Why employers should pay job applicants

In the April 29, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader suggests getting paid before getting hired, or why waste time interviewing?

Again and again, companies waste my time while they “assess” me in endless interviews and with employment tests. They’re wasting my time and theirs, but they don’t care because they are getting paid. I’m not.

The problem is not hard to see: The managers and HR people don’t select their candidates very carefully to begin with because it’s no skin off their backs. If they had to pay for my time, I’d bet they’d be a lot more accurate. Do you think it would be wise for employers to pay for the privilege of assessing job applicants, as a way to make hiring more efficient and productive? (And to stop wasting my time!)

Nick’s Reply

I wrote a column about a related subject last year: Why employers should pay to interview you. I’m even going to crib from it a bit.

pay-applicantsJob applicants devote hours of unpaid professional time to an employer, and then wait patiently for a hiring decision by the promised date. Inevitably, employers interview way more applicants than they can justify and ignore their own timelines without any updates or comments to the applicants. Why? Because job candidates are free.

That’s wrong. I agree it’s time for employers to put some skin in the game, if only because it would make them think twice about the costs they impose on applicants. More important, I think it would improve the quality of the selection process and of their hires.

What if employers had to pay to assess candidates for jobs? What if one employer started doing the right thing? Would others follow?

Matt Mullenweg is the creator of the most popular website platform in the world: WordPress powers over 60 million websites, and 66% of all English-based websites. The Ask The Headhunter blog runs on WordPress, and I consider it one of the best software tools I’ve ever used. WordPress is an open source project, but Matt’s company, Automattic, is a for-profit business.

Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review published a short article by Mullenweg: Hire by Auditions, Not Resumes. Automattic’s interview and hiring process is unusual: The interview isn’t over, and you’re not hired, until Automattic pays you to complete the process.

Now, let’s be clear: You don’t get paid to show up for your first interviews with Automattic. But once the discussion gets serious, so does this employer. According to Mullenweg:

“Before we hire anyone, they go through a trial process first, on contract. They can do the work at night or over the weekend, so they don’t have to leave their current job in the meantime. We pay a standard rate of $25 per hour, regardless of whether you’re applying to be an engineer or the chief financial officer.”

In my first book, The New Interview Instruction Book, I called this “doing the job to win the job.” That is, if you want a job, show up and actually do the work to show you’re worth hiring.

But if you’re going to invest that kind of time and effort to be evaluated hands-on, you shouldn’t be doing it for free. The employer should put skin in the game, too — and Automattic does. The ROI for the company is tremendous.

“There’s nothing like being in the trenches with someone, working with them day by day,” writes Mullenweg. “It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks. At the end of the trial, everyone involved has a great sense of whether they want to work together going forward. And, yes, that means everyone — it’s a mutual tryout. Some people decide we’re not the right fit for them.”

Automattic hires about 40% of people it tries out. Turnover is ridiculously low. Paying job candidates while Automattic assesses them pays off. In virtually every other company, the hiring process is rote, stupid, and inaccurate because it’s automated. Human review of applicants is the last thing any employer wants to invest in.

Around the world, hiring is a massively screwed up process because business doesn’t make any meaningful investment in it. Buying resumes from job boards and paying personnel jockeys to scan applicants’ keywords isn’t an investment — it’s a joke. But paying for the benefit of assessing people on the job, inside your company, on your time — that’s an investment. I doubt Automattic selects candidates lightly.

Mullenweg says, “It’s a huge time commitment, coordinating the short-term work being done by job applicants.”

Of course it is. And it should be. It’s costly, so a lot of care goes into the process up front, and this limits errors markedly. Mullenweg personally spends a third of his time on hiring. That’s more than even I recommend. (I suggest managers need to spend 15%-20% of their time recruiting and hiring, and I know few managers that do.)


What if you’re the job hunter?
Would you ask an employer to pay you to check you out? If that’s too much, then at least consider Conrado Hinojosa’s provocative The No-Nonsense Interview Agreement instead. It serves a similar purpose: It adds a measure of thoughtfulness to the experience.


I challenge any HR manager to explain why it’s okay to take hours and hours of a job applicant’s time without paying for it. I also challenge them to show me how their hiring methods are more accurate than Mullenweg’s. If your company does what Automattic does, I’d like to hear about it. In fact, I’ll gladly highlight your company in an upcoming column.

