terse answer Tuesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. Should freelancers bill as time is incurred or at the end of a project?

I have a question about freelance etiquette. Is it customary to bill for my time as it’s incurred — i.e., the hours I worked in the previous two weeks — or to bill when the final product is “delivered?” I have an new, ongoing freelance assignment to work 15 hours a week or so for a company, but my work is editorial, so there’s often some back-and-forth before projects are completed. So if I worked 12 hours on something one week that won’t be finalized for two more weeks, when’s the best time to send my invoice for that work? Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Different freelancers do it differently, but lots of people — including me — will tell you to bill as your time is incurred. Billing monthly is perfectly reasonable, and can minimize the trouble you might sometimes have collecting on a bill once a project is over. Good clients will always pay you without hassle, but not every client is a good one, and they have much more incentive to pay you when they still need you to do more work for them. Plus, if you’re going to have problems collecting, it’s better to find that out sooner rather than after you’ve put in hundreds of hours.

Generally, it’s a good idea to lay out your payment terms with a new client at the start of working with them, but if you didn’t, there’s no reason you can’t send over an invoice now with a note that simply says, “Here’s my invoice for my work in March.”

2. Candidate cried when we asked whether her current employer would make a counteroffer

We just interviewed a candidate for a managerial job at our company. The interview went rather well, particularly during the skill test exercises and the case studies problem resolution process. But when we asked her what would happen once we offer her the job — will her current employer try to retain her? — she reacted emotionally, started crying, and went to the washroom to wipe off her tears.

She said that she got emotional because she and her current employer had a discussion where her manager did not want to raise her salary. According to her, her current employer under-values her worth and had his opportunity to respond to her requests for more recognition (salary-wise), so she suggested that once we offer her a job, her current employer will not up the offer or revisit her request — he simply had his opportunity, according to her.

Nevertheless, why did she become so emotional regarding the question? How do you deal with this as a prospective employer? Do you not continue forward with an offer for employment?

Oooh, this is troubling. First of all, she’s basically telling you that if her current employer did counter-offer, she might take it (but that she believes they won’t). Second, while this reaction might be something you’d overlook for a junior or a non-managerial position, I’d be concerned about hiring her for a managerial job, where she’s going to need to have much tougher conversations with people and remain calm and unemotional. Yes, everyone has emotional moments, including great managers, but this would make me wary.

3. Leaving a temp job earlier than planned

I’ve been consulting part-time on the side for another organization, with the hopes that it would turn into something full-time eventually. It’s a new organization, and they’re still figuring out budgets, etc., and I was told several weeks ago that it would likely be a little while before they could hire anyone full-time. However, about 2 weeks later, their financial situation changed, and they are now more flexible with their hiring timeline. I had just agreed to a temp position running for several months, and reiterated my willingness to continue part-time for the new organization, with the hope that we could work out something full-time after the temp position was over.

I’ve since started the temp position (last week), and it is just not a good fit — not enough work, definitely more basic than I had been led to believe — and I’d really like to approach the first organization and let them know that the temp position isn’t a good fit, and I’d like to give my two weeks notice, if they are still interested in hiring me full-time. (Wording it more eloquently than that, of course.)

Does initially telling the first organization that I had agreed to a temp position, and now backing out of it look really, really bad? And how bad is it/how many bridges does it burn for me to be leaving a temp position much sooner than expected? To be fair, I didn’t sign a contract or anything, and the position with the other organization is one I had been pursuing long before this temp position opened up. But I worry that it looks flaky/will ruin my reputation with the temp agency (although I would be giving the standard 2 weeks notice that the agency requests).

This stuff happens with temp jobs — few people will turn down full-time employment in favor of a short-term temp job. You agency may not be willing to send you out for other long-term jobs if you go back to them in the future, but it’s not a heinous crime.

That said, I’d word your message to the first organization a little differently — don’t talk about why it’s not a good fit. Just say something like, “Things have changed a bit on my side, and I could be available for full-time work within two weeks if you’d like me to.”

4. When a hiring contact changes

I am in the process of sending out last-minute applications for summer internships. I applied to my dream organization about a month ago, and the directions on the website originally told me to send my resume, cover letter, and writing sample to Contact A. I checked the company’s website again today, and noticed that the directions on the website now stipulate that I send my resume, cover letter, etc. to Contact B.

I’m trying to resist my panicked temptation to re-send my materials, but at the same time I don’t want to be disqualified from the applicant pool for not sending my materials to the new coordinator. Advice?

Just be straightforward. Email Contact B with a note that says, “I earlier submitted these materials to Contact A but just that the instructions now state they should go to you. I’d love to talk with you about the opening if you think I might be a strong fit.”

