I have a background in sales and marketing with high-profile accounts. I recently became certified in Lean Manufacturing to complement my Voice of The Customer training. I believe it gives me insight into offering more targeted solutions to clients. Additionally, I will earn my MBA shortly. I want to move up to executive marketing management, working for a business solutions-oriented company, as that is where my true passion lies. Can you steer me toward the kinds of companies that would be appropriate?
I admire that you’re continuing your education, especially about the “voice of the customer,” which is “a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs” [Wikipedia]. But your question tells me that you’re marketing yourself by emphasizing your features. I’m sure you know the basic rule of sales: Don’t sell the features of your product. Sell the benefits.
It’s not about you.
One of the most troubling errors job hunters make — especially when attempting a career change — is to focus on themselves. They recite their education, experience and most recent accomplishments — like you just did. They present this information as though it has intrinsic value: “Now I’ve got what I need to impress you. It should make you want to hire me.”
But it’s not about you. Telling them about you puts an employer in the position of having to figure out what to do with you. The shocking truth is, most employers have no idea what to do with you, unless you explain it to them. You must figure that out before you can choose the appropriate employer.
What should I do now?
Imagine walking into your current boss’s office. The boss just paid to get you lots of new training and education (maybe an MBA). You say, “I’ve got all this great new training, and I’m better than I was. What should I do now?”
If I were your boss, I’d fire you. How can you walk in with new knowledge and skills and expect me to figure out what to do with it? Your value does not lie in the new stuff you learned. Your value lies in knowing what to do with your skills and credentials.
Learn to lead with the employer’s problems. That’s what they’re thinking about when they buy a product — or when they hire someone. Understanding the employer’s problems, and figuring out how your skills apply, tells you which employers to apply to.
It’s not about you.
As you consider what companies and opportunities to pursue, put yourself aside. Get into the employer’s head. What do you know about my company’s problems? How are you going to use your credentials to tackle them? If you must ask me, without demonstrating that you’ve first tried to figure this out on your own, then you’re probably not worth hiring.
I know you don’t talk to your boss like you want to get fired. So approach your job search the same way you would your boss. Figure out what to do next for the employer you want to work for, and go explain it to her.
That’s how you’ll figure out which companies need to hire you.
How do you decide which companies to apply to? What’s the best way to figure it out? Is is reasonable to start with a job description or posting?
The “question” I received for this week’s edition was actually a solicitation that a CEO sent to a lot of people. Normally, I’d treat something like this as spam and just delete it. But I didn’t because it was very brief, to the point, and wasn’t selling anything. John Bracamontes, the CEO of digital marketing firm Acumen Studio, was asking for help finding a new employee.
Hey Nick — We are looking for a Digital Strategist to join the team. I am asking if you know someone who may be a good fit for the role.
Ideally they live here in the St. Louis area, because this is a key role for us and [we] need someone who will be connected to our leadership team and help grow the agency. Linked here is the job posting. [On Indeed.com]
I also made a quick video on what we are looking for in the role as well.
You can send me a message, an intro or thoughts. Thanks for your help!
This is an interesting twist on the video-interview model, whereby employers want you to make a video to apply for a job. (That’s a practice I’m vehemently opposed to. See HR Pornography: Interview videos.) More important to me, John was doing what I advocate to employers all the time: When you need to fill a job, don’t look for candidates. Look for sources of candidates.
In other words, take a step back and try to develop some new relationships with movers and shakers who might know the kinds of people you’re trying to find. One good source can be worth many good candidate referrals for years to come.
Video job posting
So I read the job description on Indeed, which is no longer active, but what I was really interested in was John’s video. This wasn’t HR hawking a job. This was a CEO taking the time to do it himself. I figured, no matter how good or bad this video is, I’m curious to see what a CEO has to say.
I didn’t expect anything fancy, or even very good — but I expected candor and information that would be more useful than a posted job description.
John didn’t disappoint me. His video is very casual, off the cuff and personal. The production quality is low — home made! — and his presentation needs work. (John: Lose the eyeglasses glare.) But this is the CEO of a small business who’s trying to make recruiting more personal. That by itself makes him stand out. The information he offers is more useful than the job description, and he’s candid if not polished. I don’t care about polished.
What I want to know is what Ask The Headhunter readers think – job seekers and employers alike. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
My advice to this CEO
First, here’s what I wrote back to John, since he asked for thoughts:
I got a kick out of your video – beats a posting on Indeed! A few things I’d suggest:
You just invested in getting personal by doing a video. Follow through on that. Keep it personal! People are sick of recruiting automation. Link them to your own firm’s website to apply, or provide your e-mail address. Why are you making money for Indeed? Show people you’re following through on your direct, personal connection. If they go to Indeed, they feel like sheep! (Pardon the mixed metaphor, but see Why cattle-call recruiting doesn’t work.)
Most important, don’t just talk about job specs and skills. Explain how the job is important to your company’s success.
Give details about how this job fits into the work flow, who the hire will work with and report to, and who is upstream and downstream from the new hire’s job.
Talk about how the job fits into profitability. This is key. It gives motivated people the context they need to respond with their best ideas about what you really need to know: How they can help Acumen Studio be more successful.
Explain the process if they apply. Who decides to bring them in for an interview? Who will they meet and talk with? Who decides whether they get an offer?
More important, what do you want them to demonstrate in the interview?
What’s the critical path and timeline for the hiring process? (Then commit to sticking to it!)
Ask for personal referrals in the video. If a viewer isn’t a candidate, they might be a good source of referrals, just like the person you sent the e-mail solicitation to. Promise to personally follow up on all referrals, then do it.
I’ve got loads more comments, but I think it’s more important for John to hear from you — the Ask The Headhunter community.
Can a CEO recruit you with video?
John Bracamontes gave me permission to publish his e-mail and his video, and he told me that he’d incorporate our suggestions in future videos, then report on the results.
We don’t often hear from a CEO — even at a small business — about a job the company is trying to fill. (Imagine if Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or Jamie Dimon were to talk to their professional communities like this, when Microsoft or Amazon or JPMorgan Chase needed to fill a key position.) John Bracamontes’ video job posting is far from perfect — but it’s a start.
What else should it be?
