the literal sense. Truth is, the computer is programmed to do what some human being wanted it to do. Would you feel any better if you took the same test in their office, a human being scored it, and then failed you?

    I *am* sort of curious. As a number cruncher who can do these types of analyses, I’d say that the if the test was developed well, they were right in screening you in out. But that’s a big if. You are right when you say that some questions are hard to answer without knowing company culture or whatever. If I’m screening call center applications, and I ask, “You have a difficult customer. Do you solve his problem, no matter how long it takes, or do you rush to get him off the phone to minimize your average call time?” Well, the answer is probably the later, unless you are working for a company who prides themselves on superior customer service. But you won’t know the right answer unless you know their values.

    In the general case, I think our society is leaning to heavily in trying to become data driven. I’m thinking specifically on all the mandatory testing and teacher performance associated with No Child Left Behind.

    1. Chriama

      Given that you’ve already spoken to the manager and they seemed interested in you, there’s nothing to lose by reaching out and letting them know what happened.
      Stuff like this annoys me, because I don’t think society should be data driven, but information driver. And there is a big difference.
      I’d have to see some real justification in terms of applicant quality or ease of hiring before I would consider one of those ridiculous personality tests for hiring. You’re not trying to figure out if their ‘values’ match your company’s values, you’re trying to figure out if they will adhere to cultural expectations, and situational questions that measure someone’s response against a metric they didn’t know they were being held to are hypocritical at worst, and a shot in the dark at best.

    2. Sara L

      It’s not the difference between a computer scoring the test and a human scoring it with the same answer key, though. The difference is that if a human asks you whether to stick with that customer or get them off the phone asap, you can tell them that while you prefer to give everyone great customer service, you understand the need to keep metrics low, so you would follow whatever their call time policy is while doing your best to help the customer. It’s not a black and white question.

      The problem with picking the right answer on the computer test even when you know the company’s culture is that a company will often preach one thing and practice another. I used to work for one of those call centers that publicly (and in our staff meetings and so on) touted the need for superior customer service at all costs. The reality was that you’d get “ticketed” for spending more than 3 minutes on a call no matter how complicated the issue was, ticketed for more than a very few free shipping credits, etc. So if they had a test like this, I can’t even imagine which one they’d think would be the “correct” answer.

      1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise

        Yep. This is how it is. They preach about the importance of great customer service but put you on a PIP if you can’t get the customer off of the phone fast enough. Oh and during those three min or less “customer contacts,” you are supposed to upsell more products…even when the customer called in to complain that their bill is too high. And yes, calls are monitored and recorded. Many times, your boss is sitting across the office listening to your call. They have to call you out on mess-ups bc if their boss randomly pulls your call and it wasn’t noted that you were coached (if need be) related to that call…your boss could get into trouble. This is what leads to customers being cold transferred until they reach someone who forsakes call quantity for call quality. Sucks no matter how you slice it.

        1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise

          Ask me how I know. 11 years ago I was a customer service rep that moved on to the management side of things so I saw both sides.

  3. Dan

    #6

    Professors and academics are the worst people to get job advice from. Just sayin’.

    On a side note, on a recent job “search” (curious, not hard core) I came across four jobs I was reasonably interested in. They all said MS at a minimum, PhD preferred. The odd thing is that all of the PhDs I know tell me to stop at an MS and don’t waste my time on a PhD. Haven’t figured this one out yet.

    1. Cat

      Because most people who get PhDs intend to be tenure-track professors and then find themselves applying for “PhD preferred; MS required” jobs that they would have had a shot at without another 4-6 years in school.

    2. Lillie Lane

      My husband and I have PhD’s and we would tell you the same thing. A lot of places say they want the higher degree but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case; it’s just the cherry on their dream list of qualifications that doesn’t describe anybody.

    3. KayDay

      Over lunch a few weeks ago I heard the following exchange:
      Person 1: “Do you know why [the position] still vacant? *munch*”
      Person 2: “Well, I think they are holding out for a PhD who wants to do MA work for an BA salary.”
      Person 1: “uh-huh…*sigh* *slurp*”

      1. Lillie Lane

        Yikes. Thanks for confirming my suspicions. The only problem is that I’m desperate enough to agree to a BS salary, but I think the companies assume that I won’t agree to anything less than a PhD salary.

  4. Kara

    #6

    Why would you have to go back for an AA? From my understanding, most universities would accept your undergrad credits from your first BA and you would only have to take the core classes for whatever major you chose as your second BA/BS. For business, that would potentially mean taking more math/stats classes, management, HR, etc classes, but you shouldn’t have to spend another 2 years in school for a measly AA. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, as I do not know your financial situation. However, if you do decide to pursue another degree in a different field, you should be able to pursue a more advanced degree in AA. Heck, depending on what your BA was, you could potential try for another Masters if you had the time and funding. Just a thought.

    1. Anonymous

      What about a one-year post-grad certificate or diploma, through a university’s continuing ed department, or a local vocational college?

      Those programs are a mixed bag to be sure – many are in vanity subjects – but some are legit, backed by professional associations and even offer placements. The ones that look most useful are usually in a fairly narrow subjects, like HR management or financial planning. Would ask tons of questions, obviously, especially around placement rates. (And would ask people, look at job ads and LinkedIn etc to see if the designation actually carries value.)

      Some do appear to be more geared to people with some experience in a given role, but others are more open.

      1. English MA Anon

        This is good advice. Also, consider transferable skills: Project management? Writing? Editing? Instructional design? I’ve had friends transition from adjuncting to technical writing, contracts administration, and secondary teaching.

        1. ZombiesRPeopleToo

          I was in a similar boat to the OP. I got my English Master’s to teach, but by the time I graduated it was obvious there were many many teachers but very few teaching jobs. Like English MA Anon says, it’s about transferable skills. I found a job as a legal assistant, where all my time writing concisely, researching, and analyzing difficult texts is really valuable. Even there a master’s is overkill, and I got lucky that my boss was open to on-the-job-training.

          I know some professors who made the jump to writing center admins. There’s also online writing labs like SmartThinking/Kaplan. They hire in late summer to staff up for the fall semester.

