The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for January 2011

Readers’ Comments: Should you stay? How to decide.

In the February 1, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is pretty happy at work, and wonders about sticking around:

I have been with the same company since college graduation: nine years. The company was a small start-up and has grown to become profitable. It provides average benefits with somewhat below-average salary. I have had opportunities to leave (job offer in hand) in the past, but have decided to stay with hopes of the company continuing its growth. I see many people bouncing from one job to the next for professional challenge and career advancement. Should I consider “moving on?” Or should I stay with good chances of being “in the right place at the right time?” Let me know your opinion. Thanks. 

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

After nine years with the company, I’d hope your management would welcome a discussion about the future. You’re certainly loyal, and it’s prudent to express your interest in the company’s goals since they will affect you profoundly.

My suggestion: Request a meeting with the president or CEO of the company. (If you worked for a big company, I’d suggest the head of your division or operation.) Invite him (or her) to lunch. This might seem odd, but it’s not at all. You have invested a lot in this company. You need to keep track of its progress like you would any company you own stock in.

At lunch, explain that you have been thinking about the company’s future direction, and you’d like to know what the CEO thinks. Don’t let on that you’re considering making a job change. If the CEO is smart, he’ll figure it out, but he’ll also see that you’re approaching your own future intelligently: by trying to assess the company’s future.

Here’s a suggestion about How to Say It: “I know there are certain things you can’t discuss, but I’m trying to get a feel for where the company plans to go over the next five years, and how someone like me would be impacted by those plans. A lot of people just get up and leave a company because they don’t know what the future holds. I feel like I’m part of a family here, and I care about our future, so I’d like to learn more about this from you.”

Most people never bother to talk to The Big Boss before they decide to move on. The Big Boss is probably more approachable than you think. Ask your questions. Make sure there is a future there, rather than “more of the same” (unless that’s what you really want). That’s how to figure out whether you should stay put. The best person to ask is the one at the top of your company.

I like it when a person tries to find good reasons to stay put, rather than try to change jobs quickly out of desperation. If you feel like you’re in the right place, but also feel a bit itchy, sometimes the best way to scratch the itch is to go talk to your bosses…

What’s made you decide to stay put? Are you glad you did?

What information was helpful in making that decision? How did you obtain it?


Did you get a free resume critique from a resume company recently?

I’ve written before about “professional resume writing firms” that offer “free critiques” of people’s resumes. It’s obviously a teaser, to get you to use their services. Nothing wrong with that — especially if you get some useful input about your resume from a good resume writer.

I’m doing some research on the resume business, and on free resume critiques in particular. And I’m asking for your help.

If you’ve received a free resume critique recently, I’d like to see a copy, if you’re willing to share it.

Please send it to me, along with any information about the resume writer who produced it for you, at (If you have the entire e-mail from the resume writer or firm, please send that, too.)

I plan to publish a column about free resume critiques in the near future. The more samples I have, the better!

Thanks for your help!


Readers’ Comments: How to negotiate with a headhunter

In the January 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets a job offer through a headhunter, and asks how to negotiate for a higher salary:

I got an offer today! The headhunter called me with the offer, and I told him I’d think about it and get back with him. I’d like to ask for $5k more, but I’m not very good at negotiating—and I have no idea how to negotiate with a headhunter who stands between me and the employer. Any suggestions? 

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The key is to know how headhunters think. They want one thing: to close the deal. (While some headhunters may pressure you to accept an offer without negotiation, a good headhunter will go to bat for you, if he thinks that what you want is reasonable.)

What headhunters don’t like is a wishy-washy candidate. They want to know exactly what you want. They may not always be able to get it for you, but if it’s reasonable, they will try to satisfy you (and the employer) to get the deal closed. Too often, a candidate who is facing an offer will balk, but not because the money isn’t right. He may hesitate because he’s not sure he wants the job itself. You must be honest with yourself, and with the headhunter, on this point. If the job itself is the problem, discuss this candidly with the headhunter. Otherwise, you could send him off spinning his wheels trying to get you more money, when you’re not even sure you want the job.

