10 steps for personal referrals to hiring managers

10 steps for personal referrals to hiring managers

Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

Getting personal referrals: Get ready to say it

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

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

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

Personal referrals: Talk shop

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

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

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

Find the right people to talk with

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

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

Ask for insights

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

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

How to Say It

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

Or:

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

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

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

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

What should I ask?

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

How to Say It

“What do you think about that?”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Is there any downside to using X?”

Ask for advice

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

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

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

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

  1. Then pop the question:

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

You get the idea.

Get the personal referral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zoom Job Interviews: Dress to dodge a bullet

Zoom Job Interviews: Dress to dodge a bullet

Question

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

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

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

Thank you for any insights you can provide.

Nick’s Reply

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

Zoom job interviews

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

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

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

Ante up, raise the garb

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

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

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

Reconnaissance

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

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

Zoom Interviews

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

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

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

Dodge a bullet!

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

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

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

Get past the clothes

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

I wish you the best!

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


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Are college degree requirements unreasonable?

Are college degree requirements unreasonable?

Special Video Edition

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

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

Do college degree requirements promote better hiring?

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

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

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

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

Questions for you

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

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

Questions for employers

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

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

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

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

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

Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

Personal contacts are active.

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

Guess who gets the manager’s attention first?

“Who you know” is a good filtering mechanism.

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

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

Personal contacts yield more highly motivated people.

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

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

Personal contacts anticipate job openings and good candidates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question

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

How I got in the door

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

The path to the job interview

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

Dear Mr. Big (alias),

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

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

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

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

How to meet who owns the jobs

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

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

How to do it painlessly

I learned that the keys to getting informational meetings are:

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

Work your way toward the job interview

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

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

Who can get you in the door?

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

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

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

The lesson

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

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

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What’s your jobs question for 2022?

What’s your jobs question for 2022?

More Qs for Q&A

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

SPECIAL EDITION

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

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

What jobs question is on your mind?

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

But I’d also like to try something different.

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

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

Problems & Challenges in 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

Get ready to negotiate

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

Few companies disclose salary in job postings

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

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

Ask first, apply later

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

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

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

The job market lets you be bold

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

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

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

How to Say It

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

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

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

Everything has changed

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

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

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

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

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Kick the job candidate out of your office

Kick the job candidate out of your office

Question

The current employment climate seems to be the new normal. At my company it’s just very difficult to get new hires. There’s a lot of speculation about why the labor market is so tight, but no one has really identified the reason. (Do you have any ideas?) That’s why I’m reconsidering how I interview a job candidate. Once I get them to meet with me, I want to optimize my chances of actually getting them on board, assuming they’re the right person! The traditional interview just doesn’t do it. Can you offer any tips on how a manager can run the job interview for a better outcome? I can’t afford to keep wasting good applicants! If I can pull this off I’ll be a hero. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

job candidateI like a manager that realizes it’s time to upend the recruiting, interviewing and hiring process. My compliments. (We covered your question about why it’s so difficult to fill jobs and hire people in last week’s edition.)

I think what motivates a good candidate to want to work for you is the depth of the interview experience. Most interviews are superficial, canned, and uninspiring. If you can make your meeting truly engaging and memorable, I think you increase your chances of an offer being accepted dramatically.

Don’t interview in your office

I’ll offer you a specific tip that may help, and my guess is your HR department has never suggested it. The method is to break the script of the traditional interview entirely. The objective is to relax the job candidate so you can assess them more effectively, and to make it easier for you to get to know one another better in a realistic work context. I think this leads to wiser decisions about working together.

Note: I’m not going to give advice limited to our “virus age.” I know much interviewing during this time is done as remotely as some jobs are. In-person interviewing and hiring will return. These ideas can fit in either case with a bit of bending and twisting. Let’s discuss how in the Comments section below!
The first thing to do once you and the candidate have met is to kick the candidate out of your office! Yup — I’m serious. The worst place to interview anyone is in your office. Why? Because it’s a sterile box that’s removed from the action. It’s not where you’re going to learn whether they can do the job. And it’s not where they’re going to learn what they need to know to take a job with you.

Take the job candidate for a walk

When the candidate arrives for the interview, don’t sit down. Walk out of your office and take the candidate out onto your work floor. Whether it’s a marketing department or a production plant, start by introducing the candidate to your staff and showing them the work. Let them see your department. Show them the tools you use and the products you make. Let them meet your people. Encourage everyone to start talking and asking questions.

Encourage everyone to talk shop.

This way of assessing a candidate will quickly reveal to you why traditional interviews don’t work.

Traditional interviews don’t work

Typical interviews are indirect assessments, where you and the candidate spar over the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions. What I’m suggesting is a hands-on experience where the focus is on the work of your department — and where you can directly assess the candidate’s personality, skills, attitude, smarts and fit with the job and your team. For example:

  • Show the candidate your products (discuss how the job affects product quality, delivery, etc.)
  • Show the candidate the tools they would use (see what they know about how the work is done)
  • Have the candidate sit in on a “live” work meeting (observe how they participate)
  • If there is a company cafeteria, take them to lunch, where they can meet loads of other employees (do they click?)
  • Introduce the candidate to managers and staff in departments “upstream and downstream” from the job they’d be doing, so they can see how their work would fit into the business (does the candidate understand the business?)

