I feel weird about turning down jobs and interviews, telling an interviewer I want to open my own business, and more

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

1. I feel weird about turning down jobs and interviews

I have had several situations arise lately where I ended up withdrawing from the interview process after I developed concerns about the position or company. Each time, I don’t think I handled it well.

The first was with a small, family-owned insurance company. I interviewed with one of the family members. During the phone and in-person interviews (which lasted about three hours), I was barely able to get a word in about my qualifications. I did get to hear her life story. At the end, I was basically told to name my price salary-wise. I tiptoed around the question and then dodged all of their calls/emails after that.

Next, I interviewed with a private youth education program. After a successful phone interview and in-person interview, I was waiting to hear if I made it to the final round. During this time, I reached out to a trusted contact who is in the same field, in the same market, and what they shared about the program and the leadership didn’t reflect well on the company.

The next day, I got an email from the HR person but didn’t see it until later in the evening and decided to reply the next day when I was well rested, but before I could reply the HR person called me and left me an extremely aggressive voicemail, saying it had been DAYS and I need to get back to them immediately. It had been less than 20 hours since the email was sent. Wanting to handle it better this time, I emailed the HR person back and said that after much consideration, I needed to remove myself from consideration. (The final interview would have required I take an entire day of PTO from my current job.) A few days later, I got an email from the person who would have been my boss, asking if more money would do the trick. I didn’t respond because I honesty don’t know how to turn down that much money and didn’t want to bad mouth her coworker and company or reveal what was told to me by my contact.

Is it just me that finds saying “no thanks” to a job hard?

Nope, it’s definitely not just you — but it’s worth working to get over it because there’s no reason to feel weird or bad about turning down a job or removing yourself from consideration. In fact, that should be a regular part of the process, because hiring processes are two-way streets and part of the point is for you to assessing them just as much as they’re assessing you. And just like they cut candidates from consideration at every step in their process, it’s normal for you to decide at any point that it doesn’t make sense to consider talking.

And believe me, employers are very used to this. It’s a normal part of doing business, and they shouldn’t be shocked or confused or devastated.

Just conduct yourself pleasantly and professionally. Use words like “thanks so much for talking with me, but I don’t think the position is the right fit for me” or “I really appreciate your time, but wanted to let you know that I’m going to focus on other prospects instead.” But do get back to people, because just ghosting them will make you look a little unprofessional (just like ghosting from their side is). And you never know — they might have a job you want some day, or your contact there might move to a company where you do want to work. So don’t leave them hanging with no response.

2. Can I tell my interviewer that I hope to open my own business at some point?

In job interviews, I’m often asked about where I see myself in the future careerwise. Is it okay to tell the hiring manager that I plan to own and operate my own business?

Well, you’re basically announcing that you don’t plan to stick around. Usually when interviewers ask this question, they’re trying to get an understanding of how this job would fit into your longer-term career goals. There are certainly some jobs where it wouldn’t matter if you’re planning to do something totally different in a couple of years — but there are a lot where that would put you at a disadvantage.

3. Should I remove my bachelor’s degree from my resume and just list my master’s?

I’ve read your advice that people are better off leaving a University of Phoenix degree off their resume because of its reputation. This makes me wonder if in my case I should leave my BS off my resume. I got my bachelor’s from Excelsior College in Liberal Studies and I know they may not have the best reputation. I had gone to college earlier but dropped out after three years. I went to Excelsior just to get an accredited bachelor’s degree that I needed for my work at the time.

I’ve since decided to change career paths. In May, I graduated with a master’s in Engineering from a state university. I’m now looking for jobs. I see three negatives with my BS degree. First, it is unrelated to my master’s degree. Secondly, it is from a school that may not have the best reputation. Thirdly, the degree date gives a clue that I’m older than most applicants. Would it be a red flag if I didn’t have my bachelor’s degree on my resume?

Excelsior is a nonprofit school. The reputation problem that schools like University of Phoenix have is linked to their being for-profit schools (well, and also scamming their students and charging way more than higher-quality schools do). Nonprofit schools, even if they don’t have the absolute strongest academics, are just in a different (and better) tier of schools. You don’t need to remove it from your resume. (It would also look odd to list a master’s without listing the bachelor’s.)

Also, it’s very normal to leave off the dates of your degrees if you’re, say, 30 or older (that’s a very rough guideline, and it’s not particularly problematic to do it before then, just pretty unusual).

4. I left my job, then went back to it, and I’m worried about my resume

After working at my first job out of college for a few years (Company A), I came across an opportunity that I thought would be a great next step. However, once I started in my new role at the new company (Company B), the job turned out to be very different from what was described to me in the interview process. I was miserable at work each day, and considering applying elsewhere, but I had only been at the new job for about four months. I got a call from Company A around that time asking if I would be at all interested in returning. They addressed the reasons I left the position and offered to move me into a new position. It seemed like the perfect solution to my issues at the time, and I took them up on their offer to return.

Now, though, I am wondering how to frame this on my resume should I decide to look for new opportunities in the future. I don’t want to try to hide the gap on my resume, but I do not want to draw attention to it either. I wasn’t at Company B long enough to include it on my resume, but I am not sure how to list the dates for Company A. Should these be listed exactly as they were? Like the below?

Company A
12/2010 – 01/2013
05/2013 – Present

I assume if it is listed this way, everyone will ask about the gap. I am afraid I messed up my job history for the rest of my career. Any advice for how best to handle something like this?

You have not messed up your work history! This stuff happens. If it’s a whole pattern of it happening all the time, that would raise questions. But once? No one is going to care, I promise you.

