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When job interviews are bad for you

In the June 7, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker expects more from employers.

Question

Push Back!When a company wants to interview me, I apply your advice and try to exert some control by asking that the hiring manager be present at my first interview. I think it’s inappropriate for an employer to ask me to invest hours of my time without that manager present. It worked recently with a small advertising company, and it actually helped the two-way respect, and I felt more confident talking about the role and compensation.

But, what to do when it’s a large conglomerate, like an Apple or GE? I’m in the hiring process with two large companies (not those) and the process has been difficult and very drawn out. While I’m sure these companies have their reasons for doing it this way, it seems to be a waste of time. I guess you always have to be prepared to walk away. Any advice?

Nick’s Reply

Good for you for pressing to have the hiring manager in the interview when you can! I’m glad you’ve seen it will work to your advantage.

Even if the outcome is that the manager rejects you, at least it’ll be early in the process and you won’t have to waste more time, and at least the rejection will come from the person in charge of the job — not some personnel jockey who doesn’t understand you or the work.

At larger companies, the problem (as you note) is that the hiring process is more rigidly structured. It’s hard to get them to do anything different — like let you meet the manager immediately. While a company may have its reasons, it’s still disrespectful and a waste of time for the applicant to get assessed by someone other than the hiring manager.

And again, you’re right – you must decide whether to walk away.

Finesse the encounter

This is where judgment and finesse come into play. If you really want to work at a company, and there’s no getting around their system, you must decide whether it’s worth the risk you’re taking by complying with a process that isn’t to your advantage. But I don’t think it’s prudent to make a binary decision: Should I comply, or should I walk away? I think it’s a matter of degree:

  • How much control should you concede to the employer?
  • At what point do you draw a line?
  • When do you walk away?

If you keep your wits about you, it’s also a matter of negotiation. It may be worth playing by some of their rules:

  • How flexible are they?
  • What concessions can you get in return for complying with parts of their process?
  • What advantage can you gain?
  • Perhaps most important, what can you learn from this initial give and take?

Collect some data

This is where getting recruited becomes fun. What should you ask for before you enter the lion’s den? You’re not required to attend an interview just because an employer asks. So collect some data points that will help you judge the employer!

  • You’ve already taken one important step: Ask to have the hiring manager present. All they can do is say no.
  • If the first interview will be with HR, ask when will the manager be involved? That is, when will you meet the manager? Get a commitment.
  • What’s the hiring manager’s name? It will be to your advantage to look the manager up on LinkedIn prior to your meeting. (Or, Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job.)
  • What are the three main objectives of the interview? That is, what’s the employer looking for? (They likely can’t tell you, because hiring is haphazard in most companies.)
  • What are the three key things they want a new hire to accomplish in the first six to twelve months on the job? (Again, they probably don’t know — but it’s worth asking and it’s to your advantage to know.)
  • Get anything that helps you judge the employer and prepare for the first interview.

You might even go this far: Ask this question before you agree to an interview.

Judge the employer

As we’ve said, you’re not going to get all these concessions or information. But this preliminary negotiation is chock full of value. It’s partly to improve your chances in a job interview, but it’s also partly to test the employer. Yes — to test the employer. Some interviews are bad for you. Is this one of them?

  • Do this employer know what it’s doing? (See What’s up with clueless interviewers?)
  • Will they make some concessions to demonstrate respect to you — because they really want to interview you?
  • Or, does it turn out you’re just a piece of meat – and they won’t compromise on anything at all?

Additional Resources

There are many ways to test employers, to push the boundaries, and to gather useful data before you invest time in lengthy interviews:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5, Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention:

  • “How to pick worthy companies” — pp. 10-12
  • “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” — pp. 13-15
  • “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies” — pp. 22-24

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8, Play Hardball With Employers:

  • “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer” — pp. 11-12
  • “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” — pp. 23-25
  • “Judge the manager” — pp. 26-28

Every concession an employer agrees to or declines early in the process tells you something — it’s a useful data point or signal you can use to your advantage.

Is this “opportunity” really good for you?

