coworkers are insensitive after a layoff, trimming down internship experience on a resume, and more

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

1. I was laid off, and my former colleagues want sympathy from me

I was laid off when my position was eliminated for business reasons, along with other employees. I was told repeatedly by the people doing the conference room session and my supervisor that this wasn’t a reflection on my work, I was a valued employee, and they really didn’t want to let me go, but it was an economic reality.

Other than crying the day I was let go, I’ve tried to take a mostly upbeat approach with former colleagues. As well as taking the high road. When I do talk/email with former colleagues, I ask how they are and talk about the steps I’m taking in my job search. What I’m finding is that they’re expecting me to sympathize with them. I realize it’s tough to have to let someone go and it’s tough to pick up the extra work. But they’re talking about how difficult it is for them, etc. to someone who has just been laid off.

Now, I’ve developed a good enough relationship with these people to know their intent is good, but I’m so tempted to say, “Well, how do you think it feels to be unemployed for the first time when you’re middle aged and the job market is bad?” But of course, I wouldn’t say that because it would burn bridges. Plus I think it’s more cluelessness on their part than any intention to hurt me or make me feel uncomfortable. Do you have any suggestions for a polite and professional way of stopping these comments or letting them know I don’t want to hear them?

Wow. That’s incredibly thoughtless of your former colleagues, although I’m sure you’re right that it’s obliviousness, not any deliberate attempt to harm you. If you’re close enough to any of the people making these comments, I think you’d be doing them a service if you nicely said, “You know, I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but I’d sure rather be in your shoes than mine.” But if you’re not close to them, then your only real option is to internally roll your eyes, change the subject, and remind yourself that it’s just cluelessness — and resolve to be more sensitive than they are if you’re ever on their side of the conversation in the future.

2. Would I be a horrible person if I kept looking after accepting this job?

I’ll be graduating with a master’s in May (which I regret ever starting, but that’s another story!) and I’ve been job searching since December. I didn’t realize it would be this hard to find ANY kind of job… my plan was originally to quickly find a part-time job that I could have while I searched for “real” full-time jobs which I knew would take longer to get. The problem is, it’s been impossible for me to land ANY kind of job. I’ve applied to almost 80 jobs and have only had a handful of interviews. I know most retail-type jobs don’t want to hire someone with an almost-master’s and (despite my education) I’m still pretty inexperienced for more serious jobs.

This past week I had an interview for a job that seems like a good fit. I’d be getting actual experience in my field. I have a second interview next week and I think there’s a good chance I might get an offer. The problem is it’s only 30 hr/wk at $12/hr, which is fine for now but I definitely can’t live on that long-term, and they specifically said they’re looking for someone “long-term.” I’m not sure how they expect people to commit “long-term” to a job like this… I guess it could work if you took a second night/weekend job (assuming you could find one) to make ends meet, but they still offer no benefits.

I don’t think there is much room for negotiating the pay or hours because the center is only open 30 hours/week and they seem pretty firm on $12/hr being the most they will pay (it was initially “$10-12″ and I said I’d definitely require at least $12 considering that’s less than I’ve made at past part-time jobs and internships). I’m desperate for a job right now so my first instinct is to definitely take the job if it’s offered, knowing that I’ll leave as soon as I find something better (which could still be several months or even a year, I guess). Would this make me a horrible person?

In general, if an employer explicitly tells you that you’d want to stay long-term, I don’t think you should take that offer if you know that you’re going to continue to look; it’s acting in bad faith. That said, I also think that employers who offer low-wage jobs with no benefits are kidding themselves if they think they’re going to get loads of high-quality candidates who will really stick around if something better turns out. To be intellectually consistent, I feel obligated to say “don’t take it if you don’t like their terms” … but I don’t think anyone would blame you too much if you did.

3. Explaining why I’m looking for short-term work during a temporary layoff

I’m in an odd situation. I have a great job in the title research and certification field that pays well, with a great boss and coworkers I like. However, our biggest client changed the direction of their company and doesn’t need us anymore, we lost out on a potential major contract last year, and our smaller clients don’t seem to have any work for us at the moment. It’s a very small business, so we didn’t have many clients to begin with.

