should you dumb down your resume, volunteering for a layoff, and more

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

1. Should you dumb down your resume?

I recently had a disagreement with a family member about how I should approach a job. I’ve worked in Helpdesk-related IT work for five years and have a Bachelor’s degree. I was applying for a computer tutor position in a computing lab.

The family member said I basically needed to “dumb down” my resume because otherwise I seemed too overqualified for the job. I really don’t understand that, because to me, it seems like the hiring company would be thrilled to have someone working there who has such a broad range of skills relating to that subject.

I realize you always should tailor resumes to better fit a particular job, but I really don’t think taking away a variety of skills that I have that aren’t directly related to the job is going to make me stand out more.

Yep, your family member is wrong on this one. There’s nothing wrong with eliminating information from your resume that you don’t think will help strengthen your candidacy (whether it’s an unrelated Masters degree or a job outside your field), but having a bachelor’s and five years of experience isn’t the type of thing that is going to make people think you’re shockingly overqualified for and unhireable for a tutoring job.

2. I didn’t get to ask questions in an interview — what’s the best way to proceed?

I had an interview today for a marketing/community affairs position at a local hospital. First I met with a woman from HR, who told me about the hospital and the work environment. She asked if I had any questions for her, but most of my questions were for the hiring manager, who I met with next. The hiring manager was very nice and explained the position to me, which sounds interesting, but she was the only person in the office that day (there was an event taking place that the rest of the office was at) and naturally, as a director and the only person in the office, she was quite busy — the phone kept ringing and so forth and she had to get to the event, leaving me with zero opportunity to ask my questions. The job sounds interesting, but I know there’s more than what’s on the surface with any job, and my questions would have helped me get a better idea of how much I’d like the position — for example, is this what you’d call a desk job, etc.

Is this a bad sign? Should I find out her email address and ask the questions via email? Or see if they offer the position and then ask?

Wait to see what happens next. They may not move forward with you, so I wouldn’t email her with questions. They might schedule a second interview for you, in which case you could ask questions then. Or they might offer you the job, in which case you could say, “I’m very interested, but I didn’t have much time to ask questions during my interview because it was the day most of your staff was out and the director was very busy. Could I schedule a phone call with the director to talk more about the role?” (Or, if it’s the director herself who calls you with the offer, you could say, “I’d love to ask you some questions about the role. Is now a good time for that?”

Get your questions answered before you think about accepting the offer.

3. How to volunteer for a layoff

What’s the most effective way to volunteer for a layoff (I’ve heard the severance is pretty good and I’d like to start my own business anyway…)

My company is buying themselves and the deal closes on 9/30 and I’m supposed to lead the new website launch. I’d like to negotiate a layoff position and then contract out my time to finish up the project. Any advice?

Well, is your company doing mass layoffs, or are you just hoping you can negotiate one for yourself? It wasn’t clear from your letter. If the latter, that’s pretty hard to do — they don’t have any incentive to agree like they would in a mass layoff situation where they’re looking for people to cut.

If it is a mass layoff situation, though, then first realize that only some positions are under consideration for cutting. If yours is one that they want to keep, you won’t be eligible (and may potentially harm yourself by indicating you’d like to leave). So first see what you can find out about that. Second, don’t just volunteer; find out the specifics of the severance package from someone with authority to tell you (don’t rely on rumors, because they can be wrong, or they might be offering different packages for different roles or levels of seniority, and you want to make sure you have your information right). Once you’ve settled both of those things, then talk to either your manager or HR, express your potential willingness to volunteer, and ask how to proceed.

4. Explaining why I’m interested in a company whose offer I backed out on previously

About a year and a half ago, I got an job offer from company A. The offer was very tempting, and I went as far as letting my manager know I’d be quitting. In the end, I wasn’t very certain I wanted to leave my current job, so I ended up accepting a counter offer ( 60% raise). Of course, I knew this was not the best idea, but I was so very scared of changing companies. I politely let the company A know that I’d won’t be accepting their offer after all, and they seemed to take it well. After this rejection, they contacted me twice more for offers, but both times I turned them down citing that I had promised my current employer at least another six months, which was true.

