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Does your company have clean underwear?

In the April 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a hiring manager lectures employers about the importance of no-thank-you notes — and about respecting job candidates.


I like your suggestions about thank-you notes. However, I want to talk about no-thank-you notes.

clean-underwearI recently got a very nice thank-you note from an applicant to whom I had sent a no-thank-you — that is, a rejection letter. She seemed surprised to hear from me. As a manager, it has always been my practice to reply to every applicant either by letter or e-mail. I’ve been criticized for the time it takes. However, I believe that if someone takes the time to express interest in your company, the least you can do is tell them “no, thank you” if you don’t want them.

The convenience of job boards and e-mail applications has led us to forget there are real humans with feelings at the other end. Since we are not likely to run into one of them at the check-out counter, we don’t acknowledge that every resume sent out to us carries this person’s real hopes for a job along with it.

I would encourage you to write a bit about etiquette for the hiring manager and about the proper approach regarding the communication to applicants after receiving their resumes.

Nick’s Reply

Hallelujah! I hope everyone who reads your statement tacks it to a couple of doors: the boss’s and the human resources (HR) department’s. But don’t forget the board of directors. It ought to be tacked to their agenda.

Who has time to be nice?

You’ve given me a chance to hold forth on a subject that’s always too easily dismissed. The story today is that companies receive so many resumes and applications that there is simply no way to respond to them all. HR  departments scoff at the suggestion that they’re responsible for such niceties. Who can reply to 5,000 job applicants and still have time to hire anybody? The trouble is, HR sets this standard for all managers in a company.

Somewhere along the way, maybe after getting intoxicated by the millionth resume she downloaded from LinkedIn, an HR manager lost sight of the thousands of job applicants she had lined up outside her door (actually and virtually). She forgot that if you invite them, you have to feed them. She forgot that when you post jobs on websites that encourage thousands of people to send you resumes, you get thousands of resumes. However, you don’t hire thousands of people. So, why solicit them? (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

When we create situations that make it impossible for us to respect basic social conventions (like saying “thank you” and “no, thank you”), that should be a signal that we’re doing something fundamentally wrong.

Stop behaving like wild dogs

Why solicit thousands of applicants, when you need just a handful of good ones? When you get sick from overloading your plate at the cheap buffet table, nature is telling you something. When we let the dogs go wild at feeding time — HR rabidly devouring heaps of non-nutritive resumes — it’s time to re-train the dogs. But I’m not lashing out only at HR managers. Nope. I’m lashing out at their trainers: departmental managers, corporate CEO’s, and boards of directors.

Are you on a board? Are you a CEO? Do you have any idea how your HR department and your managers are treating the professional community you so desperately need to recruit from? Make no mistake. Even in today’s “employer’s market,” top-notch workers continue to be few and far between. Finding those few precious souls who can both do the work and bring profit to your bottom line is a daunting, challenging task. To get the attention of the best, the brightest… you’ve got to be nice to everyone.

Your company is under the spotlight every time you recruit to fill a position. The behavior of your HR department, your managers, and your employees reflects your company’s values. And your values affect your success at hiring. Yah, that’s right. Don’t proclaim to your shareholders that “people are our most important asset” while your underlings shove job applicants through keyword algorithms like meat through a grinder. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Be Nice: Say thank you

This is a wake-up call about behavior. Every company’s reputation hinges on it. Ask your mother; she’ll tell you. Always say thank you. Always wear clean underwear. Always take time to be polite to people.

  • If you have no time to write thank-you notes, then you’re soliciting too many resumes.
  • If you have no time to get out of your office and meet the movers and shakers in your professional community, you’re not recruiting; you’re pushing paper. (See Ten Stupid Hiring Mistakes.)
  • If you have no time to be nice, I’ll bet it’s because you spend too much time with resumes and not enough with people.

thank-youIt’s easy to be rude to a resume; but you can’t hire resumes. Top-notch workers in your field will not stand for rudeness. Talk to all the people you pissed off when you ignored their applications, and you will learn what rude is. Rude is awakening to find your company’s professional reputation has been trashed by good applicants who found out you’re not as good as they are. (See Death by Lethal Reputation.)

Learn to be nice. Make it your policy.

If you don’t inspire good people to say nice things about your company, you can’t hire good people. It starts with that thank-you note; even with a no-thank-you note. Where it really starts is with your hand writing a personal note; with that hand attached to an arm attached to a warm body that gives a damn. Because if you don’t give a damn about people who apply to your jobs, pretty soon everybody will know, including your shareholders.

And that, Mr. CEO and Ms. Member of the Board of Directors, is why you need to make sure your HR department and your managers are polite, wear clean underwear, and write thank-you notes.

Does your company respect job applicants? Does it walk the talk — and send thank-you notes? Does your HR department insist on proper behavior from job applicants, and then diss them when the interviews are done?

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The mark of a promotable employee

In the April 5, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager wants to know how to assess an employee for a promotion.


promotionI manage a small team, but I’m pretty new to management. Now that it’s time to promote someone, I’m not happy with the criteria my HR department has given me to justify the promotion. It’s frankly nonsense. I don’t want to promote someone just because they’ve been on the job for two years. I want to use the opportunity to really assess whether they are ready for more responsibility and some new authority, and to help the employee realize what this means for them, for my department and for our company. Do you have any suggestions for how I should handle this so it will mean something?

Nick’s Reply

Well, you’re not managing by rote, I’ll give you that! I’m glad. A promotion should be the result of dialogue between you and the employee, and it should be handled something like a job interview. Of course, you know a lot more about an existing employee than you do someone applying for a job. But I agree that you should not waste the opportunity to help your employee step up to the challenge that a promotion really is. This should be a bit of a test where the employee demonstrates what they can do.

In part, you have to follow your gut, by considering how this person has performed over the past two years. In part, you should base the promotion on your estimate of how they will perform going forward, on the specific tasks and objectives they will soon face. This is actually all about what you already know. The rest is up to the employee: You should absolutely test them in some reasonable way.

Here’s how I’d approach it — but, please, leaven my suggestions with your own good judgment.

2 challenges to a promotion

It’s no easy task for a manager to decide who is worth promoting. It’s always risky to assign additional responsibilities or authority to an employee: Will she lighten the manager’s load or just add to it?

I think there’s a simple initial test for promotability, though you should consider other factors and criteria that make sense to you. My goal with this method is to stimulate a dialogue between you and the employee that will help you decide — and that will also help the employee grasp the importance of new responsibilities and authority.

This is based on the idea that the farther up the ladder a person goes, the more impact (positive or negative) they can have on the bottom line. Before you promote someone, find out how well she understands this idea. This test has two parts.

