Manager Asks: Should I hire without face-to-face interviews?

In the February 28, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager loses a “star” employee and asks how to hire — but the manager cannot interview candidates in person:

A star employee left my team and I need to replace him. I can recruit only from inside the company, which has over 100,000 staff, so it’s not so much of a limitation. More of a limitation is that I will never get to meet candidates face-to-face before I hire anyone because I most likely will be recruiting people in another country. I love all of your advice about candidates showing how they can do the job in their interview, but how can I turn that around as a manager so that I can get the best possible candidates?

In recruiting the original star employee I used your advice and had my short list of candidates present a piece of work to me, similar to what they would be required to do in the job, and from there I picked the ones I wanted to interview. The star candidate made the best impression in the face-to-face interview (which I was able to do then) and I hired him because he approached the interview the way I needed him to approach the job. This method obviously worked, because I got a star employee.

These techniques are so much harder to do when there’s no interview in person, and you have no idea who might have helped candidates put together the piece of work that they turn in. Do you have any tips?

Finally, I can’t obtain reference information about applicants who haven’t told their boss or co-workers they are applying for another job. If I start asking around about them in a division I don’t work in, it can cause a nasty situation. How would you suggest getting sound information about the candidates’ reputations without creating an internal HR nightmare?

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

First, thanks for confirming that asking candidates to “do the job to win the job” is a very effective way to hire — and stars, no less! (See the Readers’ Comments section of the newsletter, at upper right, for another confirmation that this works nicely.)

You seem to be facing two problems:

  • In-person interviews are not possible, and
  • You can’t check references.

More important, you know that meeting candidates face to face — and asking them to show how they’d do the work right there in front of you — pays off handsomely, because that’s how you hired your last star.

Your real challenge isn’t how to hire in spite of the two problems. It’s how to overcome them. Hiring in spite of those two problems could be disastrous. The reference problem is probably insurmountable because it could create a lot of trouble for you and for anyone you investigate. You’d probably also be violating company policy.

The first problem is one that I think you have to tackle and solve.

Find a way to meet your candidates. Explain to your management that the cost of hiring the wrong person could be staggering. The cost of bringing candidates in for meetings might be significant, but is not staggering. It’s a very wise investment. Do all you can to minimize that cost — but I would go out of my way to make in-person interviews happen. Hiring remotely is just too risky for the company, for you, and for the candidates.

I would nonetheless mention the reference problem to your boss

… Sorry, this part of my advice is available only in the newsletter… Don’t miss another edition! Subscribe to the weekly newsletter now! It’s FREE!)…

Sometimes we must remember that our bosses pay us to tell them the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it. I would not risk hiring sight unseen. Your job is to tell your boss the truth. Explain the potentially huge cost of making the wrong hire in the interest of saving a few dollars on travel.

Finally, I would outline to your boss the Ask The Headhunter methods you use when you interview. Demonstrate how you will apply the extra investment. Your boss will see that you hire for the bottom line: You want to see your candidates perform before you hire them. Your department will be more successful. The candidate is far more likely to be successful. Your boss will be very happy. You might get a raise later for thinking so strategically. And I’ll be proud.

Have you ever hired anyone — or been hired — without an in-person interview? More significantly, have you ever been in an interview — as the employer or the candidate — where “doing the job in the interview” was required? How did you handle either situation?

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Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters)

This week we started a “pound Nick with questions” thread — and you’ve been pounding! Great questions and topics — and pointed insights. A recurring theme on that thread is recruiters — the inept, the inane, the ones who waste your time, and the ones who leave you frustrated and angry. (There are good recruiters out there, but that’s another topic.)

Reader Dave started to boil it down in his 1/18 comment on the previous posting:

One other thing…

Just recieved the occasioal newsletter from a so called “head hunter/recruiter.”  He said he has developed a relationship with an offshore vendor in order to provide services/people to do work.  One of the reasons he gave for doing this is because companies “can’t find the right people.”

Quite frankly, this made my blood boil for all of the reasons Nick states in his blog post.  You can’t tell me that with all the unemployment, underemployment, people who gave up looking for now, people looking for a change and all the people graduating from college, that you cannot find anyone to fill your positions? 

This is a prime example why I dislike most “search staff.”

Dave draws a whole new thread from the strands that come together in that discussion. I was going to respond to him briefly, but then I realized Dave has generated a whole new topic. He deserves to know…

Why You Hate Recruiters

It’s no accident. It’s a well-orchestrated con game run by experts. HR departments pay expensive consultants to define the “best practices” ($$$) and to promote the “best technologies” ($$$$$$$) that enable HR to maintain the 4:1 ratio of unemployed people to unfilled jobs in America. (That’s 14.2 million unemployed, and 3.2 million vacant jobs.)

Translation: Corporate America pays a lotta money to act dumb when it recruits and hires.

Thanks, Dave, for sharing that newsletter you received from the recruiter who’s going offshore to fill American jobs. But the problem is higher up the food chain. Employers are the ones spending the money here. Recruiters like this one just chase the low-hanging fruit. I’d love to see Congress haul these people in front of a committee and ask them:

“So, when you interview talented job applicants, then what do you do to cultivate them into productive employees?”

