In the December 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, you are in control!

Step right up…

Every week, I answer your questions in the Ask The Headhunter e-mail newsletter, and then we adjourn here, where we discuss and hash out the issues and options behind the Q&A. I like to tell people that the advice, comments and insights you share on the blog are just as much a part of Ask The Headhunter as anything I write.

got-adviceThis week I want to try something different. Rather than me answering questions, I’d like to invite you to be The Headhunter — I’d like you to deliver the advice!

Please read the three short questions below, submitted by other readers, and put yourself in my shoes. What advice would you give these folks? What issues and options would you suggest these troubled readers focus on to solve their problems?

Then I’ll put myself in your shoes and add my comments, and we can all chew on it together. Maybe this will turn into a new feature — and we’ll be able to cover many more Q&As each week! (You should see the backlog in my e-mail folder!)

I’ve seeded each Q&A with some relevant resources to help you get started, but I’m counting on you to provide the real advice!

When you post your advice below, please indicate which question you’re responding to — A, B or C. Feel free to answer more than one! Please include links to any favorite Ask The Headhunter resources you think are relevant!

Question A

I sent my resume and cover letter in response to a job ad. The company says they’re interested, yet of course I have to fill out an online application. Does anyone really think I know the day I graduated school or left a job 20 years ago? Or my starting and ending salary? Worse yet — they want my GPA and my SAT score?

I put one trillion for the SAT score since it had to have a number. Of course, they also wanted a specific salary — not even a range. I left out my Social Security Number and I don’t care if it loses me the job — I am not throwing that information all over the Internet to every company that’s hiring for a job!

Is there any way around this when you can’t proceed without providing all this insane amount of detail?

What’s your reply?

You’re The Headhunter this week. Please post your advice to Question A!

Some References: Those pesky job application forms, Wanted: HR exec with the guts to not ask for your SSN.


Question B

My daughter was offered a job. Had to be drug tested. On the weekend she received an e-mail instructing her to report to orientation. She gave notice at her old job. Then she called with a question about where to report, and was told they didn’t mean to send her the notice of orientation because she flunked the drug test. Now she is going to be out of her old job without a new one. What can she do? She quit, thinking everything was okay.

What’s your reply?

Be The Headhunter this week. Please post your advice to Question B!

Reference: Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?


Question C

I passed a phone interview and now I’m invited to “meet the team” at an upcoming technical conference. They haven’t offered to pay the registration fee and I, being unemployed, can’t afford it. I believe they are well-meaning but insensitive. I don’t want to embarrass myself by telling them my problem. How best to finesse this?

What’s your reply?

You’re The Headhunter this week. Please add your reply to Question C!

Reference: Why employers should pay to interview you.


This week, you’re The Headhunter! I hope you’ll take over and respond to the three questions above. (This is not a test! You’re hired to come back next week whether you participate or not! No SSN or salary history required!)

: :

  1. Question B.
    Ouch. I guess your daughter is growing up fast. It’s a tough lesson. Never quit your old job until you have signed a new contract.
    The only thing she can really do is swallow, accept it for what it is, a lesson, and move on. Find a new job. Now that she’s got plenty of time on her hands, she should really read this website, all it’s invaluable information and apply it in her next round of job hunting.

  2. Question C:
    I’m assuming the technical conference is in your area? If so, you can set up to meet the team before or after the actual conference. Everybody has to eat and that is a more relaxed way to meet the team.
    You don’t need to even mention that you aren’t actually attending the conference and inside most conferences it is usually too busy to meet anyone for anything reasonable.
    If given a choice I’d choose after the conference…everyone is more relaxed and you can see what the dynamic is of the team. Be careful not to let your guard down too far…getting sloppy drunk is not conducive to future employment at most jobs.
    If the topic of the conference comes up, you wanted to attend but had a previous commitment…but were glad to be able to carve out time to meet them.

  3. Question A:
    Always identify and work with the hiring manager. See more advice from Nick. Oh, and I graduated on Jun 02, 19xx, over 20 years ago.

    Question B:
    Why is Mom writing this and not daughter?

    Question C:
    They offered to meet, and that is good. Is the team or conference in your area? If so, agree with Doug to meet after the conference. But you can meet at the corporate site, too, not the conference itself.

  4. Question A
    If they won’t process your application without answering these pointless questions then
    I would do the same thing you’re doing and that is fill in the blanks with meaningless data just so the application is not rejected and gets to a live person. Hopefully there is a place to list your most recent job(s) and responsibilities, that’s obviously what they should be most interested in.

    Question B
    Just like that she flunked her drug test? They should provide details for such an important decision. First thing to think about is was she taking any prescription medication that they need to be aware of. You need to get to the bottom of this to make sure she doesn’t fail another test with another potential employer for the same reason. I would see if they would repeat the test after they inform you of the details.

    Question C
    I would simply say to them that your money is tight right now and if I am hired they could
    take the registration fee out of your first paycheck.

  5. C:
    As other commenters have said, request to meet with them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, at a nearby restaurant or coffee shop. If there is continued pressure to meet at the conference, you can say that it’s not in your budget right now to pay for the conference, however would gladly attend if the hiring company were to pay all, or significant portion of, the registration fee.

    Typically, conferences are difficult places to have meaningful conversation. You can use this as a reason to meet for breakfast.

    Also, you should consider exploring whether the conference would except your services as a volunteer.

  6. Question B:
    Mom, your daughter is on drugs? Get her help to clean up her act. I am sure she will find another job in time but first things first, no more drugs otherwise she will only fail more drug tests and possibly background checks.

  7. Question C:

    If they’re inviting you to interview at the conference, then I’d say it’s on them to provide you access to the conference. It’d be no different than if they invited you to another city; they should pay your transportation/lodging/meals. (I’m assuming that this conference is local to you.)

    I’d frame the question to make them realize they have to pony up. You could call or email with something like this:

    “I’m very excited to meet with you at the conference. Should I ask for a badge from your company at the registration desk or should I register myself and file an expense report with your company?”

