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Lee Hecht Harrison: A failure of integrity in the HR world

In the November 3, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we try to get to the root of why employers routinely abuse job applicants.

Ever wonder where HR departments learn to mistreat and abuse you when you apply for jobs, then disappear behind a veil of impersonal doubletalk and officious sanctimony?

integrityThe answer lies in who they turn to for “best practices” and “HR policies.”

An entire HR consulting industry teaches HR departments around the world how to behave, and HR in turn trains you to apply for jobs and tolerate increasing levels of abuse. Curiously, according to Google Finance, most of the top HR consulting firms are privately held. Little is known about how they operate, until now, when an odd copyright violation revealed some of the inner workings of Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH), a unit of Adecco, “the world’s #1 employment services firm.”

What’s copyright got to do with bad HR behavior?

From time to time, I deal with scofflaw publishers who steal copyrighted Ask The Headhunter content. When they realize they’ve been caught, I quickly get a nervous phone call and profuse apologies. Statutory damages for distributing a copyrighted work can be as high as $150,000 per incident, which means if you give copies to just 7 people without permission, it could cost you over a million bucks plus attorney fees. To a content licensing business like Ask The Headhunter, copyright is a serious matter. Nonetheless, my policy is to resolve violations quickly and amicably when possible. Contrite violators make this easy most of the time. A sincere phone call goes a long way.

A few weeks ago, an Ask The Headhunter subscriber tipped me off to a rip-off:

lhh-tip-off
The culprit was Michael Schumacher, an LHH Senior Vice President who posted a slightly modified version of an old ATH article to LHH’s LinkedIn Group for the company’s “clients and alumni.” He could have paid for the article — like LHH’s clients pay for LHH’s materials. Instead, he put his own name on it.

The ATH subscriber concurrently put Schumacher on notice that he’d been exposed.

You’d think Schumacher would immediately pick up the phone and call me to apologize, and to take down the stolen article. Instead, Schumacher hid the ripped-off article behind LinkedIn’s members-only wall and hunkered down.

You can’t hide from social media

“If you are represented in the virtual world, what kind of impression are you making?” cautions a LHH report for job seekers. “In this age of technology, not being in tune with the times could even appear unprofessional and possibly be a mark against you.”

This is where the underpinnings of “global” HR behavior came to light — as one of the world’s leading HR advisory firms revealed what “best practices” in the HR world are all about. Pay attention, because this is the root of the culture that mistreats and abuses you when you apply for a job.

I want you to see how a simple copyright violation revealed how a top HR consulting firm operates. The story features a cast of characters we couldn’t dream up:

  • A president whose company’s product is intellectual property — who dispatches “damage control” to cover up IP theft by his company.
  • A top HR executive at a corporate outplacement firm that advises clients to have LinkedIn profiles — who has no LinkedIn profile.
  • An SVP in charge of “Operational Best Practices” — who steals a competitor’s copyrighted content and passes it off to clients as his own, then hides the evidence after it’s already leaked into the social media.

A social media bust

I love social media. It keeps everyone honest because everything a business does today quickly becomes public. You’d think that a company whose business is teaching “best practices” to HR departments would know that.

After I learned of the rip-off, I waited to hear from Schumacher or someone at his company. They knew that I knew, but no one contacted me. So I published Lee Hecht Harrison rips off Ask The Headhunter, an article that quickly made the rounds of social media. Among the items are tweets from a leading HR writer and critic.

lhh-laurie-tweetsLaurie Ruettimann even contacted the president of LHH, Peter Alcide, via LinkedIn. Her style is inimitable.

lhh-lauriie-linkedin

You’d think Alcide, manager of a company whose revenues depend on its IP (intellectual property), would realize how big his problem was and immediately call me to apologize and make amends.

The policy and best practice is damage control

Instead, Alcide revealed the company’s duck-and-cover policy that Schumacher was already following. Peter Alcide ordered up “damage control.”

lhh-to-laurie

Except LHH’s president sent this order to Ruettimann by mistake, and she forwarded it to me. The bungled e-mail apparently refers to LHH’s Dallas/Fort Worth Area Managing Director, Russell Williams, Schumacher’s boss.

What’s all this got to do with your travails with HR? It’s what Lee Hecht Harrison and a host of HR consultancies teach their clients: how to avoid accountability and personal contact. Alcide wasn’t concerned about damage his company caused — or how to make amends. He was concerned only about covering up his company’s bad behavior. The content rip-off was public, but there would be no public mea culpa.

At this point, you’d think Williams would have immediately contacted me, if only to contain the problem. Instead, he handed it off to HR.

Hiding behind HR

Now I offer a challenge to you, dear readers. After an employer recruits you, wastes your time in hours of interviews, gathers volumes of personal and private information that you must provide under threat of rejection for “being unreasonable” — you’re left hoping for a personal call about the outcome of the hiring process. What happens?

HR sends you an impersonal form letter to blow you off.

I couldn’t make this stuff up. LHH’s next action was to send me the equivalent of the form letter you receive when HR blows you off after mistreating and abusing you.

lhh-letter(click to view full size)

That’s what I received from “Pamela Jones, EVP, Human Resources and Legal” at Lee Hecht Harrison. But don’t bother looking up Pam Jones or Pamela Jones associated with Lee Hecht Harrison or Adecco on LinkedIn. Contrary to LHH’s advice to its clients that a LinkedIn profile is a must in today’s business world, LHH’s top HR executive isn’t on LinkedIn.

Are we starting to see the connection between what this HR consulting company promotes and gets paid for, and how its top executives behave?

  • Peter Alcide, the LHH president who ordered damage control so LHH’s clients wouldn’t find out, hid behind damage control.
  • Michael Schumacher, the guy who stole my article, hid behind LinkedIn’s firewall.
  • Pamela Jones, the corporate lawyer who put on her HR hat, and hid under it.

They all hid behind the same veil that LHH teaches its corporate HR clients to draw between themselves and job applicants. That’s the epic failure of integrity in HR today — “best practices” on display from “the world’s #1 employment services firm.”

And you wonder where HR learns how to mistreat and abuse you while disappearing into a fog of self-serving bureaucracy? LHH’s top HR executive is also its lawyer!

Where do dismissive HR policies come from?

What does a copyright violation have to do with your experiences applying for jobs? Lee Hecht Harrison is a key player in the HR world. According to its Google Finance profile, its parent company Adecco “provides career and leadership consulting through its more than 300 offices covering 60 countries around the globe.”

Employers pay big bucks for LHH’s HR “services in areas such as career and leadership development, outplacement, and executive coaching.”

HR departments and the consulting companies behind them dictate your experience when you’re job hunting. Perhaps worse, this HR hegemony forces you to follow “rules” for getting jobs that contradict your own good business sense and lead you on wild goose chases. But you do it, anyway, because HR people reprimand you — and toss out your application — when you fail to follow those rules.

HR learns this stuff somewhere, from someone. It learns from Peter Alcide, Michael Schumacher, Pamela Jones, and a host of other “policy makers” in the career and employment industry who get paid big bucks for their “guidance” and “best practices.”

Best Practices: A failure of integrity

No decision maker at LHH apologized to me — least of all in Pamela Jones’ letter, which is the only communication LHH has deigned to have with me. No one acknowledged to LHH’s paying clients that they were given stolen advice — or showed them where it actually came from. No one acknowledged that LHH’s content theft caused Ask The Headhunter any harm or damage, much less offered to make amends. It was all “an error” and a “misjudgment” and “an isolated incident” — without any proof that plagiarized content isn’t rife throughout the “intellectual property” LHH sells to its “global” clients for top dollar.

