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Archive for the Interviewing Category

The Intimidated Job Applicant: Pay me whatever you like!

In the May 3, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a wishful job seeker tries pandering to employers.


I was reading your advice about when to bring up money in a job interview. The advice from outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas here in Chicago is to never bring up compensation until an offer is made.

Puppy beggingWith the job market being more favorable to employers, they suggest that getting into the dialog too early can remove you from consideration quickly. While none of us wants to waste time going through the motions only to discover the salary may be too low, it may be more important to stay in the game as long as you can, getting them to like you. It gives you more of an opportunity to sell yourself, too.

When the salary question comes up too early in the discussion by the employer, they are not focusing on what you can bring to the table. So, when they ask you what you expect to earn, I was told to respond with, “This is a great company/organization, etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”

This throws the ball back in their court. If you stay in the game long enough, and they really like you, you could be offered something else or better.

Nick’s Reply

So Challenger Gray & Christmas told you to warily stroke the employer and say, “This is a great company or organization, etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.” — hoping they’re going to like you and thus not abuse you. Pandering is not a negotiating strategy.

Why am I not surprised at the advice you were given? If your employer paid CG&C to help outplace you, consider that outplacement firms get paid whether you land a job or not. It’s unbelievable that any employer would hire a firm like this to spoon-feed pablum to the people it’s letting go.

The outplacement mistake

Let’s discuss outplacement for a minute. Here’s a cautionary note from Parting Company | How to leave your job, p. 30:

Outplacement might be helpful, but never forget that you are responsible for your next career step. Don’t be lulled into thinking that a high-priced consultant — who works for your former employer — has any real skin in your future. The skin is yours alone…

Outplacement might extend your unemployment, rather than help you land the right new job expeditiously. So, take ownership of your status, and maybe put some extra cash in your pocket. Here’s how.

Some employers will give you cash in lieu of outplacement services, if you ask. (You might have to sign a release to get it. Talk to your lawyer.) This might be the best deal, and it might help you get into high job-hunting gear faster. If you decide to spend that cash on assistance from an outplacement firm that has excellent references, that’s up to you — you’ll get to choose the firm and the counselor. If you use the money to tide you over while you conduct your own job search, that’s also up to you.

It helps to understand how the outplacement industry works. This is from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), pp. 12-13:

Big outplacement firms have a business model. Their objective is not to help you land a good job. The goal is to sell multi-million dollar counseling contracts to big employers that are downsizing. Almost by definition, your individual needs cannot be met by the packaged services these outplacement firms sell. If they really wanted to help you, they’d arrange personal introductions to managers who need you. They don’t do that, because that won’t win them a new gig. To win big contracts, these outplacement firms have to demonstrate a cookie-cutter process for handling thousands of newly-unemployed people. Their clients buy that process, and the more structured it looks, the more it appears to be worth… It’s too generic to work.

The last thing you need is a cookie-cutter approach to job hunting. If you want to stand out, you must make it personal. And that takes time, careful thought, and diligence. Every situation is unique, so these packaged methods you’ve been given aren’t going to work.

Outplacement that someone else chooses for you and pays for could be the biggest mistake you make when trying to land a new job after you get laid off.

Wishful thinking is not business

Let me explain why that lame, over-used response would reveal you to be naive and unsophisticated. It tells the employer that (1) you don’t know what you want or are worth, and that (2) you don’t know how to negotiate.

How businesslike is that?

Let’s say you were applying for a top sales position, and the VP of Sales asked how you’d respond to a prospective customer who asks, “How much do you want me to pay for what you’re selling?” Suppose you gave the CG&C response: “You’re a great company. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”

The VP would never hire you because you’re failing to negotiate by communicating the value of your product. You’re pretending the other guy will figure it out. If you worked for him, he’d fire you — and I’d compliment him.

Wishful thinking is not a sales strategy or a negotiating strategy. It’s childish, naive, and dangerous.

CG&C’s response is canned, silly, thoughtless and nothing but a sign that the applicant has no business in a job interview. Please: Don’t do it.

Negotiating is not a game of appeasement

Many job seekers are intimidated in interviews. And a common, visceral response to intimidation is to appease who frightens or intimidates  you. Trying to be likeable is a childish form of appeasement.

dog bonesIf you think trying to be likeable and saying “I’m sure you’ll be fair” will help you “stay in the game” longer, you’re going to lose because the employer will take advantage of the fact that you invested all that time — and correctly surmise that you’re going to take whatever they offer you. This is one of the oldest psychological tricks used in negotiating — look up cognitive dissonance. People have a tendency to rationalize and accept lousy job offers because they’ve spent so many hours in interviews.

