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The Q&A

Just how stupid is Google about interviewing?

So I get back from a week-long trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and find a slew of e-mails from readers who wanted to share a link to this hilarious article in The Atlantic:

Google Finally Admits That Its Infamous Brainteasers Were Completely Useless for Hiring

google_arrowAnd every Ask The Headhunter reader who sent me the link offered a sarcastic remark on Google’s notorious practice of asking interview questions like this one:

How many golf balls will fit into a school bus?

Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of “people operations” at Google is quoted in the article:

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time… They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

Well, anyone who reads Ask The Headhunter already knew that.

But in career circles, Google’s idiotic practice was of course lauded and marked as state-of-the-art interviewing technology. The emperor’s imaginary clothes were beyond reproach because, after all, it’s Google.

This revelation wouldn’t even be worth noting if not for Bock’s explanation of what Google does today in job interviews:

Bock says Google now relies on more quotidian means of interviewing prospective employees, such as standardizing interviews so that candidates can be assessed consistently, and “behavioral interviewing,” such as asking people to describe a time they solved a difficult problem.

In other words, Google’s personnel jockeys are using the same goofy “techniques” loads of other personnel jockeys use:

Standardized interviews
A list of canned questions designed to make sure everyone is inteviewed fairly and without discrimination.

Yo, Google: The point is to find the candidate who has an unfair advantage over every other candidate because they’re the best candidate — and you can’t assess that by making sure you ask every putz who shows up the very same questions. (Imagine trying that with the next five people you go on a date with.) The point in a job interview is to discriminate! To discriminate means to identify key differences and to carefully select the person that stands out as different from the rest and best suited to your needs. “Standardized inteviews” tie a manager’s hands and turn interviews into a meatgrinder.

Behavioral interviewing
This is a tried and dopey interview technique that HR consultants invented to justify their sorry existence and bloated fees. It’s named after what’s missing in the method entirely: behavior. That’s right: There is no behavior in the behavioral inteview. It’s all talk. These interviews are about what you did last year, two years ago, or sometime in your life:

So, the last three women I dated really liked me, and I bought them flowers now and then, and took them out for dinner, and listened to them tell me their problems. I’m a great guy. You can ask them. So, will you marry me?

What you did last year is not a good reason for hiring or marrying (or even dating) you. How you solved a problem two years ago tells us nothing about how you’ll tackle the specific problems and challenges a specific manager at Google is facing today. Not any more than being able to guess at what you might charge to wash all the windows in San Francisco.

Yo, Google: Ask each candidate to show you how he or she would do this job today, tomorrow, next week, next month, this year! Put them in front of the work and let them show you.

Google’s admission is no surprise. Managers who interviewed using goofy questions like, “How many barbers are there in Chicago?” were basically saying, “Search me!” about who was worth hiring. Trouble is, they’re still saying, “Search me!” when they use canned personnel jockey questions to figure out who can do the work.

Or, they could just put on one of those “arrow through the head” props and ask job applicants how they think it got there. Seems to me Google is still pretty stupid about inteviewing.

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Am I unwise to accept their first offer?

In the June 18, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter worries about asking for more money:

My dream position with my dream company has just come through! The offer is good — a bit lower than I would have liked, but very good. My question is this: Do I even bother haggling over a couple thousand dollars?

I read somewhere that you should always go through at least one round of salary negotiations and that the employer actually expects it. I think I have a very good chance of getting what I ask for (especially because it’s such a small amount), but I don’t want to risk coming off as ungracious or rude.

Truly, if they don’t budge an inch, I’m still taking the job. Is it worth negotiating, or should I just accept?

Nick’s Reply

you_are_hiredI believe in enjoying happiness and not worrying whether other people think you’ve been given enough of it. Who cares what others say about “one round of salary negotiations?” If you’re happy with the offer, accept it and thank the company.

Some companies make their offer, and that’s it — they won’t budge. This company might be willing to negotiate, but you must consider what happens if they don’t. If they balk at the extra two grand, then you’re going to look weak coming back and saying, “Well, okay, then I’ll take what you offered anyway.” It says something about your request: You couldn’t justify it. And what does that say about your credibility? Remember: You’re going to work with these people. How you handle negotiations can affect how they will view you — and treat you — once you’re on board.

If the extra money really means a lot to you, then go for it. Here’s an example of how I might approach it:

How to Say It

“I believe I’m worth $2,000 more than you’re offering. But please don’t misunderstand. This is not a large difference, and I have already decided I want this job. To show you my good faith, I’ll accept your offer as is. But I’d like to respectfully ask you to consider raising it by $2,000. There are three reasons why I believe I’m worth it… But either way, I’m ready to start work in two weeks.”

It’s your judgment call. If you try this, you’d better be ready to prove your added value. By making a commitment to the company first, you establish a level of credibility that goes beyond any negotiating position.

(Some people have a hard time thinking and talking about what salary they’re looking for. This may help: How to decide how much you want. You can’t negotiate or interview effectively unless you have an objective.)

Remember that the ultimate goal of negotiating a job is not to get every last dollar you can. It’s to set the groundwork for the best possible work relationship — which is not limited to money — for the long term. That’s why it might be better to accept an offer that you’re clearly pretty happy with, and plan for how you could get that extra couple thousand as part of your first raise when you have your first review.

Congratulations on winning a good offer for a job you really want. I hope all goes well!


An expanded version of this Q&A appears in

Fearless Job Hunting | Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers

Be ready to deal with:
 Rescinded offers, non-competes, salary surveys, counter-offers, vacation time,
Bait-and-switch, oral vs. written offers, requests for old pay stubs


Post your comments!

Do you rely on a resume to get you in the door? Does it work? What do you think makes a hiring manager invite you for an interview?

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How (not) to use a resume

In the June 11, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants a resume template:

I need a template for a two-page resume that will help me get in the door at a company I want to approach. Can you help?

Nick’s Reply

Resumes are a weak, passive way to get in the door (or to represent yourself). Using a template or any kind of boilerplate to demonstrate your value to a company is the worst thing you can do to yourself when job hunting.

resume_packageYou’re supposed to be uniquely qualified so the company will choose you instead of some cookie-cutter drone — right? Do you really want a “template?”

But you asked, so if you insist on distracting yourself with resumes, I’m going to offer you my suggestions. If you’re going to use a resume, here are two things to think about. Understanding these points might help you see the distinction between the resume itself, and what’s behind a truly effective resume. (In the end, this distinction should reveal to you why you don’t really need a resume.)

Talk first.

First, have a substantive discussion with the person you plan to give your resume to. That is, the manager must already know you and you must know the specific needs of the manager. So, the person you give the resume to should be the hiring authority in the company you want to work for — not someone in HR and not some unknown contact. Your initial personal contact with the manager prepares you to produce a relevant resume. (Does that sound backwards? It’s not. Read on.)

Tailor to fit.

Second, the resume should accomplish one thing: Show how you’re going to solve that manager’s problems. That’s a tall order. (I’ll bet you’ve never seen a resume that does that. Few managers have, either. That’s why most of the hires they make come from truly substantive personal contacts.)

The resume needs to be tailored to the specific employer and job. That’s why job hunting isn’t easy — and it’s why you need contact with the employer first. Obviously, we’re no longer talking about resumes as a “marketing tool” but as a tool to prove you can do a specific job. This essentially voids your question and puts us into a different ball game. I never said I’d support the mindless use of a resume; just that I’d give you my suggestions.

Tailor to fit exactly.

When you write the resume, sit down and describe as best you can how you’re going to help that specific employer, and do your best to provide proof that you can pull it off. That’s hard to do in writing. There is no boilerplate (or template) that’s good enough, because every person and every employer and every job is unique. Writing such a resume is hard work, and there’s no way around it. If it were easy, every resume would produce an interview, but we know that doesn’t happen. (Have I talked you out of it yet? Maybe I’ve talked you into a whole new way of looking at job hunting without resumes.)

A resume can’t answer questions (especially if it’s muffled under the weight of 5,000 other resumes sitting on top of it). And a smart manager will be full of questions. This is why I don’t like resumes as a job hunting tool. (See The truth about resumes.) I’d rather go straight to the hiring manager and have a talk with him — but only after I’ve done my research so I can demonstrate how I’m going to bring profit to his bottom line.

The magic words are not in a resume.

How does anyone get to that manager? Well, it’s sort of a Zen thing. You can’t approach the manager until you have something useful to say to him. Heck, you don’t even know who he is. So do all the necessary homework. Talk to people who know the industry, the company, its business, the department, and other employees. FJH-3Follow this trail to talk to people who know the manager. You’ll learn a lot. And that’s how you’ll identify and meet the manager, too — through people he knows. The big bonus: After all these dialogues, you’ll know a lot about the manager’s business, and you will actually have something to say that he will be eager to hear.

Where does a resume fit into that? Why waste your time trying to figure it out? Why submit a resume when the research you must do will put you in front of the hiring manager?

Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition) is one of my 9 new Fearless Job Hunting books. It’ll take you where no resume can and get you there in person.

Do you rely on a resume to get you in the door? Does it work? What do you think makes a hiring manager invite you for an interview?

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Fearless Job Hunting: How to start a job search (+ 9 new books!)

In the June 4, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about the nagging fear that “the system” will blow up in his face:

I follow all the proper steps throughout my job search, and inevitably I hit a snag that I don’t expect. Getting a job is portrayed as this system everybody follows — employers, job hunters, personnel people, recruiters. But the truth is, even if I do what I’m supposed to do, it just blows up in my face.

I do my part, but employers drop the ball. It seems the salary range fits me, but then I find out it doesn’t. I’m ready to answer all the questions they could possibly ask about the job, and they throw me some stupid curveball! At the end of the interview, they promise an answer next week, but next month they’re still not returning my calls.

No matter how prepared I think I am, there’s this nagging fear that around the next corner is yet another surprise that’s going to blow up in my face. How is anyone supposed to use this system to get a job?

Nick’s Reply

BIG-FJH-PKGI’ve been burning the midnight oil, working on Fearless Job Hunting, a brand new set of 9 PDF books — the very best myth-busting answers from 12 years’ worth of ATH newsletters. But it’s not just reprints of Q&As.

I’ve re-written, edited, enhanced, and beefed up each Q&A. I’ve added sidebars, articles, and extra examples. I’ve created How to Say It tips. Each book delivers my very best insight and advice on the 9 toughest topics you keep asking about. So let’s get on with this week’s Q&A — and then I’ll explain how Fearless Job Hunting will help you ovecome the daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks.

I’ve been saving your question for this special edition of the newsletter, because there’s no simple answer to it. The solution starts with an attitude and a strategy for landing the job you want — but it’s not in this week’s newsletter. Please click here for my advice about How to start a job search.

What you will find is a sample section from one of my 9 new PDF books in the Fearless Job Hunting series — Book One: Jump-Start Your Job Search. I hope this sample — How to start a job search — helps you orient your job search so you can stop fearing those curveballs.

Fearless Job Hunting™

I’ve published almost 500 editions of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, and I get lots of requests for reprints of old editions about the toughest job hunting obstacles.

My goal with these 9 new PDF books is to make you a fearless job hunter — I’d like to give you an edge, and help you anticipate and overcome the intimidating roadblocks when you’re trying to land a job, so you can stand out as the most profitable hire. (Here’s a list of the titles of each of the 9 new books.)

The question in today’s newsletter merely highlights what troubles job hunters: The broken-down employment system that every day fails employers and job hunters alike.

Success in job hunting isn’t about chasing job postings, sending resumes, and filling out endless online application forms. If any of it worked, you’d have the job you want. It’s not a step-by-step “process” for landing a job. There is no such process that works! If you’ve been participating on Ask The Headhunter, you know exactly what I mean, because it’s what we discuss every week!

In the real world, “the steps” lead to failure when you encounter daunting obstacles — the inevitable obstructions that trip you up. Either you know what to do to overcome them, or you lose.

