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The Q&A

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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HR People We Love

In the March 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who works in HR makes an impact and a great impression.

HRSometimes I fear readers think I hate HR. What I hate is what HR has become in a broad sense – highly bureaucratic; overly, counter-productively and inexcusably automated; and too distant from hiring managers and job applicants. (See 6 things HR should stop doing right now in the PBS NewsHour Ask The Headhunter feature.)

But I also see some shining lights in HR and I’m tickled to show you one in this week’s edition.

While it’s a rare company that has even a decent HR system in place, I get a kick out of individual HR people who apply common sense and business sense to the recruiting and hiring parts of their jobs. They shine! They get the best candidates in front of managers quickly, and their goal is to get jobs filled. When you encounter one of these folks, you know it because they make things happen intelligently, deftly and with a smile.

These are the HR people I love, and I love them even more when they share their insights and practices here on Ask The Headhunter.

Reader Jenn works in HR as a recruiter — and I’m going to let her discuss what I think are some of the best practices I’ve encountered in the rough-and-tumble world of HR. (Jenn posted another version of her comments on ATH. All I did was edit it a bit to fit the format of the newsletter, and to highlight her main ideas. All credit goes to Jenn.)

Jenn’s Rules of HR

Nick, in a recent column you wrote about the risk job applicants take when they wait for HR to judge them based on their resume: “The better risk for a job hunter is to deal directly with the hiring manager…”

1. Make it happen quickly

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a corporate recruiter (regional non-profit healthcare system) and my initial goal is to get the strongest candidates and hiring managers talking to each other as quickly as possible.

I care about the candidate experience and I know the best ones will have the most career options, so I want them engaging with the hiring manager sooner rather than later.

2. Avoid unnecessary screening

Sometimes I’ll have a hiring manager (HM) who is married to the idea that I must first phone-screen candidates, before the HM talks to them. Often this step is unnecessary and wastes valuable time.

I recruit for dozens of different competencies in several areas of the organization. I cannot always field in-depth candidate questions about the role and don’t see a lot of value in this. To me it’s a waste of the candidate’s time (and mine) and serves only to check a box that the hiring manager believes (incorrectly) to be important. And it means the position will go unfilled for that much longer.

3. Put the managers in the game immediately

I encourage my HMs to contact candidates of interest to them right away. I want them to start interviews as soon as possible. Especially if an HM is really excited about a candidate, it doesn’t make sense to insert an arbitrary layer into the process that adds no value, delaying a hiring decision unnecessarily.

4. Make HR’s role short and useful

What information does HR need to judge a candidate?

For me it’s only this: Does the candidate meet the bare minimum requirements? In our business that means the necessary specific healthcare license and relevant previous experience if the position is not entry-level.

That’s all that is needed before applications are turned over to the HM for review.

5. Use human judgement

However, I still read all resumes and cover letters personally. I look for the “nice to haves” that might make a candidate more desirable to the HM. I look for qualities that algorithms are likely to miss.

My goal is to identify candidates who are a stronger fit than most, for both the position and the organization. I look for qualifications beyond the minimum requirements. That requires human judgement.

6. Light a fire under managers

In my organization, the HMs drive the interview process and I don’t have any control over how quickly HMs are engaging candidates. All I can do is consult and advise, and make recommendations on the best way to proceed. It’s frustrating.

To light a fire under HMs, I rely on what applicants submit. I want to see it so I can discuss it with the HMs and encourage them to reach out to the candidates immediately, before they are no longer available.

7. Manage the hiring managers

Some of my HMs are really proactive and great at hiring. I coach the ones who aren’t there yet. My job is to help them make changes to their process that are better for the candidates and for the HMs — to get positions filled more quickly. [For an example, see Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).]

Nick’s Reply

Oh, what a relief to see a bright light in the corporate HR darkness. When companies need to have a recruiting and hiring process in place, they must remember how critical it is to have HR people who use the system rather than let the system use hiring managers and job applicants. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

No corporate hiring system is going to be as potent as I’d like because most are watered down with weak technology. But like the Dos Equis guy who says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…”

There are HR people I love, and Jenn is one of them. Many thanks to her for sharing her rules. I’d love to add more savvy rules from more HR folks! How about it?

