asking for a better title as a volunteer, declining an offer to interview, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. Can I ask for a title that better describes the work I’m doing as a volunteer?

I am a licensed attorney, and have been for about seven months now. Because the job market still sucks hard, I have been clerking (for free) in the office of a local judge. While not ideal, this has gotten me both experience and exposure to the legal community. My issue is this: the judge, in introducing me to other attorneys, often refers to me as his “intern,” a title which bothers me because in the legal world “intern” generally denotes someone still in law school and otherwise unlicensed to practice. My position does have some similarities to that of an intern (most notably being unpaid) but I am an attorney and I do the job of one, and I would like other attorneys — particularly those that might employ me one day — to know that. Do you think this is a reasonable request, and if so, how would you go about asking it?

Yes, it’s absolutely reasonable. You’re doing what sounds like substantive work, and you’re doing it for free; you should at least get an accurate title out of it. I’d say something like, “Do you think we could give me a title? I’d love to be able to put something that accurately describes my work on my resume and be identified that way when you’re introducing me. ___ is a title that many offices like ours seem to use for someone doing the type of work I’m doing.”

2. Declining an offer to interview for a different position after being rejected for another

I received a rejection letter for a part-time position I interviewed for last week. The top half of the email was standard boilerplate: “We decided to move forward with other applicants …” In the second half, she stated that the company believes I would be a better fit for a different full-time position within the company and asked if I would be interested in applying/interviewing for that. I had read the description of this other role before I applied and I have no interest in it. I like to do follow-up emails, but the question I have here is how do I address the second half of her email in a polite, respectful manner?

Just be straightforward. It’s not rude to not be interested in a particular job. Say something like: “Thanks so much for mentioning the X position. It’s not quite what I’m looking for, but I appreciate your thinking of me for it. Thank you also for letting me know your hiring decision for the Y position, and best of luck with your new hire.”

If you’re inclined, you can be specific about why you’re not interested — “I’m focusing on roles with an emphasis on teapot construction” or whatever — but that’s not necessary.

3. Should I reapply to a position when I applied last month and haven’t heard back?

A company I would love to work for recently had a job posting for a junior position that seemed right up my alley. I quickly applied, heard nothing, sent a follow-up a week later, and still got nothing. This was about a month ago. The posting is still on the company website, even as others have been taken down, making me think they’re still looking. I’ve been toying with the idea of tweaking my resume and cover letter and applying again, which makes me wonder: is there any kind of expiration date on a job application? Is there a certain amount of time a job posting should sit empty before applying again (assuming I even should, or should I just take the hint and move on?)

If you reapply only a month later, they’re going to assume that you forgot you applied the first time and you’ll look disorganized. A better idea, if you want to reach out to them, would be to send the hiring manager a letter reiterating your interest (and if you sent a lackluster cover letter the first time, improve it now).

4. My interviewer discussed my interview with a former employee

I recently had an interview to become the manager of my current department. The day after my interview one of the ladies I work with tells me that my store manager discussed my interview with an ex-employee rather extensively. Is this illegal? I feel humiliated and degraded by her actions. What should I do?

No, that is legal. It’s legal for an interviewer to discuss your job interview with pretty much anyone in fact. And indeed, interviewers often do talk interviews over with others when they’re working through their assessment of a candidate. There’s no reason to feel humiliated by it, unless the discussion was particularly disparaging.

5. How are other companies increasing the number of women in upper management?

Today my company announced it will be introducing a mentor program and focusing more on training staff for upper management. During the meeting about it, I raised the point that our upper management is entirely men, and asked about whether the programs could help address that imbalance.

People were very positive about the idea but didn’t seem to have thought about it before; the CEO and HR head both came over to me to chat about it afterwards, and were both keen but also went “ah, well, it’s hard because we’re a male-dominated industry and sometimes the person with the most experience and skills is always going to be a man.” I agree this is currently true, but I think we should be working to change that rather than just iterating it.

I’d like to email the HR head who’s implementing our program with examples of how other companies are actively supporting women and equality in upper management and go “hey, look at what this company is doing, maybe we could incorporate something like this?” Do you (and/or your readers, maybe?) have any ideas or examples I could send him?

I’m throwing this out to readers for ideas. Readers, what can you offer that might help?

