In the May 8, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re covering something different: A wild story…

From The Headhunter Files

People seem to enjoy hearing some of the stranger stories from The Headhunter Files. I usually share these only in my live presentations and workshops, but I think it’s time to go public. Rather than Q&A this week, we’ll do a “Headhunter File,” and if subscribers enjoy it, we’ll do this as a regular feature in upcoming editions.

Fred was an engineer I spoke with while I was checking references on another engineer during a search I was conducting in Silicon Valley. No one had recommended Fred to me (you’ll see why this is pertinent later) — but after my reference call was done, he asked me if I could help him land a better job. I took his resume and filed it, but I wasn’t working on any assignments he’d be a fit for anyway.

But Fred was persistent. He called me again and asked why I wasn’t helping him out. I explained that I didn’t find jobs for engineers — I found engineers for my clients, based on specific requirements. Here’s roughly how the conversation went.

Let’s make money together

Fred: “But if you’ll help me, I’ll make you a lot of money.”
Me: “I’m sure I could earn a good fee placing you, if I had the right assignment.”

Fred: “Just send me to interview with any of your current clients. I’m very good at getting job offers. You’ll earn a fee quickly and it will be good for both of us.”
Me: “Sorry, I don’t work that way. But since you brought it up, what’s your specialization? What do you do, exactly?”

Fred: “I’m an engineer, and I can do almost anything. I got a 15% raise to take this job. If you can get me 10% more, I’ll take it.”
Me: “How long have you been at your current job?”

Fred: “About two months. Before this job, I got almost a 20% raise on the last job.”
Me: “Really? How long were you at that job?”

Fred: “No more than six months. My goal is to get my salary up as high as possible.”
Me: “Don’t you think you’re building a reputation for jumping around?”

Fred: “Employers want the best people they can get, and as long as they pay me and my salary keeps going up, I’ll go wherever I have to.”
Me: “Sorry, but my clients don’t pay me fees for engineers who will pack up and leave every few months. You should be careful.”

Fred: “There’s no need to tell them I changed jobs recently. I’ve only been here two months. Just tell them I’m still at the last company. And that would be true. I’m doing both jobs.”
Me: “You’re working at two companies at once?”

Fred: “Yes. It’s a lot of work, but I don’t mind. I’ll do it as long as I can and make all the money I can.”
Me: “Do both companies know you’re doing this?”

Fred: “Of course not. Look, I could earn you several fees in just one year! We’d be a good team.”
Me: “No, you look — don’t call me again.”

Fred: “If you’re going to tell anyone, let’s just forget it.”
Me: Click.

I could have said something more clever, but I just told Fred to bug off. He never told me where he worked, and I didn’t want to know. Since no one had recommended Fred to me — another engineer used him as a reference — I had no context for a relationship with him, and no one to blame!

Making jobs pay

How was it possible for Fred to keep jumping jobs, getting 10%-20% higher salaries, and not get caught? He told me he worked odd hours, but that’s common for engineers. He’d put in just enough time at each job to keep his head above water, then leave when things got hot. After around three years, he’d boosted his salary by over 50%, and made much more than that by holding two jobs at a time. He made sure to stay employed, so headhunters would call him with interviews — he’d figured that much out. He was “working” headhunters who filled jobs without asking too many questions.

Fred said he was “making jobs pay.” You could say Fred was just playing the market, and beating employers at the salary game. He’d lucked into some employers that didn’t do much background checking — or that trusted “headhunters” to do it for them.

I write a lot in this newsletter about employers that go too far with background checks, and about job hunters who get abused in the recruiting process. But employers sometimes take it between the eyes, too, from unscrupulous “salary hunters.”

What Fred was doing can be done — but not for long. The issue wasn’t the salary boosts he was getting — that’s a matter of negotiating. The problem was that he wasn’t comitting to a job, and that was his routine.

Do you think people can hold down multiple jobs of the same kind, and do it successfully and legitimately?

I didn’t keep up with him, but my guess is Fred didn’t spend many years in the engineering profession. I’m sure he got busted. There are many lessons in stories like this. What do you get from this one?

Got a good, weird tale of job hunting or hiring? Let’s hear it! (Want to hear more true stories from The Headhunter Files? Let me know!)

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  1. Dear Nick, The NY Daily News sometimes does a column about odd but true stories from something like the divorce courts. They are usually odd and funny. But I don’t find them edifying because it is pretty obvious that you don’t DO those things. They are wrong.

    So I kinda equate this post to that sentiment. You just don’t DO this type of stuff. It is wrong.

    Great story to tell at a party.

  2. What an eye opener. I agree with Lucille’s comment wholeheartedly. I never in my wildest dreams would imagine that anyone could engage in such unethical behavior. There will ultimately be consequences for the self-centered and deceitful practices this poor fellow has embraced.

  3. I worked at a small software company. Several times we found field sales reps were “full time” for us and another company. It’s easier since they work on their own, are supposed to be with customers much of the time.

    Symptoms were delayed e-mail or phone call returns, difficulty scheduling.

    Two base salaries make it less painful to miss quota.

