I will make your life miserable if you quit!

I will make your life miserable if you quit!

In the October 8, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a boss threatens an employee who’s going to quit.

Question

quitI am planning to quit my job, but my boss said to hold off on quitting until we can at least hire my replacement. Otherwise, he said, “I will make things very, very bad for you.” How should I respond to this?

Nick’s Reply

The challenges of quitting a job seem to be much on people’s minds. (See last week’s edition, Can we make employees pay for quitting?) Maybe it’s because more people are choosing to quit their jobs and move on?

Once you have decided to quit, you are already psychologically and emotionally “done” with the company. It’s best to leave as quickly as possible. The first mistake you made was to tell your boss you’re going to quit. (See Protect Your Job: Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.)

A boss who threatens you is not someone you should trust while he tries to find your replacement.

Don’t get burned when you quit

Under normal circumstances, you should act responsibly when you quit. If you can, you should offer help transferring your work to another employee. But your boss turned this situation into an abnormal one. In any case, the company is no longer your responsibility. Don’t let anyone tell you it is.

Don’t burn a bridge if it’s not necessary, but be brutally honest with yourself: Your boss is trying to burn you. If you file a complaint against him with HR, all you will do is put yourself at more risk.

While some kindly HR person may try to do right by you, remember that HR’s first obligation is to the company, not to you. You’ll be gone; your boss will still be part of the company. Thus HR’s job is to protect your boss before it protects you.

How to quit

Your boss’s threat makes this easy. Tender your resignation in writing.

[Your resignation] letter should be just one sentence because — sorry to be the cynic, but careers and lives might hinge on this — it can come back and bite you legally if it says anything more.

“I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with Acme Corporation.”

That’s it. Sign, seal and deliver. Any other details can be worked out through discussion, including… when you’ll get your last paycheck. If you are forced to take legal action for any reason, or if the company sues you for, say, stealing information, anything you put in your letter can be used against you.

Excerpted from Parting Company: How to leave your job p. 46

I would hand it to the HR manager personally.

How to Say It

Then say this:

“I would offer you two week’s notice but my boss has made this impossible. When I told him I was resigning, he threatened me. He said, ‘If you quit before we hire someone else, I will make things very, very bad for you.’ So as you can see, it would be unsafe for me to continue working here. How you handle my boss is up to you, but I will not participate in it. Please be advised that if my boss makes good on his threat to harm me after I leave here, I will turn the matter over to my attorney. My resignation is effective immediately. I would like to work out the details with you right now.”

Then expect HR to promptly process your paperwork.

Don’t complain, don’t explain. Keep it short and to the point. It’s not your job to help HR deal with the manager. There is no upside to you, but there is considerable risk.

Do not disclose to anyone where you are going to work next. You just don’t know what a bitter boss is capable of; for example, attempting to nuke your new job by making a disparaging phone call to your new employer. (See the sidebar above, More resources.)

A caution about exit interviews

If they ask you to do an exit interview, decline politely but firmly.

The best time for an employee to discuss concerns, dissatisfactions and suggestions with his employer is while he is a committed employee, not on the way out the door. There is no upside for an employee in doing an exit interview, other than having the chance to vent. And the potential risks are significant enough to warrant caution.

From “Exit Interviews; Just say NO” in Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 53-57

Get out

Do you think for a minute that if you stick around until your replacement is found, your angry, resentful boss isn’t going to make your life miserable anyway? Even if you are reassigned until you actually depart, you’ll be looking over your shoulder. During that time, even HR could make your life miserable.

The best response to such a threat is to protect yourself and to leave as soon as possible. You owe nothing to a company that has threatened you. That’s right: When the manager threatened you, the company threatened you because he represents the company. So does HR. You really are on your own. Get out.

I wish you the best.

Has your boss ever turned on you when you announced you were going to quit your job? What did you do? Was HR helpful? How did it turn out?

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Can we make employees pay for quitting?

Can we make employees pay for quitting?

In the October 1, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an HR manager complains about the cost of employees quitting right after they complete training.

Question

quittingCan we charge new hires a penalty when they quit and leave us short-staffed? Can an employer state in an employment contract that if the new hire does not stay for a certain number of days, we retain the right to withhold $X to reimburse us for the time we spent training them? This Generation X and their job-hopping is costing this hospital tens of thousands and we are trying to find ways to teach them – work or lose money. Use us – lose money. We’re having a tough time with it. I did research. You came up.