          If writing is more your thing then start freelancing. Make connections and send out some pitches.

          1. ZombiesRPeopleToo

            And by professors, I meant instructors/lecturers with an MA, not PhD holders or tenure track folks.

      2. PEBCAK

        This was my thinking, too. I’d look to do one at a top university in your area, if such a thing exists.

        1. Anonymous

          In my area, it’s the vocational colleges that typically offer more relevant, practical, up-to-date content, and have better industry connections. A few are famous for getting their students to working; others only imitate their success. Would be careful about promises, ask for stats.

      3. Nester

        I have known multiple people with MA’s who earned a technical certificate in IT or something similar. I have heard the IT market isn’t what it used to be, but I believe A+ certification and similar certifications are still valued by employers.

    2. perrik

      As long as your BA/BS was earned at a regionally accredited institution, you’ll have little difficulty in transferring those credits in pursuit of a second BA/BS. Typically a university will accept the equivalent of two years’ worth of academic credit, so you can focus on requirements, electives, and supporting classes for your new major.

      IMO there’s not a lot of utility in a second bachelor’s, especially not when you’ve already earned a master’s. I’d recommend earning a post-grad certificate in HR Management if that’s the field you want to pursue.

      However, it doesn’t sound like you’ve identified the field you do want to pursue. Sort out your strengths and interests, and THEN figure out what field you’d really like to enter and what sort of positions in that field are the most appealing to you.

      If you think it’s an intriguing field with career paths that suit you, by all means, pursue HR and be great at it. But please don’t think of HR as some sort of default “foot in the door” job that you’ve picked because you can’t think of anything better to do. There are too many disengaged HR people out there as it is.

      1. anon

        It seems like HR is one of those fields a lot of people who don’t know what they want to do choose to pursue. Maybe some people like HR, but it seems like a lot of paperwork, and most companies I’ve worked for have tiny HR departments (like one person total) and many companies make cuts in that department. I think the OP should talk with friends who have a similar education background as her and see what they did and what sounds appealing. She must have graduated with a bunch of peers. She should also talk to friends of friends with interesting jobs and find out how they got there and then start taking steps to replicate those steps in the ways she can such as volunteering or taking on contract work or whatever. Getting a degree in something never guarantees a job. You have to hustle to find opportunities yourself and not just assume a degree will slide you into a great path (unless you are in medicine or engineering or something).

        1. Kara

          I’m sure there are people who defaulted to HR, but others, like myself, actually have a passion for it. I started back to school four years ago for a Marketing degree, but after I took my first HR class I loved it and switched majors. Now I’m 6 credits away from a BS in HRM and couldn’t be happier with my decision. There are people who get laterally transitioned into the department because managers don’t really know what to do with them, which gives the reputation for it not being a great department to work in. Other people choose it, study it, and hopefully go on to run efficient HR departments.

          1. Vicki

            Good luck to you.

            I feel a bit sad for people like you and my friend because, after 25 years in “corporate environments” I’ve learned that most employees stop trusting HR depts very quickly because most companies won’t allow HR to work for the employees. HR is told to protects the company (and the manager) far too often.

        2. Vicki

          I have a friend who just got her BS and wants to do HR because she wants to work with people. The classes have been in HR and business management, etc. I doubt she’d have been in that program without believing she really wanted to get into that field.

  5. EngineerGirl

    #5 is so wide open! Depending on the country you could need a housing allowance, or even be forced to live within a compound. Will you be allowed to drive in that country? Will you be required to know at least a basic level of the language? What about the technical part of the language? Many people may be able to get by on the language, but can’t handle “tech speak”. How will money be handled? Do you do your own accommodations or will this be through a company agent?

    I do think it is really important to list any international travel you’ve done, especially if it is done solo. Also any work with multi-culture. I think people underestimate the impact of travel when you are by yourself in a country with cultures different than your own. If you haven’t done that before it would be a big red flag (unless you are going as part of a team).

    1. Bwmn

      To build on all very good questions – knowing where you’re going is hugely important regarding how this stuff is managed. Some places that might sound really difficult (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) – actually have a huge expat infrastructrure in place that deal with money, translation, etc. However, places that might appear on paper to be less challenging may also have smaller expat professional communities and thus be less friendly.

      Another general idea would be to play around with Google for ex-pat (insert relevant country/region). A number of these environments have message boards that may be very helpful in narrowing down the specific questions that are important.

      1. OP #5

        Thanks for the insights. The language would not be much of a concern as I have worked in that language within my field. I’m sure there would be a slight bit more of a vocabulary learning curve, but I think it will be manageable. I have experience working with people from Latin America (the target region) but mostly in the US. I hadn’t thought about driving; that would be good to know. I have a US state driver’s license; I’m not sure how transferable that would be. And thanks for the Google tips; I had done some searches but come up with quite little…I’m sure those will help.

        1. Bwmn

          Best of luck – I’m totally unfamiliar with expat environments in Latin America, but having that idea in mind may also have other commenters give specific issues with those locales.

          Regarding driving/transportation – I know of some areas where taxi companies assign a driver to a worker or some kind of car service is used because it makes charging the company easier. Either way, it’s definitely a good set of basics to begin asking questions with.

        2. Latina reader

          I’m from South America, and in some countries you would be able to use your US driver’s license for a short period only. But since the time counts from your last date of arrival in the country, and you would be going back and forth, it may be possible to drive there with your U.S. driver’s license. But keep in mind that 1) the bureaucracy to get a local driver’s license (if you end up needing one) may be huge, 2) even if you don’t need a local license to drive, the rules and local customs may make it very hard for you to drive there — even my husband and I don’t feel comfortable driving in my native country after living a few years in the U.S., because the way drivers behave is too different and dangerous for us, 3) depending on the place you will be, public transportation may be too crowded, infrequent or unreliable, 4) taxi cabs may be very expensive.

          So definitely ask about what options you would have in local transportation.

          1. Anonymous

            Thank you, Latina Reader! That is exactly why I came here. :-) I would rather not drive in a country other than the US (and, to be honest, some places here I’d rather not drive), but I will if necessary. I was really glad to hear of the other ways to get around as well as the details of driving (legally) in South America.

