The Do-It-Yourself Interview (for managers)

In the November 18, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a look at what managers need to ask themselves, before they ask job candidates anything:

You’re a hiring manager

Your human resources department just handed you a list of questions to use when interviewing job candidates. Put it aside. We can do better.

tell-meThe problem with such questions is that they quickly make their way into hundreds of books with titles like Top Interview Questions & Answers! Any job candidate with a decent memory can recite clever rejoinders to the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions:

  • If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • How would you handle a difficult boss?
  • Gimme a break!

Before you decide what questions to ask job candidates, interview yourself.

Managers are not ready to interview

As we saw in HR Pornography: Interview videos, a recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers.

I find that most managers conduct rote interviews because they fail to understand what they really want out of a new hire. (See Don’t conduct junk interviews.) They don’t ask themselves, What am I really trying to accomplish for my business?

More common than the failure to assess a candidate properly is a manager’s failure to understand what’s important to him. Once you can get a handle on that, you will be able to develop your own interview questions without help from anyone. (Just what does your HR department really know about your department’s business, anyway? Enough to come in for a few days and do the job you’re trying to fill? If HR can’t do that, then what qualifies them to pose legitimate interview questions?)

I think most managers aren’t ready to interview anyone because they haven’t interviewed themselves first.

I’d like to suggest some questions for you — the hiring manager — to answer before you meet any candidates. I hope this exercise leads you to expect a lot more from the interview process. Perhaps these questions will give you food for thought, and you’ll think of more of them.

Questions for managers

  1. What’s the one thing you wish you could quickly figure out about every candidate in an interview?
  2. A year from now, how do you want your department to be different as a result of filling this job?
  3. If a candidate were to go up to the board and draw a detailed outline or flowchart, what would you want him to draw?
  4. At what point in your search for the perfect candidate will it start to cost you more to keep interviewing than to hire and train a talented person in the necessary skills?

man sketch a bulbI’ve got lots more of these questions for a DIY interview for managers, but I’d like to invite you — Ask The Headhunter subscribers — to suggest more good questions managers should ask themselves before they ask you (job applicants) anything at all. I’m sure you’ve been in enough interviews that went south for lack of productive discussion — and you probably could have helped the interviewer. (Not doing so might have cost you a job — so, maybe, next time you should nudge the manager back on track for your own good!)

It never ceases to amaze me. Managers can ask job candidates for almost anything they want — so, why do they ask for a resume, and about where you see yourself in five years? Why don’t managers address the really tough stuff? For example, why don’t they ask all candidates to show how they’d do the work, right there in the interview? (See The Single Best Interview Question Ever.)

I think the employment system is broken because employers use a worn-out, one-size-fits-all script when they decide to add people to their teams. Managers simply don’t know what they want much of the time, and they don’t take time to think about it. Consequenty, they conduct ridiculous “interviews” and wind up rejecting outstanding job candidates who never get a chance to really show what they can do.

The manager and the job candidate both lose.

Don’t you think managers could do a much better job of deciding what they want before they ask for anything?

What questions should managers ask and answer before they ask you to apply for a job and go to an interview? What can managers do to make interviewing a more productive experience?

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HR Pornography: Interview videos

In the October 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker won’t make a video:

My wife, a veteran in her field, began a search for a better job and company. In the past, she used the broken and traditional job hunting methods. After showing her the Ask The Headhunter website and purchasing the companion books — and with a little coaching from me — she landed two job interviews with hiring managers within three weeks.

watching-computerSuddenly, a personnel jockey injected himself into the ongoing discussions with the hiring manager. The recruiter insisted that my wife submit herself to a one-way, online digital video taping, answer a series of pre-selected “screening questions,” and upload it to who knows where for “further review and screening” by who knows whom.

She found the request creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, voyeuristic, unprofessional, and perhaps even unethical. (I’ve attached HR’s e-mail.) She declined, instantly prompting an automated “Do Not Reply” rejection e-mail. She was not worthy because she wouldn’t subject herself to a dehumanizing “HireVue Digital Video Interview.”

This new wrinkle in HR practices seems like the most unsettling and counterproductive yet. It not only removes access to the hiring manager, but also live, human interaction. It sounds like “HR pornography,” where perverted personnel jockeys huddle around a monitor to gawk at videos of “virtual job candidates,” picking apart perceived blunders while they screen you out.

Would you please share your comments and advice on this new and bizarre interviewing phenomenon?

Nick’s Reply

This HR department cheapens itself, the employer, and everyone it subjects to automated interviews. “Talk to the camera by yourself” is not an interview. It’s stupid. Your wife is right to say no, and she’s smart to move on to a better employer.

A recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers. Meanwhile, HR says its job is to train managers to interview. Is it any wonder HR cuts itself and hiring managers out of interviews and farms the task out to a video company?

A 2013 ADP survey found that, “Consistently across the globe, employers have a significantly more positive impression of how they manage their workforce versus what their employees experience in the workplace.” ADP concludes that “as a whole, HR does not have a handle on the asset it is hired to manage.”

In short, HR is doing a lousy job at interviewing, and HR seems to think it knows what it’s doing — while employees disagree. HR has cornered the market on stupid.

