How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number

It was inevitable: Scammers are stealing job seekers’ identities using over-the-top interview protocols established by employers to gather sensitive personal data. Have employers gone too far demanding too much of job applicants before they even need the information?

Great news! A well-known employer in your area sends you an e-mail saying it wants to interview you by phone — they found your resume online or your profile on LinkedIn. You answer the phone at the appointed time and have a job interview. Perhaps the interviewer makes an offer on the spot — your lucky day! He helps you complete the job application right there on the phone. What’s not to like?

steal-ssnHighmark, a BlueCross BlueShield healthcare company, warns on its website that the interview you think the company just conducted with you was a fraud — and someone stole your private information in the process:

Important Notice
Recently, Highmark has received several reports of possible fraudulent online activity in which an individual posing as a Highmark human resources representative contacts job seekers by e-mail or phone/text, conducts interviews and makes employment offers on behalf of the company. In most instances, those contacted have never applied for a position with Highmark. These false job offers are likely made in an attempt to gain access to your private information, such as your social security number.

— Warning posted on Highmark’s Careers page, detailed further in this notice

While fake online job postings are common and used to get you to fill out forms with personal information that can be used to steal your identity, this fraud is bold. Someone posing as a well-known employer actually calls you up and interviews you — and by the time it’s over you’ve got a phony job offer and the scammers have your very real social security number and other private information.

How can this happen?

An alert job seeker might recognize a phony e-mail address behind the official-sounding name of the company and the recruiter. But some won’t. Job seekers are understandably excited to get an e-mail asking for an interview and will quickly follow the “script” we’re all accustomed to — an e-mail expressing interest, a phone interview with a recruiter, and an intimidating demand for highly detailed “job application” information that includes private personal data that no employer really needs — but demands anyway.

Of course, not all victims will believe they just got a job offer on the phone without an in-person interview — but some will. And even if the “recruiter” doesn’t make an offer on the phone, he makes it awfully easy to “complete the application” on the phone while he does all the writing for you. He’ll even write down your social security number and your home address and phone number. What’s not to like?

How employers help scammers steal your SS#

Employers have programmed job seekers to quickly disclose private, confidential information — when there’s no real benefit to doing so, but lots of risk. Long before the employer decides you’re even a serious contender for a job, it demands your home address, your social security number, names and contact information of your references and permission to contact them, your salary history (which you should never disclose) and loads of other information that’s none of their business at this juncture and which they don’t even need. (When you fork over your references, you’re putting them at risk, too — probably not a good idea if you want good references!)

Why do HR departments routinely demand all this information? Simply because they can. You’ve been trained to  deliver “the required information” just to apply — while the employer hasn’t even checked your qualifications or indicated the slightest interest in talking with you much less hiring you. (See Does HR Go Too Far When Screening Candidates? — especially comments by HR manager Earl Rice. As you’ll note from the 2003 date on this article, this is not a new employer protocol.)

That’s why you become an easy target for scammers. Scammers exploit the intimidating “script” employers have taught you to follow. That’s how unreasonable, over-the-top job application requirements put you at risk. But it’s even worse.

Where’s your data?

Even a real, live employer that collects your private information puts you at risk. Many employers use third-party applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to log your application information and personal data. It all goes into “the cloud” — and good luck protecting it. When you complete that application, you’re usually asked to sign a waiver that gives the employer and its “agents” (translation: any third parties it deals with but that you don’t know about) permission to do with your data as they please.

You have no idea where your data goes, who has access to it, or how well (if at all) it is secured. Personal job application data is stored in unregulated, central repositories that even employers have no control over. Who controls these enormous databases? Companies like Oracle Taleo, Bullhorn, HRIS, IBM’s Kenexa, iCIMS, JobVite, HireBridge, JobScore, and ADP VirtualEdge among others. (For more about the applicant tracking system racket, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

Of course, to apply for a job you must provide basic information. But it’s up to you to be judicious about what you share and at what point in the recruiting process. Do they really need your social security number — when they haven’t even met you or given you any clear indication that they’re going to make a job offer? Most people today have already been brainwashed by the employment system to hand over anything and everything an employer says it “needs” to “process you.”

BAM! It’s that misconception that turns you into a sucker when a phony recruiter calls you and asks for all your data.

