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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for July 2010

Readers’ Forum: Why interview when there’s no job?

In the July 27, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

Rather than chase job listings, I took your advice and picked three companies I really want to work for. This is fun, because I work harder when I am totally focused. I did extensive research, identified the right managers, and arranged introductions. What if they don’t have any jobs open? Isn’t that a waste of time?

Absolutely not. These are still the people you want to get to know and stay in touch with.

About 60% of jobs are found through personal contacts. The managers on your list are your best new personal contacts — whether they have a job for you or not. Your investment of time is a good one because they could lead you to your next job even if they don’t hire you. But take note: You must be credible if you want your contacts to be productive.

(You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Job hunting isn’t about getting a job. It’s about getting known. As you’re starting to see, your credibility is greatest when you approach companies and managers you really want to work for. When you’re motivated and know your stuff, managers take notice. When you meet with managers you care about, that’s what makes the outcome productive.

How much time do you invest in getting to know people you’d really like to work with? Even if there isn’t a job to talk about?

And, how do you go about it?

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OMG! They found out about my air baths!!

Reader Steve Amoia shared a Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth Garone that might terrify you: Five Mistakes Online Job Hunters Make.

(Does this mean that if you’re not an online job hunter, you’ve got nothing to worry about?)

Steve writes:

I’m curious about something:

“Assume your future boss is reading everything you share online,” she says.

How much do you look online when you are checking out a potential candidate for a client? This WSJ article seems to imply that we are so important that recruiters have nothing better to do than peer into our online “lives.” Obviously, we all need to exercise good judgment. But if a young kid (or someone older like us) posts something stupid, should that be held against him years from now or negate positive career achievements?

Good questions, and ones that have become popular fodder for career pundits. But in practice, are recruiters and employers getting kooky? Should employers really worry so much about your online “record?” Garone says that,

“A December 2009 study by Microsoft Corp. found that 79% of hiring managers and job recruiters review online information about job applicants before making a hiring decision. Of those, 70% said that they have rejected candidates based on information that they found online.”

Say what??

I’m not surprised at all the online checking employers do — but 70% dumped applicants because of what they found online?

If I looked through the employers’ garbage cans, I’d probably find something that might make me want to dump them, too. Steve points to a kooky new sort of problem: To what extent should such “information” be used to judge job applicants?

To some extent, certainly. But, to borrow from Ben Franklin (who probably would have gotten rejected by any employer who learned that the man took “air baths” regularly — sitting naked in front of an open window): Everything in moderation!

I check people out online, but I also exercise judgment. Not until the Net came along were we able to look into so many corners of people’s lives in such detail… So what?

Before the Net, we didn’t know stuff we know now. So what? Just because you learn something doesn’t mean that it means anything. Or that it’s anything new. But when a practice like this becomes part of a routine process of checking people out, we have to start worrying whether the people who do the checking know how to weight a piece of data. The more data they have, the less they are likely to distinguish useful information.

Does it matter that I take air baths?

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Stanford’s top engineer: Our K-12 problem is serious

Over a year ago, I discussed the abject failure of American K-12 schools to teach kids how to be technology creators rather than just consumers. My plea to schools: Gimme a break! Stop giving students iPods and just teaching them how to use computers — when we should be teaching them how to program, design circuits and understand what’s inside those cool tech products in their pockets and on their desks.

Consider the various disciplines taught in K-12: math, foreign language, science… Kids are taught how math works, how the grammar of a language works, how the laws of physics operate.

But then we come to courses with titles like Computer Literacy and Media Technology. Kids aren’t taught how software programs work or how bits move around. They aren’t taught how information is stored or sent to a color printer. Instead, they’re simply taught how to use the cool products in which software and chips are hidden. Those “technology” courses are about how to make videos and cool PowerPoint presentations. Very cool. Very dumb.

(Sometimes it’s very clear to me that technology vendors like Apple offer special discounts to schools for no other reason than to market their products to budding consumers. There is no pretense of teaching technology.)

James Plummer, the Dean of Stanford University’s Engineering School, says it bluntly in an interview in Electronic Engineering Times:

“We have K-12 education that is not world class and certainly does not do a good enough job of helping young people understand what science and engineering are about.”

That’s an indictment of America schools that’s become the refrain sung by leaders of business and industry for several years. Our public schools generally suck at teaching technology. Meanwhile, elected boards of education are bamboozled by consumer technology vendors who wine and dine “Technology Curriculum Directors” who wouldn’t know BASIC code from a Java script.

The rejoinder from “education experts” is that not all kids are going to become engineers or programmers — so why teach technology at that level?

Well, it’s simple: Kids aren’t going to become accountants or chemists or interpreters at the U.N., either — but we teach them math, science and languages at a pretty early age because those subjects serve as a foundation of higher learning. Textbook publishers issue new editions of their math, science and language books every few years — even though nothing has really changed in the subject matter. (Uh, well, the method of teaching those subjects changes every few years… Gimme a break… all they’re doing is selling new books.)

