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This Week’s Question: Paying to work from home?
QUESTION: Dear Counselor,
I’m looking for a job where I can work from home. A lot of places look okay at first, but then they want me to send them money for a background check or a start up kit. Most of them are not too expensive, but some are over $200. I want to apply for jobs, but should I plan to spend money doing it?
Anxious at Home
ANSWER: Dear Anxious at Home,
This is an excellent question, especially in the days of COVID-19. Many people feel safer when they’re able to get a paycheck without leaving home. But like all job searches, common sense applies.
Would you walk into a job interview with a copy of your resume and $200 check for the interviewer? Of course not! The same rules apply online. An established, legitimate company is not going to require any cash to process your application. They know the cost of hiring new employees is part of doing business.
If an application includes a fee for a background check, typically in the $40-$50 range, you’re likely applying to be a contract worker and probably paying the company to review your application as well. While there is nothing inherently wrong with working as a contractor instead of an employee, you’ll be responsible for paying all of your income taxes and likely all of your home office expenses as well. Contractor positions rarely come with health insurance or paid vacation time. You’ll want to factor all these costs into the rate of pay.
When it comes to your home workspace, the answers to “who buys what” aren’t always clearcut. While most legitimate companies provide the minimum equipment needed to do the job, such as a laptop and possibly a mouse and keyboard, the cost of high speed internet, a phone and headset, and additional monitors may fall to you. This is an important point to clarify if you get to the interview stage.
Speaking of getting interviews, I’d like to remind you not to put all your eggs into one basket. The chances of receiving a response when you apply for a job online run between 5% and 20%, depending on the market and the type of job. Since the market is currently flooded with workers looking for the same thing you are, I’m going to suggest you think outside the keyboard. Spend a few minutes every day networking with friends and acquaintances and reaching out to smaller, local companies you admire. While you’re wanting to work from home, they might be looking for new hires to do just that.
Best of luck to you, Anxious, and stay safe!
Job loss during COVID-19
QUESTION: My company contracts management services to hotels and with the coronavirus, we have almost no work at the present. My job is to schedule “freshen” crews for properties and I am very good at choosing which teams are best for which properties. I’m sure that I’ll be out of a job soon. What other jobs would I be able to do?
ANSWER: You haven’t said how long you’ve worked at your current job, but you do say you are very good at it. If you’re a good employee, there’s a possibility that you may be allowed to work in a different role for the time being so you can hang onto your job and your benefits. Talk with your team leader or your HR manager to see what’s available. Stay positive and polite through all your conversations so that even if they let you go, you can come back later. If there is absolutely no chance that your company can keep you, there are some markets that are thriving during this time.
Being good at scheduling means that you are good at analyzing needs, and since you say you also take into consideration which teams to send to which properties, that indicates that you are also able to communicate well to learn what each property needs and plan around their schedules. In the current job market, there is a tremendous need for people with your strengths and experience to assist in deliveries of all kinds. Consider looking at major suppliers that are looking for help scheduling deliveries, i.e., Amazon, Instacart, large grocery chains, and so on and go to their websites to look for job openings. Also go to the websites of local companies that have switched over to deliveries, including nonprofits such as food banks. Remember, it is always important to network, so talk to people, not companies, whenever possible.
Ask The Counselor, Military Edition
QUESTION: Is it okay to put military experience on my resume?
ANSWER: First, all of us at CMI thank you for your service. This is a great question! Yes, yes, yes, include your military experience on your resume. There are few other jobs that allow you to showcase your high level of commitment in this way.
As far as formatting your resume, you’ll want to use something like this: Your highest rank, which branch, what responsibilities and dates. Here is an example from Bradley-Morris, Inc.
COMPANY EXECUTIVE / MAINTENANCE OFFICER 2013 – Present
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division – Ft. Hood, TX and Baghdad, Iraq
Planned and coordinated operator and organizational level maintenance and services for 41 vehicles. Project Manager for the 2nd Brigade Infrastructure Coordination Element in charge of planning, coordinating and managing sanitation, road and school renovation projects in Baghdad, Iraq. Also served as the Personal Security Detachment Officer in Charge and led more than 200 combat patrols in Central and South Baghdad.
