Dear J.T. & Dale: I loved my last job as a teller at a bank. I was there for four years when they brought in a new manager. Instantly, I could tell I wasn't going to last long.Nothing I did made him happy, and I went home in tears most nights. Finally I made a mistake he could use, and he fired me. How do I explain being terminated? No matter what I come up with, it makes me look bad. - Jessica DALE: First off, let's put being fired in perspective. Harvey Mackay, best known for his book "Swim With The Sharks," devoted a later book, "Fired Up!", to stories of people bouncing back from being axed. He writes, "If you're under 30, the likelihood you'll be fired in the next 20 years is 90 percent." That sounds a tad high, but the point is that the person interviewing you probably has gone through the experience. Remember that, and you'll relax into the topic. J.T.: However, why you left your last job remains a crucial question, one that could determine the outcome of the interview. You need to highlight what you loved about the job and then be objective about what ended it. Something like this: "For four years I loved my job as a teller. In the final months, a new manager was brought in. I'm not sure why, but we didn't connect. I did my best to support him, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, I was let go. In hindsight, I should've realized we weren't meshing and looked for a new job. I held on in the hopes that I could fix it. Now, I want to find a place where I can get back to doing what I love - caring for customers." DALE: Well said. Resist the temptation, Jessica, to say more. Just be so positive and upbeat that your attitude says: "Hey, it happens. No big deal. Not a problem."
Dear J.T. & Dale: I am back on the job market. I've been in sales with many companies throughout the years. Many of my moves were to increase salary, but three times I lost my job due to an elimination of positions. How do you suggest handling the question of switching jobs every two to five years? It seems like when I get to the final interviews, I always get beaten by someone who had a summer job during college and knows more lingo than myself, or so I've been told. - Michael J.T.: You may want to consolidate your multiple sales positions into one listing on your resume. You could list a singular job title and then the companies. That way, you'd list the total years you did each role across all the companies. In short, it can help if you frame the experience collectively. DALE: Good advice, but what, Michael, is this nonsense about "lingo" and "someone who had a summer job during college"? I understand that a company might want to save some money by hiring a rookie, but how could such a person know more of the magic lingo than you do? If you've let yourself get out of touch, then that's the first thing you have to correct. Attend professional meetings and visit former colleagues till you get re-educated and "re-lingoed." Then, you have to put your sales experience to work. Make sure that you come prepared with specific examples of why your many types of sales experience will make you a star in the new job. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: I am an upper-level financial manager with a CPA and an MBA. Next year I will become eligible to draw a pension. Although it will not be an amount sufficient to live on indefinitely, it would allow me to take up to a year off for relaxation and travel. Will taking a year off be the equivalent of career suicide? - Allen J.T.: Here's the unwelcome truth: A recent study shows that people who've been out of work a month or longer are discriminated against, and that's true whether they say they quit or were let go. DALE: How do we make some sense of this unfair reality? It's easy to understand why hiring managers might avoid someone who's been fired, and you can almost understand - almost - concerns about someone who's been laid off; after all, many companies use layoffs to dump mediocre employees. But what about those employees who left voluntarily? Even in that situation, hiring managers may have doubts: Was it really voluntary? Is this someone who can't get along? Does this person not really need or want to work? Thus, while the year off might not be career suicide, it's a career coma, and you may have a difficult time coming out of it. J.T.: That doesn't mean you shouldn't take the time off, just that you'll need a great story to tell when you are ready to go back. Here's the formula: Experience = Learning = Growth. Do something that allows you to grow as a person and a professional. Example: I know someone in a similar situation who took a year off to travel around the world by boat. When he came back, he was able to describe how the experience changed him in ways that made him better at his job. If you can do that, go for it! On the other hand, if you are planning to just "chill," then be prepared to encounter resistance. Your story will define you: Are you coming back burned out or fired up? © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: I recently lost my job after being there a year. Prior to that job, I'd been unemployed for two years, went through my savings, and eventually filed for bankruptcy. How negatively do employers view an applicant who has a bankruptcy on his or her credit report? Does bankruptcy affect getting a job offer for qualified applicants? What can I do to make employers see I am not a bad, lazy or irresponsible person? — Michael Dale: OK, it's true there are some employers who care about credit ratings. So what? (I'm shrugging here.) I've never seen any statistics on the subject, but let's say that 20 percent of employers say that a bankruptcy bounces you out of contention. What does that mean for your search? Yes, that's right — you have to focus on the other 80 percent and forget the 20. Practice shrugging. J.T.: Still, you might be able to convert some of those who do care. Here's what I suggest: Get through the first round of interviewing; then, if you're invited for a second interview, at the end of that interview, say something like this: "I have huge respect for you and the company and really want this job, so I feel it's important that you hear this from me." Then you own up to the bankruptcy. You might say: "I can't say how hard it is to share this, but I ran into tough times and a bankruptcy was unavoidable. It aught me some important lessons, but now I'd like very much to put it behind me by landing this position and building my credit again." It takes a brave professional with a lot of character to say those things. Employers will love you had the guts to do so and you respect them enough to tell them. Dale: Part of me wants to agree — after all, everyone loves a good confession, and it would humanize you, Michael. However, in a time when bankruptcy is common, I hate to have you go into a second interview worrying about when and how to bring it up. It's better if you just forget about it. (What might help you forget is to put "famous people with bankruptcies" into Google and see you are in the company of Walt Disney, Larry King, Willie Nelson and many, many others.) J.T.: But why risk having the bankruptcy be a surprise to the employer? Here's a compromise: Forget about the bankruptcy until the second interview is over; then, at the end, when you ask about next steps, if they mention a background check, bring up the bankruptcy — you might even mention all those famous people who've shared the experience. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: I recently went through a series of interviews. I thought I had the job until I got a voicemail stating that, while I was wonderful, the department had decided to go with someone they'd "worked with previously." She also said that perhaps I was a little overqualified. OK, I'm out of college less than a year — how could I be overqualified? During the interview, I did stress I like to work hard and feel a sense of accomplishment. Did I overdo it? — Michelle Dale: "Overqualified" is nothing but a weak, generic excuse. I get so frustrated by hiring managers relying on such a lame excuse that here's a new formula: Anyone who rejects an employee for being overqualified is under-qualified to be a manager. Great bosses hire the best people they can find, and are good enough managers to know that they can keep them engaged and involved and, as the economy improves, help them move up. J.T.: A bit of an overstatement, perhaps, but Michelle, just so you know, one of the reasons companies start worrying about "overqualified" candidates is because of bad experiences — they chose candidates with too-good qualifications, only to have those people leave them shortly thereafter. The result becomes a fixation on hiring someone who'll be satisfied with what he or she has got. Dale: Which is another way of saying they develop a fixation on high-level mediocrity. J.T.: Well... more like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" — just right. Dale: So, Michelle, what can you do to be just right? You can search for a great boss who wants ambitious people, but the great ones are hard to find, and rarely use the traditional job market. Meanwhile, here's what you do: In interviews, don't just sell yourself on how terrific you are — by doing that, you can come across as cocky and overly ambitious. Instead, sell your skills as a team player, emphasizing ways in which you helped your previous managers and made them look good. And also emphasize that you're eager to learn. What I'm about to say is corny but useful: Instead of coming across as a know-it-all, come across as a learn-it-all. J.T.: And, during the interview, mention that you hope to find a company and manager to work with long term. If all goes well, you'll find a great boss, and you'll work together for many years, moving up together. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: I am a single, 53-year-old female who has worked for the same grocery chain for more than 20 years. My title is Supervisor. I work 18 hours a week. I have applied online to several places, but no luck. I've let friends, customers, and so on know that I'm looking for something part-time, since I'm available four days a week. I understand that a lot of places are looking for high-school-age applicants (or at least under 30). I feel like once they see my date of birth, that's it. How can I compete for part-time jobs? - Talia DALE:You are being tempted to settle for the easiest "why," which is concluding that your age is holding you back. Yes, age discrimination happens, but I wouldn't settle on it as your problem until you've eliminated all other possibilities. In this case, the big possibility is that you are applying for jobs that don't exist. You're telling prospective employers that you are a veteran supervisor and that you're available four days a week. I suppose there are some stores with part-time supervisors, but it's up to you to find them. Hiring managers are looking for people to help them solve their problems, and right away they see scheduling you as being a fat new problem. If you were to alter your resume to make it appear that you were in your 20s, I'll bet you get the same Big Silence from the job market. J.T.: I understand your point, but ageism still may be playing a role. The surest way to overcome stereotyping is via recommendations. You need customers or former co-workers to vouch for your skills and abilities. Age isn't an issue when you are known for your work ethic and record of success. Next, Dale's right that you're going to need to do research to find stores that are in a position to hire you. Once you have target employers, you can work to get recommended to them. One final thought: If you find an organization that you're truly passionate about joining, don't be shy about expressing your feelings. Really articulating why you will be the most engaged and hard-working employee is infectious and attractive for any job, at any age. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
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Dear J.T. & DALE: I am a recreation therapist who has worked in health care with geriatrics. I am trying to cross over to a management position outside of health care - community, fitness, hospitality. I'm having limited success. People act like once you've worked with geriatrics, you lack the skills to work with mainstream individuals. - Paula DALE: It's hard for me to understand how anyone could think that working with geriatrics isn't much more demanding and arduous than working mainstream. I've had family members in long-term care, and I would watch the employees in awe, thinking that you'd have to be an angel to embrace that work. J.T.: Still, I have observed what you mention, Paula: There is a perception that the work done in geriatrics and disability is not technically challenging. The assumption is that such roles require a high degree of compassion and patience, but not necessarily the highest level of business acumen. DALE: I suppose it comes down to the old biases of "soft" versus "hard" skills. However, even without such specific biases, it's always difficult to change industries. Everyone thinks theirs is unique. J.T.: The only solution is serious networking. No amount of finessing your resume will convey your abilities like a one-on-one discussion. I suggest that you set up a series of informational interviews with people in positions similar to the one you want to land. Discuss with them what key skills they've needed to succeed. Once you feel you have a working knowledge of what's important, it's time to make a new list of contacts, but this time of people working at the companies you want to work for. You need to establish connections with employees of these firms as a way to earn their trust. Given your earlier informational interviews, you can have meaningful conversations, and once people hear you speak knowledgeably about their industry, they'll see you for your true value. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock