Should I disclose autism on my resume?

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In the August 7, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we discuss what employers need to know about your autism.

Question

My son is a college graduate on the autism spectrum. Should he hint at his disability on his resume? Interviewers are surprised when they first meet him, and the interview goes south.

autismNick’s Reply

This is a tough call. A good answer depends on being able to assess your son’s condition, which I obviously cannot do. But I can offer an example that might help you think about this in a useful way.

A resume “on the spectrum”

A young man approached me after a presentation I did recently and raised the same question. He quietly disclosed that he’s “on the spectrum.” Through conversation I quickly learned that this Millennial is articulate, friendly, smart, self-motivated, a bit nervous but focused. His social skills are good. While I could see evidence of autism, I also saw the kind of enthusiasm and acumen I’d want in a job candidate.

We discussed his work skills in some detail — he’s an accountant — and I learned enough that I’d  recommend him to an employer for a job interview. But you can imagine that if all an employer sees is his resume with a disclosure that he’s autistic, the employer might reject his resume out of hand. (That might be unfair and inappropriate — and possibly illegal — but it’s what happens every day.) And that’s the problem.

A resume — for anyone, not just for a person with a disability — is an insufficient representation of who they are and what they can do. It’s a poor “marketing tool” no matter how well it is written. (See Resume Blasphemy.) I’ll tell you what I say even to top executives with stellar credentials: Your resume cannot defend you.

Your resume cannot defend you

What do I mean by that? Every resume raises more questions and concerns than it can possibly answer. A manager reading a resume thinks thoughts and draws quick conclusions — on average, in just six seconds — that we cannot imagine or anticipate. So, it’s not prudent to trust that dopey document to get us a job interview.

If your son discloses that he’s autistic on his resume, we cannot predict the outcome. An employer might make the worst assumptions and ignore him altogether. Or, they may bring him in so they can check off a box on their Equal Opportunity report, without hiring him. Of course, it could also lead to a hire, if the employer genuinely believes in staffing diversity. It’s hard to guess, and you shouldn’t try.

What your son should do is maximize his chances of getting a job interview by getting referred and recommended by someone the employer trusts.

Personal referrals can recommend and defend you

My guess is there are jobs where your son would perform well, even if he requires some accommodation. (For more information about accommodations, read this report: Employees with Asperger Syndrome.) By getting referred to such employers through a personal connection, disclosure of his autism would be done in a frank but supportive way. In other words, the person making the referral can both endorse your son and defend him when questions about autism arise.

For example, “John is on the autism spectrum, but I can vouch that for the job you’re trying to fill, he’d be great. I give him my personal endorsement.”

That breaks down the wall like no resume can. It eliminates the surprise factor. Someone the employer trusts is disclosing the disability, but in a useful context that emphasizes John can do the work and would make a good employee. Whether a job applicant has a disability or not, this is what any good employer wants to know first and foremost. It’s what leads to job interviews and job offers.

Avoid surprises, avoid rejection

When something on a resume surprises an employer, it often leads to automatic rejection. Likewise, you don’t want an interviewer to be surprised. You want them to know exactly who they’re about to meet — someone that a trusted contact has endorsed and recommended.

For suggestions about how to work with personal referrals, see:

The Preemptive Reference

Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why)

So my advice is, don’t rely on a resume that cannot possibly defend or advocate for your son. Only someone who can personally recommend him can or will do that. I know it’s hard work to line that up, but this is the exact same advice I teach to executives at the top business (MBA) schools including Wharton, Cornell, Northwestern, UCLA, Harvard and Rutgers. No one can afford to rely on a Word document to “get them in the door,” whether they’ve got autism or not.

Get past the obstacles

Please don’t assume that lining up a good personal recommendation is a daunting task. It requires work and effort, but it’s the critical first step toward landing a new job. You might find the suggestions in this article a good start: Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course. It’s helped many people get past all kinds of obstacles.

Discrimination in hiring is illegal. If your son believes an employer has violated the law, he should consult a good employment attorney. But his goal should be to find an employer who’s goal is to hire good workers — and my goal is to offer advice that will help your son get past obstacles that might keep him away from employers who’d love to fill a job with a good applicant.

