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The Q&A

You can’t CLICK to change careers

In the May 22, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wants to change careers… without the necessary experience.

Question

change careersAs someone who has only been out of work a few months, I am finding it really difficult to even get interviews, and all of them but one have been through networking. That being said, I’m trying to shift career paths since I was working in retail banking before and now, at 27, I’d really like to get away from being a teller.

Do you have any advice on how to change careers, especially with no experience in other industries?

Nick’s Reply

What makes career change difficult is that you need to be able to do the work you want to get hired to do. If you can’t do it, you won’t get hired.

But heavy marketing by the big job boards produces — as intended! — a lot of silly wishful thinking. We’d like to think that, because a cool job is posted, we can and should apply for it. (Hey, why not take a chance?) But wanting a job and being worth hiring are two very different things.

You can’t click to change careers

Career change requires a lot of preparation. You can’t just click APPLY like Indeed or Glassdoor suggest, or write a clever resume that gets you an interview or gets you hired. The sad mistake people make is that they think they can pay someone to produce a magical resume that will yield a job interview for a job they can’t really do! There’s no magic.

From How Can I Change Careers?, p. 10:

I pity the person who thinks career change is about finding a job. Companies don’t give out jobs. They hire people who can help them make more money—and will pay for that.

So when you approach a company, you must explain how you fit. You must create the equivalent of a business plan, mapping your skills to its needs, helping the employer see why hiring you will pay off.

In my experience, the main reason that most attempts at career change fail is because job hunters never expend the effort necessary to understand what the employer’s work is all about. They hand their resume over and essentially say, “Here are my qualifications. Now, you go figure out what to do with me.” Employers won’t do that, especially when you’ve never worked in their business before. What motivates employers is candidates who “get it.”

There is, however, planning and preparation. There is a thoughtful, step-by-step approach that takes time and a big investment.

The first step to a new career

You’re not interested in making a big investment to make that career change? Then, why should an employer make a big salary investment to give you a try?

Here’s one suggestion to get you started down the path to career change. Learn all you can about the industry you want to be in, and the work you want to do. That’s a big step. It’s a lot of hard work. But so’s that new career you want.

Start doing the hard work now.

Break the job and the work down into functions and tasks so that you understand what it’s really all about. Yep — this requires a lot of research and talking to people who do the job you want and jobs related to it.

When you realize there are tasks and functions you’re not able to do, break them down further. The more fundamental, the better. Which of the more basic tasks can you do?

As you start to appreciate the complexity (and the newness) of the job, you’ll also start to see tasks that you probably can do. They may not be the bigger, more specialized tasks that pay well. But if you really want to change careers, pick the tasks that are a match for your skills — even if this is a new world for you.

Get hired for the skills you’ve got

The challenge now is to identify jobs that you could do adequately with the skills you do have — at the company where you want to work.

  • You want a job doing financial analysis? Maybe you have to start with a lower-level job building spreadsheets and entering data for a financial analyst.
  • You want a job handling social media marketing for a company? Maybe you have to start in a job proof-reading advertising copy.

In other words, to change careers you’re probably going to have to take a lower-level job than you have now, and less salary. Most people don’t like that — but employers don’t like paying workers who can’t do a job, either. So face it, and decide whether you’re willing to make the investment to build the skills and cred to do the job you want.

You say you’ve done all your homework and preparation? Now you have to learn about Getting In The Door.

The alternative that most people prefer is to just apply for loads of jobs they want but are not qualified for because the job boards make it so easy.

Education is good, if it’s right

The other investment you can make is in education and training. That costs money. (Unfortunately, few employers today invest in the training and development of their employees, but that’s another problem for another column.)

But be careful. People sometimes identify a new job they want, then run out and pay for special training, expecting that will “qualify” them for a new career. It won’t. (See The Ultimate Test of Any College Degree.)

Before you buy credentials, certifications and education:

  • Contact the employer you’d like to work for.
  • Ask whether a specific training program you’re considering will be sufficient to qualify you for the job you want.
  • Ask what education will best prepare you.
  • Do this before you make the investment. That’s the smart way to go.

(Beware of all the marketing that schools do, suggesting that if you enroll in some cool program, jobs will be waiting for you. Those schools don’t issue the job offers you’re hoping for! They’re selling courses.)

Change Careers: Navigate a new path

If you don’t have experience or skills necessary to do a job, you can build both. But you will probably have to change your path, and navigate through jobs you can do to get to the job you really want. You will probably have to work your way up.

Here’s the little secret: It takes time. You must be patient, diligent, and productive in whatever related job you can get.

So, decide whether you really want that new career.

In the end, before you can start a new career, you must be able to show the employer that you can do the work. That’s a tall order — and it can be a very worthy enterprise that could change your life dramatically for the better. Many people succeed at career change by making the investment in learning and in dedicating themselves to the challenge of building new skills. Building new skills costs money — usually in the form of a lower salary. There is nothing easy about it.

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get where you want to go. To learn more, see How to launch a seemingly impossible career change and check out How Can I Change Careers?

Have you changed careers? How’d you pull it off? What obstacles should this reader expect — and what are good ways to deal with them? If you’re a manager, would you hire a career changer?

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Natural Networking: An End to Stupid Networking

In the May 15, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter another novel — I’d argue natural — networking opportunity turns up painlessly.

Question

There’s no question from a reader this week. Just a suggestion and a challenge. Are you ready to play?

networkingAn example of natural networking

We recently discussed Shared Experiences: The key to good networking. Lots of great ideas came up, but what does it mean to have shared experiences?

Networking is not about strained, engineered, icky socializing to find a job when you desperately need it. (See Please! Stop Networking!) Frankly, that’s the stupidest way to network, and everyone should be appalled that any “career expert” is stupid enough to think they can sell that “advice” to desperate job seekers.

