The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for August 2009

Readers’ Forum: You’re fired! Now come back for 20% lower salary!

The Ask The Headhunter Newsletter Readers’ Forum gets some doozies…

I was laid off 4 weeks ago in a reduction in force. Last week my former boss called to ask if I would come back — with a 20% cut in salary. I am really torn since I liked my job and the people I worked with. The job market is challenging so my prospects are not beautiful at this stage. But the layoff was hard and I don’t know that I can trust the firm or senior management not to lay me off again. What would you do?

Is this a second chance, or a dumb move for this reader? I can’t wait to see your advice.


How to Say It: Hire me, I’m a job-hopper

In the Q&A section of the September 1, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we’re talking about how to convince an employer to hire you (or even just to interview you) when your resume reveals you have “jumped around a lot.”

I’ve offered some perspective and suggestions to the reader who asked the question in the newsletter. Now I’m asking you to advise how this reader should say it to the manager.

Why should an employer consider this applicant, much less hire him, if he has had four different jobs in four years? What should the applicant say to merit an interview or a job?

(Don’t get the newsletter? Sign up, and the next time we discuss a topic like this you’ll have the whole story! But feel free to chime in now anyway!)


Those pesky job application forms

A reader asks:

How should I respond when an employer asks for my social security number on an application form or in an interview, before I have agreed to the job?

The advice I offer about this makes some people shiver… You want me to mess with a form???

Yah, it’s a piece of paper. The company hasn’t yet invested any time in you. We’re talking about a dumb piece of paper.

Use all zeroes or nines or any number. On online forms (you have to put something in there or it won’t let you continue with the rest of the form), this makes it clear that you are not trying to “forge” a number. On paper forms, just write a note: “Sorry, I don’t divulge SS# prior to meeting with an employer and establishing mutual interest.” Online forms usually have a “comments” section; add that statement when you’re done. Again, you don’t want it to look like you’re playing games.
In person, I’d say the same thing. Until a company is ready to make an offer, you prefer to keep information that might subject you to identity theft confidential. You’d be glad to share it, of course, if you are hired.

Companies simply have no business with your SS# before they hire you, no matter what they claim. Of course, they may like to have it, but you are not obligated to give it to them. But be positive when you explain this: “I’d be glad to share private, confidential information with you once we have established a serious mutual interest in working together. I’d be glad to invest as much time as you need to meet, talk and decide whether we are a match. Would you like to schedule an interview?”
Some personnel jockeys will get really incensed, but the irony and hypocrisy becomes clear when you consider the problem from another perspective: Go Pound Salt.

Others will respect your privacy and let it slide. This tells you who is flexible and who isn’t — an important thing to know before you join a company.

You must decide what kind of risk to take — getting rejected because you didn’t fill out the form “properly” or risking your identity.


Why job interviews suck

And people ask me what’s wrong with America’s Employment System. One of the biggest problems is that most job interviews suck.

There’s a book called 501+ Great Interview Questions for Employers and the Best Answers for Prospective Employees. And just today Cheezhead re-published’s “list of 100 interview questions that candidates should always be prepared to answer.”

Might as well give a frustrated, angry, desperate job hunter a loaded gun.

But I also have a kinder, gentler, more pointed perspective. In my interview fantasy, you walk into a job interview. You smile broadly at the interviewer, shake hands, and sit down in the interview chair.

You lean forward and say, “Look, we both know why we’re here. You have questions you want to ask me. And you will judge me based on my answers.”

This is where you drop that baby — that big fat book full of Q&A’s — on the interviewer’s desk.

“So let’s cut the crap. Let’s save one another a whole lot of time.”

Slide that sucker across the manager’s desk. “Here you go. Your questions and my answers.”

Smile again. “You can waste your time and mine. Or do you want to talk about the work you need done and how I can improve your bottom line?”


Unfair interviews are best

In the previous post, we’re discussing how to commandeer a job interview so you can actually help an employer see how you’ll do the job. If the employer has a brain, you’ll get the job.

