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Yearly archive for 2017

Stupid Recruiter Story #2: How employers waste your time

In the May 23, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tries really hard to satisfy a stupid recruiter who doesn’t give a rat’s batootie about job applicants.

Background

stupid recruiterWe’re going to skip the regular Q&A column in this edition. Instead, I’d like to highlight a problem that I think most job seekers face: Stupid recruiters (and employers) that waste your time. (For another example, see Stupid Recruiter Story #1.)

An Ask The Headhunter subscriber applied to a job posted by a major defense contractor in Silicon Valley. The job description is detailed and includes a list of qualifications. What happened next is an object lesson in how corrupt recruiting has become.

Here are the e-mails between the employer and applicant. Names have been redacted.

From the recruiter

[Dear Applicant],

Thank you for your resume submittal to Requisition Number: XXXXX – [Job Title – the job is in communications].  I have some additional questions for you in regards to this specific position.

Please take a few moments to review and respond to the questions below. For your reference, a copy of the job description is provided at the end of this message.

  • What is the primary reason you are seeking a new opportunity?
  • How does your background relate to this specific position?
  • How would you describe the role of internal/employee communications in terms of adding true business value to the company?
  • Briefly, what are some of the unique approaches or tools you have used to execute an internally focused communications plan?
  • How do you measure success?
  • What is your salary expectation (please provide a specific amount or range)?
  • Are you willing to work in United States>California>Sunnyvale?
  • What is the best way to contact you during the day? Please provide an email address or phone #.

Thanks again for your interest in this position and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best regards,

[Recruiter’s Name and e-mail address]
Talent Acquisition

Those are some pretty heavy-duty questions if you’re the candidate — and your answers could make or break the opportunity. If it seems these are the kinds of questions you’d get in a face-to-face interview, it’s because they are.

How much time has the recruiter invested so far? Well, how long does it take to copy/paste?

The applicant responds

Happy Friday, [Recruiter’s name]!

Please see answers to questions below. The fact that I put much thought into these answers, as you will soon see, is an understatement. :)

[Applicant]

The applicant answers all the questions thoughtfully and in detail. He estimates he spent 45 minutes to an hour answering all the questions, plus time submitting the application.For our purposes, the answer to only one question is relevant.

  • What is your salary expectation (please provide a specific amount or range)? As in life, everything is negotiable, including salary. I’m sure there is a salary range in mind HR has budgeted for this role, and that will suit me fine. For me, waxing poetic about the job is more important right now. That said and major hint alert, Sunnyvale is in the heart of one of the most expensive places on the planet, Silicon Valley.  :)

This qualifies as, “I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours first.” It’s an insulting way to entice, attract, recruit… or to start any personal interaction with another. (Here are more examples: 2 really insulting interview questions.) The applicant demurred politely.

From the applicant

Five days later, having heard nothing back, the applicant sends this e-mail:

Hi [Recruiter],

Haven’t heard from you in a while. Would love to take next steps.

Regards,

[Applicant]

From the stupid recruiter

Another day goes by. It’s clear why the recruiter has not responded already. But now she “circles back.”

Hi [Applicant],

My apologies on not circling back with you.  To your point on the expensive price tag of Silicon Valley, we really need to understand a candidate’s salary requirements prior to proceeding.  We have had a few too many cases of getting well down the road (even to offer), only to find out that our salary expectations do not line up.

If you could please circle back with me regarding where you currently are in salary and what your expectations are if you make a move, I will be able to let you know if that is within our range.

Best regards,
[Recruiter]
Sr. Talent Acquisition Business Partner

That e-mail could have taken as much as 2 minutes for the recruiter to write. In half the time, all the recruiter really needed to say was: “Salary range on the job is $X-$Y. If that suits you, let’s talk. Otherwise there’s no need for us to go farther down the road.”

But she didn’t do that. Having lured the applicant into investing a lot of time providing thoughtful answers to important interview questions, the recruiter now tries to get the applicant to compromise his negotiating position.

“Circle back?” Or, keep going in circles? “Prior to proceeding?” The applicant has proceeded pretty far already with nothing to show for it.

The recruiter says she is avoiding “getting well down the road.” But the stupid recruiter has sent the applicant well down the road already while she’s still ensconced in her personnel office, having invested nothing.

From the applicant

The applicant blind copied me on his last response to the recruiter.

Hi [Recruiter].

Happy Thursday. Hope this message finds you well. I’d like to introduce you a recruiting friend of mine, Nick. I think he has the answer you’re looking for.

Best Regards,

[Applicant]

Nick’s Advice

For the full effect of the applicant’s answer, you have to click the link he included.

What’s corrupt about this recruiting episode is that the recruiter teased the applicant about a job opportunity by asking him to deliver detailed answers to serious questions. These are questions that would normally be asked in a face-to-face interview. But the recruiter didn’t invest in an interview. She lured the applicant into wasting his time interviewing himself.

The recruiter doesn’t give a rat’s batootie about the job applicant. That’s stupid.

Let’s interview by e-mail!

The applicant never heard back from the recruiter. (See Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m.) But he says he had a similar run-in with a recruiter at another defense contractor.

When I was on the phone with the in-house recruiter, she asked me about my salary. I said “negotiable.”

The response I got was criminal:

“That’s not good enough, [Applicant]. You’re going to have to tell me your range. Let’s start with your current job. How much are you making now?”

That’s not recruiting. That’s an interrogation by a hostile attorney. That’s not an interview. That’s a waste of time. Don’t interview by e-mail.

What qualifies this as a Stupid Recruiter Story is, of course, the recruiter’s abject stupidity. She chose this applicant from all submissions because he made the cut. He’s desirable. There’s nothing smart about insulting a job applicant you think might want to hire.

If you’re the job applicant, what can you do? Let’s talk about that.

Is you is, or is you ain’t?

After you’ve submitted an application or resume to an employer, either they’re interested in you, or they’re not. When employers respond after you apply, that means you made some kind of “cut.” You passed a test. You stood out enough. Expect an interview, or cut them off. When they try to take several bites of the apple by e-mail, they’re wasting your time.

When the recruiter replies to your application with more requests for more information, try one or more of these responses — which tests whether they’re really interested:

  • “Thanks for your interest. I’m glad you have more questions for me. I have questions not answered by your job description, too. When would you like to interview face to face?”
  • “As my application indicates, I’m interested in interviewing. If you are, too, let’s talk in person.”
  • “I applied, and you responded, so there’s mutual interest in discussing working together. When would you like to meet?”
  • “I applied for the job and you responded with interest. The next step is to meet. Sorry, but I don’t conduct interviews by e-mail or even on the phone. Since we’re both interested enough to contact one another, the next prudent step is an interview. If I don’t receive a date and time from you, I’ll expect you’re not really serious.”

If they is, good — have a meeting. If they ain’t, that’s good, too — it frees you to move on. Don’t let anyone waste your time.

So, why do job seekers do it?

Are we all crazy? You know as well as I do that this is how most “job opportunities” play out. So, why do job seekers do it? Why do they consent to wasting their time, when the employer invests no time? What could job seekers do to change all this?

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College Students: Start job search freshman year

In the May 16, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how college students can turn a degree into a job upon graduation.

Question

When I graduated high school at age 19 I tried to find a job in the town where I live. Well, I couldn’t get anybody to hire me so I made a resume. A couple of employers have my resume and are keeping it on file. So now I’m 20. I just started college. I enrolled so I could have a better chance at getting a job. Can you please give me some advice about how to make sure I have a job when I graduate?

college studentsNick’s Reply

Every job seeker I’ve ever known would love to have four years to find a job. College students do, so start now! I’ll try to show you how.

A college degree is the wise choice

Good for you for going to college. There seems to be a movement nowadays to skip college and either get a job immediately out of high school, or go to a trade school. Unfortunately, this is being cast as an either-or choice. It’s not. College is not just about getting a job. It’s about getting educated. But that doesn’t mean colleges can afford to ignore students’ need to get a job when they graduate.

