short answer Saturday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

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

1. Supplying past performance reviews when applying for a job

I’m in the process of applying for a new job — my current position may be eliminated soon due to budget cuts, but even if it wasn’t, I’ve concluded that my current boss and I are not a great fit, and, while I’m very passionate about the large nonprofit I work for, I’m not that passionate about the work of this particular department.

Last year was a rough year for me. It was my first year in my new role, and someone unexpectedly quit, and I had to take on her responsibilities as well as my own until we could find a replacement, which took about 9 months. I did the best I could under the circumstances, but I didn’t receive the usual glowing performance reviews I’ve received from previous bosses. I’m OK with that: it was a growth year, and I’m willing to take that on the chin and try to do better this year.

Here’s the problem: I’m applying for positions within my current organization, and many of the hiring managers are asking for copies of my previous performance reviews. How do I — or should I — talk about my most recent review and explain the somewhat extenuating circumstances? I’m worried that this review — which was not terrible but not great — could damage my chances for consideration, but that saying something about my review proactively could make me look defensive. I wish I could send only 2010 and 2011, but I think that would look even more suspicious.

Provide 2010 and 2011, and say something like, “2012 was a tough year because I was doing the work of our vacant X position as well as my own for 9 month. I’d be glad to send it if you’d like to see it too, but there were unusual circumstances that year, and the review isn’t in line with the other two.” By the way, keep in mind that they’re likely to talk to your current boss at some point since you’re all in the same organization together, so if you think that might be a problem, make sure you’re applying for positions outside your organization too. (In fact, do that regardless, just so you have as many options as possible.)

2. Explaining a 2-year gap after a layoff

How do you respond when you’re asked why you have a gap of approximately 2 years in your employment record? I was laid off from a company I worked at for almost 14 years and have been unsuccessful in gaining full-time employment in my field. Is there a “proper” way to explain what was not in my control?

“I was laid off in 2011, and have been taking my time to make sure I find the right position.” Or if that’s going to sound/feel disingenuous, “I was laid off in 2011 — not a great time to be laid off!” If you were part of a larger layoff (such as a whole department cut or dozens of people), mention that too.

3. I can’t get enough hours at my job

I’ve been working at a grocery store for the past three years now and have been having troubles maintaining even semi-reasonable hours. After the first 8 months or so, I had asked what I could do to obtain more hours and even offered to train in other positions to become a better asset to the company/get more hours. In response to my request, my boss had simply said I was the “lowest on the totem pole,” which I thoroughly understood and so I backed off.

In the past three years, two people in my department have left and three have been hired, leaving me higher on the totem pole, or so I thought. A year ago, I had to pick up another part-time job to cover my living expenses due to the lack of hours, which I just quit due to many reasons. And even though I had asked for more hours, I was denied, even though the newer employees were maintaining regular hours, all of which were more than mine (they were averaging 25-40 and I was getting 10-15). I feel like I pull my weight and even pick up shifts when people call in or need me. Last year, I went three weeks without hours and didn’t get any until I had applied for part-time unemployment (which was accepted but I didn’t follow through because I got some hours when my boss noticed). I’m not quite sure what to do other then look for other work. I’ve noticed that I am the only employee working there who is under the age of 25; most employees are 30-60 (mostly 50-60). I have done nothing to show I am incompetent and am wondering if I am being discriminated against due to my age. What did I do and what can I do in my position?

It’s time to find another job. This one, for whatever reason, isn’t giving you the hours you need. You’ve asked, it’s been three years, and you’re not getting the hours. So it’s time to find another job and move on.

4. Reapplying for a job after moving closer to the area

I applied for a job back in November and didn’t hear back. Currently, I live about an hour (in traffic) away. In two weeks, I will be moving 15 minutes away from the area and I’ve just seen the job re-posted on Craigslist for the first time since I applied back in the fall Can I reapply and put a sentence in my cover letter that I will be living in the area in May? Obviously, I could have been rejected for 20 other reasons, but I’m wondering if it’s worth a shot or if a hiring manager would find that Super Annoying?

Yes, go ahead and reapply; it’s been five months, after all. And yes, mention in both your resume (under your contact info) and your cover letter that you’ll be living in the area in May.

5. Helping someone get hired with a language barrier

I work in an employment center helping people find employment. One particular client poses a challenge. She is from Bulgaria and moved here a couple years ago. Unfortunately, she has been somewhat isolated, which has impeded her learning English efficiently, but we can communicate as she has picked up quite a bit. She sometimes uses a translator app on her phone for words she doesn’t understand. She volunteers for me now to get exposure and learn. In the time that she has volunteered, she has learned very quickly and I am very surprised about how well she learned how to assist my administrative duties, i.e. data entry, so quickly. She was an accountant for many years and has a good professional work history in her home country.

