The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for September 2013

Get Hired: 3 steps to become the wired insider for the job

In the October 1, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a stay-at-home mom is ready to re-start her career:

I know someone who plans to return to work in the fall. She has been a stay-at-home mom for several years. She is a college graduate with about two years of work experience. How do you recommend she begin her job search? She has a degree in history with a Spanish minor but is not interested in teaching.

Nick’s Reply

Your friend could just start looking for open jobs and then apply to hundreds if not thousands of them, like most people do.

Or, she could decide what work she really wants to do, then go after it with motivation and gusto. She could get a job through inside contacts, because that’s how most jobs are filled.

The following tips are summarized from my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?, and in particular from the section titled, “The Library Vacation.” (The book is not just for job changers, but for anyone who wants to show an employer why you’re the profitable hire.)

no-resumesFirst, she should avoid looking for a job. That’s right: Forget about jobs. Jobs come from identifying good companies, products and people. She should make choices about these before examining any jobs, and she should start by going to the local library’s magazines and periodicals section. She should scan business and specialty publications to find products, services and companies that motivate her. This can take a bit of time, but so does meeting your future spouse. Do it carefully and thoughtfully.

Second, she should pick a small handful of companies — no more than four or five that produce products or services she’s interested in — and research them, drilling down into each industry, company, product, technology and job function. These will be her target companies. Her objective is to learn enough to be able to talk about these intelligently.

So far, she’s looked at no job postings and has sent out no resumes. We’re skipping those steps altogether because they’re a waste of time.

Third, she should start scouring the Internet for the names of people connected to these companies. Databases like LinkedIn and publications online, from the Wall Street Journal to the local newspaper, make this pretty easy. Reading about these people and about what they have to say about their work, their companies and their industries is important.

Finally, she needs to start contacting them. No, I don’t mean inviting them to connect on LinkedIn; that’s a fool’s errand and another waste of time. She can actually Meet The Right People pretty easily if she invests the time. They will lead her to her future boss.

When talking to these new contacts, never ask for a job lead. (People hate that.) Instead, talk shop, because people love to talk about their work. Ask for advice and insight about their industry. Ask a smart question about the topic they discussed in an article or on a forum. Ask them what they are reading lately that influences their work. Ask them what they like about their industry and employer. Ask what advice they’d give you, if you wanted to work at their company. Make a friend.

This seemingly circuitous route to a job is how most business is done, whether people realize it or not. People love to complain that, “The other guy got the job (or the sale) because it was wired for him! He knows someone on the inside!”

But that’s not the point. The point is that the person on the inside knows the person looking for a job. The trust in that connection enables the insider to make a choice that minimizes risk and increases the chances of a positive outcome. This is how companies hire. Your friend needs to learn how this works, and do it herself. She needs to become the insider who gets the job.

How did we go from researching companies and products your friend is interested in to making friends with people she doesn’t know? We did it honestly. If she pursues products and companies she’s honestly motivated about, it will be easier to introduce herself and talk to the people connected to them. Her questions about work, business and opportunities will be easier and more genuine. Dialogue based on honest interest turns into advice and introductions to hiring managers. Insiders recommend people they know, even if they’ve met them recently. They like to recommend people who demonstrate an honest interest in the work and the business.

And that’s why the way to beat the “insider” who has a job “wired” is to become an insider yourself, honestly and with integrity.

There is nothing easy about this approach. But there’s nothing easy about sitting around waiting for people you don’t know to find your application on an online job board — or for sixth-degree links on LinkedIn to “connect” to you.

Learn more about how to Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition).

Do you have a story about surmounting the odds to get in the door? Is it easier to get a job you really want, than a random job you found online?

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LinkedIn For Kids: The biggest lead-gen pimp on the Internet?

reidhoffmanWhat’s LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman looking at? 13-year-olds — LinkedIn’s newest big-money data set. And my bet is his sharedholders are going to be looking at the Internet’s biggest privacy nightmare yet.