Networking should and must be natural. An example is hanging out with people who play board games you like playing.

Playing games together

Yep — I said board games. Monopoly. Settlers of Catan. Trajan. Power Grid. Natural networking is a room full of people sitting elbow to elbow rolling dice. Corporate travel agents, forty-something lawyers, new college grads, entrepreneurs and bankers. Software developers. Journalists.

The other day during breakfast (I do my heavy-duty reading over Cheerios and Raisin Bran Crunch) I was reading The Power of Play by Mark Ellwood in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Halfway through the article I dropped my spoon and ran to my desk to write this column. I’d found another good example of how to network naturally without getting icky.

Ellwood interviewed people while they played games together on scheduled game nights.

Camaraderie with benefits

In his mind-altering article Ellwood recounted the offhand benefits gamers told him about:

  • A programmer met a CEO.
  • A hedge fund manager raised money for charity.
  • A media executive lined up an internship for his niece.
  • A lawyer showed another lawyer how to start a pro bono program at his law firm.
  • A financier landed a new job.
  • A manager got to see how a colleague handles losing.
  • An employer met potential hires from local universities while they all played games together.

They all fell into benefits naturally. During game time there’s no ick, no rehearsed elevator pitches, no resumes, no job seekers pestering you. “There’s an atmosphere of camaraderie,” notes Ellwood. The setting “erases the hierarchies of 9 to 5.”

One of the gamers revealed to Ellwood a natural artifact of playing together:

“You’re sitting around pieces of cardboard, leaning in close, and it all feels a little more intimate.”

Rolling the dice with friends

There can be an end to stupid networking if people get physically close to one another, do something together that’s enjoyable and challenging, and forget about work until it comes up in conversation. But, networking? What’s that? Hey, please pass the dice!

For every stupid “networking event” promoted to job seekers, I think there’s a pleasant gathering untainted by job hunting that coincidentally yields new jobs for some people some of the time while they’re doing something else.

Doing something else seems to be the key. What else do people do that’s enjoyable, social, and mentally liberating enough that it enables people to make new friends — and maybe realize they could work together?

An end to stupid networking?

If we can unlock these events and change how we think about them, we may never need to — urgh! — “network” again!

It’s your turn: What other kinds of gatherings lead naturally to job opportunities for some people some of the time while virtually guaranteeing fun and fellowship all the time?

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5 rules to test for the best job opportunities

In the May 8, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader reveals how he identifies the best job opportunities by applying for fewer jobs.

Question

I’d like your opinion about how I choose employers and jobs to apply to. Does my approach make sense to you?

job opportunitiesWhen I encounter a job I’m interested in, I don’t apply, I don’t send out my resume on spec, and I don’t write cover letters highlighting relevant experience or how well I might do the job. I don’t sell myself at all.

Instead, when I learn about an opportunity, I follow up with simple questions about the role, the company, the manager, or the hiring process to help me decide on the fit. What I’m really doing is probing the employer to see how serious they are about selecting a serious, motivated candidate. In most cases, I don’t get a response.

My take-away is that if a company that wants to fill a job can’t be bothered to answer some simple, constructive questions, then they’re not genuine. They’re not worth starting an arduous process with because they’re probably going to waste my time.

Am I missing out on good opportunities by doing it this way? Thanks for your help.

Nick’s Reply

Your e-mail made my day. You reveal that you expect employers to be conscientious about how they deal with job applicants. That says a lot about you. I think it also helps you identify the best, most real opportunities.

Job applicants worry

Job applicants worry their keywords won’t match a job posting. They worry about filling out job applications properly. They worry that if they leave their salary history off an application, that’s grounds for automatic rejection. They worry their resume isn’t customized enough. They worry about violating the rules HR wants job applicants to follow. They worry that contacting the hiring manager will tick off a personnel jockey.

Job applicants worry too much that they will get rejected. They don’t worry enough about whether the employer is worthy of a serious job applicant.

Employers and personnel jockeys should worry more. Unemployment is at record lows in many industries and geographical areas, and competition for good workers is stiff. So, what are employers doing to demonstrate their worthiness?

Not much.

Questions about job opportunities

I think what you’re doing is absolutely the right thing. Asking good questions before pursuing job opportunities reveals your intelligence and diligence. It reveals that you are a serious prospect. You’re testing the employer.  You’re probing to see if there’s a smart human being in there who gives a sh-t. If they don’t, then why bother applying for a job?

Imagine you saw an ad for a pricey product and, rather than rush to buy it, you called the company to get more details about the product’s specifications. Imagine no one would talk to you. Would you buy the product?

Why would you entertain job opportunities when you can’t get answers?

Who’s worth working for?

Even companies that make and sell inexpensive commodities will talk to customers and possible customers. They care about how they are perceived and they invest a lot in their image — so they want to be what they project. They welcome good questions because it tells them their marketing worked! Somebody’s paying attention!

I recently called Gillette to ask a question about their $5 Fusion razor blades. A smart, helpful human answered the phone instantly and helped me out. Isn’t it astonishing when you can’t get answers about a job that’s probably priced at $50,000 or $75,000 or $100,000 or more?

In today’s job market, most employers and their personnel departments can’t be bothered. That instantly reveals who’s worth working for and who’s not. It also reveals which “job opportunities” are worth applying for.

Rules for applying

The informal rules you lay out about how to handle job opportunities and how to vet companies with your follow-up methods are succinct, smart and priceless. I’d summarize your rules for testing employers like this.

