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Monthly archive for April 2016

Does your company have clean underwear?

In the April 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a hiring manager lectures employers about the importance of no-thank-you notes — and about respecting job candidates.

Question

I like your suggestions about thank-you notes. However, I want to talk about no-thank-you notes.

clean-underwearI recently got a very nice thank-you note from an applicant to whom I had sent a no-thank-you — that is, a rejection letter. She seemed surprised to hear from me. As a manager, it has always been my practice to reply to every applicant either by letter or e-mail. I’ve been criticized for the time it takes. However, I believe that if someone takes the time to express interest in your company, the least you can do is tell them “no, thank you” if you don’t want them.

The convenience of job boards and e-mail applications has led us to forget there are real humans with feelings at the other end. Since we are not likely to run into one of them at the check-out counter, we don’t acknowledge that every resume sent out to us carries this person’s real hopes for a job along with it.

I would encourage you to write a bit about etiquette for the hiring manager and about the proper approach regarding the communication to applicants after receiving their resumes.

Nick’s Reply

Hallelujah! I hope everyone who reads your statement tacks it to a couple of doors: the boss’s and the human resources (HR) department’s. But don’t forget the board of directors. It ought to be tacked to their agenda.

Who has time to be nice?

You’ve given me a chance to hold forth on a subject that’s always too easily dismissed. The story today is that companies receive so many resumes and applications that there is simply no way to respond to them all. HR  departments scoff at the suggestion that they’re responsible for such niceties. Who can reply to 5,000 job applicants and still have time to hire anybody? The trouble is, HR sets this standard for all managers in a company.

Somewhere along the way, maybe after getting intoxicated by the millionth resume she downloaded from LinkedIn, an HR manager lost sight of the thousands of job applicants she had lined up outside her door (actually and virtually). She forgot that if you invite them, you have to feed them. She forgot that when you post jobs on websites that encourage thousands of people to send you resumes, you get thousands of resumes. However, you don’t hire thousands of people. So, why solicit them? (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

When we create situations that make it impossible for us to respect basic social conventions (like saying “thank you” and “no, thank you”), that should be a signal that we’re doing something fundamentally wrong.

Stop behaving like wild dogs

Why solicit thousands of applicants, when you need just a handful of good ones? When you get sick from overloading your plate at the cheap buffet table, nature is telling you something. When we let the dogs go wild at feeding time — HR rabidly devouring heaps of non-nutritive resumes — it’s time to re-train the dogs. But I’m not lashing out only at HR managers. Nope. I’m lashing out at their trainers: departmental managers, corporate CEO’s, and boards of directors.

Are you on a board? Are you a CEO? Do you have any idea how your HR department and your managers are treating the professional community you so desperately need to recruit from? Make no mistake. Even in today’s “employer’s market,” top-notch workers continue to be few and far between. Finding those few precious souls who can both do the work and bring profit to your bottom line is a daunting, challenging task. To get the attention of the best, the brightest… you’ve got to be nice to everyone.

Your company is under the spotlight every time you recruit to fill a position. The behavior of your HR department, your managers, and your employees reflects your company’s values. And your values affect your success at hiring. Yah, that’s right. Don’t proclaim to your shareholders that “people are our most important asset” while your underlings shove job applicants through keyword algorithms like meat through a grinder. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Be Nice: Say thank you

This is a wake-up call about behavior. Every company’s reputation hinges on it. Ask your mother; she’ll tell you. Always say thank you. Always wear clean underwear. Always take time to be polite to people.

  • If you have no time to write thank-you notes, then you’re soliciting too many resumes.
  • If you have no time to get out of your office and meet the movers and shakers in your professional community, you’re not recruiting; you’re pushing paper. (See Ten Stupid Hiring Mistakes.)
  • If you have no time to be nice, I’ll bet it’s because you spend too much time with resumes and not enough with people.

thank-youIt’s easy to be rude to a resume; but you can’t hire resumes. Top-notch workers in your field will not stand for rudeness. Talk to all the people you pissed off when you ignored their applications, and you will learn what rude is. Rude is awakening to find your company’s professional reputation has been trashed by good applicants who found out you’re not as good as they are. (See Death by Lethal Reputation.)

Learn to be nice. Make it your policy.

If you don’t inspire good people to say nice things about your company, you can’t hire good people. It starts with that thank-you note; even with a no-thank-you note. Where it really starts is with your hand writing a personal note; with that hand attached to an arm attached to a warm body that gives a damn. Because if you don’t give a damn about people who apply to your jobs, pretty soon everybody will know, including your shareholders.