Fast forward to present time, when I started earnestly job searching and was contacted by a recruiter on behalf of company A. I expressed a sincere interest in the job (perhaps even a bit too eagerly) and mentioned that I had interviewed at company A before, but ended up rejecting their offer. I didn’t really give any specific details, but I think I made a reasonably compelling argument about why I’d be interested in working for this company. So tomorrow I have an interview with company A’s HR manager.

I am rather stressed about answering the inevitable “why do you want to join our company”, given my previous rejections. My reasons are still the same as last year: I want a change from my current project, comapny A works with a type of clients I am unfamiliar with, but would love to have experience working with … and this time, I AM actually ready for a change. Obviously the last reason is not something I’d actually say. That’s more for me to know. How do you suggest I approach such a situation?

Well, generally in this situation, their concern is going to be why they should believe you’re ready now, when you weren’t before … and when you went so far as to accept their offer (it sounds like) before backing out. (Frankly, a lot of companies wouldn’t re-interview you at all after that!) So you’ll need to have a compelling, convincing explanation for what has changed since then. Not just why you’re interested in them — but why now is different from last time, and why they should be confident that you wouldn’t renege on an offer acceptance again.

5. Can I do anything to ensure that my resume was received by an employer?

I sent my cover letter/resume directly to a manager (per the directions on the job’s website). I sent it to his work email and did not receive a “bounce back” message, but I also didn’t receive any kind of “receipt” that he’d received the email either. I’m assuming it would be pushy/annoying to write again to verify that he got the email. Is there anything I can do, or is it a situation where I just have to sit tight and realize that if they’re interested he will contact me?

Sit tight and wait. If you really want to, you can follow up (by email, not phone) in two weeks to reiterate your interest, but I wouldn’t do anything beyond that. Yes, there’s a small possibility that your email got lost and was never received, but that possibility is quite small compared to the chances that it was received. Not everyone has an auto-reply set up or allows receipts to be sent, so it’s most likely that it was received and you’ll hear something if they want to move forward with you. Frustrating, I know, when you’re looking for confirmation, but you’ve got to keep in mind that 99.99+% of emails you send are indeed received, even when you don’t get automated confirmation of them.

6. How to stay in touch with faculty and administrators from college

I graduated college about a year ago. I had several high leadership positions and was lucky enough to establish relationships with some key faculty and administrators–people who can be helpful to my career. I have been in touch with a few since I left. They have done recommendations for me, and I was invited by one to sit on a board as a visiting member. I am wondering if it is appropriate to send a birthday or holiday card to the “mentors” I have not spoken with since my graduation? What is an appropriate tactic that allows me to actively engage them to keep out relationship strong?

Sure, absolutely you can do that. I would also send the occasional email to keep in touch (several times a year, not monthly or anything like that), letting them know what you’re up to, sharing information that you think might interest them, etc.

7. Does a drug test indicate that I got the job?

I recently had two interviews for a job and was told I would hear by a certain date. On that date, I got an email from someone in HR that started like this, “Good afternoon, I would like to start with our background check and drug screening….” But there was no mention of whether I actually had the job or not. I thought that maybe they conduct drug screenings before offering the position, so I went the next day and took the test. I emailed the HR representative and let her know that I had completed the test, and she responded with “Thank you.”

It is now almost 24 hours later and I still haven’t heard anything. Could there have been a miscommunication where the department thinks HR has offered me the position and HR thinks the department has offered it to me? And is it normal to ask an applicant to get a drug screening before offering them the position?

It’s not unusual to have someone complete the drug screening before offering them a job, so I would assume that’s what’s happening here. That said, you can certainly email your HR contact and ask if she can give you a sense of their timeline for making a hiring decision.

And boo to drug testing and invasions of personal privacy, for most jobs.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. MK*

    Question #4- While I’m feeling very sympathetic to the OP, the following analogy popped into my mind: The OP is in a difficult marriage. Then, the OP gets involved with someone else and promises the other person that the OP will finally file for divorce. But the OP decides to stay in the marriage and the affair breaks up. Six months later, the OP contacts her lover wanting to reconnect and with the full intent to divorce her spouse. I think that the lover, like the employer who previously offered her the job offer, will be disinclined to get involved again.

    1. The IT Manager*

      While a decent analogy, this seems like the third time Company A has contacted her since she refused the job. Although Alison is right about a having a prepared explanation, Company A still sounds very, very interested in her and willing to take a chance. I think LW4 has a better chance than most for a second offer.

