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Archive for the Q&A Category

Recruiting From The Panic Room

Recruiting has changed. In the September 27, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant responds to a posting and gets a call from the cops.

Is this recruiting?

recruiting-welcomeEmployers are so out of it that they’re not only putting up digital roadblocks against people they’re trying to attract — such as online application forms and video interviews — now they’re hiding in bunkers, barring the doors, and calling the cops on earnest job applicants.

A reader found this stunning episode on an Indeed discussion forum:

I recently applied to a job on Indeed and sent a follow up e-mail a few days later. About a week passed with no response, and I sent another e-mail, saying I would come by their office. They quickly sent a response saying they no longer had a position available. Twenty minutes later I got a phone call from the police. They complained that I threatened and harassed them. I denied it, and the cop said to not contact them again. The whole thing is almost unbelievable. I hate applying for jobs.

WTF?

Why doesn’t this employer just keep an armed guard posted at the door?

When you find a job posting online, can you get arrested for showing up in person at a company to apply? I’m not a lawyer, and I won’t touch that question, but such conflicted behavior and mixed signals sent by employers reveal just how dysfunctional recruiting has become.

Applying through the front door

More than once, I walked into companies I wanted to work for and gave my resume to a receptionist. Sometimes a manager would come out to talk to me. Or a personnel clerk would appear briefly. When no one appeared, I’d chat up the receptionist, collect some company literature to educate myself, and go home. Worst case, I’d write the employer off. On to the next.

If employers are afraid of who comes in the front door, why are they recruiting? Why are they in business? What if a customer shows up unannounced? Does the sales department send in its dogs?

WTF, indeed. I know many people who have taken the time and trouble to go to an employer’s office to demonstrate how serious they are about getting a job. But recruiters have so dehumanized job applicants they’re trying to attract that they no longer know how to welcome them.

Hiding from the applicants

Employers solicit such staggering numbers of people that they’re are afraid of who appears. The only way to process the incoming rush is to dehumanize and render people into database morsels. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”) And to hide.

recruiting-barricadeThis cannot be reconciled with the idea that an employer is trying to attract you. When you’re an abstraction in a database — a mess of keywords — the assumption is that you’re to be avoided and feared, either as a waste of time or, in this case, as a physical threat.

Lest someone suggest it’s inappropriate to show up at a company after submitting a resume, keep in mind that at some point you’ll be invited for an interview at a bricks-and-mortar office that has a front door. If the front door is a locked bunker, then the job applicant who posted that story would likely just walk away — probably disgruntled. But if the front door is open for business, then it’s no more inappropriate for a job applicant to show up than it is for a customer to show up to buy something.

Recruiting from the panic room

So what does this incident mean? We must assume the job applicant did nothing wrong or threatening. After all, this person was applying for a job. They want to impress the employer — not hurt anyone — hence the visit to the office. (On the flip side, does a job applicant assume a murderous psychopath has lured them to an interview?)

When an employer worries for its safety or fears who’s going to show up, that tells us there’s something fundamentally wrong with popular methods of recruiting. It’s pretty clear that the fear and worry stem from soliciting teeming hordes of applicants that employers don’t really want. Depersonalizing and demonizing them only adds to the distrust — we naturally fear the unknown.

This incident is perhaps the most stunning evidence that the online employment system companies rely on is inherently twisted and warped. (See “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”) This job seeker’s experience reveals a panic-room mentality, where employers huddle and hide behind locked doors and impenetrable applicant tracking systems. It highlights one recruiting perversion after another:

  • Advertise a healthy work environment — but reveal your company’s paranoid culture.
  • Proclaim a desire to find great people — but treat applicants like they’re psychopathic marauders.
  • Solicit job applicants — then tell them there’s no job.
  • Open your company to the talent — then call the cops when the talent arrives.
  • Talk about how people are your most important asset — but only let digital profiles and applications in the door.

The problem is not that a company called the cops on a job applicant it attracted. That’s merely a symptom. The problem is that the highly automated recruiting system our economy depends on can’t deal with people.

What kinds of contradictory messages have you gotten from employers? What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had when applying for an advertised job?

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Should I take a 30% pay cut to keep my job?

In the September 20, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t see a pay cut as a good deal.

pay cutQuestion

Yesterday my company, which is experiencing cash flow difficulties, asked me to take a 30% salary cut to keep doing the same job and still at full time. Do you have any tips on how to respond? I feel like I’ve been bushwhacked.

Nick’s Reply

The obvious answer is to tell them to shove it and quit.

But if that were your first choice, you wouldn’t be asking for tips. There are several ways you could respond, so let’s consider some of the issues before I offer some suggestions you could tweak to suit your needs.

Let me ask a key question:

Did they give you any indication or evidence that they expect to return your salary to normal again? When?

If they’ve communicated nothing about that, it’s a bad sign. If they’ve made promises, ask for it in writing. How they respond will tell you all you need to know about the company’s viability. Good management is honest with employees and makes and keeps commitments. A company that leaves you in the dark about what’s really happening is in more trouble than it seems. Don’t ignore signals about this.

You need to decide how much you need that cash flow yourself. That will dictate what you should do next: wait it out or move on immediately?

Another question:

Is there anything you can say or do that would bring your salary back up?

In other words, if you decline the cut, would they keep you on at your regular salary? I doubt it. So the choice is, do you accept the new terms while you look for a better job (without disclosing that’s what you’re doing), or do you quit and focus all your time on a new job?

Only you can answer that.

Negotiate a pay cut

This might work if your employer is likely to recover financially: Ask if they’d leave your salary at 100% on the books, pay you 30% less, and issue a promissory note for the balance. That is, an IOU. Then you might have standing to collect when they go bankrupt and a judge has to decide whose debts get paid first by the court.

