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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for May 2012

PoachBase: Another stupid recruiting start-up

You can’t make this stuff up. Now your company can recruit losers, and hire recruiters who can do it more easily.

Featured at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference: A pitch by a start-up calling itself PoachBase. The “company’s” tag-line: Poach talent from dying companies. The idea is to monitor other start-ups for death rattles and then go steal their employees.

Here’s the pitch:

Now here’s the question: Why would anyone want to recruit employees that are still hanging around a loser company?

My advice (free, no software required): It’s more fun to recruit people from good companies while they’re hanging around the local watering hole after work. (Well, beer might be software.)

Recruiting-industry watcher Joel Cheesman’s explains the problem clearly:

“The playbook for start-ups in the recruiting space usually goes something like this: Group of young, educated people — usually coming of [sic] their own job search, which apparently qualifies as experience in the employment space — come up with an idea to ‘make things better.'”

This is kind of reminiscent of the job applicant whose resume emphasizes, “I want to work with people in a good company.” Maybe they’re all the same bunch.

(If you want to watch the recruiting industry, sign up for Joel Cheesman’s free newsletter. I love it.)

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HR Wags The Dog

In the May 21, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an executive who’s about to be interviewed by another executive wants to know why HR is sticking its nose into the process:

You are going to love this. (NOT!)

I was contacted by an ex-colleague to ask if I’d be interested in the position of Regional Sales Manager at his company, which is actively recruiting. I said yes. The VP of Sales called me and we had a very positive discussion which progressed to setting a meeting in their corporate office. He was going to fly in from his office, and I was going to travel hundreds of miles from my home. But, the meeting has stalled because the HR person who was to attend was busy.

Two questions. What has HR got to do with an initial interview whose purpose is to (a) determine my suitability to do the job, and (b) the company’s ability to satisfy my needs? What sort of company insists on having HR present at an initial interview?

If ever there is a case of a “tail wagging the dog” — this is it. How can a VP of Sales operate like this? I now patiently await the availability of His Royal Highness — the HR Manager.

My Advice

HR can provide valuable input on executive-level positions. However, recruiting people like you is a sales task. It’s no surprise that you view such interference as a serious management error.

If sales people know one thing, it is the importance of striking when the iron is hot. Success in closing sales often depends on the sales person having the authority and the power to act quickly.

Get HR out of recruiting.

You have highlighted the main reason I advocate against HR being involved in recruiting. (See 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make.) HR is largely a bureaucratic function that is at least once-removed from the action. Depending on how you, the candidate, view this delay, you may decline further discussions because you could reasonably surmise that the company is not nimble. The Sales VP could lose an excellent candidate thanks to the bureaucracy. That’s not good. That’s very bad.

Take heed: Running a sales operation within this company could prove frustrating to an assertive sales manager. If HR can delay the Sales VP’s meeting when recruiting, who might hinder your sales team from closing a deal?

You are right to be concerned. This is bureaucratic meddling of the worst sort, and it leads me to repeat this caution to companies: It matters what image you project to the professional community from which you recruit, as much as what image you project to your customers. An HR manager who contributes only to overhead is controlling the agenda of an exec who produces revenue? Get HR out of your recruiting.

Now let’s discuss what to do. You could have some fun with this, but this approach can be risky. Decide how assertive a sales manager you are. I’d call the VP of Sales and politely tell him you’d be glad to meet the HR manager at some point, but your schedule is very tight for the entire month.

How to Say It

“I’ll be frank with you. I am available this day and that day only. When an opportunity arises to make a deal, I like to strike while the iron is hot. I have some ideas for your business that I’d like to discuss with you, and I’d like to suggest that you and I get together to talk shop as soon as possible.”

If you can support it, suggest a specific sales objective. For example:

Hot to Say It

“I think I can show you how to increase your regional sales by 20-30% without increasing your costs more than about 5%. But, I really do not want to let this wait. Opportunities come along every day — but great ones like this disappear over night. If I can’t convince you, then you shouldn’t hire me. But I think you will like what I have to share with you…”

Let him assume you may not be around to talk a month later.

Remember: You’re a salesman. This is a sale. Be respectful, but show the VP of Sales that you home in quickly and accurately and will not be deterred by underlings. See what he says. If he cowers at the idea of bypassing HR so he can talk business with you, well, why would you want to work with him? Imagine what it would be like trying to hire a top sales rep if you take this job. Get past the guard. Your mission is to meet with the VP now. Sell.

Patiently awaiting HR to find time to join the meeting is not a sign of a good sales ethic. This is how companies lose prospective customers to the nimble competition. It’s also how they miss the best hires.

HR can be part of the process. But HR should not lead or limit a recruiting effort.

Is this another stupid HR trick? Are great candidates slipping through the HR cracks? Has HR ever intruded into your interviews with a manager? Do you know how to parry the move? If you’re a manager, do you let HR control your interviews?

