A headhunter locked me out of jobs for 6 months

In the April 14, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says getting referred for a job by a headhunter cost him the job — because the employer didn’t want to pay the fee.

Question

I applied for a job on Indeed.com at a medical facility. A person called representing herself as working for the facility. She did a five-minute pre-screening interview, and set me up for a phone interview with an HR representative. The short version of this long story is that the organization wanted to hire me, but wasn’t able to because of a recruiting fee of $12,000.

I’ve been informed that this recruiting company has put a six-month “lock” on my name. Is this legal? This kind of thing has never happened to me before. I’m appalled that they can get away with it! Do I need to contact the state attorney general’s office? I never signed any documents stating any agreement for them to represent me. Please help!

Nick’s Reply

This is a deep crack in the law that you’ve fallen into. Employment agencies and third party recruiters (a.k.a. headhunters) are not regulated everywhere. The recruiter has submitted your resume as one of her referrals — and if the employer hires you as a result of that referral, it may owe the recruiter a fee.

(Of course, the recruiter serves a purpose. Without her, you may not have gotten the interviews with this employer. But her intervention should not cost you a job!)

I’d do two things.

Get the facts first

Call the employer’s HR office. Don’t tell them what happened. Just ask whether they have a contract with that recruiter.

My guess is they do not, but the recruiter’s referral may be interpreted by the employer as an obligation to pay a fee to hire you. That’s the crack in the law.

Recruiters will sometimes find and use resumes like yours as an entree to a company they don’t have a contract with. They will threaten the employer with a lawsuit to collect a fee, because they were the source of the referral. This may not stand up in court, but the easy way out for the employer is not to hire you. So you lose. My guess is that’s what’s going on here. The loose interpretation of the law might be that if the hospital hires you within six months of the referral, it owes the fee. After that, there’s no fee. That’s what the “lock” refers to.

But all this is questionable. What recruiters like this one bank on is an HR department’s unwillingness to risk legal action — which is silly.

What’s important for you to realize is that — I’m sorry to say — you are at least partly responsible for all this:


Have you ever put your resume on an online job board? Then you may have slimed yourself because anyone who has access to that resume can do exactly what that troublesome headhunter did with your implied blessing. You’d have a hard time convincing a judge or jury that the headhunter did anything wrong if your resume is already widely available.

Excerpted from How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 114.


Use regulatory powers

The second thing I’d do is call your state’s department of commerce. Find out whether the recruiter is licensed. Not all states require licensing. If yours does, and she’s not, she’s out of luck. I’d explain that to the employer — and I’d turn her in to the authorities..

Of course, it’s possible the recruiter has a contract with the hospital. In that case, what the lock means is the hospital has agreed to pay a referral fee for up to six months after a referral is made. Thus the lock is not on your name, but on the employer. You are not bound by a contract you are not a party to.

But here’s the risk you face, and it’s significant: If this recruiter circulates your resume to lots of employers, under her letterhead, such referrals may be construed by those employers as an obligation to pay a fee to hire you — even if you later apply directly. A good headhunter or recruiter would never refer you to any employer without your knowledge or consent. An unsavory recruiter will plaster your resume all over kingdom come — under her letterhead.


There are two sections of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you that you’ll find helpful in the future. “How should I judge a headhunter?”, pp. 26-27, defines a set of standards that good headhunters adhere to. “How should I qualify a headhunter?”, pp. 28-33, goes into great detail about how you can separate the good headhunters from the unsavory ones.

Some of the book is about how to protect yourself, but most of it is about how to leverage headhunters and recruiters to your advantage.


Assert yourself & protect yourself

I would immediately send the recruiter a certified letter, with a return receipt, stating that she is not to refer you to any employers, and demanding that she notify you what companies she may have already referred you to. Again, recruiters like this one bank on people not fighting them legally. It can be a nasty game.

Depending on what you learn, you may want to contact your state’s department of labor and employment. Explain what happened and ask their advice. If the recruiter misrepresented herself as an employer, I’d consider filing a complaint of consumer fraud and possibly identity theft, citing the recruiter’s misrepresentations, and for her failure to tell you that it would cost a fee to hire you.

Much depends on whether the employer is willing to stand up to the recruiter. I doubt the employer or the recruiter would want to see an article in the newspaper about a job seeker in a tough market finding out he got screwed out of a job because of all this.