Or, play tit for tat: Take the pay cut if they’ll take a work cut. Offer to work 30% fewer hours. Always be aware that opening a negotiation can result in the other guy withdrawing the deal entirely. That is, they might just tell you to leave now. But you could just leave now, too.

Fall back on this

Now I’ll give you my second best advice. Talk with a good employment attorney before you answer about the 30% cut. I know an attorney will cost you a few bucks, but consider how much that pay cut will cost you over the next one or two months. An hour with an attorney will probably seem like a good investment if your goal is to work out terms.

If you’re pretty sure the pay cut will turn into a layoff, start preparing now. Here are a few other issues to consider, from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job:

Should you volunteer to get laid off?

You might be able to get a severance package that costs the company even less than keeping you on at a 30% pay cut — if you volunteer to leave. (See pp. 26-27.)

Should you tell your boss you’re leaving?

Are you going to start a job search? Your boss probably wouldn’t be surprised — but I advise you not to disclose what you’re doing. If you’re going to rely on whatever meager salary they’re going to keep paying you, don’t risk it by appearing disloyal because you’re looking for a new job. (See pp. 38-39.)

If you’re ready to quit, see How should I quit this job? If you’re not going to read the book, at least read the article Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Stand up to downsizing

Are you pretty certain the company is going to fire you soon? From the book:

“Be smart. If you’re caught in a downsizing, don’t let yourself be pulled under by the current of panic. Everyone grabs the same life preservers: the job postings, the resumes, the cover letters and the random interviews. By that point, the channels of the employment system are clogged with so much competition that surviving the trip is debilitating, if not impossible.” (See pp. 23-25.)

In other words, don’t be the last one out the door pursuing the same jobs as your laid off co-workers!

Prepare and plan for the worst. When employers ask their employees for money — make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is — it’s a bad sign.

The only thing that would make me feel better is if your employer puts some skin in the game, too, in one of the ways I suggest above. But here’s my best advice: Immediately start a job search and get ready to move on — but be careful. (See How your old boss can cost you a new job.)

I wish you the best with this, but I doubt it’s going to work out well.

Did you ever take a pay cut to keep your job? How did it turn out? What would you advise this reader to do?

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Networking For Introverts: How to say it

In the September 13, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a shy reader frets about networking but is ready to mix it up with new people.

networkingQuestion

I like your advice about networking by hanging out where the people I want to work with hang out. That’s very different from contacting people I don’t know on LinkedIn, which seems creepy and dishonest. But as an introvert I have a hard time breaking the ice even when I’m hanging out with people at a conference, or in a training class or even at a social event. This is for me to get over, but do you have any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Write it down. And be honest.

When I started headhunting, I was fresh out of grad school. I had zero business experience and zero technology experience. But I was recruiting electronics engineers. I had to call people I didn’t know on the phone, introduce myself, and try to recruit them. It wasn’t dishonest, because I had jobs to fill, but talk about creepy!

Worse, I was an introvert. I was shy. I hated starting conversations because I never knew what to say. What if someone hung up?

Networking? Write it down.

My boss gave me a short script to use when I made those calls. I was embarrassed to recite it, but I realized I had to start somewhere. She told me not to worry if I “lost” someone that I called.

I read that script to people a few times until I realized it would be less creepy if I tweaked it a bit. So I did. Then I tweaked it some more. After a few more calls, I had re-written the thing so I sounded like me. Still, it was reassuring to read it rather than have to think about what to say.

Then something changed. After a few conversations with engineers, I learned just enough to be able to ask a couple of intelligent questions about their jobs, and I didn’t need the script any more. I also saw that engineers loved to talk about their work, so I didn’t have to say much. (Soon I learned that everyone likes to talk about their work, whether they love it, hate it, or are indifferent.)

Suddenly I was able to talk to engineers. In behavioral psychology we call that successive approximation of a desired behavior. Little by little, if you approximately perform the behavior of breaking the ice, you feel like you’ve accomplished something — and you get successively better at it. Pretty soon you’re actually doing it.

Networking? Be honest.

My breakthrough was when I realized engineers appreciate it when you don’t B.S. them. So I started admitting that I didn’t know what rotating memory was — could they please explain it? And, could they please explain to me what’s the difference between a microcomputer and a microprocessor?

Oh, they’d laugh — and then give me a short lesson in whatever I was asking about. They kidded me that I was the only headhunter who didn’t spout buzz words ignorantly. “You really want to know what we do!”

And that’s the other key: You must be honestly interested in other people and the work they do. If you’re not, don’t even try this. Find another area of work that does honestly interest you, and go talk to people about that.

Engineers took me under their wing. Pretty soon I was placing enough of them at better jobs that word got around I was the guy to talk to.

I know it’s corny, but I suggest you work up a script you feel okay about. Write it down. Try it out “live.” Pay attention to how people react when you try to break the ice. Tweak it til it feels good.

How to Say It

I suggest starting like this. Walk up to someone and say:

“Hi — So you work at ABC Co. What’s it like to work there?”

Let them talk, then ask:

How to Say It

“What would you say is your company’s biggest competitive advantage?”

Or,

“How does your company make the most of your [engineering] skills?”

Perhaps it seems corny. It’s not. It’s honest. You’re admitting you don’t know something you’re really interested in, and you’re asking. While someone might be rude and turn away, most people are sensitive to inquiring minds — as long as it’s not a personal topic. Work is open game.

Let them talk. They’ll ask you some questions. Just answer naturally. Ask more questions about their work. I like this one:

How to Say It

“What have you read or learned recently that has influenced how you do your job?”

All you’re doing is making conversation and getting to know someone. What makes it easy is that you’re letting them do the talking about something almost everyone likes to talk about: themselves.

I let go of my shyness when I realized I was fine asking people about their work, and talking about my work — so I stuck to that. Then I became more outgoing because I was no longer afraid of how people would respond to me.

