Which managers hire the best?

Which managers hire the best?

In the June 9, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a manager asks how managers hire.

Question

managers hireWhen you’re hiring, how do you know who you want to hire? By that I mean, how do you identify the job you need done, the skills and potential for growth you require in a job candidates? I admit I’ve made some hiring mistakes as a manager, but it’s awfully hard to pinpoint what I’ve done wrong. It’s just as hard to figure out what I did right when I picked my best staff members!

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think the problem for most managers is knowing what they want. If they don’t know what work needs to be done, they have no business managing.

Managers hire for profit

If you have doubts about what a job is all about, here’s a good test: It must involve work that is profitable to the company. If it’s not profitable, question the legitimacy of the job.

Of course, this means you must understand how the work of each one of your employees fits into the big profit picture. Most managers I’ve said this to roll their eyes and tell me they’re not finance managers and it’s not their job. If they really believe that, they need to sit down with their company’s CFO and figure it out. Profitability is every manager’s job. Or, why are you even a manager?

The problems with hiring

But let’s focus on hiring.

I think the challenge for most managers lies in the faulty hiring process they’ve been taught. This process emphasizes talk rather than demonstration, and personality rather than ability. It hampers their ability to hire well.

There seem to be two main problems with how managers hire.

Problem 1: Hiring to the job description

Most managers know what they need to get a job done. However, they are usually saddled with over-written, static job descriptions that better serve the requirements of a Human Resources applicant tracking system (ATS) than the ever-changing needs of their company.

Don’t believe me? Is your own job and the work you do today the same as your original job description? How much has your job changed since you started it? (I’ve asked this question of hundreds of times. All I ever get is bitter laughs.)

When a manager interviews to fill the job description, that may satisfy HR. But is it going to meet the manager’s changing, evolving needs? Worse, is HR sending candidates to the manager just because their resumes and applications contain words that match words in the static job description?

Hiring to the job description is a mistake. (The problem of job descriptions themselves is for another discussion.)

Problem 2: Managers hire people they like

Generally speaking, managers are schooled by HR experts in the art of interviewing, if they’re schooled at all. But, what does HR know about hiring anyone but HR staff? HR is not schooled in specific work disciplines like engineering and marketing. Consequently, HR’s interview instructions tend to emphasize only general attributes, mostly relating to personality and attitude.

Managers that know what they want often don’t dare ask candidates to deliver it because to do so would violate the traditional rules of interviewing. Whoever heard of putting a job candidate in a room with all the tools they need and asking them to demonstrate how they would do the job?

Instead, managers learn to sit and talk banalities with applicants. Even managers who know what work they need done end up hiring workers based on irrelevant rules and criteria that have been hammered into their brains by an antiquated and ineffective employment system.

An executive of a multinational telecommunications firm complained to me that his company keeps making the same mistake. “We hire based on personality,” he said. “More specifically, we hire people we like because the interview methods we use don’t really reveal whether the person can do the work.”

Put another way, managers focus too much on who they want, rather than on what work they need to have done. “To hire” does not mean to acquire a worker; it means to acquire the use of (that is, pay for) certain services to get certain work done. The focus must be on the person’s services and on the work. Unfortunately, most managers have absolutely no concrete proof that a job candidate can do the necessary work until after they hire them to do it. This never comes up in the interview, because the manager is too busy trying to “assess the candidate.”

Can the person do the work you need done?

The hiring process has become warped into a personality assessment. Consider the common questions asked in interviews: What is your greatest strength? Your biggest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? Such questions are so general and meaningless that hundreds of books are available to teach you how to respond with equally trite answers. But what has any of this to do with the work a manager needs done? Next to nothing.

In what I call The New Interview, the manager and the candidate work together on a “live” problem or task. This maintains a focus on the work that needs to be done, rather than on the keywords in a job description. The best example task is one that clearly affects the profitability of the department. My guess is that, if you were to review your interviews against the success of your hires, either you’ve just gotten lucky some of the time, or your best hires actually showed you they could do the work.

In my experience, if an interviewer conducts such a working meeting with sleeves rolled up and focuses on an actual work task, the candidate will quite naturally reveal their personality, attitudes, skills, growth potential and “fit” on other scales. It comes out in the conversation and in the shared experience of working together during the meeting — just like it does at work. No clever interview questions are required. (You’ll still learn whether you like the candidate, but your opinion will be based mostly on whether they can do the job!)

What’s a manager’s job?

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me say this before. A good manager should be spending 10-15% of their time every week identifying, recruiting and cultivating people to fill current or future positions. Hiring is a key management function and you need to develop your skills to do it well.

A job candidate must be able to do the work. If you don’t — or cannot — directly assess this, why are you even a manager? I mean no offense, but I suggest you think about it.

If you’re a manager, how do you hire? Do you put 10-15% of every week into hiring? Who was the best “hiring” manager you’ve ever known, and how did they do it? What are the worst hiring practices you’ve encountered?

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Too busy to hunt for a job

Too busy to hunt for a job

In the June 2, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about being too busy to find a new job.

Question

too busyBefore this coronavirus thing hit I had decided it’s finally time to leave my crummy job. I say crummy but it pays the bills. With record numbers of people having no job at all, believe me, I’m grateful I have a job. I took on more tasks from people who were furloughed. But I could become one of those millions out of work any day now. Guess you could say I’m scared. The thing is, even though I’m working from home, there’s no time to look for a job! Is it unreasonable to want a better job right now? How do I do it while working and during this COVID-19 disaster? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

The world could be ending and you could still hate your job. One has nothing to do with the other. I’m glad you’re able to separate how you feel about your job from the fact that you need it for an income. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get a better job even when jobs may be hard to come by.

You cannot ignore the coronavirus and the shutdown and the gradual reopening of the economy, but you can’t control any of that, either. Let’s focus on a problem many people have whether times are good or bad: they’re going about their job search all wrong. You can do something about that!

Too busy to search for a new job

My favorite excuse for conducting an inept job search — or for not starting a job search at all —  is, “I’m too busy working to find a new job.” Don’t blame your busy schedule for your career woes. You must make time. (Believe it or not, employers have a complementary problem: Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!)

