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Monthly archive for September 2016

Recruiting From The Panic Room

Recruiting has changed. In the September 27, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant responds to a posting and gets a call from the cops.

Is this recruiting?

recruiting-welcomeEmployers are so out of it that they’re not only putting up digital roadblocks against people they’re trying to attract — such as online application forms and video interviews — now they’re hiding in bunkers, barring the doors, and calling the cops on earnest job applicants.

A reader found this stunning episode on an Indeed discussion forum:

I recently applied to a job on Indeed and sent a follow up e-mail a few days later. About a week passed with no response, and I sent another e-mail, saying I would come by their office. They quickly sent a response saying they no longer had a position available. Twenty minutes later I got a phone call from the police. They complained that I threatened and harassed them. I denied it, and the cop said to not contact them again. The whole thing is almost unbelievable. I hate applying for jobs.

WTF?

Why doesn’t this employer just keep an armed guard posted at the door?

When you find a job posting online, can you get arrested for showing up in person at a company to apply? I’m not a lawyer, and I won’t touch that question, but such conflicted behavior and mixed signals sent by employers reveal just how dysfunctional recruiting has become.

Applying through the front door

More than once, I walked into companies I wanted to work for and gave my resume to a receptionist. Sometimes a manager would come out to talk to me. Or a personnel clerk would appear briefly. When no one appeared, I’d chat up the receptionist, collect some company literature to educate myself, and go home. Worst case, I’d write the employer off. On to the next.

If employers are afraid of who comes in the front door, why are they recruiting? Why are they in business? What if a customer shows up unannounced? Does the sales department send in its dogs?

WTF, indeed. I know many people who have taken the time and trouble to go to an employer’s office to demonstrate how serious they are about getting a job. But recruiters have so dehumanized job applicants they’re trying to attract that they no longer know how to welcome them.

Hiding from the applicants

Employers solicit such staggering numbers of people that they’re are afraid of who appears. The only way to process the incoming rush is to dehumanize and render people into database morsels. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”) And to hide.

recruiting-barricadeThis cannot be reconciled with the idea that an employer is trying to attract you. When you’re an abstraction in a database — a mess of keywords — the assumption is that you’re to be avoided and feared, either as a waste of time or, in this case, as a physical threat.

Lest someone suggest it’s inappropriate to show up at a company after submitting a resume, keep in mind that at some point you’ll be invited for an interview at a bricks-and-mortar office that has a front door. If the front door is a locked bunker, then the job applicant who posted that story would likely just walk away — probably disgruntled. But if the front door is open for business, then it’s no more inappropriate for a job applicant to show up than it is for a customer to show up to buy something.

Recruiting from the panic room

So what does this incident mean? We must assume the job applicant did nothing wrong or threatening. After all, this person was applying for a job. They want to impress the employer — not hurt anyone — hence the visit to the office. (On the flip side, does a job applicant assume a murderous psychopath has lured them to an interview?)

When an employer worries for its safety or fears who’s going to show up, that tells us there’s something fundamentally wrong with popular methods of recruiting. It’s pretty clear that the fear and worry stem from soliciting teeming hordes of applicants that employers don’t really want. Depersonalizing and demonizing them only adds to the distrust — we naturally fear the unknown.

This incident is perhaps the most stunning evidence that the online employment system companies rely on is inherently twisted and warped. (See “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”) This job seeker’s experience reveals a panic-room mentality, where employers huddle and hide behind locked doors and impenetrable applicant tracking systems. It highlights one recruiting perversion after another:

  • Advertise a healthy work environment — but reveal your company’s paranoid culture.
  • Proclaim a desire to find great people — but treat applicants like they’re psychopathic marauders.
  • Solicit job applicants — then tell them there’s no job.
  • Open your company to the talent — then call the cops when the talent arrives.
  • Talk about how people are your most important asset — but only let digital profiles and applications in the door.

The problem is not that a company called the cops on a job applicant it attracted. That’s merely a symptom. The problem is that the highly automated recruiting system our economy depends on can’t deal with people.