- Due to the high degree of discipline within the security detachment, hand-selected to train an Infantry Division and Civil Affairs Company on combat patrolling and operations.
- Managed 40 civic reconstruction projects in Baghdad valued at nearly $5 million designed to significantly improve the lives of local Iraqi people.
- Awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service while assigned as the Infrastructure Coordination Element Project Manager and Combat Patrol Leader during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The skills you acquired during your time in the military are absolutely transferrable to the private sector. In fact, Monster.com has a great article here on “demilitarizing” your resume. Remember to include what you contributed to make each achievement possible. Read our Resume 101 Series to learn how!
Letters of recommendation?
QUESTION: Should I get letters of recommendation when I apply for a new job? My old boss said she would write one for me.
ANSWER: Honestly, I do not advocate the use of unsolicited letters of recommendation. They should be provided only upon request of the employer.
Letters of recommendation are quaint holdovers from gentler times when methods of communications were slow and employers often took a long-term interest in their employees.
Going to an interview in the modern, fast-paced marketplace armed with letters of recommendation can reduce the time you have to present yourself. And if your interviewer requests them, this gives you another chance for a conversation!
How to explain not working for a year?
QUESTION: Is there anything special I should say in my cover letter or resume to explain why I’ve been out of work for a year?
ANSWER: Yes, and that’s an interesting question. I am already curious as to why you have been out of work for a year, which is a good indicator that most people will be wondering the same thing.
There are many reasons for not getting back into the workforce quickly, but if during the past year you have been active in community groups, have volunteered, traveled, furthered your education, or started a family, there is no reason why you shouldn’t note this in your resume or your cover letter.
- Volunteered at a local animal shelter three days a week.
- Spent 12 months preparing a new baby for day care.
- Traveled extensively through the U.S. and maintained a popular travel blog.
Even if you actually didn’t do anything, consider how you will discuss your hiatus. Employers are open to hearing that you took time to re-assess your career path or goals as long as you back it up with your intention to use the strengths, skills and knowledge that you used in a previous job.
- Reassessed goals and career direction based on the strengths and skills utilized in a previous workplace. Was able to focus on practicing day-to-day problem solving and communication skills, which will transfer easily to a new job.
Practice saying out loud what you wrote so that when you discuss it during interviews, you are comfortable, forthright and upbeat. Good luck!
Handling workplace holiday gifts
QUESTION: My boss is very generous at the holidays and always gives each of us some sort of nice gift, which his wife spends a lot of time shopping for. All 13 of us at the company really appreciate our gifts, but they are usually not something that we would have bought for ourselves. How can we get him to give us a check or a gift card instead?
ANSWER: Your boss (and his wife) probably believe that giving a gift that was chosen especially for each of you shows a personal touch and indicates how much he values you and your coworkers. Also, he may not be financially able to give each of you a check or a gift card in an amount that he would like to give, but he is able to give a gift.
You have two choices: one is to graciously accept your gift and if you really don’t want it, then to re-gift or donate it. Or, you could talk with him and tell him that while you are so appreciative of the gifts that you have received, you would really appreciate getting a bonus check or a gift card instead since there are a number of ways that you could use either.
If you choose to go with option two, you stand the chance of hurting his (and his wife’s) feelings, so the decision is up to you. Good luck and happy holidays.
What does an outplacement service do?
QUESTION: My company eliminated my position and told me that I could use the services of an outplacement firm as part of my separation package. I don’t know what to expect, or what I should do in advance. I already have a resume. Should I still contact the outplacement firm?
ANSWER: Yes, you should absolutely contact the outplacement firm! There is much more to outplacement than a resume (but that’s definitely a part of the process). A reputable and competent career counselor will work with you on the following:
- Completing a professional resume that communicates your marketable strengths
- Presenting yourself accurately and confidently during job interviews and salary negotiation
- Monitoring and mentoring you and your family as you progress through the program toward success
Outplacement service is a gift from your company. Take advantage of it!
Do Your Homework To Find Work!
QUESTION: I have a diploma in hospitality management, and I have sent several job applications to hotels without getting any response. Is there any other company I can get to work with apart from the hotels?