Who do do you love in HR? Who does a great HR job within the confines of a corporate structure? How do they do it? What makes them stand out? What rules should HR live by?

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When to decline an employee referral for a job

In the February 27, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions how meaningful an employee referral is when it’s impersonal.

Question

employee referralA friend at a company I’m interested in working for referred me for a job. I have a phone interview scheduled with a “technical recruiter” later today. I asked if there was any special preparation I could do for the interview. I was told no, that we would be covering my previous experience and projects during the call.

You always recommend using a job interview to demonstrate how the applicant would actually do the job. Since the interview is with a recruiter, not the hiring manager who runs the technical team, I somehow doubt there will be an opportunity to demonstrate I can do the job.

I’m surprised at the way they’re handling this. I already have a strong recommendation from an employee. Why should I talk to a recruiter first? Nobody needs to recruit me — I’ve already been recruited and referred!

[A reader posted a shorter version of this story as a comment on another column. I edited it so it would stand on its own.]

Nick’s Reply

This is a good example of a truly stupid move by an employer. You’re absolutely correct: There is no need for a recruiter to screen you because you’ve already been screened and recruited!

Why do companies even have employee referral programs if they’re going to treat referred job candidates like some unknown applicant?

Employee referral or bureaucratic process?

In fact, the intervention of the recruiter should give people like you pause. This tells you the company’s hiring process is broken. The company can’t tell the difference between random applicants and desirable job candidates — or doesn’t care.

We see another form of such foolishness when a recruiter interviews a random applicant (who was not referred personally), then tells them to go to the company website to fill out a lengthy form about their qualifications. But, what was the point of the interview if not to judge the candidate’s qualifications?

The problem in both cases is that the selection process is thoughtlessly bureaucratic and unduly stretched out after a candidate has already been scrutinized. This redundancy turns off the best candidates and often results in the employer losing them.

The purpose of any recruiting and selection process must be to get good candidates to the hiring manager as quickly and enthusiastically as possible!

(When it doesn’t work that way, it may be prudent to politely decline an employee referral for a job.)

Personal referrals deserve personal attention

I think you’re right to harbor doubts and to question how you’re being treated — and to be concerned that the upcoming interview with the recruiter is not worthy of your time. You won’t be able to show what you can do. Only the hiring manager is qualified to have that kind of exchange with you. Why waste your time?

When an employee makes a personal referral (it should have been made to the actual manager, by the way), the manager should personally jump on it and make the call immediately. The employee, after all, has done the manager a favor, and so have you. The manager should treat this trusted personal referral as a gift. Otherwise, it’s a huge dis to the employee — because why else would they ever make a personal referral again, if it isn’t handled personally by the manager?

Why bother?

We won’t even get into why you’d ever accept a referral from your friend again, if this is how you’re going to be received. The friend has an obligation to make sure the hiring manager welcomes you enthusiastically and gratefully. Unfortunately, employees of companies that have referral programs know they’re usually a bureaucratic nightmare. (For a better way to make a referral, please see Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).)

Of course, any job candidate should be thoroughly interviewed and assessed. A personal referral is no guarantee of a job. But it should be a guarantee of the best treatment a company and a manager can offer.

Sheesh, employers are stupid. Then they complain they can’t find good candidates. (See Referrals: How employers waste proven talent.)

My advice is to call your friend the employee and explain you’d be glad to meet with the hiring manager on the friend’s recommendation — “which I really appreciate.” But add that you didn’t apply for the job from off the street, and you’re not going to spend your valuable time getting grilled by a recruiter.