    If they won’t give you a badge (or pay for it) and are not willing to meet before/after as others have suggested, then you have to address the cost issue. I would not say that you don’t have the money. Simply say that you’ve already reached your yearly personal budget for conferences.

    Personally, I’d view any refusal to pay for or provide a conference badge as a big red flag.

    There is one alternative method that involves a bit of risk. Agree to meet them, show up at the conference, and ask for your badge at the registration desk. Say you’re there with the company you’re interviewing. If there is no badge, call your contact and explain that you thought there would be a badge for you. “I’m sorry, I thought one of those floor-only badges would be waiting for me. Perhaps we can meet out here in the lobby instead.”

    Finally, note that some conferences do have free or deeply discounted rates for students/unemployed people. That might be a route, too.

  8. I’ve seen the same issues myself in my last two rounds of job searches. Best advice I received from experienced headhunters and also insiders from HR departments is if it needs an answer on Salary, say $1.00. It is an opportunity to discuss what they are offering. Don’t give them something they will play with and most likely use against you. On specific details or dates might I suggest 1/1/47 or something else just as useless. They apparently are seeking to determine age and apparently are not familiar with anti-discrimination rules. Don’t criticize them that they bought a term paper example of application questions but you can remind them that such details are not appropriate and yes I plan to be pregnant and raise children in my lifetime .

    Question B- I appreciate Mom being helpful and I hope the daughter sees it for the help it is meant to be. Unfortunately jumping the gun is a final mistake in job hunting as we see. Offers need to be in writing fully before anyone walks away from employment.Take it for the best first lesson!

    Question C- unless this job is a medium 6 figure salary, there is no respect given or intended to make someone attend a conference to “meet the team” unless HR and the decision maker has already interviewed and green lighted the candidate. Take it as a rookie move to order someone to travel for an interview with a team just to see them jump. Not at all professional behavior to me. if this is your perfect job opportunity, the gamble might be worth it or at least provide a lesson in how badly and costly the job hunt can be.

  9. A. That’s why you network into the company to find and meet the Hiring Manager who needs you to do the job. If s/he believes you are the solution, they will get you past the HR blockade. If s/he wants you but cannot get you in, do you really want to work for a company run by HR, or for weak/ineffective Manager?

    B. Did she really fail the drug test? If it was due to a prescription med, challenge them. If not . . . life lesson.

    C. If I were in your shoes, I’d be straight forward. “I really enjoyed our phone conversation and know I can ___(solve problem)____. I’m eager to meet more of your team members, but the cost of the conference is steep for me right now. Is there a way for us to meet afterward at ___(nearby coffee place)______?”

  10. Question c: my first thought was this is a generic invite to meet the team at a conference and not necessarily an interview. There isn’t enough information given to really know. Companies who are good at marketing use this type of email or generic invite to meet the team as a way to get their name out or create buzz. If the invitation is specific as to time, place, etc. and specifies this is an interview that is different and I’d take it personally. But some party thrown by the company is not a job interview.

  11. Question A:
    Once you give “silly” answers to the application questions, chances are they will discard the application or call you to clarify. I agree, SAT scores and GPA are irrelevant after being out of school a while but they ask it. I would leave it blank if possible before putting in a crazy answer. As far as SSN, I would suggest reaching out to the HR person and asking if you can forgo that until there is firm interest. They may be allowed to forgo this. The SSN is later used for background checking.
    Question B:
    Hmm, maybe find out why the daughter failed the drug test first. But other than that, it’s sloppy work on the part of the new employer and frankly a little alarming but seriously she failed the drug test. Usually, I advise people not to resign until background checks etc are all cleared just in case of a snafu.

    Question C:
    Ask them if they will reimburse you for the expense. If not, then decide if you can swallow the expense. Many firms will reimburse yu after not lay out the monies before.

  12. Question A:
    ATS are for the benefit of HR almost exclusively and are not designed to get you an offer or hired. A best case scenario is to have the hiring manager push whatever vital information they require thru the system in order to secure the formal offer. Short of that, privacy is of primary importance these days and even those in HR are sensitive to it. It’s acceptable to communicate that you will provide whatever information you believe is necessary prior to a formal offer, and once you are an employee, you’ll be happy to complete the rest; “Wouldn’t you agree?”

    Question B:
    Life Lesson 1 – Quit the self sabotaging behavior
    Life Lesson 2 – Get your ducks in a row
    Life Lesson 3 – Could this situation be a product of helicopter parenting. Let her fail and figure it out because you won’t be there for her forever.

    Question C:
    The fact you see them as “insensitive” and wish to “finesse” your situation makes me believe you are not approaching this employer / interview with the best frame of mind. They are at a conference spending money and time, and are electing to spend time with you rather than perhaps another candidate or potential employer. Look at it as an opportunity rather than a problem. Secondly Conferences are often ridiculously expensive, so the expectation that anyone actually pays out of their own pocket is remote. It would not reflect poorly on you not to pay $800 to $1800 or whatever for an hour or two meeting. Likewise you should not expect the same from them; however, most conference organizers wish to keep good customers happy and will gladly offer a guest badge, and it’s okay to ask. Like others have mentioned, a reasonable way to say it would be, “I’d like to meet at the conference if you have been allocated a guest badge, or would you prefer to visit nearby?”

    So for a little job search medicine: Because you are not employed, perhaps this could be the best money you could possibly spend. Why not work the phones and find who else will be there you could meet? If I were you, I’d find a list of last year’s conference attendees and start a campaign. And lastly, leave sensitivity and finesse out of it, and present yourself as honestly as you’d hope the employer would present themselves to you. Only then will you both be able to make an informed and quality decision.

  13. My primary answer to all three questions is the same:

    Don’t work for these people. They are complete jerks (actually I have a more accurate word that begins with an A). As to specifics:

    A) Online applications are stupid and reflect stupidity at the companies using them. Pass on these jerks and only apply for jobs where you have a relationship with a living human being.