      1. OP 4*

        MK: you’re spot on, as far as why I didn’t apply myself, even though they were my top choice.
        On the other hand, when the recruiting company asked, I figured this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

        IT Manager You’re right. The hiring manager was extremely gracious when she mentioned my previous rejection, and just said “you refused, because… that’s how things turned out at the time”. I nearly let out an audible sigh of relief, when I heard that.
        In the end, I got another offer, which I accepted. For good, this time.

  2. Sabrina*

    #7 My FIL was sent for a drug screening and two physicals and didn’t get the job. It was kind of infuriating. Especially since he passed all of it.

    I once got a job and no one told me. In the mean time I accepted another job. I found out I got the first job when they called to set up my schedule. They had no idea that HR hadn’t called me to offer me the job. The second one paid a lot better so I had to turn them down. They were pretty unhappy with their HR department.

    1. Flynn*

      I got a job and wasn’t told either! I rang up three weeks later before going to another interview for a job I was pretty sure I’d get easily (but wasn’t as good), “just to confirm I hadn’t got it” and they asked what days I was coming in for!

  3. Harriet Quimby*

    I just accepted an offer at a place that did such a thorough job during the interview process that it took 3 months and involved probably 10 interviews with HR, team members, and company executives. They did some competency testing and I gave permission for a background check. They called all the references I provided and spoke to them at length.

    So I was rather surprised that there was no drug test. It wouldn’t have bothered me and I would have passed but for a company that so carefully screened me, it was sort of a surprise.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t associate the two — lots of places do extremely rigorous hiring but aren’t interested in drug testing or otherwise probing into your private life.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Agreed. I spent four months interviewing with folks in three states for my current role, but drug testing/salary confirmation/etc. never came up.

      2. Just a Reader*

        Conversely, I had one phone interview and one in-person interview for my job and a background check/drug screening process that took 2 months. The post-offer vetting was much more thorough than the pre-offer.

    2. Sara*

      I have a couple of questions since I don’t think I’ve come across any job where a background check was necessary…
      1. What exactly goes into a background check? Is it a credit/arrest record?
      2. Also, can drug tests ever be falsely positive? (Elaine’s poppyseed bagel = heroin scenario from Seinfeld pops into my mind right about now).

      1. Jamie*

        Actually had a false positive on someone because of poppy seed cake. (Polish pastry – way more seeds than a bagel)

        It was barely positive but enough to trigger a retest. Depends on the test and what parameters they are using whether a false positive is likely.

        Background checks differ from company to company – depends what they are looking for. It can be criminal history, driving history, credit history, references, school transcripts, salary verification, etc. or any combination of the above.

        1. Sara*

          Ahh thanks for answering my Q. Aside from the criminal history, it all seems pretty invasive to me.

          1. Jamie*

            I don’t know – I think professional references should always be checked and driving history for people who will have driving as a job responsibility have to have their DMV sheet run…insurance reasons.

            What is appropriate or not really depends on the position, imo, but yes I think companies should be cautious about being needlessly invasive and make sure what they are checking is reasonable and makes business sense.

            1. Sara*

              Yes you’re absolutely correct. I don’t drive or apply for jobs where driving is necessary; salary and references are always asked for upfront, so that didn’t register to me as being part of a background check.

              The only one that I’m really concerned about is credit score. Mine is atrocious, and I have no idea if it’ll prevent me from getting a decent job in the future.

              1. Jamie*

                I’m interested if there are any stats on how common this is – does anyone know?

                FWIW I have a decent job and no one employer has ever run mine. :)

                1. Jessa*

                  It’s becoming more prevalent to ban credit checks because in this economy it doesn’t take much for someone’s to tank (long unemployment, medical bills, etc.)

              2. HR Abnormal*

                Laws can vary state to state. Most companies only check if your if your directly handling financials such as signing checks, etc.

              3. Elise*

                I’ve only heard of credit checks being done when you are going to be directly handling the company finances or when they want to assign you a company credit card.

                1. Del*

                  It can also be for security positions – I have a family member who used to run a museum, and she did credit checks for all her security personnel, since they were in control of access to some very valuable items. I don’t necessarily think that was right (she turned down a candidate she really liked, because he had a bankruptcy a few years back) but it happened.

