Show us your work

Employers are more cautious than ever about hiring people. The cost of hiring the wrong person is just too great because budgets are so tight. Managers want to get it right the first time.

We all know that traditional interviews are not a great way to evaluate a job candidate. And I talk myself blue in the face suggesting that “doing the job in the interview” is the best way to convince an employer you’re right for the job.

Some employers go about this a bit differently but with the same intent. They want proof you can produce. Some will ask for work samples. And that’s a thorny issue that one reader just asked me about.

I interviewed with a company 4 times. On the 4th interview the hiring manager asked me to provide any kind of document as an example of the kind of work that I do related to leading development of web-based applications. This put me in a difficult spot because a document like the one he asked for is work that I’ve done for previous employers and is covered by non-disclosure and other agreements. There are public marketing materials and web sites for the products I’ve led development on, and I offered my references, but that wasn’t enough for them.

I was surprised by the request and uncomfortable but really wanted the position. So I took a high level document that I created in the past, blacked out any section that contained non-public information, then pasted images of the pages into a new document to make sure those sections could not be recovered. A few days later they told me that they were not going to move forward with me as a candidate.

What do you think of employers making this kind of request, and how should candidates respond?

Respecting confidentiality is a character trait. Some people just don’t have it. It’s surprising when a corporate manager dismisses confidentiality for the sake of expediency. I think you did the right thing.

Nonetheless, I think companies are smart to request work samples. Some candidates just can’t deliver on the promises that are in their resumes. So the burden is on the candidate.

First, I’d make it clear to the employer that your past work is subject to NDA and you cannot share it. Apologize anyway, and explain that you would respect his company’s confidentiality just as you respect your old employers’.

Second, be armed. Prepare some work samples that you can share without risk. What you prepared for this guy sounds legit. But take some time to think about it. Come up with the best examples you can and have them ready. In fact, I’d offer to share them before an employer even asks. It gives you a edge.

Finally, if an employer is unsatisfied with what you’ve provided but you think they are worthy, offer to do a bit of work to show what you can do. I’m not suggesting working for free. Just do enough to show them what you’re capable of. It might mean a couple of hours on site with a team at the company, or a couple of hours working at home on a problem or simple project. In this case, you could ask the manager about a “live” project he’s working on, and then produce part of a project plan to show him how you would tackle it. A manager is not likely to ask for something like this. But he might be grateful if you offered it.

There are always many ways to skin the proverbial cat. My guess is these guys had other issues with you, or perhaps they have an issue with confidentiality. My advice: Move on to the next, but be better prepared.

Bad employee! Down, Boy!

We don’t often talk about employee relations — so let’s do it more. A troubled reader submitted this:

How do you get people to stop making negative comments about other employees? I worked for a company last year and had several employees on my project who I discovered were trashing others — and they were really going after one employee in particular. I feel that these individuals are really doing damage as their actions could not only put the company in jeopardy of being sued but will also (and unfairly) hurt others’ chances of getting re-employed. (There has been a layoff at this firm).

Is making an example of a few of them the best way to handle the situation? What about company policy? Can that be used as a tool to get employees to understand that making negative comments about former and current employees will not be tolerated?

Some HR departments are so busy perusing job boards that they seem to have no time for their employees. Who is going to reprimand the bad dog?

Have you taken this to HR? Filed an anonymous complaint? Dropped a line on the culprits? Nothing changes unless someone acts. You can’t just wonder what to do next. First, follow policy and file a complaint with HR. Second, go around the structure (HR) and go directly to management. If you wonder whether it’s the right thing to do, ask yourself, If I were running this company, would I want to know?

If you believe your management does not want to know, either live with it or move on.

Let’s open this up. What should this troubled employee do?

H-1B: Foreign companies hiring foreign nationals

I’m a big believer in international competition and in Have brains, will travel. So I’ve never been able to find a comfortable position on the H-1B visa controversy. Do American companies need foreign talent so badly that they must import specialized workers to fill critical positions? Or are they using H-1B to lower costs by paying below-industry rates for foreign workers?

