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Monthly archive for August 2016

Need a pay stub to hire me? Take a hike.

This reader’s comment is an eye-opener — and a loud wake-up call to employers who demand to see an old pay stub before they’ll hire you. (From Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.)

From Not Desperate

pay stubI passed all of the pre-employment testing in the 95th to 100th percentile. I cleared the background, credit, reference, education and employment verifications and was told I was “cleared” as per the conditions of my signed offer letter.

Give us the pay stub

That was Friday afternoon. Monday morning, the day I was to give my notice to my current employer, the HR contact demanded a pay stub. I refused. I compromised and offered an HR contact who has historically been known to verify employment and salary range. The HR contact called my HR rep and confirmed the information verbally. That was not sufficient. They called me back several hours later and demanded the pay stub. I emailed my recruiter to state I would sleep on it and make my decision today.

No.

I stood firm in my decision and communicated to the HR contact and the team I was asked to join that I believe my current salary is private and confidential and that I would not submit to salary verification as a condition of securing or keeping my position.

I had declined a role that was $10,000 higher and came with 10 additional vacation days to accept this role that they were now demanding salary verification for. I am sure they will not back down and I am sure I will lose this opportunity.

myobIn the end, I win because I still have an amazing job (I am currently employed and not unhappy) and I have the opportunity to secure a position with an organization that will not play games with me after already determining I meet their requirements.

The organization is in a lose-lose situation. They lose me and they have no other candidates for this position. They will be starting back at square one. It felt amazing to stand my ground and remain true to my values and principles. Nick’s articles and comments provided the courage I needed to finally not cave. Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

Deciding to give up an offer over salary disclosure requirements is a personal decision. It’s pretty clear what my position is: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps. Your screen name says it all — if you’re not desperate, you don’t have to hand over a pay stub to anyone.

My guess is you taught this employer a frightful lesson: The “talent” is not a commodity.

I have a standing Q for HR: Give me one good reason why you need to know my salaryNo one in HR has ever been able to give me a good reason. I invite more to try. (Please post your reason below.)

Here’s another question to HR: How many highly qualified, motivated job candidates will you lose to your competitors before you stop demanding confidential salary information that you don’t really need anyway? (We won’t get into the problem of how presumptuous and intrusive this is.) The market is shifting toward the talent, and you’re starting to look like a dope.

People sometimes ask, if you won’t show a pay stub to an employer — Should you disclose your salary history to a headhunter? There is a difference and it’s important to know how to handle both situations.

If anything I’ve written was helpful to you, I’m glad. Good for you for taking stock and keeping control of your career. While it may sound like sour grapes to some, I agree that what you see is what you get. Any employer hung up on getting your pay stub is going to be a bear to work with — and will go hungry waiting for a good hire.

Would you pass up a job to protect your confidential salary history? There are probably times you would, and times you wouldn’t. What are they?

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When headhunters on LinkedIn are scammers

In the August 30, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader cautions you to think twice before sending your information to “headhunters” you don’t know. They’re likely scammers.

Question

scammersI recently had an experience with a headhunter(?) I do not know who sent me an unsolicited pitch to look at a job listing in my field in my city. The pitch was sent via LinkedIn with an attachment. I do not open attachments from people I do not know. This brings up the issue of cyber security in dealing with any kind of pitch about a job.

To confirm who I was dealing with, I called the main office of the headhunter’s firm. I got an answering service. Then I called the number the headhunter posted on LinkedIn, but got a vanilla message which did not identify the headhunter or the firm.

A reputable headhunter:

  • will have a voicemail message that clearly identifies the office and the person.
  • will not send an unsolicited attachment via LinkedIn.


Social media has been used successfully by hackers and scammers to mimic real identities to get unsuspecting people to open attachments that contain malware. For high-tech firms, like the one I work at, these kinds of threats are well understood.

However, with the rise of ransom-ware and other forms of hacking for profit (e.g., stealing bank and credit card account information) the use of social media for social engineering is a real threat.

I suggest you post some advice for your readers about cyber security and how to avoid being taken in by scammers.

By the way: LinkedIn is a good vector for this type of social engineering attack because many people access it from work. If they open a malware-infested attachment, it could compromise a work computer along with its intellectual property secrets. So far, there has been no response to my voice mail replies to the headhunter, and I never touched the file attachment on LinkedIn.

Some headhunters who send unsolicited attachments might just be clueless. On the other hand, my experience is most recruiters send the job description after they’ve qualified the prospect as being interested, available, and a possible match for the job, not before. Do you agree?