{ 52 comments… read them below }

  1. BW*

    Re: #7, I just read about this in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. She mentioned that some big companies, I think the example she gave was Deloitte or Goldman Sachs, that had implemented this kind of formal mentoring program for women. Apparently the companies that actually use it have found it to be pretty successful, and Sandberg writes that she likes this kind of program, especially because, when it matches senior men mentors with junior women mentees, it helps take the vague sense of impropriety people often associate with this type of associations. And it’s precisely this vague sense of impropriety that makes it even harder in the first place for junior women to find senior mentors, since most people at the mentor level are men. She thinks that more of these formal mentoring programs can help with that.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Yes. Mentors do not have to be of the same sex – not even sure if your program is meant to be one-on-one or a group type of them with various leaders providing guidance to a group of promising trainees. That said, the selection of process should make a special effort to consider women ensuring that promising female employees are not ignored just because they don’t look like and fit the mold of your company’s all male leadership.

      If you get enough women in the program, you might set something up where they can get together and discuss strategies for succeeding in a make dominated field.

  2. PEBCAK*

    #5 — Good for you for bringing this up!

    The problem is that a lot of companies *say* they want to fix these things, but to really bring about systemic change requires more than a women’s affinity group or more diversity training. They have to really invest in career paths for their female employees, allow work-life balance perks that retain women (who, even in a two income household, are more likely to be responsible for the bulk of childcare), and actively seek to recruit more outstanding women. These things take a lot of time and energy beyond slapping together a mentoring program.

    If they are really serious about it, though, first they should identify where women start to fall out of the picture. Is there a big imbalance at the entry level, or is it more pronounced higher up, or both? Even in a male-dominated industry, your company should know how it compares to industry averages, and work to recruit more women if they need to. Then, they need to do the things that retain women.

    (My last employer had a chicken-and-egg problem…there were plenty of women in lower positions, but none in management. So then the top women would leave, because we felt we couldn’t advance. But then women wouldn’t get promoted, because the ones best-suited for promotion have left.)

    1. Chinook*

      I think that bringing up the issue is a good start but this is also something that takes time to change. I worked for an accounting firm that had multiethnic employees spread across both genders but an all white partnership with only one woman (who was brought in from her own practise). The optics are bad until you realize that the partners reflect the city 20 years ago when they started and that, 20 years from now, the current crop will be replacing them. Experience to qualify for C-Level jobs takes time and the only way to get women at the top levels is to encourage and mentor the best employees from the beginning and to ensure that the definition of “best” doesn’t include gender.

    2. Emm*

      See my comment below–the correct title is “Law Clerk.” If you just say clerk, people will think you work for the Clerk of Court–totally different, non-attorney job.

    3. Amy*

      What is your company doing to specifically recruit women – at any level? I am not talking about quotas (yuck) but advertising open opportunities in women’s professional groups and near by women only colleges is a great place to start.

      Invite outside academic or professional speakers in for a lunch and learn to provide women with tips on moving up and/or managers tips to develop careers for all employees with a focus on how development may differ between men and women.

      Uncover and remove any obstacles women in your organization may be facing to advancement – and these program will benefit men as well. Tuition reimbursement, flex time, family leave above and beyond the federal minimum.

      And finally, what technical training is needed to boost women. Casual observance at a lot of companies can attest that women can found leading HR depts, Engineering not so much – for example. Are there women who want to break into male dominant areas, why haven’t they, what can you do to change that?

      Pebcak has some excellent advice about additional paths to take as well.

      There is no magic bullet – you may have to try more than one approach to get the desired results.

  3. LondonI*

    5# Flex working is good for all employees, but seems to be particularly popular among those women who have the role as primary caregiver for their children. For similar reasons offering part time roles at higher (management and senior) levels enables women in caregiving positions to be able to combine work and childcare more effectively. (Personally I think we should be challenging the assumption that women have to be the primary caregivers at all, but obviously that’s a societal issue!).
    On another level, if your field is predominantly male, how about going into the local schools to talk to girls about the work that you do and encourage them to take subjects in their studies that could lead to a career in that field? Obviously this would be a long-term project but you could establish a mentoring programme with a few of the local schools and build on it over the years.

  4. Melissa*

    #1 — YES! AAM’s advice is great and I hope you’ll take it. I worked for a solid year as a volunteer (assistant high school band director) in a paid position because there wasn’t enough funding for the job. Despite this, my boss (a) gave me the title of the actual job anyway and when I was introduced, I was introduced with that title every single time; and (b) did everything in his power to find a way to pay me so that I would stay for another year. He had to “back door” it, but the second year I actually got paid. It was a tiny, tiny amount, but I still got paid.

    1. Julie*

      I thought AAM has said in the past that it’s not legal for people to do unpaid work at for-profit companies. Is the rule different for government offices (I assume that’s what a judge’s office is considered)?

