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.


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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  1. I have been in my profession for nearly forty years, and it’s one of the worst for age discrimination (I learned that shortly after taking my first job in the industry). I have eliminated as many clues as possible to my age (graduation dates, etc.), and go back about ten years on the work experience.

    As a manager who has poured through more résumés than I could count, my advice is KISS. Tailor the résumé to the position. (You ARE tailoring each one you send, aren’t you?) Give the manager the opportunity to scan your résumé and put it in the “keep” pile. That means a clear emphasis on the skills and experience to do the job being advertised. And we just discussed how poorly job descriptions can be written, so do as much detective work as possible before submitting.

    The savage truth is that the résumé you spent days carefully crafting will get a minute at most from the hiring manager. Or take Nick’s advice and toss it all together!

    • @Larry: Thanks for that testimonial :-). What happened to thinking before applying, and addressing what an employer needs — rather than applying blindly with the equivalent of a flyer in the mail (a resume) and letting the employer figure it all out? Imagine if we did our jobs that way, without addressing the specific problem or challenge. We’d get fired.

      The media keep talking about “skills mismatches” in the employment market. It’s up to the job seeker to show the match clearly so the employer will pick up the phone and invite you in to talk.

      You said it well, my friend!

  2. On the company research tip, I’ve been interviewing with a small digital media company that turns up few results when Googled. A partnership with Disney announced 2 years ago that shows little evidence of still existing, an announcement of two VPs being hired 5 years ago who don’t list the company on their LinkedIn profile, etc.

    The CEO is an aggressive Hollywood type who seems capable of bad behavior. I’m trying to play Colombo here and dig up some clues to qualify whether I should continue.

    Glassdoor only has 5 star and 1 star reviews and all the 5 star reviews are about a sentence long and with no substance. The 1 star reviews are detailed and specific and all point to disfunctional leadership.

    Guess I will have to come up with some creative angles to judge the risk of accepting a potential offer…

    • @Jake: “The CEO is an aggressive Hollywood type who seems capable of bad behavior.”

      Do you really need to know or do anything more?

  3. “Glassdoor only has 5 star and 1 star reviews and all the 5 star reviews are about a sentence long and with no substance. The 1 star reviews are detailed and specific and all point to disfunctional leadership.”

    ..yet many job seekers believe the 5-stars without investigating further and automatically judge (to their peril) 1-stars to be “disgruntled” employees. Employers LOVE this type of emotional snap-judgement.

    “…relying on your LinkedIn profile or resume to get you in the door is a fool’s errand…”

    Similar to the Glassdoor “star” interpretation phenomena fools love to take the easy road of “post and pray” concerning their careers.

    Next thing you know employers will be asking for a blood sample and, pathetically, many will submit to the demand. Impossible? Well, the ACA was a major move towards single payer health which means big government has access to your health records. Once you have a single authority controlling any aspect of your life don’t expect “security” of what was once “private” information.

    Nonetheless, with all the major data breaches over the years people still think their employers and big gubmint will “protect” their “private” information. LOL!

    • Those of us over 65 already are in a single payer government run plan. If the government isn’t pawing through our health records now, I don’t think you have to worry. There are plenty of things to be paranoid about already without making any up.

      • “I don’t think you have to worry.”

        Famous last words.

        Maybe you should review the Snowden story. They even made a movie about it. And, isn’t that what Clinton told us about her closet stowed server – ‘nothing to worry about’, as she scrubbed the hard drives? Oh, and the ACA rivals the NSA’s illegal surveillance as the largest data scrape (“pawning” as you say) the world has ever witnessed.

        Those of us who already connected the dots have nothing to “worry” about. As for the rest of you…

        “…plenty of things to be paranoid about…”

        Paranoid? Only those with heads in the sand have something to be paraoid about. Your precious big gubmit is crooked to the core and has proven time and time again how privacy is a thing of the past. Wake up to reality, Orwell’s “1984” is here. All your gubmit needs to do is flash an ex parte order at any of our employers/doctors and they’ll get whatever they want.

        Don’t tell us, you think ID theft must be a fairy tale too?!?

        If you haven’t connected the dots yet it’s not too late to follow the bouncing ball, otherwise you’re just living under the illusion of “security”.

        • I just reviewed a book on security for the Internet of Things for a computer design journal. As far as security goes, if you think it is bad now, it will get worse. If you have a PC you get frequent updates from Microsoft. Do you think the maker of your WalMart internet enable thermostat is going to spend any money fixing security holes?
          I’d be a lot more worried about a storefront medical office losing my records than Medicare. And losing my credit card info at Target affects me more than someone knowing my latest INR measurement.