There’s another side to this. If you continue interviewing while knowing an offer is not likely to be in your acceptable ballpark, and then you try to “sell” the employer on a much higher salary, do you really think they’re not going to get upset with you for misleading them?

Don’t play games so you can “stay in the game,” because interviewing and hiring is not a game.

  • Learn how to calculate what you’re worth, so that you’re prepared to ask for a compensation range you can defend. That demonstrates you know what you want. (See How much money should I ask for?)
  • Learn how to ask the salary range of a position before you invest in interviews — that’s how to establish your negotiating position. It also shows the employer you’re not counting on being likeable; you’re prepared to demonstrate your value and to justify what you’re asking for. (See Ask this question before you agree to an interview. Yes, CG&C is so wrong that you should explicitly talk about money even before going to a job interview!)

You’re not a puppy. You don’t need to be meek and likeable so an employer might throw you a bone. I think Challenger Gray & Christmas are wasting your time and that of the employers you’re talking to — not to mention wasting your old employer’s money.

Do employers intimidate you in job interviews? Are you ready to state what you want? Do you ask what the employer is ready to pay? Have you used outplacement services? How did it work out?

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The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!

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


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

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

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

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No resume, no job posting, no application, no interview: Microsoft Video Edition

In the March 15, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we do something completely different. We take a video approach to “the mountain” that stands between you and your next job.

Surviving the new economics of work

Microsoft recently asked me to talk for 20 minutes to thousands of IT (information technology) professionals whose jobs are at risk due to rapid changes in technology and in the economy. What can they do to save their careers? What kind of work should they do next?

Sound familiar?

I tuned my comments for Microsoft’s 3-day TechNet Virtual Conference (March 1-3, 2016) — but what I told the audience applies to any line of work, and it’s from the core Ask The Headhunter ideas we discuss here every week. This video includes about 20 minutes of me talking about the new economics of work, and 15 more of Q&A we did via Skype afterwards. A big thank-you to Microsoft and Channel9 for sharing this video with the Ask The Headhunter community.

Questions & Answers

This video raises in-your-face questions.

But I also show you how to answer them Yes! (I’ve added links to take you to more resources. Most of these are free, but there’s a link or two to my books.)

I talk about the #1 problem job seekers face: They let a mountain of obstacles interfere with their efforts to get a job.

  • They try to beat the online job boards.
  • They struggle to tunnel through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes).
  • They play the keyword game with automated job application systems.
  • They keep failing to reach the top of a mountain of competition.

In the video, I talk about why there is no mountain — no resume to write, no job postings to select or decipher, no job applications to file, no interviews to play to. I’m not kidding. I don’t think any of those “tools” help employers hire or job hunters get hired. I think our economy is bogged down by the detritus of phony, automated recruiting — it doesn’t work!

There’s just fearless job hunting.

  • You become part of the circle of friends that naturally leads people to jobs — and that leads to hires.
  • You show up with a clear definition of the problem or challenge that needs to be tackled.
  • You deliver a viable business plan for the job.
  • You show how you’ll do the work. And you create a new, profitable outcome the company never contemplated.
  • You make yourself the job candidate who stands out from all the rest.

Does it matter what kind of work you do?

Virtually every kind of work today is under siege of one kind or another — but for the same reasons. Every industry, every company is increasingly focused on the bottom line. The shift that everyone faces is not just technological. It’s economic — and it’s about accountability. That’s what I talk about in the video. Economic pressures supersede all others — and technology jobs feel the pressure most because that’s where efficiencies that solve economic problems are supposed to come from. But no matter what kind of work you do, the shift must be in your own perspective.

Success is not about chasing hot jobs, because there’s really no such thing. (What’s hot changes by the time you catch it!) It’s about whether you are hot. What makes you hot? You have to make yourself and your work accountable. If you wait for the bean counters to do that, you’ll probably lose your job if you have one.

If you work in IT, the video will get you started on how to advance your career in the face of stunning shifts in technology — changes that probably put your current job at risk.

And if you don’t work in technology, you’ll quickly see how my suggestions will help your career in today’s turbulent economy. As I said, the 20 minutes of this video summarize many of the core ideas we talk about on Ask The Headhunter all the time. Of course, I couldn’t squeeze every Ask The Headhunter method, tip and lesson into a 20 minute video. For more about how to be a fearless job hunter who stands out from the competition by delivering profit, check out the Introduction to Fearless Job Hunting, which also details which of my books address which challenges.

