Madamina, this is our staffer Madamina. Pleased to meet you.
November 14, 2011 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I apply for my own job -- especially if my bosses are my references?

I have worked in this very desk for six years, in three positions. I started as office support; when I decided to go to grad school in this field, they offered me an assistantship and I stayed for two more years, doing half office support and half field-related work. Then, when I graduated, I was about to take another job when they magicked up a full-time position, doing all field-related work, for up to three years. There was much rejoicing.

Well, the three years will be up in June. My bosses, who are two of my references, have been supportive of my job searches with the knowledge (on both sides) that I am applying sparingly and carefully. I turned down one position; another closes next week.

And now I see that they have reclassified a recently-vacated position as essentially what I do. Whether or not I get this job, I'll still be good until June, but of course I want the permanent one. My bosses have fed me various job listings over the years, and before they gave me both of those positions we spoke about it quietly. But I found this out when they posted it online.

I'm guessing they don't want to make me think the position is mine, only to hire someone else; that's good. But damn, I'm going to have a front row seat for every stage of this thing.


How do I apply for my own job when my bosses are my main references and they've seen my ups and downs? If I bring up something new, how do I explain why I haven't used it before? How do I write my cover letter when they pretty much know what it will say?
posted by Madamina to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you say what industry you're in, or what kind of organization you work for? Because it's possible it's one of those situations where they are required by law to post the position publicly, even though they may fully intend to give you the job anyway (as long as you apply for it.) And maybe they haven't said anything to you privately yet because: a) someone else outside of your work area or company is handling the search, or b) someone higher up told them not to, because it's technically against a rule somewhere, or c) they just forgot.

Do you have a relationship with your bosses that you can just ask?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2011

Talk about what you've learned and how you'd apply what you've learned, and your specific strengths and skills, to development over the next three years.
posted by entropone at 2:40 PM on November 14, 2011

Response by poster: I'm in media relations.

Re: posting it publicly, of course they are, and that's what happened in the past. But typically when that sort of thing happens there's a fairly narrow window, and when I've had my last two positions we've discussed them beforehand and then had them posted. I've submitted application packets with the knowledge that I'm the internal candidate.

I do generally have a close relationship with them. I just feel so tongue-tied about this, especially when they've been so open with me in the past. I don't want to make any assumptions or make them feel like I do, but at the same time I need to be assertive about it.
posted by Madamina at 2:44 PM on November 14, 2011

You submit a thorough application, just like you would on any other job application. You talk about the skills you've built with the organization, how you'll apply them in the job, and I don't think it would be out of line to put in a sentence about how you'll have a quick transition into the position, since you know the organization and the role well. Leave "downs" for the interview.

If I bring up something new, how do I explain why I haven't used it before?

Do you mean in terms of a skill they don't know you have or a past job they're not aware of, or what? I certainly don't expect my supervisors to have a detailed knowledge of everything I've ever done that's relevant to my current job or what I'm capable of the future.

I don't want to make any assumptions or make them feel like I do

Are you concerned that maybe you shouldn't apply for the position for some reason? Because you could say something like, "I saw the position and I'm planning to apply for it" if you want to skew assertive (I mean, they can't stop you) to "I saw the job posting for X position, and since I'd like a permanent position, I'm prepared to apply. Are there any reasons I wouldn't be a competitive candidate?" if you feel like a deferential approach would be better.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is an opportunity to show that you can go through all the motions, even if you know/think they are unnecessary because that will make it easier on everyone. They need to compare you to outside candidates they have never met and in order to make the playing field a bit more level (it will always be skewed in your favor), you have to jump through the same hoops. Unless they are asking for your references, just put the standard "References available upon request" line. Write the cover letter as you would for any other org; it doesn't matter if they know what it will say. New ideas probably won't be shunned or questioned, and if they are, you can explain how you just came across fact X and problem Y and made the connection which lead you to the solution.
posted by soelo at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2011

Oftentimes --- although of course I don't know if this is the case with your specific company --- companies are REQUIRED to post job openings. Sure, they often have someone already in mind, and current employees (like you) usually have the inside track, but they may still have that 'post the job officially' requirement.

I'd say go to your bosses and tell them you're interested. From what you say, they'll probably be THRILLED to keep you permanently.
posted by easily confused at 3:25 PM on November 14, 2011

Do everything that would be expected as if you were an external candidate. Write a cover letter or cover email, send your resume, do follow ups. Make it clear that you want the position -- don't let them assume through passivity that you're not really interested or serious, actually say the words that you're interested, say why you want the job, say what it means to you and why you want to work for them.

