mini answer Monday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Emailing prospective coworkers about a job opening

I’m going to apply to a job at a research position and noticed that the website for the employer lists the current research analysts. Would it be inappropriate to contact these analysts and asking about the nature of their work? They’re doing the same job that I would be doing. While I have the educational background for the position, I have never worked in that field. I’m also curious about a quantitative exam that is part of the interview process. I feel uncomfortable thinking about the possibility of taking a test that I can’t prepare for.

Don’t do it — for the same reasons that it wouldn’t be appropriate to contact the hiring manager to ask about this stuff at this stage. First, you’d be asking the employer to spend time with you before they’ve even determined that you’re a candidate they’re interested in interviewing (and yes, it’s not the hiring manager, but asking the potential peers is still asking the employer to spend time/resources talking with you about the job prematurely). Second, in asking about the exam, you’re asking for an unfair advantage over other candidates, and that’s unlikely to reflect well on you.

Apply for the job, and if you get far along in the process — to a second interview or beyond — at that point it could be appropriate to ask to talk to potential coworkers.

2. Asking job candidates about their experience with Microsoft Office

For the first time, I have to interview a number of people for a job opening in my office, so you have to pardon my skills as an interviewer! We are a boutique investment firm. We are hiring for an entry-level administrative person to support an advisor and his associates. I am one of the associates who has to conduct the first round of interviews.

Among other things, we want to hire someone who has strong computer skills and can work on complicated project on Microsofl Office. Obviously, we recognize that not everyone has the superior skills for working on a complicated Excel document or creating a nice PowerPoint with interesting graphics. However, for a few candidates I have interviewed so far, when I asked if they were good with Microsoft Office, most of them said something to the effect of, “Trust me, I can do everything you want!” However, when I pressed further and asked if they had experience doing mail merge or creating a pie chart, they would give me a blank face. So far, I only have one candidate who I believed was honest with her computer skills.

I am wondering if I should ask this question a different way. Or I should read their answer differently? At this moment, I can only understand this answer as that they are desperate for a job.

Yes, the question is the problem. “Are you good with Microsoft Office?” is unclear and totally open to the candidate’s interpretation. Lots of people think they’re good at Office but can’t do mail merges. You don’t really care about their own subjective self-assessment anyway; what you care about is what they can actually do in the program. So instead, ask specifically what you want to know: What experience do you have doing mail merges? How often have you used Excel to create charts? Etc. (And absolutely make sure that you see these skills in action before you hire anyone.)

3. Company wants employees not to mention her upcoming departure to coworkers or customers

I am at a loss to give my daughter advice, although I know what I would do. Briefly: Friday she submitted her 2-week resignation (after working for 5 years there) due to a conflict with a manager (not her team leader, but the manager above her). She has been asked to perform “business as usual” to her customers and her coworkers during an upcoming conference (Monday) and subsequent meetings (even though they have her letter of resignation). Her job entails extensive travel, and she has to schedule meetings weeks in advance and she will be meeting some of her customers Monday (knowing full well she will not be the person servicing their accounts a month from now). The company has put a gag order on her and she is not to indicate to either customers or coworkers she has resigned during this 2-week period. She is conflicted on how to handle this situation, on both a professional level as well as ethical (lying to her customers).

The company is certainly entitled to tell her that they’re not ready to announce her resignation yet … and she’s also entitled to explain that she’s not comfortable misleading coworkers or customers into believing that she’ll be there longer than she will. If she decides to say that to them, she should be prepared for the possibility that they’ll tell her to leave immediately rather than working out the notice period, but she’s certainly entitled to take that stance if she wants to.

4. Store wants me to hire more women than men

I am a store manager at a medium-sized retail store in Massachusetts. We are currently hiring for spring, and I do the interviews and make the hiring decisions. At a recent meeting with my regional manager, I was told that because our company’s product leans towards women, our employees must be at least 80% female. What are the legalities of this? I have plenty of well-qualified male applicants, but I can’t even call them in for an interview. They would rather see young, good looking females on the sales floor, whether they are qualified are not. I am not comfortable with this, and am actually afraid of a lawsuit. Any advice?