5. Recovering after you bomb a skills test during a job interview

I’m currently going through the hiring process for a communications and marketing position. As part of the process, the hiring company has asked me to complete a standardized test. This test was basically the SATs for business and, like the SATs, I completely bombed the math portion leaving quite a few questions blank and ultimately running out of time. In reality, I’m quite good at crunching numbers, running reports and overall sticking to budgets, but have never been great at taking timed tests. I feel as though my initial interview went really well and I had a great rapport, but now I’m a bit nervous that these results have potentially knocked me out of the running completely. What do employers hope to gain from the results of tests like this?

I’ve toyed with the idea of following up with the hiring manager, via email, to provide a bit more insight into my experience and also how I make adjustments in the real world. My experience to date has always been interpreting data related to charts/graphs that I’ve set up and I can provide insight on the fly, so this really has never been an issue professionally. Is there value in doing this, or would it just serve to annoy the hiring manager? If there is value, any suggestions on how to phrase it? This is definitely one of the better opportunities available in my area so I’d hate to be passed over because of a standardized test that I don’t feel accurately reflects my experience or capabilities.

Sure, you can do that. Say that you had the sense that you didn’t do well on the test, but that while timed tests have never been your strength, you’ve been very successful at using the skills being tested in real-world work situations. Then give concrete examples of how you’ve excelled using those skills. Be specific, and make sure that whatever you offer up speaks as directly as possible to what the hiring manager’s concern is likely to be: that you don’t possess the skills the test was assessing.

6. Negotiating higher severance

I was laid off two days ago. I worked for a major corporation that had financial issues and needed to downsize the workforce. The severance package offered is 2 months paid with full benefits, then a lump sum of cash. I get my tuition reimbursement issued and all of my PTO will be paid out. Two people have advised me to negotiate my severance. In addition to higher payout (or more months of employment), I’d like to ask for copies of my most recent performance reviews (is that weird?).

Also, as an aside, I’m not angry over the whole situation. The company is going through hard times and the decision was based solely off of business needs and nothing personal. I know I had great rapport with coworkers and management and my monthly and yearly reviews were stellar.

To get more severance, there usually needs to be some incentive for the employer to give you more — such as that they want you to agree to stay longer and train a replacement or transition operations, or that they’re concerned you might otherwise sue over a real or perceived legal issue like harassment or discrimination (because you sign a release relinquishing any legal claims in exchange for severance). If you don’t have anything like that to use as incentive, they’re not likely to give you more just because you ask … although you can certainly still ask, because you never know.

You can also certainly ask for copies of your performance evaluations; you may or may not get them, but there’s nothing wrong with asking (and you should explain that you want them to document your performance for future prospective employers, since otherwise they may think you want to use them as ammunition to challenge the layoff decision in some way).

7. Online applications that ask for “additional information to support your application”

When filling out an application form and they ask for “additional information to support your application,” what are they expecting in that box? I’ve already filled in education and employment details, as well as a section on why I want/would be good for the job, and I’m drawing a blank. Am I missing something obvious?

If there’s anything you would include in a cover letter that you didn’t already include in the section on why you want and would be good at the job, include it here. Otherwise, it’s fine to ignore it.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Clobbered*

    Kinda feel sorry for #2 – maybe her employer did something horrid to her and she brought up the whole raise story rather than address it? I mean I am not saying ignore it, do due diligence, probe references etc, but maybe not dismiss her just because of that if she was otherwise a strong candidate?

    I know we had people write in who lost it emotionally during an interview and this is kinda the other side.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I was thinking the same thing. Its possible that a stellar employee who loved her job ended up with a bully-boss who now has her in an emotional state. It is definately worth asking around and checking references. I know in my case bully-boss had falsely accused me of numerous issues to the point where I was fairly wound up and feared for my job. Bully boss also claimed I was incompetent and withheld all my raises (while at the same time refusing to let me leave the program claiming I was needed).
      You could have a potentially great employee who is looking to get away from a hellish situation. On the other hand, you could also be dealing with someone with PTSD. Ask, ask, ask!

    2. Jen in RO*

      Yeah, but if she is going to be a manager, she will have to make difficult decisions. If something her ex-company did makes her cry, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume she’s too emotional for this new job.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        It depends. It could be that she’ll be fine once she starts in the new role and gets away. But it is hard to predict something like this.

    3. Sarah*

      I sympathize with the interviewee. I think you have to give her some slack. She wanted to be valued at her current job and she wasn’t. So she’s starting to apply elsewhere. It’s a very stressful situation, especially if she’s worried that her current employer will find out and retaliate. And you don’t know how long this has been going on – 3 months, 1 year… that can make emotions run high.

      1. fposte*

        The problem with that is that she’s no more entitled to slack than the rest of the interviewees. Maybe Jane muffed that question because of her interview nerves and would be fine; maybe Bob freezes up at tests and his practical work would be great. But you can’t hire based on expecting people to be different than what they showed you, and if Wakeen aced the interview and the tests and is also in the pool, there’s no reason to go with somebody you’re hoping isn’t really how they seemed.

      2. RB*

        I respectfully disagree. The workplace is over run by horrible bosses and stressful situations. It would be a serious red flag for me to hire someone who can’t control their emotions on an interview. It tells me that she may have trouble with demanding customers, drama with co-workers and certainly would not be management material if she is that easily thrown.

        Now, I’m not some hard hearted Hannah who doesn’t allow emotions in the workplace. I get it when my staff are going through tough times and my door is always open for support and resources. However, at the interview I want to see you prepared, authentic and someone who can handle a question like that without having a meltdown.

        To me, it doesn’t bode well for how this person would handle themselves at work.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One problem is that in hiring, you have limited data points, and so they all loom larger than they might with someone who you had known for, say, years. It’s why a typo on a resume will get it tossed — we all make typos, but when you have little data about a candidate, you have to go with what you see. Same thing with being late, or giving a spectacularly horrible answer in an interview. Good candidates might do those things on occasion — but you have few enough data points that you have to assume they’re representative.

      When you don’t know much about a candidate, but you do know that she broke down in tears during the only two hours you spent with her, in response to a fairly tepid interview question, it’s a pretty significant data point out of the few that you have.

    5. Colette*

      It could be that her employer was horrible to her – but it could also be that she takes business decisions personally. (Maybe there’s no budget for a raise, maybe she’s not as good as she thinks she is and doesn’t want to improve, etc.).

      I can understand having an attitude of “They don’t value me, so I’m going to find somewhere that does”, but crying makes me believe she’s taking it personally, which is a red flag in a manager. It also makes me wonder whether she’s truly ready to leave – that’s a question I’ve never been asked, but it’s tied in to “Why do you want to leave your current job?”, and it would be normal to expect a question like that.

      Even if she is just an emotional person who cries a lot, that’s not something you really want in someone who may have to lay off or fire people, or defend raises (or lack thereof).

    6. AnotherAlison*

      At first I was on team cut-her-slack, but after reading other comments & re-reading the OP’s post, I am team consider-another-candidate.

      What bothered me about the reaction was the interviewee’s explanation.

      She said that she got emotional because she and her current employer had a discussion where her manager did not want to raise her salary. According to her, her current employer under-values her worth. . .

      While the question about how she would handle a counter-offer may have caught her off guard, the response she gave seems like something you may also say in response to the “Why are you leaving” question, which you would absolutely have to be prepared for. Even if you wouldn’t normally tell your interviewer your PO’d about money & being undervalued, you’ve worked through this in your head, and you’ve got a clean, emotion-free way to say that it’s no longer about the money there, you are looking for new opportunities for growth.

      I feel like the candidate not only showed lack of control of her emotions, but lack of preparation for the interview.

      (FWIW, I have cried when resigning, and on my last day, & accepted a counter-offer, so I understand the emotion. . .)

      1. fposte*

        I think the challenge of reading a question like this is that we *do* sympathize with the candidate, and that’s fine. But I think there’s a risk of sympathizing only with the candidate you heard the story about and not the other candidates, who all have their own anxieties and stories and desperate hiring needs and sick children and, and, and… And since hiring is a zero-sum proposition, my sympathy for the one candidate to would mean trump the value of the rest–which is neither fair nor wise.

        1. Lucy J*

          I wonder if the candidate in #2 is also dealing with some stuff that one does not usually mention in a job interview. I was unemployed when a family member committed suicide; I would assume it’s a business/interview etiquette no-no to casually drop that bomb. “Pardon my tears, I’m emotionally fragile due to a recent suicide, but I assure you it’s temporary and I’m actually a great employee when my life hasn’t been ruptured.” Random bouts of crying would take place at the most inopportune moments.

          And asking around or probing or doing due diligence as others have mentioned may not even uncover the all-encompassing “death in the family” – fear of social stigma may prevent someone from sharing vital information like death, illness (mental illness especially), etc. with co-workers. Or in my case, being unemployed, my former employers had no idea.

          1. fposte*

            I’m so sorry for your loss. That must have been extremely hard.

            However, it’s the applicant’s responsibility to contextualize the response, and if she’s not managing to do that, that’s again a weakness, and she made a poor choice in talking about her response as if it were something else. When an emotional response comes from something like a raw bereavement, people really are inclined to consider the circumstances, but it’s the candidate who has to provide them. I’d be highly unlikely, as a hiring manager, to hold it against a candidate who wanted to postpone having just heard the news or who got hit by a bout of the griefs, but if she didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t go asking people.

  2. Sydney*


    I actually find the question is a little strange and frankly it rubs me the wrong way. What is the purpose of this question? Is the intent to assess if the candidate may take a counter offer, or to see how valued she is by her employer? What was exactly learned from the response she gave (aside from the crying)? In any case, I’d think there are much better questions to ask. I feel this is a question that can be very easily misinterpreted.

