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

Archive for the References Category

4 You’re-Kidding-Me Questions & Snappy Answers


msft-technetToday (March 1) we’re joined by some special guests! A big welcome to IT professionals from Microsoft’s TechNet Virtual Conference 2016, where I’m doing a presentation titled “Top Tips From A Headhunter” to help IT folks deal with career crises.

For those new to Ask The Headhunter, I invite you to check out Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course. For more in-depth methods to handle your own career challenges, please also see 600 Editions: The Best of Ask The Headhunter! Related to what I discussed in the video you just watched on TechNet: Please! Stop Networking! Advance your career by learning to “talk shop” with people!

The ATH portion of the conference is March 1, 11:30am PT with Q&A to follow. If you’re reaching this in time, please join us: enter the event here.

Microsoft Week! Save 25% on any Ask The Headhunter PDF books this week only! Use discount code=MSFT when checking out! This offer is limited-time only! Save now!


In the March 1, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, readers seek wisdom on all manner of things, including how to make big bucks! File under Gimme a break… but we try to cover it all! Is this week’s Q&A tongue-in-cheek? You decide…

Question

I love speaking in public, giving presentations, leading group discussions, and teaching classes. If I were given the challenge of speaking in front of 500 people with 60 minutes notice, I would rub my hands together with glee. Please help me understand how to turn my talents into $100,000 a year.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

snappy-answers

Ask The Headhunter: Where your dreams come true! Ask yourself, What company or organization could make a lot of money and profit by having you do those things you love? That’s who to go to about a job. You need to come up with a mini-business plan for each company you target.

  • What problem or challenge do they face?
  • How can you tackle it to produce profit?
  • What’s the best way to explain it to the company?
  • Who’s the best person to explain it to?
  • How can you track down people that “best person” knows or works with — people who can introduce you?

You’re not going to get hired to do what you love. You’ll get hired to do what you love if you can show how that will pay off to an employer. That’s your real challenge. You must figure it out and communicate it, because no company is going to figure it out for you. For more about this, see The Basics, then rub your hands with glee!

Question 2

I worked in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for 25 years recruiting. I have references from great companies. No one seems to be interested in my valuable experience. In fact, I was told no one would hire me in Silicon Valley. I need someone to check my experience out. I would very much appreciate a referral that could help me track these rumors down.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

Ah, let me get out my little black book… You’d need to hire a private detective. I don’t know any. Just because someone told you that you’d never get hired in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean anyone else feels that way. If you’re concerned about your references, you might ask a hiring manager at any company (someone you’re friendly with) to contact them and ask them what they think of you. You might identify the problem that way, assuming you have one. In the future, Take Care Of Your References.

As for the value of your experience, please see my reply to Question 1.

Question 3

I came across your article, Wanted: HR exec with the guts not to ask for your social security number, after a local recruiter asked me for information I’m not comfortable sharing.

RECRUITER: “I need the last four of your SSN and middle initial to submit you to Company X.”

ME: “Is this absolutely needed at this stage? What is it being used for? Understandably, I’m hesitant to give out that information.”

RECRUITER: “It’s the only way you can be submitted to our client for a job. It’s part of their ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to ensure that candidates are not being double submitted.”

I guess I’m really hoping that you might offer a bit of advice — whether I’m right in thinking this is a red flag, and how I might further respond to her request and comments.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

How to Say It: Up your xiggy with a blowtorch!

Recruiters love applicants who speak the local jargon, so that should go over well. But employers have no legitimate reason to demand your SSN just so you can apply for a job. The recruiter gives away the problem when she admits the employer’s ATS needs your SSN to avoid duplicate submissions of your credentials. They use it as a hash — a unique database key to identify you. That’s how the employer avoids fee battles between recruiters who both claim they submitted you.

Lazy ATS system designers misuse a federal ID number for their own purposes. In the process, the recruiter, the employer and the ATS vendor are intimidating job seekers and putting them at risk of not getting a job over the ATS vendor’s silly database trick. Hence the need for a blowtorch.

Should you play along? That’s up to you. (A related employer trick is demanding your salary history. See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?) It’s also up to you to hand over any 4 digits you choose, for the time being, to beat the system, and explain later to the employer if the 4 digits don’t match your actual SSN — which will matter only if you’re hired. “Someone obviously made a mistake.”

I don’t like lying. But I also don’t tolerate stupid bureaucratic tricks by employers and ATS vendors — at the expense of job seekers.

What you do is up to you, of course. What I’m suggesting could cause you problems. But what the recruiter and ATS vendor are demanding could cause you problems, too. I’m just telling you what I’d do. Always follow the instructions that come with a blowtorch.

