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Yearly archive for 2017

Recruiters: Raise your standards or get out

In the February 21, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to test recruiters, and hangs up on them.

Question

recruitersI keep getting random e-mails from recruiters. I have finally hit the breaking point and now I have a new response: “Thank you for your interest. I am not searching at this time. In addition, I work only with hiring managers, never a recruiter.”

Am I being arrogant or even cocky? I mean, people are writing to me about jobs where I do not see a good fit. I have only worked with one good headhunting firm, but they usually only deal with positions 2,000 miles away from me. (They placed me twice when I lived near them and I did very well in both positions.)

On one hand, I don’t want to burn bridges, but on the other hand, as a 51-year-old engineer who plans to continue working for as long as I can, the positions I look for are not going to be listed on monster.com — they are going to come about through people I know. I want to know what you think. Is there a good way to test recruiters?

Nick’s Reply

You’ve given me an opportunity to say something to recruiters, also known as headhunters. I’ve wanted to say it a long time: Raise your standards, or get out of the business. The rest of us are sick of you.

But first let’s get to your problem with recruiters.

If they’re e-mailing you about the wrong jobs, they’re not recruiting you. It’s called spam and it’s generated by software. That’s the first way to test recruiters. (See Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!)

A good headhunter knows how to contact you properly, how to get your attention honestly, and what kinds of jobs to bring to you. You would be worth tens of thousands of dollars to a headhunter. Why would he trust an e-mail? Good headhunters call you — they don’t e-mail. That’s the second test.

The rest of those “recruiters” are finding your name or profile on LinkedIn, running a key word match, and pushing a button — or using an app — to send the same mail to thousands of people. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.) I wouldn’t be afraid of alienating recruiters who don’t even know who you are! If they knew you, they wouldn’t waste your time, as you’ve already noted:

“the positions I look for are not going to be listed on monster.com — they are going to come about through people I know.”

Test recruiters

So here’s the most important test. When a “recruiting” mail or call comes in, do you know the person? No?

BAM. Delete or hang up. It’s a blind solicitation. When the Publisher’s Clearinghouse is ready to give you a prize, they come to your door with a check. They don’t e-mail you.

In fact, that’s a very good analogy. Consider this warning from The Balance about scams purporting to be the Publisher’s Clearinghouse contest:

“Although PCH’s sweepstakes are legitimate, you still need to be very cautious if you receive a prize notification from PCH. Like other big companies (including Reader’s Digest, Heineken, and more), scammers try to seem more legitimate by sending letters or e-mails that claim to come from Publishers Clearing House. These scams can look official, but they are not backed by PCH.”

In the recruiting world, you must ask yourself, “Is this recruiter backed by a real employer?” That is, does the recruiter have a contract to fill jobs for an employer? If you don’t know, or don’t ask for proof, then you’re either wasting your time or being scammed. Most recruiters are not for real because they’re not really recruiting for an employer. If they find a willing candidate with good credentials, they will then shop you to thousands of employers like they shopped a job description to thousands of e-mail addresses.

I think you get it. You don’t need my permission to delete junk mail. (See How to judge a headhunter.)

If a solicitation intrigues you, here’s how to test recruiters you don’t know.

How to Say It

“Who is the employer?”

If they won’t tell you, I’d hang up. Don’t bother with excuses about how it’s confidential. Either the recruiter wants to do business or doesn’t.

“Are you employed in the HR department of the employer whose job you’re trying to fill? Or, are you a third party?”

If they’re a third party — that is, an independent recruiter, headhunter or search firm — that’s not a bad thing. But you need to know whether they’re legit. And there’s just one way to determine that:

“Can you give me proof you are authorized to recruit for the employer?”

That’s right: Make them prove they recruit for the employer. How? I’ll tell you in a minute. A legit recruiter can prove it, and you’ll know when the proof is presented to you.

You’re not the only Ask The Headhunter reader who complains they’re fed up with jerks pretending to be recruiters. I hope that helps. 51-year-old engineers are pretty smart. Trust your judgment.

Recruiters: Raise your game

Now let’s get back to what I really want to talk about, thanks to a reader who’s brought up the problem. And it’s a huge problem. Employers, job boards, ATS vendors, the HR profession, LinkedIn, Indeed — the entire bloated employment system turns a blind eye and tacitly ignores this problem for the sake of making money:

Most recruiters suck.

If you’re a typical recruiter, I’m sure you’d like to smack me upside the head for the advice I just gave the reader who asked this week’s question. You’ll argue that you can’t just disclose the identity of all your clients when you’re recruiting — not until you’re sure the candidate is right for the job. You’ll argue that there’s no documentation you can show the person you’re calling, to prove you’re authorized to recruit for the employer.

Bunk.

Do you suck?

If you’re a good recruiter or headhunter, you know what a mess the employment system is. You know you face staggering competition from unsavory recruiters who pollute the pond you’re trying to work in — recruiters who suck. So it’s up to you to raise the standard of conduct when you solicit people for jobs.

Show them you stand out:

  • Be ready to disclose what company you’re recruiting for.
    Sound risky? Figure it out because if you don’t, it’s going to cost you business. People are fed up with a corrupt, smelly recruiting industry. Rise above it. Be the recruiter who answers the question, because the candidate needs to know.
  • Be ready to show proof you recruit for the employer.
    Yep, I know this is a new idea. Adopt it. You don’t need to show anyone the recruiting contract you have with the employer. That’s confidential. But get a letter from your client that states you’re authorized and under contract to recruit for them — and arrange a confirming call with your client if necessary. Or, consider yourself no better than the scum who are competing with you, dialing for dollars, wasting talented people’s time.
  • You say you don’t want to disclose who your client is…
    …until you’re sure the candidate is worthwhile? Then you’re not doing your job. Your job is to check people out before you contact them. If they’re not worth disclosing your client’s name, then they’re not worth calling. Do the hard part of your job first — vet people before you expect them to invest their time with you. It’ll raise your game.

