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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

It’s not your imagination

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

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

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

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

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

TheLadders Goes Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Federal Judge Lucy Koh wrote:

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

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

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

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

Toronto Pathways AKA Job Success

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

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

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


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

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

Lee Hecht Harrison

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

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

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

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

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

How I got ripped off

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

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

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

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

Career scams are everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lee Hecht Harrison rips off Ask The Headhunter

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

Ripped-off Ask The Headhunter articles.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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The Job-Offer Sucker Punch

In the September 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader trusts a recruiter and winds up regretting it.


I was hired as an executive assistant at a very large, global company. The recruiter (who worked for the company) assured me that the benefits were very good, “comparable to any big company,” and insisted that they were on par suckerwith any other organization I’ve worked with.

It turns out they aren’t. I pay half of my health insurance (approximately $750/month), my vacation is mandated in December because of annual office closure, no overtime is offered, I work one scheduled weekend per month unpaid, and my significant other was not covered under benefits (though a same-sex partner would have been) until we are married.

The recruiter quit her job shortly after I was hired. I haven’t brought up these issues with the company, although I’ve been here almost a year. The culture is very much that one should not complain because you should be happy you have a job.

I took a 25% pay cut for this gig. Do I have any legal recourse? I fear that the legal costs would outweigh any benefits. In the meantime, I’m looking for a new job elsewhere but have found that my “new” salary requirements have me in a different bracket.

Nick’s Reply

You got sucker-punched because you didn’t see it coming. I doubt you have any legal recourse, but I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. You could start by talking with your state’s department of labor and employment — they may be able to advise you, and they may have other complaints on record about this employer.

It seems the recruiter baited you. See Why do companies hide the benefits? Too often, job applicants trust what is stated orally in an interview without insisting that the commitment be reproduced in writing in the job offer. It amazes me that an applicant will read an offer letter carefully — but never ask for the written benefits. The benefits are part of the offer. I urge you and all of our readers: Get the entire offer in writing and read all components of the offer carefully before you accept!

You must state your position to an employer clearly.

How to Say It

“I’m impressed with your company, and I’m eager to come to work with you. However, I cannot accept this offer without knowing all the terms of employment, including the benefits. I could no more sign an employment agreement without knowing all the terms than your company could sign a business contract without knowing what it was committing to. I’m sure you understand. Could you please provide me with your employee manual, benefits package, and any other documents that would bind me after I start the job? Once I have these, I will promptly respond. I look forward to accepting your offer, and to making a significant contribution to your business. I hope I can count on your help so we can all get to work.”

What a recruiter tells you is akin to what a salesman tells you — it’s intended to close the deal. Good luck collecting on the oral promises later.

I agree that your most important next action is to start a very active job search. The solution to getting stuck applying for jobs with lower salaries is to not disclose your salary — apply for jobs that can pay what you’re worth, and politely but firmly decline to disclose your salary history. Employers have no right to it. You must also be ready to demonstrate why you’re worth more than your current job pays. Two of my PDF books cover these topics: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps and How Can I Change Careers?

Start with your state’s labor office. Get their advice on the details of your situation. But I think that, unfortunately, when you accepted this job you accepted terms you did not understand clearly — because the employer misrepresented them. Please check this article for tips about how to avoid a lower salary at your next job: How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

I wish you the best. This kind of slimy behavior by employers is indefensible.

Have you ever accepted a bait-and-switch job offer? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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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!

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How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants

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

Your XQ: More HR B.S.?

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

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

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

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

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

A $2 Billion Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The No-See-Um Assessment

What are HR departments looking for?

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

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

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

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

Meet Andy Biga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. There goes Andy Biga’s future.

Meet Charles Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

Correlation Is King

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

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

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

Meet Ray Dalio, animal wrangler

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

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

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

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

The Science Of Snake Oil

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

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

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

We Have Met The Enemy

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

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

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

So, how do I get a job?

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

It’s simple. Please pay attention.

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

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

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

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

HR will realize it when job seekers stop rolling over.

My Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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A headhunter locked me out of jobs for 6 months

In the April 14, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says getting referred for a job by a headhunter cost him the job — because the employer didn’t want to pay the fee.


I applied for a job on at a medical facility. A person called representing herself as working for the facility. She did a five-minute pre-screening interview, and set me up for a phone interview with an HR representative. The short version of this long story is that the organization wanted to hire me, but wasn’t able to because of a recruiting fee of $12,000.

