how interviewers judge the questions you ask, are degrees in “general studies” worth getting, and more

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

1. Will I be judged on the kinds of questions I ask at an interview, or on asking no questions at all?

At the end of interviews, we are asked if there are any questions. How much weight is placed on the kind of questions asked or saying “I have no questions”?

Lots of weight. The types of questions you ask can reveal all sorts of things about you — what motivates you, what you are and aren’t most interested in, what kind of judgment you have, whether you’re enthusiastic about the work, whether you’re realistic about the work, and plenty more.

Here are some questions you should never ask, and here are some questions to get you started on what you might want to ask.

And really, why wouldn’t you want to ask questions? You’re considering spending 40+ hours a week at this job; aren’t you hungry for all the information about it you can get?

2. Should I give feedback to a pushy, problematic job candidate who keeps applying?

I’m the funnel for graduate assistant applicants for my school. All applicants go through me because I assist faculty members in the hiring process, it gives HR a single contact, and it saves the faculty members from being bombarded by emails. I simply forward applicants as I receive them.

One of our students knows that I operate in this capacity and that I employ graduate assistants myself. “Jane” has come to me 3-4 times, asking me if I could pass along her resume, if I know of any openings, or if my own positions are filled. The problem is that this student has a reputation for being incredibly unreliable, needy, and divisive. She’s never been hired by my department, but word got to me from others she’s worked for in the university, and when she’s helped us out with events in a student capacity, it hasn’t been pretty. In short, I’m not inclined to pass her resume to anyone without serious disclaimers, and I’ll never hire her myself. My question is whether I should explain any of this to her, or if I should continue to nod and smile and give generic responses?

It sounds like your role in the hiring process isn’t one where you’re doing any screening or making decisions on who does and doesn’t move forward, so I think your best bet is to just continue doing that and not try to give her feedback.

If you did have a more involved role in hiring decisions, though, I’d still probably say not to say anything in this particular case. It’s tough to give give feedback that’s just about reputation rather than problems you’ve seen first-hand. Since she HAS helped you out with events, you could talk about that though — “I’ll be honest, when you helped on Events A and B, I had some concerns about X and Y. To consider you for a job here, I’d want to see real evidence of change and growth in those areas.”

3. My bonus was much smaller than coworkers in different roles from mine

I work part-time (filing, reception, phones, extra projects) for a financial advisory office and received a year-end bonus of $750. I’m pleased with the bonus, but I discovered – quite inadvertently, honestly – that there were other bonuses paid to full-time colleagues ranging between $10,000 and $24,500. They are not doing the same type of work as me. My work is basic receptionist/filing/phones/special projects – it’s part-time, about 30 hrs a week. The others in my firm are 5 financial advisors and my office manager. It isn’t that I would have expected anywhere near those dollars in a bonus – after all, I am only part-time, my work is nowhere near the same level as the officers/advisors. But I think I’m feeling a little insulted and I don’t know if I should be. I mean, I believe my feelings are valid – but are they appropriate to the circumstances?

I hate to appear ungrateful, but am I wrong to feel a little bugged by the huge difference in bonuses?

It’s very normal for people who work in finance to make large bonuses, and very normal for someone who’s doing part-time admin work to make a much smaller bonus. So I’d stick with your initial assessment (when you were happy with the amount you got) and not compare the amount to people who are in very different roles, with very different pay norms.

4. How are degrees in “general studies” perceived?

I lucked into a great career: internet marketing. I joined this industry when it was new and no college courses were offered in this field. Fast forward 20 years and I’m ready to move to the next step in my career. But a larger percentage of companies have online applications and require a bachelor’s degree. The cheapest, fastest path to a bachelor’s is finishing a degree in general studies (B.S.G.) online at my old university. How much weight would a B.S.G. carry in the workforce?

It’s … seen as kind of a bullshit degree. It’ll let you answer “yes” to the question of whether you graduated from college, but it won’t be particularly impressive to rigorous employers who are looking for evidence of strong critical thinking skills.

On the other hand, you’re doing the degree as kind of a perfunctory check-off-the-box measure at this stage in your career; it’s not like you’re doing it to get rigorous academic training to prepare you for a career, and that’s going to be clear to employers since you already have a career.

And that’s why the whole thing is silly. 20 years into your career, you have enough of a track record to show far more than a degree ever shows. At the start of a career, when you have little to no experience, degrees can be a shorthand that tells employers that you have at least some basic education and the wherewithal to stick with something for a few years. But employers don’t need that shorthand with more experienced candidates since they have their actual track record of work to look at. And you shouldn’t need to go through the time and expense of going back to school just to check off a box.

But if you do, I’d go for a more specific degree if you can.

5. Can my employer decide not to pay me for this month because of financial hardship?

As an exempt employee (director level) in a California nonprofit, is it legal for the CEO to tell me two weeks before payday that we are not getting any salary for the month of January? Our organization gets paid once a month on the last day of the month, and today I was told that due to financial hardship no director will receive a salary for January. Furthermore, this is not a salary deferral, it is a forfeiture of salary.

Nope, it’s not legal. They’re required to pay you your agreed-upon salary for any work you’ve done. Moreover, they’re required to pay it within a certain amount of time or penalties accrue. In California, wages earned between the 1st and 15th days of the month must be paid no later than the 26th day of that same month, and wages earned between the 16th and last day of the month must be paid by the 10th day of the following month. There’s no option to just not pay earned wages.

I’d say this to them: “I realize finances are very tight right now, but not paying people would violate federal and state law, and will trigger financial penalties at the state level. We could get in a lot of trouble with the state department of labor if we don’t pay people.”

{ 258 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia

    Presumably the non profit in 5 will do layoffs for January if this is not an option. Probably better than working with no pay — at least staff can use the time to look elsewhere which the OP should be doing big time.

    1. KarenT

      And, if the nonprofit is at the point where it is not paying (and not even deferring!) director-level employees, it will be closing its doors very shortly. I suspect this would hinder any help the Californian government can offer. Once the organization shuts down, who can be chased for back wages or penalized?

  2. neverjaunty

    OP #5: a CALIFORNIA company is pulling this? Wow, that is stupid. Wage laws here are very strict. Your company is required to pay employees first, no matter what.

    You might want to go ahead and call an employment lawyer and check the Department of Industrial Relations website just to be prepared. Employers this careless also have a tendency to disappear overnight or lock out employees when they can’t pay wages.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger

      It sounds like their paycheck schedule already violated California law, so whomever’s in charge is either really ignorant of the law or has previously decided just to disregard it…

      1. Smiley Face

        I’m not sure if this is the case with CA, but a LOT of states that have pay schedule requirements also have provisions that waive them under a variety of circumstances, the most common one being that if a company was paying on at least a monthly basis (for work performed that month, not the previous month) for a certain amount of time before the new law was passed, they’re allowed to keep doing it. I’m sure that’s for companies that don’t realize that a new law was passed and would be in continuous unknowing violation

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

        Good thing it’s not Massachusetts.

        Some executive somewhere that authorized the “payless payday” could have ended up wearing bracelets, and receiving a ride in a police car….

    2. Lisa

      Is there any way to get someone to give them an official warning BEFORE they don’t pay for January? This sucks, and is putting people in a position where they may not make mortgages and bills and could lose their houses and be in financial ruin for 7 years if they miss payments due to not being paid. Yeah, I am on year 6 of my not getting paid and missing bills enough so that I can’t qualify for a credit card let alone a mortgage.

        1. Lisa

          Well that is stupid, no one knows what other people’s finances are like. Its like when recruiters think they can undercut salaries for states with lower cost of living and try to get you to move cause it will be cheaper. Food costs the same, my bills don’t become less, and you don’t know what my rent / mortgage is. I could have 4 roommates in a studio or a mansion by myself, I could have medical bills through the roof. They could have 6 kids going to private school or daycare, they could have a disabled relative / elderly parent in a nursing home. All that stuff costs money, life is not free – neither should my work be free.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

          I see that the directors weren’t paid – what about those in the trenches — what line was given to them (if they weren’t paid)…

    3. torreadorable

      This one really has a lot to unpack.

      I am most interested in the decision making process that goes into something like this. Did the board sit down and have a big conversation about it, and did no one think to say “perhaps not paying people for an entire month may run afoul of the law?” Did the exec director (or worse, some accounting person) unilaterally decide this? It’s really bizarre.

      I often have to remind myself that this basic stuff about employment law and simple norms of behavior really do come as a surprise to an awful lot of people.

      1. Natalie

        If they’re really in trouble, it might have been something as simple as not having the cash to send into the payroll company and coming up with this harebrained scheme to try and buy time.

  3. Ann Furthermore

    #1: When I interviewed for my first job with my current company, I really didn’t have any questions by the time the interview was over, because they’d all been answered during my conversations with the interviewers. However, when they asked me what questions I had, I made a point to say, “Well, I did have questions, but they’ve all been answered!” and pointedly looked at the list of things I’d wanted to ask, and looked it over to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. So technically I didn’t have any questions, but I was able to show that I’d come to the interview prepared.

    #3: I can see why that huge difference would kind of stick in your craw. But as a part-time employee, it’s nice that you were eligible for the bonus. That’s not the case everywhere.

    #5: WTF? Isn’t just deciding not to pay your employees the same thing as just deciding not to pay your taxes? And honestly, what makes the CEO think that anyone will stand for that? Does s/he think that all the directors will just say, “Okey dokey, no problem…the only reason I work is for the sheer joy of it anyway!”

    1. AnonAnalyst

      “WTF?” was the only thing I could think while reading #5. I’m completely baffled as to how “we’ll just not pay people” was even a legitimate option.

      1. Colette

        I think sometimes people who are in charge of payroll decisions think of it as a logic problem (how can we save money/reduce complexity) and don’t consider that they are affecting people’s lives.

      2. AMT

        The keyword there is “nonprofit.” I’ve worked for nonprofits my entire adult life, and while I’ve never seen anything this egregious, they tend to get away with treating their employees worse. It’s often assumed that you went into your field to “help people,” not because it matches your skills or you need to pay your rent. At some organizations, if you have the audacity to want better pay or benefits, you’re seen as taking bread directly from your clients’ mouths.

        Of course, not all nonprofits are like this–my current job is unionized and on the higher end of the pay scale for my position–but it’s surprising that grown adults can be guilted into overlooking questionable practices. I guess it’s ubiquitous enough that it often goes unchallenged. At my last job, more than one employee was convinced that the organization’s illegal practice of charging employees for used vacation days on termination was perfectly fine. (The DOL had a different take on it and I eventually got my money back.)

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I address this further down, but I don’t think dysfunction is particularly a nonprofit thing; it’s a “small employer” thing. Loads of for-profit businesses, especially when they’re small, try to pull all kinds of crazy things. It’s not specific to nonprofits. (In fact, the majority of letters here about outrageous practices are about for-profit employers. It’s just that people tend to lump nonprofits into one big group, so we hear a lot of “I work for a nonprofit” whereas people rarely bother to note “I work for a for-profit.”)

          1. neverjaunty

            Although the “don’t you CARE about our NOBLE CAUSE?!” guilt-trip does tend to be most common among nonprofits. It’s a little harder for Evil Teapots LLC to get away with that argument.

            1. abby

              I don’t know. I worked for small for-profits (that were various types of corporate entities to protect the owners) and I heard on more than one occasion “you’re taking food out my family’s mouths.” It’s not quite the same argument, but a guilt-trip nevertheless.

          2. torreadorable

            This is a great point. I have worked for very small nonprofits (4 staff, less than $1m budget) and enormous nonprofits (state university systems, huge arts institutions.) I am always struck by the oddity of people referring to everything as a “nonprofit” when the companies have no relation whatsoever to one another, other than a specific tax status.

          3. I'm a Little Teapot

            Yep. American culture really tends to romanticize small employers, but a lot of them are terrible.

          4. Natalie Anne Lanoville

            I have to say that in my (fairly broad) experience of charities and for-profit organisations varying in size, I disagree.

            IMO it is easier for a non-profit to be seriously dysfunctional but retain enough funding to stay open compared to a for-profit business.

            Someone can be self-medicating their serious mental illness with coke (true story) to the point that they are only able to squeeze out a month of functionality per year, but if they spend that month writing next year’s grant app and the report on this year’s, they’ve got a career. Not many businesses can function on a single month of productivity.