What kinds of contradictory messages have you gotten from employers? What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had when applying for an advertised job?

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Should I take a 30% pay cut to keep my job?

In the September 20, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t see a pay cut as a good deal.

pay cutQuestion

Yesterday my company, which is experiencing cash flow difficulties, asked me to take a 30% salary cut to keep doing the same job and still at full time. Do you have any tips on how to respond? I feel like I’ve been bushwhacked.

Nick’s Reply

The obvious answer is to tell them to shove it and quit.

But if that were your first choice, you wouldn’t be asking for tips. There are several ways you could respond, so let’s consider some of the issues before I offer some suggestions you could tweak to suit your needs.

Let me ask a key question:

Did they give you any indication or evidence that they expect to return your salary to normal again? When?

If they’ve communicated nothing about that, it’s a bad sign. If they’ve made promises, ask for it in writing. How they respond will tell you all you need to know about the company’s viability. Good management is honest with employees and makes and keeps commitments. A company that leaves you in the dark about what’s really happening is in more trouble than it seems. Don’t ignore signals about this.

You need to decide how much you need that cash flow yourself. That will dictate what you should do next: wait it out or move on immediately?

Another question:

Is there anything you can say or do that would bring your salary back up?

In other words, if you decline the cut, would they keep you on at your regular salary? I doubt it. So the choice is, do you accept the new terms while you look for a better job (without disclosing that’s what you’re doing), or do you quit and focus all your time on a new job?

Only you can answer that.

Negotiate a pay cut

This might work if your employer is likely to recover financially: Ask if they’d leave your salary at 100% on the books, pay you 30% less, and issue a promissory note for the balance. That is, an IOU. Then you might have standing to collect when they go bankrupt and a judge has to decide whose debts get paid first by the court.

Or, play tit for tat: Take the pay cut if they’ll take a work cut. Offer to work 30% fewer hours. Always be aware that opening a negotiation can result in the other guy withdrawing the deal entirely. That is, they might just tell you to leave now. But you could just leave now, too.

Fall back on this

Now I’ll give you my second best advice. Talk with a good employment attorney before you answer about the 30% cut. I know an attorney will cost you a few bucks, but consider how much that pay cut will cost you over the next one or two months. An hour with an attorney will probably seem like a good investment if your goal is to work out terms.

If you’re pretty sure the pay cut will turn into a layoff, start preparing now. Here are a few other issues to consider, from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job:

Should you volunteer to get laid off?

You might be able to get a severance package that costs the company even less than keeping you on at a 30% pay cut — if you volunteer to leave. (See pp. 26-27.)

Should you tell your boss you’re leaving?

Are you going to start a job search? Your boss probably wouldn’t be surprised — but I advise you not to disclose what you’re doing. If you’re going to rely on whatever meager salary they’re going to keep paying you, don’t risk it by appearing disloyal because you’re looking for a new job. (See pp. 38-39.)

If you’re ready to quit, see How should I quit this job? If you’re not going to read the book, at least read the article Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Stand up to downsizing

Are you pretty certain the company is going to fire you soon? From the book:

“Be smart. If you’re caught in a downsizing, don’t let yourself be pulled under by the current of panic. Everyone grabs the same life preservers: the job postings, the resumes, the cover letters and the random interviews. By that point, the channels of the employment system are clogged with so much competition that surviving the trip is debilitating, if not impossible.” (See pp. 23-25.)

In other words, don’t be the last one out the door pursuing the same jobs as your laid off co-workers!

Prepare and plan for the worst. When employers ask their employees for money — make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is — it’s a bad sign.

The only thing that would make me feel better is if your employer puts some skin in the game, too, in one of the ways I suggest above. But here’s my best advice: Immediately start a job search and get ready to move on — but be careful. (See How your old boss can cost you a new job.)

I wish you the best with this, but I doubt it’s going to work out well.

Did you ever take a pay cut to keep your job? How did it turn out? What would you advise this reader to do?