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I would say the culture and attitude needs to come from the top, at the firm I work for is very keen on promoting the best person for the job and a massive effort is put into salary bandings to make sure the same jobs pay the same wage regardless of who is doing it. The only female board member talks quite openly about how she manages a young family and stills works at a senior levle. She’s widely tipped to get the top job in a year or two when the current CEO steps down. What interests me is the fact that most of the board all went either one or two of the top universities in the country, but that’s another conversation…..

  5. Poe*

    For #7: Oxford University has “Springboard” in the UK for its staff, and I know a few women who have gone through it, and all of them have gotten a lot out of it. I like it because it allows ALL female staff, regardless of level, to get personal and professional development out of it. My current manager credits it with helping her move up to where she is now. This model will also help move women through the ranks, instead of just focusing on the few near the top, which will help deepen the field.

    1. Gallerina*

      Well hello there fellow University of Oxford employee! Springboard’s a good programme, but I don’t think it’s publicised nearly enough. I’m not on it, and I’m pretty sure that you can only join it once a year, so not great if you’re one of the many, many University employees on a contract.

  6. ErinH*

    “sometimes the person with the most experience and skills is always going to be a man”
    This is a weird phrase. I think the key here is the word *sometimes*, but the rest of the phrase implies that the CEO and head of HR think that the key word is *always.* It is likely that they have internalized this way of thinking and subconsciously give more weight to male candidates when hiring for management positions. I highly recommend that you have someone who doesn’t make hiring decisions remove names and other gender-identifying information from cover letters and resumes before the decision makers see them. Gender will be obvious when people show up for interviews, but this may help get them in the door if they’ve been screened out in the past. It requires a little more work on your end, but if you’re serious about bringing in more women, you have to do the work to remove sources of bias.
    (By the way, I’m not saying that these people are necessarily sexist, but rather that they’ve internalized ways of thinking that will impede their ability to see past gender when doing initial candidate screening.)

    1. Jessa*

      The problem with the statement “sometimes the person with the most experience and skills is always going to be a man,” is that it’s only true because of the privilege of men. The reason it’s true is because women haven’t been given the experience. If there are no women in middle management, then there are no women in upper management, because well “all the men have the experience.” It doesn’t matter if the statement is true, they need to say “BUT this woman has the skills, we can teach her/give her the experience.” Women are never going to get any experience unless they’re given it.

    2. Elysian*

      I think that phrase is also a problem because it masks that hiring at the upper levels involves a lot of intangibles. Even if a woman has the experience and skills, she might be passed over for “fit,” and the reason given might be experience and skills. People like to hire people like themselves, and if there are a lot of men in the upper echelons, they’re not as likely to look at a woman (or a minority, or anyone with a different background) and think – “Gosh, that person reminds me of me.”

      I read somewhere that men are hired for their potential, and women are hired when they’ve demonstrated competence. That resonated with me.

      I think the first step is to just make people aware of these things, which you’ve started to do. It’s great that they seem receptive. A formal mentorship program is a great start, for the reasons mentioned higher up in this thread – it removes some of the perceived impropriety of a younger woman seeking advice from an older man. I think that Lean In has some good ideas for changing company culture, and is worth a read.

    3. Another Anon*

      I have never done hiring, but the thing that struck me about that sentence, is that I’m fairly certain that hiring and promotion decisions aren’t just about who has the MOST experience and skills. If that were the case I could hire for openings for civil engineers, organizational psychologists, and bakery supply company managers.

      Men get evaluated on how much experience they have and what skills they have. But they also get hired and promoted for fit, potential, personal connections, charisma, because the job really, really needs to be filled, and any number of other factors.

      You don’t actually need the person who is the MOST qualified–you need someone who is qualified enough.

      So it seems to me that from the exec’s statement, there is every possibility that they are already seeing women applicants who are very strong and would excel in these roles if they were given the chance.

  7. Elysian*

    #1 –
    I would guess the title you’re looking for is “clerk,” which is appropriate. Knowing that, I would suggest a tiny change in AAM’s script. You might say, “Many chambers refer to both their paid and unpaid graduates as “clerks.” This is true and common. I’ve never heard of an unpaid graduate being called an intern. Even part-time graduates are “part-time clerks.” If it makes your judge more comfortable for whatever reason, you could be a ‘volunteer clerk.’ I don’t think noting that the position is volunteer detracts from the title. Lots of judges are using volunteer clerks now since the economy is bad/funding has dried up/fewer judges are getting confirmed to the bench and caseloads are increasing.

    Best of luck!

    1. Anon*

      +1 to title of clerk. I had this as a paying job fresh out of law school, and the title was judicial law clerk. I also have a friend who did it for free with a different court, and I believe he had a similar title.