The 9 Fearless Job Hunting books help you deal head-on with what drives you crazy. They deliver hard-core answers to the in-your-face questions no one else dares to address. Success in job hunting is about knowing what to do when you hit the wall:

A personnel manager rejects you.
Should you walk away? (Book Four)

You’re unemployed.
How do you explain it? (Book One)

A friend gives you a contact.
How do you make it pay off? (Book Three)

An employer wants your salary history.
How do you say NO to protect your ability to negotiate? (Book Seven)

It’s between you and Candidate #1.
How do you show that you’re the more profitable hire? (Book Six)

You received an offer, but a better one is pending. The first employer wants an answer now.
How do you keep your options open? (Book Nine)

The interview went well, but they’re not calling back.
What now? (Book Eight)

How you cope with these obstacles will make or break your job search, no matter how good your resume is, how clever your interview answers are, or how many jobs you’ve applied for. Learn how to be more assertive and how to maintain control in today’s insane job market.

Be fearless. Dive into your job search armed with myth-busting methods to deal with the most daunting obstacles. Get the Ask The Headhunter edge, and say hello to total control over your job search.

Think about the handful of “hit the wall” challenges I’ve listed above. Then please share your experiences: How have you dealt with one or more of them? Let’s compare your methods with some of the tips I’ll discuss from the 9 new Fearless Job Hunting books. And don’t miss the sample section of Jump-Start Your Job Search!

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Fearleass Job Hunting™ is a trademark of Nick Corcodilos.

How should I quit this job?

In the May 21, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant invests more than eight hours in interviews and asks why the employer acts like her time is free:

I currently work for a tiny family-run office and have just gotten a job offer elsewhere. It’s an offer I cannot refuse. I am feeling guilty because they have trained me and I am needed. How much notice should I give and what should be said (what information can be shared)?

I’ve been at this office less than one year, which may or may not make a difference. I would like to remain friendly, but I don’t want to get into a whole big dialogue about where I’m going, why, and so on.

And what about being paid for vacation time earned? Is is reasonable to ask about this?

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations. Some jobs end quickly, while others last years. But changing jobs is no different from a company doing a layoff — it’s business. Don’t make it personal. I admire your desire to keep it on good terms. But the first order of business is to protect yourself while you pull away from your old employer.

leaving-your-jobWe recently discussed a related question, Is it ethical to go on this job interview? Now let’s talk about how to quit when you feel kind of uncomfortable about it.

I’d ask HR about the vacation pay, but first I’d check with your state’s department of labor. Find out what your state requires of the employer.

I think offering two weeks’ notice is the right thing to do. Some companies want only one, some just want to make sure you train someone to do your job — or just that they know where your work flow is so nothing gets dropped. Some employers will walk you out the door immediately and ship your belongings to you later. So be careful. It might be best to gather what’s yours first, before you resign.

I’d never tell the employer where you are going next, but I’d tell them I’d be glad to share that once you are settled at your new job.

How to Say It: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to disclose my new employer until I’m actually working there.”

Some people quit a job without another to go to.

How to Say It: “I’m still considering where I’m going to take my next job. I’d be happy to call and tell you after I decide.”

That makes it easier. You don’t owe anyone the information. All you owe them is a smooth, friendly, responsible transition so your work flow is not disturbed at the old company. I find that when a departing employee gives that assurance from the start, the parting can be on very businesslike terms.

I wish you the best. Please keep in mind that my advice is based on the scant information you provided. You must use your judgment and decide which of my advice to use in your situation for the best outcome. (Finally, remember to hedge your bet just a little bit because There is no sure thing.)

What’s your best and worst departure story? And what are your tips to this reader?

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Who says 58 year olds can’t get a job?

In the May 14, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tells how he landed a job with more money, more vacation, in short order — at age 58:

I just wanted to tell you that I got a new job. Though I got this job by responding to a posting on LinkedIn, I used some of your methods during the process.

over-50This employer required a personality test, a cognitive test, a panel interview, and a puzzle test. I had to figure out a problem during the panel interview. I also had one extra interview with the vice president. Your typical HR-centric process.

So, what did I do that followed your advice? To be honest, I was a bit upset at the testing process, but this seemed a little useless since it was a requirement and I passed all the tests easily. I decided that I would make a quick package to show how I would do the job.

  • I created an outline of how I would approach the job.
  • I defined a process called a “Business Intelligence Baseline” that I would do on my first weeks on the job.
  • I enclosed a sample of a similar project I had done for another employer.
  • I also included a quick summary of a conference I went to on Big Data, because I knew that this firm was looking to get into Big Data.

