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Yearly archive for 2017

Giving & Getting Information: Mistakes Job Seekers Make

In the June 27, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we consider two mistakes job seekers make. One is about how much information readers give to employers, and the other is about how little information they expect to get.

mistakes

Question #1

One of the mistakes I think I make is I give employers too much of my information. How far back (in years) should you go when constructing your resume or your LinkedIn profile? For example, when you list dates and years, is it important to include the years that you attended each university?

Nick’s Reply

You can include as much as you want in your resume or LinkedIn profile. Some persnickety HR people want to see everything – and that just reveals incompetence. They don’t need everything.

Information mistakes

In fact, too much information on a resume easily leads to confusion, mistakes, and decision paralysis. Very often, personnel jockeys are so unfamiliar with the details of a job that they have no idea what information about the candidate is important and useful. So they ask for too much, which gives them more basis to reject the applicant. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

If you think listing certain dates will hurt you, leave them out. Is that risky? With some employers, yes. But relying on your LinkedIn profile or resume to get you in the door is a fool’s errand, because it’s just one of millions floating in an ocean of job applicants. The chances that someone will even read it are slim — most of the time an algorithm will reject you with no human review. So when you’re deciding what to put on your resume, you’re gambling.

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Help them ask you for more

Give an employer specific information about your skills and abilities — information you’ve carefully selected to show how you will help the employer tackle its problems and challenges. Tease the employer intelligently. That will trigger a request to learn more, so they’ll call you in for a meeting. No matter how much information you provide, if you don’t address the employer’s specific problems and challenges, they won’t see any reason to bring you in. So tease them with just enough of the right information to make them want the rest. That’s where interviews come from. (See Tear your resume in half.)

Please: Don’t count on your LinkedIn profile or resume to get you interviews. (Don’t help employers make mistakes about you.) Most interviews come from personal contacts that you initiate. There’s no way around that.

(Here’s my own teaser: I’ll share some interesting statistics about the value of personal referrals in the next edition — July 11. Ask The Headhunter will be on vacation for the July 4 holiday!)

Question #2

In Forget Glassdoor: Use these killer tips to judge employers, you give job applicants a list of questions to ask in interviews, including “What’s it really like to work here?” You also advise asking to meet people you’d be working with, as well as key managers in the company. But how many companies will allow you to make requests of that nature? Maybe in smaller towns, but certainly not in large metropolitan cities.

Nick’s Reply

“Allow you?”

Who cares what they allow you to ask? As the applicant, you can and should ask anything you want in an interview. A company reveals a lot in its response (or lack of one), and your goal is to learn all you can so you can make an informed decision about working there. Unfortunately, once most job seekers make their way into a job interview, they forget that. Suddenly, their prime goal is to get an offer — when it should be to vet the company.

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 12:

“Job hunters don’t often think to check the boss’s (and department’s) reputation inside the company, or how that department interacts with the rest of the organization. Likewise, job hunters usually fail to carefully inspect a company’s reputation on the street. Investigate, and avoid disaster.”

A job interview is business

I find it troubling that job applicants are fearful of asking questions that any good business person would ask a prospective business partner, customer or vendor in the normal course of vetting a deal. This is your life and career we’re talking about! And a job interview is a business meeting.

Being in a big metro area doesn’t give an employer a pass. This is important stuff! Serious job applicants must realize a job interview is a two-way street. Hence the prefix “inter-“ as in “between.” It’s not a one-way interrogation where the employer holds the upper hand and unilaterally decides what’s allowed. (While vetting an employer is critical, as far as the job itself goes, I think there’s one general-purpose question both the employer and the applicant should ask — and not much more!)

Get the information you need

To make an informed judgment about an employer, ask anything you need to, and if you don’t get good answers — or if the employer gets annoyed — then tell them you’re not going to make them an offer to work there. They’ve been rejected. They made a mistake. They don’t meet your requirements.

Ever wonder why employers ask for the kitchen sink — your entire resume — rather than just certain, specific information they really need to determine whether you can do the job? Who cares what you did 15 years ago? How much information do you give to — and get from — an employer? Do employers go overboard, while job applicants don’t ask for enough? What information is reasonable to request?

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HR’s Submission To ZipRecruiter

ZipRecruiterJust how much can ZipRecruiter insult its HR customers and still get their business? And how many arm’s lengths away from federal employment law violations can employers get?

