2 really insulting interview questions

We often discuss the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions that employers ask. This week we’ll talk about two really insulting questions that interviewers should never ask — and how you might respond. One question was posed by a headhunter, and the other by an employer.

In the January 13, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two job seekers’ personal space is invaded by presumptuous interviewers:

Question #1

I am aggressively searching for an IT Technician position, and I have been contacted by several headhunter companies. They usually ask, “What other positions have you applied for?” and, “Which companies have you spoken to?” This makes me uncomfortable. What is the best way to answer?

Nick’s Reply

The best answer is short and sweet: “Sorry, I don’t disclose that information.”

tell-meBe polite, but be firm. It’s none of their business. More important, sharing that information puts you at risk. Unscrupulous headhunters (and there are lots of them) will go straight to the employer you mention and pitch other candidates to compete with you. In the meantime, the headhunter may not schedule any interviews for you at all. He’s used you.

In How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, I discuss this problem in more detail. The headhunter will likely try to explain that he needs to know where else you’re interviewing because he doesn’t want to create a conflict by submitting you to the same company. Yah, sure.


From HTWWH pp. 85-86, “Should I tell a headhunter who else I’m interviewing with?”:

The argument that the headhunter “just needs to know” to ensure you’re not already interviewing with her client is hogwash. She can just as easily determine that by divulging who her client is. After all, the headhunter called you, not the other way around. A good headhunter should not be bothered because you decline to divulge what companies you’re talking with.


Don’t fall for this ruse.

If they don’t respect your not wanting to disclose, then they’re not worth working with. They lack integrity.

If the headhunter presses you, try this: “Can you please tell me the names of employers and hiring managers you sent candidates to interview with this month?” Of course, it’s none of your business. And where you’re applying for jobs is not his, either.

Question #2

polygraph

I have been on many job interviews in the last two months and each time they have asked me if I would be loyal to them as my employer. I have been laid off a couple of times, though it had nothing to do with the quality of my work or my loyalty. It was due to a downsizing and a change in the job, requiring new skills I didn’t have. But employers seem to hold me responsible for those short jobs. Is there a nice way to say that I have been loyal, but employers were not loyal to me? I find it interesting and a little suspect when this question comes up in an interview. Do they expect an interviewee to tell them if they were not planning to stay more than a year or so? Why would they ask this? It seems like an unrealistic question.

Nick’s Reply

I think employers ask that question, best case, because they’re naive. At worst, because they’re stupid. If they seem puzzled when you explain it wasn’t you, but the employer, that made the choice to downsize, then that should tell you all you need to know. Their reaction is a non sequitur.

Telling them the truth and committing to the new job is the best you can do. But my cynical answer to these clods would be a question: “Well, how long do you keep your employees?” Of course, they’d be insulted, but turnabout is fair play.

Don’t over-think this. Often, the reason employers question an applicant’s loyalty is because they’ve already got a turnover problem. Rather than root out the real cause, they want you to promise you’ll stick around. Duh.

Another, more interesting, way to handle this is to go on a polite, professional offensive. Before they get to that question, ask them what the turnover rate is in the department you’re interviewing with. By taking the initiative, you also gain the advantage. If they answer honestly, they’ll become defensive. Then you can ask why people keep leaving. By the time they get to questions of your loyalty, their own “bad” is out of the bag.

Be careful, of course. I’m not suggesting being sarcastic. But it’s legit to ask an employer about employee turnover, don’t you think?

(For a head-on approach to changing the path of your job interviews completely, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, especially pp. 16-18, “How do I overcome my deficiencies?”)

The two questions employers posed in these two Q&As are insulting because they are presumptuous and invasive. No one can assure an employer they will stay at a job, and a job seeker’s other prospects are none of a headhunter’s business. The best way to deal with such questions is to politely but firmly decline to answer them. How snarky you get is up to you.

What really insulting interview questions have you encountered? What’s your advice about the questions in this week’s Q&As?

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After 2 big salary jumps, I landed hard

In the December 16, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker gets two 25% salary boosts and lands hard:

Question

I left a management job at Company A 16 months ago after ten years. It was becoming uncomfortably similar to the company you refer to in Death by Lethal Reputation. A friend recruited me to Company B for a 25% pay raise. Company B turned out to be a good place to work, but after six months there another friend requested I talk with his director as a favor, and to cut to the chase, Company C offered another 25% raise on top of what I was making and I took it.

is it-about-moneySince then, at Company C I have had six different bosses, management has re-structured three times, and my co-workers have been very difficult to work with since they all seem focused on the politics of positioning for the next shake-up. (It’s scheduled for next month.) This caught me completely by surprise since this kind of thing really hadn’t been happening there before.

I am growing impatient with the chaos and losing confidence in my managers, but I am reluctant to have another change so soon on my resume. I’m very good at what I do, which is highly specialized technical work. I’m fortunate to be in such demand, and I admit the money was a big part of jumping to Company C, though it’s clear that I blew it.

How many changes are too many on a resume? How much patience do I owe this employer? How would I present myself to a prospective employer without appearing like I am hopping jobs for money?

Thanks and best regards.

Nick’s Reply

Time to pay the piper, eh? Don’t feel too bad. While you should have looked under the rug more carefully before you took this latest job, I know it’s hard to turn down such salary increases from companies that are hungry to hire specialized workers.

When you pursue that next job, interview the company in more detail. (See “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.) The only way to get the real story before you take the job is to talk to managers that are peripheral to your own department, and to other employees who know how the business really works.

When a company begins to indicate that it’s serious about you, that’s the time to ask to meet more members of the organization.

How to Say It
“It’s important to me to know how Sales (or Operations, or Engineering) functions, because I’ll be affecting their success and they’ll be affecting mine. I’d like to meet with the manager of Sales, and with some of the other technical people in the department I’d be working in. Can you arrange that?”

