The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for August 2011

How can I find out whether a job board is the real deal?

In the August 30, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks:

Have you ever heard of JobSearchSite Inc., dba NOW? It sounds good, but how do you check on them to see if they’re the real deal?

My reply:

In this edition, let’s try an experiment: Video. Hope you enjoy it.


There are so many job boards coming and going that it’s impossible to keep up — but I don’t even want to. While your competition is getting interviews and offers, you’d be spending your entire life trying to check these places out. Or you could pick four companies you’d love to work for and go research them instead, to make personal contacts who will give you the real low-down and help you get in the door.

Remember: There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. Choose carefully and approach doggedly.

I already know how the Ask The Headhunter community feels about job boards… but tell me, what’s your favorite alternative that produces results? (Are there any job boards you like?)

So… how’d this video experment come off? (Other than my novice production values!) Is video Q&A to your liking? Should we do more of these? Hit me with your critique — too long, too short, get a new shirt, stop the rapid eye movements (sorry, I had to use a few notes…), add a CNN backdrop… use hand puppets…?

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Am I chasing the salary surveys?

In the August 23, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a frustrated reader who’s been on the job for just a couple of months checks the salary surveys and wonders whether it’s already time to ask for a raise…

I love my new job. However, I checked some recent salary surveys and it seems I am underpaid as much as $5k/year. Since I’ve only been here for two months, how long should I wait to discuss this with my boss? Or do you think I’m chasing the salary surveys? This has really been bothering me and I want some peace of mind.

I think salary surveys are fine as general indicators, but do they tell you anything about yourself? I think using them to establish your salary requirements is like checking the cover of Vogue to plan what your face should look like…

What’s this reader to do? Are salary surveys good tools for career development? What do you think of how they present the data?

My detailed advice to this reader is published in the free weekly Ask The Headhunter newsletter, which is delivered only by e-mail. Subcribers and I discuss the question and my advice here on the blog. Please join us! But to read my advice — including frequent How to Say It tips and links to other valuable resources — Sign up for your own FREE subscription! Don’t miss another edition!



You blew the interview? Fess up and fix it.

In the August 16, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a rejected job hunter fesses up that he got cocky and didn’t prepare for his interview:

I have five years experience in a technical job and I want to move into a related management role. I’m the go-to guy in the department and I am considered a “vital” part of the team by both my peers and senior management. When I presented a case for the creation of a management role and development of a team, it was largely ignored and placed on the “long finger.” The whole experience made me realize I need to focus on moving my career forward.

I recently interviewed for a management job with a company that I have long admired. The job itself is a carbon copy of my current position, but it would include two or three people working under me. I was called back for a second interview, but I was unsuccessful in moving forward to the next phase.

On reflection, there were several reasons I probably didn’t move forward including being too cocky leading up to the interview, and thus not being 100% prepared. I don’t think my desire to change jobs was shining through in the interview.

The logical next step for me is management. How can I make this transition? Many thanks in advance.

Here’s my reply:

You probably nailed the reason why you failed the interview. You weren’t prepared for the meeting, and maybe a bit cocky. You blew it. While you seem to have admitted your mistake, you said nothing about what you plan to do about this. It’s not even clear to me that you care — you just want to move on to the next opportunity.

A manager doesn’t just tackle a project. A manager gets it done. And if the manager makes a mistake, he doesn’t just walk away. The key here is that you recognize what you did wrong. A good manager figures out what he did wrong, tunes up his approach, and goes back at it. Is it possible that the employer who interviewed you thinks you’re not interested in correcting your mistake? I don’t know, but my concern is that you don’t seem to care.

Before you move on to the next management opportunity, fix what you did wrong this time. There’s probably nothing to lose in taking another shot, and what you’ll gain is self-respect and perhaps a second chance. My advice is not to give up so quickly. Go back to the employer who already invested in two meetings with you.

I’d either call the manager, or send a short note. Fess up and fix it. The note is for fessing up, and the plan that you attach is for fixing it.

How To Say It
“I apologize for being a bit cocky in my interview. The truth is, I was distracted by some issues at my current job, and I didn’t carefully analyze your needs to formulate a useful response. While it may be too late, I need to do this for the sake of my own integrity. Attached please find an outline of my understanding of the job you need done, and what seem to be the key problems and challenges. Along with that, I include a brief plan for how I would do the job for you, describing how I’d achieve the three main objectives, and my estimate of how my work would contribute to your bottom line. This is how I try to approach any job, including the one I’m doing now. I didn’t accomplish this in my interview with you. I’m sorry if I wasted your time when we met. I want you to know I take every job seriously, whether I win it or not. Thanks for your time. I hope you find something useful in what I wrote for you. If you find my comments worthy of further discussion, you won’t regret meeting with me again.”

