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The Q&A

7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam

7f-logo-27F — it sounds cool, or it sounds foreboding. In Yoakum, Texas it’s a cattle brand used by a family ranch for generations. Here, it’s a recruiting scam that members of this community started chronicling in the comments section of this article. The logo at right belongs to a team of phony recruiters.

7F

7F is just one alias of a company also known as SevenFigureCareers, which we exposed for impersonating a lawyer and for practicing law without authorization when it threatened a user of this website (see SevenFigureCareers: Threats and fraud). My new ranching buddy in Texas — whose ranch is registered as 7F, Inc. with the State of Texas and which has nothing to do with the subject of this story — says his branding iron looks nothing like the 7F logo.

SevenFigureCareers

SevenFigureCareers recruiter Arthur French scheduled the phone interview for John Rice with Mark Allen, Managing Partner at Agile Capital Partners, a private equity (PE) and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) firm.

Agile wanted to hire an executive for one of its start-up companies.

Rice, a former executive at a Fortune 50 company and founder of several companies himself, says the job interview started like this:

John Rice: “What firm did you say you were with?”

7f-agile-u-find-itMark Allen: “Agile.”

JR: “Who?”

MA: “Agile!”

JR: “Spell that.”

MA (irritated): “A-G-L-I-E!”

JR: “What?”

MA (angry): “I told you, A-G-L-I-E!”

“He kept misspelling it,” Rice told me. “Halfway through the interview, it just sounded fraudulent so I said I’d rather terminate this.”

A few minutes later, recruiter Art French called and screamed at Rice that he was out of line with Allen. Rice hung up the phone and called American Express to stop payment on the $2,500 he had paid French to deliver “seven-figure job opportunities.”

Rice didn’t know that the guy who interviewed him — Mark Allen — doesn’t exist.

SevenFigureCareerS

Depending on where you look, SevenFigureCareers’ name varies. It ends with a capital S in a PR Newswire press release: “SevenFigureCareerS.com Candidates Have Been Offered 33 Positions – Still Seeking 40 Executives for Portfolio Company Positions Owned by Private Equity.” The company’s name also surfaces on its contracts as 7FigureS, 7F, 7FIGureS, 7F.7Figcareers — and more permutations than I’ve bothered to count.

Just what is SevenFigureCareers? According to the press release:

With over 14 years of experience providing highly-qualified executive candidates to the private equity and venture capital communities in the United States and internationally, SevenFigureCareerS has established relationships with leading private equity firms including; Agile Capital, Rock Hill Capital, Briarcliff Solutions, A.G. Becker and Argo, LLC.  Currently, we have active relationships with over 411 companies which represents over 1,200 total portfolio company opportunities, however SevenFigureCareerS needs to fill 40 of these positions by the end of 2015.

There’s something else Rice and all the other executive victims solicited by Arthur French (a.k.a. Art and Tony) don’t know. The “leading private equity firms” that 7F recruits for don’t exist. Any of them.

7f-mystery-manArt and Tony French

I couldn’t find any evidence online or elsewhere that any of the SevenFigureCareers people exist. French’s sales pitch always emphasizes that his firm, his clients, and the big-name PE firms involved in these recruiting deals require the utmost confidentiality.

When one victim asked French why he’s not on LinkedIn, he explained that he has such a big network that if he created a LinkedIn profile he’d be so inundated with requests to connect that he could never handle them. So he prefers to stay under the radar.

Neither of the French aliases have a LinkedIn profile that remotely suggests they have anything to do with SevenFigureCareers, 7F, or any of the firms they claim to work with. On occasion, report French’s victims, Tony will call and forget he referred to himself as Art the last time they spoke — and explain that he’s got a twin. The “brothers'” voices are indistinguishable — though twins sometimes do sound  alike.

7f-2244-faradayArthur French has a slideshow on LinkedIn’s SlideShare site which conveniently gives him a  presence without any searchable information — like his name connected to 7F — on LinkedIn itself:

http://www.slideshare.net/SevenFigureCareers/arthur-french-executive-recruiter-and-with-recruiter-64799300

One slide notes the firm has been in operation for 14 years. A few slides later, we learn SevenFigureCareers has been in business 25 years. This site lists 2244 Faraday Avenue in Carlsbad, CA as the firm’s address.

Arthur also maintains a WordPress.com blog: https://sevenfigurecareers.wordpress.com/. French explains how “Your Data & Privacy is Kept Confidential by Arthur French at 2244, Faraday Ave.” It’s also how he re-directs searches for “Arthur French Complaints.” Check his August 17, 2016 posting titled “Arthur French Complaints.” Other post titles prominently include Google search keywords like “reviews” and “complaints” and “complaint.”

French’s sites mainly serve the same purpose his press releases do: They give his victims “credentials” to read.

Here are more credentials:

https://www.yelp.com/biz/seven-figure-careers-carlsbad-2

http://www.scamadviser.com/check-website/sevenfigurecareers.com

The Set-Up

Here’s how the deal is presented to the victim.

Recruiter Tony or Art French solicits you by e-mail after finding your profile on LinkedIn or in the database of a members-only executive networking group.

The Frenches tell you they have assignments to fill executive positions by Agile Capital Partners and RockHillCapitalPartners CB, small private equity firms that participate in big funding deals done by well-known investment partnerships like Apax Partners LLC, a legitimate British private equity and venture capital firm headquartered in London.

Mark Allen, Jason Goldberg, Christopher Blake and David Marx are managing partners at Agile and RockHill. One of their names appears on an e-mail that French forwards to you. This is the “original e-mail” bait used to convince you the job opportunity is real.

Mark Allen — it’s usually Allen — tells French in the e-mail French shares with you that you’re an excellent candidate and that Apax wants to move quickly to interview and hire you.

From: Mark Allen [mailto:m_allen@rockhillcapitalpartnerscb.com]

Sent: Monday, August 29, 2016 8:42 AM
To: recruiter.afrench@sevenfigcareers.com
Cc: Christopher Blake
Subject: Re: [victim’s name redacted]

Hi Tony, We are going through with the Telecommunication Technology Solutions As A Service Company deal based in the San Jose California area. Expecting the deal to be closed by the 2nd week in September. I really like this candidate for the Chief of Business Management role, and have suggested to the other directors to approve [name redacted], for an interview. Let us know his current employment status/availability. Copying C. Blake, on this email so we can get [name redacted], interviewed quickly. For the time being, have no issue with the compensation you listed or providing an appropriate relocation package if required. Really like this candidate Art, but please keep it confidential.

All the best,
Mark Allen, Managing Director
RHCP

All scammers are sloppy and it’s how they get busted. Note that Allen addresses the e-mail to Tony, but later refers to him as Art. This is just one of many tip-offs that something is wrong.

7F references

When a prospective victim starts asking questions and wants to talk with a reference about 7F, French volunteers a managing partner from Anderson and Vance Capital Advisors — Greg Anderson.

But the reference doesn’t wash: “Sounded like B.S. to me based upon his inflections, tone and lack of ease in the conversation,” said one who got away after talking with Anderson.

