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Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!

In the April 12, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the truth about equal pay rears its head.

When women get paid less for doing the same jobs men do, the real reason is obvious to any forthright business person, though it seems to elude the media, the experts, and even some women themselves: Employers pay women less because they can get away with it.

gender-pay-gapThe same pundits tell women that they should change their behavior if they want to be paid fairly for doing the same work as men. But the experts, researchers, advocates and apologists are all wrong. There is no prescription for underpaid women to get paid more, because it isn’t women’s behavior that’s the problem.

There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

When doing the job doesn’t pay, women of all ages should be aware that younger women today have the solution. According to a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), some women have figured it out. Millennial women don’t need to change their negotiating, child-rearing, educational or any other behavior to impress errant employers. They know to quit and move on. This is going to change life at work as we know it.

The myths about women causing their own pay problem

Let’s look at what women are supposedly doing to abuse themselves financially.

We can refer to umpteen surveys and studies about gender pay disparity — and to some that suggest there is no disparity. But a recent Time magazine analysis summarizes the data from the U.S. Census and other sources: “Women earn less than men at every age range: 15% less at ages 22 to 25 and a staggering 38% less at ages 51 to 64.

This has become favorite fodder for the media — and for armchair economists and gender researchers and pundits looking to bang out a blog column. But I think most of the explanations about pay disparity, and the prescriptions for how to get equal pay for equal work, are bunk.

Depending on what you read, women get paid less because they:

  • Have kids.
  • Interrupt their careers for their families. (See: A stupid interview question to ask a woman.)
  • Don’t have the right education (e.g., STEM), so they can’t get good jobs.
  • Are nurturing, so they don’t negotiate hard enough for equal pay.
  • Don’t like to argue.
  • Lack confidence.
  • Let their men get away without doing household chores — so those men (if they’re managers) don’t know they should pay women fairly.

These explanations about lower pay are speculation and myth, but the message is always the same: If women would just change some or all of those behaviors, they can shrink the pay gap.

I say bunk. Women don’t cause the pay gap. Employers do. So employers should change their behavior.

The fact

I’ve been a headhunter for a long time. I’ve seen more job offers and observed more salary negotiations than you’ll see in a lifetime. I’ve observed more employers decide what salaries or wages to pay than I can count. And I am convinced the media and the experts are full of baloney about the pay gap between men and women. They are so caught up in producing eye-popping news that they’re doing women a disservice — and confusing speculation with facts.

Here are the facts:

  • Employers pay women less to do the same work as they pay men.

Well, there’s just one fact, and that’s it.

Women don’t make themselves job offers, do their own payroll, or sign their own paychecks. The gender pay disparity is all — all — on employers, because we start with a simple assumption: A job is worth $X to do it right, no matter who does it. It’s all about getting the work done. And the employer decides whom to hire and how much to pay.

Here’s the hard part for economists and experts to understand: Employers decide to pay women less, simply because they can get away with it. The law of parsimony instantly leads us to the obvious motive: Paying less saves companies money. Everything else is speculative claptrap.

A review of the bunk

Let’s look at some of the gratuitous “analysis” about why women are paid less than men. Look closely: It all delivers one absurd message: Women are the problem, so women should change their behavior.

Glassdoor, the oft-reviled “employer review” website, reports that overt discrimination may be part of the cause of gender pay discrepancies (Demystifying the Gender Pay Gap: Evidence from Glassdoor Salary Data). But, claims Glassdoor’s economist, Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, “occupation and industry sorting of men and women into systematically different jobs is the main cause.”

“Sorting?” Armchair apologist Chamberlain is saying women apply for jobs that pay less and men apply for jobs that pay more. While this may sometimes be true, what he fails to note is that when a man and a woman do the same job in the same industry, one is paid less because the employer pays her less. The absurd prescription for women: This will change if only women will change their behavior!

Then there’s the HuffPo, in which Wharton researcher Bobbi Thomason says that to fix the gender pay gap, “We need to have men getting involved at home with childcare and other domestic responsibilities.”

Gimme a break. Women, when you get men to wash dishes, you’ll change how boss men pay female employees. The prescription: It’s all up to you. Change your behavior at home.

The Exponent, reporting on Purdue University’s Equal Pay Day event on April 12, says that the wage gap is “largely based on the fact that, generally, women don’t negotiate their salary once they get into their career field.” Those women. Dopes. They’re doing the wrong thing — that’s why they get paid less! Change your behavior!

Kris Tupas, treasurer of the American Association of University Women chapter at Purdue, explains that employers pay women less “because our culture teaches women to be polite and accept what they’re given.” Again the prescription is for women: Change your behavior!

Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, wrote a book that explains women’s fundamental problem: Women Don’t Ask. Says Babcock’s book blurb:

“It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask. Sometimes they don’t know that change is possible — they don’t know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don’t ask because they’ve learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.”

Women get paid less because they don’t know they can ask! Gimme another break! And what’s Babcock’s prescription? Women — you have to ask to be paid fairly! Change your behavior!

Fox News’s Star Hughes-Gorup tells women how they can fix the pay gap: “Get educated.” If you want to make as much as the guy in the next cubicle who’s doing the same job, hey, get more schooling after the fact to impress your employer.

Next, says Hughes-Gorup, “Embrace asking for help.” Yep — if you learn how to ask properly, you can “start the conversation” about money. In time, you’ll be worth more. She sums it up: “I believe true progress will be made when we acknowledge that the real issue deterring women from talking about money is not confidence, but self-imposed limitations in our thinking.”

The prescription: Women: If you stop limiting your thinking, you’ll get paid more. So, get with it! Change your behavior and your thinking!

Disclosure: I can’t believe anyone buys any of this crap, much less that anyone else publishes it uncritically.

Millennial women have the solution

Why do all those articles prescribe that women must change their behavior to get paid more, when it’s employers who are making the decision to pay them less? Should women appease employers, or respond to unfair pay some other way?

Surveys over the years show that the top reasons people quit their jobs include (1) dissatisfaction with the boss, and (2) work-life balance. (E.g., Inc. magazine’s 5 Reasons Employees Leave Their Jobs.) Money is not the main reason.

But something has changed — especially for Millennial women. Lauren Noël, co-author of a report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), says, “Our research shows that the top reasons why [Millennial] women leave are not due to family issues. The top reasons are due to pay and career advancement.”

The report itself quotes women under thirty saying that the number one reason they quit is, “I have found a job that pays more elsewhere.”

What’s interesting is that the HR executives Noël surveyed don’t get it — HR thinks “that the top reason why women leave is family reasons.” Is it any wonder employers attribute lower pay to the “choices” women supposedly make?

