Transcript: Monday, June 26, 11 a.m. ET

In H(e)R Shoes

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Sharon Jautz
Director of Human Resources, Forbes.com
Monday, June 26, 2006; 11:00 AM

Avoid: sweaty palms, white socks, long-winded answers and little white lies to clinch a new and better job. You can learn more about every stage of the job hunt, from recruiting to networking to transitioning to a new career, by checking in with our Hiring Squad

this week for articles, tools, live discussions and more.

Sharon Jautz is the human resources director for Forbes.com, a valuable online resource for the world's business leaders. She is also hip to how Reed Elsevier and Playboy hire, from her work for those companies. She is a consummate hiring expert.

Sharon was online to take your questions about hiring practices.

The transcript follows below.

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Washington, D.C.: If you were considering a job, would you negotiate for salary and other benefits or just take the offer? If the answer is yes, what's your strategy? Also, what kind of leeway do candidates have when negotiating?

Sharon Jautz: Ah! The question everyone's dying to ask! You should definitely negotiate, but, do so professionally. I would simply state your current salary requirements and where you'd like to be. And go from there.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it ok to put your security clearance on your resume? If not, what is the best way to let HR and potential employers know about this incentive to hire you? Cover letter? Casually bring up in an interview? (I'm of course talking about security-related jobs here.)

Sharon Jautz: I think you should put it on your resume and/or cover letter. It's pertinent to your industry and belongs there.

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Arlington, Va.: I am Texas transplant of sorts and have worn cowboy boots most of my early teen and adult life (approaching 40 these days) ... I love 'em and wear them with suits and to almost every event I go to, including interviews. I have had some hits and misses with interviews (natural enough) but some have suggested that maybe I should "scrub" the boots for the next and go with a basic black brogue. What are your thoughts on interview garb -- men's wear (from head to toe) including cowboy boots?

Sharon Jautz: Depends. On the boots and the company! Have the boots seen better days? Are you interviewing at a bank or for retail? I would ditch the boots, perhaps, and go with shoes for the interview.

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Washington, D.C.: I would like the honest scoop on how employers view braids or very neat locs on African-American candidates who are highly qualified. What do they say behind closed doors?

Sharon Jautz: Wouldn't phase me in the least. The only thing I do notice are clean and neat!

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Dallas, Tex.: I'm looking to move into finance. I am halfway to my MBA with a concentration in finance, however, I could get an MS in finance. So which would look better between the degrees?

Sharon Jautz: Go for the MBA. Very marketable. You really don't need a masters' degree for most jobs. However, an MBA is the advanced degree to get if you're going back for an advanced degree.

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Reston, Va.: Why is there so much discrimination against older workers?

Sharon Jautz: That hasn't been my experience.

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So very confused: Thanks for this very timely chat! Can you offer some tips on making a cover letter/resume memorable? I recently put in some applications that I thought were really strong and well-researched, but received no response at all. Also, is it appropriate to call an HR department and ask for pointers on making subsequent applications stronger?

Sharon Jautz: Sure! Keep it short, watch your spelling and grammar, get the names of the person to whom you are writing and the company right. Talk about the specific job for which you are applying and your salary range.

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Washington, D.C.: Why do some companies never send so much as a "Thanks, but no thanks" e-mail or rejection letter when they're not interested?

Sharon Jautz: The simple and honest answer is that the resumes/applications are too voluminous -- it would seriously be someone's full-time job. Rather, most companies elect to electronically verify receipt of your inquiry and will contact you if we would like to arrange a personal interview.

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Washington, D.C.: Why does it take so long to get a job offer after I've had two or more interviews? Or, at the least, a final decision? Don't HR people know the effect all this waiting has on our lives?

Sharon Jautz: You have no idea what goes on behind the scenes! Budget -- what budget? Who approved this addition to headcount? Doesn't Charlie have to approve/see all final candidates? Oh, and he's on vacation til August 1? What do you mean we have to post the job internally for a minimum of two weeks? The list goes on and on. Hopefully, your lengthy interview processes will be short. At Playboy, I had to interview with no fewer than 10 people in two cities. That's a lot of logistics to work out!

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Bethesda, Md.: I currently work for a company that allows employees to transfer from one team to another. We interview with the team of interest and if we accept the offer we can then proceed with the transfer. The problem is that if we don't get an offer from the team of interest, we are unlikely to hear from them at all. What suggestion do you have under this kind of circumstance? Call them up?

