Subscribe
The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Archive for the Q&A Category

Is a 3-page resume too long?

resume

In the March 21, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks a perennial question about the resume.

Question

I have been receiving your weekly newsletter for some time and  I always appreciate your insight. What is your opinion of a three-page resume? I have been in professional positions since 1985. I find myself in job-search mode and I am having difficulties in keeping an updated resume to two pages. Thanks in advance for your time.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words.

I’ve seen good one-page resumes and I’ve seen good 20-page resumes. I think a resume should be as long as necessary to accurately communicate what an employer needs to know about you.

That doesn’t mean you should not try to keep it as concise as you can. A resume is no place to list everything about your past. Employers don’t need to know everything. All they need to know is what is exactly relevant to them. The rest is interference that can lead to rejection.

What’s a resume for?

More important, a resume is not your “marketing piece.” That pronouncement is a career-industry marketing ploy to sell you unnecessary resume services. (See How (not) to use a resume.)

Most of the time, a resume does not get you in the door. Personal communications and referrals are the best way to get in the door. Your resume should be used to fill in the blanks about your credentials after you’ve established substantive contact with a hiring manager. (Yes, I know that’s not easy. That’s why the person who works hardest and smartest at this is most likely to win the job.)

While you’re waiting for one of the many resumes you sent out to get you an interview, your competitor is meeting with the hiring manager because he was referred by someone the manager knows and trusts.

What should your resume do?

Do you know how long the average manager spends reading a resume? Six seconds.

If your resume doesn’t deliver the goods — “Why you need me to boost your profits” — quickly, you lose. See Resume Blasphemy and “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume,” pp. 23-26, in How Can I Change Careers? (This PDF book is not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to show they are the most profitable hire.) Here’s a brief excerpt from the book to get you thinking about your resume in a new, potent way:

“Give the prospective employer a free sample of what you can do. This will get the employer’s attention and it will distinguish you as a job hunter whose goal is to do the job for the employer, rather than just to get a job… You need to package the information in a way that says explicitly to a prospective employer: This is what I can do for you. Before you can deliver this job-offer-eliciting gift, you need to understand an employer’s needs. That means understanding the problems and challenges his company faces. And that can take quite a bit of research. Do it. There are no shortcuts to delivering value.”

Make your resume as long as it needs to be. Does it deliver instant answers to the questions on the manager’s mind? If you don’t know what those questions are, you’re not ready to write that resume. When you’re ready, you’ll know exactly how long it needs to be. (See Tear your resume in half.)

How long is your resume? How long is too long? More important, how do you use your resume? What’s the interview yield of the resumes you hand out?

: :

What the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters

In the March 14, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we look at what some economists at the Federal Reserve say about jobs.

federal reserveRecent reports from the Federal Reserve suggest that switching jobs — and probably employers — is the best way to boost your salary and your career.

In this special edition, we’ll explore what the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters, and why you should stay away from recruiters who waste your time with been-there-done-that jobs and lower salaries.

Are recruiters killing careers and the economy?

The best recruiters and headhunters boost employers’ productivity by finding discounted talent and up-and-coming talent to fill jobs those people may not have done before. By stimulating capable job candidates with new, motivating career challenges, insightful recruiters help create value for an employer — and boost our economy.

But untrained, inept recruiters lack insight and foresight. They don’t bother to understand an employer’s future needs or a job candidate’s untapped potential. They look for quick and easy “perfect matches” turned up by automated recruiting algorithms. These keyboard jockeys do little but process resumes whose key words match key words in job descriptions. They add no value. They kill career growth and job productivity.

Inept recruiters far outnumber good ones, and that’s killing our economy. Companies aren’t filling jobs with the best hires. But the fault lies with employers themselves, and with Human Resources executives, who buy — hook, line and sinker, and at enormous cost — the reductionist job applicant sorting systems that drive hiring today. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

New research and analysis from Federal Reserve economists reveals a problem of mismatches between workers, salaries and productivity, but fails to identify and discuss the structural cause of the problem — counter-productive recruiting.

The mad rush to fill jobs mindlessly

With the Department of Labor reporting lower unemployment and increasingly scarce talent, employers are rushing to fill jobs by relying on methods that yield staggeringly low signal-to-noise ratios.

By design, these systems actively solicit as many applicants as possible for each job. (Consider the applicant funnel ZipRecruiter, which exhorts HR managers to post a job on “one hundred-plus job sites.”) The ease with which these systems enable and encourage job seekers to apply for any job in a mindless feeding frenzy contributes to understandably low yields. Then HR managers, who fail to realize that more is not better, claim to be shocked and cry “talent shortage.”

When matches are made, they’re often undesirable to the candidate. It’s a common complaint among Ask The Headhunter readers: Employers want to hire you for a job only if you’ve done that job for three, four or five years already — and they’ll often pay you less. Even when they offer you a raise, the job is usually a lateral move. It’s not a career opportunity or a chance for you to hone new skills  — it’s just an easy database match.

This seems to be much more than a job-seeker frustration. According to economists reporting from several branches of the Federal Reserve, it may be one of the causes of inflation and lower productivity. (See Bloomberg Businessweek: Job Switchers Solve An Inflation Mystery.)

But the economists don’t attempt to explain why employers are making such short-sighted, self-defeating hiring decisions — and I think it’s because the problem is so pervasive that it’s invisible. Although job seekers have long been very vocal and angry about it, the backdrop of reductionist, rude, automated recruiting across America seems to be such a necessary evil that no one but the job seeker sees or questions it. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

The compelling need to fill jobs obscures the importance of planning to hire strategically and wisely — not just to fill round holes with round pegs quickly. American companies seem unaware of their mad rush to fill jobs mindlessly, and economists seem content to accept the prevalent recruiting infrastructure without reviewing it, simply because employers are content to keep paying for it.

This seems to be what the Fed’s economists don’t know about recruiters and the job market.

The failure is on the front line

Job seekers report wasting enormous amounts of time today fielding fruitless recruiting inquiries and participating in interviews for the wrong jobs. The question arises:

Why do employers look for perfect matches between workers and jobs?

The assumptions behind this quixotic search are incorporated into the ads that candidate vendors like Indeed, LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter run constantly:

  • Employers must hire without training anyone or allowing time for a learning curve.
  • Perfect hires are best.
  • Talent can be had at a discount.
  • Employers don’t have time to find talent on their own.
  • Every job can be posted to “a hundred-plus” job boards instantly.
  • “Big data” makes perfect hiring possible.
  • More job applicants is better.
  • And so on.

These assumptions push employers head-long into automated recruiting. But when we start questioning those assumptions, we’re left with the boots on the ground that create the biggest constraint on hiring the best talent: Inept recruiters on the front line.

When complex factors make it difficult to suss out what triggers the choices business people make, I get lazy. Though I’m not a scientist, I was trained as one, and I find that even if a problem seems complicated, it’s best to start with the law of parsimony: The simplest explanation is probably the right one.

If employers had better recruiters, they’d hire better people, increase productivity and stimulate the economy.

Yet, an employer’s first contact with an engineer, a scientist, a software developer, a machinist, an accountant — anyone the employer needs to hire — is through a person who is probably the least likely to understand qualities and characteristics that make the candidate the best one for the employer. It’s a person least likely to understand the work and the job. Except in rare, wonderful cases where employers have very good recruiters, it’s an incompetent recruiter.

