Readers’ Forum: How do I choose between 2 job offers?

In the November 30, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to make a choice that more people would like to face:

I have two job offers, both in the same dollar range, from two good companies. I have never before been in a situation like this. The opportunities are very comparable. Usually there’s a pretty big difference between two job situations. How do I choose? Any thoughts or suggestions?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

It’s easy to get so excited about a job offer that you forget to vet the opportunity carefully. I’m convinced that the chief reason people go job hunting is because they took the wrong job to begin with. Don’t succumb to excitement when you should be focused on carefully analyzing the offer. When you have to choose between multiple offers, the importance of the vetting process becomes more evident.

Here’s my rule, which usually helps people crystallize the real issues: Select a job on the basis of the people, the product, and the reputation.

Sure, that sounds obvious. But when faced with an offer, most people think about only two things: the money and the job. Of course, these are two crucial decision factors. But they blind people to other important considerations. The money might be great, and the job exciting, but have you looked at the bigger picture? Have you carefully evaluated the success factors that will determine whether you’ll get to enjoy your work and that paycheck?

This idea might shock you, but consider it. If a company scores high on its people, product, and reputation, the actual job you take is almost secondary. Suppose you take a not-quite-perfect job for less money than you’d like, but in a company that scores high on those three criteria. If you are good — very good — at what you do, you will likely make your way into the right job quickly and the money will follow. The company’s people, product, and reputation will affect your long-term career success more than any job, which is after all ephemeral.

After doing this analysis, I think you’ll see differences that will lead you in the right direction. (One caution: In your present state of excitement, do not discount the possibility that your further analysis may reveal that neither offer is a right one. If you don’t exercise Choice and Control, any offer can look good to you.)

Is that job offer any good? Maybe the offer sounds great, but is the company good enough? How do you decide whether to accept a job offer? Is it the money? Is it the excitement of the job? Do you go with your gut, or do you stop and vet the employer more thoroughly, once you have that offer in hand?

I think that’s the point where you hold the strongest cards, and it’s when you should ask the really tough questions. But I don’t think an offer is worth anything, unless the people, the products and the reputation are top-notch.


Readers’ Forum: The dogs of recruiting

In the November 16, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks why she’s being chased by wild dogs after she posted her resume online:

Dogs of RecruitingI’ve suddenly been contacted by four different “recruiters” from different recruiting companies. On Thursday, one recruiter cold called me and said he saw my resume on Monster, asked me a few background questions, and then the next morning informed me he submitted me for the job we discussed to his client. On Monday, another recruiter e-mailed me, then she called to further discuss the position, and it was exactly the same job as the one I had talked to the other recruiter about. I provided her the information, and she e-mailed to say she had submitted me to her client.

I started reading a lot about this practice, and how being submitted for the same job by two different recruiters means your resume will go into the trash bin. So I feel totally screwed and wonder what I did wrong, since these folks called me. Should I trust cold-calling recruiters? What are my ethical obligations in dealing with these people? Do I have an obligation to tell the second recruiter I had already been submitted for the job by a different recruiter? Should I even be wasting my time with these folks at all? I obviously have very little experience dealing with them, and I don’t know what the “rules” are, if any. Can you shed some light on this phenomenon?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

“So I feel totally screwed and wonder what I did wrong, since these folks called me.”

No, you called them. You did that when you posted your resume on Monster. That opens you up to the dogs of recruiting. And you’re right—when multiple recruiters submit you for the same job, employers often trash it, because they don’t want to get into a fee fight between recruiters who will claim the placement.

Don’t take this personally, because I don’t know you, but, Gimme a break. You post your resume information online for anyone and everyone to snap at, and you think only intelligent, serious, thoughtful, legitimate employers are gonna respond to you? Your resume is a piece of raw meat tossed into a street full of starving dogs who don’t even care that you’re human. All that matters is the chance to earn another fee.

Putting your resume online is what starts this whole process. If you want to know about recruiters, it’s all here: How to Work with Headhunters. (I’m asked the questions you posed so often that I finally put everything I know about this subject into a book. It covers almost everything you ask about, including how some of these characters online operate, and how to know the good ones from the lousy ones.) If you’re going to work with headhunters, you need to formulate your own rules.

Now let’s address some of the specific issues you’ve listed.

