Employment Tests: Get The Edge | NEW BOOK!

In the October 8, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker worries about taking employment tests:

I’m going on an interview shortly. I was told that prior to receiving an offer there would be some testing. I doubt there are any tests that relate to the job content of this particular job. What other kinds of tests are typically given, and what should I look out for?

Nick’s Reply

employment testsEmployers routinely administer tests without notifying candidates what tests they’re going to give them. That’s not acceptable. You should ask the employer in advance exactly what tests will be administered to you.

Employment testing is a complex issue — there are ethical, legal, and practical considerations. I’ve got my own opinions, but I turned to an expert in employment testing for help in answering your question.

Erica Klein is a Ph.D. Industrial Psychologist who has worked in the field of strategic, competency-based selection and assessment since 1998. She develops and administers employment tests, and she’s taken virtually every kind of employment test herself.

Dr. Klein explains that, when they’re administered appropriately, “Tests can help employers predict who is likely to be successful in a job. In combination with interviews and experience and education screening, tests can provide employers with additional predictive value.” In other words, such tests can actually help you land the right job and avoid the wrong one.

Klein is also the author of Employment Tests: Get The Edge — a new PDF book from Ask The Headhunter. Dr. Klein steps out of her normal role interpreting research for the benefit of employers, to advise job seekers who take tests.


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An article Dr. Klein wrote for the ATH website has been so popular that I asked her to write this 36-page PDF book for the ATH bookstore. It’s the only book that you’ll find that covers all 5 major types of employment tests — written to help job seekers.

Order Employment Tests: Get The Edge now!

 

 


What kinds of tests might you be given? Erica Klein says, “The most common pre-employment test is a combination of a cognitive ability (intelligence) test and a personality test. Other common types of tests include job samples, integrity tests and situational judgment tests.”

My concern is where a test comes from, because few employers actually create their own.

Klein explains: “Many employers purchase off-the-shelf cognitive ability and personality tests. If you want to research the tests ahead of time you can ask the employer which tests they use. Many employers will tell you but some may not. Even without specific information about the test you can still learn a great deal by researching the general structure, content and purpose of these tests.”

She offers four testing tips from her book:

  • Know your rights. You don’t have to take a test, but if you don’t you will probably not be considered for the job.
  • Learn as much as you can about the tests you will be taking so you can perform your best and avoid common mistakes.
  • Approach testing like an athletic event with proper training, rest and nutrition.
  • Ask for feedback about your test results. Use the results to learn more about yourself and refine your job search.

Clearly, it’s up to you to ask questions and to do your own homework. But you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association (APA) has established stringent codes regarding the administration and interpretation of such tests. These codes dictate that the tests must be valid and reliable, and the results of the tests must be properly interpreted and shared with you.

So, don’t walk into a testing situation blindly. If you want to perform at your best, you need to know what to expect, and you should prepare in advance. If a company doesn’t abide by the APA rules, I’d decline to be tested. You’re not back in grade school, where tests are forced on you. You’re an adult, and you are not required to take any test unless you want to.

You also need to know whether and how the results will be stored — it’s a privacy issue. If you’re uncomfortable, ask questions before you consent until you are satisfied the testing will be conducted properly and how it will be used to judge you.

While some companies administer tests in ethical, appropriate ways, others have little idea what they’re doing–and that puts you at risk. Before you let anyone poke and prod at your personality, make sure you understand the potential consequences. All job hunters should visit the APA’s website to learn about their rights: Rights and Responsibilities of Test Takers: Guidelines and Expectations.

Did you know you have rights when it comes to employment testing? How do you prepare for employment tests? Do employers explain to you the tests and testing procedures in advance? Has your performance on a test ever cost you a job opportunity?

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Get Hired: 3 steps to become the wired insider for the job

In the October 1, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a stay-at-home mom is ready to re-start her career:

I know someone who plans to return to work in the fall. She has been a stay-at-home mom for several years. She is a college graduate with about two years of work experience. How do you recommend she begin her job search? She has a degree in history with a Spanish minor but is not interested in teaching.

Nick’s Reply

Your friend could just start looking for open jobs and then apply to hundreds if not thousands of them, like most people do.

Or, she could decide what work she really wants to do, then go after it with motivation and gusto. She could get a job through inside contacts, because that’s how most jobs are filled.

The following tips are summarized from my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?, and in particular from the section titled, “The Library Vacation.” (The book is not just for job changers, but for anyone who wants to show an employer why you’re the profitable hire.)

no-resumesFirst, she should avoid looking for a job. That’s right: Forget about jobs. Jobs come from identifying good companies, products and people. She should make choices about these before examining any jobs, and she should start by going to the local library’s magazines and periodicals section. She should scan business and specialty publications to find products, services and companies that motivate her. This can take a bit of time, but so does meeting your future spouse. Do it carefully and thoughtfully.

Second, she should pick a small handful of companies — no more than four or five that produce products or services she’s interested in — and research them, drilling down into each industry, company, product, technology and job function. These will be her target companies. Her objective is to learn enough to be able to talk about these intelligently.