              4. L*

                I was applying for an accounting job in a local government so lots of testing and interviews. The final stage was a background check with a 10 page long packet including permitting them to talk to my neighbors. I told them my credit score was poor because my husband had died a couple of years previously leaving me with two kids and a mortgage I couldn’t afford so I lost the house a year earlier. After the background check was complete, they said thought I’d be an embezzlement risk given those events and I didn’t get the job.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  That really sucks, I’m sorry. It’s a shame they didn’t recognize the hardships that life can toss our way sometimes. A lot of people were hit by the recession and their credit went to crap. I was one of those. You had a terrible life event that caused yours. So many people are in this same boat, it would be nice if others could have some compassion. Having poor credit doesn’t equal embezzler.

                2. Jamie*

                  It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that made me so angry.

                  I am so sorry that happened to you, L.

                  If anyone from a company with a similar policy is reading, many people have been in a bad place financially…that doesn’t make everyone a potential criminal. When I look back on the time immediately following my divorce I have no idea how I survived financially, much less made sure 3 kids were always fed and cared for…but I did and I would never have taken a dime that wasn’t mine.

                  If you did time for embezzlement, or walked in wearing a hoodie you’d bedazzled with the phrase “I’m an embezzler….where’s the money?!” Then fine…suspicion warranted. It just breaks my heart that after the loss you and your little ones had suffered that this was an issue.

        2. RedStateBlues*

          Yes, drug tests can give a false positive. That is why it is important to disclose any medication, suppliment, etc that you are taking. For instance, Benedryl, a fairly commonly used OTC allergy med/sleep aid reportedly can give a false positive for benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium) or opiates.

          1. Jessa*

            The problem with this is when you try to tell the testing company they say “we have no place to put that down.” I know I’ve tried to do this three times. The companies are really NOT set up for that.

          2. KellyK*

            So what do you do if you’re legitimately *prescribed* benzodiazepines? I mean, other than not taking them the day of the test, or days they would interfere with work performance, but I have no idea how long they stay in your system.

            1. Claire*

              I believe you’re expected to provide the testing center with your valid prescriptions before testing. I was only tested once, but they asked me if I was on any prescription medication or was taking anything other than aspirin.

              1. Jamie*

                This is how I’ve always seen it. Before the test they ask you about any prescriptions you’re taking and as long as you have a valid prescription in your name it’s not a problem.

                Regarding Kelly’s comment about not taking them on days where they would impair work performance that goes to Alison’s point of performance testing rather than drug tests. Because if someone is taking a legal and needed prescription med, but that interferes with work performance that’s still an issue in a way that the couple of beers or whatever you did a few days ago isn’t.

      2. Brett*

        For our background checks, you fill out all of your jobs and addresses for the last 10 years, all current bank and credit accounts, as well as any credit problems. You sign over 4 years of tax records for release.
        But most importantly, you have to provide enough personal references to cover the last 20 years of your life, minimum 3 and no spouses. You also sign away all rights to hold anyone liable for any information they provide. Each of your personal references fills out a form about you, and then must provide 2 -additional- references of other people who know you. This is the part a lot of people don’t know about.
        Those 6 additional personal references (which you did not provide) are then contacted as well. They are also asked to provide two additional people who know you. This chain of asking for new personal references will go as deep as the investigator thinks necessary. I am not really sure how they determine a stopping point, but I know it is not unusual to end up with over 20 people contacted. The investigator might also find new people on their own. The desk workers and resident heads at college dorms or house moms at sororities are common contacts.

        The investigator is really trying to determine one thing. Did you lie on your application, and if so, why?

        1. FD*

          My father had to get a security clearance at one point, and this was more or less what they did. However, it makes some sense in that context, since the goal is to ensure that anyone handling potentially sensitive information doesn’t have something that others could easily use to blackmail them.

          For example, they didn’t care if you’d had an affair and one’s spouse knew, but you could get disqualified if you had an affair and one’s spouse didn’t know.