Because employers believe they now have “intelligent applicant systems” at their disposal, many (I think most) dispense with highly trained and skilled recruiters. Employers on the whole have unsophisticated, untrained recruiters who quickly eliminate the best candidates because they’re rewarded for making the easy choices, not the best ones.

The Federal Reserve connects the dots between talent, pay and productivity

Bet you’ve been waiting to see how the Fed fits into this. Let’s dive in.

The job boards say employers can hire the best talent for less money because their databases are bottomless and the perfect candidate is in there, if you just keep looking.

But the Federal Reserve says higher productivity coupled with better career opportunities and higher salaries is better for everyone — and for the economy.

Consider the ambitious little Bloomberg Businessweek article referenced earlier, Job Switchers Solve An Inflation Mystery, that deftly puts the jobs puzzle together:

“Labor economists… are increasingly studying how job-hopping Americans drive compensation gains and affect the traditional interplay of low unemployment, wage gains, and inflation.”

It turns out those economists are now focused on what we already know: The surest way to get a big salary boost is to change employers and stretch yourself.

Consider this handful of factoids and data cited by Bloomberg, from economists at the Chicago Fed, the Atlanta Fed, the New York Fed, and the St. Louis Fed:

  • “23 percent of employees are actively looking for another job on any given week, putting in four or five applications over a four-week period.”
  • “Employers are poaching workers, as 27 percent of offers to the employed are unsolicited.”
  • “Job switchers earned 4.3 percent more money in July 2016 than a year earlier, while people who remained in the same job enjoyed only a 3 percent increase.”
  • “The so-called quit rate, a favorite indicator of [Fed Chair Janet] Yellen that measures voluntary separations from an employer… has almost recovered to levels seen before the recession of 2007-2009.”
  • “Job-to-job changes and the threat of job-to-job mobility are strongly predictive of wage increases.”
  • “Job switching is ‘a good sign for the economy’ and ‘an indication of dynamism,’ according to the [Atlanta] Fed’s [President Dennis] Lockhart.”

And note this nugget of gold in the Bloomberg story:

“While [St. Louis Fed economist David] Wiczer said that the bulk of wage hikes occur from job switching, he cautioned that the gains are highly cyclical, as the median job switcher didn’t reap much of a salary increase during recessions.”

What this means to you: With the economy shifting from recession to inflation, your best bet to make more money today is to switch jobs. I’ll stick my neck out and say that my reading of the Fed analysis — and my own experience and reports from Ask Headhunter readers — is that that you also need to switch employers if you want that dramatic pay increase.

But you can and should optimize that bet by making sure the next job you take also enables you to be more productive. Of course, recruiters sabotage that objective almost daily when they solicit you for jobs that would set your career back five or ten years.

Warning! Warning!

We already know that most recruiters love to stick you into a “new” job that’s not new at all. They don’t get paid to give you a chance at career development — or to help a manager hire for the future. They offer the same job you’ve been doing because you’re the least risky choice for them.

They pluck you from thousands of job applicants only when their database algorithms show that you’re already doing the exact job they’re trying to fill. There’s no need to train you. You will require no learning curve. You are the safest bet and, if you’re unemployed, the recruiter knows he can probably nab your desperate ass for less than you were earning at your last job because you need a job.

But that recruiter is dangerously naïve. The “perfect match” won’t increase productivity because you’re being plugged into the same job you were doing elsewhere, and your motivation is going to plummet along with your value.

Even if the new job pays more than your last one, this is a huge red flag for employers, warns Giuseppe Moscarini, a visiting scholar from Yale at the Philadelphia Fed:

“What we should worry about are wage raises for workers who stay on the same job and are not getting more productive.” [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Whether the “same job” is at the same employer or a new one, Moscarini suggests wage inflation without higher productivity seems to fuel inflation in the economy.

Recruiter failure

I don’t think employers or economists see the razor that’s cutting into productivity and economic growth. But it should be clear to any Ask The Headhunter reader.

It’s the recruiters.

Most recruiters look for an exact match of a resume to a list of key words in a job description. They’re not assessing job candidates to find value a competitor missed or the value an employer can leverage into higher productivity and profit over time. They tell managers to interview any candidates the automated recruiting system flashes on their displays.

Recruiters, who are an employer’s front line in the talent war, are generally not equipped to do their own jobs. They’re doomed to fail because they’re not really recruiting. They’re checking boxes on a database app. The result is hires that are less than optimally productive.

Job Seekers: Follow the money!

The Fed economists are offering job seekers and career-oriented workers a gift of tremendous insight, even if it seems obvious: Your smartest career move may be to switch jobs and employers.

Pursue only jobs that offer you substantially more money and require you to stretch your skills and capabilities — that is, to do more productive work that’s more profitable for you.

That strategy, they also suggest, may be best for employers and for the economy.

Smart workers don’t change jobs or employers without an opportunity to learn and develop new skills, to take on greater responsibility or authority, to stretch themselves — and to make more money. Those who accept been-there-done-that jobs do it reluctantly or because they feel they have no choice, especially if they’re unemployed.

The Fed tells us not only that lots (23%) of employees are actively looking for new jobs, but that competitors are trying to steal them away. Done for the right reasons and for the right opportunities, switching jobs and companies can pay off big. Employers give people who switch 40% higher raises than they give to people who stay where they are (4.3% vs. 3%).

So, follow the money. When a recruiter pitches you a re-run job for little or no extra money, suggest he go find a job he’s better at — because he’s not helping you or the employer. He could be killing your career and the economy. Has anyone told that to the Fed’s economists?

Did you get a better raise for staying in your job, or for switching out? What was the percentage? Did a recruiter move you into another same-old job, or help you advance your career? What’s your take on the Fed’s findings and conclusions?

: :

 

The only 2 reasons to tell recruiters your salary

In the March 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions advice about divulging salary information to recruiters.

Question

recruitersI have your book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, about how to avoid telling an employer your salary history. I agree: Disclosing salary hurts your ability to negotiate the best job offer.

But now HR expert Liz Ryan asks, Should you tell a recruiter your salary? (Recruiters Don’t Need Your Salary History — But Here’s Why They Want It.)

She says absolutely not, and hundreds of people have posted their comments. Can we hear from another HR expert? I want to know what you say. Is telling a recruiter your salary different from telling an employer?

Nick’s Reply

I’m not an HR expert and I’ve never worked in HR — perish the thought. I always worked on the outside as an independent headhunter. According to Liz Ryan’s LinkedIn profile, her experience is in HR, not in independent recruiting or headhunting. That might explain our difference of opinion.

I don’t think you should ever disclose your salary history to any employer. (See Should I disclose my salary history?) But that’s not what Ryan’s column is about. What she is recommending is a dangerous whitewash of a more complicated issue. She’s saying you should never disclose your salary to a recruiter or headhunter.

2 kinds of recruiters

Let’s be clear on one thing, because it’s important. When she says don’t tell a recruiter your salary, Ryan is referring to a third party recruiter, or a headhunter — not a recruiter working in the employer’s HR department. (When you disclose to an employer’s recruiter, you’re disclosing to the employer.)