I wish your son the best.

If you have a disability, how do you manage your job search to avoid bias and rejection? How can this reader use personal referrals to get in the door?

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Job interviews are illegal. What now?

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Ask The Headhunter is usually about Q&A, but we’re going to do something different this week. We’re going to eliminate job interviews.

job interviewsI could write this column forever and not run out of material because you give me tons of great questions about job hunting and hiring, and each week I give you advice. But I have no delusion that it’s the best advice because the best advice surfaces in the discussions we have every week about whatever topic we’re covering.

You test everything I tell you, and that’s why I love doing Ask The Headhunter. But I’m going to suggest that you boldly start testing employers and the entire employment system that governs job hunting and hiring.

Question the employment system

What we do here every week is no-holds-barred evaluation and critique of whatever column we’re discussing. I like to think that’s what you come here for — for the candid, honest, respectful dialogue. I don’t think any other online public forum dares to do this.

So it occurred to me, why can’t you test the assumptions and methods employers use to match people to jobs?

  • Why can’t you question the entire recruiting, interviewing and hiring process they subject you to?
  • Why do employers dictate how this is done?
  • Why are there no serious debates about the underpinnings of the employment system that employers and job seekers alike complain doesn’t deliver enough good matches — sometimes no matches at all?

That’s the Question of this edition: What should be done to dramatically change the employment system?

I want to hear about, and discuss, your ideas — because the employment system needs a major overhaul.

What if the employment system were illegal?

To motivate your thinking, I’ll propose a scenario: Resumes, job postings and job interviews are now illegal. They’re off limits.

The iconic emblems of our employment system have been vaporized by fiat. (Just like HR departments vaporize your job applications.) Employers and job seekers cannot use the machine any more — the machine that builds and sells shopping lists of your credentials and skills, that catalogs the “requirements” of jobs (as if jobs remain static once they are filled!), and that regulates the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions that managers rely on to predict whether you can do a job.

In a world where vacant jobs supposedly outnumber unemployed people, where job seekers ghost the employers that used to ghost them (Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m), and where none of 10,000 applicants have the necessary education, skills and experience to do an advertised job — we must figure out all over again, How should employers find and hire people?

Has Nick cracked up?

If this sounds like a fool’s errand, a waste of time, or a silly exercise that will change nothing, consider this example.

Several years ago I delivered the keynote at a conference of the National Resume Writers Association. (Yep — they hired a guy who says not to use resumes to give a speech to people who make their money writing resumes.)  In the middle of my talk, I gave over 200 professional resume writers this exercise:

“Break yourselves up into groups of five. You have ten minutes to figure this out. What if resumes were illegal starting today? What would you sell to your clients instead?”

A few in the audience were visibly upset that they were paying to hear a guy tell them resumes were bad. They thought their association president must have cracked up — or that I was cracked for suggesting they stop selling resumes!

The rest of the audience lit up and went to work. They came up with some great ideas.

My favorite: One team suggested a new business model for themselves. They’d organize coffee hours or cocktail parties for groups of their job-seeking clients with hiring managers “to get them out of their business environment and bring them together in a social environment to loosen up a little and talk about their work.”

This group figured people might pay for a service like that. Done right, I think people would.

If a hall full of resume writers can smash their business model, surely we can upend the employment system and come up with good ideas to replace it.

Would you like to audition?

I’ll give you another example of startling ingenuity applied to fixing the employment system. In a comment he posted to a recent column (Weird Tales of Job Offers: The new hire who disappeared), reader Tim Cunningham suggested nobody should take a job without a no-fault audition.

“An employer and employee should have a short opportunity to judge the fit of the new situation for both parties with minimal risk. Just make a one-week mutual audition a part of the job offer.”

That is, an employer shouldn’t hire anyone, and no one should quit (or give notice at) their old job to take a new one, until both have had a try-out. Imagine how profoundly that would change things.

