short answer Saturday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. Applying for jobs that require advanced degrees when I don’t have one

I did not go to grad school for the kinds of reasons you cite in your writing. Is it appropriate to apply for a job that lists an advanced degree as a requirement if I think my job experience qualifies me for the position? If so, is that something I should address directly in a cover letter?

Sure, you can absolutely do that, as long as it’s not a job that absolutely requires a graduate degree (as some do, like some teaching jobs, for instance, or practicing law). Some employers will consider you and some won’t, but there’s nothing wrong with trying, particularly if you’re highly qualified aside from the degree.

2. Should I stay or should I go?

I’ve been working in a large nonprofit university for the past two years. I came on as an assistant and have been working here, heart and soul. I’m going to be finishing my Master’s degree this May and have a lot of technical experience as well. My problem is, I want to stay at my organization and can’t seem to find growth opportunities. Because of recent restructuring, I now have three supervisors in this department and this means three times the responsibility. They don’t need to manage me because I work independently and they know Ill get the job done.

I’ve been looking for other jobs at the company (the benefits are amazing, its prestigious, and other locations have excellent cohesive departments-so it seems) but can’t seem to find any. Should I start looking elsewhere? The growth I was promised when I started isn’t coming and it’s kind of a “boys club” department so I doubt they’ll try hard to make it happen, no matter how much they compliment my work (reluctantly I might add). I worry I may have to start over again and I don’t want to do that. I want to grow in college administration but I fear I’ll be stuck here as an admin forever. I’ve followed your amazing blog, presented really thought out projects with business proposals, attend networking events, etc. Should I stay or should I go?

I’d work from the assumption that nothing there is going to change since so far all signals point that way, and decide what you want to do with that knowledge. Are you willing to stay there for the next few years, without any promotion? If not, then yes, start looking around at other places.

3. Asking about what a post-service-year job offer might look like, without committing to taking it

The job I have now is not actually a job, but a “service year”, which means that I have a specific period of time that I am working with my organization (very tiny nonprofit). When my term of service ends in August my position is turning into a full-time staff position, and I have all but been offered the job. My supervisor has said “I hope you’re considering staying on” directly to me. So, it seems like they will offer me the position, but there has been no “official” offer.

I’m not actually sure that I want to take the job. Maybe I just have “grass is greener” syndrome, but I’ve been thinking of looking for other jobs when my service ends. I work with a bunch of really nice people, but I am the youngest person by 30 years. I also sometimes feel that this position isn’t really right for me. I’m in a very direct service role but what I’m really interested in is more indirect service. It’s not like I struggle to do the work, I just feel like I could really shine in a different role.

I’d like to have a frank discussion with my supervisor about pay, benefits, vacation time, etc. before it’s too late for me to start searching for other jobs. Ideally, if I’m going to leave at the end of my service year, I’d like to have another job lined up. I’m not worried about looking like a job-hopper, because people in the nonprofit industry would understand by looking at my full job title why I only stayed for a year. So, do you have any suggestions about how to approach my supervisor about this? She is a pretty understanding person, so I’m not afraid of her flying off the handle or of being prematurely terminated. I’m more concerned about coming across like I’m only interested in what they can offer me, or that I don’t like the job and won’t be as committed if I stay on for another year.

Say something like this: “I really appreciate your mention that I might be able to continue in a full-time position after August. I know there are no guarantees of that at this point, but since I’m starting to think about making plans for that time, I wonder if you can talk to me about what the offer would look like if you did make one, as far as what the job would look like, the likely salary range, etc.” And you can either ask her about benefits or ask any coworker, since benefits are usually the same across the board, at least for junior level jobs.

If during the course of this conversation, she basically makes you an offer, it’s fine to just thank her, explain that you’ve only just started to think about what you’d like to do in August, and ask if you can have some time to think about your options.