In the meantime, I think employers should start paying job candidates to assess them. My bet is that it would improve their business and operations dramatically.

What is a job applicant’s time worth to an employer? What are hiring errors worth? Would paying job applicants pay off to employers?

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Deal-breaker questions to ask employers

In the April 22, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to ask an employer tough questions… and just can’t seem to get answers:

I’ve done my research on the company, and the interview went well, but there are some things that I just couldn’t get information about, even in the interview. I want to know just how long the average individual stays in this particular job before moving up, as well as what other opportunities could be expected in the future. Also, who are the people I would be working with? How good are they? What kinds of tools and support would I have? Finally, I am a little vague on what the salary level might be.

My question: Is it okay to ask these questions in the interview? Thanks for your help.

Nick’s Reply

hidden-informationI’ll go you one better: Don’t accept this job until you get your answers. Your questions are excellent, especially those about the people connected to the job. (See It’s the people, Stupid.) If the answers are unsatisfactory, these are deal-breakers.

Many applicants are afraid to ask questions that seem “forward” in the job interview. I don’t know where this hesitation comes from. Perhaps it’s part of a deeper feeling that the job candidate is some sort of supplicant whom the employer steps down from heaven to talk to.

“You dare to ask The Great Oz…?”

Your questions are not only reasonable, they are very important. If the interviewer can’t answer them, ask to talk with someone who can. If the company won’t make any effort to answer you, you need to reconsider whether you want to work there.


Here’s another make-or-break question to ask the employer, after an offer has been made to you: “May I see the complete benefits package so I can study it along with the rest of your kind offer?” Many employers will decline to share the benefits details. Find out Why companies hide the benefits.


Don’t be shy. Interviewing is a two-way street. They want to know a lot about you, and you need to know a lot about them. Interview them. Don’t lower your expectations because they own the job. Remember that you own the solution to their problems.

Part of my work as a headhunter involves preparing a candidate to interview the employer effectively. I’ve found that good employers don’t react well to a candidate who just sits and answers questions. A good candidate probes for information, too. A good candidate expects candor and full disclosure.

  • Be polite and diplomatic, but also be bold and assertive.
  • Get answers to every reasonable question you have, or don’t take the job.

What’s a reasonable question? It’s one that, if left unanswered, might lead you to reject an offer. If you’re left feeling uncertain about something now, it’s going to be much worse once you’re on the job. Trust your gut: Get answers to every question that matters.

What’s the best time to ask your questions? Before, during, and after the interview. I’m not trying to be cute. It’s a judgment call. You wield the most power after you receive an offer and before you accept it. It’s really the only time you have great control in the interview process. That’s a good time to call the manager and explain that there’s some additional information you need. Can they meet with you briefly one more time? If they decline, that suggests a lot about how they may treat you later. (Is it possible they’ll be offended and rescind the offer? Sure, though I think it’s very unlikely. But, what would that tell you?)

A final note: Make sure you’re talking with the person you’re going to be reporting to. While the personnel department can answer questions about benefits, company policy, and the like, you’re not going to be interacting daily with the personnel staff once you’re hired. Your key questions are about the work, and it’s the boss who can tell you what you need to know — if you ask. And don’t be afraid to ask, ever.

If something is a make-or-break issue, it’s better to get answers before you accept the job. The best employers will be happy to share the information you need.

(If you need more detailed help assessing an employer, see “Due diligence: Don’t take a job without it” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball After The Interview, and “How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers.)

What tough questions do you ask employers? Has an employer ever refused to answer? Are there questions that are off limits for job applicants? I’d love to hear from employers, too.

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How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

In a recent edition, we discussed what to do when an employer makes you a low job offer for a job you plan to take anyway. Now it’s time to boost the employer’s opinion of what you are really worth, well before an offer is ever made to you.

In the March 25, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to get a bigger offer:

I think you’re right: To get a company interested in me, I need to show what my value is to them. But if I’m not a salesperson or entertainment star (in which case it should be very obvious), how do I quantify my value to an employer’s bottom line? How do I actually prove I’m worth a higher job offer?

more-moneyNick’s Reply

Here’s my general approach: Estimate as best you can how your work will produce revenue or reduce costs for the company. Then explain it to the employer. Your numbers will be off; that’s okay. What matters is being able to have an intelligent discussion about how you can do the job in a way that pays off to the employer.