Julie: Social engineering

There’s also a bit of artless social engineering in the e-mail described above, intended to make you believe there’s a close business relationship between French and his client Allen. The mail thread includes another e-mail appended to the end — and the exact same material about “Julie” appears in many mails to many victims:

Mark,

Good talking to you and glad to hear Julie is doing better. Here is that candidate I feel will fit nicely with the Telecommunication / Technology Leadership role we discussed. The type of values you usually expect from a seasoned industry expert are what I see here with [victim’s name redacted].

Thank you

A. French
VP Recruiters
7F
866 621 1062

French’s mail is of course intended only for Allen, but now you’re an insider, and you can hope Julie is doing better, too. Now French tries to reel you in.

Strictly confidential — and expensive

French tells you his client, the job, the deal itself, the managing partner, any interviews, anything you hear or learn during the process — all of it — are highly confidential. You must sign a highly restrictive non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and pay $2,500 to get the interview with the managing partner.

One victim reported: “I had a short conversation with Tony and asked for a reference. He is going to have someone call me. He stated the reason there is no info on the Internet is because they are contractually bound not to advertise any of their activities by the PE/VC [venture capital] companies they have contracts with.”

A tip-off

The first clear indication of a scam — even before you sign anything — is the phony, accelerated interview process. A real headhunter (or recruiter) will actually interview you in depth before daring to introduce you to a client.

But the Frenches don’t interview anyone — they just need your signature on a four-week contract that includes a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and your American Express card, and you’re off to the races.

By signing the NDA you agree that, if you utter a word anywhere about anyone or anything connected to this deal, you will pay a penalty “equal to the base service charge in the agreement multiplied by ten.” In other words, $25,000.

A bigger tip-off

Recruiters and headhunters never charge you money for a job interview or for any other service. They are always paid by the employer — their client.

Another tip-off

Note in the e-mail above, where French forwarded Allen’s e-mail to the victim, French violated confidentiality. Allen clearly wrote to him: “Really like this candidate Art, but please keep it confidential.”

The NDA

Another victim questioned the NDA. French explained why he doesn’t want job seekers doing any due diligence or any research to confirm what’s real and what’s phony about the deals French is selling:

Due to the confidential nature of our client company’s executive job searches and the level of financial compensation for our candidates, we must ask you to refrain from doing any due diligence or research activity on the Internet until we have been given approval by our client company.

You must click to accept that you will not violate the confidential terms and conditions of this search assignment, that you will not participate in any research type due diligence activity on the Internet that is associated in anyway shape or form with the client company or company’s presented to you, before we can share any information about this confidential skill match job opportunity.

Most of our executives have assigned confidential searches during their careers and understand the restrictions that surround a business relationship that has an in place (NDA) Non-Disclosure Agreement.

7F has developed an automated MATCH technology platform, a different approach to executive recruiting which gives us a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.  The smart shared-value approach technique is unique and has been used for 14 years helping 7F develop an exclusive list of client companies and over 1,000+ executive placements.

We deliver high-end, high paying opportunities to our candidates that we seek out personally for each of them.

Sincerely,
Tony French
VP Recruiters

[Note the “automated MATCH technology.” A painfully ironic coincidence — call it poetic justice — will arise later when we learn what happens to French’s business.]

Say what???

I’ve never seen any kind of NDA used by a recruiter that imposes such an onerous penalty. In fact, I’ve never known a recruiter to ask a job candidate to sign an NDA. Much of recruiting is based on reputation, good faith, and good communication. After all, confidentiality is a matter of mutual interest — a candidate doesn’t usually want what she’s doing with a recruiter disclosed, especially not to her current employer.

In John Rice’s case, he asked me to remove comments he’d posted on my blog because he’d signed the NDA and, after being threatened, feared he’d be liable to 7F for $25,000.

7f-trialOne Week Free Trial!

If French thinks you may balk, he tells you he’s going to discount his regular fee to only $1,500. If he’s not sure he’s set the hook deeply enough, he may offer you a “1-WEEK FREE TRIAL” — but you still must sign the NDA.

Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’am

Now it’s time for Mr. French to deliver.

After you’ve signed everything and paid up, it’s usually Allen that interviews you — always on the phone. If Allen likes you, the “partners” at Apax will hire you for the company they’re funding.

A tip-off

There’s never a face-to-face interview, or personal assessment of any kind. They just tell you you’re going to get a seven-figure job through e-mail and phone calls.

Putting aside the fact that real headhunters and recruiters always interview prospective candidates in depth, victims have described the “interviews” Allen himself — the client/employer — conducts as downright impertinent and vapid. Allen so ticked off John Rice that Rice ended the call — because Allen didn’t know how to spell the name of his own PE firm.

The kiss-off

A few days later, and after several phone calls and e-mails intended to burn up as much of the four-week contract term as possible, French always gives you bad news.

It wasn’t your fault, and the client loved you, but for some unknown reason the funding deal went south. It was the big PE firm’s decision, not Allen’s.

But French is going to present you to lots of other private equity firms for loads of other great jobs — while the contract quickly comes to an end.

If you call French to complain, your call is routed to James Chris — V.P. Account Management. Chris has a very thick accent that’s hard to guess at. Caller-ID identifies Chris’ number in Missoula, MT. He also e-mails from Ops.admin@sevenfigures.com — the same address used by a phony lawyer to threaten John Rice. Chris can’t help you with anything, but he explains that, going forward, all communications with 7F will go through him.

What is SevenFigureCareers or 7F?

After Tony French solicited him, one victim’s due diligence turned up a different kind of problem:

I contacted the business licensing offices for both Carlsbad and San Diego, CA and neither listed 7F as a company licensed to do business in the respective cities. Both offices told me if they are doing legitimate business in CA, they have to be licensed. I had them try every combination of SevenFigureCareers, 7FigCareers, Seven Fig Careers that I ran across doing my due diligence.

While this target was talking with authorities in California, I was talking with authorities in Texas. I was also calling 7F’s office — several times.

Where is SevenFigureCareers?

A call to the phone number listed on the firm’s website, (866) 621-1062, is always answered by a receptionist after a tell-tale call-forwarding click.

7f-600-broadwayThe receptionist will tell you the firm is located at 600 West Broadway, San Diego, CA. She cannot tell you which floor the business is on, or what the suite number is. Calls to three leasing companies in this attractive downtown office building — DaVinci Virtual Office Solutions, Real Office Centers, Allied Offices — reveal there is no such company in the building.

When I called and said I was Nick Corcodilos, the receptionist put me on hold then hung up. When I called back, another receptionist answered the phone and asked me if I was calling because I received an e-mail — and wanted to know who I received the e-mail from. But no one whose name I rattled off from the roster of 7F vice presidents was available.

A call to Art French’s cell phone number — shared by a victim from caller-ID — has a San Diego County area code (760) and an Encinitas, CA exchange, and is answered by voicemail.

Is there anybody in there?