  4. But, Nick you were asking Fred as a reference for someone else? Would his info he provided be reliable about that other person? Is that other person any good? I only use those for a reference that I really know well.

  5. My situation is slightly different as I am contractor and have been so for about 25 years. I’ve had as many as 3 contracts at one time (although I would never recommend it. I recall once sitting at a terminal in an editing session and could not remember whether I was using vi, emacs, or another editor.)

    I try to avoid working two gigs at once, but every once in a while a new gig comes up that is so compelling that I start it before ending the other. I almost always tell both parties of the overlap, unless it’s very short term, like a week.

    Sooner or later this engineer will be busted. Once the word gets out, he’ll find the days of wine and roses are bread and water.


  6. Here’s 2 stories:
    1. A friend was S/w Director for a NC start-up who began feeling their oats. They had Asian aspirations and hired a sales guy in Taiwan. If I recall, this may related to an earlier post. I don’t think they interviewed him in person. Several months went by with nothing happening, i.e. nothing = 0 sales. Then someone flew out there for business, met the guy, did some checking around and were shocked to find, that yes they hired him, and yes they assumed he’d left his former employer…wrong assumption

    2. I was a Software QA Manager of a company also in NC. I knew there was a layoff coming, passed the word to the boss. We knew it would be knee-jerk #’s driven, ie. 10% across the board or something like that. Our mgmt team normally did a pretty good job of managing performance, that is rewarding good performers, and terminating poor performers. But in this case we killed all terminations in the current quarter so we’d have people to pony up to Corporate’s downsizing machine. However, I did that one better. One of my engineers gave me his letter of resignation effective 2 weeks before the end of the quarter (that included the usual 2 weeks notice). I asked if he could delay that for two weeks (so he would be in the next Quarter’s headcount). No . So I told him I needed him to stick around at least on paper and said I’d accept the resignation effective 2 weeks later. He said he had to report to work on his new job the Monday after his desired resignation date. I told him fine. Do that, and don’t worry about it as he didn’t need to show up here. Consider it a bonus severance pay. Collect two paychecks, my treat. I didn’t/couldn’t tell him there was a massive layoff coming as that would have spread like wildfire. He thought it weird behavior on my part and I knew he thought so. So in this case, I created the scenario of a guy collecting two paychecks for the same period of time from 2 different companies. But in so doing, I also saved someone’s job somewhere in our team because the layoff tax would be based on existing headcount at the beginning of the next quarter, no wiggle room.
    Alas, there was another layoff and another after that. And Corporate HR figured out that our facility had tossed several ringers into the pot (people with delayed termination dates) and plugged up that hole. But we bought some time for several people and kept resources we needed.
    The moral of the story for HR is “beware the hiring managers, though illiterate, they are crafty and sly and bear watching at all times”

  7. @Don: You wicked manipulator. Loved the story!

  8. @Doug: Contractors working multiple assignments can be very different from holding multiple full-time jobs. A FT job usually includes restrictions on what else you can do while employed — including against working for a competitor at the same time (moonlighting). I know contractors who do two jobs and both companies know it, no problem.

  9. @Edward: I was waiting for someone to pick up on the fact that I met Fred while checking a reference. Fred actually provided a very thoughtful, accurate reference on the candidate I was checking out. Fred was actually a pretty good engineer and seemed otherwise honest. I had no problem with the reference he gave. (Others corroborated the info about the candidate.) But Fred had a very warped idea about jobs and his career. He really thought it was a game in which optimizing your win at any cost to the employer was the thing to do. I suppose there are people who’ve gotten so badly screwed by employers that they’d cheer Fred on.

    I never bothered asking my candidate about Fred. Using Fred as a reference wasn’t a conflict, in my opinion. That was a separate transaction that required me to judge whether Fred was giving an honest, accurate reference. There was no reason to hold Fred’s behavior against the candidate.

    But I’d never work with Fred in a million years!

  10. WAY TO GO, FRED! YOU’RE THE MAN! (Note to Nick Corcodilos, I just couldn’t resist.)

    Kudos to Don Harkness — I too loved anecdote #2.