Act like you like them (I'm assuming you do) and act like you like and want the job--because that's the truth, and it's your best asset.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe things are different this time around because the position is permanent instead of temporary?

Agree with going to the bosses and being assertive. After all, it'd be pretty weird if the first they heard of your application was seeing your resume.

If it were me, I would not ask about why they posted it publicly before telling you. I personally could not pull that off without sounding petulant. I would simply go to them, say you saw the public ad, would like to stay permenantly, and are intending to apply. Then see what they say.
posted by sesquipedalian at 3:48 PM on November 14, 2011

Show your bosses the job posting and ask if you should apply for it. Their answer will be your answer. (Don't ask permission, ask for advice.)

It is *possible* they are trying to see if they can get someone cheaper to do your job, since they have the easy out of your contract ending.
posted by gjc at 3:56 PM on November 14, 2011

I agree with rainydayfilms, unless there's something I'm missing here you have to talk to your bosses first, you can't just apply because that would be weird. What is the understanding here about why your job is time-limited? Do they think you want to leave? Do they want you to leave?
posted by unannihilated at 5:44 PM on November 14, 2011

Have you tried asking them about it? You might as well just ask and see what they have to say.
posted by delmoi at 6:17 PM on November 14, 2011

Response by poster: My job is time-limited because it is by definition a limited-term project position -- they only have money enough for that amount of time. That's why they know I've been looking for jobs a bit. I haven't thrown my resume around, but I've told them when I was a finalist for one job, and we talked about that process.

The position I'd apply for would pay more money and have a different classification (salaried, not hourly).

I talked with the big boss this afternoon and she said that "if you'd like to apply, you're welcome to do so, but there's no set outcome for you, or anyone else for that matter." Right, right. I asked about the scope of the job, because the listing was a bit vague (e.g. no beat listed), and she said that one thing they would like is to have someone be available to follow through on longterm projects in the organization, such as a major redesign of X division that will take 18 months.

Of course, then she said, "Things could be different from the listing, because some things with other people's responsibilities haven't shaken out yet, so who knows." Which is just ultra-helpful.

I asked what kind of content samples they were looking for, and she said at least one thing that is "complex" (who knows how complex that actually is) and one thing that "shows your personality/style" (which is a lesser concern).

The main thing I worry about is how to make the stuff they've seen me do over the last several years seem fresh. I'm prepared to treat it like any other job interview -- suit up, all that -- but first I have to actually get there.
posted by Madamina at 7:06 PM on November 14, 2011

Honestly, it does not sound to me like they want you to get this job. It sounds like they are expecting someone else to be able to offer more. And if thats the case, you need to be absolutely at the top of your game in order to get the job. Not just taking it seriously, but treating it like the reach position it has apparently become.

I think in any case, they will not remember your stunning successes as well as you do. Talk about them, and how you have applied what you have learned to your job. Ideally, highlight experience outside work that they may have forgotten.

And keep looking for other jobs.
posted by plonkee at 10:09 AM on November 15, 2011

I agree you need to approach this as you would any other position you are applying for. I try to build a narrative with my cover letter and interview. I suggest your narrative highlight the following:

1) You history of growth through your last three positions (with copious examples)
2) How you have fulfilled your obligations for your current position, feel satisfied and ready to leave (your current position, not your workplace or your "job"),
3) You are looking for new challenges, and hopefully in a position that will provide you with the opportunity for further growth.

That would be my approach. Remind them how much you've grown with this organization, and you are ready for the next step. Stress that even if they don't feel that you are ready for the new position, you have the ability to grow into it, as you have repeatedly demonstrated.

Also highlight your easy transition and your excellent rapport with the potential staff. You can hit the ground running with this, and that is a big advantage over someone who might need 6 months to a year lead time to get up to speed.

Good luck! Memail me if there is anything I can help with.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:52 PM on November 15, 2011

Response by poster: Yep, rainydayfilms, that's exactly what my problem is. I know what my issues are (and, thankfully, they're not related to flexibility), and I know that I can be harder on myself than my boss sometimes is.

But because of those, my confidence is fairly low. I need to come out with guns blazing and be all I AM RIGHT UNDER YOUR NOSE! PREPARE TO BE AMAZED! Which is kind of hard to do when you're, um, right under someone's nose.

