B.S. on the jobs numbers euphoria

In the July 10, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether the news about jobs creation isn’t a load of crap.

Question

jobsEvery month the Department of Labor issues the “jobs numbers” and the “unemployment numbers” and everyone goes gaga about how great things are. There are loads of jobs to apply for! There’s a shortage of talent, so that’s good tidings for us job seekers! You’d think simple market economics would mean higher salaries and job offers.

But it’s not true. I don’t see higher pay or even higher job offers, not at any meaningful level. Employers aren’t hiring any faster or acting more competitive. Taking two months to decide to make a job offer isn’t the sign of a tight labor market. And demanding my salary history so they can low-ball me on a job offer doesn’t look like companies are struggling to fill jobs.

What’s your take? Am I missing something or is the jobs euphoria in the news just B.S. cranked out by stoned experts?

Nick’s Reply

The jobs euphoria is B.S.

Since last year I’ve been collecting samples of the reports you’re talking about, and there’s a dirty little secret that the pundits and politicians keep trying to bury in the news — but like a nasty case of the hiccups, it’s impossible to hide.

Politicians, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the media have been reporting on exciting gains in job creation. The U.S. created 213,000 new jobs in June (MarketWatch, July 6, 2018) and monthly jobs growth has been positive for the past several years. That seems to be a good sign, but for what and to whom?

According to the DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover) issued June 5, there were 6.7 million jobs open in the U.S. at the end of April. On July 6 the BLS reported that 6.6 million people were unemployed. That means there are more jobs that need to be filled than there are unemployed people.

It’s a 5-alarm fire!

With every new report, economists say they’re flummoxed. With labor in such short supply, the surfeit of demand to fill vacant jobs suggests employers would bid up salaries and wages to get the workers they need — especially if they expect to lure people with jobs away from other employers.

By no stretch of the data is that happening. In a bluntly cynical July 5 Forbes article, Byron Auguste reports that “Three decades of stagnating wages—rising just 0.2% annually since the early 1970s, adjusted for inflation—means an economic five-alarm fire.”

While economists, analysts and politicians struggle to explain wage stagnation by blaming a “skills shortage” (improperly skilled workers are not worth higher wages) and a failure of workers to “re-educate” themselves, Auguste refers to the “skills gap narratives” as “the usual suspects” in the never-ending rationalizations about why companies aren’t paying salaries commensurate with market demand.

“The U.S. has arrived at an inflection point in our economy, technology and demography that demands a reality check on the sorry state of our labor market, and the – i.e., our – institutional practices that produce it,” writes Auguste.

Remember that phrase: institutional practices. We’ll come back to it. But first, I want to throw some spaghetti against the wall, and I hope you can help me read something useful in the patterns it makes.

Where’s the money?

Virtually every new report about “more jobs” includes an embarrassing parenthetical gotcha. It goes like this:

Along with a lot of good news, the all-important wage numbers again disappointed, with average hourly earnings up just 2.7 percent year over year, one-tenth of a percentage point below expectations.
— CNBC, July 6, 2018: The five most important numbers from the June jobs report.

This hand-wringing about the wage numbers in the face of unprecedented jobs growth isn’t new. On December 8, 2017 USA Today reported:

The labor market remained healthy in November, adding jobs at a strong clip despite a shrinking pool of available workers. Still, there were some potentially troubling trends for employees, most notably persistently sluggish wage gains.

“Some potentially troubling trends?” Oops! For months, little side notes like this have appeared in report after report (I think this is what the news media mean by “full disclosure”), then these afterthoughts get buried under the euphoria of politically stoned economists and pundits, and beneath the proclamations of “good times are here!”

“The June ’18 employment report showed a drop-off from May in both the rate of hiring as well as the wage increase year over year,” said Paychex president and CEO Martin Mucci. “We saw for the first time that the annual wage increase dropped below 2.5 percent, which is pretty surprising given the tight labor market. That seems to be the big question out there. Small businesses have a little bit of a harder time hiring workers in a tight labor market so you’d expect that to be going up.”
–Accounting Today, July 3, 2018: Paychex sees wage and job growth slowdown at small businesses in June

Lousy wage increases are “pretty surprising,” eh? “So you’d expect [wages] to be going up,” eh? No kidding.

Typically, wages pick up at this point of an economic cycle because a low jobless rate forces companies to boost wages to find workers… Wage growth in Ohio and the U.S., tepid for the most part since the end of the Great Recession, is starting to show signs of getting weaker… It’s a trend that has baffled economists and others. “Everybody is really perplexed about why that is,” [said Frank Fiorille] vice president of compliance, risk and data analytics for Paychex].
–The Columbus Dispatch, July 3, 2018: Bad sign for workers — wage growth getting weaker for many

Everybody is really perplexed!

ZipRecruiter says everything is cool!

