Should I give equity to entice a new hire?

In the March 13, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the owner of a start-up business asks whether it’s smart to give equity to a new hire:

After years of frustration with the way many professional services firms treat their clients, I decided to launch my own business. I have had modest success in my first six months and I am considering adding an employee. The individual that I am interested in has expressed concern about the added risk of working for a small company. He wants me to give him an equity stake to offset the risk, but I don’t want to give away too much too early, considering the competitive nature of the marketplace and my own business vision. What would you recommend?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

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My Advice

There are two kinds of people in your start-up world, other than clients: employees and investors. You can’t fill a job with an investor. You must fill it with an employee.

Now, I’m a big believer in sharing profits with good employees. And I think it’s a great idea to make employees owners to a reasonable extent, commensurate with their commitment to the business. That’s what profit-sharing plans are about.

But employees must earn their way into ownership of the business. It’s simply not good management practice to give away ownership of your company before you know what you’re getting in return. If this individual were bringing you new clients or some kind of intellectual property to enhance the value of your company, then and only then would I consider giving him equity from the outset.

If you hire an employee whose contributions become a true investment and a key part of your business, then at some point sharing some equity may be a key to your long-term success.

You can test this candidate’s motivations. Try this:

How to Say It
…(Sorry, this part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)…

…This person is clearly looking for security and potential riches without making a solid investment.

I’d find another candidate, or someone who wants to invest in your business as a partner. Take a look around: Even jobs with big, stable companies are risky. There is no such thing as job security.

In the future, I would look for candidates who want to add value to your business and to make you more successful — not ones that want you to protect them from risk. Talk about jobs and salary to potential employees. Talk about investment and risk to investors. But don’t confuse the two.

Does your company offer equity to new hires? Have you ever accepted equity to join a start-up? How did it work out? I’d like to hear what you have to say about the risks of start-ups — and the joys of taking risks!

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Internal recruiting: Is it poaching?

In the March 6, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager wonders why employers prohibit internal recruiting but let their best workers get recruited by the competition:

In [last week’s edition] a manager asked about hiring from within the company. I hire internally all the time, and my company’s own employees have been some of my very best hires. While it may be frowned on in some places, here we can request internal references, talk with an employee’s current manager, and check performance reviews. No doubt some companies make it difficult to hire internally even while they talk big about career development and growth! That’s not how to keep your best people. How can managers in companies like this change the rules?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

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My Advice

It’s a dirty little secret that many companies discourage managers from recruiting internally. Oh, they promote “career growth” as long as an employee initiates the contact. (See JHBWA.) But for a manager to recruit an employee from another department? That’s a no-no!

Should managers be permitted to headhunt internally? Absolutely. While some would abuse the privilege, I think that in any healthy company managers and employees would find a balance. Not encouraging internal mobility only hurts a company.

I’ll tell you a story about how the enormity of this problem came home to me.

A Fortune 50 financial services company hired me to teach recruiters in their HR department to recruit like headhunters. After putting them through an intensive program on how to identify and actively pursue the best people for a job, it dawned on the recruiting manager that the best candidates were often already working somewhere else in the company.

That should be no surprise in any large company. If the company is successful, of course some of the best people in the industry already work there.

It was easy for me to convince the manager that the company needed to create an internal headhunting function, to recruit internal people from one department to another — legally.

She wanted to be the internal headhunter, and I helped her sell the concept to management because the company was losing a lot of its best people to the competition. Meanwhile, exciting internal jobs were going begging. The company was paying headhunters like me huge fees to recruit outside the company, when great candidates were right under management’s nose.

Since managers were not permitted to poach employees from one another — they had to wait for employees to come to them — setting up an internal headhunter with freedom to recruit with no-holds-barred seemed to be a good solution. They realized this was preferable to losing their best people to external headhunters.

As soon as they kicked off the project, the company’s managers freaked. Everyone wanted to hire internally, but too many managers objected to having their employees hunted. So the project was cancelled.

