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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

The Q&A

Bad-boy headhunters

I critique bad HR practices with relish, but there’s nothing worse than a bad-boy headhunter. (They come in female, too, of course.) The worst is a headhunter who brushes you off, then torpedoes a job you found for yourself. The lesson: Beware what you tell a headhunter. A reader brings the scenario into clear focus:

After an interview, I asked the headhunter if I was in the running. I explained that I was expecting a formal offer for another position (that I found on my own) and that my time-frame was tight — I had to make a decision quickly. The headhunter said he would not be taking me forward as I did not have enough management experience. He advised me to take the other job. But here’s the rub. I found out that the headhunter personally called the company where I was getting an offer and told them I was totally incompetent, would not be worthy for any position, and that they not hire me. He suggested that the company instead let the headhunter find them a truly worthy candidate. This is outrageous! Do I have any legal recourse?

Arrrggghhh. Lesson #1 about job offers: Never divulge to anyone where you are going until the deal is signed, sealed, delivered, and you are on board at the new company. Including your current employer, your co-workers, and headhunters. Read more

Beyond mediocrity: Hiring teams

What’s the trend in hiring today that desperately signals the need for a new trend? Hiring mediocre people.

The clearest sign that companies make too many mediocre hires is the prevalence of garbage-in recruiting methods, all centered on the online seine fishing technique. Companies cast a wide net and pull in anything they can get. This in turn promotes random applications from job hunters who are looking for a job, any job. Rather than targeting smart problem-solvers they’d love to recruit, employers limit themselves to the lesser-of-evils. Is it any wonder businesses find themselves in trouble? They’re not hiring the talent they need; they’re hiring who comes along. So, where’s the desired talent? Busy working, not trawling the job boards for random jobs.

Which brings me to what I believe will be the next hiring trend. Companies will hire teams of people rather than individuals. Why? Because companies need solutions, not just more hires. They need concrete plans and schedules for getting a job done, not resumes that describe past history.

Consider what happens when you shove your resume in a manager’s face (or e-mail box). You’re not solving the manager’s problem. You’re telling the manager, “Here I am. Here are my credentials. Here’s my history. Here are my achievements. Now, you go figure out what the hell to do with me.Read more

Why Johnny doesn’t work

The dominant explanation for why students aren’t graduating with technical degrees is H-1B and outsourcing. It goes like this: Because American companies send technical jobs overseas, and because they hire foreign nationals under the H-1B visa program, (both supposedly at lower cost than hiring Americans), students regard technical careers (in electronics engineering, software development, information technology) as undesirable. They believe they won’t get healthy salaries or enjoy any reasonable job security. They may be right.

But I see another trend that’s far more disturbing than the behavior of companies and students. K-12 schools seem to be de-emphasizing the fundamentals of technology. They seem to be teaching kids how to be technology consumers rather than designers. A case in point is my local school district, which recently spent over $30M to build a state-of-the-art middle school. Every classroom is wired for sound, video, and computers. Every teacher has a laptop, and big LCD displays dot the facility. The auditorium is state-of-the-art; the soundboard alone blows away what you’d find in most commercial theaters. The school is equipped with a video production facility that kids use to produce what’s described as professional-quality videos. The computer lab lets kids use sound samples to produce their own music CD’s. It’s all really great.

The trouble is, no one is teaching the kids how all this technology works, and how they can build their own. Read more

IYFQ’s: Why you can’t get hired or hire good people

A good event sparks good ideas, whether you’re a speaker or in the audience. And a recent gig I did for the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) left me with a thought-provoking challenge I’d like to share with you.

In 2007, Microsoft asked me to participate in a webinar titled Ignite Your Career. I’ve listened in on some webcasts over the years, and they typically taste like dry bread… no thanks. This event was satisfying (and not just because I was in it). The MSDN team in Canada did a great job of assembling a panel of speakers who didn’t pull punches. Key to the quality of the thing was that one of our Microsoft hosts continually gave us questions he was receiving from the audience, and encouraged candid dialogue. I enjoyed it so much that I actually did two of these for Microsoft Canada (Building Your Skill Set and Career Opportunities for IT Pros — no matter what line of work you’re in, I can almost guarantee you’ll learn something useful).

The challenge came up during the post-mortem the panelists did after the second webinar. We were talking about what we did right and what we could have done better. One of our hosts — the guy who was reading us questions from the audience throughout the 90 minutes — sheepishly apologized to a panelist for “throwing you an in-your-face question without giving you much time to think about it.” Read more

How much money should I ask for?

