How to work with headhunters

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In the December 22, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about how to work with headhunters.

Is it good to work with many headhunters? That’s a question I am asked a lot. You might be surprised at my answer — and at the risks you face if you don’t know what you’re doing. These two Q&As are from “Section 2: Working With Headhunters to Get Ahead” of the best-selling How To Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, pp. 52-53.

christmas-treeQuestion

How many headhunters should I work with at a time? And how do you gauge when it’s time to increase your exposure to more of them?

Nick’s Reply

Don’t confuse real headhunters with people who solicit your resume blindly. These might include employment agencies, job shops and HR recruiters who work within corporations. (See They’re not headhunters.)

Many of these not-headhunters may approach you. Giving them your resume indiscriminately is like giving your credit card number to every telemarketer who calls. You won’t like having lots of recruiters working with you, especially if two or more of them give your resume to the same company.

Don’t let a headhunter’s conflict of interest cost you a job

If, somehow, multiple headhunters approach you at the same time, then you need to know just one thing: Do they each represent a different company?

If yes, then you’d be looking at different job opportunities and it’s fine to work with all of them at once. There should be no overlap in their assignments and no conflict for you.

If there is an overlap, then one company is unwisely using multiple contingency headhunters to fill the same position. (To learn more about contingency headhunters, see How should headhunters fit into your job search?) The company is putting its headhunters into competition with one another. That’s like assigning two sales reps to sell to the same prospect — the company reveals poor judgment and sloppy hiring practices.

Even so, you can still entertain an opportunity, but you would be wise to let just one headhunter present you to the company. Otherwise, you will likely be rejected out of hand because the company could wind up in the middle of a fee fight.

Who would be due the fee if you were hired? If the company interviews you via two headhunters — even if it’s for two completely different jobs — and then hires you, it could owe the fee twice. Don’t get in the middle of it. Work with only one headhunter at a time with respect to a particular employer.

Know what you’re doing

So the answer to your question has two parts. First, understand that if a lot of “headhunters” are soliciting you, it’s probably not wise to work with them because they have not carefully selected you. They are merely interested in blasting your resume around, hoping for a hit. Second, if two or more headhunters contact you about different jobs at different companies, it’s fine to work with all of them — as long as you are sure they are not going to run into one another. This is why it’s so important to control your resume. You must insist that each headhunter take no action on opportunities other than those you discuss specifically.

Question

Is there a way to get multiple headhunters to call on me about legitimate job opportunities?

Nick’s Reply

There are indeed ways to get on the radar to attract multiple good headhunters who want to talk with you about multiple unrelated jobs at different companies. If you want to be visible to good headhunters and lure their calls, then you must use bait. This isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. (Headhunters don’t want everyone.)

Good bait includes:

  • Writing industry articles in respected publications. Headhunters read these to identify the opinion-makers in an industry.
  • Getting noticed in the professional industry press. The only thing better than writing articles is articles written about you. Headhunters notice.
  • Speaking at a conference or industry event. Headhunters sometimes start searches by turning to prominent sources, and that includes prominent events.
  • Being the subject of respectful discussion among notable members of your profession. Headhunters tap into such dialogues in person, online and via e-mail. Professionals tend to talk about the people they respect. That’s who headhunters want.

The quality of the venue matters a lot. For example, just because you blog or someone blogged about you doesn’t mean headhunters will find you. The venue might be big or niche, but its reputation must be solid.

Get the idea? You need to get yourself out there. That’s how headhunters find you. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.) And that’s the crux of the Ask The Headhunter approach to job hunting.

Don’t appear desperate

Most people who want headhunters’ attention take the heavily advertised path, which usually leads nowhere. They promote themselves brazenly. They send their resumes to lots of headhunters using one of the many “headhunter directories” published in paper format or online. I think you’d be wasting your time.

