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Archive for the Q&A Category

What are stock options worth in a job offer?

In the November 13, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether to accept stock options as part of a compensation package.

Question

stock optionsI’ve been with the same company for five years, with total 18 years’ experience. I’m considering an attractive offer from a year-old start-up financed by a very respected venture capital group. The offer includes stock options. The idea is that someday they’ll go public and will be hugely successful, or someone will buy the company, and we’ll all become rich (on paper).

My question is, how would I go about putting a value on the stock options offered? Understanding the risk I assume, what should I negotiate for? Any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Venture funding for start-ups by respected venture groups is slowly picking up after a lull of several years – and that’s a good sign for the economy. But don’t count any stock options before they hatch.

There are as many subtle variations on evaluating options as there are start-ups. You could do well, or you could wind up very disappointed.

I’ll offer you two simple rules of thumb. There is no finesse in this. It doesn’t even involve calculations; just a blunt point of view that I’ve developed as a headhunter during many years of dealing with people who’ve faced this situation. A very few have profited from options, but most haven’t.

Stock Options: Rule 1

The first rule is that the factors which influence a start-up company’s success or failure are unknown to you at this point, and you have virtually no control over them. More important, to varying degrees we can say the same about the founders of the company and those who are funding it.

  • Thus, any attempt you make to rationally analyze how much start-up stock to hold out for — or to estimate what that stock is really worth today or in the unknown future is a crapshoot.

Stock Options: Rule 2

Here’s my second rule:

  • All stock options in start-ups are worthless by definition because you cannot put a value on something you cannot sell.

How to think about that job offer

Now for my advice, based on those two rules:

  • Accept the offer only if the work and the compensation package without the options would make you take the job.

How to negotiate the job offer

Negotiate for all the stock options you can get. But beware: A company is not likely to give you more options than it has already decided on. Management has thought about this more than you have, under the guidance of people who put up their cash to start the business. Unless you would be a key employee whose expertise would have a key impact on the company’s chances of success, you probably don’t have much leverage to negotiate options.

Now here’s the most important thing to take away from this discussion:

  • Negotiate harder for salary, bonus, incentives, commissions and allowances, and consider the stock options a lottery ticket.

This is what will keep you truly motivated day in and out. While I understand when a start-up’s founders say they want employees who are truly motivated to “throw in with us and take a risk,” you must decide how much of a risk you can afford to take — and whether you’re willing to give up part of your own market value today (cash compensation) for a chance to hit it big later.

Talk with a lawyer

No matter what they put in your job offer, a startup is a special situation because the risks are different from those in a mature company (even a small one). That’s why you should talk with a lawyer to get your job offer reviewed before you accept it.

These Ask The Headhunter PDF books will help you with the compensation end of a job offer:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire. This works even when discussing salary with your current employer.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), especially “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15. Sometimes it helps to ask casually.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, especially “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it,” pp. 23-25. This is a must when considering a job at a start-up, though this section applies to established companies, too.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, especially “Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?”, pp. 5-7.

This article by my own attorney will highlight some of the issues you should consider: Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.

What’s your tolerance for risk?

Here is a sobering question to test your tolerance to risk in this situation:

  • If you had a chance to buy into this start-up without working there, would you buy its stock today?

If you wouldn’t invest in this start-up as a bystander, why would you take part of your pay in stock?

No matter how many options you get, if the company strikes it rich, I guarantee you’ll look back and think, “I knew I didn’t get enough options when I took this job!”

If the stock winds up worthless, you’ll be glad you were doing work you really wanted to do, and getting paid a nice package in the meantime.

Have you ever taken stock options as part of a job offer (with a start-up or otherwise)? How did it turn out? How did you negotiate the details? How would you advise this reader?

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Recruiting scams and job interviews on social media

In the November 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries that job interviews via social media like Google Hangouts are recruiting scams.

Question

The Web seems to be full of recruiting scams targeted at job seekers. They often use social media to lure victims. Should we accept interviews using services like Twitter and Google Hangouts?

Nick’s Reply

recruiting scamsIt’s not clear whether you’re referring to being recruited for an interview via Twitter and Google Hangouts, or whether you’re going to actually be interviewed that way. Regardless, social media do indeed seem to be popular for recruiting scams.

Interviews: Person-to-person only

My rule is that interviews should be on the phone or in person, or via Skype — but no video. I’m not a fan of video interviews or automated interviews of any kind.

A recruiter or employer that asks you to invest your personal time to participate in a job interview must be willing to do the same. If they expect you to “interview” indirectly or virtually, I suggest you tell them you want a person-to-person interview, or move on. (See HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage.)

Use multiple online resources to verify identity

If a recruiter uses Google Hangouts (or Facebook or LinkedIn or some other social network) to recruit you and to schedule an interview, I’d politely ask that they e-mail or call you to confirm the interview. I’d insist on at least a telephone call for the interview itself. Then track their contact information to confirm their identities.

If they are going to initiate the phone call, ask them to:

  • provide their telephone number anyway
  • along with their street address
  • their website
  • and their LinkedIn page.

Then look them up using multiple online resources to confirm their identity – and that they are legitimate.

Keep in mind that just because a recruiter claims to be working for ABC Company, doesn’t mean they really are. Make sure the contact information they provide resolves back to the employer whose job you’re interested in.

The gold standard

Here’s the gold standard: If you can independently find the company online, call the main telephone number listed and ask for the Human Resources department. If HR doesn’t recognize the person that’s recruiting you, then you will know there’s a problem. Even third-party recruiters have identities that you should be able to verify.

For examples of questionable recruiting solicitations shared by readers, check the most recent comments on this article.

Legit employers will behave transparently. But it’s still your job to check them out first. There are simply too many recruiting scams out there to trust anyone who cannot or will not provide identity information that you can verify independently.

Don’t let the ridiculous levels of automation in the recruiting and hiring process lead you to dispense with your common sense. Even if it’s legitimate, any employer that’s so disrespectful as to demand your time without investing its own is probably not worth your consideration.

I hope that helps you select good employers and avoid questionable ones.

Have you ever been scammed by a “recruiter?” What tipped you off that it was a scam? Do you agree to job interviews via social media?

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13 lies employers tell about job offers

In the October 30, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader recounts her experience with a small-business owner and how he plays games with job offers.

Question

job offersI just came across some of your articles when trying to research my job offer being rescinded (Behind the scenes of a rescinded job offer, Job offer rescinded after I quit my job). A lot of what you wrote resonated with me and made me feel much better about my experience today.

