Should you pay someone to fill out your job applications?

Should you pay someone to fill out your job applications?

A reader considers letting someone else fill out all those pesky job applications, in the January 12, 2021 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


job applicationsWhat do you think of the new app Apply4Me? It fills out your job applications for you. My question is, how could anyone else, let alone an app, know how best to present my profile for an application?

Nick’s Reply

Let’s take a look. This service (it’s not an app) is offered by TheLadders, a jobs site with an interesting history that led the company into federal court a few years ago.

“Team” job hunting

The idea here is that, if you pay TheLadders for its premium service, a “team” will fill out all your job application forms for you. (There is no indication whether there’s an extra fee for filling out your forms.)

You can check it out for yourself, but here’s the pitch:

“Apply4Me is a full hand-off [sic] process – you submit your information once and we do everything for you.”

“The service was created by Ladders due to the high number of professionals surveyed who were frustrated by the ‘time-consuming’ and ‘repetitive’ nature of the job application process.”

“With one click, our team fills out job applications on corporate sites for you, saving you a ton of time.”

“I am automated”

What happens if an employer’s application form asks a question that the Ladders team cannot answer? They say they’ve got it covered. The application they submit on your behalf includes an admission that it’s all “automated” and that you were not involved — even though it’s in the first person:

”I’m using Ladders Apply4Me to apply to the jobs I’m most interested in. As this is an automated system, please follow up with me directly for any additional questions at [email address].”

If you’re the employer, how do you react to that?

“One-click” job applications?

TheLadders has offered some equally interesting services in the past. As we noted earlier, these offerings led TheLadders into federal court.

Job search is a time-consuming task that I’m sure we’d all like to pawn off on someone who will do it for us — with just “one click.” But you’re right. Someone else doesn’t know how to present you better than you do.

Is this a good idea that will help you get a job? Have you encountered any other such “job search help” services that “will do it all for you?”

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Last words turn a job interview into a job offer

Last words turn a job interview into a job offer

The Headhunter asks an in-your-face question about how you turn a job interview into a job offer, in the December 15, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

This is the last column until 2021, so I’d like to turn the tables. I want to give you something to noodle on over the holidays. In this special edition I’m asking the question and you’re giving the answers and advice! (I call this an in-your-face question because I find that most “career experts” hate questions that cut to the chase. They’re the questions you really need answers to!)

Here we go.

Nick Asks You

turn a job interview into a job offer

The job interview is almost over. It went well and you are seriously interested in the position. You’d like to get an offer but you know there are other job candidates and you don’t know how you will rank.

You want to stand out, to be memorable to the hiring manager, to close the deal, to get an offer. So, what’s the last thing you should you say to the manager at the end of your meeting to boost your chance of getting a job offer?

Perhaps these are words you’ve already used that have — or have not! — worked for you. Either way, we’ll all learn something! I’ll post my suggestions about this baffling challenge later. First let’s hear from you! What’s the last thing you should you say to the manager?

Readers Reply (this means you!)

Well, dear readers? What last words can make you stand out — and turn a job interview into a job offer? Please post your replies and suggestions in the Comments section below so we can all discuss!

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Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays

I hope the ideas and discussion everyone shares provoke you to consider how you might make some powerful changes in the way you interview for a job.

In the meantime, I hope your holidays — whatever you celebrate — are as merry and bright as they can be under the circumstances, and that you and yours stay healthy and safe in the New Year. I’m taking time off for the holidays so there will be no new columns or newsletters until January 12, 2021. See you then!

For more job-hunting tips, I encourage you to check out The Basics and Ask The Headhunter Secrets in A Nutshell. And sign up for the free weekly e-mail Ask The Headhunter Newsletter!

Save 50%! My gift to you

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From Fast Company:

Nick Corcodilos, aka the Ask The Headhunter guy, published a new book chock full of tips for the thorniest of job-hunting problems: How Can I Change Careers? Here is Nick’s radical plan for devising a more fruitful job search.

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Negotiate salary but leave something on the table

Negotiate salary but leave something on the table

A reader wants to negotiate salary without being greedy, in the December 8, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


negotiate salaryEmployers never make their best offer. You have to negotiate for a few rounds. I’ve read books and articles that give you tactics to improve an offer. I definitely want to get the most money I can, but I don’t want to press so hard that I talk them out of an offer altogether or come off like a jerk. What do you advise?