And that, Mr. CEO and Ms. Member of the Board of Directors, is why you need to make sure your HR department and your managers are polite, wear clean underwear, and write thank-you notes.

Does your company respect job applicants? Does it walk the talk — and send thank-you notes? Does your HR department insist on proper behavior from job applicants, and then diss them when the interviews are done?

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How to launch a seemingly impossible career change

In the April 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to get in the door for a seemingly impossible job change.

Question

leavingI want to make a big career change into medical device sales, but it’s going to be tricky. My experience is in teaching, primarily English as a second language. I don’t expect to get a sales job to start, so I want to start out in sales support. I’ve done tons of research on the company I’ve chosen, its technology and products, and I’ve even talked to some of the company’s customers — doctors and medical centers. I know that their salespeople’s time is worth a little over $1,000 an hour, so good sales support is key to profitability.

Two contacts — an old friend and her friend — work in the company where I want a job, and I’m using LinkedIn to find more contacts. I have read both your How Can I Make a Career Change? (I thoroughly enjoyed my library vacation) and Fearless Job Hunting books, and I am following your advice. But my execution might be a bit rocky. How can I parlay these contacts into more connections that might help me get in front of the right manager to talk about a seemingly impossible job change?

Nick’s Reply

You’re right — that’s a huge, daunting leap. Medical sales is a tough field to get into. Your odds aren’t good, but I don’t believe in odds or in luck. I believe in hard work. If you really want to do this, do all the hard work and don’t let anything deter you until you either get the job or exhaust every avenue.

But you didn’t ask my permission. You asked how to get in the door.

It’s going to require more than one or two contacts, so you need to leverage your two friends to meet more people in the company. I’m both a fan and an antagonist when it comes to LinkedIn. It’s the best online phonebook ever developed. On the other hand, it’s become just another job board after squandering its future as a true networking tool.

Leverage LinkedIn

Here’s how to use LinkedIn to help you with this. Ask your friends for one or two names of people who work in or near the department at the company where you want to work. Then search both LinkedIn and Google to find them, and then more people who are connected to the company’s product areas where you want to work. (I suggest you re-read “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends,” pp. 27-32 in How Can I Change Careers?)

Search Google for the company name plus the product names and related technologies. Let me caution you here: Google Search and Google News are different. You’ll turn up different results. I prefer News because the results will surface names of specific people and stories about them — and that’s what you want. The more relevant names you can dig up this way, the better. Then look up each person on LinkedIn — and ask your friends if they know them.

When you contact someone you found this way, you don’t have to rely on that tenuous LinkedIn “connection” to get their attention. (I hate it when someone reaches out to me and says, “I found you on LinkedIn!” So what? They might as well have found me in the phone book!) You should refer to the news article you read about them. Talk shop, and mention the two people you know at the company:

How to Say It:
“I was just talking to Mary Smith, who works in the Blah-Blah department at your company, and I also just read this article in the Wall Street Journal about your role in your company’s…”

Talk shop!

You’ve clearly done your homework — Good for you! — so you can actually ask them a couple of intelligent questions about their work. This tells them you’re not some LinkedIn opportunist who ran a keyword search to “find” them. You actually know something about what they do. This puts you on a very different footing from someone who’s calling around for job leads via LinkedIn.

Having started a work-related — if very simple — discussion, you can move on to your objective:

How to Say It:
“I wonder if I could ask you for some advice. My background is… and I’m considering a job in sales support. I don’t just want to send in a resume, because I’d like to learn more about the support function in sales of XYZ devices. I know that a sales person’s time at your company is worth about $1,000 an hour, so sales support is an important lever for profitability. Is there someone you can recommend that I talk with in sales or sales support so I can learn more about the role?”

Isn’t that more powerful than saying, “Hey, do you know of any job leads at your company?” You will leave your competitors in the dust. Here’s another way to break the ice with such a contact:

How to Say It:
“I noticed in the article I read that you work with the Hannenframmis device line. Another company, X, makes a related device they call a Thingamajig. What do you think of their product?”

A question like that tells the person you’ve studied the company, its products and its competition. What LinkedIn query goes into such detail? Your request is out of the ordinary. You’re not asking for a job lead — you’re talking shop. When you ask someone for their opinion or advice about something relating to their work, I find they usually want to share their thoughts.

Once again, having established a bit of credibility, it’s easy to switch to:

“Hey, I wonder if I could ask you for some advice…” and use the How to Say It suggestion above.