I interviewed for a high level position at a smaller company, so I was talking to the owner directly. Here are the key facts about the compensation:

  1. The offer was at the bottom of the salary range discussed during my interview process.
  2. The owner said I could make it up with a large bonus, but that they didn’t have a structure for how bonuses worked. If the company was doing well I’d get all or part of the bonus, but it was at his discretion.
  3. I asked if he was flexible on the base pay at all, and I brought up the industry average (which was a lot higher) and my experience level and what I could bring to the table.
  4. He first said he was flexible on the base pay and even said that what he was paying me didn’t matter to him, but he didn’t actually budge and said this was a good offer he was making me.
  5. He said I needed to trust that I would be getting the bonus and at the end of the day my pay would be much higher.


I said I was still very interested and excited about the role. I explained that I would really like to review the details of the whole package, including the benefits, in case I had any questions. It’s a small company and there were some non-standard things they were doing with benefits, like providing some kind of stipend for your cell phone and other things, but no 401(k).

Here’s how that discussion went:

  1. I asked if he could send the complete offer in writing so that I go over all of it to make sure I understood everything, and then confirm my positive response.
  2. He asked how long I needed to review it.
  3. I asked if I could get it to him before Friday (this was on a Tuesday).
  4. He sounded disappointed. He said that wasn’t the response he was expecting but he would still send over the offer in writing.
  5. He said he had other candidates that he needed to inform who weren’t getting the job and it was not fair to them to make them wait 2-3 days until he got a confirmation from me.
  6. I asked him if he had a timeline in mind that would work better for him, so he said Thursday morning.
  7. I said okay.


That evening, I got an e-mail saying he was rescinding the offer. He said he wanted someone who was so excited about joining his company that they are prepared and anxious to accept the offer when it’s made verbally.

He said that he felt I lacked passion for his company and that he didn’t want anyone there who was not passionate about his brand.

I wrote him back a professional response thanking him for everything.

I felt very validated when I found your articles because you explain that employers often make verbal offers because they are merely fishing for a reaction, not actually making a bona fide offer. That’s exactly what this was.

The job is an analytical one, so I was surprised that they would expect an instant, seat-of-the-pants response when they were looking for a detail-oriented, analytical person!

When I told my friends what happened, they fell into two camps. All my friends who work at various levels in corporate environments (including HR) thought I did nothing wrong. Two of my friends who both own small companies agreed with the owner and said they, too, would have rescinded the offer because they felt it was insulting to not immediately accept the verbal offer. They said that asking for the offer in writing showed I lacked trust. This of course goes against everything I know and believe.

I see what happened as a red flag for how I may be treated in the future. I’m at a bad job now but I don’t want to go to another bad job. I’m interested in this divide between large companies and small business owners, and I thought you would be, too.

Are the negotiating rules really different for small companies versus larger ones? Or are the small business owners I’ve described just outliers? Thanks for your comments.

Nick’s Reply

I think you dodged a bullet. Your story is important because it highlights a raft of games employers play with job offers.

Are these problems particular to small companies? While I can’t offer data to support this, my experience suggests small business owners are far more likely to play these games than managers in larger companies. I think business owners tend to be far more autocratic than their peers in companies that have many owners or investors.

Strike One

Let’s look at the facts you presented above — #6 through #9. This business owner decided to extend an offer after you satisfactorily negotiated a more-than-reasonable decision deadline. He made a verbal agreement with you about the deadline. Then he reneged on what he agreed to.

That’s strike one against him. It tells us he can’t be trusted.

Strike Two

You prudently asked for details of the offer in writing. He hedged, then agreed. Then he reneged and never provided anything in writing. I think he never had any intention of giving you a written offer.

This is different from merely agreeing to a decision timeline. This is about reneging on putting terms in writing. Do you think he does business deals on a simple handshake, without anything in writing? That’s a rhetorical question but, of course, he may in fact do deals with nothing in writing.

Either way, that’s strike two.

Strike Three

After tactful questions from you about the salary and bonus structure (#1 – #5), he refused to commit to anything concrete. He wants you to trust him, but he doesn’t trust you. He uses a double standard.

The old rule about “trust but verify” is why we put agreements in writing. I’ll repeat: This guy had no intention of putting anything in writing. “Trust me” means “No.”

Strike three.

Strike Four

The egregious management error this employer committed was to judge you unworthy because you failed to instantly display passion and a sucker’s excitement for an incomplete, dishonest job offer. He lost a potentially great hire.

If a strike four could be counted, that’s it.

If he wants to hire a foolish employee, he’s talking to the wrong person. If he’s looking for a thoughtless worker whose decision-making process is marked by a lack of prudence and due diligence, he should absolutely move on to another candidate he can lie to and hire on the spot.

The lessons from this game

It’s a good sign when an employer engages in a negotiation with a job applicant on compensation, on the terms of the job, and even on when a decision is due. It suggests you’ll be working for a boss who values your input and your circumspection, and who wants to make working together a win-win experience.

It’s a bad sign when an employer plays games.

You’ve taken the trouble to share your experience in very useful detail, revealing the many games employers play with job offers. This guy is bold enough to play them all at once — then to blame you for catching him.

Lies employers tell you about job offers

These are some of the lies employers tell, presented as a sort of “dictionary.” Here’s what unworthy employers will do in the hiring process:

  1. Salary Range. Establish a salary range to set ground rules for proceeding with interviews, then they pretend the low end is going to impress you.
  2. Good Offer. Tell you it’s a good offer without showing you exactly what the offer is.
  3. Competitive. Refer to “competitive” pay and benefits but never to precise sums or specific benefits.
  4. Bonus Structure. Refer to contingent forms of pay — like bonuses and commissions — but do not define objective, measurable, agreed-upon criteria that you must meet to earn those bonuses.
  5. Flexible. Say they are flexible on pay, but make no explicit compromises or concessions about pay.
  6. Industry Standard. Talk about industry-standard or average pay, but don’t define what that is or cite the sources of those numbers.
  7. Opportunity. Suggest that what this deal is really all about is a great opportunity for you, and that pay isn’t really the issue to them, when it clearly is because they won’t negotiate pay with you candidly.
  8. Trust. Tell you to trust them to pay you fairly, but will not define the compensation deal objectively in writing — or trust you to review their offer.
  9. Terms. Want you to agree to accept a job offer immediately based only on a few points — and “don’t worry about the rest of the details,” or what lawyers refer to as “terms.”
  10. Job Offer. Want you to commit to a deal verbally, while they balk about putting it in writing with their signature on it.
  11. Decision. Agree to give you two days to review a written offer they haven’t given you yet, then renege because you insulted them by not deciding instantly.
  12. Qualified. Judge how qualified you are for the job by whether you’re “excited” and “passionate” enough to accept on the spot.
  13. Commitment. Negotiate terms and make commitments then violate them.

