I’m 64: Will you hire me anyway?

In the January 28, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader decides to ‘fess up that he’s old… in the cover letter:

You’d never know it looking at me or talking to me, but… I’m 64! I learned a while ago to take any reference to my age off my resume, but as I list all my relevant positions and achievements, the reader has to figure, “This guy’s gotta be, like, over 60!” and boom, I’m done. The achievements, the relevant jobs, the references… buh-bye! I don’t know how to overcome this age discrimination without any opportunity for me to respond to it.

when-im-64I recently applied to a position I really want, and in the cover letter to the headhunter I wrote this:

Perhaps the only negative in my candidacy, which I feel I must address here so that it’s out in the open, is my age. I am 64 years old, which I’m sure will strike many as too old. I can assure you that in my case it is not. I’m in excellent health, I still walk 36 holes [of golf] several times a season, I play singles tennis three times a week, I write my columns and blogs in my spare time, and my clients never even think about my age. Other than continually losing arguments with my wife, I show no signs of slowing down, and fully intend to keep working full-time for at least another decade. There you go. It would be unfortunate if chronology worked against me, for no valid reason.

I figure, well, at least I’m open about it, and either it kills my chances or they actually think, “Hey, good for this guy to nip this in the bud.”

What’s your view? Ignore my age and hope they don’t notice or care? Raise it and hope they appreciate the strong position? Or deliberately hide it from all submitted material and let them reject me when they find out?

Nick’s Reply

I think your age is not the determining factor in getting a job. I think it’s a mistake to hide or emphasize age or to be defensive about it.

Consider the baseline probabilities that any given job hunter will get a job offer. They are tiny. The cynic will say, “Well, if you add in age, the odds get even smaller!” No, my view is different.

The odds are always small. But what triggers a hire is something distinctive in a candidate that suggests he or she can do an exceptional job. Such qualities are rare — in any candidate, at any age. For that reason, my advice is to forget about your age altogether. Don’t hide it or rationalize it — but leave it alone. Let them think what they want to think about age — but control the agenda. Give them something else more important to think about.

Your job is to influence an employer to believe you can make a significant material difference in the business. Show them the green, and they’re more likely to forget about the grey.


Three of the Fearless Job Hunting Books will take you on a deep dive into the topics that surround this challenge:


If an employer is going to discriminate over age, about all you can do is sue them. Or, you can hit them so hard with a value proposition that they realize they cannot afford not to hire you.

That’s the challenge. I think most of a hiring decision rides on a person’s ability to deliver profit. Age can pose additional challenges, but I think only the profit angle can overcome that.

By the way — I hate your paragraph about your age. If I were an employer reading that, I’d toss your resume. Why? Because you’re so worried about your age that your concern about it is likely to adversely affect your work and how you relate to others. My advice (but use your own judgment first) is to lose it and stop talking about it unless someone asks.

That’s my two bits. Find the right organization, do your homework (like you would if you were on the job) and hand them a brief business plan for the job — just enough to make them call you.

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed age discrimination, and it won’t be the last. Should you disclose your age up front?

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Big Data, Big Problems for Job Seekers?

In the January 21, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, Nick asks readers for help with an upcoming TV news interview:

There’s no question from a reader this week. Instead, I’m asking all of you readers a question. May I have your help?

I’ve been asked to appear on a TV news show to discuss how HR is using Big Data to watch you at work — and to process your job application without interviewing you. I’d like your input on the topic so I can frame my comments with your interests in mind. I’ll share a link to the program after it airs, and we can discuss it further then.

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

Nick’s Question for You

Big-Data-KittyAre you frustrated because employers reject your job application out of hand without even talking to you? Tired of online application forms kicking you out of consideration because you took too long to answer questions, or because you failed to disclose your salary history?

Wait — America’s employment system is getting even more automated and algorithm-ized. According to a new report in The Atlantic, the vice president of recruiting at Xerox Services warns that:

“We’re getting to the point where some of our hiring managers don’t even want to interview anymore.” According to the article, “they just want to hire the people with the highest scores.”

The subtitle of that Atlantic column (They’re Watching You At Work by Don Peck) reads: “The emerging practice of ‘people analytics’ is already transforming how employers hire, fire, and promote.”

Does that worry you?

If all goes according to plan (hey, this is TV — all schedules are subject to change), Atlantic columnist Don Peck and I will talk about the rise of Big Data in the service of HR — and I want your input in advance, because I’m worried about the conclusions Peck draws in his article. It’s a very long one (8,600+ words), but it illuminates some of the technology that’s frustrating your job search. Please have a look at it, and post your suggestions to help me frame my comments for this TV program.

Here are the Big Problems I see with this Big Data approach to assessing people for jobs and on the job:

The metrics are indirect.