So far, she’s looked at no job postings and has sent out no resumes. We’re skipping those steps altogether because they’re a waste of time.

Third, she should start scouring the Internet for the names of people connected to these companies. Databases like LinkedIn and publications online, from the Wall Street Journal to the local newspaper, make this pretty easy. Reading about these people and about what they have to say about their work, their companies and their industries is important.

Finally, she needs to start contacting them. No, I don’t mean inviting them to connect on LinkedIn; that’s a fool’s errand and another waste of time. She can actually Meet The Right People pretty easily if she invests the time. They will lead her to her future boss.

When talking to these new contacts, never ask for a job lead. (People hate that.) Instead, talk shop, because people love to talk about their work. Ask for advice and insight about their industry. Ask a smart question about the topic they discussed in an article or on a forum. Ask them what they are reading lately that influences their work. Ask them what they like about their industry and employer. Ask what advice they’d give you, if you wanted to work at their company. Make a friend.

This seemingly circuitous route to a job is how most business is done, whether people realize it or not. People love to complain that, “The other guy got the job (or the sale) because it was wired for him! He knows someone on the inside!”

But that’s not the point. The point is that the person on the inside knows the person looking for a job. The trust in that connection enables the insider to make a choice that minimizes risk and increases the chances of a positive outcome. This is how companies hire. Your friend needs to learn how this works, and do it herself. She needs to become the insider who gets the job.

How did we go from researching companies and products your friend is interested in to making friends with people she doesn’t know? We did it honestly. If she pursues products and companies she’s honestly motivated about, it will be easier to introduce herself and talk to the people connected to them. Her questions about work, business and opportunities will be easier and more genuine. Dialogue based on honest interest turns into advice and introductions to hiring managers. Insiders recommend people they know, even if they’ve met them recently. They like to recommend people who demonstrate an honest interest in the work and the business.

And that’s why the way to beat the “insider” who has a job “wired” is to become an insider yourself, honestly and with integrity.

There is nothing easy about this approach. But there’s nothing easy about sitting around waiting for people you don’t know to find your application on an online job board — or for sixth-degree links on LinkedIn to “connect” to you.

Learn more about how to Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition).

Do you have a story about surmounting the odds to get in the door? Is it easier to get a job you really want, than a random job you found online?

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LinkedIn For Kids: The biggest lead-gen pimp on the Internet?

reidhoffmanWhat’s LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman looking at? 13-year-olds — LinkedIn’s newest big-money data set. And my bet is his sharedholders are going to be looking at the Internet’s biggest privacy nightmare yet.

Advice to Moms and Dads: Take your kids off his street.

Under the guise of helping 13-year-olds “start their careers off right,” LinkedIn is launching a massive initiative to tap the $300 billion teen market — selling advertising and selling access to kids’ data.

Ever since LinkedIn went public, it abandoned its mission to be the world’s biggest and best professional network. It has quickly evolved into an advertising business.

With a hot IPO behind it, LinkedIn’s management team rushed head-long into silly commercialization, betting that its public relations campaigns could keep its reputation afloat — while the company furiously drained all the integrity out of its ever-growing pool of users.

First, LinkedIn ejected its team of salaried relationship-builders and brought in a boiler room full of telemarketers working on stiff quotas. According to SEC filings, in short order LinkedIn’s sales and marketing operation skyrocketed from 207 people to 1,822. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Jeff Weiner realized that their company’s value wasn’t in the business networks it had created. The big money was in keywords. So they started selling members’ data to employers, just like Monster.com and CareerBuilder do.

Just another job board

LinkedIn launched its IPO, and re-launched itself as a job board. Chucking connections for cash, LinkedIn has been charging job seekers for “Premium” services. (See Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?) For $29.95/month, you can buy empty promises of status and top position on the list of resumes employers pay to access. (You also get to write a dozen or so “InMails” using LinkedIn’s cumbersome, proprietary mail system that tracks who you communicate with.)

linkedinbuttonWith a wink and a nod, LinkedIn cautions members to apply only for jobs they are truly qualified for — but gave them a button to easily and instantly apply for any job they encountered. Like the job boards, LinkedIn is facilitating a jobs lottery: The more tickets you buy, the more chances you have to win!

And as LinkedIn members started flooding employers with applications, employers paid LinkedIn to drink out of a fire hose.

But, everyone knows that job boards aren’t just in the job board business. They’re in the lead-generation business. Your “profile” is chock full of incredibly valuable information to salesmen and marketers. If you don’t believe me, just create a faux membership on any job board using a faux e-mail address and watch your in-box to see who’s buying or renting your data.

Hacking Members’ E-mail: The new business model?

If anyone thinks LinkedIn is in the “relationship” and “professional networking” business, listen closely: LinkedIn is an advertising company collecting data to linkedin-hacksell. At LinkedIn, “innovation” means “We make more cash from your data.” And members don’t like it. They’re complaining that LinkedIn hacked their external e-mail directories and — without permission — is sending solicitations to their contacts. Last week, a group of LinkedIn members filed a class action about this practice in San Jose federal court. (The New York Times says “the company is treading dangerously.”)

