3 pieces of job search advice that don’t work in real life

Some job searching advice feels like it was dreamed up in a lab by people who have never hired or even done much interviewing as a candidate, because it won’t work well in real life. Here are three pieces of popular advice about job searching that don’t typically play out the way they’re intended.

1. Bad advice: When your interviewer asks why you left your last job and you don’t want to give the real reason, just say “it wasn’t the right fit.”

Why it doesn’t work: Very few interviewers are going leave that answer there. Any savvy interviewer, upon hearing this answer, is going to ask you in what ways the job wasn’t the right fit for you and will ask for specifics. This isn’t intended as a “gotcha.” It’s because “not the right fit” could cover anything from “I hated the open-office floor plan” to “I couldn’t get along with my co-workers” to “I wasn’t good at the work.” And the specifics matter. If it wasn’t the right culture for you, hiring managers want to know why so they can make sure they don’t hire you into a job that will be a similarly bad fit for you. If you couldn’t get along with your manager or co-workers, they want to know more about that, so they can make sure they don’t put you in a similar scenario if they hire you, and so forth.

What to do instead: Prepare a more specific answer. It doesn’t need to be lengthy – just a couple of sentences is fine – but it needs to give real information about why you left. For example: “My department was going through some upheaval, with three directors in 18 months and some funding cuts. There were real questions about the future of that program, and I’m looking for something with more stability.”

2. Bad advice: When your interviewer asks about your salary expectations, avoid the question by saying that you want to learn more about the job responsibilities first.

Why it doesn’t work: This comes across as a transparent and rather disingenuous attempt to avoid answering the question. You should already understand the gist of the job responsibilities, which were presumably sketched out in the posting for the position. You probably have a range in mind that you’re looking for, and you’re not likely to cut that range in half if it turns out that you’ll be, say, managing three people rather than six.

What to do instead: You can try to turn the question around and ask, “What range did you have in mind for the position?” Some interviewers will tell you and some won’t. If your interviewer continues to press for a number, one option is to say, “I’m currently earning X, with an excellent benefits package, and like anyone, I’m looking to increase that if I move to a new position.” Or, you can just answer the question! Do some research, know what comparable positions in your area pay and come up with a range based on that.

3. Bad advice: Forget about explaining your qualifications. Instead, tell the hiring manager how you’ll solve her problems.

Why it doesn’t work: This advice can work in some limited situations and for some jobs, but it’s far from being universally applicable. In many contexts, it’s just too difficult to guess at what the hiring manager’s problems are, and so this tactic ends up coming across as presumptuous and uninformed. In fact, more often than not, candidates using this approach sound cringingly off base both in the problems they propose solving and the ways they suggest they can solve them. As a result, the tactic ends up sounding like a bad sales pitch, and makes you a weaker candidate rather than a stronger one.

What to do instead: It’s true that you should frame your candidacy in terms of what you can do for the employer, but you don’t need to get overly creative. Stay focused on explaining how you’d excel at the work laid out in the job posting, and point to evidence in your past track record to support it. That’s really what most hiring managers are looking for.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Educator*

    “I’m currently earning X, with an excellent benefits package, and like anyone, I’m looking to increase that if I move to a new position.”

    I’m kind of surprised you’d recommend revealing your current salary, even with the stipulation that you’re looking for an increase. My understanding from your previous advice is that your previous salary is none of the new employer’s business. But I also get there are gray areas and every rule has an exception.

      1. Artemesia*

        If you are earning a very good salary in your field this works, if not less so. If you can find the range in your area, being able to say ‘As I understand it, the range for this type position here in Doodleville is from X (where X is about 10% above the bottom of the range you have discovered) to Y ( where Y is about 10% above the range) Given my experience with widget analysis and my expertise in (the core function of the job) I would expected something near the top of the range.’ If they post a range — same approach. It is really hard for women and people coming out of poorly paid fields to negotiate for decent salaries especially if they are based on their previous salary.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I usually lead with the version Artemesia provided (which I think has also been Alison’s advice in the past?), but that’s also because in my earlier jobs, I didn’t realize I was being systematically underpaid compared to my male peers. Now I’m at parity, but if I had bargained from my salary as opposed to the market rate, even with an increase I would have been locked into artificially low compensation levels. So I agree that the approach depends on your prior circumstances.