The vendors behind these “tools” don’t directly assess whether a person can do a job. Instead, they look at other things — indirect assessments of a person’s fit to a job. For example, they have you play a game and they measure your response times. From this, they try to predict success on the job. That determines whether you get interviewed.

The problem is that we’ve known for decades that this approach doesn’t work. Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli throws cold water on indirect assessments:

“Nothing in the science of prediction and selection beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

All that’s being thrown into the mix by these “assessment” vendors is Big Data. But more data doesn’t change anything. In fact, it makes things worse if the data are not valid predictors of success. It’s worse because indirect assessment leads to false negatives (employers reject potentially good candidates) and to false positives (they hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons).

The conclusions are based on correlations.

These tools predict success based on whether certain characteristics of a person are similar to characteristics of a target sample of people. For example, Peck’s article says that “one solid predictor of strong coding [programming] is an affinity for a particular Japanese manga site.” (Manga are Japanese comics.)

Gild, the company behind this claim, says it’s just one correlation of many. But Gild admits there’s “no causal relationship” between all the Big Data it gathers about you and how you perform on the job.

In what can only be called a scientific non sequitur, Gild’s “chief scientist” says “the correlation, even if inexplicable, is quite clear.”

The problem: A basic tenet of empirical research is that a correlation does not imply causality, or even an explanation of anything. Data tell us that people die in hospitals, and that correlates highly with the presence of doctors in hospitals. All jokes aside, that correlation doesn’t mean doctors kill people. Except, perhaps, in the world of Big HR Data: If you’re selling “people analytics,” then playing a game a certain way means you’ll work a certain way.

When we pile specious correlations on top of indirect assessments (What animal would you be if you could be any animal?), we wind up with no good reasons to make hiring decisions, and with no basis for judgments of employees.


INTERMISSION: There’s a hidden lesson for recruiters in Big Data.

Hanging out at a manga site doesn’t improve anyone’s ability to write good code — nor does it predict their success at work. But, it might mean that a recruiter can find some good coders on that manga site — the one reasonable conclusion and recruiting tactic that none of the people Peck interviewed seem to have thought of!


I don’t think Peck wrote this article to promote “people analytics” as the solution to the challenges that American companies face when hiring, but he does seem to think the Kool-Aid tastes pretty good. I think Peck over-reaches when he confuses useful data that employers collect about employee behavior to improve that behavior, with predictions based on silly Big Data assumptions.

To entice you to read the article and post your comments, I’ll share a couple of highlights in the article that kinda blinded me. Well, the assumptions behind them were blinding, anyway:

Spying tells us a lot.

In further support of indirect assessments of employees and job applicants, Peck cites the work of MIT researcher Sandy Pentland, who’s been putting electronic badges on employees to gather data about their daily interactions. In other words, Pentland follows them around electronically to see what they do.

“The badges capture all sorts of information about formal and informal conversations: their length; the tone of voice and gestures of the people involved; how much those people talk, listen, and interrupt; the degree to which they demonstrate empathy and extroversion; and more. Each badge generates about 100 data points a minute.”

Peck notes that these badges are not in routine use at any company.

It’s just a game.

A lot of the “breakthroughs” Peck writes about come from start-up test vendors like an outfit called Knack, which creates games “to suss out human potential.” Knack continues to seek venture funding, and the only Knack client mentioned in the article is Palo Alto High School, which is using Knack games to help students think about careers.

“Play one of [Knack’s games] for just 20 minutes, says Guy Halfteck, Knack’s founder, and you’ll generate several megabytes of data, exponentially more than what’s collected by the SAT or a personality test.”

The big dbig-dataata gathered, writes Peck,

“are used to analyze your creativity, your persistence, your capacity to learn quickly from mistakes, your ability to prioritize, and even your social intelligence and personality. The end result, Halfteck says, is a high-resolution portrait of your psyche and intellect, and an assessment of your potential as a leader or an innovator.”

Let’s draw a comparison in the world of medicine; it’s an easy and apt one: If more megabytes of game data can be used to generate more correlations, could doctors diagnose patients more effectively by collecting bigger urine samples? Because that’s the logic.

No sale.

I don’t buy it. I want to know, can you do the job?

Some Big Data about employee behavior can be analyzed to good effect. For example, Peck reports that Microsoft employees with mentors are less likely to leave their jobs, so Microsoft gets mentors for them. But he seems to easily confuse legitimate metrics with goofy games of correlation. And the start-up companies he profiles don’t seem to be on any leading edge — they’re mostly trying to sell the idea that Big Data in the service of questionable correlations makes those correlations worth money.

(To learn the ins and outs of legitimate employment testing, see Erica Klein’s excellent book, Employment Tests: Get The Edge.)