The answer is splattered all over the popular media:

“We hire only perfect fits! With these intelligent databases, we don’t have to take chances on training anyone who can’t already do the job with their eyes closed!”

People and companies want to believe that technology can meet the hiring challenge. Savvy, insightful managers who know how to judge talent are no longer required. Give HR a database of jobs and resumes, and they’ll throw money at it forever, waiting for a payout. The job boards are like slot machines for HR wonks: An addiction. The only beneficiary is “the house” — in this case, HR consultants and database vendors who cater to employers who want to believe.

Selling The Mess to HR: A full-time gig ($$$$)

Example: Check out RecruitingBlogs, where “internet recruiting gurus” tout the databases and the social thingies that they get paid to explain to their clients:

“…we’re going to release a ranked list of the Top 25 Online Influencers in HR. This list is completely generated by algorithm (think Google). The list ranks the Top 25 voices in HR based on their online footprint…”

Gimme a break. Online footprints? That’s how we judge value? That’s what consultants teach HR — and HR pays big bucks. That’s why job hunters like Dave are left swinging in the breeze. The recruiters are part of a big social jerk, fantasizing about social media. The blogging consultant goes on to describe his brethren:

“So, I was at this party a couple of weeks ago. All sorts of twitterati were there…”

Then it gets down to brass tacks: Making money by “explaining” the databases to HR rubes with deep pockets:

“There is money to be made in the field today because the techniques required to find people are arcane and confusing. Additionally, with the strong exception of Avature and Broadlook’s products, there are no useful tools for the automation of the process.”

What’s he touting with those two products? Expensive databases that employers use to intoxicate their personnel jockeys. Note the implicit focus on automation of recruiting. The more automated HR becomes, there’s more “money to be made” because nobody can understand this crap. (Try to scrape this one up off the ground in one piece, from the HR Examiner Blog: “Meaning and data in the social web.”)

One of the “strong exceptions” blogger John Sumser refers to, Avature, has a tagline:

“Bring Social Media and Web 2.0 tools together and create unique and innovative solutions to your recruiting challenges.”

How about getting the consultants out of the bars (where they’re being wined and dined by the “arcane and confusing” online recruiting tools vendors), and the recruiters off their asses, and bringing together a few brains to meet some of the 3.2 million “talents” that the software can’t quite figure out? HR is bogged down, and employers are dying for good workers, because HR doesn’t recruit — it pays consultants to distract it with non-stop workshops, white papers, and “best practices” designed to facilitate deep contemplation of the HR navel. ($$$$$)

(By the way, John Sumser is not the only consultant driving HR down into the whirling blade that’s waiting to process you. There’s the aforementioned RecruitingBlogs.com, which delivers non-stop juice to keep the blender going; ERE.net, where recruiters go to talk it all through; and a host of sycophants that have figured out “there is money to be made in the field today…” so let’s get together for another mind-expanding party and to count our money.)

Recruitomatic: It’s all in there

Then RecruitingBlogs.com refers to “Mr. Recruitomatic.” That’s where I rest my case. This is a cluster duck.

Mr. Recruitomatic could be the title of a book about the state of unemployment in America, or it could be an inside joke about how HR rotates on its consulting budgets. It’s all one big database blender, grinding up people into keywords with no decision-making or intelligence beyond the algorithms. Mr. Recruitomatic is churning out swill that nobody wants — or there wouldn’t be 14.2 million unemployed, and 3.2 million vacant jobs, would there?

Or maybe it’s just your fault, Dave. You ignorant, behind-the-times, unemployed slob — you’re just not prepared to be “the perfect fit.” Get some new keywords. Find some meaning and data in the social web. Reduce yourself to what HR is willing to hire.

Welcome to The Social Jerk

“We have a shortage of talent!” Yah — in HR. No shortage of consulting fees, though. ($$$$) No shortage of jargon to mix up with algorithms and some social sauce. But the farther HR sticks its head into the blender, the more it’s clear the talent shortage is in the corner office where the consulting bucks are spent.

Dave, this is what drives HR departments stupid. This is why you hate recruiters. There is an entire industry that earns big bucks mixing up the HR mess that you describe. It’s the motor driving the HR Recruitomatic. Why do I rag on it so? Because the consulting crowd doesn’t have any idea what’s going on outside the blender — they don’t see you getting splattered with muck. There are no fees to be had from you.

While these twitterati advise their eager HR clients about what’s “completely generated by algorithm,” ($$$Cool) they have no idea what is the impact of their only-half-clever, inbred “initiatives.” They’re not out on the street, where guys like you don’t see what’s “social” about software deciding whether you can ride a fast learning curve so you can do a job.

The Recruitomatic and HR’s database-itis — this is why there’s a 4:1 ratio of unemployed Americans to vacant jobs. It’s why you get splattered with HR’s mixed-up rationalizations while you’re trying to earn an honest dollar for doing honest work with an employer that knows how to run a business. And that knows how to hire.

Anyone’s odds — if they’re unemployed — are about 4:1. But what are the odds the board of directors at any company has a clue what’s going on? They don’t get why you hate recruiters. They don’t get why so many jobs at their companies are vacant and work is left undon. They don’t get that the “talent shortage” is largely manufactured by consultants who make out only when HR is playing with Mr. Recruitomatic — not when HR actually hires anybody.