These are all lies unworthy employers tell job applicants they try to take advantage of. The words in the little “dictionary” above actually mean something to good employers — and you’ll see that instantly in a good employer’s behavior.

Never work with jerks

You should never go to work for employers who play these job-offer games. You’d regret it because they’d behave the same way day-to-day. They’re jerks.

I think you’ve identified at least three people you should never work with — including your friends who said you insulted the employer and displayed a lack of trust. Don’t doubt your judgement – it has certainly served you well here.

Whether you’re talking to a big or small company, the approach and questions you relied on here will tell you all you need to know about an employer.

From the details you shared, I see a prudent, honest, forthright, responsible professional who treats others the way she wishes to be treated. I see no fault in anything you said or did during the hiring process. In fact, I compliment you for doing everything right – it all combined to help you dodge a bullet.

On to the next! Find a company that deserves a good hire.

My only suggestion is to carefully check a company’s and manager’s references before you invest your time interviewing there. You might find this useful: 5 rules to test for the best job opportunities.

What lies have you heard employers tell job applicants? What would you add to the dictionary above? What else should job seekers look out for in the throes of getting a job offer? What details do you insist on having in a written job offer?

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We’re hiring, but don’t you dare call our managers!

In the October 23, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we discuss why employers who won’t let you call hiring managers aren’t worth working for.

Question

I’m resistant to add another job board service because I’m already neck deep in Ohiomeansjobs.com (Monster) and Indeed and LinkedIn Premium. I don’t want to kill an additional hour each day on ZipRecruiter with no results, only a barrage of new spam.

hiringIs it acceptable to bypass the standardized job boards and HR resume processing, to seek a direct communication with the company? By acceptable, I mean will it hurt my standing with the hiring facilitators?

Say I’ve applied to a company via a job board or via its corporate application system. Can I then reach out directly to the local hiring manager to start a conversation, effectively reducing the risk of being eliminated from a job search simply because I don’t have the right keywords in my resume? Perhaps if I can gain an audience directly, I will be able to impress them beyond the written resume.

Nearly all job posts to which I’ve applied include language such as “No phone calls please.” On one hand, if I contact the company directly I would be in violation of those instructions from the employer. On the other hand, I may lose an opportunity if I don’t reach out to a manager who may actually appreciate my initiative. After all, if leadership is all about developing relationships, how better to lead than to reach out directly to the local management?

As a hiring manager myself for many years, I had no problems calling or speaking to prospective candidates, even if it was to let them down. To me, that responsibility was simply part of being in management. However, I’ve not been a candidate myself since 1996 so I’m clueless as to whether hiring managers today are open to direct contact. Thanks for your insights.

Nick’s Reply

A good article presents a premise and evidence that supports a conclusion. I’m going to offer some conclusions, then discuss my thoughts, and ask readers to explore the premises and provide the evidence that back up my conclusions — or explain why my conclusions are incorrect. Otherwise, what’s a community like this for?

Call the hiring managers

Here are my conclusions:

  • Employers that prohibit job applicants from contacting hiring managers aren’t worth applying to.
  • HR departments that rely on automated applicant screening are creating fake talent shortages.
  • Managers who won’t take your call are missing the best hires.
  • Job seekers who obey such rules are doomed.

Employers and the U.S. Department of Labor claim there’s not enough talent in our country. (See B.S. on the job numbers euphoria.) They say that’s why many jobs remain unfilled.

Bull.

I’m convinced jobs remain vacant because employers won’t let job applicants and hiring managers talk to one another. The intrusion of HR and automated recruiting systems makes a mess of hiring.

You illustrate the classic case of employers who are desperate to hire but nonetheless warn good candidates not to contact anyone at the company by phone and not to contact managers at all.

What’s that all about?

Employers: If you’re hiring, answer the phone!

A company that can’t find the talent it needs should drop everything and welcome calls from job seekers who find the company. Of course, managers should not waste time with the wrong applicants — but that’s a problem that comes with the territory. If you’re looking for the right person to date, don’t close the door on everyone because a few frogs show up!

Managers who are desperate to hire cannot afford not to take all calls. If they’re  going to route such calls to a bank of greenhorn personnel jockeys who filter the good applicants from the wrong applicants, then good applicants will be lost. Jobs will remain vacant because personnel jockeys are simply not qualified to vet engineers, marketers, accountants or other expert workers.

Sorry about the wasted time, but it comes with the territory. The best person to recognize the rare, right candidate is the hiring manager.

Turn off the fire hose!

So what should employers do to reduce the noise of wrong applicants? That is, the scads of inappropriate candidates who are a waste of time? It’s simple: Turn off the fire hose! Don’t advertise job openings where scads of the wrong people will see them!

That’s right: Dimwitted employers should stop posting job ads on the likes of ZipRecruiter and Indeed, which are in the business of flooding companies with poorly vetted candidates.

“We send you only the right candidates!” Yah, right — a database is matching keywords and sending me everybody with the word “engineer” in their profile!

Employers must stop posting job ads everywhere. They must turn off the fire hose of applicants. That’s how to save time, so managers have more time to field calls from serious professionals.

Job Seekers: Break the rules

As a job seeker, you must use your own good judgement, but my advice is to always go around obstacles an employer sets up. If calling a manager gets you into trouble, then you know the company effectively locks its managers out of the recruiting process. What kind of way is that to run a company? Either HR has too much power, or managers don’t want to be involved in finding talent.

If you get caught trying to talk directly with a manager and breaking their rules about calling managers… “What rules? I don’t search for jobs online, so I didn’t see any rules. I called an [engineering] manager because I’m an [engineer].”

Be worth talking to

When you contact managers, don’t send a resume or apply for a job. That way,  you’re not breaking HR’s rules! Tell managers you’re doing research and considering applying for a job there – but only after you’ve had a chance to judge the company and its management.

But don’t blow it by asking for a job the way HR asks thousands of people to submit resumes! Introduce yourself very briefly and accurately. [Fill in your own job.]

  • “I’m an engineer with expertise in [this], [this] and [this].”
  • “I’d like to work on [that].”
  • “I’m carefully searching for an [engineering] department that [fits this general description] — but I have not yet decided where to apply for a job.”

Ask two or three intelligent questions that reveal your interest in this manager and this company.

  • Can the manager give you a little insight about the company’s [marketing] department?
  • What are the most important challenges the manager needs good workers to tackle?
  • What advice would she give a [nurse] like you about working there?