If your wife has already decided not to “make a porn with HR,” I suggest she call the hiring manager and say something like this:

“What’s up with your HR department? I’m glad I spent time talking with you about the job and how I could help your company. But I don’t make videos. I’d be glad to come in for an interview with you. If we decide there’s a match, I’ll fill out a form for HR, but I don’t talk to imaginary interviewers on camera. I find that insulting. I leave the rest up to you.”

Of course, use whatever expressions you are comfortable with. But let the manager know you’re interested in further discussion with him, but not in solo videos for HR.

  • An alternative is to offer to do a Skype interview with the manager. HR may not realize that Skype is basically free, while video interview services can be pricey.

Managers who relinquish control of job interviews to HR likely also let their mothers vet their dates. The culprit here is HR, but the real problem is the hiring manager. Will he stand up and do what good managers do — make his own decisions? (For more about how HR’s missteps can cost you a job, see 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make and The Recruiting Paradox.)

I reviewed the e-mail instructions your wife received — all boilerplate. It’s pitiful and sophomoric:

“One of our Recruiters will review your information and if there is a good match, you’ll be contacted either via e-mail or phone to schedule additional time to speak live.”

But the hiring manager has already decided to spend “additional time speaking live” with your wife. So what’s up with this? How is a “Recruiter” (capital R) going to judge whether there’s a good match better than the manager who has already been interviewing her? Stupid.

“This is a real interview! Be sure to treat this interview as you would an in-person interview.”

Bull dinky, not it’s not! It’s a fake interview with no interviewer.

  • An alternative is to offer to meet with the hiring manager again, rather than do the video. There is no need to say no if you offer a sound alternative.

If anyone fears saying no means “losing an opportunity,” the far bigger risk is having your video rejected by HR — and then having it float around the company forever — if not in some video-interview vendor’s database. (How do you know it won’t be shared with other employers?)

“Feel comfortable to be yourself. We want to see your personality.”

What they mean is, we don’t want you to see the personalities of our personnel jockeys because, face it, they’re a bunch of data diddlers that we don’t want talking to anyone. (I wonder what they’d say if you asked for a video of HR answering your questions? For more stupid HR tricks, see WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?)

If I were your wife, I’d want to talk with the manager one more time, to find out what he thinks about all this. If he tells her he has no choice, my reply would be, “I’m amazed. I left our discussions very impressed, but I’m going to be blunt with you. I’d never take a job in a company where managers don’t manage the hiring process. It says a lot about the operating philosophy at your company. I wish you the best.”

Is your wife taking a risk by talking to the manager like this? I think there is little, if anything, to lose when you are forced to the back of the line by the HR department and the manager concedes. A professional community that does not call out questionable behavior is not worth living or working in.

watching-computer-2To see the punch line in all this, you have to visit HireVue.com, the company that handles video interviews for this employer. Scroll to the bottom of the homepage, where HireVue offers a “success story” from a leading customer — Rodney Moses, VP of Global Recruitment at Hilton Hotels. But Rodney doesn’t tell his story in a video; it’s a slide show hosted not on HireVue, but on SlideShare.net. Video interviews are good enough for you, but not for HireVue’s best customers. HireVue and HR need to eat their own dog food before feeding it to job seekers.

More important, HireVue reveals the real problem employers face, in the introductory video at the top of its homepage.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “In a sea of candidates that all look the same, how do you find the ones that stand out? Since 2005 the number of applicants for any given job has increased four-fold, making it impossible to properly screen and assess each individual…”

No kidding! And what do you suppose caused that increase?

HireVue’s business model is predicated on employers blindly soliciting staggering numbers of applicants — far too many — via indiscriminate digital advertising. The results overpower any employer’s HR resources, so HR needs a video screening process to deal with a job posting process gone haywire. The real solution is to turn off the firehose and eliminate the flood of inappropriate applicants.

If HR would stop drinking from a firehose, it wouldn’t need to throttle its candidate pipeline. Besides, it’s unbecoming to do either.

A manager talks to a candidate again and again, only to have HR demand that the candidate make a video in front of an unmanned camera so HR can decide whether to continue discussions.

Just say no. But it’s the manager who should be saying no — to HR — about making inappropriate requests of job applicants.

Your wife did the right thing. Is it worth letting top management know what’s going on down in HR’s playroom? If HR is busy playing digital spin-the-bottle, HR should get out of the hiring business.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “Your best candidate could be the 100th to apply, yet you’ve only got time for the first 25.”

Ah, the promise of being able to view a hundred or more candidate videos!

How many videos can HR watch before it goes blind? How does HR explain its disrespect of hiring managers’ interview skills — and its own failure to teach them? Would you make an HR porno? :-)

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Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!

In the August 5, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter’s troubles reveal how job seekers can help themselves:

flounderingI just read your expose on CareerBuilder (Employment In America: WTF is going on?). I have used them over the years with very mixed results, and now they’re eliminating my discount and almost doubling my cost. A major disappointing rip-off.

I am a niche technical recruiter in a sector that has thousands of jobs not being filled because there is a lack of heavy-industry engineers. I am on Linkedin with up to 14 million connections to the 3rd level. There are some legit contacts, but the recruiter tools are a rip-off. And like CB and Monster, their sales people are relentless and care little for their customers’ results.