I’d love to know what you learn and decide to do. This is a murky situation because much depends on who did what, and on whether the employer has a contract with the recruiter.

Keep this in mind: None of these agencies or recruiters work for you. Their client is always the employer. They have no contractual obligation to you, or you to them. Yet many such firms will use phrases like, “We will represent you…” They do not represent you. The employer pays them, and their fiduciary duty is to the employer. But it’s an odd business, because they can imply that they represent you — with the result that employers might lock you out of jobs due to the fee they’d have to pay.

Finally, remember that posting your resume or profile online makes it easy for anyone to “refer” you to an employer and to claim a fee. You can fight this, of course — but good luck, because employers are more likely to protect themselves than fight to hire you.

Has a recruiter or headhunter ever cost you a job? What would you do if you were the job hunter in this week’s Q&A?

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Say NO to tests prior to an interview

In the March 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about investing time in employment tests before the employer invests time in an interview.

Question

I applied for a Senior Director position with a large healthcare software company. I was “selected” by HR to begin the recruitment process, which starts with “assessment tests” such as aptitude and personality tests. The largely canned e-mail they sent me states that I should block off two hours to complete these examinations, and I was provided with a link and logon information to the assessment website. Mind you, I still have not talked with the hiring manager.

no-to-testsI don’t really have two hours to perform these silly tasks, though the job itself does sound challenging from the description provided. Is there anything I can do to bypass this process, or should I just run and hide from this firm? How can I be sure the third party contracted to perform the assessment isn’t selling or trading my information with other employers without my knowledge? Thanks very much, I am a big fan of your blog.

Nick’s Reply

Glad you enjoy the blog — thanks for your kind words.

My approach to situations like this is not to say no. It’s to set terms you are comfortable with, and then let the employer say yes or no. If your terms are prudent and reasonable, and they say no, then you know something funky is up — and that you’ve really lost nothing in the bargain. You merely avoided wasting your time.

But I don’t think it bodes well when a company wants you to do tricks to get an interview, so you’re justified to be concerned. What I’m about to suggest will likely result in your being rejected from further consideration by this company.

  • I’d tell HR you’d be happy to comply with their request, but your busy schedule precludes you from filling out forms and going through administrative processing (tests) until you and the manager “establish good reasons to pursue the possibility of working together.” In other words…
  • No testing prior to meeting the hiring manager. Why invest your valuable time if they won’t invest theirs?
  • No testing with third-party firms unless they provide in writing (a) a disclosure that defines who will have access to your results, (b) a confidentiality statement (signed by the testing firm and the employer) stating that they will not disclose your results to anyone without your express written permission, (c) credentials of the test administrators and those who will score and interpret the results, and (d) written assurance that they will provide you with results and interpretation of your tests.

The last word about why pre-employment tests should concern you is this article by Dr. Erica Klein: An Insider’s Biggest Beefs With Employment Testing.

Now let’s get down to business. You’re interested in the job you read about, so pursue it on your own terms.

I’d contact the office of the person you’d be reporting to if hired. (See Should I accept HR’s rejection letter? for some tips.) I’d politely explain that you’re glad the company wants to interview you, and that you’d be happy to come in to meet and talk. If you mutually decide to continue discussions about a job, you’d be happy to take tests and suffer through the HR gauntlet.

How to Say It
“I get a lot of requests to do such tests but I judge how serious an employer is about me as a candidate by whether they will invest the time to meet me first. I always go the extra mile for a company that demonstrates that level of interest. In fact, if you have time to meet, I’ll be glad to prepare a plan for how I’d do the job — and we can discuss it.”

I’m sure you get the idea. The point is to say this to the hiring manager — not to HR. If you need help with that last part, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, particularly the sections, “How can I demonstrate my value?” and “Are you an A or B candidate?”, pp. 8-11. I think that offering to arrive with a business plan in hand will reveal whether the manager is on the ball. How could any good manager not be intrigued?

As you’ve already surmised, the odds are extremely high that the HR department really doesn’t know whether you are a viable candidate. They’d rather spend money on tests to filter you in or out, than spend the hiring manager’s time to interview you to make a judgment. So, I don’t think you have much to lose. At this juncture, you’re probably not a serious contender. If you were, they’d handle you with kid gloves and they’d be seducing you rather than harassing you.