First, ask the employee to explain (a) how her current job contributes to the company’s profits, and (b) how she thinks the job she may be promoted to impacts profits.

Second, ask (c) what three things she has done in her current job to optimize profits and (d) what three things she would do in the “next job up the ladder” to optimize profits.

(If you’re a job applicant, this approach can work with a prospective boss, too. End your talk with How to Say It: How’d I do?)

The key to these 2 challenges

Remember that as someone’s boss, your goal is to get the best work out of them that you can. That makes you a mentor and a guide. If the employee fails, you fail. So, you must do everything you can (within reason) to help the employee succeed at getting promoted, just as you normally do as her boss to help her get her work done effectively every day.

That means the two challenges listed above must be an open-book test, and you must give the employee adequate time to respond. You must be ready and able to answer any questions she has as she prepares her responses. For example, she will probably need to discuss the definition of profit in the context of her job and your department. (Remember, a big part of your job as a manager is to develop your people, to advise them, and to teach them.)

Encourage the employee to prepare a brief, written report for (a), (b), and (c), and a brief, written plan for (d). Written might mean she prepares a presentation and outline on your whiteboard, or it might mean a short PowerPoint presentation or a narrative. Please: Don’t make it too formal! Casual and conversational is best.

Point out that you are available to help in any way (short of producing the reports, of course). You’re her manager, after all, and managers and employees collaborate all the time in a healthy work environment. You want her to succeed. This will trigger a thoughtful dialogue that will reveal what you need to know about the employee’s acumen and potential. No matter how the employee responds to this, you as the manager will learn a lot. I think you’ll see the mark of a promotable employee pretty readily.

As you might guess, not all employees will be able to deal with this effectively. Promotable employees will get it!

(If you’re the employee, and the promotion you’re getting doesn’t include a raise, learn How to Say It: Mo’ money is the problem!)

If you’re a manager, how do you handle promotions? When you’ve pursued promotions yourself, how did you make your case? What approach other than the one above would you recommend to the manager in this week’s Q&A?

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The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!

In the March 22, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wastes time with an employer who doesn’t negotiate.


I received a job offer for $80,000, which is low for what my position gets in my industry. I responded that I’m excited about joining the team, and I counter-offered for $85,000, outlining what my value is, how I plan to benefit the company, and overall how the raise is justified. That’s my understanding of the proper way to negotiate — you must justify your counter-offer.

i win-you loseInstead of just turning down my counter-offer and staying at $80,000, which I would’ve gladly taken, they rescinded the offer completely. The hiring manager wouldn’t even respond to my calls or e-mails, even after he said he’d be glad to discuss any questions.

I spoke to friends who are hiring managers, who in turn asked other hiring managers, and the consensus was that it was a total shock and an anomaly to rescind the offer because I tried to negotiate it.

Is this becoming more common, or is this just plain bad hiring practice? Was I in the wrong to negotiate? The hiring manager did claim that he already pushed for the $80,000, which is the maximum they could offer. But anyone with negotiating experience knows that might be a negotiating technique of the employer.

In all, this experience scared me into never wanting to negotiate again, and I’m afraid I’ll never get a job that pays at least the average value for my position. I would love to know your thoughts!

Nick’s Reply

When employers talk money, job applicants are supposed to gratefully nod YES. When job applicants say MAYBE and try to negotiate, more and more we’re seeing employers say NO and withdraw offers altogether.

That’s when you should say GOODBYE, because negotiating is part of any business, and hiring people is business. Any employer that doesn’t respect the negotiating process — even if it declines to increase a job offer — is doing bad business.

Here we go again: Another rescinded (or retracted) job offer. (See Protect yourself from exploding job offers and Protect Your Job: Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.) What is up with human resources management?

Your story is an interesting twist, because your offer was retracted simply because you dared to negotiate it. But more troubling is that I’m seeing a shocking number of rescinded offers reported by readers.

Don’t beat yourself up about what just happened to you. As long as you do it respectfully, there is nothing wrong with negotiating. It’s part of business. I compliment you for negotiating responsibly. (See Only naïve wusses are afraid to bring up money.) Here are my thoughts:

  • The manager is within his rights to not offer more money. But taking offense at a negotiation is puerile. As a job applicant, I’d walk away from this employer without another thought. As a headhunter, I’d never work with this employer again. (Employers should read Why you should offer job applicants more money.)
  • The company’s HR department reveals it is meaningless, clueless, powerless, or all three. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.) Yes, I said HR. Even though you were dealing with a hiring manager, it’s the HR department’s job to ensure the hiring process is conducted in a businesslike way by all managers.
  • The company’s Marketing and Public Relations departments are to be pitied because, while they are working to create a good image of their company before their customers and investors, hiring managers are tearing that image down in the company’s professional community. (I’m sure you’ll be sharing your story with your friends in your industry.)
  • You have dodged a bullet. Better to know now that this person doesn’t negotiate, than after you take the job.

What this company did doesn’t make sense. But please consider that the risk of working with people whose behavior doesn’t make sense, doesn’t make sense!

Move on. There are good employers out there who know how to conduct business. Business between honest, smart people is always a negotiation. You did nothing imprudent or wrong. When someone won’t negotiate, they’re not worth doing business with.

We learn through negotiating. As you pointed out, negotiating by offering sound reasons for your counter-offer is a way to find common ground and a way to understand one another better. This kind of back-and-forth is the foundation of all commerce. It’s how we learn to work together. (See The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer.)

This employer doesn’t get it. It never feels good when someone dumps us. It makes us question ourselves. But if you take a deep breath, I think you’ll realize that a company that refuses to have a dialogue — a negotiation — with you, doesn’t care about you. There can be no commerce in that case.

I think such appalling, irresponsible behavior by employers has become much more common, because HR now so dominates recruiting and hiring that hiring managers are less and less likely to understand even the most fundamental rules of engagement with job applicants. They do stupid things that cost their company money and good hires. Even worse, HR is so dominated by automated hiring tools, regulatory blinders, and “best practices” that even HR “professionals” are less and less likely to understand the basic rules of doing business.

Responsible business people don’t just walk away from a negotiation like this employer did. They respectfully close out the discussion. And if an employer makes an offer that the recipient tries to negotiate, the employer doesn’t withdraw the offer as its answer to a request for more money. The employer just says, No, no more money. Do you accept the original offer?

Don’t beat yourself up. You can always negotiate with good people. The rest aren’t worth worrying about or dealing with. I wish you the best.

Do you negotiate to get the best job offer you can? Did the employer pull the offer as a result? If you’re an employer, are you willing to negotiate with job applicants? How would you deal with an employer that doesn’t negotiate?

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References: How employers bungle a competitive edge

In the December 8, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets down on reference checking.