    2. Colette

      I’d want to know:
      – how long would you be gone – i.e do you fly out Sunday and back on Saturday, or do you fly out Monday and back on Friday, or are you gone for 2 months at a time?
      – how are expenses handled (i.e. per diem or by saving receipts)?
      – how often can you expect to be reimbursed?
      – do you need your own credit card for things like booking the hotel or rental car, or does the company supply a card? (If the company supplies the card, are they responsible for paying it, or do you submit expenses & pay the card yourself?)
      – do they supply (& pay for) a company cell phone that works in those countries?

      1. OP #5

        These are exactly the kinds of details that I really need to ask. I’d assumed it would be company card but best to know. The duration would be 1-2 weeks at a time, so not too long but not too short, I think. Thanks!

      2. Coelura

        These are great questions. There are companies that expect their employees to pay for travel on their personal credit cards and then submit a reimbursement. Unfortunately, reimbursement can also take weeks to months adversely affecting your credit score. Be sure you ask about the travel policies including how you will be paying travel expenses and how expenses are reimbursed. This is super important.

      3. Colette

        Oh, and how much notice do they give you? Do you know a week or two ahead that you’ll be traveling, or do you find out three hours before your plane leaves?

        1. Ralish

          I’d also recommend asking detailed questions about your health insurance before accepting the job. Will your insurance cover you in both countries? Adequate care in both? If not, will they pay for you to get back to your home country? Etc, etc.

          1. TychaBrahe

            Or if not, will they cover the cost of a travel insurance that does, like travelmdassist.com?

          2. Chinook

            Considering health care coverage when working abroad, you will want guaranteed coverage for return to your home country as no one wants to be stuck away from your support system when sick or injured. And, as morbid as it sounds, it should also include repatriation if you are killed abroad.

            Also, check to see if they have a maximum daily coverage for hospitalizations. For example, Canadian provincial insurance only covers what it would cost in Canada regardless of real costs. I don’t know if private American plans have the same limits.

            1. OP #5

              Thanks. I had considered updating my will but hadn’t even thought about repatriation. It’s such a hassle across the country that I can’t imagine if another country’s laws were involved. The notice is important as well.

      4. Jess

        Taxes! Make sure you’re not going to start running into tax issues by spending enough time in another country. Also, make sure you know which country’s employment laws apply to you, and when.

    3. JessB

      Maybe this is just because I’d love to travel overseas for fun, but my first thought was, ‘oh, I wonder if you could get the fly home date extended so you could do some sightseeing!’

      Obviously, be careful about asking that question, and questions like it if you’re still in a job interview stage – you want to come across as engaged and interested in the job, rather than the perks. But come on, that would be a cool perk!

      Good luck with the job and travel safe.

  6. Jen

    #5 you’ll want to look at how frequent international travel will impact your life outside work. It can be a lot of fun, and a great way to get some amazing experience, but it takes a toll.

    What will your workload be like during weeks with travel? You’ll lose entire days due to time changes and time spent traversing through taxis, airports, check-ins, etc. It can require a masterful level of time-management.

    You will likely incur a number of personal expenses as you build your road-warrior toolbox: luggage, flight accessories, and most frequent-fliers I know have spent a small fortune duplicating their toiletries, so one travel-friendly set stays in their luggage. These aren’t really costs your employer will cover, so ensure you’re ready to handle them.

    Is your home life set up for being frequently away? Do you have pets/partners/plants/kids who need regular care? Do you need to set up alternate arrangements for them?

    Are you healthy? Switching time zones a lot, and eating restaurant food half the time is hard on the body. Not to mention the extra airplane-air germs. You’ll figure out a routine and plan that works for you, but it really helps to be in general good health to start with.

    Hope that helps a bit!

    1. OP #5

      Thanks Jen for the insights! In a previous position I had to do a fair amount of travel but mostly within driving distance. My partner and I have been having long talks about this option since I was asked to apply, before even an interview. He’d be on dog duty; the plants have no hope. :-) My health so far is quite good…no long term meds or chronic conditions, but I know that can change. I’ll be checking into insurance and medical “what-ifs” while abroad (as another poster has suggested).

  7. the HR Cowgirl

    Great responses to a really wide variety of questions. I too found the first question quite odd, I’ve sat on and chaired a good number of selection panels and never thought to ask why the candidate was not getting job offers. This to me would be a red flag about that company.

  8. ConstructionHR

    #2. The small restaurant/bar business may be the worst run segment in America. A couple of guys who like to eat/drink get together, pool their money & open a place or two to make a quick buck.

    HR is there mainly to make sure they almost meet government standards for legal employment & payroll.

    Run. Now.

  9. G.

    #5 I’d ask about their travel policy – usually the travel times will eat into your weekends and public holidays and it would be good to know what (if any) compensation policy they have for that. Could be 1 extra free day for x nr of weekend days used for travelling.

    I would also ask about the daily allowance during travel. Sometimes it is a set figure and sometimes they reimburse food based on receipts. For that matter it would be good to get an understanding of what they will reimburse and if there is a limit. e.g., if the hotels have no fitness centre would they reimburse gym costs? daily newspaper? phone calls (international roaming is soooo expensive)? Internet in hotel?

    Another aspect is having global health insurance coverage and travel insurance coverage and a full understanding of what exactly they cover.

    Depends on how much time you spend out of US you might also need help with someone doing your tax returns. My company provided this service for me when I was abroad on assignment.

    You would also want to understand which countries you will be working at as some exotic location might need you to get vaccinations for which you might need several months to complete the vaccination programme. Also good to figure out it if this is covered by the company.

    Visas and other travel documentation is usually arranged by the company with minimal hassle to you but some embassies to require you to go there personally (for me to come to work in the US from Europe it took almost 2 full days at the embassy. My company considered these as work days and not my personal holidays. But the fact was that I was not able to work for 2 days in order to get travel documentation). I do not know whether the location where you are at currently has all the embassies or you would be required to travel in order to get your travel documentation. Again, usually this is covered by the company.

    Finally, it is good to understand whether you would be travelling/ working solo or with someone. Being in a foreign country for long periods of time alone (eating alone in the evening in restaurants, etc.) can take a toll.

