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Monthly archive for June 2016

HR Managers: Do your job, or get out

In the June 28, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, several readers raise questions about HR that we can’t keep ignoring.

Questions

this-way-outReader 1: Back in the 20th century, employers actually reviewed resumes by reading them rather than scanning them into a computerized ranking system. Keywords have turned hiring into a pass-the-buck game, with HR complaining it can’t find talent! Well, HR isn’t looking for talent. HR isn’t looking for anything. Phony algorithms are keeping the talent unemployed while HR gets paid to do something else! The question is, what is HR doing?

Reader 2: Two weeks after receiving a written offer from this company — and after I quit my old job and moved — HR sends me an e-mail saying there’s no job. That’s right: They hired me and fired me before I started! What am I supposed to do now? I can’t go back to my old job — I quit. The HR person who gave me the offer still has her job. Shouldn’t she be fired?

Reader 3: I was selected for a new, better job paying more money after rounds of interviews. I was all set to start when my HR department called me in to say the job was withdrawn due to budget problems. This was for a promotion at my own company! How did they have the budget a month ago when they posted the job and gave it to me, but not now? What can I do?

Reader 4: My friend attended a business roundtable where multiple employers complained they couldn’t find people. She stood up and said she was a member of several large job-search networking groups, with an aggregate membership of thousands in the Boston area. She offered to put them in touch, help them post positions, and contacted them multiple times afterwards to help facilitate this. Nobody has taken her up on it. Talent shortage my…!

Nick’s Reply

This edition of Ask The Headhunter is dedicated to good Human Resources (HR) managers who work hard to ensure their companies behave with integrity and in a businesslike manner toward job applicants — and who actually recruit.

This is also a challenge to the rest. Do the readers’ complaints above mystify or offend you? You cannot pretend to manage “human resources” while allowing your companies — and your profession — to run amuck in the recruiting and hiring process.

The problems described above are on you — on HR. It’s your job to fix them. Either raise your HR departments’ standards of behavior, or quit your jobs and eliminate the HR role altogether at your companies.

Here are some simple suggestions about very obvious problems in HR:

Stop rescinding offers.

oopsBudget problems may impact hiring and internal promotions, but it’s HR’s job to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed before HR makes offers that impact people’s lives. Don’t make job offers if you don’t have the authority to follow through. If your company doesn’t give you that authority, then quit your job because you look like an idiot for having a job you’re not allowed to do. What happens to every job applicant is on you. (See Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?)

Stop recruiting people then ignoring them.

In other words, stop soliciting people you have no intention of interviewing or hiring. More is not better. If it’s impossible to handle all job applicants personally and respectfully, then you’re recruiting the wrong people and too many of them. Either treat every applicant with the respect you expect them to show you and your company, or stop recruiting — until you have put a system in place that’s accurate and respectful. Having control over people’s careers isn’t a license to waste anyone’s time. Your company’s rudeness in hiring starts with you. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

Stop recruiting stupidly.

stupidThe job of recruiting is about identifying and enticing the right candidates for jobs at your company. It’s not about soliciting everyone who has an e-mail address, and then complaining your applicants are unqualified or unskilled. You can’t fish with a bucket.

You say you use the same services everyone else uses to recruit? Where’s the edge in that? Paying Indeed or LinkedIn or Monster.com so you can search for needles in their haystacks is not recruiting. It’s stupid. Soliciting too many people who are not good candidates means you’re not doing your job. If you don’t know how to recruit intelligently, get another job. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Stop demanding salary history.

It’s. None. Of. Your. Business. And it makes you look silly.

tell-meI have a standing challenge to anyone in HR: Give me one good reason why you need to know how much money a job applicant is making. No HR worker has ever been able to explain it rationally.

It’s private information. It’s personal. It’s private. It’s shameful to ask for it. Do you tell job applicants how much you make, or how much the manager makes, or how much the last person in the job was paid? If you need to know what another employer paid someone in order to judge what your company should pay them, then you’re worthless in the hiring process. You don’t know how to judge value. HR is all about judging the value of workers. You don’t belong in HR. (See Should I disclose my salary history?)


Get an edge when HR gets in your way!

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Stop avoiding hiring decisions.

