Big Data, Big Problems for Job Seekers?

In the January 21, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, Nick asks readers for help with an upcoming TV news interview:

There’s no question from a reader this week. Instead, I’m asking all of you readers a question. May I have your help?

I’ve been asked to appear on a TV news show to discuss how HR is using Big Data to watch you at work — and to process your job application without interviewing you. I’d like your input on the topic so I can frame my comments with your interests in mind. I’ll share a link to the program after it airs, and we can discuss it further then.

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

Nick’s Question for You

Big-Data-KittyAre you frustrated because employers reject your job application out of hand without even talking to you? Tired of online application forms kicking you out of consideration because you took too long to answer questions, or because you failed to disclose your salary history?

Wait — America’s employment system is getting even more automated and algorithm-ized. According to a new report in The Atlantic, the vice president of recruiting at Xerox Services warns that:

“We’re getting to the point where some of our hiring managers don’t even want to interview anymore.” According to the article, “they just want to hire the people with the highest scores.”

The subtitle of that Atlantic column (They’re Watching You At Work by Don Peck) reads: “The emerging practice of ‘people analytics’ is already transforming how employers hire, fire, and promote.”

Does that worry you?

If all goes according to plan (hey, this is TV — all schedules are subject to change), Atlantic columnist Don Peck and I will talk about the rise of Big Data in the service of HR — and I want your input in advance, because I’m worried about the conclusions Peck draws in his article. It’s a very long one (8,600+ words), but it illuminates some of the technology that’s frustrating your job search. Please have a look at it, and post your suggestions to help me frame my comments for this TV program.

Here are the Big Problems I see with this Big Data approach to assessing people for jobs and on the job:

The metrics are indirect.

The vendors behind these “tools” don’t directly assess whether a person can do a job. Instead, they look at other things — indirect assessments of a person’s fit to a job. For example, they have you play a game and they measure your response times. From this, they try to predict success on the job. That determines whether you get interviewed.

The problem is that we’ve known for decades that this approach doesn’t work. Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli throws cold water on indirect assessments:

“Nothing in the science of prediction and selection beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

All that’s being thrown into the mix by these “assessment” vendors is Big Data. But more data doesn’t change anything. In fact, it makes things worse if the data are not valid predictors of success. It’s worse because indirect assessment leads to false negatives (employers reject potentially good candidates) and to false positives (they hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons).

The conclusions are based on correlations.

These tools predict success based on whether certain characteristics of a person are similar to characteristics of a target sample of people. For example, Peck’s article says that “one solid predictor of strong coding [programming] is an affinity for a particular Japanese manga site.” (Manga are Japanese comics.)

Gild, the company behind this claim, says it’s just one correlation of many. But Gild admits there’s “no causal relationship” between all the Big Data it gathers about you and how you perform on the job.

In what can only be called a scientific non sequitur, Gild’s “chief scientist” says “the correlation, even if inexplicable, is quite clear.”

The problem: A basic tenet of empirical research is that a correlation does not imply causality, or even an explanation of anything. Data tell us that people die in hospitals, and that correlates highly with the presence of doctors in hospitals. All jokes aside, that correlation doesn’t mean doctors kill people. Except, perhaps, in the world of Big HR Data: If you’re selling “people analytics,” then playing a game a certain way means you’ll work a certain way.

When we pile specious correlations on top of indirect assessments (What animal would you be if you could be any animal?), we wind up with no good reasons to make hiring decisions, and with no basis for judgments of employees.


INTERMISSION: There’s a hidden lesson for recruiters in Big Data.

Hanging out at a manga site doesn’t improve anyone’s ability to write good code — nor does it predict their success at work. But, it might mean that a recruiter can find some good coders on that manga site — the one reasonable conclusion and recruiting tactic that none of the people Peck interviewed seem to have thought of!


I don’t think Peck wrote this article to promote “people analytics” as the solution to the challenges that American companies face when hiring, but he does seem to think the Kool-Aid tastes pretty good. I think Peck over-reaches when he confuses useful data that employers collect about employee behavior to improve that behavior, with predictions based on silly Big Data assumptions.