While a college’s first mission is to deliver a good, well-rounded education, there’s no reason a college cannot also help its graduates get jobs. Sadly, few colleges provide effective career services. At best, they offer pedestrian tools and poor job-hunting advice delivered by inexperienced staffers, and a place where employers can post jobs for students. Telling students to “Make sure you visit Career Services!” is not enough — and colleges can do much, much more. Students and parents who pay for college should demand more.

Let’s look at what you can do from the first day of college to help ensure you’ll get a good job when you graduate. More important, let’s consider how every college and university can help every student do these things — and why every college and university must.

College Students: Start thinking about jobs now

College is a good move for you. But many people who finish college complain they still can’t get a good job. I think the reasons are clear. During college, they don’t do internships or get part-time jobs in good businesses. They don’t meet people who might hire them later.

I’m not saying to work so much during college that your studies suffer – don’t do that. For example, if you can study 100% of the time during your first year, that’s good. Get comfortable with your studies and learn to manage your education. But start thinking about jobs, too, and plan on experimenting with different kinds of work.

Experiment: Pick some companies

By the middle of year two, you should be thinking about what kinds of companies you might like to work for when you graduate. It’s more important to pick a few reasonable ones than to pick the ones you’ll ultimately start a career in. That is, you can change your mind later, and you’ll probably change it more than once. The point is to choose some kind of work you’d like to try part-time, and see where it leads you. (See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.)

What’s important is not to pick the right job or company. It’s to learn how to experiment with work and to learn from each experiment.

An experiment might be a job at a deli or an internship with a company’s marketing department. But it must be something where you get your hands dirty doing real work, even if it’s just a little work for a little while. And, more important than having a job is meeting people in the world of work.

It’s all about people

Most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts, not through job postings, career centers, or employment agencies. College students’ first job is to meet people — preferably people who work in companies and on products and services you think you’re interested in. Those people will educate you about work and about jobs and employers. The sooner you start developing these contacts and learning from them, the better. (Do you think you have no contacts? See I don’t know anybody.)

Find people who work in the companies you think you’re interested in.

  • Ask your friends and fellow students if their parents or older friends work in those companies.
  • Ask to be introduced to those people – then ask those employees what it’s like to work there.
  • Or, ask your friends where their parents and friends work — and start selecting companies to explore that way.

Don’t be nervous. These are people who’ve been introduced to you. Talk to them.

How to say it
“I’m a long way from graduating, but I’m starting to learn about companies I might be interested in working for. You mentioned your brother works for ABC Corp. Do you think he’d be willing to talk with me about the company and his job — what it’s like to work there? Please keep in mind, I’m not looking for a job! I just want to learn about the company.”

Not everyone will be willing to talk with you, but my guess is most people will simply because they love to talk about their work — and they love to give advice to college students.

If you get these conversations, talk shop.

How to say it
“What’s it like to work in sales? (Or marketing, or engineering, or product development?)”
“I’d love to hear about your work. What do you actually do every day?”
“Is there something you’ve pulled off — a cool thing you’ve accomplished — that made you glad you have this job?”
“What does your boss look for when filling entry-level jobs?”
“What courses and training would be best for such jobs?”

You will learn a lot and, if you pay attention, these conversations are what will show you how to prepare for those kinds of jobs.

Meet the juniors and seniors

There’s one special class of people who can really help you if you will invest the time: College students more senior than you. They will graduate first, and they’ll have jobs while you’re still going to school. They’re the perfect channel for learning about many employers.

  • While you’re a freshman or sophomore, meet all the juniors and seniors you can at your college.
  • If you’re at a two-year school, meet second-year students.

These people are gold! Once they’re employed:

  • Hang out with them.
  • Go visit them at work.
  • Join them for lunch in their company cafeteria.
  • Meet them after work at local joints where employees hang out.
  • Become part of their group and make more friends among the employees.

Try to meet their bosses – not to ask for a job, but to ask about the business and about the work. This shows you’re motivated, but they don’t have to hire you now, so there’s no pressure on them.

You’re just making friends – with people you’ll work with later! All these people will remember you. While they’re tossing incoming resumes of people they don’t know in the trash, they will remember you. That’s where jobs come from. It’s very likely this is how they found their own jobs — via personal referral. (See Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).)

Cultivate friendships now

Once you meet all these people, don’t lose the new contacts you make! If you stay in touch, you’ll become a known entity to the insiders you become friendly with. Personal relationships can take years to develop before they might lead someone to introduce you to their boss about a job.

The point is, if you start doing this early, there’s no hurry. You have loads of time while you earn your degree. And by graduation, you should have loads of good, personal contacts — people who have gotten to know you well enough that they’re comfortable recommending you for a job to their company.

If you’re nervous about “networking,” don’t network. Never say or do anything that feels awkward. But I think you’ll never feel awkward if you approach a new contact by asking them about their work. People love to talk about themselves, so help them — and you’ll make new friends. (See “Make personal contacts to get a job? Awkward…” Get over it!)

Connect school to work

Whether you’re taking an Early American Literature course for fun, but want to be an engineer, or you’re studying accounting and you’d really like to be a social worker, there’s something in every academic course that can be applied to the work you’d like to do.

Writing a good Lit paper requires logical thinking and being able to show how premises A, B and C clearly lead to the conclusion you’re trying to make. You might laugh, but that’s how digital circuits work, too. Try to map the argument for your Lit paper using a circuit diagram. Show it to your engineering professor and to an engineer you meet through your friends.

Social work is usually funded through public sources of money. If you’re studying accounting, try to map out a business model for a social services agency. Go meet the manager of such an agency and ask how its success is calculated. Better yet, ask your accounting professor to invite the head of a social services agency to give a talk to your class.

These are just two examples of how to stimulate useful discussions. That’s how you make friends who have the kinds of jobs you want!

college studentsColleges have an obligation to deliver ROI

Colleges don’t like to make these connections. They claim it detracts from time spent on a course’s subject matter. Bunk. Colleges are good at teaching what, but Colleges fail How. They don’t make the connection between education and how to do work.

I tell college administrators that every course should include one class session that features someone from the work world talking about these connections — no matter how far-flung or weird they are!

If all college students had one class period in every course over four years where someone from the real world of work came to discuss how an academic topic could be related to a job, those students would meet dozens of people who could help mentor them into jobs upon graduation. (They’d have some fun discussions, too!)

That’s where job opportunities come from!

Colleges love to cite job placement rates and salaries of new grads (when the statistics suit their marketing campaigns), but they don’t like to talk about their second big obligation. School is not just about getting educated. Colleges also have an enormous obligation to show return on investment (ROI) to those students who want to get a good job after graduation. Imagine any college or university administrator explaining to the parents who fund an education that, “This isn’t about college students getting a good job.”

Start small

These methods for meeting people and talking shop — you can start using them freshman year — should lead you to opportunities for part-time or summer jobs or internships. But, what kinds of jobs should you pursue?

It almost doesn’t matter. Start small and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. If a company you meet this way will let you work part-time, take the job, even if it’s not exactly the kind of job you’d want after graduation. The point is, once you’re in there, you can meet people in the departments where you really want to work. Once again — it’s all about the people you meet. The more, the better! You have four years to parlay these relationships into a job.

Ask them about their work – make friends with them. Let them see you’re a dedicated worker and really interested in what they do. (Just be careful. Don’t be a pest and don’t stalk them!)

The point is simple: Take any job you can get, to meet people in the companies where you’d like to work later. They’re the ones who will recommend you for jobs you really want when you graduate.

Invest

You can already see this takes time. It can take quite a bit of time. It can take even seasoned professionals two or more years of getting to know people before they consider you seriously for a job. I know how that sounds, but it’s true. It’s why it’s so hard for college students to find a good job from job postings — there’s no one you can get to know by filling out forms online. If it hasn’t dawned on you already, the “people approach” is a lot more fun than responding to ads!

People who just submit resumes and fill out online applications get passed over because the hiring managers don’t know them. Managers hire who they know. (See Why am I not getting hired?)

While you’re in school, take advantage of this fact and circulate widely among people who do the kind of work you want to do. Invest. Rack up all the time you can being around people you’d like to work with. Try to meet their bosses – they will remember you later.