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Networking For Introverts: How to say it

In the September 13, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a shy reader frets about networking but is ready to mix it up with new people.

networkingQuestion

I like your advice about networking by hanging out where the people I want to work with hang out. That’s very different from contacting people I don’t know on LinkedIn, which seems creepy and dishonest. But as an introvert I have a hard time breaking the ice even when I’m hanging out with people at a conference, or in a training class or even at a social event. This is for me to get over, but do you have any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Write it down. And be honest.

When I started headhunting, I was fresh out of grad school. I had zero business experience and zero technology experience. But I was recruiting electronics engineers. I had to call people I didn’t know on the phone, introduce myself, and try to recruit them. It wasn’t dishonest, because I had jobs to fill, but talk about creepy!

Worse, I was an introvert. I was shy. I hated starting conversations because I never knew what to say. What if someone hung up?

Networking? Write it down.

My boss gave me a short script to use when I made those calls. I was embarrassed to recite it, but I realized I had to start somewhere. She told me not to worry if I “lost” someone that I called.

I read that script to people a few times until I realized it would be less creepy if I tweaked it a bit. So I did. Then I tweaked it some more. After a few more calls, I had re-written the thing so I sounded like me. Still, it was reassuring to read it rather than have to think about what to say.

Then something changed. After a few conversations with engineers, I learned just enough to be able to ask a couple of intelligent questions about their jobs, and I didn’t need the script any more. I also saw that engineers loved to talk about their work, so I didn’t have to say much. (Soon I learned that everyone likes to talk about their work, whether they love it, hate it, or are indifferent.)

Suddenly I was able to talk to engineers. In behavioral psychology we call that successive approximation of a desired behavior. Little by little, if you approximately perform the behavior of breaking the ice, you feel like you’ve accomplished something — and you get successively better at it. Pretty soon you’re actually doing it.

Networking? Be honest.

My breakthrough was when I realized engineers appreciate it when you don’t B.S. them. So I started admitting that I didn’t know what rotating memory was — could they please explain it? And, could they please explain to me what’s the difference between a microcomputer and a microprocessor?

Oh, they’d laugh — and then give me a short lesson in whatever I was asking about. They kidded me that I was the only headhunter who didn’t spout buzz words ignorantly. “You really want to know what we do!”

And that’s the other key: You must be honestly interested in other people and the work they do. If you’re not, don’t even try this. Find another area of work that does honestly interest you, and go talk to people about that.

Engineers took me under their wing. Pretty soon I was placing enough of them at better jobs that word got around I was the guy to talk to.

I know it’s corny, but I suggest you work up a script you feel okay about. Write it down. Try it out “live.” Pay attention to how people react when you try to break the ice. Tweak it til it feels good.

How to Say It

I suggest starting like this. Walk up to someone and say:

“Hi — So you work at ABC Co. What’s it like to work there?”

Let them talk, then ask:

How to Say It

“What would you say is your company’s biggest competitive advantage?”

Or,

“How does your company make the most of your [engineering] skills?”

Perhaps it seems corny. It’s not. It’s honest. You’re admitting you don’t know something you’re really interested in, and you’re asking. While someone might be rude and turn away, most people are sensitive to inquiring minds — as long as it’s not a personal topic. Work is open game.

Let them talk. They’ll ask you some questions. Just answer naturally. Ask more questions about their work. I like this one:

How to Say It

“What have you read or learned recently that has influenced how you do your job?”

All you’re doing is making conversation and getting to know someone. What makes it easy is that you’re letting them do the talking about something almost everyone likes to talk about: themselves.

I let go of my shyness when I realized I was fine asking people about their work, and talking about my work — so I stuck to that. Then I became more outgoing because I was no longer afraid of how people would respond to me.

We’re all different. I’m not suggesting my exact Hot to Say It tips will work for you. You must tweak them to suit who you are and how you talk. My boss said to me, “Stop resisting the script and just use it a few times until you come up with something better!”

Write it down to start. Tweak it — but keep at it. Just remind yourself: If something feels creepy, don’t say it or do it. (See Please! Stop Networking!) Be honest. Talk shop, be yourself, let other people do the talking at first. Pretty soon they’ll be laughing at the honesty of your questions and they’ll tell you what you need to know.