It’s fine to list it the way you have it here. With two different titles for each sets of dates, lots of people won’t even ask about the four-month gap in between. If they do, you can say that you left the company for another job but were lured back. (And it will make sense that the other one isn’t on your resume since it was so short-term.)

{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. Charlotte Corday Rowbotham*

    #3 – After an educational hiatus of, well, a lot of years, I used Excelsior to earn a properly accredited (and very affordable) B.S. in Liberal Studies. I’ve since earned my MS at a state university. Honestly, a bachelor’s is a bachelors – the key bit is what you can do with your brains and obviously you used them well enough to earn the engineering MS!

    I’ve often recommended the “big three” non-residential options (Excelsior, Thomas Edison State College, and Charter Oaks State College) to people who want to finish their degrees but can’t afford a lot of tuition. One of the leading names in my field is a consulting faculty member at Excelsior. Don’t worry. FYI, I am now happily employed at a Fortune 50 company and no one has ever batted an eye about the Excelsior degree.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Well… I disagree with “a bachelor’s is a bachelor’s.” Excelsior isn’t the same as the University of Michigan, which isn’t the same as Harvard, which isn’t the same as Swarthmore or Cal Tech or whatever. Your experience in learning is different, and absolutely the way the degrees are perceived is different.

      1. enough*

        Yes, but after you get that first job and prove yourself it doesn’t matter what the school was.

        1. periwinkle*

          That’s exactly what I meant. For me, the bachelor’s was both a checkbox to get past the “undergraduate degree required” gatekeeper and a necessity for getting me into a master’s program in the field I had been working toward. Nobody has ever cared about my bachelor’s degree, just that it existed.

          The university I dropped out of, all those years ago, was an Ivy. The name on the degree would have been splashy but the quality of teaching there was decidedly mixed.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think that’s true with some schools and in some fields, but not across the board. For example, top tier schools will continue to open doors and get candidates second looks beyond just the first job. And as we’ve discussed here before, very bad schools can be real negatives on your resume, like U of P. But there’s also some variation in between those two extremes, depending on what field you’re in.

          1. Laura*

            Well said. In the higher education world, a degree from Excelsior would not look very good (though not as bad as U of P, which will automatically disqualify you from many positions), so that’s where your work history would need to be really strong.

    2. AtrociousPink*

      Another Excelsior College BS here! I returned to college at 40, after a loooong hiatus. I knew a career change likely wasn’t in the cards for me (long story involving golden handcuffs), but dang it, I wanted that degree that a couple of bad decisions years earlier had denied me. Given that the degree wasn’t going to increase my income, I couldn’t justify spending big money on it. Plus my personality is perfect for a program that’s heavy on self-study (it’s not for everyone). I finished the equivalent of 6 semesters’ work in just over 3 years, and I can’t say enough great things about Excelsior.

  2. Edith*

    #4: I’m not an expert, but to me the fact that Company A sought you out, made concessions, and asked you to come back says a lot about how valuable you are as an employee. If potential employers ask you about the gap you can pivot and make the answer about how you ended up back at Company A.

  3. Evie*

    I also returned to a job, but mine was a 2 year break and I returned to the same role as before. I’m hoping employers see it as a good thing I didn’t burn a bridge and produced work that was good enough that they wanted me back (and they did call me as well to return).

    Is it wrong to think of this sort of thing that way? I have my first interview next week since returning last year so this will be the first test of my theory I guess.

  4. Jen RO*

    I’m also in the same boat as #4 and Alison’s answer makes me happy! In my case, I have 3.5 years with company A, then 9 months with company B, and now I’ve been with company A for 2 additional years (and thinking on leaving within the next year). Out of the 20 or so people who have worked in the department & left over the years, me and another person were the ones who were invited back. Is that too braggy or is it OK to say in an interview?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I feel like it’s not too common to try to recruit people back, so you probably don’t need to quantify it like that; it stands on its own with the numbers. That said, if there’s a natural way to mention it in the interview, you certainly can! It will not come across as braggy, just as providing context.

      1. Jen RO*

        I was pretty surprised as well, but it turns out that my company actually does that a lot, and even has a metric for number of returning employees. I will have to see how I can frame this. (And as an aside, I was definitely not expecting an answer so early in my day!)

      2. Blue Dog*

        Given it was such a short gap and your employment there was so long, I might consider just putting down “2010 to present” and omit all months from the resume.

  5. irene*

    #1 mentions a few things i’m struggling with this weekend!

    Somewhat toxic current office, and after 3 months of being promised a promotion but “we need to check with the big boss first, but they’re out for X, Y, or Z reasons” I decided to start looking at what else is out there, and also around this time the reasons for the toxic office all announced their departure dates, but no guarantee how long it will take for things to improve.

    The *very next day* after tentatively deciding to look around two weeks ago, someone came to our office and brought up that their non-profit is hiring….for an almost identical position to the one I’d been trying to get promoted to for almost 2 years. It seemed like too good of a chance, so I traded business cards and emailed for more info. We also had a phone call and it sounded good. So I went this past Monday to my new manager, and laid my cards on the table according to AAM advice to others – and got a very positive “holy shit, we can’t lose you, what do we have to do to make you stay” sort of response (and every day this week, the “we are actively doing something and you are valuable” has been voluntarily reaffirmed, completely different from the previous “ehhh something may happen eventually????” response that I had to seek out).

    I want to stay with my current non-profit because I care a lot about it and also it’s a field where I want to make my career. The other non-profit is religious-adjacent, I guess you could say, and more corporate in style and size, which I don’t really find appealing. But it’s important to at least try, so I asked how religious it is (“sometimes prayers before meetings, maybe Bible quotes on documents and stuff? but there’s no requirement to be religious or anything”), and figured maybe the job itself would be good enough to overcome my strong aversion to religious environments and also the change of non-profit field.

