calling a former colleague’s prospective new boss, being frozen out by the company I used to intern at, and more

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

1. Should I call a former colleague’s prospective new boss to say how great she is?

Our VP just moved out of town and she just had a really good interview. I am not in her reference list, but she’s truly amazing and I would love to call her “potentially new boss” and tell him how wonderful she is. Should I?

Only with her permission! While you might be thinking there’s no way this could backfire, you shouldn’t interfere in someone else’s job search without their permission. It’s possible that she has the sense that they wouldn’t find this helpful, or that she’s already arranged for someone else to contact them and feels a second one would be too much (read this), or simply that she wouldn’t want it for her own reasons. Reach out and make the offer, but wait for a clear yes from her.

(Also, I wouldn’t do this at all if you didn’t work extremely closely with her, ideally in a position of authority over her. Otherwise it’s going to be too vague to be as compelling as an unsolicited call should be.)

2. Am I being frozen out by the company I used to intern at?

Last year, the spring before I graduated from college, I interned for a fairly prestigious and competitive company within my industry and performed very well. I was even given a copy of the glowing feedback given to HR and a party from my supervisors. Everyone told me that they would love to have me back. I could not apply for a job right away because I had already made commitments to work abroad that summer. When I got back from abroad, I had trouble finding a job, but I was added to a email list for former interns to receive alerts for open positions so we could apply directly through HR instead of the online portal.

Now, fast forward to last month. I was interviewed for a job by several people in the company. I thought it went reasonably well, and I sent a thank-you email the next day and expressed how much I was excited by the possibility of working there. A month went by and I didn’t hear back. I felt a bit disheartened, but accepted that they must have found a better candidate.

Now, I believe I was taken off the intern subscription list (the emails used to come every week, and it has been a month without receiving one). I am not sure where I should go from here. Because they never reached out to me after the interview, I am not sure if they thought I was a bad fit for that supervisor or I somehow gaffed without realizing it. Can I apply for another job in the company?

You absolutely can still apply. But on top of that, is there someone there who you can reach out to who might give some candid feedback — either your former manager there or an interviewer who you had especially good rapport with? You could also simply reach out to the contact person for the email list and asked if you were accidentally removed.

Also, keep in mind that there could be an explanation for all this that has nothing to do with you. For instance, if they’re short-staffed in HR right now (or had some sort of crisis that blew up right around the time of your interview), that could explain the lack of response to you, and it might also mean they don’t have the staffing to be doing the intern subscription list right now.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I’m interested in a possible unadvertised job opening

I noticed that a person who held a position that fits my qualifications and interests has left the nonprofit I used to volunteer for. (I stopped volunteering due to time commitments.) I’d like to reach out with my resume but noticed they haven’t posted the job yet (or the name of the new person who might of taken it.) The person I used to contact for volunteering is gone, so I can’t get the inside scoop that way. Would it be alright to just pass along my resume or is that too forward?

Not too forward at all! Include a full cover letter, though, not just your resume, and make sure to mention that you’re a past volunteer (unless the person you’re emailing already knows you). Just say that you noticed that Jane has left and that if they’re planning to re-hire for the role, you’d love to be considered.

4. Do I need to explain my degree in a very different field than what I’m working in now?

I have been working in a program coordinator position at a nonprofit since I graduated college, and was working in similar programs during my summers throughout school. I’m looking to move to a new organization, but stay in the same field. My bachelor’s degree is in a hard science, though, and can seem out of place. Is this something that I should address in a cover letter, or is not a big deal?

Not a big deal. People pay a lot less attention to what your major was that college leads you to believe they will (with the exception, of course, of working in a field that requires a particular degree).

An interviewer might ask you about it, simply because it can be interesting to see people who major in hard science but go on to do something very different, but it’s definitely not something you have to address up-front in a cover letter.

(This can be a bigger deal when it’s a master’s degree, because then people tend to assume that’s really the field you’d prefer to be working in, but for undergrad it’s so common for people to major in one thing and work in a totally different field that you don’t need to worry at all.)

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Graciosa*

    Regarding #2, there could also be a sudden hiring freeze, or the hiring manager or another critical approver could be unexpectedly out of the office for an extended period (car accident producing short term disability leave, for example). There are an amazing number of things that can change or delay the process of getting a job filled. My large employer changes the hiring restrictions far too frequently – I don’t think I’ve been able to hire “normally” in the past four years – and I once had a boss disappear for more than three months.

    Don’t assume it’s personal without a much better reason than you have – the odds are that it isn’t, or they would have told you that you were no longer being considered.

    Even if you don’t get this job, don’t assume that this means it was your only opportunity. Treat it like any other application and submit it and see what happens.