4. Answering questions about when I could start a new job

I am currently job searching while still working a job. As I fill out applications, I get the standard “When can you start?” question. My honest answer is “After I give my current job my two weeks notice.” I make it clear that I would leave my current job if offered a new job, so it seems “after two weeks notice” would be the obvious answer. But is that too vague an answer to put down on an application or is that acceptable?

That’s totally fine and normal.

5. Why was this interview so unthorough?

I’ve come to expect a kind of grilling at interviews, but recently I’ve gone to interviews where I was asked almost no questions. At a recent interview, most of the time was spent with the interviewer talking about the position and then me taking him through my resume. He asked questions about particular parts of my resume (but they were fact-based questions about what I did and not behavioral). It was almost too casual for a formal interview.

I’m applying to entry-level positions, so part of me thinks they might just be trying to figure out if they like me personally, since my experience is pretty limited. What do you think of this interview style? Is it related to the fact that I’m interviewing for entry level positions? Am I right in thinking it was more about fit and personality than relevant experience? I’ve had these types of interviews when I knew the interviewer previously, but I had never met this man before.

He’s probably just an unskilled interviewer. They are legion.

6. Part 2 of question #5

I have a different question relating to the same interview above. The interviewer spent a large part of the beginning talking about the position and company, and I asked questions throughout this time. Then we did the whole resume walk through and question period, and then at the end of the interview he asked if I had any questions. I said I had none because they were already addressed at the beginning. He gave me a bit of a weird look, so I’m wondering if I should have asked additional questions, but really, we spent such a large time talking about the position and company at the beginning that I was all out (although I probably could have made up a few about culture and whatnot).

If it was truly a conversational back-and-forth, then I can understand feeling like everything you were prepared to ask had already been answered … but I always wonder how it can really be when someone says they were left with no questions. This is, after all, a job that you’d be spending 40+ hours a week at for potentially years. When you think about the enormity of what you’re potentially signing up for, do you really have no other questions that you’re wondering about the work, the culture, the expectations, the management?

7. Should I contact this employer again?

I applied to a job almost three and a half weeks ago. The day after I applied, they called me after 5:30 pm and left a voice mail. I called back the following day (after 5:00 pm because it’d be difficult to call earlier and I thought it’d be okay since they called me late) and left them a message. I called again (earlier) the next day after that, and they answered, but had to go to a meeting and said they’d call me back. They didn’t call me back. I then had a medical emergency that I didn’t recover from for three weeks, so I wasn’t able to call back again myself. Should I call them and explain I’m still interested but couldn’t call sooner because of a medical emergency? Should I just apply again if I see them posting a similar position? Am I too much of a nuisance at this point for them to want to deal with me?

There’s no reason you need to explain not calling them back; you made the last contact, so the ball was in their court. You can certainly follow up again, but it sounds like at this point they’ve probably moved on with other candidates (which isn’t your fault for not calling them back, because you did). You can definitely apply again in the future though.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*


    I’m really confused at what you’re looking for here, and furthermore, surprised that AAM let this one go so easily.

    I’ve been in the work force full time for, ugh, 12 years now. I’ve been at my first “professional” job for the last 4.5. I will tell you that without a doubt, the absolute best interviews are conversations, where I walk through the accomplishments I have on my resume. The absolute worst ones are interviews where the interviewer could ask me those questions without even looking at my resume.

    I guess I’m confused as to what you’re questioning. By your own admission, you’ve got limited experience, so you can only guess at answers to most other questions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just asking questions about her resume isn’t enough though. A good interviewer would be really probing into her past experience, going well beyond just what’s on her resume.

    2. OP5/6*

      It was strange because usually my interviews have involved a section where I go through my resume and then after that I’m asked more inquisitive/behavioral questions to gauge how I’d handle certain situations. Obviously, the questions I get asked aren’t technical (because I lack experience), but they usually ask how I handled certain situations like having a strained relationship with a coworker or not being able to meet deadlines or something like that. This interview felt more like I was meeting the interviewer for coffee to learn more about the position than that he was actually trying to evaluate my suitability. I’ve had several interviews like this and I was starting to wonder if this is some kind of trend where the interviewer is just trying to get to know me by way of informal conversation.

