The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Archive for the Hiring Category

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?

: :

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?

: :

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?

: :

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:

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.


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.”


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,, 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.

: :

Is this the worst job ad ever?

In the August 18, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader almost blows it.


A friend of mine is seeking a job as an Event Planner. He did this for IBM for several years. He came upon this job description for an Event Manager — if it is indeed a real job! Check out the “Required Experience” at the end. I’m sure that anyone with that much experience would just jump right into this “purple squirrel” job. What do you think of the “fun” wording that says — between the lines — that one person will be doing the work of three?

Nick’s Reply

Wow. File that under Stuff We Couldn’t Make Up If We Tried. I’m still laffing my A off. I’d love to meet the “passionate” HR wonk that wrote this job description. Of course, it might have been the hiring manager.

[Note: The link above is to a copy of the job posting. The direct URL, which is active at time of this publication, is–American-Chamber-of-Commerce/jobs/Event-Manager-516d0a935ce3bbed.]

over-workedI hate to hold up even the most naïve employer to ridicule… but this is publicly posted on Indeed. Why is this worth talking about? Because employers claim there’s a talent shortage — while they demand decades worth of expertise in a tone that suggests you must sell yourself out to get the job. Since this job has been on Indeed for over a month, I imagine the employer feels it’s hard to find the purple squirrel it’s looking for. (See Roasting the job description.)

But as you point out, the dead giveaway is the closing line on the job posting. How much experience is required to do this “President of Planning” job? One year.

I’m guessing the only thing that’s “one year” about this job is the salary level. (If it’s higher, why not mention the salary range?) But I don’t know the employer and have not contacted it. Like any job seeker, all I know is what’s in that job ad — and that’s the basis on which I judge it.

The trouble with job ads like this — and we’ve all seen enough of them — is that they reveal an employer’s misguided attempt to fill a complex job on a junior salary. (See How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer.)

They reveal an employer that thinks new hires must “say NEIN to leaving at 5,” and that suggests it’s cool to be the kind of manager who can “persuade volunteers to miss their own wedding.”

The right candidate will have “triple check OCD” and can “single-handedly beat the Red Sox.”

And how about the new standard of motivation the right candidate must demonstrate? “The way you spread your entrepreneurial spirit puts Ebola to shame.”

Is all this cute? It’s so cute that it’s transparent. Beneath the veneer of this job ad is a cynical message that this job may be on a slave ship. Or, what’s the salary for a President of Planning who’s got one year of experience? Some of our over-50 readers might suggest this employer is softening up a very senior, very skilled Events Manager for low pay and lots of abuse. Just how desperate are you for a job?

But that’s not why this is the worst job ad ever. It’s the worst job ad ever because it shrouds cynicism in cool. It markets hard work as something you should be willing to sell yourself out for. And that is why job seekers — from the youngest and most inexperienced to the oldest and most frustrated — are fed up with the behavior of employers that want something for nothing while complaining the right talent isn’t out there.

If employers like this one chafe at criticism, I’d like to see them address the job seekers they really need with candor and respect.

Perhaps this job pays $150,000. What’s your take? Have you seen better examples of the worst job ads? Please share examples and your comments!

: :

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!

: :


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?

: :

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
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

[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: [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.


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 — 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?

: :

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!)


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,, 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 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 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, 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?

: :

Reddit’s Ellen Pao: Your pay is what I say

ellen-paoReddit CEO Ellen Pao sounds like an HR manager whose goal is to save salary dollars: If you interview with her, you’re not allowed to ask for more money than she offers you. See Reddit CEO Ellen Pao bans salary negotiations.

Well, I’ve got a simple answer to that: I’ll go interview somewhere else, where candid dialogue is welcome.

Pao’s purported aim is to help women avoid discrimination. According to studies she cites, male and female managers reject women who negotiate assertively. But changing the rules the way she has at Reddit will likely result in lower compensation packages for men and women — something CEOs get patted on the back for by shareholders.

I don’t think much of anyone who doesn’t negotiate assertively, male or female. Curtailing negotiating hurts everyone and avoids the real problem. Here’s an analogy: Certain people are not allowed to sit at the lunch counter. So the lunch counter is removed to eliminate discrimination.

Is that a solution? Of course not. Neither is Pao’s policy.

If the studies Pao bases her action on are correct, the way to create salary parity is to change the way men and women respond to women who negotiate. Pao’s solution cheapens women who dare to negotiate — but in the end, it’s those women who will change the system. Shutting them down accomplishes nothing in the long term but to save money for employers.

Is Pao’s policy really going to make getting a job more fair for women? Or does it make dumbos of us all — men, women, job seekers and hiring managers alike?

: :