One of 7F’s targets reports turning up something different:

I called Irvine Property Management, which owns the building at 600 W. Broadway, San Diego 92101, one of the addresses 7F lists. Nicki, at Irvine, stated 7F does have a public listing in suite 700, which is an executive suite, but does not have a physical presence there.

A SevenFigureCareers slideshow (http://www.powershow.com/view0/83660d-YjkwM/Sevenfigurecareers_com_Reviews_powerpoint_ppt_presentation) reveals another address: 2244 Faraday Avenue, Carlsbad, CA, telephone number (888) 630-3390.

7f-2244-faradayAnother slideshow is at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/SevenfigureCareer-2889431-sevenfigurecareers-2244-faraday-ave-carlsbad/

When a scammer can’t show legitimate Google search results to victims, it creates phony credentials and posts them on websites like PowerShow and AuthorStream to support the scam.

The firm’s URLs include but are not limited to:

http://www.7figuresrecruiting.com/

http://www.7figrecruiting.com/who-is-sevenfigcareers

http://www.7figrecruiting.com/

A tip-off

Note the footer on the second of those two websites: “All rights reserved 2016 7F JobsinPE.” If that’s intended as a copyright notice, it is defective because it lacks the word “copyright” and the “c in a circle.” But it’s yet another name for the firm, yet another URL. These guys have loads of URLs. [UPDATE: After publication of this article, the above-listed websites were taken down.]

How SevenFigures hides

In his solicitation e-mails, Tony French puts your doubts to rest when you wonder about all the names his firm uses.

The firm is registered “under the product name 7F, which owns approximately 120 different domains we use when we get a confidential search assignment from a new PE / VC group.”

120 different domains. French says this allows 7F to find candidates confidentially. If that’s social engineering to help explain away what you find when you investigate this firm online, it’s the lazy kind.

Agile Capital Partners CB

Bloomberg provides a report on Agile, including the names of partners we already know. However, Agile seems to have no address.

7f-agile-bloombergAgile claims among its portfolio partners Accelio, Actel, ebay, Creatve TechnologY and Cray Computer. http://www.agilecapitalpartners.com/projects_past.php

According to its newer website, www.agilecapitalpartners.com, Agile has no address or phone number. On its older website (http://www.agilecpg.com/), Agile is located at Terry Francois Street in San Francisco, in Mission Bay. [UPDATE: After publication of this article, the Agile websites went dark.]

There is no street number because there is no Agile Capital Partners CB.

Mark Allen

However, Agile has Managing Partners. One of them is Mark Allen, whose bio states, “Prior to ACP, Mark was the president of Waller Capital Group, an investment bank specializing in mergers and acquisitions.” As of this writing, the only Google result for Waller is:

http://www.manta.com/c/mm8whvc/waller-capital-group-llc

It  gives an address at 9578 Pearl Circle, Unit 106, Parker, CO 80134. Here are the Waller offices, courtesy of Zillow http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/9578-Pearl-Cir-UNIT-106-Parker-CO-80134/67454733_zpid/:

7f-waller-capital

A search for “Mark Allen” +”Agile Capital” on LinkedIn yields “Sorry, no results.”

Interestingly, Bloomberg has a bio on Allen that lists him as Managing Partner at Agile Capital Partners in “Bay Area, San Francisco, California.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=265898347&privcapId=22337494)

There’s no phone number, no address. But we learn that “Mr. Allen is responsible for due-diligence.” So are some of the people he has interviewed who spoke with me about him.

The Agile website says Allen has a partner, Jason Goldberg. Let’s take a look.

Jason Goldberg

Jason Goldberg’s bio on the Agile website says he “served as VP of American Health Systems, a management consulting firm specializing in the establishment of new insurance companies.”

AHS is on LinkedIn: Its headquarters are at 1121 Avenue of the Americas, New York City. This is the old McGraw-Hill Financial, in Rockefeller Center. The building’s leasing company has never heard of American Health Systems.

7f-american-health

But if you click on the company’s website link on LinkedIn, [LINK REMOVED because it now leads to a phishing site] , you’ll visit a link farm. Click the link again. Keep clicking. The target site keeps changing. Would you like to fill out a Comcast survey?

The bio also says Goldberg “serves on the Board of the Korean American Community Foundation.” The foundation’s Deputy Director, Brennan Gang, told me that’s not true. She’s never heard of Goldberg. But she had a good laugh.

RockHillCapitalPartners CB

Mark Allen is also a Managing Partner at RockHillCapitalPartners CB (RHCP). Check the About page at http://www.rockhillcapitalpartnerscb.com/about.

But don’t confuse this phony firm with the real Rock Hill Capital Partners: http://www.rockhillcap.com/. Executive Administrator Stacey Wells told me there is no Mark Allen at her firm — and she’s never heard of RHCP CB.

Until October 7, 2016 Allen had a partner at RockHill CB: Jason Goldberg. But Goldberg has disappeared. Here he was, a few days earlier:

rockhill-a

Goldberg was suddenly replaced by David J. Marx. But no worries — Marx is on the board of the Korean American Community Foundation, too.

In fact, Marx’s bio is the exact same as Jason Goldberg’s:

Allen’s second partner at RCHP CB is Christopher Blake. You’ll remember Blake from one of the e-mails above — Mark Allen cc’d him. Blake is a lawyer, but he doesn’t have a Doppelganger:

Nor did he attend Emory University, like his bio states. Could it be another Christopher Blake? No, Emory’s Office of the Registrar told me, “I did not find a record of any Christopher Blake attending Emory.”

There are two sections on the RockHill site that include many company logos — ostensibly clients that RockHill helped fund or manage. I researched several, but the smell was so bad, I climbed out of the wormhole to catch my breath.

Sienna Ventures

Another entity for which 7F fills executive positions is Sienna Ventures. Tony French forwarded to another victim a promising e-mail written by Alan Armstrong, Managing Director at Sienna. Armstrong’s address is listed as a.armstrong@siennaventure.com.

It’s the exact same e-mail written by Mark Allen from RockHillCapital Partners CB about the job candidate described in “The Set-Up” above. It includes the same personal note about Julie at the end. (Note to Tony French: The Internet giveth, and the Internet taketh away after it busteth you.)

Quoting recruiter.afrench@sevenfigcareers.com:
Alan,

Good talking to you and glad to hear Julie is doing better.  Here is that candidate I feel will fit nicely with the enterprise software leadership and advisory role we discussed.  The type of values you usually expect from a seasoned industry expert are what I see here with [name redacted].

Thank you

Tony French
VP Recruiters
7F
866 621 1062

French is so worried about Julie.

Bloomberg offers this company overview about Sienna Ventures: http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=22941

7f-sienna-bloomberg

And right at the top of the “People” list — there’s Mr. Alan Armstrong, Managing Director. But there’s no Sienna Ventures at 1 Harbor Drive, Sausalito, CA. A call to the number listed on Bloomberg — (415) 475-7530 — yields a pointless set of choices that lead nowhere and the suggestion to visit siennaventures.com.