The odds that a headhunter is going to place you are small. If it makes you feel good to flood the headhunting industry with your resume, that’s up to you. My concern is that you will lull yourself into thinking you are conducting a job search when all you’re doing is throwing darts at a wall. And you will make yourself seem desperate for attention. Good headhunters don’t pursue desperate people.


I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from How To Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you!

Want more?

Don’t miss these 62 in-your-face questions answered in a 130-page guide that reads like a series of conversations over a cup of coffee with the headhunter who put the profit equation back into job hunting and hiring. Includes:

  • Why don’t headhunters return my calls?
  • What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list?
  • How can I become the headhunter’s #1 candidate?
  • How can I find a good headhunter?
  • And much, much more!

caneWhat are your rules for working with headhunters? Have you been burned?

A very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah to you and yours — and anything else you celebrate!

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2 really insulting interview questions

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

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

Question #1

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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


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

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


Don’t fall for this ruse.

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

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

Question #2

polygraph

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!

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

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

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

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For the job seeker

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

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

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


For the job seeker

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

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

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

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

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

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Executive Search: Don’t pay lazy headhunters

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In the September 17, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks why headhunters charge you to join their database so they can “find” you and earn big fees by placing you. Where’s the search in that?

I run a small, high-tech company and I’ve been looking at various models for hiring top-level executive talent, and also in case I decide to look for a new executive job myself. What’s your quick take on the BlueSteps Executive Search service that I keep seeing advertised? I know you say the candidate should never be paying to find a job. BlueSteps charges executive job seekers $329 to join its database. Is it the same story here? I thought headhunters got paid big fees to go find people — not to charge me to join the database they search.

Nick’s Reply

You nailed it. The candidate should never pay a dime to find a job — especially when a corporation is paying a big-name “executive search firm” huge fees to find the right candidates. (Real headhunters go out and find good candidates; they don’t charge candidates to be found.)

payoffWhat is it, anyway, with this new “business model” online? Create a database, charge job seekers to add their information, then charge employers (or headhunters) to find the information. Everybody pays! And the entrepreneurs doing business this way come off like slimeballs. Great business model!

We’ve discussed TheLadders, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and other job boards that charge job seekers — and then charge employers. (You should never pay for access to jobs — or to headhunters.)

Now there’s a new player in this league. BlueSteps — an operation of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). It’s doing what LinkedIn does: tapping job seekers for fees. It’s a racket.

Then the executive search firms that belong to BlueSteps charge their clients — corporate employers — one-third of a new hire’s salary to fill executive positions. We’re talking $100,000+ fees.

What makes these search firms worth so much? It’s a good question, because according to BlueSteps’ website, (1) they fill jobs by surfing a resume database, and (2) they deliver job seekers who paid to join the database. That’s not worth $100,000.

Real executive headhunters don’t sit in front of a screen reading resumes that come across the BlueSteps — or any other — database. They actually go out into the world and hunt the people their clients need. They travel in their professional community. They go where top talent hangs out and mix it up. They talk to respected members of the executive community and form long-term relationships. They track down talent that is hidden or unknown to their clients and bring it home.

lazy_recruiterWhen headhunters find their candidates in a database that job seekers pay to join, something smells. This is not headhunting.

Consider: BlueSteps is an association of search firms that get paid in the vicinity of $200,000 to fill a $600,000 job (one-third of the new hire’s salary). So, why is the AESC charging people to put their resumes into a database that its members can then query to find candidates? It rightfully raises an alarm. Suddenly, executive search is not worth $200,000. Any employer’s own personnel jockeys can surf databases to find people at any salary level. The same executives that populate the BlueSteps database are in other databases, like LinkedIn.

The suckers here are not just executives who pay $329 to “join” the BlueSteps database. The really big suckers are corporations that pay exorbitant fees to lazy headhunters who while away their hours feeding at the database trough.

Check this testimonial on the BlueSteps website from a managing partner at a world-class executive search firm:

“BlueSteps is a very effective way of being visible to the retained search community, as its database is constantly mined by AESC member firms.”

