Exploding Job Offer #3: Get it in writing

Exploding Job Offer #3: Get it in writing

Question

Bait & Switch Corp. (not the real name) offered me a job and lied about what the work would be. When I tried to discuss this, my new boss told me they fudge job descriptions because they can’t get the kinds of skills they need. “We’ll still pay you what we promised.” He thinks his exploding job offer was pretty clever. I quit.

Aren’t we supposed to be in a very tight “worker’s market” that makes it hard for employers to fill jobs? So why do they lie?

Take a look at this article: Employee Finds Out The Job They Accepted Wasn’t Work-From-Home As Promised, Quits In Style. The worker in this story was conned much like I was. Is this a thing now?

Nick’s Reply

exploding job offerUnsavory employers are nothing new; nor is the exploding job offer. (Today’s column covers a third example.) But the company in that article and the company you quickly quit reveal a new motivation for bad behavior: they are desperate. When desperate people try to be clever they usually wind up worse for it.

Exploding job offer #3: Bait and switch

I expect we’ll see more bait and switch because most employers really stink at hiring. These are companies that go dumpster diving in the “job boards” for job candidates then have no qualms about treating them like trash. But what does that say about job seekers that are found in those dumpsters, waiting for just any employer to pluck them out?

The truth is, job seekers often lose control the moment a job offer is dangled in front of them. Most become so giddy that they’ll accept it without reservation. And that leads to what I believe is the main reason people go job hunting: They took the wrong job to begin with because they failed to negotiate the terms.

The only way to minimize the chance of such a catastrophe is to get it all in writing.

You have a choice: Get it in writing

Employers are loath to put everything they represented about a job in writing. They don’t want to be obligated to anything except perhaps paying you, although I’ve seen the “salary bait and switch,” too. I know people who were thrilled to get a job, only to learn when onboarding was over that they were assigned a lower-level job and a lower salary.

Anyone that reads this website knows employers try to get away with what they can. While laws to protect employees are creeping up on companies, short of a costly lawsuit the job seeker has little recourse today. (See attorney Larry Barty’s advice in Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.)

The inscrutable economy we live in makes it difficult for even honest employers to fill jobs. Many are throwing away the playbook and taking extreme measures to find and hire the workers they need. The honest ones are offering higher pay, better working conditions, work from home, bonuses and other enticements. The dishonest ones are just plain lying.

The job seeker’s playbook used to say, “Employers don’t provide detailed employment contracts because they don’t have to, so don’t bother to ask for one. You have no choice.”

The new playbook: Get it in writing

Today, employers are indeed desperate to fill jobs, so it’s an excellent time to make prudent changes to the playbook. A good place to start: Request a detailed employment agreement, no matter what level the job is, rather than just an offer letter. Insist that the terms as you understand them — and I don’t mean just salary! — are spelled out in writing. Did the interviewers discuss job definition, work schedule and location, who your boss is? Get it all in writing. A contract is best; a signed, detailed offer letter is the bare minimum; a purely oral or informal job offer is off the table.

A verbal job offer is wonderful because it tells you where you stand while the company prepares the formal written offer or contract. But a verbal offer is like a wet noodle: It doesn’t stand up very well.

Get everything you’ve been promised in writing. Don’t accept a job offer — even verbally — until you have all the details that matter in writing. A good employer will comply. An employer that really needs you will make the commitment.

Will a good written agreement absolutely protect you? Not if the employer is completely dishonest. Lawsuits involving even top executives who have solid contracts are not uncommon. But you’re better off having it in writing, if only because your insistence on creating that document shows the employer you’re not naïve about the employment market.

Avoid the exploding job offer

What terms should be spelled out? I’d love to hear from our community what you’d add to this list (which is far from exhaustive).

  • The exact pay for each pay period
  • The job title
  • Definition of the work and objectives and deliverables expected from you
  • How you will be measured
  • Your work schedule, location and environment (this may include tools you’ll need, whether software or a hammer)
  • Whom you will report to directly
  • If a commission or bonus is involved, how much, when it will be earned and when paid, a clear and objective definition of criteria to earn it, and a clear definition of metrics to be used
  • What your vacation time and sick leave will be and how they are calculated
  • Term of employment, if it is for a set length of time
  • Terms of separation, whether you are terminated or resign, including severance
  • A clear definition of “separation for cause”

Recruiters, HR managers and career coaches will tell you, “The employer will never go for that!”

But, why would you “go” for a job offer without all of that?

You already did. Other readers please take note: The OP’s experience hurt.

Leverage today’s job market

In many corners of today’s economy it’s definitely a job seeker’s market. (That’s just one reason I think this article by Bernie Dietz was prescient: Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.) So use that. You get to set some of the rules. You get to negotiate terms that are good for you — not just for the employer — because employers may need you more than ever. Be reasonable, but be firm. Get some, give some. But know in advance which terms are non-negotiable and be ready to walk away if the employer will not meet them.

If all this sounds like pie-in-the-sky, and you believe no employer will agree to what I’m suggesting, I think that means you have no leverage in negotiations because the employer doesn’t need you enough — or that the employer is lying to you. Why apply for jobs like that? (“Because I found them on Indeed” is not a good answer.)