People offer this excuse because they have the wrong idea about what constitutes a job search. You may be surprised to learn what smart “job hunting” really requires. It isn’t scouring job postings or sending out resumes. It isn’t going on informational interviews. It isn’t taking a sick or personal day when you can, to contact your network and to call prospective employers.

You can practice the best form of job hunting while you do your job.

Make time, take time, steal time

I make no judgments about it, but people shop online, read the news, check their social media and manage their investments while they work. Some even play games. Right or wrong, they literally create time for those tasks and still get their jobs done.

Even if you don’t do any of those things, even if you are hard at work all day long, you can make time to search for a job because you must if a new job is really important to you.

This might mean stealing time from other pursuits during your workday, and it might mean doing a bit less work for your employer. There, I’ve said it.

Every work day has its limits. When you agreed to do the work of others who were furloughed, you somehow blasted through those limits. Now you must retreat a bit, and still do your job. As you’ve noted, you could lose your job tomorrow, whether you’re doing your own job, or one and a half jobs, or two. So you’re at risk anyway.

As long as you’re doing a good job, you’re not stealing time from your employer. But you must do a bit less of your job to protect your having a job at all. Make time, take time or steal time from your day.

Job hunting on the job

So, how do you search for a job while working?

You might understandably respond that it’s not appropriate to search for a job during your work day. You might worry that it’s awkward or risky to have such conversations with people you work with. This is all about being thoughtful, tactful, discreet and careful. Don’t do anything that would risk your current job. Don’t do anything that feels wrong to you.

It involves talking with others about their work in the context of your work. If you talk with customers during the day, it’s about discussing your work and their work, and discreetly asking questions about their company — which could be your next employer.

If you deal with vendors, consultants and other professionals, remember that they have other customers like your company. Job hunting is about gently inquiring what other companies are doing. Which companies does your vendor or consultant admire and like doing business with? How’s that company doing during the crisis? Who are the “shining lights” at that company?

How to Say It
“I’d love to meet some people there — can you recommend a specific person I can talk with?”

If you use online resources to do your job, reach out to those resources differently. E-mail them. Call them. Have a good business reason for the call, then pause and ask them, “How are you doing through the crisis?”

You’ll find some are doing okay, some aren’t, and some face problems and need help. But almost every one of them will pause and share the moment with you. Take the opportunity to talk shop with them, express your interest in their work and in their company’s business, products or technology. (See Shared Experiences: The key to good networking.) Every one of those people knows other people in companies that might be your next employer. Ask for a casual introduction.

Don’t be surprised if they pick up on the opportunity to open up a bit with you, and wind up asking you for introductions to people you know.

Tap into the grapevine

Anyone you’re in touch with during your job is a potential link to a new job, as long as you don’t lead your discussion with “I need a new job.” First, you need insights and advice about other companies and managers that need help, even if they’re not hiring. Such discussions can turn you into the insider who’s “wired for the job” when one opens up or before it’s even advertised.

There is a grapevine of information about companies and managers that need help — and about who’s a good person to talk with about it. Don’t be too busy to set aside a few minutes every hour and tap into the grapevine.

Advice, insight & referrals

If you want to be more blunt and direct, make a list of people you talk or e-mail with (or with whom you could do so) in the course of doing your job. Make guesses about which other companies they likely have contacts in. The next time you communicate, try this:

How to Say It
“Hey, would you mind if I ask your advice about something not related to our work? If someone like me were interested in working for [company X, which your contact may work for, or which your contact has other business with], what kind of advice would you give me?”

If the response is helpful, take the next step:

How to Say It
“Is there someone at the company that you might suggest I get in touch with?”

We all know far more people in the world than we think we do — and every one of them is a potential introduction to your next boss. As long as you don’t come across as an opportunist who abuses relationships for personal gain, you can ask for advice and insight about other companies to get useful introductions.

While talking with people you interact with during your work day, there’s nothing phony if you ask:

  • Who do they think are the “shining lights” in the industry or business?
  • What articles, books or people influence how they do their job?
  • What are their thoughts and predictions about the industry?
  • What are their interests and aspirations? (Then you can share yours.)

This often — but not always — opens the door to discussions about careers, jobs, and — most important — about companies that need help.

Where jobs really come from

You can do all this in the course of doing your job, because the right people to talk to might be the ones you do business with: co-workers, customers, vendors, consultants, accountants, bankers and even investors, to name a few. These people are where jobs really come from.

If you’re busy doing your job, you’re not too busy to job hunt — because you’re probably already talking with someone that knows your next boss.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of thinking that actively searching for a job requires hours of surfing job boards, writing cover letters and filling out job application forms. That’s not how most jobs are filled.

Help managers find you

I think that, especially in a time when tens of millions of people are looking for work, managers are overwhelmed with incoming job applicants. The people they know and trust in their field are the most efficient and accurate sources of good hires. Your challenge is to tap into those channels of trusted referrals. While there are many such channels, don’t ignore your work contacts.

Make, take or steal time to protect your livelihood. An active job search is about taking an extra moment to connect with people you do business with on another level. It’s not about asking for a job lead, or even about disclosing that you’re looking. It’s about asking for their advice, their insights, and for introductions to people they know who might offer more advice, insights and information about companies and managers you might be able to help and want to work for.

How does anyone make time to search for a job if they’re too busy working? How can you be more efficient and productive when hunting for a new job? What are the best paths for getting to hiring managers? Is what I’m suggesting too risky?

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A Top 10 Stupid Interview Question: What’s your biggest weakness?

A Top 10 Stupid Interview Question: What’s your biggest weakness?

In the May 19, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader grapples with the biggest weakness and with trick questions.

Question

weaknessIt just happened again. An interviewer asked me one of those trick questions. “What is your biggest weakness?” I actually researched this one. There are all kinds of recommended answers you can memorize. It’s also true that it might be an honest question to get you to talk about yourself, or it might be a trick and they’re looking for some particular kind of answer. I stopped trying to psych this out. But I would like to know what you think.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t believe in rehearsed or “canned” answers to interview questions. Every candidate, manager, job, company and situation is different. Each requires an honest answer to sincere, relevant questions.