Big Deal.

We know that what Peter Cappelli says about the science of prediction is correct. But I think Arnold Glass, a leading researcher in cognitive psychology at Rutgers University, says it best:

“It has been known since Alfred Binet and Victor Henri constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job. Therefore, the idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

It seems to me that HR should be putting its money into teaching HR workers and hiring managers to hang out where the people they want to hire hang out, and into teaching them how to get to know these people — and how good they are at their work.

In the meantime, is it any surprise to any job seeker today that employers mostly suck at recruiting the right people and at conducting effective interviews?

If you have questions or thoughts you’d like me to raise in this forthcoming TV program, please post them. I’ll try to use the best of the bunch. I wish I could tell you that hanging out on my blog causes employers to hire you. Thanks!

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

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Fired for my ethics!

In the January 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets fired for not cutting corners:

I am about to be “removed” from my present position. The background reason is because I do my work by the book and will not take shortcuts that are unethical. Management says I’m not a team player. In 15 years, I have never been fired or had this kind of problem before. My question is, how do I handle this in interviewing for a job? And can I leave this company off my resume? The situation has me very depressed. I’m not dealing with it well, but need to get on and find a job. How will a prospective employer view this? Thanks for your time and help.

Nick’s Reply

Don’t ever apologize for your integrity. Don’t complain about anyone else’s lack of it when you interview. Those two rules will stand you well.

youre-firedIf you’ve been with the company more than six months, it will be hard to leave it off your resume. When asked why you left your employer, it’s perfectly honest to say, “I want to work for a better company.”

If you’re asked what specifically made you leave your job, tell the truth, but keep it very brief and unemotional. Don’t dwell on it in an interview, but don’t be defensive about it, either. Decide what you’re comfortable saying, and stick to it. The employer’s reaction will depend a lot on how your attitude comes across. (Learn to use one and only one brief, business-like explanation no matter who you’re discussing this with — family, friends, or new people you meet.) The key in the interview is this: Turn your discussion back to the topic that really matters — how you are going to bring added success to the manager you’re meeting with.

This is where your good references come in. You need to provide an employer with compelling proof of your abilities. You’re going to need to be selective about what references you use from your last employer — but you should definitely have references from people there who know you well. This includes co-workers and managers in other departments that know you. (You don’t have any such references? Tell me who your friends are.)

Remember that your old company’s customers, vendors, and professional consultants (lawyers, bankers, accountants) can also be powerful references, if you had such contacts in your last job.

But take this extra step: Ask your references to call a prospective employer before he calls them. (I discuss this and other powerful reference techniques in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, especially in the section titled “How do I deal with an undeserved nasty reference?”, pp. 19-21.) A good reference won’t have a problem doing that for you, as long as you don’t ask too often. An employer will see this as a very powerful recommendation.

Don’t be depressed. Moving on is the right thing. When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you’ll be looking at someone with integrity. Your previous employer may find an image in his own mirror that isn’t so pleasing. There are lots of companies that want ethical workers. To find them, keep your standards high.

Ever get fired because you didn’t “fit?” How did you handle it? What did you do for references?

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The Stress Interview: How employers abuse job applicants

In the January 7, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader takes on employers who play games in job interviews:

You have an awesome newsletter and I am glad that I have subscribed to it. I wish more people (especially companies that hire) would read it. Have you ever heard of an interview process where there is more than one interviewer, and the second or third interviewer just sits there and acts bored or is rude the whole time (yawning, etc.)? How would you recommend dealing with it? What is this type of interview ? I have found no information on the web about it.

I have never personally had this happen to me but I have had friends tell me these things have happened to them. One interviewer will ask a question and, when the interviewee attempts to answer, the second or third interviewer will start talking to another interviewer or yawn in what seems like an obvious attempt to throw the interviewee off guard.

I was in the Army some time ago and I heard that this was frequently done during oral board interviews for promotion. The military I get, but not a company that is supposed to be professional.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words about the newsletter — glad you enjoy it. Believe it or not, there are lots of HR folks who subscribe. They tell me they’re not the “personnel jockeys” I write about. I figure if they keep reading, maybe they’re not!

rude-interviewThe situation your friends are experiencing is a variation on the “stress interview,” where an employer will introduce something to stress out the job candidate. The classic move is for the interviewer to start yelling at the applicant, just to see what he’ll do. (Of course, your friends might just be visiting employers that have actual, rude employees or managers in those interviews!)

But it doesn’t matter to me whether we’re talking about rude interviewers, or about interviewers who intentionally abuse applicants to test them. My advice is the same: Stop the interview.

Calmly but firmly explain that you’re there to talk shop — to demonstrate how you’ll do the job profitably for the employer.