  1. Identify an opportunity any way you like — a job posting, word of mouth, a recruiter’s solicitation.
  2. Don’t respond with what they’ve requested. Be a bit coy. Make them work for it. Before you submit a resume, or use the automated job application channel, test the company’s direct communication channel. Send a few good, substantive questions as you suggested — about the job, the company, the hiring manager, he company’s products, the hiring process, even about the salary range. (See Say NO to job applications.)
  3. If you get a meaningful, relevant response, ask some more questions by phone. Yes — call! Press them a bit. Expect a lot. Test the employer before you let them test you. (I’m going to be buying Gillette Fusion razor blades because Gillette gives a sh-t — and the answers I got were enough for me to believe their blades really are worth $5 apiece. They earned my attention.)
  4. If the employer doesn’t earn your attention with an appropriate response, don’t buy what they’re selling. Don’t apply. Don’t send a resume.
  5. Did the company earn your attention — and your job application? Job apps take a lot of work nowadays. (No kidding, right?!) Only apply where the employer goes to the trouble to demonstrate it’s worthy.

(For more tips about judging jobs, see Giving & Getting Information: Mistakes Job Seekers Make.)

Serious employers recognize serious job applicants

The bonus is this: If a company takes you seriously enough to answer your questions, and takes time to talk with you, then you probably won’t have to fill out an application! That’s because they’re serious about filling a job. They welcome serious job applicants who naturally have good questions.

Their courteous response to you will probably turn into a mini-interview that helps them decide you’re worth meeting.

And that’s how this is all really supposed to work. That’s how to apply only for the best job opportunities.

Don’t be afraid to test job opportunities

Most people are terrified to take the simple approach you’ve described. Rather than invest time in just a handful of deserving companies, they really believe it’s better to apply thoughtlessly to loads and loads of jobs just because they were invited to do so. They’re wrong.

In a highly competitive hiring market, it’s the employers that should be afraid they aren’t behaving properly. Job seekers who don’t test job opportunities will be treated like a cheap commodity.

(See Forget Glassdoor: Use these killer tips to judge employers.)

My compliments on your method. Few people apply common sense and sound business practices in the job hunt. Some of them are job seekers, and some of them are employers. Your method is a good way to meet the best employers — without wasting your time with “job opportunities” that aren’t.

How do you test a job opportunity? Please contribute your rules to the five above — and let’s develop a rigorous and reasonable way to identify opportunities worth pursuing. There’s just not enough time or energy to waste on everything else!

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Interview ON: How to interview for 1,500 jobs

In the May 1, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, new technology levels the playing field between employers and job applicants. Enter the job seeker’s best new friend! Interview ON!

Question

For over 20 years the Internet and job boards have made it possible to maximize our chances of landing a new job because those jobs databases enable us to apply for 1,000 jobs instantly with the press of a key. Some “intelligent job agents” will even retrieve and e-mail me hundreds of matching jobs without my having to do anything but sign up.

But no one has solved the problem of how to actually get in front of loads of employers all at once to interview with them at high speed and in large numbers. It doesn’t matter how many jobs you can apply for. The real challenge is to be able to respond to all those recruiters who contact you, and to have lots of interviews quickly. Is there anything on the horizon?

Nick’s Reply

interview

Interview ON.

Hold on to your seats — it’s here. A new start-up company has created a new way to help job seekers navigate the job market at incredibly high speed. The technology is called Hank, and he enables you to interview for a job with as many as 1,500 companies in a single work day. He sits for screening interviews on your behalf with potential employers at a rate that would take most job seekers months to match.

He even sends customized follow-up e-mails back to his interviewers.

Perhaps more attractive — as far as his job-seeking clients are concerned — is that Hank works full-time for free and never yells at annoying recruiters.

Your job-hunting avatar does your interview

Hank’s secret: he’s not human. Officially known as “Avatar Hank,” the master job applicant is an artificially intelligent software technology that uses machine learning, allowing him to refine his conversational skills with more practice. At the moment, Hank is being used by several hundred job seekers to simplify the ongoing hunt for new jobs, according to Alex Kotts, who co-founded Avatar Hank with several partners in 2017.

“We wanted to create something that functioned like Uber for job seekers, but instead of calling a car, a person would be able to call a pool of companies to get a job,” said Kotts. “Right now, we have several hundred job seekers using Avatar Hank, which means Hank is doing about 50,000 interviews a day.”

Hank has the ability to speak at different speeds and sound like a man or a woman, depending on his job seeker’s preference. Kotts said the software is most effective for job seekers who apply to large numbers of blue-collar jobs, such as sales clerks, baristas, and construction workers, “which is where all those new jobs you read about are actually happening.”

How Hank works for you

The process starts when job seekers provide Hank with their LinkedIn profile and with titles and descriptions of the jobs they want. They can even specify which companies they want to work for but don’t have time to contact. Then Hank does the rest.

Get this: The avatar has an API (Application Programming Interface) that is linked to the leading ATSes (Applicant Tracking Systems) that employers use to interact with job applicants. These include CareerBuilder, Indeed, LinkedIn, Taleo, ZipRecruiter and half a dozen others.

Hank submits thousands of job applications directly to those systems per day. Recruiters have no idea where those applications are actually coming from — they assume it’s a human. When a recruiter responds, Hank intercepts the e-mail, “reads” it, and instantly generates whatever follow-up information recruiters demand — resumes, cover letters, references, salary requirements. The real magic is in the API access — Hank also fills out those pesky online job application forms that recruiters demand. (Talk about the job seeker’s revenge!)

Hank talks

When a match occurs and a recruiter actually wants to talk with the job seeker, the call is routed to Hank, who handles the conversation. This is where the technology kicks it up a notch.

In the interest of full disclosure (and of legal requirements) he says “Hi, my name is Hank, and I am an avatar. I will answer all your questions about Nick factually and completely, as if you’re talking directly to Nick. Are you still looking to fill this position?”