Of course, the tests might be useful, interesting and valid tools to judge your skills. After you talk with the manager.

Your last concern is valid. Those third-party testing companies invariably own your results. The papers you sign usually give them the right to share your results with anyone they want to, including some other company that obtains your resume — and looks up your test results because it’s already the testing firm’s client. You could get rejected without ever knowing why.

Be careful. Use your judgment. Be polite, be professional, but don’t be a sucker. Expect the kind of professional treatment and consideration that you give others.

Have employment tests taken the place of screening interviews? Is this just another way to save HR time? More important — does this extreme testing practice waste your time or help you get interviews?

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How to fix a bad reference the hard way

In the March 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader needs to deal with an old boss who’s probably also a bad reference.

Question

bad-referenceI just had an interview where I followed your advice in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6. I took control, offered to show how I’d do the job, and demonstrated to the manager how I’d take care of one of her most perplexing problems. She loved it, and I think I’m going to get an offer. Sounds great, right?

It is, except for one problem. This manager — let’s call her Ann — knows one of my past employers quite well (let’s call her Brenda). Brenda probably will not give me a glowing reference. I suspect Ann will contact Brenda. How do I handle this delicate situation?

Nick’s Reply

I’m glad to hear Book 6 got you so far! References are a very valuable asset — learn to manage them all the time, not just when they turn into trouble. (See Take Care Of Your References.) Now let’s deal with your problem.

Even if the reference is unfavorable, a smart employer will rely first on her own judgment — and ask you to explain your old boss’s comments. So, anticipate the question and be prepared with a good answer that is honest and not defensive.

Then there’s the tactical approach. Tell the new manager (Ann) what your old boss (Brenda) is likely to say before they talk. Since you cannot block that conversation, own up to the facts and impress Ann with your candor.

The Hard Way
When confronted with a problem like this, I like to take it head-on. Talk to your old boss! It’s the hardest way, and it will force you to develop the best solution. I think it’s the best way. If you leave this to chance, you will have no idea what the outcome might be.

Call your old boss before Ann does. Surprise Brenda and ask her permission to list her as a reference. You might have to swallow your pride, but nothing of value comes easily.

If she agrees, fess up that you believe that, when you worked together, Brenda may not have seen you in the most positive light.

How to Say It
“I know I could have been a better employee, and I could have done better at XYZ. Since then, I’ve beefed up my skills considerably. [Explain how, but keep it brief.]”

This may allow Brenda to blow off any steam about you before she speaks with Ann, and give you a chance to change her mind a bit. If Brenda responds candidly, pose this magic question:

“May I ask you for some advice? I really want continue to get better at what I do. What advice would you give me about improving my performance or anything else about how I do my work?”

Profit from The Outcome
Then be quiet and listen. If your old boss blasts you, or explains that you’re better off not listing her as a reference, then you know what’s coming when the new boss contacts her. Now you’ll have to use the tactical approach I mentioned above: Prepare Ann for what Brenda will say, and explain yourself. You will have profited from the call.

On the other hand, your candid phone call to Brenda might help her see you in a new, more positive light. Discussing how you’ve changed and improved might give her the words she needs to soften the reference when she talks to Ann. Now you’ve really profited from the hard way.

This might work. It might not. I just believe in facing problems like this head-on, and in trying to make the best of them.

Do you see what we’re doing here? We’re trying to influence Brenda to help the new, improved you. In the process, you’re also learning how this may play out so you can better manage your discussion with Ann.

Whatever happens when you talk with Brenda, you’ll learn something, and you’ll be better off for knowing. Be polite. Be respectful. Do not argue. Don’t be defensive. Listen carefully and try to get some good advice. Say thanks and move on.

Congratulations on impressing the new manager. Now get your old boss on board — or mitigate the damage she might cause.

There are other very powerful ways to use references and to parry bad ones. I discuss these in lots of how-to detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “Don’t provide references — Launch them!” and “The preemptive reference,” pp. 23-25.

Can this reader avert disaster? Have you ever turned around a bad reference? Are my tactics risky?

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How can shy people make job contacts?

In the February 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to overcome shyness and capitalize on personal contacts as the path to a job.

