I want a live, breathing, credible headhunter

I want a live, breathing, credible headhunter

In the September 17, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader is looking for the good headhunter in hiding.

Question

How do you find a live, breathing, human and credible headhunter? Internationally? Nationally? Regionally? By State? The top “brands” of executive recruiters are as much of an abyss as job boards. Submit a resume, try to contact them directly — best of luck. Where are the “old school” professional headhunters that are proactive and follow up?

Nick’s Reply

headhunter

I’m afraid you’re dreaming of the good old days in your imagination, my friend. Good headhunters don’t do what you are looking for — and never have. They don’t find jobs for people. They don’t really want unsolicited resumes. They’re busy working on specific assignments to fill specific jobs. If you’re a good candidate for such an assignment, they will find you. That’s what they get paid for.

Headhunter =

Headhunter=“Head” + “hunter.” They hunt. They don’t gather resumes or candidates that come to them. That’s the good headhunters. You may be confusing them with the rest of people that call themselves headhunters. (See How to Judge A Headhunter.) The reason it might seem harder to find good headhunters today is that the explosion of online recruiting has spawned innumerable spammers calling themselves headhunters.

Like Human Resources (HR) people, 95% of today’s so-called “headhunters” aren’t worth spit. They’re keyword pushers dialing for dollars. They spam e-mail lists with “job opportunities,” pitching jobs to people they know nothing about. That’s not “searching” for the right candidates. That’s dumpster diving, and — as you suggest — it’s usually not done by humans anyway, but by spambots and algorithms. (See Suzanne Lucas’s excellent Inc. article, When a Headhunter Makes His Profession Look Bad.)

How to find a headhunter

The best way to find a good headhunter is to call the president, CEO, or manager you’d like to work for and ask what headhunter they use to fill key jobs. It’s the best way to get a credible referral — but even then, it’s no guarantee the headhunter will respond. I discuss this in depth in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. This PDF book will tell you loads more about how to work with headhunters, how to vet them in detail – and how to avoid the charlatans.

The few good headhunters out there are worth their weight in gold. But one thing: The odds a headhunter will place you are tiny. Find your own job. That’s what the rest of this website is about.

The reader responds

I’m the President & CEO. Calling the manager is somewhat difficult.

Nick’s Reply

You didn’t say initially that you are a CEO or President. The odds are much higher that a headhunter would handle the search for such a role. But the idea is the same.

Where a headhunter looks for candidates

Headhunters are not likely to find you in their e-mail. That’s not where they look for good candidates, because there’s no more credibility in random incoming resumes than there is in the random e-mail solicitations people receive from spammers.

A good headhunter wants high-value referrals from business people he or she knows and trusts — the headhunter goes to them, not to the e-mail box. At your level, the searches they conduct are usually done quietly and confidentially. If you’re a good candidate, they will find you.

The board of directors

The suggestion I offered about how to find a good headhunter is still the same, but a C-suite executive would talk to members of boards of directors. This is actually more productive at your level, because board members often serve on multiple boards and have more and better connections — not to mention insights about opportunities. Ask them what headhunters they like when they need to fill a C-suite job. Their headhunter isn’t likely to help you directly, but might be a good conduit to a headhunter that’s working on a specific, relevant position.

What I’m really saying is that a good headhunter will find your name on the lips of other respected executives in your industry — because that’s who they’ll ask for candidate referrals. It’s better to invest your time being a respected and known member of your professional community than to chase headhunters. (See Shared Experiences: The key to good networking.)

How many good, credible headhunters do you know? Did you find them, or did they find you? How? What advice would you give to this CEO?

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Should I tell employers I don’t have a smartphone?

Should I tell employers I don’t have a smartphone?

In the September 10, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether a smartphone is a credential.

Question

smartphoneThese days it seems so many companies expect you to use your personal smartphone for company business. I do not have a smartphone and worry it will impact my job search.

I have a basic flip phone for a variety of reasons, including what was basically a smartphone addiction that impacted both my mental and physical (neck strain) health. I am so much happier now with the simplicity of a basic phone, but worry potential employers will think I’m a Luddite. I’m not. I’m used to working in front of a computer all day, but I really don’t want to buy a personal smartphone for work, nor do I feel I should be required to do so. I am not expected to bring my own personal computer or desk chair to work. Why should I use a personal phone for my professional life, especially one where I’m in an office all day?

Should I disclose this to potential employers, and if so how?

Nick’s Reply

This is a bit thorny because we’re on the tail end of our society transitioning into a highly connected state. Most people want to be connected, so employers naturally assume you will be, too.

Is a smartphone part of the job?

It’s almost an unwritten point in every job description that you will be available via your mobile device, and it’s probably assumed you’ve got a smartphone. Many companies have mobile apps not just for their customers, but for their employees, so they can conduct business more efficiently.

Don’t use company technology to store personal information. Tip: If the laptop and phone belong to the company, so does what’s stored on them. One of my HR friends tells me her IT department cannot selectively return e-mail or phone data that belongs to an employee.

From Parting Company: How to leave your job, p. 71

Some employers provide “work phones” to employees that really need them. Others provide a stipend that pays for your personal smartphone service since you’re expected to use it for work. (Keep in mind that if you accept a company phone for work use, everything stored on it is company property, and that your personal phone’s privacy could be compromised if you agree to use it for company business.)

So a smartphone is sometimes a necessity at work.

If your job description does not include an explicit requirement that you have your own smartphone, is it reasonable for fair for your employer to expect that it is implied?

Is the job 24X7?

Now we run headlong into a far bigger issue: What part of your time and attention does your employer have a right to, and what parts are they paying you for? Is it just the eight or so hours you’re bound to your office? Or does it include evenings and weekends across time zones if your company is global? Do you have to be available to talk to customers and respond to your boss 24X7?

Is it reasonable or fair that your employer require you to be available at any time, even after regular work hours?