Advice to Moms and Dads: Take your kids off his street.

Under the guise of helping 13-year-olds “start their careers off right,” LinkedIn is launching a massive initiative to tap the $300 billion teen market — selling advertising and selling access to kids’ data.

Ever since LinkedIn went public, it abandoned its mission to be the world’s biggest and best professional network. It has quickly evolved into an advertising business.

With a hot IPO behind it, LinkedIn’s management team rushed head-long into silly commercialization, betting that its public relations campaigns could keep its reputation afloat — while the company furiously drained all the integrity out of its ever-growing pool of users.

First, LinkedIn ejected its team of salaried relationship-builders and brought in a boiler room full of telemarketers working on stiff quotas. According to SEC filings, in short order LinkedIn’s sales and marketing operation skyrocketed from 207 people to 1,822. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Jeff Weiner realized that their company’s value wasn’t in the business networks it had created. The big money was in keywords. So they started selling members’ data to employers, just like and CareerBuilder do.

Just another job board

LinkedIn launched its IPO, and re-launched itself as a job board. Chucking connections for cash, LinkedIn has been charging job seekers for “Premium” services. (See Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?) For $29.95/month, you can buy empty promises of status and top position on the list of resumes employers pay to access. (You also get to write a dozen or so “InMails” using LinkedIn’s cumbersome, proprietary mail system that tracks who you communicate with.)

linkedinbuttonWith a wink and a nod, LinkedIn cautions members to apply only for jobs they are truly qualified for — but gave them a button to easily and instantly apply for any job they encountered. Like the job boards, LinkedIn is facilitating a jobs lottery: The more tickets you buy, the more chances you have to win!

And as LinkedIn members started flooding employers with applications, employers paid LinkedIn to drink out of a fire hose.

But, everyone knows that job boards aren’t just in the job board business. They’re in the lead-generation business. Your “profile” is chock full of incredibly valuable information to salesmen and marketers. If you don’t believe me, just create a faux membership on any job board using a faux e-mail address and watch your in-box to see who’s buying or renting your data.

Hacking Members’ E-mail: The new business model?

If anyone thinks LinkedIn is in the “relationship” and “professional networking” business, listen closely: LinkedIn is an advertising company collecting data to linkedin-hacksell. At LinkedIn, “innovation” means “We make more cash from your data.” And members don’t like it. They’re complaining that LinkedIn hacked their external e-mail directories and — without permission — is sending solicitations to their contacts. Last week, a group of LinkedIn members filed a class action about this practice in San Jose federal court. (The New York Times says “the company is treading dangerously.”)

Hoffman and Weiner have found the Holy Revenue Model: Charge everyone, and convince everyone this is the only game in town!

Gone are some of the most useful services that LinkedIn used to offer to members. The company killed LinkedIn Answers, a powerful way to network and share information — and introduced a service its users find laughable: Endorsements — the equivalent of cheap come-on lines thrown at girls in bars.

Then LinkedIn itself started courting girls and boys — 13 and older, just two weeks after issuing $1 billion in new stock. Now kids can connect with adults. What’s going on here is obvious. LinkedIn is scrambling to acquire more personal data, from yet another valuable demographic, to prop up its stock price.

Hey, little girl…

In what must be the most laughable bit of bullshit published online this year, LinkedIn’s Eric Heath announced that kids are invited to join LinkedIn “so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right.”

free-candy-vanGimme a break. This new “age of consent policy” has nothing to do with 13-year-olds’ “careers” and everything to do with collecting personal data.

LinkedIn’s intentions and motivations are obvious. Reid Hoffman is driving around the Internet offering memberships to a demographic that spends $200-$300 billion annually (teenagers) — and that’s just in the United States. Hey, little girl… how about a nice piece of e-candy…?

This is all about personal data for sale

LinkedIn is now all about advertising. To monetize the 13-year-old data set — and your profile, too — the company just hired Groupon ad exec Penry Price, signaling that “connections” are the bait, and that the real name of this game is advertising.