I’ve come to the conclusion that asking for references is about the dumbest thing a company can do in the hiring process. First, I believe that any prior employer is only obligated to give the dates you worked and at what salary. They don’t like to give any qualitative assessment because there are potential liability issues involved. Second, who is going to give a personal reference that would not describe you in laudatory terms? I think references are just another personnel department make-work project! What do you think?

referencesNick’s Reply

One of the very best ways to size up a job candidate is to consider the opinions of her professional community. Employers who ignore peer review take unnecessary risks when hiring. But that’s where today’s reference-checking practices have led us.

Incompetent reference checking

Asking for references seems dumb because it has been made trivial; so trivial that companies routinely outsource reference checks rather than do it themselves. (See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.) They’re going to judge you based on a routine set of questions that someone else asks a bunch of people on a list. How ludicrous is that?

Employers have bought into the idea that a reference check is like a credit check, but it’s not. A credit check digs up objective information: numbers, loan payment dates, defaults.

A reference check is largely subjective. The source of information isn’t a bricks-and-mortar bank that’s required to divulge facts about your accounts. A reference source is a mushy human being who may be in a good mood or a bad mood; who may know you well, or not. The reference checker must know the context — the industry, the profession, the work, the community — or he can’t possibly understand what to ask or what the comments really mean. This is why most reference checks are simply incompetent, if not dangerous.

reference-checkerThe “reference and investigations” industry may be able to turn up criminal records and such, but you can’t tell me that a researcher is going to elicit a subtle judgment of a job candidate by calling a name on a list. Worse, if the information that’s collected is erroneous, why would such a reference checker care? He’s not accountable to anyone. The employer that buys it doesn’t care and isn’t going to ask you to explain. To borrow a phrase, outsourcing reference checks is like washing your hands with rubber gloves on. If you’re going to feel anything, you must get your hands dirty!

Real reference checking

There is no finesse in reference checking any more — not for most employers. A real reference check is done quietly and responsibly, by talking to sources that a manager tracks down on her own by using her network of professional contacts. These are candid references; comments made off the record within a trusted professional relationship. That’s where you’ll find the true measure of a candidate.

Did I just break five laws? That’s only because the skeevy industry that has grown around reference investigations requires regulation. It’s because employers are no longer good at teasing apart credible references from spiteful or sugar-coated ones. They want to put the legal liability for making judgments of character and reputation on someone else.

There’s a better way to do it, and it’s time-honored among honorable businesspeople. The person doing the reference checking must be savvy and responsible. She must know what she’s doing. A greenhorn human resources clerk is out. In fact, the only person who should be doing such a check is the hiring manager. The most candid discussions will take place between managers who know their industry, their professional community, and the issues in their business. Where a manager might not open up to an “investigator,” she’s likely to share information with a peer. Credible, useful information comes from credible, trustworthy sources. You can’t buy it.

If it’s true that hiring the best people matters, then real reference checks give an employer a very powerful competitive edge. Outsource reference checks, or do them ineptly, and you’ve bungled your company’s future.

Reference checking is a community event

The reason — other than legal — that companies don’t do effective checks is that human resources (HR) departments simply don’t have the kinds of contacts in the professional community that could yield legitimate, credible references. And that brings into question HR’s entire role in the recruitment, selection and hiring process. If you don’t have good enough connections in the professional community to do that kind of reference check, how could you possibly recruit from that community? Both tasks require the exact same kind of contacts and relationships. It’s all about the employer’s network.

accountableJob hunters correctly worry that bad references might cost them a job. That’s a real problem. The question is, is the bad reference justified? If it is, then perhaps it should cost you a job. Don’t shoot the messenger. Take a good look at yourself, and recognize that the truth has consequences in your social and professional community. (But all is not lost. See How can you fight bad references?)

It should not be illegal to rely on credible opinions about you. By the same token, managers must be attuned to vengeful references, and take appropriate measures to verify them. But regulating candor is no solution. When we count on the law to protect us from all information, we must expect to get hurt by a lack of good information.

If I were to check your references, I’d get good, solid information about you. And I might not ever call anyone on the list you gave me. I’ll use my contacts to triangulate on your reputation. (You might be surprised at who I talk to. See The Ministry of Reference Checks.) Will someone try to torpedo you? Possibly, but it’s quite rare. More likely, I’ll turn something up that makes me want to get to know you better; to assess you more carefully.

The trouble is, good reference checks are rarely done. Hence, most reference information is pure garbage, as you suggest. And this hurts good workers just as it hurts good employers. In the end, all we have to go on is the opinion of our professional community. Stifle it, and the community suffers the consequences.

References are your competitive edge

References are such an important tool to help you land a job that I can’t emphasize enough that you must plan, prepare and use references to give you an edge. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition) I discuss just how strategic references are.

First, learn how to launch a reference:

“The best… reference is when a reputable person in your field refers you to an employer. In other words, the referrer ‘sends you’… to his peer and suggests she hire you.” (pp. 23-24)

Second, use preemptive references:

A “preemptive reference is one who, when the employer is ready to talk to references, calls the employer before being called. Such a call packs a powerful punch. It tells the employer that the reference isn’t just positive, it’s enthusiastic.” (p. 24)

The truth matters. Legislating against the opinions of others about us is, well, stupid. Far better to manage those opinions and to be responsible about them. If you’re a manager, it’s also far better to take responsibility and check applicants’ references yourself. Don’t let HR do it. What do references really mean?

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The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge

In the November 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions the lunacy of the training gap.


I am responding to your question asking whether or not we, your readers, agree with employers that there is a “skills gap.” I am not sure I can really answer your question, though I will tell you that I have my doubts that there is a skills gap.

I think what there may be is a training gap.

What I can tell you is this. Back in 1986 I was hired by an insurance company as a computer programmer after having completed four years of college (linguistics major), followed by a six-month program in data processing. While I did have training going into the job, the company provided me and my co-workers with a lot of on-the-job training. They had an education department, and we all went through hours, and hours, and hours of paid on-the-job training in computer programming.

My understanding about the reason the company did this was because they wanted to train us to do things the way loser2they wanted them done.

My question to you is, do you find that kind of thing to be true anymore? Are companies willing to invest in training their employees after they have been hired? Or are companies no longer willing to do that?

Nick’s Reply

You’re hitting on one of the key issues behind the so-called “talent and skills shortage.” Who is actually responsible for brewing talent and skills? Job seekers? Schools? Employers themselves?

It seems clear in today’s economy that most employers believe they should be able to acquire skills ready-made. Despite the fact that the nature of a job depends a lot on a particular company’s business — jobs are not one-size-fits-all-companies, after all — businesses expect that the exact constellation of skills they need is going to walk in the door just because they advertised for it.