    2. Emm*

      The correct title is “law clerk.” If you just say “clerk,” it could imply the non-attorney clerk of court employees. (See my full comment below).

      1. Elysian*

        While I agree that is technically true, everyone I talk to uses ‘clerk’ for shorthand. “I clerked for a judge.” “Oh, I’m a clerk at the moment.” I agree it could confuse some people, but I really don’t think its going to confuse anyone in the profession. It may confuse a stranger if you’re meeting them for the first time, but then you’d probably have to explain what the whole gist of the job is in the first place. Of course you would put the full, formal title on your resume and whatnot.

      2. OP #1*

        When I talk to people, I refer to myself as the judge’s law clerk. In practice, I am treated more like a staff attorney, but I don’t call myself that because there is already a “staff attorney” in the office and it would confuse matters.

        My concerns, primarily, are that I want to avoid the connotations of a) not being licensed, and b) not being paid. It isn’t so much an issue of what I can call myself, but what the judge calls me in conversation with others. I would imagine he just doesn’t think about it (he is scatterbrained, and a big part of my job is to keep him on task), and I’d like him to be aware of it.

        1. Jaimie*

          I agree that “clerk” would be a fair request. But the truth is, you aren’t being paid, and the hiring process for your position might well have been different if the position were a paid, fuu-time, traditional role. Just my $0.02, but be careful how you ask for this. Judges do not take kindly to being corrected. And he might be scatterbrained in certain ways, but he’s come this far. I’m not saying don’t ask, but be careful.

        2. Elysian*

          Yeah, I think law clerk is a fair request, if that’s the work you’re doing, But I don’t think you can get around a connotation of not being paid – you’re not being paid. It’s a fact. But I do think you might be exaggerating the importance of payment to the people who might matter (attorneys who might hire you in the future). Most are interested in that fact that you got substantive experience with a judge, not the fact that you were paid for it.

          Even if you’re not concerned about what to call yourself, couching the conversation that way may re-align the judge’s thoughts on the matter. If you ask and say “I just wanted to be clear to I knew what I could put on my resume/say when I discuss the position with future employers” you’ve put the idea into his head that you need to get your title straight. Putting the conversation into those terms might change his behavior without you having to say, “Hey, Judge, I would really prefer you call me your clerk instead of your intern.” As Jaimie points out below, the latter may not go over as well.

  8. Brett*

    #4 I’m wondering if the interviewer discussed with the former employee behavioral answers from the OP that involved the former employee! That would be an extremely uncomfortable situation.
    Imagine your interviewer sharing “Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult co-worker…” with that co-worker.
    (And apparently discussed this in front of other workers too.)

    1. Chinook*

      I think that there is a danger of promoting someone on potential rather than experience because, if they fail to meet that potential or, worse, do damage to an organization because of a lack of experience (because somethings can only be learned through experience), it can poison the well for future female candidates and make the bar even higher for them.

      The better way would be mentoring across gender to earn the experience and the promotion.

      1. Editor*

        Chinook, mostly you are right about emphasizing accomplishments, but many employees over the years have been hired for potential. This is especially true for people in entry level jobs, and if the company is not hiring enough women for “potential” in the lower ranks, the women won’t have the chance to get the experience they need.

        My kids both work in businesses dominated by men, and one of the problems they see is that top-ranked women just don’t get the same respect the top-ranked men do. The problem of women receiving promotions isn’t just a matter of feeding women into the hiring pool, it’s also a matter of respecting the women who are hired and continuing to respect them as they’re promoted.

  9. Sourire*

    I love how conditioned we all are to have the last question be #7, that even when it’s only #5 now with the shorter posts, we are still calling it 7 (I’ve seen it twice in this post and at other times as well). It really shows what a dedicated and loyal following you have Alison :)

    #4 – How does the other employee (who told you) know about the discussion your manager had with the ex-employee in the first place?

    1. Ruffingit*

      For #4, the answer is probably that ex-employee and employee who told the OP are friends. Ex-employee may have mentioned to employee that she and manager had a conversation about OP.

    2. Melanie*

      They are friends. They were out with each other and the conversation between her and the other employee made her uncomfortable enough to tell me. I posted more information on the matter below.

  10. Chinook*

    OP #2, it might be worth asking the interview that job #2 would be a good fit for you. There may be something about the job not mentioned in the posting or in how they could fit the position to your qualifications that is not obvious to an outsider. For example, I was hired as someone to deal with vendor invoices and A/P but my job also included a small aspect of helping deal with project paperwork. Because of my computer and organizational skills, this has morphed into me being a database manager with only a small part of my day dealing with invoices and vendors. But, if they ever post the job, that vendor and A/P piece will be an important part of the hiring process.