Meanwhile, what’s really changing almost daily is technology — and I don’t mean just the cool products that are available, but the underlying technology that makes them possible. And where these rapid advances in technology are making the biggest difference is is overseas, in countries that are rapidly catching up with American ingenuity, outstripping our ability to create, produce and sell technical marvels to our under-educated kids (and their schools). Those countries are cranking out new generations of technically-savy graduates who will soon dominate the world economy.

But Dean Plummer isn’t one of those techies who’s just a technology booster. He gets it — he gets how a thorough education is key to success:

“We’ve got to give sudents a skill set to prepare for a multicompany career. A lot of what we are doing now is creating T-shaped people. The vertical part is deep technical education, and the horizontal part is a set of ‘softer’ skills: creativity, innovation, the entrepreneurial way to look at work.”

He talks about where the technology students at top schools like Berkeley and Stanford are coming from:

“Today the biggest sources are China and India. Historically it was Japan and Taiwan. These foreign students make up more than half our grads and in some schools as much as 75 percent. The quality of undergrads in these counties in Asia is superb.”

Plummer admits that colleges and universities are as much to blame as lower-level schools for America’s failure to develop science and engineering as attractive careers.

The problem now is that this failure has become a cliche. We talk about it, but we excuse it. Why? Because we look around and it seems “there are no jobs” in engineering and science. So why should we encourage kids to get into technology for a living? But that’s our fault, too, because we tell our kids that our nation is now a “service economy” and that “knowledge jobs” are the future.

In my next post, I’ll talk about why this is a dangerous fallacy that’s killing jobs and careers in the United States.

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Readers’ Forum: How to get to the hiring manager

In the July 20, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

You have said that the key to a successful job search is to contact the person you would work for within an organization, and to show how you can help out. How can I find the manager who has the problems I’ll be able to solve?

(You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

[UPDATE: The special, limited-time discount on the 2-Book Bundle that I offered in the current newsletter has generated so much attention that I’ve published the entire edition — including the discount code — online: Read the entire newsletter here and get the discount. Thanks to all for your interest! Man, sometimes you bowl me over! But please sign up for your own free subscription to find out about other special offers in the future.]

In the newsletter I suggest that your challenge as a job hunter is not to apply for lots of open jobs. It’s to carefully target the manager whom you can help the most.

To find a manager who really needs you, it’s best to triangulate. That is, talk to people who know and work for managers who may be relevant to your job search. This includes less obvious contacts, like a company’s customers and vendors.

But the point is to talk shop. Don’t ask for job leads — that’s like asking for an introduction to the personnel office!

Getting to the hiring manager is a lot of hard work. But so is that job you want, right? (Get it?)

How can you do some of the key research, and how do you get ready to meet the people who can lead you to the manager? Two sections of How Can I Change Careers? deal specifically with these issues. (This PDF book is not just for career changers; it’s for anyone who wants to get an edge on changing jobs.) A section about how to “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume” helps you show the manager how you’ll bring profit to the bottom line.

How do you get to the hiring manager? What methods have you used that helped you get past the teeming hordes of job hunters — so you could talk directly to the manager (or to someone very close to the manager)?

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Readers’ Forum: I need a headhunter who will market me!

 A reader asks:

I realize that headhunters work for the employer, but my past experience has been that a good one will pick up an individual with good qualifications and do some marketing to achieve a match. They don’t seem to work this way any more. How can I find a headhunter who will really market me?

Discussion: July 6, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

In the newsletter, I explain that good headhunters don’t market individuals and they never have. Good headhunters focus on filling positions for which they’ve been assigned a “search” by a corporate client. I also offer a tip about how to find a good headhunter — it’s one of the 62 answers for fearless job hunters that’s included in How to Work with Headhunters.

The fact that some “headhunters” waste your time doesn’t mean all headhunters are bad, any more than all HR folks are. The best headhunters will recruit you and, if you’re the right candidate, negotiate a deal that will make you happy enough to refer your buddies the next time the headhunter comes looking…

It’s easy to turn up nasty stories about experiences with headhunters, and I’ve printed many over the years. Do you have a story about a good experience with a headhunter? Please post it. What did a headhunter do that made a difference in your job search?

(And if you’re really burned up about headhunters, well, I’m not going to delete your rants if you post those, too…)

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Why HR?

Uh-uh, Bill Taylor.

I just read Why We (Shouldn’t) Hate HR on FastCompany.com. I wish Bill (one of the brilliant founders of FastCompany magazine) hadn’t questioned the intent and meaning of Keith Hammond’s original 2005 article, Why We Hate HR. If anything, it’s more valid today than it was 5 years ago because today budgets are tighter and employers must hire and manage people with even more care. HR is still the focal point of the problem.

