Reverse Snooping on Potential Employers

Dear, Anita,

Once I land an interview, I check out the company website and LinkedIn. But if I don’t have any LinkedIn contacts that work there, how can I get the “inside story” about the culture?

Keyhole_Eye_SmallDear, Curious Kat,

Human Resource professionals often perform Google searches and check social media sites to see if a candidate is a good fit for their company culture. Job seekers desperately looking for work don’t often think to turn the tables. But the time spent on researching a company and its culture may prevent a disruptive blip in your career path.

The company website is a great place to start. Most businesses have an “About” tab at the top or link at the bottom of website. Read through it all, including the history and the bios of the management. Even for a business that doesn’t spell out the mission or core principles of its company culture, you’ll get a sense about the company’s personality based on the tone, photo style, and other subtle cues. This research will also pay off when your interviewer asks, “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?”

Next, Google the company name for which you are interviewing. Pass over the company sites you just reviewed and look for third-party sites. Wikipedia may contain additional information (some companies, however, are contributors to their own Wiki listing). On the Google search page, switch from “Web” and click “News” under the search field. While some of this news content may be derived from press releases provided by the business itself, you may be able to glean some insight into the company character or discover some potential red flags.

Glassdoor.com is a website that allows real employees to anonymously review current or former employers, giving the pros and cons of working at the company. You may even get a sneak peak at questions that could be asked during your interview.

Look at other business review sites, such as Yelp.com, YellowPages.com, or MerchantCircle.com. While businesses are reviewed by customers rather than employees, you may be able to intuit company values and business practices. Take these reviews with a grain of salt, however, as there are trolls on the Internet who take perverse pleasure in spreading negativity.

As you’ve found, LinkedIn is a great resource. I’m sure you’ve noticed the “How You’re Connected” sidebar whenever you check out a LinkedIn company profile. But have you ever clicked on “Advanced” to the right of the search box on the Home page bar? There, you can expand the relationships from 1st or 2nd to 3rd + Everyone Else. Under company, leave “Current or past” highlighted for the most hits. Once you perform your advanced search, check out the longer list of shared connections and message or connect with the individuals to see if they are willing to chat with you about their experience working at the company.

A little cyber sleuthing before accepting a position can prevent the whole frying pan/fire scenario.

Readers: How has researching a company affected your interview, or your decision to take a position offered?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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100,000 Subscribers and Counting!

Celebrate colorful background with balloons.Dear, Readers,

I’m so excited, I just had to share this milestone: Job Talk with Anita Clew has reached over 100,000 subscribers! I started the blog when unemployment was a 9.8%, doling out advice to do my part to help the slow recovery from the Great Recession.

Why not take a moment to check out some of the most-read posts of all time in
the archives?
#1: How to Get Hired if You Don’t Have Experience
#2: Time Theft: Is it really a crime?
#3: Contacting a Company After an Interview
#4: Disclosure of a DUI
#5: Post-Interview Advice
#6: Why So Many Interviews?
#7: Online Application – No Calls
#8: Saying “no” to working late
#9: Interview Questions
#10: Reference Check Response

Thank you, loyal subscribers, for sticking with Job Talk through thick and thin.

Readers: What was the most valuable piece of advice you ever received from yours truly, Miss Anita?

Public Speaking Jitters

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been asked by my manager to present a report at next month’s departmental meeting. It’s not a lot of people, but I’m still anxious. I’ve got to create a PowerPoint, and I haven’t had much experience speaking in front of a group.
Any advice for me?

Nervous Woman Holding MicrophoneDear, Nervous Kelly,

Your manager has given you a great opportunity to get your oratory feet wet in front of your “peeps.” Your coworkers are friendly faces, and they are going to be rooting for you. Knowing that should alleviate half your fears.

The second key is preparation. I’m sure your manager has given you some guidance on talking points he’d like you to highlight from the report. Avoid text-heavy slides (the detailed information is in the report they’ll receive, after all). To keep your audience engaged, don’t simply read your PowerPoint slides verbatim. Use them as cues to explain, discuss, or go into more detail. Write your script in the Notes section of PowerPoint, and use the Presenter mode.

Once you’ve finalized your PowerPoint and your boss has approved, rehearse your script. Out loud. Close your office door so you won’t have to give your coworkers a spoiler alert. Or bring your laptop home and present to your dog. You may even want to do a dry run in the meeting room, so you won’t have any technical snafus that will sabotage your concentration on the big day.