  11. Here’s story #3, in the twilight of a person working for two companies at the same time, but alas one paycheck. Nick manipulator is such a harsh term…I thought of it more as managerially creative..perhaps a living business art piece.
    Same company, same facility. The facility was a remote software lab, but a building nevertheless. Buildings need tender loving care. HQ was in a state far far away and it had many R&D labs too, along with us under the keen direction of our goose stepping computer scientist VP. But in HQ, facilities was an overhead charge on his budget. A different group was responsible for doing that stuff and charged occupants accordingly.
    So he had no dealings with the mere mortals who actually cleaned floors, fixed toilets, warmed and cooled the place and guarded it from evil doers.
    But we inhabitants of the far flung remote lab in NC presented an anomaly…the people who did such ukky things worked for us, on our headcount, and therefore on the VP’s headcount.
    Problem: we didn’t have enough of them. These were lean times and my boss, even as a Director had to get approval for EVERY hiring req. And our VP felt real men used headcount for engineers and absolutely refused to let my boss hire anyone for admin, facilities stuff. This drove my boss nuts….furious. And everyone was on his ass about it. Do something! We had high priced engineers doing grunt work.
    Running the facilities was one of my functions as well. I had one Facilities Manager, and 1 maintenance guy for about 150-200 people occupying 250,000 sq feet, augmented with a 3rd party cleaning service and 3rd party security service.
    So I did some checking. I found from our finance guy that the maintenance and security contracts were really nothing but purchase orders and in that direction was some daylight…a loop hole. My boss had discretionary latitude to sign off on modifications to these contracts without kicking them upstairs. I called the security firms and asked what latitude I had in job scope, i.e. what I could have the people do for us. In sum whatever I wanted as long as it didn’t harm them. Got some pricing on kicking up the #. Went to our beancounter with the info to see if it would work in the budget, it did, went to the boss and stuck two new POs in front of him and advised him to sign them. Why? Because I’m bringing 2 more guards on site, one to “guard the loading dock” and while doing that he would make himself useful and take care of shipping and receiving, and one to “guard” the xerox room and while there, might was well make copies (this was an engineering lab and they killed a lot of trees making copies of robust specs for about everyone). And I was bringing over a couple more cleaners who would “clean” the lightbulbs before changing them, clean the grounds with a riding mower, clean walls with new paint etc.
    I pointed out his signing authority and that he didn’t need anyone else’s approvals..all he needed to do was sign the paperwork.
    My boss was a quick study, with a marvelous sense of humor, and he had intestinal fortitude. He got it! With GREAT delight..signed off.
    Problem solved. I made his day. No one noticed a thing, nary a ripple from the Gods in HQ. This was one of my favorite career accomplishments…where there’s a will…there’s a way.

  12. @Nick –

    “I suppose there are people who’ve gotten so badly screwed by employers that they’d cheer Fred on.”

    Obviously, we’d all like to stick it to the man but any number of wrongs don’t make this type of behaviour right.

    I suppose that the reason many places have arcane hiring practices is because they’ve been burned – maybe not to this extreme.

  13. @Don,
    Oh you are too cool!

    So despite my dismissal as this being a fluff piece, people managed to bring this discussion up a level.

    However, this is still a fluff piece. Although the artistry of this fluff is just too good to stop reading.

    The NY Daily News should be reading this.

  14. Don Harkness, regarding anecdote #3, this kind of thing is done all the time. Remember, you don’t have to be an idiot to be a boss; but it sure as hell seems to help!

  15. @Nick: just goes to show that there are people who try to “work the system” no matter what the system is, even if it is to their detriment, by biting the hand that feeds them, or at least the hand that helps get them in front of a hiring manager!

    @Don: loved your stories. They remind me of some of the machinations I had to go through when I worked for the state to get things that I absolutely needed. With the state, sometimes you’ll find a loophole, but sooner or later it catches up with you, so my lesson is that you’re better off doing things the right way. The methods might not make any sense to you, but if multiple depts. are involved in the process, there’s a reason for it and it might come from another dept.

    I used to work for the state–it took a minimum of 2 weeks just to issue a P.O., let alone actually purchase what you need. And, your discussion about grounds and maintenance crews reminded me of my last job. We had over 30,000 students on campus, were the largest employer in our part of the state, had thousands and thousands and thousands of employees, but only had 4 employees who were classified as “movers”, that is, an employee whose job it was to move other employees, depts. from one office to another, from one building to another building. If you have roach problems and call physical plant, they give you a number 1 trillion 3 billion 499 million…..and say that when your number comes up that’s when they’ll get to you. Every building on campus has a roach problem, and they’re currently serving customer with roach problem #2. I took matters into my own hands–went to store that sells pesticides and other chemicals for insect problems, told the clerk I wanted boric acid because I worked at the university and saw a roach run under the cabinet in my office. The smallest size container of boric acid was enough to bomb the whole building, but I sprinkled it around my office and voila, no more roaches there. I did see them in the building, but I didn’t see any more in my office. 2 years and 7 months later, a guy from physical plant showed up and asked me if I was the lady who had filed the work order re a roach. Yup. And as far as I knew, there were still roaches in the building, probably the next several generations of them, but so far I hadn’t seen any more in my office, and that I thought the one I had seen might still be under the big heavy file cabinet (it was).

    Now, if this had been a private company in the private sector, or even if it had been government, but let’s say the governor’s office, (or the President’s office at the university), then I’m sure that the response time would have been different and there would have been adequate staff to deal with these matters (like keeping a building clean and safe).

  16. It is sad, because a lot of employees get burned by badly managed companies, or companies that do not treat people fairly or rightly.

    So while I do not condone Fred’s behavior, but do companies realize they have to earn our loyalty and trust and that we won’t just give it blindly?

    If they earn our trust, we will give them ours. If companies and managers keep creating a culture of playing games, politics, incompetent people, that will not encourage people to want to be a part of those companies.

  17. @Lucille: Fluff? Fun! In many areas of science, weird anomalies are used to explore deeper truths. And as always, as you point out, this little community came through and found the important issues under the… fluff!

  18. @Nick, I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts, just as I enjoy Dilbert cartoons.