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Monthly archive for May 2014

Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1)

In the May 27, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager explains how she hires by respecting job applicants:

I’m a longtime reader. Your advice has helped me in my job searches and salary negotiations. I recently landed a great job with a great salary, where I have done very well. Well enough, in fact, that I’m now the one in charge of my team, and we are hiring! So now I’m on the other side of the job-search equation.

Since I take your advice to heart, as I conduct my candidate search I am:

  • respectNot relying on job boards. I am pursuing local networking opportunities.
  • Treating my applicants with courtesy by replying promptly and keeping them updated.
  • Communicating clearly about our interviewing procedures.
  • Trying to be respectful of my applicants’ time, and not requiring multi-day interview processes.

The one place where I’m a little stuck is about salary history. As an applicant, I would never give away my current or past salary. When pressed about my expectations, I hedge with statements like, “I hope to be paid a market salary commensurate with my skills.”

But as a hiring manager working with a limited budget, it seems it’s my responsibility to play hardball and try to get the best candidate within our price range.

Do you consider it unethical to press for salary history? Is there any happy medium? Is there any way I can determine quickly if someone is out of my range, without asking them to compromise themselves? Do you have any advice for a well-intentioned member of “the other side?”

Best regards,
Annie

Nick’s Reply

Your four bulleted hiring techniques speak for themselves. Unfortunately, too many managers and companies fail to follow your simple rules. That means you have less competition — good applicants will recognize a good manager.

I’m glad to hear my salary strategy (Keep Your Salary Under Wraps) has been helpful to you as a job hunter. I think it can be just as helpful now that you’re hiring. Please consider approaching this the same way.

If you have a budget for a job, what’s wrong with stating a compensation range to your serious candidates? (That is, the ones you’re going to interview.) It’s easy enough to say, “Just to be clear, our comp range is $X to $Y, and if we’re going to go to $Y, you’d have to demonstrate how you’re going to contribute to our profitability to justify it.”

You don’t need to announce this in advance, but I’d make a phone call to each of your best candidates when you have identified them. I think they will appreciate it. “I’m disclosing this to you because I don’t want you to interview unless you’d be happy with an offer in that range. I like to be above board.”

As long as you stay within your budget, I don’t think you’ll have a problem. You have a clear obligation to your company to stay within budget – and I think this accomplishes that.

“Hardball” is actually just honest ball. I don’t think you’re going to lose a great candidate by being honest. Anyone outside your range is, well, outside your range. And if someone outside your range is honestly willing to interview for less than they’re making or have been making, that’s up to them.

Make sense? Of course, knowing someone’s salary history doesn’t help you decide what to offer them. What other employers paid is their judgment, within their business. Value is relative, and you must make your own judgment for your own business. It seems to me you’re already okay with this, and that gives you an edge over your competitors.

I think it’s always best for employer and applicant to agree on the general salary range they’re both comfortable with before they start talking seriously. The best way to ensure this is for the employer to state the range of salary for the job. This does not mean you must let yourself be swayed to the high end if you don’t think the candidate is worth that much — which is why I suggest making that clear from the outset. (Job applicants can make their case by following the methods in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.) Of course, you should phrase this in a way that’s right for you — my words are mine, not yours!

My highest compliments for demonstrating such high standards in your hiring practices. You’re a manager who respects job applicants. I wish more managers would follow your simple rules.

The manager follows up

Hi, Nick,

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I think your suggested script is a good one. As with all aspects of salary negotiations, I’ll just have to practice saying it out loud about a hundred times, until I don’t cringe anymore when it comes out of my mouth. Never was there a thing more uncomfortable than talking salaries!

It’s nice to hear that you think I’m on a good track. I’m absolutely convinced that this approach is getting me better candidates than LinkedIn and Craigslist have gotten us. But it has also given me a new respect for HR departments and recruiters! This process takes an incredible amount of work! I’m so focused on “people” stuff right now that I couldn’t write a decent line of code if I tried.

Thank you again, I was very touched to hear back from you.

Annie

Nick’s Reply

It makes my day when I hear from a manager as thoughtful as you. I’m happy to help if I can.

