We don’t need no stinking references…

So, why do employers ask for references, then never bother to contact them? Guess they don’t really need no stinking references, eh?

A reader asks:

I found a job listing on Craigslist that interested me. I did some homework and liked what I found out about the company, and I sent my resume and cover letter. I received a response quickly and was given an interview the following day. The interview went really well, and was told a decision was going to be made quickly.

I received an email four days later telling me they were close to a decision, and would like references from me. I replied within minutes (thanks to a smartphone). Three days later, I got a job offer over the phone. After checking with my references, I found this company never called them. Why is that, do you think? Do they just want to see if I can list three people without my last name? I don’t get it. Is this commonplace these days? Another company I applied to asked as well, but never called any of them. Any ideas?

Congratulations on the offer. You’re asking a very good question. Not enough companies actually check references. Fewer job candidates check a company’s references before accepting an offer. This is a mistake on both sides.

But yes, it’s common for a company to ask for your references but not to check them prior to issuing an offer. Someone in HR may follow up with them later, after you’ve already started work. That’s pretty useless at that point for you, isn’t it? But if something negative turns up, you could get fired.

All of this points to the really big problem: HR does things simply because “that’s how it’s supposed to be done” – even when they don’t actually do it!

It’s idiotic.

Just make sure the company you’re joining is a good one. Never accept an offer just because the money’s good or “because they want you.” This article might help: Peeling The Offer.

Have you ever accepted an offer, only to find the employer never really checked the references it requested? If you’re a manager, do you check references? If you work in HR, and you collect references but never check them, why pretend?


We pay bonuses for showing up!

A reader sent this along today:

In an interview the other day, I asked about performance measurement and review.  The HR rep said salary (increases) is not for rewarding good performance.  Is this standard HR thinking? How and why?

Not everyone in HR deserves to get tarred with this story. But HR just amazes me. A few months ago we discussed, Why HR? We could start a list…

RaisesThis is another example of how the HR function is increasingly devoted to dumbing down the organization. To HR, salary increases are routine, based on longevity. You might as well be working for the government.

All I can say is, a company where the HR rep explains to job candidates that salary increases are not used to reward good performance is not a company I’d want to work for. I wonder if the board of directors is aware HR is handing out extra cash to people, just for showing up. Great way to “make your plan.”


Readers’ Forum: Just 2 weeks off? Are you nuts???

In the October 26, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks:

One thing that has kept me from seeking other employment is that I don’t want to lose the four weeks of vacation time I’ve built up. Are vacation benefits negotiable?

Everything is negotiable, but not every negotiation is winnable… The position many companies take has never made sense to me. They claim they wouldn’t be able to keep a lid on vacation policy if they were to negotiate special deals with new hires. “We must be consistent and fair.”

But I look at this another way. Vacation time is not a benefit, but a form of compensation… Wait until the offer has been made, then diplomatically and matter-of-factly explain that just as you are worth the salary level you have attained, you’re worth the vacation time, too.

(The rest of my suggestions are in the newsletter. Subscribe now — it’s FREE! Don’t miss getting the whole story next week!)

Employers will ask for your salary history, and base a job offer on it. So when it comes to vacation time, why do they want you to start back at square one? More vacation is good for the gander! Just 2 weeks off? Are you nuts???

Did you leave your vacation time behind, or did you negotiate it? What’s your story?


Readers’ Forum: How I got the job – Talking shop!

The October 19, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a special edition. A reader shares his story, about how he talked shop to meet the people who led him to the manager who hired him:


I got the job! Finally, I will be moving to [new city] for a great job. I still don’t believe what I was able to accomplish with your guidance.

I got a job:

  • In my target industry,
  • In my target city,
  • In my target role,
  • At a high level and not an entry level.

All of that despite the fact that I was unemployed for 10 months, was moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone, and had little experience in that industry.

In this economy, I have found that submitting my resume to HR yielded no results in a year of trying. The only way I had any success was networking my way to the hiring manager and talking shop. And all my skills in that area came from you.

Ordinarily, the newsletter is not archived online. You can read the whole thing only if you subscribe. But this week’s edition is so important that I’ve archived it, and you can find it here: How I got the job: Talking shop.

Please read the full column online. Then join in the discussion:

Can you really ignore job postings, toss out your resume, and go have fun meeting people to win the job you want? I think yes. So does the reader who submitted this week’s success story.

