how to screen out candidates who just want a cool job, birthday cakes for some but not all, and more

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

1. How can we screen out job candidates who just want to work here for the “cool” factor?

I work at a small (8-person) creative media company that is considered “cool” in our industry and tends to attract job candidates who want to be associated with our brand and company. But when they realize it’s not all fun and games, they either lose interest or discover they aren’t a good fit or that they don’t actually possess the skills that they said they did.

After one such hire, we’re trying again to advertise for our first receptionist / office manager position, a crucial yet junior role in our business. Leaving aside any potential issues with our hiring policies or company culture, what sort of questions/puzzles/brain teasers can I ask in our online application form or phone interview that can potentially screen those candidates who are motivated by providing great work and service, rather than those who want a “cool” name on their resume?

This isn’t really the place for puzzles or brain teasers. You might, in certain hiring situations, use those to test a candidate’s critical thinking, but they’re not suited to ensuring that people are interested in your company for the right reasons. Instead, you’d be better off probing into their past experiences — what have they done successfully in the past that’s hard? Do they have a track record of the skills and traits they’ll need to be successful in the role? What do their references say about them? That’s going to give you far more useful information than letting them define their own interest level for you.

In addition, make sure you’re being explicit about the reality of working for your company — even overly playing up the downsides if people are typically blinded by the upsides. Talk about the hard or boring or unglamorous elements of the job and gauge their reactions. No one is going to say “oh, then I’m not interested,” but you’ll be able to tell a lot from how they do react: Are they really processing what you’re saying or are they clinging to their blinders about your work?

2. I don’t like to share my personal life with my coworkers

My question is probably a strange one, but here goes: Early on in my career, I had a couple of very bad experiences with forming friendships with co-workers. After those experiences, I decided that I wouldn’t befriend my coworkers anymore. I consider myself friendly and outgoing, and I have a lot of friends outside of work, but am starting to feel that it is hurting me in my career. I try not to let my coworkers know too many details of my personal life, but I am still friendly, if that makes sense. Another reason I don’t share too many details is because I have been unfairly judged (i.e. young and unmarried, childless, religious) in my past jobs.

My manager asked me recently why I don’t like to share my personal life, and I gave him an honest answer (i.e. bad past experiences, unfair judgments against me, etc.), and I have the feeling that he thinks I’m weird. Am I being too cautious, or is this a smart strategy?

A bit overly cautious, probably. You certainly don’t have to share details about your personal life if you prefer not to, but if you don’t share anything, you do risk coming across as cold or odd, which can impact things you care about at work. Why not share things that are innocuous and unlikely to cause you problems — such as that you went to the beach with friends this weekend, or that you follow a particular sports team or that you share your coworker’s love of a TV show? You don’t need to open up about religion or your relationships; just stick to neutral topics of the sort you might discuss with, say, your dental hygienist.

3. We’re not allowed to call out our managers for breaking rules

This week, my manager came up with new rules that supposedly applied to everyone, including managers. One of the major rules is no online browsing or looking at pictures or videos or any social networking, and if you are caught it’s an instant write-up. The other rule is that you can’t “call out” a person who’s ranked higher. For example, if my supervisor got on Netflix while on the clock, I can’t say anything to him about it; for him to get in trouble, his manager has to see him. But if I told him to get off Netflix I would get written up.

Is this legal? I can’t tell them to stop breaking the rules and work? This is a very small department; it only has usually 6-7 people working, so one person, slacking off is a big deal. Also, it happens that the next day my supervisor was on his phone browsing the Internet and the manager got there and they both started talking about the celebrities on the website and no one got in trouble. I want to know if not being able to call them out is legal?

Yes, it’s legal. No law requires your employer to treat everyone the same or fairly or not to have double standards for managers versus non-managers. And no law requires you to be allowed to call someone out for breaking a policy.

The concept you’re looking for is “unfair” and perhaps “silly,” but not illegal. Although I wouldn’t even really call it unfair — it’s pretty normal not to be expected to tell your manager what she can and can’t do; that’s part of the relationship. The silly part is that they felt the need to codify it.

4. What does it mean that my interviewer gave me copies of the employee handbook and benefits plans?

I have gone on 3 different job interviews for one particular company in the past week and a half. At the beginning of the third interview, the HR manager hands me the employee handbook and the benefits guide (breakdowns of medical, dental, and vision insurance and their prices) and then tells me to familiarize myself with these because it took her two weeks to thoroughly read through them.

Is this a for-sure sign of getting the position? Is this common to give these types of confidential documents out to interviewees?

No, it’s not a sign that you’ll be offered the job at all. Some companies do this for all candidates at this stage of the hiring process — which is smart, because it broadens your understanding of what policies and benefits you’d have if you ended up working there, which is info that should be hugely relevant to deciding whether or not to work there (and far too often companies don’t offer that information up at all). But don’t read anything more into it than “we are now at the third interview and we give you these documents at this stage.”

5. Some coworkers get birthday cakes and other celebrations and some don’t

I work for a fairly large company, but my “team” is around 30 members. We tend to celebrate life events, like birthdays, weddings and baby showers. My issue is that there’s a big discrepancy between certain employees (and it has nothing to do with hierarchy or seniority). For example, it was decided that we (as a team) would throw a baby shower for an employee. The employee got a ton of gifts and a very expensive cake (nearly $100) was purchased. Another co-worker is expecting now, and as far as I know, no one is planning a shower for her.

Another example: Some people’s birthdays are celebrated and some are not. (If the person has expressly said they don’t want to be recognized, that’s fine – but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) Usually, a cake/cookies/pie is purchased from a bakery and a card is given. This year, an employee’s birthday was totally forgotten. To add insult to injury, that person was asked to coordinate the “A-list” baby shower, which was the same day as the forgotten employee’s birthday. Ouch!

Do you have any thoughts on how to handle this?

Yeah, unfortunately leaving this stuff informal can lead to exactly what you’re describing — and hurt coworkers who feel like they’re not as much a part of the team than other people. It sucks because it would be nice to be able to be informal about this kind of thing, and it seems silly to have to introduce bureaucracy into it … but based on what you’re seeing, you should probably put someone in charge of coordinating all of these events so they can make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen. (And that person would ideally be given guidelines like: Check with people to see if they want a celebration before you plan one, make contributing money for this stuff opt-in and not opt-out, and so forth.)

6. Including company descriptions on your resume

I’ve seen some resumes with company descriptions on them. An example would be:
XYZ Company
Nonprofit organization whose goal is…Received award for “Being Awesome,” 2011, 2012.

What do you think of adding company descriptions? If I kept my descriptions in, my resume would be three pages. I know enough not to send a three-page resume out and only send out a two-page resume, which is edited to suit the job I’m applying to. Are company descriptions necessary or helpful for hiring managers?

Nope. They take up space and they’re not needed at this point. An interviewer certainly might want to know more about the places you’ve worked at some point, but the time for that is in an interview, not on your resume. Your resume should be about you, not your company.

An exception to this if if you’re including something about the company that better explains your role or achievements there — but don’t include company descriptions for their own sake.

7. I lied on a job application and now face a background check

My cousin made me a CV with false info on it (school, job experience) and now I’m facing a background check in my application. What happens if the employer finds out I didn’t go to the school and have these job experiences?

You will have the job offer pulled and be ineligible to work there in the future. (Or, even worse, if they find out after they’ve already hired you, you’ll be fired.) Most places verify employment and check references, so this is likely to happen again. Stop doing it.

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