To entice you to read the article and post your comments, I’ll share a couple of highlights in the article that kinda blinded me. Well, the assumptions behind them were blinding, anyway:

Spying tells us a lot.

In further support of indirect assessments of employees and job applicants, Peck cites the work of MIT researcher Sandy Pentland, who’s been putting electronic badges on employees to gather data about their daily interactions. In other words, Pentland follows them around electronically to see what they do.

“The badges capture all sorts of information about formal and informal conversations: their length; the tone of voice and gestures of the people involved; how much those people talk, listen, and interrupt; the degree to which they demonstrate empathy and extroversion; and more. Each badge generates about 100 data points a minute.”

Peck notes that these badges are not in routine use at any company.

It’s just a game.

A lot of the “breakthroughs” Peck writes about come from start-up test vendors like an outfit called Knack, which creates games “to suss out human potential.” Knack continues to seek venture funding, and the only Knack client mentioned in the article is Palo Alto High School, which is using Knack games to help students think about careers.

“Play one of [Knack’s games] for just 20 minutes, says Guy Halfteck, Knack’s founder, and you’ll generate several megabytes of data, exponentially more than what’s collected by the SAT or a personality test.”

The big dbig-dataata gathered, writes Peck,

“are used to analyze your creativity, your persistence, your capacity to learn quickly from mistakes, your ability to prioritize, and even your social intelligence and personality. The end result, Halfteck says, is a high-resolution portrait of your psyche and intellect, and an assessment of your potential as a leader or an innovator.”

Let’s draw a comparison in the world of medicine; it’s an easy and apt one: If more megabytes of game data can be used to generate more correlations, could doctors diagnose patients more effectively by collecting bigger urine samples? Because that’s the logic.

No sale.

I don’t buy it. I want to know, can you do the job?

Some Big Data about employee behavior can be analyzed to good effect. For example, Peck reports that Microsoft employees with mentors are less likely to leave their jobs, so Microsoft gets mentors for them. But he seems to easily confuse legitimate metrics with goofy games of correlation. And the start-up companies he profiles don’t seem to be on any leading edge — they’re mostly trying to sell the idea that Big Data in the service of questionable correlations makes those correlations worth money.

(To learn the ins and outs of legitimate employment testing, see Erica Klein’s excellent book, Employment Tests: Get The Edge.)

Big Deal.

We know that what Peter Cappelli says about the science of prediction is correct. But I think Arnold Glass, a leading researcher in cognitive psychology at Rutgers University, says it best:

“It has been known since Alfred Binet and Victor Henri constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job. Therefore, the idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

It seems to me that HR should be putting its money into teaching HR workers and hiring managers to hang out where the people they want to hire hang out, and into teaching them how to get to know these people — and how good they are at their work.

In the meantime, is it any surprise to any job seeker today that employers mostly suck at recruiting the right people and at conducting effective interviews?

If you have questions or thoughts you’d like me to raise in this forthcoming TV program, please post them. I’ll try to use the best of the bunch. I wish I could tell you that hanging out on my blog causes employers to hire you. Thanks!

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

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Join My LinkedIn Gang-Bang!

In the December 3, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to join my network:

I wanted to send you a LinkedIn invitation to connect, but I noticed on your LinkedIn profile page that you only accept connections from people you already know. How can you expand your network if you don’t want to meet new people? I respect your policy, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I could introduce you to people you can do business with. What’s wrong with that?

Nick’s Reply

gang-bangPlease check my LinkedIn profile again. It’s changed since you last looked. Send me that request — I’ll accept it.

My profile used to say: “Don’t ask me to join your LinkedIn network if we don’t know one another or if we haven’t done business together.”

That was a lofty standard, and one I maintain in the real world.

If you don’t get it, think about it this way. If I get a call from an employer (or any business person) that wants to check your references, I need to know what I’m talking about, right? If I don’t know you well enough to give you references, why would I accept you as a LinkedIn connection? We’d both look like idiots.

But that was then, and this is now

Welcome to the new world of LinkedIn b.s. connections, where phony relationships are the coin of the realm and everyone can pretend to know one another.

In the real world, I have standards. On LinkedIn, I’ve deleted my aforementioned linking policy, because there are no standards. (I know a guy who has 118,000 connections. He’s an idiot, and the “influencer” articles he posts are as phony as his relationships.)