HR: We pay ZipRecruiter to insult us

ZipRecruiter, a venture-funded, privately held company, markets itself to employers as “The Fastest Way to Hire Great People.” It lets HR departments “Post to 100+ Job Boards with One Submission.”

What’s so insulting about that? In a long-running Bloomberg radio ad, ZipRecruiter features an employer who says:

“Hiring people is probably the worst part of my job. It’s such a hassle — the searching. The sorting through resumes.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

Man, doing HR work really sucks. Is that an HR manager grousing? Or maybe it’s a hiring manager? Imagine a sales rep at your company complaining about what a hassle it is to sell.

HR executives ponied up over $100 million in 2016 to ZipRecruiter for help filling jobs so Zip could cast them as dopes who hate the most important part of their work — recruiting and hiring talent. That’s submission.

According to USA Today, “Zip makes most of its money by charging $249 monthly to employers to post [their job] listings.” That’s a lot of job ads. That’s a lot of passing the buck.

What’s it like when the vendor you rely on to do your job for you blares to the world that your job is one big bother? Do HR execs love being insulted? Well, they keep paying for it. “Revenue is up 270% since 2013,” says USA Today.

HR seems to love being abused.

“We started using ZipRecruiter about 3 months ago. Right from the start you could tell it was going to make hiring a lot easier.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

HR also loves getting millions of job applications that no human ever needs to touch. Candidates “roll in.”

“One click and my job was posted to 100+ job boards — all the top sites.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

One click and a job is sprayed all over kingdom come. Says one job seeker:

“I heard an advertisement for ZipRecruiter on the radio. In short, you can post a job on this site and it simultaneously posts it on other job boards and social media outlets. Does HR really need that many applications? Especially in these times?”

The challenge is not picking good hires. The challenge is wiping away the mess of unemployed lemmings dying for interviews. Who needs to learn how to recruit when you can have “all of the candidates” from all of the job boards in your “dashboard”?

What do you do with them?

“All of the candidates came to my dashboard and it’s easy to compare them. Thumbs up if I liked them, thumbs down if I didn’t. No e-mails and attachments, printing up docs, phone calls, none of that.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

Imagine: None of that. No “docs” — no resumes, no application forms. No communications with applicants — “no e-mails, attachments… phone calls…” Nada. 100% keywords, no humans need apply. And HR can go home.

Zip takes care of everything — including turning job applicants into your own private digital beauty pageant.

Except really ugly stuff happens in beauty pageants when there’s no regulation. And while some venture-funded firm sucks up the profits, humans submit and are sent home to clean themselves up for the next opportunity.

What job seekers are saying about ZipRecruiter

While ZipRecruiter’s investors are cleaning up, job seekers are left drowning in the mess.

One job seeker says it for many:

“My Gmail inbox is littered with e-mails from ZipRecruiter, Indeed.com, and others. It is so frustrating to go through the daily search and submission only to get the robo-e-mails from ‘Phil@ZipRecruiter.com’ — the Job Seeker Advocate — and similar messages from Indeed and others. Sometimes I think it’s all one big bizarre video game and I am the hapless mark helping to feed the Monster(.com?). At first, I viewed them hopefully, but now I see them as a part of a giant ruse.”

Another job seeker peals out:

“Things have changed too much for the worse. The old, tried and proven Agencies have gone to wayside and replaced with kids calling me…Saying, ‘Hey, I saw your resume on Indeed or Ziprecruiter or LinkedIn, etc.’ If you put enough monkeys in a room with keyboards eventually semblance of a word will be achieved. If this is how Americans get a decent job nowadays….OMG.”

And then it hits the fan.

H1-B Only: No Americans wanted

Employers operate in today’s “employment system” at arm’s length, enjoying seeming legal insulation by using “third-party” employers — known as consulting or contracting firms — to avoid violating labor laws. And these third-party firms in turn use services like ZipRecruiter to “recruit” at arm’s length while pretending they have no idea that the machine is cranking out Soylent Green.

Now here’s the backlash employers have exposed themselves to. My good buddy Suzanne Lucas, aka The EvilHRLady, just reported that the veil has been “accidentally” parted to reveal what’s really going on: legal violations.

What would you say to a job posting for a “Java Developer – H1-B Only?”

In her Inc. column last week, Iowa Company Accidentally Says No Americans Need Apply, Lucas turned up the heat on IT consulting firm American Technology Consulting, which posted the job. “In case you’re wondering what the problem is with the ad,” writes Lucas, “it’s that it violates one and possibly two laws.”

