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Monthly archive for January 2016

Do employers haze new college grads in interviews?

In the January 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about where parents fit in the career equation.

Question

I’m a senior at a big state university in the midwest. I have applied for many jobs and gotten a few leads, and some employers are inquiring via my LinkedIn account. The problem is that some of these employers require me to take silly numerical assessments that have nothing to do with the job, and I have to invest time in them before I can even have an interview.

hazing1

Recently I was sitting before a group of managers and asked to use mental math on a series of frivolous arithmetical questions. I offered very close approximations, but was prompted to “be more specific.” I stopped and said, “Look, if I’m making decisions on the fly, I’m estimating. I’m not a human calculator. I’m here to do my job well, and this isn’t a tool I’ll utilize.”

I was escorted out. Did I make the right move? Are some interviews just a form of hazing that we are supposed to tolerate just because we’re applying for our first jobs?

Nick’s Reply

I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, but I think you made the right move. I think some people would disagree, and suggest that you take whatever employers shovel at you, because you’re a new grad and need to get a job.

Sadly, this sort of new-grad employment hazing is common. The attitude among some employers seems to be that, since you have no real experience they can judge you on, anything goes. Why are manhole covers round? How many barbers do you think are in Chicago? What animal would you be, if you could be any animal? Or, do some quick math out loud so we can see whether you’re smart. (It gets worse. See Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1 – #5.)

These are excuses for employers’ failure to learn how to assess whether a person can do a job. (See What is the single best interview question ever?) I think your instinct is correct. These are not legitimate interview practices. HR buys these lame “screening tools” from “HR consultancies” run by failed HR people. It’s really stupid. I compliment you for coming out of school and questioning what seems to be standard procedure that isn’t legit, smart, or acceptable.

Such ridiculous screening practices tell you a lot about an employer and what it would be like to work there. Smarter companies are coming to realize how this kind of nonsense reflects on them. Google, for example, recently announced it would stop using silly questions to assess candidates, because the company did an outcomes analysis and found such questions don’t predict an employee’s success. (See 4 HR Practices That Kill ROI.) More employers need to reconsider their screening methods.

As I mentioned above, you’ll find that many people will advise you to shut up and play ball, and to never question the people who control the job offer. But I’ll tell you to never hesitate to judge the managers who are interviewing you.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, (p. 28) I offer this advice:

Judge a manager’s sincerity about working together. Does she want to hire you because you can add something to the way the work is done, or does she want another interchangeable part for her machine? Listen carefully to what the manager says. You will hear either a mind interacting with your own, or a machine waiting to grind you up.

Too often, in an effort to impress a manager, candidates calculate their answers so they’ll add up for the manager — but not for the candidate. Consider that if you need to calculate your answers this way, there’s a good chance you’re playing to the interview rather than setting the stage for an honest, accurate judgment.

What would happen if you answered simply, directly and honestly? Perhaps the manager would not like your answer. Perhaps your answer would cost you the job. That’s good. Because, do you want to work with a manager who can’t deal with you?

It’s your choice. Every question a manager asks tells you something about the manager. Every reaction to your answers tells you something, too. The manager is judging you. Don’t forget to judge the manager.

Consider that out of dozens of interviews, only one might turn into a job offer. Likewise, out of dozens of employers, only one might behave professionally enough to be worth working for. It’s up to you to use your good sense to judge who’s worthy. The idea that you should sit back and take whatever an interviewer throws at you — that’s about as reasonable as you tossing silly questions at employers and expecting them not to kick you out of interviews. Hazing, whether practiced by college fraternities and other social groups, or by employers, reveals that the group has nothing better to offer than a pathetic demonstration of its own insecurity.

If you’re going to be shown the door — like you were — let it be because you have higher standards than an employer whose idea of interviewing is silly hazing. (See Raise your standards.)

When you find a good employer, you’ll know it. There are some excellent ones out there who will engage you in discussion about the work they want done, and who know how to assess your abilities respectfully and intelligently. They’re worth looking for. Meantime, remember that stupid interview questions are sometimes a sign of stupid employers. Move on.

