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Monthly archive for July 2014

WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?

In the July 29, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t feel like doing a solo job interview:

What do you think of an employer that uses a video service such as Montage to conduct its pre-screening of job candidates? I was recently asked to do this and found the experience awful. You don’t get to hear responses played back before submitting them, and there is no conversation with the interviewer.

Nick’s Reply

inflatable_manI think it’s bulltarkus. Any company that asks you to do an interview by yourself on video might as well hire an inflatable doll. If an employer asks you to invest your time to apply for a job while it avoids investing time in you, think twice before doing it.

In fact, I think the decision to interview you by yourself on video was made by an HR doll that was inflated by a very lonely venture capitalist who will end up unsatisfied. It’s all overblown.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Montage — the Talk To The Doll App you’ve encountered — was funded to the tune of $4 million by Baird Venture Partners and — get this — the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. All you need to know is this comment posted to the article: “Very simple technology that will have little value in the future. It’s a groomed Skype with recording abilities.”

Montage is a “solution” that only a puffed-up HR executive with too big a budget could love. Next time, insist that a human show up to interview you.

WTF is up with venture capitalists (VCs), anyway? Didn’t we just cover a bunch of venture embarrassments in the recruiting space? The Stupid Recruiting Apps just keep coming, and you need to watch out for them.

Montage is just one notch up from another new app, Yo. According to The New York Times, Yo raised $1.5 million from Betaworks and other investors. Yo makes a “new smart phone app whose sole purpose is to let people send text messages saying ‘Yo.’”

“People think it’s just an app that says ‘Yo.’ But it’s really not,” said Mr. Arbel, one of Yo’s founders.

Rumor is that several Fortune 500 employers will be notifying job applicants whether or not they were hired with one word: Yo. “We like to call it context-based messaging,” says Arbel. “You understand by the context what is being said.”

Ask The Headhunter readers will be relieved to get any sort of feedback after their job interviews. (See Question 4 in 4 Tips for Fearless Job Hunters.) But, can’t we send one-word Tweets without having an app that sends only one word? Yes?

cenedellaThis is not to suggest there aren’t some seasoned recruiting industry veterans getting funded today. The former CEO of TheLadders, Marc Cenedella, has what’s probably the winning entry in the Totally Useless Apps category — Knozen. Business Insider says it’s “a new iPhone app that lets coworkers rate each other’s personalities anonymously… it’s like Yelp is for restaurants.”

I’d rather have an employment app that’s like OpenTable — it would guarantee me a place at the table! VCs including FirstMark Capital, Lerer Ventures and Greycroft Partners gave Cenedella $2.25 million. And here’s where you — the job seeker — come in. Business Insider reports that, “Eventually, Cenedella wants his app to become a ‘personality API’ that businesses can tap into during the recruitment process.”

Uh-oh — Cenedella is talking tech: API. So’s Yo investor John Borthwick: “over time [Yo] has the potential to become a platform.”

You can’t make this stuff up. “Cenedella feels Knozen is an extension of the work he was doing at The Ladders, a career site that matched executives with job opportunities that paid six-figures.”

And how’s Cenedella’s last start-up faring? Today TheLadders is fighting a consumer class action in Southern New York District Court for breach of contract and deceptive practices. Word is his lawyer dolls are keeping Mr. C. out of breath.

“The Ladders was about showing the intangible qualities of yourself to employers,” says Cenedella. Yah — actually, it was about letting you lie about your salary to employers so they’d interview you for “$100K+ jobs.” (See TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?) Does Knozen somehow guarantee honesty?

How does Cenedella explain that TheLadders is now a Hazbeen while Knozen is new and cool? “I got more interested in how people present themselves when they’re already in a job, not hunting for it.” No shit. One Business Insider comment sums up this start-up: “Stupid app. Nark app.”

I usually limit the levity and try to rise above all this. But when:

  • We start talking about a single word “that over time has the potential to become a platform;”
  • Employers want to snooze while you talk to the hand about a job; and,
  • A discredited recruiting entrepreneur gets over $2 million from venture capitalists…

Then it’s impossible to keep a straight face. We’re talking about a total of about $8 million worth of phony “recruiting technology” that you might face when you apply for a job.

So what’s my advice? Do what my mentor Harry Hamlin taught me: Use your judgment, and do the best you can. Then remember what my other mentor, Gene Webb, said: “Never work with jerks.” And don’t talk to inflatable doll interviewers.

Are new recruiting apps helping you land a job? Who’s become more stupid — venture capitalists, or employers? Want to buy an inflatable doll from me — to send to your interviews?

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4 Tips for Fearless Job Hunters

In the July 22, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, four questions yield four tips to help you overcome some of the daunting obstacles you’ll face in your job search.

