The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for October 2011

The employer that rejected me made a mistake!

In the October 25, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job candidate explains that an employer made a mistake when it hired another applicant. He wants advice about how to help the employer rectify the mistake. Don’t laugh — it’s easy to get caught in this trap of frustration.

I recently made a lateral move to a large firm in a different state. Here is the problem: I was originally interviewed for the Senior Vice President (SVP) job, but the executive recruiter thought I didn’t have the right experience. So she recommended me for the next level down, the Vice President (VP) job. The client offered me a good package for the VP job, and I took it.

The same recruiter then brought in several other candidates for the SVP position. They gave the job to a person from a big firm in a different industry, who has less experience than me (three years versus my seven years), and who was unemployed for one year. Overall, he’s far less qualified than me, in my opinion. But now I’m reporting to him.

What do I do? I’m tempted to call the recruiter who brought me to the client and tell her that she screwed up. I also want to tell the head of HR (who interviewed me) about this situation, but I’m not sure what to say. That is, how can they rectify this situation? Any thoughts?

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!)

My Advice

Wow — time out! You can’t “rectify” a company’s hiring decision that you disagree with, because it’s their choice. I know you’re frustrated, but please step back and look at this calmly.

If you were to approach the company or the recruiter about this, you would come across as presumptuous and arrogant. You have no idea what their reasons are for the choice they made, or what criteria they used to select an SVP. You are not the decision maker, nor do you have any place in the decision process. Please be very careful. It’s easy to feel that someone else has made a huge mistake — but it’s not your place to suggest that they rectify it.

I think the reason you don’t know what to say about this is that you realize it would be inappropriate to say anything.

This is actually a common problem among job hunters at all levels. Some of the smartest people I’ve known get a twitch when they feel usurped by a competitor. The twitch is unjustified, but they make themselves suffer deeply, convinced they’re right and that the employer is wrong — even when they lack information about why a decision was made. They really believe they must — and can — “rectify” the employer’s “mistake.” It’s painful to be rejected, but I think the best cure is to accept the truth behind a profound quote from author Vladimir Nabokov: “You are not I; therein lies the irreparable calamity.”

Though we should learn what we can from rejection, in the end it’s often about the differences between people, not about errors or failures. No offense intended, but the decision you need to make is whether you want to work for this company and whether you will be content with the VP job.

Please think about this carefully. If your behavior betrays your frustration, it could contribute to failure on the job. You accepted the VP job, and I assume you had good reasons for doing so. Part of your job is to work closely with your new boss, the SVP. If you harbor serious reservations about this, you should consider resigning. Otherwise, make a commitment to having a good working relationship, because your employer is not about to give you the SVP’s job.

Ah, the pain of rejection! And the pain of getting over it. Have you ever gotten bogged down in resentment over a lost job opportunity? How’d you get past it?

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How to manage gang-up interviews

In the October 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager indicts “panel” interviews and says he’d never consent to one — or conduct one. Are panel interviews a bad idea?

I was taken aback recently when my HR department scheduled me as a part of a panel interview. When I queried our hiring team, they claimed this was the “latest thing” and it provided a “challenging atmosphere for the candidate while minimizing expenditure of company resources.”

I was on my way to register my discontent with the HR VP when my Blackberry indicated the interview had been cancelled because the candidate had accepted another offer. That didn’t shock me—I wouldn’t accept a panel interview, either. Shortly thereafter, the HR VP “innovator” left to “pursue other career opportunities.” Good riddance!

This doesn’t mean some other “idea person” in our company won’t try to resurrect this sort of thing, but not on my watch. I believe in giving each candidate a chance, as much as possible, to “do the job.” It’s much more productive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for candidates meeting the teams they will work with, just not in a formal interview environment. Is this panel interview approach really creeping into our already dysfunctional job interviewing system?

Kudos for the continuing wisdom emanating from your Ask the Headhunter empire! Your straightforward approach is a win-win for employers and candidates and removes the HR-injected “smoke and mirrors” from the hiring process. It certainly has helped me in many ways. Good luck and keep ‘em coming!