This is a key thing to understand about headhunters. A good one will work hard for you, but only if he’s sure you’re ready to take the job. Otherwise, why bother? If the problem is the job, then negotiate a different position. Give the headhunter clear directions.

If you’re sure you want the job, then make things black and white for this headhunter, and he’ll respect you for it. So here’s what to do:

How to Say It
Tell the headhunter: “This is an offer that I’d have to take some time to think about. I’m not sure I’d accept it. If it were $5k more, however, I’d accept it on the spot. In fact, if you can get the offer raised by $5k, you don’t even need to call me back. You can tell them I accept. So, tell me, what do you think?”

When you arm a headhunter with a firm number that will guarantee your acceptance, you give him great power to close the deal. Make that commitment to him, and you’ll quickly find out whether the extra bucks are possible. Then it’s all up to the headhunter—and his client.

Negotiating with headhunters — and getting them to negotiate for you — is different from negotiating directly with an employer. This edition of the newsletter is actually an edited excerpt from How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.

HTWWHs includes lots of additional insights and tips to give you an insider’s edge on how to negotiate successfully with a good headhunter:

  • Split the 2 parts of an offer to your advantage: The job and the terms
  • How to negotiate the terms and the job itself
  • Additional How to Say It tips to give you an added edge
  • The truth about whether the headhunter’s fee affects your offer
  • How to ask for higher compensation that costs the employer less
  • The one thing that can kill salary negotiations and your credibility
  • The headhunter’s secret: What to put on the table to win big

And that’s just one section (7 pages) of the 130-page How to Work with Headhunters…, including 62 myth-busting answers for fearless job hunters. Why stop here?

Are headhunters difficult to negotiate with? Yah, sometimes they are. But, if you find them difficult, odds are good you’re not dealing with a good headhunter. The hacks want a quick buck. The best headhunters want a valuable addition to their network. They will hear you out, and try to help you if they can. Because one happy placement is worth many good referrals in the future… which is what good headhunters really want.

What’s your experience been with headhunters? Not just the worst, but the best? Please share your cautions, advice and stories. Most important — what can others do to negotiate the best deal through a headhunter?


Work for free, or no interview for you!

One of my favorite job-advice pundits is The Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas, who calls ’em as she sees ’em. In her current post, Job Interview or Bake-Off?, she deals with the subject of employers who tease job hunters with interviews… if only they will do some free work first.

Say what?

It happens more often than you’d think. The employer wants to see samples of your work. Well, not just samples, but, Here’s an assignment that will take you a few days to complete. Bring us the results… heh-heh… and we’ll see which “candidate” did the best job.

Then it’s off to the bank with your work… while you cool your heels “waiting to hear back.”

ConmanI’ve known a handful of people who have actually worked for a few days at no charge, to show an employer that they are really expert at the work. (In every case, the person got the job, and also got paid for the time they invested. Why would anyone even try this if they weren’t 100% confident of the outcome?) But it wasn’t because the employer asked them to — it was because they suggested it. It was never a case of, Do the work, or you get no interview.

My bet is that the “creative” job hunter in the Evil HR Lady’s column is being scammed, whether intentionally or not.

While I advocate “showing the employer what you can do,” I draw the line at doing free work, unless the integrity of the employer is beyond reproach. This reader wouldn’t be asking the question if it were.

If the employer here is merely naive, I’d like to know whether “the work” to be delivered is something the employer can actually use and profit from, or is it merely a demonstration of your skills? Even if there’s nothing in the work that the employer can profit from, the problem is that “2-4 days of work” is going to cost the job applicant a lot.

It’s simply unethical (and perhaps illegal) to ask job candidates to deliver actual work like that. But it’s not uncommon. It’s part of Deceptive Recruiting, a topic I’ve already covered in its myriad nasty forms.

If I were the applicant, I’d offer other means of demonstrating my abilities. If the employer insists on a bake-off, I’d submit a bill in advance for my time and ask the employer to pay it prior to submitting anything.