We’re all different. I’m not suggesting my exact Hot to Say It tips will work for you. You must tweak them to suit who you are and how you talk. My boss said to me, “Stop resisting the script and just use it a few times until you come up with something better!”

Write it down to start. Tweak it — but keep at it. Just remind yourself: If something feels creepy, don’t say it or do it. (See Please! Stop Networking!) Be honest. Talk shop, be yourself, let other people do the talking at first. Pretty soon they’ll be laughing at the honesty of your questions and they’ll tell you what you need to know.

Once that happens, they’ll introduce you to their friends. If you’re looking for a new job, that’s where the fun starts!

If you need more help understanding how to connect with people comfortably, see the chapter “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” in How Can I Change Careers? (This PDF book isn’t just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out to employers.)

Okay — what magic words do you use to break the ice? Even outgoing folks can get nervous introducing themselves to others. Are you shy and introverted? How do you do it?

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Negotiate Even The Worst Job Offers: Say Yes, IF

In the September 6, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is frustrated with employers who are looking for top talent at discounted salaries to fill positions with fudged titles — but who won’t negotiate.

negotiateQuestion

I am a director-level, doctoral-level employee at a large healthcare company with over 15 years’ broad experience on the science side of medicine. I have been approached by several companies about potential positions. Some of the positions are extremely interesting and have broad organizational impact and a much larger sphere of influence than my current position.

However, when offers are made, they seem to all be at a “comparable” level — essentially lateral moves — with excuses of “We have eliminated the Senior Director level” or “We don’t implement the same titles at our company.” The compensation packages have been fairly anemic as well, with almost no increase in cash value and modest increases in stock or pension values.

What gives? Are these companies trying to get VP-level work for a Director level salary? When to push and when to walk? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

Manipulation of salaries and titles is common — and I think your conclusion is correct. Even in a “talent shortage” employers think they can discount people and work, and some of the time they get a ridiculous bargain. The problem is LinkedIn and the job boards, which convince HR that the perfect candidate is available at a low price… now here’s the sales pitch… “if you just keep searching our database to find them!”

That’s how job boards make money: by selling silly ideas that suckers buy. That includes getting employers to keep paying to keep searching for that purple squirrel at bargain-store prices. The further problem, of course, is that many job seekers will fall for this manipulation.

We discussed negotiating recently in Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES. Now let’s go a bit deeper into this approach.

Lousy deals

Don’t tolerate lousy deals.

A top-level manager I know was downsized, and after a lengthy unemployment, he took a job for 20% less than he’d been making to do exactly the kind of work he’d been doing for five years. Two years later, he was downsized again, and took a 15% cut on the next job. Downsized yet again, he figured it out and got fed up after yet another employer tried to buy him at yet another ridiculous discount. He’s starting his own business while looking for a job suited to him that pays what he’s worth.

The explanations for reduced pay and titles that you’ve been given are self-serving excuses. Smug employers believe in Junk Profitability: “If we cut our costs when we fill a critical position, our profits will go up!” Then they act shocked – shocked – when the person they hire at such a discount bolts the first chance they get. “Disloyal, unreliable, over-qualified scoundrel!”

Force the other guy to negotiate.

Yes, IF: How to negotiate better deals

I showed the manager in the story above how to negotiate such job “opportunities.”

When an employer brings up a lower salary or lower title, don’t say no. Step back and ask yourself, Under what circumstances would you actually take this job? What salary? What authority? What responsibilities? What kind of work?

That’s called a term sheet. It’s the terms under which you’d take the deal.

Then say, “Yes, I’ll take the job IF…” and present your requirements to the employer as your counter-offer.

Include enough negotiable terms that you don’t come across as arrogant or unreasonable. But make sure you’re respecting what’s really important to you. Then let the employer consider what you’ve offered. If they want you and really need you, and they’re rational, smart business people, they’ll negotiate.

The aforementioned manager learned that many employers are not rational or smart — or they don’t really need to fill that job with a good candidate. Given the chance to negotiate, any savvy employer will do it, sometimes with a knowing smile. They’ll never agree to terms that are bad for them, but they’ll try to work out a compromise that’s good for you and for them.

The thing is, few candidates ever try this. They just skulk away or get angry. Don’t go away and don’t get angry. Open a negotiation. Know what you want. Ask for it.

If the employer won’t negotiate, then you will be glad you did more than hold your ground. You offered alternative terms that could lead to YES, but the employer walked away. (See The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!)

If they do negotiate, you’ve helped yourself and you’ve helped them fill a job under mutually good terms.

Negotiate even the worst job offers

I borrowed this advice from my own lawyer, who is also my best business advisor. He taught me long ago that, unless it’s a job or gig you really don’t want to do, never walk away over terms you don’t like. Offer terms you do like, and see where it goes. It’s a very empowering experience. (See “Am I unwise to accept their first job offer?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9, Be The Master of Job Offers.)

You can control the terms of any job negotiation. Don’t be afraid or intimidated, especially if you’re going to walk away from the lousy offer they’ve already made you. You have little if anything to lose.

Whatever the outcome, you’ll feel like a million bucks because you managed the situation assertively and on your terms. If the employer balks, the rest is the employer’s problem, because they’re left with a vacant job that’s costing them every day.

Don’t say no. Say, “Yes, if…”

How do you turn job negotiations to your advantage? Do you negotiate just salary, or everything? Or do you just decide yes or no?

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When headhunters on LinkedIn are scammers

In the August 30, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader cautions you to think twice before sending your information to “headhunters” you don’t know. They’re likely scammers.

Question

scammersI recently had an experience with a headhunter(?) I do not know who sent me an unsolicited pitch to look at a job listing in my field in my city. The pitch was sent via LinkedIn with an attachment. I do not open attachments from people I do not know. This brings up the issue of cyber security in dealing with any kind of pitch about a job.

To confirm who I was dealing with, I called the main office of the headhunter’s firm. I got an answering service. Then I called the number the headhunter posted on LinkedIn, but got a vanilla message which did not identify the headhunter or the firm.

