The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for January 2012

How much should I say about getting fired?

In the January 31, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what to say in a job interview — if he got fired previously for doing something wrong:

I was fired for a minor policy violation. How much should I tell prospective employers about it? Everyone I’ve spoken to has agreed that my indiscretion did not warrant being fired, so in interviews do I tell what happened and hope for the best? Or, do I make up a story to cover it up? Should I refuse to speak about it at all? How much can my old employer say, or shouldn’t I use them as a reference even though they’ve agreed to do it?

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

Do not lie if you’re asked why you left your last job, and do not offer made-up stories to cover up the past. However, I believe the only ethical responsibility you have is to disclose anything that you believe would materially affect your ability to do the job the way the company wants it done.

Why not just ask your old boss what kind of reference will be given? (The policy violation was not “minor.” It was major enough to get you fired. This would be a good time to apologize, if you haven’t done so already.) If you know what the company is saying about you, you’ll know better how to handle it.

You can also research the reference indirectly. This is an aggressive approach, but if you do it without any misrepresentations, I think it’s legit… (This part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now! It’s free!)

More important, you must line up at least two good references at your old company. Their words will count a lot, even if your ex-boss says something negative.

If you’re asked in an interview, respond candidly. Admit you made a mistake but keep it in context. Demonstrate your self-confidence, and make a commitment.

How to Say It
“My references will tell you I’m very good at my work and I’m trustworthy. You’re getting a talented, dedicated, hard-working employee who has learned a lesson, rather than someone who has yet to make a mistake. I won’t let you down.”

That last sentence is a very powerful commitment. You must live up to it.

Some companies will decline to hire you. Others will hire you based on what they see and hear. Then it’s up to you to prove they made a good choice.

Have you ever been fired? How did you deal with the facts in a job interview? Did it even come up? If you’re an employer, have you ever hired someone who was fired for doing something wrong? Why did you take a chance on the person? How did it work out?

What advice would you give about the situation in today’s Q&A?

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Resumes: Job hunting suicide

The Wall Street Journal reports that you’re screwed if you’re looking for a job, in Your Resume vs. Oblivion. A guy at IBM who sells the systems employers use to process incoming resumes says that 90% or more of employers use sophsticated technology (“which can cost from $5,000 to millions of dollars”) to scan resumes.

So the Journal offers lots of insider tips about “How to Beat the ‘Black Hole’.” (Ain’t it funny how derogatory even the insiders are about Resume Hell? The Journal cleans up on its own job board, which wants you to submit all the resumes and applications you possibly can.)

Chief among the tips:

  • Copy the keywords from the job posting right into your resume. That way, the scanners will pick them up and your resume will fly right through the drek into the hands of many excited personnel jockeys who are waiting to call you up!
  • Keep the formatting simple, to make it easier for the scanners to read your credentials!

If you’re going to play this game, I’ll give you the best tip of all:

Copy the entire friggin’ job posting and paste it right onto the last page of your resume. That way you can’t get screwed by the software because it’s all in there!

Of course, there’s another solution entirely, that will thwart both the machines and the “millions” of competitors you’re facing:

Don’t use a resume at all. Here’s how to write a resume that’s designed to be tossed in the trash when you’re done, and still get the job — without ever showing it to an employer.

Like the guy at the end of the article says about a company whose HR director is too busy to read his resume, “What I’m going to do is turn up on their doorstep,” says Mr. Denton. “I really have nothing to lose.”

Sure he will.

The inside joke is, the hiring manager at that company is going to hire someone who was personally referred by a trusted contact. Not someone who sent in a resume.

Meanwhile, millions commit job hunting suicide every day when they swallow this drivel about “how to beat the machines” at the keyword game. They dutifully craft their resumes, pull the trigger, and lean into the mass grave.


[Update: Not all employers operate resume grinders. Mike R., an HR manager at a small manufacturing company, posted this on Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters):

“As someone who does review every resume that is submitted(no keyword screens for us), one problem that I often see is that many people do not take your advice and explain how they will do the job profitably. In my job postings and contacts with candidates, I spell out what the person will have to do and achieve in the position to be successful. However, many people simply send me a standard resume, which gives me little clue to whether they can do the job. It’s almost as if their attitude is, I can’t be bothered to customize my resume to demonstrate that I can do the job, so YOU figure out whether I can do the job or not.”

Would you make it past this human screener who actually has a brain and behaves like a savvy businessman?]