This is the kind of insight that will help you make a more informed decision, and help you avoid surprises.

kangaBut let’s look at your current situation. What is your responsibility to this company? You’ve been there about ten months. You might stick around long enough to see how the new re-org works out. Then I’d have no qualms about leaving if things don’t get any better. But even if you give that six months, you’re still talking about a short tenure right after a six-month stint at Company B.

No matter how you cut it, you come across as a job-hopper who’s gone for the bucks. I’m not criticizing you for that, but I will suggest that now’s the time to figure out what you really want in your career. Define it clearly — industry, business, company, technology, function, compensation, the work itself, the people. Then pursue it. Ignore the wrong jobs. Go after the companies where you want to work.

Here’s some advice that emphasizes just how deep you must dig to avoid another mistake — from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, p. 12:

Check a company’s references
Talk with people who depend on the company for a living: attorneys, bankers, investors, landlords, and others. This will give you a community-wide perspective and also help keep you out of harm’s way. Explain that you are considering an investment in the company. (Your career is indeed an investment!) Ask for their insight and advice. Is this a good company? Why?

When companies pursue you too aggressively, they can hurt you. You can start to look like damaged goods because you’ve jumped around too much. I wouldn’t say you’re there yet — not with two short jobs on your resume.

My guess is you might have to take a pay cut to get the kind job (and environment) you want. If it comes to that, consider it the cost of getting back on track. In a good company, you’ll have a chance to make it up pretty quickly. (See “Taking A Salary Cut to Change Careers” in How Can I Change Careers?)

The best way to deal with the resume issue is to avoid using one. (See Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.) The kinds of contacts who helped you win your last two jobs should comprise your strategy. When a buddy introduces you, he or she can also explain your situation, and that you’ve learned a lesson. And don’t avoid that topic in an interview: Be blunt about it.

How to Say It
“I made a serious mistake. Not just going for the money, but not looking carefully at a company before enlisting. Before I take another job, I want to make sure I’m right for the company, and that the company’s right for me. So please feel free to be blunt with me, and I will be with you, too. I want to make sure we can live and work together to get the job done.”

As you decide which companies you want to work for, make it your first goal to develop contacts there. If you lack them, you can create them by polling your friends.

Even if you decide to stick around till after the re-org, start your search now. Work at this patiently, and choose carefully. Put your two lemons in their place, swallow the sour taste, and get ready to move on.

I wish you the best.

Have you ever regretted taking too much money? How many job leaps are too many?

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4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips for Thanksgiving

In the November 25, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, there’s no Q&A. Instead…

pumpkinI used to take a break during Thanksgiving week and skipped publishing an edition of the newsletter so that I could cook, bake, and fill the larder with goodies for the holiday. But last year I started a new tradition and cooked up something different for you with the Thanksgiving week edition. Rather than normal Q&A, I’d like to share four tips from the latest Ask The Headhunter publications. If you find something useful in them, I’ll be glad.

The idea behind the new Fearless Job Hunting books is that finding a job is not about prescribed steps. It’s not about following rules. In fact, job hunting is such an over-defined process that there are thousands of books and articles about how to do it — and the methods are all the same.

What all those authors conveniently ignore is that the steps don’t work. If they did, every resume would get you an interview, which would in turn produce a job offer and a job.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. The key to successful job hunting is knowing how to deal with the handful of daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Here are some excerpts from Fearless Job Hunting — and if you decide you’d like to study these methods in more detail, I invite you to take 20% off your purchase price by using discount code=GOBBLE. (This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

You just lost your job and your nerves are frayed. Please — take a moment to put your fears aside. Think about the implications of the choices you make. Consider the obstacles you encounter in your job search.

FJH-11. Don’t settle

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, p. 4, The myth of the last-minute job search:

When you’re worried about paying the rent, it seems that almost any job will do. Taking the first offer that comes along could be your biggest mistake. It’s also one of the most common reasons people go job hunting again soon — they settle for a wrong job, rather than select the right one.

Start Early: Research the industry you want to work in. Learn what problems and challenges it faces. Then, identify the best company in that industry. (Why settle for less? Why join a company just because it wants you? Join the one you want.)

Study the company, establish contacts, learn the business, and build expertise. Rather than being just a hunter for any job, learn to be the solution to one company’s problems. That’s what gets you hired, because such dedication and focus makes you stand out.

2. Scope the community

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 6, It’s the people, Stupid:

FJH-3You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in the community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of.

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work.

The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

3. Avoid a salary cut

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), p. 9: How can I avoid a salary cut?

FJH-7Negotiating doesn’t have to be done across an adversarial table — and it should not be done over the phone. You can sit down and hash through a deal like partners. Sometimes, candor means getting almost personal. Check the How to Say It box for a suggestion:

How to Say It
“If I take this job, we’re entering into a sort of marriage. Our finances will be intertwined. So, let’s work out a budget — my salary and your profitability — that we’re both going to be happy with for years down the road. If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me. But I also need to know that I can meet my own budget and my living expenses, so that I can focus entirely on my job.”

It might seem overly candid, but there’s not enough candor in the world of business. A salary negotiation should be an honest discussion about what you and the employer can both afford.

4. Know what you’re getting into

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23: Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it:

FJH-8I think the failure to research and understand one another is one of the key reasons why companies lay off employees and why workers quit jobs. They have no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late. Proper due diligence is extensive and detailed. How far you go with it is up to you.

Research is a funny thing. When it’s part of our job, and we get paid to do it, we do it thoroughly because we don’t want our judgments to appear unsupported by facts and data. When we need to do research for our own protection, we often skip it or we get sloppy. We “trust our instincts” and make career decisions by the seat of our pants.