I sent it to the VP.

I was offered the job with a slight raise and twice as much vacation time as my previous employer. (I should have gotten your salary book to help me with negotiations!)

Well, I don’t think that is the “it” job. It is the “for now” job.

Now I am going to start doing the process you recommend. I am going to do the networking and the other things you suggest. I like the point you make in How Can I Change Careers? that a person should be doing this all the time. When I need to move on, I will be ready.

To put this all in context, I was laid off from my job on March 22. I contacted these people on April 9, and got a formal offer on April 30. I just want to thank you so much. I will continue to follow you online and via subscription. I am not expecting a response. I just want you to know that on this pass I have been only a fair disciple of your methods. I promise next time I will do better. Thanks again.

Your “only fair” disciple,

Andy Hoyt

PS — September 14 is my 59th birthday!

Nick’s Reply

Your story needs no reply, no advice from me. Just a hearty congratulations! Thanks for sharing it. Readers sometimes ask me for a “template” they can follow to their next job offer. You’re 59 — theoretically almost unemployable. Your template works! (Those looking for more about this, please check The Basics. Also related to Andy’s experience: Don’t miss Erica Klein’s excellent Guest Voices article, Employment Tests: Get an edge. Erica’s article will soon appear in greatly expanded format as a new Ask The Headhunter PDF book. Stay tuned! )

I wish you the best, and I hope you’ll stay in touch to tell us about your next job offer…!

I’d love to hear from job hunters who try an approach similar to Andy’s. The steps closely follow what we discuss on Ask The Headhunter. Andy showed how he’d do the job! Do you know anyone who made a deal like this one happen?

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Job Boards: Take this challenge or F off!

In the May 7, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter gets fed up having to pay to “access” jobs online:

I have been job hunting for three weeks now and each time I come across a job that I would like to apply for, I get directed to a website that demands payment. Can you comment on this in your next newsletter or blog? I want to know how to get around it if possible.

Nick’s Reply

Websites that demand payment for jobs should deliver jobs and paychecks before they bill for sf-off-2ervices — or they should F off.

The only people who charge to match a person to a job are headhunters, and headhunters (at least the real ones) charge only the employer. They never charge job hunters. And they charge only if they actually fill the job. That is, no match, no dough.

Who is charging you for jobs?

If you can find me a website that charges money and guarantees you a job, I’d like to see it. Otherwise, it’s important to understand what you’re paying for, because there’s an entire industry that will take your money (and your personal information, which is worth money) and guarantee you only one thing: database records.

Let’s consider what you’re encountering. If we Google “headhunter,” we get two paid results at the top of the page: One for TheLadders and one for Monster.com. Neither is a headhunting company, so there are no guarantees about putting people into jobs. These are job boards that want lots of personal information before they will even show you a job description. (How many employers demand all your personal information before showing you a real job? And what’s up with Google? TheLadders and Monster are headhunters? Give us an F-ing break, Google!)

TheLadders (which is being sued for running multiple scams) wants money for access to jobs.

When you click on the Monster.com result, Monster thinks you’re an employer and wants money to post a job.

Another result is CareerBuilder which, when you sign up, tries to sell you education at The Art Institutes — before it shows you any jobs. If you want to “make sure employers see your resume,” CareerBuilder wants you to pay for an “upgrade.” Pay enough, and you’ll “triple the number of companies who see your resume posting.” (Are you feeling stupid enough yet? I wonder if those sucker HR executives feel stupid enough yet — after paying for resume searches and getting your resume “FIRST” because you paid to “stand out.”)

You think the much-ballyhooed LinkedIn is any better? Like CareerBuilder, LinkedIn wants hard cash up front to to bump your resume to the top of the database. (Say what? Well, it works just like CareerBuilder, because now LinkedIn is just another job board.)

None of these job boards will guarantee you a job (or, if you are an employer, a new hire) if you pay them.

So here’s my challenge to all the job boards:

TheLadders, Monster.com, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and every other “jobs” service that wants money up front should bill the customer only after the customer starts the job and gets their first paycheck. Job first, pay later.