The social jerk is a profitable $$$$$proposition, Dave. Except for you and your 4.2 million buddies.

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How Employers Can Help You Get Hired

In the December 6, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who helps seniors find jobs shares an “interview invitation” one of his clients received. It’s a landmark! Why don’t more employers do this? Join me below to discuss other ways employers can help you get hired.

I’m a training and placement specialist and a long-time subscriber. I’d like to share an e-mail one of our clients received confirming an interview. I’ve changed the identifying information, but otherwise this is exactly how it was written. I love it when employers tell us what they expect. Too often, we are left to guess. What do you think of this approach to interview invitations?

Chris Walker
Senior Employment Center
Akron, Ohio

***
[Letter received by a job applicant]
Dear Joe,

You are confirmed to interview on Thursday November 17, 2011. You will be interviewing for the Mechanic position with XYZ Compost Services, Inc. The meeting will take place at the address and time listed below

ADDRESS
1234 Main St
Akron, OH 44313
(330) 888-8888

INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
10:00 am – 11:30 am

INTERVIEWERS
[name], Vice President, Operations
[name], Manager, Process Control
[name], Electrical Engineer

INTERVIEW PREPARATION
During your interview, you should expect to be asked behavioral-based questions where your responses need to be specific and detailed. Be ready to share several examples from your past experience — jobs, projects, teams, volunteer work — where you demonstrated strong behaviors and skills, and think in terms of examples that will show off your selling points. Be sure to come prepared with both positive and negative examples.

To learn more about XYZ products and services visit [our website].

Contact me with any questions.

Thank you.

[name], MBA
Director, Human Resources
**

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

Gee — Imagine that! An interview invitation that includes the actual names of interviewers a candidate will meet and talk with. Most employers won’t disclose this information for fear that the candidate might actually call them prior to the interview. Perish the thought!

That’s right, employers don’t want anyone bothering their managers with questions about an open job — least of all people who are about to invest their valuable time in a job interview. It’s better to let the applicant show up guessing what the employer wants, rather than help a candidate get hired by sharing a clear set of expectations. (The alternative for managers is to Open the door.)

Why don’t employers do everything they can to help you get hired? (For that matter, why don’t managers invest heavily in Interview futures, rather than shop for talent at the last minute?)

Most employers don’t want to tip their hand about what you will be asked in a job interview. That would be giving it all away and it would destroy the element of surprise! Why enable candidates to prepare before they interview? Better to let them show up wondering! Do these same managers also give their employees surprise assignments without any suggestions about how to do the work?

Employers behave like total dopes when they schedule interviews. It’s a rare employer that actually helps the candidate prepare. My hat is off to this organization — it clearly believes that helping a candidate succeed in the job interview will help it make a better hire.

But I’d take this further. As an employer, I would:

  • Call the candidate in advance, on the phone, and suggest specific resources the candidate should use to prepare for the interview.
  • Offer to let the candidate talk with team members to ask questions so he or she can prepare fully for the interview.
  • Conduct a “cook’s tour” of the facility prior to the interview, so the candidate can see firsthand what the work — and the business — is all about.
  • (…this last suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)

Some employers might scoff that this would be a waste of time, and claim that the purpose of the interview is to discuss all these things. I say bunk. A good manager would never blind-side an employee with a work assignment. A good manager would encourage and help an employee prepare in advance, to help ensure success. The point of a job interview is to expedite hiring a capable candidate — so why not help ensure success by prepping the candidate? It’s all the same challenge: to get the work done!

This edition of the newsletter is intended to be more even more interactive than usual. Please help extend my list of what an employer can do to help a candidate prepare for an interview — and to help the candidate succeed.

What would you like to see employers do to help you get hired — and to help themselves efficiently fill a job and get the work done? What would you add to the list of helpful information offered by the employer in Chris Walker’s example? Is anything “too much,” or how extreme could an employer get?

Special thanks to Chris Walker for sharing “a live one” from one of his clients. This is a great topic — especially if hiring managers are out there “listening!”

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Employer Fined for Stupid Recruiting

New Jersey is the only state where it’s illegal to publish job ads that exclude unemployed people. Is that because New Jersey has especially stupid employers, or because New Jersey is the first state to recognize that there are too many employers everywhere that behave stupidly?

Does it matter? Here’s what matters: The company that took the first bust under this new law reveals a lot about Stupid Recruiting.

CEO J. Michael Goodson explained Crestek’s recruiting strategy. The job posting for a service manager included the requirement, “Must be currently employed” because Crestek wanted someone “at the top of their game and not people who have been unemployed for 18 months.”

Now for the punchline: According to the Star-Ledger, Goodson “spent three years seeking the right person and sifting through resumes was time-consuming…” [Emphasis added.]

Recruiting is hard work: You have to sit and wait an awfully long time.

This $185 million company spent three years trying to fill a position so important that the CEO waited leisurely for a resume to come along and nibble on his job-ad line. Translation: Hiring what comes along. Gee — I wonder how much it cost Crestek to leave that job unfilled for three years while Goodson sifted incoming resumes. Did it ever occur to Goodson to go out and find, cultivate, cajole, steal and otherwise recruit the person he needed?

