Bait & Switch Job Offers

In the January 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews for a senior job only to receive a silly offer for a lower level job.

Question

I have not been on the job market since 2007, and after a layoff early October 2014 I am fighting my way through this job market. I have the background, experience, and personality a high tech company was looking for when they advertised a senior technical position at $96,000. After all the interviews, we seemed to be doing great, until my final face to face interview, where I was informed there are now two positions — one senior and one junior. During my initial screening with the company recruiter I was clear on my salary requirements.

When I recmousetrapeived the company’s offer letter, it was for $75,000, way below what we had discussed. I was insulted, shocked, and angry. When I called the recruiter, she stated there were a lot of strong candidates, that there were actually five positions, and that I fit better into a junior role at the salary offered. I replied that I applied for only the senior position at $96,000 and that there was no discussion of four other positions. I asked about the differences between the positions, and it’s clear from what the hiring manager says that there are none but the salary!

I want to send a response letter stating that I was a candidate for only the senior job, re-emphasizing my experience and expertise, and referencing the original senior salary range. What would you recommend?

Nick’s Reply

If you stand a few feet back from this and look at it for what it is, I think you’ll see the proper answer. I’m going to show you how to improve this job offer dramatically, but you must be ready to play this game for keeps.

First let’s do a reality check. This employer is playing you. You laid down the terms for the interview when you (a) applied for a senior technical position, and (b) when you stated your salary requirements and they agreed to proceed with those two understandings.

Now look at the facts:

  1. They offered you different job
  2. At a much lower salary.

We could just call this a stupid HR trick, but there’s another name for it: Bait and switch. A car dealer baits you with a test drive in a car you want to buy after you saw the price. You show up with a check, and they offer you a different car at a different price. You’d kick them down the street for switching the deal and wasting your time.

You did what you were supposed to do, so you’re thrown for a bit of a loop. You interviewed for a certain job at a certain salary level. They knew your expectations, and they agreed to proceed with the interviews. Then they changed all the terms and made a ridiculous offer. Had they made no offer, I’d just say the match didn’t work out. But this employer is clearly manipulating applicants. (I find this is most common with staffing firms that hire people and assign them to work for their clients. See Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)

You’re trying to behave rationally, and you’re looking for a reasonable explanation and next step. The recruiter and manager should be trying to impress you — see Baiting the talent — but they are doing the opposite. They are breaking basic business rules and pretending the problem is yours.

But two can play at this, and you can play without doing anything unprofessional. First, you must decide that you are willing to walk away from the junior position at the junior salary. (If you’re desperate for a paycheck, then you know what you must do.)

What I’d do is sign the offer letter and send it back to them. But I’d cross out the salary and enter the salary you told them you wanted. Initial it. Cross out the junior title and write in the senior title you interviewed for. Initial it. Accept the position at the salary level you all discussed. Add a note that says:

“This is the job I applied for and that you interviewed me for, at the salary range we discussed. If you are prepared to sign off on the original terms as we discussed them, I am ready to start work in two weeks.”

Then let them figure it out.

My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again. However, there’s a chance that, having a solid acceptance in hand, along with a start date, from a candidate they have judged worthy of hiring, they might negotiate a reasonable salary for the job you want. You’ve written your own ticket, and it’s up to them to join you for the ride. If they decline, you’ve lost nothing (having already decided you wouldn’t accept less) and you’ve preserved your integrity and self-respect.


For more about dealing with the final stages of the interview process, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.


If they decline, write them off and move on. These are jerks of the first order and I’d never talk to them again. This is an unscrupulous recruiter who advertises a high-level, desirable job at a high salary to entice seasoned, experienced technical people like you to invest plenty of time in interviews — just so they can short-sell you on a lower-paying job that they’d prefer to fill with much more highly qualified candidates at a huge discount.

fishhookThey are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.

Many, many people in today’s job market would fall for this and rationalize that it’s the best they can do. Maybe so — but when you add in a confidence game, we’re left with a bunch of self-deprecating job seekers who let themselves be suckered. Con-men love that.