The Millennial answer to lower pay

Millennial women are the generation that has figured out they’re not the problem. Unlike their older peers, they’ve figured out that when they’re not getting paid what they want, the answer is to quit and go work for an employer who will pay them more.

As a headhunter, I know first-hand that quitting is the surest way to take control when you’re underpaid and your employer will not countenance paying you fairly. I also realize that not all women — or men, for that matter — can afford to quit a job that is paying them unfairly. But that doesn’t change the answer that will most enduringly change how employers behave.

Kudos to women who take the initiative, and who don’t blame themselves or alter their own behavior when an employer’s behavior is the problem. I wonder how many employers have taken notice? Do they realize the generation of female workers that’s coming up the ranks isn’t going to tolerate financial abuse — they’re just going to walk?

payDo we need a law?

I’m not a fan of creating laws to dictate what people should be paid. But I’m not averse to regulations about transparency and disclosure. With some simple disclosure regulations, I think more women can start getting paid as much as men do for the same jobs.

Companies want our resumes; let’s have theirs, too — a standard “salary resume” provided to all job applicants, comparing pay for women and men at a company. Employers would be free to pay men twice what they pay women, if they want. And upon checking the salary disclosure, job seekers would be free to walk away and join a competitor who pays fairly for work done by anyone.

Let’s get over it: Women who do the same work as men aren’t the problem. Employers who pay unfairly are, and let’s face what’s obvious: They do it because they can get away with it. (For a story about an employer with integrity, see Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

If we’re going to analyze behavior, let’s analyze employers’ underhanded behaviors — not women’s personalities, cognitive styles, or biological characteristics. I’ll say it again — There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

we-pay-menEmployers who don’t pay fairly will stop getting away with it when they’re required to tattoo their salary statistics on their foreheads — so job applicants can run to their competitors. Or, more likely — since new laws aren’t likely — employers will change their errant behavior when a new generation of women just up and quits. That would be quite a news story.

Maybe then the media and the experts will stop blaming women for the gender pay gap — and start challenging employers to raise their standards.

(Considering quitting? See Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

What’s the solution? Do we need a walk-out? Do we need regulations? Do we need a corporate stock and pillory? Does anybody think there’s no gender pay gap?

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Who comes first, my boss or my company?

In the March 29, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader goes up against her boss and wonders how to stay out of trouble.


My boss just told us that it’s mandatory for us to join a closed LinkedIn group, on which she will give us work assignments — for instance, shared reviews of resumes or other documents or topics that she feels will enhance our knowledge by group sharing.

company_secretsI have no problem doing this via work e-mail, but to be forced to join a social media group — where what we post can be mined, according to one of my clients — is tantamount to agreeing to LinkedIn’s terms and conditions, none of which I have been able to see.

Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think that my 30-something boss wants to make a splash for her own career via becoming the leader of a LinkedIn group. I don’t know if she has thought this through.

I am also concerned for my own professional status. Frankly, I don’t know what behaviors the 20-somethings in the group are up to, and I’m not sure I want to be linked publicly to them. My co-workers are spread across the country, and I’ve never met some of them. Those that I’ve met (only virtually) I barely know. 

I just un-joined the group. Who comes first? My boss or my company?

Nick’s Reply

LinkedIn is not an online work collaboration platform, though I know this social networking site has experimented with the idea. There are many good collaboration systems that your boss could use (Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work, Slack) but this isn’t one of them.

I don’t think you’re being too cynical. Your guess about your boss’s motivations for getting you all into a LinkedIn group could be correct – she may be trying to build her network. More important, I think you’re right to worry about your company.

Information you and your co-workers post on a LinkedIn group would likely be mined and sold by LinkedIn. Your boss may not realize that this could have serious privacy implications, including violation of your company’s confidentiality and intellectual property policies.

Check your boss

I don’t know how big your company is, but I’d consider paying an in-person visit to HR. Without mentioning your boss or this project, I’d ask:

“If I wanted to set up an online collaboration area where my co-workers and I and our clients could post and exchange company documents that we can all work on, would company policy permit that? I’ve come to you because I’d never do anything like this without first checking the policy.”

My guess is HR will tell you, No way!

Then you have to find a diplomatic way to tell your boss. Or to tell HR what your boss is up to.

One way to do this might be to explain to your boss that you spoke to HR because you wanted to know the policy about how you should register on LinkedIn for this project since you’d be posting company work. That’s a legit concern that has nothing to do with you thwarting your boss.

Then you’d probably have to explain to your boss: “It turns out HR is worried about something far bigger: confidentiality of company data.” Then your boss can save face, drop the whole idea, and possibly avoid getting fired, too.

Suggest some alternatives

Quickly research some of the mainstream collaboration platforms available to your company, including free ones. Take a look at Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work and Slack. When you talk to your HR department, ask whether any of these are approved for company use. Then mention these to your boss. If her real goal is collaboration, you may save the day.

My guess is that your boss is merely very naïve. Putting your concerns about your own privacy aside, I think your bigger worry should be potential violation of your employer’s policies about proprietary and company confidential information being disseminated on the Internet. That liability would be on you. And that’s not to say your personal information wouldn’t be compromised, too. LinkedIn has been in some serious legal controversies concerning misuse of customer information. (See LinkedIn Users Sucker-Punched by Wrong References and LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users.)

LinkedIn is not a collaboration system, where company and user data is protected, so I don’t know how your boss got this idea. LinkedIn is a public sewer of personal information and misinformation, in addition to being a potentially useful database about people. (Yes, I think it’s both. LinkedIn needs to clean up its act.)

You can see my cynicism. And I understand yours. I think you can help your boss by suggesting that LinkedIn be used the way it’s intended — or in whatever way makes most sense to your company — and by getting your HR department’s blessing before posting company information online.

Have you ever had to buck your boss to protect yourself or your company? How did you do it? Was HR helpful? Where should an employee draw the line when instructed to do something questionable?

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The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge

In the November 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions the lunacy of the training gap.


I am responding to your question asking whether or not we, your readers, agree with employers that there is a “skills gap.” I am not sure I can really answer your question, though I will tell you that I have my doubts that there is a skills gap.

I think what there may be is a training gap.

What I can tell you is this. Back in 1986 I was hired by an insurance company as a computer programmer after having completed four years of college (linguistics major), followed by a six-month program in data processing. While I did have training going into the job, the company provided me and my co-workers with a lot of on-the-job training. They had an education department, and we all went through hours, and hours, and hours of paid on-the-job training in computer programming.

My understanding about the reason the company did this was because they wanted to train us to do things the way loser2they wanted them done.