    Good luck.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yep. I came to say that if they didn’t like the OP that much they wouldn’t have wasted their time interviewing her. I think the disconnect is coming because they’re treating her like any other applicant, which is unfortunate, but getting a leg up from being an intern can sometimes simply mean being given an interview. It doesn’t automatically make you the best candidate, or mean that they’ll hire you over better candidates.

      And remember what Hamlet said: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. your philosophy”. There’s no reason or basis to assume the worst with the intern subscription list, since you don’t have any other information other than you’ve stopped receiving it. I’ve managed lots of mailing lists, and we get a lot of bounces, more than I would have thought. Some even from people who have just signed up, and apparently don’t know that their account is over quota or suspended. After a certain number we remove the person from the list. For a while, for some mysterious reason Hotmail was suddenly bouncing ALL of our messages. We tried to keep those people on the list until we could work it out, but I’m sure a few were removed permanently.

      tl;dr version: don’t assume, ask.

  2. Artemesia*

    #1 If I got a call out of the blue touting an applicant I would assume that the applicant had arranged this and it would hurt their chances with me. If you know the hiring manager then it is entirely different; you could certainly call and chat about the candidate. But a stranger calling to laud Joe Schlobotnick for a position? I am going to find that manipulative and assume you are his cousin or mother or BFF whom he asked to call.

    1. dragonzflame*

      I’d think it was strange, too. IMHO the only people who should be talking to a person’s prospective employer are the ones they’ve chosen to be referees.

    2. Elizabeth*

      I love getting notes from people I know who want to recommend candidates for a position — it definitely helps pull people into the interview pool from the huge pile of resumes we receive for most openings. Notes from strangers are less helpful.

      1. TootsNYC*

        speaking of the “someone you know”–If I were considering a candidate and someone on my team came t me and said, “Someone I know and trust told me she really likes that candidate,” it would carry a little bit of weight.
        So if you know someone else in that company, and you think you have a reputation with them as having pretty good judgment, you could say to that person, “I know Joe Schmoe interviewed our former VP–she’s so great!” and a few substantive things that aren’t too detailed (“really good at articulating the company’s goals to people like me” or “really expanded our client base”). And maybe, “I hope she gets the job, you’ll really like working with her.”

        And then leave it at that, and maybe the person you know will mention it to Joe Schmoe.

        It has to be about trusting the person w/ the comment.

    3. Laura*

      Definitely. I got weird feelings about it too. My references are people I trust closely, who can speak to the quality of my work. If the VP felt that way about her boss, she might have been more comfortable listing him as a reference.

      References should be entirely handled by the hiring company. Supply them when asked and don’t do any monkey business outside of what’s required by the hiring manager.

  3. bassclefchick*

    Regarding #4: Just ask any of my fellow Radio TV Film graduates what jobs they ended up in, and I almost guarantee over 95% of us are not in the industry. Though that’s probably way more common with the Liberal Arts degrees than the hard science ones. I think Alison is spot on. The undergrad? Well, life happens and rent needs to be paid. Career paths change, so it’s not unusual to go in a different direction. I’d be more concerned about switching fields from your master’s degree.

      1. bassclefchick*

        Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time at the college radio station. Though you DID go into sales (if I remember correctly), radio sales was NOT what I wanted to do. LOL

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Amen. I think of the 30 people in my graduating R/TV & Broadcast News classes, 5 of us are still in the business 20 years later. What’s that, like 1/6th of us?

    2. Anononon*

      :) My dad was a RTF major, and while he loved it, he jokes about how they used to call it “Rather Than Fail.” He’s also done nothing since college in that field.

    3. Polabear*

      I work in IT, but my degree is in political science. My first job out of school was in tech support, thanks to the dot com boom, and i never looked back. For my current job, it was actually a plus because the hiring manager also had a social science degree. I’ve never called it out in a cover letter.

    4. The Strand*

      Really? I’ve always kept a foot in, part time. I went several years doing other things because I liked eating. Then I got RTF work for several years. A couple of years ago I moved to another industry, where I do work closely with RTF people but make much more money. I still pick up gigs part time, too.

  4. Mabel*

    Do hiring managers really ask for your college major? I’ve seen application forms ask for that information, but IME, as long as you have a BA, that’s all they need (I’ve been out of school for about 30 years so maybe that’s the difference).

    1. Clever Name*

      It depends on the field, of course. My consulting company would never hire someone as a geologist or engineer without that degree or a closely relayed degree.

  5. Jack the Treacle Eater*

    #4, I’m in engineering with an earth sciences degree. As far as I can think I’ve only once had an interviewer comment on it. Generally they’re far more concerned with in-work experience and achievements. Definitely not a big deal, and something that can be addressed at interview if it’s raised as a query.

    1. danr*

      Consider the hard science degree a plus for any other field. It gives you a good method of approaching and dealing with problems.