Public_Speaking_Jitters_0315To calm your nerves, start out with a smile. Try for a conversational delivery (steer clear of a monotone drone) in a voice loud enough for all in the room to hear. Some people rush when they are nervous, so make a point to speak slowly and clearly, but with inflection. Other novice speechmakers tend to hold their breath. Back in the days of 3×5 cards, I used to write “Breathe!” on the bottom of each card. Remember to take a deep breath during each slide transition. Be sure to look up from your notes and make eye contact with your audience (your best buddies will be sure to smile their encouragement). If you lose your train of thought, just pause and regroup. Chances are, no one will even notice the hesitation.

If this is something you may need to do on a regular basis for your position (and in your career down the road) check out Toastmasters International, an organization that helps members improve their communication skills. You can join one of the 14,000+ clubs and practice giving speeches in a supportive environment.

Readers: What’s your best advice for overcoming pre-speech jitters?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Crimes and Misdemeanors

Dear, Anita,

I worked for a company for a total of 13 years, in 2010 I caught a charge that was a misdemeanor but still continue to work for the same company for 2 more years, then got fired for what they say was misconduct. Now I’m having problems trying to find a job, I’ve been applying for jobs every since August of last year, hoping that something will fall through for me soon. Any advice for me?

Mug_Shot_iStock_000014052000_300pxDear, Miss Demeanor,

I get quite a few inquiries from job seekers with criminal records, both felonies and misdemeanors. (My post Disclosure of a DUI is one of my top 5 posts of all time.) It’s not surprising since nearly one-third of Americans have been arrested by age 23, a National Institute of Justice article observes. Criminal records range from one-time arrests where charges are dropped to serious repeat offenders, but most arrests are for relatively minor nonviolent offenses.

Since you have a misdemeanor on your record and you’ve been fired, that could count as two strikes against you in the eyes of a potential employer. Check out my blog Explaining Away “You’re Fired.” Since you worked at the company for 13 years, you must include it on your résumé and applications. The misdemeanor, however, may be a different story, depending on where you live. In recent years, some cities and states have prohibited public and sometimes private employers from asking for criminal histories. See the areas with “Ban the Box” policies at the National Employment Law Project (NELP). Positions in fields such as law enforcement, education, or care giving may require full criminal record disclosure, even misdemeanors. Be sure to read applications carefully; some only ask about felonies and not misdemeanors. Others may state a specific time period, such as “in the last seven years.” You don’t want to hide it, as it will come out if and when an employer performs a background check.

Police officer conducting sobriety testThe U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers guidelines for employers on consideration of job applicants’ criminal histories. While these are not policy or law (so not really enforceable in many states), the top three factors employers should consider are: 1) the nature and gravity of offense, 2) time lapse since the offense, and 3) the nature of the job. While an employer with an open accounting position should be hesitant to hire someone who, say, embezzled from a charity, a middle-aged candidate with one sole DUI from college days might fill the position without any issues. Try to apply to jobs that have nothing to do with your infraction (so no driving jobs if you have a DUI on record).

If your misdemeanor is really holding you back, consider having it expunged from your record (sealed from all but law enforcement). The procedure varies from state to state, so you may wish to consult an employment attorney.

Job Seekers: How have you gotten a job with a misdemeanor on your record?
Hiring Managers: Do you have any advice on how job seekers can best present any criminal records?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Onboarding New Employees

Dear, Anita,

We’ve had a lot of turnover in our company lately, a few in my own department (I manage IT). We try to get quality candidates who can hit the ground running. But it seems that there are always some fires to put out, so we tend to throw people in the deep end and hope they can swim. Many are sinking instead. I really don’t have time to keep training new people who turn around and leave. What can we do to improve our retention?

SONY DSCDear, Concerned Captain,

Voluntary turnover (or quits, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them) was on the rise in 2014 for private industries. With a tighter labor market (where there are more jobs than qualified workers), dissatisfied employees are more likely to jump ship. So let’s talk about how to get employees to stay at your company, or at least in your department.

Proper onboarding is important because turnover is costly – in time, recruiting costs, productivity loss, and morale. Onboarding is more than just filling out the HR forms and attending an orientation meeting. It’s the process of organizational socialization. You want to teach your new staffer about your company’s mission, values, and culture, as well as how he or she fits into your department and the organization as a whole.