You’ll find this browser message:

Error 522: Connection timed out

That’s because, like RockHill and Agile, Sienna Ventures doesn’t exist, in spite of what Bloomberg reports. Links for Sienna Ventures found on Google lead to “withdrawn” and “unverified” press releases on WDRB.com and PEHUB.com:

http://www.wdrb.com/story/32400338/sienna-ventures-launches-new-100-million-venture-fund

https://www.pehub.com/2016/07/3342518/

A recent story on Fortune.com, “The Ghost in The VC Machine,” reports that “Sienna Ventures is the latest fake VC firm.” Fortune tries to answer the question, “What’s happening, and who’s behind it?”

Unfortunately, the best Fortune can do is suggest the “Sienna scam” is designed to extract $99 resume-writing fees from suckers who apply for jobs that require resumes in a special format. John Rice should have been so lucky.

Argo LLC, Briarcliff Solutions and AG Becker

Research on these partners of SevenFigureCareers — Argo LLC, Briarcliff Solutions and AG Becker — leads down the same wormhole the others live in. You can do your own research. Here are some links to get you started. Bring breathing apparatus. Call Bloomberg and ask them what’s up with this.

http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=29764366

http://www.briarcliffsolutionsgroup.com/

https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/briarcliff-solutions-group#/entity

http://agbecker.us/

http://www.bloomberg.com/Research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=2920178

http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=40423651

The devil is at the end of the story

The 7F wormhole doesn’t end here.

Where does the 7F-SevenFigureCareers wormhole lead? Who and what is at the bottom? Find out in the next installment — where an Ask The Headhunter lawyer will teach us all a thing or two about scams. And where you’ll learn how 7F got its wings clipped thanks to crowd-sourced information shared by the Ask The Headhunter community.

I won’t make you wait til next week. There will be another special edition shortly to report on the rest of the story. And a rancher friend of mine might drop by with a red-hot branding iron. 7F!

Many thanks to all who shared the information, files and documents that greased my path down the wormhole.

For the next part of the SevenFigureCareers scam story, see American Express fires recruiting scam merchant “7F.”

If you’ve had an encounter with SevenFigureCareers, a.k.a. 7F, please drop me a note.

: :

SevenFigureCareers: Threats and fraud

When someone threatens a member of this community, I get upset. For the past 10 days I’ve been doing research on SevenFigureCareers to find out who’s behind it. I found myself going down an Internet wormhole. Now I’m back out.

sevenfigurecareersSevenFigureCareers

SevenFigureCareers claims to be a “Recruiter Network” with “over 2,400 Associates” and “Over 1,600 Private Equity Contacts.” For a fee, it will give you “Access to Confidential Jobs” and “Hidden Opportunities.” (See SevenFigureCareers: Had an encounter?)

After John Rice [not his real name] had a bad experience, he found the Ask The Headhunter community was already talking about SevenFigureCareers. So he posted in the comments section, and requested more information from others.

Within a matter of minutes, he sent me an e-mail:

“Hey, Nick — Please take down the post I made today re: Arthur French.”

As long as someone isn’t playing games, I respect a reader’s wishes. We all sometimes blurt out something in a discussion forum that we wish we could take back. So I removed John’s comment, but I asked why he wanted it taken down. “Call me,” he wrote back.

Threats

Rice was irritated and worried.

“As soon as I posted my comment, I got an e-mail instantly from an attorney in Texas. Cease and desist, it said. Then somebody else from SevenFigures contacted me and said, if you take it down we won’t sue you. That’s when I contacted you.”

7f-threat-xI asked John if he’d called the lawyer. Of course, he said. He left a voicemail because no one answered — but the lawyer never called him back.

Much of a headhunter’s time is spent doing research, specifically, checking people out. It’s hard to hide from me if you’re trying to do business with me. Or if you’re causing trouble.

When I research people, I go to independent sources where I know I’m getting information they cannot manipulate. The State Bar of Texas was my first stop. And there was the lawyer in the directory — same name, different phone number. His record was reported as clean.

I wanted to make the call myself, but I know better than to interfere in a legal matter — so I asked John to call the lawyer at the number I’d found listed for him on the State Bar website. John’s my kind of guy — he didn’t hesitate and was excited about getting to the bottom of this.

Fraud

We both expected we’d find a kind of Better Call Saul attorney — a slime who would write a nastygram like that for a fee. What troubled me was how sloppy the e-mail was. I’m not a lawyer, but my lawyer has taught me enough about contracts and legal documents that I couldn’t imagine a real lawyer writing crap like that.

John called back shortly.

“Nick, I can’t believe it. He says he didn’t write the e-mail. Had nothing to do with it. But he’s pissed off.”

Frankly, I couldn’t believe it, either. Who would be stupid enough to impersonate a lawyer so brazenly?

With John’s permission, I called the lawyer myself. He said the threatening e-mail “was definitely not from me.” However, he had done some work for “a SevenFigures entity” about a year ago but had not had any relationship with them “for quite some time.”

The lawyer

He didn’t recognize any of the names connected to the firm that Rice and I shared with him — including Arthur French –, but he would not go into the details of work he had done for his client. This is exactly what a lawyer should say.

Since he had spoken to Rice, he said he had been “trying to figure out who was behind that e-mail” but has not been able to. He closed by saying he was going to contact his old client, and the Texas Bar Association, because he was “extremely concerned about the use of my name.”

Was he telling the truth? He was being as cagey as a good attorney should be, and I have no concrete evidence that he was involved, so I am not publishing his name unless I learn otherwise.

Meanwhile, I shared the e-mail with a New York consumer class action attorney. His comment:

“Engaging in the unauthorized practice of law is a crime in Texas (and every other state). See this link: http://www.txuplc.org/. Please keep me updated.”

What matters most is that the e-mail threat came from a sevenfigurecareers.com address, and someone at the firm was impersonating an attorney. That’s a crime. Fraud. [UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published, the SevenFigureCareers website was shuttered.]

The phone number

A search for the telephone number of the lawyer in the e-mail turned up a surprise: a press release (dated September 1, 2016) on Online PR Media about “7F-SevenFigCareers” including a media contact named Philip A. Alia. (I’m disclosing the PR agent’s name because, unlike the lawyer, he has made his connection to SevenFigures public, online.) Beneath his name is a contact number: the same number under the lawyer’s name in the threatening e-mail.

What putz would put out a fake threat from a lawyer and list a phone number that traces back to his own company’s press release? (See Stupid Recruiter Story #1.)

I tracked down Alia like I did the lawyer — through other independent sources. He’s a public relations consultant, and said he had done just one press release for “CR Nicholas” at SevenFigureCareers in December 2015. He admitted he didn’t even write it. He just placed it in the media. Alia also knew Arthur French, who is quoted in the press release. But Alia said he had done no other work for them. When I pointed out the September 1, 2016 press release, he seemed genuinely surprised. He had nothing to do with it — so I suggested he might want to bill them for it. There is no indication Alia has any other connection to SevenFigureCareers.

Alia’s experience seems to mirror the lawyer’s. One assignment for each, then SevenFigures appropriated their names and used them fraudulently. In the case of the lawyer, someone at SevenFigureCareers impersonated a Texas attorney to threaten and intimidate John Rice.