Virtually no one does this in a job interview. I’ve had people tell me it’s presumptuous to talk about how they’d contribute to the bottom line. Others claim it’s impossible to calculate one person’s impact. Again, what matters is that you’re telling the employer you care about his success and how you’d fit into the equation. Don’t lecture; have a discussion..

I address this challenge in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, Be The Profitable Hire. Here is an excerpt from the book:


Estimate your impact to the bottom line

If the work you do is overhead and mostly affects costs: Do you shave two minutes off each customer service call you handle? Have you figured out a way to get projects done 20% faster? Multiply this by the hourly wage or by the salary. The savings are just one part of the profit you contribute. Get the idea? I’m simplifying, but few of your competitors will offer any estimates at all. This gives you a good, honest story to tell the employer about how you will contribute to the success of the business. It gives you an edge.

If the job affects revenue: Try to quantify the impact. Your estimate may not be accurate, simply because you don’t have all the relevant information at your fingertips, but you must be able to defend your calculations. Run it by someone you trust who knows the business, then present it to your boss or to your prospective boss. You can even present your estimates in the interview, and ask the employer how you might make them more accurate. This can be a very effective ice breaker.

If you can’t demonstrate how you will contribute to the bottom line, then be honest with yourself: Why should the employer hire you? Or, why should your employer keep you?

Rather than demonstrate their value, job hunters hand over their resumes and wait for the employer to figure it out. Employers are not good at figuring out your value… The particulars depend on the job and the situation. I can almost guarantee that when you discuss a job in such profit-based terms with management, they won’t care so much about your actual numbers. But they’ll be impressed that you cared enough to try to work it out. (Just make sure that you do the necessary homework before you go to the interview!)

Reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, “How can I demonstrate my value?” pp. 8-9. The book includes “How to do a Working Interview,” “What’s your business plan for this job?” and 10 other methods to show you’re the profitable hire — plus 8 How to Say It tips.


You’ve already guessed this is not an easy way to boost a job offer. But why should it be? Why would anyone offer you more money if you can’t show them what they’ll get in return? This is how the best headhunters coach their candidates to get the best offers.

Job interviews have become so rote that applicants just show up, and employers think they’ll be able to make a hiring judgment based on a bunch of worn-out questions and answers. That’s to your advantage. Your competition is not likely to attempt what I’m suggesting. To be the applicant who stands out, be ready to show why you’re the profitable hire. Do the work, win the job.

How do you get bigger job offers? What advice would you give this reader? Have you tried and failed to get more money?

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Make the employer WANT to raise your job offer

In the March 4, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to negotiate a higher job offer. But this is more than our normal Q&A column.

I recently had a rapid-fire e-mail exchange with a reader who was trying to get a low offer raised. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, and employers often decline. More important, the applicant usually doesn’t know how to justify a higher figure. I think it’s worth printing the entire exchange, rather than just a Q&A. I hope you find the details of this give and take interesting and helpful.

Question
raise-the-anteNick: People must drive you crazy but I do not know who else to reach out to in this situation. I got a job offer today for an attorney position. I was really excited, and then I heard the offer. It was so low. They were looking for an attorney with five years experience, whereas I have 28. Even for five years, I thought the offer was low. I knew I would have to take less money, but not this much less. So how much do I counter with? 10% more, 20% more? I am terrible at these things. Thanks so much for your advice!

Nick’s Reply

Congrats on the offer. Now you must decide, first of all, whether you want this job so much that you would, in the end, accept the offer as it stands. Would you?

I’ll say more once you reply. But that’s the main question you must answer — yes or no to the existing number — because odds are they will not raise it. But they might. I’ll respond with advice once you answer my question.

Reader’s Response
Yes, I would take the low offer as it stands. My bank account is dwindling and I have little choice. It’s better to have a job when looking for another, than none at all. I just don’t know how to make the suggestion for more money. Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

It’s entirely up to you to decide how much you want, but being willing to accept the existing offer gives you a special kind of leverage. I’m not suggesting a person can negotiate a better deal only if they’re willing to settle for what’s offered. But let me explain how you can exploit this situation to your advantage. There is something you can say to make the employer want to raise the offer.

You see, there are two things that are often more important to an employer than money: Your level of motivation and your commitment. Put those on the table, and you have leverage.

(Note to readers: Sometimes, it’s best to turn down that job offer if it’s very low — but this reader has made a decision to accept it. I don’t make judgments when people need to put food on the table. My objective is to help raise the offer to any extent we can.)