I know recruiting and hiring are incredibly time consuming. It’s why I tell managers, expect to invest at least 30% of your time doing it — or you’re not being a good manager. Done right, this investment pays off handsomely. You’ll never be as productive as you can be if you don’t have great employees doing the work. A manager’s #1 task is hiring great people to get the job done. If more managers approached it this way, I think turnover would be much lower, productivity higher, attendance higher, and promotion from within a better bet. (To further enhance your success rate, hand-walk the offer once you’ve made it.) Good hiring makes strong companies.

Please let me know how this works out for you..

Coming next week…

Manager Annie tells us how this all turned out!

What can managers do to show respect to job applicants? If you’re on the hiring side, what do you do? What does it mean to hire smart today?

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Too rich to land a job?

In the May 20, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader with a trust fund just can’t get it in gear:

I got a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature three months ago, and I’ve been unemployed ever since. The only job that my Ph.D. would lead to directly is an academic one, but I was so tired of the academic world that I had to do something else.

trust_fund_babyI come from a wealthy family, and they’ve set up a trust fund for me, so I’ve had enough money to survive on, but just barely. I thought I’d use this time to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. And guess what? I haven’t. I thought at first that I’d like to be a freelance journalist writing commentary on current events and the arts. But it’s very difficult to break into that business.

So I’ve decided I’d like to get a normal job. My family really wants me to get a life, and they’ve got a lot of money, so they’d pay for any kind of training. And so that leads me to my question here: What kind of training is the most likely to get me a middle-class job as soon as it’s done?

Personality factors are important here. I’m intelligent and hard-working, but I don’t really have people skills. I can usually be polite with people, but not friendly. I’m not good at small talk. At a recent dinner, I was talking over a career in financial planning with my family, but they said that I don’t have the people skills for it. They’re probably right. I need anonymity. I would not be good at anything that required a great deal of schmoozing.

Probably a lot of the other typical job tracks for humanities people, like editing and publishing, would require a lot of schmoozing, too, so you’ll understand why I’m leery of them.

So, what would you recommend for a person like me?

Nick’s Reply

Your candor is a good sign, so I’m going to be extremely blunt with you. Sorry if I sound like I’m punishing you for your family’s wealth. I’m not. It’s clear that you could not live on your trust fund anyway, but I want to help you get past it, because I think your money is stopping you from moving on with your life.

You need to work. Any kind of work. If you didn’t have the little bit of money your trust fund provides, you’d be tackling any job you could get to pay the rent. The outcome of that would be a process of exploration and elimination. You’d quickly learn what you like and don’t like — at a very fundamental level — about the jobs you’ve taken.

Get a job

Flip burgers. Wash floors. Wait tables. Work on a production line. Do some typing. Answer phones. Crunch spreadsheets. Anything. I’m not suggesting that any of those might turn into a career, but rather that the experience of working would illuminate life and work in general for you. In any of the jobs I’ve listed, you’d be part of a larger company that encompasses all kinds of work and jobs. (For a good start, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search.)

For example, crunching spreadsheets at a public relations company could illuminate editorial, marketing, finance and other kinds of functions. Working a production line could teach you a lot about working with your hands. Like a rock band once sang, life is a minestrone. There’s a lot in that bowl, if you take time to look, and it’s all quite filling.

Get to know everyday people

Once you start working at any job, you will also meet your biggest challenge: dealing with people. Forget about anonymity. It’s not an option, especially at your age. If you let your lack of “people skills” be the excuse for not doing certain kinds of jobs, you will die half a person. You need to get close to other people if you want to find yourself. Trust me: You are one of us, and us has nothing to do with wealth.

Know where I developed my people skills? While I was in college — a shy, introverted, relatively asocial kid — I worked summers and holidays in a factory. My co-workers had third-grade educations, fast cars, long knives, drug habits, crazy girlfriends, very spicy food in their lunch bags, mean streaks, happy-go-lucky attitudes, and very high standards about who they called their friends.

It took a while, but I finally lost my holier-and-more-educated-than-thou attitude and learned to pay attention to the people around me. By the end of my first summer, I had friends who would take a bullet for me. (I mean that literally.) I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud to be accepted by other people. I graduated from that factory with a lot of people skills. And I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do. I passed many hours doing menial, repetitive work fantasizing about things that interested me. That’s how I found some direction — by working very hard, getting lost, and taking time to think while I collected a paycheck.

