Subscribe
The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for September 2012

PBS NewsHour: Online job applications keep America unemployed

Are online job applications driving people insane? Or just driving them away from jobs they can do?

When PBS NewsHour‘s Paul Solman reported on America’s biggest job killer — the automated job applicant sorter — he asked me what I think about this practice. And what do you think I said?

Check out Ask The Headhunter on PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$e. We taped my sections of this segment at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia recently:

.

.

Is the Ask The Headhunter approach to job search the most encouraging advice for a human? Paul Solman says it’s “perhaps more practical than relaying on cyberspace in 2012.”


INVITATION: Want to be on PBS NewsHour? (You can use a screen name, of course!) As part of this PBS project, I’m taking questions from viewers! Submit questions on the Ask The Headhunter Q&A feature on PBS NewsHour. I intend to answer every question submitted on the PBS website! Please post questions on the comments section. The more questions you post, the more Q&A ATH columns will appear on NewsHour! Keep ‘em coming!


Online Job Application Forms:
Automating failure for employers and job hunters alike

  • Human judgment is eliminated from the process.
  • Human review is done only after the software rejects some of the best candidates.
  • The “out of the box creative thinking” companies claim they want is weeded out automatically. If you don’t fill out a “required” box, your creative thinking is rejected. The employer gets only applicants who perfunctorily follow all the rules. Rules that don’t work well at all. (Hell of a company to work for, that processes applicants like hamburger meat.)
  • Online forms encourage anyone and everyone to apply — employers have turned the recruitment process into a literal crapshoot. Like the New York Lotto commercials say, “You can’t win if you don’t play!” Employers and their personnel jockeys have turned hiring into cheesy gambling. And then they complain they get too many applicants! That’s why they need software to sort them!
  • That online form? It’s connected to an online job description. This is where an employer throws in the kitchen sink. They ask for everything, and if you lack anything on the list, you’re out. And the employer loses — because while you may lack one or two “qualifications,” you’re a fast learner who will get rejected. Meanwhile, you could be learning the job while the employer complains of the “talent shortage” and the job goes begging while the board of directors wonders why profits are down.(How’s that meatgrinder-worth of metaphors? Hamburger. Crapshoot. Gambling. The Lotto. Cheesy. Kitchen Sink. Works just like the job boards! “It’s in there!” And employers can’t find it!)

14.2 million

That’s how many Americans are looking for work.

3.2 million

That’s how many jobs are vacant in America. Do the math. What do Human Resources executives call that 4:1 advantage that employers enjoy in the market? A talent shortage! Give us all a break!

Q: If employers can’t hire who they need while there’s more talent on the street than ever in history, what are they doing wrong?

A: Processing applicants like hamburger meat. No one in HR ever touches the applicants. The grinder does it all. And HR won’t hire the product of that process. It’s icky.

I could rant all day. Online job applications are keeping America unemployed while Human Resources wonks are crying there’s a “talent shortage.” Meanwhile, the best talent is talking to managers who have time to hire the best.

What’s the solution for the job hunter?

Don’t fill out online forms. Call the employer. Tell them you want to stand out, so you’d like to discuss your qualifications on the phone — and if they don’t have time, you’ll go talk to one of their competitors that does. Then find one. I guarantee you — there are savvy hiring managers that talk to job hunters because they know the best hires come from trusted referrals.

Your challenge is to meet people who do business with that manager and to get introduced. Oh — did I tell you that just as there’s no magic pill (job boards?) for employers, there’s no magic pill for job hunters. You have to do the hard work of getting close to the manager that will hire you.

And job boards ain’t it.

If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, learning how to enter a manager’s circle of friends is what we talk about here all the time. Check the postings on this blog — we tackle real problems faced by real job hunters — and visit the hundreds of how-to articles on asktheheadhunter.com. Don’t miss the special article I wrote for PBS: Six Secrets to Beat The Job Market.

:  :

10th Anniversary Special: 4 Top Answers from The Archive

The September 25, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a SPECIAL EDITION celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the newsletter! I’ve culled four of the top Q&As readers have cited among their favorites from past editions. I had fun summarizing them, and whether you’re a charter subscriber from 2002, or relatively new to Ask The Headhunter, I hope you learn something new and useful!