I’d be interested to know what you do and what happens. The problem, of course, is that there are desperate job hunters who will accept any job under any terms and at any pay. This employer counts on that. It’s what’s wrong with our economy today: Crooks and suckers. They create a market that can’t last. It can only go south. For more about this, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

(I mean no disrespect to job seekers who need to put food on the table and who will take any job to do so. I’d do it myself. But the economic reality is that being put in this position creates a vicious downward cycle that encourages more of the same from ruthless employers.)

There is nothing wrong with you or your expectations. If you can afford to walk away from this, I would not look back. Jerks make lousy employers. You need only one employer with integrity.

Did you ever feel pressured to accept a lousy offer for a job you never applied for? What’s the most bizarre job offer situation you’ve been in — and what did you do? Was I too tough on this reader? What would you advise?

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2 really insulting interview questions

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

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

Question #1

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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


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

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


Don’t fall for this ruse.

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

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

Question #2

polygraph

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips for Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

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

FJH-11. Don’t settle

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

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

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

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

2. Scope the community

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

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

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

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

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

3. Avoid a salary cut

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

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

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

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

4. Know what you’re getting into

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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The Do-It-Yourself Interview (for managers)

In the November 18, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a look at what managers need to ask themselves, before they ask job candidates anything:

You’re a hiring manager

Your human resources department just handed you a list of questions to use when interviewing job candidates. Put it aside. We can do better.

tell-meThe problem with such questions is that they quickly make their way into hundreds of books with titles like Top Interview Questions & Answers! Any job candidate with a decent memory can recite clever rejoinders to the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions:

  • If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • How would you handle a difficult boss?
  • Gimme a break!

Before you decide what questions to ask job candidates, interview yourself.

Managers are not ready to interview

As we saw in HR Pornography: Interview videos, a recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers.

I find that most managers conduct rote interviews because they fail to understand what they really want out of a new hire. (See Don’t conduct junk interviews.) They don’t ask themselves, What am I really trying to accomplish for my business?

More common than the failure to assess a candidate properly is a manager’s failure to understand what’s important to him. Once you can get a handle on that, you will be able to develop your own interview questions without help from anyone. (Just what does your HR department really know about your department’s business, anyway? Enough to come in for a few days and do the job you’re trying to fill? If HR can’t do that, then what qualifies them to pose legitimate interview questions?)

I think most managers aren’t ready to interview anyone because they haven’t interviewed themselves first.

I’d like to suggest some questions for you — the hiring manager — to answer before you meet any candidates. I hope this exercise leads you to expect a lot more from the interview process. Perhaps these questions will give you food for thought, and you’ll think of more of them.

Questions for managers

  1. What’s the one thing you wish you could quickly figure out about every candidate in an interview?
  2. A year from now, how do you want your department to be different as a result of filling this job?
  3. If a candidate were to go up to the board and draw a detailed outline or flowchart, what would you want him to draw?
  4. At what point in your search for the perfect candidate will it start to cost you more to keep interviewing than to hire and train a talented person in the necessary skills?

man sketch a bulbI’ve got lots more of these questions for a DIY interview for managers, but I’d like to invite you — Ask The Headhunter subscribers — to suggest more good questions managers should ask themselves before they ask you (job applicants) anything at all. I’m sure you’ve been in enough interviews that went south for lack of productive discussion — and you probably could have helped the interviewer. (Not doing so might have cost you a job — so, maybe, next time you should nudge the manager back on track for your own good!)

It never ceases to amaze me. Managers can ask job candidates for almost anything they want — so, why do they ask for a resume, and about where you see yourself in five years? Why don’t managers address the really tough stuff? For example, why don’t they ask all candidates to show how they’d do the work, right there in the interview? (See The Single Best Interview Question Ever.)

I think the employment system is broken because employers use a worn-out, one-size-fits-all script when they decide to add people to their teams. Managers simply don’t know what they want much of the time, and they don’t take time to think about it. Consequenty, they conduct ridiculous “interviews” and wind up rejecting outstanding job candidates who never get a chance to really show what they can do.

The manager and the job candidate both lose.

