Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis

In the January 22, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, reader John Franklin (who appeared with me on a PBS NewsHour segment last September) says recruitment advertising is often deceptive and asks how widespread I think the problem is:

Hi, Nick — Happy New Year. I was one of the other folks featured in the PBS story Is Applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work? I’m writing to follow up on one point that I made but which didn’t get addressed due to the time constraint: companies running advertisements to update their talent pools and databases vs. actually doing any recruitment.

From my experience, this is an extremely common and rather deceptive practice that contributes to a great deal of the frustration experienced by so many job seekers. They see an ad that fits them perfectly, but it turns out to be nothing more than an invitation to submit so you can become a file listing as opposed to a candidate. In your opinion, how widespread is this practice?

(Thanks in advance for your input — great job on the piece!)

Nick’s Reply

Happy New Year to you, too! Thanks for writing to follow up on an important point you made to PBS NewsHour that didn’t make it into the program.

The practice you describe is as old as job ads. It probably seems innocuous to most people, but it’s an insidious practice that I believe contributes heavily to America’s jobs crisis.

When employers published jobs primarily in newspapers, they’d create what we used to call “composite ads.” To save money, they’d run one ad rather than five, and that one ad would include requirements for perhaps five different positions. It was the proverbial kitchen sink of recruitment advertising. The hope was that they’d get enough resumes with enough of a mix of skill sets that they’d fill at least one job, hopefully more.

recruiting-whopperFraudulent job ads

At the same time, employers were doing exactly what you’ve noticed: filling their filing cabinets with resumes. I’m sure employers bristle at the suggestion that this is deceptive. “We’re soliciting resumes for jobs! So what if that includes jobs that are not open yet?”

It’s worse than deceptive. I think it’s fraud. A job ad is a solicitation that implies there is a current, specific, open job to be filled. This creates anticipation in the job hunter, and the reasonable expectation that the job will be filled in short order — not that the resume will be filed, to be used later and who knows when. Job hunters reasonably expect a timely answer when they submit their resumes. But we all know what really happens: usually, nothing at all.

If employers want to gather resumes to stock their databases, that’s fine, but they should disclose what they’re doing. I’m sure they’d nonetheless rake in lots of resumes, but at least people would know the difference between applying for a job and applying to have their resume stored for later use.

Fresher stale jobs and resumes

How “fresh” can stale jobs be? The games employers and job boards play with resumes don’t end there. You’ll find that employers “update” their job postings with a few minor changes to keep them high in the “search results” — even though there’s no material stale-breadchange in the position. And the job boards encourage this practice. They remind employers to “refresh” their postings as a way to make the jobs databases appear “up to date” with “fresh jobs daily.” It’s a racket and a conspiracy. It allows a job board to claim it’s got X millions of “fresh, up-to-date job listings!” when all it’s got is stale bread with a new expiration date stamped on it.

The job boards tell job hunters to do the same thing with their resumes. “Keep your resume high in the results! Update it regularly!” Translation: Keep visiting our site so we can report high traffic to employers, who are so stupid that they not only “refresh” their own old listings, they pay us even more money for “refreshed” stale resumes!

HR funds the jobs crisis

Corporate HR departments are funding and propping up the job boards in an epic scam that has turned real recruiting into a bullshit enterprise that has nothing to do with filling jobs. The con is enormous. I believe it’s the source of “the talent shortage.”

After creating this fat pipe of resume sewage, employers complain they can’t possibly handle all the crud it delivers to them every day. “We received a million resumes yesterday! We can’t find good hires! And there’s no time to respond personally to everyone who applied!” Of course not. If you had to dive into a dumpster of garbage to find a fresh carton of milk, you’d complain, too. The trouble is, it’s HR departments themselves that are paying job boards to gather, store, and sell that drek back to HR. It’s incredibly stupid, but when’s the last time you saw the HR profession do anything smart in recruiting?

A billion dollars worth of nothing

Where does the jobs crisis come from? Why can’t good people get jobs? Consider Monster.com, the world’s biggest job board. In the last four quarters, the world spent dumpster-empty$1.05 billion to fill and then dive for resumes and jobs in this dumpster. Yet year after year since 2002 employers have reported that Monster was their “source of hires” no more than about 4% of the time. Is there anything to call this but a conspiracy between HR departments and the job boards? Is it anything but a racket? Is it fraud?

When a company publishes a job solicitation that’s intended only to stock a database, that’s deceptive. When employers publish jobs on a website that they know doesn’t fill many jobs, I call that systemic recruitment fraud.

The most stunning outcome is that recruitment advertising is choking the very employers that pay to prop it up. You’ve nailed the problem: Job ads — no matter what their form — are often deceptive. They’re not used to fill jobs. They’re used to build deep databases of old resumes. That’s what the jobs crisis floats on.