Nick’s Reply

Negotiate salary to get all you can, of course. But don’t be greedy.

Too often, people get battered by stingy employers in salary negotiations. This creates a climate in which job candidates feel there’s no choice but to turn up the heat to get every buck they can. I expect we’ll hear some ire about my advice: When you negotiate compensation, leave something on the table. Be assertive, but don’t be greedy.

I’d like to caution you that some employers do make their best offer off the bat. If you have reason to believe otherwise, go for it. But only a naïve job seeker automatically asks for more. Take stock of the specific employer. Use your judgment.

So, what am I talking about?

Leave something on the table

In America we are taught to eat heartily but not to take the last portion from the serving plate, out of respect for the generosity of our host. This is a good lesson in salary negotiations, too. Get all you need, but leave something on the table as a show of respect to your new employer.

Does this mean you should decline more money? Of course not. But remember that a job offer can have several components. Smart job hunters know how to negotiate for more than salary.

Negotiate more than salary

For example, a cornucopia of compensation components may be on the table: salary, bonus, performance incentives, relocation costs, vacation, company stock, job title, first review, tools to be used on the job, and so on. The more components you negotiate, the more you might be able to win — and the more opportunity you have to make some concessions as a show of respect and reciprocation.

For more about the many levers you can pull to negotiate compensation, check out Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.

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A negotiation should never be adversarial and it should never include only demands. A good negotiation is a friendly acknowledgment and frank discussion of each party’s needs and limits.

For example, a candidate may not be able to accept less than a certain base salary because of fixed family expenses. A company may not be able to pay a higher salary due to budgetary constraints. As a solution to these issues, the candidate might forgo a higher salary if the company agrees to a guaranteed bonus to be paid every six months for two years until the new employee has a chance to get promoted and earn raises. (Part of the secret behind this is that bonuses are not fixed costs on the employer’s ledger, like salaries are.) The only way to get creative is to talk it through together.


Respect is paramount in a successful negotiation. (If you feel an employer is not negotiating in good faith, then nothing you consent to is going to make this a good place to work! Walk away.) That’s why such discussions are handled better on the phone than in e-mail, and better in person than on the phone. That is, make it as personal as circumstances permit — but face to face is best.

If both parties are to understand one another, a job interview requires a personal, nuanced exchange. So does negotiating the terms of employment. This promotes personal responsibility and a higher regard for one another’s needs. And that’s where concessions are important.

Negotiate a relationship

When you’re dealing with a good employer that demonstrates a high regard for you and your needs, don’t automatically apply tactics to get every dollar you think you can. Consider the long-term value of demonstrating your ability to let the other guy win, too. The end of your negotiations marks the beginning of a business relationship. What do you want that to look and feel like to you and to your new employer?

Take what you need, but leave something on the table as a sign of respect for the other party’s willingness to negotiate with you. If the employer is worth working for, this can pay off after you start your job, because you will be regarded as a worker who is concerned not only for their own well-being, but also for the employer’s.

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Is it worth a few bucks to signal your belief in a win-win deal? Did you ever fight for every last dollar in a salary negotiation only to regret it? What happened? On the other hand, did you win big and still make everybody happy? Tell us about it!

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Why job interviews are a persistent illusion

Why job interviews are a persistent illusion

A reader questions the validity of interviews and we consider how job interviews are a persistent illusion, in the December 1, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


interview illusionIt’s good I’m no HR expert because if I were I’d question my sanity. I just had another job interview where I could tell the interviewer was unqualified to assess me. Almost all the questions were general like, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” She didn’t assess my technical skills or my understanding of the job at all, just asked questions so she could decide how cooperative I am. Is HR insane? Is it me, or is job interviewing all wrong?

Nick’s Reply

I agree that how employers interview is mostly wrong, and I’ll let you decide about HR’s sanity. But let’s dig into what happens in most job interviews.

Suppose you interviewed me for a job and I gave essentially meaningless answers to your questions. If you’re like lots of HR managers, you’d probably interpret what I said as useful information, and you’d rely on my nonsense statements to decide whether to hire me.

Say what?

The illusion of job interviews

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We’ve actually known for a long time that job interviews are a persistent illusion. That is, employers keep asking irrelevant and open-ended questions because they think they will “get to know a person” better. More astonishing, HR managers contend that these interviews are “structured” simply because all candidates get the same questions. Treating people consistently may make interviews seem fair, but it doesn’t make the information gleaned from candidates valid.

