The helpful (?) spouse

Is job hunting a solitary project?

I am currently job searching. My wife, who is in another field, constantly asks me how she can help me with my job search, and I don’t know what to tell her. I consider a job search to be a solitary activity, or an activity where the only help I get is from people in my same field. What should I tell my wife when she asks how she can help me?

You should handle all person-to-person contact during your job search, including e-mail. If a spouse (or anyone else) does it for you, there will be inevitable lapses when you are exposed as using a proxy. Employers don’t appreciate encountering the job hunter’s secretary or assistant.

If you need to do research, your spouse could help you with that. However, the risk is that while she’s exploring an info source, she may miss info that you might recognize (serendipitously) as useful. That’s up to you.

No matter how close your spouse is to you, I think you’ll find that job hunting and career change are indeed solitary activities. This is a time when we learn about ourselves and often find that we’re not who we thought we were. Another person can’t help you have this experience, except in passing. One of my favorite quotes is from Vladimir Nabokov, whose words might inspire epistemological terror in even the most self-confident person: “You are not I, and therein lies the irreparable calamity.”

No one — not even a spouse — can substitute their experience for your own.

One great way for a spouse to help is to listen and be a sounding board, without actually getting involved.

The worst thing that can happen is Acute Spousal Interference.

Let’s hear some other ways a spouse might be helpful (or cause problems) in a job search!

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Pay for a job? (Part 2)

About a year ago we first asked the question, How much would you pay for a job?

In this week’s e-mail Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re covering part two. (Don’t get the free newsletter? Oops. You’re missing the full story. Sign up now!)

A reader says:

I recently signed an agreement with a search firm that places people either (1) as a contingnecy search firm, or (2) as a career counseling firm. That is, depending on the position, they charge the employer or the employee a fee. I am willing to work with them only if the employer pays the fee, but the agreement includes a number of provisions about how this firm could collect the fee from me.

There’s more… in the newsletter. (Hey, if I publish it all here, what’s the point of the newsletter? The point of this part of the Blog is to enable newsletter subscribers to chime in on the topic. Feel free to join in…)

Witness the degree of desperation in the job market… and beware of “pay to work” schemes that masquerade as legitimate headhunters or employment agencies.

Suckers are born every minute. Some of them are pretty smart — just desperate and in need of help. (We’ve all been there.) I guarantee you, there are scams even I have never heard of before… Would you pay for a job? Have you encountered “agencies,” “career counselors” or “search firms” that charge both the job hunter and the employer? (And, what did you think of my advice in the newsletter?)

Have you been scammed another way?

Expose the fraud and let’s educate ourselves before another one of us gets suckered…

****UPDATE: Newsletter subscribers have asked for access to the June 9, 2009 edition of the Newsletter, titled Should I pay to apply for a job?, which is mentioned in this week’s edition. While the newsletter is not normally archived online, I’ve put that edition up so you’ll have it for reference. Hope it helps, and thanks for the requests!

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TheLadders’ Marc Cenedella makes a phone call

Paying members of TheLadders often shoot off angry e-mails to CEO Marc Cenedella and complain he never responds. Ask The Headhunter readers sometimes send me copies of these e-mail exchanges (along with their rants about Ladders). Here’s a typical response that Ladders customers receive from customer service, when they complain that Cenedella is not replying to them:

Hi Jorge,

Thanks for writing back in. With over three million members, Marc is not able to personally answer each email – though he’d love to.

Best,
Dawid

-Dawid-
Community Manager

One Ladders paying member complained loudly enough via his blog and a Twitter blast that Cenedella actually called him on the phone. Do ya think it’s snowing in hell now?

Check Brian Flores’ October 23, 2009 comment on my Fast Company blog. If you’re one of the many dissatisfied Ladders customers out there, note Cenedella’s comments as reported by Flores:

He listened very patiently and explained how some of my complaints were conscious design decisions made on the part of his team, while others were unintended UI issues which he would investigate.