What needs improvement in the video? Be blunt, but please remember that John stuck his neck out to recruit personally. I didn’t publish his video to criticize him. (Ripping him for a backyard video isn’t the point here.) I’m sharing it because I think what he did was gutsy. I’m sharing it to start to a helpful discussion about how it might be done well — if at all. So, please offer your advice and comments.
Why this CEO’s video is important
Above any other reason, I think this CEO’s video — for all its flaws — is important because he has put his name and his face where an HR department normally appears. John Bracamontes has made himself personally accountable. Any candidate who shows up for a job interview or accepts an offer from Acumen Studio knows who he is. John is not hiding behind an HR department.
We all know the feeling of dealing with a cold, impersonal, aloof, isolated personnel jockey who can hide behind an HR bureaucracy. This CEO’s video is important because his mere involvement changes the entire recruiting experience. He says in the video:
“Reach out to me directly.”
Can the CEO of a big company do this, too? Absolutely — if they’ve got the guts and want their company to stand out to the top people in their industry that they really want to hire. (See Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit.)
For the record, John did not ask me to advertise this or any other position on Ask The Headhunter. I’m not charging him any kind of fee for this. (Though I have to admit, this has given me an idea or two!)
What should be in this video?
What could make a recruiting video like this work?
If you’re a job seeker (especially if you’re a Digital Marketing Strategist), how should this CEO appeal to you in this video? What should he tell you? What should he ask you?
If you’re a hiring manager or a CEO (maybe both), what kind of video would you produce to recruit for a key position your company is trying to fill? Is it even smart for a CEO or hiring manager to do this?
Thanks to John Bracamontes for his permission to publish his video here, and thanks for your comments and suggestions!
What do you do when the employer interviewing you has four requirements but you meet only three of them — yet you know that you’re the best person for the job? How can I turn this kind of situation into a job offer?
Isn’t this the way it goes? You are certain the job is a great fit, but the manager isn’t. It’s of course possible your judgement is incorrect, and that you are not the best person for the job. Going into a job interview, you don’t really have enough information about the job, the work environment or the manager to know that, any more than the interviewer has enough information about you. That’s the purpose of the interview. But your question isn’t about how you can assess a job; it’s about how to show you’re worth hiring, assuming you can gather enough information to be reasonably sure you are in fact a very good candidate. So let’s proceed with that understanding.
Credentials vs. Show-And-Tell
I’ll let you in on a secret: Managers are not very good at figuring out whether a candidate really fits. Managers tend to give too much weight to credentials on a resume, and not enough to actual evidence that a candidate can do the work. (For more about direct and indirect assessment of job candidates, see 5 Steps to Easy Interviews and Quick Job Offers.)
This actually gives you the advantage. It lets you suggest to the manager that you should do a show-and-tell, rather than just answer questions about what’s on your resume (and in your experience). It gives the manager an opportunity to see you perform.
If you lack something an employer wants, but you’re a fit on other counts, don’t wait for the employer to decide to take a chance on you. He probably won’t. Don’t wait for him to figure out what to do with you – figure it out for him and explain it.
Show you can do the work
Remember this: The key requirement for any job — whether anyone admits it or not — is the ability to actually do the work. This is your opportunity to bring the focus of the discussion to the job in question, and to your relevant skills.
Offer to demonstrate what you can do, and how you will do the work. Show him. Few job candidates ever do that in an interview. A good employer who’s looking for a confident, talented, dedicated worker will react well.
Ask the manager flat-out if he’s hesitating to hire you over that one point. Then explain that you’d like to prove you’re a fast learner and that your other skills will more than compensate for anything that might be lacking:
“May I take a few minutes to show you, right now, how I would do this job? If I can’t convince you, then you shouldn’t hire me.”
How should you demonstrate your abilities? Consider questions like these in advance of your interview, and make sure you have good answers:
Would you need to operate a computer or other machine? (Ask to sit at the machine to show how you’d handle it.)
Does the job require talking with customers? (Ask for a scenario you’d have to handle, and then show what you’d say to the customer.)
Can you draw an outline of how you would perform a task? (Ask what specific objective you’d have to achieve, then list the steps you’d follow.)
Can you explain how you’d solve a particular problem? (Draw a picture and show your plan.)
Don’t let a missing requirement be your deal-breaker. Be ready to address challenges like those above. Making this kind of powerful commitment in the interview can shift the manager’s decision criteria in your direction and help you win the job.
When an interviewer begins to lose interest, it’s up to you to turn things around. Stand and show you can deliver. If a manager doesn’t respond to that, go on to a better employer who will take notice of a candidate who’s ready to put it all on the line.
You can still apply for a job, and do a successful interview, even if you don’t seem to meet all the job requirements — if you can show you can do the job nonetheless.
I work in Human Resources (HR). During our on-boarding process, we send prospective employees for a drug screen and run a background investigation and, if the job requires driving, a motor vehicle record (MVR) check. The background is launched when the applicant electronically completes an authorization.
We had planned on hiring a guy, when three days before his start date he had still not signed the authorization. So I ran the part of the background that I already had authorization for, and saw that his MVR was horrible. He had DUIs, super-speeder violations and more.
He’s already given his notice to his old employer, and we can’t hire him. I think he avoided signing the background authorization to hide a bad record.
We had to rescind the position as we don’t have any positions for a non-driver. I feel bad about this but I also think he should take some of the responsibility. What do you think?
It’s important to consider the critical path of your company’s hiring process. That is, which steps are critically dependent on earlier steps being completed satisfactorily? And, who is responsible for those?
The critical path to making a hire
You don’t say explicitly whether you made this applicant a bona fide job offer. But I think it’s fair to assume you did based on two other pieces of information you shared.
You started the on-boarding process. You would not have done that without two critical steps being completed first. You had to extend a job offer and he had to accept it.
He quit his old job. He would not have taken that critical step unless the two aforementioned critical actions were taken first — an offer was tendered and accepted.
Please note that I’m not putting any specific order on these critical steps, though of course there is a necessary order. In any case, when you made that job offer and it was accepted, you had a contract. The deal was done.
A job offer is a contract
So, where does that leave your company and the HR person who is responsible for the hiring process? In a bad, indefensible spot, I think. You made and broke an agreement. A rescinded job offer is a broken contract.