I believe such exchanges often yield little useful information. All we do is feed an illusion that we can make good hiring decisions based on worthless information.

Making no sense of job interviews

In a seminal study of job interviews done by Jason Dana and his colleagues at Yale University, job candidates gave random answers to an interviewer’s questions — but interviewers were confident that their resulting impressions of the candidates were accurate.

It’s not just contrived interviews in research settings that fool employers. Dana’s work suggests that unstructured interviews in real settings are poor predictors of success on the job.

Employers make mistakes when they interview this way due to a common cognitive phenomenon: We’re wired to try to make sense of information, no matter how little value it has. Dana says we have a “propensity for ‘sensemaking’” — we try “to make sense of virtually anything the interviewee says.”

Making sense of cognitive errors

V.P. Of Outcomes

“Behavior, skills, personality – none of it by itself accurately predicts how well someone will do a job. None of it means you can perform. I reference the interview to the outcomes I need — to the work that must be done. I don’t hire people because of what they say. I hire them because they can prove they can do the work!” – Buck Adams, Telecom V.P.
& Commanding General, NORAD, Ret.

How can we stop our brains from making such costly hiring mistakes? First, we should avoid hiring people because we like them. We should stop listening to our feelings about candidates, and learn to rely more on objective metrics. (See sidebar.)

Chatting with job candidates might be satisfying and fun. But if HR (or a hiring manager) fails to gather appropriate evidence, it will likely lead them to make hiring mistakes.

What really predicts a good hire?

Second, employers must rely on better information. More concrete, objective measures of a candidate will likely improve hiring.

Dr. Arnold Glass, a researcher in human cognition at Rutgers University, said, “It has been known since Alfred Binet… constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job.”

In other words, use a job interview to learn what a job candidate can do. Gather hard evidence. None other than Google’s notorious former head of HR, Laszlo Bock, said open-ended interview questions don’t cut it.

According to Bock, even a candidate’s GPA is a more objective, useful predictor of future success than how an employer scores a job interview.

Objective evidence vs. interview illusions

Dana cautions that information about a candidate gathered during an unstructured interview is likely illusory. Worse, it “can interfere with the use of valid information” that you take the trouble to collect and that can actually help you make good hiring choices.

HR and hiring managers need to curb their intuition and avoid hiring who they like. The more objective evidence an interviewer can glean from a job applicant, the more likely their hires will be good ones.

The purpose of any job interview is to assess whether you can do a job. That must be the crux of any hiring decision. Because employers have long been in the habit of asking peripherally useful and worthless questions, the value of most job interviews has become a persistent illusion. (Learn how managers can handle interviews better.)

What’s a job seeker to to?

What job hunters need to know is employers are persistently and generally wrong about job interviews.

If an employer subjects you to a friendly, open-ended discussion about your likes and dislikes, or quizzes you about what animal you would be if you could be any animal (or how many golf balls would fit in the Empire State Building), you’ve lost control of your job interview. It is then up to you to salvage the meeting. Gently break the employer’s illusion of interviews. Terminate the trivia game and the casual, unqualified personality test an employer seems to be giving you.

Help the employer get past the interview illusion. Help focus your meeting on the work. Help the employer understand exactly why you are really worth hiring by showing how you’ll do the job. (For a truly killer interview question, click here.)

Are job interviews an illusory way to assess job candidates? What should an employer ask? What should you convey to prove you’d be a good hire?

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In-Your-Face Audio Q&A: How to get a job

In-Your-Face Audio Q&A: How to get a job

Nick offers two fundamental audio lessons in how to get a job, in the November 24, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Audio Ask The Headhunter

get a jobWelcome to this special audio edition of Ask The Headhunter. I was recently part of a panel of headhunters taking questions from job seekers in a virtual gathering. We covered some important basic lessons about how to get a job.

Apart from having a lot of fun, we tackled what I refer to as in-your-face questions — the kind that most “experts” prefer to avoid because there are no canned answers.

Rather than the traditional Q&A column this week, my advice is in audio format. These are just two excerpts from a two-hour event. Total listening time: 5 minutes, 30 seconds.

I hope you enjoy this shift in format. Based on your feedback, we may try more audio!


