Manager goes around HR to recruit and hire

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In the March 12, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a manager reveals how he recruits and hires better by doing it himself.

The DIY manager

managerI’m a hiring manager in engineering and have benefited greatly from your articles as both someone looking to hire talent and as a potential employee. (Most recently: Want the job? Go around HR.) Thanks for the great work and advice.

Things I do differently now:

I do not let HR filter resumes

I review all resumes myself and allocate time to read any that look promising. This was a big change for HR and I was surprised at the initial push-back!

What I found was that HR was hyper-focused on keywords and actually trying to steer hiring managers based on criteria rather than technical skills and relevant experience. It was eye-opening. And yes, doing it myself significantly improved my ability to find great people for my team and the company.

I am always recruiting

I typically spend between one to four hours a week recruiting and interviewing, but it depends on the size of the organization and state of the business. I am always looking for top talent, and I occasionally create openings for the “right” people.

I find it can take months or even years to entice superstar candidates.

Referrals, one at a time

At the moment, I receive most candidate resumes through other hiring managers, directors and V.P.s, who review them individually. Most of my actual hires are referrals from within the company or people I know and go after directly. This is probably not typical of most companies, but we are a small company (50-75 people) doing very specialized work.

I do not apply for jobs posted on websites

Nor do I invest time in random cold calls and e-mails from recruiters, specifically commercial job boards and recruiters that find me on LinkedIn or other websites.

The best access to job opportunities is through your network of current and past co-workers, hiring managers, and reputable recruiters. This can be challenging early in your career, but it also emphasizes the importance of doing good work and not burning bridges.

Thanks again for helping to educate employees and hiring managers everywhere. This stuff should really be taught in school. Do you do seminars for graduating college and university students?

John Phillips

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind note and description of how you hire. (I added some subheadings to emphasize your main points.) I can’t compliment you enough for making recruiting and hiring so personal, and for going around the institutional claptrap.

Going around HR

Taking HR out of the process like you do creates more work for hiring managers – work that should never have been delegated to HR to begin with. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.) While some HR folks are savvy about engineering, for example, only the hiring manager really understands the work and grasps the constellation of skills and expertise that would best serve a job.

A manager’s DIY methods for recruiting and hiring

HR has become such an institutionalized method of recruiting at arm’s length that most managers don’t realize how huge the pay-off can be if they invest their own — significant — time in recruiting and candidate selection. Very few managers are as active as you are in finding, assessing and pursuing the best candidates.

You have outlined a critical process, and I’d like to emphasize the things you do to recruit and hire:

  1. You avoid letting HR “filter” resumes
  2. Read and judge resumes yourself
  3. Devote time to review the most promising resumes in depth
  4. Avoid the distractions of so-called keywords and “criteria”
  5. Choose candidates based on technical skills and relevant experience
  6. Avoid random calls and e-mails from recruiters you don’t know or trust
  7. Avoid database-driven solicitations
  8. Devote time each week to recruiting and interviewing
  9. Personally and actively look for and recruit top talent all the time
  10. Invest months or years to personally pursue and entice the best candidates
  11. Prefer personal assessments and referrals from reputable people you trust
  12. Create new jobs for the best talent
  13. Find your own job opportunities through trusted personal contacts

That’s a powerful deviation from the contemporary, HR-driven, norm — and absolutely necessary if a manager wants to build a great team of the best people. No one can manage finding you a job, and no one can manage your hiring better than you can. I think any manager can learn and benefit from the steps you follow to recruit and hire.

As you’ve found, it’s common to get push-back from HR when you insist on doing your own recruiting and hiring. Hiring is and must always be The manager’s #1 job. And as you’ve also found, the same rules and methods you use to fill jobs will serve you well when you pursue a new job yourself.

“This stuff should be taught in school”

LIVE Ask The Headhunter

On Tuesday, March 19, 2019 7:30 p.m., I’m presenting 30 Contrarian Job Hunting Tips in 30 Minutes at the Career Forum, a program of the Somerset Hills YMCA, 140 Mount Airy Road, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920.

Free, open to all. If you’re nearby, I hope you’ll join us — and please stick around to say hi afterwards!

Thanks again for your kind words. To answer your question, yes, I do presentations and workshops for students and new grads. (Including Executive MBA students.) And you’re absolutely correct: This stuff should really be taught in school.

While schools and professional groups hire me for such gigs, I also make a point of doing as many pro bono events as I can each year — for new grads and seasoned professionals. I like to get people from all parts of the career cycle into a room so we can talk and share ideas — and contacts!

It’s a stunning failure of many high schools, colleges and universities that they don’t adequately prepare students for work, and that includes job seeking and hiring. Although I’m a big fan and defender of a liberal arts education, and of education for its own sake, I don’t think any school can justify not incorporating serious lessons about how to get and keep a job into every curriculum. Perhaps the only thing more stunning is that parents who foot the bill for a college education don’t demand it. (See Your First Job: 20 pointers for new graduates.)

A challenge to managers: Do your own recruiting and hiring!

I want to thank manager John Phillips for sharing his recruiting and hiring practices with us. (And it does take practice!) But I don’t think any manager who leaves these crucial tasks to HR is really managing. Do you?

If you’re a manager, what’s your take on all this? Is recruiting and hiring your job — or is it mostly (or entirely) HR’s? How do you do it at your company? What additional tips would you add to the list above? If you’re a job seeker, how often do you encounter managers who do it themselves? Is it any better when HR is merely peripheral to the process?

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Want the job? Go around HR

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In the March 5, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wastes time begging HR.

Question

Can I re-apply for a job if there are vacancies still open after my application has been turned down?

HRNick’s Reply

Of course you can. But why would you want to? Fool me once, fool me twice — you’ve already learned this company chews up applications and spits them out without even talking to the applicant.

Think about this: The hiring manager probably doesn’t even know you applied! The manager probably has never seen your resume! A personnel clerk with no expertise in the work you do (or in the open job) put a big X on your application.

But there’s a smart alternative: Go around Human Resources (HR). Go around the job application form.

Go around the system

The conventional advice on this problem is that if HR has already rejected you, you shouldn’t waste your time. But that’s like the boy who shows up to a girl’s house to ask her on a date — and the gardener shoos him away, so he gives up.

Personnel jockeys don’t control the jobs, so don’t let their officious posturing convince you that they do. They control the applications — but don’t go that route! Don’t take no for an answer until you hear it straight from the hiring manager.

Go around HR

Get in the door without an application, and without facing the “job application meat grinder software.” Here are the basic steps for going around the system — though they are not for the meek.

1. Throw out your resume.

The average time a manager spends reading a resume is six seconds. It’s not a good way to get in the door. (See Tear your resume in half.) Don’t use a resume.

2. Don’t apply for jobs. Find problems to solve.

You have millions of competitors applying for millions of jobs, so stop competing with them. Don’t submit job applications. Instead, read the business and industry press. Find a handful of companies that have specific, well-publicized problems. Decide how you can help solve those problems. (If you can’t figure that out, then that company or job is not for you.)

3. Find the managers.

HR will tell you you’re not allowed to contact hiring managers directly. That’s the best reason to contact the managers directly! But don’t ask the managers for a job. Talk shop. Explain that you’ve learned about their problem. (See How to get to the hiring manager.)

4. Offer a solution.

Whether in person, by phone or e-mail (in that order of preference) briefly explain to the manager how you can help solve the problem. Outline your solution in 3-5 steps. Don’t give all the details — but your summary had better be good.

5. Ask for a 20-minute meeting, not a job interview.

“If you’ll spend 20 minutes with me, I’ll show you why I’d be a profitable hire. If I can’t prove it to you in those 20 minutes, I will leave.”

That’s no easy task. But if you can’t show in 20 minutes why you’re worth hiring, then you have no business in that meeting. Of course, you will have to present a more detailed “proof” if the manager is impressed.

Everything else is a waste of time, designed to make busy work for HR that looks like productivity. You can and should apply for a job you believe — and can prove — you can do. But don’t waste your time applying on a form to the HR department.

For more about this approach to landing the job you want, please see Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.

If you want another shot at another job at this company, of course you can try again! But don’t waste your time with the gate keeper. Go talk to the real decision maker!