A reputable headhunter:

  • will have a voicemail message that clearly identifies the office and the person.
  • will not send an unsolicited attachment via LinkedIn.


Social media has been used successfully by hackers and scammers to mimic real identities to get unsuspecting people to open attachments that contain malware. For high-tech firms, like the one I work at, these kinds of threats are well understood.

However, with the rise of ransom-ware and other forms of hacking for profit (e.g., stealing bank and credit card account information) the use of social media for social engineering is a real threat.

I suggest you post some advice for your readers about cyber security and how to avoid being taken in by scammers.

By the way: LinkedIn is a good vector for this type of social engineering attack because many people access it from work. If they open a malware-infested attachment, it could compromise a work computer along with its intellectual property secrets. So far, there has been no response to my voice mail replies to the headhunter, and I never touched the file attachment on LinkedIn.

Some headhunters who send unsolicited attachments might just be clueless. On the other hand, my experience is most recruiters send the job description after they’ve qualified the prospect as being interested, available, and a possible match for the job, not before. Do you agree?

Nick’s Reply

I agree, and you just wrote the warning you’ve asked me to give about e-mails soliciting you for anything. It’s all the more important when a scammer is connecting via LinkedIn to imply credibility.

Most likely, that’s not a headhunter at all, but a phishing expedition. It’s how scammers obtain personal information they can use to steal your identity. We can’t blame headhunters for something like this, because such scams routinely mimic anything that might lead a sucker to open an e-mail and an attachment.

(Let’s not leave the HR bogeyman out of this nightmare. See Big Brother & The Employment Industry: “All your employment are belong to us!”)

However, because the cost of entry to the headhunting business is virtually zero, we’re faced with loads of stupid, inept, and sometimes unsavory “headhunters.” I’d say 95% of those purporting to be headhunters are not. The most common among these are idiots dialing for dollars. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?) They will solicit thousands of people they know nothing about via mailing lists. As you’ve noted, any good headhunter will know quite a bit about you prior to making first contact, or why would they bother spending their precious time?

2 rules of thumb

I think there are two cautionary notes here — call them rules of thumb to keep you out of trouble. First, assume any e-mail or attachment is a phishing tool. I think that’s a reasonable rule because most e-mail is junk of one sort or other. Very few mails constitute “signal.” Most are noise. So, be skeptical all the time and be very careful.

Second, if it’s a real headhunter, apply basic common sense and business standards. If the mail is from a headhunter you don’t know who clearly doesn’t know you, it’s probably a waste of time. Just because you really, really want a headhunter to find you a job doesn’t make it so. It just ups the odds that you’ll get suckered.

Drop this bomb on the headhunter

To test the sender, simply ask one of the many qualifying questions I list in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. For example, drop this bomb:

“Please give me the names and contact information of 3 people you’ve placed and 3 managers who have hired through you.”

A good headhunter knows how to instantly defuse it by gaining your respect. He’ll ping you back to make sure you’re not going to waste his clients’ time — then he’ll give you his references. The rest aren’t worth dealing with — your question is like a bomb going off on their party. They know it’s all over.

If you’re considering doing something silly just because someone told you to — like clicking on an unknown attachment — ask yourself whether you’d do it in any other business context. If not, then don’t do it. (Would you hire a contractor to remodel your kitchen without checking some references first?)

Beware of fools

Of course, there’s another category of scoundrel — the naïve headhunter who doesn’t consider the risks she asks prospective candidates to take when she sends them solicitations. She’s not worth dealing with, either, because she’s the fool who will accidentally contact your current employer and present your resume for an open position — and possibly get you fired.

How to test for scammers

What you did to test for a scam is what I suggest in HTWWH:

  • Google the name of the person who solicited you. Is there evidence the person is affiliated with the firm?
  • Google the firm. Is the headhunter that contacted you listed on its roster?
  • On the firm’s website, look for names of the owners and for a bricks and mortar address.
  • Look up the individuals named, and find the address on Google Maps.

Then ask, does it all add up?

  • If there’s no connection between the headhunter and the firm evidenced online, don’t respond.
  • If the firm’s website does not list any names, or a street address, or any contact information that you can verify through an independent source, run. (If you do find an address on Google, there should be multiple references to it, or it’s probably phony.)
  • While some good headhunters work out of their homes and prefer not to list an address for privacy reasons, they should at least have a verifiable post office box.
  • Any real headhunter will have a verifiable phone number and friendly voicemail. Only a scammer doesn’t want to take your call!

referencesDid I say check references?

As you found, in most cases there’s no “there” there. If the headhunter fails these tests, checking those references is absolutely critical.

These tests are not sufficient, but they are necessary and they’re a good start when performing due diligence. It’s not hard to determine whether someone is legit, but it’s very easy to be gullible and to get suckered. In this case, a fraud has contacted you — but people should expect that most e-mail solicitations are frauds. The trouble is, most people rationalize: “Hey, I don’t want to miss an opportunity! Besides, this was through LinkedIn.”

Wishful thinking and the pain of job hunting turn people into suckers. (LinkedIn does not confer legitimacy.) “Headhunter” is just another mask scammers wear because they know you’d love a new job. And random job solicitations are just another sign of lousy headhunters that aren’t worth your time or consideration.

(For more on this topic, see How to work with headhunters.)

Did you ever get scammed by a headhunter? Was it even a real headhunter? How do you vet job solicitations?

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HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage

Welcome to the machine.

video interviewsYou’ve got rare, desirable skills — but are you ready for video interviews? Maybe what makes you rare is how hard you work for your employers. In any case, you apply for a job.

You fill out several pages of online forms. You attach a resume that you spent hours customizing to address the specific employer and job. You provide names of references, sign off on a waiver and agree to the terms required.

Software and some algorithms scan your data record for keywords. If they match those in the employer’s database, your application is flagged for the next step.

