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Monthly archive for February 2014

Can people of color win jobs using Ask The Headhunter?

In the February 25, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about racial challenges:

I was on the PBS NewsHour.org site and discovered your advice columns. I liked your disruptive advice so I went to your website, read several pages, signed up for the newsletter and bought Fearless Book 3. As an immigrant female POC [Person of Color] I think some of your advice is too much because our communities lack those ties, and the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing.

I also think that POC [People of Color] would be taken to task harder if they implemented some of your more radical advice. That is, they’d be seen as scary rather than persistent. Overall, however, I did enjoy your advice and I think it would be be interesting to hear specifically from POC that followed your process, so please consider a series of posts, and please consider addressing bias and ways to overcome it. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your note — you’re raising an important topic. I’ve grappled with questions about discrimination since I started publishing Ask The Headhunter. I think there are two clear options, and a bunch of tricks.

people-of-colorThe first option is to sue the company that discriminates. Like it or not, that can be costly, but it’s the main remedy available under the law. You can also file complaints with regulatory agencies. But these approaches won’t help you land a job.

The second option is to make your value to the employer a higher priority than the company’s biases against you. This takes a bit of work, but I think it’s a better plan. I won’t get into details about how to do this here, because virtually all of Ask The Headhunter addresses the “how to.”

Option one forces the employer to comply; option two convinces the employer that hiring you is the best thing to do. Of course, success does not mean the employer will stop discriminating otherwise.

Then there are the tricks: Avoid letting the employer see your skin color or guess your race until you get the interview. Color your hair to remove the grey. Use an initial for your first name to avoid disclosing you are female. Change your last name to hide your origins. When you finally face a bigot in the interview, you’re still toast — except you’ve wasted your time, too. None of this will really help you.

I don’t agree that the methods I teach are “too much” or that POC communities lack ties that help their members get ahead. (Don’t say, “I don’t know anybody.” That’s bunk.) Nor do I agree that the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing – that’s like saying POC are largely one way or another. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention there’s a section titled “Don’t walk blind on the job hunt” where I offer this important suggestion:

Know who you’re calling, or don’t call them. If you don’t know the person you want to call, first call someone who does and get introduced.

I think the only way to be successful at job hunting is to take everyone and every situation individually and personally, and to make judgments and choices accordingly. Lean to live like an exception.

Of course, discrimination is real, and so are cultural and personal attitudes. You’re showing a bit of bias against Anglos, and I’m sure some people have revealed their biases to you. I’m not in a position to change any of that, except to tell people to stop doing it.

To me, the fundamental truth is that our society tends to favor productivity and people who can produce what others need and are willing to pay for. (See Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.) The path to a career and a life based on that is fraught with problems and challenges. There’s nothing easy about it. You’ll be ignored and rejected even if you’re quite productive. But it’s even less likely that you’ll be hired (or start a business) and become successful if you are not highly productive.

So learn to show how you will be productive for the employer in question. Lead with that. Don’t lead with your past, don’t lead with a chip on your shoulder. (If the chip is big, then sue the bastards.)

stand-outNot all people start out equally in their efforts to be productive and successful. Some must surmount incredible obstacles, including racism, discrimination, sexism, ageism, and more isms than we can count. But in the end, our society craves and rewards productivity and profit. (What did you pull off?) If you can take something and add your skills, acumen, insights, hard work and persistence, you’ve got a chance at success. That’s what I try to teach with Ask The Headhunter, and it’s what we discuss on the blog every day: How to do it.

You seem to like the ATH approach, but you doubt it can work for you and other people of color. All I can suggest is that you bend and shape some of these methods into something you think you can try on your own. This is not “all or nothing.” And your good judgment must temper it to suit your goals.

Now let’s get to your final request: How have people of color — and people who are discriminated against for other characteristics — used Ask The Headhunter effectively? How has ATH failed them? What’s the best way to use these methods? These are questions for this community, and my guess is there are some great ideas and tips forthcoming.

How have you used Ask The Headhunter to overcome discrimination? Or, maybe you tried and it didn’t work. If you’re a manager, and you’ve been a bit biased, did anyone ever overwhelm you with reasons to hire them anyway? (You may post using a screen name — no one will hunt you down.)

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Should I stay at my current company?

In the February 18, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader can’t decide whether to stay or go:

I’m feeling itchy — I think you know what I mean. This is probably what a headhunter like you looks for in a job candidate for your clients. Someone who is ready to move! I’m happy at my job at this company, but I’m wondering if something better is worth jumping ship for. But then I realize how good I’ve got it here. How do I know whether I should stay?

Nick’s Reply

This question is more common than some people might think — it’s natural to ask it again and again during your career. Since I’ve already covered it in one of my books, I’m going to reprint the pertinent section. I hope it helps you work this out!


From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, pp. 11-12.