I won’t stand by when scammers threaten members of this community.

7f-logoEarlier today the SevenFigureCareers.com website was altered. The 7F logo is gone as is much of the promotional verbiage. Most of the site is now locked down behind passwords. If you type the URL into your browser, the site comes up. But if you click a link to get there, the site yields a blank page with “Nope” in a box at the top. (But if you then put your cursor at the end of the URL in your browser and hit Enter again, the site comes up.) It seems they are trying to avoid inbound links from other sites — like from this article.

7F

It turns out 7F has an interesting history. It’s an old Texas cattle brand, originated by the grandfather of a rancher whose business has long been registered as 7F, Inc. with the Texas Secretary of State. We had a long talk. He and his brand have got nothing to do with SevenFigureCareers — but he sure wants to know who’s using his grandfather’s brand as their logo.

How does a phony recruiting firm operate? See 7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam.

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Stupid Recruiter Story #1

In the October 4, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a guy minding his own business meets a dog from another city.

Would you be a stupid recruiter? Let’s see how you perform. Try this exercise.

I’m going to give you $50 and tell you to buy and bring me a dog within 60 minutes — any kind of dog, and you can obtain it anywhere you like. (But you can’t keep the change. recruiter-dogIf there’s any change, we donate it to an animal shelter.) The sooner you appear with a dog, the bigger the bonus you’ll earn — up to $1,000.

You can start from one of two locations, and I’ll take you to either place you choose, but you have to make your own way back to me with the dog. One location is Grand Central Station in New York City. The other is an animal shelter in Princeton, New Jersey.

I’ll be waiting for you at the train station in Princeton. Ready? This will reveal what kind of recruiter you’d be.

Stupid recruiter?

According to the federal government, to news media, to human resources experts and employers, there’s a massive skills and talent shortage. That’s why companies can’t fill jobs. It’s akin to the startling shortage of dogs in Grand Central Station. So armies of recruiters are being deployed daily to find the right talent. Most of them are stupid.

What kind of recruiter would you be? (Hey, that could be a new interview question.) Would you chose to start looking for a dog at an animal shelter? Every day, platoons of stupid recruiters look for dogs in Grand Central Station and the Grand Canyon, by waving a “dog wanted” sign on the New Jersey Turnpike, and in dark caves.

Reader Stephen Liss sent in this e-mail exchange he had with a stupid recruiter who solicited him for a job. Liss didn’t even have a question for me. He was just tired of being mistaken for a dog.

From a recruiter

We noticed your information on the job boards or in our database and thought you may have an interest in an opportunity with a large F500 client in the Rochester,  NY area. Here are the details:

We are looking for a Technical Writer in Rochester, NY to work with one of our major clients. Please go over the details and let me know your interest.

Technical Writer with PM Skills in Rochester,  NY
6+ Months
Pay Rate: $36/hr on W2 / $40/hr on C2C
Key Skills: Technical Writing, Some Project Management Background/Skills

[truncated… I mean, who wants to read the rest?]

Stephen Liss replies

You want me to relocate from the west coast for $36/hr? Please take me off your list.

The recruiter’s response

We get these opportunities everywhere. Unfortunately our software doesn’t work by location only by skill set.

First of all, these recruiters “notice” you “everywhere” — on job boards, in databases, by sniffing telephone poles… Sheesh. Does this dog even hunt or does it just snap at whatever comes along?

The recruiter’s software organizes jobs and people by skill set only. Not by location. It doesn’t matter where the dogs are. Or where the dog has to be shipped, or how much shipping costs. The software will shout into the Grand Canyon, then move on to the Turnpike. So will most recruiters. They’re like Energizer bunnies — they will bump into anything, turn, and keep going until they find a dog.

And they will pay only $36.

Got that?

tom-perez-catThe U. S. Department of Labor

In an interview about the “talent shortage,” Tom Perez, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, tried to explain why employers can’t find the people they need to fill jobs:

“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire. And the most frequent thing I hear from them is too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

Did you get that? The business leaders Perez talks to are counting people “coming through the door.” Thomas Perez thinks he’s hanging around with business leaders?

Hey, schmuck! Nobody walks up and hands you what you want. You have to go look for the people you need where they hang out! Be the leader of your pack! Figure it out! Stop hanging around Grand Central Station peeing on poles to attract talent. Go hunt, because a pooch isn’t going to walk up with a perfect resume in its mouth. Woof.

(Many thanks to Stephen Liss for sharing that roadkill of a recruiter solicitation.)

What proportion of recruiter requests match you and the work you do? How many are just dogs? I’m looking for Stupid Recruiter Story #2.

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SevenFigureCareers: Had an encounter?

SevenFigureCareers, aka 7F, aka 7Figures

Readers have been sending me stories about their encounters with this firm — SevenFigureCareers.com — which charges thousands to set you up with clandestine private equity and venture capital firms for top-secret jobs at confidential start-up companies with interviewers whose names cannot be spoken.

Confidential

amex-partner

This firm’s business is so confidential that you’ll have to search carefully to find its own name on its website.

Top Secret

The FAQ is locked down, the Contacts page and “Who We Are” are hidden, but SevenFigureCareers proudly displays the American Express Partner logo, which inspires confidence.

If you’ve been solicited by Arthur French or Tony French, I’d love to hear about your encounter. Post here, or drop me a note about your encounter.

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Recruiting From The Panic Room

Recruiting has changed. In the September 27, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant responds to a posting and gets a call from the cops.

Is this recruiting?

recruiting-welcomeEmployers are so out of it that they’re not only putting up digital roadblocks against people they’re trying to attract — such as online application forms and video interviews — now they’re hiding in bunkers, barring the doors, and calling the cops on earnest job applicants.

A reader found this stunning episode on an Indeed discussion forum:

I recently applied to a job on Indeed and sent a follow up e-mail a few days later. About a week passed with no response, and I sent another e-mail, saying I would come by their office. They quickly sent a response saying they no longer had a position available. Twenty minutes later I got a phone call from the police. They complained that I threatened and harassed them. I denied it, and the cop said to not contact them again. The whole thing is almost unbelievable. I hate applying for jobs.

WTF?

Why doesn’t this employer just keep an armed guard posted at the door?

When you find a job posting online, can you get arrested for showing up in person at a company to apply? I’m not a lawyer, and I won’t touch that question, but such conflicted behavior and mixed signals sent by employers reveal just how dysfunctional recruiting has become.

Applying through the front door

More than once, I walked into companies I wanted to work for and gave my resume to a receptionist. Sometimes a manager would come out to talk to me. Or a personnel clerk would appear briefly. When no one appeared, I’d chat up the receptionist, collect some company literature to educate myself, and go home. Worst case, I’d write the employer off. On to the next.

If employers are afraid of who comes in the front door, why are they recruiting? Why are they in business? What if a customer shows up unannounced? Does the sales department send in its dogs?

WTF, indeed. I know many people who have taken the time and trouble to go to an employer’s office to demonstrate how serious they are about getting a job. But recruiters have so dehumanized job applicants they’re trying to attract that they no longer know how to welcome them.

