Go around HR to get the job

Go around HR to get the job

Question

For 30+ years I’ve been going around HR when looking for a job and I will continue to do so. I want to talk directly to the hiring manager, or no dice. I am just curious how things get done on your end, because I think many people attempt this but fail. They bypass HR because of all the red tape and lack of feedback or communication, but then the hiring manager will re-direct them back to HR. In your experience, do you find that hiring managers are beholden to HR, despite your best efforts to short-circuit the process?

Nick’s Reply

go around hrIt’s a good thing to encounter a spineless hiring manager who allows HR to run roughshod over the best candidates. Those are the easy ones. You know not to pursue a job with managers like that. Move on.

I’m hardly the only headhunter who will go around HR and make it his business to deal directly with the hiring authority. If HR gets in the way too much, I’ll move on to another client. I’d still “do business” with that company, but instead of placing people there, I’ll recruit people out. (My policy is to never recruit from any company that’s my client. It’s unethical and it’s bad business.)

Who controls candidate selection and hiring?

I’ve found that when a hiring manager allows HR to control recruiting and hiring, I’m going to wind up wasting my time — and so will my candidates. A new hire does not report to HR. They report to the hiring authority or manager. If that manager is too weak to assert control over a critical function like candidate selection and hiring, they’re not worth working for, or the company itself is unworthy because it lets HR run the show. HR’s job is to process the “paperwork,” not to decide who is qualified for a job, or who gets hired.

In companies where HR makes decisions about candidates and jobs, you will need to go around HR simply because HR is not qualified to judge you — unless perhaps you’re applying for a job in HR.

Many, many hiring managers insist on personally controlling candidate selection and hiring. These managers will insulate the candidate (and the headhunter, if one is involved) from HR. They go to bat to get the hires they want simply because they can move more quickly than HR in companies competing for the same candidates. That’s a manager you should want to work for.

Go around HR

I know hiring managers who go around HR and hand-walk job offers to the CFO to get the offer signed and the hire done expeditiously. HR finds out later. It’s the smart manager who understands filling a job quickly and accurately is the fastest way to business success. And it’s your best bet to get hired. Don’t get bogged down with HR while your competition is talking directly with the manager.

If a hiring manager doesn’t control candidate selection and hiring, what do they control as a manager? If you encounter a weak hiring manager, consider moving on because you’re not being hired by the authority who owns the job. You’re being processed by clerks who understand little, if anything, about the job — or about you.

One last thing. You didn’t ask, but here’s How to get to the hiring manager if you haven’t already.

Do you find that HR keeps you away from the hiring manager? How do you deal with that? If you’re a hiring manager, do you defer to HR on candidate selection and hiring, or do you take the lead?

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How to screen all those headhunters

How to screen all those headhunters

Question

How can we screen headhunters? I know you’ve spoken at length about the difference between a real headhunter and those that are just casting a huge net and hoping to find someone to apply. Do you have any advice about what to look for, or what types of questions I can ask these headhunters off the bat to know whether they’re worth my time or not?

Nick’s Reply

screen headhuntersYou already know the odds that a job solicitation is a real opportunity are tiny, and that it’s far more likely you’re dealing with someone who will waste your time — again! Most job solicitations are about as helpful as an e-mail pitching a tinnitus cure.

If the solicitation e-mail or text reads like boilerplate, delete it. If the caller is a fast-talking salesperson, hang up. It’s that simple.

“Uh, Nick, how does that help me?” you’re wondering. “I don’t want to miss out on any good opportunities.”

If you’re going to work with a headhunter, first you must qualify them — and that means you’ve got to test them before you can believe anything they say, and before you put yourself in their hands.

How to screen headhunters

If the caller sounds like an earnest business person politely asking for your help with an assignment to fill a job, you should keep talking — because there really are a few good headhunters out there. If you pay attention, you’ll find the best headhunters demonstrate high standards of conduct and reveal the same qualities they look for in candidates.

  • They are easy to work with because they are straightforward. They speak clearly and directly. They are not secretive or cagey.
  • They don’t waste time playing games or putting on airs. They make you feel special, rather than imply they are.
  • If they start with an e-mail or text, they quickly follow up with a call or Zoom.
  • They are not in a hurry. They take time to talk. They pay attention. They answer your questions.
  • They are knowledgeable about their business, their client, the job they’re trying to fill and about you.
  • Good headhunters don’t call on anyone blindly. They already know quite a bit about your background — not just what they found on LinkedIn — or they wouldn’t contact you.
  • A good headhunter reveals integrity by being honest and trustworthy. They will do what they say — including returning your e-mails and calls.
  • A good headhunter is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions they ask. Rather than ask for your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.
  • They will exhibit a sincere interest in your work and abilities, and in your interests and goals.
  • They will give useful advice if you ask for it.
  • Finally, a good headhunter is effective. If you’re a possible candidate for their client, you’ll get an interview in short order. If you’re not a fit, they’ll say so. They won’t lead you on.