Has LinkedIn become the biggest lead-gen pimp on the Internet — now featuring kids, their personal data, and their money? Moms and dads can start sweating bullets, too, wondering who’s protecting their little girls’ and boys’ information.

But stockholders can rejoice, at least for now, because everybody pays the house. As litigation mounts, Hoffman and Weiner may find they’re going to pay the piper.

Have you noticed more LinkedIn solicitations in your e-mail? Do you think your e-mail addresses have been hacked by LinkedIn? Is this “business network” looking like a dog to you?

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Executive Search: Don’t pay lazy headhunters

In the September 17, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks why headhunters charge you to join their database so they can “find” you and earn big fees by placing you. Where’s the search in that?

I run a small, high-tech company and I’ve been looking at various models for hiring top-level executive talent, and also in case I decide to look for a new executive job myself. What’s your quick take on the BlueSteps Executive Search service that I keep seeing advertised? I know you say the candidate should never be paying to find a job. BlueSteps charges executive job seekers $329 to join its database. Is it the same story here? I thought headhunters got paid big fees to go find people — not to charge me to join the database they search.

Nick’s Reply

You nailed it. The candidate should never pay a dime to find a job — especially when a corporation is paying a big-name “executive search firm” huge fees to find the right candidates. (Real headhunters go out and find good candidates; they don’t charge candidates to be found.)

payoffWhat is it, anyway, with this new “business model” online? Create a database, charge job seekers to add their information, then charge employers (or headhunters) to find the information. Everybody pays! And the entrepreneurs doing business this way come off like slimeballs. Great business model!

We’ve discussed TheLadders, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and other job boards that charge job seekers — and then charge employers. (You should never pay for access to jobs — or to headhunters.)

Now there’s a new player in this league. BlueSteps — an operation of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). It’s doing what LinkedIn does: tapping job seekers for fees. It’s a racket.

Then the executive search firms that belong to BlueSteps charge their clients — corporate employers — one-third of a new hire’s salary to fill executive positions. We’re talking $100,000+ fees.

What makes these search firms worth so much? It’s a good question, because according to BlueSteps’ website, (1) they fill jobs by surfing a resume database, and (2) they deliver job seekers who paid to join the database. That’s not worth $100,000.

Real executive headhunters don’t sit in front of a screen reading resumes that come across the BlueSteps — or any other — database. They actually go out into the world and hunt the people their clients need. They travel in their professional community. They go where top talent hangs out and mix it up. They talk to respected members of the executive community and form long-term relationships. They track down talent that is hidden or unknown to their clients and bring it home.

lazy_recruiterWhen headhunters find their candidates in a database that job seekers pay to join, something smells. This is not headhunting.

Consider: BlueSteps is an association of search firms that get paid in the vicinity of $200,000 to fill a $600,000 job (one-third of the new hire’s salary). So, why is the AESC charging people to put their resumes into a database that its members can then query to find candidates? It rightfully raises an alarm. Suddenly, executive search is not worth $200,000. Any employer’s own personnel jockeys can surf databases to find people at any salary level. The same executives that populate the BlueSteps database are in other databases, like LinkedIn.

The suckers here are not just executives who pay $329 to “join” the BlueSteps database. The really big suckers are corporations that pay exorbitant fees to lazy headhunters who while away their hours feeding at the database trough.

Check this testimonial on the BlueSteps website from a managing partner at a world-class executive search firm:

“BlueSteps is a very effective way of being visible to the retained search community, as its database is constantly mined by AESC member firms.”

Mined?? Why aren’t these lazy headhunters out actually finding top executive talent? Why are they relying on job seekers who paid to get into the database?

Another managing partner (Don’t you love that title?) at another executive search firm testifies:

“Through BlueSteps, we quickly located three of our top candidates located in a broad geographic cross-section including Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis and London. The candidate signed on for a total compensation package of $500,000+.”