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!)

My Advice

Thanks for the laugh, and for your kind words. No, I don’t see ganging up on a job candidate as a new trend — although in some organizations this has long been routine. Innovative HR VPs… unfortunately, they’re not a trend, either.

It’s refreshing to hear from a manager who doesn’t support contrived methods of assessment. It seems that many HR execs think the more over-defined the interview process is, the better. They’ll accuse me of being a yokel, but whatever happened to just talking with someone and working together, to figure out if there’s a match?

I believe that a simple, engaging, no-tricks, personal interview experience is what gets people’s attention and interest. The more direct and one-on-one the assessment, the better. As you point out, there are good ways for candidates to meet the entire team. Candidates are sick to death of “the process.” They want to work with managers and people who truly want to get to know them. The happiest candidate is one who’s hearing about the work that needs to be done, and who’s being asked how he or she would help do it. I encourage you to go that route at your company.

A thorough assessment can include other activities, but any interview should start with a respectful, “working” meeting — not a confrontation by a gang.

So, what should a job applicant do when the employer schedules a panel interview? Like the candidate who took the other offer and declined the panel interview, the manager who asked this question has the answer: “I wouldn’t accept a panel interview.” What you do, of course, is up to you. (Maybe you like panel interviews!)

While an employer may be taken aback, there’s nothing wrong with saying you’d prefer to meet the hiring manager one on one, and that you’d be glad to meet the rest of the team if that first meeting goes well. Remember — the candidate gets to judge the employer in an interview, too, and doesn’t have to proceed with more discussions unless the experience is satisfactory. Alternately, if you find yourself stuck in a panel interview, try this: How to Beat The Stress Interview.

You can get relief from situations you don’t like by politely and firmly saying no. It’s the sign of a credible job candidate.

Are panel (gang-up) interviews legit? If you’re a manager, do you do panel interviews? What’s your experience been?

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The truth about headhunters

In the October 11, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter who’s tired of high-pressure headhunters asks how to recognize the good ones:

The sales pitches I get from cold-calling headhunters are intense. They’re in a hurry, they avoid sharing details I need and they are high-pressure. How do I know when I’m talking to a good headhunter?

My Advice

This week’s Q&A is an excerpt from my PDF book, How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make them work for you. The book is 130 pages, packed with 62 myth-busting answers for fearless job hunters. I hope you enjoy this sample!

If the caller is a fast-talking salesman, hang up. It’s that simple.

Judging a headhunter and qualifying a headhunter are two different things. You can judge a headhunter’s character whether you decide to work with him or not. This kind of judgment is largely based on observation. If you’re going to actually work with a headhunter, first you must qualify him — and that means you’ve got to test him before you put yourself in his hands. Let’s discuss judging headhunters. (For a thorough discussion of how to qualify a headhunter, please check pages 28-33 of the book.)

  1. If the caller sounds like an earnest business person politely asking for your help with an assignment, you should keep talking.
  2. The best headhunters reveal high standards of conduct and reveal the same qualities they look for in candidates.
  3. They are easy to work with because they are straightforward. They speak clearly and directly. They are not secretive or cagey.
  4. They don’t waste time playing games or putting on airs. They make you feel special, rather than imply they are.
  5. They are not in a hurry. They take time to talk. They pay attention. They answer your questions.
  6. They are knowledgeable about their business, their client, the job they’re trying to fill and about you.
  7. A good headhunter doesn’t call anyone blindly. He already knows quite a bit about your background, or he wouldn’t call you.
  8. A good headhunter reveals integrity by being honest and trustworthy. He will do what he says — including returning your calls.
  9. He is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions he asks. Rather than rely on your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.

If you’re a possible candidate for the headhunter’s client, you’ll get an interview in short order. If you’re not a fit, he won’t lead you on. He will move on. You may feel you’ve been dropped, but a busy headhunter won’t spend more time with you than his assignment warrants. He’s not being rude; he’s doing his job.

Try this test.

When you’re done talking to a headhunter who sought you out, ask yourself, Could this headhunter write an adequate resume about me based strictly on our phone call?