Otherwise, they should all F off. Because in today’s world, access to databases with jobs in them is worthless. If you pay for access to jobs, you’re a sucker.

So let’s get back to your question:

How can you get around fees for access to jobs?

Here’s the first answer: Deal only with employers. They are the only guys with jobs and the only guys that decide who gets one. (Not even personnel jockeys, or “Human Resources people,” qualify. They don’t decide who gets hired, either, unless the job is in HR.)

Here’s the second answer: Don’t give your personal information to anyone in exchange for “access” to job listings, because your personal information is worth money. Why do you think they want it? They sell it. (Don’t understand what that means? Most of the “job boards” aren’t even job boards. They’re “lead generation” magnets that use phony job listings as bait to get your contact information, Dopey! Then they sell it to anybody willing to pay for it.)

If someone or some website offers to connect you directly to an employer without a fee and without asking for any personal information, well, go for it. Just make sure there’s no catch.

Headhunters can take you to a job, because an employer will pay them for the match. There’s no cost to you. First, learn How to Judge A Headhunter. But remember: Headhunters find people, not jobs. So don’t chase headhunters.

Likewise, when an employer shows you a job on its own website, there’s no cost to you. As soon as somebody asks you for money for access to jobs, you’re being scrubbed up for an unnatural act. Run.

Have you ever used a jobs service that doesn’t ask for money or personal information? (Newspaper want ads are an example — they lead you directly to the employer.) Should you ever pay for a job? Is America’s job market F-ed up, or what?

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Why employers should pay to interview you

In the April 30, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant invests more than eight hours in interviews and asks why the employer acts like her time is free:

The rudeness of employers seems to be pervasive out there. I had interviews with a company recently. The second round involved four finalists meeting 12 employees over eight grueling hours. They said in mid-March that they would make a choice by April 1. I called the HR person on April 7 and got her voice mail. I said I wanted to know their decision based on the timetable she provided and asked her to call me. On April 17, I e-mailed the hiring manager to reinforce my interest and asked if they had made a decision.

The next day the HR manager responded that they hired a candidate who started work the last week of March. She said that a formal notice would be sent to other applicants within the week.

April is over. There’s been no notice. One of the other three finalists told me she heard nothing at all. Are manners and simple courtesy totally dead?

Nick’s Reply

Job applicants appear on time for interviews, devote hours of unpaid professional time to an employer, and then wait patiently for a hiring decision by the promised date. Inevitably, a company ignores its own timeline without any update or comment to the candidates. Why? Because candidates are free.

You could be bold instead of free. Send the HR manager certified mail with a copy to the hiring manager and the CEO of the company: an invoice for your time.

Am I crazy to suggest this? Would you be crazy to actually do it? Imagine the note:

pay-to-playDear [name]:

My time for our first interview was free, as it was an exploratory meeting. You requested more time for the second round of meetings, which I provided at no cost, contingent on your company fulfilling its commitment to respond with a decision by the date you chose, April 1. You ignored my calls, e-mails, and your own deadline, without the courtesy of a notice.

I am thus billing you for the eight hours of my professional time spent in the second round of meetings with your team. As a professional, I would never dream of being irresponsible with the time of my clients, my vendors, or my employer. Time is money. I live by the deadlines I commit to, and I expect others to do the same. Anything less would be irresponsible to our industry and to our profession. None of us could operate with integrity if we ignored our commitments. This is not a joke. I expect payment within 10 days.

Yours truly,

If this seems extreme, why should it? Is there a more polite way to notify a company that it has erred? Sure — but you’ve already done that, several times.

Every day, companies ignore these time commitments with impunity. Why is a deadline for a hiring decision any less important than a deadline to deliver a product to a customer? The company’s ability to meet either deadline establishes its reputation. (See Death By Lethal Reputation.) Yet, while companies worry plenty about dissatisfied customers, they don’t give a thought to what other professionals in their industry will say about them.

A job applicant treated with disrespect can do as much — if not more — damage to a company’s business as a dissatisfied customer. Do employers really think word doesn’t get around?

Maybe hiring managers just assume that their HR departments handle all the necessary niceties with applicants. But, just how accountable are HR departments? Does this company’s public relations department realize that while it’s spending millions on good press, the HR department is scuttling it? If you’re a hiring manager, and you’re not sure how job candidates are treated after they leave your office, please read Respecting The Candidate.

