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Monthly archive for March 2016

Who comes first, my boss or my company?

In the March 29, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader goes up against her boss and wonders how to stay out of trouble.

Question

My boss just told us that it’s mandatory for us to join a closed LinkedIn group, on which she will give us work assignments — for instance, shared reviews of resumes or other documents or topics that she feels will enhance our knowledge by group sharing.

company_secretsI have no problem doing this via work e-mail, but to be forced to join a social media group — where what we post can be mined, according to one of my clients — is tantamount to agreeing to LinkedIn’s terms and conditions, none of which I have been able to see.

Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think that my 30-something boss wants to make a splash for her own career via becoming the leader of a LinkedIn group. I don’t know if she has thought this through.

I am also concerned for my own professional status. Frankly, I don’t know what behaviors the 20-somethings in the group are up to, and I’m not sure I want to be linked publicly to them. My co-workers are spread across the country, and I’ve never met some of them. Those that I’ve met (only virtually) I barely know. 

I just un-joined the group. Who comes first? My boss or my company?

Nick’s Reply

LinkedIn is not an online work collaboration platform, though I know this social networking site has experimented with the idea. There are many good collaboration systems that your boss could use (Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work, Slack) but this isn’t one of them.

I don’t think you’re being too cynical. Your guess about your boss’s motivations for getting you all into a LinkedIn group could be correct – she may be trying to build her network. More important, I think you’re right to worry about your company.

Information you and your co-workers post on a LinkedIn group would likely be mined and sold by LinkedIn. Your boss may not realize that this could have serious privacy implications, including violation of your company’s confidentiality and intellectual property policies.

Check your boss

I don’t know how big your company is, but I’d consider paying an in-person visit to HR. Without mentioning your boss or this project, I’d ask:

“If I wanted to set up an online collaboration area where my co-workers and I and our clients could post and exchange company documents that we can all work on, would company policy permit that? I’ve come to you because I’d never do anything like this without first checking the policy.”

My guess is HR will tell you, No way!

Then you have to find a diplomatic way to tell your boss. Or to tell HR what your boss is up to.

One way to do this might be to explain to your boss that you spoke to HR because you wanted to know the policy about how you should register on LinkedIn for this project since you’d be posting company work. That’s a legit concern that has nothing to do with you thwarting your boss.

Then you’d probably have to explain to your boss: “It turns out HR is worried about something far bigger: confidentiality of company data.” Then your boss can save face, drop the whole idea, and possibly avoid getting fired, too.

Suggest some alternatives

Quickly research some of the mainstream collaboration platforms available to your company, including free ones. Take a look at Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work and Slack. When you talk to your HR department, ask whether any of these are approved for company use. Then mention these to your boss. If her real goal is collaboration, you may save the day.

My guess is that your boss is merely very naïve. Putting your concerns about your own privacy aside, I think your bigger worry should be potential violation of your employer’s policies about proprietary and company confidential information being disseminated on the Internet. That liability would be on you. And that’s not to say your personal information wouldn’t be compromised, too. LinkedIn has been in some serious legal controversies concerning misuse of customer information. (See LinkedIn Users Sucker-Punched by Wrong References and LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users.)

LinkedIn is not a collaboration system, where company and user data is protected, so I don’t know how your boss got this idea. LinkedIn is a public sewer of personal information and misinformation, in addition to being a potentially useful database about people. (Yes, I think it’s both. LinkedIn needs to clean up its act.)

You can see my cynicism. And I understand yours. I think you can help your boss by suggesting that LinkedIn be used the way it’s intended — or in whatever way makes most sense to your company — and by getting your HR department’s blessing before posting company information online.

Have you ever had to buck your boss to protect yourself or your company? How did you do it? Was HR helpful? Where should an employee draw the line when instructed to do something questionable?

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The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!

In the March 22, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wastes time with an employer who doesn’t negotiate.

Question

I received a job offer for $80,000, which is low for what my position gets in my industry. I responded that I’m excited about joining the team, and I counter-offered for $85,000, outlining what my value is, how I plan to benefit the company, and overall how the raise is justified. That’s my understanding of the proper way to negotiate — you must justify your counter-offer.

i win-you loseInstead of just turning down my counter-offer and staying at $80,000, which I would’ve gladly taken, they rescinded the offer completely. The hiring manager wouldn’t even respond to my calls or e-mails, even after he said he’d be glad to discuss any questions.