Laurie Ruettimann is right to be worried. Who else’s protected content is being illegally distributed by LHH to its clients? I don’t believe Jones’s assurances for one second.

What’s a copyright violation got to do with how you’re treated when you apply for a job? Both are HR problems.

The treatment you get from HR departments when you apply for a job is considered “best practices” — and it’s exemplified by one of the HR firms that drives HR policy around the world. I’ve just experienced what you go through when an employer hides behind HR.

This story is really about HR’s epic failure of integrity. Integrity can’t be parsed. Either a company demonstrates high standards of behavior in all its dealings — or reveals a lack of integrity across the board.

Ask The Headhunter openly criticizes bad behavior in the career and employment industry, and sometimes specific players including TheLadders, Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and LinkedIn. Job seekers need to be aware of practices that affect their ability to get a job.

Today, a small group of HR consultancies in the career and employment industry establish the standards of behavior that job seekers are expected to meet: How to apply for jobs, how to present themselves, and how to set aside their good business sense if they want to play the HR game of landing a job.

These firms also dictate how HR departments treat and process the people they recruit.

How a top company — that HR looks to for guidance — handled copyright theft reveals problems not only with LHH’s corporate governance and culture, but with its adverse influence over how companies hire and recruit, and how job seekers suffer through the experience.

An industry where nothing is personal

And that’s the problem with the career and employment industry: a lack of personal integrity and a policy of no accountability. It’s why job seekers cringe at the thought of applying for a job; at interviewing with bureaucratic stuffed shirts who cite “policy” and “best practices” as their excuse for disrespectful behavior; and it’s why job seekers don’t dare to expect respectful treatment from hiring managers who take hours of applicants’ time without the courtesy of any follow-up.

  • Has a manager ever taken your ideas and your time — perhaps in multiple job interviews — then disappeared behind the corporate veil rather than talk to you?
  • Have you ever been subjected to the impersonal swat of the HR hand when a company decides you’re not worth its time?
  • Has an HR manager ever demanded your salary history, and when you declined, told you “it’s the policy — we can’t continue without it”?
  • Has a company ever revealed a disrespectful culture to you, contrary to the image it projects in its marketing?

What you need to know as a job seeker is, the treatment you get from HR has its roots in HR consulting firms that establish HR practices across companies. What you know now is that LHH’s culture is consistent from the bottom to the top. What you’re left wondering is, what are LHH’s and Adecco’s corporate clients paying for when they hire these firms and buy their content?

This is a company stuck in the dark ages of corporate HR hegemony, that telegraphs a message that personal responsibility can and should be hidden behind “damage control” — in an age when everything is public.

How can any employer that competes in today’s world adopt “best practices” from an HR consultancy whose own practices suck so badly?

In today’s business world, it’s not always about whether you can make a buck; it’s about the face you show to the public, to your customers, to your competitors, and to people who bust you when you rip them off. But Lee Hecht Harrison clearly doesn’t operate in today’s world. Since few HR departments do, either, is it any wonder that earnest job seekers can’t catch a break in an HR world where integrity is a big FAIL?

In this copyright incident, Lee Hecht Harrison has done nothing to make amends for its violation. Its HR executive has merely avoided acknowledging that the company did any damage.

Why make a big deal of this?

Because job seekers aren’t in a position to — and because LHH’s behavior with respect to a copyright violation reveals a stunning failure of corporate ethics and integrity in the career and employment industry. It’s a big deal because rude, impersonal practices in HR make it hard for employers to hire — and harder for job seekers to get jobs.

Mistreating and abusing you when you apply for jobs is nothing personal — these people don’t know what personal means. It’s simply best practices. But we all deserve better.

Integrity. It’s been defined as what you do even when no one is watching. But what if you get busted? How do you acknowledge and make amends? Have you encountered abusive, impersonal behavior when dealing with employers? Where do you think it comes from? How should we all deal with it? If you work in HR, I’d especially like to hear from you — tell us how your company demonstrates integrity.

Update: November 24, 2015

Following the publication of this article Peter Alcide, President and COO of Lee Hecht Harrison, called me and did the right thing. In a tweet and a posting on the LHH website, he issued a public apology for violating Ask The Headhunter copyright, made restitution for misuse of the content, and the matter is resolved.

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Career Scams Update: TheLadders, LinkedIn, Lee Hecht Harrison & More

In the October 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we get updates on career scams from the past and present. They never seem to go away, thanks to gullible job hunters and naive HR managers that keep funding these scoundrels.

It’s not your imagination

Scams are endemic in the career industry. The formula is simple: People desperate to earn a living will believe virtually anything that promises to help them land a job — and they’ll pay for it.

bustedThis gives rise to questionable and often fraudulent businesses that peddle snake oil. Others re-package information and advice you can get for free — and charge thousands by calling it “outplacement” and “career coaching.” Some of these charlatans use career help only as a lure — they make their money by collecting and selling your personal data to third parties.

Even job boards, which seem to be a high-tech analog of the old newspaper want ad, are largely a scam. Little has changed since I published Job-Board Journalism: Selling out the American job hunter in 2003. The media and the job boards are often in cahoots.

For example, employers still hire only about 10% of their new employees via job boards, yet dishwashers and CEOs alike are brainwashed to waste inordinate amounts of time and money diddling these databases.

It’s time for some updates on stories we’ve covered here before about TheLadders, LinkedIn, Toronto Pathways — and one new rip-off by prominent outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison.

TheLadders Goes Down

One of the most high-profile cases in recent years has been TheLadders, which rose to prominence on the ridiculous promise that it was selling “ONLY $100K+ jobs” and “ONLY $100K+” job candidates.

Executives, highly paid professionals, and other suckers for exclusivity flocked to TheLadders — right behind naïve HR executives trying to fill jobs. They wanted to believe they could pay someone to do the hard work of finding and filling top-level jobs.

But, it turned out, TheLadders wasn’t exclusive at all. One Ladders customer summed it up: “The ladders [sic] is a scam, plain and simple. A class action lawsuit sounds like a good idea.”

On March 12, 2013 a consumer class action was filed against TheLadders in U.S. District Court, New York. The suit alleged that:

ladders3“From its inception until September, 2011, TheLadders scammed its customers into paying for its job board service by misrepresenting itself to be ‘a premium job site for only $100k+ jobs, and only $100k+ talent.’ In fact, TheLadders sold access to purported ‘$100k+’ job listings that (1) did not exist, (2) did not pay $100k+, and/or (3) were not authorized to be posted on TheLadders by the employers.”

Here’s the list of dirty laundry aired in the complaint:

  • breach of contract,
  • breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,
  • violation of the Arkansas Deceptive and Unconscionable Trade Practices Act, and
  • unjust enrichment.

The suit also alleged that TheLadders used phony “resume critiques” to induce people to pay for new resumes. After paying TheLadders for a new resume, one customer submitted it right back for a “free review” — and a Ladders “resume expert” warned that it needed to be re-written.

TheLadders retained a very expensive, big-name law firm to fight the charges. Judging from public court filings, TheLadders’ lawyers pounded the plaintiffs with paper. But David didn’t back down, and today Goliath is a faint ghost of its old self.

Update

In a May 22, 2014 Stipulation Of Dismissal, it seems both parties asked the Court to dismiss the case. When this happens, no information is released about any settlement that might have been made.

But I’d eat my hard drive if TheLadders didn’t pay a ton of money to the plaintiffs and their law firm to make this consumer class action go away. A company like TheLadders doesn’t pay top dollar to big-name lawyers to defend it and then cave, unless the facts are against it. My guess is the big-name law firm advised TheLadders that it would lose and that damages imposed by a court after a very public case might sink the company and its management entirely.