Just a few decades ago the first widely-used mobile communication device was a beeper. It was a purely one-way device with a tiny display, clipped to your belt, on which you’d receive a phone number, and a beep to alert you. Your job was to respond by calling the number on a landline. It’s how you could be reached anywhere at any time. Beepers became very popular with doctors, who had to be available for life and death matters, and with IT technicians, whose employers’ contracts with customers guaranteed almost instant technical support even in the middle of the night.

With the advent of beepers, IT technicians starting a new job were shocked to learn they were expected to wear one at all times. This led to “beeper disclosures” on job descriptions so you’d know what you were getting into when you took such a job. I know many IT workers who wouldn’t even consider “beeper jobs.”

Make your own rules

So let’s go back to our two questions: Should a job description have to disclose that you’re required to have a smartphone, and that you’re expected to conduct business at any time of day?

An HR friend of mine says, “Are you kidding? If you don’t have a smartphone, how smart can you be?” On the other hand, a highly paid financial consultant I know will receive texts and e-mails from her boss on weekends, but will not respond to them until Monday morning. Another friend relishes being able to work any time, anywhere. So, where does this leave you?

I think you have to establish rules for yourself when you apply for jobs, but that doesn’t mean you must lead with a disclosure about your flip phone.

  • What technology of your own will you contribute to your job?
  • At what times will you be available to your employer?
  • How and when will you disclose your rules?

When to speak up

During the interview process, I wouldn’t disclose anything about your type of phone unless you’re told it’s a condition of employment. Let them assume what they want. To raise the issue is to admit you don’t want to work evenings and weekends — and that’s the real question. The job description either does or does not specify that you must have a smartphone or be available evenings and weekends. You must decide what’s acceptable.

Unless the job requires a smartphone to do your job during regular work hours, the kind of phone you have is no one’s business. However, an employer is free to expect you to have your own smartphone and to be available at all hours — but then I think it’s obligated to disclose this before hiring you.

And that’s why it may be prudent for you to raise these questions if the employer does not bring bring it up first, but I would wait until you have an offer in hand. Bringing it up too early could be construed as a signal that you’re a clock-watcher, when smartphones are not even an issue for the company. Don’t jeopardize a job opportunity over a non-issue.

Meanwhile, you need to look for signals during the hiring process about what the norms are at that company — and decide whether that company is for you.

How to take a stand

If the matter comes up, and you feel strongly about sticking with a flip phone, let people know you use your phone only to talk and text — and only during business hours. “Do you provide smartphones to employees who need them for their jobs?”

This could get an interviewer upset with you, but so could telling them you clock out at quitting time until the next day. That’s a lifestyle choice! It’s something to resolve before you accept a job.

For what it’s worth, I have a smartphone but I decide how I use it. I’ve trained both friends and people I work with not to expect instant responses. My time is too precious to spend it looking at a screen and being interrupted all day long!

What are your smartphone and work-hours policies? Are you a “Luddite” that doesn’t have a smartphone? Does your employer expect you to use your own mobile device, or does it provide a company-owned device?

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My headhunter is competing with me!

My headhunter is competing with me!

In the August 20, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader is confused about how a headhunter operates.

Question

headhunterIs it an ethical or typical practice that a recruiting agency submits more than one person for the same position? A headhunter contacted me about a management role in information security. I went in for the interview first, and while following up with the headhunter afterwards I did a bit of a brain dump about the way it went and what their personalities were like. As I was telling the recruiter my experience, I heard her clicking away at the keyboard and instantly I was thinking who is helping whom? So I asked, are you submitting someone else, and she said yes, the agency was, but she was not personally. The information I shared was used to help the next person they sent to interview after me.

It seems there is a conflict of interest and cannibalization when you send two people for the same position.

Nick’s Reply

That’s exactly how recruiting agencies (headhunters) work. Unless this is some unusual situation where you are paying the agency a fee to get placed (Please don’t ever do that!), the agency’s customer is the employer, not you. The employer pays a fee to get a job filled.

On a typical assignment a headhunter will submit several candidates to an employer, not because the headhunter is gambling, but because the client wants several candidates from which to choose. The goal is to fill the job, not to get you a job. Even if this is an employee-fee agency, I doubt your agreement with the agency prohibits them from submitting other candidates anyway. But at your level, it’s safe to guess this is a traditional employer-fee deal.

One headhunter, several candidates

Because this is how the business works, there’s nothing unethical about it. An agency will use whatever information is available to help them get one of their candidates hired, including anything you told them during your debriefing. When you think about it this way, there’s no cannibalization or conflict of interest. The objective is to fill the job with a candidate, any candidate.

I wouldn’t hold it against the recruiter, but in the future I would refrain from telling her anything that might help another candidate from the firm to compete against you. Don’t compete with yourself or with the headhunter’s other candidates.

How the headhunter gets paid

This reminds me of a learning experience I had when I first started headhunting. It illustrates how headhunters get paid. I submitted a candidate to a company and they hired him without telling me. When I complained, they said they had received the same candidate from another search firm that was paid the fee. I was livid. My boss sat me down and explained the rules. I learned my lesson. Headhunters don’t have any exclusive control over a candidate. (See How long does the headhunter control me?)

When I confronted the candidate I had “lost,” he sheepishly admitted he’d already interviewed at the same company in another department. Did he behave unethically? I’m not sure about that, because his goal was to get a job. Did he know he was putting me in competition with another headhunter? Let’s call it an error of omission. Sure, he should have told me, but not for the reason you might think. In this case, the candidate was lucky. He might have gotten rejected for both jobs if the company realized it was interviewing him through two sources at almost the same time, because employers don’t like getting into the middle of fee fights between headhunters. If I’d started a legal battle for that fee, I would have lost — but the company’s lawyers probably would have advised that the employer stop dealing with both search firms!

I became more careful about submitting candidates, and always asked whether they’d already talked to company X.

Understand headhunters

I’d have a talk with the recruiter. Decide whether you trust her. Ask her to explain how the firm operates. If they’re going to refer you for another position, ask whether you’ll have competition from other candidates from the same firm. Keep in mind that even if you’re the headhunter’s only candidate, you’ll face competition from other candidates anyway.