How to Say It:

“Look, I appreciate the personal referral. It was kind of you, and I hope I can return the favor some day. But if the manager isn’t ready to talk with me on your recommendation, then it’s not worth my time, either. I’m glad to invest time to show a manager how I’ll do the technical work properly and profitably. But I don’t have time to chat with a recruiter about my resume. If the manager would like to meet with me, I’m ready for that discussion any time. Thanks again for your faith in me.”

If I were the employee who made the referral, I’d go talk to the manager and suggest the manager make the call promptly. “I’m trying to help you fill a job, but I need you to help preserve the respect this candidate has for me and for our company. I made a personal referral expecting this individual would be treated personally and with care. Is there anything I can do to help move this along?”

Should a personal employee referral be treated personally? What’s your experience been when you’ve been referred for a job? Does your company have an employee referral program? How does it work — and do you participate?

 

The worst job hunting advice ever

In the February 20, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an HR pro warns unsuspecting readers to avoid getting hurt by bad advice on Ask The Headhunter.

Question

adviceI’ve been in Human Resources 12 years and I have to say your article Resume Blasphemy is probably the worst advice I have ever heard anyone give to a job seeker. The best evidence of future performance is past achievement. I need to know where you worked, where you went to school and what you have accomplished. If that is not on the resume, I don’t read it.

I highly recommend you remove that article before you hurt any more unsuspecting job seekers.

Nick’s Reply

I’m hurting job hunters, when you’re the one tossing their resumes, unread, in the trash?

I help unsuspecting job hunters avoid getting hurt by teaching them how to get past personnel jockeys like you altogether.

The best HR people I’ve known don’t rely on resumes any more than I do. But they’re few.

A job hunter is lucky to encounter an HR person who knows how to read between the lines, both literally and figuratively. The best HR folks manage to avoid blinders when recruiting. They don’t approach candidates (or resumes) with preconceived notions. Like I said, these HR people are few, but they know who they are.

You’re entitled to your opinion, and I’m glad you’ve shared it. I’m publishing it because job hunters need to see firsthand how some HR representatives deal with resumes. (I stand by the Blasphemous Resume.) You make two statements that prove just how dangerous it can be to blindly send resumes to HR departments.

HR Advice: “The best evidence of future performance is past achievement.”

I’m always astonished at how horribly recruiters are hobbled by such claptrap. Here we have an employer who can ask job applicants for any information he wants. So, what does he ask for? A lame, one-size-fits-all recitation of “past achievements.”

First, what constitutes an achievement is subjective. I’ve met job candidates with achievement awards up the yin-yang from companies where showing up in clean clothes every day earns them a regular promotion and a raise. I’ve also met candidates whose resumes are nothing more than lists of tedious job functions, but who underneath all that are outstanding workers.

Second, a clever resume-writing service can apply “action verbs” to turn the most mundane worker into a seeming powerhouse of a job candidate.

Finally, I’ve known people whose resumes showed they were good performers again and again in their past. Unfortunately, they could not translate their abilities to handle the next job.

It took me only three months to land my dream job. It was advertised absolutely everywhere, so I’m sure they received a boatload of qualified candidates.

In thinking back as to how I grabbed this job, I’m 100% positive it was because I followed your Ask The Headhunter advice and did the job in the interview. That simple maneuver set me apart from all the others vying for the job.

Thank you, Nick. Being a member of this community has literally changed my life.

— Elizabeth Weintraub

But, can you do this job?

The outcomes in all these scenarios are problematic. Good candidates are lost and lousy ones are hired because the best evidence of future performance is not past achievements. (I’d go further and argue that past performance is not sufficiently predictive of future performance, no matter where it is described.)

When an employer can ask for any information he wants, he should ask for a demonstration of a candidate’s ability to do the work at hand. That means the candidate should show, right there in the interview, that she can do the work profitably, or learn to do it in short order. (I offer reader Elizabeth Weintraub’s quote as just one example.)

But it’s impossible for a job candidate to do the job in the interview with an HR representative, because no one in HR is expert in the specific work of any department of a company (other than HR). A job hunter wastes her time when she gets caught in the “HR filter” before she establishes with the hiring manager that there are good reasons to meet and talk.

