The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for January 2013

Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?

In the January 29, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an underpaid consultant keeps trying to get more raises:

I am a computer consultant working at a company that assigns me to work at other companies. My salary is less than average in the region for people with comparable skills. I went to my boss and got an increase that’s still less than I’m worth. I think they just tossed me a bone to quiet me.

I like this company even though they’re underpaying me. What else can I do, apart from getting another offer and proving to them that the market values me more than they do?

Nick’s Reply

pay-me-moreFirst, if you’re relying on salay surveys, know when to fold them. Generalized surveys are okay to give you an idea of salaries in a particular field, but they are not a good place to start negotiating your own salary.

I would not dangle another company’s offer in front of your boss unless you’re absolutely ready to take that offer. I’ve seen many companies usher people straight out the door for doing that. (It’s not clear whether you did that anyway, or whether you just asked for a raise on your merits. I hope it was the latter.)

Your employer has already agreed to pay you what it thinks you’re worth, and that doesn’t seem to match what you (and the market) think you’re worth. I don’t think it would be wise to approach management again. My guess is that they don’t really care. Without knocking consulting companies in general, it’s my belief that many of these “meta employers” aren’t as motivated as regular employers to treat employees equitably. Unless they’re one of the exceptional firms out there, they may view employees as a commodity.

Perhaps more important than figuring out how to get more money out of this employer is deciding how you’ll handle the next one. Consider How to decide how much you want, and be ready to ask for it before you accept your next job.

Consulting firms are accustomed to pretty high levels of employee turnover, and they’ve got mechanisms for dealing with that. They may pay decently to bring you aboard, then keep your raises low while your market value goes up until you leave. In the interim, they enjoy higher billing rates and increased profits while you decide whether to get up and go. Then the cycle repeats with the next hire. Of course, some consulting firms demonstrate more integrity. I know this sounds cynical, but remember that the consulting business is incredibly competitive. You are the product, and you can be replaced easily because the firm’s projects and clients come and go in fast cycles. (Read Scott Henty’s excellent Consulting Jobs Primer in the Industry Insider section of my website.)

If you don’t know a better consulting firm to work for, my advice is to seek out a regular employer where the future might be a little more predictable and where the compensation program is more oriented toward holding on to good employees. You might find the culture more to your liking, too. The best companies are grappling with the issue of retention, or how to keep good people.

Needless to say, lots of regular employers don’t demonstrate much integrity, either — and don’t guarantee any more job security than consulting firms do.

If you can’t get satisfaction, move on.

Have you ever worked for a consulting firm that farms you out to other companies on assignment? What are the ins and outs you’ve experienced in that business? What should this reader do next?

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Webinar: UCLA Anderson School of Management

This is a special posting connected to today’s webinar:

  • Ask The Headhunter / How to Stand Out in A Competitive Job Market
  • Anderson School of Management, UCLA
  • January 24, 2013

(Today’s online event was limited to students and alumni of the Anderson School.)


I’ll add more content here after the event — but the main purpose is to answer questions we didn’t have time for during the webinar, and to carry on the discussion.

Please feel free to post your questions and comments below — I’ll do my best to respond to them all. Thank you for joining me, and special thanks to the Anderson team for their wonderful hospitality!

Quick access to resources I referred to:

How to Work with Headhunters

How Can I Change Careers?

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less by Milo Frank

Six Degrees: The science of a connected age by Duncan Watts


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Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis

In the January 22, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, reader John Franklin (who appeared with me on a PBS NewsHour segment last September) says recruitment advertising is often deceptive and asks how widespread I think the problem is:

Hi, Nick — Happy New Year. I was one of the other folks featured in the PBS story Is Applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work? I’m writing to follow up on one point that I made but which didn’t get addressed due to the time constraint: companies running advertisements to update their talent pools and databases vs. actually doing any recruitment.

From my experience, this is an extremely common and rather deceptive practice that contributes to a great deal of the frustration experienced by so many job seekers. They see an ad that fits them perfectly, but it turns out to be nothing more than an invitation to submit so you can become a file listing as opposed to a candidate. In your opinion, how widespread is this practice?

(Thanks in advance for your input — great job on the piece!)

Nick’s Reply

Happy New Year to you, too! Thanks for writing to follow up on an important point you made to PBS NewsHour that didn’t make it into the program.

The practice you describe is as old as job ads. It probably seems innocuous to most people, but it’s an insidious practice that I believe contributes heavily to America’s jobs crisis.

When employers published jobs primarily in newspapers, they’d create what we used to call “composite ads.” To save money, they’d run one ad rather than five, and that one ad would include requirements for perhaps five different positions. It was the proverbial kitchen sink of recruitment advertising. The hope was that they’d get enough resumes with enough of a mix of skill sets that they’d fill at least one job, hopefully more.

recruiting-whopperFraudulent job ads

At the same time, employers were doing exactly what you’ve noticed: filling their filing cabinets with resumes. I’m sure employers bristle at the suggestion that this is deceptive. “We’re soliciting resumes for jobs! So what if that includes jobs that are not open yet?”