      3. Anonymous*

        Not only can you have a false positive test for drugs, but you can also have a false positive test for attempting to interfere with a drug test. If you can’t produce enough urine in a specific period of time, you can get in trouble. In addition to testing for the byproducts of drugs, companies will test for creatine as a supposed check on diluting under the assumption that if your levels of creatinine are below a certain point, you’ve done something to try to dilute or flush your system of any drug byproduct. If you fall below this level, you are assumed to have tampered with the drug test, a much more serious infraction than actually testing positive. People have been fired without the possibility of a retest for having a urine creatinine level below what the lab considers normal.
        Women, people who are petite, vegetarians, and those who drink large quantities of fluid are most at risk for false dilution results. (I suspect that if you take a diuretic, you’d probably be at higher risk as well.) As a result, some of the lawsuits have taken a civil rights angle.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That link explicitly says that tests for illegal drugs aren’t considered a medical examination. They are absolutely allowed pre-offer.

    2. HR Abnormal*

      “Any HR department worth their salt”
      It’s not the HR Dept. mandating drug testing, it’s the company.

    3. WWWONKA*

      All that EEOC stuff is great but it DOES NOT stop a company from discriminating. It only gives the guidelines that get worked around.

    4. Risa*

      I work in an industry regulated by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security. Drug test pre-employment are required by the government for all employees (office and otherwise) and random drug testing is required for anyone who works on our boats.

  4. A Nonny Mouse*

    #4 – I don’t want to get your hopes up, but surprisingly, all is not lost.

    I am a paralegal. I was working for a year at Law Firm A when I interviewed with Law Firm B. I was given an offer two days after interviewing, but had to turn it down – they only pay once per month and it was a pay cut (though it did come with guaranteed overtime, which my job at Law Firm A did not – illegally, actually, since as a paralegal, even though I was salaried, I should have been paid overtime). Law Firm B was understandably disappointed but they got it – a pay cut plus pay once a month was just not something I could accommodate at that time.

    Fast forward three months. I’m miserable at Law Firm A – working 20 hour days with no overtime, my boss is Miranda Priestly, and I want to pretty much punch everyone around me. It had gotten so bad that I would wake up at 2am to check my work email because I was so scared not to. I started putting out my resume, and had some bites, but nothing concrete. So, on a whim, I reached out to Law Firm B and asked them if the position was still open, and sure enough, it was. The managing partner called me the next day and we had a lovely chat – she said she knew my boss at Law Firm A and understood why I wanted to leave, and I told her when I turned down the position the first time it was strictly over money. She promised to make it worth my while, and since I had recently moved back in with my parents to save money, I could afford to make the move regardless.

    I’ve been at that job for a little over a month now and I love it. It’s hard work, and I’m stressed sometimes, but I get overtime, and actually make MORE money than I did at my old job because of that. Plus I get thanked, and we get bonuses.

    The moral of this story is that people really can surprise you, and if you just reach out and you’re (mostly) honest about why you turned the job down, managers are people too and will sometimes overlook past mistakes if they really believe you’re a strong candidate – just don’t let them down twice!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Really glad to hear you were able to get out of the stressful situation and into something better. Way to go on having the courage to reach out to Law Firm B. Couldn’t hurt and it sure did help!

  5. The IT Manager*

    #7, my read is that you probably have the job if you pass the drug test. Drug tests cost money so why pay for them for people they’re not yet decided on. But don’t quit your other job or stop job searching without an offer and agreed upon start date for your new one.


    #7 Why the boo about drug testing? I have seen extensive drug use and drinking while on the job, and it can be dangerous to those around you irrelevant to the job. MOST users just clean themselves up during the job hunt and go back to their habits after getting hired. Some companies say you must submit to random testing as a condition of employment. I know of one that has the manager swab your mouth and send off the sample. NO independent non biased controlled environment. The manager does it in his office. Now that’s touchy.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Because it’s none of an employer’s business what someone chooses to do that in the privacy of their own home on their off hours.

      If you’re concerned about employees being in some way incapacitated during work time, do performance testing. This will catch it if they’re under the influence of alcohol and legally prescribed drugs too, or even being compromised by something like extreme fatigue, and it’ll catch it in real time, none of which drug tests do.

      If you’re concerned about what employees do on the weekends, on their own time, in the privacy of their own homes, that’s not an employer’s business.

      1. Brett*

        Depends on the employer. Our employees (public safety) have to regularly testify in court in criminal cases (commissioned more than non-commissioned, but non-commissioned get brought into trials too). Ever wonder why drunk driving is so touchy with police officers? Because everyone knows that if you get a drunk driving conviction, your career is over. Every time you testify in court, the defense attorney will bring up that conviction. Even if an officer has never had an arrest related to drugs or alcohol, their character outside of work is brought up in court to attempt to damage their credibility as a witness.