HR Advice: “If that is not on the resume, I don’t read it.”

“I need to know where you worked, where you went to school and what you have accomplished. If that is not on the resume, I don’t read it.”

This statement is a good tip-off to job hunters: HR doesn’t read all resumes.

Any resume that’s missing what titillates the keyword algorithm gets nixed. And, who’s to say what might or might not stimulate your (that is, a personnel jockey’s) rejection reaction? Pity the poor slob who went to a school that pummeled your alma mater’s football team. Who wants to take that chance?

It’s also important for job hunters to remember that an HR representative is not the hiring manager. I’ve never met a hiring manager who would reject a candidate who provided a detailed plan of how she would do the job profitably. However, many are the managers who’ve said to me, “Just because she did a job at another company doesn’t mean she can do this job here. Our needs are unique.” (Mind you, I’m not arguing that history is irrelevant; only that it’s not the best way to introduce yourself to an employer, and that it’s not an adequate basis for screening candidates. See Tell HR you don’t talk to the hand.)

The rejection question

It seems you refuse to read resumes that you don’t immediately understand, in spite of the fact that you can’t possibly be an expert in all the disciplines that are important to your company. The smart job hunter will thus wonder, What’s on my resume that might get me rejected? and conclude that it might be anything.

The better risk for a job hunter is to deal directly with the hiring manager, who is likely more interested in the value of the candidate than in words on a resume or in the HR department’s (or some algorithm’s) binary judgement. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

I advise job hunters to skip, avoid, have nothing to do with the HR department until they have talked with the hiring manager.

Resumes: Too much noise?

There is not a single good reason for a filter at the HR level when a company is hiring. A good manager (these are few and far between, too) recruits, interviews and hires on his own. HR’s job is to provide support, not to decide which applicants the manager gets to see.

(The manager who argues that HR is needed to filter the thousands of incoming resumes should consider that he might be better off not relying on ads that generate tons of resumes that need sorting to begin with.)

noiseMy suggestion to most businesses is that they can relieve their HR departments of recruiting, candidate selection and hiring functions without any significant loss. The HR function is Human Resources, not Human Recruiting. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.) Recruiting is best left to people who have skin in the game: managers and headhunters who specialize in specialized talent markets. (Yah, I know, maybe we should exclude headhunters, too. That’s another debate.)

Blasphemous advice

Your warning confirms that my advice is indeed blasphemous. (Whew. Thanks.)

I contend that resumes include too much noise. Too many good candidates are lost because HR clerks rely on words in resumes to filter them out. Too many inappropriate candidates wind up getting interviewed just because they have the right buzzwords on their resumes. And it’s all just so much noise that hides the signals that truly matter.

I suggest you read Resume Blasphemy again, more carefully. Perhaps your resume-sorting habits have made you so accustomed to blocking things out that you missed something that matters. The point of the article is explicitly stated:

“In fact, once you have produced a Working Resume, you will likely have done the kind of research and made the kinds of contacts that will probably make a resume entirely unnecessary — you will already be ‘in the door’. (That’s the point.)”

No need to rag on HR, but let’s discuss the two assumptions this personnel jockey made. (1) Is past achievement really the best evidence of future performance? (2) What information on your resume does HR really need in order to judge you?

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Job candidate fires interviewers – all of them

In the February 13, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant takes the paddle to her interviewers.

Question

You must get a lot of horror stories about job interviews. I’ve got some of my own, of course, but I’d love to know, what’s the worst you’ve heard?

Nick’s Reply

interviewers

Ah, don’t bait me or I’ll start and won’t be able to stop! You’re right, I’ve heard some doozies — some of them from candidates I’ve sent to my own clients over the years. (On more than one of those occasions, I had to fire the client. That is, the employer!)

At the end of last year, as I was getting ready to put Ask The Headhunter down for a long winter’s nap so I could bake cookies (anybody know what Greek koulouria are?), put up Christmas lights and enjoy visions of sugar plums, I found a great little gift from Remy Porter that I’ve been meaning to share with you. This story also ended with someone getting fired! Needless to say, I’m putting it out there as bait, too — I’m hoping it’ll attract some of your interview war stories.