There’s nothing you can do but decline the interview or avoid headhunters altogether, but why would you do that? More important, now that you’ve been rejected by that employer, and now that you know other headhunters at the agency work on similar jobs, ask about other opportunities they may be working on. Optimize your chances of getting placed by learning how headhunters work. But please remember that the agency’s business is to fill a job — not to find you one.

Additional resources

I know you’re frustrated. This is why I tell job seekers not to rely too much on headhunters! These articles might be helpful:

Headhunters find people, not jobs

Why do headhunters act like this?

If you need in-depth advice about headhunters, please check my PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters — and how to make headhunters work for you.

Hope it goes better next time!

Have you ever had a rude awakening when working with a headhunter? Do the rules of this game confuse you? What would you like to know about how headhunters operate?

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Age 70, working and job hunting again

In the August 13, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader fends off age discrimination.

Question

ageI am 70 years old and still actively working. I have been a consultant for an energy company since early this year, serving in an interim role. The company had a disastrous last year. I was brought in to help turn some of this around in the first quarter and “stand in” until a full-time person arrived. This was to have been a 4-5 month assignment; I am still here. I know I will not be brought on because of my age and I accept this.

I have started searching again, now that the assignment is drawing to a close. I had a recruiter locate me on Monster.com and ask for my “full” resume, which I sent. Later in the day I received a text asking for “your DOB.” I responded “16 July,” to which I received a note saying, “Before I submit your resume to my client I need the year.”

I told her to remove me from her database and thanked her for bringing ageism into play. Is there anything I should have done? Just because I am 70 doesn’t mean I’m senile or moving around using a walker!

Thank you for your column. Even in my “advanced age,” I get what you teach.

Nick’s Reply

I collect stories from people who continue to work well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. Thanks for yours! They all have one thing in common: They are forthright and spirited.

The age question

No recruiter needs your date of birth (DOB) for any reason I can think of, so I’m glad you told that one to take a hike. But please consider that if you’re going to swim in shark-infested waters, you’re likely to get bitten. Monster.com and its ilk are thick with recruiters like the one that found you. It’s up to you to avoid risky waters.

You could be discriminated against anyway, but job hunting online makes it even more likely a person will be rejected due to their age. The impersonal, rapid-fire Q&A that recruiters can do via e-mail, chat and texts with eager job seekers makes it easier to discriminate.

So, no, there’s nothing else you should have done. You avoided wasting your time further. If you expect to get hired because of your qualifications, then it’s up to you to control how a recruiting exchange occurs.

Show them the green

The only way I know to test a recruiting pitch is to expect the recruiter to evaluate you for what you can do to make the employer more successful. That’s also how you will get past biases. In the case of age, you want to arrange it so you can show them the green — how you will benefit their business — before they get distracted by the grey of your hair or your birth date. (See Age Discrimination: Help me market my dad!)

You don’t say how you’ve gotten your jobs during the past ten years. Whatever it is, keep doing it. My guess is that you rely on your reputation and abilities, not on random queries. Don’t be distracted by recruiters demanding to know your age. Fast-paced, high-volume, automated online recruiting doesn’t permit you to communicate the information that will get you interviewed and hired. That requires a one-to-one dialogue.

So ask yourself, no matter who is recruiting you, do they take time to talk with you about the job and about how — exactly — you might be able to help do the job profitably for the employer?

If the recruiter declines a substantive discussion about those two topics, you know you’re not being recruited. It’s just a cold call that’s not likely to go anywhere.

Personal contacts

If a recruiter indicates they don’t really know anything about you, don’t waste your time because that’s not really a recruiting call. I strongly suggest you rely on your personal contacts – and develop more of them – for your job search. Here’s a four-step outline for how to leverage this: Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell.

You’ve been doing this long enough that you probably know everything in that article. I just want to remind you that it works, and that the likes of Monster.com don’t.

Are you still working in your 60s, 70s or later (hopefully by choice)? How do you do it? How do you handle queries from recruiters? Have you encountered age discrimination? What can we do about it?

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Should I extort a salary raise out of my boss?

Should I extort a salary raise out of my boss?

In the August 6, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wants to use a job offer to get a raise.

Question

A competitor offered me a job with a higher salary. What is the best way to use this to ask my boss for a raise, and what could be the best speech to convince him?

Nick’s Reply

salaryUsing a new job offer to leverage a counter-offer — a raise in salary — from your current employer is almost always a costly mistake. In fact, it’s a kind of extortion, so let’s call it that, and let’s consider some of the risks you could face.

You’re marked

Even if this gambit works, you will likely be marked as disloyal and untrustworthy. The next time cuts have to be made, you’ll be on the list because you already threatened to quit over money. Management will be concerned you’ll be likely to pull this again the next time you get a better offer. (No matter how much your boss likes you, business exigencies usually trump friendships.)

Instant termination?

If you’re using this new offer to leverage more money from your current boss, be ready to start that new job ASAP, because you may be walked to the exit immediately. Some bosses don’t take kindly to threats, no matter how diplomatically you make them.

Paying for your own raise

If you succeed in getting a raise by holding your boss over a barrel, where do you think that extra money will come from? It will likely be an advance against a future raise or promotion. You usually can’t win at this game because the bean counters are counting dollars. Most likely, you will wind up paying that raise to yourself in some way.

They want you, so be happy

But there’s good news here, too. You’ve found a new job where they want you! If you’re motivated to take a new job in a new place because you’re unhappy now, getting a few more bucks to stay (assuming you can get it) isn’t going to change the fundamental problem of job dissatisfaction. If that new job is really great for you, just take it.

Go where they’re making you happy!

If what you really want is a raise, ask your boss for it before you go interview somewhere else. Please see Should I ask for a raise one more time?

The “best speech” to give your boss is one sentence, and it should be in writing. You’ll find it here: Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms.

Do you want a raise, or a better job?

The bottom line is this. You need to make a choice, so compare your two options: Do you want a raise from your boss, or do you want a new job with a raise?