Here’s my favorite. CNBC calls it exactly what it is in the title of this July 6, 2018 article: The jobs “conundrum” continues: “How are we not getting higher wages?” But then CNBC lets an economist from ZipRecruiter (economist or marketer?) spin it to keep perplexed job seekers searching for temp jobs that pay less than, well, an economist-cum-marketing-manager makes at ZipRecruiter:

“While the wage growth rate didn’t increase this month, having it hold steady is a good sign,” said Cathy Barrera, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace.

Lousy wage growth is a good sign! ZipRecruiter couldn’t care less what wages are, as long as jobs remain unfilled and employers keep posting them, and job seekers keep clicking them. That’s how Zip and other job boards make money. It’s all good, folks!

Does it matter that there are more new jobs every month? Probably. Unless you’re a middle manager who just lost her job making $95,000 with good benefits, and now you’re looking down the barrel of a fly-by-night recruiter’s job posting for a contracting job that pays $23 an hour — and the guy ghosted you after you filled out 9 pages of online forms and sat for a nerve-racking video interview with an algorithm.

It’s a good sign there are loads of jobs out there for you to apply for on ZipRecruiter, dontcha think?

CEO jobs pay well!

Let’s put all this euphoria into some context. People are starting to ask questions about all that job growth.

If companies need more skills, can’t they just pay people more?
–Forbes, July 5, 2018: Skills And Tomorrow’s Jobs Report: The Usual Suspects

Must be the skills shortage — it seems not enough blue-collar workers are getting the re-education they need to apply for a job that pays better in today’s new world. Like CEO.

CEOs of America’s 350 largest firms made an average of $15.6 million in 2016…or 271 times more than a typical worker in 2016…While the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio of 271-to-1 is down from 299-to-1 in 2014 and 286-to-1 in 2015, it is still far higher than the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 or the 59-to-1 ratio in 1989.
–Economic Policy Institute, July 20, 2017: Top CEOs took home 271 times more than the typical worker in 2016

Oops. Where, indeed, is the money going in this booming economy?

Are consulting jobs sucking wages out of the economy?

Okay, I’ll stop. I’ve got loads more, but you get the point.

The euphoria is generated to keep you down on the farm. While economists and analysts blame pathetic wage increases on workers who are too lazy or too stupid or too complacent to re-educate themselves for today’s modern jobs, I’ve got another explanation. I think this is part of what Byron Auguste is referring to when he cites “the sorry state of our labor market” and points to the “institutional practices that produce it.”

Temporary, part-time, contracting jobs that companies are substituting for full-time, permanent jobs are sucking the wages out of our economy.

We’ve discussed it here before: Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy. Contracting gigs are one of the institutional problems that shift profits to CEOs, investors and employers and keep wages low. Why’s that so hard for economists to understand?

BenefitsPro spills the beans to the folks who manage corporate benefits programs in a July 6, 2018 article: Stagnant wage growth driving worker dissatisfaction:

Another culprit is an increase in temporary or part-time work, an issue that’s come to a head in Italy, with businesses clashing with the new government over plans to restrict temporary contracts.

Is supply-and-demand dead?

BenefitsPro includes a tasty graph whose blue lines put the U.S. on the same side of the world economic story as Italy. (Source: Organization fro Economic Cooperation and Development.)

oecd

Economists might have an Aha! moment if they study that graph side by side with this graph from the BLS, which is cited in a July 10, 2018 JOLTS news release:

bls

How could “real average annual wages” be lower in 2017 than over the past 10 years when there are more jobs vacant than there are unemployed people? Is the relationship between supply and demand really dead?

Where does the money go?

Let’s go back to one of the precious quotes above, from The Columbus Dispatch:

“Typically, wages pick up at this point of an economic cycle because a low jobless rate forces companies to boost wages to find workers…”

Well… you’d think so, when corporate profits are up and employers are paying their CEOs 271 times more than the typical worker. You’d think so, when Congress passes tax breaks that are supposed to trickle down to everyone that works. So WTF is going on?

Let’s go back to the BLS. I love this little graph, based on BLS statistics and published by Bloomberg last April. It shows the employment cost index — what companies spend on compensation:

The accompanying text bemoans that “employment costs rose more than expected in the first quarter and a measure of private wages had the biggest annual gain since 2008.” What Bloomberg doesn’t note is that way over on the left side of that graph U.S. companies were sharing a whole lot more with their workers. What companies spend on compensation today is still way down from a 2003 high, and current compensation costs still have not “recovered” to even 2007 levels. (Yah, I can see — there was a recession around 2007-2008 but, hey, do I look like an economist?)

(The share of profits that companies spend on workers varies by industry. See my column on PBS NewsHour: Which industries are being too greedy to pay you fairly?)

When the economy is booming, profits are up, and companies are so awash in cash that they demand the freedom to invest it in elections — why is anyone at a loss to explain why we’re not seeing higher wages?

The White House promised ’70 percent’ of the tax cut would go to workers. It didn’t… the Republican tax reform package that was supposed to raise wages and spur hiring has instead funded a record stock buyback and dividend spree, benefiting investors and company executives over workers.
–NBC News, June 26, 2018: What did corporate America do with that tax break? Buy record amounts of its own stock

If you can’t re-tool your skill set to be a CEO, you could try one of those online investment courses, so you could make a living at your PC — as an investor!