Sharon Jautz: I think it would be fair to assume that if you don't hear -- and you make inquiries -- from the team of interest, that you have not been selected. What is up with people not communicating??? UGH!

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I am tired of being given business cards from staff in the hiring department who say "contact me with any questions", only to never respond when you do inquire, especially about status.

Why bother sharing contact info with a candidate if you really don't want to -- or can't -- address a candidate's question after the interview?

Are they just being polite? Or, if it's some type of HR conflict, why can't they be honest with candidates.

Might you have any more insight?

Sharon Jautz: I am always honest with candidates and I think it's bad form not to at least tell the folks you personally interviewed about the status of a job. I won't, however, ever get into any details about why someone was not chosen for a job. I will simply state that we selected a candidate whose experience is more aligned with the requirements of the job.

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Washington, D.C.: Recently I had an interview for a HR manager position at a security company. I met with the director Of HR. During the interview he picked up the phone and started conducting business then turns to me and says, "Continue, I am listening ... but I am very busy." I immediately thought that this was a test so I continued. I found this very rude and annoying. After five minutes I stopped. He then turned back around to me and commented on my resume. After the interview was over he told me I was in the top three and he had some homework for me. He wanted me to go home and write two detailed paragraphs why he should hire me.

Can you comment? I am puzzled.

Sharon Jautz: Sounds to me as though he's a bad interviewer! And you're right -- not giving someone your undivided attention in an interview is indeed rude. I would look someplace else for a job -- you want a boss that can be a mentor to you.

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Washington, D.C.: I'd like to switch to a career in HR. I have no experience or training, but certainly am willing to obtain it. In addition, I have a background in finance and believe that might be useful in personnel decisions and staffing plans. Can you tell me how to go about making the switch?

Sharon Jautz: Good for you! Since you are making a career switch, be prepared to start off at a lower level (with lower pay!) than where you are now. If you can get that message across, you should be able to find something!

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Northern Virginia: I hope that as a human resources manager you can address an issue that many job seekers are experiencing more frequently. When did it become normal not to follow-up with candidates who are interviewed to let them know of the outcome? Over the last few months I have interviewed for several program manager-level positions and had no further communication from the organization. HR personnel have blamed the hiring department, the hiring has blamed HR, HR told me that "they are too busy to advise candidates they were not selected," and in one case I simply never received a response to a phone message. It all goes a long way to engender more cynicism about the whole hiring process -- it doesn't say much about how an organization treats its employees if this is the way it treats candidates.

Sharon Jautz: I agree with you....that's just not right. If you have been personally interviewed, you should absolutely be informed of your status. And HR should do this -- NOT the hiring manager. Yikes!

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Washington, D.C.:

I am a professionally ambitious person who works hard and I have good skills and credentials. I am about mid-level right now but would like to move up. I work for an educational nonprofit. I write to seek your advice because I have unconventional political beliefs. I am not mainstream in my views at all and am a supporter of labor unions and other progressive causes. I am also involved in groups that other people have described as "lefty" or "socialist." Should I expect discrimination because of my beliefs the higher up I aspire or the more "corporate" my career directions go? Would it be best if I stay within the niche of politics, public policy and nonprofits? I know there are laws against discrimination in this country but I also know that the work world isn't fair sometimes.

Thanks.

Sharon Jautz: You should absolutely keep your politics out of the office. They have no place there. you need to work for a company whose policies, procedure and products won't interfere with your beliefs.

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Washington, D.C.: Are e-mailed thank-you notes really OK or should they be hard copy?

Sharon Jautz: To even get a thank-you note is thrilling these days. I prefer a handwritten note on nice, plain stationary, but, e-mail is fine. I think it's just a personal preference.

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New York, N.Y.: Sharon: I am one of two finalists for a job as the director of communications for a large nonprofit organization. Part of the job would be getting our name in news stories, op-eds, etc. This past weekend, my letter to the editor was published in a major daily newspaper. I am tempted to send the link to the woman who is making the final decision (see, I can get published!). However, the letter also makes my political views quite clear. Would you send the letter? Or would the chance that our two political views are not the same diminish my chances? Thanks!

Sharon Jautz: Nah ... I wouldn't send it. I am presuming that in the interview process, you have given the hiring manager plenty of clips and examples of your ability to generate press for clients, right? You may want to follow up, though, via email re-stating your interest in the role and the company.

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Memphis, Tenn.: Ms. Jautz,

I am ready to take on a project management role, but haven't had any actual experience. I know I've got the skills and know-how to be a successful manager. How does my lack of experience hurt me and how can I "earn points" in an interview by showing a prospective employer that I have what it takes to be a successful manager?