Does that sound like any headhunter who has solicited you? I’m sure you’re shaking your head: What headhunter is going to do any of what’s in that list?

Right-O. Just a very few will. That’s why it’s so important to test or screen headhunters for those rare qualities immediately and every time. Most will fail, and that’s why you should test them all.

Try this test

When you’re done communicating (hopefully, talking) with a headhunter who contacted you, ask yourself, Could this headhunter write an adequate resume about me based strictly on our phone call?

I sometimes write a candidate’s resume just like that, after a phone call, and I provide it as a summary to my client. It’s a good test of my own grasp of a candidate’s credentials and value.

If a recruiter’s call is so cursory that you don’t think they could write your resume from it, that reveals an unskilled headhunter or an inadequate recruiting call. A headhunter who merely requests your resume or just asks you to fill out an application is no better than a job posting on the Internet. They’re going to waste your time. You don’t need them.

When you meet a good headhunter, you’ll know it from the characteristics listed above, and you’ll recognize someone with whom you’ll want to cultivate a long-term relationship.

Let’s get real: screen headhunters

You are likely shaking your head and maybe laughing at what I’ve said. “Nick, Nick, Nick! Let’s get real! The good headhunters you’re talking about don’t exist!”

A few good headhunter do exist — but they’re quite rare. So, why do most people who get bombarded with job solicitations respond to virtually any headhunter solicitation and waste time? (Loads of people fall for out and out job scams.)

The answer is easy, and embarrassing:  It’s lazy, wishful thinking. People don’t want to do the hard work of finding the right job. They want Mommy — a headhunter — to serve it up to them. But they don’t bother to screen headhunters. So they comply with too many silly solicitations and complain when these turn out badly.

Let’s get real. There really are very few good headhunters out there. That’s no excuse to entertain the worst ones when you know better. Think of the hours you’ll save that you could better invest in actually finding the right job opportunity yourself!

(For more on this thorny topic, please check out How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

What percentage of headhunters (or recruiters) that contact you offer good, realistic job opportunities? How do the best ones behave? What behaviors tip you off to the worst?

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Just Hired: New boss, salary & job eliminated!

Just Hired: New boss, salary & job eliminated!

Question

I got really good vibes from the manager that interviewed me. The offer was very good, and everything went so well that I turned down another offer to take this one. After a week of training, POOF! I learned there was a management upheaval, with my new boss and job eliminated. I may have to take a salary cut and get reassigned, or just leave and start my job search again. But what I want to ask you is, is it even possible to avoid something like this? Is there anything I could have done?

Nick’s Reply

job-eliminatedThis is a twist on the rescinded job offer. You’re still employed — with your boss and job eliminated, and your salary cut! While a company’s imminent restructuring may be highly confidential, there’s a way you might have gathered critical information that could have kept you out of trouble.

The key to this approach is understanding that people love to talk and to gripe. Help them do it. No company can totally hide upcoming management changes, especially from employees. If you have enough conversations with a company’s employees, I think you’ll find that more than one will hint at imminent changes and potential problems — if they don’t come right out and tell you what’s wrong.

Chart the players

A legitimate approach is to chart and meet the players. It’s prudent to know who you will be working with, how good they are at their work, and how they will affect your success. These are also the people who can tip you off to possible problems in the organization.

While you may not be able to actually pull off what I’m about to suggest, consider this an exercise to work through. I think as you try it, you’ll come up with one or two tactics that you can actually apply that will be helpful in the future. When you’re done, you should know enough about the organization to avoid getting blindsided by a management change that could hurt you.

Does it all add up?

Look for inconsistencies across all the conversations you have. Does information add up about the job and who the boss is?

  1. Before and during your interviews, draw an organization chart around the job you’re considering.
  2. Overlay a picture of what your workday and your work month would look like.
  3. Lay out the tasks you’ll be doing, and then draw lines to all the departments and specific people who will be working with you and whose work will impact your ability to do yours.
  4. Ask the manager to help you create this chart.