I’ve been informed that this recruiting company has put a six-month “lock” on my name. Is this legal? This kind of thing has never happened to me before. I’m appalled that they can get away with it! Do I need to contact the state attorney general’s office? I never signed any documents stating any agreement for them to represent me. Please help!

Nick’s Reply

This is a deep crack in the law that you’ve fallen into. Employment agencies and third party recruiters (a.k.a. headhunters) are not regulated everywhere. The recruiter has submitted your resume as one of her referrals — and if the employer hires you as a result of that referral, it may owe the recruiter a fee.

(Of course, the recruiter serves a purpose. Without her, you may not have gotten the interviews with this employer. But her intervention should not cost you a job!)

I’d do two things.

Get the facts first

Call the employer’s HR office. Don’t tell them what happened. Just ask whether they have a contract with that recruiter.

My guess is they do not, but the recruiter’s referral may be interpreted by the employer as an obligation to pay a fee to hire you. That’s the crack in the law.

Recruiters will sometimes find and use resumes like yours as an entree to a company they don’t have a contract with. They will threaten the employer with a lawsuit to collect a fee, because they were the source of the referral. This may not stand up in court, but the easy way out for the employer is not to hire you. So you lose. My guess is that’s what’s going on here. The loose interpretation of the law might be that if the hospital hires you within six months of the referral, it owes the fee. After that, there’s no fee. That’s what the “lock” refers to.

But all this is questionable. What recruiters like this one bank on is an HR department’s unwillingness to risk legal action — which is silly.

What’s important for you to realize is that — I’m sorry to say — you are at least partly responsible for all this:

Have you ever put your resume on an online job board? Then you may have slimed yourself because anyone who has access to that resume can do exactly what that troublesome headhunter did with your implied blessing. You’d have a hard time convincing a judge or jury that the headhunter did anything wrong if your resume is already widely available.

Excerpted from How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 114.

Use regulatory powers

The second thing I’d do is call your state’s department of commerce. Find out whether the recruiter is licensed. Not all states require licensing. If yours does, and she’s not, she’s out of luck. I’d explain that to the employer — and I’d turn her in to the authorities..

Of course, it’s possible the recruiter has a contract with the hospital. In that case, what the lock means is the hospital has agreed to pay a referral fee for up to six months after a referral is made. Thus the lock is not on your name, but on the employer. You are not bound by a contract you are not a party to.

But here’s the risk you face, and it’s significant: If this recruiter circulates your resume to lots of employers, under her letterhead, such referrals may be construed by those employers as an obligation to pay a fee to hire you — even if you later apply directly. A good headhunter or recruiter would never refer you to any employer without your knowledge or consent. An unsavory recruiter will plaster your resume all over kingdom come — under her letterhead.

There are two sections of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you that you’ll find helpful in the future. “How should I judge a headhunter?”, pp. 26-27, defines a set of standards that good headhunters adhere to. “How should I qualify a headhunter?”, pp. 28-33, goes into great detail about how you can separate the good headhunters from the unsavory ones.

Some of the book is about how to protect yourself, but most of it is about how to leverage headhunters and recruiters to your advantage.

Assert yourself & protect yourself

I would immediately send the recruiter a certified letter, with a return receipt, stating that she is not to refer you to any employers, and demanding that she notify you what companies she may have already referred you to. Again, recruiters like this one bank on people not fighting them legally. It can be a nasty game.

Depending on what you learn, you may want to contact your state’s department of labor and employment. Explain what happened and ask their advice. If the recruiter misrepresented herself as an employer, I’d consider filing a complaint of consumer fraud and possibly identity theft, citing the recruiter’s misrepresentations, and for her failure to tell you that it would cost a fee to hire you.

Much depends on whether the employer is willing to stand up to the recruiter. I doubt the employer or the recruiter would want to see an article in the newspaper about a job seeker in a tough market finding out he got screwed out of a job because of all this.

I’d love to know what you learn and decide to do. This is a murky situation because much depends on who did what, and on whether the employer has a contract with the recruiter.