What if the employer says no dice, as the job applicant in this story fears? Then I’d submit a detailed non-disclosure agreement for them to sign — along with an agreement that they will not use the work product in any way, shape or form except to evaluate you.

Let’s see how ethical they really are.

There’s nothing wrong with showing an employer what you can do, and the extent to which you do that must be based on the employer’s integrity. And there’s nothing wrong with walking away from jerks who want free work. Because, what do you think they’re going to want from you if they hire you?


TheLadders’ Marc Cenedella: Burying the pig

Not content to promise more than he can deliver, and still happy to charge money for nothing (that you can’t get elsewhere for free), TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella conducts an inspection of his members with his latest missive:

“So my colleagues here at TheLadders and I want to make your job search strategy as attractive as you are as a professional. We want to help you emphasize what makes you a better person for the position than all the other applicants — your search should be as special as you are.

“Are you doing the most to make yourself stand out? Are you taking the right steps to make yourself more attractive?”

Translation: Why haven’t you turned yourself out as a job slut, using the visual aids we recently put on TV?

PigBut then Cenedella pushes them into a big, dark, deep hole in the ground:

“If you’ve been looking for a job recently, you’ve discovered the ugly truth: job boards are broken.

“They don’t work, they don’t help, and they aren’t getting you where you need to go. Sure it sounds nice in theory — making it so easy to apply to jobs for anybody from anywhere at any time.”

Gimme a break. TheLadders is a job board! Cenedella smears lipstick on his customers and tells them to whore themselves out, tries to paint his own job board another color, then he tells you he’s the one honest pimp on the street, but don’t mind the kaka on his shoes while he steps all over his competitors… and shoves your job search into his money pit. Keep reading his e-mails and you’ll get used to the smell… Hey, many in HR have gotten used to it. That’s how TheLadders survives.

I shouldn’t waste my time (or yours) on TheLadders, but The Cynical Girl (aka, Laurie Ruettimann, who started, then killed, the provocative PunkRockHR) just slapped TheLadders silly (TheLadders is the single biggest piece of crap) on her new blog, and she sticks the pig with panache. Laurie sez:

“If you are a recruiter or HR professional who cannot find talented workers without using a chump-ass job board like The Ladders… If you are a job seeker and you want to earn $100,000 or more, don’t throw good money after bad… skip The Ladders… don’t be a dumbass.”

Sorry, M.C., but no matter how you try to dress it up, your pig is just another job board.

Who else is calling out TheLadders, and calling out the dumbasses that use it? You might wonder why few pundits are talking about what TheLadders is doing. It’s simple: TheLadders buys their silence with sponsorships and ad campaigns.

Example: During a radio appearance in March, 2010, I had a candid conversation with Brian Lehrer on New York Public Radio about Job-board scams, and we pointedly discussed the angry dissatisfaction of Ladders customers. Brian got a little nervous and suggested that he should bring TheLadders on the show to defend itself.

(In 2009, I appeared on WNYC several times, including for a weekly special summer series about job hunting. The series was so successful that WNYC rebroadcast the “best of Ask The Headhunter” while the Lehrer show was on summer hiatus.)

WNYC never got around to that debate between TheLadders and me, but I was never asked on again. Coincidence? Maybe. I do a lot of radio, and I know that scheduling is affected by all sorts of things. But, earlier today, an Ask The Headhunter “regular” pointed out to me that TheLadders is now a sponsor of WNYC public radio. Coincidence?

Maybe. But when I see almost 100 comments posted on an article about TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?, and over 200 comments posted on an article about The Dope on TheLadders, and when Ladders customers clamor for investigations of the company by states attorneys general, I’ve gotta wonder… just how long can TheLadders keep the lid on this controversy and stay in business?

The answer to that is: Personnel Jockeys. Corporate HR departments continue to dump untold millions into TheLadders, mindlessly seeking “ONLY $100k+ candidates,” even though any sixth-grade math whiz could tell them that the baseline odds of finding such people is so small that dumpster-diving for them at TheLadders or in any other job board is a waste of money. (Actually, an experienced CFO has tried to explain this, too. But HR gets its advice from high-priced HR consultants who really, really believe in online job boards.)