I have been doing direct e-mail campaigns and making calls, and I’ve been posting to niche boards. I got slammed by junk resumes on Indeed. Monster wants to sell me a $5,000 per month program, and I am hitting the wall. I have used some professional sourcers and it has been a struggle. One sourcer’s fee would be 50% of the fee a client would pay me.

I am floundering. All the techie features of these online systems can be a distraction! What else can I do to find good candidates for my clients? This is still about finding good people for good companies. Part of the problem is that the people I am searching for in heavy industry don’t publish, don’t attend conferences and don’t operate or participate on blogs. The companies that I work for trust me and they know their positions need to be filled with leprechauns riding unicorns chasing purple squirrels. Nick. I don’t want to be a lousy recruiter. It is still an important service that changes lives… hopefully for the better. Any advice is appreciated.

Nick’s Reply

I hope job seekers, whose questions we usually discuss here, can learn something from my advice to a troubled headhunter.

The solution is old-fashioned. You have to go where these people (candidates) hang out — wherever that might be. You talk to people who know people in the business – and ask for referrals to other possible sources. You do this primarily on the phone, but as much as necessary by e-mail, too. The point is to create a potent network of solid contacts so that insiders in heavy industry will know who you are and refer others to you.

LinkedIn is little more than a fancy phone book. Everyone is in it, but consulting it isn’t recruiting. As you can see, a list of 14 million people and their data is useless in itself. And the job boards deliver swill by the bucket. The reason a company uses a headhunter like you is that this takes hard work and there are no shortcuts. That’s where the huge headhunter fees originated – for all the hard work. Those professional “sourcers” you mentioned — they actually identify appropriate candidates in very challenging industries, and that’s more than half the work of headhunting. Of course they want half your fee! The online shortcuts just don’t do it.

I’m not trying to give you a hard time, just a reality check. Headhunting is 90% meeting and talking with people all day long. That’s where assignments and candidates come from. I know you know this, or you wouldn’t be telling me how all these “services” don’t really work.

You can start with your clients. Meet with them and ask them where their best hires have come from – what cities, what companies, what schools, where? Then I’d start cultivating contacts in those places.

Then go to heavy-industry engineers you have placed. What competing or related companies do they admire? Do they know engineers there? What continuing education courses do they take and where? Sign up for some of those classes — it’s where you’ll meet engineers and sources of good contacts. What conferences do they attend? Attend them yourself. (I don’t buy what you’re saying. Engineers congregate with other engineers. Your challenge is to figure out where.) Don’t just talk to attendees; talk to the organizers and presenters. They are great sources of candidates. Just don’t forget to return favors!

I’m sure you know people in manufacturing, finance, operations, marketing and sales. Many of them know engineers who know the engineers you’re looking for. That’s who those “sourcers” are talking to. Your job is to talk to them, too.


For the job seeker

How Can I Change Careers?Networking is not about using people. It’s about hanging out with the people you want to work with, where they hang out — talking shop, contributing to your professional community and making friends. The How Can I Change Careers? Answer Kit (36 pp., PDF format) provides tips and tools for career changers and job changers alike, including:

  • A good network is a circle of friends
  • The basics of good networking
  • How to initiate insider contacts
  • Tell me who your friends are
  • PLUS: Create your next job
  • PLUS: Put a free sample in your resume
  • PLUS: A crib sheet to help you explore, choose and research the right opportunities; tips on how to enter a circle of friends; how to define an employer’s needs and map your skills; and how to create a business plan for a job that will make you the profitable candidate in an interview.

I’m also sure you know quite a few heavy-industry engineers who are not looking to make a change. Buy them a nice lunch anyway and pick their brains — express an actual interest in their work. Become more of an expert in the field you recruit in, and you will start to see connections and opportunities you never saw before. Don’t ask these engineers for referrals; instead, offer them introductions to other people that might be beneficial. For free. Become a hub of good contacts without expecting any return and those engineers will start referring their friends to you because they will come to see you as more than just another headhunter who throws buzz words around — they’ll see you as a valuable industry resource.


For the job seeker

The best headhunters are looking for you in places where the best of your peers are talking shop. They cultivate potent networks of solid contacts — and job seekers can do exactly the same for themselves. For a more structured approach to how job seekers can meet and work with the best headhunters, see How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you (130 pp., PDF format). It includes these sections and much more:

  • htwwh1Why don’t headhunters return my calls?
  • How should I judge a headhunter?
  • What are all the different kinds of headhunters?
  • Are online job boards a good way to find headhunters?
  • What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list?
  • What kind of resume will make me the headhunter’s #1 candidate?
  • How can I find a good headhunter?
  • How should I manage a call from a headhunter?
  • Should I divulge my salary to a headhunter?
  • How should I negotiate with a headhunter?
  • Can I boost the salary range for a job?
  • Can a headhunter hurt my reputation?
  • Should I tell a headhunter who else I’m interviewing with?
  • PLUS: How do I keep a headhunter from squeezing me out of negotiations?
  • PLUS: How do I avoid having my resume tossed in the trash?

Like good jobs, good candidates are found through relevant contacts and hard work. (Who is relevant depends on how creative and insightful you are. That’s another thing that makes those big headhunter fees hard to come by.) The contacts you need will grow out of your active participation in the professional community you recruit from.

I admire how seriously you take your work. But no one is going to do it for you, and no online service will replace you. Take that to the bank.