So, send me a connection invitation. I don’t care who you are any more than LinkedIn does — I’ll connect, because it means about as much as being in the old Ma Bell phonebook, or being findable on Google. Everybody’s already connected “because they’re in there.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love LinkedIn. It’s the best online phone book ever assembled. It’s incredibly nice to be able to look people up.

But I propose that LinkedIn do away with connections altogether, and just let users query the system when they want to get in touch with any other member, without pretending there’s a pre-existing relationship. Even LinkedIn seems to think there’s nothing special about your (or my) connections. It doesn’t care which button you click when you invite someone — colleague, classmate, friend… the system lets you fib.

My subversive agenda

In fact, a class action lawsuit filed recently in San Jose federal court says that LinkedIn doesn’t even recognize the value of contacts. The litigants claim LinkedIn hacks new members’ e-mail accounts and appropriates their contacts — to advertise LinkedIn, to get new members, and to implement the company’s mission. (LinkedIn refers to this as “new growth optimization efforts.”)

So, who am I to tell you I won’t accept your link requests? I do admit to a subversive agenda. If we all connect to one another, then we don’t need to pay LinkedIn for access to people outside our connections, and LinkedIn can’t block any of us from using its network the way it uses its our e-mail lists: To make money.

According to Bloomberg, LinkedIn programmer Brian Guan spilled the beans on his own LinkedIn profile. He describes his job as

“…devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!”

“Team Money” used to be a business network with standards that rose above, say, those of Facebook. It was, after all, a place for business people to transact business. But LinkedIn started cashing in its chips even before it did an IPO, and now it’s just one big data gang-bang. LinkedIn has signaled clearly that it’s just in it for the money — and any semblance of exclusivity, or integrity about connections, or concerns about members’ welfare is gone.

Here’s what led me to my decision to open up my network

  • LinkedIn charges for Premium membership, but users say there’s no need to pay a fee to access the most useful feature — viewing profiles.
  • LinkedIn expert Jason Alba agrees: “The most important thing is to have a really solid profile. If you want, you can walk away after that. People will still find you.”
  • If you haven’t noticed, all LinkedIn seems to do any more is sell. Its sales force grew from 207 reps in 2010 to 1,822 this year, but where’s the investment in network benefits to users?
  • LinkedIn recently issued $1 billion in new stock. Some might see growth; I see somebody trying to cover the costs of an unsupportable sales operation.
  • LinkedIn recently opened the doors to 13-year-olds. The company says it’s “so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right.” (That must have something to do with the Profitable Child Labor discussion group, eh?) Gimme a break. I think it’s so LinkedIn can tap the teenage data set, which is now worth around $300 billion in the U.S. alone.

LinkedIn is the new TheLadders, the world’s last failed “exclusive” network of businesspeople. Both companies have thrown the doors open to anyone and everyone, after making highfalutin’ representations about “networking.”

  • Both companies are now the subject of consumer class action suits.
  • Both companies are manned by the same people who invented the “churn ‘em and burn ‘em” model of the job boards — alumni of HotJobs and Monster.com.
  • And both companies tout the value of high-quality “connections” while de-valuing those very connections. (Endorsements, anybody?)

Join my LinkedIn Gang-Bang!

It doesn’t matter whether we know one another or have done business together. Send me your LinkedIn invitations, and I’ll accept them. No offense to you but, like LinkedIn, I want to use my connections to make money — and so do you. Unlike LinkedIn, I do have scruples — I’ll never sell your data to advertisers. But keep in mind that what I do with your data doesn’t matter. LinkedIn will sell our data to anyone that will pay for it. We’re all in the phone book, after all.

My only quandary: As a parent concerned with my own children’s safety, what do I do when 13-year-olds start asking me to connect?

What’s your take on LinkedIn connections? Do you limit your list, or is it a gang-bang like mine? Just how much b.s. will people pay for?

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Employment In America: WTF is going on?

The October 29, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is the 500th edition. So rather than answer a reader’s question, I’m celebrating this milestone by making up my own question, and doing my best to answer it.

