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Candidate Question: How Do I Handle Giving My Boss as a Reference?

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I have a potential employer asking for a direct manager reference and I'm looking for advice on how to handle it. I've sent him three references from co-workers and clients, so he has good reviews in his hands. Now, he's asked for one reference who has managed me directly. I've been in my current job for four years, and would rather not have my current manager know that I'm job searching. In my last job of 5 years I didn't have the best relationship with my manager, so I'm not confident that I'd get a good reference from him. I'm not sure how to handle this situation. Can I really go back 10 years for a job reference? What have you seen or what would you recommend?


I'm not surprised you're being asked for a direct manager reference. In the PR industry, it's common to be asked for references from a direct manager, a direct report, a client, and a reporter. Most employers will want to speak to the people with whom you have had a working relationship most recently.

It's understandable to be concerned about giving your direct supervisor as a reference at this point in the process. Without a job offer, risking your current position and letting your employer question your loyalty is asking for trouble. I would only give your direct manager as a reference IF he or she already knows you are leaving the company.

Considering you have already given a few colleagues as references, it should give sufficient material to move forward for an offer. The best approach is to be honest and to tell him if you give your direct supervisor as a reference now it will put you in an uncomfortable position and you don't want to risk your job just yet. He should understand. If that reference is really important to him, you could agree to giving it once you have you have received and accepted a formal offer. It's standard practice and should be an acceptable compromise.

Providing a reference from a manager ten years ago is too far in the past. The types of questions and information an employer would ask your manager reference at this point in your career is much different than the information sought early in your career.

This post is part of an on-going series featuring readers job search and hiring questions. If you have a question you would like answered in this blog, please send it to me here. Your information will be kept confidential.

Photo credit: Matt Camran

How to Answer the Salary Question



Something I've always wondered about is how to handle the "salary chat." What do you do/say when asked how much you made and how much you want to make? I always found the second especially confusing when you know the job you are applying for has a wide range of salary options.

A specific instance that I'd love to know how to improve is what to do when switching from a lower paying industry to a higher paying industry. You know that you could make more at the second job, but it's hard to say well I used to make $100 dollars and now I want to make $300 (the going rate for the new industry job) -- how do you justify the jump and/or not wind up getting paid less than others would for the same position.

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It's hard not to panic when asked about salary during the interview and it'll inevitably come up during the interview process. How you choose to respond to salary questions with your prospective employer is a determining factor in the compensation package you'll be offered.

Your future employer understands that you have expectations and a base you must maintain. When it comes to the salary game, if you're the first party to name a price, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. You'll give the company the power to make an offer based on your previous salary, not your fair market value. If you're underpaid, you risk the hiring manager devaluing your skills and not being considered for the job. If you state a number too high, you risk pricing yourself out of the job before the company fully understands your value.

So be careful with what you say and how quickly you jump into these negotiations.

Penelope Truck give us some suggestions on how to handle salary questions in her post, The Answer to the Toughest Interview Question.

What salary range are you looking for?
"Let's talk about the job requirements and expectations first, so I can get a sense of what you need." That's a soft answer to a soft way to ask the question.

What did you make at your last job?
"This position is not exactly the same as my last job. So let's discuss what my responsibilities would be here and then determine a fair salary for this job." It's hard to argue with words like "fair" and "responsibilities""”you're earning respect with this one.

What are you expecting to make in terms of salary?

"I am interested in finding a job that is a good fit for me. I'm sure whatever salary you're paying is consistent with the rest of the market." In other words, I respect myself and I want to think I can respect this company.

Avoiding these questions makes most people nervous, so rather than step around them, they answer them and spend the next week beating themselves up over it while they wait to see what they're offered. It's understandable that you and the company don't want to waste time if salary expectations are too far off. Just remember that these details tend to become more flexible as the interview process progresses.

If you find yourself in that position and you feel like you need to give an answer to the question, try to find out the budgeted range first and then keep it open for discussion. If all else fails, it's certainly okay to give a range, but don't pinpoint a specific number. You could say "I assume [name of company] in [geographical region] pays between $80,000 to $95,000 for a position with these responsibilities. Is that what you had in mind?"

Preparation is key for these types of discussions. You'll find the best salary data through specific industry salary surveys. Recruiters with whom you have relationships may also be good sources. Be careful with the general salary sites - I find they are usually off a bit from what the industry pays. Same goes for those cost of living calculators if you are considering relocation, especially in a high cost city. The real salaries simply do not meet the difference.

