bizarre recruiter calls, how to get informational interviews, and more

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

1. What was up with the bizarre call from a recruiter for a job I’m not a fit for?

I received a rather bizarre phone call today and wonder if this is a “thing,” an issue of an inept recruiter, or a red flag for a company in general.

A recruiter contacted me after having (supposedly) viewed my resume on and wanted to set up an interview. The position was as a financial advisor. That is not at all my field or an area in which I have any experience or interest. I sounded flustered, I’m sure, because (1) I thought I’d removed my resume from Careerbuilder long ago (I later checked my account, and I had no resume uploaded; I can only think the recruiter managed to find some sort of archived resume); (2) my field has nothing to do with financial advising or financial anything; (3) I just tend to not be prepared for these sorts of things anyway.

Third point aside, I managed to question what it was about my resume that made the recruiter think I might be a fit for the job. At this point she sounded flustered herself and said something to the effect of “Your resume indicates that you have excellent communication skills. This is for an entry-level financial advisor role.” (I have over 7 years of experience in my field.) At that point, I declined to interview, stating that I’d prefer to stay in my field, and we hung up. I mean, if the best someone can say about my fit for a role is that I “seem to have excellent communication skills,” that doesn’t seem like a situation I want to get in to.

I know recruiters are paid when they fill a position, but is this common? It strikes me as a very ineffective way to go about recruiting, even for entry-level positions.

So very common, especially for the sort of role it sounds like she was trying to recruit you for. Those tend to be warm-body roles, where they’ll take just about anyone they can find — and since this is a job market where it’s not exactly hard to find candidate for most roles, that tells you something.

2. How to describe filling in for a colleague on your resume

How should one note covering a colleague’s leave on their resume? My position is meant to serve as back-up to our grants administrator (I work at a community foundation), with the understanding that when that person is on vacation I would cover the role and help process grants on higher-volume weeks. When our grants administrator went on maternity leave, I covered the process–which essentially superseded my own role, due to the volume and time-sensitive nature of the work–for three months. Shortly before my colleague was due to return, she gave notice. In total, I will have served as acting grants administrator for 6+ months. This equals about a third of the time I have been in my “real” role (as a research manager).

My resume currently says I “support” the grants function, but for 6 months, I truly did manage all aspects of the role, and also contributed significantly to refining and developing new procedures, as well as training the incoming grants administrator. Do you have any suggestions for how to note this on my resume without being redundant (since I am still covering my own responsibilities during this same period and, for the foreseeable future, I will again be “supporting” the grants function)?

“Served as acting grants administrator for six months” — followed by what you did in that capacity and any achievements you had in the role.

3. How to get informational interviews when no one is responding to my emails

I’m a recent grad with a B.A. and I’m deeply immersed in the whole job search. I am not having much luck, as a lot of work in the field that I am interested in appears to require a Masters, at least, and previous research experience…at least that’s what I can tell so far. Essentially, I need more information, and thus would like to do informational interviews. I am not having any luck, though, with getting these set up. I have been contacting HR people at relatively large organizations in my field. Is this the correct person to get in touch with, and ask them to put me in touch with employees at their organization, or should I send emails directly to employees (researchers, in my case)?

In addition, I have read all of your warnings about these NOT being a job interview–and I promise I understand that! But do you have any other advice about the way to make the most of informational interviews?

Nope, don’t go through HR. You want to reach out to the specific person you hope to meet with, and do four things in that initial email: (1) Tell them why you’re interested in talking with them in particular, as opposed to someone else in that field (and being flattering doesn’t hurt, as long as it’s not obsequious); (2) suggest a meeting with a specific (and short) time limit, like 20-30 minutes; (3) tell them precisely the type of thing you want them to ask about (so it’s clear that you’re prepared and have thought this through, and so they know what to expect); and (4) offer to make it easy as possible on them — meeting at their office, or buying them coffee somewhere nearby, or even meeting via phone if that’s more convenient for them. Good luck.

4. Should I update this headhunter so she doesn’t think I’m off the market?

I was contacted by a headhunter recently hiring for a position I am well qualified for. This was a few weeks ago. She hasn’t had a chance to present me to her client yet because they had a board of directors meeting immediately followed by a time sensitive project that needs completion, so hiring for this position has dropped lower on their priority list. As soon as they have breathing room, the headhunter will present me.