Long a target of headhunters, the company continued to bleed talent. To top it off, the HR recruiter who started the internal headhunting project got so disillusioned that she left.

Of course managers don’t want their talent poached by other managers. But it happens every day. The question is, does the board of directors want its talent poached by other companies — after investing a lot of money to cultivate that talent? In many companies, the geniuses in HR like to refer to people as a resource. But until HR recognizes that people are an investment, the ROI (return on investment) will accrue to the company that recruits them. Internal headhunters, anyone?

I think managers can help stem the loss of good employees by working together to create responsible internal recruiting practices. Hire an internal headhunter, and protect your company’s ROI. Pretending no one is poaching your best people from outside is a losing proposition.

Does your company recruit internally? Or does management play games about who must approach whom? And, if you’re a manager, what does this mean to you? What do you think about poaching, stealing, and recruiting your own company’s employees!

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Manager Asks: Should I hire without face-to-face interviews?

In the February 28, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager loses a “star” employee and asks how to hire — but the manager cannot interview candidates in person:

A star employee left my team and I need to replace him. I can recruit only from inside the company, which has over 100,000 staff, so it’s not so much of a limitation. More of a limitation is that I will never get to meet candidates face-to-face before I hire anyone because I most likely will be recruiting people in another country. I love all of your advice about candidates showing how they can do the job in their interview, but how can I turn that around as a manager so that I can get the best possible candidates?

In recruiting the original star employee I used your advice and had my short list of candidates present a piece of work to me, similar to what they would be required to do in the job, and from there I picked the ones I wanted to interview. The star candidate made the best impression in the face-to-face interview (which I was able to do then) and I hired him because he approached the interview the way I needed him to approach the job. This method obviously worked, because I got a star employee.

These techniques are so much harder to do when there’s no interview in person, and you have no idea who might have helped candidates put together the piece of work that they turn in. Do you have any tips?

Finally, I can’t obtain reference information about applicants who haven’t told their boss or co-workers they are applying for another job. If I start asking around about them in a division I don’t work in, it can cause a nasty situation. How would you suggest getting sound information about the candidates’ reputations without creating an internal HR nightmare?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

First, thanks for confirming that asking candidates to “do the job to win the job” is a very effective way to hire — and stars, no less! (See the Readers’ Comments section of the newsletter, at upper right, for another confirmation that this works nicely.)

You seem to be facing two problems:

  • In-person interviews are not possible, and
  • You can’t check references.

More important, you know that meeting candidates face to face — and asking them to show how they’d do the work right there in front of you — pays off handsomely, because that’s how you hired your last star.

Your real challenge isn’t how to hire in spite of the two problems. It’s how to overcome them. Hiring in spite of those two problems could be disastrous. The reference problem is probably insurmountable because it could create a lot of trouble for you and for anyone you investigate. You’d probably also be violating company policy.

The first problem is one that I think you have to tackle and solve.

Find a way to meet your candidates. Explain to your management that the cost of hiring the wrong person could be staggering. The cost of bringing candidates in for meetings might be significant, but is not staggering. It’s a very wise investment. Do all you can to minimize that cost — but I would go out of my way to make in-person interviews happen. Hiring remotely is just too risky for the company, for you, and for the candidates.

I would nonetheless mention the reference problem to your boss

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Sometimes we must remember that our bosses pay us to tell them the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it. I would not risk hiring sight unseen. Your job is to tell your boss the truth. Explain the potentially huge cost of making the wrong hire in the interest of saving a few dollars on travel.

Finally, I would outline to your boss the Ask The Headhunter methods you use when you interview. Demonstrate how you will apply the extra investment. Your boss will see that you hire for the bottom line: You want to see your candidates perform before you hire them. Your department will be more successful. The candidate is far more likely to be successful. Your boss will be very happy. You might get a raise later for thinking so strategically. And I’ll be proud.

Have you ever hired anyone — or been hired — without an in-person interview? More significantly, have you ever been in an interview — as the employer or the candidate — where “doing the job in the interview” was required? How did you handle either situation?