UPDATE: Coincidental with this edition, PBS NewsHour — Making Sen$e with Paul Solman — aired a segment yesterday that I taped with them at Wharton School of Management. The video is now posted here: PBS NewsHour: Online job applications keep America unemployed. The lead-up article I wrote for this is also on NewsHour online: Six Secrets to Beat the Job Market.

Want to be on PBS NewsHour? (You can use a screen name, of course!) As part of this PBS project, I’m taking questions from viewers! Submit questions on Paul Solman’s PBS NewsHour Q&A. I intend to answer every question submitted on the PBS website! Please post questions on the comments section of the blog. The more questions you post, the more Q&A ATH columns will appear on NewsHour! Keep ’em coming!


(I started the newsletter on September 20, 2002 — 10 years ago! You’re reading issue #449! Many of you have been reading since issue #1, and today there are tens of thousands of subscribers — and not just job hunters.)

Top Question 1: “Why are you leaving your old job?”

I began a job search this week. I’ve read so many suggestions about how to answer this question that I am not sure about it any more. I have an interview coming up. Can you please give me some advice about what to say when I’m asked the reasons I am leaving my current job?

Nick’s Reply

The real problem with this question is that you have no way of knowing the interviewer’s intent. And it’s not worth guessing and being wrong. If you believe that explaining your reasons for leaving your last job will reflect well on you, then by all means explain. If you’re worried the details could hurt you, then try this:

How to Say It
“I love my work, and I want to work in a better company where I am free to do my job effectively.”

If they ask you what the problem is with your current employer, be honest but turn the discussion to what really matters:

How to Say It
“I’m looking for a good job with a good company, but I never disparage anyone I’ve ever worked with. I came to you because your company is one of the shining lights in this industry, and I’d like to talk about how I can help you be more profitable. Can you give me an idea of what problems or challenges you’d want the person that you hire to tackle? I’d like to show you how I’d do that.”

That’s the best way I know to approach any employer, and to get past that question. Focus on the company you’re meeting with, not on your past or your old company. Explain how you’re going to help them be more successful. That’s what any good employer is really looking for. (Learn more in The Basics.)

Top Question 2: How can I get the truth about a job?

When I interviewed for my job, I was told that the person who hired me would be my boss. It turns out that I actually report day-to-day to someone else. If I had interviewed with this person, I would have kept looking for another job! I am working on a team that is abusive and for a boss who is unsupportive and disrespectful. I saw none of this in my interviews. You can’t fix that for me, but what I’d like to know is how to avoid this in the future. How can you really find out about the work environment and culture? A Google search (done too late) revealed some of the problems I discovered later. This company displayed a wonderful “we-are-so-caring-and-ethical” face, but the reality is quite different. Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

It’s called due diligence. Never take a job without investigating the company and its people. After you receive an offer, turn around and interview the company. Politely insist on meeting your future boss and the team, as well as others that you will interface with on the job. This includes people who will work directly with you; people who work uphill and downhill from your job function; and people in other departments who will influence your ability to succeed at your job.

For example, if you work in information technology, meet folks in manufacturing and accounting. Your work will affect both departments, and your fate will be influenced by how they operate. Your meetings will tell you about the viability of the company, and you will learn about the personalities of the players. Add up the personalities, and you will get the company culture. Company culture is hiding in cubicles and in meetings.

Ask to sit in on a department or team meeting before you accept the offer. Spend half a day shadowing a couple of your future co-workers. Make sure this includes lunch time, where people loosen up and talk. That’s the only way to really get at a company’s culture firsthand. Never take a job without knowing “the rest of the story.” Savvy companies set up these meetings for you. They recognize savvy candidates who are willing to invest time to get to know the people and the operation.

Top Question 3: Do I have to say it?

When I was job hunting, I always made it clear that I wanted the job. As a hiring manager, I want to ensure that positions are filled by qualified candidates who I know, undisputedly, want the job. Can you discuss the importance of this basic and obvious technique in interviewing that is often overlooked? That is, the applicant must always say to the potential employer, “I want this job.”

Nick’s Reply

A sales VP who interviewed for a job and failed to get an offer told me that making such an explicit statement is awkward and that it shows the candidate “has no class.” My response: Failure to say you want the job indicates you don’t have enough interest in working for the employer.

“The manager knows I want the job!” he exclaimed. “That’s why I’m interviewing!”