Keep this in mind: None of these agencies or recruiters work for you. Their client is always the employer. They have no contractual obligation to you, or you to them. Yet many such firms will use phrases like, “We will represent you…” They do not represent you. The employer pays them, and their fiduciary duty is to the employer. But it’s an odd business, because they can imply that they represent you — with the result that employers might lock you out of jobs due to the fee they’d have to pay.

Finally, remember that posting your resume or profile online makes it easy for anyone to “refer” you to an employer and to claim a fee. You can fight this, of course — but good luck, because employers are more likely to protect themselves than fight to hire you.

Has a recruiter or headhunter ever cost you a job? What would you do if you were the job hunter in this week’s Q&A?

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Bait & Switch Job Offers

In the January 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews for a senior job only to receive a silly offer for a lower level job.


I have not been on the job market since 2007, and after a layoff early October 2014 I am fighting my way through this job market. I have the background, experience, and personality a high tech company was looking for when they advertised a senior technical position at $96,000. After all the interviews, we seemed to be doing great, until my final face to face interview, where I was informed there are now two positions — one senior and one junior. During my initial screening with the company recruiter I was clear on my salary requirements.

When I recmousetrapeived the company’s offer letter, it was for $75,000, way below what we had discussed. I was insulted, shocked, and angry. When I called the recruiter, she stated there were a lot of strong candidates, that there were actually five positions, and that I fit better into a junior role at the salary offered. I replied that I applied for only the senior position at $96,000 and that there was no discussion of four other positions. I asked about the differences between the positions, and it’s clear from what the hiring manager says that there are none but the salary!

I want to send a response letter stating that I was a candidate for only the senior job, re-emphasizing my experience and expertise, and referencing the original senior salary range. What would you recommend?

Nick’s Reply

If you stand a few feet back from this and look at it for what it is, I think you’ll see the proper answer. I’m going to show you how to improve this job offer dramatically, but you must be ready to play this game for keeps.

First let’s do a reality check. This employer is playing you. You laid down the terms for the interview when you (a) applied for a senior technical position, and (b) when you stated your salary requirements and they agreed to proceed with those two understandings.

Now look at the facts:

  1. They offered you different job
  2. At a much lower salary.

We could just call this a stupid HR trick, but there’s another name for it: Bait and switch. A car dealer baits you with a test drive in a car you want to buy after you saw the price. You show up with a check, and they offer you a different car at a different price. You’d kick them down the street for switching the deal and wasting your time.

You did what you were supposed to do, so you’re thrown for a bit of a loop. You interviewed for a certain job at a certain salary level. They knew your expectations, and they agreed to proceed with the interviews. Then they changed all the terms and made a ridiculous offer. Had they made no offer, I’d just say the match didn’t work out. But this employer is clearly manipulating applicants. (I find this is most common with staffing firms that hire people and assign them to work for their clients. See Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)

You’re trying to behave rationally, and you’re looking for a reasonable explanation and next step. The recruiter and manager should be trying to impress you — see Baiting the talent — but they are doing the opposite. They are breaking basic business rules and pretending the problem is yours.

But two can play at this, and you can play without doing anything unprofessional. First, you must decide that you are willing to walk away from the junior position at the junior salary. (If you’re desperate for a paycheck, then you know what you must do.)

What I’d do is sign the offer letter and send it back to them. But I’d cross out the salary and enter the salary you told them you wanted. Initial it. Cross out the junior title and write in the senior title you interviewed for. Initial it. Accept the position at the salary level you all discussed. Add a note that says:

“This is the job I applied for and that you interviewed me for, at the salary range we discussed. If you are prepared to sign off on the original terms as we discussed them, I am ready to start work in two weeks.”

Then let them figure it out.

My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again. However, there’s a chance that, having a solid acceptance in hand, along with a start date, from a candidate they have judged worthy of hiring, they might negotiate a reasonable salary for the job you want. You’ve written your own ticket, and it’s up to them to join you for the ride. If they decline, you’ve lost nothing (having already decided you wouldn’t accept less) and you’ve preserved your integrity and self-respect.

For more about dealing with the final stages of the interview process, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.

If they decline, write them off and move on. These are jerks of the first order and I’d never talk to them again. This is an unscrupulous recruiter who advertises a high-level, desirable job at a high salary to entice seasoned, experienced technical people like you to invest plenty of time in interviews — just so they can short-sell you on a lower-paying job that they’d prefer to fill with much more highly qualified candidates at a huge discount.

fishhookThey are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.