Job interviews are illegal

This is your chance to burn down the house and design a new one. And don’t feel guilty about it. None other than Laszlo Bock, the head of Human Resources at Google, told the New York Times that his company ran a big data analysis:

“We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess…”

Job interviews really should be illegal because Bock says they’re worthless as predictors of job success. Google announced this in 2013, and HR is still paying LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter and Indeed to schedule — what do we call them? — job interviews?

So please have at it, folks. Job interviews (and resumes and job postings) are illegal. So, what now?

  • What’s the smartest thing to do to get paid for doing work?
  • What should a manager do to get work done?
  • Do people and work have to be “found?”
  • How should we decide whether it’s a good idea to work together — and that it’s going to pay off?
  • What’s the best way to assess a person’s fit to a job? Does that even really matter?
  • If, as Tim Cunningham suggests, we should do auditions, how would that work?
  • If, as the resume writers suggested, there’s a better way for employers and the talent to dispense with the formalities and get to know one another — what is it?

What should be done to dramatically change the employment system? All comers are welcome: Big ideas, little ideas, seemingly crazy ideas, and especially ideas that work better than the system that doesn’t.

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How should I ask for an overdue raise?

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In the July 24, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a high-performing reader is looking for a raise.

Question

raiseNext month I’ll have my three-year performance evaluation, and I feel that I am worth more than my current salary. How do I convey the message that my job is worth more and ask for more money?

As my company has grown, so have my responsibilities. I’ve really stepped up to the plate. I’ve earned recognition, but it’s not reflected in my pay. Through discussion with peers in the industry, I have learned that the average salary is much higher. Could you please advise me how to approach my boss during the evaluation, so I can convince him my request is justified? What should I say and not say? Thank you kindly in advance.

Nick’s Reply

There are entire books written about this topic, and compensation experts will offer negotiating strategies galore. But I’m going to refrain from a long lecture, because I think you can figure this out yourself if you keep some basic ideas in mind.

No more boring performance reviews

What you should not do is walk into a review meeting, show some salary surveys, and expect your employer to cough up more money “because that’s what other people who do my job are being paid.” You must justify what you’re asking for.

Perhaps more important, performance evaluations and reviews are the bastard children of Human Resources. They are increasingly ignored in most companies. This is actually good news for you. If you’re going to have an evaluation at all, it will likely be very canned and scripted — and the manager doing it will be bored and in a rush to get it over with.

That’s your chance to take control and turn it into a useful, meaningful and engaging planning session. No more boring reviews! Stand out by showing your boss that you are 100% focused on doing your job — to make him and the company more successful.

Earn a raise with a business plan

A salary renegotiation is pretty simple conceptually: It’s best done with a business plan. In other words, do an analysis of your role as though your job constitutes an independent business. Don’t talk about your qualities or about what others are being paid. Talk about your company’s business and what you add to the bottom line — and what you will add in the future.

  • How do you contribute to revenue?
  • What does it cost to have you do what you do? (This includes not only your compensation and benefits, but the cost of your tools, the cost of your team and support personnel who help you, and so on.)
  • What’s your history in terms of the profitability you bring to the company? (That’s right: Your contribution to revenue matters, but how you impact profits matters more. Even if you can’t calculate a specific number, you need to outline a defensible case that goes into the profit factors you influence.)
  • What are your profit projections for the next two to three years? That is, make some projections of how you will contribute to profit. You’ll need solid evidence to back these estimates up.

Every job is a business

A job is a business. Managers forget that — so explain it to yours. That’s the key to thinking about this in terms your management will understand and respect. As in any business plan, your goal is to demonstrate how an added investment will pay off. You must show a rising return on the company’s investment in you.

To learn more about how to approach any employer with a business plan, check these two books in the Fearless Job Hunting collection:

Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire and Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).

See especially the sections “How can I demonstrate my value?” and “The Pool Man Strategy: How to ask for more money.”

The longer you’re working for the company, the more profit you should yield. A lot of this is number crunching, of course, and there’s seat-of-the-pants estimating involved.