  • Your current employer apparently doesn’t recognize your value, or it would have offered you a raise and/or a promotion.
  • The new employer is putting its money where its mouth is — without any prodding. That’s worth a lot by itself. If it’s a good job, that’s who I’d want to work for.

I’ve seen people leverage higher salary out of their current employers when they get a bigger offer elsewhere — and it works out in the long run. But it’s very rare. Such a negotiation and accommodation requires great integrity on the part of the employer and the employee.

Work where it’s better

My advice: If the work, the job, the new employer and the money are all better, just resign and move on. Don’t look back at an employer who wasn’t willing to do right by you without a threat. Don’t forgo your future.

Have you ever tried to use a new job offer to get a raise from your current employer? What happened? Is there a way to extort a raise and mitigate the risks I’ve listed? Am I over the top when I refer to this gambit for getting a raise as extortion?

Don’t miss this new feature!
News I want you to use highlights articles that can give you an edge in unexpected ways!

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NEW! News I want you to USE!

news

In the July  30, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we skip the Q&A and look at the news!

News?? Hey — where’s the Q&A???

Curated News with a point!

In place of the regular, weekly Q&A column, I want to introduce you to a new Ask The Headhunter feature section, News I want you to use!

(The Q&A will be back next week! Catch up on some of the recent Q&A columns in the Latest Posts list on the right sidebar.)

If you want to skip this introduction, you may jump right over to the first edition of News I want you to use: Employers are hiring all wrong! Published in the Harvard Business Review, it’s a devastating analysis by Wharton labor researcher Peter Cappelli of why companies can’t fill key jobs and why you can’t get hired. I can’t wait to see your comments about it.

What’s it mean?

Like many of you, I’m a voracious reader of news. Readers send me links to useful articles every day, and I learn something new about topics that affect job hunting and hiring from almost every one of them.

But what good is all this information if we can’t share, digest and discuss it? You’ve helped make Ask The Headhunter the leading community of thoughtful, serious job seekers and managers who gather regularly to discuss the problems and challenges of job hunting and hiring. We share great advice — but I think we’re missing a big bet.

The great links you frequently share tell me Ask The Headhunter needs a digest of curated news we can all use — content from other good sources, curated by us and for us!

News I want you to use will include:

  • A link to a provocative news item
  • Dialogue about what it means for job hunters and employers
  • How you might be able to benefit from it
  • And, most important, your comments and insights — and loads of discussion!

News I want you to USE!

There are loads of lists of rehashed career stories all over the web. But there are also many news items that can make a difference in your professional life — if you know how to interpret them. This isn’t the same-old “career news” — it’s business news that can give you an edge when job hunting or hiring! By highlighting useful articles, I hope we can put an even sharper edge on what we do around here — help one another advance our careers.

News I want you to use is just the first of several new features I plan to add to Ask The Headhunter to stimulate more great ideas and dialogue about job hunting, hiring and success at work.

New menu

I’ve created a new pull-down on the main menu above — Sections — and I’ve added a graphic at the top of the right-sidebar of this new section so you’ll know where you are. Like a themed section in a magazine, News I want you to use will be self-contained, so you’ll find only recent News items in the right sidebar. You can always click Home to return to the Ask The Headhunter home page, or go to the Q&A section from the main menu above.

(The weekly Q&A column will also get its own section shortly. And there’s more to come.)

Keep ’em coming!

Most of the curated news items presented will be brief — the first one is longer because I’m experimenting, and I’d love your input on how you would like this to work.

I promise you I’ll try to find the best online content that you can use to advance your job hunting, hiring and career efforts — and, of course, I expect you’ll send me links to content, news and articles you think we should share and discuss. To all of you that regularly send me great links, please keep ’em coming — now our entire community will be able to enjoy them.

News will be updated several times between the regular, weekly Q&A columns. I hope you enjoy this new Ask The Headhunter section. Please help me shape it as a great new resource.

Let’s have some fun with this!

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Why does HR waste time, money and the best job candidates?

In the July  23, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a look at how HR actually spends money to recruit the talent — or not.

In a recent column (10 reasons your company’s HR can’t fill jobs) we discussed how HR organizations bungle recruiting and hiring — when they have massive resources at their disposal. Reader David posted a comment and some questions that have nagged at me ever since. Why does HR reinvent the wheel every time it needs to fill a job?

Question

HRHR is paying for an ATS [applicant tracking system] to store/file what’s coming through the pipeline. They are already sitting on a pile of resumes. Why not just turn the spigot off, and contact the people you already have in your pile?

Or worse yet, HR engages so-called third-party recruiters or headhunters who present the same people already in your database. I’ve had stuff like this happen to me before. I apply directly and interview for job X, but don’t get it. Later, a third-party agency comes knocking, asking if I’m interested in applying for the same job at the same company!

In other words, if you fill a position, you likely had people that were runners-up and could have done the job nearly as well as the person you hired. When you have another opening for the same role, why not call those people? Why not give them first crack at the job before you pay money for yet another job advert and waste time (we know that time = money) screening a new batch of people?

I’m not necessarily sticking up for ATS usage here, just so we’re clear.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t read your suggestion as an endorsement of ATSes, resume databases or automated recruiting. You’ve cut to the core of what hiring should be all about: relationships between employers and people (aka, talent). Let’s look at why HR wastes good job candidates it has already met.

Personal contacts are a valuable asset

Whether these candidates arrived through an ATS, a third-party recruiter, or a personal referral, we’re talking about a special set of people: those who were judged worthy by the employer after interviews and assessments. That is, these are all now “personal contacts” — people the company knows, who are pre-screened, vetted, and somehow qualified.

In other words, unlike unknown people, they are already deemed good candidates for jobs at the company. That’s an asset worth a lot of money. After all, virtually every hiring survey ever done tells us that most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Every candidate a company meets is a new personal contact that it has already paid for. So your question should rattle every corporate finance executive: Why do companies pay again and again to hook the same fish and throw it back into the water?

