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The Q&A

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

The 2-minute Dutch uncle

I used to do a blog for InfoWorld. When it ended, my last posting was up only very briefly, and I’ve been asked to reprise it here for those who missed it. It was a two-minute version of the Dutch uncle routine, for those who enjoy the Ask The Headhunter approach to job hunting, hiring, and success at work. Hope you enjoy it.

1. New jobs don’t grow on trees, or on job boards. Any job-search method that involves picking from what’s available will likely lead you to the wrong job, and you’ll be job hunting again soon. So, start with where you want to work, and what work you want to do every day. You must sit down and figure it out. Sure, this is obvious. But in almost 30 years of headhunting, I’ve met very few people who really get it — or do it. Read more

Only in New Jersey?

I’ve written a lot about about the various rackets in the career industry that prey on desperate people looking for work, but I always use the term “racket” loosely. Last week I got a query from a news reporter that forced me to create a new category in this blog. We all need a (nervous) laugh:

I am a staff reporter with… a northern New Jersey newspaper. I want to ask you about a lawsuit to see if what is described within could be construed as normal “head hunter” protocol, as the defendant claims.

The lawsuit was filed by a father who claimed he paid $31,000 to a mob associate with “political connections.” The mobster guaranteed the man’s son a job in return for the money. The mob associate said he knew a sitting state legislator who would write a letter of recommendation to a local company in order for the father’s son to get a job. The job fell through and the father sued to get his money back.

Does that sound like legitimate work by a head hunter? Read more

Linked into the haystack

Relationships make the world go ’round, and it’s wonderful to make new friends and contacts. And it’s really great when you find that needle in a haystack — a new contact who changes your business or your life. Such an encounter might be a once-in-a-lifetime event. No one’s been able to figure out how to reliably trigger the unique circumstances that bring two people together, or even how to identify the special characteristics that combine to make a valuable new relationship.

Here are the last five messages people sent me when asking me to join their LinkedIn networks, in the hope that we might make magic, or even that we might just enjoy hanging out together: Read more

If you don’t like rejection

Every week I get books in the mail. Review copies. These are from authors writing about career topics who would like me to plug their books on Ask The Headhunter. I know how hard it is to get your writing published, so I don’t respond when I have nothing nice to say.

Most of the time, even the titles are embarrassing. (No, I won’t tell you the titles. Our moms were right. Sometimes it’s still best to say nothing if you can’t say anything nice.) The material is weak. The methods described are hackneyed, and they still don’t work. Some of these books are preposterous; others, too clever for their own good. Read more

TheLadders: Going down?

Recruiting-industry watcher Cheezhead reports that job-board web-site TheLadders may be for sale. I agree. In Silicon Valley, it’s an old story. Does an entrepreneur start a company to create value, or with a quick exit strategy at the heart of the business plan?

When the entrepreneur comes from another company whose reputation is for bargain-basement wares that don’t work, you don’t even need to ask. Ladders founder Marc Cenedella came from HotJobs, that bastion of quality job-postings whose success at filling jobs doesn’t even warrant mention. Well, heck, let’s mention it anyway. CareerXroads reports that less than one-half of one percent (0.05%) of jobs filled by companies come from HotJobs. The product doesn’t work. (In comparison, Monster’s success rate among employers is around 2%. Whoo-wee. Compliment all the HR brainiacs who have sent billions of dollars to Monster.) Read more

HR’s new dildo: The behavioral interview

Ever hear of the behavioral interview? It’s been all the rage in human resources circles for some time. In fact, the HR community has now grabbed onto the behavioral interview as the right way to have a meaningful interaction with a job candidate. It’s the way to really learn about a job candidate’s actual skills. The idea is simple. Don’t ask candidates about their skills and capabilities, because they’ll tell you what you want to hear. Instead, ask them how they actually handled a particular task or situation in the past. That way you can assess their actual behavior and judge their abilities more accurately. Follow me so far?

The BI lends itself to lots of how-to articles and advice from career experts. You can find all sorts of clever questions to get people to tell you about their behavior. In fact, it has spawned a sub-industry in the career business. That’s why it’s so popular — it’s got legs in the consulting world. It’s easy to sell the method to HR. But, does it work? More important, is the BI what it purports to be — a good way to assess a job candidate’s actual abilities by evaluating their behavior?

I don’t think so. Consider the twist in the monniker. The word “behavioral” seems to lend a great air of credibility to this kind of interview. Why listen to a bunch of talk when you can assess a candidate’s actual behavior? The suggestion is that we’re looking at behavior rather than, as Carole Martin cautions in You Can Survive the Behavioral Interview, the stories that candidates might make up about their skills. Does that give you the logical heebie-jeebies? It should.

There is no behavior in the behavioral interview. It’s talk about the past. I think the BI is a fraud. It’s akin to washing your hands with gloves on. The BI insulates the interviewer from the candidate because it does not accomplish what the name suggests. There is no behavior in the behavioral interview — we never get to see the candidate do anything, least of all anything relating to the job at hand. The BI is HR’s newest dildo. It’s yet another substitute for meaningful interaction with a job candidate.

There is another fundamental problem with the BI. On about.com, career planner Dawn McKay explains that, “The basic premise of the behavioral interview is that past performance is a good predictor of future performance.” Fans of this assessment technique would do well to read an investment prospectus or two, where the cautionary refrain is always, “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.” One of the reasons a prospectus includes such a disclaimer is because numbers can be manipulated to imply something about the future.

Likewise, job candidates can manipulate anything they say in an interview. To demonstrate the great power of the BI, McKay goes on to explain, “When asked simple yes or no questions, a job candidate can easily tell an interviewer what he or she wants to hear… However, if the interviewer asks what you have done in the past to complete a project on a tight deadline, you would have to give a real-life example, detailing how you handled the situation.”

Say what? If I can make up an answer to an interview question, I can certainly make up a scenario and how I dealt with it effectively in the past. (There are books galore to help you. For instance — I love this title — 501+ Great Interview Questions For Employers And The Best Answers For Prospective Employees. Don’t wear the interviewer out.) There is nothing robust about a BI. It does not do what HR expects. The interviewer is still diddling the candidate about the past, rather than assessing what the candidate can do here and now.

Consider: A manager can ask a job candidate anything. So, why do managers and HR folks ask for resumes? Why do they ask about the past? Why do they play games with the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions? (Where do you see yourself in five years? If you could be any animal, what would you be?) It’s simple: The conventional interview (and the BI is as stupidly conventional as HR gets) is designed to be a deductive assessment. HR gathers any data it can, then goes into the back room and uses expensive tools to deduce whether a candidate can do the job. HR is guessing. It’s what the profession gets paid for.

If a manager (let’s forget about HR altogether in this scenario) can ask a job candidate anything, why not ask the candidate to show how he or she would do this job now? Frankly, I don’t care about your past, even though it might help me understand you better. The first thing I need to know is, can you do this job? Show me. Behave. Do. Prove.

The BI is so pervasively accepted as a hiring tool that career experts actually believe talk is behavior. The result is junk interviews. McKay delivers the sales pitch: “Rather then merely telling the interviewer what you would do in a situation, as in a regular interview, in a behavioral interview you must describe, in detail, how you handled a situation in the past. What better way to strut your stuff?”

If you’re a manager and you want to see candidates strut their stuff, put away the rubber gloves and the dildo, and ask them to show you how they would do the job you want done.

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