“But I don’t work for jerks, or tolerate bad behavior in any business environment, including this interview.”

Then I’d walk out calmly, without raising my voice or being rude in any way. Because you’re dealing with jerks.

If you really want to drive home the point to those interviewers,explain it to them this way:

“If you worked in sales and treated a prospective customer like this, would you be surprised if the prospect got up and walked out? Of course not. You wouldn’t be surprised, either, if your VP of Sales fired you. Now, what do you think I’m going to tell people in our professional community about my experience here?”

Honest — that’s what I’d do. People who behave like that are either naturally jerks, or they’re “manufactured” jerks who behave that way because someone told them it was a cool way to interview people, by abusing them. None of it is acceptable.

The minute you convince yourself that it’s acceptable, and try to appease your abuser, you become a sucker for an employer that (1) has no idea what it’s doing, or (2) has just revealed what life will be like if you take a job there. I’ve walked out of meetings like that, and I’ve felt great. I couldn’t care less what “opportunity” I might have missed, because dealing with people like that is no opportunity.


This isn’t the only way employers will abuse you.
Learn how to Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, and find out how to Play Hardball With Employers.


A company that tests you to see how you will deal with jerks is risking its reputation. I believe such “techniques” are invented by failed human resources managers who are clueless about how to judge people, so they start “HR consulting practices” and invent goofy tricks that they then “sell” to their clients. And it goes around like an infection.

If the Army uses this technique, I’m surprised. What kind of salary would you expect an employer to pay you to go to boot camp and be a full-time soldier for them?

Have you ever been abused in a job interview? What did you do? How would you advise this reader?

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Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course

In the December 17, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks for the short and sweet version of Ask The headhunter (and gets an earful):

Can you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter strategy and explain the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

caneThis is a good end-of-year question. The detailed answer is spread across the website, my blog, these newsletters and my PDF books. But I’ll try to summarize by sharing some of my tips, in the form of reprints straight from the books.

I’ve selected sections that should be helpful by themselves, and I hope they get you off on the right foot. If you’d like more details that are beyond the scope of the newsletter, please check the PDF books they come from.

Here’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell:

Find the right job

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do — people who are very good at it. Insiders are the first to know about good opportunities, but they only tell other insiders.

To get into an inside circle of people, you must earn your way. It takes time. You can’t fake it, and that’s good, because who wants to promote (or hire) the unknown? Here’s how the distinction works.

From How Can I Change Careers?, pp. 27-28, “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends”:

Don’t speculate for a job
The way most people network for a job smacks of day trading in the stock market. The networker has no interest in the people or companies she’s “investing” in. She just wants a quick profit. She skims the surface of an industry or profession, trying to find easy contacts that might pay off quickly.

When you encounter an opportunistic networker, you’ll find that she listens carefully to the useful information you give her, but once you’re done helping, she’s not interested in you any more. She might drop some tidbits your way, but don’t expect her to remember you next week.

Invest in relationships
Contrast this to someone who reads about your company and calls to discuss how you applied new methods to produce new results. She’s interested in your work and stays in touch with you, perhaps sending an article about a related topic after you’ve talked. She’s investing in a potentially valuable relationship.

This initial contact might prompt you one day to call your newfound friend for advice, or to visit her company’s booth at the next trade show and introduce yourself. Maybe it never goes beyond that or maybe one day you’ll work together. The point is, after a time you become familiar to one another. You become members of one another’s circle. You’ll help one another because you’re friends, not “because it will pay off later.”

The methods in How Can I Change Careers? are not just for career changers — they are for anyone changing jobs that wants to stand out to a hiring manager as the profitable hire.

Get the interview

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts. Between 40-70% of jobs are filled that way. Yet people and employers fail to capitalize on this simple employment channel. They pretend there’s some better system — like job boards. That’s bunk. There is nothing more powerful than a respected peer putting her good name on the line to recommend you. Deals close faster when the quality of information is high and the source of information is trusted. That’s why it takes forever to get a response when you apply “blind” to a job posting.

How can you get interviews via the insiders who have the power to recommend you? I once gave some advice to a U.S. Army veteran who had just returned home from overseas duty and wanted to start a career in the home building industry. This method works in virtually any line of work.

From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), pp. 15-16, “How to make great personal contacts”:

Pick the two or three best builders in your area; ones you’d really like to work for. They may not be the biggest, but they should be the ones you have a real affinity for. Find out who finances their projects. This is pretty easy — the name of the bank is often posted at the work site.