    1. Chinook*

      I say this because if you don’t know the difference between capital and operational expenses, you couldn’t do my job.

  11. Jake*

    “ah, well, it’s hard because we’re a male-dominated industry and sometimes the person with the most experience and skills is always going to be a man.”

    This is why a mentorship program needs to be started at the bottom and work its way up. If good training and mentorship is provided to low level female employees, they will become the most experienced and qualified for the senior level jobs.

    I work for a corporation with 60000 employees. We have no female senior (as in President and Vice President level) level leadership outside of HR. We are in construction and engineering, so that is about as male dominated as it gets. However, our company has made a great effort to hire very qualified females for our entry level positions. As they have moved up and received mentorship and training, they have broken barriers every step of the way. First it was the first group of women to become project managers, then project directors, etc. Eventually they WILL get to those senior levels, but it had to start all the way at the bottom, or close to it, for exactly the reason your CEO pointed out.

  12. Emm*

    For #1, the correct title is “Law Clerk.” I am an attorney and clerked for two judges, and that was my title (I was paid, though that doesn’t make a difference). You’re right that if you are called an intern or extern, people will think you are still a law student, not an attorney. I’m surprised your judge doesn’t know that. Being a law clerk to a judge is actually a pretty prestigious thing–at least in the legal world. Outside of the legal world, everyone thought I was a file clerk in the clerk of court’s office. It’s LAW clerk, people! :)

    1. Anonymous*

      For some reason I have a mental image of the judge as an “absent-minded professor” type. “Oh goodness, you have a law degree?”

    2. danr*

      Yes it is. And check with your state judiciary and bar association. Some states have strict definitions for law clerks and whether it can be an unpaid position.

    3. OP #1*

      He is rather absent minded. Part of the problem is that my predecessor in the position was a law student, so he got used to calling her his intern.

      I don’t know about the prestige, but it is a very small legal community here and I seem to have become rather well-known in a very short amount of time. I may be unpaid, but I’m networking hard and I’m sure I’ll have options soon.

      1. Senor Poncho*

        2012 law grad here. Not much advice on the actual post, but just here to say keep grinding and you’ll have a breakthrough eventually. Not many older lawyers (or judges) really get how bad it is lately, so your judge is probably pretty typical. Do your best, and whatever happens, keep moving forward.

  13. Quay*

    Hey Alison,

    Thanks so much for taking my question. I know the issue was rather simple and straightforward enough; sometimes I have issues with wording.

    I’ve been following this blog since I graduated in 2010 and it has been a valuable resource for me. Thank you for all the great advice!

  14. Editor*

    Something for #5 to consider sharing with management, since it may help the men at the top see how different biases are formed (better hope a male boss has daughters but no sisters — who knew?):

    And, just because I found this article fascinating, another piece from the Atlantic about how large datasets can provide better hiring information, and what this might mean for employees and employers:

  15. Melanie*

    Re #4- (Updated info) Not only did my interviewer (my store manager) discussed my interview with the ex-employee, she also discussed it with the other candidate It wasn’t a nice discussion either. There is a lot of favoritism in between my store manager and the other candidate (example: Talking for an hour in her office gossiping about her employees). I didn’t get the position, but I also found out my store manager coached the other candidate for the interview process because we had to do three phone interviews as well. If this is not illegal it definitely should be grounds for termination. I’m tired of her bulling my whole department EXCEPT the other associate and the current manager of the department.

  16. Lily in NYC*

    #5 – I just read something I found so interesting – orchestras starting holding blind auditions (behind a screen) about 20 years ago to stop people on the judging panel from pushing former students. Orchestras were notoriously male-heavy, especially for certain instruments, like the french horn. When the auditions became blind, all of a sudden tons of women started getting jobs – something like a 58% increase. I don’t know how something like this could be tailored for the corporate world, but it really made me think.

  17. Laundress*

    OP #1: I see from the rest of the comments that this is a minority view, but as a current law clerk, I would *not* recommend calling yourself a “clerk” if you are unpaid. For those not in the field, I should mention that paid judicial clerkships are prestigious jobs (often there are literally hundreds of applicants for a single job). If another attorney told me he was a “clerk” to a judge, and I later found out he was unpaid, I would at the very least think he’d misrepresented himself. “Intern” is the appropriate title when you’re unpaid, regardless of your law school graduation or bar admission status.

    That said, I understand your concern. Maybe ask the judge to mention your bar admission, or mention it yourself, when meeting new people. And good luck. I hope you find something very soon.

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