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Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters)

This week we started a “pound Nick with questions” thread — and you’ve been pounding! Great questions and topics — and pointed insights. A recurring theme on that thread is recruiters — the inept, the inane, the ones who waste your time, and the ones who leave you frustrated and angry. (There are good recruiters out there, but that’s another topic.)

Reader Dave started to boil it down in his 1/18 comment on the previous posting:

One other thing…

Just recieved the occasioal newsletter from a so called “head hunter/recruiter.”  He said he has developed a relationship with an offshore vendor in order to provide services/people to do work.  One of the reasons he gave for doing this is because companies “can’t find the right people.”

Quite frankly, this made my blood boil for all of the reasons Nick states in his blog post.  You can’t tell me that with all the unemployment, underemployment, people who gave up looking for now, people looking for a change and all the people graduating from college, that you cannot find anyone to fill your positions? 

This is a prime example why I dislike most “search staff.”

Dave draws a whole new thread from the strands that come together in that discussion. I was going to respond to him briefly, but then I realized Dave has generated a whole new topic. He deserves to know…

Why You Hate Recruiters

It’s no accident. It’s a well-orchestrated con game run by experts. HR departments pay expensive consultants to define the “best practices” ($$$) and to promote the “best technologies” ($$$$$$$) that enable HR to maintain the 4:1 ratio of unemployed people to unfilled jobs in America. (That’s 14.2 million unemployed, and 3.2 million vacant jobs.)

Translation: Corporate America pays a lotta money to act dumb when it recruits and hires.

Thanks, Dave, for sharing that newsletter you received from the recruiter who’s going offshore to fill American jobs. But the problem is higher up the food chain. Employers are the ones spending the money here. Recruiters like this one just chase the low-hanging fruit. I’d love to see Congress haul these people in front of a committee and ask them:

“So, when you interview talented job applicants, then what do you do to cultivate them into productive employees?”

The answer is splattered all over the popular media:

“We hire only perfect fits! With these intelligent databases, we don’t have to take chances on training anyone who can’t already do the job with their eyes closed!”

People and companies want to believe that technology can meet the hiring challenge. Savvy, insightful managers who know how to judge talent are no longer required. Give HR a database of jobs and resumes, and they’ll throw money at it forever, waiting for a payout. The job boards are like slot machines for HR wonks: An addiction. The only beneficiary is “the house” — in this case, HR consultants and database vendors who cater to employers who want to believe.

Selling The Mess to HR: A full-time gig ($$$$)

Example: Check out RecruitingBlogs, where “internet recruiting gurus” tout the databases and the social thingies that they get paid to explain to their clients:

“…we’re going to release a ranked list of the Top 25 Online Influencers in HR. This list is completely generated by algorithm (think Google). The list ranks the Top 25 voices in HR based on their online footprint…”

Gimme a break. Online footprints? That’s how we judge value? That’s what consultants teach HR — and HR pays big bucks. That’s why job hunters like Dave are left swinging in the breeze. The recruiters are part of a big social jerk, fantasizing about social media. The blogging consultant goes on to describe his brethren:

“So, I was at this party a couple of weeks ago. All sorts of twitterati were there…”

Then it gets down to brass tacks: Making money by “explaining” the databases to HR rubes with deep pockets:

“There is money to be made in the field today because the techniques required to find people are arcane and confusing. Additionally, with the strong exception of Avature and Broadlook’s products, there are no useful tools for the automation of the process.”

What’s he touting with those two products? Expensive databases that employers use to intoxicate their personnel jockeys. Note the implicit focus on automation of recruiting. The more automated HR becomes, there’s more “money to be made” because nobody can understand this crap. (Try to scrape this one up off the ground in one piece, from the HR Examiner Blog: “Meaning and data in the social web.”)

One of the “strong exceptions” blogger John Sumser refers to, Avature, has a tagline:

“Bring Social Media and Web 2.0 tools together and create unique and innovative solutions to your recruiting challenges.”