That’s assuming the company and the manager are honest, sincere people who ask questions that actually assess your fitness for the job. But we all know that many employers rely on a list of prepared interview questions that they ask so routinely, you wonder why. Such interviews feel stiff and there’s no real conversation going on about the job or how you would do it. Many of these questions fall into a category I call The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. (Disclosure: There are more than 10!)

Your biggest weakness

I don’t believe in canned questions in job interviews. But, there’s one Top 10 interview question that really irritates me because it’s so loaded, so stupid and so common that it’s worth discussing. And that’s the question you’re raising here:

What is your biggest weakness?

The clever rationalizations behind this question are myriad. I’ve heard every explanation there is for asking it. My favorite: “It’s a good open-ended question that will tell you lots about a job applicant.”

Give me a break. It yields no more than asking what animal the applicant would like to be. If the question was ever legitimate and sincere, it’s been worn out from overuse. When some wag came up with the best answer I’ve ever heard – “Chocolate!” – it was time to stop asking it.

I don’t want to suggest an answer to this question, because there is no single answer. But, I’d like to discuss why I think the idea of “weakness” is worthless to an employer, and perhaps that will change your perspective about interviews in general.

What weakness?

This question doesn’t show up just in job interviews. A prospective client once asked me what my biggest weakness is. This is how I answered it – as honestly as I could.

There are a million things I can’t do, but they don’t reveal any weakness. Weakness is the unwillingness or inability to tackle a challenge. I suggest you first judge my willingness to help you, then my ability.

I can and will tackle anything that’s worth doing, and any task that’s part of the job if you hire me. But weakness is not part of my work equation.

What matters is my motivation to quickly develop the strength I need to perform a task or handle a problem. I’m good at figuring things out and learning whatever is necessary so I can perform the work I’ve committed to do. That’s what has made me successful.

Success requires intelligence, motivation and persistence. Those are my strengths, and they enable me to get a job done. I can hop up on a fast learning curve and ride it without falling off.

There is no weakness; only things I haven’t done yet. If you want to know what I can do, show me what you need done – and I’ll show you how I will use my skills and abilities to do it.

There’s a very powerful interview tactic hiding in plain sight in this approach. Can you find it?

Reveal your strengths

It’s something few job applicants ever ask an employer: “Show me what you need done.”

This is powerful because you cannot effectively show that you can do a job — and get hired — unless you know exactly what the work is. You must ask  because most employers will not tell you of their own accord. Only then can you explain and show how exactly you will do the work — even if there are aspects of the work you’ve never done before. Talking it through with the manager reveals your strengths — your ability to understand, plan, learn, and execute.

If you have the intelligence, motivation and persistence to do what needs to be done, and if you are good at learning, then you have no weakness.

Instead of trying to answer that question with a clever rejoinder, try having a conversation like this instead. Asking what exactly the manager needs gives you a chance to show you have no meaningful “weakness.” Then you can show your strength is figuring things out.

What other Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions have you been asked? How do you answer the “biggest weakness” question? What’s the most important question to address in a job interview?

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Guest Voices: The bogus-ness of employment at-will

Guest Voices: The bogus-ness of employment at-will

SPECIAL EDITION

In the May 12, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we launch the new Guest Voices section and get a lawyer’s view of employment at-will.

Top executives don’t often accept jobs without employment contracts in the United States. These contracts define the terms of employment including job title, compensation, what happens upon termination, and much more. It’s why you read about executives departing companies with tasty severance deals and money in their pockets without complaint. They work out these deals when they get hired and lock them in place legally.

guest voicesWorking without a net

Everyone else gets a job offer letter. This means you. Why are executives protected, while you accept a job offer to work without a safety net?

In some cases, you might not even get a written job offer. It’s purely verbal. Many job offer letters even negate their own terms with a big gotcha: They state that the terms may be changed at any time by the employer, and that the employee policy manual supersedes any other representations. (Ever accept a job to do one thing, only to find yourself assigned to a different job you never agreed to? That’s what I’m talking about.)

This is why employment in the U.S. — for most workers in most states — is referred to as “employment at-will.” That means you can quit a job at any time, and it also means your employer can terminate you at any time, for any reason or no reason, and you have no recourse.

Only in America

According to HR Daily Advisor:

The world’s employment law regimes really divide into two parts: there’s employment at-will — which is only the U.S. — and then there’s everybody else.

In Europe, for example, employment contracts (or agreements) are routine and run several pages long. Employers cannot terminate employees at will or without reason and severance pay is defined.

The reason employment contracts are used is simple: Good contracts make for good business relationships and ensure everyone plays by a negotiated set of rules from the outset.

The bogus-ness of employment at-will

I’ve seen it again and again. A company hires someone and rescinds the offer before they start the job, but after the new hire has cancelled their apartment lease and incurred the costs to move to a new city.

Or a long-time employee is terminated without explanation and immediately ushered out the door, right after the mystified employee received top scores in their performance review.

Or a worker is suddenly reassigned to a different job with lower pay and told it’s that way or the highway, and their only other choice is to quit — also known as bait and switch.

I’m sure you have your own examples.

Working without a written contract is bogus. And it’s entirely legal because the corporate lobby is more powerful than any bunch of employees. So at-will employment is the law. And that needs to change if the U.S. is to be a competitive power-house nation once again and have full employment. I’m going to let a leading employment lawyer explain it to you in just a moment.

Guest Voices: New feature!

This edition of Ask The Headhunter marks the launch of a new feature: Guest Voices. The purpose of Guest Voices is to share with you the thoughts, experiences and advice of smart people who will make you slap your head and exclaim, “Wish I’d known that!”

In the inaugural edition of Guest Voices, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Mark Carey, a partner at Carey & Associates, P.C., a Connecticut-based law firm specializing in employment law. Mark has strong opinions about the importance of employment contracts — and strong objections to employment at-will.

I’ll let him explain it in his new article, Employment At-Will vs. The LeBron James Rule. You can’t afford to miss what this leading employment lawyer has to say about your next job offer!

Add your voice!

Our job is to pile on in the comments section of Mark’s article and to share stories and opinions — pro or con — on employment at-will and on employment contracts. This is a controversial topic that deserves the scrutiny our community is known for.

I hope you’ll join us! We’ll be hearing from not just from experts, but also from regular people whose stories and insights will make you slap your head — in the new Guest Voices section of Ask The Headhunter! I welcome your comments and your suggestions for new topics.