    BUT the application experience was horrible. There was a checkbox that said “I will abide by the religious and spiritual requirements of the non-profit and lead a spiritual life” or something that to click was a complete lie on my part, at least the way it was worded. There was also this really extensive logic test and a DISC assessment, and while I adore logic puzzles, I was kind of offended by it at 11pm after a hard day at work, and personality tests are such scams. I didn’t bother to put effort into the tests (it took over an hour even with only skimming) and figured the system would kick me out and I wouldn’t have to worry about going any further with this process. I have much better progress at my current job, and this whole thing was moving way faster and more seriously than I was prepared for. It was a huge relief.

    But then I got another email the next day. I only glanced at it on my phone’s notification to see that it said “let’s meet Monday at my office” before swiping it away and then completely forgetting to reply for over two days. I mean, I was really disappointed that I was invited to the meeting! so I clearly should decline! but what if my current job never works out or what if the interview experience is good for me? and with work being swamped this week and exhaustion when i got home, it just never was a good time to reply.

    I feel awful that I lost track of how long it had been since I’d received the email (partly due to anxiety/depression brain). I definitely can’t ghost or be even remotely unprofessional because I will have to interact with this person through my non-profit in the future (especially if I get the promotion). I had Alison’s “Thank you but” already in mind to email back, but now that I’m like “oh shit, it’s already Friday night?!” I’m worried that maybe I should go? after all, it has been five years since I did any kind of interviewing. I did make it clear to the person that I am only just starting to think about leaving, and that my preference is to stay where I am if I’m offered a promotion.

    IDK, any advice for how to handle this? Should I go for the experience and in case the promotion talk doesn’t work out, or just email and say thanks for the opportunity but after reflecting, I don’t feel comfortable with the environment described in our phone conversation (as minimal as the religious elements are, I prefer a fully secular workplace).

    1. irene*

      Oh gosh I’m sorry this is way more wall of text than I thought, and I even edited for length. I guess I’m really needing a place to talk this out. Sorry for the teal deer.

      I probably could have removed the paragraph about the application assessment/tickybox but I hate those things so much.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, that was interesting!

        Okay, so several things:

        1. Your choices are not this job or your current job! If you withdraw from this hiring process, you aren’t committing yourself to stay at your current job. There will be other job prospects. You’ve only been searching for two weeks.

        2. Don’t let a promotion or other enticements at your current job lull you into overlooking toxicity or other stuff that drove you to look in the first place. I mean, if what they offer you is truly enough to keep you happy for the next couple of years, then great. But make sure that’s the case and don’t get distracted by shiny newness of whatever they offer.

        3. In replying to the email (whether you accept the interview or not), I’d say, “Apologies for the delay in responding! I hadn’t expected a response so quickly and have been swamped with work projects this week.”

        1. irene*

          Thank you!

          Must of what you’ve replied are things I’ve already been considering or keeping in mind, so I feel better/more confident about that. I’ve let my org take advantage of me for ages now because my anxiety/depression made it easier to just let them, plus I was trying to build up my experience from a very generic entry level start. I didn’t realize it was my dream career until right before I was ready to start job searching after college, so I didn’t have all the right skills. Plus, I’ve got the Federal Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness program hanging over my head, 5 years into it and 5 to go. I want to stick it out here long enough to be an appealing candidate for a similar org in a different city, but right now I can’t afford to move cities, and this kind of org usually only has one or two in an area, if any. I’m looking at lateral moves and staying with the same job types in different orgs, but I worry that leaving this field temporarily will make it harder to get back in later.

          Thank you, too, for the little email script. That’s so much simpler than what I was worrying about. :) Now I just have to make up my mind this morning.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            One more thing! If they sent you an interview invitation earlier this week for this coming Monday, I don’t think you can accept it today (Saturday). Since they didn’t hear back, they’re probably assuming it’s not happening and may have scheduled something else for that time. At most, I think you could say, “I realize it’s likely too late to accept your invitation for Monday (although I’d be glad to make it work if you confirm by X:00 on Monday) but I’d be happy to meet with you any other day next week if Monday no longer works.”

          2. ReanaZ*

            So I’ve just been on the other side of this–almost eerily similar to the point that I was afraid you were my candidate until you got to a few of the specific details later on.

            I invited a professional acquaintance who I’ve known for a few years through a professional group I run to apply for a position we had open I thought she’d be great for, who I know has been overworked and underappreciated and pretty miserable at her job the entire time I’ve known her. She was great, we offered her the position, she asked for a few days to think about it and… radio silence. After 4 days, she got back and said “Let’s do this.” and came and picked up the paperwork. We discussed a start date, I announced she had verbally accepted the offer, and started making plans for her transition in. Then a week a radio silence. Then she tells me she had a family emergency and also that her current org made a counter offer and she hadn’t made a decision yet. She asks if we can talk about it next week to give her time to think. Next week comes and goes; she doesn’t return my call or emails. Didn’t even tell she took the counter offer. Just never contacted me again.

            And… bridge burnt. Forever. I would have been disappointed but understanding if she decided to take the counter-offer and just told me. But seriously, just ghosting on me like a bad first date? No. (Made significantly worse by the fact that she was someone I actually knew and had recommended to the position.) Previously, I would have gone out on a limb to help her find a position–and because of the group I run, people frequently ask me for referrals–but now that goodwill is completely dried up. Just so extremely unprofessional.

