horrible boss’s farewell party, substitutes for cover letters, and more

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

1. Asking job candidates to do a short writing prompt instead of a cover letter

I’m currently writing a hiring ad for an entry level customer support position. In the past, we’ve required applicants to submit a cover letter in the body of their email, but I’m considering changing that requirement. If applicants remember to include a cover letter at all, there attempts are perfunctory and bland at best. Even the better ones struggle to capture their skills in a compelling way. I’m reluctant to continue asking applicants to invest time in a tool that doesn’t help me determine who is the best person for the job.

I was thinking that perhaps a short answer response to a relevant question (e.g., what’s the most valuable quality that you can bring to Chocolate Teapots, Inc.?) might yield more desirable responses. I realize that the best applicants should be able to craft a cover letter without being teed up, but it’s just not happening. What do you think?

Well, on one hand, I hear you that the generic, form-letter-type cover letters that so many applicants send aren’t useful, especially when they just summarize the contents of their resume (which is why awesome, customized cover letters stand out so much and why I recommend them so strongly here). But I really dislike the idea of asking applicants to write an essay response at this stage, because the reality is that you’re going to be rejecting 90% of them without even a phone screen (assuming you get a couple hundred applicants, which is pretty typical), and I’m not fond of asking people to jump through special hoops when so many of them are just going to get rejected pretty quickly anyway.

So I’d suggest a compromise instead. Say something like: “We pay a lot of attention to what you choose to tell us about yourself in your cover letter and hope that you’ll use it to talk about why you’d excel at this job particularly, including things that might not be obvious to us from your resume.” That way you’re leaving it up to candidates how much extra work to do, but you’re making it clear what you’re interested in. You’ll learn a lot from who bothers to do this and who doesn’t, as well as how they go about it and what they tell you.

2. What’s up with video interviews?

I was wondering what you think of using “digital interviews” for the first round of interviews. Basically, I had to download an app on my ipad and then video myself answering typical interview questions, with no interviewer there to talk to or respond to. The main issue that I have is that this process feels very awkward and strange (when the interview process already feels unnatural). Plus, I can imagine people who don’t have access to a computer with a webcam or a tablet due to a variety of issues.

Yeah, some companies are starting to use these and I agree with you about why they suck. I don’t think they’re ever going to become something the majority of companies use because too many hiring managers will dislike them — in large part because they don’t allow for the follow-up questions and the give and take that are part of the most useful interviews — but I do think you’re going to see more companies start using them.

3. Can I ask for flexibility in my horrible schedule?

I was hired part-time last August for a position that required me to work weekend evenings from 5pm-1am. There is only one other person who knows how to do this job, and they work Monday-Thursday. At the time of accepting the position I was desperate for a job, and while this job in particular wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, it was somewhat in my field.

The problem is that I am beginning to get burnt out only working weekends. I am in my late 20s, and have a lot of friends with full-time jobs in the city that I live.(Something I would be grateful to obtain as well.) Anyway, my friends relax and hang out, mostly on the weekends, and with my schedule I never see them. My family lives a few hours away, and also work during weekdays also with free time on the weekends. I feel like I have lost a sense of community in the town I live since I also do not feel as if I have any community at my workplace.(While the organization I work with is a very team oriented one, I work independently within it.) I think that for my well-being I need to change my schedule, but I am not sure if it is appropriate to even ask since I was hired for working weekends only, AND accepted. I do not mind working weekends, but never having one off is exhausting. Is asking to change a schedule something I should even consider, or is it better to just suck it up and keep on going until I can find something that better suits me? I can’t afford to quit this job, but I am also feeling as if I’m letting life slip me by too fast, and losing friends and communities over it.

You can certainly ask, but if you’re the only person working that shift and you were hired specifically as their weekend/evening person, this might simply be the job. If you were new to the role, I’d caution you against already trying to change your schedule, but you’ve been there 10 months; it’s not crazy to ask if there’s a little flexibility. That said, I doubt they’ll be able to give you as much flexibility as it sounds like you’d like; one weekend off every few months probably isn’t going to cut it for you, and more than that sounds like it would eat into exactly what they hired you for.

4. Do I have to attend my horrible boss’s farewell party?

If you have been invited to your boss’s farewell party who has literally made your life a living hell, what should you do? I’ve reported her to HR, they reprimanded her, my coworker’s corroborated everything I said, and she got another job with a promotion. She even stupidly left her offer letter out for everyone to see her salary. I gave them 10 pages of documentation on her unforgivable acts, including not doing her job, but she got another job with our company. I’m thinking not saying anything is taking the high road as long as I don’t badmouth her. What do you think?

It really depends on how noticeable your absence will be (not attending a 5-person party will be more noticeable than not attending a 50-person party, as will not attending one during work hours versus after work). If it’s small and during work hours, suck it up and go, and consider it your own personal celebration that she won’t be your manager anymore.

5. Blog dislikes

I saw your mention last week of Ask a Manager’s seventh anniversary. Congratulations! What do you like and dislike most about writing this blog?

Ooooh. I love almost everything about this site and its commenters, but I’ll confess that there’s one thing that reliably drives me crazy in discussions about the posts: people assuming that their experience is universal and arguing that forcefully. In other words, they’ve seen some employers do X, so they assume all employers do X and advise people accordingly, in the strongest of terms. X tends to be something negative, which can lead to remarkably bad advice for people when they’re dealing with employers who don’t do X. For instance: “Never tell your employer that you’re dissatisfied with your job, because they’ll just tell you to suck it up or even fire you.” But at a good employer, this will sometimes lead to your problems being solved. Not always — but enough that it’s crazy to make a blanket statement like that as if it’s fact. (We saw this the other day, with some people arguing that you should never give more than a couple weeks notice, which is just not backed up by other people’s experience.)

I’m all for pointing out that some employers operate certain ways, but you’ve got to allow for other possibilities too rather than speaking in absolutes. You lose credibility and weaken your advice tremendously when you don’t do that.

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