Many, many people in today’s job market would fall for this and rationalize that it’s the best they can do. Maybe so — but when you add in a confidence game, we’re left with a bunch of self-deprecating job seekers who let themselves be suckered. Con-men love that.

I’d be interested to know what you do and what happens. The problem, of course, is that there are desperate job hunters who will accept any job under any terms and at any pay. This employer counts on that. It’s what’s wrong with our economy today: Crooks and suckers. They create a market that can’t last. It can only go south. For more about this, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

(I mean no disrespect to job seekers who need to put food on the table and who will take any job to do so. I’d do it myself. But the economic reality is that being put in this position creates a vicious downward cycle that encourages more of the same from ruthless employers.)

There is nothing wrong with you or your expectations. If you can afford to walk away from this, I would not look back. Jerks make lousy employers. You need only one employer with integrity.

Did you ever feel pressured to accept a lousy offer for a job you never applied for? What’s the most bizarre job offer situation you’ve been in — and what did you do? Was I too tough on this reader? What would you advise?

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LinkedIn Users Sucker-Punched by Wrong References

In the November 11, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we examine yet another questionable LinkedIn “feature” that could cost you a job.


The New York Times just did a story about a group of people suing LinkedIn for selling possibly invalid references to employers. Now LinkedIn has gone too far. This is causing employers to reject job applicants, and the applicants didn’t even provide the references! What do you think of this career sucker-punch?

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the bottom line: There is zero integrity in LinkedIn’s “Trusted References” sales pitch. While LinkedIn sells employers a reference checking service, it defends against the lawsuit by saying it’s not really selling a reference checking service — it’s just selling a list of names.

And LinkedIn thereby throws its own integrity into the toilet. I don’t see how any employer could even contemplate using such a “service.” in-your-faceIt really is a sucker-punch — LinkedIn connects an employer with wrong “references” and you can’t even defend yourself.

I’ve got over 500 LinkedIn connections — most of whom I’ve never met. Some may have crossed my path at a company with thousands of employees. How irresponsible is it of LinkedIn to sell those overlaps as my
“trusted references?”

What are references?

What if I’m a food critic and I write a newspaper column that tells you a restaurant is no good? You buy the paper and avoid the restaurant. Can the restaurant sue me for loss of business? Even though money changed hands for “data,” do you really think a restaurant critic could go to jail?

I think the New York Times did a poor job covering this story, because it confuses several issues and fails to clearly point to the real problem.

Before we get into that, let’s remember that references make commerce possible. They are an important part of business. People’s opinions and judgments about us — and about products, services, brands and companies — are the coin of the realm in any economy. When smart employers hire and when good headhunters recruit, we check relevant opinions and judgments first, to make sure we know who (and what) we’re dealing with. That’s why your reputation — and any company’s reputation — is so important.

It makes no sense to suggest that checking references before hiring someone is inappropriate, or that rejecting someone for a job because of poor references is wrong. It’s due diligence. The Times seems to confuse seeking and sharing opinions with privacy. I think the lawsuit does, too.

But that’s where the controversies start. The Times doesn’t address certain questions, and I’m not going to, either, because this isn’t an analysis of references. Nonetheless, I’ll bait your confusion by posting some of the questions I think need to be answered:

  • What is a reference?
  • Who owns references?
  • How far can an employer go when checking references?
  • Can you buy a reference?
  • What does an employer pay for when using LinkedIn to check references?
  • For that matter, what do you pay for when using LinkedIn to make contacts or to get a job?
  • Are people free to ask about you and talk about you if they want?
  • What if someone decides not to do business with you based on what they learn from others?

America’s employment system has become such a jumble of promises, marketing, expectations, data and databases that everyone seems incredibly confused about what’s right, wrong, possible or legal.


I’m not a lawyer, so this is not a legal opinion or legal advice. I’m a headhunter and my comments are based on (I hope) my business sense. What others say about your professional reputation matters a lot, and it does — and should — influence whether someone wants to hire you. But, what if a fencepost is checking your references?

Reference checking requires integrity

Headhunters — like homeowners looking to hire plumbers — check opinions and judgments all the time. We’ll make discreet inquiries to find out who you are, how good you are at your work, and what you’re like to work with. If we hear something out of the ordinary — positive or negative — we must have the good sense to double- and triple-check the information before we risk our own reputations by referring you to our clients. Like good restaurant critics, we realize that opinions we gather will have consequences.