To make an employee’s first day a less stressful experience, plan ahead for a smooth arrival. Since you’re in IT, I hope your business has a new hire portal that allows electronic completion of forms such as the W-4, I-9, etc. and access to the company’s policy handbook. Humanizing this portal with a welcome message from the manager as well as photos of teammates can go a long way toward easing the rookie’s mind.

Empty_Chair_iStock_000000515158_SmallYou don’t want your new hire to show up and have no place to sit or a cubicle without a workstation. It’s up to you to provide all the tools to do the assignments for which you’ve hired him. Job duties should be outlined in a detailed, clearly written manual, hopefully in an electronic version that is easily searchable. Video training is great for visual learners, assuming you have the resources. If the outgoing employee is available to train the new recruit, take advantage of the opportunity for job shadowing.

While the first day is important to make the employee feel welcomed and valued, effective onboarding lasts weeks or months. It can take up to a year for a new employee to become fully productive. Check in regularly with your freshman – not just in passing – with weekly or even daily meetings to ensure tasks are understood and completed and to gauge satisfaction of both parties.

Readers: What is your company’s best onboarding practice?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Day One on Your New Job

Dear, Anita,

I used lots of your advice for my résumé and job hunting in the past couple of months, and I landed a sweet position as an administrative assistant! I start in a few weeks, and I’m excited and nervous at the same time. This is only my second job. How can I make sure I start off on the right foot?

Start New JobDear, Restive Rookie,

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Since you were hired, you obviously influenced your soon-to-be boss to good effect. But now you’ll want to charm the rest of the team with whom you’ll be working. Here are eight tips to help you put your best foot forward.

  1. Arrive on time. Better yet, show up 10 minutes early. Do a dry run of your route to work the week before, preferably near your starting hour to gauge potential traffic snarls. Get plenty of rest the night before so you won’t sleep through your alarm (easier said than done when nerves and an overactive imagination can keep you awake!). Select your outfit the night before, which brings us to…
  2. Tie in MirrorDress fittingly. When you interviewed, hopefully you noticed what is considered appropriate work wear for your position. When in doubt, overdress rather than underdress for your first day.
  3. Take notes. I never trust those waiters who don’t write down my order, do you? You’ll be deluged with a lot of new information. Hopefully there is a manual outlining all of your job duties, but bring your own notepad to jot things down so they make sense to you.
  4. Don’t talk too much. Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Before offering suggestions about how to improve things, or relating TMI (too much information) about your personal life, get to know the culture, systems, and other employees first.
  5. Ask questions. Conversely, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. What isn’t a dumb question today may appear foolish a few months down the road. If you finish a task, don’t just sit there – ask your supervisor what’s next.
  6. ’Fess up if you mess up. Oops, you accidentally hung up on a client. All but the most hard-hearted of bosses will forgive newbie mistakes, as long as you don’t keep repeating them.
  7. Bring your lunch – but nothing stinky (save your leftover curry for dinner). You may or may not be asked out to lunch by your new supervisor or coworkers. Toss your brown bag if invited, but you won’t starve if it’s not a social company culture.
  8. Have a great attitude. Show enthusiasm (but not deranged cheerleader level excitement). Keep a positive outlook even if you feel overwhelmed. More often than not, the feeling will pass once you get more comfortable with your new duties and surroundings.

Readers: Have you ever made a first day faux pas?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

 

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Finding Job References

I’ve had a few questions in the past weeks about references:

I went online to apply for a job. I was able to fill everything out on a job application except for a reference list. The application requires that I list three references with name, phone number, and email. I do not have that kind of information to give, especially email address. I cannot submit application without all the required information for references. How can I work past this issue?

Multiracial Thumbs Up Against Blue SkyDear, No References,

You need to get some younger “Millennial” friends with computers! Other people who may not have ready references include:

  • Young workers
  • Recent graduates
  • Stay-at-home parents or caregivers entering or reentering workforce
  • Employees terminated from one or more jobs
  • Bridge burners (you stormed out, or just didn’t appear for work one day without giving notice)
  • Self-employed individuals

Are references required fields in the application? If you cannot submit your application without filling in all of the blanks, try entering “N/A” (for Not Available) or type in “Upon Request.”  While some applications specifically request “professional” references, personal or character references may be accepted by other companies.

The professional references that hold the most sway are former supervisors. Peers or coworkers who can attest to your work ethic are also suitable references. Testimonials from clients or customers would also be impressive, especially for self-employed entrepreneurs seeking jobs.