The details of this approach are covered in detail in How Can I Change Careers?, a PDF book that I should probably re-title, because it’s not just for career changers, but for anyone who’s changing jobs and wants to stand out in the interview. It teaches how to show an employer that hiring you will be a profitable decision. If an employer can’t figure out whether it’s worth giving you a shot at a management job, you must prove that it’s a wise choice. The interviewer won’t figure it out for herself. That’s why you must submit a plan showing how you’ll do the work.

If you want to be the “go-to guy” in a management job, I think you need to get back in touch with that employer. Show that you know how to handle rejection by changing your approach and by acting like a versatile manager. If you hear nothing back, chalk it up to learning. Either way, you will have developed the plan you need to approach any promotion to a management job.

(Here on the blog, I usually print only a part of the advice I offer in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter — and we discuss the topic here. This week, I ran it all. Next week, it’ll be a partial reprint once again. But don’t miss another issue! Be on top of the discussion! It’s free! Sign up for the weekly newsletter! )

Can you go back after the employer says No?

It happens to everyone at some point. You blow it in the job interview. You know why, and you feel like a dope. You could have performed much better. Can you go back for another bite at the apple? Have you done it? Did it work?

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Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m

Rude employers who don’t bother to follow up with job candidates after interviews, even after promising a hiring decision within X number of days, are a staple topic on Ask The Headhunter. And it’s no wonder — job applicants are fed up with, “Hurry up and submit your application! Hurry up and fill out the forms! Hurry up and show up for an interview! Then hurry up and wait while we contemplate our navels!”

Comments on I really, really want this job, a discussion about frustrated job hunters, turned back to the problem of employers that fail to display the most basic courtesies.

Reader LT commented:

Back when HR was “wages and benefits”, management made darn sure there were hoards of fresh-faced stenographers and typists to crank out correspondence of all types, including but not limited to “We thank you for your interest in XYZ Company, and will have a decision by Friday next.”

But, complains LT, after you do all that HR asks of you, “the next sound you hear is utter, complete rude, deafening silence.”

Were companies better citizens then?  I don’t know.  I do know that, at least form a potential employee’s perspective, their “corporate culture” is so blatantly demeaning that it is beyond comprehension why anyone would care to work there.

LT raises a very good question. What changed?

Is it the lack of support staff to write thank-you notes? I think it’s a far more serious and systemic problem. In many companies, HR doesn’t behave respectfully any more because it has boxed itself in.

As a profession, HR has created a monster. While some HR departments actually recruit, HR on the whole funds job applicant sources like, CareerBuilder, HotJobs, TheLadders to the tune of billions of dollars a year. For what? To ensure a massive, untenable, unworkable, impossible-to-process pipeline of incoming job applicants.

When HR got into bed with the databases, its standards slipped, and thoughtful, careful recruitment turned into a mindless, sloppy, “volume” business. Sorry, LT, but there is simply no way for HR to process all the incoming “applicant” crap it pays for, much less send out nice notes to people it interviews. Personnel jockeys are drowning in the drek gushing out of the job board pipe. They have no time to actually deal with candidates.

The good HR folks out there know who they are. They’re selective. They’re respectful. But the rest of HR has made its bed, inviting too many to jump in. Today, Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m is how HR does it, and don’t expect a call tomorrow.

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Are you over-qualified for a grunt job?

In the August 9, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter gets rejected for demonstrating initiative, and asks for a work-around:

You have urged us to convince the hiring manager we can bring value to a job. Believe it or not, this doesn’t seem to be appropriate in some circumstances, unfortunately.

I have had experiences with accounting and IT (information technology) hiring managers. Each had a detailed requirement of the role to be filled. When I focused on what I could bring to the table, the post-mortem in each case was, “She is overqualified.” They just wanted someone to tick off the boxes on the requirement and show proof of competence in those areas. Going beyond was automatic rejection.

Maybe certain roles demand a pedantic mind to succeed, and it’s not possible to present a good business case to such people when they are the hiring managers. What do you think?

