Networking Magic: Help someone get a job

Networking Magic: Help someone get a job

Question

help someone get a jobI’m a regular reader. Most of the articles are about “How do I get a job?” How about one that talks about “How do I help someone else get a job?”

This just happened last week. I told a former co-worker that I would give him a recommendation. I was happy to do it because the company we worked at was bad, and he was a very professional guy. He told me a staffing firm would be calling, so I was ready.

The young recruiter asked me some typical questions like, “What tools does he use? Does he use Power BI?” These questions were mostly irrelevant to the job requirements. The recruiter was just checking off boxes on a form.

I interrupted. “What you need to know is that this guy can go into any job, figure out what needs to be done, and do it without being told. I saw it.”

The recruiter said, “Really? Oh, hold on, let me write that down.” I took him off his script, and I think I helped my guy out.

Because isn’t that what every staffing service wants? Someone who just walks in, does the job, and makes the staffing service look good? A recruiter asking for a recommendation may not realize it, so you just have to work with them a little to make them realize it.

I’ll bet the readership could come up with lots of examples of how to help someone else out.

Nick’s Reply

When I suggest to people that they turn to their professional contacts when they want a new job, many lament that they don’t really have any. “I don’t know anybody!” You just showed how to make such contacts in what might be viewed as an usual way: by helping someone else get a job.

Personal referrals start with you

We all know that most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Yet we spend too much if not most of our time applying online via forms and clicks. Or, we wait for recruiters to spam us with unspecified “opportunities.” That’s a million miles from the nearest personal contact — and the nearest good job.

I learned long ago that even in the most volatile markets the best companies are quietly hiring — through personal referrals. But people misunderstand the personal referral. It doesn’t mean taking your friend’s resume to your HR department or passing it to your boss. It means sticking your neck out for someone like you’d want them to do for you.

Break the script when making a recommendation

Your story is not unusual but it’s instructive because you took the initiative to do more than answer a recruiter’s questions. You broke the recruiter’s standard script. Those scripts are designed to gather data points the company can process to judge whether a person is worth interviewing and hiring.

But you did the “processing” for the recruiter. You interrupted and gave the recruiter the answer: “This person is worth hiring. I saw it with my own eyes.” You made your recommendation personal to that recruiter. You stuck your neck out. That moved your buddy to the front of the hiring line.

Tap into a new network: help someone get a job

Sometimes we get so wrapped up trying to get ourselves a job that we forget where jobs come from: one another. Applying to a job posted online does not produce good will, or reciprocity, or personal recommendations. Helping someone else get a job does. It’s a far better investment.

That’s not to say you should help someone get a job just so they’ll help you get a job. My point is that helping others is a shared experience that fosters sharing help.

People are often confused about what good networking is and how to do it. Shared experiences are the most powerful component of good networking. In your case, your buddy just had a great experience with you. Now your network bond is stronger. The recruiter you spoke with had a very valuable experience with you and will think of you when looking for more good candidates — not just referrals, but perhaps to place you.

If you call your buddy or the recruiter in a few months and tell them you’re looking to make a change, do you think they might be the personal referral that gets you your next job? Or would you rather “network” with a stranger on LinkedIn with whom you’ve got no shared experiences?

Help: Be a network hub

When I started headhunting engineers in Silicon Valley I didn’t know anyone. I asked the senior guy in the office what I should do to be successful. “Spend every dime you can to take engineers to lunch. Get to know them. Make friends. Then introduce the best to one another. Do them that favor, then keep doing it.”

This pivotal practice made me the hub of an ever widening engineering network. I made many introductions that didn’t yield any placement fees. But most of those introductions were shared experiences that created trust and built many solid relationships. When I called these engineers for personal referrals to help me fill assignments I was working on, do you think they trusted me to share their best contacts? Do you think they put in a good word for me?

Don’t know anybody that can help you get a new job? Help somebody else fill a job or get a job by sticking your neck out, by breaking the script, and creating an unexpected shared experience. That’s how to tap into a new network. That’s what creates new and valuable personal contacts for you, too.

How have you helped someone get a job? How did you go the extra mile? How did you “say it” when you made a successful personal referral? Did it pay off indirectly for you? Has anyone ever made a special effort to help you get a job?

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How I negotiate a good job offer

How I negotiate a good job offer

Question

Last week you taught us how to negotiate. But, how do you do it for your candidates? How do you make sure they get the best offers possible? I realize it’s probably different because you’re “the middle man,” but I just want to see what I can learn from how you do it.

Nick’s Reply

good job offerA headhunter is paid by an employer (the client) to find and deliver the best candidates for a job. That creates a fiduciary duty. However, I still have a duty to my job candidates. Lots of headhunters fall prey to the misconception that they’re in the full employ of their clients; that they owe the client all information about the candidates; and that given a choice whether to serve the client’s or candidate’s interests, the client always comes first. I think that’s a mistake. The headhunter’s job is to balance the two and do right by both: get a good candidate for the employer and a good job offer for the candidate.

Where a good job offer comes from

I’ve placed candidates with my clients for enormous salary increases by not disclosing the candidate’s current salary. All that matters is that I know both parties are in the same salary ballpark. Why would I want the candidate’s old salary to be the anchor point for negotiations? While I want my client to get a great employee for a fair price so the client will be happy and give me more assignments, I also want the person I place to be happy — and a good source of more candidate referrals! The key, of course, is that the candidate must be worth it.

