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Monthly archive for April 2014

Rutgers Business School Webinar – Q&A Overflow

This evening I presented a webinar to the Rutgers Business School Alumni Association, co-sponsored by the University Alumni Association: Fearless Job Hunting: Be The Profitable Hire.

rutgersThe Q&A section of the presentation was great — but of course, there were so many questions that we couldn’t get to them all.

So I invited attendees to post their questions here — and I’ll do my best to respond to as many as I can. And don’t be surprised when other Ask The Headhunter “regulars” chime in on these topics — and offer you even better suggestions than I do!

Congratulations to those who won copies of Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.

If you didn’t win Fearless Job Hunting but would like to purchase the collection, I invite you to use this $10 discount code: OLDQUEENS, which will be good through May 15. (Please note: This discount is good only when you purchase Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.)

Thanks for joining us this evening, and special thanks to the Business School Alumni team for their kind hospitality!

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Why employers should pay job applicants

In the April 29, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader suggests getting paid before getting hired, or why waste time interviewing?

Again and again, companies waste my time while they “assess” me in endless interviews and with employment tests. They’re wasting my time and theirs, but they don’t care because they are getting paid. I’m not.

The problem is not hard to see: The managers and HR people don’t select their candidates very carefully to begin with because it’s no skin off their backs. If they had to pay for my time, I’d bet they’d be a lot more accurate. Do you think it would be wise for employers to pay for the privilege of assessing job applicants, as a way to make hiring more efficient and productive? (And to stop wasting my time!)

Nick’s Reply

I wrote a column about a related subject last year: Why employers should pay to interview you. I’m even going to crib from it a bit.

pay-applicantsJob applicants devote hours of unpaid professional time to an employer, and then wait patiently for a hiring decision by the promised date. Inevitably, employers interview way more applicants than they can justify and ignore their own timelines without any updates or comments to the applicants. Why? Because job candidates are free.

That’s wrong. I agree it’s time for employers to put some skin in the game, if only because it would make them think twice about the costs they impose on applicants. More important, I think it would improve the quality of the selection process and of their hires.

What if employers had to pay to assess candidates for jobs? What if one employer started doing the right thing? Would others follow?

Matt Mullenweg is the creator of the most popular website platform in the world: WordPress powers over 60 million websites, and 66% of all English-based websites. The Ask The Headhunter blog runs on WordPress, and I consider it one of the best software tools I’ve ever used. WordPress is an open source project, but Matt’s company, Automattic, is a for-profit business.

Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review published a short article by Mullenweg: Hire by Auditions, Not Resumes. Automattic’s interview and hiring process is unusual: The interview isn’t over, and you’re not hired, until Automattic pays you to complete the process.

Now, let’s be clear: You don’t get paid to show up for your first interviews with Automattic. But once the discussion gets serious, so does this employer. According to Mullenweg:

“Before we hire anyone, they go through a trial process first, on contract. They can do the work at night or over the weekend, so they don’t have to leave their current job in the meantime. We pay a standard rate of $25 per hour, regardless of whether you’re applying to be an engineer or the chief financial officer.”

In my first book, The New Interview Instruction Book, I called this “doing the job to win the job.” That is, if you want a job, show up and actually do the work to show you’re worth hiring.

But if you’re going to invest that kind of time and effort to be evaluated hands-on, you shouldn’t be doing it for free. The employer should put skin in the game, too — and Automattic does. The ROI for the company is tremendous.

“There’s nothing like being in the trenches with someone, working with them day by day,” writes Mullenweg. “It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks. At the end of the trial, everyone involved has a great sense of whether they want to work together going forward. And, yes, that means everyone — it’s a mutual tryout. Some people decide we’re not the right fit for them.”

Automattic hires about 40% of people it tries out. Turnover is ridiculously low. Paying job candidates while Automattic assesses them pays off. In virtually every other company, the hiring process is rote, stupid, and inaccurate because it’s automated. Human review of applicants is the last thing any employer wants to invest in.