    B) Obvious advice: don’t quit til you have the formal job offer in hand. But bigger picture: drug testing, unless it is directly related to job duties (ie: school bus driver), is wrong, an invasion of privacy, and only reinforces the US’s stupid and wrong-headed drug laws. Shame on any employer conducting them without a direct job link.

    C) A little more nuanced. These jerks should have offered you a pass to the conference, so I would be bold and ask for one — there may be one-day (or similar limited or discount) passes that are cheaper than a full conference pass. Worst case scenario: buy one of those. Another worst case scenario: if you really like these folks and think you have a good shot at the job, use your credit card and pay it off once you start working. Also, you don’t mention if it is out-of-town; in that case, asking you to attend is way out of line, and they really are jerks (or A-H’s).

  14. Answer to Question A

    I work with people who are unemployed, some of them not for the first time, and I’ve been unemployed myself, more than once. I tell them to fill out the application, despite the fact most of those applications are, simply stated, stupid. No, there is no way around this – I know people who got SVP jobs at Wall Street banks, through their network and by handshake, who ultimately had to fill out the application and take all the assessments despite being guaranteed the job, or even already having started the job.

    I tell people to stay relevant – don’t give the potential employer every single detail, and not for every job you’ve ever had. How is the summer job you had mowing lawns for a hotel when you where 17 relevant? It likely isn’t. So leave that out. More than ten years only if you absolutely have to, or go back to your last degree. Dates? Most high school graduations are the last Friday in June, so pick a day between the 21st and the 25th. Most college and higher graduations are the first or second Friday in May, so pick any date from the 1st to the 12th. Or just completely make it up. You can’t imagine they’re going to try and verify those dates. When it comes to job dates, I put the first day of the month for start date, and the last day of the month for end date – you should have at least a ballpark idea of the month. GPA? Most people remember if they failed or if they got a 4.0, so unless that’s you, use 3.5 if you remember doing well, 3.0 if you aren’t sure how well, and 2.5 if you remember being average – if you want to be reasonably truthful. You probably won’t be considered if you say less than 3.0. A perfect score on the SAT was 1600, now it’s 2400 – and I promise you, if you got a perfect score, you’d remember until the day you die. So it’s not that. Try an average, get-into-college score, which would be about 1200. If push comes to shove, you can always say you forgot. As to salaries, make them reasonable and progressive, or work back regressively. For real information, you can try Look up your job title, and then at the bottom of the page you’ll find wage information, with a range of high/median/low. Works well for salary requests too, since you can find the salary range down to region. Gather all this information once, keep it handy, you know you’re going to need it again.
    As to the Social Security Number, I tell people not to give it. I have told people to put 555-55-5555 into the space to proceed, with the warning that it may get the application kicked out of consideration, since it’s clearly not accurate. If everyone did that, maybe employers would stop asking. The “do I really want to work for an employer who would do this?” quandary is in play here. They have no right to have your Social Security number until they are processing you for payment of salary. You can even do a background check with just the last four digits. What we should do is lobby for a law that says it’s illegal to ask for your Social Security number unless it’s for Social Security purposes – it’s not an ID number for anything BUT the Social Security system.

    Unfortunately, the only way around most of this is for all of us to stop complying, or for employers (and their HR departments) to realize you don’t get the best employees with these methods. Until we get closer to full employment, with solid, full-time, living-wage paying jobs, people will still keep doing what they think will get them the job. Despite the odds being against them.

  15. Answer to Question B

    The kid failed a drug test. First I’d want to know which drug, because if it was something prescribed, it should be challenged, even if you’re not going to win, and if it’s a hard drug like heroin, that should be challenged too, albeit differently. More likely it was marijuana, since the average person under the age of 40 uses it recreationally. Even very occasionally, it will show up in a drug test – like even one session, once a month. And it stays with you for weeks, even months, that one use. More than occasional use, it’s in fatty tissues for months. Many employers around here don’t drug test unless it’s relevant to the job, or they test for opiates and not weed – which is mostly because of the epidemic of opiate overdoses and deaths, and not relevant to employment either, but that’s another conversation.

    So what to do, assuming this is a marijuana issue. Go to the previous employer and ask for your job back. Say the new place over-hired and couldn’t offer any hours – it’s a common occurrence. Most sentient employers know it will cost far more to advertise for and train a replacement. Even if the supervisor or manager says no, because they’re angry over some perceived loyalty issue, go over their head to HR or at least regional management. The answer might be “no” regardless, but it will definitely be “no” if you don’t ask.

    As to the future, the child probably knows this already, as it’s a hard lesson to learn, but if you are actively seeking employment, you have to stick to alcohol as a recreational drug. Even in Colorado, where weed is as legal as alcohol, there are employers who drug test and won’t hire with a positive return on marijuana. It’s just one more way that employers can screen out applicants, nothing more. Think of not ingesting marijuana as a strategy to get the job you want. In most instances, once you get that job, you can do whatever you want. Yes, it’s not fair. Many things aren’t.

    Oh, and never, ever quit a job you have for one you might have. Most states are “at will” states, meaning you can be fired for no reason with no notice. You can also quit for no reason with no notice. It’s a courtesy to give notice, not a requirement, and yeah, it’s not nice. Neither is being unemployed, with no unemployment benefits (you can’t get it if you quit).

  16. I’m looking forward to hearing from Nick for the “official” reaction! However, all these issues seem to be more about failures or shortcomings on the sides of employers, as opposed to anything that the job hunters can do. Some thoughtful interpersonal communication might help – B might be able to win back her old job (if she has a good relationship with her manager) and C should be able to work something out to meet before/after conference activities (good suggestions from commenters). Otherwise, though, it seems like the impersonal nature of the job search is really what failed here.