What was your question?

When I can’t figure something out, sometimes I give myself room to rant. I cut out articles, data, graphs — and I spread them out on the floor, hoping I can puzzle them up into an answer that makes sense to me. Forgive me if I’ve ranted too long.

But if I threw one or two bits of information up on your screen that give you pause to think about this strange economy and job market in a new way, maybe it’s worth it.

Let’s go back to the question in this Q&A:

“You’d think simple market economics would mean higher salaries and job offers… Am I missing something or is the jobs euphoria in the news just B.S. cranked out by stoned experts?”

Wages and salaries are basically stagnant, and more people are admitting it. Employers are spending less on wages and salaries because they’re renting temporary workers from “consulting firms.” But the bucks are there.  They’re just going to somewhere (and to someone) other than the labor pool.

So I think the euphoria about “jobs creation” is indeed B.S. because more new jobs during a labor shortage without higher wages is not good news — it tells us something is very wrong. It’s B.S. because what’s being created is a phantom industry of middle-men that suck value out of our economy. (See The Job Monopoly: How companies keep pay low.)

Where will it end?

How long can the economy — which is people, after all (and there are more workers than CEOs) — withstand this scenario?

I dunno. There’s an old saw about profits: Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.

Billionaire Nick Hanauer, a staunch advocate for higher minimum wages, says it best: “The pitchforks are coming.”

Do the “jobs creation” numbers and stagnant wage growth make sense to you? Are workers really so incorrectly skilled that it explains why they’re not getting the jobs employers say they’re dying to fill? I blame some of it on our “consulting economy.” If you study the spaghetti on the wall, what do you see? Is the jobs euphoria justified?

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Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job

In the July 3, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader’s new job offer is rescinded after he quits his old job. Does he have legal recourse?

Question

rescindedI was given an official job offer. The letter stated that if I met the conditions of the job offer (and it listed the conditions) that the offer would be finalized.

I completed the conditions and the local hiring manager scheduled my start date. I put in two weeks’ notice at my old job. Two days before my start date, they revoked my offer, stating that I was not “rehireable.” (I worked for a company owned by this company almost 10 years ago, but I disclosed that on my application.) 

They said that the company is an “at will” employer so they didn’t have to honor anything stated in the job-offer letter. Do I have any legal recourse? I have no job at all now. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

I’m very sorry to hear this. Such stories about rescinded (or revoked) job offers are too common nowadays. I recounted a particularly nasty one in my PBS NewsHour column, Are disappearing job offers a new trend?, and we’ve discussed this problem before. But it’s such a tragic trend that we need to keep talking about it.

You should seek counsel from a good lawyer that specializes in employment law. However, I’ll give you my thoughts with the proviso that this is of course not legal advice.

If you work in an “at-will” state, the employer may be able to fire you for any reason or no reason at any time. What that implies — though you should check with a lawyer about your specific case — is that they could complete the hire and fire you the same day. So you see the problem.

Now let’s go back to what you stated: You were given a official conditional job offer. While I give you credit for making sure you had the offer in writing, the word “conditional” is key. That left the door open for them to not make the hire after all. Here’s where it may get complicated legally, and why you may need a lawyer.

Did you meet the conditions?

You believe you met all the conditions to lift the contingency, but apparently they don’t agree — or they don’t care. What you should have done before quitting your old job was to get a written confirmation from the new employer that you had in fact met the conditions. This could be very helpful if you litigate the matter.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Never quit your job unless you are absolutely sure the new job is locked up. Please see Protect yourself from exploding job offers.

Of course, in an at-will state this may be a moot point. But it’s up to you to take all reasonable precautions to protect yourself.

Did the hiring manager’s actions suggest you met the conditions?

The hiring manager scheduled your start date, which seems to imply he agrees you met the necessary conditions. A good lawyer might be able to do something with that.

Did the employer know you were going to quit another job?

Additionally, there’s the matter of whether you will now suffer because the promise of a job was broken — and whether that hiring manager knew you would be hurt by his action because his offer prompted you to quit another job. Retired employment attorney Lawrence Barty explains it like this:

“A person who reasonably acts in reliance upon a promise and then suffers detrimentally because the promise is broken has a cause of action called Promissory Estoppel. The Promiser is ‘estopped’ from rescinding the promise if the Promiser knew or had reason to know that the Promisee would rely upon the promise to the Promisee’s detriment.”

That is, if you informed the new employer that you were going to quit your old job and lose your income because you were relying on their job offer, then an attorney may be able to make a case for you. Barty goes on to say:

“The Promisee in such a case, once the proof has been accepted, is entitled to be made whole. For example, if A quits his job and then is left without work for a period until he finds comparable employment, A is entitled to Reliance Damages in an amount equal to the lost wages and benefits.”