Nick’s Reply

I agree, and you just wrote the warning you’ve asked me to give about e-mails soliciting you for anything. It’s all the more important when a scammer is connecting via LinkedIn to imply credibility.

Most likely, that’s not a headhunter at all, but a phishing expedition. It’s how scammers obtain personal information they can use to steal your identity. We can’t blame headhunters for something like this, because such scams routinely mimic anything that might lead a sucker to open an e-mail and an attachment.

(Let’s not leave the HR bogeyman out of this nightmare. See Big Brother & The Employment Industry: “All your employment are belong to us!”)

However, because the cost of entry to the headhunting business is virtually zero, we’re faced with loads of stupid, inept, and sometimes unsavory “headhunters.” I’d say 95% of those purporting to be headhunters are not. The most common among these are idiots dialing for dollars. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?) They will solicit thousands of people they know nothing about via mailing lists. As you’ve noted, any good headhunter will know quite a bit about you prior to making first contact, or why would they bother spending their precious time?

2 rules of thumb

I think there are two cautionary notes here — call them rules of thumb to keep you out of trouble. First, assume any e-mail or attachment is a phishing tool. I think that’s a reasonable rule because most e-mail is junk of one sort or other. Very few mails constitute “signal.” Most are noise. So, be skeptical all the time and be very careful.

Second, if it’s a real headhunter, apply basic common sense and business standards. If the mail is from a headhunter you don’t know who clearly doesn’t know you, it’s probably a waste of time. Just because you really, really want a headhunter to find you a job doesn’t make it so. It just ups the odds that you’ll get suckered.

Drop this bomb on the headhunter

To test the sender, simply ask one of the many qualifying questions I list in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. For example, drop this bomb:

“Please give me the names and contact information of 3 people you’ve placed and 3 managers who have hired through you.”

A good headhunter knows how to instantly defuse it by gaining your respect. He’ll ping you back to make sure you’re not going to waste his clients’ time — then he’ll give you his references. The rest aren’t worth dealing with — your question is like a bomb going off on their party. They know it’s all over.

If you’re considering doing something silly just because someone told you to — like clicking on an unknown attachment — ask yourself whether you’d do it in any other business context. If not, then don’t do it. (Would you hire a contractor to remodel your kitchen without checking some references first?)

Beware of fools

Of course, there’s another category of scoundrel — the naïve headhunter who doesn’t consider the risks she asks prospective candidates to take when she sends them solicitations. She’s not worth dealing with, either, because she’s the fool who will accidentally contact your current employer and present your resume for an open position — and possibly get you fired.

How to test for scammers

What you did to test for a scam is what I suggest in HTWWH:

  • Google the name of the person who solicited you. Is there evidence the person is affiliated with the firm?
  • Google the firm. Is the headhunter that contacted you listed on its roster?
  • On the firm’s website, look for names of the owners and for a bricks and mortar address.
  • Look up the individuals named, and find the address on Google Maps.

Then ask, does it all add up?

  • If there’s no connection between the headhunter and the firm evidenced online, don’t respond.
  • If the firm’s website does not list any names, or a street address, or any contact information that you can verify through an independent source, run. (If you do find an address on Google, there should be multiple references to it, or it’s probably phony.)
  • While some good headhunters work out of their homes and prefer not to list an address for privacy reasons, they should at least have a verifiable post office box.
  • Any real headhunter will have a verifiable phone number and friendly voicemail. Only a scammer doesn’t want to take your call!

referencesDid I say check references?

As you found, in most cases there’s no “there” there. If the headhunter fails these tests, checking those references is absolutely critical.

These tests are not sufficient, but they are necessary and they’re a good start when performing due diligence. It’s not hard to determine whether someone is legit, but it’s very easy to be gullible and to get suckered. In this case, a fraud has contacted you — but people should expect that most e-mail solicitations are frauds. The trouble is, most people rationalize: “Hey, I don’t want to miss an opportunity! Besides, this was through LinkedIn.”

Wishful thinking and the pain of job hunting turn people into suckers. (LinkedIn does not confer legitimacy.) “Headhunter” is just another mask scammers wear because they know you’d love a new job. And random job solicitations are just another sign of lousy headhunters that aren’t worth your time or consideration.

(For more on this topic, see How to work with headhunters.)

Did you ever get scammed by a headhunter? Was it even a real headhunter? How do you vet job solicitations?