Nick, do you have a work-around for this circumstance?

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

This is an excellent question. But I don’t think this is really about the job. I think it’s about the employer. I’ll take the liberty of re-phrasing it:

Do I want to work for someone who wants me to be a grunt, and not add anything to the job?

If you do, then don’t offer anything more in the interview than the interviewer asks for. That is, check off the boxes and go along for the ride. The trick, of course, is figuring out whether the employer wants more or not. I’m not sure that’s possible without betraying higher intelligence and motivation.

But if you want a job where you’re contributing to the business, and if you want an employer that cares, then keep doing what you’ve been doing. Show what you can bring to the table. Employers that want to hire robots will fail the interview, just as this one did.

No offense intended — honest — but I think what you’re getting at is, How do we dumb ourselves down so we can get a job that doesn’t require our full participation?

Maybe you just answer the questions you’re asked, and say little more than that… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week,  subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Note to human resources managers: If your company wants grunts, please stop talking about “hiring talent.” You know who you are.

I know there are managers who don’t give a rat’s batootie how capable a job candidate is, beyond meeting the minimum requirements. There are also people who close their eyes and gobble down anything in the fridge, because they consider cooking a waste of time. Anything they can stuff in their face will do.

I don’t disparage anyone who just needs a job to pay the bills, and who will take anything they can get. But that’s not the audience I write for. I write for people who love to cook tasty meals and enjoy seeing big, gratified smiles on the people sitting around their table — like their boss and their co-workers. Because life’s too short for just plain “competent.”

Managers who reject job candidates capable of doing more than the job description aren’t managers. They’re grunts, too. When grunts run a business, talented workers eventually all leave. The customers and investors usually depart after that. I think getting rejected by grunt managers is a good thing. But if you want to work around such rejection, just sit quietly and chow down on the mush grunts serve you.

I’m sure people have strong opinions about this. I’d love to hear them! Even routine jobs benefit from smart, motivated workers who want to help a business be more successful. But I could be wrong. Are employers smart to hire grunts?

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This Employer Earns an A in Hiring

In the August 2, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager explains hiring like it ought to be done and earns an A:

I’m a hiring manager and I like to ask candidates to:

  • Review our web site and provide written recommendations for improvement prior to the initial interview;
  • Meet with a sales manager who can assess their knowledge of our market;
  • Do a presentation;
  • Participate in some relevant pre-employment training to see how well they learn and interact with others.

This works for us and it keeps our turnover very low. From a hiring manager’s point of view, I think it’s important to get multiple looks at a candidate, and to give a candidate multiple looks at us. However, this takes quite a bit of time. What do you think?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

(For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

This is hiring like it ought to be. What you’re doing earns high marks, because you’re not conducting junk interviews. A candidate who is really interested in working for you will gladly invest time in your hiring process.

Often, the problem isn’t that companies spend too much time interviewing; it’s that they don’t spend it profitably. I believe hiring a person is like marrying them. Before you tie the knot, you should talk and work together in more than one context, and you should meet one another’s friends (or co-workers). That’s how to decide whether you belong together. In other words, the courting process must be substantive. I’ll offer three suggestions. (You’re already doing the first one, in your own way.)

First, Kick the candidate out of your office. Get the candidate out on the work floor, to meet your team and see how the work is done. Let the candidate participate. Don’t just test them; try them out.

Second, make sure you let candidates know from the start… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Third, if you’re going to ask candidates to do a presentation and meet people in other departments, help them prepare. Suggest resources, discuss your company’s preferences and style, and offer guidance, just as you would to your employees. For example, you might offer to let the candidate talk with one or two members of your team, by phone, prior to the interview. (If this seems like a waste of time, reconsider filling the position, because if you’re not willing to make this investment, why should anyone invest time to meet with you?) To get the best out of candidates, I believe you have to help them, just as you would your employees when you assign them a project.

Hiring is a manager’s #1 job, and you do it intelligently. Most employers barely earn a passing grade at hiring, and their turnover shows it. I challenge them to reach for an A at interviewing. Your “very low” turnover proves what a valuable investment you’re making. My compliments. Thanks for sharing a manager’s point of view.

In today’s newsletter, we hear from an employer who knows how to hire for success and profit. What do you think of these interviewing methods? What else would you like to see employers do in the job interview? Tell us about an employer you know that deserves an A for interviewing and hiring — and why!

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