Then explain that you’ll need to meet some of these people — all of them, if possible. The meetings can be brief, but they’re critical.

Sound farfetched? If you were a professional sports player, you’d know who’s on the team you’re joining, and exactly what your role would be. That would affect your decision to join up. It’s the same here.

Look for the truth

If the employer balks, explain yourself simply: “I work hard and I’m a great producer. Some people will be significantly affected by my work, and they will affect my ability to do my work as well. It’s in all of our interests to make sure we can work together. So I’d like to meet everyone.”

You need multiple data points to get an accurate picture of this “opportunity.” The more people you meet in the organization, the better.

Managers are a special case in your little drawing. If you had met more managers in the company, I’m betting you would have learned the truth, that a change was afoot. (Such a thing is difficult to hide.) Once an interview gets serious, it’s reasonable to ask, “Will I be working for you personally for the next year? If I’m your direct report, will I report to anyone else on a dotted line? Do you foresee any changes in this job in the coming year?”

Of course, they might lie to you. All you can do is test them.

I’m sorry you were blindsided. Companies are of course free to eliminate jobs and change managers. That’s why you must control your interviews and learn all you can before they leave you holding the bag. You deserve to know in advance whether a job is about to be eliminated, your pay cut, or the boss removed.

Ever report to a new employer only to find the boss and job eliminated, and the pay not what you were told? How do you ensure you know what you’re actually getting? Should this reader just quit and try elsewhere?

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How can I stand out in the final interview?

How can I stand out in the final interview?

Question

I just had a series of second interviews for a management position. Feedback was very positive and they came back pretty quickly to ask me to meet with my potential boss’s boss. I sent thank-you notes last night, reiterating some points that we discussed. I also sent one to the original person (my potential manager) who arranged the interviews. I feel good about this position and I think it shows in my confidence and attitude. I believe it’s down to two other candidates and me. What should I expect and how should I prepare to stand out from my competition in the final interview round? Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

final interviewCongratulations on taking it this far. Now, don’t over-analyze it. Whatever you did in the first two rounds worked very well. Do more of it.

Influence

Due diligence is necessary before accepting a job, and it also helps pave the way to a job offer. For example, meet key people in departments that are connected to the department you would work in. That’s how to get the inside story about whether a company is worth joining. But everyone you meet within a company is also a potential mentor, and they can all influence the company to hire you.

That’s why the more insiders you meet, the better you’ll be able to compete against those other two candidates. It takes more than thank-you notes. Let me explain.

Be that candidate

In the throes of the interview process, job hunters often lose sight of a simple fact: The employer wants to hire you. The boss wants you to be the best and final candidate so he can end the interviewing process and get back to work himself. While the hiring manager wants to quiz you, he also hopes you will take the initiative to stand out and reveal that you are the blessing the company has been waiting for.

Consider this: Would a manager rather conduct 20 formal, contrived interviews with ten candidates, or go for a long walk with one capable, articulate, motivated person who understands the business, asks insightful questions, presents well-thought-out ideas, and demonstrates the initiative to put those ideas to work? Imagine what that dialogue would be like for the manager. Be that candidate. Step out of the conventional interview process and talk shop with the boss.


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Prepare to meet the big boss

Here’s how to stand out in the final interview with the boss’s boss. Forget about sending any more notes. Instead, call the boss who already interviewed you and thank him for the stimulating meetings you just had. Then explain that you’re preparing for your meeting with his boss.

How to Say It
“The more I study your business, the more engrossed I become. I’m looking forward to meeting [your boss], and I’m glad to answer any questions she has so she can evaluate me. But I’d like to make the meeting more profitable than that. I’d like to get into the heart of your business and discuss how I think I can help. But I don’t want to be presumptuous and I certainly don’t want to seem like I’m trying to commandeer the meeting.

“May I ask for your insight and advice? Would your boss welcome a mini-business plan about how I’d do this job? Or, how would you suggest I demonstrate my value?”

Then be quiet and listen.

How to influence your final interview

If the boss encourages your approach, show off your initiative:

  • Explain that you would like to outline to his boss a brief business plan about how you will do the job.
  • Ask the boss to confirm the assumptions you’ve made.
  • Ask for any additional business- and work-related information you need to develop your presentation for the big boss.

If he responds positively, you’ll have all you need for your upcoming interview, and you will also have a new advocate. You can make similar calls to other team members and managers you’ve already met. Each not only becomes your advisor — each might influence the decision to hire you.