Hoffman and Weiner have found the Holy Revenue Model: Charge everyone, and convince everyone this is the only game in town!

Gone are some of the most useful services that LinkedIn used to offer to members. The company killed LinkedIn Answers, a powerful way to network and share information — and introduced a service its users find laughable: Endorsements — the equivalent of cheap come-on lines thrown at girls in bars.

Then LinkedIn itself started courting girls and boys — 13 and older, just two weeks after issuing $1 billion in new stock. Now kids can connect with adults. What’s going on here is obvious. LinkedIn is scrambling to acquire more personal data, from yet another valuable demographic, to prop up its stock price.

Hey, little girl…

In what must be the most laughable bit of bullshit published online this year, LinkedIn’s Eric Heath announced that kids are invited to join LinkedIn “so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right.”

free-candy-vanGimme a break. This new “age of consent policy” has nothing to do with 13-year-olds’ “careers” and everything to do with collecting personal data.

LinkedIn’s intentions and motivations are obvious. Reid Hoffman is driving around the Internet offering memberships to a demographic that spends $200-$300 billion annually (teenagers) — and that’s just in the United States. Hey, little girl… how about a nice piece of e-candy…?

This is all about personal data for sale

LinkedIn is now all about advertising. To monetize the 13-year-old data set — and your profile, too — the company just hired Groupon ad exec Penry Price, signaling that “connections” are the bait, and that the real name of this game is advertising.

Has LinkedIn become the biggest lead-gen pimp on the Internet — now featuring kids, their personal data, and their money? Moms and dads can start sweating bullets, too, wondering who’s protecting their little girls’ and boys’ information.

But stockholders can rejoice, at least for now, because everybody pays the house. As litigation mounts, Hoffman and Weiner may find they’re going to pay the piper.

Have you noticed more LinkedIn solicitations in your e-mail? Do you think your e-mail addresses have been hacked by LinkedIn? Is this “business network” looking like a dog to you?

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Executive Search: Don’t pay lazy headhunters

In the September 17, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks why headhunters charge you to join their database so they can “find” you and earn big fees by placing you. Where’s the search in that?

I run a small, high-tech company and I’ve been looking at various models for hiring top-level executive talent, and also in case I decide to look for a new executive job myself. What’s your quick take on the BlueSteps Executive Search service that I keep seeing advertised? I know you say the candidate should never be paying to find a job. BlueSteps charges executive job seekers $329 to join its database. Is it the same story here? I thought headhunters got paid big fees to go find people — not to charge me to join the database they search.

Nick’s Reply

You nailed it. The candidate should never pay a dime to find a job — especially when a corporation is paying a big-name “executive search firm” huge fees to find the right candidates. (Real headhunters go out and find good candidates; they don’t charge candidates to be found.)

payoffWhat is it, anyway, with this new “business model” online? Create a database, charge job seekers to add their information, then charge employers (or headhunters) to find the information. Everybody pays! And the entrepreneurs doing business this way come off like slimeballs. Great business model!

We’ve discussed TheLadders, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and other job boards that charge job seekers — and then charge employers. (You should never pay for access to jobs — or to headhunters.)

Now there’s a new player in this league. BlueSteps — an operation of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). It’s doing what LinkedIn does: tapping job seekers for fees. It’s a racket.

Then the executive search firms that belong to BlueSteps charge their clients — corporate employers — one-third of a new hire’s salary to fill executive positions. We’re talking $100,000+ fees.

What makes these search firms worth so much? It’s a good question, because according to BlueSteps’ website, (1) they fill jobs by surfing a resume database, and (2) they deliver job seekers who paid to join the database. That’s not worth $100,000.

Real executive headhunters don’t sit in front of a screen reading resumes that come across the BlueSteps — or any other — database. They actually go out into the world and hunt the people their clients need. They travel in their professional community. They go where top talent hangs out and mix it up. They talk to respected members of the executive community and form long-term relationships. They track down talent that is hidden or unknown to their clients and bring it home.

lazy_recruiterWhen headhunters find their candidates in a database that job seekers pay to join, something smells. This is not headhunting.

Consider: BlueSteps is an association of search firms that get paid in the vicinity of $200,000 to fill a $600,000 job (one-third of the new hire’s salary). So, why is the AESC charging people to put their resumes into a database that its members can then query to find candidates? It rightfully raises an alarm. Suddenly, executive search is not worth $200,000. Any employer’s own personnel jockeys can surf databases to find people at any salary level. The same executives that populate the BlueSteps database are in other databases, like LinkedIn.

The suckers here are not just executives who pay $329 to “join” the BlueSteps database. The really big suckers are corporations that pay exorbitant fees to lazy headhunters who while away their hours feeding at the database trough.

Check this testimonial on the BlueSteps website from a managing partner at a world-class executive search firm:

“BlueSteps is a very effective way of being visible to the retained search community, as its database is constantly mined by AESC member firms.”

Mined?? Why aren’t these lazy headhunters out actually finding top executive talent? Why are they relying on job seekers who paid to get into the database?

Another managing partner (Don’t you love that title?) at another executive search firm testifies:

“Through BlueSteps, we quickly located three of our top candidates located in a broad geographic cross-section including Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis and London. The candidate signed on for a total compensation package of $500,000+.”