Rescinded offers are reprehensible

Too often, job seekers are so thrilled at a new job offer that they make assumptions and move too quickly. That’s understandable. But when the potential consequences of making a mistake are huge — and losing your income is a huge risk — then it’s time to slow down and be extra careful about actions you take, like quitting your old job. (This is such an important topic that I wrote a whole book about it. Here’s an article that discusses some of the main ideas: Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

The critical tip-off in your story is in your first sentence: The offer was conditional. But please don’t misunderstand my position on this. While you bear some responsibility, employers who rescind offers so cavalierly are irresponsible. The tip-off about this employer was in what they said to you: “They said… they didn’t have to honor anything stated in the job-offer letter.” While the company’s lawyers might be able to argue it did nothing illegal, its behavior is unacceptable and reprehensible.

While the doctrine caveat emptor certainly holds here, a good employer nonetheless owes a job applicant a big, loud caution about not quitting their old job until a new job is certain. Did you owe yourself a more cautious attitude until it was all finalized? Based on what you’ve shared, I think you acted prudently. My advice to others: Don’t rush into a big decision (like quitting your job) without carefully assessing the risks.

Get legal advice

As you can see, it’s complicated and that’s why a qualified attorney is your best bet. I’m sure you’d rather not spend money on a lawyer, but I think the price of an initial consultation is well worth it since we’re talking about the loss of your salary. I’d talk to a lawyer immediately. Even if this does not turn into a court case, a stern nastygram from a potent lawyer could result in a cash settlement from the employer.

A word to HR managers

Rescinding a job offer is a really lousy thing to do, and explaining it away by citing your freedom to fire “at will” is cheesy. If your integrity and your company’s reputation matter to you, please read the section “Stop rescinding offers” in the article HR Managers: Do your job, or get out. If you work in HR, we’d love to hear your side of this problem.

Have you ever had a job offer rescinded? Did you quit your old job for a new job, only to wind up on the street? What did you do about it? How would you advise this reader?

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5 Steps to Easy Interviews and Quick Job Offers

In the June 26, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says the quickest job offers come from quick and easy interviews. So we consider why.

Question

Difficult job interviews tend to be grueling and I never get offers. I have discovered that interviews which end up in a job offer are short and I come away wondering why they didn’t ask me hard questions.

interviewsThat’s how I got my current job. The managers made their decision right there and then. I expect to get an offer from another recent interview that went just as well. (I will probably turn it down.) They didn’t actually say so, but the message was clear: They’re definitely interested and they seem hopeful I’ll accept a job.

Another example: I got my previous job when my manager made the decision during the phone interview while I was 2,000 miles away. My on-site interview was about an hour and ended up with an offer on the spot.

In contrast, after recent discussions with an iconic company known for its difficult interviews, I realized that I would have to neglect my current job (which I love) to make preparations to interview successfully. Even though the company has exciting technology that excites me, I shut down the process. [See How and when to reject a job interview.]

The latest company that wants me has technology as interesting as the iconic company. They are not well known, but they are very certain about why they want to hire me. It pays to look for gems like these.

So I am concluding that if someone has decided they are interested in you, the interview will be pretty easy and the offer will come quickly. If they are not interested, they might throw some difficult questions your way to “reveal” your incompetence. (At the iconic company, they kept asking question after question until I couldn’t answer.) Then they say to one another, “Obviously, this is not a good candidate — he couldn’t answer a basic question!”

I don’t want to work for people like that. What do you think of my observations?

Nick’s Reply

You’ve pointed out a very interesting phenomenon in hiring that seems to sail over most people’s heads. Some hiring decisions happen quickly, and the interviews are smooth. What makes an interview go so well?

But I think everyone gets so wrapped up in the interview game that they totally ignore an even more important question:

Why?

Why do interviews happen?

That is, Why is the interview happening at all?

We can break this down into two more specific questions:

  • Why did the employer choose this candidate?
  • Why did the candidate choose the company?

I think there are several answers, and they reveal the stark difference between employers who know what they are doing and those that are clueless about recruiting and hiring. It’s all about what happens way before the interview even gets scheduled.

When job seekers and employers choose one another for the right reasons, interviews seem easier and job offers materialize quickly. But I don’t have to tell you this doesn’t happen effortlessly!

5 Steps to Quick Job Offers

I find that employers that hire quickly and decisively take most of these five steps before they conduct interviews. In fact, they take these steps before they even contact any candidates.

  1. The employer decides where to find the right candidates.
    These trusted sources might be other people, organizations, specialized pools or communities, or even publications. The candidate list is not generated by algorithms, job boards or databases. Thus, only high-likelihood candidates are ever interviewed.
    From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 8:

    To get your feet in the manager’s door, don’t throw resumes at it. It’s the people, Stupid. That manager has no time to read your resume because he’s busy talking to a candidate referred by people he trusts. To get in the door, you need those people to introduce you. And the manager needs someone who has a plan to get the job done. Make that person you.