Nick’s Reply

It’s troubling that any employer would ask this question, but even more troubling that you signed your e-mail with PHR after your name, which means you’ve passed the test for a Professional in Human Resources certification. Really: GenX is costing you money?

I’m not a lawyer. I suggest you reach out to a good employment and labor attorney for advice. However, my guess is that an employer can include any terms it wants in an agreement as long as they are not illegal. After all, no one is required to sign it. The question is, do you — a PHR — really want to go there?

Costs of training and quitting

Now I’ll give you my opinion: An employer should never require reimbursement for its time training new hires. It’s part of the investment we make in people. (This is different from a company offering paid education benefits – e.g., cash to help earn a degree relevant to the job. Education benefits are optional and usually granted under a separate written agreement.)

Quitting is an overhead cost. Not all people will stay, and you can’t make them pay you. Training on a new job, new skills, and time to come up to speed are all components of compensation — all of which they get to keep.

Training is part of what entices a person to accept a job. Who wants to make a move to a job that’s not going to improve their skills, knowledge and expertise – not to mention pay? (Some people will wisely trade higher salary for training and new skills. But in this market, I think they know they can expect both!)

If you don’t see my points, try this: Advertise jobs that require applicants to cover their own overhead costs. Tell them they must pay for training if they get hired. Lotsa luck.

The training investment

Training its employees is how every company helps improve and develop the overall worker pool. It’s an investment in the economy that everyone benefits from, even if in some instances it causes a loss due to worker mobility. If every company insisted on “owning” the training and experience it gives to new hires, how would the labor pool keep up with changes in technology? More to the point, how would you attract the best workers with nothing more than salary?

Of course, you should not hire anyone that you suspect plans on quitting after training is done. (I don’t think many job seekers play that game. More likely, some other factor is making them move on.) But it’s HR’s job — and the hiring manager’s — to assess and judge job candidates. Are we ready to take a risk with this particular candidate?

There are of course no guarantees to any business decision. Or, for that matter, to personal decisions. For example, can we get our money back if we decide to marry someone that decides to move on?

Who pays for quitting?

Your job in HR is to make good judgments and hiring choices. If the new hire quits too soon, should your pay be docked? Should the hiring manager’s pay be docked?

Let’s take this to the next logical step. If a new hire isn’t as productive as expected, should a company be able to recover the difference from them as restitution for lost profits? Where does this end?

You asked whether an employment contract might be the solution, by making reimbursement explicit. But, are you really prepared to give new hires an employment contract? Unless it’s for a C–suite position, I doubt it! If you in fact use employment contracts for all your hires, then I say more power to you – and include any terms you think you can get away with! Just remember that sound contracts are designed to benefit both parties. (See Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.)

For example, I’d advise any job candidate to consider signing your contract only if it includes compensating terms. For example, the hire will agree to reimburse you for training only if you agree to a severance package of $X if you terminate the hire at any time for any reason other than “cause.” Seems fair, doesn’t it? What fault of the new hire’s is it if your management team makes decisions that lose money and force a downsizing? Shouldn’t you be on the hook for the hire’s lost income?

Competitive edge

Quitting and job hopping are symptoms, not the problem. The problem is jobs and employers that don’t satisfy workers. People hop because you’re not being competitive. Your competition offers them a better deal that might include new skills and training in addition to higher pay. That’s why we refer to it as a job market.

Consider this analogy: If your company’s customers “hop” to a competitor that offers a better product, whose fault is it? Or, is it actually a signal telling you to improve your product? I suspect that other problems are triggering employees to hop after they complete training at your company. Your competitive edge is understanding why people stay.

Your assumptions may be the problem

I appreciate your company’s difficulties, but I think your attention is misplaced. Peter Cappelli, a labor researcher at the Wharton School, suggests that employers themselves own the problems they blame on workers. (See Why Companies Cannot Find the Employees They Need.)

The “talent shortage,” says Cappelli, is actually a problem of affordability. Employers are not willing to pay market value for the talent they need. (Just look at the paltry increases in pay reported by the Department of Labor, in a time when unemployment is low and demand is high.)

More relevant to your question, Cappelli’s findings suggest the real problem is a “training shortage.” Attracting and keeping good workers may be more difficult today because employers have drastically cut their investments in training and employee development. Employers seem to insist on “just in time labor” – people who’ve done the job for five years, already possess the requisite skills, and are willing to do the same work for a new employer for less pay. But who aspires to such an “opportunity?”