I spoke to friends who are hiring managers, who in turn asked other hiring managers, and the consensus was that it was a total shock and an anomaly to rescind the offer because I tried to negotiate it.

Is this becoming more common, or is this just plain bad hiring practice? Was I in the wrong to negotiate? The hiring manager did claim that he already pushed for the $80,000, which is the maximum they could offer. But anyone with negotiating experience knows that might be a negotiating technique of the employer.

In all, this experience scared me into never wanting to negotiate again, and I’m afraid I’ll never get a job that pays at least the average value for my position. I would love to know your thoughts!

Nick’s Reply

When employers talk money, job applicants are supposed to gratefully nod YES. When job applicants say MAYBE and try to negotiate, more and more we’re seeing employers say NO and withdraw offers altogether.

That’s when you should say GOODBYE, because negotiating is part of any business, and hiring people is business. Any employer that doesn’t respect the negotiating process — even if it declines to increase a job offer — is doing bad business.

Here we go again: Another rescinded (or retracted) job offer. (See Protect yourself from exploding job offers and Protect Your Job: Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.) What is up with human resources management?

Your story is an interesting twist, because your offer was retracted simply because you dared to negotiate it. But more troubling is that I’m seeing a shocking number of rescinded offers reported by readers.

Don’t beat yourself up about what just happened to you. As long as you do it respectfully, there is nothing wrong with negotiating. It’s part of business. I compliment you for negotiating responsibly. (See Only naïve wusses are afraid to bring up money.) Here are my thoughts:

  • The manager is within his rights to not offer more money. But taking offense at a negotiation is puerile. As a job applicant, I’d walk away from this employer without another thought. As a headhunter, I’d never work with this employer again. (Employers should read Why you should offer job applicants more money.)
  • The company’s HR department reveals it is meaningless, clueless, powerless, or all three. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.) Yes, I said HR. Even though you were dealing with a hiring manager, it’s the HR department’s job to ensure the hiring process is conducted in a businesslike way by all managers.
  • The company’s Marketing and Public Relations departments are to be pitied because, while they are working to create a good image of their company before their customers and investors, hiring managers are tearing that image down in the company’s professional community. (I’m sure you’ll be sharing your story with your friends in your industry.)
  • You have dodged a bullet. Better to know now that this person doesn’t negotiate, than after you take the job.

What this company did doesn’t make sense. But please consider that the risk of working with people whose behavior doesn’t make sense, doesn’t make sense!

Move on. There are good employers out there who know how to conduct business. Business between honest, smart people is always a negotiation. You did nothing imprudent or wrong. When someone won’t negotiate, they’re not worth doing business with.

We learn through negotiating. As you pointed out, negotiating by offering sound reasons for your counter-offer is a way to find common ground and a way to understand one another better. This kind of back-and-forth is the foundation of all commerce. It’s how we learn to work together. (See The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer.)

This employer doesn’t get it. It never feels good when someone dumps us. It makes us question ourselves. But if you take a deep breath, I think you’ll realize that a company that refuses to have a dialogue — a negotiation — with you, doesn’t care about you. There can be no commerce in that case.

I think such appalling, irresponsible behavior by employers has become much more common, because HR now so dominates recruiting and hiring that hiring managers are less and less likely to understand even the most fundamental rules of engagement with job applicants. They do stupid things that cost their company money and good hires. Even worse, HR is so dominated by automated hiring tools, regulatory blinders, and “best practices” that even HR “professionals” are less and less likely to understand the basic rules of doing business.

Responsible business people don’t just walk away from a negotiation like this employer did. They respectfully close out the discussion. And if an employer makes an offer that the recipient tries to negotiate, the employer doesn’t withdraw the offer as its answer to a request for more money. The employer just says, No, no more money. Do you accept the original offer?

Don’t beat yourself up. You can always negotiate with good people. The rest aren’t worth worrying about or dealing with. I wish you the best.