    Otherwise I wish you good luck! I have lived in 7 countries over the last 10 years and it truly is an amazing experience!

    1. OP #5

      G., these are exactly the kinds of questions that I needed to know about. I had vague concerns about some of them, and you have stated them quite well. Thank you for your insights.

  10. Girl with a purple pen

    #5 I am in a somewhat similar circumstance- I am part way through a promising recruitment process for an overseas placement. The main differences between your situation and mine are; I am already an expat (in a country wholly difference from where the new job would be) so already experienced with living overseas, and the new job requires relocation- not frequent travel back and forth.

    I thought I would share with you some of the questions I have asked, lest they help you.

    1. What is the working relationship between the advertised position and their line manager? (My reasoning- I don’t want to go into a potentially isolated, high pressure working environment and deal with a micro-managing boss, or someone who is not a communicator. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask the person who I would be replacing this one.)

    2. How isolated is the workplace? Not only geographically, but socially? (My reasoning- I figured work-life balance is important and I wanted to assess the long-term feasibility of taking on this role.)

    3. What are likely to be the biggest challenges this position will face in the first 6 months? (My reasoning- similar to the last question, I wanted a clear idea of exactly what I was getting myself in to. I asked my potential line manager this one, inspired by what I have read here on AAM. I figure it shows I am really thinking through the commitment and looking for a good fit.)

    I know our situations are different, I hope you can get some use from my experience. :)

    I wish you the absolute best with your job application.

    1. OP #5

      Thank you for those considerations! These are all also going on my list of questions, especially the ones about challenges and isolation. :-)

  11. Anonymous

    #6 If you have an MA in English and want to teach then consider teaching English in other countries (largely the Asian ones). Unless there’s anything specific holding you where you are, then what you have would be ideal for that and it’s an experience that’s considered both decently paying and good for the resume.

    1. Shelley

      I have a few friends who have MA’s in teaching English as a second language. Both have cushy teaching jobs with Universities overseas, one in South Korea and the other in Quatar. You just have to be willing to live outside your comfort zone for a little while. But it’s a great way to make money and build up your resume and if you like to travel and are interested in new cultures it could be a fantastic opportunity. Another friend of mine taught in Korea for 5 years and came home and found a nice job with at the city University teaching English as a second language. With the economy the way it is right now, this could be a good option.

  12. Sabrina

    #2 I know in some Healthcare companies (and at least one insurance company I know of) there’s no such thing as a paid holiday. Even if you’re working an a 100% office position, if you want Christmas off, you have to use PTO. Whether or not you get “extra” PTO to cover those paid holidays is debatable. This is to make things a little more fair for the nurses or other people who have to work on holidays, so no one gets extra days off.

    1. KayDay

      Full disclosure, my experience in with places that don’t close on major holidays is limited to one retail position I have had, and two non-hospital health care workers I have known. But in all of these cases, my experience has been that the employers still offer a paid holiday, but instead of getting the day off, much of the staff has to work and gets double pay.

      1. Dan

        I’ve worked at a handful of different 24/7 operations that had to be open on holidays. I’ve never found a truly fair way to deal with holidays that recognizes the difference between those scheduled to work the day itself and those scheduled off. Although, TBH, I never thought the policies I had to work with are unfair, either.

        At one job I had, we were given time and a half for working the holiday. The last year I was there, corporate basically decided that they could unilaterally whack the holiday pay, and we’d just have to suck it up. Sucky thing is, because nobody quit, they were right.

    2. Chinook

      I am thinking that you need to check your state Labour laws to see if there is any information about state holidays. When I worked retail in Canada, I was paid extra for working stats or given a day of in lieu.

    3. -X-

      I’ve heard of this in very global companies, where they figure they should just be open all the time, and also respect their diverse staff’s different holidays by giving about ten days extra of PTO in exchange for no actual holiday closings.

    4. Anonicorn

      to make things a little more fair for the nurses or other people who have to work on holidays

      I don’t think it’s to make things more fair. It seems more like a way to save time/expenses on two different systems.

      I work for a hospital system. PTO accrues at the same rate for all employees (clinical & non) based on years of employment. But because most clinical staff are hourly with longer shifts, and can take on extra shifts, PTO actually works far more in their favor than salaried/office employees, who have to use their PTO (i.e. not a paid holiday) for all holidays in which the office is officially closed.

  13. Andre Munhoz

    Thank you for answering my question (# 7). In fact my idea is to make a presentation of my ideas for that job specifically, something to prove that I know why I’m seating there! Anyway, I appreciate your advice! Make something awesome is not a choice here, but a must!

    1. Tiff

      I had to do an interview presentation for the position that I hold now, and it was VERY intimidating! In my case, the presentation was my way of completing an assignment that was given by the hiring manager. I did some research on the organization and came up with some marketing/survey strategies for non-fee based customers. It was the first time I’d had to do anything like that, and the fact that I put together a presentation rather than just a handout was one thing that won over the hiring manager.

      Just wanted to let you know that a presentation done right really can have a positive impact. Good luck!!

      1. Andre

        Thank you Tiff. In fact, I did a presentation in a previous job, but that time (just like with you) the hiring manager asked me to do the presentation and assingned me with a topic. However, this time the presentation isn’t required, so I’m not quite sure if this is a good idea once I don’t have a specific topic in hands. I wrote here to find out whether this is a popular approach, but as I can see not many people do that! As I said, I might prepare the presentation more as a preparation for the interview and show the slides to the hiring manager only if appropriate.

  14. Brandy

    #7. I would advise caution on the presentation. If the marketing role is at say, a young hip startup looking for a marketing mgr with an eye for powerpoint and overall presentation skills, this may go over great (assuming you have a killer presentation). If it’s a more traditional company, you’ll want to perhaps have that presentation on hand, but not necessarily whip it out if you’re getting a very traditional vibe. My company, for example, would be far more interested in your industry experience, knowledge of key players and industry terms/buzzwords than your new ideas–though of course there would be an underlying assumption that you’re a dynamo at putting presentations together when other people are sending you the content at the last minute.

    In summary- know the company and know the role. Proceed with caution.