          1. Cheese Sticks and Pretzels*

            +1 on this. I am paid so far under market rate, we are talking in excess of 20K that I will not even disclose my current salary at all. Sadly even the bottom end of the current range is way more than what I make right now .

            1. Tau*

              I sympathise. There are reasons I chose to accept my current pay, but those reasons will not apply to my next job. For that, I’d really like to be paid market rate, thank you very much. Which I very much doubt I’ll get if a prospective employer hears my current salary.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Me too! I’m not sure what a better response is here, but I was really surprised to hear this from Alison.

      1. fposte*

        I think if you’ve got an interviewer pressing for the answer even after you’ve named what you’re looking for, you don’t have a lot of choice beyond either answering or deciding that’s the hill you’re willing to have your application die on.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Just this morning I was talking to a woman at a staffing agency, she started with asking my target salary, then wanted to know if that was what I was making at my last job. I didn’t know how else to answer except confirm. But quite honestly as long as I hit a certain minimum, what I think a job should pay depends largely on the job.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes. I’ve been in that situation and even sent a question here after-the-fact. I think Alison answered it on the blog, but it may have been a direct response (or even a comment on an open thread? I obviously don’t remember well). I gave a wide range, based on my current salary (which I did not disclose). Sometimes you’re just stuck.

  2. ThatGirl*

    I was laid off at the beginning of March, and I know how to answer that question smoothly — and it wasn’t my fault, in the slightest, so it’s not embarassing or awkward to me.

    What is a little embarrassing is that, almost 10 years ago, I was fired from my second-to-last job after a screwup. Given that it was so long ago, it’s possible nobody will ask. But I do struggle still with how to answer that one honestly but without giving too much detail (and, if needed, conveying that I learned a great deal, it was an unusual situation and I would never do that sort of thing again).

    1. PollyQ*

      I’d be surprised if anyone will ask why you left the job before last, but some people do ask if you’ve ever been fired, so it’s probably worthwhile to have an answer ready.

      1. Artemesia*

        when it is 10 years out it can almost be an amusing anecdote — a ‘when I was new in the field, I did this ridiculous thing and got fired’. If you have 10 solid years since the disaster then matter of factly owning up and mentioning lessons learned without too much drama, is probably all you need.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Right. It may not come up. But if it does, or if I’m asked if I’ve ever been fired, I want to be prepared.

    2. JHunz*

      Well, if it was a screwup and you learned from it, answer the question that way. Interviewers like to ask “how would you handle…” and “name a time when you…” questions all the time because they are revealing of a person’s temperament and fit. So you might answer “I was fired from that position for . I learned a lot from that experience, and if I were in that situation today I would do “. The most important thing is to be honest and forthright about it – you never know when an interviewer might have an unexpected level of knowledge, a connection to someone you might not expect, or just a good eye for when people are lying to them.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I like this. I did get fired from my last job and have struggled with this question, as it was partly my fault but I couldn’t have stayed in it anyway with the changes they made.

        So maybe something like, “I was fired from that job when it changed from work at which I excelled to work I struggled with. If I were in the same situation now, I would meet with my manager earlier and discuss my concerns with her instead of letting them fester.”

        1. ThatGirl*

          In my case I made a stupid publishing error (I worked at a newspaper) that had unfortunate implications – in most cases it would’ve just meant a correction but this was a more sensitive story and there were internal politics involved. In any case, this general advice is good, and I can adapt it. I do think that 10 years out it’s more in the “lessons learned” category than anything else.

          1. JHunz*

            If you ever do have to tell the story, the internal politics should probably be one of the details you gloss over. It’s too easy to sound whiny, or for anger or bitterness you thought was buried to come back to the surface.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Oh, trust me, I know. Even though I may be holding on to a little lingering bitterness, I realize that should not come through in the slightest. I want to convey only that it was a long time ago and a lesson learned.