Kotts says, “If the answer is yes, Hank can handle the entire screening interview over the phone or by video interview. Our analysis shows that recruiters usually ask very few questions, and they’re simple, because recruiters don’t really know anything about the jobs they’re filling. We’ve programmed Hank to exploit this. Just like job postings are designed to lure the maximum number of applicants, Hank tells recruiters what they need to hear to increase his hit rate — the frequency of requests for in-person interviews.”

While the average phone screen typically lasts about eight minutes, Hank can talk for 16 minutes if necessary. He is also often able to ask pre-determined questions on behalf of the job applicant. Call analysis reveals recruiters respond best to the question, “Have I answered all your questions?”

Accuracy is good enough

Right now, claims Kotts, the software is able to respond accurately 82% of the time, a number the company expects to increase to 85% in the next few months. “That’s good enough for now,” said Kotts in one article, “because recruiters’ software is less than 20% accurate when picking job applicants to call.”

After the phoner, Hanks analyzes the typical interview in less than 900 milliseconds and passes promising job opportunities directly to the human job applicant in the form of a detailed report. The human, of course, makes the final decision about a job.

Saves time and frustration

The technology’s primary benefit is that it saves job applicants time. Kotts said human job seekers waste hours filtering through job postings that are no longer available. He said job seekers often must answer 100 phone calls from recruiters just to find one job that’s actually a fit for them and pays their desired salary. (I think we can all corroborate that!)

One article about the Avatar Hank technology quotes a job seeker: “Recruiters waste my time. This was what drove me to try the new approach and use Avatar Hank. Now I have my own weapon!”

Kotts said Hank’s inventors have been surprised that recruiters often prefer to conduct interviews with Hank than with human applicants. “I think they feel they’re getting more accurate answers because they feel the algorithms will tell the truth.”

Kotts said, “What I see is that job seekers will begin managing AI more and more and using it as a tool to avoid wasting their time with all the tire-kicking recruiters who constantly contact them about the wrong jobs. Hank gives job seekers automation to respond to the automation used by employers and recruiters. Hank levels the playing field.”

Will employers interview Hank?

Kotts is circumspect about how employers in general will react when Hank is rolled out in three months to Facebook’s 2.2 billion members worldwide. Will recruiters interview Hank instead of a human?

“What are they going to do? Complain about automation?”

How will HR deal with automation in the hands of job applicants? I asked a top HR exec at a Fortune 50 company that question.

“Oh, my Gawd,” she said. “Payback is a bitch, I guess.”

Do I have your attention?

What if Avatar Hank were real? He’s not, of course — but only because job seekers can’t afford to spend the billions of dollars HR dumps every year into “recruiting automation.” Otherwise, HR technology companies would create him.

Unfortunately, there is no “job seeker’s revenge technology” to match the ATSes and goofy “algorithms” that HR sics on job seekers. I made it all up, but there is truth to Avatar Hank — a lot of truth.

robotHank’s evil sister

I made this all up for a reason. I stole the story of Hank from Peter Holley’s April 25, 2018 article in The Washington Post, Want to work for Ikea? Your next job interview could be conducted by a Russian robot.

But in Holley’s account, there’s a real robot named Vera that reportedly interviews about 50,000 job applicants a day, enabling HR departments to nap while job applicants sweat out 8-minute phone calls with a cartoon. Nobody’s making that up. Employers are paying to use Vera on real people.

That’s 833 personnel jockeys dozing eight hours a day (without time off for lunch) while 50,000 suckers are required to talk to the robot hand if they want a chance at a real job interview.

Now, what happens when nuclear HR weapons are put in the hands of — gasp — job applicants?

Hey, HR!

So my evil purpose in this week’s column — I don’t think I’ve ever fabricated a whole column before — is to wonder out loud how HR would like it if we deployed Avatar Hank against employers the way employers deploy Vera and robo-recruiting avatars like ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, Indeed, Taleo and their ilk.

Apologies to The Washington Post and Peter Holley for satirizing their article to make a point, but thanks to them for shining a light on Vera, the spawn of HR technology. We know she’s not real because if she were, she’d start every phone interview with, “#MeToo!” There is no one named Alex Kotts and no robot named Avatar Hank. You’ll have to read Holley’s article to learn who’s behind Vera.
How would HR like it if “the talent” refused to appear in person — like recruiters and hiring managers refuse to appear in person — until the employer talked to the cartoon hand first, and filled out the forms, and got diddled digitally?

How would HR like it if the next 50,000 job applicants it called to conduct phone interviews were robots? Would job seekers’ robots be any less legit than Vera?

Hey, HR, can our robots have phone sex and produce skilled offspring to do your jobs?

Shame.

Hey, Boards of Directors

Vera and Hank tell us one thing: It doesn’t take any brains to interview 50,000 job applicants or to interview for 1,500 jobs.

HR, employers, corporations invest billions of dollars every year avoiding using their brains — they spend it on what’s plainly stupid, laughable, and counter-productive “technology” that they’d never abide if subjected to it themselves. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

Managers have destroyed any chance of matching the best workers to the jobs they need to fill because they refuse to show up. They deal in avatars, robots, algorithms, HR technology. They deal in keywords, automated job applications and programmed applicant “assessments.” They’re trying to wash their hands with rubber gloves on, to recruit without recruiting, and to identify the best candidates by rote. (Contrast: Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.)

How do we point out the real problem with hiring?

It doesn’t take any more than flipping around Peter Holley’s account of Vera technology. We subject employers to fake job applicants, like they subject job applicants to fake “selection processes” via robo-forms and algorithmic judgments. We deploy cartoons to apply for jobs and to “show up” to be phone screened by recruiters.

The boards of directors behind these companies reveal that they are the truly unskilled and clueless stewards of industry. Would you have lunch with a cartoon character to talk about the future of your business?