Critical Mass: Nobody said it was easy

If they don’t recommend anyone, just say, “Thanks — it was good to meet you. Thanks for your time,” and move on. But my guess is they will offer you some help. One new contact and referral thus leads to another. You learn something new every step of the way, and you will build a critical mass of contacts and insight. Some of them will know one another — and that builds your credibility further as you navigate the company to find the right manager in sales.

One of your new friends will refer you to a manager who will recognize a highly motivated person who wants to work in sales support. Without applying for a job, you’ll be an insider. When you get near that manager, re-read Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “Share Experiences: The path to success,” pp. 12-14, and “Pest, or manager’s dream?” pp. 18-19.

I’ll caution you: This is not easy or quick, nor should it be. While your competition is sending keywords to HR managers, you’ll be talking to insiders — that requires dedication and focus. Managers tend to hire people they know, or people referred by trusted contacts. That’s what this approach gradually turns you into — an insider — if you invest the time to do the homework, to talk with people patiently, and to learn all you can about the company you want to work for so you can demonstrate why you’re the profitable hire.

How do you get in the door when the job you want is a big change from what you’ve been doing? Ever make a big career change? What would you suggest to this earnest reader?

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Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!

In the April 12, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the truth about equal pay rears its head.

When women get paid less for doing the same jobs men do, the real reason is obvious to any forthright business person, though it seems to elude the media, the experts, and even some women themselves: Employers pay women less because they can get away with it.

gender-pay-gapThe same pundits tell women that they should change their behavior if they want to be paid fairly for doing the same work as men. But the experts, researchers, advocates and apologists are all wrong. There is no prescription for underpaid women to get paid more, because it isn’t women’s behavior that’s the problem.

There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

When doing the job doesn’t pay, women of all ages should be aware that younger women today have the solution. According to a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), some women have figured it out. Millennial women don’t need to change their negotiating, child-rearing, educational or any other behavior to impress errant employers. They know to quit and move on. This is going to change life at work as we know it.

The myths about women causing their own pay problem

Let’s look at what women are supposedly doing to abuse themselves financially.

We can refer to umpteen surveys and studies about gender pay disparity — and to some that suggest there is no disparity. But a recent Time magazine analysis summarizes the data from the U.S. Census and other sources: “Women earn less than men at every age range: 15% less at ages 22 to 25 and a staggering 38% less at ages 51 to 64.

This has become favorite fodder for the media — and for armchair economists and gender researchers and pundits looking to bang out a blog column. But I think most of the explanations about pay disparity, and the prescriptions for how to get equal pay for equal work, are bunk.

Depending on what you read, women get paid less because they:

  • Have kids.
  • Interrupt their careers for their families. (See: A stupid interview question to ask a woman.)
  • Don’t have the right education (e.g., STEM), so they can’t get good jobs.
  • Are nurturing, so they don’t negotiate hard enough for equal pay.
  • Don’t like to argue.
  • Lack confidence.
  • Let their men get away without doing household chores — so those men (if they’re managers) don’t know they should pay women fairly.

These explanations about lower pay are speculation and myth, but the message is always the same: If women would just change some or all of those behaviors, they can shrink the pay gap.

I say bunk. Women don’t cause the pay gap. Employers do. So employers should change their behavior.

The fact

I’ve been a headhunter for a long time. I’ve seen more job offers and observed more salary negotiations than you’ll see in a lifetime. I’ve observed more employers decide what salaries or wages to pay than I can count. And I am convinced the media and the experts are full of baloney about the pay gap between men and women. They are so caught up in producing eye-popping news that they’re doing women a disservice — and confusing speculation with facts.

Here are the facts:

  • Employers pay women less to do the same work as they pay men.

Well, there’s just one fact, and that’s it.

Women don’t make themselves job offers, do their own payroll, or sign their own paychecks. The gender pay disparity is all — all — on employers, because we start with a simple assumption: A job is worth $X to do it right, no matter who does it. It’s all about getting the work done. And the employer decides whom to hire and how much to pay.

Here’s the hard part for economists and experts to understand: Employers decide to pay women less, simply because they can get away with it. The law of parsimony instantly leads us to the obvious motive: Paying less saves companies money. Everything else is speculative claptrap.

A review of the bunk

Let’s look at some of the gratuitous “analysis” about why women are paid less than men. Look closely: It all delivers one absurd message: Women are the problem, so women should change their behavior.

Glassdoor, the oft-reviled “employer review” website, reports that overt discrimination may be part of the cause of gender pay discrepancies (Demystifying the Gender Pay Gap: Evidence from Glassdoor Salary Data). But, claims Glassdoor’s economist, Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, “occupation and industry sorting of men and women into systematically different jobs is the main cause.”