Mined?? Why aren’t these lazy headhunters out actually finding top executive talent? Why are they relying on job seekers who paid to get into the database?

Another managing partner (Don’t you love that title?) at another executive search firm testifies:

“Through BlueSteps, we quickly located three of our top candidates located in a broad geographic cross-section including Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis and London. The candidate signed on for a total compensation package of $500,000+.”

This headhunter collected a fee that was probably around $166,000 — for querying a database. This is not executive search. This is lazy. This is a racket.

BlueSteps says that “in the past 90 days 3,549 BlueSteps database searches [were conducted] by executive recruiters,” and that executive profiles in the BlueSteps database were viewed 12,732 times.

What those managing directors are saying is, We no longer conduct the searches we’re being paid to conduct. We search databases, just like you do — and we charge you $200,000 to fill your open job the way your own personnel jockeys do it.

So, now that we’ve dissected this silly proposition, let’s get to my advice.

If you need to hire an executive, and you have a $200,000 budget to pay a headhunter, go to a small boutique search firm that actually has good contacts in your industry. Use a headhunter who flies below the radar, and who will go out and meet, talk with, and cultivate the best industry sources to get credible, trusted referrals to the best candidates. These are often solo practitioners who are highly respected in the industries they hunt in — headhunters who have relationships that yield excellent referrals. They don’t need LinkedIn, and they don’t need BlueSteps. They make their money the old-fashioned way: They earn it. (You can learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make [real] headhunters work for you.) They invest in people and in relationships — not in cheap recruiting tricks. And they get off their butts and actually recruit.

But if you want candidates from a database that people pay to join, then try BlueSteps.

Or, if you have $200,000 to spend and you’re smart, my guess is you could fill the job yourself. And that’s the lesson here. Filling top jobs properly, by finding the best people, is hard work, but it’s not rocket science. It’s just astonishing that AESC and BlueSteps and their members, who call themselves “executive search” firms, conduct “searches” by surfing databases, and by charging job seekers fees “to be found.”

That’s not worth $200,000. Or even $329. Don’t pay lazy headhunters.

If you’re an employer, how much do you pay headhunters, and what do you get in return? If you’re a job seeker, have you ever paid a headhunter?

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Did this headhunter overlook me?

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In the August 6, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders when a headhunter will call him about his application:

I’ve applied for a job (online, to a headhunter) for which I easily meet all the criteria. I even have several “value add” items in my past that make me an extra good candidate. But I have not been invited for even a preliminary interview. Should I just give up, or is it acceptable/advisable to contact the headhunter and essentially say, “I can’t believe you’ve overlooked me!”

Nick’s Reply

In How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, there’s a section titled, “How should I judge a headhunter?” (pp. 26-27). It includes 10 tests that reveal a headhunter is a good one. Here are four of them:

  • A good headhunter doesn’t call anyone blindly. He already knows quite a bit about your background, or he wouldn’t call you.
  • He is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions he asks. Rather than rely on your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.
  • He will exhibit a sincere interest in your work and abilities, and in your interests and goals.
  • He will give useful advice if you ask for it.

blind_leading_blindThe root of your problem is that you’ve applied for a job indirectly — you applied (1) online, and (2) through a third party. Consequently, you know very little about the job or the manager. You might meet all the criteria that you know about, but that’s really very limited. What you don’t have is all the insider information that “insider candidates” have.

Applying indirectly puts you so far down on the list of realistic candidates that you’re really wasting your time. But I’m not here to berate you. This is a good learning experience if you understand why you’re wasting your time with this headhunter — who seems to have overlooked you because he’s working blind.

First, if the headhunter were any good, he or she would be actively recruiting you and sharing the inside scoop about the job with you. A headhunter who recruits via job postings is a pretty pathetic headhunter. This should be one big tip-off about how realistic the opportunity is. Please think about it: No one is “hunting” you if they’re waiting for you to come along via a job posting, right?