It’s illegal to make hiring decisions based on gender, unless the company can show that gender is a bona fide occupational requirement. For instance, part of the job is helping female customers in dressing rooms and your customers are mainly female, you might be able to legitimately favor women in the hiring process. But if a man could do the job just as effectively, then favoring women would be illegal.

You mentioned they also want you to hire “young” women. That’s almost certainly illegal, because it’s illegal to discriminate against people over 40 in hiring.

I’d point this all out to them and tell them that you’re not comfortable violating these laws.

5. Following up on an interview that is supposed to be rescheduled

I’m so frustrated and need your advice. I had a first-round interview over the phone that went well and led to an in-person interview scheduled for the following week. The day of the interview arrives and I meet with the HR rep in person first. He was then about to bring me upstairs to meet the department director when his assistant told him that there was an important phone call. Turns out the director had an emergency meeting and that I had to re-schedule my interview with her. The HR rep told me someone would be calling me that afternoon or the following day to reschedule.

It’s now the following day and I have heard nothing. I don’t want this opportunity to pass me by but I don’t want to appear like a stalker either. I’ve already left one voicemail and plan to follow up Monday. Do you recommend me just bypassing HR and contacting the director to schedule the interview? I’m so upset, as this is my dream company.

No, don’t go around the HR person; that will come across as circumventing the company’s own practices for your own convenience and you’ll risk annoying both people.

Whenever you’re in a hiring process, assume that “within a couple of days” means “within a week or so, maybe a a bit longer.” It’s fine to follow up today and say that you’re eager to reschedule, but ultimately this is in their court and you can’t force them to move at your preferred speed.

Meanwhile, it might help to remember that this probably isn’t your dream company, as much as you might feel sure that it is. That’s the kind of thing that’s pretty impossible to know from the outside.

6. Employer decided to restructure, freezing the opening I was applying for

I was interviewed for a position I was really excited for back on the 15th of January. Everything went really well, and a week and a half later they contacted my references. After another week, I became anxious and decided to send a follow-up email to the HR rep. She sent me a really cryptic email saying, “Please give me a call.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, and sure enough, when I phoned, she explained to me that she had a job offer ready and then she was told to cancel everything and put the position on hold, as they were going to restructure the department.

What I’m wondering is if this was just bad timing or does this kind of thing happen often? Should I wait and send another follow-up in a few weeks or should I just give up on the position? I mean, I was sooooo close, wasn’t I?

Yes, it was bad timing, and yes, this kind of thing isn’t uncommon. Departments sometimes get restructured, and if that happens while there’s an ongoing hiring process, it makes sense to halt the hiring until the restructure is done. While it’s frustrating if you’re a candidate in the middle of that, this is actually a lot better than getting hired, having the restructure happen a few weeks later, and finding yourself restructured out of your new position after only a month into it.

You can absolutely send a follow-up in a few weeks to ask about the likely timeline for making any decisions, but in the meantime, try to put this job out of your head and proceed with your job search as if this was a rejection — because there may be no opening remaining when they’re done.

7. Following up with a contact who mentioned a possible job opening

I’m currently a student in library school and in December I had an informational interview with a librarian at a law library. During the course of the interview with the librarian, she casually mentioned a project relating to the history of the law firm that she was considering hiring a student to complete in the summer, after she mentioned it she said that she might think of me for it because I have a background in history.

Would be appropriate to contact her in the upcoming weeks about the possibility of that position happening (because she did mention she’d need to get the required permission from her employer, the proper grants, etc.)? Personally, I feel a bit uncomfortable contacting her about that position for fear of being seen as annoying and desperate. However, lots of people I know are telling me that I should contact her again and ask her about it. If it is appropriate to contact her, what is the best way to do so with, again, not appearing as annoying or desperate. I’m a bit new to networking and I really want to be careful with what I do, but I feel conflicted about what I should be doing here.

Yes, you should contact her. Email her and say that you’ve been thinking about the project she mentioned and that you’d love to throw your hat in the ring for it if she’s going to move forward with it. Ask her to keep you in mind if she does, and tell her you’d be glad to formally apply once she’s ready for that. This is normal and not annoying.

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