The rules change if you work with an outside recruiter for the position. A recruiter will require your most recent salary history. Their clients expect them to handle your salary negotiations and it's important for them to know where you are and where you want to be to make the offer process move forward smoothly.

Photo credit: Roby72

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Candidate Question: How do I overcome the "not having the exact experience"objection?

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I have been in PR for the past two years. I have pitched stories to radio and TV producers and hosts, written press releases, and devised story angles. While I have not worked for an "agency," the clients I worked with were mostly large, well-known agencies. I also have seven years of TV producing experience under my belt. Yet, I still seem to get (from recruiters) that they will not even consider me because their clients want "agency" experience. I have the right experience and know I can do the job, but how do I get over that hurdle?


    Remember how recruiters are typically compensated - contingency-based recruiters are only paid if they make a successful placement. A company gives a recruiter specific requirements for screening candidates prior to engaging in a search. These skills are not just based on specific work experience, but also soft skills and cultural fit. By submitting candidates who do not meet all of their qualifications, the recruiter puts his relationship with the client at risk. Too many interview rejections is a sign that a recruiter isn't evaluating his candidates properly.

    Companies choose to use recruiting services because they have either exhausted their own resources or realize the time and monetary value engaging with a specialized recruiter to fill an open, urgent position. These services are not cheap (although in comparison to the cost of not filling a position quickly, it's a steal!), so the companies hold a recruiting firm to high presentation standards. If the recruiter can source three or four candidates who have the exact experience, he isn't going to gamble on someone who doesn't meet all the specifications.

    Recruiters are also careful about how many candidates they present to a client for a position. A recruiter will choose his top candidates to present for the position - the candidates with the highest chances of landing the position. Providing too many candidates to select from causes the company to delay the hiring decisions and results in losing qualified candidates who have already interviewed in the process.

    Bottom line: If having public relations agency experience is important to the agency, the reality is that a recruiter is not going to present you for the position, even if you possess the transferable skills. Your best bet if you are looking for an agency position is to approach the agencies you are interested in directly and make them fall in love with you. Get your foot in the door through meeting agency reps at networking events, connecting through online networks, requesting an informational interview, or calling the hiring manager directly. Make sure you write an interesting cover letter explaining your desire to work in an agency environment and how you can help the agency and their clients reach their goals. Be able to spell out how your skills transfer and let your interest and passion in your industry compensate for the lack of experience.

    Not every company or every position is going to be flexible in their requirements, but by doing a bit of research beforehand about the backgrounds of other people in the agency might give you some insight about the profiles of candidates the company usually hires. I would use LinkedIN as your research site and search by current company. If you find several people who work in the company with non-traditional backgrounds, your chances of landing the interview greatly increase.

    This post is part of an on-going series featuring readers job search and hiring questions. If you have a question you would like answered in this blog, please send it to me here. Your information will be kept confidential.

    Photo credit: Matias Dutto

    Answer: Is the company asking the candidate for too much?


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    Yesterday, I posted a story from a reader who told me about a recent experience with a company asking for a marketing plan and presentation prior to making a decision between four candidates for a part-time 90-day contract position.

    Based on the comments, it seems pretty obvious most people think this kind of behavior is not acceptable. I agree.

    The company is out of line to ask for a one hour presentation outlining the marketing plan created for them - for free and with no guarantee of a hire after the presentation. Coupled with the fact, they weren't decent enough to give the candidate a moment to use the restroom during a six hour interview gives me the impression they don't know how to treat talent. The details DO matter.

    They sound like amateurs. It's behavior like this that leads me to believe somebody within the company came up with this grand idea to save the company a ton of money by bringing in as many people as possible to give them their creative ideas while someone in the room relentlessly scribbles all the notes they can take in the hour, perhaps with a recorder in pocket, and then without hesitation, they ask the candidate to leave the presentation behind.

    Apparently, that someone who gave the company this ridiculous idea is the company's very own recruiter which is another rant all together.

    PR and Marketing job seekers: A writing test, a portfolio sample, a request for references, a walk-through of previous plans, even a mock plan are normal requests (for a full-time position). Depending on the company, you may be asked to take a personality test and submit information for a formal background check. But a request to develop original, ready-to-use content for the company is not acceptable.

    Don't let yourself be taken advantage of, even in this market. There are plenty of slimeballs out there that want something for nothing. Keep those ideas to yourself and spend your time looking for something more solid and with a company who will respect you and your ideas.

    How a company behaves in the interview process is a clear sign of what it is probably like to work there just as your past performance is a predictor of how you might perform in another organization. Evaluate wisely and don't be afraid to push back.

    Photo credit: Matias Dutto

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