            Not trying to be overly harsh, I know it’s a stressful and anxiety-provoking thing to handle. But that’s my perspective from the hiring side. Say something, anything, even if it’s a bit late.

            1. irene*

              Oh man!

              Yes, there is no way I would NOT say anything, and I’ve felt terrible that I had waited so long to get back. I just didn’t know what to say, which made me delay that first day, then suddenly go “oh god, i forgot about how time is passing and it’s already been 2 days?!”

              Thank you, though, for the reminder of the other side! It’s something I will keep in mind in the future, too.

    2. Jen RO*

      I’d go to the interview, if only for the practice. For me, the religious stuff would be a deal-breaker, but I would still interview to see what else is out there (especially since you’ve been with your current company for so long).

      1. Mander*

        Me too, if only to find out exactly how much the religious stuff is enforced. Even though I’m not religious I’m an anthropologist at heart, and I find other peoples’ religious beliefs and rituals interesting so it wouldn’t bother me in itself to be present for brief prayers and to agree to abide by a reasonable code of conduct, provided I’m not required to make a statement of faith.

        But it also depends on the content of the prayers. If it’s something like “please guide the team in their decisions so we can do the most good” that’s fine. If it’s “please show our clients how accepting Jesus into their hearts is the best way to overcome the entrenched social issue they are grappling with” (as an example; I’m picturing a Protestant homeless charity here) then I would object. Even then it’s got less to do with the religious content and more the magical thinking.

        1. blackcat*

          At least in the teaching world how “reasonable” a code of conduct is totally depends on how an administrator feels about an individual teacher or demographic group. Often, even at one school, male teachers can do whatever they want, except date another man. Female teachers can get fired for a lot more stuff, such as revealing they got pregnant through IVF.

          I’ve also heard of firing a woman who lived *alone* (citing that as a violation of the code of conduct) after a conflict between the teacher and a parent. The code was just a convenient way to get rid of her.

          And I’ve heard of other schools where the line is basically, “Don’t be gay.” Which I’m really not cool with, but at least you don’t get fired out of left field.

          Religious codes of conduct make me nervous, but my experience is in the teaching world where I think they are more likely to be enforced/be over the top (Because what about the children!!).

            1. blackcat*

              Yes, they stretched “must live in a traditional household” to mean a woman should either be in her parents’ or husband’s house. They hadn’t used that standard on other employees, though–it was just an excuse.

              BUT I do think that happens in places with codes of conduct. Stuff that’s technically in violation isn’t always a problem until the higher ups are looking for a way to get rid of someone anyways.

              Meeting folks subjected to these codes of conduct made me really happy I worked at a school that did not give a shit. Even there, there was one parent who complained that I didn’t actively hide the fact that I lived with my then boyfriend. My boss found the compliant hilarious.

          1. Mander*

            Yeah I’d have to make darn sure what the code included. Not swearing at work, not using drugs, keeping my religious views to myself? Fine. Stuff like your examples? Absolutely not.

        2. irene*

          I actually already have a pretty good idea of how the religious stuff is enforced! The organization is very large and well known and is mostly secular in its day-to-day processes and such, but was founded by the Sisters of Charity or something, so there’s a Catholic ethos which calls them to serve the needy. They definitely have a very diverse group of employees (at least for this city, which is 95% Christian, iirc), and don’t require anyone to behave in certain ways. I asked about that on the phone, and was told that they don’t care about religious/non-religious affiliation or sexuality or anything. But there are token Bible/inspirational quotes, there are chaplains affiliated with them, there are sometimes prayers before meetings, which I believe are more like the first example you gave.

          But even that example you gave is more than I’m able to handle. It’s sort of a PTSD thing – when I’m asked to participate in any kind of religious activity (even sitting quietly while other people pray out loud), I tend to get angry. It comes across as irritability, but it sticks with me for days. It used to be self-focused and had a self-harm component, so the outward expression of irritability is a big improvement. I grew up in religious schools and in a conservative city, so it wasn’t until I was an adult that I even realized that self-anger was specifically tied to religious activities. I don’t think the dread of “will we have a prayer at this meeting” or turning a corner and seeing a nicely done up print of some Corinthians verse when i’m thinking about spreadsheets is going to be good for my mental health.

          So anyway, I know that I can’t go forward with this. Is it fair to go to the interview for practice? Should i cut it off now? that’s where I’m at, I think.

          I shouldn’t have even put in the application, but at that point, I thought it would be bearable, until I was like “dang, I just spent three days talking about their religious affiliation rather than anything else that might worry me, maybe I’m more concerned than I want to think I am” and so I gave it a little analysis the way my therapists taught me, and yep.

          1. Chickaletta*

            If the religious aspect is bothering you this much at this point, it’s probably a good sign that being in the middle of it every day won’t work out for you. I once interviewed at a religious non-profit that also disclosed upfront that they had daily group prayers and the like (their main objective was religious based, so I could understand the ties). Although I’m a believer, I wasn’t comfortable with the required public display of my faith at a work place, and there were other aspects about the job I wasn’t excited about, so I withdrew myself from the process. It’s a well known company in my area and the people who work there either love it or hate it and it often has to do with their comfort level with the religious aspect.

      2. irene*

        Yeah, that’s what I’m leaning towards, but it feels like it might be rude to already know that there’s no way I can go forward with this other thing and still go to the interview.

        There will be more opportunities – like Alison says, I’m not planning to settle with this promotion offer if it doesn’t meet my needs, or if the toxic elements aren’t truly gone. So I don’t need this one. But the experience would be good practice…

        1. Chameleon*

          Think of it this way: if they hired someone else this weekend, would you rather they told you before you interviewed, or would you want to have to go through all the prep and interview time even though they had no intention of hiring you? Withdrawing in this case isn’t rude, it’s the more considerate path.

