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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

The Q&A

Getting your butt kicked?

In an effort to make recruiting and hiring more rational, objective, logical, impartial, non-discriminatory (now, there’s a word that’s been bastardized: it used to mean keen, discerning, judicious), dispassionate, and fair… companies have learned to administer tests…

What’s the deal with these profile tests some companies are using? The ones where they ask the same question several times by changing the wording around. How are they used to determine if a candidate’s profile matches? Are they just a way of weeding out candidates who answer certain questions the wrong way? As a hiring manager, the only way I know of to see if a candidate’s profile matches is to actually talk to the person. Something that HR recruiters seem to want to avoid.

These tests are merely correlational. They don’t predict anything. They are based on responses of a known population, to which a job candidate’s responses are compared. The population is broken into sub-groups, and each sub-group is defined based on its responses and other known characteristics. For example, if a candidate’s responses correlate highly with responses from base subjects who are known to be lazy, for example (I’m exaggerating here), then the candidate is assumed to be lazy. Or, the candidate’s responses might correlate with a sub-group that is defined as architects. If you respond like an architect, then you are considered to be like architects.
 
Is that enough to judge a candidate? Of course not. While certain correlational information can be useful, it is certainly not sufficient to make or break a hiring decision.
 
Like you said, you have to talk to the person. My concern is, HR weeds out candidates based on these tests before a manager ever talks to them. All in an effort to be fair, objective, and impartial — and to avoid talking to people and judging them. How many good candidates are falling through the cracks as a result? It’s scary.

Go talk to people. It still works. The competition is doing it, because the competition isn’t worried about fair, objective, or impartial. It’s thinking only about kicking your company’s butt.

This might help: Employment Tests: Get an edge.

Coveted, lucrative, and rare

The question on every job hunter’s lips is, “How do I make myself stand apart?” It’s a good question because it seems every joker and his sister apply for every job posted on the Net. The competition isn’t just stiff — it’s voluminous. How does a good worker rise above the sea of mediocrity?

You won’t like my answer, because it’s not an instant solution. It takes time to become one of the precious few who stand out.

How would you like to be known as coveted, lucrative, and rare? That’s the title of an Electronic Engineering Times article by R. Colin Johnson, and it reveals three important guideposts for how to make employers beg you to work for them.

Johnson’s article discusses analog engineering. This discipline was the core of the electronics field for decades. The circuits engineers designed prior to the 1980’s were primarily analog electronics. Think about volume controls and tubes in old FM radios; heaters in toasters; the motor driving a table saw. As digital technology exploded on the scene in the 1980’s, college engineering programs started cranking out digital engineers, and there has been a dearth of analog engineers since. The result is that good analog engineers are now almost priceless. So much for “not being cutting-edge,” eh?

Like I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter what’s hot; what matters is how hot you are. Read more

Investor’s Business Daily: Advertorial heaven

A few years ago, I wrote an edition of my newsletter that I still stand behind: Job-board Journalism: Selling out the American job hunter. The article revealed how major news outlets, like the Wall Street Journal and the cartel of newspapers that bought out CareerBuildercompromise their editorial integrity to earn big cash from job boards. Simply, these newspapers started publishing advertising in the guise of news articles to get people to use their jobs services. We know this stuff as advertorials. Its purpose is to get you to buy something — not to provide you with the balanced reporting you’d expect from a paper like the Journal.

Examples of this compromised reporting include articles about how to optimize your use of job boards (implying you should be spending more time on the publisher’s jobs pages), and “news” about how people win jobs — on the job boards. When you read this stuff, don’t be lulled into submission to an ad just because it says Wall Street Journal on it. The job boards are surrounded by articles from “experts” who are little more than carny barkers inviting you into a tent where you’ll be fleeced by a real expert.

Now, I’ve got nothing against advertising, as long as it’s clearly presented as advertising. You can plainly see that I run GoogleAds on this blog and on my web site to offset my costs. The ads are clearly identified, and although I actively block the biggest, baddest career sites, you’ll still find ads from companies I’d never endorse. Until you’re willing to pay for what I write, I’m content having that “Ads by Google” line drawn on the page between the advertising and my writing.