  17. @Doug Johnson: (Question C) Kind of a Zen suggestion! How to go over the big mountain? “There is no mountain.” Don’t attend the conference, but arrange to visit with the company afterwards “when we can talk without interruption.” Great suggestion.

    @Chris: (Question C) “I would not say that you don’t have the money. Simply say that you’ve already reached your yearly personal budget for conferences.” That’s smooth!

    @bob: (Question A) “That’s why you network into the company to find and meet the Hiring Manager who needs you to do the job. If s/he believes you are the solution, they will get you past the HR blockade.” And this is always the key: Does the manager really need you? If he or she does, they will go to HR and make it happen. But if you’re relying merely on the “process,” and not on the will of the hiring manager, then the process will kill you. Here’s the kind of manager that makes this happen:

    @Brandon: I love your “How to Say It”: “a reasonable way to say it would be, ‘I’d like to meet at the conference if you have been allocated a guest badge, or would you prefer to visit nearby?'” That’s finesse!

    Then there’s your suggestion to leverage the conference more fully: Research other companies attending, and arrange to talk to them, too! Great suggestion!

    @Larry Kaplan: You get the “Never work with jerks” badge!

    @Barbara Holtzman: (Question A) You say there’s no way around the requirements of an online application, and I don’t agree – but you nail it at the end: “Unfortunately, the only way around most of this is for all of us to stop complying, or for employers (and their HR departments) to realize you don’t get the best employees with these methods.” Don’t comply. Move on.

    (Question B) I love your suggestion to ask for the old job back. Not likely to work, but hey, it’s a good, humbling act that MIGHT work!

    @All This column is writing itself :-). Er, ah, you’re doing a great job writing it for me! Great stuff!!

  18. Q A
    These requirements are strong indications about how the company treats its employees. I’d avoid this company.

    Q B
    This response was probably penned by a HR Droid who has no idea that there is a conference registration fee. If it is not local, just state you will not be attending but would still like to ‘meet the team’ at a later date. If the conference is local, tell them you will not be attending due to a scheduling conflict but would like to ‘meet the team’ at a later date.

  19. Question A: I had a similar situation about 6 months ago when I received an offer from my current employer. Before I submitted anything on the website, I chatted with the recruiter and let her know the information requested on the form seemed misaligned with the level of job I was applying for. She was very eager to close the deal, so she bypassed the usual process and did some manual verification of information they deem critical (e.g., employment verification, criminal background check). Online forms like the one described are usually designed for entry level employees, and I think it’s totally fine to ask for an alternative if the form doesn’t make sense for you and the level of role you’re applying for.

    Question B: Tough lesson. If the daughter disagrees with the drug test, she can ask for a retest, but the prospective employer obviously doesn’t have to agree. She can also go back to her previous employer and let them know that her other job fell through, and she’d love to come back. If she handled her exit professionally, they may be open to her returning, as it would be less costly for them to bring back a functioning employee vs. hiring and training someone new.

    Question C: I like the suggestions of meeting outside the conference. I would not give details about money being tight, but I would be up-front about not attending the conference in person, as conversation is likely to go there during a meeting. One way to put it might be, “I wasn’t planning to attend this particular conference, but I’ll be in the area and would love to meet the team over lunch or dinner. How about Tuesday over the noon hour?”

  20. A) What is your current situation? If you need the work, you jump through the hoops. If you have the luxury to choose, network your way to your next gig.

    B) This is your daughter’s fight. Give her Nicks link, and let her take it from there. Any time drugs (or alcohol) interfere with work, there is a problem.

    C) Not much to add. Some conferences have a free guest pass for the main floor. Maybe contact the conference and see if you can volunteer in return for admission?

  21. a) I would figure out who the hiring manager is and talk to them directly if possible. If they really want you because you convinced them they absdolutely need you they might be able to skip the unnecessary filtering steps. Also, putting in placeholder numbers into the application is fine., Just be sure that you disclose somewhere that you have used placeholders to avoid disclosing sensitive information in an unprotected manner. If the company won’t see you because of it, move on, its their loss.

    b) she made a mistake accepting the job before showing up and ensuring that the new job is a real thing. Worst case, i guess she can go ask for her old job back, they can say no but at least she gets it back. lastly, this is probably the best lessons in the best advice: stop doing drugs

    c) don’t tell them its not affordable to you. first tell them you are unable to attend. If the cost is very low (like under $100) then I would just pay it and go because you’ll probably learn a lot and increase your own value with what you learn and improve your network the people you meet… hey maybe someone you meet there will lead to a job offer that’s even better. Or get creative and find a way into the conference… do you know anyone in the industry? Do you know anyone who has a booth at the conference? Could you offer something to someone to get you a free pass? Contact the organizers and ask them for help. Worst case scenario, tell them you can meet them somewhere nearby for lunch, but not at the conference itself as you will not be able to meet during the conference (again you don’t have to give them any reason). My personal thought is that if they are going to this conference and you really want to work with them, it might be a relevant investment for you to figure out how to make it in, but don’t forget to explore other opporunities.

  22. A. I somehow try to get around these questions as well. Sometimes just putting zeros work, but I agree, it is no one’s business, period! I always think when I see this being asked, would the company CEO, or other employees want to fill out this specific information. NO! Then why should you?

    B. Is it too late to go back to her previous employer and ask for job back, stating the new job fell through?

    C. This is an extremely difficult position to put anyone in. I agree to the comments posted. Please ask them to meet with you in another venue, either before or after the conference.

  23. A. You’re describing job focused application game. You’re not talking to a person but an ATS (Application Tracking System) app, which likely is programmed to kick back or just discard non-answers. As someone already advised there’s no way round the ATS. to sensitive questions you can try fill-ins e.g. 1$ for salary, or leaving Social Security blank.

    More important, the way around is not to play that game. You need to move above a job to the company. Is this a company you really really want to be part of? Per research or personal knowledge. Then do the work to find & try to find the hiring manager, and engage there. Next best is an HR recruiter and gain interest. There’s much more work here with no guaranteed payoff, than filling out that application. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, you’ve answered your question as to applying. You’re not interested so don’t bother.