The actual terms you negotiate are clearly important and will vary. But the terms you get mean nothing unless you get them in writing.

Do you get your job offers in writing? Have you started a job only to find out it’s not the job you accepted? What terms do you negotiate? What terms do you consider deal breakers?

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4 Job Hunting Secrets for 2022

4 Job Hunting Secrets for 2022

Question

During my 9-year career I’ve read lots of books and articles about how to get a good job. My conclusion: Most of it is banal and useless. In all these years I’ve picked up just a handful of good tips that I use again and again. You’ve written several books about how to get a job. Impress me. Share some job hunting secrets from your books. Something I can use right now.

Nick’s Reply

job hunting secretsI’ve been saving your question as a good end-of-year topic. I agree with you that most advice about getting a job is recycled and misleading. It’s designed more to make life easier for employers, HR recruiters and headhunters than to help you.

I’ll offer you four fundamental observations and suggestions that, in my experience, can make a material difference in a job hunter’s efforts to land a good job. These are taken directly from my PDF books (on which you’ll get a jolly 50% discount — scroll down). I think you’ll be able to use these ideas immediately and that they will make a material difference in your job search.

But first, why listen to me? It’s the old follow-the-money rule. As a headhunter who has worked on contingency most of my career, I get paid only when a client actually hires my job candidate. In contrast to an HR manager or recruiter, my methods have to work, or I don’t eat.

  • Beat your competition even before the interview
  • Show up with a business plan
  • Address deliverables, not just questions
  • Find the right headhunter

1. Beat your competition even before the interview

Once a job is posted online, your odds of winning it diminish to almost zero. The competition is huge. To boost your odds, you must get to the hiring manager through a powerful personal referral. Get in the door first, with a pre-emptive reference.

Your most powerful reference is the one who calls an employer before the employer calls him. A preemptive reference speaks up for you, not about you. Actually, this is not a reference at all, but a recommendation or a referral.

A preemptive reference thinks enough of you to pick up the phone to call the manager you want to work for, and recommends you. This is a big step beyond a reference; it’s a true professional courtesy. The best preemptive reference is when a reputable person in your field refers you to an employer. Who needs a résumé when you’ve got that? This is beyond even a professional courtesy; it’s an endorsement. It carries enormous weight.

This tip and other ways to gain an edge in today’s goofy job market are found in Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition).

2. Show up with a business plan

To stand out from all the well-qualified competitors you face, don’t sit in an interview and answer questions. Show how you’ll do the job. This is especially important when you’re trying to change careers to something new,

Before you can legitimately ask for a job, you must assess the needs of a company and plan how you will contribute to its success. Don’t behave like a job applicant; behave like an employee. Show up ready to do the job in the interview. Bring a business plan showing how you will do the work and contribute to profitability.

By defining the work an employer needs done and showing how, exactly, you will apply your skills, you can demonstrate your value in the new work domain — your new career. While others show up asking for a job, your demonstration of how you will do the job actually helps the employer justify hiring you into a new field of work.

Of course, this isn’t easy. But nor is that great job you want! If you cannot pull this off when you meet the manager, you have no business in that interview.

This suggestion and the steps for pulling it off are in How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers.


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3. Address deliverables, not just questions

Here’s a little secret I learned long ago: Most managers stink at job interviews. While they ask a lot of questions, they rarely explain exactly what they really want and expect from a new hire.

This is why you’ll get no job offer — because you don’t know what the deliverables are for the job! So you must get the manager to say it.

How to Say It
“What are your objectives for your new hire? That is, what would you want me to accomplish after a week? What results would you want to see a month, three months, six months and after a year on the job? The more specific you can be, the better I can address the work you need done.”

Get answers to these questions, and you’ll know exactly what’s going to make the manager hire you. I’ve seen job interviews shift dramatically when the candidate helps the manager focus on deliverables. Suddenly, the manager understands that you’re there to talk shop — and that you are focused on the work!

This tip and others about how to help managers hire you are in Fearless Job Hunting Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.

4. Find the right headhunter. (There’s only one place to look.)

What most people don’t realize is that headhunters don’t find jobs for people. As independent consultants, we find the best workers for our client companies. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to be a candidate for a very specific assignment, so don’t waste your time seeking headhunters. We fill only about 3% of jobs.

If you’re going to seek out headhunters anyway, here’s how to do it right.

Pick out five or six companies you really want to work for: the shining lights in your industry, the places where your dream job resides. Call the office of the manager to whom you would report if you worked there. (Don’t be lazy. Do the necessary research. If you find your quarry you must be prepared to talk shop intelligently.) Introduce yourself briefly.

 How to Say It
“I’m Mary Smith at Acme Widget Corporation. May I ask for your advice? I’m looking for the best headhunter in [marketing, finance, or whatever your specialty is]. I’ve always respected your company and I would value your suggestion. May I ask, What headhunter do you use and recommend to fill key positions in [marketing]?”

This request is so unusual that it can be a very effective ice-breaker. Not every manager will provide a recommendation. (Some managers are very protective of their headhunters.) But some will.