The Talent-Shortage Brain Fart

Waiting for job ads to deliver a top candidate to your front door is like waiting for customers to show up. Doesn’t Crestek have a sales force that goes out to find customers? Then why doesn’t Goodson get out there to find top talent? Why is this company banking its future on want ads? I can see Goodson’s next initiative: Fire the sales force and run more ads!

Why did this company resort to warning jobless applicants away? “This was the only time we ever advertised that way and we only ran it when the other ads failed to produce any viable candidates.”

Ahhh… this was an experimental, state-of-the-art job ad. A new way address the talent shortage. A brain fart.

Remember the talent shortage? 4.2 million Americans are out of work, and almost half a million of them in New Jersey. Not one qualified applicant came along while Crestek was dipping its line in the water. Must be the talent shortage at play — or poor management?

Stupid Recruiting: A sign of lousy management

Says Goodson: “For this job, I wanted somebody that’s in the service business and is employed. If someone is out of work for 18 months, my concern would be that their last job was in a bakery or pumping gas.”

If I were looking for a job at a good company, my concern would be that the service manager’s job at Crestek was empty for three years because the CEO didn’t know how to fill it. I’d wonder whether the the company might be better off if the CEO would go pump gas.

Running ads and waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to show up at your company is passive recruiting and poor management. Now that the CEO has tripped over his tangled recruiting line, Crestek’s corporate resume has been updated with a rap sheet for violating New Jersey employment law. But no state in the union fines companies for Stupid Recruiting.

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Reference Abuse: Don’t do it

In the November 8, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a seasoned professional takes employers and recruiters to task for demanding detailed references too soon:

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately: Recruiters are asking for detailed references before I even meet them or decide I’m interested in the job. They want multiple references before they’ll even present me for a face-to-face interview with their client. I don’t get it.

Mind you, my references are consistently stellar, so I’m not afraid of giving them out for a serious inquiry. But if I’m still collecting information on the job myself, haven’t met the hiring manager, and haven’t even had any serious discussions about terms and conditions, I don’t want my references to be bothered. When I direct them to LinkedIn, where I have strong references from former managers and peers, they aren’t pleased. They want to speak with someone in person.

What gives with this new fetish of checking references so early in the conversation, and how can I get seen by the hiring manager without having multiple agencies pestering my past managers “just in case” I might be a good fit on a particular job? I have always been taught that one’s references must be protected. Your thoughts?

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

In some cases, headhunters and employers are just being more cautious — they can’t afford to make mistakes. They want to check candidates out thoroughly. But I think they’re making a mistake by asking for references rather than peripherally reviewing a potential candidate before initiating contact.

Whew — what does that euphemism mean? “Peripherally reviewing” someone? For a recruiter or headhunter, it means doing your homework by talking to people who know the candidate, to make sure you’re approaching someone who might truly be right for the job. Otherwise, don’t call the person. So my point is, the headhunter should check you out before even contacting you. That’s his job.

In other cases, when they ask for your references so early they’re fishing for new contacts — potential sources of additional candidates, or actual candidates themselves. (Ever see your references get recruited to fill a position you were being considered for? It happens.) You become a source, under the guise of being a potential candidate.

You have to use your judgment. A lot depends on how credible you feel the headhunter or employer is. I agree that it’s not prudent to let just anyone contact your references. Your references will get sick of the calls. Why put your references at risk? And that’s what I’d say to those who request the references. “Once you put some skin in the game, I will, too.” (See Take Care of Your References.)

Peripheral Review: The test of a headhunter

But lets explore further my point about peripheral review. This is something that inept employers and headhunters ignore: The very fact that a recruiter has contacted you suggests they have done their homework on you. They have good reasons to recruit you. That is, they have already checked your references — that’s what led them to you. Or — maybe not. Maybe they’re just fishing and they got your name out of a database. What then?

Well, then you’re wasting your time, because those recruiters aren’t doing their jobs. They want you to do their work for them. They want you to provide references that prove you’re worth recruiting. I think you see my point.

When an employer has a strong, well-founded interest in a candidate, they’re almost always flexible and respectful. They’ll work with you, and they will be sensitive to issues like this. They won’t be so insistent, because they don’t want to turn you off. They want to meet you.

If you don’t know the headhunter, and if you have never had contact with the employer — or they contacted you first — then there’s no reason to comply with unreasonable requests. Everyone has to ante up, including the recruiter and employer.

How do you get around this obstacle so you can talk directly to the hiring manager? You might not be able to. When a job opportunity comes to you, you relinquish significant control. But you can gain control by taking a firm stand. If this sounds overly aggressive, remember that no opportunity is real unless you are free to examine and judge it first. Be polite, but be firm. Try this:

How to Say It

(Sorry! This How to Say It tip is available only in the newsletter. Subscribe now! It’s FREE. Don’t miss next week’s extra content!)

Or, try this:

How to Say It

“Tell you what. You’re recruiting me. If you can provide me with the names of two people who endorsed and recommended me — That’s why you’re calling me, right? — then I’ll give you two more very good references. But if you don’t really know why you’re calling me, why would I give you more names?”

A good headhunter will defer to a candidate he’s serious about recruiting. The rest will hang up because you busted them. The best they can do is try to make you feel you must give up the goods if you want that good opportunity… it’s a classic sales ploy. Don’t let your references be abused.

(How can you distinguish a good headhunter from a lousy one? See The truth about headhunters.)