    • The ship called “They have all our information” sailed long ago. We gave up control of our information when we filled out the “registration card” that came with our refrigerator and signed up for Facebook and LinkedIn. And when we bought a house, insurance, a car, a magazine subscription. That’s a fait accompli.

      The real challenge is to learn how to negotiate and how to raise our standards when interacting with others — in this case, employers. We get upset when they demand our information, but for the most part they already have it. So our challenge is to DEMAND MORE OF THEM before we deign to consider a job working for them.

      ACA and medical information systems are outside the scope of this website, but I’ll offer one comment: I’m fed up with going to doctors who don’t have or can’t get the details of my medical information. So I keep a huge file of my own — and I have to lug it to each doctor I visit so they’ll have the benefit of all my medical info before they diagnose or prescribe. That’s nuts. Can they misuse that info? Yah — and the federal government can misuse my tax records.

      The ship has sailed. The point is to control what you can, and to negotiate like a stubborn dog when necessary. End of rant :-)

  4. Of course ask what it’s like to work there, and see if you can sense (but not explicitly ask about) relationships with other divisions. But interviews are marketing from both sides. If you wind up talking to someone who hates his or her job, you can conclude either that the person setting up the interview is clueless or that so few people like working there they couldn’t find anyone who would be positive. Both danger signs. When I set up interviews I had a set of people who were successful, positive, and smart enough to ask probing questions. And who would be working with the candidate of course. But even if you talk to three people who love the place, there might be 10 who hate it.
    That’s why you should always insist on talking to the person who will be your boss. I didn’t do that once (he was on sabbatical) and it was a big mistake.

    • Here’s an oldie but goodie you might enjoy:

      The lessons here have not changed in over 20 years. The company — whose identity I hid when I wrote this — was Memorex. But not the Memorex audio tape operation. This was the IBM-compatible disk storage system Memorex, long defunct after being acquired by Burroughs.

      It’s a cautionary tale.

      • I remember that column. But look on the bright side – being mistreated at an interview is a bright red warning sign saying “don’t work there.” I got to hire a genius partly because he was mistreated at another branch of my company.

  5. I recently interviewed with a company. After the face-to-face interview was over, I sent each person I interviewed with a thank you and also asked a couple of questions of each of them. One person was out of the office on personal business and would not be checking email, so I did not expect a reply. The other person, who was the hiring manager, did not acknowledge the thank you nor did that person answer my question.

    I suspected there may be problems because when I did ask pointed questions about the work, I would get vague answers. Based on glass door reviews and hearing about the company from some people who used to work there, I now understand why they did not want to reveal much. There seems to be angst within the company, partly do to poor management and some due to growing pains that have not been handled well. Furthermore, they are losing people to other companies (and competitors) in the area.

    I need a job because I’m unemployed, but it is a tough slog reading through convoluted job descriptions trying to figure out what the hell the job is about. Some descriptions are three pages long once printed–there is no way a human can ever do all that is listed in these descriptions. One company listed they wanted a project manager to work on 20-25 projects at one time–good luck with that. Very few companies have learned how to craft well written descriptions.

  6. As a hiring manager, I like when candidates ask me what the job is like. Since most applicants are friends of someone already working in our department, by asking me, it shows they are trying to understand the job from multiple perspectives – ie they are researching the role and the work environment. I’m more than happy to tell them what they will be doing and how our department interacts with different departments, etc. This is particularly valuable sharing for fresh graduates or someone transferring from an unrelated industry. I want to set expectations at the beginning so both of us can make an informed decision.

    • @David L: Thanks for the validation. Your attitude reveals a good manager. The hard lesson for eager job seekers to learn is that when they encounter managers who don’t like such questions, it’s time to run out the door. There is nothing else to discuss.

      Good for you. There’s some hope for job seekers when managers like you exist.

  7. “Some descriptions are three pages long once printed–there is no way a human can ever do all that is listed in these descriptions.”

    Like you I have been unemployed – older woman so I’m treated like a pariah. I did take a job like that because I needed a job and failed after I was not provided the software promised when I interviewed. They said it cost too much. There was no way I could meet the regulatory response time for that volume of cases without the software or without the clerical help otherwise needed. They let me go and I was glad to be gone from that lower level of hell. Fast forward a few months and the company is recruiting someone to do the clerical work for this function. This stupid employer is willing to hire someone at $45K salary (probably close to $60k with benefits and taxes) or more rather than spend half that on an annual license for a program that does the same thing.

  8. Vetting a company is more important than ever. Unfortunately, most companies act like they are doing you a favor by granting an interview. Asking nosy questions can mark you a troublemaker. Especially questions going beyond the job to company culture, direction, financing, etc. Many don’t like reverse interrogation. So may take stealthy private eye methods to dig up what you need to know, especially with smaller private outfits.