        2. Observer

          As Allison says, dysfunction and trying to bamboozle staff is not at all unique to non-profits. And, although I’ve worked with a lot of dysfunctional agencies, I’ve never seen anything CLOSE to this egregious. As for paying back used vacation days, that specific piece of garbage is not at all unique to non-profits.

          The single craziest thing I’ve seen is the boss who wouldn’t allow his employee to turn on the light during the day, to save money. I’ve seen bad lighting due to substandard fixtures, but not turning on existing lighting? (This wasn’t the employer’s only stupid move, and all of his “cost saving” measures wound up killing the company.) This was a business – a retail establishment, to be precise.

    2. AyBeeCee

      For #1 I’ve been in the same position. I even read off a few of the questions quickly to show that yes I had prepared them in advance but there wasn’t anything left to answer. Looking at the link, though, I’ll have to use some of those in the future. I particularly like questions three and eight.

    3. LisaLisa

      #1 My least favorite thing during an interview is when it is casual style and I ask all of my questions during the bulk of the discussion and then at the end the interviewer asks “well, ok, any questions for me?” I feel like ‘seriously, what have I been doing this whole time?’ but mostly I am just a rule follower and paranoid they will judge me for not having that last good question. So maybe I’ll use you’re trick, Ann.

      1. Smiley Face

        Yeah, I can see that feeling tricky even if it’s not intended to be. When I’m interviewing people, I usually end with “Is there anything else I can answer for you?” rather than a straight “Do you have any questions for me?”

        Another good ending question to use when the candidate doesn’t seem to have anymore question is “Is there anything else you want to make sure I know before we finish? Something that hasn’t come up yet but you think is important?” I think a more pointed question can jog ideas for candidates more than an open-ended call for questions can.

        1. fposte

          Yes! When I was first interviewing people, I asked if they had any questions in a way that clearly made them not want or dare to ask questions; I think it sounded like just another interview question. Now that I go a little longer with more context, as you suggest, people get better warmed up to ask their own.

  4. Persephone Mulberry

    #4: with a 20-year career under your belt, particularly in one of the fastest-changing industries (as I’m sure you’re aware), I sincerely feel you would be wasting a lot of time and money going back for any kind of full-fledged degree, just for the sake of having one. I’d possibly look into auditing specific courses that you feel would advance your knowledge and demonstrate that you have an active interest in staying current in your field, but would pass on spending dozens of hours and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on the “liberal arts core” (math/science/history/etc.) classes that make up the bulk of today’s college graduation requirements. If a potential employer can’t look past the checkbox on the application and see the value that you’d bring, they don’t deserve you.

    Signed,
    3 Semesters From Graduation And Finally Getting To Take The Interesting Classes

    1. periwinkle

      On the other hand, these days an undergraduate degree is essential for getting past the automated gatekeeper that stands between you and someone who understands that deep experience is more valuable than the degree. A general studies degree allows you to click the appropriate box on the ATS and move on with your application.

      Many colleges accept standardized subject exams as lower-level credits; CLEP is widely accepted by U.S. institutions, but some also take DSST (formerly DANTES) exams. The exam fee is considerably less than course tuition! I took a bunch at a nearby community college, which charged a proctoring fee plus the exam fee. That came out to about $110 for 3 credits.

      I have one of those generic degrees (in Liberal Studies), but to be fair, I completed that degree knowing that I would immediately apply for a master’s program in my target field and that said programs did not require a specific undergraduate major. The OP might be better served by earning a degree in marketing or business administration because it would reflect some study of the broader field behind internet marketing.

      1. Lia

        This is so, so true. It may not be fair, but that’s the way it is.

        Heck, at my institution, if the posting says “bachelor of science degree in x, y, or z” and someone has a BA in x, they do not meet the requirements. Dumb, but that is our system. Fortunately, those postings are relatively few in number and most will just say “bachelor’s degree required”.

        I went back to college as an adult and finished my undergrad degree (and ultimately got a master’s) in large part due to a desire to move up at the job I had at the time. My boss wanted to promote me, but the regulations stated everyone at the level she wanted to move me to needed a college degree, so her hands were tied.

        1. Ezri

          “Heck, at my institution, if the posting says “bachelor of science degree in x, y, or z” and someone has a BA in x, they do not meet the requirements.”

          That’s really interesting – I have a BA in Computer Science, and I never considered that it could cause problems with automated application systems. 0_0 I mean, in terms of the core program it’s exactly like the BS, it just has the gen ed requirements from the liberal arts school instead of the CS school (I took a foreign language instead of two extra math classes, basically). But my interviewers always seem baffled by it when they read the resume.

          1. CH

            My son also got his BA in Computer Science. His school offered both the BA and BS, but he wanted a double major (music was his second) and there was no way to do that in the engineering school where the BS resided. So far it hasn’t been a problem. He graduated in 2012 with a job already waiting and he just started his second job (which specifically hires techies with an artsy background) in November.

            1. Ezri

              Yep, this is usually how it happened at my university. I started as a Fine Arts major and switched into Computer Science – it was less hassle to change majors than schools.

          2. Kyrielle

            I have a BA in Comp Sci because my college only did BA…and honest to pity I got a fine enough undergrad education in it. I can’t think why a BA in comp sci is baffling (unless they were baffled by it because they knew the school and knew it had a BS program). Honestly, I think I’d prefer the BA (but not by enough to matter much, in the end), a little broader education base trumps the tighter concentration in my mind.

          3. Dan

            I think they’re baffled because a BA in a technical discipline isn’t all that common (and for those who are tempted to write, “I have one!” that doesn’t refute my assertion that the vast majority of technical degrees are of the BS variety.)

            My school added a BA option for CS when I was there, and it was widely considered to be a watered down version of the BS program. There were some trivially easy intro classes that the BS didn’t have to do, but mainly, the BA folks didn’t have to take our senior capstone course.

            1. Melissa

              That totally depends on the university. Some universities/colleges are only authorized to award the BA so they do in all fields, and some colleges award the BA in some science fields but not others. A BA in mathematics, for example, is very common. I actually would be curious to know whether the vast majority of STEM degrees are actually BS since some schools only offer a BA.

              Either way, it doesn’t matter – that’s just the title of the degree, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the coursework that you took if you’re at a school that only offers one or the other (and frankly, even if you are at a school that offers both, you might choose to do the BA for flexibility and still do the senior capstone or take some of the more difficult courses).

        2. Dan

          I’m not sure that I agree that the distinction is dumb. Afterall, they’re two separate programs. If the school awarding the degree thinks they’re different, it’s not unreasonable for an employer to have the same opinion.

          At my last job, the nature of our business with the federal government required that technical staff hold a BS, not a BA. I can’t say I blame the government for making some minimal effort to help ensure that the contractors they’re paying to do the work are actually qualified.

          1. Zillah

            Hmm. I do see your point, but I think that the similarity of BA vs. BS programs in the same field varies widely enough from college to college that it’s worth making what the specific qualifications you’re looking for clear, especially for applicants who also have some work experience. In my undergrad, you could get a BA or a BS in several programs, and the requirements didn’t tend to radically differ – the BA was just easier to fit in if you had a double major.

          2. fposte

            I’m in agreement with Zillah–there’s no centralized control on the degree name, so there’s no process reason to assume that the content of the degree differs; all this is is stating that you accept graduates from certain schools and not from others, without regard to the program of study. I’m in library science, and there are almost as many degree names as there are accredited institutions at this point.

    2. Kelly O

      It’s a shame, but it’s a definite struggle for those without a four year undergraduate degree. I have a two year degree and fifteen years of experience, and in my recent job search have encountered countless employers who require a four year degree for even the most basic administrative positions.

      One position in particular was administration perfect match for my experience, skills, and general career trajectory. I had a relationship with the staffing agency and asked the recruiter of there was agency chance they would accept experience in lieu of the four year degree. She tried, but they were firm.

      So now I’m faced with figuring out how to get more formal education without going into a mountain of debt and still raking care of the family. It seems to be considered “basic” by so many organizations, and I can’t afford to miss out on advanced positions.

      1. Boo

        Rawr. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I don’t have a degree, I didn’t even go to college or stay on at school to get A-Levels, but I’ve worked my way up over the last 15 years from Office Junior to EA, and I’ve several other qualifications under my belt from doing part time online courses, yet somehow a lot of employers have this perception that none of that counts for anything unless I have a degree in something. It doesn’t even matter what, which only proves to me that it’s not necessary. I have neither the time, money or inclination to go to university simply to tick a box yet I worry it will hold me back – as you say, it seems to be considered a “basic” qualification at this point. Madness. And breathe… ;)

        1. Not an IT Guy

          My issue is the exact opposite. I have my 4-year degree but I never seem to qualify for jobs that require it, meaning all the jobs I’ve had since graduation have never called for a degree. Now I feel that I’ll be out of the workforce when it comes time for my company to get rid of me, since nowadays most employers consider you overqualified if you apply for a job that doesn’t require a degree yet you have it.

      2. brightstar

        I feel like companies that won’t even look at someone with experience in lieu of a degree are short-sighted.

      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’m still curious about University of the People, which was mentioned here the other day. It’s online, very low cost, and accredited, and it seems like it has the backing of some major players. The mention here recently was the first time I’d heard of it so I have no idea how respected it is, but I’d love to hear about that from anyone in the know.

        (Of course, if I’m representative in not having heard of it before, other hiring managers will be in that same boat too, which could be problematic. But if you’re doing it solely to check a box on an application, it could be an option. The problem would be if people assume it’s in the same category as University of Phoenix and its ilk, which can do more harm than good on a resume.)

        1. TotesMaGoats

          From an higher ed perspective, the accreditation most of us look for is regional accreditation. National accreditation, for good or for ill, means squat to most folks in higher ed. And this isn’t even a straight national accreditation is for distance education. So, that’s knocks it down a little bit more.

          There’s a debate about the value of regional vs national accreditation and this isn’t the place for it but , very generally speaking, most institutions worthy of giving your money to are regionally accredited.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            They’re nationally accredited but I’m wondering if they just have a totally different model. They have pretty interesting-looking partnerships with Yale Law School, NYU, the Clinton Global Initiative, and a bunch of others.

            1. TotesMaGoats

              It’s an interesting model to be sure. Unfortunately, right now it falls on the unfavorable side of the accreditation debate. I don’t know a lot of detail about the school but I can tell you that if you took classes there and tried to transfer to my state institution, those credits wouldn’t transfer. At least not without requesting a waiver and submitting quite a bit of paperwork.

            2. Dan

              Could be, but from a “perception” point, if I’ve never heard of you, and then I find out your program lacks regional accreditation, I have to try that much harder to evaluate the merits of your candidacy. And you know that candidates who require more effort than others get moved to the bottom of the pile, right?

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Yeah, that’s ultimately the issue. Doesn’t matter how good it is if hiring managers are going to look at it and think it’s something like U of Phoenix.

                1. Dan

                  Even trying to measure “good” is actually really hard to do. The “best” schools typically have the lowest acceptance rates — I’ve known a few kids who say that the hardest part about graduating from Yale or whatever is getting in. When I was looking at undergraduate schools, I was perusing bios of all kinds of CEO’s of well established companies. A vast majority did their undergrad at schools I’d never heard of. I concluded that clearly, career success wasn’t dependent on a handful of big name schools.

                  I don’t know enough about “bad” schools to know why they’re bad, other than they charge a lot of money and have high dropout rates. In some senses, as long as the students graduate and get jobs, who cares?

                  The whole point of accreditation is to ensure that schools meet some sort of minimum standards. Regional accreditation is considered the gold standard, and saves lots of nonexperts the trouble of trying to a evaluate a school’s program independently. IOW, a decent school should strive for regional accreditation, there’s signaling issues if they don’t.

                  While it’s entirely possible that regional accreditation bodies are stuck in the 90’s and haven’t kept up with the times, one would need to have a new accreditor that has gained respect. And I have no idea how to build that from nothing.

                  Their best shot might be non-traditional students who are returning to school after several years in the work force. The strongest traditional students (who you’d want for your pilot program to prove how good it is) have plenty of mainstream options such that they wouldn’t need to take that gamble. So if you go the non-trad route, and trying to target those in the workforce for several years who never had a college degree, you sort of get back to the argument you pose earlier: “After 20 years in the work force, who even cares anymore?”

