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Monthly archive for March 2015

Say NO to tests prior to an interview

In the March 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about investing time in employment tests before the employer invests time in an interview.

Question

I applied for a Senior Director position with a large healthcare software company. I was “selected” by HR to begin the recruitment process, which starts with “assessment tests” such as aptitude and personality tests. The largely canned e-mail they sent me states that I should block off two hours to complete these examinations, and I was provided with a link and logon information to the assessment website. Mind you, I still have not talked with the hiring manager.

no-to-testsI don’t really have two hours to perform these silly tasks, though the job itself does sound challenging from the description provided. Is there anything I can do to bypass this process, or should I just run and hide from this firm? How can I be sure the third party contracted to perform the assessment isn’t selling or trading my information with other employers without my knowledge? Thanks very much, I am a big fan of your blog.

Nick’s Reply

Glad you enjoy the blog — thanks for your kind words.

My approach to situations like this is not to say no. It’s to set terms you are comfortable with, and then let the employer say yes or no. If your terms are prudent and reasonable, and they say no, then you know something funky is up — and that you’ve really lost nothing in the bargain. You merely avoided wasting your time.

But I don’t think it bodes well when a company wants you to do tricks to get an interview, so you’re justified to be concerned. What I’m about to suggest will likely result in your being rejected from further consideration by this company.

  • I’d tell HR you’d be happy to comply with their request, but your busy schedule precludes you from filling out forms and going through administrative processing (tests) until you and the manager “establish good reasons to pursue the possibility of working together.” In other words…
  • No testing prior to meeting the hiring manager. Why invest your valuable time if they won’t invest theirs?
  • No testing with third-party firms unless they provide in writing (a) a disclosure that defines who will have access to your results, (b) a confidentiality statement (signed by the testing firm and the employer) stating that they will not disclose your results to anyone without your express written permission, (c) credentials of the test administrators and those who will score and interpret the results, and (d) written assurance that they will provide you with results and interpretation of your tests.

The last word about why pre-employment tests should concern you is this article by Dr. Erica Klein: An Insider’s Biggest Beefs With Employment Testing.

Now let’s get down to business. You’re interested in the job you read about, so pursue it on your own terms.

I’d contact the office of the person you’d be reporting to if hired. (See Should I accept HR’s rejection letter? for some tips.) I’d politely explain that you’re glad the company wants to interview you, and that you’d be happy to come in to meet and talk. If you mutually decide to continue discussions about a job, you’d be happy to take tests and suffer through the HR gauntlet.

How to Say It
“I get a lot of requests to do such tests but I judge how serious an employer is about me as a candidate by whether they will invest the time to meet me first. I always go the extra mile for a company that demonstrates that level of interest. In fact, if you have time to meet, I’ll be glad to prepare a plan for how I’d do the job — and we can discuss it.”

I’m sure you get the idea. The point is to say this to the hiring manager — not to HR. If you need help with that last part, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, particularly the sections, “How can I demonstrate my value?” and “Are you an A or B candidate?”, pp. 8-11. I think that offering to arrive with a business plan in hand will reveal whether the manager is on the ball. How could any good manager not be intrigued?

As you’ve already surmised, the odds are extremely high that the HR department really doesn’t know whether you are a viable candidate. They’d rather spend money on tests to filter you in or out, than spend the hiring manager’s time to interview you to make a judgment. So, I don’t think you have much to lose. At this juncture, you’re probably not a serious contender. If you were, they’d handle you with kid gloves and they’d be seducing you rather than harassing you.

Of course, the tests might be useful, interesting and valid tools to judge your skills. After you talk with the manager.

Your last concern is valid. Those third-party testing companies invariably own your results. The papers you sign usually give them the right to share your results with anyone they want to, including some other company that obtains your resume — and looks up your test results because it’s already the testing firm’s client. You could get rejected without ever knowing why.

Be careful. Use your judgment. Be polite, be professional, but don’t be a sucker. Expect the kind of professional treatment and consideration that you give others.

Have employment tests taken the place of screening interviews? Is this just another way to save HR time? More important — does this extreme testing practice waste your time or help you get interviews?

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How to fix a bad reference the hard way

In the March 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader needs to deal with an old boss who’s probably also a bad reference.

Question

bad-referenceI just had an interview where I followed your advice in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6. I took control, offered to show how I’d do the job, and demonstrated to the manager how I’d take care of one of her most perplexing problems. She loved it, and I think I’m going to get an offer. Sounds great, right?

