With the job market dominating headlines, we're answering four of the most common questions from viewers.
1. With unemployment benefits ending for millions of out-of-work Americans and few signs of a quick recovery, more people risk serious financial hardship. The Society of Human Resource Management estimates that up to 50 percent of employers run credit checks on job applicants. Sometimes that information is used to withdraw offers and deny employment.
Sadly, with few exceptions, that's legal. But last week, Oregon passed a law forbidding employers from accessing credit history to deny employment unless it can be proved that bad credit has a direct impact on the position. More than a dozen other states are considering such bills, and a similar federal measure has been stalled in Congress.
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To be denied work because of your credit is a vicious cycle. You can't pay your bills because you're out of work, and you can't get hired because you couldn't pay your bills. Even if you don't realize it, most times when you've completed an employment application, you've given the employer permission to check your credit.
So if you're job searching and you know your credit is poor, now is the time to deal with it. First, know what's on your credit report. Everyone is entitled to a free credit report annually from each of the three main reporting agencies. You can get them today at AnnualCreditReport.com. Check for mistakes and inaccuracies, and then immediately work on having them fixed. (Advice on how to do this is provided by the government at www.ftc.gov/credit.)
Don't bring up credit woes during the interview. Wait until you know that the company is going to make you an offer or they've made you an offer that's contingent on a successful background check.
This is your cue to speak up. Let the company know how thrilled you are to receive the offer and how much you look forward to joining. Ask what's involved in the background check. Some companies may limit it to calling a reference or two. Others may run a criminal background check. Not all will run a credit check, so don't spill the beans until you are clear on what's involved.
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If you're told that credit history is part of the background check, address it immediately by offering a brief, well-rehearsed explanation of what they may find.
One option you can alter to make it more your own: "As you know, I've been out of work for 10 months and the lack of a paycheck has had an impact our household finances. This has weighed heavily on me, especially since it's not a reflection on my character or integrity. Once I'm employed, I have a solid plan to repair my credit. I respectfully request that this will not be held against me at this final stage, especially since I'm an ideal match for the role and can't wait to get started."
Other times your explanation may include a medical emergency that your family was hit with, which is one of the leading causes of financial stress. Just be honest and brief. Don't wing it and don't share more than what's absolutely necessary. Be sure you're comfortable with whatever you say.
2. We've heard a lot of talk about the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose negative comments about President Obama and his policies were made public. Beyond politics, there's the real life issue that everyone can relate to: disagreeing with your boss. Many people wonder if there's a safe way to disagree with the boss without losing your job.
There is — and it's definitely not publicly. That means you can't complain to colleagues because word travels quickly, nor can you air your grievances on Facebook or a blog, even though you may be awfully tempted to do so.
The first step is to seriously assess your gripe on your own before you say something. That includes asking what you hope to accomplish by mentioning your complaints. If you're just trying to prove a petty point, that may not justify speaking up. If you have a legitimate concern, for example, you see an opportunity for improvement or change, be sure you're focusing on the facts. Don't base your complaints on emotions or hearsay. Focus on what you know for sure to be true.
Then approach your boss privately, without sandbagging him or her. Try saying, "I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes about some things that are on my mind. Do you have a moment, or when would be a good time to chat?"
Share your concerns and offer constructive solutions. "This process isn't effective, and here's a suggestion on how to fix it." "I don't believe your criticism of me was justified and here's why." Say only what's necessary, and then give the boss a chance to chime in. This is a conversation, not a chance for you to dump on him or her. Focus on resolutions and thank the boss for listening.
3. Moving along -- this is something that we've seen a lot of chatter about on blogs and message boards: job listings that specify "must be currently employed to apply."
Even though a company can choose applicants based on their work history, it's distasteful and extraordinarily shortsighted of an employer who assumes less of applicants who are currently out of work in this economy. There are very talented and capable people who are unemployed, just as there are plenty of slackers who receive a paycheck every week.
If you come across such a positing, you have two options: Ignore that requirement and apply anyway if you meet all of the other criteria. Or ignore the company because you have to question if you'd want to work for such a place.
I saw this requirement on some restaurant jobs, and I'm always so curious about how the customers of such establishments would feel about that requirement. I bet many would be surprised by such a policy, so I hope recruiters have the good sense to rethink their positions.
4. Finally, it may seem minor given everything else that's happening, but with the record heat and humidity in some places, I've gotten many e-mails asking if men still have to wear a suit to an interview.
Sorry, but the answer is yes. Unless you're interviewing for an outdoor or retail sales opportunity, a suit, or at least a jacket and slacks, is advised. You don't want to let your guard down in this market.
For women, the rule is always nothing too "too." That means nothing too short, too tight, too strappy or too revealing.
Watch out for linen clothing. It's lightweight, which is great, but it wrinkles easily, which isn't the right image for an interview.
Put on some extra deodorant, crank up the AC if you're driving, arrive early so you're not sweating in a mad dash, and then wow them with all you've got. I'm rooting for your success.
When I hear from people who've been out of work for six months or longer, they often say they've tried "everything" but "nothing" works to help them get hired. If that describes how you're feeling, try starting over. By that I mean revisit some of the tactics and people that you tried previously but didn't pan out. For example:
Check out your public library to see if programs and services for job seekers are offered.
Reconnect with 25 people who you initially spoke with about your search to see how they're doing and to inquire about any new leads they may have.
If you got close to an opportunity but the company chose someone else, touch base with your contact to reiterate your interest in the organization.
Limit your reliance on applying exclusively via big job boards.
After submitting your resume for a position, go find a person who works at that company with whom you can talk directly about the opening.