                  TL;DR it’s nearly impossible to prove how “good” a school is that isn’t regionally accredited.

                2. Fabulously Anonymous

                  @Dan: “I concluded that clearly, career success wasn’t dependent on a handful of big name schools.”

                  Whereas I see it as, success in being a CEO isn’t dependent on big name schools. I went to a big name school for undergrad and a “bad” school for my master’s. There is a difference, but it’s subtle: the rigor isn’t the same, the caliber of class discussion isn’t the same, the technology isn’t the same so you spend more time doing menial tasks that don’t teach you anything, etc.

                  But finally, and I disagree with this, but it is a fact: certain employers DO value one school over another. I was recruited for a job simply because of where my undergrad degree was from. Is that right? No. Companies should choose the best candidate, which is not necessarily the one that went to the “right” school. But that’s not how it works…

          2. Anna

            I just learned recently about national versus regional accreditation. I didn’t realize there was a difference. For my purposes, what I wonder is are credits earned at a nationally accredited school going to be accepted in to a regionally accredited school.

          3. Natalie

            I wonder how much that would matter in the private sector, though. Most people don’t seem to know anything about accreditation, and I’ve never seen an application ask what type of accreditation my college had. For the OP’s purposes (box-checking, essentially) it sounds like it would be fine.

          4. Dan

            I don’t work in higher ed, but I’m with Totes on this one. No regional accreditation = no go. In fact, one of the signs of a diploma mill is that it lacks regional accreditation – some slimy ones even trumpet their national accreditation.

            Two exceptions to the national accreditation issue are ABET and CSAB, which accredit engineering and computer science programs, respectively.

          1. LBK

            Agreed. I would read that and think it was a euphemism, like saying you went to the School of Hard Knocks.

            1. ThursdaysGeek

              Yeah, it makes it sound more like a scam, unfortunately. When I first heard of it, that was my first thought. A better name would really help.

          2. Lyssa

            It sounded to me like something George Constanza would make up, like “The Human Fund: Money for People.”

        2. Anon4This

          University of the People is amazing!

          I was in a position where I was 14 elective credits shy of graduation and my small, private university charges $480/credit hour. This meant I would have to pay nearly $7,000 to take 14 credits completed unrelated to my degree program (just fill classes, I’d completed all the general requirements and major requirements).

          That was financially ridiculous to me so I started looking for other options. One term and $500 later (the cost of 5 exam fees from University of the People) and I transferred those credits into my home institution. I ran into a bit of an issue when they didn’t recognize the name but I simply pointed out the accreditation and it all worked out fine.

          I cannot recommend them enough for people looking to finish up the last part of their degree – or – for people looking to get a degree. At $100/ exam and no charge for study materials or tuition it is a STEAL. And the classes were full of people that seemed to really want to learn and challenged each other to think critically (something that cannot be said for many online colleges)

        3. Artemesia

          A general studies degree is a real red flag in the area I once worked because they were only available to people who had not met the requirements for a real BA/BS degree major i.e. a ‘get them out the door with something’ major. But the OP’s needs are for a degree so she is not automatically excluded from consideration. For that purpose coupled with her years of experience, I would think the cheapest quickest degree would be the right idea. It is not likely worth her while to go back for a more rigorous and expensive degree and certainly a liberal arts degree in something rather than the general studies thing is not likely to make her a hotter prospect.

          The same goes for the quality of the University. When I was hiring PhDs it really mattered where the person graduated and we didn’t even consider people with correspondence doctorates. But for box ticking– quick and cheap is the goal I would think.

        4. Brett

          When I look at the other institutions that are DEAC accredited (lots of trade unions), it raises some immediate red flags.
          For my day job, we have to track private K-12 and post-secondary schools in our region. We normally do that through accreditation agencies and this one is not on any of the lists of agencies we contact (but that might make sense since they only do distance ed).

          1. HepHep

            I know several people who have gone there. WGU seems to be well-respected, and my peers that have a degree from there have never (seemingly) had trouble getting jobs. Our industry and their military service may also factor in there, but we have discussed WGU fairly in depth and their experience seemed to be positive with the school specifically. At that point in time I hadn’t heard of it myself, and asked about the school/courses/experience and feedback from employers, because I was considering getting a graduate degree and wanted to know what their experience was like. It seems to be taken seriously by employers from anyone that I’ve spoken to about it!

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

              WGU is regionally accredited, and a non-profit, so both those things work in their favor. They also have NCATE accreditation for their teacher’s college, which is huge.

            2. Kelly O

              That’s really good to know. Their setup is a little different, and clearly not for profit, and the idea of basically taking as much as I can do in a semester for a flat fee is very intriguing.

        5. misspiggy

          There are also sites like Coursera, which allow you to build up credits through studying – and testing in – accredited university course modules for free.

          1. Kyrielle

            Technically, Coursera doesn’t let you build up credits. Every class I’ve ever taken on there explicitly states it doesn’t count for credit at the related university. That said, some colleges/universities might give you credit for Coursera classes, completed with either a Statement of Accomplishment (a free but unverified option available on some courses) or a Verified Certificate (available on some courses, not free, identity verification algorithms in place when you test). Some courses offer just one of the two, some offer both, some offer neither – so if you are hoping to get credit, you’d need an institution that would give credit for Coursera courses, you’d need to know how much credit and whether it was all courses or just some, and you’d need to know whether they would accept a SoA or only a VC.

        6. ThursdaysGeek

          I brought it up, and I’d only recently heard of it from a younger friend who was considering it, after completing only 1 year at a physical university. I’m really curious too, because if something looks too good to be true, it usually is a bad idea. So it’s good to hear what others know and have experienced.

          On the other hand, for providing something so you can check the box, it seems like something accredited, even if not fully respected, will get you past that hurdle. And then the 20 years experience will be what gets you the job, as it should.

        7. A Minion

          I earned my B.S. in Accounting from an online university – Western Governors University, which is a regionally accredited, nonprofit, all online school with a good reputation and a pretty rigorous program. They’re very affordable and would make an excellent choice for someone who needed a degree, but didn’t want to spend tons of money to earn one. I was reading the conversation down-thread about regional vs national accreditation, so I thought I’d just add my two cents in and maybe OP will see that there are some options other than U of Phoenix.

      4. Sunflower

        I often times feel like requiring the degree, esp in that situation, is a way to keep costs down. It seems like those jobs are really looking for new grads who they can pay much less than people with loads of experience and no degree who would want more money.

        1. Colette

          If that were the motive, though, they could hire young people who don’t have degree or experience, which presumably would be cheaper than someone without either.

          1. C3PO

            Then they would have to pay for training. With a degree, the student takes coursework and internships for credit, and pays for the training themselves.

        2. Persephone Mulberry

          I doubt that the companies that use it would admit to this, but from the applicant side it mostly feels like a screening tool to keep the number of applications down.

          1. Windchime

            Yeah, I get the feeling that they are trying to screen out what they perceive to be the “riffraff” by requiring degrees. It’s really short-sighted, though; on my IT team of 10 people, 3 of us have no degree at all and another person has a degree in art. The three of us with no degrees are in senior positions, but we will never be allowed to advance past the position of Manager because we don’t have degrees. Apparently our decades of experience are no match for writing a bunch of papers and taking out tens of thousands in school loans.

          2. Elsajeni

            I think that’s the main thing, and I think the reason “a degree, any degree” is so popular as a screening tool is largely because it’s really, really easy to measure. Your screening test becomes “Do you have a 4-year degree, check yes or no,” instead of a complicated process where you’re analyzing the specifics of everyone’s resume and weighing, like, “Is this semi-related job really close enough to count? What’s the conversion factor between retail management experience and office supervisor experience? How many short-term internships does it take to be equivalent to one year of full-time work?” and so on. So it’s easier and faster, plus it feels more objective, which I think people tend to overvalue out of a desire to feel like they’re being fair.

            1. fposte

              And it unfortunately isn’t likely to hurt the company hiring–they’re likely to get the candidates they want for most jobs out of the “have a bachelor’s” pool. So they don’t have much incentive to change.

            2. C3PO

              I think it’s because HR training is not the best anymore. Since sociologists shifted from doing business-centric research in the 60s, HR really hasn’t had a “basic research” branch, leading to ad hoc solutions like the “any degree” one.

      5. Labratnomore

        That sounds like my company. They are very strict about having a degree for most jobs, though they tend to not care what the degree was in. Many jobs require a “business, scientific or similar” degree. There are so many people I know that would be great here, but don’t have a degree so they are not “qualified” to work here. Even the few jobs that don’t require a degree have not advancement opportunities because to move up to a management position you need a degree. The crazy thing is they don’t care if you actually can manage people, just that you have the degree. Luckily I have a degree so I don’t have these issues, but there are plenty of great people here who do.

        Along the same lines at my last company I worked with a lady in the lab that had 40 years’ experience, but didn’t have a degree. I came in fresh out of college and made more than her. She taught me so much, and there is no question that her contributions to the company were worth more than mine at the time, but they had an excuse to keep her pay low so they did.

    3. stacy

      OP #4 here…this is the same argument I’ve had in my head: it shouldn’t matter, but it seems to.

    4. Lily

      My SO was kind of in the same boat as the OP — started his career in IT back during the tech bubble, when companies cared more that you could do the work than that you had a degree. His previous employer was acquired in 2008 by a larger company that instituted a college degree requirement — he was grandfathered in, but it made him realize if he ever wanted to leave it would be harder to get a new job without one.

      He ended up doing an online degree through Western Governors University (I believe his official degree is a BS in Information Technologies), which is fully accredited and not-for-profit. It was far less expensive than a traditional degree and much faster — it basically took him 18 months (although to be fair, he worked really hard — his advisor was kind of astonished at how quickly he was moving). As a bonus, the tuition cost covered the cost of a bunch of certification tests he either had never taken or needed to renew. The general ed courses in the program were kind of BS, but being able to renew all those certifications (and get some additional training in areas he was less familar with), made it very much worth it, since he can put those on his resume along with the degree.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

        I would without hesitation recommend WGU for those who want to finish their education. I used to work for them, and their model is innovative (competency-based rather than credit-based), the courses are rigorous (I worked in assessment development, and a multitude of subject matter experts vet each and every test item and course competency), their tuition is reasonable, and they’re non-profit and regionally accredited. You’re also getting a degree in a specific subject, which is better than a general studies degree in most cases.

    5. Anon Anon

      Eh, I don’t know. A few years ago I was in #1’s shoes with a “almost finished” undergrad degree and 15 years of experience in my field. I went back and finished my undergrad and received a degree in Professional Studies with an English minor because this was the fastest relatable program toward my goal. I liked school so much, I continued on for my masters in Communications. While I wouldn’t have had to do any of this, I am finding that it is now paying off for me and giving me much better job opportunities with better companies that would not have considered me with no degree.

      Personal circumstances are all different of course, and I guess it depends of where OP 4 wants to go. Is this to advance or to change fields a little bit (to say general marketing and business). Are they planning to get a MBA and just want to fastest way to achieving the undergrad degree, or are they seeking other skills? Take the time to really think about this OP. I don’t personally see a problem with the generic degree as long as it’s from a reputable university, but you have to decide if it will help get you where you want to be.

  5. Seal

    #2 – At my institution there is a very specific online application process all student employees and graduate assistants have to follow in order to even get an interview. Anyone who shows up at our reference desk looking for a job or sends department heads resumes in hopes of bypassing the system is referred to the proper website and told to apply there. Aside from stopping people from bombarding us with calls and resumes, this also allows the university to ensure that all applicants are eligible for these types of jobs, which are reserved for registered students. If the OP’s school doesn’t have something similar in place, perhaps she should look into setting up a procedure for accepting applications for her department. That might help alleviate “Jane’s” various attempts to have the OP pass on her resume.

    1. Lynn

      We do have something similar–and Jane has already applied through HR’s website and followed those instructions. Most applicants don’t know who receives the applications or which professors are hiring. Some come to me asking about positions, and I point them to HR’s application and leave out my role. This one, however, saw a posting that was clearly for a graduate assistant for me, and I’ve seen her applications come through for others as well. The issue is that she’s coming to me in addition to going through that process, because she knows what my role is. Unfortunately, what is usually a very helpful procedure isn’t helping in this student’s case.