Then go visit the bank. Ask which vice president handles the relationship with your target company. Then sit down and explain that you are evaluating various companies in your town because you want to make a career investment… After you make your brief statement, let the banker talk. You will get a picture of the entire building industry in your area. Your goal, at the end of the meeting, is to make a judgment about which companies are the best. Ask the banker if he could recommend someone for you to talk with at each company. Then, ask permission to use his name when you contact them. This is how you pursue companies rather than just jobs.

So, don’t just send a resume. Figure out who the company’s customers, vendors, consultants and bankers are — and talk to them. It’s how smart business people do smart business with a company: by talking to people that the company trusts.

Stand and deliver

3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you. Everything else is stuff, nonsense and a bureaucratic waste of time. Don’t believe me? Ask any good manager, “Would you rather talk to 10 job applicants, or meet just one person who explains how she will boost your company’s profitability?” I have no doubt what the answer is.

The idea of showing how you’ll pay off to an employer intimidates some people. But it’s really simple, once you get out of the mindset of the job applicant and start thinking like a business person.

From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire,
pp. 8-9, “How can I demonstrate my value?”

Estimate your impact to the bottom line If the work you do is overhead and mostly affects costs: Do you shave two minutes off each customer service call you handle? Have you figured out a way to get projects done 20% faster? Multiply this by the hourly wage or by the salary. The savings are just one part of the profit you contribute. Get the idea? I’m simplifying, but few of your competitors will offer any estimates at all. This gives you a good, honest story to tell the employer about how you will contribute to the success of the business. It gives you an edge.

If the job affects revenue, try to quantify the impact. Your estimate may not be accurate, simply because you don’t have all the relevant information at your fingertips, but you must be able to defend your calculations. Run it by someone you trust who knows the business, then present it to your boss or to your prospective boss. You can even present your estimates in the interview, and ask the employer how you might make them more accurate. This can be a very effective ice breaker.

If you can’t demonstrate how you will contribute to the bottom line, then be honest with yourself: Why should the employer hire you? Or, why should your employer keep you?

Employers don’t pay for interview skills. They pay for your work skills. The rare job candidate is ready to discuss how he or she will do the job profitably. That’s who stands out, and it’s who gets hired.

Profit from headhunters

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start. Hang up on the unsavory charlatans and work only with headhunters who treat you with respect from the start.

If you’re not sure how to qualify a headhunter, when the headhunter calls you, here’s how to say it:

From How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 30, one of 34 How to Say It tips:

How to Say It
“If we work together, you will check my references and learn a lot about me so you can judge me. But likewise, I need to know about you, too. I’d be putting my career in your hands. Would you please share a few references? I will of course keep the names you provide confidential, just as I expect you will keep the names I give you.”

Don’t waste time with headhunters who don’t demonstrate high standards of behavior. Sharing references is test #1.

Then, instead of “pitching” yourself to the headhunter, be still and listen patiently to understand the headhunter’s objective. Proceed only if you really believe you’re a match. Then show why you’re the headhunter’s #1 candidate by outlining how you will do the job profitably for his client. Headhunters adopt candidates who make the headhunter’s job easier, and who help the headhunter fill the assignment quickly. (Coda: If you follow suggestions 1-3 carefully, you won’t need to rely on a headhunter. But if you’re lucky enough to be recruited, you need to know How to Work with Headhunters.)

That’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell.

Why ATH works

You ask what is the main difference between ATH and the traditional approach. It’s pretty simple. The traditional approach is “shotgun.” You blast away at companies with your resume and wait to hear from someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you. Lotsa luck. (ATH regulars know that I never actually wish anyone luck, because I don’t believe in it. I believe in doing the work required to succeed.)

ATH is a carefully targeted approach. You must select the companies and jobs you want. It takes a lot of preparation to accomplish the simple task in item (3). There are no shortcuts. No one can do it for you. If you aren’t prepared to do it right, then you have no business applying for the job, and the manager would be a fool to hire you.

How to be the stand-out candidate

I’ll leave you with a scenario that illustrates why the traditional methods don’t work well. You walk up to a manager. You hand him your resume — your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments, your keywords, your carefully crafted “marketing piece.” Now, what are you really saying to that manager?

“Here. Read this. Then you go figure out what the heck to do with me.”

Managers stink at figuring that out. You have to explain it to them, if you expect to stand out and to get hired. Do you really expect someone to decipher your resume and figure out what to do with you? America’s entire employment system fails you every day because it’s based on that passive mindset.

The job candidate who uses the Ask The Headhunter approach keeps the resume in her pocket and says to the manager, “Let me show you what I’m going to do to make your business more successful and more profitable.” Then she outlines her plan — without giving away too much.

That’s who you’re competing with, whether she learned this approach from me or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work.
The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing
to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2013. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined here in upcoming issues of this newsletter. Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

hollysprig

(Please note: I’m taking a couple of weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s, so there will be no newsletters those two weeks. See you with the next edition on January 7!)