I hope you enjoy the video, and that it inspires you to forget about mountains and obstacles while you plan how to deliver profitable work to a worthy employer — work that’s profitable to you, too.

Many thanks to my good buddies at Microsoft for the opportunity to get in front of the company’s enormous audience — and for their generous hospitality while I was in Seattle and on the Microsoft campuses in Redmond and Bellevue. Mostly, I’m grateful for the freedom to work unscripted — every word in the video is mine. No one told me what to say or what to talk about. (If you’re among the many Ask The Headhunter subscribers who work in IT, don’t miss the other great videos about the future of IT in the TechNet 2016 archive.)

Okay — let’s hear what you liked and didn’t like about what I said in the video. Then hit me with the in-your-face questions — what do you want to know more about? What would you like to see in future Ask The Headhunter videos — because I’m planning to make more. Let’s pound these topics!

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Will employers explode if you squeeze them for interview feedback?

In the March 8, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to make failed interviews pay off.


I had a good interview, or so I thought. The manager complimented me on our discussion, and I could tell she was impressed, but I guess I just wasn’t the right fit. I know everyone goes through this. But when you add up all the interviews across a long career, you wonder why. I try to learn something from every such failure, but the time spent just doesn’t seem to be compensated by what managers share after a meeting. Do you have any advice about how to benefit even from interviews that don’t result in a job offer?

squeezedNick’s Reply

Not every job interview results in an offer of employment, but every interview should provide you with information that helps you land an offer next time. An interview is an investment of time and effort. You should always get a return on that investment — either in the form of an offer, or in the form of useful feedback.

Many employers won’t tell why they rejected you. Indeed, their legal eagles (or hatchlings in the HR department) may have warned managers that they’d get sued for telling you too much. But, if you press, you may get something you can use. Just remember: You don’t want grounds for a lawsuit, you want useful information. An employer owes you that in exchange for your participation in their hiring process.

Here’s how to get truly useful information if you’ve been rejected.

First, make sure you’re getting feedback directly from the manager and members of her team. The most valid information usually comes from the hiring authority and from others who understand the work in question, not from a clerk in HR. (A good HR person might offer you something useful, but it’s usually the manager who can really help you.) So call the boss after your meeting.

Second, don’t ask why they turned you down. (That’s what prompts the legal heebie-jeebies.) Instead, thank the manager for considering you, then shift the discussion to career development.

How to Say It

“I learned a lot from our discussion. Can I ask you for some advice? Someday I want to work in the kind of position I interviewed for. I want to become one of the best people in this field. Can you suggest what I ought to be reading, what kinds of further education or training I might get, and where I should focus myself to develop the right skills? What would you do if you were me, to develop myself professionally?”

Keep your request informal and friendly, and a good manager will advise you. Note that you are not asking why you were rejected. (See Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers.)

Finally, don’t take “no” for an answer. If you’ve asked diplomatically but a manager ignores your calls or won’t provide honest feedback after a rejection, recognize that you’re dealing with an irresponsible member of your professional community. She has a one-sided view of business. She expects people to be open and honest in interviews, but refuses to be candid herself.

My next suggestion will probably have you scratching your head, but think about it.

E-mail or call the CEO of the company, or the top executive in the department that interviewed you. (Don’t be intimidated — he or she is just another employee of the company.) Politely explain that you interviewed in good faith, and that you expect the same in return.

How to Say It

“I value my reputation as a responsible, forthright [marketer, software engineer, whatever you are]. I hope your company values its reputation as a responsible member of our professional community. I invested many hours in interviews with your team, and I would simply like some honest feedback about my meetings with your company. But no one will call me back. I look forward to hearing from you.”

A good CEO will get the message. A bad one will ignore you. It’s worth finding out how a company you’re interested in is managed, and whether they behave with integrity.

Shocking suggestion, isn’t it — that a top executive would make sure her management team does the right thing. The world has been conditioned to accept bad behavior, so we don’t ask for good behavior. That diminishes the entire business world. My guess is, awkward as such a call or e-mail might seem to you, the CEO will remember you. If the CEO is respectful, it’ll pay off. If the CEO is dismissive, you’re the one who will remember. And you’ll let others know.

After investing hours talking with a company, you should see a return on your investment. But it’s up to you to collect it. Nobody said doing collections is easy, but consider how much you can learn throughout your career by chasing down the value of every interview you do.

The bonus is, after a few of these calls, you’ll have all kinds of good questions to ask employers at the end of your interviews, so you can collect the ROI without having to call anyone later.