          2. Alucius*

            As long as you didn’t route your boss to Italy instead of Florida…as per the previous letter

            1. ..Kat..*

              I did not want to say this in the previous post because it is not helpful. But if I were accidentally sent to Italy instead of Florida, I’d be thinking “score!” And I would do some serious sightseeing.

      2. JHunz*

        This is apparently one of those sites that will eat any text placed within angle brackets because it has a really naive HTML parser, so for reference the sentence above should have read “I was fired from that position for [barebones details]. I learned a lot from that experience, and if I were in that situation today I would do [greatly improved thing highlighting your improvements]”

    3. Lily Rowan*

      I’ve not had an interviewer specifically ask why I left each job in a long time (and I’ve never specifically asked if I’ve ever been fired), but they often do ask me to walk through my resume. Rather than say, “…and that was the job I got fired from because my boss was an ass,” I just go from job to job: “For a while I was at ABC, where I did XYZ. And then after that, I went to PDQ.” Just breeze by it.

  3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    “Bad advice: Forget about explaining your qualifications. Instead, tell the hiring manager how you’ll solve her problems.”

    Ohhhhh, god yes. This particular piece of bad advice is on the newer side, as these things go, and seems to have gained a certain currency among college career counselors and the sort of self-help guru whose answer to every life problem is “be entrepreneurial.”

    I had someone start doing this during an interview last years, and she just kept telling me what my problems were and how she’d solve them, until I finally got a word in edgewise and blurted, “Literally none of those are problems I actually have, so I just want to hear about your qualifications.”

    1. what*

      Yikes! That sounds like a particularly bad example of this. I’m curious how the rest of the interview went… was she able to recover at all, or was that the end of it?

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        She kind of recovered, but her whole approach was overly rehearsed, and very much in the “let me tell you about my personal brand, I’m my own startup” kind of way. She actually said, at one point, “I’d be really excited to partner with you on this position,” which made me want to roll my eyes back into my skull.

        22 year olds get some CRAP job advice.

        1. Amber T*

          This was advice we got at our college campus (~5-7 years ago). Figure out the problems facing the company and why they need to role you’re interviewing for, then SOLVE EVERYTHING. Because a new grad with zero experience (or even interning, or even with a little bit of experience) knows exactly how all businesses are run and all the problems and challenges the CEO faces, because COLLEGE!

          We need a big “bad advice” column (has there been one recently?) because I have jewels. It includes the current state of my resume and why I never want to apply for a new job ever again.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Alison might be open to letting us open this thread up, but I know she’s been frustrated by off-topic discussion lately. If not, this’d be a great discussion thread sometime soon!

        2. Jadelyn*

          I commend you on your restraint for keeping your eyes from rolling out of your head and all the way down the street, which I’m sure mine would have at that.

          It’s appalling how so many people are just allowed to give career advice willy-nilly and people have no idea how to vet whether it’s good advice or the person giving it is qualified to give that kind of advice. I was just this weekend arguing with someone that no, calling the company to “check on the state of your application” and tell them how excited you are about the position the day after you submit it online is not actually going to help your chances, because they’d reposted some “job search tips” list and that was tip #1.

          1. Nervous Accountant*

            I’ll never forget–“print out your resume, lose that gut of yours and go door to door looking for a job.”

            This was in 2012. Quite possibly the worst advice I’ve ever gotten, and I (still) feel gross that I let a POS like that speak to me.

            1. Jadelyn*

              UGH!! How freaking rude.

              My dad used to try the “pound the pavement!” line with me and just would not listen when I explained that job searching doesn’t work the same way these days as it did back in the 80s. Plus he works in a very small, specialized field, and every career move he’s made in the last 20 years was because he knew someone and they approached him about a position, so he had no idea how one goes about looking for a job when you’re starting from unemployed early-career, lol.

        3. ThatGirl*

          The “outplacement” firm I’ve been assigned to is very big on “you are your own brand” thing. I get that job searching is essentially marketing but it can definitely go too far.

          (My most eye-rolling thing so far was an optional recommendation to put a QR code on the top of your resume. Does anyone use QR codes?!)