When I “go along” because I want a gig (with a new client, for example), I never forget that I’m looking for compromises. If I’m the only one compromising, if I’m the only one who’s agreeable, then I’ll probably be taken advantage of in the end. So, I keep testing, I keep probing, I keep asking, and I keep track of whether and how the other party will bend for my benefit.

Give and take is all part of a good relationship, and you need to know as early as possible what the other guy is willing to do for you. If the employer tells you the application and interview process is “their way or the highway,” then hop the nearest bus.

I think you have it right: Be ready to walk away, but be prudent. Even big companies will sometimes flex when they encounter a candidate they are really interested in. If you haven’t inspired that kind of desire in an employer, then why bother with the process at all? Do you really want to be another beggar at the door?

Make reasonable requests to gain some advantage. And don’t stop too early. For everything they refuse, have another request – and see if they try to meet you somewhere in the middle. That’s the sign of a company that may be worth it, even if their process is clunky.

The reader follows up

Thanks for your response and advice. It’s definitely tough to know when to push boundaries at the biggest companies, but I really liked how you put it: At minimum, test the process a little and collect data points. This is the first time I’ve gone through the hiring process completely solo.

A big thing that I’ve learned is that every step and decision tells you something important about your relationship with that potential employer. It can be hard to understand what’s going on and to capture all the lessons as you move through the process, but your site has been really great in demonstrating how much strategy is involved at almost every step. It has really helped me be mindful of things I would have never considered. Keep it up!

Nick’s Reply

knotLike my old mentor used to say, Use your judgment every step of the way, and do the best you can. And in the end, make choices — don’t let the other guy make them for you.

One of my favorite quotes is from Henri Frederic Amiel:

“To be always ready, a man [or woman] must be able to cut a knot; for everything cannot be untied.”

It’s easy for people to get so caught up with “trying to win” at the interview game that they lose sight of the larger objective: to get a good job, the right job, working with good people in a good company, where future prospects are good. They’re so busy trying to satisfy the employer’s demands that they lose sight of their own needs. Then they get tied up in knots before they realize they’re in a bad situation.

Yes, be ready to walk away, but after you try to get your way, too. I admire your fortitude!

Do you know when to push back on the employment process? Or are you afraid you’ll anger the Interview Gods? What requirements do you make of the employer before you invest your time in interviews? If you just take any interview offered (Hey, I’m not ragging on you) — what problems have you encountered?

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Employers shouldn’t keep secrets from job applicants

In the September 23, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker wants to see the facts:

If I had realized some of the intricate policies of my current company, I may have thought twice before taking this job. For instance, they said you get two weeks’ vacation time. It turns out you get 80 hours of paid time off, but you aren’t eligible to use any of it until after your one-year anniversary. When I do look to move on from this job, I don’t want to be misled again. Is it acceptable to ask for a copy of the employee handbook before accepting a job offer? How likely is it that a company would allow that?

Nick’s Reply

Last week we discussed why it’s so important that all the details of your job offer are in writing. (Gotcha! Get job offer concessions in writing!) It’s just as important that you examine all the details of a company’s work policies before you accept any job offer.

Protected FilesWhether or not it’s acceptable to ask for a copy of the employee handbook isn’t the question. The question is, what’s smart?

I think it’s smart to ask for the employee handbook before accepting an offer. In fact, not requesting it is asking for trouble, as you’ve already learned. (See “3 Ways to Be A Smarter Job Candidate.”)

Some companies don’t like to hand it over. They will tell you it’s “company confidential.” They’ll say the same about the written employee benefits — you can’t see them until you take the job. That’s complete bunk. How can you agree to live under rules if you don’t know what they are?

My response would be very simple. Here’s How to Say It:

“I’m excited to get your offer, and I’m very enthused about working for you, but I’ll be living under your guidelines and I’d like to see your employee policy manual before I sign up. I’m sure it’s all routine, but I like to make sure I understand everything in advance so there are no misunderstandings later. I want our relationship to be solid. I can assure you that I will not copy or disclose the material to anyone for any reason — just as you will keep all my personal information confidential.”