A rejection can be delivered in one of two ways: with good faith and respect, or with thoughtless disdain. When you invest in an interview, make sure you get the most out of it. Ask. Learn. (See Loopy feedback failure.)

Do you make sure every interview pays off? We all know employers are lousy about providing useful feedback. I frankly don’t know how they get away without it. How can they be squeezed, without making them explode?

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Can I play one employer against another to get a better job offer?

In the February 9, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks whether it’s okay to threaten one employer with a job offer from another employer.


I’m a recruiter and I want to address what happens when people are interviewing with multiple employers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting an employer manipulateknow you’re interviewing at other companies. After all, employers acknowledge they’re interviewing more than one candidate. But I think it’s bad form to use one job offer to leverage another one.

If an offer is not what you want, just reject it after trying to negotiate a better one. But don’t threaten an employer with an offer from another employer. I had two employers pull job offers from candidates when the candidates played hardball during negotiations. They said they had other, better offers, hoping to get the employer to raise their bids. In both cases, of course, the candidates were stunned and disappointed the offers were pulled off the table. Lesson learned for them.

Do you agree?

Nick’s Reply

So, there are rules of engagement in interviews? (I know, I’m baiting you, but it’s friendly.) If there are any rules, it seems they’re all designed to benefit employers.

The double standard

I can’t think of one thing employers are expected to do out of respect for candidates.

  • They waste applicants’ time with silly screening interviews by personnel jockeys. (How is it an HR person with no engineering expertise can judge whether a computer design engineer is worth interviewing?)
  • They arrive late for interviews with impunity. (“We are very busy.”)
  • They want urine samples.
  • They leave applicants hanging for months after promising feedback “in a couple of weeks.”
  • They demand private information — social security numbers and salary history — before even meeting the candidate!

A double standard has long been in place. It’s time to remove it. Job applicants are constantly and sternly warned by HR and “career experts” about what to wear, say, not say, how to act, and so on.

  • “Don’t ask what the job pays.”
  • “Don’t tell us you’ve got other opportunities.”
  • “Don’t try to leverage a better salary.”

Think about it. Would you give your SSN to someone who asked you out on a date? Would you give them your home address, before the date? Would you agree to take a personality test before going to dinner? Of course not. Employers’ expectations are bizarre and self-serving. But there’s an intimidation factor at work: If you want to be considered for a job, learn to heel, learn to beg.

I don’t agree with you

If a job candidate believes using one employer to force another employer’s hand might work, by all means do it. You point out that employers interview lots of candidates. They often say, “We found some other very good candidates, so we’re not making a decision about you yet.”

How’s that statement any more legit than, “I’m talking to another excellent employer who is interested in hiring me, and we’re talking about a higher salary than you’ve suggested”?

On the other hand, if you don’t want to disclose that you’re talking to other employers (or who they are), then it’s also legit to decline to disclose even if you’re asked.

A job interview is a negotiation on all levels. Be honest, be polite and professional, and demonstrate integrity — but you’re not required to pull punches. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball After The Interview.)

If you think you can get more money by pointing out that another company has made you a better offer, then use that as leverage. Of course, be aware that you might not get a higher offer. (And please don’t confuse my advice about using one offer to leverage another with using a job offer to extort a higher salary from your current employer. See “Don’t use an offer to get a raise” in Naive young grad blows it.)

If the employer plays at being offended or appalled, move on to someone who is an adult and ready to negotiate. (See Only naive wusses are afraid to bring up money.)

Be realistic about negotiating

There is, of course, a difference between trying to leverage a better deal and threatening or offending someone. Negotiating requires tact and integrity, and it requires that you behave reasonably and realistically. Perhaps most important, you must demonstrate that what you’re suggesting will benefit both you and the employer. Never ask for more money just because you want it; show why you’re worth it. (See The Basics: The New Interview and The New Interview Instruction Book.)

As for those employers who pull offers because the candidates played hardball during negotiations, that’s the employers’ prerogative. It’s also up to candidates to decide whether those employers are worth working for. (Please note: I think pulling an offer during negotiations is very different from rescinding an offer that the applicant has agreed to accept. See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.)

Employers have a lot to lose by disrespecting job applicants. Pretending that salary doesn’t matter is just plain goofy — yet many employers act like it’s bad form to talk money before agreeing to a job interview. But, why would anyone agree to lengthy discussions if they don’t know whether the salary for the job is high enough to justify all the talking? It’s just not realistic, and employers don’t get a pass when they’re goofy.

