terse answer Thursday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. My office is recruiting candidates at the mall to find a “specific demographic”

The law office where I work is apparently looking for a part-time receptionist. I assumed they placed an ad in the paper like usual when there’s an opening, but today I found out that two of the business office staff went to the mall to scope out candidates. As in, they planned to approach workers in various retailers to tell them about the opening. On their way out of the office, they said they were looking for “a specific demographic.”

I didn’t ask what they meant; I was so surprised I nearly choked! They came back super excited about having found two “girls” in college who would either one be “perfect.” Hopefully they weren’t going for a certain look (but one of them has expressed disgust to me before about overweight people), but I’m sure they were looking for someone bubbly as the last person who had the job was cranky. The mall trip was mandated by the owner of the firm, a male attorney in his mid-60s.

I have no say in any of the decisions, but the idea didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t believe they really did it. Am I just stuck inside an old recruitment box, or am I right thinking that sounds completely crazy?

It’s ridiculous. That’s not how you recruit. It’s also potentially discriminatory, in the illegal sense, depending on what “demographic” they were targeting. Assume you’re working with people who, at a minimum, don’t know how to hire and who might also have some bigotry problems going on as well.

2. Do I need to give earlier notice?

I plan to sign an offer letter with a new employer that has a start date 3 months away. I intend to continue working at my current employer until 2 weeks before my start date and then give notice. Am I under any legal and/or ethical obligation to give notice before that date? Might there be a legal issue if the two employers can be considered competitors in the broadest sense and my current at-will employment agreement forbids “working or consulting” for competitors during my employment?

Nope, that’s fine. You’re not employed by your new employer until your actual start date. You can check your employment agreement to make sure that there isn’t some unusual clause in there about notifying them if you “accept employment with” a competitor, but if it’s a standard agreement that just forbids “working or consulting with” a competitor, you’re fine.

3. Asking about health insurance early in a hiring process

I’m in the process of job hunting, and I’ve noticed a couple of positions at Company X (falling under the general blanket of “Big Data Analytics”) that seem to fit my skills reasonably well, and from what little I can glean at this point, the culture seems to be good, too. However, their website makes no mention of benefits (other than a few relatively minor things such as a casual dress code, etc.).

The thing is, health insurance is something that my wife and I absolutely must have, and for various reasons that I won’t go into, it would be nearly impossible to find affordable coverage for both of us. Obviously, if Company X doesn’t offer health insurance, that’s something that I’m unlikely to be able to negotiate with them. Also, while I certainly know enough not to bring up benefits early (or in the middle of) the application and interview process, I’d hate to waste their time–and mine–only to reach this impasse (if the impasse actually exists, of course, since it’s possible that Company X actually *does* offer health coverage).

So, what would you recommend? Applying anyway and hoping for the best? Trying to somehow diplomatically ask if health insurance could possibly be on the table (and if so, how)? Something else?

If it’s a professional position, I’d assume it offers health insurance; in that context, it’s more common to offer it than not. It’s still a perfectly reasonable question to ask, but the reality is that some interviewers will interpret a question about it at an early stage as seeming overly focused on benefits, rather than the work itself. For that reason, I’d wait until you’re further along in the process, or even until you’re at the offer stage. And yes, I realize that’s ridiculous. (But it’s also true that most of the time, full-time professional positions include insurance.)

4. Applying for a job with someone you previously interviewed with

I’m a recent (2011) grad and am currently working as a child protection social worker. To put it lightly, I hate my job. Before I accepted this position, I had interviewed for a position at a local nonprofit providing counseling and outreach around tobacco use. I almost had the job, and lost it to a classmate with zero relevant experience but a father in politics with money to spend. I realize that sounds bitter, but we were a small class and she confided this to me not knowing I was the other candidate. She recently asked me for interview advice so that she could get a job similar to mine, and it worked — and her job has been reposted. The employer had offered me a volunteer position, but I declined as I had to relocate to accept my current job. Both interviews went extremely well at the nonprofit, and I think we parted on good terms.

The contact is the same woman with whom I interviewed. Should I apply just by sending my resume? Or should I try and reach out more informally first?

If it’s an electronic application system, apply through it and then send her an email letting her know that you did, reminding her of your conversations with her last year, and letting her know that you’re really interested in talking about the position again. If it’s not an electronic application system and the instructions just say to email her a resume and cover letter, then do that — but say what the stuff above in your cover letter to her. (Which can be a semi-informal, conversational email.)

5. Do I need to tell an interviewer I was laid off from my job since applying?

I read your post about whether you should tell recruiters you were laid off and, yes, when asked, it seems that it’s best to admit the truth. However, I applied for a job while employed and, two weeks later, I am interviewing for the job after having been laid off. (My department was restructured and my position was eliminated, though I left “in good standing” with a letter of recommendation.) Should I volunteer this information during the interview or wait until it comes up? The new position really is a continuation of my old position — almost the exact same job, but in a directorial capacity and at a different organization. I’d think my position being eliminated (it was a new position, at that) only makes me look less qualified to have more responsibility in this area.

Should I tell them outright during the interview? I figure it will catch up with me eventually. My current Linkedin profile reflects that I’m no longer employed. Also, I’m concerned about salary leverage if I admit it too early.

You were employed when you applied, so you didn’t misrepresent anything on your resume. This is no different than if you’d voluntary resigned after applying for a job. You don’t need to volunteer the information, but you shouldn’t lie. If asked, explain that you left during a restructuring. (You can even word it exactly like that, which leaves hazy the question of whether it was voluntary or not — although obviously if directly asked, you tell the truth.) But you’re under no obligation to raise this if it doesn’t come up.

6. Negotiating a later start date

My partner and I will be traveling for 3 weeks in January to visit family on a different continent. Most of the job postings I’m looking at right now have a start date on January 1. What is the best way to handle this?

Do I tell an interviewer up front that I’ll be gone for 3 weeks in the first month? Do I only bring it up when I have an actual offer, and then try to negotiate a start date in February? Do I simply not apply for jobs with a start date in January? Please assume that cancelling the trip is not an option.

Wait and see how the process plays out. Lot of employers think they’re going to hire someone by a particular date, when in reality it will take far longer. There’s a good chance that some of these jobs are going to end up with later start dates. But if things do seem to be moving reasonably quickly, yes, try to negotiate a later start date once you have an offer. (Don’t try to ask for three weeks of vacation in your first month; that will generally look naive.) However, if you get the sense during the interview process that they’re serious about that January 1 start date, say something then — otherwise, in that context, you’ll look like you were operating in bad faith if you wait.

Also, keep in mind that you may end up in a position where you need to choose between a job you want and the trip — some employers may not be able or willing to be as flexible as you need, so be prepared to make that choice if it comes to that.

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