If they won’t show it to you, your other options are (1) to walk away, (2) to accept the job. In the latter case, there’s something you could do that’s a bit risky. Don’t resign your current job just yet. Attend the new company’s orientation, get the handbook, read it — and then decide if you’re staying, while knowing your old job is safe.

Of course, you’d be putting your old employer in a bad spot, because then you’d have to leave without providing any meaningful notice. That’s not good. But I’m trying to help you understand just how onerous a practice it is for an employer to withhold documents you need before you can make an informed decision about accepting one job — and quitting another. (See “Why do companies hide the benefits?”)

Either of these options might seem extreme, but taking a job without knowing all the terms is risky. I wrote a short PDF book (30 pages) about other matters job seekers fail to take control of — until too late: Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers. Among the gotcha topics you’ll learn to handle:

  • Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer
  • How can I push the hiring decision?
  • Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it
  • Judge the manager
  • Get an answer at the end of the interview
  • …and more

I hope your next job works out better for you than this one did.

Did you ever accept a job only to learn that the rules of employment were not to your liking? What was the outcome? If you’re an employer, do you hide your employee handbook from job applicants? Why?

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Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) – It’s ON again!

nick-reddit-11And now for something completely different…

Join me today, February 11, 2014 for a special Ask The Headhunter Reddit AMA — Ask Me Anything — at 1pm ET.

Here’s the direct link to the AMA: http://redd.it/1xmn3g

I’m doing this in cooperation with my good buddies at PBS NewsHour, where I produce a weekly Ask The Headhunter feature. (If you’re a marketer, don’t miss my weekly column on CMO.com.)

We’ve done “open mic” on the Blog before, where you pound me with any and all questions, and I try to pound my keyboard and tackle them all without passing out. But this is something new — I’ll be answering questions throughout the day, and I hope we’ll attract some new “regulars” to Ask The Headhunter!


If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, here are three good introductions to what this community is all about:

Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course

Ask The Headhunter: Introduction

And a sampling from a recent edition of the Blog: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring


So please pile onto the Reddit AMA – at 1pm ET — Ask me about jobs, recruiting, hiring, stupid HR tricks, what I had for breakfast, where I like to backpack, and what my favorite band is! (Anything!)

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Webinar: UCLA Anderson School of Management

This is a special posting connected to today’s webinar:

  • Ask The Headhunter / How to Stand Out in A Competitive Job Market
  • Anderson School of Management, UCLA
  • January 24, 2013

(Today’s online event was limited to students and alumni of the Anderson School.)

ucla-logo

I’ll add more content here after the event — but the main purpose is to answer questions we didn’t have time for during the webinar, and to carry on the discussion.

Please feel free to post your questions and comments below — I’ll do my best to respond to them all. Thank you for joining me, and special thanks to the Anderson team for their wonderful hospitality!

Quick access to resources I referred to:

How to Work with Headhunters

How Can I Change Careers?

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less by Milo Frank

Six Degrees: The science of a connected age by Duncan Watts

 

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When should I tell my boss I’m resigning?

In the January 15, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks when to give the boss notice of resignation:

I have an opportunity to move from a large corporation to a established startup. I have put in seven happy years at the corporation, but the new position will be a nice change. I’m still going through the interview process, and it’s going well. When do I break the news to my current boss? I don’t want to burn any bridges, and I don’t think I would accept any counter-offer. I just want to give respectable notice so that he can replace me.

Nick’s Reply

zip-itCongratulations on the new opportunity, but please — don’t jump the gun. Never, ever give notice or resign until:

  • You have a written offer in hand
  • You have formally accepted the offer
  • The new employer has confirmed your acceptance, and
  • The on-boarding process has begun.

It doesn’t happen often, but job offers get rescinded, especially between the informal oral offer and the bona fide written version. Don’t be left on the street without a job. When the above milestones have passed, I’d tell your employer nothing except that you’re leaving. Give your boss a one sentence resignation letter that says nothing more than:

“I hereby resign my position effective on [date].”

The details of your “notice” don’t need to be spelled out in the letter. In person, I’d commit to helping with a proper transition not to last more than two weeks, unless you really want to be helpful — that’s up to you.