Therefore, as a sort of mediator, I do my best to juggle information judiciously for everyone’s benefit. I never lie, but I may withhold information that I believe could unreasonably jeopardize the chances of a good match. In the end, the employer and the candidate always make the choice about a job offer. My job is to help them do it.

My favorite negotiating experience was some time ago, when high five-figure compensation packages were not common. A very talented man — let’s call him Alan — was working for a big financial publisher. Alan was bored and, though he didn’t fully realize it, quite underpaid. I asked how much it would take for him to make a move if he liked a job I presented. He gave me a salary range. I’ll tell you what it was shortly.

Make a great match before the interview

My client, a financial services company, needed someone to manage content for their nascent (at the time) website. The salary range on the job was between $65,000-$70,000 — a lot of money at the time.

I discussed Alan with them and mapped his skills, experience and credentials to the objectives of the job. When they asked his current salary, I said, “Well, you need A, B and C done in this job, right? So, when you interview him, satisfy yourselves that he can do A, B and C. But then, also ask him about D, E and F which, though I know is not part of this job, could be very valuable to you, too.”

Then I set the anchor — the point from which we would negotiate: “I’m not going to disclose what he’s making now. What really matters is that he can do all we’ve discussed. That’s why his desired salary range is between $70,000-$75,000.”

I made certain they would consider going higher than their budget for an exceptional match.

Control the information

Only I knew what both sides wanted. I never play games with the question about the ballpark. I don’t like wasting anyone’s time — especially mine! We were in the ballpark.

It’s not just about the salary
“It’s imprudent to take a job without knowing ‘the rest of the story.’ Politely insist on meeting your future boss and the team, as well as others that you will interface with on the job. This includes people who will work directly with you, people who work upstream and downstream from your job, and people in other departments who will influence your ability to succeed at your job.”
From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, pp. 31-33

They interviewed Alan and he wowed everyone. I let him know their reaction.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m going to discuss an offer with them. Now I need your permission to negotiate for you. If I can get at least as much as you said you want, can I tell them you’ll take the job? This gives me huge negotiating leverage because it eliminates uncertainty. Okay if I do that?”

Alan enthusiastically said that if they made an offer like that, I could tell them he would accept.

My client asked what I thought it would take to get Alan on board. What they were really asking was, how much will get us all to YES without further ado? I suggested $77,000.

“For a bit more than we originally discussed, you’re showing him how impressed you really are, and that you really want him. If you offer $77,000, I can assure you he’ll accept and be very highly motivated to start the job. No need for further discussion.”

Cause for joy

They made the offer at $77,000. When I conveyed it to Alan, he was shocked and overjoyed. He accepted on the spot. A year later he and his wife thanked me for getting them the down payment for a new house. (One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is changing people’s lives for the better.)

The company’s joy was more practical. They were accustomed to protracted salary negotiations that didn’t always go well. They often had to move on to their second-best candidate. They were happy to get their first choice and relieved there were no surprises. They knew from the start, within a few dollars, what it would cost to fill a key job with the right person. And the day Alan reported for work, the hiring manager could plainly see this guy was pleased and highly motivated to start the job.

A good match makes a good job offer

When I first asked Alan what it would take to entice him to move, he said very firmly, “I’d like to get between $50,000-$55,000.” All I told him was that we were in the right ballpark. If I had told him the actual range for the job, it was possible he’d panic and question his abilities and the demands of the position as reflected in the high salary. I don’t think he would have interviewed as confidently.

My client to this day doesn’t know Alan’s prior salary: $44,000. He started the new job enthusiastically with a 75% increase over what he had been making. He immediately demonstrated he was a stellar performer. My client felt they had scored big. And the truth is, they had, because I could have placed him with their competitor for about as much. He was worth it.

I knew I had a good match from the start. I knew what the client needed. I found a candidate who could deliver it and more. I made the match for a salary the employer felt was fair. And I got Alan a very good job offer that reflected his actual value.

What headhunters get paid for

The lesson here is not that yours truly is a brilliant negotiator. What I did was very simple, and it started with the most important factor in any negotiation for a job: You must know what the employer needs and will pay for, and you must know that your candidate can do it.

This is what the headhunter earns a big fee for: arranging a good match before the two parties meet. This is why the best headhunters have a much higher success rate than job hunters and employers do on their own. We get paid to avoid the huge failure rates of job ads, resumes, job boards, applicant tracking systems and HR departments. We make sure all candidates we submit for a position are very likely to be hired.

The next factor is, Control the information.

This doesn’t mean manipulate everyone. It means my goal is to help both parties avoid crashing the deal because they’re distracted by the wrong issues. I want them to focus on whether there’s a good match first — not on money. This is why I settle the question about money in advance. Roughly how much will each side be happy with?

Then I cut money out of the process until we confirm the match. As long as I know everyone’s in the same ballpark, and exactly what it would take for each party to make a deal, they don’t need to know everything. This lets them focus on the match.

The final factor is joy. Yup — joy. I want my candidate and my client to feel joy at making a good match at a price that we already know they’ll be very happy with. If everyone is happy and feels they got a good deal, I get more search assignments from my client and more candidate referrals from the candidate I just placed. That gives me joy!