You deploy a talking cartoon character to judge whether a person is worth interviewing for a job — then you report to your investors that there’s a talent shortage?

Go ahead. Look us in the eye and say, HR technology — then realize you and your robots are talking to our robots.

Interview: ON.

How does HR learn a lesson from the stupid HR technology it foists on job applicants? Can job applicants turn the tables and make HR eat its own high-tech dog food? Will a tech company create Avatar Hank and make recruiters talk to the robo hand? What can job applicants do to even the playing field — do they have to dumb the game down to HR’s current level, or is there a way to raise the ante and the standards?

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We need to know your salary because —

In the April 24, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader cites the law about employers demanding job applicants’ salary history.

Question

The job application I had to fill out required I provide my current salary info. I just read that a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that employers can’t use my old salary to decide my job offer, so why do they keep asking? (Court Ruling: There’s Never a Reason to Use Salary History When Calculating Pay.) I’ve started asking HR why they need that information and, Man, have I heard some real doozies. Seriously, HR thinks we believe that stuff? You and your readers have probably heard bigger whoppers than I have — can you share a few?

Nick’s Reply

salaryThanks for asking. My purpose behind this week’s column is revealed in the title. When we get to the end of it, I’m going to ask everyone to complete that sentence: “We need to know your salary because — .”

But first, please bear with me while we briefly discuss that new court decision.

What’s the value?

I’ve been warning job seekers not to disclose their salary to employers since I before I started writing Ask The Headhunter, because I’ve routinely refused to tell my clients (employers) how much money my job candidates were making. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.)

“I will help you assess what the candidate is actually worth to your company so that you can make a competitive job offer,” is my counter-offer to the employer’s demand for salary history information.

I’ll admit, I’ve lost a few clients over this, but I also fired a few over it. Most employers realize it’s a healthy exercise to figure out a particular job candidate’s value independent of what any other company paid them.

If they’re not willing or able to figure this out for themselves, then I think they’re not worth working with (or for) because relying on some other employer’s judgement of a worker is both stupid and a revelation that a company has no competitive edge on judging value.

You can just say NO to demands for salary information

I’ll never forget the guy who called to thank me for his 75% salary increase when he landed a new job with one of my clients: “You just helped me buy my first house!” His old salary was $44,000. The job offer he accepted was for $77,000. “Thanks for instructing me not to disclose my current salary even when they insisted, because they backed off!”

While not all HR departments will back off if you politely but firmly decline to disclose (“My salary information is private and confidential.”), readers report that HR usually lets it go and proceeds with the job interview. You must judge for yourself how to respond, but you must also realize that if you do disclose, you’ve probably destroyed your ability to negotiate the best job offer. An employer may have the right to ask for your salary, and it may be legally free to terminate your application, but you also have the right to say NO.

Gender-mandering the salary issue

The article you refer to was written by my good buddy Suzanne Lucas (a.k.a. The Evil HR Lady), and she correctly points out that while the issue in Rizo v. Yovino was gender pay disparity, the decision is not about the gender issue per se. While the gender pay gap is a big concern to me (see Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!), for now (just for now) I’ll leave that angle to Suzanne.

My bigger concern is that in the battle over equal pay for women the courts keep missing the fact that once an employer learns anyone’s salary history, everyone gets screwed when job offers are issued. Knowing your old salary enables an employer to easily cap your new job offer. That’s actually the defense offered by the Fresno County Schools: They freely admit that they’ve stuck it to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years — men and women — it’s the policy!

[Fresno County Schools attorney Michael] Woods said in an email Monday, “FCSS’ policy, applied to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years, was similar to policies used by many other employers…”
Fresno Bee

While some employers don’t play that game, in my experience most do. It’s never smart to disclose your salary. (See Should I disclose my salary history? and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?)

The Court issues a general rule about prior salary

Certainly, any legal win that protects women’s right to equal pay is a good thing. But now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has finally articulated the law in broader terms that seem to apply to everyone (emphasis added):

Prior salary, whether considered alone or with other factors, is not job related and thus does not fall within an exception to the Act that allows employers to pay disparate wages.” – Rizo v. Yovino

It doesn’t say “between genders.” This interpretation of the Equal Pay Act, a federal law passed more than 50 years ago, seems to prohibit any general use of anyone’s salary history to determine a job offer. Maybe I’m reading this too broadly, but I expect the debate has just begun.

HR’s salary game

Now let’s get to the purpose of this article: to discuss the games HR departments play regarding your salary history.

“We need to know your salary because…”

You’ve been there. You’ve applied for a job. Maybe HR called or e-mailed you and asked for your current (or most recent, if you’re unemployed) salary. Maybe you didn’t fill in that box on the job application form, and HR called to reprimand you.

You’ve heard the lines:

  • “We need to know your salary because… without it, we cannot continue to process your application.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… it’s the policy.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… we need to know whether you’re in our salary range.”
  • “Just tell us, because we SAID SO!”

What excuses have you heard?

The explanations for why HR “needs to know” your personal, private, confidential salary information are legion. But in all my years in business, I’ve never heard one good justification for why an employer needs to know how much money you make so it can consider you for a job.

The “reasons” are all so disingenuous and such tautologies that I have a standing challenge to all who work in HR: Give me one sound reason why you need to know how much anybody makes?

I’d like us to compile as extensive a list as we can.

What excuses for this salary demand have you heard? Let’s rack ’em up, expose them, look at them closely and discuss what it all means.

I’d also like to know what responses you’ve offered to HR — whether serious or snarky!

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Shared Experiences: The key to good networking

In the April 10, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader seeks the keys to good networking.

networking

Question

Everyone talks about networking as the best way to find the right job. There must be a key to this approach beyond just going to networking meetings and signing up with one of the online social networks. What advice can you give me about how to do it right?