Question 4

Should I disclose in a job interview that I applied to grad school a few weeks ago, and that if I get in I won’t be taking the job? The job interview is in about two weeks.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

First thing I’d do is buy a lottery ticket and put it in your pocket. Would you tell an employer you have that ticket in your pocket, and that if you win, you won’t need the job?

I see no reason to disclose your graduate school application, unless and until you’re faced with a choice about going to grad school. Make sense?

How would you deal with these four situations? Geez, I am on a roll! Post your comments before I slow down!

: :

References: How employers bungle a competitive edge

In the December 8, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets down on reference checking.

Question

I’ve come to the conclusion that asking for references is about the dumbest thing a company can do in the hiring process. First, I believe that any prior employer is only obligated to give the dates you worked and at what salary. They don’t like to give any qualitative assessment because there are potential liability issues involved. Second, who is going to give a personal reference that would not describe you in laudatory terms? I think references are just another personnel department make-work project! What do you think?

referencesNick’s Reply

One of the very best ways to size up a job candidate is to consider the opinions of her professional community. Employers who ignore peer review take unnecessary risks when hiring. But that’s where today’s reference-checking practices have led us.

Incompetent reference checking

Asking for references seems dumb because it has been made trivial; so trivial that companies routinely outsource reference checks rather than do it themselves. (See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.) They’re going to judge you based on a routine set of questions that someone else asks a bunch of people on a list. How ludicrous is that?

Employers have bought into the idea that a reference check is like a credit check, but it’s not. A credit check digs up objective information: numbers, loan payment dates, defaults.

A reference check is largely subjective. The source of information isn’t a bricks-and-mortar bank that’s required to divulge facts about your accounts. A reference source is a mushy human being who may be in a good mood or a bad mood; who may know you well, or not. The reference checker must know the context — the industry, the profession, the work, the community — or he can’t possibly understand what to ask or what the comments really mean. This is why most reference checks are simply incompetent, if not dangerous.

reference-checkerThe “reference and investigations” industry may be able to turn up criminal records and such, but you can’t tell me that a researcher is going to elicit a subtle judgment of a job candidate by calling a name on a list. Worse, if the information that’s collected is erroneous, why would such a reference checker care? He’s not accountable to anyone. The employer that buys it doesn’t care and isn’t going to ask you to explain. To borrow a phrase, outsourcing reference checks is like washing your hands with rubber gloves on. If you’re going to feel anything, you must get your hands dirty!

Real reference checking

There is no finesse in reference checking any more — not for most employers. A real reference check is done quietly and responsibly, by talking to sources that a manager tracks down on her own by using her network of professional contacts. These are candid references; comments made off the record within a trusted professional relationship. That’s where you’ll find the true measure of a candidate.

Did I just break five laws? That’s only because the skeevy industry that has grown around reference investigations requires regulation. It’s because employers are no longer good at teasing apart credible references from spiteful or sugar-coated ones. They want to put the legal liability for making judgments of character and reputation on someone else.

There’s a better way to do it, and it’s time-honored among honorable businesspeople. The person doing the reference checking must be savvy and responsible. She must know what she’s doing. A greenhorn human resources clerk is out. In fact, the only person who should be doing such a check is the hiring manager. The most candid discussions will take place between managers who know their industry, their professional community, and the issues in their business. Where a manager might not open up to an “investigator,” she’s likely to share information with a peer. Credible, useful information comes from credible, trustworthy sources. You can’t buy it.

If it’s true that hiring the best people matters, then real reference checks give an employer a very powerful competitive edge. Outsource reference checks, or do them ineptly, and you’ve bungled your company’s future.

Reference checking is a community event

The reason — other than legal — that companies don’t do effective checks is that human resources (HR) departments simply don’t have the kinds of contacts in the professional community that could yield legitimate, credible references. And that brings into question HR’s entire role in the recruitment, selection and hiring process. If you don’t have good enough connections in the professional community to do that kind of reference check, how could you possibly recruit from that community? Both tasks require the exact same kind of contacts and relationships. It’s all about the employer’s network.

accountableJob hunters correctly worry that bad references might cost them a job. That’s a real problem. The question is, is the bad reference justified? If it is, then perhaps it should cost you a job. Don’t shoot the messenger. Take a good look at yourself, and recognize that the truth has consequences in your social and professional community. (But all is not lost. See How can you fight bad references?)

It should not be illegal to rely on credible opinions about you. By the same token, managers must be attuned to vengeful references, and take appropriate measures to verify them. But regulating candor is no solution. When we count on the law to protect us from all information, we must expect to get hurt by a lack of good information.