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Break the wrong-job cycle

Break the wrong-job cycle

In the May 5, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader falls into a wrong-job problem and can’t keep a job.

Question

I’m a dedicated, loyal employee, and I would do anything for my employer. Why, then, do I lose my job every few years and have a hard time landing a new one?

Nick’s Reply

wrong-jobThe easy answer would be that you’ve just been unlucky and that you got caught in a series of unfortunate downsizings through no fault of your own. But that would make for a very short column.

Your question, which is not detailed enough for me to really answer, nonetheless raises a bigger question that’s relevant to everyone: Why do people take a job, only to find themselves job hunting again so soon? Let’s tackle that, and I hope you’ll find something useful for your situation.

A good job is the right job

The economy obviously affects jobs, but you can’t control the economy. So let’s consider something you do have some control over: the choices you make. I believe that most people go job hunting because they took the wrong job to begin with. This is a subtle phenomenon worth thinking about.

Some people take a job because it’s offered, not because it’s right. Some take jobs because employers flatter them, not because they’re particularly interested in the company or the job. Lost in the joy of being judged worthy, they forget to judge the job and the company, and to think about whether the job being offered is really the kind of long-term investment they want to make. (See Forget Glassdoor: Use these killer tips to judge employers.)

A wrong job is not going to be a good job. It will quickly turn into a recent job.

The wrong-job cycle

Relieved to be “off the street” (or overly impressed at being recruited), wrong-job takers will accept work that does not satisfy them. They will rationalize a poor choice and try to live with it. Gradually, their morale drops and their performance suffers. The effect is cumulative, and eventually the mismatch becomes glaring. They get fired, laid off, or they quit.

Because the parting was bitter and probably sudden, the next job search is likely to be desperate. This job seeker is likely to make a similar mistake. The wrong-job cycle starts again.

(Looking at this from the employer’s perspective, when faced with doing lay-offs, employers favor keeping productive workers with good attitudes. How has your choice of a job affected your attitude? Are you the obvious sourpuss to eliminate when cuts are made?)

Now, I don’t blame anyone for taking a job — any job — to pay the rent. But if you reveal a poor attitude at work because you accepted a job you don’t really want (or because the economy depresses you), then I have little sympathy. When you accept that job and that paycheck, do the job with pride no matter what it is, and learn to smile until you move on.

You can keep the right job

When you find your next job, will you choose it, or will it choose you? That is, are you pursuing what’s good for you, or settling for what comes along? You’re more likely to keep the right job than any job, so choose carefully.

Success depends on making good choices to begin with. When you choose a job that stimulates and keeps you engaged, it shows in your performance and demeanor. Being on the right job drives creativity, which in turn can help your company out of a jam — and keep you employed. Will you choose a job that inspires you to be a profitable worker, or one that’s likely to make you start job hunting again?

I’ve met far more people who took the wrong job than the right one. Before you take a job, ask yourself whether you’re doing it for the right reasons.

  1. Is it a job you sought out, or did it just fall into your lap?
  2. Do you really know what you’re getting into, or are you just in a hurry?
  3. Are you truly motivated by the work, or are you merely looking for a pay check?
  4. Can you really contribute to the success of the employer, or will you just show up and mark time?

Again, if you need money, I’ve got no quarrel with you. But please realize that later on you may wonder once again why you are unhappy or why you got laid off. Break your wrong-job cycle.

Try to look ahead. Find the right job, and you might not have to search again so soon.

Why do people take the wrong jobs to begin with? What factors tell you that a job is right or wrong?

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The New Job Market: COVID-19 complications

The New Job Market: COVID-19 complications

SPECIAL EDITION

In the April 28, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a look at some unusual insights about the job market in the time of coronavirus.

The new job market will be complicated

job marketLast week I published “COVID-19: Does it kill jobs?” in the News I want you to use feature. My short column pointed to an article by Lani Rosales in The American Genius, an entrepreneur’s publication.

Rosales offers great advice I think you can use in the new, post-coronavirus-crisis job market, from a perspective we’re not accustomed to. She also offers surprisingly hum-drum guidance that I believe is counterproductive in the new job market. There are so many good suggestions in her column that deserve explication — and so do the not-so-good ones. I think taking a critical look at both reveals a complicated job market in the COVID-19 economy.

I’d love to know what the rest of our community thinks.

Excellent takeaways

These are the excellent takeaways that I find in Rosales’s article.

In this time where an entire workforce has been sent home to work, some folks are going to shine as they are reliable, communicative, and think creatively. Unfortunately, others are going to struggle and sink.

If you’re still employed, you need to assess your value to the business honestly. I’ve talked with people in the past month who were convinced they were going to get laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis (panic is natural), only to find they were among the few most valued workers their employers wanted to keep.

I think Rosales’s point is, if cuts haven’t happened at your company yet, don’t start believing you’re dispensable. Now is the time to show you’re necessary, and to explain to your managers why. In addition to presenting evidence of  your value, the attitude you project counts for a lot, too. Merely showing that you want to discuss your role in the company reveals the right attitude. It could save your job.

Sinkers open up critical spots on the team that need to be filled to keep operations moving. That could be a spot free[d] up for you! Further, employers are reconsidering their roster right now. They may be trimming some figurative fat.

Rosales is making a somewhat disconcerting suggestion: Look for opportunities that result when other workers get trimmed. They’re definitely out there.

It’s hard for some to believe: Just because a business is laying people off doesn’t mean it’s not also hiring. It may seem heartless to try and get a job someone else just got fired from. But business goes on. Don’t assume that when someone gets fired the job is eliminated. Look closer. Reach out to insiders. That job may get re-filled, and it may be yours next.

Additionally, companies are looking at their future hiring needs for “when this all ends,” and we’re being told that many companies are currently hiring for the summer, which sounds far away, but is about as long as the hiring process often takes anyhow.

Anyone who gets too maudlin about the downturn forgets there will be an upturn. Rosales correctly cautions that you just cannot afford to do that. When the upturn comes, you must have been preparing for it starting now. You’re not going to get a job in three or six months if you wait for the upturn to start looking. The time to identify fundamentally sound companies is now. The time to reach out to your contacts for introductions to these companies is now.