Sixty to seventy percent of jobs are supposedly found and filled through people that know us. Networking sounds good but few people enjoy it or do it well because it’s, well, icky. How can I network without feeling dirty?

Nick’s Reply

If networking feels icky, you’re not doing it right. Networking should feel like making friends and talking shop. Length: 2:05

      Networking is talking shop




Natural Networking: An end to stupid networking

How Can I Change Careers? (PDF book): “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends”


I’ve heard on business news reports that companies are not filling jobs because they are more profitable with a lower headcount. Do you find this to be true and how can I convince them to hire me anyway?

Nick’s Reply

It’s important to understand why companies avoid hiring when they can, and why they might hire you even if they have no job openings. It’s all about profit — and learning how to get in the door. Length: 3:30

      The profitable hire




How to get to the hiring manager

Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition) (PDF book)

Got an in-your-face question about networking, interviewing and how to get a job? Let’s talk about it! Got a comment about the advice I gave in the two audio excerpts? Let’s talk about it!

Did you enjoy the audio format this week?

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Is this employer a Mickey Mouse operation?

Is this employer a Mickey Mouse operation?

How can you figure out whether a company is a Mickey Mouse operation before you start working there? A reader wants to know, in the November 17, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


Mickey Mouse operationOnce I determine that I can “do the work” for the prospective employer, and that I really do want the job, how do I find out if it is a Mickey Mouse operation? In my experience, it requires being an insider and six months’ time to determine that. Are there any ways to figure it out in advance? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it!” So it is with job offers — you might get one without knowing the truth about the company until it’s too late.

What is a Mickey Mouse operation?

“Mickey Mouse” means different things to different people. To me, it describes any poorly organized and managed company. To you, it might mean something very specific. For example, a company that’s successful but makes mediocre products, or one that has high employee turnover.

Whatever the problem is, it’s not unusual for job hunters to suddenly find themselves with an offer in hand, wondering why the heck they went after a questionable company. We sometimes pursue opportunities for no other reason than because they’re there, or because we are invited and we are too flattered to refuse.

Judge first, then apply

This is why I advise doing all the tough research before you apply to a company. This is why — contrary to conventional wisdom — it’s imprudent to pursue dozens of companies at a time. It’s also why I advise pursuing companies, not jobs. You need to know in advance whether the company is worth working for, and exactly why you’re talking to them about a particular job. That takes considerable effort and it requires making prudent choices about where to invest your time.

Don’t wait until an offer is made. Judge a company before you even apply for a job. I think you will find that a surprising number of employers will not withstand simple scrutiny. If they do, keep judging through the interview process.

Use the interview to vet the company

For more tips on how to judge an employer before and after a job interview, please see “How to pick worthy companies” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention. This PDF guide includes an expanded version of this Q&A column.

Can’t find information about a company because it’s not public? The guide also includes “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies.”

Of course, you can’t learn all you need to know through advance research. You must continue to ask the tough questions during the interview. Make sure the answers sit comfortably with you. While I agree that there are things you will learn only after months on the job, there’s a lot you can do to vet a company in advance.

Before the interview, cover these bases:

  • Start at the top. Research the industry the company is in. Is it sound? Are its prospects good?
  • Study the industry press and watchdog organizations. Do they demonstrate respect for this company? How do they portray the company’s status in the industry?

In the interview, don’t miss these points:

  • What does the company need to do to meet its goals? How does your job fit?
  • Who are the people in other departments who will affect your ability to do your job successfully? Meet them. Look for facilitators and debilitators.

After you have an offer, schedule a follow-up meeting before you accept:

  • Confirm the authority you’ll have in your job. People often confuse authority and responsibility. Some companies demand results without giving employees enough control and discretion over their work.
  • Get a close look at the entire written benefits package, company policies and employee handbook. Some companies are funny about divulging these critical documents, but you have a right to see them before you accept a job. The quality of a company is usually revealed in how it treats employees.

Avoid Mickey Mouse operations

Good companies comprise good people. The managers and employees you meet should be above board, honest and willing to candidly discuss issues that are important to a new recruit. Don’t be unreasonable or rude, but don’t settle for less than full disclosure.

If anyone is put off by your diplomatic inquiries about the company, the people, and the job, then look elsewhere because you probably won’t be happy working for Mickey Mouse.

What does “Mickey Mouse operation” mean to you? What do you look for when judging an employer? If you’ve made a mistake about a company you joined, what do you wish you had asked or looked for before you accepted the job?