My question to you is, do you find that kind of thing to be true anymore? Are companies willing to invest in training their employees after they have been hired? Or are companies no longer willing to do that?

Nick’s Reply

You’re hitting on one of the key issues behind the so-called “talent and skills shortage.” Who is actually responsible for brewing talent and skills? Job seekers? Schools? Employers themselves?

It seems clear in today’s economy that most employers believe they should be able to acquire skills ready-made. Despite the fact that the nature of a job depends a lot on a particular company’s business — jobs are not one-size-fits-all-companies, after all — businesses expect that the exact constellation of skills they need is going to walk in the door just because they advertised for it.

The training gap is real

Consider the embarrassing contradiction: Any company will tell you that it is the most competitive one in its industry, that its products are uniquely the best, that what they deliver isn’t available anywhere else.

So, why is it they expect the unique talent they want to hire already exists, as if it comes in a can to be purchased on a job board — or that it already exists at a competing company? They might as well admit that their products are the same as everyone else’s.

If you admit you can get your new hires wholly-made from another employer — your competitor — then you might as well tell your customers to buy what they need there, too. If a company wants the skills and talents it needs to be unique and competitive, it had better take responsibility for creating them.

I don’t believe there’s any talent or skills gap. At least in the United States, talent abounds. There’s arguably more talent on the street, looking for work, than ever in history. But to make a worker an element of its unique, competitive edge, the company must make that worker in its own image. It must cast the worker as unique as its products or services. It takes the same kind of investment to brew talent as to brew a competitive product.

We know for a fact that employers have indeed cut back enormously on training. It’s been confirmed by Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli. He’s shown that, adjusting for time, technology, and other factors, American workers are no less skilled or educated than they’ve ever been. However, employers have all but stopped training employees. Employers own the problem – they created it. (See Employment in America: WTF is going on? and Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need.)

Cappelli writes in the Wall Street Journal:

“Unfortunately, American companies don’t seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Bye-bye, competitive edge!

Your 1986 story confirms Cappelli’s finding that, not very long ago, employers considered training important. Today, it’s pathetic. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. HR departments think they can buy off-the-self workers who don’t need or deserve training or skills development, while their marketing departments claim the company’s products are unique, state-of-the-art and without equal. This training gap is the pinnacle of corporate hypocrisy.

Then there’s the industry that aids and abets it. LinkedIn and other job boards successfully market the fraudulent notion that “we have the perfect candidate in our database – just keep looking!” (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired — Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled.) Employers buy that bunk sandwich in bulk, and stuff it into their recruiting strategies and hiring policies. They behave as if they can hire “just in time” the “perfect candidate” who has been doing the same job for five years already — at a lower salary.

What job seeker wants either of those two “qualities” in a new job?

loserWhen companies fail to educate, train and develop their new hires and existing employees, I think they say goodbye to any competitive edge. Their customers get cookie-cutter products and services. What this state of affairs tells us is that there’s a talent shortage in corporate leadership. (See Talent Shortage, Or Poor Management?)

As long as employers treat people — that “human resource,” that “human asset” — as a fungible commodity or interchangeable parts to be bought and sold as-is, their products and services will be no better than interchangeable parts sold at the lowest possible price.

Take a look at another article by Peter Cappelli, where he slaps management hard upside the head with this apt analogy:

“Imagine a car manufacturer that decided to buy a key engine component for its cars rather than make them. The requirements for that component change every year, and if you can’t get one that fits, the car won’t run. What would we say about that manufacturer if it just assumed the market would deliver the new component with the specifications it needed when it needed it and at the price it needed? It would certainly flunk risk management. Yet that’s what these…companies are doing.”

I think Cappelli answers your question, and I don’t think there’s any debate: Most companies no longer invest in shaping and developing their employees. Their talent-challenged finance executives preach that cost reduction is a better path to profitability than investment. This exacts an enormous price on our economy because it’s relegating those companies to the scrap heap of “me-too enterprises,” and it’s failing our workforce as a whole.

I also think you highlight the solution: “…the reason the company [provided extensive education and development]… was because they wanted to train us to do things the way they wanted them done.” That’s what gave your employer an edge. No investment in training means no edge.

Drive by and keep your edge

My advice: Keep on truckin’ right past employers that provide no education, training or development to new hires and employees. These are companies that don’t invest in their future success — or yours.

Go find their able competitors. There are some good ones out there. They’re not easy to find, just like talent isn’t easy to develop. (That’s why you should pursue the best companies — not jobs.) The mark of a truly competitive product is the unique skills and talents a company developed to produce it.

The next time you interview a company, ask to see their employee training and development plan. If they don’t have a good one, tell them your career plan is to avoid working in a stagnant environment. Flip them a quarter and tell them to call their next candidate, because they probably still have a pay phone in the lunch room.

thanksgivingDoes your employer provide training and development to give you (and itself) a competitive advantage? When you’re job hunting, do you ask about employee education? If you’re an employer, what kind of training to you do?

All the best to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The culprit was Michael Schumacher, an LHH Senior Vice President who posted a slightly modified version of an old ATH article to LHH’s LinkedIn Group for the company’s “clients and alumni.” He could have paid for the article — like LHH’s clients pay for LHH’s materials. Instead, he put his own name on it.

The ATH subscriber concurrently put Schumacher on notice that he’d been exposed.

You’d think Schumacher would immediately pick up the phone and call me to apologize, and to take down the stolen article. Instead, Schumacher hid the ripped-off article behind LinkedIn’s members-only wall and hunkered down.

You can’t hide from social media

“If you are represented in the virtual world, what kind of impression are you making?” cautions a LHH report for job seekers. “In this age of technology, not being in tune with the times could even appear unprofessional and possibly be a mark against you.”

This is where the underpinnings of “global” HR behavior came to light — as one of the world’s leading HR advisory firms revealed what “best practices” in the HR world are all about. Pay attention, because this is the root of the culture that mistreats and abuses you when you apply for a job.

I want you to see how a simple copyright violation revealed how a top HR consulting firm operates. The story features a cast of characters we couldn’t dream up:

  • A president whose company’s product is intellectual property — who dispatches “damage control” to cover up IP theft by his company.
  • A top HR executive at a corporate outplacement firm that advises clients to have LinkedIn profiles — who has no LinkedIn profile.
  • An SVP in charge of “Operational Best Practices” — who steals a competitor’s copyrighted content and passes it off to clients as his own, then hides the evidence after it’s already leaked into the social media.

A social media bust

I love social media. It keeps everyone honest because everything a business does today quickly becomes public. You’d think that a company whose business is teaching “best practices” to HR departments would know that.