Just because a headhunter or employer asks for references doesn’t mean it’s time to hand them over. How do you use your references properly, and protect them from abuse?

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Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes

Next week I’m doing a presentation to a group of alumni from Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business, about how to work with headhunters. These are seasoned executives who have been running companies for 7-15 years, and who turn to their alma mater’s Career Management Center for an added edge. What they want to know is, how can they get a good headhunter’s attention? What’s the big secret? And, how can they speed up the process?

When I do such talks, I usually find my theme in a current controversy. This time, it surfaced in a BNET blog posting by Jessica Stillman: Secrets of Job Hunting in a Post-Job Board World.

Kudos to Stillman for even writing about “a post-job board world.” Her article is really about how to get past the job boards by getting the attention of real, live people, including headhunters. In referring to a list of “tips” from yet another blog, Stillman triggered afresh a controversy that I think has long bewildered job hunters at all levels: If you decide to forget the job boards, can you really find a job by developing real, live contacts?

I found the theme for my Cornell presentation by picking at some of the suggestions Stillman passes along. Let’s see where it gets us.

Be findable: But who do you want to find you?
In Stillman’s posting, the “seven things employers should tell job seekers about how to get considered” starts with some suggestions about using keywords to be “findable.” Let’s be careful here. If you want to be findable to headhunters, there are headhunters, then there are headhunters. How you set yourself up to be found depends on what kind of headhunter you’re trying to appeal to.

The majority of “headhunters” aren’t really headhunters. They’re dialing-for-dollars, and they are indeed looking for your keywords, because they understand little about the industries and companies they recruit for. They rely on buzzwords to “turn up” resumes that they blast out in bulk to their “clients.” To such headhunters, clients are any companies that are advertising jobs — and the “headhunters” throw resumes at them, hoping the spaghetti will stick to the wall and earn a fee. It’s a numbers game. When you feel a “headhunter” has wasted your time, it’s because the wrong one found you.

What’s really key?
Good headhunters aren’t looking for keywords. They are looking for key people, in places like discussion forums where the best and brightest are talking shop. Good headhunters look for substance, and for the gurus that others turn to for advice. They target those discussion leaders as potential candidates. It takes a lot more than keywords to get the attention of good headhunters, who are looking for complete sentences and proof of skills and reputation.

So, be careful how you make yourself findable. The keyword/buzzword route will waste a lot of your time, because it attracts flies. The ability to talk shop with your peers, and to develop a strong reputation, will get the long-term attention of good headhunters. Once they identify you, they will start to follow you around, because those headhunters realize that you’re not just a potential candidate. You will likely lead them to other good candidates.

Find good headhunters by going where they hang out.
These important distinctions between headhunters also suggest how you need to appeal to the ones you’re interested in. Although good headhunters use the Net in deliberate, thoughtful ways to identify movers and shakers in the community they recruit from, they don’t spend most of their time behind a pc, waiting for names to turn up in response to search strings and keywords. They don’t scour the stale databases of job boards for resumes. So, where else do they hang out?

They attend industry events. They circulate in real time in the real world. Are they going to find you out there, among the movers and shakers in your business, who hang out with like minds? Do you go to such events? Do you attend seminars and presentations? Do you take continuing education courses? Do you contribute your knowledge and expertise at such events, as a presenter or teacher? Do you have a real life in your industry? That’s where good headhunters are looking for you — in the real world.

Good headhunters don’t gather dead resumes.
The suggestion that it’s important to “post your resume” is troubling. Lots of the most talented people don’t even have resumes. Their resumes are represented by the chain of their contributions to their field, by the people they influence, and by the circle of friends they belong to. Their living resume is often found in the pages of the industry press, across discussion forums, and in the products they design, make, and sell. It’s also on the lips of other industry notables, who are quick to recommend experts they know and trust. That’s the living resume — it doesn’t have to be written, or on paper. It’s the resume that good headhunters are looking for.

If you are going to have a written resume, then it matters where you post it. If you have a blog where you teach your peers something useful, that’s a high-quality place to put your resume, because the blog proves the resume and brings it to life. If you participate actively on professional forums, where you are tested, critiqued, and judged by your peers, that’s good, too. That’s where good headhunters hang out, looking for living proof of talent. But slapping a written resume all over the job boards will just make you look desperate or too-easily available. That’s a dead resume, because there’s no proof connected to it. The spaghetti headhunters that pick your resume off one board or another will soon have you splattered all over kingdom come.

What kind of headhunter?
The dig about contingency headunters, in the list of tips that Stillman quotes, is a shallow one. Some of the best headhunters work on contingency. That is, they get paid only if they fill a position. Retained headhunters get paid whether they fill a position or not, and whether they find the candidate or whether the candidate is recommended by the hiring manager’s brother. Both kinds of headhunters can do an excellent job; they just operate under different models. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing the contingency folks; they fill some of the tastiest positions. Judge headhunters by their behavior, not by how they bill their fees. (For a comprehensive look at how headhunters operate, see How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

What is killing the job boards?
I agree with this in Stillman’s column: Some recruiters will keep using job boards, but job boards will also continue to commoditize people. Most job boards rent, trade, sell, and “scrape” resumes. There are quite a few legitimate niche job boards, like Dice.com. But the only honest general-purpose job board I know is LinkUp.com, because it does just one thing: match people to real jobs.