Lucas reported that Tara Jose, the president of ATC, said, “a third-party vendor recently used language when posting an advertisement on our behalf that was inappropriate and absolutely unacceptable to American Technology Consulting.”

Uh, “a third-party vendor?” (By press time Ms. Jose had not responded to an e-mail query for details.)

 

Jose told Lucas that her firm “did not write, condone, or authorize this language in the ad.”

So who wrote and authorized it? (An e-mail to Jose well before press time yielded no response.) More important, this ad is on ZipRecruiter. And as Lucas points out, it’s illegal. Possibly twice.

Was this an accident?

Is this accidentally at arm’s-length illegal?

When we were kids we’d walk up to a buddy, smack him, and chortle, “Sorry! I did it accidentally on purpose!” After we got smacked back a few times, we learned you can’t do that and get away with it. But in today’s employment industry, you can.

A company wants to hire Java developers on the cheap. As Lucas points out, it’s illegal to misuse the H1-B visa program to hire foreign labor cheaper than American labor.

But, can you “hire” a consultant from a “consulting” firm that in turn uses “a third-party vendor” that finds the Java developer by posting an illegal “H1-B Only” ad on ZipRecruiter — an ad that’s not written, condoned or authorized by the consulting firm? And besides, ZipRecruiter’s written policy says all ads must follow the law.

How many arm’s lengths from the l-o-n-g arm of the law are we now? Was that ad an accident? A one-off mistake?

Chatting with ZipRecruiter

I opened a chat with ZipRecruiter. Here’s what they told me.

The chat with Jason timed out. So I asked Taylor.

Is this accidentally on purpose?

I could have ended the chat there and we could have had an ad just like ATC had. But I kept asking the question in different ways. Finally, I was told it was up to me to make sure my job posting complied with “OFCCP and EEOC regulations.”

But here it was, three days after the Inc. article appeared, and on one screen I was chatting with ZipRecruiter and on another I was looking at that “H1-B Only” job posting — it was still there. The fastest way to hire H1-B Java Developers.

Sometimes Zip can also be the fastest way to scam people: Job seekers on ZipRecruiter being targeted by scams via email and text. Zip’s representatives blame it on “the front-end” and “the back-end.” But that’s just how the employment industry works — nobody’s fault. It’s all accidental: “No system is perfect, no matter how sophisticated or well intentioned,” says Zip.

Is this accidentally on purpose?

Are American employers using services that are largely unregulated to manipulate the job market? I don’t think there’s any doubt.

While state and federal legislatures feign interest in equal pay and equal opportunity, they condone a seemingly l-o-n-g arm’s-length chain of “contracting” relationships that seem to add no value to America’s employment system. How many middlemen can collect a fee to put you in a job working for someone other than who signs your paycheck?

This tawdry chain of consulting pimps seem to be sucking value out of the employment system and the economy — while government looks the other way. (See Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy.)

Notable companies that trade in profitable key words, profiles, resumes, and job postings are the front-facing businesses that are highly admired by a stock market that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about who’s getting a job, who they actually “work” for, where they came from, and who’s getting screwed by salaries that are manipulated in an international game of  “How low can you go?”

“All Candidates In One Place”

Joshua Brustein, writing for Bloomberg, exposes the state-of-the-art in the nebulous jobs cloud: The Secret Way Silicon Valley Uses the H-1B Program.

Far from some of the transparently political H1-B conspiracy mongering that’s become the click-bait of the blog world, Brustein takes us on a wild tour that exposes the systematic manipulation of the job market being practiced and vaunted as a laudable “industry.” These are the consulting and contacting companies, and the slimy job boards, that big tech firms hide behind.

“Contractors are also submitting many applications for foreign visas for work at other large American technology companies, according to a recent analysis of Department of Labor records covering eight major tech businesses between October 2015 and October 2016. Applications submitted by contractors accounted for half of the H-1B visa applications for jobs at PayPal Holdings Inc.’s headquarters, 43 percent of those on Microsoft Corp.’s campus, 29 percent at EBay Inc.’s headquarters, and about a quarter of those at the Googleplex.”

Brustein outlines the work of one researcher who “found that American tech companies are also utilizing large numbers of H-1B workers that are not highly skilled — they are just doing it through intermediaries.”

Do you need a pedestrian Java programmer — but prefer a lower-cost “H1-B Only” variety? Someone’s willing to write an “unauthorized” and illegal job ad for you under yet someone else’s name — but nobody knows who exactly we’re talking about. But we know where to find that ad — it’s posted on an intermediary. Or, as ZipRecruiter’s crack marketing team likes to say: “All candidates in one place.”