Then you get an e-mail. It asks you to click on another agreement, and to sit in front of your own video camera to answer a series of questions from an online robot. You carefully organize your responses and do your best to be calm and collected as you address the eye.

No one from the employer has spoken with you. No manager has taken time to answer your questions. No one at the employer company knows you exist.

When you’re done, you click your video interview up to a database at a company called HireVue. What you don’t know is that no human will ever take time to watch you answer all those questions. No one hears you speak.

bit-streamAnother robot “views” your video and algorithms scan the sounds and movements you make in the video.

The employer has invested its money in HireVue, not in you, to conduct this assessment — which we can’t even call an interview because although HR is viewing there is no inter-action with anyone. It’s just your bit stream and a recording and some software and hardware, saving the employer the cost of deploying a human to judge you.

If your data doesn’t match the template the employer uses to match job candidates, the recruiting process ends. A quick look at the employer’s website reveals that “People are our most important asset!”

Sucks for you, doesn’t it?

Question

When I applied for a job, they wanted me to sign into something called HireVue so a robot could interview me. Are they kidding? They’re trying to attract people like me and the best they can do is a video camera? (Not to sound arrogant but the work I do is specialized and it’s not easy to find people with my skills.) Long story short, I told them (yes, told them) to take a hike. I’m a software developer. Would you like to join forces and create a robo-interviewer job candidates can send to employers? I’d like to see their faces when the talent they’re dying to hire wants them to pose for the camera before I decide they’re worth my face time. Are you seeing a lot of this, or is this just one clueless company (that I won’t name though I should)?

Nick’s Reply

In the midst of a talent shortage, HR tells the talent to sit for video interviews but can’t figure out why it can’t attract the talent it needs. Gee, is there a connection? Or is the modern HR executive daft?

I keep seeing HireVue infomercials popping up in the news. It’s a fair guess that these uncritical fluff columns are HireVue’s PR team pitching “content” to the media. Press releases are free advertising, but many media outlets eat it up because the PR agent does all the work and basically writes the article. The news outlet saves money, too, while real news reporters collect unemployment.

There’s a recent fluff piece about HireVue in the Wall Street Journal — which should know better: Video Job Interviews: Hiring for the Selfie Age. (The Journal requires a paid membership, but you can view the article for free by searching Google for the title, then X-ing past the splash screen.) On the other hand, the dusty skeleton in the WSJ’s closet is its defunct CareerJournal, which compromised the newspaper’s editorial integrity to sell its job-board service: Job-Board Journalism: Selling Out The American Job Hunter. So perhaps it’s no surprise the WSJ is hawking HR technology.

I’d like to ask the Ask The Headhunter community: Do you as a job seeker (or as a hiring manager, or as even one of the many HR folks who subscribe to Ask The Headhunter) buy this stuff?

canddiate-lineInterview videos infomercial claim #1

“…companies say [HireVue] is an efficient, fair and inexpensive way to process hundreds of applicants…”

The key word in this statement is “process,” as in “process meat.” Here’s what Gilman Louie, partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Alsop Louie, told me about how modern HR technology destroys an employer’s competitive edge:

“HR processes 2,000 candidates! They don’t look through 2,000 candidates! And at the end of the process, what they get is the same candidate that everybody else running PeopleSoft gets! So where’s your competitive advantage if everybody turns up with the same candidates?”

Infomercial claim #2

“Video interviews have significantly reduced travel costs for Cigna recruiters. Frank Abate, a senior recruiter there, said one of his colleagues racked up more than $1 million annually just traveling to meet candidates. Since adopting video interviews four years ago, that colleague’s expenses are now under $100,000.”

Gee. Imagine spending money to go find the talent. Cigna is saving by not meeting candidates.

By not meeting candidates.

By not meeting candidates.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Imagine if Cigna told its sales team to stop spending money to call on customers to close deals.

I love your idea for a robo-interviewer app for job seekers. Imagine how much you — the talent — could save by telling employers to talk to the video camera before you bother talking to them in person. Get that employer ready for its close-up. Tell HR you don’t talk to the hand.

Infomercial claim #3

eye-lensRecruiters at IBM and Cigna said they evaluate candidates based on how well the person communicates his/her thought process, whether the person answers all parts of the question—and whether he/she makes eye contact.”

Eye contact??? Uh, contact with what eye??

Infomercial claim #4

“HireVue, InterviewStream, WePow and other vendors that make video-interviewing software say their programs make hiring more fair because all applicants must answer the same questions, placing substance over schmoozing and small talk.”

Schmoozing and small talk are bad things. The robo-interview vendors now save HR jockeys from the ignominy of having to talk with the talent HR claims is so hard to find, so hard to attract, so hard to hire. Heaven forbid recruiting should be a social interaction where you can judge someone in person.

Small talk is a bad thing. But employers say they want to judge applicants for cultural fit. Tell it to the camera.

Just how gullible is HR?

While the HR profession’s existence is being questioned in the C-suite, HR outsources its most important job — hiring — in a stunning display of gullibility. Wowed by technology it doesn’t even understand, HR deploys it at enormous cost to insult the talent it needs to attract during a talent shortage.

The by-line on this WSJ “article” is Dahlia Bazzaz, a former “crime reporter” and summer intern — and Ms. Bazzaz goes on to blurt out this sales pitch for HireVue:

robo-hr“Taking robo-recruiting one step further, some HireVue customers have an algorithm review the video interviews for them. Using data about the skills and attributes companies are seeking for a given role, a program called HireVue Insights scans videos for verbal and facial cues that match those skills then ranks the top 100 applicants.”

Now I get the “crime reporter” part, and we get to what’s really going on. Personnel jockeys don’t just avoid recruiting and interviewing you. They let HireVue’s robots “watch” your interview videos. Don’t those schmutzes realize they’re next? WTF? Inflatable interview dolls?