This advice is reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, pp. 8-9:

There’s a very powerful way to negotiate for more money that will not compromise your rapport with the employer — if you’ve already decided you’re willing to live with the original offer. Here’s How to Say It:

“Thanks for your offer. I’m ready to accept it, but I’d like to discuss the salary first. [For reasons A, B and C…], I believe I’m worth $2,000 more than you’re offering. But I don’t want you to misunderstand: This is not a large difference, and I have already decided I want this job. To show you my good faith, I’ll accept your offer as it is. But I’d like to respectfully ask you to consider raising it by $2,000, for the reasons I’ve cited. I’m glad to discuss how you see this, and whether you agree. But either way, I want to work here, and I’m ready to start work in two weeks.”

That’s a very powerful negotiating position to take, because you’ve made a commitment and a concession. Now you’re asking the employer for the same.

I don’t know any negotiation technique that takes this approach, probably because most negotiators don’t start with the plan of accepting the original offer. The upside of this approach is that it can still lead to a higher offer, but without jeopardizing the position you’ve already attained… By making a commitment to the company first, you establish a level of credibility that may strengthen your negotiating position. You must judge the trade-off in your particular situation.

This Q&A is excerpted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, which includes these sections:

  • The company rescinded the offer!
  • Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?
  • Am I unwise to accept their first offer?
  • Can I use salary surveys to goose up the offer?
  • The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers
  • Juggling job offers
  • Give us the pay stub
  • Vacation Time: What’s good for the goose
  • How do I decide between two offers?
  • How to decline an offer
  • Does a counter-offer include pay-back?
  • Am I stuck with this non-compete agreement?
  • How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?
  • How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer

Reader’s Response
I read Be The Master of Job Offers, then I called the guy and asked for more money. I phrased it as, “I hope you have some flexibility…” and asked for 7.5% more. He did not think that was unreasonable, and said he agreed with that but had to check with management and will get back to me quickly! I think it will work out. It is still not close to what I was making, but I am happier with this number. Things have changed drastically for millions of people in the last few years and it is what you do in the present that matters. My goal is to not look back but forward. Thank you so much, Nick, for all your help and your empowering book.

Nick’s Reply

You’re welcome. You made my day. Something told me you’d at least try something from the book — and those are the people I do this for. Whatever happens, you took a stand and you made a sound effort. My compliments. I hope it all works out for the best for you.

Reader’s Response
Hey, Nick, just an update! As you know, I asked for more money and they came back today with just a bit less than 7.5% and I took the job. So, not anything close to what I used to make, but I got more because I asked, so I feel good! Once again, I cannot thank you enough for all your wisdom, the book, and your support.

Note from Nick

more-moneyNot every negotiation for more money succeeds. But knowing how to leverage any advantage you have — even if it’s the stark fact that you need that job — can make the difference between no increase and something more. It’s usually difficult to think straight when an offer is on the table and the pressure is on. But as this reader has shown, an effective request can pay off!

By making the commitment she was ready to make anyway — to accept the job — the reader made it much easier for the employer to raise the offer simply because she asked. Commitment and motivation are two things that are often more important to an employer than money. (These are two of the cornerstones of How Can I Change Careers?) You can always use them to strengthen your negotiating position.

Have you ever convinced an employer to raise a job offer? How’d you do it? What other methods would you have suggested to this reader? If you’re an employer, please tell us what influences the final offers you make. Join us on the blog!

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What’s up with clueless interviewers?

In the February 11, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets fed up with interviewers who are unprepared:

What about interviewers who haven’t read your resume? An interviewer asked if I have done any programming, when my resume clearly states that I’m a programmer. Sometimes I’m asked if I know this software tool or that one. If I did, I would have listed them on my resume! I can learn new tools quickly, but they don’t want to hear it!

What is up with interviewers who ask questions that are answered clearly on my resume, and who want a perfect match of skills?

Nick’s Reply

cluelessIt means that the interviewer either didn’t read your resume, or is at a loss for what to ask. Just the kind of person I’d love to work for — someone unprepared!

Some managers will argue that they are very busy and don’t have time to review a resume carefully before they meet you. Yet they expect you to be well-prepared for an interview. This is a sign of a lousy manager.