Two other critical steps in this hiring path are:
Obtaining authorization to conduct a background investigation.
Conducting the investigation.
Clearly, both of these critical steps must be done before you can hire anyone. And the investigation — a critical step — brought the entire process to a screeching halt when you discovered the problems, as it should. That’s why that step is on the critical path to hiring, right?
Where you blew it is that you apparently jumped ahead. You made an offer — a contract — before obtaining authorization to do the background check, and before you had any investigation results. You acted without due diligence.
The applicant’s mistake is that he followed your lead. He, too, failed to perform due diligence to ensure your company was acting in good faith. He didn’t double-check to make sure you had followed your own critical path before he took the ultimate critical step: He quit his job.
Why would any job applicant do that?
No job applicant can afford to quit their old job, or to trust an employer or HR rep, unless they are certain they have a bona fide job offer.
You, as an HR representative, know your company cannot hire someone with a bad record. So, why did you make a job offer before checking? There’s no good faith when you lead someone to quit a job so they can start work with you — then pull the rug out from under them. (See HR Managers: Do your job, or get out.)
A rescinded offer is a broken contract
You said: “We had to rescind the position as we don’t have any positions for a non-driver.”
That’s not why you rescinded the offer. You rescinded because you didn’t do your job properly. The main fault is yours, and it could get your company sued. (For an attorney’s take on this, see Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.)
You should never have made an offer before you conducted the investigation. The investigation came first on the critical path to making an offer, before the hire quit his other job, and before you began on-boarding the new hire.
Hire with integrity
A company should hire with integrity. It should follow a sound process that ensures a healthy deal will be struck that is good for both parties. That requires following a series of steps in proper order, to protect both parties. (See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.)
Here’s the critical path you should follow. Staple it to your office wall where you can see it all the time. Make sure everyone involved sees it in advance and signs off at each step. None of these steps should be taken until all previous ones have been completed:
Make sure the position is open and fully funded with an appropriate salary and benefits.
Decide your favored applicant is qualified and that you want to hire them.
Conduct appropriate background investigation(s) after obtaining authorizations.
Confirm that all information you need about the candidate has been gathered and logged.
Make a bona fide offer in writing that includes all terms, signed by an authorized representative of the company.
Confirm the candidate’s bona fide acceptance of the offer and terms in writing.
Notify the candidate that the hire is confirmed and that they should resign their old job.
Conduct your on-boarding process.
New hire starts work.
The applicant was foolish to accept a job offer before confirming that your company’s critical path had been completed. He was disingenuous about not signing the authorization for the background investigation. He was downright stupid to quit his old job before ensuring the new job was solid.
So he, too, bears responsibility. Caveat emptor. But shame on you as the employer for letting the matter get to a point where you had to rescind the job offer.
The employer owns the hiring process
Your company is going to spend money to hire someone. You start the ball rolling and control the process. You own the process.
It doesn’t matter if your investigations reveal the candidate is an axe murderer. It’s still not his fault that you didn’t do your job prior to issuing a job offer. You failed to conduct due diligence (the checks and investigations). In this case, your process should have stopped dead at step (4.) above.
You tacitly if not explicitly encouraged him to quit his job and relinquish his pay based on your assurance (the job offer you gave him) that he could rely on you to hire him. No one deserves that. (If he’s an axe murderer and you don’t figure it out prior to making him an offer, then shame on you.)
Rescinding a job is not an option
Please review the 10 steps in the list above. Nowhere is there a “Rescind job offer” step. It’s a terribly embarrassing option. Rescinding a job offer is a last resort that you — and your company — will pay for with your reputations.
You need to sit down with your top management to develop a critical path to follow when hiring. The fact that you were three days from his start date when you figured all this out reveals a shocking problem at your company. (See Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).)
Rescinding a job offer that your company never should have made is unacceptable.
Is it ever legitimate to rescind an offer? When — and why? Have you ever rescinded a job offer that you made to an applicant? Have you ever had an offer pulled out from under you? Was it a legitimate action? What steps belong on the critical path to completing a hire and who is responsible for them?
My son, who earned an advanced STEM degree, was hired by a firm which was highly impressed by his education, and emphasized how important it was to have someone with his qualifications joining their team.
But several months into the job, he realizes that the work he has been given could easily be done by someone with only a bachelor’s degree. He is upset that he is not being challenged, but my concerns are more prosaic and practical. If he doesn’t have the opportunity to use his ability to “hit home runs” for his employer, there’s really no reason for them to reward him handsomely, and he isn’t developing the skill set that could cause another employer to pirate him away, and reward him handsomely.
So, my question is, did the employer deliberately lie to my son to get someone with his qualifications to join them, or did they lie to themselves, like the owner of a diner I know who sought out a Paris-trained chef, when all he needed was a guy who didn’t burn the eggplant?
You’re blessed to have a son with an accomplished academic background. But I’m afraid you’re suffering from the same malady a lot of Millennials seem to have. They expect to hit the ground on their first job “being challenged,” “tackling great opportunities,” “hitting home runs,” “getting rewarded handsomely,” and quickly “developing new skill sets that will just as quickly get them recruited away” from their first employer… and “getting rewarded even more handsomely.”
Right out of the gate.
Are schools suggesting to students that wild success will be their experience once they get a job? Or are schools failing to give their students a realistic idea about the roadblocks they’ll encounter? Maybe they’re not teaching them how to recognize roadblocks or how to deal with reality.
Expectations about new jobs
It’s altogether too easy to offer sanctimonious advice to young people about the realities of a first job. In fact, I discourage that because it’s the naivete of every new generation that frees it to create something new under the sun. I love watching young people pull off great feats because they don’t know what is supposed to be impossible — so they risk everything to attempt anything. I experienced that when I started my career in the nascent Silicon Valley. I expected great success while I stumbled over obstacles I didn’t expect to encounter.
But I think attitudes about success are another matter from expectations about jobs. When I get a chance to speak to groups of students and new graduates about jobs and careers, I try to give them an honest picture of the roadblocks they will encounter. It may seem harsh, but I think it’s the truth.
The underlying questions here are whether the realities of work are roadblocks — and what new grads can learn about how to deal with them. I’m offering no answers. Just some pointers that I hope inspire a fresh new generation of workers to develop healthy attitudes about success so they can pull off the impossible.