Complicated reality

So should you even bother applying for jobs right now? The answer is: Yes, absolutely, but you’re going to have to change your approach.

I agree with Rosales that people are so attached to the way they normally search for a job, they’re likely to miss the boat. But I disagree with the next part of her advice. The new reality will be more complicated.

Getting a job will not be about buying a new resume, or about hiring a coach to kick you in the butt everyday for thousands of dollars in fees each month, or about keywords, or online applications, or knowing how to get past the applicant tracking systems (ATSes).

Getting a job is about what it’s always been about — except I think even more so now. It is estimated that 40-70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. I think that’s going to change — it’s going to be a lot higher.

As we shift from the new reality of 20% (possibly higher) unemployment to an upturn in hiring, the online fire hose of job applicants will flood HR departments with the pressure of millions more applicants. I believe that the best managers will accelerate hiring by doing their own recruiting.

Recruiting will be more personal

For all her excellent advice, I think Rosales is wrong when she falls back on discredited methods. I think managers are likely to reject HR’s shot gunning the online resume databases. Besides, do you really want to compete with an extra 26 million unemployed people looking for work on Indeed and LinkedIn? Nobody in any HR department — and no algorithm — can filter that fire hose for the best hires.

Recruiting and hiring will get more personal, mainly because the best, most valuable job candidates will not tolerate the rude, dismissive, “scrub ’em up and get ’em ready” style of HR that’s dominated the employment system.

Managers will turn even more to their trusted personal contacts for candidate referrals. They will know that every hire will count because budgets will be tight and hiring mistakes will be costly. I think managers will work harder to attract and hire the best candidates. As a job seeker, knowing how to tap those insider circles will be absolutely critical.

Trying to game the databases and algorithms using Rosales’s suggestions will sink you, mainly because fewer jobs will likely be re-filled than existed two months ago.

While I’m not a big fan of video interviews, I think Rosales is correct that you need to learn how to present yourself in a video interview. Companies are not going to pay to bring candidates in from out of town, and managers will seek to use technology to speed up the process even while they try not to let technology dumb it down. Check her suggestions about this.

The best resources are human, but not HR

Rosales says:

Every application you submit should be refined for that specific employer. Before applying, read the job posting three times in a row. Then, read the company’s Career page, their About page, and see what they tweet. This will all tell you what’s important to them (plus, the keywords you’ll need to use to get past the applicant tracking system robots and into the hands of a humans are IN THE JOB LISTING, so use them).

Rosales is absolutely right about refining your approach to every employer. But studying a company’s Career and About pages, and its tweets, and researching its business in the trade and financial press is just the ante to get into the game.

The serious players will invest their efforts in figuring out the problems and challenges of the companies and departments  they want to work in. They will identify and familiarize themselves with the manager they want to work for. It’s not about reading; it’s about contacting insiders and people who do business with your target company and asking them for insight and advice. It’s about creating shared experiences that build trust. This leads to personal connections that lead to referrals to hiring managers.

With due respect to Rosales, any effort you make that involves direct contact with humans will pay off much better than diddling your keyboard.

Forget about applying for 100 jobs

I think this is Rosales’s best insight and instruction:

Take the time to get to know each company before introducing yourself, it’ll make an immediate difference. This is why you can’t really apply to 100 places in one day, it’s unrealistic and puts you at a disadvantage.

You can’t apply for hundreds of jobs because you can’t do the prep work required to show a manager how you’ll be the profitable hire at all those companies!

Being the profitable hire means preparing a mini business plan for how you’ll do each job in a way that will add to the company’s bottom line. Yup — that’s a boat-load of work! Who does that, wins the job. That’s your competition, not some keyboard pounder worried about keywords and algorithms.

Do it right: take the shortest path

In these desperate times, your only choice is to take a deep breath and approach job hunting the right way, knowing that companies are shuffling the deck right now. It won’t be in fast motion, but there’s a chair for you about to open up, and you should be pushing your hardest to be the one to fill it.

Again, this is why I shared Lani Rosales’s article with you. I agree with her that the stakes today require that you search out and win a job the right way. But the only way to be the one to fill the job is to not be like everybody else swarming the HR department through the ATS — the old way.

Don’t follow the herd into ATS oblivion. In the COVID-19 job market, get off the road. Take the shortest path to the hiring manager — through trusted contacts the manager will turn to for referrals of good people the manager can hire quickly and depend upon to do the job profitably.

How will the job market be different in the wake of COVID-19? Which of Lani Rosales’s suggestions do you think are best? Are you job hunting now? Why or why not?

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Success Story: I did the job to win the job

Success Story: I did the job to win the job

In the April 21, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader shares a success story. How did he win the job?

Question (actually a success story)

I’ve been following you and your advice since about 1999, and it has helped me numerous times to land jobs. I’d like to share an Ask The Headhunter success story.

success storyI’d been pursuing a technology sales position for a year in 2018-2019 with a former co-worker of mine who is now a manager. We worked together at another company a decade ago, covering different lines of business, so we knew each other well. Finally, last summer he had an opening, said to apply, then we’d talk. He suggested we speak by phone since we knew each other well; no need for me to drive 45 minutes across town.

I suggested we meet in person instead. I reserved a conference room at a co-working space with a huge whiteboard. I re-read your book, Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing The Interview to Win the Job [out of print] and a couple of your Answer Kits once again (Fearless Job Hunting and How Can I Change Careers?), and I mapped out how I was going to succeed at this job —  by “doing the job” in the interview.

I presented my approach to how I would do the job “by the book” and when I got done, the manager was taking pictures of the whiteboard to capture my plan. He offered me the position right there, provided a second interview with his manager went well. It did, and I’ve been with them for 6 months now. It is going well.

This story is a long way of saying thank you again for making my career searches so successful. You’ve been a fantastic “internet mentor” to me and many other people, and you have have done a great service to help people understand how the whole job search process works.

The employment process would be so much more efficient if candidates and hiring managers used your approach. It does take effort and time to do it your way, but it is much more rewarding and predictable than applying for a thousand jobs online.

Please feel free to publish my success story and share it with the ATH community. I’d be honored. If it gives just one person hope and motivation in these challenging times, I’m glad to help.