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What does HireVue tell us about employers?

Sighmaster — an Ask The Headhunter regular — tells this story about an encounter with an employer that tried to schedule a HireVue video interview prior to any other discussions with the job applicant. (From the comments section of HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage.)

Sighmaster’s Story

hirevueBack in July I applied for a design job with Connections Education. I got an email from their HR rep:

“Thank you so much for applying with Connections Education!  I am sending you a first round, preliminary digital interview request in a separate email through our vendor, HireVue, for the position with Connections Education. [Note the redundancy in mentioning the company name twice, was this email sent by an algorithm?] This process allows you to record yourself answering questions that will be watched by the hiring team, who will then set up second round, in-person interviews.”

I replied as follows:

“To quote the letter writer in this ATH article (HR Pornography: Interview videos), I find this request creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, voyeuristic, unprofessional, and perhaps even unethical. It is also insulting. A hiring manager that won’t ‘waste’ their time interviewing candidates is certainly not worthy of my time. I am withdrawing my application.”

Her response:

“I am sorry that you feel that way and it is certainly not meant to be any of those items listed. If you would prefer to do a phone interview instead, we can arrange that. The reason we use HireVue as the first step in our process is because of the high volume of positions we have open, it would be impossible to screen the amount of applicants we are able to using a tool like HireVue. You can also opt to turn the video part off and just do audio id desired. I hope you’ll reconsider this position and agree to a phone interview.” [sic]

So, there ya go, I refused the HireVue and got a phone interview with the hiring mgrs.

The call consisted of a man who was the creative mgr and a woman who was director of marketing. The woman seemed nice, but the man had the personality of an uncooked potato. How’s that for ironic? I certainly would like to have seen this guy perform on a video camera to see if it would have been worth my time to talk to him (it wasn’t!).

Needless to say, the “interview” went nowhere — when you talk and talk and talk but the hiring mgr has nothing much to say other than “do you prefer mac or pc” (and you get sentenced to hell if you answer pc!) the outcome is inevitable.

I got their rejection email a few days later, to my relief. Of course, I’m still unemployed, but hey at least I stood my ground…*sigh*

Nick’s Reply

What does their use of HireVue video interviews tell us about employers?

This is just one data point, but it’s worth noting two outcomes of Sighmaster’s response — bold as it was. First, even though Sighmaster withdrew from the process, the employer still pursued this applicant. Saying no emphatically doesn’t necessarily kill the employer’s interest in a good candidate.

Second — perhaps more telling –, it seems the company’s choice to use video interviews to begin with may have signaled what kinds of managers Sighmaster would meet during a phone call, and what the experience would be like.

If you’ve been subjected to video interviews, did you find any correlation between that practice and the rest of your experience with the employer?

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HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage

Welcome to the machine.

video interviewsYou’ve got rare, desirable skills — but are you ready for video interviews? Maybe what makes you rare is how hard you work for your employers. In any case, you apply for a job.

You fill out several pages of online forms. You attach a resume that you spent hours customizing to address the specific employer and job. You provide names of references, sign off on a waiver and agree to the terms required.

Software and some algorithms scan your data record for keywords. If they match those in the employer’s database, your application is flagged for the next step.

Then you get an e-mail. It asks you to click on another agreement, and to sit in front of your own video camera to answer a series of questions from an online robot. You carefully organize your responses and do your best to be calm and collected as you address the eye.

No one from the employer has spoken with you. No manager has taken time to answer your questions. No one at the employer company knows you exist.

When you’re done, you click your video interview up to a database at a company called HireVue. What you don’t know is that no human will ever take time to watch you answer all those questions. No one hears you speak.

bit-streamAnother robot “views” your video and algorithms scan the sounds and movements you make in the video.

The employer has invested its money in HireVue, not in you, to conduct this assessment — which we can’t even call an interview because although HR is viewing there is no inter-action with anyone. It’s just your bit stream and a recording and some software and hardware, saving the employer the cost of deploying a human to judge you.

If your data doesn’t match the template the employer uses to match job candidates, the recruiting process ends. A quick look at the employer’s website reveals that “People are our most important asset!”

Sucks for you, doesn’t it?