Judge every employer

The answers you get will tell you whether good managers run the operation, or whether it’s run by bureaucrats who leave important jobs vacant. A good manager will always take a minute to chat with a professional from their community.

A good manager will thank you and welcome a conversation to talk shop. But, don’t you dare just call to talk about your resume and to say you want a job! Be prepared to talk intelligently about the manager’s work!

Then judge the employer by whether they welcome you or shun you. (See 5 rules to test for the best job opportunities.)

Look for relationships

Employers reject most applicants every day because Indeed sends them loads of wrong candidates. Smart job seekers should reject employers who bar phone calls to their managers. Pursue only the ones that clearly indicate they respect relationships and want to talk with other professionals in their field.

To learn more about what to say to a manager, see “Drop the ads and pick up the phone” (pp. 9-11) and “Shared Experiences: The path to success” (pp. 12-14) in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition).

As you note, management is about building relationships. It’s not about diddling databases! You’ve got the right idea. Trust your gut.

Turn The Tables: Reject employers

When you encounter rules like, “We’re hiring, but don’t you dare call our managers!”, ignore them. Go around. Call the managers anyway.

You know that if you apply online to 100 companies they will all likely reject you. So why subject yourself to rejection? Subject employers to rejection instead. Invest that same effort carefully selecting employers and hiring managers. Call them to discuss their work intelligently in a short call.

If the managers won’t talk to you — reject the company. Hang up.

Don’t appease them. Move on to the next. You need just one manager who welcomes a serious [marketer, engineer, accountant, etc.] that’s ready to talk shop for a few minutes. You need just one manager who breaks the rules and really wants to fill a job you can do. (See: Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.)

Dare to call hiring managers directly.

Please go back and review my four conclusions at the beginning of this column, about calling managers directly. Are they correct? What’s the evidence from your experience? What premises lead to these conclusions? If you disagree, please explain why.

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Which companies should I apply to?

In the October 16, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a job seeker wants to know what companies to apply to.

Question

applyI have a background in sales and marketing with high-profile accounts. I recently became certified in Lean Manufacturing to complement my Voice of The Customer training. I believe it gives me insight into offering more targeted solutions to clients. Additionally, I will earn my MBA shortly. I want to move up to executive marketing management, working for a business solutions-oriented company, as that is where my true passion lies. Can you steer me toward the kinds of companies that would be appropriate?

Nick’s Reply

I admire that you’re continuing your education, especially about the “voice of the customer,” which is “a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs” [Wikipedia]. But your question tells me that you’re marketing yourself by emphasizing your features. I’m sure you know the basic rule of sales: Don’t sell the features of your product. Sell the benefits.

It’s not about you.

One of the most troubling errors job hunters make — especially when attempting a career change — is to focus on themselves. They recite their education, experience and most recent accomplishments — like you just did. They present this information as though it has intrinsic value: “Now I’ve got what I need to impress you. It should make you want to hire me.”

But it’s not about you. Telling them about you puts an employer in the position of having to figure out what to do with you. The shocking truth is, most employers have no idea what to do with you, unless you explain it to them. You must figure that out before you can choose the appropriate employer.

What should I do now?

Imagine walking into your current boss’s office. The boss just paid to get you lots of new training and education (maybe an MBA). You say, “I’ve got all this great new training, and I’m better than I was. What should I do now?”

If I were your boss, I’d fire you. How can you walk in with new knowledge and skills and expect me to figure out what to do with it? Your value does not lie in the new stuff you learned. Your value lies in knowing what to do with your skills and credentials.

Learn to lead with the employer’s problems. That’s what they’re thinking about when they buy a product — or when they hire someone. Understanding the employer’s problems, and figuring out how your skills apply, tells you which employers to apply to.

It’s not about you.

As you consider what companies and opportunities to pursue, put yourself aside. Get into the employer’s head. What do you know about my company’s problems? How are you going to use your credentials to tackle them? If you must ask me, without demonstrating that you’ve first tried to figure this out on your own, then you’re probably not worth hiring.

My answer to your question starts with some instructions:

  • Start by picking a company you’d really like to work for.
  • Figure out what the company needs to do to be more successful. That’s column A.
  • Then put together a plan that applies your skills. That’s column B.
  • Explain to the company how you will apply B to make A happen.
  • (If you can’t do that, move on, because you’ve selected the wrong company.)
  • Be specific about your plan, but not so detailed that it seems presumptuous. The point is to stimulate a useful discussion.

Employers need people who have figured out what to do next. Employers want to know not who you are, but What can you do for me?

It’s about the employer

So throw out your resume. That outline of your history and your credentials is irrelevant at this juncture of your job search. What matters is a document that outlines two critical things:

  • An employer’s problems and
  • How you’re going to tackle them.

It’s not about you. It’s about the employer.

I know you don’t talk to your boss like you want to get fired. So approach your job search the same way you would your boss. Figure out what to do next for the employer you want to work for, and go explain it to her.

That’s how you’ll figure out which companies need to hire you.

How do you decide which companies to apply to? What’s the best way to figure it out? Is is reasonable to start with a job description or posting?

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Can a CEO recruit you with a YouTube video job posting?

video job postingIn the October 9, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a CEO recruits with a personal video job posting. Is this going to work?

The “question” I received for this week’s edition was actually a solicitation that a CEO sent to a lot of people. Normally, I’d treat something like this as spam and just delete it. But I didn’t because it was very brief, to the point, and wasn’t selling anything. John Bracamontes, the CEO of digital marketing firm Acumen Studio, was asking for help finding a new employee.

Question

Hey Nick — We are looking for a Digital Strategist to join the team. I am asking if you know someone who may be a good fit for the role.

Ideally they live here in the St. Louis area, because this is a key role for us and [we] need someone who will be connected to our leadership team and help grow the agency. Linked here is the job posting. [On Indeed.com]

I also made a quick video on what we are looking for in the role as well.

You can send me a message, an intro or thoughts. Thanks for your help!

John Bracamontes
Acumen Studio

Nick’s Reply

This is an interesting twist on the video-interview model, whereby employers want you to make a video to apply for a job. (That’s a practice I’m vehemently opposed to. See HR Pornography: Interview videos.) More important to me, John was doing what I advocate to employers all the time: When you need to fill a job, don’t look for candidates. Look for sources of candidates.

In other words, take a step back and try to develop some new relationships with movers and shakers who might know the kinds of people you’re trying to find. One good source can be worth many good candidate referrals for years to come.