But, when respected news outlets prostitute their brands and pimp their news articles to make them behave like advertising in the shadow of their news banner, I get really bugged. Read more

Occam’s Razor slashes You

What’s the job hunting approach everyone can use? Start with Occam’s Razor, and you’ll find it. A reader asks: 

In all the muck and quagmire of “Internet advice” for the jobless, your bits of wisdom shine like flecks of silver. My question: How does an early middle-aged, twice-careered (both in service industry management), with a recent graduate degree in Economics best market one’s self?

Thanks for your kind words. It’s not about marketing yourself. People get brainwashed into thinking we are products — something to sell. That’s nonsense.

Jobs are not about people. Shocking, isn’t it? Well, grow up. (“Hey, it’s about The People! We count!” No, you don’t, not really. Not yet.) Jobs are about work. What’s the work? You need to figure out what work companies need done, and how you can do it. Read more

Say, I love you

This is a classic interview failure. I’d guess that good candidates fail to get an offer 80% of the time because they don’t know how to say, “I love you.”

Why don’t my interviews produce any offers?

I recently had what I feel are very good interviews. Most of these interviews lasted a couple of hours with the main decision maker, yet I don’t get any job offers. A good friend (who works in engineering management like I do) says that I need to tell the interviewer I want the job, but I think that’s obvious. Why would I be in the interview if I didn’t want the job? It just seems a little awkward to say that explicitly, almost like I’m begging. Who’s right?

Failing to say explicitly that you want the job is a critical mistake. You must say it.

Read more

Roasting the job description

Last time, I talked about Hiring people who will succeed. Of course, this implies that a manager knows how to hire, or it doesn’t matter how good the stream of candidates is, or how well they perform on tests or in interviews. Sorry to insult a few million people, but in general I think most managers suck at interviewing and hiring. It’s not because they’re dopes; it’s because they act like dopes because the process is dopey.

Take a random manager. He or she probably does a pretty good job running their operation and managing their team. They get the product — whatever it is — out the door. Now, cut to the hiring process, and they open The Rules of Hiring Handed Down by the HR Gods. We quickly shift from getting the work done to acquiring the talent. The manager fills out the HR form — the job description. HR massages it. The objective is to find the perfect candidate who fits the specs and can hit the ground running on day #1. Now the job description has less to do with the job, and more to do with who is The Perfect Candidate.

Trouble is, The Perfect Fit, Isn’t. None of them are. Even a headhunter never finds the perfect fit, and we try. So, now the poor manager is left to acquire the talent, as defined in the job description, and the incoming talent is busy trying to slather itself with key words from the job description. Presto! Everyone is now on the spit, the coals are stoked, and we’re all about to get burned. Read more

Hiring people who will succeed

My good friend Tom is a software developer. He’s incredibly smart, and he has one dominant criterion for hiring people. They must have a high IQ. A very high IQ. He considers other attributes, but IQ is the first hurdle. Many employers put job candidates through various tests, and make the first cut of applicants that way. Some use skills tests; others go for aptitude; some even start with personality.

I’m not big on tests in the hiring process. I want to spend time with a candidate, and I want to talk to people who know them and to people who have worked with them. (The candidates won’t necessarily know who I’m talking to. I want my own picture. But that’s just me.) Often, I won’t even meet a candidate if I don’t already know all about them. Some managers won’t interview candidates until after they’ve seen test results. (Erica Klein’s excellent article, Employment Tests: Get an edge, is a good start to researching this topic.)

If I had to use a test, I know what it would be. I would give it only after checking after the individual’s reputation (which includes intelligence). It’s the test of optimism that Martin Seligman provides in his outstanding book, Learned Optimism. Read more

Advice for schools & students

I was recently interviewed by IT Management, a publication whose focus is self-evident. The title of the article is provocative: The Failure of Universities. The gist is this: Do colleges prepare students for jobs? Good question, and one that education and industry don’t do a good job of grappling with.