How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What other methods of your own have worked well for you? (Did anything you did shock, awe or surprise an employer?)

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How can I cheat on employment tests?

In the December 10, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader has a friend who doesn’t do well on tests:

A friend of mine has an important job interview coming up. It’s for a pretty high level job. Before she goes to the interview, they want her to do a personality type of test, and she’s very worried because she doesn’t test well. Her idea is to have someone else do the online test for her because no one would know. I think that’s cheating, but I understand her concern — she could miss out on a really good job over a test that won’t mean anything once she starts the job. Is there any way they could find out it’s not really her taking the test?

Nick’s Reply

That’s a scary question.

cheaterWe live under an employment system where people think they can buy resumes, interview answers, keywords and clever methods to beat the filters employers set up when they’re recruiting.

There are about five issues of integrity in your question, but all I’ll say about this in general is, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t fake who you are. Even if you survive the guilt and even if you beat the risks, there’s a good chance that the “payoff” might be that you’ll “win” a job that’s not right for you because you misrepresented yourself. Doesn’t your friend understand that this is a big part of employment testing? It can be to her benefit as well as the employer’s to do the test honestly.

My second point: I don’t like employment tests. I wish employers didn’t use them. If they’re going to truly assess a job applicant, they should do it directly, by spending time with the applicant and observing them in real-life work situations. Not indirectly through tests. So there’s my personal bias.

Now let’s put all this aside and deal with the very real problem of getting busted, because cheating on employment tests isn’t an option.

I recently published a book everyone should read long before they go job hunting in earnest: Employment Tests: Get The Edge… when you compete for a job, by Erica Klein. It’s the first book under the Ask The Headhunter imprint that I didn’t write — and it’s a key “insider’s edge” to getting ahead of your competition.

Don’t wait until you’re faced with an employment test, because it’s not a matter of whether you’ll have to take one of these tests (and there are many kinds — Erica’s book covers the gamut) but of when. If you’re not ready to deal with employment tests, you’re toast.

Your question is the perfect example of how ignorance about employment tests could needlessly cost you a great job — or even get you into bigger trouble. (Yes, bigger trouble. Read on.) There’s a section of the book that addresses your very scary question very directly, and I’m just going to reprint it below.


From Employment Tests: Get The Edge by Erica Klein (pp. 9-10):

What about cheating?

High quality pre-employment testing benefits both employers and job applicants by matching them to help ensure mutual success. One way to think about cheating is that, if you cheat, you can hurt yourself by getting shoe-horned into a job that is not a good fit for you.

What is considered cheating? Usually the rules for taking the test are laid out for you before you start the test. Rules for test taking vary but usually require doing your own work, answering factual questions honestly, not accepting help from anyone else and not accessing other sources of information while taking the test. The rules for different tests will vary. For example, some tests allow you to use a calculator and some will specifically instruct you not to use a calculator.

Some tests are set up to catch certain kinds of cheating. One increasingly common practice is to provide two versions of the same test. The first test you take is “unproctored” — you take it from your own computer and nobody is watching you. If you are in the top group of applicants, you might be invited to take the test again, but in a proctored environment where you are watched while you take the test and your identity is verified. If your score on the second, proctored test is significantly lower than the score on the unproctored test, then the employer assumes you probably cheated and excludes you from further consideration.

[Get it? There’s nothing to stop an employer from insisting that your friend take the test a second time, with someone watching. -Nick]

Applicants sometimes try to get a better score on personality or integrity tests by choosing answers that reflect what they believe would be a perfect person’s answers. Test manufacturers are aware of this strategy and they have built in “lie detector” scales that catch applicants who portray themselves as perfect people with no flaws. This is sometimes called “claiming uncommon virtues” or “faking good.” If you score high on a built-in lie scale, you may be excluded from consideration for the position. One example of a question that could be part of an uncommon virtue/lie scale is “Have you ever told a lie no matter how small?” It is a rare individual who has never told even a small lie in his or her entire life.


I mentioned that ignorance about testing can lead to bigger trouble. Erica adds this warning in one of the many Get The Edge sidebars in the book:

If you get caught cheating on pre-employment tests, you might ruin your chances for employment not only in the job you applied for, but also with that employer, and even possibly with other clients of the test vendor.

That’s right: Cheat on one test, and you could get blown out of many jobs, because the test vendor can keep track of your results from one employer to the next.

It’s quite an industry, isn’t it? That’s why I asked Erica Klein to write this book. It’s rare for someone like her — a specialist in employment testing — to address job seekers. Industrial psychologists like Erica normally conduct and interpret research only for the benefit of employers. I wanted her to translate it and make it useful and understandable for job hunters — to give you the edge.