In a market as competitive as today’s, if it takes you weeks to make a hiring decision after interviewing candidates, then either you’re not managing human resources properly, or you’re not managing the hiring managers in your company. Qualified job applicants deserve answers. Taking too long to make a choice means you have no skin in the game, and that makes you a dangerous business person. After you waste too many applicants’ time, your reputation — and your company’s — is sealed. With a rep like that, good luck trying to get hired yourself.

Stop complaining there’s a talent or skills shortage.

There’s not. With 19.5 million people unemployed, under-employed, and looking for work (even if they’re no longer counted as cry-babypart of the workforce), there’s plenty of talent out there to fill the 5.6 million vacant jobs in America. (See News Flash! HR causes talent shortage!) Recruit is a verb. Get out there and find the talent!

If your idea of recruiting is to sit on your duff and wait for Mr. or Ms. Perfect to come along on your “Applicant Tracking System,” then quit your job. If your idea of recruiting is to pay a headhunter $20,000 to fill an $80,000 job, then you are the talent shortage. Your company should fire you.

“Human Resources Management” doesn’t mean waiting for perfect hires to come along. Ask your HR ancestors: They used to do training and development to improve the skills and talent of their hires — as a way of creating competitive value for their companies.

The good HR professionals know who they are. The rest behave like they don’t know what they’re doing and like they don’t care. We’re giving you a wake-up call. Do your job, or get out.

My challenge to HR professionals: If you aren’t managing the standard of conduct toward job applicants at your company, if you aren’t really recruiting, if you’re not creating a competitive edge for your company by developing and training your hires, then you should quit your own job. If you aren’t promoting high business standards within the HR profession, then there’s no reason for HR to exist. Your company can run amuck without you.

To everyone else: How do these problems in HR affect you?

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How can I negotiate an NCA or NDA?

In the June 21, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t like giving up future opportunities by signing restrictive agreements.

Question

First of all, thanks for writing your columns and educating us folks out here. If we ever form a union, you’ll get my vote for union leader! Anyway, I was wondering about non-competes and NDAs. I know you’re not a lawyer, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

valueI can understand why companies want and need non-competes and NDAs, but I feel signing such contracts limits my future job opportunities; at least the ones that would pay me the most. So, I could refuse to sign, and they can refuse to hire me. If I want the job, it seems I’ve gotta bite the bullet. Perhaps I could sign the contract as “Darth Vader” and they won’t notice.

Is there a fair, balanced deal that I could make here? Thanks for your thoughts.

Nick’s Reply

Ouch, you’re hitting a nerve. Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements (NCAs and NDAs) are a sore spot with me because I believe they’re over-used, misused and too often signed. Nonetheless, both documents are becoming more common. Heck, they’re such boilerplate that you might be right — you could sign as Darth Vader and they might never notice! Some companies might just file the darned thing without looking at it any more carefully than they expect you to. But, don’t bet your future on that.

What’s an NDA or NCA?

For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, an NDA is an agreement you sign as an employee prohibiting you from divulging sensitive company information while you work at the company and often after you leave. When you sign an NCA you agree not to compete with your employer (now and when you leave) by soliciting its customers, going to work for a competitor, or through other actions. Sometimes, an NCA and an NDA are rolled into one document. (For more, please read Signing non-compete agreements for fun and profit.)

I think companies often use NCAs and NDAs for no other reason than because “everyone else does it.” The fact is, these agreements are very controversial. In some states NCAs are illegal because they restrict a person’s right to earn a living. Nevertheless, when you take a job, it’s up to you to protect your rights.

There are some legitimate reasons for a company to ask you to sign such agreements; for example, when you’ve worked on a sensitive trade secret that, if leaked, could cost the company a lot of money. It’s up to you to decide what’s reasonable, or to discuss it with an attorney who represents you, not the company.

Negotiate the terms

There’s no reason to get into an argument with a prospective employer about an NCA or NDA. The best thing to do is negotiate it. Because these agreements are often legal boilerplate, a company that really wants to hire you may be willing to negotiate specific terms that you object to. You may be able to get both the compensation deal you want and a comfortable agreement.