I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. Anyone will benefit from a college degree, just because it will make you a better thinker and a more well-rounded person. But, preparation for a job is not mutually exclusive from an academic education. In fact, I believe it’s a necessary component of a complete education. I won’t repeat myself here; it’s in the article. My aim in doing the interview was to challenge schools with some advice about how to help their grads be better workers. What do you think?

Students need advice, too. An “old regular” (though he’s not so old!) Ask The Headhunter reader recently shared with me some advice he was asked to give to a young college student. I liked it so much that I asked Vinh Pham to let me publish it — pretty much as-is. He graciously agreed.

I like the conversational tone of Vinh’s advice in Advice to a young college student, and the earnest encouragement he offers. Vinh’s message is simple and profound: Explore. I believe the kind of exploration he recommends helps students make the critical connections between education and work — and helps lead them toward the right kind of work.

See what you think.

Just say NO

A reader worries about my advice to not divulge salary history when applying for a job.

RE: Your comments on salary requirements in your article about divulging salary history.

You suggest writing “confidential” or crossing out “salary history” and writing “required salary.” This only works if you are manually filling out a job application. Jobs online will not allow such latitude. You MUST put in a dollar amount as it is a protected field.

No, you don’t need to fill in a field that puts you at a disadvantage. (If you provide your salary history, you will sacrifice your ability to negotiate salary later.) You can skip it, and you can skip the online application altogether. You are too worried about following instructions, and not concerned enough about where those instructions will lead you — into a holding pen with thousands of other unremarkable competitors. People who feel they must fill in a dollar amount also tend to feel they must answer the phone even when they are busy doing something else. Your action is up to you. Just say NO.

Instead of filling out a data field that puts you at a disadvantage, stop, figure out who is the manager involved, and get in touch directly. This takes work; much more than filling out a form. (If you aren’t willing to do this work, you don’t deserve the job. Why apply at all? Pick a company for which you are willing to do the hard work necessary to stand out from your competition.)

Job hunters want to know how they can distinguish themselves from their competition. To a manager who is tired of speculators who fill out those online forms, a diligent job hunter who actually finds the manager and calls… now, there’s distinction, and a reason for the manager to talk to you.

Don’t confuse filling out a form with pursuing a job. Don’t confuse applying for a job with showing a manager that you are worth talking to.

Just say NO to requests for salary history that will put you at a disadvantage in negotiations.

The male economy

The title of this entry could just as easily have been, “The female economy.” Or, “The case for marriage.” The news about jobs is so bad that it seems the press and the Bureau of Labor Statistics have come up with a doozy to get your attention. (That is, if you’re not too busy looking for a job.)

The Slumping Economy: It’s a guy thing. BusinessWeek reports that men seem to be losing their jobs at a rate alarmingly higher than women. And the reason? Guys have too many guy-jobs; you know, hammering nails, doing stuff that requires muscle but no tenderness. Women, on the other hand, are in nurturing lines of work, like nursing and education. Those jobs are booming. (Pay attention, guys with hammers: This is important. I’ll offer you a solution in a second.)

Women still get paid less, on the whole, because they’re women. Now, make some sense of this. Women are in the booming business of health and education. Booming. Demand for good workers. But they get paid less.

Follow me so far? Nah, I didn’t think so. Because I read the article, and I don’t follow it, either. I can only surmise that employers are out of their minds. Industries that are suffering are laying guys off. Booming industries are paying women less. Is there really a difference?

The answer, I think, is for the male economy and the female economy (hey, I didn’t make this up — those are the terms BusinessWeek uses) to get married. Then, out-of-work guys (who have nothing better to do) can go beat up the employers of the women, until employers start paying fair wages and salaries. With all the money they’ll make, women will buy new houses, and their new husbands can go back to work. (Special tip to the guys: do not make improvements to your existing home. That wil never yield you a new job, and the economy will never be repaired.)

Get it now? I thought so. If you keep reading the news, you will never get a job.

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