  2. The employer decides what outcomes it wants from the hire.
    So, it pre-selects people who are able to deliver outcomes, not qualifications or keywords on resumes. These candidates are not surprised by the criteria and interview questions, and the meetings go smoothly.
  3. The employer understands that specific skills are not the objective in selecting candidates.
    The main objective is to hire someone with the ability to ride a fast learning curve without falling off. That is, the right candidate is someone who can learn whatever is necessary to get the work done. You don’t find that on a resume or in a job application. Of course, there are prerequisites, but most of the time these can be verified prior to even contacting the candidate.
  4. The employer vets candidates before it contacts them.
    It does its background research in advance, by turning to trusted sources of good information. I’m not talking about background checks. I’m talking about referrals, recommendations and firsthand knowledge about the person. Thus, only high-likelihood candidates who can readily address the employer’s needs are ever recruited or interviewed.
  5. The match is made mostly in advance.
    The employer is already more than halfway there on the hire, before the interview happens, because it already knows a lot about the candidate. The interview is not the main assessment; it’s a confirmation. The chance of a quick hire skyrockets.

Good candidates don’t come in a grab-bag

It’s no accident or coincidence that this approach to hiring mirrors how good managers do other aspects of their jobs. A good interview is good business.

For example, an engineering manager doesn’t design and build a new widget by dumping a grab-bag of random parts on her team’s desk. She and her team carefully research available parts and their manufacturers, confirm quality in advance, and lay out on their workbench only the parts they already have a lot of faith in. The same goes for picking people.

Why are employers so game to buy a grab-bag of applicants from LinkedIn or Indeed?

Most candidates should be “wired” for a job

This is not to say that a sharp manager with good insight can’t identify a great candidate on the spot, when that candidate is essentially “off the street” with no background research done at all. In such cases, I think the manager has an unusual — but absolutely critical — grasp of exactly the kind of person they want. The manager recognizes that person when they appear, has the authority to move quickly, and acts decisively to make a quick offer.

But I believe that most of the time when such quick hires happen, it’s because the real legwork has been done in advance. You’ve no doubt heard the old saw about a lawyer questioning a witness in court: Never ask the witness a question you don’t already know the answer to. The same holds for job interviews — except most employers won’t be bothered to do their homework about the candidate.

When we say someone was “wired” for a job, what we really mean is the employer chose carefully whom to interview in advance. The manager selected from a pool of thoroughly vetted people.

That’s why the right candidate winds up in the interview — and it’s why the interview appears easy and the decision quick.

Avoid broken interviews

I think those offers came quickly to you simply because you were the right candidate and the typical rigmarole of interviewing wasn’t necessary. The rigmarole is necessary only when the employer has no idea what it wants, whom it’s talking with, or how to assess the candidate. The rigmarole signals the interview is broken from the start and that you’ll likely be wasting your time — and so’s the employer.

A broken interview is marked by a canned, indirect assessment process that, almost by definition, isn’t going to yield any helpful insights about the candidate. It consists of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions, and it’s about everything except how you would do the work.

As you already recognize, that kind of rote assessment feels very painful and awkward. It’s not a meeting of professional minds or a discussion about the work. It’s an interrogation. The process stretches out mercilessly because the employer never did the legwork. When employers rely on such canned, indirect assessment methods, they feel they can justify hauling in dozens of candidates they know virtually nothing about. “The assessment tool will reveal the best candidates for us!”

No, it won’t. It’s a waste of time. The interview is broken.

Good managers help candidates get hired

This is why fewer candidates are better than lots. Any employer that’s working through a big stack of resumes and applicants likely isn’t sure what it really wants, and is searching in the wrong places and sizing up mostly wrong candidates.

Those interview questions that seem to get you hired quickly seem easy because the employer picked a candidate that can answer them. Why interview anyone else?

This is why I teach hiring managers to talk with a candidate’s professional cohort in advance (while respecting privacy, of course). Then I suggest managers contact their carefully selected candidates and coach them prior to interviews — just like they coach their employees on how to do a project at work. The manager has to want the person to succeed! Only worthy candidates will take the coaching. (See also, Handouts: What information should employers give to job candidates prior to interviews?)

What this means is, employers should not interview anyone that they’re not already excited about hiring.

The match is made in advance

The insights you’ve shared may seem trivial. (“I get hired when the interviews are quick and easy!”) But your insights are profound. Let’s go back to our two questions:

  • Why did the employer choose this candidate?
  • Why did the candidate choose the company?

If the answer isn’t, “We already know this person and job are a great match!”, then the interview will likely go south because someone didn’t do the necessary legwork. The job interview should be a chance to confirm a match, but a good match should be made in advance. When employers and candidates do the hard work of matching in advance, interviews seem easy and job offers are made quickly.

Do your interview and job-offer experiences mirror this reader’s? What’s the early mark of an interview that will yield a hire? What tips you off that an interview will go nowhere? Whether you’re a job seeker or a hiring manager, what steps can (or do) you take to help ensure an interview will produce a hire?

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Glassdoor Salary Data: Worse than useless

In the June 5, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we shake up salary negotiations and take down the Glassdoor myth.

