What flavor of headhunter is this?

Could you please clear up the different recruiter types? What exactly is the difference between Contingency, Corporate, Retained, Staffing/Temp, etc.? What advantages/disadvantages does each pose? And what level of hiring (entry, mid, exec, etc.) does each do?

Corporate Recruiters are the folks who work in a company’s HR department. They recruit only for their own company and are paid a salary (and sometimes a bonus).

Staffing/Temp Firms are employers themselves. They recruit and hire people, then they assign these folks to client companies. The workers go to work at the client company every day. The client pays the staffing/temp firm a fee from which the firm pays the worker a salary and benefits. If you want to be employed directly by the company where you show up for work, then staffing/temp firms are not for you. Neither corporate recruiters nor staffing firms are headhunters. (Nor are career coaches or career marketers.)

Real headhunters are independent. They are not the employees of any particular employer. They do not hire you. They will not find you a job. Their business is filling positions for their client companies. That’s why headhunters usually will not return calls from job hunters. It’s not their business.

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Proctology in the service of HR

In Just how good are your references anyway? I suggested that we might all raise our standards by applying the extreme methods that President-elect Obama is using to screen candidates for cabinet positions.

Reader Lucille asked if I was being sarcastic and titaniumtux pointed out that I’m the guy who suggests withholding salary history information. So what gives? Should the hiring process now include a proctological exam?

I admit that I am trying to prod everyone into discussing this. The President-elect’s candidate-review process is extreme, and maybe it needs to be. I do believe, as someone said, that it’s more political than practical. When you become a cabinet member, you give your life up to the role. When you take a job, you’re devoting your professional time to it, not your life. Does an employer deserve more than just that part of your life?

Only if they’re willing to compensate you for it. Read more

Just how good are your references anyway?

You know how bugged I get when employers go over the top and ask background questions that are no one’s business. Reader Steve Amoia sent me a gem from the International Herald Tribune, about President-elect Barack Obama’s candidate questionnaire…

And it set me to thinking. Why shouldn’t an employer ask all these questions? Just how good are my references (or yours, or anyone’s)? Why not just lay it all out?

You’ve gotta figure, well, everyone has some dirty laundry. If we all hang it out, then we’ll all get judged on a curve, or no one will be hire-able. Is that going too far?

Maybe not. Maybe this kind of standard — applied to everyone and in every case — would actually raise our standards and we’d all behave a bit better, make better choices, and consider the consequences of what we say and do (and who we hang out with).

Some say the Net is making everything transparent anyway. So why shouldn’t all employers just ask people to put it all on the record — right there on the job application, just like the next president does? Imagine if companies took the lead and raised the bar. (Think of the fun people you’d meet!)

Out of exit excuses

Exit interviews are the cockroaches of the HR world. You just can’t get rid of ’em, but you don’t wanna swallow one, either.

Ed Heron, a seasoned manager, submitted comments that I’d like to share with you. His perspective is sharp and on target. His message is simple: Good managers don’t need to do exit interviews.

I have been a successful manager for three decades. I do not believe that anyone who is fired should engage in any form of exit interview. Their employer has already indicated their opinion of their worth!

For more about exit interviews and related topics, see Parting Company: How to leave your job.
However, if they are voluntarily resigning, and if the parting is amicable, it might be considered. Consider it more if you are leaving behind co-workers that you respect a lot. I agree with Tony Banaro’s comment, “It amazes me that with all of the volumes and volumes of books and articles and papers out there, managers still do not understand the number one rule of business: Take Care of Your People”.

Through out my entire adult life, I have found it amazing the way companies have made it easy for me to appear successful. I would take almost any employee who was about to be released, and treat them with a little human dignity and respect. In short order, I would rehabilitate the deficient area or areas. Positive reinforcement would be employed whenever it could be “genuine.” (Simple “One Minute Manager” stuff.) In no time at all, the employee in question would feel and act as though they worked principally for me, and not just for our company.

The need for exit interviews was extremely rare in any area that I managed.

Thanks, Ed!

Every reason I’ve heard to justify exit interviews is an excuse for not talking to employees while they are still your employees. This manager reinforces my view.

Have you ever been exit interviewed? Ever done it to anyone? What’s your advice to managers (or employees) about this practice?

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Flushing your rep

The hot story this year in the career pages of many publications is about how the Internet tracks you leave behind could cost you a job. We all know that now. (It’s akin to plastering your resume all over the Net, or writing your phone number on bathroom walls.) The question is, what can you do about it?