ANSWER: The hospitality industry is a broad category of fields within the service industry that includes lodging, event planning, theme parks, transportation, cruise lines, and others. You will have the best chance of success if you do more than just apply for positions at companies within this sector that have posted openings.
Once you have identified a company as a place where you would like to work, try and identify someone you know who works there, or someone who knows someone who works there. Chances are they can introduce you to the hiring manager, or at least vouch for you as capable and dependable. If you don’t have a connection, you can always send an unsolicited communication. However, it is important to understand that when people simply send unsolicited communications, they normally go into what is essentially a black hole unless steps are taken to prevent it from happening.
To stand out from the crowd, try reaching out by phone first to find out where you should direct your communication. Then contact that person or department using a “turnover” email. This type of communication is called a “turnover” email because the goal is for the person who receives it to turn it over to the person responsible for making the selection decision. This increases your chances of being interviewed for the position as you have already gotten someone’s attention who is on the inside. When writing a “turnover” email you should:
- Explain your reason for writing to this particular person.
- State your career objective and give a brief summary of the reasons for it.
- Mention your intense interest in the company (citing at least one specific reason for that interest) and ask for a meeting to discuss how you can contribute, now or in the future.
Here is an example of a “turnover” email that you can modify to meet your specific needs. Remember, the more homework you do in advance, the more you will shine as a candidate.
Dear Mr. Kirkwood,
I am writing to you because I own one of your alerts and I am delighted with the extreme sensitivity of its sensor. I have used your Alert-Guard III to protect a manufacturing process (replacing a much more expensive sensor, with better results). I have watched your company grow very quickly over the past two years and have been impressed with the market share you have acquired. I am especially impressed with your partnership with the city fire department to provide protection to local hospitals. The quality of your products is the highest I have seen, and the approaches you have used to position alert cause me to believe that your company is the type of firm with which I want to align.
I wish to further my career as a product manager. I have successfully taken products similar to your Alert-Guard from the drawing board to final packaging and sales. I believe that my consumer and industrial experience will ensure your own market expansion by reducing costs and improving margins.
Please forward this information to the appropriate person in your organization and let them know that I am currently available for a brief (20 minute) meeting at 1:00 pm on Tuesday March 7th or Thursday the 9th at 10:00 am. Please reply and let me know if either of those times work. I understand how busy all of you are, so if I haven’t heard from anyone at your organization by Wednesday, I will call you at your office for additional guidance.
I am looking forward to meeting with Alert-Guard.
Michael J. Nelson
Dallas, TX 71234
Multiple job offers, should I wait for “the one?”
QUESTION: I have been networking for a bit over two months and have received two offers this week. While both offers made my “Top 5 potential best positions”, I am hoping for an offer from a third company, which is #1 on my list. How can I delay finalization on the two offers I’ve received and speed up an offer from the organization that I really want?
ANSWER: All of the hard work that you’ve put in over the past few months has led you here, so congratulations! This is a potentially tricky situation to navigate. If you are hoping to land an offer from your top target, the key is to figure out how to play defense with the two companies that have made offers while stepping up the offense on your dream job.
The first thing is to reach out to your prospective dream employer. Let them know that you would really like to work for them and that you can bring skills and experiences to help them reach their goals and objectives. Tell them that you have received other offers and you will need to respond soon. You are contacting them to let them know that if they hope to hire you that it is time for them to move. This takes care of the offense.
For the defense, come up with questions for the offers you already received. This will buy you time and might turn a #2 option into a a stronger contender. Consider what changes could make these offers more attractive.
Good areas to be sure you have covered:
- Total compensation including benefits – take your time to analyze these
- Potential for advancement
- Additional education/training required or appreciated
- Amount of travel expected
If you can identify the changes that might allow you to accept an amended offer from either of these companies, those should become your negotiating points. The negotiations will likely take time, and company #1 may come through with an offer during that time.
Interviewing. What are my biggest weaknesses?
QUESTION: How do I answer the standard interview question, “What do you consider your biggest weaknesses to be?” I feel like none of my interviews are successful because I always stumble on this question.