Question

shyI am an intelligent, hardworking analyst who is also an introvert. Once I’m on the job, I’m fine and people like me. But getting contacts lined up to meet people to get the interview for the new job is difficult. There seem to be so many steps with so many people that I don’t know! I’ve read most of your web articles and haven’t seen this addressed. Do you have any pearls of wisdom for me?

Nick’s Reply

Believe it or not, I was quite introverted and shy when I was young. I would freeze up in front of a group. It was painful and embarrassing. Gradually, I realized I had to deal with other people, and I started listening to friends I trusted — they helped me practice appropriate behaviors. I’m still somewhat introverted, and sometimes I hesitate to initiate contact with others, but I’ve learned to behave in more outgoing ways. It doesn’t always work, but each time it does, I enjoy the rewards and I try to do it more.

I know quite a few folks who’ve tried Toastmasters groups to good effect. Toastmasters participants help one another hone their public speaking skills, working with one another in a safe, supportive setting. Their small successes make it easier for them to be a bit more outgoing with other individuals in public.

I don’t doubt being introverted can cause difficulties, but most human behavior is subject to conditioning and learning. (Sometimes the terms introversion and shyness are used loosely and interchangeably.) Look up social learning theory — you might find it intriguing and helpful. I had the good fortune to study under Dr. Albert Bandura at Stanford, and what I learned from his research about human behavior and modeling has had a profound effect on me.

The best advice I can offer is this: Think of one or two small behaviors that are more outgoing, then practice them as much as you can. For instance, walk up to someone (in an appropriate setting that doesn’t feel threatening to you) and say, “Hi, I’m [your name].” Reach out at the same time to shake hands. Then say, “I understand your work involves XYZ.” Then ask a simple, honest question about XYZ, and let them talk.

The secret to this technique (I hate calling it networking) is that most people love to talk about their work if you ask them. If they ask you about your work next, talk as much as you feel comfortable. If you get nervous, you can always just say, “Thanks, it was nice to meet you,” and move on.

The key to changing your thinking is to start by changing your behavior, but only one step at a time. Keep practicing. You’ll get to enjoy your little successes, and it will not seem phony or contrived as you get better at talking to others. This is the fundamental behavior behind meeting people to get job interviews.

Here’s an excerpt about making new contacts from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), (pp. 6):

Scope the community:
You 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 [your] community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of. [See Meet The Right People.]

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.

Jobs aren’t found on computer screens and in postings — or even on LinkedIn, which is, after all, no more “social” than a phone book. You actually have to get out and meet people face to face! Most jobs are found and filled through the personal contacts we make and turn to.

Do you find it hard to talk to people when you want to make professional contacts? How do you break the ice?

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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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Resume Blasphemy

In the August 26, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker asks whether I’m serious about the Working Resume:

I recently stumbled upon your website and found it most useful. Thank you for sharing your insights and advice. I am starting to implement them in my job search. With respect to the Working Resume article (Resume Blasphemy), are you simply referring to a pitch book or some kind of presentation that acts as a discussion facilitator? Do you have any examples to guide someone looking to build something similar?

Nick’s Reply

resume-blasphemyHere’s the blasphemy: You write your resume only after you’ve talked to the hiring manager. It’s not your “marketing piece” and it doesn’t “introduce you.” You introduce you.

I have many examples of blasphemous resumes, but I do not publish them — everyone should create their own because the point is, each is and must be unique and tailored to a single employer. Besides, the examples I have belong to people who wouldn’t want their edge shared — it’s an enormous amount of work.

You can think of your blasphemous resume as a pitch facilitator or whatever works for you — but I intend it as an actual resume that takes the place of the traditional one. (See The truth about resumes.)

The reader follows up

At what point do you submit this “alternative” resume? Most trolls in HR don’t know the difference between a Working Resume and a blank piece of paper. I can see how preparing a Working Resume would help with the interview because one would be very well prepared, but getting through the screening round is usually the toughest part (unless of course someone within the company recommends you).

Are you still helping people find work or are you mainly focused on publishing?

Nick’s Reply

You’d never give a Working Resume to HR — that would be like needing a doctor but asking the doctor’s receptionist for a diagnosis! HR is usually clueless.