      1. Artemesia

        Where she is applying for YOUR position, I would think would be the moment for feedback along the lines of ‘This position requires someone who is particularly good at follow through and is meticulous about following directions and given your work with the plague monitoring project, I don’t think you are a good fit.’

      2. Seal

        I’ve had applicants try to do an end run around the system by sending their resumes directly to me, or even calling to “introduce” themselves. To me, those tactics demonstrate that those candidates can’t follow instructions, so their applications are automatically sent to the reject pile. I even had an applicant for a position in another department in our library ask to interview me for a class assignment as a guise to hand off their resume and ask me to put in a good word for them. Needless to say, I was more than a little annoyed.

        If I am ever faced with a “Jane” who tried to do an end run around the system with me more than once, I will tell her flat-out that we don’t consider people for positions who pull stuff like that. Being a PITA is not a good way to get on my radar.

      3. Lils

        Lynn (#2 OP), I kind of disagree with AAM’s advice here. With my student workers, I’m apt to give them advice about job-searching and office norms, because part of what we are doing is educating the whole student. Even though I’m not a professor or teacher, I feel an obligation to help steer students toward a successful path. This student is not adhering to norms–and this behavior is likely to really hamper her ability to successfully land a job after graduation. You might steer around the reputation thing as AAM suggested, but I would definitely address the disruptive drop-bys, the inappropriate persistence, and the need to follow the application rules (especially at universities, ack!!)

        1. DJ

          We’re on the second week of spring semester at the college where I teach, and I’m astounded at the number of students who don’t follow the rules.

          1. Lils

            Oh and the ones who apparently never realized the *most basic* rules of work courtesy, like calling when you’re sick and can’t make it to work. They get an earful about this on their first day from me :)

            1. DJ

              My favorites are the ones that think due dates don’t apply to them. And then, at the end of the term, get very angry when I won’t magically turn their 53% into a passing grade.

              I wonder how they will ever function in the workforce.

  6. Apollo Warbucks

    #3 I see where you are coming from, at my old company there were some devisions that got massive bonuses, whilst the rest of us got peanuts, and I was a bit annoyed but when I started looking around on jobs sites I found, the main reason was that it was common in the industry they worked in, other firms were paying big bonuses so our firm was only doing what the market dictated.

    Also you don’t know what the bonus payments are for it could be made up of commission or a percentage of fee income they brought to the practice, you do different jobs so I wouldn’t compare what you all got it’s not a fair comparison.

    Have a look around at other jobs similar to yours an see what bonus they come with, you’re only missing out if other firms are paying bigger bonuses than you currently get.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

        Yeah, admins hardly ever get bonuses. $750 for part-time work is really good, in my experience. The one and only time I got a bonus, it was $250, and I was a full-time admin.

    1. cv

      Seconding the idea that the larger bonus payments may be part of an “incentive compensation” structure where the person is promised x% of any new business or a share in a pool if revenue goes above $y. These financial advisors may have negotiated specific bonus amounts tied to business results when they were hired, and at least when I worked in the industry bonus was often a significant part of overall compensation for the financial advisors.

      Actually, my bonus (semi-promised in advance) was 40% of my total compensation the first year I was hired as an admin. In a big stock market run-up they had increased bonuses and held salaries stagnant, and things got way out of whack. Fortunately they got a new HR guy shortly after that who raised salaries for lower level employees and cut way back on the bonuses. It’s much better to be making $34k with a $1000 annual bonus than $25k with a $10k bonus when you’ve got monthly bills to pay.

      1. Alli

        I totally agree – my boyfriend gets an enormous bonus from his agency each year – usually as much or more than his base compensation. The thing is, he’s a partner, it’s part of his contract/profits, and he brings in about 40% of the business to the agency each year, and even more of the actual profits (his contracts tend to be bigger than the other partners). Through that, his team member’s bonuses tend to be bigger in comparison, too. But behind the scenes, he fights for them to be compensated more, because they’re traveling, spending all night finishing a project, presenting to companies and clients, etc. It definitely can suck to find out how much someone else makes/gets as a bonus, but it really is based on how much work they do and how much they bring to the company.

        Also, many places don’t give bonuses, so that’s pretty amazing in and of itself.

  7. Kathryn T.

    “Also, we have a word for making people work without pay. It’s ‘slavery.’ Just FYI.”

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, this employer is so far out in left field, I cannot imagine how any one would conclude that this is okay. If it were okay employers would be doing it all the time.
      I wonder if the company is doing this as a scare tactic to try to manipulate people. I have seen companies issue outlandish statements and then retract them shortly afterwards. Then they use that as leverage for other things. It looks like this: “Well, we were almost not able to pay you last month, so this month you need to work and additional 20 hours a week in order to bail this company out of the mess it’s in.”

      1. JayDee

        Since it’s a non-profit, I think the answer could be one of two things. Either, as you suggested, they are clueless about or willfully ignoring labor laws and are trying to force free labor out of their highest level employees. Or they are clueless about or willfully ignoring labor laws and think that, since they are all committed to the cause they work on, the highest level employees will take a one-month pay cut to prevent financial disaster due to low funding. I think it’s at least not UNcommon at non-profits that higher level management would decline raises, take a small pay cut, or accept unpaid furloughs as ways to avoid laying off staff or cutting benefits in a short-term financial situation. This, however, is both too-little-too-late if they are already at the point where they cannot afford to pay people for the current month and also illegal.

        1. summercamper

          It’s also really disconcerting that this is happening in January – the time when most non-profits have the most cash on-hand all year. If the non-profit didn’t generate enough year-end giving to be able to pay staff, then I’d have serious questions about its long-term sustainability.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            It’s possible that it’s something like expecting a massive check from a large donor in a month or two, a check that’s a sure thing but just isn’t there now. That doesn’t make what they’re doing in any way okay; I just wanted to point out that there are possible contexts for this that don’t indicate definite death spiral. (It’s much likely that it is a death spiral though.)

            1. summercamper

              This is true – especially if the non-profit subsists on government or private foundation grants, which can have strange payout schedules. So I agree that it’s not definitely a death spiral.

              However – if they were expecting a big payout in the next couple of months, why aren’t they deferring pay instead of canceling it altogether?

              Either way, I think the OP should take a good look at the organization’s finances (if that information is available) and consider other options. “My employer was no longer able to meet payroll” is a very acceptable reason to leave a job.

              1. RVA Cat

                I could somewhat understand how they might consider deferring pay (didn’t the California government issue IOUs several years ago?) or having unpaid furloughs. But cancelling pay?! I understand a non-profit gets a lot from its volunteers, but the key word is “voluntary.”

                OP, get out, get out now. Is anyone else wondering if this CEO may be the cause of the death spiral — either from sheer cluelessness or perhaps he’s got his hand in the till? Maybe he “borrowed” the payroll money thinking he could pay it back in time and that didn’t happen…

                1. neverjaunty

                  No, deferring pay is never even remotely understandable. Unless the employer is going to personally call everybody’s mortgage holder, landlord, electric company, etc etc. to confirm that the employees can all “defer” their bills.

                  Hand in the till was my first thought, too, honestly.

                2. RVA Cat

                  Agreed that deferring is not a valid option, I was just thinking the IOU scenario may have given them the idea – but then that was so highly publicized that if I recall correctly, the national bank I was working for at that time was supposedly being flexible with CA customers affected by it. So yeah.

            2. Observer

              But, it’s almost certainly a death spiral anyway. How do they think they are going to keep staff this way? And, if they ever get audited, I can’t imagine the fall out from this.

              Also, some of the contexts I could think of, such as a delay in getting money – ie a cash flow issue, essentially, could explain a salary deferral but not a forfeiture of salary.

        2. Natalie

          “This, however, is both too-little-too-late if they are already at the point where they cannot afford to pay people for the current month and also illegal.”

          Definitely. We’ve had some small tenants go under, and there’s always a point when they stop paying their rent and usually their taxes (based on their bankruptcy filings). There’s never any real strategy – i.e. using those funds to land a big account that can then pay back the debt – so I have to assume it’s just sheer panic. A little while later they stop paying their employees, and that’s generally the last month they’re open.

          It’s the business equivalent of the death spiral.

          1. Meg Murry

            The taxes part made me think – OP, check you pay stubs and your W-2s and make sure your company actually paid the taxes, social security and retirement deposits they withheld from you. I had a friend that worked at a place that went under, and one of the last things they did in desperation was “borrow” from the money they had set aside for withholdings and then couldn’t or didn’t pay it to the government when the time came.

            1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

              Yeah we had a company like that in Massachusetts back in the 1980s. It had been a family owned company and in some sort of kooky “leveraged buyout”, an outside consortium bought it out.

              Everything seemed fine, until –

              a) United Way inquired why the employee pledges were unfulfilled; in a relatively small circle, people talk, and people talked with UW managers …. oh boy…

              b) A woman went into the hospital to have a baby, then learned that her insurance wasn’t valid. In that instance, she and her husband brought the company to court – where the executives were ordered to cough up the dough to pay her medical bills. This hit the papers.

              c) Finally – crasho-burno – the I.R.S. – withheld taxes that were never paid to the I.R.S. Here come the arrest warrants!

              Graybar hotel. Jail time. Some went to the men’s prison, some to the women’s prison. I do not know if they went to state facilities or federal ones, I think the latter. And I’m told the food isn’t bad in the federal pen.

  8. Ruth (UK)

    #4 I did a general studies A level in 6th forth along with my other a levels in school. It was very easy, I skyved most the classes on it and simply showed up for the exam. It allowed me to bump up my number of ucas points for a while (though a lot of places exclude general studies from the count). For me it was worth it cause it sometimes gave me a small advantage and required almost no effort (and no money) but really it’s a bullshit course.

    If it wont cost much either in money or time/energy it might be worth it for you. I know how a general studies a level is seen but honestly have not come across a general studies degree.. It strikes me as bullshit though unless there’s something specific you know it’ll help you with

    I have also noticed that many jobs that require a degree will have a list of ones they auto exclude though. I often see media studies excluded for example.

    Also note I’m writing from England where the education system is different

    1. UK Nerd

      I also did General Studies A level without doing the lessons (with permission, not skyving) and got an A. I did it for bragging rights.

      1. Cath in Canada

        I did it because they made it pretty much compulsory at my school. You could get an exemption, I think if you were struggling with your other courses, but it wasn’t easy. I did go to the classes, but I usually just half listened while doing my homework for my other A Level courses and my S Level biology! I got an A in general studies without revising at all.

    2. Carrie in Scotland

      What always got me, was that Scottish Highers (A-Levels) had more UCAS points than Advanced Highers, which was a more intensive course and a step up from the normal Higher Level…I think all the qualifications have now been changed since I was at school (more than 12 years ago now!)

  9. Carrie in Scotland

    OP4: Having gone to university twice previously and hated the course I was doing (I’m on my third and most successful stint and will graduate in 2 years time) it is really difficult (to me, anyway) to muster up enthusiasm and motivation if you’re not interested in the course and are doing it “just because”.

    You mention it’s “your old university” which implies you already have a degree or have started one at some point?

    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      This is where I’m confused. It sounds to me like the OP thinks one needs a degree in her particular field or in something somewhat related, which is rarely the case for a bachelor’s. Most employers just want to see an undergraduate degree. Heck, mine is in theater history. Especially if it was 20 years ago, a BA in anything should be fine.

      1. Carrie in Scotland

        Exactly. I mean, the one I’m currently doing is Humanities and I’m doing it off my own back (part time distance learning) but the other courses I tried were completely different (Publishing, International Relations). But in none of my jobs would they be considered essential to my doing it.

    2. Stacy

      OP Here: I dropped out of college at the end of my junior year. I was out of money and out of energy. Working 35-50+ hours at times and carrying a full course load. I just couldn’t do it any more. (Plus, I was pregnant and offered a real, full-time job.) The degree I started isn’t available online at my university. Transferring credits at this stage means I lose a half-year or more in the transfer. From an ROI perspective, this was my best bet in completing a degree.

      1. Natalie

        If all you are going for is a bachelor’s in any field to get passed automated systems, could you complete a different major at your former institution, something that is available online? It seems like that would involve the least credit loss, so to speak, and get you a slightly better degree than general studies.

        (Assuming you’ve moved away from your first college. If you haven’t, don’t restrict yourself to online-only.)