What’s a personal contact worth?

I’ll let you in on a little secret about the dollar value of personal contacts. When headhunters find good candidates for their client companies, they stay in touch with those people even if they’re not hired. Having already invested in getting to know them, headhunters know these candidates are incredibly valuable — not just as potential placements at other client companies, but as sources of other good candidates.

When a headhunter gets paid $25,000 to fill a $100,000 job, a good-but-rejected job candidate is likely to be worth at least that much money on another assignment. These are people the headhunter keeps close for years to come. The headhunter will bring other opportunities to them, and even do favors for them when possible, to foster good relationships that are likely to pay off later — whether as placements or as sources of referrals to fill other assignments. One well-cultivated personal contact like this can be worth $25,000, $50,000, or upwards of $100,000 in future fees. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.)

HR: People are a fungible commodity

I suspect that because HR managers and internal recruiters are not paid like headhunters, for actually filling a position, those personnel jockeys aren’t concerned with maintaining relationships with good candidates. Does HR even know whether a hiring manager judged the person a good candidate before hiring someone else?

Because HR’s recruiting model depends on an automated system that delivers scads of new applicants every day, HR is not so concerned with tracking who it doesn’t hire. HR views job applicants as fungible, or interchangeable — and easily replaced.

While HR might pay a headhunter $20,000 or $30,000 for one hire, HR doesn’t see the potential future value in the other good candidates HR interviewed but didn’t hire. There’s no money to cultivate professional connections, but there’s always money to buy more resumes.

Why recruit again and again?

Over 15 years ago I met with top executives at two different companies — major players in their respective industries. They were independently interested in my suggestion that they make better use of time and money they had already invested to recruit, interview and assess job candidates who were qualified — but whom they could not hire. That is, these were surplus job candidates. They were worthy of serious consideration or worth hiring, but someone else was hired instead.

I pointed out to these executives that, when they have already spent a lot of money to recruit people, they should get the full return on their recruiting investment (ROI) by using smart methods to stay close to such good candidates. I offered to help build ongoing relationships with the best candidates without spending money to recruit them again.

The idea is simple, and it’s basically what you’re suggesting. Rather than reinvent the wheel every time a new job needs to be filled; rather than spend funds soliciting new resume submissions; rather than review thousands of unknown applicants (directly or via third-party recruiters); why not go back to candidates you’ve already interviewed — candidates you know? Why not turn to people you have already assessed as good candidates, but could not hire at the time?

The challenge, of course, is how to track and stay close to good candidates you don’t hire. That’s what I was selling. Neither company understood the value. In a moment, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Excuses

I finally gave up trying to explain recruiting ROI to employers after one of my clients hired me to train its internal recruiters (who worked in the HR department) to “do it like a headhunter.” The recruiters understood everything I taught them about getting close to their candidates. But their HR boss — who paid me to do this training — wouldn’t let them practice what they learned. He didn’t want them spending time building relationships. He wanted them to process the newest batch of incoming job applications from the company’s latest job postings.

Of course, some new jobs really do require finding talent you’ve never encountered before; that’s a given. But it’s certainly true that people who impress us are valuable people to stay close to. The excuses employers offer for failing to keep good talent close are astonishing.

  • That’s not how we recruit.
  • Our ATS doesn’t support it.
  • We don’t have time to stay in touch with people.
  • Resumes have a short lifespan — a few months later, they’re out of date and thus worthless.
  • A year, or even a month, after being interviewed, a candidate’s employment status could change.
  • They might not be interested.
  • They might take another job.
  • They might have moved or retired or otherwise be unavailable.

HR: Relationships don’t apply!

But the simpler answers to my questions are painfully obvious:

  • HR is not compensated for cultivating relationships, only for processing applicants.
  • HR is not compensated for filling jobs, but mainly for interview transactions.
  • HR has a budget for job boards, but not for staying in touch with good talent.
  • HR does not fully exploit the single largest channel of good candidates — personal contacts — except with paltry employee-referral programs.
  • HR metrics do not capture the value of relationships, only the degree of matches between keywords on resumes and job descriptions.
  • There is no personal “high touch” protocol for developing relationships and personal contacts in the employer’s professional community.
  • HR relies almost completely on job boards, ATS vendors, and third-party recruiters that make money only when HR keeps paying to search for job candidates again and again.

In a nutshell, HR doesn’t actually recruit, catalog or pursue the best talent. (See HR Managers: Do your job, or get out.) HR pays to churn databases again and again for quick keyword matches.

Talent is not treated as a long-term asset to be held. Instead, people are reduced to job applications and resumes that are traded back and forth on job-board exchanges like commodities, or why would employers pay daily to sort through the same millions of resumes that their competitors repeatedly search?

HR technology vendors control recruiting

The problem is that the dominant hiring model peddled to HR by job-board and ATS providers — and accepted uncritically by HR —  is high-volume automated keyword matching. In other words, high-profit, rinse-and-repeat database services. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

This churn-and-churn-again model of recruiting is controlled by HR technology vendors. And it is perhaps best exemplified by the manager at a Fortune 50 company who complained to me that he couldn’t get a few bucks to take good candidates out to dinner to recruit them. Why not? Because the big job boards and ATS firms wined and dined his company’s executives to ensure the entire recruiting budget was spent on job boards and ATS services.

If the potential future value of an individual job candidate actually mattered to HR, every applicant would receive a nice note after applying. We know that doesn’t happen because, why bother? There are 100 million more in the database where that one came from. Job applicants are fungible. Who cares about staying in touch with them? We can pay to access all of them anytime!

Our HR isn’t set up to operate this way

So, what happened with the two companies that considered my suggestions about protecting their recruiting ROI by fully capitalizing on good candidates they did not hire?

It was Company A’s V.P. of Public Relations that initiated this discussion with me. She believed building solid, long-term relationships with job candidates would be a good way to enhance the company’s “presence” in its professional community, as well as a good public relations story to help it stand out in general. However, the V.P. of HR squashed the idea because “Our HR isn’t set up to operate this way.”