You need to get the document to the hiring manager. The catch is, if you can’t identify and talk to the hiring manager in advance, then you can’t possibly produce a Working Resume — that’s why virtually no one tries this and why, when you do try it, you have virtually no competition. It’s a lot of work. (That’s part of what’s so blasphemous about it — nobody wants to do the work!) But I believe that without this effort, no one has any business in a job interview. It’s the reason most interviews result in no job offers — just a waste of time.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, there’s a How to Say It box that suggests how to get the information you’ll need from the manager:


How to Say It

“I’d like to make our meeting as profitable as possible for both of us. It would help me to know a bit more about the job, so that I can prepare to show you how I would apply my skills specifically to the tasks you need done. May I ask you a couple of brief questions?”


That’s a powerful request and a powerful indicator to the manager about what you’re going to deliver in your interview — and in your Working Resume.

Unfortunately, job seekers and employers have it backwards. They start with the resume when they should start with a conversation about what the manager needs a new hire to do. So, commit resume blasphemy: Talk first, plan your Working Resume next, share it with the manager — and only then should you meet to show why you’re the profitable hire.

As a headhunter, I don’t help anyone find work. My clients pay me to find them the people they need. I publish Ask The Headhunter to share my expertise with job hunters. I also do very limited one-on-one coaching by phone, one hour at a time — I don’t believe in long-term “career coaching.” I think it’s a racket.

How blasphemous is your resume? Do you throw resumes around and wait for employers to catch them and call you? A Working Resume is a lot of work — but so’s that job you want. Do the work to win the job. Let’s talk about how.

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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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4 Tips for Fearless Job Hunters

In the July 22, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, four questions yield four tips to help you overcome some of the daunting obstacles you’ll face in your job search.

  • What should a job seeker always say to the employer at the end of an interview?
  • What should I do about application forms that “require” my salary history?
  • How can I avoid a salary cut?
  • What should I do about employers that won’t give me a decision when they promise to?

Recent questions submitted by readers reinforce the idea that it isn’t the “steps” of job hunting that matter most. It’s the unexpected obstacles. In this week’s edition, I’d like to share four important tips to help you overcome obstacles in your job search. My answers in each case are excerpted from the Fearless Job Hunting PDF books. I hope these tips give you an edge!


FJH-6From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Be The Profitable Hire, pp. 14-15:

Question 1

What should a job seeker always say to the employer at the end of an interview?

When I was job hunting, I always made it clear that I wanted the job. As a hiring manager, I want to ensure that positions are filled by qualified candidates who I know, undisputedly, want the job. Can you discuss the importance of this basic and obvious technique in interviewing that is often overlooked? That is, the applicant must always say to the potential employer, “I want this job.”

Tip 1: Learn to say “I want this job”

There’s a story I tell in my first book about a talented sales executive who interviewed for a job and failed to get the offer. I asked him whether he closed the interview by saying he wanted the job.

He argued with me that making such an explicit statement is awkward and that it suggests the candidate “has no class.” My response: “It’s good you weren’t hired. Failure to say you want the job shows you don’t have enough interest in working for the employer.”

“Of course I wanted the job!” he exclaimed. “The manager knows that! That’s why I’m interviewing!”

No, the manager doesn’t know that. Not unless you tell him. Interesting, isn’t it, how unacceptable some think it is to make an explicit commitment, when that’s exactly what an another person needs to hear.


FJH-4From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, pp. 11-12:

Question 2

What should I do about application forms that “require” my salary history?

Some companies I recently applied to have established online application forms that include the infamous salary question. Many of these forms have the field flagged as “required,“ which prevents you from moving forward without disclosing this information. Can you give some advice on how to handle this situation?

Tip 2: Beat the application form

There may be ways around it, if you’re willing to risk getting the application screener ticked off at you. (Ever wonder who screens those apps? Ever wonder why a company lets some clerk decide who managers will and will not interview? It’s crazier than nuts.)

Such forms don’t distinguish between text and numeric entries. Try entering CONFIDENTIAL instead of a number. If a number is required, I’d use lots of 9’s to make it clear that you’re not misrepresenting your salary, but protesting the field.

You might be considered a smart aleck, and your response inappropriate. So make a frank statement about your intent elsewhere on the application. (There is usually a field for comments.) I believe it’s perfectly legitimate to politely but firmly state that your salary is confidential, and that you prefer to withhold it until a serious mutual interest develops between you and the employer. What better way to get a screener to actually pick up the phone and call you? (That’s the point of applying, right?)