Now get to work, because doing what I suggest is hard work — as hard as that great job you want. So do the work to prove you can do the job.

I’d like to hear from those who are willing to invest the time and effort to try what I’ve suggested. Any takers? How do you go around HR?

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FTC Halts Fake Jobs & Resume Repair Operation

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SevenFigureCareersSPECIAL EDITION: The Federal Trade Commission charges SevenFigureCareers and Craig Chrest with “bilking consumers” for “sham job placement and resume repair services.”

SevenFigureCareers Revisited

A series of investigative articles appeared here between September 2016 and January 2017 about SevenFigureCareers, an “executive search firm” that charged people money for job interviews with “private equity” (PE) and “venture capital” (VC) firms.

The articles allege the business, operating out of Texas and California under many names including Private Equity Headhunters, WWEJSS, 7F, 7FigCareers, and PEHHS.COM, is a scam.

In February 2017 Craig Chrest and Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC — the owner and operator of SevenFigureCareers — filed suit in New Jersey Superior Court against Ask The Headhunter’s principals, claiming the articles were “false.” Our legal team immediately moved the case to U.S. Federal Court (District of New Jersey) and mounted a vigorous defense. While that case is pending, on advice of legal counsel nothing further has been published here in the interim.

The articles have remained online because the Court affirmed Ask The Headhunter’s First Amendment right to publish.

This special edition of Ask The Headhunter is a reprint of the full text of a U.S. Federal Trade Commission press release issued February 25, 2019, about the FTC’s action against Chrest, Worldwide, and PrivateEquityHeadhunters:

FTC Halts Fake Job Opportunity and Resume Repair Operation

Alleges defendants tricked consumers into paying advance fees of up to $2,500 for placement and resume services for jobs that did not exist

FOR RELEASE
February 25, 2019

The Federal Trade Commission charged two companies and their owner with bilking hundreds of thousands dollars annually from consumers for sham job placement and resume repair services. A federal court halted the scheme and froze the defendants’ assets at the FTC’s request.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC, PrivateEquityHeadhunters.com, and their owner, Craig Chrest, sent consumers unsolicited messages through well-known business networking websites, like LinkedIn, falsely claiming to have exclusive relationships with hundreds of private equity and venture capital firms, and telling consumers they were candidates for unadvertised, highly paid executive positions with these firms.

To get an interview, job seekers were required to pay upfront fees of $1,200-$2,500. In many instances, the defendants were pocketing consumers’ money knowing the job opportunities were fake, according to the FTC.

“Consumers should be wary about paying money for a job opportunity or interview,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Paying upfront for job placement services is often a sign of a scam.”

The defendants also deceived job seekers with false claims that those who used their services had a 100 percent interview rate and over an 80 percent placement rate, according to the FTC.

Since at least 2016, the defendants also deceptively sold purported resume repair services, telling consumers that their resumes were deficient and that they could not be considered for a job unless the defendants fixed their resumes. In many instances, the purported job was fake, according to the FTC.

The defendants are charged with violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

The defendants in this case are Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC (also doing business as WWEJSS, Seven Figure Careers, 7FigRecruiters, 7FC, Finnburg Switzer, ResumeterPro, Creating Job Opportunity, Confidential Jobs Only, CJOnly, and CJO Private Equity); PrivateEquityHeadhunters.com, LLC (also doing business as PE Headhunters, Private Equity Headhunters, and PEHHS.COM LLC); and Craig Chrest, who owns and controls both companies.

The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas entered a temporary restraining order against the defendants on February 11, 2019. The FTC has requested the entry of a preliminary injunction that would halt the scheme until trial.

FTCThe Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

FTC Complaint

The Complaint filed against Chrest’s businesses by the FTC in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston Division alleges:

 

  • “since at least 2014, Defendants have deceptively advertised, marketed, promoted, and sold bogus job placement and resume repair services, duping consumers out of millions of dollars.”
  • “the job interview is a charade”
  • “In many instances, the potential employer does not exist but is a shell entity established and controlled by Defendants.”
  • “Defendants have established or controlled websites or created press releases for the purported PE/VC firms”
  • “Defendants have similarly used deception to sell purported resume repair services.”
  • “Defendants have frequently shut down their operations and re-opened similar operations using new assumed names, websites, or aliases.”
  • “In 2017 and 2018, Defendants’ website has used numerous assumed names, including CJOnly and CJO Private Equity.”
  • “Defendants have operated a series of websites over the years:
    • PrivateEquityHeadhunters.com (2014);
    • PEHHS.com (2014); www.sevenfigurecareers.com (2015);
    • 7figrecruiters.com, www.FinnbergSwitzer.com, and www.resumeterpro.com (2016); and
    • exx20171.com (2017-2018).”

 

Temporary Restraining Order

In addition to freezing Defendant Chrest’s assets and halting his business activities, the Court has ordered that the following statement be displayed prominently on Chrest’s websites relating to his business activities — “any website used by any Defendant in connection with the advertising, marketing, and promotion of any job placement or resume repair services”:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a lawsuit against Defendants:

Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC (Worldwide), also doing business as WWEJSS, Seven Figure Careers, 7FigRecruiters, 7FC, Finnburg Switzer, ResumeterPro, Creating Job Opportunity, Confidential Jobs Only, CJOnly, and CJO Private Equity;

PrivateEquityHeadhunters.com, LLC, also doing business as Private Equity Headhunters, PE Headhunters, and PEHHS.COM, LLC; and

Craig Nicholas Chrest.

The lawsuit alleges that Defendants have engaged in deceptive practices in connection with the advertising, marketing, promotion and sales of job placement and resume repair services. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas has issued a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the alleged deceptive practices.

You may obtain additional information directly from the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC has also published this post on its Business Blog, offering suggestions to consumers and advising “to do your research before paying for placement services”: “Executive search firm” charged with giving job seekers the business.

Comments

There are two legal cases: The action Chrest filed against Ask The Headhunter in 2017 and the FTC’s new action against Chrest.

While the case involving Ask The Headhunter is pending, I will not participate in discussion on this matter — but you are of course welcome to post your comments. When the case is resolved, I will chime in.

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6 signals to reject an employer recruiting you

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In the February 19, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter something tells a reader it’s time to reject an employer’s recruiting come-on.

Question

recruiting

After multiple interviews with managers and team members, a well-known company made me a job offer that I refused. The offer was good, considerably more than I earn now. But the deal was unacceptable because, from one meeting to the next, the team showed me the company is undisciplined, disorganized and incapable of conducting business with someone they want to hire. And they recruited me! I didn’t go to them looking for a job! This of course tells me they are not worth doing business with, period. I’m writing to you because I’ve concluded that I should have cut the meetings off sooner. I was so focused on performing at my best that I didn’t calculate the problems that now appear so obvious to me. Can you poll your readers and ask them what signals during interviews tip them off that a company is not worth working for, much less continuing interviews?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve been saving a story I read recently about just this problem — employers that aren’t worth interviewing with. Don’t feel bad, because in the throes of the evaluation process, a candidate is understandably trying so hard to impress that he or she dismisses signals that suggest it’s time to walk away. Nonetheless, there are indeed signals you should be looking for early in the process. You should not wait until after you’ve invested many hours and loads of effort to calculate whether an employer is worth it!

6 signals tell you to reject an employer

San Francisco recruiter Ken Hansell posted this story on LinkedIn, from a job candidate who rejected a job offer and declined to negotiate further. Like you, this candidate probably waited too long to tell the employer to take a hike.

I declined the offer… I’m staying where I am.

The recruiter called me and asked why? This is one of the top companies. What’s the counter offer?

Me: No counter offer.

  1. I had 6 rounds of interviews.
  2. I was grilled with questions but nobody took the time to explain what the job is like and did not even ask if I have any questions.
  3. Lots of questions did not make sense – like why I am leaving my employer. I was not, your recruiter approached me and convinced me to come for your interview. Where I see myself in 5 years. They could not tell me where they see their company in 6 months.
  4. The hiring process is too long, too disorganized.
  5. The offer took too long.
  6. The interviewers did not compare notes because during the 6 rounds of interviews they were asking the same questions. This should not look like an interrogation. They also looked tired and stressed.

If you want to hire talent, fix your basics. Treat candidates as people, not as applicants.