How do the best headhunters you’ve met operate? We’re always talking about what’s wrong with headhunters. Some of them are very good at what they do. What’s right about them? Please share your experiences. Let’s talk about how to use the best headhunters’ best methods yourself!

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WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?

In the July 29, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t feel like doing a solo job interview:

What do you think of an employer that uses a video service such as Montage to conduct its pre-screening of job candidates? I was recently asked to do this and found the experience awful. You don’t get to hear responses played back before submitting them, and there is no conversation with the interviewer.

Nick’s Reply

inflatable_manI think it’s bulltarkus. Any company that asks you to do an interview by yourself on video might as well hire an inflatable doll. If an employer asks you to invest your time to apply for a job while it avoids investing time in you, think twice before doing it.

In fact, I think the decision to interview you by yourself on video was made by an HR doll that was inflated by a very lonely venture capitalist who will end up unsatisfied. It’s all overblown.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Montage — the Talk To The Doll App you’ve encountered — was funded to the tune of $4 million by Baird Venture Partners and — get this — the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. All you need to know is this comment posted to the article: “Very simple technology that will have little value in the future. It’s a groomed Skype with recording abilities.”

Montage is a “solution” that only a puffed-up HR executive with too big a budget could love. Next time, insist that a human show up to interview you.

WTF is up with venture capitalists (VCs), anyway? Didn’t we just cover a bunch of venture embarrassments in the recruiting space? The Stupid Recruiting Apps just keep coming, and you need to watch out for them.

Montage is just one notch up from another new app, Yo. According to The New York Times, Yo raised $1.5 million from Betaworks and other investors. Yo makes a “new smart phone app whose sole purpose is to let people send text messages saying ‘Yo.’”

“People think it’s just an app that says ‘Yo.’ But it’s really not,” said Mr. Arbel, one of Yo’s founders.

Rumor is that several Fortune 500 employers will be notifying job applicants whether or not they were hired with one word: Yo. “We like to call it context-based messaging,” says Arbel. “You understand by the context what is being said.”

Ask The Headhunter readers will be relieved to get any sort of feedback after their job interviews. (See Question 4 in 4 Tips for Fearless Job Hunters.) But, can’t we send one-word Tweets without having an app that sends only one word? Yes?

cenedellaThis is not to suggest there aren’t some seasoned recruiting industry veterans getting funded today. The former CEO of TheLadders, Marc Cenedella, has what’s probably the winning entry in the Totally Useless Apps category — Knozen. Business Insider says it’s “a new iPhone app that lets coworkers rate each other’s personalities anonymously… it’s like Yelp is for restaurants.”

I’d rather have an employment app that’s like OpenTable — it would guarantee me a place at the table! VCs including FirstMark Capital, Lerer Ventures and Greycroft Partners gave Cenedella $2.25 million. And here’s where you — the job seeker — come in. Business Insider reports that, “Eventually, Cenedella wants his app to become a ‘personality API’ that businesses can tap into during the recruitment process.”

Uh-oh — Cenedella is talking tech: API. So’s Yo investor John Borthwick: “over time [Yo] has the potential to become a platform.”

You can’t make this stuff up. “Cenedella feels Knozen is an extension of the work he was doing at The Ladders, a career site that matched executives with job opportunities that paid six-figures.”

And how’s Cenedella’s last start-up faring? Today TheLadders is fighting a consumer class action in Southern New York District Court for breach of contract and deceptive practices. Word is his lawyer dolls are keeping Mr. C. out of breath.

“The Ladders was about showing the intangible qualities of yourself to employers,” says Cenedella. Yah — actually, it was about letting you lie about your salary to employers so they’d interview you for “$100K+ jobs.” (See TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?) Does Knozen somehow guarantee honesty?

How does Cenedella explain that TheLadders is now a Hazbeen while Knozen is new and cool? “I got more interested in how people present themselves when they’re already in a job, not hunting for it.” No shit. One Business Insider comment sums up this start-up: “Stupid app. Nark app.”

I usually limit the levity and try to rise above all this. But when:

  • We start talking about a single word “that over time has the potential to become a platform;”
  • Employers want to snooze while you talk to the hand about a job; and,
  • A discredited recruiting entrepreneur gets over $2 million from venture capitalists…

Then it’s impossible to keep a straight face. We’re talking about a total of about $8 million worth of phony “recruiting technology” that you might face when you apply for a job.

So what’s my advice? Do what my mentor Harry Hamlin taught me: Use your judgment, and do the best you can. Then remember what my other mentor, Gene Webb, said: “Never work with jerks.” And don’t talk to inflatable doll interviewers.

Are new recruiting apps helping you land a job? Who’s become more stupid — venture capitalists, or employers? Want to buy an inflatable doll from me — to send to your interviews?

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Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires (Part 2)

In the June 3, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager tells how she finds great hires.

Last week we heard from Annie, a manager whose approach to interviewing and hiring reflects how she likes to be treated as a job applicant. She doesn’t rely on job boards. She treats applicants respectfully and always gets back to them. She explains interviewing procedures clearly in advance. She doesn’t waste applicants’ time. And she doesn’t demand their salary history.

find-hiresSo far, so good — but does this work? Does it help her hire great people?

Annie and I have kept up an e-mail conversation, and she has generously shared the process and outcome of her hiring efforts. You can review the story to date — and we’ll pick up where we left off last week.