20 pointers for new graduates
Whatever you’ve been told by the school you attended, this is likely what new graduates will find at their first jobs. Be prepared.
Your academic credentials get you hired, because you have little or no experience that an employer can judge you on.
Once you’re hired, your credentials don’t matter.
Once you’re hired, what matters is your ability and willingness to learn the job and business you’re in. Especially if it’s your first job, that takes all your time, devotion and hard work.
When you graduated from college or grad school, you were at the top of your academic game. You were a star with great prospects.
Once you start work, you’re on the ground floor, on the bottom rung, low person on the totem pole, the plebe, the newbie, the unskilled and clueless neophyte that needs to prove themselves all over again.
A job is not school.
School is where you pay to learn what you want. A job is where you get paid to do whatever your employer needs you to do.
In school, the work you do accrues 100% to your knowledge. At a job, the work you do accrues 100% to your employer’s profits. Hopefully, some of that accrues to your acumen. Most of it won’t – because that’s not why you were hired.
Employers don’t pay you to be challenged. They pay you mainly to do boring work.
The job you’re doing could probably be done by someone smart with less education. But they hired you because they expect you’ll go farther than someone with less education – if you’re willing to work as hard at your new job as you did in college.
Employers don’t hire you out of school because they want home runs. They hire you because they want someone to carry water, clean the bases and tidy the dugout. They don’t tell you that in school, because if they did you might not pay to get an education.
Your employer has people that hit home runs – but damned if they’re going to hand you a bat right out of school because they hope you’ll hit .500.
Your employer won’t put you in the game before you prove you can field 10,000 balls flawlessly. Pro athletes spend most of their time practicing.
The challenge when you start the job is to do what you’re told by the people who are paying you. They will expect you to do that job a long time because they really don’t want to start all over again with someone else.
You will be paid what they promised you – and it’ll likely be far from handsome.
Your reward is not your salary. Your reward is being permitted to come back each day to keep doing your small part – not to swing for the bleachers.
Practice will take years, a step at a time – and you don’t get special rewards for making it to the next step. See (10).
You won’t be worth recruiting away for a long time. Trust me. We headhunters don’t get paid big fees to recruit newbies. There are millions of you. Hiring any one of you is free.
You’ve heard the rule about how it takes 10,000 hours devoted to doing one thing before you become an expert. Do the math. Even if you get to spend half your work day practicing that one thing, it will take years to become the expert that another employer will recruit. (More likely, you’ll spend 90% of your time on busy work.)
The good news is, if you focus on doing your job so your employer profits handsomely from it, your skills will grow and you will be successful.
Roadblocks or realities?
I don’t think the employer lied to your son or to itself. Rather, someone — His school? The world? — lied to your son when it suggested work is about being challenged, hitting home runs, getting rewarded and getting recruited for a million-dollar salary. That’s not what work is about.
Those things are what expertise and success are about, but first come the realities and the roadblocks. The things your son wants for himself he’ll earn through persistence, patience, dedication, apprenticeship and hard work. Likely one step at a time.
Don’t be confused about the owner of that diner. He will hire a Paris-trained chef when he can – because most kids fresh out of school will burn the eggplant, and that will quickly put a diner owner out of business.
Please tell your son to give his career a chance. There are roadblocks and there are realities. He cannot deal with them by pretending they don’t exist.
Am I being too harsh on ambitious new grads? Probably. I don’t mean to sound discouraging. But I’m afraid misconceptions abound about big bucks and quick success. What would you change in my 20 pointers? What would you add? More important, what are the best ways to overcome or avoid some of these roadblocks?
If you’re a seasoned professional, this is your chance to advise and mentor new graduates like this reader’s son. Please remember: You’ve been through it. Getting a career started is painful. Maybe we can impart some lessons while lessening the pain.
If you’re a new grad, what do you want to know about your first job?
An employee quit without notice after five months. Her explanation was that she never wanted to stay at this job from the start. We paid a hefty agency fee for this person. She never signed any paperwork with the agency, and the contract stated that employment is “at will.”
Do we have the right to go after the employee to pay us back for not being truthful? Or do we have to go to the hiring agency to see if we can get our money back?
An awful lot of readers are laughing at your story right now, rolling their eyes, and thinking, “Serves you right!”
Why would anyone laugh? Because the recruiting and hiring process usually blows up in the job seeker’s face — not the employer’s.
But I’m not here to laugh at you. The rise of intermediaries in the hiring process has introduced mass confusion, frustration and finger-pointing on every side — employers, agencies, employees. I’m afraid everyone is culpable.
You paid the employment agency, not the employee
I can’t believe you’re serious about recovering the fee you paid to the agency from the employee. I doubt you have a contract with the employee that provides such recourse. If there’s a contract at all, it’s between your company and the agency. Take it up with them.
If the agency does a good job for you in general, don’t blame them. Once you’ve got the hire for five months, whatever happens next is a management problem, not a placement problem. You chose to make — and keep — the hire.
But first consider the pickle you’ve put yourself in.
The problem with middle men
Employers expect someone else is going to handle recruiting and hiring for them, then are shocked when things go awry. Most agencies play fast and loose because they get paid to fill a job, not to deliver the best hire, and everyone suffers for it. Job seekers suspend their common sense when someone they don’t know dangles an “opportunity” in front of them. The introduction of middle men in hiring creates chaos, poor management and terrible decision making.
In this case, everything depends on the contract you have with the employment agency, and on whether there is a guarantee on the placement that provides for a refund.
The number of employment agencies — which go by all kinds of monikers — has exploded, with the result that employers often have no idea who they’re dealing with. (See They’re not headhunters.) It’s an unusual occurrence, but it’s possible the recruiter and your new hire were in cahoots and planned the “placement” to last only until the fee guarantee expired. Then they split the fee you paid and moved on to the next sucker company. I always explore this possibility when a new hire lasts just past the guarantee, which is usually between 30 and 90 days.
But I repeat: If your agency does good work in general, then they may not be the problem at all.
There are some measures you can take to avoid the most obvious problems with agencies.
