short answer Saturday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. Asking my future boss to stop emailing me until I start my new job

I don’t start my new job until March 20. My new boss is already sending me emails detailing meetings I will have to attend after I start — sort of setting up a calendar for me with names, locations, things I am unfamiliar with. At the moment I am dealing with relocating and finding a place to live, which he is aware of. Can I ask him to stop? I am not even on the payroll yet, it seems not nice to bombard me with this stuff when I am already spending all my time setting up my life to just get my life situated to start the job. I don’t know if I can diplomatically say something now — and set some boundaries — or just let it go.

Send your boss an email saying something like, “Thanks for all this! Because I’m in the middle of a move, I probably won’t have a chance to read these thoroughly until I start, but I’m setting them aside for now. I’m really looking forward to the 20th!” Then put them all aside into an email folder and don’t look at them until you start.

In other words, you’re not telling him that he can’t email you — but you’re alerting him that you’re not going to be looking at any of it until you begin work.

2. Asking to leave early every two weeks for a doctor’s appointment, when you’re new

I’m entering my fifth week at a new job as an executive assistant. I’d like to resume my semi-regular mental health doctor appointments. What’s the appropriately professional amount of time that I need to wait before I can ask to leave twenty minutes early one day every other week?

Go ahead and ask now. Just explain that it’s for a recurring medical appointment so that your boss understands the request is more important than if you were asking in service of a movie matinee habit or something like that.

3. Rigid rules for job searching when collecting unemployment

I’m sure it’s no surprise that the Department of Labor is encouraging what constitutes bad job searching tactics, but I’m really curious to know what you think of the new Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which requires those receiving unemployment benefits to track their job search and apply to at least three positions weekly. We are to list the job, where we found it, and any information that we have made available to us. Those who don’t make those three contacts can have their benefits suspended.

I happen to be one of those on unemployment, but my market is a small and tight-knit one. Making three job applications a week would be considered flooding the market. Putting jobs that aren’t in my career choice would possibly trigger the audit process they have now, which also suspends or eliminates your benefits. Three job applications a week seems a bit much to me, especially if you’re already into your career a number of years. Is there a good way to meet the new DOL law requirements without being a bad job applicant, or is this a matter of following the spirit of the new law rather than the letter?

The unemployment benefits system seems to be set up to deal with blue collar jobs and blue collar job searching conventions and not as much with white collar jobs, particularly more senior ones. You could try explaining your situation to your unemployment agency contact and asking for her advice, but with unemployment, the rules tend to be the rules. I agree that they’re not particularly well-suited to quite a few industries.

4. Listing a nearly-completed master’s degree

I never completed the requirements for my masters degree. I attended the program for all 4 required semesters and took all the necessary classes, but due to some personal crap, did not hand in my final paper and so never put in the graduation request.

Should I list on my resume that I attended this school/program? Currently it’s on my resume, and instead of MA, Arts Administration, I state “post-graduate coursework in arts administration.” But I’m worried that having it on there at all leads to questions and confusion and might be turning people off from calling me in for an interview even.

Does it relate to your field? Do you have a gap that you’ll feel awkward about explaining if you don’t list it? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, I’d list it, and wouldn’t worry too much about turning people off. But if it’s not relevant to your field and not causing any work gap issues, listing it might not serve any real purpose.

5. Is this job ad bordering on age discrimination?

I don’t have a problem with jobs listing the number of years of experience wanted in applicants, although I’m aware it can stratify applicants by age. But I’m wondering if this job description is a bit too close to the edge of being discriminatory: “If you are newer in your journalism career, have a passion for politics, an enthusiasm for online content, and a comfort moving through the digital world of web-posting, social media and the Internet, this is your opportunity to develop your skills and take your career to the next level.​”

I think this employer should be a little more careful — this seems to me to be a big red flag saying “no one old need apply.”

It doesn’t strike me that way — they’re looking for someone at a certain stage of experience, which is legitimate and pretty typical. If they rejected a newly minted journalism grad who happened to be 55 because she wasn’t young enough, then sure … but the ad on its own doesn’t raise alarm bells for me.

6. Did I go wrong with this follow-up email?

Within a couple days of applying for a job, I decided to send my first follow-up email. I have heard so much conflicting advice on this subject. Fearing I would come off pushy and desperate, I put a little spin on the email. I emailed the HR person, included some of my interests/experience, and informed her that I had just applied for the open position. Then, I noted that according to their website, they were launching a project that was in line with my interests. Duties pertaining to this project were not in the job description. So I asked her for more information on the project and how someone in the position they were hiring for would/could fit into that project.

My hope was that I would stand out by demonstrating that 1) I am very interested in the position [by sending the email], 2) I actually took the time to research the organization before I applied and 3) I have experience in an upcoming project. Even though she answered my questions, her response to the email was very formal, and the tone seemed like she may have been a bit agitated. I fear that I crossed a line. Would you recommend that I do something similar again, or should I just stay away from any from of follow up e-mails?

Yeah, that’s all stuff that should have gone in your initial cover letter. Sending it later on, before you’ve had any contact from them, just seems like a second cover letter, which is annoying. And asking questions about the project is asking for her time before she’s even determined that you’re a viable candidate, and it’s asking for her time on something that will only be relevant to you if you move forward to an interview — at which point it could be discussed then anyway. So it comes across a little like you’re being disrespectful of her time in order to try to advance your own agenda.

7. Explaining a layoff

I’m hoping you can help me phrase something in interviews so it doesn’t sound awkward and “fumbly.” I began applying to jobs about two months ago after deciding that keeping myself in good mental health was more important than sticking it out in a job that turned out to not be right for me on multiple levels (this was the workplace from hell for me; I was there about 6 months). It turns out that this job search was in fact a good idea because last week the company decided to stop publishing the magazine I was attached to (due to recession-related low ad revenue) and I was therefore laid off.

Now some of the companies I applied to are getting in touch and scheduling interviews. I’ve had two phone interviews so far and of course the “Why are you looking to leave your current position?” question has come up. The resume that these people are working from shows that I’m still employed and I’m afraid that I stumbled my way through the answer, explaining why I wanted to leave and then having to explain that I was just laid off. Even though the layoff was strictly business and not related to my work performance, I’m afraid the timing is making me look bad in terms of when I applied to these jobs and when it happened. With jobs that I apply to from this point forward, this question won’t be a problem, but what’s the best way to phrase my answer to the companies that I applied to before being laid off?

I’d say, “The magazine stopped publishing, and so all the staff is gone as of (date).” You don’t need to get into details about the fact that you were actually sending out resumes before you knew about the layoffs; this is going to be good enough for people. Although if by some chance someone asks you when you knew (which is very unlikely), you can always say that you saw the writing on the wall and started looking before the layoffs were announced.

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