In the meantime, I am continuing my job search since there’s no guarantee this potential job will pan out. I was laid off in October and have been doing some freelance consulting since then, but not having a consistent paycheck is stressful. So, I have taken a 3-month temp position through a staffing agency to bring in some steady income while I continue to search for a full time permanent job. The temp job is in my industry and fits my skill set well, and I want to at least update my LinkedIn profile with the information so it doesn’t look like I am unemployed anymore (operating on the theory that having a job makes me look more desirable to potential employers). However, the headhunter I am working with is one of my LinkedIn connections, and I don’t want her to see my update and assume that I am no longer on the job market and then not present me to her client. Should I give her a heads up about the temp job before I update my profile so there are no surprises? What should I say? Should I also send her an updated resume? I don’t want to offend her.

You’re over-thinking it. It’s fine to update your LinkedIn profile. You can note there that it’s a short-term position if you want, but you really don’t even need to. If it will give you peace of mind, it’s fine to send her a note to check in and mention that you’re doing some temp work meanwhile but that you remain very interested in the role she mentioned once they’re ready to move forward, as well as in any others that she thinks might be a good fit.

5. How to turn down a promotion at my part-time job

I have an unusual problem. I work part-time at a retailer while I’m in school. I’ve been promoted once in this past year and the store manager wants to promote me again. The trouble is, this new position is going to involve a lot more time, a lot more hassle, not a lot more money, and I’m going to hate it. (I know I’m going to hate it because I help the current person with it and it drives me insane.) And to be brutally honest, I’ve been looking for another job–for reasons I don’t need to go into here.

I need to be able to turn down the promotion without burning my bridge with the store manager. How do I do that?

You have the perfect excuse since you’re in school: Say that while you appreciate being thought of for it, you need to focus more on your schoolwork than the new position would allow, and so you’d prefer to stay in the job you’re in currently, which is the right fit for your schedule.

6. Do I have to list both schools I attended, when I only graduated from one?

I transferred from UC Irvine to Brown. On some versions of my resume, I list both, but on others, I only list that I graduated from Brown in 2013 and my degrees. The reason for this is that listing two colleges can look awkward and take up space. However, I don’t want potential employers to think I am trying to hide my time at UC Irvine. What is your opinion?

It’s fine to simply list the school you received your degree from; you don’t need to list the school where you did some of your earlier coursework.

7. Contacting companies that don’t have current openings

Some companies don’t have the option to submit a resume or fill out a form for future consideration if positions open up, or even a “careers” page. When I email such companies inquiring about potential job opportunities, should I attach a resume and cover letter to this inquiry email, or ask them if they are interested in taking a look at my resume/cover letter, and only send them those items if they respond in the affirmative?

You should alway attach your resume; they have no idea if they’re even interested enough to email you back unless they can see that first. As for the cover letter, that’s going to be the same thing explaining why you’re emailing them in the first place, so there’s no need for an additional document. Make those one and the same.

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. cncx*

    OP #!: when headhunters call me for jobs that aren’t a fit, or aren’t at all related to my job, it is usually because they are reaching out to you in hopes that you know someone in your network. For example, I work as a systems analyst, and a headhunter called me about interviewing for a CIO role, when nothing in my CV says I am anywhere close to capable of being a CIO. The headhunter was hoping that I would say “oh this doesn’t really fit my profile but I know someone who is looking” but I am all like “I’m not doing your job for you, dude.”

    1. Jessa*

      But, if that’s what they want isn’t the professional thing to do to SAY that? I mean it makes them look stupid and incompetent to be pushing a job at you that you would not be interested in and that doesn’t fit your resume? Why would I recommend a contact for a job through a recruiter who can’t be sensible enough to tell me that they don’t have anything for me but do I know someone?

      1. A Bug!*

        I also have a really hard time believing that a competent, professional recruiter would play such weird games. I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that person to any of my contacts because they might blame me when it turns out that person is an utter flakeball.

        1. guest*

          This is common in my part of Canada where the unemployment rate is very high. There are many desperate job seekers and phoney recruiters trying to scam them.
          They find your contact information and call pretending they have a position that fits your skills. Most times they haven’t even read the candidate’s resume.
          The candidate then gets lured to visit the recruiters office and high pressure sales tactics are used to make you pay for a job placement service. Once they have made enough money, the scam group closes shop, changes the company name and relocates to another part of town.