Job_Reference_MemeIf you don’t have a bevy of professional references, find character references from other acquaintances. Teachers, college professors, or guidance counselors are great references for students and recent grads. Members of civic groups, church, or volunteer organizations may be able to attest to your attributes that would be work-relevant. As a last resort, use personal references, but definitely not your mother, your fiancé, and preferably not your BFF (unless he’s the president of an impressive multinational corporation). Think of your accountant who does your taxes, your landlord, or the long-time family friend who is an upstanding business owner in the community.

Be sure to ask these individuals for permission to include them on applications and your reference list. Ask “Do you feel you know me well enough to provide me with a good job reference?” This gives the person an out if they are uncomfortable vouching for you.

One final note: do not include your references on your résumé. In our online world of searchable job boards, it’s a privacy issue.  When you do provide contact information, give work phone numbers and emails rather than personal whenever possible.

Dear, Anita,

On an employment application, is it appropriate to list Human Resource department, along with that office phone number, in cases where the company is a “branch” location and the corporate office is located in another area (i.e., city or state) or if your direct manager/supervisor is no longer employed by that company?

Dear, Long Gone,

I think that is wise, as the HR department can at least verify your dates of employment. If you have kept in touch with your direct supervisor (and he can give you a glowing recommendation), you may want to use him as a reference with his new contact information.

If you’re out of touch, search for former managers and coworkers on Google or LinkedIn. It’s a good networking practice to stay connected with folks from past jobs – before you want a favor like a recommendation letter. After you reconnect on LinkedIn, endorse skills in which your ex-colleagues excelled, and ask for endorsements in return. In addition to traditional reference checks, many HR departments routinely check social media.

Readers: Who was your most “creative” job reference?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Boomers vs. Millennials – The New Cold War

Dear Anita,

My husband and I have been in the workforce for quite some time. We had never had problems getting along with everybody in the past. There is a new generation, however, the Milleniums (I apologize if it is not spelled correctly) that have entered the workforce with disregard and disrespect of any person with more experience than them. We welcome any new employee and are willing to help them. This is not just the cockiness of young people that are coming out of college and think they know it all. This generation is different and we are having a hard time working with them. Do you have any suggestions on how to interact with them? Have you had other people with this problem?

Boomer Millennial conflictDear, Bothered Boomer,

Workforces may consist of a mix of generations, from Matures (also called Traditionalists) born before 1945, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (1965-1979), Millennials (1980-2000), and the up-and-coming generation born after 2001 (as yet not officially named – The Post Generation? Homelanders? Generation Z? iGen?). By 2020, according to the University of North Carolina (UNC), Millennials will comprise nearly half of the U.S. labor workforce.

A poll by the Society for Human Resource Management  finds that nearly three-quarters of HR professionals report some level of intergenerational conflict.  “Can’t we all just get along?” (This Rodney King reference is before the Millennials’ time.)

Millennials’ top 3 complaints about older workers:

  • Resistance to change
  • Low recognition of workers’ efforts
  • Micromanaging

Younger workers are criticized most for:

  • Inappropriate dress
  • Poor work ethic
  • Excessively informal language and behavior

UNC likens Boomers and Gen Xers to cowboys – an individualistic lot with a command and control management style. Millennials are tech-savvy, socially conscious collaborators. According to PayScale’s whitepaper, Compensation Challenges for a Multi-Generational Workforce, Boomer’s career mindset is retirement and work/life balance, while younger Gen X concentrates on management with work/life balance. Millennials are go-getters focused on advancement with flexibility. Boomers tend to stay on the job 15+ years, Gen Xers’ average tenure is around 5+ years, and Millennials stay 1.5-2 years.

But there are some commonalities, according to UNC researcher Ben Rosen. Generations from Boomers down to Millennials expect the following from their employers:

  • Multigenerational_Employees_iStock_000015633250_LargeChallenging projects
  • Competitive compensation
  • Opportunities for advancement and chances to learn and grow in their jobs
  • Fair treatment
  • Work-life balance

By focusing on shared values rather than differences, we can find some common ground. Mutual respect is the key. Each generation can bring something to the mix and create a stronger team.