It would have been better to fight the case and let the public — and all Ladders’ customers — see all the dirty laundry hung out in court.

ladders4TheLadders, of course, denied everything. But, TheLadders:

  • No longer claims it has “ONLY $100K+ jobs” or “ONLY $100K+” job candidates.
  • No longer offers free “resume critiques.”
  • No longer sells resume writing services.
  • No longer “guarantees” a job to customers who pay $2,500 for resume and career coaching services.
  • Operates like any other cheap job board.

Does that sound like TheLadders did nothing wrong? Its vaunted business plan as an exclusive career service was left in shambles. The company is a footnote in the career industry. Its founder, Marc Cenedella, went on to design an app that lets you rate your co-workers anonymously. A comment about the app on TechCrunch says it all: “Taking passive aggressive online behavior to a whole new level.”

LinkedIn

in-your-faceIt didn’t take LinkedIn very long to go from “leading professional network” to becoming a clever manipulator of its website interface to scam its members out of their contact lists. (For more about the nefarious science behind user-interface scams, see Dark Patterns.) But there’s much more. In the past several years, LinkedIn:

To the point of this update, LinkedIn customers sued in a consumer class action, alleging LinkedIn was using members’ mail lists to harass their contacts.

Update

Federal Judge Lucy Koh wrote:

the “emails could injure users’ reputations by allowing contacts to think that the users are the types of people who spam their contacts.”

LinkedIn spammed people on behalf of its members without their consent. Scripps Media reported that LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner “admitted that the site was guilty of ‘sending too much email’” via its “Add Connections” feature.

linkedin_deadLinkedIn recently agreed to pay $13 million to settle the class-action suit.

Said CEO Jeff Weiner in another interview: “Values are the first principles we use to make day-to-day decisions.” Translation: The first principle is making money off you any way we can, and we’re as stupid as TheLadders because we count on you not to notice. Oops.

Toronto Pathways AKA Job Success

In February, 2012, Canadian CBC TV invited me to Toronto to review hidden-camera footage about a career scam. Executives at a career counseling company called Toronto Pathways — also known as Job Success — were caught on camera promising jobs to clients in exchange for thousands of dollars in fees.

We did a lengthy expose (Rip-Off Edition: Who’s trying to sell you a job?), and then a 7-minute special segment in which we educated consumers about the tip-offs to a career rip-off.

According to CBC News in Toronto, when Job Success failed to deliver a $70,000 job that it promised to a client for a fee of $3,700, he sued. The case was dismissed because Job Success claimed it didn’t promise anything.

Update

Enter the hidden camera. The plaintiff saw our CBC-TV “Recruitment Rip-Off” episode — and there was the guy who scammed him, caught red-handed!

The victim showed the video to the judge and argued that “the defendants were ‘slick liars who perjured themselves at trial.’” Based on our expose, a higher court is giving the victim another shot at his lawsuit based on the fresh video evidence.

Lee Hecht Harrison

When companies fire or lay people off, they pay big bucks to corporate outplacement firms to help those people find new jobs. (For more about the racket that outplacement has become, see Outplacement Or Door Number 2?) Or, they can just send their cast-offs to Ask The Headhunter for free articles, Q&A, and advice from me and thousands of smart job seekers who participate in the Ask The Headhunter community.

bustedThis scam hits closer to home — and it reveals that some of the biggest names in the career industry are quietly ripping people off. Ironically, they’re hiding behind LinkedIn’s members-only wall to do it.

Lee Hecht Harrison is one of the biggest outplacement firms in the world. It’ll also help you find a job — if you’ll pay. What does it deliver?

Michael Schumacher, Senior Vice President at Lee Hecht Harrison, steals Ask The Headhunter advice, and delivers it to his clients via the firm’s members-only LinkedIn Group.

Schumacher published an article under his name, titled “Sure Thing?? Hardly!!!”, three months ago. You can click the link, but you can’t read it unless you’re a paying member of LHH’s “Client & Alumni Group,” which has over 2,600 members. But, no worries — thanks to friends of Ask The Headhunter, you can see it here.

How I got ripped off

I wrote and published that article over 15 years ago, and it’s titled There is no sure thing.

It’s also copyright protected and Schumacher and Lee Hecht Harrison are in violation of U.S. Copyright Law. Schumacher’s petty edits underscore his rip-off.

Ask The Headhunter is a for-profit content licensing business that generates revenue from its protected works.

Ask The Headhunter is all about helping people get good jobs and keep them — but Michael Schumacher should be fired. His clients, who ratted him out to me and sent me his “work,” are wondering what Lee Hecht Harrison delivers for the fees it charges.

Career scams are everywhere

Just because you — or some big corporation — are paying big bucks to big-name companies for career services doesn’t mean you’re not getting scammed. Just look at TheLadders, LinkedIn, Toronto Pathways/Job Success, and Lee Hecht Harrison. They’re just the tip of the career-industry racket. Every day, another one gets exposed because consumers like you post your stories on websites like Ask The Headhunter.

In the meantime, these racketeers add funds to their legal budgets and buy their way out of infractions, blowing it all off as a cost of doing business. (Jeff Weiner says, “That needs to be corrected and improved, and it will be.”) The rest of us get ripped off.

Why does this continue? HR departments endorse and promote these practices every time they spend their corporate budgets on these bad boys of the career industry.

Many thanks to those friends of Ask The Headhunter who tipped me off to copyright violations. And a tip of the hat to all the plaintiffs who sued the scoundrels who ripped them off. This update tells us that consumers can fight back!

There’s an entire career industry scamming you and employers alike. We regularly bust career rackets and hang them out to dry. But scammers keep developing new ways to hook you, while HR continues to fund them. What new scams have you encountered? What old scams never seem to go away? Please post your comments and stories.

Special Note: If you belong to the Lee Hecht Harrison LinkedIn Group mentioned above, please drop me an e-mail.

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Lee Hecht Harrison rips off Ask The Headhunter

respectWhat does an expensive, big-name corporate outplacement firm like Lee Hecht Harrison deliver to its clients and “alumni” for the big bucks they pay?

Ripped-off Ask The Headhunter articles.

Michael Schumacher, Senior Vice President at Lee Hecht Harrison, published an article under his name, titled “Sure Thing?? Hardly!!!”, three months ago. You can click the link, but you can’t read it unless you’re a paying member of LHH’s “Client & Alumni Group,” which has over 2,600 members.

Thanks to some of Lee Hecht Harrison’s clients, I’ve got a screen shot of the article — and I was even able to see it “live” on LinkedIn. (Click image to enlarge.)

lhh

I wrote and published that article over 15 years ago, and it’s titled There is no sure thing.

It’s also copyright protected and Schumacher and Lee Hecht Harrison are in violation of U.S. Copyright Law. Schumacher’s petty edits underscore his rip-off.

Ask The Headhunter is a for-profit content licensing business that generates revenue from its protected works.

It’s no surprise, however, that Schumacher’s clients loved the advice in my article. LHH distributed it to over 2,680 people without permission or attribution. Here are the comments it garnered on his LinkedIn page: (Click image to enlarge.)

lhh-comments

Ask The Headhunter is all about helping people get good jobs and keep them — but Michael Schumacher should be fired. His clients, who ratted him out to me and sent me his “work,” are wondering what Lee Hecht Harrison delivers for the fees it charges.

Schumacher must have never read the material LHH publishes about a person’s social media presence — and how anything you post online can and will expose and haunt you forever. Forever is serious stuff. So’s U.S. Copyright Law.