When family and friends are out of work or looking to switch, I tell them to go to you to learn the facts of job hunting. There’s no better way.

Keep well and keep doing what you are doing.

John Mauro

Nick’s Reply

John, your success story made my day! I think you absolutely did the right thing by insisting on an in-person interview so you could fully show how you’d do the job — something that required a good deal of preparation. Most job applicants try to make their interviews easier, not harder. They’re making a huge mistake.You literally put yourself to work in your interview. Because few managers know how to ask, it’s up to savvy job hunters to prove they can do the work.

What’s behind the success story

The outcome of your meeting says it all: An on-the-spot offer is evidence that your extra effort was worth it, even with the contingency of a follow-up interview with the next-level manager.

John won his new job by raising the standard of interviewing. What did John do?

  • Selected a company he really wanted to work for and studied it.
  • Selected a manager who knows his skills. (John could have spent the year educating and cultivating a manager he didn’t already know.)
  • Did not rely on job-board postings.
  • Did his homework and figured out what problems he could solve for the manager.
  • Avoided a phone interview of low information value.
  • Insisted on a meeting where he could prove his value.
  • Prepared a mini-business plan for the job.
  • Presented his plan on the whiteboard to be judged.
  • “Did the job” in the interview to win the job.

How many of these steps have you tried? Please share in the Comments below!

I think the real story goes much deeper. The manager, like most managers, clearly didn’t expect a complete whiteboard presentation. Like most managers, all he wanted was a phone call and some standard Q&A. But that’s not enough to assess whether a candidate can do a job. And that’s why most job interviews don’t result in job offers. (See How To Hire: 8 stunning tips.)

A great resume is not enough. Nor are excellent credentials, personal referrals, or great answers to the top 10 behavioral interview questions.

The real story is that you commandeered the interview for the manager’s benefit (and for your own benefit, of course). You made your interview harder, which clearly shocked him. You made sure to answer the question he wasn’t going to ask: Can you do the job?

The approach you took reveals the profound weakness in the typical interview process managers rely on. (See Peter Cappelli’s Your Approach to Hiring Is All Wrong.) Interviewers should always ask a job candidate to explain and show how they’ll do the job — right there in the interview!

Choose jobs worth the work

You did the job to win the job. Imagine if every job applicant did that.

First of all, there would be fewer job interviews because no one is going to prepare like you did for every job they find on the job boards. It’s impossible. There’s not enough time in the day, much less motivation!

This one simple fact eludes job seekers and employers alike: To make your interview presentation worthy of being photographed (like yours was), you must choose your target companies and jobs very carefully. Only a select few jobs are worth the hard work it takes to do that kind of presentation — or why apply for them at all?

Your experience also demonstrates that the right job can take upwards of a year to find and land. You cultivated the manager and the opportunity for at least that long. Some might suggest that you landed this job easily because the hiring manager is an old friend. But that would be nonsense, because if that were the critical factor, you’d have had a job at that company two years ago. Nothing about what you did was easy, including exercising patience.

More is not better

If job seekers took your approach as their standard, they would select employers and jobs much more carefully and thoughtfully. Only a few jobs are worth that kind of effort and preparation – and those are the only jobs people should pursue to begin with! The whole employment process would change because applying to more jobs is not better. Likewise, employers should not recruit and interview using the popular fire-hose approach to getting candidates — because collecting more candidates is not better.

The message your story delivers is powerful: Pursue the right job and be ready to deliver your plan to do it. (This approach to interviewing is outlined in The New Interview. For a detailed discussion, please see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be the Profitable Hire, pp. 12-13, “A killer interview strategy.”)

My highest compliments, John. If anything you learned from Ask The Headhunter helped, I’m glad! Thank you for your very kind words and for your permission to share your success story.

Have you ever “done the job” in the interview to win the job? How did you go about it? Did it work? Did you ever take control of a job interview from the manager? If you’re a manager, how do you determine whether an applicant can really do the job?

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10 Tips for Picking The Best Staffing Firms

10 Tips for Picking The Best Staffing Firms

In the April 14, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader questions the wisdom of working for staffing firms.

Question

staffing firmsI had a contract job with a staffing firm that officially ended a couple of months back. The firm said that they were still looking for other clients to send me to, but just now told me that I’m released.

Do you think it’s even (or ever) worthwhile to get involved with staffing firms like this to look for jobs? I’m also asking because, since a lot of them have “presented” me to their potential clients, my reputation may have been “poisoned” from that. They may have been (probably actually were) “dialing for dollars,” and I never hear anything back from them.

I respect your take on things and I’d like to hear what you think, and what other folks on the discussions think, too.

Nick’s Reply

Staffing firms can be a dicey proposition. You’ve no doubt noticed a trend in the past decade. Companies seem eager to off-load (“outsource”) hiring to “staffing firms” that recruit and hire workers, then rent them to real employers. I have strong opinions about the effects of the staffing industry — also known loosely as the consulting industry — on the overall economy, and I make no bones about it: Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy. But my opinions should not stop you from exploring ways to profit from getting a gig through a good staffing firm — so let’s discuss this.

Why staffing firms?

It seems the key motivation for companies to use rented, or “contract,” or temporary workers is to eliminate certain overhead costs of actually hiring employees directly. The staffing firm handles recruiting, payroll, benefits and HR functions, among other things. When the worker is technically on the payroll of a staffing firm, the employer also avoids certain risks and costs of firing people, because the employer isn’t “firing” anyone. It is merely “sending them back” to the staffing firm.

In my opinion, the biggest risk to companies that use staffing firms is that they relinquish their most important competitive edge — expertise in finding and hiring the very best workers.

The problem with staffing firms

There are so many shady, boiler-room “staffing” operations that the few good ones suffer from the overall poor reputation of the business. The odds are high that any staffing firm that solicits you is indeed dialing for dollars, or to use a more technical term, “throwing spaghetti against the wall.” They are simply not good at matching workers to jobs and companies.

The worst operate massive overseas call centers and are clueless about the work you do. Along with scads of random resumes, they’ll throw the kitchen sink at a client and let it pick the candidates. If someone the client chooses isn’t working out, the worker is quickly replaced. This “churn” practice is supposed to substitute for careful, appropriate placements.