After I learned of the rip-off, I waited to hear from Schumacher or someone at his company. They knew that I knew, but no one contacted me. So I published Lee Hecht Harrison rips off Ask The Headhunter, an article that quickly made the rounds of social media. Among the items are tweets from a leading HR writer and critic.

lhh-laurie-tweetsLaurie Ruettimann even contacted the president of LHH, Peter Alcide, via LinkedIn. Her style is inimitable.


You’d think Alcide, manager of a company whose revenues depend on its IP (intellectual property), would realize how big his problem was and immediately call me to apologize and make amends.

The policy and best practice is damage control

Instead, Alcide revealed the company’s duck-and-cover policy that Schumacher was already following. Peter Alcide ordered up “damage control.”


Except LHH’s president sent this order to Ruettimann by mistake, and she forwarded it to me. The bungled e-mail apparently refers to LHH’s Dallas/Fort Worth Area Managing Director, Russell Williams, Schumacher’s boss.

What’s all this got to do with your travails with HR? It’s what Lee Hecht Harrison and a host of HR consultancies teach their clients: how to avoid accountability and personal contact. Alcide wasn’t concerned about damage his company caused — or how to make amends. He was concerned only about covering up his company’s bad behavior. The content rip-off was public, but there would be no public mea culpa.

At this point, you’d think Williams would have immediately contacted me, if only to contain the problem. Instead, he handed it off to HR.

Hiding behind HR

Now I offer a challenge to you, dear readers. After an employer recruits you, wastes your time in hours of interviews, gathers volumes of personal and private information that you must provide under threat of rejection for “being unreasonable” — you’re left hoping for a personal call about the outcome of the hiring process. What happens?

HR sends you an impersonal form letter to blow you off.

I couldn’t make this stuff up. LHH’s next action was to send me the equivalent of the form letter you receive when HR blows you off after mistreating and abusing you.

lhh-letter(click to view full size)

That’s what I received from “Pamela Jones, EVP, Human Resources and Legal” at Lee Hecht Harrison. But don’t bother looking up Pam Jones or Pamela Jones associated with Lee Hecht Harrison or Adecco on LinkedIn. Contrary to LHH’s advice to its clients that a LinkedIn profile is a must in today’s business world, LHH’s top HR executive isn’t on LinkedIn.

Are we starting to see the connection between what this HR consulting company promotes and gets paid for, and how its top executives behave?

  • Peter Alcide, the LHH president who ordered damage control so LHH’s clients wouldn’t find out, hid behind damage control.
  • Michael Schumacher, the guy who stole my article, hid behind LinkedIn’s firewall.
  • Pamela Jones, the corporate lawyer who put on her HR hat, and hid under it.

They all hid behind the same veil that LHH teaches its corporate HR clients to draw between themselves and job applicants. That’s the epic failure of integrity in HR today — “best practices” on display from “the world’s #1 employment services firm.”

And you wonder where HR learns how to mistreat and abuse you while disappearing into a fog of self-serving bureaucracy? LHH’s top HR executive is also its lawyer!

Where do dismissive HR policies come from?

What does a copyright violation have to do with your experiences applying for jobs? Lee Hecht Harrison is a key player in the HR world. According to its Google Finance profile, its parent company Adecco “provides career and leadership consulting through its more than 300 offices covering 60 countries around the globe.”

Employers pay big bucks for LHH’s HR “services in areas such as career and leadership development, outplacement, and executive coaching.”

HR departments and the consulting companies behind them dictate your experience when you’re job hunting. Perhaps worse, this HR hegemony forces you to follow “rules” for getting jobs that contradict your own good business sense and lead you on wild goose chases. But you do it, anyway, because HR people reprimand you — and toss out your application — when you fail to follow those rules.

HR learns this stuff somewhere, from someone. It learns from Peter Alcide, Michael Schumacher, Pamela Jones, and a host of other “policy makers” in the career and employment industry who get paid big bucks for their “guidance” and “best practices.”

Best Practices: A failure of integrity

No decision maker at LHH apologized to me — least of all in Pamela Jones’ letter, which is the only communication LHH has deigned to have with me. No one acknowledged to LHH’s paying clients that they were given stolen advice — or showed them where it actually came from. No one acknowledged that LHH’s content theft caused Ask The Headhunter any harm or damage, much less offered to make amends. It was all “an error” and a “misjudgment” and “an isolated incident” — without any proof that plagiarized content isn’t rife throughout the “intellectual property” LHH sells to its “global” clients for top dollar.

Laurie Ruettimann is right to be worried. Who else’s protected content is being illegally distributed by LHH to its clients? I don’t believe Jones’s assurances for one second.

What’s a copyright violation got to do with how you’re treated when you apply for a job? Both are HR problems.

The treatment you get from HR departments when you apply for a job is considered “best practices” — and it’s exemplified by one of the HR firms that drives HR policy around the world. I’ve just experienced what you go through when an employer hides behind HR.

This story is really about HR’s epic failure of integrity. Integrity can’t be parsed. Either a company demonstrates high standards of behavior in all its dealings — or reveals a lack of integrity across the board.

Ask The Headhunter openly criticizes bad behavior in the career and employment industry, and sometimes specific players including TheLadders,, CareerBuilder, and LinkedIn. Job seekers need to be aware of practices that affect their ability to get a job.

Today, a small group of HR consultancies in the career and employment industry establish the standards of behavior that job seekers are expected to meet: How to apply for jobs, how to present themselves, and how to set aside their good business sense if they want to play the HR game of landing a job.

These firms also dictate how HR departments treat and process the people they recruit.

How a top company — that HR looks to for guidance — handled copyright theft reveals problems not only with LHH’s corporate governance and culture, but with its adverse influence over how companies hire and recruit, and how job seekers suffer through the experience.

An industry where nothing is personal

And that’s the problem with the career and employment industry: a lack of personal integrity and a policy of no accountability. It’s why job seekers cringe at the thought of applying for a job; at interviewing with bureaucratic stuffed shirts who cite “policy” and “best practices” as their excuse for disrespectful behavior; and it’s why job seekers don’t dare to expect respectful treatment from hiring managers who take hours of applicants’ time without the courtesy of any follow-up.

  • Has a manager ever taken your ideas and your time — perhaps in multiple job interviews — then disappeared behind the corporate veil rather than talk to you?
  • Have you ever been subjected to the impersonal swat of the HR hand when a company decides you’re not worth its time?
  • Has an HR manager ever demanded your salary history, and when you declined, told you “it’s the policy — we can’t continue without it”?
  • Has a company ever revealed a disrespectful culture to you, contrary to the image it projects in its marketing?