Hiding from the applicants

Employers solicit such staggering numbers of people that they’re are afraid of who appears. The only way to process the incoming rush is to dehumanize and render people into database morsels. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”) And to hide.

recruiting-barricadeThis cannot be reconciled with the idea that an employer is trying to attract you. When you’re an abstraction in a database — a mess of keywords — the assumption is that you’re to be avoided and feared, either as a waste of time or, in this case, as a physical threat.

Lest someone suggest it’s inappropriate to show up at a company after submitting a resume, keep in mind that at some point you’ll be invited for an interview at a bricks-and-mortar office that has a front door. If the front door is a locked bunker, then the job applicant who posted that story would likely just walk away — probably disgruntled. But if the front door is open for business, then it’s no more inappropriate for a job applicant to show up than it is for a customer to show up to buy something.

Recruiting from the panic room

So what does this incident mean? We must assume the job applicant did nothing wrong or threatening. After all, this person was applying for a job. They want to impress the employer — not hurt anyone — hence the visit to the office. (On the flip side, does a job applicant assume a murderous psychopath has lured them to an interview?)

When an employer worries for its safety or fears who’s going to show up, that tells us there’s something fundamentally wrong with popular methods of recruiting. It’s pretty clear that the fear and worry stem from soliciting teeming hordes of applicants that employers don’t really want. Depersonalizing and demonizing them only adds to the distrust — we naturally fear the unknown.

This incident is perhaps the most stunning evidence that the online employment system companies rely on is inherently twisted and warped. (See “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”) This job seeker’s experience reveals a panic-room mentality, where employers huddle and hide behind locked doors and impenetrable applicant tracking systems. It highlights one recruiting perversion after another:

  • Advertise a healthy work environment — but reveal your company’s paranoid culture.
  • Proclaim a desire to find great people — but treat applicants like they’re psychopathic marauders.
  • Solicit job applicants — then tell them there’s no job.
  • Open your company to the talent — then call the cops when the talent arrives.
  • Talk about how people are your most important asset — but only let digital profiles and applications in the door.

The problem is not that a company called the cops on a job applicant it attracted. That’s merely a symptom. The problem is that the highly automated recruiting system our economy depends on can’t deal with people.

What kinds of contradictory messages have you gotten from employers? What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had when applying for an advertised job?

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Should I take a 30% pay cut to keep my job?

In the September 20, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t see a pay cut as a good deal.

pay cutQuestion

Yesterday my company, which is experiencing cash flow difficulties, asked me to take a 30% salary cut to keep doing the same job and still at full time. Do you have any tips on how to respond? I feel like I’ve been bushwhacked.

Nick’s Reply

The obvious answer is to tell them to shove it and quit.

But if that were your first choice, you wouldn’t be asking for tips. There are several ways you could respond, so let’s consider some of the issues before I offer some suggestions you could tweak to suit your needs.

Let me ask a key question:

Did they give you any indication or evidence that they expect to return your salary to normal again? When?

If they’ve communicated nothing about that, it’s a bad sign. If they’ve made promises, ask for it in writing. How they respond will tell you all you need to know about the company’s viability. Good management is honest with employees and makes and keeps commitments. A company that leaves you in the dark about what’s really happening is in more trouble than it seems. Don’t ignore signals about this.

You need to decide how much you need that cash flow yourself. That will dictate what you should do next: wait it out or move on immediately?

Another question:

Is there anything you can say or do that would bring your salary back up?

In other words, if you decline the cut, would they keep you on at your regular salary? I doubt it. So the choice is, do you accept the new terms while you look for a better job (without disclosing that’s what you’re doing), or do you quit and focus all your time on a new job?

Only you can answer that.

Negotiate a pay cut

This might work if your employer is likely to recover financially: Ask if they’d leave your salary at 100% on the books, pay you 30% less, and issue a promissory note for the balance. That is, an IOU. Then you might have standing to collect when they go bankrupt and a judge has to decide whose debts get paid first by the court.

Or, play tit for tat: Take the pay cut if they’ll take a work cut. Offer to work 30% fewer hours. Always be aware that opening a negotiation can result in the other guy withdrawing the deal entirely. That is, they might just tell you to leave now. But you could just leave now, too.

Fall back on this

Now I’ll give you my second best advice. Talk with a good employment attorney before you answer about the 30% cut. I know an attorney will cost you a few bucks, but consider how much that pay cut will cost you over the next one or two months. An hour with an attorney will probably seem like a good investment if your goal is to work out terms.

If you’re pretty sure the pay cut will turn into a layoff, start preparing now. Here are a few other issues to consider, from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job:

Should you volunteer to get laid off?

You might be able to get a severance package that costs the company even less than keeping you on at a 30% pay cut — if you volunteer to leave. (See pp. 26-27.)

Should you tell your boss you’re leaving?

Are you going to start a job search? Your boss probably wouldn’t be surprised — but I advise you not to disclose what you’re doing. If you’re going to rely on whatever meager salary they’re going to keep paying you, don’t risk it by appearing disloyal because you’re looking for a new job. (See pp. 38-39.)

If you’re ready to quit, see How should I quit this job? If you’re not going to read the book, at least read the article Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Stand up to downsizing

Are you pretty certain the company is going to fire you soon? From the book:

“Be smart. If you’re caught in a downsizing, don’t let yourself be pulled under by the current of panic. Everyone grabs the same life preservers: the job postings, the resumes, the cover letters and the random interviews. By that point, the channels of the employment system are clogged with so much competition that surviving the trip is debilitating, if not impossible.” (See pp. 23-25.)

In other words, don’t be the last one out the door pursuing the same jobs as your laid off co-workers!

Prepare and plan for the worst. When employers ask their employees for money — make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is — it’s a bad sign.

The only thing that would make me feel better is if your employer puts some skin in the game, too, in one of the ways I suggest above. But here’s my best advice: Immediately start a job search and get ready to move on — but be careful. (See How your old boss can cost you a new job.)

I wish you the best with this, but I doubt it’s going to work out well.

Did you ever take a pay cut to keep your job? How did it turn out? What would you advise this reader to do?

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Networking For Introverts: How to say it

In the September 13, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a shy reader frets about networking but is ready to mix it up with new people.

networkingQuestion

I like your advice about networking by hanging out where the people I want to work with hang out. That’s very different from contacting people I don’t know on LinkedIn, which seems creepy and dishonest. But as an introvert I have a hard time breaking the ice even when I’m hanging out with people at a conference, or in a training class or even at a social event. This is for me to get over, but do you have any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Write it down. And be honest.

When I started headhunting, I was fresh out of grad school. I had zero business experience and zero technology experience. But I was recruiting electronics engineers. I had to call people I didn’t know on the phone, introduce myself, and try to recruit them. It wasn’t dishonest, because I had jobs to fill, but talk about creepy!

Worse, I was an introvert. I was shy. I hated starting conversations because I never knew what to say. What if someone hung up?

Networking? Write it down.