Now you know who handles searches for the company you want to work in. When you contact the headhunter, the client’s name is almost guaranteed to get the headhunter’s attention — and to get your call returned.

This “secret” and advice about how to manage that headhunter once you’ve found them is reprinted from How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you.

Does this really work?

Should you follow my advice? Long-time Ask The Headhunter subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2021. The newsletter and the website will be on hiatus for two weeks while I take a vacation! See you with the next edition on January 11! Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

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What if my meds trigger a positive drug test?

What if my meds trigger a positive drug test?

Question

After over a year of unemployment, I finally got a job offer from [a major company] that I accepted. I’m relieved if not in disbelief, especially with the holidays coming up! The start date is in a month, and HR requires a (urine) drug test, which does not surprise me. But I have a concern. I take prescription medication and I’m worried my meds will turn up in the test results. The meds are for a chronic condition I do not want to reveal to the employer. (The condition will not affect my ability to do the job.) How do I do the test and protect my privacy? Should I just go cold turkey and hope my meds don’t trigger a positive result? Should I tell HR in advance what I’m taking? How about if I just discuss this with the testing lab when I show up?

Nick’s Reply

drug testI’m not a Human Resources expert or a lawyer. Because drug testing regulations vary by state in the U.S., you should check the law about what proper procedures are — and what your rights are. NOLO offers a good discussion about laws on employee drug testing. Not all companies approach drug testing the same way, though there are some standards.

An HR expert addresses your drug test

For corporate insight, I turned to a long-time HR manager I respect and asked about going cold turkey, and about whether you should disclose your prescription to HR or to the lab. She has worked for companies large and small. She said no on all three counts.

Here’s her advice:

  1. Review the consent form you signed. She says an employer is required to disclose what they’re testing for before you consent to it. This is referred to as informed consent. So, you should already know what drugs they will test you for. She says the drug list is often “in the fine print” — but they must disclose it to you in advance. Armed with this information, you should then…
  2. Contact your doctor who prescribed the meds in question. Ask whether the defined tests might be affected by your meds. That is, could your meds trigger a false positive on the specific tests? Proceed from there with your doctor’s advice.
  3. Google the company name plus “drug testing.” She looked this up while we were talking and immediately found a list of drugs the company tests for. The most common drug tests look for five substances: THC, Opiates, PCP, Cocaine, and Amphetamines. You might do this Google search first, but the drugs listed on your consent form are the key.

Relax about your drug test

My HR manager friend suggested that if you’re taking a drug on a prescription in the care of a doctor, and don’t use other drugs illegally, you should not worry about these tests. You’re more likely to raise red flags than to protect yourself. If a test turns up a false positive, you can ask for full results. The employer will likely ask you to explain at that point, and your doctor should back you up.

Congratulations on landing a job right before the holidays!

As long as your medical condition will not affect your job, and you want to keep it private, it may be best not to raise the matter with the employer or with the lab. And going cold turkey is not a good tactic! Review the consent agreement you signed to see what drugs the test is for, and discuss this your doctor before you do the test.

I wish you the best!

What’s your experience been with employment drug tests? Have you ever triggered a positive result? Did prescription meds have a role? If you’ve been through this yourself, what’s your advice to this reader?


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10 steps for personal referrals to hiring managers

10 steps for personal referrals to hiring managers

Question

I can never get a referral to someone else. Perhaps that’s why I can’t get the ball rolling in my job search. What’s the deal with personal referrals?

Nick’s Reply

personal referralsIt’s awkward and intimidating, isn’t it — getting a personal referral? This is a critical challenge in a job search. Once a person has identified a company where they’d like to work, how do they get a personal referral?

This is one reason I started Ask The Headhunter over 20 years ago. Every “expert” will instruct you to “network” and to make actual contact with people, but rarely does anyone explain exactly how. On this website, we’re all about how. Detailed how. How-to-say-it how.

Getting personal referrals: Get ready to say it

I’d like to ask everyone for your input on this. What has worked for you? To whom do you go, and how do you actually say it?

Here’s one path that can lead you to a hiring manager through the recommendation or referral of someone they know and trust. It’s just one path — let’s discuss more!

  1. Ask yourself, which company do I want to work for and in what area or department? Search online for articles and information about that area. Check the company’s website, newsletters and press releases.
  2. Identify a product the company produces or a technology it uses (or a marketing method it relies on, etc.). Now you have a legit topic to discuss with an insider.

Personal referrals: Talk shop

Let’s say the company makes blue widgets and they use technology X to make them — state of the art, according to a recent press release! Cool! You’ve been in the widget business for years, but X is kinda new to you.

  1. What 3 questions do you have about X that would help you understand and possibly apply X? The more esoteric your questions, the better — you’ll be taken more seriously, and you’ll avoid being re-routed to the HR department. HR can’t talk shop. That’s why this works!

(See where this is going? Nobody’s talking about a job here. You’re talking about your work.)

Find the right people to talk with

Now use Google, LinkedIn or any other tool to find someone that works in the aforementioned department.

