The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for September 2010

Coprophagia at BNET

Synaptic DistressHas Penelope Trunk finally suffered a psychotic break on the pages of BNET?

“You don’t need time to job-hunt.”

Or did her editor?

“Job-hunting does not take all day… It’s too hard. So a bad job does not interfere with a good job hunt.”

Why Hunting for a Great Job Will Hurt Your Career is either a joke, or Trunk’s synapses never made it back from lunch.

“You know the saying that lucky people create their own luck? For the unemployed, that means taking almost any job.”

In any event, there’s no excuse for the editor who let this onto the front page.

“But I’ve got news for you: Living up to your potential is BS. What does that mean, really? I think it means impressing your friends, or, worse, your parents, and you have better things to aim for in life than that.”

I have happy relationships with my parents, my friends and the people I work with. But in any case, I’m leaving a special area in the comments section below, for the person whose job doesn’t involve personal relationships.

“You are not going to find happiness from your job – that comes from personal relationships.”

BNET, you tell me: Should we pretend all perspectives are healthy, interesting and worthy of debate? Or is it okay to publish whatever piles up in the cerebral dung heap? Be careful what you feed your readers, even if your editors are willing to eat it.

[Update: GL Hoffman over at LinkUp explains it all with just a diagram. Actually, with a Gruzzle: Shovel-Ready.]


Executive MBA’s: Do these lion cubs hunt?

A major university asked me to submit a proposal. The school is interested in hiring “a career placement professional” to “bring jobs to the table” for its newly-minted Executive MBAs (EMBAs). The school “has career placement but it does not meet the needs of the EMBA program.” The school also has “career coaches,” but it wants “to do something apart from the ordinary.” It wants to “raise the bar.”

In summary, the school graduates EMBAs. It has career coaches for them, but the coaching isn’t yielding jobs. And it has a career placement service that doesn’t yield jobs, either.

This school wants to know if I’m interested in being “embedded” in its EMBA program. The “career placement professional” it brings on “must bring jobs to the table.”

Here’s the response I sent:

It sounds to me like [your school] is looking for something quite ordinary – a “career placement professional.” Today’s economy is awash with them.

Here’s the problem: You hire a placement professional to put your EMBAs into jobs. What is [your school] going to pay this individual? $50k? $100k? $150k? With a bonus every time he or she places someone?

Here’s the competition: Every company that’s trying to fill top executive slots is working with contingency headhunters who are paid 25% or more of the exec’s new salary upon placement. The headhunter that places 4 or 5 execs will earn around $200,000. Inside a year, the headhunter will earn fees in excess of $1 million.

Your “placement professional” will be competing with headhunters who have far more at stake than a salary or even a bonus. The headhunters will leave your “career placement professional” in the dust. How is that doing something apart from the ordinary?

(You could try to get a headhunter to come place your EMBAs, but a good headhunter will not limit himself to just your pool of EMBAs. The best headhunters don’t find jobs for people. They fill positions for their clients, and a headhunter would soon put your EMBAs into competition with other candidates, because that’s what the headhunter does. That’s what he’s paid to do.)

I’m concerned about the statement, “This organization must bring jobs to the table.” [Your school] is graduating EMBAs who are ready and able to run corporations. And someone has to bring jobs to them?

A mother lion brings meat to her young cubs, but to perpare them to survive she shows them how to go out and hunt on their own. Your school must teach its EMBAs how to hunt.

How is an EMBA who can’t find himself a job going to survive, and recruit and hire people for his own company?


Readers’ Forum: Where can I find good small companies to work for?

In the September 28, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I’m interested in working for a smaller local company. The real challenge seems to be finding that small company. How should I proceed?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

There are a lot more small companies out there than there are big ones. While many don’t spend to advertise jobs (because they prefer to hire via word of mouth), you will find them in the business pages of your local newspaper—in articles, not in job ads.

Small companies will refer you to one another simply because they rely on one another for business introductions. While one may not be your exact cup of tea, its president (or receptionist) may introduce you to another that is. This chain of connections is how they do business with one another, and it’s a great way for you to navigate through the small-company community. It’s also a very good way to vet each company, by asking others about its reputation.