Question

glassdoorI know you don’t like Glassdoor’s salary survey data and employer reviews, but what are we supposed to use to base our salary negotiations on? I’m talking about job seekers.

Nick’s Reply

If you’ve ever used Glassdoor salary data to help you negotiate a job offer, did you wonder whether you might have under-sold yourself? According to a report in the June 2018 Wired magazine by Rachel Nuwer, you might have left an additional 69% on the table. (Sorry, this edition of Wired is not yet available online.)

Wired tested samplings of self-reported Glassdoor salaries against Option Impact — a robust database of salaries reported directly by employers — and found glaring discrepancies. Option Impact is published by Advanced-HR for “elite users” — primarily venture capital firms and the tech companies they fund. These startups (and the investors behind them) can’t afford to make mistakes when competing for top talent, so they consent to share up-to-date salary information that Advanced-HR checks regularly.

In other words, unlike Glassdoor, which makes money off its data whether it’s accurate or not, Advanced-HR has a reputation to protect among VCs and the startups they run, and among the consultants and lawyers who serve them.

QA Engineer with 1 to 3 years’ experience

Option Impact: $101,955 (+43%)
Glassdoor: $71,004

Nuwer cites the example of a software engineer who got access to the database with his previous employer’s login. “Steve” turned down a handsome job offer of $180,000 that he says he would have gladly accepted — had he not learned from Option Impact that the reported market salary for that job was a lot higher. “His eventual starting salary: $205,000.”

The Glassdoor myth

I’m forever astonished at how easily people rationalize irrational behavior. Job seekers generally acknowledge that salary data and employer reviews on the popular Glassdoor website are biased and often phony. (See Can I trust Glassdoor reviews?) The salaries are questionable at best because they are self-reported. The web is rife with stories about HR managers and employers posting fake reviews to “balance” spiteful reviews from disgruntled employees.

Data Scientist with 4 to 6 years’ experience

Option Impact: $132,536 (+3%)
Glassdoor: $129,118

Yet I hear this all the time: “Well, I know all that, but you can still get a good idea about a company and what it pays by looking through all the information.”

No, you can’t.

Glassdoor admits it publishes, uh, crap

If you know some of the data are invalid but don’t know which, then it’s imprudent to trust any of it. Yet job seekers and employers peg their salary negotiations to anonymous Glassdoor “salary data” as if it’s a gold standard.

Glassdoor itself is clear in its Terms of Use that it doesn’t stand by anything posted by users or employers — that is, all its salary and company reviews:

“Because we do not control such Content, you understand and agree that: (1) we are not responsible for, and do not endorse, any such Content, including advertising and information about third-party products and services, job ads, or the employer, interview and salary-related information provided by other users; (2) we make no guarantees about the accuracy, currency, suitability, reliability or quality of the information in such Content; and (3) we assume no responsibility for unintended, objectionable, inaccurate, misleading, or unlawful Content made available by users, advertisers, and third parties.”

Sheesh. “Information” on Glassdoor is a myth. “Information” on Glassdoor is crap. What’s stupefying is that the company manages to survive and prosper by selling disclaimed “content” to suckers.

Glassdoor Salary Data: Worse than useless

The Wired report provides evidence suggesting Glassdoor’s salary data are worse than useless. The data are dangerous because they can actually cost you salary dollars when you decide how much to ask for. The job you’re negotiating for might be worth much more than the salary Glassdoor is “not responsible” for telling you it is.

Project Manager with 4 to 6 years’ experience

Option Impact: $137,000 (+66%)
Glassdoor: $82,403

Wired reports that the company behind Option Impact, Advanced-HR, doesn’t compile its salary data from employees who report it themselves — possibly fudging it. Advanced-HR gets it from the employers themselves.

“Companies share their employees’ anonymized salaries in exchange for access to the vault, which is searchable by job title, location, company size, revenue, and funding stage.”

Why would a company tell the truth about what it pays? Probably because Option Impact is an exclusive club and because these companies know venture capital (VC) firms rely on the data.

(Of course, not every job and industry is going to be in any salary database, including Option Impact, and all the general criticisms of survey data apply, including, Are we talking about the exact same jobs? I’m not suggesting Option Impact is the answer — just that it’s a fatal counter-example to Glassdoor’s swill pot of whatever anyone wants to pour into it. Advanced-HR demonstrates that there are other ways to do this.)

How can you get access to Option Impact?

Unless you’ve got access to some venture investment firm’s login, you’re not going to have access to the data that enabled Steve to get a 23% higher salary than he might have without Option Impact data at his finger tips.

Designer with 4 to 6 years’ experience

Option Impact: $126,125 (+69%)
Glassdoor: $74,591

So what’s my point, if you can’t get this data? It’s that if you trust your salary negotiations to salary data that you know is self-reported, unverified, untrusted, disclaimed and admittedly inaccurate (Thanks for the full disclosure, Glassdoor), you may be hurting yourself.

How can you get access to higher job offers?

Forget about getting your hands on valid salary data. It’s probably not going to happen. You’re not a VC or the CEO of a tech startup, and you probably can’t afford such exclusive insider data.