And I thought there was no hope; that Cenedella doesn’t monitor online chatter about TheLadders. Turns out he does. He’s just ignoring you.

(“Unintended UI issues?” Is that like an accidental poke in the eye with a sharp stick? And, do you think it was really him??)

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Overqualified Applicants: We are terrified of you

I don’t know whether the New York Times is trying to shed light on the growing unemployment situation or to poke fun at job hunters and employers. In a story yesterday ($13 an Hour? 500 Sign Up, 1 Wins a Job) the Times tells about a trucking company that ran a job posting on CareerBuilder… and what happened.

Turns out this company is afraid to hire people more skilled than it’s accustomed to — even if the price is right. If this isn’t proof the world has gone nuts, I don’t know what is.

The head of corporate recruiting was apparently stunned at all the resumes she received via CareerBuilder. How’d she decide on the finalists out of the 500 applicants?

She dropped significantly overqualified candidates right away, reasoning that they would leave when the economy improved. Among them was a former I.B.M. business analyst with 18 years experience; a former director of human resources; and someone with a master’s degree and 12 years at Deloitte & Touche, the accounting firm.

Imagine that: The economy has put some incredibly talented and skilled people on the market at a steep discount. These are smart people willing to take less money to do a lower-level job than they’re accustomed to. Buy low. Does this goofus know what that means? No, she’s worried that an “overqualified” hire will leave when the economy gets better.

Yo, Mamma! Anyone you hire is gonna leave for a better opportunity when the economy improves! Time to fire the HR lady.

But it gets better. Trucking companies are not immune to staggering incompetence at any management level — any more than any other industry is. One of the applicants rejected by the HR lady gets passed on to another manager. What does he do to assess this candidate and make a hiring decision?

Mr. Kelsey marched through many of his questions again. Then, trying to gauge her ability to be assertive among truck drivers, he added a new hypothetical: if she were in the stands at a baseball game and a foul ball came her way, would she stand up to try to catch it, or wait in her seat and hope it fell her way?

The other finalist had said she would wait. But Ms. Block said immediately that she would jump up to grab it.

Mr. Kelsey decided he had found his hire.

Managers can ask job candidates anything they want in an interview. Why didn’t Mr. Kelsey ask the applicant what she’d do if, when that foul ball came her way, a truck driver seated beside her elbowed her in the face so he could catch the ball instead? Would she:

  1. Deck him?
  2. Thank him for saving her face from the incoming projectile?
  3. Wipe her bloody nose and scream for a cop?
  4. Ask him whether Mr. Kelsey is hiring?

(Just kidding.)

My compliments to whoever hired that IBM business analyst. You got a bargain. If you treat him well and make good use of his skills (which you’d never get a shot at in a good economy), my guess is he might not even quit when the economy gets better… because you found good ways to capitalize on skills you couldn’t afford in a better economy… and maybe you were astute enough to create something better for him at your company so he’d stay. And even if he leaves, if you were smart you made profitable use of the time he was working for you. Nobody stays at your company forever, assuming your company is still in business in a coupla years…

I’d like a count, please: How many managers or HR people out there would pass on an “overqualified” applicant willing to work for less money because they don’t know how the hell to capitalize on a windfall of unexpectedly superior skills?

(Thanks to Steve Amoia for sending me the NY Times article.)

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The Monster-ous quality of choice

A recent post, Congress to Employers: You’re not proctologists, drew a comment that reveals the dangerous new cracks in our employment system  — and hints at the problem employers need to address if the quality of hiring is to improve.

In a comment on that post, dated October 19, 2009 at 6:52 am, reader Nic says:

This to me is all about people fuelling their new crackpot ideas for business modelling and human resources; and in my view, it is all lunacy. What does this really mean? The quality of employee has declined drastically over the past 20 years. Does this mean a further dumbing down?

I don’t think the quality of the employee has declined. Rather, the quality of the selection process has declined. It has become so automated that it is now counterproductive.