Otherwise, the job board business has become so corrupt that its model no longer has anything to do with filling jobs. It sells stale data to wishful employers and desperate job hunters, and also “upsells” that data to companies that make money from it in other (sometimes questionable, sometimes illegal) ways. (What do you think is one of the leading channels of identity theft?) That’s why you find expired three-year-old jobs on services like TheLadders, and it’s why you get e-mails from spaghetti headhunters long after you thought you removed your resume from a job board. These job boards don’t care if you find a job, they just want you to keep coming back to look for one, and they will “curate” your resume forever, all over the Net.

Yes, some recruiters will keep using job boards, and some employers are looking to buy spaghetti. But the uproar from angry customers — both job seekers and employers — is what’s killing the job boards.

You don’t need to “sell” yourself to someone who trusts you.
Today, the biggest load of bullshit in the career industry is that getting a great job is all about selling yourself. This popular metaphor — that you are a product — leads to dangerously useless practices, like creating a “brand” and “making your resume your marketing piece” and having “an elevator pitch.” While a succinct outline of who you and what you’ve done can be useful, what really matters is demonstrating what you can do next, with whom, and for whom.

And you need to express that only to the tightknit circle of friends who do the work you want to do (whether they know you yet, or not). That’s a tall order — and it’s a whole lot harder than “selling.” You have to build a life and a cohort and a reputation over time. You must be one of the best in your business, whether at entry level or as an executive.

To a good headhunter, substance always matters more than sizzle. And to communicate your substance, you need more than a resume, or a bunch of keywords, or a good pitch. You need to be part of a circle of friends — people who do the work you want to do — that imbues you with a fine reputation. Far from selling anything, you have to earn your way in by making a substantial contribution. Headhunters will find you among people who know, trust and respect you. Not splattered on a wall for the world to pick at.

In the end, getting hired by a good company, or through a good headhunter, is about being able to demonstrate what you can do to bring success and profit to a company’s bottom line — not about how you advertise your availability. Even if you like to operate below the radar, good headhunters and good employers will find you, because people they trust put their own reputations on the line and recommended you. Not because you spread your keywords around somewhere.

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TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs!

Egg on FaceBeleaguered and battered by the press, by career industry pundits and — mainly — by its own customers, TheLadders recently convened a war council to round up industry “leaders” to defend its flagging reputation. But this little event quickly blew up in TheLadders’ face, and now it’s leaving egg all over TheLadders’ leading apologists, who are beginning to look like paid public relations flacks rather than industry leaders.

TheLadders paid these folks “T&E” — travel and expenses — to attend the meeting in New York. Then it wined and dined them, and plied them with sugared-up stories about its business model, its phenomenal growth plans, and how it’s changing the world of job hunting and recruiting for the better.

TheLadders fed them a load of bullcrap, gave them some Kool-Aid to wash it down, and then deployed them back to the field, to spread the dung around the Net in a desperate effort to put down the surge of highly-vocal customer dissatisfaction with TheLadders.

But not all the “leaders” swallowed the KoolAid or played along. HR consultant Mark Stelzner says he was skeptical about the event, but accepted the T&E and attended anyway, but only after he pinged his list to get its take on TheLadders:

“The results were shocking to me but may not be to others. I received over 800 messages in less than two weeks… and not one of them was positive.”

Aroused all the more by these reports, Stelzner attended the event and decided to put his list’s concerns to the test. But he quickly found himself relegated to “a corner table” after he started asking tough questions about TheLadders’ business model — and its practices.

Stelzner’s report on the meeting (Climbing All Over TheLadders) quickly triggered the first of TheLadders’ T&E Mercenaries, Josh Letourneau of Fistful of Talent, to take the first shot at Ladders’ critics with TheLadders: More Cirque Du Soleil Than Evil Empire. (Stelzner says that virtually the entire bullpen of the HR blog Fistful of Talent was in attendance.)

Among Letourneau’s targets were Laurie Ruettimann (The Cynical Girl), who recently explained, in her no-frills style, why The Ladders Is The Single Biggest Piece Of Crap, and yours truly (TheLadders’ Marc Cendella: Burying the Pig).

The “event” was already paying off, and battle lines were being drawn. Letourneau set the tone, disparaging bloggers who have published Ladders’ customers complaints as “sheep,” and reporting that, “TheLadders truly cares about their perception among us HR Pros and Recruiters.” (Later in his own thread, Letourneau complains about the “personal innuendo” he’s been subjected to by “the sheep.”)

Though she didn’t post on the topic, Alison Green (AskAManager) quickly took LeTourneau to task in a series of comments on his blog:

Wow. This misses the point altogether.

The issue isn’t that they charge job-seekers. Lots of people charge job-seekers, from job coaches to resume writers. Who cares? If people are willing to pay for a service, great.

The issue is that they LIE to job-seekers and engage in fraudulent business practices. They claim they offer a service that they don’t offer. I would bet money that a lawsuit is in their future, and it will be well-deserved… It’s disappointing to see writers sent on an expenses-paid junket and then turn out posts like this one.

Jeff Dickey-Chasins (Job Board Doctor), had already piled on in late January, amplifying the complaints of Ladders’ customers in Is it ever ethical to charge the job seeker?