It’s worse than deceptive. I think it’s fraud. A job ad is a solicitation that implies there is a current, specific, open job to be filled. This creates anticipation in the job hunter, and the reasonable expectation that the job will be filled in short order — not that the resume will be filed, to be used later and who knows when. Job hunters reasonably expect a timely answer when they submit their resumes. But we all know what really happens: usually, nothing at all.

If employers want to gather resumes to stock their databases, that’s fine, but they should disclose what they’re doing. I’m sure they’d nonetheless rake in lots of resumes, but at least people would know the difference between applying for a job and applying to have their resume stored for later use.

Fresher stale jobs and resumes

How “fresh” can stale jobs be? The games employers and job boards play with resumes don’t end there. You’ll find that employers “update” their job postings with a few minor changes to keep them high in the “search results” — even though there’s no material stale-breadchange in the position. And the job boards encourage this practice. They remind employers to “refresh” their postings as a way to make the jobs databases appear “up to date” with “fresh jobs daily.” It’s a racket and a conspiracy. It allows a job board to claim it’s got X millions of “fresh, up-to-date job listings!” when all it’s got is stale bread with a new expiration date stamped on it.

The job boards tell job hunters to do the same thing with their resumes. “Keep your resume high in the results! Update it regularly!” Translation: Keep visiting our site so we can report high traffic to employers, who are so stupid that they not only “refresh” their own old listings, they pay us even more money for “refreshed” stale resumes!

HR funds the jobs crisis

Corporate HR departments are funding and propping up the job boards in an epic scam that has turned real recruiting into a bullshit enterprise that has nothing to do with filling jobs. The con is enormous. I believe it’s the source of “the talent shortage.”

After creating this fat pipe of resume sewage, employers complain they can’t possibly handle all the crud it delivers to them every day. “We received a million resumes yesterday! We can’t find good hires! And there’s no time to respond personally to everyone who applied!” Of course not. If you had to dive into a dumpster of garbage to find a fresh carton of milk, you’d complain, too. The trouble is, it’s HR departments themselves that are paying job boards to gather, store, and sell that drek back to HR. It’s incredibly stupid, but when’s the last time you saw the HR profession do anything smart in recruiting?

A billion dollars worth of nothing

Where does the jobs crisis come from? Why can’t good people get jobs? Consider, the world’s biggest job board. In the last four quarters, the world spent dumpster-empty$1.05 billion to fill and then dive for resumes and jobs in this dumpster. Yet year after year since 2002 employers have reported that Monster was their “source of hires” no more than about 4% of the time. Is there anything to call this but a conspiracy between HR departments and the job boards? Is it anything but a racket? Is it fraud?

When a company publishes a job solicitation that’s intended only to stock a database, that’s deceptive. When employers publish jobs on a website that they know doesn’t fill many jobs, I call that systemic recruitment fraud.

The most stunning outcome is that recruitment advertising is choking the very employers that pay to prop it up. You’ve nailed the problem: Job ads — no matter what their form — are often deceptive. They’re not used to fill jobs. They’re used to build deep databases of old resumes. That’s what the jobs crisis floats on.

Billion of dollars spent on databases to find and fill jobs — while employers cry “talent shortage” and record numbers of talented people can’t get hired.

Yet another rant about job boards and HR practices? Yep. Is there a board of directors out there that realizes it’s funding the jobs crisis with its investors’ money? Contribute your stories and comments below. Nothing will change until the purveyors of this sludge get their noses rubbed in it.

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When should I tell my boss I’m resigning?

In the January 15, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks when to give the boss notice of resignation:

I have an opportunity to move from a large corporation to a established startup. I have put in seven happy years at the corporation, but the new position will be a nice change. I’m still going through the interview process, and it’s going well. When do I break the news to my current boss? I don’t want to burn any bridges, and I don’t think I would accept any counter-offer. I just want to give respectable notice so that he can replace me.

Nick’s Reply

zip-itCongratulations on the new opportunity, but please — don’t jump the gun. Never, ever give notice or resign until:

  • You have a written offer in hand
  • You have formally accepted the offer
  • The new employer has confirmed your acceptance, and
  • The on-boarding process has begun.

It doesn’t happen often, but job offers get rescinded, especially between the informal oral offer and the bona fide written version. Don’t be left on the street without a job. When the above milestones have passed, I’d tell your employer nothing except that you’re leaving. Give your boss a one sentence resignation letter that says nothing more than:

“I hereby resign my position effective on [date].”

The details of your “notice” don’t need to be spelled out in the letter. In person, I’d commit to helping with a proper transition not to last more than two weeks, unless you really want to be helpful — that’s up to you.

