Sticky Wickets: Your Toughest Career Questions, Answered

“A sticky wicket (or sticky dog, or glue pot) is a metaphor used to describe a difficult circumstance. It originated as a term for difficult circumstances in the sport of cricket, caused by a damp and soft wicket.-Wikipedia

University of Utah career coaches do our best to have advice and resources ready to help you in any situation you may encounter along your career journey.  But sometimes, unique and challenging situations arise, and we want you to be as prepared as possible.  From your career professionals, a selection of our stickiest wickets, and how to unstick them:


Interviewing After Leaving a Toxic Workplace – Crystal Cory, Assistant Director of Engagement and Internships

First of all, I’m sorry you’re in this situation.  If you left because of a bad environment (or were fired from one), you can say there was a disagreement with management.  If a prospective employer asks more questions, you don’t have to continue talking about it if you don’t want to.  Instead, you can say something like “”I appreciate you asking for more information but I’d rather not discuss it. Instead, I’d like to talk more about how my skills and experiences fit this organization.” 


Don’t Try to Game the Applicant Tracking Software – Francine Mahak, Post-Doc Career Coach

We can teach you to tailor your resume to pass the keyword match percentage set by Applicant Tracking Software (ATS).  However, you should not try to game it by including key terms from the job in invisible white text.  I think we can be pretty sure that employers’ ATS systems are on to that by now, as well as to other efforts to game them. Yes, the systems are annoyingly simplistic. but when hundreds of applications come in for each position, they can’t humanly screen them all and this is a way they seek to eliminate unqualified ones. So just make the effort to incorporate their terms and show you are qualified to meet their specific needs: tailoring to different audiences is a very valuable communication skill anyway, and it will serve you well over your career.


Screener Questions – Dan Moseson, Career Coach

Screener questions are multiple choice questions at the bottom of a job posting, or elsewhere in the application form.  They ask yes/no or exclusive questions about job qualifications, like “do you have three years of management experience?  Select ‘yes or ‘no.’”  We believe students should apply for jobs for which they can make a good case, even if they do not meet all the qualifications.  But what if you lack those three years of experience?  If you select “no,” it’s likely your application will be automatically rejected, when you may still have been a perfectly good candidate and gone on to succeed in the role.  That’s why we recommend selecting whichever answers match or exceed the requirements in the job application.  It gives your resume and cover letter the chance to be seen by the hiring manager, who may decide your other skills and achievements outweigh a single gap in your profile.


How Long Should My Resume Be? – Francine Mahak, Post-Doc Career Coach

Generally, think one-page resume: that’s what “resume” means (summary), and industry employers want to see if you can keep your resume to essentials that are relevant to them. When you think of how many resumes they look at, and how little time they have to spend on each (~6 seconds), it’s understandable.  When could you have a longer (2-page) resume? If you are completing an advanced degree and seeking a research position (e.g., national lab, R&D section of a company, government research), then more detail is warranted. But if the particular job sought doesn’t need more academic research detail, then even a PHD candidate can benefit from keeping the resume to one page.

Unexpected Opportunities – Alex Barilec, Career Coach, College of Science 

Always be prepared for the unexpected to occur. I once found myself in an interview that I didn’t know was an interview, for an internal job I didn’t apply for. I was invited to “chat” with some people on the leadership team about a new opportunity. When I showed up I was greeted to an hour long panel interview. To say I was caught off guard was an understatement, but fortunately I was prepared. I took the time before to develop some questions, I did some research about this department in the company and the individuals I was interviewing with and also came prepared with stories to share that would demonstrate I had the skills necessary to succeed in this role. It’s often very difficult for employers to convey all the internal information possible to potential candidates during the job search process. That’s why you should approach most opportunities to chat, network, connect or interview with potential employers prepared to give them your best. You never know what doors a casual invite to chat might present. Be open to the process changing as you learn more about the company, dress your best, and show up as the person you want to be with a big smile on your face! 

Learning about leadership, management, being a good team member – Francine Mahak, Post-Doc Career Coach
There are many good resources out there, but I nominate Brené Brown and her well-researched work, because she shows ethical and courageous ways to tackle teamwork, management, and leadership, in the areas that present the most challenges. She shines a compassionate light on the common vulnerabilities that cause demotivation and failures at work, and models honest, caring ways to bring oneself and one’s team through them.