How do you handle silly interview questions? (Maybe you don’t think the example in this Q&A was so silly?) Do you have ways of helping keep interviews on track? Have you ever been rejected because you couldn’t explain what animal you would be, if you could be any animal?

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Protect yourself from exploding job offers

I don’t know where they’re all coming from: bogus job offers extended by employers, then withdrawn after the job applicant has relied on the offer and quit their old job. In the January 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is smart enough to ask how to avoid being left without a job at all.

Question

I’m on contract at a job through a staffing firm. I have found a better position somewhere else. The new company offered the job and I accepted. I’m trying to do this right and to protect myself, so I have two questions:

First, to whom should I direct my resignation letter? To my recruiter at the staffing firm, or to the manager of the department where I’m actually working (at my recruiter’s client)?

bombSecond, I’m scared of telling whoever I’m supposed to tell, and later receiving a letter from my future employer saying that they decided to close the position for internal reasons or something like that. I don’t want to be left without any job at all.

Help ASAP please.

Nick’s Reply

How you quit your job matters as much as what new job you take. Let’s take your questions one at a time.

How to quit

If you’re working on contract through a staffing firm, your employer is the staffing firm. You need to tell them. Of course, the right thing to do is to also tell your manager — but I think it’s best to notify your actual employer first. They should have a chance to limit their exposure by offering a replacement worker to your manager, and your manager should hear it from them.

Here’s a tip from Parting Company: How to leave your job about what to say in a resignation letter, from the section, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” p. 46:

The letter should be just one sentence because — sorry to be the cynic, but careers and lives might hinge on this — it can come back and bite you legally if it says anything more.

“I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with Acme Corporation.”

I won’t get into all the things that might go wrong if you say more, but I detail the risks in the book.

Submitting your resignation is the easy part. The recruiter at your staffing firm isn’t going to be happy that you’re quitting. What will you do when the recruiter, your boss, or your co-workers press you for details? Here’s another tip from the book (p. 47):

Keep your future to yourself. It’s nice to share your new address with your buddies. But if someone thinks your new employer is a competitor, suddenly that comfortable two-week notice can turn into an immediate departure. Or worse.

How to Say It
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to disclose my new employer until I’m actually working there.”

That’s right: Disclosing where you’re going is very risky. Don’t do it.

How to avoid job offers that blow up in your face

As for being scared that the future employer may rescind — or never finalize — the offer, that can always happen. It’s a risk you take when you accept any job, because — especially in a jurisdiction where employment is “at will” — an employer can fire you at any time for any reason or no reason. But you can minimize the risk when you accept a job:

1. Make sure you have the new offer in writing. An oral offer is not good enough to risk your old job.

2. Beware of staffing firms. Is the offer from another staffing firm or an actual company where you’d be working? If it’s a staffing firm, I think your risk is bigger because recruiters will sometimes drop you if they turn up a better applicant for the client — right in the middle of the hiring process, and even after commitments are made. Likewise, the client can suddenly change its mind, and you wind up on the street. Because hiring through a staffing firm is at arm’s length, employers seem to think they have no obligation to consider the consequences for the new hire.

3. Meet the new HR manager before quitting your old job, but after they’ve promised an offer. This is a technique of personal politics. They’re not likely to meet with you if they’re not certain they’re hiring you. Insist on a face-to-face meeting with HR before you resign your old job. It’s a simple fact of social psychology: People are less likely to hurt you once they’ve met you face to face.

4. Meet your new boss. Before you quit your old job, insist on a meeting with your new boss to discuss your job responsibilities, on-boarding process, what tools you’ll be using, and so on. This forces the manager to put some skin in the game and makes it emotionally harder for them to back out — but even this is no guarantee.