The personal judgment of managers no longer filters the best job candidates into the final interview process. The first cut of candidates is made thoughtlessly using key word searches and is further dumbed down because the pool itself is limited to people who list themselves in data bases. Gone are the candidates a manager seeks out for their rare and relevant qualities.

The Human Resources Soup Kitchen waters down the quality of the hiring process by ladling resumes out of the huge job-board swill pot — and those are the candidates the hiring manager is permitted to choose from. That’s where the “talent shortage” starts. When your head is stuck in the swill pot, all the world is a mediocre candidate — and you always have an excuse for mediocre hiring: We use the latest technology but today’s candidates just suck!

I was recently on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss trends in job hunting and hiring and to take questions from listeners. Joining me was an executive from Monster.com.

A caller who runs a management consulting firm challenged Monster’s Doug Hardy over the “task matching” — or “keyword” — method of scanning resumes for matches to jobs.

Listen to the question and to Hardy’s response: Read more

Congress to Employers: You’re not proctologists

I once applied for a job with a big-time, international consulting firm. I signed off on a background check that included letting them interview everyone back to my kindergarten teacher. I had to get a physical and pee in a cup. They did a credit check. Who knows what they found, because they didn’t hire me. (I have no idea what they found because they wouldn’t share it with me.)

That was lucky, because letting people I didn’t know intrude into areas of my life that were none of their business gnawed at me… and I decided not to accept an offer even if they made it. Go suck rocks. Who wants to turn their life over to goons? And besides, I wanted to know — but no one at the company would tell me — what does the CEO’s credit record look like? Why don’t employers publish their officers’ full records like Subway publishes calorie counts on all its sandwiches?

Why do companies want to know it all? To avoid hiring someone who might go postal some day? Nah, it’s to cover their asses. Personnel jockeys and lawyers apply every available “verification” process just because they can. Because who wants to make a decision and be held accountable for it if there’s one more source of data we can check…? Who wants to hire somebody who missed her last car payment and is struggling to find a job so she can make the next one?

What many people don’t realize is, you can say NO. You are under no obligation to micturate on demand, expose your kindergarten teacher to embarrassing questions, or to take a probe up your credit report or up your ass. You might not get the interview, but all the details of your life are not any employer’s business unless you choose to make them so. (If you consent, consider that what an employer finds may not even be accurate. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group says that about a third of credit reports contain serious errors.)

Many Ask The Headhunter readers tell me they say NO. I learned to say no after I looked at myself in the mirror following the investigation into my life many years ago. I was ashamed of myself. I gave up everything about myself to information goons.

On July 9, 2009 Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee introduced H.R.3149, a bill “to amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit the use of consumer credit checks against prospective and current employees for the purposes of making adverse employment decisions.”

Cohen says, “At a time when people are struggling to find jobs, credit checks should not be used as a basis to deny employment to otherwise qualified candidates.” The bill has 36 co-sponsors and it is long overdue. It’s time to draw this line.

Nonetheless, the bill “makes exceptions to such prohibition for employment: (1) which requires a national security or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) clearance; (2) with a state or local government agency which otherwise requires use of a consumer report; or (3) in a supervisory, managerial, professional, or executive position at a financial institution.

You should be aware of these exceptions because this is the best we’re likely to get. Much as I would like to put kindergarten teachers off limits.

Checking people out before you hire them is a smart thing to do. So talk to people that job candidates have worked with and ask smart questions. Check references. Do your diligence. But you’re not an information proctologist. There are places where your hands don’t belong because you don’t acquire rights to anyone’s privacy when you hire them. And it’s time Congress put that in writing.

Kudos to Rep. Steve Cohen. H.R. 3149 has been referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. I’m contacting my legislators and telling them to vote for the bill. I encourage you to do the same.

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Oh, no! Job-search scams!

Looking for a big-time job-search scam? The big ones are not hard to find. Try this one, or this one, or this one.