    Yes, it’s a little troubling that a candidate gets so emotional but I kinda feel for her. It sounds like she’s been having a lot of issues with her employer. And it’s very difficult to feel undervalued day-in and day-out especially if you’re actually great at what you do (and it sounds like she might be pretty good based on your assessment of her). This question potentially (a) triggers the negative emotions she’s feeling, (b) is confusing her (as it confused me), and (c) implies a bit of a slight (e.g., you’re no good unless your current employer will counter to keep you).

    1. Elise*

      I don’t like that question either. It’s like a double edged sword and I don’t know what’s to be learned.
      No = not a good enough employee
      Yes = don’t bother offering since just applied to get a raise from current employer

      Only good answer would seem to be something like: “Yes, of course they will, but I’m looking for new opportunities.” So, the candidate would need to say this whether it is true or not.

      Or am I missing other ‘acceptable’ responses to this odd question?

      1. Tax Nerd*

        The other acceptable response is probably something like “I believe it’s my boss’s/company’s policy not to offer any counteroffers, even to valuable employees, because the employment relationship is somewhat ‘tainted’ after that” or somesuch.

        (I had an old boss that was firmly against counteroffers, even to beloved employees, because he knew that they’d likely be gone within a year for whatever reason.)

      2. fposte*

        The question is really “If we give you an offer in an agreed-upon range does that mean you’ll come or are we getting sucked into a bidding war?” I don’t know that it’s a question that’ll always get them the information they seek, but it’s understandable to want to know if a candidate is still got an investment at the old workplace and vice versa.

        As far as the crying goes–I would assume candidate behavior in an interview was what you might see from them as an employee under stress too–it just doesn’t make sense to hire somebody on the hope that they’ll be different from how they’ve presented themselves. If this is a stressful job and it’s a workplace where crying would be an issue, that makes her candidacy problematic.

      3. -X-*

        Another possible answer is “I don’ t know.” That’s a particularly good answer if you actually don’t know.

        1. Jessa*

          I doubt I’d use “I don’t know,” because part of what they’re getting at, I think, is what you’d DO if given a countre-offer. The answer to which probably needs to be something like “the salary we discuss here will be negotiated fairly. I am looking for a new challenge,” or “it is not my intent to start a bidding war (say it outright,) I am looking for “fill in – higher position, a more interesting job, a more responsible job, whatever.”

          Mostly I think fposte is right, they want to know A: are you wanting to start a bidding war and B: are you serious about leaving your old job or did you just interview to get leverage on them. And any answer needs to close out both of those.

    2. COT*

      I’m also not sure Alison read the question correctly. I think the candidate was saying that she would NOT accept a counteroffer because her boss has lost his chance to keep her. It sounds like she’s completely ready to move on, even if that’s tough.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm, I’m basing it on this part: “she suggested that once we offer her a job, her current employer will not up the offer or revisit her request.”

    3. Joey*

      They’re trying to get a feel for two things:
      1. How committed she is to leaving.
      2. Whether or not their salary offer will have to compete with a counter offer.
      I would have answered something like, “if you offer me the job I will evaluate the offer, weigh all of my options, and let you know my decision quickly.”

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s a school of thought among recruiters and employers that you should ask this question because it gets the candidate starting to think about a counter offer and how they’ll handle it, so that they’re not blindsided by it if it happens (and are more prepared to turn it down), and so that you can get a feel for how serious they really are about leaving.

    5. mas*

      I had the same reaction to the question, it seems like its none of their business, really. I’ve been asked about my current employer’s reaction to my potentially leaving in interviews and I always feel very uncomfortable about it – there’s obviously a reason that I’m interviewing elsewhere, and that is really all you need to know. It’s really challenging to answer questions like these without getting into unprofessional territory/talking bad about your current employer, and sometimes I’ve felt the interviewer was just pumping for some gossip.

    6. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I just interpret it as their attempt to get information that is very, very relevant to their hiring process from the only person they’re likely to get that information from. If they know that there’s going to be a counter-offer, that could impact what kind of offer they make in the first place.

      I agree with -X- below, if you don’t know, say you don’t know. Not everything is a trick question with secret hidden meanings. They’re just trying to get the lay of the land.

  3. Josh S*

    #1: Freelance invoicing —

    It’s a balance between how much time you want to spend dealing with (creating, tracking, closing out) invoices and collections, and how often you need to get paid. Not to mention a balance between annoying your clients and maintaining some level of regular cash flow.

    If you invoice every week, you’re going to annoy your client because they probably don’t want to run that through Accounts Payable every week, and you probably don’t want the hassle of tracking all those invoices either. But if you have a 6 month project, you probably can’t afford to wait til it’s over to send an invoice for the whole thing.

    Monthly is reasonable. So is invoicing at the completion of major project milestones.

    If it’s a new client, every 2 weeks would be reasonable. You can definitely add timing into your contract/agreement with your client, or just invoice as you feel suited.

    1. Jamie*

      There are a lot of valid options, as Josh mentioned, just make sure the client and the freelancer are on the same page.

      For major projects I would insist on an accounting of hours on a regular basis – because otherwise how can you keep the accruals and AP liability accurate? But not we are very buttoned up about that kind of thing – not everyone is.