I sometimes write a candidate’s resume just like that, after a phone call, and I provide it as a summary to my client. It’s a good test of my own grasp of a candidate’s credentials and value. If a recruiter’s call is so cursory that you don’t think he could write your resume from it, that reveals an unskilled headhunter or an inadequate recruiting call. A headhunter who calls to merely request your resume is no better than a job posting on the Internet.

When you meet a good headhunter, you’ll know it from the characteristics listed above, and you’ll recognize him as someone with whom you want to cultivate a long-term relationship. (Needless to say, the headhunter could be female.)

(For more answers about headhunters, check the Table of Contents. 30 sub-sections of the book include 62 Q&As that teach you how to conduct your job search with and without headhunters… plus How to Say It examples and Insider’s Edge tips.)

How do you judge headhunters? What tips you off to a good one, and how do you avoid the lousy ones? Have questions about how headhunters behave? Post them and we’ll discuss.

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Hey, Babe, don’t I know you from somewhere?

In the October 4, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks whether social networks like LinkedIn are a great way to get a foot in the door when looking for a new employer.

I am currently looking at new job opportunities. Your suggestions are to network in order to find out more information about a company and to get to know the right people before you even think of trying to get a job there.

What is your view on making contact with people you don’t know at all via social networking sites, such as LinkedIn? I have joined some of the professional communities and this seems like a great way to make initial contact with people in a particular industry, but is this just a fake idea or is there actually some merit in this method?

My Advice

Getting to know a company through people connected to it is the best way to land the right job, and it’s the best way to avoid mistakes. But social networking sites portray this inaccurately. They show you a cool database of names and information, and they suggest that the links between people’s records constitute “your contacts.”

What’s a link?

That’s absurdly reductionist. It’s like suggesting that because your name sits alphabetically beside another, you share a “contact.” In the database, perhaps you do. But in real life, the fact that we both do business with a certain auto mechanic, or that the mechanic attended the same college we did, doesn’t hold any value. The only thing we share is a coincidence. To make that serendipitous “link” useful, one or both of us must invest a lot to create the shared experiences that lead to a relationship and friendship.

What are you going to do for me?

LinkedIn — like any other online social network — is just another social environment. Imagine walking up to someone at a friend’s party — someone you’ve never met — and asking them to recommend you to the president of their company. Other than the fact that you and the person “share a link” via the friend whose party you’re attending, there are no shared experiences between you. There’s no justification in asking for such a favor, and the person has no reason to trust your intentions. Even if the referral were made, the president of the company would not be able to obtain any useful judgments about you from the mutual contact, because there’s no basis for such judgments. There are no shared experiences. Just that serendipitous meeting.

That’s why you feel so awkward asking a favor of someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.

The LinkedIn party is not much different. In both cases, the only way to make a real contact is to start a conversation on a legitimate topic you’re genuinely interested in. Use the normal rules of conversation. Invest in a real relationship that takes time to develop. But don’t expect someone who is “linked” to you in a database to feel any obligation to talk to you.

I found you in the phonebook

People construe the existence of a social network as permission to exploit nodes (people) when there’s no substance in the links between them. That is, they think that belonging to a huge list of people means those people should bend over backwards to help them. When help doesn’t come, LinkedIn turns a dumb expectation into a dumber process: Make more links until you get what you need!

LinkedIn is little more than a big phonebook. No one’s going to take your call just because you looked them up. It takes more. (See also: LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring.)

Take a hike

To answer your question, I think a social network is just one more list of people. So’s a phonebook, and I always hang up when someone calls me from a list. I also instantly delete e-mails that say, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” That’s the new “Hey, Babe, don’t I know you from somewhere?” and it’s just as presumptuous — and just as offensive.

LinkedIn is a nice directory. Social networks are the new phonebooks. How you make new friends who care about you, however, hasn’t changed. You still have to hang out with them and share experiences that matter.

What do you think about social networks? How do you use them effectively? Hey, is this blog a social network? Have you met anyone on the blog who’s become a friend?

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