Start your life

Your bit of money is killing you. I’m not suggesting you throw it in the river. I’m suggesting that you get a job — any job. Learn to work with people, no matter how awkward it feels. (Don’t worry. If you’re rude or inattentive, they will slap you into shape, literally or figuratively. We all need that sometimes. I know I did.)

Your experiences with others will bring your real interests and motivations to the surface. And that will drive your choices. If you come up with something you’d really like to do, don’t do it. Make yourself wait until you’ve had a chance to change your mind. If you’re still focused on that one thing, then go do it. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to move on to something else. (For help getting in the door, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention.)

The first rule: Make choices now. No sitting around trying to figure things out. No waiting for your family to bless your choices. Work.

Second rule: Be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. But don’t feel you must explain it to anyone, least of all your family.

This is not career counseling. It’s life. Don’t let “the world of opportunity” bog you down. Don’t be too rich to land a job. The opportunity you need is to see yourself work with other people. You’ll learn a lot about yourself — no matter what the work is. Sometimes menial work is better. Sometimes you can learn more by working with laborers who are closer to “work” than white-collar “professionals” are.

Please start your life now. Don’t let yourself develop a disdain for the world that is matched only by your fear.

By the way. I, too, was a Comp. Lit. major for a while. The result: Today, my friends are puzzled by my reading habits, but they have no idea that Turgenev, Nabokov, Dickens and Flaubert have influenced my writing style as much as Lenny Bruce. :-)

Never let any of this boggle your mind or make you despair. A fine mind can have a good time with any kind of work if it stops worrying. No more education — at least not yet. The best training for you is on-the-job-training. Go work anywhere to start. But go work.

(Beware of career counseling. For many, its sedative properties can be lethal. To get on your own path, try the short version of Pursue Companies, Not Jobs. The full version is in one of my PDF books.)

Did you discover yourself (and other people) through an unlikely job? What kinds of work have you done that shaped your work ethic? Which job taught you how to be a successful human?

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Desperate: No degree, can’t get interviews!

In the May 13, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says she can’t get interviews:

My husband works for a recruiting firm and suggested I reach out to you. I have been actively searching for a job for almost two years. I built my own firm from nothing to one of the largest in my city and sold it for a modest profit, and I was named a finalist for a local Business Woman of The Year award.need-job

I received one call for an interview a couple of weeks back, but was passed by for the position because I do not have a college degree. I usually don’t get a call, just a letter in the mail or an e-mail stating that I was not selected for an interview because I do not hold the basic requirement needed for the position: a bachelor’s degree.

I have explained this to my husband several times, but he thinks I am being lazy and refusing to work. I have attached my resume for you to review. If you can shed some light on why I am not getting interviews, I would greatly appreciate it. However, if the reason is simply because I do not have the bachelor’s degree, please, let’s not waste an hour of each other’s time, or $225 for a Talk to Nick session that I will have to ask my husband for. That will create yet another fight in my household. I look forward to your response.

Nick’s Reply

I’m not contributing to a domestic fight. I accept Talk to Nick clients only when I’m sure I can help. (I judge this by asking for a 50-word description of what exactly you need help with and how you think I can help. It must be very specific.) I don’t take clients who start out worrying it’s a waste of time or money.

I looked at your resume. Your experience is stellar. But no one’s going to give you a job, because nowadays they’re not giving them out. Even to people with college degrees. You’re not getting interviews because you’re doing it all wrong. So I’ll offer you some advice because it seems your husband is a fan, and I love my fans even if I don’t know them.

(I suggest you read my PDF books, How Can I Change Careers? and Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection. Together they cost far less than the $225 for an hour’s consultation on the phone with me. Each suggestion below comes from one of the books.)

  • Pick 4 companies you’d love to work for. Forget about whether they have jobs open. Research them in depth. What’s their problem? What challenges do they face? Then prepare a brief business plan about how you’d help them. Don’t send it. (See How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out as the profitable hire to an employer.)
  • Track down a handful of people who are somehow connected to each company — employees, customers, vendors, lawyers, bankers, consultants. Call them and explain you’re considering doing business with the company and you’re doing research. (If you’re considering a job at the company, this is a true statement.) Can they give you some insight about the business and the people who run it? (Also in How Can I Change Careers? — the section about how to network.)
  • One of those conversations will be good enough that you can ask for an introduction to the head of the department you want to work for. DO NOT ask for a job lead. People hate that. Instead, say, “Is there someone, preferably a manager in the X department, that you’d suggest I talk with to learn more?” (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door Way Ahead of Your Competition.)
  • Contact the manager that you’re referred to. Say that so-and-so suggested you call — and that you have a business proposition about X that you’d like to discuss. Briefly outline what’s in your biz plan, but not all of it. Request an in-person meeting. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)
  • Present your ideas in the meeting. (How Can I Change Careers? shows you how to “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume” — which in turn serves as the script for your in-person presentation.)