From Annie

I don’t ask for salary history

Hi, Nick! It’s exciting to see the story up and people engaging with it. Our top candidate just accepted our offer today, so I’m able (and delighted) to say that our search process has been a success.

We suspected (but didn’t confirm) that the candidate was probably under-paid at his current position. I had to campaign pretty vigorously to pay him what he’s worth instead of some calculation based on his current number. He was such a promising candidate that he likely wouldn’t take less, and I wouldn’t feel right offering it to him. After we had finished our internal budget negotiations and arrived at a range, I simply asked him what he was hoping to make. Luckily, the numbers worked out!

Nick Replies

Annie, good for you for making the case to pay the candidate what you think he’s worth. Asking what he wanted to make is the honest way to come to terms on salary. A good alternative would have been to quote your budget range for the job. Kudos to you for not falling back on a request for his salary history. Job applicants should keep their salary under wraps.

Someone on the blog (Eddie) asked this question:

It is good to hear that hiring managers are attending networking events. But how do I find these?

Can you share with us how you network to recruit?

From Annie

Where I network to find great job candidates

Your commenter Dave is spot-on: Meetup groups are the way to go. The position I was hiring for is a technical one (and I’m in a technical role myself), so most of my networking was at groups focused on programming languages, technology stacks, etc. These aren’t (on the surface) career/hiring events. These are places where people in the industry get together and discuss their craft. So, if you are deliberate about hiring, it’s the sweet spot: places to form relationships with people who already have good jobs in the area, who know their stuff, and who might want a job someday. [Don’t say, “I don’t know anybody!” -Nick]

Making friends at meetups

The tricky thing about relying on a network is, you have to start building it before you need it. I’ve been going to most of these groups for years. They give me the opportunity to make friends, pair-code with people, toss around project ideas, and share answers to problems. In other words, to demonstrate my interest and involvement in our field, and get enough face time that people can safely conclude I’m probably not a terrible, awful person to work with.

Really, I can’t stress enough how important this kind of interaction (again, on your advice) has been in my career. I’ve gotten jobs based on the recommendation of people I’ve pair-coded with at meetups. I’ve got job leads in my pocket because of it. And I found the young man that we eventually hired the same way: a personal recommendation from someone I trust, who knows both of us through meetup groups.

Diversity in recruiting

Following on the recent news of Google releasing their demographics data, I think this is also the perfect (and possibly only?) way to go about recruiting a diverse staff. I make sure to contribute in groups targeting women and other minorities in engineering, in part so that I can be sure to know diverse candidates in order to include them in my hiring process. You know, everybody says, “We need more women / African Americans / Latinos / etc. in computers,” but it seems like companies make next to no effort to go out and recruit them. Unfortunately, they won’t just fall into your lap. As with everything, it takes work.

Nick Replies

Annie: You’ve made an eloquent case for real networking. Your method of making friends to find great hires is the flip-side of making friends to get referred to great jobs. (I cover this in detail in How Can I Change Careers?, in the section titled “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends.”)

Thanks for acknowledging that “networking” — as some people practice it — can be “icky.” By investing the time to demonstrate your genuine interest in talking shop, you help people judge that you’re a good person to talk with and get to know. This is the essence of making friends and getting introduced to jobs.

Thanks again for showing us how you actually recruit and hire using the ideas we discuss here every day. Some managers respect job applicants and go out of their way to make good hires intelligently and with care. My advice to job seekers: A manager like Annie doesn’t need many great applicants, and you don’t need more than just one good manager to hire you. Don’t lower your standards. Go where managers like Annie will find you.

Where do you find great managers? How do you network effectively to find great jobs? There is nothing easy or quick about investing time in your professional community to get ahead. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Since they’re not, it means you have less competition. Does this shake up your world?

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Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1)

In the May 27, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager explains how she hires by respecting job applicants:

I’m a longtime reader. Your advice has helped me in my job searches and salary negotiations. I recently landed a great job with a great salary, where I have done very well. Well enough, in fact, that I’m now the one in charge of my team, and we are hiring! So now I’m on the other side of the job-search equation.

Since I take your advice to heart, as I conduct my candidate search I am:

  • respectNot relying on job boards. I am pursuing local networking opportunities.
  • Treating my applicants with courtesy by replying promptly and keeping them updated.
  • Communicating clearly about our interviewing procedures.
  • Trying to be respectful of my applicants’ time, and not requiring multi-day interview processes.

The one place where I’m a little stuck is about salary history. As an applicant, I would never give away my current or past salary. When pressed about my expectations, I hedge with statements like, “I hope to be paid a market salary commensurate with my skills.”

But as a hiring manager working with a limited budget, it seems it’s my responsibility to play hardball and try to get the best candidate within our price range.

Do you consider it unethical to press for salary history? Is there any happy medium? Is there any way I can determine quickly if someone is out of my range, without asking them to compromise themselves? Do you have any advice for a well-intentioned member of “the other side?”

Best regards,
Annie

Nick’s Reply

Your four bulleted hiring techniques speak for themselves. Unfortunately, too many managers and companies fail to follow your simple rules. That means you have less competition — good applicants will recognize a good manager.

I’m glad to hear my salary strategy (Keep Your Salary Under Wraps) has been helpful to you as a job hunter. I think it can be just as helpful now that you’re hiring. Please consider approaching this the same way.