    2. Chinook*

      You made a good point about accounts payable – most places I worked at ran their payable once a month unless they were a huge company.

      1. Jamie*

        Really? Every place I’ve worked had AP run weekly. In manufacturing it’s really common for vendors to give discounts for payment before terms, so companies would lose a lot of money if they did it monthly.

        1. Chinook*

          One of the few industries I haven’t worked in is manufacturing. I have worked with nonprofits, small tech, accounting, and education where you needed to get invoices in before a certain date otherwise you would have to wait for payment until the following month. I think they were all dealing with amounts that meant there was no discount for early payment.

          1. Jamie*

            That makes sense. It’s worth it to us because it’s tens of thousands of dollars a year in savings…so the extra time pays for itself. If it’s all the same then once a month would be an easier way to go.

  4. Anonymous*

    #7 is a catch-all for standardized online applications that cover a wide variety of jobs. Look at the job posting that you are applying for closely to see if they have specific requests. If they don’t, then skip this.

    This is so an organization can use one form or web site to hire their web designer, their scientists, their janitors, and their business managers in one go. I’m in science, and one thing that I might end up attaching to such a form is my CV, so that my prospective employer could look at my CV or resume as they prefer (why anyone would want to read a CV is beyond me, but that’s a different subject). An art-related field might attach portfolio items, etc. It just doesn’t matter for most jobs, like CFOs or plumbers, but the option still needs to be there for the odder jobs.

    1. Elizabeth*

      It also might be a place for you to explain anything the employer might have questions about. For example, explaining a gap on your resume, or an out-of-town candidate confirming their plans to move to the company’s city.

    2. Jow*

      I ended up leaving it blank in the end. All of the information that I could possibly put was already included in the form, sometimes in more than one place (eg I had to detail my current job three times in slighthly different wording…) and they asked for a separately-attached CV so…

      Ah well, onto the next application!

  5. Anne*

    #5 – We once had a developer candidate interview well and completely, utterly flub the programming skills test.

    The next morning, there was an example of work using our open-source software in my manager’s inbox. He felt he’d done badly for reasons other than his skills, so he went home, downloaded the software, and proved he could do something with it (on a tight timeframe, no less). We brought him in again and ended up hiring him.

    Which is all to say – some employers are still totally open to hearing from candidates after they fail a test, especially if they interviewed well. We’d LOVE to hear from more of our candidates that the testing was a weakness for them but they could show their skills in other ways – it’s hard to find people who do that!

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      This sounds like it worked out for you in the end but how did you know that the applicant did the program himself?

      I’m not disagreeing with you. Plenty of people excel in one way and not another and interview testing can’t possibly begin to address everything. But I’m curious about that one point.

    2. Jessa*

      Although if you really have an issue taking certain kinds of tests, that should really be said before you take the test. It’s responsible to do so. I have a processing disorder, I can do higher maths, but ask me to do it without a slide rule, abacus or calculator and I’m multiplying on my fingers. I test TERRIBLY. I also make this clear and if needed I can back it up medically in my case. I always ask for an accommodation on timed tests.

      People who just test badly and are not medical enough to ask for accommodation, should still during the interview try to show their actual work skills. Before they get tested, so that they can show the gap in performance vs test.

      1. PublicK*

        Anne and Jessa, you both bring up a really valid point about addressing the issue from the outset. To be honest, it’s not something that even occurred to me at the time, but will definitely be something I look to do in the future. My initial screening did outline some of success, but it was a relatively short screening. With any luck the process will continue to move forward and I can further call out skills in an interview. If not? Well, live and learn I suppose. Thanks to you both for your input!

        1. Jessa*

          Especially with maths testing. Let’s face it an interviewer that does not know that a lot of people have been trained into test anxiety in today’s society, isn’t very up on current events. All those cheating scandals because of the crazy importance placed on tests that really don’t have real world analogues. A lot of schools now weight down standardised testing because of that.

          So explaining that in the past you’ve taken an x test and you always test below your ability by about % y. Is not unreasonable. I’m usually 20wpm below my normal typing speed in a test because of the difference in keyboard sizes/sensitivity for instance. I know this because I’ve taken tests of a similar nature at home.

          One of the best tests I ever took was for a temporary agency and I took it at home on my computer. It was the first time in years I’d tested at my speed. (Well since back in the days of “everyone has a Selectric.”)

  6. OP #6*

    Thanks for the advice Alison! I had no idea what kind of incentive I had to convince for a higher pay out. Since I don’t, I’m just going to ask for my recent performance reviews and simply say it’s just so that I can prove I am a good employee in interviews. Sometimes layoffs aren’t bad. I was wanting to get a job someplace else anyway but now that I’m laid off, I don’t have to keep the job search on the quiet and now I have more references. I miss my old job but it’s just time.