    I fell in love with a job and didn’t ask the probing questions. Made the wrong choice after getting two offers. (The other job would have been the far better choice, in retrospect.) So no doubt about the value of this. Just how without blowing your chances, as too many companies seem very prickly about their supposedly awesome reputation. Sorry if that sounds a bit cynical.

    • “Asking nosy questions can mark you a troublemaker.”

      …and that’s the way they want it. What better way to throw desperate job seekers off the trail of getting to the truth.

      Although most HR departments today are pathetic, many HA/HMs get caught up in this mantra too. Asking intelligent Qs can also mark you as someone that won’t put up with BS. Many companies today won’t hire someone that doesn’t fit the ‘sheeple’ category – you know, someone that blindly takes orders and is easily bullied when needed.

      So this “lack of talent” line of garbage is actually true in the sense it fits their behind the scenes agenda: ‘We won’t hire anyone who is too smart to be a slave.’

      They’ll take all they can grab from you. “quid pro quo” is almost non-existent so even the most basic “vetting” is stopped cold.

    • “We want to hire people who think out of the box (but we won’t hire them if we find them)”

    • No – you are absolutely right. A few years ago I worked for a company that constantly bragged about how they were number 1. I found this odd as in just about every single industry metric/ranking the company was one place up from dead last.

  9. @Dave: That sums up the hiring philosophy and practices of too many employers these days perfectly!

    Yes, ask the questions. Better to find out during the interview stage than after you’re working there. And if people start hemming and hawing, sucking air, looking away from you, refuse to give you a straight answer, run.

    I remember going on an interview, asking what the job was like/what it was like to work there, and the interviewer said “I don’t know what the job is like–I don’t work in that dept. and the manager doesn’t deal well with strangers, so I’m doing the interview”. Yikes.

  10. While reading over job postings, I occasionally look at all of the company’s job postings. In many cases the requested skill set is very similar for vastly different positions within the same company. Companies have been pushing to standardize many different aspects of their business over the past few years, but I think they have taken this standardization a bridge too far.
    I absolutely agree with Nick, that HR staff and managers don’t seem to have a clue what skills are needed to fill open positions.
    In addition this insanity companies seem to be moving towards a “Following the Kardashians” model where appearance and status are valued above all else. Is the work getting done? Nope who cares, check our her/his post on social media! Point to fact, I received a contract job because I had a “cool” facebook page whatever that means. Think of all the money I could have saved on tuition if I knew that was all it took to get hired!
    The business world has always been a bit dysfunctional but I literally find myself mouthing the words, “What the…?!” multiple times a day now and I can see from other postings to your website that I am not alone.

  11. Just received this email which I am at a loss of what to reply.
    The company is not US Based and it is a huge one. I was emailed and asked to send my
    resume (they found me off LinkedIn) which I did. Then I suddenly out of the blue received a preliminary call to have a call…a private number masked. I got the name of the individual and looked them up on LinkedIn, seeing that they were overseas. Not sure why the private number, they could show at least a company and main number to the location. I was told I would receive an email with some questions that needed to be answered.

    Mind you, I do not know the title of the job, when it starts, who is the hiring manager, what the compensation is…and much else outside of the fact it’s in my area of the world.
    I received this email today:

    “Hello Ruth,

    It was wonderful speaking to you yesterday I enjoyed it

    In the meanwhile Please visit us at [website redacted] to know more about our products

    Here are the few questions that I would like you to answer

    What was the sales quota you handled in the last 5 years and how much were you able to achieve.
    Name a few Software products you have sold
    Let us know the split for Subscription sales, license sales and services.
    Your current salary and expected salary
    Notice period

    [Name redacted]”

    I am just going to reply back asking my own questions and maybe answer 2 of them…the ones I already answered on the phone with that recruiter for that company (products I sold, my notice period). I am confident they will move on as there are a ton of eager beaver younger than me peeps that will jump at the chance to put their lottery ticket into the box.

  12. @Ruth: How do you know you’re dealing with a bona fide representative of this employer? Private phone number? ID blocked? I wouldn’t tell this person anything until you have confirmed whom you’re talking to. If you have any interest in this job, I’d call the main company number and ask for the person that spoke with you. No answer, no dice.

    Recruitment has become a prime vector for identity theft. It’s a slam-dunk for scammers – even if this isn’t one. Eager job seekers are so focused on the “opportunity” that they fail to vet who’s contacting them.

    Be careful. I’d love to know who this company is.

    • After emailing the details to Nick I thought about this…I’m not going to apply because it’s obvious even though it’s a real company this is not the most respectful approach. I figure I’m the bottom of the barrel and that they’re shifting through thousands of applicants… I’m unimportant so be it.

      Meanwhile I had a phone interview where I was treated much nicer, with a lot of positive energy over the phone. Hoping it goes well in person tomorrow face to face.