Leverage if you want to

Telling an employer you’ve got a better deal elsewhere may not be inappropriate. Use your best judgment. There’s nothing inherently wrong in playing one option against another — employers do it every day when they interview candidates! It doesn’t make you bad or rude unless you behave badly or rudely. Money is a serious factor in doing business. Just ask the company’s CFO. It matters all the time. So, don’t let employers intimidate you into a corner. Think about your situation, and decide whether to use one employer to leverage a deal from another.

(For what it’s worth, I’ve seen employers end interviews when candidates admit they’re interviewing with other companies. That’s akin to dumping a date who says they’ve been on other dates. We’re dealing with naivete.)

For more about negotiating higher job offers successfully, see these sections of the PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers:

  • Am I unwise to accept their first offer? (pp. 8-9)
  • How to Say It: I accept, but I’d like more money (p. 9)
  • The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers (pp. 12-14)
  • Juggling job offers (15-17)

How do you negotiate? Do you let employers impose a double standard? Are you intimidated by “employers’ rules” — or do you insist on candor in the negotiating process?

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What’s the secret to the thank-you note?

In the February 2, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about adding value after a job interview.


Your newsletter has been an education for me. First as an employer, now as an applicant seeking to move on. But, there’s one topic you haven’t mentioned: the thank-you, or follow-up letter. When should it be sent? After the first interview, after the interview with the top dog, or both? And, what should it say?

value-addedI just sent one, after talking to the top dog. I repeated that I am interested in the position and told him of my immediate schedule. More importantly, and motivated by your columns, I told him about some activity of a standards committee that might have a strategic impact on his operations. I said I would be joining the committee, ex officio, by contributing some research I was doing, and I also told him what my input would be if I were working for him.

Back to my question: I think the best way to show I can solve his problems (and that I am more “dialed in” than his present staff, who are unaware of the standards committee) is in the follow-up letter. What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

Ah, you’re living proof that the employment system brainwashes us all and that smart people dumb down when they go job hunting! (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

You have answered your own question, but I think you’re worried you’re violating some interviewing protocol. Your idea is good — you did the right thing.

When to send a follow-up letter or e-mail is up to you. Trust your judgment. The main purpose of such a note is to add value for the benefit of the employer. My advice would be to send it to the manager you’d work for if you were hired, right after you’ve met with him. That’s the person you need to impress with your value. (See The most important question in an interview.)

I like what you did in your follow-up letter. You provided value. You offered information and a suggestion that could — if used properly — contribute to the employer’s bottom line. That’s a very powerful follow-up to an interview, because it demonstrates your commitment to help the business. Now that I’ve set you loose, here are a few tips that might help you avoid going a little too far next time.

  • Be judicious when communicating your value. Remember that some managers might feel threatened by too much “value” in your presentation. Be careful you don’t come across as a know-it-all.
  • Balance your ability to do the work with your ability to work with others. If this top dog’s team doesn’t know about the standards committee, you might suggest how they could use what you know, rather than emphasize that they don’t know it.
  • Be diplomatic. Avoid expressions like, “I can solve your problems” or “the best way to do this is…” It may seem obvious, but while you’re trying to follow The Headhunter’s approach, it’s easy to fall into the self-aggrandizement trap. You may be the best solution, but the manager needs to feel that’s his conclusion, not yours.

So, how do you go about communicating your value without risking going too far? Pretend you’re sitting around a conference table with the manager’s entire team. All eyes are on you. Your presentation will determine whether these people decide to hire you.

Batter up!

How would you present yourself? How would you articulate your ideas in that setting? Do you want to whack one out of the park, or hit a ground-roll double to knock in a few guys who are already on base? The choice is yours, but consider what the employer is looking for: a team player, or a solo star? Then craft your note to suit the situation. (See The New Interview.)

I think that’s how you want to come across in your follow-up letter. That’s the secret to a powerful thank-you note. (For more tips about thank-you notes, see Thanks is not enough.)

Do you send thank-you notes? Are they even necessary? If you use them, what do you include? To whom do you send them? Please share the outcomes of your best and worst efforts.

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Do employers haze new college grads in interviews?

In the January 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about where parents fit in the career equation.


I’m a senior at a big state university in the midwest. I have applied for many jobs and gotten a few leads, and some employers are inquiring via my LinkedIn account. The problem is that some of these employers require me to take silly numerical assessments that have nothing to do with the job, and I have to invest time in them before I can even have an interview.