If you’ve been an errant blog poster, commenter on discussion forums, or out-of-control Facebooker, your digital leavings might be cleaned up — if you know how to do it. In Erasing Your Tracks, Computerworld editor Tracy Mayor walks us through efforts to expunge Google results on three people who regret their droppings. While only one got satisfaction, the stories of all three are instructive.

The Internet is wide and deep, and there is no flush handle.

Salary history: Just say NO

Want to earn what you’re worth? Yes? Learn to say NO when employers demand your salary history.

Say what? You can’t say NO? They’ll rip up your application? The HR manager will laugh in your face and tell the world you are uncooperative and unworthy? Say what? Withholding salary information just isn’t done? Aw, don’t be a wuss.

I covered the importance of Keeping Your Salary Under Wraps back in May (Just say NO), but a reader’s pointed policy should be yours, too. She gets 10 Headhunter Points for integrity and street smarts. Can you afford to give it up when employers demand to see your pay stub?


Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I drove my stake in the ground earlier this year while unemployed. Divulging my salary was blowing up on me because I had either earned too much or not enough.

It isn’t always easy. An officious, as well as uppity, Sr. Human Resources Manager scoffed at me by saying it wasn’t true that my previous company wanted that information held private because other people from my previous company had shared their salary history with her. I delicately replied the behavior of other people did not mean the policy wasn’t in place and thanked her for acknowledging I was unique as a person who demonstrated integrity.

As a sales person, I have had success answering the salary history question with, “There are so many variables with sales positions such as inside vs. outside sales, travel requirements, ratio of base to commission, etc., that I have found it easier to discuss the parameters of and the value you have placed on the position you are offering.

As I was working with a recruiter who was insisting I share salary history and be prepared to show W-2s at the interview, I sent an email stating:

“Regarding sharing privileged salary information, I honor the commitments I make to my employers and do not share that information with anyone.  Even my parents and siblings have never known what I have earned. One of my litmus tests for how well a company’s management team makes decisions is how well they assess skill sets/experience in regard to the particular position and base compensation on those salient factors. If they believe W-2 information is a valid determination, that raises red flags for me. I want to work with a company that demonstrates sound, not specious, business decisions.”

Within five minutes, the recruiter’s manager called me to explain they were having trouble with the demands of that particular employer and he had a better position for me, one more closely in line with my passions and skill sets, with better compensation, and for which I wouldn’t have to divulge salary history.

There is a tremendous value to taking a stand. I will never divulge salary history again. I am spreading the word and encouraging my colleagues and business acquaintances to stop sharing as well.

Thanks again for supporting us as we have the courage to take the high road. Companies and employees alike will be better served when salary history is no longer a part of the discussion.


Kudos to Jesica for taking on the salary question with aplomb. When the going gets weird in a job interview and HR gets out of line, raise your standards. If the employer doesn’t know what that means, toss them a quarter and tell them to call you when they figure it out.

How much would you pay for a job?

I never cease to be amazed at the scams sophisticated professionals fall prey to. But when you’re looking for a job, any help is welcome. People want to believe that if help costs a lot of money, it must be good help. Think again. I’d like to share some e-mails between a reader and me. (I’ve blocked out the names because, as you’ll see, the names don’t really matter.)

A reader asked: Do you have experiences with [XXX Enterprises] in Atlanta, GA? They are in the “executive marketing” business and say they can help me land a good job. They want $2,400 down and $2,400 in the next 6 months for a one year contract, with a guarantee. They claim to have their own list of people that they have placed inside of local companies, and that for the most part they use these to get recommendations and, of course, interviews. And, yes, they will re-write my resume, put me through interview rehearsals and use their skill at going through the Atlanta business databases for companies that would hire someone like me. Sounds good… but…

I responded: Get three references from them: people they have placed. Three more: managers who have hired their clients. Call them all. The firm’s claim implies the people they have placed hire multiple new clients from them. It’s a kind of a ponzi scheme. My bet: They will never give you references. It sounds good, yah. But, check the references before you give them a check. Is the guarantee of the “money back” variety? Read more

Poo on who you know

I’ve always contended that being well-connected isn’t what it’s purported to be. I discuss this briefly in Meet the right people. Lots of folks think that unless they have a big-time inside contact at a company, they’re better off applying for a job through a job board and the personnel department. After all, only a few decision-makers in a company really matter. Who wants to waste time with nobodies?

Poo on all that, says Duncan Watts, one of my favorite social scientists. I don’t much care for social scientists, and I think why I like Watts’ social research is that his Ph.D. is in theoretical and applied mathematics. But much of his work is in networks — how people connect with and influence one another. (Watts wrote the best book I know about networking, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. But don’t expect lightweight tips. This book requires you to read carefully and think.)