The training gap is real

Consider the embarrassing contradiction: Any company will tell you that it is the most competitive one in its industry, that its products are uniquely the best, that what they deliver isn’t available anywhere else.

So, why is it they expect the unique talent they want to hire already exists, as if it comes in a can to be purchased on a job board — or that it already exists at a competing company? They might as well admit that their products are the same as everyone else’s.

If you admit you can get your new hires wholly-made from another employer — your competitor — then you might as well tell your customers to buy what they need there, too. If a company wants the skills and talents it needs to be unique and competitive, it had better take responsibility for creating them.

I don’t believe there’s any talent or skills gap. At least in the United States, talent abounds. There’s arguably more talent on the street, looking for work, than ever in history. But to make a worker an element of its unique, competitive edge, the company must make that worker in its own image. It must cast the worker as unique as its products or services. It takes the same kind of investment to brew talent as to brew a competitive product.

We know for a fact that employers have indeed cut back enormously on training. It’s been confirmed by Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli. He’s shown that, adjusting for time, technology, and other factors, American workers are no less skilled or educated than they’ve ever been. However, employers have all but stopped training employees. Employers own the problem – they created it. (See Employment in America: WTF is going on? and Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need.)

Cappelli writes in the Wall Street Journal:

“Unfortunately, American companies don’t seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Bye-bye, competitive edge!

Your 1986 story confirms Cappelli’s finding that, not very long ago, employers considered training important. Today, it’s pathetic. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. HR departments think they can buy off-the-self workers who don’t need or deserve training or skills development, while their marketing departments claim the company’s products are unique, state-of-the-art and without equal. This training gap is the pinnacle of corporate hypocrisy.

Then there’s the industry that aids and abets it. LinkedIn and other job boards successfully market the fraudulent notion that “we have the perfect candidate in our database – just keep looking!” (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired — Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled.) Employers buy that bunk sandwich in bulk, and stuff it into their recruiting strategies and hiring policies. They behave as if they can hire “just in time” the “perfect candidate” who has been doing the same job for five years already — at a lower salary.

What job seeker wants either of those two “qualities” in a new job?

loserWhen companies fail to educate, train and develop their new hires and existing employees, I think they say goodbye to any competitive edge. Their customers get cookie-cutter products and services. What this state of affairs tells us is that there’s a talent shortage in corporate leadership. (See Talent Shortage, Or Poor Management?)

As long as employers treat people — that “human resource,” that “human asset” — as a fungible commodity or interchangeable parts to be bought and sold as-is, their products and services will be no better than interchangeable parts sold at the lowest possible price.

Take a look at another article by Peter Cappelli, where he slaps management hard upside the head with this apt analogy:

“Imagine a car manufacturer that decided to buy a key engine component for its cars rather than make them. The requirements for that component change every year, and if you can’t get one that fits, the car won’t run. What would we say about that manufacturer if it just assumed the market would deliver the new component with the specifications it needed when it needed it and at the price it needed? It would certainly flunk risk management. Yet that’s what these…companies are doing.”

I think Cappelli answers your question, and I don’t think there’s any debate: Most companies no longer invest in shaping and developing their employees. Their talent-challenged finance executives preach that cost reduction is a better path to profitability than investment. This exacts an enormous price on our economy because it’s relegating those companies to the scrap heap of “me-too enterprises,” and it’s failing our workforce as a whole.

I also think you highlight the solution: “…the reason the company [provided extensive education and development]… was because they wanted to train us to do things the way they wanted them done.” That’s what gave your employer an edge. No investment in training means no edge.

Drive by and keep your edge

My advice: Keep on truckin’ right past employers that provide no education, training or development to new hires and employees. These are companies that don’t invest in their future success — or yours.

Go find their able competitors. There are some good ones out there. They’re not easy to find, just like talent isn’t easy to develop. (That’s why you should pursue the best companies — not jobs.) The mark of a truly competitive product is the unique skills and talents a company developed to produce it.

The next time you interview a company, ask to see their employee training and development plan. If they don’t have a good one, tell them your career plan is to avoid working in a stagnant environment. Flip them a quarter and tell them to call their next candidate, because they probably still have a pay phone in the lunch room.

thanksgivingDoes your employer provide training and development to give you (and itself) a competitive advantage? When you’re job hunting, do you ask about employee education? If you’re an employer, what kind of training to you do?

All the best to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving!

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How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants

In the June 23, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, Nick responds to readers who want to know what he thinks of a Time magazine cover story about employers that use “XQ” to assess job applicants.

Your XQ: More HR B.S.?

Readers have been peppering me with questions, asking my reaction to a recent Time cover story: How High Is Your XQ? It’s about “strange questions you need to answer to get a job in the era of optimized hiring.”

Translation: It’s about employers’ new-found love for letting third-party personality-testing companies decide whether to reject you before the employer even meets you.

I give the author of the article, Eliza Gray, credit for dealing with “optimized hiring” candidly and critically. The article is worth reading. (If you don’t subscribe to Time, you can’t read the full story online. Everyone, however, can read an online companion piece, Find out if your personality fits your job.)

In this week’s newsletter, I’m going to tell you what I think, and suggest how you might deal with this latest effort by HR executives to abrogate their responsibilities for hiring.

But what really matters in all this is what you think, because that’s what will rattle these employers. Read on, then join me in the discussion below. We’ll talk.

A $2 Billion Industry

Time reports: “Convinced by the gurus of Big Data that a perfect workforce can be achieved by analyzing the psyche and running the results through computers, hundreds of employers now insist that job candidates submit to personality tests.”

stuffed-animalA $2 billion testing industry, funded by your friendly neighborhood HR department, “evaluates” job applicants even before an employer decides they’re worth interviewing. Yes, you too can get rejected before you’re even considered.

What does all this entail? “Tests that can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours,” says Time.

Why does HR do this? It’s simple. HR doesn’t want to recruit, judge job applicants, hire, or be held accountable. So HR execs farm their work out to third parties that are not regulated — but who control whether you get a job.

What it means: HR has left the building. There’s a stuffed animal in the HR VP’s chair signing contracts, outsourcing hiring to clowns wearing psychologists’ hats. These employers consider their employees fungible commodities. (See An insider’s biggest beefs with employment testing.)

My advice: Strike back, especially if you’re gainfully employed. “Sorry, my policy is not to take tests or fill out voluminous forms until the hiring manager and I decide there’s good reason to continue talking. When can I meet the manager?”

I realize that if you’re unemployed, you might hesitate to be so assertive. But consider that after you invest your time, odds are very high that you’ll be rejected by an algorithm — time you could spend interviewing with a human who really wants to hire you.

Bottom line: Any employer that won’t take the time to meet you before rejecting you operates without integrity and is not one to work for.

