Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #6 – #10

In the November 18, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about the rest of the stupid inteview questions… In the November 5 edition we discussed the first five of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. (There are of course lots more than 10, but who’s counting?) Let’s recap the reader’s question, then tackle #6 – #10.

I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. stupid-questions-moreWhy did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
  4. What are your best skills?
  5. What is your major weakness?
  6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
  7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
  8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
  9. What salary are you expecting?
  10. What have I forgotten to ask?

Nick’s Reply

6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?

Gimme a break. If you hire me, I’m working with you, right?

Clearly, the purpose of the question is to assess whether you are a solitary type who prefers to avoid interacting with other people. Like you’re going to fess up if you’ve got asocial tendencies… In any case, if you take a guess and tell the interviewer what you think he wants to hear, you might be wrong. Worse, you risk getting a job that’s wrong for you.

I think the best answer to this question is an offer.

How to Say It: “I’d like to offer to come in for half a day to show you how I’d do this job. Perhaps that would involve shadowing another team member, or working alone, or participating in a group work meeting. I’m happy to invest the time, so you can see how I work, and so I can experience first-hand how you and your team work together.”

What’s not to like about such a direct assessment, where everyone can relax, forget about silly questions, and actually do some work? (Caution: Don’t let this turn into you doing lots of free work!) You’ll learn lots more about this approach in Fearless Job Hunting Book 6 – The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.

7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)

“My long-term goal is to chuck it all, become a sailor, and sail around the world with my schnauzer. Do you like dogs and boats? If not, I suppose you won’t hire me.”

You could also try this:

How to Say It: “My goal for the foreseeable future is to help you increase your revenues and/or reduce your costs, and to improve your profit line by doing a better job than anyone else you could hire. I’m not perfect, but I’m determined. Let me explain how I’d do these things in this job…”

8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)

This is the proverbial loaded question — and most “experts” advise avoiding it because any answer may turn off the interviewer depending on what her interests are. (I’ve seen people rejected because they play golf and the manager recently blew a game.)

If the employer pays close attention to your answer and seems to be extrapolating from your hobbies — using some look-up table that explains what it really means when you say you like to read in your spare time — to decide whether you’d be a good hire, then this question is the least of your problems.

Your hobbies are no one’s business. But don’t lose the interview over this one. My advice: Tell the truth and damn the torpedoes. If the employer can’t deal with your interests and won’t hire you because of what you do in your spare time, to heck with her because she’s going to micro-manage you.

Everyone thinks they’re a psychologist. Thank you, Dr. Phil.

9. What salary are you expecting?

If an employer asks you this question instead of, “What’s your current salary?” you’re probably dealing with a smart employer. Smart employers don’t care what you’re making now, because they can figure out for themselves what you’re worth to their business — and that’s what they’re going to offer you, no matter what you made last year.

Show your respect and your own intelligence like this:

How to Say It: “Every good job is dynamic — it evolves and changes quickly. Let’s discuss what I’d be doing day one, week one, month one and by the end of one year — the actual work, the tasks, the deliverables. Then we can discuss how, and perhaps how much, I can add to your bottom line. That’s how I expect to come up with a salary range that I think represents my value, in terms of what I could bring to your bottom line.” (For more about how to handle salary topics in interviews, see Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).)

10. What have I forgotten to ask?

How to Say It: “You didn’t ask me the single most important question in an interview: How am I going to do this job profitably for your company? If I can’t demonstrate my ability to do that, you shouldn’t hire me.”

End of interview.

Now I’ll repeat what I said in the first installment of “The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions”:

If you memorize these answers and use them, you’re a dope. (No offense.) Every person, every employer, ever interview, every situation is different. Use the answers I provided as a spark to get you thinking in the right direction. Preparing your own actual answers will require an immense amount of work on your part, for every single job you interview for. The details will be different in every case.

One more note: Never take anyone’s advice about your job search, including mine. At best, leaven your own approach with something you’ve learned here — but make it your own, make sure you’re comfortable with anything you say or do, and never, ever, ever complain that you blew it because you did what Nick told you to do… :-)

Remember that giving the “right” answers is not the point. That could lead to a job offer for a job that’s totally wrong for you. You don’t want to just succeed in the interview; you want to succeed in getting the right job. And some interviews reveal lousy jobs that you should walk away from.

The key to the ATH approach is figuring out the connection between the work you do and the profit you can add to a business. Without that, your answers to interview questions don’t matter.

I hope you find my suggestions useful.

How do you answer the top 10 interview questions (stupid or otherwise)? What makes your interviews work — and when and how have you failed?