Trureferences-glassst and integrity are the hallmarks of our business — which is why I say about 95% of headhunters aren’t worth spit. Too many are in the business for a quick buck, and their own judgment stinks (to say nothing of their skills). It’s up to you — the consumer — to use your head before you rely on a headhunter, whether you’re a job seeker or an employer.

Likewise, it’s up to employers to judge what LinkedIn is selling them when it delivers lists of references. And it’s up to employers to ensure that their own in-house recruiters know how to select, check and evaluate references properly. In my opinion, 95% of in-house recruiters can’t be trusted with the task, and no one is the wiser. Worse, many employers outsource reference checking and have no idea whether the results are valid or reliable.

(See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.)

My point is, you have no idea where your references will come from or who is checking them — any more than a restaurant does. So be careful.

What did LinkedIn do?

According to the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California:

“LinkedIn has created a marketplace in consumer employment information, where it sells employment information, that may or may not be accurate, and that it has obtained in part from unwitting members, and without complying with the FCRA [Fair Credit Reporting Act].”

The problem, plaintiffs say, is that:

“any potential employer can anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based upon the information they gather, without the knowledge of the member, and without any safeguards in place as to the accuracy of the information that the potential employer has obtained.”

In other words, plaintiffs claim LinkedIn is selling information that leads employers to inappropriately rejecting people for jobs. They also suggest that there may be some violation of privacy. I asked employment lawyer Mark P. Carey about the privacy issue. He says:

“Everyone who maintains a LinkedIn account should expect that their information is public.That’s why we have these personal/professional marketing pieces. There is no privacy issue as far as I can see, especially if you signed the user agreement before gaining access to host your own page.”

But I do think LinkedIn has a problem. First, LinkedIn takes money for what it advertises as “Trusted References for Job Candidates.” In so many words, LinkedIn suggests the references an employer pays to access about you are accurate — “Trusted.” That’s where I think LinkedIn crosses the line, whether legally or with regard to its own integrity. LinkedIn cannot possibly know whether those references are trustworthy. So how can it pitch them with impunity to employers — or defend them to job seekers?

When people are rejected for jobs because of questionable references, we’ve all got a problem. LinkedIn especially.

Elsewhere in its Help section, LinkedIn says:

“A reference search locates people in your network who can provide reliable feedback about a job candidate or business prospect.”

That is, LinkedIn represents that an employer can rely on the references to justify hiring you or rejecting you. In fact, it uses those words to lure employers into buying those lists.

However, LinkedIn spokesman Joseph Roualdes tries to alter LinkedIn’s own representations when he tells the Times, “A [paid] reference search… simply lets a searcher locate people in their network who have worked at the same company during the same time period as a member they would like to learn more about.”

Suddenly, LinkedIn isn’t selling anymore. It’s covering its ass. The truth is on the web site: LinkedIn promises that the references employers are buying are “Trusted” and “reliable.”

References or just a list of names?

Here’s where I think the going gets dicey for the plaintiffs. Regardless of what LinkedIn sells and promotes — references — LinkedIn does not seem to really deliver references. It apparently delivers only a list of names. It’s up to the employer to talk to those people and ask them for references.

It seems to me that if the plaintiffs were rejected by employers due to bad references, the plaintiffs should be suing the references themselves for defamation — or the employers.

defamationLawyer Carey fleshes out the defamation issue for us:

“The real underlying issue here is whether and to what extent an act of defamation occurred… There is no legal claim there for anything, not even defamation. The article and the lawsuit dance across the fringe of privacy and defamation, without any substance. Only when a search adds content that provides a qualification uniquely driven at the particular candidate, then someone crosses the legal line of what is neutral and what is defamatory.”

But it doesn’t seem LinkedIn is “adding content.” That is, it doesn’t deliver the text of a reference, so there’s no defamatory statement.

Perhaps the employers who paid for those names have an action they can bring if the names yield inaccurate references when LinkedIn promises otherwise — but I don’t see how a job seeker could sue LinkedIn successfully because it sold names. That seems to be covered in the company’s terms and conditions.

The Times compares this suit to one against Spokeo, an online data broker which “agreed to pay $800,000 to settle accusations” that it marketed reports to recruiters and background screeners without providing consumers with protections afforded by the law.”