The recruiter she’s talking about will earn a fee if you are hired, and also stands to gain tremendously if you’re happy with your job offer and new job. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, to avoid confusion here, when we’re talking about an independent, third-party recruiter, we’ll call that a headhunter. A happy, newly placed candidate refers more great candidates that are worth a lot of money to a good headhunter.

Ryan is wrong because a headhunter’s motivation is very different from an employer’s. A good headhunter can use your salary history to help you, not hurt you, in part because the headhunter wants valuable referrals from you after you accept a new job she’s helped you land.

Employers and headhunters have different motives

Never tell an employer your old salary because he’ll use it to cap any offer he makes to you. In other words, your old salary becomes what’s known in behavioral economics as an anchor. It pulls down the job offer. (If your old salary is higher than the employer hopes to pay, you might be rejected outright, but that’s another discussion. Please see How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?)

A headhunter actually earns a higher fee when your job offer is higher, so she’s motivated to get you the best offer possible without jeopardizing an offer altogether.

There’s no good reason to give employers — or their recruiters — your salary history.

But the only good reason to tell a headhunter your old salary is if it’s going to help you get a higher job offer.

And that’s where Ryan blows it while she bangs the drum to say no. She’s confusing motives, and that’s naïve. There’s more to it.

When to tell a headhunter your salary

testHere are my two rules about salary disclosure:

  1. If it’s an employer asking — the hiring manager, the HR manager, the HR recruiter, or the company’s online application form — do not disclose your salary, ever.
  1. If it’s a headhunter or third party recruiter, disclose your salary only if:
    (a) The headhunter agrees not to disclose it to the employer without your express permission. No exceptions.
    (b) The headhunter explains how she’s going to use the information for your benefit — and the reason had better be good.

If the headhunter can’t pass tests (a) and (b), don’t tell.

A good headhunter’s obligations

While a headhunter is paid by the employer and thus has a fiduciary duty to get the best deal for the client, the headhunter is also beholden to you if she wants introductions to more good candidates — and a sterling reputation in the professional community she recruits in.

So a good headhunter will not use your salary history to low-ball your job offer for the benefit of her client. If you think she’s going to do that, then walk away immediately — because that’s not a headhunter you want playing middle-(wo)man for you with any employer. (See How to Judge A Headhunter.)

When Ryan says not to disclose salary to a recruiter, what she should be saying is, Walk away from any headhunter you’re not sure you trust.

And that means most headhunters that solicit you — because they’re not headhunters. They’re unsavory spammers and telemarketers dialing for dollars. They’ll never do a good job for you. Work only with the best, or don’t work with a headhunter at all. Satisfy yourself that the headhunter is going to optimize your job offer — and, more important, get you in front of the right manager for the right job. Those are the headhunter’s obligations to you.

Now let’s discuss what Ryan avoids.

Why disclose your salary to a headhunter?

What legitimate reasons could a good headhunter possibly have for wanting to know your salary? If it’s me, I want to understand how your career growth and salary growth reflect one another so I can make a good placement — for you and for the client paying my fee.

  • Do I think you’re over-paid? Under-paid?
  • Do I think you’re squandering your abilities for too little money?
  • Is your salary expectation unreasonably anchored by your current salary?
  • How does that affect how you behave in interviews?

I’d rather discuss these questions with you before you talk with my client, because it could affect how I advise you to interview and negotiate.

Maybe you’re on the wrong career trajectory. You might be earning at the top of the range for, say, a digital design engineer. If you want to be an R&D engineer, you may have to take a step back in salary to shift to the new career direction. I want to prepare you for that. I don’t want you to get sticker shock after you’ve invested your time in interviews with my client.

If you don’t trust a headhunter like you’d trust a doctor when sharing your personal information, then don’t work with that headhunter. If a headhunter isn’t discussing these questions with you, run.

The 92% salary increase

I’ll give you an example of when it pays to tell a headhunter your salary. I recruited a candidate who was earning $40,000. I helped him get a 92% salary increase.

He was hoping to get a 10% salary bump. After a lot of assessment including talking with his references and having him talk with an industry expert whose opinion I respected, I knew he’d be great for a very different kind of job with my client.

If I hadn’t asked for his salary history, he’d have blown the interview, because the job paid over $70,000. His jaw would have dropped if this came up in the meeting with my client, and he’d have betrayed his old salary if only in his body language. My client never would have offered what he was worth. I’d have had no idea, if I didn’t know the candidate’s salary.

We had a long talk about how to behave while discussing a job that would almost double his salary. Based on the candidate’s aptitude, I negotiated a $77,000 job offer. My client never batted an eye, and never learned what its new hire had been earning. The candidate and his wife were able to buy their first house. I earned a nice fee — and several great referrals. The new hire performed so well that I got more search assignments.

I asked for, and got, the candidate’s salary history — but I never disclosed it. I used it to coach him properly so he could get a better deal.

If you’re not satisfied a headhunter is going to work that way with you, hang up the phone or delete her e-mail.

Liz Ryan is wrong

A headhunter is not an employer. Different rules apply when a job seeker deals with a headhunter. It’s up to you to understand the differences. That’s why I wrote a 130-page book about How to Work with Headhunters, and how to make headhunters work for you. What I just explained is in the book.

Liz Ryan sometimes offers good advice. This time Liz is wrong. She sounds right because she’s being contrarian, but she’s whitewashing a question that requires more insight and discussion.

Her advice to not disclose your salary is reasonable only if you’re dealing with a questionable or unsavory headhunter or recruiter — but in that case, you shouldn’t be working with that recruiter anyway! Just as there are lots of lousy HR people who will waste your time, there are loads of unsavory headhunters. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?)

Know when to say yes

If you’ve properly vetted the headhunter, and the headhunter gives you satisfactory answers to the two tests I posed above, you might gain a lot by letting the headhunter know your salary history so she can assess and coach you properly. Make sure the headhunter will:

  • Keep your salary information confidential — that is, won’t disclose it to the employer — and,
  • Use the information to your advantage.

A good headhunter stands to make a lot of money by helping you get the right job for the best possible salary. And the headhunter’s client never needs to know your old salary. But it’s up to you to draw a line in the sand. Don’t be afraid to say no — and know when to say yes.

9 tips for dealing with recruiters and headhunters

If you don’t know how to separate good headhunters from unsavory ones, check the nine tips in The truth about headhunters.

Do you tell recruiters your salary? Why? If you’re not sure why, then don’t do it. How do you handle headhunters and employers’ own recruiters? How do you keep control of being recruited?

: :

WANTED: Top talent to work for dog food

In the February 28, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the talent (a nurse) would rather walk dogs than work for kibbles and bits.

talent foodQuestion

There’s no skills shortage, no matter what anybody says. If there’s a shortage why am I working as a waitress making more than I could nursing, which I’m certified in? I have a college degree, because I was told it was necessary in today’s market to compete. One interview after another is a waste of time. HR tells me I “look good” and to expect a call. And the permanent and contract offers I’ve gotten — I could walk dogs and make more. There’s so much talent that hospitals just wait for somebody who will work for peanuts. And they are rude. Does anybody want to hire an experienced RN for a living wage?

Nick’s Reply

Two reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts issued late last year tell us a lot about the problems you’re describing — but you’re not going to like what they say:

Imperfect candidates need not apply

A lot of healthcare facilities need experienced RNs (registered nurses) and require degrees. But they don’t want to pay for your degree and experience. I suggest you send a few quotes from Pew to your legislators.

“Hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies and doctor’s offices, like a lot of employers across the country, have a specific resume in mind. Employers often want new hires to have experience in a specialty such as operating room nursing.”

They’re looking for perfect candidates. (See The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge.) The problem is clear: Employers don’t want to invest in training, on-the-job experience and development, or in a learning curve. They want someone who’s been doing the exact job for three years already. The question is, why would someone like that change jobs just to get the exact same job?

Where are competitive wages?

Pew offers a suggestion that healthcare administrators should be spanked for pretending not to understand:

“A long-term solution for the nursing workforce also would have to resolve critical pay issues, including whether Medicare and Medicaid fee schedules support competitive wages, and figure out how to make sure nurses don’t get burned out and quit.”

Pew also addresses another common problem:.

“Employers also have a retention problem. Being a nurse is demanding, and new nurses, like new teachers, are particularly likely to leave their jobs: About 20 percent of new nurses quit within a year, according to a 2014 study.”

Duhhh… Do you think it has something to do with the fact that you can make more money waiting tables at a good restaurant? (For tips about negotiating a job offer upwards if you manage to get an offer at all, see Negotiate Even The Worst Job Offers: Say Yes, IF.)

Meatball management

This is not a problem just in healthcare. The Pew reports cover all kinds of jobs, and reveal that employers across industries are eyeing talent they want but refuse to pay for it.

“To [the head of Minnesota’s Labor Market Information Office] … the focus on work experience suggested that employers were being too picky. They wanted to hire someone who could be fully productive on day one. But at the same time they weren’t willing or able to pay enough to attract that perfect candidate.”

There’s that problem again: Cheapskate employers.

An accounting manager told me last week that his company — whose business and profits are “growing like gangbusters” — has a customer support staff of seven. “We really need 15 just to support the customers we already have,” he complained. “But it’s impossible to find qualified people.” I asked what the job pays. “$7.50 an hour,” he answered. “Our turnover is over 20%. It’s terrible.”

No kidding.

Pew suggests businesses’ eyes are bigger than their budgets. But it seems the real problem is a kind of cognitive deficit in the ranks of management.

“It’s worth noting that employers can’t always diagnose their own problems. Only 22 percent of employers surveyed by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services last year named low wages as a hiring problem, but 68 percent of those employers were offering below average wages.”

Someone is thinking steak, while budgeting for meatballs.

“We want college degrees we don’t need!”

Then there’s the claim employers make that today’s workforce just isn’t well-educated. Or, is it possible that employers want more education than jobs require?

Pew hits the nail on the head again:

“The overwhelming majority of open production jobs across south central Minnesota don’t require a college degree, in fact. Nor do almost two-thirds of openings statewide.”

Yet employers ask for a degree — just because they can. It used to be a nurse needed only a certification to get a job in a hospital. It seems now hospitals want education they don’t need — but aren’t willing to pay for.

Reports Pew:

“In New York, for instance, there are more licensed RNs in the state than there are jobs for them. So employers are raising the bar, saying, ‘Hey, if I can get a [nurse with a] bachelor’s degree, why not?’ said Jean Moore, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany.”

WANTED: Top Talent Cheap!

So there you have it. The Pew Charitable Trusts suggest employers are the problem, not nurses, or anyone else. While more training and education can certainly be beneficial to anyone who wants to excel in their line of work, it seems employers think training, education, and talent shouldn’t cost much to hire.

I wish I could give you an answer to your problem. And I wish the Pew reports covered the other elephant in the room — recruiting tools used by employers that make it easier to reject good applicants than to hire them. For more about that, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

Meanwhile, what are we going to do about cheap employers?

Is there a talent shortage, or a shortage of good pay for good workers? Are modern, automated recruiting systems the solution, or do they just make it easier for employers to reject imperfect job applicants who won’t work for peanuts?

: :

Recruiters: Raise your standards or get out

In the February 21, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to test recruiters, and hangs up on them.

Question

recruitersI keep getting random e-mails from recruiters. I have finally hit the breaking point and now I have a new response: “Thank you for your interest. I am not searching at this time. In addition, I work only with hiring managers, never a recruiter.”

Am I being arrogant or even cocky? I mean, people are writing to me about jobs where I do not see a good fit. I have only worked with one good headhunting firm, but they usually only deal with positions 2,000 miles away from me. (They placed me twice when I lived near them and I did very well in both positions.)

On one hand, I don’t want to burn bridges, but on the other hand, as a 51-year-old engineer who plans to continue working for as long as I can, the positions I look for are not going to be listed on monster.com — they are going to come about through people I know. I want to know what you think. Is there a good way to test recruiters?

Nick’s Reply

You’ve given me an opportunity to say something to recruiters, also known as headhunters. I’ve wanted to say it a long time: Raise your standards, or get out of the business. The rest of us are sick of you.

But first let’s get to your problem with recruiters.

If they’re e-mailing you about the wrong jobs, they’re not recruiting you. It’s called spam and it’s generated by software. That’s the first way to test recruiters. (See Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!)

A good headhunter knows how to contact you properly, how to get your attention honestly, and what kinds of jobs to bring to you. You would be worth tens of thousands of dollars to a headhunter. Why would he trust an e-mail? Good headhunters call you — they don’t e-mail. That’s the second test.

The rest of those “recruiters” are finding your name or profile on LinkedIn, running a key word match, and pushing a button — or using an app — to send the same mail to thousands of people. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.) I wouldn’t be afraid of alienating recruiters who don’t even know who you are! If they knew you, they wouldn’t waste your time, as you’ve already noted:

“the positions I look for are not going to be listed on monster.com — they are going to come about through people I know.”

Test recruiters

So here’s the most important test. When a “recruiting” mail or call comes in, do you know the person? No?

BAM. Delete or hang up. It’s a blind solicitation. When the Publisher’s Clearinghouse is ready to give you a prize, they come to your door with a check. They don’t e-mail you.

In fact, that’s a very good analogy. Consider this warning from The Balance about scams purporting to be the Publisher’s Clearinghouse contest:

“Although PCH’s sweepstakes are legitimate, you still need to be very cautious if you receive a prize notification from PCH. Like other big companies (including Reader’s Digest, Heineken, and more), scammers try to seem more legitimate by sending letters or e-mails that claim to come from Publishers Clearing House. These scams can look official, but they are not backed by PCH.”

In the recruiting world, you must ask yourself, “Is this recruiter backed by a real employer?” That is, does the recruiter have a contract to fill jobs for an employer? If you don’t know, or don’t ask for proof, then you’re either wasting your time or being scammed. Most recruiters are not for real because they’re not really recruiting for an employer. If they find a willing candidate with good credentials, they will then shop you to thousands of employers like they shopped a job description to thousands of e-mail addresses.

I think you get it. You don’t need my permission to delete junk mail. (See How to judge a headhunter.)

If a solicitation intrigues you, here’s how to test recruiters you don’t know.

How to Say It

“Who is the employer?”

If they won’t tell you, I’d hang up. Don’t bother with excuses about how it’s confidential. Either the recruiter wants to do business or doesn’t.

“Are you employed in the HR department of the employer whose job you’re trying to fill? Or, are you a third party?”