On that thread, readers Bonnie and Janet point out an interesting “policy” that many HR departments have. They don’t want you to do anything out of the ordinary in your interview. HR wants you and the hiring manager to stick to the interview script.


Because that makes the interviews fair for all candidates. Ask the same questions and use numerical scoring to ensure everyone is treated the same. You know — just like you do when you go on a date. Treat everyone the same so they all have an equal chance of getting a marriage proposal from you.

Say what?

This is where HR gets totally idiotic. “People are our most important asset.” My ass. “We celebrate diversity.” My ass. How can a company hire the best people when it treats everyone the same? If you go on a date with a clod, should you invite them on another date — to be fair–, just like you would someone who was absolutely wonderful?

I repeate: This is where HR (and perhaps the law) go goofy.

Five minutes into an interview, I can tell whether a candidate is capable of discussing the work on a much higher plane than other applicants — and you can bet your bootie I’ll take the discussion in that direction. Because the candidate earned it. I’ll ask different questions and I’ll engage more enthusiastically. I will use highly discriminatory judgment. (Remember when “to discriminate” was a good thing? Discriminate: “to make a distinction”, “to use good judgment.” When people ask me, “How can I stand out from my competition?”, I tell them that an employer had better be able to discriminate between high quality and low quality.) I’m celebrating the candidate’s ability to be totally unfair to her competition — because she blows them all away and that’s the candidate I really want to talk to further.

I have no interest in being fair to job applicants once it’s time to judge them. And the purpose of an interview is to judge. I want the best ones and I want to treat them differently. I want them to be totally unfair to their competition by showing me skills, aptitude, attitude and motivation that sets them apart. That makes them stand out.

I’ll change my interview questions as a discussion progresses in an effort to find the very best candidate and in an effort to give that person an edge on getting the job. I think any interviewer who doesn’t is a danged fool running his organization headlong into mediocrity.

I don’t want to recruit or hire fairly. I’m glad to behave differently toward people who demonstrate that they stand out postively from their competition.


How to Say It: I’m taking over this interview…

In the August 25, 2009 edition of the newsletter, I discuss A Killer Interview Strategy. (Don’t get the newsletter? Sign up. Sorry, it’s not archived. This special “rollover” feature from the blog is for newsletter subscribers… a place to discuss what’s in the newsletter and your ideas about it.)

You advise “doing the job in the interview.” A manager isn’t going to understand that I want to demonstrate what I can do, and might not like the idea of me taking over the interview. If I want to make this suggestion, how do I say this to the manager without getting the boot?

Wowee, you’d be surprised how many managers are shocked when job candidates actually suggest showing how they’d do the work… right there in the interview. In this week’s Q&A feature in the newsletter, candidate Gerry leaves the manager with his jaw on the floor. And gets the job without a traditional interview.

How would you introduce an offer to show what you can do? Ever tried it? How would you say it? Ever get booted out of an interview for being “so brash?” Or, did it get you an offer?


Should you get an MBA?

It’s a question that comes up a lot, but we’ve never discussed it here. In today’s newsletter, in the Readers’ Forum, a reader asks:

I’ve been quite successful in my field (Information Technology) and I’m trying to move up the corporate ladder. I read conflicting things about MBA degrees. Should I get one? Will it pay off?

Put aside the MBA school rankings in the major magazines and all the marketing the schools do. How much of a difference does it make to add an MBA to your credentials?

And let’s take it a bit farther: How much does it matter whether the degree is from a big-name school?


Shoot first, start a war later with HR

I continue to enjoy Mike Urbonas‘s blog because the guy has an eye for bureaucracy masquerading as expertise. Got a problem landing the job you want? It’s probably because you’re listening to bad advice. Got a problem filling a key job in your organization? Make an executive decision, and start a war with the Human Resources department later.

I’ve got a lot of friends in the HR world, and I respect them greatly. Then there are the HR bureaucrats that I refer to as personnel jockeys. And that’s who Mike highlights in his excellent mini-expose Just Ivy Leaguers for these Bush League Recruiters? Briefly, Mike critiques Boston Globe columnist Pattie Hunt Sinacole’s Job Doc column Beyond the Ivies. Sinacole advises a manager and the person the manager wants to hire — and tells them to go convince the HR department that the manager should be allowed to hire the candidate he wants to hire.