Your goal with an NCA or NDA is to limit the constraints. Here are some terms to negotiate:

  • Geography: A 100-mile radius of non-competition may be reasonable, but a blanket “all of the U.S.” or “all the world” is just nuts.
  • Term: One year may be acceptable, but a five-year restriction is not.
  • Competitors: Prohibiting you from working for any company in an entire industry is extreme. Try to get them to list specific companies by name. Make sure the list is short and realistic.

In light of the limit that an NCA or NDA might place on your future job opportunities, I recommend getting quid pro quo. That is, get fair value for anything you relinquish — and work this out before you accept a job, not after you’re on board. An employer has no incentive to re-negotiate an overly restrictive NCA or NDA after you’ve already joined up.

Trade fair value

When a company wants an NDA or NCA to protect its interests, then you should get something to protect yours. Always trade fair value. If a company is going to restrict your ability to earn a living, it should compensate you reasonably.

Get a contract.
If you agree not to go work for a competitor for a year (by signing an NCA), then don’t agree to work “at will,” whereby the company can let you go any time it wants. In exchange for signing an NCA, request an iron-clad employment contract. That way, if the company terminates you, it agrees to keep paying you through the end of your contract. The NCA gives the company protection (perhaps for a year), and the employment contract protects you (for a year also). By asking for a year, you might be able to get six months’ pay, if you consider that sufficient.

Get a severance deal.
Another quid pro quo for an NCA or NDA is a significant guaranteed severance deal. Ask for it, since your choice of next employers will be limited. Negotiate a severance package as a form of compensation for relinquishing your right to compete or to “talk about your work.” (Be careful: A blanket NDA can actually restrict you from talking about work you’ve done that is not even proprietary to the company!)

What might be in a severance package varies. Usually, severance is one week’s pay for each year you worked at a company. But in this case, we’re not talking just about severance; we’re talking about a special deal that compensates you for relinquishing some of your freedom. In my opinion, if you sign a one-year NCA, the company ought to cover you for at least a year after you leave, or until you land a new job that does not violate the agreement. (If that sounds extreme, so is an NCA!)

If the company’s not willing to compensate for protection, then it should not require an NCA or NDA. It should instead keep better control over its proprietary information and avoid divulging to you anything during your employment that might compromise the company when you leave. It’s up to the company to manage its assets — not you.

If any of this perplexes you, it’s smart to consult an attorney. It will cost far more to defend yourself later than it will to protect yourself now. (For some valuable insights from my favorite attorney, Bernie Dietz, see Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.)

Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter. But, no thanks — don’t elect me as your union leader!

Have you ever signed an NCA or NDA? Did it come back to bite you? Or, did you negotiate compensation for a fair restriction? How would you advise this reader?

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Banish interview butterflies

In the June 14, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a seasoned job seeker confesses to blubbering during interviews.

Question

No matter how many interviews I go on, or how successful I am, an old culprit appears in job interviews when I least expect it: the butterflies. You know what I mean. Nervousness. B-b-b-blubbering while I gather my thoughts. The sweats. Clammy palms. This should not happen to someone like me. So what should I do when it does — imagine the interviewer sitting on a toilet with their pants down, like a friend of mine suggests? (It doesn’t work!)

Nick’s Reply

butterfliesThanks for bringing up a subject that many people are embarrassed about.

Whether you’re an engineer, a CEO, or a finance jockey, the proverbial butterflies can start fluttering in your stomach during a job interview. Even the best-prepared job candidate can get nervous and come off like a blubbering rookie, and the meeting can suddenly go south. (I’ve never used the porcelain throne image you mentioned, but I know people who claim it works!)

We’ve discussed interview butterflies here on the blog, in Butterflies in your interviews?

I’ve also written about the frightful critters in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, Be The Profitable Hire, “Don’t Compete With Yourself,” pp. 2-4, where I suggest using one of several clever gambits to get the interviewer to talk first, while you calm your nerves, and to gain some insights that might help you later in the interview. (For example, ask the manager, “I’m curious — what brought you to this company? Where did you work before?”)

But some of the best insights about dealing with interview nerves have been suggested by readers:

“Just a guess: If you get butterflies in your interview, you’re thinking of it as an interview. Don’t do that. Think of it as a conversation between two professionals on a subject of mutual interest, which is what it should be anyway.”