This job candidate has outlined six clear signals that they were interviewing with a wrong company, that is, one not worthy of consideration. All these signs are important, but the third one is key:

The interviewers behaved as if the candidate is chasing the company when,
in fact, the company is recruiting the candidate.

Who’s recruiting whom?

This critical distinction is lost on most people. Applying for jobs you’re pursuing is one thing. But when a company finds you, pursues you, solicits you, and convinces you to come talk about a job — then the calculus changes entirely. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

As you and the candidate in the LinkedIn story both noted, you were not looking for a job, so asking you why you wanted to leave your old job is not just presumptuous and rude — it reveals a totally misguided approach to hiring.

When you are recruited, an employer should do three things:

  • Roll out the red carpet.
  • Present compelling evidence about why you should listen to its pitch.
  • Work very hard to impress you.

When you are recruited, an employer that fails to treat you as an honored guest reveals a profound ignorance of how the world works. That’s simply disrespectful. It’s the sign of an uncouth, uncultured, stupid organization that’s bound to fail — one you’d be wasting your time with. (See Stupid Recruiters: How employers waste your time.)

Blind recruiting is spam

I’ll repeat that: When a company — whether its manager, its recruiter or its headhunter — comes to you and suggests it is interested in you, it should treat you with special respect and deference.

  • It must not ask you to fill out job applications.
  • It must accommodate your schedule for a meeting.
  • It must send the hiring manager to court you from the start — not some personnel jockey whose job is to check your teeth prior to your meeting with that hiring manager.
  • It must treat you as an object of desire.
  • It must show it knows exactly why it wants to meet you.

Blind solicitations are not recruiting; they’re spam. The trouble is, most people don’t understand this. They allow companies that recruit them to treat them like beggars. Don’t. You’ll save a lot of time if you separate employers you pursue from those that come to you. This is not to say all employers should not treat you respectfully. But when a company or recruiter solicits you, expect to be treated as an object of desire — or walk away if you’re made to feel like somebody who applied for a job.

What the 6 signals really tell you

The six signals above tell you that an employer is wasting your time. Here’s why.

  1. It should not take six interviews to assess you. Two, perhaps three. An employer that needs more has no idea how to properly assess a job candidate.
  2. A company should not interrogate you. It should open its own kimono first, to prove there’s a wonderful, desirable opportunity in there for you. (If this idea seems foreign to you, you’re either brainwashed or you work in HR.)
  3. The interviewers should not test your motivations. They should justify theirs to you.
  4. An interview process should be a carefully tailored production — a compelling pitch designed to impress you favorably. If the employer uses interviews to test you, then it has no business inviting you in to talk because it clearly has no idea whether you’re a good candidate. Listen up, employers and HR managers and recruiters: If you have not researched a person in enough detail already to confirm they are a viable candidate, you have no business contacting them. Interviews are not for selecting candidates. They’re for selecting hires.
  5. An employer should make an offer almost immediately after interviews are done. Hesitation reveals doubt, and doubt reveals poor judgment, and that’s the mark of failure.
  6. Those job interview meetings are the employer’s show. If the employer comes off looking bad, it means it’s not prepared, which means it’s not worth working for.

The job candidate in the LinkedIn story didn’t even consider negotiating the job offer because the employer signaled six different ways why it’s not worth working for at any salary.

Know when to reject an employer

The best way to land a great job is to focus your available time on employers worth interviewing with and worth working for. (Yes, some employers do it right. See Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).) That’s why it’s critical to know who’s going to waste your time. Those six signals are crystal clear. But they’re not the only signals that should give any job candidate pause — or perhaps make them head for the door immediately.

What additional signals from recruiters and employers tell you the “opportunity” they’re dangling at you will be a painful waste of your time? Please be specific — let’s create a test kit that helps everyone distinguish opportunity from agony.

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What should I order at the Interview Bar?

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In the February 12, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks about going on a job interview in a bar.

Question

The company I’ve been talking with informed me that our next interview will be at a nearby bar where we can all sit down and relax. The manager also mentioned that he and his group will have some specific questions this time. (In the first interview I listened more than I talked.) What’s the protocol for interviewing in a public place? I guess they want to see how I act and how I would fit in. Are there right and wrong things to order? Can you offer any Do’s and Don’ts for a “relaxed” bar interview?

Nick’s Reply

bar

There is some very clever conventional wisdom about interviewing over a meal or over a drink. All of it assumes such a meeting is a clever ruse where the employer is watching your manners, your eating habits, and trying to get you drunk so they can find out what you’re really like.

I caution you: Even if that’s what the employer is doing, don’t make any of these assumptions yourself. Even if they’re testing you, don’t play along. Treat it as a business meeting and act accordingly.

Don’t play games

Don’t try to figure out how you should behave. Be yourself. Behave as you would in any business setting.

A long time ago someone taught me to take others at face value and to always assume the best. It’s good advice. If it turns out someone is playing games with you, that should be enough to tell you what kind of people they are – and that you probably want nothing to do with them.

As long as you are honest and sincere in your words and actions, the burden is on the other person to act the same. I’ve found this personal policy works very well. If someone “games” me after I give them the benefit of the doubt, I never deal with them again. Life’s too short to deal with jerks.

Behave normally

Don’t get caught up in the meaning behind the interview location. Be yourself.

Do what you would normally do in a job interview, and deal with the bar as you normally would. If you’d have a beer in a bar, order a beer if you want. If you don’t feel comfortable in bars, say so and ask for a change of venue. If you find yourself with a group of interviewers in the kind of bar where you feel unsafe, use your judgment — and trust your instincts.

Order what you want to eat, but don’t spend too much of their money – not any more than you would if you were on a date. Use common sense and be polite.

Don’t follow suit. If the boss orders wine but you don’t drink wine, don’t order wine. If you want seltzer, order seltzer. Don’t be someone you’re not.

Don’t over-analyze

Trying to psych this out so you can “do what they expect” will sink you — even if you strongly suspect the location is a test. The entire purpose of a casual meeting is to be casual. If they have another (sneaky) agenda, then that’s their problem. Because if you buy into a sneaky agenda, you will have to live with a sneaky agenda and sneaky people after you take the job.

Clever interview advice usually comes from self-proclaimed experts who are trying to be clever. For example, “Don’t order anything exotic, or they’ll think you’re strange.” (What if the manager values independent thinking?) If you over-analyze, you will stumble all over yourself. Forget about clever. Be yourself.

Respect yourself and respect the employer. No games. Discuss whatever they want to discuss as long as you’re comfortable with it. Hopefully they want to discuss their business and how you can make it more successful. Contribute whatever information you think will help them see how you will do the job profitably for the company, and how you will fit into their social environment.

If you and they don’t fit together, this is the time to find out. If the meeting gets weird, order take-out.

What unusual interview venues have you been to? Do you think a bar is a legitimate place for a job interview? What kinds of surprises have you encountered in unusual interview locations?

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Ghosting: Job candidates turn tables on employers

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In the February 5, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks about the consequences of ghosting.

Question

It just happened at work. Someone “ghosted” their job! A man in his 20s just disappeared without saying goodbye or I quit. For those of us who’ve been in the workforce longer, this is amazing behavior. Don’t these people think the consequences will come back to haunt them? Why do employers put up with this? Looking forward to your comments.

Nick’s Reply

This trend doesn’t surprise me at all. Several generations of workers have now experienced ghosting — the kind that employers practice on employees, job applicants, and new hires. I think what you’re seeing is the outcome of employers’ widespread demonstrations of disrespect — they’re getting ghosted in return.

Ghosting the employee

Employees and job seekers are not just fed up; they have reset the table and are serving the dog food employers made them eat. Why bother giving notice, when the last time you resigned (or got fired) an HR manager ordered a security guard to escort you — and all your co-workers saw was the ghost of their former co-worker flying out the door? (See Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms.)

Of course, there are people who thoughtlessly and rudely “disappear,” as you’ve noted. But I think in most cases it’s a conscious decision to dispense with niceties like resignations because, well, why bother when your employer has been treating you like a replaceable part?

Ghosting the recruit

It also happens during the recruiting process. A recruiter in the HR department (or an independent headhunter representing the employer) solicits you, asks for your resume and references, has you fill out pages of online application forms, insists on knowing your current salary, and requires you to sign waivers so they can conduct a background check — all before they ever interview you.