(What? You don’t subscribe to the free, weekly e-mail Ask The Headhunter Newsletter? Don’t miss the next edition! Subscribe now!)

WTF is going on with employment in America?

Why have I written and published 500 weekly editions of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter? Because America’s employment system still doesn’t work.

wtfThe emperor still has no clothes, and that’s why over 25 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. (According to PBS NewsHour, that’s how many Americans say they want but can’t find a full time job.) Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are about 3.9 million jobs vacant.

HR executives have a special term for this 6:1 market advantage when they’re trying to fill jobs today: They call it a “talent shortage.”

Gimme a break.

Personnel jockeys run around in their corporate offices with their eyes closed, throwing billions of dollars at applicant tracking systems and job boards like Taleo, Monster.com, and LinkedIn — and they pretend no one can see they are dancing in circles buck naked.

WTF is going on? We’ll talk about a talent shortage when the HR talent shortage abates — and HR executives learn how to match up the 3.9 million with work that needs doing.

Companies don’t hire any more

Employers don’t do their own hiring, and that’s the #1 problem. Employers have outsourced their competitive edge — recruiting and hiring — to third parties whose heads are so far up The Database Butt that this little consortium should be investigated by Congress.

Taleo, Kenexa, LinkedIn, Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and their diaspora — you know who I’m talking about. Monster and LinkedIn alone sucked almost $2 billion out of the employment system in 2012. These vendors tout fake technologies and cheap string-search routines masquerading as “algorithms” for finding “hidden talent” and “matching people to jobs.”

So, why are almost 4 million jobs vacant?

Because these vendors sell databases, not recruiting, not headhunting, not jobs, not hires, not “matchmaking.”

Somewhere, right now, the chairman of the board of some corporation is pounding the podium at a shareholders’ meeting, exclaiming, “People are our most important asset!”

Meanwhile, HR executives are blowing billions out their asses, mingling their companies’ most important assets in databases shared with all their competitors via a handful of “applicant tracking systems” that can’t get the job done.

Heads-up to boards of directors: Where is your competitive edge any more? Take control of your hiring again — like it matters!

Employers don’t know how to recruit

Here’s how human resources departments across America “recruit.” They put impossible mixes of keywords about jobs into a computer. They press a button and pay billions of dollars for a chance that Prince Charming might materialize on their computer displays. When the prince fails to appear, they pay to play another day. (Last year, companies polled said 1.3% of their hires came from Monster.com and 1.2% from CareerBuilider. Source: CareerXroads.)

Meanwhile, in the real world, over 25 million people — many of them immensely talented and capable of riding a fast learning curve without falling off — are ready to work.

Employers need to get off their butts, remove the Taleo straps from around their necks, and go outside to actually find, meet, recruit, cajole, seduce, and convince good workers to come work for them.

The employment system vendors are lying

The big job boards and the applicant tracking systems tell employers that sophisticated database technology will find the perfect hire.

  • ”Don’t settle for teaching a good worker anything about doing a job. Hire only the perfect fit!”
  • “We make that possible when you use more keywords for a job!”
  • “The more requirements you specify, the more perfect your hire will be! The database handles it all!”

Except that’s a lie. Job descriptions heavily larded with keywords make it virtually impossible to find good candidates. But every day that an impossible job requisition remains unfilled, the employment system vendors make more money while companies keep advertising for the perfect hires.

WTF? How stupid can anyone be? At the roulette wheel, the house always wins.

3.9 million jobs are vacant, thanks to the empty promises of algorithms. If the U.S. Congress wants a solution, it should launch an investigation into the workings of America’s employment system infrastructure, which is controlled by a handful of companies.

Employers have no business plan

Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the quality of the American worker pool has not diminished. Rather, American companies:

  • Don’t want to pay market value to hire the right workers.
  • Don’t want to train talented workers to do a new job.
  • Don’t have any problem using applicant tracking systems that don’t work.

Cappelli points out that employers believe they save money when they leave jobs vacant, because their accounting systems track the cost of having workers on the payroll — but cannot track the cost of leaving work undone.

Employers run the junk profitability numbers in their sleep:

Fewer Employees=Lower Costs=Higher Profits

Employers that believe this are idiots. They should stop regarding workers as a cost, and start treating them as investments, and ensure that each worker pays off in higher profits. They should get a business plan.