When I thrash around over these questions, trying to figure it out, I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. If American companies need foreign talent, let them justify their needs and let’s get to it.

Keep in mind that this is all about ensuring American companies have a competitive edge. It’s about making sure they have the talent they need to keep American business strong. Even if some American workers don’t like it.

But H-1B should have nothing do with creating opportunities for foreign nationals in the U.S. Sorry, but I’ve traveled to progressive countries where getting an entry visa means signing a statement that you will not work in that country. You will not take a job from a local. It makes sense for a nation to protect its jobs and to absolutely favor its own citizens — including the U.S. Likewise, once a foreign national is allowed into the country to work, that individual should be extended many of the same rights and courtesies (and obligations) its own workers have. Otherwise, why let them in?

So here’s where this all gets dicey. Why does the H-1B program — which ostensibly protects the interests of American companies — give an edge to foreign companies by letting them bring foreign workers into the U.S.?

When a reader recently sent me a rundown on H-1B Visas, I slapped my head, rubbed my eyes and looked at the numbers again. The top 4 employers on the H-1B list are Indian companies. (If you already knew this and I’ve been asleep at the wheel, slap me. The controversy that’s been emphasized in the media is about how H-1B screws American workers. Turns out it screws American companies even more.)

Why is the U.S. helping foreign companies import foreign labor?

According to an Informationweek analysis reported in Fierce CIO, these 4 foreign companies were granted over 12% of the 85,000 H-1B Visas issued in 2008.


How does this protect the competitive interests of American companies?

10,693 H-1B Visas were granted to just 4 foreign companies. Microsoft is #5 with 1,037. The 4 Indian companies at the top of the recipient list received more H-1B’s than the next 50 American companies received as a group.

Guess I’ve been a dope. The H-1B program is a U.S. government subsidy for foreign companies operating in the U.S. No wonder Microsoft campaigns for more H-1B visas — it’s competing for a U.S. subsidy with India. The U.S. government ensures foreign companies operating in the U.S. can hire foreign nationals.

TheLadders’ rigid set of criteria

It used to say, “ONLY $100K+ JOBS. ONLY $100K+ CANDIDATES.” With the re-design of its web site, TheLadders now claims “Exclusively $100K+ jobs. Exclusively $100K+ talent.”

They must have hired a new ad company that owns a thesaurus. (Sorry, I’m not linking you to TheLadders web site. I won’t contribute to their traffic.)

We’ve had no website facelift here. Nor has there been any change in the story, the facts or the language. Liars at TheLadders still exposes the garbage-in, garbage-out database that Ladders rents to job hunters for $30 per month. They charge empoyers a whole lot more.

No one at TheLadders has questioned the statements made by one its customer service reps to a Ladders customer (and Ask The Headhunter reader) during a service chat:

Andy: First of all, we make no claims that all of our jobs are submitted directly to us. Many of the positions on our site are linked directly to from external job boards. Since we don’t have a direct way of knowing the pay range of each of these positions, we make an estimate based on a rigid set of criteria.

The rep was responding to a complaint about a job on TheLadders that paid only $50k, and the employer had no idea how it even wound up on TheLadders. His company did not post it.

I almost stepped in a dried-up, rigid set of criteria during my morning walk today. Another $30 saved.

Sorting resumes: A strategic hiring error all the time

Auren Hoffman has reinvented headhunting and escaped from Armchair Recruiting: Hiring what comes along. This is a genuine compliment, not a backhanded one. I’m tickled that someone else is writing about this.

In Why hiring is paradoxically harder in a downturn, Hoffman realizes that when more people are looking for jobs, employers get more garbage resumes because many more “C” people are job hunting than “A” people. (A people are the best, C the worst, B in between.)

This explosion of job hunters skews the outcome of any recruiting effort that relies on resumes — employers wind up wasting precious resources looking for the same needle in a far bigger haystack.

And this explains why headhunters charge $30,000 to fill a $100,000 position, while a job posting costs virtually nothing. The real cost of “recruiting” (it isn’t recruiting!) via ads and resumes arises on the back end — the overhead involved in dealing with all those resumes. Headhunters cost more by themselves, but they bring you only a small number of highly-qualified candidates. In Hoffman’s terms, “less noise.”