Why this works

Smart managers tend to hire people they know, or people known to their employees. While this might bother you because it seems unfair, consider that it’s prudent because it lowers the risk of getting a lousy worker. Would you loan money to a friend, or a total stranger? Would you trust your business to someone a friend vouched for, or someone you don’t know anything about? This is just basic human nature – but it’s not unfair. It’s a good survival mechanism.

So, your challenge while you’re in college is to get to know people who know people at the places where you want a job in a few years. Start now. You’ll get hired because someone that knows you vouched for you.

(To learn more about what to do when you get in front of a hiring manager, see Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course.)

Be honest and give back

Never do what I’m suggesting just to get what you want. Make real friends. Only hang out with people you’re really interested in – and be a good, honest friend yourself.

Don’t just expect something from others – do things to help them, too. Give back. This is not about manipulating anyone to get what you want. It’s about making real friends in places where you’d like to work. It’s about building a good reputation long before you get hired. It’s about creating trust.

Once you’ve made friends in the work world, it’s natural to ask them for advice when it’s near time to get a job. One (or more) of them will introduce you to your next boss. Not all of them, of course. But you need just one.

The four-year job search

I think college will be a wonderful experience for you. And if you find your college doesn’t do much to prepare you to get a job, go talk to your college president. Ask why your career is not high on your school’s priority list. Then suggest that every course should include one class session that features someone from the world of work exploring connections between the course topic and a job. Ask why your college does not regularly, and as part of the curriculum, introduce you to alumni who can show you how your education applies to work.

To ensure you’ll get a good job when you graduate, start your job search your freshman year. I wish you the best! Study hard — and meet lots of people who do the kinds of work you think you’d like to do!

Should college prepare you to get a job? If you went to college, what help did your school provide to start your career? What do you think colleges should do — above and beyond delivering education — to ensure graduates get jobs?

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CEO to job applicant: “Hiring is not my job!”

In the May 9, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader discovers that a company’s high turnover problems start with the CEO.

Question

In a recent column (Consulting Firms: Strike back and stir the pot) you said we should contact a company’s CEO if the HR department’s hiring process is nutty. So I did. The CEO actually called me back!

ceoFirst, a little background.

Let us bother your references

I talked with a hiring manager who, despite having my resume, told me that I was required to fill out the online application in order to go further in the hiring process. When I got to the section for references, there was no way for me to proceed until I had typed in names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and where my references work.

I called the hiring manager and politely explained that I cherish my references and don’t want them bothered until a job offer looks like a real possibility. He fobbed me off onto HR, saying it was “government regulations” that required them to ask for references. I know better. There are no government regulations that require applicants to list references.

I also remembered one of your previous newsletters which discussed how some employers are outsourcing reference checking to third parties, sending references e-mail forms to fill out instead of having the hiring manager telephone the references and talk to them about the candidate. But the manager wanted me to discuss it with HR, so I did. HR refused to budge, and the hiring manager caved to HR.

I even asked HR how they handle reference checks, and I was told that wasn’t any of my business, so that clinched it for me. I walked away since there was no offer on the table.

Come back!

A few weeks later the hiring manager called me back, asking if I was still interested! I said, “Yes, but…”, reiterating my concern about disclosing my references. He started sucking air, complained that there’s no good help out there, and that everyone has to provide their references up front because of “government regulations.” Once again, I walked away.

That’s when I e-mailed the CEO. I was shocked when he called me, but we had a very pleasant chat. You were right, Nick — he was unaware of HR’s requirements in order to proceed to an interview. But I also learned that he was perfectly content to leave all aspects of the hiring up to HR.

CEO: Out to lunch

He seemed puzzled that there are no government regulations requiring applicants to list their references and their contact information before an offer is on the table, much less accepted. He breezily informed me that he doesn’t worry about hiring because that is HR’s job, that he doesn’t believe in interfering in the hiring process, and that HR knows best because that is what they do!

That tells me a great deal about the company — much more than I could have gleaned from an interview. No wonder the hiring manager seemed so rattled! The company is small, there is a lot of turnover, and little to no guidance from the CEO. He’s out to lunch! It isn’t a start-up, but they’re flying by the seat of their pants, putting out fires as they break out — and they are breaking out with greater frequency as people get disgusted and leave.

So I thanked the CEO for calling me, told him that I was no longer interested, and wished him and the company luck in their future endeavors. (You might recognize that as standard fare in kiss-off letters HR sends to rejected job candidates.) I already have a wishy-washy boss who can’t make even simple decisions such as hiring extra help. We are constantly short-staffed and the underlings are putting out the fires.

I decided not to go from the frying pan into the fire (assuming that I’d be hired at the other place).

A stinky company

The other concern I had about the laissez faire CEO is that, when you’re that disengaged from the day to day goings-on of your business, that’s a recipe for a company to go belly-up, because the person who is in charge isn’t involved.

Although I made the decision to walk away when HR refused to let me proceed without providing my references, my conversation with the CEO confirmed my decision.  I have no regrets and don’t give it any thought. You’re right: On to the next!

I have learned so much from your comments and advice, and from the other readers’ comments.  I feel that I’m a better educated job hunter now than I was before I signed up for your newsletter.

I think you could have a whole new job educating CEOs about the importance of sane hiring practices.  Or maybe teach this subject as a graduate course in business school — then you’d get them before they become CEOs and abdicate their authority to HR.

I concluded that HR in this company does what it does because the CEO doesn’t care. Fish stink from the head down.

Nick’s Reply

Wow — what a story! We touched on the problem of top managers avoiding recruiting and hiring tasks in Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!

I’m not sure the employer in your story wins a prize for citing “government regulations” as the reason for demanding references so early. That goes to employers that demand salary history before they’ll interview anyone. But this CEO wins the prize for taking a career-long lunch!

It sounds to me like you did the right thing. The company gave you some clear signs that it’s not worth working for.

  • Management is indecisive and powerless. (The manager had your resume but insisted that you regurgitate your work history in an online form.)
  • Management doesn’t woo good candidates. (The employer wanted you to deliver references before it bothered to invest in meeting you first.)
  • HR doesn’t know the law.
  • HR sacrificed a candidate the hiring manager was eager to interview (twice!) because there’s no good help out there.
  • Turnover is high.
  • The CEO thinks hiring is not his job!

While the hiring manager defers to HR, the high turnover suggests the problem is higher up than HR. You found the problem in the C-suite. The CEO might find another way in Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.

Your experience highlights two key rules about picking an employer that we discuss here again and again.

  • First, judge a company by its hiring practices.
  • Second, talk to top management before taking a job.

What you see at the interview stage is what you’ll get on the job. When the CEO doesn’t care about hiring, middle managers leave it up to HR, and HR takes its cue from the CEO.

Oh, yeah: The lesson

Thanks for sharing your experience, and my compliments for drawing the right conclusions. You showed us what it means when a company pushes a job candidate unreasonably, and how important it is to talk to a company’s top management. But there’s actually a more subtle lesson in your story.

When they’re job hunting, people rationalize. They’re afraid they won’t get picked, so they tolerate all kinds of niggling abuse. Making someone jump through hoops — online forms, silly rules about when references are due, eating dust when HR serves it — is not right, smart, or good business. But job seekers will probably jump through hoops because they want a shot at a job. Or that’s what they tell themselves. It’s for a shot at the job. So they tolerate demeaning and meaningless demands.

That hiring manager who wanted to hire you so badly that he called you after you rejected the company wanted you to rationalize the company’s behavior because he rationalizes it.

The lesson is, don’t. Being asked to address a challenge about how you’d the job, or about your work ethic — that’s legit. But when an employer demands something demeaning from you, it tells you it’s a demeaning employer. The lesson is, as Marcus Aurelius once said, “to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Have you ever rationalized a company’s nutty hiring practices to get a shot at a job? Yah — I’m needling you. I’ve caved to such treatment, and I’m not proud of it. Maybe by sharing our blunders we can help one another avoid them!

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Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!

In the May 2, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a doctor’s small business suffers from hiring the wrong people.

Question

small businessI’m a doctor running a solo medical practice. How do small businesses like mine get good managers and staff? I have two medical assistants I’m dependent on to keep work flow steady.