When a company uses a headhunter to fill a position, it expects [a high level] of due diligence to be performed on candidates the headhunter delivers. If this seems to be a bit much, consider that the fee the company pays a headhunter for all this due diligence can run upwards of $30,000 for a $100,000 position. Can you afford to do less when you’re judging your next employer?

Remember that next to our friends and families, our employers represent the most important relationships we have. Remember that other people who have important relationships with your prospective employer practice due diligence: bankers, realtors, customers, vendors, venture capitalists and stock analysts. Can you afford to ignore it?

* * *

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this community throughout the year. Have you ever settled for the wrong job, or failed to scope out a work community before accepting a job? Did you get stuck with a salary cut, or with a surprise when you took a job without doing all the necessary investigations? Let’s talk about it! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you purchase a book,
take 20% off by using discount code=GOBBLE
(This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

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News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!

Hold the presses! I’m going to show you how HR created “the talent shortage.”

I recently did a Talk to Nick consultation that illustrates why employers aren’t filling important jobs — while they complain there’s a talent shortage. The real talent shortage is in corporate management, where hiring is treated as an expense rather than an investment. Here’s what crummy job offers cost employers.

In the October 7, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker turns down a lousy job offer:

I heard from my old employer today. I got an offer that’s approximately the same amount I was getting paid when I left five years ago!

Background

low-offer“Mark” (not his real name) is a successful engineer who asked me for help in 2012 — to land a better-paying job elsewhere. He succeeded, and since then his engineering skills have grown and he has developed expertise in operations and quality assurance. This talented R&D engineer can now convert technically challenging concepts into products ready for production. His skills and abilities are far more valuable today than they’ve ever been. He contacted me again a few months ago when a manager at his old company encouraged him to apply for an R&D engineering position — in other words, to return.

After an hour’s consultation with me, Mark had a series of interviews, including a meeting with the manager who knew him so well the first time around. Here’s what Mark reported happened next.

Mark’s Story

I heard from my old employer today. I got an offer that’s approximately the same amount I was getting paid when I left five years ago! I declined to state my current salary in the screening interview, and instead explained the salary range I’d expect for an engineer with my experience. The personnel jockey replied that, “You know you will have to provide this at some point to move forward.”

I suspect the HR people pegged me based on my last known salary. If I had stayed with this company for five more years, I would be making more than the offer — a figure around my current salary.

I negotiated with the hiring manager, but HR handled the offer. There was some motion on their side, but only in the form of a one-time check that had large strings attached. The deal fell through. Companies succeed in spite of themselves!

The reasons why they could not improve the offer were as bizarre as some of the excuses I used to hear on my personnel reviews about why I could not be rated higher. In my conversations with the hiring manager, he stated that they recently lost a good employee in much the same way they lost me. I just chuckled. Thanks again for your assistance.

Nick’s Reply

The McQuaig Institute (a developer of talent assessment tools) recently polled over 600 HR professionals. The #1 reason they lose job candidates — reported by 48% of U.S. companies — is because the offers they make are too low.

HR knows where the talent shortage comes from: Lousy job offers.

Peter Cappelli, a human resources and labor researcher at the Wharton School, confirms that “employers can’t get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered.”

Employers know exactly what the problem is, but they play dumb.

Cappelli points out, “That’s an affordability problem, not a skill shortage. A real shortage means not being able to find appropriate candidates at market-clearing wages. We wouldn’t say there is a shortage of diamonds when they are incredibly expensive; we can buy all we want at the prevailing prices.”

loserEmployers today refuse to pay market salaries and wages, then blame the labor force. (See How to decide how much you want.) That’s how HR — which took control of your job offer — lost you, along with other employees, and created the talent shortage at this company. This is how HR turns companies into losers.

It can be hard to swallow the reality that a company just isn’t going to make a prudent decision when it makes a ridiculously low job offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve advised clients to raise offers — after I’ve shown them what it’s going to cost to leave work undone. Crummy job offers also cost employers their reputation — in their own professional community when word gets out that their offers are too low.

Many just don’t get it. Employers incorrectly view hiring as an expense rather than an investment with an ROI. The great irony is, the actual extra dollars spent on higher offers are almost irrelevant when compared to the value the new employee will create. The more subtle lesson that some companies — but not most — learn is that enhancing an offer can make a new hire happy, more loyal, and more productive. Money doesn’t buy love, but it can buy better work.

However, Cappelli points out that corporate accounting systems do not track the cost of leaving a job vacant, making it appear that the “cost savings” of leaving the job empty translate into “profit.” (Yes, I’m still laughing my A off at that one. Call it revenge against the bean counters!) A crummy job offer costs an employer — and our economy — quite a lot.

Employers are shooting themselves in the foot when they make silly job offers. An engineer plus five years’ more experience, plus expertise translating designs into buildable, quality products, plus the maturity to work across corporate departments is worth more than the same engineer five years ago.

Except to a cheap employer with a serious talent shortage in the executive suite.

Good for you for rejecting a lousy offer. I realize not everyone can afford to do that. (See Turn down that job offer.) I think such jobs get filled because employers wear applicants down and convince them that “this is the way it is, and you should accept it.”

In Pursue Companies, Not Jobs, I suggest that you (or anyone) should pick a good company, take the best job you can get there, and navigate the company once on board to get to the jobs you really want in time. It’s all about the quality of the company and the people. Salary is such a small component of a company’s business, yet HR is so focused on it that enormously bad business decisions are made over a few bucks. (Meanwhile, HR blows billions on job boards, applicant tacking systems, and other automated “tools” to help it make more low-ball offers to save money… gimme a break!)

Your old boss confessed to you what crummy salaries and job offers do: They make talent disappear. So you don’t need a news flash — you already know.

Thanks for sharing the outcome. Seriously – move on to a better opportunity. Start picking your next target, and be ready to express your desired salary range, and to negotiate a fair compensation package. You’ll learn more in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, and in Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).