Nick’s Reply

You may have been to networking events where people spend a minute apiece with you after cycling through several other new “contacts,” and then expect that you will introduce them to your closest business buddies. Such gatherings have gotten a bad reputation because they can be mercenary and impersonal. You’ve met, but have no real common ground, and there’s no value in your new connections because they are ephemeral and because there are no shared experiences between you. (See Please! Stop Networking!)

The online social networks are even more problematic. You sign up, add the names of your co-workers, former employers and friends, and the network links you to other members with similar backgrounds. Everyone is encouraged to dump names into the system, then to collect contacts. But while these networks create lots of connections, there is little emphasis on the quality of those links.

Networking: the quality of the connections

And that’s the key: The quality of connections is in relationships.

From Shared Experiences: The path to success (p. 12)

Don’t squander a good contact because you didn’t cultivate it carefully, personally, and intelligently. No one can afford to waste good contacts. But don’t try to force a contact to produce results all at once. Go slowly, and let the contact blossom for you through shared experiences.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition) 

Social networks like LinkedIn suggest that quality of contacts is important, but the mechanics of how that network operates reveal that having lots of contacts is more important to LinkedIn than having good contacts or in doing things with the people you meet.

That’s why LinkedIn (and other networks, like Facebook or Twitter) help you highlight your number of links. Why? Because the networks themselves profit mainly from their size. It’s an inherent contradiction and even a conflict of interest.

But the people who actually benefit from online social networks are the same people who know how to turn a first meeting into a healthy, long-term relationship. They know it requires a considerable investment; there’s nothing automated about it. Nor is there anything phony.

Quality Networking: Common ground

I think good networking has three key ingredients. First, it requires common ground. People must have something to share that is useful to others. The best place to start is with your work. Identify people who do the work you do (or want to do), then e-mail them, call them, meet them and talk shop with them. (Not about jobs.)

Quality Networking: Value

Second, good networking is sustained by value. What can you do to either help or genuinely engage another person? How about a tip that will enable her to be more productive? Or you can ask honest, sincere questions about the work she does, to educate yourself and to draw her out. That creates more common ground. And that requires an honest, willing investment. If you’re not truly interested in someone, leave them alone.

Quality Networking: Sharing time

Third, good networking takes time. Trust grows between people through repeated good experiences. Sharing takes time.

From Shared Experiences: The path to success (p. 13)

Be likeable: Talk shop. When you talk to people about the work they do, they perceive you as likeable because you exhibit interest in them. It’s a basic human reaction. Talking shop with people makes them remember you positively. When you meet again to talk about a job, you’re the likeable candidate. And, right or wrong, people recommend who they like, and managers tend to hire people they like.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition) 

Once I trust you, I’ll draw you into my circle of friends—and that’s where valuable job referrals come from. Lazy, self-centered people have lousy networks and scant, weak relationships, and they’re the first to complain that networking is icky and that networking is phony. “Besides, who has time?” (See Networking For Introverts: How to say it.)

The best way to become well-connected is to meet and stay in touch with people who do the work you’re interested in and who are good at what they do. Don’t go to them when you’re job hunting. Go to them to share experiences that are meaningful to you both. Establish the kinds of relationships—and a reputation—that makes people want to come to you when they learn about a great job.

Friends share experiences

In a nutshell, I think networking is really about making friends. It’s about doing stuff together.

It’s got virtually nothing to do with getting a job or with any other kind of “payoff.” You do it because it makes life and work more enjoyable—and because giving something back makes your professional community (and the world) a better place. And when you live in a better place, somehow your life becomes better, too.

What’s your experience with networking? What are the keys? What do you look for in a healthy professional connection or relationship? What makes you want to refer someone for a job?

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Where did your jobs really come from?

In the April 3, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I steal an idea from a couple of readers about where we find our jobs.

Question (from me to you)

jobsIn a recent column, The worst job hunting advice ever, an HR manager beat me up for giving out bad advice. Then a reader — Kevin — took off on a really interesting tangent in the comments section about how he finds work.

Mo’ betta than that, Kevin listed how he got every job he’s had.

Not to be outdone, reader VP Sales posted a list, too — and suggested I should do a column where we take a deep dive into this question. (Here ya go, VP!)

How’d you find your jobs? All your jobs.

Where Kevin’s jobs came from

One frustration that I have is that it is much easier to get ahead in one’s career by taking new jobs rather than doing different things for the same company for a long time. Having that sense of history and solid experience is priceless.

So in response the this article I thought about the different ways I have found jobs. You will see references to newspaper classified ads – that was one way to find a job when I graduated from college in 1989. The list for my job search is as follows.

Kevin’s List

  • Job Fair (first job out of college with move)
  • Company transfer
  • Classified ad
  • Classified ad
  • Professional journal ad
  • Golfing buddy of a friend
  • Placement firm (a very good headhunter)
  • Internet ad
  • Internet ad (contract work)
  • Contract work at job where placed with placement firm previously
  • Internet ad
  • Placement firm (same one as before)
  • Former girlfriend (with wife’s approval and huge raise)
  • Corporate Application Tracking System (current job)
  • LinkedIn search (possible new job)

 

My whole point is that some of these jobs have been absolutely great, and some were bad – it did not matter how I found the job. If this looks like a lot of employers, remember that I am 52.

Where VP Sales’ jobs came from

Well, Nick needs to make a new thread on this. Here’s how I got all my jobs starting in high school in the 1970s.

VP Sales’ List

  • Teacher referral
  • Newspaper ad
  • Pushed my way into news photography with a daily newspaper
  • Graduate student referral to another department
  • Graduate student hire into industry
  • (Break for grad school)
  • Return to chemical industry job above for temp work
  • Hustled my way into first sales job by calling hiring manager in area for product demo
  • (Insert 20 year career in sales and sales management)

 

Got fired. No, wait, I fired them. Went off on my own in 2008 charging them 6x more than they paid me for telling them how not to make the same mistakes.