Should an interviewer expect that you listed every relevant fact on your resume? Sorry, no. I can’t assume you listed everything on your resume. Or, I may be initiating a discussion about a specific detail. “Do you know this tool?” might be just another way of asking, “Tell me about your expertise with this tool,” and that is a legitimate question.

The problem of employers dismissing quick learners too readily, however, is a dirty little secret of interviewing in many companies. They aren’t interested in the fact that you can learn almost anything in a few days given some good manuals and a little peace and quiet. They’re interested in hiring someone who can do the job “yesterday.”

The fundamental problem, of course, is that many managers are not good at assessing a job applicant. Other than ticking off buzz words from your “skill set,” they have no idea how to judge whether you can ride a fast learning curve without falling off.

Why do you think there’s such a “shortage” of qualified technical people? It’s mostly nonsense. Anyone can hire an employee who can do one particular task today; that is, a person who has been doing exactly that work at his old job. But it takes a good manager to hire and coach a good employee who can master new tasks that come along.

A good question to ask interviewers is this: “How many of your team members are doing work today that exactly matches the job description they were hired to do originally?”

That will tell you a lot about whether the manager knows how to manage talent rather than just skills.

What all this means is that you, the job applicant, must find subtle ways to take over the interview so you can demonstrate that you’re the profitable hire. This article can help you get started: The Basics: The New Interview.

If you really want to wow the interviewer without resorting to silly tactics recommended by some of the “experts,” try this: “The Single Best Interview Question… And The Best Answer.” Caution: This is a lot of hard work. But, then again, so’s that great job you want, right?

Do interviewers behave like clueless dopes? How do you raise the bar when you interview? And, how do you avoid having your time wasted?

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Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything)

nick-redditAnd now for something completely different…

[This Reddit AMA is postponed… a new date will be posted!]

Join me today, February 4, 2014 for a special Ask The Headhunter Reddit AMA — Ask Me Anything — at 1pm ET. I’m doing this in cooperation with my good buddies at PBS NewsHour, where I produce a weekly Ask The Headhunter feature.

(I will post a direct link here to Reddit when the AMA goes live about 15 minutes before “air” time.)

Will Ferrell is doing an AMA at the same time. You could skip his, but try to be polite and ask him a question, too.

We’ve done “open mic” on the Blog before, where you pound me with any and all questions, and I try to pound my keyboard and tackle them all without passing out. But this is something new — I’ll be answering questions througout the day, and I hope we’ll attract some new “regulars” to Ask The Headhunter!


If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, here are three good introductions to what this community is all about:

Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course

Ask The Headhunter: Introduction

And a sampling from today’s edition of the Blog: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring


So please pile onto the Reddit AMA – at 1pm ET [postponed] — Ask me about jobs, recruiting, hiring, stupid HR tricks, what I had for breakfast, where I like to backpack, and what my favorite band is! (Anything!)

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Fired for my ethics!

In the January 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets fired for not cutting corners:

I am about to be “removed” from my present position. The background reason is because I do my work by the book and will not take shortcuts that are unethical. Management says I’m not a team player. In 15 years, I have never been fired or had this kind of problem before. My question is, how do I handle this in interviewing for a job? And can I leave this company off my resume? The situation has me very depressed. I’m not dealing with it well, but need to get on and find a job. How will a prospective employer view this? Thanks for your time and help.

Nick’s Reply

Don’t ever apologize for your integrity. Don’t complain about anyone else’s lack of it when you interview. Those two rules will stand you well.

youre-firedIf you’ve been with the company more than six months, it will be hard to leave it off your resume. When asked why you left your employer, it’s perfectly honest to say, “I want to work for a better company.”

If you’re asked what specifically made you leave your job, tell the truth, but keep it very brief and unemotional. Don’t dwell on it in an interview, but don’t be defensive about it, either. Decide what you’re comfortable saying, and stick to it. The employer’s reaction will depend a lot on how your attitude comes across. (Learn to use one and only one brief, business-like explanation no matter who you’re discussing this with — family, friends, or new people you meet.) The key in the interview is this: Turn your discussion back to the topic that really matters — how you are going to bring added success to the manager you’re meeting with.

This is where your good references come in. You need to provide an employer with compelling proof of your abilities. You’re going to need to be selective about what references you use from your last employer — but you should definitely have references from people there who know you well. This includes co-workers and managers in other departments that know you. (You don’t have any such references? Tell me who your friends are.)

Remember that your old company’s customers, vendors, and professional consultants (lawyers, bankers, accountants) can also be powerful references, if you had such contacts in your last job.