Interesting, isn’t it, how socially unacceptable some people believe it is to make an explicit commitment when that’s exactly what an employer needs to hear. When I first started headhunting, a manager turned down an excellent candidate I sent him — and I couldn’t figure it out. So I asked, and the manager was crystal clear: “He’s a talented guy, but I’m just not convinced he really wants to work for me.” This prompted me to coach every candidate to say it.

Consider this very appropriate analogy. You fall in love and want to marry the object of your desire. If you don’t explicitly say, “I love you,” do you think the person will marry you? The commitment must come first. You have to say it.

Top Question 4: How can I demonstrate my value?

I think you’re right: To get a company interested in me, I need to demonstrate and somehow quantify what my value is to them. But if I’m not a salesperson or entertainment star, how do I quantify my value to an employer’s bottom line?

Nick’s Reply

Here’s my general approach: Estimate as best you can how your work produces revenue or reduces costs. If you work in sales or product design, you help produce revenue in your job by selling or by creating products. That’s good for the company. The more you enhance the revenue-producing process, the more value you add to the business. If you work in finance or in manufacturing, you have a daily impact on the company’s costs. High costs are not good. Your job contributes to the success of the business by helping minimize costs.

The difference between revenue and cost is profit. No matter which part of the company you work in, you can help boost profits by doing your part to raise revenue or lower costs. Regardless of what your job is, ask yourself how you do it to enhance profits. Do you sell more stuff at higher margins, or do you do some other job smarter, faster, and cheaper? That’s your edge.

Estimate your impact to the bottom line. Can you shave two minutes off each customer service call you handle? Can you figure out a way to get a project done 20% faster? Multiply it out by the rate you get paid. That’s just one part of the profit you’ve contributed to the business. Get the idea? Yes, I’m simplifying, but any calculation like this that you do is more than any other candidate will even attempt. It gives you a good, honest story to tell the employer. It gives you an edge.

(Want to learn more about how to reveal your value? Check out my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in a job interview. Learn how to prove to an employer that you would be a profitable hire. Plus: Learn how to pick the handful of companies you should really pursue, and how to become the candidate on the inside track for the job you want.)

Have something to say about these top questions — and my advice? Have a question of your own to ask? Bring it on and we’ll tackle it! Please post away in the Comments section below!

: :

JobFox: We are not a crook

JobFox, the job-board spawn of CareerBuilder, is rapidly sinking under the weight of mismanagement, financial distress, a class action lawsuit, claims of fraud, and complaints from customers and vendors.

JobFox was started by Rob McGovern, who also founded CareerBuilder. Like TheLadders, JobFox tried to take refuge in the resume-writing business, but quickly realized that was a sink hole.

Now the bottom has fallen out. Things are so bad that McGovern has published a video explaining that JobFox is not a scam.

Where have we heard those last words before?

Back in 2009, I sent McGovern an e-mail asking an important question. He didn’t answer it then, and he didn’t answer it in the video.

I hear Marc Cenedella over at TheLadders has some pretty good executive job openings, and he writes a pretty mean resume for top executives.

: :

How do I sell my extensive academic credentials to an employer?

In the September 18, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to parlay his considerable academic credentials into a good job:

Here’s hoping you can knock some sense into me. The job search process has me bewildered. I have a degree in computer science and I had begun a doctoral program, but must now re-enter the job market. I am considered overqualified for much of what passes for entry-level positions, and realistically I would be under-challenged in them. Yet I have little in the way of a “track record” that would be of interest to employers looking for someone with a more specialized background. I have tried to sell my skills, but have only gotten form-letter acknowledgements. Any suggestions on getting to first base? Thanks.

My Advice

No offense, but nobody’s buying what you’re selling.

You say you have little in the way of experience to offer an employer in your field. That’s patently untrue, but it’s a common error in judgment that lots of new grads make.

Much of the experience and many of the skills you’ve acquired in school can transfer to the work world, but you need to do the mapping. (An employer won’t figure it out for you.)

What you’re selling isn’t what you’ve done. It’s what you can do.

Make a list of all the “hands-on” work you have done related to the kind of work done in your field — the kind of work you want to do. The work you’ve done might include academic projects, if it’s relevant to the jobs you want. People tend to dismiss their academic work because it’s academic. It can still be hands-on, it’s still experience, and it can be very valuable to an employer if you can show how.

Then put that list aside, because it’s totally useless without what we’re going to do next. (That’s why it doesn’t sell!)