I caught the new assistant doing something very inappropriate! I was livid, but there were patients waiting and I needed them to get back to work. So, the next morning I had a talk with them. My instincts told me to fire the old assistant on the spot, because she makes a lot of errors and isn’t very conscientious, but I need her until I can hire someone new.

So, I’m scrambling to find someone. I’m too busy running to look up. I may have found a good prospect but she needs to give notice to her current employer. There ought to be some semi-structured ways to find under-employed business managers and great employees. Any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

I know the fire drill: Small business owner is too busy to hire good help. Meanwhile, the business burns down.

Small business is too busy

Employers kid themselves that they’re too busy to recruit and hire good people. My rule of thumb: If you’re not spending 15% of your time recruiting — even if you’re not ready to hire immediately — then you’re not managing your business. Your business depends on good employees.

It’s clear that the staffing problems you describe are the result of hiring the wrong people to begin with. If you were devoting 15% of your time to recruiting, you’d have good people in your hiring pipeline. Yes — you read that right. Even a business with just two employees needs a candidate pipeline! When you don’t have a short list of very good potential hires in your desk drawer, you’ll wind up hiring the wrong people and pretty soon you’ll need to fire them (if they don’t quit). That’s no way to run a healthy business.

Good sources keep your candidate pipeline full

Small business owners rely too much on a sort of “just in time” hiring strategy — posting ads at the last minute and interviewing random applicants who come in over the transom. That’s no way to hire.

You must maintain a pipeline full of the kinds of people you’d be happy to hire. This means you must go out into your professional community to meet and and recruit them yourself. Posting jobs and waiting for candidates to appear when you need them is a fool’s errand. You already know that. I want you to realize it.

But stop looking for job candidates. The people you need to hire will come to you mostly via trusted referrals — so learn to identify sources of good candidates. One good source will lead you to worthy candidates again and again.

Make sourcing your business

Make it your business to source good managers and employees. I’ll start you off with a few examples.

As part of your 15% recruiting time, you should regularly attend a local chamber of commerce breakfast. Ask the attendees and event coordinators – not for referrals to possible candidates, but for referrals to possible sources of good candidates. A handful of reliable, trusted sources is an absolute must for any small business that can’t afford to be down 50% of its staff. That’s where the best job candidates always come from.

Go to that chamber meeting. Chat up who you meet. These are the movers and shakers in your business community.

How to Say It
“If you were trying to fill a job like this, who would you go to for some good referrals? Who do you know that knows under-employed business managers? Would you be kind enough to introduce us?”

I’m talking about local lawyers, accountants, retailers, building contractors, bankers, technology consultants — all the people who gather to feed one another business. As a group, they know everyone — including people you need to hire. If you feed this channel of referrals regularly, it will be there when you need to hire. By feeding, I mean returning favors: Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why). Stay in touch with them. They know who’s under-employed, who’s talented, and who may be looking for work.

Recruiting: A small business necessity

You can recruit anywhere, any time. That 15% recruiting-time suggestion isn’t so outlandish if you consider that you can do it while doing other things. You can source potential hires while chatting with a patient who might know local talent. Or in the grocery checkout line. Or while talking with a pharmaceutical sales rep who calls on other medical offices and knows who’s happy at their job and who’s not. (Meet the right people offers tips to help job seekers network. But any employer can use the same tips to recruit.)

Don’t make sourcing and recruiting a last-minute fire drill in your business — especially if it’s a small business. If you think you can post a job ad and wait for instant job applicants, you’re going to hire more wrong people – “because they came along.”

Take the medicine now

I’ll bet you tell your patients, “Take the medicine now. Change your diet and behavior now. Or suddenly it’ll be too late.”

Start devoting 15% of your time to keeping your staff at 100%. If you’re too busy running to look up, you should see what it’s like to wind up flat on your back with no support staff.

For more tips about how to recruit like your business depends on it, see Recruiting: How to get your hands dirty and hire.

Once you find good candidates, know what to do with them! Read Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).

Still think you need help to hire good help? Check Talk to Nick. (No, I’m not going to sell you headhunting services. The offer is to teach you the basics of being your own headhunter for your own small business!)

How do you maintain 100% staffing for your small business? Do you rely on job postings and just-in-time hiring? Or do you make recruiting personal?

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Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy

In the April 25, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader deals with modern employment: consulting.

Question

I’ve accepted an offer for a job at a company, but technically I’ll be an employee of the Consulting Firm that recruited me and is billing me out. There’s a third company involved, the Screening Company.

consultingToday I received an e-mail from the Screening Company, asking for W-2s from the employer I worked for between 2005-2011. I happen to know that companies verify prior employment electronically, so I asked the Consulting Firm why they needed W-2’s. He said the Screening Company couldn’t confirm my employment. This made no sense to me. I said I would call the Screening Company to work this out, since there was a number on the e-mail for customer service. The recruiter at the Consulting Firm said not to do that, and that I should download the W-2s from the IRS.

I called the Screening Firm anyway, and asked a customer service rep why they needed W-2s to confirm prior employment when I know they can do it electronically. She said the Screening Firm didn’t need W-2s for employment verification, and that it was the Consulting Firm that required W-2s.

But then she said they do call prior employers, in addition to doing electronic verification, and that my former employer did not respond to their request. “Would it be sufficient if my former employer called you?” I asked. She said, “Sure.” So I called the HR department at my former company and asked if they had any outstanding requests to confirm my employment. The answer: No. (Say what??) I asked if they would call the Screening Company on my behalf and they said they would only respond to a faxed request with a copy of my consent, and gave me their Employment Verification fax number.

Fair enough. So I forwarded the fax number to the rep at the Screening Firm and then e-mailed the recruiter at the Consulting Firm to keep him in the loop. I said if they had any other concerns to please contact me.

I already have the offer in hand. I never disclosed my salary history during the hiring process. Why would the Consulting Firm want my W-2s? What exactly is the Screening Company’s role? Why did the Consulting firm claim the Screening firm needed the W-2’s and then tell me not to communicate with the Screening Firm? I have more questions, but can you help me with these?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t see how your prior W-2 (salary) information is anyone’s business. If the Consulting Firm does its job right, it knows you’re qualified to do the job its client needs you to do. Otherwise, what’s it charging its clients for? What does it matter where you worked in 2011 or what you were paid? Just sayin’.

You’re asking good questions, but there’s a bigger question: Why are there so many middle-men involved in this?

A cluster of companies

You’ve got:

  • The Consulting Firm that recruited you. That is, your actual employer that will sell your work.
  • The company where you will actually be working. That is, the Consulting Firm’s client.
  • The Screening Company, which processes the hires that its client, the Consulting Firm, makes. The Screening Company seems to be handling the Human Resources tasks for the Consulting Firm.

I’ll hazard a guess that there’s a fourth entity — yet another firm that will process payroll, taxes, and benefits.

There’s a term for the amalgamation of arm’s-length client relationships and consequent finger-pointing that make up this employment game: Cluster-F*ck.

I have no idea how any of these entities can even stay in business with so many hands in the till. You’re not hired to work; you’re rented out to do work. The price being charged for your work far exceeds what you’ll see in your paycheck. Everyone’s getting paid for your work; everyone’s getting a taste of your pay. Good luck figuring it out, because I wouldn’t even start trying to. All I see is a hole in the economy, where money goes without the creation of any value. (See Consulting Firms: Strike back and stir the pot.)

This is not consulting

You’re not being hired by a consulting firm to help it consult to its clients. You’re hired by this Consulting Firm so it can rent you to another company. That’s not consulting. (And don’t confuse what your Consulting Firm is doing with headhunters. See They’re not headhunters.)

Real consulting is an honorable business that creates value. One company turns to another for specialized help: a consulting firm. The consulting firm employs experts in its field that are organized, usually as a team, to solve a client’s problems. Day-to-day work is not the product. A solution, delivered to the client, is the product.