  • Find good headhunters to work with, before the lousy ones find you.
  • If you don’t sign a contract with them (like they sign with their client companies), then you have no obligations to them.
  • Agree to work only with a recruiter who shows you proof that he has a contract with a given employer.
  • You don’t need recruiters or headhunters to find a job. Talk to companies directly.

Most people who call themselves “recruiters” or “headhunters” are little more than wild dogs chasing the same candidates and jobs. Avoid the feeding frenzy. The odds you’ll get bitten severely are pretty high.

Are all those “online recruiters” for real? Why do several of them call you about the same job? What obligations do you have to them? (Do they have any to you?) Can you get screwed working with more than one of them? Can you avoid the dogs of recruiting?



Readers’ Forum: Is there anything you won’t do to stay in the running?

In the November 9, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader thinks I’m giving bad advice that costs people job offers. Or at least interviews. You decide:

You regularly advise against divulging past salary in an interview because it might prejudice an employer’s offer. I disagree with you. After going on over 25 interviews (most were second or third round) in the past nine months, I suspect most people would gladly reveal their salary history if required, so as not to be disqualified. What do you say to this?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Do you really want to get stuck defending what your last employer paid you? Do you want to be stuck trying to change the value that an old employer put on your head?

This salary issue is more than a question of being cooperative. It’s about making sound judgments. In my opinion, an intelligent disagreement and discussion about salary reveals integrity and it stimulates an important dialogue. Employers who rely on salary history to judge you are trusting another company’s evaluation. Think about that. It’s almost insane. What really matters is what you can do for this company now and in the future. Is the company able to make that judgment? Why does it need your last employer’s “salary input?”

Declining to divulge salary history is not about being uncooperative. It’s about shifting the interview to a higher plane. Don’t worry so much about getting disqualified.

Some employers will try to pry any information they can out of a job candidate. Should you give them anything they ask for, just so you won’t be disqualified? Where’s the line?

What have employers asked you to say or do, just to stay in the running? Have you ever done anything you’ve regretted?


Readers’ Forum: How I got the job – Talking shop!

The October 19, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a special edition. A reader shares his story, about how he talked shop to meet the people who led him to the manager who hired him:


I got the job! Finally, I will be moving to [new city] for a great job. I still don’t believe what I was able to accomplish with your guidance.

I got a job:

  • In my target industry,
  • In my target city,
  • In my target role,
  • At a high level and not an entry level.

All of that despite the fact that I was unemployed for 10 months, was moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone, and had little experience in that industry.

In this economy, I have found that submitting my resume to HR yielded no results in a year of trying. The only way I had any success was networking my way to the hiring manager and talking shop. And all my skills in that area came from you.

Ordinarily, the newsletter is not archived online. You can read the whole thing only if you subscribe. But this week’s edition is so important that I’ve archived it, and you can find it here: How I got the job: Talking shop.

Please read the full column online. Then join in the discussion:

Can you really ignore job postings, toss out your resume, and go have fun meeting people to win the job you want? I think yes. So does the reader who submitted this week’s success story.

What do you think? Have you ever talked shop… all the way into a new job?


Readers’ Forum: Don’t provide references, LAUNCH them

In the October 12, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I have two questions about references. First, I would like to use my current boss and co-workers as references. What’s your advice about that? Second, some companies actually expect references from a current boss. Do I have to provide these?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

This is a sticky topic. Your current boss and buddies at work might be your best references, but if you let them know you’re interviewing elsewhere, that could jeopardize your current job.

In a moment, I’ll show you how to launch references preemptively, rather than just provide them when an employer asks.

But first let’s take your questions one at a time. You can indeed ask people you work with for references, but you must accept the risks. Once management finds out you’re job hunting, you might be tagged as a dissatisfied employee and if there’s a layoff, you could wind up at the top of the termination list.

Must you provide references from your current company if another employer asks? Absolutely not, for the same reasons we discussed. The new company has no right to put your present job in jeopardy. If you prefer not to provide such references, you can and should decline.

Now let’s talk about how to use your best references by launching them before Referencesthe employer expects it. I once landed a job I really wanted by using a Preemptive Reference. I didn’t wait for the manager to ask me for references. Before the manager even knew I existed, I arranged for a credible mutual contact to pick up the phone and recommend me. Other than my abilities, that call was what convinced the manager both to interview me, and to hire me on my terms.

Since then, I’ve taught job candidates how to do that, and I’ve used the approach to influence people to do business with me. A recommendation from a credible colleague can make a manager want to hire you before you even apply for the job.