Have employers created the talent shortage? Are they paying for crummy job offers in ways they don’t realize? Have you been smacked with a ridiculous offer? What implications do you think this has for our economy?

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Employers shouldn’t keep secrets from job applicants

In the September 23, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker wants to see the facts:

If I had realized some of the intricate policies of my current company, I may have thought twice before taking this job. For instance, they said you get two weeks’ vacation time. It turns out you get 80 hours of paid time off, but you aren’t eligible to use any of it until after your one-year anniversary. When I do look to move on from this job, I don’t want to be misled again. Is it acceptable to ask for a copy of the employee handbook before accepting a job offer? How likely is it that a company would allow that?

Nick’s Reply

Last week we discussed why it’s so important that all the details of your job offer are in writing. (Gotcha! Get job offer concessions in writing!) It’s just as important that you examine all the details of a company’s work policies before you accept any job offer.

Protected FilesWhether or not it’s acceptable to ask for a copy of the employee handbook isn’t the question. The question is, what’s smart?

I think it’s smart to ask for the employee handbook before accepting an offer. In fact, not requesting it is asking for trouble, as you’ve already learned. (See “3 Ways to Be A Smarter Job Candidate.”)

Some companies don’t like to hand it over. They will tell you it’s “company confidential.” They’ll say the same about the written employee benefits — you can’t see them until you take the job. That’s complete bunk. How can you agree to live under rules if you don’t know what they are?

My response would be very simple. Here’s How to Say It:

“I’m excited to get your offer, and I’m very enthused about working for you, but I’ll be living under your guidelines and I’d like to see your employee policy manual before I sign up. I’m sure it’s all routine, but I like to make sure I understand everything in advance so there are no misunderstandings later. I want our relationship to be solid. I can assure you that I will not copy or disclose the material to anyone for any reason — just as you will keep all my personal information confidential.”

If they won’t show it to you, your other options are (1) to walk away, (2) to accept the job. In the latter case, there’s something you could do that’s a bit risky. Don’t resign your current job just yet. Attend the new company’s orientation, get the handbook, read it — and then decide if you’re staying, while knowing your old job is safe.

Of course, you’d be putting your old employer in a bad spot, because then you’d have to leave without providing any meaningful notice. That’s not good. But I’m trying to help you understand just how onerous a practice it is for an employer to withhold documents you need before you can make an informed decision about accepting one job — and quitting another. (See “Why do companies hide the benefits?”)

Either of these options might seem extreme, but taking a job without knowing all the terms is risky. I wrote a short PDF book (30 pages) about other matters job seekers fail to take control of — until too late: Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers. Among the gotcha topics you’ll learn to handle:

  • Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer
  • How can I push the hiring decision?
  • Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it
  • Judge the manager
  • Get an answer at the end of the interview
  • …and more

I hope your next job works out better for you than this one did.

Did you ever accept a job only to learn that the rules of employment were not to your liking? What was the outcome? If you’re an employer, do you hide your employee handbook from job applicants? Why?

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Gotcha! Get job offer concessions in writing!

In the September 16, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker tries to finesse a good job offer:

I just received a fantastic offer from a growing company that comes with a huge salary increase. I have a few days to decide while they conduct a background check and will enter negotiations once the hiring manager gets the all-clear from HR.

get-it-in-writingMy current job is close to home and incredibly flexible with my time (work from home, comp time, etc.). I would be giving much of that up for a big spike in salary and responsibility. I am not afraid of work and put in extra time when it is needed. In my industry it’s common to have big crunch-time spikes where you work 60 or 70 hours a week and then back to a normal load during slow times. I know what the job is, what is required, and I enjoy doing it. But the reality of my job makes it important to maintain work-life balance during the slow periods. I am hoping to negotiate some flexibility into my offer.

The company expects 9 hours “at the office” with a 1-hour break for lunch. I bring a sandwich to work and eat at my desk nearly every day. Even if I do run out to get something, I grab it and head back to my desk. I don’t need an hour for lunch and the extra 30 minutes with my toddler before bed time means a lot more to me. I know myself — I am going to end up working during “lunch” anyway. Reducing my scheduled lunch to 30 minutes so I can leave at 5 p.m. would make a big difference for me.

This is the only reservation I have about the job, and I believe I am prepared to take it either way. I am ready to give up a lot of flexibility because it is a great professional move, but I am hoping to keep just a little bit of my work-life balance in place. How can I negotiate flexibility without the perception that I just want to cut out early every day?

Nick’s Reply

Even if you win this concession, there’s a gotcha that’s even more important. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

You’ve already decided to take the job regardless of the 30-minute issue. So, please ask yourself, what’s really important to you? If it’s time with your child, then make that your priority. If you can live without that 30 minutes of family time, and you absolutely want this job and the extra money, then don’t negotiate. The worst position to be in when negotiating is when you have already decided to accept the other guy’s terms as they are. (In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, I discuss a powerful negotiating position to take if you already know what concessions you’re willing to make. See “Am I unwise to accept their first offer?”, pp. 8-9.)

But if you really want that time at home, then don’t feel guilty or hesitate to fight for it. When you discuss the offer, I suggest you explain that you want the job and are eager to start, but your acceptance hinges on one issue.

How to Say It

“I’d like to accept your offer and will deliver 9 hours at the office, and I will commit to X, Y and Z. But I’d like to discuss one of the terms. I’d like to swap 30 minutes of lunch time so I can leave work 30 minutes earlier to be with my child. When I need to work late during a crunch, I’ll do that. I’d like the written offer to reflect the 30-minute time trade. Otherwise, I’m ready to accept your offer as you have presented it.”

I’d explain it to them just as you did to me. There’s nothing inappropriate about your requirement. But you have to ask to make it happen. (By the way, I think you’re right – you will always eat at your desk anyway.)