Role of influencers

When I schedule a candidate to meet with my client to talk about a job, I try to schedule multiple meetings with key influencers in the organization. I explain to the hiring manager that this will provide more data points on which to assess the candidate. Then I prep the candidate along the same lines I’m prepping you — emphasizing that if the candidate can attract one or more “mentors” in the process, then the odds of a good job offer go up dramatically. (For an extended discussion of the parameters of influence please read Robert Cialdini’s excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.)

The larger the web of people you talk shop with, the more you influence the big boss to hire you. If you can pull this off, you will truly stand out from your competition. Is there a risk in this? Sure. You might find out that you’re dealing with people who don’t value initiative. The boss may not be willing to coach you. That suggests how he treats his employees, too.

Stand out in your final interview

On the other hand, if you play it safe and don’t make this effort, you risk being just another indistinct job candidate. In my opinion, a candidate who takes the initiative to engage the boss and his team should score big points, or look for a different employer.

It’s up to you, because the risk is yours to take. My advice is to stand out in the final interview with the boss’s boss by getting all the coaching you can from other insiders.

How many times have you made it to the final interview — but no job offer? What 3 things could you have done in advance to influence the hiring manager’s decision? How do you prepare for a final interview round?


This edition is reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6 – The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, pp. 19-21. Learn how to overcome the daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks — and get 50% off on all Ask The Headhunter e-books!  Enter discount code 2022XMAS at checkout. Limited time offer. Happy Holidays! Order now!


NOTE: This is the last edition of Ask The Headhunter for 2022. See you next time, after the holidays, in the January 10, 2023 edition! Happy Holidays!

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How to start job hunting NOW

How to start job hunting NOW

Question

I always look forward to your column, whether I’m looking for a job or sitting comfortably in one. You have a way of cutting through the crap on this subject. And you did it again very well in your column in the Seattle Times: “Why Can’t I Keep a Good Job?” You posed the question, “…will you choose your next job, or will it choose you?” Wow. That really sums it up. I took the wrong job. Now I’m stuck. Any suggestions on how to start job hunting now?

Nick’s Reply

start job huntingThanks for your kind note. You have hit on a very simple but profound idea, and I’ll take it to the next step for you. People need to be job hunting all the time. Not heavily, but persistently.

There is simply no excuse for needing to start a job search all of a sudden.

Start job hunting

By then, it’s too late, because it takes quite a lot of work and time to find the right job. You’ve heard me say it before. As I suggested in that Seattle Times article, most people who are job hunting are doing it because they took the wrong job to begin with… because they acted out of desperation.

Every day, everyone we meet and talk with is a potential source of opportunity. Pursue those opportunities! There is no need to be rude or intrusive about it. Practice discussing opportunities even when you are not job hunting.

Try this: Ask the next few people you meet, “So, tell me about your work. What exactly do you do at your company?” Then, let them talk. People love to talk about their work. Steer the conversation like this: “What’s your company like as a place to work?” Let them tell you.

If the answer is mostly positive, express your interest using your own version of the following:

How to Say It
“Your company seems to be one of the shining lights in the industry. At some point, I may be interested in making a career move. I’d like to learn more.”

You’d be surprised at what can come out of such a discussion. Please note that at no point are you asking for a job. If the company sounds really good, however, it may be time to make a gentle request for help getting in the door.


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New jobs come from people that know you

Asking someone for a job lead or for a job interview is awkward. Asking to meet other people who do the work you’re interested in is a different story. It’s natural to express interest in other people’s work.

How to Say It
“I work in [marketing or whatever]. I’m interested in learning more about your marketing department. I think it’s important to get to know people who are among the best in their field. Is there someone in your company’s [marketing] department that you think I should talk with?”

This approach is a great ice-breaker. If you get nervous, let it drop. Try again with someone else later. In time, you’ll enjoy talking with people about their work and their employers. When you need a referral, you’ll have a list “this long” of people who already know you are interested in their companies.

Start your job search now. Learn to hang out with people who do the work you want to do. That’s where good new jobs come from.

Are you always job hunting, or do you start job hunting at the last minute? When you meet people that you need to ask for help, how do you “say it?”


This edition is reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting. Learn how to overcome the daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks — and get 50% off on all Ask The Headhunter e-books! Enter discount code 2022XMAS at checkout. Limited time offer. Happy Holidays! Order now!