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Outplacement Or Door Number 2?

In the November 12, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about outplacement:

My company is downsizing and I know I’m going to get cut. HR tells us they’re going to give us help finding a job from a top firm that specializes in this. What do you think of outplacement?

Nick’s Reply

When you get fired, outplacement is often the consolation prize. The employer spends 10 or 15 grand to help the employee “transition” (that’s used as a verb, so help me) and the gullible departee is grateful that someone is going to find her a job.

door-no-2Now read my lips: Outplacement might extend your unemployment rather than help you land a new job. So take ownership of your status, and maybe put some extra cash in your pocket. Here’s how.

Some years ago, when AT&T was doing a big downsizing, I got a call asking if I’d like to help with outplacement. I explained that I don’t scale — I can’t coach 5,000 people into new jobs because I don’t think anyone can do that. No, no, no, they said — you’ll be working with just a handful of managers who really need your help. So I took the gig.

The handful of managers comprised the career development team — that branch of the human resources department responsible for outsourcing “transition assistance” for 14,000 employees to a bunch of huge outplacement firms at a cost of $15,000 per person.

But the career development team didn’t want to go sit in cubicles with thousands of other newly minted job hunters. They wanted something better. They wanted highly customized help. Now, this was a huge feather in my cap. I represented “something better,” and I was proud of it. I did a good job helping every single one of them land in new jobs, and I got paid well.

But the point of this story is that the HR exec who hired me explained that outplacement isn’t so much for the departing employee. It’s mostly for the legal protection of the employer. I’ll over-dramatize how it plays out in court:

Downsized employee: “Your Honor, after 20 years on the job, they cast me out on the street!”

Judge: “Did they give you expensive outplacement services to help you find a new job?”

Employee: “Well, yes. They spent 15 grand on Transition Gurus, Inc. to help me, but they never found me a job.”

Judge: “Fifteen grand on a big-name company like Transition Gurus?! Why, they gave you the best! No matter that it didn’t work. No company ever got sued successfully for retaining Transition Gurus, Inc. Case closed! Next!”

While there are some boutique outplacement firms that do good work, the outplacement industry is dominated by a few big players that process the downsized like cattle. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Here’s how big-time outplacement often “works”:

  1. You don’t choose the outplacement firm or the counselor you work with. Your employer does. So from the start, you’re in the back seat of this adventure.
  2. The outplacement firm works for your employer, not for you. The firm’s job is to get you out of your employer’s hair, keep you busy, and make you feel like someone’s going to get you a job so you won’t sue your employer for wrongful termination. Outplacement is mostly about the company’s liability, not your future.
  3. Outplacement firms earn more money when you don’t find a job. Say what? Just what I said. Some of these firms drag out the process to milk the client for more fees, and to make it look like their “process” is thorough. Many programs are boilerplate presentations conducted by lightweight trainers. In some cases, they’ll talk you into buying “premium” services with your own cash.
  4. While you try hard to swallow the drivel some greenhorn counselor is feeding you (after all, you really do need help…) months drift by and your status deteriorates due to protracted unemployment. The firm looks busy, while you look like damaged goods.

Outplacement might be helpful, but never forget that you are responsible for your next career step. Don’t be lulled into thinking that a high-priced consultant — who works for your former employer — has any real skin in your future. The skin is yours alone.

(Special Case: Rip-Off Edition: Who’s trying to sell you a job? This is where outplacement and “career management” turn into scams. Beware.)

Some employers are willing to give you cash in lieu of outplacement services if you ask. (You might have to sign release to get it. Talk to your lawyer.) It might be the best deal, and it might help you get into high job-hunting gear faster. If you decide to spend the money on outplacement with a good small firm, that’s up to you — you get to choose the firm and the counselor. If you use the money to tide you over while you conduct your own job search, that’s also up to you. I’d take Door Number 2: Go for the cash.

Have you ever been downsized and outplaced? Tell us about your experiences!

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Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1 – #5

In the November 5, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about “sample” inteview questions and answers:

I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:

  1. Tell me about yourself.stupid-questions
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. Why did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
  4. What are your best skills?
  5. What is your major weakness?
  6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
  7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
  8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
  9. What salary are you expecting?
  10. What have I forgotten to ask?

Nick’s Reply

Ah, yet another version of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions! I’m sorry you didn’t share the suggested answers, because whoever wrote this is ushering you toward your interview demise.

Are there really stupid questions? Of course — they’re questions that are old, loaded, and worn out. They are not worth asking because any fool can find dozens of clever rejoinders in books and articles (like this one) and regurgitate them with a smile. Interviews shouldn’t be about questions — they should be about two-way discussion.