You’re not a headhunter, but…

What does this mean to you when you negotiate? You’re not a headhunter or intermediary, but you can negotiate a good job offer like a headhunter if you consider these three rules that keep everyone focused on making a good deal:

Interview only for jobs that you know are a great match. This is absolutely key. It means investing the time to understand exactly what an employer needs and being ready to show you can do the job, right there in the interview. Don’t waste your time on lots of jobs just because there are millions on the Internet. More is not better! Interview only for the right jobs and your offer rate will go way up.

Control the information. Don’t disclose your salary history. Do find out what the salary range for the job is before you apply or interview. If it isn’t in your ballpark, walk away. Know what you want and stick to it. Don’t talk yourself into interviews where you think you “might be able to get them to go higher.”

Deliver joy. Yah, I know that sounds like mushy marketing talk. Do you think the object of your affections would agree to marry you if you didn’t create joy between you? You’ll negotiate the best offer if you can show the employer that you’re who they’ve been waiting for. Do what the headhunter does: Make sure there’s a good match before the interview happens. Surprise the employer by being the candidate who’s worth the money!

You can’t really negotiate like a headhunter because, as you point out, you’re not an intermediary. But you’ll be able to negotiate the best offers possible if you can demonstrate you’re the best possible job candidate. This means you cannot apply for loads of jobs just because some high-failure-rate job board lets you. More is not better!

What parts of my method of negotiating a good job offer could you put to good use? Do you have any techniques you’ve used to optimize job offers? Or, how have you blundered during a job offer negotiation? What else would you like to know about making a good match and a good offer?

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Salary Negotiation: How much to ask for

Salary Negotiation: How much to ask for

Question

salary negotiationWe’re told that whoever mentions a number first in a salary negotiation loses. When employers also demand to know our current salary, that just makes matters worse. So what are we supposed to do in a job interview when this comes up? How do we know how much to ask for and when to do it?

Nick’s Reply

This question came up in a Zoom workshop I did today for about 50 job seekers in a professional group in New Jersey. It triggered a wild discussion. It was great! And I think it’s worth having our own discussion about this important topic here.

I’ll start!

The silly salary negotiation myth

The myth that “whoever says a number first in a salary negotiation loses” has become penny-ante advice served by self-anointed negotiation experts and career coaches who feel safe telling you “it’s best not to say or do anything!”

That’s bunk. Researchers in behavioral economics give us clear guidance from their work on the anchor effect. To wit:

“A well-known cognitive bias in negotiation, anchoring is the tendency to give too much weight to the first number put on the table and then inadequately adjust from that starting point…”

What this essentially tells us is that whoever puts the first number out there can effectively control the final number agreed upon. That Harvard Law School reference isn’t much fun to read. If you’re serious about negotiating, please study William Poundstone’s excellent (and very readable) Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It).

Then read Predictably Irrational by the brilliant behavioral economist Dan Ariely. Don’t fall victim to old wives’ (or husbands’) tales about who goes first. Who wins is who knows what they want and takes control of the negotiation immediately.

Why salary is called compensation

In the rush to negotiate the best deal possible, job hunters every day forget what they’re negotiating for. You’re not negotiating money. You’re negotiating the price of freedom to do the job without distraction.

The money and benefits a company bestows on you in exchange for your services should completely free you from worry about the demands of your personal life so that you can devote your time to, and focus your energy on, the work the employer needs you to do.

Literally speaking, a good job offer should “relieve, equalize or neutralize… pressure or stress” associated with any aspect of your life that might distract you from the job. That’s what compensation means.

It matters that you’re earning what you’re worth and that you’re earning all you can. But, a good job offer starts with a company taking care of your needs so you can take care of its needs. It ensures that the employer has a healthy worker. That’s the foundation of a good deal. And that’s why it’s called compensation. (A living wage is fundamental to commerce. It’s why I take the position that a healthy national minimum wage is so important.)

How to decide how much you want

So, how much salary, or pay, or compensation do you tell an employer you want?

Once we understand the anchor effect, we want to make our stated desired salary as high as possible — without jeopardizing a job offer altogether, if we can help it. We want to make our number the anchor for negotiating.

It’s important to have an idea of how much money you’re worth when considering a particular job. But, it’s also important to know how much you want. This is a very personal decision.

Few things are more painful than accepting an offer only to realize that you were wrong about what you really wanted. I have a simple method to help a job candidate understand what they want with regard to pay.

Consider the specific job at hand and ask yourself three questions, so that you’ll have three ascending figures to work with:

  1. What is the least amount of money I would accept to take this job?
  2. What kind of an offer would put a smile on my face and make me happy to take the job?
  3. How much money would make me jump up and down with glee, and make me want to start work tomorrow? (Caution: this last figure must be reasonable.)

Don’t take the job unless you can negotiate the offer to somewhere between (2) and (3). If an offer isn’t going to at least make you happy (2), it’s not worth accepting. If it doesn’t come close to making you jump with glee (3), the job probably won’t, either.

Express this number as a range so you’ll have wiggle room. You might even note to the employer that if you learn during your interviews that the actual job turns out to be materially more involved or demanding than what they expressed, then your range may change, too.

Finally, ask them whether that’s in their range, and whether they want to proceed with serious discussions about working together —- that is, a complete job interview. It’s actually best to point out that since you’ve disclosed what you want, you’d like to know what their salary range is for the job. But most employers won’t tell you.

Who wears the negotiating pants?