Do you negotiate to get the best job offer you can? Did the employer pull the offer as a result? If you’re an employer, are you willing to negotiate with job applicants? How would you deal with an employer that doesn’t negotiate?

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No resume, no job posting, no application, no interview: Microsoft Video Edition

In the March 15, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we do something completely different. We take a video approach to “the mountain” that stands between you and your next job.

Surviving the new economics of work

Microsoft recently asked me to talk for 20 minutes to thousands of IT (information technology) professionals whose jobs are at risk due to rapid changes in technology and in the economy. What can they do to save their careers? What kind of work should they do next?

Sound familiar?

I tuned my comments for Microsoft’s 3-day TechNet Virtual Conference (March 1-3, 2016) — but what I told the audience applies to any line of work, and it’s from the core Ask The Headhunter ideas we discuss here every week. This video includes about 20 minutes of me talking about the new economics of work, and 15 more of Q&A we did via Skype afterwards. A big thank-you to Microsoft and Channel9 for sharing this video with the Ask The Headhunter community.

Questions & Answers

This video raises in-your-face questions.

But I also show you how to answer them Yes! (I’ve added links to take you to more resources. Most of these are free, but there’s a link or two to my books.)

I talk about the #1 problem job seekers face: They let a mountain of obstacles interfere with their efforts to get a job.

  • They try to beat the online job boards.
  • They struggle to tunnel through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes).
  • They play the keyword game with automated job application systems.
  • They keep failing to reach the top of a mountain of competition.

In the video, I talk about why there is no mountain — no resume to write, no job postings to select or decipher, no job applications to file, no interviews to play to. I’m not kidding. I don’t think any of those “tools” help employers hire or job hunters get hired. I think our economy is bogged down by the detritus of phony, automated recruiting — it doesn’t work!

There’s just fearless job hunting.

  • You become part of the circle of friends that naturally leads people to jobs — and that leads to hires.
  • You show up with a clear definition of the problem or challenge that needs to be tackled.
  • You deliver a viable business plan for the job.
  • You show how you’ll do the work. And you create a new, profitable outcome the company never contemplated.
  • You make yourself the job candidate who stands out from all the rest.

Does it matter what kind of work you do?

Virtually every kind of work today is under siege of one kind or another — but for the same reasons. Every industry, every company is increasingly focused on the bottom line. The shift that everyone faces is not just technological. It’s economic — and it’s about accountability. That’s what I talk about in the video. Economic pressures supersede all others — and technology jobs feel the pressure most because that’s where efficiencies that solve economic problems are supposed to come from. But no matter what kind of work you do, the shift must be in your own perspective.

Success is not about chasing hot jobs, because there’s really no such thing. (What’s hot changes by the time you catch it!) It’s about whether you are hot. What makes you hot? You have to make yourself and your work accountable. If you wait for the bean counters to do that, you’ll probably lose your job if you have one.

If you work in IT, the video will get you started on how to advance your career in the face of stunning shifts in technology — changes that probably put your current job at risk.

And if you don’t work in technology, you’ll quickly see how my suggestions will help your career in today’s turbulent economy. As I said, the 20 minutes of this video summarize many of the core ideas we talk about on Ask The Headhunter all the time. Of course, I couldn’t squeeze every Ask The Headhunter method, tip and lesson into a 20 minute video. For more about how to be a fearless job hunter who stands out from the competition by delivering profit, check out the Introduction to Fearless Job Hunting, which also details which of my books address which challenges.

I hope you enjoy the video, and that it inspires you to forget about mountains and obstacles while you plan how to deliver profitable work to a worthy employer — work that’s profitable to you, too.

Many thanks to my good buddies at Microsoft for the opportunity to get in front of the company’s enormous audience — and for their generous hospitality while I was in Seattle and on the Microsoft campuses in Redmond and Bellevue. Mostly, I’m grateful for the freedom to work unscripted — every word in the video is mine. No one told me what to say or what to talk about. (If you’re among the many Ask The Headhunter subscribers who work in IT, don’t miss the other great videos about the future of IT in the TechNet 2016 archive.)