Question

When I applied for a job, they wanted me to sign into something called HireVue so a robot could interview me. Are they kidding? They’re trying to attract people like me and the best they can do is a video camera? (Not to sound arrogant but the work I do is specialized and it’s not easy to find people with my skills.) Long story short, I told them (yes, told them) to take a hike. I’m a software developer. Would you like to join forces and create a robo-interviewer job candidates can send to employers? I’d like to see their faces when the talent they’re dying to hire wants them to pose for the camera before I decide they’re worth my face time. Are you seeing a lot of this, or is this just one clueless company (that I won’t name though I should)?

Nick’s Reply

In the midst of a talent shortage, HR tells the talent to sit for video interviews but can’t figure out why it can’t attract the talent it needs. Gee, is there a connection? Or is the modern HR executive daft?

I keep seeing HireVue infomercials popping up in the news. It’s a fair guess that these uncritical fluff columns are HireVue’s PR team pitching “content” to the media. Press releases are free advertising, but many media outlets eat it up because the PR agent does all the work and basically writes the article. The news outlet saves money, too, while real news reporters collect unemployment.

There’s a recent fluff piece about HireVue in the Wall Street Journal — which should know better: Video Job Interviews: Hiring for the Selfie Age. (The Journal requires a paid membership, but you can view the article for free by searching Google for the title, then X-ing past the splash screen.) On the other hand, the dusty skeleton in the WSJ’s closet is its defunct CareerJournal, which compromised the newspaper’s editorial integrity to sell its job-board service: Job-Board Journalism: Selling Out The American Job Hunter. So perhaps it’s no surprise the WSJ is hawking HR technology.

I’d like to ask the Ask The Headhunter community: Do you as a job seeker (or as a hiring manager, or as even one of the many HR folks who subscribe to Ask The Headhunter) buy this stuff?

canddiate-lineInterview videos infomercial claim #1

“…companies say [HireVue] is an efficient, fair and inexpensive way to process hundreds of applicants…”

The key word in this statement is “process,” as in “process meat.” Here’s what Gilman Louie, partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Alsop Louie, told me about how modern HR technology destroys an employer’s competitive edge:

“HR processes 2,000 candidates! They don’t look through 2,000 candidates! And at the end of the process, what they get is the same candidate that everybody else running PeopleSoft gets! So where’s your competitive advantage if everybody turns up with the same candidates?”

Infomercial claim #2

“Video interviews have significantly reduced travel costs for Cigna recruiters. Frank Abate, a senior recruiter there, said one of his colleagues racked up more than $1 million annually just traveling to meet candidates. Since adopting video interviews four years ago, that colleague’s expenses are now under $100,000.”

Gee. Imagine spending money to go find the talent. Cigna is saving by not meeting candidates.

By not meeting candidates.

By not meeting candidates.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Imagine if Cigna told its sales team to stop spending money to call on customers to close deals.

I love your idea for a robo-interviewer app for job seekers. Imagine how much you — the talent — could save by telling employers to talk to the video camera before you bother talking to them in person. Get that employer ready for its close-up. Tell HR you don’t talk to the hand.

Infomercial claim #3

eye-lensRecruiters at IBM and Cigna said they evaluate candidates based on how well the person communicates his/her thought process, whether the person answers all parts of the question—and whether he/she makes eye contact.”

Eye contact??? Uh, contact with what eye??

Infomercial claim #4

“HireVue, InterviewStream, WePow and other vendors that make video-interviewing software say their programs make hiring more fair because all applicants must answer the same questions, placing substance over schmoozing and small talk.”

Schmoozing and small talk are bad things. The robo-interview vendors now save HR jockeys from the ignominy of having to talk with the talent HR claims is so hard to find, so hard to attract, so hard to hire. Heaven forbid recruiting should be a social interaction where you can judge someone in person.

Small talk is a bad thing. But employers say they want to judge applicants for cultural fit. Tell it to the camera.

Just how gullible is HR?

While the HR profession’s existence is being questioned in the C-suite, HR outsources its most important job — hiring — in a stunning display of gullibility. Wowed by technology it doesn’t even understand, HR deploys it at enormous cost to insult the talent it needs to attract during a talent shortage.

The by-line on this WSJ “article” is Dahlia Bazzaz, a former “crime reporter” and summer intern — and Ms. Bazzaz goes on to blurt out this sales pitch for HireVue:

robo-hr“Taking robo-recruiting one step further, some HireVue customers have an algorithm review the video interviews for them. Using data about the skills and attributes companies are seeking for a given role, a program called HireVue Insights scans videos for verbal and facial cues that match those skills then ranks the top 100 applicants.”