At Company B, it was an innovative HR manager that wanted to implement methods I had suggested to cultivate and track good candidates that managers had interviewed and liked but could not hire. When time came to execute a contract to develop a program, the company’s legal department squashed it because it had no precedent on which to base an agreement. The HR manager gave up. “We don’t do relationships.”

In both cases, one thing was clear: Recruiting and hiring the best talent was not the mission. Adhering to the status quo was paramount.

Why not turn the spigot off?

Reader David asks, “Why not just turn the spigot off, and contact the people you already have in your pile?” It’s a good question, and it shines a bright light on the dizzy dance of musical chairs that HR calls recruiting — if we might mix metaphors.

Every time HR finishes with a job candidate it does not hire, it wastes time, money and talent when it does not cultivate a relationship to keep the talent close. Should an employer look first at all candidates that it paid to recruit last time, before it pays to recruit again? That’s a bit dicier because a company doesn’t assess (or interview) everyone it recruits, so it doesn’t have judgments — or personal knowledge — about all of them.

I’d be happy if employers fully exploited their contacts with people they already know. This includes anyone and everyone they do business with, including current and past employees! Where do you think we headhunters look to find many of the candidates we present to our clients? We don’t turn on a fire hose; we’d drown.

Why keep screening new batches of people?

What does HR learn after interviewing and rejecting loads of people for a job? What company conducts an outcomes analysis after recruiting for a position? Do companies ever catalog and cultivate the best candidates they meet? Echoing reader David, why do employers keep screening new batches of people when they likely have good candidates in their surplus pile? It seems they do it because they can, and because they don’t know better. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

HR should capitalize on its investment in recruiting, interviewing and assessing people it judges worthy of serious consideration or worth hiring — even if it doesn’t hire them. Paying all over again to search for candidates with every new job opening benefits no one but job-board and ATS vendors who, as we’ve already pointed out, make the most money when employers keep going back to search again and again. That’s what outsourcing recruiting is all about — paying for repeated access to databases and keywords, and avoiding taking people to dinner to forge long-term professional relationships and personal networks that can pay off again and again — for the employer.

Is it smarter for employers to collect and cultivate relationships with the best talent? Or to advertise anew each time they need to fill a job? Are there any employers out there who stay close to good candidates after interviewing them? How do you do it?

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Resigning Your Job? Don’t tell.

In the July  16, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about resigning the wrong way.

Question

resigningI finally landed my next job after months of interviews. Now I don’t want to blow it until I’m actually on board at the new company. I say that because the last time I changed jobs I made the mistake of telling my boss too soon, before I even had a job offer. I thought he respected me enough to wish me well, but it blew up in my face. He told HR and I was walked out the door. I can use some advice. How should I handle it this time?

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations — now be careful!

Before I offer my suggestions, I’ll tell you about a vice president of engineering I placed. I moved Hans from the southern Florida “spook industry” (that’s what he called it) to San Jose, California, where he was hired to run an engineering department at a company that made state-of-the art communications equipment.

Resigning & telling

A week before Hans was to move his entire family and start the new job, the president of my client company called me. “Someone left me a worrisome voicemail. They didn’t leave their name and the number is untraceable. They said Hans has affiliations we should be aware of. What’s this about, Nick?”

The tight-knit Florida “spook industry” (purveyors of electronic equipment that spies use) didn’t like that Hans was leaving their little community and taking his insider knowledge with him. They made that call to nuke Hans’s new job — and his family’s future. Never mind how I found out; that’s my job. In the end, it all worked out and Hans had a long, successful career in San Jose.

What happened? Hans made the mistake of telling someone back home where he was going. Hans knew full well how to keep his mouth shut — that was the business he was in. But Hans also had a healthy ego and he wanted to impress some of his close friends, not realizing the risk he was taking.

Risking getting nuked

When I discussed this with him later — he was incredibly embarrassed at his own behavior — I explained risk to this seasoned executive.

“The risk that someone you told would hurt you was probably very small, so you overlooked it. The trouble is, even the tiniest risk is not worth taking when the potential consequences could be catastrophic. The tourist who climbs over the railing at the Grand Canyon to take a selfie knows the chances they’ll fall into the abyss are tiny. But the consequences are enormous. So it’s not prudent to take that risk.”

That’s why, when you plot your exit from one employer to another, you should never, ever disclose to anyone — least of all your boss and co-workers — what you’re about to do and where you’re going.

Don’t jump the gun

Ask yourself, who needs to know and what do they need to know? Your employer needs to know you’re leaving, but only when it’s safe for you to tell them. No one needs to know where you’re going — that’s private and confidential. And you can tell them later, when it’s safe.

The following is from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job. It’s just a short excerpt of the chapter, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” pp. 42-43:

Too often, in the throes of deciding whether to accept a job offer, a person will start the resignation process too early. That is, he’ll let his boss know he’s thinking about leaving in an effort to get more input as he’s working through the decision. But he’s looking for advice in the wrong place. (See “Should I tell my boss I’m leaving?”, p. 38.)

Unless you have a rare boss who is more concerned about your future than about his own or the company’s, don’t do it. Regard any discussion about your potential resignation as tantamount to tendering it. Once you let the cat out of the bag… it may be impossible to put it back.

Word may get out among your co-workers, and it may affect their attitude about you. Your boss may view what you’ve divulged as an indication that you’ll continue looking, even if you don’t accept the job offer. And, if you haven’t yet made a decision, all that talk may lead you to make the wrong decision.

I’m a believer in getting advice and insight about a potential job change. But, I think it’s dangerous to seek such advice from people whose own jobs and lives will be impacted by your decision. If you work in a very tight-knit organization of mature professionals who respect one another both personally and professionally, your experience might contradict what I’m suggesting. But most people don’t work in such an environment. If you need advice, get it from a trusted peer or mentor who preferably works in another company. Don’t jump the gun. Don’t disclose your intentions when it might hurt you.