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Netflix: Another stupid employer

Netflix bungled its business last year and ticked off lots of its customers, who quickly cancelled the service. It was a case study of a business and public relations disaster.

Now Netflix is at it again — this time by advertising for “recent college graduates” to fill jobs anyone could do. Age discrimination anyone? The ad on craigslist is titled, “Netflix – Recruiting Researcher  (los gatos)” and it says:

“We treat you like an adult and expect you to act like one.”

(For a PDF of the full ad on craigslist, click here. For the “live” ad on craigslist — which will not be there forever — click here. For the ad on Netflix.com, click here.)


***UPDATE 5/18/12: Netflix has removed the job posting from its own website. For a PDF of the original, click here.

Netflix has not responded to a request for comment.


Netflix would do well to act like an adult and recruit people who can do the job — and that includes college grads from quite a while ago. Consider the Netflix job ad below. What’s in this job description that an older worker couldn’t deliver?

We’ve found that recent college grads have been most successful in this position because we need some who is:
– Self-motivated and directed; hungry to get started with a great, well-known company.
– Proactive; taking initiative and follow-through is a must
– Accustomed to multi-tasking and meeting multiple, tight deadlines
– A leader and will offer innovative and constructive ideas to continue our team’s success

I know a lot of hungry 40+ year olds who are out of work — they’re self-motivated, proactive, can multitask, and lead others.

Netflix goes on to say that:

“We don’t have rules.”

That’s clear. They could add, “We don’t have any common sense.”

I’m a big fan of hiring kids out of college — as a cohort, they’re suffering mightily in the job market. They need help. Perhaps Netflix can hire a new grad who can show the company how to recruit properly. Or maybe it needs someone a lot more experienced than the clown in HR who’s producing these job descriptions and ads.

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Another Top-10 Stupid Interview Question: “Tell us all about yourself!”

In the May 15, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter comes up with a good way to deal with one of the Top-10 Stupid Interview Questions:

I’m looking at positions as an intermediate- or senior-level software developer, and I’m trying to think of new ways to tackle the famous open-ended interview question. Here’s one approach I am considering.

Them: “Let’s start off our interview with you telling us about yourself.”

Me: “Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a few minutes to give you a little whiteboard presentation of some of the projects I’ve worked on during the past 3-4 years. May I?”

Basically, instead of giving them the typical, brief executive summary about myself, I’d like to show what I’ve done and discuss it, so I can use it as a reference throughout the interview. What do you think of this approach?

My Advice

Another of the Top-10 Stupid Interview Questions rears its head! “Tell us about yourself!” Sometimes I think employers are just lazy. The question reveals the interviewer has no idea whom she’s talking to. But let’s put criticism of employers aside…

I like your approach a lot, because it focuses on the work. When a person talks about the work they’ve done, they invariably reveal a lot about themselves in the proper context. In other words, the employer can see how the candidate’s personality and character fit the job. Talking shop is a good way to reveal a lot about yourself.

Loaded questions yield canned answers.

In most interviews, this highly-loaded question usually evokes a well-rehearsed narrative akin to a political speech. All it tells the manager is that you’ve rehearsed a pitch. But if you embed information about yourself in a discussion of work and projects you’ve done, the information is not just more palatable; it’s more relevant. Pause during your presentation to ask the employer how her team handles similar projects, and your presentation becomes a dialogue. Now you’re talking shop, and you will also find yourself relaxing because a discussion is more natural than a presentation. That’ll make you perform better.

Steer discussion to the work.

This approach is even more effective if you discuss not just the work you’ve done, but your understanding of the problems and challenges the manager’s department is facing. In other words, steer the discussion away from your last employer’s objectives, to what this employer needs. Map your expertise and abilities onto the manager’s projects as you understand them. (Ask the manager to confirm you’ve got the story right.) This is a polite and deft way to turn the discussion around to the employer. If you can get the employer to outline one or two things she needs a new hire to take care of, then you can show the manager what you can do in terms that matter to her.

All of a sudden, you’re the candidate that’s solving problems, right there in the interview. That makes you stand out. (For more detailed tips about how to stand out, please see How Can I Change Careers?, which is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in a job interview by showing what they can actually do for the employer.)

If you do your homework carefully before your interview, you’ll be able to conclude with “the bottom line” when you describe each project. That is, how did your work benefit your employer? If you can describe this in dollars, all the better.

Now for the capper.

Discussing how your work paid off for your old employer is a perfect launch pad for a dialogue about how you might help the bottom line of the projects the manager needs done. Suddenly, you’re revealing an unusual focus (for a software developer, or for any employee): You’re talking about the impact of your work on the company’s success and profits.

Now you really stand out.