If they’re a third party — that is, an independent recruiter, headhunter or search firm — that’s not a bad thing. But you need to know whether they’re legit. And there’s just one way to determine that:

“Can you give me proof you are authorized to recruit for the employer?”

That’s right: Make them prove they recruit for the employer. How? I’ll tell you in a minute. A legit recruiter can prove it, and you’ll know when the proof is presented to you.

You’re not the only Ask The Headhunter reader who complains they’re fed up with jerks pretending to be recruiters. I hope that helps. 51-year-old engineers are pretty smart. Trust your judgment.

Recruiters: Raise your game

Now let’s get back to what I really want to talk about, thanks to a reader who’s brought up the problem. And it’s a huge problem. Employers, job boards, ATS vendors, the HR profession, LinkedIn, Indeed — the entire bloated employment system turns a blind eye and tacitly ignores this problem for the sake of making money:

Most recruiters suck.

If you’re a typical recruiter, I’m sure you’d like to smack me upside the head for the advice I just gave the reader who asked this week’s question. You’ll argue that you can’t just disclose the identity of all your clients when you’re recruiting — not until you’re sure the candidate is right for the job. You’ll argue that there’s no documentation you can show the person you’re calling, to prove you’re authorized to recruit for the employer.

Bunk.

Do you suck?

If you’re a good recruiter or headhunter, you know what a mess the employment system is. You know you face staggering competition from unsavory recruiters who pollute the pond you’re trying to work in — recruiters who suck. So it’s up to you to raise the standard of conduct when you solicit people for jobs.

Show them you stand out:

  • Be ready to disclose what company you’re recruiting for.
    Sound risky? Figure it out because if you don’t, it’s going to cost you business. People are fed up with a corrupt, smelly recruiting industry. Rise above it. Be the recruiter who answers the question, because the candidate needs to know.
  • Be ready to show proof you recruit for the employer.
    Yep, I know this is a new idea. Adopt it. You don’t need to show anyone the recruiting contract you have with the employer. That’s confidential. But get a letter from your client that states you’re authorized and under contract to recruit for them — and arrange a confirming call with your client if necessary. Or, consider yourself no better than the scum who are competing with you, dialing for dollars, wasting talented people’s time.
  • You say you don’t want to disclose who your client is…
    …until you’re sure the candidate is worthwhile? Then you’re not doing your job. Your job is to check people out before you contact them. If they’re not worth disclosing your client’s name, then they’re not worth calling. Do the hard part of your job first — vet people before you expect them to invest their time with you. It’ll raise your game.

If the best recruiters and headhunters raised the standard of recruiting on just those three points, the whole system would change for the better. Seasoned, desirable engineers and other professionals like the one who submitted this week’s question would be a lot easier to work with with because they’d be able to trust the person calling them. But that trust has to be earned. Otherwise, you’re just a spammer and the person you’re contacting should delete your e-mail or hang up. Get out of the business!

If you’re a good recruiter, how do you make it easy for people to know that? If you’re getting calls from recruiters, how do you test them? What other sound, reasonable rules of conduct would you like to see recruiters obey?

: :

Topgrading: Employers looking for liars

In the February 14, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader discovers topgrading and the A, B, Cs of hiring.

Question

As an employer and interviewer I’ve been reading about topgrading and would appreciate your thoughts and expertise on this topic.

  • How familiar are you with it?
  • Have you performed many topgrading interviews?
  • Have you seen many companies using it? How well did it work for them?
  • Do you know any topgrading experts I could connect with and learn from?

topgradingNick’s Reply

I don’t have to drink cynicism to know it’ll poison me. And I think topgrading is as cynical a way to assess job applicants as any job-interview tool you’ll encounter.

Topgrading was invented as a selection technique by Brad Smart at General Electric, during the tenure of “Neutron Jack” Welch, the CEO who invented stacked ranking of GE employees. It’s hard to tell which idea was the parent and which the evil spawn.

Also known as “rank and yank” and “forced ranking,” stacked ranking  was how Welch routinely got rid of 10% of his workforce. Managers were forced to rank all employees and to fire the bottom 10% — supposedly the weakest ones. As you can imagine, a team of top workers runs paranoid when everyone knows 10% will be cut regardless of how productive they are.

In other quarters, the practice is known as an HR Witch Hunt.

Topgrading is really nothing more than stacked ranking applied before hiring.

I’ve never performed a topgrading interview because I want to go to heaven. And I don’t have clients that use it because I wouldn’t subject my job candidates to it. If you want to find a topgrading expert, you’re on your own.

What is topgrading?

It’s worth understanding what topgrading is, especially if you’re going to be subjected to it when you’re applying for a job.

Like stacked ranking, it assumes that there are three kinds of workers. A people, who are worth keeping or hiring. B people, who aren’t. And C people, who have a kind of corporate leprosy or pellagra and will infect your A people if you let them in the door. (Don’t worry, there’s a way to keep them out — we’ll get to it.)

If you view the world as A, B and C people, you have no business in business. You’re a cynic who likes everything neatly labeled, and who likes things that don’t change.

The other big idea in topgrading is that you can figure out who’s an A, a B, and a C. Of course — here it comes — you can pay Topgrading, Inc. to learn how to separate the As from the Bs and Cs. The company claims its sorting method yields 75% A hires.

If you believe that, you probably have a stockbroker whose stock picking method delivers 75% winning investments. Which means you lost all your money to Bernie Madoff.

You might well ask, if Topgrading delivers 75% A hires, why isn’t every company using it? You might well ask.

A bad attitude

Ranking people to identify who will and won’t succeed isn’t so much a mistaken idea as it is a bad attitude.

Topgrading is based on a cynical premise — that candidates lie in job interviews. That’s a hoot coming from the guys who invented it — interviewers from GE who fooled loads of companies into using stacked ranking.

I’m not a fan of tricky interview methods. It would be interesting to see a corresponding methodology that attempts to identify employers who lie in interviews, and when they’re recruiting.

Consider what Topgrading, Inc. says to managers who’d like help hiring more effectively:

  • “there’s no verifying if candidates tell you the truth”
  • “Topgraders hire A players most of the time using because they use the ‘truth serum’ technique”
  • “It is an inexpensive tool that scares away low performers”

It sounds like a panacea for managers who believe most job applicants — non-A people — are liars that need to be scared away. Perhaps an effective sorting technique for companies is to look at which managers want to use topgrading, and fire them to get rid of the cynics.

The big idea

There’s just one big idea in topgrading: a technique used to expose all the liars who apply for a job.

Topgrading, Inc. calls this big idea “Threat of Reference Check” or TORC. It’s simple. You threaten all job applicants with reference checks before you even let them in the door. Here’s how they explain it:

“Because candidates know they will arrange reference calls, they tell the whole truth. And finally, you verify everything by talking with bosses (and others YOU choose); there is no phone tag because candidates arrange those calls.”

Get it? This threat “scares away low performers.”

An HR exec unloads on topgrading

Mike Smith is an HR executive in the San Francisco Bay Area who produces a blog called Back West. He rips the heart out of topgrading in Talent Wars: The “A” Player Hoax.

