What to do when an employer wants a commitment

March 8, 2010 at 12:32 am Leave a comment

When you get to that exciting stage where a potential employer is asking you just a few more questions before it’s clear they soon will make an offer, this one often is tossed out: Can you commit to a year (or two or three) in this job? It’s a decidedly awkward spot for a job candidate who wants the position, because by asking it, it’s clear the hiring manager wants a verbal commitment. If you don’t commit, there’s a good possibility you won’t get the offer. But if you’re wary about giving them the answer they want but do it anyway and the position doesn’t work out, what is the potential fallout from such a commitment?

Hiring experts say that unless you are sign a contract — and then are legally obligated to hold up your end, as is the employer — you are not legally bound by a verbal commitment or even an informal “hiring letter.” As an at-will employee (which most journalism employees remain) both you and the company are legally free to terminate your employment for any reason or no reason. Yet if you agree to stay in a position and then don’t, you could be hurting your future career prospects, especially in a close-knit profession like journalism.

Here are some tips from recruiting experts on how to handle this increasingly common situation:

*Try to figure out why they are seeking such a commitment. Ask questions of the recruiter and others in the organization (or who have recently left) who are familiar with this opening. Have they had trouble getting previous occupants of the position to remain in it for more than a year or two? Why? This could be a big red flag signaling you should do more research: Is the position so tedious or are the hours so long, for instance, that others have run from the job screaming in horror after just a few months? Yet if it is an entry-level position, the hiring manager could be justifiably worried (especially when an applicant has more experience than the position requires, see Feb. 22 post, “The curse of being overqualified”) that the job candidate is just trying to get a foot in the door and will apply for another opening in the company the first chance they get. In that case, make sure you are willing to stay in the job for the agreed-upon time before making the commitment, as this hiring manager could be in a position to block you for promotion until the time period expires.

*Determine whether the commitment is reasonable. If an employer is asking that you stay in a reporting or research position for a year or 18 months, that makes sense — it will take at least several months just to learn the position’s requirements, and they don’t want to have to train another person in such a short period. (A recent survey by Robert Half International Inc., a staffing firm, indicates that it costs approximately one-and-a-half times an employee’s salary to train and recruit someone to take their place when they leave their job.) If they are asking an editor or manager to commit to a few years in a job, that might also be reasonable. Figure out how long employees have tended to stay in similar positions. If it seems sensible and you want the job, you should be able to make that commitment. (And if you feel uncomfortable about it, ask yourself if you really want this job?) But if it seems as though they are being unfair or trying to hold you to a job that is well beneath your abilities, it’s time to have a broader conversation with the hiring manager or recruiter about whether this is the right path for you. Maybe you should wait until another job opens in the organization that better fits your skills.

*Hiring is a two-way street; if the prospective employer wants a verbal commitment from you to stay in the job for a certain period, what are they willing to do in return? The fact that they want a commitment can be a good sign — that can mean they like you enough that they want you to stick around in this position for a while, and you may have some job security. But as with everything in hiring negotiations, make sure you are getting something for what you are giving — if you are committing to remain in this position for an extended period make sure, for instance, that you will receive the necessary training for the position and will be eligible for salary increases and promotions once that period expires. If they seem unwilling to give on their part, that could be a red flag.

*Remember that, short of a contract, you are not legally obligated to honor this commitment if it doesn’t work out. While I would never recommend anything other than honesty in the job-hunting process (as being less than honest usually tends out to come back and bite you, either in the short run or the long run) it is impossible to know what the future may bring. If you make a commitment that you truly intend to keep and circumstances change — the position is not what was advertised, for instance, or you get an offer for your dream job at another organization a year down the road — you may have to risk not honoring the commitment and shouldering the consequences. If you’re leaving for another job, the fallout could be having to explain in the future why you were in the position for a short time, or if you are staying within the organization, you may have some difficulty with this manager if you’re able to move into another position. Employees shouldn’t take such commitments — or break them — lightly, but neither are they binding, so don’t lose an inordinate amount of sleep over answering this question in the hiring process.

*Today’s Washington Post (and washpost.com) published some useful tips and strategies for overcoming a career setback…Interesting food for thought:

Article | 03/07/2010

Climbing your way out of a career setback : How to get past your anger and hurt — and the résumé…

*And here are some good leads to peruse and pursue….The first several are freelance opportunities:

*Quinstreet Inc. is looking for freelance writers who have business and consumer-oriented experience:

QUINSTREET INC. is recruiting for freelance writers with experience writing about auto, health, life, and home insurance to write detailed features stories about the insurance industry. Preferred candidates are those writers who have experience in financial journalism, and ideally insurance journalism.  Interested candidates should send their resume and clips to Kirstin Swagman, kswagman@quinstreet.com , 775. 321.3613


*AOL’s DailyFinance site needs freelance business writers:

AOL’s DailyFinance

Freelance Business Writers

Location: N/A

AOL’s DailyFinance is seeking full-time freelance business reporters/writers to join our growing roster of talented journalists. Preferred candidates are passionate about writing breaking news for the Web, have covered spot news for a major newspaper web site or wire service and can cover one of the following: economic issues, financial services, investing, general assignments and business & politics.

These positions are based remotely.