If you have a budget for a job, what’s wrong with stating a compensation range to your serious candidates? (That is, the ones you’re going to interview.) It’s easy enough to say, “Just to be clear, our comp range is $X to $Y, and if we’re going to go to $Y, you’d have to demonstrate how you’re going to contribute to our profitability to justify it.”

You don’t need to announce this in advance, but I’d make a phone call to each of your best candidates when you have identified them. I think they will appreciate it. “I’m disclosing this to you because I don’t want you to interview unless you’d be happy with an offer in that range. I like to be above board.”

As long as you stay within your budget, I don’t think you’ll have a problem. You have a clear obligation to your company to stay within budget – and I think this accomplishes that.

“Hardball” is actually just honest ball. I don’t think you’re going to lose a great candidate by being honest. Anyone outside your range is, well, outside your range. And if someone outside your range is honestly willing to interview for less than they’re making or have been making, that’s up to them.

Make sense? Of course, knowing someone’s salary history doesn’t help you decide what to offer them. What other employers paid is their judgment, within their business. Value is relative, and you must make your own judgment for your own business. It seems to me you’re already okay with this, and that gives you an edge over your competitors.

I think it’s always best for employer and applicant to agree on the general salary range they’re both comfortable with before they start talking seriously. The best way to ensure this is for the employer to state the range of salary for the job. This does not mean you must let yourself be swayed to the high end if you don’t think the candidate is worth that much — which is why I suggest making that clear from the outset. (Job applicants can make their case by following the methods in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.) Of course, you should phrase this in a way that’s right for you — my words are mine, not yours!

My highest compliments for demonstrating such high standards in your hiring practices. You’re a manager who respects job applicants. I wish more managers would follow your simple rules.

The manager follows up

Hi, Nick,

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I think your suggested script is a good one. As with all aspects of salary negotiations, I’ll just have to practice saying it out loud about a hundred times, until I don’t cringe anymore when it comes out of my mouth. Never was there a thing more uncomfortable than talking salaries!

It’s nice to hear that you think I’m on a good track. I’m absolutely convinced that this approach is getting me better candidates than LinkedIn and Craigslist have gotten us. But it has also given me a new respect for HR departments and recruiters! This process takes an incredible amount of work! I’m so focused on “people” stuff right now that I couldn’t write a decent line of code if I tried.

Thank you again, I was very touched to hear back from you.

Annie

Nick’s Reply

It makes my day when I hear from a manager as thoughtful as you. I’m happy to help if I can.

I know recruiting and hiring are incredibly time consuming. It’s why I tell managers, expect to invest at least 30% of your time doing it — or you’re not being a good manager. Done right, this investment pays off handsomely. You’ll never be as productive as you can be if you don’t have great employees doing the work. A manager’s #1 task is hiring great people to get the job done. If more managers approached it this way, I think turnover would be much lower, productivity higher, attendance higher, and promotion from within a better bet. (To further enhance your success rate, hand-walk the offer once you’ve made it.) Good hiring makes strong companies.

Please let me know how this works out for you..

Coming next week…

Manager Annie tells us how this all turned out!

What can managers do to show respect to job applicants? If you’re on the hiring side, what do you do? What does it mean to hire smart today?

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The Bogus-ness of Indeed.com

In the April 2, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks me to stop dissing job boards:

You claim that job boards don’t work. Yet virtually every job in the world is advertised on job boards, and employers use job boards all the time! Just look at all the traffic they get. I think you’re missing the boat — please admit that there’s plenty of evidence the job boards do work!

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the problem with job boards today: None of them offer any evidence that they work.

What does it mean that “they work?” It means they actually match people with jobs. You know: find jobs for people and find people for jobs.

Indeed-infographicAbout.com says, “The best sites for finding job listings in 2014 will help you find the most current job openings fast” (about.com). Finding job listings is one thing. But if job boards actually work, they should be able to show they are the cause of hires. They claim they are, but they offer no evidence.

Let’s look at Indeed.com, which is referred to as “arguably (and probably) the largest job search engine” (DigitalTrends).

On March 27, 2014, Indeed published an article and infographic titled “How 140 Million Unique Visitors Use Indeed to Find Jobs.”

On its face, the title seems clear — it’s going to tell you how people found jobs using Indeed. But the infographic shows nothing of the sort. In fact, contrary to the misleading title, the graphic seems to be very careful not to claim Indeed actually fills jobs. Let’s look at the data presented in that infographic (click here to follow along). It tells us everything except whether Indeed works:

1. 140 Million unique visitors each month. So what? What does tracking unique visitors have to do with actually filling jobs? All this tells us is that lots of people go there.

2. “Traffic on Indeed has increased by 40% over the past year.” Again, so what?

3. “Each month, 72% of online job seekers in the US visit Indeed.” But, how many get jobs there? There’s no mention of that. I’m still waiting for how all those people use Indeed to actually find jobs.

4. “There are 25 million resumes on Indeed that employers search for free.” Those employers could be printing resumes to line bird cages. Where are the stats on how many people they hired? All this statistic tells us is that employers might be stupid. Judging from the rising complaints about “a talent shortage” from employers, it seems “free” is worthless. And employers are indeed sometimes stupid.