Where Nick’s jobs came from

Okay, I’m gonna play, too… Like VP Sales, I’ll start in high school, also in the 70s.

Nick’s List

  • My uncle hired me to work in his diner
  • Buddy recommended me when another guy quit (grounds work)
  • College career center job posting (assembling Barbie campers, Mattel factory)
  • Newspaper ad (factory, making Head tennis racquets)
  • Professor recommendation (monkey lab at college)
  • Professor’s next recommendation (Bell Labs)
  • A newspaper ad (first headhunting job)
  • Manager who quit that job invited me to start our own business
  • Called president of a company, told him I was starting a competing business, so he hired me (didn’t tell him til years later I set him up)
  • A sales rep told his customer if she didn’t hire me, I’d go work for her competitor
  • Chucked it all and started my own business again

 

Note that nobody named any job boards. (Hah — what’s that mean?)

Where did your jobs come from?

What’s your list? How’d you find all your jobs, in order please! You don’t have to list your jobs by name, unless you really want to, or any other details — just tell us how you really got them!

(It occurred to me that this could be a poll attached to a database so we can analyze the results, but there are so many interesting vectors that lead people to their jobs that I doubt it would work. If anyone has a good idea about how to analyze the data, let’s hear it!)

Are there any trends here? Do some sources of jobs (I like to think of them as vectors) stand out? Is there a meaningful shift in where your jobs came from over time, as you developed your career?

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The Cardinal Rules of Worth

In the March 27, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks us to focus on the big questions of value and worth.

Question

worthI’ve read your many columns about how to negotiate salary, how much to ask for when applying for a new job, what not to say about my salary history, and about why salary surveys (and websites) aren’t to be relied on. Now I’m doing some introspecting, trying to look at the big picture of my value and what I’m worth in the world. I wish I had started thinking about this 15 years ago.

Do you have any big-picture suggestions about figuring out what I’m worth and about how to increase my value in the world? Know what I mean? Not just salary and money, but value. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

Anyone can use the search box at the upper right of this page to find articles about “salary,” “pay,” “negotiate,” and other such topics. We’ve discussed all that a lot. I think there’s good advice in the articles that will turn up — and even better advice from readers in the comments of each one.

For example:

Worth: The big picture

But I like your big-picture question. It does indeed demand some introspection and even some chewing of the philosophical fat. It really is a big question: What am I worth?

Maybe even more important, How can I be worth more?

And you’re right — this is something to think about again and again, not just when considering a job offer or negotiating salary. I typed “worth” and “value” in the search box and realized I’ve never tackled those tough topics directly — though I’ve wanted to.

Value: Who says?

I think the big mistake people make is that they try to view their worth, or value, in absolute terms. That is, they think there’s a number — a certain amount of money, or a money range — that they deserve based on their experience, credentials, knowledge, skills and so on. (See Too rich to land a job?) I suppose there’s an argument to be made that we each have some kind of inherent value that employers should pay us for.

But I’ve never bought into that. I think value and worth are in the eye of the beholder. It’s why sales people exist! Their job is to make something they’re selling seem more valuable to you so that you’ll pay more to get it.

When it comes to jobs, it seems employers, the job market, government labor and economic data and — of course — job boards and job-related websites, all want to tell you what you’re worth. They think they can figure it out by interviewing you — then they expect (demand?) that you accept their judgement.

Is your head spinning?

Maybe worse, employers define the value of a job by… defining the job. Then they limit themselves to hiring only someone who fits the job definition rather than someone who can do other, unexpected stuff to make their business more successful! This begs the question, are employers advertising for a bag o’ keywords, or for desired outcomes?

All this can make your head spin. Each issue I brought up above is probably worth (ha-ha) an article and a long discussion (and loads of comments!).

The Cardinal Rules of Worth

So now I’m going to try to do what you asked. To introspect. To focus on the big picture.

Here’s my stab at what worth is and how we can increase it, and maybe it’s too ambitious. But I’m worth more when I’m ambitious…

The Cardinal Rules of Worth

  1. Know who you are and be that. Don’t try to be someone else.
  2. Increase what you are good at. Don’t envy what others can do.
  3. Produce something. Don’t just consume what others make.
  4. Learn the market value of what you have to offer. Don’t settle for less.
  5. Assess your assets regularly. Know your trading power.
  6. Trade some of your assets for what others produce. Always exchange for equal value.
  7. Seek value, not availability. Don’t take what comes along.
  8. Create desires in others. Give others a reason to trade with you.
  9. Invest in the abilities of others. They will make your life bigger.
  10. Earn respect. It will increase your worth.
(c) Nick Corcodilos 2018 | asktheheadhunter.com

I think when we consider big ideas, there really aren’t any answers — just big stuff to think and talk about. And we all know the purpose of this forum is for us all to think and discuss. So I expect everyone will have something to add and something to say.

What is worth? Value? How do we judge and grow our worth in the world? How do we benefit from the worth of others? In what ways can we express our worth (rather than our desired salary!) that will make it relevant to others (and worth paying for)?

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Does it help to be the last job candidate interviewed?

In the March 20, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about being the first or last job candidate interviewed.

Question

job candidateOne of the last questions I ask during job interviews is where they are in their hiring process. I have read that one should try to be the last applicant interviewed in the process. But in the majority of my interviews, I have been the first candidate, therefore setting the bar.

How does HR schedule the candidates with the hiring managers? What is your take on how the interview order affects who gets a job offer?

Nick’s Reply

There’s not a rule of thumb about this, but there are some interesting phenomena in the study of cognition and memory that might influence the order of choice.

