my coworkers joke about my predecessors being fired, the impersonality of email rejections, and more

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

1. Are email rejections impersonal? Should I use postal mail instead?

I like to respond to applicants who do not get the position they have applied for. I think it is just the right thing to do, as that way it is a point of closure for people. I was wondering however, is it somewhat impersonal to send an email rejection or as I call them “Thin Letter,” versus a mailed letter? Do you have any suggestions on how to make them less impersonal? I am moving from mailed letters to emails, but I just think it is still somewhat cold.

Actually, most applicants prefer email. It’s faster, and it’s a common mode of communication. It’s also kind of weird to apply online or by email, and then get a rejection letter in the mail. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if people felt the postal letters were more impersonal than an email.

What really matters is your wording. That’s where you have the opportunity to ensure you’re conveying warmth rather than chilliness.

2. My coworkers joke about my predecessors being fired

I’m relatively new at my job, and occasionally my coworkers joke about the people who have had my position before me who have gotten fired, including the details of escorting each person out. Am I paranoid to think I could be next?

Why not ask them what’s up? Pick the one who you have the best rapport with and say something like, “You guys have made so many comment about people in my position being fired that it’s hard not to wonder what that means for me. What happened with the previous people?” You’re hoping for a response like, “Oh, they were terrible and there were obvious warning signs, and we can all tell you’re different for them.” But you want to be alert for things like “there’s no way to please the manager,” “the role is set up for failure,” “people think they’re doing fine and the next day they’re fired,” etc. But just ask — they’re making comments, so the subject obviously isn’t off-limits … and it actually might be weirder NOT to ask in the context of those jokes.

3. Should I send a less-than-perfect work sample?

A job to which I’m applying wants five work samples. It also asks me to “Tell us about why you selected the samples of your work to submit.” This is a journalism job, and photography, while secondary, is becoming more and more a part of the online work I do. My photos have good composition but the lighting was not good and my camera is older. Is the poor lighting something I should acknowledge when submitting a particular work sample? In other words, is it okay to say, “While the lighting here is not ideal because I was indoors, this photo tells the story of the event”? Or should I just ignore the not-great parts of the photo and trumpet the positive?

I’d absolutely include the caveat about the lighting, because otherwise you’re likely to come across as someone who doesn’t realize it. It’s much better to acknowledge that you do get that than to seem oblivious. (Although if you had additional, stronger photos you could send as well, that could be helpful. And of course, if the job you’re applying for includes photography as opposed to just reporting, you’d definitely want to find better samples of that, because in that case the photos would be a much more relevant part of your work sample.)

4. Is my book deal hurting my job prospects?

I’m underemployed right now, in a somewhat complicated situation. I’m a writer. I do freelancing when I can, but most of my writing (that wasn’t for my previous job) is blogging I do in my spare time. I have a sizeable audience — enough that I’ve garnered a contract for a book coming out in a couple years.

I’ve put this information on my resume, because what’s better for a writer than to say “Hey, look, a book!” right there upfront, right? And I’m looking for writing jobs in fields similar to what my book is on (it’s nonfiction). But I realized after a few months of only getting a couple calls for interviews that my book deal might be hindering my search more than helping it. I may be giving potential employers the impression that I’m more concerned about my writing career and will leave as soon as that takes off.

I’ve tried to be as upfront about the book as I can in my job search and framed it (in cover letters and interviews) as “Writing is something I’m passionate about, and X position would help me in that endeavor and challenge me as a writer by Y and Z.” Am I approaching this in the right way? I don’t want to come off as someone who’s just looking for a day job to support her hobby, but I’m worried employers get that impression simply because I have a book coming out! Are my concerns legitimate?

Actually, I think the problem is less your upcoming book deal and more how you’re framing it. Look what you’re saying to them: “Writing is something I’m passionate about, and X position would help me in that endeavor” (employers aren’t interested in helping you in that endeavor; they’re interested in you helping them in their work) “and challenge me as a writer by Y and Z” (they’re not interested in challenging you as a writer; they’re interested in you getting their work done well). You’re presenting this all as YOU YOU YOU, when at the cover letter and interview stage of the hiring process, employers are much more about THEM THEM THEM. And if they did have any minor worries about whether you were more committed to your blog and book than to the job with them, that framing is going to blow it up in a major way for them.

Try refocusing on how your skills will help them and see if it doesn’t get you different results.

5. My son is being treated unfairly at work

My 23-year-old son works in a manufacturing plant. He is very diligent and has a great work ethic. He has also been written up for items he was never told about. He was not made aware of the write-ups. He’s in school for electrical engineering right now and works third shift but works over often and is called in on nights that he is suppose to have off. He has learned all of the machines in the plant and comes in handy when they break down and is called upon to do this job. He is even asked to oversee testing of new machines.

Recently he has put in an application for mechanic and is being denied the job because of the write-ups. In my opinion, they’re working him hard and paying him minimal ($12.50/hour) because they have him between a rock and a hard place. He’s been with the company now 3-1/2 years. Something needs to give here. Any ideas?

If your son isn’t happy with his pay or his hours, and his employer isn’t willing to change those things, then your son would need to either accept that and decide he can be reasonably happy with the job anyway or start looking for a job somewhere else.

But keep in mind that this is his career, not yours. You can certainly give advice if asked, but he needs to steer this, not you. And meanwhile, be careful to avoid the “my kid is being treated unfairly” trap, which can be easy for parents to fall into when they’re only getting one side of the story — or even when they’re getting all of it, if they tend to think their kid is great and others should do a better job of recognizing it. (I’m not saying that’s the case with you — just throwing it out as something to think about.)

6. How should I list language proficiency on my resume?

I was recently certified at the Intermediate Mid level in a Spanish oral proficiency exam. I’m looking for advice on how to add this information to my resume. When I do a Google search for how to indicate language skills on a resume, I find most mention language ability in terms of being conversant, proficient, or fluent but rarely specify oral proficiency vs written proficiency. While I believe my skills are equal in terms of my reading, speaking, and writing ability, my certification is specifically for Spanish oral proficiency. Also, my certification was completed with a computer based exam but there is also a non-computer based exam, should I indicate that as well so that its clear which exam I took? Or is that overkill?

The certification is through the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages which is a respected organization but I don’t know that its well known outside of the fields of education or language testing. Because of the lengthy name, I’d like to use an abbreviation (ACTFL) instead but I’m not sure if this is appropriate when I’m unsure if it will be recognizable to the person reviewing my resume.

Finally, I was rated as Intermediate Mid. This rating is not redundant as they have Intermediate Low, Intermediate Advanced, Advanced Low, etc. I don’t know if this will be understood if I put it on my resume as Intermediate Mid. Should I simply state Intermediate?

I’m thinking that it will ultimately look something like this and might appear to be overly wordy and redundant:
Certificate in Spanish Oral Proficiency – Intermediate Mid Level, American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages Computer Based Oral Proficiency Interview, 2013

You’re including way too much information. Unless you are in a field where everyone will know and be impressed by that particular test, I’d just state it in terms of conversant, proficient, or fluent, just as your Google search suggested to you. You can add “oral and written” if you prefer.

7. Which post generated the most comments?

I noticed that the letter regarding the racist Halloween costumes has now generated 746 comments. I myself have been checking back to it for the past couple of days. The response activity made me wonder…what post (if not this one) has generated the most response from us?

That was the third highest ever, leaving out open threads (which have generated 900+ comments on occasion). The two that topped the Halloween costume post are:

bad interviewers and weird candidates – (858 comments — although to be fair, this was a request for stories)

can I expose this terrible interviewer? (771 comments)

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