Your HR department might explain that processing applicants, job offers, hires, and rejection letters is cumbersome. Tell that to your customer who cancels the order that’s a month late, or to the prospect who’s waiting for a sales rep to return her call.

The technology to keep candidates informed is here. The will isn’t. Why? Because job candidates don’t cost anything. Companies can get all your professional time they want, for free, without any obligation to you whatsoever.

That’s wrong. Don’t you think it’s time for employers to put some skin in the game, if only because it would make them think twice about the costs they impose on applicants?

What if employers had to pay for job interviews? Should you really send an invoice if an employer ignores its obligation to you?

Good questions. Would it make any difference if you actually sent in that invoice? It might, if you copy the company’s public relations department and three leading industry publications. (Don’t forget to add me to your list.) To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie’s song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” imagine if 50 people a day sent interview invoices to employers. Employers might learn to behave.

You don’t want to ask an employer to pay you for an interview? Then consider Conrado Hinojosa’s provocative The No-Nonsense Interview Agreement instead.

Bad behavior is un-businesslike. I challenge any HR manager to explain why it’s okay to ignore even an implied commitment to a job candidate. If your company shines in this regard, I’d like to hear from you, too. In fact, I’ll gladly highlight your company in an upcoming column.

In the meantime, I think employers should start paying to interview applicants — perhaps then they’d behave the way they expect applicants to behave.

If you could carefully select job candidates for a job at your company, would you pay them to interview with you? What is a candidate’s time worth, anyway? Even if the person is unemployed, if they’re worth interviewing then they’re worth money.

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Is it ethical to go on this job interview?

In the April 23, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a loyal employee wonders whether it’s honest to go to a job interview:

I’m working for a great tech company on the west coast in a job I enjoy, but I was approached by a recruiter from a large company in the midwest for an interesting job. It would be a significant move up in management in a bigger and more well-known company. My concerns are these:

  • I like my colleagues and current employer, so I’d feel bad about leaving this role after being here only a year.
  • There are budget cutbacks and delays in bonuses that worry me a bit.
  • I’m not sure whether there will be layoffs or more austerity in the future.
  • I’m not sure that I want to leave this job and move, or that the new job is any better than the one I have now.

My question is whether it is unethical for me let them fly me in to interview if I don’t feel 100% sure I’d take the job. They approached me and seem to think I’m a good candidate, so they’re moving a bit faster than I’d like.

Nick’s Reply

I admire your integrity, but exploring the unknown doesn’t subject you to a higher ethical standard.

This company is recruiting you. As long as you have a sincere curiosity and interest in exploring what they want you to do, I’d go. When we meet someone and ask them out, we don’t explain, “Well, I’d like to go out with you, but I’m not sure we’d ever get married.” Of course you’re not! The only question is, are you attracted enough that you’d like to get to know one another better?

ethical-choices-signThat’s where pleasant surprises come from.

Keep this big fact in mind: No one has asked you to marry them yet. I mean, no one has made you an offer.

Some companies (and people) move faster than others. Frankly, among employers that’s rare and it’s a good sign. If the new company seems to have good people, a good reputation, and exciting new products in its pipeline, then I think it’s a solid potential employer. But you’ll never know what might stimulate you to take it very seriously unless you show up.

In the end, if they make you an offer, it’s still all up to you. You’ll never figure out what weight to assign to each of your concerns until you have a real choice to make. It’s better to have a new choice than not to. Even if you say no, you can still be friends. And if you say yes, you can still be friends with your old company. Remember: People leave companies, and companies lay off people — it’s called business. How the personal and social sides of it play out is really up to you. And I get the sense you’d make it okay either way.

You might not be sure why you’re interviewing with this company, but I am. Your list of concerns tells me you don’t feel safe. That’s reason enough to explore other gigs, and there’s nothing unethical about it. The Wall Says It’s Time to Go may be a helpful map through your concerns.

What triggers you to consider another job? What stops you? Can you have an honest interview if you’re not sure you want the job?