    1. Josh S*

      Feel free to ask for a better severance package. They may turn you down flat (so be prepared for that), but it’s not going to do you any harm. After all, it’s not like they can fire you, right?

      1. Jessa*

        And they may have negotiating room. For instance maybe they can’t give you more money but can give you extra time on your medical insurance before you have to COBRA it at a crazy rate. Or some other perk they could give you that might help you in the future. If you work for a really large company and they have a training division and there’s a course that’s in your field but wasn’t necessary for your job title maybe they can let you take it. Or give you help outsourcing or getting a new job.

  7. Cathy*

    #6 – it’s not clear if you were the only one let go, or if this was a mass layoff. If multiple people were affected, there is almost no chance you can negotiate the severance, because the company needs to treat everyone the same to avoid discrimination claims.

    Also, if you’re going to negotiate, you’ve got to have a starting position, and you’ve got a pretty generous package already. They’re keeping you on the payroll for 2 months, paying expenses they’d previously committed to you (tuition reimbursement and PTO), then they’re giving you cash severance, which I am guessing is probably 1 or 2 weeks of salary per year of service. There’s not a lot more you could reasonably ask for, but here are a few ideas:

    – if it’s a mass layoff and people above a certain level get access to resume writing or counseling services, you can ask for those
    – if you’re committed to a degree program, you might be able to get tuition reimbursement for an additional semester or two
    – if you’re the only one affected, you might be able to negotiate the cash settlement, though this is usually a written policy at large corporations and you’d have to find a way to recalculate your years of service (maybe by including internships you did for them?)
    – assuming you’re not actually performing work for the next 2 months that you’re on the payroll, get them to agree that your actual termination date is 2 months from now (this may affect your ability to claim unemployment, but it looks better on your resume)
    – see if you can put part of the cash settlement in your 401K if you don’t need it to live on

    1. some1*

      “- assuming you’re not actually performing work for the next 2 months that you’re on the payroll, get them to agree that your actual termination date is 2 months from now (this may affect your ability to claim unemployment, but it looks better on your resume)”

      I was on unemployment last year, and the my state let me apply for it right away, but I was not allowed to collect any money anyway until the number of weeks of severance I had received had gone by. But, once I got a new job, I was still able to collect for every week until I started, which was nice.

    2. OP #6*

      It is a mass layoff. I believe altogether, 300 people from corporate headquarters are being let go.

      I am committed to a degree program so I’ll ask for additional reimbursement as I agreed to attend school part time to continue working for the company which resulted in more time to earn the degree.

      I do get resume help and job-finding services. Was a nice bonus.

      My paperwork indicates my actual term date is 5/29/13.

      Nice idea about the 401k. I don’t need the money to live on so investing it is a nice idea.

      1. Cathy*

        The fact that it’s a mass layoff really limits your ability to negotiate. You will need to focus on areas where your situation is different from everyone else’s, so the tuition thing is probably your best bet.

        Another thing you can do now is change your 401K contribution to the absolute maximum you’re allowed, even up to 100% if your company lets you do that. You can contribute up to $17,500 in 2013, so get as close to that number as you can. You can roll the 401K into an IRA in June, and then you’ll have full control over how it’s invested.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        You’re very lucky with that severance package. My company was in financial trouble, and gave no severance package to the people who were let go.

        Good luck in finding another job quickly.

  8. Anonymous*

    #6 ask for a few months of health insurance to stay the same, not cobra. You won’t get more money without making it worth their while but sometimes if anything health insurance is the one thing you can get extended a bit. Get an end date in writing saying which plan you get to keep so that they don’t switch you to cobra down the road.

    1. OP #6*

      Thankfully, I can go to my husband’s health insurance (which is actually better than the generous health insurance plan my employer has). Otherwise, this is good advice. I’ll share it with my other coworkers who have been laid off.

  9. Jubilance*

    #5 – Its possible that your score on the math portion of the assessment may not even matter. I had to take similar testing for my current role as an analyst, where I work with lots of data & drawing conclusions. Our math section was 25 questions in 15 minutes, with lots of charts, graphs & derivation of numbers. I freaked out at the end & guessed on the last few & was totally running out of time. After I got the job & started working, I learned that the company plans the test to give you less time than you actually need to complete it, and not finishing the exam is ok especially if you’ve gotten questions right but taken longer to finish. Also, the score on the testing was a part of my total application package, but my resume & interviews were weighted much more heavily than the test scores. So it’s possible you have nothing to worry about. Hope that helps!

    1. PublicK*

      I’m certainly hoping that these results will only be part of the larger overall package. Since I haven’t had a full-blown interview yet (only a screening), it was hard to get a good read on how much these results will factor in and I wanted to be as proactive as possible. This has definitely helped to calm my nerves a bit, thanks!

  10. Just a Reader*

    Back to #2, no way would I hire this person. Work can be stressful and management can be stressful. If the candidate can’t stay composed in an interview, how will she stay composed when she’s living and breathing the job every day?