Another thorn in TheLadders’ side, Matt Youngquist (Career Horizons), had already published P.T. Barnum & TheLadders.com, discussing what TheLadders’ customers have been screaming about: fraudulent promises and advertising:

They not only claim to sell you access to a pipeline of hidden leads, but also claim to “filter” these leads in a way that will save you lots of time and ensure you’re only bothered by $100K+ opportunities.  Throw some high-profile television ads and snazzy web design around this concept, and boy, it suddenly sounds like an irresistible bargain for the low, low price 0f $30-40 per month!  The problem?  These claims are bogus.

But TheLadders’ bigger headache is now coming from the public sector: Human services organizations funded with tax dollars to help the unemployed. Karla Porter is the Direc­tor of Work­force Devel­op­ment and Human Resources for a mid-size metro area cham­ber of busi­ness and indus­try and eco­nomic devel­op­ment agency in Pennsylvania. I don’t think she knew about TheLadders’s war council meeting, but had she been in attendance, she probably would have been seated at the same corner table with Stelzner, for asking the question, WTF are they smoking over at TheLadders? Commenting on TheLadders recent “pole dance” commercial, Porter says:

If The­Lad­ders thinks this is cool hip and fun then call me a prude — but as soon as I hit the pub­lish but­ton on this post I’m can­cel­ing my sub­scrip­tion, because I no longer have respect for their on the job behavior…[sic]

The last place TheLadders wants to get noticed for bad behavior is among publicly-funded jobs agencies. That’s what brings investigations by state offices of budget and management, and the attention of state attorneys general.

But it was only a matter of time before TheLadders got some real ROI from its T&E Mercenaries crowd. Long-time HR industry pundit John Sumser finally came to TheLadders defense today, with his ironic Who Pays? (Hey, John, TheLadders pays, for travel, beds, drinks and mercenaries.) I expected more from Sumser, because his industry vocabulary is deep and broad, so his cold-served replay of the party line developed by Letourneau and Fistful of Talent was disappointing.

The best Sumser could offer:

What I saw during the time I spent with theLeaders at theLadders was pretty instructive. The company is growing. Their ambitions are big. They know what they’re doing.

Note to TheLadders: Next time, don’t just pay Sumser T&E; pay the guy a fee, and maybe you’ll get better than this.

What makes The Mercenaries’ statements embarrassing and transparent is that none of them address the specific, documented complaints leveled by TheLadders’ own customers. While painting a pretty picture of TheLadders’ financial success, and while telling us about the big smiles on the faces of the enthusiastic and brilliant Ladders employees, Letourneau and Sumser totally ignore the challenges issued by Ladders customers and its critics. They don’t answer, just like TheLadders’ didn’t answer Mark Stelzner’s tough questions at the war council meeting.

But they have no answers. It’s all public relations poppycock and verbal 3-Card Monte. In my comments to Letourneau, I said:

Josh: I’m calling you out. You asked, “Can you elaborate? What are they lying to Job Seekers about?”

I answered your question, which now appears to have been gratuitous.

If you really have standards for public discourse, it’s your turn: Respond to the examples I gave you.

Respond to Martin Burns, who provides one of the most damning indictments of TheLadders’ business practices that anyone could [on Letourneau’s own blog]: TheLadders posts jobs without the permission or knowledge of employers, thereby causing them embarrassment and unnecessary costs. This is an ongoing practice: I have published and cited other examples of Burn’s experience.

What I’m posting is not opinion. It’s evidence provided by Ladders customers — and, in the case of Martin Burns’ company, victims. Your opinions notwithstanding, let’s talk about the substance of the complaints, and about Ladders’ practices, which clearly seem to be systemic.

I posted a comment to Sumser’s PR pabulum a few hours ago, and I reprint it here because I won’t wait for him to decide to publish it. It’s really my response to all TheLadders’ Mercenaries, who have compromised themselves as credible, objective observers of the career and HR industries:

John,

You don’t offer any new spin on the apologists’ defense of the Ladders, but you base your entire post on the same fallacy. Paying for career help or for job listings isn’t the criticism. If someone can make a buck helping people get jobs, that’s good. And if those people actually land jobs by paying for help, that’s good, too.

The criticism against TheLadders is that the company’s practices are fraudulent. TheLadders doesn’t deliver what it charges for.

And, like the other Ladders’ apologists, you don’t address that anywhere in your post. You ignore it. You ignore the substance of all the critiques — “the noise” — that you disparage.

The rest of your post is fluff — a 3-Card Monte game that’s clearly designed to distract folks from the facts and information that many Ladders critics (myself included) have presented to demonstrate the fraud.

Your real agenda is revealed in this statement: “any publicity is good publicity. The critics may be a part of theLadders growth engine. The louder the noise, the faster the growth.”

Pure public relations flak. Because, John, not all publicity is good publicity. “Loud noise” might contribute to faster growth, but growth doesn’t prove the integrity or value of a service or of the company behind it. All it means is that more suckers are paying up. And if that’s your criterion for backing, defending and endorsing a business, well, go for it, Man.

You have not addressed any of the detailed, credible criticisms directed at TheLadders. Instead, like others who’ve been wined and dined by TheLadders, you just wrote a public relations release for Marc Cenedella.