The consultants report to a manager at the consulting firm, not to a manager at the client company. The consulting firm’s employees likely work on multiple client projects at a time. They’re never not working. They’re never “on the beach,” as modern rent-a-worker companies like to call unemployment. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)

The deal you’ve signed up for is not consulting. None of the companies you describe seem to be responsible for you — or to you. One hires you. You work for another. A third handles the transactions. (I still think yet another will handle HR tasks, like processing payroll and taxes, and administering benefits, if there are any.) When you have a question, each points a finger at the other.

Work for your employer

You’re asking good questions. I don’t have any answers. You’re being forced to deal with middle-men whose roles are questionable. In a well-organized, well-managed business, the functions of all those middle-men are functions of the company itself. A competitive enterprise leverages its expertise with all those functions to produce profit. Beware employers that you don’t actually work for.

consultingMy advice is, work for your employer. Avoid any drain of economic value from your work. Don’t let middle-men interfere with the employer-employee relationship. The risk you take when you participate in this kind of cluster-f*ck economy is that you are not the worker. You are the product. You become an interchangeable part. Worse, you become a returnable interchangeable part.

If the Consulting Firm is paying a Screening Firm to confirm who you are and to handle other transactions with you, so it can charge its client for those services, then what value is the Consulting Firm delivering to its own client?

The employment industry has become one of the biggest rackets going. It really is a clusterf*ck. With workers like you in the middle. But as someone advised a long time ago when a dangerous political entanglement could not be unraveled, “Follow the money.” The real problem here is with the company that’s paying multiple entities so it can rent you. Are you comfortable with this arrangement?

Who do you work for? Who pays you? Are you being paid for the value you create in the economy, or are middle-men draining your value?

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Forget Glassdoor: Use these killer tips to judge employers

In the April 18, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader needs to get past the Glassdoor company reviews to find the truth about an opportunity.

Question

I was recently asked to interview at a company that at first I was excited to have a chance at joining. Their industry is interesting and familiar to me, and the position itself is a great next step in my career.

glassdoorAfter my interview was scheduled I did my due diligence and started doing research to prepare. Sh*t hit the fan when I got to employment reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed.

Except for the one or two company-planted positive reviews, the clear majority for the past four years have been scathing and disheartening. To summarize: Employees say upper management rules with an iron fist, takes credit for employees’ successes, and compensation is not competitive.

I can understand a couple of bad reviews that might be from disgruntled people, but with a consistent theme delivered on multiple websites spanning a few years, I’m beginning to second-guess my effort.

My big question to you is: What is the best way to bring up my findings to learn the truth? I feel I absolutely have to ask because I not only want to see how they answer, but I also want to see if they own up to the need to change. I’m worried they’ll blacklist me for bringing it up, and I’ll never know whether the environment is truly terrible or not. I want to approach this with respect and good manners so that I don’t look like a bad seed trying to be planted.

How do I look behind the curtain? Is this worth the effort or should I just run now?

Nick’s Reply

I wouldn’t trust Glassdoor to help me judge a company any more than I’d trust Indeed or LinkedIn to connect me with a job. (See Can I trust Glassdoor reviews?LinkedIn: Just another job board and The Bogus-ness of Indeed.com.) All those websites make money when you keep looking for jobs — not when you find one!

I’d invest more effort to get the truth about this company firsthand, but only if the company passes the first test. So let’s cut to the chase.

The first test

I doubt you’d take this job in if the compensation is not competitive. So let’s get this deal-breaker out of the way because it may save you further effort and later frustration.

Since they asked you to interview, it’s incumbent on them to provide information you need. I’d ask about compensation before taking any more steps. It’s best to ask the hiring manager this question, but if HR is the best you can do, that’s fine.

Make a phone call. (Do not use e-mail. This is too important.)

How to Say It
“What’s the pay like for this job?”

That’s it. Do not elaborate. This simple, off-the-cuff, obvious question says it all. It’s friendly and it’s clear.

If they won’t give you a salary range, I’d thank them for their interest (always be polite) and explain that you can’t invest your time in interviews if you’re not all on the same salary page. If they decline to state a range and instead ask you your current salary or your desired range, I’d politely reply that they’re asking you to interview — and they need to confirm the salary range. (See The employer is hiding the salary!)

If they won’t tell you, you’re done.

Glassdoor reviews are not enough

I’m not a fan of company reviews, especially the way Glassdoor presents them. There’s no accountability. Anyone can post anything anonymously. Nonetheless, when strong criticism spans lots of time and multiple websites, you’re right to be concerned. Just remind yourself that every bit of the criticism could be wrong. Could. It probably isn’t, given the extent of it. But you seem to want to find out for yourself, so take the next step.

Since you’re still excited about the job as you understand it, it’s worth going in to find out for yourself what’s up. You don’t need to confront them with the online reviews. In fact, I would not, because consider their best defense. If I were the employer, I’d respond that those reviews are not proof of a problem and the critics are all hiding behind anonymity.

The company can quickly render your question as a fact-less accusation, and you’ll come off like a person who makes decisions and judgments without solid evidence. Glassdoor is not solid because critics are not personally accountable.

If you had nothing else to go on but all you’ve read, and you had to make a choice right now about this company, the prudent decision is probably to walk away. But you can get firsthand evidence on which to base a sound judgment — and you should, because online reviews are not enough to make a defensible judgment.

Killer methods to judge the employer

Here’s what I’d do. Go to the interview. Answer their questions, and ask the normal kinds of questions you’d ask even a very good company. Then use one or more of these killer employer-vetting techniques. Here’s what to ask the employer (preferably the hiring manager):

How to Say It
“If you could change anything about your company instantly, what would you change?”

See how they handle that. If they’re aware of their online reputation, it gives them a chance to explain without you actually bringing it up.

How to Say It
“I’d like to meet some of the people I’d be working with if I were hired, and I’m willing to invest some extra time to do that. I’d also like to see where I’d be working. Can you give me a cook’s tour of your facility? If today’s not a good time, I’d be glad to come back.” If they let you do this immediately, that’s a good sign. If they put it off, do they quickly schedule that next visit, or do they never get back to you?

Ask the employees

If you get the tour and have a chance to meet other employees on the team, try to get a few minutes with each one privately. Ask this question.

How to Say It
“So, what’s it really like to work here?”

Do not share what you’ve read online. Let them talk. Their reactions will tell you all you need to know. Remember: Your goal is not to show how much you know, because that gains you nothing. Your goal is to confirm what you’ve read and to learn even more.

Leverage the job offer

This is the most powerful way to judge an employer. If you get an offer, they’ve demonstrated they want you — and they want you to say yes. They’re waiting. People don’t realize what incredible leverage they have at this point. It’s the most control you’ll ever have in negotiations. It’s time to vet the company.

Tell them you’re thrilled to get the offer – “Thank you!” Then take more control and learn the truth.

How to Say It
“Before I accept your offer, I’d like to meet some of your key people – managers of departments related to the department I’d be working in. I’d like to make sure I’m a fit for your team and I’d like to get the bigger picture of the work environment.”

For example, if you’d be working in manufacturing, you’d want to meet the heads of engineering and product development, because they create the products your team builds. You’d want to meet heads of sales and marketing, because their job is to make money from what manufacturing produces. If they’re not all great people doing great work, then your team (and you) will fail. Get the idea?

Find your own truth

Glassdoor and online company reviews are not the truth. They’re the partial, questionable truth. The best way to get the whole truth about a company is to talk to key people inside, and to talk with people you’d be working with every day. There is no need to bring up Glassdoor reviews. (You might find that the company’s reputation online is not deserved.) Get the facts for yourself.

Any company that declines to let you meet the people I’ve suggested – even though it’s an unusual request – probably has too many skeletons in its closet, or has a lousy attitude about transparency.

Formulate these questions in a way that’s comfortable for you. Don’t use my exact words. I like that you want to be respectful and well-mannered. Always assume the best, and politely ferret out the truth. Then deal with it, either way.

I hope this is helpful. It’s probably more work than you’d like to do, but consider what you’re investing here – the next several years of your work life. It’s worth the extra effort to find your own truth.

If you need more suggestions about how to vet this company, these two books will help. Check the tables of contents at these links:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention
(See especially, “How to pick worthy companies,” “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” and “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies.”)

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers
(See especially, “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer,” “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” and “Judge the manager.”)