(That’s just part of the newsletter. Don’t get stuck short next week — Sign up now for your own free subscription!)

Smart employers check references. But there aren’t a lot of smart employers out there. Too many will make a hire without checking out a person’s reputation. When an employer asks you for references, who you gonna call?

Sometimes it’s all about who calls the employer before you even apply for the job.

How do you use references? Ever have a reference “make or break” a job offer for you? Has a reference ever torpedoed you?


Readers’ Forum: Where can I find good small companies to work for?

In the September 28, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I’m interested in working for a smaller local company. The real challenge seems to be finding that small company. How should I proceed?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

There are a lot more small companies out there than there are big ones. While many don’t spend to advertise jobs (because they prefer to hire via word of mouth), you will find them in the business pages of your local newspaper—in articles, not in job ads.

Small companies will refer you to one another simply because they rely on one another for business introductions. While one may not be your exact cup of tea, its president (or receptionist) may introduce you to another that is. This chain of connections is how they do business with one another, and it’s a great way for you to navigate through the small-company community. It’s also a very good way to vet each company, by asking others about its reputation.

Where do you find good employers to work for? Obvious question, eh? Well, don’t tell me you find them on job boards. I want to know where you go in physical space to actually meet people and learn about companies you might want to work for. It seems people just don’t do this any more. “Let’s do lunch” used to be a pretty good thing till self-interest destroyed it.

Me? I like nothing more than hanging out and talking to people about their work, especially if I get to visit their company.

How about you? Where do you find good companies to work for?


Readers’ Forum: HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?

In the August 24, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader says:

After being tested and interviewed by the senior vice president of a local company for a senior executive assistant position, they dropped off the planet and made no contact with me. I sent an e-mail to the VP enquiring why there had been no contact and the HR manager responded to me:  

“Your e-mail below was forwarded to my attention as [VP] is away.

“Please be advised that we had not yet concluded our recruitment effort for this position. I appreciate that waiting can be frustrating and you may have preferred more frequent contact during this process. It is our practice, however, upon completion of the interview process, to contact all applicants either once they are no longer being considered for the position or to make an offer. You had not been contacted yet because you were among those being seriously considered for this position.

“We have made an offer to a candidate today; therefore, this opportunity has now closed. Thank you for your interest in employment with [the employer]. We wish you well in your employment search.

“Thank you,
[HR Manager]”

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

If by employers you mean hiring managers, I think sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But what really matters is that hiring managers relinquish to HR their front-line interface to the professional community they recruit from (that’s you). In other words, hiring managers let HR make them look bad. They let HR make their company look bad.

This dismissive attitude — and this kind of behavior — is just one of the Stupid Hiring Mistakes employers make. Employers take note: How much time would it take an HR manager (or the hiring manager) to return a call from someone who took the time to apply for a job, attend an interview and take a test? Very little. It would have been a good investment for either manager.

It’s a safe guess that, like disgruntled customers who have been treated poorly by your company, this disgruntled job applicant will invest a bit more time — to poison your well by sharing their experience with others in the business. Including your customers.

Good luck with your next applicant, and with your next sales prospect. And good luck to the sucker that accepts your job offer, because bad behavior is pervasive, and Death by Lethal Reputation is slow and agonizing.

And to the reader who submitted this story: If the candidate who received the offer rejects it, and the company calls back to offer you the job, What’s your poison?

The person whose story is featured in today’s Q&A asks a very important question: Do employers know what HR is doing?

In general, I think not. I think the problem is pervasive. Does the board of directors know what HR is doing? Does the Public Relations department? Companies spend enormous sums to create good PR. Meanwhile, on a daily basis HR provokes the professional community from which a company recruits. Today’s Q&A is just one example. Maybe HR should report to PR for a while, until HR learns the impact of its behavior.

You’ve no doubt seen employers thoughtlessly poison their own wells during the recruiting and hiring process. Please share your stories. I think employers just don’t get it. And they need to hear it.



Readers’ Forum: How should I choose a new career?

In the August 17, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

Changes in the economy and in my industry have left me jobless, and my career has become a dead end. It’s time to move on. How should I choose a new career? My problem is how to select one where I can transfer my skills. Any suggestions?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Do not look for jobs that seem to require the skills you used at your last job. That will limit you. Pick a business you want to work in and figure out what it needs. Create a list of functions and tasks to help you sort it out. Build a flowchart. This takes research and effort. No employer will do it for you. You need to figure it out, and you may have to talk to a lot of people to do this. That’s good, because the massive effort will help you to identify work that motivates you, and to weed out jobs you’re pursuing for no good reason at all.