If the best recruiters and headhunters raised the standard of recruiting on just those three points, the whole system would change for the better. Seasoned, desirable engineers and other professionals like the one who submitted this week’s question would be a lot easier to work with with because they’d be able to trust the person calling them. But that trust has to be earned. Otherwise, you’re just a spammer and the person you’re contacting should delete your e-mail or hang up. Get out of the business!

If you’re a good recruiter, how do you make it easy for people to know that? If you’re getting calls from recruiters, how do you test them? What other sound, reasonable rules of conduct would you like to see recruiters obey?

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Referrals: How employers waste proven talent

Quick Question

How far down the employment ladder do the Ask The Headhunter principles of the job market go? Do personal referrals and recommendations help at all levels?

referralsMy daughter worked an entry level position for a clothing chain in New York, and left move to California.  Her three managers each wanted her to stay, and said they would act as references, because she showed initiative on the job. Since she did what needed to be done instead of just what she was told to do, they wanted to keep her with the company, even if not in their store. She followed the chain’s instructions, and brought a completed application to a store that has openings in California, according to their website. Despite that, they told her they don’t have openings.

Does the principle of getting a position by being recommended by someone known to the manager apply even at this level? Or do stores fill half their entry level positions with people they don’t know?

Nick’s Quick Advice

Your question is about how your daughter can get a job using insider referrals. But the real story here is how employers waste proven talent. First let’s help your daughter get the job.

I think hiring by insider referrals is actually more likely with lower level jobs than higher level, simply because it’s not very risky. Even if the manager makes a mistake, it’s not like they just hired a pricey executive.

  • It’s faster. If the employer has good information about a candidate, it’s just a quicker hire.
  • It’s easier. Because lower-level jobs attract lots more applicants than higher-level jobs, the employer usually loves to avoid culling through thousands of applicants. Hiring by trusted referrals is much less work.

Lazy referrals

I think your daughter didn’t get invited for a job interview because her old managers are lazy. It sounds like they urged her to apply at the new location because they think so much of her, and offered to be references, but it ended there. They basically told her to apply like thousands of other people would.

Those managers didn’t pick up the phone to call managers at the California location to actively recommend her in advance of her applying. That means they did nothing.

If they want to help her and help their company, they should pick up the phone. Their offer to be references — after she applies, and after she’s selected for an interview, and after someone in HR asks for references — is meaningless. References aren’t referrals.

How to Say It

If I were your daughter, I’d contact her old bosses, tell them what happened, send them copies of the open job postings, and say this:

“Your faith in me and your recommendation to the California store mean a lot to me. Would you please call the manager of the store in California, explain your thoughts about me, and suggest she or he interview me? Your call will make me stand out among other applicants they don’t know — and it will help them fill the job faster and with less work.”

What I really want to suggest she say in the last part is, “…it will help them fill the job faster and with less work, you dopes!” But of course, she should not add that.

How employers waste proven talent

Here we have an employer that has valuable, proven talent in hand, ready to fill another job in the organization, but doesn’t even know it, because its managers don’t truly understand what that means. It’s partly due to the managers at the old store, and partly due to the company’s failure to actively promote internal employee mobility.

If those three managers won’t do as your daughter asks, then they’re not helping your daughter, and they’re hurting their company. Wasting talent is worse than letting people steal clothes off the rack. See References: How employers bungle a competitive edge.

I hope your daughter makes that call and I wish her the best.

Have you ever gotten a new job in your own company with a solid internal referral? Have you helped someone in your company make an internal move?

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Topgrading: Employers looking for liars

In the February 14, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader discovers topgrading and the A, B, Cs of hiring.

Question

As an employer and interviewer I’ve been reading about topgrading and would appreciate your thoughts and expertise on this topic.

  • How familiar are you with it?
  • Have you performed many topgrading interviews?
  • Have you seen many companies using it? How well did it work for them?
  • Do you know any topgrading experts I could connect with and learn from?

topgradingNick’s Reply

I don’t have to drink cynicism to know it’ll poison me. And I think topgrading is as cynical a way to assess job applicants as any job-interview tool you’ll encounter.

Topgrading was invented as a selection technique by Brad Smart at General Electric, during the tenure of “Neutron Jack” Welch, the CEO who invented stacked ranking of GE employees. It’s hard to tell which idea was the parent and which the evil spawn.

Also known as “rank and yank” and “forced ranking,” stacked ranking  was how Welch routinely got rid of 10% of his workforce. Managers were forced to rank all employees and to fire the bottom 10% — supposedly the weakest ones. As you can imagine, a team of top workers runs paranoid when everyone knows 10% will be cut regardless of how productive they are.

In other quarters, the practice is known as an HR Witch Hunt.

Topgrading is really nothing more than stacked ranking applied before hiring.

I’ve never performed a topgrading interview because I want to go to heaven. And I don’t have clients that use it because I wouldn’t subject my job candidates to it. If you want to find a topgrading expert, you’re on your own.

What is topgrading?

It’s worth understanding what topgrading is, especially if you’re going to be subjected to it when you’re applying for a job.

Like stacked ranking, it assumes that there are three kinds of workers. A people, who are worth keeping or hiring. B people, who aren’t. And C people, who have a kind of corporate leprosy or pellagra and will infect your A people if you let them in the door. (Don’t worry, there’s a way to keep them out — we’ll get to it.)

If you view the world as A, B and C people, you have no business in business. You’re a cynic who likes everything neatly labeled, and who likes things that don’t change.

The other big idea in topgrading is that you can figure out who’s an A, a B, and a C. Of course — here it comes — you can pay Topgrading, Inc. to learn how to separate the As from the Bs and Cs. The company claims its sorting method yields 75% A hires.

If you believe that, you probably have a stockbroker whose stock picking method delivers 75% winning investments. Which means you lost all your money to Bernie Madoff.

You might well ask, if Topgrading delivers 75% A hires, why isn’t every company using it? You might well ask.

A bad attitude

Ranking people to identify who will and won’t succeed isn’t so much a mistaken idea as it is a bad attitude.