Don’t you think managers could do a much better job of deciding what they want before they ask for anything?

What questions should managers ask and answer before they ask you to apply for a job and go to an interview? What can managers do to make interviewing a more productive experience?

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HR Pornography: Interview videos

In the October 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker won’t make a video:

My wife, a veteran in her field, began a search for a better job and company. In the past, she used the broken and traditional job hunting methods. After showing her the Ask The Headhunter website and purchasing the companion books — and with a little coaching from me — she landed two job interviews with hiring managers within three weeks.

watching-computerSuddenly, a personnel jockey injected himself into the ongoing discussions with the hiring manager. The recruiter insisted that my wife submit herself to a one-way, online digital video taping, answer a series of pre-selected “screening questions,” and upload it to who knows where for “further review and screening” by who knows whom.

She found the request creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, voyeuristic, unprofessional, and perhaps even unethical. (I’ve attached HR’s e-mail.) She declined, instantly prompting an automated “Do Not Reply” rejection e-mail. She was not worthy because she wouldn’t subject herself to a dehumanizing “HireVue Digital Video Interview.”

This new wrinkle in HR practices seems like the most unsettling and counterproductive yet. It not only removes access to the hiring manager, but also live, human interaction. It sounds like “HR pornography,” where perverted personnel jockeys huddle around a monitor to gawk at videos of “virtual job candidates,” picking apart perceived blunders while they screen you out.

Would you please share your comments and advice on this new and bizarre interviewing phenomenon?

Nick’s Reply

This HR department cheapens itself, the employer, and everyone it subjects to automated interviews. “Talk to the camera by yourself” is not an interview. It’s stupid. Your wife is right to say no, and she’s smart to move on to a better employer.

A recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers. Meanwhile, HR says its job is to train managers to interview. Is it any wonder HR cuts itself and hiring managers out of interviews and farms the task out to a video company?

A 2013 ADP survey found that, “Consistently across the globe, employers have a significantly more positive impression of how they manage their workforce versus what their employees experience in the workplace.” ADP concludes that “as a whole, HR does not have a handle on the asset it is hired to manage.”

In short, HR is doing a lousy job at interviewing, and HR seems to think it knows what it’s doing — while employees disagree. HR has cornered the market on stupid.

If your wife has already decided not to “make a porn with HR,” I suggest she call the hiring manager and say something like this:

“What’s up with your HR department? I’m glad I spent time talking with you about the job and how I could help your company. But I don’t make videos. I’d be glad to come in for an interview with you. If we decide there’s a match, I’ll fill out a form for HR, but I don’t talk to imaginary interviewers on camera. I find that insulting. I leave the rest up to you.”

Of course, use whatever expressions you are comfortable with. But let the manager know you’re interested in further discussion with him, but not in solo videos for HR.

  • An alternative is to offer to do a Skype interview with the manager. HR may not realize that Skype is basically free, while video interview services can be pricey.

Managers who relinquish control of job interviews to HR likely also let their mothers vet their dates. The culprit here is HR, but the real problem is the hiring manager. Will he stand up and do what good managers do — make his own decisions? (For more about how HR’s missteps can cost you a job, see 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make and The Recruiting Paradox.)

I reviewed the e-mail instructions your wife received — all boilerplate. It’s pitiful and sophomoric:

“One of our Recruiters will review your information and if there is a good match, you’ll be contacted either via e-mail or phone to schedule additional time to speak live.”

But the hiring manager has already decided to spend “additional time speaking live” with your wife. So what’s up with this? How is a “Recruiter” (capital R) going to judge whether there’s a good match better than the manager who has already been interviewing her? Stupid.

“This is a real interview! Be sure to treat this interview as you would an in-person interview.”

Bull dinky, not it’s not! It’s a fake interview with no interviewer.

  • An alternative is to offer to meet with the hiring manager again, rather than do the video. There is no need to say no if you offer a sound alternative.

If anyone fears saying no means “losing an opportunity,” the far bigger risk is having your video rejected by HR — and then having it float around the company forever — if not in some video-interview vendor’s database. (How do you know it won’t be shared with other employers?)