  1. Contact them, but not through LinkedIn! Avoid routes that add “noise” — and I mean social media. For example, everyone knows LinkedIn messages are usually spam from people that don’t know you. Find an e-mail address or — wow! — call the company and talk to the person!
  2. Introduce yourself very briefly. Express your professional interest in X. “I see X has made a huge difference to your product line.”
  3. Ask for their professional insights and advice.

Ask for insights

The value in any contact lies in what they know, what they think, and in what they’re willing to share with you. What makes this easy is that most people love to talk about their work. They love to tell you about themselves and what they think — if you ask. And they love to give advice.

Do not ask about jobs. Do not talk a lot about yourself. Start by asking for insights.

How to Say It

“I’ve found some online resources about X, but I’m looking for the inside scoop about X and how to use it most effectively. You guys seem to be leading experts on X. Can I ask you for your insights about X?”

Or:

“What are you reading that’s influenced the way you use X, or how you design and market your products?”

“Is there a training program you respect and recommend?”

“Who’s the shining light in the field about X?”

Congratulations, you’ve just opened a professional discussion about work you and the other person do — without asking for a job lead. You’re talking shop!

What should I ask?

  1. If the person responds helpfully, ask questions like these, then be quiet and listen.

How to Say It

“What do you think about that?”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Is there any downside to using X?”

Ask for advice

If the conversation goes well and you find you’re learning something useful, take the next step.

  1. Let the conversation flow. Do not ask about jobs. Instead, ask for professional advice.

“I’ve been so impressed with X and the products [your company] has created that I’m seriously considering moving to a company in this business. May I ask your professional advice? If you were me, would you pursue this?”

“What companies would you look at if you were me? Which are the shining lights in this business?”

  1. Then pop the question:

“If I were interested in working at your company, what advice would you give me? I don’t want to start a formal application process with HR. I really want to understand X and the company’s business — nothing proprietary! — before I apply. I want to be able to speak knowledgeably about X and the products first.”

You get the idea.

Get the personal referral

Once you’re talking shop, you’ve made a new friend, so act like a friend. Exchange some useful information about the topics you discussed. Offer to return the favor of insight and advice, if your new friend would like that.

  1. Finally, gently achieve the objective in any friendly networking experience: Get the name of the next person you need to talk with. Yes — this is another personal referral! You will likely get a chain of them. Follow it.

“Do you like working in this field? Before I think about making the leap, can you tell me what the management is like?”

“I’d like to learn more. Is there someone specific you’d recommend I talk with?”

Don’t forget to ask if it’s okay to say who suggested you get in touch.

This where personal referrals come from: talking shop with people who do the work you want to do, in the companies where you want to do it. Of course, not every discussion will lead where you’d like to go — to a hiring manager. But all you need is one successful exchange, one chain of personal referrals. Handle this with some poise, and every exchange you have will add to your list of professional friends. (See “A Good Network is A Circle of Friends” in How Can I Change Careers?, pp. 27-32.)

Sure beats filling out job applications and spamming “contacts” on LinkedIn.

These are just my suggestions about how to cultivate personal referrals to get a job. I hope to find loads more in the Comments section below!

Who would you approach to get on the path to a personal referral, and how would you say it? What has worked (and not worked!) for you?

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Zoom Job Interviews: Dress to dodge a bullet

Zoom Job Interviews: Dress to dodge a bullet

Question

What is the dress code for men on job interviews, whether live or Zoom? Some people say you can never go wrong overdressing, others say you don’t want to look stodgy. One friend always wears a sports jacket with a button down shirt, no tie.

Recent history: I had a Zoom interview with a manufacturing company and I dressed like my friend suggested. For a media firm where nobody on LinkedIn looked a day over 28, I wore a button down shirt, no jacket.

Tomorrow I have a 3rd interview with a large warehousing company (1st two were via phone) and want to get it right for this and other situations. Is a suit with a tie good? Sport jacket with a tie? Jacket but no tie? Looking for a default option. (Note: CEO of this company is wearing a suit on LinkedIn, other people are a mixture between suits and sport jackets with no tie.)

Thank you for any insights you can provide.

Nick’s Reply

zoom job interviewsHow you dress for a job interview in-person or online can have a big effect, though not just for the reasons you think. What you wear might help you dodge a bullet! But first let’s address the obvious: How to suss out the right way to dress.

Zoom job interviews

This is a tough question because there’s (1) little history about Zoom job interviews to go on and, (2) you have almost no idea how the interviewer will be dressed. So it’s a crapshoot!

You could check the interviewer’s LinkedIn photo prior to the meeting — if you can identify the interviewer in advance. Even so, I would not guess at the interviewer’s garb based on how they’re dressed in their LinkedIn photo. Many hire an “expert” to design their LinkedIn page and, if they’re execs, the expert tends to go high — suit and tie for men and suit or severe garb for women.

Not matter how you cut this, the fact is that we’re doing it online. Many people are working at home. Only the top half of both parties is visible, so for all either of you know, beneath the camera you’re both in your underwear. So the question is, what standard should you use to decide?