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You have 1000 LinkedIn connections? No, you have a phone book

You have 1000 LinkedIn connections? No, you have a phone book

Question

Is there a trick to making LinkedIn connections pay off? I’ve got over 1000 LinkedIn connections, but it almost seems the more I have the less chance anyone is going to respond to my messages. I use the paid version.

Nick’s Reply

1000 LinkedIn ConnectionsA while ago I commented on a LinkedIn thread about this very question. It was another round of posts from people touting their 1000+ connections. In my opinion, nobody has 1000 real connections on LinkedIn. They have a phone book.

I think LinkedIn is the world’s best phone book, with pictures and resumes. Period.

What is a LinkedIn connection?

If a “connection” wouldn’t drop what they’re doing for a moment to help you out (because they know and respect you), then they’re not a real connection. You’re kidding yourself.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s main business is selling our “connections” to recruiters who know nothing about us — and who don’t care. Then we complain those recruiters wasted our time because they don’t really know us!

Duh. That’s how LinkedIn actually works. Or doesn’t. A LinkedIn connection is a database record of a person and a link to your record. Nothing more.

Professional network, or phone book?

What’s a real contact (or connection)? I think it’s someone with whom you’ve shared enough experiences that they will refer you to someone who trusts them. It’s someone who trusts that  you won’t misuse their name and recommendation.

Nobody has 1000 real contacts that they really trust and that really trust them. That’s why when Reid Hoffman launched LinkedIn, he recommended connecting only to people you actually know, trust and have worked with.

What happened? Hoffman cashed out by selling “seats” to recruiters who bought access to millions of people they didn’t know anything about. Recruiters that used to rely on phone directories. That’s when LinkedIn became just another job board. That’s when it turned into the world’s biggest phone book (with pictures and resumes ). That’s when LinkedIn stopped cautioning users to connect only to people they know.


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You have to earn a person’s trust

LinkedIn is a pretty good database of people that you can benefit from using. I love it when I need a quick rundown on someone. Some of the articles users post are pretty good; some are even very good. But it’s not the professional network Hoffman originally envisioned.

While some people seem to be able to “work their connections,” it seems many more go through the motions because they’re told LinkedIn is where you’ll find “connections” who will introduce you to your next job. But real connections are all about substance, about shared experiences. To paraphrase a famous old TV commercial, “You have to EARN a connection!” Just like you must earn a person’s trust.

Real contacts are people you’ve gotten down in the dirt with and with whom you’ve done something meaningful. Tapping the ENTER key isn’t a shared experience. Logging connection #999 is not a shared experience.

I don’t believe 500, 1000, 1200 or even 5000 connections are meaningful. Check your experience and the outcomes of using LinkedIn to find a job. I think you already have.

So, what’s the point? Having lots of “contacts” on LinkedIn and messaging them for help is not nearly as good as going out into the world and mixing it up — doing stuff together that reveals who you are and that you’re worthy of someone’s time. I think that’s where most jobs come from. You can find almost anyone on LinkedIn, but you’ll have to do a whole lot more to create the kind of trust that leads to a job recommendation.

How many real, meaningful connections do you have on LinkedIn? Do you accept all requests? When a contact messages you, do you always take time to respond helpfully? Can anyone really have 1000 meaningful connections?

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It’s time to regulate the job boards

It’s time to regulate the job boards

Question

You don’t have to look far to find complaints about the job boards, including LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter and the rest. I’ve seen some ridiculous claims about how many jobs these websites actually fill, but nothing scientific. Has the government tried to rein these guys in? Has there been any attempt to regulate the job boards?

Nick’s Reply

regulate job boardsA quick search for “job board success rates” turns up nothing those boards can be proud of. At best, you’ll find loads of criticism about job boards. Several years ago, for a column I was writing for PBS NewsHour, I interviewed CareerBuilder. A spokesperson claimed the job board filled almost half of all jobs in the U.S. but no, she could not show me any data. Around the same time Indeed claimed 65% of hires. I’m still laughing.

What are job boards good for?

One of the more pointed critiques is from employment software vendor CareerPlug. Based on pre-COVID 2019 data, this study slams the failure of job boards as the weakest source of hires:

“An applicant who applied directly from a company careers page was 23 times more likely to be hired than an applicant from a job board.”

“An applicant who applied from a referral was 85 times more likely to be hired than an applicant from a job board.”

When I hear that boards are helpful, it seems to be mainly freelancers and contractors (that don’t want permanent jobs) that defend them.