I think the lessons Erica Klein teaches in her book are so important that I’ll give you a 25% break on the price to get you to read Employment Tests: Get The Edge. Use this discount code when ordering: EDGE. I’ll happily subsidize 25% of your cost of getting the edge.

Have you ever been surprised by an employment test? How did it turn out?

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Join My LinkedIn Gang-Bang!

In the December 3, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to join my network:

I wanted to send you a LinkedIn invitation to connect, but I noticed on your LinkedIn profile page that you only accept connections from people you already know. How can you expand your network if you don’t want to meet new people? I respect your policy, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I could introduce you to people you can do business with. What’s wrong with that?

Nick’s Reply

gang-bangPlease check my LinkedIn profile again. It’s changed since you last looked. Send me that request — I’ll accept it.

My profile used to say: “Don’t ask me to join your LinkedIn network if we don’t know one another or if we haven’t done business together.”

That was a lofty standard, and one I maintain in the real world.

If you don’t get it, think about it this way. If I get a call from an employer (or any business person) that wants to check your references, I need to know what I’m talking about, right? If I don’t know you well enough to give you references, why would I accept you as a LinkedIn connection? We’d both look like idiots.

But that was then, and this is now

Welcome to the new world of LinkedIn b.s. connections, where phony relationships are the coin of the realm and everyone can pretend to know one another.

In the real world, I have standards. On LinkedIn, I’ve deleted my aforementioned linking policy, because there are no standards. (I know a guy who has 118,000 connections. He’s an idiot, and the “influencer” articles he posts are as phony as his relationships.)

So, send me a connection invitation. I don’t care who you are any more than LinkedIn does — I’ll connect, because it means about as much as being in the old Ma Bell phonebook, or being findable on Google. Everybody’s already connected “because they’re in there.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love LinkedIn. It’s the best online phone book ever assembled. It’s incredibly nice to be able to look people up.

But I propose that LinkedIn do away with connections altogether, and just let users query the system when they want to get in touch with any other member, without pretending there’s a pre-existing relationship. Even LinkedIn seems to think there’s nothing special about your (or my) connections. It doesn’t care which button you click when you invite someone — colleague, classmate, friend… the system lets you fib.

My subversive agenda

In fact, a class action lawsuit filed recently in San Jose federal court says that LinkedIn doesn’t even recognize the value of contacts. The litigants claim LinkedIn hacks new members’ e-mail accounts and appropriates their contacts — to advertise LinkedIn, to get new members, and to implement the company’s mission. (LinkedIn refers to this as “new growth optimization efforts.”)

So, who am I to tell you I won’t accept your link requests? I do admit to a subversive agenda. If we all connect to one another, then we don’t need to pay LinkedIn for access to people outside our connections, and LinkedIn can’t block any of us from using its network the way it uses its our e-mail lists: To make money.

According to Bloomberg, LinkedIn programmer Brian Guan spilled the beans on his own LinkedIn profile. He describes his job as

“…devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!”

“Team Money” used to be a business network with standards that rose above, say, those of Facebook. It was, after all, a place for business people to transact business. But LinkedIn started cashing in its chips even before it did an IPO, and now it’s just one big data gang-bang. LinkedIn has signaled clearly that it’s just in it for the money — and any semblance of exclusivity, or integrity about connections, or concerns about members’ welfare is gone.

Here’s what led me to my decision to open up my network

  • LinkedIn charges for Premium membership, but users say there’s no need to pay a fee to access the most useful feature — viewing profiles.
  • LinkedIn expert Jason Alba agrees: “The most important thing is to have a really solid profile. If you want, you can walk away after that. People will still find you.”
  • If you haven’t noticed, all LinkedIn seems to do any more is sell. Its sales force grew from 207 reps in 2010 to 1,822 this year, but where’s the investment in network benefits to users?
  • LinkedIn recently issued $1 billion in new stock. Some might see growth; I see somebody trying to cover the costs of an unsupportable sales operation.
  • LinkedIn recently opened the doors to 13-year-olds. The company says it’s “so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right.” (That must have something to do with the Profitable Child Labor discussion group, eh?) Gimme a break. I think it’s so LinkedIn can tap the teenage data set, which is now worth around $300 billion in the U.S. alone.

LinkedIn is the new TheLadders, the world’s last failed “exclusive” network of businesspeople. Both companies have thrown the doors open to anyone and everyone, after making highfalutin’ representations about “networking.”

  • Both companies are now the subject of consumer class action suits.
  • Both companies are manned by the same people who invented the “churn ‘em and burn ‘em” model of the job boards — alumni of HotJobs and Monster.com.
  • And both companies tout the value of high-quality “connections” while de-valuing those very connections. (Endorsements, anybody?)