And you’re right, an unscrupulous staffing firm that scraped your resume from the Internet probably distributed it without your knowledge — possibly indiscriminately. That makes you look bad.

Can staffing firms hurt you?

As you suspect, an HR department that receives your resume for the wrong job could tag your record in its database with a big fat X. That could make it harder for you to get in the door later. That’s one reason to work only with reputable staffing firms you trust — not just those that solicit you.

Should you worry about this? You really can’t do much about it. When you post your resume online, it’s fair game. Anyone can forward it to any data dumpster anywhere. But don’t fret. Even if your reputation is thereby “poisoned” at some companies, all it really takes is one very good reference or personal referral to fix that. (This is precisely why personal contacts are so important. Please see Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.)

I think the worst thing a staffing firm could do to you is put you into a series of wrong short-term assignments over a lengthy period of time. This makes a mess of your work history. Good luck explaining your resume to a real employer.

How should I vet staffing firms?

There are good staffing firms out there. They might be very big and they might be very small and specialized. If this is how you prefer to work — as a consultant — it’s up to you to perform due diligence to identify them. A friend of mine in the staffing business shared some excellent advice many years ago. These 4 tips are still valid today.

  1. Always check references. When you’re deciding on a staffing firm, try to work with people you know and trust who are reputable. They can help you through this whole process. If you have to go to someone you don’t know, check their references. And don’t just use references they’ve given you; use your own contacts.
  2. Talk to your peers. As a potential employee, it may seem weird to ask a company for references, but it’s very important. If I were considering a job with a consulting firm, I’d like to talk to other employees, especially employees who are in a similar role to what I’d have.
  3. Understand the contract. Make sure you read your agreement with the staffing firm (and any subsequent agreement you must sign with the company you get assigned to) carefully and make sure everything you agreed to verbally is documented and signed. It doesn’t matter what the consulting firm is telling you if the contract says something else. Contracts vary all over the board. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for. (Please don’t miss: Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)
  4. Expect the unexpected. Even the best consultants (that’s usually how the staffing firm will refer to you) will encounter problems. Take for example the consultant who didn’t get paid for two months by the staffing firm they’d been with for 20 years. The firm suddenly changed management, and lost its ethics. That kind of horror story can happen to the most experienced consultants. That’s why it’s so important not to become complacent.

How can I find the best staffing firms?

If you want to work through staffing firms, invest a little time to find the best ones. Here are 6 steps to follow.

  1. Select employers. Make a list of the 5 best companies in your line of work, in the geographical areas where you want to live — the actual employers where you would be working every day.
  2. Make a call yourself. Call the HR VP or, better, the head of the department you want to work in.
  3. Introduce yourself. Explain very briefly what kind of work you do; maybe just mention your job title. (Do not turn this into a pitch for a job.)
  4. Get a referral. Then ask, “May I ask you what is the best staffing firm in [IT, for example] that you use for your company’s contract hiring?”
  5. Select, don’t settle. Don’t settle for staffing firms that solicit you out of the blue. Pursue the ones whose clients love them. If the person you speak with names their preferred firm, ask for the name of the representative that handles their account. Thank them and end the call. Now you have (a) identified a reputable staffing firm, (b) you know they work with a company you might like to work for, (c) you have a name to drop (the manager you just spoke with), and (d) you know whom to call next.
  6. Take the initiative. Call the rep at the staffing firm. Introduce yourself very briefly, say that “Your client, So-And-So, recommended that I call you. They said your firm is one of the best in the [IT] field. I’m looking for a new position. Would you like to talk?” When the rep hears that their client sent you, the rep hears dollar signs.

Not everyone you call will tell you which staffing firm they use, but this approach is probably usual and disarming enough that some will. Likewise, not every staffing firm you then contact will help you. But this approach beats fielding calls from fast-talking recruiters at questionable staffing firms you know nothing about. So keep at it.

While I’d advise you to pursue full-time, direct jobs first, I would not tell you to rule out staffing firms. Many employers rely on them heavily. Just know what you’re getting into. In any case, when you make those calls to HR or to department heads, you might end by asking, “By the way, do you also hire direct?”

Get ready

This is hardly an exhaustive discussion about staffing firms and how to deal with them effectively. I expect other readers will share very useful information and raise issues I haven’t even touched upon. But get ready. This is an important topic because the employment world is about to change again dramatically.

The coronavirus crisis has eliminated a lot of jobs — that’s plenty of drama. But as the downturn subsides, the healthiest companies will be desperate to re-fill many of those jobs. It will be a time of opportunity — but also opportunism. Many unscrupulous staffing firms will suddenly appear, trying to capitalize on the new drama. You’ll get a lot of calls. I expect a lot of “churn” as people who are understandably desperate for jobs take positions they should not accept.

Before the lousy staffing firms contact you, find the best ones and contact them.

What’s your experience with staffing firms? What advice would you give this reader?

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Open Mic: Got a job or hiring problem?

Open Mic: Got a job or hiring problem?

In the April 7, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter I invite you to ask your own job search or hiring questions. It’s open mic!

open micSpecial Edition

Every week I answer one question from a reader in the traditional Q&A format. In this special edition, the mic is open to everyone — we’re going to tackle any questions you post. (Yes, we.) All the questions. (Yes, all.) Just post your questions in the comments section below.

Open Mic: You’re on!

The open mic idea stems from webinars and live conferences I do for professionals where I make a brief presentation, then we open it up. Anyone may ask any question about job hunting or hiring (or about work), and I do my best to provide useful advice on the spot. I love doing these events because I don’t have to prepare! In fact, I can’t prepare. I have no idea what anyone will ask. I also enjoy doing it because it tests me — how much value can I deliver, to someone with a problem, in the space of a few minutes? (Yes, I sometimes get egg on my face…)

With the economy, the job market and our daily lives almost totally upended, I know a lot of people are facing unusual situations. Let’s try to help. (If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, check out The Basics.)

What’s your job search or hiring problem?

I will do my best to answer any and all questions you post in the comments section on the website.

  • Lost your job and don’t know how to start hunting for a new one?
  • The manager made you a good offer, but HR just called to rescind it?
  • You’ve still got a job but you’re teleworking. How’s that work?
  • They want your salary history, but you don’t want to share it?
  • Your company posted a job and got 5,000 applicants. What now?