Once that happens, they’ll introduce you to their friends. If you’re looking for a new job, that’s where the fun starts!

If you need more help understanding how to connect with people comfortably, see the chapter “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” in How Can I Change Careers? (This PDF book isn’t just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out to employers.)

Okay — what magic words do you use to break the ice? Even outgoing folks can get nervous introducing themselves to others. Are you shy and introverted? How do you do it?

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HR Technology: Who’s Bad?

badWho’s really bad in today’s HR Technology world?

  • Companies that actually spend money on software that peeps at employees and people they want to recruit?
  • HR Technology companies that make the software?
  • Investors who could be gambling their cash away in Monte Carlo? (And seeing a show?)
  • HR executives who brag that they’re peeping at employees who might be doing the nasty nasty with some other employer?

Who’s Bad?

A reader sent me this gem today, from the Washington Post:

This software start-up can tell your boss if you’re looking for a job

I’d love your take on it. I see a few things in the story of Joberate, a company that:

“scrapes publicly available data from millions of individuals’ online social media accounts, or buys it from other parties, to assign what it calls a ‘J-Score’ that estimates their level of job search activity, likening it to a FICO score.”

(Yuck. Digital dumpster diving. Scraping the bottom. Bad.)

First, I’d love a list of Joberate’s customers — so I could advise you to quit your job there if you have one, because who wants to work for a company that invests more in peeking at what you’re doing than it does in making sure you’re a happy employee? But alas, Joberate’s customers don’t want to be identified. (Ah… busted doing the nasty nasty… send the PR manager into fits!)

Second, I’d like five minutes with the HR jokers who convinced their companies to buy into this tracking technology: Where are you hiding? Don’t you have a real job?

Third, I have a few words for “Brian Kropp, who leads human resources consulting for CEB, which has a venture capital arm that’s an investor in Joberate”: You’re an HR executive and an investor? Do you write HR Technology software?

Finally, to Joberate’s chief executive, Michael Beygelman: Close scrutiny and analysis of public media (I did a big-data dump of the Washington Post and ran it through my algorithm) reveals you should be looking for a new job, even though you’re not. Or maybe you are. Someone could check. If anybody cared.

HR Technology + LinkedIn = Really Bad

I always check out people worth writing about. Mr. Beygelman’s LinkedIn profile reveals something you really ought to care about. (Hey, it’s a public profile, anybody can look at it without scraping anything.) He wrote an article titled “LinkedIn changes to InMail policy create business case for Joberate technology.”

Here’s the nugget:

“Instead of sending blind InMails to potential candidates on LinkedIn, recruiters can now use Joberate technology to track job seeking behavior of people they’re interested in contacting.”

HR can be bad with Joberate, but LinkedIn helps recruiters be really bad. Now you’re going to see where all those silly LinkedIn In-mails you get from “headhunters” come from — an algorithm that links up Joberate with your favorite junk-mail purveyor:

found-you“When Joberate technology tells the recruiter that a person’s J-Score went up, it means that person’s job seeking behavior has increased, alerting the recruiter when it becomes the ideal time to contact a potential candidate. At that point a recruiter can send an InMail to a prospective candidate whose job seeking behavior and activities have just increased.”

Whoo-wee! Thanks to HR Technology, a recruiter (or your boss — whoever pays for Joberate!) found you looking for a job! Kinda like looking in your peephole.

Who’s bad?

Would you hire Michael Beygelman? Would you invest your money with Brian Kropp? Do you worry Joberate is watching you? Is it time to turn off InMails on your LinkedIn account? Do we really need more software companies?

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Negotiate Even The Worst Job Offers: Say Yes, IF

In the September 6, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is frustrated with employers who are looking for top talent at discounted salaries to fill positions with fudged titles — but who won’t negotiate.

negotiateQuestion

I am a director-level, doctoral-level employee at a large healthcare company with over 15 years’ broad experience on the science side of medicine. I have been approached by several companies about potential positions. Some of the positions are extremely interesting and have broad organizational impact and a much larger sphere of influence than my current position.