          These scammers get your information from resumes posted on monster and other popular sites.

  2. Mrs Addams*

    #1 – I had a similar call a few years ago, and after some investigation discovered that it was a scam. They call you about a financial / mortgage advisor job, set up an “interview” in which they tell you actually you need x, y and z qualifications which cost thousands. But don’t worry – they can provide you with training and a loan to cover costs, with the guarantee you’ll be in work afterwards. They don’t tel you that the work is on a self – employed basis, with no guarantee of income or clients. Total scam.

    1. Jamie*

      This and it sets my teeth on edge that its still happening.

      Back in 2008 when I was on the market I got a call and they didn’t even tell me that’s what it was, they out and out lied that it was for another position altogether.

      I’m still furious at the bait and switch waste of time. I get there and it’s a group “interview” (read “sales pitch”) and I walked out.

      Preying upon people who are just honestly job hunting is despicable. How do they sleep nights?

      1. JM in England*

        Being called or emailed by a recruiter for a job I’m not even remotely qualified for sends up a big red flaf for me too. I also get the impression that they are desperately trying to fill the position (if it even exists) with just anybody. A good example of this was being told of a financial analyst role when my CV (resume) clearly states that I am from a scientific background!

          1. Felicia*

            Sends a big red flag for me too…I’ve gotten one that said it was for some sort of accounting position, I have no experience with accounting. I asked them if my 0 experience and poor math skills would be a problem and they said no. I didn’t why it wouldn’t be a problem, so i told them i’m not interested. I’ve also gotten calls from cities 2-3 hours away, when my resume clearly states where I live. That makes me suspicious because it’s hard to find a non local job and they didn’t even ask me if i wanted to live there before offering an interview.

    2. Brett*

      Mrs Addams is absolutely right. This is a scam.
      She actually encountered a more benign version. In another version, you are “hired” (so that you quit your current job) and then have to purchase contact lists from your employer. But the worst version of all involves no job at all. You fill out a background check form (since it is a financial job and always a financial job), and then never hear from the “company” and recruiter again….
      until they start taking out loans and credit cards in your name.

    3. LW #1*

      LW #1 here.

      Mrs Addams, thanks for the response! I did briefly wonder if it might be some sort of a scam. I think what disturbs me most is that this “recruiter” somehow managed to track down an outdated resume. I know nothing on the Internet dies, but sheesh. It seems someone hiring for a legitimate position would pass the resume over because they’d think it’s either an out-of-date resume or the person in question hasn’t worked for years…

      1. Elise*

        I expect they just purchased a list of names (same as email scammers do) and those lists don’t tend to checked for relevancy. They just add more and don’t remove old info, since longer lists can be sold for more money.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        How does “word of the day” translate to “the first time I’ve seen this word”?

  3. B*

    #1 – I have gotten the same financial advisor call…it’s a bunch of whoooie! When I said no to it the recruiter got nasty with me and then said how it really wasn’t a financial advisor role but I’ll never really know what it is now that could have made me boatloads of money. Suuuuuuuure.

  4. Sabrina*

    #1 Dollars to doughnuts it was Primerica which is a borderline triangle scheme despite being back and affiliated with legitimate companies.

    1. Sharon*

      There is a similar scheme that operates under the name AFLAC. I have no idea if they’re at all related to the insurance company that runs the goose commercials.

    2. EnnVeeEl*

      I read this and thought the same thing. I got the same call while job searching a while back. I stopped posting my resume on Monster and Careerbuilder and only submitted directly to specific jobs on those sites, because of the annoying calls.

      A warm body is the requirement, because the person calling me always sounded less than professional, barely knew anything about what I really did for a living despite “reading” my resume, and got snarky when I said I didn’t want to be bothered. Annoying and a waste of time.

  5. College Career Counselor*

    #3 info interviews. If you’re not already, you should be using your alumni network to find people in your field of interest. Alumni can be more willing to respond to informational interview requests (when appropriately presented, the way Alison lays it out). Your alumni office and/or career services office may have restrictions on how you access the alumni database or network, so check with them to find out what their protocol is. Your alma mater may have a networking group on Linkedin as well. Joining that group may be helpful as you pursue your career goals. Good luck!