Let’s go back to Gilman Louie, whose investments in the digital world are his livelihood. What does he say about picking people?

“When you’re selecting people..  it’s personal. And personal is not digital.”

HR eats this stuff up.

“Speeding up the hiring process allows recruiters to look at more applicants than before…”

HR complains its job postings yield such a flood of applications that HR can’t possibly “look through” them all. But now personnel jockeys have time to look through all those videos. Gullible?

We could partner to produce an app that requires HR to make video interviews job applicants can watch to judge employers. But we’d do better selling popcorn to all those couch potatoes while they dial the talent knobs. Then there’s this idea for production services we can sell to job applicants: HR Pornography: Interview videos.

Companies like HireVue, InterviewStream, WePow — can you blame them because HR is stupid enough to spend its money insulating itself from, and insulting, the talent HR says is so hard to attract in today’s hiring market?

Can you? I can. These HR technology vendors are vampires sucking the recruiting budgets out of comatose HR departments while pitching stories to the media about how people are interchangeable parts — to be sorted by algorithms and selected by robots.

The HireVue Quiz

There’s an issue with HireVue’s video interviews I haven’t even mentioned. Can you guess what it is?

Would you sit for a robo-interview? Or would you rather HR pose for you first? Just how daft do you think HR is?

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Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why)

Question

I had to help out a former employee after we sold our real estate business. He was looking for sales opportunities. He did the usual thing of sending his resume via job boards and online applications, and had very little to show for it after a month or so. So I made a series of preemptive referrals.

The gift of referralsI told him to give me one day – and I cold-called companies across the metro area for six or seven hours on his behalf.

I found 12 companies (who were hiring) that wanted to see his resume and three of them wanted to get his phone number and call him right away.

How did I do this?

“My name is Kevin – I’m wondering if you can help me. I’d like to speak to a sales manager or the person that hires for sales. [I rarely have issues with them wanting to transfer me to HR – but it does happen.]

“Hi, [Sales Manager] – Kevin Downey here. I’m former owner of LOBC in Leawood, KS, and my former manager is looking for a sales position. Really good kid and as loyal as the day is long. I’d like to get his resume in front of you – if you’re hiring.”

I let them answer or ask questions.

It’s easy stuff. He had a job within a week.

[Reader Kevin Downey posted this story as a comment on another Q&A column. It’s so good, I wanted to highlight it here!]

Nick’s Reply

Your script is how I learned to place job candidates when I started headhunting. It’s perfect — for anyone.

What most people who are job hunting don’t realize is, all they really need is one former employer or boss, or someone they’ve worked with, to make those referral calls. They might ask, Why would anyone spend six hours making calls like that for me?

It’s a very smart investment for anyone to make, to help a good person land a new job.

How referrals pay you back

  • You as the referrer made a great new friend in the manager who hired that “kid.” You did that employer a favor!
  • You have a friend for life in the person you helped land a job.
  • Your reputation as a source of good hires will spread if you keep doing this. Establishing yourself as a credible hub of good business referrals will bring you loads of business for years to come — no matter what business you go into next. It may even lead you to a new job.
  • The universe shines more brightly on people who do favors that change lives.
  • Most important, you did a good deed — and no one has yet figured out how to calculate the total value of that ripple in the big pond of life.

Is it a lot of work to gift someone a job like this? You betcha. But, how much work is it to find yourself a job? Wouldn’t you love to have a favor like this come back around to you someday?

Employers actually pay for referrals

A personal referral is a fair investment for anyone to make, once they realize they will need a call like that themselves one day. I call it The Preemptive Reference.

For those who don’t realize it, this is what an employer pays a headhunter to do: make personal referrals, recommend someone, provide a reference to the employer in advance of a job interview. In other words, you’re doing most of the work for the employer. Employers love that. They’d rather hire someone through a trusted source than to wade through resumes and job applications from people they know nothing else about. They even prefer to pay a headhunter for referrals than to go find good hires themselves.

(Employers also offer referral fees to their own employees when they recommend a new hire. But there are two critical problems with most of these programs: The fee is usually too small, and there’s not enough proximity between the desired behavior (a referral) and the reward (the fee) to stimulate enough referral behavior that it makes a difference. These fees are paid months after the fact, and usually in small chunks.)

Investing in referrals pays — just don’t expect a return immediately or even from the person you invested in. The gift of a referral may get handed across many people before it comes back to you.

Many thanks to Kevin Downey for this lesson in how and why up to 60% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts!

Have you ever done someone a solid of this magnitude? How do you define a “preemptive reference?” Has anyone ever gifted a job to you in this manner?

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Goodbye to low-ball salary offers

Question

f-off-2I read that Massachusetts made it illegal for employers to require your salary history when you apply for a job. I always thought this was wrong to begin with. It’s how companies “justify” low-ball salary offers. This seems to back up what you’ve been saying all along — but what about those of us who don’t work in Massachusetts?

Nick’s Reply

I told you so.

Job applicants have been getting screwed by HR departments since time immemorial through intimidation and badgering:

“We can’t proceed with your application until you tell us what you’re getting paid now. It’s the policy!”

This is a popular topic on Ask The Headhunter, and I advise people to just say NO. (See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO? and Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) When employers demand to know your salary, it’s for just one reason: to low-ball any offer they make you.

And now everybody knows it.

It’s illegal to threaten job applicants

The state of Massachusetts just passed a law: Illegal in Massachusetts: Asking Your Salary in a Job Interview (New York Times). No longer will HR threaten to “end the application process” if you won’t tell your salary.

The dirty little secret is out:

“Companies tend to set salaries for new hires using their previous pay as a base line… which often leaves applicants with the nagging suspicion that they might have been offered more money if the earlier figure had been higher.”

Duh.

The impetus behind this new law is to end pay disparity between men and women. (See Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!) But the problem is much, much bigger.