How is that so? Headhunters go find who they need. They don’t sit around waiting for who comes along after requesting resumes — and today who comes along is millions of C people.

Nice work, Auren, for figuring it out and explaining it. I hope more people get it. And I hope it’s clear that while the economic downturn has put a sharp point on the hiring-by-resume problem, it’s a strategic hiring error all the time, even in boom times.

More about this in 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make and Ten Stupid Hiring Mistakes.

A Fox in the personnel department

I’ve got a pretty wacky sense of humor, but I can’t get my hands around this one. I’d like to serve a wood pie to Mike Darnell, chief of alternative programming at Fox network, the twisto development guy who came up with Somebody’s Gotta Go.

The concept is simple and akin to Russian Roulette: A company can’t decide who to let go, so this reality show hands the salary list to all the company’s employees and they decide who’s gotta go… Darnell claims companies are standing in line to participate. Can’t wait to see how well they do at recruiting once the economy turns back up…

Droolers, Charles Manson and A. Harrison Barnes

Man, I couldn’t have written it better myself. I’ve been watching a family of “job” sites that’s akin to a pack of electronic junkyard dogs trying to bite people. I’m not even gonna give you the link. The flagship site is called Don’t waste your time visiting it. Trust me: You don’t want those doggie cookies on your computer.

Steve Gosset over at RealityBitesBack soundly thrashes PC Magazine for promoting A. Harrison Barnes and his pack of rabid job sites including (again, no links because I don’t want you getting infected) a bunch of sites ending in “…Crossing.”

Kudos to Steve for spraying A. Harrison Barnes (Gimme a break! Does he belong to the Yacht Club?) and his dog team with poo-poo water. (You’ll have to read Steve’s post to see where Chas Manson and droolers fit in…)

I guess Marc Cenedella over at TheLadders has an apt competitor now. Throw ’em both over the clothesline before they spawn more puppies.

Update Dec. 17, 2009: Toby Dayton draws the clothesline tight…


Create your own job

Over on GL Hoffman’s blog, Seth Godin is telling people not to look for a job. And I agree. Godin thinks it’s smarter to start a business. And I agree.

What’s a headhunter doing telling people to start their own business rather than to go find a job? Well, I’d rather have one company client hiring lots of people than one job candidate filling one job. So I’d love it if you’d just go start a business and then give me your business.

I might as well ask you to wrench your neck 270 degrees and then fold your head under your armpit so you can walk backwards while looking ahead. Most people just aren’t cut out for it, though everyone would learn how to be better at any job they do — if they tried to start a business. And some would keep at it and a few would succeed.

I love Seth’s idea, but if you’re gonna tell people to do something I think you need to tell them how. So let’s look at two ways to do this.

First, if you’re never gonna try to start your own business, you should nonetheless approach your next job like it’s a business. Hell, the employer does. (If the employer could avoid hiring you or anyone else, he would. He doesn’t want to create a job. He wants to produce more profit.) So if you want to get a leg up, get your hands around that job like it is a business. Show the employer what you’re made of, or you don’t deserve the job. Here’s the basic blueprint to Create your next job without having to actually start a business.

Or, wanna have some real fun because you’re smarter than the next guy? Good for you. Don’t even pick out a new job. Go ahead and design your new company. Design your product. Then go find the vendors you will need in order to produce it. Find the customers who will buy it. Meet the competitors that you will put out of business. Go talk to all of them — they’ll be glad to meet you. (Aw, man, these meetings are looking a little like veiled job interviews, aren’t they? Well, consider that a bonus.) Know what? Every one of them is a potential funding source for your new biz, and they are also all potential employers. Your competitor may hire you to avoid beating its head against your wall. A vendor may want to use your idea to sprout a new product line. Your customer — well, customers are hard to figure out. Sometimes they want to bring an idea in-house… or they just wanna buy you out.