Crazed interviewers on the loose

Porter produces The Daily WTF (wish I’d thought of that!), a “how-not-to guide for developing software.” He’s a veteran developer himself, so he’s got the kind of edge I like.

The Interview Gauntlet is required reading for all employers and job hunters, not just those in the world of software. It’s about how a technical job applicant handled a series of ridiculous interview questions and the crazed interviewers behind them. This could happen to anyone interviewing for a job — and it probably has. So please listen up, because it teaches an important lesson most are loathe to learn.

Never tolerate a job interview that’s a gauntlet wherein interviewers beat you with paddles.

Irving’s wrong interview questions

If you’re an employer, you might have done something equally stupid as what Irving, a software director, did to Natasha, an earnest candidate who showed up to interview for a User Interface Developer job. (UI developers program the “look and feel” of a software application to ensure the user has a good experience.) One wonders how employers come up with so many wrong questions to ask job applicants. (Need examples? See Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1-#5 and A stupid interview question to ask a woman.)

I’ll let Porter tell set this up. He does it so well.

After [Natasha survived a] gauntlet of seemingly pointless questions, it was Irving’s turn. His mood hadn’t improved, and he had no intention of asking her anything relevant. His first question was: “Tell me, Natasha, how would you estimate the weight of the Earth?”

“Um… don’t you mean mass?”

Irving grunted and shrugged. He didn’t say, “I don’t like smart-asses” out loud, but it was pretty clear that’s what he thought about her question.

Off balance, she stumbled through a reply about estimating the relative components that make up the Earth, their densities, and the size of the Earth. Irving pressed her on that answer, and she eventually sputtered something about a spring scale with a known mass, and Newton’s law of gravitation.

He still didn’t seem satisfied, but Irving had other questions to ask. “How many people are in the world?” “Why is the sky blue?” “How many turkeys would it take to fill this space?”

After patiently fielding one confrontational question after another from a line of technical interviewers, and after Software Director Irving rudely snapped at her, Natasha finally bit back and fired them all.

She walked out of the job interview.

Interviewers are not your boss

Job applicants often forget — in the pressure-cooker of the job interview — that the interviewer is not yet their boss. The immediate job of a manager like Irving is to fill the job you’re interviewing for, or they’ve failed. When a job candidate ends the interview, the interviewer has failed.

Irving failed when he told Natasha that her attitude and behavior revealed she wasn’t a fit for the team.

“So I’ve heard,” Natasha said. “And I don’t think this team’s a good fit for me. None of the questions I’ve fielded today really have anything to do with the job I applied for.”

That was the best answer to the entire interview, because Software Director Irving failed to demonstrate he was qualified to be Natasha’s boss. He didn’t earn it.

Errant interviewers get fired

Natasha’s story is distressing because it happens every day, with the result that good, sincere job applicants realize they’re wasting their time. Such silly, unprofessional employer behavior is why important jobs go unfilled. (This entire embarrassing episode could have been avoided if Irving and his team had asked Natasha The one, single best interview question ever.)

When a patient but forthright job applicant finally snapped, we see that the employers in this story revealed themselves to be little more than schoolyard bullies pretending to be interviewers.

Natasha displayed amazing presence of mind and candor. I wound up laughing because six self-righteous techies and their boss probably still don’t realize Natasha was interviewing them — not the other way around.

They got fired.

Many thanks to Remy Porter for telling this wonderfully snarky story, and compliments to Natasha for thrashing the director. I intentionally left out the best part, at the end of his column. But I’ll offer you this caution: If you go read itdeja vu may strike you down!

If you’d been in Natasha’s place, what would you have done? Was Natasha wrong? Could the interview have been salvaged? Did you go read what they finally told Natasha about the job she thought she was interviewing for? Or, can you top this? (I can’t help it. Pile on!)

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