Where do you find good employers to work for? Obvious question, eh? Well, don’t tell me you find them on job boards. I want to know where you go in physical space to actually meet people and learn about companies you might want to work for. It seems people just don’t do this any more. “Let’s do lunch” used to be a pretty good thing till self-interest destroyed it.

Me? I like nothing more than hanging out and talking to people about their work, especially if I get to visit their company.

How about you? Where do you find good companies to work for?


Why you should offer job applicants more money

In the last post, The Ethics of Juggling Job Offers, we talked about accepting a job offer, then rescinding the acceptance if a better deal comes along shortly thereafter (or even before you start the first job). The discussion was from the candidate side.

It begs the question, What can an employer do to avoid losing a new hire?

A company will sometimes work too hard to keep the salary offer as low as possible, virtually challenging the candidate to accept it. If the candidate gives up on negotiating a better deal and accepts the offer, the company has instantly set itself up for a quick resignation if the candidate can find a better deal elsewhere.

That’s why I advise my corporate clients to do what company presidents like to insist that their employees do for their customers: “Don’t just satisfy the customer. Delight the customer!”

Why not delight the candidate?

What does that mean? Read more

Readers’ Forum: The ethics of juggling job offers

In the September 21, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I am in this dilemma and read your article about Juggling Job Offers. Yours is the only one that says to accept the first job offer, and when the second job (which would be a better offer and more suitable) presents itself, then retract acceptance of the first job offer.

However, the other articles and guidance suggests not doing this at all as it is unethical and can damage one’s reputation in a given industry. I have gone back to the first company and gotten a decision window of one week to decide. The timing is off as I need one more week for the second job’s response and possible offer.

Do I ask for yet another extension? Any thoughts?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Sorry, but I don’t buy the ethics angle on this. As I point out in the article, if a company lays you off six months after hiring you, is it behaving unethically? No. It’s a business decision. What if it lays you off a week after you start, due to unexpected financial setbacks? What’s the real difference?

The fact is, in a situation like this, you are not making a choice between two job offers. You are making a binary choice: Yes or No to one job. While I hope the other offer comes through, I can tell you that in many years of headhunting I’ve seen most “sure thing” offers go south. Either they are delayed indefinitely, or they never come through.

I agree that accepting then rescinding your acceptance can have an effect on your reputation. But likewise, a layoff has an effect on an employer’s reputation. Still, sometimes it happens out of necessity. It doesn’t make the company (or you) unethical.

I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of rescinding an acceptance. But to behave as though the second offer is a sure thing is to put the first offer at risk. Is it unethical to continue to ask the first company—which has stuck out its neck and and made a commitment to you—to keep extending the decision deadline?

How many times will the second company need “one more week” to produce the offer, if it produces one at all?

In today’s edition a reader asks how to deal with one job offer when a more desirable one is “in the wings.”

In the wings? Sorry, but a bird in the hand is the only bird you’ve got! Decide about that, and then deal with the future later.

Am I being unethical?


Readers’ Forum: How to get the hiring manager’s attention

In the September 14, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I know that a local company has new positions in the works, but I can’t get anyone to talk to me. The personnel office doesn’t return calls and I don’t know how to reach the manager. Is my only alternative to send a resume and hope it is seen by the district manager? 

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

No, don’t give up yet. Call the company’s sales department—those calls always get connected. Ask for advice.

Sales reps are usually talkative as long as you don’t waste their time. Be polite and be respectful. Learn all you can, then ask for a referral. “I don’t want to apply for a job until I learn more about the operation. I’d really like to have this kind of discussion with someone who works in the department I’d be applying to. Can you recommend someone—other than the personnel office—who might talk with me? I’d be beholden to you.” 

In the newsletter I explain what to say to the manager when you finally make contract. (For detailed advice about how to give managers what they’re looking for, see the section titled Put a Free Sample in Your Resume in the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?) But the main message is to contact people peripheral to the hiring manager to establish direct contact. In other words, to get introduced. Don’t waste your time with the personnel office or with a blind resume.