5. Here’s my secret weapon. This is something I want an employer to do after it has given my candidate a job offer, but before the candidate accepts the job (or quits the old job, of course). Ask to meet some of the team members you’ll be working with. The sooner the better. This will reveal how serious they are about really filling this job and having you there. If the company balks at this, I’d never quit my old job until I’ve got some other hard evidence that the new job is for real. (For more about this, see How can I find the truth about a company?)

Limiting your risk when quitting one job and accepting another is more about personal politics than anything else. An employer (or staffing firm) can rescind an offer any time. You’d need a lawyer to fight back. I think the better strategy is to get close to the new boss and team — and to take measures to force the staffing firm to show you that the offer and the job are real. Then there’s less chance that this will go south.

Be tough

Many employers — especially staffing firms — will balk at what I’m suggesting. They want to hire as effortlessly as possible. Their attitude is, “We’ve got other applicants like you waiting — we’re not going to waste our time making you feel all warm and fuzzy about taking this job.”

Well, that’s tough. Would you accept an offer of marriage from someone who won’t spend enough time with you to really make you feel loved? Don’t be in such a hurry to tie the knot before you can judge whether your suitor is for real. If an employer isn’t willing to invest time to assure you that a job offer is real, then it’s probably not worth risking your old job.

In the end, you must use your best judgment and decide whether to make the leap. If your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to your gut.

While my objective here is to help you land a great new job, my first concern is that you should not get hurt in the process. You must learn how to recognize a risky job offer before it blows up in your face.

Lately I’m getting a surprising number of questions from readers about job offers that explode — after the candidate relies on them to make career and financial decisions. I think employers, HR departments, and staffing firms have crossed a critical line that’s telling us they’re either stupid and inept, or that they’re callous and lack integrity. When the employer “takes back” a job offer for any reason, the applicant usually cannot “take back” a resignation. In one case, a reader cancelled her lease, moved her family, and wound up homeless because a personnel jockey instructed her husband to quit his job and move to a new city — then the jockey reneged on the promise of the new job.

I’m collecting stories about exploding job offers because I’m worried this is a dangerous new trend. I think we should chronicle and discuss it, to help you avoid having job offers blow up in your face.

Got a story about exploding job offers — or do you know someone who does? Please post it. Has an employer ever instructed you to quit your old job before giving you a written offer, or has an offer ever been rescinded? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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Should I let my millennial kid make a huge career mistake?

In the January 11, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about where parents fit in the career equation.

Question

My twenty-something daughter has worked here in the U.S. for three years in her first job out of college as a content manager for a website that focuses on business and culture on another continent.

She has the chance to transfer there to further establish the brand. This is her dream assignment, but it comes with a huge price. The CEO has proposed that she take a $12,000 pay cut, citing the lower cost of living in the new location. Her father is furious and I’m torn as I want her to pursue her dream, but not if it means being taken advantage of. Mr. Headhunter, please offer some advice here. Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

jumpContrary to the title of this Q&A, you’re not really afraid your millennial daughter is making a career mistake. You’re just afraid that you’re afraid she is. So I give you credit for starting a candid discussion about this, and for giving your daughter a chance.

As a parent, I understand your trepidation. Here’s what I suggest you consider.

This is your daughter’s decision, not yours. If you press her not to do it, all you’re telling her is that you don’t support her choice. She’s not going to hear much else, no matter how much sense you make.

People her age are wired to take risks, and thank God for that, because it’s in our youth that we can best afford to take risks. We have time to recover if a choice turns out wrong. We don’t have a house, a family, and big financial obligations. (By the way: This is not a challenge specific to millennials. I don’t think millennials are really any different from any other new generation.)

But please consider this: Without taking risks in youth, we never get the chance to achieve our dreams — or to learn anything that matters.

The CEO probably has a point. I’ve recruited and placed people at lower salaries for just the same reasons: lower cost of living and big opportunity. It’s always up to the job candidate. Some are in a position to take the risk, others are not.