If I were to check your references, I’d get good, solid information about you. And I might not ever call anyone on the list you gave me. I’ll use my contacts to triangulate on your reputation. (You might be surprised at who I talk to. See The Ministry of Reference Checks.) Will someone try to torpedo you? Possibly, but it’s quite rare. More likely, I’ll turn something up that makes me want to get to know you better; to assess you more carefully.

The trouble is, good reference checks are rarely done. Hence, most reference information is pure garbage, as you suggest. And this hurts good workers just as it hurts good employers. In the end, all we have to go on is the opinion of our professional community. Stifle it, and the community suffers the consequences.


References are your competitive edge

References are such an important tool to help you land a job that I can’t emphasize enough that you must plan, prepare and use references to give you an edge. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition) I discuss just how strategic references are.

First, learn how to launch a reference:

“The best… reference is when a reputable person in your field refers you to an employer. In other words, the referrer ‘sends you’… to his peer and suggests she hire you.” (pp. 23-24)

Second, use preemptive references:

A “preemptive reference is one who, when the employer is ready to talk to references, calls the employer before being called. Such a call packs a powerful punch. It tells the employer that the reference isn’t just positive, it’s enthusiastic.” (p. 24)


The truth matters. Legislating against the opinions of others about us is, well, stupid. Far better to manage those opinions and to be responsible about them. If you’re a manager, it’s also far better to take responsibility and check applicants’ references yourself. Don’t let HR do it. What do references really mean?

: :

How to fix a bad reference the hard way

In the March 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader needs to deal with an old boss who’s probably also a bad reference.

Question

bad-referenceI just had an interview where I followed your advice in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6. I took control, offered to show how I’d do the job, and demonstrated to the manager how I’d take care of one of her most perplexing problems. She loved it, and I think I’m going to get an offer. Sounds great, right?

It is, except for one problem. This manager — let’s call her Ann — knows one of my past employers quite well (let’s call her Brenda). Brenda probably will not give me a glowing reference. I suspect Ann will contact Brenda. How do I handle this delicate situation?

Nick’s Reply

I’m glad to hear Book 6 got you so far! References are a very valuable asset — learn to manage them all the time, not just when they turn into trouble. (See Take Care Of Your References.) Now let’s deal with your problem.

Even if the reference is unfavorable, a smart employer will rely first on her own judgment — and ask you to explain your old boss’s comments. So, anticipate the question and be prepared with a good answer that is honest and not defensive.

Then there’s the tactical approach. Tell the new manager (Ann) what your old boss (Brenda) is likely to say before they talk. Since you cannot block that conversation, own up to the facts and impress Ann with your candor.

The Hard Way
When confronted with a problem like this, I like to take it head-on. Talk to your old boss! It’s the hardest way, and it will force you to develop the best solution. I think it’s the best way. If you leave this to chance, you will have no idea what the outcome might be.

Call your old boss before Ann does. Surprise Brenda and ask her permission to list her as a reference. You might have to swallow your pride, but nothing of value comes easily.

If she agrees, fess up that you believe that, when you worked together, Brenda may not have seen you in the most positive light.

How to Say It
“I know I could have been a better employee, and I could have done better at XYZ. Since then, I’ve beefed up my skills considerably. [Explain how, but keep it brief.]”

This may allow Brenda to blow off any steam about you before she speaks with Ann, and give you a chance to change her mind a bit. If Brenda responds candidly, pose this magic question:

“May I ask you for some advice? I really want continue to get better at what I do. What advice would you give me about improving my performance or anything else about how I do my work?”

Profit from The Outcome
Then be quiet and listen. If your old boss blasts you, or explains that you’re better off not listing her as a reference, then you know what’s coming when the new boss contacts her. Now you’ll have to use the tactical approach I mentioned above: Prepare Ann for what Brenda will say, and explain yourself. You will have profited from the call.

On the other hand, your candid phone call to Brenda might help her see you in a new, more positive light. Discussing how you’ve changed and improved might give her the words she needs to soften the reference when she talks to Ann. Now you’ve really profited from the hard way.

This might work. It might not. I just believe in facing problems like this head-on, and in trying to make the best of them.

Do you see what we’re doing here? We’re trying to influence Brenda to help the new, improved you. In the process, you’re also learning how this may play out so you can better manage your discussion with Ann.

Whatever happens when you talk with Brenda, you’ll learn something, and you’ll be better off for knowing. Be polite. Be respectful. Do not argue. Don’t be defensive. Listen carefully and try to get some good advice. Say thanks and move on.

Congratulations on impressing the new manager. Now get your old boss on board — or mitigate the damage she might cause.

There are other very powerful ways to use references and to parry bad ones. I discuss these in lots of how-to detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “Don’t provide references — Launch them!” and “The preemptive reference,” pp. 23-25.

Can this reader avert disaster? Have you ever turned around a bad reference? Are my tactics risky?

: :