“Feel comfortable to be yourself. We want to see your personality.”

What they mean is, we don’t want you to see the personalities of our personnel jockeys because, face it, they’re a bunch of data diddlers that we don’t want talking to anyone. (I wonder what they’d say if you asked for a video of HR answering your questions? For more stupid HR tricks, see WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?)

If I were your wife, I’d want to talk with the manager one more time, to find out what he thinks about all this. If he tells her he has no choice, my reply would be, “I’m amazed. I left our discussions very impressed, but I’m going to be blunt with you. I’d never take a job in a company where managers don’t manage the hiring process. It says a lot about the operating philosophy at your company. I wish you the best.”

Is your wife taking a risk by talking to the manager like this? I think there is little, if anything, to lose when you are forced to the back of the line by the HR department and the manager concedes. A professional community that does not call out questionable behavior is not worth living or working in.

watching-computer-2To see the punch line in all this, you have to visit HireVue.com, the company that handles video interviews for this employer. Scroll to the bottom of the homepage, where HireVue offers a “success story” from a leading customer — Rodney Moses, VP of Global Recruitment at Hilton Hotels. But Rodney doesn’t tell his story in a video; it’s a slide show hosted not on HireVue, but on SlideShare.net. Video interviews are good enough for you, but not for HireVue’s best customers. HireVue and HR need to eat their own dog food before feeding it to job seekers.

More important, HireVue reveals the real problem employers face, in the introductory video at the top of its homepage.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “In a sea of candidates that all look the same, how do you find the ones that stand out? Since 2005 the number of applicants for any given job has increased four-fold, making it impossible to properly screen and assess each individual…”

No kidding! And what do you suppose caused that increase?

HireVue’s business model is predicated on employers blindly soliciting staggering numbers of applicants — far too many — via indiscriminate digital advertising. The results overpower any employer’s HR resources, so HR needs a video screening process to deal with a job posting process gone haywire. The real solution is to turn off the firehose and eliminate the flood of inappropriate applicants.

If HR would stop drinking from a firehose, it wouldn’t need to throttle its candidate pipeline. Besides, it’s unbecoming to do either.

A manager talks to a candidate again and again, only to have HR demand that the candidate make a video in front of an unmanned camera so HR can decide whether to continue discussions.

Just say no. But it’s the manager who should be saying no — to HR — about making inappropriate requests of job applicants.

Your wife did the right thing. Is it worth letting top management know what’s going on down in HR’s playroom? If HR is busy playing digital spin-the-bottle, HR should get out of the hiring business.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “Your best candidate could be the 100th to apply, yet you’ve only got time for the first 25.”

Ah, the promise of being able to view a hundred or more candidate videos!

How many videos can HR watch before it goes blind? How does HR explain its disrespect of hiring managers’ interview skills — and its own failure to teach them? Would you make an HR porno? :-)

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Employers shouldn’t keep secrets from job applicants

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gotcha! Get job offer concessions in writing!

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

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

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

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

How to Say It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A stupid interview question to ask a woman

In the September 9, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker wonders why male interviewers ask about her spouse:

I am looking for a job that is a greater challenge and I’ve been making the rounds with the recruiters in my industry. So far, of three male recruiters and three male interviewers I have spoken with, each has asked me what my husband does for a living. Why does this matter? If only one guy asked me that, I would shrug it off but every one of these guys asked the same question.

For what it’s worth, my husband is a software developer and I have answered the question every time. If I am asked the question again, what’s the best way to avoid it without sounding defensive?

Nick’s Reply

sexist_questionsSome might say I’m over-reacting, but when six interviewers (including the recruiters) ask about your husband, something’s up.

Try this: “My husband wouldn’t be interested in this position, but thanks for asking. What does your wife do?”

In general, I think “turnabout is fair play” is a good rule when you need to judge the legitimacy of an interview question. That is, an interviewer shouldn’t ask any questions he’s not willing to answer himself. (Of course, this would apply to women interviewers, too.)