But let’s get back to what you asked. There used to be a book titled The Top 2800 Interview Questions… And Answers. I have this fantasy: You walk into an employer’s office, shake hands, and say, “I know you have a lot of questions for me. So let’s save us both a lot of time.” You slide that baby across the desk toward the manager… “So here they are, along with all the answers. Now can we cut the crap and talk about the job and how I’ll do it for you, okay?”

Most interviewers are clueless about how to interview and hire good people. Like most job hunters, they’re brainwashed by the employment industry to focus on everything but the one thing that really matters:

How are you going to do this job profitably for my company?

Your challenge is to turn the interview around to a discussion based on that one question. But, here’s how I’d handle those Top Ten questions, because interviewers do ask them. Heads up: If you use my suggested answers, you’re a dope. Don’t be a dope! Use what follows as a first step to re-thinking how you manage your interviews. Turn them into discussions or working meetings.

1. Tell me about yourself.

Before you start talking, think about how people nuke their own job interviews: Don’t Compete With Yourself.

You’ll note that I’ve abbreviated that article because it’s now part of Book Six, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire in the Fearless Job Hunting collection. But here’s a tip from it:

“Most job candidates sit like cornered mice, waiting for the interviewer to start the action. Don’t wait for the employer to ask you the first question— the question that will bring your anxiety to a head. Speak first. Get the ball rolling on a topic your scared self can’t interfere with. Talk about something you know absolutely nothing about, and which your scared self can’t screw up.

“Start an unexpected conversation. Ask the manager about himself, about his successes, or about the state of the industry. There’s nothing to be nervous about, because you are letting the manager perform. You’ve immediately handed him the ball while you acclimate yourself. In the process, you are learning something that might help you with this interview.” (pp. 2-3)

(Hint: You should ask the interviewer about this before he asks you.)

2. Why do you want to work here?

“You are one of only three companies I want to work for. The others are A and B. I believe your business model makes it possible for individual employees to make a clear impact on the bottom line. With your permission, I’d like to go up to your whiteboard and outline how I think I could do that.”

(You’d best have done your homework and know for a fact that what you’re saying about this company is accurate. Otherwise, why interview?)

3. Why did you leave your last job?

If you can answer question #2, all you have to say is that your last employer didn’t view each job in terms of how it contributed to the company’s success. “A job was a job unto itself. I believe all jobs are interconnected, and how I do my work affects how effectively others can do theirs. I left that employer because I want a job where I can contribute to the business.”

4. What are your best skills?

“My most important skill is that I can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. Every job is different and requires new skills, new approaches and new ideas. I’m a quick study, and I can break down a task so I can get it done. In fact, if you’d lay out a live problem you’re facing right now, something you’d want me to handle if you hired me, I’d like to roll up my sleeves and show you how I’d apply the necessary skills to tackle it.”

(This requires lots of preparation in advance. If you’re not willing to do it, then you have no business interviewing with this company.)

5. What is your major weakness?

(Smile when you say this.) “That’s one of those Stupid Interview Questions Nick Corcodilos talks about on Ask The Headhunter. By the time I’m done showing you how I would do this job profitably for you, my weaknesses won’t matter. If you think I have critical weaknesses when we’re done with this interview, then you shouldn’t hire me. (Smile again.) Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really believe that one thing matters above all: You should evaluate me based on what I show you I can do, not on some clever answer I found in a book.”

Next week, we’ll cover Stupid Interview Questions #6 – #10. I’ve already got them worked up, but if you offer different questions that are better qualified for this notorious list, I’ll substitute your choices for the ones in this reader’s list.

Of course, if you’ve got better suggestions than mine above, I expect to see them posted below as comments. Remember: This is about having a discussion with an employer. Not about clever answers to stupid questions.

What’s the most ridiculous “serious” question an employer has asked you? Are canned questions really useful for assessing job applicants? What do you do when such questions come up in interviews? Join us on the blog!

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Employment In America: WTF is going on?

The October 29, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is the 500th edition. So rather than answer a reader’s question, I’m celebrating this milestone by making up my own question, and doing my best to answer it.

(What? You don’t subscribe to the free, weekly e-mail Ask The Headhunter Newsletter? Don’t miss the next edition! Subscribe now!)

WTF is going on with employment in America?

Why have I written and published 500 weekly editions of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter? Because America’s employment system still doesn’t work.

wtfThe emperor still has no clothes, and that’s why over 25 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. (According to PBS NewsHour, that’s how many Americans say they want but can’t find a full time job.) Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are about 3.9 million jobs vacant.