I’m currently assisting her with developing a resume and cover letter so that she can get a job. How can she communicate to employers that she may have some language barriers, but has lots of other great skills? Any tips or help would be great as I would like to help her as much as I can.

She’s going to be at a disadvantage because she’ll be competing against candidates with similar qualifications but no language barrier, so her best bet might be to network as much as possible — join local organizations relevant to her field, volunteer, and do other activities to expand the pool of people who know her and her work. That way, she’ll have a better chance of finding someone who isn’t daunted by the language barrier and wants to hire her because they have rapport or she’s a known quantity.

6. Should upper management see the results of 360 evaluations?

360 reviews are periodically done on the top level managers at my job. The problem is, it does not seem like anything is done with the results. The review assigns a numerical score and lists all written feedback provided by employees at all levels. Someone independent of our organization discusses the results with the employee, and the numerical score is forwarded to upper management. Apparently upper management is only concerned if the numerical score is below a certain number.

I think that our upper management should be made aware of all feedback provided in the review so they can get a clear picture of the manager’s effectiveness. I just found out that my boss historically doesn’t do well on his 360s, and he is probably one of the worst bosses I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if his score ever fell below the threshold, but I know he’s received less than favorable written feedback. (Favoritism is a big problem in our office, he routinely lashes out at employees because his home life less than ideal, he doesn’t give staff resources needed to complete tasks despite having the resources to do it). Lower level employees like me don’t have a good mechanism voice these concerns with management. Going to HR isn’t a good option because he might fly off the handle if he found out someone complained about him (trust me, he recently flipped out after he found out a matter was escalated).

What are your thoughts? Should the results of 360 reviews be kept somewhat confidential like their being kept at my job? Should the higher levels be made aware of all comments so they can take care of any problems?

Unfortunately, the upper level managers at your organization aren’t interested in seeing the feedback, or they would ask for it. They certainly know they could if they wanted to.

There are a few times when it makes sense to go over your boss’s head (described here), but working for a company where the management doesn’t care to hear employees’ feedback isn’t generally one of them.

{ 31 comments… read them below }

  1. Another Evil HR Director*

    #2: Most companies are going to understand being layed off, and the time it can take to find employment again. The key is talking about what you’ve been doing in the interim to maintain, and grow, your skills. Did you take any classes? Volunteer? Relate those to your field and the postion for which you’re applying. Good luck!

  2. Malissa*

    #5–Are you any where near me? I’d love to hire someone who has a good accounting history and the demonstrated ability to learn quickly.

    Seriously I am stressing over finding a qualified replacement.

  3. Charlotte*

    #3- age discrimination only applies if you’re over 40. For better or worse, not giving you enough hours is typically a retailer’s clever way of saying they’re just not that into you. Allison’s right; just look for another job.

      1. Jessa*

        This. I mean once you start to hit the seniority, if you’re not getting hours, it’s a message. Maybe you’re older, maybe you cost too much (you might have a higher salary point or a benefit they no longer give to new people.) But they are clearly trying to run you out.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. The manager probably won’t give feedback and actually “manage” OP, so would rather try and get her to leave on her own.

      My husband’s aunt and sister both work for a grocery store that was taken over by another about two years ago. As soon as the one year anniversary of the sale arrived, all the workers from the previous store were given 10-15 hours a week, max. They had been working more than 30 per week up until that point. This forced many to leave, which we believe was the intention. The aunt was able to get back to her regular schedule as she was a veteran of the previous store and was entitled to no less than 30 hours per week. My sister-in-law, however, still works 10-15 hours a week and can’t get any more hours. She’s looking elsewhere now.

    2. Construction HR*

      Illegal age discrimination can occur over 40, she still could be cut back because of her age.

  4. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    Regarding #3, yeah, if they’re not giving you hours, it means they’re giving them to other employees that they think are better. You don’t have to be bad for this to be the case, other people just have to be better. Its also possible that your boss just doesn’t like you personally. Upside: at least, in my experience, service sector jobs rarely call old jobs for references, so just look for another gig.

    For #5, I recommend she volunteer by providing accounting services for non-profits, if she is able to. I assume that GAAP are pretty standard across the world, and a lot of small non-profits can’t afford quality services that could save them a lot of money or admin time. Plus, networking. Good luck!

  5. Anonymous*

    For OP#3. Yep. Time to move on. This is the world of retail. Do not dwell to much on this- you probably just wore the wrong color socks one day and they decided they were just ” not into you”.

    Speaking from experience: If you did get that increase in hours the next thing they do is give you the hours no one wants. So you end up with working to 11 pm and coming in at 7 am the next day. How many times can you do that in one week? And if you have a problem with that the answer is “too bad, how sad”.