    What they want eventually is an application to populate a data base. But in actuality it doesn’t have to be a 1st step, it can be later in the game when you/the hiring manager have decided on a fit. Then it’s just a pro-forma step, where some information is obviously needed e.g. your SS #. and other info can be just left out.

    B. What’s implied from mom is the lack of surprise. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of these. In most cases people who fail drug tests aren’t surprised. It’s kind of like “Oh well, it was worth a shot”. But sometimes the applicant is surprised. It’s totally unexpected, and as a # of people have already noted, it’s because they were on prescribed meds and didn’t realize it had impact on drug testing. And sometimes it can be food. And sometimes it was just a false positive with no prominent reason.
    Also, we were a small company, and if you asked you’d get the details.
    So if you’re surprised, you can try to talk to HR. If you made a good impression, retesting isn’t out of the question.
    As others advised, go back to your former company and ask to be reinstated. Can’t hurt.
    And when taking on a new job, take heed of the Tarzan rule. “Don’t let go of the vine you have, until you have a firm hold on the next one”
    C. When you referred to Conference fee, you implied it’s local to you. Most likely they aren’t being insensitive, just oblivious. Their company is paying their freight and most likely they don’t even know the cost. Just tell them you’d love to meet the team, but given the cost it would work much better for you if you met for a lunch near the conference. Before, during or after. While you may “meet the team” the environment sucks for quality time and attention. Conferences are zoos anyway & your suggestion for some peace and quiet will be welcome to anyone’s whose done these things.
    I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I’ve told more than one hiring manager that if they were unemployed once in their life, they’d interview and assess a lot better. My rule of thumb, is the employed pay. They should understand that. If not, don’t worry you haven’t missed much

  24. Question A – Don’t do online job applications, they’re for survivor jobs only.

    Question B – Hope she learned some lesson’s.

    Question C – Not gonna happen, wrong type of event for the hiring process.

  25. B PS, drug test pass or fail, HR screwed up on this one, so if you are using drugs and meds did you in, there are real people in the pile who know they basically misled you & should at least give you the feedback on the test.

  26. I wish there were an easy answer to A. However, with so many different versions of online applications out there, it’s not possible to be definitive. I’ve seen good ones that don’t require SS#’s and don’t ask for stupid, irrelevant info. Then there are the nightmares. A client recently showed me one that required Zip+4 for every address, and of course they not only wanted the candidate’s address but those of every past employer and school as well. Every date required month, day and year. If you decide to abandon one of these, make sure you go to the company’s Contact Us page and let them know that they are losing good candidates because of their ridiculous application process. The software was probably purchased by some totally in the dark VP who never actually used it (the same one that still insists on using Monster!). Give the HR grunts some ammunition to throw back in their direction.

    In many cases the online app is a formality but an essential one. My wife has been in the Social Work Department of a large children’s hospital since 1977. Three years ago the Director’s job came open. She had to fill out the online app just like anyone else because she wouldn’t exist as a candidate until she did. (She got the job, by the way.)

    It’s not the case that online apps are just for entry level and menial jobs. I just checked Goodyear’s site. The postings for an Entry Level Auto Service Tech and a Senior Development Engineer take you to the exact same application. If you want that engineer’s job, you are going to fill out the online app at some point.

  27. Question A:
    When making a form, it is simple to include all sorts of stuff which might be irrelevant. For a new college grad the GPA is very important. For someone with 20 years of experience, not so much. Fill in the relevant stuff, ignore the irrelevant stuff, don’t give them your SSN, and don’t sweat it. You wouldn’t want to work for someone who cares about your SAT scores from 25 years ago, would you?

    Question C: I’ve been involved with running a technical conference for over a decade, and I’ve done a bunch of others. They usually get held in a hotel or convention center. In either case there is plenty of room in the lobby to talk. You need to be registered to go to technical sessions or exhibit areas, neither of which is a good place for an interview. Doing it over a meal is fine, but in a lobby or other public area does not limit the times and is probably quieter.
    Everyone knows that the useful interactions at a conference happen in the hallways. A great place to network by the way. Networking usually comes back in our feedback as the biggest benefit people get out of our conference.

  28. For A) the Federal Government has a job application website like this, you have to use it even when applying for a new position at the base where you currently work. (I didn’t remember my GPA, so after getting bounced by the computer once I looked up my transcript from HR’s files). Currently I am applying for a detail which doesn’t require that, but if I get the detail I will need to fill out the ATS for the permanent job. (And if you get past the computer, HR personnel will throw out the application if the resume is written for that particular job, which the ATS encourages to do.)
    B) She should ask for her old job back, just saying they told her to report for orientation, and when she showed up told her it was a mistake (do not mention the test). Many employers of young people assume they will move on, and so will often take people back. Some of my daughter’s old employers have even told me and my wife that they would like her back!

  29. Question B: I mostly agree with the other responses to this one, but when she asks for the old job back she had better have a real good reason for looking for the new one, and some real good reason they can expect her to stay. If I were her manager, even if I thought she had done a good job, I’d expect her to leave at any time and therefore be looking for a replacement.

  30. Question A – if you don’t have the hiring manager on board, it’s too early to be filling out forms

    Question B – Park that helicopter. If you can’t pass an employment drug test, Nick is not the person this candidate needs right now.m

    Question C…I’m not available that week, Another employer is sending their team to meet me and it would be rude to stand them up.

  31. Question A:

    In an ideal world, you go AROUND HR and speak with the hiring manager. If you absolutely need the job, then you will probably have to jump through the hoops. You can enter all zeroes, all ones, all nines just to put something in the field yet not disclose sensitive information. The last thing you want is for your SS# to be floating around in someone’s database, sold to someone for profit (data is profit), or have your identity stolen by some low life who hacks into the system. Many employers are getting “smarter” with their online application forms and not only is the SS# field *required* but it recognizes fake SS# (all ones, all nines). Ditto for the salary question. It either throws you out or tells you that you can’t proceed until you enter your SS#, salary, etc.