Billion of dollars spent on databases to find and fill jobs — while employers cry “talent shortage” and record numbers of talented people can’t get hired.

Yet another rant about job boards and HR practices? Yep. Is there a board of directors out there that realizes it’s funding the jobs crisis with its investors’ money? Contribute your stories and comments below. Nothing will change until the purveyors of this sludge get their noses rubbed in it.

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Pssst! Here’s where you should be recruiting top talent!

Here’s an excerpt from a comment posted by Mason on another column, Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke:

The problem is this. Employers actually LOVE this current job market. They can control costs by paying exactly what they want for a given job/position…and they have an ENORMOUS pool of willing applicants from which to choose. Some of them, I would say most of the Fortune 1000, are doing well and extremely profitable. There is little reason or incentive for them to hire more people.

I just got rejected after 9 AM in the morning after I applied for a job at midnight. Something tells me a human didn’t actually read my application.

Companies who treat the employees like crap will be emptied out of their good employees once the economy gets better. Of this I am convinced. If a company craps on people in the bad times, they certainly cannot be trusted in the good times….

I think Mason is right. I saw his prediction come true in Silicon Valley more than once, after a bust cycle turned into a boom. Here’s how it works — and you tell me if you agree.

During a bust, revenues and profits crash. Business tanks, and companies lay off workers because they can’t afford them. As the cycle turns and we start toward a boom (or think we are, anyway), sales take off, revenues spike, and profits surge.

Junk profitability

The dirty little secret, though, is that a big part of the soaring profits stem from higher productivity that results from lower staffing levels. Fewer workers are doing more work, which yields higher profits for employers. This is nice. But it’s unsustainable. It’s junk profitability.

While some of the higher productivity can be attributed to increased efficiencies created by technology, much of it is still due to artificially low staffing levels. Companies today are teetering on the bleeding edge of high profits, and they really don’t want to start hiring again if they can avoid it.

Where the talent is ripe for the picking

The question is, how long can they sustain these levels of productivity and profits? Over-worked employees will leave the minute someone makes them a better offer.

And that’s an enormous opportunity for companies that get it. Riding the wave requires deft skills, and greed just causes more crashes. Some top-notch workers are already looking for better deals — because the economy is at a tipping point.

If you want to recruit top talent — dedicated workers who are ready to move — you need look no farther than the most profitable companies that haven’t been hiring. They may be advertising jobs, but as Mason suggests, they’re just pretending. They’re not hiring at levels significant enough to sacrifice their artificial profits. Their best employees are ripe for the picking.

Note to those employees whose eyes are wandering — these signals point to renewed freedom to negotiate really good compensation and benefits deals. I believe it’s always good to leave a few bucks on the table when negotiating, as a sign of good faith, but don’t leave too much. As Mason suggests, you still can’t really trust them, so take some profit of your own on the front end.

What’s your take?

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Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play

In the October 23, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks about bait-and-switch contracts used by “staffing” firms.

A recruiter at an IT staffing firm did something that I think is very unethical. I signed a contract with the firm to perform IT duties at a company where I successfully interviewed just days before. It specified the hourly pay and overtime.

I verbally negotiated the rate prior to signing the contract. Unfortunately, I did not ask for a copy of the contract. Yesterday, the recruiter asked me to sign more forms. There was a new contract, and a significant reduction in pay! The overtime was deleted and the pay was stated weekly instead of hourly.

When I pointed this out, the recruiter e-mailed that, “We lost the original contract.” I called the next morning, and the recruiter insisted I sign the new forms and said she would take care of my concerns. When I balked and declined to sign, she said they would redo the forms but it might be a day or two. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to start work tomorrow!

I find this utterly distasteful and unethical. I’m going to wait and see if the recruiter comes up with the correct terms before I contact the staffing account manager or the company I’m supposed to work for.

My question is, why are they stalling with the new contract? Why couldn’t it be immediately corrected? Maybe they are waiting to find something in my background check so they can report to the company that I am “unsuitable” for hire. Then, they can go out and find someone cheaper. What do you suggest?

Nick’s Reply

What you’re describing is, unfortunately, not uncommon in the IT “staffing” or “consulting” biz. (It’s not just the IT field that uses staffing firms.) These companies recruit and hire people, then “rent” them to their client companies at a profit. Things like this happen because overly-eager recruiters get excited when they find a candidate like you. They want to sign you up and assign you to a client, so they promise you a contract that’s to your liking. Later, the sales rep handling the account you’d be assigned to can’t get the rate the recruiter promised you — so the deal changes. It’s a classic bait-and-switch game.

It is crucial that you read everything before you sign, and make sure everything you negotiated is in the written contract.