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Do LinkedIn recommendations, endorsements & connections matter?

Do LinkedIn recommendations, endorsements & connections matter?

A reader admits there’s fake stuff in LinkedIn Recommendations and asks whether these “networking” tools really work, in the November 10, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


LinkedIn recommendationsHow important are LinkedIn “recommendations?” Some are true, some are made up and a person feels an obligation to lay it on. How can you improve them?

My issue is that I have been out of the job market for four years, my recommendations are old, and I don’t have many current recommendations that are relevant. I also wonder about “endorsements” and why a request to “connect” through a mutual contact rarely goes anywhere. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

Let’s start with the basics: Your LinkedIn profile is your calling card. You should absolutely have one. But your profile doesn’t “market” or “sell” you. All it does is confirm you exist when someone looks you up.

LinkedIn recommendations

“Recommendations” are the section on a LinkedIn profile where people post nice things about you.

I pay no attention at all to LinkedIn recommendations and I don’t know anyone that does, except perhaps some wishful job seekers and naive recruiters. It doesn’t hurt to have recommendations. If you want to game this silly system, ask folks who posted the old ones to copy/delete/repost under new date. But I would not put much time into any of this.

What do LinkedIn recommendations mean?

Here’s the test for a recommendation posted on your LinkedIn profile: Would the person be willing to call an employer to provide a detailed reference for you on the phone and to answer questions about you?

My guess is that most won’t. That makes LinkedIn recommendations nice but not very meaningful. They’re window dressing. No employer is going to hire you because someone larded your profile with praise. They’re going to want to talk with your references.

The same is true about your list of “connections.” Should an employer be impressed if you have 5,000 contacts? I’m not. LinkedIn links are free. The ease with which LinkedIn allows us to portray “connections” makes them questionable at best. Then we have “endorsements” — I call this “credibility with a click.” It’s meaningless.

LinkedIn’s value to you

What would be more useful is to ask those same people (your fans who post recommendations) if they’d be willing to (a) serve as actual references and (b) make personal introductions via e-mail or phone. My guess is most cannot because they don’t know you or your work well enough.

The main value of LinkedIn to you is that it’s a huge digital directory you can use to check up on people you’re dealing with or want to meet. However, we all know that messaging your Connection A via LinkedIn to get introduced to their Connection B is not likely to get you anywhere. Times I’ve tried this, I get this reply: “Sorry, I’m connected to B but I don’t know her at all.”

That’s because connections are free, so most are worthless. You might as well search a phonebook to get an introduction! The best way to get introduced to a person is to actually talk with someone that knows them. Use the phone! (See Networking For Introverts: How to say it.)

LinkedIn’s value to employers

The main value of LinkedIn to employers is to to “check you out” after they’ve used other, better means to get interested in you. The problem is if they can’t find you there. So by all means, have a good, simple LinkedIn profile that “proves” you exist!

But don’t count on it doing much more. Contrary to what LinkedIn “profile writers” might tell you, your LinkedIn profile does not “market” you. At best, your profile is your resume — and it’s passive. Sure, loads of recruiters search LinkedIn for keywords to find candidates on LinkedIn. But all they find are keywords — not your value.

LinkedIn is not a professional network

At its inception, LinkedIn was founded as an exclusive professional network in which members “connected” only with people they knew or did business with. That’s where its integrity and value were to reside.

But the day LinkedIn turned into just another job board, selling “seats” to recruiters and “top positioning” to job seekers, the network turned into a souped-up digital phonebook. Founders Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner cashed out — and sold out a promising, powerful system of business relationships.

While LinkedIn offers millions of nodes in its network (that’s you — a node), the value of connections between nodes is negligible. LinkedIn makes money by selling access to its nodes, or members, to employers. It has abandoned the integrity of the links between people. That’s why connections are free. That’s why a node (a LinkedIn member) is not likely to introduce you to another.

The best way to meet people who can help you is through other people that actually have shared professional experiences with you. People that have gotten to know you. People who will speak up for you and who will engineer an introduction or referral to an employer that trusts them. LinkedIn simply does not facilitate that.

Invest in strong personal links

Most people on LinkedIn who don’t know you aren’t going to introduce you to their contacts – I won’t! So, limit your use of LinkedIn to looking people up — but only after someone has already made a trusted, personal introduction that includes an endorsement and a recommendation. There’s your truly valuable connection between nodes!