I can definitively say that my willingness to improve and continue improving is one of my strengths, and one that they've seen over and over again. I just don't know how to contrast that with "I am ALREADY the person you need."
posted by Madamina at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2011

I can definitively say that my willingness to improve and continue improving is one of my strengths

Then be sure to include that. List actions taken and results achieved, same as you do with your accomplishments. Also, try to put solid, objective numbers with it. Ex:
- Managed a $750,000 research budget (accomplishment)
- Completed the 2-year Johnson Rod project on time and under budget (accomplishment)
- Processed TPS reports for seven research projects simultaneously (accomplishment)
- Improved TPS report accuracy from 79% to 99% over the 18 month project span (improvement)

one that they've seen over and over again
"I am ALREADY the person you need.""

They know these things already. That's why they rehired you for the second and third positions. If they didn't already know these things, you wouldn't have made it this far. They just need to be reminded. That's your task. You can do it.
posted by I am the Walrus at 9:30 AM on November 16, 2011

Response by poster: UPDATE:

I've got an in-person interview on Friday. w00t!

Here's the thing: there is actually another guy in the office, covering for someone on leave, who is an internal candidate. I don't think this is a bad thing per se; he's a nice guy with a fair amount of experience (though not, I should mention, in as many varied areas as I have), so I feel a bit better knowing the competition. If he gets the job, I can totally work with him. I said so when I asked if he'd applied :P

The fact that they're actually going through with interviews, though, means it's still a possibility. I am crossing my fingers and hoping that they'll consider hiring two instead of one -- which they've actually done on their last two searches.

They liked my package (huh-huh) and there's a writing exercise, so that is also on my side.

Now... what in the hell kind of questions will they ask?
posted by Madamina at 11:16 AM on December 13, 2011

Response by poster: FINAL UPDATE:

Short version: didn't get it; oddly, neither did the other internal guy.

BUT... good things are in store.

Long version:
The interview went really well. They asked some curveballs, such as "What are some of your favorite products that this office has created in the last year?" and I was all, "um... the ones that you did, sir? I thought this was supposed to be about me." There was also a question or two about "what could we do better in the office?" which was a little tricky, but went well. I expected one writing prompt, not three exercises, but I got them all done within the hour.

I also had a great talk with my big boss about the things I like to do and some of the things I've been excited about lately -- we've had some other changes, so she wanted to get a better sense of what people considered their own strengths.

Also, I wore a pinstriped Ralph Lauren suit in my (hard-to-fit) size, no tailoring needed, which I'd found for $13 at St. Vinnie's. So that was a win.

I felt really good about it. The next night, we were out at dinner and ran into my immediate supervisor, who ran the committee. He asked what we were doing, and my husband said, "Celebrating her awesome interview!!!!" and I nearly kicked him. I said, "Well, regardless of what happens, I feel pretty good about it, and was glad I had the chance." My supervisor said, "You should feel good. You gave a really good interview, and we were all impressed."

So it took about another week and a half -- longer than expected. My supervisor and the big boss eventually called me in and gave me the news privately. They said the decision was really difficult (blah blah blah), but that they had no question I could have done it, and that if the position had been for a [current area, which isn't otherwise covered] person, I would almost certainly have had it.

He also specifically said that they were really impressed with the way I handled the internal candidacy. "A lot of people in that situation come in and have this sense of entitlement. You didn't have that at all."

It clearly sounded like a fit issue. The person coming in next week has over a decade of experience in this specific area, so I didn't feel bad. I'd previously asked them to give me some feedback after the whole process was over, but given that, I don't think I could have done better.

And now, the good news:

They said that they were hoping to find money to bring back a full-time position in my area, and they wanted me there. And if they couldn't find full time money, they would "refocus" my position so they could keep me. (All three of us may have gotten a little misty at that point.)

So... Not what I'd hoped, but better than I'd expected and probably a better fit. And they like me! Which is, of course, very nice.
posted by Madamina at 9:58 AM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Update:

On Friday, I interviewed for another similar position in the office. The committee was nearly the same as last time. Today, they cut to the chase and gave me the job. I was able to draw on the previous interview and ask one of the committee members who hadn't returned what feedback she could give me, and I did the same with the person who had just left the vacant spot.

They liked my "bold style" and didn't see that level of enthusiasm from anyone else, so YAY I get an office with a door now :)
posted by Madamina at 3:07 PM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Congratulations! Yay for doors!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:03 PM on September 28, 2012

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