Video job posting

So I read the job description on Indeed, which is no longer active, but what I was really interested in was John’s video. This wasn’t HR hawking a job. This was a CEO taking the time to do it himself. I figured, no matter how good or bad this video is, I’m curious to see what a CEO has to say.

I didn’t expect anything fancy, or even very good — but I expected candor and information that would be more useful than a posted job description.

John didn’t disappoint me. His video is very casual, off the cuff and personal. The production quality is low — home made! — and his presentation needs work. (John: Lose the eyeglasses glare.) But this is the CEO of a small business who’s trying to make recruiting more personal. That by itself makes him stand out. The information he offers is more useful than the job description, and he’s candid if not polished. I don’t care about polished.

What I want to know is what Ask The Headhunter readers think – job seekers and employers alike. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

My advice to this CEO

First, here’s what I wrote back to John, since he asked for thoughts:

I got a kick out of your video – beats a posting on Indeed! A few things I’d suggest:

  1. You just invested in getting personal by doing a video. Follow through on that. Keep it personal! People are sick of recruiting automation. Link them to your own firm’s website to apply, or provide your e-mail address. Why are you making money for Indeed? Show people you’re following through on your direct, personal connection. If they go to Indeed, they feel like sheep!  (Pardon the mixed metaphor, but see Why cattle-call recruiting doesn’t work.)
  2. Most important, don’t just talk about job specs and skills. Explain how the job is important to your company’s success.
  3. Give details about how this job fits into the work flow, who the hire will work with and report to, and who is upstream and downstream from the new hire’s job.
  4. Talk about how the job fits into profitability. This is key. It gives motivated people the context they need to respond with their best ideas about what you really need to know: How they can help Acumen Studio be more successful.
  5. Explain the process if they apply. Who decides to bring them in for an interview? Who will they meet and talk with? Who decides whether they get an offer?
  6. More important, what do you want them to demonstrate in the interview?
  7. What’s the critical path and timeline for the hiring process? (Then commit to sticking to it!)
  8. Ask for personal referrals in the video. If a viewer isn’t a candidate, they might be a good source of referrals, just like the person you sent the e-mail solicitation to. Promise to personally follow up on all referrals, then do it.

I like that a CEO put himself out there personally. Now leverage that for all it’s worth, rather than fall back on the automation of Indeed! (See The Do-It-Yourself Interview (for managers).)

Finally, the readers’ comments on this article might give you more good ideas about how to find good candidates for this position: Job Interviews Are Illegal. What now?

I’ve got loads more comments, but I think it’s more important for John to hear from you — the Ask The Headhunter community.

Can a CEO recruit you with video?

John Bracamontes gave me permission to publish his e-mail and his video, and he told me that he’d incorporate our suggestions in future videos, then report on the results.

We don’t often hear from a CEO — even at a small business — about a job the company is trying to fill. (Imagine if Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or Jamie Dimon were to talk to their professional communities like this, when Microsoft or Amazon or JPMorgan Chase needed to fill a key position.) John Bracamontes’ video job posting is far from perfect — but it’s a start.

What else should it be?

What needs improvement in the video? Be blunt, but please remember that John stuck his neck out to recruit personally. I didn’t publish his video to criticize him. (Ripping him for a backyard video isn’t the point here.) I’m sharing it because I think what he did was gutsy. I’m sharing it to start to a helpful discussion about how it might be done well — if at all. So, please offer your advice and comments.

Why this CEO’s video is important

Above any other reason, I think this CEO’s video — for all its flaws — is important because he has put his name and his face where an HR department normally appears. John Bracamontes has made himself personally accountable. Any candidate who shows up for a job interview or accepts an offer from Acumen Studio knows who he is. John is not hiding behind an HR department.

We all know the feeling of dealing with a cold, impersonal, aloof, isolated personnel jockey who can hide behind an HR bureaucracy. This CEO’s video is important because his mere involvement changes the entire recruiting experience. He says in the video:

“Reach out to me directly.”

Can the CEO of a big company do this, too? Absolutely — if they’ve got the guts and want their company to stand out to the top people in their industry that they really want to hire. (See Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit.)

For the record, John did not ask me to advertise this or any other position on Ask The Headhunter. I’m not charging him any kind of fee for this. (Though I have to admit, this has given me an idea or two!)

What should be in this video?

What could make a recruiting video like this work?

If you’re a job seeker (especially if you’re a Digital Marketing Strategist), how should this CEO appeal to you in this video? What should he tell you? What should he ask you?

If you’re a hiring manager or a CEO (maybe both), what kind of video would you produce to recruit for a key position your company is trying to fill? Is it even smart for a CEO or hiring manager to do this?

Thanks to John Bracamontes for his permission to publish his video here, and thanks for your comments and suggestions!

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Can I get hired if I lack some job requirements?

In the October 2, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader can do the job but lacks some job requirements.

Question

job requirementsWhat do you do when the employer interviewing you has four requirements but you meet only three of them — yet you know that you’re the best person for the job? How can I turn this kind of situation into a job offer?

Nick’s Reply

Isn’t this the way it goes? You are certain the job is a great fit, but the manager isn’t. It’s of course possible your judgement is incorrect, and that you are not the best person for the job. Going into a job interview, you don’t really have enough information about the job, the work environment or the manager to know that, any more than the interviewer has enough information about you. That’s the purpose of the interview. But your question isn’t about how you can assess a job; it’s about how to show you’re worth hiring, assuming you can gather enough information to be reasonably sure you are in fact a very good candidate. So let’s proceed with that understanding.

Credentials vs. Show-And-Tell

I’ll let you in on a secret: Managers are not very good at figuring out whether a candidate really fits. Managers tend to give too much weight to credentials on a resume, and not enough to actual evidence that a candidate can do the work. (For more about direct and indirect assessment of job candidates, see 5 Steps to Easy Interviews and Quick Job Offers.)

This actually gives you the advantage. It lets you suggest to the manager that you should do a show-and-tell, rather than just answer questions about what’s on your resume (and in your experience). It gives the manager an opportunity to see you perform.

If you lack something an employer wants, but you’re a fit on other counts, don’t wait for the employer to decide to take a chance on you. He probably won’t. Don’t wait for him to figure out what to do with you – figure it out for him and explain it.

Show you can do the work

Remember this: The key requirement for any job — whether anyone admits it or not — is the ability to actually do the work. This is your opportunity to bring the focus of the discussion to the job in question, and to your relevant skills.

Offer to demonstrate what you can do, and how you will do the work. Show him. Few job candidates ever do that in an interview. A good employer who’s looking for a confident, talented, dedicated worker will react well.