I don’t think pushing the HR problem onto a company’s employees “because they are the human resources” works. I think that’s another issue and another article. Hammond was talking about the Human Resources department, not the employees. Let’s stick to the subject.

Perhaps time prompts us to recast the original question: Do we really hate HR? I don’t think so, but HR bugs us. We’ve seen all the ways that HR as an organization — generally speaking — doesn’t work very well. Some HR departments flourish and represent a return on investment to their companies; but I think the majority of us agree that most don’t. Hence our “hatred” for HR. I think that since you Hammond that big question to us 5 years ago, it seems the more important question today is, Why HR?

I don’t think there’s a good answer that supports the existence of most HR departments. Sure, some good HR departments pay off, but does any company really need an HR department?

Even if we set aside the truly productive HR departments, the problem is all the other HR departments that are unnecessary and counterproductive. Let’s look at what HR does, and how it could be done better by another corporate function:

1. Handle regulatory matters. Most companies have legal departments. The answer seems simple: Let the legal folks grow an implementation and compliance team for human resources matters. Keep the responsibility close to the department that does the work.

2. Employee training and development. Where does this role really belong? At home in each business unit or company department. Create a position that enables managers to decide how to educate, train, and develop their workers. Implement it locally, where bureaucratic nonsense is less likely to interfere. How many questionable “consultling firms” do HR departments hire and foist on business units, without the unit really wanting the service? I can count on two hands and feet the number of pedantic consulting firms I’ve seen hired by HR because they wine and dine and flatter HR execs. Let the business units decide how to invest the funds for a return the business units are accountable for. (When is the last time you saw HR reprimanded for hiring a crummy consultant or trainer?)

3. Organization design. If this is a business science, I’ve never understood why it is a separate discipline. Any business unit’s management team is responsible for structuring its operations, and it should hire the experts it needs to help it do the job. I’ve seen one disastrous organizational design after another created by people who are not expert in the business being designed.

4. Workforce analysis and data management. If ever there were an administrative role in management, this is it. I believe performance and workforce planning problems start when the department (HR) responsible for them is not measured on… workforce performance. Show me a company where HR is measured and judged based on the actual performance of all employees, and I’ll eat this column. This is a perfect role for oversight by the finance department, which also rounds up departmental budgets each year. But make each business unit accountable for its own analysis and planning.

5. Employee relations, social programs, and events. Gimme a break. Companies don’t need den mothers. Rather than pay big bucks for big programs, big mission statements, and big public relations initiatives, spend a few dollars to hire a specialist for each business unit who is responsible for monitoring and coordinating employee programs. Make sure these specialists learn your business first. Retired high school vice principals are good candidates.

6. Compensation and benefits management. Don’t waste that great finance department you have. Those people are really good at numbers. Invest in some further training and develop some specialists to handle competitive compensation and effective benefits programs. Gathering and analyzing competitive market data is not rocket science; get your department managers involved. Why does any company need an entire department — whose performance isn’t (can’t be?) measured — making decisions about competitive compensation practices?

7. Recruiting, processing and hiring. Let’s consider some facts. Last year one of the biggest online job board’s revenues were around $1.3 billion. Your HR department is the source of most of that revenue. But your company made only about 4% of its hires from that job board. Is your board of directors aware that your HR department is shoveling company cash to “recruitment advertising partners” whose services don’t work? Unless you’re one of the handful of lucky companies that has internal recruiters who get out from behind their computer screens and actually go out into the world and seek, find, seduce, cajole, and otherwise steal good workers, your HR department is costing you not only money — but your lifeblood. While critical, profit-producing jobs go undone — and HR’s performance goes unmeasured — your HR execs are telling the world there’s a “talent shortage” while we’re experiencing the greatest glut of unemployed, highly-educated and skilled workers in history. (I wrote my own “Why We Hate HR” column earlier this year: Time for HR to exit the hiring business.)

Bill Taylor says, “The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?”

I don’t agree. I think successful organizations are very rigorous and creative about getting profitable work from their employees, their managers, and their business units. The problem is, those organizations don’t expect as much from HR, hence HR is usually not overseen, not measured, and not judged for its performance. It’s the department no one wants to be responsible for. It’s the department that is not subjected to outcomes analysis. Anything goes. And we know it does. That’s why we hate HR — though we shouldn’t. After all, HR does what the board of directors permits it to do.

The best HR people I know find ways to embed themselves into business units. They become part of a business team. They don’t hide behind “company overhead.” More than anything else, it’s the success of those precious few “HR folks” that makes me ask, Why HR?

I still haven’t heard a good answer.

[I originally wrote this column for FastCompany.com, which published it under its Leadership section. It got little notice. Something tells me the Ask The Headhunter audience will have a lot more to say about the topic.]

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