How about getting the consultants out of the bars (where they’re being wined and dined by the “arcane and confusing” online recruiting tools vendors), and the recruiters off their asses, and bringing together a few brains to meet some of the 3.2 million “talents” that the software can’t quite figure out? HR is bogged down, and employers are dying for good workers, because HR doesn’t recruit — it pays consultants to distract it with non-stop workshops, white papers, and “best practices” designed to facilitate deep contemplation of the HR navel. ($$$$$)

(By the way, John Sumser is not the only consultant driving HR down into the whirling blade that’s waiting to process you. There’s the aforementioned RecruitingBlogs.com, which delivers non-stop juice to keep the blender going; ERE.net, where recruiters go to talk it all through; and a host of sycophants that have figured out “there is money to be made in the field today…” so let’s get together for another mind-expanding party and to count our money.)

Recruitomatic: It’s all in there

Then RecruitingBlogs.com refers to “Mr. Recruitomatic.” That’s where I rest my case. This is a cluster duck.

Mr. Recruitomatic could be the title of a book about the state of unemployment in America, or it could be an inside joke about how HR rotates on its consulting budgets. It’s all one big database blender, grinding up people into keywords with no decision-making or intelligence beyond the algorithms. Mr. Recruitomatic is churning out swill that nobody wants — or there wouldn’t be 14.2 million unemployed, and 3.2 million vacant jobs, would there?

Or maybe it’s just your fault, Dave. You ignorant, behind-the-times, unemployed slob — you’re just not prepared to be “the perfect fit.” Get some new keywords. Find some meaning and data in the social web. Reduce yourself to what HR is willing to hire.

Welcome to The Social Jerk

“We have a shortage of talent!” Yah — in HR. No shortage of consulting fees, though. ($$$$) No shortage of jargon to mix up with algorithms and some social sauce. But the farther HR sticks its head into the blender, the more it’s clear the talent shortage is in the corner office where the consulting bucks are spent.

Dave, this is what drives HR departments stupid. This is why you hate recruiters. There is an entire industry that earns big bucks mixing up the HR mess that you describe. It’s the motor driving the HR Recruitomatic. Why do I rag on it so? Because the consulting crowd doesn’t have any idea what’s going on outside the blender — they don’t see you getting splattered with muck. There are no fees to be had from you.

While these twitterati advise their eager HR clients about what’s “completely generated by algorithm,” ($$$Cool) they have no idea what is the impact of their only-half-clever, inbred “initiatives.” They’re not out on the street, where guys like you don’t see what’s “social” about software deciding whether you can ride a fast learning curve so you can do a job.

The Recruitomatic and HR’s database-itis — this is why there’s a 4:1 ratio of unemployed Americans to vacant jobs. It’s why you get splattered with HR’s mixed-up rationalizations while you’re trying to earn an honest dollar for doing honest work with an employer that knows how to run a business. And that knows how to hire.

Anyone’s odds — if they’re unemployed — are about 4:1. But what are the odds the board of directors at any company has a clue what’s going on? They don’t get why you hate recruiters. They don’t get why so many jobs at their companies are vacant and work is left undon. They don’t get that the “talent shortage” is largely manufactured by consultants who make out only when HR is playing with Mr. Recruitomatic — not when HR actually hires anybody.

The social jerk is a profitable $$$$$proposition, Dave. Except for you and your 4.2 million buddies.

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How Employers Can Help You Get Hired

In the December 6, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who helps seniors find jobs shares an “interview invitation” one of his clients received. It’s a landmark! Why don’t more employers do this? Join me below to discuss other ways employers can help you get hired.

I’m a training and placement specialist and a long-time subscriber. I’d like to share an e-mail one of our clients received confirming an interview. I’ve changed the identifying information, but otherwise this is exactly how it was written. I love it when employers tell us what they expect. Too often, we are left to guess. What do you think of this approach to interview invitations?