Smith says topgrading is a lie, and cites “performance research wonks” whose work suggests topgrading is simplistic:

“The prevarication that success comes to companies that systematically hire and develop only ‘A’ players is twofold:

  • “One, that talent is innate and that you really can’t do much to develop the 65% of your workforce that are “C” players, and
  • “Two, that filling your roster with all stars – and forgetting about things like right role, right culture, right boss and workgroup – is the simple (although it’s simplistic) fix.

Smith offers this caution to gullible employers: “Performance, both with individuals and organizations, just doesn’t work that way.”

The stack crashes

I think the best evidence that topgrading is crap lies in the highly publicized crash of Neutron Jack’s stacked ranking.

In 2014 The Wall Street Journal declared, “It’s Official: Force Ranking Is Dead.” The HR blog, Namely, tells how GE settled a $500 million lawsuit alleging forced ranking was biased against women. Yahoo! got sued over a claim that forced ranking was rigged — against men. In 2015, The Atlantic ran story about How Millennials Forced GE to Scrap Performance Reviews.

It turns out you can’t invest your money using a special method that ensures 75% of the time you’re going to win. And you can’t ensure 75% of your hires will be A people because, well, there’s no such thing as A, B and C people — or a way to separate them into bins.

Topgrading ranks right up there with Jack Welch’s two-dimensional vision of how to manage people — “rank and yank.”

There are far better, more direct ways to assess job candidates. For example, invite them into live, working meetings of your team, and watch how they behave and perform. (See Big Data, Big Problems for Job Seekers?)

Run

The prevalence of indirect job candidate assessment methods like stacked ranking and topgrading has led management in America off a cliff. Perhaps it’s because managers expect just-in-time, perfect hires. They have no idea how to develop and invest in their employees. If they did, they’d know how to find them and interview them, too. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.) If managers were looking for talent, they wouldn’t be using techniques that focus on finding liars.

If you’re a job seeker, and a company tells you it does uses topgrading interviews, I think that should tip you off to find out whether management also practices stacked ranking — openly or surreptitiously. If it does, my advice is, Run. It’s not healthy to work for cynics. Find an employer that respects you. (See Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants, Part 1.)

Have you been topgraded, sliced, diced and cut from the list? Ever been stack ranked, yanked and jerked around? Ever interview with a company that assumes you’re a liar? If you think tograding is a great idea, tell us the A, B, Cs of how it works for you.

: :

Why employers should make higher job offers

In the February 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader marvels at employers who discount job offers to save money.

Question

job offersI worked as an intern while in college, and after graduation they offered me a job. It was my first experience negotiating higher job offers. I discussed my proven performance and gave examples that demonstrated my value. The employer granted me the higher salary.

My advice to others is to capitalize on your value and have the courage to negotiate for what you think you’re worth. Of course, your value may not be viewed as high as you think. That’s okay. Just weigh the pros and cons of the position along with your needs and make a decision. Either way, keep in mind, it’s up to you.

But here’s what’s interesting. After I accepted the position, I went back to the hiring manager and asked why he offered a lower salary to begin with. He responded, “If you had accepted the lower salary, I would have saved $3,000 a year.” What do you think of that?

Nick’s Reply

It’s astonishing is how casually the hiring manager responded that he’d save money if you had accepted a lower job offer. On its face, that might seem like simple market economics. But there’s a profound fallacy underpinning the manager’s behavior.

Salary is not an expense to a company, though that’s how accountants portray it, and everyone accepts that. What a company pays you is an investment. And that’s not semantics. A company buys a piece of equipment as an investment against an expected return — and capitalizes it. An employee is capital, too — the employer expects an ROI (return on investment). The fallacy is that an employer can save its way to higher returns by making lower job offers.

Of course, with machines or people we want to pay less to maximize our ROI. But neither is simply an expense.

The value of higher job offers

All my life as a headhunter I’ve encouraged my clients to offer a desirable job candidate more than the candidate asks for or expects. The reason is simple.

Unlike machines, people perform better when motivated. So, when a candidate expects $75,000, offering the candidate a totally unexpected $78,000 triggers an incredibly valuable response: enthusiasm and motivation. Even gratitude. For an extra 4% investment, the employer will likely get far more than a 4% higher return.

However, when they offer less, I think employers suffer with a far lower ROI than the salary savings might suggest. (Maybe you’ll argue with me; that’s what the comments section below is for.)

Managers like your new boss may think they’re being rational by offering less to save money. They’re missing an opportunity to get a higher return. Salary isn’t an expense. It’s an investment. Done right, investing more returns more.

(See Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.)

Why employers hire

Remember: We’re saying the employer really wants to get that very desirable candidate on board. (What other kind of candidate would the employer hire?) So why not maximize both the chances the candidate will accept the job and the potential return by making a higher job offer to prove it?

Nobody ever worked harder or more enthusiastically because a company low-balled them.

But I don’t want to skip over the reality. I parenthetically asked what other kind of candidate an employer would hire, if not a very desirable one. I think much of the time employers hire like they’re checking off boxes and plugging holes in leaky companies. They aren’t thinking about boosting the bottom line by making a really good hire.

And that’s why they see no value in higher job offers, but are proud of saving money when candidates accept lower offers.

In my book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps: How to say NO when employers demand your salary history, to make them say YES to higher job offers, I quote an HR manager who sent me an astonishing complaint about my advice that job seekers should never disclose their salary history. She said:

“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000. The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.”

Many managers don’t hire to make more money for their companies. They hire to save money for their companies by using less of the hiring budget. As if the purpose of the hiring budget was to save it!

I believe treating salary as an expense makes it far easier to hire and fill jobs. If the outcome of hiring and filling jobs were measured on ROI, most HR managers and hiring managers would be fired.

I wonder how many CEOs and boards of directors realize their accountants and HR departments are saving their way to higher profits!

Nice work!

I realize your main point is that you succeeded in getting a higher offer not by just asking for it, but by demonstrating your higher value. Nice work! (See The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer.) Your story delivers a valuable lesson to others.

But I was tickled by your new boss’s suggestion that if he’d paid you less he’d have saved money. My guess is you’ll work harder than the extra three grand cost him — and he’ll make more money.

Am I nuts?

Why should anyone pay a job candidate more than they ask or expect? Is a candidate really more likely to accept a slightly higher offer? Will a bit more money motivate better work? I can’t prove it objectively, but I think yes.

What do you think? Does that little boost in an expected job offer pay off? Is salary an expense or an investment? Has an employer made you a bigger offer than you requested or expected? Did that make you more productive?

: :

Can’t negotiate a higher salary? Ask for more money.

In the January 31, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader can’t negotiate a higher job salary — but learns how to get more money.

Question

I rejected three job offers from three companies because none of them would budge on the salary. With unemployment dropping, the labor force is tighter, and employers say they can’t get good hires. It’s obvious why. They won’t pay enough! There must be a way to negotiate more money in a market like this. You must know some tricks. What can I do next time?

salaryNick’s Reply

You’ve answered your own question. When you can’t negotiate a higher salary in the job offer, ask for more money!

HR departments act like salaries are still set in stone while, as you point out, HR also says unemployment is at record lows. We can debate how big the unemployment number really is — loads of talented people are still on the street and many have dropped out of the market altogether, making it seem like everyone who wants to work is already working. (Jobs plentiful! Pay is up! But, how are you doing?) But forget all that. What matters here is HR. And HR says the talent market is very tight.