    1. Andre Munhoz

      Thanks for the tips Brandy. In fact, I’m applying at a medium size company that’s part of a major organization. Although it’s in the IT sector, the company seems to be quite traditional so I will take your advice and leave the presentation on the side until I feel fully confident that the recruiter is willing to go through the slides. Anyway, as I work on this presentation, I feel more confident to face this interview because now I have a much clear picture of what I want to/can do in my new job. Cheers!

      1. Brandy

        I’d also hold the slides until you get to the hiring manager. The recruiter won’t be in a spot to evaluate your new ideas.

        1. Andre Munhoz

          You know, I had my first interview over the phone with the HR Manager, now I have the personal interview with the department Director and the situation is like that. Both HR and director are in UK, but the position is to be filled in a second office in Europe, so the director will travel (alone) all the way to interview me and another bunch of candidates, so he’s the final decision maker. I mean, he should consult the HR manager but there will be no more rounds. If I want to show the presentation, this is the moment… Thanks again for your insights.

          1. AB

            Andre,

            I’m in IT and definitely agree with the advice to have the presentation ready to use if an opportunity arises. But listen first and get a sense of where the conversation is going, as it’s almost impossible to know whether this would be a good strategy or not.

            Being prepared, though, is always good ;-). Good luck.

            1. Andre

              Thank you for the advice AB! I still have another 2 weeks for this interview, so I’ll get this very well designed before the meeting and only show if I feel that it’s really worth it.

  15. Sharon

    #5: It’s within reason for you to ask for their published travel policy so that you can read through it. Along with things other people above have mentioned, you should also look for these policy details:
    * Do they allow you to fly business or first for flights over a certain length, or is that only allowed to high level executives. Companies have been tightening the purse strings lately, so many more people are having to fly coach internationally. If you can handle that and get your sleep on the plane so that you arrive at the client site ready to work, that’s fine. If you can’t physically cope with sardine class on long flights, then this is something you might want to negotiate.
    * What are the per diem rules for food, hotels, misc?
    * Will you be allowed to book your own flights and accomodations, or must you go through a booking agent? Generally if you can book your own, even through a corporate travel website, you’ll be better able to accommodate your own comfort. Booking agents tend not to travel as much as they probably should, so don’t always know if connections in various places are long enough or if a hotel is adequate. Especially if you’re female, you do NOT want to stay in dirty hotels or places with crappy security, and booking agents don’t always know these details about the hotels they put travellers in. Worse, they often fight you over it.
    * There’s much more, but I also recommend you log on to Flyertalk.com. The forum is populated by world travellers and primarily those who travel for business, so it’s a WEALTH of information and helpful people.

    1. Liz

      In addition, if they consider travel time as “work” time, you can make a better case for business class. Working in economy is almost impossible in many cases, particularly if the flight is over 6 hours (there may not be power outlets at your seat, for instance) but you can reclaim some of the travel time in business class to work on presentations, review literature, brush up on cultural expectations, etc.

  16. OP #5

    Sharon, I am female, so the considerations for clean and safe accommodations is an important one for me. I had thought that having someone book for me would be easier, but on second thought, your advice makes sense. And it sounds like flyertalk.com is just what I’ve been looking for. Thanks again!

    1. Editor

      #5: Find out if the employer keeps the frequent flyer miles or if they’re yours to use for upgrades or additional travel. If you have to book for yourself or charge to your own card, I would hope you get to accumulate and use frequent flyer benefits.

  17. Runon

    #1. It might also be worth mentioning that you have been selective about the jobs you’ve been applying for? I’m not really sure what kind of a question this is either. But if it is: why hasn’t this person been hired for any job then saying that you are really excited about this type of position and have focused on that. They might also be trying to ask without asking if you have had others things happening during the last year. (Like taking care of elderly parents/health issues/galavanting etc?)

    #4. I’m not sure if you are looking to start subbing as your paid job or not. If that is the case and the ESL has been volunteer teaching I think that you could go for more than one line since teaching is relevant to teaching, even if they are different types of teaching. (If that’s not the case then carry on with Alison’s suggestion.)

  18. Andre Munhoz

    #1. I’m actually curious to know how many times you faced this sort of question. I’ve never heard about it! Personally, I think that in the end the best is to tell them the true and say that you have no feedbacks from most of the employers and those that you have are not really clear on why exactly you were put on the side. But the other advices here that gives you an opportunity to fire them make are really good. I will also keep some of them in mind just in case come to a situation like that! Good luck!

  19. Andre Munhoz

    #2. For me, it’s clear that this HR director doesn’t have any power of decision. And plus, it seems that the HR director is not able to get quick answers from the owner. Imagine if you’ll have to go to your boss who has to go to the company’s owner (who should be very busy) to decide on every step of your daily work? I currently work in this sort of environment and can tell you: it’s very frustating! But if you really need this job, then it’s better go through this pain for some time than being with no job at all!

    1. ThatHRGirl

      I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t have any power of decision – it’s that she doesn’t know information that the (seemingly only) in-house HR rep should definitely know. Unless this lady just started and their haven’t been any holidays between her first day and now, she HAS to have been asked this question before…

  20. KC

    #6 –

    I have my BA in English Literature. 5 years out of college, I’m a software project manager.

    My first job out of college was writing SEO content for an ecommerce company. Glamorous? No. Did it pay well? No. However, that first position got my foot in the door and I sponged up as much as I could. After a steady rate of promotions, I ultimately ended up as a PM.

    My advice is this: don’t be afraid to take a job you might think is “beneath” you. In other words, don’t be afraid to take an HR Assistant role or an Admin Assistant role. That will get you into a business setting, which is important experience if you’re coming from Academia. Then just work your butt off trying to learn as much as you can about HR (if that’s your dream job), but I’d also be open to other jobs you might find you’re good at. As an English Lit MA, you’ve done a great deal of literary analysis. Being able to read between the lines and communicate clearly is worth a lot in the business world if you know how to leverage it.

  21. TychaBrahe

    Another important thing is how your travel time is handled.

    If you’re expected to fly on Sunday to work Monday through Friday and return on Saturday, how is your time in the air, which would normally be your personal time, handled? I used to work for a company where I was expected to work Friday and Saturdays on trips. I received a bonus day off for working Saturday.