It is, except for one problem. This manager — let’s call her Ann — knows one of my past employers quite well (let’s call her Brenda). Brenda probably will not give me a glowing reference. I suspect Ann will contact Brenda. How do I handle this delicate situation?

Nick’s Reply

I’m glad to hear Book 6 got you so far! References are a very valuable asset — learn to manage them all the time, not just when they turn into trouble. (See Take Care Of Your References.) Now let’s deal with your problem.

Even if the reference is unfavorable, a smart employer will rely first on her own judgment — and ask you to explain your old boss’s comments. So, anticipate the question and be prepared with a good answer that is honest and not defensive.

Then there’s the tactical approach. Tell the new manager (Ann) what your old boss (Brenda) is likely to say before they talk. Since you cannot block that conversation, own up to the facts and impress Ann with your candor.

The Hard Way
When confronted with a problem like this, I like to take it head-on. Talk to your old boss! It’s the hardest way, and it will force you to develop the best solution. I think it’s the best way. If you leave this to chance, you will have no idea what the outcome might be.

Call your old boss before Ann does. Surprise Brenda and ask her permission to list her as a reference. You might have to swallow your pride, but nothing of value comes easily.

If she agrees, fess up that you believe that, when you worked together, Brenda may not have seen you in the most positive light.

How to Say It
“I know I could have been a better employee, and I could have done better at XYZ. Since then, I’ve beefed up my skills considerably. [Explain how, but keep it brief.]”

This may allow Brenda to blow off any steam about you before she speaks with Ann, and give you a chance to change her mind a bit. If Brenda responds candidly, pose this magic question:

“May I ask you for some advice? I really want continue to get better at what I do. What advice would you give me about improving my performance or anything else about how I do my work?”

Profit from The Outcome
Then be quiet and listen. If your old boss blasts you, or explains that you’re better off not listing her as a reference, then you know what’s coming when the new boss contacts her. Now you’ll have to use the tactical approach I mentioned above: Prepare Ann for what Brenda will say, and explain yourself. You will have profited from the call.

On the other hand, your candid phone call to Brenda might help her see you in a new, more positive light. Discussing how you’ve changed and improved might give her the words she needs to soften the reference when she talks to Ann. Now you’ve really profited from the hard way.

This might work. It might not. I just believe in facing problems like this head-on, and in trying to make the best of them.

Do you see what we’re doing here? We’re trying to influence Brenda to help the new, improved you. In the process, you’re also learning how this may play out so you can better manage your discussion with Ann.

Whatever happens when you talk with Brenda, you’ll learn something, and you’ll be better off for knowing. Be polite. Be respectful. Do not argue. Don’t be defensive. Listen carefully and try to get some good advice. Say thanks and move on.

Congratulations on impressing the new manager. Now get your old boss on board — or mitigate the damage she might cause.

There are other very powerful ways to use references and to parry bad ones. I discuss these in lots of how-to detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “Don’t provide references — Launch them!” and “The preemptive reference,” pp. 23-25.

Can this reader avert disaster? Have you ever turned around a bad reference? Are my tactics risky?

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My boss won’t deliver a promised raise

In the March 10, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that the boss laughs off a “small” raise.

Question

underpaid-crumbI work for the CFO of a huge company and I am grossly underpaid. When I brought this to his attention (several times) he finally thanked me and laughed it off, saying that I was slightly underpaid. He promised to work with HR to get me the small difference. That was in January. We are now in March. He even pointed out it wouldn’t really affect the budget for the year. It’s so small — yet he has no time to follow up on the paper work. I’ve been in contact with the compensation manager, who said they are waiting on my boss to make the next move. My boss keeps saying “it’s in process.” A “slight increase” to me is enough to cover gas for the week. I’m sure if he’s measuring it up to his $500k salary, it would be considered slight. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve been in your situation myself, and I rationalized that “these things take time.” They do, but it’s incumbent on your boss to keep you apprised of progress — and to get it done. Or why is he the boss?

It sounds to me like he’s not on the same page about this, no matter what he says.

I see two disconnects:

  • You think you’re grossly underpaid, but he thinks the difference is slight.
  • He says he’s taking care of it, but the comp manager says that’s not true.

These are not good signs. You must decide whether these are signals that you need to be working for a company and boss that value you the way you think you should be valued.

I’m not suggesting you should stir up trouble. If you press this, you could get under your boss’s skin. Because this seems to be a trifling matter to a man who’s paid handsomely, it might be more of an irritation than he thinks you’re worth. In other words, it might cost you your job — and I don’t want to contribute to that if it’s not worth it to you.