Do you trust anonymous company reviews? How do you get the truth about a company?

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References: 5 reasons to withhold them

In the April 11, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader rejects recruiters who demand references before an interview.

Question

referencesWhat do you think of recruiters demanding the identity of my references  — and demanding to check them — often before there’s even any expression of interest from the hiring manager? Some recruiters get seriously butt-hurt when I won’t instantly hand over references, and claim they won’t submit me otherwise.

I would be nuts to have my references called every time some recruiter decides it would be convenient to check them. I never give references except directly to hiring managers after a successful interview with said hiring managers. Am I wrong?

Nick’s Reply

Your policy is a good one.

Most people view requests for their references as a good sign. They readily turn over a list of names because they assume the request means an employer is seriously interested in interviewing or hiring them. That used to be a reasonable assumption, but not any more.

Many reference requests are unreasonable, unwarranted, and sometimes even fraudulent — and you should know when to politely but firmly decline them. But before you try to decide whether a recruiter’s (or employer’s) request is legitimate, first consider whether whether you’re even being recruited! (See How to screen headhunters.)

Are you being recruited?

Not everyone that solicits you for a job is recruiting you. Learn to distinguish a solicitation from a real recruiting call. In today’s highly automated job market, this is a difficult distinction for most people. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.) Let me try to explain with an analogy — a solicitation I actually received.

I got a call from a company that wanted to sell me an extended warranty on my car.

“Wow!” I said. “That’s great! This is just what I need! Tell me more.”

For five minutes the caller explained all the benefits. A one-time fee would get me no-cost repair work and parts for virtually anything that might go wrong with my car for the next three years. She even patiently explained the exceptions. I told her I was ready to sign up. “What’s the make, model and year of your car?” she asked, as she started filling out the form for me over the phone.

“It’s a 1959 Chevy Bel Air 4-door,” I said.

She burst out laughing. “Sorry, I can’t sell you an extended warranty for a car that old!” she said.

“Then why did you call me?” I asked.

“I didn’t know what kind of car you have!” she replied, and hung up.

Her call was a blind solicitation. Like most recruiters, that telemarketer had no idea whether I was a potential customer. Nor do most people soliciting you for jobs have any idea whether you’re a realistic candidate. “But that’s why they’re contacting me! To find out!” you might respond.

No, that’s why they’re wasting your time. When a real recruiter contacts you, it’s because she has already spoken to people that know you and recommend you. (And that car warranty telemarketer would know what kind of car I own.) That’s likely how she got your name! She wouldn’t contact you otherwise. She doesn’t need your references until after she has interviewed you in detail, or after her client has interviewed you for a job.

When a “recruiter” asks for your references prior to an interview, politely but firmly decline and end the call, because you’re not being recruited. You’re being solicited by someone who has not done any work to justify contacting you. The “recruiter” wants you and your references to do all the work of proving you’re qualified for the job. In short, that’s not a recruiter calling. It’s a telemarketer. It’s why — two weeks after you’ve submitted all your information and gotten yourself all worked up about “an opportunity” — they never call you back. You’re a 1959 Bel Air. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

Reference theft

If that extended car warranty telemarketer calls you, would you give her the names of three of your friends, along with their phone numbers and makes and models of their cars?

Of course not. You know she’s going to call them with the same sales pitch she gave you. So, why would you give an unknown “recruiter” the names and contact information of three people who know and respect you?

In today’s dialing-for-dollars recruiting world, three credible referrals are worth a lot of money. Odds are good that the “recruiter” wants nothing from you but three new names. The caller is stealing your references under false pretenses — and even creating competition for the job being pitched to you.

That’s reference theft. It makes you a sucker because you’re doing the recruiter’s job for him. And it earns you the ire of three busy people who used to respect you.

Rules for references

Consider using these rules when anyone asks for your references.

  • Before you disclose anything about yourself, ask what the recruiter already knows about you. A good recruiter will not contact you unless she knows more than is on your online resume or profile. She’s already talked to people who recommend you — or she would not bother recruiting you. A real recruiter does not need to ask you for references. That would be like asking you on a date, but only after requesting a list of your friends and family.
  • Get the recruiter’s own references first: Names and contact information of three managers who have hired through the recruiter. Contact those managers to confirm the recruiter. I’d also ask for three people the recruiter has placed, and I’d talk with them. Does this seem like an awful lot of work to you? Don’t worry — you will rarely have to make those calls, because you will rarely encounter a recruiter who actually has references. But a good recruiter will be happy to comply, because the recruiter already knows you’re a worthy candidate and he’ll do anything reasonable to impress you with his excellent credentials.
  • Don’t invest until an employer invests in you. Remember: An employer or its recruiter contacted you, not the other way around. They want you to do something — to consider a job. They should invest in a face-to-face job interview to demonstrate their sincerity — and to show they’re worth your further consideration. If you’re satisfied the employer is worthy and that you really want the job, then it’s time to provide your references.
  • Find out who is going to contact your references and how. Do you really want a third-party “background checker” to call your references? How about an HR clerk who doesn’t understand the work you do? If it’s a legit reference check, will it be done via phone or e-mail? Or will it be an online form? Which of these reference-checking methods do you think will portray you best? Hand over references only to the hiring manager, and then ask the manager to make those calls personally. (See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.)
  • Find out who will have access to your reference report. Nowadays many reference investigations are done by third-party services. That means once your references are checked and filed, the reference-checking firm can sell them again and again to other employers — perhaps without your knowledge. A bad reference or a poorly handled reference can dog you for years, and you’ll never know why you’re being rejected again and again.

Inappropriate reference requests are a tip-off

Most good employers recruit you because someone that knows you recommended you. Real recruiting is not blind solicitation.

Inappropriate requests for your references are actually a good tip-off that you’re not dealing with a real recruiter. Hang up, or delete the e-mail. Real recruiters contact you only after they have checked you out. Respectful employers won’t ask for your references until after there’s mutual interest in taking discussions further. They will treat you deferentially because they’ve already invested a lot of time in you — before they got in touch.

You’ll know a good recruiter and employer from what they say when they contact you. But don’t kid yourself — they’re rare. Your next job will likely come from your own personal contacts, not from a recruiter. Don’t expect those odds to change just because you’d like them to. (Don’t know how to develop personal contacts? Start with this simple suggestion: Meet the right people.)

Protect your references

We haven’t even discussed the problem of letting many recruiters bother the people who volunteered to serve as your references. That’s because we don’t have to. You know better than to permit it. You know not to abuse your references.

Now let’s close on this complaint you made: “Some recruiters get seriously butt-hurt when I won’t instantly hand over references, and claim they won’t submit me otherwise.”

As you’ve already surmised, they have no idea who you are or whether you’re a reasonable candidate. If they’ve got you on the hook, but you won’t sell out your best professional references for a long-shot “opportunity” that you know nothing about — then they’ll drop you. Good.

If you’re having difficulty telling the difference between being solicited and being recruited, try the rules of references above. The first rule alone should usually be sufficient to save your valuable time, and to protect your valuable references.

When do you turn over your references? Have your references ever been abused or misused? Do you respond to recruiters who don’t know the first thing about you?

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Consulting Firms: Strike back & stir the pot

In the April 4, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t like what some consulting firms serve up. What happens when we stir the pot?

Question

consulting firmsMy old consulting firm offered me the chance to interview for a full-time position in a smaller city over three hours away from where I am right now. My last contract ended a month ago, and just today I started a part-time job to slow the bleeding from my savings account.

The employer — the consulting firm’s client — refuses to do a phone screen, and insists that I drive over three hours, do a group interview, then drive home. Let’s see: mileage, wear and tear on my car, and losing an entire day where I have a lot of important things to do locally, all to interview for a job that (a) I don’t know if I would want, and (b) I don’t know if they would want me.

All that could be resolved (or at least mitigated to some degree) with a simple 30-minute phone conversation that they refuse to have. All right then, Company X, you decided for me — it’s not worth it! If you’re not going to respect this candidate, who not only has to spend an entire uncompensated day to interview, but also has to relocate if I did manage to get the position, then I’m walking away with my head held high. And no, even paying me mileage to get me to interview wouldn’t help. It’s more than the mileage. It’s the respect.