To improve interactions with another generation, treat others as they want to be treated, to paraphrase the golden rule (before any of our studied generations’ time!). For pointers on Gen-Flexing (not to be confused with genuflecting), check out this video on managing Matures and Boomers, then view Part 2 for Gen X and Millennials:

Readers: Is there generational conflict at your workplace? What steps have you taken to better relate to an older or younger coworker?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Micromanaged

Take Advantage of the Outsourcing Trend

Dear, Anita,

I’ve seen in a couple of different places that 33% of businesses will be outsourcing employment. Is this why I can’t find work? Are all the good jobs going overseas? Do I have to give up stability and benefits and become a freelancer to make a living?

Dear, Third Degree,

I found the source of the statistic to which you are referring.  A survey by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) reports that in the next five years, more than a third of organizations expect half of their workforce will be made up of external talent.

But you don’t need to become a freelancer or a consultant to get in on this action. Staffing Industry Analysts touts U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers that show the increase in temporary positions.

Temp Stats Source: Staffing Industry Analysts

 

To understand this trend, take a look back at recent history. The Great Recession between 2007 and 2009 forced employers to lay off workers by the millions (according to the BLS, 8.8 million jobs were lost in the U.S.). Businesses are understandably cautious about adding jobs, particularly smaller companies who may find recent Affordable Care Act mandates expensive to implement.

Enter employment agencies. Staffing agencies specialize in one or more of three areas: temporary staffing services, personnel placement (often in a specific industry), and executive recruiting. The Select Family of Staffing Companies offers temporary jobs, temp-to-hire positions, or full-time job opportunities.

How Job Seekers Work with Temporary Agencies

A temporary staffing agency actually has two types of clients that it matches up: businesses needing staff and job seekers needing employment. We’ll just look at the job seeker side here.

Inventory_iStock_000017376317_SmallAfter completing an application and proving work eligibility documentation, you’ll likely go through some assessments, skills testing, and interviews to determine your suitability for placement. Once accepted, the staffing company will try to fit your skills with requirements from area employers who may need a temporary for anywhere from a day or two to a long-term temporary assignment (that’s an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp”).  Businesses often have seasons when they need to ramp up production – think of accounting offices in the first quarter of the year or retail stores taking inventory before year-end.

You’ll actually be an employee of the staffing agency, who will provide your paycheck and take out the appropriate withholding and taxes.  Fees are paid by the hiring companies, so there are no out-of-pocket costs for you (except for your snazzy interview outfit!). Employees are eligible for health care benefits – not from the client company, but from the staffing agency.

Temping is for you if you like a flexible schedule, enjoy diversity of tasks and working environments, need an entrance into a new company or job type, or want to use and increase your current job skills.

Temps: What made you choose to work with a staffing agency?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Move for Money?

Anita,

I heard on the news that lots of states now have higher minimum wages. Should I quit my entry-level job and move to one of these states to make more money?

Dear, Show Me the Money,

MoneyIt is true that there have been a number of states, as well as cities, who have adopted legislation raising their minimum wage above the Federal mandate.  Eleven states increased their minimum wages in 2014, and as of January 1, 2015 nine more states joined them — for a grand total of 29 states with higher than the current $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some states have scheduled increases, stepping it up gradually. See the list by state.

Before giving your notice, do your homework. Moving to another state is a big step, especially if you don’t have a support system of family and friends in your new hometown. There may be a period of unemployment while settling in, unless you are fortunate enough to work for a large company where transferring to another location is an option. Are you financially prepared with a cushion of savings for a transition period with no income?

Speaking of budgeting, the cost of living in a potential city should be a deciding factor. For instance, while San Francisco’s $11.05 hourly pay rate is higher than the minimum wage for most of California and the U.S., you’ll shell out a whole lot more of your paycheck in the city by the bay. Numbeo has a useful online cost of living comparison  tool that can open your eyes to things you might not think about, like the difference in your monthly utilities or the cost of chicken breasts at the supermarket.  State income taxes vary, too, from no state income tax in six states like Texas, to the highest rate of 13.3% in California. This calculator at WhyNotMove.org uses the difference in various taxes (including property and sales tax) to show you how much you will gain – or lose – by moving to another state.

Change – even for the good – is always stressful.  If and when you do find a new job, you’ll be the “new guy” both at work and in your personal life, hundreds or thousands of miles away from your former home.  Depending on your personality type, this can be the beginning of an exciting adventure or an overwhelming transition.

There are other ways to increase your earning potential, no matter where you live. Further your education, whether through college, a company training program (ask your supervisor about opportunities), or free and low-cost courses on the Internet. See my Back to Class post. Just going the extra mile at your current job can be a pathway to promotion and increased wages.

Readers: Would you move to another state to make better wages?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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