HR executives have a special term for this 6:1 market advantage when they’re trying to fill jobs today: They call it a “talent shortage.”

Gimme a break.

Personnel jockeys run around in their corporate offices with their eyes closed, throwing billions of dollars at applicant tracking systems and job boards like Taleo, Monster.com, and LinkedIn — and they pretend no one can see they are dancing in circles buck naked.

WTF is going on? We’ll talk about a talent shortage when the HR talent shortage abates — and HR executives learn how to match up the 3.9 million with work that needs doing.

Companies don’t hire any more

Employers don’t do their own hiring, and that’s the #1 problem. Employers have outsourced their competitive edge — recruiting and hiring — to third parties whose heads are so far up The Database Butt that this little consortium should be investigated by Congress.

Taleo, Kenexa, LinkedIn, Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and their diaspora — you know who I’m talking about. Monster and LinkedIn alone sucked almost $2 billion out of the employment system in 2012. These vendors tout fake technologies and cheap string-search routines masquerading as “algorithms” for finding “hidden talent” and “matching people to jobs.”

So, why are almost 4 million jobs vacant?

Because these vendors sell databases, not recruiting, not headhunting, not jobs, not hires, not “matchmaking.”

Somewhere, right now, the chairman of the board of some corporation is pounding the podium at a shareholders’ meeting, exclaiming, “People are our most important asset!”

Meanwhile, HR executives are blowing billions out their asses, mingling their companies’ most important assets in databases shared with all their competitors via a handful of “applicant tracking systems” that can’t get the job done.

Heads-up to boards of directors: Where is your competitive edge any more? Take control of your hiring again — like it matters!

Employers don’t know how to recruit

Here’s how human resources departments across America “recruit.” They put impossible mixes of keywords about jobs into a computer. They press a button and pay billions of dollars for a chance that Prince Charming might materialize on their computer displays. When the prince fails to appear, they pay to play another day. (Last year, companies polled said 1.3% of their hires came from Monster.com and 1.2% from CareerBuilider. Source: CareerXroads.)

Meanwhile, in the real world, over 25 million people — many of them immensely talented and capable of riding a fast learning curve without falling off — are ready to work.

Employers need to get off their butts, remove the Taleo straps from around their necks, and go outside to actually find, meet, recruit, cajole, seduce, and convince good workers to come work for them.

The employment system vendors are lying

The big job boards and the applicant tracking systems tell employers that sophisticated database technology will find the perfect hire.

  • ”Don’t settle for teaching a good worker anything about doing a job. Hire only the perfect fit!”
  • “We make that possible when you use more keywords for a job!”
  • “The more requirements you specify, the more perfect your hire will be! The database handles it all!”

Except that’s a lie. Job descriptions heavily larded with keywords make it virtually impossible to find good candidates. But every day that an impossible job requisition remains unfilled, the employment system vendors make more money while companies keep advertising for the perfect hires.

WTF? How stupid can anyone be? At the roulette wheel, the house always wins.

3.9 million jobs are vacant, thanks to the empty promises of algorithms. If the U.S. Congress wants a solution, it should launch an investigation into the workings of America’s employment system infrastructure, which is controlled by a handful of companies.

Employers have no business plan

Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the quality of the American worker pool has not diminished. Rather, American companies:

  • Don’t want to pay market value to hire the right workers.
  • Don’t want to train talented workers to do a new job.
  • Don’t have any problem using applicant tracking systems that don’t work.

Cappelli points out that employers believe they save money when they leave jobs vacant, because their accounting systems track the cost of having workers on the payroll — but cannot track the cost of leaving work undone.

Employers run the junk profitability numbers in their sleep:

Fewer Employees=Lower Costs=Higher Profits

Employers that believe this are idiots. They should stop regarding workers as a cost, and start treating them as investments, and ensure that each worker pays off in higher profits. They should get a business plan.

America counts jobs, not profitable work

The federal government tracks the number of people who have jobs and the number of vacant jobs. But that’s no measure of a healthy economy. We all know the weekly employment figures are a fraud. The definitions of jobs and “who is employed” are so manipulated that no one knows WTF is going on.

It’s time to re-think how companies find and pay people to do work that produces profit. A better indicator of economic success would be the measure of how profitable all the work in America actually is — and how much profit is left behind on the table each month when work is left undone.

People must stop begging for jobs

It’s time for people to stop thinking about jobs, and high time to start thinking about how — and where — they can create profit.

If I run a company, I’ll hire you to do work that pays off more than what I pay you to do it. Today, virtually no employer knows whether hiring a person will pay off. That’s why you need to know how to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, how you will contribute profit to the manager’s business. That’s right: Be smarter than the manager about his own business. Stop begging for jobs. Start offering profit.