Ask the manager flat-out if he’s hesitating to hire you over that one point. Then explain that you’d like to prove you’re a fast learner and that your other skills will more than compensate for anything that might be lacking:

“May I take a few minutes to show you, right now, how I would do this job? If I can’t convince you, then you shouldn’t hire me.”

This is an incredibly powerful approach because it requires a commitment from you. Of course, it’s also risky and you must be prepared to do such a demonstration. (See “How to Do A Working Interview™,” pp. 22-24, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

Make the commitment that wins the job

How should you demonstrate your abilities? Consider questions like these in advance of your interview, and make sure you have good answers:

  • Would you need to operate a computer or other machine? (Ask to sit at the machine to show how you’d handle it.)
  • Does the job require talking with customers? (Ask for a scenario you’d have to handle, and then show what you’d say to the customer.)
  • Can you draw an outline of how you would perform a task? (Ask what specific objective you’d have to achieve, then list the steps you’d follow.)
  • Can you explain how you’d solve a particular problem? (Draw a picture and show your plan.)

Don’t let a missing requirement be your deal-breaker. Be ready to address challenges like those above. Making this kind of powerful commitment in the interview can shift the manager’s decision criteria in your direction and help you win the job.

When an interviewer begins to lose interest, it’s up to you to turn things around. Stand and show you can deliver. If a manager doesn’t respond to that, go on to a better employer who will take notice of a candidate who’s ready to put it all on the line.

You can still apply for a job, and do a successful interview, even if you don’t seem to meet all the job requirements — if you can show you can do the job nonetheless.

See: The shortcut to success in job interviews.

Is there a compelling substitute for job requirements and qualifications? Have you ever won a job in spite of not having all the qualifications listed in the job description? How did you do it?

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Behind the scenes of a rescinded job offer

In the September 25, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an HR worker reveals how a faulty HR process led to a job offer being rescinded after the applicant quit his old job.

Question

rescindedI work in Human Resources (HR). During our on-boarding process, we send prospective employees for a drug screen and run a background investigation and, if the job requires driving, a motor vehicle record (MVR) check. The background is launched when the applicant electronically completes an authorization.

We had planned on hiring a guy, when three days before his start date he had still not signed the authorization. So I ran the part of the background that I already had authorization for, and saw that his MVR was horrible. He had DUIs, super-speeder violations and more.

He’s already given his notice to his old employer, and we can’t hire him. I think he avoided signing the background authorization to hide a bad record.

We had to rescind the position as we don’t have any positions for a non-driver. I feel bad about this but I also think he should take some of the responsibility. What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

It’s important to consider the critical path of your company’s hiring process. That is, which steps are critically dependent on earlier steps being completed satisfactorily? And, who is responsible for those?

The critical path to making a hire

You don’t say explicitly whether you made this applicant a bona fide job offer. But I think it’s fair to assume you did based on two other pieces of information you shared.

  • You started the on-boarding process. You would not have done that without two critical steps being completed first. You had to extend a job offer and he had to accept it.
  • He quit his old job. He would not have taken that critical step unless the two aforementioned critical actions were taken first — an offer was tendered and accepted.

Please note that I’m not putting any specific order on these critical steps, though of course there is a necessary order. In any case, when you made that job offer and it was accepted, you had a contract. The deal was done.

A job offer is a contract

So, where does that leave your company and the HR person who is responsible for the hiring process? In a bad, indefensible spot, I think. You made and broke an agreement. A rescinded job offer is a broken contract.

Two other critical steps in this hiring path are:

  • Obtaining authorization to conduct a background investigation.
  • Conducting the investigation.

Clearly, both of these critical steps must be done before you can hire anyone. And the investigation — a critical step — brought the entire process to a screeching halt when you discovered the problems, as it should. That’s why that step is on the critical path to hiring, right?

Where you blew it is that you apparently jumped ahead. You made an offer — a contract — before obtaining authorization to do the background check, and before you had any investigation results. You acted without due diligence.

Why would any employer do that?

Due diligence

Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it.

See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23.

The applicant’s mistake is that he followed your lead. He, too, failed to perform due diligence to ensure your company was acting in good faith. He didn’t double-check to make sure you had followed your own critical path before he took the ultimate critical step: He quit his job.

Why would any job applicant do that?

No job applicant can afford to quit their old job, or to trust an employer or HR rep, unless they are certain they have a bona fide job offer.

A bona fide job offer

A job offer is bona fide when it is:

  • Neither specious nor counterfeit; genuine
  • Made with earnest intent; sincere
  • Made in good faith without fraud or deceit

You, as an HR representative, know your company cannot hire someone with a bad record. So, why did you make a job offer before checking? There’s no good faith when you lead someone to quit a job so they can start work with you — then pull the rug out from under them. (See HR Managers: Do your job, or get out.)

A rescinded offer is a broken contract

You said: “We had to rescind the position as we don’t have any positions for a non-driver.”

That’s not why you rescinded the offer. You rescinded because you didn’t do your job properly. The main fault is yours, and it could get your company sued. (For an attorney’s take on this, see Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.)

You should never have made an offer before you conducted the investigation. The investigation came first on the critical path to making an offer, before the hire quit his other job, and before you began on-boarding the new hire.

Hire with integrity

A company should hire with integrity. It should follow a sound process that ensures a healthy deal will be struck that is good for both parties. That requires following a series of steps in proper order, to protect both parties. (See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.)

Here’s the critical path you should follow. Staple it to your office wall where you can see it all the time. Make sure everyone involved sees it in advance and signs off at each step. None of these steps should be taken until all previous ones have been completed:

  1. Make sure the position is open and fully funded with an appropriate salary and benefits.
  2. Conduct interviews.
  3. Decide your favored applicant is qualified and that you want to hire them.
  4. Conduct appropriate background investigation(s) after obtaining authorizations.
  5. Confirm that all information you need about the candidate has been gathered and logged.
  6. Make a bona fide offer in writing that includes all terms, signed by an authorized representative of the company.
  7. Confirm the candidate’s bona fide acceptance of the offer and terms in writing.
  8. Notify the candidate that the hire is confirmed and that they should resign their old job.
  9. Conduct your on-boarding process.
  10. New hire starts work.

The applicant was foolish to accept a job offer before confirming that your company’s critical path had been completed. He was disingenuous about not signing the authorization for the background investigation. He was downright stupid to quit his old job before ensuring the new job was solid.

So he, too, bears responsibility. Caveat emptor. But shame on you as the employer for letting the matter get to a point where you had to rescind the job offer.

The employer owns the hiring process

Your company is going to spend money to hire someone. You start the ball rolling and control the process. You own the process.