You can add this: “I realize you’d need assurance or proof that I’m not abusing the 30 -minute trade-off. So, how could we ensure it’s handled properly? What I ask in return is that it be stated in my written offer.”

By letting the employer set some terms around this, you help them make the concession. But you should absolutely get it in writing if they agree. An oral commitment from the employer is not sufficient.

In fact, I’d like to emphasize this last point. It’s the gotcha I referred to earlier. You might win the concession, and lose it later. Any terms you negotiate in a job offer must be written into the agreement. If your boss changes, or if the person who made the promise disappears, this deal likely will come to a quick halt. Even under the best circumstances, people forget what they agreed to. (In the worst circumstances, an employer will just lie to you.) There’s nothing like being able to produce a piece of paper with a signature on it to ensure you’re getting the deal you signed. Don’t lose what you gained!

Please use your best judgment — not just my advice. Congratulations on the offer. It’s great you’re so pumped about it. Now make sure the terms are what you really want. (See That’s why it’s called compensation.)

Oral promises don’t mean much when the rest of the deal is in writing. Have you ever gotten screwed out of a promise after you started a job?

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Can I trust Glassdoor reviews?

In the September 2, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a burned employee sparks controversy about anonymous employer “reviews” on Glassdoor.com:

Have you ever written about Glassdoor reviews? Based in part on positive reviews I read about a start-up company on Glassdoor, I accepted a job. This company was nothing like it presented itself to be. It was terrible. Two months into my tenure, another position came up and I left. (My rule is never to shut down the job search process until I am sure I want to stay somewhere.) It still bothered me that this company was so crappy and I felt I had been taken for a ride.

I had lookeglassdoord at the reviews in Glassdoor prior to the interview and, though there were negative reviews, there were overwhelmingly positive ones as well. I was concerned about the negative reviews, so I brought it up in my interview. The recruiter stated that the office prided itself on being different from its corporate parent, and he felt I was a good fit. So I took the job.

Here’s why I’m asking about Glassdoor. After I quit the start-up, I continued to follow the company on Glassdoor and checked LinkedIn to see what kind of turnover they had. It turned out some of the people hired during my time have since left. Strangely, when a negative review shows up, an overwhelmingly positive one shows up within a week. Interestingly enough, two of the most current negative comments say that HR is posting its own positive reviews! The recruiter I worked with left after a year. So, are these reviews worth anything? What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve never written about Glassdoor.com because I think its business is worthless except as a generator of revenue. At best, this public database of anonymous reviews about employers is a curiosity. (I’m skeptical about any kind of anonymous reviews, even on Amazon.) The very idea of a website that encourages people to anonymously critique employers is ludicrous and irresponsible. I think its use is widespread because it makes money. That fact impresses HR executives and the public, leading them all to base business decisions on admittedly untrustworthy information.

Just think about it: Any disgruntled employee or job applicant can trash a company publicly. An HR department can spam Glassdoor, singing its own praises. (It seems this happened with the company you quit.) Honest comments will get lost. Meanwhile, Glassdoor has no incentive to keep it all clean by making participants accountable. (The argument for anonymity is that people wouldn’t post honest comments if employers knew who they were. Duh. That justifies graffiti?) They make money with every posting. That’s how Glassdoor is like the job boards.

In fact, Glassdoor is a job board. (Like LinkedIn, the site uses the honeypot of “community” to lure you into an ulterior revenue model. See LinkedIn: Just another job board.) Employers pay to post their jobs. Where does the job seeker traffic come from? Job seekers show up every day that Glassdoor dangles its clever bait: “Come share your reviews and salary information — anonymously. Then look at job postings!” The revenue model is built on unverified reviews and unverified salary data. (Imagine if Glassdoor’s business model were legitimate: It would pay you for your honest reviews and salary information.)

In other words, HR departments pay Glassdoor to subsidize anonymous ratings and salary surveys. You suggested that HR departments use fake IDs to give their own companies good reviews I don’t doubt it.

The obvious problem is that, when no one is accountable for praise or complaints, every comment on Glassdoor is suspect. Your experience with the terrible start-up highlights the problem. Anyone can create an account without anything but an e-mail address. If Glassdoor were to require true identities, it would be another story. But it’s not.

Along the same lines of Glassdoor is a new app created by the founder of TheLadders, Marc Cenedella. He basically lifted Glassdoor’s concept and made it more personal. Knozen.com lets people post anonymous comments about their coworkers’ personalities. That’s more of a bathroom wall than even Glassdoor. I can’t wait for more lawsuits.

Reading anonymous customer reviews when you buy a camera or a waffle iron is one thing — if you make a mistake, you’re out a few bucks. But when you’re checking out an employer, due diligence is crucial. We’re talking about your career and your income. Check credible sources. Your best bet is always to seek out current and former employees at a company to learn the truth — but make sure they have real names. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, you’ll learn the powerful “scuttlebutt” method of researching even privately held companies — by talking to their competitors (pp. 22-24).

Here’s another important tip from the same book, in the section titled “How to pick worthy companies” (pp. 10-12):


Talk to the company’s customers and vendors
This is where you will find the hidden skeletons, and you will learn who are the real decision-makers in the company. This is also where you may find a hidden opportunity. It might not be with your target company, but with one of its customers or vendors, or with some other associated company. By extending your research and meetings to such companies, you’ll get a valuable, industry-wide view — not just of your target company, but of the work you want to do.


It’s not so hard to evaluate an employer. Invest the time to do it right next time, because anonymous reviews of employers can get you into serious trouble.

Is it real, or is it crap? The reader in today’s Q&A learned the hard way that, if information smells, it’s probably crap. Would you trust anonymous reviews and salary surveys to make a career decision?