You comply because you really, really want this job. Two weeks later, after you send e-mails and leave voicemails asking what’s up, you realize that the employer that solicited, recruited and pursued you has disappeared. You’ve been ghosted.

Ghosting the new hire

Worse are the many stories of job-offer ghosting that have become all too common in my mailbox. An employer makes a job offer, sometimes verbally and sometimes in writing. The candidate accepts, agrees to a start date, quits their old job and gives notice, and in some cases travels and relocates across the country. A day or two before the job is to commence, the offer is withdrawn with no explanation, apology or compensation.

One reader recounted that her husband moved a thousand miles several days before his new job was to start, to find housing. Meanwhile, she cancelled their rental agreement, took their children out of school, packed the family’s belongings, and started the long drive to join him. Halfway along the trip, the new hire called his wife to say the employer cancelled the job and rescinded the offer without any reason given.

How do you think that experience will affect that “new hire” when he gets his next job? (See Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.)

Ghosted after trusting HR

In another case, an HR manager issued a job offer. The candidate accepted and HR instructed him to give notice at the old job immediately. He did. Several days later, the written offer still had not arrived. HR finally returned his many calls and said the background check turned up a problem — but would not disclose what it was. There would be no offer letter. Chalk this disaster up to the candidate’s naive trust in a verbal offer, but blame the HR manager for telling him everything was “a go” and to resign his old job.

(See Get it in writing.)

Turning the tables

Is it any wonder that, when the labor market is tight, workers turn the tables? I’m not saying any of this behavior is appropriate — but the reason more workers are ghosting employers is completely clear. Things have changed.

Perhaps the employer who rescinded an offer didn’t intend disrespect. HR was just very busy processing an offer to a better candidate that came along. The employer that ushered the fired employee out the door was just protecting its interests — it’s nothing personal. But as you note, these changes in the standard of conduct have consequences — but for whom? It depends on the economy.

What are the consequences in today’s economy? I don’t think they are significant for most workers unless the person tries to get a job back at their old company. Today, it seems employers are the ones facing the consequences of treating job applicants and employees with disrespect.

Of course, not all employers have been guilty any more than all workers are. And I’m not suggesting you should ghost anyone, whether you’re an employer, an employee, or a job seeker. It’s a lousy thing to do — and, yes, in some quarters it can affect your reputation. But you’re noticing a trend because there is a trend. Where does it end? Perhaps when workers demand better treatment — and when key jobs remain vacant because no one wants to work for employers that don’t respect them.

Special note to managers: Those recruiters in your HR department, and those third-party headhunters who operate at arm’s length but nonetheless represent your company — you’d better pay attention to how they treat job applicants. Their behavior will come back to haunt you.

Your turn, folks! Have you ghosted or been ghosted? How? Why? More important, how do we change the standard of conduct to improve relations between employers and workers?

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Is wrong information being given out at Glassdoor?

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In the January 29, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we consider the implications of a stunning Wall Street Journal investigation of Glassdoor “company reviews.”

GlassdoorWhat is Glassdoor serving its customers?

Wall Street Journal investigation suggests that Glassdoor is selling cooked “company reviews.”

“Jennifer Peatman, who headed Roostify’s human-resources team…asked human-resources staffers on her team to post new reviews on Glassdoor, hoping to offset the negative ones.”

“Concerned that negative reviews could hurt recruiting, Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli instructed his team to enlist employees likely to post positive reviews…”

“…companies, including Guaranteed Rate, have pressured employees to write positive reviews in order to raise poor ratings.”

Glassdoor is owned by Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd., based in Tokyo, Japan.

Can millions be wrong?

Still largely unregulated, leading recruitment advertising companies like LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor, among others, imply their services deliver benefits that no rational person believes are possible — while job seekers nonetheless swarm those sites like flies drawn to the nutritious scent of dung.

The job-searching and recruitment advertising models that these multi-billion-dollar companies market to employers and job seekers alike have created a smelly air in the job market. ZipRecruiter eliminates the “hassle” of recruiting and makes hiring “easy” — but Inc. magazine revealed it was selling illegal job ads. LinkedIn “connects” people to jobs through automated mails that deliver unsolicited job leads — that a federal judge called “spam.”

Everyone knows it’s phony marketing. But everyone excuses it as par for the course. And the employment industry banks on this contradiction between what consumers know and what they tolerate.

Hapless users routinely excuse the wild marketing claims and unforgivable sales tactics that now seem to define America’s employment system — which is now embodied in this small handful of online recruitment advertising firms. Frustrated job seekers have become numb to wasting their time and money — because employers openly endorse and participate in a shameful system of recruiting and hiring that challenges credulity.

It’s shocking the law has not come down on employers and an employment industry that together manipulate the information a nation relies on to fill jobs with workers. The latest example is an expose of the leading repository of “company reviews” that job seekers grudgingly rely on when deciding where to go work next.

The cost of questionable salary data

Glassdoor itself is clear in its Terms of Use that it doesn’t stand by anything posted by users or employers — that is, all its salary and company reviews:

“Because we do not control such Content, you understand and agree that: (1) we are not responsible for, and do not endorse, any such Content, including advertising and information about third-party products and services, job ads, or the employer, interview and salary-related information provided by other users; (2) we make no guarantees about the accuracy, currency, suitability, reliability or quality of the information in such Content; and (3) we assume no responsibility for unintended, objectionable, inaccuratemisleading, or unlawful Content made available by users, advertisers, and third parties.”

We’ve discussed the problem of data gathered from anonymous sources before. In Glassdoor Salary Data: Worse than useless we looked at how Wired magazine’s Rachel Nuwer reported a simple test that shattered the myth of Glassdoor’s vaunted salary surveys.

We saw that the “self-reported” salary information published by Glassdoor — if relied upon for salary negotiations — could cost a job seeker an additional 69% worth of compensation, according to Wired. When Glassdoor’s slap-happy anonymous data is compared to rigorously vetted salary data gathered directly from employers, it seems the job applicant stands to lose.

We saw in the disclaimers of the Terms of Use section of the Glassdoor website (see sidebar) that the company admits it publishes what seems to amount to useless crap — not verified, valid, reliable information.

Manipulation of reputations on Glassdoor

Last week, the Wall Street Journal released a damning report that addresses what skeptical job seekers have long been asking: Is wrong information being given out at Glassdoor, the employee feedback site where anonymous people rate the companies they work for?

In cooperation with Columbia University and the University of Washington, The Journal conducted an in-depth analysis of 4.8 million anonymous reviews, about more than 8,500 companies, posted on Glassdoor. The results reveal How Companies Secretly Boost Their Glassdoor Ratings — apparently with Glassdoor’s (Wink, wink! Nod, nod!) help and encouragement. (Please note that the Journal is behind a pay wall.)

Says the Journal: “Glassdoor’s company ratings are a powerful weapon in job recruiting, giving companies an incentive to inflate them.” And inflation is what the analysis found.

The dominant source of company reviews

The Journal points out that “Glassdoor has become an important arbiter of employee sentiment in today’s highly competitive job market. A Wall Street Journal investigation shows it can be manipulated by employers trying to sway opinion in their favor.

Is that forgivable marketing and public relations, or is it an indictable misrepresentation of Glassdoor’s products to its customers? One HR-related website that commented on the Journal report, BenefitsPRO, said: “The trends threaten to undermine Glassdoor’s credibility as a source for accurate information.”

The power of Glassdoor and its impact on the American job market and economy cannot be underestimated — nor can the import of the Journal’s findings.

“Sought-after workers — the site gets about 60 million users per month, according to web-research firm SimilarWeb — read reviews to help determine where they want to work.”

The article quotes Andy Challenger, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas: “Glassdoor is the most dominant company reviews website by far.”

According to Challenger, poor ratings on Glassdoor can cost an employer dearly, “particularly at a time like right now, with unemployment at historically low levels when companies are fighting to retain and attract good people.”

The Journal found that many employers take special measures to try and manipulate their reputations by “encouraging,” “galvanizing” and “pressuring” employees to post “five-star” reviews. But the question is, what liability does Glassdoor have for it?