If the manager presses you for “what your career goals are” (This is just another angle on “Tell us about yourself”), turn the discussion back to the employer again.

How to Say It

“I love developing software, but I could do that on my own. The satisfaction I get out of my work comes when I see how it actually produces a profit for the company. My goal is not only to be a great developer, but a profitable one. I really believe that my career success depends on that more than anything else.”

I get the feeling you’ll be able to provide some examples from your background. It seems to me you’re already taking this in the right direction! My compliments.

(Do you like to talk about yourself? Does it get you anywhere? What do you think an employer is really looking for with that question?)

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How to Boost Your Salary Quickly and Often

In the May 8, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re covering something different: A wild story…

From The Headhunter Files

People seem to enjoy hearing some of the stranger stories from The Headhunter Files. I usually share these only in my live presentations and workshops, but I think it’s time to go public. Rather than Q&A this week, we’ll do a “Headhunter File,” and if subscribers enjoy it, we’ll do this as a regular feature in upcoming editions.

Fred was an engineer I spoke with while I was checking references on another engineer during a search I was conducting in Silicon Valley. No one had recommended Fred to me (you’ll see why this is pertinent later) — but after my reference call was done, he asked me if I could help him land a better job. I took his resume and filed it, but I wasn’t working on any assignments he’d be a fit for anyway.

But Fred was persistent. He called me again and asked why I wasn’t helping him out. I explained that I didn’t find jobs for engineers — I found engineers for my clients, based on specific requirements. Here’s roughly how the conversation went.

Let’s make money together

Fred: “But if you’ll help me, I’ll make you a lot of money.”
Me: “I’m sure I could earn a good fee placing you, if I had the right assignment.”

Fred: “Just send me to interview with any of your current clients. I’m very good at getting job offers. You’ll earn a fee quickly and it will be good for both of us.”
Me: “Sorry, I don’t work that way. But since you brought it up, what’s your specialization? What do you do, exactly?”

Fred: “I’m an engineer, and I can do almost anything. I got a 15% raise to take this job. If you can get me 10% more, I’ll take it.”
Me: “How long have you been at your current job?”

Fred: “About two months. Before this job, I got almost a 20% raise on the last job.”
Me: “Really? How long were you at that job?”

Fred: “No more than six months. My goal is to get my salary up as high as possible.”
Me: “Don’t you think you’re building a reputation for jumping around?”

Fred: “Employers want the best people they can get, and as long as they pay me and my salary keeps going up, I’ll go wherever I have to.”
Me: “Sorry, but my clients don’t pay me fees for engineers who will pack up and leave every few months. You should be careful.”

Fred: “There’s no need to tell them I changed jobs recently. I’ve only been here two months. Just tell them I’m still at the last company. And that would be true. I’m doing both jobs.”
Me: “You’re working at two companies at once?”

Fred: “Yes. It’s a lot of work, but I don’t mind. I’ll do it as long as I can and make all the money I can.”
Me: “Do both companies know you’re doing this?”

Fred: “Of course not. Look, I could earn you several fees in just one year! We’d be a good team.”
Me: “No, you look — don’t call me again.”

Fred: “If you’re going to tell anyone, let’s just forget it.”
Me: Click.

I could have said something more clever, but I just told Fred to bug off. He never told me where he worked, and I didn’t want to know. Since no one had recommended Fred to me — another engineer used him as a reference — I had no context for a relationship with him, and no one to blame!

Making jobs pay

How was it possible for Fred to keep jumping jobs, getting 10%-20% higher salaries, and not get caught? He told me he worked odd hours, but that’s common for engineers. He’d put in just enough time at each job to keep his head above water, then leave when things got hot. After around three years, he’d boosted his salary by over 50%, and made much more than that by holding two jobs at a time. He made sure to stay employed, so headhunters would call him with interviews — he’d figured that much out. He was “working” headhunters who filled jobs without asking too many questions.

Fred said he was “making jobs pay.” You could say Fred was just playing the market, and beating employers at the salary game. He’d lucked into some employers that didn’t do much background checking — or that trusted “headhunters” to do it for them.

I write a lot in this newsletter about employers that go too far with background checks, and about job hunters who get abused in the recruiting process. But employers sometimes take it between the eyes, too, from unscrupulous “salary hunters.”

What Fred was doing can be done — but not for long. The issue wasn’t the salary boosts he was getting — that’s a matter of negotiating. The problem was that he wasn’t comitting to a job, and that was his routine.

Do you think people can hold down multiple jobs of the same kind, and do it successfully and legitimately?

I didn’t keep up with him, but my guess is Fred didn’t spend many years in the engineering profession. I’m sure he got busted. There are many lessons in stories like this. What do you get from this one?

Got a good, weird tale of job hunting or hiring? Let’s hear it! (Want to hear more true stories from The Headhunter Files? Let me know!)

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