Ante up, raise the garb

My advice for in-person interviews is to ante up and raise the bet. That is, match, or dress half a notch above, the interviewer, mostly as a show of respect. They expect you to be putting your best foot forward. For a manager who seems to wear suits to work, I’d wear a suit. For a manager in a sport coat, I’d wear the same and perhaps add a tie. I’d one-up the manager in a well-pressed shirt by adding a low-key sport coat. Do they seem to wear t-shirts or sweats? Then show them a clean, collared shirt. If they’re out-and-out slobs, I’d dress down without sinking to their level.

In my experience, good managers expect job candidates to try and impress — not only with what they can do, but in how they look. (If the job is writing code alone under a naked lightbulb, all bets are off.)

Having said all that, never dress in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or not like yourself. More about this in a minute.

Reconnaissance

If the company is nearby, go visit the facility, if only to request some product literature. (Yes, companies still produce stuff in print!) Don’t laugh. I’ve seen this make a difference again and again. Linger if you can and look around without appearing suspicious. If you can’t get in, park yourself nearby and observe what people are wearing when they leave work. Yup, this involves a bit of reconnaissance. Find photos and videos online, perhaps of employee gatherings and events, and of managers giving talks or interviews. It’s amazing what you can turn up via Google. This will give you some basic ideas.

Does your garb really matter? It does. Like it or not, people judge books by their covers.

Zoom Interviews

For a Zoom call, I like to go to the middle, especially if your recon turned up nothing useful. For an office job, I’d wear a nice shirt (or blouse) in a solid color. Guys should pick shirts with a good collar. In Zoom we see only your top half. They know you’re at home, right? So even a stiff exec talking to you isn’t likely to expect you’ll be in a suit at home (I hope!). For other than an office job, wear a clean shirt of the type employees would wear on the job.

I’d never recommend a suit and tie or even a sports coat on a Zoom call, unless that’s really what you wear in your home office. Some interviewers might reject me, but I’d reject them first — they probably have a driver that takes them around the block and back home to work at their own house. I mean, anybody, and I mean anybody, that expects you to play dress-up at home is a weirdo.

A young interviewer, who may dress more casually, isn’t going to see you as stiff because you’re wearing a nice shirt. A manager in a suit or jacket and tie isn’t going to view you as underdressed at home. Make sense?

Dodge a bullet!

Now let’s talk about how your attire will help you dodge a bullet. Those clothes can keep you out of trouble!

If you’re in just a nice shirt and either a sartorially expert exec or a young interviewer in a t-shirt rejects you — well, it’s time to move on to the next employer. If that’s how they’re judging you, why would you want to work there? You may have just dodged a bullet!

If you try to be someone you’re not, they’re going to expect someone you’re not to show up to work every day — and you’ll be miserable. It is impossible to keep up a phony interview façade after you’re hired, whether it’s your attire or the “personality” you put on.

Get past the clothes

There’s only one best way to get the hiring manager past what you look like. Make sure your ability to demonstrate how you’ll drop more profit to the bottom line is so solid that they won’t even remember what you were wearing! I wouldn’t worry too much about suits, jackets and shirts if you’ve got your message down. This may help:  Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.

I wish you the best!

Do you dress for success? What do you wear for Zoom interviews? What’s your sartorial rule when you interview in person? Have Zoom interviews and work-at-home changed all job interviews?


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Are college degree requirements unreasonable?

Are college degree requirements unreasonable?

Special Video Edition

Do employers shoot themselves in the foot when they require college degrees, especially for jobs that don’t seem to warrant them? In today’s job market, is it reasonable for an employer to treat a college degree as an indicator of ability to do a job? Or is this people filter just an inadequate proxy for more effective candidate assessment methods?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these questions. But first, a video to provoke you.

Do college degree requirements promote better hiring?

college degree requirementsWe’ve discussed the college degree requirement in hiring and getting a job many times in this column. Recently, my good buddy Paul Solman did a segment about the subject on PBS NewsHour: Jobs requiring college degrees disqualify most U.S. workers — especially workers of color. You can watch the segment below, or read the transcript. Yours truly appears briefly at around 3:40.

My contribution to Solman’s story is that perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into the keywords “college degree required.” In general — even if a job really would benefit from a degree — the degree requirement is often just another way for employers to filter what comes out of the digital fire hose of job applicants. In other words, if you don’t have the degree, ignore the requirement, because it serves more to reject you than to select viable candidates.

Pursue the opportunity anyway but, of course, use the methods we discuss here. That is, read the job posting, then don’t apply at all. Instead of meeting the keyword monster in the applicant tracking system (ATS), approach the hiring manager through a trusted contact. In spite of a degree requirement, the manager may conclude your abilities and acumen are sufficient to hire you. The keyword monster will merely spit you out.

In this segment Paul Solman takes another approach on the matter of college degree requirements. He asks, Do they unreasonably filter out good candidates? Do people seeking better-paying jobs really need a degree to get ahead?

Questions for you

I’d like to hear your thoughts and reactions on this NewsHour story.