        Since credibility is so important, there is concern about what an employee does on their own time and that concern extends way past drug testing.

        1. Natalie*

          In your case, though, it seems like drug testing would provide your agency with a false sense of security. It’s not hard to pass a urinalysis even if one regularly uses illegal drugs.

        2. Lee*

          “Because everyone knows that if you get a drunk driving conviction, your career is over”

          Huh? This is NOT true. George W. Bush got a DUI in 1976 and he was elected President of the US for TWO full terms.

          1. BCW*

            I think they were referring to your career as a police officer is over. There are some fields where, rightly or wrongly, you are screwed with if you had a DUI. I know education is one of them.

      2. bearing*

        I have seen you mention this before and I was wondering what you mean, exactly, by “performance testing.” Of the sort that would catch being under the influence of drugs or extreme fatigue. What would this look like in a specific work situation?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          They’re computer-assisted tests that measure things like hand-eye coordination and response time — so they’ll catch multiple types of impairment, including the perfectly legal ones (sleepiness, etc.) — which is of course what you want when safety testing. They’ve actually been used for used by NASA on astronauts and test pilots.

      3. Susan*

        So, AAM – can I ask what your thoughts are on companies who implement no-smoking policies? I can see both sides of the argument – smoking is legal, something an employee does on their own time, generally doesn’t affect performance, yet there are companies moving to “we don’t hire smokers” policies to reduce rising health care costs. Just curious what your take is on that. (I’m personally fine with it.)

      4. Rosalia*

        As someone who has worked in dangerous jobs, there are some jobs where I think drug testing should ALWAYS be mandatory. While someone who’s high in an office on a computer won’t likely cause themselves or others physical harm, this can not be said for every job. While in school, I worked part-time at a zoo. One of my coworkers got fired after he walked right into an enclosure, stepped in between an elephant and the steel bars of the cage and almost got pancaked. After they took him to the hospital, he was drug tested and was found to have drugs in his system. I also worked with someone at one of my fast food jobs (as a teenager), that ended up going to the hospital for some third degree burns along her hand. Not paying attention, she had laid a flaming hot tray on her hand (which at the time had no heat glove on it). She also had a positive drug test and was fired. If a person does drugs at all, how can you be sure it’s “only happening outside of work”. By the time you see indications of use “on the clock”, it may be too late to repair the damage to themselves, others, or the company.

        1. Rosalia*

          Also, BASIC background checks are completely warranted. But I think anything past “Does this person have a criminal history?”, and “Can they legally work in the US?” is not necessary.

    2. Josh S*

      The thinking that Alison (and others) have expressed in the past is that your personal choices while off-the-clock are not relevant to your ability to do the job. Drug testing screens for all use, any time, no exceptions.

      What IS relevant to whether you do your job is performance testing–are you able to react quickly, make proper decisions, etc while on the clock. This has the advantages of A) Not being invasive to your private (non-professional) life, B) also screening for legal things that would impair your ability to do the job, like alcohol or sleep-deprivation, and C) not faulting you for the company you keep (if you were to have secondhand marij uana smoke in your system).

      I’m personally on the fence about the whole thing, but I understand this logic. It’s much more important to know whether you’re sharp and sober when you’re driving the forklift than it is to know whether you were smoking a joint 3 weeks ago while on vacation in Mexico.

    3. Vicki*

      I turned down a possible contract for two reasons.
      1) the position was a longer and more difficult commute than I wanted, but I could have lived with that for 3 months if necessary.
      2) the recruiting firm (not the company, the recruiting firm) had a box on the application that said “do you consent to a drug test”. They told me the drug test might or might not be required, I was only consenting to the possibility.

      The only drugs I use are OTC pain killers & antihistimines or doctor-prescribed. But I firmly believe that forced drug testing is invasive and inappropriate. Look for performance problems. Don’t worry about what your employees do on Friday nights.

    4. Henry*

      If people clean themselves up while job hunting and go back to their old habits once they have a job, surely that renders hiring contingent on a drug test pointless? All it tells you is that they abstained for long enough to pass the test.