Never send a blind resume. Make a good contact and get introduced to the manager. Most important: Have something useful to say.

Approaching the hiring manager through the sales department is not a ruse; it’s honest, but it’s also clever. It’s just one legitimate method for sidestepping the HR office to talk to the hiring authority. I’m sure you know other ways to do it.

Got tips? That’s what this edition of the blog is about: Your suggestions and stories about how to get the hiring manager’s attention. Please post them!


College: POP! goes the conventional wisdom

“The people running America’s colleges and universities have long thought they were exempt from the laws of supply and demand and unaffected by the business cycle. Turns out that’s wrong.”

Some might suggest this quote from National Review Online is politically motivated. The real problem is, Bill Barone’s article, The Higher Education Bubble, is chock full of food for worry.

Among Barone’s citations is A guide to what college rankings don’t tell you. Operated by ACTA (The American Council of Alumni and Trustees), this rating site evaluates schools on whether they require students to take courses in seven core subject areas. (ACTA also defines what success in these core subjects means.)

  • Composition
  • Literature
  • Foreign Language
  • U.S. Government or History
  • Economics
  • Mathematics
  • Natural or Physical Science

But here’s the catch, says ACTA:

“The fact that a college has requirements called Literature or Mathematics does not necessarily mean that students will actually study those subjects.”

ACTA  points out that schools might recommend certain core courses, but they let students slide by meeting “distribution requirements” that get them around those core courses.

“If a core course were one of several options that also included unqualified courses, the institution did not receive credit for that subject; credit is given only for what an institution requires of its students, not what it merely recommends.”

ACTA lines up the schools and busts their balls. Does Stanford University really rate a C? Harvard a D? Amherst an F? It seems a student doesn’t really have to master the core subjects at those schools.

Barone closes his article with this:

“As often happens, success leads to excess. America leads the world in higher education; yet there is much in our colleges and universities that is amiss and, more to the point, suddenly not sustainable.”

I don’t know anything about Barone or about the referenced website. But I’m interested in what you know about this topic and in your comments. Should we be worried that the conventional wisdom about going to college is far more wrong than it’s right? And if you think all kids should go to college, What are they learning?

(Thanks to Jason Johnson on the Phi Beta Kappa Group/LinkedIn for the heads-up on Barone’s article.)

PS — After I posted this column, I found a sort of poetic economic justice right below it, where I let Google publish its ads. While the ad periodically changes, it’s sometimes an ad from a certain for-profit college… They’re everywhere.


REJECT! How HR engineered its own funeral

We’ve been talking about the goofy behavior of HR departments in your favorite companies, and its counterproductive consequences. This topic seems to expand the more we talk about it.

In a recent thread reader Nic raises a fundamental question and puts a sharp point on the stick:

What I see taking place in these idiotic HR departments, especially during this economy, is the finding of every excuse under the sun NOT to interview someone. What is really going on?

It’s a simple thing, and it escapes virtually everyone’s attention. In companies across the country, HR is no longer in the hiring business. HR is in the rejection business, and for a very good reason:

HR solicits millions and millions of irrelevant resumes for a handful of open jobs.

Of course HR spends most of its time rejecting applicants. That’s because HR spends virtually all of its recruiting budget soliciting applicants who have no business applying for these jobs — except that HR asked them to.

RIP HRHR has planned its own funeral by engineering itself out of the recruiting and hiring business. HR is now all about picking millions of burrs out of its ass after sitting down in — no, change that, after buying its way into — the job-board weed patch. HR has surrounded itself with everyone it doesn’t want, and now it’s spending precious corporate dollars to get rid of what it bought.

HR’s chief function in corporate America has become to fund the job boards and the recruitment advertising industry. That’s why HR is in the rejection business. There is no other way for HR to deal with the masses of irrelevant, wrong, useless resumes and applications it pays billions of dollars to collect.

HR does indeed find every reason under the sun not to interview someone.  It must. What else is it going to do with the millions of zombies it invites to apply for jobs? This is a corporate funeral parlor, not a hiring office.

If you don’t want to join the walking dead after you submit your resume, don’t wander into the HR weed patch. Don’t let this be your funeral, too.