    2. Clever Name*

      Heh. This basically contradicts what I just said above. Is it a field where a PE is important? (My husband is a software engineer, but PEs aren’t really a thing apparently)

      1. Jack the Treacle Eater*

        I’m not in the US and it doesn’t quite work the same way over here. Professional engineering registration is useful in some fields, but many more engineers don’t have it than do, and it’s not legally required as it is in some countries.

        Companies do tend to state engineering degree as ‘desirable’ or ‘required’ in ads, but really it seems to be a way of asking for a certain level of competence that I can demonstrate in other ways. If I was at the more theoretical end of aeronautical design or some such, it might be different, so I think there’s some truth to you ‘depends on the field’ comment.

  6. Red*

    #4, my first official job in the medical admin field was posted as requiring a bachelors degree in industrial engineering. I asked the manager about it – I was already temping in the department – she was boggled. I didn’t have a bachelors degree in anything and I still got the job.

  7. Captain Radish*

    OP 4,I have a degree in English Literature and work in the low-voltage industry doing IP cameras. My current boss thinks my degree is hilarious, but otherwise he didn’t pay much attention to it. Experience generally trumps education (at least in my experience).

  8. AproposLetter*

    #1: What if the context is the following?
    – You’re a contractor for both X and Y and you have frequently worked with A. A is one of the best clients you’ve ever dealt with.
    – X recently fired A primarily over a personality/design philosophy clash with new leadership (A wasn’t completely blindsided). We have no reason to believe A or A’s colleagues are lying, and the neutral email informing us didn’t imply anything different.
    – Y has functional openings but no time at the moment to get the hiring/resume scanning ducks in their row, and you work closely enough with Y to know A would be a perfect match for some of those needs.

    In that case, would it be appropriate to bring up A in a conversation with Y – after A sends in a resume but potentially before an interview is even considered?

    My manager (really the department as a whole) is already on A’s reference list for companies we work with, and let’s assume A has given us the OK. It would be my manager or the person working with Y long term doing this.

    1. TootsNYC*

      You are connected to Y, so you would have standing to call and say, “I’d like to recommend someone for your current needs.” At any point in the process.
      It might be best to not say that you know whether the job candidate has applied; the less “prompted by the job candidate” it can appear, the better.

      Recently I realized that my counterpart in a different part of the company was still looking, and I email her, “Have you heard of Susan Smith? I’m pretty sure she’s looking to leave freelance, and she’d be GREAT for your opening.” About 20 minutes later, she called me and said, “I was about to ask you about her, because I just got her resumé. I’m so glad to have heard from you.”

      It’s when you don’t have any connection that it’s really, really weird.

  9. stevenz*

    I may be guilty of a commenting guideline here, but I will risk being black-listed to make a *small* grammatical comment. Maybe I missed a memo, or there is something about the culture of this site. If either of those, let me know. But I am puzzled by the widespread use of the term “reach out”. (It’s used five times in this post.) It’s being used synonymously with “call”, “contact”, “get in touch with”, “meet with”. The traditional connotation of “reach out” is a very specialised form of contact implying some kind of intimacy or personal need – seeking help, guidance or support – or providing same – in time of need. I might reach out to my best friend for comfort after a death in the family. Or, I might reach out to that friend to offer him support. (cf. “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, The Four Tops, 1966.) But I will *talk to* my manager about changing the deadline for a report, or *call* a hiring manager for an update.

    Maybe it’s just me, but “reach out” in this context sounds a bit too new-age-touchy-feely-faux-sincere for general use, especially in a business setting. (Frankly, I find it kind of nauseating.) One of Orwell’s Rules for Writers is, never use a complex word when a simple word will suffice. In this case, I think generalizing “reach out” to include a wide swath of human communication may fall under that rule.


    1. Pwyll*

      “Reach out” has been standard, common parlance for “get in contact with” in every single job throughout my entire career. As in, “I’ll reach out to Jane for a status update;” or “Have Tom reach out to the client for their feedback.” I think it’s just one of those weird corporate-speak things that has become so common that it’s now standard language.

      1. stevenz*

        Clearly I’m missing something. I have *never* used it in that context, but so be it. (I wish it would go away, along with about 2000 other cringe-inducing forms of corporate-speak.)

        Thanks for reaching out to me. There! I said it!

    2. The Rat-Catcher*

      Will second that “reach out” has become synonymous in American culture with “get in touch with,” to mean “call/email/swing by their desk/contact them in some way.” It’s not something I’ve seen anyone bat an eye over.

    3. MommaTRex*

      A typical thing that happens with language. I read an article somewhere about how the use of contact as verb was found by many to be appalling. I’ll see if I can dig it up.

  10. Jack the Treacle Eater*

    #2 “I believe I was taken off the intern subscription list” – never attribute to a conspiracy that which is more likely to be a mistake.

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