      1. Kou*

        I had three rounds of interviews identical to yours for my current position. I had never experienced it either, and really didn’t know how to take it. The director said they knew I was qualified from my resume, so from that point they’re just looking for fit, looking to see how I react to their depiction of the position and the company to see if it’s the kind of job where I would thrive. He really emphasized the two-way-street interviewing, wanting to make sure I also wanted to be here. Apparently the 5 people I interviewed with unanimously listed me as their first choice, and now that I work here I get it– the culture fit is perfect, and all my coworkers have similar work styles so we all fit together really well.

  2. quix*

    #6. When you talk about being surprised at not having questions given the scale of the decision, I think about the kinds of questions you can ask. It seems like more of an issue of playing the interview game than seeking information. The stuff you care about, the pay the benefits, whether your manager will be a monster, whether your co-workers will be tolerable, whether your work will be appreciated, and the other questions that really determine whether you’ll have a positive experience in the enormity you’re signing up for are either not appropriate to ask at this time, not appropriate to ask ever, or are unlikely to result in useful information.

    Having interesting questions seems more like an exercise in displaying you know interview protocol than seeking useful information about the position. Generally the stuff that they know about the job and are willing to tell you at the interview stage have already come out over the course of the interview. What the work is like, what the opportunities for advancement are, whether your priorities and work style will fit – all typical subjects during the interview.

    It’s a rare interview that the ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ at the end doesn’t read as ‘We’ve covered all the relevant information we can share. Now show me you know how to close an interview.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not with the right jobs and the right interviewers, no. Some of this is admittedly a function of experience — people new to the workforce generally don’t know what to ask and do treat it as an exercise in impressing the interviewer. But that’s not the way to do it, and if you encounter an interviewer who wants that, it’s a red flag.

      1. Kou*

        The conversational interviews I’ve had, though, we genuinely covered everything I could think of by the time we got to that. They had made a point to try to tell me everything I might want to know before then, and I had asked questions to clarify as we went along. By the end I didn’t have anything left. The only things not covered were all offer-stage questions that you wouldn’t want to drag up in the first interview anyway.

    2. Joey*

      Nope. Aren’t you interested in asking the interviewer anything at all you can’t get from the web?

      I just hired a few interns and it was actually a little pleasantly surprised one asked me “so why do YOU like working here?” Simple question, but I basically answered all of the questions you wish you could ask, but didnt.

      1. Jen in RO*

        On the other hand, my lead lead was hiring someone last week and she was annoyed when a candidate asked her that question. (I don’t agree with her annoyance, but it’s something I’ll consider in the future.)

        1. Layla*

          I’d be annoyed to, if I didn’t say I liked working there.
          Perhaps phrasing it such as “what do you like about working here” is better?

  3. Anonymous*

    I feel #6’s pain. I’ve had interviews where we spoke at length about all the aspects of the job, benefits, etc, and where I asked copious questions throughout, but then as we’re wrapping up the interviewer tosses me the “Do you have any questions for me?” as if I hadn’t asked any at all. I stumbled the first few times I got hit with it, but now I keep a few in my back pocket like the Magic Question (yay) or to ask the interviewer about their experiences there (I know that’s a bit of a boo around here but it’s a good way not to retread ground you’ve already covered that day). You need to have a few prepared bc you may cover 1-2 of the topics organically in the interview.

  4. Sharon*

    For Quix: so please answer the question for me; how do you close an interview (as the interviewee)?