The No-See-Um Assessment

What are HR departments looking for?

algorithmTime reports: “It isn’t an IQ rating or even EQ, the emotional intelligence quotient that came into vogue in the 1990s. There’s no name yet for this indispensable attribute. The qualities are so murky that often not even the employers chasing it are able to define it; they simply know that an algorithm has discovered a correlation between a candidate’s answers (such as an expressed preference for classical music) and responses given by some of their most successful workers. So let’s call it the X quotient… your XQ test, an exam that no one has prepared you for.”

What it means: You apply for a job. HR has no time to interview you. (See 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make.) It makes you take a test instead, saving its time and money, while you play outsourced psychological games, spending your time like it’s free. These tests reveal correlations, which reflect nothing about your skills or ability to do a job.

Your answers to useless questions like, “Do you understand why stars twinkle?” correlate with the answers of successful employees. But statistical correlations don’t prove anything. They merely suggest you’re similar to someone else. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter that you can do the job better than any other current employee. You lose.

My advice: Don’t play the No-See-Um Game, in which no one interviews you. Insist on being seen by a hiring manager in person. There are many companies that respect job applicants and assess them face to face. (See Kick the candidate out of your office.) Don’t feed the $2 billion racket. Find an honest employer instead.

Meet Andy Biga

If hiring decisions that are based on test correlations are really not a good thing, why do employers rely on them?

jet-blueTime tells about a JetBlue HR executive named Andy Biga who “optimizes hiring.” He processes 150,000 job applicants for the airline, and hires 3,000 of them after they “get past the battery of tests Biga’s team designed.”

Biga says, “I believe this is really the future for hiring.”

Oops: It seems Andy Biga is full of baloney. I know, because I spoke with Dr. Arnold Glass, a leading researcher in cognitive psychology at Rutgers University. Glass adds a measure of Real Science to Biga’s claims about Big Data in the service of HR:

“It has been known since Alfred Binet and Victor Henri constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job. Therefore, the idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

The Time reporter “called Biga and his protege, another 30-something data wiz named Ryan Dullaghan, after the conference to see if they’d talk me past the buzzwords and through what they’re really looking for in a new hire. No dice. After all, if the traits they wanted in an employee were printed in TIME, they said, job applicants might be able to game the test.”

What it means: JetBlue and companies like it don’t hire you for what you can do. They hire you because you correctly agree or disagree with statements like, “I feel stressed when others rush me.” What that means is a secret. That’s how they game you.

ftcMy advice: Buy a lottery ticket instead. Because, can you imagine how Andy sorts through 150,000 applicants? BZZZT! That’s a trick question! He doesn’t. Nobody at JetBlue does. If JetBlue had any idea how to recruit the right people, it wouldn’t throw 150,000 strands of spaghetti at the wall.

Andy has a big problem: The FTC is looking into how these hiring algorithms promote bias and discrimination. Ashkan Soltani, the FTC’s chief technologist, says, “We have little insight as to how these algorithms operate, what incentives are behind them or what data is used and how it’s structured.” CIO magazine reports that the FTC has formed a new Office of Technology Research and Investigation to look at bias in hiring algorithms.

Soltani cautions: “A lot of times the tendency is to let software do its thing. But to the degree that software reinforces biases and discrimination, there are normative values at stake.”

Oops. There goes Andy Biga’s future.

Meet Charles Phillips

This racket is so corrupt that I couldn’t make up what Time disclosed.

Time reports: “One of the bigger outfits is Infor, a New York–based software company that claims to assess a million candidates a month–a number that translates to 11% of the U.S. workforce.”

b-s-buttonHertz, Boston Market and Tenet Healthcare outsource candidate testing to Infor. The company “concocts a job applicant’s ‘Behavioral DNA,’ a measure of ’39 behavioral, cognitive and cultural traits,’ and compares them to the personality traits of the company’s top performers.”

What it means: “Behavioral DNA” is a B.S. marketing term with no scientific meaning. Now for the good part. Says the Time reporter: “Infor CEO Charles Phillips admitted he’d never taken the test when we spoke, adding, ‘I’m scared of what I might find.’”

My advice: A CEO who admits he won’t eat his own company’s dog food — but wants to feed it to you — has no business rejecting you for a job at arm’s length. Kudos to Time for exposing Infor. Look up the list of Infor’s clients. Would you apply for a job at any of them, knowing how you’ll be “assessed?” Find employers who don’t serve Charlie Phillips’ dog food to people who apply for jobs.

Correlation Is King

What is Infor selling to gullible HR executives who couldn’t recruit a dog to bite a mailman? Correlations, reports Time.

Phillips and his testing chums sell “a mostly unchallenged belief that lots of data combined with lots of analytics can optimize pretty much anything–even people. Thus, ‘people analytics,’ the most buzzed-about buzzword in HR circles at the moment. Included in people analytics is everything from looking at the correlation between compensation and attrition to analyzing employees’ email and calendars to see if they are using their time effectively… Correlation is king, even when causation is far from clear. So it’s only natural that data worship would take hold in hiring.”

Remember what Rutgers’ Dr. Glass said: “The idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

Meet Ray Dalio, animal wrangler

According to Time, one employer that does its own “people analytics” is Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund. The company’s founder, Ray Dalio, expresses a belief that HR execs are quickly adopting:

wild-animal“Without data, we are no better than cavemen he says. ‘Society is in its animal, emotional state that is the equivalent of the dark ages. We are in this transition period where all that is hidden in darkness will come out through statistical evidence,’ he says.”

What about all this testing, correlation and prediction to assess candidates for jobs? Peter Cappelli, a leading HR researcher at the Wharton School of Management, cuts to the chase: “Nothing in the science of prediction and selection beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

But none of the executives cited by Time select candidates by observing them actually performing a job.

The Science Of Snake Oil

dissedIt’s no accident that Andy Biga, Charles Phillips, and Ray Dalio are not scientists. They’re snake oil salesmen using fake technical lingo (Behavioral DNA? Jump, Spot, jump!) to impress lightweight HR executives. “Big Data” impresses HR charlatans who hide behind other charlatans to whom they outsource their own jobs — recruiting and hiring.

The bunch of them love to pontificate about “evidence based” assessments. Yet real HR researchers, cognitive psychologists, Time magazine, and the FTC tell us there’s no evidence, no science, and possibly no integrity in any of this.

(There are ways to apply for a job by going around these obstacles. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3, Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition)).

We Have Met The Enemy

Job seekers at every level — including some of the smartest, most educated people in America — have met the enemy on the jobs battlefield. And the enemy is job seekers themselves. They’ve let themselves be suckered.