“Sorting?” Armchair apologist Chamberlain is saying women apply for jobs that pay less and men apply for jobs that pay more. While this may sometimes be true, what he fails to note is that when a man and a woman do the same job in the same industry, one is paid less because the employer pays her less. The absurd prescription for women: This will change if only women will change their behavior!

Then there’s the HuffPo, in which Wharton researcher Bobbi Thomason says that to fix the gender pay gap, “We need to have men getting involved at home with childcare and other domestic responsibilities.”

Gimme a break. Women, when you get men to wash dishes, you’ll change how boss men pay female employees. The prescription: It’s all up to you. Change your behavior at home.

The Exponent, reporting on Purdue University’s Equal Pay Day event on April 12, says that the wage gap is “largely based on the fact that, generally, women don’t negotiate their salary once they get into their career field.” Those women. Dopes. They’re doing the wrong thing — that’s why they get paid less! Change your behavior!

Kris Tupas, treasurer of the American Association of University Women chapter at Purdue, explains that employers pay women less “because our culture teaches women to be polite and accept what they’re given.” Again the prescription is for women: Change your behavior!

Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, wrote a book that explains women’s fundamental problem: Women Don’t Ask. Says Babcock’s book blurb:

“It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask. Sometimes they don’t know that change is possible — they don’t know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don’t ask because they’ve learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.”

Women get paid less because they don’t know they can ask! Gimme another break! And what’s Babcock’s prescription? Women — you have to ask to be paid fairly! Change your behavior!

Fox News’s Star Hughes-Gorup tells women how they can fix the pay gap: “Get educated.” If you want to make as much as the guy in the next cubicle who’s doing the same job, hey, get more schooling after the fact to impress your employer.

Next, says Hughes-Gorup, “Embrace asking for help.” Yep — if you learn how to ask properly, you can “start the conversation” about money. In time, you’ll be worth more. She sums it up: “I believe true progress will be made when we acknowledge that the real issue deterring women from talking about money is not confidence, but self-imposed limitations in our thinking.”

The prescription: Women: If you stop limiting your thinking, you’ll get paid more. So, get with it! Change your behavior and your thinking!

Disclosure: I can’t believe anyone buys any of this crap, much less that anyone else publishes it uncritically.

Millennial women have the solution

Why do all those articles prescribe that women must change their behavior to get paid more, when it’s employers who are making the decision to pay them less? Should women appease employers, or respond to unfair pay some other way?

Surveys over the years show that the top reasons people quit their jobs include (1) dissatisfaction with the boss, and (2) work-life balance. (E.g., Inc. magazine’s 5 Reasons Employees Leave Their Jobs.) Money is not the main reason.

But something has changed — especially for Millennial women. Lauren Noël, co-author of a report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), says, “Our research shows that the top reasons why [Millennial] women leave are not due to family issues. The top reasons are due to pay and career advancement.”

The report itself quotes women under thirty saying that the number one reason they quit is, “I have found a job that pays more elsewhere.”

What’s interesting is that the HR executives Noël surveyed don’t get it — HR thinks “that the top reason why women leave is family reasons.” Is it any wonder employers attribute lower pay to the “choices” women supposedly make?

The Millennial answer to lower pay

Millennial women are the generation that has figured out they’re not the problem. Unlike their older peers, they’ve figured out that when they’re not getting paid what they want, the answer is to quit and go work for an employer who will pay them more.

As a headhunter, I know first-hand that quitting is the surest way to take control when you’re underpaid and your employer will not countenance paying you fairly. I also realize that not all women — or men, for that matter — can afford to quit a job that is paying them unfairly. But that doesn’t change the answer that will most enduringly change how employers behave.

Kudos to women who take the initiative, and who don’t blame themselves or alter their own behavior when an employer’s behavior is the problem. I wonder how many employers have taken notice? Do they realize the generation of female workers that’s coming up the ranks isn’t going to tolerate financial abuse — they’re just going to walk?

payDo we need a law?

I’m not a fan of creating laws to dictate what people should be paid. But I’m not averse to regulations about transparency and disclosure. With some simple disclosure regulations, I think more women can start getting paid as much as men do for the same jobs.

Companies want our resumes; let’s have theirs, too — a standard “salary resume” provided to all job applicants, comparing pay for women and men at a company. Employers would be free to pay men twice what they pay women, if they want. And upon checking the salary disclosure, job seekers would be free to walk away and join a competitor who pays fairly for work done by anyone.