Employers could save themselves a lot of time and trouble by setting a realistic anchor when they post a job. They should post the salary range with it! Why is it a secret anyway? In my experience, most of them are surprisingly naïve. They believe they really might get a bargain because they’re such good negotiators! They’d do better to invest time with candidates that know the salary range in advance. That’s right: A smart employer will set the anchor point first!

Now for the put-on-your-big-boy-or-girl-pants. Two things.

First, if you’re afraid that naming a salary range will put you at risk of getting a lower offer than the employer is willing to pay, let me put your mind at ease. It is highly unlikely that the employer will hear your range and smirk to themselves, “Wow! What a fool! We were going to offer double that! We’ll save a ton!”

It doesn’t happen. At worst you might leave a few dollars on the table. Chump change compared to the salary. If  you want to wear the pants in a negotiation, take control of the terms immediately.

Second, the far greater risk is letting them set the anchor. That is, you state no range at all and then the employer makes a low offer after you have invested hours and hours talking with them. Now you’re forced to negotiate from a lower number.

Salary Negotiation: Know what you want and say it

If you don’t establish that anchor before the interviews start, don’t be surprised when the employer sets the anchor with the job offer. Oh, you can negotiate. But unless you are a truly stellar candidate, the final offer is not likely to be much higher.

Know what you want. Don’t be afraid to set the anchor. And be ready to hitch up your pants and walk away if the offer is not what you want — or more.

How do you negotiate compensation? At what point do you make clear what you want? What makes you walk away from an interview or a job offer? Has anyone ever told you it’s crass or unprofessional to bring money up “too soon?” Has an employer ever told you that “your concern about money reveals that you care more about money than about the job and our company?”

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Does Human Resources go too far?

Does Human Resources go too far?

Question

human resourcesI am so glad someone has finally called out the Human Resources (HR) department on its disrespect for job applicants. The sentiment seems to be that they can waste your time and keep you on hold indefinitely simply because — after all — a job hunter has nothing better to do. You’re unemployed (maybe) or in any event you have come to their company to be emotionally abused.

I am both surprised and appalled at companies that supposedly pride themselves on “great customer service” and then treat job applicants like simpletons. Don’t they realize those applicants are potential customers and can influence other potential customers and every other individual who will listen to the horror story of how poorly the applicant was treated by the company?

Sorry for venting, but I’ve got a few bones to pick. An HR manager just handed me a “dispute resolution agreement” that she requires me to sign before even considering me for a job. I am not questioning the legality of this screening method. I am asking your opinion of what type of company would demand this from an applicant even before an offer is made?

Then there are all the other types of corporate coercion that job seekers put up with, including credit checks, background checks, and other invasions of privacy, when no job offer has even been made. What happens to those credit reports and background summaries that companies require? This material stays on file. Who has access to it, and who is maintaining security?

If I am being hysterical needlessly, please let me know. In any event, I think it’s time someone addressed the invasion of privacy that applicants are subjected to.

Nick’s Reply

Gee, you’re opening a can of worms, aren’t you? My compliments. I’d love to hear from employers on this subject.

Human Resources screening job applicants

You raise good questions about Human Resources practices in screening job applicants. The problem is, companies will do all sorts of things to a job candidate if they’re permitted. As you point out, the poking and prodding is all the more bizarre because employers do it before even making a bona fide offer.

I can understand a “contingent offer,” where a company makes an offer first, and the checks and tests are done after the company has put its money where its mouth is. If the applicant declines the checks and tests, the offer is withdrawn. But to demand so much before offering anything is ludicrous — yet it’s done all the time. (Employers will explain that this approach saves them time and money. But what of the candidate’s privacy if an offer isn’t extended after the kimono is opened?)

Companies are relatively free (until someone stops them) to ask job applicants to do cartwheels, pee in a cup, submit to a background check, expose your credit record, or take a cut in pay for a new job. But the decision — really – is yours.

Question authority

What to do about all this? Question authority. Voice your opinion and decline whatever you don’t want to do. Perhaps more important, consider what it would be like to work for a company that wants you to sign a dispute resolution agreement in advance of a job interview. Why would you sign a “condition of employment” before you’ve seen the enticement of a job offer?

Are you worried about who will see your confidential credit report if you agree to release it, or the background check? Say so, and ask the company to sign an indemnification agreement stipulating what will happen if the company divulges your information to the wrong people. Talk to your attorney if necessary.

If a company can’t justify — to your satisfaction — a requirement of its applicant screening process, it’s your right and responsibility to walk.

Where do Human Resources screening practices come from?

The most honorable companies are doing nothing more than trying to protect themselves. You should do the same. In many cases you will find that the Human Resources department’s requirements are somewhat arbitrary and management has little idea what’s going on.

Why do employers do this stuff, especially in an economy where it’s hard to find and hire the right talent?

HR screening practices are often adopted from “advisory publications” that are circulated among companies by industry associations and “HR consultancies.” HR departments frequently adopt these without much consideration for their impact. I sometimes wonder how much an engineering or marketing department knows about the hurdles HR has set up for hard-to-find applicants. Do department managers realize they may be losing good candidates because of unreasonable and presumptuous application policies?

Talk to the decision maker, then decide

My advice is this: Make sure the decision maker — the person you would report to — understands what HR is doing and how you feel about it. The manager’s response will tell you whether HR’s presumptuous attitude is pervasive. But you may have to make a judgment and a choice. Then you can decide, do you go along, or do you walk? (Remember that if you go along, you may have to live with these people a long time.)