America counts jobs, not profitable work

The federal government tracks the number of people who have jobs and the number of vacant jobs. But that’s no measure of a healthy economy. We all know the weekly employment figures are a fraud. The definitions of jobs and “who is employed” are so manipulated that no one knows WTF is going on.

It’s time to re-think how companies find and pay people to do work that produces profit. A better indicator of economic success would be the measure of how profitable all the work in America actually is — and how much profit is left behind on the table each month when work is left undone.

People must stop begging for jobs

It’s time for people to stop thinking about jobs, and high time to start thinking about how — and where — they can create profit.

If I run a company, I’ll hire you to do work that pays off more than what I pay you to do it. Today, virtually no employer knows whether hiring a person will pay off. That’s why you need to know how to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, how you will contribute profit to the manager’s business. That’s right: Be smarter than the manager about his own business. Stop begging for jobs. Start offering profit.

Because if you can’t do that, you have no business applying for any job, in any company.

Think you can generate lots of profit without working for someone else? Then bet your future on your plan, and start your own business.

WTF is going on

Here’s the simple truth that’s buried in the employment system, which is controlled by a handful of lightweight database jockeys who are funded by HR executives who have no idea how to recruit or hire:

There is no business plan in any applicant tracking system, no profit in a job posting, no future in federal employment metrics, no solution in HR departments, and no answers in databases or algorithms.

WTF is going on is this: American ingenuity starts with the individual who has an idea, blossoms with a plan that will produce profit — for yourself and your boss and your customer — and results in more money for everybody.

WTF is going on is that you must do the hard work of figuring it out yourself, each time, and every time. American business can’t outsource recruiting and hiring, and American workers can’t afford to let someone else find them “a job.”

WTF do you think is going on? Is there a way out of this mess? How do we change the way work is defined, and how people earn money for their work?

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LinkedIn For Kids: The biggest lead-gen pimp on the Internet?

reidhoffmanWhat’s LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman looking at? 13-year-olds — LinkedIn’s newest big-money data set. And my bet is his sharedholders are going to be looking at the Internet’s biggest privacy nightmare yet.

Advice to Moms and Dads: Take your kids off his street.

Under the guise of helping 13-year-olds “start their careers off right,” LinkedIn is launching a massive initiative to tap the $300 billion teen market — selling advertising and selling access to kids’ data.

Ever since LinkedIn went public, it abandoned its mission to be the world’s biggest and best professional network. It has quickly evolved into an advertising business.

With a hot IPO behind it, LinkedIn’s management team rushed head-long into silly commercialization, betting that its public relations campaigns could keep its reputation afloat — while the company furiously drained all the integrity out of its ever-growing pool of users.

First, LinkedIn ejected its team of salaried relationship-builders and brought in a boiler room full of telemarketers working on stiff quotas. According to SEC filings, in short order LinkedIn’s sales and marketing operation skyrocketed from 207 people to 1,822. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Jeff Weiner realized that their company’s value wasn’t in the business networks it had created. The big money was in keywords. So they started selling members’ data to employers, just like Monster.com and CareerBuilder do.

Just another job board

LinkedIn launched its IPO, and re-launched itself as a job board. Chucking connections for cash, LinkedIn has been charging job seekers for “Premium” services. (See Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?) For $29.95/month, you can buy empty promises of status and top position on the list of resumes employers pay to access. (You also get to write a dozen or so “InMails” using LinkedIn’s cumbersome, proprietary mail system that tracks who you communicate with.)

linkedinbuttonWith a wink and a nod, LinkedIn cautions members to apply only for jobs they are truly qualified for — but gave them a button to easily and instantly apply for any job they encountered. Like the job boards, LinkedIn is facilitating a jobs lottery: The more tickets you buy, the more chances you have to win!

And as LinkedIn members started flooding employers with applications, employers paid LinkedIn to drink out of a fire hose.

But, everyone knows that job boards aren’t just in the job board business. They’re in the lead-generation business. Your “profile” is chock full of incredibly valuable information to salesmen and marketers. If you don’t believe me, just create a faux membership on any job board using a faux e-mail address and watch your in-box to see who’s buying or renting your data.