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TheLadders’ Marc Cenedella: A dirtbag with money running for office

Who would have thought? This isn’t even worth commenting on:

Under the Name of a Senate Hopeful, Blog Posts on Sex and Drugs from The New York Times. It seems TheLadders CEO Marc Cenedella is getting ready to run for U.S. Senate on a Republican ticket.

My favorite parts:

“Until recently, a Web site,, bore Mr. Cenedella’s photograph and the title “The personal blog of Marc Cenedella.” It provided tips on polishing resumes, preparing for job interviews and the like. But it also had a number of entries containing random observations about sex, women and drugs…”

“The entries had headlines like “Sexy vs. Skanky,” “Dating Advice for Girly Girls,” “He Stole My Weed” and “High Quality Dope.””

“In an entry titled “A New Holiday for Men,” there was a link to a separate site that designates March 14 as a special occasion on which women are encouraged to offer steak and oral sex “to show your man how much you care for him.””

“An adviser said the entries were from a site that Mr. Cenedella previously published called Stone…  which the adviser said had multiple authors.”

You mean TheLadders CEO didn’t actually write all the drivel he took credit for on his blog???

Oh… I also liked this part:

“Part of Mr. Cenedella’s appeal within Republican circles is that he is a nonpolitician at time when voters seem weary of insiders. Republicans also believe that Mr. Cenedella’s business success allows him to present himself as the candidate most able to help the nation in these tough economic times.”

“More than all that, though, some Republicans are encouraged by another asset Mr. Cenedella brings: a big checkbook.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Mr. Cenedella’s behavior has been exposed online.

Mr. Cenedella’s references:

TheLadders: How the scam works

Running on Empty: TheLadders folds up its shell game

Whorin’ around with TheLadders

TheLadders: A long-shot Powerball lottery tucked inside a well-oiled PR machine

TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?

Marc Cenedella sells e-mails, $30/month!

The Dope on TheLadders and Liars at TheLadders

One tiny $100K+ mistake

[Update: The Huffington Post provides screen shots of the personal blog posts Cenedella removed when his blog made the news.]

[See also: A Painful Online Personal Brand.]

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Playing With Headhunters

In the January 24, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets calls from two different headhunters — who want to “submit” him for what seems to be the same job. How many headhunters should he work with?

A headhunter called yesterday about an interesting position. She is not ready to reveal her client until the client has seen my resume and expressed an interest. Today, another headhunter called about a position that sounds similar. (I can’t figure out who that employer might be). The second headhunter asked if my resume has been submitted to the employer. To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no, but the position from the prior day might be the very same job.

I have been confronted with this situation at least a few times. How should I handle it? How many headhunters should I work with at a time?

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

My advice about this is in the PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. Here’s a free preview straight out of the book, from Section 2: Working With Headhunters to Get Ahead. I hope you enjoy it!

Don’t confuse real headhunters with people who solicit your resume blindly. These might include employment agencies, job shops and HR recruiters who work within corporations. Many of these “headhunters” may approach you. Giving them your resume indiscriminately is like giving your credit card number to every telemarketer who calls. You won’t like having lots of recruiters working with you, especially if two or more of them give your resume to the same company.

If, somehow, multiple headhunters approach you at the same time, then you need to know just one thing: Do they each represent a different company? If yes, then you’d be looking at different job opportunities and it’s fine to work with all of them at once. There should be no overlap in their assignments and no conflict for you.

If there is an overlap, then one company is unwisely using multiple contingency headhunters to fill the same position. The company is putting its headhunters into competition with one another. That’s like assigning two sales reps to sell to the same prospect — the company reveals poor judgment and sloppy hiring practices. Even so, you can still entertain an opportunity, but you would be wise to let just one headhunter present you to the company. Otherwise, you will likely be rejected out of hand because the company could wind up in the middle of a fee fight.

Who would be due the fee if you were hired? If the company interviews you via two headhunters — even if it’s for two completely different jobs — and then hires you, it could owe the fee twice. Don’t get in the middle of it. Work with only one headhunter at a time with respect to a particular employer.

So the answer to your question has two parts:

First, understand that if a lot of “headhunters” are soliciting you, it’s probably not wise to work with them because they have not carefully selected you. They are merely interested in blasting your resume around, hoping for a hit.

Second, if two or more headhunters contact you about different jobs at different companies… (Sorry, this part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)

You should insist that both headhunters disclose who their client is. It’s reasonable to agree that you will not disclose the opportunity to other job hunters — at least for a time. In any case, it’s not prudent or necessary to sign an agreement with any headhunter. If the first headhunter won’t trust you, then you don’t have a good enough reason to work with her.