What do you think? Have you ever talked shop… all the way into a new job?


Now THIS is a job description

I still think the best way to find great people to hire is to go where they hang out and talk to them.

But if you’re gonna post something online to tell people about your organization and to get them interesJob descriptionted… Joey deVilla over at Microsoft Canada has a good idea.

Just tell people about your business.

Check it out: Developer Evangelist. Toronto Area. Now Hiring. Maybe You?

Don’t post a job description. Well, deVilla does provide a copy of the thing — he stuck a link to it near the top of his posting, so you can look at it if you want to. But it doesn’t get in the way of his message. I mean, if the rest of what deVilla says about the job doesn’t get your motor running, why bother looking at the spec sheet from HR?

This ain’t rocket science. Here’s why deVilla scores major points with me. This is a guy talking about a job he loves doing himself. He’s telling you what gets him up in the morning, about his boss, about the cool gear you’d get to work with, about the team’s philosophy, and much more. The sort of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily find out til you showed up for an interview.

Job description 2And that’s the point. deVilla is telling you up front what this gig is really like. Yah, he makes it look great — there’s definitely some selling going on here. But lordy, there’s no selling at all going on in that other document. If deVilla’s posting makes it look like working with his team is a party, that HR word pile up above makes it look like life in a straitjacket!

HR departments take note: Don’t waste people’s time with bureaucratic job descriptions that read like every other employer’s boilerplate. We all know what’s really in that tiny print: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua…”

The key thing about what deVilla is doing is that he’s doing the recruiting himself. He’s not waiting for some personnel jockey to post a job or run an ad. deVilla is the guy in the department who does the work, telling the world what the gig is all about and what it’s like to work there.

One last comment about the job description itself, which, as I mentioned earlier, is found via image and link at the top of deVilla’s post: Bleahhhh. Take a look at that thing.

What, Microsoft doesn’t have any web designers doing work for the HR department? I mean, this looks like the drug interaction notice on that medical sheet the pharmacy gives you along with your new prescription. Gimme a break! Why doesn’t it look like deVilla’s posting? Blah blah blah 6-point type?? I barely got through the first two sentences. Does anybody believe anybody else reads this stuff? Come on — tell the lawyers and the compliance people to go home. A typeface and a layout like that tell you one thing: There’s something snarky and legal hidden in here and if you find it you’ll never apply. So, let deVilla write and format that thing so it says something.

Yo! Does this make sense to anybody? HR should get out of the recruiting business. (See Why HR? and REJECT! How HR engineered its own funeral.) Let the people who own the job tell the story. In fact, don’t let anybody else do it.

Recruiting. It’s the manager’s #1 job. And if managers aren’t doing it, they’re not doing their job. Kudos to deVilla and to his boss, and to Microsoft Canada.

My only advice to deVilla: Add an e-mail link, so interested applicants can talk to you directly. Don’t leave them with that dopey application form, because having inspired the best of them, you’re going to lose them if they can’t get in touch with you now. Please re-read the first line of this post. Now that you’re getting them to come hang out where you live, Open the door and talk to them.


The Nobel Prize for Jobs: The artifacts of Duh-oyyyy!

This week three men shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economic Science. Here’s the problem they’ve been working on for decades:

The researchers spent decades trying to understand why it takes so long for people to find jobs, even in good economic times, and why so many people can be unemployed even when many jobs are available. (Economists Share Nobel for Studying Job Market, NY Times)

Blind leading the blindThese researchers took the classic, academic “long away around” and still haven’t figured out what simple common sense tells us.

People don’t find jobs. They don’t search for jobs. They post some information about themselves online and then wait like doofusses for jobs to come along.

Employers don’t search for new employees. They post job descriptions (a decade ago they ran classified ads) and teams of HR “recruiters” sit on their duffs in front of computer displays waiting for who comes along.

“Who comes along” usually isn’t worth hiring. So, what are these researchers really studying?

They’re studying the artifacts of Duh-oyyyy! They’re not studying the behavior of markets or the behavior of job hunters and employers. They are distracted and mesmerized by the artifacts of the mechanical process of sorting data.

The failure of job hunters and employers to come together “even when many jobs are available” has nothing to do with economics.

It has to do with the mindless process that promotes random job hunting and random hiring. Where in the Nobel Laureates’ reports is a description or analysis of the machine that grinds up job hunters and employers alike, without spitting out “matches?” Where is their prescription for beating the system to get the job done?