    This has happened to me too on several occasions. If we’ve had a good conversation and I’ve asked all my questions throughout the discussion, I have no qualms about ending up with “No, all my questions have been answered throughout our conversation”. If they don’t like that, it’s their problem. Because seriously and as Quix said, at that point I can surely ask more questions but they’d be the kind that are impolite to ask: which of my potential coworkers are difficult to work with, what’s been the turnover in the department over the last five years, what is the supervisor’s management style – REALLY?, etc.

    1. Becky*

      I have a question here: is asking about a potential manager’s style, turnover in the department, or company culture (do employees hang out together outside of work? Does management value other employee input/do lower level employees feel empowered to make suggestions about how things are done?) a bad thing? I’m thinking about the kinds of things that would be important to me if I was going to switch jobs (I love my current company), and that kind of thing would absolutely be important to me. Is it considered bad form to ask?

      1. Cathy*

        Most of the people I interview ask at least some of those questions, and I have no problem answering them. I don’t consider it bad form at all for the candidate to show an interest in the people and the environment.

        It does depend a bit on how you ask though. Asking if it’s a friendly atmosphere and people like to hang out together is different than asking what social events the company sponsors.

    2. The Snarky B*

      Well, no. If they don’t like it, it’s YOUR problem when you don’t get hired. It’s no skin off their teeth.
      And my general recommendation here is, rather than saying “Nope! I’m good!” You can finesse it by saying, “We really covered most of them! Thanks so much for your candor regarding the promotion process, that’s something I came in here hoping to get clarification on. (Or fill in whatever to remind them how much they answered already)” and then follow up with one more or so.
      And as Alison said, those are really normal and important questions. Your reaction to them makes me REALLY think you’ve been screwing yourself over with your high standards of politeness.

      1. A teacher*

        That’s a big assumption from one small paragraph. Please don’t personally attack the poster…people function on this site and I have my high school kids read it because Alison does an awesome job moderating it.

          1. A teacher*

            I have a feeling you’ve been screwing yourself over….well, in my world it is. It’s jmo and not my blog.

          2. OP5/6*

            +1 I didn’t see the attack, but I think it’s about word choice.

            Maybe replace “screwing yourself over” with “limiting your abilities to successfully assess the working environment” :P

          3. PuppyKat*

            I didn’t read it as a personal attack—but it did come off as a little harsh to me.

    3. OP5/6*

      My issue with the whole thing is that I had already been told in detail about the job and I had had the opportunity to ask questions about the position and the culture. As well, I was told that the next step for the interview process was to meet the team I would be working with. What’s the point of asking about the team or culture further when I would be meeting them, and can better tell how they interact by actually seeing them interact? As well, this was a temporary position without benefits, so I didn’t have any questions about benefits. At that point it just seemed really excessive to ask further questions when the guy had spend about 20minutes talking about the position, the company and his own career path, not to mention the fact that he was the one that would be managing me.

      Interviewers are free to think however they want, but I find this part of the interview process generally irritating especially because I usually research the company and talk to people who work there before coming to the interview. Also, I honestly think the only way you’re going to know for sure if you’ll like working somewhere is by actually working there, so a lot of questions to me seem useless. Are you really going to dock me interview points because I didn’t have any more questions? Unless the job requires being inquisitive it just seems weird to me.

      As a side note, I actually accepted a job at a different place the day after this bizarre interview, so I didn’t get to see this thing to the end.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think you’re overreacting a bit. First, this type of interview is really common with interviewers who don’t interview much or just aren’t that good at it. Second, you really can and should ask thoughtful questions about the job, culture, management style, etc. I’d actually be pretty alarmed if an applicant didn’t think that was possible.

        1. OP5/6*

          Hm maybe I’m coming off more overreacty than I thought, but because I had decided part way through the interview to go with a different position, I actually wasn’t too concerned how the interview ended. The weird look I was given just irked me a bit. My personality is more “go with the flow” and figure things out as they come up and I’m not very inquisitive by nature, so I don’t thing the question period at the end of interviews is my forte.