Chris Walker
Senior Employment Center
Akron, Ohio

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[Letter received by a job applicant]
Dear Joe,

You are confirmed to interview on Thursday November 17, 2011. You will be interviewing for the Mechanic position with XYZ Compost Services, Inc. The meeting will take place at the address and time listed below

ADDRESS
1234 Main St
Akron, OH 44313
(330) 888-8888

INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
10:00 am – 11:30 am

INTERVIEWERS
[name], Vice President, Operations
[name], Manager, Process Control
[name], Electrical Engineer

INTERVIEW PREPARATION
During your interview, you should expect to be asked behavioral-based questions where your responses need to be specific and detailed. Be ready to share several examples from your past experience — jobs, projects, teams, volunteer work — where you demonstrated strong behaviors and skills, and think in terms of examples that will show off your selling points. Be sure to come prepared with both positive and negative examples.

To learn more about XYZ products and services visit [our website].

Contact me with any questions.

Thank you.

[name], MBA
Director, Human Resources
**

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Gee — Imagine that! An interview invitation that includes the actual names of interviewers a candidate will meet and talk with. Most employers won’t disclose this information for fear that the candidate might actually call them prior to the interview. Perish the thought!

That’s right, employers don’t want anyone bothering their managers with questions about an open job — least of all people who are about to invest their valuable time in a job interview. It’s better to let the applicant show up guessing what the employer wants, rather than help a candidate get hired by sharing a clear set of expectations. (The alternative for managers is to Open the door.)

Why don’t employers do everything they can to help you get hired? (For that matter, why don’t managers invest heavily in Interview futures, rather than shop for talent at the last minute?)

Most employers don’t want to tip their hand about what you will be asked in a job interview. That would be giving it all away and it would destroy the element of surprise! Why enable candidates to prepare before they interview? Better to let them show up wondering! Do these same managers also give their employees surprise assignments without any suggestions about how to do the work?

Employers behave like total dopes when they schedule interviews. It’s a rare employer that actually helps the candidate prepare. My hat is off to this organization — it clearly believes that helping a candidate succeed in the job interview will help it make a better hire.

But I’d take this further. As an employer, I would:

  • Call the candidate in advance, on the phone, and suggest specific resources the candidate should use to prepare for the interview.
  • Offer to let the candidate talk with team members to ask questions so he or she can prepare fully for the interview.
  • Conduct a “cook’s tour” of the facility prior to the interview, so the candidate can see firsthand what the work — and the business — is all about.
  • (…this last suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)

Some employers might scoff that this would be a waste of time, and claim that the purpose of the interview is to discuss all these things. I say bunk. A good manager would never blind-side an employee with a work assignment. A good manager would encourage and help an employee prepare in advance, to help ensure success. The point of a job interview is to expedite hiring a capable candidate — so why not help ensure success by prepping the candidate? It’s all the same challenge: to get the work done!

This edition of the newsletter is intended to be more even more interactive than usual. Please help extend my list of what an employer can do to help a candidate prepare for an interview — and to help the candidate succeed.

What would you like to see employers do to help you get hired — and to help themselves efficiently fill a job and get the work done? What would you add to the list of helpful information offered by the employer in Chris Walker’s example? Is anything “too much,” or how extreme could an employer get?

Special thanks to Chris Walker for sharing “a live one” from one of his clients. This is a great topic — especially if hiring managers are out there “listening!”

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Employer Fined for Stupid Recruiting

New Jersey is the only state where it’s illegal to publish job ads that exclude unemployed people. Is that because New Jersey has especially stupid employers, or because New Jersey is the first state to recognize that there are too many employers everywhere that behave stupidly?

Does it matter? Here’s what matters: The company that took the first bust under this new law reveals a lot about Stupid Recruiting.

CEO J. Michael Goodson explained Crestek’s recruiting strategy. The job posting for a service manager included the requirement, “Must be currently employed” because Crestek wanted someone “at the top of their game and not people who have been unemployed for 18 months.”

Now for the punchline: According to the Star-Ledger, Goodson “spent three years seeking the right person and sifting through resumes was time-consuming…” [Emphasis added.]