Your organization is doing the smart thing – providing training. But I think your assumptions may be incorrect. My advice is to offer training without a catch, then make sure something else isn’t triggering quitting. Use training as an enticement to attract the best workers. But also look at the other factors that help you keep your new hires. I’m not going to tell you what they are. You should figure it out and act to keep your employees happy. Isn’t that what HR’s job is?

I see you sent your e-mail after you viewed the Talk to Nick section of my website. If you’d like to schedule a consultation, I’d be glad to talk with you.

I wish you the best.

Who owns what you learn at a job? Should employers be able to recover employee training costs? Should you ever be penalized for quitting? Do job-hopping GenXers need a lesson?

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Should I let HR do it?

Should I let HR do it?

In the September 24, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an entrepreneur wonders if HR is necessary at all.

Question

HRI am starting a company. I have an absolute disdain for HR as a general rule and wanted to get your thoughts on a company running without an HR department. I feel like HR has hoodwinked so many executives into thinking they’re a necessity for any business, but there’s only a subset of things they do that are actually required. For example, making sure you’re not in violation of labor laws.

Which would you recommend: to have no HR department, or to severely limit HR to only those responsibilities that actually help the company (and hence reduce its size considerably)? One thing is sure: HR should never be involved in hiring decisions. I’ve never seen them help there.

Nick’s Reply

Good luck with your start-up. I’m sure HR folks will have something to say about this.

HR options

I think I would try a hybrid of no HR and limited HR. You can cover the compliance bases by contracting with a good HR consultant and by defining exactly what you want them to cover. But be careful – there are a lot of HR hacks out there. The good ones, however, will cost you and are worth what you’ll spend because they’ll advise you as well as do the work.

I understand why you’re so down on HR — you feel it’s not very helpful. You’re not alone — see FastCompany’s excellent Why We Hate HR. Make sure your HR consultant understands that they will have no decision-making authority, that they report to you, and that their scope of work is narrowly defined. Use them as you need them, just as you’d use any good consultant.

Limiting HR

If you find an HR consultant that’s actually good at recruiting, interviewing and managing the hiring process, you’ll be really lucky. There are some very good HR folks out there who work closely with managers to get jobs filled. They will embed themselves in a manager’s operation to learn how it works and what makes the manager tick. A good HR person will help the manager recruit and hire — but will not do the recruiting or hiring. They will process documentation and ensure the process is compliant with the law.

I think you can take care of important HR functions with just a good consultant for quite a while before you need to worry about hiring a full-time HR person.

HR & Legal

Keep in mind that many HR responsibilities are legal in nature, including  compliance. If you hire lawyers to advise you, make sure they have labor and employment expertise so they can backstop your HR consultant when necessary. Just be careful not to let the lawyers and HR gang up on you and rack up huge bills — or hobble your ability to run your business!

There’s a good, simple rule for managing HR, lawyers and other experts. Explain to them what your objective is; that is, what you want to do. They will often respond with myriad reasons why you mustn’t do it, or why it’s illegal, or why it won’t work. Thank them for their advice and cautions. Then instruct them to find a way to do what you want without violating the law, because that’s their job. If they push back, tell them to also provide you with a risk analysis, because that’s their job, too. Your job, as the principal of the company, is to decide how much risk you want to take — legal or otherwise. Never let a consultant make your decisions for you.

Do it yourself

I agree that HR should not control recruiting and hiring. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

I think the most important reason to limit any HR function is that being directly involved will force you to understand, grasp and grapple with the challenges of having others working for you. I’ve seen many companies fail because management left that to “experts.” So don’t “let HR do it.” Your people — your workers — are everything. They are your responsibility. The idea that someone else will manage your new company’s “human resources” is akin to suggesting that someone else is going to run your business. Perhaps that’s your goal ultimately, but until you learn the ins and outs of finding, hiring and managing people, you won’t have a business. (See Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.)

An HR function can be helpful if you, as head of the company, manage it like companies used to manage HR — actively. The trouble today is that HR is often left to its own devices because the C-suite sees HR functions as “icky but necessary, so let HR do it…”

Big mistake.

I wish you the best with your new business.

Can a new business operate without an HR department? If you could build an HR department from the ground up, what tasks would you have it handle — and which tasks would you never let it control?

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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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