No amount of rationalizing (“Well, I take the reviews with a grain of salt, but I rely on them anyway.”) excuses a job seeker’s reliance on company reviews that were prompted by the reviewer’s employer. And when we see how and why those reviews were prompted, Glassdoor’s entire database of reviews takes on the smell of a barrel of fish that includes maybe a few — and maybe a lot — of rotting dead ones.

A concerted conspiracy to manipulate recruiting?

You can and should read the analysis for yourself. But let’s look at the screaming evidence of manipulation behind the “spikes” in five-star company reviews on Glassdoor.

The Journal reports that its analysis “identified over 400 companies with unusually large single-month increases in reviews” that statistically seem to be related to efforts by those companies to boost their ratings on Glassdoor.

Is this a concerted conspiracy to improve recruiting by manipulating companies’ reputations among job seekers? Can a company with serious employee relations problems make itself seem like a sweet place to work by encouraging, pressuring and rewarding “target groups” of its workers for juicing reviews on Glassdoor?

The Journal’s analysis certainly seems to give credence to the imprecation of a famous 1970s poster depicting a fetid dung heap: “Eat Sh#t! 50 billion flies can’t ALL be wrong!”

The Wall Street Journal seems to imply that employers are gaming Glassdoor’s company review system, but the Journal’s analysis actually seems to reveal that Glassdoor is in on the game.

Let’s look at what the Journal tells us.

Which companies are jamming the frammitz?

The Journal delivers details from its analysis of “roughly 8,500 companies with the most Glassdoor reviews” and calls out these specific companies — among 400 it claims had suspicious spikes in their reviews.

  • Guaranteed Rate
  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX
  • SAP
  • Slack
  • LinkedIn
  • Anthem
  • Clorox
  • Brown-Forman Corp. (the maker of Jack Daniel’s whisky)
  • Bain
  • Roostify

What did over 400 companies do to “spike” their reviews?

The Journal inquired about how the review spikes occur, mostly around each October, when Glassdoor hands out its “Best Places to Work” awards.

“A Glassdoor spokeswoman said reviews may jump for a variety of reasons, including hiring surges, a company event or internal encouragement.

Say what? Internal encouragement? Do you mean like this?

  • Mortgage broker Guaranteed Rate saw its Glassdoor ratings fall to 2.6 out of 5 last summer. “CEO Victor Ciardelli instructed his team to enlist employees likely to post positive reviews, said a person familiar with his instructions. In September and October these employees flooded Glassdoor with hundreds of five-star ratings. The company rating now sits at 4.1.”
  • Among the companies with large spikes, “Spokespeople for Slack, LinkedIn and Anthem said their companies have encouraged employees to give feedback.”

Best time for review “spikes”

GlassdoorThe investigation revealed that reviews “balloon” around the annual October deadline for Glassdoor’s Best Workplaces award.

  • “Of 248 reviews [for one company at awards time], 73% are 5-star.”
  • “In some cases, companies have encouraged loyal employees to post reviews as part of a publicity campaign. SpaceX and SAP, for example, galvanized employees to leave reviews to make Glassdoor’s annual ranking of the ‘Best Places to Work.’”

But any time is a good time “to raise poor ratings”:

  • “Other companies, including Guaranteed Rate, have pressured employees to write positive reviews in order to raise poor ratings, according to interviews with current and former employees.”
  • In some cases, the disclosures by top executives are astonishing: “Guaranteed Rate’s Mr. Ciardelli said in a written statement that his management team felt Glassdoor ratings didn’t accurately reflect the company’s work environment and so it asked employees to post reviews.”

What employees would actually agree to post 5-star reviews on demand? Glassdoor told the Journal that “it coaches clients on how to target groups that tend to be more enthusiastic, such as new hires, according to guidelines for employers posted on its site.”

  • “Interns provide 92% of five-star reviews.”

Glassdoor “coaches clients” to “target” employees most likely “to be more enthusiastic.” Wink, wink. Nod, nod. Do you believe Glassdoor is a passive participant in five-star “spikes?”

Hey – No free mugs!

How’s this for clean hands:

“Glassdoor warns companies not to coerce employees to post positive reviews or to incentivize them to do so with money or prizes.”

Yes, but:

  • “In the summer of 2017, SpaceX recruiter Brittany Jacobson sent emails encouraging employees to post reviews in order to make Glassdoor’s ‘Best’ list, said a person familiar with the effort. Workers were offered free SpaceX mugs for completing their review, said the person.”

Check the July 2016 and August 2017 “bubbles” in SpaceX’s monthly reviews:

Glassdoor

Glassdoor’s warnings, employers’ branding campaigns, and rewards for employees to post five-star reviews collide while Glassdoor seems to turn a blind eye.

  • “SpaceX employees flooded Glassdoor with 180 five-star reviews in October 2016. In most months that year, it earned less than a dozen five-star reviews.”
  • “Some months with high numbers of reviews came after interns were recruited, according to the first person familiar with the effort. They provided more than 84% of five-star reviews in July 2016 and in August 2017.”

Who pulled off this 15X increase in 5-star reviews at SpaceX?

Do you know where to list accomplishments on your resume?

  • “Ms. Jacobson took credit for the campaigns on her LinkedIn profile, writing that she executed ‘company-wide employer branding campaigns’ on Glassdoor, increasing the number of reviews by more than 1,000, raising the company’s overall rating to 4.4 stars from 3.8 and resulting in SpaceX landing on Glassdoor’s ‘Best’ list two years in a row.”

What a great resume! When the Journal tried to contact her, “Ms. Jacobson didn’t respond to requests for comment. She removed the reference to Glassdoor on her LinkedIn page in mid-December after being contacted by the Journal.”

“A company spokeswoman said [SpaceX’s human-resources chief, Brian] Bjelde didn’t sign off on gifts in exchange for reviews or ask for positive reviews.”

Oops. Forget you ever heard about those free mugs. It seems Glassdoor did.

Does Glassdoor do anything to prevent “spikes” in 5-star reviews?

Glassdoor’s spokeswoman told the Journal that “Suspected ‘ballot box stuffing’ could…cause Glassdoor to remove positive reviews” so “The company touts a combination of human moderators and technology filters to detect attempted abuse.”

The Journal suggests Glassdoor isn’t alone. Other sites that rely on user reviews for their existence also “face” problematic review practices.:

“Glassdoor’s problem echoes the challenges faced by other online rating platforms, which are trying to ensure their rankings are real. Amazon.com Inc., local-business site Yelp Inc. and hotel-and-restaurant site TripAdvisor Inc. have all had to fend off attempts to game reviews and ratings.”

But there’s no mention of what measures Glassdoor has in place to maintain the integrity of reviews. If Glassdoor is the innocent while its corporate customers are gaming it, then how does the Journal explain this?

  • “Glassdoor charges companies to customize their pages and promote open jobs, from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars a month. Paying customers can feature a glowing review at the top of their page, prevent rival companies’ jobs from appearing…”

How does the Journal explain taking money to boost an employer’s reputation?

Is Glassdoor encouraging “spikes” in 5-star reviews?

It would seem so, suggests the Journal:

  • “Each year, Glassdoor drives traffic-and a flood of reviews-to its site by ranking hundreds of companies and CEOs in the U.S. and four other countries.” This is Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” ranking. Could that be Glassdoor’s way of (Wink, wink! Nod, nod!) encouraging its customers to cause sudden spikes in their company ratings?

And it gets worse. One wonders just how explicit Glassdoor would have to be, before the Federal Trade Commission were to investigate the connection between Glassdoor’s site traffic and revenues, and the company’s promotion of its Best Places to Work contest that encourages spikes in 5-star reviews:

  • “Glassdoor said its algorithm ranks the companies based in part on the quantity of reviews in the past year, as well as ‘what employees have to say that shows winners truly outshine the rest.’”
  • “According to the Journal’s analysis, more than a quarter of spikes came in October — right around the deadline for Glassdoor’s annual ranking.”

Do 5-star reviews pay off?

You bet.

After employees posted complaints about Guaranteed Rate’s “management, pay and long work hours, the company’s rating dropped to 2.6 from 3.5. “The approval rating for Mr. Ciardelli, the CEO, plummeted to 43% from about 75%”

After employees received an e-mail that read, “Please complete a Glassdoor review with a strong five-star rating for us,” Ciardelli’s approval rating almost doubled — to 83%. “Dozens of glowing reviews were written by people who listed their title as managers.”