Hacking Members’ E-mail: The new business model?

If anyone thinks LinkedIn is in the “relationship” and “professional networking” business, listen closely: LinkedIn is an advertising company collecting data to linkedin-hacksell. At LinkedIn, “innovation” means “We make more cash from your data.” And members don’t like it. They’re complaining that LinkedIn hacked their external e-mail directories and — without permission — is sending solicitations to their contacts. Last week, a group of LinkedIn members filed a class action about this practice in San Jose federal court. (The New York Times says “the company is treading dangerously.”)

Hoffman and Weiner have found the Holy Revenue Model: Charge everyone, and convince everyone this is the only game in town!

Gone are some of the most useful services that LinkedIn used to offer to members. The company killed LinkedIn Answers, a powerful way to network and share information — and introduced a service its users find laughable: Endorsements — the equivalent of cheap come-on lines thrown at girls in bars.

Then LinkedIn itself started courting girls and boys — 13 and older, just two weeks after issuing $1 billion in new stock. Now kids can connect with adults. What’s going on here is obvious. LinkedIn is scrambling to acquire more personal data, from yet another valuable demographic, to prop up its stock price.

Hey, little girl…

In what must be the most laughable bit of bullshit published online this year, LinkedIn’s Eric Heath announced that kids are invited to join LinkedIn “so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right.”

free-candy-vanGimme a break. This new “age of consent policy” has nothing to do with 13-year-olds’ “careers” and everything to do with collecting personal data.

LinkedIn’s intentions and motivations are obvious. Reid Hoffman is driving around the Internet offering memberships to a demographic that spends $200-$300 billion annually (teenagers) — and that’s just in the United States. Hey, little girl… how about a nice piece of e-candy…?

This is all about personal data for sale

LinkedIn is now all about advertising. To monetize the 13-year-old data set — and your profile, too — the company just hired Groupon ad exec Penry Price, signaling that “connections” are the bait, and that the real name of this game is advertising.

Has LinkedIn become the biggest lead-gen pimp on the Internet — now featuring kids, their personal data, and their money? Moms and dads can start sweating bullets, too, wondering who’s protecting their little girls’ and boys’ information.

But stockholders can rejoice, at least for now, because everybody pays the house. As litigation mounts, Hoffman and Weiner may find they’re going to pay the piper.

Have you noticed more LinkedIn solicitations in your e-mail? Do you think your e-mail addresses have been hacked by LinkedIn? Is this “business network” looking like a dog to you?

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LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters


Introduction

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

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

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

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


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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

More suckers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lance Armstrong league

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

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

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

tomkins

But he is not happy:

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

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

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

Is a sucker endorsed every minute?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just how stupid is Google about interviewing?

So I get back from a week-long trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and find a slew of e-mails from readers who wanted to share a link to this hilarious article in The Atlantic:

Google Finally Admits That Its Infamous Brainteasers Were Completely Useless for Hiring

google_arrowAnd every Ask The Headhunter reader who sent me the link offered a sarcastic remark on Google’s notorious practice of asking interview questions like this one:

How many golf balls will fit into a school bus?

Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of “people operations” at Google is quoted in the article:

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time… They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

Well, anyone who reads Ask The Headhunter already knew that.

But in career circles, Google’s idiotic practice was of course lauded and marked as state-of-the-art interviewing technology. The emperor’s imaginary clothes were beyond reproach because, after all, it’s Google.

This revelation wouldn’t even be worth noting if not for Bock’s explanation of what Google does today in job interviews:

Bock says Google now relies on more quotidian means of interviewing prospective employees, such as standardizing interviews so that candidates can be assessed consistently, and “behavioral interviewing,” such as asking people to describe a time they solved a difficult problem.

In other words, Google’s personnel jockeys are using the same goofy “techniques” loads of other personnel jockeys use:

Standardized interviews
A list of canned questions designed to make sure everyone is inteviewed fairly and without discrimination.