Topgrading is based on a cynical premise — that candidates lie in job interviews. That’s a hoot coming from the guys who invented it — interviewers from GE who fooled loads of companies into using stacked ranking.

I’m not a fan of tricky interview methods. It would be interesting to see a corresponding methodology that attempts to identify employers who lie in interviews, and when they’re recruiting.

Consider what Topgrading, Inc. says to managers who’d like help hiring more effectively:

  • “there’s no verifying if candidates tell you the truth”
  • “Topgraders hire A players most of the time using because they use the ‘truth serum’ technique”
  • “It is an inexpensive tool that scares away low performers”

It sounds like a panacea for managers who believe most job applicants — non-A people — are liars that need to be scared away. Perhaps an effective sorting technique for companies is to look at which managers want to use topgrading, and fire them to get rid of the cynics.

The big idea

There’s just one big idea in topgrading: a technique used to expose all the liars who apply for a job.

Topgrading, Inc. calls this big idea “Threat of Reference Check” or TORC. It’s simple. You threaten all job applicants with reference checks before you even let them in the door. Here’s how they explain it:

“Because candidates know they will arrange reference calls, they tell the whole truth. And finally, you verify everything by talking with bosses (and others YOU choose); there is no phone tag because candidates arrange those calls.”

Get it? This threat “scares away low performers.”

An HR exec unloads on topgrading

Mike Smith is an HR executive in the San Francisco Bay Area who produces a blog called Back West. He rips the heart out of topgrading in Talent Wars: The “A” Player Hoax.

Smith says topgrading is a lie, and cites “performance research wonks” whose work suggests topgrading is simplistic:

“The prevarication that success comes to companies that systematically hire and develop only ‘A’ players is twofold:

  • “One, that talent is innate and that you really can’t do much to develop the 65% of your workforce that are “C” players, and
  • “Two, that filling your roster with all stars – and forgetting about things like right role, right culture, right boss and workgroup – is the simple (although it’s simplistic) fix.

Smith offers this caution to gullible employers: “Performance, both with individuals and organizations, just doesn’t work that way.”

The stack crashes

I think the best evidence that topgrading is crap lies in the highly publicized crash of Neutron Jack’s stacked ranking.

In 2014 The Wall Street Journal declared, “It’s Official: Force Ranking Is Dead.” The HR blog, Namely, tells how GE settled a $500 million lawsuit alleging forced ranking was biased against women. Yahoo! got sued over a claim that forced ranking was rigged — against men. In 2015, The Atlantic ran story about How Millennials Forced GE to Scrap Performance Reviews.

It turns out you can’t invest your money using a special method that ensures 75% of the time you’re going to win. And you can’t ensure 75% of your hires will be A people because, well, there’s no such thing as A, B and C people — or a way to separate them into bins.

Topgrading ranks right up there with Jack Welch’s two-dimensional vision of how to manage people — “rank and yank.”

There are far better, more direct ways to assess job candidates. For example, invite them into live, working meetings of your team, and watch how they behave and perform. (See Big Data, Big Problems for Job Seekers?)

Run

The prevalence of indirect job candidate assessment methods like stacked ranking and topgrading has led management in America off a cliff. Perhaps it’s because managers expect just-in-time, perfect hires. They have no idea how to develop and invest in their employees. If they did, they’d know how to find them and interview them, too. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.) If managers were looking for talent, they wouldn’t be using techniques that focus on finding liars.

If you’re a job seeker, and a company tells you it does uses topgrading interviews, I think that should tip you off to find out whether management also practices stacked ranking — openly or surreptitiously. If it does, my advice is, Run. It’s not healthy to work for cynics. Find an employer that respects you. (See Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants, Part 1.)

Have you been topgraded, sliced, diced and cut from the list? Ever been stack ranked, yanked and jerked around? Ever interview with a company that assumes you’re a liar? If you think tograding is a great idea, tell us the A, B, Cs of how it works for you.

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Why employers should make higher job offers

In the February 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader marvels at employers who discount job offers to save money.

Question

job offersI worked as an intern while in college, and after graduation they offered me a job. It was my first experience negotiating higher job offers. I discussed my proven performance and gave examples that demonstrated my value. The employer granted me the higher salary.

My advice to others is to capitalize on your value and have the courage to negotiate for what you think you’re worth. Of course, your value may not be viewed as high as you think. That’s okay. Just weigh the pros and cons of the position along with your needs and make a decision. Either way, keep in mind, it’s up to you.

But here’s what’s interesting. After I accepted the position, I went back to the hiring manager and asked why he offered a lower salary to begin with. He responded, “If you had accepted the lower salary, I would have saved $3,000 a year.” What do you think of that?

Nick’s Reply

It’s astonishing is how casually the hiring manager responded that he’d save money if you had accepted a lower job offer. On its face, that might seem like simple market economics. But there’s a profound fallacy underpinning the manager’s behavior.

Salary is not an expense to a company, though that’s how accountants portray it, and everyone accepts that. What a company pays you is an investment. And that’s not semantics. A company buys a piece of equipment as an investment against an expected return — and capitalizes it. An employee is capital, too — the employer expects an ROI (return on investment). The fallacy is that an employer can save its way to higher returns by making lower job offers.

Of course, with machines or people we want to pay less to maximize our ROI. But neither is simply an expense.

The value of higher job offers

All my life as a headhunter I’ve encouraged my clients to offer a desirable job candidate more than the candidate asks for or expects. The reason is simple.

Unlike machines, people perform better when motivated. So, when a candidate expects $75,000, offering the candidate a totally unexpected $78,000 triggers an incredibly valuable response: enthusiasm and motivation. Even gratitude. For an extra 4% investment, the employer will likely get far more than a 4% higher return.

However, when they offer less, I think employers suffer with a far lower ROI than the salary savings might suggest. (Maybe you’ll argue with me; that’s what the comments section below is for.)

Managers like your new boss may think they’re being rational by offering less to save money. They’re missing an opportunity to get a higher return. Salary isn’t an expense. It’s an investment. Done right, investing more returns more.

(See Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.)