Am I being unreasonable?

Nick’s Reply

“Consulting” jobs seem to have changed the calculus of the job market — but not always for the better, and especially not when middlemen are involved. When you deal with an actual employer (your Company X) at arm’s length via a consulting or contracting firm, well, you call up the old saw about trying to wash your hands with rubber gloves on. You’re just not feeling it — and you’re at an enormous disadvantage.

The first question to ask is, who’s the jerk?

Is the consulting firm a jerk?

The “gig economy” recruiting practices of consulting firms create new problems — not just for workers like you, but for the employers that use them. Company X relinquishes its reputation to the intermediary consulting firm and its recruiters. Company X has no idea what that recruiter is saying to you or how it’s portraying Company X. This employer may be losing out on great candidates because the consulting firm is doing a lousy job of engaging with them.

Company X may be a great place to work, and it may treat people respectfully. It may have no idea what you’re being told.

A good headhunter or third-party recruiter manages the client company and helps it recruit and hire effectively. No recruiter worth his or her pay would use one-size-fits-all rules to recruit good workers. If the recruiter in this case can’t get the client to see the wisdom of a short phone call to establish mutual interest, then the recruiter and the consulting firm are jerks.

Is the employer a jerk?

The consulting firm and its recruiter, meanwhile, are so beholden to their clients that they’ll do anything clients want  — like making ridiculous, counter-productive demands on candidates they’re recruiting.

Drive six hours round-trip without reasonable due diligence and without pay? (See Why employers should pay job applicants.) If that’s what this employer expects from the talent it’s trying to recruit, imagine what it expects from its employees. We already know what kinds of consulting firms it deploys. What kinds of people do you think it hires?

Should you just say no?

When an employer asks you to invest time to discuss a job, it’s got an obligation to invest in respecting your needs and requirements, too — or it’s not worth working for.

You just said no, and I can’t fault you for that. But you can also strike back — which I recommend you consider. Just because the contracting firm or the employer are behaving like jerks doesn’t mean you should let it slide. Raise your standards, and maybe you’ll raise, theirs, too. If you want to try this, strap on a rubber apron, because it can get a little messy.

Stir the pot

consulting firmsNow that you’ve already said no, you can stir the pot. I love stirring pots. We never know what the result will be, nor does it really matter. What matters is stirring the pot, because that makes both the scum and the good stuff rise to the top so everyone can see what’s really in there. The fun starts if someone skims off the scum and it splatters. A mess like that usually triggers change. No mess, no change.

I don’t know how much you want to stand on principle, but even if both the recruiter and the client (Company X) are acting like jerks, my guess is that Company X’s top management has no idea how you were treated. It’s reasonable to assume the company’s leadership wants to hire good people fast without alienating good candidates.

You can strike back at consulting firms that act like jerks by stirring the pot. If I were you, I’d place a call to Company X’s CEO. Help the CEO see what’s in that pot. Leave a brief message that inspires the CEO to call you back.

How to Say It

“I just had a troubling transaction with your company. If it were my company, I’d want to know about it. My number is… Feel free to call me if you like.”

Avoid leaving any more details, even with the CEO’s assistant, who is likely to channel you to HR if you say any more. Don’t even hint it had to do with a job. Politely insist that your message is for the CEO. If the CEO cares enough to call you back, you may be able to make a difference.

Show the CEO what you found

I’d calmly explain what happened without betraying any anger, frustration or rancor. Pretend the CEO is your best friend and you just want to be helpful. Don’t dwell on how you feel. Keep it factual. Keep it brief. Close by saying you’re sorry the HR department and the consulting firm’s recruiter weren’t willing to save you a six-hour drive by doing a phone call. Explain that you admire the company and would have seriously considered a job there.

Then end the call — don’t let the CEO end it. This puts you in the more powerful spot.

How to Say It

“I didn’t call you to resurrect a job opportunity or get a phone interview. I called you because if it were my company, I’d want to know someone who works for me is squandering good job candidates in the middle of a talent shortage. If this helps you in any way, I’ll be glad. I wish you and your company luck.”

It’s up to the CEO what to do next.

Strike back for higher standards

This kind of call accomplishes a few things.

  • First, it demonstrates you’re a responsible business person and you care about your professional community — for the talent and for companies that need talent. This will come across to a good CEO if you keep the emotion out of your call.
  • Second, it can help the CEO. A smart CEO will go clean up the company’s own HR practices or the contracting firm’s behavior. The CEO won’t let the company keep getting splattered. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?)
  • Third, you might just make an incredibly good contact that you’d otherwise never make. Handle this right, and you’ve got a new CEO friend.

Of course, you might wind up splattered, too — if the CEO doesn’t care about what you’ve revealed. Wipe yourself off and move on.

My compliments for keeping your standards high. Anybody who won’t take half an hour to talk with you to save you a six hour drive isn’t worth thinking about. If the CEO cares, you’ve just helped improve Company X.

Reconsider the consulting game

The other issue here is your “consulting firm.” I think I’d give them the heave-ho. While there are some good contracting firms out there that respect both their client companies and people they recruit, I think there are far more questionable practitioners of this corporate pimping game. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)

Many people rely on contracting jobs and contracting firms to make a living, but I encourage you to re-think how you get your work. Find some good companies that will employ you directly. Take off the rubber gloves and make real contact. (See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.)

The more I observe the mechanics of washing hands with rubber gloves on, the less I like it. Too many players in the consulting industry are acting too much like the second oldest profession in the world. Pimping workers and skimming cash out of the economy — while treating those workers disrespectfully and disdainfully — without adding any real value is a questionable business model at best. (See What the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters.) The talent starts to behave — and feel — an awful lot like the oldest profession in the world.

It’s not hard to recognize the good consulting firms. You know them from their reputations and from their behavior. But the talent seems to have become so accustomed to poor treatment that the bad players thrive. It’s up to you to know the difference.

Some will chide me for saying this, because the analogy might not seem fair. Maybe there’s something good in hiring a firm to hire your employees. But there seems to be an awful lot of scum floating in this pot. So pardon me if I stir harder — because I think we need to see what floats to the top.

Do you work for consulting firms? Do you prefer gig work, or do you take assignments because you feel you have no choice? What’s the good stuff about contracting? And what’s scummy about it? How do the recruiters treat you?

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Cover Letter: Write it then burn it

In the March 28, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to get in the door. Will a good cover letter do it?

Question

cover letterI’ve been a loyal reader of your blog for about eight or nine years. I grew up in real tough circumstances on the streets of Detroit and as time went by I left that life and became an artist. I went west to Seattle where I became moderately successful with my music and was able to support myself by learning carpentry and eventually running my own business. I did this all without any formal education or training, but I worked my tail off.

All would be fine and well if that was all there was to the story. Ten years ago I was in a traumatic accident which changed my perspective. This accident planted in me a burning desire to go into medicine. After looking around and doing some research, I decided that instead of being a doctor, I would become an occupational therapist (OT). It’s a respected position that pays well.

Now I am less than a year away from graduation. While I have chosen a profession where I might be hard pressed not to find work, at 55 I do have some concerns.

My resume is all rock music and construction work. I don’t really know anything about corporate culture. In my old biz, you either know your stuff or you don’t and if you don’t, your ass is down the road. I’d love to be able to write a cover letter that can get me to a manager that actually hires. I’ve busted my butt to get good at this and I know I can do the job for them profitably. I’ve just got to find my way in.

By the way, I’ve also decided that not only do I want this “impossible” job but I also want to get hired at one of the top ten facilities for my specialty (trauma center rehab). How do I write this cover letter? Do you have any suggestions for me?

Nick’s Reply

Okay, it’s loaded question time. Two people want a job. One submits a well-written resume and a thoughtful cover letter. The other meets the hiring manager at an industry event and they talk for half an hour about their industry, their work, projects they’ve each done and share insights — and maybe a couple of beers.

Who’s more likely to get hired?

Now let’s add a twist. The second job seeker also wrote a thoughtful cover letter. The first, as we said, sent it in. The second burned it but discussed the topics from the letter with the manager.