Yo, Google: The point is to find the candidate who has an unfair advantage over every other candidate because they’re the best candidate — and you can’t assess that by making sure you ask every putz who shows up the very same questions. (Imagine trying that with the next five people you go on a date with.) The point in a job interview is to discriminate! To discriminate means to identify key differences and to carefully select the person that stands out as different from the rest and best suited to your needs. “Standardized inteviews” tie a manager’s hands and turn interviews into a meatgrinder.

Behavioral interviewing
This is a tried and dopey interview technique that HR consultants invented to justify their sorry existence and bloated fees. It’s named after what’s missing in the method entirely: behavior. That’s right: There is no behavior in the behavioral inteview. It’s all talk. These interviews are about what you did last year, two years ago, or sometime in your life:

So, the last three women I dated really liked me, and I bought them flowers now and then, and took them out for dinner, and listened to them tell me their problems. I’m a great guy. You can ask them. So, will you marry me?

What you did last year is not a good reason for hiring or marrying (or even dating) you. How you solved a problem two years ago tells us nothing about how you’ll tackle the specific problems and challenges a specific manager at Google is facing today. Not any more than being able to guess at what you might charge to wash all the windows in San Francisco.

Yo, Google: Ask each candidate to show you how he or she would do this job today, tomorrow, next week, next month, this year! Put them in front of the work and let them show you.

Google’s admission is no surprise. Managers who interviewed using goofy questions like, “How many barbers are there in Chicago?” were basically saying, “Search me!” about who was worth hiring. Trouble is, they’re still saying, “Search me!” when they use canned personnel jockey questions to figure out who can do the work.

Or, they could just put on one of those “arrow through the head” props and ask job applicants how they think it got there. Seems to me Google is still pretty stupid about inteviewing.

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What’s HR Got to Do With It?

Fast on the heels of last week’s column, Why HR should get out of the hiring business, I did Gil Gross’s talk radio show in San Francisco (KKSF Talk910 am). We discussed what’s broken about America’s employment system, why good workers can’t get hired, and what HR (human resources) departments have to do with it…

What’s HR got to do with it? This audio segment is about 10 minutes long:

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Surprise! Guess who owns your personnel file?

In the February 12, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a frustrated reader loses her job, then asks for her personnel file. And the results might shock you:

I was asked to leave my job (not a good fit for the position) last fall. I requested a copy of my personnel file from my employer. I finally heard back and they are telling me that I need to travel to the company’s headquarters in another state to view it. It’s almost a 1,000-mile trip! They will not make copies. Do I have any recourse? Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

My view on personnel files is that, if it’s information compiled about you by your employer, you should have a right to see it. But my view isn’t the law. In fact, I never pretend to give legal advice since I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t want my ire to lead anyone into legal jeopardy.

personnel-fileBut this is such a good question that I turned to my friend Lawrence Barty for his comments. Get ready for some shocks.

Larry is a retired attorney who specializes in employment and labor law, and particularly in employment contracts. Please note: Nothing in this column is legal advice for a particular situation, and laws vary depending on your jurisdiction. If you need legal help on a specific matter, consult with an attorney who knows the law in your state. Take it away, Larry…


Larry Barty: To start with, most employees suffer from a misconception: That is, they assume that their employee file somehow belongs to them. If fact, it does not. It is the employer’s file concerning the employee. To better understand that, assume a company maintains a file of correspondence and records concerning one of its customers. Why should the customer have the right to see what is in that file? So, with respect to employment files, the key fact is that the file is the employer’s, not the employee’s. So, the question properly phrased is, under what circumstances, if any, may an employee view that particular employer-owned file?

The answer to the question is that the employee may see that file without the employer’s permission only if a State law so provides. Without a State law giving the employee a right to see the file, the employee is at the mercy of the employer. Only about a third of the States have any laws concerning the right to view or copy employment files. (Employee medical files, as opposed to employment files, are often made available by State law). In the remaining two-thirds of States, the employee’s only “right” is whatever may be set forth in the employer’s rules or handbook.

In those States that do have laws permitting employees to see their files, the conditions vary widely. For example, California law provides that an employee may view any personnel record relating to performance at reasonable intervals, but only on the employee’s own time. The employee may copy records, but only those records that bear the employee’s signature. In Illinois, by contrast, an employee may view the entire file and copy anything in it.