Second, If you’ve never actually talked to the headhunter, you don’t even know if the job is real, or whether the headhunter is just building his database with resumes. (This is common.) So you’re worrying about something that has never happened: The headhunter has invested nothing in you at this point.

That’s the danger of online job postings: They require no work. This is a trap that job hunters fall into all the time. They take job postings too seriously. The place to invest your time and energy is in people who actually know who you are and who take the time to understand what you can do for the employer. (These might be headhunters or employers themselves.)

Now consider the four tests of a good headhunter that I listed above. The headhunter in this case fails all of them. The main test is that, if the headhunter thinks you’re a good match and that he could make a placement, he’d be calling you. I think your best move is to move on — to opportunities where you have good information and contacts. And if you don’t have good contacts, start making them — that’s where the real opportunities lie.

Some guy posting jobs and waiting for a piece of spaghetti to fly across the Internet and stick to his wall isn’t really a headhunter. He’s not worth bothering with.

Do you apply for jobs online, indirectly, via “headhunters” you don’t know? What’s your hit rate? (Come on, make me laff…)

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Should you disclose your salary history to a headhunter?

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In the July 30, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader frets about disclosing her salary information to a headhunter (and to an employer):

I am a great fan of your newsletter and just read your guides, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, How to Work with Headhunters, and How Can I Change Careers?, so I suppose I already know your answer to my question.

I recently had an initial interview with a recruiter to discuss my interests and to find out about the recruiting company. After discussing everything, there was this dreaded, but rather expected, question regarding my current salary. I advised that it is private and confidential, just like the hiring manager’s salary. I know that recruiters and employers will still ask for my salary history, but that does not make it right. I want to make sure I am considered for the role. Is there a better way or another way I can protect myself?

Nick’s Reply

shhhWe have discussed the importance of protecting your salary history on Ask The Headhunter before, but it’s worth talking about it again from time to time. Clearly, you already have the answer to your question. Just because recruiters and employers keep insisting and pretending you must hand over your salary information doesn’t mean you must keep coming up with new ways to answer them. The same polite but firm response, even if repeated again and again, is the best you can do without compromising yourself.

In How to Work With Headhunters there’s a section where I discuss how to handle the salary history question when a headhunter asks it. This is quite different from when an employer asks the question. It can be beneficial to share your salary history with the headhunter if you trust him or her completely. In a moment, I’ll share an excerpt from the book and tell you How to say it and how to protect yourself.

First I’ll give you a warning: Keeping your salary confidential can lead some employers (and recruiters) to stop the interview process. So you must decide how to deal with this risk. I strongly believe the right approach is to withhold salary history, even if it costs you a job opportunity, simply because sharing your old salary will almost always result in a lower job offer. But you must decide if that’s a level of risk you are willing to accept. Never take anyone’s advice as gospel — even mine — if you are not comfortable with it.

When an employer asks for salary history

After you decline to reveal your salary to an employer, it’s up to you to shift the discussion to support your position. It’s not going to buy you anything to say No without helping the employer assess your value.

How to Say It
“I’d like to help you assess what I am worth to you with respect to this job. If you’d like to lay out a live problem you’d want me to tackle if you hired me, I’ll show you how I’d go about it. If I can’t show you how I’d do this job profitably, then you should not hire me. But I think you’ll be pleased. Can you lay out a live problem or challenge that’s part of the job?”

This might be as simple as working through a live problem in the interview, or it might mean spending half a day shadowing the manager or someone on the team. I find that when managers see such motivation and willingness to work together during the selection process, they drop the silly demand for salary history in favor of an actual demonstration of your value.

Again, you must decide for yourself how to handle each situation, because standing firm may cost you some opportunities. That’s a problem not just for you, but also for the employer, because your past salary has nothing to do with the job at hand — it’s your ability to do the work that’s the question. Too many HR people avoid the work of thorough assessment by using some other employer’s judgment of a candidate’s value — the old salary.