  • What should a job seeker always say to the employer at the end of an interview?
  • What should I do about application forms that “require” my salary history?
  • How can I avoid a salary cut?
  • What should I do about employers that won’t give me a decision when they promise to?

Recent questions submitted by readers reinforce the idea that it isn’t the “steps” of job hunting that matter most. It’s the unexpected obstacles. In this week’s edition, I’d like to share four important tips to help you overcome obstacles in your job search. My answers in each case are excerpted from the Fearless Job Hunting PDF books. I hope these tips give you an edge!


FJH-6From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Be The Profitable Hire, pp. 14-15:

Question 1

What should a job seeker always say to the employer at the end of an interview?

When I was job hunting, I always made it clear that I wanted the job. As a hiring manager, I want to ensure that positions are filled by qualified candidates who I know, undisputedly, want the job. Can you discuss the importance of this basic and obvious technique in interviewing that is often overlooked? That is, the applicant must always say to the potential employer, “I want this job.”

Tip 1: Learn to say “I want this job”

There’s a story I tell in my first book about a talented sales executive who interviewed for a job and failed to get the offer. I asked him whether he closed the interview by saying he wanted the job.

He argued with me that making such an explicit statement is awkward and that it suggests the candidate “has no class.” My response: “It’s good you weren’t hired. Failure to say you want the job shows you don’t have enough interest in working for the employer.”

“Of course I wanted the job!” he exclaimed. “The manager knows that! That’s why I’m interviewing!”

No, the manager doesn’t know that. Not unless you tell him. Interesting, isn’t it, how unacceptable some think it is to make an explicit commitment, when that’s exactly what an another person needs to hear.


FJH-4From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, pp. 11-12:

Question 2

What should I do about application forms that “require” my salary history?

Some companies I recently applied to have established online application forms that include the infamous salary question. Many of these forms have the field flagged as “required,“ which prevents you from moving forward without disclosing this information. Can you give some advice on how to handle this situation?

Tip 2: Beat the application form

There may be ways around it, if you’re willing to risk getting the application screener ticked off at you. (Ever wonder who screens those apps? Ever wonder why a company lets some clerk decide who managers will and will not interview? It’s crazier than nuts.)

Such forms don’t distinguish between text and numeric entries. Try entering CONFIDENTIAL instead of a number. If a number is required, I’d use lots of 9’s to make it clear that you’re not misrepresenting your salary, but protesting the field.

You might be considered a smart aleck, and your response inappropriate. So make a frank statement about your intent elsewhere on the application. (There is usually a field for comments.) I believe it’s perfectly legitimate to politely but firmly state that your salary is confidential, and that you prefer to withhold it until a serious mutual interest develops between you and the employer. What better way to get a screener to actually pick up the phone and call you? (That’s the point of applying, right?)


FJH-7From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games, pp. 7-10:

Question 3

How can I avoid a salary cut?

I had an excellent rapport with the CEO who interviewed me. The job is just what I was looking for. It would be a next step in my career. The salary, however, is 20% less than my last job… The CEO asked me to think it over during the weekend and call him next week if I have any ideas that could bring us closer to an agreement. He asked me not to accept the position unless I could be happy for the long haul. How can I avoid a salary cut?

Tip 3: Avoid a salary cut

It’s up to you to show the CEO how the work you will do will pay for that salary boost… Sales doesn’t mean convincing. At its best, sales means showing how you’re going to help the other guy make profit from your work, so he can pay what you’re asking. This simple idea is foreign to many people, yet it’s at the heart of any salary negotiation — and at the heart of any good business transaction.

Avoid a salary cut by showing the employer how you will help him avoid a dip in profits. Make the employer want to pay you more, by showing him how you will help him make more, too. Give the CEO some good reasons to work with you, and you may get some or all of what you want.


FJH-8From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, pp. 15-16:

Question 4

What should I do about employers that won’t give me a decision when they promise to?

Two weeks after my interview, I called to ask if a decision had been made. The HR person said the job was not filled, and that I was a top candidate… I have waited another two weeks without any word. I suppose I have several options: Continue waiting, call the company again to reiterate my interest, or give up and look elsewhere. Which do you recommend? How long is it reasonable to wait “patiently” after interviewing?

Tip 4: Play hardball with slowpoke employers

Never call the personnel office to find out where things stand. After the agreed-upon deadline, call the manager. Whether you talk to the manager or get voice-mail, leave this hardball message: “I’d like to work for you, but I’m considering another job offer.” Say no more. (Note that you have not closed the door to an offer.)

If none of this yields an offer or believable timetable information, then stop investing time and emotion in this deal unless it comes back. Move on.

I know only too well how frustrating this is, and how angry it makes you. The sooner you understand that many employers are too preoccupied to care, and that you’re not going to change their behavior, the sooner you can get on with your life. If you spend your time waiting for someone to make a decision about hiring you, then you give up control of your destiny. This is me playing hardball with you: Stop calling the employer.