Laurie Ruettimann is a respected, no-holds-barred practitioner, observer and critic of the recruiting/HR world who calls it as she sees it. But there’s little competition on the topic of TheLadders. The pundits who might speak up seem either reticent or terrified. Some of them have already been bought and shut down.

Then there are the “HR experts” — apologist fans like Kris Dunn, who regularly tout TheLadders as the second coming of True Recruiting: True Confession: I love TheLadders and The Ladders: Now Providing a Free, Continuous Posting To Every Recruiter In the World… But I think TheLadders is digging its own grave. (Sorry, Kris, but not every recruiter in the world wants to be buried in that database.)

So, Cynical Girl, welcome to the fray. This is actually an easy public service. You hold the bright light of public scrutiny in Marc Cenedella’s face, and watch the HR profession hand him the shovel while he digs this pig’s grave.


Readers’ Comments: How can you fight bad references?

We discuss references here periodically — most recently, in We don’t need no stinking references.

While many companies dismiss references as an afterthought, and job hunters think they can get by without them, I believe references are the coin of the realm. Employers shouldn’t hire anyone without checking them (though by “checking them,” I don’t mean that rote telephone query most HR folks make), and job hunters should be suspicious of any company that doesn’t check them.

In the January 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about his last boss torpedoing him:

You’re supposed to say, “I left Company A because I wanted a more professional environment,” when the truth really is, “Company A fired me because we couldn’t deliver a product and because the boss refused to invest in some critical tools and training.”

When a reference says, “We fired him because he wanted some expensive training, and couldn’t learn certain technologies,” that leaves a person who is trying to leave an unprofessional environment in a terrible position. Any advice in dealing with that? Or are people basically doomed if they work for a scum-bag employer who doesn’t treat them like professionals?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

This is where other references come into play. A reference call is about you, but if it is handled deftly, it can also be about your other references.

At least one or two of the references you provide to the new employer should be (other) managers or employees at your old company who know the old boss’s attitude and behavior. Make sure they know the old boss might try to torpedo you.

The reference explains you did a good job, discusses your skills and talents, and endorses you. Then the reference explains how unfortuanate it was that the lack of necessary tools and resources made it impossible for you to do the job you were assigned.

“I felt bad for the guy. He used all his skills to work around the lack of resources, but I’ll be frank with you: His boss found it easier to blame him than to buy the tools we needed. I think it’s a shame the company lost a great worker due to poor management. I’m going to miss working with him, but our loss is your gain. If you run a good operation, this candidate will do a phenomenal job for you.”

The reference counteracts the half-a-story that the old boss provides. This is subtle, and you must handle it with care… You cannot count only on your boss to be your reference. You might be surprised at what helpful references your associates can be, if you tell them the whole story.

I’ve used this method when delivering references about my candidates to my clients. I don’t try to hide the bad reference. But I make sure to provide a reference about the bad reference, who in turn casts doubt on the negative comments, and reinforces the candidate’s better qualities.

Put an unavoidable negative reference in context, and help a new employer see you in a positive light.

Sometimes you know that a former boss is going to torpedo you on a reference call.

Should you try to prevent a company from calling your old boss? Sure, but the call might be placed anyway. Your objective should be to counter the bad reference by providing references about your references.

Have you ever done that? Have you cultivated professional associates who would stand up for you in the face of such an attack? If not, start now.

How have you prepared to defend against unfair negative references?


Whorin’ around with TheLadders

For a while it seemed TheLadders had gotten down off its lame horse, and stopped claiming it offers “ONLY $100k+ jobs.” (If you believe TheLadders really has only $100k+ jobs in its little database, have a look at what its members disclose about their experiences.) Indeed, the “ONLY” has been missing on its home page for quite some time.

Now TheLadders is back with a new commercial that once again teases viewers with “$100k+ jobs” — and the tease reveals the way-down-low pedigree of this sleazy career-industry performer:

The voiceover says, “We don’t just post $100k+ jobs…” And that’s true. They post $75k jobs, $60k jobs, and? less.