But take this extra step: Ask your references to call a prospective employer before he calls them. (I discuss this and other powerful reference techniques in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, especially in the section titled “How do I deal with an undeserved nasty reference?”, pp. 19-21.) A good reference won’t have a problem doing that for you, as long as you don’t ask too often. An employer will see this as a very powerful recommendation.

Don’t be depressed. Moving on is the right thing. When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you’ll be looking at someone with integrity. Your previous employer may find an image in his own mirror that isn’t so pleasing. There are lots of companies that want ethical workers. To find them, keep your standards high.

Ever get fired because you didn’t “fit?” How did you handle it? What did you do for references?

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The Stress Interview: How employers abuse job applicants

In the January 7, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader takes on employers who play games in job interviews:

You have an awesome newsletter and I am glad that I have subscribed to it. I wish more people (especially companies that hire) would read it. Have you ever heard of an interview process where there is more than one interviewer, and the second or third interviewer just sits there and acts bored or is rude the whole time (yawning, etc.)? How would you recommend dealing with it? What is this type of interview ? I have found no information on the web about it.

I have never personally had this happen to me but I have had friends tell me these things have happened to them. One interviewer will ask a question and, when the interviewee attempts to answer, the second or third interviewer will start talking to another interviewer or yawn in what seems like an obvious attempt to throw the interviewee off guard.

I was in the Army some time ago and I heard that this was frequently done during oral board interviews for promotion. The military I get, but not a company that is supposed to be professional.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words about the newsletter — glad you enjoy it. Believe it or not, there are lots of HR folks who subscribe. They tell me they’re not the “personnel jockeys” I write about. I figure if they keep reading, maybe they’re not!

rude-interviewThe situation your friends are experiencing is a variation on the “stress interview,” where an employer will introduce something to stress out the job candidate. The classic move is for the interviewer to start yelling at the applicant, just to see what he’ll do. (Of course, your friends might just be visiting employers that have actual, rude employees or managers in those interviews!)

But it doesn’t matter to me whether we’re talking about rude interviewers, or about interviewers who intentionally abuse applicants to test them. My advice is the same: Stop the interview.

Calmly but firmly explain that you’re there to talk shop — to demonstrate how you’ll do the job profitably for the employer.

“But I don’t work for jerks, or tolerate bad behavior in any business environment, including this interview.”

Then I’d walk out calmly, without raising my voice or being rude in any way. Because you’re dealing with jerks.

If you really want to drive home the point to those interviewers,explain it to them this way:

“If you worked in sales and treated a prospective customer like this, would you be surprised if the prospect got up and walked out? Of course not. You wouldn’t be surprised, either, if your VP of Sales fired you. Now, what do you think I’m going to tell people in our professional community about my experience here?”

Honest — that’s what I’d do. People who behave like that are either naturally jerks, or they’re “manufactured” jerks who behave that way because someone told them it was a cool way to interview people, by abusing them. None of it is acceptable.

The minute you convince yourself that it’s acceptable, and try to appease your abuser, you become a sucker for an employer that (1) has no idea what it’s doing, or (2) has just revealed what life will be like if you take a job there. I’ve walked out of meetings like that, and I’ve felt great. I couldn’t care less what “opportunity” I might have missed, because dealing with people like that is no opportunity.


This isn’t the only way employers will abuse you.
Learn how to Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, and find out how to Play Hardball With Employers.


A company that tests you to see how you will deal with jerks is risking its reputation. I believe such “techniques” are invented by failed human resources managers who are clueless about how to judge people, so they start “HR consulting practices” and invent goofy tricks that they then “sell” to their clients. And it goes around like an infection.

If the Army uses this technique, I’m surprised. What kind of salary would you expect an employer to pay you to go to boot camp and be a full-time soldier for them?

Have you ever been abused in a job interview? What did you do? How would you advise this reader?

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4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

In the November 26, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, there’s no Q&A. Instead…

autumn-leaf1I normally take a break during Thanksgiving week and skip publishing an edition of the newsletter so that I can cook, bake, and fill the larder with goodies for Thursday. But I’m cooking up something different for you with this 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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Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #6 – #10

In the November 18, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about the rest of the stupid inteview questions… In the November 5 edition we discussed the first five of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. (There are of course lots more than 10, but who’s counting?) Let’s recap the reader’s question, then tackle #6 – #10.