As long as job seekers consent to be treated like commodities, as long as they let their teeth be checked like horses at auction, as long as they subject themselves to imperious bureaucrats who hold up hoops to jump through, then they’ll be abused.

Job seekers are their own biggest enemy. Folks, you have to grow some integrity of your own and refuse to be abused.

So, how do I get a job?

Job seekers tell me all the time that they’re terrified to buck the system. So, how can they possibly land a job in this miasma of phony science, trumped-up hiring technology, and HR bullying?

It’s simple. Please pay attention.

Time reports that job seeker Kelly Ditson finally landed a job after subjecting herself to demeaning online applications and personality tests. She stayed up “as late as two in the morning to finish just four applications.”

In one case, “she made it to the 95th question on the Chili’s [restaurant chain] application only to have [the] wi-fi connection cut out. She had to start all over. Chili’s had no comment for Time. Ditson said she was exasperated… In the end, she got her job the old-fashioned way: calling the manager at the Olive Garden until she hired her. She started in March.”

Ditson went and talked to the manager she wanted to work for. One on one, not one in 150,000.

No one can make a fool out of you if you don’t let them. (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?) When will HR wise up and realize it’s losing the respect of job seekers every day? When will HR realize it’s being played for the fool by software companies masquerading as scientists? When will HR realize that “the people game” is played with real, live people — not phony “evidence” derived from “Big Data” by tech wonks working for stuffed animals in the HR suite?

HR will realize it when job seekers stop rolling over.

My Advice

HR execs say there’s a talent shortage. That puts you in the driver’s seat, folks — it’s a seller’s market!

keep-calm-and-have-integrityThroughout Ask The Headhunter — the website, blog, newsletter, books — I talk (write) myself blue in the face about how to demonstrate that you’re the profitable hire. (For example, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.) The best employers hire those that can do the job — they don’t diddle databases to find people who hate opera singing, know why stars twinkle, or would like to be the color red.

If you don’t say no to employers who treat you like a dog begging for a bone, you’re going to wind up in the dog house. There are good employers and managers who respect talented workers. They will meet you and judge you in person. They will introduce you to their teams and assess whether you can do the work, get along with others, and contribute to the bottom line.

HR executives and the employers they work for should be ashamed of themselves — outsourcing hiring, the most proprietary edge a company has. Ray Dalio is wrong. You are not an animal in an emotional state. Tell any employer or testing company that treats you that way to shove it. And go work for one of their better competitors.

That’s the only way to end the optimized rejection of millions of job applicants.

Is there an end to this? Have you been abused by employers and subjected to “evidence-based hiring” that relies on phony “science” and made-up “tests?” Are you ready to say NO and move on to employers that respect people enough to talk to them rather than “analyze” them blindly? Let’s hear about employers that are worth applying to!

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Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit

In the June 2, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders what the problem is with employers. They really can’t find the hires they need??


Why do companies seem to have such a hard time finding the people they say they need — the “talent?” I apply for jobs that I know I’m a fit for based on what they say they need. We do a short dance, and they stop talking to me and move on to the next applicant. Most of the time I’m talking to Personnel. It’s not just me. I know several very successful people out of work who keep having the same experience. Is it us, or the employers?

Nick’s Reply

We’ve been discussing how human resources departments, technology and job boards contribute to the problems employers claim to have when trying to hire the talent they need.

But I think the real solution lies not just in eliminating the artificial obstacles to recruiting and hiring. Employers must learn how to actively do it right. And there’s no mystery about how to do it right — and no artifice in it at all.

The problem you and your friends face is that you’re not being recruited. You’re being solicited. Recruiting right doesn’t require more technology or more investment or specialists of any kind. The best recruiting and hiring tool is already in place, waiting to be deployed.

recruitBut there’s the rub. Very, very few employers deploy the army of recruiters that already exists in their ranks. Line up 10 managers and they’ll give you 10 different answers to the question, What is your No. 1 job function?

You can take all the skills of all managers and pile them up and they won’t outweigh the one most important skill of a good manager: hiring great people.

If a company keeps failing to hire great people who stick around and do profitable work, then it has to take a look at how good its managers are at this one function.

Every manager’s No. 1 job

Managers who hide behind HR — or who fear HR — don’t deserve the title. Managers who don’t recruit should be sent packing.

If managers are not personally spending at least 20 to 30 percent (that’s one to two days per week) of their time identifying, meeting, cultivating, recruiting, interviewing and hiring great people, they’re not earning their keep. Hiring is every manager’s No. 1 job.

I know this will shock many managers (and HR executives), but hiring is not and cannot be HR’s job. In fact, HR needs to get out of the way entirely — and leave recruiting up to the managers who run the departments that do the work, and that understand firsthand the tasks and tools required for the business.

Just ask anyone who has ever interviewed with an HR representative: Did HR demonstrate any expertise in the skills it was judging you on?

Only managers can do that. And it’s time they started doing their jobs and making their companies proud. I’ll bet they’d make job seekers happier, too — because interviews would suddenly become more relevant and intelligent. And HR could go back to processing payroll.

Judge employers by their managers

For job seekers, it’s worth judging employers by who’s on the front line of recruiting. Does the hiring manager make first contact with you, or is that a personnel jockey calling? (See The Recruiting Paradox.) What do you imagine would happen if you referred just-say-nosuch calls to your administrative assistant (or agent) — instead of talking to the employer yourself? The employer would be appalled, of course. So, why should you be fielding calls from administrators when you’re being recruited? Where’s the manager that wants to hire you?

My point is that job seekers — especially when contact is initiated by the employer — should politely request to have that first discussion happen with the hiring manager, or no dice. No resume. No filling out applications. No employment tests. No social security numbers. First let’s see what that hiring manager has to say, and if it’s worthwhile, go from there. Hey — we all need to weed out the tire kickers, right?

If you’re afraid you’ll “lose an opportunity,” consider this: Most inquiries from employers go nowhere. But you already know that. The ones that lead to a job usually start with the decision maker. No manager is going to sacrifice a candidate he or she really wants to meet if the candidate declines to talk to HR first. The rest are tire kickers.

I think that’s the approach you and your friends need to start taking. Assert yourselves. I think there’s nothing to lose, and you may very well get an audience with a real decision maker.

Here’s a heads-up for all employers: The talent crisis is managers who don’t know how to recruit. The shocking solution to the “talent problem” is for managers to do their own recruiting.

How does “the manager’s No. 1 job” rank in importance at your company? Would you rather be recruited and interviewed by an actual manager, or by HR? When you are rejected, who rejects you: HR or the manager who would hire you? Why do companies put middlemen in the hiring process, when middlemen just bog it down and lead to errors?