Sharon Jautz: Can you get some experience at your current job first? Try that first to get some actual, hands-on experience. THEN, you'd have something to talk about.

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Crofton, Md.: Can a previous employer give a bad reference if contacted by a future employer? And are their ways to find out the recommendation given by the previous employer?

Sharon Jautz: Giving out ANY type of reference is a slippery slope for most employers. Most companies simply state your name, your final title and dates of employment. While this tends to be the policy for most, now and then, you get a rogue manager who thinks he's doing someone a favor. And, what the manager thinks might be a "good" reference sometimes isn't. If you suspect that folks are giving you a bad rap, call your former HR Director to discuss. she should know this right away.

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Anonymous: I have a skin condition that causes scarring, discoloration and stiffness in my hands. They function fairly well (although my piano career is over). It looks bad but really has no impact on my ability to handle a job, including using a computer. To set prospective employers at ease, should I bring up the subject or just ignore it unless asked? My fear is that, employers my see what looks like a problem and be afraid to ask about it for fear of violating anti-discrimination laws.

Sharon Jautz: You're right in that no one would -- or should -- ask you about your affliction. If you feel comfortable talking about your condition and that it has no impact on your abilities -- do so.

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Winchester, Va.: I've been trying to break into the pharmaceutical sales industry and have been on a few interviews and seem to get passed over for a candidate with "more" experience. I have four years of sales experience and will also have my MBA in a few months. Any advice?

Sharon Jautz: Hang in there. Sounds like you're on the right path to me.

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Philadelphia, Penn.: This is a pretty open question, but what can I do to make myself the most competitive job candidate? I have an interview this week for my dream job and I want to do everything I can to get this job! So far I have met with a career coach to ask questions and practice interviewing, read up on the company, researched the position and gathered questions, and I have reviewed my own work to help prepare answers, but what more should I do? I have had a lot of trouble interviewing in the past and I want to make sure this one goes well. Thanks for any advice!

Sharon Jautz: Holy cow, are you prepared! You've done everything you can, at this point, so I would just relax and be yourself. Your genuine enthusiasm will shine through. Good luck!

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Washington, D.C.: My favorite interview question recently is "What is unique about you?" While I don't want to be flip and say, "How do I know what is different about me from the 5 other people you are considering for this position, since I haven't seen their resumes?" What is a good response?

Sharon Jautz: It's like interviewing with Socrates ... oh boy. Don't think of answering this question simply in terms of you versus the other candidates. Answer this in terms of you versus the world. Why are you different? What can YOU bring to the table?

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East Coast, Somewhere: Let's say someone ... uh, a "friend of mine" ... yeah, that's it... has verbally (only) accepted a job offer from entity X, to start in a couple of months. It's not perfect, but it will be comfortable. Out of the blue, he gets an offer for an interview with entity Y, which would be a worse job in many ways -- lower pay, fewer benefits, etc., but which involves working for a cause he truly believes in. Can he go through the interview(s) with Y? Since he may not get the Y job, does he have any obligation to tell X until he has to make a decision? Just how sleazy is this guy being?

Sharon Jautz: As an employer, I HATE when somebody reneges on an offer. Back to the drawing board.....though I would rather know before the person starts than two weeks after they start. This is a personal decision that only you can make. I would really advise you to get a piece of paper and mark up all the pro's and con's. The answer will become obvious. And if you do decide to go to the interview, don't tell anybody anything. It makes you look unprofessional. Keep the cards close to the vest.

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New York, N.Y.: I had an interview last month and it turned out the man I was interviewing with had interviewed me several years ago at a different company. That process involved three interviews and a writing test. Then I never heard from him, even after several inquiries. He did not remember me, so I stayed through the interview (which lasted about two hours), then at the end of the interview told him I had no interest in the job, but wanted him to know what it was like to waste people's time. He looked shocked. Of course I won't get the job but it sure felt great!

Sharon Jautz: I am sure it did feel great. However, NYC is a very small town and industries tend to be very cliquey. Be careful.

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Anonymous: I am nine months into a job search. So far, I have sent out 50 resumes to targeted companies and/or identified job openings, contacted 11 recruiters, posted my resume on major job sites, networked with business associates, attended networking events, interviewed for six positions, got to rounds two and three on two different opportunities, been willing to locate (within reason)

Bottom line is -- I still don't have a job! Any thoughts on how to be more successful at this?