          1. Jadelyn*

            I keep a qr reader on my phone just for fun, and I’d probably scan it out of morbid curiosity more than anything else. Bonus points if it led to a rickroll video or something.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Never gonna give you up/never gonna let you down/never gonna lay you off/or fire youuuu”

          2. MoinMoin*

            Years ago a coworker had a QR code in his email signature. At the time I found it impressive, but now that I know more about what they are, I have no idea what worthy purpose it could possibly have possessed, aside from impressing the clueless.

          3. selena81*

            what did they propose the QR code would return? the same resume your potential employer is already holding?
            I remember being impressed with the look of these mysterious squares, untill i googled them and found out it’s just a fancy way to write a few short lines of code.

            In the last 5 years i’ve only seen qr-codes used by a bitcoin-fanatic trying to fund his yoga-based lifestyle.

        4. Honeybee*

          I’ve seen a lot of advice columns/letters aimed at new college grads telling them to position themselves as “partners” with employers, or envisioning themselves as “consultants” to their potential employers.

      1. OhNo*

        That’s what I was thinking. Does this advice come from the same people who recommend those? Because it’s all the same brand of bad advice.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I think it’s the same deal, I just didn’t know the word for it.

      2. paul*

        I had to google that term.

        WTF was the person that coined it up thinking? Were doing lines in the bathroom?

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s so true. The “solve their problem” approach is bad advice that college counselors and online sites keep giving because they think it worked for tech bros. I can almost guarantee you it did not work for those bros, even though they think it did.

      It comes off bizarrely presumptuous for an outsider or new entrant to the industry to try to explain my problems and how to solve them. In addition to often being incorrect diagnoses of what’s happening, there’s also this kind of egomaniacal “hire me, I’m a wunderkind!” element that signals that the applicant either (1) has a poor/ incomplete understanding of boundaries and appropriate communication (I’ll call this gumption); or (2) low EQ. At best, it makes you look naive, and at worst, it makes you look like a boor.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Yeah, exactly this. I could also see it maybe happening at very high levels in the same industries, when a C-suite person at Teapots Inc is taking a job at Samovars Unlimited and actually has sufficient insight into the industry to correctly divine what the new position needs. But if you’re 22, interviewing for an entry-level Environmental Tech I position? HAHAHAHAno, siddown.

        I feel like Silicon Valley has distorted American business culture in weird ways – the “I’m a wunderkind” attitude, the obsession with “disruption,” and this kind of superficial, TED talk “I’m here with solutions” attitude are all infiltrating sectors where they have no place. Even the weird “All I wear is black hoodies” anti-dresscode sentiment seems to be flaring up elsewhere.

        1. selena81*

          i’m glad to hear i’m not stupid or socially-incompetent for hearing this advice and thinking ‘identify their problems? how the hell would i know their problems let alone a solution when i have close to zero job-experience?’

    3. BRR*

      I’ve always been curious how many candidates actually identify a real problem. I’ve always imagined that it would come off as insulting. For many roles I can’t even imagine it working. There are plenty of positions that can’t create significant change at a company.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I always imagine it working with something like, say, app development. Like, everybody’s developing for the same platform, in the same language, under the same guidelines, and hey, I know how to do this code optimization that I know nobody in your shop knows how to do, hire me. It might work in really closely related positions where the person has almost total transferable skills.

        It falls apart when the person is new to the workforce, if the position isn’t directly related, or if the internal workings of the position aren’t obvious.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Even for positions that can create significant change, you still have to know the organization’s context, structure, all kinds of stuff before you can diagnose real problems and figure out how to fix them. There’s a reason step 1 of organizational development intervention is “figure out what the problem actually is”, and it involves all kinds of research and interviewing and talking to people, not just start throwing solutions until you see what sticks.

        My org is having Issues with our HRIS implementation. But even knowing that much, doesn’t tell you *why* we’re having problems, so you can’t assume you know what we need to do to fix those problems.