    5. Anonymous*

      Some addicts, no matter what they are addicted to, are unreliable, and can be dangerous to others. However for the non-drug addicts, there isn’t a simple test that’s going to catch them, only good interviewing, and good background research by HR. However I have seen some drunks and weed users who are among the most dependable of person, who always shows up to work on time and does the best job possible. It depends on the personality of the person and what drug (meth) they’re on.

    6. BCW*

      Another thing is that “drug testing” really comes down to being “marijuana testing”. Granted they will catch just about anything, but most other illegal drugs are out of your system in a day or 2, whereas marijuana can be in there up to a month. So you could have someone who is a coke or meth addict who just has been clean for 2 days pass this test, but someone who smoked weed at a party a couple weeks go fail. Where I live, in Chicago, marijuana is just a ticket at this point, so if the cops don’t even see it as something worth arresting people for anymore, denying a perfectly good applicant a job about it seems pointless.

  7. Ryan*


    Thank you so much for answering my question! I had a feeling that I didn’t need to really change very much on it, but really didn’t want to argue with them.

  8. OP 4*

    Thank you so much for your input Alison. That was exactly how I felt, they’d react if I had approached them myself. My heart felt like it was beating a mile/hour during the entire interview.

    In the end, they made me an offer after the HR interview, during the same day. This time, I accepted for good.

  9. Emily K*

    Re #5, whenever I open an email and Outlook tells me the sender has requested a receipt, I hit the button to decline to send it. It feels invasive to me.

    1. KellyK*

      I always send the read receipt, although I do often find them annoying. What I really *hate* is getting read receipts with emails sent to hundreds of people. (And in that case, I accept just to be ornery—I figure if the sender gets 247 new emails, they’ll learn to stop doing that.)

  10. myfirstnameismary*

    Just curious about #7. Could you assert your 5th Amendment rights and refuse the drug test? I would think they are probably looking for illegal drug use and wouldn’t a positive test be self-incrimination?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      5th amendment only applies to government searches, not ones by private companies. But either way, you could certainly refuse — and they could then refuse to consider you for employment. In other words, they can’t MAKE you take the test — but they can simply not hire you as a consequence.

  11. Vicki*

    #3 – Do not, repeat Do NOT, plan to get laid off so you can contract your services back to the company. That’s rude (they had you on staff, why would they pay you severance plus contracting rates to have you do the same work?) and can backfire badly (many companies do not allow laid-off workers to take contracts with the company for 6 months or more after they are laid off… for just this very reason!)

    1. The IT Manager*

      That bit struck me as odd too. In fact, why would a company lay someone off and then contract for their service? If that job is critical, they probably aren’t going to be amenable to laying her off.

        1. bob*

          Actually I’m curious if you have been at your current job for a long time or have spent many years at a few jobs in your career? As an IT manager I’m surprised you haven’t seen many people come back on a contract after being laid off.

          1. The IT Manager*

            I have never experienced a layoff having never worker for a commercial company.

          2. KellyK*

            I’ve sort of seen it, but I work in defense contracting, so people get let go based more on the whims of individual contracts than on the company’s specific needs. We had a contract not get renewed due to paperwork issues, and one of the people who was let go ended up starting his own business and doing contracting work for us later. But it wasn’t instantaneous. If they’d had another spot for him immediately, they would’ve just slotted him into that position. (Like they did with me, which is why I’m still here.)

  12. AB*

    Also for #3:

    “I’ve heard the severance is pretty good and I’d like to start my own business anyway…”

    If you are thinking of starting your business from scratch, make sure you do solid research first. Statistics show that you have much better chances if you start a side business and start accumulating clients, testimonials and referrals, up to a point when you have STEADY income that is comparable (if not higher) than your salary, before leaving your day job.

    Lots of people get excited because they find a couple clients, and leave their jobs only to lose their biggest account 2 months later. Most end up having to find another job, because they didn’t confirm first that the business was viable before leaving their day job.

    I know a lot of people who took a severance package with the same idea and none of them were able to build a successful business. Some were lucky to find another job, some are still struggling with a business that is generating very little income.

    1. Ruffingit*

      +100!! Starting a business is not the thing to do without a couple of things:

      1. A solid business plan and some existing clients.

      2. Savings to sustain you for at least a year.

      1. Rana*

        And those savings should include set-asides for taxes – they are high for freelancers, since you’re covering all of them, not just the ones you paid as an employee – and for health insurance, which is not cheap for self-insured people.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Excellent point! I was a freelancer last year and the taxes were fairly high. I made sure to set aside more of my income than was required just to be sure I didn’t get hit with a major payment. Been there, done that, it was not fun.