        1. Fabulously Anonymous

          But I don’t think credits work that way. Just because the credits are from U of X, doesn’t meant they will apply to ALL of of the offering at U of X. Majors have certain course requirements, which change throughout time. Even though the first two years are basic, the requirements vary by major: the first two years for engineering majors are different than the first two years for nursing majors or French majors.

          I’ve never taken a college-level biology class. If I wanted to go back to school for a BSN, it wouldn’t matter that I already have a master’s degree in a completely different field, I’d still have to take the basics in biology and anatomy.

          I hope that makes sense…

          1. Natalie

            Yep, I got that. But as the OP dropped out in their junior year, most of their courses are going to be meeting whatever U of X’s general education requirement is, rather than applying to a specific major. The classes that apply to a specific major probably apply to many majors within that field. For example, I am back in school and am taking a Financial Reporting class that is a requirement for my program, but it’s also a requirement for every single major housed under the business school. If I switched from Accounting to Finance, this class will still count.

            Transferring credits to a different school can result in functionally losing credit for a lot, particularly if the schools are in different states or if one is public and one is private. If the OP is just looking for a degree and doesn’t care about the major, the pragmatic route might be whatever degree their original university has online and most closely related to their original major.

            1. Natalie

              That said, I completely missed that it’s been 20 years. In that case, there’s a really good change most or all of the credits have expired anyway so it’s a moot point.

      2. Meg Murry

        I think a half-year loss in transfer might be worth it to get a degree in something more meaningful than General Studies. If you were talking about needing only 1 or 2 more classes to graduate, then yes, get your General Studies degree and be done with it – but if you need more than that, its probably worth taking a couple more classes for a “real” degree. Will your employer pay for some of the credits if they are relevant to what you do now (like a marketing or accounting class?)

        That said, will the classes still count after 20 years? When I was in school, and at the school my husband went to as well, credits “expired” after 10 years. Possibly you could petition to get them counted, but it wasn’t a given that you could count English 101 you took more than 10 years ago to be counted as credit for English 101 on a degree today. Have you talked to a human being at the school or are you just going by what’s on the website? I’d schedule an appointment (via phone if necessary) to discuss your situation and options.

        1. Lynn Whitehat

          My husband recently went through this process. His university’s official policy is that credits expire after X years, where X is much less than the 35 years it’s actually been. But they said essentially that they would waive that and let him pick up where he left off if it would make him a happier alumnus.

  10. Not So NewReader

    OP#3. While I agree that is quite a difference in bonuses, I would suggest that maybe one or two people (braggarts) got these large bonuses, but most did not. Or maybe people had a stellar year in terms of bringing in revenue and next year maybe different.
    I do know that the world of finance is a “dot your i’s and cross your t’s” kind of world. The smallest mistake can have long term repercussions that include jail time. People are compensated by the level of risk they are willing to take on.

    Since your initial reaction was to be happy with the bonus- I’d hang on to that. Maybe you will get a larger bonus next year. Or maybe they will want you full time. Who knows what is in the pipeline that you are not aware of yet. Wait and see. Then next year reassess based on how this year went. It sounds like over you basically like the job, if yes, that does count for something and it would make me lean toward a wait-and-see approach.

    1. Jeanne

      I was also wondering about braggarts. Are these people going around the office bragging about $10,000-20,000 bonuses? That’s unprofessional. If OP learned about it while filing paperwork, it’s almost impossible to bring that up with management.

    2. Some

      Usually the % of bonus is negotiated with the job offer. If you are in client facing position and you are actually bringing revenue to the company, your bonus structure is very significant part of the offer package. Since the OP is just in administrative position (she is just cost on balance sheet), they won’t be able to justify a big bonus.

      1. torreadorable

        This is a really, really important point. Some people might literally have these bonuses (as a percentage, or dollar amount, or whatever) written in to their contracts or job offers or whatever.

    3. Wo and Shade, Importers

      For no. 3: if it helps at all, there are many places where a part-time worker such as yourself isn’t eligible for a bonus at all! $750 is much better than $0!

      1. Em

        I added a more elaborate comment about bonuses below, but regarding “braggarts” – the OP said she/he found out about the other bonuses “inadvertently.” I didn’t assume the other employees were bragging about their bonuses and I don’t think the OP would have described the situation the way she/he did if that were the case. The closest to that scenario I might imagine would be if the OP walked in on the employees discussing their bonuses (unlikely.) But I’m guessing that in her admin role she somehow saw the dollar amounts. In my first job out of college, I found out my boss’s salary because her pay stub was stuck to the bottom of a pile of paperwork she gave me. I admit there was a little bit of an involuntary feeling of being punched in the stomach, because her pay was so much more than mine (and perceived as even MORE than that, as she was paid monthly and I was paid every two weeks.) But rationally I knew the difference was completely justified. She had tons more experience, a much more complicated job, more education, was exempt, and could not “check out” of her job when she got home, the way I did. FWIW, ultimately I met and surpassed that salary as I went to get an advanced degree in my field and moved into an exempt position.

        I don’t see any reason whatsoever to bring the discrepancy up with management… the would be borderline crazy. It’s also important to remember the issue isn’t just part-time vs. full-time… OP is talking about employees in totally different roles.

        1. Green

          In industries where large bonuses are an expected part of compensation (i.e., law firms), it is pretty standard to share your bonus with at least your closest colleagues to compare hours billed vs. bonuses, particularly because compensation is lock-step based on seniority. In those cases, the secrecy norms regarding pay benefits only the company, not the workers.

  11. EE

    #1
    I’ve definitely had it happen that a very talkative and engaged interviewer has answered all my prepared questions during an interview. What I do is say “Goodness, I’ve learned so much from you about the position that a lot of my questions have already been answered!” while I scramble for some question, any question, and then when I’ve found one finish my sentence with “I will just ask [question]”.

    Another thing I do is to finish up the Q&A with “That’s it for me right now” or “That’s it for me at the moment”, indicating that I’m full of thoughts about their company and the position, but a) I recognize their time is valuable and b) I want to reflect on what I’ve learned before potentially following up with anything else.

    1. Lynn Whitehat

      I have some generic questions (metaphorically) in my back pocket for just such occasions. “What kind of person would be successful in this role?” “What would a typical day be like?” In my field, it’s common to have all-day interviews where you talk to one or two people for an hour at a time. By the sixth hour, you honestly might have all your questions answered. But a lot of interviewers feel like, if you don’t ask any questions, you obviously don’t care about the job and will 100% reject you for it. So ask *something*.

  12. Mic

    I am about 2 semesters away from completing a BA Degree in General Studies with a concentration in Marketing and Organizational Behavior and I’m doing it to get past those automated gatekeepers.

    I have 18 years of experience under my belt and while I’m wholly qualified for most any sales position I apply for, I can’t take the next step in my career (or move into a larger organization) without having the credential.

    If I had elected a more plan track specific degree I would have had to take about a years worth of additional coursework which at this age, seems like a waste of time and money.

    I agree, it’s not the ideal degree, but it’s better than NO degree. I’m tired of being eliminated as a candidate “on paper” without being given the opportunity to shine in an interview setting.

  13. Lizzy May

    #5 Time to polish off your resume and get job hunting. If a company is at the “don’t pay staff” stage, it’s clearly time to get out. Sadly, your job could disappear any time now so do yourself a favour and get ahead of it.

  14. Alis

    I have a BGS (not online). I did it because I already landed a job in my field by miracle but wanted to finish college (I was only 19 so wasn’t far enough in to “work around” a shift schedule). Employers are fine with it, but I assume it is because I have experience.

    I would NEVER choose it again though. Too much “huh?”. I have specialized post-grad education but still with the “huh?”. I took bad academic advice.

    My degree is a Bachelor of Social Work, basically, without being called that. But it would have been easier to call it that. I’m sure it has led to resume rejections.

    1. soitgoes

      It’s all really rough, since I do think that part of the college experience is physically going to classes. In fact, I’ve always thought that one of the major benefits of college is learning to sit, listen, and shut up while someone else (ie a professor) talks. An adult who’s been working for a long time might not need this “life lesson,” but I have mixed feelings on whether that person should be able to earn the same degree as someone who committed to being present in classes. I took some online summer classes as an undergrad, and I understand why some people view them as a less intense and more convenient alternative to traditional classes, but that’s kind of exactly why I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the same degree though online work that someone got via sitting in a classroom 18 hours a week.

      1. Natalie

        Whether or not that’s a benefit really depends on where you go to college. I’m back at school in a huge state university system and there is no attendance requirement in class. Plenty of people can and probably are passing their classes by sitting for the exams.

      2. Lynn Whitehat

        Most people already got a lot of practice in “sit, listen, and shut up while someone else talks” in K-12. There may be benefits to the traditional college experience, but I’m not convinced that is one.

  15. NinaK

    @ #3; I know it can sting to find out others got much more than you did.

    A few things to consider:
    Unless you saw the paystub you can’t be 100% sure it happened.
    The large bonus could have been negotiated by the employee earlier in the year as part of a comp package.
    The large bonus could have been given to someone who makes less than market rate salary with the potential for bigger bonus.

    In short, comparing your work, salary, bonus with that of your coworkers will get you nowhere. Focus completely on what you bring to the table and how you can improve on that (although it sounds like you are happy, doing well and getting high marks already). In an admin role you bring ALOT to the table (let’s hear for it career admins!) and if you want higher comp/bigger bonus, talk to you manager now about setting goals to get you there. You might say something like: “I like this job because of X and Y. I feel that I excel and A & B. I want to work toward a bonus of x percent and/or a salary raise to x amount, what do I need to do now to see that happen by next year? Then, get to work on these goals.

    Filter my comments for what they are worth — you may be extremely comfortable in the situation you are in and not want to move ahead at this point. If so, disregard my comments =)

    Finally, 30 hours a week is part time? huh? It is much more than part time.

    1. Miss Betty

      Where I work, 30 hours is full time – but it’s also four full days a week. Our work week is 37.5 hours.
      I thought the government considered 30 hours full time regarding health care requirements. I remember so much fuss last year about companies having to cut people’s hours to less than 30 so they wouldn’t have to provide health insurance for their employees.

      1. Kyrielle

        …it does say that, I just Googled it.

        Our company refers to anyone below 32 hours/week as “part time” but I don’t know if they maybe provide health care benefits anyway. They didn’t used to, but the last time I had cause to look at that was well before the ACA!

    2. AVP

      Financial services is a hard field for this, too – good finance people can probably jump to firms who do give big bonuses, so it’s a major retainment strategy to try to match those. Whereas your admin staff is less likely to be expecting a bonus, so you don’t really have to go all out with them.

  16. Treena Kravm

    I’ve actually found my Liberal Studies degree to be really valuable. The way my program worked was you did 2 minors, and got a BA, or you could do 3 minors, and get a BS. So on my resume, it says BS Liberal Studies: Minor A, Minor B, Minor C. Interviewers ask about it, and when they find out they are minors they’re always super impressed. It confused me the first time (because it’s not impressive at all, it’s only 54 credits) but I’ve since learned to roll with it.

    That being said, I completed 5 internships as an undergrad, so that may have been a factor.

      1. Ellie A.

        Yes, this. Liberal Studies and General Studies are totally different, with different reputations.

      2. JC

        FWIW, before reading this thread I had never heard of a degree in general studies, and I would have assumed that it was the same as a degree in liberal arts or liberal studies (i.e., a very general degree, rather than a degree aimed at someone with work experience who needs a degree quickly).

        1. Onymouse

          My reading of OP is that it is a very general degree – perhaps they switched majors at one point, for example, and thus have more work to do to get a degree in a specific major than the general studies degree.

  17. TotesMaGoats

    Do not, I repeat, do not just get a BS degree in general studies. That’s what it would be…BS. If you are going to take the time and effort to go back to school, you might as well do the work in a field that you work in or are interested in. I would strongly encourage you to look at institutions that will give you credit for life experience (in a legit way, not in the way that some for profits have done). I’m honestly surprised that your institution still offers a BS in General Studies as most schools have moved away from that degree.

    1. jhhj

      I think this depends on when you get the degree. If I saw you got a degree in General Studies directly after high school, and you’re just on the job market now, I’d be wary. On the other hand if I saw you had a career path, while doing that got this degree, and have continued working on it, I’d figure “well, it was a bottleneck somewhere, and getting a degree while working is hard”.