This headhunter collected a fee that was probably around $166,000 — for querying a database. This is not executive search. This is lazy. This is a racket.

BlueSteps says that “in the past 90 days 3,549 BlueSteps database searches [were conducted] by executive recruiters,” and that executive profiles in the BlueSteps database were viewed 12,732 times.

What those managing directors are saying is, We no longer conduct the searches we’re being paid to conduct. We search databases, just like you do — and we charge you $200,000 to fill your open job the way your own personnel jockeys do it.

So, now that we’ve dissected this silly proposition, let’s get to my advice.

If you need to hire an executive, and you have a $200,000 budget to pay a headhunter, go to a small boutique search firm that actually has good contacts in your industry. Use a headhunter who flies below the radar, and who will go out and meet, talk with, and cultivate the best industry sources to get credible, trusted referrals to the best candidates. These are often solo practitioners who are highly respected in the industries they hunt in — headhunters who have relationships that yield excellent referrals. They don’t need LinkedIn, and they don’t need BlueSteps. They make their money the old-fashioned way: They earn it. (You can learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make [real] headhunters work for you.) They invest in people and in relationships — not in cheap recruiting tricks. And they get off their butts and actually recruit.

But if you want candidates from a database that people pay to join, then try BlueSteps.

Or, if you have $200,000 to spend and you’re smart, my guess is you could fill the job yourself. And that’s the lesson here. Filling top jobs properly, by finding the best people, is hard work, but it’s not rocket science. It’s just astonishing that AESC and BlueSteps and their members, who call themselves “executive search” firms, conduct “searches” by surfing databases, and by charging job seekers fees “to be found.”

That’s not worth $200,000. Or even $329. Don’t pay lazy headhunters.

If you’re an employer, how much do you pay headhunters, and what do you get in return? If you’re a job seeker, have you ever paid a headhunter?

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5 Job Search Nightmares

In the September 10, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we tackle 5 nightmares:

  1. An employer wants free work
  2. A relocation dream turns into a horror story
  3. A guy’s network POOF! disappears into thin air
  4. LinkedIn makes an employer tell job seekers to sleep it off, and
  5. A headhunter and his client are lost in salary dreamland…

I get a lot of questions from readers, and I sometimes reply via e-mail with short answers (when I have time) that I never publish. But some of them are just as worthy of discussion… so here we go with some short(er) ones!

Question 1: They want free work!

nightmaresYour column regarding working on a real problem during the interview hit home. In the past six months I’ve had two interviews where I have been asked to work on a real-world problem. The first time, I suspected that this “interview” was to get an outsider’s opinion on a problem the staff was working on. (They wanted free work.) I never heard from the employer again. The second time, I asked the interviewer if the problem was something they were working on. He said yes and that this was a way for them to get a combination of interview and consulting work! I finished the problem and sent them an invoice for the time I spent at the firm. I can appreciate demonstrating your skill to a potential employer. However, the candidate has to be on guard for those seeking free work. How to handle these situations?

Nick’s Reply

When I emphasize the importance of “doing the job in the interview,” I usually include a warning about not working for free. That’s an abhorrent way for an employer to get free work from a job applicant — but I’ve seen it done many times. When responding, it’s always best to be a big cagey, and to hold back some details. If they press you, smile knowingly and offer your consulting time (for a fee) while they complete their hiring process. Heavily detailed “sample problems” are a tip-off. Do just enough to whet their appetites.

Question 2: Relo nightmare

My company relocated me to a new city in another state to a job with the same description as I had before. I thought it was going to be great. Unfortunately, I hate it. There are spider webs and low lighting everywhere, and I dread going to work every day. They got me to sign a contract — I have to repay relo costs of $12,000 if I leave before two years. It’s all of my savings. I am feeling stuck at this not-as-advertised job. I’ve certainly learned a lesson about getting a tour of the site before signing a contract. Am I totally stuck?