Recruiting is hard work: You have to sit and wait an awfully long time.

This $185 million company spent three years trying to fill a position so important that the CEO waited leisurely for a resume to come along and nibble on his job-ad line. Translation: Hiring what comes along. Gee — I wonder how much it cost Crestek to leave that job unfilled for three years while Goodson sifted incoming resumes. Did it ever occur to Goodson to go out and find, cultivate, cajole, steal and otherwise recruit the person he needed?

The Talent-Shortage Brain Fart

Waiting for job ads to deliver a top candidate to your front door is like waiting for customers to show up. Doesn’t Crestek have a sales force that goes out to find customers? Then why doesn’t Goodson get out there to find top talent? Why is this company banking its future on want ads? I can see Goodson’s next initiative: Fire the sales force and run more ads!

Why did this company resort to warning jobless applicants away? “This was the only time we ever advertised that way and we only ran it when the other ads failed to produce any viable candidates.”

Ahhh… this was an experimental, state-of-the-art job ad. A new way address the talent shortage. A brain fart.

Remember the talent shortage? 4.2 million Americans are out of work, and almost half a million of them in New Jersey. Not one qualified applicant came along while Crestek was dipping its line in the water. Must be the talent shortage at play — or poor management?

Stupid Recruiting: A sign of lousy management

Says Goodson: “For this job, I wanted somebody that’s in the service business and is employed. If someone is out of work for 18 months, my concern would be that their last job was in a bakery or pumping gas.”

If I were looking for a job at a good company, my concern would be that the service manager’s job at Crestek was empty for three years because the CEO didn’t know how to fill it. I’d wonder whether the the company might be better off if the CEO would go pump gas.

Running ads and waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to show up at your company is passive recruiting and poor management. Now that the CEO has tripped over his tangled recruiting line, Crestek’s corporate resume has been updated with a rap sheet for violating New Jersey employment law. But no state in the union fines companies for Stupid Recruiting.

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The employer that rejected me made a mistake!

In the October 25, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job candidate explains that an employer made a mistake when it hired another applicant. He wants advice about how to help the employer rectify the mistake. Don’t laugh — it’s easy to get caught in this trap of frustration.

I recently made a lateral move to a large firm in a different state. Here is the problem: I was originally interviewed for the Senior Vice President (SVP) job, but the executive recruiter thought I didn’t have the right experience. So she recommended me for the next level down, the Vice President (VP) job. The client offered me a good package for the VP job, and I took it.

The same recruiter then brought in several other candidates for the SVP position. They gave the job to a person from a big firm in a different industry, who has less experience than me (three years versus my seven years), and who was unemployed for one year. Overall, he’s far less qualified than me, in my opinion. But now I’m reporting to him.

What do I do? I’m tempted to call the recruiter who brought me to the client and tell her that she screwed up. I also want to tell the head of HR (who interviewed me) about this situation, but I’m not sure what to say. That is, how can they rectify this situation? Any thoughts?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Wow — time out! You can’t “rectify” a company’s hiring decision that you disagree with, because it’s their choice. I know you’re frustrated, but please step back and look at this calmly.

If you were to approach the company or the recruiter about this, you would come across as presumptuous and arrogant. You have no idea what their reasons are for the choice they made, or what criteria they used to select an SVP. You are not the decision maker, nor do you have any place in the decision process. Please be very careful. It’s easy to feel that someone else has made a huge mistake — but it’s not your place to suggest that they rectify it.

I think the reason you don’t know what to say about this is that you realize it would be inappropriate to say anything.

This is actually a common problem among job hunters at all levels. Some of the smartest people I’ve known get a twitch when they feel usurped by a competitor. The twitch is unjustified, but they make themselves suffer deeply, convinced they’re right and that the employer is wrong — even when they lack information about why a decision was made. They really believe they must — and can — “rectify” the employer’s “mistake.” It’s painful to be rejected, but I think the best cure is to accept the truth behind a profound quote from author Vladimir Nabokov: “You are not I; therein lies the irreparable calamity.”