      1. fposte

        That’s my feeling. The OP’s getting this to put a bachelor’s degree into application systems so that people will see her years of work history. It’s basically putting a period at the end of her college career twenty years ago, and I don’t care what you majored in twenty years ago.

  18. Helen

    #1. My dad loves to tell the story about the interviewee who was doing well and then asked, “Can we go home early on Fridays?”

    #4. Sort of unrelated because I’m guessing general studies majors don’t take advanced level courses in particular subjects, but I hate that certain majors are considered “worthless” or easy. If you take it seriously and excel, no major is “easy.”

    1. Anon4This

      One of the first interviews I ever did as a hiring manager was a woman that was doing great. She hit all the points and really wowed me.

      We started talking about why she had been fired from her last job (her initial explanation seemed like she got a raw deal and I wanted more details to be sure) and she said “well really I was fired because the guy that managed me doesn’t like ‘big’ girls because he is too intimidated…” she looked me up and down and continued “you must know what that is like, right?”

      There were no words

  19. Phyllis

    I agree with the comments on the General Studies degree. My son has a degree in Associated Study Skills, with a minor in Chemistry, Business and Marketing (!!)

    His main college courses were in Chemical Engineering; only had one more semester to finish. He got into drugs and had to drop out. After he returned home and was able to go back to school, he went to our local university division and they cobbled together something so he could say he had a B.S. degree (since he had so much science/chemistry) but he has been told to his face that it’s a BS (in the sense Alison said it) degree and not to waste their time. A lady at an employment agency actually said that to him!! I advised him to find some sort of job and think about going back to finish his Chem degree sometime in the future, so that’s the plan for now. He feels angry that he wasted his time finishing a degree that will do him no good. (And yes I realize he did this to himself, but still….)

    1. BRR

      Does his original university allow him to transfer any credits? I took my last class at a university near my parents and transferred the credits over to the university I went to which was far away then got my degree.

  20. Alis

    Perhaps it is different in the US but here in Canada, my Bachelor of General Studies was a full 120 credits with a minimum of 45-60 (2009, don’t remember) in upper-level coursework. It was no different than a BA except that you didn’t declare a major (my “major” was not offered, so I did the courses and didn’t declare). I have 45 upper-level credits in teaching English as a second language – adult education, which is not a major that exists in nearly all institutions.

    1. Brett

      In the US, that would normally be an independent studies degree rather than a general studies degree. The major could have a lot of different names (my wife had that type of major and it was called “Languages, Sciences, and Arts”), but it is a normally a separate “build your own major” area from general studies.

  21. John

    #3 — you look to consider your level of contribution. Yes, everyone is contributing to the cause, but the work that the financial advisors are doing is determining whether clients stay with you, and greatly influencing the firm’s ability to attract new clients, far beyond your work. That’s just a fact. If they’re doing their jobs competently, they should be rewarded much more generously than someone in your role.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Exactly. OP is a cost center; the financial advisors are revenue centers. Bonuses are structured accordingly — and in finance, the bonus can be a very significant (I’ve heard of 50%) component of annual compensation to create an incentive for the revenue generators to, well, generate more revenue.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        I’ll add, as someone not in finance married to someone who is — I personally can’t deal with the bonus structure as it works in finance. You can’t rely on a giant bonus, but many people really do count on it — and sometimes if your group does great, but the company as a whole has issues (like a regulator slapping a huge fine on the company), you end up with a big fat zero at the end of the year.

        I’d much rather have a good base salary and a minuscule bonus, which is what happens in my niche of advertising.

        1. AnonAnalyst

          YES. This is my compensation structure and I hate it. To be fair, it’s pretty unlikely my company would be unable to pay out *any* bonuses to employees, but there’s always uncertainty as to what the exact amount will be until late in the year since it’s based on annual revenue.

          So with the bonus, my compensation is competitive. But if the bonus doesn’t get paid out, I’m actually paid below the market value for my position since my salary isn’t stellar.

          I’m starting a search for a new job, and one of the things I’ve mentioned to people I’ve had initial interviews with when compensation has come up is that I want a more predictable compensation structure (i.e., higher salary with small or no bonus).

  22. Soharaz

    #1: What if you are at the beginning of your career (especially new grads) and you don’t know what you would want to know about work? I asked more questions in interviews for my 2nd etc. jobs than at my first because my first working experience taught me what sort of things matter to me out of a job (management styles, work-life balance, how you’re measured/evaluated, etc.). Does anyone have any recommendations for questions new grads might want to ask at their interviews?

    1. Bea W

      Same here. As I’ve gained experience in my field it’s easier to know what things to ask about. Early on? I had no clue. I never had questions and I didn’t know people would judge me for it.

    2. CheeryO

      I liked asking how long it would take before I was fully trained/up to speed. I got some interesting answers to that one (from “you need to hit the ground running” to “a year, maybe more”), and I have always been glad that I asked it.

      1. voluptuousfire

        This is a great one. I’ve asked that before and it really gives you a great idea of what’s expected of you during the first few months.

        I had a phone screen today and one question I asked was “Ideally, how would you prefer someone in this role to organize their space?” I just came up with it so the wording may not be as sharp as it could be, but I think it could reflect a potential supervisor’s management style (i.e. are they micromanaging to the point where they bug you about what your desk looks like if you’re the type where you space looks like a bomb hit it? Are they more worried about the big picture vs. the details?). It can really give you a better idea of your supervisor’s relationship with people and probably a few other things I can’t think of right now. :)

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Hmmmm, so this might have made total sense for the job you were asking it for, but to me that would throw me off if a candidate asked it in a phone screen! (Or even an in-person interview, but especially in a phone screen.) For managers who don’t care at all how you organize your space, it’s going to be a confusing question!

    3. Sunflower

      The big difference between the questions I asked then and now is really how much I care. Honestly, at first I just asked questions because I kind of had to. I didn’t think those things really mattered and I thought the job description told me everything I needed to know. Or maybe I just needed a job. It’s not until after you start working that you realize how important things like culture and management style really are.

      In college I was also told that I should ask every interviewer how they got started at the company/their career. Why? Because people love to talk about themselves and they will love for you for asking!!! Yikesss!

  23. Bea W

    I suck at asking questions at that “Do you have any questions” part. My brain is still digesting the information I gleaned from the interview process. I try to think of questions before hand but that’s really hard without having had the conversations with people interviewing me. I’m a listener rather than a talker, and if I open my mouth to ask a question it’s probably pretty important and not a filler. I really feel like at that point in the interview I have to create filler, like small talk. I hate it. In a good interview process I find I am naturally asking questions during the conversation. So when we get to that point where I’m being asked if I have any questions, I’ve often asked them already.

    1. Sharon

      Agreed, me too. I find that conversation-style interviews work best for both sides, so I try to steer them in that direction, even if I have to politely interrupt on occasion to ask a question pertinent to what was just said before the topic moves on. By the time the conversation is over, both sides have had all questions asked and answered.

      However, it’s still a good idea to research the company beforehand and write up a list of questions to ask. Read through the list before the interview so that when the topic wends around to one of your questions, you can ask it as part of the conversation. You’ve prepared well, but at the same time the conversation feels natural and relaxed.

      1. Sharon

        Oh, just thought of another good approach to questions that I’ve done in the past. You can sometimes politely turn the interviewer’s question back on him/her. For example in the interview for my current job I was asked by one manager how I handled time, if I was (paraphrased) a clock watcher or willing to work late when needed. I answered him honestly but the question made me think maybe the company had a “death march” culture. So when I was called back for a second interview with another manager and the director, I asked what the company’s view of work hours was. They told me it was pretty standard business hours with rare overtime. They asked me why I wanted to know and I told them the previous manager had asked me that and it made me wonder what the company culture was like. I was polite but yes I was that direct. They kind of chuckled to themselves and said “oh, that was just Dave”. I’m still here and yes indeed, the culture is standard business hours with gently flexible coming and going.

    2. ThursdaysGeek

      Yeah, by the time the interview is over, most or all of my initial questions have been answered. So sometimes, I’ve answered their question with “yes, I’m sure I will, but right at the moment you’ve answered everything.” It probably makes me look like someone who needs time to digest and understand everything, someone who doesn’t always think that fast on her feet. Unfortunately, that’s true.

  24. amp2140

    #1, sometimes you get the interviewer that is thoughtful and answers all of the questions you would ask, almost as if they were reading AAM. Sometimes when I get stuck, you can say, “You’ve answered the questions I prepared on culture, workload, and expectations…”

  25. soitgoes

    You know, #5 reminds me of similar ideas that have been floating around among non-profit organizations. I’ve read a few articles about how non-profits are tired of volunteers showing up for one-off projects, like building a house for Habitat for Humanity or working individual weekend events. The non-profits would prefer if volunteers would make themselves available for long-term day-to-day work. Basically, they want volunteers who can commit to the non-profit as if it were a full-time job, but for no pay. The employer in #5 is being idiotic, but I’m not wholly surprised that “eh, we’ll just not pay you for a job’s worth of work” is something that occurred to him.

    It might not be relevant, but it seems to dovetail with some common thoughts that CEOs at non-profits have regarding the people who help them run the organization.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      To be clear, there are certainly organizations that think like that, but they’re far from the majority of nonprofits. People have a tendency to paint all nonprofits with the same brush, but there are plenty of well-run, financially solid nonprofits out there. We hear about the bad ones … but of course we also hear about TONS of horribly run for-profit employers here, but for some reason people don’t lump them all into one category and talk about how awful for-profit businesses are. (Well, actually, lots of people do, but they’re not using the “for-profit” label, which means that when someone does the same about nonprofits, the nonprofit piece of it stands out — I’d argue unfairly.)

      1. soitgoes

        That’s definitely true. I just blanched at OP5’s letter, and it brought up my associations with organizations that try to guilt people into doing long-term unpaid work because it’s “valuable.” As a side note, I always roll my eyes at organizations that seemingly depend on adult volunteers. I don’t understand how that’s a viable business model.

        1. Jenny

          I get what you’re saying in your side note, but I volunteer for an organization that highly depends on adult volunteers and we all devote our time to the non-profit because we strongly believe in the mission (it serves active duty military, veterans and their families and most of us have a family member in the military). Although there are paid staff spread throughout the US (and most are only PT), the fact that the organization is primarily volunteer-driven has allowed us to keep our overhead very, very low so that the money can be used towards our mission, which is why the organization exists in the first place. The fact that our program expenses are so high and our overhead is so low has caused us to be given the highest rating from all the charity watchdogs, and helps us to bring in donations. Relying on adult volunteers works well for us and we are well-respected because of it.

      2. JC

        +1 to Alison. I work for a non-profit research organization that has a steady source of funding from the for-profit world (and that isn’t tiny), and my experience has never been like this. My particular organization runs well and pays well.

      3. HM in Atlanta

        I think it’s because we hold non-profits to a higher standard. We expect them to be doing the “good work” and it reflects more poorly on them when they run awry (than for-profits). It’s like when someone who is in the clergy gets caught doing something illegal – people want to really throw the book at them.

    2. Colette

      Would they prefer volunteers who commit to the non-profit as if it were a full-time job, or do they want volunteers who are committed to longer-term involvement with the non-profit?

      There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen in order to make it possible for volunteers to show up for a weekend event, but it’s not necessarily a full-time job worth of stuff – just stuff that has to happen in advance. For your Habitat for Humanity example, someone has to arrange for materials/tools/plans/permits/schedules – and while they may have paid staff for some of that, they may not have enough paid staff to do it all. Even if the paid staff handles all of that, someone who shows up every month will be more effective than if it’s all new volunteers every time.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’ve always wondered if the problem is with Habitat for Humanity’s model. I’ve read a bunch of stuff suggesting that they put way too many resources into giving people the chance to say they helped build a house than into actually building houses. (I know very little about this and may be unfairly slandering them here, so anyone who’s more in the know should feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

        1. Colette

          I know very little about that organization – but I know more about my community association, for example. It’s entirely volunteer run, and they have no problem getting people out to help with events, but it’s the same core group of people who do all of the advance work (deciding what event to hold, ordering supplies, booking the facility, etc.). They would desperately love to have more people get involved on a long-term basis. There is certainly value to people coming out for an event – but there’s a lot more value to them when people get involved in advance.