Why should I stay at my current company?

should-i-stayQuestion: I’m considering leaving my company. I’ve been pretty happy here and the company has been good to me. Now there are some good opportunities I’ve learned about that would pay better. But I’m worried about “the grass is always greener” effect. That is, my current company and job might in fact be the best thing for me. How do I go about evaluating what I’ve got here?

Nick’s Reply: You’re smart to consider this so carefully. I’m convinced that the most common underlying reason for job change (whether as a result of employee dissatisfaction, or downsizing) is that people take the wrong jobs to begin with. Sometimes they jump to a new job without good reason.

The key to success is to judge any company — including your current one — by its people, its products, and its reputation.

Another issue, of course, is the compensation. Be careful. There’s more to compensation than a few extra bucks. It’s up to you to figure out how much the intangibles at your current company are worth. There are some valuable intangible benefits to consider. (Their value to you depends, of course, on the quality of your current employer and job.)

  • Credibility. Your reputation and credibility are probably well-established. You don’t have to waste a lot of time and effort proving yourself to your employer. You can focus on being productive. Your credibility also positions you for internal career growth, so go talk to your boss.
  • Culture. You understand and can work within the culture and politics. You’ve paid your dues. In a new company, you’ll have to learn all over again how to navigate the system.
  • Efficiency. You’ve probably got your work organized well enough that you’re working efficiently and without working any more hours than necessary. In a new company, you will of course learn new things, but probably at the cost of a longer work day.
  • Community. You have established solid friendships and working relationships. It’s good to meet new people and learn new ways of doing things, but there’s also something to be said about being part of a solid community.
  • Seniority-based benefits. You have been around long enough to qualify for a pension program and other seniority-based benefits. For example, there’s often a significant delay before you can participate in a new employer’s 401(k) plan. That can cost you a lot over the years. If you’ve held your job for several years, you probably get several weeks’ vacation each year. Changing employers may reset your vacation time to two weeks.

Before you accept an offer elsewhere, make sure you know what you’re giving up and what you’re getting into. Be ready to accept the price, or enjoy what you’ve got.

If your desire for something new is stimulating your interest in changing jobs, consider changing jobs internally. Staying with your employer doesn’t mean you must stagnate. You can begin an aggressive campaign to change jobs without changing employers.

This Q&A is reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, which includes these sections:

  • Introduction: How to start a job search
  • The myth of the last-minute job search
  • Changing careers 1-2-3 (and 4)
  • How to start job hunting now
  • Can old experience win a new job?
  • Why should I stay at my company?
  • I’m losing my job!
  • How do I say I got fired?
  • How do I explain being unemployed?
  • Why can’t I keep a good job?
  • How can I change careers mid-stream?
  • PLUS: 8 How to Say It tips
  • PLUS: 9 sidebars packed with advice to give you the insider’s edge!

To pick up where the reprint leaves off, if you’re considering changing jobs internally, check out JHBWA (Job Hunting By Wandering Around). That new opportunity might be nearer than you think — with virtually no competition.

There are of course many more factors to think about before you jump ship, but these are some that I think are easily forgotten.

When the itch to move comes upon you, what do you do? What other factors do you consider? How do you evaluate your options?

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Reddit AMA Overflow Q&A

nick-reddit-11Thanks for joining me on today’s Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything)! The questions were great and so were your comments! (But doesn’t anybody want to know what my favorite band of 2013 is??)

For more Ask The Headhunter resources, please check the website and the bookstore. Sign up for the free weekly newsletter — and join us here to whack a mole no matter what the topic is!

If you’ve got more questions, comments, or just want to hash through the topics we discussed, please post them here.

I’ll do my best to reply, and I invite the Ask The Headhunter community to pile on, too — their insights are usually better and more incisive than mine!

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Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) – It’s ON again!

nick-reddit-11And now for something completely different…

Join me today, February 11, 2014 for a special Ask The Headhunter Reddit AMA — Ask Me Anything — at 1pm ET.

Here’s the direct link to the AMA: http://redd.it/1xmn3g

I’m doing this in cooperation with my good buddies at PBS NewsHour, where I produce a weekly Ask The Headhunter feature. (If you’re a marketer, don’t miss my weekly column on CMO.com.)

We’ve done “open mic” on the Blog before, where you pound me with any and all questions, and I try to pound my keyboard and tackle them all without passing out. But this is something new — I’ll be answering questions throughout the day, and I hope we’ll attract some new “regulars” to Ask The Headhunter!


If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, here are three good introductions to what this community is all about:

Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course

Ask The Headhunter: Introduction

And a sampling from a recent edition of the Blog: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring


So please pile onto the Reddit AMA – at 1pm ET — Ask me about jobs, recruiting, hiring, stupid HR tricks, what I had for breakfast, where I like to backpack, and what my favorite band is! (Anything!)

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What’s up with clueless interviewers?

In the February 11, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets fed up with interviewers who are unprepared:

What about interviewers who haven’t read your resume? An interviewer asked if I have done any programming, when my resume clearly states that I’m a programmer. Sometimes I’m asked if I know this software tool or that one. If I did, I would have listed them on my resume! I can learn new tools quickly, but they don’t want to hear it!