Nick’s Reply

Ouch. Relo can be a kind of indentured servitude. Since a contract is involved, I think your best bet is to see an attorney. You can probably get an initial consultation at no cost, but I’d get a good referral from a trusted source. The alternative is to feel depressed for two years. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but you might be able to show that the job is not what they “contracted” for. I wish you the best.

Question 3: My network disappeared

I am a senior software consultant. I recently hit a dry spell finding work and finances have become very tight. What’s alarming is the realization that I am not really connected to any sort of reliable, non-virtual network that can help get me back in the game sooner. I guess while I am actively working, I don’t really think about it. Instead, my de-facto “network” is a random collection of job boards, fruitless job agents, and a few incredibly rude recruiters. Clearly this is inadequate. How do I tap into the support system I desperately need during the down times?

Nick’s Reply

You can’t tap into a support system you don’t have. A big part of life and work is cultivating friends and relationships over time. Please see Tell me who your friends are.

Frankly, a support system is more important than any job. I’m not talking about a loose network of “contacts” for that purpose — I’m talking about real friends and buddies. Attend conferences. Join groups. Take training classes. Offer to do presentations. Cultivate and invest in your relationships — not just professionally, but in all parts of your life. You’ll know you’re doing it wrong if it’s not enjoyable.

Question 4: LinkedIn & ruled out

Thanks for your eye-opening article on LinkedIn. If I were an employer looking to hire (which I was when I was starting my small but successful software company about 20 years ago), I would respond to the sleazy practice of paid uplisting by working my way down the list and e-mailing anyone who had paid for an uplist. I’d let them know that I would not consider them for the job because they had clearly indicated that they didn’t consider themselves good enough to stand on their own merits.

Nick’s Reply

What puzzles me is why job seekers don’t get past the guard (the online forms and the HR department), and why hiring managers don’t open the door to the most motivated applicants! (If you liked that LinkedIn article, see the extended one I wrote for PBS NewsHour.)

Question 5: Salary nightmare

I recently had a discussion with a headhunter for a well-known staffing agency who insisted on getting my current salary. He told me the pay range for the position was $80k-$100k and that if $80k was more than 10% above what I’m currently making, he couldn’t offer me the position. I told him that $80k was more than 10% above what I’m making now, but I refused to give further details. He asked a few more times for my salary and finally ended our “interview” by saying he’d submit my resume and see what happens. What happened here? Is this B.S.? Who said I can’t make more than 10% higher in a new position?

Nick’s Reply

No one says you can’t make more than 10% higher, except this “headhunter’s” client. Many headhunters merely parrot what their client tells them. That’s a poor way to service a client. Sometimes you’ve got to tell them what they need to hear — not what they want to hear. His laziness further reveals itself in the fact that he won’t even back up his client — he’s still going to submit your resume! It’s not clear what he’s really doing to earn a fee. He’s waiting to see if some spaghetti might stick to the wall. Who knows, maybe he’s got no other candidates to submit and he’s willing to chance it.

Of course, employers have the right to limit job offers, even if the limit is completely irrational. The next candidate might be making $90k, so the top offer would be $99k. If you’re making $70k, but can do the job, and they gave you $80k — more than a 10% bump — they’d be saving money, right? Go figure. There are idiots in HR departments who can barely count their fingers and toes, and they’re making these kinds of salary calculations? The decision you must make is, do you want to work with an employer or a headhunter like these two?

I’ve placed people for close to twice their old pay. And the client and the new hire were perfectly happy — value delivered and paid for with no regrets. If I were you, I’d move on to a headhunter and an employer whose goal is to hire good people, not to learn how to count their fingers and toes. (See How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

My compliments for holding fast and not disclosing your salary history — but you let the cat out of the bag anyway. Next time, just say the job seems to be in the right salary range in terms of what you want. Of course, later on, if they make an offer, you must hold fast and not disclose what you’re making. (See Should I disclose my salary history?)

I’m sure you’ve got your own advice to offer on these little nightmares. Please pile on!

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