That’s how you’ll get a job, college degree or not. Managers sometimes create jobs for people who can show how they’ll drop profit to the bottom line. But managers don’t figure that out from resumes. You must present a plan.

One last piece of advice. Stop fooling around, pretending a degree doesn’t matter. Go get a degree. I don’t care how old you are. I recently met a guy who is 62 who just completed his B. A. A degree is not necessary, but it matters. If you think not having one is hindering you, find the time and earn it.

Job hunting and hiring are the two biggest rackets in America. Employers don’t know how to hire, and job seekers follow silly rules that don’t work. It’s why America is unemployed, degrees or not.

You can tell your husband you got a bunch of advice from me for free. Don’t have any more fights. I wish you the best.

What does it take to get a job interview nowadays? Do you need a degree? Or, what are employers really buying when they demand a degree? 

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I’m still waiting for the job offer!

In the May 6, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders what to do while waiting for the job offer:

I went in for an interview and all went great. I met with the personnel manager and the division manager. They called me back in a few days later to meet with the regional manager since he was in town. It also went well. The discussion was more general and laid back. I went back today to take a test.

I am trying not to get too fired up about all of this. But, I have to think that no company would subject an applicant to all of this without leaning toward the hire. When should I expect an offer? I figure that there can’t be much more for me to do than meet with some more top-level managers and take a personality test. Do you agree?

Nick’s Reply

Great expectations can leave you high and dry.

“I have to think that no company would subject an applicant to all of this without leaning toward the hire.”

Never, ever, ever get into this mindset. This is the point where people start to build unreal expectations because they feel they’ve “invested so much.” They’ve been invited back for lots of interviews. Everything “has gone well.” They start to believe the employer is now “heavily invested,” too. They wonder not whether an offer will be made, but how long it will take. The outcome is obvious, right?

Absolutely not.

Twaitinghe truth is, you have no idea what a company’s threshold is for taking action. Some companies will string you along — often unwittingly — for months, then take no action at all. As a headhunter who has dealt with more interviews than any job hunter ever will, I can tell you that most job opportunities go south.

In my experience, there is little correlation between how well the interviews have gone and whether a hire is made. Of course, when the outcome is positive, we can look back and see that everything clicked in the interviews. But much more often we’re left scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong.

For reasons that are usually clear as mud, a seemingly positive interview process often stalls and dies. You never find out why. And you couldn’t have predicted the result.

So what is my point? Manage your expectations so you can manage your job search. Don’t get sucked into foregone conclusions, because that will lead you to waste your time. While you’re counting on that “sure thing,” you’re missing other opportunities. There is no sure thing.

You should do your best with every job opportunity. Follow the process through to the end. Remain motivated and enthusiastic. Ask for feedback as you proceed. (That’s legit and important.)


What can you do to optimize your chances for a job offer? See “Playing hardball with slowpoke employers”, pp. 15-16, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.

Excerpt:
How to Say It: What should you say to the hiring manager before your job interview ends? This question baffles job hunters, but the answer is simple. Say: “I want this job.” Just four words. If the employer is on the fence, expressing this simple commitment can lead to a job offer.

You’ll find this and more tips in Play Hardball With Employers:

  • Do they owe me feedback after an interview?
  • What’s the secret to the thank-you note?
  • How can I push the hiring decision?
  • Thanks is not enough
  • Get an answer at the end of the interview

But don’t build expectations that distract you from your larger goal. Always have another opportunity on deck because most deals go south.

Don’t let my advice discourage you. Use it to strengthen your strategy. Motivation and a positive attitude are crucial. But never start believing, “I can tell they’re going to make me an offer.” Because you can’t. While you’re waiting for that offer, set the next opportunity in motion. That’s the only way to control your job search.

Where’s the job offer? What holds up job offers? How have you dealt with delays? Is there anything you can do to force a decision to hire you?

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