Now I get the “crime reporter” part, and we get to what’s really going on. Personnel jockeys don’t just avoid recruiting and interviewing you. They let HireVue’s robots “watch” your interview videos. Don’t those schmutzes realize they’re next? WTF? Inflatable interview dolls?

Let’s go back to Gilman Louie, whose investments in the digital world are his livelihood. What does he say about picking people?

“When you’re selecting people..  it’s personal. And personal is not digital.”

HR eats this stuff up.

“Speeding up the hiring process allows recruiters to look at more applicants than before…”

HR complains its job postings yield such a flood of applications that HR can’t possibly “look through” them all. But now personnel jockeys have time to look through all those videos. Gullible?

We could partner to produce an app that requires HR to make video interviews job applicants can watch to judge employers. But we’d do better selling popcorn to all those couch potatoes while they dial the talent knobs. Then there’s this idea for production services we can sell to job applicants: HR Pornography: Interview videos.

Companies like HireVue, InterviewStream, WePow — can you blame them because HR is stupid enough to spend its money insulating itself from, and insulting, the talent HR says is so hard to attract in today’s hiring market?

Can you? I can. These HR technology vendors are vampires sucking the recruiting budgets out of comatose HR departments while pitching stories to the media about how people are interchangeable parts — to be sorted by algorithms and selected by robots.

The HireVue Quiz

There’s an issue with HireVue’s video interviews I haven’t even mentioned. Can you guess what it is?

Would you sit for a robo-interview? Or would you rather HR pose for you first? Just how daft do you think HR is?

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Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why)

Question

I had to help out a former employee after we sold our real estate business. He was looking for sales opportunities. He did the usual thing of sending his resume via job boards and online applications, and had very little to show for it after a month or so. So I made a series of preemptive referrals.

The gift of referralsI told him to give me one day – and I cold-called companies across the metro area for six or seven hours on his behalf.

I found 12 companies (who were hiring) that wanted to see his resume and three of them wanted to get his phone number and call him right away.

How did I do this?

“My name is Kevin – I’m wondering if you can help me. I’d like to speak to a sales manager or the person that hires for sales. [I rarely have issues with them wanting to transfer me to HR – but it does happen.]

“Hi, [Sales Manager] – Kevin Downey here. I’m former owner of LOBC in Leawood, KS, and my former manager is looking for a sales position. Really good kid and as loyal as the day is long. I’d like to get his resume in front of you – if you’re hiring.”

I let them answer or ask questions.

It’s easy stuff. He had a job within a week.

[Reader Kevin Downey posted this story as a comment on another Q&A column. It’s so good, I wanted to highlight it here!]

Nick’s Reply

Your script is how I learned to place job candidates when I started headhunting. It’s perfect — for anyone.

What most people who are job hunting don’t realize is, all they really need is one former employer or boss, or someone they’ve worked with, to make those referral calls. They might ask, Why would anyone spend six hours making calls like that for me?

It’s a very smart investment for anyone to make, to help a good person land a new job.

How referrals pay you back

  • You as the referrer made a great new friend in the manager who hired that “kid.” You did that employer a favor!
  • You have a friend for life in the person you helped land a job.
  • Your reputation as a source of good hires will spread if you keep doing this. Establishing yourself as a credible hub of good business referrals will bring you loads of business for years to come — no matter what business you go into next. It may even lead you to a new job.
  • The universe shines more brightly on people who do favors that change lives.
  • Most important, you did a good deed — and no one has yet figured out how to calculate the total value of that ripple in the big pond of life.

Is it a lot of work to gift someone a job like this? You betcha. But, how much work is it to find yourself a job? Wouldn’t you love to have a favor like this come back around to you someday?

Employers actually pay for referrals

A personal referral is a fair investment for anyone to make, once they realize they will need a call like that themselves one day. I call it The Preemptive Reference.

For those who don’t realize it, this is what an employer pays a headhunter to do: make personal referrals, recommend someone, provide a reference to the employer in advance of a job interview. In other words, you’re doing most of the work for the employer. Employers love that. They’d rather hire someone through a trusted source than to wade through resumes and job applications from people they know nothing else about. They even prefer to pay a headhunter for referrals than to go find good hires themselves.

(Employers also offer referral fees to their own employees when they recommend a new hire. But there are two critical problems with most of these programs: The fee is usually too small, and there’s not enough proximity between the desired behavior (a referral) and the reward (the fee) to stimulate enough referral behavior that it makes a difference. These fees are paid months after the fact, and usually in small chunks.)

