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February 2012

Career Interview

Interview with Tiffany: HR Director, Part Two

About six months ago, I shared an interview with my very talented friend Tiffany–  an HR Director at a well known company whose advice on jobs, money, life has always been spot on. That interview ended up being one of my most popular, and I realized through emails and comments that like there were many who like me, struggled with the same questions around carving out a successful career and life. A little while ago I had the opportunity to ask Tiffany some more questions that have been on my mind, and I hope you find this as helpful as I did!

What do you do if you’re a woman and you strongly feel like a company is underpaying you vs. your male counterparts? How do you best approach that situation?

Simply put, ask for a raise. If you don’t, you can’t be all that upset. Don’t approach it from the angle that you think other people/men are making more than you. Do market research for your position, industry and region. Highlight what you’ve accomplished in your position that warrants a raise. Make a case for yourself, but make certain you’re able to support it. I don’t mean to discount the amount of real discrimination based on gender that can occur in compensation, but I’ve found that a good number of women are underpaid because they don’t either don’t know their worth to the company or don’t ask for more money when they’re hired. Now, if it’s a situation where there’s clearly a discrepancy and there’s not equal pay being given for equal work-I’d encourage women to be educate themselves of their rights under the EEOC.

What are the top “red flags” that stick out to you when you look at a resume?

First, I automatically dismiss any candidate that submits a resume that just looks poorly done or has spelling and/or grammatical errors. It shows a lack of attention to detail and there’s enough candidates out there with flawless resumes not to be lenient on this. Also, gaps in employment, no real detail or description of relevant work performed in positions and lack of education are red flags for the types of hiring I facilitate. This varies on position and experience level of candidates.


What if your resume already features potential negatives, like having lots of various jobs, bouncing around, short work lengths, etc? How can you try and minimize negative perceptions?

If you’re able to rationally explain why you’ve moved around a lot- it can be a non-issue. With the way the economy has been the last 5 years or so, it’s not that uncommon to see candidates that have been laid off every year or so or have been unemployed for periods of time. That’s something that can be explained on the resume, cover letter or interview. Whatever the reason, you need to be able to discuss it and not become defensive about it, as it will be one of the first questions asked. HR departments and hiring manager appreciate honesty. I recommend not making a habit of jumping from job to job for a few reasons. It makes you look like a “flight risk” for future employers and being in a job for less than a year makes it difficult for you to truly master any skills associated with the role. Don’t stay somewhere if you’re miserable, underpaid or under utilized. But if you feel that way every four months, you’re probably choosing the wrong types of positions.

Do you think women with children get a tougher time in the workplace? What about men with children and who have childcare responsibilities?

I’d say it really depends on how the parent chooses to balance work and family. Also, what the company’s culture is toward working parents. I’ve seen situations where parents are made to feel guilty for having a hard stop time of 5 P.M. due to childcare responsibilities and situations where childless employees are forced to pick up the slack for employees with kids but aren’t given the same courtesy because they don’t have kids. It sucks either way when your workplace doesn’t give you the flexibility to lead a balanced life. Whether your life includes children or simply wanting to get off of work in time to make it to yoga- you should be able to do it, it’s not too much to ask!

And to directly answer the question, here comes an unpopular opinion- when choosing a career path, people need to be mindful of what type of life they want to have outside of work. Sometimes you can’t have it all and keep your sanity. Meaning that not all jobs/companies/career paths are going to mesh well with maintaining an active parenting role. Pick one that does or be prepared for the guilt trips on both sides. I’m not saying it’s right, but we haven’t evolved as a culture enough to value family the way we should. There are companies that are much better at this than others. Just know that you can’t take a job that’s widely known to be high stress, and demanding of both time and energy and then act like you’re surprised when people talk crap about you if it seems like you’re putting your kids first and they’re putting the job first. This goes for both mothers and fathers. Unfortunately, due to perceived gender roles and other factors, women get more flack for this. We can only hope that the tide will change soon.


Is there anything that you should do as woman who is expecting to get pregnant/announce their pregnancy to protect yourself in the workplace?

I wouldn’t recommend telling everyone that you’re trying to conceive. That’s jumping the gun. Even if you’re close with your co-workers, this is too much information. And let’s be honest, people have big mouths and vivid imaginations. You eat one big lunch and there will be bets on how many months along you are. Who needs that?! FMLA provides job protection and requires you to give notice of leave 30 days prior. But when you announce your pregnancy is really a personal decision. Even if you’re showing, you’re not obligated to say anything to anyone. Review your company’s maternity leave policy, make sure you’re eligible to be covered under it and/or FMLA and go from there.

How do you feel about the economy right now – just your own perception, based on what you’ve seen in hiring and your company? Long term and short term predictions?

It’s really hard to say. Some days I think things are on a definite upswing. And other days I see how companies are so accustomed to getting by with less resources, that they don’t see the need to hire at the level they were before the economic downturn. There’s a lot of companies that are in the middle of their growth phases, and that’s where there will be more opportunities for the next few years at least.


I’ve heard so many times that to be truly happy, your job should be something that you love. But, I see many people out there in jobs they obviously don’t love. Do you think we shouldn’t be satisfied until we have a job we absolutely love?

Ideally, yes. That should be everyone’s goal. But it won’t be everyone’s reality for a few reasons. Based on conversations I’ve had with employees and others over the years, I’ve concluded a few things:

1. People are their own worst enemies and limit themselves and their abilities according to their own insecurities or notions of what others think of them and their career.

2. The job that some people would absolutely love doesn’t pay nearly as much as the one they have and hate and they value money and the lifestyle it affords above their career happiness.

That’s about it, in a nutshell. Make a realistic plan of how you’d like to get a job you will love. Sometimes that involves making some uncomfortable decisions. Make the plan and work the plan everyday. Other people have found their dream jobs and passions, you can too.

 

What are some “red flags” to look out for when looking at potential employers? What are signs that they may not value their employees, etc?

High turnover- do people work there a short time and then leave? Poor benefits and lack of a true employee evaluation process is another. Anything that stifles communication between employees and decision makers is a red flag as well.

Just on a light note, how were your holidays? And any parting advice?

My holiday plans involved some great travel destinations and spending time with my awesome family and amazing friends. All of my favorite things! I rang in the new year with my boyfriend at a friend’s NYE theme party. I wish you and all of your readers a happy 2012!

As for advice, remember that work doesn’t define you and that while we all want professional success, jobs will come and go. Focus on what really makes you happy in life.

 

Tiffany is such a smarty pants and so eloquent as well – when I was re-reading this interview I found myself agreeing so much with everything she said. Thank you again Tiffany for taking the time to share your wealth of experience and wisdom with all of us, and I hope you all enjoyed the interview.

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