Don’t know how to properly check out a job candidate? See References: How employers bungle a competitive edge.

It doesn’t matter if your investigations reveal the candidate is an axe murderer. It’s still not his fault that you didn’t do your job prior to issuing a job offer. You failed to conduct due diligence (the checks and investigations). In this case, your process should have stopped dead at step (4.) above.

You tacitly if not explicitly encouraged him to quit his job and relinquish his pay based on your assurance (the job offer you gave him) that he could rely on you to hire him. No one deserves that. (If he’s an axe murderer and you don’t figure it out prior to making him an offer, then shame on you.)

Rescinding a job is not an option

Please review the 10 steps in the list above. Nowhere is there a “Rescind job offer” step. It’s a terribly embarrassing option. Rescinding a job offer is a last resort that you — and your company — will pay for with your reputations.

You need to sit down with your top management to develop a critical path to follow when hiring. The fact that you were three days from his start date when you figured all this out reveals a shocking problem at your company. (See Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).)

Rescinding a job offer that your company never should have made is unacceptable.

Is it ever legitimate to rescind an offer? When — and why? Have you ever rescinded a job offer that you made to an applicant? Have you ever had an offer pulled out from under you? Was it a legitimate action? What steps belong on the critical path to completing a hire and who is responsible for them?

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Your First Job: 20 pointers for new graduates

In the September 18, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a new grad’s dad expresses concerns that employers aren’t rewarding highly credentialed new graduates fast enough.

Question

My son, who earned an advanced STEM degree, was hired by a firm which was highly impressed by his education, and emphasized how important it was to have someone with his qualifications joining their team.

But several months into the job, he realizes that the work he has been given could easily be done by someone with only a bachelor’s degree. He is upset that he is not being challenged, but my concerns are more prosaic and practical. If he doesn’t have the opportunity to use his ability to “hit home runs” for his employer, there’s really no reason for them to reward him handsomely, and he isn’t developing the skill set that could cause another employer to pirate him away, and reward him handsomely.

So, my question is, did the employer deliberately lie to my son to get someone with his qualifications to join them, or did they lie to themselves, like the owner of a diner I know who sought out a Paris-trained chef, when all he needed was a guy who didn’t burn the eggplant?

Nick’s Reply

You’re blessed to have a son with an accomplished academic background. But I’m afraid you’re suffering from the same malady a lot of Millennials seem to have. They expect to hit the ground on their first job “being challenged,” “tackling great opportunities,” “hitting home runs,” “getting rewarded handsomely,” and quickly “developing new skill sets that will just as quickly get them recruited away” from their first employer… and “getting rewarded even more handsomely.”

Right out of the gate.

Are schools suggesting to students that wild success will be their experience once they get a job? Or are schools failing to give their students a realistic idea about the roadblocks they’ll encounter? Maybe they’re not teaching them how to recognize roadblocks or how to deal with reality.

Expectations about new jobs

It’s altogether too easy to offer sanctimonious advice to young people about the realities of a first job. In fact, I discourage that because it’s the naivete of every new generation that frees it to create something new under the sun. I love watching young people pull off great feats because they don’t know what is supposed to be impossible — so they risk everything to attempt anything. I experienced that when I started my career in the nascent Silicon Valley. I expected great success while I stumbled over obstacles I didn’t expect to encounter.

But I think attitudes about success are another matter from expectations about jobs. When I get a chance to speak to groups of students and new graduates about jobs and careers, I try to give them an honest picture of the roadblocks they will encounter. It may seem harsh, but I think it’s the truth.

The underlying questions here are whether the realities of work are roadblocks — and what new grads can learn about how to deal with them. I’m offering no answers. Just some pointers that I hope inspire a fresh new generation of workers to develop healthy attitudes about success so they can pull off the impossible.

20 pointers for new graduates

Whatever you’ve been told by the school you attended, this is likely what new graduates will find at their first jobs. Be prepared.

  1. Your academic credentials get you hired, because you have little or no experience that an employer can judge you on.
  2. Once you’re hired, your credentials don’t matter.
  3. Once you’re hired, what matters is your ability and willingness to learn the job and business you’re in. Especially if it’s your first job, that takes all your time, devotion and hard work.
  4. When you graduated from college or grad school, you were at the top of your academic game. You were a star with great prospects.
  5. Once you start work, you’re on the ground floor, on the bottom rung, low person on the totem pole, the plebe, the newbie, the unskilled and clueless neophyte that needs to prove themselves all over again.
  6. A job is not school.
  7. School is where you pay to learn what you want. A job is where you get paid to do whatever your employer needs you to do.
  8. In school, the work you do accrues 100% to your knowledge. At a job, the work you do accrues 100% to your employer’s profits. Hopefully, some of that accrues to your acumen. Most of it won’t – because that’s not why you were hired.
  9. Employers don’t pay you to be challenged. They pay you mainly to do boring work.
  10. The job you’re doing could probably be done by someone smart with less education. But they hired you because they expect you’ll go farther than someone with less education – if you’re willing to work as hard at your new job as you did in college.
  11. Employers don’t hire you out of school because they want home runs. They hire you because they want someone to carry water, clean the bases and tidy the dugout. They don’t tell you that in school, because if they did you might not pay to get an education.
  12. Your employer has people that hit home runs – but damned if they’re going to hand you a bat right out of school because they hope you’ll hit .500.
  13. Your employer won’t put you in the game before you prove you can field 10,000 balls flawlessly. Pro athletes spend most of their time practicing.
  14. The challenge when you start the job is to do what you’re told by the people who are paying you. They will expect you to do that job a long time because they really don’t want to start all over again with someone else.
  15. You will be paid what they promised you – and it’ll likely be far from handsome.
  16. Your reward is not your salary. Your reward is being permitted to come back each day to keep doing your small part – not to swing for the bleachers.
  17. Practice will take years, a step at a time – and you don’t get special rewards for making it to the next step. See (10).
  18. You won’t be worth recruiting away for a long time. Trust me. We headhunters don’t get paid big fees to recruit newbies. There are millions of you. Hiring any one of you is free.
  19. You’ve heard the rule about how it takes 10,000 hours devoted to doing one thing before you become an expert. Do the math. Even if you get to spend half your work day practicing that one thing, it will take years to become the expert that another employer will recruit. (More likely, you’ll spend 90% of your time on busy work.)
  20. The good news is, if you focus on doing your job so your employer profits handsomely from it, your skills will grow and you will be successful.

Roadblocks or realities?