    1. Rana*

      Good advice. I know my alma mater encourages alumni to list themselves in the directory as being willing (or not) to talk with students and new grads about their careers. No one has taken me up on it so far, but I’d be happy to talk with any grads interested in my field(s).

      1. Rana*

        I should add that this is for my undergraduate institution, not my graduate school. The latter is just too large for me to be willing to be that open – something to be aware of, if one’s a student looking for info.

  6. sharon g*

    #1 – I had a similar issue, but with an insurance company. LN called me several times over the years trying to get me to be an insurance salesperson. I have no insurance experience, and have no desire to get any. I had to all but curse them to get them to quit calling.

    1. Ed*

      Yeah, I got a bunch of insurance company calls from Career Builder and it certainly was not a mistake or accident. I removed my resume and only have it listed on Dice now which is fine with me. I already get enough calls from fly-by-night recruiters on Dice for jobs 500 miles away.

    2. Meg*

      I am ashamed to admit that I fell for this immediately after finishing college. I was so excited at the prospect of getting an interview that I didn’t do any research on the company and took a job as an insurance sales rep because they promised me “No salary limits!!” and “you make your own hours!” It was a horrible six moths before I came to my senses and left that place.

      1. Emma*

        I received these predatory calls just when I left college too. It was banking and loan company whose voice mail messages were less-than-professional and sounded like they were made underwater. Another time I received a very shady pyramid-scheme-y call from an “alum” who responded to my questioning with pretty much “We have a job for you! It’s right in line with your skills! Show up at this place and time to learn more in a group setting!” Uhh, scam.

        1. Meg*

          It’s awful. I know it’s perfectly legal (although I have my doubts as to whether my experience at this company complied with federal labor laws), but the way they lie or twist the truth in order to get people in the door is morally bankrupt. I remember speaking to a manager who said that they basically hired anyone who walked in the door, since 9 out of 10 people didn’t make it past the first two months. That is a TERRIBLE business practice.

  7. Steve G*

    #1 – you are lucky if this is the first you’ve gotten. I am an Energy Analyst – the only people that should be hitting me up are utilities and energy companies.

    However, every time I have ever applied for jobs, I get these emails/calls. In fact, I got a different one DAILY during my last job search. I have even been on one of these interviews, at Met Life in Manhattan, maybe 10 years ago. Every question got deflected with a “motivation starts within,” or “you have to really be dedicated” type answer. Such BS.

    The worst part is that they are trying to hide the fact it is a non-salary commission-only door-to-door type job with no leads, like you won’t figure it out and/or fail miserably if you weren’t prepped.

  8. periwinkle*

    #1: Recruiters can be confused at times – once I got a call from someone recruiting for a crane operator position – but this one has “scam for a sleazeball company” written all over it.

    #3: Forget HR. Do you belong to a professional association? Start with them. They may have a mentoring program, online community, and/or local chapters. Does your school have an alumni network? Maybe they can hook you up with a fellow alum who is in your field. Are there bloggers focused on your field? Contact them to ask for an informational interview.

    #6: I earned undergraduate credit from 4 colleges; the only one listed on my resume is the one that granted the degree. If your interviewer mentions SoCal you can talk a bit about having attended UCI before transferring to Brown, but otherwise don’t worry about it.

    1. V*

      #1 — Financial advisor really just means insurance sales. It’s usually 100% commission, so they don’t care that much if you have experience. It is weird though that she was cold calling you and it was hard to tell where she found your resume.

      Some of them are scams, but some of them are legit. You would have to research the specific company to see if that is the case. If you are lucky, you can find one that offers a starting package, but this isn’t always the case.

      It’s not uncommon for people to change fields and go into financial advising, so I wouldn’t think anything about the fact that she was recruiting you for an entry level position. Saying that you might have good communication skills, usually means that you are involved in the community and know a lot of people.

      I almost went into it, so I’ve met with quite a few companies and figured out what they are looking for.

      #3 — Yes… professional associations are the way to go! I’ve done this before and gotten plenty of responses to my cold e-mails. You don’t even have to be a member. (There’s a certain type of person that is involved in these types of organizations and they are always happy to promote the field).

      Look at the local website and go through the bios of the people that are involved and see whose background and experience is interesting. They will usually have contact info and I would start there. Good luck!

      1. LW #1*

        I’m LW #1.