No matter what you negotiated and they agreed to orally, what matters is what’s in the written contract. Make sure you get the counterpart of the contract — the copy they signed — and tell them you will not report to work until you receive it. Often, a firm will demand that you sign the contract, then they will “forget” to give you the copy they signed.

The games some of these companies play are unethical — but they do it anyway. Your protection is to insist it’s in writing, and to politely but firmly decline to show up for work until the written contract is to your satisfaction.

But be careful. If you sign something without reading it carefully, and then you decide you want different terms, too late — you’re already committed. Be very, very careful. Good contracts make good working relationships.

One tactic they may use is to ignore your requests right up until the last minute, maybe the day you’re supposed to show up for work. This puts you on edge and makes you very nervous. You want the job, but you don’t want the terms. They figure you will cave to get the work, so they will push the envelope hard and far. Unless you have a history of good experiences with them, don’t believe anything until it’s in writing in your hands.

You may really need the job, but you must decide in advance whether you will accept lesser terms or such behavior. Then stay calm, don’t complain, don’t get angry. Just state your terms. Your overriding strategy must be to make yourself highly desirable or indispensable to the consulting firm. Make them need you. Then make your reasonable demands calmly and firmly. Then let them decide, and let them reveal whether they are honest and have integrity.

You’re doing the right thing. This can be risky, but you must decide your tolerance for such risk: If they want to play the last-minute game, you can play, too. Just know what you’re doing in advance, and let this play itself out. If they don’t give you the contract you agreed to, then stop working with them. They’re not honest.

Be careful if you go to the actual employer to discuss this. Do not say nasty things about the firm. Be businesslike. It can be as simple as this:

How to Say It

“I enjoyed meeting with you, and I’d like to work on your team. However, I’m not happy with the way the consulting firm has handled the facts of the project. Is there another consulting firm you use that you respect? Can you recommend someone there that I can talk to?”

Not all companies will answer you — they get nervous. They may even have a contract with the staffing firm that prohibits them from discussing this with you. But you must decide whether integrity is important enough to kill a deal. In the end, you may need to meet a new staffing firm, and a good way to do that is to talk with a company where you’d like to work, and inquire which staffing firm they use. There are some very good staffing firms out there: Get a personal introduction to them, and learn to igore the rest. Get a personal introduction.

As more companies try to avoid the fixed overhead of staff, they’re going to look to hire “on contract.” Do you see this trend in your own business? Have your experiences with staffing firms been good or bad? What would you do in a situation like this? What methods do you use to avoid problems and to get a good deal from staffing firms?

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Modern Advances In Career Science: Eliminate the humans

If you’re smart and know how to show an employer how you’ll contribute to the bottom line, you don’t need Big Data — and you’ve got little competition.

But Big Data is the Modern Advance In Career Science, and the objective is to eliminate the humans from job hunting, recruiting, and hiring.

Joel Cheesman had me laffing my A off with his latest: They’re heeeeeere. Again.

Writing in his new blog, JobScore, Cheesman runs down the recent zombies created by Career Science: itzbig, Trovix, Climber v1.0, JobFox and sundry “eHarmony for jobs players.”

Advances in database technology surface and die so quickly that they leave behind more career-industry corpses than one blog posting can impale on poles along the roadside. But Cheesman does a yeoman’s job of keeping up.

Where do these living dead business plans come from??

Cheesman answers with this morbid quote from Darren Bounds, CEO of Path.to, a career service whose website is as dim as its business concept:

“A big data approach to hiring can eliminate 80 percent of the work being done by humans.”

Another Modern Advance In Career Science: Eliminate the humans.

Cheesman racks up the headshots in the online recruiting space: Bright, Silp (“Your dream job will find you” — Not if I see you first, Sucka!), WorkFu (“We are currently in discussions regarding the possibilities of keeping WorkFu alive and will update as soon as we have more information.” BAM!) — every one of them relies on database technology to create as many mindless job-hunting zombies as employers can hire.

Except employers aren’t hiring them.

Employers — personnel-jockeys-turned-zombies themselves — are crying there’s a skills shortage because your keyword resume doesn’t exactly match the lifeless, bloodless job description they uploaded to the Big Database.

No sweat — JobScore says Monster.com took Trovix off the streets for $70 million and turned it into 6Sense. I see more dead people.

The good news: If you do your job search like a human and avoid the databases, the clawing zombies that think they’re competing with you for a juicy salary will never keep up.

My old buddy Jeff Pierce is still right: 80% of people are cows, but zombie cows. I’d buy a lunch of warm entrails for the venture capitalists behind all these corpses, just to watch their heads explode.

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Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution

In the July 17, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains that Human Resources (HR) departments are behind the talent shortage:

I don’t have a question, but I want to share stories about two candidates that I interviewed. (I am a manager.)

