Frequently Asked Job Search Questions

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Through our website, we receive many questions about job-seeking. These are some common concerns.

1. I submit applications and follow up by email, but I get no response from the companies. Why not?

Unfortunately, HR departments receive so many applications that they are just not able to respond to them all. This is particularly true at larger companies with online application processes. In fact, many of these organizations will ask applicants not to follow up with them. If you appear to be a desirable applicant, they will get in touch with you. When you hear nothing back, it usually means that your application has been screened out. This is very frustrating for applicants, and it’s one reason why you should focus on networking, not just completing online applications.

2. I keep sending out resumes, but I don’t get any interviews. What can I do?

First, be sure that your resume is designed to be attractive to potential employers. Look for books or online resources on how to “punch up” your resume and insure that you accurately convey your experience and positive attributes. If you feel that your resume is already top-notch, then you need to examine your job-search strategies. Instead of sending out resumes cold in response to ads, do more networking with people in your field to develop referral sources. The best way to find a job is through personal contacts.

3. I had one very short-term job. Should I list it on my resume?

If the job lasted no more than a few weeks, then omitting it may be okay. Any longer than that, though, and you will need to explain the gap on your resume. And you don’t ever want to lie to an interviewer. If you wish, however, you can leave it off the resume and explain during the interview.

4. I am applying for jobs below the level of my last position. How do I explain this?

The key is not to give any reasons that would cause the interviewer to worry about your behavior, competence, or motivation. That means you must give a truthful explanation for why you are attracted to the job they have available. For example: “After being a manager for two years, I found that I missed being involved in the technical details of the products. I’ve realized that being an engineer is what I truly enjoy, so this job really appeals to me.

5. Applications often ask “May we contact your current employer?” Is it okay to say ‘no’?

Many applicants don’t want their current boss to know that they’re looking for a job, so checking the “no” box is not necessarily a red flag. However, you do need to tell interviewers that if they want to make you an offer, it can be conditional upon their talking with your current employer. That way, you can notify your boss before anyone calls or emails. If your manager already knows that you’re looking for work elsewhere, then you need to agree on exactly what will be said if someone asks for a reference.

6. I was fired from my last job. Do I have to say that on applications?

You don’t want to lie on an application. Apart from moral considerations, as a practical matter, many companies will fire anyone who is later found to have lied on an application or resume. So you need to give the best honest answer possible. If you are on fairly good terms with your former employer, consider contacting them to see if you can agree on a mutually acceptable explanation for potential employers. You are then free to use any descriptive term that they agree to. Words like “fired” or “terminated” are immediate red flags, so see if they will allow you to say that you resigned or were laid off.

7. I can’t seem to find a job and think that a former employer may be blackballing me. How do I stop it?

First of all, do you have hard evidence that you are being badmouthed? If not, you may just be using this as a convenient excuse. In fact, you might need to sharpen up your resume or interviewing skills. If you do have evidence, however, and if the comments are untrue, then you should contact your former employer and tell them to stop providing inaccurate information. You might even have an attorney write them a letter. But if there is some truth to the negative allegations, then you will need to talk with them and try to reach agreement on how the situation will be presented. Should this effort be unsuccessful, then you may have to prepare potential employers for what they are going to hear by presenting your version of events in a calm and non-defensive manner.

8. I left my last job because of a problem with my boss. Should I talk about that in interviews?

No. Interviewers will quickly screen out anyone who seems like a potential problem. And since they have no other information about your former employer, any mention of a conflict with your boss can create an impression that you might be trouble. So find a truthful but less hazardous reason to explain your interest in changing jobs. Consider focusing on the appeal of the new job rather than problems with the old one.

9. I have changed jobs a lot and I think it hurts my resume. How do I stop being a job hopper?

To stop your frequent job switches, you need to pinpoint the cause. The reasons for job hopping are numerous, but they always fall into one of two categories: difficulty with either job selection or job adjustment. If you have a selection issue, then you are in a job or profession that is a poor match for your skills or abilities. As a result, you either fail to perform well or lose interest in the work. On the other hand, if the issue is one of job adjustment, then you have trouble adapting to the work environment. You may get into repeated difficulties with bosses or coworkers. Or you may quickly become disappointed with your jobs and go looking for better opportunities. Whatever the cause, if you do not break this pattern soon, you will become virtually unemployable.

10. My company posts jobs, but the “winners” seem to be selected in advance. How can I get ahead?

A job posting policy can insure that vacancies are advertised, but that doesn’t override human nature. For a manager, hiring a familiar candidate is simply less risky, so the positions often go to someone they already know. This means that you need to become acquainted with the people who control promotions. To get the job you want, start networking within the company and developing relationships with people in your desired area.

11. How do I respond when an interviewer asks me questions from a “canned” list?

Obviously, you should respond as completely as possible to all questions you are asked. But if these fail to cover the depth and breadth of your experience, then simply say, “Could I tell you about a couple of other projects that helped to prepare me for this position?” or “Is it okay if I go into a little more detail about one aspect of my last job?” Or whatever question is appropriate to your situation.

12. How can I find a job while I’m working? It’s hard to get away for interviews.

Conducting a job search when you’re working is difficult, but not impossible. You just have to be clever and mildly devious, since telling your boss about an interview would be completely self-defeating. Most prospective employers understand this problem and try to be flexible about scheduling. When offered an interview, indicate that you are extremely interested, but may have some difficulty getting away during work hours. Ask if the interview can be scheduled before or after work or during your lunch break. If that’s not possible, use your vacation time. Should your boss ask why you need time off, give a general response like “I have to meet with someone about some personal business”. Then leave it at that. If you are one of those people who feels a need to explain everything, you will have to curb that tendency. And if you fear that your boss may become suspicious, you’ll just have to decide if it’s worth the risk.