Investing in referrals pays — just don’t expect a return immediately or even from the person you invested in. The gift of a referral may get handed across many people before it comes back to you.

Many thanks to Kevin Downey for this lesson in how and why up to 60% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts!

Have you ever done someone a solid of this magnitude? How do you define a “preemptive reference?” Has anyone ever gifted a job to you in this manner?

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Q for HR: One good reason why you need to know my salary?

Quick Question

I’ve been reading your posts about employers that won’t continue an interview if you won’t disclose your salary. (Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.) And I love the comments from people who see right through what HR is doing! Just how does anyone in HR justify this demand for private information?

matrix-bring-it-onNick’s Quick Reply

I have a standing challenge to anyone that works in HR: Give me one good reason why you need to know a job applicant’s current salary.

Many have tried, but no one can deliver a good reason, because there isn’t one. (If you work in HR and want to take your best shot, please post your response in the comments section below.)

But I’ll let an HR manager answer your question. She upbraids me for telling job applicants not to disclose their salary in a job interview. This is such a bold admission that I quote it in Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.

“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000.

“The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.

“I’ve been a vice president of HR, a recruiter, a labor negotiator and a candidate, so I know from which I speak [sic]… I am so dismayed that someone pays you to hand out this kind of information.”

You can’t make up stuff like this.

The trouble is, you can’t make these kinds of HR managers go away, either.

I repeat my challenge. Give me one good reason why HR needs to know a job applicant’s salary. Bring it on.

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Goodbye to low-ball salary offers

Question

f-off-2I read that Massachusetts made it illegal for employers to require your salary history when you apply for a job. I always thought this was wrong to begin with. It’s how companies “justify” low-ball salary offers. This seems to back up what you’ve been saying all along — but what about those of us who don’t work in Massachusetts?

Nick’s Reply

I told you so.

Job applicants have been getting screwed by HR departments since time immemorial through intimidation and badgering:

“We can’t proceed with your application until you tell us what you’re getting paid now. It’s the policy!”

This is a popular topic on Ask The Headhunter, and I advise people to just say NO. (See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO? and Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) When employers demand to know your salary, it’s for just one reason: to low-ball any offer they make you.

And now everybody knows it.

It’s illegal to threaten job applicants

The state of Massachusetts just passed a law: Illegal in Massachusetts: Asking Your Salary in a Job Interview (New York Times). No longer will HR threaten to “end the application process” if you won’t tell your salary.

The dirty little secret is out:

“Companies tend to set salaries for new hires using their previous pay as a base line… which often leaves applicants with the nagging suspicion that they might have been offered more money if the earlier figure had been higher.”

Duh.

The impetus behind this new law is to end pay disparity between men and women. (See Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!) But the problem is much, much bigger.

Employers are the dummies

When employers make job interviews dependent on disclosing your old salary, everyone gets hurt — men and women. Even dopey employers get hurt, because their silly insistence elicits guffaws and “Screw you!” from the best job seekers, who won’t be intimidated and won’t give away their negotiating edge.

The New York Times points out — duh — that:

“The new law will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront — based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a previous position.”

Read the boldface again. Employers will have to figure out what you’re worth.

Jeez. What a concept for a business! What an indictment of the stupid employment system that HR departments have propped up for decades.

No competitive edge

Employers who base job offers on what another employer paid you are admitting five things:

  1. They really, really believe people (workers) are fungible — interchangeable parts.
  2. They’re incapable of assessing your value to their own business.
  3. They’re willing to judge you based on what one of their business competitors came up with.
  4. They believe your worth to one employer is the same as your worth to any employer.
  5. They have no competitive edge on judging value.

This new law is good for employers because it will force them to hire smarter and to be more competitive. Of course, they may need to fire their HR departments and whip their managers into shape. It’s time for employers to figure out how any new hire will contribute to the bottom line.

Jeez. What a concept.

Kudos to Massachusetts for being the first state to outlaw salary intimidation in job applications and interviews. I think the rest of the nation will soon follow.

noJust say NO

If you don’t live and work in Massachusetts, you still can and should say NO when employers demand your current salary. Smart employers will back off. The rest aren’t worth a job interview, because if they don’t take advantage of you up front, they’ll do it later.