The above section of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you is followed by these two Q&As:

  • Q: Is there a way to get multiple headhunters to call on me about legitimate job opportunities? (A: Yes…)
  • Q: What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list? (A: Yes…)

How have you handled mulitiple headhunters? — especially if they called you about the same job. Did it pay off, or have you gotten burned?

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Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters)

This week we started a “pound Nick with questions” thread — and you’ve been pounding! Great questions and topics — and pointed insights. A recurring theme on that thread is recruiters — the inept, the inane, the ones who waste your time, and the ones who leave you frustrated and angry. (There are good recruiters out there, but that’s another topic.)

Reader Dave started to boil it down in his 1/18 comment on the previous posting:

One other thing…

Just recieved the occasioal newsletter from a so called “head hunter/recruiter.”  He said he has developed a relationship with an offshore vendor in order to provide services/people to do work.  One of the reasons he gave for doing this is because companies “can’t find the right people.”

Quite frankly, this made my blood boil for all of the reasons Nick states in his blog post.  You can’t tell me that with all the unemployment, underemployment, people who gave up looking for now, people looking for a change and all the people graduating from college, that you cannot find anyone to fill your positions? 

This is a prime example why I dislike most “search staff.”

Dave draws a whole new thread from the strands that come together in that discussion. I was going to respond to him briefly, but then I realized Dave has generated a whole new topic. He deserves to know…

Why You Hate Recruiters

It’s no accident. It’s a well-orchestrated con game run by experts. HR departments pay expensive consultants to define the “best practices” ($$$) and to promote the “best technologies” ($$$$$$$) that enable HR to maintain the 4:1 ratio of unemployed people to unfilled jobs in America. (That’s 14.2 million unemployed, and 3.2 million vacant jobs.)

Translation: Corporate America pays a lotta money to act dumb when it recruits and hires.

Thanks, Dave, for sharing that newsletter you received from the recruiter who’s going offshore to fill American jobs. But the problem is higher up the food chain. Employers are the ones spending the money here. Recruiters like this one just chase the low-hanging fruit. I’d love to see Congress haul these people in front of a committee and ask them:

“So, when you interview talented job applicants, then what do you do to cultivate them into productive employees?”

The answer is splattered all over the popular media:

“We hire only perfect fits! With these intelligent databases, we don’t have to take chances on training anyone who can’t already do the job with their eyes closed!”

People and companies want to believe that technology can meet the hiring challenge. Savvy, insightful managers who know how to judge talent are no longer required. Give HR a database of jobs and resumes, and they’ll throw money at it forever, waiting for a payout. The job boards are like slot machines for HR wonks: An addiction. The only beneficiary is “the house” — in this case, HR consultants and database vendors who cater to employers who want to believe.

Selling The Mess to HR: A full-time gig ($$$$)

Example: Check out RecruitingBlogs, where “internet recruiting gurus” tout the databases and the social thingies that they get paid to explain to their clients:

“…we’re going to release a ranked list of the Top 25 Online Influencers in HR. This list is completely generated by algorithm (think Google). The list ranks the Top 25 voices in HR based on their online footprint…”

Gimme a break. Online footprints? That’s how we judge value? That’s what consultants teach HR — and HR pays big bucks. That’s why job hunters like Dave are left swinging in the breeze. The recruiters are part of a big social jerk, fantasizing about social media. The blogging consultant goes on to describe his brethren:

“So, I was at this party a couple of weeks ago. All sorts of twitterati were there…”

Then it gets down to brass tacks: Making money by “explaining” the databases to HR rubes with deep pockets:

“There is money to be made in the field today because the techniques required to find people are arcane and confusing. Additionally, with the strong exception of Avature and Broadlook’s products, there are no useful tools for the automation of the process.”

What’s he touting with those two products? Expensive databases that employers use to intoxicate their personnel jockeys. Note the implicit focus on automation of recruiting. The more automated HR becomes, there’s more “money to be made” because nobody can understand this crap. (Try to scrape this one up off the ground in one piece, from the HR Examiner Blog: “Meaning and data in the social web.”)

One of the “strong exceptions” blogger John Sumser refers to, Avature, has a tagline:

“Bring Social Media and Web 2.0 tools together and create unique and innovative solutions to your recruiting challenges.”