Life is short, for people and for companies. The prescription is simple. Go find the people you really want, and go find the companies you really want to work for. Don’t take what comes along.

These researchers’ explanation addresses the complications that come from searching for jobs and job candidates: it takes time for unemployed workers to be matched with the proper opening, since people are not identical, cookie-cutter units, and neither are jobs.

It takes time? Time is wasted because no one acknowledges that the Employment System we rely on has no clothes. I love the total failure to attribute any responsibility to anyone or anything: “it takes time for unemployed workers to be matched…” Duh-oyyyy! Why is that? Why does it take time and who or what is responsible?

How do you get a Nobel when you fail to answer that basic question?

Gee-whiz. “Neither people nor jobs are cookie cutter units?” Gimme a friggin break. The Employment System treats both exactly as cookie cutter units: records in databases, sequences of keywords, lists of skills, bits of data waiting to be matched at the level of letter combinations.

The scientists working on this problem need to pull out Occam’s Razor and start cutting through the bullshit. They problem they describe is not an economic phenomenon. It’s an artifact of the systemic robbing of employers and job hunters. Employers are systematically deprived of their workers, and job hunters of jobs, while everyone is off blindly roaming the jobs and resume databases.

This is not Nobel science. If you want a job, figure out who does the work you want to do and go hang out with those people. They will quickly help you determine what additional training you need, introduce you to the right people, guide and advise you toward a job.

If you want to find a good worker for your business, go hang out with people who do the work you need to have done. Learn from them who can do the work, ask for recommendations, and then go to the person you want and talk shop with them.

Stop washing your hands with gloves on. Get out of the databases and go talk to the actual people and companies.

The idea that Nobel laureate economists are missing the simple explanation suggests no Prize is warranted. The researchers are blinded by the process business uses to find new hires. Yet they don’t say one word about the fact that today, in the midst of what is arguably the biggest glut of unemployed, talented workers we have ever seen, employers and job hunters alike rely almost exclusively on a system that does not work. The Nobels aren’t seeing or reporting that the emperor has no clothes.

I mean, what are Nobel scientists for, if not to point out The Naked Embarrassment?

This is not an economic phenomenon. It’s a simple racket. Employers are being scammed by the behavior of an HR profession that is content to “interview who comes along,” and by the likes of CareerBuilder, Monster.com and an Employment Industry which is glad to deliver “what comes along.”

The researchers spent decades trying to understand why it takes so long for people to find jobs…



Readers’ Forum: Don’t provide references, LAUNCH them

In the October 12, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I have two questions about references. First, I would like to use my current boss and co-workers as references. What’s your advice about that? Second, some companies actually expect references from a current boss. Do I have to provide these?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

This is a sticky topic. Your current boss and buddies at work might be your best references, but if you let them know you’re interviewing elsewhere, that could jeopardize your current job.

In a moment, I’ll show you how to launch references preemptively, rather than just provide them when an employer asks.

But first let’s take your questions one at a time. You can indeed ask people you work with for references, but you must accept the risks. Once management finds out you’re job hunting, you might be tagged as a dissatisfied employee and if there’s a layoff, you could wind up at the top of the termination list.

Must you provide references from your current company if another employer asks? Absolutely not, for the same reasons we discussed. The new company has no right to put your present job in jeopardy. If you prefer not to provide such references, you can and should decline.

Now let’s talk about how to use your best references by launching them before Referencesthe employer expects it. I once landed a job I really wanted by using a Preemptive Reference. I didn’t wait for the manager to ask me for references. Before the manager even knew I existed, I arranged for a credible mutual contact to pick up the phone and recommend me. Other than my abilities, that call was what convinced the manager both to interview me, and to hire me on my terms.

Since then, I’ve taught job candidates how to do that, and I’ve used the approach to influence people to do business with me. A recommendation from a credible colleague can make a manager want to hire you before you even apply for the job.

(That’s just part of the newsletter. Don’t get stuck short next week — Sign up now for your own free subscription!)

Smart employers check references. But there aren’t a lot of smart employers out there. Too many will make a hire without checking out a person’s reputation. When an employer asks you for references, who you gonna call?

Sometimes it’s all about who calls the employer before you even apply for the job.

How do you use references? Ever have a reference “make or break” a job offer for you? Has a reference ever torpedoed you?