Ask The Headhunter subscribers have been saying NO — politely, firmly and successfully — for a long time:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.” -Rich Mok

“Despite both the headhunter and the company insisting I disclose what I was getting paid at my old job, I stuck to my guns and I was able to double my salary. Plus I got a signing bonus. That would have never happened in a million years if I had caved!” – Bernie Dietz

“I was headhunted for a lucrative job at another company and, following your advice, did not state my current salary, nor did I even hint at its range. Thanks to your book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, I ended up with a 40% increase on my previous job and salary! Thanks!” – Daniel Slate

Say goodbye to low-ball salary offers — at least those based on your old salary. Employers can still low-ball you. And the best way to avoid that is to be prepared to show why you’d be the most profitable hire. Don’t be a dummy yourself. See How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

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Say NO to job applications

Quick Question

say-noWhat would you do if you were interested in a position that clearly states:

All applications must include a cover letter stating salary expectation. Any applications submitted without this information will not be considered.

Would you apply? Would you apply but wouldn’t include salary expectations? Thanks! Keep up the great work!

Nick’s Quick Advice

I’d skip the application altogether, track down someone who works in the company, and find out who the manager is who needs to fill the job.

Then call that manager — on the phone, no e-mail — and ask a question no one ever asks them:

“When you pick someone to hire to fill this job – what’s the one most important thing you want them to fix, improve, accomplish, do to make your business more successful? Because I never apply for a job unless I know what the manager really needs a new hire to do first and foremost. And if I can’t put together a plan showing how I’d do that, I won’t apply.”

A smart manager will answer that question immediately – and you’ve set yourself apart as the best candidate already. Explain that you’d be glad to come in to talk, but you’ll send a resume only directly to the manager:

“Sorry. I don’t deal with personnel departments. They don’t really understand the work I do, so they can’t judge me. I talk only to managers, and I arrive ready to talk shop. We’ll talk salary only if I can convince you I’d be a profitable hire. If I can’t do that, then you shouldn’t hire me.”

Let the HR folks go diddle those cover letters while you’re interviewing for the job. And if the manager doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, run to the next opportunity, because that company isn’t looking for people who demonstrate initiative. In other words, the company is in trouble. (How can you know what your salary expectation is if you don’t know what the manager needs you to accomplish?)

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HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates

In the August 2, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader shows us how a good employer recruits and hires.

tech-out-of-controlWe recently got a look at machines doing interviews — automated hiring. (New Grads: Send a robo-dog to job interviews!) An electrical engineer wrote to say that, “Fewer companies are doing on-campus interviews,” and expressed dismay at employers who try to recruit by substituting technology for personal, human contact.

Instead of making the kind of personal investment they expect from job seekers, employers are sending robo-drones to probe applicants online and via video. This job hunter found it troubling that human judgment has gone missing from the most important point in the recruiting and selection process — the very beginning, the first contact between the employer and the job seeker.

In this edition, the same engineer shares his experience of landing a job with a company whose managers reach out in person to judge applicants and to make hires. He closes his comments with an interesting observation about how a top university selects its freshman class — and asks whether employers are smarter than this school.

A reader’s story

I recently took on a new job in my town. I have been reading Ask The Headhunter for a long time, and while I have been working on expanding my network, I still applied for jobs the “traditional” way when I saw one I was interested in. (I’m from the school of Do What Works.)

I applied on their website, and soon thereafter got a phone interview. It was with a human, and it was short. Then my current manager interviewed me in person for only an hour. (Also in the interview was an engineer who now does marketing. I like that — a technical person who talks to customers!) I was told right then and there that of the three candidates under consideration, I was the top one.

A week later, I had a phone interview with the manager’s boss, whose office is 2,000 miles away, and HR interviewed me on the phone. During the next two weeks my manager called me twice to let me know what was going on. So when I got an offer within a week of the manager’s last call, I accepted. It took about a month altogether. This was the perfect balance of technology and face-to-face.

Yes, it was very personal.

My previous company tried to counter-offer. Raise!!! Stock!!! I answered: “Sorry, but I’m leaving.” I’m glad I made the change.

You can verify this, but the California Institute of Technology, which gets way more applications for their freshman class than they can admit, actually has every single application read and considered by real, live human beings.

Now, if the highest tech of the high-tech schools does not have an automated system to do this (and they could make a very good one with all that talent), then I can only conclude that they realize there are some tasks best left to human beings.

I love reading your website, and keep up the good work!

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words, but thanks more for your instructive story. We need to hear how good employers hire!

Employers’ biggest mistake today is using technology (algorithms, machine interviews, massive applicant databases) to process far too many applicants, making it more difficult for managers to choose, and turning the process into a months-long embarrassment. By the time HR watches the umpteenth “video interview,” it becomes convinced that watching more will yield a better hire — when all it does is protract an already cumbersome process that terrorizes candidates and pisses off the best ones.