A reader wants to know how much money to ask for:

“I’m considering a position, but I have no idea how much such a position ought to pay. My last employer compensated me at approximately $60K plus stock options, etc. How can I figure this out?”

You’re asking about a specific position, but the approach I’m about to describe applies to all sorts of positions when you’re trying to decide what kind of compensation to ask for.

There’s no way to determine what to ask for until you know more about the work this company wants you to do. What you earned at your last job has little to do with what you’re worth to this company. And that’s really the key: what are you worth to this employer?

To answer that question, you’ve got to do your homework. Read more

Hey, how about a quickie?

Ever wonder why companies take forever to make a hiring decision? You send in your resume, have an interview (or several), they tell you they like you, promise to get back to you in a few days… and a month later they still haven’t made a decision.

Travelodge seems to have come up with the solution: Quickie interviews, which, I shudder to guess, must result in quickie job offers, no?

Travelodge invites people to come to a “speed dating” event, where they talk to HR reps for a fast 3 minutes. Travelodge’s rationale is simple: People make decisions about whether they like someone in the first few minutes after meeting them. Talk fast, get hired.

Ruth Saunders, the Resourcing Manager at Travelodge (gimme a break — yet another goofy HR title?), says, “We will recruit over 1,000 new managers by 2020 and it is imperative that we continue to find new and innovative ways to recruit in order to find the right people and satisfy this unprecedented demand.” Scrub ’em up; get ’em ready.

Sorry if I implied Travelodge hires as quickly as it recruits, but the company has made no statement about how long it takes to decide whether you are one of the right people. I wonder if the company’s HR department will rent you a room by the hour while you wait…

Informational (heh-heh) interviews

INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW, n., (1) a stupid job-hunting trick; (2) an embarrassing demonstration of ignorance by a job hunter; (3) a transparent waste of management time; (4) the preferred substitute for legitimate job-hunting assistance developed by career experts to distract their clients and justify their fees.

Heather Hamilton’s take on informational interviews provides a good perspective from employers on this job-hunting tactic. But the definition above is mine.

When you request an informational interview, tatoo LOSER on your forehead before you attend the meeting. That way the manager will know up front that you are not ready to talk business. You have not done your homework. If you’ve done your homework, you should have something to offer — not something to ask. Read more

H-1B or not to B?

Having covered the information technology and electronics industries for a long time, I’m very sensitive to the H-1B visa controversy. This is the government program whereby foreign nationals can be hired by U.S. employers under a special visa.

H-1B exists because industry claims there’s a labor shortage in the world of technology. On April 1, the 2008 allotment of H-1B visas will likely be used up in a matter of hours. Bill Gates says more H-1B workers should be allowed to work in the U.S. because industry needs special skills that domestic workers can’t always deliver. Many tech folks believe this program siphons valuable jobs away from U.S. workers, and that companies use H-1B mainly to cut labor costs. H-1B opponents say U.S. companies should focus more on talent and less on skills. The controversy rages on. In the current InformationWeek, Rob Preston takes the most responsible view of H-1B that I’ve read to date. Read more

Get paid to interview for a job?

It’s always interesting when someone comes up with a new approach to recruiting. Imagine getting paid to go on a job interview. Clever, eh? CIO magazine reports that a Recruiting Firm Pays Candidates for Job Interviews.

Help me work through the logic. Notchup.com suggests that the best people are busy at their jobs, and they probably don’t search for jobs or post their resumes online. Makes sense to me. So, Notchup will help employers attract these people. (The fundamental issue here is the distinction between attracting people, and going out and finding the ones you really want. Notchup doesn’t deal with that, but that’s for another column.) Notchup serves as a go-between, allowing companies to offer money to these desirable folks to come in for a job interview. So far, it’s interesting. Notchup lets hard-to-find candidates fill out a form about themselves and post information so the process can get started… And that’s where we hit the wall. Read more

DamnINeedAJob.com

If you’re going to mail out hundreds of resumes to people you don’t know, or post your credentials on some web site, you might as well stand on a busy street corner and just hand out your resume to random passersby. You’re just as likely to find a job either way. That’s what I tell people who use conventional job hunting methods, and I figure I’m making my point. But there’s nothing I can think of that someone hasn’t already done…

Larry Dinsmore stands on corners with his resume plastered on his back. While I don’t know whether someone’s going to hire him right there on the street, he is doing something smart. Larry is meeting and talking to people, which beats staring at a computer screen and waiting for an employer to magically appear with an interview invitation. (This time-honored strategy was invented by personnel jockeys, aka “recruiters”, in big companies who sit on their butts waiting for the perfect candidate to magically appear on their pc screens. Nice work if you can get it.) Read more

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