ANSWER: This question has tripped up many an interviewee. The great news is, once you know how to answer it, you can be head and shoulders above the competition. Here are some great approaches:
One, honesty is the best policy. Before your interview, analyze the skills and strengths required for the position and come up with an honest shortcoming. But choose one which is not essential for success in that job. For example, if you are applying for an operations position, you might share that you are not particularly adept at sales, especially if that is something that you have tried earlier in your career.
Two, learn from past mistakes. Avoid talking about any current weaknesses. Instead, mention your ability to self-assess and identify weaknesses, and offer specific examples of how you found and dealt with them in the past. Did you take a course or participate in training sessions to improve on a specific skill? Did you seek out guidance from your previous boss or colleagues? Did you simply make a conscious effort to rid yourself of that weakness? Tell the interviewer what you did and the results of your actions.
Third, turn a negative into a positive. For example, you might communicate to the interviewer that because you tend to focus on the big picture, you realized that you were sometimes missing the details. Add that after realizing this, you’ve made a concentrated effort to attend to details. Share one of your accomplishments where you focused on both the big picture and the details. Be sure to include a quick statement about the positive results. Use this opportunity to turn a negative into a positive!
Unemployed. Should I Be Embarrassed?
QUESTION: I am between jobs right now, and I don’t know what to say to people when they ask questions about what I do. I feel like I’m not whole if I can’t say “I’m working as…. Is this normal?
ANSWER: We do not have to BE what we DO. We are often asked about our profession with this question, “what do you do”? How do we usually respond?
Often, by saying “I am…”. This language tells us how we think about what we do. Consciously or not, we equate our job with WHO we are, as if it were a permanent part of our identity. This attitude adds a measure of distress when we are out of work. We often mistakenly believe that without a certain job, we have no identity. Don’t allow that kind of thinking to burden you even more. You work in a profession, but you are not the sum total of the profession.
How Do I Switch Careers?
QUESTION: I’ve been at the same job for over 20 years, and now I’m ready to branch out and try my hand at something else. What is the best way to go about deciding where I will best fit in another industry?
ANSWER: First, gain an understanding of what you bring to the marketplace. Have your past successes included managing or leading, coaching or teaching, organizing, creating new ways to solve old problems, or other activities? As you think about your successes, consider the actions you took that supported them – your actions can be translated into action words that will help you describe what you are good at doing.
Have you heard about or researched any industries that are of interest to you? If not, you should begin your research now, in order to get general information about each of them. Begin your research online so that you get some general information about each industry. Ask yourself what you would like to have as part of your job environment in a new industry that you did not have in the job you held for twenty years. Do you want more freedom, perhaps with the ability to work from home, or to travel, or to simply be more in charge of your schedule and your production? Do you want to work in an industry that promotes health, cost effective production, clean air, more efficient delivery of services? What type of industry fits your values? Have you ever dreamed about doing something for which you were qualified, but just never pursued? Try to look at no more than five general industries as you begin your exploration so that you don’t become a victim of “analysis paralysis”!
After you have done your beginning exploration, begin to network with others in your chosen industries. The more people you talk with, the more you will be able to “look inside” of these industries and learn how your previous actions might fit into the mission of each of the industries. When you find that you are interested in learning more about a specific industry or two, your goal should then be to expand your networking to additional people in those industries, so that you get more and more information about specific jobs that match your strengths.
Now, you are in a perfect position to begin your actual job search focusing on one, or perhaps, two industries.
Is It Okay to Name-drop?
QUESTION: I have an old friend who works at a company where I really want to work. I’ve asked her numerous times, but she won’t put in a good word for me. Is there something I can do to change her mind? Can I go ahead and tell them I know her?
ANSWER: There’s no way to know for sure why your friend won’t vouch for you. Maybe she’s concerned that if you don’t turn out to be a good employee, you could damage her reputation. Or maybe she likes to keep her personal life and her business life separate. Without asking her directly, and getting an honest answer, you can only speculate about her motives.
If you want to try one last time to change her mind about it, then you need to sit her down and hand her a copy of your resume or completed job application. Let her read it over, and answer any questions she has about it. Then tell her that you admire her employer, and if you worked there, you would be a good employee. Tell her that you were on time every day at your previous job, that you volunteered to do extra work when it was needed, and that you got along well with your boss and your coworkers. Tell her you always do your best to make a good impression at work. Tell her that you understand that the workplace is for business, and you would never confuse work time with social time.