Let’s get over it: Women who do the same work as men aren’t the problem. Employers who pay unfairly are, and let’s face what’s obvious: They do it because they can get away with it. (For a story about an employer with integrity, see Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

If we’re going to analyze behavior, let’s analyze employers’ underhanded behaviors — not women’s personalities, cognitive styles, or biological characteristics. I’ll say it again — There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

we-pay-menEmployers who don’t pay fairly will stop getting away with it when they’re required to tattoo their salary statistics on their foreheads — so job applicants can run to their competitors. Or, more likely — since new laws aren’t likely — employers will change their errant behavior when a new generation of women just up and quits. That would be quite a news story.

Maybe then the media and the experts will stop blaming women for the gender pay gap — and start challenging employers to raise their standards.

(Considering quitting? See Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

What’s the solution? Do we need a walk-out? Do we need regulations? Do we need a corporate stock and pillory? Does anybody think there’s no gender pay gap?

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The mark of a promotable employee

In the April 5, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager wants to know how to assess an employee for a promotion.

Question

promotionI manage a small team, but I’m pretty new to management. Now that it’s time to promote someone, I’m not happy with the criteria my HR department has given me to justify the promotion. It’s frankly nonsense. I don’t want to promote someone just because they’ve been on the job for two years. I want to use the opportunity to really assess whether they are ready for more responsibility and some new authority, and to help the employee realize what this means for them, for my department and for our company. Do you have any suggestions for how I should handle this so it will mean something?

Nick’s Reply

Well, you’re not managing by rote, I’ll give you that! I’m glad. A promotion should be the result of dialogue between you and the employee, and it should be handled something like a job interview. Of course, you know a lot more about an existing employee than you do someone applying for a job. But I agree that you should not waste the opportunity to help your employee step up to the challenge that a promotion really is. This should be a bit of a test where the employee demonstrates what they can do.

In part, you have to follow your gut, by considering how this person has performed over the past two years. In part, you should base the promotion on your estimate of how they will perform going forward, on the specific tasks and objectives they will soon face. This is actually all about what you already know. The rest is up to the employee: You should absolutely test them in some reasonable way.

Here’s how I’d approach it — but, please, leaven my suggestions with your own good judgment.

2 challenges to a promotion

It’s no easy task for a manager to decide who is worth promoting. It’s always risky to assign additional responsibilities or authority to an employee: Will she lighten the manager’s load or just add to it?

I think there’s a simple initial test for promotability, though you should consider other factors and criteria that make sense to you. My goal with this method is to stimulate a dialogue between you and the employee that will help you decide — and that will also help the employee grasp the importance of new responsibilities and authority.

This is based on the idea that the farther up the ladder a person goes, the more impact (positive or negative) they can have on the bottom line. Before you promote someone, find out how well she understands this idea. This test has two parts.

First, ask the employee to explain (a) how her current job contributes to the company’s profits, and (b) how she thinks the job she may be promoted to impacts profits.

Second, ask (c) what three things she has done in her current job to optimize profits and (d) what three things she would do in the “next job up the ladder” to optimize profits.

(If you’re a job applicant, this approach can work with a prospective boss, too. End your talk with How to Say It: How’d I do?)

The key to these 2 challenges

Remember that as someone’s boss, your goal is to get the best work out of them that you can. That makes you a mentor and a guide. If the employee fails, you fail. So, you must do everything you can (within reason) to help the employee succeed at getting promoted, just as you normally do as her boss to help her get her work done effectively every day.

That means the two challenges listed above must be an open-book test, and you must give the employee adequate time to respond. You must be ready and able to answer any questions she has as she prepares her responses. For example, she will probably need to discuss the definition of profit in the context of her job and your department. (Remember, a big part of your job as a manager is to develop your people, to advise them, and to teach them.)

Encourage the employee to prepare a brief, written report for (a), (b), and (c), and a brief, written plan for (d). Written might mean she prepares a presentation and outline on your whiteboard, or it might mean a short PowerPoint presentation or a narrative. Please: Don’t make it too formal! Casual and conversational is best.

Point out that you are available to help in any way (short of producing the reports, of course). You’re her manager, after all, and managers and employees collaborate all the time in a healthy work environment. You want her to succeed. This will trigger a thoughtful dialogue that will reveal what you need to know about the employee’s acumen and potential. No matter how the employee responds to this, you as the manager will learn a lot. I think you’ll see the mark of a promotable employee pretty readily.

As you might guess, not all employees will be able to deal with this effectively. Promotable employees will get it!

(If you’re the employee, and the promotion you’re getting doesn’t include a raise, learn How to Say It: Mo’ money is the problem!)

If you’re a manager, how do you handle promotions? When you’ve pursued promotions yourself, how did you make your case? What approach other than the one above would you recommend to the manager in this week’s Q&A?

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