  5. Anon. scientist*

    I have to admit, all of my interviews have been full days. For my last job, I spent 8 hours one day (serial interviews at 2 offices) and 4 hours the next day. No, I did not have any questions at the end, and frankly, I was too drained to think of some new and out-there question that hadn’t been asked before.

    I really don’t think not having further questions at the end is a problem if you’ve already either (a) been told everything incidentally in a long-ass interview or (b) managed to fit a whole bunch of questions during the main portion of the interview.

    1. Anonymous*

      In my last interview, I met with more than fifteen people, most individually or in pairs. By the time I got to #12 or so, I was genuinely out of questions. Luckily, everyone I met with had been through the same process and was understanding.

      1. Cathy*

        It’s o.k. to ask the same questions of multiple people, especially when it can help you get multiple perspectives on something.

      2. Lynn*

        In my field (software engineering), it’s common to have half-day or all-day interviews where you meet people one or two at a time for an hour each. It really, truly is possible to find out what you want to know about the job (or at least all the things they can and will answer) before the last interviewer asks their last question. But I know a lot of interviewers think it shows “desperation” or “lack of enthusiasm” to say I don’t have questions, so I make sure I have *something*.

        I have a few questions that are general enough to ask multiple times without looking weird. How would you describe the office culture? What is a typical day like? What kind of people do well here? Yeah, it’s a little bit game-playing (of course I do want to know what the culture is like and what kind of people do well here, but by the 5th set of interviewers, sets 1-4 probably covered it pretty decently), but so what?

  6. K*

    I don’t find it at all surprising that people run out of questions quickly. It’s not that they’re out of questions, I don’t think – it’s that they’re out of innocuous questions that they’re not anxious will reflect badly.

  7. nyxalinth*

    #5 is exactly how my interview Monday went. No behavioral questions, not questions about my specific duties. They gushed over the things I’d done a lot (worked in the call center of the local ballet, freelance writing, more relevant call center work) but mostly told me how the job was, what the place was like, etc. I asked them questions about the company as one should. Despite me feeling like they liked me enough for the position (flaky interview aside) I didn’t get the job. Maybe they were looking for me to just spouting stuff about me and my work unsolicited?

      1. nyxalinth*

        Yeah, I know, I’m just having trouble with not ruminating on “What could I have done/said to be THE ONE?”I’ll get over it. I just really loved the atmosphere, and I’m so sick of corporate call centers.

        1. PEBCAK*

          To be clear, though, if someone says “Tell me what you did for Local Ballet”, you should ABSOLUTELY be mentioning your accomplishments, not just your job duties.

    1. nyxalinth*

      Also, when they asked me at the end if I had any questions, I asked them the Magic Questions. They were impressed by it…but still a no go. I know it’s not a magical “Give ME the job!” question, just putting out there that I did ask it!

      1. S*

        Sometimes there’s nothing you could’ve done or said in an interview. I recently got feed back for a job I interviewed for, but didn’t get. I was told the interview went very well, my answers to their questions were on par with what they were looking for, and overall there was nothing negative they could say. The person they hired has 8 yrs experience(5 more than me) using a very specific technology they are looking to implement right now. So it’s not always that you’re not the right fit; you could be an excellent fit, but someone else is a better fit at that time.
        You might also want to ask for feedback. I was lucky that I didn’t have to ask, my interviewer graciously called me gave me great feedback. Even though I didn’t get the job I felt much better knowing the reason why, and not wondering if there was something I did or didn’t say during the interview. I was also told that they might be creating another position sometime in the future and they would like me to apply if I’m still available.

        1. Dan*

          I had an interview once where they told me why I blew it. Something along the lines of “too informal.” Yes, if I hadn’t said or done x or y, I would have gotten the job.

          But you know what? I didn’t change anything about my interview style, and I’ve been at a place for the last 4 years that is *awesome*. And we are informal, if we’re not with clients :)

      2. Dan*

        I just got back from an interview where I am an excellent fit. And it’s 100% possible that my background makes me a leading candidate, and there’s nothing someone can say or do in an interview to usurp that.