Focus on the work the employer needs done. You must research and understand it before you can do any “mapping” of your skills. (Your skills are useless unless someone needs them!) That means learning about each target company and talking to people who work there. Try to describe the work you discover in terms of tasks — things you would have to do. Be as detailed as possible.

Then review each item, and describe how you could shape and apply each of your skills and experiences to help get the work done in a way that positively impacts the employer’s bottom line.

That is, how would hiring you be a benefit? (You can work through this process best if you focus on one company at a time.)

Remember that some of your skills are very fundamental, and these are the ones that can be best generalized to a specific job. For example, organizational skills, analytical skills, writing skills, and so on. The challenge is to find ways to apply them to the one job you’re pursuing. That is what an employer wants to see — not your resume. That’s what employers pay for.

This is what you’re selling.

I’ll say it again: As you do this mapping, be very specific. Sometimes, the inability to get specific stems from not really knowing what a company really needs. This is where your general research skills come in: Research the heck out of a company and its business. If you don’t, then you can’t demonstrate what you can offer, and you don’t deserve the job. (I discuss these techniques in more detail in The Library Vacation and Put a Free Sample in Your Resume, two key sections of the PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?)

Don’t worry that a job is beneath you. You will probably have to take an entry-level position to start. Don’t carry a negative attitude about this; it’s a necessary part of starting a career. It’s how employers decide you’re worth trusting with more sophisticated work. The point is to find a job in a company where you’re working with people who will offer you more and better work soon.

Give this an honest shot by looking at yourself through an employer’s eyes. You see, employers want one thing: to have a problem solved. Most won’t take the time to tell an outsider what that is. Offering value and solutions before you’re asked is the best way to find work.

I wish you success.

How did you get your first job out of school? What could this reader do to make you want to hire him? I think schools absolutely suck at teaching students how to find jobs. Why???

: :

Could you score an interview with this manager?

In the September 11, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager takes us into “the lab” and shows us how he actually interviews candidates to determine whether they can do the job.

Special Edition

Ever wonder whether the job hunting and hiring methods we discuss on this blog really work? Do you wonder whether there are managers that actually expect applicants to do the job in the interview? In this Special Edition, get ready to sit down at the table for an interview with a manager who gets it!

Ray (I’m withholding his last name) heads up product development and business development for an enterprise software company based in the midwestern U.S. This column is not an endorsement of his business — he is not my client — but I sure love his approach to hiring, because it’s what I teach job hunters to do in How Can I Change Careers? The method is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview by demonstrating how they’ll do the work profitably.

And that’s what this hiring manager does — he asks job candidates to show how they’ll do the work, right in the interview.

I’m ready to tie on a napkin and let Ray serve up his methods in his own words — from a recent series of e-mails, with minimal commentary from me. Then I’d like you to join us on the blog to chow down on these interviewing and hiring methods. Do you think you could score an interview with a manager like this? (You might even have a few comments about how he does it!) This all started innocently enough with a nice thank-you e-mail Ray sent me last week:

Dear Nick,

I love your approach to interviewing. As a hiring manager, I turn my interviews into exercises designed to give job candidates the chance to show me that they can do the job. Sort of Reverse Crocodile Headhunting! Thank you for the wonderful ideas in Ask The Headhunter!

So I asked Ray about his business and how he interviews.

I hire product evangelists, product managers and product marketers for a software company. Our products are sold to large enterprises. Successful candidates need to combine business skills with software technology skills to help design product strategy and product positioning. The sad part about my method is that, as a hiring manager, I have to step candidates through the whole process of showing their value. I have 99% given up on the idea that a superior candidate is going to walk in and be prepared to do this all themselves, without me asking. They all need to read your book!

What do you ask, and what are you looking for in those candidates?

The first question I ask: What two people would you start a software company with?

Some candidates limit their answers to personal friends or family, instead of best-in-the-world business owners or technical software geniuses. E.g., Pete and Mary instead of Warren Buffet and Richard Branson. When I explain they could have mentioned anyone in the world, they say, “Oh, I didn’t know it could be anybody like that.” It kind of implies a closed mind set that won’t work outside the box.

I want to determine whether they study business people and the software business in particular. Most great business people study role models. If they want to work in the software industry, you would think that they actually study the best software companies and the best business minds at some point.

What’s a great response to the question?

My personal response would be Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci. Give Da Vinci a few months to understand iOS and Objective C and his apps would be remarkable, I suspect! By the way, I’ve never limited the choice to living people.

