Comings and Goings
A Careful Hunt Is a Better Strategy Than a Quick Exit

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007

Clip and save this one, folks.

Each week job hunters write me, and each week the same questions crop up. While there aren't always hard and fast answers because every person and situation is different, I've rounded up experts to help me with some of the most frequently asked questions.

· I hate my new job. How soon can I leave without ruining future prospects?

That job you took because you were desperate or that opportunity you thought was just right turned out to be a nightmare. And a few weeks in, you want out. Will leaving keep you from future jobs because you'll be seen as a job hopper?

If you have a history of frequent job changes -- usually jobs you kept for less than a year -- beware. "I look for a geographical change or if a company was acquired. If there wasn't some catalyst like that, I put it in a no or maybe pile. And the maybe pile rarely gets looked at," said Paul Villella, president and chief executive of HireStrategy, a recruiting firm in Reston.

There are reasons for skipping out quickly, and sometimes that's fine by future employers. Just make sure not to blame the company. Instead, say you misjudged the opportunity. "Own the issue," Villella said. "You'll come across much better, and someone will be able to move past it much better."

But also think about your situation -- carefully -- before you decide to jump ship. Maybe you haven't spent enough time at this job to figure out how you fit in. Maybe that opportunity just will take some time to earn. Don't let yourself leave before you are sure you must. Otherwise, your résumé will look like a quilt.

"We always talk about red flags. But a red flag I'd differentiate from a derailer," said Lee Burbage, vice president of human resources for Motley Fool in Alexandria. If there is just one job that was a short stint, he'll still consider an interview. But he will ask why you left so soon.

So should you stay for a year just to get a year on the résumé? It all depends on your history. Figure out what yours is.

· What is an informational interview? Will a company take me seriously if I ask for one?

Remember when your career counselor at college advised you to try to get informational interviews to get a foot in the door? He seemed so naive. Calling a company to say you don't expect a job but would be interested in talking to them about the work seems so foreign.

However, some human resource directors (read: those who do the hiring) say informational interviews can be a way in.

The thing about such interviews is you, the job seeker, get to try the company on for size as much as the company gets to check you out. It shows you're interested, but not desperate. (Welcome to "The Rules: Office Edition.")

Be sure to target the kind of company you're interested in. But getting an interview may take some maneuvering. Mary Good, senior vice president of human resources at Blackboard, an education software company in the District, advises using your networks. Try neighbors, friends, an alumni association. Good has been reached through the Penn State Alumni Association. "If a person wants to get a foot in the door or learn about human resources, if they send me an e-mail that they graduated from Penn State, they're in," she said.

The informational interview does a couple of things, said Michael Beckmann, director of talent acquisition at Freddie Mac. For one, it determines if there is a fit. And if there is one, is there a level of "attraction that could lead to formalized interviews"?

"It's an investment in the future of the company," Good said. "Even though someone may just be exploring opportunities, it may be a year or two down the road, we have an open position and they are in a much better place because they understand the company and are known to us."

Good hired a young woman who asked for an informational interview through a contact at Penn State. They hit it off, and the woman ended up with an internship at Blackboard. She is now a full-time employee.

· Can I look for a new job while I'm pregnant?

Congrats! But you're in the midst of -- or want to be in the midst of -- a new job search. 'Fess up? Don't tell and hope you can get some leave when your kid appears? Go to the interview even though they will know immediately that you're pregnant? There is no right answer, but there is some guidance.

You want to find out as much as you can about an organization when you interview, right? You'll want to know what kind of leave the company has, yes? Well, ask. "You would be well served to make sure you know everything there is to know about your company's benefits and past practices," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The best situation would be to come out of an interview "armed with information about what has been the case, what the employer's policies are and what your own needs are," she said.

So listen closely during the interview. Make yourself as aware of the culture as you can. And if you are comfortable or think you should reveal your pregnancy, do so once you are offered the position. It is illegal to not hire you because you are pregnant. And don't forget that if you do end up working with these people, they will be pleased that you were open with them early on.

The partnership practices what it preaches. Its chief financial officer was seven months pregnant when they offered her the job. Its director of health policy told them in the interview that she was expecting, as well.

"Personally, as an employer, I was very appreciative that she was so honest," Ness said. "I thought it was a good sign of the kind of working relationship we would have."

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