    And what other posters are saying is true. It is underhanded also. Retailers will make a person uncomfortable until they leave. Get what you can out of the job- can you get a good reference? Can you find people who will tell you about other job openings? Definitely look to see if you have unused vacation time, they should pay you for it even if you do not use it before you quit.

    Conversely, just as an option you could tell them that you would be interested in working one day a week. This will give you a small check that could supplement your new job. For example: If you found a job that was M-F, you could tell the grocery store you are interested in working just Saturdays.

    Take one last look before you quit and see if there is any way that you can leverage this job to help yourself. But do not let this job be a downer for you. It’s not worth it.

  6. darsenfeld*

    Number 6 – It’s probably that your senior management is not competent.

    Performance appraisal results really should be confidential, with an employee, his or her line manager and HR knowing the results. Performance management, per HR theory anyhow, is a cycle with the appraisal being the end-point of a given cycle. However, if there is no follow-up/coaching or goals set subsequent to an appraisal, then as said your senior management are not up to scratch.

    It could also be that your poorly performing manager is a friend of the CEO or high-ranking VP or something, or such persons simply don’t care about his poor performance, since they think they’re not directly affected by it.

  7. Corporate Drone*

    Regarding #1, I recently had an HR recruiter inquire about my most recent performance review, my rating, and what areas of improvement were noted. I find this question both inefficient and silly. What does one company’s/manager’s performance review have to do with another’s? Every company is different. And I can’t imagine that anyone is going to answer that with “oh I was told I need improvement, and they have me on a PIP.” At my company, everyone gets a 3. How is that relevant to another company?

  8. Agig*

    5. Helping someone get hired with a language barrier

    I’ve been put in a similar situation as the OP here. I’m assuming that your client speaks her native language fluently? If so, what about positions that look for candidates who speak a certain language or using that skill as a positive rather than something that holds her back.

    1. Carrie*

      We are in Oklahoma, she is from Bulgaria….not much of a Bulgarian culture here and really difficult to find employers specifying anything other than bilingual/Spanish.

  9. EngineerGirl*

    #1 – There is an art to writing up self-assessments on performance appraisals. If you do it correctly it makes it harder for a poor boss to arbitrarily rate you. It also documents what you did that year.

    For your sake, it would have been reasonable to write:
    “Started my new stretch assignment in X. Accomplished Z, W, and M while at the same time taking on the responsibilities of (list coworkers tasks) for 9 months while the company searched for a replacement worker.
    Accomplishments should be specific, and they should show value. “Created processes and checklists that reduced rework of our (product) from 80% to 5% within a 6 month period”

    Even if your boss gives you a bad review, the facts listed in your performance appraisal can’t be argued with. So if you get a bad review because your boss hates you it becomes obvious that it wasn’t your performance. When you write things as above, your boss is forced into specifically rebutting what you wrote or look political.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      And if your boss likes you, specific accomplishments like above gives your boss silver bullets so that s/he can fight for you for raises, promotions, etc. Because your boss will have to justify these things to upper management. Giving specifics makes it easy for everyone.

  10. EngineerGirl*

    BTW, I might disagree with Alison’s advice on #1. I would supply the performance review and let them know I was on a stretch assignment while covering for an absent worker. That means you were overcoming 2 big obstacles (learning curve, heavy distracting work load) and still able to achieve OK results. It would have been better to achieve good results, (that is a big WOW, they did all that?), but I still think it can be characterized in a positive manner.
    Leaving the bad review out would be a red flag for me. I would wonder if the OP would be the kind of person to hide negative information. In my business, that is a bad thing because the sooner you know bad info, the sooner you can correct it.

  11. Anony1234*

    #3 – Since you’re in a grocery store, you are probably a union member, right? If this is the case, would it be possible for you to go to your shop steward and either ask for advice or ask them to intervene on your behalf? If you are now higher up on the totem pole, and the people who came in after you are working more, you may be able to fight that. Furthermore, if there is a union, and they are not union members yet – as there is usually a probationary period before they get initiated – you might be able to say that non-union members are working union hours.

    The part that irritates me is when you had three weeks without hours. If you are in a union, I’m sure you got three weeks of extra union dues taken out of your paycheck the next time you had hours. I know when I go on vacation without pay, my union is ready to take out that week’s dues even though I wasn’t there to earn any money (and dues are taken out in every week as every week we get paid).

    But if you don’t get a backing there, then do as Alison says and move on. I would keep this job for the time being while you are looking – even if you just go over to the competitor grocery chain for the time being.