What’s your problem? Post it and we’ll tackle it.

Two suggestions:

  1. Please try to summarize your situation. Too much detail can be confusing. Try to boil it down as best you can. Help us understand the real issues so we can focus and offer useful responses.
  1. Please remember to ask in the form of a question. Again, this helps crystallize the problem so we can address it effectively.

The coronavirus crisis has changed business and jobs dramatically. I expect we’ll get some unusual questions. Don’t hold back.

Open mic for advice, too!

I expect (and invite!) everyone to chime in and offer advice. The more suggestions and discussion, the better. Your advice is often better and more insightful than mine, so please share it!

What’s your question? What problem or challenge are you facing in your job search today, or while teleworking? Employers are welcome to post questions about their recruiting, hiring and HR problems, too.

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Is hiring a cost or investment? How employers blow it

Is hiring a cost or investment? How employers blow it

In the March 31, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says hiring and job offers should not be based on your tax returns.

Question

hiringI was once asked for my tax returns after a job interview, evidently to determine a job offer. I thought you priced a salary to a job — not what you might have to pay a candidate to hire them. I declined the job because the request displayed the kind of people I would be working for. They were forced to sell the company shortly thereafter. What’s your opinion on how to set a salary and job offer?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t believe in setting compensation based strictly on the job. That’s shortsighted because it assumes a job cannot be done in a way that increases its value to the business. I think sound job offers are based on the value of the job at that company, and on the added value the best candidate brings to the job. In other words, if it recruits effectively, a company spends more than it planned because it finds a hire who can do more than it expected. HR managers will want to hang me for that.

Consider the example of a job posted to write computer code using computer language X. Hiring a programmer who knows language X would get the job done just fine and within the budgeted salary. A programmer who is facile in languages X and Y (languages unexpected and not required by the job description) shows it would take less code and time to produce a more powerful program in language Y. (Software developers don’t hang me! This is an over-simplification.) But this programmer expects a salary 25% higher than the budget for the position. Does the employer calculate the benefits of investing more in that programmer?

Hiring: How are job offers determined?

A smart company has to start by (A) pricing a salary to a job. But that means management has a realistic idea of the value of the job. That is, how does it contribute to the bottom line? I don’t know many companies or managers that could explain how any particular job contributes to profits. Of course, it’s a game of estimating, but I think few even try. They focus strictly on the overhead cost of filling the job.

Once that number is set, I think a company needs to (B) look at the market for availability of candidates, and adjust how much to pay accordingly. Of course, that’s an estimate, too. (I do not advocate relying on salary surveys.) We must assume employers are rational and that they calculate expected profits before making hiring decisions, right? Or, how could they defend their business model and be successful? (Yes, those are loaded questions and snipes.)

Job offers test the employer

As an employer, you find out how well you understand your business when you actually make job offers. Your job offers are a test. If you get turned down by your best candidates, then your (B) estimates are probably incorrect. You’ve failed.

But it’s also possible your (A) number is off — and I think that means you have to reassess your business assumptions: Is that job really valid? That is, does it really feed the bottom line, or is it actually busywork? Put another way, can your company afford to hire someone to do the job? The accuracy of your job offers — Do the best candidates accept them? — tests the viability of your business model.

If you can’t afford to hire the best workers, there may be something wrong with your business.

Learning from candidates

I think the fun starts when you talk with candidates who can upend your (A) estimate. That is, they show you they can do the job in a way that increases profitability beyond your expectations. This is where the interview process really pays off if you do it properly. You’re learning about the candidate, but you’re also learning from the very best candidates, who will show you how to tweak the job and the work to cover higher compensation and to produce more profit.

Do your interview protocols identify such candidates? Does your compensation policy enable you to hire them?

Perhaps a candidate has unexpected skills and expertise that would boost creativity and efficiency in that job, thereby increasing the value of the hire. (That means you’re recruiting well!) Isn’t that the “dream candidate” every company would love to find? Isn’t that who HR is really advertising for when the job posting says, “We’re looking for stars who think out of the box!”

Is hiring a cost or an investment?

I find this is where most companies blow it — especially if their HR department is mired in policies that interfere with re-pricing a job to a higher compensation level. They absolutely will not consider paying more to get more.

Rather than change the parameters of the job and the compensation to suit an exceptional candidate, they reject the candidate “because they cost too much.” (Age discrimination, anyone?) But that exceptional candidate is not a cost. They are a potential investment that can pay off handsomely — if the company steps up to pay more to get more. (Of course, management must also know how to properly exploit exceptional skills.) This is an incredibly important part of a company’s learning curve, and I think too many companies don’t recruit to find that kind of value. They’re potentially blowing an opportunity to boost their return on investment.

So much for “We want to hire people who are off the performance curve!” They’re also off the normal compensation curve. They’re pricier!

How companies blow it

It’s one thing when a company prices a job inaccurately. That is, when it gets its estimate (A) wrong. But I think a company really blows it when it inaccurately estimates (B) the value that’s available in the candidate market — and refuses to pay more to get more.

The problem is HR policies that make the very best candidates walk away. For example, “Our salary range is fixed. We cannot consider a higher salary.” Or, “We can’t proceed until you give us your salary history [so we can preemptively destroy your ability to negotiate your new salary].”

Or, as in your case, “We can’t proceed without your tax returns.”

These are all silly practices that drive away the very best candidates. (See Your Approach to Hiring Is All Wrong.) Exceptional hires return the investment required to get them, and then some. But again, I think the key is that management must know how to measure the value of both a job and the candidate who is going to do it.

Perhaps more to the point, management must understand the basic idea that the ROI of a job can be enhanced by investing more in a hire who can do it better.

Regarding the company that was sold shortly after you turned it down: It seems you heard the message loud and clear. “We rely on some other company’s judgment of your value (reflected in your tax returns). We have no competitive edge because we have no idea how to judge your value to our business! Run!”

What are you worth to an employer? How does a smart company figure it out? Here’s my challenge to you, dear readers: If you’re dealing with an employer that can’t figure it out on their own, is it worth making the effort yourself to explain it to them? (That is, to show them why you’re worth more?) How would you do that?

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