  1. In today’s economy, when employers can’t fill jobs, would they do better to eliminate college degree requirements?
  2. Is vocational training or certification sufficient for an entire career?
  3. Will the people interviewed in the segment — who all work in computer software — eventually have to get degrees if they want to move up?
  4. Is Solman’s message valid for welders, pipe-fitters, baristas and bricklayers?
  5. Has the college degree become just another keyword to aid in rejecting job applicants?
  6. What do you make of the assertion that un-degreed workers earn 13% less over a lifetime, while those with a degree earn 13% more?
  7. For those that want to earn as much as degreed people without getting a degree, are there enough such jobs?
  8. What do you think of the comments about the value of college degrees offered by the philosopher toward the end of the segment?
  9. If you have a college degree and have been working for some time, do you think your degree has been essential to your career success and income?
  10. If you don’t have a degree but do have vocational training and are successful at work, do you think at some point your lack of a degree will hurt your career prospects and income?

Questions for employers

Another buddy of mine, Peter Cappelli, is a labor and employment researcher at the Wharton School. His research suggests one of the key reasons employers have difficulty filling jobs is that over the years they’ve dramatically reduced or stopped providing employee training and education.

  • If you’re an employer, how do you respond to Cappelli’s findings?
  • Can on-the-job training and development substitute for a college degree?

Where does this leave us? How does — or should — education fit into a successful career and earning a good salary? How many more questions like these could you possibly consider after reading this column?

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Why getting a job is all about “who you know”

Why getting a job is all about “who you know”

Question

You preach that most jobs are found through personal contacts. There is no way to pursue as many job opportunities via contacts as by applying for jobs online. Maybe it takes a thousand applications on Indeed and LinkedIn, but that’s automation at work. Meanwhile, there’s no way to get 1,000 job opportunities through 1,000 contacts when you’re looking for a job. It’s an odds game any way you look at it. So deny that and tell me why I’m wrong, please.

Nick’s Reply

who you knowIn an economy where employers are struggling to find workers among millions in all the online databases, there’s a premium on automation. There are so many resumes, profiles and applications to sort through! When a task is as repetitive as reviewing job applications, especially when human time and effort are so expensive, it’s always better to let automation do the job. Isn’t it?

While “Automate it!” has become a business mantra in HR, not every business objective is served by automation. Just because databases can deliver more job listings and more job applicants doesn’t mean “more is better.” Some things require a personal approach.

We have long discussed the failure of automated tools for job hunting and hiring. It’s worth considering why personal contacts – which are the source of 40%-70% of new jobs and new hires – work so much better. It’s partly because less is better.

Personal contacts are active.

The job boards are passive and impersonal. One job hunter will wait until a database matches their “keywords” to a job description. Another – an active job hunter – won’t wait. They will use personal contacts to get introduced to a manager directly.

Guess who gets the manager’s attention first?

“Who you know” is a good filtering mechanism.

Job boards and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes) are lousy “people filters” because they’re bit buckets. That is, they sort ASCII characters, not character. Managers put a premium on the personal endorsement of a candidate by a professional friend or associate. Why?

It’s a matter of trust. The word of a professional contact is much more reliable than a resume that came from an impersonal database. Managers don’t like to take chances.

Personal contacts yield more highly motivated people.

It takes no motivation to apply for the nth job on a job board, and job boards don’t measure anyone’s interest in a particular job. (Wow — when will HR realize this while it advertises for truly motivated applicants?) Instead, these databases deliver all “matches.”

A candidate who makes the effort to develop a personal contact with the right manager is almost always more interested and motivated than most online applicants. Guess who is more likely to get an interview? (When will HR realize that a referral from a trusted contact saves time and cost — because it comes with a credible, built-in reference?)

Personal contacts anticipate job openings and good candidates.

By the time a job (or resume) is posted, the game is over. The only way to find out about a job before the teeming hordes apply for it is to have a good inside contact that tips you off before the job is advertised.

Likewise, the best way to hire a great candidate is to know about them before they start looking for a new job. Only personal contacts yield hidden opportunities. Well, headhunters do, too — for big, fat search fees.

Personal contacts can’t be automated. They require time and effort, personal attention, good judgment, motivation, and the ability to anticipate events before they happen. Who you know — and who knows you — matters. That’s why most jobs are filled through personal contacts.

How much time and effort do you invest in personal contacts? Do you agree that it’s all about “who you know?”

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Guess who can get you a job interview in just 20 minutes?

Guess who can get you a job interview in just 20 minutes?

Question

This week’s question is not a question. It’s a lesson from a subscriber about getting a job interview, so I’m going to highlight it differently than normal. Hope you find this real-world “how to get in the door” approach helpful. I can attest that it works because I’ve coached many successful job seekers on how to use it. It’s so fundamental and powerful a social tool that I’ve also taught employers how to apply the same basic method when they are recruiting. But let’s let this subscriber explain it! – Nick

How I got in the door

I’ve learned that Ask The Headhunter is not a road map but a philosophy that helps you take the lead in the hiring process. The job hunter who is in control does not jump in and act presumptuously. Instead, he just takes the lead, allowing others to play their parts.

The path to the job interview

Below is an actual letter that I sent to a contact at a company where I’d like to work. I got this person’s name out of the local business fish wrap.

Dear Mr. Big (alias),

job interviewI’ve been following your company’s activities. I read the XXX article in YYY fish wrap weekly. I would like to learn more and I am contacting you because you were cited in the article.