Who’s more likely to benefit from their cover letter?

Now let’s get real. Most people would feel very awkward walking up to a manager at an event — it’s just uncomfortable. The second job seeker didn’t feel awkward because he used his cover letter as an outline for what to talk about.

Both job seekers did the work of writing a letter. But only one used the information in the cover letter effectively.

To get the right employer’s attention, you should write that cover letter, then burn it — because very few employers read cover letters any more. More important, you need to tell them your story face to face. We’ll discuss that in a minute, but first let’s start with what makes you a very good candidate.

Be the right candidate

People write resumes and cover letters to “market” an image of themselves. But it’s more important to be the right candidate for a particular company. That means picking the company is more important than what’s in your letter.

I think what you wrote in your e-mail can get you hired by the right employer. What you wrote tells me:

  • You’re in command of your life and yourself.
  • You decide where to go and what to do – and you do it.
  • You learn whatever you need to learn to do a job.
  • You persevere and you succeed.

That’s 90% of any job. I’d hire someone like you in a minute, over someone more skilled. The best managers want motivation and you have it in spades. Everything else can be taught and learned.

Your task is not to write a marketing letter. It’s to pick the right employers. See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs. Once you choose a handful of the best OT facilities, write your cover letter to show why you’re the right candidate — but don’t send it.

Write the cover letter

Write a cover letter similar to your e-mail. But use the old military rule for writing and speaking. Structure it in three parts.

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.

That’s what makes a message sink in. It works.

Step 1

First, start by stating your goal:

“I want to work at one of the top ten trauma rehab facilities — yours. And I’d like to tell you why I’d be the best, most productive and profitable hire you can  make.”

Step 2

Then move on to the substance. Briefly list:

  • What you’ve done to prepare for the job: education, interning, and so on.
  • Outline your background, and explain you chose OT after experiencing trauma yourself.
  • How you came off the Detroit streets. Mention how many years ago that was, to show you’ve come a long way.
  • Talk briefly about becoming a successful artist, musician, carpenter, and having your own business.

Make it clear that you succeeded at everything you did by working very hard to make up for lack of formal education. Be brief. Then explain that OT was worth getting an education and that, like everything else you’ve done, you’ve accomplished it.

The most important part of this step is to name three things you know that are required to be successful in OT. Talk to your teachers and anyone you know in OT — ask them what it takes to be the best occupational therapist. It’s critical to get these three things right. You want to show the employer that you know what they really need in a hire.

Then close this part of the letter by making this commitment:

“I will work as hard as it takes to do those three things better than anyone else you might hire. That’s the commitment I make to you. It’s the same commitment I made to myself when I chose each line of work I had throughout my life.”

Phrase that so you’re happy with it. I’m just trying to give you the idea. Find your own words, so it sounds like you.

Step 3

Finally, recap and summarize what you’ve told them.

“I plan to work for one of the top 10 facilities in trauma rehab, to work hard, to learn quickly, and to help make my employer more successful and productive — just as I always have. I’d like to meet you to discuss your specific needs, and to show you how I’d handle them. If I can’t show you that, then you should not hire me.”

The best employers want commitment

The last sentence in the summary might seem a bit extreme. It’s the most important part of your statement.

Do you see what you’re doing with this letter? Making a commitment. Telling the employer I know what it takes to get hired — and that you don’t view interviews as a game. I’m going to show up ready to rock and roll. And if I don’t, don’t hire me. That’s a powerful statement.

Some centers won’t like this approach. Some will love it. Any kind of approach you make to an employer is risky, because if they don’t view life, work, and the world the way you do, they will not hire you and you’ll never even know why you were rejected. You don’t want to work with people like that.

The best employer for you sees things the way you do, and will instantly want to meet you.

If you want any job anywhere, then write a traditional cover letter. I’d never criticize you for that. But if you know exactly what you want, then portray yourself the way you really are. Embedded in the second of those three military presentation steps are three messages that will get you hired by the right employer:

  • Show you understand what the employer needs you to do.
  • Show how you’ll do it.
  • Make a commitment to do what it takes to be one of the best at the job.

If you need detailed help with that, see How Can I Change Careers?

Burn your cover letter

After you write that cover letter, you will have the outline for any interview you do. But please also remember this, which we discuss on Ask The Headhunter all the time: Most of the time, employers don’t find people through resumes. They find them through referrals from people they know and trust. (See How to launch a seemingly impossible career change.)

Employers don’t find their best hires in resumes, cover letters or databases.

So throw out that cover letter. Or burn it. Do not give it to any employer. HR departments and managers who don’t know you are not worthy of that letter. What I’m saying is, devote your job hunting efforts to finding ways to talk with worthy employers. When you meet the manager, say what you wrote in your cover letter.

Please read Getting in the door for advice about how to meet the manager who needs to hear, not read what you wrote.

Do your own talking

You can do this. Go hang out with people who do the work you want to do at the places where you want to do it. The person who gets hired is the one that isn’t afraid to walk up to the manager, and who has something valuable to say. That’s why you should write a cover letter — but don’t expect that letter to do your talking.

My guess is, this is how you got every job you’ve ever had. That puts you ahead of your competition, who will send documents (resumes and cover letters) to speak for them.  Maybe you don’t realize it, but you have an edge over all of them because your work ethic and motivation matter more than anything else at this juncture.

It’s good you have some time before you graduate, because this takes time. I’m impressed with how you live your life and make your choices. If this helps in anyway, I’ll be glad. Let me know how it goes! I wish you the best.

Do you use a cover letter, or do online application systems make them useless? How would you advise this highly motivated job seeker to get a hiring manager’s attention?

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Age Discrimination: The green antidote

Quick Question

age discriminationWe all know age discrimination is not legal. I’m an analytical chemist with a graduate degree and 40 years experience in analytical chemistry. Although I would love to retire and enjoy my grandchildren, I still have the desire (and mental capacity) to work. My issue is simple. I can’t get past the front door. Employers just look at the experience in years and it becomes a matter of “Let’s interview him so we can check off the EEO box.”

What’s the best way for anyone over the age of 50 to meet age discrimination head-on?

Nick’s Quick Advice

Part of what you’re experiencing — perhaps 20% — is definitely age discrimination. But the big backdrop is automated recruiting. That’s what is killing job opportunities across all age brackets. (See Why am I not getting hired?) In other words, your obvious concern is actually overshadowed by a far bigger problem.

Age discrimination is just part of it

I think 50% of rejections are about the algorithm missing the match. 30% is the personnel jockey reviewing the match and deciding this chemist can’t really do that particular job. Of course, that personnel clerk knows little if anything about chemists, chemistry, or the actual job, but since executive management doesn’t care what HR knows, you’re still screwed.

The best way to meet this problem is to avoid all automated recruiting tools that funnel you to personnel jockeys. You just have to get over the idea that “this is how hiring is done.”

It’s the people

The only solution I know is to carefully select companies you’d like to work for, figure out what problems and challenges each faces, and triangulate to find people who know people at the company. It’s all about the people who are near the job.

  • Hang out with them.
  • Talk with them, whether by phone, e-mail, discussion forums or over beers.
  • Make friends.
  • Then ask for advice and insight about that particular company.
  • Finally, request an introduction to someone in the department you want to work in.

Then repeat with each level of contacts as you get closer to a hiring manager. Never submit a resume or ask about jobs or job leads. Talk shop. This approach takes a while, but it works. Most managers prefer to hire through trusted referrals.

The Antidote: Get the manager past the grey

So you’re not looking for a job. You’re looking for people connected in some way to the company who will talk shop with you. That leads you to managers.

There’s an antidote to age discrimination. It doesn’t always work. For it to work, you must be talking with an employer whose goal is making profit. So pick employers carefully.

Your age doesn’t matter when someone tells a manager, “Hey, this person can do XYZ for you” — and XYZ is what the manager is dying to have done as soon as possible. At some level, XYZ always means making a business more profitable — always. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

When you show a busy manager the green, the manager looks past the grey. Here’s the catch: If this were easy, everyone would be doing it. So get to work.

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