This means talking with people and developing relationships. LinkedIn messaging has become just another channel of junk mail that people ignore. Junk mail is anything from someone you don’t know who clearly doesn’t know you.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s who you really know that matters, and who really knows you. If you and your endorsers really know one another, what are you doing using LinkedIn to get introduced to “connections”? Make a phone call! And make it personal!

How do you use LinkedIn? Is it really an effective “professional network” or just a dumpster of all resumes? What could be done to make LinkedIn better? Most important, how do you really connect with people to advance your career?

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Before you risk your references

Before you risk your references

A reader wonders whether it’s right that employers demand references before the employer even talks to the candidate, in the November 3, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


referencesAfter I submitted my resume, I was asked to do on-demand video for eight questions. I had no problem on this part, then luckily I made it to the second part, an online interview. They confirmed my interview but wanted five references within 24 hours, and this needs to be done before the interview. The references will be sent a link to an automated survey, the system will gather their responses, and I will be given a rating based on their responses. The company said background and reference checks are very important and I agree with this. However, I do not want to burden my references before my interview with impersonal forms to fill out, especially because the job opportunity is uncertain. I would like to know how you feel about this process. Do you think I can tell them that I would rather provide references after they have provided a real human to interview me first?

Nick’s Reply

Has anyone from the company spoken with you on the phone? If yes, who, for how long and about what?

Reader’s Answer

I received all communications via e-mail and have not spoken to anyone on the phone. The e-mails are from a third-party HR agency and the company. My video interview is scheduled 10 days from now with 4 people. This is a healthcare company with operations in several states, and the position is a Senior Finance Manager. I really appreciate your feedback and response.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for the additional information. It reveals a lot. You must use your own judgment on this – it’s your “opportunity” on the line, not mine. But here are my thoughts.

Don’t use up your references

A company that does not give you the courtesy of at least a personal phone call does not deserve access to your references – especially when it’s all automated and handled via a third party. It’s unprofessional, rude and ridiculous.

I agree with you that such an uncommitted employer could be an unreasonable bother to your references. It could also compromise your references’ willingness to help you when you really need them. Good references can get “used up.”

Ridiculous demands

Your preliminary interview was automated via video. Even the request to do it was automated. So was the request for references. So far, there’s apparently been no human time spent on their end.

Now they will automate requests to five people for reference checks. Then they will automate the reference checks using online surveys. (By the way — five references is two too many for any employer to demand.) Finally, it appears the review and scoring of your auto-gathered references will be handled by more automation.

At this point, you and five other people will have devoted hours of time for the convenience of the employer. The employer may have devoted a few minutes of effort, if that. That’s ridiculous.

Judge the employer’s commitment

This is a lot to demand of a job seeker without as much as a phone call from the employer to demonstrate respect and real interest.

You and your references are not being judged, but processed. Worse, you may be processed by a third party that is not the employer.

I judge an employer’s sincerity and integrity by the level of commitment they make to job applicants. This employer expects personal commitment from you and your references. But I don’t see any corresponding personal commitment from them. I see no sign of sincerity or integrity. You could invest your personal time on all the automated tasks they set before you and receive an automated rejection with no explanation and without any real opportunity to win the job.

That’s unacceptable. More important, it signals that you are disposable.

Reference risks

My added concern is that the introduction of a third-party HR firm and an unknown fourth party (the company that makes the software) creates more risks. You may have no idea how your data will be stored and used.

  • Your references and your score may be re-used without your approval by other employers you have not yet applied to, but who buy reference reports from the same third-party HR firm. You could thus get rejected instantly by other employers without even providing references — and never know why.
  • People that serve as your references could be subjected to requests you don’t know about. It’s a common trick for a recruiter to request references in advance, then to solicit the references for the same or other jobs. (Yes, you could be competing with your references.)
  • Sometimes the goal is not to interview you; it’s to use you to gain entry to more senior-level contacts who are solicited as clients.

I’m not saying such shenanigans will happen. But I believe the more automated the hiring process is, and the more parties are involved, the more likely abuse is to occur.

Protect yourself and your references

I would not agree to the employer using automated means or third parties to check your references. Ask that an exception be made. “I respect my references and I don’t want them bothered with impersonal surveys. Would you please contact my references personally and actually speak with them?”