This headhunter collected a fee that was probably around $166,000 — for querying a database. This is not executive search. This is lazy. This is a racket.

BlueSteps says that “in the past 90 days 3,549 BlueSteps database searches [were conducted] by executive recruiters,” and that executive profiles in the BlueSteps database were viewed 12,732 times.

What those managing directors are saying is, We no longer conduct the searches we’re being paid to conduct. We search databases, just like you do — and we charge you $200,000 to fill your open job the way your own personnel jockeys do it.

So, now that we’ve dissected this silly proposition, let’s get to my advice.

If you need to hire an executive, and you have a $200,000 budget to pay a headhunter, go to a small boutique search firm that actually has good contacts in your industry. Use a headhunter who flies below the radar, and who will go out and meet, talk with, and cultivate the best industry sources to get credible, trusted referrals to the best candidates. These are often solo practitioners who are highly respected in the industries they hunt in — headhunters who have relationships that yield excellent referrals. They don’t need LinkedIn, and they don’t need BlueSteps. They make their money the old-fashioned way: They earn it. (You can learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make [real] headhunters work for you.) They invest in people and in relationships — not in cheap recruiting tricks. And they get off their butts and actually recruit.

But if you want candidates from a database that people pay to join, then try BlueSteps.

Or, if you have $200,000 to spend and you’re smart, my guess is you could fill the job yourself. And that’s the lesson here. Filling top jobs properly, by finding the best people, is hard work, but it’s not rocket science. It’s just astonishing that AESC and BlueSteps and their members, who call themselves “executive search” firms, conduct “searches” by surfing databases, and by charging job seekers fees “to be found.”

That’s not worth $200,000. Or even $329. Don’t pay lazy headhunters.

If you’re an employer, how much do you pay headhunters, and what do you get in return? If you’re a job seeker, have you ever paid a headhunter?

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5 Job Search Nightmares

In the September 10, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we tackle 5 nightmares:

  1. An employer wants free work
  2. A relocation dream turns into a horror story
  3. A guy’s network POOF! disappears into thin air
  4. LinkedIn makes an employer tell job seekers to sleep it off, and
  5. A headhunter and his client are lost in salary dreamland…

I get a lot of questions from readers, and I sometimes reply via e-mail with short answers (when I have time) that I never publish. But some of them are just as worthy of discussion… so here we go with some short(er) ones!

Question 1: They want free work!

nightmaresYour column regarding working on a real problem during the interview hit home. In the past six months I’ve had two interviews where I have been asked to work on a real-world problem. The first time, I suspected that this “interview” was to get an outsider’s opinion on a problem the staff was working on. (They wanted free work.) I never heard from the employer again. The second time, I asked the interviewer if the problem was something they were working on. He said yes and that this was a way for them to get a combination of interview and consulting work! I finished the problem and sent them an invoice for the time I spent at the firm. I can appreciate demonstrating your skill to a potential employer. However, the candidate has to be on guard for those seeking free work. How to handle these situations?

Nick’s Reply

When I emphasize the importance of “doing the job in the interview,” I usually include a warning about not working for free. That’s an abhorrent way for an employer to get free work from a job applicant — but I’ve seen it done many times. When responding, it’s always best to be a big cagey, and to hold back some details. If they press you, smile knowingly and offer your consulting time (for a fee) while they complete their hiring process. Heavily detailed “sample problems” are a tip-off. Do just enough to whet their appetites.

Question 2: Relo nightmare

My company relocated me to a new city in another state to a job with the same description as I had before. I thought it was going to be great. Unfortunately, I hate it. There are spider webs and low lighting everywhere, and I dread going to work every day. They got me to sign a contract — I have to repay relo costs of $12,000 if I leave before two years. It’s all of my savings. I am feeling stuck at this not-as-advertised job. I’ve certainly learned a lesson about getting a tour of the site before signing a contract. Am I totally stuck?

Nick’s Reply

Ouch. Relo can be a kind of indentured servitude. Since a contract is involved, I think your best bet is to see an attorney. You can probably get an initial consultation at no cost, but I’d get a good referral from a trusted source. The alternative is to feel depressed for two years. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but you might be able to show that the job is not what they “contracted” for. I wish you the best.

Question 3: My network disappeared

I am a senior software consultant. I recently hit a dry spell finding work and finances have become very tight. What’s alarming is the realization that I am not really connected to any sort of reliable, non-virtual network that can help get me back in the game sooner. I guess while I am actively working, I don’t really think about it. Instead, my de-facto “network” is a random collection of job boards, fruitless job agents, and a few incredibly rude recruiters. Clearly this is inadequate. How do I tap into the support system I desperately need during the down times?

Nick’s Reply

You can’t tap into a support system you don’t have. A big part of life and work is cultivating friends and relationships over time. Please see Tell me who your friends are.

Frankly, a support system is more important than any job. I’m not talking about a loose network of “contacts” for that purpose — I’m talking about real friends and buddies. Attend conferences. Join groups. Take training classes. Offer to do presentations. Cultivate and invest in your relationships — not just professionally, but in all parts of your life. You’ll know you’re doing it wrong if it’s not enjoyable.