This latter approach to job hunting came up when a pair of software developers — a husband/wife team in Croatia — asked me whether they should Get a job, or start a business? It was fun to develop the path between both options to make them both viable. It’s not rocket science. Take a look and see if it’s the how-to solution you need.

So should you try to get a job? I dunno. I say, start by creating a job by designing the work you want to do as a business, then decide whether to do it for someone else or whether to work for yourself. Find a way to produce profit and go show it to people you respect. Either they’ll help you start a new biz or they’ll hire you.

Good will and squandered assets

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will soon. The economy drives job hunters — especially if they’re unemployed — to call everyone they know and ask for job leads. It’s an awkward request to make and people get understandably nervous about asking. It’s wonderful when friends and acquaintances can help out.

I help whenever I can and my heart goes out to those in dire straits. I urge you to make thoughtful introductions for people you hold in high esteem. (On the other hand, never recommend a job hunter who isn’t worthy. You will risk your own reputation.)

But let him beware to whom I give a valuable introduction who does not follow up. Do that to me and I’ll never give you the time of day again because you have wasted the hard-earned favor of someone who trusts and respects me. I have spoken to that contact, referred you and vouched for you. My contact is ready and expecting your call. I have just written a check to you against the good will I have amassed someone else’s bank. If you don’t make the call, I look bad. I’ve wasted an asset.

I get great satisfaction when I make introductions that lead to job offers, business deals or just to enjoyable conversations and new friendships that may blossom into business later. The recipient of the favor benefits. But so do I because the quality of the introductions I make reflect on me, and my credibility grows. My contact trusts that the next time I make an introduction, it will be another good one.

I know how frantic the search for a job can be. But don’t lose track of the “checks” your friends write to you. Enjoy the good will and use it fully. But treat a personal referral with respect. Follow up. Call the person who’s expecting your call. Behave like the person that I have vouched you are. But if you squander my assets, don’t ever call me again.

The real reason employers want your salary history: Hiring is a crapshoot

We’ve talked salary history to death. I dunno — it still astonishes me that HR demands it. Not one compelling reason has been offered to justify why HR must have it. On the other hand, we’ve heard from enough job hunters who routinely decline to disclose their salary, and life still goes on. The Job Police don’t show up at anyone’s home with warrants for old pay stubs. Lots more folks are aware that they can say NO. (I’ll offer this caution again: Withholding salary history could cost you an interview or a job. Judge for yourself before you act. Saying NO ain’t for everybody.)

Which brings us to a bigger matter. The real reason employers want your salary history.

Now, I don’t accuse employers of conspiring to defraud job applicants of decent job offers.  (Though, I do think some companies — including the one represented by the HR manager we all heard from — are indeed defrauding applicants.) I think the problem is far bigger. In most cases, I think companies demand salary information because they don’t know how to run their business for profit.

When they’re trying to fill a position — and put a value on a job applicant — I believe employers just plain don’t know how the job contributes to profit. They have no idea how to judge your ability to do the job or how the work will contribute to profit. In other words, they have no idea what you are worth. The job is just a line in a budget, and the number is right around what it was last year.

So for most employers, hiring is a crapshoot. They don’t know how one additional employee hired today will affect profits. Think about that.

When was the last time an employer showed you a business plan for the job in question — with a number in it that shows what you’re expected to bring to the bottom line?

I contend that this is the problem. Employers want your salary history because they need to start somewhere. If they knew how the job in question contributed to profit, and if they could figure out how you will contribute to that profit, well, then the entire hiring process changes. We want only people who will boost our profits significantly. In fact, we’ll pay based on how much extra profit we think you will bring to the bottom line. So here’s the business plan, here’s what this job brings to our bottom line. Show us what you think you can do — that’s what we really care about. That’s what we base offers on.

I contend that the only way a company can rationally determine a job offer is to first put together a business plan for every position the company fills. Then it must measure an applicant against that plan. Otherwise, hiring is a crapshoot. In fact, hiring is a crapshoot and employers want your salary history because they don’t know the value of the job in question. They have no idea how much profit it can produce. So they’re flat on their asses, using what your last employer paid you, to predict their own future.

That’s a woo-hoo! big problem.