If you can honestly say all of this to her and she still won’t put in a good word for you, then it’s never going to happen. If you find that you can’t honestly say it, well, now you know why she hasn’t introduced you to the boss.
And no, you absolutely cannot use her name without her permission. At the very least, you’ll have one very angry friend. At the very worst, you’ll lose both a friend and a job when you get caught.
Disclosure of Insubordination?
QUESTION: I was recently fired from my last job for insubordination. I was at the company for a few years, and never had any problems until recently. Should I put the job on my resume, so that there isn’t a lapse in my work history?
ANSWER: That’s a really good question. You don’t say whether this was a new manager that you had problems with, or maybe you just had a few really bad days at work. We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re usually pretty easy to work with and this has never happened before. In that case, the answer is yes. Go ahead and include the job on your resume. But be ready with a good response when you’re asked why you left your last employer because that will be one of the first questions you’ll hear in an interview.
Try saying this, “I was very happy at my job for years, and I got along well with my supervisors and co-workers. In fact, I was even recognized by management for my contribution to (give an example of time at work that you were commended). However, toward the end of my employment, there was were changes in the workplace that led to my termination. Nothing like that has ever happened in my work history, and it was as surprising as it was unprecedented. I have learned quite a bit about myself through this transition, and I now have a better understanding of what I can bring to an organization in terms of my abilities, strengths, and skills.” This statement will allow you to mention one or two of your past accomplishments which illustrate your success.
Be honest, be appropriate, and never badmouth your previous employers or co-workers.
What to Wear?
QUESTION: I’m going for an interview at a very casual company. Everyone there wears jeans most of the time. What should I wear to the interview? I don’t want to overdress and look out of place, but I can’t imagine wearing jeans to interview for a job. Please help!
ANSWER: The old saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, doesn’t apply here. While you certainly don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, especially on the day you’re trying to make a great first impression, it’s even more important to look like you really care about the job and the interviewer’s time. With more and more companies allowing workers to dress down, it’s hard to be sure exactly what’s appropriate. When choosing an outfit for an interview, it’s generally safe to aim for neutral ground.
For both men and women, nice slacks and a pressed, button-down shirt should do the trick at even the most casual of companies. If the weather is chilly, a light jacket or blazer is absolutely fine. Don’t forget to shine your shoes. If you’re concerned that something is too flashy, it probably is. You want the interviewer to remember you and your charm, not your orange plaid pants. Dress wild at the company picnic, after you get the job. For the interview, go traditional.
No Job Postings?
QUESTION: How should I approach a company I want to work for, but is not advertising?
ANSWER: The best way is almost always to try to network your way into the company – that is, to find someone you know who knows someone else in the company and can arrange an introduction. The person you’re introduced to, incidentally, doesn’t necessarily have to be in the department you ultimately want to work in. All you’re looking for is a name that you can use to make the connection to the right person.
After you get a name, the best thing to do is to write a concise note that spells out what you think you can offer and to follow up that note with a phone call. To increase your chances of gaining a meeting with the person you’re trying to reach, don’t ask about a job. Instead, ask if you can come in and get some information about the best way to get launched in the field. Be sure to include your contact information on all of your correspondence, but don’t wait on a call! Add to your letter that you know how busy (the person you are contacting) is and so you will follow up to set a short meeting at a
time that is convenient.
A Teacher’s Salary?
QUESTION: Dear counselor, I am a teacher in Florida. If I get my Master’s degree, how much more money can I expect to make?
ANSWER: Good question. According to 2008-2009 teacher salary averages for the State of Florida, a teacher with a Master’s Degree can make up to $10,000 more a year than a teacher with just a Bachelor’s Degree. So, if you are able to get your higher degree, it will definitely pay off.
Can I Keep Calling?
QUESTION: I recently had a job interview that I think went really well – only I can’t seem to find out if I got the job or not. I’ve already called once to “follow up,” but I’m not sure if I should keep calling. Will that make me seem desperate?