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Wanted: HR exec with the guts to not ask for your SSN

In the December 2, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker hesitates to hand over a Social Security number:


The more I read your columns, the more I realize that the employment process is not just broken. It’s inappropriate and run by people who think they can demand anything from people who need a job. Like private, personal information you’d never just hand over to anyone.

I viewed an employment application yesterday and I didn’t have issues with most of what tssnhey asked for, until I got to the request for my SSN. What do they need that for? My thinking is that providing your SSN would only be appropriate if and when you are hired. In your opinion, when would it be acceptable to provide your social security number (SSN) to a potential employer?

Nick’s Reply

Employers, like your phone company and gas company, use your SSN to identify you in their databases because it’s a unique number. It’s the lazy vendor’s way to track customers, and the lazy HR department’s way to track job applicants. And it’s frankly irresponsible.

Here’s what Pam Dixon, Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum, says:

“Never put a Social Security Number on your resume. You can provide it when you are invited for an interview or when the employer obtains your permission to conduct a background check. Widespread access to your SSN puts you at risk for identity theft.”

(So, uh… do employers ever conduct background checks before meeting you, or without your permission? Yep. For an example, see Big Brother & The Employment Industry: “All your employment are belong to us!”)

I know many HR workers will shake their heads and say I’m being overly cautious, and that they really do need a job applicant’s SSN. So here’s my challenge: Give me one good reason why an applicant’s SSN is necessary to proceed with a job interview.

I’ve asked this question of HR again and again, and no one has been able to answer it satisfactorily. We’ve already discussed how this “SSN protocol” has spawned unintended scams: How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number.

If it needs a unique identifier, why doesn’t the employer just ask for your credit card number? For that matter, why don’t you — the applicant — ask the HR representative for his SSN, as well, so you can do a background check on him? (Two can play this game, if one thinks he can justify it.)got-guts

Yes, these are rhetorical questions — but they’re no nuttier than improper requests for your SSN.

I don’t believe any employer really needs your SSN until you are hired, when it’s necessary to process and report your contributions to your social security account. If the employer needs it to conduct a background check, wouldn’t you want the employer to put some skin in the game first — for example, by actually interviewing you and indicating it’s interested in hiring you? I’d take that a step further and ask the employer to (1) disclose exactly what kind of check it’s going to do, and (2) agree to show you everything it finds. (Even credit bureaus are required to show you what they find. Which reminds me: You should be just as wary of requests by employers for your credit report: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)

If you think my suggestions are a bit over the top, then try responding to the employer with these two businesslike questions: For what reason do you need my SSN? Or, What are you going to do with it?

The reality is, some software designer included an SSN field in the employer’s database, and the HR department bought the software without questioning the design and intent. Because HR relies on such software to process you, HR doesn’t know what to do if you decline to provide data the software “requires.” Go figure. Suppose the software included a credit card field instead — that’s unique to you, too, right? But no one would expect you to provide it, because the employer doesn’t need it.

I feel your pain. Some employers will boot you out of the hiring process if you don’t give them your SSN (and your salary history) — just like a phone or cable company will refuse to sell you service without it. I wish someone would file a lawsuit.

When you’re stuck, blocked by a faceless job application form that asks inappropriate questions, there’s just one thing left to do: Go mano a mano. Yes, I’d call the employer — on the phone — and explain that you’d like to apply, but that you will provide your SSN only if you are hired. “So, how do we proceed with my application?”

Of course, HR might have a problem dealing with a human applicant, and it may have a policy against talking to applicants on the phone. Hey — where did you get HR’s private phone number, anyway…?

Do you hand over your SSN when applying for jobs? Is there an HR executive out there with the guts to stop asking for job applicants’ SSNs until after HR has decided to make an offer?

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The Do-It-Yourself Interview (for managers)

In the November 18, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a look at what managers need to ask themselves, before they ask job candidates anything:

You’re a hiring manager

Your human resources department just handed you a list of questions to use when interviewing job candidates. Put it aside. We can do better.

tell-meThe problem with such questions is that they quickly make their way into hundreds of books with titles like Top Interview Questions & Answers! Any job candidate with a decent memory can recite clever rejoinders to the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions:

  • If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • How would you handle a difficult boss?
  • Gimme a break!

Before you decide what questions to ask job candidates, interview yourself.

Managers are not ready to interview

As we saw in HR Pornography: Interview videos, a recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers.

I find that most managers conduct rote interviews because they fail to understand what they really want out of a new hire. (See Don’t conduct junk interviews.) They don’t ask themselves, What am I really trying to accomplish for my business?

More common than the failure to assess a candidate properly is a manager’s failure to understand what’s important to him. Once you can get a handle on that, you will be able to develop your own interview questions without help from anyone. (Just what does your HR department really know about your department’s business, anyway? Enough to come in for a few days and do the job you’re trying to fill? If HR can’t do that, then what qualifies them to pose legitimate interview questions?)

I think most managers aren’t ready to interview anyone because they haven’t interviewed themselves first.

I’d like to suggest some questions for you — the hiring manager — to answer before you meet any candidates. I hope this exercise leads you to expect a lot more from the interview process. Perhaps these questions will give you food for thought, and you’ll think of more of them.

Questions for managers

  1. What’s the one thing you wish you could quickly figure out about every candidate in an interview?
  2. A year from now, how do you want your department to be different as a result of filling this job?
  3. If a candidate were to go up to the board and draw a detailed outline or flowchart, what would you want him to draw?
  4. At what point in your search for the perfect candidate will it start to cost you more to keep interviewing than to hire and train a talented person in the necessary skills?

man sketch a bulbI’ve got lots more of these questions for a DIY interview for managers, but I’d like to invite you — Ask The Headhunter subscribers — to suggest more good questions managers should ask themselves before they ask you (job applicants) anything at all. I’m sure you’ve been in enough interviews that went south for lack of productive discussion — and you probably could have helped the interviewer. (Not doing so might have cost you a job — so, maybe, next time you should nudge the manager back on track for your own good!)

It never ceases to amaze me. Managers can ask job candidates for almost anything they want — so, why do they ask for a resume, and about where you see yourself in five years? Why don’t managers address the really tough stuff? For example, why don’t they ask all candidates to show how they’d do the work, right there in the interview? (See The Single Best Interview Question Ever.)

I think the employment system is broken because employers use a worn-out, one-size-fits-all script when they decide to add people to their teams. Managers simply don’t know what they want much of the time, and they don’t take time to think about it. Consequenty, they conduct ridiculous “interviews” and wind up rejecting outstanding job candidates who never get a chance to really show what they can do.

The manager and the job candidate both lose.

Don’t you think managers could do a much better job of deciding what they want before they ask for anything?

What questions should managers ask and answer before they ask you to apply for a job and go to an interview? What can managers do to make interviewing a more productive experience?