(For in-depth discussion of salary tactics, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer.)

When a headhunter asks for salary history

While a headhunter’s first duty is to the client who is paying the fee, a headhunter’s livelihood depends on being able to place lots of candidates and on getting good referrals from those candidates for future assignments. A good headhunter would never compromise a candidate’s satisfaction just to close a deal. It’s far better to have lots of very happy placements who refer lots more great candidates than to selfishly talk a candidate into a lower salary. A good headhunter’s reputation and future earnings depend on doing right by both the client company and the candidate. It’s a delicate balancing act, but every good headhunter can do it.

So, assuming you’re working with a good headhunter, here’s what to say when she requests your salary history. This is an excerpt from How to Work With Headhunters, which provides more elaborate advice if you need it (including about how to judge headhunters):

How to Say It
“My policy is not to divulge my salary for the simple reason that it could adversely  affect a job offer. I am willing to walk away from any opportunity if that’s a deal  breaker. No offense intended. I may be willing to divulge my salary to you under two  conditions. First, you would have to agree not to divulge it to your client. That’s up to  you. Second, — and I say this respectfully — you would have to show me how it would benefit my career to tell you what I earn now.”

A good headhunter will have good answers for you and respect your position, even if she disagrees with you. If the headhunter hems and haws and chants excuses and rationalizations, then she cannot work with you candidly and cooperatively, and my advice is to move on to another headhunter or another opportunity.

Do you disclose your salary to headhunters? What’s the effect? Have you missed out on opportunities by withholding your salary? How do you manage headhunters?

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Headhunters Are Harassing Me!

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In the March 26, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about troublesome headhunters:

What’s your advice to someone who is dealing with unwanted cold calls from headhunters?

Somehow my name has been shared around as someone who is looking for a change. (I’m not. If I were, I would be the one making the calls.) I seem to get cold calls at work every other day. E-mails come about once a week, and I get cold calls at home about once every other week. I don’t respond to the e-mails, and my standard answer to the phone calls is, “Sorry, but I’m not currently interested.” Most people accept that at face value so the phone call is all of 30 seconds, but some have become downright rude, saying things like, “Well, if you don’t want to double your salary, that’s not my problem.” Yes, that is a direct quote.

Other than keeping notes about who is acting in an unprofessional manner, do you have any other suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

What you’re experiencing is partly a reflection of the economy and partly an display of poor headhunting practices.

harassingphonecallsReal headhunters — those who actually work on specific assignments from clients — really are looking for good candidates. If you’re good at what you do and people in your industry know it, these headhunters are getting your name from people they know and trust. It’s possible that several headhunters who are working on a handful of the same positions have all heard about you. That may be one reason you’re getting a lot of calls.

However, my guess is that only a few of those calls are from good headhunters. A good headhunter’s job is to entice, cajole and steal a good worker for his client. But, a good headhunter won’t be rude or pushy about it — and he won’t bother you. If you politely say, “No thanks,” he’ll respect you and leave you alone. He will also ask your permission to stay in touch periodically. My advice is to keep such connections open, and judge the headhunter on how he behaves.

The other class of headhunters — the ones who play “dialing for dollars” — don’t have legitimate search assignments. Their approach is to get someone like you interested in the idea of a new job. All they want is the resume of a good professional. Once they’ve got it, they call companies that may or may not be hiring, and use you as bait to get an assignment. Yours won’t be the only resume they will submit. Their hope is that they might get a hit here and there.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Call it supply-side headhunting, or call it desperation. Some people love it. But, when these guys become a nuisance, it’s time to cut them off.

I like that you keep a list and make notes about who’s good and who’s not. Once you judge someone to be rude, you should have no qualms about just hanging up. This works as well with nasty headhunters as with telemarketers. (If you argue with them, they’ll just keep calling.)

Make a list of questions that you want any headhunter to answer before you’ll even jot down his name. Here’s an important one from How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. Put it at the top of your list:

“Can you give me two clients and two candidates as references I can check before we talk further?”