    As for asking for your high school and college graduation dates, SAT scores, and GPA, I think it is silly. Asking for the dates could be construed as age discrimination (why else would they ask or care), and as for SAT scores and GPA, they lose importance the longer you are out of college. SAT scores cease to be important once you’re IN college, and I can’t imagine why an employer wants them, unless the job is working for a testing company or teaching kids how to beat the SAT, and even then it is iffy. I think asking for these scores are just another way for HR to screen you out.

    Question B: Why is momma bear running interference for darling daughter? DD should be here, asking this question herself! If she’s adult enough to apply for jobs, then she should be adult enough to deal directly with the employer (or ask Nick herself).

    If the reason DD failed the drug test is because she uses drugs, be they marijuana or something else (heroin, meth, opioids), then this is one of those life lessons that are hard lessons and that the young often have to learn. Advice to momma bear: DD needs to get clean/stop doing drugs, and she has to put on her big girl panties and deal with the fact that her behavior and choices have cost her a job. If she’s not a drug user but failed the drug test due to prescription drugs that she is taking under a doctor’s care and orders, then she should get a letter from her doctor explaining that she is taking prescription drugs and is under his care. She should also contact HR and the hiring manager to explain that she’s taking drug x, here’s the letter from her doctor, and ask to be reconsidered.

    If she’s not using drugs nor taking them under a doctor’s care, then it is possible that the test generated a false negative and she could ask to be re-tested or she could find another, more reputable lab and submit their report (assuming that she passes the drug test).

    If test results stand and if DD left her job in good standing (i.e., gave adequate notice, did a good job while employed there), she should contact her old boss and ask for her job back. It is possible that they haven’t hired her replacement yet, and she would be cheaper to re-hire than to start from scratch with someone new.

    Question C: Conferences themselves are not the best way to meet and have conversations with people, especially if there are classes, presentations, tests, etc. If you can afford it, I’d try to go but try to meet people in the lobby or hallway or offer to meet with people for coffee elsewhere. Sometimes that doesn’t work if hosts of the conference are feeding the participants.

  32. A You can usually fill these fields with placeholders, but it will hurt you if anyone actually reads the application. Best thing is to do what Nick always says and talk to the hiring manager,not HR

    B Probably not much she can do now except look for another job. For the future stop using drugs, almost every employer tests nowadays.

    C Say you can’t attend the conference but will meet them before or after. Or even tell them the truth and see if they offer to pay your way. If they want to pay what I assume is a significant amount for the privelege of a job interview they are worse than insensitive and I would move on.

  33. C. Many conferences have 1-day rates, and there are some areas which can be accessed without fees, such as book exhibits, demos by corporate sponsors, etc. You should be on the mailing list of the conference or a sponsor company anyway, since it is in your field. This way you will get the e-mail or pamphlet showing the presentation schedule for each day, and you can choose to attend ONLY the one day of your interview to save money. Skipping the conference is not the way to save money— you need to learn the new trends, and meeting all the members will give you new contacts. You can volunteer to write it up for your local paper, and get a publication with your name for free to prove your credentials are up-to-date. IF this is your career (not just a job), you go to the conference. Pick a temp-staff job for a few weeks to get the cash to attend if you really have no money. IF you really don’t want to attend the conference, you may actually be burnt out and looking to change careers— that’s on you, not on them…

  34. C) Hmmm….this one’s awkward, since they haven’t actually offered you the job yet, and this “meeting the team”…is it a “meet the team interview” or “meet the team you’ll be working with” kinda thing?

    If you know this is an interview, have you looked into the Twitter feeds or websites of vendors that may have a booth at this conference? Some will offer free or heavily discounted passes, believe it or not: I recently had a one year stint of unemployment and during that time, I scored a free pass to a major tech conference by using a code from a vendor’s twitter feed. If you are a woman, (sorry guys!) call the tech conference and ask for a “diversity scholarship” to cover the cost of registration. There’s a real push to get women in tech, so these are getting common. (This is also how I got free admission to yet another tech conference I went to while unemployed).

    Otherwise…ugh…I think you may have to bite the bullet and just tell them the truth. Any good company with their head on straight will understand. Maybe suggest meeting up with them after the conference somewhere nearby?

    Failing all that, you could be super gutsy and just call asking for the name of the person you’ll “submit your expense form to.” :P

  35. Wow – you guys are doing a GREAT job on all 3 questions. I love some of the methods to get into conferences when money’s tight, and the suggestion that such industry/professional events are an important career tool anyway. (@Gloria: Go, girl! “Diversity scholarship”?? Hey, try it!)

  36. Question B: It’s hardly impossible for a manager to allow an employee to stay after having a change of heart subsequent to giving the customary two weeks’ notice. I’ve seen it happen. And regarding the “failed” drug test, this could be the contact person’s tactic for blowing-off the applicant. Get it in writing.

  37. Question B (first because the answer is most important): Ignore all the commenters who assume that your daughter is doing anything she shouldn’t do regarding drugs. Do not let them mess up your relationship with your daughter.

    There are many ways to flunk a drug test even if you’re doing nothing wrong or illegal. Legitimate use of prescription drugs is just the most likely one. The labs that do drug tests are the scum at the bottom of the barrel in the healthcare industry. They can screw up all they want, and they will very rarely be held accountable. The employers who hire them do so only to cover their butts. They don’t care how many applicants get wrongly rejected.

    That said, if your daughter does use “recreational” drugs, even harmlessly, even where it’s legal, she has to accept that she’ll never pass a drug test until she’s stopped using those drugs for a fairly long time.