Let me explain the purpose of this letter. I am currently talking to knowledgeable professionals like you to better understand how I might fit into your industry. Managing the day-to-day operations of a technical service organization such as yours is what I do best.

I would greatly appreciate 20 minutes of your time. Let me be perfectly clear that I do not expect you to have or know of any job openings. I am strictly on an information-gathering mission, talking with people who currently work in my target industry. I assure you that I will be prepared and take up no more than the 20 minutes I asked for.

I will call you Friday morning around 8:00 AM to set up an appointment at your convenience.

How to meet who owns the jobs

I sent this letter on Tuesday, called on Friday and got an appointment for the next week! I had my meeting. This particular individual was a sales manager for the region. But, I’m not interested in getting a job in sales. I’m a technical guy. I explained to the sales guy that I wanted to talk to him because “sales has the pulse of the entire organization.” Which is true, plus, people in sales love to talk. And talk he did.

The end result is that I ended up with referrals including the names and phone numbers of two IT managers and the regional director of operations.

How to do it painlessly

I learned that the keys to getting informational meetings are:

  1. Ask for information only!
  2. Tell people up front that you don’t expect them to have or know of any job openings.
  3. Ask for 20 minutes.
  4. Tell them you’ll be prepared. Remember axiom #1 of the Ask The Headhunter approach to job search: The best way to get a job is not to ask for one.
  5. You will turn up the names of managers to meet with through research, not by asking HR.

Start on the periphery of your list. Don’t approach the guy you actually want to work for too early. Use the “second stringers” to get information. When you do get to your target, you’ll be totally prepared to do The New Interview.

Nick’s Reply

Good stuff! I love to see the methods we discuss put to use. I tire of people that tell me they have no contacts at a company, or don’t know whom to call, or that HR is the only way in the door.

Your method of identifying an employee to call by reading business publications is one I’ve taught in workshops. It works!

Work your way toward the job interview

Perhaps one of the most important points you make is to start on the periphery – it’s the “second stringers” who give you the ammo you need when you get to the Big Boss. (I refer to this elsewhere as triangulating to get in the door.) That’s also where you can experiment a bit with your approach and tune your presentation, and – of course – learn a whole lot!

It seems you ferreted out the phone number of the person you wrote to. When you don’t have that number, you’d of course say instead, “If you will kindly provide a number and time when we can talk for 20 minutes, I’ll call you then.”

Who can get you in the door?

Your story also points out that patience is key. The person who can get you in the door is likely someone you don’t know yet. If you did anything unusual, it’s that you invested the time to identify a relevant person in the business press.

Job hunters who are always in a hurry won’t get this: there may be no job and no match at the end of this process at this company. But even so, you will make some excellent contacts who can help you with the next company you target. There is unfortunately a strong, almost uncontrollable tendency in most people to turn that meeting into a job interview – and that’s how they blow it.

Congrats on getting in the door. Double congrats for carefully picking your quarry, both the company and the person you called. And thanks again for sharing your story.

The lesson

To other subscribers, I think this reader’s experience teaches an important lesson, in the form of a question. Who can get you into a job interview in just 20 minutes? I believe getting a shot at the best job requires that you work out the answer to that question. In fact, I think that may be the single most important task in job hunting.

How do you get in the door in today’s insane job market, which is dominated by digital roadblocks and robotic HR screeners? Have you ever started at the periphery like this reader did? How do you identify the person you need to talk to?

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What’s your jobs question for 2022?

What’s your jobs question for 2022?

More Qs for Q&A

There’s no single Q&A this week. Everyone gets to ask their jobs question — or questions! This special edition is devoted to questions you’ve never asked, or questions we’ve discussed in the past that will take on a new spin in 2022’s economy and world.

SPECIAL EDITION

I’ve been publishing the free weekly Ask The Headhunter Newsletter since 2002. We’re nearing 900 editions — 900 of your Qs, my As, and our dialogue about job hunting, recruiting, hiring and success at work answered in the newsletter and discussed on the website. That’s just the Q&As I’ve published here. Counting questions I’ve answered on all Ask The Headhunter online discussion forums since 1995, the total is upwards of 50,000.

These forums include Prodigy (where ATH started), America Online, The Motley Fool, Electronic Engineering Times, Infoworld, Yahoo!, DICE, PBS NewsHour, Adobe Systems’ CMO.com, JobDig, TechRepublic, PeopleScape, Seattle Times, Universal Press Syndicate, Informationweek and more. This doesn’t include hundreds of live Ask The Headhunter Q&A events where I have answered questions in-person and face-to-face, or webinars and teleconferences.

What jobs question is on your mind?

jobs questionI’m starting to plan next year’s editorial calendar for 2022. For almost 20 years, loads of newsletter subscribers and online readers have been sending me great questions every week. Keep ‘em coming!

But I’d also like to try something different.

I’d like to devote this newsletter to new questions, challenges and issues we can expand upon in the newsletter next year. Please use the Comments section below to ask anything you’d like. (This doesn’t mean you should wait until next year to respond to any questions posted on this thread!)