While my boss is looking for new clients, I’ve agreed to take a temporary unpaid layoff. My boss could call me back in a couple of months, or it could be another 6 months to a year. She’s encouraging me to find other work, and doesn’t expect me to just walk out on another job when she calls me back. She’ll give me glowing references. My boss will even allow me to use my office and equipment for any telecommuting type work I find, which means I can work “from home” in an actual office. I’m also eligible for unemployment for the next 6 months, which will pay the bills with some careful budgeting, but I’d much rather find some temporary work.

I’ve registered with a staffing agency and explained that I’m looking for temporary work. I’m hoping you have some suggestions for how I explain the situation to potential employers – or should I not mention that I may be called back to my former job at all? If I’m engaged for a specific period of time, I’d finish it, and my former boss would expect me to fulfill my obligations. Otherwise, I’d give two weeks notice.

I’m also looking for freelance work in proofreading/editing, but while I have the skills and the experience (although not actually in the editing/publishing field), my education doesn’t reflect that.

You can just explain that you’re on a long-term hiatus while your company regroups. But I think there’s a much bigger question here: Are you sure you should be looking for temporary work as opposed to regular jobs? You could certainly consider temporary work along with more long-term work if you wanted, but looking JUST at temporary work is going to be fairly limiting and it doesn’t sound like there’s any guarantee that your company will be able to hire you back or that the work will be stable when they do. (To the contrary, it sounds like they’re really struggling and might continue to.)

It’s great that they’re being so supportive of you, but I wouldn’t let that prevent you from conducting a full-fledged job search and taking something long-term if you find it.

4. Should I organize a baby gift for my new manager?

I just started a job in high tech and my new manager’s wife will give birth in a few months. I know that gifts are supposed to flow down, not up, in an office, but it seems sort of strange to do nothing to mark the occasion. Should everyone on his team sign a card or are there other appropriate ways to celebrate? It’s a relaxed environment and my manager has a pretty jokey demeanor. I don’t mind organizing something (most of my new teammates are a little more introverted), but I don’t want to, for example, bake a cake and get labeled “the mom.” Thoughts?

You could do a group card, or if the whole group wants to do more than that, you could do a joint baby gift. However, since you’re new, I’d stick with just suggesting a card, rather than getting into all the potential sticky dynamics around office gift-giving, women being the ones to organize it, etc.

5. Should I trim down the internship experience on my resume?

Basically I had a really impressive resume for a recent college graduate, but all of my experience/internships were in one field. My financial situation has made it impossible to live in a market where jobs in that field are plentiful, at least for now (read: I’m broke, have debt and need to live with my parents). I’ve been applying for local jobs in a field that uses a similar skill set since July with little luck. I think I’m doing a good job at tailoring cover letters, and after an interview today where the interviewer made a comment about my resume, I’m wondering if it’s actually my resume that’s the problem. Think about it: if you have four internships in a field that is not the field you’re applying to, no matter how good your cover letter is, it kind of seems like you’d rather work in that other field.

I’m thinking that despite the incredible number of internships I’ve done, maybe one in this new field (as opposed to the full-time jobs I’ve been applying to) is the answer to getting some experience (and changing the direction of my resume). But that’s awkward to do with so many internships already, even if they’re unrelated. I’m wondering if maybe part of “tailoring my resume” is not including all of those internships. Three of them were done while I was in school still so it’s not like there will be resume gaps. I imagine possible advice would be just to tailor each bullet more toward the new field, but still so many internships in another field is kind of something hard to explain away, isn’t it?

What do you think about actually “trimming down” my experience for an internship?

If an internship isn’t strengthening your resume, there’s no reason you have to include it. Do you have impressive, distinct achievements at each of them, or is there some overlap? If there’s overlap between what you did at some or all of them, then yeah, it might help to remove one or two of them … or even if there isn’t any overlap, if you think removing some will help. There’s no rule that you have to include everything you’ve ever done; the only relevant test is whether including something helps you or hurts you, and if you think it’s more the latter, take them off and see if you see a difference in employer response.

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