Why employers hire

Remember: We’re saying the employer really wants to get that very desirable candidate on board. (What other kind of candidate would the employer hire?) So why not maximize both the chances the candidate will accept the job and the potential return by making a higher job offer to prove it?

Nobody ever worked harder or more enthusiastically because a company low-balled them.

But I don’t want to skip over the reality. I parenthetically asked what other kind of candidate an employer would hire, if not a very desirable one. I think much of the time employers hire like they’re checking off boxes and plugging holes in leaky companies. They aren’t thinking about boosting the bottom line by making a really good hire.

And that’s why they see no value in higher job offers, but are proud of saving money when candidates accept lower offers.

In my book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps: How to say NO when employers demand your salary history, to make them say YES to higher job offers, I quote an HR manager who sent me an astonishing complaint about my advice that job seekers should never disclose their salary history. She said:

“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000. The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.”

Many managers don’t hire to make more money for their companies. They hire to save money for their companies by using less of the hiring budget. As if the purpose of the hiring budget was to save it!

I believe treating salary as an expense makes it far easier to hire and fill jobs. If the outcome of hiring and filling jobs were measured on ROI, most HR managers and hiring managers would be fired.

I wonder how many CEOs and boards of directors realize their accountants and HR departments are saving their way to higher profits!

Nice work!

I realize your main point is that you succeeded in getting a higher offer not by just asking for it, but by demonstrating your higher value. Nice work! (See The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer.) Your story delivers a valuable lesson to others.

But I was tickled by your new boss’s suggestion that if he’d paid you less he’d have saved money. My guess is you’ll work harder than the extra three grand cost him — and he’ll make more money.

Am I nuts?

Why should anyone pay a job candidate more than they ask or expect? Is a candidate really more likely to accept a slightly higher offer? Will a bit more money motivate better work? I can’t prove it objectively, but I think yes.

What do you think? Does that little boost in an expected job offer pay off? Is salary an expense or an investment? Has an employer made you a bigger offer than you requested or expected? Did that make you more productive?

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Can’t negotiate a higher salary? Ask for more money.

In the January 31, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader can’t negotiate a higher job salary — but learns how to get more money.

Question

I rejected three job offers from three companies because none of them would budge on the salary. With unemployment dropping, the labor force is tighter, and employers say they can’t get good hires. It’s obvious why. They won’t pay enough! There must be a way to negotiate more money in a market like this. You must know some tricks. What can I do next time?

salaryNick’s Reply

You’ve answered your own question. When you can’t negotiate a higher salary in the job offer, ask for more money!

HR departments act like salaries are still set in stone while, as you point out, HR also says unemployment is at record lows. We can debate how big the unemployment number really is — loads of talented people are still on the street and many have dropped out of the market altogether, making it seem like everyone who wants to work is already working. (Jobs plentiful! Pay is up! But, how are you doing?) But forget all that. What matters here is HR. And HR says the talent market is very tight.

Nonetheless, HR in many companies won’t shake money loose to boost salaries so it can hire who it needs. That’s how you can leverage more money.

When the salary offer is on the table

When a company makes you a job offer and won’t budge if you try to negotiate higher, you need to understand what makes HR tick. Someone somewhere in the company created a salary scale for every job. Forget what the job is actually worth in the market — probably a lot more, and in time, we might see these salary scales adjust to reality. For now, many companies are stuck. They’re just not going to offer you more salary than the scale permits.

So don’t ask for more salary. Ask for more money. You should do this only under three conditions:

  • The employer has already made a specific salary offer and will not budge when you try to negotiate.
  • You really like and want this job.
  • You’re really going to walk away from the job offer if the employer won’t give you more money.

That last item is key. Really being ready to walk away actually makes you a very powerful negotiator. It frees you to be creative. (So does positioning yourself properly to begin with. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Be The Profitable Hire.)

Give the employer what it wants

Try this.

How to Say It
“I understand that you won’t raise the salary for this job, and I accept that. But I know I’m worth more, and I can get it elsewhere. But I want to work here, with you, at this job. We’re at an impasse, but I think we can get over it while respecting both our positions.”

Now do something that will give you a huge edge in this negotiation. Give the employer what it wants. That’s right: Accept the job.

How to Say It
“The main thing I want to say is, I want to come work for you — and I accept the job.”

Then pause and say nothing.

What job seekers don’t realize is that every employer that wants to hire you is worried you’re going to reject the job. It’s worried you don’t really want the job, you’re not sure you want to work at the company, you’re not sure about the manager, maybe you don’t like the work space, the building, the people… The employer has no idea how to convince you. Every employer that wants to hire you is worried you’re going to say no.

So say it out loud. Make the commitment and put the company’s worries to rest. Tell them you accept the job.

Negotiate the terms

Whatever their response, say this next:

How to Say It
“I’m ready to start work. As long as we can come to agreement on the terms.”

Now, don’t try this if you are at all hesitant about anything other than the money. You must be ready to show up at this place to work for this manager, with these people, doing this job. You must be ready to start work now.

If the terms can be worked out.

Ask for more money: A signing bonus

Now deliver the key to everyone’s happiness.

How to Say It
“I know you have a salary scale that you can’t break. I’m not asking you to break it. I’m not going to ask for more salary. But I am worth more money. So I’d like to propose terms that will not affect the salary you’ve offered. I accept the salary. But I’d also like to propose terms that will still pay me what I’m worth. I’d like to propose a one-time signing bonus of $X. It will not affect my salary, or anything based on it, like future raises, 401(k) contributions, insurance, or anything that is tied to salary. I accept the salary of $N that you offered if you will include a one-time signing bonus of $X.”

Why it works

Will this work? Who knows. It’s a gambit to try only if you’re willing to walk away otherwise. It’s a way to save a deal. I hate to say no to a deal I’ve already worked hard for — so I ask myself what I’ll settle for that won’t hurt the other guy, and I try to say, Yes to what you want, if you’ll do X for me. If you won’t, I’ll walk away, no harm done.