I don’t think the employer lied to your son or to itself. Rather, someone — His school? The world? — lied to your son when it suggested work is about being challenged, hitting home runs, getting rewarded and getting recruited for a million-dollar salary. That’s not what work is about.

Those things are what expertise and success are about, but first come the realities and the roadblocks. The things your son wants for himself he’ll earn through persistence, patience, dedication, apprenticeship and hard work. Likely one step at a time.

Don’t be confused about the owner of that diner. He will hire a Paris-trained chef when he can – because most kids fresh out of school will burn the eggplant, and that will quickly put a diner owner out of business.

Please tell your son to give his career a chance. There are roadblocks and there are realities. He cannot deal with them by pretending they don’t exist.

Am I being too harsh on ambitious new grads? Probably. I don’t mean to sound discouraging. But I’m afraid misconceptions abound about big bucks and quick success. What would you change in my 20 pointers? What would you add? More important, what are the best ways to overcome or avoid some of these roadblocks?

If you’re a seasoned professional, this is your chance to advise and mentor new graduates like this reader’s son. Please remember: You’ve been through it. Getting a career started is painful. Maybe we can impart some lessons while lessening the pain.

If you’re a new grad, what do you want to know about your first job?

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Employee quits, boss wants her to refund employment agency fee

In the September 11, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an employee placed by an employment agency quit, and the employer wants the placement fee refunded.

Question

employment agencyAn employee quit without notice after five months. Her explanation was that she never wanted to stay at this job from the start. We paid a hefty agency fee for this person. She never signed any paperwork with the agency, and the contract stated that employment is “at will.”

Do we have the right to go after the employee to pay us back for not being truthful? Or do we have to go to the hiring agency to see if we can get our money back?

Nick’s Reply

An awful lot of readers are laughing at your story right now, rolling their eyes, and thinking, “Serves you right!”

Why would anyone laugh? Because the recruiting and hiring process usually blows up in the job seeker’s face — not the employer’s.

But I’m not here to laugh at you. The rise of intermediaries in the hiring process has introduced mass confusion, frustration and finger-pointing on every side — employers, agencies, employees. I’m afraid everyone is culpable.

You paid the employment agency, not the employee

I can’t believe you’re serious about recovering the fee you paid to the agency from the employee. I doubt you have a contract with the employee that provides such recourse. If there’s a contract at all, it’s between your company and the agency. Take it up with them.

If the agency does a good job for you in general, don’t blame them. Once you’ve got the hire for five months, whatever happens next is a management problem, not a placement problem. You chose to make — and keep — the hire.

But first consider the pickle you’ve put yourself in.

The problem with middle men

Employers expect someone else is going to handle recruiting and hiring for them, then are shocked when things go awry. Most agencies play fast and loose because they get paid to fill a job, not to deliver the best hire, and everyone suffers for it. Job seekers suspend their common sense when someone they don’t know dangles an “opportunity” in front of them. The introduction of middle men in hiring creates chaos, poor management and terrible decision making.

In this case, everything depends on the contract you have with the employment agency, and on whether there is a guarantee on the placement that provides for a refund.

The number of employment agencies — which go by all kinds of monikers — has exploded, with the result that employers often have no idea who they’re dealing with. (See They’re not headhunters.) It’s an unusual occurrence, but it’s possible the recruiter and your new hire were in cahoots and planned the “placement” to last only until the fee guarantee expired. Then they split the fee you paid and moved on to the next sucker company. I always explore this possibility when a new hire lasts just past the guarantee, which is usually between 30 and 90 days.

But I repeat: If your agency does good work in general, then they may not be the problem at all.

There are some measures you can take to avoid the most obvious problems with agencies.

Get a guarantee from employment agency

Always have a written contract with the recruiter that includes a pro-rated guarantee period. That is, if the new hire “falls off” for any reason — whether you fire them or they quit — make sure you can get back some or all of the fee you paid. Such guarantees usually run 30-90 days and will offer a refund or replace the employee. Good agencies will negotiate reasonable terms with you.

If the contract suggests the hire will be responsible for any refund to you, run. That’s unethical and unscrupulous, and possibly illegal.

Get a no-poach agreement

Your contract with the agency should prohibit poaching. That is, the agency cannot recruit the person it just placed with you — or any other employee at your firm — for a year or more after the last placement the agency made at your firm. This can be even more restrictive if it prohibits placing anyone who has left your firm in the past year or more. Some headhunters don’t like such clauses, but they promote healthy business relationships.

I would nose around. Did the agency that placed the employee with you recruit her out or place her elsewhere? Good agencies never do that.

Understand that “at will” employment cuts both ways

As I said above, it’s usually employees who complain about being terminated without any explanation in states where employment is “at will” by law. What’s your company doing to make sure it’s a good place to work?

Barring some kind of contractual obligation or regulation, you can no more prohibit someone from quitting a job than you can be prohibited from terminating them.

Check the agency’s references

Check the employment agency’s references as well as the specific recruiter’s references before you do business with them. I’ll estimate that 90% of pitches you get from recruiters will end when you ask them for references. Work only with recruiters whose skills and reputations you have confirmed, or don’t be surprised at the consequences.

What to do next

At the very least, I’d call the agency in for a face-to-face meeting to discuss what happened as well as the terms for next assignment. Assess whether you trust the recruiter. I would not necessarily blame the recruiter if they did everything else right.

If your relationship with the agency is at e-mail’s length because they’re not in your city, then consider the value of working only with local agencies.

But don’t expect any agency is going to refund your money after five months. Read the refund deal in your contract. Some of this falls on you, but I understand your frustration. New employees feel the same way when they quit a job for a new one — only to get fired suddenly a few months later without explanation.

If you learned too late that the employee didn’t really want the job from the start, I suggest you improve your recruiting and interviewing processes — and how you manage. Always remember that while you can fire at will, an employee can quit at will. (This depends on the laws in your state.) I’m not a lawyer but my guess is, if she did the work and you paid her for it, no one is obligated to continue the employment — you or her. It’s up to you to get to know your workers well.

You should check with a lawyer so you’ll know better next time, but chalk this one up to experience.

This is one reason why it’s worth cultivating your own pipeline for recruiting through your own trusted sources who will put their own reputations on the line when they recommend someone. If you’re going to use an agency, it’s best to meet a good one through your trusted sources before a lousy agency takes advantage of you.

If you’re an employer, what’s in the contracts you sign with employment agencies? How do you protect your company? If you’re a headhunter, recruiter or employment agency, how do you help ensure your client’s (the employer’s) satisfaction? If you’re the hire who was placed by the agency, would you consider refunding part or all of the recruiter’s fee if you decided to quit the job?

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