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How and when to reject a job interview

When I answer readers’ questions, we don’t usually learn about the outcome. In this week’s edition, a reader follows up and we see what happens when someone takes my advice.

In the August 19, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews an employer before the interview:

thumbs-downI have been invited to interview for a management job at a small firm. I researched the company and reviewed the job description and requirements, which are vague at best but, in general, I meet all the criteria.

After agreeing on a date and time for the face-to-face interview (set by the HR specialist), I inquired about the possibility of a phone screen with the hiring manager so I can get all the larger particulars out of the way and then determine if there is any synergy between the company and my own employment interests. I was informed that the company prefers to do all screening in person.

I take interviewing seriously, but I have a good job now and I have very specific career goals. Also, I try not to waste time away from work unless I am certain the job interview will have a high likelihood in piquing my interest. So, with a few days to go, I sent an e-mail asking for the basic information in written form. This is how I phrased it:

Hello,

May I impose on you for a few details about this position that I will be interviewing for soon?

  • Is this a hybrid managerial/hands-on position? Can you guess-timate the percentage of hands-on to managerial time?
  • Is there a large amount of travel associated with this position?
  • Can you give a salary range?
  • Will this position have an annual training budget to keep up the skill-set needed to grow with the company?

Thanks very much!

I received no reply for three days. When I politely inquired again, I was told, “My apologies for the late response. Our management team will be able to answer all of these questions in the interview tomorrow.”

My instinct is telling me to cancel this interview. If the company cannot provide basic information to a prospective candidate, why should I spend three hours of my time? It’s a crap shoot at best, and a waste of time at worst. The interview is tomorrow afternoon. How would you handle this?

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for sharing a good example of when it’s good to turn down a job interview — even in today’s economy.

The questions you’re asking are all reasonable. In fact, they’re important to help you decide whether to go to the in-person interview. I wish everyone did what you’re doing. It’s smart and it’s professional.

I agree with your instincts, especially if you’re under no pressure to get a new job. But here’s what I’d do. I’d call the hiring manager if you can, and otherwise the person who has been e-mailing you from the company. (If e-mail is your only choice, fine, but I’d really try to talk with the person.)

Just as politely as you’ve already handled it, I’d explain that your work schedule is very busy, so you do your best to confirm whether a job is right for you before you attend interviews. Say you’d like to interview for the job — if they can first provide you with answers to the basic questions you’ve asked. Do your best to have this discussion with the actual hiring manager.

If the person you speak with will not answer your questions, or insists that you show up for a meeting, I’d politely explain that, unfortunately, in the absence of this basic information which you need to make a reasonable judgment, you’ll have to respectfully decline the interview. I know someone will chide me for telling a job seeker to walk away from an opportunity, but not all interviews are worth attending — they’re not opportunities. What’s shocking is how employers waste so much time and resources on ill-advised interviews. (See Half-Assed Recruiting: Why employers can’t find talent.)

I admire your integrity and your sense of doing good business. If you don’t get the information you need, I wouldn’t go to the interview. Every job seeker needs to draw a line somewhere. (Here’s another line: Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.) Just bear in mind that the company may put a big X on your file and never consider you again. On the other hand, you may not want to reconsider them any time soon yourself.

I’d love to know what you decide to do, and the outcome. It would be a shame to miss a good opportunity over something like this – but this is a data point that more people should think about more carefully.

Employers are crying there’s a talent shortage and that they can’t make good hires. Then they behave like rule-bound fools when a candidate they want to meet demonstrates the kind of intelligence they’d like to hire. Go figure. You’re trying to save them time by demonstrating good judgment and good business practices. As a buddy of mine likes to say, people who behave like this make it easier for those of us that “get it” to succeed – because there’s less competition.

The reader responds

Nick, thanks very much for your reply! I managed to find the e-mail address of the director of the department that has the open job. I sent this e-mail:

Hi <name withheld>,

I hope this e-mail isn’t too intrusive. I have been invited to interview in person for a manager position later today. I’m contacting you because HR has declined to provide me with some basic information about this position. (I asked about travel requirements, salary range, hands-on vs. managerial, education budget.)

If you know the hiring manager (or maybe you are the hiring manager), would you please pass my number and e-mail on to that person and ask them to contact me? I am hoping to get some basic questions answered before committing time out of my work schedule to attend an interview. I have specific career goals and usually like to have a brief ten-minute conversation with the hiring manager before the actual interview. In my experience, this strategy saves time for everyone involved in the process.

I appreciate any effort you can make in this area and look forward to possibly meeting you. Thanks…

After a few minutes, I received a response:

Thank you for your e0mail.

We use our interview process to ask and answer questions. We have not been in the position before that an applicant requested to have questions answered prior to the interview. Frankly, given the size of our company and resources, we do not have a good avenue to address these types of requests, as multiple team members would be able to address different types of questions in the interview. I understand your position, and agree that it does not make sense to waste the time of either party. If you prefer to not go forward with the interview, please let me know and I can take you off of the schedule.

It sounds like they aren’t using logic at this point. She states that they “have not been in the position before…” where an applicant asks questions before showing up, which I find unbelievable. Is there really no “good avenue to address these type of requests?” Seriously, are my questions that difficult? Am I the only one that finds this puzzling? Anyway, I will decline the interview at this point. Again, your advice and column are extremely helpful and appreciated!

Nick’s Reply

In the time it took to write all that, the director could have answered your questions. Or, perhaps the director didn’t have the answers. That’s another problem altogether. I do admire the fact that you were given the choice about whether to proceed — they didn’t reject you for pressing them.

Nonetheless, I smell a management problem. Too bad. Here’s what bugs me the most:

“We do not have a good avenue to address these types of requests, as multiple team members would be able to address different types of questions in the interview.”

Your questions are all simple, factual ones that the director should be able to answer easily in advance. I think you’re doing the right thing.

