The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for March 2013

Headhunters Are Harassing Me!

In the March 26, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about troublesome headhunters:

What’s your advice to someone who is dealing with unwanted cold calls from headhunters?

Somehow my name has been shared around as someone who is looking for a change. (I’m not. If I were, I would be the one making the calls.) I seem to get cold calls at work every other day. E-mails come about once a week, and I get cold calls at home about once every other week. I don’t respond to the e-mails, and my standard answer to the phone calls is, “Sorry, but I’m not currently interested.” Most people accept that at face value so the phone call is all of 30 seconds, but some have become downright rude, saying things like, “Well, if you don’t want to double your salary, that’s not my problem.” Yes, that is a direct quote.

Other than keeping notes about who is acting in an unprofessional manner, do you have any other suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

What you’re experiencing is partly a reflection of the economy and partly an display of poor headhunting practices.

harassingphonecallsReal headhunters — those who actually work on specific assignments from clients — really are looking for good candidates. If you’re good at what you do and people in your industry know it, these headhunters are getting your name from people they know and trust. It’s possible that several headhunters who are working on a handful of the same positions have all heard about you. That may be one reason you’re getting a lot of calls.

However, my guess is that only a few of those calls are from good headhunters. A good headhunter’s job is to entice, cajole and steal a good worker for his client. But, a good headhunter won’t be rude or pushy about it — and he won’t bother you. If you politely say, “No thanks,” he’ll respect you and leave you alone. He will also ask your permission to stay in touch periodically. My advice is to keep such connections open, and judge the headhunter on how he behaves.

The other class of headhunters — the ones who play “dialing for dollars” — don’t have legitimate search assignments. Their approach is to get someone like you interested in the idea of a new job. All they want is the resume of a good professional. Once they’ve got it, they call companies that may or may not be hiring, and use you as bait to get an assignment. Yours won’t be the only resume they will submit. Their hope is that they might get a hit here and there.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Call it supply-side headhunting, or call it desperation. Some people love it. But, when these guys become a nuisance, it’s time to cut them off.

I like that you keep a list and make notes about who’s good and who’s not. Once you judge someone to be rude, you should have no qualms about just hanging up. This works as well with nasty headhunters as with telemarketers. (If you argue with them, they’ll just keep calling.)

Make a list of questions that you want any headhunter to answer before you’ll even jot down his name. Here’s an important one from How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. Put it at the top of your list:

“Can you give me two clients and two candidates as references I can check before we talk further?”

Headhunters who are looking for a warm body will decline, then you hang up. (Some are not even really headhunters.) The ones who provide references are worth putting on your A list. Don’t worry: You won’t get enough legitimate calls that you’ll have to devote much time to this. The hang-ups will be quick and much more frequent. Your A list will be correspondingly short.

You can of course just hang up on everyone soliciting you. But that’s not a great idea — especially in today’s economy.

Do headhunters harass you? How do you decide which ones to talk to, and which to hang up on?

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Cornell Presentation: Be The Profitable Hire

This is a special posting connected to a presentation for Executive MBA students at Cornell:

  • Ask The Headhunter / Be The Profitable Hire
    Cornell University Johnson School of Management
    March 23, 2013, in Palisades, NY

cornell-logoI’ll add more content here after the event — but the main purpose is to answer attendees’ questions that we didn’t have time for, 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 Cornell’s Johnson School for the wonderful hospitality!

Quick access to resources I referred to:

How to Work with Headhunters

How Can I Change Careers?

Keep Your Salary Under Wraps

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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TheLadders sued for multiple scams in U.S. District Court class action

ladderscomplaintAsk The Headhunter readers have been asking for it for years, and it’s finally happened. A consumer protection class action was filed against TheLadders on March 11, 2013 in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, for:

    • breach of contract,
    • money had and received,
    • breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,
    • violation of the Arkansas Deceptive and Unconscionable Trade Practices Act, and
    • unjust enrichment

The suit alleges that:

“From its inception until September, 2011, TheLadders scammed its customers into paying for its job board service by misrepresenting itself to be ‘a premium job site for only $100k+ jobs, and only $100k+ talent.’ In fact, TheLadders sold access to purported ‘$100k+’ job listings that (1) did not exist, (2) did not pay $100k+, and/or (3) were not authorized to be posted on TheLadders by the employers.”

Click here for a complete court-stamped copy of the class action complaint.

UPDATE March 19, 2014
Angry, frustrated customers of TheLadders who say they were scammed finally get their day in court. Federal Court OK’s Suit Against TheLadders: Breach of contract & deceptive practices


“Unlike other online job boards which are free to join, TheLadders charged a premium subscription fee to members for ‘hand-screen[ing] every job post and recruiter so you only see real, open $100k+ jobs in your area.’ In reality, however, its job postings were not hand-screened. They were ‘scraped’ from the Internet without authorization from employers or recruiters, and the employment opportunities were not for ‘real, open $100k+ jobs.’ Moreover, TheLadders had no process in place to ensure that these posted positions ever truly existed, remained open, or that they met its minimum advertised salary criteria of $100k+.”

If you believe you were scammed by TheLadders, you can obtain more information from Bursor & Fisher, the law firm that filed the complaint.

I’m laffing my ass off.

Not just because I’m happy TheLadders is finally getting exposed for its stupidly arrogant empty promises. But because it took so long for an attorney to read TheLadders advertising:

“Only $100k+ Jobs. Only $100k+ Candidates.”

In 2010, a very unhappy CFO who had spent loads of money on TheLadders — and even more of his valuable time — ran the numbers and reported that the numbers just didn’t add up. There was no way that TheLadders could deliver the number of “$100K+ jobs” that it promised: TheLadders: A long-shot Powerball lottery tucked inside a well-oiled PR machine.

TheLadders has been lying for years. Evidence from TheLadders’ own customers — reported here and elsewhere — has revealed again and again that TheLadders’ database never had “only” $100K anything in it. TheLadders own representatives were admitting it to angry customers in customer service chats — that at least one customer had the good sense to save.

ladders3When it seemed job hunters doubted the database, TheLadders’ chieftain, Marc Cenedella, came up with a claim even stupider than that: TheLadders had experts checking over very single job to make sure they’re always $100K+.

Yah, right. Not long afterwards, after repeated reports that TheLadders was still lying, Cenedella dumped the $100K lie altogether. The salary checkers are gone (Oh, I’m laffing my noogies off, Marc!) and any salary goes!

But the lawyers at Bursor & Fisher saved all the advertising graphics and the lies and stuck them into a class action complaint. Funny how stuff like that follows a company around — and drags it into court.

I expect Marc Cenedella is gagging on that jpg right about now. There’s more where that came from, Marc. Read the complaint — and don’t miss all the nice graphics you paid for over the years. The filing is loaded with them.

A little history

TheLadders is not a new subject on this blog. We’ve covered the company’s questionable behaviors many times. No one should be surprised that Marc Cenedella’s company is being sued. Here’s a selection of posts:

TheLadders: How the scam works

The dope on TheLadders

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

TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?

TheLadders’ rigid set of criteria

One tiny $100K+ mistake

Got a Ladders story of your own? Tell it, tell it — now maybe something will come of it! Did you save some documentation that no one would pay attention to before? Share it, share it! Now somebody’s listening.

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Commit Resume Blasphemy

In the March 5, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job changer wonders if his resume is any good:

I was terminated along with dozens of other people when my company got into trouble. I’ve had to look for jobs in totally different industries because I want to stay in this city. Attached is my resume. I paid good money to have it professionally written, but it has not led to even one job interview. Do you think it’s any good?

Nick’s Reply

Talented people get downsized out of their industry, but they don’t realize that jargon prevents other employers from understanding their experience. Let’s look at some of the wording in your resume:

  • blasphemer“Utilize strong facilitation skills to significantly improve PVA results.”
  • “Provide research expertise to the BU/Ds and the STS/NRSO Delivery Teams for initial facility availability studies.”
  • “Use a systematic process to develop globally focused training interventions and performance support tools.”

Say what?

How can you expect to be hired by an employer who can’t understand what you’re talking about because the terminology is so arcane? Fancy explanations and acronyms don’t impress anyone. Employers are impressed by simple English that explains who you are, what you’ve done, and how you might add profit to a business.

No matter how specialized your field, try to explain your work so your grandmother (or a 12-year-old child) would understand it. I mean no offense to erudite grandmothers or children, but I use this test on my own writing. If you can’t express it simply, you’re not helping the person you’re addressing, and you’re not helping yourself.

Just because you paid to have your resume written doesn’t mean it’s better than one you could write. (See The Truth About Resumes.) In fact, I strongly recommend that people write their own resumes. I know it’s not an easy task, but it’s worth the effort. It will help you crystallize your story about why employers should hire you. Unless you work with a rare resume writer who interviews you in depth, this “story development” won’t happen when you let someone else do it. Your local library has lots of books on resume writing. Study them and use only the best tips that make sense to you.

Re-write your resume and explain your experience and skills as simply as possible, so managers in other businesses and industries will be able to see how your credentials might be relevant to them.

If you would like to try something really different, consider committing Resume Blasphemy. This is one of the most popular articles on, in which I suggest that a really good resume actually violates every rule of resume writing. It “doesn’t show any of your past experience and it doesn’t list any jobs you ever did. No accomplishments, no achievements or awards.” Instead, “it requires you to do the job, not just apply for it.” I call this a Working Resume™.

So, what do you put in it? The article outlines four components that your Working Resume should include:

  • An outline of the business of the employer you want to work for
  • Proof you understand what work needs to be done
  • Your brief plan for doing the work
  • Your estimate of how much profit you can add to the job

That’s right: This resume is not about you. It’s about the employer and job. (That’s what’s so blasphemous.)

Can anyone tell me what makes this kind of resume such a challenge to use when you’re looking for a job? And, what makes it a huge challenge to any employer you give it to?

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