Headhunters who are looking for a warm body will decline, then you hang up. (Some are not even really headhunters.) The ones who provide references are worth putting on your A list. Don’t worry: You won’t get enough legitimate calls that you’ll have to devote much time to this. The hang-ups will be quick and much more frequent. Your A list will be correspondingly short.

You can of course just hang up on everyone soliciting you. But that’s not a great idea — especially in today’s economy.

Do headhunters harass you? How do you decide which ones to talk to, and which to hang up on?

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How to negotiate salary through a headhunter

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In the July 24, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know how to get the best compensation deal through a headhunter:

What can I expect from a recruiter when I’m negotiating salary and compensation? After all, doesn’t he work for the hiring company?

My Advice

This question is so common that I include an entire section about it in the PDF book, How to How to Work with Headhunters … and how to make headhunters work for you. This advice is from Section 4: Talking Money.

To understand a headhunter’s motivations for negotiating your compensation, you must understand the headhunter’s job.

How to help the headhunter help you

Before there’s any chance to negotiate, the headhunter’s real challenge is to get a company and candidate to agree they want to work together. This has nothing to do with money. It’s all about the people, the company, and the job. That’s why it’s crucial for you to decide whether you actually want the job (as long as the terms can be worked out).

Saying you want the job doesn’t mean you’ve accepted the offer, but it sets the headhunter loose to get you a deal you’ll accept. It helps you win the headhunter’s cooperation, because half the battle is won. There’s nothing for the headhunter to negotiate unless you let him know you want the job.

Once your motivation to take the job is settled, the headhunter can get to work on the financial terms. Even though the headhunter works for the employer, he earns no fee unless he can work out terms that are satisfactory to you.

Be ready to express what you want

This is where many job candidates blow it. They don’t want to express what they want. They believe that if they don’t state what they want, they might magically get more. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take note: If you have an offer, the employer has already put a number on the table. It’s decision time for you. If you can’t decide what you want, you can’t make the headhunter work for you. You must arm him with specific instructions. At this stage the headhunter will advise you what’s reasonable to negotiate with the employer — but he will do the negotiating on your behalf with his client.

So, be frank, but don’t be ridiculous. Tell the headhunter what offer you would accept. If the headhunter thinks your terms are nuts, he’ll tell you, but don’t hold it against him. He won’t go back to his client with an unreasonable request. But he’s not likely to drop-kick you out of the deal, either. He may try to convince you to take the offer as it stands. Or, if he thinks there’s some wiggle room in the offer, he will try to negotiate with you and with his client for a compromise.

Know where you fit in the negotiations

The headhunter’s position as the middleman makes it easier for you to work out the terms without jeopardizing the offer altogether. He wants to get the deal done as much as you do.

The client pays the headhunter, but the headhunter needs your cooperation, so he’ll work with you to set reasonable terms for your acceptance. The client gets the hire. You get a job you want on favorable terms. The headhunter gets his fee. All three parties must work together.

Of course, this all assumes you’re dealing with a good headhunter, but that’s another question, covered in another section of the book, Section 1: Understanding Headhunters. You’ll also learn more in the book about exactly why this approach to negotiating with a headhunter helps him negotiate a better deal for you. (Needless to say, the headhunter could be a she.)

What’s your experience been with headhunters? Did you get the deal you wanted? How did the headhunter handle the negotiations between you and the employer? How did you protect your interests?

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Is Your Resume Spaghetti?

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In the June 12, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter asks a candidate to remove contact information from a resume before submitting it. Is that normal?

I was contacted by a headhunter about an opportunity. I was asked to provide a resume in Word format. I said I could not, and instead I provided a PDF version so that I could ensure the visual appearance is what I want it to be. Then the headhunter asked me to remove my contact information, but said a PDF version would be okay. I was assured that this was normal, but I wonder about this.