It’s important to note that not all HR people (and policies) are inconsiderate of job candidates. A good HR person will serve as an advocate of both the company’s interests and the candidate’s.

I’ll never forget the seasoned HR representative who stood up to make this very point in front of her company’s entire HR team in a workshop I was conducting. A junior HR rep had just upbraided me for saying essentially what I’ve written here. The seasoned HR person announced that in her 27 years on the job she never asked applicants to fill out forms in advance of an interview — even though failure to do so violated company policy. “It’s rude and it gives candidates the wrong message,” she said. “They are our guests and I treat them that way. If we need forms to be filled out, I do it after the interview process reveals mutual interest.”

Does HR have anything to say?

I don’t think you’re being hysterical at all. You’re calling HR out. Some HR folks may have good reasons for their application policies. My question is, do they really understand the implications of these policies out in the professional communities they recruit from? Especially in these times when employers cry they can’t get the talent they need?

I invite HR and other managers to comment.

Use your judgment before you agree to anything during the job application process. Keep your standards high and let others know you expect them to do the same. Avoid people and organizations that don’t.

[Note: This column appeared in different form in Fearless Job Hunting. It summarizes several complaints I’ve received from job seekers — and my advice remains the same.]

Have a story about how HR went too far when “screening” you for a job? Did you feel coerced? Did you give in? What was the outcome? What can job seekers do to get more respect from HR?

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How we find a job

How we find a job

Special Edition

find a jobEveryone in the advice business thinks their advice is pretty good, or why would they be doing it? (Well, never mind…) I think the advice I’ve been doling out for decades about how to find a job is solid and that it works. I base that on experience and on the outcomes I observe.

It certainly makes me feel good when a client or reader reports that my suggestions worked, but I’m even happier when they explain how they bent and shaped what they learned here to suit their needs to get the job they wanted.

That’s what I want to ask you about: How you use what you learn here from me and from one another. I got this idea from a member of our community.

How to find a job

Long-time reader Kevin Kane wrote a short article: Get Inspired: How to use Ask The Headhunter. It’s in the Guest Voices section. He discusses several key tips he’s used to win the jobs he wanted, and he suggests you consider these tips, too.

I love it when someone distills what I teach to make it easier to use. Like Kevin, I expect others in this community have “short versions” of what they’ve learned here that has worked for them — and that might be helpful to others.

Of course, I’m sure there are also ideas readers have picked up here that they tried and bombed! That’s just as important as learning about what worked. (And that’s why I often emphasize that no matter what I recommend, you must always use your own good judgment before you try it!)

How do you use Ask The Headhunter to find a job?

So, in this special edition of the newsletter, I’d like to ask you to share your own experiences and suggestions about how we find a job in this community: How do you use Ask The Headhunter?

  • What are some key ideas, tips and methods you’ve learned here that have worked well for you?
  • What have you tried that didn’t work out so well?
  • How have you altered and changed the advice here to suit your needs?

As you’ll see in his article, Kevin got an interesting reaction from a hiring manager after he used an Ask The Headhunter technique to “build a reputation” in the company before he even interviewed.

  • How have managers reacted to you when you’ve used one of the many unorthodox methods we discuss here? (I don’t expect these are all happy reports!)
  • How have HR departments reacted and what did you do in response?

It’s in your Comments

This all brings me around to why I’m asking you these questions. There are two reasons. One is that your answers will influence which ideas I emphasize going forward, and teach me how to do a better job helping job seekers and employers.

The other reason is that, after members of this community digest, critique and amend the advice in my columns, the best insights and advice on this website surface — in your Comments! I’m intensely proud of that. That’s why I think this can be a very important discussion. The collective wisdom in this community about how to find a job is the true value in this website.

So have at it. Please read Kevin Kane’s Get Inspired: How to use Ask The Headhunter, in the Guest Voices section. Then tell us, How do you use Ask The Headhunter to find a job? What lessons work best for you? Which ones don’t? How do you tweak what you learn here to make it better?

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Does interview order affect whether I get hired?

Does interview order affect whether I get hired?

Question

interview orderI’m a finalist for a position. I have already had a one-hour phone interview and a two-hour in-person interview. One more interview to go, and it will be four hours split among four people. I have a two-week window to choose from and wasn’t sure if I want to be one of the early ones, or one of the later ones. I think you could make a case for either. What’s your advice about how I can use interview order to get an edge?

Nick’s Reply

I have long contended that it’s not good hiring practice to interview too many job candidates, especially on the same day. The more people a manager interviews, the less likely the manager will be able to distinguish them, especially if the meetings occur all in one day. But your question is actually a good one because of how our memories work, and because memory affects the choices we make — including how managers select new hires.

Interview order and memory

In the study of human memory, there’s something called the serial position effect. Research has shown that when we memorize a long list of words, we tend to remember the very first ones (the primacy effect) and the last ones (recency effect) better than those in between.

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$2 billion company has no HR or IT departments! How is that possible?

Cognitive psychologists suspect this is true because we have two kinds of memory stores: long term and short term. Short term memory helps us remember words we saw most recently. Long term memory helps us remember words from longer ago — the first words from a list.