Okay — let’s hear what you liked and didn’t like about what I said in the video. Then hit me with the in-your-face questions — what do you want to know more about? What would you like to see in future Ask The Headhunter videos — because I’m planning to make more. Let’s pound these topics!

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Will employers explode if you squeeze them for interview feedback?

In the March 8, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to make failed interviews pay off.

Question

I had a good interview, or so I thought. The manager complimented me on our discussion, and I could tell she was impressed, but I guess I just wasn’t the right fit. I know everyone goes through this. But when you add up all the interviews across a long career, you wonder why. I try to learn something from every such failure, but the time spent just doesn’t seem to be compensated by what managers share after a meeting. Do you have any advice about how to benefit even from interviews that don’t result in a job offer?

squeezedNick’s Reply

Not every job interview results in an offer of employment, but every interview should provide you with information that helps you land an offer next time. An interview is an investment of time and effort. You should always get a return on that investment — either in the form of an offer, or in the form of useful feedback.

Many employers won’t tell why they rejected you. Indeed, their legal eagles (or hatchlings in the HR department) may have warned managers that they’d get sued for telling you too much. But, if you press, you may get something you can use. Just remember: You don’t want grounds for a lawsuit, you want useful information. An employer owes you that in exchange for your participation in their hiring process.

Here’s how to get truly useful information if you’ve been rejected.

First, make sure you’re getting feedback directly from the manager and members of her team. The most valid information usually comes from the hiring authority and from others who understand the work in question, not from a clerk in HR. (A good HR person might offer you something useful, but it’s usually the manager who can really help you.) So call the boss after your meeting.

Second, don’t ask why they turned you down. (That’s what prompts the legal heebie-jeebies.) Instead, thank the manager for considering you, then shift the discussion to career development.

How to Say It

“I learned a lot from our discussion. Can I ask you for some advice? Someday I want to work in the kind of position I interviewed for. I want to become one of the best people in this field. Can you suggest what I ought to be reading, what kinds of further education or training I might get, and where I should focus myself to develop the right skills? What would you do if you were me, to develop myself professionally?”

Keep your request informal and friendly, and a good manager will advise you. Note that you are not asking why you were rejected. (See Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers.)

Finally, don’t take “no” for an answer. If you’ve asked diplomatically but a manager ignores your calls or won’t provide honest feedback after a rejection, recognize that you’re dealing with an irresponsible member of your professional community. She has a one-sided view of business. She expects people to be open and honest in interviews, but refuses to be candid herself.

My next suggestion will probably have you scratching your head, but think about it.

E-mail or call the CEO of the company, or the top executive in the department that interviewed you. (Don’t be intimidated — he or she is just another employee of the company.) Politely explain that you interviewed in good faith, and that you expect the same in return.

How to Say It

“I value my reputation as a responsible, forthright [marketer, software engineer, whatever you are]. I hope your company values its reputation as a responsible member of our professional community. I invested many hours in interviews with your team, and I would simply like some honest feedback about my meetings with your company. But no one will call me back. I look forward to hearing from you.”

A good CEO will get the message. A bad one will ignore you. It’s worth finding out how a company you’re interested in is managed, and whether they behave with integrity.

Shocking suggestion, isn’t it — that a top executive would make sure her management team does the right thing. The world has been conditioned to accept bad behavior, so we don’t ask for good behavior. That diminishes the entire business world. My guess is, awkward as such a call or e-mail might seem to you, the CEO will remember you. If the CEO is respectful, it’ll pay off. If the CEO is dismissive, you’re the one who will remember. And you’ll let others know.

After investing hours talking with a company, you should see a return on your investment. But it’s up to you to collect it. Nobody said doing collections is easy, but consider how much you can learn throughout your career by chasing down the value of every interview you do.

The bonus is, after a few of these calls, you’ll have all kinds of good questions to ask employers at the end of your interviews, so you can collect the ROI without having to call anyone later.

A rejection can be delivered in one of two ways: with good faith and respect, or with thoughtless disdain. When you invest in an interview, make sure you get the most out of it. Ask. Learn. (See Loopy feedback failure.)

Do you make sure every interview pays off? We all know employers are lousy about providing useful feedback. I frankly don’t know how they get away without it. How can they be squeezed, without making them explode?

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