Please read that last part again: There’s seat-of-the-pants estimating involved.

Negotiation is a dialogue

This will scare a lot of people off for fear their employer will challenge the estimates. That’s exactly what you want! A dialogue. A debate. A roll-up-your-sleeves talk about your job! That’s what your evaluation should be.

If your boss is worth working for, then your boss will see that you are worth a good raise because you’re thinking about the company’s bottom line and that you are prepared to discuss the future of your work intelligently.

It will help enormously for you to interview people in the company who factor into this plan — before you meet with your boss. In the process, you will not only build your case, you will also influence (and remind) other key players in the company about your worth. Then ask them to join the dialogue by putting in a good word for you with your boss!

How do you ask for a raise? Have you had a performance evaluation in the past year?

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Weird Tales of Job Offers: The new hire who disappeared

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In the July 17, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an employer tells about a disappearing employee and we share stories about job offers.

Question

I’ll bet you have some interesting job-offer stories. Here’s one I’d like to share.

job offersWe had a candidate go through the interview process and the offer cycle at our company. He took a position for a week, then returned to his other job. He never gave notice to his other employer, just took vacation time. After working the week, he didn’t return. It took a couple of days to track him down at his old work number. Is this common?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think it’s very common simply because it’s the stuff bad reputations and terrible references are made of. Disappearing from a new job reveals a profound lack of self-confidence on the part of the candidate (not to mention integrity). This is a person who needs a safety net, and who will not invest himself in a new job enough to succeed. (Relationship counselors refer to this as “commitment phobia.”) He probably needs a back-door out of all the important choices he makes. In the end, the result is almost inevitable. People like this never find job offers that make them happy because they don’t commit. They keep going back to the devils they know rather than figure out how to move on with their lives. (See Should I just quit, or find a new job first?)

Don’t give this guy another thought. Move on to better candidates.

I do indeed have a lot of interesting stories about job offers. There is a mini-lesson in each of them. Let’s look at a couple of the characters I’ve encountered.

The guy who accepted lots of job offers all at the same time

He was a design engineer, and since engineers tend to keep odd hours and schedules, he was able to pull it off without much difficulty. I do give him credit for working very hard. He apparently was able to deliver the work required at each job. (Maybe this should tell us something about employment!) This man of multiple salaries accepted new job offers every few months without discarding all his old jobs.

He was able to jack up his salary enormously within a couple of years. While some job hunters don’t like to show their old pay stubs, he took great joy in it, and used proof of his current salary (one of them, any way) to gain small increases wherever he could. Lots of small increases add up!

He was quite proud of himself. I’ll never forget his smirk when I found him out. He suggested that I could earn multiple placement fees in short order by cooperating with him. I shared the story with many clients — along with his name.

The guy who used a job offer to extort a raise

He had two weeks to consider a job offer, and on day 14 asked for another week because he “wasn’t ready.” I got him an extension, but I could smell it coming.

A week later, he still wasn’t ready. I told him he had 24 hours to make a decision. My client wouldn’t wait any longer. Within the hour, he called back, frantic. “I accept the job! But I must start today!”

Turns out he had two problems. His intention all along was to use the new offer to leverage a raise, but he lacked the confidence. He was terrified to go dangle the new offer in front of his boss — thus the three wasted weeks. When I issued my ultimatum, he sheepishly approached his boss. During the “negotiation,” his boss had a security guard usher him out the door. (See Naïve young grad blows it for a discussion about using a new job offer to leverage a raise.)

His other problem: His wife threatened to leave him if he was out of work just one day. Thus his hurry. I followed his career for several years. I think few men have learned a lesson so well as he did.

I’ll let you draw your own lessons from these stories, whether you’re an employer, a job hunter, or a headhunter. But remember G.K. Chesterton’s words: “There is no man really clever who has not found that he is stupid.”

Got a good job-offer story? The weirder the better!

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B.S. on the jobs numbers euphoria

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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

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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

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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

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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, Silicon Valley’s Exclusive Salary Database, you might have left an additional 69% on the table.

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

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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

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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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