  12. Anonymous*

    Also look into jobs that advertise for proficiency in other languages even if the position isn’t asking about Bulgarian. These places might have experience with people where English is their second language, or are just looking for people have shown they can learn another language. I don’t know how close Bulgarian is to other languages in the Slavic group, but can she recognize written words in another related language? Also does she know any other languages? Even it it’s something simple like “My name is” or “How are you” a multinational company might find this a plus. All of these are things she could list in her cover letter.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Bulgarian is similar to Russian, at least. I don’t know how it goes the other way around, but my friend got along in Bulgaria using Russian.

    2. Anonymous*

      One thing that caught my eye about the letter is “I am very surprised about how well she learned how to assist my administrative duties, i.e. data entry, so quickly.”. If OP didn’t even realize how a foreign-trained Accountant could be good at data entry (efficiency and attention to detail is, of course, very important in both), then how could they expect to “sell” the candidate to employers?

      1. -X-*

        ” then how could they expect to “sell” the candidate to employers?”

        By knowing those traits now.

        1. Carrie*

          I’m learning more about her everyday. I was surprised at how well she was able to read things in English which is much better than her ability to communicate in English.

      2. Jen in RO*

        As a non-American with acquaintances who immigrated to Western Europe/US/Canada and had to spend months, if not years proving that they really do have a degree and they really do have the professional skills… that line saddened me a bit. I don’t have first-hand knowledge of foreign education systems and I’m sure that there are big differences between the Bulgarian and the American one, but it was pretty obvious to me that a trained accountant is a person who can do way more than data entry.

        Seconding the suggestions to get this person some language training. I’m sure that, if she spoke better English, it would have been much easier to her to communicate her skills and there would have been no surprise that she is a detail-oriented person.

      3. Anonymous*

        I took it to mean as the person was better than just copying something, as they truly understand what the data entry was about. There are people whose English is their first language, who suck at data entry. It IS more than just copying something in a form. I think the OP doesn’t realize that a lot of time people read/write much better than they speak another language. (and OP cared enough to write AAM so they’re at least trying to help this person out. Reading the comments might also show the OP their subtle . . . disrespect for their volunteer)

  13. Jaclyn*

    #5 – I highly recommend the nonprofit org Upwardly Global as a great resource for immigrant job seekers with professional backgrounds in their home countries. I volunteer with them, and they do a great job in helping immigrants learn how to network and prepare for interviews in the US.

    1. AB*

      Upwardly Global looks like a good idea, Jaclyn.

      OP#5: It’s nice of you to want to help this person, but in addition to helping with her resume, I’d talk to her re: getting serious about learning English.

      I say that as a (legal!) immigrant. My family came to the U.S. because my father received a 2-year assignment here, and at the time both my mother and I could speak very little English, but there was PLENTY of opportunities to learn for free, if you only put the effort. If you look around most cities in the U.S. offer free nightly courses that you can take to gradually improve your language skills. You can also volunteer at places that require lots of communication with English speakers, and listen to Voice of America (they have some programs with words enunciated slowly and clearly for learners) while reading the transcripts. It can be very time consuming and tasking to one’s brain to make the effort to become fluent in another language, but if you don’t push yourself, you get stuck in a plateau that limits your professional (and personal) opportunities.

      I have some friends living in the U.S. for many years, stay at home moms with husbands earning 6-figure salaries who speak so little English that they need a translator when they take their kids to the doctor. I’m not trying to imply that the OP’s friend is being lazy, but my friends’ experience taught me that if you don’t seriously apply yourself, it’s very easy to get stuck in a low level of fluency and forever continue to need to rely in mobile apps and translators to fully communicate.

  14. CS*

    #5 – I had a co-worker in an engineering company who is afraid to speak English despite the fact that she had been in the country for 10+ years and earned her university degrees here. My workers, my boss and I had difficulty understanding her. She got the job because her boyfriend knew my boss.

    Other than the language barrier, there was a cultural barrier. She brought up questions about salary *frequently* with me. In addition, she emphasized more than once that she had a PhD in a respectable school. (I don’t have a PhD. PhD in engineering is not necessary but it’s nice to have in the position.) Last but not least, she’d bluntly ask highly personal questions about my family.

    OP #5, tell your client to learn English and get familiar with the typical workplaces’ culture. I’m not just talking about signing up for English classes and job-search workshops. She’s doing a good thing by volunteering for you. As other commenters said, listening to radio shows regularly helps. In addition, go talk to a career counsellor specializing in foreign-trained individuals. She may be surprised in how her skills in the native country are useful here.

  15. Mouse Racer*

    #1. Thanks for the advice. You know, I always thought of performance reviews as a recording of an honest (and more or less private) conversation between manager and employee. Going forward, I think I’ll be much more resolute about making sure that my review is a truly accurate picture of my work during the year. And maybe stop proactively acknowledging my shortcomings, since this is going to be a public document (at least internally).

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