Here’s why a signing bonus can work. The lovely thing about it is, it doesn’t break the salary range. The company is not paying you more than it planned. But it has to pay you what you’re worth. You just have to set $X reasonably, and that requires some compromise on your part if you really want the job.

(If the employer whips out a salary survey, taps it, and says you’re not worth any more, I hope you read this first: Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher offer.)

Keep in mind that, if the employer agrees, your future raises will be based on your salary. If the raise is 3%, it’ll be 3% of your salary, not your salary plus the bonus. The same goes for all other benefits based on salary. You’ll see that bonus just one time. So plan accordingly.

(Worried the employer might withdraw its non-negotiable offer because you dared ask for something more? Read The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed! Like we already discussed, you must be ready to walk away.)

Do you want this much more money?

What’s the point of a one-time payment, you ask, if what you really want and deserve is a higher salary? The point is that — as we noted at the beginning — you’re going to walk away from this job offer anyway. This is better than the offer you rejected — assuming you really want the job. This is more money. If there’s no size of signing bonus that would make you happy, then don’t even ask for it.

But if you can’t negotiate a higher salary, and what you want is more money, then negotiate for more money. A signing bonus is a good way to do it.

A few gotchas to beware of

You didn’t think there were no gotchas, did you?

  • Signing bonuses always come with a catch. You may have to agree to stay for a certain period of time, or refund the bonus or some pro-rated part of it. Negotiate an acceptable period.
  • Signing bonuses are sometimes paid in parts, to avoid having you skip out with the money. It might be monthly for a year, or quarterly or twice over a year. Negotiate it. My preference is to get it all upon start date, especially if there’s a refund clause.
  • Signing bonuses usually come with a written agreement. Consider having an attorney review it — along with your written job offer and other terms.
  • Signing bonuses are usually taxed just like any other pay. Consult your accountant if necessary.
  • The company may like your idea — but not the amount of the bonus. Decide well in advance what you’ll accept, and stick to it.

What kind of money is there other than salary? Would a signing bonus make a difference to you? How big? Have you ever gotten a signing bonus? How would you advise this reader?

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SevenFigureCareers Scam: How to get your money back

scamVictims of the SevenFigureCareers recruiting scam report they’re getting their money back — but not from SevenFigureCareers. Major credit card companies have refunded $2,500 fees collected by the phony recruiting firm — simply upon request.

Credit card disputes rejected

Last year, after paying $2,500 for phony job interviews with phony private equity firms, victims of SevenFigureCareers had to submit documentation to their credit card companies and wait for lengthy “chargeback reviews,” only to be rejected.

For example, American Express cardholders said their disputes were denied after SevenFigures defended the charges by submitting copies of contracts the victims signed.

“Something told me it might be a ripoff,” said one American Express cardholder who was recruited for a top-level job. “But they had a big American Express Partner logo on their website, so I thought it must be legit. Worst case, AmEx would protect me, right? They didn’t.”

More than one victim was told by American Express to hire a lawyer and go after SevenFigures on their own.

Chargebacks approved — instantly

After Ask The Headhunter published information last October showing the merchant was not a legally registered entity, American Express and VISA started issuing full refunds.

Now victims requesting refunds report their credit card companies are not requiring dispute forms or documentation. Most recently, VISA credit card holders reported getting instant approval on the phone for their $2,500 refunds. Some got refunds almost a year after they got ripped off.

“After I read about it on your website,” a victim told Ask The Headhunter, “I made careful notes from the articles and called VISA with my facts. It took seven minutes to get the refund.”

How to get your money back

If you believe you were scammed by SevenFigureCareers, it seems all you have to do is call your credit card company’s fraud office (check the back of your card for the telephone number) and dispute the charge. It helps to have your credit card bill handy.

The merchant is listed on bills not as “SevenFigureCareers” — or any of the multitude of other names it uses, including 7F, 7Figures, 7Figs and SevenFigureS.

Who charged you?

The merchant appears on credit card bills as “WWJESS, LLC” and may include the phone number 832 912-4445.

“I told VISA it was an unauthorized charge,” said another victim. “After I read complaints from other people  and your articles about SevenFigures, I realized I was a victim of fraud because the contract I signed was not legal. Art French, the recruiter who did this, called his business SevenFigureCareers. That’s not the name on the contract or on my bill. The Texas company on the contract is WWEJSS and on the bill it’s WWJESS. None of these are registered in Texas. I called and checked myself. After I read your articles, VISA gave me my money back with no argument. There was no job, there was no PE firm, it wasn’t an interview and there’s nobody named Art French!”

One look at the contract victims signed show they were contracting with WWEJSS, LLC — not WWJESS, LLC. What a difference the position of a J makes!

Perhaps more important, the “Texas corporation” on the contract is not legally registered. The Secretary of State of Texas, which requires any entity doing business from Texas to be registered, says it has no record of WWJESS, LLC, or wwejss, LLC, or WWEJSS, LLC. Nor, for that matter, is SevenFigureCareers registered. (7F, Inc., however, is registered. It’s a respected cattle ranch and has no connection to the scam.)

How do VISA and MasterCard know it’s a scam?

The first credit card company to issue refunds was American Express, as reported in Who’s behind the SevenFigureCareers recruiting scam? But AmEx spokesperson Ashley Tufts told Ask The Headhunter last October that credit card companies share information about questionable merchants through a clearinghouse:

“We may report a business name and the name of their principals to the MATCH™ (Member Alert to Control High Risk Merchants) listing maintained by MasterCard.”

In other words, credit card companies use a fraud database that includes not just the names of companies, but names of the people behind them. When one credit card company gets burned, it lets the others know.

A scam by another name

Did you lose money to a recruiting scam that sounds like this one, but the names were different? The scammers behind SevenFigureCareers are already using other names. We will publish a list shortly. Sign up for e-mail updates using the Updates by e-mail link on the right-hand sidebar of this page, near the top.

Don’t be embarrassed

Scammers depend on their victims’ shame and embarrassment to keep them quiet. If you lost money to this scam, call the fraud office of American Express, VISA, MasterCard or any credit card you used. Get your money back.