I called out Josh Letourneau, and I call you out, too. Address the specific complaints of Ladders customers, and of employers who have been abused by TheLadders.

Yo, John! It ain’t about how much money TheLadders is making, or how clever its ad company is, or whether the investment bankers descide to buy in to this racket.

It’s about TheLadders’ customers getting screwed — job hunters and employers alike.

Maybe you’ve been wined and dined so many times that you’ve forgotten what this is all about?

Late yesterday, The Wall Street Joural reporter Joe Light called me to talk about the controversy that TheLadders’ customers have stirred up. He said he was preparing for a meeting today with TheLadders’ president, Alex Douzet. Can’t wait to see whether Douzet serves up some fresh answers, because those rotting eggs are starting to smell really bad.

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Recruiting: Have employers put on their thinking caps?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joe Light (Recruiters Rethink Online Playbook) suggests employers may have put on their recruiting thinking caps. Light discusses whether employers and recruiters are shifting their focus away from job boards and towards more personal (and productive) recruiting methods.

“About 24% of companies plan to decrease their usage of third-party employment websites and job boards this year,” reports Light.

Duh. Why this change?

“We need to reach candidates earlier, before they’re being pursued by competitors.”

Duh.

“Now, the company is hiring different types of recruiters who specialize in headhunting, including finding candidates to poach from competitors, rather than those who are good at processing and filtering applications.”

Duh.

Companies are dumping the job boards, and instead putting recruiters out in the field, to talk to people. Duh.

Why is it so difficult to understand that smart people prefer to do business with others they know and trust, or with folks who are personally referred to them by trusted contacts? While most “headhunters” don’t hunt (just dial for dollars), the best earn their $40,000+ fees (per placement) by going out into the world and talking to, meeting with, forming relationships with, the shining lights in the fields they hunt in. This should tell any job hunter something important: It’s the people, Stupid!

Joe Light is shining the light (sorry!) on a sea change in recruiting. The smartest companies don’t even need headhunters, if they put their best managers out there to find great candidates. This isn’t rocket science. But, nor is it the stupid database game that most seem to think it is. You can’t get a job by having a machine plaster your resume all over kingdom come, using “keywords” and “semantic analysis algorithms.”

TheLadders, Monster, CareerBuilder and that ilk are fascinating businesses — they make wads of money while their products don’t work! (They represent the “source of hires” about 0.7%, 4%, 3% of the time, respectively, according to annual surveys done by CareerXroads.) Yet personnel jockeys continue to throw cash at them.

While the trend seems to be changing, I worry about one of the last bits in Joe Light’s article:

“Instead of using senior recruiters to filter through the company’s applicants, lower-level screeners process them first and only hand off the most-qualified.”

Really? Just how does a company get better candidates, when it uses lower-level clerks to sort out the best candidates? Gimme a break. Sometimes the problem of “mindless recruiting and hiring” is a bigger part of a problem corporate mindset than we realize…

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Work for free, or no interview for you!

One of my favorite job-advice pundits is The Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas, who calls ’em as she sees ’em. In her current post, Job Interview or Bake-Off?, she deals with the subject of employers who tease job hunters with interviews… if only they will do some free work first.

Say what?

It happens more often than you’d think. The employer wants to see samples of your work. Well, not just samples, but, Here’s an assignment that will take you a few days to complete. Bring us the results… heh-heh… and we’ll see which “candidate” did the best job.

Then it’s off to the bank with your work… while you cool your heels “waiting to hear back.”

ConmanI’ve known a handful of people who have actually worked for a few days at no charge, to show an employer that they are really expert at the work. (In every case, the person got the job, and also got paid for the time they invested. Why would anyone even try this if they weren’t 100% confident of the outcome?) But it wasn’t because the employer asked them to — it was because they suggested it. It was never a case of, Do the work, or you get no interview.

My bet is that the “creative” job hunter in the Evil HR Lady’s column is being scammed, whether intentionally or not.

While I advocate “showing the employer what you can do,” I draw the line at doing free work, unless the integrity of the employer is beyond reproach. This reader wouldn’t be asking the question if it were.

If the employer here is merely naive, I’d like to know whether “the work” to be delivered is something the employer can actually use and profit from, or is it merely a demonstration of your skills? Even if there’s nothing in the work that the employer can profit from, the problem is that “2-4 days of work” is going to cost the job applicant a lot.

It’s simply unethical (and perhaps illegal) to ask job candidates to deliver actual work like that. But it’s not uncommon. It’s part of Deceptive Recruiting, a topic I’ve already covered in its myriad nasty forms.

If I were the applicant, I’d offer other means of demonstrating my abilities. If the employer insists on a bake-off, I’d submit a bill in advance for my time and ask the employer to pay it prior to submitting anything.

What if the employer says no dice, as the job applicant in this story fears? Then I’d submit a detailed non-disclosure agreement for them to sign — along with an agreement that they will not use the work product in any way, shape or form except to evaluate you.

Let’s see how ethical they really are.

There’s nothing wrong with showing an employer what you can do, and the extent to which you do that must be based on the employer’s integrity. And there’s nothing wrong with walking away from jerks who want free work. Because, what do you think they’re going to want from you if they hire you?

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Readers’ Forum: The dogs of recruiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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