What you need to know as a job seeker is, the treatment you get from HR has its roots in HR consulting firms that establish HR practices across companies. What you know now is that LHH’s culture is consistent from the bottom to the top. What you’re left wondering is, what are LHH’s and Adecco’s corporate clients paying for when they hire these firms and buy their content?

This is a company stuck in the dark ages of corporate HR hegemony, that telegraphs a message that personal responsibility can and should be hidden behind “damage control” — in an age when everything is public.

How can any employer that competes in today’s world adopt “best practices” from an HR consultancy whose own practices suck so badly?

In today’s business world, it’s not always about whether you can make a buck; it’s about the face you show to the public, to your customers, to your competitors, and to people who bust you when you rip them off. But Lee Hecht Harrison clearly doesn’t operate in today’s world. Since few HR departments do, either, is it any wonder that earnest job seekers can’t catch a break in an HR world where integrity is a big FAIL?

In this copyright incident, Lee Hecht Harrison has done nothing to make amends for its violation. Its HR executive has merely avoided acknowledging that the company did any damage.

Why make a big deal of this?

Because job seekers aren’t in a position to — and because LHH’s behavior with respect to a copyright violation reveals a stunning failure of corporate ethics and integrity in the career and employment industry. It’s a big deal because rude, impersonal practices in HR make it hard for employers to hire — and harder for job seekers to get jobs.

Mistreating and abusing you when you apply for jobs is nothing personal — these people don’t know what personal means. It’s simply best practices. But we all deserve better.

Integrity. It’s been defined as what you do even when no one is watching. But what if you get busted? How do you acknowledge and make amends? Have you encountered abusive, impersonal behavior when dealing with employers? Where do you think it comes from? How should we all deal with it? If you work in HR, I’d especially like to hear from you — tell us how your company demonstrates integrity.

Update: November 24, 2015

Following the publication of this article Peter Alcide, President and COO of Lee Hecht Harrison, called me and did the right thing. In a tweet and a posting on the LHH website, he issued a public apology for violating Ask The Headhunter copyright, made restitution for misuse of the content, and the matter is resolved.

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Is this the worst job ad ever?

In the August 18, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader almost blows it.


A friend of mine is seeking a job as an Event Planner. He did this for IBM for several years. He came upon this job description for an Event Manager — if it is indeed a real job! Check out the “Required Experience” at the end. I’m sure that anyone with that much experience would just jump right into this “purple squirrel” job. What do you think of the “fun” wording that says — between the lines — that one person will be doing the work of three?

Nick’s Reply

Wow. File that under Stuff We Couldn’t Make Up If We Tried. I’m still laffing my A off. I’d love to meet the “passionate” HR wonk that wrote this job description. Of course, it might have been the hiring manager.

[Note: The link above is to a copy of the job posting. The direct URL, which is active at time of this publication, is–American-Chamber-of-Commerce/jobs/Event-Manager-516d0a935ce3bbed.]

over-workedI hate to hold up even the most naïve employer to ridicule… but this is publicly posted on Indeed. Why is this worth talking about? Because employers claim there’s a talent shortage — while they demand decades worth of expertise in a tone that suggests you must sell yourself out to get the job. Since this job has been on Indeed for over a month, I imagine the employer feels it’s hard to find the purple squirrel it’s looking for. (See Roasting the job description.)

But as you point out, the dead giveaway is the closing line on the job posting. How much experience is required to do this “President of Planning” job? One year.

I’m guessing the only thing that’s “one year” about this job is the salary level. (If it’s higher, why not mention the salary range?) But I don’t know the employer and have not contacted it. Like any job seeker, all I know is what’s in that job ad — and that’s the basis on which I judge it.

The trouble with job ads like this — and we’ve all seen enough of them — is that they reveal an employer’s misguided attempt to fill a complex job on a junior salary. (See How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer.)

They reveal an employer that thinks new hires must “say NEIN to leaving at 5,” and that suggests it’s cool to be the kind of manager who can “persuade volunteers to miss their own wedding.”

The right candidate will have “triple check OCD” and can “single-handedly beat the Red Sox.”

And how about the new standard of motivation the right candidate must demonstrate? “The way you spread your entrepreneurial spirit puts Ebola to shame.”

Is all this cute? It’s so cute that it’s transparent. Beneath the veneer of this job ad is a cynical message that this job may be on a slave ship. Or, what’s the salary for a President of Planning who’s got one year of experience? Some of our over-50 readers might suggest this employer is softening up a very senior, very skilled Events Manager for low pay and lots of abuse. Just how desperate are you for a job?

But that’s not why this is the worst job ad ever. It’s the worst job ad ever because it shrouds cynicism in cool. It markets hard work as something you should be willing to sell yourself out for. And that is why job seekers — from the youngest and most inexperienced to the oldest and most frustrated — are fed up with the behavior of employers that want something for nothing while complaining the right talent isn’t out there.

If employers like this one chafe at criticism, I’d like to see them address the job seekers they really need with candor and respect.

Perhaps this job pays $150,000. What’s your take? Have you seen better examples of the worst job ads? Please share examples and your comments!

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Branding yourself suggests you’re clueless

In the May 26, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, readers ask about branding themselves and about self-marketing. Two brief questions this week reveal the bunk in “branding” yourself when job hunting. The fallacy in this marketing tactic is that getting a job is about you. It’s not. It’s all about the employer and the work you need to configure yourself to do.


What is your advice for promoting oneself through personal branding? How can a person do it elegantly, effectively, and without overdoing it?

Nick’s Reply

Michael Jordan has a brand. So does Madonna. You don’t have a brand. (I’ll prove that to you in a minute.) You have a reputation.

Here’s the problem with applying “branding” to yourself. Consider the definition of “personal branding” on Wikipedia:

Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the minds of others about an individual…”

The point of branding is to fix an image in people’s minds. It’s to define the person or the object and maintain that prescribed image — like Michael Jordan and Madonna.

cluelessBut consider what happens when you apply for a job. It’s the job that’s prescribed, not you. Your objective is to map your skills, abilities and qualities onto the work. Conveying a fixed image to an employer tells him he must fit his job to you. But what he wants to see is how you will fit yourself to the job. Winning a job means showing how you’ll apply yourself to the work; it doesn’t mean displaying your brand and waiting for the employer to figure out what to do with you. (See The $30,000 Strategy.)

Sports stars are brands. Star entertainers are brands. When your name is worth millions, you’ll be a brand, too. In the meantime, figure out how to shape yourself to meet the requirements of a job.