          Also, I am totally stealing “teal deer”.

          1. Irene*

            Very good point! The person I’m talking to had been trying to convince me to just go through the process, maybe hoping to sway me more strongly? even while knowing my preference, which is probably helping me feel muddled. but you’re right! I’ll reply on my lunch break today.

            Thank you everyone!
            Sometimes it helps to hear/read your own thoughts reflected back to realize the obvious solution. :)

    1. Tuckerman*

      True, but if I only had a few days PTO per year, I’m not sure I’d want to burn one on an interview.

  6. Kara*


    Not only will an interviewer see it as a candidate not planning to stick around, but in some industries they could view the candidate wanting to start their own business as future competition, and wonder whether they would mine the company for information/prospective clients/etc. For example, I work in finance, and if we interviewed a candidate for an accountant position who said that in five years they saw themselves owning their own firm, we would wonder what their motives would be for applying and thank them for their time. Even if they planned on marketing to a different clientele, it would be a risk to hire them for that position.

  7. mazzy*

    The college questions always fascinate me. I have a very hard time ranking candidates based on school rankings because IME I find smart people and less smart people and hardworking and lazier people from all sorts of schools. Personally, I like to pick from the vast pool of mid-level schools but focus on internships, work experience, and personal drive.

    1. Kate M*

      I don’t think it’s meant to be used to “rank” candidates, but it’s another data point to take into consideration. If you’re looking at GPAs, I would probably be more impressed with B’s from an Ivy League or notoriously harder school than I would be with all A’s from a less rigorous school. President of the Harvard Law Review is going to hold more weight for me than President of a paper that isn’t well known at all. But if I had an entry level candidate with a C average from an Ivy League with no extracurriculars, no outside work, no internships, against someone from a mid-tier school with a higher GPA and all those extra things, I’m going for the candidate from a mid-tier school.

      It’s not a definitive thing, but just another data point to consider.

      1. Library Director*

        Interesting, I’m the opposite. I often think, ‘Well, you over payed for that degree.’ The instruction at a “top tier” school isn’t really better. From personal experience I’ve suffered through 45 minute monologues from professors about his cowboy salt and pepper shaker collection, her dog, or dancing with a former cabinet secretary. All happened at an Ivy League school. At my lower tiered schools none of this would have been tolerated. My only consolation was that I wasn’t paying the tuition. It did leave me disillusioned about big name schools.

        1. Kate M*

          I don’t think it’s a good idea to judge people on how much they paid for their degree. If you can do it in one direction (“ugh, that person so overpaid for their degree by going to an Ivy League”), then you can do it in the opposite direction (“well it’s a cheap school so obviously it’s not as good”). Neither one is correct. And you’re not taking into account the possibility of scholarships, etc.

          Of course you can have dud courses in “top tier” schools. I feel in some ways I got more out of my “less prestigious” grad school than I did my more prestigious undergrad because of a smaller program, more interaction with professors, etc. But just because it was better for me doesn’t mean it was the hardest program in the country or should be compared as such.

          People can tell which schools are rigorous for their fields. It’s not wrong to put more weight on a more rigorous program, all other things being equal. You take everything you know as a data point, not as a deciding factor necessarily.

          1. Library Director*

            It’s never a deciding factor for me, there are too many other things that need to be considered. Yes I know they may gave attended on scholarship. A friend used to work for Big School’s adminissions office. He worked very hard to find scholarships for deserving students. He gave it up because he couldn’t take seeing the debt students were willing to pile up just to go to Big School. A name school doesn’t hold as much cache as many assume. In my husband’s medical specialty the hospital staff would take bets when certain new surgeons would arrive. How long before the new doc mentioned the Ivy League school attended? It didn’t matter if the person had been an orthopedic surgeon for 15 years. The average was within 30 minutes. In over 40 years the real difference was that mid-range university hospitals provided more hands on experience than big university hospitals.

        2. Rana*

          It does depend on the school, however. I’ve taught at a variety of institutions, and I can absolutely say that the quality of the education provided varied considerably. It wasn’t so much a matter of the quality of the faculty, but of the institution – students, faculty, facilities – taken as a whole. Simply put, there were things I could do (and was expected to do) with on-campus students who came to college well-prepared and had regular access to high quality facilities that simply were not possible when I was teaching less-prepared commuter students who were struggling to balance school with work and family obligations. Privilege does compound, unfortunately.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      School rankings definitely don’t map to candidate rankings. My best and worst employees ever were both from an Ivy League grad. I find that school doesn’t matter nearly as much as asking people about three particular skills that I find to be the hallmarks of success in my program.

      I do work in an industry rife with academic snobbery, though, and I have had people above me select a lesser candidate with a degree from a more prestigious school over an applicant with experience from a perfectly good but not top tier school. (I also got a totally unnecessary rack of shit about sending them a candidate from that school, which is more competitive a school than the complainees realized.)