Then, while focusing on the work, look at your most basic skills. Restructure them. Reorganize them. Draw up a simple plan showing how you will apply them in new ways (new to you) to do some aspect of the work. If you believe you can pull it off, there’s the career to pursue. (To avoid stepping into something unexpected, don’t forget Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it.)

Understanding the work helps you rearrange skills you already have to do something new—and that makes you a potent job candidate. Be realistic, but be aggressive. Drive your new-found interest until it dies, or until you get where you want to go.

(I discuss the parameters of career change in five detailed sections in the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?)

There’s a lot of controversy about how to change careers. Some counselors advise taking aptitude and psychological tests. While those may be helpful, I think the farther from yourself you set the locus of control, the less likely you are to generate the honest self-motivation necessary to succeed. In other words, while it’s good to get help and advice, you need to figure it out yourself.

Have you changed careers? Know someone who has done it successfully? How?

What’s great about the Ask The Headhunter community is that every question is best answered by the real experiences of real people. So please pile on!


Readers’ Forum: Why did I lose my job again?

In today’s August 10, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I riff on a question that seems so general that it’s not worth talking about… Why do people wind up losing their jobs every few years?

A reader asks:

I’m  a dedicated, loyal employee, and I would do anything for my employer. Why,  then, do I lose my job every few years and have a hard time landing a new one?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Your problem raises a bigger question that’s relevant to everyone: Why do people take a job, only to find themselves job hunting again so soon?

Some people take a job because it’s offered, not because it’s right. Others take jobs because employers flatter them, not because they’re particularly interested in the company or the job. Lost in the joy of being judged worthy, they forget to judge the job and the company, and to think about whether a job is really the kind of long-term investment they want to make. Relieved to be “off the street” (or impressed at being recruited), they will rationalize a poor choice and accept work that does not satisfy them. Gradually, their morale drops and their performance suffers. The effect is cumulative, and eventually the mismatch becomes glaring. They get fired, laid off, or they quit, and the cycle starts again.

The real question is, Will you choose your next job, or will it choose you?

We all know that people lose their jobs due to the economy. What I’m interested in is the other reasons. The economy will improve, somehow, sometime. But I think today’s question will continue to plague people. So let’s talk about other reasons people lose their jobs and have a hard time finding new ones. It’s not always the economy.


Readers’ Forum: Capitalizing on good contacts

In the August 3, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I had a Talk to Nick call with you recently. I am following your advice to the letter, and I am building a network of contacts. I now have about 30 – 40 great contacts in my field in the city I’m targeting. I certainly am not surprised that I haven’t stumbled on the right opportunity yet, but I was wondering if there is any additional way I can leverage the people I’ve already met.

Now that I keep trying to meet more people, I feel like I am collecting lots of contacts rather than utilizing the contacts I have already made. I am visiting my target city next week. I will try to set up meetings with hiring managers that I have already had phone conversations with, in order to deepen the relationships. My question is: Is there any specific gambit I can use in these face-to-face meetings to get more directly to my point of getting a job in their company?

I do what you say and don’t talk about jobs and only talk shop. But how do I make the shift to talking about a job without sounding like a salesman? I just fear that I will ruin all the trust I put into the relationship by asking for a referral.

Any insight you could give me in order to make these face-to-face meetings effective would be helpful. Thanks again for setting my job search and my life on the right track. I have not gotten a job yet, but I am persistent and confident. You have single-handedly guided me from being someone who doesn’t know how to network to a master in three months. People I talk to on the phone tell me how they wish they could network as effectively as I do.

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Once you’ve established good relationships with all those new contacts, it’s time to harvest some useful advice from them. “I’m going to be in your city on business in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to ask your advice. While I’m there, I’d like to meet some people who know Company A and Company B… Are there people you would suggest I meet while I’m out there, on a casual basis, to explore job opportunities?”

Meeting new people and talking shop is a great way to expand your network in a friendly, honest way. (Who wants to be a brazen careerist???) So, where is that line? When can you shift a friendly conversation about work, to ask the other person to help you with a new job?

Have you helped someone who asked you in just the right way? What did they say that kept it comfortable?

This is what makes the world go ’round, folks! Please share your experiences and the subtle methods you use to advance your career without losing your friends!