Employers are the dummies

When employers make job interviews dependent on disclosing your old salary, everyone gets hurt — men and women. Even dopey employers get hurt, because their silly insistence elicits guffaws and “Screw you!” from the best job seekers, who won’t be intimidated and won’t give away their negotiating edge.

The New York Times points out — duh — that:

“The new law will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront — based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a previous position.”

Read the boldface again. Employers will have to figure out what you’re worth.

Jeez. What a concept for a business! What an indictment of the stupid employment system that HR departments have propped up for decades.

No competitive edge

Employers who base job offers on what another employer paid you are admitting five things:

  1. They really, really believe people (workers) are fungible — interchangeable parts.
  2. They’re incapable of assessing your value to their own business.
  3. They’re willing to judge you based on what one of their business competitors came up with.
  4. They believe your worth to one employer is the same as your worth to any employer.
  5. They have no competitive edge on judging value.

This new law is good for employers because it will force them to hire smarter and to be more competitive. Of course, they may need to fire their HR departments and whip their managers into shape. It’s time for employers to figure out how any new hire will contribute to the bottom line.

Jeez. What a concept.

Kudos to Massachusetts for being the first state to outlaw salary intimidation in job applications and interviews. I think the rest of the nation will soon follow.

noJust say NO

If you don’t live and work in Massachusetts, you still can and should say NO when employers demand your current salary. Smart employers will back off. The rest aren’t worth a job interview, because if they don’t take advantage of you up front, they’ll do it later.

Ask The Headhunter subscribers have been saying NO — politely, firmly and successfully — for a long time:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.” -Rich Mok

“Despite both the headhunter and the company insisting I disclose what I was getting paid at my old job, I stuck to my guns and I was able to double my salary. Plus I got a signing bonus. That would have never happened in a million years if I had caved!” – Bernie Dietz

“I was headhunted for a lucrative job at another company and, following your advice, did not state my current salary, nor did I even hint at its range. Thanks to your book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, I ended up with a 40% increase on my previous job and salary! Thanks!” – Daniel Slate

Say goodbye to low-ball salary offers — at least those based on your old salary. Employers can still low-ball you. And the best way to avoid that is to be prepared to show why you’d be the most profitable hire. Don’t be a dummy yourself. See How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

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HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates

In the August 2, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader shows us how a good employer recruits and hires.

tech-out-of-controlWe recently got a look at machines doing interviews — automated hiring. (New Grads: Send a robo-dog to job interviews!) An electrical engineer wrote to say that, “Fewer companies are doing on-campus interviews,” and expressed dismay at employers who try to recruit by substituting technology for personal, human contact.

Instead of making the kind of personal investment they expect from job seekers, employers are sending robo-drones to probe applicants online and via video. This job hunter found it troubling that human judgment has gone missing from the most important point in the recruiting and selection process — the very beginning, the first contact between the employer and the job seeker.

In this edition, the same engineer shares his experience of landing a job with a company whose managers reach out in person to judge applicants and to make hires. He closes his comments with an interesting observation about how a top university selects its freshman class — and asks whether employers are smarter than this school.

A reader’s story

I recently took on a new job in my town. I have been reading Ask The Headhunter for a long time, and while I have been working on expanding my network, I still applied for jobs the “traditional” way when I saw one I was interested in. (I’m from the school of Do What Works.)

I applied on their website, and soon thereafter got a phone interview. It was with a human, and it was short. Then my current manager interviewed me in person for only an hour. (Also in the interview was an engineer who now does marketing. I like that — a technical person who talks to customers!) I was told right then and there that of the three candidates under consideration, I was the top one.

A week later, I had a phone interview with the manager’s boss, whose office is 2,000 miles away, and HR interviewed me on the phone. During the next two weeks my manager called me twice to let me know what was going on. So when I got an offer within a week of the manager’s last call, I accepted. It took about a month altogether. This was the perfect balance of technology and face-to-face.

Yes, it was very personal.

My previous company tried to counter-offer. Raise!!! Stock!!! I answered: “Sorry, but I’m leaving.” I’m glad I made the change.

You can verify this, but the California Institute of Technology, which gets way more applications for their freshman class than they can admit, actually has every single application read and considered by real, live human beings.

Now, if the highest tech of the high-tech schools does not have an automated system to do this (and they could make a very good one with all that talent), then I can only conclude that they realize there are some tasks best left to human beings.

I love reading your website, and keep up the good work!

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words, but thanks more for your instructive story. We need to hear how good employers hire!

Employers’ biggest mistake today is using technology (algorithms, machine interviews, massive applicant databases) to process far too many applicants, making it more difficult for managers to choose, and turning the process into a months-long embarrassment. By the time HR watches the umpteenth “video interview,” it becomes convinced that watching more will yield a better hire — when all it does is protract an already cumbersome process that terrorizes candidates and pisses off the best ones.

A few decades ago even candidates who were rejected each received a personal note thanking them for applying. Now, in many companies it’s robo-all-the-way and damn the human touch. “We have no time in HR for professional courtesies because there are too many of you responding to our cattle calls!” (See Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m.)

Let’s look at the key differences in how this employer treated you — compared to what most companies seem to be doing today. It seems clear from your story that you were enticed and convinced by the personal touch and the timely handling.