Special Note: If you belong to the Lee Hecht Harrison LinkedIn Group mentioned above, please drop me an e-mail.

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2 Rules About Working for Start-Ups

In the July 21, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is in a pickle — er, start-up — without a salary, and without protection on the upside or the downside.

Question

Your advice in the newsletters is brilliant. However, I haven’t seen you say much about start-ups. I’m in my 50s and enjoy the chaos of a new company. I have been doing it for nine months, and I love it. I am not getting paid, or receiving any benefits. The company has been getting exposure, and a few small projects, but no investment backing. That means no money. The CEO continues to tell the development team, the editors, and writers that “we are so close.”

bait-and-switchShe also mentioned they are moving to Silicon Valley, but will be using distributed-teams software to push more projects out.

The problem is that my budget and time are expanding. I am worried that my “job” will be lost by their move. I have only a handful of e-mails outlining the stock certificates, with promises of full-time employment when investors come through. However, I have nothing legal or tangible to suggest they are serious.

I’m ready to quit, but need some guidance. How do I approach her about my concerns without questioning her integrity? Should I suggest several options that have some legal teeth that protect me? So far I have all the risk while she continues to pump out projects. Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

There are two good reasons to work at a start-up:

Why work for a start-up?

One, you’re an owner with ironclad shares that cannot be diluted without your approval. If the company takes off, you’ll get your reward. If it doesn’t, you at least had a deal that protected your upside.

Two, you’re an employee being paid a fair (if not good) salary, and you’re expected to work hard over and above anything resembling “reasonable” — because you have some shares and stock options as a reward if the business takes off. Your salary protects your downside.

If you’re working at a start-up under other circumstances, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re probably a chump — unless you’re independently wealthy and love that kind of work.

I’ve got two rules for working at start-up companies.

Rule #1: Don’t get screwed

star-wars

I love start-ups. Been there, done that, had great experiences… except the time I got screwed because I had nothing in writing. When the founder decided to bring in other investors, my 250,000 shares were instantly diluted down to virtually nothing. (See Start-Up Stock: What’s it “sort of” worth?) The first rule when joining a start-up is don’t get screwed. Invest in legal and accounting advice to protect your up- and downside.

Let’s discuss how to handle your boss. You’re being naively nervous about offending a founder that you’re giving free work to. It’s time to make it legal.

I’d sit her down without any apologies and without hesitation in your voice.

How to Say It
“I’m excited about what we’re doing and I love the work. However, this is a business proposition — I’m working for free for equity and the promise of a full-time job. I think it’s time we put this in writing for our mutual protection.”

If she indicates any problem with that, then I think you’re being taken for a ride, and that you’ll be summarily dumped by the side of the road. She should be apologizing to you and extending every courtesy — you’ve been working for free with no written assurance of any reward!

You might want to talk with other “employees” to see how they feel — and to find out whether they have contracts. You all need them. You may want to speak with her as a group. But in my opinion this has already gone too far. You’d be pretty upset if she took advantage of all of you at this point — so don’t fret about having this discussion.

Rule #2: Don’t get screwed

Before you do that, I’d talk with an attorney. (See Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.) Equity deals and contracts with start-ups are complicated and fraught with risk. If it’s not worth the legal fee, then how can the promise of this job be worth anything? Please take this seriously.

The other issue is that if and when investors come in, your boss will have very little to say about your equity share. Investors don’t like seeing their shares diluted. You could wind up with very little, if anything, if you don’t have a solid contract now — and the right kind of shares.

I don’t mean to scare you, but I’ve seen this again and again. Even a well-intentioned founder can wind up hurting the team that poured its blood and sweat into the business. Working with no contract is totally imprudent and un-businesslike. I’d get to it asap. Did I caution you not to get screwed?

Don’t forget about IP (Intellectual Property) rights. Have you signed an NDA or NCA? Have you signed over any IP rights to anything you’ve developed? Your boss could be screwed, too, without these. It’s another reason you need a good employment lawyer.

Get compensated

My philosophy is, get value for value. Your work is valuable. Ask for salary, and ask for equity. I don’t think suggesting “several options that have some legal teeth” will help you unless you talk to a lawyer first. This is easy: Just tell her it’s time for a written, signed agreement — and stock certificates. Something tells me that’s when she’ll tell you you’re not part of the move — though I hope I’m wrong.

Before you quit, give your boss a chance to protect your investment in this business by compensating you fairly for the risk you’re taking. Get compensated. That’s not a rule; that’s good business. Do your best to prepare yourself in advance. These Ask The Headhunter PDF books will help you with your “boss”:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire. This works even when discussing salary with your current employer!

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), especially “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15. Sometimes it helps to ask casually!

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, especially “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it,” pp. 23-25. This is a must when considering a job at a start-up, though this section applies to established companies, too.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, especially “Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?”, pp. 5-7.

There’s a lot more to start-ups, of course. (See Ben Slick’s excellent article, Evaluate a Start-Up Job Opportunity Like a Venture Capitalist.) If something I’ve said is helpful, I’m glad. I’d love to know what you decide to do and what comes of this. Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter!

For those considering the excitement of working at a start-up, if it’s what you really want to do, don’t be dissuaded by risk. As this reader points out, it can be an exciting experience. Just follow my two simple rules, and make sure you protect yourself on both the upside and the downside. I hope you get rich, but don’t end up losing your shirt.

(If you’re thinking about making the leap to starting your own start-up, learn more about Trading Your Job For Venture Funding.)

Have you ever worked for a start-up? How did it turn out? Did you protect yourself? (Did you get rich?) How would you advise this reader?

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Spamming To Fill Jobs: Idiots peeing on telephone poles

In the May 19, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss the e-mail habits of certain job seekers and recruiters. What a mess.

I couldn’t make this stuff up

telephone-pole-1Lately I’ve been railing against institutional failures in the job hunting and hiring process — job boards, HR departments, and vendors of automated recruiting stupidity. But that’s not where America’s employment problems begin and end. Employers are justifiably frustrated, too, by idiots who seek jobs, and by idiot recruiters who use spam to “find” job applicants for exorbitant fees.

I get a lot of mail. Some of it is so idiotic — I couldn’t make this stuff up to amuse you. It’s real. Two recent e-mails take the cake, perhaps because they make good bookends on the story about what’s wrong with America’s employment system.

The job seeker

The first message from the real world arrived last week from a job seeker. It included his resume. I’ll spare the poor sucker further shame by omitting his name.

Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2015 7:00 AM
To: nick@asktheheadhunter.com
Subject: Any Jobs?

Hey there!

I saw your website today Thu, 14 May 2015 and im really hoping there is a opening or other possibility to get a chance to prove my competence.

As you will see in my resume I have a broad experience and knowledge in this line of work and im confident it will be worth your time reading it. I am excited to hearing from you.

Please see my attached resume.
Best wishes,

My reply:

This is NOT the way to find a job. What you’re doing is embarrassing and makes you look really bad.

We might cut this guy and his many kindred spammers some slack, and I might not be so caustic in my criticism — but such a solicitation is akin to a dog peeing on every telephone pole hoping to find love.

telephone-pole-2“Hey there!… I’m really hoping there is a opening [sic] or other possibility” is just stupid, disrespectful, and a waste of my time and the writer’s.

If this is how you’re going about your job search, stop. There aren’t 400 jobs for you. Don’t walk blind on the job hunt. Be your own headhunter.

If you think that was a really stupid inquiry — it’s not at all unusual. I get these a lot. The next one’s far worse because it involves big fees and the transgressor is a retained executive search firm. (See What flavor of headhunter is this?)