        “Saying that you might have good communication skills, usually means that you are involved in the community and know a lot of people.”

        Honestly, this is not the case for me! I am a very strong introvert, and anything the “recruiter” found on my resume would not have indicated I have a strong network I could have employed in the position. I’m inclined to agree with the others who believe it was scam. Thanks for your thoughts, though.

  9. Not so NewReader*

    I have the do not call registry bookmarked on my computer. I get too many calls (read: more than ONE) from a particular number, I Google the number and usually find a blog where people are talking about that number. Then I go to the do not call registry and report the number.

    It seems to help. At least it gives me some peace of mind.

    1. Emma*

      800notes is also a great website against which to screen numbers. I Google unknown numbers calling me and if it shows up there, I report it then ignore it.

  10. OP for #2*

    I’m the OP for #2… Just as I suspected, the answer is super simple! Thanks for helping us cut through the mental noise that comes with job-related uncertainties, Alison!

  11. AB*

    #1: One more reason to keep your phone number out of resumes you make available in generic job board websites.

    In my experience, legitimate recruiters completely understand why someone would choose not to include a phone number in a resume that is searchable by anyone willing to create an employer account with the website. If they are interested they will contact you by email and at this point, after confirming it’s a reputable company and a good match, you can forward them a resume that includes a contact phone number.

    1. LW #1*

      Thanks for the feedback. Since my resume is no longer supposed to be available through careerbuilder, I’m not sure how to go about clearing out my contact info. Maybe I’ll check with the site and try to see if they can find any cached information to clear out.

      1. AB*

        Hi, LW #1,

        I realize that you probably won’t be able to fix the issue for already submitted resumes; but more people will be reading this thread and the recommendation was more for them to keep in mind for future consideration.

        To answer your original question, yes, it is a red flag to be contacted by phone by people offering a completely unrelated position. Lots of reputable companies have been victimized by scammers using their company names and reputations to scam unwitting job seekers, so even if the caller mentions a credible company, keep in mind that they wouldn’t be randomly calling candidates whose profile is far from a good match for the position.

    2. Vicki*

      The phone number on my resume is my Skype number. The Voicemail for my Skype number provides my email address.

      Once I know the particulars about the job, and it’s a fit, I will gladly accept (or make) the call.

  12. Samier*

    Thanks for the advice Alison!
    For #6, what you said about them not knowing whether they’re interested or not until they see my resume, and having the body of the e-mail function as the cover letter, those things really make sense.

  13. Anonymous*

    #6 If you’re applying for jobs in California then you might want to list both because some of the jobs you’re applying for might have UC alumni and that might give you an additional plus for those alumni. You also have the possibility to network with UC alumni, even if you didn’t graduate from there.

    1. Blue Dog*

      I was going to say the say thing. List Brown, not only because you graduated from there but also because it is Brown. The only reason to mention UCI – which I can see from my office window – is if you are applying for a job in OC (and then you should mention it in your cover letter – i.e., “Before graduating from Brown, I did two years at UCI and I am interested in returning to Southern California.”

  14. Ruffingit*

    I applied for a legitimate job through Career Builder. I now receive job ads about once a week from them with the title “Great Job is interested in you!” Great job being any number of jobs, none of which I actually qualify for. It’s really irritating.

    I feel badly for people who are getting phone calls about scam jobs. It’s hard enough being unemployed and looking, you don’t need that kind of stress.

  15. Vicki*

    Re: #5 turning down a promotion:

    What would be the appropriate way to turn down a similar promotion if you’re _not_ in school?

    1. AmyNYC*

      Be sure to say how grateful you are/appreciate the offer (if it’s true of course) and then say you’re content where you are and the position you’re being offered isn’t what your looking for right now. This works best if you can back it up with some reasons, “…right now I’m really happy being a sales associate; I like working with customers closely, and I feel that’d I’d loose some of that if I were to accept.”
      See the post earlier this week from the writer who is interested in taking a junior position after holding senior ones.

  16. HAnon*

    6. – I’ve been listing my degree this way for months hoping it was ok (transferred halfway through) — a little relived that I’ve been doing it correctly; I always wondered! :)

  17. Elizabeth West*

    #6–I don’t put my music school time on my resume, both because it’s hardly relevant to what I do now, and it was so long ago that it really dates me. For government apps I did, but not for anything else.

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