      3. LQ*

        I feel like I may have had this once. But I had a long running history of working with that org, I knew a lot about their internal workings and one piece of the work that they’d been having…not quite public but semipublic meetings about that I’d been a part of. I jumped in and gave my views of what I would do under their hat, whereas everything they’d heard from me prior to that had been what I needed them to do with my Job Hat on, which was fairly different. (Though I also pointed out the problems that it would not help by hiring me and one of the other issues they seemed to be over looking. The good was they stopped overlooking that, and they hired someone else which was best for them. She was great, and great to work with. I’m not sure I would have done worse, but I think their hire was better for the time and place.) But I had a LOT of insight going into that conversation.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Exactly – the exception that proves the rule. If this is a cogent tactic, it’ll be obvious, and in most other cases, run awaaaay.

          1. LQ*

            Very much! This isn’t a reason to do it, it is this very specific set of circumstances where I think it worked. But please note that I did NOT get the job! (I was pretty sure when I left I wouldn’t, but I was still very happy with the interview, and the outcome.) Not how to trick someone into hiring you, but how to have a conversation to make sure that the hiring would be best for both parties. (I think it would have been good for me, but I don’t think I was the best candidate they had.)

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Oh, no, I didn’t think you were proposing a reason to do it, I was agreeing that there’s a really narrow set of circumstances where it could be appropriate.

      4. CM*

        I’ve actually done this successfully, but I didn’t walk in the door saying, “here are your problems” — I asked what their problems were and said, “while I don’t have all the context, based on my related experience, here’s how I would solve those problems.” This was for a technical job, so I could propose actual solutions. Saying, “You should use a different kind of database” is a lot more likely to be close to the mark than saying, “You should change your corporate structure.”

    4. Kopper*

      I once interviewed someone who did this in a particularly cringeworthy way that made it obvious he hadn’t done his basic homework about who was interviewing him, and also didn’t once mention how he would be good at the job he was interviewing for. The question was “why are you interested in this position?” It was the opener and in his answer he was trying to create a different job for himself at the organization, not realizing someone already did that work (something a mere glance at the org’s website would have told him). The CEO ended up shutting down the interview after a couple of minutes and asking the guy to leave.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        As I read through this, I was muttering to myself “Oh god, no no no no no no…oooooooooo…..ouch” aloud.

    5. MashaKasha*

      I somehow never heard of this advice until now. But would really like to see the genius who came up with it! What can possibly go wrong with telling the hiring manager, “I have never worked for your company, just walked in from the street for my first face-to-face interview here, hoping to be hired as your subordinate, but here’s a list of everything your company’s been doing wrong in their day-to-day operations that they know a lot more about than I do, and this is how to fix those things”. H-h-h-h-how is this even remotely logical? Kinda like “How to Win Friends And Influence People”, but on hard drugs!

        1. MashaKasha*

          Hahaha! “We barely walked into the job interview and sat down when the drugs began to take hold!”

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            God, I love that opening. I don’t want to go too far off topic, but that was the best literary cold open ever.

      1. Artemesia*

        I can see it when interviewing for a new CEO for say SEARS; where the problems are huge and well known. But for mid range anything, unless the interview has articulated a problem it is presumptuous to think you know what the problems are. On the other hand, you can have expertise that applies to the usual problems e.g. you are a web designer and can talk about how you have a knack for making sites very user friendly, or are joining college admissions and have some expertise in increasing the inquiries and closing application, or are in advertising and have a track record of campaigns that increase business. These are all ‘problems’ that are inherent in the specific jobs and you can talk about your expertise without presuming you understand the details of their situation.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          This, exactly. I have been brushing up on the interviewing topic due to an upcoming internal one. I came across this advice in LR’s column, but the post outlined a lengthy example that was for a social media director. I’m in the department I’m interviewing for, and I do know a lot of our “biggest challenges,” but I wouldn’t expect all my colleagues who are outside our department to know, never mind a complete outsider off the street.

        2. selena81*

          yeah, i’d say it’s completely different if you actually *know* the specific problems you are hired to solve (or at least can make an educated guess).
          as opposed to a college-kid bringing along his ‘how to run a multinational’ course manual to read to the hiring manager.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        Worse, I’ve heard stories of people who make it past the interview phase and *then* pull out that attitude.