I am continually astounded at the kinds of idiotic discrimination I see companies engage in when they’re hiring. This simply confirms my suspicions that bad HR managers are a major impediment to good candidates getting good jobs.

I’ve been to job fairs where companies tape up signs saying “U.S. Citizenship Required” and “Must Speak English.” This puts me in mind of the “Irish need not apply” and “No Blacks” of earlier years. There are very few jobs that genuinely require citizenship (as opposed to employment authorization) and I’ve found precious few on this side of the Atlantic who come close to speaking proper English!

At my company, HR often turns away good candidates for reasons just as ludicrous as those signs. This is what happened to two people I interviewed. HR ignored both of them as “unhireable.”

One candidate had a Chinese accent so thick that I had difficulty understanding anything she said. During the interview I resorted to asking her to write or draw in order to assist communication. I saw strong technical skills through the language problems that this new immigrant had and I made the offer.

Another candidate was so nervous that he completely messed up most of the questions in the first half of the interview. I persevered, put him at ease and satisfied myself that he was technically able. I hired him, too.

Both these people have been stunning performers in my company. The Chinese candidate has improved her language skills to the point where communication is no longer a challenge. The formerly nervous candidate has gained confidence. The only downside is that either candidate could now go elsewhere and breeze through interviews with the sort of lame-brains who (I believe) routinely pass up good candidates because it takes a bit of extra effort to get to know them.

The moral of this story is, if you are a candidate, try to talk to managers, not HR. If you are the solution, prove it. If you are a manager, try to get at the candidates before HR filters out all the good ones. If you are a recruiter, drop the dumb prejudices! There is no talent shortage, just a shortage of good hiring practices and patience!

My Advice

I could kiss you. Thanks for the reality check. Employers are losing great candidates due to crappy judgments about who is worth interviewing and hiring.

I haven’t seen the sort of signs you refer to, but then again, I haven’t been to a job fair in a long time. However, I have seen good job candidates passed over by corporate representatives who had no skin in the game. That is, they weren’t hiring managers. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that a good hiring manager will dig a bit deeper to get to know a candidate than an HR manager might — because the manager needs to fill a job.

Do HR workers, in general, discriminate? Are they lazy? Your stories raise these provocative questions, and you deliver a sharp message: Companies do themselves a disservice when they keep the hiring manager at arm’s length from the hiring process.

Today HR uses software to filter candidates before any human judgment is brought to bear. The result is that excellent prospects are denied before the hiring manager even knows they exist. Why does HR do this?

HR’s answer is just as dumb as it sounds: HR has so many applicants that it has no choice but to use software to filter them!

And my rejoinder reveals just how stupidly HR behaves: HR created the problem itself! Where do you think all those tons of applicants suddenly came from? HR posts jobs and solicits any and all applicants — then complains it’s got too many?

For $50 I’ll give any HR department the solution: Stop posting jobs and soliciting millions of resumes. More is not better — so stop with the stupid excuses already. End the problem of “more applicants than we can handle.” If too many are applying, you’re not doing your job. The point is to use methods that attract the right candidates — not tons of candidates!

And here’s the rest of the solution: HR should handle the administrative process of getting new hires on board, but HR should get out of the business of recruiting, selection, interviewing, and hiring. That’s for managers – those who have skin in the game.

You didn’t ask a question, but there’s lots to learn from what you had to say. I hope employers (and job hunters) see the lessons in it.

Both managers and job hunters need to get down to brass tacks: Talk about how to do the job profitably. In How Can I Change Careers? (or jobs) is a simple method for preparing for interviews so you can prove to a manager that you’re worth hiring. It’s not difficult for managers to set up an interview to ensure the candidate will have a chance to show what they can do — so the manager can make a sound hiring decision as quickly as possible.

If you’re a manager, have you ever missed out on good hires due to HR’s “filtering” process? How do you find your new hires? If you’re a job hunter, how do you get past the HR meat grinder so you can actually talk to the hiring manager?

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Is Your Resume Spaghetti?

In the June 12, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter asks a candidate to remove contact information from a resume before submitting it. Is that normal?

I was contacted by a headhunter about an opportunity. I was asked to provide a resume in Word format. I said I could not, and instead I provided a PDF version so that I could ensure the visual appearance is what I want it to be. Then the headhunter asked me to remove my contact information, but said a PDF version would be okay. I was assured that this was normal, but I wonder about this.

I spoke with the recruiter once after this happened, and we had contact just once more by e-mail. It has been three weeks since our last contact. The recruiter has not returned three voice mails or responded to three e-mails.

What do you think is going on? Do you think my qualifications threw the client or the agency off?

My Advice

This is a classic example of how most headhunters operate. What people don’t know is, these headhunters don’t create resumes for their candidates. They take what the candidate gives them and merely pass it along to their client. This doesn’t add any value to the recruiting process. There’s an insider technical term for this practice: “throwing spaghetti against the wall.”