5. “Job seekers use the 4 million employer reviews to research companies.” So what? They use Google to do the same. Does Google claim it fills jobs? Do we see a trend here? Lots of data showing big numbers, which seem impressive by themselves — but no outcomes analysis.

6. “45% of Indeed searches come from mobile.” Yah, so? Every marketing program today includes the obligatory reference to “mobile.” But how many of those searches yield hires?

7. There are 16 million jobs on Indeed worldwide, and 8.2 added per second. But how many are filled by people searching for jobs on Indeed?

8. Indeed is available in 50+ countries in 28 languages. Perhaps translators are getting jobs. What are the success rates by country?

The infographic slams us with impressive statistics about web traffic, numbers of job postings and resumes, percentages of job seekers that visit — all kinds of data. Indeed concludes that “More people find jobs on Indeed than anywhere else.” After scanning the clever infographic, you probably believe it.

Well, I don’t. I think it’s all b.s. All I see is that lots of people find job listings on Indeed. (Oops, could that be what Indeed really means?)

In the midst of all this promotional “info” there is not one shred of data that tells us how many people actually got jobs on Indeed, or how many jobs employers filled on Indeed. “People find jobs on Indeed” clearly means they found job listings in Indeed. So what?

The infographic is bogus. Those numbers do not indicate success rates. It’s classic deception by distraction that convinces people to keep patronizing job boards.

My challenge to job boards

I challenge Indeed.com, and every other job board: Show us your job fill rates and the success rates of job seekers who use the service, and point us to your data. Indeed’s revenues are not public, but they must be staggering. The company clearly spends a lot on advertising and promotion. You’d think that if Indeed had a shred of evidence that its service actually works, it would be prominently displayed in the infographic.

Why isn’t it?

I can’t find one word about Indeed’s success metrics on its website. Can you? Indeed features an “Engineering Blog” on its site — posts about database technology — but nothing about outcomes analysis or success metrics.

My guess is that Indeed’s dirty little secret is that human resources departments dump billions of dollars into an empty hole, and that nobody really cares how many jobs Indeed (or any job board) actually fills — as long as the cash keeps rolling in.

The job boards “show us the money” because they’re making it hand over fist. But they don’t show us results.

My challenge to employers:

I’ll make a second challenge to employers: Pay a job board only after you make a hire through that board. Suddenly, job boards will be able to accurately track who got hired from where. And you’ll know where your money is going. (This is no different from this challenge to job boards that charge job seekers.)

Funny thing

Every job board executive I’ve ever talked to claims that “there’s just no way we can track actual hires — it’s too complicated.” Gimme a break. Web analytics is rocket science today — we can track virtually everything you do online — and there’s no way to figure out whether a job board was the cause of a job being filled? Wouldn’t the very best job service be designed to ensure it gathers the necessary data to prove it works? I mean, what are all those “data scientists” for, anyway?

I think the truth is simpler: Indeed.com and most of the other job boards (the bigger, the worse) use deceptive marketing tactics to imply bogus benefits. Certainly, they fill some jobs, but just because millions of people gamble doesn’t mean enough of them win to justify the practice. All it means is that the house wins.

While you keep job hunting, you generate more visits to Indeed.com, which yields dramatic increases in “the data” — and in the number of suckers born every minute.

Do job boards work? I’d love to hear from employers who actually know where their hires came from. Did you get a job through Indeed? What’s your best source of hires — or jobs?

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Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring

In the February 4, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re catching up on the TV news segment I told you about recently…

Ask The Headhunter Video

This space is normally devoted to Q&A: A “live” problem faced by a reader, and my advice. But two weeks ago, in the January 20 edition, I asked for your input about how employers use “Big Data” when recruiting and hiring.

I was preparing for an appearance on Brian Lehrer’s TV news magazine. Your comments and suggestions were very helpful — many thanks! I promised I’d share the program with you after it aired, and I’m devoting this week’s edition to it.


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In this segment, we’re joined by The Atlantic columnist Don Peck, whose article, “They’re Watching You At Work,” is a deep dive into the use of people analytics in hiring. Thanks to CUNY TV and to Brian for his pointed questions. (Brian’s main gig is on New York City’s NPR affiliate, WNYC radio. I’ve enjoyed being his guest many times.)

Corporate HR departments and recruiters have been misusing Big Data — online resumes, applicant tracking systems, job application forms — to recruit and hire for almost two decades. They solicit millions of applicants, then claim none fit the bill. Is it your fault for playing the cards they dealt you in a game they rigged?

According to Peck, it’s no surprise that now employers are doubling down on technology and Big Data, and buying oodles of information about you — so they can correlate it to their fantasy of the perfect job candidate.

For example — no kidding — the browser you use correlates to how successful you will be if you’re hired. Internet Explorer users are “less apt” — no jobs for them! In this data-rich recruiting approach, people analytics render a “decision” about whether to hire you.

What do you think of the ideas discussed in the video? Is HR just getting dumber? Check it out, and post your comments!

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Executive Search: Don’t pay lazy headhunters

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters


Introduction

You’re an employer. You pay LinkedIn to search its profiles when you’re recruiting. Do you care that the job applicants who rise to the top of your search results paid for their positioning?

linkedin-top-of-listIn a sweeping 1950s music industry scandal, radio deejays were exposed for taking money — payola — from record promoters to play their record labels’ songs, regardless of popular tastes. Certain songs went up the charts because record labels paid for positioning.

