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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

The Q&A

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.

Rickety, leads nowhere

Since the first job boards came online, entrepreneurs have been trying to find ways to create a true headhunter-class service for job hunters and employers. The objective: to be able to charge the top fees headhunters do. Hey, a smart, no-barriers-to-success business mind should be able to figure it out. So it began. Bill Warren’s Online Career Center — the true granddaddy of job boards — launched on a gopher system, quickly followed by Monster.com and others. Niche boards followed, and “executive” services sprouted — and came and went, and came and went. No one was able to crack the headhunter code. No online service has been able to charge, say, $30,000 to fill a position.

So, these wanna-be’s started to do the next best thing: Lie. Headhunter.net offered a higher-class service, based on nothing more than its name. More recently, TheLadders was launched as the job service offering “the most $100k+ jobs.” For $180 per year, you get access. To what? Well, it’s not clear.

TheLadders uses the term “$100k” — $100,000 — 23 times on its About page. $100k appears four times in one paragraph of just three sentences. This is headhunter country, and Ladders comes right out and says it caters to “executive-level” people — and to HR departments seeking them. The message is that Ladders isn’t your run-of-the-mill jobs site. It’s “expressly for the $100k+ job seeker.” The promise is that, “Never again will you find yourself trolling through mid-level or bogus job listings on other, less-targeted job boards!” Read more

Monster bash: Jeff Taylor ROCKS

Okay, I’m a sucker for dirt on Monster.com and its ilk. And I love to share it. A reader sent this along, after attending the annual CIO Conference sponsored by the New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC), held in Princeton, NJ on March 28. (CIO’s are Chief Information Officers — the top information-technology dogs, at their companies.)

I recently heard the founder of Monster.com, Jeff Taylor, speak. Of course, he’s a successful millionaire and quite full of himself, sporting the obligatory dot-com founder’s “edgy” look — gel-spiked hair, salt-and-pepper goatee, trendy thick-framed sunglasses with vertical stripes (yes, I’m serious). He exhorted the audience to chant in unison, “WE ROCK!” and “HALLELUJAH!” to his callouts — as though we were in church — and insisted we take our shoes off and point them at anyone who hadn’t done so, to make his point about adopting new ideas. Although he’s retired from Monster and was there to hawk his new company, he of course traded on his fame as the founder of the “incredibly successful” Monster.com “job board.”

One problem. Read more

IYFQ’s: Answers #2

In my last post I tried to tackle half the In Your Face Questions folks posted recently. Let’s get on with the rest…

JB King: If a recruiting firm only gets paid once someone is placed, why wouldn’t they want the company to have a churn so that they place more people there? Maybe the company would wise up and expect more, but how can that be worked out so that the company gets a good hire and the recruiting firm isn’t trying to pull something?

Headhunters have no control over whether a company has high employee churn. A headhunter should not be recruiting from his or her clients, and the agreement between them should ensure that. A good headhunter (yah, that’s a loaded term) would not want to continue to place good people in a company where there is high turnover, because it would have an adverse effect on the headhunter’s reputation. That’s why it’s important for companies and job hunters to check out the headhunter — how good is the reputation? Then prepare a solid written agreement.

JB King: Why does it seem that there are places that like to stockpile resumes and not really do much with them?

This is a sign of sheer bureaucratic idiocy. HR departments run job ads and collect resumes even when they have no job openings. They seem to think that the more resumes they have on file, the better off they are. But resumes have a shelf-life of about three months. After that, key candidate factors are likely to change: motivation to interview, availability, salary, location, and more. When a person submits a resume about a specific job, they’re not likely to jump at a different job a year later just because HR calls. Read more

IYFQ’s: Answers #1

In IYFQ’s: Why you can’t get hired or hire good people, I asked readers to post In Your Face Questions about job hunting and hiring for which there seem to be no good answers. You came through in spades — I cringed often enough while reading them that I know you know what I mean by IYFQ’s.

The responses, advice, and comments from readers are what I was really looking for — good ideas! My favorite astutely-cynical posting is Groucho’s answer to a question with another question: “Do you really think the people you’re interveiwing can’t make up stories?”

My job is to answer IYFQ’s, and while I didn’t want to dominate the thread, I’m going to attempt a marathon Q&A session. If you find one useful idea below, I’m happy. If my suggestions arouse your ire, well, there’s a Reply button down there, too… Read more

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