    If the location was so far from the airport that I was unable to fly home Saturday and had to fly on Sunday instead, I was given an additional day off.

    At my present position I usually fly out Friday evening. If I have to fly on Saturday, however, I am not compensated for that time. Fortunately, it’s rare.

    Also, if you join a mileage program, do you get to keep your miles or are they transferred into a company pool? International miles add up quickly, and can be used for upgrades or airport club memberships, which can go along way toward improving your experience. I’ve never had to give up mileage credits, but I’ve heard of companies that do take them, aggregate them, and use them to pay for other employees’ travel. I’d hate that.

    1. OP #5

      Excellent consideration. I had assumed that it would be a comp-ish time, but I really do need to bring that up. The frequent flier perks would be another consideration as well.

  22. Joey

    #2. I think its a little weird the op is freaking out over paid holidays. I think its totally reasonable for it to be up in the air for a privately owned restaurant group. But pressing her for an answer a few hours after you emailed her? Frankly, I’d be worried I made a hiring mistake. So I really think its the employer who should be saying this whole exchange is a huge red flag. I bet this HR manager likely worked some holidays and hasn’t ever dealt with whether her admin staff would be required to.

    1. Yup

      I think it’s reasonable to want to know about holidays before accepting a job — as paid time off, that’s part of my benefits and compensation. Since every place I’ve ever worked in 15 yrs across multiple industries has had a standard “here’s the 2013 schedule of days closed for Country X,” I’d find it atypical if the HR office didn’t have that information close to hand. Not that I’d push them for an answer Right This Minute or see it as nefarious somehow, but as an applicant it would definitely catch my attention as something outside the norm.

      1. KayDay

        Yeah, I have a standard office job, and it actually wouldn’t have even occurred to me to ask about paid holidays since being required to work on a major holiday would be so far out of the norm, and I don’t really care if I get Columbus day off or not. I realize that the OP is in a different field, but I would still expect that HR would get major holidays off. Also, I think the OP is absolutely correct that it’s a bit concerning that HR doesn’t know what paid holidays are provided–that’s both something the HR should have easy access to and a completely normal thing to discuss with a new hire.

        That said, Alison and Joey are totally right that following up after only 4 hours is a bit rude. I would find the way-too-fast-follow-up concerning, but not the fact that the OP asked about holidays–that’s a good/normal question.

    2. Mike C.

      I’m not sure about how wanting to know about the terms and conditions of employment is “freaking out” nor why the answers couldn’t be delivered in a timely manner.

      1. Joey

        Emailing, then calling just 4 hours later because she hasn’t responded. Then pressing her for an answer when she already said she has to ask the owner. And you haven’t even started working yet? That qualifies as freaking out in my book.

        Not all companies, especially companies with small admin staff in an industry that may work holidays have this stuff worked out. I can totally picture a policy that doesn’t address hourly admin staff because they probably only have a couple of folks that fall into that category.

        1. Mike C.

          They should have this stuff worked out. Furthermore, the policy could be as simple as, “It depends on factors to be determined closer to the date”.

          I’m getting tired of having to excuse “small businesses” from not knowing basic things like, “offering paid holidays without knowing which ones they are”. The timeline itself is a questionable thing, but basic policies shouldn’t be.

        2. VintageLydia

          I’ll give you the calling 4 hours after an email is a bit aggressive, but this is absolutely something that should be known. They have a holiday payment policy, so they should also have an idea who in an office will have to work those holidays, if any. This is especially since the LW will be in the same department (and managed directly by) this HR manager. Even MORE especially since if any one person other than the owner who’d know whose job it is to know would be the HR manager.

          To me, it’s a major red flag. If it were any other department, I’d be with you. But HR? This is their job.

          1. VintageLydia

            Okay that one sentence was a total cluster… Forgive me. I’m typing from my phone.

          2. Joey

            Sorry, when small business owners are involved in the day to day operations there’s a different dynamic. If you’ve ever dealt with a small business owner you know these things can change depending on how well the business is doing. Small business owners are first entrepreneurs and second managers.

            1. Colette

              The owner of a small business has the ability to work whatever days/hours she wants – but it’s not reasonable to expect employees to do so. They don’t get the rewards if the business does well, and should not be expected to take a job without knowing what the actual compensation package (including days off) is.

              If the owner wants to offer bonuses, for example, those can be contingent on how the business does, but saying that “you may get holidays off depending on how the business does” is close to saying “you may get paid depending on how the business does”. If that’s truly the case, it needs to be spelled out before the potential employee takes the job.

            2. Mike C.

              Yes, I guess it’s totally impossible to write down a policy where certain benefits are determined at a later date based on specific criteria.

              I don’t understand how “being an entrepreneur” precludes someone from understanding the business sense of having clear terms and conditions for various company policies. Are they not accustomed to dealing with specific terms when selling their products/services and buying from landlords, banks and suppliers? What about payroll? Is that too something “entrepreneurs” are just too busy for? Health codes?

              I don’t buy this for a second, and I’m getting tired of hearing excuses. If employees are expected to behave themselves in a professional manner than so are employers. Having the HR department know and understand their own company policies is part of that.

              1. Joey

                C’mon mike,
                Small business owners are focused on making money. Deciding whether or not to pay for a couple of admin folks’ holiday pay for the rest of the year isn’t at the top of their priorities list.

                1. fposte

                  But they didn’t offer it as a benefit. The OP is asking if it’s possible that they do.

        3. Ann O'Nemity

          Joey, are you arguing that applicants should accept vague job terms and start working without even knowing what the compensation package entails? Because there is no way in hell that I’d accept a job offer when the HR manager and owner couldn’t answer basic questions about holidays.

          1. Joey

            No I’m only arguing that when you work for a small business this can be par for the course even in well run small businesses. Policies are structure and successful small business owners tend not to like structure. Working for entrepreneurs can be really rewarding, but if you like structure get used to disappointment. They like as few rules and policies as possible…….in general.

            1. Mike C.

              If the “structure” is so terrible, why did the employer bring up paid holidays in the first place?