        So, why interview others? Well, I could still blow the interview, even though I hope I didn’t. But more significantly, there’s a very strong chance that we won’t come to terms on compensation and benefits. While I’m considering a move from a high cost of living area to a lower cost of living area, I’m still looking for a 10% pay increase, which puts me in their high end or possibly outside of their range. I’d also take a three-week cut in my vacation allowance, and give up tons of flexibility.

  8. Chocolate Teapot*

    For Question 2, it appears that you have the luxury of being able to take time to find the right next step. What I mean is that you are in employment, and so you can be selective about what you apply to.

    From experience the next job often appears when you are least expecting it!

  9. Oxford Comma*

    #6: Not having questions tells me that you’re not that prepared for the interview or not that interested in the job. Really, there’s nothing you want to ask us? Even if you ask for a clarification on a point that’s been covered it’s better than saying thank you, I think you’ve answered everything. I won’t say it’s the kiss of death, but it’s probably a point or two against you.

    1. fposte*

      I’m interviewing pretty inexperienced people, so I don’t hold it against them that they generally don’t ask questions, but I do think they’re afraid it’s presumptuous to ask and that they’ll look bad if they do. I might start being more directly encouraging of their asking to see if they respond better to that.

      1. Lucy J*

        Sometimes, there really is nothing more to ask. Asking for clarification on something you are already clear on seems disingenuous at best, just to win those few “points” or avoid potential “red flags”.

        Sometimes, you just want the damn job. Bills to pay and all of that. Not all job seekers have such high standards about really, truly mulling over absolutely everything, and I’m glad to read that people like fposte exist!

        Sometimes, we even take jobs we know are a bad fit because the concept of “fit” is actually quite a luxury in many cases, but having a roof over one’s head and food in the belly isn’t a luxury, it’s a survival thing.

        1. K*

          Sure, but if I have a choice I want to hire someone who I think is genuinely interested in the job.

  10. AB*

    When I’ve had the opportunity to ask all the questions I had throughout the interview, and am asked at the end “do you have any questions for me?”, my answer is,

    “We covered A, B, and C, which I’m glad are in line with my experience and interests. Right now I can’t think of anything else to ask, but if something comes to mind, is it OK to send you an email?”

    (The answer is always yes — and sometimes I do come up with follow up questions afterward, and they’ve always been well accepted.) Then the last question as I leave is about the company’s timeline to make a decision.

    1. OP #7*

      I really like the idea of asking if you can send an e-mail with questions that come to mind later. Whenever I’m overloaded with information or I’m nervous (in any context), it’s hard to think of things to say sometimes, and I always think of things to say or ask later.

  11. OP #7*

    Thank you for your answer, Alison! :]

    And thanks for pointing out that it’s not my fault they didn’t call back when the ball was technically in their court last. I’ve been feeling like I really screwed this up, and I suppose I didn’t.

  12. Lindsay*

    #5. I had an interview like that this past Monday. He did ask if I had experience doing this or that, but not anything to back up that experience – no behavioral questions, no “tell me about a time when…” questions, no “so your application says you were fired from your last job – what happened?” It was weird. Especially because it was for a management role.

    That, combined with the fact that he shared that they do not usually hire out for the position I was interviewing for, made me wonder whether or not they already had an internal candidate they were planning on promoting and that they were just interviewing a few outside candidates to feel as though they were doing their due diligence. However, I left the interview feeling confident that I had done all I could to get the job and I felt that it went very well for what it was. I’m in wait and see mode right now so no info on how it turned out, but you’re not alone in finding it weird.

  13. Rebecca*

    Thanks for the guidance! It’s really helpful to get a sense of what people are thinking on the other side of the hiring process, especially since it’s been a while since I applied for a job.

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