Today, payola seems to be the name of the game on LinkedIn, where job hunters can pay $29.95 per month to “move to the top of the applicant list” when employers search LinkedIn profiles for recruiting.

In the radio scandal, the payments were secret. LinkedIn sells top position in recruiting search results shamelessly.


In the July 23, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says LinkedIn is behaving immorally and unethically:

I received an e-mail from LinkedIn, with a vertical list of five or six firms and logos, suggesting that I could be interested in these jobs. One of them caught my attention and I applied. I simply clicked on the “View job” link, uploaded a copy of my resume, and clicked the submit button. Immediately, a very questionable pop-up appeared. For $29.95 per month, LinkedIn has offered to sell me an “upgrade” that will put me at the top of the results this employer will see when it searches the LinkedIn database for job applicants. I find this to be unethical and immoral. How about you?

Nick’s Reply

When Ask The Headhunter subscriber Richard Tomkins brought this to my attention (he graciously gave me permission to print his name), I had to see it for myself.

linkedin-pitch-nickSo yesterday I applied for a job listed in a LinkedIn e-mail about “Jobs you may be interested in.” The pop-up that appeared on my screen is on the right.

(Tomkins got the exact same pop-up six months ago, listing the same #2 and #3 profiles beneath his own. He notes they are in the “San Francisco Bay Area,” thousands of miles from his own location. You’d think LinkedIn would gin up a pitch that at least delivers “results” that include “candidates” from the same geographic area!)

More suckers

I couldn’t believe that LinkedIn was going to sucker an employer — who paid to search LinkedIn profiles — by putting me at the top of the search results just because I paid for it.

“Move your job application to the top of the recruiter’s list!” in exchange for payola of $29.95, LinkedIn said to me.

While the employer is paying thousands to LinkedIn to search for applicants???

So I contacted LinkedIn, thinking that Tomkins and I had somehow gotten this wrong. Could LinkedIn be taking money from job seekers and fleecing employers with fake rankings?

A customer service representative, LaToya (no last name given), explained that the advantage, if I pay the $29.95, “is that your [sic] at the top of the list rather than listed toward the bottom as a Basic applicant.”

So it’s true. LinkedIn sells positioning to job hunters while it sells database searches to employers. Talk about getting paid on both ends of a deal! Meanwhile, the “Basic” applicants (those other suckers, who ride free) are relegated to the bottom of the list.

I wrote back to LaToya: “Don’t the employers get upset when they see someone ‘paid’ to get bumped to the top?”

That was taken care of, explained LaToya: Employers “have the option to turn on and off the setting.”

So I buy top positioning in recruiting results for $29.95 per month, and the employer has the option to render my payment a total waste. The only winner is LinkedIn — higher revenues, higher stock price, higher corporate valuation, and more suckers paying. This is the leading website for recruiting and job hunting?

The Lance Armstrong league

But it seems there’s another loser in this game: LinkedIn, whose reputation just sank to the bottom of the job board swill pot. (Well, not the very bottom. That’s the sole purview of TheLadders.)

Another job board, CareerBuilder, used to offer top position in search results for $150. (CareerBuilder’s New Ad Campaign: What’s a sucker worth?) LinkedIn may call itself a business network, but now it’s just another job board.

LinkedIn recently awarded Tomkins a “blue ribbon” because his LinkedIn page is “in the top 10% of the most viewed entries.”

tomkins

But he is not happy:

“If I am in the top 10%, it’s not translating into more interviews, let alone a job. 20 million people got this award? That’s the size of big city or a small country. Should I laugh or cry? What significance does this really have to me? I was okay with their business model, up to the point when they became a job board. If your name is at the top of the list only because you paid for it, that puts you in the same league as Lance Armstrong.”

Tomkins guesses at how the professional network’s business model is likely to evolve next:

“What if three different applicants — all with premium accounts — apply for the same job? Who gets to be on top? Maybe they have another pop-up stacked up, one that offers the user a premium-plus-plus, extra-premium account for $300.”

Is a sucker endorsed every minute?

LinkedIn has turned the business of new product development into Project: Anything Goes.

LinkedIn used to be a credible business network that became the business network online — and potentially the standard-bearer for professional identity integrity. Since it started selling recruiting and “job seeker” services, it has slid down the slippery slope of inconsistent, slimy “offers” and business practices. A generous explanation is that one hand (LinkedIn marketing?) doesn’t know what the other (LinkedIn product management?) is doing.

(This is not LinkedIn’s first dumb move, or its last. Fast on the heels of LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring came the more ridiculous and gratuitous “endorsements,” which serve no purpose but to drive up traffic stats.)

But the question is, why are employers (who pay to access the database) and job seekers (who pay for database positioning) going along while LinkedIn sells them both out with this game of payola?

And where does it leave LinkedIn users who just want to meet one another to do business?

“Sheesh. I’m still pissed off,” says Tomkins. “I used to think of Linked In as a respectable website, but I have less respect for them now than Facebook.”

Have you paid LinkedIn for search-results position and “premium” standing? Does it pay off? If you’re an employer, how do you feel about paying to view search results that job applicants bought? Is this immoral, unethical, or the new standard of business?

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