A lot rides on the credibility and integrity of the CEO and the company. Is the CEO just trying to take advantage of her, or is the salary trade-off legit? Only your daughter can judge this. If I were her, I’d ask for one more meeting with the CEO to discuss this.

How to Say It:
“I’ll be taking on a big new challenge in this new location. I need to talk with you one more time to make sure I understand the risks, rewards, and challenges of this job. If I take it on, I want to perform at my best and produce a huge success for our company. What are the milestones? What are the rewards if I achieve them? What do you see as the risks for me?”

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, I discuss how to make a business case to a CEO about how much you deserve to be paid: “How can I avoid a salary cut?”, pp. 7-10. There’s more than one way to get some leverage:

“Express what you want, and suggest that salary isn’t the only component of an acceptable compensation package.”

The milestones must be set in writing and they must be objectively measurable — without interpretation. If she achieves X, then the reward is Y. Because this is a big new gig, there should be a timeline of several milestones — deliverables she’s responsible for — and what she will get in return if she makes them.

Without this, I’d never take a job to establish a brand anywhere. This is the crux of any business plan. My biggest concern — whether the job is in South America, Australia or Biloxi — is the business plan. What is it? If there is no clear plan, then I’d never take the job. Of course, your daughter should be part of developing the plan. If there isn’t one, she should volunteer to help produce it before she takes the job.

Check They promised a raise but won’t deliver to learn how to structure milestones in a good job offer.

I’d want to see a third-party report about cost of living in the new location. What’s the CEO basing the salary cut on? It may be legit — or it may be an indefensible estimate. Practically speaking, your daughter should undertake on her own to figure out what it will really cost her to live in the new location. The Internet makes this kind of research pretty easy. Why not help her prepare a budget for living there? Check real estate, rents and cost of groceries. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. Then you’re helping, not hindering.

Do not make your daughter’s choice for her, or make her feel you think she’s wrong. My kids and yours must make their own choices — or they learn nothing. If she make the wrong choice, but she’s smart and capable, it will not destroy her life. It will probably make her stronger — and lead her to a better opportunity the next time. She’ll gain wisdom, and you will gain more of her respect.

Even if you conclude from hard data that this is going to cost her money, that’s not justification for telling her not to do it. What you consider a price for a bad decision might be something else altogether for her — the price of growing up. I’m afraid that too many young people today are not willing to pay that price — and they never grow up. I think our nervous-nelly society is too quick to deprive our kids of the chance to learn the price of success.

Then, of course, there’s the distinct possibility that this risk will be the start of a great new part of her life — and she will enjoy the rewards of taking a big risk on her own. Imagine what it would do for her self-confidence and acumen — to take on such a huge challenge.

As a father, I’d be more concerned with her personal safety. No matter where a son or daughter of mine might go next, the first thing I’d want to look into is, how safe is the place, and what can my kid do to be as safe as possible? I think that except in the worst areas, it’s always possible to take measures to improve personal safety.

Ask her what you can do to help her succeed. My guess is your daughter is pretty smart. Let her know you believe that and that you trust her judgment, and that you respect her aspirations. Then give her a hug and let her go on her way. If you raised her right (Yes, give yourself some credit.), she will figure it all out.

Then book a flight to go visit her in about six months, so she can show you how she’s pulling it all off on her own.

Now I’m going to tell you what prompted me to answer you as I have. When my first book was published, I wrote an Acknowledgments section for it. At the very end, I said this about my own two kids, who were one and three at the time:

“As for Luke and Emma, well, when you’re old enough to read this, I hope you’ll also just be learning that it’s okay to take risks to do what’s important to you (and I hope your father will be smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let you).”

It’s been hard to take my own advice, and I frankly can’t believe I had the presence of mind so many years ago to write that. Those words have kept me in line, and they’ve freed my kids to make me proud of them.

I wish you, your daughter and your husband the best.

When your kids are ready to leap tall buildings, do you put away the measuring stick? Do you let them do the calculations and decide whether to leap? What did you teach your kids? What’s the best way to be a helpful parent?

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