What is up with interviewers who ask questions that are answered clearly on my resume, and who want a perfect match of skills?

Nick’s Reply

cluelessIt means that the interviewer either didn’t read your resume, or is at a loss for what to ask. Just the kind of person I’d love to work for — someone unprepared!

Some managers will argue that they are very busy and don’t have time to review a resume carefully before they meet you. Yet they expect you to be well-prepared for an interview. This is a sign of a lousy manager.

Should an interviewer expect that you listed every relevant fact on your resume? Sorry, no. I can’t assume you listed everything on your resume. Or, I may be initiating a discussion about a specific detail. “Do you know this tool?” might be just another way of asking, “Tell me about your expertise with this tool,” and that is a legitimate question.

The problem of employers dismissing quick learners too readily, however, is a dirty little secret of interviewing in many companies. They aren’t interested in the fact that you can learn almost anything in a few days given some good manuals and a little peace and quiet. They’re interested in hiring someone who can do the job “yesterday.”

The fundamental problem, of course, is that many managers are not good at assessing a job applicant. Other than ticking off buzz words from your “skill set,” they have no idea how to judge whether you can ride a fast learning curve without falling off.

Why do you think there’s such a “shortage” of qualified technical people? It’s mostly nonsense. Anyone can hire an employee who can do one particular task today; that is, a person who has been doing exactly that work at his old job. But it takes a good manager to hire and coach a good employee who can master new tasks that come along.

A good question to ask interviewers is this: “How many of your team members are doing work today that exactly matches the job description they were hired to do originally?”

That will tell you a lot about whether the manager knows how to manage talent rather than just skills.

What all this means is that you, the job applicant, must find subtle ways to take over the interview so you can demonstrate that you’re the profitable hire. This article can help you get started: The Basics: The New Interview.

If you really want to wow the interviewer without resorting to silly tactics recommended by some of the “experts,” try this: “The Single Best Interview Question… And The Best Answer.” Caution: This is a lot of hard work. But, then again, so’s that great job you want, right?

Do interviewers behave like clueless dopes? How do you raise the bar when you interview? And, how do you avoid having your time wasted?

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Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring

In the February 4, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re catching up on the TV news segment I told you about recently…

Ask The Headhunter Video

This space is normally devoted to Q&A: A “live” problem faced by a reader, and my advice. But two weeks ago, in the January 20 edition, I asked for your input about how employers use “Big Data” when recruiting and hiring.

I was preparing for an appearance on Brian Lehrer’s TV news magazine. Your comments and suggestions were very helpful — many thanks! I promised I’d share the program with you after it aired, and I’m devoting this week’s edition to it.


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In this segment, we’re joined by The Atlantic columnist Don Peck, whose article, “They’re Watching You At Work,” is a deep dive into the use of people analytics in hiring. Thanks to CUNY TV and to Brian for his pointed questions. (Brian’s main gig is on New York City’s NPR affiliate, WNYC radio. I’ve enjoyed being his guest many times.)

Corporate HR departments and recruiters have been misusing Big Data — online resumes, applicant tracking systems, job application forms — to recruit and hire for almost two decades. They solicit millions of applicants, then claim none fit the bill. Is it your fault for playing the cards they dealt you in a game they rigged?

According to Peck, it’s no surprise that now employers are doubling down on technology and Big Data, and buying oodles of information about you — so they can correlate it to their fantasy of the perfect job candidate.

For example — no kidding — the browser you use correlates to how successful you will be if you’re hired. Internet Explorer users are “less apt” — no jobs for them! In this data-rich recruiting approach, people analytics render a “decision” about whether to hire you.

What do you think of the ideas discussed in the video? Is HR just getting dumber? Check it out, and post your comments!

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Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything)

nick-redditAnd now for something completely different…

[This Reddit AMA is postponed… a new date will be posted!]

Join me today, February 4, 2014 for a special Ask The Headhunter Reddit AMA — Ask Me Anything — at 1pm ET. I’m doing this in cooperation with my good buddies at PBS NewsHour, where I produce a weekly Ask The Headhunter feature.

(I will post a direct link here to Reddit when the AMA goes live about 15 minutes before “air” time.)

Will Ferrell is doing an AMA at the same time. You could skip his, but try to be polite and ask him a question, too.

We’ve done “open mic” on the Blog before, where you pound me with any and all questions, and I try to pound my keyboard and tackle them all without passing out. But this is something new — I’ll be answering questions througout the day, and I hope we’ll attract some new “regulars” to Ask The Headhunter!


If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, here are three good introductions to what this community is all about:

Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course

Ask The Headhunter: Introduction

And a sampling from today’s edition of the Blog: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring


So please pile onto the Reddit AMA – at 1pm ET [postponed] — Ask me about jobs, recruiting, hiring, stupid HR tricks, what I had for breakfast, where I like to backpack, and what my favorite band is! (Anything!)

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