Question 4: LinkedIn & ruled out

Thanks for your eye-opening article on LinkedIn. If I were an employer looking to hire (which I was when I was starting my small but successful software company about 20 years ago), I would respond to the sleazy practice of paid uplisting by working my way down the list and e-mailing anyone who had paid for an uplist. I’d let them know that I would not consider them for the job because they had clearly indicated that they didn’t consider themselves good enough to stand on their own merits.

Nick’s Reply

What puzzles me is why job seekers don’t get past the guard (the online forms and the HR department), and why hiring managers don’t open the door to the most motivated applicants! (If you liked that LinkedIn article, see the extended one I wrote for PBS NewsHour.)

Question 5: Salary nightmare

I recently had a discussion with a headhunter for a well-known staffing agency who insisted on getting my current salary. He told me the pay range for the position was $80k-$100k and that if $80k was more than 10% above what I’m currently making, he couldn’t offer me the position. I told him that $80k was more than 10% above what I’m making now, but I refused to give further details. He asked a few more times for my salary and finally ended our “interview” by saying he’d submit my resume and see what happens. What happened here? Is this B.S.? Who said I can’t make more than 10% higher in a new position?

Nick’s Reply

No one says you can’t make more than 10% higher, except this “headhunter’s” client. Many headhunters merely parrot what their client tells them. That’s a poor way to service a client. Sometimes you’ve got to tell them what they need to hear — not what they want to hear. His laziness further reveals itself in the fact that he won’t even back up his client — he’s still going to submit your resume! It’s not clear what he’s really doing to earn a fee. He’s waiting to see if some spaghetti might stick to the wall. Who knows, maybe he’s got no other candidates to submit and he’s willing to chance it.

Of course, employers have the right to limit job offers, even if the limit is completely irrational. The next candidate might be making $90k, so the top offer would be $99k. If you’re making $70k, but can do the job, and they gave you $80k — more than a 10% bump — they’d be saving money, right? Go figure. There are idiots in HR departments who can barely count their fingers and toes, and they’re making these kinds of salary calculations? The decision you must make is, do you want to work with an employer or a headhunter like these two?

I’ve placed people for close to twice their old pay. And the client and the new hire were perfectly happy — value delivered and paid for with no regrets. If I were you, I’d move on to a headhunter and an employer whose goal is to hire good people, not to learn how to count their fingers and toes. (See How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

My compliments for holding fast and not disclosing your salary history — but you let the cat out of the bag anyway. Next time, just say the job seems to be in the right salary range in terms of what you want. Of course, later on, if they make an offer, you must hold fast and not disclose what you’re making. (See Should I disclose my salary history?)

I’m sure you’ve got your own advice to offer on these little nightmares. Please pile on!

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What to do about a broken job

In the August 27, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is frustrated by interviewers who don’t want to talk about the work that needs to be done…

I think your suggestion to “do the work in the interview” is literally right on the money. Nothing else shows how you’ll contribute to the bottom line. But a lot of managers just won’t put a challenge on the table for you to work on during the interview. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to think that way. (Of course, it’s also a test of whether they understand their own job, how candid they are and whether they’re worth working for!)

What do you think of a manager who cannot or will not pose a challenge he’d want you to tackle if you were hired? What’s the next step if this happens in an interview?

Nick’s Reply

The job candidate who takes a job like this usually winds up sucking canal water. I’ll explain that in a minute…

Sometimes a true story of a job candidate’s experience is far more instructive than my opinion. So I’ll recount a story for you.

broken-jobsRichard was an executive at a major pharmaceutical company, working in research and development (R&D). A colleague tipped him off that there was an opening for an R&D manager at the pharmaceutical company she worked for, and he was invited to interview.

Richard met with the Vice President of R&D for the entire operation–a scientist who had been with the company most of his life. The interview went very well. The two men hit it off both professionally and philosophically. As the meeting wound down, the V.P. asked Richard if he had any questions. Richard recounted the story to me:

“I decided to follow your suggestion and I asked the V.P. if he could please lay out a live problem or challenge he would want me to handle if he hired me. This clearly struck him. The V.P. put his hand up to his lips and really thought about it seriously. This went on for a few minutes while we sat in silence. You’d think this was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t at all. It actually felt perfectly right, like I had stimulated the big picture for him. This man, a brilliant Swiss researcher who is known all through the industry, was really thinking.

“Finally, he put his hand down and leaned toward me with a friendly smile and said, ‘You know, that was a very good question and I really can’t think of anything right now.'”

The meeting ended, the two men shook hands and went their ways. To answer your question, there is no “next step” in a situation like this. You’ve just witnessed one of the most important signals a hiring manager can give you: There is no job here.

Three weeks passed. Having heard nothing, Richard called his friend at the company to ask if she could obtain some feedback about the interview.

“Oh, your meeting went very well from what I heard,” said the insider friend. “But they didn’t get back to you? The V.P. decided to cancel the position. He decided not to fill it.”

Richard called me next.