    If she’s not using “recreational” drugs, then, in the future, if she takes a drug test, she should be sure to state on the testing forms any legitimate prescription drugs she has taken in the recent past. (I’m not sure of the limits, but it’s more than just a few days, and may be much longer. Be safe and go back a ways.) If she fails a drug test, she should insist on getting the details.

    If the reason for faliure is a legitimate prescription drug, the lab should correct that that on submission of proof of a prescription from her pharmacist, and then notify the employer. Your daughter should also notify the employer that a legitimate prescription was involved, and a correction has been submitted to the lab. It may be too late, and the lab may not be cooperative, but it may be worth it.

    Question A: Many good suggestions above about handling this. The best, of course, is to not deal with employers like this, if you can afford not to.

    Even if you can’t afford not to, recognize that the odds of getting hired by an employer like that are extremely slim. The employer is so dysfunctional they’re essentially hiring at random, and in any case they may be getting hundreds or even thousands of applications for that one position. **This means you should never invest too much time in that application, and as soon as you submit the application, forget about it totally and move on to the next prospect.

    However, the lower on the totem pole you are, the more likely it is that you will have to fill out such applications, and the more likely it is that your application will be discarded if you don’t fill in all the blanks.

    if you are one of the many who has to fill out generic applications like this, the most important thing you can do is to sit down and get the needed information down once and for all. Collect all the information, trivial or otherwise, that you might ever actually put on an application. Have it handy for filling out applications. (Never give them your Social Security number, for instance. Assume, to be on the safe side, that any data you give to a private employer will be sent to India for processing.)

    If you can’t leave an answer blank, put something in it.

    But never make up real-sounding answers to important questions. That’s culpable lying. It’s okay to put down “one trilion” for a GPA test score, but don’t use a made-up number that looks like a real score. It’s okay to make up the month and day of your graduation, as long as the year is correct. (A made-up month should be one of the usual graduation months: May, June, or December if you graduated in winter.) It’s okay to put down $1.00 for your salary if that’s the only way you can say “none of your business.”

    As for graduation dates, if you’re young, it’s a legitimate question. If you’re not, it’s age discrimination. It’s normal for people with long work experience to leave out graduation dates on resumes. If you can’t leave it blank on an online application, try xx/xx/xx, or 00/00/00, or 99/99/99.

  38. Question A. If possible find a back door into the company by trying to make contact with people in the company who could help you get the interview you want. If that’s not possible and you have to fill out the on-line form try and do it nicely, but be your own person. For things like SAT score, put NA or I don’t remember. For SSN – leave it blank and I’d do that even if the rest of the online form made sense. For salary or range put “Let’s talk about it”. Of course if this is a true example of how this company thinks – do you really want to work for them?

    Question B. Never leave an old job before you are sure you have the new one. However, assuming that she really did fail the drug test – is she so naive that she didn’t know that was a possibility? If she quit the old job thinking that all was OK, even knowing that she’s using drugs, she needs to take a good hard look at her own life and decision making skills before attempting to move on to another job situation. Depending on how she left the old one, perhaps she could try and get it back. I’ve known people who had decided to leave and had turned in their notice, but something happened that the job on the other end didn’t work out and the old company hired them back because they left without burning bridges behind them and had demonstrated a good and worthwhile work ethic at the old job.

    Question C. If the person was honest on whatever resume or form they filled out to get this far in the process, the new company should know that the candidate is currently unemployed. He should remind them of that fact, but suggest that perhaps they can do Skype or some other on-line meeting software so that he and the team can still meet. If this then takes them to the next step, the candidate may need to borrow from family to make a trip if that’s needed or, at this point, perhaps the company can put some money in the game and at least pay for part of a needed trip.

  39. @Ken: “The employers who hire them [the scum of labs] do so only to cover their butts.”

    Isn’t this the trend in HR? To outsource decision making to “consultants” to cover HR’s butt and avoid being accountable? As you point out, who oversees this stuff? No one. It’s why job seekers have become so meek and so willing to take the abuse.

  40. One additional thought on C:

    While meeting at a trade show might not be conducive to a formal interview, it is an excellent casual environment for interacting with the team (networking = talking shop).

    It sounds like the company wants to see what you are like and how you interact with the team before they start discussing specific hard skills.

  41. Re: Question C
    I would ask the association or company hosting the event if they can give you a pro-rated rate or if they have a special discount (tell them you’d love to attend but you’re out of work). You also want to show your dedication to this industry. If that doesn’t work, @Brandon offers a great alternative.

  42. Question A:

    I’ve been in a similar position; I asked them if all of the information was required/used. I was told “yes” and that it was “industry standard.” I politely told them “Sorry, I’m not giving all of this information unless a background check is required and there is a conditional job offer on the table.” At that point you can try to work around HR to see if you can get somewhere but expect HR to dig their heels in.

    It’s just common sense; you don’t give your SSN until you’re filling out your forms to be paid and what you made previously is none of their business. The only type of employer that would require you to submit any type of this information would be law enforcement, defense/military/intelligence or some such job.

    Unfortunately, until enough people say “no” to these type of requests, nothing will change.

    Question B:

    The unpopular advice here would be to cut out the drugs/alcohol from your life, especially if you are looking for new work.

  43. A) Could be that HR is simply being lazy by applying a boilerplate application. Could also be that they really want answers to these questions. Neither explanation is particularly flattering. Keep in mind that whatever you enter becomes the company’s property and likely may, at the company’s discretion, be shared with whatever affiliates they later deem appropriate: I once received a rejection letter not from the company with whom I had interviewed, but by an unfamiliar third party outfit.

    Where you draw the line on how much personal information to share is your call. Note that the Educational Testing Service, author of the SAT/GRE/MCAT/etc. tests, do not consider the scores to be appropriate tools for hiring decisions. That said, a well-known hedge fund whose recruitment ads emphasize a need for candidates with “outstanding intellectual ability” also asks for the scores.