What I like about Ray’s approach to interviewing is that, while he opens with a “blue sky” question about starting a business, he quickly starts asking candidates how they would actually do the work:

What will your first product be? This is a perfect chance to demonstrate their analysis and strategy skills in our exact business area. If they do their pre-interview homework, this is a lob shot for them to use it to astound me with their ability to think and thus to do the job.

I love it. Ray asks people to do the job — conceive a product! Next questions in the interview?

If they make it this far, our meeting now turns into a chance for them to start working with me as if this were a real product discussion:

  • What will you price this at?
  • What will our first target market be?
  • Who should our first prospecting call be with?
  • Who will our competitors be?
  • If our first product is destined to never sell successfully… what will be the cause of the failure?
  • If it fails because of that reason, what should our next product be?

I might then give them an exact product situation using our current product line and current product market conditions. By the end of this exchange, I know already if I want this person to work for me, or for my competitors! We’ve already had a full dialog about a completely relevant and plausible project idea that would be similar to their eventual work if hired. Nick, in your words, they’ve already shown me that they can do the job and they should already know if they’ll like collaborating with me.

Dear Ray,

Thanks for serving up this week’s column, and for showing readers how a real manager applies Ask The Headhunter methods to interviewing and hiring. Whether you got your ideas from me, or developed them on your own, all I care is that they work!

Now I hope readers will join us on the blog to talk further about this approach. And if there are folks in the audience interested in working for your company, they’re welcome to say so — and if they can show they can score an interview with you, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with them off-line. And if something comes of it, we’ll report back.

What do you think of Ray’s approach to interviewing? Could you score an interview with a manager like this? How would you apply Ray’s methods in other kinds of jobs and companies?

I didn’t ask Ray whether he’s worried that he’s revealed all his interview secrets — and that, now, anyone who applies for a job at his company “will know what’s up.” Do you think it matters? Want a shot at an interview with Ray? You’ll have to prove you’re worth it!

[UPDATE: If you have a serious interest in talking with Ray about a job at his company, drop me a note and I’ll get it to Ray. It’s got to get past me first. Please: No tire-kickers or resume spammers. In fact, don’t send a resume. Just use the ideas discussed here to make your case. My e-mail link is way the bottom of the right-side nav bar of the blog.]

: :

Modern Advances In Career Science: Eliminate the humans

If you’re smart and know how to show an employer how you’ll contribute to the bottom line, you don’t need Big Data — and you’ve got little competition.

But Big Data is the Modern Advance In Career Science, and the objective is to eliminate the humans from job hunting, recruiting, and hiring.

Joel Cheesman had me laffing my A off with his latest: They’re heeeeeere. Again.

Writing in his new blog, JobScore, Cheesman runs down the recent zombies created by Career Science: itzbig, Trovix, Climber v1.0, JobFox and sundry “eHarmony for jobs players.”

Advances in database technology surface and die so quickly that they leave behind more career-industry corpses than one blog posting can impale on poles along the roadside. But Cheesman does a yeoman’s job of keeping up.

Where do these living dead business plans come from??

Cheesman answers with this morbid quote from Darren Bounds, CEO of Path.to, a career service whose website is as dim as its business concept:

“A big data approach to hiring can eliminate 80 percent of the work being done by humans.”

Another Modern Advance In Career Science: Eliminate the humans.

Cheesman racks up the headshots in the online recruiting space: Bright, Silp (“Your dream job will find you” — Not if I see you first, Sucka!), WorkFu (“We are currently in discussions regarding the possibilities of keeping WorkFu alive and will update as soon as we have more information.” BAM!) — every one of them relies on database technology to create as many mindless job-hunting zombies as employers can hire.

Except employers aren’t hiring them.

Employers — personnel-jockeys-turned-zombies themselves — are crying there’s a skills shortage because your keyword resume doesn’t exactly match the lifeless, bloodless job description they uploaded to the Big Database.

No sweat — JobScore says Monster.com took Trovix off the streets for $70 million and turned it into 6Sense. I see more dead people.

The good news: If you do your job search like a human and avoid the databases, the clawing zombies that think they’re competing with you for a juicy salary will never keep up.

My old buddy Jeff Pierce is still right: 80% of people are cows, but zombie cows. I’d buy a lunch of warm entrails for the venture capitalists behind all these corpses, just to watch their heads explode.

: :