There aren’t any “steps” to getting hired. If there were, you’d follow them and you’d have the job you want. Getting an offer is about knowing how to overcome daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Let’s talk about the obstacles you face in your job search!

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The employer is hiding the salary!

In the July 15, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about wasting vacation time interviewing for the wrong jobs:

I applied for a position in another state and got a call right away to set up an interview. I scheduled vacation time for this meeting and it went very well. I liked what I was hearing and my would-be future boss obviously liked what he was hearing so much that he scheduled another interview with the “powers that be” right away. So again I scheduled more vacation time for this interview. This also went very well.

At the end, when it came down to talking salary, all involved were very disappointed. My low end of expected salary was much higher than the high end of what they could offer. It was a good enough fit that the hiring manager e-mailed me a couple of weeks later wondering if there was any way I could come down in my salary expectations. After I turned him down again, he e-mailed me a few days later telling me how much he was disappointed that we couldn’t work things out. I asked him to keep me in mind for other opportunities.

It would save me countless hours of wasted vacation time and interviews if employers were not so secretive about their salary ranges. If I had known the salary range ahead of time, or at least at the end of the first interview, we could have saved each other so much time and disappointment. How do you suggest handling this?

Nick’s Reply

hidden-moneyIf I didn’t know better, I’d think that, as the economy improves, employers are trying to take advantage of job seekers by hiding the money. Perish the thought!

The other explanation is that it’s become a cultural problem. “Oh, we never talk about money… it’s so declasse…” Yah, and it’s also ridiculous.

Would you visit a Tesla salesroom for a $75,000 car if all you can afford is $25,000? Of course not (unless you’re just out for entertainment). Imagine if there were no way to find out the ballpark price of cars in advance. Would you visit a dealership twice, hoping the price might turn out to be right on the third visit? Of course not.

In one of the Fearless Job Hunting books I discuss how to respond to your boss when he offers you a promotion but fails to mention a raise in salary. Is there one? How much? The same method works perfectly before you agree to interview for a new job.


This excerpt is from the section titled, “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games:

“You should have asked about money first. Some might consider that presumptuous, but I don’t. It’s business. Setting expectations early is usually the best way to accomplish your goals. The psychology of this situation can be more complex than you might realize. If you embark on this meeting… without setting an expectation about money up front, you will wind up like a puppy waiting for a treat after you’ve jumped the stick 20 times.

“How to Say It: Keep it short and sweet: ‘What’s the pay like?’

“Those are the only words I’d respond with. It’s not a demand, or even an expectation. It’s a top-of-the-head, disarmingly honest, enthusiastic question that must be answered before any further discussion. Note that you’re not even asking for a specific number… I think the best way to ensure that compensation will be a part of negotiations is to put it on the table from the start.”


This is business. Get an answer before the interview, or move on to the next employer. The only reason employers don’t like to disclose a salary range — like the manager who kept challenging you to lower your salary expectation — is that they want to hook you early in the hopes that you’ll compromise. And, once you’ve gone to multiple interviews, you’ll be more likely to compromise your negotiating position to justify all the time you’ve already invested. It’s an old sales trick.

The manager you interviewed with is just astonishing. He asked you to lower your salary requirement — twice! Why don’t you send him an e-mail now, and explain that you’ve thought about it and you’d love to work on his team. Is there any way he could come up to your required salary?

See what I mean? It sounds kind of awkward and presumptuous for you to do that — right? Yet he did it with no problem. Maybe it’s worth trying. Maybe he’ll realize he can’t find who he needs for the money he wants to spend. (You might want to be ready to explain, How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?)

This is the salary double-standard. The manager wasted your vacation time twice and keeps asking you to to give up even more… for what?

I’m not asking these questions rhetorically. Employers like this need to do a reality check, because they’re a bit nuts and more than a bit unreasonable.

Next time, when an employer hides the salary for a job, ask. Save yourself some grief. (There’s another side to this double standard: Why do companies hide the benefits?)

Have you interviewed for jobs where you didn’t know the salary? Were you surprised later? What do you think would happen if you insisted on knowing the salary range in advance?

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Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried

In the July 8, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader thinks his references ruined his chances at a job offer:

Help! I received a verbal offer of employment, but before the written offer they needed to verify my references through an online survey program. After two weeks, I’ve heard nothing from the employer and they’re not returning e-mails. Is it safe to say that the very people I trusted to provide good references (one that even promoted me) totally sandbagged me, or that they perhaps provided mediocre references? Do I have any legal recourse to obtain a copy of the reference report that the potential employer received? It’s absolutely devastating that some of my co-workers would do this.

Nick’s Reply

Whoa, there! I would not assume your references sandbagged you. There are other issues to consider first.