Is it time for an award?

What does this mean for job seekers?

Millions of job seekers swarm Glassdoor for salary data and “reviews” of employers, seemingly convinced that millions of Glassdoor users — including employers and HR professionals — can’t possibly be wrong.

But the Wall Street Journal’s investigation of Glassdoor’s and employers’ practices has revealed a stink unrivaled in the employment industry.

The only prudent conclusion one can draw from the Journal’s analysis of millions of reviews about over 8,500 companies on Glassdoor is that Glassdoor is crack for Human Resources departments that need a powerful stimulant to make their corporate reputations feel better — at any cost.

The Journal seems to have revealed a pervasive public relations manipulation whose objective is to game reputations.

no evilSay what??

Perhaps not surprisingly, a search of the websites of a dozen leading HR associations one week after publication of the Journal’s report doesn’t turn up any articles about it.

Notably, SHRM (the Society For Human Resource Management) seems to have posted nothing about the matter.

Glassdoor itself has published no response or comment on its website, and does not list the Journal’s article on the “Here’s what others are saying about us” section.

Glassdoor is not in business to deliver honest, accurate, valid, reliable salary information and “reviews” of employers. If it were, it would immediately require reviewers to disclose their identities and to be accountable for the salary information and employer reviews they post. The excuse that people won’t post honest reviews if they must disclose their identities rings hollow, now that we know the outcome of permitting anonymous reviews.

Glassdoor is in business to generate as much site traffic and revenue from employers as it possibly can. Absent regulations that would force the company to validate the data it sells, and to refrain from tacitly and explicitly permitting, encouraging and rewarding its customers for gaming Glassdoor’s ratings system, job seekers have no reason to expect Glassdoor can or will help them make sound decisions about where to work or how to negotiate job offers.

The shocking failure of Glassdoor to ensure the validity and reliability of information it sells to employers and job seekers alike reveals a business model run amuck amidst gullible — nay, stupid — users who really, really want to believe they cannot seek out honest, legitimate information about the reputations of employers on their own. Why do the work, when automation will deliver answers for a price?

There are three clear lessons in the Journal’s investigation and analysis for any prudent business person who depends on valid, reliable data and information to make sound judgments:

  1. The chance that any information found on Glassdoor is dishonest is much greater than zero. In fact, based on the Wall Street Journal’s investigation, it is more likely than not that information being given out at Glassdoor is dangerously tainted if not simply wrong.
  2. No one — not employers and not job seekers and not any company’s employees — needs the anonymously generated, unaccountable information Glassdoor sells, because it is too likely to be worthless or dangerous, and too likely to distract people from the all-important task of making their own sound judgments based on real interactions with other people who are personally accountable.
  3. The business world — especially the HR profession — doesn’t think there’s really anything wrong with what the Journal found.

Do you buy what Glassdoor is selling? How do anonymous company reviews affect employers, job seekers, the job market and our economy? Does anybody care — or is this just the way it’s going to be?

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When to stop negotiating a job offer

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In the January 22, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether negotiating a good job offer would be crazy.

Question

I’m a Senior Data Scientist and I just got a job offer, but the salary is about $1,000 lower than I expected. It’s a management position with less than a dozen staff reporting to me. They also offered a very generous signing bonus of about $50,000.

I think the salary offer is so low because in the interview I was bad at white boarding, and they told me that. But I explained that other skills like machine learning are far more important in this position, and they agreed that’s one of my key strengths. Obviously they agreed enough to want to hire me.

I understand they’re using the signing bonus to hedge their risk, but I still want to negotiate the salary. What do you think? In this situation, how crazy is this idea? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

Harvard Business Review has called Data Scientist The Sexiest Job Of The 21st Century. Forbes reports it’s the best job in America. Does that make you worth a lot? Probably.

Don’t negotiate out of greed

Does that mean you should be greedy? Absolutely not. Don’t let your market value go to your head, and do not discount the judgment they made about your white boarding skills.

The value of data science depends on the kind of business in which its practiced — something I don’t know in your case. (Is it marketing? Is it financial services, or consulting?) Apparently the value of white boarding is higher than you think, or this employer would not have made a point about it.

Would you turn down the offer?

I think you should ask yourself this question: If you tried to negotiate and they were not to budge on the salary, would you still accept the job?

If you would, then I would not bother negotiating for a $1,000 increase. Given the size of the starting bonus, I’m guessing the salary offer is way over $100,000. That means the $1,000 is a bone of contention of less than 1%. This is what I refer to as One big negotiating no-no. In a moment, I’ll tell you why it’s risky to be greedy.

How to judge the offer

But let’s put the $1,000 aside for a moment, because it’s still important to consider two of the key issues in any job-offer negotiation.

  1. Is this a good place to work, and are they demonstrating that they really want you?
  2. Is the compensation enough for you?

First, what I really mean is, Do you really want this job? Do you want to work with these people? If you don’t, then don’t do it for any amount of money. If you do, then calculate the future value of the job and the cohort you’ll join. (See It’s the people, Stupid.) Then ask, What does $1,000 mean in this context?

Second, what I’m telling you is, If the salary offered is not going to make you happy, then negotiate the offer or reject it.

That’s how I’d judge the offer.

Focus on key decision criteria

Now let’s focus on your particular case. It doesn’t seem the offer is inadequate — not if the difference is less than 1%. While that $1,000 may mean a lot to you — and I don’t mean to disparage your concerns –, I also have to be blunt: I think you’re being greedy. It seems to me you’re discounting the quality of the company and the people you’ll be working with. I’d focus my energy on how good a working environment this would be for you. That’s one key.

I agree the signing bonus is generous. Of course they’re hedging their bet — but it still indicates how much they want you. You’re wise to consider that a signing bonus is a one-time payment that will not affect future raises, your 401(k) basis, or other salary-based perks. But you’d have to work 50 years at a $1,000 higher salary to match that one-time bonus. And as my accountant would point out, if you invest that lump sum for the next 50 years, you’re effectively getting a raise every year on it. So the compensation package is another key — and it sounds quite good or you would be looking for far more than $1,000.

Risks of negotiating

If you would not accept the salary unless it’s $1,000 higher, then by all means negotiate and be ready to reject the total offer. It’s not my place to tell you what this job is worth.

Now here’s the risk I referred to: If you press for an extra $1,000, I would not be surprised if this employer rescinded the offer altogether. (Other risks include a delayed offer and unexpected competitors surfacing.)

If the hiring manager asked my advice, here’s what I’d say: After you showed this candidate good faith worth $50,000, the candidate is demonstrating a preoccupation with $1,000. That’s not good faith on the candidate’s part!

I usually side with candidates who believe they’re worth more money. But in this case $1,000 doesn’t constitute a meaningful negotiation. It’s chump change. I don’t think it’s worth jeopardizing this offer. If you invest that signing bonus at 2%, you’ll get the grand without negotiating anything.

Know when to stop

Knowing how to negotiate effectively includes knowing when to stop. So let’s return to the key question: If they were not to budge on the salary after negotiations, would you still accept the job?

If no, then negotiate. (Here are some tips to help you: Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES.)

If yes, then I think risking the job for a grand is indeed crazy. If other key aspects of the job are satisfactory and you want it, thank them for their offer and generous signing bonus, smile, and tell them you plan to demonstrate so much value to their business that next year they’ll want to give you a substantial raise.

I wish you the best.

How much more is worth negotiating for? Where do you draw the line? What’s your biggest negotiating win? Did you ever negotiate yourself right out of a job offer?

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Who really needs a $15 minimum wage?

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In the January 15, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a business owner says a $15 minimum wage law will put him out of business.

Question

minimum wageI operate three restaurants. It’s getting harder and harder to hire workers. People just don’t want to do this kind of work any more, but for young people it’s actually a good way to learn good work habits. We do a lot to train new employees.

I’ve tried local newspaper ads, online job postings, and I even sent jobs to local college career offices. I know you’ll ask how much we pay and it’s not the $15 an hour they’re trying to raise the minimum wage to. But it’s good pay, $8.75 an hour. I can guess what you’ll say: That’s why the minimum wage should be raised, so people will take these jobs. But I can’t afford it. It would put small businesses like mine out of business. A $15 minimum wage is counter-productive because it will price low-level workers out of jobs altogether.