So, how does this help you land your next job? Simple: You might have a big-time inside contact at your target company, or you might know a lowly programmer or marketing assistant. I think it’s better to have one or two credible grunts telling the boss that he ought to talk to you, than to have a vice president (of Human Resources? Gimme a break.) do it.

Watts re-did Stanley Milgram‘s famous “small world” experiment to show this effect. (We know this today as six degrees of separation.) Fast Company magazine reports on Watts’ work in its February 2008 edition (it’s an oldie-but-goodie). In 2001, Watts used a web site to recruit about 61,000 people, then asked them to ferry messages to 18 targets worldwide. Sure enough, he found that Milgram was right: The average length of the chain was roughly six links. But when he examined these pathways, he found that hubs — highly connected people — weren’t crucial. Sure, they existed. But only 5% of the e-mail messages passed through one of these superconnectors. The rest of the messages moved through society in much more democratic paths, zipping from one weakly connected individual to another, until they arrived at the target. Grunts — not big-time contacts — are the key to good networking.

Poo on who you know. What matters is that lots of good people know you. You don’t need a powerful headhunter, or the CEO of a company to recommend you to a hiring manager. Run-of-the-mill people are good sources of referrals that can pay off nicely. The more solid people that know you, the better. Which proves something I’ve said for a long time. If you want to find your next good job, go hang out with people who do the work you want to do. The more, the better.

#1 Tip-off that a headhunter is for real

In my last posting, I talked about the importance of qualifying headhunters who call you. The world is now awash in hucksters calling themselves recruiter or headhunter. Many are calling from overseas, likely from the same call centers that you call for computer support.

To avoid wasting your time, risking your reputation and professional credibility (these clowns will make you look like you’re desperately searching for a job by widely distributing your information), and driving yourself nervous waiting for results, vet every caller carefully.

There’s one key thing to look for. The headhunter who calls should already know you. Otherwise, why would he waste his time calling? Real headhunters don’t cold-call people they know nothing about. They “source” potential candidates through people whose opinions they respect. They call you only when they already know enough about you to determine that you’re worth calling. Underneath it all, the headhunter’s clients are paying for the headhunter’s network of respected contacts.

A legitimate headhunter will call you because they identified you as a potential candidate. This doesn’t mean they found your resume on some job board. It means they spoke with someone who knows and recommends you. This is what a headhunter’s clients pay for — the headhunter’s inside contacts. (They can get bundles of resumes pretty much for free.)

A real headhunter will have background on you. He will have a recommendation from someone who made a judgment about you and shared it with the headhunter. The headhunter calls you because you are you. And the headhunter already knows who you are.

Headhunters who call blindly and reveal they know nothing about you are nothing more than want ads delivered by telephone or e-mail. They aren’t earning a fee. They’re spinning a roulette wheel. They’re dailing for dollars. Is it any wonder you never hear back from them? The odds they’re going to place a random individual (you) are miniscule.

So, judge the headhunter. Ask every headhunter or recruiter who calls you, What do you know about me? What is it about me that led you to call? Who recommended me?

If they can’t tell you, it means they haven’t done their homework, and they don’t know you. They’re not headhunters. They’re not for real.

Managers take note: If you’re paying a “headhunter” or “recruiter” to randomly solicit people for a key job you need to fill, you need to vet your headhunter carefully, too.

How can I qualify a headhunter who calls me?

We’ve been discussing headhunters recently. One reader went off on a tear that’s worth sharing. And it includes a question worth answering. I’ll offer some advice at the end.

I just stumbled upon your blog after the last fruitless 30-minute phone call with another clueless recruiter. I could use some advice on qualifying recruiters in the first five minutes of the conversation. If you have some material on your blog/website along these lines, I’d really appreciate it.

Then I read your blog item, Headhunters: Novices, wannabes & clueless franchisees. You wrote:

“Today, the headhunting industry is so full of total novices, fast-buck entrepreneurs, online resume-scrapers, job-board mavens, LinkedIn miners, data-base scavengers, spam spreaders, and clueless franchisees that any company needs to ask one question when it interviews a headhunter: Do you know what the hell you’re doing?”

I said to myself, this guy has got it down. I am going crazy having seen all of the above in the past three months. I get recruiters who haven’t read my resume, who haven’t an idea of what the client really wants, and who propose me for jobs that I’ve told them I don’t want to consider (mostly short-term contract positions rather than permanent, direct hire). By the way, three of them came from Ladders and one involves a proposal for a classic Ponzi scheme.

Don’t get me started on LinkedIn. There, I get recruiters asking me to help them find the proverbial candidate who walks on water. Is perfection really the primary paradigm for filling positions?

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