Have you been scammed by SevenFigureCareers? Did you get your money back? Add your case to our log: Send us an e-mail with your details. Ask The Headhunter will not publish any of your information without your permission. Logs will be shared with federal authorities.

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The Truth About Job Fairs

In the January 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader blasts employers for job fairs and bogus recruiting. 

Question

I’m sure a lot of employers read this newsletter, so this is an open question to them about job fairs. Maybe they will respond. But I’d like your opinion, too.

job fairsTo Employers:

I go to job fairs to meet your company in person, but your representatives tell me to visit the company website in order to apply for a job. Call me crazy, but I thought the purpose of a job fair was to actually meet you — a real, live hiring manager.

By going to a job fair, I am separating myself from those who are sitting at their computers all day just sending out resumes. I am making an effort to drive (mind you, the cost of gas) to a job fair after getting all dolled up in a great suit and actually seeking to talk to someone to place my resume ahead of someone else’s. I’m trying to stand out and show you I’m serious about working for you.

And my reward for this effort? You slap me in the face and tell me to go home and apply on-line.

Why do you even bother “recruiting” at job fairs? Why is it that your representatives don’t know anything about jobs at your company? Why do they tell me, “We are not taking resumes?” I didn’t need to drive 20 miles to see you only to have you tell me to go home and apply online. What if I’m someone who does not have Internet access at home? What if I’m that person who is strapped for cash and had to decide between paying for groceries this month or keeping an Internet service provider and I chose to forego the Internet?

Come on! Give me a break. I go to job fairs so you can see a face behind my resume in hopes of landing that interview! I attend so I can meet real flesh-and-blood hiring managers. And you send “personnel representatives” who don’t even act like they work for your company! Maybe they don’t! Why are you wasting my time?

(Thanks for letting me vent, Nick.)

Nick’s Reply

Oh, you’re welcome. Venting is good, especially when you’re not the only one doing it. I get frequent mail on this topic. And I’ll tell you, you’ve nailed it. I don’t recall the last time anyone told me they went to a job fair and got a job.

The truth is, job fairs are largely a waste of time.

Companies go to job fairs because HR clearly has nothing better to spend its money on. They send greenhorn HR reps to collect resumes or to direct people to the website. You could do better standing on a street corner handing out your resume.

The other little secret some HR folks have sheepishly shared with me is that job fairs enable them to check off more boxes on federal employment regulation forms. Maybe this is how they identify race, color and disabilities and get credit for entertaining certain applicants. I welcome HR managers to explain their behavior.

You have dispelled one of the key myths about job fairs: that they are a good place to actually meet the hiring managers. Let’s dispel two more job-fair myths.

Job Fairs: Myth #1

You can cover a job fair with 300 employers in one day.

Or some huge number. The pitch is that more is better, so why not go? Even if you slice it down to 100 employers, a six-hour job fair will allow you 3.6 minutes for each employer. (Do you think that if you were to spend anywhere near six non-stop hours at a job fair you might get dizzy and pass out?) Trust your common sense: That’s not enough time for a meaningful exchange.

The alternative to job fairs: Get detailed job-fair information, including lists of employers, jobs and departments that are hiring. Invest that six hours identifying and contacting people who work at three good target companies that are “going” to the job fair. Tell these folks you can’t make it to the job fair, and ask for their insight and advice about their company.

Then ask for introductions to managers who seem to be hiring. Save gas and use it to attend interviews instead.

Job Fairs: Myth #2

Job fairs are a great place to find unadvertised jobs.

Any job openings advertised at job fairs are already old news. Job fairs are often a company’s last recruiting resort. While a personnel jockey is scanning your resume at the job fair booth, my candidate (or some other headhunter’s) is sitting in the hiring manager’s office demonstrating how she’s going to do the job profitably for the manager. That’s who you’re competing with.

But if you really think about it, why would an employer try to fill good jobs with the best candidates at a job fair — when so many of the best potential candidates have jobs and aren’t likely to attend a fair? That’s not to disparage unemployed job seekers; the best candidate for a job may be currently unemployed. But how does the job-fair strategy for hiring make sense for employers? Either HR is goofy, or HR isn’t being honest.

The alternative to job fairs: Truly unadvertised openings are in managers’ heads. Even HR doesn’t know about them yet. So skip the places where HR clerks hang out (job fairs). Instead, go where the hiring managers and their employees go: professional conferences, trade shows, and training courses. Get ahead of your competitors rather than stand behind them.

Sure, bring a resume, but first make some friends. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for the gold ring that smart headhunters reach for: insight about the person’s company and work. That’s what leads to real relationships, real personal contacts, and valuable personal referrals to hiring managers. And that’s where you will learn about unadvertised openings. (For more on this, see Meet the right people.)

Beware of the empty sales pitch

Like online job boards, job fairs are where many HR departments gleefully waste corporate recruiting budgets. Why? Because job boards and job-fair operators are very good at marketing their wares. You’ve seen the promotions: “Hire the best people! Use our service!”

It’s not a stretch to imagine this sales pitch by a job-fair operator to HR: “You can send your greenhorn clerks instead of expensive managers to the fair! Save money and still get applicants!” So HR saves money while appearing busy.

Need I say more? Thanks for sharing your story and ire. I hope your open letter draws responses from HR folks who spend money on job fairs.

Have you been to a job fair? What was your experience? If a job fair paid off for you, what’s the secret? If you work in HR, please give us the straight dope. I mean, the truth.

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LinkedIn Extortion

In the January 17, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a boss tries to turn a new employee’s LinkedIn profile into an ad for the business. Is this LinkedIn extortion?

Question

linkedin extortionMy new employer wants me to list in my LinkedIn profile that I’m working for her, and to include the company’s logo, but I’m still in the 90-day probationary period of my new business development job. I don’t want other employers to see it yet. She’s made no commitment to me, and besides, I still don’t have the private office or company phone she promised.