LinkedIn? Indeed? ZipRecruiter? The applicants just roll into your dashboard, and they answer your secret questions before you have to interview them. How’s that for arm’s-length?

No “docs” — no resumes, no application forms. No communications with applicants — “no e-mails, attachments… phone calls…” Nada. 100% keywords, no humans need apply. No need for HR.

And the candidates? Scrub ’em up and get ’em ready.

      Thumbs Up Thumbs Down

Nobody knows

ZipRecruiter says job postings must follow the law. ZipRecruiter says you can post jobs for foreign applicants only. An “H1-B Only” ad appeared for a reason — somebody approved it. Who? Nobody knows.

The impact on pay is dramatic. Bloomberg’s Brustein makes it clear. Businesses use H1-B to save money. Imagine you could tell your board of directors you’ve cut your costs by a third. Well, now you can.

“They paid an average of $88,500, which is about two-thirds the average salary for visa applications for jobs the companies submitted directly.”

“Hiring people is probably the worst part of my job. It’s such a hassle — the searching. The sorting through resumes. We started using ZipRecruiter about 3 months ago. Right from the start you could tell it was going to make hiring a lot easier. One click and my job was posted to 100+ job boards — all the top sites.”

Who needs more regulating?

When a privately held company like ZipRecruiter can knock the HR profession entirely out of the recruiting and hiring process, and HR both swallows the insult and relinquishes its job entirely, it’s game over for job seekers, employees, and managers who actually produce value to create profit. (Should HR get out of the hiring business?)

When HR funds the radio ads that reduce the profession’s most important functions to “a hassle,” and ZipRecruiter’s representatives tell you in a chat that you can post jobs for “foreign applicants only” and for “H1-B Only,” none of this is an accident.

What needs more regulating? Employers and HR execs who let an industry of digital job-board pimps sell out American job hunters? Or vendors that insult and abuse them all the way to the bank? How many arm’s lengths away from federal employment-law violations can employers get?

Are we all nuts, or what? There’s an emperor running around buck naked, and the hue and cry is that there’s a shortage of clothes. Or is that a talent shortage? One click, and it’s all going to be a lot easier. You’ll just roll right into the dashboard head-first, and it’ll be no accident. It’s one great big submission. What do you think? What do we need to do to fix this?

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The Job Posting Test: Can a 12-year-old understand it?

In the June 13, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader calls out employers for jargon in job descriptions. Should a job posting be intelligible?

Question

job postingNick, please look at the job posting below. Was this written by a computer? Why can’t employers just use common sense and plain English? If it was written by a computer, no wonder the jobs aren’t getting filled! Maybe it makes sense to you? Not me!  Why not just say: “We need a school teacher?” That’s what the requirements are basically asking for but not directly saying.

So many job postings are filled with meaningless jargon and double-talk. I realize there are special vocabularies in some fields, but how does double-talk attract job applicants? Can you imagine how this company delivers training to its customers if it talks like this?

Customer Service Learning Delivery Consultant will bring innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions to life in delivery across: Small to large scale multi-site training project deployments and cross-functional training initiatives, New team member onboarding (across all levels), Team member enrichment and skill building that drive results across key operational metrics, including First Contact Resolution, Average Handle Time, Customer Experience, and Team Member Engagement.

Additionally, this position will

  • Deliver learning activities for team members through a variety of formal and informal learning channels including instructor-led, web-based, virtual and other delivery approaches.
  • Provide feedback on team member participation to managers.
  • Drive continuous improvement through feedback on current training practices and programs based on classroom experience and operational feedback – help bring these suggestions to life in partnership with program owners.
  • Work with business partners to identify and anticipate upcoming communication and training needs.
  • Support the development of systems, process, and soft skills training for team members.
  • Support project deployments by recommending and/or coordinating communication and training needs.
  • Translates adult learning theory into practical learning experiences and works successfully within cross-functional teams to plan, deploy and embed the knowledge and skills in the target audience.
  • Serves as a Master Trainer for specific courses by participating in program development as a subject matter expert for delivery and/or content, conducting Train-the-Trainer sessions and supporting Trainers and Leaders in the delivery of courses.
  • Prepares business leaders and other SMEs as instructors. Observes, evaluates and gives feedback.
  • Develops and educates other Delivery teammates through peer-to-peer coaching and mentoring.
  • Identifies and shares opportunities to reinforce knowledge and skills in the workplace after the learning event concludes, leveraging learning interventions as levers to drive higher levels of workplace performance.
  • Develops learning reinforcement tools such as job aids and other learning tools.