              It doesn’t make sense to me to say, “Yes, we offer this benefit, but to tell you how it works would induce too much structure on the business and take away our inherent agility.”

              1. Joey

                , I noticed nothing was noted about paid holidays.

                Sounds like the op brought it up to me.

            2. Anonymous

              I actually know a sizable number of small business owners and entrepreneurs and this doesn’t jive with my experiences. The most successful ones actually do have a structure. When you’re managing many employees across multiple locations, you have to.
              According to the LW, the business isn’t that small and the HR director has been with it for years. She should know whether her own office closes for holidays because she’s been around for more than a few.

              1. Colette

                Yes, I’d understand it if this were the first employee other than the owner – but if they already have employees, this is a question they should have already worked out.

                I would argue that this kind of thing should be close to the top of the owner’s priority list if she wants to hire & retail good people. She needs to understand the business norms in her industry and understand what she can offer to attract good people. The kind of person who’d say “I don’t have time for this, I’ll work it out later” is not likely to be someone who will be a good employer (even though they may be an amazing entrepreneur).

            3. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’m going to agree with Joey here. This kind of thing isn’t uncommon at small businesses, and if the OP is bristling at it, it’s probably not a good fit.

  23. Seal

    #7: Are they specifically asking you to prepare a presentation? If not, how/where/when do you plan to actually give your presentation during your interview? Unless they told you to prepare a presentation as part of the interview process, trying to force one on them is a colossally bad idea. At a minimum, you will need access to a computer and projector. Most places will not have something like that readily available; even if they did, it takes time to load your slides. Even if you bring your own equipment (i.e. a laptop and mini projector), you’d still need time and a place to set it up. Either way, you will most likely make very bad impression on the interviewer, regardless of the content of your presentation. Don’t do it.

    1. Dana

      Hmmm, I disagree with this.

      My husband is in marketing and is at his current job because he blew away his interviewers with a presentation that he put togethr. He came to the interview having done his homework and thoroughly researching the role and the needs of the organization. He outlined for them what value he would add to the role with his skill set and put together an action plan he would implement based on their needs. This was done via a power point document he had cued up on his lap top, all he had to do was turn his screen toward the interviewer, no projectors or special equipment needed. When he sent his thank you e-mail he included a soft copy of the presentation with it. Neeless to say they hired him since he is currently empolyed there. Afterwards they told him they told that he was far and away the best candidate and they were very impressed with his ideas and his initiative.

      The caveat to this is you have to do thorough research and know what you are suggesting will be of benefit them. Additonally, know the company/industry, not all will be open to the suggestion that they have any processes anyone, let alone a candiate, can improve upon. Then again that would be a red flag to me.

      1. Andre

        Thank you Dana and Seal. It’s nice to hear two different opinions here. Depending on the result of this interview I might publish some comments on the Ask a Manager group on LinkedIn as a feedback in case you guys wish to know… Hope will be a positive one :)

        Seal, I don’t think that I will need so many equipments and I believe that turn on my lap top is not that complicated neither; however, I agree that since they did not clearly asked for a presentation, this strategy is quite risky and this is the reason why I wrote to this website in order to get some insights.

        Dana, interesting you mentioned that your husband’s employer was impressed by his initiative in making the presentation. Actually, this is another point mentioned on the job description. The ideal candidate should be able to work with minimum supervision and have initiatives. One thing that I forgot to say is that this vacancy is for a mid-senior level management position, so I believe that hiring managers at this stage expect from the candidate a minimum idea of what he/she is going to do in the job and I feel like that questions such as: “What would you do on your first day at work?” will come up. So, I think that having a presentation in hands on how I can handle this job would be good!

        What do you think? Any other insight from any other reader would be very appreciated! Thank you all!

        Andre

        1. Dana

          I would put the presentation together as long as you have something that you are confident will wow them.

          For example, ‘I’ve noticed you don’t have much of a social media presence, should I join your team this is something I’d like to focus on’. Then your prsentation would show illustrate your strategy and how you would implement it, perhaps how you did it at our last job and maybe some metrics to support your assertion that it was a worthwhile endeavor.

          If you get to the interview and get the sense the presentation won’t be welcome you don’t have to share it, but better to go in with the ace in your pocket.
          Good luck!

        2. KS

          I’m Director Level Marketing/Strategy at a SW Company. We ask that our candidates be prepared to present formally regarding “what they can bring”. More often than not the presentations are awful to average–so I want to echo, make sure you create something (all cap) INCREDIBLE.

  24. Joey

    #1. I’ve heard that question before. Personally I think its useless because you have no idea how credible the feedback is. I wouldn’t say lack of experience because frankly the feedback you’re getting is probably a standardized letter they give everyone. They’re not looking for soul searching, they’re looking for concerns they might not have identified themselves. I’d keep the responses generic, its only an opportunity to give them a reason to turn you down.

    1. Chriama

      I agree that this is a lame hiring question. To assume the best of the interviewers, I’d say that they’re trying to learn more about you as an applicant (i.e. what is your greatest weakness?) and as a person (i.e. do you take responsibility for your fate or do you blame it on circumstance) but are just going about the whole thing very clumsily.
      To assume the worst, I’d say they’re looking for reasons to lowball you on salary (but that’s a very cynical perspective, and it probably isn’t true).

    2. OP #1

      That’s what I figured – it could be any reason but I was just told “lack of experience.” These are entry-level positions, so isn’t lack of practical experience to be expected?

      I didn’t think of saying that the job market is tough these days. I guess I’m afraid of sounding snarky.

      1. Rana

        These are entry-level positions, so isn’t lack of practical experience to be expected?

        You would think, but if they can hire someone with it, they will. And these days, given the job market, a lot of entry-level applicants are people with experience.

  25. FormerManager

    #1 It could be that the fact you’ve been unemployed for a year is concerning to them. Have you been volunteering, taking classes, freelancing, etc? This way you can try to deflect the question (“I’ve been applying for positions in X industry and so far I’ve received fairly positive feedback from places I’ve applied. It’s a tough job market out there. Just recently, I was involved in X project for my professional association where I….”)

    1. OP #1

      I know it looks bad. I’ve done some volunteerwork but it’s not related to the field I’m applying for.

