discussing mistakes in a cover letter, why companies hire slowly, and more

It’s six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. Talking about mistakes in a cover letter

I’m wondering what your take is on mentioning learning progress and past mistakes in a cover letter. Granted, my cover letter is for theatre stage management, but I want to mention that I am still learning how to be a stage manager, inasmuch as actually managing people goes. I’m all right at it, but it’s not my strongest suit. I also mention a mistake I made during my last production as evidence of my ability to accept criticism and own up to mistakes immediately; this is really the only way to begin fixing them. Knowing how to deal with them is obviously key, especially in a field that depends so much on continuously moving forward. A fellow stage manager friend of mine thinks I should leave these out, though, since I will invariably be asked about them in any interview I get and removing them would help me pare down to a single page. What do you think?

I agree with your friend. A cover letter is the place to explain why you’re interested in the job and why you’d excel at it, not a place to raise doubts about your fit. What you’re talking about — learning from mistakes and taking criticism — is a great topic for an interview, and will often come up there in various forms … but leave it off your cover letter.

2. Do companies understand the ramifications of slow hiring processes?

Do companies that take a long time to complete the hiring process understand that they have the potential to lose good candidates that just move on? Or is it that they just don’t care?

It depends on the company. Some find that they’re able to get excellent candidates despite lengthy hiring processes, so there’s no issue for them there. Others realize that they might lose good candidates, but have made the strategic decision that their reasons for moving slowly trump that concern (and sometimes that’s perfectly legitimate — such as if they need to iron out a budget issue or wait until the new manager of the position is hired or work through questions about their top candidates). And yes, still others are clueless about the impact of their slow hiring process, and don’t realize they’re losing good people because of it (or aren’t savvy enough to care).

3. Listing coursework for a degree you started but didn’t finish

How should you list courses you took for a degree you started, but never finished? I took some grad history courses last year, but have since switched to pursuing a degree in library science. I want to include them, because they are relevant to jobs I would be pursuing and show a clear progression (I spent the spring before taking the history classes volunteering at a historical archive). I’m not sure how, though – I can’t say “M.A. History” because I didn’t finish the degree, and “M.A. History coursework” looks awkward and unclear.

You could say: “Additional coursework in X, Y, and Z.” In general, I’m not a fan of listing coursework on a resume, largely because it’s your work experience than employers care most about, but you have a logical reason for doing it.

4. Is it better to intern for multiple employers rather than just one?

I’ll probably do an internship through my school next semester. There is an archive I worked at in undergrad that I could probably get an internship at, and in some ways it would be nice to be back because I know (and like) the people there, and I feel like I could get some really good recommendations from them. At the same time, I wonder if I should branch out and go somewhere different. Do you think that working in multiple settings would be better in terms of finding a job later, or that it wouldn’t matter? (I would have very different duties as a student intern, obviously.)

Multiple settings are good because they expand your network (giving you more references, contacts, etc.) and expose you to different workplaces cultures, ways of doing things, and personalities, but they’re not an imperative. Doing substantive work in your field would trump doing trivial work outside your field any day.

5. How can I stay in touch with my boss after leaving my job?

What is a good way to keep in touch with a boss after I’ve left my job? My one-year contract at my current position is about to end and I’m going to be starting a new position afterwards. Although our working relationship was fine, I didn’t get along well with my director, who was my only real supervisor at this job. We never had any conflicts or issues, of course, but our personalities didn’t really match up and let’s just say that it will not be a sad goodbye on my final day of work.

I would like to keep the option of using her as a reference in the future, as I did good work at this job with some tight deadlines, difficult projects, and an under-staffed department. What is a good way to do this? I can’t find her on LinkedIn, and I don’t want to add her on Facebook. I’ll also be moving to a new city and working in a different field, so it wouldn’t really work to chat about work stuff. What would be an appropriate way to keep in touch with this director in a professional way? How long is too long to reach out after a job has ended to ask for a reference or try to reconnect with someone?

It’s easier to reach out if you’ve stayed in touch all along — which doesn’t mean monthly coffees or anything like that, but an email once or twice a year goes a surprisingly long way. Those emails can just update her on what you’re doing, and ask how things are going with her. If you can find a way to mention that you’re using something you learned while working for her, even better (but not necessary).

6. Interviewer wanted different hours than what the job ad said

If a job is advertised on the website as part time 7am to 11pm, Monday to Friday, can it be changed at the interview to flexible hours and 7 days a week? My daughter recently applied for a job and the position on the website was advised as the above hours. She went for an interview and got on well with the other staff, and was then interviewed by the branch manager, who said that she may have to stay longer and would sometimes be needed to work at the weekends. She applied for the job as she already works part-time in a restaurant and on Sundays for a couple of hours in a tack shop; she only applied as it would have fit in with her other commitments. When she told the manager this, she got very snappy with her. Is this legal?

She has now received an email advising that she was not successful. I think they should have advised to her in a call or letter and not in an email.

Yes, it’s legal for them to decide they need a different schedule (not only during the interview, but even after she’s already been hired). It’s also very normal to be notified of a job rejection by email — in fact, most job seekers prefer that to a letter (which takes longer and is unnecessarily formal) or a call.

I’d use this experience to help your daughter learn that stuff like this happens in job hunting, and that rather than jumping to outrage and thinking something must be illegal, she should use it as signals that give her valuable information about the employer. She’ll have much easier job searches in her future if you help her understand that.

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