Instead, focus on the red meat of any job interview — be ready to show a hiring manager how you’re going to help drop additional profit to the bottom line if you get hired. Then you can ask for more money.

That’s a tall order, and there’s no short-cut. It’s why we’ve been talking about how to do it across hundreds of these Q&A columns. For example:

When a salary data vendor tells you it does not control the inaccurate, misleading information that it denies responsibility for, listen.

How do you know how much a job is worth? Does it really matter if you know how much you want? Do you use Glassdoor? How much would you pay for access to accurate salary data? What’s the secret to cracking the code of getting paid what a job is worth?

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You can’t recruit for competitive advantage if everybody’s got the same algorithm

In the May 29, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a look at how companies recruit the same and why it’s unwise.

Question

recruit

I run a sizable company. Like our competitors, we’re finding it difficult to recruit the people we need to grow our business. We all talk about competitive advantage being the crucial factor, and I’ve always believed a company’s competitive advantage comes from its people. But it’s easier said than done to find people with the skills we need. My vice president of HR gave me some of your articles and I find what you say troubling, that the tools we’re using to find talent are leading us astray. It’s easy enough for a headhunter to say that. Can you back up your claims that we’re doing it wrong?

Nick’s Reply

When I do presentations for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs at schools like UCLA, Wharton, Cornell, and Northwestern, I always take the opportunity to ask one of my favorite questions: How do you actually recruit the people you need to hire?

The managers in the audience — who are investing a lot of money to learn how to leverage talent into profits — almost always answer like this: “We create detailed job descriptions and post them, or we use headhunters.”

Then I make them nervous and ask why they pay a headhunter $30,000 to fill a $120,000 position, if they can just post jobs for five bucks apiece.

“Well, sometimes we need help.”

And how many candidates does the headhunter deliver?

“Usually four or five.”

Algorithms don’t recruit

Now I’ve got them. But I’m not trying to sell them headhunting services. I want them to realize that one recruiting method delivers just a handful of good candidates, while the other — automated, algorithmic recruiting — turns on a fire hose of applicants that all their competitors are looking at, too.

Why don’t they go off the beaten track and use a competitive recruiting advantage? I suggest that they should invest the time—personally—to go out into their professional communities and recruit as few candidates as possible, but make sure they’re all the right ones. (See Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit.)

Their answer is embarrassing, and it usually goes like this:

“That’s incredibly time intensive! We have this model: We post a job description, and we get 2,000 applicants. But you want us to risk everything—all this time and effort—on four or five applicants? What about the other 1,995 applicants? What do we do with them?”

“You take a pass,” says Gilman Louie, a venture investor who rejects mass recruiting methods. And I think he’s absolutely right. Don’t listen to me. Listen to him.

What a VC knows about hiring

Gilman Louie is a founder of Silicon Valley VC (venture capital) firm Alsop Louie Partners, which invests in sectors including security and privacy, data and analytics, consumer products and services, and education technologies. In the 1980s Louie licensed the blockbuster video game Tetris from its developers in the Soviet Union. He’s also listed as one of 50 scientific visionaries by Scientific American.

You and your HR department would do well to consider that Louie is probably much more successful at hiring than your company is because he knows how to recruit. He doesn’t rely on LinkedIn, job postings, and the mass recruiting efforts HR departments use.

Employers love to proclaim their goal is to find the unusual, the star, the talent that will lead the organization into the future. So why does virtually every company rely on a recruiting method that’s designed to deliver staggering numbers of “candidates” that are all wrong?

You’re using the same algorithm

Gilman Louie: “Because of the competition for talent, employers are unfortunately using those typical HR filtering systems to put resumes in the right piles and to line up the interviews. The problem with that is, whether you’re an established company or a start-up, everybody has the same algorithm.”

I tested the question I ask EMBA students on Louie: “You can get 2,000 resumes online for about five bucks. Why not just get lots of candidates into HR’s pipeline?”

Louie: “You can’t go through 2,000 candidates! HR processes 2,000 candidates! They don’t look through 2,000 candidates! And at the end of the process, what they get is the same candidate that everybody else running PeopleSoft gets! So where’s your competitive advantage if everybody turns up with the same candidates?”

Eliminate the perfect resumes

You don’t review lots of resumes to find the best candidates?

Louie: “I put a job description out and all this stuff starts flowing in. I lay out those 100 or 1,000 resumes, or those LinkedIn files—and, all the things that everybody has that are the same, I just draw a line through them. What’s left over is what I look at because I’m trying to find the thing that distinguishes one candidate from another candidate. I’m not looking for the perfect resume. The perfect resume is vanilla.”

Louie spends a lot of time in his professional community meeting people. (See The Manager’s #1 Job.) That personal investment in face time yields the best hires for the startups he funds.

Go where your competitors are not looking

For example, Louie teaches MBA classes at Vanderbilt and Stanford Universities. He explains why it’s so important to go out into the wild and recruit in person.