  26. KayDay

    #1 – that’s a weird question to ask. It’s not common for people to get specific feedback when rejected, and if someone did get truly helpful feedback, it’s unlikely they would want to share it.

    My best guess is that the OP looks very good on paper, and the interviewer is worried that they are hiding something that is the reason for them not being hired yet. Which is silly, because anyone who’s had any part in hiring knows that great candidates are rejected all the time. Not to mention, if the OP looked great on paper, but the other employers found out she was secretly a serial killer, it’s pretty ridiculous to think that the OP would just tell the interviewer that.

  27. Student Affairs

    Hey #6, I just thought I would throw out the idea of looking within higher education on the staff side of things rather than faculty. I work in student affairs and love that I get to work one-on-one with students (but there is no grading involved). You might look into academic advising, first-year-experience positions, or other types of student development/student-facing roles. These positions are often masters-only or masters-preferred, so your prior degrees would benefit you in this case. Communications offices at universities also tend to seek out English MA/BA folks as well. Anyway, good luck in your next steps!

  28. anongirl

    I’m at lunch and on my phone so sorry if I’m repetitive but it’s hard to read all the above.

    #1- I would never ask that to someone I interview and aam gave a good response, but that’s so not cool to ask IMO.

    #2- I don’t think it’s an odd question. If I’m going to take a job I should be presented with the salary and benefits (which include holidays) upfront. Instead it’s like they’re trying to hide something by not telling her. I’m sorry, an HR person should know the co policy on holidays unless she’s brand new.

    #6- honestly I doubt further education is gonna help much unless it’s very specific, like nursing. I know people with English degrees who work in marketing and as insurance underwriters. Technical writing positions might be another option. Instead of school, could u try to find part time or freelance work doing this stuff on the side to add to your resume? Or see if there are any volunteer organizations in need of help.

  29. Diane

    #6: More education or training without some experience and context isn’t going to make you more appealing. You can take steps to get experience and show how your education and skills transfer. Do informational interviews, volunteer, and focus on jobs that have some chance at leading to the positions you want. I think this is true for any transition: show the employer what you can offer, be willing to learn, and work your way up.

    I have an MA in English, and after adjuncting and taking on special projects, I transitioned to fundraising and grants. My first employer took a chance that if I could teach writing, I could write, and she could teach me the specifics of my field.

  30. OneoftheMichelles

    To #1
    Could these interviewers be hinting that a previous employer is reporting something negative/reference is saying something unflattering that you need to know about? It *is* a weird question–maybe you just got a couple weird interviewers in a row.

  31. Long Time Reader

    To OP #1:

    I have been unemployed for about 10 months and I interviewed a few weeks ago. I had a similar experience and it was completely unsettling. I actually felt defeated the rest of the interview. It made me start to pick myself apart because I did everything I could to remain at my last company and I’ve put forth a ROBUST job search.

    The interviewer asked me:

    1) Have you been looking for jobs? (seriously?!?!)

    2) Why do you think you weren’t hired full time by your past employer? (i completed three internships and two contract positions for the same educational organization and it was all dependent on program funding .. no funding/space = no job, so I was laid off)

    3) Why did your jobs end? Did you get anxious and leave? (no I’m not a job hopper, i actually held on for dear life but to no avail)

  32. CommColl

    You know, BA to MA to AA might not be such an odd choice. I work at a community college, and we have lot of college graduates come through our programs (and necessarily for a full AA, but for a certificate or other such credential) to get a specific skill set to help improve their employment chances. There are a couple of articles out about community colleges as a cheaper alternative to grad school.

  33. Anonymous

    #5 – Ask where you will likely be traveling. “International” is very broad and difficult to give advice on.

    The basic questions to start with are: how long are the trips, and how often. Usually they give you travel as a percent of your time – but there is a huge practical difference to 50% that involves moving someplace for 6 months vs. 50% travel that involves going someplace every other week for a year.

    Then ask them some practical questions about how travel is handled. Will someone else be arranging your trip details (an admin or travel agency)? It’s quite time-consuming to do that kind of work yourself, especially if you’re going someplace that is new to you. What’s the general process & timeline for money (reimbursements & reservations)? It’s not common, but on rare occasions companies will try to sucker employees into bearing more of these costs than one might expect (I once had to front two month’s salary for a trip, and it took >3 months to get it reimbursed – I don’t work for those guys any more).

    These are some things to think about (not to ask your interviewer, necessarily). If you are a woman, you need to recognize that you will be treated differently, even in very “civilized” parts of the world. You will be treated like utter crap outside of the “civilized” world. If you are not white, you will be subject to much stronger racial stereotyping than you are inside the US in virtually any other country. If you are white, you will be subject to strong racial stereotyping anywhere outside of Europe, the US, and Canada. It might be worth asking yourself if you are prepared for that in a job. I have a job with international travel, and I am a woman. I’m in Europe with my boss for a conference right now, and my boss has been told (twice!) by random street vendors that he must buy me flowers during our business dinners. Fortunately, my boss has handled it as well as can be expected, but hopefully you get my point – that is one of my milder storied. I love my job, but the downsides of international travel can be a bit off-putting at times and I’m sure others would find them intolerable.

    Questions you can ask your interviewer about foreign travel – get an idea of their business ethics. It is more common in some countries to do things like offer bribes (phrase the question to be less direct, don’t inadvertently imply that they engage in bribery). Will they stand with you if you have a culture-related problem with an international client, or are you expected to kowtow despite ridiculous demands or bad treatment.

  34. Manda

    I’m glad to see that #1 is an odd question. I’ve always hoped that interviewers wouldn’t care where else I had applied or why I wasn’t hired.

  35. books

    re #3, I had this happen to me when I was finishing grad school. The position had been floated, hadn’t been listed and I talked extensively w/recruiter, she had me talk with hiring manager, then I failed their “test.” If that’s the way a company operates, then you may not want to be involved.

    Is this a well-known polling organization by any chance?

  36. W.W.A.

    It’s horrible that people told #6 that a master’s degree in the humanities would help them find a job. But it’s not surprising. I will assume these advice-givers are in academia. In my experience, people employed full time in academia really have no idea how to get a job right now in their own field.

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