In 2022, I’ll keep taking questions you submit to me by e-mail, but I’ll also address the best ones you post in the Comments on this week’s column. I need your help to get a handle on what will matter most in 2022.

Problems & Challenges in 2022

Ask The Headhunter isn’t about topics I want to talk about. It’s about issues in employment that concern you. So, please take a few minutes to consider the problems and challenges you expect to face next year. Let’s not wait until 2022 hits us!

Consider what’s troubling you about your employment, what worries you about 2022. Ask the questions on your mind about job search, resumes, recruiters, interviewing, negotiating offers, applicant tracking systems, video interviews, ghosting, HR, leaving your old job, the job market and the employment system as a whole. And have at it! In-your-face question are welcome — in fact, they’re the best!

As always, please avoid political subjects and agendas. Let’s “stick to the knitting” — job hunting, recruiting, hiring and success at work.

I can’t wait to see your questions! What do you want to talk about?

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Why do you apply for jobs that don’t disclose salary?

Why do you apply for jobs that don’t disclose salary?

 Question

What about companies that don’t disclose salary on job postings? I’ve wasted huge amounts of time applying for jobs that fit me, only to find out after several interviews that the pay is not high enough! If you ask me, that’s false advertising. Do any companies list salaries in job ads?

Nick’s Reply

disclose salaryWhile employers demand to know all your salary information prior to an interview, they don’t disclose the salaries of jobs they post. They want you to apply blindly, hoping to snag you into rationalizing lower pay after you’ve invested hours filling out forms and interviewing. (This is the old “foot-in-the-door” sales method.)

Get ready to negotiate

I think there has never been a better time or a better job market for job seekers to exercise their negotiating leverage to get exceptional salaries — and to get the information they need before they apply. If you’re a good candidate for a job, now is the time to negotiate assertively for more money and other desirable terms of employment.

Few companies disclose salary in job postings

It turns out only about 12% of all job postings tell you what a job pays, according to an analysis done by Emsi Burning Glass and reported by SHRM. In today’s economy, that’s a recruiting scam of epic proportions. As a job seeker, you need to consider how much you sacrifice when you go blindly into a job interview.

While it’s up to each job seeker to decide what information they absolutely need before applying for a job, all should bear in mind that we are unequivocally in a job seeker’s market. Employers are literally dying — going out of business — because they can’t hire the workers they need. This puts you in a very powerful negotiating position.

Ask first, apply later

Do we need a law? Even with 11 million jobs vacant, only 12% of job postings include pay information. Are employers hiding salaries because they’re so low? Do we need a salary disclosure law?
My advice: Insist on knowing the salary for a job before you apply. I would not necessarily skip over an interesting posting because it doesn’t list salary. If the job is otherwise worth your time to apply, then it’s worth the extra time to contact the employer directly and ask what the salary range is.

If they won’t tell you, I’d seriously consider moving on — after explaining to them that you will not apply without knowing first what the job pays.

You can ignore my advice, but my prediction is that you’ll waste a lot of time and experience a lot of frustration. If you push back, however, you’ll get salary information some of the time — and those are the companies worth engaging with.

The job market lets you be bold

It’s such a job seeker’s market that a bold applicant can go another step and use the foot-in-the-door approach for their own benefit.

Once you know the salary, at the end of your first interview (assuming you’re still interested in an offer), ask what the last person in that job was paid and how much others on the team are paid. If you’ve already impressed an employer that can’t afford to lose another good candidate, you just might get the information and improve your negotiating position further.

I’ll repeat again: We are in a job-seeker’s market and you should not discount your negotiating leverage. Do it professionally and gently, but do it firmly: Don’t be afraid to make reasonable demands. There has never been a better time for the best talent to get the best salary deals.

How to Say It

If employers push back at your request for salary information, educate them. Here are some suggestions about how to say it:

  • “Why would I share my salary information if you won’t tell me what the job pays?”
  • “Do you really want to invest hours in interviews only to learn your job is not in my required pay range?”
  • “I know you prefer honest, candid job applicants. I prefer honest, candid employers. What’s the pay?”
  • “If I can’t demonstrate to you how I’m worth the salary we’ve discussed, then you shouldn’t hire me.”

These are pretty assertive examples. Tune the wording to suit your own style.

Everything has changed

Employers can get ahead of the curve by disclosing salaries with every job posting. I think they’re fools if they don’t. It’s time to drop the attitude that they don’t want to over-pay someone who might take a job for less, or that publishing salaries will give their competitors an edge.

Colorado now requires job postings to include pay information, according to SHRM. California and Maryland require the employer to disclose wage ranges when job applicants ask. More employers are including pay information on job postings, but their numbers are still paltry — under 20% in most sectors.

This means it’s up to job seekers. Everything has changed. As more employers realize what it means that 11 million jobs are vacant, we’re going to find the playing field is on a new level. Don’t sell yourself short. Seriously consider applying only for jobs for which you have pay information — even if you have to inquire to get it.

Did you know the salary of the last job you applied for? Have you ever asked what a job pays before you applied? At what point do you consider it crucial to know what the pay is? Would you walk away from a job whose salary you don’t know?

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