Nonetheless, HR in many companies won’t shake money loose to boost salaries so it can hire who it needs. That’s how you can leverage more money.

When the salary offer is on the table

When a company makes you a job offer and won’t budge if you try to negotiate higher, you need to understand what makes HR tick. Someone somewhere in the company created a salary scale for every job. Forget what the job is actually worth in the market — probably a lot more, and in time, we might see these salary scales adjust to reality. For now, many companies are stuck. They’re just not going to offer you more salary than the scale permits.

So don’t ask for more salary. Ask for more money. You should do this only under three conditions:

  • The employer has already made a specific salary offer and will not budge when you try to negotiate.
  • You really like and want this job.
  • You’re really going to walk away from the job offer if the employer won’t give you more money.

That last item is key. Really being ready to walk away actually makes you a very powerful negotiator. It frees you to be creative. (So does positioning yourself properly to begin with. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Be The Profitable Hire.)

Give the employer what it wants

Try this.

How to Say It
“I understand that you won’t raise the salary for this job, and I accept that. But I know I’m worth more, and I can get it elsewhere. But I want to work here, with you, at this job. We’re at an impasse, but I think we can get over it while respecting both our positions.”

Now do something that will give you a huge edge in this negotiation. Give the employer what it wants. That’s right: Accept the job.

How to Say It
“The main thing I want to say is, I want to come work for you — and I accept the job.”

Then pause and say nothing.

What job seekers don’t realize is that every employer that wants to hire you is worried you’re going to reject the job. It’s worried you don’t really want the job, you’re not sure you want to work at the company, you’re not sure about the manager, maybe you don’t like the work space, the building, the people… The employer has no idea how to convince you. Every employer that wants to hire you is worried you’re going to say no.

So say it out loud. Make the commitment and put the company’s worries to rest. Tell them you accept the job.

Negotiate the terms

Whatever their response, say this next:

How to Say It
“I’m ready to start work. As long as we can come to agreement on the terms.”

Now, don’t try this if you are at all hesitant about anything other than the money. You must be ready to show up at this place to work for this manager, with these people, doing this job. You must be ready to start work now.

If the terms can be worked out.

Ask for more money: A signing bonus

Now deliver the key to everyone’s happiness.

How to Say It
“I know you have a salary scale that you can’t break. I’m not asking you to break it. I’m not going to ask for more salary. But I am worth more money. So I’d like to propose terms that will not affect the salary you’ve offered. I accept the salary. But I’d also like to propose terms that will still pay me what I’m worth. I’d like to propose a one-time signing bonus of $X. It will not affect my salary, or anything based on it, like future raises, 401(k) contributions, insurance, or anything that is tied to salary. I accept the salary of $N that you offered if you will include a one-time signing bonus of $X.”

Why it works

Will this work? Who knows. It’s a gambit to try only if you’re willing to walk away otherwise. It’s a way to save a deal. I hate to say no to a deal I’ve already worked hard for — so I ask myself what I’ll settle for that won’t hurt the other guy, and I try to say, Yes to what you want, if you’ll do X for me. If you won’t, I’ll walk away, no harm done.

Here’s why a signing bonus can work. The lovely thing about it is, it doesn’t break the salary range. The company is not paying you more than it planned. But it has to pay you what you’re worth. You just have to set $X reasonably, and that requires some compromise on your part if you really want the job.

(If the employer whips out a salary survey, taps it, and says you’re not worth any more, I hope you read this first: Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher offer.)

Keep in mind that, if the employer agrees, your future raises will be based on your salary. If the raise is 3%, it’ll be 3% of your salary, not your salary plus the bonus. The same goes for all other benefits based on salary. You’ll see that bonus just one time. So plan accordingly.

(Worried the employer might withdraw its non-negotiable offer because you dared ask for something more? Read The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed! Like we already discussed, you must be ready to walk away.)

Do you want this much more money?

What’s the point of a one-time payment, you ask, if what you really want and deserve is a higher salary? The point is that — as we noted at the beginning — you’re going to walk away from this job offer anyway. This is better than the offer you rejected — assuming you really want the job. This is more money. If there’s no size of signing bonus that would make you happy, then don’t even ask for it.

But if you can’t negotiate a higher salary, and what you want is more money, then negotiate for more money. A signing bonus is a good way to do it.

A few gotchas to beware of

You didn’t think there were no gotchas, did you?

  • Signing bonuses always come with a catch. You may have to agree to stay for a certain period of time, or refund the bonus or some pro-rated part of it. Negotiate an acceptable period.
  • Signing bonuses are sometimes paid in parts, to avoid having you skip out with the money. It might be monthly for a year, or quarterly or twice over a year. Negotiate it. My preference is to get it all upon start date, especially if there’s a refund clause.
  • Signing bonuses usually come with a written agreement. Consider having an attorney review it — along with your written job offer and other terms.
  • Signing bonuses are usually taxed just like any other pay. Consult your accountant if necessary.
  • The company may like your idea — but not the amount of the bonus. Decide well in advance what you’ll accept, and stick to it.

What kind of money is there other than salary? Would a signing bonus make a difference to you? How big? Have you ever gotten a signing bonus? How would you advise this reader?

: :

The Truth About Job Fairs

In the January 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader blasts employers for job fairs and bogus recruiting. 

Question

I’m sure a lot of employers read this newsletter, so this is an open question to them about job fairs. Maybe they will respond. But I’d like your opinion, too.

job fairsTo Employers:

I go to job fairs to meet your company in person, but your representatives tell me to visit the company website in order to apply for a job. Call me crazy, but I thought the purpose of a job fair was to actually meet you — a real, live hiring manager.

By going to a job fair, I am separating myself from those who are sitting at their computers all day just sending out resumes. I am making an effort to drive (mind you, the cost of gas) to a job fair after getting all dolled up in a great suit and actually seeking to talk to someone to place my resume ahead of someone else’s. I’m trying to stand out and show you I’m serious about working for you.

And my reward for this effort? You slap me in the face and tell me to go home and apply on-line.

Why do you even bother “recruiting” at job fairs? Why is it that your representatives don’t know anything about jobs at your company? Why do they tell me, “We are not taking resumes?” I didn’t need to drive 20 miles to see you only to have you tell me to go home and apply online. What if I’m someone who does not have Internet access at home? What if I’m that person who is strapped for cash and had to decide between paying for groceries this month or keeping an Internet service provider and I chose to forego the Internet?

Come on! Give me a break. I go to job fairs so you can see a face behind my resume in hopes of landing that interview! I attend so I can meet real flesh-and-blood hiring managers. And you send “personnel representatives” who don’t even act like they work for your company! Maybe they don’t! Why are you wasting my time?

(Thanks for letting me vent, Nick.)

Nick’s Reply

Oh, you’re welcome. Venting is good, especially when you’re not the only one doing it. I get frequent mail on this topic. And I’ll tell you, you’ve nailed it. I don’t recall the last time anyone told me they went to a job fair and got a job.

The truth is, job fairs are largely a waste of time.

Companies go to job fairs because HR clearly has nothing better to spend its money on. They send greenhorn HR reps to collect resumes or to direct people to the website. You could do better standing on a street corner handing out your resume.

The other little secret some HR folks have sheepishly shared with me is that job fairs enable them to check off more boxes on federal employment regulation forms. Maybe this is how they identify race, color and disabilities and get credit for entertaining certain applicants. I welcome HR managers to explain their behavior.