Though we should learn what we can from rejection, in the end it’s often about the differences between people, not about errors or failures. No offense intended, but the decision you need to make is whether you want to work for this company and whether you will be content with the VP job.

Please think about this carefully. If your behavior betrays your frustration, it could contribute to failure on the job. You accepted the VP job, and I assume you had good reasons for doing so. Part of your job is to work closely with your new boss, the SVP. If you harbor serious reservations about this, you should consider resigning. Otherwise, make a commitment to having a good working relationship, because your employer is not about to give you the SVP’s job.

Ah, the pain of rejection! And the pain of getting over it. Have you ever gotten bogged down in resentment over a lost job opportunity? How’d you get past it?

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Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m

Rude employers who don’t bother to follow up with job candidates after interviews, even after promising a hiring decision within X number of days, are a staple topic on Ask The Headhunter. And it’s no wonder — job applicants are fed up with, “Hurry up and submit your application! Hurry up and fill out the forms! Hurry up and show up for an interview! Then hurry up and wait while we contemplate our navels!”

Comments on I really, really want this job, a discussion about frustrated job hunters, turned back to the problem of employers that fail to display the most basic courtesies.

Reader LT commented:

Back when HR was “wages and benefits”, management made darn sure there were hoards of fresh-faced stenographers and typists to crank out correspondence of all types, including but not limited to “We thank you for your interest in XYZ Company, and will have a decision by Friday next.”

But, complains LT, after you do all that HR asks of you, “the next sound you hear is utter, complete rude, deafening silence.”

Were companies better citizens then?  I don’t know.  I do know that, at least form a potential employee’s perspective, their “corporate culture” is so blatantly demeaning that it is beyond comprehension why anyone would care to work there.

LT raises a very good question. What changed?

Is it the lack of support staff to write thank-you notes? I think it’s a far more serious and systemic problem. In many companies, HR doesn’t behave respectfully any more because it has boxed itself in.

As a profession, HR has created a monster. While some HR departments actually recruit, HR on the whole funds job applicant sources like Monster.com, CareerBuilder, HotJobs, TheLadders to the tune of billions of dollars a year. For what? To ensure a massive, untenable, unworkable, impossible-to-process pipeline of incoming job applicants.

When HR got into bed with the databases, its standards slipped, and thoughtful, careful recruitment turned into a mindless, sloppy, “volume” business. Sorry, LT, but there is simply no way for HR to process all the incoming “applicant” crap it pays for, much less send out nice notes to people it interviews. Personnel jockeys are drowning in the drek gushing out of the job board pipe. They have no time to actually deal with candidates.

The good HR folks out there know who they are. They’re selective. They’re respectful. But the rest of HR has made its bed, inviting too many to jump in. Today, Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m is how HR does it, and don’t expect a call tomorrow.

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Are you over-qualified for a grunt job?

In the August 9, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter gets rejected for demonstrating initiative, and asks for a work-around:

You have urged us to convince the hiring manager we can bring value to a job. Believe it or not, this doesn’t seem to be appropriate in some circumstances, unfortunately.

I have had experiences with accounting and IT (information technology) hiring managers. Each had a detailed requirement of the role to be filled. When I focused on what I could bring to the table, the post-mortem in each case was, “She is overqualified.” They just wanted someone to tick off the boxes on the requirement and show proof of competence in those areas. Going beyond was automatic rejection.

Maybe certain roles demand a pedantic mind to succeed, and it’s not possible to present a good business case to such people when they are the hiring managers. What do you think?

Nick, do you have a work-around for this circumstance?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

This is an excellent question. But I don’t think this is really about the job. I think it’s about the employer. I’ll take the liberty of re-phrasing it:

Do I want to work for someone who wants me to be a grunt, and not add anything to the job?

If you do, then don’t offer anything more in the interview than the interviewer asks for. That is, check off the boxes and go along for the ride. The trick, of course, is figuring out whether the employer wants more or not. I’m not sure that’s possible without betraying higher intelligence and motivation.