Does that sound like a big deal? Yah, it is. Managers should hire who they want to hire, not who HR dictates. Sinacole recommends that the manager might be able to hire who he wants by bending himself into a pretzel and playing games with HR. She suggests the manager’s challenge is “to influence his peers and his HR department.”

Urbonas sees this a little differently: “It raises the question as to the role recruiters should play in the hiring process.” I agree. The manager can solve his problem simply by telling HR to butt out:

  1. Hire the candidate and tell HR to process the paperwork.
  2. Tell HR to stay out of his recruiting and hiring, since he — not HR — is responsible for his department’s success. When HR is willing to take responsibility for the manager’s department, then HR can hire who it wants.

In other words, shoot now (hire the candidate) and start a war with HR later (change the hiring policy and eliminate Stupid Hiring Mistakes). I believe in cooperation between departments in an organization. But I also believe that he who holds the bag should decide what’s going in it — in this case, who the manager is going to hire.

Sinacole is an HR consultant who has worked in the HR world a long time. No surprise that her advice is to appease HR. My advice to the manager: Tell HR to get out of the way and hire who you want. My advice to the person the manager wants to hire: If the manager cowers before HR, head for the hills or soon you, too, will be getting whipped by HR.


TheLadders: Paying for kaka. Now on Google.

I’ve covered TheLadders many times here. But no matter what aspect of this racket I look into, the next experience always reveals a bigger scam. It seems TheLadders latest racket is with Google…

Today a public radio station contacted me about appearing on a show they’re doing. I always ask media folks how they found me. (That’s also a good thing to ask when you get recruited — it helps you develop your network if you know which nodes are working well.) The producer at the station found me when she Googled “headhunter npr” (for National Public Radio).

So I checked the search term. What did I find at the top of the paid Google results for “headhunter npr”? Curious, I clicked.  I was taken to a Ladders page titled:

“Looking for headhunter npr? Join Now and Start Your Next $100K+ Career.”

Say WHAT? What does TheLadders have to do with headhunters or NPR? So I tried something. I Googled “headhunter abc.” Guess what comes up in the paid results?

“Looking for headhunter abc? Join Now and Start Your Next $100K+ Career.”

Well… then I couldn’t resist.

“Looking for headhunter dogmeat? Join Now and Start Your Next $100K+ Career.”

“Looking for headhunter scam? Join Now and Start Your Next $100K+ Career.”

“Looking for headhunter to steal your money? Join Now and Start Your Next $100K+ Career.”

Try it. Google “headhunter [anything, except bad words]”.

TheLadders is not a headhunting company. It’s a job board that lies in its advertising, lies to its customers, smiles at you and asks for your business. Google oughta tighten up on the misleading ads it lets advertisers run. I guess Ladders doesn’t mind paying for such clicks…

“Looking for headhunter kaka? Join Now and Start Your Next $100K+ Career.”

It’s in there.

****UPDATE Oct 12, 2009: Either TheLadders or Google itself has killed the generic “headhunter [anything]” search result. Wonder why?


How to Say It: Beat the stress interview

Line ’em up and shoot ’em. That’s the approach some companies take to interviewing job candidates.

Some employers like to put job candidates through “stress interviews.” They set up a panel of interviewers who lob rapid-fire questions—like tomatoes—at the candidate. They watch to see how the candidate deals with the stress. I think this is ridiculous, unfair, insulting and not very productive. I want to tell these people to cut it out. How should I say it so that I’ll come across as responsive and “a cut above” the meek applicant?

That’s the question a reader asked in this week’s Ask The Headhunter Newsletter. (Get the whole story. Sign up for your own free subscription.) My advice is in the newsletter, which is not archived. I’ll post it here after readers chime in.

Do you stand there and catch the tomatoes, or do you do something else? Tell us.