Headhunters who work this way are wasting your time and their clients’ time. This isn’t recruiting. This is dialing for dollars, also known by yet another technical term: “dumpster diving.”

The worst of these headhunters will bundle any and all resumes they can get their hands on, and send them along to an employer who might pay them a fee. This means the personnel department must sort the incoming drek, just like they sort resumes they buy from job boards. The headhunter adds no value to the process, and any HR department that accepts such resumes should be closed down.

Adding value

A good headhunter doesn’t just find candidates for a client company. A good headhunter interprets how a particular candidate can help the client get a job done. The headhunter carefully interviews the candidate and maps the candidate’s abilities and skills against the requirements of the position. As I explain in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, when I’m done interviewing a candidate for my client, I’ve got all I need to produce a simple, clear, and very compelling resume. It’s exactly what my client needs prior to interviewing the candidate. If the candidate doesn’t match the client’s requirements, why would I even refer the person to my client?

Do you see the problem? The headhunter you’re dealing with is merely pumping resumes into an employer’s sorting process. The headhunter is not carefully assessing and judging you, to ensure he’s sending only qualified candidates to his client. What I’m really saying is, if that headhunter had truly interviewed you, he wouldn’t need your resume. He could and should write a custom resume for you and then present it — with your permission — to his client.

Did the headhunter really interview you?

That’s not to say that the resume you wrote isn’t useful. The headhunter can use it to fill in the blanks surrounding key facts he’s learned by talking with you in depth. But if the headhunter just forwards your resume to the employer, he’s not contributing anything to the recruiting task. He’s not highlighting the specific skills and abilities that prove you’re a good candidate for the job. A smart client demands this from a headhunter — the client wants to know why you would be a good fit. And the fact is, there’s just too much stuff on a resume that a hiring manager doesn’t need to know about you. The headhunter’s job is to demonstrate the match, not to dish the spaghetti.

So this is how you can tell a really good headhunter from a dumpster diver: Did the headhunter conduct a thorough interview with you?

What (most) headhunters do with resumes

The headhunter you’ve described wants your resume in Word format so that he can delete your name and contact information. (A PDF version from which you’ve omitted that information is just as good to him — it’ll save him time.) He doesn’t want his client to know who you are until the client promises a fee before interviewing you. If the headhunter had a solid, healthy relationship with his client, the headhunter wouldn’t be worried about the employer going around his back. That’s why the headhunter wants to control your contact information.

Whether it’s a modified version of the resume you provide, or a new one the headhunter has written, you should always ask to see the document the headhunter will send to his client. You don’t want to defend resume errors in an interview. If you trust the headhunter, a Word version might be best to facilitate his editing it. But if you don’t trust the headhunter, or don’t know his practices, your PDF policy is a good one.

Splat!

This is how the game is played by many headhunters. Learn to judge headhunters by whether they actually interview you in depth. If they don’t, then they’re not going to present you properly to their client, are they? What I think is going on in this case is that the headhunter is throwing spaghetti against the wall — and yours didn’t stick.

Do you give your resume to people you don’t know — headhunters and/or employers? If you do, I think you’re nuts. You’d have better odds playing the lottery. Have you ever met a headhunter who thoroughly interviewed you even before requesting your resume? If you’re a manager, do headhunters splatter resumes on your wall — stuff that’s not even recognizable as a “right” candidate?

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Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?

In the June 5, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a guy gets honorably discharged from the military, carries a secret clearance, but has a misdemeanor conviction from 2003 for which he’s done probation. He gets a job offer. Then the nightmare begins:

Today I received a job offer from a large, well-known and respected company. I have a misdemeanor criminal conviction from 2003. I told the headhunter about the conviction. I put it in the application before my interview. I put it in the e-application for the background check. I even discussed it with the HR person that was giving me the offer.

After discussing the conviction, she extended me a verbal offer. At the end of the call, I accepted the offer. She welcomed me to the team and said I will get all the details after the background check clears. After the phone call, I turned down a competing job offer from another company and told my headhunters that I am no longer on the job market.

Less than an hour later, the HR person called me back and said she has to withdraw the offer because my three-year probation was cleared in 2006. Since that’s less than the company’s policy permits — seven years — I am ineligible for the job. The company’s security regulations would prevent me from gaining access to their campus.

The job posting required that the applicant must qualify for a government secret clearance. I was just honorably discharged from the military, where I held a secret clearance that I was able to renew after my misdemenor conviction.

It seems quite unethical to extend an offer prior to assuring that the information that I provided multiple times wasn’t an issue. This should have been caught well before I got the interview. Is this legal?

My Advice

This sounds like you got the shaft, but it’s a bit more complicated, based on the information you’ve provided.