The “exclusive” headhunter

I received this unsolicited query from a “retained headhunter” whose job is to find and home in on only the best, most appropriate candidates for his clients. Retained headhunters are usually paid in the vicinity of one-third of the salary of the job to be filled.

From: [omitted]
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 5:45 PM 
To: Nick Corcodilos
Subject: New Retained Executive Search

Nick
[Our firm] has recently been exclusively retained by our client [omitted] (circa $3B Global leader in furnishing the work experience in office environments) to conduct a search for a Chief Engineer (Global Product Engineering Team).

We’ve showcased this new retained executive search in the following search specific website: http://executive-advantage.com/SCE [The headhunter includes this note in his solicitation: “Please feel free to share the Steelcase Chief Engineer role with others.” I’m telephone-pole-2feeling free. Maybe you’re a great candidate, but I doubt I’ve got any subscribers who sniff telephone poles.]

If you are aware of a stellar candidate that would excel in this role based on the brief position description below please have them send their resume to me, [omitted], Managing Principal, [firm name omitted] (Quickest/Best Contact is by Email: [omitted], slowest contact method is by direct dial: [omitted].

The best headhunters search for candidates by talking quietly with industry insiders who know the very best people in their fields. Discretion and confidentiality are key. A good headhunter never broadcasts a search indiscriminately, in part because it would make him look bad. More important, broadcasting attracts all the wrong people and turns off the right ones. Employers also turn to retained recruiters to avoid putting out the word that they’ve got a weakness — that vacant, key position. What would a client who’s paying a $50,000 fee to fill a $150,000 position think if she learned the headhunter was spamming unknown people for leads — the equivalent of posting want ads on telephone poles and trees?

The employer could do that herself on Monster for a few bucks.

I don’t know this recruiter or his firm — but he’s been spamming me since at least 2012. I didn’t join his list. I’ve never responded.

Gimme a break

Now, why would I refer a “stellar candidate” to a guy I don’t know who doesn’t know me, and why would I trust that candidate’s resume to a spammer? This “headhunter’s” client might as well expect resumes to be gathered from a night of dumpster diving — for $50,000 fees!

The solicitation includes a sales pitch. (Why waste an e-mail, eh?)

We fill positions with top A-Player talent – we don’t throw stacks of resumes at our clients. If you, or any business colleagues, have similar search needs at -any- mission critical position level or functional discipline, we can help provide you with the same service as the recent clients below have commented on.

telephone-pole-1

Gimme a break, Mr. Retained Headhunter. You throw spam at people you don’t know, solicit referrals to “stellar candidates” and suggest your service is of the highest quality? What’s the difference between spam recruiting and posting jobs on Monster.com — except the fees and the “retained” firm moniker?

The job seeker highlighted in this column and the purported headhunter are examples of why employers try to automate recruiting and hiring. They’re tired of idiocy and telephone pole advertising. HR execs know they can dumpster dive for five bucks and come up with the same kinds of resumes. This is what’s led to the demise of our employment system. It’s why you can’t get hired.

Don’t sniff

Please try on these simple rules to avoid the pheromones being sprayed around the job market:

  • Don’t send your resume to someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.
  • Whether you’re a job seeker or an employer, take the time to actually cultivate relationships with credible people who will refer you to the person you need to meet. (That’s how credible headhunters operate.)
  • Don’t hire headhunters indiscriminately — make sure you know how they recruit.
  • Don’t recruit indiscriminately — it’s stupid and it makes you look bad.
  • You never know where your foolhardy spam solicitations will turn up, especially when you include instructions to distribute them through social media.

telephone-pole-3Keep your standards high. If you really can’t recognize a micturating marauder from a good headhunter, learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. If you need a reality check about how to get hired, consult Fearless Job Hunting — and practice The Basics.

Idiocy. It’s what’s wrong with recruiting, hiring and job hunting. It’s not just HR, job boards and applicant tracking systems that corrupt our employment system. There’s plenty of idiocy emanating from all quarters — and it includes job seekers and headhunters. It’s a small world, and everyone can see anyone who pees on telephone poles.

What qualifies as legitimate job hunting and recruiting? Can you fill and find jobs with lots and lots of e-mail? Just how high does the stink rise — and why does anyone sniff along?

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Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired

In the May 12, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I launch a rant about runaway technology in the world of employment. I mean, it’s way past stupid and counter-productive. It’s dangerous!

Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled

If you’re going to recruit and hire people for your business, or if you’re going to look for a job, you need to understand why America’s institutionalized employment system doesn’t work. It’s important to know the short history of reductionist recruiting — layers of matchmaking technology designed for speed, distribution, and for handling loads of applicants.

It has nothing to do with enabling employers to meet and hire the most suitable workers.

reductionistWant Ads

When somebody invented the newspaper want ad, it was an innocent enough way to find people to do jobs. An employer said what it was looking for, people wrote a letter explaining why they were interested, threw in their resume, and mailed it in.

Because a want ad cost quite a bit of money (thousands of dollars in The New York Times), ads were almost always legit. Applicants had to pay for a stamp, and motivation was high to apply only to the most relevant. What’s not to like? Even when professional resume writers stepped in, and started touting salmon-colored paper to make their clients’ submissions literally stand out, it was still manageable; employers knew immediately which applications to throw out! Meanwhile, the newspapers made out like bandits advertising jobs.

Internet Job Boards

When the Internet came along, somebody thought to put all the ads online — to get better distribution, and more responses from more applicants. The jobs sites quickly realized this made wants ads cheaper, and to make money, they had to sell more ads.

Wink, wink — questionable ads, like multi-level-marketing schemes, were welcome! So were ads for expired jobs, kept there by employers who liked a steady stream of resumes even when they didn’t need them.

This never worked very well at all — and it became a disaster of such epic proportions that somebody named it “The Great Talent Shortage.” (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.) HR departments got flooded with applications they couldn’t process — so somebody invented keywords.

The Keyword Age

Employers no longer needed to read resumes or applications. Software compared words in job descriptions to words in resumes, and HR could accept or reject applicants without even knowing who they were!

Clever applicants started larding their resumes with keywords — making HR’s job all the harder, and job interviews a waste of time. It was so easy for people to fake their way past the system that HR panicked and drew the blinds. Everyone was rejected.

This experience led employers to agree that, yes, America is in a terrible talent shortage — during the biggest talent gluts in history. Even the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, banged the gong:

“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire and the most frequent thing I hear from them is all too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

“Too many people”?? Say what?

Reductionist Recruiting: Get paid for $@*#&!

Perez isn’t holding those employers accountable. They use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to solicit thousands of job applicants to fill just one job — then they complain they’ve got too many of the wrong applicants. The employers themselves are responsible for the problem. (News Flash: HR causes talent shortage!)

meatgrinder

Welcome to reductionist recruiting: Jobs don’t matter. People and skills don’t matter. The coin of the realm is what computer scientists call character strings: strings of characters, or letters and numbers, standing in for jobs and people. That’s what’s sold by job boards and bought by employers.

Think that’s far-fetched? Then why don’t employers pay when they actually hire someone from a job board or applicant tracking system?

The product is keywords. The system has nothing to do with filling jobs, or that’s how LinkedIn, Monster.com, Taleo and JobScan would get paid.

They get paid to keep the pipeline full of character strings. Employers and job seekers get scammed every day they play the game. And HR is the culprit, because that’s who signs the purchase orders and the checks to use these systems.