DailyFinance aims to offer the best in business and financial news and analysis. Our goal is to combine the immediacy and conversational tone of blogs with the serious reporting and financial expertise of traditional journalism, and to serve it up with top-notch online data and investing tools. For more information, please contact Latif Lewis at latif.lewis@corp.aol.com. In the email, please include a cover letter, resume and recent clips (links).

*Mediaelites.com is looking for freelance contributors to its site:

Mediaelites.com

Contributors

Location: N/A
Mediaelites.com, a scrappy general interest news website that has received notice in the New York Times, Gawker, the Wall Street Journal and numerous other publications is seeking contributors in a variety of content areas, including politics, media, tech, pop culture and business. Applicants should have a well-developed news sensibility, a strong voice and a background in journalism. Contributors receive 50 percent of ad revenue generated by their posts. To apply, please send a cover letter to: blog@mediaelites.com. Include your area of expertise or proposed beat, a resume and links to published work.

*The Brookings Institution in D.C. is looking for an online communications specialist:

Online Communications Specialist­ Brookings Institution, Washington, DC.:
Review and approve electronic newsletters. Manage Web site content. Provide support services for online activities. Support Communications web team in carrying out all aspects of outreach. Education/Experience Requirements: Bachelor’s degree; Knowledge of email marketing and newsletter strategies; Knowledge of web publishing tools and techniques; At least 3 years of professional work experience in positions of increasing complexity, including minimum 2 years experience with Web site in a public affairs/media relations environment; Experience on Capitol Hill a plus. For a complete job description and to apply, go to: http://www.brookings.edu/about/employment/COM9181.aspx

*Thomson Reuters has an opening its in D.C. bureau for a news editor:

Thomson Reuters

News Editor

Location: Washington DC

Project Summary and Position Overview:
Thomson Reuters is seeking a senior editor to help drive our news coverage from Washington to another level.

A key agent for change in Washington, the news editor will work with the bureau chief, and specialist editors in Washington and New York to make our top stories from Washington a showcase for the best in Reuters journalism.

Specifically, the editor needs to see the bigger picture of how Washington works and how it fits in with the national and international economic and political picture. The successful candidate will help us ensure our stories have bite, insight and depth, and address the needs of clients across the globe and across the asset classes.
She or he will also drive efforts not only to make our reporting faster, but also to make it more thoughtful. The job would involve helping to organise and strategise our news planning so we are thinking ahead and pushing reporters to break more news.  It would also involve help improving quality of our analyses and make sure they are deeper and ahead of the curve.

The news editor would also deputise for the bureau chief, helping to manage the bureau and interact with other stakeholders from inside and outside Thomson Reuters. She or he would take on key projects like getting expert correspondents to interact with clients, driving training so reporters have the tools to cope with change, and producing morning and evening Washington outlooks so reporters are focused on the big stories and questions.

We are looking for someone who can inspire correspondents to a higher level, plan and help coordinate coverage, sub-edit copy from the team and even write occasionally under her/his own byline. We also need someone who has a very organized mind and is willing to share the managerial, bureaucratic and organizational challenges of running a large bureau while simultaneously promoting change, It is a challenging set of demands that require an analytical mind and the ability to multi-task, write smoothly and cope calmly with pressure. The successful candidate needs to bring a fresh eye to our coverage and ideas about how to improve it.

“Provide strong leadership, and promote learning opportunities, a culture of ethical behaviour and innovation. Provide direction to staff, communicate priorities including reduction of low value content.
Positively promote business initiatives (ie 2012 and Lynx rollout) and support staff who have difficulty with the uncertainty of change.
Encourage staff to generate practical solutions to problems.
Represent Reuters News and Thomson Reuters and raise the brand for internal and external audiences. Engage with the business and customers to help meet business needs
Reallocate resources in response to changing news coverage and other business needs in consultation with stakeholder

Education: College degree or equivalent work experience
Required Skills (Must have), Necessary industry Experience & associated number of years of experience:
Good news judgement.
Strong writing skills.
Ability to generate smart and incisive story ideas and to look beyond immediate developments to wider implications.
Ability to work well with others.
Awareness of the needs of our core customers and a belief in high standards of news agency journalism.
Good organizational skills and willingness to share the managerial, bureaucratic.

Please apply online at: https://toc.taleo.net/careersection/2/jobdetail.ftl?lang=en&job=NEW00001243

*Bloomberg’s D.C. bureau needs a weekend stringer:

Bloomberg News is looking for a stringer to handle White House pool on the weekends… if interested, email ngaouette@bloomberg .net
*And wrapping up today’s leads, The Washington Post has two openings in D.C. for copy editors on its Universal News desk:
The Washington Post is looking for two seasoned copy editors with at least five years of experience to become multiplatform editors on the Universal News desk. Multiplatform editors are central to The Post’s converged newsroom. They copy-edit newspaper and Web stories, edit blogs, write headlines and keys for all platforms, and work on photo gallery captions.

The ideal candidate is an uncompromising wordsmith and stellar headline writer with a keen eye for detail and a respect for tight deadlines. The candidate must be able to work very quickly and shift easily among duties; he or she should be comfortable working on all production platforms; and the candidate should have some experience with search-engine optimization.

These positions report to Multiplatform Editing Chief Anne Ferguson-Rohrer. The jobs involve night and weekend work. If you are interested, please send a cover letter and résumé with contact information for at least three references to Ferguson-Rohrer (fergusona@washpost.com) or Peter Perl (perlp@washpost.com) by March 19.

Happy hunting!

Jodi

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