Protect yourself

My advice is to give notice to your employer only after you have a bona fide offer from the new employer in writing, signed by an officer of the company, and after you have accepted the offer in writing. Your acceptance letter should include a statement to the effect that you are “advising that my acceptance of this job will require me to resign my position at [the old employer] and to relinquish my income from that job, and that I will rely on the compensation of [$X — whatever the offer is] from you.”

Also covered in Parting Company:

  • Getting fired is a state of mind
  • Stock option handcuffs
  • Did you get downsized?
  • Should I take a package to quit?
  • How to handle exit interviews
  • What about counter-offers?

That “statement of reliance” is recommended by an employment lawyer who advises that it might protect you legally if the offer is withdrawn. (Please see Lawrence Barty’s comments in Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job, but please understand that this is not offered as legal advice in any particular situation.)

Don’t tell anyone at your old company where you are going, even if you’re so excited you could burst. Tell them you’ll be in touch once you’re settled into your new job (preferably for at least a couple of weeks) because you value your friendships and want to stay in touch. You can decide later whether you really want to do that.

If they beg to know where you’re going, just tell them that some headhunter once cautioned you to keep it confidential — and that when the time comes, they should, too.

Has resigning ever come back to bite you? What does your employer really need to know when you resign? How risky is it to tell people where you’re going? What “parting company” tips would you offer this reader?

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Don’t subcontract your job choices

In the July  9, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says all the job-search tools are mind boggling. What delivers the best job choices?

Question

job choicesI can’t decide whether to change employers or try for an internal move. I haven’t had to search for a new job in over a decade. The number of “tools” being marketed is mind boggling! Job sites, coaches, intelligent agents (really?), video resumes, and my favorite, services that use “big data” to match me to the perfect job. I tried one service that sends jobs to my mobile, but it’s spam. Can you recommend a few of the very best services to try?

Nick’s Reply

Your best job-search tool is the one between your ears. When you subcontract your job choices to someone (or something) else, you may wind up pursuing what comes along, rather than what you really want.

The employment industry is forever telling us that we need Big Data and career experts to guide us to our next great jobs. We need coaches and counselors and someone else to write our resumes. We need job boards and intelligent agents to deliver “opportunities” to our mobile devices. The problem is that while these tools may turn up something novel, they also lead us to relinquish our power to choose what’s best for us.

Which do you choose?

Try this little test. Think about going to interview with a company that found your resume in a database. What company? Well, one the database matched you to. So you go on the interview. How well would you come across in that meeting? How high would your enthusiasm and motivation be?

Now think about a product you really love, or a company you’d do flips to work for. Imagine what it would be like to meet and talk with a manager at that company. Exciting, eh? Incredibly motivating?

So, why would you let a database pick your next opportunity?

Relying too much on career help can make us passive and less effective. Take control of your career and learn how to advance it by pursuing what motivates you. How can you do this without automation and “professional” help? By taking small steps.

4 steps to your next job

In the world of psychology, we know that a daunting task — like job change – is best approached in steps. Succeed on the first little step, and you’re ready to take the next. Achieve several successes, and your confidence grows. Soon, you know you can reach the ultimate goal, and your self-assurance signals others that you’re worth hiring. Take charge. Take four steps on your own to get where you really want to go.

1. Talk to managers in your company

I’m glad you’re considering an internal move, especially if you feel you work for a good company. There are people who would pay a coach a lot of money for help to get a meeting with managers in your company. Yet, you can poke your head in almost any manager’s door almost any time you like. Pick one in an area you’re interested in. Introduce yourself. Ask the manager for advice and insight about how someone like you might fit into their area of the business.

Establish your credibility with the manager by briefly outlining what you accomplished last year in your current job. Talk about three things you did that helped the company. Then, ask the manager to name three challenges they see in their department. Suggest what you might be able to do to help. With proof of past success and ideas for what’s next, you have set the groundwork for an internal interview. It’s up to you to decide when is the right time to make a specific request.

2. Talk to a friend

Go visit a friend who works at a company you admire. Meet their co-workers and discuss your careers. What better way to “get in the door?” People pay to join networking groups to make new career contacts – but it’s hard to win the trust of strangers. So start with people that know you.

Your friends are the best sources of new contacts and ideas, if you put your heads together and consider who you know that can give you the advice and insight you want — before you actually need it. When you let other people open doors for you, it enhances your status. The next step is to return the favor: Offer introductions to the new folks you meet. One more step, one more success!

3. Talk to a company

Yes, directly. Not via a job ad or resume or recruiter. Pick your target company. Who do you know who knows someone who works there? How about the company’s customers, vendors, consultants, banker, accountant, or lawyer? I can almost guarantee you can find someone who will introduce you to an insider. (See Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.)

But, don’t ask them for a job interview. Instead, ask about their work. It’s an easy step – all you have to do is listen! Ask what they’re reading that influences their work, and for their insight and advice about their industry. Make a friend, and you’ll become an insider worthy of a referral to a new job.

4. Go to a professional event

Most job hunters freeze at the thought of picking up the phone and calling someone they don’t know. They’d rather write a stiff, formal cover letter ending with a plea that’s often interpreted as a threat: “I will call you in five days to schedule a meeting.”

From How Can I Change Careers?, p. 28

Attend professional and industry meetings regularly. Then take the next step: Offer to speak or conduct a workshop on a topic you know well. Attend more meetings. Become an active participant. Offer to help others. Become a hub of information and introductions. This takes time, so start taking steps now. The closer you are to the action in your industry, the closer you will get to managers who might be your next boss. (See Shared Experiences: The key to good networking.)

You’re right. So many tools are being marketed to help you find a job that it’s mind boggling. Most of them don’t work. Worse, almost all of them make you a bystander to the selection process. Don’t jump at “opportunities” that come along, and don’t subcontract your career choices to some database or to a coach.

The best career tool is between your ears — it’s you. You’re good at your job because you do it step by step. You can build confidence — and the network you need — to succeed at career change. Or you can wait for Indeed and LinkedIn to text you with your next job.