She has also strongly suggested that I change my profile so my “message aligns with the company’s.” She’s very into branding, and wants her business to be found when people find my profile — yet she does not list any of her employees on the company’s website. Besides, my LinkedIn profile is my marketing piece, not my employer’s! She even asked me to delete the last part of my summary in which I list what roles I’m looking for next in my career.

I’ve tried to skirt this politely, but today she asked me when I’m going to do it. Because this job is different from others I’ve had, she wants me to omit key words from old jobs that aren’t consistent with her business. Meanwhile, I’m really trying to make this job a success. I just don’t like being pressured to re-write my resume — that’s what a LinkedIn profile is, after all — so it “aligns with the company’s message.”

I really want this job to work out. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

Is your boss a dummy? She’s ridiculous to presume she has any right to dictate what you put on your LinkedIn (or any other social media) page. Unless, of course, she’s willing to pay you an advertising fee… (more on this later).

If you’re going to add this new job to your LinkedIn profile, she has to earn it. I once had a girlfriend who insisted I wear a “friendship ring” so that people could see I was “attached.” We soon parted company.

Look at it this way (she clearly doesn’t): Would your boss ask to see your new resume, so she can pass judgment on what you include about her company? What’s the difference between that and your LinkedIn page?

LinkedIn extortion

This looks like a kind of extortion: Let me control your LinkedIn profile and I’ll let you keep your job.

Rather than assert any rights over your social media assets, your boss should stay mum and hope you decide on your own to add her company to your LinkedIn profile. Just like my old girlfriend should have stuck to hoping we’d stay together — without demanding that I “brand” myself with her logo.

Is your LinkedIn profile part of your boss’s advertising and branding? Or is it yours? I’ve never heard of an employer making this kind of demand.

Will she ask you to alter your Facebook page next? Will she ask you to start tweeting about her business from your personal Twitter account? Where will it end?

So, what do you do? You can talk with her frankly and tell her your LinkedIn page is not up for discussion. Or you can do what she asks and take your chances. However, I think you have a card to play here. If you decide to post something on your profile to make a concession, I’d ask for something back. Maybe like this:

How to Say It

“My social media pages are not intended to promote anyone’s business — they promote me. Listing my current job is a small part of what defines me. I would add more about this job after I’ve been here for a year, but I’d consider adding it now if you’re willing to end my probationary period and make a full commitment to me — including providing the office and company phone you promised.”

Does that sound too strong? Then modify it to suit you. But do you see the point? Sometimes, you have to test your boss — because I think your boss is testing you. You might as well find out sooner rather than later whether this is someone you really want to work for long-term. For example, if you’re concerned about broken promises regarding an office and phone, you may realize other promises are on the line, too: What to say to a stingy boss.

Here’s another way to help her see your point, since she’s so focused on marketing:

How to Say It

“With all due respect, using my LinkedIn profile to promote the company would be like you buying ad space on a website — and of course I’d never ask you to buy space on my LinkedIn page. I think there has to be some separation between the company’s marketing and an employee’s own professional marketing.”

Am I serious — should you offer up your LinkedIn profile if your boss pays you? Of course not. I’m trying to make a point. Tweak my suggestions as necessary, or don’t use them at all. It’s food for thought. (So is a larger question: Is your boss too preoccupied with LinkedIn as a marketing tool? She should read LinkedIn: Just another job board.)

Realistically, your LinkedIn profile is not going to drive any business to your boss, any more than your resume would! It’s clear to me your boss has already made you uncomfortable by suggesting a kind of LinkedIn extortion, and that should not be. At some point, you must draw a line – even if it risks your job.

(For more about personal branding for career advancement, see Branding yourself suggests you’re clueless.)

Is this LinkedIn extortion? Would you let your employer have any control over what’s on your LinkedIn profile? How would that affect your marketability to other employers? What should this reader do?

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I don’t accept work e-mails from my boss in the evening

Quick Question


I lost a job opportunity because I answered this question the wrong way in an interview: “How do you feel about getting work e-mails at home in the evening?” I said I don’t accept e-mails from work in the evening. I do my work at work. The interviewer said it was standard practice at the company and that employees were expected to respond to e-mails “when they can.” Well, when I’m at home, I’m not at work — no matter what a company pays me. I know it cost me the job. I don’t care. But, what do you think of such a condition of employment?

Nick’s Quick Advice

work e-mailsI think it sucks. Would the employer let you do your food shopping during your work day?

Employers can ask for anything they want, as long as it’s legal. I don’t know whether requiring employees to respond to work e-mails at home in the evening is legal, but I don’t care, either. If a company has the right to require that, you also have the right to refuse the job. Of course, as you’ve seen, that may mean you won’t be hired. If you’re already an employee, and you refuse, you might get fired, assuming the requirement is legal. (Do we have any labor and employment attorneys out there who’d care to chime in?)

No more work e-mails after work

According to a recent Time magazine article, Helping workers switch off, you might solve your problem by moving to France or Germany.

“A new law says French companies with more than 50 workers must guarantee a ‘right to disconnect’ from emails outside office hours, to improve work-life balance.”

In Germany, major employers are joining a trend started by a government agency:

“Germany’s employment ministry bars its managers from contacting staff during off-hours, and major companies, including Volkswagen and BMW, have followed suit. In 2014, automaker Daimler began automatically deleting emails sent to employees on vacation.”

What’s absurd are laws that let workers stop working when they leave work. What’s absurd is the idea that when you go out that door, you’re still at work.

What should be instituted are laws requiring employers to pay workers extra — lots extra — for being on call around the clock, and giving workers the option to decline.

A bogus culture of “I work harder”

Being required to work at home, after work, is a time suck. But here’s the problem. Employers and business pundits promote a culture of working around the clock — and suggest it’s a matter of pride and an important work ethic. What it really means is, We hire suckers who’ll work all day long.

It’s a rip-off. If a job were 24X7, you’d live at your office or you’d be paid 24X7. Being asked to work at home is abuse, because the employer controls your paycheck — so you’re afraid to say no. But you can quit and go work for an employer that respects the value of rest, not to mention the importance of personal and family obligations.

