Occam’s Razor slashes You

What’s the job hunting approach everyone can use? Start with Occam’s Razor, and you’ll find it. A reader asks: 

In all the muck and quagmire of “Internet advice” for the jobless, your bits of wisdom shine like flecks of silver. My question: How does an early middle-aged, twice-careered (both in service industry management), with a recent graduate degree in Economics best market one’s self?

Thanks for your kind words. It’s not about marketing yourself. People get brainwashed into thinking we are products — something to sell. That’s nonsense.

Jobs are not about people. Shocking, isn’t it? Well, grow up. (“Hey, it’s about The People! We count!” No, you don’t, not really. Not yet.) Jobs are about work. What’s the work? You need to figure out what work companies need done, and how you can do it. Read more


Say, I love you

This is a classic interview failure. I’d guess that good candidates fail to get an offer 80% of the time because they don’t know how to say, “I love you.”

Why don’t my interviews produce any offers?

I recently had what I feel are very good interviews. Most of these interviews lasted a couple of hours with the main decision maker, yet I don’t get any job offers. A good friend (who works in engineering management like I do) says that I need to tell the interviewer I want the job, but I think that’s obvious. Why would I be in the interview if I didn’t want the job? It just seems a little awkward to say that explicitly, almost like I’m begging. Who’s right?

Failing to say explicitly that you want the job is a critical mistake. You must say it.

Read more


Just say NO

A reader worries about my advice to not divulge salary history when applying for a job.

RE: Your comments on salary requirements in your article about divulging salary history.

You suggest writing “confidential” or crossing out “salary history” and writing “required salary.” This only works if you are manually filling out a job application. Jobs online will not allow such latitude. You MUST put in a dollar amount as it is a protected field.

No, you don’t need to fill in a field that puts you at a disadvantage. (If you provide your salary history, you will sacrifice your ability to negotiate salary later.) You can skip it, and you can skip the online application altogether. You are too worried about following instructions, and not concerned enough about where those instructions will lead you — into a holding pen with thousands of other unremarkable competitors. People who feel they must fill in a dollar amount also tend to feel they must answer the phone even when they are busy doing something else. Your action is up to you. Just say NO.

Instead of filling out a data field that puts you at a disadvantage, stop, figure out who is the manager involved, and get in touch directly. This takes work; much more than filling out a form. (If you aren’t willing to do this work, you don’t deserve the job. Why apply at all? Pick a company for which you are willing to do the hard work necessary to stand out from your competition.)

Job hunters want to know how they can distinguish themselves from their competition. To a manager who is tired of speculators who fill out those online forms, a diligent job hunter who actually finds the manager and calls… now, there’s distinction, and a reason for the manager to talk to you.

Don’t confuse filling out a form with pursuing a job. Don’t confuse applying for a job with showing a manager that you are worth talking to.

Just say NO to requests for salary history that will put you at a disadvantage in negotiations.


How much money should I ask for?

A reader wants to know how much money to ask for:

“I’m considering a position, but I have no idea how much such a position ought to pay. My last employer compensated me at approximately $60K plus stock options, etc. How can I figure this out?”

You’re asking about a specific position, but the approach I’m about to describe applies to all sorts of positions when you’re trying to decide what kind of compensation to ask for.

There’s no way to determine what to ask for until you know more about the work this company wants you to do. What you earned at your last job has little to do with what you’re worth to this company. And that’s really the key: what are you worth to this employer?

To answer that question, you’ve got to do your homework. Read more


If you don’t like rejection

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

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


HR’s new dildo: The behavioral interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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