A few decades ago even candidates who were rejected each received a personal note thanking them for applying. Now, in many companies it’s robo-all-the-way and damn the human touch. “We have no time in HR for professional courtesies because there are too many of you responding to our cattle calls!” (See Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m.)

Let’s look at the key differences in how this employer treated you — compared to what most companies seem to be doing today. It seems clear from your story that you were enticed and convinced by the personal touch and the timely handling.

8 steps to respectful hiring

  1. The company responded quickly after you applied.
    Most companies seem incapable of prompt action and decisiveness — or of tendering a speedy, polite rejection. In this case, it seems that HR — not the hiring manager — made the first call to you. While I think the manager should make first contact, the fact that HR kept it short tells me the manager pre-selects candidates and HR serves in a support role. (Yes, there are good HR workers out there who know what they’re doing, and how not to interfere when it comes to judging candidates.) After all, the #1 candidate seemed to be one of just three. That’s all it should take to make a hire.
  2. A human called you.
    Most companies waste weeks letting algorithms sort applicants. HR doesn’t realize that the shelf-life of a good candidate in a “talent shortage” is very short. These employers behave like there’s no rush while the best hires go to their more nimble competitors.
  3. The next step was a personal investment by the hiring manager.
    Hiring is important enough that he quickly met you face-to-face, along with another team member. Most employers would have you fill out more applications or take tests online or in the HR office — without a manager’s involvement. You would have been left with a poor impression of the company.
  4. The manager gave you immediate feedback.
    Most of the time, applicants leave interviews with no idea whether the employer is seriously interested in hiring them. And then it’s impossible to get any feedback, much less a response to phone calls or e-mail queries. This manager was smart to ‘fess up that you were #1, and then to follow through. (See Will employers explode if you squeeze them for interview feedback?)
  5. The manager’s boss called you personally.
    Rather than delegate the selection process downward to HR, your new manager escalated it to a higher-level manager in a timely way. It’s important to note that HR was not driving this process — the managers were. They moved in concert quickly — another sign that you’ll be working for good, decisive people.
  6. The manager demonstrated respect.
    He took personal responsibility to call you regularly with updates. Every manager is busy. Most use that as an excuse for dropping the ball when hiring. Most companies have no qualms about radio silence for weeks or months, as if the applicant’s time and peace of mind are immaterial. (“We don’t care about our reputation among job seekers because there are thousands more waiting for a job here!”)
  7. HR stepped in at the end — where it belongs.
    Dotting i’s and crossing t’s is HR’s job. This HR organization did it right: It left the responsibility and authority with the hiring managers, and entered the process after your new boss decided to hire you.
  8. An offer was tendered promptly.
    In the month your new employer took to make a commitment to you, other managers don’t even start interviewing candidates. Their HR staff is busy gorging itself on hundreds of videos, or gagging on thousands of resumes. (Do employers take forever to make you a job offer? See Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers.)

Noisy Hiring: Managers can’t hear the candidates

Employers reading this should pay close attention to your story about CalTech. You’re absolutely right. While HR departments deploy more and more offensive HR technology between hiring managers and job applicants, CalTech demonstrates the wisdom of decision makers getting as close as possible to applicants immediately.

tech-out-of-control-2In engineering, it’s called a signal-and-noise problem. The point is to identify the signal before noise seeps into the system and obscures it. HR and robo-hiring vendors (“HR technology”) introduce more and more pre-processing into recruiting and hiring — and that adds noise. The best candidates — the signals — get lost or rejected long before any hiring manager gets to judge them properly. Managers can’t hear the best candidates.

Gullible HR executives have turned hiring into a big, noisy system by adding more and more technology to what’s really a simple task. It’s no surprise that an engineer like you — who designs technology — knows what its limits are.

The single best reason for you to take this job is the manager’s integrity and commitment to hiring right. You made a wise choice to reject a counter-offer. You’re going to work with people who realize hiring is a critical task. (See The manager’s #1 job.) This demonstrates their commitment to employees, too.

Kudos to your new boss and employer for how they hire and treat job applicants. It should be a signal to those who are crying they can’t find good hires because they’re too busy terrorizing them with superfluous HR technology.

Do you have any positive experiences to share about how you were hired? No doubt employers are waiting to learn how to do it right — so let’s give them some examples.

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