Recently I was sitting before a group of managers and asked to use mental math on a series of frivolous arithmetical questions. I offered very close approximations, but was prompted to “be more specific.” I stopped and said, “Look, if I’m making decisions on the fly, I’m estimating. I’m not a human calculator. I’m here to do my job well, and this isn’t a tool I’ll utilize.”

I was escorted out. Did I make the right move? Are some interviews just a form of hazing that we are supposed to tolerate just because we’re applying for our first jobs?

Nick’s Reply

I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, but I think you made the right move. I think some people would disagree, and suggest that you take whatever employers shovel at you, because you’re a new grad and need to get a job.

Sadly, this sort of new-grad employment hazing is common. The attitude among some employers seems to be that, since you have no real experience they can judge you on, anything goes. Why are manhole covers round? How many barbers do you think are in Chicago? What animal would you be, if you could be any animal? Or, do some quick math out loud so we can see whether you’re smart. (It gets worse. See Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1 – #5.)

These are excuses for employers’ failure to learn how to assess whether a person can do a job. (See What is the single best interview question ever?) I think your instinct is correct. These are not legitimate interview practices. HR buys these lame “screening tools” from “HR consultancies” run by failed HR people. It’s really stupid. I compliment you for coming out of school and questioning what seems to be standard procedure that isn’t legit, smart, or acceptable.

Such ridiculous screening practices tell you a lot about an employer and what it would be like to work there. Smarter companies are coming to realize how this kind of nonsense reflects on them. Google, for example, recently announced it would stop using silly questions to assess candidates, because the company did an outcomes analysis and found such questions don’t predict an employee’s success. (See 4 HR Practices That Kill ROI.) More employers need to reconsider their screening methods.

As I mentioned above, you’ll find that many people will advise you to shut up and play ball, and to never question the people who control the job offer. But I’ll tell you to never hesitate to judge the managers who are interviewing you.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, (p. 28) I offer this advice:

Judge a manager’s sincerity about working together. Does she want to hire you because you can add something to the way the work is done, or does she want another interchangeable part for her machine? Listen carefully to what the manager says. You will hear either a mind interacting with your own, or a machine waiting to grind you up.

Too often, in an effort to impress a manager, candidates calculate their answers so they’ll add up for the manager — but not for the candidate. Consider that if you need to calculate your answers this way, there’s a good chance you’re playing to the interview rather than setting the stage for an honest, accurate judgment.

What would happen if you answered simply, directly and honestly? Perhaps the manager would not like your answer. Perhaps your answer would cost you the job. That’s good. Because, do you want to work with a manager who can’t deal with you?

It’s your choice. Every question a manager asks tells you something about the manager. Every reaction to your answers tells you something, too. The manager is judging you. Don’t forget to judge the manager.

Consider that out of dozens of interviews, only one might turn into a job offer. Likewise, out of dozens of employers, only one might behave professionally enough to be worth working for. It’s up to you to use your good sense to judge who’s worthy. The idea that you should sit back and take whatever an interviewer throws at you — that’s about as reasonable as you tossing silly questions at employers and expecting them not to kick you out of interviews. Hazing, whether practiced by college fraternities and other social groups, or by employers, reveals that the group has nothing better to offer than a pathetic demonstration of its own insecurity.

If you’re going to be shown the door — like you were — let it be because you have higher standards than an employer whose idea of interviewing is silly hazing. (See Raise your standards.)

When you find a good employer, you’ll know it. There are some excellent ones out there who will engage you in discussion about the work they want done, and who know how to assess your abilities respectfully and intelligently. They’re worth looking for. Meantime, remember that stupid interview questions are sometimes a sign of stupid employers. Move on.

How do you handle silly interview questions? (Maybe you don’t think the example in this Q&A was so silly?) Do you have ways of helping keep interviews on track? Have you ever been rejected because you couldn’t explain what animal you would be, if you could be any animal?

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Ask this question before you agree to an interview

In the December 15, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers hide the money.


On an almost weekly basis, headhunters ping me about technical jobs they want to fill, but they won’t tell me what a job will pay. Then we get down to the brass tacks, and rarely do any of these corporations want to pay what I know I’m worth for what I bring to the table.

lips-sealedMy skill set wasn’t developed by being average, and I will not accept anything average. I make my employer lots of money. I impact the bottom line and that will cost you.

It’s interesting to watch companies lose money because they employed campers instead of climbers. I’m willing to do the job for those employers, but when I tell them they need to pay me $25k more than they’re paying the campers, they squeal. Meanwhile, millions are being lost right in front of their eyes. Yet they expect me to interview without disclosing what a job will pay. Their lips are sealed until after the interviewing is done. What’s up with that?