What are job boards good at? Producing job applications — up to 88% of them. The “job boards produce quantity,” reports CareerPlug, “but not always quality.” Virtually every study I’ve encountered concludes other sources of hires are dramatically more productive. More applications don’t yield more hires. The job boards are simply delivering more wrong candidates and more wrong job “matches.”

So, why do the job boards dominate the employment system and suck up the bulk of recruiting dollars? I think it’s simply because they are not regulated.

Time to regulate the job boards?

It’s long past time the federal government properly investigated this database industry — because it’s not a recruiting industry. It’s an amalgam of database jockeys and marketers producing and hawking software that fails epically at recruiting because it does little more than keyword matching. No job board I’ve encountered seems to understand the rudiments of recruiting.

What should be regulated? I’d settle, to start, for basic disclosures.

Require from all job boards:

  • Outcomes Analysis: Show us the success rates for job hunters and employers that use a job board.
  • Substantiate the marketing claims: Show us an audit trail for a job or resume posting.
  • Disclose the source of each job posting (employer, recruiter, another job board?).
  • Verify and certify that a job posting is real, and take down ones that are filled or canceled.
  • Publish the original job post date and fill date.
  • Disclose on each posting how many people have applied to date.
  • Publish flowcharts of processes behind every job board.
  • Disclose algorithms a board uses to make matches and rejections.
  • Disclose salaries for all posted jobs. (This is already required by law in some states.)

That’s just a start.

Where is job board regulation?

To answer your question, I don’t believe government agencies have ever really attempted to regulate the job boards. Oh, there are anti-discrimination laws, truth-in-advertising laws, and more recently salary disclosure laws, but there is scant oversight and regulation of the recruitment advertising business. The Federal Trade Commission has prosecuted some recruitment scammers, but enforcement is too little and too rare. Chasing one-off scams does nothing to address the major players that dominate how you look for jobs and how employers try to hire.

I’m not a fan of regulation for its own sake, but an important purpose of government is to protect consumers from misinformation and systemic deceit in business. Interview 100 job seekers about their experiences with job boards and you’ll find plenty of deceit to justify a federal investigation — and regulation.

Do you think job boards should be regulated? What disclosures do you want to see? What regulations do you believe are necessary? What  misrepresentations and deceits have you encountered? Is there a way to regulate job boards into being truly effective?

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Is this the right company for me?

Is this the right company for me?

Question

When I consider doing an interview or accepting a job offer, I’ve always just picked what felt best, but how should a person decide? The money and the job itself are obvious but how do I know a place is the right company for me to work? I’ve made some mistakes and I’d rather not make another! Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

right companyUltimately, this is one of the biggest career questions you must face. I find that people go job hunting mainly because they joined the wrong company to begin with. As you realize, money isn’t everything. And I know you’ll know when the money is right.

I take five key factors into account when I try to help a job candidate decide if a company is right for them.

These are the fundamental criteria on which I think you should judge an employer. Evaluate an employer based on:

  1. its people,
  2. its products,
  3. its finances,
  4. its prospects, and
  5. its reputation.

Define these anyway that makes sense in the situation. You must explore each of these factors in as much detail as you can. (If we have to pick the three most important of those, I think it’s 1, 2 and 5.)

As you make your inquiries, you’ll see that some aspects of this approach are a little touchy-feely in nature, and some require objective research and analysis. This approach requires a lot of something you probably do in your work: talking with people. (See also: How can I find the truth about a company?)

You could fill a book with information about just one company. But you must decide how much is enough.

So I put it out there to everyone: Is this list sufficient? Would you skip over any item? What would you add? How would you flesh out each of the criteria?

Maybe more important, how would you get the information you need to effectively assess whether a company is the right place to work? What questions would you ask?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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For less job competition, avoid Fisherman’s Wharf

For less job competition, avoid Fisherman’s Wharf

Question

I’ve been applying to job postings for which I meet all the criteria, and I mean all of them. I figure that’s one way to beat my competition — to really stand out. How much job competition am I likely to have if I do that? I was one of over 70 people they screened and one of 16 they interviewed. And it happened again, I didn’t get an offer. I wasn’t even a finalist. There has to be a way to minimize competition from the start, I just haven’t figured it out. Is it really possible that 70 other applicants met all the criteria? I doubt it, so why do companies entertain so many candidates? How do I improve my odds from the start?

Nick’s Reply

job competitionEmployers complain they can’t find the right people to hire and I think it’s because their recruiting is a herding task. They solicit too widely. This yields a preponderance of undistinguished candidates with a low probability of finding anyone that stands out.