    Plus, her response shows a lack of a filter and a lack of savvy for selling herself and effectively presenting her case for being hired. It doesn’t matter what industry they’re in, managers need to be able to go to bat in a compelling way for all kinds of things. She undersold herself and her value to her current organization which doesn’t bode well for selling the work of her department or reports when the time comes.

  11. CoffeeLover*

    #2 Honestly, it would depend on the other candidates I had. If The Crier was a stellar candidate in a sea of mediocrity and I really needed to hire someone, then I may be able to overlook the crying thing. It’s hard to tell what exactly set her off and if this is a regular thing that will affect her ability to perform as a manager. On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time I cried in public and I’m of the mentality that you can control your tears generally (which I’ve been in disagreement with some of you before about), so it’s a BIG turn off for me. The difference between The Crier and other candidates would have to be pretty glaring for me to hire her.

  12. Hmm*

    #5 – I’m in a position that has absolutely nothing to do with numbers. I’m awful with math. After my first interview, I was sent a test very similar to what you described, and it felt like the SAT. I cried over it. I learned from my second interview that it was actually a secret personality assessment… they were just trying to figure out how my mind works. It provided my now-manager with specific questions to ask me based on what kind of questions I got right and which ones I missed or skipped.

    Not saying this is exactly the same thing, but it might help with peace of mind if you know that they might not actually be judging your algebra skills.

    1. Hmm*

      Oh – and it actually made me rethink whether or not I wanted the position at this point. If the job was going to focus on math or my math skills would make a big enough difference for them to wonder if they should hire me, I was thinking it might not be a good fit.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That happened to me last year–I had to take a test that had a blatant personality section, and then came the math. I happen to be learning disabled in math, so I blew it. The recruiter called and told me I didn’t get the job because of the math. That was okay; the test turned me off it anyway.

    2. Julie*

      Did they tell you it was actually a personality assessment? Sounds like they didn’t (since it was a “secret” personality assessment). That by itself would make me feel that I wouldn’t be happy working there. It feels like being lied to or tricked, and it rubs me the wrong way. I’ve had a little experience with personality type assessments, and while they might be useful in a general, starting-a-conversation-about-how-people-work kind of way, I don’t think these tests alone can be used to categorize people or reduce them to specific “types.” I know other people swear by them, but I would not be happy in a company where these tests were used extensively (or were used without also taking into account managers’ and colleagues’ own experiences of working with and getting to know each other).

      1. Hmm*

        Nope, they didn’t tell me what it was – although I think that had I been more familiar with assessments I would have known, because googling afterwards showed me that it was actually a commonly used test.

        It provided my interviewer questions to ask me in the interview.. kind of like “this kind of person tends to have issues with timelines when dealing with several different projects” so she would ask me for examples of times I’ve been pressed for time with lots of projects and how I handled it. That sort of thing. I don’t think the results impacted the actual hiring decision.

    3. Meg*

      I had a similar developer assessment. I was given a mockup (actually, it was screen shot of something the supervisor whipped together) and I had to recreate it using CSS and HTML. It wasn’t about whether or not I could DO it, but focusing on what methods I used — did I use state-of-the-art CSS3 and HTML5 langauges? Did I prefer “graceful degradation” vs “progressive enhancement”? Was it accessible? Was is responsive or fluid? Did I create a library of CSS classes to reuse or did I assign each element a class? Did I use inline CSS? Did I use !important flags?

      Luckily, this was done BEFORE my in-person interview, after my phone screening. It wasn’t just “can I do it” but also, “if I don’t know the answer, can I find it on my own” kind of assessment.

      I was really impressed with the interview process, actually.

      1. J2*

        How much time did you spend on it? Did they give you an indication of how much time was appropriate? I’d love to do something like that for the spots we’re usually trying to fill, but I’d worry about asking for too big of a time commitment from candidates. On the other hand, I can remember one (unsuccessful) job interview where they had me do six+ hours of work after the phone screen but before the director would see me. I really wanted to work at that place, and was much more of an eager beaver than I am these days. I wouldn’t be willing to invest that much time these days until (maybe) I was a final candidate.

  13. perrik*

    #1 – Whatever you decide on for billing, make sure it’s in your contract with the client. I’m on a 1099 (self-employment tax, ugh), and my contract specifies invoicing on the 1st and 15th of each month. Payment is Net 15.

    1. Jessa*

      OH yes this. And for heaven’s sake put in what’s going to happen if they pay late. Do you stop work? Do you add a penalty? Make your contract a complete one and remember that if it goes before a Judge it’s going to be weighted toward whoever did NOT write the contract if there’s a dispute about the language. The thought is that whoever wrote it should have been completely clear since the terms were their choice. And get every single possible exception during negotiation or after work starts, IN WRITING. Because once you go written no judge will let you go oral later without an incredibly high level of proof.

      This is the time if you can afford it to get a lawyer involved. Or at least to go to the local chamber of commerce business division (they often have help for small entrepreneurs.) If it’s not in that contract you’re not going to be able to fix it later.