I spoke with the recruiter once after this happened, and we had contact just once more by e-mail. It has been three weeks since our last contact. The recruiter has not returned three voice mails or responded to three e-mails.

What do you think is going on? Do you think my qualifications threw the client or the agency off?

My Advice

This is a classic example of how most headhunters operate. What people don’t know is, these headhunters don’t create resumes for their candidates. They take what the candidate gives them and merely pass it along to their client. This doesn’t add any value to the recruiting process. There’s an insider technical term for this practice: “throwing spaghetti against the wall.”

Headhunters who work this way are wasting your time and their clients’ time. This isn’t recruiting. This is dialing for dollars, also known by yet another technical term: “dumpster diving.”

The worst of these headhunters will bundle any and all resumes they can get their hands on, and send them along to an employer who might pay them a fee. This means the personnel department must sort the incoming drek, just like they sort resumes they buy from job boards. The headhunter adds no value to the process, and any HR department that accepts such resumes should be closed down.

Adding value

A good headhunter doesn’t just find candidates for a client company. A good headhunter interprets how a particular candidate can help the client get a job done. The headhunter carefully interviews the candidate and maps the candidate’s abilities and skills against the requirements of the position. As I explain in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, when I’m done interviewing a candidate for my client, I’ve got all I need to produce a simple, clear, and very compelling resume. It’s exactly what my client needs prior to interviewing the candidate. If the candidate doesn’t match the client’s requirements, why would I even refer the person to my client?

Do you see the problem? The headhunter you’re dealing with is merely pumping resumes into an employer’s sorting process. The headhunter is not carefully assessing and judging you, to ensure he’s sending only qualified candidates to his client. What I’m really saying is, if that headhunter had truly interviewed you, he wouldn’t need your resume. He could and should write a custom resume for you and then present it — with your permission — to his client.

Did the headhunter really interview you?

That’s not to say that the resume you wrote isn’t useful. The headhunter can use it to fill in the blanks surrounding key facts he’s learned by talking with you in depth. But if the headhunter just forwards your resume to the employer, he’s not contributing anything to the recruiting task. He’s not highlighting the specific skills and abilities that prove you’re a good candidate for the job. A smart client demands this from a headhunter — the client wants to know why you would be a good fit. And the fact is, there’s just too much stuff on a resume that a hiring manager doesn’t need to know about you. The headhunter’s job is to demonstrate the match, not to dish the spaghetti.

So this is how you can tell a really good headhunter from a dumpster diver: Did the headhunter conduct a thorough interview with you?

What (most) headhunters do with resumes

The headhunter you’ve described wants your resume in Word format so that he can delete your name and contact information. (A PDF version from which you’ve omitted that information is just as good to him — it’ll save him time.) He doesn’t want his client to know who you are until the client promises a fee before interviewing you. If the headhunter had a solid, healthy relationship with his client, the headhunter wouldn’t be worried about the employer going around his back. That’s why the headhunter wants to control your contact information.

Whether it’s a modified version of the resume you provide, or a new one the headhunter has written, you should always ask to see the document the headhunter will send to his client. You don’t want to defend resume errors in an interview. If you trust the headhunter, a Word version might be best to facilitate his editing it. But if you don’t trust the headhunter, or don’t know his practices, your PDF policy is a good one.

Splat!

This is how the game is played by many headhunters. Learn to judge headhunters by whether they actually interview you in depth. If they don’t, then they’re not going to present you properly to their client, are they? What I think is going on in this case is that the headhunter is throwing spaghetti against the wall — and yours didn’t stick.

Do you give your resume to people you don’t know — headhunters and/or employers? If you do, I think you’re nuts. You’d have better odds playing the lottery. Have you ever met a headhunter who thoroughly interviewed you even before requesting your resume? If you’re a manager, do headhunters splatter resumes on your wall — stuff that’s not even recognizable as a “right” candidate?

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How long does the headhunter control me?