Yes, but…

I anticipate a whole bunch of “Yes, but…” rationalizations, so I’ll address them now.

  • But if you really care about your job, you’d of course respond to your boss in the evening if you’re needed!
  • What’s the big deal about replying to an e-mail or two in the evening?
  • Sometimes work flows home — it’s why you’re paid a salary rather than an hourly wage!

They’re all rationalizations. Any company that can’t get its work done during work hours is mismanaged. At best, one might argue that a customer made a demand and the boss just passed it on to the employee in the evening via e-mail — and the company’s success hinges on being responsive to customers at all time. But even that is a rationalization. When a company permits its customers to run the company, the company is mismanaged — and it’s mismanaging its customers, too.

In my opinion, people who walk around with “I work evenings, too” tattooed to their foreheads are dopes begging to be abused. Good for you for saying no. There’s nothing impressive about projecting “I’m proud because I work for my boss all day long!”

If you want to leave that interviewer with the right impression about your dedication to your work, try this:

How to Say It

“I’ll do all the work necessary to help my company be successful while I’m at work. I’m proud of that.”

It’s up to your boss to give you the right work to do, and it’s up to your boss to define, organize, and manage your work load during work hours to ensure the company’s success.

Do you respond to work e-mails in the evening? How much of an employee’s time does an employer own?

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Jobs plentiful! Pay is up! But, how are you doing?

In the January 10, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we attempt a reality check — about jobs. Disclosure: I wrote a snarky column to start the New Year. But it’s not as snarky as the news.

Question

Nick, I know the newsletter has been on vacation over the holidays, but have you been reading the jobs news? Am I crazy, or do people really believe unemployment is down and pay is up? That there’s suddenly a job for anyone who wants it? That all our troubles are over? Man, sign me up for a new job for 2X what I was making when I had a job!

Nick’s Reply

jobsDuring my Christmas break, the news kept coming hot and heavy from the U.S. Department of Labor and associated pundits and experts: You should stop complaining about jobs and salaries. Everything’s great!

I’m sure you’re reading the same good news, but all I want to know is, does this reflect your experience with the job market and employers? Or is your head spinning?

Jobs: U.S. Department of Labor News

In the past few days, the DOL reported:

  • “Unemployment rates were significantly lower in November in 18 states and stable in 32 states and the District of Columbia…”
  • “The national unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in November, down from 4.9 percent in October, and 0.4 percentage point lower than in November 2015.”

Fewer people unemployed!

Bloomberg News

Recent Bloomberg reports tell us:

  • “The 4.7 percent jobless rate remains close to a nine-year low, even with a tick up last month.”
  • We’re seeing “enduring wage gains as labor market tightens.”

You’re getting paid more and employers are working harder to hire you!

  • “Worker pay rises at fastest pace since end of last recession.”
  • “Fiscal stimulus would stoke further gains as labor [is] scarce.”
  • “Average hourly earnings jumped by 2.9 percent in the 12 months through December, the most since the last recession ended in June 2009.”
  • “Workers in almost every category, from mining and construction to retail and education, saw paychecks rise from November.”

JPMorgan Economic News

Michael Feroli, JPMorgan’s chief economist, says:

  • “I expect to see continued acceleration in wages this year.”

And get this: Labor shortages may become more common. Employers are going to be begging you to take a job! I hope that makes you feel better if you’re facing a shortage of exactly the one job you need to pay your bills.

But then there are the gotchas from from the DOL reported by Bloomberg:

  • “More Americans joined the labor force but had not yet found jobs.”

Oops. And try this double-talk on for size:

  • “The number of people who were jobless and gave up looking for work declined to a three-month low…” but “One caveat: fewer people who were already in the labor force but unemployed were able to find jobs.”

Associated Press News

The Associated Press isn’t being left behind:

  • Since 2009, “the job market is in infinitely better shape. The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. Jobs have been added for 75 straight months, the longest such streak on record.”
  • But, er, ah… “The proportion of Americans with jobs… dropped a full percentage point.”

Uh… apply the grammatical logic tool to that one and you get… More Americans are without jobs!

  • “Hiring has been solid yet still hasn’t kept up with population growth.”
  • “…many workers, especially less-educated men, have become discouraged about finding jobs with decent pay and have stopped looking.”

Yes, that means many, many Americans are screwed, but they’re probably not educated enough to parse those sentences to glean the economic reality. But when they try to pay for food next week, they’ll grab their pitchforks and torches.

Middle America

And don’t miss this troubling factoid: The “routine work” that pays middle-income wages is disappearing. But the good news is, those of you doing “higher- and lower-paying jobs” should have no trouble finding work! Tech jobs have “soared” 42%. Hotel and food service jobs have “jumped” 19%!

Apply the grammatical logic tool to that one and you get… Middle America can’t find a job!

  • More good news: “Over the past year, average hourly pay has risen 2.9 percent, the healthiest increase in seven years.”
  • But, uh, in a “robust economy” pay gains would be more like 3.5%.

There’s more, but your under-paid, under-fed or unemployed (or under-employed) brain probably couldn’t take it.

Let’s stop pretending

The jobs news is so contradictory that nobody knows — or will admit — what’s really going on. While the government, economists, banks and pundits spin a story that makes heads spin, I think the wisdom about all this is in the crowd. The people living, succeeding, failing, giving up, dropping out, scraping by and dying in this economy have a clearer picture of what’s really going on than what’s being reported.

How are you doing?

Early January of a New Year is a good time to sweep away the news and ask you — How are you doing in all this? I think we all want to know what’s really going on in our economy and job market.

  • Does this news reflect your experience?
  • Are you finding more jobs — real jobs — are begging to be filled?
  • Are you getting paid more money?
  • Are employers hiring you more quickly at higher salaries?
  • If you already have a job, has your boss increased your salary to avoid losing you?
  • What’s really going on with respect to jobs, employment and pay?

I don’t think we’ll sort this out, but we can do a more honest job of discussing the truth than the news pretends at!

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