Don’t come off as clueless. You can try to show the employer your brand, or you can do what really matters in an employment transaction: Demonstrate that you understand the employer’s problem. I think the single best way to promote oneself is to promote the company’s overriding objective:

  • Show how your work will help produce profit for the business.

It’s so easy to forget this when the media scream at us that success is all about “branding.” Bunk.

Think instead about your reputation. A reputation for focusing on your employer’s bottom line is the best way to be successful yourself. (Unless, of course, you want to start your own business and hire others.) Don’t wait for management to figure out how you contribute to the bottom line. Tell them before they ask. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

One Ask The Headhunter reader explained what he did in a job interview:

Instead of worrying about my credentials or self-consciously seeking their approval, I talked about their business and how I could impact it. It was a working meeting [Book 6] more than a job interview, and I felt more like an employee than a job seeker. They called me the next morning with the offer.  – R. David Fox


From the recruiter’s perspective, what are the self-marketing techniques that really impress a potential employer?

Nick’s Reply

What did people do before marketers sold them self-marketing? Like branding, I think that self marketing is bunk. The purpose of such terms is to sell books and services about self marketing!

The basics have been around forever. What impresses me in a person is their reputation — and the hard work they have done to earn it. A person who has devoted time and effort to be among the best in their field — no matter what it is — is a person whose name is on the lips of others in the business. Good headhunters, and smart employers, find their best candidates through personal referrals. (See The preemptive reference.) But that’s not marketing; that’s earned respect.

  • Rather than branding and marketing yourself, pick something and get very, very good at it.

If you have a good reputation, then I’ll find out about you. No marketing is necessary when respected people recognize your value. Their recommendation creates your future because they’ll hire you and tell others to hire you. (See Tell me who your friends are.)

You could try to focus on marketing your brand; or you could focus on being very, very good at your work — and by working with others that are, too. (See Work with people who are better than you.)

Here’s truth in the face of feel-good marketing: Winning a job is not about you. It’s about the employer and the work.

Michael JordanI said I’d prove to you that you don’t have a brand. After brushing aside the marketing bunk, it boils down to this:

  • Are employers calling you with huge unsolicited offers?
  • Are the media interviewing you and writing headlines about you?

Please take no offense, but you’re not Michael Jordan or Madonna. You might get famous, and one day your name might be worth millions.

On the other hand, you can prove today that you’re very valuable to an employer if you show you’ve got a clue about how to improve the business. Don’t talk about yourself. Produce a business plan that shows how you’ll do the job that needs doing.

How do you market yourself? Do you have a personal brand that anyone recognizes? What convinces employers to hire you?

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Spamming To Fill Jobs: Idiots peeing on telephone poles

In the May 19, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss the e-mail habits of certain job seekers and recruiters. What a mess.

I couldn’t make this stuff up

telephone-pole-1Lately I’ve been railing against institutional failures in the job hunting and hiring process — job boards, HR departments, and vendors of automated recruiting stupidity. But that’s not where America’s employment problems begin and end. Employers are justifiably frustrated, too, by idiots who seek jobs, and by idiot recruiters who use spam to “find” job applicants for exorbitant fees.

I get a lot of mail. Some of it is so idiotic — I couldn’t make this stuff up to amuse you. It’s real. Two recent e-mails take the cake, perhaps because they make good bookends on the story about what’s wrong with America’s employment system.

The job seeker

The first message from the real world arrived last week from a job seeker. It included his resume. I’ll spare the poor sucker further shame by omitting his name.

Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2015 7:00 AM
Subject: Any Jobs?

Hey there!

I saw your website today Thu, 14 May 2015 and im really hoping there is a opening or other possibility to get a chance to prove my competence.

As you will see in my resume I have a broad experience and knowledge in this line of work and im confident it will be worth your time reading it. I am excited to hearing from you.

Please see my attached resume.
Best wishes,

My reply:

This is NOT the way to find a job. What you’re doing is embarrassing and makes you look really bad.

We might cut this guy and his many kindred spammers some slack, and I might not be so caustic in my criticism — but such a solicitation is akin to a dog peeing on every telephone pole hoping to find love.

telephone-pole-2“Hey there!… I’m really hoping there is a opening [sic] or other possibility” is just stupid, disrespectful, and a waste of my time and the writer’s.

If this is how you’re going about your job search, stop. There aren’t 400 jobs for you. Don’t walk blind on the job hunt. Be your own headhunter.

If you think that was a really stupid inquiry — it’s not at all unusual. I get these a lot. The next one’s far worse because it involves big fees and the transgressor is a retained executive search firm. (See What flavor of headhunter is this?)

The “exclusive” headhunter

I received this unsolicited query from a “retained headhunter” whose job is to find and home in on only the best, most appropriate candidates for his clients. Retained headhunters are usually paid in the vicinity of one-third of the salary of the job to be filled.

From: [omitted]
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 5:45 PM 
To: Nick Corcodilos
Subject: New Retained Executive Search

[Our firm] has recently been exclusively retained by our client [omitted] (circa $3B Global leader in furnishing the work experience in office environments) to conduct a search for a Chief Engineer (Global Product Engineering Team).

We’ve showcased this new retained executive search in the following search specific website: [The headhunter includes this note in his solicitation: “Please feel free to share the Steelcase Chief Engineer role with others.” I’m telephone-pole-2feeling free. Maybe you’re a great candidate, but I doubt I’ve got any subscribers who sniff telephone poles.]

If you are aware of a stellar candidate that would excel in this role based on the brief position description below please have them send their resume to me, [omitted], Managing Principal, [firm name omitted] (Quickest/Best Contact is by Email: [omitted], slowest contact method is by direct dial: [omitted].

The best headhunters search for candidates by talking quietly with industry insiders who know the very best people in their fields. Discretion and confidentiality are key. A good headhunter never broadcasts a search indiscriminately, in part because it would make him look bad. More important, broadcasting attracts all the wrong people and turns off the right ones. Employers also turn to retained recruiters to avoid putting out the word that they’ve got a weakness — that vacant, key position. What would a client who’s paying a $50,000 fee to fill a $150,000 position think if she learned the headhunter was spamming unknown people for leads — the equivalent of posting want ads on telephone poles and trees?

The employer could do that herself on Monster for a few bucks.

I don’t know this recruiter or his firm — but he’s been spamming me since at least 2012. I didn’t join his list. I’ve never responded.

Gimme a break

Now, why would I refer a “stellar candidate” to a guy I don’t know who doesn’t know me, and why would I trust that candidate’s resume to a spammer? This “headhunter’s” client might as well expect resumes to be gathered from a night of dumpster diving — for $50,000 fees!

The solicitation includes a sales pitch. (Why waste an e-mail, eh?)