Get a guarantee from employment agency
Always have a written contract with the recruiter that includes a pro-rated guarantee period. That is, if the new hire “falls off” for any reason — whether you fire them or they quit — make sure you can get back some or all of the fee you paid. Such guarantees usually run 30-90 days and will offer a refund or replace the employee. Good agencies will negotiate reasonable terms with you.
If the contract suggests the hire will be responsible for any refund to you, run. That’s unethical and unscrupulous, and possibly illegal.
Get a no-poach agreement
Your contract with the agency should prohibit poaching. That is, the agency cannot recruit the person it just placed with you — or any other employee at your firm — for a year or more after the last placement the agency made at your firm. This can be even more restrictive if it prohibits placing anyone who has left your firm in the past year or more. Some headhunters don’t like such clauses, but they promote healthy business relationships.
I would nose around. Did the agency that placed the employee with you recruit her out or place her elsewhere? Good agencies never do that.
Understand that “at will” employment cuts both ways
As I said above, it’s usually employees who complain about being terminated without any explanation in states where employment is “at will” by law. What’s your company doing to make sure it’s a good place to work?
Barring some kind of contractual obligation or regulation, you can no more prohibit someone from quitting a job than you can be prohibited from terminating them.
Check the employment agency’s references as well as the specific recruiter’s references before you do business with them. I’ll estimate that 90% of pitches you get from recruiters will end when you ask them for references. Work only with recruiters whose skills and reputations you have confirmed, or don’t be surprised at the consequences.
What to do next
At the very least, I’d call the agency in for a face-to-face meeting to discuss what happened as well as the terms for next assignment. Assess whether you trust the recruiter. I would not necessarily blame the recruiter if they did everything else right.
If your relationship with the agency is at e-mail’s length because they’re not in your city, then consider the value of working only with local agencies.
But don’t expect any agency is going to refund your money after five months. Read the refund deal in your contract. Some of this falls on you, but I understand your frustration. New employees feel the same way when they quit a job for a new one — only to get fired suddenly a few months later without explanation.
If you learned too late that the employee didn’t really want the job from the start, I suggest you improve your recruiting and interviewing processes — and how you manage. Always remember that while you can fire at will, an employee can quit at will. (This depends on the laws in your state.) I’m not a lawyer but my guess is, if she did the work and you paid her for it, no one is obligated to continue the employment — you or her. It’s up to you to get to know your workers well.
You should check with a lawyer so you’ll know better next time, but chalk this one up to experience.
This is one reason why it’s worth cultivating your own pipeline for recruiting through your own trusted sources who will put their own reputations on the line when they recommend someone. If you’re going to use an agency, it’s best to meet a good one through your trusted sources before a lousy agency takes advantage of you.
If you’re an employer, what’s in the contracts you sign with employment agencies? How do you protect your company? If you’re a headhunter, recruiter or employment agency, how do you help ensure your client’s (the employer’s) satisfaction? If you’re the hire who was placed by the agency, would you consider refunding part or all of the recruiter’s fee if you decided to quit the job?
When I was given my performance review they told me I was at the top end of my salary grade. Instead of a raise, I was given a 3% bonus that came on my last paycheck. Depending on the outcome of a recent job interview at another company, I might be resigning in a few days.
I feel guilty keeping a bonus that I got just before I quit! Had it been a raise, it would have been spaced out over a year. Should I offer to return the bonus when and if I tender my resignation?
The new job is in a field I have wanted to return to (consulting). I’m not counting any chickens before they hatch, but it looks good and the job offer could be as much as a $20,000 increase in my salary. I could stay here, but it would be foolish to pass up an opportunity to return to a field I love with such a dramatic pay increase and career advancement.
Should I return the bonus?
You should use your own judgment, but based on what you’ve said, I see no reason to return a performance bonus. Here’s why:
A salary increase is prospective – it pays for future performance.
A bonus payment is retrospective – it’s a reward for past performance. That’s why it comes as a lump sum and is not recoverable by the employer, unless they made you sign something to the contrary.
It’ll be interesting to see if they ask you to return it. I’m assuming you didn’t sign any kind of claw-back agreement that would empower the company to take the money back — or you would have said so. As long as that’s accurate…
You earned the bonus
I would not return it. Of course, your employer may be upset about that, but that’s life and that’s business. Your employer chose to make it a bonus, not you. If they actually intended the bonus as some kind of compensation for your future work — or as an incentive to stay in your job — then they should have defined it that way and spread the payments over the next year. But it seems clear you earned the bonus for performance you already delivered.
The only other issue is, are you worried about burning the bridge? If you are, then act accordingly. But, in my opinion, if they expect the bonus returned, they’re being disingenuous. Keep in mind, these are people who don’t believe you deserve a raise. They’re the ones burning the bridge to you.
Congratulations on the new opportunity. I hope you get the offer you expect. But please keep one very important thing in mind: You don’t have the new offer yet.
Do not take any action on your old job until you’re absolutely sure the new job is locked down. I regularly see employers rescind job offers right up to the start date. (See Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.) Be very, very careful.
Use your best judgment. If you’re truly excited about the new opportunity, take it and don’t look back. And keep that bonus. I wish you the best.
Should this reader return the bonus? Would you? What other factors might play into your decision? What does it mean when an employer declines to give you a raise but gives you a bonus instead? (Hint: Does a bonus affect your benefits the same way a salary raise does?)
A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers, because they know the work best
HR (Human Resources) may be a close second — when HR actually goes out to look for and recruit workers.
But ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn and a league of database companies have succeeded in killing HR’s recruiting role — and the initiative of hiring managers.
Stripped of the function that once gave HR bragging rights for a company’s most competitive advantage — hiring great workers — HR now serves as little more than the fire hose that overwhelms companies with millions of inappropriate incoming job applications, and as the spigot that pours billions of corporate dollars into the pockets of database jockeys who know nothing about matching real people to real jobs.
Killing HR in 30 seconds
This is what the wildly successful marketing campaign to kill HR looks like:
This commercial — and others like it — have literally killed recruiting because they have replaced it in employers’ minds with a substitute that has no nutritional value.
Here’s how an HR vice president with a Fortune 50 company put it to me when the online “recruiting” industry first launched its brainwashing campaign:
“Executives from the online job boards wine and dine our top executives so relentlessly that virtually every dime of our recruiting budget now goes directly to them. I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”
A massive marketing campaign driven by database jockeys has replaced people — workers, job seekers, the actual talent — with automated streams of keywords and database records. Employers have de-funded real recruiting to the point where the task no longer has anything to do with actively pursuing, seducing, cajoling, convincing the best people to join your company.