You have dispelled one of the key myths about job fairs: that they are a good place to actually meet the hiring managers. Let’s dispel two more job-fair myths.

Job Fairs: Myth #1

You can cover a job fair with 300 employers in one day.

Or some huge number. The pitch is that more is better, so why not go? Even if you slice it down to 100 employers, a six-hour job fair will allow you 3.6 minutes for each employer. (Do you think that if you were to spend anywhere near six non-stop hours at a job fair you might get dizzy and pass out?) Trust your common sense: That’s not enough time for a meaningful exchange.

The alternative to job fairs: Get detailed job-fair information, including lists of employers, jobs and departments that are hiring. Invest that six hours identifying and contacting people who work at three good target companies that are “going” to the job fair. Tell these folks you can’t make it to the job fair, and ask for their insight and advice about their company.

Then ask for introductions to managers who seem to be hiring. Save gas and use it to attend interviews instead.

Job Fairs: Myth #2

Job fairs are a great place to find unadvertised jobs.

Any job openings advertised at job fairs are already old news. Job fairs are often a company’s last recruiting resort. While a personnel jockey is scanning your resume at the job fair booth, my candidate (or some other headhunter’s) is sitting in the hiring manager’s office demonstrating how she’s going to do the job profitably for the manager. That’s who you’re competing with.

But if you really think about it, why would an employer try to fill good jobs with the best candidates at a job fair — when so many of the best potential candidates have jobs and aren’t likely to attend a fair? That’s not to disparage unemployed job seekers; the best candidate for a job may be currently unemployed. But how does the job-fair strategy for hiring make sense for employers? Either HR is goofy, or HR isn’t being honest.

The alternative to job fairs: Truly unadvertised openings are in managers’ heads. Even HR doesn’t know about them yet. So skip the places where HR clerks hang out (job fairs). Instead, go where the hiring managers and their employees go: professional conferences, trade shows, and training courses. Get ahead of your competitors rather than stand behind them.

Sure, bring a resume, but first make some friends. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for the gold ring that smart headhunters reach for: insight about the person’s company and work. That’s what leads to real relationships, real personal contacts, and valuable personal referrals to hiring managers. And that’s where you will learn about unadvertised openings. (For more on this, see Meet the right people.)

Beware of the empty sales pitch

Like online job boards, job fairs are where many HR departments gleefully waste corporate recruiting budgets. Why? Because job boards and job-fair operators are very good at marketing their wares. You’ve seen the promotions: “Hire the best people! Use our service!”

It’s not a stretch to imagine this sales pitch by a job-fair operator to HR: “You can send your greenhorn clerks instead of expensive managers to the fair! Save money and still get applicants!” So HR saves money while appearing busy.

Need I say more? Thanks for sharing your story and ire. I hope your open letter draws responses from HR folks who spend money on job fairs.

Have you been to a job fair? What was your experience? If a job fair paid off for you, what’s the secret? If you work in HR, please give us the straight dope. I mean, the truth.

: :

LinkedIn Extortion

In the January 17, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a boss tries to turn a new employee’s LinkedIn profile into an ad for the business. Is this LinkedIn extortion?

Question

linkedin extortionMy new employer wants me to list in my LinkedIn profile that I’m working for her, and to include the company’s logo, but I’m still in the 90-day probationary period of my new business development job. I don’t want other employers to see it yet. She’s made no commitment to me, and besides, I still don’t have the private office or company phone she promised.

She has also strongly suggested that I change my profile so my “message aligns with the company’s.” She’s very into branding, and wants her business to be found when people find my profile — yet she does not list any of her employees on the company’s website. Besides, my LinkedIn profile is my marketing piece, not my employer’s! She even asked me to delete the last part of my summary in which I list what roles I’m looking for next in my career.

I’ve tried to skirt this politely, but today she asked me when I’m going to do it. Because this job is different from others I’ve had, she wants me to omit key words from old jobs that aren’t consistent with her business. Meanwhile, I’m really trying to make this job a success. I just don’t like being pressured to re-write my resume — that’s what a LinkedIn profile is, after all — so it “aligns with the company’s message.”

I really want this job to work out. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

Is your boss a dummy? She’s ridiculous to presume she has any right to dictate what you put on your LinkedIn (or any other social media) page. Unless, of course, she’s willing to pay you an advertising fee… (more on this later).

If you’re going to add this new job to your LinkedIn profile, she has to earn it. I once had a girlfriend who insisted I wear a “friendship ring” so that people could see I was “attached.” We soon parted company.

Look at it this way (she clearly doesn’t): Would your boss ask to see your new resume, so she can pass judgment on what you include about her company? What’s the difference between that and your LinkedIn page?

LinkedIn extortion

This looks like a kind of extortion: Let me control your LinkedIn profile and I’ll let you keep your job.

Rather than assert any rights over your social media assets, your boss should stay mum and hope you decide on your own to add her company to your LinkedIn profile. Just like my old girlfriend should have stuck to hoping we’d stay together — without demanding that I “brand” myself with her logo.

Is your LinkedIn profile part of your boss’s advertising and branding? Or is it yours? I’ve never heard of an employer making this kind of demand.

Will she ask you to alter your Facebook page next? Will she ask you to start tweeting about her business from your personal Twitter account? Where will it end?

So, what do you do? You can talk with her frankly and tell her your LinkedIn page is not up for discussion. Or you can do what she asks and take your chances. However, I think you have a card to play here. If you decide to post something on your profile to make a concession, I’d ask for something back. Maybe like this:

How to Say It

“My social media pages are not intended to promote anyone’s business — they promote me. Listing my current job is a small part of what defines me. I would add more about this job after I’ve been here for a year, but I’d consider adding it now if you’re willing to end my probationary period and make a full commitment to me — including providing the office and company phone you promised.”

Does that sound too strong? Then modify it to suit you. But do you see the point? Sometimes, you have to test your boss — because I think your boss is testing you. You might as well find out sooner rather than later whether this is someone you really want to work for long-term. For example, if you’re concerned about broken promises regarding an office and phone, you may realize other promises are on the line, too: What to say to a stingy boss.

Here’s another way to help her see your point, since she’s so focused on marketing:

How to Say It

“With all due respect, using my LinkedIn profile to promote the company would be like you buying ad space on a website — and of course I’d never ask you to buy space on my LinkedIn page. I think there has to be some separation between the company’s marketing and an employee’s own professional marketing.”

Am I serious — should you offer up your LinkedIn profile if your boss pays you? Of course not. I’m trying to make a point. Tweak my suggestions as necessary, or don’t use them at all. It’s food for thought. (So is a larger question: Is your boss too preoccupied with LinkedIn as a marketing tool? She should read LinkedIn: Just another job board.)

Realistically, your LinkedIn profile is not going to drive any business to your boss, any more than your resume would! It’s clear to me your boss has already made you uncomfortable by suggesting a kind of LinkedIn extortion, and that should not be. At some point, you must draw a line – even if it risks your job.

(For more about personal branding for career advancement, see Branding yourself suggests you’re clueless.)

Is this LinkedIn extortion? Would you let your employer have any control over what’s on your LinkedIn profile? How would that affect your marketability to other employers? What should this reader do?

: :