ANSWER: Good question. A second follow up call may be in order, however, there is one strategy that is almost always certain to result in a yes or no answer. This strategy must be used with caution and skill. You have interviewed with company A. You like everything about the position, and it seems to be a good match for your skills. You have written the thank you note, and expressed interest in the position. Now Company A is dragging their feet. Call the interviewer at Company A and tell him or her you have received an offer from another company. Go on to explain that Company A is really your first choice, and if there is interest on their part, you would prefer to see if something could be worked out. You will get an answer. There is the chance however, that by trying to force the issue, the answer will be no.
Should Everyone Use Resumes?
QUESTION: I’m a non-professional – do I need a resume?
ANSWER: Even though you may not be asked to present a resume at an interview, you will find that the process of putting a resume together will be very helpful when you are interviewing. Organizing your career and your accomplishments in resume format will certainly allow you to provide thoughtful and concise answers to interview questions about your background, strengths, and the contributions you
have made in your past jobs.
Do Recommendations Help?
QUESTION: Should I get letters of recommendation when I apply for a new job?
ANSWER: We do not advocate the use of letters of recommendation. They should be provided only upon request of the employer. Letters of recommendation are quaint holdovers from gentler times when communications were difficult and employers took a paternalistic interest in their employees. They are, in fact, next to valueless if not harmful. After all, the candidate is the provider of the letters, and as such, can ensure only the most glowing letters are presented. Only a foolish person would pass on a less than flattering letter. Going to an interview armed with letters of recommendation may well reduce the time
you have to present yourself, and at the very least, “getting back” to your interviewer with them, if they are requested, gives you another chance for a conversation!
QUESTION: I have a chance to interview with a company I admire but I don’t have much experience at interviewing. How is it best for me to prepare for the interview?
ANSWER: Having the chance to interview for a position with a company that you admire is certainly exciting. Since you admire the company, you must know at least a little bit about them and what they do, and you should supplement that knowledge with additional research. Take some time and conduct a mental inventory of your strengths. Focus on your top three or four strengths and envision how they would contribute to the company’s success. Most people have a general idea what their strengths are but cannot talk about them in an articulate manner. Practice talking (briefly) about your strengths by demonstrating how your strengths helped you accomplish something measurable. Whenever possible, use accomplishments that show your positive work ethic, your problem-solving abilities and your willingness to learn. You will then have an advantage over all but the most experienced interviewees.
Why Didn’t They Hire Me?
QUESTION: I recently went for an interview but did not get the job. Any ideas?
ANSWER: It’s frustrating to get through the interview process thinking you have the position only to find out differently. Even if the interviewer didn’t have hiring and firing power, she likely had some input. Resumes get interviews; interviews get jobs. Since you made it to the interview, your resume did its job by getting your foot in the door. The focus now shifts to the conversation that went on during the interview. Were you prepared for the questions, or how could you have answered them differently? Did your answers push the buttons for the interviewer? When leaving any interview, make several notations about the questions asked and the topics you discussed during the interview, and analyze your responses. Some interviews are structured, others are not; so the responses you provide within casual conversation can also have an effect on the outcome. Think about the interview process as a one-sided relationship. Every answer you provide, every number or percentage you quote, and every skill you mention, should evolve around a core theme: the hiring company. Human resource managers don’t care about whether you can use PowerPoint, unless it’s relevant to them. They’d prefer not to hear about every task performed for the last 20 years…. again, be sure that what you mention is relevant. The interview meant you potentially had the job, but something went wrong during the interview process – they wouldn’t have wasted time unless they thought you could do the job, right? Build a relationship with your interviewer and focus on offering answers that are solutions focused. You can try sending a follow-up letter outlining topics that you think you should have discussed, however, it may not help if the job has been given to someone else. You’re probably better off cutting your losses and shifting efforts towards your on-going job search.
Is Networking Crucial?
QUESTION: Why do you believe networking is such an important component of my career search?
ANSWER: It is an accepted fact that at least 75% of all jobs are obtained from networking. If you think about this, it makes sense. People tend to hire people who they know and people who they like. If you have an introduction to a prospective employer from a networking contact, it means you have a common acquaintance you both know and someone you probably both like. This mutual relationship helps establish rapport, which is an integral component of a successful career search.