A powerful, long-running marketing campaign has successfully sold the idea that “recruiting” no longer requires talent to do it, like other jobs require talent. “Recruiting” is now the automated churning and turning of databases. (See Job boards say they fill most jobs. Employer says “LMAO!”)
How can a 30-second commercial kill an entire profession?
The insecurity of HR
The success of this campaign to automate recruiting and bury HR is due not only to its persistence, but to the acquiescence of the HR profession itself.
With few notable exceptions, HR executives and professional associations across the board have slit HR’s throat and outsourced HR’s key job to database jockeys who have wowed them with “high tech solutions.” The HR profession as a whole was never very secure in the C-suite, and never very bright, so it folded quickly when fast-talking salespeople embarrassed its leaders with big terms like “algorithm” and “database” and “intelligent agents” and “semantic processing” — terms so misapplied and misconstrued in the HR context that they are laughable.
Loathe to admit their ignorance, HR leaders feigned excitement while their “HR consultant” brethren fed them white papers about the newest “best practices” that should be “implemented in software” immediately. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)
So, HR arrived fully brainwashed into a new era and promptly ran the talent ship aground in the shoals of the job boards, taking big parts of the economy down with it.
The brainwashing of HR
TV commercials like the one above from ZipRecruiter pound four dangerous ideas into the heads of corporate leaders, HR executives and hiring managers.
Recruiting and hiring are nasty work nobody wants to do.
Recruiting and hiring are very difficult tasks.
Nobody is good at recruiting and hiring.
ZipRecruiter (and Indeed and LinkedIn and other database companies) will do it for you if you pay them.
The trouble is, none of that is true. Those are some of the most dangerous lies ever created by marketing copy writers.
Count the lies
Recruiting and hiring are mission-critical tasks best done by you and your company — face-to-face, not by diddling a keyboard to pay a middle man who pretends to do it for you. Recruiting and hiring are so critical to your company’s mission that leaving them to firms that have no skin in the game is not only irresponsible — it’s an insane fool’s errand.
So, is it insanity or foolishness that leads employers and their HR departments to buy what the database jockeys sell under the guise of “recruiting?”
Please watch the commercial above. It’s short — 30 seconds. Here’s what the guy says:
“Hiring was always always a huge challenge. Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it. Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring. I post my job. They put it all over the web. And they send me the right people. Because their technology is smart. ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”
Count the lies.
1. “Hiring was always always a huge challenge.”
The truth: Hiring is your job; your number-one job. When ZipRecruiter characterizes hiring as something “huge” — something beyond you and your company — Zip disparages you and insults you. It also convinces you that the most important part of your job is a problem you should unload.
2. “Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it.”
The truth: If you’re spending endless hours on job sites, diddling databases, and sorting keywords, then I guarantee you have nothing to show for it — because that’s not where hires come from.
But that’s what ZipRecruiter sells — databases and keywords!
Zip, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and countless others of their ilk sell an excuse for not recruiting and hiring.
If you want something to show for your recruiting efforts, invest your time participating actively in your professional community, cultivating and meeting the movers and shakers and opinion makers who know all the best workers. Share valuable experiences with your peers and they will lead you to great people you can hire. No one ever wasted their time talking with peers.
3. “Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring.”
The truth: This is the biggest lie. ZipRecruiter and its ilk have not figured out hiring. They figured out their own business plan: how to make money.
The marketing trick is to convince you they are on your side, helping you do your job. But spend 10 seconds thinking about the business model behind these operations and you will see the blinding flash of the obvious:
These companies make money when you do not fill jobs.
They make money when you keep searching their databases looking for hires.
If ZipRecruiter had figured out hiring, its home page and its marketing would blare out audited metrics about employers’ success rates when they pay Zip for lists of job seekers. But that’s not what Zip has figured out, and it’s not what Zip is selling you or what you’re paying for.
Here’s what ZipRecruiter blares out on its website — this is what your company is paying for:
ZipRecruiter makes money when you keep paying for job applications — not when you fill jobs. I can find no metrics on Zip’s website and no evidence that ZipRecruiter has “figured out hiring.”
If you work in HR and this strikes you as an unreasonable criticism, call me when ZipRecruiter starts charging you only for the applicants you actually hire.
4. “I post my job. They put it all over the web.”
The truth: If you work in HR, or if you’re a hiring manager — you know, one of those people who pays ZipRecruiter to deliver millions of candidate applications — you can put your job posting all over the web yourself. While it’s true Zip does that, too, you don’t need it. The secret sauce of the web is that it’s designed so anyone can find anyone else easily.
Why would any HR manager with a brain want their job opening posted “all over the web?” What you get for that is 49,106,149 candidate applications. Is that what you really want? Because more is not better. Perhaps the single biggest talent problem HR faces today is overload. Having access to every resume on the planet — but no way to find actual people — has resulted in a kind of catatonia that HR executives disingenuously refer to as “the talent shortage.”
5. “And they send me the right people.”
The truth: ZipRecruiter makes no claims about how often it sends employers “the right people.” That’s left to the actor playing the restaurant owner in the commercial.
Let’s do a reality check. Not to pick on ZipRecruiter alone, let’s check another major “online recruiting service,” Jobvite.
In an April 4, 2018 press release Jobvite “announced that it has surpassed one million jobs filled, with 270,000 hires in 2017 alone.” Then it claims, “Nearly 54 million jobseekers [sic] visited a Jobvite-powered hiring website in the past year.”
We’re looking for success metrics. Do the math. 270,000/54 million is 0.5% — a one-half of one percent success rate for job seekers. While one might argue that there cannot possibly be a job for every job seeker, the more evident problem is that a robustly designed system should not indiscriminately snort 53,730,000 job seekers just so it can spit out a fraction of 1% into jobs.
Finding the best people to recruit is not a database problem.
Hiring is not a database problem.
Let’s do another reality check. ZipRecruiter claims it has “over 8 million jobs.” The U.S. Department of Labor reported on June 5, 2018 that there were only 6.7 million jobs available during the month of April. Ask any job seeker — they already know something is very wrong with all those job postings.