My boss gave me a short script to use when I made those calls. I was embarrassed to recite it, but I realized I had to start somewhere. She told me not to worry if I “lost” someone that I called.

I read that script to people a few times until I realized it would be less creepy if I tweaked it a bit. So I did. Then I tweaked it some more. After a few more calls, I had re-written the thing so I sounded like me. Still, it was reassuring to read it rather than have to think about what to say.

Then something changed. After a few conversations with engineers, I learned just enough to be able to ask a couple of intelligent questions about their jobs, and I didn’t need the script any more. I also saw that engineers loved to talk about their work, so I didn’t have to say much. (Soon I learned that everyone likes to talk about their work, whether they love it, hate it, or are indifferent.)

Suddenly I was able to talk to engineers. In behavioral psychology we call that successive approximation of a desired behavior. Little by little, if you approximately perform the behavior of breaking the ice, you feel like you’ve accomplished something — and you get successively better at it. Pretty soon you’re actually doing it.

Networking? Be honest.

My breakthrough was when I realized engineers appreciate it when you don’t B.S. them. So I started admitting that I didn’t know what rotating memory was — could they please explain it? And, could they please explain to me what’s the difference between a microcomputer and a microprocessor?

Oh, they’d laugh — and then give me a short lesson in whatever I was asking about. They kidded me that I was the only headhunter who didn’t spout buzz words ignorantly. “You really want to know what we do!”

And that’s the other key: You must be honestly interested in other people and the work they do. If you’re not, don’t even try this. Find another area of work that does honestly interest you, and go talk to people about that.

Engineers took me under their wing. Pretty soon I was placing enough of them at better jobs that word got around I was the guy to talk to.

I know it’s corny, but I suggest you work up a script you feel okay about. Write it down. Try it out “live.” Pay attention to how people react when you try to break the ice. Tweak it til it feels good.

How to Say It

I suggest starting like this. Walk up to someone and say:

“Hi — So you work at ABC Co. What’s it like to work there?”

Let them talk, then ask:

How to Say It

“What would you say is your company’s biggest competitive advantage?”

Or,

“How does your company make the most of your [engineering] skills?”

Perhaps it seems corny. It’s not. It’s honest. You’re admitting you don’t know something you’re really interested in, and you’re asking. While someone might be rude and turn away, most people are sensitive to inquiring minds — as long as it’s not a personal topic. Work is open game.

Let them talk. They’ll ask you some questions. Just answer naturally. Ask more questions about their work. I like this one:

How to Say It

“What have you read or learned recently that has influenced how you do your job?”

All you’re doing is making conversation and getting to know someone. What makes it easy is that you’re letting them do the talking about something almost everyone likes to talk about: themselves.

I let go of my shyness when I realized I was fine asking people about their work, and talking about my work — so I stuck to that. Then I became more outgoing because I was no longer afraid of how people would respond to me.

We’re all different. I’m not suggesting my exact Hot to Say It tips will work for you. You must tweak them to suit who you are and how you talk. My boss said to me, “Stop resisting the script and just use it a few times until you come up with something better!”

Write it down to start. Tweak it — but keep at it. Just remind yourself: If something feels creepy, don’t say it or do it. (See Please! Stop Networking!) Be honest. Talk shop, be yourself, let other people do the talking at first. Pretty soon they’ll be laughing at the honesty of your questions and they’ll tell you what you need to know.

Once that happens, they’ll introduce you to their friends. If you’re looking for a new job, that’s where the fun starts!

If you need more help understanding how to connect with people comfortably, see the chapter “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” in How Can I Change Careers? (This PDF book isn’t just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out to employers.)

Okay — what magic words do you use to break the ice? Even outgoing folks can get nervous introducing themselves to others. Are you shy and introverted? How do you do it?

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HR Technology: Who’s Bad?

badWho’s really bad in today’s HR Technology world?

  • Companies that actually spend money on software that peeps at employees and people they want to recruit?
  • HR Technology companies that make the software?
  • Investors who could be gambling their cash away in Monte Carlo? (And seeing a show?)
  • HR executives who brag that they’re peeping at employees who might be doing the nasty nasty with some other employer?

Who’s Bad?

A reader sent me this gem today, from the Washington Post:

This software start-up can tell your boss if you’re looking for a job

I’d love your take on it. I see a few things in the story of Joberate, a company that:

“scrapes publicly available data from millions of individuals’ online social media accounts, or buys it from other parties, to assign what it calls a ‘J-Score’ that estimates their level of job search activity, likening it to a FICO score.”

(Yuck. Digital dumpster diving. Scraping the bottom. Bad.)

First, I’d love a list of Joberate’s customers — so I could advise you to quit your job there if you have one, because who wants to work for a company that invests more in peeking at what you’re doing than it does in making sure you’re a happy employee? But alas, Joberate’s customers don’t want to be identified. (Ah… busted doing the nasty nasty… send the PR manager into fits!)

Second, I’d like five minutes with the HR jokers who convinced their companies to buy into this tracking technology: Where are you hiding? Don’t you have a real job?

Third, I have a few words for “Brian Kropp, who leads human resources consulting for CEB, which has a venture capital arm that’s an investor in Joberate”: You’re an HR executive and an investor? Do you write HR Technology software?

Finally, to Joberate’s chief executive, Michael Beygelman: Close scrutiny and analysis of public media (I did a big-data dump of the Washington Post and ran it through my algorithm) reveals you should be looking for a new job, even though you’re not. Or maybe you are. Someone could check. If anybody cared.

HR Technology + LinkedIn = Really Bad

I always check out people worth writing about. Mr. Beygelman’s LinkedIn profile reveals something you really ought to care about. (Hey, it’s a public profile, anybody can look at it without scraping anything.) He wrote an article titled “LinkedIn changes to InMail policy create business case for Joberate technology.”

Here’s the nugget:

“Instead of sending blind InMails to potential candidates on LinkedIn, recruiters can now use Joberate technology to track job seeking behavior of people they’re interested in contacting.”

HR can be bad with Joberate, but LinkedIn helps recruiters be really bad. Now you’re going to see where all those silly LinkedIn In-mails you get from “headhunters” come from — an algorithm that links up Joberate with your favorite junk-mail purveyor:

found-you“When Joberate technology tells the recruiter that a person’s J-Score went up, it means that person’s job seeking behavior has increased, alerting the recruiter when it becomes the ideal time to contact a potential candidate. At that point a recruiter can send an InMail to a prospective candidate whose job seeking behavior and activities have just increased.”

Whoo-wee! Thanks to HR Technology, a recruiter (or your boss — whoever pays for Joberate!) found you looking for a job! Kinda like looking in your peephole.

Who’s bad?

Would you hire Michael Beygelman? Would you invest your money with Brian Kropp? Do you worry Joberate is watching you? Is it time to turn off InMails on your LinkedIn account? Do we really need more software companies?