But if you want a job where you’re contributing to the business, and if you want an employer that cares, then keep doing what you’ve been doing. Show what you can bring to the table. Employers that want to hire robots will fail the interview, just as this one did.

No offense intended — honest — but I think what you’re getting at is, How do we dumb ourselves down so we can get a job that doesn’t require our full participation?

Maybe you just answer the questions you’re asked, and say little more than that… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week,  subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Note to human resources managers: If your company wants grunts, please stop talking about “hiring talent.” You know who you are.

I know there are managers who don’t give a rat’s batootie how capable a job candidate is, beyond meeting the minimum requirements. There are also people who close their eyes and gobble down anything in the fridge, because they consider cooking a waste of time. Anything they can stuff in their face will do.

I don’t disparage anyone who just needs a job to pay the bills, and who will take anything they can get. But that’s not the audience I write for. I write for people who love to cook tasty meals and enjoy seeing big, gratified smiles on the people sitting around their table — like their boss and their co-workers. Because life’s too short for just plain “competent.”

Managers who reject job candidates capable of doing more than the job description aren’t managers. They’re grunts, too. When grunts run a business, talented workers eventually all leave. The customers and investors usually depart after that. I think getting rejected by grunt managers is a good thing. But if you want to work around such rejection, just sit quietly and chow down on the mush grunts serve you.

I’m sure people have strong opinions about this. I’d love to hear them! Even routine jobs benefit from smart, motivated workers who want to help a business be more successful. But I could be wrong. Are employers smart to hire grunts?

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This Employer Earns an A in Hiring

In the August 2, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager explains hiring like it ought to be done and earns an A:

I’m a hiring manager and I like to ask candidates to:

  • Review our web site and provide written recommendations for improvement prior to the initial interview;
  • Meet with a sales manager who can assess their knowledge of our market;
  • Do a presentation;
  • Participate in some relevant pre-employment training to see how well they learn and interact with others.

This works for us and it keeps our turnover very low. From a hiring manager’s point of view, I think it’s important to get multiple looks at a candidate, and to give a candidate multiple looks at us. However, this takes quite a bit of time. What do you think?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

(For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

This is hiring like it ought to be. What you’re doing earns high marks, because you’re not conducting junk interviews. A candidate who is really interested in working for you will gladly invest time in your hiring process.

Often, the problem isn’t that companies spend too much time interviewing; it’s that they don’t spend it profitably. I believe hiring a person is like marrying them. Before you tie the knot, you should talk and work together in more than one context, and you should meet one another’s friends (or co-workers). That’s how to decide whether you belong together. In other words, the courting process must be substantive. I’ll offer three suggestions. (You’re already doing the first one, in your own way.)

First, Kick the candidate out of your office. Get the candidate out on the work floor, to meet your team and see how the work is done. Let the candidate participate. Don’t just test them; try them out.

Second, make sure you let candidates know from the start… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Third, if you’re going to ask candidates to do a presentation and meet people in other departments, help them prepare. Suggest resources, discuss your company’s preferences and style, and offer guidance, just as you would to your employees. For example, you might offer to let the candidate talk with one or two members of your team, by phone, prior to the interview. (If this seems like a waste of time, reconsider filling the position, because if you’re not willing to make this investment, why should anyone invest time to meet with you?) To get the best out of candidates, I believe you have to help them, just as you would your employees when you assign them a project.

Hiring is a manager’s #1 job, and you do it intelligently. Most employers barely earn a passing grade at hiring, and their turnover shows it. I challenge them to reach for an A at interviewing. Your “very low” turnover proves what a valuable investment you’re making. My compliments. Thanks for sharing a manager’s point of view.

In today’s newsletter, we hear from an employer who knows how to hire for success and profit. What do you think of these interviewing methods? What else would you like to see employers do in the job interview? Tell us about an employer you know that deserves an A for interviewing and hiring — and why!

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