It’s time for employers to behave

It’s time for employers to stop demanding information they don’t need to recruit you. Today, HR departments ask for the kitchen sink simply because they have a database for kitchen sinks. “We’ll just get all the person’s data up front, so we don’t have to do it later.” More cynically, “We’ll get all their data before we even decide they’re viable candidates because then we can use a keyword scan to quickly reject people we haven’t even talked to yet.” (Less politely: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)

When employers put some of their own skin in the game, then they can ask applicants to do the same. For example, what’s the salary range on the job? How much did you pay the last guy in that job and the one before that? What’s your Employer Identification Number? May I see some references from your customers, vendors and former employees? How about your credit rating? You’re privately held? I still need that information — I’m privately held, too. Are some of those questions over the top? Hmmm…

It’s also time for job seekers to stop being suckers. You are always free to politely but firmly decline to disclose any information you think is too private to share — until you think it’s warranted to process your job offer. Don’t be a sucker for either a legitimate employer who asks for too much — or for a scammer. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers for tips about how to stay in control when you’re talking with an employer.

(For more on this story, see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which interviewed me about the scam: Insurer says swindler posing as Highmark job recruiter.)

Where do you draw the line when disclosing private information to apply for a job? Do employers ask for too much, too soon? How do you apply for jobs while protecting your private information?

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WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers

When your job search stalls, two things stand out as big culprits: resumes and wishful thinking. Last week we discussed how your resume can hamper your job search. In this edition — Part 2 –, we’ll discuss how slowpoke employers can distract you from your goal of landing a good job.

In the March 18, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what to do about employers who take forever:

fingers-crossed-2I’ve been interviewing with a company for about a month, including several phone calls and local interviews, and a flight to their HQ for five more interviews. It’s been three weeks since our last meeting. They say they are working through my references, but my references confirmed they have been contacted. All the while, the company is actively interviewing other candidates for the position I interviewed for. Am I’m being strung along until someone better shows up, or what? Also, how often should I follow up with them?

Nick’s Reply

There’s no explaining why a company takes so long — you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out. Don’t. Are you talking yourself into believing “this is a sure thing?” Don’t.

Is the employer hedging, stringing you along while it looks for a better candidate? Why worry about it?

Your question appears in a different form in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8, Play Hardball With Employers, in the section titled “How can I push the hiring decision?” Here’s an excerpt from my advice:


This is a very common mistake when job hunting. The next act in the script is normally “the offer,” so job candidates ignore the clear signal to leave the stage. They desperately launch into their next speech — even when there’s nothing doing. I’ve seen top executives in utter denial when the employer stops the process, and they make fools of themselves trying to “get the process back on track, because I really want this job.”

Don’t try to push an employer that has told you it doesn’t want to go. Instead, move yourself toward your next opportunity. (If they call you back later, that’s great — if you’re still available.) Otherwise, you’ll waste precious time on a company that can’t make a decision. Be grateful they were honest about it. But move on. If you pester them, you’ll tick them off. (“Didn’t this person hear us? We’re not making a decision right now. We’re busy.”) Annoying puppies get kicked — no matter how enthusiastic they appear.

Reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8, Play Hardball With Employers, “How can I push the hiring decision?” p. 14. Book 8 includes:

  • Put the manager on notice
  • Skip The Resume: Call the CEO
  • Do they owe me feedback after an interview?
  • hardballWhat’s the secret to the thank-you note?
  • Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer
  • How can I push the hiring decision?
  • Playing hardball with slowpoke employers
  • One interview stalled, one moving too fast
  • Line up your next target
  • Thanks is not enough
  • Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it
  • Judge the manager
  • Get an answer at the end of the interview
  • PLUS: 8 How to Say It tips
  • PLUS: 4 sidebars packed with advice to give you the insider’s edge!

I’ve seen people put their job search on hopeful hold for weeks if not months, waiting for “the job I really want” to come through. When the slowpoke employer doesn’t come through with a job offer, they realize they’ve wasted precious time. Their motivation and job-hunting energy has waned. Their enthusiasm has turned to helpless depression. And it all shows as they try to revive a moribund job search.

Don’t take a rest while you wait for just one employer to “decide,” no matter how promising the situation looks!

But there’s another important reason why “moving on” is a good strategy. You might find that the employer you’ve been waiting on is just a slowpoke who finally gets back to you with an offer. If, rather than waiting, you have cultivated other opportunities, you’re suddenly in a much stronger negotiating position. With other options in play, now you have choices. Having options may empower you to negotiate a better offer — and even to avoid taking a job you don’t really want, just because there’s nothing else.

Play hardball with slowpoke employers. It’ll keep you out of trouble, and it’ll make you feel better, too. Follow up once. If an employer is being a slowpoke and hedging its bets by trying to find better candidates for a job, your best bet is always to control your job search by continuing your efforts to find more opportunities.

What’s the excuse the employer gives you for its decision delay? It may be legit, or it may be a hedge so it can find a better candidate. Who cares? How do you spend your time while waiting on a job offer?

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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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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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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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Modern Advances In Career Science: Eliminate the humans

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

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

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

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

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

Where do these living dead business plans come from??

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

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

Another Modern Advance In Career Science: Eliminate the humans.

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

Except employers aren’t hiring them.

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

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

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

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

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