If you can program your mind this way as you walk into an interview, you’ll be way ahead of your competition — without stumbling. Think of the meeting as your first day on the job. You’ve been hired, and now you need to get to know your boss and understand the work. Don’t behave like a supplicant begging for a job. Behave like an employee discussing your first assignment.

Another reader likes advance planning:

“Use your network to determine who is going to interview you and what their styles are.”

This gives a new meaning to interview preparation. Don’t just study news articles and other facts about the company: research the interviewer! Look the interviewer up online — think LinkedIn and Google, or relevant industry journals. Study the manager’s style and approach. Learn about their background and about other jobs they’ve held, and be ready to pepper them with relevant questions when you need a cognitive break from the Q&A and when you need time to gather your thoughts. This will help you roll with the punches.

Then there’s this assertive approach one reader takes, using the “presentation method” I recommend in The New Interview Instruction Book. (It’s an oldie but goodie, and yes, you can still get a copy.) Don’t just do the interview — control the meeting:

“It’s harder to be confident in an interview when you see it as you answering a series of questions. You’re always anticipating another question that may be difficult to answer in the ‘best’ way, so you’re always on guard. One of the benefits of the presentation method, where you are telling the interviewee what you can do to solve a business problem, is that you are controlling the conversation for a little while.”

My favorite suggestion is from a reader who believes — like I do — that worst-case planning is the best way to avoid nervousness. Always have a last-ditch trick up your sleeve. (I don’t normally suggest using tricks of any kind, but hey, this is a reader’s idea…) It can make you feel virtually invincible, which can change your entire interview for the better, even if you never need to use it. This reader brings props!

“I am the world’s worst conversationalist. When the conversation in the interview begins to fade, usually fairly soon, I whip out my presentation book and point to pictures, graphs, charts, memos, blueprints, schematics, diagrams, procedures, forms, the actual paper napkin with the original concept scrawled on it — everything done in my career created by me.”

In other words, when you get stuck, distract the interviewer while you pull yourself together. Of course, if the props are really good, all the better! Conquer the butterflies before they land.

What do you do to conquer interview butterflies? Post your tricks… er, methods… and let’s debate what works best!

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When job interviews are bad for you

In the June 7, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker expects more from employers.

Question

Push Back!When a company wants to interview me, I apply your advice and try to exert some control by asking that the hiring manager be present at my first interview. I think it’s inappropriate for an employer to ask me to invest hours of my time without that manager present. It worked recently with a small advertising company, and it actually helped the two-way respect, and I felt more confident talking about the role and compensation.

But, what to do when it’s a large conglomerate, like an Apple or GE? I’m in the hiring process with two large companies (not those) and the process has been difficult and very drawn out. While I’m sure these companies have their reasons for doing it this way, it seems to be a waste of time. I guess you always have to be prepared to walk away. Any advice?

Nick’s Reply

Good for you for pressing to have the hiring manager in the interview when you can! I’m glad you’ve seen it will work to your advantage.

Even if the outcome is that the manager rejects you, at least it’ll be early in the process and you won’t have to waste more time, and at least the rejection will come from the person in charge of the job — not some personnel jockey who doesn’t understand you or the work.

At larger companies, the problem (as you note) is that the hiring process is more rigidly structured. It’s hard to get them to do anything different — like let you meet the manager immediately. While a company may have its reasons, it’s still disrespectful and a waste of time for the applicant to get assessed by someone other than the hiring manager.

And again, you’re right – you must decide whether to walk away.

Finesse the encounter

This is where judgment and finesse come into play. If you really want to work at a company, and there’s no getting around their system, you must decide whether it’s worth the risk you’re taking by complying with a process that isn’t to your advantage. But I don’t think it’s prudent to make a binary decision: Should I comply, or should I walk away? I think it’s a matter of degree:

  • How much control should you concede to the employer?
  • At what point do you draw a line?
  • When do you walk away?

If you keep your wits about you, it’s also a matter of negotiation. It may be worth playing by some of their rules:

  • How flexible are they?
  • What concessions can you get in return for complying with parts of their process?
  • What advantage can you gain?
  • Perhaps most important, what can you learn from this initial give and take?

Collect some data

This is where getting recruited becomes fun. What should you ask for before you enter the lion’s den? You’re not required to attend an interview just because an employer asks. So collect some data points that will help you judge the employer!