Whether you get that concession or agree to automated reference checking, data gathering and third-party processing, and if you agree to automated video interviews, ask for full disclosure in writing.

  • Who will handle your video interview and personal data about you and your references?
  • Where will it be stored?
  • Who can see it?
  • How long will they keep it?
  • Will your data be shared or sold?
  • If someone violates the agreement, what penalty will they incur?

Don’t sign waivers or permissions unless you really understand what they mean. Check the reputations of any parties involved.

This might all be on the up and up, and it may be worth your time. You are the best judge about how real this opportunity is. But I have little respect or trust for any employer that asks so much of a candidate before it puts its own real, human skin in the game.

What you can do

I would politely call a time-out. Thank them for their interest and confirm your interest in the job. Then ask to speak briefly with the hiring manager via phone before you provide highly personal information like references, or invest further time in interviews.

Ask the manager to briefly describe why they think you’re a good candidate. Then judge the manager’s level of interest and decide whether this is really an opportunity. A committed manager will have good answers and demonstrate enthusiasm about meeting you for a full interview, and will be content to wait until afterwards to personally speak with your references.

Do what you think is best, but please be careful about how you risk your references.

At what point do you provide references? How many? When do employers normally request them? Has a recruiter ever abused your references? What do you think of third-party reference checkers?

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We don’t need any stinking cover letters

We don’t need any stinking cover letters

A reader dreads having to write a cover letter for an employer, and asks what to do in the October 20, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


cover lettersI hate cover letters. I don’t know how to write a decent one, all the online help I’ve seen is banal garbage, and frankly I’d rather chew on broken glass than go through the agony of trying to think up a bunch of “toot-your-own-horn” baloney to spit out in a cover letter. But in the process of applying for jobs, oftentimes a cover letter is required. Any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

A sales manager I know forbids his sales team from responding to requests for quotation (RFPs). “If all you’re doing is sending out prices for our products, you have no idea what the customer’s problem is, where it hurts. You can’t win by sending out RFPs and playing How-Low-Can-You-Go?”

Likewise, when applying for a job, you can’t win by sending out resumes and cover letters, then expect the employer to figure out whether to interview you or some of the other 2,000 applicants.

What’s better than a cover letter?

Once you hand over your resume or cover letter, you are out of the picture. You cannot defend your cover letter while HR and the hiring manager read it. You cannot assess what the manager really wants and needs — the job description is not enough. When you submit your cover letter, what you’re saying to that employer is, “Here. Read this. Then figure out what to do with me.” Employers stink at that!

Avoid confusing the employer with your entire kitchen sink of credentials and experiences even if they ask for it! To get in the door, you must offer just the two or three skills (from your huge arsenal) that will address the manager’s specific problems — “where it hurts.”

It’s an offer that no other job candidate will make.

Make this offer

Don’t spend hours “crafting” a cover letter based on guesses about what might impress the employer. Instead, offer 10 minutes of your time. Ask the manager to tell you “where it hurts.” Then deliver — yes, on the fly — three ways you can make it better.

“As a rule, I do not submit cover letters because they are a one-way recitation about me. To help you, I need to know a bit more than what’s in the job description — about the problems and challenges you need your new hire to tackle. I’d be happy to invest in a 10-minute call to discuss this. Based on a preliminary study of your business, and on what you tell me during our call, I believe there may be at least three things I can bring to the job that would materially affect the success of your operation. If I can’t demonstrate that during our brief talk, then you should of course not hire me, or even do a full interview. Would you like to schedule 10 minutes to roll up our sleeves and talk shop?”

Is this risky? I think it’s riskier to pretend a cover letter will get you in the door. Think about the best way to communicate this offer. Put it into words you are comfortable with.

You can deliver the above offer in an e-mail but it’s better via a phone call. You can also do this via a third party. Someone the employer trusts can suggest that the manager have this brief discussion with you — one of its employees, consultants, customers, vendors or other friend of the company.

Weed out tire-kickers

By the way, those “three things” you could do? Describe very briefly, but provide no details. If they press you, invoke the 10 minute limit you both agreed to. “I have another commitment so I have to run, but I’d be happy to flesh out the details with you in a proper job interview. When is good for you?”

This is a great way to weed out tire-kickers who want applicants to invest time and effort that they won’t invest themselves. Of course, you will have to do a bit of work in advance to pull this off. Suggesting specific ways you can do the job profitably will not be easy. But if this opportunity isn’t worth your time to do that, then this employer and job are not worth the time and guesswork to write a cover letter.