But the best that Time magazine can muster is crooked cleaning services  and the “deposit this check and send us half” rouse? Job-search scams on the rise in the recession. Gimme a break. Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are no better. They run the “human interest” tear-jerkers. “62 year old grandma taken for $1,000 by third-world scammer who needed to move $60 million out of the country.”

And you wonder why the big scams are fleecing millions of job hunters and HR departments of billions of dollars every year… Sorry, Suckers, “the news” doesn’t cover the $30/month that a few million of you spent for platinum job board memberships.

Anyone interested in a slightly used hand-screened $100k+ job? Or a few thousand of them? Pssst… Hey, Kid, we got ’em! Just fifty bucks!

The worst scams are committed in broad daylight run under our noses.

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What’s integrity?

Reader Edward said something provocative on Attitude in a “crappy job market”:

It’s actually fairly easy to check for integrity, if you first know what it is.

Well, what is it?

I think I’ve got the start of a useful definition and I’ve used it pretty successfully, though I think it needs to be fleshed out more: A thing (or person) has integrity when its form and behavior are consistent with the way it represents itself, and when it performs as promised.

Okay, it’s not a definition of integrity. It’s more of a sign of integrity. I have intentionally not checked a dictionary because I think it’s important to figure out what we think it means. So please leave your dictionaries closed for now — we can open them later.

What is integrity to you?

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Those pesky job application forms

A reader asks:

How should I respond when an employer asks for my social security number on an application form or in an interview, before I have agreed to the job?

The advice I offer about this makes some people shiver… You want me to mess with a form???

Yah, it’s a piece of paper. The company hasn’t yet invested any time in you. We’re talking about a dumb piece of paper.

Use all zeroes or nines or any number. On online forms (you have to put something in there or it won’t let you continue with the rest of the form), this makes it clear that you are not trying to “forge” a number. On paper forms, just write a note: “Sorry, I don’t divulge SS# prior to meeting with an employer and establishing mutual interest.” Online forms usually have a “comments” section; add that statement when you’re done. Again, you don’t want it to look like you’re playing games.
 
In person, I’d say the same thing. Until a company is ready to make an offer, you prefer to keep information that might subject you to identity theft confidential. You’d be glad to share it, of course, if you are hired.

Companies simply have no business with your SS# before they hire you, no matter what they claim. Of course, they may like to have it, but you are not obligated to give it to them. But be positive when you explain this: “I’d be glad to share private, confidential information with you once we have established a serious mutual interest in working together. I’d be glad to invest as much time as you need to meet, talk and decide whether we are a match. Would you like to schedule an interview?”
 
Some personnel jockeys will get really incensed, but the irony and hypocrisy becomes clear when you consider the problem from another perspective: Go Pound Salt.

Others will respect your privacy and let it slide. This tells you who is flexible and who isn’t — an important thing to know before you join a company.

You must decide what kind of risk to take — getting rejected because you didn’t fill out the form “properly” or risking your identity.

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Why job interviews suck

And people ask me what’s wrong with America’s Employment System. One of the biggest problems is that most job interviews suck.

There’s a book called 501+ Great Interview Questions for Employers and the Best Answers for Prospective Employees. And just today Cheezhead re-published Monster.com’s “list of 100 interview questions that candidates should always be prepared to answer.”

Might as well give a frustrated, angry, desperate job hunter a loaded gun.

But I also have a kinder, gentler, more pointed perspective. In my interview fantasy, you walk into a job interview. You smile broadly at the interviewer, shake hands, and sit down in the interview chair.

You lean forward and say, “Look, we both know why we’re here. You have questions you want to ask me. And you will judge me based on my answers.”

This is where you drop that baby — that big fat book full of Q&A’s — on the interviewer’s desk.

“So let’s cut the crap. Let’s save one another a whole lot of time.”

Slide that sucker across the manager’s desk. “Here you go. Your questions and my answers.”

Smile again. “You can waste your time and mine. Or do you want to talk about the work you need done and how I can improve your bottom line?”

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