    6. Troutwaxer*

      If I was 22 and had just graduated college, I would hope my interviewer would tell me that I’d gotten really bad advice about that particular issue, and give me a clue about how to do better at my next interview before they showed me the door. It wouldn’t take more than a minute to say, “Hey, it sounds like you got some really bad advice from your college counselor, what you just did is something you should never do. Next time you’re interviewed, just answer the question,” etc., and before showing the kid out.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I did give her some feedback, though it was probably too general – I told her to avoid the hard-sell tactics and not try guessing at problems.

      2. Emi.*

        This actually happened to my mother–not with bad advice specifically, but she just had no idea what a job interview was supposed to be like and hadn’t prepared at all. The interviewer just stopped her and said “Look, you have no idea what’s going on. Let me explain job interviews to you so you’ll have a shot at the next one.”

        1. OhNo*

          That’s actually really kind of them. I’m sure it was mortifying for your mother in the moment (lord knows I’d be ready to sink through the floor if it ever happened to me), but can you imagine what might have happened if they’d never said anything and she’d continued to do the same thing? Yikes.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          And I’d have been like, “Thanks, that’s incredibly thoughtful and let me just crawl into this hole so I can hear you better.”

        3. selena81*

          sounds like one of those ‘it must have really hurt at the moment, but probably helped her in the long run’ moments.

          i am one of those people who will go on with an awkward conversation because i don’t have the guts to just say ‘okay guys, i can feel there is something very wrong here, so just stop being polite and spill the beans please’

    7. emma2*

      I’m relatively new in the workforce and get this advice a lot. It confuses the hell out of me, as I can’t imagine a single hiring manager taking an entry-level interviewee seriously about how they will solve the company’s problems before even working there! (Or in any industry, for that matter.)

    8. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah, every time I see this I think it must’ve crossed over from the Sales industry, where “solving their pain point” is key. But unlike the rapport you’ve probably built with a prospect, you have no idea what the hiring mamage’s pain points actually are.

    9. emma2*

      Being “entrepreneurial” is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it refers to how one should manage their career in general – not how they approach a specific job.

      Thinking about “personal brand” could be a way of thinking about what specific skills you are good at/want to specialize in, which will give you a better sense of what jobs to apply for and how to market your qualifications. However, literally talking about your “personal brand” during an interview makes no sense (but I could see how someone who never interviewed before gets confused as to how this works.)

  4. BRR*

    #2 I’m a little bit surprised to see stating your current salary as an option. Because the interviewer is only asking for salary expectations, I wouldn’t proactively give my current salary. I can see it as an acceptable answer to the interviewer and something people would feel comfortable doing instead of stating their expectations, but I don’t think it’s as good of an answer as the other options listed.

  5. Dizzy Steinway*

    Nobody external to my organisation can possibly know what my problems are.

    Don’t try a pain letter, kids. It leads to the wrong kinds of pain.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I always take it as prima facie evidence that the person thinks they’re exempt from following simple instructions and process.

      1. Jadelyn*

        “You may end up still having to follow their standard recruitment process, but you’ll already be familiar with them so they’ll remember you.”

        I mean, it literally says “you *may* still have to do what they wanted you to do in the first place”! Like, hopefully you’ll get to skip the regular process, but you might still have to do it the regular way. This is something people do when they don’t think the rules apply to them, and who the hell wants to hire someone who thinks they’re so special they’re exempt from the rules?

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Oh, and this is precious: “Next, consider why you would be useful for them. Perhaps you’ve got a solution to a problem or can offer collaboration. If not, you can simply express further admiration and that you’d like to work for them. Keep your message professional and concise (under 300 words).”

      As noted above, you don’t have a solution to my problem, because you don’t know my problems. Two, generally, the collaboration model most managers prefer is “you come work for me.” Or not. I don’t “collaborate” with randos who track down my email address. And three, if you just tell me you admire me and want to work for me, that’s as good as saying, “I want to jump the queue because I’m special, and also because I don’t think your application process applies to me.”

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t usually extend my feelings of annoyance for the advice giver to the advisee—I just usually respond with a firm correction (e.g., all applications must be sent to X via Y method). If someone gets argumentative after that, they get one more correction and then are on my do-not-hire-this-round list. There are a lot of folks who feel they’re in desperate circumstances who are drawn to trying the “unorthodox” approaches listed in the article Dizzy cites because they feel their other methods have failed.