  • referencesFind out whether the online reference service has even contacted your references. Two weeks might seem like a long time, but employers routinely take months to process job applicants.
  • The problem might be no references at all. If I were one of your references, I’d never fill out such an online form. I’d have no idea who has access to it or how it will be used. I’d also find it offensive. If an employer wants me to invest my time to give you a reference, I expect the hiring manager to invest the time to actually talk to me. If your references declined to participate in an impersonal “check” like this, would you even know? Take care of your references.
  • You have no idea what questions the “survey” asked or whether the questions are valid. This puts you at risk the minute you grant permission for such checks.
  • You have no idea whether the personnel jockeys who “read” the results of these reference checks are qualified to interpret them. If the software merely assigns a score to your references, then the employer may not even have made a judgment. You may have been rejected by software.
  • If your reference used terms the personnel jockeys don’t understand correctly, is there a way built into the system so the reference can clarify what they mean?

I think using a “survey program” to check references is unprofessional, stupid and insulting. It’s like the classic children’s game known as “telephone.” By the time a reference’s opinion is processed through software and other intermediaries, who knows what it means? I’d never use such services myself, and I’d never consent to letting software check my references.

Reference-checking services

This raises another question: Is it legitimate for an employer to use a third-party reference-checking service, even if it’s a human being that calls your references? I think not. I don’t even accept a personnel office checking references. The hiring manager should do it. Nuances can make all the difference. The answer to a question might trigger certain other questions that only the hiring manager would know to ask. A reference check is not a survey; it’s a discussion. It’s an exploration.

Remember: References are judgments, and so is their interpretation. When an employer inserts third parties and middlemen in a judgment process, they’re more likely to make mistakes. Far too much of the hiring process is outsourced; so much, I think, that the decision making is effectively removed from the hiring manager. (See We don’t need no stinking references.)

Headhunters checking references

What about headhunters? I check references on my candidates, and I share the results with my clients. Should my clients, the references and the candidates trust my judgment? Yes — because next to the hiring manager and the hire, I have the biggest vested interest in the hiring decision. No personnel manager, no third-party service and no “online survey” will earn more money when a hire is made than I will. My living hinges on doing it well. I’d better be good at it, and I’d better be a good interpreter of what my client wants and needs.

But, even then, I will have the hiring manager talk directly with references before a hiring decision is made. Why? For the same reason I already shared: I have a lot riding on a prudent hiring decision. I don’t want to have to refund my fee. I want the placement to stick, and I want everyone involved to be happy. I want the manager using his or her judgment to make the final choice.

What should you do now?

  • I’d contact each of the references you provided to the employer. Don’t ask them what they said to the program. Ask them if they even received a reference request, and whether they completed it.
  • In the future, I would explain to employers that your references are busy people who would be happy to talk about you — but you’d never dream of asking them to fill out forms online. “Just as you wanted to talk with me in person, I’d like you to talk with my references in person. I’m sorry, but I can’t ask them to complete a form online.” Why risk irritating a reference when the irritation might be reflected in their comments about you?

My answers to your other questions:

  • It’s possible that it’s just taking the company a long time to process your offer and that everything’s fine. But to let you hang out there, waiting like this, is unprofessional in any case.
  • I doubt the reference company will give you the reports. It’s worse if they do — that means the references are not confidential. Check the agreement you signed (or clicked on!) when you granted permission for reference checks. My guess is you relinquished any rights to see the results. My bigger concern is, what other rights did you grant to the reference company? Are they free to give your reference reports to other subscribers without asking you? (That is, you might interview at another company that has access to your references without even asking you. Surprise!)
  • As for your co-workers delivering bad references: That would be my last concern. If you’re not sure what someone will say about you, then why are you using them as references? Finally, did you give your references a heads-up that they were going to be polled? That’s crucial — they need to be prepared for the request so they can think about how they’re going to respond. (If you need to deal with an undeserved nasty reference, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention.)

The bottom line is, impersonal, automated reference checking can cost you a job. What you think are references may be little more than checked-off responses to canned questions processed by software that gets your references angry.

I’d start by confirming the references were checked. Then I’d ask your references what they thought of this “online reference checking” system. You might get an earful. Finally, take a strong position on how employers check your references.

If you want maximum leverage with an employer, “Don’t provide references — Launch them!” That’s a section of Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition) that explains how to use preemptive references.

A note to employers: Why do you bother interviewing job candidates in person, and then rely on impersonal, indirect reference checks conducted by software? If you’re going to talk to the candidate, then talk to the references, too! Or why not just let the software make the hiring decision? (I take that back. I get the feeling that, lots of the time, software does make the decision.)

Are your references real or software? Do you let employers “poll” your references rather than talk to them? What’s the best way to handle your references?

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