The New Age Of More Reductionist Recruiting

The high-tech-ness of all this (Algorithms! Artificial Intelligence! Intelligent Job Agents!) sent venture investors scurrying to put their money into reductionist recruiting, because HR departments didn’t care whether they hired anyone. Their primary business became the “pipeline” of job postings and processing incoming keywords.

That’s why Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner are getting rich while you can’t get a job.

It’s all stupid now. The head of Monster.com promotes “semantic processing” algorithms that match keywords better than any other job board. LinkedIn (LinkedIn: Just another job board) claims that special keywords — called “endorsements” — add powerful credibility to all the other keywords on people’s online profiles. And “job board aggregators” like Indeed.com collect all the keywords from every job board, grind them up and sort them, and deliver more and better keywords than any other technology.

We know this is all a big load of crap when the next iteration of recruitment start-ups are designed to further distance employers and job seekers from one another.

Reductionist Recruiting 3.0

That’s the point behind a new start-up called JobScan. This new service gives job seekers the same power employers have. For a fee, JobScan “helps you write better resumes.” Cool — we need better ways to help employers make the right hires!

reductionismBut it turns out JobScan doesn’t do that. It doesn’t help match workers to jobs any more than ATSes do. All it does is help job applicants scam ATSes by using more words that will match the words in employers’ job descriptions. More reductionist recruiting.

James Hu, co-founder and CEO of JobScan, told TechCrunch that, in the past, a real person would review your resume to judge whether you were worth interviewing. “But now you are just a record in the system.”

Duh? And Hu’s service treats you as nothing more. JobScan’s home page shows two text boxes. In one, you post your resume. In the other, you paste the description of the job you want to apply for. You click a button, and it tells you “how well your resume matches the job description.” Now you can add more of the correct keywords to your resume.

In just a couple of entrepreneurial generations, we’ve gone from stupid ATSes that rely on word matches to deliver “too many people…[that] don’t have the skills necessary to do the job,” to a whole new business that enables job seekers to manage the words they dump into those useless ATSes.

(Note to venture investors who missed out on the first rounds of Monster.com, Indeed.com and LinkedIn: This is a new opportunity!)

JobScan’s algorithms tell you which additional keywords you need to add to your application to outsmart the employer’s keyword algorithm.

It’s like your people talking to my people, so you and I don’t have to talk to one another. We can sit by a pool sipping Caipirinhas (my new favorite drink from Brazil), and wait for our respective people to do a deal that will make us all money.

Except there aren’t any people involved. Reductionist recruiting, meet reductionist job hunting: DUMMIES WANTED!

A Short History of Failure: More venture funding wanted!

Entrepreneurial ATS makers game the employment system to make loads of money while employers reject more and more job applicants. Now there’s another layer on this scam — and it was inevitable. Entrepreneurs are getting funded to create ways to help you beat the databases to fool employers into interviewing you, whether you can do the job or not. (I wish thoughtful entrepreneurs like Hu would put their talents to work creating value, not outwitting admittedly silly job application systems.)

Job seekers are taught every day that it doesn’t really matter whether you can do a job profitably. What matters is whether you can game the system to get an interview, just so you can get rejected because, in the end, employers don’t hire words that match jobs. They want people who can do jobs. They just don’t know how to find them. (See Getting in the door for alternative paths to the job you want.)

Of course, any dope can see the real problem: HR isn’t willing to hire key words, even though it pays an awful lot of money for them. And it certainly has no idea where the talent is.

I can’t wait for employers to wake up and smell the coffee: Start paying LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed only when those suckers actually fill a job.

Am I nuts, or has America’s employment system gone completely to hell with plenty of venture funding behind it?

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Say goodbye to your psychopathic boss

I couldn’t make up a story like this if I tried. This week’s newsletter is based on a comment posted by a reader on the Ask The Headhunter blog, edited gently. It’s still long — but I’m publishing the gory details because it’s the sort of story I’m sure many of you have heard from a friend. Worse, it may be a story from your own work life. While many employers cry there’s a talent shortage, this is how some treat their employees.

In the September 30, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader recounts a story no one wants to experience:

After four years with my company, I made a choice to abruptly quit (even before I have officially secured a new job). I know that’s idiotic and irrational, but ever since new management took over last year, I’m mentally drained. They are a twisted bunch of jerks, to be quite frank. One incident in particular was the final straw for me!

psychopathI’m open-minded and actually enjoy change and new routines. However, I can’t function at a job where bosses let their authority get to their ego and judgment. Last month, one of my new managers flat-out bullied me. I’ve never had a full-on issue with a boss or co-worker ever, so it was devastating to be a target for no apparent reason.

There are two sides to every story, so I’ll admit… I was having an unusually horrible day (personal life, etc.). As I was walking back to my department, one of my managers ignored my friendly hello and then hastily asked me why I had gotten disorganized so suddenly with my workload. She said it in a confrontational way. I thought I was being over-sensitive, so I politely smiled and told her what my plan was to fix the problem shortly and I walked off to my destination.

Suddenly, she yelled at me over the P.A. system to go to her office pronto. I was annoyed, but sucked up my pride and did as I was told. She was seated like a high school principal about to expel a mouthy, troubled teen. I knew she looked angry, but I passively tried to discuss the issue she seemed to randomly have with me.

She barely let me say one word. Instead, she yelled at me that I had answered her in a rude, sarcastic manner. I told her: “I am having a pretty bad day. Maybe I came across as rude, but I didn’t mean to be.”

To rub salt into the wound, she paged another manager to join her in scolding me. She exaggerated everything to the other manager and got her upset at me, too. Obviously, my adrenaline was starting to flow now. I was in that fight-or-flight mode. It’s extremely rare for me to get upset in public or at work, so I was about to have a panic attack from the stress.

I quietly told her that I needed to walk away and use the restroom. I was fighting tears at this point, so I excused myself. She then yelled over the P.A. system again for me to go back to the office. So I did. Mistake! She was straight-up cutting me down this time. I snapped and said shakily: “Let me get back to my f***ing job and stop micro-managing me.”

I know, how unpredictable of me, however I was feeling threatened. She and the other manager then cornered me and yelled at me that I needed to go home immediately. I thought I was being fired so I cried as I walked past my co-workers. I went to my car and drove home crying. Really, I’m not normally a wuss, I just felt animosity towards the situation.

The next day I called to see if I had gotten fired. The HR lady said, “No, of course not.” After I explained to her what happened, she barely seemed to care at all. After four years of being a proactive and well-rounded employee, I felt appalled by her “whatever” attitude. I then wrote out my resignation notice and dropped it off on her desk within an hour.

I finished out my last day yesterday. I have a potential new job tomorrow (interview). I’m optimistic that I’ll land it with no problem, considering my slightly above-average resume. I’ll never tolerate that level of drama at any job, ever.

Having read “How your old boss can cost you a new job,“ I am afraid my old employer will not give me a good word for my potential new job. I’m hoping my possible new employer won’t find it necessary to call my old job.

I could have fought harder to maybe get my wrong-doers in trouble, but with the complexity of their office politics, it wasn’t worth trying. Sometimes you really do have to simply… quit. We are creatures of habit, so it takes guts to break routine and start fresh! But I feel a person’s mental well-being is more important than almost anything else.

Nick’s Reply

Never apologize for psychopathic managers.

I very rarely tread in the waters of clinical psychology, but it’s worth putting a name on what you encountered at your company: a psychopath. Don’t let the term intimidate you. Understand what it means so you can recognize it sooner next time. A psychopath is marked by:

“…a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior.”

Sound like your boss? Read on.