“You’ll never guess what happened… They might have decided not to fill the job for any of a number of reasons. But I could see it in the V.P.’s eyes while he was thinking about my question. My bet is that he decided there was no real job to fill when he realized there was no challenge that he could discuss with me. Call me presumptuous, but I think our discussion made him cancel the position. Imagine if I had talked myself into that job–there was no job. Just an open position!”

Asking a manager to lay out a live problem for you isn’t just a way to challenge yourself and to set the stage to show what you can do. It’s also a very loaded question that can reveal much about the employer and the position itself. Just because a position is open doesn’t mean, as Richard points out, that there’s a job with a future.

Companies often fill positions just because they have “head count”–budget to pay for an employee. The budget stimulates a requisition which stimulates a job description (which is often a rehash of an out-of-date job description). Soon the HR department is advertising for candidates, scheduling interviews, and preparing to make an offer.

The manager wants to protect his budget (Who wants to give up budget money?) and goes along with the process. But this is how “the work” becomes divorced from “the position” and it’s how serious hiring mistakes get made. It’s also how a job applicant winds up swallowing canal water.

When there’s no specific challenge the employer can tell you about, that means there’s no desired outcome for the job. Which in turns means there are no metrics to judge your performance. Which means the job is broken. And you’re screwed if you get hired.

If you ask the question Richard asked, and the employer lays out a challenge, will you be ready with a good answer? In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, you’ll find these two detailed sections of advice and how-to:

    • How to do a Working Interview
    • What’s your business plan for doing this job?

How would you handle a live challenge from an interviewer? Have you ever encountered a broken job? (See the canal water link to find out what that is.)

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How to get into a company that’s not hiring

In the August 20, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to break down the barriers to get into companies that are not advertising jobs:

There are several companies I’d like to work for that don’t have any positions posted, but my skill sets should make me a very viable candidate for them. I don’t have any networking connections to these companies. A few years ago, I submitted resumes and cover letters to these same companies for future consideration, as suggested on their websites, but they never went anywhere.

Do you have any tips for breaking through the barrier to get into these companies?

Nick’s Reply

Yes: To get into these companies, you must identify, make, and cultivate contacts. You’ve already seen that resumes don’t work. No matter how viable your skills may make you, the chance you’ll be considered is small unless you are recommended by someone they trust. There is no easy path.

not-hiringWhen I read your question, here’s what I see. First, you tell me you know where you want to work, and you explain why these companies should hire you. Great! By picking your targets thoughtfully, you’re ahead of the game!

But then you quickly say that you can’t do what’s necessary to achieve it — that is, make connections. You’re saying you’re doomed without even trying!

You’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Thinking you have no networking connections is a common mistake — don’t feel bad. The employment system just programs people to think this way.

But, then you make things even worse. You suggest that employers should figure out for themselves why they need you by reading your cover letters and resume. They won’t. Employers absolutely stink at this.

This is why companies have HR departments that offer excuses galore why, in this talent glut — 26 million Americans looking for full time work — those clowns can’t fill 3.2 million vacant jobs. They have an 8:1 advantage. Eight job seekers available for every job!

What HR says to all these job seekers is, “You’re all under-educated or not educated in the right new skills! You are not the perfect candidate!”

My A!

HR is just lazy. HR wants Instant Workers Who Can Do The Job Now, when what they really need is Smart People Who Can Learn Quickly. People like you.

No offense intended, because I don’t know you. But, virtually everyone I talk with who is in your shoes has the same problem: They learn to be helpless. But don’t feel bad, because helplessness can be unlearned.

So please rewind to your second sentence. You have to make the contacts who will vouch for you and recommend you even if you’re not the perfect candidate — and even if a company isn’t presently hiring.

Check these articles to get an edge

To get new contacts to take you seriously, start with The Interview, Or The Job? Next, Outsmart The Employment System to avoid getting buried by the system. Finally, when you get in front of the right people, Tell ‘Em What They Need to Hear.

Some tips about how to get in the door — even before a job is posted

From How Can I Change Careers?
Learn to initiate insider contacts. (1) Make friends before you need them. Meet people before you need them. Start by talking shop — about the work you both do. (2) Seek advice, not help. No one wants to help you find a job. But if you ask for advice and insight about someone’s employer or work, they’ll talk to you. That leads to introductions to other insiders. (3) Give before getting. Developing insider contacts requires time, effort, follow-up. You may even have to have lunch or a beer with someone. Express your interest in their work first!

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition)
(1) Don’t give references–launch them! Traditional references answer questions about you. Preemptive references call the employer first, and recommend you. (2) “I don’t know any insiders!” Bunk. You just don’t know them yet! Identify customers, vendors, consultants, lawyers, bankers, accountants who deal with the company. Call them. (See “Seek advice, not help” above.)

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search
(1) Hang out with people who do the work you want to do. That’s where hot tips about unadvertised jobs come from. (2) Learn how to say it: “I’m trying to meet the best marketers in my field. Is there someone in your company’s marketing department that you think I should talk with?”

This is how to break through the barriers. Keep in mind: If this were easy, everybody would be doing it. That means you have less competition.