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Negotiate Even The Worst Job Offers: Say Yes, IF

In the September 6, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is frustrated with employers who are looking for top talent at discounted salaries to fill positions with fudged titles — but who won’t negotiate.

negotiateQuestion

I am a director-level, doctoral-level employee at a large healthcare company with over 15 years’ broad experience on the science side of medicine. I have been approached by several companies about potential positions. Some of the positions are extremely interesting and have broad organizational impact and a much larger sphere of influence than my current position.

However, when offers are made, they seem to all be at a “comparable” level — essentially lateral moves — with excuses of “We have eliminated the Senior Director level” or “We don’t implement the same titles at our company.” The compensation packages have been fairly anemic as well, with almost no increase in cash value and modest increases in stock or pension values.

What gives? Are these companies trying to get VP-level work for a Director level salary? When to push and when to walk? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

Manipulation of salaries and titles is common — and I think your conclusion is correct. Even in a “talent shortage” employers think they can discount people and work, and some of the time they get a ridiculous bargain. The problem is LinkedIn and the job boards, which convince HR that the perfect candidate is available at a low price… now here’s the sales pitch… “if you just keep searching our database to find them!”

That’s how job boards make money: by selling silly ideas that suckers buy. That includes getting employers to keep paying to keep searching for that purple squirrel at bargain-store prices. The further problem, of course, is that many job seekers will fall for this manipulation.

We discussed negotiating recently in Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES. Now let’s go a bit deeper into this approach.

Lousy deals

Don’t tolerate lousy deals.

A top-level manager I know was downsized, and after a lengthy unemployment, he took a job for 20% less than he’d been making to do exactly the kind of work he’d been doing for five years. Two years later, he was downsized again, and took a 15% cut on the next job. Downsized yet again, he figured it out and got fed up after yet another employer tried to buy him at yet another ridiculous discount. He’s starting his own business while looking for a job suited to him that pays what he’s worth.

The explanations for reduced pay and titles that you’ve been given are self-serving excuses. Smug employers believe in Junk Profitability: “If we cut our costs when we fill a critical position, our profits will go up!” Then they act shocked – shocked – when the person they hire at such a discount bolts the first chance they get. “Disloyal, unreliable, over-qualified scoundrel!”

Force the other guy to negotiate.

Yes, IF: How to negotiate better deals

I showed the manager in the story above how to negotiate such job “opportunities.”

When an employer brings up a lower salary or lower title, don’t say no. Step back and ask yourself, Under what circumstances would you actually take this job? What salary? What authority? What responsibilities? What kind of work?

That’s called a term sheet. It’s the terms under which you’d take the deal.

Then say, “Yes, I’ll take the job IF…” and present your requirements to the employer as your counter-offer.

Include enough negotiable terms that you don’t come across as arrogant or unreasonable. But make sure you’re respecting what’s really important to you. Then let the employer consider what you’ve offered. If they want you and really need you, and they’re rational, smart business people, they’ll negotiate.

The aforementioned manager learned that many employers are not rational or smart — or they don’t really need to fill that job with a good candidate. Given the chance to negotiate, any savvy employer will do it, sometimes with a knowing smile. They’ll never agree to terms that are bad for them, but they’ll try to work out a compromise that’s good for you and for them.

The thing is, few candidates ever try this. They just skulk away or get angry. Don’t go away and don’t get angry. Open a negotiation. Know what you want. Ask for it.

If the employer won’t negotiate, then you will be glad you did more than hold your ground. You offered alternative terms that could lead to YES, but the employer walked away. (See The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!)

If they do negotiate, you’ve helped yourself and you’ve helped them fill a job under mutually good terms.

Negotiate even the worst job offers

I borrowed this advice from my own lawyer, who is also my best business advisor. He taught me long ago that, unless it’s a job or gig you really don’t want to do, never walk away over terms you don’t like. Offer terms you do like, and see where it goes. It’s a very empowering experience. (See “Am I unwise to accept their first job offer?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9, Be The Master of Job Offers.)

You can control the terms of any job negotiation. Don’t be afraid or intimidated, especially if you’re going to walk away from the lousy offer they’ve already made you. You have little if anything to lose.

Whatever the outcome, you’ll feel like a million bucks because you managed the situation assertively and on your terms. If the employer balks, the rest is the employer’s problem, because they’re left with a vacant job that’s costing them every day.

Don’t say no. Say, “Yes, if…”

How do you turn job negotiations to your advantage? Do you negotiate just salary, or everything? Or do you just decide yes or no?

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Need a pay stub to hire me? Take a hike.

This reader’s comment is an eye-opener — and a loud wake-up call to employers who demand to see an old pay stub before they’ll hire you. (From Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.)

From Not Desperate

pay stubI passed all of the pre-employment testing in the 95th to 100th percentile. I cleared the background, credit, reference, education and employment verifications and was told I was “cleared” as per the conditions of my signed offer letter.

Give us the pay stub

That was Friday afternoon. Monday morning, the day I was to give my notice to my current employer, the HR contact demanded a pay stub. I refused. I compromised and offered an HR contact who has historically been known to verify employment and salary range. The HR contact called my HR rep and confirmed the information verbally. That was not sufficient. They called me back several hours later and demanded the pay stub. I emailed my recruiter to state I would sleep on it and make my decision today.

No.

I stood firm in my decision and communicated to the HR contact and the team I was asked to join that I believe my current salary is private and confidential and that I would not submit to salary verification as a condition of securing or keeping my position.

I had declined a role that was $10,000 higher and came with 10 additional vacation days to accept this role that they were now demanding salary verification for. I am sure they will not back down and I am sure I will lose this opportunity.

myobIn the end, I win because I still have an amazing job (I am currently employed and not unhappy) and I have the opportunity to secure a position with an organization that will not play games with me after already determining I meet their requirements.

The organization is in a lose-lose situation. They lose me and they have no other candidates for this position. They will be starting back at square one. It felt amazing to stand my ground and remain true to my values and principles. Nick’s articles and comments provided the courage I needed to finally not cave. Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

Deciding to give up an offer over salary disclosure requirements is a personal decision. It’s pretty clear what my position is: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps. Your screen name says it all — if you’re not desperate, you don’t have to hand over a pay stub to anyone.

My guess is you taught this employer a frightful lesson: The “talent” is not a commodity.

I have a standing Q for HR: Give me one good reason why you need to know my salaryNo one in HR has ever been able to give me a good reason. I invite more to try. (Please post your reason below.)

Here’s another question to HR: How many highly qualified, motivated job candidates will you lose to your competitors before you stop demanding confidential salary information that you don’t really need anyway? (We won’t get into the problem of how presumptuous and intrusive this is.) The market is shifting toward the talent, and you’re starting to look like a dope.

People sometimes ask, if you won’t show a pay stub to an employer — Should you disclose your salary history to a headhunter? There is a difference and it’s important to know how to handle both situations.

If anything I’ve written was helpful to you, I’m glad. Good for you for taking stock and keeping control of your career. While it may sound like sour grapes to some, I agree that what you see is what you get. Any employer hung up on getting your pay stub is going to be a bear to work with — and will go hungry waiting for a good hire.

Would you pass up a job to protect your confidential salary history? There are probably times you would, and times you wouldn’t. What are they?

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