    B) Clinical tests have a random component, so come ready-made with a false-positive rate. It could be your daughter simply failed the test by chance. It would not hurt to obtain documentation of which tests she failed as well as the false-positive rates typically ascribed to those tests. If she has dabbled in some pharmaceutical no-no’s, though, then the experience should be an eye-opener.

    A few people have pointed out the importance of having a signed offer in hand before quitting a job. While this may be necessary, it is by no means sufficient: at-will employment can be terminated any time, for any reason – or for no reason. As Nick has emphasized, it is essential to try to maintain excellent relations when exiting a company.

    C) Generally agree with other posters who have pointed out that conferences are not usually good venues for interviews. Also concur with the suggestion to request a guest pass for the floor: exhibitors typically get a bunch of these, as not all their customers care to spring for the expense of either money or time incurred through general registration.

    Not really enough information to comment on the overall appropriateness. I have traveled on my own dime to meet with key people – with successful and remunerative outcomes – but would not generally endorse the practice. I’ve also served alternately as attendee and presenter at company-sponsored job booths and found them to be of little more use than attaching a face to a resume.

  44. On Question C, I’m honestly surprised so many people want the job seeker to explain the reason for not attending. Just say, “Sorry, I can’t attend that show this year.” Why explain? (That assumes you don’t want to attend, in which case some of the other suggestions like volunteering apply.)

  45. Nick, this is probably going to be a lot more work for you, so hopefully this approach is worth it.

    For A:

    Quite a number of employers like the United Nations expect you to provide such unrealistic details, giving me the impression that it is mainly people within the UN system that can provide such details over a long period of time. Most people would have had several educational qualifications/trainings/career moves and not able to provide exact start/end dates as well as start/end salaries.

    For B:

    Pity, it is a very bad idea to quit a job before all details of a new one have been concluded i.e. you have formally accepted a job offer.

    For C:

    Not sure why this venue/forum was chosen for an interview, but perhaps the candidate should clarify whether the Company’s Letter of invitation will be sufficient to gain him/her access to the conference venue.

    I wish them all luck going forward.

  46. Question A: I agree that these applications ask for unnecessary information or required answers too early in the application process. They can be misused to inadvertently screen out qualified respondents. However, for many companies, there are compliance issues that they believe are best met by using the standard, on-line application. If the company is a federal contractor or they have to prove EEO or ADA compliance, the data collected is needed to demonstrate that the applicant pool for an advertised position is diverse, those interviewed are the most qualified, and the one hired is the best of the bunch. I use to work for a federal contractor who could not deal with candidates until a opening was posted and applicants were “in the system” because, if caught doing otherwise, not only could the contract be pulled but they would be barred from future awards. EEOA requires periodic reports on diversity in hiring which can be compared to the diversity in the general population in the hiring region. The standard on-line application provides most of the data needed to determine qualifications against the written job description and the EEO questionnaire gives them the demographic info needed to prove the diversity of the applicant pool.

    Even if a candidate is found by other means, at most large organizations, that seemingly irrelevant application will have to be done at some point to avoid potential legal issues.

    Question C: Earlier this year, someone close to me (who told me about Ask the Headhunter!) had been unemployed from a “real” job for a long time and was facing critical financial issues. He could not afford the entrance fee to attend the important conference in his field but got creative. He used air miles and hotel points left from his previous job to fly to the conference city. He walked into the exhibition area without a pass and started making contacts. On the second day, he got nabbed and escorted out, but not before he made contact with a company that hired him a few weeks later. It was a daring move, but it got him a job in his field suited to his strengths with a lot of future potential

  47. Question A:
    I’m going to take a slightly different tack with this.

    It used to be common and accepted that women were paid less than men for the same job. Now that’s illegal. (Can be hard to prosecute, but still illegal.) That didn’t end because of individual women interacting with individual companies and convincing companies to change, it ended because of huge numbers of people together convincing congress to change the law. That’s what’s needed here. New laws that make the bad/stupid behavior illegal.

    Unfortunately, congress currently is more concerned with what’s best for corporations, rather than what’s best for citizens. I think that a large part of the cause of this is the way that we fund election campaigns. People in congress have too much attention on the corporate lobbyist and the small number of people who fund their campaigns, rather than the majority of the people in the states and districts that they were elected to represent.

    My two favorite efforts to fix this problem are:

    MAYDAY is working to elect representatives in congress who support changing the way campaigns are financed. (

    Passing the Citizen’s Equality Act would change the way that we fund political campaigns, along with making other changes that promote greater democracy. (

    So yah, follow the various suggestions about how to get around this stuff. But also work for a broader, more fundamental change.

  48. Question A: Per ChrisD, any government job at any level is going to require an application through an online system and contractors have to comply with this as well. Refusing to work with companies that require this could mean missing some great opportunities. I had to do it for my current position BUT not until after I had met with the hiring manager – who contacted me and let me know about the opening. I had no problem with filling it out – truthfully as they do check. If I had to put in something – I would use something obviously fake and then explain if asked. When I am hiring – permanent employees or consultants, I call all of the references; check all of their credentials. I recently had an applicant whose references stated that the applicant’s work samples had been done by the reference, the other references were incorrectly presented as employers – turned out to be fellow contractors in a different line of work, then heard through the grapevine of other ethical lapses.

    Question B: forward the column to your daughter and let her handle it, offer your support but don’t do it for her.

  49. @Carl: Agreed. Sound very compliant w/o regard for reasonableness (i.e. no boundaries).

  50. Question B: Clarification is needed. If the applicant did not pass the drug screening portion of the new hire process (1) was she notified in writing and (2) is there an opportunity to re-test? I’m taking the high road by assuming there was an error or perhaps the candidate can explain the test results. There needs to be clear written communication on the issue. Also, the timing of things seemed to be off.

    Giving 2 weeks notice means that all pre-employment results/checks/fingerprinting, etc. are done and both parties have agreed on a start date that allows for proper notice and time to breathe in between (take a few days for yourself in between or negotiate days off as part of the process or both!).