The cost of interviewing job applicants is significant for employers and, as you’ve pointed out, you incur a cost, too. Too often, job seekers think any interview itself is the big payday, and they are loathe to pass it up, even when it’s irrational to go. Your questions were all legitimate make-or-break issues that a company can easily respond to in e-mail or on the phone. If applicants asked more questions before interviewing, and if employers were more candid, then fewer interviews would be a waste of time.

All I can say is, keep on truckin’. The point is to meet a company that’s a match, not to talk to every company that comes along. Again, I admire your integrity.

Think twice

I’d like to make one comment to job seekers who might think you (the reader in today’s Q&A) can “afford” to turn down this interview because you’re secure in your job — while they may not have that “luxury” because they’re unemployed. Every interview requires an investment of time, energy, planning, and — yes — gas money. The point isn’t to get more interviews; it’s to get interviews where the job meets your objectives, whatever they are. There are multiple downside costs to every wrong interview because it takes you farther from truly good opportunities. Pick your jobs carefully before you pick your interviews — and that requires thinking twice when an employer can’t give you good answers before you buy more gas.


Additional Resources

If you want to check out employers more thoroughly, see “How to pick worthy companies” (pp. 10-12), “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” (pp. 13-15) and “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies” (pp. 22-24) in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention.

To dig even deeper before you take an interview, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, you’ll find “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer” (pp. 11-12) and “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” (pp. 23-25).


What makes you reject an interview invitation? Or, nowadays, is it just best to take any interview you can get? What do you think the reader in this week’s Q&A should have done?

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Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!

In the August 5, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter’s troubles reveal how job seekers can help themselves:

flounderingI just read your expose on CareerBuilder (Employment In America: WTF is going on?). I have used them over the years with very mixed results, and now they’re eliminating my discount and almost doubling my cost. A major disappointing rip-off.

I am a niche technical recruiter in a sector that has thousands of jobs not being filled because there is a lack of heavy-industry engineers. I am on Linkedin with up to 14 million connections to the 3rd level. There are some legit contacts, but the recruiter tools are a rip-off. And like CB and Monster, their sales people are relentless and care little for their customers’ results.

I have been doing direct e-mail campaigns and making calls, and I’ve been posting to niche boards. I got slammed by junk resumes on Indeed. Monster wants to sell me a $5,000 per month program, and I am hitting the wall. I have used some professional sourcers and it has been a struggle. One sourcer’s fee would be 50% of the fee a client would pay me.

I am floundering. All the techie features of these online systems can be a distraction! What else can I do to find good candidates for my clients? This is still about finding good people for good companies. Part of the problem is that the people I am searching for in heavy industry don’t publish, don’t attend conferences and don’t operate or participate on blogs. The companies that I work for trust me and they know their positions need to be filled with leprechauns riding unicorns chasing purple squirrels. Nick. I don’t want to be a lousy recruiter. It is still an important service that changes lives… hopefully for the better. Any advice is appreciated.

Nick’s Reply

I hope job seekers, whose questions we usually discuss here, can learn something from my advice to a troubled headhunter.

The solution is old-fashioned. You have to go where these people (candidates) hang out — wherever that might be. You talk to people who know people in the business – and ask for referrals to other possible sources. You do this primarily on the phone, but as much as necessary by e-mail, too. The point is to create a potent network of solid contacts so that insiders in heavy industry will know who you are and refer others to you.

LinkedIn is little more than a fancy phone book. Everyone is in it, but consulting it isn’t recruiting. As you can see, a list of 14 million people and their data is useless in itself. And the job boards deliver swill by the bucket. The reason a company uses a headhunter like you is that this takes hard work and there are no shortcuts. That’s where the huge headhunter fees originated – for all the hard work. Those professional “sourcers” you mentioned — they actually identify appropriate candidates in very challenging industries, and that’s more than half the work of headhunting. Of course they want half your fee! The online shortcuts just don’t do it.

I’m not trying to give you a hard time, just a reality check. Headhunting is 90% meeting and talking with people all day long. That’s where assignments and candidates come from. I know you know this, or you wouldn’t be telling me how all these “services” don’t really work.

You can start with your clients. Meet with them and ask them where their best hires have come from – what cities, what companies, what schools, where? Then I’d start cultivating contacts in those places.

Then go to heavy-industry engineers you have placed. What competing or related companies do they admire? Do they know engineers there? What continuing education courses do they take and where? Sign up for some of those classes — it’s where you’ll meet engineers and sources of good contacts. What conferences do they attend? Attend them yourself. (I don’t buy what you’re saying. Engineers congregate with other engineers. Your challenge is to figure out where.) Don’t just talk to attendees; talk to the organizers and presenters. They are great sources of candidates. Just don’t forget to return favors!

I’m sure you know people in manufacturing, finance, operations, marketing and sales. Many of them know engineers who know the engineers you’re looking for. That’s who those “sourcers” are talking to. Your job is to talk to them, too.


For the job seeker

How Can I Change Careers?Networking is not about using people. It’s about hanging out with the people you want to work with, where they hang out — talking shop, contributing to your professional community and making friends. The How Can I Change Careers? Answer Kit (36 pp., PDF format) provides tips and tools for career changers and job changers alike, including:

  • A good network is a circle of friends
  • The basics of good networking
  • How to initiate insider contacts
  • Tell me who your friends are
  • PLUS: Create your next job
  • PLUS: Put a free sample in your resume
  • PLUS: A crib sheet to help you explore, choose and research the right opportunities; tips on how to enter a circle of friends; how to define an employer’s needs and map your skills; and how to create a business plan for a job that will make you the profitable candidate in an interview.