We fill positions with top A-Player talent – we don’t throw stacks of resumes at our clients. If you, or any business colleagues, have similar search needs at -any- mission critical position level or functional discipline, we can help provide you with the same service as the recent clients below have commented on.


Gimme a break, Mr. Retained Headhunter. You throw spam at people you don’t know, solicit referrals to “stellar candidates” and suggest your service is of the highest quality? What’s the difference between spam recruiting and posting jobs on — except the fees and the “retained” firm moniker?

The job seeker highlighted in this column and the purported headhunter are examples of why employers try to automate recruiting and hiring. They’re tired of idiocy and telephone pole advertising. HR execs know they can dumpster dive for five bucks and come up with the same kinds of resumes. This is what’s led to the demise of our employment system. It’s why you can’t get hired.

Don’t sniff

Please try on these simple rules to avoid the pheromones being sprayed around the job market:

  • Don’t send your resume to someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.
  • Whether you’re a job seeker or an employer, take the time to actually cultivate relationships with credible people who will refer you to the person you need to meet. (That’s how credible headhunters operate.)
  • Don’t hire headhunters indiscriminately — make sure you know how they recruit.
  • Don’t recruit indiscriminately — it’s stupid and it makes you look bad.
  • You never know where your foolhardy spam solicitations will turn up, especially when you include instructions to distribute them through social media.

telephone-pole-3Keep your standards high. If you really can’t recognize a micturating marauder from a good headhunter, learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. If you need a reality check about how to get hired, consult Fearless Job Hunting — and practice The Basics.

Idiocy. It’s what’s wrong with recruiting, hiring and job hunting. It’s not just HR, job boards and applicant tracking systems that corrupt our employment system. There’s plenty of idiocy emanating from all quarters — and it includes job seekers and headhunters. It’s a small world, and everyone can see anyone who pees on telephone poles.

What qualifies as legitimate job hunting and recruiting? Can you fill and find jobs with lots and lots of e-mail? Just how high does the stink rise — and why does anyone sniff along?

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Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired

In the May 12, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I launch a rant about runaway technology in the world of employment. I mean, it’s way past stupid and counter-productive. It’s dangerous!

Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled

If you’re going to recruit and hire people for your business, or if you’re going to look for a job, you need to understand why America’s institutionalized employment system doesn’t work. It’s important to know the short history of reductionist recruiting — layers of matchmaking technology designed for speed, distribution, and for handling loads of applicants.

It has nothing to do with enabling employers to meet and hire the most suitable workers.

reductionistWant Ads

When somebody invented the newspaper want ad, it was an innocent enough way to find people to do jobs. An employer said what it was looking for, people wrote a letter explaining why they were interested, threw in their resume, and mailed it in.

Because a want ad cost quite a bit of money (thousands of dollars in The New York Times), ads were almost always legit. Applicants had to pay for a stamp, and motivation was high to apply only to the most relevant. What’s not to like? Even when professional resume writers stepped in, and started touting salmon-colored paper to make their clients’ submissions literally stand out, it was still manageable; employers knew immediately which applications to throw out! Meanwhile, the newspapers made out like bandits advertising jobs.

Internet Job Boards

When the Internet came along, somebody thought to put all the ads online — to get better distribution, and more responses from more applicants. The jobs sites quickly realized this made wants ads cheaper, and to make money, they had to sell more ads.

Wink, wink — questionable ads, like multi-level-marketing schemes, were welcome! So were ads for expired jobs, kept there by employers who liked a steady stream of resumes even when they didn’t need them.

This never worked very well at all — and it became a disaster of such epic proportions that somebody named it “The Great Talent Shortage.” (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.) HR departments got flooded with applications they couldn’t process — so somebody invented keywords.

The Keyword Age

Employers no longer needed to read resumes or applications. Software compared words in job descriptions to words in resumes, and HR could accept or reject applicants without even knowing who they were!

Clever applicants started larding their resumes with keywords — making HR’s job all the harder, and job interviews a waste of time. It was so easy for people to fake their way past the system that HR panicked and drew the blinds. Everyone was rejected.

This experience led employers to agree that, yes, America is in a terrible talent shortage — during the biggest talent gluts in history. Even the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, banged the gong:

“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire and the most frequent thing I hear from them is all too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

“Too many people”?? Say what?

Reductionist Recruiting: Get paid for $@*#&!

Perez isn’t holding those employers accountable. They use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to solicit thousands of job applicants to fill just one job — then they complain they’ve got too many of the wrong applicants. The employers themselves are responsible for the problem. (News Flash: HR causes talent shortage!)


Welcome to reductionist recruiting: Jobs don’t matter. People and skills don’t matter. The coin of the realm is what computer scientists call character strings: strings of characters, or letters and numbers, standing in for jobs and people. That’s what’s sold by job boards and bought by employers.

Think that’s far-fetched? Then why don’t employers pay when they actually hire someone from a job board or applicant tracking system?

The product is keywords. The system has nothing to do with filling jobs, or that’s how LinkedIn,, Taleo and JobScan would get paid.

They get paid to keep the pipeline full of character strings. Employers and job seekers get scammed every day they play the game. And HR is the culprit, because that’s who signs the purchase orders and the checks to use these systems.

The New Age Of More Reductionist Recruiting

The high-tech-ness of all this (Algorithms! Artificial Intelligence! Intelligent Job Agents!) sent venture investors scurrying to put their money into reductionist recruiting, because HR departments didn’t care whether they hired anyone. Their primary business became the “pipeline” of job postings and processing incoming keywords.

That’s why Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner are getting rich while you can’t get a job.

It’s all stupid now. The head of promotes “semantic processing” algorithms that match keywords better than any other job board. LinkedIn (LinkedIn: Just another job board) claims that special keywords — called “endorsements” — add powerful credibility to all the other keywords on people’s online profiles. And “job board aggregators” like collect all the keywords from every job board, grind them up and sort them, and deliver more and better keywords than any other technology.

We know this is all a big load of crap when the next iteration of recruitment start-ups are designed to further distance employers and job seekers from one another.

Reductionist Recruiting 3.0

That’s the point behind a new start-up called JobScan. This new service gives job seekers the same power employers have. For a fee, JobScan “helps you write better resumes.” Cool — we need better ways to help employers make the right hires!

reductionismBut it turns out JobScan doesn’t do that. It doesn’t help match workers to jobs any more than ATSes do. All it does is help job applicants scam ATSes by using more words that will match the words in employers’ job descriptions. More reductionist recruiting.

James Hu, co-founder and CEO of JobScan, told TechCrunch that, in the past, a real person would review your resume to judge whether you were worth interviewing. “But now you are just a record in the system.”