What’s not clear from the commercial is, when you pay your money, do you just get screwed, or is Ladders CEO Marc Cenedella also trying to pimp you out appropriately before he puts you out on the street… uh, to do a job interview…

Watch the video. Learn. Pay your money… Assume the attitude. It’s just marketing, and it’s all about whorin’ around with TheLadders.


Readers’ Forum: Headhunters & Job Hunters: The insanity continues

In the January 11, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two readers raise related questions about headhunters and job hunters. (My short version of their questions is, Are these people insane?) But take a look for yourself:

Reader #1 asks:

I found the article, How to Judge Headhunters, to be one of the best I’ve seen a some time. I’m hoping that you might be able to comment on what I see as a disturbing trend.

Several times each week, I receive e-mails from recruiters that would suggest we’ve been “best friends” for years. The e-mail usually has an outline of a job, and a request that I contact them at my earliest convenience. But once I place the phone call, the recruiter is completely in the dark as to who I am.

Recently, a recruiter asked that I send him my resume, and said he would get back in touch with me if he feels I would be a good fit. This was after he sent an e-mail stating that he had read my resume and thought I might be a good fit for the position he’s recruiting for.

Now, I’m not so thin-skinned that I lose sleep over the idea that I’m “not qualified,” but I’m curious why these folks would contact me in the first place. The recruiters I’m talking about work for major, national recruiting firms. Please share your comments about this.

Reader #2, headhunter Clare Powell, is with Powell Search Associates and specializes in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Clare welcomes resumes from folks in those industries, but not from out of left field:

Every day, I know two things are going to happen. First, at least a dozen talented people will send us their resume without first making sure we support clients in their industry. These are mid- to senior-level people! A quick visit to our website would tell them more. So, either they are too lazy to do the homework, or they think their packaged-goods background, for instance, is readily transferable to an R&D job at Pfizer. I’ve asked a few of them why they contacted us, and they just say they didn’t bother to check out our firm. Crazy stuff.

I think candidates should do their own homework and be more careful with their personal information. Who knows what a disreputable firm will do with that kind of open invitation?

In the end, like you, I want these guys to land great jobs, but they do themselves a terrible disservice by not following the simple steps you talk about all the time, and that even common sense would dictate. I wish your newsletter were more widely publicized. It would surely help me! I’m happy to put a link to your website on our website… My motive is to help people get smarter faster!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The smart job hunter in the first story above reveals the unsavory, mindless “recruiters” who issue puzzling invitations and make contradictory phone calls to him. And he wonders why they do it. It doesn’t matter why, any more than it matters why someone in “Nigeria” wants to share $38 million with you if you’ll give him your bank account information.

The headhunter in the second story reveals the mindless pitter-patter of lemming-like job hunters who have no idea where they’re going, whom they’re talking to, or what they really want. They say they are looking for a job, but what these folks are actually looking for is a gofer that might find them a job in the bushes. (Otherwise, why would they contact a headhunter who specializes in a different field?) Clare Powell begs for relief from the onslaught of thoughtless resumes and mindless requests.

The job market is in the condition it’s in because the economy has still not recovered. But there are companies that have jobs to offer, and talented people who can do them. I think there are two problems:

First, people need to start looking for the jobs they want, and stop desperately asking someone else to do it for them.

Second, people need to stop wasting their time on questionable solicitations from shady, inept “recruiters” who prey on desperation.

Clare Powell is a good headhunter, but she isn’t the solution to your career problem. Nor am I. Nor is the fraud who e-mailed you saying your resume looks so good, and would you please immediately send him your resume? The insanity among fast-buck recruiters and desperate job hunters continues. Perhaps they all belong together, in some sort of Wishful Thinking Database, out of the way of the rest of us—so we can work diligently at finding and filling the few real jobs out there.

I know it’s tough out there. But please don’t act crazy. Use your noggin.

Has everyone gone insane? Are people spending all their time on “meta job hunting,” devoting their energies to finding someone who might find them a job? What are you doing to find a job? Are you going insane along with everyone else, or are you using your noggin?