      My favorite hiring experience was when I was asked to hire a paralegal for a group of attorneys, and their collective requirements were someone with a degree from an Ivy League school (preferably some sort of business major), a 3.75+ GPA, and four years of an NCAA sport. REALLY. They ended up with a graduate of a selective liberal arts college with a 3.3 GPA and an amazing work ethic who did an outstanding job for them. The ones who didn’t want to hire such an “unqualified” person ended up eating some crow on that one, much to the delight of the recruiter that they nearly made cry when they issued their original order.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    #3 – I wish there was more information here. For people going into traditional engineering, the advice is normally to get a 2nd bachelors before getting a masters. There are a couple reasons for that. If you are going to work in a field that requires a PE license, you need an ABET accredited degree. Masters generally aren’t ABER accredited. Second, if you didn’t study engineering at the BS level, it’s hard to have all the prereqs needed. It’s not unusual for people with Physics or Chem degrees to be able to do this, and the OP doesn’t specify the focus of their first 3 yrs of school, so we don’t know their background. But knowing what I know, I would want to see their bachelors and their original school listed. (Now if they are going into bioengineering or something else nontraditional, this may not matter as much. There are some fields and masters programs that are more cross-discipline and thd bachelors matters less.)

    1. enough*

      There are a lot of ABET accredited Master’s programs including one at a college that does not offer undergraduate degrees in Engineering. And if you don’t have the prerequisites they will require you to take the courses you need before they fully accept you into the program.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Agreed. . .but all the more reason for the OP to list those undergrad classes, too. I have a bsme, so I haven’t researched masters from the perspective of NOT having the engineering bachelors, but I recently looked into a couple Eman programs that allowed you to get an M.Eng degre without all the usual prerequisites. If you have those, go ahead and say!

        1. enough*

          There is a big difference between a Masters in Engineering and a Master of Science in Engineering. The second requires a more rigorous research, dissertation and defense the first doesn’t.

          1. itsame...Adam*

            I would not say big difference, “in science” requires a thesis and “in engineering” requires a massive design project. The master in science is more important if eyeing a PhD but for work either is in essence equal. I specifically took an master in engineering over science because a thesis now a days is a waste of time and a full on design project will teach you much more work related skills.

          2. Judy*

            There is also a difference between a Masters of Science in Engineering and a Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering, or Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      That’s what I was going to say. It’s totally fine to omit the dates of your degrees in most situations. For many people, giving their bachelor’s date is a pretty clear indicator of their age so leaving it off is a good way to avoid interviewers figuring out your exact age right away.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            I think the same unconscious bias that was discriminate against an older date would discriminate against a lack of date.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Except that lack of date doesn’t mean “super old.” Based on how very common it is to leave the dates off unless you’re a recent grad, it means 30-ish or above, which isn’t usually a huge age discrimination zone.

              1. Anonymous Educator*

                I’m not saying it does mean it. I’m saying that if you have an unconscious bias against old people, the lack of date will probably mean the same thing to your unconscious.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I just don’t think it does, because it’s so very, very common. I probably see more resumes without graduation dates than with them. Because of its ubiquity, I don’t think it’s in people’s subconscious minds as anything more than “not 22.”

              2. Development Professional*

                So, when I was about 25 (maybe 26?) I was applying for a job that I was totally qualified for, but was afraid I’d be considered to *young.* So I left my graduation date off my resume. And it totally wasn’t an issue until I got to the final round of interviews with the department head. She asked me pointedly what year I graduated, which I told her, and she said, “well, you should put it on there so people know how old you are. Otherwise they’re going to wonder what you’ve been doing since you graduated.” I was super irritated, in part because I knew that she would have been much less likely to want to meet me if she’d known how young I was. I did ultimately get the job and took a number of hits from my coworkers for being “young.” It still makes me mad.

  9. Ned*

    Alison, with regard to #4, how should the resume look for folks who took a longer break from their old job?

    I worked at my old job for 4.5 years, left for 2.5 years, and was wooed back to my old job. I learned a lot at the job I was at for 2.5 years, so I don’t want to remove it from my resume. Should I have two separate entries for Company A (with Company B in-between)? Or should I have one entry for Company A with two sets of dates, followed by Company B and then whatever job came before the first time I was employed at Company A?

    1. ScarletInTheLibrary*

      I put Company A and two separate dates on my resume (and of course have two separate entries in online forms), because the position was essentially the same. Granted it was a work study and the jobs in between were internships in other locations, but that what felt more appropriate. Also it makes sure my resume does not look bloated (well it likely would not now that I am years and positions removed from this place).

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      2.5 years would be a big gap to have with no explanation and I don’t see any reason to leave it off your cv.

      I think it makes More sense to keep the chronological order so would have the three jobs shown separately if it was my cv.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d probably do two separate entries for Company A just to make the chronology really clear, unless it was basically the same job both times.

  10. INTP*

    #3: Because you have a Masters, they are going to know you have a bachelors and are hiding it for some reason. Chances are, they’ll assume you’re hiding it for a sketchier reason than you actually are. (In my experience, which was mostly in software but probably holds true for some fields of engineering, the most common reason to leave off a bachelors was that the candidate requires visa sponsorship, got their first degree in their home country, and is trying to hide evidence that they aren’t American.) In my opinion, leave it on.

  11. NJ Anon*

    #3 I agree, leave both your bachelor’s and masters degree on but DO NOT put the years you graduated. My undergrad is in Marketing from a state school with a good reputation. My masters is in accounting from UoP. I earned these degrees 25 years apart. I thought about leaving my masters off but I do accounting and some jobs require an advanced degree. I asked a recruiter from a pretty well known agency in my area and she told me to absolutely leave it on.

    I am currently interviewing with 3 different companies so it hasn’t been an issue. I was worried about my age so I leave the years I graduated off. So far, so good!

  12. Wendy Darling*

    I’m anticipating a similar problem to #4, sort of… I got a new job and it’s crap. I had minor misgivings before I took the job but I’d been laid off and I figured it couldn’t be so bad I couldn’t stay for at least a year.