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In the April 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to cut the cord to a headhunter:

If a recruiter gives a company your resume, how long are you tied to that recruiter concerning that company?

For several reasons, I recently lost what I consider to be a great opportunity with a small company, A. I am now accepting another good position at another company, B, but not the one I really wanted. In the situation with company A the recruiter was not very helpful and virtually non-responsive when I had questions, which I am learning is not unusual. I would like to approach company A again at a later date under my own representation. (Perhaps that is not the best attitude to have going into a new position, but my long-term career goal would be better served at company A.)

Can you please tell me how long this recruiter controls my resume at company A, and at what point the company may consider me without the original recruiter’s involvement?

My Advice

People get it into their heads that headhunters have some sort of magical powers, or that they control companies and jobs. It’s not true. The headhunter may have no rights at all if you contact company A on your own. A lot depends on what kind of headhunter or recruiter you’re dealing with.

To understand how to work effectively with headhunters, it’s important to know the differences between retained and contingency headhunters, employment agencies, job shops and career management firms. Also relevant are the kinds of contracts employers and headhunters use. Perhaps most important in this case is knowing how employers routinely deal with headhunters. It’s not complicated, but if you don’t know how employers manage headhunters you’ll never be able to manage them yourself. I cover all these issues and more (including how to find headhunters and how to leverage them to negotiate the best salary offers) in How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

How long company A would respect the recruiter’s involvement depends on a few things.

Did the recruiter send you to an interview with the company?
If no interview took place, I think you could reapply at any time without a conflict, though I’d probably wait a few months to avoid irritating the headhunter. If you had an interview, it depends on the company’s policy and on the contract it has with the recruiter–if there is one at all.

Did the headhunter give the company your resume?
Companies usually rely on an actual interview as proof of the recruiter’s referral. If the headhunter submitted your resume but there’s no interview, the headhunter probably has no claim to you. However, if the personnel office read and tagged your resume REJECT, and you then reapply on your own, the initial rejection may be invoked and you’re toast.

I don’t think it’s ethical to go around a headhunter who introduced you to a job and a company. But if that headhunter was not able to get you in the door for an interview, then he probably has no claim on you. You could approach the company anew on your own.

How about if the headhunter got you an interview, but you were not hired? The headhunter’s contract with the employer might earn him a fee if you are hired within a certain period of time. Here’s what I’d do to test the waters. Have a friend call the company’s personnel manager to find out what the policy about headhunters is.

How to Say It:

“I’d like to ask about your headhunter policy, but I’d rather not disclose my name. If I interviewed with you through a recruiter at one time [don’t say when–the less info the better], and then I came back to apply for a job myself, would you consider me without the recruiter’s involvement? What are your rules about that?”

Don’t make this call yourself. There is no telling how the personnel manager might react, and you don’t want this to backfire. (I see nothing inappropriate or unethical about someone calling a company to ask about its policy.)

Where confusion might arise is if the headhunter (or recruiter) works for a “job shop” or “consulting firm.” These businesses will recruit and hire you, put you on their own payroll, and assign you to do work at their clients’ offices. A contract protects the recruiter from company A “poaching” you without a fee, after the recruiter made the initial introduction. And that’s as it should be. The contract probably locks you out of company A for one or more years, unless the recruiter is involved. (There’s an entire section in the aforementioned book about job shops and how to protect your options when working with them. There’s also a section that answers the question, Can I fire the headhunter?)

The best way to settle this might be to notify the headhunter that you consider his involvement with you terminated. (While this is a powerful move, it might end your relationship completely.) There’s a special How to Say It section in How to Work with Headhunters about how to handle this effectively.

Know what you’re doing when you work with headhunters. A good headhunter can boost you into the next phase of your career. An inexperienced headhunter might frustrate you by being unresponsive, and your misunderstanding of his role could cost you a great job.

Have you ever had to cut the cord to a headhunter? What happened? Were you able to “get back in the door” at a company where a headhunter failed to get you an interview (or to get you hired)?

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