Duh? And Hu’s service treats you as nothing more. JobScan’s home page shows two text boxes. In one, you post your resume. In the other, you paste the description of the job you want to apply for. You click a button, and it tells you “how well your resume matches the job description.” Now you can add more of the correct keywords to your resume.

In just a couple of entrepreneurial generations, we’ve gone from stupid ATSes that rely on word matches to deliver “too many people…[that] don’t have the skills necessary to do the job,” to a whole new business that enables job seekers to manage the words they dump into those useless ATSes.

(Note to venture investors who missed out on the first rounds of, and LinkedIn: This is a new opportunity!)

JobScan’s algorithms tell you which additional keywords you need to add to your application to outsmart the employer’s keyword algorithm.

It’s like your people talking to my people, so you and I don’t have to talk to one another. We can sit by a pool sipping Caipirinhas (my new favorite drink from Brazil), and wait for our respective people to do a deal that will make us all money.

Except there aren’t any people involved. Reductionist recruiting, meet reductionist job hunting: DUMMIES WANTED!

A Short History of Failure: More venture funding wanted!

Entrepreneurial ATS makers game the employment system to make loads of money while employers reject more and more job applicants. Now there’s another layer on this scam — and it was inevitable. Entrepreneurs are getting funded to create ways to help you beat the databases to fool employers into interviewing you, whether you can do the job or not. (I wish thoughtful entrepreneurs like Hu would put their talents to work creating value, not outwitting admittedly silly job application systems.)

Job seekers are taught every day that it doesn’t really matter whether you can do a job profitably. What matters is whether you can game the system to get an interview, just so you can get rejected because, in the end, employers don’t hire words that match jobs. They want people who can do jobs. They just don’t know how to find them. (See Getting in the door for alternative paths to the job you want.)

Of course, any dope can see the real problem: HR isn’t willing to hire key words, even though it pays an awful lot of money for them. And it certainly has no idea where the talent is.

I can’t wait for employers to wake up and smell the coffee: Start paying LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed only when those suckers actually fill a job.

Am I nuts, or has America’s employment system gone completely to hell with plenty of venture funding behind it?

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A headhunter locked me out of jobs for 6 months

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


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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

I’d do two things.

Get the facts first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use regulatory powers

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

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

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

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

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

Assert yourself & protect yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dissed By HR: Can you top this?

In the April 7, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader hears a tired, old story from an HR manager. How much bad HR behavior will job seekers and employers put up with?

Job hunters say the darndest things — things that sometimes cost them interviews or job offers. But job hunters don’t represent entire companies, while HR does. So, when HR (Human Resources) says something really dumb to a job applicant, it costs the entire company its reputation.

A long-time reader sent me a brief exchange he had with the Human Resources manager at a company that interviewed him — and the diss he received in reply is so transparent, so foolhardy, and so naïve that it’s worth a discussion.

It really is a nightmare world out there, folks. Lots of HR people are clueless about what constitutes a royal F-you to a job applicant. Is this what they’re teaching in HR school?

A reader’s not to HR after an interview

Dear [HR Manager]:

It’s been four months since I first came in to interview and, based on the “radio silence,” I am assuming that I am not being considered for hire. Could you please confirm that the position has been filled, or that it has been put on hold? Thank you.

The HR manager’s reply

Hi [applicant],

Well, as I told you, an old employee appeared on the scene and he became our first choice, based simply upon the fact that he had quite a tenure here and could have hit the ground running. We dissedwaited for schedules to coincide and then some travel came up on both ends and then he eventually decided to stay with his current company.

We have yet to fill the position and I’ve not been told that you are out of the running but I think it would be safe to say they hoping for more of a perfect fit, personality-wise. (That is based on the personalities that are already ensconced here…) I will keep in touch with you.

Warm regards,

[HR Manager]

Where do I begin?

The job applicant shared a draft of the response he planned to send, but I know there are a few very young subscribers to this newsletter, so I can’t print it. I advised him not to send it, and he expressed this concern:

“There’s a local recruiter I know, who said that people get blackballed in the local HR groups.”

Yes, HR folks have pretty good back channels for sharing such stuff and for exacting punishment. But let’s get back to what the HR manager wrote. It’s one of the best F-you e-mails I’ve ever seen from HR to a job applicant, mainly because it’s so innocent and reveals a staggering naivete and nonchalance about the HR manager’s role in representing the employer.

Where do I begin? I’m going to make just three comments about it, and I want to throw this out to the Ask The Headhunter community.

First, this is a company manager writing the note. It’s not some greenhorn personnel clerk — but a person with authority to make decisions and to represent the employer. This company is dead meat in the public relations crucible — and the HR manager belongs in the Thunderdome.

Second, rejecting a candidate is one thing, but the entire note is all about the company’s hiring problems. There’s not one word about the job applicant’s qualifications. Why is the HR manager disclosing details about the company’s travails in trying to re-hire an old employee who’s not interested?

Third, I understand that employers don’t like to give applicants reasons for rejection — to avoid litigation — so, why does this HR manager tell the applicant that his personality is the problem? But the capper is the psychopathy: The HR manager closes with warm regards.

I don’t think this HR manager’s intent was to diss the applicant, because it’s plain that the manager is naïve. That makes this the company’s fault because it chose this manager as the interface to its professional community. And that’s why this is one of the worst disses I’ve ever seen.

(If you’re a hiring manager, and this story troubles you, you’re not alone. Please see Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.)

I suggested to the reader that his best course of action was not to reply at all, because the risk in expressing his ire is greater than zero. It’s not worth venting to someone who can hurt him.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, “Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?” (pp. 15-16), I suggest that a job seeker should “Get past the guard: You don’t get into a company by asking the human resources department to let you in. That’s for tourists.”

This 26-page PDF book includes sections about:

  • Does HR go too far when screening job candidates?
  • Who is the decision maker?
  • Don’t let HR isolate you
  • Time for HR to exit the hiring business
  • Candidate 1, Boss 1, Morons 0

…and lots more!

Make no mistake: Job hunters are often guilty of faux pas as bad as this. But when an HR manager does it, an entire company suffers because job applicants spread the story throughout their professional community. And that’s how companies like this one are taught a terrible lesson. (For more about how employers hurt themselves, see Death By Lethal Reputation.)

Okay, it’s time to share your thoughts:

  • What do you think is wrong with this e-mail from HR to the job applicant? (There’s so much more than the three issues I pointed out!)
  • Can you top this reader’s story? What’s the biggest diss you’ve been dealt by HR when applying for a job? And, to balance this out, what’s the best behavior you’ve seen from an HR manager?

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