Recruiting job applicants: More is not better

When employers post a job online, they’re casting a wide net. But more is not better. And it’s even worse because cattle-call “recruiting technology” makes it so easy to invite loads of marginal or even totally wrong applicants. It yields more of the same.

Look at the math. In your case 70 applicants were screened and 16 interviewed. HR will tell us “We got a lot of candidates to pick from!” This means they made 70-16=54 errors. That’s a lot of wasted overhead. Imagine how often this plays out. Employers will routinely sort through thousands of applications, whether manually or via software. They believe (irrationally) that the more candidates they have to choose from, the better the hire they will eventually make. (See  Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Your competition is loads of wrong applicants

I believe this approach is actually likely to diminish the quality of hire they make, simply because they are sorting and interviewing many more wrong candidates than necessary. Often, the result is that they hire none and are mystified about why.

When a company hires the best of a large number of candidates, most of whom are disqualified, it is gambling, not really selecting. If the best hire it could possibly make is among loads of “noise” — dozens or hundreds of wrong applicants — what goes up is not the chances of making the right hire, but of missing the best hire among the noise.

Avoid job competition

What does all this have to do with the job competition you face, and how can you avoid it to increase your chances of really matching a job and getting an offer? This “more is better” fallacy reveals a really straightforward alternative that you can immediately use to diminish your competition and increase your chances of getting hired: The best way to avoid competition is to not go near it. That is, stay away from the databases full of applicants that are stocked by online job postings and job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed.

Fisherman’s Wharf

When I lived in Palo Alto, California, I often had guests from the east coast. I’d take them touring around the Bay Area. When we got to San Francisco, everyone wanted to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was all I could do to dissuade them: “Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist trap.”

“No, no — we heard it’s great! Everyone told us to go there! We want to see Pier 39! We want to eat crabs and sourdough bread!”

Of course everyone told them to go there. That’s San Francisco’s crowd-management marketing at work.

The HR Corral: Where the cattle go

San Francisco is a small city, surrounded by water on three sides, with no possibility of sprawling out. Residents and people that work in the city suffer enormous congestion on streets and sidewalks. I’ve always surmised that the city intentionally drives visitors to aggregate in and around Fisherman’s Wharf. The city’s marketing seems to keep visitors corralled there, offering many distractions that attract tourist dollars and time — while keeping those teeming hordes out of everyone else’s way.

The job boards and databases serve the same purpose, if unintentionally. They are a corral not unlike Fisherman’s Wharf. Job seekers flock to them because HR tells them to gather there, stand and wait, like tourists eager to be fleeced, like cattle to the slaughter. “Jobs websites” are designed and marketed to make them seem the best way to apply for jobs. Even HR believes they are the easiest way to recruit and hire.

Steer away from job competition

If you steer away from the madding crowds of Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll find a lovely city with interesting things to do and people to meet. Every city dweller has a tip about the best restaurants, the hippest bars, the best neighborhood shopping and the coolest little-known sights. All you have to do is circulate solo, without a frightening horde surrounding you. You’ll find all kinds of wonderful experiences in San Francisco — and little interference from competition.

This is why you can’t seem to beat the odds: you’re allowing yourself to be corralled with all your competition. It’s easy to avoid the competition. Don’t go where the competition accumulates. Reduce your competition and increase your chances of getting hired.

5 tips for less job competition

Skip any gate or doorway to job-database corrals. Go where “the locals” hang out. Managers with hidden job needs, and people that can introduce you to their managers, hang out in accessible places that aren’t crowded with your competitors.

  1. Attend continuing education and training programs where you’ll find people that do the work you want to do.
  2. Participate in professional events where your future colleagues gather. It’s a low-pressure, fun way to meet insiders that can help you.
  3. Go have a drink or a meal where employees of your target companies socialize.
  4. Join in and contribute to the online work-related forums frequented by professionals you’d like to work with.
  5. Study the business media that cover the people, work, products, technologies and business dealings of companies you’d like to work for. Make it a game or puzzle: Try to suss out what jobs may be opening up based on news about a company. Contact the movers and shakers you read about, ask about their work and ask for advice.

Avoid Fisherman’s Wharf. Avoid corrals where your competition is penned up — but be grateful for them! Less competition means more high quality professional contacts for you. To improve your odds from the start, go where the insiders are more likely to welcome you because you’re not part of a cattle drive.

What’s the best way to avoid the herd (and job competition) when looking for work? Or, is it better to “play the numbers” and apply to job postings everyone else uses?