      That said, if you do come in and are completely obnoxious and try to explain to the people hiring you why you’re smarter than them, then it’s not going to go well. I’ve had this experience primarily with young men who are extremely mansplainy, but I’ve seen women do it as well. I usually try to steer people back, or I signal to them that they’re going way off base. What bothers me is the failure to take correction or pick up on cues during the interview, because I need people whose communication skills include being able to take correction or a hint. In my experience, folks committed to the “pain” approach just bulldoze right by all the warning signs and then get upset that you disagree with them because can’t you see that they’re so much smarter than you, and that you’d realize their worth if you were smart, too? If that’s the case, then I’m definitely not hiring you.

    4. Critter*

      I wonder if I should flat out tell people, when I get calls or emails (which isn’t often, though) that they are asking the wrong person about what jobs are available, or can they change their interview time, or email a thank you letter directly to me when I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I just transfer them to HR, but sometimes I wonder if “hey please don’t do this” will get a person anywhere. (Maybe not since people who already work for us sometimes don’t listen!)

    5. SarahTheEntwife*

      I guess in some areas of high-pressure sales it could work? But even then I’d think you wouldn’t want your salespeople taking the same “trample over social niceties and established procedure to make a sale” attitude toward their manager…

    6. ThatGirl*

      I’m starting to see some flaws in Right Management’s approach, who pushed the whole “70% of jobs are never posted online, you have to go to the hiring manager, HR is a black hole” thing hard…

      Like… there may be some instances where that works. But as pointed out, trying to circumvent process and not follow instructions seems like it’s likely to leave a bad impression.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        It’s not wrong, it’s often just incomplete. Like, sure, 70% of jobs are never posted online – if you include internal hires and direct hires where someone is recruited and so on. And going to the hiring manager isn’t always an awful idea, if you have a preexisting relationship with them and you can approach them in an organic, unforced way – but cold-emailing them with a pain letter is guaranteed to fail.

        A lot of the rhetoric around these techniques is about forcing companies to abandon automated application systems and so on, but I think it’s preying on the resentments of job searchers.

        1. Lablizard*

          It works if your network refers you to a specific position, but, if that is the case, you are more warm calling than cold calling the hiring manager or HR

        2. selena81*

          ….but I think it’s preying on the resentments of job searchers…..

          probably no coincidence that a lot of it seems to overlap with pua’s (pick up artists) who teach rejected men how to find love in a way that’ll scare away 99% of the female population.

          i feel sadness for the people who get sucked into these circles of despair: they have put their trust in someone who has realised that it is far more profitable to keep his disciples wanting and frustrated then to offer them good advice. (advice such as ‘maybe you should try to compromise on your desire for a perfect wife/job’ and ‘make yourself genuinly desirable before going after an attractive prey’)

    7. Honeybee*

      The thing is, people hear “Employee referrals and internal hires make up 73% of new hires” and they think that means “Employee referrals and internal hires make up 73% of new hires of jobs posted on job boards.” In my admittedly limited experience, if the job is posted on a job board then the hiring team has already turned to their networks and come up short, or they want to expand their pool. The jobs that are filled internally or by referrals, by and large, never make it to the job site or are only there a few days before they’re taken down.

      But even then – why would the steps promulgated in this article even work? People like to hire internally or through referral because they like to hire people who have already been vetted and whose work they have assessed or someone else they know has assessed. Emailing someone out of the blue and saying “I’d like to work for you” puts you in exactly the same position as someone who applies through the ATS – maybe worse, because now you just look like you can’t follow directions.

      You may end up still having to follow their standard recruitment process, but you’ll already be familiar with them so they’ll remember you.

      Networking your way into employee referrals is about getting to know people who may in the future (near or far) be in a position to refer you to an open position on their team or one they know of. Randomly emailing people your resume is not getting to know anyone, just like swapping business cards isn’t really networking.

      1. selena81*

        In some industries it is mandatory to publish each job-opening (to stop nepotism).