Nick’s Reply

It’s pretty astonishing how many consumers and employers are tire-kickers. They won’t spend what’s necessary on the product, service, or hire that they want. But they will keep looking, usually until they find a less costly solution — and by that time, they convince themselves it’s sufficient.

Employers view new hires as an expense, not an investment. An expense costs you. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.) A good investment generates a good return. It seems few employers look for returns — they’re just trying to fill jobs with bodies (that don’t cost much). Then they wonder why their business is mediocre if not failing.

I think the prudent approach is to have a simple protocol for limiting the time you spend with headhunters. In my opinion, it has to involve an up-front discussion about salary range. (See Only naive wusses are afraid to bring up money.) Many people think it’s too forward or inappropriate to ask what the salary is — and employers love that.

It’s the old foot-in-the-door sales approach. The more time and effort employers can get you to spend talking to them, the more chance you’ll compromise on the money later on, to justify all the time you spent.

I say bunk to that. We all know money is the first bridge, so cross it immediately. Don’t let it seem complicated. When an employer or headhunter solicits you for a job, here’s how to proceed. Always ask this question before you agree to do an interview:

How to Say It
“So, what’s the pay like?”

Yes, that’s all it takes: an off-handed, casual, natural, obvious question. (That tip is part of “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, pp. 13-15.)

BIG-FJH-PKGGot a job-hunting friend who’s terrified of job hunting? Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection makes a great gift! Order now and save 30%! Use discount code XMAS and save 30% at checkout! (This limited offer applies only to Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.)

Would you take a nice-looking bottle of wine to the checkout counter at a liquor store if it doesn’t have a price tag on it? Of course not. So, why would you agree to spend hours talking about a job whose salary range you don’t know? You might have to put that job back on the shelf, after you’ve wasted precious time and energy.

When an employer declines to disclose the salary range for a job, it’s time to end the discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask the salary before you agree to interview. (Of course, you should keep your own salary under wraps!)

You have no idea what the job pays? Then why are you interviewing for it? What’s the big secret?? How do you handle situations where an employer refuses to tell you what the salary is for a job?

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You’re The Headhunter!

In the December 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, you are in control!

Step right up…

Every week, I answer your questions in the Ask The Headhunter e-mail newsletter, and then we adjourn here, where we discuss and hash out the issues and options behind the Q&A. I like to tell people that the advice, comments and insights you share on the blog are just as much a part of Ask The Headhunter as anything I write.

got-adviceThis week I want to try something different. Rather than me answering questions, I’d like to invite you to be The Headhunter — I’d like you to deliver the advice!

Please read the three short questions below, submitted by other readers, and put yourself in my shoes. What advice would you give these folks? What issues and options would you suggest these troubled readers focus on to solve their problems?

Then I’ll put myself in your shoes and add my comments, and we can all chew on it together. Maybe this will turn into a new feature — and we’ll be able to cover many more Q&As each week! (You should see the backlog in my e-mail folder!)

I’ve seeded each Q&A with some relevant resources to help you get started, but I’m counting on you to provide the real advice!

When you post your advice below, please indicate which question you’re responding to — A, B or C. Feel free to answer more than one! Please include links to any favorite Ask The Headhunter resources you think are relevant!

Question A

I sent my resume and cover letter in response to a job ad. The company says they’re interested, yet of course I have to fill out an online application. Does anyone really think I know the day I graduated school or left a job 20 years ago? Or my starting and ending salary? Worse yet — they want my GPA and my SAT score?

I put one trillion for the SAT score since it had to have a number. Of course, they also wanted a specific salary — not even a range. I left out my Social Security Number and I don’t care if it loses me the job — I am not throwing that information all over the Internet to every company that’s hiring for a job!

Is there any way around this when you can’t proceed without providing all this insane amount of detail?

What’s your reply?

You’re The Headhunter this week. Please post your advice to Question A!

Some References: Those pesky job application forms, Wanted: HR exec with the guts to not ask for your SSN.


Question B

My daughter was offered a job. Had to be drug tested. On the weekend she received an e-mail instructing her to report to orientation. She gave notice at her old job. Then she called with a question about where to report, and was told they didn’t mean to send her the notice of orientation because she flunked the drug test. Now she is going to be out of her old job without a new one. What can she do? She quit, thinking everything was okay.

What’s your reply?

Be The Headhunter this week. Please post your advice to Question B!

Reference: Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?