Sharon Jautz: Looks like you have everything covered. Have someone else look at your resume. Role play interviewing. What are you doing that you can improve?

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Washington, D.C.: I don't mean to sound smug, but I have never interviewed for a position and not received an offer. My friends tell me I should become a career coach or something along those lines. Are there these types of jobs? And what are the usual requirements?

Sharon Jautz: Of course! Job coaches come from all walks, but, I would certainly say that you need to have management, P and L, and working with senior level executives experience under your belt.

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Tampa, Fla.: How should I handle being discharged from a job I wouldn't have touched had I known the truth about it?

I was recruited by a large professional services firm. In response to direct questions of mine, they deceived me about the fundamental nature of the work I'd do, how I'd be compensated, how I'd be evaluated and promoted, and who'd work with me.

I tried to make a go of it, but only lasted two and a half years there, and then was discharged. This firm later got into serious legal trouble with the Dep't of Justice. Several of their top execs have been indicted, and the firm paid an enormous fine to the feds. I was left untouched by this.

I can truthfully say I wouldn't have even considered the job had they told me the truth. But I know bad-mouthing a former employer doesn't sit well with other employers. Every potential employer who'd consider me is well aware of the my former employer's legal problems. How should I handle this?

Sharon Jautz: Simple. Move on and let it go. Concentrate and focus on moving forward ... don't be stuck in the past. It'll get you nowhere.

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Master's or not?: Is it a waste of time to get a master's in communication? I'm not sure exactly what I want to do down the road, but I'm thinking market research or something similar (this degree would put me in that direction). I work at a university and would be able to do school part time, for free. I thought about an MBA, but my math background isn't strong, and I could start the comm masters right away without taking several math prerequisites. Any thoughts?

Sharon Jautz: While I am a firm believer in education and learning, I am not a big fan of Master's Degrees. In my industry, (media), you simply don't need one. do you want one or need one for your industry? An MBA in finance would be the way to go if you want to work corporately -- and bone up on those math skills. You'll need them if you want to get to the top!

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Memphis, Tenn.: I am about to submit my resume to a number of employers in the D.C. Metro area, as I am about to relocate. I've heard that employers don't like long resumes, but I want to be sure that I include the many skills and experience that I've accumulated while working for the state over the last decade. Should I include everything I've been a part of, since most of these experiences have been wide in range and individually unique or should I pare it down to keep the resume short as I've heard from other employees from that area?

Sharon Jautz: How many years have you been working and what other things are you involved with? I certainly wouldn't expect Bill Gates to have a 1 page resume. Just keep it appropriate and relevant. I don't need to know about your college courses, where you went to HS. But, I do want to know your relevant and recent experiences. My own resume is two pages.

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Rockville, Md.: I have applied for more than a few jobs that I have been qualified for point for point and I can't seem to get a bite. My cover letters and resumes have all the markers -- quantifiable experience and are appropriately short and my spelling and grammar are impeccable (no exaggeration). I've seen some craziness come across my desk and have heard people say "I only sent a couple of lines and my resume." So, what am I missing?

Sharon Jautz: Not sure. The only thing I can say is that a lot of folks THINK they are qualified for something and they are not. Maybe this is the case? Maybe your cover letter is too short and someone doesn't get a quick sense of what you're about and they move on to the next one.

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Sharon,

I have a full scope clearance and I am looking for employment. I figure I could ask for $10-50,000 more than the national average (considering many of those people do not have clearance). What do you think? I am being greedy, or do the companies simply not have a choice due to the lack of cleared professionals? People have told me not to worry about receiving an inflated salary, because employers don't have a choice (and when I say inflated, I meant actually being able to buy a single family home in this area at some time).

Thanks!

Sharon Jautz: You need to do some research in the region for your industry. Your personal needs are not a concern to a future employer -- your value is in what you can do for them.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: Thank you for taking this question. I had a job offer earlier this year, but because of some uncontrollable reason, I cannot go and they cannot take me at that time. Now, I know for sure that situation will definitely change in October. Should I go back and contact that company again? If yes, who I should email first, "my future direct boss," "my future direct boss's boss" (who is also from my school), or the hiring manager?

Sharon Jautz: You can certainly let them know of your availability and interest. You never know! Why don't you send an email to everyone -- separately -- reiterating your interest, sorry it didn't work out last time, now you will be available in October, etc.?

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washingtonpost.com: That's it for today. Thanks to Forbes.com's Sharon Jautz for joining us. And remember to stay tuned to our special feature, Hiring Squad , for more tips and advice from hiring experts, all-week long.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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