      Or sometimes depending on your field your professional organisations have model contracts available for use or research.

  14. OP #3*

    Thanks for the advice, Alison!
    My roommate had suggested taking that approach with the first organization as well – not really getting into details at all, but just letting them know that I’ll be available earlier than expected. I’ll reach out to them tonight to see what the deal is.
    Also, I’m glad to know that I won’t be doing anything totally unforgivable by leaving early. I’m mostly nervous about giving my 2 weeks notice/what to say – I’ve never had to quit a job before, and I’m definitely too much of a people-pleaser for my own good sometimes. Both the agency and my current placement know that I’m looking for a permanent position, so it’s not as if it’s totally out of the blue.

  15. Jamie*

    One more comment on the freelance billing – I’ve known several excellent consultants/freelancers who aren’t so punctual with the billing. To keep our financials accurate if it’s monthly I need to pay you each month and if that means AP hounds me to get an invoice from you…well, if you’re awesome I’ll still keep using you, but it makes me cranky.

    If someone wants to pay you on time, don’t make it hard for them to do so.

    1. Natalie*

      We have a bunch of contractors with this issue, and it totally baffles me. Is there some reason they don’t want to get paid in a timely fashion?

      1. Jazzy Red*

        They do want the money, but the don’t want the paperwork hassle more. My friend cleaned out her husband’s truck and found a bunch of checks among all the papers he threw in the back. It was a pretty substantial sum of money, too.

        1. Jamie*

          Yeah – that! Cash the freaking checks! It’s so freaking annoying to badger someone to send you an invoice and then have to hound them AGAIN to cash the freaking checks so you can do a proper bank reconciliation.

          I forgot how mad that makes me – but seriously – CASH THE CHECKS!!

      2. -X-*

        ” Is there some reason they don’t want to get paid in a timely fashion?”

        They’re busy at the moment and have no immediate need for the money, so them getting the money now and having it sit in a bank earning nearly nothing or nothing or a in few months after sitting in your bank account doesn’t matter to them, whereas getting work done now for another client does.

  16. Jessa*

    Regarding number 6 – Is it normal for an employee not to get a copy of their evaluation when it’s given? I have always kept copies of mine, and kept them at home where I could have them in case there ever WAS an argument about severance or an unfair termination. I have always found that asking for (or making your own) copy when you are reviewed works very well. Every place I’ve worked seems to have this as normal. In fact I won’t sign anything they don’t give me a copy of (unless it’s seriously classified, and then I still usually get some kind of “signed for document x” paper.

    It’s simply good business practise in general “don’t sign without copy.” I have never ever had a job say no.

    Is it normal somewhere for them to say no? I would however, as a boss, think it was a red flag to suddenly be asked for copies of something as someone was leaving.

  17. anon-2*

    #2 – Sometimes when a person is being pushed out of a job — or leaves a job — it’s not what the targeted person wants.

    Twice in my career, I had to leave jobs that I loved. Absolutely loved. One – I had to leave for money. I had a family to support.

    The other – I had to leave because the company was going down the tubes. As the company was selling off unit-by-unit, I was asked to stay aboard, until the company finally was run into the ground. I also had a family to support and had no interest in a “Slim Pickens Dr. Strangelove” scenario (the movie – he rides the bomb out of the airplane to guide it to its target)…

    But in both cases, it was giving up something I loved – to preserve other things I loved. Not a great or pleasant choice.

    Managers should also think about that when they force someone out the door… even if they quit on their own, and actually go elsewhere – it’s still often unpleasant for the employee.

    This may be why the response (applicant crying) happened – but in interviews – it shows – so prepare the answer “I haven’t thought heavily about them counter-offering, but that’s a distraction today, I’d rather concentrate on the situation we’re discussing now.”

    A worse one – if you’re applying for an internal position and get asked “If you don’t get this position, what will you do?” – had that happen – now THAT’S scary, because it means “we won’t give you this job unless you quit.”

    1. fposte*

      I would not advice using the phrase “a distraction” about an issue that’s raised by your interviewer, though.

      1. anon-2*

        OK – but “gee I haven’t thought of it, because right now I’d like to concentrate on this situation…”

        .. would be good. Divert the question, reply that it’s not a consideration.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d be annoyed if a candidate told me they didn’t want to answer a question because they wanted to focus on something else. I wouldn’t recommend that.

  18. Diane*

    I’ve been thinking about OP #2 all day. I think with an otherwise stellar candidate who had a strong reaction you may not have seen with a different question, you owe it to yourself and the candidate to have one more conversation. Ask about how the candidate has responded and will respond to stressful situations. Ask if that reaction is typical. Have an honest conversation about your business needs, the company culture, and how those mesh with the candidate’s approach to managing and working. If you hire her without this conversation, you’ll be holding your breath for the next tear. If you don’t hire her, you may miss a great candidate and settle for someone who hasn’t impressed you as much.

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