There’s a small chance that, no matter how well you and your boss get along, you will be ushered out the door immediately. Some companies have very strict security policies, so make sure all other loose ends are tied up before you resign. They may not even let you go back to your desk. This is unusual, but it does happen. Even friendly employers can turn officious when a person resigns. Just be ready for it.

I would not disclose where you’re going. I’ve seen bitter former employers try to nuke a person’s new job. Politely explain you’ll be in touch right after you start the new job, if your boss really cares. I’m sorry to focus on the worst case, but you don’t want to get torpedoed before you start your new job. The odds of something bad happening are probably small, but the consequences can be enormous. My advice is, don’t chance it.

Again, congratulations. Take it one step at a time until the new deal is solid and safe. I wish you the best.

Have you ever resigned, only to have your new job offer rescinded? Has a resignation ever gone awry? What’s your policy about the nuts and bolts of transition when leaving a job?

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The shortcut to success in job interviews

In the January 8, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks whether I really mean it:

I agree with your non-traditional approach as the means to take control of one’s destiny in terms of choosing the work as well as the firm you want to work for, versus just scanning websites and settling for what’s available. However, you say, “demonstrate you can do the job.” Every company is so different about how they go about even routine requirements! The only way I can think of for someone to be able to do this is, you have to get connected to folks in the organization you want to work in and get them to tell you what is lacking and how they do things. That’s the only way for you to be able to demonstrate that capacity to the hiring manager.

Am I missing something? Are there alternative approaches to prep for the “demonstration?”

Nick’s Reply

(Note: Today’s question comes from a sales executive in a top U.S. company, and he asks if I really mean it when I say you have to talk to company insiders before you even apply for a job. Absolutely! What a great way to start the New Year! Let’s be perfectly clear about what effective job hunting really means!)

Get the factsNope — you’re not missing anything. You’re correct: “you have to get connected to folks in the organization you want to work in and get them to tell you what is lacking and how they do things.”

There is no shortcut

A shortcut to success in job interviews doesn’t exist. This is why effective job hunting is a challenge. You can’t approach 50 companies that have jobs posted. You have to focus and do the work to get connected so you can get the information required to make a potent presentation. Get inside the organization and get the facts!

This truth is incredibly difficult for people to accept, no matter how experienced or savvy they are. You’re a sales executive. You already know the truth, but “the employment system” has brainwashed even you to believe otherwise. Imagine meeting with a prospect to sell your services. Do you do a cookie-cutter presentation, a one-size-fits-all sales pitch to close a deal? Of course not! You’d never waste such an opportunity. You research the prospect’s business, talk to as many insiders as you can, and you figure out exactly where they’re having problems so that you can show exactly why doing business with you is the solution.

Too much hard work?

It’s no different when approaching a company about a job. The single biggest mistake job hunters make is to shotgun the market, using the same pitch everywhere. It just doesn’t work. But people resist what I suggest because it’s a lot of hard work. Of course it is. So’s that great job they say they want!

LinkedIn can promise you all the “connections” in the world, and SimplyHired can promise you all the job postings you can possibly respond to. It’s all bunk if you don’t do the hard work for each and every job you pursue. Each and every job, and each and every manager.

So let’s start off the New Year with an unambiguous statement about what Ask The Headhunter is all about:

You must talk to people connected to a company to learn exactly what problems and challenges the company is facing — so you can be ready to walk in and demonstrate how you’re going to help tackle those problems and challenges specifically.

Not ready to do that? Then you have no business in the interview, and I can’t help you. There is no easy way out of this requirement. The alternative is to be one of the millions who apply for jobs that come along, and to sit around waiting for some personnel jockey to figure out whether you’re “a fit” from a list of keywords. The sad truth is, personnel jockeys — and most hiring managers — stink at figuring this out. You must explain it to them. And there’s nothing to explain if you haven’t first figured out exactly “what is lacking and how they do things.” (I discuss this in The Basics: The New Interview, and I flesh it out in “how to” detail in How Can I Change Careers?, which is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to prove they’d be a profitable hire.)

Nice work!

My compliments for finding the fundamental message in Ask The Headhunter. I’m not making fun of you for asking whether you understand it correctly. I know you won’t read or hear this message anywhere else, so it seems odd. But you’ve got it exactly right. Understanding the other guy’s specific problems is a fundamental basis for proposing a business relationship.

The good news is, now you know exactly what you must do to succeed — and I’ll bet once you get past the horror of it all, you’ll realize this puts total control over your job search in your own hands. Employers are dying to meet someone who understands exactly what they need — someone who can deliver.

Is there any other way to land a job that’s not a crap shoot? Am I nuts? Is there really a shortcut to success in job interviews? Post your comments below so we can discuss the truth, no matter how much it hurts.

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