The mechanism is believed to work like this. We have more time to consign the earliest words to long term memory, so they’re more available for recall.  We remember the most recent ones because they’re still in short term memory. Words in the middle of the list are too recent to make it into long term memory and too “old” to still be in short term memory, so we tend forget them.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to apply the serial position effect to job interviews, but I think it presents a provocative choice to job applicants.

Can interview order help you stand out?

I think your slot in the interview schedule could be meaningful. But it’s not as simple as first and last candidates having the best chances of getting hired because, of course, there are so many factors at play. A candidate in the middle may interview brilliantly and thus be the most memorable, or if you are the last candidate and you royally bungle your interview the manager will remember to reject you! Or, an excellent early candidate may set the standard for all the rest and thus have an edge.

My answer about which day in a two-week schedule to select depends on too many unknowns. I’d pick a time that’s good for you and don’t worry about it. It’s far more important to focus on being ready to demonstrate how you’ll do the job in a way that truly gets the manager’s attention and makes you memorable. I think that’s the most reliable way to give yourself an edge.

Does when you interview really matter?

So, why did I bother discussing the serial position effect and then suggest it might not give you an advantage after all? It turns out there’s some provocative research specifically about this memory effect in hiring — and I want to know what other readers’ experiences have been and what everyone thinks!

Please read this brief Seattle Times article about whether interview order can give you an advantage in job interviews. Then let’s discuss whether it really matters and how.

Have you been hired because you were the first or the last? Given a choice, would you take the first interview slot or the last? Do you believe that when you’re in the middle interview schedule you’re less likely to be hired? Let’s hear your real-life experiences!

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Can I make it in my own consulting business?

Can I make it in my own consulting business?

Question

consultingThe post-COVID economy is a wake-up call. My full-time job could disappear any day. I’m not waiting around to find out when that will happen. I’ve decided to leave now and enter the world of consulting. How do I market my services cost-effectively? How do I find customers? I network through a professional society, and I’m considering putting out feelers with direct mail and phone calling, but I haven’t tried this yet. I’m also looking into hiring someone to do marketing for me. What do you think about this idea? I’m very good at what I do, but marketing isn’t my expertise. Think I can pull this off, Nick? Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

Nick’s Reply

You have identified the toughest problem in consulting: winning clients.

Start consulting by talking to friends

Your best marketing tool is your reputation. You need to learn how to leverage it by discussing your new business with potential clients — people you have worked with in the past who know the quality of your work. This is even better than networking through your professional society, which should nonetheless be part of your strategy.

You can further leverage existing contacts by getting personal referrals through your work associates: your co-workers, your current employer’s customers (don’t steal them — pick their brains), and the vendors you have worked with. These are the people you have depended on and who have depended on you. Go to them now.

Jump-start a consulting business

I’ll offer you one way to jump-start your new business that I’ve used successfully when launching new businesses. You’ll find a different version of this in Alan Weiss’s excellent book, Getting Started in Consulting.

A powerful marketing method is to poll managers you hope will give you consulting assignments — without asking for business. This is a kind of market research. Reach out first to companies and managers that know you. Explain that you’re considering going out on your own, and that you’d appreciate their advice and insights.

How to Say It
“I’m talking with a few managers I respect. I’d like just ten minutes of your time to answer three questions for me. (1) What kinds of work do you hire consultants to do? (2) What do you look for in consultants you hire? (3) What is the process a consultant has to follow to get your business?”

This is not quite a sales pitch, so don’t sell — not yet. Focus on requesting advice and insights. Use their answers to help you decide whether to make the leap. This approach has the added value of letting these managers know you may be available for assignments. If they are helpful, add this final question: “Is there any advice you’d give me about starting my own consulting business?” (Another is, “Can you suggest any managers or companies that might need services I’d be offering?”)

Getting advice vs. selling

Of course, these managers will read between the lines. They know you’re looking for clients. But you’re not putting them on the spot because you’re not pitching. It’s a fine line, so don’t cross it unless they invite you to. I find this approach tells me pretty quickly who my first prospects might be. Of course, some of these folks will not take the bait. Don’t force it! Thank them and move on to the next.

Beware of spending too much of your capital on third-party marketing services. They can blow through your budget very quickly. If you hire a marketer, make the compensation dependent on new sales. For a one-person consulting shop, the best marketers are really salespeople, and they earn commissions, not fees.

Earning seed capital vs. long-term marketing

The purpose of the polling method is to fund your new business with one or two purchase orders as quickly as possible. But it’s a rare newbie consultant that can keep building a business this way. Your next step is to begin the long, methodical process of establishing a presence and building a reputation.

Weiss offers suggestions about how to build a reputation, like writing specialized articles, doing speaking gigs, teaching, and many others. As an example, I wrote a book, and over a period of years it has yielded excellent results for my business. My book is the best business card I’ve ever had! It’s generated even more exposure as it led to radio, TV and other media appearances. The hidden message: The best promotion for your business takes time.

There’s no quick and easy way into consulting

Be careful about marketing by “putting out feelers” or by using mailings. You won’t be taken seriously. I get such junk mail all the time; I don’t even open it. Feelers are not serious attempts to get business. You must prove to a potential client that you can solve their problems and to do that you must show you know the person and their company. Junk mail proves you don’t know them.

I believe the best way to find new clients is to identify who you want to work for first. Determine what their problems are and be ready to outline how you would help make them more successful. This challenge is far more important than producing a resume or marketing materials that you broadcast widely. You’re more likely to win desirable business if you go after the right clients to begin with.