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New Grads: How to get in the door without experience

In the April 16, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a parent asks how her son, a new college graduate, can get a job when he’s got no experience.  How can he get experience when he can’t get hired? He’s done internships and earned good credentials in school, but keeps losing out to other applicants. How can he get in the door for an interview without experience?

Nick’s Advice

It’s difficult to guess at the problem, partly because I don’t know what your son’s degree is in and what jobs he’s been applying for. But in general, he’s encountering the age discrimination problem: He’s too young!

hire-new-gradIronic, isn’t it? Either older workers are “too experienced” and “over-qualified,” or younger workers lack skills and experience. Here’s what has become very clear to me, and we’ve discussed this in other columns: Employers demand job applicants who have done the exact job before, and who will take less money to do it.

It makes me wonder what Human Resources departments mean by, “Our company offers exciting new opportunities!” — when they offer no new opportunities at all. Why would anyone aspire to a new job doing the exact same thing they’ve been doing for years already? Why would they take a salary cut to do the same old job? (Peter Cappelli at the Wharton School of Management has documented this in his short book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs.)

When you hear the CEO of a corporation proclaim, “People are our most important asset!” it seems what that really means is, “People are a depreciating commodity at our company — and you’re next in line, so take a salary cut to do the same work you did last year!”

Sorry to rant, but I get fed up with companies that pretend they’re offering careers when all they offer is the same old grind. But back to your son: What can he do?

Substitute personal recommendations for experience

New college grads do get jobs, so your son needs to reconsider “How to Start A Job Search.” (Few schools teach effective job hunting to their students.) He should also consider what is an acceptable substitute for experience and skills. I think the most compelling substitute is a personal referral for a job — from someone the employer trusts. This doesn’t mean your son will get hired because he knows someone. It means he may get hired because someone will vouch for his intelligence, for his work ethic, and for his ability to learn a new job quickly. Even a cold-blooded employer realizes it can hire talent at a lower cost if it starts with a new grad who shows promise.

“Promise” is the key, and the lynchpin is the personal referral.

Work backwards

Your son should carefully select the companies he’d like to work for, and then proceed “backwards.” Before applying for any job, figure out who he knows that knows someone at the company. This may require multiple steps — but it’s a time-honored way to get in the door for a first job. He will have to spend time talking with each person along the path, to make them comfortable that he’s worth their recommendation. After all, they’re putting their names on the line for an unknown entity. (Sorry, but a new grad is usually an unknown in the job market.)

Your son should:

  • Contact the alumni office of his school, and identify people who work at his target companies — and then contact them.
  • Talk with parents of former schoolmates — ask for their advice.
  • Ask former professors for introductions to people they know in business and industry.

Then keep talking. Trust is the coin of the realm, and your son must build it if he wants a referral.

Learn to talk shop to get help

In How Can I Change Careers? I offer some tips about “getting in the door” that are perfect for new grads. (After all, shifting from college to the work world is a career change, right?)

Don’t worry if you’re not good at introducing yourself or making cold calls. Write a little script and use it until the words start to come naturally. After a few calls, they will. For example,

“I’ve been considering a move into the widget industry and I want to learn more about it. What books or articles have you found helpful in your work?”

This phone call should have nothing to do with asking for a job. Make it a casual but intelligent discussion with an expert who can educate you. This is a great way to make insider contacts. I know it’s not easy to make such calls, but if you’re asking for advice and insight rather than a job, you’ll find that some people will talk to you for a few minutes. Some may take you under their wing. Why? Because people love to talk about their work with others who are interested. When you demonstrate your willingness to invest time and effort to learn about their business, you’re not likely to be shrugged off as another desperate job hunter.

In short, learn to talk shop!

One problem many new grads have is taking advice from people who might help them. Please see “How to Get Coached.” Don’t waste those new contacts!

We can all cry that this is unfair and that employers should hire more rationally. But there are 27 million people actively looking for work in the U.S. Employers seem to think the perfect worker will come along, so why take a chance? Employers do hire new grads. But with so many new grads looking for work, the personal referral makes a crucial difference.

Are you a new grad looking for a job? What’s standing in your way? What are you doing to overcome the obstacles? Got advice for new grads? Join us in the comments section below!

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