Maintain excellent knowledge of content, effective facilitation and delivery skills, and latest knowledge of the education environment for effective delivery.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think this job posting was written by a computer. It was written by a bureaucrat and blessed by an HR department.

I do workshops for employers, hiring managers and HR managers to help them recruit and hire more effectively. When we discuss job descriptions and interviews, I offer them a rule of thumb: Explain it so a 12-year-old can understand it.

Job posting jargon drives away good candidates

When a recruiter relies on jargon, potentially good candidates are turned off and lost, not because they don’t understand the jargon, but because they understand perfectly well that the employer can’t explain exactly — and clearly — what it wants. That’s a risky company to work for, because it means the employer itself is confused.

As you point out, in many kinds of work there are legitimate, specialized vocabularies. For example, in technical jobs like engineering, information technology, and medicine — among others — insider jargon has specific, well-defined meaning. It serves as shorthand for complex ideas.

Then there’s business double-talk like we see in this job posting: high-falutin’ language that implies sophistication where there is no clear meaning. It drives away people who might be able to do the work if it were described plainly.

I’m not kidding when I suggest, “Say it so a 12-year-old will understand it.” That’s a good way to make sure the employer itself understands the job it wants to fill. There is no question that many HR managers — who write those painful job descriptions — have no idea what a job is really all about. How can they possibly select the right applicant?

So, for the astute job seeker, the kind of job posting we’re looking at here is usually a signal to steer clear of a company where confusion and double-talk prevail.

I think jargon drives away the best candidates.

A confusing job posting reveals bigger problems

Insider jargon is often a cover for poor management practices. An employer that uses a lot of jargon often fails to understand its own needs. For example, in the job posting you submitted, the employer keeps referring to the importance of bringing something to life:

  • The new hire will “bring innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions to life…”
  • The new hire will “help bring these suggestions to life in partnership with program owners.”

What does that mean? If this employer asked you to submit a paragraph explaining how you’d bring things to life, what could you say? What could you say in a job interview? How does “bring it to life” help the employer attract the workers it needs — and satisfy its customers?

Double-talk is not impressive. It often reveals a failure to communicate. Worse, it suggests the jargonating manager and department are making stuff up.

B.S.

Some jargon is simply b.s. What do you think this b.s. means?

  • “innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions” [Tautology is often a sign of confusion!]
  • “Small to large scale multi-site training project deployments and cross-functional training initiatives”
  • “effective facilitation and delivery skills”

What does this b.s. mean, at this company and in this job?

  • “Drive continuous improvement through feedback”
  • “works successfully within cross-functional teams”
  • “embed the knowledge and skills in the target audience”
  • leveraging learning interventions as levers to drive higher levels of workplace performance” (Another tautology!)

Nothing in those words and phrases helps a job seeker judge the job or decide whether they can do it. As you suggest, this seems to be a teaching or training job. The problem is that the jargon in the posting makes it impossible to decipher the details of the job or to guess what would make a person successful at it.

B.s. in a job description also suggests loads of b.s. in a company’s sales pitch to customers. If you want to test an employer’s credibility, review the product and service offerings on its website. If fluffy wording matches jargon in the job description, you probably know all you need to.

(Employers don’t have to be boring when they post a job. See Now THIS is a job description.)

Tell it to a 12-year-old

Even a highly technical job should first be described simply so virtually anyone can understand what work needs to be done and what the objective is. This welcomes candidates from other fields, disciplines and work domains who might be able to bring something new to the job.

This:

“Customer Service Learning Delivery Consultant will bring innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions to life…”

Or this?

“We need an experienced teacher or trainer to show our customers how to do XYZ.”

Once XYZ is defined simply, any smart child should understand what the employer needs. Then more details of the work can be described, more specialized vocabulary can be introduced, and the employer and job candidate can have a productive discussion. A 12-year-old probably can’t do the job, but defining the job at that level is a good start on finding good candidates.

What’s missing in this job posting is a definition of XYZ, which might be quite detailed. What’s also missing is an answer to these questions:

  • Can any good teacher learn enough about XYZ in a reasonable time to do this job?
  • Or, is expertise in XYZ necessary?

This job ad just doesn’t tell us.

An employer that can’t tell you what it wants is very likely going to waste your time if you apply for the job.