But LinkedIn doesn’t seem to sell reference reports about anyone. Again, I don’t see how LinkedIn can be liable for a bad reference. The data that employers rely on to make decisions did not come from LinkedIn; only names came from LinkedIn.

LinkedIn’s Customer: Fencepost, Inc.

The larger problem is that mindless employers believe ridiculous advertisements by LinkedIn that claim a list of names are “Trusted References… who can provide reliable feedback about a job candidate.”

(Remember, we’re talking about the same “professional networking” company that charges employers for lists of the best job candidates — while it sells high rankings on those lists to job applicants! We’re talking about the same employers that know this yet still pay LinkedIn to find job candidates! See LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters.)

fencepostSays the Times: “Sophisticated recruiters would not waste their time contacting people who clearly had no connection of significance to a job candidate.”

But they do, and if the New York Times is going to skate over this key fact, then it’s drawing the wrong conclusions, because most HR recruiters are fenceposts. Just ask any job seeker that deals with them. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?)

Those same recruiters stupidly waste their time interviewing candidates simply because LinkedIn represents that the “profiles” it sells are “accurate.” Is it any surprise that recruiters are suckered into making hiring decisions based on “references” that may not be accurate?

A law professor cited in the article concludes, “A company can now decide which people associated with you can be curators of your reputation in situations that matter.”

But companies have always done that. The trouble is, now there’s no need to verify that a reference is legit — that is, valid or reliable. Because LinkedIn ensures us that it is.

What’s the real problem?

LinkedIn does not sell reference reports or reference information, so I don’t think anyone can hold it liable when employers reject applicants based on comments made by a list of people LinkedIn sells.

I think the wrong plaintiffs are suing. Employers should be suing LinkedIn for its failure to take reasonable measures to ensure that the lists of references it sells are in fact “Trusted References” and that they “can provide reliable feedback about a job candidate.”

Just how stupid are recruiters who “trust” LinkedIn references? The Times reporter says the plaintiff’s lawyer showed her that recruiters have no idea what they’re buying — or whether they’re calling real references at all. The lawyer ran a “LinkedIn reference search” on the reporter:

“The search produced a list of 43 people in his network who currently work or have done work for this newspaper — including a former I.T. consultant, a freelance contributor and two former interns. I had met only four people on that reference list, and none of them had direct experience working with me.”

Just imagine: A recruiter uses LinkedIn to search his network for people who are your “Trusted References” — but the recruiter has no idea whether any of them had any direct experience working with you.

You get rejected, because someone who never worked with you provided a questionable reference. (As I pointed out, I don’t know most of my connections, thanks to LinkedIn’s marketing mission to link everyone. What if a personnel jockey gets hold of an overlapping contact and trusts it as a reference about me — and I get screwed?)

The underlying question — and concern — is, how skilled is the reference checker, and is the check done properly and with integrity?

The recruiter’s purchase of a list from LinkedIn becomes the faux justification for one potentially bad decision after another — and one unemployed LinkedIn user after another.

Have you been sucker-punched by wrong references?

LinkedIn’s “Trusted References” service is a cheap sucker-punch straight to your career and reputation. Now any personnel jockey can “check a reference” on LinkedIn without having the faintest idea what she’s doing — and you get screwed out of a job. For that reason alone, I hope LinkedIn gets its ass sued sixteen ways from Sunday. I’m not sure this suit will succeed, because I think it focuses on the wrong issues. But the legal issues are for the lawyers and the courts.

The business issue is, LinkedIn is talking out of two sides of its mouth. It markets a references service to employers, while telling the judge it’s really no such thing. And employers buy both stories.

Perhaps more to the point, since it’s consumers suing LinkedIn, those consumers need to admit that they bought into a marketing machine that uses their personal information to make money at their expense — and they agreed to the terms. When someone walks straight into a sucker-punch, it’s hard to sympathize with them.

Lots of questions remain. Whatever happens with this suit — or others that I hope it spawns — the thing that’s clear is LinkedIn’s marketing strategy: There’s a sucker born every minute, and we’re going to sell them all anything they’re willing to swallow.

Has LinkedIn’s reference service interfered with your job search, or cost you a job? How does LinkedIn’s credibility rate with you?

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