There’s a small chance that, no matter how well you and your boss get along, you will be ushered out the door immediately. Some companies have very strict security policies, so make sure all other loose ends are tied up before you resign. They may not even let you go back to your desk. This is unusual, but it does happen. Even friendly employers can turn officious when a person resigns. Just be ready for it.

I would not disclose where you’re going. I’ve seen bitter former employers try to nuke a person’s new job. Politely explain you’ll be in touch right after you start the new job, if your boss really cares. I’m sorry to focus on the worst case, but you don’t want to get torpedoed before you start your new job. The odds of something bad happening are probably small, but the consequences can be enormous. My advice is, don’t chance it.

Again, congratulations. Take it one step at a time until the new deal is solid and safe. I wish you the best.

Have you ever resigned, only to have your new job offer rescinded? Has a resignation ever gone awry? What’s your policy about the nuts and bolts of transition when leaving a job?

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Handouts: What information should employers give to job candidates prior to interviews?

In the previous posting, Why do companies hide the benefits?, we discussed what a job applicant can do when the employer makes a job offer but refuses to disclose the benefits package until the candidate accepts the job.

Gimme a break!

I suggested that employers should have a prepared handout for all job applicants: Here are all our benefits! Ain’t they great?

Before doing a job interview! That’s #1.

Because what’s the big secret about benefits? Include some disclaimers, state that certain terms are dependent on the position or negotiable — but for goodness sake, promote the quality of the benefits!

Which got me to thinking…

Employers could save themselves and job applicants an awful lot of time and hassle… There’s all kinds of handouts they could provide to job applicants prior to interviews. Like what? Well…

2. Why not hand out the salary range on the job?

What’s the big secret? Hand it out to everyone who applies:

“This position pays between $80,000 and $100,000. But that’s no guarantee. Please be aware that we will make an offer that we believe our best candidate is worth to our business.”

So what if the candidate knows what the employer is planning to spend? Afraid that’ll adversely impact the employer’s ability to control costs and negotiate? So does the candidate’s salary history — but employers don’t hesitate to ask for that.

I’d like to see a salary range handout.

What else should employers hand out to job applicants (and prospective candidates they’d like to lure)? This could be a whole new recruitment marketing initiative!

3. ??

Okay, you’re up… Somebody want to give me a #2? #3? More? What information should emloyers give you before you even agree to show up for a job interview?

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How to Say It: Will you be my customer?

Discussion: June 8, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

Even before the recession, it seems like we entered an era of de-jobbing, more short-term work, freelancing and self-employment. I wonder if many of us would be better off staking ourselves through self-employment. Most job growth is in small business. I wonder if more people worked for themselves, if that might help create a bigger economic pie, if that would be better not just for the self-employed individuals, but for the economy as a whole, leading to more employment overall.

And your methods would be employed for the self-employed to get customers. So here’s my How to Say It question: How could I apply Ask The Headhunter methods to convince prospects to become my customers?

You just made my day. This is so tempting for me to answer… that I’m not going to do it.

Let’s start with some input from the crowd! How would you use the job hunting methods we discuss here to instead land some customers for your own new business (whatever that might be)? Is that even possible?

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How long does the headhunter control you?

I don’t normally post the weekly Ask The Headhunter newsletter online, but I got so many requests for this week’s edition that I’ve put it up:

How long does the headhunter control me?

An excerpt:

To understand how to work effectively with headhunters, it’s important to know the differences between retained and contingency headhunters, employment agencies, job shops and career management firms. Also relevant are the kinds of contracts employers and headhunters use. Perhaps most important in this case is knowing how employers routinely deal with headhunters. It’s not complicated, but if you don’t know how employers manage headhunters you’ll never be able to manage them yourself… (click for more)

(The newsletter is free — you’ll find a subscription link when you open this sample edition.)

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Over-thinking the job interview: Is it worth a Porsche?

Rules for job hunting and interviewing have become so institutionalized and complex that employers and managers make themselves look downright silly. My guess is that this is costing their companies dearly.