Thanks for sharing a good example of why the employment system is so broken and why jobs aren’t getting filled. Employers can’t fill jobs they can’t describe clearly and simply.

For an example of another kind of problematic job posting, see Is this the worst job ad ever?

This is a lulu of a job description. Have you encountered worse? Tell us about it — and please share examples of the worst job-ad jargon you’ve seen! What do you look for in a job description before you’ll apply?

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How To Hire: 8 stunning tips

In the June 6, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager offers 8 stunningly clear tips about how to hire so effectively that other managers in your company steal your hires.

A hiring manager who prefers to remain anonymous teaches us how to hire. This should be required reading in every company. There’s nothing for me to add except Thank you.

how to hireA manager’s short course on how to hire

Most of my colleagues do not know how to interview anyone. They rely on rules of thumb, guts, or chicken entrails.

Actually, they have their direct reports interview the candidate and then vote on the candidate. I have a different way to hire and I think it works.

1. Recruit all the time

Always be in interview mode. Talk to prospective candidates even if you don’t have a place for them. (See The manager’s #1 job.)

2. Don’t hire by consensus

Do not allow your team to vote on candidates. The hiring manager hires. People are tribal and will pick people like themselves. Do not have a team where everyone is the same.

3. Start with all the resumes

Tell HR to send you all the resumes. Don’t let anyone edit your selection because they’re not as qualified as you are to judge the applicants. If you know what you want, you can go through them much faster than an HR clerk. (See also Sorting Resumes: A strategic hiring error and Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

4. Hire the dancers

Don’t hire anyone for whom the job is a lateral move. That’s what contractors are for. You want people for whom the job will make a difference in their lives. You want your new hires to dance to work.

5. Interview wisely

Interview only 5 candidates to prevent interview fatigue. Schedule interviews over a 3-4 week period and make a decision within 24 hours of the final interview. (Use the phone only to confirm availability. Phone interviews are nearly worthless.)

6. Can they do the job?

Ask candidates to audition for the job. Give them a simple assignment before the interview. (See What is the single best interview question ever?)

7. Act responsibly

Write to every candidate after the interview and give them your results. It is common decency. Besides, you may want to hire the second best candidate in a few months.

8. Get better at hiring

Last, review your process and look for improvements.

The problem with hiring this way is that the people you hire are so good that other departments will poach them. But that’s really okay, because you want to bring motivated people into your organization. Be proud of the impact your hires make.

Nick’s Reply

Like I said, this is so good that there’s nothing for me to add. What I think would be incredibly productive is to hear from this community — from hiring managers, job seekers and HR folks — about how you would flesh these 8 suggestions out.

How exactly would you put these tips to work? How would you tweak, bend and shape these ideas about how to hire, to make them work best in your work environment? If you’re a manager, maybe you already do some of these things. If you disagree with some of them, please explain and offer your own tips.

I’d like to thank the manager who essentially wrote this week’s column for me. For another manager’s hiring methods, see Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.


Update

Number of interviews

After this column was published, a good question was raised by readers (in the comments section below) about whether the manager (whose advice this column is based on) really means you should interview only 5 candidates in total, and how long the entire process should really take. So I asked him. Here’s his reply.

Scheduling a series of interviews with the internal stakeholders is not easy. You don’t want a candidate to return to the office multiple times to interview. Placing a line in the sand is for the benefit of the internal stakeholders telling them you will finish this task in 3 weeks. I have had SVP’s insist on interviewing a potential hire and then have their schedule full of meetings for the next 2 weeks. I have also had other managers want to interview a candidate to determine if they are good fit for their team.

I stop at 5 candidates because of interview fatigue. The candidates start to blur over time and they become difficult to compare. The interviews are at least ½ day and the cost to the team in lost work starts to show. If you try to interview 5 candidates in a week your team will not be able to get any work finished.

Also, at least 2 candidates will be from professional conferences or prior interviews. They are already known to the team and just have to run the HR gauntlet.

Salary

The hiring manager also explains how he handles the salary question during interviews.

I never ask the candidates current salary because I feel it is irrelevant.  I know the market clearing price and most of the time the candidate knows it.  The ones who don’t know it are HR and that’s where the struggle begins and ends.  That’s why it will sometimes take weeks to schedule an interview.  You don’t want to bring anyone in until HR agrees with you on the salary range.

I had one hire who told me that his new salary was 100% higher than his previous salary.   That was a person who danced to work every day.


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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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