You’ve got a tough road, but it can be satisfying and lucrative if you keep your wits about you and don’t expect the world all at once. The main reason new consultancies fail is because once they’ve got a project or two going, they stop marketing and there’s no “next project” when the previous one ends. Watch your war chest; make it last. And when the wins come in, leverage them for more business. I wish you the best!

Have you ever hung out a shingle? How did you make the transition from employee to consultant? Do your skills lend themselves to consulting? What’s the most important factor in starting a successful consultancy? What’s the quickest way to failure?

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Can employer clawback my $6,000 bonus?

Can employer clawback my $6,000 bonus?

Question

clawbackThe company I worked for paid me quarterly bonuses for performance but the bonuses are based on the final performance of the entire team for the whole year. The final calculation determines whether you get even more bonus or give some back. The calculation was done after I left. I thought that I would be due more bonus but they claim I owe a refund. The bonus is $6,000; not a lot for them, but for me it is. HR sent a letter asking for it. I reviewed the policy. There is no clawback clause and nothing was signed. I don’t know of any other case where they took back bonus money from an employee who left. What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

I’m not a lawyer and cannot give you legal advice, so I advise that you talk with an attorney. It will likely be worth the few hundred bucks it will cost. All I will offer are some observations and opinions.

Avoid clawbacks to begin with

I don’t like any kind of compensation or bonus plan with clawback provisions. A clawback is when an employer pays you money, then wants some or all of it back. Use of the word “claw” says it all.

Clawbacks are contractual provisions. That means you agreed to it, usually in writing. Unless it’s an executive position, I advise people never to sign or agree to such deals. A clawback is usually a penalty, and that’s no way to establish a good working relationship. Because most people don’t have employment contracts to begin with, and your company already paid you the money, I think they are at the disadvantage — but it depends on the details.

What was the clawback agreement?

I also think there is an important distinction between the company re-balancing the bonus at the end of each year as you described, and paying a bonus and attempting to claw it back after an employee is long gone. The time to establish such a claim is in the exit meeting. (I discuss that further below.)

Review what you and the company agreed to upon hire and upon separation from employment.

  • Did you sign anything agreeing to this as part of your compensation and bonus plan?
  • Did the company notify you there would be a clawback on your departure?
  • Upon your departure did you sign any exit documents at all that might apply to this? Go back and read them carefully.
  • Now that you’re gone, how are they going to come after you if you don’t pay the bonus back?
  • Would they take legal action to collect $6,000? How much would that cost them?
  • What happens if you just ignore the demand and let them go suck rocks?

If you agreed to this in advance, I’m not suggesting that you stiff them just because you might get away with it. But it seems when you departed you honestly believed the slate was clean and your account zeroed out, because no one told you otherwise.

Parting terms

To avoid this and other problems when exiting a company, see Parting Company | How to leave your job. This PDF book includes a bonus mp3.
As I said earlier, the time for an employer to establish a clawback claim is in the exit meeting. I think the reasonable expectation is that all liabilities (on both sides) are settled upon your exit. A good HR department will make the terms of your parting clear, usually in writing, and ask you to confirm your understanding with your signature.

HR will reconcile all accounts just before an employee leaves, not after the fact. For example, they’ll take back the computer, keys, credit cards and other assets they issued to you. And they’ll give you a statement about what they owe you (e.g., an outstanding paycheck or expense reimbursement) and what you owe them.

What claim does the company have on that bonus now that you’re gone? That’s what a lawyer will help you determine based on the facts of your unique situation.

These are my observations and opinions based on what I’ve seen over many years. What you do is up to you, of course. A good lawyer can explain your legal options once you share all the details.

Have you ever lost money to a clawback provision? What happened? Does your employment include a clawback? What’s it for? What could an employer give you that would be worth you signing a clawback agreement? Are clawbacks even fair, or a smart tool for anybody?

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Should you discount your salary to get your foot in the door?

Should you discount your salary to get your foot in the door?

Question

get your foot in the doorHow do you get your foot in the door without the necessary degree (yet)? I’m changing careers from computer programming to bioinformatics, which is a field that uses computers to answer biological questions. Most bioinformaticians I’ve spoken to consider computing to be a more important skill than genetics. While I’m almost finished with a masters in the field, I really need to get a job, but most jobs list a degree as a requirement.

I’m considering selling my lack of a completed degree as an opportunity for the employer to snag an experienced programmer who’s new to bioinformatics at a discount, if they hire me now vs. waiting until I finish my degree when I’ll be more marketable.

Is this a good idea? I know it will have an impact on my ability to negotiate a salary, but 2020 has left me in a position where I simply must have an income. So my concern is more about whether it will look bad, or presumptuous.

If you think it’s a good move, how should I phrase this “value proposition?” Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think we have many bioinformaticians in our community, but your question is a good one for us because it would be relevant to anyone contemplating a significant change in careers. The words “degree required” often stop talented people dead in their tracks when it should just make them find a way around that obstacle.

Paying to get your foot in the door

While I like your “willingness to deal” to get hired, I’m not sure the savings would mean enough to an employer to affect their decision to hire you now one way or the other. In fact, making your discount offer to help you get in the door might complicate the calculus. Getting a discount could actually put an undue emphasis on the risk the manager feels they’re taking. Make sense?