“Lacking affect and urge control, demand for immediate gratification, and poor behavioral restraints… Lacking empathy and close attachments with others, disdain of close attachments, use of cruelty to gain empowerment, exploitative tendencies… and destructive excitement seeking.”

I had a psychopathic boss myself during a long year in my life. This company president abused and terrorized individual employees in company meetings, held them up to ridicule, and encouraged others to attack them verbally, too. He held himself up as a godlike figure whose opinions were law. I didn’t realize what was going on until I heard a company customer dress him down and abuse him the same way — while he physically cowered, “Yes, Sir-ed,” and did exactly as he was told. A classic case of the abused abusing others. I quit soon after, to save my own soul.

In cases like this, as the verbal violence increases, your mind tries hard to rationalize it. (Maybe I should learn to accept such behavior. After all, we have such big-name customers, so my boss must be doing something right. Look at how much money he makes. Maybe this is what it takes to be successful, and so on.) But it’s not alright, ever.

No matter that you don’t have another job to go to. You preserved your self-respect and integrity. You were right to quit. It was the smart thing to do. Here’s the thing: You will quickly recover. Your former employer will not. Rest easy knowing that.

My one criticism is that, although I understand why a person might “go off” like you finally did, cursing in front of your boss is never acceptable. She succeeded in bringing you into her sick little world. In the future, avoid getting baited like that.

As far as references, I guarantee you that any reference from that company will be worthless or toxic to you. The business community already knows the company and its management for what they are. All you need say to any prospective employer is, “I don’t disparage anyone I ever worked for. I look forward. I want to work with a good company that encourages me to use my skills to produce profit in a healthy environment.” Then provide excellent references from everywhere but your last employer. (See Take Care of Your References.)


I show how to “launch” your best references so they’ll really pay off, no matter how negative one reference might be, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, pp. 19-21. This PDF book also shows you how to get the truth about private companies, how to figure out whether a company is a “Mickey Mouse operation,” and how to pick worthy companies to apply to.


Please remember a piece of advice my mentor gave me many years ago — advice it took me a long time to understand: Never work with jerks. (It’s not the first or last time I’ll cite that advice.) As you learned while facing the sick wrath of your boss, It’s the people, Stupid. (No offense intended. We all need to think about that.)

When I resigned from my employer, I did it on my terms, like you did. I compliment you for not resigning on the spot in anger. It’s critical to take time to think, and to act with forethought and grace.

I wish you the best. Leave that illness you survived behind you — it’s a sick company. You’re healthy. Go work with healthy people and let the past go.

Have you ever had a psychopathic boss? What were the signs? What did it take for you to escape? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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Can I trust Glassdoor reviews?

In the September 2, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a burned employee sparks controversy about anonymous employer “reviews” on Glassdoor.com:

Have you ever written about Glassdoor reviews? Based in part on positive reviews I read about a start-up company on Glassdoor, I accepted a job. This company was nothing like it presented itself to be. It was terrible. Two months into my tenure, another position came up and I left. (My rule is never to shut down the job search process until I am sure I want to stay somewhere.) It still bothered me that this company was so crappy and I felt I had been taken for a ride.

I had lookeglassdoord at the reviews in Glassdoor prior to the interview and, though there were negative reviews, there were overwhelmingly positive ones as well. I was concerned about the negative reviews, so I brought it up in my interview. The recruiter stated that the office prided itself on being different from its corporate parent, and he felt I was a good fit. So I took the job.

Here’s why I’m asking about Glassdoor. After I quit the start-up, I continued to follow the company on Glassdoor and checked LinkedIn to see what kind of turnover they had. It turned out some of the people hired during my time have since left. Strangely, when a negative review shows up, an overwhelmingly positive one shows up within a week. Interestingly enough, two of the most current negative comments say that HR is posting its own positive reviews! The recruiter I worked with left after a year. So, are these reviews worth anything? What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve never written about Glassdoor.com because I think its business is worthless except as a generator of revenue. At best, this public database of anonymous reviews about employers is a curiosity. (I’m skeptical about any kind of anonymous reviews, even on Amazon.) The very idea of a website that encourages people to anonymously critique employers is ludicrous and irresponsible. I think its use is widespread because it makes money. That fact impresses HR executives and the public, leading them all to base business decisions on admittedly untrustworthy information.

Just think about it: Any disgruntled employee or job applicant can trash a company publicly. An HR department can spam Glassdoor, singing its own praises. (It seems this happened with the company you quit.) Honest comments will get lost. Meanwhile, Glassdoor has no incentive to keep it all clean by making participants accountable. (The argument for anonymity is that people wouldn’t post honest comments if employers knew who they were. Duh. That justifies graffiti?) They make money with every posting. That’s how Glassdoor is like the job boards.

In fact, Glassdoor is a job board. (Like LinkedIn, the site uses the honeypot of “community” to lure you into an ulterior revenue model. See LinkedIn: Just another job board.) Employers pay to post their jobs. Where does the job seeker traffic come from? Job seekers show up every day that Glassdoor dangles its clever bait: “Come share your reviews and salary information — anonymously. Then look at job postings!” The revenue model is built on unverified reviews and unverified salary data. (Imagine if Glassdoor’s business model were legitimate: It would pay you for your honest reviews and salary information.)

In other words, HR departments pay Glassdoor to subsidize anonymous ratings and salary surveys. You suggested that HR departments use fake IDs to give their own companies good reviews I don’t doubt it.

The obvious problem is that, when no one is accountable for praise or complaints, every comment on Glassdoor is suspect. Your experience with the terrible start-up highlights the problem. Anyone can create an account without anything but an e-mail address. If Glassdoor were to require true identities, it would be another story. But it’s not.

Along the same lines of Glassdoor is a new app created by the founder of TheLadders, Marc Cenedella. He basically lifted Glassdoor’s concept and made it more personal. Knozen.com lets people post anonymous comments about their coworkers’ personalities. That’s more of a bathroom wall than even Glassdoor. I can’t wait for more lawsuits.

Reading anonymous customer reviews when you buy a camera or a waffle iron is one thing — if you make a mistake, you’re out a few bucks. But when you’re checking out an employer, due diligence is crucial. We’re talking about your career and your income. Check credible sources. Your best bet is always to seek out current and former employees at a company to learn the truth — but make sure they have real names. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, you’ll learn the powerful “scuttlebutt” method of researching even privately held companies — by talking to their competitors (pp. 22-24).

Here’s another important tip from the same book, in the section titled “How to pick worthy companies” (pp. 10-12):


Talk to the company’s customers and vendors
This is where you will find the hidden skeletons, and you will learn who are the real decision-makers in the company. This is also where you may find a hidden opportunity. It might not be with your target company, but with one of its customers or vendors, or with some other associated company. By extending your research and meetings to such companies, you’ll get a valuable, industry-wide view — not just of your target company, but of the work you want to do.


It’s not so hard to evaluate an employer. Invest the time to do it right next time, because anonymous reviews of employers can get you into serious trouble.

Is it real, or is it crap? The reader in today’s Q&A learned the hard way that, if information smells, it’s probably crap. Would you trust anonymous reviews and salary surveys to make a career decision?

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How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number

It was inevitable: Scammers are stealing job seekers’ identities using over-the-top interview protocols established by employers to gather sensitive personal data. Have employers gone too far demanding too much of job applicants before they even need the information?