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Giving notice when you resign: 6 ways to avoid trouble

Giving notice when you resign: 6 ways to avoid trouble

Question

I’m getting conflicting advice about giving notice before I resign my job after accepting a new job offer. A career coach told me I have to give notice or ruin my reputation. (“Don’t’ burn bridges.”) A guy I used to work with got burned when he gave notice: his boss demanded he stay a month to train somebody! Another was immediately escorted to the door by company security. (He was counting on a couple of weeks’ more salary.) Not all stories are bad but I don’t like to take risks when I can avoid them. I’d prefer to just make a clean cut without notice. Do you have any tips to play it safe?

Nick’s Reply

giving-noticeI’ll summarize what I think are six important considerations that should help keep you out of trouble when giving notice that you’re quitting your job. I’ll emphasize up front that you must do your own calculation and decide for yourself what is your best course of action.

1. Check your obligations before giving notice

It’s astonishing how many people think their basic freedoms vanish when it comes to their jobs. Just as you’re free to move from one state to another when you wish, without anyone’s permission, you’re free to change jobs anytime you wish (with or without giving notice) — unless you signed an agreement accepting limits on this choice. Check the obligations you agreed to.

Do you have an employment contract? (These are rare in the U.S. and usually involve executive positions.) If you do, read it carefully, or have an employment attorney review it. Keep in mind that the job offer you signed may be a kind of contract, and it may incorporate by reference your company’s employee policy manual — which may say something about a notice requirement. It matters what you sign and agree to when you accept a job.

2. Check for “employment at will” law

In most U.S. jurisdictions employment is “at will” — your company can terminate you at any time for any or no reason, without giving you any notice. But if you work in an “at will” state, you can likewise quit. Whether you should quit without notice is usually your choice. Make sure you know the employment law in your state — and review what you have contractually agreed to.

3. Check your company’s history

Nose around before you decide. Has your employer made life difficult for other employees that quit without notice? Some employers actually handle resignations with aplomb. It’s worth finding out your company’s actual practices because that may factor into how you calculate your risk.

4. Check your reputation risk

That career coach is correct: resigning without notice can damage your professional reputation. (Your employer may put you on a no-rehire list.) If word gets out, it might damage your rep with other employers.

However. This is a risk you must calculate. While quitting without notice can be a crappy thing to do, it might be prudent anyway. Sometimes we have to make tough choices. If giving notice might put you in serious jeopardy, avoiding the risk may be preferable to doing what’s expected.

Now let’s talk about potential jeopardy.

5. Check the consequences

Giving notice because “it’s the right thing to do” might trigger consequences you haven’t considered. Like the friend you mentioned, you may not get two weeks yourself — of additional salary or time between jobs that you expected. You may be told to leave immediately without a chance to gather your personal belongings. (“HR will mail your stuff to you.”)

If you work in sales or get paid a bonus, policy might dictate that you don’t get the money unless you’re employed there on the date it is set to be paid — and unless you provide notice. Quitting without notice may trigger instant recovery of educational or relocation investments the company made in you. If you work on a “draw” in sales, you might actually owe the company money it advanced you against future commissions. (See The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye.)

An employer cannot withhold your pay, but you must understand what constitutes pay in your specific case. But don’t run from choices like these. Depending on the financial rewards and professional opportunities provided by your new job, it may be worth resigning without notice.

6. Check the spite factor

Tendering a resignation usually elicits this question: “Where are you going to work next?” It may seem as innocent as HR’s request that you sit for an “exit interview” and explain yourself. But you owe no one any explanations, or information about your future.

I’ve seen spiteful employers go out of their way to nuke a departing employee’s new job offer. Is there any chance your old boss would contact your new employer and try to poison your well? Please think about this. That offer you accepted could be rescinded. In my experience, it’s rare. But if it does happen, the consequences for you could be dire. A risk might seem small, but when the cost is potentially immense, I don’t think taking a chance is prudent..

My advice: Don’t tell anyone even remotely associated with your old company where you’re going until you’re already there. “No offense, but I’ll be happy to get in touch once I’ve settled into my new job and we can have lunch.”

I’m not suggesting you should never give notice when resigning. But if you decide to part company suddenly, take time to evaluate the risks, and to calculate the potential costs and benefits of quitting without notice. Is your new job worth it?

Do you give notice when you resign a job? Have you been happy with the outcome? Are there circumstances when you think not giving notice in advance of leaving an employer is prudent?

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