8 steps to respectful hiring

  1. The company responded quickly after you applied.
    Most companies seem incapable of prompt action and decisiveness — or of tendering a speedy, polite rejection. In this case, it seems that HR — not the hiring manager — made the first call to you. While I think the manager should make first contact, the fact that HR kept it short tells me the manager pre-selects candidates and HR serves in a support role. (Yes, there are good HR workers out there who know what they’re doing, and how not to interfere when it comes to judging candidates.) After all, the #1 candidate seemed to be one of just three. That’s all it should take to make a hire.
  2. A human called you.
    Most companies waste weeks letting algorithms sort applicants. HR doesn’t realize that the shelf-life of a good candidate in a “talent shortage” is very short. These employers behave like there’s no rush while the best hires go to their more nimble competitors.
  3. The next step was a personal investment by the hiring manager.
    Hiring is important enough that he quickly met you face-to-face, along with another team member. Most employers would have you fill out more applications or take tests online or in the HR office — without a manager’s involvement. You would have been left with a poor impression of the company.
  4. The manager gave you immediate feedback.
    Most of the time, applicants leave interviews with no idea whether the employer is seriously interested in hiring them. And then it’s impossible to get any feedback, much less a response to phone calls or e-mail queries. This manager was smart to ‘fess up that you were #1, and then to follow through. (See Will employers explode if you squeeze them for interview feedback?)
  5. The manager’s boss called you personally.
    Rather than delegate the selection process downward to HR, your new manager escalated it to a higher-level manager in a timely way. It’s important to note that HR was not driving this process — the managers were. They moved in concert quickly — another sign that you’ll be working for good, decisive people.
  6. The manager demonstrated respect.
    He took personal responsibility to call you regularly with updates. Every manager is busy. Most use that as an excuse for dropping the ball when hiring. Most companies have no qualms about radio silence for weeks or months, as if the applicant’s time and peace of mind are immaterial. (“We don’t care about our reputation among job seekers because there are thousands more waiting for a job here!”)
  7. HR stepped in at the end — where it belongs.
    Dotting i’s and crossing t’s is HR’s job. This HR organization did it right: It left the responsibility and authority with the hiring managers, and entered the process after your new boss decided to hire you.
  8. An offer was tendered promptly.
    In the month your new employer took to make a commitment to you, other managers don’t even start interviewing candidates. Their HR staff is busy gorging itself on hundreds of videos, or gagging on thousands of resumes. (Do employers take forever to make you a job offer? See Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers.)

Noisy Hiring: Managers can’t hear the candidates

Employers reading this should pay close attention to your story about CalTech. You’re absolutely right. While HR departments deploy more and more offensive HR technology between hiring managers and job applicants, CalTech demonstrates the wisdom of decision makers getting as close as possible to applicants immediately.

tech-out-of-control-2In engineering, it’s called a signal-and-noise problem. The point is to identify the signal before noise seeps into the system and obscures it. HR and robo-hiring vendors (“HR technology”) introduce more and more pre-processing into recruiting and hiring — and that adds noise. The best candidates — the signals — get lost or rejected long before any hiring manager gets to judge them properly. Managers can’t hear the best candidates.

Gullible HR executives have turned hiring into a big, noisy system by adding more and more technology to what’s really a simple task. It’s no surprise that an engineer like you — who designs technology — knows what its limits are.

The single best reason for you to take this job is the manager’s integrity and commitment to hiring right. You made a wise choice to reject a counter-offer. You’re going to work with people who realize hiring is a critical task. (See The manager’s #1 job.) This demonstrates their commitment to employees, too.

Kudos to your new boss and employer for how they hire and treat job applicants. It should be a signal to those who are crying they can’t find good hires because they’re too busy terrorizing them with superfluous HR technology.

Do you have any positive experiences to share about how you were hired? No doubt employers are waiting to learn how to do it right — so let’s give them some examples.

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Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES

In the July 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader plans to reject a job offer that might be saved.

Question

yes-butIn Fearless Job Hunting Book 9, Be The Master of Job Offers you suggest how to decline an offer when you have two job offers — so as not to burn my bridges. I’ve got a different problem. I should decline a job offer but I don’t want to!

While I have not received an offer yet, it became clear after the final interview last week that this department is not flexible about working hours. The job is in the middle of Boston, and it would increase my commute time. I am not willing to do that for this position. I want the offer, but can I be honest about the commute time as the reason I would decline?

Nick’s Reply

I’d be frank about your commute problem if they make an offer. But if you want to avoid ending the discussion, there’s a way to finesse it.

When I want to say no to a deal, I like to take an affirmative approach. So I say YES but. If all the other terms are to your liking, ask yourself, What would make me want to accept the offer?

Start with YES

Then phrase your response to the offer like this.

How to Say It
“I’d like to accept your offer. I want the job and I want to work on your team. But I’d like to discuss the terms with you, if you’re amenable to it.”

(You’re not actually accepting the offer. You’re starting a negotiation by saying you’d like to take it. Remember that negotiations aren’t just about money! There are lots of terms you can negotiate.)

Pause and let them respond. They’ll ask you, What terms?

How to Say It
“The problem is the commute. We all know commuting in and around Boston is a big challenge. The traffic is horrible. But I can deal with it if you could make an accommodation on the work hours. I’ll of course work at least X hours per day. I want to make sure I’d be delivering the value and work you need from me – I don’t expect you to compromise on that. But can we discuss a flexible work schedule to help me deal with the traffic?”

Note that you’re not demanding anything. You are asking for a discussion. No matter how they respond, you will have given an affirmative response and a request for a reasonable accommodation. If they blow it at that point, it’s on them.

Commitment enables negotiations

The power of this approach lies in starting out with YES. This is what most of the negotiating methods I discuss in Be The Master of Job Offers are about: — saying YES that means maybe, if you’ll work with me on the terms. This tells them the main question is already resolved – you want the job. All that remains is working out the terms, which you’ve indicated you’re happy to discuss, after you’ve notified them that the commute is the issue.

Believe it or not, the most important commitment you can make to an employer is to say you want the job. That commitment puts you on good footing to discuss terms.

Try it. The worst that will happen is they’ll say no. But when you’ve indicated you want the job, an employer is more likely to come back with an alternative that’s good for both of you.

I wish you the best with this. These two articles may be helpful when you’re negotiating:

Don’t let employers always call the shots

The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!

How do you negotiate when you want a job, but the terms are not to your liking? What would you do in this case?

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