        But as you say: all those no-job-posting hirings are about people that the recruiter knows personally or though trusted referals, and typically not about a random guy that demanded to drop of his resume on the recruiter’s desk.

    8. Jadelyn*

      Oh my god, it literally advises using special apps to “extract” or “find” people’s email addresses. Look, dude, if my email isn’t posted publicly, it’s because I don’t want random people emailing me. Circumventing that just makes you come off hella creepy and pushy and will send you straight to the DO NOT HIRE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF BOUNDARIES pile. No. Nooooooo. Do not do this.

    1. They'll Never Take The Sky From Me*

      Funnily enough, I got my last job despite a cringeworthy answer to that question (breaking down in tears about how the noise in the >300 people open plan office depletes me day to day), so there is an argument to be made for an honest answer.

      1. selena81*

        i’m all for ‘honesty, but not too much honesty’

        if you came from a large office and went to smaller one then your answer isn’t particularly bad: it means your reason for quitting will probably not be an issue in the new job.

  6. bassclefchick*

    Answering why I left my last job is always hard for me. The temp positions are fine. I just say the project came to its natural conclusion and my assignment ended.

    But for the job I was fired from? No idea. Was it my fault? It was a combination of I couldn’t do the job and management didn’t know how to deal with someone who had never done the job before. And I just don’t discuss the 2 jobs that I was fired from in a 6 month period. One of which was mostly my fault and the other was mostly theirs.

    1. Lablizard*

      I struggle with this too since my real reason is usually, “I was bored” or “my manager was a train wreck I wanted to escape before we crashed”. I try to elide it with, “I felt that I had reached the limits of what the position had to offer and wanted to advance my skill set”

      Jargony, but better than nothing

      1. Annonymouse*

        I’ve been honest about stuff:
        The previous position was not a great fit for my personality and skills – it was all data entry with no external communication when my strongest points are my people skills and customer service.

        Or I’m looking for a position in XYZ industry which is where I’ve spent most of my career and my last position was a VWX industry job. I’m looking to get back to what I love.

        For train wreck boss:
        The company was heading in a direction I wasn’t comfortable with like recent layoffs and I decided I’m looking for a job with in ABC industry/role with more stability.

        or high turnover on the team meant we were often not able to work as cohesively because we had to keep getting new members up to speed. I hear that you/company value collaboration often have teams working on creative projects which is something I do well at/in.

    2. AthenaC*

      I might go with something like, “It turned out that I didn’t have the experience they were looking for. They thought they were looking for someone entry-level (and we discussed this very clearly) but it turned out that with some of the complexities / demands / timelines / (insert reasonable-sounding complication here) they really needed someone with at least a year of experience. Of course, I have that experience now! But at that time it became clear I wasn’t the right fit for those reasons so we parted ways.”

  7. ArtK*

    Re: The dreaded salary question: This is timely since I have an application in to a company that I know pays less than my current salary. Of course, an application isn’t an interview but I’d like to have my answers ready, just in case.

    My current salary is high enough that it would likely scare off this employer if I wasn’t able to provide context; they didn’t ask for it in the application, which was nice. There are a number of mitigating factors and I’m looking for how to present them.

    First, there’s the company and the specific work. I’m willing to take a cut to work for them and to do that work — it’s very interesting to me and a bit of a career change as well. Second are benefits. My current employer is small and the health benefits are expensive; potential employer is big and almost certainly has much better benefits. My current company also doesn’t do 401K matching, which the new one does. That alone is worth quite a bit. (Current employer gave us an 8% raise when they bought us, since we were losing 401K matching.) Last, but not least, we have some savings that my wife and I have agreed can be used to cover us, depending on the final gap.

    1. OhNo*

      Sounds like you can be pretty straightforward about the fact that benefits are more important to you that direct payment. You could go with the script above of, “I’m looking for between X and Y”, then add something like, “but benefits are a major factor for me, and I tend to weigh those heavier than the salary.”

  8. that guy*

    Serious question:

    You say “Do some research, know what comparable positions in your area pay ”

    How would you do that research? Who would you ask? I can’t imagine how I could find out what other people are being paid. I can’t ask anybody, because I don’t know people in comparable positions.

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