However, when offers are made, they seem to all be at a “comparable” level — essentially lateral moves — with excuses of “We have eliminated the Senior Director level” or “We don’t implement the same titles at our company.” The compensation packages have been fairly anemic as well, with almost no increase in cash value and modest increases in stock or pension values.

What gives? Are these companies trying to get VP-level work for a Director level salary? When to push and when to walk? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

Manipulation of salaries and titles is common — and I think your conclusion is correct. Even in a “talent shortage” employers think they can discount people and work, and some of the time they get a ridiculous bargain. The problem is LinkedIn and the job boards, which convince HR that the perfect candidate is available at a low price… now here’s the sales pitch… “if you just keep searching our database to find them!”

That’s how job boards make money: by selling silly ideas that suckers buy. That includes getting employers to keep paying to keep searching for that purple squirrel at bargain-store prices. The further problem, of course, is that many job seekers will fall for this manipulation.

We discussed negotiating recently in Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES. Now let’s go a bit deeper into this approach.

Lousy deals

Don’t tolerate lousy deals.

A top-level manager I know was downsized, and after a lengthy unemployment, he took a job for 20% less than he’d been making to do exactly the kind of work he’d been doing for five years. Two years later, he was downsized again, and took a 15% cut on the next job. Downsized yet again, he figured it out and got fed up after yet another employer tried to buy him at yet another ridiculous discount. He’s starting his own business while looking for a job suited to him that pays what he’s worth.

The explanations for reduced pay and titles that you’ve been given are self-serving excuses. Smug employers believe in Junk Profitability: “If we cut our costs when we fill a critical position, our profits will go up!” Then they act shocked – shocked – when the person they hire at such a discount bolts the first chance they get. “Disloyal, unreliable, over-qualified scoundrel!”

Force the other guy to negotiate.

Yes, IF: How to negotiate better deals

I showed the manager in the story above how to negotiate such job “opportunities.”

When an employer brings up a lower salary or lower title, don’t say no. Step back and ask yourself, Under what circumstances would you actually take this job? What salary? What authority? What responsibilities? What kind of work?

That’s called a term sheet. It’s the terms under which you’d take the deal.

Then say, “Yes, I’ll take the job IF…” and present your requirements to the employer as your counter-offer.

Include enough negotiable terms that you don’t come across as arrogant or unreasonable. But make sure you’re respecting what’s really important to you. Then let the employer consider what you’ve offered. If they want you and really need you, and they’re rational, smart business people, they’ll negotiate.

The aforementioned manager learned that many employers are not rational or smart — or they don’t really need to fill that job with a good candidate. Given the chance to negotiate, any savvy employer will do it, sometimes with a knowing smile. They’ll never agree to terms that are bad for them, but they’ll try to work out a compromise that’s good for you and for them.

The thing is, few candidates ever try this. They just skulk away or get angry. Don’t go away and don’t get angry. Open a negotiation. Know what you want. Ask for it.

If the employer won’t negotiate, then you will be glad you did more than hold your ground. You offered alternative terms that could lead to YES, but the employer walked away. (See The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!)

If they do negotiate, you’ve helped yourself and you’ve helped them fill a job under mutually good terms.

Negotiate even the worst job offers

I borrowed this advice from my own lawyer, who is also my best business advisor. He taught me long ago that, unless it’s a job or gig you really don’t want to do, never walk away over terms you don’t like. Offer terms you do like, and see where it goes. It’s a very empowering experience. (See “Am I unwise to accept their first job offer?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9, Be The Master of Job Offers.)

You can control the terms of any job negotiation. Don’t be afraid or intimidated, especially if you’re going to walk away from the lousy offer they’ve already made you. You have little if anything to lose.

Whatever the outcome, you’ll feel like a million bucks because you managed the situation assertively and on your terms. If the employer balks, the rest is the employer’s problem, because they’re left with a vacant job that’s costing them every day.

Don’t say no. Say, “Yes, if…”

How do you turn job negotiations to your advantage? Do you negotiate just salary, or everything? Or do you just decide yes or no?

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