Let’s ask the restaurateur, just who are the “right people” for 1.3 million non-existent jobs?
6. “Because their technology is smart.”
The truth: The manager in the commercial closes his laptop after apparently posting a job.
How has ZipRecruiter solved his “huge challenge” of hiring so quickly? How has Zip made it so easy for him to find talent?
It’s frighteningly stupid. Zip has eliminated the very best filters in the hiring process. Zip has cut out all the humans with specialized training in Human Resources, Engineering, Finance, the restaurant business, and a multitude of other professional disciplines — all the humans who are qualified to judge the myriad qualities that make the best candidate special. None of them are needed in this business model. Zip has made it all easier by replacing expert judgment with recruiting technology so trivial it has generated a false talent shortage.
Yep, the truth is, all you folks in HR are superfluous. All your company needs is someone in Accounting to make an automatic payment to ZipRecruiter, Jobvite, and any of the other databases loaded with millions of job seekers. (See HR’s submission to ZipRecruiter.)
Ask any job seeker. They’ll tell you they feel like a drop of water in a fire hose turned on employers — one of the 49,106,149 applicants delivered in the sales pitch Zip makes to employers.
Except when Zip promises just the one right person, delivered the same day.
7. “ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”
The truth: ZipRecruiter doesn’t dare tell you just how often the woman in the video — who just waltzed into the restaurant — gets hired. (The marketing magic implies she gets hired instantly, the first time.)
Zip offers no success-rate metrics (audited or otherwise) about hiring or getting hired. The guy in the commercial does that.
ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture funding for his company (see recode), valuing it at close to $1 billion. While he offers no explanation on his website about how he finds jobs for people — or how he fills jobs for employers that pay him to deliver tens of millions of job applications — he says he wakes up every day thinking about it.
I think he wakes up each day counting the HR departments he has laid to rest while their recruiting budgets have been redirected to his coffers. I’d like to introduce him to the former HR executive who told me, “I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”
If Siegel and his ilk are to be recognized for anything, it’s for a business model that produces profits without results. They have designed marketing campaigns that have killed off HR and what was once known as recruiting.
They don’t make money when jobs are filled. They make money when you don’t fill jobs and don’t get hired. Their business model requires that you keep paying to search their databases.
If HR is going to be brought back to life, it has to remove its recruiting prosthetics, shake off the ZipRecruiters and Indeeds that are sucking its blood, and flex its hiring muscles again. A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers and a healthy, robust HR department.
I just showed you a TV commercial that I think undermines and insults HR professionals, hiring managers and business owners by trivializing one of the most critical tasks in any business — hiring. But ZipRecruiter is not alone. We’ve discussed the stunning failures of Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder and TheLadders, among others.
Here’s another example of a commercial that kills HR — from Indeed. Can you find the holes in this “#1 job site” and explain to us how the commercial corrupts HR and undermines effective recruiting, hiring and job hunting? Or am I unreasonable and nuts?
Is HR really dead? Is real recruiting a dead art? Are these commercials a marketing plot to undermine the hiring process so database jockeys can profit from the resulting mess? Maybe you think our modern hiring systems are just fine. If you think some other bugaboo makes it unreasonably hard to hire and get hired, please tell us what it is.
In the August 14, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader complains about the difficulties in changing careers — and about the costs. So we’re going to discuss career switchers in this special audio edition! Hope you enjoy it!
I’ve been around the block a few times, that is, I’ve changed jobs. It was never easy, except for one job I got from a personal referral without even a job interview. But nothing prepared me for changing professions. I’ve all but concluded it’s impossible. Even if I could do it, now I question whether it’s worth it because of the haircut I’d have to take in pay.
I’m a successful IT executive. I always wanted to work in investment banking. Everyone told me I’d better get an MBA, so I did. Even the school — a big name — promoted its program as a “career changer.” After a huge tuition bill and three years working diligently at getting into the investment world, I realize career change is a game no one wants to play with you because they’re never going to see what you can do, only what you’ve done. Employers can’t get past the labels. I tried everything from job boards to headhunters to networking meetings to expensive career and life coaches. Can you tell me something I don’t know? Should I give up?
I wouldn’t give up, and I hope you learn something you don’t know in this special audio edition of Ask The Headhunter.
I’m going to let my good buddy Dr. Dawn Graham, Director of Career Management for the MBA program for executives at The Wharton School, answer this one. A former headhunter, Dawn is also a clinical psychologist and she hosts a weekly radio show — “Career Talk” — where I’ve been a guest many times.
This is where the fun starts! In a recent program we turned the tables and I interviewed her about career switching — and we’re going to borrow some excerpts from that interview so we can do an audio edition of Ask The Headhunter this week. (Cool, eh?)
“If you’re like most Americans, you will spend around five years of your life engaged in some type of job search activity. You’ll hold about eleven different positions in the course of your career, and each job search might take you six months or longer. The new normal is not only to switch jobs but to change professions — which isn’t easy to accomplish.”
That’s from Graham’s new book, Switchers, which is a how-to guide for people like you who are pursuing career change. Graham notes that the average time a person spends in a job these days is 4.2 years, so job change of one type or another is quite common.
However, she offers the same caution you’ve heard from me here on Ask The Headhunter: Job change is not as easy as LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter and Indeed suggest it is.
“In our one-click world of instant access, job seekers might expect the same ease in the job search process. Technology has become a seductress, luring candidates into endless hours of internet searches and countless online applications. These methods are barely effective for even the most qualified job applicants, and career changers who rely on them don’t stand a chance. Career Switchers tend to give up not because they lack the skills to excel in their desired profession, but because they don’t have the proper search strategies and knowledge.”
Audio Ask The Headhunter
Knowing I was going to tackle your question here, I waited until Dawn and I discussed the topic on “Career Talk” so I could share some of the audio here with you. (This originally aired on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School.)
A radio talk show goes quickly, so it’s not possible to get into a topic in great depth — but I thought we could have a little fun with an audio edition of Ask The Headhunter and help the reader who asked this week’s question. I hope you enjoy this little experiment — and that you chime in with your own advice!
Let’s start by discussing the two main kinds of career “switch” a person might attempt: the industry switch and the functional switch. Or both! The important insight is that the traditional hiring process has not shifted to make switching easier.