How about getting the consultants out of the bars (where they’re being wined and dined by the “arcane and confusing” online recruiting tools vendors), and the recruiters off their asses, and bringing together a few brains to meet some of the 3.2 million “talents” that the software can’t quite figure out? HR is bogged down, and employers are dying for good workers, because HR doesn’t recruit — it pays consultants to distract it with non-stop workshops, white papers, and “best practices” designed to facilitate deep contemplation of the HR navel. ($$$$$)

(By the way, John Sumser is not the only consultant driving HR down into the whirling blade that’s waiting to process you. There’s the aforementioned, which delivers non-stop juice to keep the blender going;, where recruiters go to talk it all through; and a host of sycophants that have figured out “there is money to be made in the field today…” so let’s get together for another mind-expanding party and to count our money.)

Recruitomatic: It’s all in there

Then refers to “Mr. Recruitomatic.” That’s where I rest my case. This is a cluster duck.

Mr. Recruitomatic could be the title of a book about the state of unemployment in America, or it could be an inside joke about how HR rotates on its consulting budgets. It’s all one big database blender, grinding up people into keywords with no decision-making or intelligence beyond the algorithms. Mr. Recruitomatic is churning out swill that nobody wants — or there wouldn’t be 14.2 million unemployed, and 3.2 million vacant jobs, would there?

Or maybe it’s just your fault, Dave. You ignorant, behind-the-times, unemployed slob — you’re just not prepared to be “the perfect fit.” Get some new keywords. Find some meaning and data in the social web. Reduce yourself to what HR is willing to hire.

Welcome to The Social Jerk

“We have a shortage of talent!” Yah — in HR. No shortage of consulting fees, though. ($$$$) No shortage of jargon to mix up with algorithms and some social sauce. But the farther HR sticks its head into the blender, the more it’s clear the talent shortage is in the corner office where the consulting bucks are spent.

Dave, this is what drives HR departments stupid. This is why you hate recruiters. There is an entire industry that earns big bucks mixing up the HR mess that you describe. It’s the motor driving the HR Recruitomatic. Why do I rag on it so? Because the consulting crowd doesn’t have any idea what’s going on outside the blender — they don’t see you getting splattered with muck. There are no fees to be had from you.

While these twitterati advise their eager HR clients about what’s “completely generated by algorithm,” ($$$Cool) they have no idea what is the impact of their only-half-clever, inbred “initiatives.” They’re not out on the street, where guys like you don’t see what’s “social” about software deciding whether you can ride a fast learning curve so you can do a job.

The Recruitomatic and HR’s database-itis — this is why there’s a 4:1 ratio of unemployed Americans to vacant jobs. It’s why you get splattered with HR’s mixed-up rationalizations while you’re trying to earn an honest dollar for doing honest work with an employer that knows how to run a business. And that knows how to hire.

Anyone’s odds — if they’re unemployed — are about 4:1. But what are the odds the board of directors at any company has a clue what’s going on? They don’t get why you hate recruiters. They don’t get why so many jobs at their companies are vacant and work is left undon. They don’t get that the “talent shortage” is largely manufactured by consultants who make out only when HR is playing with Mr. Recruitomatic — not when HR actually hires anybody.

The social jerk is a profitable $$$$$proposition, Dave. Except for you and your 4.2 million buddies.

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Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Special Edition

I periodically do webinars and teleconferences for professionals, where I make a brief presentation — then we have an “open microphone.” Anyone may ask any question about job hunting or hiring, and I do my best to provide useful advice on the spot.

I love doing such events because I don’t have to prepare. In fact, I can’t prepare. I have no idea what anyone will ask. I also enjoy doing it because it tests me — how much value can I deliver, to someone with a problem, in the space of a few minutes?

These events grew out of a series of online chats I did a few years ago, before audio was really possible for large groups online. (The webinar I did for Harvard Business School attracted hundreds of MBA students and Harvard alumni.) We always promoted the old chats like this:

Show up online at noon tomorrow — and pound Nick with your questions! We’ll see how many he can answer, and how fast he can type, in the course of 90 minutes!

Chats aren’t very popular any more (and I can talk faster than I can type!), so I’ll be doing more webinars and teleconferences for various groups in 2012. But I’ve never done an “open mic” here, for my own Ask The Headhunter community. So here we go!

It’s Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Every week in the newsletter I answer one question from a reader in the traditional Q&A format. This week, I will do my best to answer any and all questions you post here on  The Blog — and I welcome our community to chime in on the discussions. The more variety, the better!

  • Lost your job and don’t know how to start hunting for a new one?
  • The employer wants you to do a stress interview?
  • Wondering how to deal with a headhunter who just called you?
  • They want your salary history, but you don’t want to share it?
  • Your company posted a job and you got 5,000 applicants. What now?
  • The manager made you a good offer, but HR just called to rescind it?
  • What’s your problem? Please post it and we’ll tackle it.