You will learn more about the candidate by exposing them to the rest of your team than you ever could by sitting in your office. You’ll learn how smart and how motivated they are by how they interact with you and your team, by the questions they ask, by the opinions they offer and by the skills they demonstrate. If you’ve really got a gem of a job applicant, they will dig in and show you how they’d do the job. You will also learn very quickly how they fit in with your other employees.

Help the candidate decide

If you’ve got a good job candidate, this approach should give them many data points, in a real, live setting, to help them decide whether to join up. Of course, this requires that you’re offering them a good job working with good people in a healthy company!

I call this Interviewing By Wandering Around™. When the job candidate and the manager are in the middle of the work, everyone relaxes and it’s easier to talk about what matters because there it all is, right in front of you: your business. A bonus is that no candidate can fake it in front of you and your entire team. There are no clever “behavioral interview” questions or answers to memorize.

Of course, if you have standard interview questions you like to ask, you can still ask them during your “cook’s tour.” But I’m betting some of those questions will suddenly seem silly to you. Why ask what a candidate did last year, when you can let them show you how they’d do this job now?

Kick the candidate out of your office if you want to entice them to come work with you. Show them around. I think you’ll both learn a lot about one another and your workplace.

Do traditional job interviews work? How about behavioral interviews? A job candidate often walks away from even a successful interview still unsure whether they want the job. What has a manager done to make you want to join up? How could my suggestions be applied if your interviews are not in-person?

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Who broke the labor market?

Who broke the labor market?

[This week’s Question is from a hiring manager who also asked for tips about how to adjust job interviews to increase the chances of making hires. We’ll cover that part of his Q next week.]

Question

The current employment climate seems to be the new normal. At my company it’s just very difficult to get new hires. There’s a lot of speculation about why the labor market is so broken, but no one has really identified the reason. Do you have any ideas?

Nick’s Reply

labor marketThere’s certainly controversy about why so many jobs are unfilled. These are my opinions.

Workers don’t need the money?

I don’t buy the argument that the temporary extension and expansion of unemployment benefits caused the problem. In other words, people are not riding so high on such benefits that they don’t want, or need, to work. We’d have to assume that those workers are idiots who ignore their long-term financial health to groove on short-term income. Recent reports seem to confirm that benefits didn’t create the labor shortage. USA Today reports that “people understand there’s no future in unemployment benefits.”

Are workers afraid of getting sick?

I do think fears of COVID infection make many people think twice about returning to the job market. [REDACTED and edited. Please see NOTE TO ALL at end of this column and before the Comments section.] But I don’t think this explains employers’ inability to fill jobs. All we need do is read the comments on many of the columns on this website. Many readers complain about how they’re treated during the recruiting process — so they are indeed “in the market” and looking for new jobs, whether they’re working now or not.

Jobs don’t pay fairly?

In a huge number of jobs, I also think low wages have had an effect on hiring and retention. The arguments against higher minimum wages have been laughable. In Who really needs a $15 minimum wage I expressed the opinion that “If your business can’t afford to pay a minimum $15 an hour wage, your business cannot afford to exist.” More important, employers large and small that have raised pay meaningfully seem to have improved their ability to hire and retain workers. (It’s easy to find examples online, so I’m not going to enumerate them here.) I think healthy businesses will realize they must plow more of their profits back into the economy via higher pay. This is also known as “sharing the wealth.” It’s a capitalist idea. But this won’t solve the larger hiring problem, either.

Or, is the employment system broken?

The problem of filling jobs today is, I think, so clear and simple that it’s going right over the heads of economists, legislators, employers, HR experts and job seekers alike. It’s a fundamental, structural problem we discuss on Ask The Headhunter all the time. America’s employment system itself is broken.

The problem is online job boards, automated recruiting, and indirect, reductionist interviewing and candidate assessment methods. They don’t work well at all, and they never did.

The labor market’s Humpty Dumpty problem

This wasn’t so evident when the workforce was mostly employed. The failures of applicant tracking systems (ATSes) and overly automated HR operations were easy to cover up in times of high employment. COVID put an end to that.

Suddenly, staggering numbers of jobs were vacated at all levels of employment. Now that we’re returning to some semblance of normal, the dirty little secret about our employment system is out. The trivial HR technology that employers have long relied on — databases and keyword matching — has been unable to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Employers have not been able to reassemble their shattered workforces.

The workers are out there. But their expectations and requirements have changed. They want higher pay, safe working conditions, and better treatment. The keyword-matching technology can’t handle that.

It’s the technology

It’s a job seeker’s market. Pay is up. Infection risk is down. So, where is the talent employers need to hire? I think it’s lost in data dumpsters that continue to isolate hiring managers from the workers they need. Employers can’t hire the right talent because employers lack the talent to recruit and assess the talent they need to hire.