Because if you can’t do that, you have no business applying for any job, in any company.

Think you can generate lots of profit without working for someone else? Then bet your future on your plan, and start your own business.

WTF is going on

Here’s the simple truth that’s buried in the employment system, which is controlled by a handful of lightweight database jockeys who are funded by HR executives who have no idea how to recruit or hire:

There is no business plan in any applicant tracking system, no profit in a job posting, no future in federal employment metrics, no solution in HR departments, and no answers in databases or algorithms.

WTF is going on is this: American ingenuity starts with the individual who has an idea, blossoms with a plan that will produce profit — for yourself and your boss and your customer — and results in more money for everybody.

WTF is going on is that you must do the hard work of figuring it out yourself, each time, and every time. American business can’t outsource recruiting and hiring, and American workers can’t afford to let someone else find them “a job.”

WTF do you think is going on? Is there a way out of this mess? How do we change the way work is defined, and how people earn money for their work?

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Ask questions. Be likeable. Get hired.

In the October 22, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tries to keep everybody happy in the job interview:

I was wondering what to say when asked, “Do you have any questions?” when you’re seeing many different people from the same company during a day’s interviews. Most of the questions I have could be addressed by any of the interviewers.

I’ve tried coming up with as many questions as possible and asking one per person, or just asking the same questions over and over and pretending to be fascinated when I hear the same explanation the sixth time. But I’m not sure which one is right. I either seem like I don’t have many questions, or I’ll seem insincere if the interviewers compare notes.

Nick’s Reply

any-questionsYour questions about the work might all be the same, but if you frame the questions to allow each interviewer to discuss his or her perspective about the work, you will learn a lot, and your questions will not seem gratuitous.

If you want to send an interviewer (or all eight of them) into rapturous mental contractions, you need ask only one question:

“I’m curious. What brought you here, to this job?”

People love to talk about themselves. When you encourage them to do that, they will feel closer to you and they will be more likely to judge you as a “better candidate” because you let them talk about themselves.

Does that sound a bit glib? It’s not, if you really want the answer.

“I’m curious. What have been the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your own job?”

People love to talk about their successes. Help them do that, and you will learn a great deal. The more they talk, the more they will perceive you as being interested in their work. And that raises their estimation of you.

These suggestions stem from one of the fun facts from the world of psychology: When someone shows an interest in us, we tend to like them.

I’m not trying to teach you tricks; just a simple interpersonal skill. The key, I believe, is to ask intelligent questions that keep the interview focused on the work. Lots of intelligent questions about the work start out as questions about the interviewer. Take advantage of that.

What do you ask employers during job interviews? While ability to do the work should be an employer’s #1 concern, likeability ranks high as a reason employers make a hire.

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Optimize your first day on the job

In the October 15, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to start a new job off on the right foot:

I’m starting a new job soon, and I’d like your opinion on how to make a great first impression. I can do the handshaking and small talk, but what else? I’ve read that one should meet with the boss at the end of the first day to check in. What other advice can you give me?

Nick’s Reply

It’s a good idea to stop by your boss’s office at the end of your first day to say thanks for the job and to “check in.” But you should also check in with your boss regularly, to ensure you’re meeting his or her expectations and that you understand your objectives.

Be diplomatic and be confident. But don’t just say “hi.” Introduce some substance into your conversation so your boss will take notice of your diligence — because the early impression you create will influence your relationship for a long time to come.

After you’ve been oriented and assigned your first tasks:

  • Take some time to outline the work you have to do.
  • Put it on paper. It need not be fancy, but it should be carefully thought out.

optimizeAlso outline how you’re going to do the work:

  • Lay out an overall strategy.
  • Detail the specific steps you’ll take.
  • Describe the tools you’ll use, and so on.

Don’t forget to:

  • List obstacles you might encounter.
  • Questions you’ll have.
  • Include milestone dates and measures of your own performance.

Then sit down with your boss:

  • Ask for input and comments about your work plan.
  • Discuss how your work will contribute to the company’s (or department’s) profitability.
  • Explain that you want to shape your plan so you’ll fit in with the rest of the team.

Don’t wait for your boss to “review” your performance. Review it for him early and often (without irritating him). That’s the best way I know to Start a Job on The Right Foot because it shows the boss that you’re thinking about the work and about the company’s success. After all, that’s what you were hired for, right?

Best wishes on your first days!

How do you keep your job? Your boss always needs good reasons to keep you on board. How do you do it?

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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.


cover-nl

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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