FJH-7From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games, pp. 7-10:

Question 3

How can I avoid a salary cut?

I had an excellent rapport with the CEO who interviewed me. The job is just what I was looking for. It would be a next step in my career. The salary, however, is 20% less than my last job… The CEO asked me to think it over during the weekend and call him next week if I have any ideas that could bring us closer to an agreement. He asked me not to accept the position unless I could be happy for the long haul. How can I avoid a salary cut?

Tip 3: Avoid a salary cut

It’s up to you to show the CEO how the work you will do will pay for that salary boost… Sales doesn’t mean convincing. At its best, sales means showing how you’re going to help the other guy make profit from your work, so he can pay what you’re asking. This simple idea is foreign to many people, yet it’s at the heart of any salary negotiation — and at the heart of any good business transaction.

Avoid a salary cut by showing the employer how you will help him avoid a dip in profits. Make the employer want to pay you more, by showing him how you will help him make more, too. Give the CEO some good reasons to work with you, and you may get some or all of what you want.


FJH-8From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, pp. 15-16:

Question 4

What should I do about employers that won’t give me a decision when they promise to?

Two weeks after my interview, I called to ask if a decision had been made. The HR person said the job was not filled, and that I was a top candidate… I have waited another two weeks without any word. I suppose I have several options: Continue waiting, call the company again to reiterate my interest, or give up and look elsewhere. Which do you recommend? How long is it reasonable to wait “patiently” after interviewing?

Tip 4: Play hardball with slowpoke employers

Never call the personnel office to find out where things stand. After the agreed-upon deadline, call the manager. Whether you talk to the manager or get voice-mail, leave this hardball message: “I’d like to work for you, but I’m considering another job offer.” Say no more. (Note that you have not closed the door to an offer.)

If none of this yields an offer or believable timetable information, then stop investing time and emotion in this deal unless it comes back. Move on.

I know only too well how frustrating this is, and how angry it makes you. The sooner you understand that many employers are too preoccupied to care, and that you’re not going to change their behavior, the sooner you can get on with your life. If you spend your time waiting for someone to make a decision about hiring you, then you give up control of your destiny. This is me playing hardball with you: Stop calling the employer.

There aren’t any “steps” to getting hired. If there were, you’d follow them and you’d have the job you want. Getting an offer is about knowing how to overcome daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Let’s talk about the obstacles you face in your job search!

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Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire

In the June 17, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says that not all jobs produce profit:

I have read this in your advice more than once:

If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me.

There are many positions in “the company” that do not have a direct impact on profitability, and I would argue it could be difficult to prove they even have an indirect impact.

It seems to me much depends on the size of the company, the culture of the organization, the management structure, as well as the specific position and the ability and authority of that position to influence more significant factors (such as staffing levels or budgets) that could impact profitability.

If one is seeking one of these lower- to mid-level management positions (such as project manager, for example) exactly how would a candidate show how they will “boost the company’s profitability?” The concept is understandable, and I can see where at some level this might be valid, but the majority of job seekers are not operating at that level, are they? Is your advice targeted only at the highest-level positions?

Nick’s Reply

profitable-peopleMost of my columns are written for all levels of work – though some people have preconceived notions about what “profitable work” means. They are brainwashed, and I say that with a smile. Every job – every one – affects profit. Trouble is, few people (including employers) talk about it or even worry about it. That’s why we see layoffs and down-sizings.

I think it’s incumbent on every manager to have some sense of how each job in the department contributes to profit – either by boosting revenue or controlling costs. Both require work. There is no job that doesn’t affect one of those financial terms in a business, and – put very simply – PROFIT=REVENUE-COST.

Every job fits into one of the two terms on the right side. We can pretend it doesn’t, or we can avoid calculating it and thinking about it, but in the end, people lose their jobs and companies go out of business because one or more jobs aren’t contributing positively to the profit equation.

As an employee (many years ago) I sought out the CFO of my company to talk about how my job affected profit. The CFO was stunned that anyone would come in to discuss this – puzzled but pleased. I instantly made a new friend. (This experience was what prompted me to write How Can I Change Careers? and Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

The profit from one job is a hard thing to calculate, as you point out, especially in larger companies. But go tell that to the board of directors and they’ll laugh at you. They’ll point to the P&L statement and ask you where your job is located – because it’s in there. Trouble is, management has learned not to talk about it. It’s long past time we fixed that and owned up.