Great news! A well-known employer in your area sends you an e-mail saying it wants to interview you by phone — they found your resume online or your profile on LinkedIn. You answer the phone at the appointed time and have a job interview. Perhaps the interviewer makes an offer on the spot — your lucky day! He helps you complete the job application right there on the phone. What’s not to like?

steal-ssnHighmark, a BlueCross BlueShield healthcare company, warns on its website that the interview you think the company just conducted with you was a fraud — and someone stole your private information in the process:

Important Notice
Recently, Highmark has received several reports of possible fraudulent online activity in which an individual posing as a Highmark human resources representative contacts job seekers by e-mail or phone/text, conducts interviews and makes employment offers on behalf of the company. In most instances, those contacted have never applied for a position with Highmark. These false job offers are likely made in an attempt to gain access to your private information, such as your social security number.

— Warning posted on Highmark’s Careers page, detailed further in this notice

While fake online job postings are common and used to get you to fill out forms with personal information that can be used to steal your identity, this fraud is bold. Someone posing as a well-known employer actually calls you up and interviews you — and by the time it’s over you’ve got a phony job offer and the scammers have your very real social security number and other private information.

How can this happen?

An alert job seeker might recognize a phony e-mail address behind the official-sounding name of the company and the recruiter. But some won’t. Job seekers are understandably excited to get an e-mail asking for an interview and will quickly follow the “script” we’re all accustomed to — an e-mail expressing interest, a phone interview with a recruiter, and an intimidating demand for highly detailed “job application” information that includes private personal data that no employer really needs — but demands anyway.

Of course, not all victims will believe they just got a job offer on the phone without an in-person interview — but some will. And even if the “recruiter” doesn’t make an offer on the phone, he makes it awfully easy to “complete the application” on the phone while he does all the writing for you. He’ll even write down your social security number and your home address and phone number. What’s not to like?

How employers help scammers steal your SS#

Employers have programmed job seekers to quickly disclose private, confidential information — when there’s no real benefit to doing so, but lots of risk. Long before the employer decides you’re even a serious contender for a job, it demands your home address, your social security number, names and contact information of your references and permission to contact them, your salary history (which you should never disclose) and loads of other information that’s none of their business at this juncture and which they don’t even need. (When you fork over your references, you’re putting them at risk, too — probably not a good idea if you want good references!)

Why do HR departments routinely demand all this information? Simply because they can. You’ve been trained to  deliver “the required information” just to apply — while the employer hasn’t even checked your qualifications or indicated the slightest interest in talking with you much less hiring you. (See Does HR Go Too Far When Screening Candidates? — especially comments by HR manager Earl Rice. As you’ll note from the 2003 date on this article, this is not a new employer protocol.)

That’s why you become an easy target for scammers. Scammers exploit the intimidating “script” employers have taught you to follow. That’s how unreasonable, over-the-top job application requirements put you at risk. But it’s even worse.

Where’s your data?

Even a real, live employer that collects your private information puts you at risk. Many employers use third-party applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to log your application information and personal data. It all goes into “the cloud” — and good luck protecting it. When you complete that application, you’re usually asked to sign a waiver that gives the employer and its “agents” (translation: any third parties it deals with but that you don’t know about) permission to do with your data as they please.

You have no idea where your data goes, who has access to it, or how well (if at all) it is secured. Personal job application data is stored in unregulated, central repositories that even employers have no control over. Who controls these enormous databases? Companies like Oracle Taleo, Bullhorn, HRIS, IBM’s Kenexa, iCIMS, JobVite, HireBridge, JobScore, and ADP VirtualEdge among others. (For more about the applicant tracking system racket, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

Of course, to apply for a job you must provide basic information. But it’s up to you to be judicious about what you share and at what point in the recruiting process. Do they really need your social security number — when they haven’t even met you or given you any clear indication that they’re going to make a job offer? Most people today have already been brainwashed by the employment system to hand over anything and everything an employer says it “needs” to “process you.”

BAM! It’s that misconception that turns you into a sucker when a phony recruiter calls you and asks for all your data.

It’s time for employers to behave

It’s time for employers to stop demanding information they don’t need to recruit you. Today, HR departments ask for the kitchen sink simply because they have a database for kitchen sinks. “We’ll just get all the person’s data up front, so we don’t have to do it later.” More cynically, “We’ll get all their data before we even decide they’re viable candidates because then we can use a keyword scan to quickly reject people we haven’t even talked to yet.” (Less politely: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)

When employers put some of their own skin in the game, then they can ask applicants to do the same. For example, what’s the salary range on the job? How much did you pay the last guy in that job and the one before that? What’s your Employer Identification Number? May I see some references from your customers, vendors and former employees? How about your credit rating? You’re privately held? I still need that information — I’m privately held, too. Are some of those questions over the top? Hmmm…

It’s also time for job seekers to stop being suckers. You are always free to politely but firmly decline to disclose any information you think is too private to share — until you think it’s warranted to process your job offer. Don’t be a sucker for either a legitimate employer who asks for too much — or for a scammer. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers for tips about how to stay in control when you’re talking with an employer.

(For more on this story, see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which interviewed me about the scam: Insurer says swindler posing as Highmark job recruiter.)

Where do you draw the line when disclosing private information to apply for a job? Do employers ask for too much, too soon? How do you apply for jobs while protecting your private information?

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LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users

LinkedIn busted by U.S. Department of Labor

It’s no big deal, suggests LinkedIn.

linkedin-hackAccording to a Computerworld report (LinkedIn pays almost $6M for U.S. wage law violations), LinkedIn was busted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) when it “violated overtime and record-keeping provisions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.”

DOL investigators found that the online networking and job-board company “did not record, account and pay for all hours worked in a work-week.”

359 current and former employees were affected at LinkedIn’s branches in California, Illinois, Nebraska and New York. LinkedIn agreed to make restitution to those employees. “The payment to the workers under the accord includes over $3.3 million in overtime back wages and about $2.5 million in damages,” says Computerworld.

The high-tech database company, which tracks the online profiles and behavior of over 300 million members, many of whom pay for the service, told Computerworld that the violations were “a function of not having the right tools in place for a small subset of our sales force to track hours properly.”

Judge says consumer class action against LinkedIn can proceed

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled that a case against LinkedIn can proceed. Computerworld reported that “LinkedIn will have to face a lawsuit that alleges it damaged the image of users by repeatedly sending emails to their contacts inviting them to join the social network.”

At issue is whether LinkedIn derives “economic benefit” by using its existing members’ names to solicit other people to join the service. This is illegal in the State of California.

According to Computerworld’s report, Judge Lucy Koh ruled that, “The Court notes that this type of injury, using an individual’s name for personalized marketing purposes, is precisely the type of harm that California’s common law right of publicity is geared toward preventing.”

LinkedIn has taken a lot of heat from its users for its practice of cleverly scraping addresses from their private e-mail directories, and then spamming their contacts repeatedly with solicitations to “connect” on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has also been accused of conflict of interest because it charges employers to search its database for the best job candidates — while LinkedIn also charges members for “premium” positioning in those search results. (See LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters.)

Against LinkedIn’s protests, the court ruled that the case may proceed.

Is LinkedIn a network marketing scheme?

LinkedIn holds itself up as the standard bearer of ethical networking — yet more than half its revenues come from selling access to members’ information to third parties. In a Fortune article (LinkedIn’s Networker in Chief), LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says:

  • “values are the first principles we use to make day-to-day decisions”
  • “Compassion has essentially become my first principle of management”

But based on these news stories, this quote says a lot about Weiner’s motivation and priorities:

“I didn’t realize until I got to LinkedIn that without access to economic opportunity, nothing else matters.”

It seems LinkedIn may have become too focused on its own “economic opportunity” and that the cost is being borne by its employees and members. Has the leading professional network turned into a sort of network marketing scheme?

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