I’m also sure you know quite a few heavy-industry engineers who are not looking to make a change. Buy them a nice lunch anyway and pick their brains — express an actual interest in their work. Become more of an expert in the field you recruit in, and you will start to see connections and opportunities you never saw before. Don’t ask these engineers for referrals; instead, offer them introductions to other people that might be beneficial. For free. Become a hub of good contacts without expecting any return and those engineers will start referring their friends to you because they will come to see you as more than just another headhunter who throws buzz words around — they’ll see you as a valuable industry resource.


For the job seeker

The best headhunters are looking for you in places where the best of your peers are talking shop. They cultivate potent networks of solid contacts — and job seekers can do exactly the same for themselves. For a more structured approach to how job seekers can meet and work with the best headhunters, see How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you (130 pp., PDF format). It includes these sections and much more:

  • htwwh1Why don’t headhunters return my calls?
  • How should I judge a headhunter?
  • What are all the different kinds of headhunters?
  • Are online job boards a good way to find headhunters?
  • What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list?
  • What kind of resume will make me the headhunter’s #1 candidate?
  • How can I find a good headhunter?
  • How should I manage a call from a headhunter?
  • Should I divulge my salary to a headhunter?
  • How should I negotiate with a headhunter?
  • Can I boost the salary range for a job?
  • Can a headhunter hurt my reputation?
  • Should I tell a headhunter who else I’m interviewing with?
  • PLUS: How do I keep a headhunter from squeezing me out of negotiations?
  • PLUS: How do I avoid having my resume tossed in the trash?

Like good jobs, good candidates are found through relevant contacts and hard work. (Who is relevant depends on how creative and insightful you are. That’s another thing that makes those big headhunter fees hard to come by.) The contacts you need will grow out of your active participation in the professional community you recruit from.

I admire how seriously you take your work. But no one is going to do it for you, and no online service will replace you. Take that to the bank.

How do the best headhunters you’ve met operate? We’re always talking about what’s wrong with headhunters. Some of them are very good at what they do. What’s right about them? Please share your experiences. Let’s talk about how to use the best headhunters’ best methods yourself!

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The employer is hiding the salary!

In the July 15, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about wasting vacation time interviewing for the wrong jobs:

I applied for a position in another state and got a call right away to set up an interview. I scheduled vacation time for this meeting and it went very well. I liked what I was hearing and my would-be future boss obviously liked what he was hearing so much that he scheduled another interview with the “powers that be” right away. So again I scheduled more vacation time for this interview. This also went very well.

At the end, when it came down to talking salary, all involved were very disappointed. My low end of expected salary was much higher than the high end of what they could offer. It was a good enough fit that the hiring manager e-mailed me a couple of weeks later wondering if there was any way I could come down in my salary expectations. After I turned him down again, he e-mailed me a few days later telling me how much he was disappointed that we couldn’t work things out. I asked him to keep me in mind for other opportunities.

It would save me countless hours of wasted vacation time and interviews if employers were not so secretive about their salary ranges. If I had known the salary range ahead of time, or at least at the end of the first interview, we could have saved each other so much time and disappointment. How do you suggest handling this?

Nick’s Reply

hidden-moneyIf I didn’t know better, I’d think that, as the economy improves, employers are trying to take advantage of job seekers by hiding the money. Perish the thought!

The other explanation is that it’s become a cultural problem. “Oh, we never talk about money… it’s so declasse…” Yah, and it’s also ridiculous.

Would you visit a Tesla salesroom for a $75,000 car if all you can afford is $25,000? Of course not (unless you’re just out for entertainment). Imagine if there were no way to find out the ballpark price of cars in advance. Would you visit a dealership twice, hoping the price might turn out to be right on the third visit? Of course not.

In one of the Fearless Job Hunting books I discuss how to respond to your boss when he offers you a promotion but fails to mention a raise in salary. Is there one? How much? The same method works perfectly before you agree to interview for a new job.


This excerpt is from the section titled, “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games:

“You should have asked about money first. Some might consider that presumptuous, but I don’t. It’s business. Setting expectations early is usually the best way to accomplish your goals. The psychology of this situation can be more complex than you might realize. If you embark on this meeting… without setting an expectation about money up front, you will wind up like a puppy waiting for a treat after you’ve jumped the stick 20 times.

“How to Say It: Keep it short and sweet: ‘What’s the pay like?’

“Those are the only words I’d respond with. It’s not a demand, or even an expectation. It’s a top-of-the-head, disarmingly honest, enthusiastic question that must be answered before any further discussion. Note that you’re not even asking for a specific number… I think the best way to ensure that compensation will be a part of negotiations is to put it on the table from the start.”


This is business. Get an answer before the interview, or move on to the next employer. The only reason employers don’t like to disclose a salary range — like the manager who kept challenging you to lower your salary expectation — is that they want to hook you early in the hopes that you’ll compromise. And, once you’ve gone to multiple interviews, you’ll be more likely to compromise your negotiating position to justify all the time you’ve already invested. It’s an old sales trick.

The manager you interviewed with is just astonishing. He asked you to lower your salary requirement — twice! Why don’t you send him an e-mail now, and explain that you’ve thought about it and you’d love to work on his team. Is there any way he could come up to your required salary?

See what I mean? It sounds kind of awkward and presumptuous for you to do that — right? Yet he did it with no problem. Maybe it’s worth trying. Maybe he’ll realize he can’t find who he needs for the money he wants to spend. (You might want to be ready to explain, How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?)

This is the salary double-standard. The manager wasted your vacation time twice and keeps asking you to to give up even more… for what?

I’m not asking these questions rhetorically. Employers like this need to do a reality check, because they’re a bit nuts and more than a bit unreasonable.

Next time, when an employer hides the salary for a job, ask. Save yourself some grief. (There’s another side to this double standard: Why do companies hide the benefits?)

Have you interviewed for jobs where you didn’t know the salary? Were you surprised later? What do you think would happen if you insisted on knowing the salary range in advance?

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