Start taking small steps toward the goal you choose, not the one that comes along. Every one of those steps is other people who do the work you want to do.

Where is the locus of control in a job search when we rely on automation, databases and “experts?” How do you choose the companies and work you pursue? What “tools” actually limit your choices? What tools expand them?

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Disabled and unemployed? Or are you a TAB?

In the July  2, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we get a reality check about disabled job seekers.

Question

disabledI worked in publishing, graphic design and general computer consulting when my spine was injured severely in an automobile accident. During four years of recovery, I completed a lot of education and became proficient in web development and programming. Finally, I returned to the work world as a network and computing coordinator for a local college. I was re-injured on the job and since my sixth surgery (anterior spinal fusion) I have been unable to return to work. I would have to work from home.

While I get countless headhunter calls and e-mails regarding employment, I have been afraid to accept an interview. I am confident that I would be a valuable telecommuting employee, but I am somewhat embarrassed by my disability and I fear rejection.

What is the climate like for telecommuting webmasters? Do you think it would be worthwhile for me to attempt to get a job? I have been putting all my efforts towards entrepreneurship. Your advice, comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your help.

Nick’s Reply

I have no special expertise in helping a disabled person land a job, and I don’t think there’s any special method or strategy to make it happen. (I use the word “disabled” advisedly, knowing many prefer other terms, because the federal government uses it.) There are of course resources you can turn to, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. Perhaps more helpful are  the many lists of “friendly” employers, including Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion, published by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

Disabled? Try the equalizer.

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

World Health Organization

I have taught job-hunting methods to all kinds of people, from high school students to financial executives to soldiers in transition to women and minorities. I teach them all the same thing: How to show a manager that if you’re hired you will contribute to the bottom line. That’s what matters most to any successful enterprise, and I encourage you to make it the cornerstone of your job search, even if it’s from a wheelchair or from your telecommuting station in your home.

Every kind of group and every individual encounters obstacles — some of them onerous. Discrimination and bias are among the worst obstacles because they’re founded on ignorance. But even some of the most ignorant, biased managers in the world will cock their heads and listen if someone approaches a job with a mini-business plan that suggests, if they’re hired, how they’ll improve the bottom line. (Please see You can’t CLICK to change careers.)

I believe that’s the equalizer. Seemingly biased employers suddenly turn out to be friendly and welcoming when dollar signs appear where they once saw only something they didn’t understand. You must decide whether to engage with such people, and whether to make the effort to educate them.

Of course, some bigots and idiots will never abide a person they’re biased against. Perhaps the main way to deal with that is to sue them. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time. I just don’t believe in trying to work with jerks, or being frustrated by employers who aren’t worth it. But I’ll repeat: If you feel strongly about it, sue them.

Call for insight and advice

Please do not let fears about how people will react to your disability keep you out of the job market. What matters is that you’re good at your work. With that in mind, you should not be embarrassed about anything.

There are companies that will hire you because you can produce, not because you can walk. (Some companies might hire you to fulfill their equal opportunity hiring requirements. As long as you’re productive and they value your work, accept the advantage.)

I’d like to invite other Ask The Headhunter readers to offer insights, advice and any specific suggestions they have about your challenge, especially if they’ve been in your situation or if they’re managers that have hired disabled employees. Their insights will be more valuable than mine.

Disabled or TAB?

But the main reason I decided to publish this Q&A is not to dole out my advice. It’s to address the perceptions that interfere with an employer’s ability to hire people who can do the job — disabled or not. I learned this lesson long ago, and I think my experience might be a good lesson for any employer.

Years ago I was at a conference held by Apple, concerning how personal computers could be modified to suit disabled users. There were a few disabled people in the room. One guy was in a wheelchair, dressed in biker garb, and he was clearly militant about it. After listening to us work our jaws about all our great ideas, he piped in.

“You keep referring to me and others as ‘disabled’ and ‘handicapped’. Do you know what I call all of you?”

Everyone cringed during the long silence.

“You’re all T.A.B.s. Know what that stands for? Temporarily Able-Bodied.”

It started to sink in as he went on chiding us.

“At some point, whether you get hit by a car or just get old, you won’t be able-bodied any more. So it isn’t a question of being different from me. It’s a question of when that temporary status of yours will end. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?”

Since then, I’ve never looked at anyone with a disability the same way. It not only altered my attitude; the biker’s reminder made me realize that I had an unwarranted attitude about myself. I’m a TAB. All of the rest of us are. So get real.

There is no question about it

You asked whether I think it would be worthwhile for you to attempt getting a job. Absolutely. There is no question about it — unless, of course, you decide to start your own business and hire yourself!

  • Don’t be afraid. Focus on what what an employer can’t do that you can. (Substitute customer or client for employer, if you’re going to start a business. It’s the same challenge!)
  • Be ready to show how you’ll do the job for the employer’s benefit, whether you’ll do it sitting, standing or lying down.
  • Don’t be embarrassed that you lack an ability today that the hiring manager will lose at some point, too. If you have to explain TABs to a manager, smile and do it!
  • Don’t make it easy for employers to ignore you. Show them how you can make them more profitable.

If you can do that, some of them will let you work from home, and they won’t worry about how well or how fast you can move around – as long as you can deliver the expected work.

Get past rejection

Bear in mind that many companies won’t let you – or anyone else – work from home. Telecommuting still isn’t as popular as we’d like. But, don’t take that personally. Keep looking for companies that want your production rather than your presence. (Learn all about Getting in the door.) But just like I accept the fact that I’m a TAB, you must accept that you will be rejected most of the time, just like every job-seeking TAB — even when it has nothing to do with your disability.

Whether you want a job as a webmaster or want to run your own business, go for it. The key is to take responsibility for showing how your work will profit someone else.

How would you advise a disabled job seeker about getting a job? Like I said, I’m not the expert. If you or someone you know has faced this challenge successfully, please share your experience and advice! Advice from TABs is welcome, too — we’re not biased against anyone around here, especially if their comments are profitable to us!

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