  • You’ve already taken one important step: Ask to have the hiring manager present. All they can do is say no.
  • If the first interview will be with HR, ask when will the manager be involved? That is, when will you meet the manager? Get a commitment.
  • What’s the hiring manager’s name? It will be to your advantage to look the manager up on LinkedIn prior to your meeting. (Or, Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job.)
  • What are the three main objectives of the interview? That is, what’s the employer looking for? (They likely can’t tell you, because hiring is haphazard in most companies.)
  • What are the three key things they want a new hire to accomplish in the first six to twelve months on the job? (Again, they probably don’t know — but it’s worth asking and it’s to your advantage to know.)
  • Get anything that helps you judge the employer and prepare for the first interview.

You might even go this far: Ask this question before you agree to an interview.

Judge the employer

As we’ve said, you’re not going to get all these concessions or information. But this preliminary negotiation is chock full of value. It’s partly to improve your chances in a job interview, but it’s also partly to test the employer. Yes — to test the employer. Some interviews are bad for you. Is this one of them?

  • Do this employer know what it’s doing? (See What’s up with clueless interviewers?)
  • Will they make some concessions to demonstrate respect to you — because they really want to interview you?
  • Or, does it turn out you’re just a piece of meat – and they won’t compromise on anything at all?

Additional Resources

There are many ways to test employers, to push the boundaries, and to gather useful data before you invest time in lengthy interviews:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5, Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention:

  • “How to pick worthy companies” — pp. 10-12
  • “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” — pp. 13-15
  • “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies” — pp. 22-24

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8, Play Hardball With Employers:

  • “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer” — pp. 11-12
  • “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” — pp. 23-25
  • “Judge the manager” — pp. 26-28

Every concession an employer agrees to or declines early in the process tells you something — it’s a useful data point or signal you can use to your advantage.

Is this “opportunity” really good for you?

When I “go along” because I want a gig (with a new client, for example), I never forget that I’m looking for compromises. If I’m the only one compromising, if I’m the only one who’s agreeable, then I’ll probably be taken advantage of in the end. So, I keep testing, I keep probing, I keep asking, and I keep track of whether and how the other party will bend for my benefit.

Give and take is all part of a good relationship, and you need to know as early as possible what the other guy is willing to do for you. If the employer tells you the application and interview process is “their way or the highway,” then hop the nearest bus.

I think you have it right: Be ready to walk away, but be prudent. Even big companies will sometimes flex when they encounter a candidate they are really interested in. If you haven’t inspired that kind of desire in an employer, then why bother with the process at all? Do you really want to be another beggar at the door?

Make reasonable requests to gain some advantage. And don’t stop too early. For everything they refuse, have another request – and see if they try to meet you somewhere in the middle. That’s the sign of a company that may be worth it, even if their process is clunky.

The reader follows up

Thanks for your response and advice. It’s definitely tough to know when to push boundaries at the biggest companies, but I really liked how you put it: At minimum, test the process a little and collect data points. This is the first time I’ve gone through the hiring process completely solo.

A big thing that I’ve learned is that every step and decision tells you something important about your relationship with that potential employer. It can be hard to understand what’s going on and to capture all the lessons as you move through the process, but your site has been really great in demonstrating how much strategy is involved at almost every step. It has really helped me be mindful of things I would have never considered. Keep it up!

Nick’s Reply

knotLike my old mentor used to say, Use your judgment every step of the way, and do the best you can. And in the end, make choices — don’t let the other guy make them for you.

One of my favorite quotes is from Henri Frederic Amiel:

“To be always ready, a man [or woman] must be able to cut a knot; for everything cannot be untied.”

It’s easy for people to get so caught up with “trying to win” at the interview game that they lose sight of the larger objective: to get a good job, the right job, working with good people in a good company, where future prospects are good. They’re so busy trying to satisfy the employer’s demands that they lose sight of their own needs. Then they get tied up in knots before they realize they’re in a bad situation.

Yes, be ready to walk away, but after you try to get your way, too. I admire your fortitude!

Do you know when to push back on the employment process? Or are you afraid you’ll anger the Interview Gods? What requirements do you make of the employer before you invest your time in interviews? If you just take any interview offered (Hey, I’m not ragging on you) — what problems have you encountered?

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