(You don’t have to include any identifying information.)

I’ve answered over 30,000 questions from Ask The Headhunter readers since 1995. This week I’ll answer as many as you post. So… please ask away!

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Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke

In the January 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader ruminates about how stupid the recruiting and hiring process seems to have become. Employers aren’t really looking for talent — they’re shopping for mediocrity, using lists of keywords:

I’m a career changer and I’m finding it very hard to get past the recruiting agency or even the internal HR shell. I have a number of friends in similar situations in other fields and industries. Perhaps it’s the economy, or maybe it’s just the nature of the recruiting business, but it seems that these days if you don’t match a long checklist of criteria, you don’t have much hope. Many agencies even go as far as to specifically call this out in their ads: Don’t apply unless you meet all of these (10-15) criteria.

It’s a real shame, too, because it seems only natural that successful people will want to take on new challenges. But the recruiting practices of most companies lead them to search for candidates that have already done what they’re being hired to do, and who are content to continue doing the same. They seem to say, “Give me practiced mediocrity rather than a chance to find a star.”

Maybe that makes sense for a recruiter whose job is to maintain the status quo. But how does this produce truly exceptional performance or lead a company into the future?

I will continue to await the day when we try to measure each other by the limits we will have tomorrow, instead of those we had yesterday. In the meantime, thanks for your article The Horse’s Ass in The Rear-view Mirror, about how recruiters drive away a company’s best hires. It gave me faith that there are still people out there that hire people, and not tie racks or check lists. But what should I do next?

My Advice

This is even worse than you suggest. Stupid hiring practices are not a philosophical problem. This is a structural problem that’s destroying our economy from the inside out.

There are 14.2 million unemployed Americans and 3.2 million vacant jobs. That’s a 4:1 ratio, a 4:1 advantage to employers. But, “We can’t find people who match” is the refrain. Do the math. Those 14.2 million Americans are not morons, incapable of learning on the job, or worthless pieces of dung because they don’t have 100% of the right keywords on their resumes.

Reductionist recruiting

The problem is that employers have gotten sucked into a reductionist approach to recruiting and hiring that’s been foisted on them by job-board databases and recruiters and HR departments that have no idea “who” they’re looking for. They spend all day scanning buzzwords, driven by a fantasy of the perfect “match.” They’re not interested in people or in talent. Just in magic matches.

Consider the staggering cost of leaving those 3.2 million jobs vacant, because personnel jockeys can’t figure out who’s worth hiring — and because managers don’t know how to mentor, train, and bring those people up to speed. All that work — 3.2 million jobs — left undone.

There’s the hole in the economy.

The solution is teaching managers that management means hiring smart people and teaching them how to do the work. Management does not mean matching keywords and then sitting back while the peg fits neatly into the hole.

The problem is structural

The media feed the frenzy: “All those unemployed people are not qualified! They need new skills!” Well, “they” needed new skills in 1990 and in 1995 and in 2000. But “they” got hired anyway, and they did the work.

The problem is structural. This is the dominant “filtering” mechanism employers use. The problem is that employers really believe that, if they wait long enough, perfect hires will show up. The few headhunters who have brains, and the few employers who actually size candidates up for their abilities, are doing quite nicely, thank you.

The rest of the economy is sucking wind because work is left undone because managers aren’t managing. They’re waiting for the databases to spit out magic hires. It ain’t gonna happen.

Cut out the middlemen

Your challenge is to avoid the process that takes your keywords but ignores your ability to learn and to stretch. The alternative is simple: Cut out the middlemen — HR and the recruiters and the headhunters — and go directly to good managers you’d like to work for. Find out what work they need done, and show how you will do it. Show how you will boost their business and they will hire you.

Read that again: Go to good managers you’d like to work for. That means making choices before you approach anyone about a job. It means avoiding the cattle calls. It means avoiding waiting in line. It means avoiding asking for jobs from people you don’t know who don’t know you.

If you understand this, you have an advantage: Everyone else is diddling the job databases, while you’re out talking to a handful of managers you really want to work for who really want and need to hire you. No resume, no interview, no joke.

Here’s what to do next

Pick three companies or managers you really, really want to work for because they are the shining lights in their industry. Then describe (briefly) three problems or challenges each company really needs someone to tackle. (You don’t have to name the companies.) Post right here in the comments section — and I’ll show you what to do next to get in the door.

No resume, no interview, no joke.

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