How do you get in the door? What can job seekers do to earn your help to get into your company?

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Fearless Job Hunting: Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?

This week’s Q&A is an excerpt from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, $6.95 (PDF, instant download).


In the August 13, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders when human resources (HR) will call him about his application:

I’ve applied for a job for which I easily meet all the criteria. I even have several “value add” items in my past that make me an extra good candidate. But I have not been invited for even a preliminary interview. They sent me a rejection. Should I just give up, or is it acceptable/advisable to contact the human resources office and essentially say, “I can’t believe you’ve overlooked me!”

Nick’s Reply

The company didn’t turn you down, the screener did. When a human resources person rejects you, it’s like having the gardener tell you not to bother coming around a girl’s house. What does that tell you about whether the girl wants to date you? Nothing.

shooNow, some of my HR friends will want to slap me for telling you this. After all, many HR representatives put a lot of work into interviews, and they expect their conclusions to be respected. I understand that. But no matter how good HR is at interviews, if you think you need to talk to the manager directly to make your case, it’s your prerogative. You must take action.

I’ve placed candidates whose resumes were buried in the HR department’s files for months. After HR stamped the application NO, the hiring manager paid me tens of thousands of dollars to hire the candidate.

I’ve also had HR departments come running to me after the fact, claiming no headhunting fee was owed “because we already had the candidate’s resume.” Yes, but HR failed to interview and hire the candidate. Because I delivered the candidate and facilitated the hire, the hiring managers always thanked me and paid.

There are risks in doing this. HR will try to cut you off if it learns that you “went around,” and depending on the hiring manager, HR might succeed. That’s HR’s job. So take it with good humor. You can be respectful and still be assertive.

Is another shot at the job worth HR’s ire? I say yes. If you get hired, you’ll have plenty of time to placate HR, and the fact of getting hired is the best argument for HR to accept you.

That said, how do you do this? It’s simple, though not easy.

  • You must identify the hiring manager who owns the job.
  • You must make contact.
  • You must show that you would be a worthy hire.

My suggestion is to triangulate — find two or three people who know the manager personally, and ask them to intercede. Ask them to introduce you, to urge the manager to contact you (“Don’t let this candidate get away!”), and to facilitate a meeting. Having lost a round with HR, you need to win one with somebody the manager trusts.

The more direct approach is to e-mail or call the manager. Be brief. Be ready to discuss ways to improve the manager’s operation. But don’t just ask for an interview or suggest that you should be interviewed. Prove that you are worth meeting. How? That’s up to you. If you can’t figure out how you could make the manager’s department more successful, you should not make the call. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book Three: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition). Your presentation must be compelling, because I don’t believe in wasting any manager’s time. If you’re not compelling, then our buddies in HR were right to reject you.

Don’t accept HR’s rejection letter if you think you offer something the manager needs. Go for it! Just be smart and ready.

Wonder what HR would say if you actually did this? On pp. 17-20 of Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, an HR manager responds to my advice and the fur flies!

Did you ever go around HR after a rejection? What happened? If you’ve never done it, would you try it now?

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Did this headhunter overlook me?

In the August 6, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders when a headhunter will call him about his application:

I’ve applied for a job (online, to a headhunter) for which I easily meet all the criteria. I even have several “value add” items in my past that make me an extra good candidate. But I have not been invited for even a preliminary interview. Should I just give up, or is it acceptable/advisable to contact the headhunter and essentially say, “I can’t believe you’ve overlooked me!”

Nick’s Reply

In How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, there’s a section titled, “How should I judge a headhunter?” (pp. 26-27). It includes 10 tests that reveal a headhunter is a good one. Here are four of them:

  • A good headhunter doesn’t call anyone blindly. He already knows quite a bit about your background, or he wouldn’t call you.
  • He is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions he asks. Rather than rely on your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.
  • He will exhibit a sincere interest in your work and abilities, and in your interests and goals.
  • He will give useful advice if you ask for it.

blind_leading_blindThe root of your problem is that you’ve applied for a job indirectly — you applied (1) online, and (2) through a third party. Consequently, you know very little about the job or the manager. You might meet all the criteria that you know about, but that’s really very limited. What you don’t have is all the insider information that “insider candidates” have.

Applying indirectly puts you so far down on the list of realistic candidates that you’re really wasting your time. But I’m not here to berate you. This is a good learning experience if you understand why you’re wasting your time with this headhunter — who seems to have overlooked you because he’s working blind.

First, if the headhunter were any good, he or she would be actively recruiting you and sharing the inside scoop about the job with you. A headhunter who recruits via job postings is a pretty pathetic headhunter. This should be one big tip-off about how realistic the opportunity is. Please think about it: No one is “hunting” you if they’re waiting for you to come along via a job posting, right?

Second, If you’ve never actually talked to the headhunter, you don’t even know if the job is real, or whether the headhunter is just building his database with resumes. (This is common.) So you’re worrying about something that has never happened: The headhunter has invested nothing in you at this point.