Louie: “I recruited a kid who was a high-school dropout during a presentation we did at MIT. He was clearly different from all the other students. So I went and asked the admissions department about him. They said, when we interviewed him, one of our admission officers recognized the custom bikes the kid made when he lived on the wrong side of the tracks in Glasgow. He said, ‘We need this kid; he’s entrepreneurial! He doesn’t look like any of the other kids. He has a mediocre GPA, doesn’t have straight As, didn’t go to a private school, didn’t have any of the things MIT kids have. The resume popped.’ So he got in because he was different. We hired him, and he’s phenomenal.”

Employers look for their hires on LinkedIn, via job postings, and through the mass recruiting efforts of their HR departments. Louie refers to the kind of thinking that’s behind such hiring methods as too conventional, or “on the line.”

Get off the line

Louie: “The question that Steve Jobs always asked was not about the way the world is going to be, but the way the world should be, based on his point of view, based on his distorted reality. It’s some place off that line. So the trick is to get off the expected path line. It turns out, by the way, if you do the actual analysis, the world never turns out to be on that line. And the reason for that is, all the incentives go to the guy who figures out how to move off that line!”

If that sounds like natural selection—survival of the winner—it is.

Louie: “All the value that you create between the line you are on and the line everybody else is on is yours. When you’re selecting people, you can’t select people who are going to be on that line. You’ve got to select people who are off that line.”

Competency is not competitive advantage

Let’s get back to your question about whether the algorithmic recruiting tools your company uses are leading you astray. Your company’s HR department is not recruiting in some pool of rarefied talent, like Gilman Louie does when he sits in on a seminar comprising unusual participants. (See Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

Your HR department is drowning in the same rush of job applicants fed through the same fire hose every other HR department subscribes to — Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, Taleo, and a raft of other undifferentiated keyword-matching systems. Worst of all, you’re paying dearly for their services.

Louie: “Here’s the problem with the algorithms. The algorithms are all looking for the same. Everybody is fighting for a handful of talent that the algorithm brings up. This jacks up the price, and it communicates that employees are kind of fungible. Employees are not fungible. I’m not saying those tools aren’t helpful. They will get you to competency. But competency is not competitive advantage. Competitive advantage is finding the unusual that everybody else missed.”

It’s personal

Gilman Louie makes it very simple when I ask him to summarize how he hires for competitive advantage.

You just told us three crucial things. One, you recruit by watching people in their native habitat. Two, you find people others missed. Three, you don’t rely on resumes, you go ask someone.

Louie: “Exactly.”

None of those steps have anything to do with traditional or automated recruiting.

Louie: “You’ve got to get there, and it’s personal. And personal is not digital.”

(Gilman Louie’s comments are from a discussion I had with him a few years ago while working on another project. If I thought he was prescient about “digital recruiting” back then, now I think Gilman’s advice is timeless wisdom.)

What does this venture investor’s advice about hiring tell us about the state of recruiting in today’s economy? Can these methods work in normal company settings? If you’re an employer — a hiring manager or an HR exec — can you “get off the line?” How can you put these ideas to work if you’re a job hunter?

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You can’t CLICK to change careers

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

Question

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

You can’t click to change careers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first step to a new career

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

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

Start doing the hard work now.

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

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

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

Get hired for the skills you’ve got

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

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

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

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

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

Education is good, if it’s right

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

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

Before you buy credentials, certifications and education:

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

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

Change Careers: Navigate a new path

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

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

So, decide whether you really want that new career.

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

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

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

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Natural Networking: An End to Stupid Networking

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

Question

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

networkingAn example of natural networking

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

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

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

Playing games together

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

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

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

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

Camaraderie with benefits

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

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

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

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

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

Rolling the dice with friends

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

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

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

An end to stupid networking?

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

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

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5 rules to test for the best job opportunities

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

Job applicants worry

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

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

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

Not much.

Questions about job opportunities

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

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

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

Who’s worth working for?

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

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

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

Rules for applying

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

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

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

Serious employers recognize serious job applicants

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

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

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

Don’t be afraid to test job opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview ON: How to interview for 1,500 jobs

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

Question

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

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

Nick’s Reply

interview

Interview ON.

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

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

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

Your job-hunting avatar does your interview

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

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

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

How Hank works for you

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

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

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

Hank talks

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

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

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

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

Accuracy is good enough

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

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

Saves time and frustration

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

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

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

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

Will employers interview Hank?

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

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

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

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

Do I have your attention?

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

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

robotHank’s evil sister

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

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

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

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

Hey, HR!

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

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

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

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

Shame.

Hey, Boards of Directors

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

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

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

How do we point out the real problem with hiring?

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

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

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

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

Interview: ON.

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

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We need to know your salary because —

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

Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

What’s the value?

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

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

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

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

You can just say NO to demands for salary information

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

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

Gender-mandering the salary issue

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

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

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

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

The Court issues a general rule about prior salary

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

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

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

HR’s salary game

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

“We need to know your salary because…”

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

You’ve heard the lines:

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

What excuses have you heard?

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

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

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

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

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

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