If the retort I’ve suggested seems extreme, it’s based on the same logic I apply to the salary question. (See Should I disclose my salary history?) If an employer has a right to information about your salary history, then you have a right to salary history relating to the position at hand. That is, what does the company pay others who do that job, and what has it paid over the past few years? Likewise, if Mr. Interviewer wants to know what your husband does, he won’t mind telling you what his wife does for a living.

My rule is, always look at the business angle first. So before we get into sexist interviewers and discrimination, let’s look at another aspect of this: What does your answer gain the interviewer?

Two things. First, it tells him how much of a financial cushion you have, because that could influence the level of salary a recruiter will try to get you, and the kind of offer a manager might make.

Second, it helps him assess whether you’re likely to quit if your spouse gets a new job. (In other words, whose career comes first?) By itself, there’s nothing onerous about this; it’s just an aggressive negotiating tactic. It doesn’t mean the interviewer is discriminating. He could be a fine, upstanding fellow who is so focused on “the deal” that he misses the sexist connotation of his question.

And that’s why the retort I suggested is such a good one. A guy who meant nothing improper by it will blush beet red and retreat with an apology. He might still be a jerk, but he’s probably benign. He won’t be offended by your spiked response.

On the other hand, if the interviewer reacts with a nasty glare, you’ve just saved yourself from a complete waste of time. Guys who don’t know how to talk to women should interview inflatable dolls instead. You don’t need to know how to answer them. You need only recognize them so you can cross the street to avoid them. There’s no quarter in continuing an interview with a jerk. Your choice is to complain or sue for discrimination, or to walk away.

The retort we discussed is a good though admittedly aggressive test. If it leaves the interviewer embarrassed, this gives you an edge so you can find out what he’s really like. At this point, I suggest asking and answering what I think is the best interview question ever. If he gets offended, then he’s not worth talking to.

If we expect the people we work with to have high standards, we often have to insist on it. You’re not being defensive when the interviewer is being offensive; you’re going on offense yourself. If these questions were asked innocently and in passing, I don’t think your antennae would be picking up signals that concern you. I see no legitimate reason for asking the question, unless the interviewer explicitly prefaces the question with the reason. Use your judgment, but stick to your guns.

(To learn more about situations where you might have to assert yourself, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.)

What’s the most personal or inappropriate interview question you’ve been asked? How did you respond?

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How and when to reject a job interview

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

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

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

Thanks very much!

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reader responds

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

Hi <name withheld>,

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

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

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

After a few minutes, I received a response:

Thank you for your e0mail.

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think twice

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


Additional Resources

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

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


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

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How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number

It was inevitable: Scammers are stealing job seekers’ identities using over-the-top interview protocols established by employers to gather sensitive personal data. Have employers gone too far demanding too much of job applicants before they even need the information?

Great news! A well-known employer in your area sends you an e-mail saying it wants to interview you by phone — they found your resume online or your profile on LinkedIn. You answer the phone at the appointed time and have a job interview. Perhaps the interviewer makes an offer on the spot — your lucky day! He helps you complete the job application right there on the phone. What’s not to like?

steal-ssnHighmark, a BlueCross BlueShield healthcare company, warns on its website that the interview you think the company just conducted with you was a fraud — and someone stole your private information in the process:

Important Notice
Recently, Highmark has received several reports of possible fraudulent online activity in which an individual posing as a Highmark human resources representative contacts job seekers by e-mail or phone/text, conducts interviews and makes employment offers on behalf of the company. In most instances, those contacted have never applied for a position with Highmark. These false job offers are likely made in an attempt to gain access to your private information, such as your social security number.

— Warning posted on Highmark’s Careers page, detailed further in this notice

While fake online job postings are common and used to get you to fill out forms with personal information that can be used to steal your identity, this fraud is bold. Someone posing as a well-known employer actually calls you up and interviews you — and by the time it’s over you’ve got a phony job offer and the scammers have your very real social security number and other private information.

How can this happen?