“Degree required” is often negotiable if the candidate can show relevant experience or related education (or potent, relevant references). You could easily submit an application that notes “degree expected Month, 2021.”

Networking to get in the door

This is a case where I think my general advice to avoid applying with resumes and forms is all the more important. Resumes and forms cannot defend you or explain the valuable trade-off your computing skills represent. If you had a personal referral to the hiring manager, you could reduce the risk of being rejected out of hand for lack of the degree. A good word from a trusted contact could lead the manager to take a chance on you. I really think investing time and effort to identify and quickly develop such a contact could be invaluable.

My guess is you have some companies in mind. Start mapping out the network of people who might help you —  people connected to each company and others associated in turn. It’s a little-known fact that the nodes on the periphery of a network are often the most useful and productive (cf. Six Degrees: The Science of A Connected Age, Duncan Watts). This means the person that will ultimately help you is probably unknown to you today. Map out that network exhaustively. Start dropping notes to people you identify that might provide you with insights, advice and introductions. If networking like this makes you shudder, learn how even shy people can network.

The ideal referral or introduction would come from someone who connects the dots for the hiring manager about how your programming expertise would benefit the manager.

Think like the manager

If I were the employer you approached, a lot would depend on the specific job I was trying to fill. If it’s standalone (vs. working on a team) or a senior role, I might really want at least a couple of years hands-on experience in bioinformatics specifically. But if all the weight of that specialization is not going to be on the new hire, I’d probably consider a sharp new grad who shows me they can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. I think you need to appeal to the latter kinds of managers.

To get your foot in the door without the degree it’s crucial for you to glean insights from people in bioinformatics who know and work for managers you may want to work for. So making such contacts is all the more important. They will hopefully influence a manager and also provide you with insights so you can choose managers and companies wisely. (These folks might also help you with your question about offering a salary discount.) You need that extra edge.

Get an edge to get that foot in the door

Gene Webb, my mentor at Stanford, was a biz school professor whose research was in decision theory. He taught all his students this: If you’re going to take a bet, any marginal bit of information you have that your competitors don’t have makes the bet worth taking. Employers are so reliant on keywords in resumes and job applications that any candidate’s odds of success are — in my opinion — about the same. They’re all tiny! The recruiting process reduces even the best candidates to even odds of being brought in for an interview. The marginal advantage, which is always worth cultivating, is a personal recommendation. It raises your odds of getting a meeting dramatically. (Here are some ways to get an edge.)

I wouldn’t sell myself short by offering a pre-emptive discount to get your foot in the door. Even if you’re going to make the offer, it should be via personal conversation or via a referral the manager trusts. There’s just too much chance such an offer on a document (that can’t defend itself) will be read the wrong way. I would not do it. That said, if your interview goes swimmingly but the manager seems hesitant about that degree, well, then you might play the discount card. Now you’d be doing it the right way – face to face, and you’d be able to answer any questions the manager has about your offer. However, how you play it would depend on any new information you gather in that interview.

Would you offer a salary discount to get a job — regardless of your line of work — when you don’t meet all the requirements? If you’re a manager, how would you regard an applicant that offers to accept a lower salary in exchange for a shot at the job? What other clever methods can this reader use to get a shot?

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How To Say It: I want a second-chance interview

How To Say It: I want a second-chance interview

Question

second-chance interviewI’d like a second-chance interview. I messed up last month and cancelled an interview for a job because I didn’t like the commute — it’s pretty far. The job would be remote until COVID is under control, but at some point I’ll have to be in the office. Now I’ve done some homework about the firm. I’ve learned that the work they do is right up my alley and I’ve had a change of heart about the location. I honestly feel that the trade-off of a satisfying and challenging job would more than make up for the bad traffic I’ll have to eventually face.

I feel so stupid. I should have done the interview because I still would have had the option to reject an offer if the distance really bothered me. Now I want to call the manager back and try to salvage this if possible. When he originally got my resume, the manager was pretty persistent about meeting me and seemed disappointed when I cancelled.

A friend of mine said I should just be honest. But how can I avoid coming across as indecisive? I’m interested in making a commitment. How can I convey this and get an interview again?

Nick’s Reply

I agree with your friend. Be honest about what happened. Eat a little crow, but don’t be too apologetic or overly defensive. That would make you appear weak and indecisive. It’s critical that you speak with the manager directly, not with the personnel office. This is not unlike blowing an interview and asking for another chance. Modify this to suit your style, and I think it might get you a meeting:

How to Say It

“I want to thank you again for requesting an interview. The only reason I declined was the commute, but when I consider all the firms I could work with, yours is the one that motivates me the most. Your business most clearly matches my expertise and my interests.

“It’s well worth a drive to work with the right people. What I’m saying is that I’d like to meet you, if you’re still interested in talking. I realize the job may no longer be available, but I’d still like to make your acquaintance, if you can look past the egg that’s on my face.”

Those last few words reveal a generous level of humility without embarrassing you. State your case, then let the manager decide. (Crow doesn’t really taste that bad.) It might get you that second-chance interview.

Two last things: If you get that meeting, be careful not to come across as indecisive again, and if you’re seriously interested in the job, tell the manager you’d like to work there before you depart. You will not get a third chance.

How hard is it to “go back” and try again? If you were the hiring manager, would you give this job seeker a second-chance interview? Have you ever stowed your pride and asked for a second chance? Got any tips about how to say it?

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