I recommend this approach to job seekers because I know the effort to estimate a person’s role in profitability makes them stand out in job interviews. It makes them powerful candidates who show they care about the bottom line.

So please think twice about what you said:

There are many positions in “the company” that do not have a direct impact on profitability.

My response to that is, eliminate those positions, because they’re dangerous. And fire the managers who don’t know how jobs under their command impact profit directly. The people in those jobs may be great, but if management doesn’t know how they impact profitability, the jobs should be cut until management figures it out. It’s called a business plan – and no venture capitalist would put a dime into a new venture if the biz plan didn’t justify every single employee.

Why should a mature company be held to a lower standard? It shouldn’t — yet I know bigger companies are, with the excuse that they are “more complex.” So what? It’s okay for bigger enterprises to have sloppier profit metrics? Just look at the news — it’s why we see massive down-sizings. Management lost sight of profit for too long! (See Bloomberg: Profit-based job hunting and hiring.)

As for the “how,” if you do your homework as best you can prior to an interview, then open the profit topic for discussion in the interview, you’re head and shoulders above your competition. Estimate as best you can. Discuss the components that contribute to the calculation – even if you don’t have the numbers. Encourage the manager to get into it. The two of you may never come up with a fixed answer, but I guarantee you’ll have a discussion the manager will never forget, and you’ll learn more about the job than any other applicant.

If this were easy, everybody would be doing it. They’re not. And that’s the point – everyone isn’t because they’re not paying enough attention to why an employer pays anyone to work: profit. If you want to stand out from your competition, be ready to present the business plan for your job – as best you can. Be ready to assess the business plan with your boss. (See How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?)

I know it’s not what you’re accustomed to – and it’s not what employers are accustomed to. I’ve had executives in Executive MBA classes at top biz schools ask me what you asked. When I explain it, light bulbs go off and they get it. They start laughing at themselves, and they get it. That “aha” moment is priceless. And that’s what I want the employer to experience when you complete your interview.

Rich Mok, a seasoned executive in Cornell’s Executive MBA program at the time, put it better than I can. He had just interviewed for a job after attending my workshop:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done. They oughta make you a Cornell professor! I can already see that the one hour you spent with us will have as much impact on my MBA ROI as any class that I have taken in the program, if not more so.”

Rich presented his plan for profit and surprised the employer. (See Don’t Get Hired, Get Acquired: Audio from Cornell workshop.)

I love questions from readers about topics like this. You’ve nailed a key underlying issue in Ask The Headhunter. Thanks! I hope my lengthy comments are helpful.

What’s the point of the job you want? Be ready to talk about it, because your resume is history. What you’ll get paid for is what you can do next. How do you talk about profit to an employer, and to your boss?

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Too rich to land a job?

In the May 20, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader with a trust fund just can’t get it in gear:

I got a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature three months ago, and I’ve been unemployed ever since. The only job that my Ph.D. would lead to directly is an academic one, but I was so tired of the academic world that I had to do something else.

trust_fund_babyI come from a wealthy family, and they’ve set up a trust fund for me, so I’ve had enough money to survive on, but just barely. I thought I’d use this time to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. And guess what? I haven’t. I thought at first that I’d like to be a freelance journalist writing commentary on current events and the arts. But it’s very difficult to break into that business.

So I’ve decided I’d like to get a normal job. My family really wants me to get a life, and they’ve got a lot of money, so they’d pay for any kind of training. And so that leads me to my question here: What kind of training is the most likely to get me a middle-class job as soon as it’s done?

Personality factors are important here. I’m intelligent and hard-working, but I don’t really have people skills. I can usually be polite with people, but not friendly. I’m not good at small talk. At a recent dinner, I was talking over a career in financial planning with my family, but they said that I don’t have the people skills for it. They’re probably right. I need anonymity. I would not be good at anything that required a great deal of schmoozing.

Probably a lot of the other typical job tracks for humanities people, like editing and publishing, would require a lot of schmoozing, too, so you’ll understand why I’m leery of them.

So, what would you recommend for a person like me?