Remember: While they are judging your compliance with their hiring process, you must judge them, too, on how they pick their candidates. Are they ready to roll up their sleeves and talk shop for a few minutes, or are they too busy eating cover-letter and baloney sandwiches?

Do you need a cover letter to apply for a job? Do you know something better? If you don’t use cover letters, how do you get an employer’s attention?

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Ghosting: Hard lessons about recruiters & employers

Ghosting: Hard lessons about recruiters & employers

Two readers frustrated about ghosting by recruiters and employers learn how to apply two tests, in the October 13, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question #1

ghostingTwice in the last month or so I’ve gotten LinkedIn mail from recruiters who were really excited about my background and wanted to talk to me about a position that would be right up my alley. I’d reply offering a date and time to talk. Both times I was ghosted. LinkedIn’s utility for job search continues to take a nosedive. “There oughta be a law!” How can I judge what’s real and what’s spam?

Nick’s Reply

We all know recruiters will waste your time. The hard lesson is that you can do something about it.

Job seekers get too excited when a recruiter comes knocking. They so want an “opportunity” that they fail to judge the recruiter and the solicitation. You can save loads of time and heartbreak with a quick, simple test.

To test a recruiter’s credibility, force their hand early.

The phone-call test

When a “recruiter” solicits you effusively, gauge their enthusiasm with a phone-call test. Invite them to talk on the phone. Ask for their number. (Don’t give yours.) 95% will ghost you simply because they’re part of a boiler-room operation and they have no idea whether you’re a match for the job. If they fail this phone-call test, forget them. On to the next!

For anyone that thinks this could cost you an opportunity, let me show you why it won’t.

To a real recruiter or headhunter, you’re worth a fee of 15-25% of your starting salary if they can place you. So, if you’re hired for $60,000, the recruiter stands to make up to $15,000 in fees. That’s a lot of money. If the headhunter is “really excited” because you’re really a good candidate for the job they’re working on, they’d never risk losing $15,000 by not talking to you!

Hard ghosting lesson #1

95% of “recruiters” and the “opportunities” they hawk aren’t worth spit. Learn the hard lesson: It behooves you to use the phone-call test on each one that comes along.

Question #2

Two weeks ago, I did five interviews in two days. One of the interviews was dropped on my calendar at the last minute (same day), but I cooperated. I felt the interviews went well. I sent thank you notes to everyone. I did not hear anything back that week. I followed up the following week, heard nothing. Followed up last week, still nothing. They’ve gone completely ghost. Is there any good way to deal with this?

Nick’s Reply

We all know employers and HR insist that job seekers jump through hoops. After you’ve performed for them, they ghost you. The hard lesson is that you can push back early in the hiring process.

While you complain you’re getting no updates or replies, the conventional wisdom is that you must “chill and wait” because “these things take time.”

Sure they do! And the managers and HR are all very busy. Professional courtesy is not optional. They have an obligation to respond to you while you’re waiting because you’ve already extended the courtesy of your time to them.

What can you do about a corporate habit of disregard? You must set standards, let employers know what they are, then expect them to perform just as they expect you to.

The protocol test

Whenever you think it’s appropriate during an interview, test their hiring protocols. Ask what their feedback practices are, and who is responsible for keeping you apprised. Expect specific answers.

  • “When will you follow up with me?” (Date, time)
  • “If I inquire after a week or two, who will respond to me?” (Name, title)

There is nothing unreasonable about these questions. You have invested time at their request. Let them know you expect the same. If they don’t answer candidly, expect ghosting is the policy and be brutally honest with yourself — don’t expect much from this company. On to the next!

(Imagine you get the job and, after you’re assigned a project, you ghost your boss and ignore requests for project updates. Is there really any difference? It’s all about responsibility and integrity.)

Test recruiters, test employers. Then adjust your willingness to engage based on how they perform. Recruiters and employers who do what they say they’re going to do demonstrate integrity and responsibility. They will be few. They are worth your time.

Hard ghosting lesson #2

The hard lesson about ghosting is that you’ll have time to engage with the best only if you know how to test and avoid the rest.

Let’s make a list. What hard lessons have you learned? What standards do you actually apply when dealing with recruiters and employers? What are your inviolable rules?

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