Are you the most recent job candidate?

In memory research, there’s the primacy effect and the recency effect. The research suggests that we’re more likely to recall the first or last stimulus in a series (for example, a list of foods we’re supposed to remember) than we are to recall those in the middle. So, maybe it’s best to be the first or the last job candidate, but not one in between — because the interviewer is more likely to remember you more clearly.

Does this serial position effect influence who gets hired? I think sometimes it does — but it’s certainly not the most important factor.

In my own experience, I’ve interviewed so many candidates that they all seem to blur together because none stand out. But there’s the point: The candidate who stands out for some particular reason will stand out no matter where in the order they appeared. It’s not hard to see why a very good or very weak first candidate sets such a high or low bar that they stand out in the manager’s mind!

Who gets the offer?

I’ve sent candidates on interviews who were first, and they also wound up being the last to interview. That is, they were the only candidate. The manager cancelled subsequent interviews because my candidate was good enough to be hired.

I’m not suggesting I send in the perfect candidates. Sometimes good managers are just relieved to have a really good candidate. They make the hire and they get on with it. They just end the process at that point. That’s a manager who is being practical, and more power to him or her! Of course, sometimes my job candidate is first and gets the offer, but only after we have to wait quite a while for other interviews to wrap up.

I’ve also sent in candidates who interviewed last and got hired.

Which job candidate stands out?

To learn more about what really makes you memorable to a hiring manager, see Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.
Now that we’ve discussed what we might call the mind games of psychology, let’s get real. Your goal should be to stand out! That is, to blow away all your competition in your interview – not to manage the sequence. What matters most is what you demonstrate in that interview. That’s what counts.

Be the candidate who hands-down demonstrates how they would do the job profitably for the manager. Be the job candidate the manager remembers because of what you said and what you did in the interview — not because of when you showed up.

An employer that is determined to interview X number of applicants often wastes a lot of time. That employer is very likely to lose its first choices to competitors because the best candidates aren’t likely to wait around for a lengthy decision process. Many companies interview gratuitously. That tells you a lot about the quality of management. They’re so fixated on having lots of choices that they forget the objective is to hire someone who can do the job well! And that might be the first candidate.

Your goal should be to blow away all your competition in your interview – not to manage the sequence. For more tips, please read Why am I not getting hired?

Would you rather be the first or the last applicant interviewed? What has your experience been regarding where in the sequence of candidates you were interviewed? Does it make a difference? If you’re an employer, do you insist on interviewing more applicants even if the first one can do the job well?

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This job offer is unreal!

In the March 13, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader waits for a job offer and for the current employee in the job to quit.

Question

job offerI applied for a job not too far from me. I was invited in for an interview. I went to the interview and did not hear back for two weeks. I e-mailed my potential boss to follow up and he responded by telling me something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry, I was just about to contact you and invite you in for a second interview!” So I went to the second interview and at the conclusion he said that I was one of the two last candidates and he would let me know in a week what his decision is.

I waited almost two weeks and e-mailed him back. The boss told me I’m the front runner but that the person currently holding the position revealed that he doesn’t know if he wants to leave the job. The boss is giving him 30 days to give a final answer. If the position becomes vacant, he will contact me first thing with a job offer and hire me.

He seems like a respectable person so I don’t want to read too much into it. But to you, could there be something else going on here?

Nick’s Reply

After two interviews, hours of time and a considerable emotional investment, it’s natural to rationalize that there’s a real opportunity here. And there may very well be if that manager is respectable.

Is this a real job offer?

I’d love for you to actually get a job offer, but I’d also like to tell you not to throw good will after bad.

If you really think there may be a good job here for you, and you’re willing to tolerate how this manager has treated you, then I’d thank him, I’d put it on a back burner, and I’d forget about it until you have a signed offer in hand. But I would not count on a job offer in any way because he has already shown you that you cannot count on him.

I don’t see any good will from that manager. Good will would have been a phone call or e-mail that you didn’t have to chase.

Move on

The risk you’re taking is that while you wait for an unreal job offer, you won’t put your all into the next real opportunity. I’d rather you cut your losses and move on. (An even bigger risk some people take is to quit their old job before a new job offer is solid. See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.)

I don’t think this is a respectable manager. He didn’t get back to you after you invested time to interview. Then he failed to let you know his decision in a week after he promised to. Then he told you he’ll make you a job offer and hire you — if the job opens up.

What do you think are the odds you’ll ever hear from him again?

Please, move on, even if you remain hopeful.

There’s no job offer if there’s no job to fill

Please don’t confuse this with my admonition to managers that they should spend at least 20%-30% of their time recruiting. That’s very different from conducting interviews and promising job offers when there’s no job!
There is no justification for a manager hedging his bets like this and making you pay for it. He’s interviewing several candidates prematurely and telling one or two they’re finalists – when he doesn’t even know whether he’s got an open job to fill!

But you’re right: There is “something else” going here. The manager has wasted your time — and every other candidate’s — inexcusably. He has misrepresented a job as “available.”

Hedge your own bet

If you insist this may pan out, that’s up to you. What you should read into the situation is this: Your best next move in your job search is to move on to the next opportunity. If this deal doesn’t pan out, at least you’ll have something else on deck. Just like that manager, who is keeping you on deck.

Be careful. This is a manager who has no qualms about wasting people’s time. He doesn’t know what his own plans are any more than he knows what his current employee’s plans are! (All we know is that the current employee seems to be holding the manager hostage.)

I understand being hopeful. Just don’t rationalize the behavior of a manager who, so far, seems to be using you. This may be helpful: Who will lead you to your next job?

How do you tell a real job opportunity from a come-on? How do you know a promised job offer may not be real? Should employers interview to fill jobs they don’t have, “just in case?” What should this job candidate do? What should the manager do?

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