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HR Pornography: Interview videos

In the October 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker won’t make a video:

My wife, a veteran in her field, began a search for a better job and company. In the past, she used the broken and traditional job hunting methods. After showing her the Ask The Headhunter website and purchasing the companion books — and with a little coaching from me — she landed two job interviews with hiring managers within three weeks.

watching-computerSuddenly, a personnel jockey injected himself into the ongoing discussions with the hiring manager. The recruiter insisted that my wife submit herself to a one-way, online digital video taping, answer a series of pre-selected “screening questions,” and upload it to who knows where for “further review and screening” by who knows whom.

She found the request creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, voyeuristic, unprofessional, and perhaps even unethical. (I’ve attached HR’s e-mail.) She declined, instantly prompting an automated “Do Not Reply” rejection e-mail. She was not worthy because she wouldn’t subject herself to a dehumanizing “HireVue Digital Video Interview.”

This new wrinkle in HR practices seems like the most unsettling and counterproductive yet. It not only removes access to the hiring manager, but also live, human interaction. It sounds like “HR pornography,” where perverted personnel jockeys huddle around a monitor to gawk at videos of “virtual job candidates,” picking apart perceived blunders while they screen you out.

Would you please share your comments and advice on this new and bizarre interviewing phenomenon?

Nick’s Reply

This HR department cheapens itself, the employer, and everyone it subjects to automated interviews. “Talk to the camera by yourself” is not an interview. It’s stupid. Your wife is right to say no, and she’s smart to move on to a better employer.

A recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers. Meanwhile, HR says its job is to train managers to interview. Is it any wonder HR cuts itself and hiring managers out of interviews and farms the task out to a video company?

A 2013 ADP survey found that, “Consistently across the globe, employers have a significantly more positive impression of how they manage their workforce versus what their employees experience in the workplace.” ADP concludes that “as a whole, HR does not have a handle on the asset it is hired to manage.”

In short, HR is doing a lousy job at interviewing, and HR seems to think it knows what it’s doing — while employees disagree. HR has cornered the market on stupid.

If your wife has already decided not to “make a porn with HR,” I suggest she call the hiring manager and say something like this:

“What’s up with your HR department? I’m glad I spent time talking with you about the job and how I could help your company. But I don’t make videos. I’d be glad to come in for an interview with you. If we decide there’s a match, I’ll fill out a form for HR, but I don’t talk to imaginary interviewers on camera. I find that insulting. I leave the rest up to you.”

Of course, use whatever expressions you are comfortable with. But let the manager know you’re interested in further discussion with him, but not in solo videos for HR.

  • An alternative is to offer to do a Skype interview with the manager. HR may not realize that Skype is basically free, while video interview services can be pricey.

Managers who relinquish control of job interviews to HR likely also let their mothers vet their dates. The culprit here is HR, but the real problem is the hiring manager. Will he stand up and do what good managers do — make his own decisions? (For more about how HR’s missteps can cost you a job, see 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make and The Recruiting Paradox.)

I reviewed the e-mail instructions your wife received — all boilerplate. It’s pitiful and sophomoric:

“One of our Recruiters will review your information and if there is a good match, you’ll be contacted either via e-mail or phone to schedule additional time to speak live.”

But the hiring manager has already decided to spend “additional time speaking live” with your wife. So what’s up with this? How is a “Recruiter” (capital R) going to judge whether there’s a good match better than the manager who has already been interviewing her? Stupid.

“This is a real interview! Be sure to treat this interview as you would an in-person interview.”

Bull dinky, not it’s not! It’s a fake interview with no interviewer.

  • An alternative is to offer to meet with the hiring manager again, rather than do the video. There is no need to say no if you offer a sound alternative.

If anyone fears saying no means “losing an opportunity,” the far bigger risk is having your video rejected by HR — and then having it float around the company forever — if not in some video-interview vendor’s database. (How do you know it won’t be shared with other employers?)

“Feel comfortable to be yourself. We want to see your personality.”

What they mean is, we don’t want you to see the personalities of our personnel jockeys because, face it, they’re a bunch of data diddlers that we don’t want talking to anyone. (I wonder what they’d say if you asked for a video of HR answering your questions? For more stupid HR tricks, see WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?)

If I were your wife, I’d want to talk with the manager one more time, to find out what he thinks about all this. If he tells her he has no choice, my reply would be, “I’m amazed. I left our discussions very impressed, but I’m going to be blunt with you. I’d never take a job in a company where managers don’t manage the hiring process. It says a lot about the operating philosophy at your company. I wish you the best.”

Is your wife taking a risk by talking to the manager like this? I think there is little, if anything, to lose when you are forced to the back of the line by the HR department and the manager concedes. A professional community that does not call out questionable behavior is not worth living or working in.

watching-computer-2To see the punch line in all this, you have to visit, the company that handles video interviews for this employer. Scroll to the bottom of the homepage, where HireVue offers a “success story” from a leading customer — Rodney Moses, VP of Global Recruitment at Hilton Hotels. But Rodney doesn’t tell his story in a video; it’s a slide show hosted not on HireVue, but on Video interviews are good enough for you, but not for HireVue’s best customers. HireVue and HR need to eat their own dog food before feeding it to job seekers.

More important, HireVue reveals the real problem employers face, in the introductory video at the top of its homepage.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “In a sea of candidates that all look the same, how do you find the ones that stand out? Since 2005 the number of applicants for any given job has increased four-fold, making it impossible to properly screen and assess each individual…”

No kidding! And what do you suppose caused that increase?

HireVue’s business model is predicated on employers blindly soliciting staggering numbers of applicants — far too many — via indiscriminate digital advertising. The results overpower any employer’s HR resources, so HR needs a video screening process to deal with a job posting process gone haywire. The real solution is to turn off the firehose and eliminate the flood of inappropriate applicants.

If HR would stop drinking from a firehose, it wouldn’t need to throttle its candidate pipeline. Besides, it’s unbecoming to do either.

A manager talks to a candidate again and again, only to have HR demand that the candidate make a video in front of an unmanned camera so HR can decide whether to continue discussions.

Just say no. But it’s the manager who should be saying no — to HR — about making inappropriate requests of job applicants.

Your wife did the right thing. Is it worth letting top management know what’s going on down in HR’s playroom? If HR is busy playing digital spin-the-bottle, HR should get out of the hiring business.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “Your best candidate could be the 100th to apply, yet you’ve only got time for the first 25.”

Ah, the promise of being able to view a hundred or more candidate videos!

How many videos can HR watch before it goes blind? How does HR explain its disrespect of hiring managers’ interview skills — and its own failure to teach them? Would you make an HR porno? :-)

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