Around the world, hiring is a massively screwed up process because business doesn’t make any meaningful investment in it. Buying resumes from job boards and paying personnel jockeys to scan applicants’ keywords isn’t an investment — it’s a joke. But paying for the benefit of assessing people on the job, inside your company, on your time — that’s an investment. I doubt Automattic selects candidates lightly.

Mullenweg says, “It’s a huge time commitment, coordinating the short-term work being done by job applicants.”

Of course it is. And it should be. It’s costly, so a lot of care goes into the process up front, and this limits errors markedly. Mullenweg personally spends a third of his time on hiring. That’s more than even I recommend. (I suggest managers need to spend 15%-20% of their time recruiting and hiring, and I know few managers that do.)


What if you’re the job hunter?
Would you ask an employer to pay you to check you out? If that’s too much, then at least consider Conrado Hinojosa’s provocative The No-Nonsense Interview Agreement instead. It serves a similar purpose: It adds a measure of thoughtfulness to the experience.


I challenge any HR manager to explain why it’s okay to take hours and hours of a job applicant’s time without paying for it. I also challenge them to show me how their hiring methods are more accurate than Mullenweg’s. If your company does what Automattic does, I’d like to hear about it. In fact, I’ll gladly highlight your company in an upcoming column.

In the meantime, I think employers should start paying job candidates to assess them. My bet is that it would improve their business and operations dramatically.

What is a job applicant’s time worth to an employer? What are hiring errors worth? Would paying job applicants pay off to employers?

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Deal-breaker questions to ask employers

In the April 22, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to ask an employer tough questions… and just can’t seem to get answers:

I’ve done my research on the company, and the interview went well, but there are some things that I just couldn’t get information about, even in the interview. I want to know just how long the average individual stays in this particular job before moving up, as well as what other opportunities could be expected in the future. Also, who are the people I would be working with? How good are they? What kinds of tools and support would I have? Finally, I am a little vague on what the salary level might be.

My question: Is it okay to ask these questions in the interview? Thanks for your help.

Nick’s Reply

hidden-informationI’ll go you one better: Don’t accept this job until you get your answers. Your questions are excellent, especially those about the people connected to the job. (See It’s the people, Stupid.) If the answers are unsatisfactory, these are deal-breakers.

Many applicants are afraid to ask questions that seem “forward” in the job interview. I don’t know where this hesitation comes from. Perhaps it’s part of a deeper feeling that the job candidate is some sort of supplicant whom the employer steps down from heaven to talk to.

“You dare to ask The Great Oz…?”

Your questions are not only reasonable, they are very important. If the interviewer can’t answer them, ask to talk with someone who can. If the company won’t make any effort to answer you, you need to reconsider whether you want to work there.


Here’s another make-or-break question to ask the employer, after an offer has been made to you: “May I see the complete benefits package so I can study it along with the rest of your kind offer?” Many employers will decline to share the benefits details. Find out Why companies hide the benefits.


Don’t be shy. Interviewing is a two-way street. They want to know a lot about you, and you need to know a lot about them. Interview them. Don’t lower your expectations because they own the job. Remember that you own the solution to their problems.

Part of my work as a headhunter involves preparing a candidate to interview the employer effectively. I’ve found that good employers don’t react well to a candidate who just sits and answers questions. A good candidate probes for information, too. A good candidate expects candor and full disclosure.

  • Be polite and diplomatic, but also be bold and assertive.
  • Get answers to every reasonable question you have, or don’t take the job.

What’s a reasonable question? It’s one that, if left unanswered, might lead you to reject an offer. If you’re left feeling uncertain about something now, it’s going to be much worse once you’re on the job. Trust your gut: Get answers to every question that matters.

What’s the best time to ask your questions? Before, during, and after the interview. I’m not trying to be cute. It’s a judgment call. You wield the most power after you receive an offer and before you accept it. It’s really the only time you have great control in the interview process. That’s a good time to call the manager and explain that there’s some additional information you need. Can they meet with you briefly one more time? If they decline, that suggests a lot about how they may treat you later. (Is it possible they’ll be offended and rescind the offer? Sure, though I think it’s very unlikely. But, what would that tell you?)