It’s bad enough when job hunters over-think how they are going about it — but it’s sometimes scary when employers reveal how they judge people they interview.

The New York Times offers an article titled Subtle Cues Can Tell an Interviewer “Pick Me” in which employers talk about the subtle cues they look for when reviewing job applicants. While such insights into the mind of the employer are interesting and potentially useful, some of this stuff reveals how kooky candidate selection sometimes is.

One employer takes a dim view of applicants who don’t wear a suit to an interview. So what happens when a guy shows up in a sport coat and tie, but is otherwise an outstanding candidate? Is it so hard to tell him, “Hey, we really like you. But if we hire you, we’d expect you to wear a suit to work. Is that okay with you?” Clothing can be shed and changed more easily than our skills and attitude. How many good candidates are lost to employers because managers are stuck on a rule about clothing?

Just how important is that suit, really? (Is it worth a Porsche? I’ll tell you in a minute.)

Another manager quoted in the article seems to sacrifice good candidates because they use paper. David Santos, executive director of human resources for Interbrand, a brand management firm, has exacting standards when it comes to paper and e-mail. Which should a candidate use when sending him a follow-up thank you note? “Mr. Santos’s preference shows how tricky this can be.”

Tricky?

“He says that for a company like his, which is more digitally focused, it would show a lack of awareness to send a traditional thank you note through the mail.”

If that’s not over-thinking and over-analyzing someone’s behavior, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Does Santos really think that a thank you that arrives in snail-mail reveals a digital dunce? A weak candidate? An unaware candidate?

I pity job hunters who walk away from this article believing they understand the rules better.

Look, I think it’s helpful to see how managers think. There are some good reminders in the article. But the biggest reminder is this: Managers sometimes over-think the hiring process because they don’t have clear criteria about who they want to hire. This leads them to focus on easier, goofier, factors.

The manager who wants a suit, Susan L. Hodas, director of talent management at NERA Economic Consulting, “is also looking for people who can enunciate their words (mumblers beware) and who can communicate their thoughts and ideas clearly.”

That’s just fine — but that suit is gonna cost her because now she’s begging job applicants to give her a good look up and down. Hodas talks about “the airport test” that she and her staff use to judge job applicants: “Would I want to be stuck in the airport for 12 hours with this person if my flight was delayed?”

Stuck in an aiport with me, she’d blow it because I’m a stickler for proper grammar. She insists on good communication skills but fails to use the correct subjunctive mood of the verb to be. She should have said, “…if my flight were delayed.” Is she illiterate? I dunno… but where’s her suit?

Over-thinking the job interview — or any interaction we have with others — is risky. It’s pretty foolhardy — and sometimes costly — to judge so narrowly. The “tips” circulated in articles like this one from The New York Times start to get silly and managers who portray nitpicking as judgment do everyone a disservice.

Let me tell you about a Porsche saleswoman who lost a nice sale because she was thinking too hard about people who walked into her dealership: The Horse’s Ass in the Rear-view Mirror.

I fired her on the spot.

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Job Board B.S. Abounds

Hey, guess what? The recession is creating a boom for “career resource sites” like HotJobs, Monster, Indeed and others. People are “flocking” to these web sites in record numbers.

No kiddin’, Dick Tracy. And desperate rats will gnaw off their own legs trying to escape pain.

eMarketer Digital Intelligence tells the story in a new report, Consumers Flock to Career Sites, but gets so excited about big-percentage traffic spikes that it doesn’t bother to ask, Do these career sites actually work?

The answer is, No. eMarketer does its clients and audience a disservice when it merely counts the rats. For the sad truth, turn to the CareerXroads 8th Annual Sources of Hire Survey. Go to page 19 and read the top paragraph. CareerXroads bears witness to all the gnawed-off legs. The big job boards don’t work.

But the media hungrily pick up the Job Board B.S. because there’s so much of it being delivered by “research firms” like eMarketer.

The big job boards remain and continue to be a waste of time and a national disgrace. But suckers are born every minute in Human Resources departments, and yes, Virginia, rats do indeed gnaw off their legs just as job hunters flock to the job boards without asking does this shit work?

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