Nick’s Reply

Your candor is a good sign, so I’m going to be extremely blunt with you. Sorry if I sound like I’m punishing you for your family’s wealth. I’m not. It’s clear that you could not live on your trust fund anyway, but I want to help you get past it, because I think your money is stopping you from moving on with your life.

You need to work. Any kind of work. If you didn’t have the little bit of money your trust fund provides, you’d be tackling any job you could get to pay the rent. The outcome of that would be a process of exploration and elimination. You’d quickly learn what you like and don’t like — at a very fundamental level — about the jobs you’ve taken.

Get a job

Flip burgers. Wash floors. Wait tables. Work on a production line. Do some typing. Answer phones. Crunch spreadsheets. Anything. I’m not suggesting that any of those might turn into a career, but rather that the experience of working would illuminate life and work in general for you. In any of the jobs I’ve listed, you’d be part of a larger company that encompasses all kinds of work and jobs. (For a good start, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search.)

For example, crunching spreadsheets at a public relations company could illuminate editorial, marketing, finance and other kinds of functions. Working a production line could teach you a lot about working with your hands. Like a rock band once sang, life is a minestrone. There’s a lot in that bowl, if you take time to look, and it’s all quite filling.

Get to know everyday people

Once you start working at any job, you will also meet your biggest challenge: dealing with people. Forget about anonymity. It’s not an option, especially at your age. If you let your lack of “people skills” be the excuse for not doing certain kinds of jobs, you will die half a person. You need to get close to other people if you want to find yourself. Trust me: You are one of us, and us has nothing to do with wealth.

Know where I developed my people skills? While I was in college — a shy, introverted, relatively asocial kid — I worked summers and holidays in a factory. My co-workers had third-grade educations, fast cars, long knives, drug habits, crazy girlfriends, very spicy food in their lunch bags, mean streaks, happy-go-lucky attitudes, and very high standards about who they called their friends.

It took a while, but I finally lost my holier-and-more-educated-than-thou attitude and learned to pay attention to the people around me. By the end of my first summer, I had friends who would take a bullet for me. (I mean that literally.) I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud to be accepted by other people. I graduated from that factory with a lot of people skills. And I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do. I passed many hours doing menial, repetitive work fantasizing about things that interested me. That’s how I found some direction — by working very hard, getting lost, and taking time to think while I collected a paycheck.

Start your life

Your bit of money is killing you. I’m not suggesting you throw it in the river. I’m suggesting that you get a job — any job. Learn to work with people, no matter how awkward it feels. (Don’t worry. If you’re rude or inattentive, they will slap you into shape, literally or figuratively. We all need that sometimes. I know I did.)

Your experiences with others will bring your real interests and motivations to the surface. And that will drive your choices. If you come up with something you’d really like to do, don’t do it. Make yourself wait until you’ve had a chance to change your mind. If you’re still focused on that one thing, then go do it. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to move on to something else. (For help getting in the door, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention.)

The first rule: Make choices now. No sitting around trying to figure things out. No waiting for your family to bless your choices. Work.

Second rule: Be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. But don’t feel you must explain it to anyone, least of all your family.

This is not career counseling. It’s life. Don’t let “the world of opportunity” bog you down. Don’t be too rich to land a job. The opportunity you need is to see yourself work with other people. You’ll learn a lot about yourself — no matter what the work is. Sometimes menial work is better. Sometimes you can learn more by working with laborers who are closer to “work” than white-collar “professionals” are.

Please start your life now. Don’t let yourself develop a disdain for the world that is matched only by your fear.

By the way. I, too, was a Comp. Lit. major for a while. The result: Today, my friends are puzzled by my reading habits, but they have no idea that Turgenev, Nabokov, Dickens and Flaubert have influenced my writing style as much as Lenny Bruce. :-)

Never let any of this boggle your mind or make you despair. A fine mind can have a good time with any kind of work if it stops worrying. No more education — at least not yet. The best training for you is on-the-job-training. Go work anywhere to start. But go work.

(Beware of career counseling. For many, its sedative properties can be lethal. To get on your own path, try the short version of Pursue Companies, Not Jobs. The full version is in one of my PDF books.)

Did you discover yourself (and other people) through an unlikely job? What kinds of work have you done that shaped your work ethic? Which job taught you how to be a successful human?

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