An alert job seeker might recognize a phony e-mail address behind the official-sounding name of the company and the recruiter. But some won’t. Job seekers are understandably excited to get an e-mail asking for an interview and will quickly follow the “script” we’re all accustomed to — an e-mail expressing interest, a phone interview with a recruiter, and an intimidating demand for highly detailed “job application” information that includes private personal data that no employer really needs — but demands anyway.

Of course, not all victims will believe they just got a job offer on the phone without an in-person interview — but some will. And even if the “recruiter” doesn’t make an offer on the phone, he makes it awfully easy to “complete the application” on the phone while he does all the writing for you. He’ll even write down your social security number and your home address and phone number. What’s not to like?

How employers help scammers steal your SS#

Employers have programmed job seekers to quickly disclose private, confidential information — when there’s no real benefit to doing so, but lots of risk. Long before the employer decides you’re even a serious contender for a job, it demands your home address, your social security number, names and contact information of your references and permission to contact them, your salary history (which you should never disclose) and loads of other information that’s none of their business at this juncture and which they don’t even need. (When you fork over your references, you’re putting them at risk, too — probably not a good idea if you want good references!)

Why do HR departments routinely demand all this information? Simply because they can. You’ve been trained to  deliver “the required information” just to apply — while the employer hasn’t even checked your qualifications or indicated the slightest interest in talking with you much less hiring you. (See Does HR Go Too Far When Screening Candidates? — especially comments by HR manager Earl Rice. As you’ll note from the 2003 date on this article, this is not a new employer protocol.)

That’s why you become an easy target for scammers. Scammers exploit the intimidating “script” employers have taught you to follow. That’s how unreasonable, over-the-top job application requirements put you at risk. But it’s even worse.

Where’s your data?

Even a real, live employer that collects your private information puts you at risk. Many employers use third-party applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to log your application information and personal data. It all goes into “the cloud” — and good luck protecting it. When you complete that application, you’re usually asked to sign a waiver that gives the employer and its “agents” (translation: any third parties it deals with but that you don’t know about) permission to do with your data as they please.

You have no idea where your data goes, who has access to it, or how well (if at all) it is secured. Personal job application data is stored in unregulated, central repositories that even employers have no control over. Who controls these enormous databases? Companies like Oracle Taleo, Bullhorn, HRIS, IBM’s Kenexa, iCIMS, JobVite, HireBridge, JobScore, and ADP VirtualEdge among others. (For more about the applicant tracking system racket, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

Of course, to apply for a job you must provide basic information. But it’s up to you to be judicious about what you share and at what point in the recruiting process. Do they really need your social security number — when they haven’t even met you or given you any clear indication that they’re going to make a job offer? Most people today have already been brainwashed by the employment system to hand over anything and everything an employer says it “needs” to “process you.”

BAM! It’s that misconception that turns you into a sucker when a phony recruiter calls you and asks for all your data.

It’s time for employers to behave

It’s time for employers to stop demanding information they don’t need to recruit you. Today, HR departments ask for the kitchen sink simply because they have a database for kitchen sinks. “We’ll just get all the person’s data up front, so we don’t have to do it later.” More cynically, “We’ll get all their data before we even decide they’re viable candidates because then we can use a keyword scan to quickly reject people we haven’t even talked to yet.” (Less politely: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)

When employers put some of their own skin in the game, then they can ask applicants to do the same. For example, what’s the salary range on the job? How much did you pay the last guy in that job and the one before that? What’s your Employer Identification Number? May I see some references from your customers, vendors and former employees? How about your credit rating? You’re privately held? I still need that information — I’m privately held, too. Are some of those questions over the top? Hmmm…

It’s also time for job seekers to stop being suckers. You are always free to politely but firmly decline to disclose any information you think is too private to share — until you think it’s warranted to process your job offer. Don’t be a sucker for either a legitimate employer who asks for too much — or for a scammer. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers for tips about how to stay in control when you’re talking with an employer.

(For more on this story, see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which interviewed me about the scam: Insurer says swindler posing as Highmark job recruiter.)

Where do you draw the line when disclosing private information to apply for a job? Do employers ask for too much, too soon? How do you apply for jobs while protecting your private information?

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