What else can I do to fill these jobs?

Nick’s Reply

You’re not the only restaurant owner facing a supply and demand problem with labor. And it’s not just the food service industry that’s facing it. Employers across industries have a big supply of jobs but labor is demanding more pay!

I’m not going to mince words. If your business can’t afford to pay a minimum $15 an hour wage, your business cannot afford to exist. You should close it down and let a better-managed competitor hire your employees and service your customers. Many will disagree with me vehemently, but I’ll try to explain why I say this. (See  also The Job Monopoly: How companies keep pay low.)

Let’s cut to the chase

My economic logic is simple and you — and many employers — have already discovered it, even if you all pretend otherwise: Nobody’s going to work for you because it costs more to live than the peanuts you’re paying.

You cannot — or you refuse to — pay fair-market compensation. That’s why you can’t hire the workers you need, no matter what your rationalizations are. There is no “talent shortage” in America. That’s politically radioactive bunk!

Fair-market compensation is an amount people need for shelter, food, transportation and other basics of life. That’s more than $70 a day where most people live.

If your business can’t generate enough cash to pay a living wage, your business is going to fail for lack of workers. Shut it down now and get it over with.

A shortage of workers who will work for peanuts

Please read this recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek: Restaurants Are Scrambling for Cheap Labor in 2019. We’re going to discuss your complaints about the “shortage” of workers, which really seems to be a shortage of workers willing to work for peanuts — and the apparent shortage of sound business practices.

Echoing you, the CEO of Applebee’s says to Bloomberg, “It’s hard to find quality folks to work in the restaurants.”

But many restaurants cited in that article “are loath to raise wages, which must be offset by higher menu prices. They count on ample pools of workers willing to accept modest pay.”

Bloomberg also reports a November 2018 Pew Research Center study that tells us there’s a shortage alright — of young workers willing to accept modest pay.

“Just 19 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds had jobs in 2018, compared with almost half in 1968… It wasn’t much better for 18- to 21-year-olds: In 2018, 58 percent had been employed in the previous year, down from 80 percent in 1968.”

That means employers have to take measures to attract their share of a smaller “willing” labor pool.

Misguided hiring strategies

You mentioned what you’re doing to find workers — posting jobs in different places. Let’s look at the “strategies” restaurants in that article have developed “to recruit and retain young workers” in what they complain is a very tight labor market:

  • Employers throw “hiring parties with free nacho fries to draw prospects.”
  • They hand out “recruiting cards that say, ‘We are looking for great talent like you!’”
  • Employers blast out “text messages with links to… food freebies to lure candidates.”
  • One employer offers “an employee mobile app” that lets workers swap shifts easily.
  • Another tries to keep employees engaged by surveying them about a “new rib recipe” on the menu, and about their “happiness” with their uniforms!

Gimme a break! What do free nachos have to do with convincing people to accept low wages? This is someone’s idea of “strategy” for filling jobs?

From the Bloomberg article: “The younger labor market, they really want to feel connected to a brand,” claims Will Eadie, “global vice president for strategy at WorkJam, which provides training and other digital labor services through a mobile app for clients including restaurants and retailers.”

@*!#&%@#!!

But where’s the money?

While companies pay consultants like Eadie to connect hungry employees to their company brand, a couple of companies in the Bloomberg story are actually giving away money:

  • “A Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill in Madison, Wis., is offering $500 hiring bonuses for shift leaders and assistant managers.”
  • “A Wendy’s in New Hampshire last year tried luring candidates with $1,000 bonuses.”
  • “Golden Gate Bell [a Taco Bell franchise with 80 locations], which employs about 1,800 and competes with Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and big-box retailers for employees, also recently started a quarterly bonus program for hourly staff.”

Bonuses are a good thing — but a one-time bonus is the oldest compensation trick in the book. It’s a one-time expense a company can write off. But it’s a far cry from permanently higher wages. (See Why employers should make higher job offers.)

$15 wages will put us out of business!

There’s been a national chorus of business owners who oppose a $15 minimum wage. They sing a song about how higher wages would have “an unmistakable side effect: pricing the working poor out of the labor market.”

That’s the tune of an opinion column in New Jersey’s Star Ledger by Matthew Johnson: “I’m a young business owner. Raising the min. wage won’t help N.J.’s working poor.” (Johson “co-owns some family-run small businesses” but does not disclose what they are.)

His claim is the essence of economic hypocrisy in America: “For low-skill workers, the prospect of earning less than $70 for a day’s labor may seem daunting. However, the alternative is a prospect which is far worse.”

Maybe it’s time to go out of business!

In the classic style of a boss who believes he’s earned the right to be greedy because he took the risk of starting a business, Johnson suggests his employees would be worse off if he paid them more — because then he’d have to fire them because he can’t afford it!

I’ve got another take on this. For businesses whose very existence depends on paying less than a living wage, the alternative is that they should go out of business and let more capable, better-managed competitors take their place.

Faced with a $15 minimum wage, warns Johnson, “employers will be forced to make tough choices to remain competitive in our challenging environment.”

There’s no tougher choice in business than accepting failure — or figuring out how to deal with overwhelming market pressures, including the pressure faced by Applebee’s and Taco Bell and White Castle to hire the workers they need to stay in business.

But $8.75 can’t pay the rent. Nor can nacho fries. Those workers want more money! Just like market forces push living costs upwards, market forces will put Johnson and other poorly managed concerns out of business. (See These industries are more likely to screw you on pay.)

Healthy employers and healthy workers thriving together

Johnson needn’t worry about those workers he’d have to lay off. A better-managed competitor like Love2brew Homebrew Supply, also operated in New Jersey, will hire that talent, grow without sacrificing product quality or customer service — and the economy will be stronger as a result.

“We pay all of our employees at least $15 an hour — and it works,” Ron Rivers, founder and CEO of Love2brew, writes in another Star Ledger op-ed: I’m a small business owner, here’s why a $15 minimum wage works for us.

Rivers says the company hasn’t had to raise prices on its 1,500 products to cover higher wages.

“My team entered the home-brew industry with an understanding that a high level of service and customer support would set us apart from our competition.

“We see this as a critical component to meeting and often exceeding our customers’ expectations of excellent service… Raising our starting pay to over $15 an hour has supported our continued acceleration to a position of national leadership in our niche home-brew market… the results speak for themselves as our customers have been coming back for over seven years.”

Like opponents of the $15 minimum wage, advocates of such legislation recite their own saws. Rivers says, “No one earning minimum wage has much, if any, money to put back into the economy — not to eat out, go to the movies, drive down to the Shore for a weekend, or invest in a hobby like home-brewing.“

Paying higher wages is good, he claims. “Historical data help us understand that wage increases lead to more spending and higher overall employment levels.”

Somebody’s right and somebody’s wrong.

The role of government in the economy

There are of course nuances in this debate, and there may be businesses that can argue persuasively that $15 an hour is really a bad idea.

But if we step back historically, like Rivers does, and look at long-term economic and societal trends, it’s pretty clear: Wages keep going up right alongside the cost of doing business, improvements in technology, and the increasing quality of life we enjoy as a result.

When I read op-ed columns by young business owners like Matthew Johnson, I can’t wait for them to grow up. When Johnson proclaims, “It should not be up to government to decide who wins and who loses in this delicate economic equation,” he pretends he lives in a nation where economic equations do not depend on well-thought-out economic policies.

But America is too big to thrive without them. That’s why it’s pure bunk that government should not be involved in setting wages.

The pitchforks are coming

For my money, no one explains the big picture as well as rich guy Nick Hanauer, one of my favorite capitalists. Hanauer is a billionaire with a clear view of how capitalism really works — by plowing profits back into society. I urge you to watch his TED talk: Beware, fellow  plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming.

Hanauer is a staunch advocate for a $15 minimum wage, not just because he’s a philanthropist, but because he’s the plutocrat and capitalist so many small business people — like Matthew Johnson — aspire to be. He’s learned something they don’t know.

“Government does create prosperity and growth, by creating conditions that allow both entrepreneurs and their customers to thrive. Balancing the power of capitalists like me and workers isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s essential to it.