In California, Pennsylvania and most other States that authorize employee viewing, if the records are kept off-site the employee must go on his or her own to that off-site location. Only a few States, such as Michigan, require the employer to provide a copy for viewing at the employee’s work site.

As for getting a copy of the file, a few States, such as Maine, require the employer to give the employee a copy of the file at the employer’s cost. However, most States that authorize viewing require the employee to pay reasonable copying costs.


Former employees are almost out of luck

Now for the punch line to these laws. What Larry has discussed so far pertains to access of personnel files by current employees. Once you’ve left the company, things change. Larry explains:

“Former employees’ rights to see employee files are even more limited. Less than a dozen States permit former employees to view personnel files at all and, in most of those States, the right to view is limited to sometimes as little as only within 60 days after employment ends. If a former employee wants a copy of his or her file after that, a lawsuit would be required.”

So the news is not good for ex-employees. As you might expect, the law makes access to your former personnel records complicated — mainly because they’re not your personnel records, but also because the law varies depending on where you live and work.

How to protect yourself

my-documentsBut this wouldn’t be Ask The Headhunter if we didn’t close with some useful advice that you’re probably not going to find anywhere else. Larry hands you a wonderful tip about how to get and keep the information you need:

“The bottom line for all employees is that you should keep your own file. Keep copies of annual evaluations, notification of wage increases, letters or e-mail complimenting or praising your work and, perhaps most importantly, disciplinary notices. If you know that a document concerning you has been generated that might be important someday, ask for a a copy. I think that most managers will give you one.”

Thanks to Larry Barty for sharing his knowledge about personnel files. Please don’t construe anything he says as advice for your personal situation; it’s not. Consult an attorney if you need specific legal guidance.

Was this a surprising education? Have you ever run into problems accessing your personnel file? Or, have you turned up surprises that caused trouble? Think you’ll need your personnel file after you leave your employer? Please chime in on how employers keep you on file… and how you can keep your files!

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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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Manufacturing a Talent Shortage: How companies conspire not to hire you

So American companies say there’s a skills and talent shortage, and they can’t find workers qualified to do the job? And technology companies, in particular, complain the loudest?

According to a Computerworld report, it’s easy to see why. Some companies seem to be conspiring to block recruiting and hiring altogether:

“The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit accusing eBay of entering into a ‘handshake’ agreement to not recruit or hire employees of software maker Intuit.”

Stop recruiting!

While Scott Cook, Intuit’s founder, was serving on eBay’s board, he complained that eBay needed to stop recruiting from Intuit. The DOJ suit contends that Cook and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman agreed not to hire one another’s employees.

In yet another stupid HR trick, eBay’s recruiters were told not to consider Intuit employees for jobs, and “to throw away such resumes.” The Computerworld article doesn’t say whether Intuit and eBay hire H1-B applicants after they reject those resumes.

Kinda gives new meaning to job hunters’ contentions that their resumes disappear into “the human resources black hole.” The Computerworld article says:

“The alleged hiring truce was a ‘naked restraint of trade’ that harms tech workers by keeping their salaries down and limiting their employment options, the DOJ said in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.”

HR managers in top high tech companies are throwing perfectly good resumes in the trash? And complaining about the lack of qualified tech talent?

Gimme a break. Kiss my ass.

Splashing around in the talent pool

The DOJ contends the no-hire agreement between eBay and Intuit started around 2006. Meanwhile, in August 2006, itWorldCanada.com reported that Intuit was so concerned about the tech talent shortage that it started working more closely with colleges and universities to “get people into the computer science programs.” Intuit also conducted a study of computer science enrollments which showed “a great decline.”

It seems someone was, uh, relieving themselves in the talent pool.

EBay denied the allegations, and Intuit was not named in the DOJ suit. Why? This one’s rollicking good fun. The DOJ had already named Intuit in a similar suit, along with  Intuit, Google, Apple and other companies — and settled it in September 2010. That suit led to the suit against eBay.

Talent shortage? Skills shortage? Only insofar as it seems there’s a surfeit of bullshit in these companies.

My advice: Find a company to work for that behaves competitively, doesn’t conspire to throw out your resume, and is in a business other than manufacturing talent shortages.

What have you seen in the pool lately?

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