The labor force has always known LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter and their ilk never worked for them. If these matching services worked, job seekers wouldn’t howl about having to apply to 500 jobs to get one interview, which turns out to be for the wrong job!

LinkedIn would have employers continue to believe that “the right candidates are in there” — among its “700+ million members” — if HR will just pay to search the database. Indeed lets employers dive through its dumpster of “over 200 million resumes.” The ATS vendors sell “one stop shopping” where an HR department can search all the job boards simultaneously!

With staggering numbers of jobs to be filled, employers are wading through bigger and bigger data dumps of keyword matches. But workers are done with that employment system. I think they’re looking for more thoughtful, accurate, personalized efforts to recruit them. Job seekers have always responded best to personal referrals through people they trust.

Disrespect for labor broke the job market

How difficult is it for employers, hiring managers, recruiters and HR to understand that more is not better? Filtering the entire population of the United States twice over, every time you need to fill a job, is a fool’s errand, no matter how good your database tools are.

The workers employers need to hire don’t live in a database of 700 million. They circulate in relatively narrow, well-defined professional communities. They hang out with people who do the work they do, and the work they want to do. They’re not keywords. And they don’t live in databases. They respond best to employers and recruiters who respect them enough to find them where they actually live.

Some employers have figured it out. The reductionist recruiting tools they depended on for decades don’t really work — especially not in a job seekers’ market. These employers have learned to go where the right workers hang out, and to show they recruit intelligently and selectively — not stupidly and indiscriminately.

I don’t know whether my opinions and arguments ring true with you. I think much of the labor force is done with the ridiculous HR technology that has failed them for decades. It’s not that they don’t want to work or are not available to work in a safe, respectful environment at a fair price. I think they’re signaling that they’re not going to waste their time relying on a broken-down employment system that abuses them.

What’s your take on all the vacant jobs? Who broke the labor market? Where are all the workers?


NOTE TO ALL: Comments relating to vaccination controversies and political agendas have been and will be redacted or removed. I have even redacted the part of my own column that seems to have triggered such comments. My mistake. (If I have redacted a comment you have posted that you would prefer I delete entirely because you feel the redaction has changed your meaning, please let me know and I will delete it if you wish.) In over 25 years of running Ask The Headhunter, I’ve not had to delete more than a handful of inappropriate readers’ comments. It pains me to delete so many on this discussion. If you want to advocate political agendas of any kind, including about vaccinations and abortion, take it somewhere else. You’re welcome here only if you stay on topic.

This forum is about job search, recruiting, hiring and success at work and in life. Thanks to all who have stayed on topic. Apologies to anyone whose non-infringing comments may have gotten deleted because they were part of a deleted thread; please re-post if you like. Participants in the Ask The Headhunter forum have demonstrated the highest standard of conduct since its inception. I brag about that. I intend to maintain the standard even if I have to redact my own writing. Spirited, respectful discussion and debate is welcome while it’s on topic. Newcomers are welcome to participate! I will not tolerate political preaching, ranting, trolling, rudeness or personal attacks.

-Nick


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The Counter-Offer: Why do they wait until you quit?

The Counter-Offer: Why do they wait until you quit?

Question

After I gave my two weeks’ notice and told my manager I’m leaving for a new job, my current company worked hard to try to get me to stay. My manager’s boss wants to make a counter-offer, but I said no, thanks, I won’t accept it. They both said the door is always open for me to come back. I knew my manager appreciated me, but I did not know his manager did, too.

counter-offerThink about it — my current employer made it clear that I’m a high performer. That said, my boss’s boss should have had this conversation much sooner and I told him so. He agrees!

Why don’t companies let employees know what their value is? Why do they wait until you quit? Think about what it would save if companies were engaged with their employees at that level. Sit down and have a chat — even if you are at a higher level of management. What’s so difficult about that?

Nick’s Reply

My friend, I have no idea what’s so difficult about that. Corporate CEOs are running around like proverbial chickens, squawking that they cannot find the talent they need to hire.

Meanwhile, valued employees like you are walking out the door for reasons those CEOs never bother to discern until you resign. (See Don’t shortchange yourself!) HR tells the CEO “We’ll do exit interviews. We’ll find out for you why our top talent is leaving. Then we can fix the problem.”

But that’s not “human resources management.” That’s a day late and a dollar short. That’s simply poor management.

Your story says it all: It’s too late for praise, a counter-offer and pleading. (It’s certainly too late for exit interviews!) Who’s going to fix this problem? Who owns this problem?

I’ve got nothing to add, except that you are wise to walk away. (See Inside a counter-offer disaster.) You shared an instructive story and you provided the solution to your boss and his boss: Pay attention and talk to your employees long before they quit. Thanks, and congrats on your career move!

I’ll throw it to our community: Why do they wait til you quit? Why don’t employers address issues about compensation and job satisfaction while it makes a difference? Why don’t they tell their employees, We love you! Have you been begged to stay after it was already too late?

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