    Turns out leadership had completely unreasonable expectations for the person they hired, I have a laundry list of problems with how the company is run, and I’m being made to feel my job is in jeopardy after a few months because I haven’t managed to save the company money in my first two months in the position and they don’t think work is valuable unless it has a recognizable impact on their profits basically instantly. (They’re also, as I mentioned in the open thread, too cheap to pay for software they require employees to have, so I’m expected to go out of pocket for software THEY REQUIRE.)

    So I’m less than 4 months in and I’m putting feelers out for other jobs. I’m not leaving unless I get an offer from someplace I’m really interested in, but I’m struggling with how to explain why I want to leave my current employer after just a few months. Do I just say I’ve realized it’s a really bad fit?

    1. Responder*

      Wendy D , I was in a similar situation. Last November, after being unemployed since May, I got two offers within an hour of each other. Company A was a government job – same salary as my previous job, close to home but subject matter not of particular interest to me. Company B was private sector, $10K more, much more interesting job but an hours’ commute. I ended up accepting Company A because of the security and commute. Within a month I knew I’d made a huge mistake. There was basically no work (and what work there was bored me to tears). I was hired as a high-level admin and spent most of my time covering the receptionist when she was out sick or on vacation. When I complained, they too starting finding fault – I guess I wasn’t embracing the receptionist coverage role with the gusto they thought I should (hello?).

      By February I felt truly stuck. Do I quit after three months and pretend like the job never happened? I was concerned how that would look on my resume – but if I left it off, it would look like I’d been unemployed for almost a year.

      After five months of basically chair warming, I couldn’t take it anymore and gave my notice. What probably saved me was the fact that the hiring manager truly hadn’t known that my predecessor was on Ebay all day and agreed that this had been kind of an unintentional bait and switch situation. He ended up saying it was their fault and he’d be willing to provide a good reference.

      In a twist of fate, the person Company B ended up hiring didn’t work out. I saw the posting, re-applied and was offered the job three weeks later!! Naturally they wanted to know why the job with Company A hadn’t worked out and I told them, but I think having the good reference was important to them.

      With that said, I only heard from one of the dozen companies I applied for after I left Company A so I don’t know if that five month job on my resume was a sticking point for them or not. As an aside, the government agency never seemed to hold previous short-term jobs against job candidates.

    2. Egg*

      I’m in a very similar situation, and I just don’t know what to do. The workload is unreasonable, but I’ve only been here for six months and feel like I should stick it out, even though it’s making me incredibly depressed. I’ve thought about asking my previous job if they would take me back, but it was a short-term position that had to be renewed every few months (so not the most secure position). If I do decide to seek another job, I’m not sure how I would describe my reasons for leaving… obviously I can’t say “the management is completely out of touch, the pay is crap and it’s ruining my life.”

  13. Megs*

    Another note on number three, with a masters, would you need to even list your BA field of study? I have law degree and just list my school and graduation date.

      1. Megs*

        Understood – I could see the legal profession being an outlier here, as other than very very narrow exceptions, no one gives a rat’s tushie what you did before law school.

  14. LeighTX*

    #1 About ten years ago I was sent on an interview by a staffing agency, and while the interview itself went well I was left with a very weird feeling about the company. It was very small–probably less than a dozen people–the owner drove a VERY expensive sports car but there was hardly any furniture in the office, and the owner mentioned some ongoing litigation with a former partner. I couldn’t verbalize exactly why but I had a POWERFUL feeling that I should not take that job. The staffing agency called me later the same day with an offer, and I said I’d have to turn it down; they pushed for a reason but I couldn’t come up with a good one. The next day the owner with whom I’d interviewed called me directly and said he really wanted to hire me, and if I’d agree to go around the staffing agency he’d pay me more than the original offer. I didn’t think twice about turning him down.

    I’ve wondered since then what it would have been like to work there and if my feelings were correct, but I can’t say I’ve ever regretted the decision. The recruiter was initially irritated with me for not taking the job, but even so I’m glad I stuck with my gut. I think when we have powerful instincts like that we should listen to them–our brain is noticing something and trying to protect us in some way.

    1. Collarbone High*

      YES yes yes, in every big life decision that I’ve later regretted, I ignored the internal voice saying “don’t do this.”

      Now I use what I call “the Phoebe test” after the Friends episode where Phoebe — the only one who knows the result of Rachel’s pregnancy test — tells Rachel that she isn’t pregnant. Rachel’s devastated, and then Phoebe tells her, you really are, and now you know how you really feel about it.

      My Realtor used a similar test when I was house-hunting — if I was undecided about putting in an offer, she’d ask me, “If you woke up tomorrow and this house was under contract to someone else, would you be sad?” The house I ended up buying (and loving) was the one where I unequivocally knew I would kick myself if I didn’t get it.

      1. LeighTX*

        That’s such a good name for it! The “Phoebe Test,” I’ll have to remember that. I had something similar happen when I was a high school senior; I was having a hard time trying to decide between two schools, and one day my dad told me that one of the schools had offered me a scholarship. My heart instantly fell and I realized that WASN’T the school I wanted to attend–and then he told me he’d negotiated the same scholarship from the other school. It was amazing to have such instant clarity, after months of uncertainty!

  15. Milton Waddams*

    #3: It’s still safe but is becoming less so. “A Bachelor’s degree is a Bachelor’s degree” is largely a phrase used as a marketing tool, sort of as if someone said “Money is money” — a $75,000 a year salary in Hong Kong dollars is very different than one in U.S. dollars, and accepting those terms it would be likely you were not getting a fair deal.