“Programs like a reasonable minimum wage, affordable health care, paid sick leave, and the progressive taxation necessary to pay for the important infrastructure necessary for the middle class like education, R&D — these are indispensable tools shrewd capitalists should embrace to drive growth, because no one benefits from it like us.”

Hanauer warns owners of great wealth, owners of businesses big and small, that social upheaval always starts with gross inequities in the distribution of wealth. And today, he says, we’re at a social and economic tipping point. The under-paid workers are restless. The pitchforks are coming.

Who really needs a $15 minimum wage?

I’m not really telling the owner of the three restaurants who submitted this week’s question to go out of business. I expect any dedicated business person to figure out how to run their business profitably — for themselves and for their employees. And I hope they can. But it’s up to them to pull it off — or go out of business.

I think a $15 minimum wage is crucial to America’s economic viability and long overdue. We all need it.

I don’t share Matthew Johnson’s cynical and — yes — greedy interpretation of capitalism. I don’t buy the proposition that some workers don’t deserve a living wage and should be grateful to earn less than $70 a day because to pay them more could put a business owner out of business.

It’s a far more parsimonious interpretation of capitalism that suggests a business which cannot afford to pay a $15 hourly wage should go out of business so that a healthier, better-managed one might take its place.

Our economy is just as dependent on wealthy labor as it is on wealthy management, the two combining to operate profitable businesses that can put more money back into the economy. There is no real growth in a society unless both owners and workers have wealth to re-invest in the growth of the entire nation.

(See Jobs plentiful! Pay is up! But, how are you doing?)

Okay, it’s your turn: Who really needs a $15 minimum wage? Who can live and prosper without it? Can businesses hire the workers they need, if they keep insisting on paying less? Would it really be better if businesses just went out of business if they can’t pay $15 an hour?


ADDENDUM January 15, 2019

Here and elsewhere in the national debate about the $15 per hour minimum wage, apologists for lower pay seem to rely on a silly fallacy. It goes like this:

$8.75 may not be enough in the big city, but in a small town in the Midwest a worker making $8.75 an hour might be able to afford an apartment nicer than city workers making 3 X $15 an hour could even begin to afford.

It’s just not true. Let’s flesh it out. What does $8.75 an hour buy? $8.75 works out to $350 gross income per week, $17,500 per year (assuming a 40-hour week and two weeks of vacation).

Depending on where we look (A, B, C), financial advisers suggest that one’s rent should be in the range of no more than 25% to 30% of their income. That gives the $8.75 wage earner between $364.58 and $437.50 to spend on rent.

Now let’s test the fallacy. Where in the United States can the $8.75 wage earner rent an apartment?

We’ll start with the median rent in America — in 2017 it was $1,012:

But let’s cut some slack. In 2016 it was $981:

But those are medians. Let’s look at the least expensive cities for renters. In this example, Toledo, Ohio is the lowest at $550:

Of course, some people don’t rent. They have a mortgage payment. Maybe they lost their job — they still have to pay the mortgage. Maybe all they can find is that $8.75 wage. While the median mortgage payment in 2017 was $1,022 per month, let’s look at a more conservative figure — for a first-time home buyer who spends less: $838 per month:

It seems that best case our $8.75 wage earner needs to come up $550 per month to live in the lowest-rent city in the country. Now let’s go back to what portion of that earner’s $17,500 per year salary is available to pay rent or a mortgage. Most generously, at 30% of total income, our earner has $437.50 available for rent or a mortgage.

At a $15 wage, that same worker would have $750 for rent. The chart of lowest-rent cities suggests there are three affordable places: Toledo, OH, Memphis, TN, and Glendale, AZ.

So, the fallacy about there being places where a person can get by earning $8.75 or $10 or even $15 is just that — a fallacy.

Don’t agree? Have data that proves me wrong? Please post it!

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What’s Better: Quit or get fired?

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In the January 8, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wants to quit or get fired.

Question

If a person has a choice, what’s better — to quit a job or get fired?

Nick’s Reply

fired

Some suggest that the answer is obvious — quitting is better because then you won’t have a record of being fired. Who wants to say they got fired or terminated? And who wants to explain why they got fired?

I think what’s better is not so clear. Here are a few things to consider. (Please note that we’re assuming that if you got fired, it was not for truly egregious or illegal behavior.)

The sucker punch

Some companies that want to fire you will “give you the opportunity to resign instead,” implying they’re doing you a favor. It’s a common pitch offered by an HR manager. But it can be a sucker punch, especially if you’re losing the job through no fault of your own; for example, the company is experiencing a downturn.

In all of the 50 United States, if you quit your job you likely forego unemployment benefits because you chose to leave. When you quit, the employer saves money. According to NOLO, whether you can collect unemployment may depend on the reason you quit. (Unemployment Benefits: What If You Quit?) That can be a hefty price for quitting.

I might prefer to get fired if I have a choice, and that’s not just because I might lose unemployment benefits.

What’s on your record?

Many people shudder at the thought of having “fired” on their record. But that record is not public or easily accessed. An employer that fired you is usually loathe to disclose it during a reference check for fear of getting sued. So I’m not sure your record will be a problem.

However, if you got fired because you did something really bad, or because you did a truly lousy job, you have a very different problem — a bad reputation. A bad rep will grow and grow and follow you around. Employees with bad reps may not be exposed via formal reference checks, but back-channel chatter about them will likely circulate.

A badge of honor

Some employers are known to be terrible places to work. Getting fired can be a badge of honor. Emotionally, it might even be empowering. And it might even signal to a competitor that you’re a nice catch!

If you’re going to explain being fired, keep it brief and focus on what you can do to help the new employer — and why you are worth hiring. But don’t worry so much about getting fired. It’s not the end of the world. See Fired for my ethics!

Notice the time

If you get fired, your job is usually instantly over. If you quit, you likely are stuck with giving two weeks’ notice. Notice the difference. That’s time you could spend looking for a job you really want, or time on vacation to regroup. I’m not suggesting you go out of your way to get fired — but if you don’t really want to quit your job, don’t let getting fired scare you.

Legal recourse

If you quit a job, it’s your choice. If you are unwillingly terminated, you may have legal recourse. For example, the action may in fact have been discriminatory or it may have been done in violation of some law or written company policy.

If you’re going to get fired, consult an attorney. Know your rights. You might not have that option if you quit.

Why did you get fired?

People who get fired usually fear being asked why they left their last job. What if you have to admit you were fired? (See How much should I say about getting fired?)

First, you don’t have to admit anything. (Of course, you should not lie. Declining to answer a question is not lying.) Why you left a job is private — and I think that’s a legitimate answer.

But, “Whoa, there!” an uninitiated and naive career coach will shout. “If you don’t answer the question, an employer will find it suspicious and reject you!”

It’s a matter of how good you are at declining to answer and shifting the discussion to what really matters. For example, your abilities and your references:

“I’d prefer to leave it at the fact that my employer and I parted company. You will find that my references are excellent. I’m here because I believe I can show you how I’d do this job more profitably for you than anyone else. Would you like me to show you how?”

Yes, they can reject you. But if you fear you’ll get rejected anyway because you were fired, why disclose it at all? Take your chances on a different approach! What really matters is whether you can prove that this employer needs you.

If you are a highly desirable hire, all kinds of factors can be put aside, including why you left your last job. So please hear me: What matters is demonstrating that the employer needs you. That’s the negotiating position you want to cultivate. See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.

We’re all in the same boat

Now comes the fun part that frantic job seekers are too nervous to realize. The odds that the manager interviewing you has also been fired at some time are greater than zero. Most managers understand that getting fired doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong or that you failed at the job.

It might have been a poor match; the company might have experienced a downturn; there may have been a personality mismatch with the boss; or, the company that fired you might be — yes — inept.

So, politely ask the hiring manager, “Have you ever been fired?” If you’re afraid to ask that question, then you probably aren’t ready to have a job interview. This is a serious business exchange where you must ask questions as tough as the manager is asking you. Such a candid discussion can be a great way to break the ice and find common ground.

Whether you quit or get fired, check these tips about how to handle parting company with your employer: Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms.

Would you rather quit or get fired? Why? What are the upsides and downsides people should consider?

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