I published your story in this week’s Ask The Headhunter e-mail newsletter, but I did not publish my advice and comments because I wanted to challenge our community to figure this one out. I asked subscribers to think about your story, and then come to the blog ready to post their take on it.

  • Did HR give this job applicant the shaft?
  • What went wrong?
  • How could this situation have been handled better?

Here’s how I see it.

HR blew it.

While it was nice of the enthusiastic HR lady to give you the offer on the phone, she jumped the gun when she “welcomed you to the team.” You weren’t on the team yet, and she had no business implying you were. Someone needs to call her on the carpet.

The HR lady tipped you off.

The key to this entire unfortunate episode lies in this sentence: “She welcomed me to the team and said I will get all the details after the background check clears.” That meant she made you a contingent offer. It was not bona fide. That is, it was dependent on the background check. In other words, you had no offer to act on.

You jumped the gun.

I always tell job applicants who “get an offer,” to never, ever, ever resign their old job, or turn off other opportunities, until they’ve been on the new job for two weeks. Sounds kind of extreme, eh? Yah, well, so’s what happened to you. While odds are pretty good that a job offer will turn out fine, the enormity of the consequences if anything goes wrong is why no one should do what you did. [Correction: My bad on a poor turn of phrase that confuses two issues — when to turn off other job opportunities and when to resign your old job. Please see my comment about this below.]

Before even orally accepting the offer, you should have waited for a bona fide offer in writing, signed by an official of the company.

Before setting aside other opportunities (because there is no sure thing), you should have completed the company orientation, met your new boss, started the job, and ensured nothing goofy was going on at your new job. I’ve seen many people quit new jobs within the first two weeks. It takes that long to… well… make sure nothing’s goofy. You don’t want to be out on the street with nowhere to go if the new job goes south. (Likewise, an employer should not stop recruiting and interviewing just because a candidate accepts its offer.)

You did the right thing, again and again.

You disclosed, from the start and throughout the interview process, that you had a misdemeanor conviction. That takes guts, and it was the smart thing to do. The company had an obligation to be as candid with you, and to disclose its policy about hiring people convicted of crimes. It had no excuse for not detailing its policies once you made your disclosures.


Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer's Full AttentionDo all employers behave like this? Absolutely not. It’s up to you to find the right employers and to know how to get their attention — because lousy employers aren’t worth your time or aggravation! Learn how to:

  • Stop walking blind on the job hunt!
  • Pick worthy companies.
  • Test the company. Is it a Mickey Mouse operation?
  • Recognize and beat age discrimination. (Or is it your own anxiety?)
  • Deal with a bad reference. Don’t get torpedoed!
  • Investigate privately-held companies — Here’s the secret!
  • And more!

Don’t waste your time with the wrong employers! These methods are all in
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention


But somebody didn’t do their job.

As soon as this employer learned about your conviction, HR should have pulled out its policy book and mapped it to your situation before making you an offer. The HR lady explained the policy clearly to you — too late!

What bunch of numbnuts knows it’s got a policy issue from the start, but ignores the implications of its policy? Especially because you were so candid and forthright about your problem, HR should have had the background check completed far sooner, and should have inquired about the dates of your conviction, sentence, and the resolution.

(I’m waiting for someone to suggest that, for legal reasons, the background check could not be done until you accepted the offer. That would be a good trick — accepting an offer for a job that company policy prohibits you from accepting.)

Who’s on the hook now?

I think the HR lady is on the hook. She should have made it crystal clear to you that the job offer was not yet bona fide, and that it was contingent on the background check. I think she should have even gone so far as to advise you not to take any other action until the check was confirmed. She blew it. She should be on the hook, but you’re the one who got hurt.

You’re on the hook because you rejected another (more bona fide?) job offer, and notified the headhunters that you’re no longer a candidate for a job.

Most important, this company’s HR practices are on the hook, and they need to be gutted and cleaned.


Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources ObstaclesThere’s no way to beat HR, is there? Sure there is! Learn how to recognize and overcome these HR obstacles:

  • HR demands too much private information, like your salary history. But two can play this game!
  • HR throws a “behavioral interview” at you.
  • Online job application forms — learn to get past them.
  • HR gets between you and the decision maker. Learn how to go straight to the hiring manager!
  • The HR rejection letter: Why you should reject it!
  • And more!

HR isn’t as tough as you think! You’ll find myth-busting answers in
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles


Doubling HR Costs: Time to change company practices.

Poor HR practices are what make HR executives scream that, “There’s a talent shortage!” Well, here’s the talent, fresh out of the military, worthy of a job offer, but… Aren’t an honorable discharge and a fresh secret clearance enough to merit more careful treatment when the company is looking at an applicant who qualifies for a secret clearance?

Now where’s the talent shortage? In HR.