A final note: Make sure you’re talking with the person you’re going to be reporting to. While the personnel department can answer questions about benefits, company policy, and the like, you’re not going to be interacting daily with the personnel staff once you’re hired. Your key questions are about the work, and it’s the boss who can tell you what you need to know — if you ask. And don’t be afraid to ask, ever.

If something is a make-or-break issue, it’s better to get answers before you accept the job. The best employers will be happy to share the information you need.

(If you need more detailed help assessing an employer, see “Due diligence: Don’t take a job without it” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball After The Interview, and “How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers.)

What tough questions do you ask employers? Has an employer ever refused to answer? Are there questions that are off limits for job applicants? I’d love to hear from employers, too.

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How your old boss can cost you a new job

In the April 15, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about how much “notice time” is enough when quitting a job:

I’m a licensed professional working in a small firm. During lean years a few years ago, my boss arranged for me to do some other work so that he wouldn’t have to lay me off. I even did some dog and house sitting for him. So we are close. Nonetheless, now it’s time for me to move on. I will not consider a counter-offer or any back-and-forth negotiations.

I’ve heard my boss say that if anyone leaves the firm, he’d like a month or two notice. I’ve read your thoughts on this, and I agree a long notice is a bad idea — potentially a trap for being abused during the transition period, and who would wait one or two month’s for a new employee to start work? Frankly, I’m hoping to give two weeks’ notice and to take a third week for vacation between jobs.

When I leave, I’ll do all I can to leave my desk in good shape for my replacement, but the firms I’m interviewing with will want me to start quickly. Is there a good way to go about this?

Nick’s Reply

Your boss’s wishes are one thing. Reality is another. As you’ve clearly realized, your own career safety is paramount, no matter how friendly you feel toward your current employer. Your old boss can cost you your new job.

quittingHere’s the message you need to deliver to your boss when — and only when — you have a bona fide, written job offer in hand and you’ve accepted it and have a firm start date:

How to Say It
I’m afraid i It’s time for me to move on. I’ve accepted a job at a firm where I can continue growing my career in directions that are important to me. I’d like to give you two weeks’ notice. Of course, I will devote that time to helping organize my work to facilitate the transition to someone new – anything you need.”
[Note: I’ve modified this suggestion thanks to a comment from GEM below.]

Stop there. Your boss may not ask for more time. Or, it’s unlikely but I’ve seen it happen, he may ask you to leave immediately. (There’s no guessing at how an employer will react, so plan for the worst.)

If he presses you to stay for more time, try this:

How to Say It
“I wish I could do more, but in today’s economy no company I’ve talked with permits the kind of transition time I’d like to give you. My job offer is contingent on a quick start date.”

Don’t complain and don’t explain in any more detail. Do the right thing within the constraints you have. And let your old employer deal with the rest. Don’t let him turn your business with your new employer into his business. Don’t fool around with requesting an extension on the start date for your new job. The answer might be a withdrawn offer. (Be sure you’re Starting a job on the right foot.)

Again, be prepared to be shown the door immediately if your boss gets upset. (Now I’ll shock you a bit: If you have personal belongings in your desk, get them out before you announce your plans.)

There’s a standard for doing the right thing, and that’s two weeks’ notice. I know it sounds cold, but you don’t owe anyone any more, even if they cut you a break during hard times. If you want to try to return that favor, do it in a way that won’t cause problems at your new job. Offer to recommend a candidate for the job, if you can. Offer to help write the job description and to help interview applicants during your notice period. Offer to work late during those two weeks, if necessary. (The guy did you a solid; do one for him to the extent you can.)

Part friends if you can. And when you get that new job offer, remember that there is no sure thing. I wish you the best.

What do you owe your employer when it’s time to move on? I’m sure you have more ideas and even some personal policies. Should this reader try to extend the start date at a new job?