  13. Laura*

    I’ve wondered what drug testing for marijuana use will mean here in Colorado, since it is now legal here. I wonder how long it will be before someone sues for not getting a job based on a drug test coming back positive for marijuana use. Will the argument be that it should be regarded the same way as alcohol use – legal, therefore no one screens for it?

    On a related note, it’s been interesting overall watching the state figure out how to handle it, what laws they’re going to pass, and so on. But the most surprising thing to me is listening to local newspeople talk about it, because they’re quite cavalier about using the word “stoned” when discussing or reporting on it. It just seems to unprofessional to me. On the one hand, when they talk about alcohol it’s always some version of “under the influence” not “driving plastered.” On the other hand, I guess I should be thankful that they haven’t chosen to use the word “baked” because then I would not be able to take them seriously at all.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’ll still be illegal under federal law, so businesses that want to continue to drug test for it will have plenty of cover, unfortunately.

    2. Anonymous*

      Federal courts have already ruled that even in the states it’s legal in, employers can still fire people for it’s use. I think it was a Walmart case?

    3. EM*

      I’m in Colorado, and my company changed the wording in our employee manual regarding drug use. I can’t remember exactly what the change was, but it had to do with changing lumping marijuana from an illegal drug to be next to alcohol. Basically, our policy is that we don’t do drug or alcohol testing, unless a particular project demands it (some do). As long as you don’t come into work under the influence of *anything*, you’re fine.

  14. Brett*

    #5 Although I am still not sure there is any option other than sit and wait, much more than 99.99% of email gets lost.

    70-90% of email never makes it to your inbox in the first place, getting scrubbed by spam filters. With the wide array of black lists in use, it is very easy to have your provider end up being blocked without knowing it. Some businesses automatically block all inbound IPv6 email (and most people have no idea if they are using IPv4 or IPv6 email). Others scrub attachments under a wide range of rules.
    And a growing number of email systems are using greylisting. Your first try email as always automatically rejected as spam. If your originating provider does not retry the email within a specific window (most often from interpreting the reject message as a send failure), your message is killed. Whenever you see an email show up hours or even days after the fact, it was greylisted.

    I don’t want to make OP #5 nervous, but too many people treat email like a stable means of communication, when it is really only stable when communicating between known contacts that have been whitelisted in some way.

  15. A*

    I “failed” a drug screening once because of prescription I was taking and forgot to disclose. Once I got them proof of the prescription, it was no big deal and my record was changed to “pass” – but it made me uncomfortable to hand over medical records of any kind. I felt like it wasn’t any of their business.

    It wasn’t like vicodin or anything that might hinder my performance either. In most jobs, I think drug screenings are extremely invasive and totally unnecessary.

    1. KellyK*

      Ouch. That had to be really unpleasant. And I don’t think there are any legal protections of medical information given to your employer (that is, it would be perfectly legal for whoever you handed that info to to leave it in the copier room for anyone to see, email it to 50 coworkers who had no need for that info, etc.), so it’s reasonable to be concerned.

      I’ve fortunately never been in that situation, but I would want something in writing identifying how that info would be used/handled/destroyed before handing over my medical records. Maybe that’s paranoid of me, but that’s such private information.

  16. OP #7*

    OP of #7 here, thank you for your answer Alison! I ended up emailing the HR contact asking for clarification on where I stood as a candidate as well as a timeline of their hiring process. She responded and let me know that I had done everything necessary thus far and that she was only waiting on the test results from the testing company. I ended up getting an offer in writing at the end of the day. I accepted and can’t wait to start! Thanks again for the answer, I searched the internet and couldn’t find a question exactly like mine anywhere.

    1. Tony*

      As a busy HR rep, I do find myself overlooking details at times, and I’m never bugged if you follow up with questions like that. Most of us HR folk would be glad to give you some sort of answer if you’re caught off-guard like this.

  17. Tony*

    Question #7: Some states do require the company extend a conditional offer before asking to do a drug test. Oregon immediately comes to mind, but having done HR for 31 different states, I know there are others out there (I want to say Ohio is another, but I’m not positive). Might want to double check, if you’re iffy.

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