HR spent a lot of company money to process this hire — only to stumble at the last minute. Now HR will spend the money again on another candidate. HR costs just doubled in this case. I wonder what the board of directors would have to say? Because HR will sweep the mistake under the rug, along with all the other good candidates HR lost because:

  • An otherwise excellent applicant’s keywords “didn’t match;”
  • A wise applicant didn’t want to disclose her salary history;
  • A highly motivated applicant dared to contact the hiring manager directly;
  • HR interviewed the engineering applicant but doesn’t understand engineering;
  • The applicant seems a bit old;
  • The applicant refused to meet with HR until he first interviewed with the hiring manager;
  • And on and on… through the myriad wasteful practices we discuss on this forum that cost companies good hires every day…

It’s time for this company — and many companies — to take a good, hard look at HR practices because good talent is not easy to come by.

Whose bad?

That offer was no offer, so give it back! Has an employer ever given you a job offer, then rescinded it? Why? What was the reason? What did you do? What’s your take on this reader’s experience?

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HR Wags The Dog

In the May 21, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an executive who’s about to be interviewed by another executive wants to know why HR is sticking its nose into the process:

You are going to love this. (NOT!)

I was contacted by an ex-colleague to ask if I’d be interested in the position of Regional Sales Manager at his company, which is actively recruiting. I said yes. The VP of Sales called me and we had a very positive discussion which progressed to setting a meeting in their corporate office. He was going to fly in from his office, and I was going to travel hundreds of miles from my home. But, the meeting has stalled because the HR person who was to attend was busy.

Two questions. What has HR got to do with an initial interview whose purpose is to (a) determine my suitability to do the job, and (b) the company’s ability to satisfy my needs? What sort of company insists on having HR present at an initial interview?

If ever there is a case of a “tail wagging the dog” — this is it. How can a VP of Sales operate like this? I now patiently await the availability of His Royal Highness — the HR Manager.

My Advice

HR can provide valuable input on executive-level positions. However, recruiting people like you is a sales task. It’s no surprise that you view such interference as a serious management error.

If sales people know one thing, it is the importance of striking when the iron is hot. Success in closing sales often depends on the sales person having the authority and the power to act quickly.

Get HR out of recruiting.

You have highlighted the main reason I advocate against HR being involved in recruiting. (See 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make.) HR is largely a bureaucratic function that is at least once-removed from the action. Depending on how you, the candidate, view this delay, you may decline further discussions because you could reasonably surmise that the company is not nimble. The Sales VP could lose an excellent candidate thanks to the bureaucracy. That’s not good. That’s very bad.

Take heed: Running a sales operation within this company could prove frustrating to an assertive sales manager. If HR can delay the Sales VP’s meeting when recruiting, who might hinder your sales team from closing a deal?

You are right to be concerned. This is bureaucratic meddling of the worst sort, and it leads me to repeat this caution to companies: It matters what image you project to the professional community from which you recruit, as much as what image you project to your customers. An HR manager who contributes only to overhead is controlling the agenda of an exec who produces revenue? Get HR out of your recruiting.

Now let’s discuss what to do. You could have some fun with this, but this approach can be risky. Decide how assertive a sales manager you are. I’d call the VP of Sales and politely tell him you’d be glad to meet the HR manager at some point, but your schedule is very tight for the entire month.

How to Say It

“I’ll be frank with you. I am available this day and that day only. When an opportunity arises to make a deal, I like to strike while the iron is hot. I have some ideas for your business that I’d like to discuss with you, and I’d like to suggest that you and I get together to talk shop as soon as possible.”

If you can support it, suggest a specific sales objective. For example:

Hot to Say It

“I think I can show you how to increase your regional sales by 20-30% without increasing your costs more than about 5%. But, I really do not want to let this wait. Opportunities come along every day — but great ones like this disappear over night. If I can’t convince you, then you shouldn’t hire me. But I think you will like what I have to share with you…”

Let him assume you may not be around to talk a month later.

Remember: You’re a salesman. This is a sale. Be respectful, but show the VP of Sales that you home in quickly and accurately and will not be deterred by underlings. See what he says. If he cowers at the idea of bypassing HR so he can talk business with you, well, why would you want to work with him? Imagine what it would be like trying to hire a top sales rep if you take this job. Get past the guard. Your mission is to meet with the VP now. Sell.

Patiently awaiting HR to find time to join the meeting is not a sign of a good sales ethic. This is how companies lose prospective customers to the nimble competition. It’s also how they miss the best hires.

HR can be part of the process. But HR should not lead or limit a recruiting effort.

Is this another stupid HR trick? Are great candidates slipping through the HR cracks? Has HR ever intruded into your interviews with a manager? Do you know how to parry the move? If you’re a manager, do you let HR control your interviews?

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Should I give equity to entice a new hire?