        2. Natalie

          I don’t actually know any specifics, but when I was looking into Habitat for an office volunteer thing I was very interested to find out that they charge businesses who want to do team-building house building. It’s not insignificant either – I don’t remember the exact amount but it was at least a few thousand dollars. I presume the purpose is to defray their costs so that corporate volunteering is at least revenue-neutral.

          1. JMegan

            Insurance, maybe? I mean, I expect anyone going to build a house would be expected to sign a waiver of some sort, but my understanding is that those waivers don’t mean all that much if anyone actually does get hurt and decide to sue.

            I would assume that HfH has insurance against that sort of thing, and probably pretty comprehensive coverage as well. So maybe charging their volunteers is a way to offset that cost?

          2. Agile Phalanges

            I worked in accounting for my company and am quite sure that we didn’t pay anything to have a team-building event (multiple actually, for various departments, and our department volunteered with them on at least two different projects) with Habitat for Humanity. We did have to watch a training video and sign an affidavit that we had done so, for their insurance to cover us, but that was it.

            1. Natalie

              It’s explicitly required by my local Habitat, on their website and everything. Maybe it’s done differently in different areas.

        3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          Yeah, I have mixed feelings about HfH. If their purpose were to raise awareness of the need for safe and affordable housing, that makes sense. But if you look at the total budget of one of the local organizations and divide that by the numbers of houses they build in a year (talking here about the ones that build houses in the US), the houses are by no means cheap. It is hugely expensive to coordinate all those volunteers. Part of the logic is that people volunteer, get excited about the cause, and then start writing checks – so they know that there is a cost to the volunteer hours, but the long game is to turn them into donors (there’s nothing wrong with converting volunteers to donors, it’s just that I don’t believe they actually build houses for less than it would cost to just hire a contractor to build a house)

          There’s another agency where I live that renovates older homes that are in nicer neighborhoods. They then sell those home below market value to people in certain income brackets (if they buyer sells within x years, they have to sell back to the agency). They aren’t consuming so many new materials, and they’re also increasing the property value of the other homes of the street by turning old/crumbling houses into safe/solid ones. They’ve done three houses on my street, which is awesome.

          1. Burlington

            That’s amazing! I’ve always disliked HfH for exactly those reasons, and the general idea that it’s ridiculous that we’re spending a bunch of money and volunteer hours to build new houses when there are zillions of houses sitting empty in the US (a surprising fact: The US has enough vacant houses right now to house every homeless person several times over). Why on earth do people support a charity that builds more houses, especially if (as some are indicating here, but I don’t know) it’s actually costing more to have volunteers build those homes than it does to have a regular contractor do it?

            1. fposte

              I would bet one reason is that it’s easier to get volunteers to build houses than it is to convince banks to sell vacant properties to low-income people.

              1. ThursdaysGeek

                That, and all those low-income people would have to move to the places where the empty houses are abundant. In our area, we have plenty of low-income, and have had in the past few years a 99% rental occupancy rate. There are houses for sale, but very few sitting empty for a long time.

                Habitat has been building several affordable houses a year in the area, which doesn’t make much of a dent, but is better than nothing.

        4. HM in Atlanta

          I’ve tried to volunteer with HfH for a number years, exactly for those low-glamour type of roles. The push back is always – come with a corporate build group (and that large fee that involves) or donate cash. At the time, I didn’t have the case and worked for a small employer (who wasn’t interested). I did have plenty of time that they could have used to do data entry, filing, grunt work for the people coordinating builds, or even vacuuming the office. They weren’t interested, so my free time went to a Veterans’ support non-profit.

          Guess who gets my cash donation now?

          1. fposte

            It also varies a lot from group to group. My local Habitat was perfectly happy to have me for a few days to help clean out their store site without any larger commitment. I make a point of donating to the local group anyway, so I guess that’s just one more reason.

        5. cv

          I was an office volunteer for HfH for a few months a few years ago, and I definitely felt like the model was a little odd. The chapter had several full-time paid office staff plus AmeriCorps volunteers at the construction site and paid contractors (don’t want untrained volunteers doing the electrical wiring unsupervised) and built something like 5 homes/year. The model does mean that corporate dollars are going to the issue of low-income housing, and for the few families who are able to get the housing it can be life-altering, but it really seemed like the chapter’s multi-million dollar annual budget could be used much more efficiently to help more people through less photo-friendly means like giving people direct housing subsidies or helping them qualify for loans. The families that qualified certainly needed the help, but the houses also go to people who have some steady income and who provide some evidence that they’re a decent credit risk, so it’s really not a program that helps the homeless. In the future I think I’d focus my volunteer efforts elsewhere where the ROI is a little higher.

        6. ThursdaysGeek

          From what others have written, it sounds like different Habitat chapters in different areas don’t always work the same way.

          I do get requests for money via the mail from the national organization, but the local org has never pressured me for money, has never had a problem with me just showing up to help a build (although they like having people sign up so they know how many will be there). It seems that part is to build affordable housing for (non-homeless) people; get people involved in their handout so it’s not just a handout; help people with some useful skills, both people needing housing and volunteers; run their re-store to get some additional money by providing lower cost building supplies. And here, where there is very limited affordable housing, very few houses sitting empty, it’s a reasonable program.

      2. soitgoes

        The articles I read (which may not be representative, but they were published on very popular mainstream-liberal sites, so for better or worse, they have become representative) describe a need for adults who are willing to come in and handle administrative work during office hours. I get that non-profits are inherently a bit different, but I’m very much of the thought that if you can’t afford to pay someone to do the job, you need to reconsider whether you can run a business.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think the piece that is different about nonprofits is that in cases like the ones you describe where they’re relying on volunteers to do real jobs, they’re basically saying, “Hey, we’re a group of people interested in doing Specific Type of Good in the work. If you’re interested in joining us in making this positive change in the world, we need people who can play Role X and Role Y on an ongoing basis.”

          If they can find enough people who care about their cause enough to do that, it’s not at all crazy to operate that way.

          I would strongly argue that once they can afford to make those paying positions, they should — because they’ll usually get better results (because they can be pickier about who they hire, hold them to a higher bar, hold them accountable in a different way, etc.), but if that’s not possible for them, it’s not crazy to essentially be a group of people who have banded together to accomplish some specific good mission in the world, without everyone being paid.

          1. soitgoes

            Where do you draw the line between volunteer work and the abuses that happen under the internship model? I’m not the only person of my generation who panics when hearing the word “volunteer” due to the annoyances and illegalities that we dealt with as interns. Because from the outside, a lot of the stuff that volunteer agencies ask for is the stuff that I learned (too late) that internships were not allowed to ask me to do without paying me, in either money or school credit.

            It could very well be that a lot of the ill will reserved for non-profits is owed to mental correlation between internships and volunteer work.

            1. fposte

              Interns are indentured, if you will, in a way that volunteers aren’t, and there are completely different goals and expectations for the two situations.

              Volunteers hopefully get something out of the experience, but that’s not the priority–they’re there for the benefit of the organization, not themselves. They’re also free to walk away whenever the whim takes them. The law therefore largely doesn’t care about them so long as we’re talking volunteering at a non-profit (and that we’re not talking employees made to volunteer for their own employer). Interns are supposed to be learning stuff. At least federally, I don’t see any explicit “interns aren’t allowed to do x task” things; it’s more that the benefit of the internship is supposed to reside with the intern, not the organization, so if ordinarily you’d pay an employee for x task, you can’t get out of doing that by passing it on to the intern.

              But you can do that with a volunteer any time you like. The volunteer can also say “No, if I can’t pet the puppies, I’m not coming.”

              1. Zillah

                At least federally, I don’t see any explicit “interns aren’t allowed to do x task” things; it’s more that the benefit of the internship is supposed to reside with the intern, not the organization, so if ordinarily you’d pay an employee for x task, you can’t get out of doing that by passing it on to the intern.

                Is this true of non-profits as well as for-profits, though? I thought that the rules for non-profits were considerably more lax.

        2. Observer

          There is another issue, as well, that Allison does not address, but that is pretty unique to the non-profit sector. There are some fairly arbitrary caps on what you can spend on certain things such as “overhead”, yet if you pay for all of your overhead, you may not be able to stay within budget. So, either you wind up not doing something essential or you wind up hiding the cost by having these things done by people who are really supposed to be dong other things.

          Sometimes these rules get fairly bizarre. For instance, at one point we were dealing with a (fairly major) funder that had a cap on the percentage of salary that could go to “benefits”, including Health insurance. The problem is that you cannot legally offer different levels of insurance without all sorts of issues. And, they expected most admin types of positions to be paid a fairly low salary. The easiest solution for many organizations is to just hire part timers, but that means you don’t get as many hours as you need.

          1. Burlington

            Luckily, this is slowly turning around, but major work still needs to be done. It sounds like you’d be interested in the work of the Charity Defense Council.

            1. Observer

              I’m aware of their work. Yes, there is a looong way to go, but at least there is beginning to be some change.

          2. Zillah

            The easiest solution for many organizations is to just hire part timers, but that means you don’t get as many hours as you need.

            Agreed – and I’d also argue that it means that you’ll likely find it far more difficult to retain top talent. People want benefits and health insurance for a reason.

      3. Kyrielle

        The local no-kill cat shelter requires their volunteers to commit to 8 hours/month. I think something like that, which shows an expectation of consistency but not anything near full-time hours, is more reasonable and might strike a better balance.

    3. Observer

      It’s not all that common for non-profits to expect people to commit long term to a full time volunteer stint at a non-profit. What is somewhat common is that they want someone who can commit to ongoing support – even if a couple of hours a week, and to things that don’t have the “glamor” of these big projects.

      I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. We all know that there are stupid and incompetent non-profit managements out there. But Allison says that’s not unique to the sector.

  26. L Veen

    #1 – I’ve spent most of this week on an interview panel. We’ve seen 8 candidates so far; the majority didn’t ask any questions at the end and from the ones that did, all but one had a single question: how much longer we thought the hiring process would last. Only one asked about workload, opportunities for advancement, etc. I was really surprised by this but my fellow panel members said it was normal in their experience.

    1. Windchime

      We recently hired someone for a difficult-to-fill position. He was way overqualified and interviewed badly, but had good skills. He had exactly zero questions at the end of the interview; apparently he had no curiosity at all about what the typical workday might look like, what the opportunities for advancement are, what kind of training we offer, if there is flex time or work-at-home available, nothing. It was kind of amazing. What if we had hired him, and then he discovered that he’d be working the graveyard shift or had to wear a suit and tie every day?

  27. Allison

    When I was younger and had no work experience, I had no idea what to ask in interviews, simply because I didn’t have enough experience in the workplace to know what to inquire about. It never occurred to me to ask about management styles, or how success was measured, or – important in my area – what’s the usual protocol when the weather is bad and commuting to work may be dangerous?

  28. Employment Lawyer

    Re: 5. Can my employer decide not to pay me for this month because of financial hardship?
    Absolutely, positively, definitely, not. That is a clear violation of state and federal law. (In fact, not only are you not getting “your wages,” but you’re not getting minimum wage. That may help to understand why it’s so illegal.)

    Were it me, I’d be on the horn to a CA employment lawyer, because:
    a) you should not agree;
    b) you may need to make a fuss about it; and
    c) you should know how to document it properly, because you may need to protect yourself against retaliation for demanding your wages.

    That last one is REALLY crucial in a case like this.

    1. neverjaunty

      I can’t plus this comment enough. Calling a lawyer is one of the first things to do when one’s employer is saying “hi, we’re really going to mess with you”. It doesn’t mean that the next step is ALL THE LAWSUIT. Simply knowing your rights and having a plan is invaluable.

      In CA, if you don’t know an employment lawyer, you can call your county bar association and they will give you free or low-cost (like $50) referrals where you can talk to an attorney in that specialty for an hour.

  29. Calla

    4. A lot of places offer this as the only option if you’re trying to finish you undergrad as an adult (i.e. you need undergrad evening classes or an accelerated undergrad) and it’s so frustrating! At least when I was searching, most of the options were “General Studies” or “Liberal Studies” etc. Harvard’s evening undergrad program gave you a degree in “Extension Studies.” What on earth is “extension studies”? Fortunately, I’m now at a university that allows me to get a normal undergrad degree with night classes, but the majors were more limited and I had to switch from PoliSci to Sociology (luckily, close enough that all classes transferred).