    If you are trying to suss out the “exchange rate” on your degree to determine whether listing it is more likely to reflect poor decision-making skills, there are a few companies doing research on the subject. The big one I know of is Payscale, although their historical data is really more useful than their present data — bottom-performing colleges have gamed Payscale’s metrics to boost their scores (note the mysterious disappearance of art schools from the bottom 50, for instance). Don’t take my word for it, though — look around. After all, as a random comment on the Internet, I could be a marketing tool myself. :-)

  16. Amy*

    For #3, what if the undergrad HAD been from a for-profit school, but now he has an MBA from good private university, let’s say? He can’t go back in time and not have gone to a for-profit undergrad, but leaving the BA off looks weird, and you surely wouldn’t expect him to leave off the MBA, right? Asking for a friend.

  17. Collarbone High*

    The first time I turned down a job offer, I felt terrible — it was a smallish company that had essentially spent its entire hiring budget to fly me out for the interview, and I was the only final-stage candidate — but once the stomach-churning phone call was over, I felt both relieved and incredibly empowered. Up to that point I’d always taken jobs out of necessity (living paycheck-to-paycheck and when expenses increased, the paycheck had to also). Realizing I’d gotten to a place where I could say, no thank you, this is not right for me was a big milestone in feeling like I had an actual career, not just a job.

    Because they were so invested in me, I took the liberty of explaining exactly why I didn’t take the job, in hopes of helping out future candidates. The deal-breaker for me had been the (lack of) benefits, which they didn’t reveal until the offer stage. The PTO was absurd — no vacation for the first TWO YEARS, then one week until you hit 10 years. No paid holidays and I believe 3 sick days a year. No 401(k) and insanely expensive health insurance that covered almost nothing. I told them that in a mid-career management position, I wanted better benefits than I had as a teenage cashier at Burger King. Maybe they just said “Screw her then,” but maybe HR had already been saying “If we lose ONE MORE CANDIDATE over this vacation policy we’ll have to rethink it” and they’d make a better offer to the next person.

    1. Joseph*

      No vacation for two years OR holidays?

      Even if you ignore the hiring issue, it seems like terrible business practice – because you’d end up with a staff full of burned-out people who are always looking to jump ship.

      1. Milton Waddams*

        Usually this is only a problem in old-fashioned Cold War era businesses that were built around the concept of lifetime employment. Newer firms are structured in a way to expect that behavior, reducing the costs due to low-performing employees and high turnover in a way that allows the model to be profitable.

      2. Collarbone High*

        Add to that, it’s an industry (newspapers) where weird, antisocial hours are common (this particular job’s schedule was 5 p.m.-1 a.m.) and you always have to work holidays – sometimes with extra pay, sometimes not – and it’s definitely a recipe for burnout.

        And to my mind it’s senseless not to give people decent, even generous, vacation, because it doesn’t cost the company anything. If a reporter is off, an editor assigns another reporter to cover. If an editor is off, all the other editors just work a little faster to pick up the slack. They’re not bringing in temps or using higher-paid managers to fill those spots.

  18. Decimus*

    #4 – I was actually laid off from my job due to a lack-of-work situation and then rehired when work picked up for an increased salary and slight increase in responsibilities. I listed it separately because even though I was unemployed for about six months or more, I thought being re-hired demonstrated that the layoff really was a lack-of-work and not anything to do with me as a worker.

  19. Nikki*

    #4 – My dad is self-employed with his own business, and I’ve always worked for him off and on, whenever I wasn’t in school or was between jobs. (His business is in the field that I was applying for). For a long time, my resume looked like this:
    [Dad’s Company]: June 2010-August 2011; June 2012-August 2012; January 2013-Present
    These are the times that I was actually working for my dad, because I did not work for him while I was a full-time student. When I met with a recruiter, he told me to just list the dates at my dad’s company as June 2012-Present, even though I was not working for him between Sept-Dec 2012 during the school year, because the way I had it listed made it look like I had been laid off multiple times.
    I ended up getting a job in 2013, so it doesn’t matter now, but now I’m questioning whether the recruiter was right, or if I should have left the real dates on my resume.

    1. (Not an IRS) Auditor*

      I disagree with the recruiter. No intelligent person is going to read those dates, in combination with your graduation date, and think layoff.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      If I saw that, I would assume you had two summer internships and were ultimately hired by the same company with which you interned. I’d look on it favorably because you apparently did such a good job that they hired you after graduation.

      I had something similar on my resume when I was earlier in my career — I did three summers with the employer that hired me after graduation and listed it very similarly to the way you have. I don’t recall getting a single question about it.

  20. Anne*

    #4 I have a similar thing listed on my resume, three roles in one large department. One was being promoted to a completely different role and another I left for 3 months and was recruited back into a different role. Since I have three different titles I list the dates for each on the related line and have the name of the place as a line above the three with the first date and last date listed. It’s worked pretty well and the individual dates do show the gap so I feel it’s pretty transparent.

  21. BenAdminGeek*

    #2 – I think it depends on the industry and role. I’ve interviewed new graduates who shared long-term plans (10+ years out) to own a business. I work for a large firm, so these employees would be unlikely to compete with us. For me it becomes problematic when they want to own their own business soon- if you say you’re planning to have a business started in 2 years, that’s an issue.

    At a small firm, or something where you’d potentially be competing with the employer, I think people are likely to be much more concerned. You run the risk of distracting from the real focus- your ability to do the job you’re interviewing for.

  22. 2horseygirls*

    LW#4 – My husband had basically the same time gap, in a similar situation, and didn’t even bother to mention the other company he worked at for a few months. The company he went back to was a family-owned business, the owner pursued him aggressively to come back, and (between us) probably would not have remembered he was gone for 4 months. So his resume reads: TeapotsRUs, May 2011 – December 2015. Hope that helps! :)

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