In the March 13, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the owner of a start-up business asks whether it’s smart to give equity to a new hire:

After years of frustration with the way many professional services firms treat their clients, I decided to launch my own business. I have had modest success in my first six months and I am considering adding an employee. The individual that I am interested in has expressed concern about the added risk of working for a small company. He wants me to give him an equity stake to offset the risk, but I don’t want to give away too much too early, considering the competitive nature of the marketplace and my own business vision. What would you recommend?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

(For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

There are two kinds of people in your start-up world, other than clients: employees and investors. You can’t fill a job with an investor. You must fill it with an employee.

Now, I’m a big believer in sharing profits with good employees. And I think it’s a great idea to make employees owners to a reasonable extent, commensurate with their commitment to the business. That’s what profit-sharing plans are about.

But employees must earn their way into ownership of the business. It’s simply not good management practice to give away ownership of your company before you know what you’re getting in return. If this individual were bringing you new clients or some kind of intellectual property to enhance the value of your company, then and only then would I consider giving him equity from the outset.

If you hire an employee whose contributions become a true investment and a key part of your business, then at some point sharing some equity may be a key to your long-term success.

You can test this candidate’s motivations. Try this:

How to Say It
…(Sorry, this part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)…

…This person is clearly looking for security and potential riches without making a solid investment.

I’d find another candidate, or someone who wants to invest in your business as a partner. Take a look around: Even jobs with big, stable companies are risky. There is no such thing as job security.

In the future, I would look for candidates who want to add value to your business and to make you more successful — not ones that want you to protect them from risk. Talk about jobs and salary to potential employees. Talk about investment and risk to investors. But don’t confuse the two.

Does your company offer equity to new hires? Have you ever accepted equity to join a start-up? How did it work out? I’d like to hear what you have to say about the risks of start-ups — and the joys of taking risks!

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Internal recruiting: Is it poaching?

In the March 6, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager wonders why employers prohibit internal recruiting but let their best workers get recruited by the competition:

In [last week’s edition] a manager asked about hiring from within the company. I hire internally all the time, and my company’s own employees have been some of my very best hires. While it may be frowned on in some places, here we can request internal references, talk with an employee’s current manager, and check performance reviews. No doubt some companies make it difficult to hire internally even while they talk big about career development and growth! That’s not how to keep your best people. How can managers in companies like this change the rules?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

(For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

It’s a dirty little secret that many companies discourage managers from recruiting internally. Oh, they promote “career growth” as long as an employee initiates the contact. (See JHBWA.) But for a manager to recruit an employee from another department? That’s a no-no!

Should managers be permitted to headhunt internally? Absolutely. While some would abuse the privilege, I think that in any healthy company managers and employees would find a balance. Not encouraging internal mobility only hurts a company.

I’ll tell you a story about how the enormity of this problem came home to me.

A Fortune 50 financial services company hired me to teach recruiters in their HR department to recruit like headhunters. After putting them through an intensive program on how to identify and actively pursue the best people for a job, it dawned on the recruiting manager that the best candidates were often already working somewhere else in the company.

That should be no surprise in any large company. If the company is successful, of course some of the best people in the industry already work there.

It was easy for me to convince the manager that the company needed to create an internal headhunting function, to recruit internal people from one department to another — legally.

She wanted to be the internal headhunter, and I helped her sell the concept to management because the company was losing a lot of its best people to the competition. Meanwhile, exciting internal jobs were going begging. The company was paying headhunters like me huge fees to recruit outside the company, when great candidates were right under management’s nose.

Since managers were not permitted to poach employees from one another — they had to wait for employees to come to them — setting up an internal headhunter with freedom to recruit with no-holds-barred seemed to be a good solution. They realized this was preferable to losing their best people to external headhunters.

As soon as they kicked off the project, the company’s managers freaked. Everyone wanted to hire internally, but too many managers objected to having their employees hunted. So the project was cancelled.

Long a target of headhunters, the company continued to bleed talent. To top it off, the HR recruiter who started the internal headhunting project got so disillusioned that she left.

Of course managers don’t want their talent poached by other managers. But it happens every day. The question is, does the board of directors want its talent poached by other companies — after investing a lot of money to cultivate that talent? In many companies, the geniuses in HR like to refer to people as a resource. But until HR recognizes that people are an investment, the ROI (return on investment) will accrue to the company that recruits them. Internal headhunters, anyone?

I think managers can help stem the loss of good employees by working together to create responsible internal recruiting practices. Hire an internal headhunter, and protect your company’s ROI. Pretending no one is poaching your best people from outside is a losing proposition.

Does your company recruit internally? Or does management play games about who must approach whom? And, if you’re a manager, what does this mean to you? What do you think about poaching, stealing, and recruiting your own company’s employees!

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