But if your boss doesn’t come through with a reasonable increase, you should perhaps hedge your bet by having other options ready to go.

When I went through this once, I waited and negotiated for months. Nothing came out of it. But I finally lined up another job elsewhere. When my boss once again delayed a resolution, thinking he’d just keep me hanging, I submitted my resignation — and I let him figure out what happened.

Nothing makes you more powerful; nothing lets you make intelligent choices; and nothing keeps your spirits up — like having a good option B when option A doesn’t work out.

Because my option B was ready to go, I didn’t even vent my spleen on my jerk of a boss when I quit. I just smiled and moved on. It wasn’t worth explaining it to him because, thanks to the existence of option B, I really didn’t care and mentally I had already moved on! If I wasn’t worth an honest effort at correcting my salary, then my employer wasn’t worth a worry on my way out the door.

We came across a more extreme example of your problem last year: What to say to a stingy boss. While your boss doesn’t sound as bad, you’re still stuck without a raise after a lot of talk. Three months is plenty of time to be patient.

My advice: Even if you don’t need to use it, get yourself an option B. It will free you to look at this in an entirely different way. It’s not good to be under someone else’s thumb with nowhere to go.

For your next job, try this approach to compensation: How to decide how much you want.

How long would you wait for your boss to do what he promised? What else could this reader do?

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Should I take a big counter-offer?

In the March 3, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader considers a big, fat counter-offer not to leave a job she hates for one she really wants.

Question

counter-trapI work in the financial services industry. For a year and a half, I was promised project management work but never got it. Recently I landed another job in another company — something I’ve wanted for two years. But it comes with a $6k pay cut. Then my boss made me a counter-offer, promising everything he had promised before, plus an $18k raise and a promotion to Project Manager.

It’s a big pay difference and a major promotion, and that’s the only reason I’m considering it. I could live off the lower salary with some lifestyle changes, in exchange for having a job I really want. The reason I was looking in the first place was that I am miserable at my job. It’s the wrong culture in the wrong industry working for a narcissist boss. Of course, the extra money would really help. Please help me figure this out.

Nick’s Reply

Far be it from me to tell anyone to reject an extra $18k. But I will tell you what every good headhunter knows: A counter-offer usually has hidden strings.

I discuss this at length in “What’s the truth about counter-offers” in Parting Company | How to leave your job, (pp. 50-52):

“To a company, a counter-offer is sometimes a purely pragmatic tactic that enables it to sever a relationship on its own terms and in its own good time. That is, companies use counter-offers defensively. A company would rather have a replacement employee lined up, and a counter-offer buys time. The extra salary offered may be charged against the employee’s next raise, and the work load may increase. The employee is a marked man (or woman).”

In other words, there’s a good chance your boss is keeping you until he can find a replacement.

Of course, I could be wrong. Your boss may have seen the light. Even so, you must ask yourself, why didn’t your boss do the right thing before you announced you’re leaving?

You refer to lots of things that make you unhappy with your employer. The extra money would be nice — and I’d never blame you for taking it. But if this deal is designed to cover the job until they find someone new for less money, will you be on the street soon without another job waiting for you?

Again: Why didn’t your boss do this before you signaled you were leaving? Will any of the other problems you describe be corrected by this counter-offer?

I don’t get the feeling you went looking for a new employer because you wanted your boss to counter. But if you had, here’s the strategic advice I’d have given you, also from Parting Company:

“Before considering a job change, ask yourself if you would consider a counter-offer. If the answer is yes, identify exactly what changes you would want in your current employment and compensation and try to negotiate these with your boss before you step out. If there’s nothing you really want, then you’re ready to move on. (See “Learn to Move On,” p. 31.)”

It seems you already tried this, when you asked your boss for a job change and a raise. I know this is a very loaded question, but, why didn’t he give you what you asked for when you asked for it?

I think you know what you should do. The hard part will be deciding whether you can forgo all that extra money to have a job you really want, working with people you respect, in a healthier environment.

These are all things to consider. I wish you the best.

Would you take the counter-offer, or the job you really want? Am I too heavy handed with the risks of counter-offers? Have you ever gotten burned by one — or has a counter paid off for you? More important, what other factors would you advise this reader to consider?

(The reader who submitted this question has let me know what she decided to do and why. I’ll post the outcome as the discussion takes off! UPDATE: After letting our community post comments for a while… I’ve posted what the reader told me she decided to do, in bold down below in the comments… along with some additional information that she shared about her boss… Gotta give her credit for handling this so well!)

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