I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. stupid-questions-moreWhy did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
  4. What are your best skills?
  5. What is your major weakness?
  6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
  7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
  8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
  9. What salary are you expecting?
  10. What have I forgotten to ask?

Nick’s Reply

6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?

Gimme a break. If you hire me, I’m working with you, right?

Clearly, the purpose of the question is to assess whether you are a solitary type who prefers to avoid interacting with other people. Like you’re going to fess up if you’ve got asocial tendencies… In any case, if you take a guess and tell the interviewer what you think he wants to hear, you might be wrong. Worse, you risk getting a job that’s wrong for you.

I think the best answer to this question is an offer.

How to Say It: “I’d like to offer to come in for half a day to show you how I’d do this job. Perhaps that would involve shadowing another team member, or working alone, or participating in a group work meeting. I’m happy to invest the time, so you can see how I work, and so I can experience first-hand how you and your team work together.”

What’s not to like about such a direct assessment, where everyone can relax, forget about silly questions, and actually do some work? (Caution: Don’t let this turn into you doing lots of free work!) You’ll learn lots more about this approach in Fearless Job Hunting Book 6 – The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.

7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)

“My long-term goal is to chuck it all, become a sailor, and sail around the world with my schnauzer. Do you like dogs and boats? If not, I suppose you won’t hire me.”

You could also try this:

How to Say It: “My goal for the foreseeable future is to help you increase your revenues and/or reduce your costs, and to improve your profit line by doing a better job than anyone else you could hire. I’m not perfect, but I’m determined. Let me explain how I’d do these things in this job…”

8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)

This is the proverbial loaded question — and most “experts” advise avoiding it because any answer may turn off the interviewer depending on what her interests are. (I’ve seen people rejected because they play golf and the manager recently blew a game.)

If the employer pays close attention to your answer and seems to be extrapolating from your hobbies — using some look-up table that explains what it really means when you say you like to read in your spare time — to decide whether you’d be a good hire, then this question is the least of your problems.

Your hobbies are no one’s business. But don’t lose the interview over this one. My advice: Tell the truth and damn the torpedoes. If the employer can’t deal with your interests and won’t hire you because of what you do in your spare time, to heck with her because she’s going to micro-manage you.

Everyone thinks they’re a psychologist. Thank you, Dr. Phil.

9. What salary are you expecting?

If an employer asks you this question instead of, “What’s your current salary?” you’re probably dealing with a smart employer. Smart employers don’t care what you’re making now, because they can figure out for themselves what you’re worth to their business — and that’s what they’re going to offer you, no matter what you made last year.

Show your respect and your own intelligence like this:

How to Say It: “Every good job is dynamic — it evolves and changes quickly. Let’s discuss what I’d be doing day one, week one, month one and by the end of one year — the actual work, the tasks, the deliverables. Then we can discuss how, and perhaps how much, I can add to your bottom line. That’s how I expect to come up with a salary range that I think represents my value, in terms of what I could bring to your bottom line.” (For more about how to handle salary topics in interviews, see Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).)

10. What have I forgotten to ask?

How to Say It: “You didn’t ask me the single most important question in an interview: How am I going to do this job profitably for your company? If I can’t demonstrate my ability to do that, you shouldn’t hire me.”

End of interview.

Now I’ll repeat what I said in the first installment of “The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions”:

If you memorize these answers and use them, you’re a dope. (No offense.) Every person, every employer, ever interview, every situation is different. Use the answers I provided as a spark to get you thinking in the right direction. Preparing your own actual answers will require an immense amount of work on your part, for every single job you interview for. The details will be different in every case.

One more note: Never take anyone’s advice about your job search, including mine. At best, leaven your own approach with something you’ve learned here — but make it your own, make sure you’re comfortable with anything you say or do, and never, ever, ever complain that you blew it because you did what Nick told you to do… :-)

Remember that giving the “right” answers is not the point. That could lead to a job offer for a job that’s totally wrong for you. You don’t want to just succeed in the interview; you want to succeed in getting the right job. And some interviews reveal lousy jobs that you should walk away from.

The key to the ATH approach is figuring out the connection between the work you do and the profit you can add to a business. Without that, your answers to interview questions don’t matter.

I hope you find my suggestions useful.

How do you answer the top 10 interview questions (stupid or otherwise)? What makes your interviews work — and when and how have you failed?

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