    Anway I think if you’re just doing it to check off the box and don’t care about a degree you can use, I’d do something relevant if possible but GS isn’t as much as a wtf. From what I’ve seen, usually you can still “focus” in one area.

    1. soitgoes

      My graduate program didn’t offer any classes that started before 4:30. That was still difficult for some people, but it was nice to have the school show awareness of how adults schedule their lives.

      1. De Minimis

        Mine was so annoying I had classes during the day AND at night. I was only able to work intermittently while attending.

      2. Fabulously Anonymous

        I agree. And I really hate it when staff/prof’s refer to their graduate students as “kids.” Um, we’re not kids, we’re working adults.

      3. Calla

        I’m not surprised as much with grad programs. But I got so frustrated when schools would have “Adult Undergrad” programs (supposedly SPECIFICALLY aimed towards working adults completing their degrees) and then no easily-accessible info on evening classes and weekend classes period. Uh…

        1. Calla

          *and no weekend classes period, I mean. My current school doesn’t offer weekend classes in my program but at least all the classes start at 6pm.

      4. Lizzie

        My program also offered reduced tuition for evening classes (anything that started at or after 4 PM). I think it was half the price per credit hour? (Private university, though, so still pricey. But better!)

  30. illini02

    #3 There was a similar question last week about salary difference. In that situation, I actually was a bit more on the side of the letter writer because they had a more specialized job and higher degree than the admin assistant, so they thought that they shouldn’t be making significantly less. I understand that. This situation… makes no sense. You are part time. They are full time. You are doing support work. They are bringing in money. Why would you think you would be getting anywhere near the bonus they would? The fact that you, as a part time employee, got any bonus at all should be good enough for you. I will say this, you got more of a bonus than most people at my company, and we are ALL full time. This seems to just be petty

  31. Brett

    #1 I am really weirded out by people who don’t ask questions. Odds are I am interviewing for a position where I know a _lot_ about the interviewee’s future co-workers and their likely environment. And the hiring manager next to me knows even more. Not asking anything makes me think the person does not actual care that much about their work environment, and that worries me.

    1. Windchime

      I agree. To me, not having any questions just screams, “I need a job, any job, and I don’t care about the details of this one at all.”

  32. Brett

    #2 Rather than talking to the student, this is definitely the type of thing that could go back to the student’s grad adviser. Part of the grad adviser’s job is to help the student acclimate to professional academic norms, and this student is not doing that.

    1. fposte

      Here that would be a weird thing, like going to the manager instead of talking directly to the co-worker.

  33. Satanic Mechanic

    #4

    OP, instead of just going through the motions to be able to “check a box” on future job applications, why not focus on getting a more useful degree with that time, energy, and money? It seems like a complete waste to just go with the cheapest, easiest option. Why not study something that will augment and expand your current skill set?

    I know it is a royal pain in the arse to work full time and go to school at night/weekends. I worked full-time while completing two separate master’s programs. It isn’t ideal. But I am assuming, by virtue of the fact that you wrote in for advice on this, that you do see the value of having the degree. If you are planning to lay out the time, effort, and money to get any degree at all, why not ante up a little more so you can walk away with a degree you are proud of, that will make your more marketable, and may help insulate you from future layoffs. I apologize if this sounds overly critical, but your attitude towards the entire thing seems quite off-base to me. This could be a great opportunity and investment in yourself and your future if that is what you choose to make it.

    1. Maris

      It may be because they’re already very successful in their career and the “benefit” of a degree in their field just isn’t there. That may well be my own personal bias at play here, but she may be in a similar position to me.

      I’ve been fortunate enough to work for ~15 years at a Fortune 20, global company where they promote talented people from within, and care more about your track record than your educational background. I’ve worked my way up from an ‘admin’ type role to a Senior Operations Manager for a country (my company is Global). This role typically requires an MBA (judging by job postings from comparable companies). I have an AA (which I only completed since I took on this role). I have employees with MBA’s from prestigious institutions that just cannot perform at the level I do (and conversely my succession planning has a person with a fine arts degree as my targeted replacement). Could I get some learning/value out of a business degree/MBA? Sure. Is it worth the ROI (in $, time, inconvenience, frustration, work-life balance)? Judging by what I see with my peers, management and employees – it is not. However, if I ever want to leave my employer, I am going to have to suck it up and ‘get the piece of paper’. I don’t blame the OP for seeking to do the same in the most efficient manner possible.

      1. Stacy

        OP#4 here: I was thinking preciously in terms of ROI. And not just the effort and expense I have to expend *now* for the degree but also in terms of the effort I already put into it. I took History of the English Language as an 8 a.m. class. I’m sorry but that MUST count toward my degree.

        What I like about the B.G.S. is that it takes into account the work I’ve already done and gives me the most credit for that. Plus, I can use my remaining credits to shore up areas that are useful to my current career.

        What I don’t like: There seems to be some question as to whether or not the degree would be perceived as a BS degree. There’s no guarantee that earning this (or for that matter ANY) Bachelor’s would increase my future earning potential.

  34. Observer

    #5 Start looking for a job THIS minute. There is so much wrong here that it’s making my head hurt.

    Firstly, as noted, this is flatly and completely illegal. There is NO “escape clause” here. This is such a big deal that it really could kill the organization if you ever get audited, either by the IRS or government funders if you have any government contracts / grants.

    Your director is a total idiot, or he’s a pathological jerk. He’s telling you that you are not going to get paid for the next two weeks. Does he really expect anyone to show up and make an effort? After all, what’s he going to say to you? “I’m docking your pay” doesn’t mean anything when”pay” is non-existent.

    By the way, I would strongly recommend that you get this in writing, or confirm in writing (or email) with the others that this is what the CEO said. You’ll need it if you need to deal with retaliation or unemployment – failure to pay salary is pretty much considered the equivalent of firing in the case of unemployment.

    And, where is the Board in all of this? The CEO should not be making significant, director level decisions on pay on his own. So, either the Board agrees and they are equally incompetent, or they are allowing him way more leeway than they should, which is a different kind of incompetence.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think it’s a problem for the CEO to make director-level pay decisions on his own; that’s part of the work of running the organization that’s appropriate for the CEO. However, the board should absolutely be on the loop on this current plan, because it exposes the board to legal liability. (That said, it would be pretty odd for a board to not be aware of the state of the finances; they’d be wildly neglecting their obligations as board members if so.)

      1. De Minimis

        The non-profit I used to work for [admittedly a very small one] the executive director [CEO equivalent] set everyone else’s salary, but her salary was determined by the board.

      2. Observer

        Small changes, yes. Major? Not in my experience.

        10% across the board cuts in pay, which is what this amounts to financially, or major pay restructuring, which is what should have happened to get the same financial effect, are things that should come to the board.

        In any case, the bottom line is that there is a major problem with the board. As you say, they should be aware of the financial situation and how the CEO is planning to deal with it. In fact, if it’s really that bad, they should be working with him directly.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Something like a 10% cut across the board, yes, the board should be involved in because it’s a major financial move for the organization. I was only disagreeing with the earlier comment that “The CEO should not be making significant, director level decisions on pay on his own.”

  35. Iro

    #3 Bonuses are rarely flat pay-outs given equally to each employee. They are usually a % of salary. What % of Salary is recieved is ususually a calculation based of pay grade, performance, and sometimes even years of service and/or negotiated on hire.

    If it will help you feel better, take your bonus (pre-tax deduction) and divide it by your annual salary (if you are hourly take 30hours X hourly rate X 52 weeks). If you come up with a number >=0.01 (1%) then you are doing really well for yourself.

  36. INTP

    Another concern about the degree: every client I have worked with who wouldn’t budge on the degree requirement also patently rejected online only or for-profit schools. While a General Studies degree from a “real” school is a step up, it may get you rejected if it is clear to the resume reader that you’ve done a degree completion program online. Basically, I worry that you’d spend a lot of money to get past the ATS screen only to be rejected because the companies with those screens also have certain standards for the degree. I’ve seen it happen to director-level candidates who got U of Phoenix degrees for the same reason.

  37. Em

    #3, Bonus Issue – To be honest, the question about the bonuses is a little odd to me. I don’t think that someone should be concerned about other people in completely different roles/job levels getting much larger bonuses, anymore than they should be concerned about these other people having much larger base salaries. At first I assumed the beef was going to be that the OP does the same work as everyone else, but she/he has made clear that’s not the case. If I were in the OP’s position I would be quite thrilled to get a bonus at all, as they’re generally quite rare for part-time receptionist work, although perhaps it’s more common in finance.

    As noted by another commenter, bonuses for higher-level employees tend to be based on a percentage of salary, and they’re also typically not a given. Think of them as part of the employee’s overall compensation, but a part which is quite dependent on employee/company performance. (Yes, we all know there are exceptions which show up in the media, and “bonus” is sometimes a dirty word, but most people aren’t getting million dollar bonuses for driving their companies into the ground.) Often, the only employees on a bonus plan of that sort are those with very autonomous roles and who are in the position to positively or negatively affect the company’s bottom line. It’s not just about “harder” or “higher level” work, although that matters. Influence also matters. It’s not unusual for the company to have to meet a certain level of performance in order for the bonus to be paid out at all, and in that case the exact dollar amount may be based on how many pre-determined goals the employee met that year.

    It is also completely normal for companies to have some employees on a bonus plan, and others to not have a compensation package which includes the possibility of a bonus, and I do wonder whether the OP might actually feel better if she simply received no bonus. It’s almost as if the presence of a bonus in a specific dollar amount leads to the comparison with the dollar amounts of the other bonuses and with no bonus at all, it might be easier to make the distinction between roles. In any case, my guess here is that the although the word “bonus” is being used both for the end-of-year payout to the OP, and the payouts to the other employees, they’re not actually the same thing. I suspect the admins might get a flat amount as a sort of thank you, without much relation to their performance, while the higher-up employees are part of the much more complicated plan similar to what I described. I think it’s somewhat apples and oranges. There is really no need to be insulted.

  38. Helena

    #1 The only time I answered ‘no’ to this question was when I was interviewing for an internal permanent position in a department where I was already doing contract work (odd circumstances). I knew the interviewers, I knew the position inside out, and I knew all the upcoming projects/ challenges etc as well. I can’t remember how I dealt with it in the end. (I ended up getting the job, though!)

    1. Lizzie

      I was thinking about this as I read through the comments. I’m also hoping for the opportunity to move up in my career in the next six months or so, and it would be wonderful to be able to do so within my current workplace, but I struggle to think of what I’d ask about at the end of an internal interview.

  39. Imma Little Teapot

    To OP #3: That is the nature of the business you’re in. Advisors are securities licensed, and often get generous incentive bonuses and retention bonuses that their unlicensed office staff does not. Some of that could likely be sales commissions, trailers, or quarterly payouts from fee-based business. I know, because I manage an office full of advisors. Suck it up, buttercup! If you’re not producing commissions yourself, be happy for the little bit extra they’re willing to give you. $750 is actually generous, compared to the norm. With some advisors, you’ll be lucky if you get taken to lunch on your birthday. It may sound harsh, but I’ve been working with a team of advisors for close to a decade, and it’s simply the reality of the business. Unless you have a desire to get licensed and pursue the sales side of the investment business, this isn’t likely to change. Assistants and associates to advisors are the ones who do the grunt work, and it is what it is.

  40. ITPuffNStuff

    #5 — it boggles my mind that executives think they can get away with this nonsense. the law doesn’t apply to them, or common sense, or even an expectation of basic honesty apparently.

    the employment relationship on its surface is very simple. employees contribute their labor and employers contribute their money. since apparently the leadership of this organization feels it’s reasonable not to contribute their money when it is inconvenient to do so, i presume they are comfortable with employees not contributing labor when other demands in employees’ lives make it difficult?

    also, since the organization apparently (in their minds) should withhold pay when revenue is low, i presume they are paying extra in months when revenue is high?

    it boggles my mind that people who believe this kind of thing is okay actually hold executive leadership positions. i wouldn’t trust them to flip burgers for minimum wage, let alone manage an entire organization.

    1. videogamePrincess

      Aside from the sheer illegality, it just sees absurd that he can create a situation of “forced generosity.”

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