Switching careers in today's employment market
Does the hiring manager think you’re too risky a hire?
Are some switches more difficult than others?
Headhunters and hiring managers are usually averse to risk, so they go for the easy candidates; the ones who are a clear fit with lots of relevant experience. But you may have visions of a radically new career — and none of this seems fair.
Managers hire the safe candidate
Understanding the hiring manager’s mindset will help you deal with the natural biases of hiring managers — and with the inevitable role of emotions in hiring. What are some fundamental laws of psychology that you need to know?
Emotions & Bias: The psychology of hiring
What you think the employer wants, and what they really want, may be two totally different things. Can a candidate figure out what a manager really wants?
What the hiring manager wants
No one wants to take a salary haircut when they change jobs. How realistic is that when changing careers?
The cost of switching
Do you really need more education to get the job you want? More important, does the employer think the education you’re buying is going to make you a more desirable hire?
The myth of education in career change
Do these excerpts give you some ideas about how to change your approach to switching careers? I hope they at least encourage you to not lose heart and to not stop trying — but to modify your approach a bit.
On the “Career Talk” program we just touched on a few important ideas about switching careers. In her book, Dawn Graham gets into loads of detail, methods and techniques for making career switches. It’s the kind of advice she delivers every day to Executive MBA students at Wharton to help them with their career goals. You’ll have to look long and far to find a column where I’ve endorsed a book — this is one of those rare times. Switchers: How smart professionals change careers and seize success (AMACOM, 2018) is a great tutorial from an accomplished expert I respect.
My goal here, with you, is to riff on what we just heard on the audio excerpts, and to launch some discussion on how to make career change happen. Do you find the issues Graham raises helpful? Is there really a distinction between job change and career change, and is one more challenging than the other?
Have you ever tried to switch careers, either at the industry or functional level — or both? Did it work? Do you recognize any of the issues Dawn and I discussed? Do you have any suggestions on how to expand these ideas to help others change careers? If you were a guest on that edition of “Career Talk,” what questions would you have asked Dawn? (Did you enjoy the audio? Want more in the future?)
My son is a college graduate on the autism spectrum. Should he hint at his disability on his resume? Interviewers are surprised when they first meet him, and the interview goes south.
This is a tough call. A good answer depends on being able to assess your son’s condition, which I obviously cannot do. But I can offer an example that might help you think about this in a useful way.
A resume “on the spectrum”
A young man approached me after a presentation I did recently and raised the same question. He quietly disclosed that he’s “on the spectrum.” Through conversation I quickly learned that this Millennial is articulate, friendly, smart, self-motivated, a bit nervous but focused. His social skills are good. While I could see evidence of autism, I also saw the kind of enthusiasm and acumen I’d want in a job candidate.
We discussed his work skills in some detail — he’s an accountant — and I learned enough that I’d recommend him to an employer for a job interview. But you can imagine that if all an employer sees is his resume with a disclosure that he’s autistic, the employer might reject his resume out of hand. (That might be unfair and inappropriate — and possibly illegal — but it’s what happens every day.) And that’s the problem.
A resume — for anyone, not just for a person with a disability — is an insufficient representation of who they are and what they can do. It’s a poor “marketing tool” no matter how well it is written. (See Resume Blasphemy.) I’ll tell you what I say even to top executives with stellar credentials: Your resume cannot defend you.
Your resume cannot defend you
What do I mean by that? Every resume raises more questions and concerns than it can possibly answer. A manager reading a resume thinks thoughts and draws quick conclusions — on average, in just six seconds — that we cannot imagine or anticipate. So, it’s not prudent to trust that dopey document to get us a job interview.
If your son discloses that he’s autistic on his resume, we cannot predict the outcome. An employer might make the worst assumptions and ignore him altogether. Or, they may bring him in so they can check off a box on their Equal Opportunity report, without hiring him. Of course, it could also lead to a hire, if the employer genuinely believes in staffing diversity. It’s hard to guess, and you shouldn’t try.
What your son should do is maximize his chances of getting a job interview by getting referred and recommended by someone the employer trusts.
Personal referrals can recommend and defend you
My guess is there are jobs where your son would perform well, even if he requires some accommodation. (For more information about accommodations, read this report: Employees with Asperger Syndrome.) By getting referred to such employers through a personal connection, disclosure of his autism would be done in a frank but supportive way. In other words, the person making the referral can both endorse your son and defend him when questions about autism arise.
For example, “John is on the autism spectrum, but I can vouch that for the job you’re trying to fill, he’d be great. I give him my personal endorsement.”
That breaks down the wall like no resume can. It eliminates the surprise factor. Someone the employer trusts is disclosing the disability, but in a useful context that emphasizes John can do the work and would make a good employee. Whether a job applicant has a disability or not, this is what any good employer wants to know first and foremost. It’s what leads to job interviews and job offers.
Avoid surprises, avoid rejection
When something on a resume surprises an employer, it often leads to automatic rejection. Likewise, you don’t want an interviewer to be surprised. You want them to know exactly who they’re about to meet — someone that a trusted contact has endorsed and recommended.
For suggestions about how to work with personal referrals, see:
So my advice is, don’t rely on a resume that cannot possibly defend or advocate for your son. Only someone who can personally recommend him can or will do that. I know it’s hard work to line that up, but this is the exact same advice I teach to executives at the top business (MBA) schools including Wharton, Cornell, Northwestern, UCLA, Harvard and Rutgers. No one can afford to rely on a Word document to “get them in the door,” whether they’ve got autism or not.
Get past the obstacles
Please don’t assume that lining up a good personal recommendation is a daunting task. It requires work and effort, but it’s the critical first step toward landing a new job. You might find the suggestions in this article a good start: Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course. It’s helped many people get past all kinds of obstacles.
Discrimination in hiring is illegal. If your son believes an employer has violated the law, he should consult a good employment attorney. But his goal should be to find an employer who’s goal is to hire good workers — and my goal is to offer advice that will help your son get past obstacles that might keep him away from employers who’d love to fill a job with a good applicant.
I wish your son the best.
If you have a disability, how do you manage your job search to avoid bias and rejection? How can this reader use personal referrals to get in the door?