Question C

I passed a phone interview and now I’m invited to “meet the team” at an upcoming technical conference. They haven’t offered to pay the registration fee and I, being unemployed, can’t afford it. I believe they are well-meaning but insensitive. I don’t want to embarrass myself by telling them my problem. How best to finesse this?

What’s your reply?

You’re The Headhunter this week. Please add your reply to Question C!

Reference: Why employers should pay to interview you.


This week, you’re The Headhunter! I hope you’ll take over and respond to the three questions above. (This is not a test! You’re hired to come back next week whether you participate or not! No SSN or salary history required!)

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Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job

In the November 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants a resume from the employer.


Don’t you think jobs should have “resumes?” Assuming an interview has been scheduled, should an applicant ask for a formal, printed description of the job to retain and review before a job offer is made, or only after an offer is presented?

submit-resumeHere’s what I’ve never understood. Employers insist on having my resume before an interview. But all the applicant has is a scant job posting, or sometimes only a general verbal description of the job. It seems having a formal, written job description would help the applicant, just like a resume helps an employer. The applicant could look closely at whether there’s a good match.

Should the prospective employer be expected to provide this type of document to the applicant? If it’s not provided, should I just roll the dice?

Nick’s Reply

You’re raising an excellent question. (But I’ve got a bigger question. Read on.) If HR needs to know all about you before an interview, doesn’t it owe you all the information about the job? (See Now THIS is a job description!)

Recently a reader told me that after an employer decided to hire him, it learned he had an advanced degree that he did not report on the resume. (He’d heard it might actually hurt his chances, so he left the degree off the resume. So it was an omission, not a falsehood.) The employer rescinded the offer because the applicant “lied”!

What happens when an employer fails to disclose all the information about a job until after an offer is made? If it’s never happened to you, I’m sure you know someone who accepted a job, only to learn it wasn’t what they interviewed for.

Many employers don’t seem very concerned that the job you interview for is not the job in the ad. This is even more important when a recruiter solicits you for a job — they usually tell you very little, except that the job is “perfect” for you. Who has ever gone on a job interview suggested by a recruiter and found that the job was “exactly” as the recruiter described it? (Gimme a break! I’m still laughing! Check out Roasting the job description.)

Where’s the job’s resume?

I think it’s prudent to ask for the formal, written job description prior to the interview, “for your records,” especially when you’re dealing with a recruiter. They want your resume, right? What’s the difference?

I’ll bet many HR people would decline to provide it because it’s “proprietary” or “not set in stone.” But, again — they want your resume, which is just as proprietary, and they want it to include everything.

How are you supposed to consider the job without the formal, written job description? What risks are you taking when you don’t have the complete story? In many cases, the big risk is that the hiring manager hasn’t a complete idea of what the job really is — and you’ll be judged on whatever performance criteria the manager invents after the fact.

Now, I’m not saying every job should be exhaustively defined. In fact, I like jobs that will evolve — but the manager and employer should make that clear from the start. Pretending doesn’t cut it, a manager who doesn’t really know what she needs doesn’t cut it, and obscuring the holes in a job definition isn’t fair. (See Don’t suck canal water if you’re confused.)

Where’s the manager’s resume?

But now let’s get really serious and question authority. Let’s make the leap to the bigger question this all begs: Why don’t employers give you the hiring manager’s resume — and resumes of people you’ll be working with? After all, you’re going to be throwing in with them. Don’t you have an obligation to your career to know who they are before you sign up?

Imagine. Because your success and your career will hinge enormously on who those people really are. Don’t you want to see their credentials?

There are several questions you must ask an employer — particularly after it’s made you a job offer. That’s when negotiating power shifts to you, because now they’ve established that they want you. What comes next is working out the terms, and one of the terms is information about your new co-workers. Politely ask to see their creds. (For more about this critical point in the interview process, see Deal-breaker questions to ask employers. Don’t be one of those job candidates who miss their chance to protect their future.)

I’d love to know how employers respond to this, because they make the hiring process so irrational and one-sided that it’s actually absurd. (For more about my take on how employers recruit, see Respecting The Candidate.) A job is a partnership, so let’s see more due diligence from job applicants, and more transparency from employers before a hire is made.

Don’t you think fewer interviews would wind up being a waste of time if you had the spec sheet for the job in hand first? Does it make sense to get the team’s resumes, too, before you meet with them to interview?

Do employers and recruiters give you clear, detailed job descriptions — as detailed as the resume they want from you? Do you ask for them? Are the jobs you interview for exactly as they were represented to begin with? What happens when they’re not? Finally: What do you really know about the manager and members of the team you’re joining?

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