Join my LinkedIn Gang-Bang!

It doesn’t matter whether we know one another or have done business together. Send me your LinkedIn invitations, and I’ll accept them. No offense to you but, like LinkedIn, I want to use my connections to make money — and so do you. Unlike LinkedIn, I do have scruples — I’ll never sell your data to advertisers. But keep in mind that what I do with your data doesn’t matter. LinkedIn will sell our data to anyone that will pay for it. We’re all in the phone book, after all.

My only quandary: As a parent concerned with my own children’s safety, what do I do when 13-year-olds start asking me to connect?

What’s your take on LinkedIn connections? Do you limit your list, or is it a gang-bang like mine? Just how much b.s. will people pay for?

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4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

In the November 26, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, there’s no Q&A. Instead…

autumn-leaf1I normally take a break during Thanksgiving week and skip publishing an edition of the newsletter so that I can cook, bake, and fill the larder with goodies for Thursday. But I’m cooking up something different for you with this edition. Rather than normal Q&A, I’d like to share four tips from the latest Ask The Headhunter publications. If you find something useful in them, I’ll be glad.

The idea behind the new Fearless Job Hunting books is that finding a job is not about prescribed steps. It’s not about following rules. In fact, job hunting is such an over-defined process that there are thousands of books and articles about how to do it — and the methods are all the same.

What all those authors conveniently ignore is that the steps don’t work. If they did, every resume would get you an interview, which would in turn produce a job offer and a job.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. The key to successful job hunting is knowing how to deal with the handful of daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Here are some excerpts from Fearless Job Hunting — and if you decide you’d like to study these methods in more detail, I invite you to take 20% off your purchase price by using discount code=GOBBLE. (This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

You just lost your job and your nerves are frayed. Please — take a moment to put your fears aside. Think about the implications of the choices you make. Consider the obstacles you encounter in your job search.

FJH-11. Don’t settle

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, p. 4, The myth of the last-minute job search:

When you’re worried about paying the rent, it seems that almost any job will do. Taking the first offer that comes along could be your biggest mistake. It’s also one of the most common reasons people go job hunting again soon — they settle for a wrong job, rather than select the right one.

Start Early: Research the industry you want to work in. Learn what problems and challenges it faces. Then, identify the best company in that industry. (Why settle for less? Why join a company just because it wants you? Join the one you want.)

Study the company, establish contacts, learn the business, and build expertise. Rather than being just a hunter for any job, learn to be the solution to one company’s problems. That’s what gets you hired, because such dedication and focus makes you stand out.

2. Scope the community

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 6, It’s the people, Stupid:

FJH-3You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in the community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of.

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work.

The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

3. Avoid a salary cut

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), p. 9: How can I avoid a salary cut?

FJH-7Negotiating doesn’t have to be done across an adversarial table — and it should not be done over the phone. You can sit down and hash through a deal like partners. Sometimes, candor means getting almost personal. Check the How to Say It box for a suggestion:

How to Say It
“If I take this job, we’re entering into a sort of marriage. Our finances will be intertwined. So, let’s work out a budget — my salary and your profitability — that we’re both going to be happy with for years down the road. If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me. But I also need to know that I can meet my own budget and my living expenses, so that I can focus entirely on my job.”

It might seem overly candid, but there’s not enough candor in the world of business. A salary negotiation should be an honest discussion about what you and the employer can both afford.

4. Know what you’re getting into

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23: Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it:

FJH-8I think the failure to research and understand one another is one of the key reasons why companies lay off employees and why workers quit jobs. They have no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late. Proper due diligence is extensive and detailed. How far you go with it is up to you.

Research is a funny thing. When it’s part of our job, and we get paid to do it, we do it thoroughly because we don’t want our judgments to appear unsupported by facts and data. When we need to do research for our own protection, we often skip it or we get sloppy. We “trust our instincts” and make career decisions by the seat of our pants.

When a company uses a headhunter to fill a position, it expects [a high level] of due diligence to be performed on candidates the headhunter delivers. If this seems to be a bit much, consider that the fee the company pays a headhunter for all this due diligence can run upwards of $30,000 for a $100,000 position. Can you afford to do less when you’re judging your next employer?

Remember that next to our friends and families, our employers represent the most important relationships we have. Remember that other people who have important relationships with your prospective employer practice due diligence: bankers, realtors, customers, vendors, venture capitalists and stock analysts. Can you afford to ignore it?

* * *

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this community throughout the year. Have you ever settled for the wrong job, or failed to scope out a work community before accepting a job? Did you get stuck with a salary cut, or with a surprise when you took a job without doing all the necessary investigations? Let’s talk about it! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you purchase a book,
take 20% off by using discount code=GOBBLE
(This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

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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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