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What to say to a stingy boss

In the April 8, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says her boss “gave her a raise” by hiring another employee:

I have been with my current employer for six and a half years. I was promoted six months ago from administrative assistant to assistant manager. I got the title but no pay increase. Since being employed with this company I have not received any type of raise, only an occasional small bonus (less than $600). I recently asked the owner about a cost of living raise. His answer: “I did give you a raise when I hired a new person for your department. This took a large work load off you and that in turn was your raise.”

underpaidI almost fell out of my chair. I try very hard to be an optimist, but I am still trying to wrap my head around his response. I have proven that I have been very committed to this company. I have streamlined daily duties to save time, and I have found ways to save him thousands of dollars in operating costs. My boss informs me often that his clients compliment him on my professional skills and follow-up. I have a file of examples, but still I am not worthy of even a cost of living raise. My new co-worker was hired at the same time I was given a promotion in title only. She managed to negotiate $8,000 more than I am paid, with two years of experience against my six years. The only benefits that I receive are three weeks vacation. No retirement, no health insurance.

My boss also made this important statement: “I don’t believe in giving raises. People should learn to live within their means.”

My fire was ignited. A still small voice inside me is screaming saying, don’t settle, have courage, and as my father would say, go out there and shake those bushes.

I do apologize for the roundabout explanation. Do I stay and accept no pay increase ever, and just accept that maybe someday I can possibly make an increase in salary when my current manager retires in 10-15 years?

Or should I just go for it and test the market and just see what might be on the other side of that door? I will admit, I am old school when it comes to changing employers often. I tend to be very loyal. What makes me stay? I really do enjoy my work and I enjoy finding ways to save money. It’s a challenge for me. But now that I realize there will be very little compensation in my efforts, I feel defeated to say the least. My resume is ready. I’m the only one holding myself back.

Thank you so very much for all the information you have put together for people like me. I greatly appreciate any insider tips to help me navigate my way in a southern good ol’ boys business world.

Nick’s Reply

Your note reveals to me that you are a class act. A bit naive, but classy.

Loyalty goes two ways. If you’re giving your employer your best and he’s failing to recognize your increasing value to his business, then he’s not being loyal to you. I’m not trying to stoke the fire of discontent, but I don’t think you have anything to feel guilty about.

You’ve invested six years of your life in this business, and your boss has acknowledged your value to his customers. Now he’s given you a higher level job to acknowledge the growth of your skills and abilities. You are delivering much more value to him than you were when you were hired. (You’re a walking example of How to Build Value on Your Resume.) But he’s delivering no more value to you.

stingy-bossHis statement that, “I don’t believe in giving raises. People should learn to live within their means” tells you all you need to know about this man: He’s taking advantage of you. My guess is that he’s earning far more today than he was six years ago, in part thanks to you. He’s not sharing that success. And as a boss, he’s not grasping a very simple but important idea about salary: That’s why it’s called compensation.

His statement that hiring a new person is his way of giving you a raise is a ridiculous insult. All I see here is a man with a very small mind who thinks he’s clever. But don’t begrudge your new co-worker her higher salary. Good for her for negotiating it. Her success is no reflection on you. (I discuss how to handle salary disparity in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, pp. 16-17, “Why does he get paid more?”)

I’d take your boss up on his advice – live within your means. And your “new means,” with six years’ experience under your belt, include greater skills and abilities, and a higher value. Find an employer who recognizes that, respects it, and is willing to pay for it.

Keep in mind that searching for a new job always poses a bit of a risk. But I think doing nothing but accepting this man’s edicts is far, far riskier for you. If you stay, in another six years your self-respect and self-confidence will diminish, and you will indeed be worth less.

Your boss is wrong. Your father is right. Do it carefully and intelligently, but find yourself a better employer. (Let me caution you: Don’t look for a job.) Life is short, and as my best mentor told me long ago, “Never work with jerks.”

When you say goodbye to that fool, remember: Never complain, never explain. Do not express your dissatisfaction or explain why you are leaving, except to say, “It’s time for me to move on. Good luck.” (Nothing is gained by venting to an old boss except the venom he will spread about you.) So keep your standards and your head high. Rest assured that this man’s comeuppance will appear to him every morning when he looks in the mirror — while you earn what you’re worth.

When is enough, enough from a selfish boss? How do we know it’s time to say, so long? Have you been abused longer than you should have permitted? What pushed you to finally move on? What are your suggestions for this reader?

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