how to reject an internal candidate, I can’t afford interview travel, and more

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

1. How to reject an internal candidate

I am a new manager at a small nonprofit (less than 10 employees). We have an opening and two internal candidates applied. I don’t know them well since I’ve only been with the organization for about two months. Based on my observations and interviews are comparable in skills and experience. They both are unfulfilled in their current positions and there isn’t any way for me to change their roles if they don’t get the promotion (they currently fill essential administrative positions). I know that at least one of them will quit if she isn’t selected. Do you have any tips on what to say to the one who doesn’t get the job?

“I think you’re great — particularly your strengths in X and Y. This was a very tough decision, but we’ve decided to offer the role to Jane, who has accepted it.” (If there’s an easily articulable skill or trait that Jane brings to the job, you can mention that here — for instance, “Ultimately Jane’s track record of successful grant writing was a deciding factor.”) “You’ve done an amazing job on __ and __ , but we only had one slot open. I want to be clear, though, how much we value your work, and we’d be glad to talk about future openings with you as they come up.”

(You should only be that positive if that stuff is really true, of course. You shouldn’t be disingenuous.)

Of course, make sure that one of them actually is highly qualified for the job. If they’re not, the organization will be better served by interviewing external candidates; you don’t want to promote someone just because they’re already working there and interested, particularly in a small organization where each role is crucial. That’s true even if you risk losing someone for not promoting them — you need top performers in each job, and you can’t hand out promotions to keep someone who won’t be great at what you’re promoting them to. (You can, however, look for ways to help them grow professionally in other ways — or should be honest with them if there isn’ room for that.)

2. I can’t afford to travel for interviews

I’ve been searching for jobs in my current location but haven’t had a lot of luck, so I’ve recently started looking in my hometown as well. Relocating (or, well, returning) to my hometown would be no problem. I’m familiar with the area, I know of some good apartment complexes, and if I can’t find a place right away, I can stay with family temporarily until I get that sorted out. That being said, I don’t have set plans to relocate; I only intend to return to my hometown if I find a job there.

The problem is, I don’t know what to do if I get asked to interview in-person and the company won’t pay for it. I know that you’ve advised people to be willing to pay their own way for this, which I completely understand. It’s not that I am unwilling, but I simply cannot afford the $400+ airfare (possibly more than once if I had multiple interviews) right now. Am I doomed to being thrown out of the running if I’m only available for phone/Skype interviews? What should I say (or not say) in a cover letter or long-distance interview about this?

This is tricky. You can certainly ask to interview by phone or Skype; some companies will be okay with it and others won’t. Some companies will be okay with it at an early stage but will want you to fly out before they make a final decision. Of the companies that do allow you to do it all by phone or Skype, you risk being at a disadvantage to other candidates. The bar is going to be a little higher for you, someone they can’t meet in person, and lots of people don’t build the same rapport over Skype that they so in person. Then throw in the fact that long-distance job searching is already much harder than local job-searching (which isn’t exactly easy these days either), and it’s not a great scenario. Honestly, if it’s at all an option to move now and then start looking, your search might be easier.

Of course, there are also plenty of companies that do pay to fly candidates in — it depends on what field you’re in and how in-demand your skills are. It could end up being a non-issue for you.

In any case, I wouldn’t get into any of this in your cover letter; that’s the place to convince them to interview you, not to throw up obstacles. Wait until you’re invited to interview and then see if there’s anything they can do.

3. My supplier ends his emails with “blessings”

I have a supplier who insists on ending his email signature with the word “Blessings” after every email. He said he is religious and this is a free country, etc. I find that very offensive and very non-business-like. I would like your opinion.

I don’t quite understand why you find the word “blessings” offensive (and I say this as someone utterly unreligious). It’s not like he’s trying to convert you to his religion or telling you you’re going to go to hell. It’s pretty damn mild, as subtly tinged religious stuff goes. I’d recommend he not use it in something like a job-search email, but this is his business. If he wants to reference blessings, he’s welcome to; he doesn’t work for your company, and he can sign his emails however he wants. You, in turn, can choose not to do business with him if you don’t like it — but that would be a pretty bizarre reaction to something this innocuous.

4. Shouldn’t managers’ resumes specify what size teams they manage? (Why, yes, they should.)

Recently I interviewed candidates for a manager level position of a technical team. This position currently has 3 full-time reports and 3 interns. The job listing specifically states this position supervises others and is at the manager level. Many of the candidates mentioned “leading teams” on their resume, but none wrote down number of reports, size of team, etc. Am I incorrect in thinking that this should be something to include on the resume?

Yes, ideally they’d include it, because there’s a big difference between managing two people and managing 18, as well as between managing individual contributors and managing other managers. The thing is, though, there aren’t really standards that dictate things like that’s it’s up to people’s own judgment, and as a result some do and some don’t. It’s generally in people’s best interests to be specific though — at some point interviewers are likely to ask, and if they’re looking for someone with experience managing large teams and you’ve only managed small ones or contractors or something like that, it’s a waste of your time not to surface that before you interview.

5. When should I say I’m graduating?

I will finish my university program in August 2014, but graduation is not until November 2014. Should I list the degree on my resume as “Expected August 2014″ or “Expected November 2014″? I will be finished all of my program requirements by August and would like to start working immediately, but I will not officially have the degree until November.

What would your school say if someone called the registrar in, say, September to confirm that you’d graduated? You want to make sure that you’re not saying you’ve graduated and the school is saying that you haven’t. But absent some issue there, I think it’s reasonable to say “Expected August 2014.” If you’re not sure, though, you could write “Last class August 2014, diploma expected November 2014.” The point is that you want employers to know that you’re in school through August and free after that, without misrepresenting anything.

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