That’s the danger of online job postings: They require no work. This is a trap that job hunters fall into all the time. They take job postings too seriously. The place to invest your time and energy is in people who actually know who you are and who take the time to understand what you can do for the employer. (These might be headhunters or employers themselves.)

Now consider the four tests of a good headhunter that I listed above. The headhunter in this case fails all of them. The main test is that, if the headhunter thinks you’re a good match and that he could make a placement, he’d be calling you. I think your best move is to move on — to opportunities where you have good information and contacts. And if you don’t have good contacts, start making them — that’s where the real opportunities lie.

Some guy posting jobs and waiting for a piece of spaghetti to fly across the Internet and stick to his wall isn’t really a headhunter. He’s not worth bothering with.

Do you apply for jobs online, indirectly, via “headhunters” you don’t know? What’s your hit rate? (Come on, make me laff…)

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Should you disclose your salary history to a headhunter?

In the July 30, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader frets about disclosing her salary information to a headhunter (and to an employer):

I am a great fan of your newsletter and just read your guides, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, How to Work with Headhunters, and How Can I Change Careers?, so I suppose I already know your answer to my question.

I recently had an initial interview with a recruiter to discuss my interests and to find out about the recruiting company. After discussing everything, there was this dreaded, but rather expected, question regarding my current salary. I advised that it is private and confidential, just like the hiring manager’s salary. I know that recruiters and employers will still ask for my salary history, but that does not make it right. I want to make sure I am considered for the role. Is there a better way or another way I can protect myself?

Nick’s Reply

shhhWe have discussed the importance of protecting your salary history on Ask The Headhunter before, but it’s worth talking about it again from time to time. Clearly, you already have the answer to your question. Just because recruiters and employers keep insisting and pretending you must hand over your salary information doesn’t mean you must keep coming up with new ways to answer them. The same polite but firm response, even if repeated again and again, is the best you can do without compromising yourself.

In How to Work With Headhunters there’s a section where I discuss how to handle the salary history question when a headhunter asks it. This is quite different from when an employer asks the question. It can be beneficial to share your salary history with the headhunter if you trust him or her completely. In a moment, I’ll share an excerpt from the book and tell you How to say it and how to protect yourself.

First I’ll give you a warning: Keeping your salary confidential can lead some employers (and recruiters) to stop the interview process. So you must decide how to deal with this risk. I strongly believe the right approach is to withhold salary history, even if it costs you a job opportunity, simply because sharing your old salary will almost always result in a lower job offer. But you must decide if that’s a level of risk you are willing to accept. Never take anyone’s advice as gospel — even mine — if you are not comfortable with it.

When an employer asks for salary history

After you decline to reveal your salary to an employer, it’s up to you to shift the discussion to support your position. It’s not going to buy you anything to say No without helping the employer assess your value.

How to Say It
“I’d like to help you assess what I am worth to you with respect to this job. If you’d like to lay out a live problem you’d want me to tackle if you hired me, I’ll show you how I’d go about it. If I can’t show you how I’d do this job profitably, then you should not hire me. But I think you’ll be pleased. Can you lay out a live problem or challenge that’s part of the job?”

This might be as simple as working through a live problem in the interview, or it might mean spending half a day shadowing the manager or someone on the team. I find that when managers see such motivation and willingness to work together during the selection process, they drop the silly demand for salary history in favor of an actual demonstration of your value.

Again, you must decide for yourself how to handle each situation, because standing firm may cost you some opportunities. That’s a problem not just for you, but also for the employer, because your past salary has nothing to do with the job at hand — it’s your ability to do the work that’s the question. Too many HR people avoid the work of thorough assessment by using some other employer’s judgment of a candidate’s value — the old salary.

(For in-depth discussion of salary tactics, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer.)

When a headhunter asks for salary history

While a headhunter’s first duty is to the client who is paying the fee, a headhunter’s livelihood depends on being able to place lots of candidates and on getting good referrals from those candidates for future assignments. A good headhunter would never compromise a candidate’s satisfaction just to close a deal. It’s far better to have lots of very happy placements who refer lots more great candidates than to selfishly talk a candidate into a lower salary. A good headhunter’s reputation and future earnings depend on doing right by both the client company and the candidate. It’s a delicate balancing act, but every good headhunter can do it.

So, assuming you’re working with a good headhunter, here’s what to say when she requests your salary history. This is an excerpt from How to Work With Headhunters, which provides more elaborate advice if you need it (including about how to judge headhunters):

How to Say It
“My policy is not to divulge my salary for the simple reason that it could adversely  affect a job offer. I am willing to walk away from any opportunity if that’s a deal  breaker. No offense intended. I may be willing to divulge my salary to you under two  conditions. First, you would have to agree not to divulge it to your client. That’s up to  you. Second, — and I say this respectfully — you would have to show me how it would benefit my career to tell you what I earn now.”

A good headhunter will have good answers for you and respect your position, even if she disagrees with you. If the headhunter hems and haws and chants excuses and rationalizations, then she cannot work with you candidly and cooperatively, and my advice is to move on to another headhunter or another opportunity.

Do you disclose your salary to headhunters? What’s the effect? Have you missed out on opportunities by withholding your salary? How do you manage headhunters?

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