Why you should offer job applicants more money

In the last post, The Ethics of Juggling Job Offers, we talked about accepting a job offer, then rescinding the acceptance if a better deal comes along shortly thereafter (or even before you start the first job). The discussion was from the candidate side.

It begs the question, What can an employer do to avoid losing a new hire?

A company will sometimes work too hard to keep the salary offer as low as possible, virtually challenging the candidate to accept it. If the candidate gives up on negotiating a better deal and accepts the offer, the company has instantly set itself up for a quick resignation if the candidate can find a better deal elsewhere.

That’s why I advise my corporate clients to do what company presidents like to insist that their employees do for their customers: “Don’t just satisfy the customer. Delight the customer!”

Why not delight the candidate?

What does that mean? Read more

Readers’ Forum: The ethics of juggling job offers

In the September 21, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to deal with two job offers, when you accept one then a better one arrives a few days later.


I am in this dilemma and read your article about Juggling Job Offers. Yours is the only one that says to accept the first job offer, and when the second job (which would be a better offer and more suitable) presents itself, then retract acceptance of the first job offer.

However, the other articles and guidance suggests not doing this at all as it is unethical and can damage one’s reputation in a given industry. I have gone back to the first company and gotten a decision window of one week to decide. The timing is off as I need one more week for the second job’s response and possible offer.

Do I ask for yet another extension? Any thoughts?

Nick’s Reply

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

Sorry, but I don’t buy the ethics angle on this. As I point out in the article, if a company lays you off six months after hiring you, is it behaving unethically? No. It’s a business decision. What if it lays you off a week after you start, due to unexpected financial setbacks? What’s the real difference?

How many job offers do you really have?

The fact is, in a situation like this, you are not making a choice between two job offers. You are making a binary choice: Yes or No to one job. While I hope the other offer comes through, I can tell you that in many years of headhunting I’ve seen most “sure thing” offers go south. Either they are delayed indefinitely, or they never come through.

Is this about ethics or business?

I agree that accepting then rescinding your acceptance can have an effect on your reputation. But likewise, a layoff has an effect on an employer’s reputation. Still, sometimes it happens out of necessity. It doesn’t make the company (or you) unethical. It’s a business decision.

I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of rescinding an acceptance. But to behave as though the second offer is a sure thing is to put the first offer at risk. Is it unethical to continue to ask the first company — which has stuck out its neck and and made a commitment to you — to keep extending the decision deadline?

How many times will the second company need “one more week” to produce the offer, if it produces one at all?

Sorry, but a bird in the hand is the only bird you’ve got! Decide about that, and then deal with the future later.

For more about this thorny topic — and how to deal with job offer challenges — see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers.

Am I being unethical? Is it wrong to accept an offer then change your mind because a new offer is better?

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Readers’ Forum: How to get the hiring manager’s attention

In the September 14, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I know that a local company has new positions in the works, but I can’t get anyone to talk to me. The personnel office doesn’t return calls and I don’t know how to reach the manager. Is my only alternative to send a resume and hope it is seen by the district manager? 

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

No, don’t give up yet. Call the company’s sales department—those calls always get connected. Ask for advice.

Sales reps are usually talkative as long as you don’t waste their time. Be polite and be respectful. Learn all you can, then ask for a referral. “I don’t want to apply for a job until I learn more about the operation. I’d really like to have this kind of discussion with someone who works in the department I’d be applying to. Can you recommend someone—other than the personnel office—who might talk with me? I’d be beholden to you.”

In the newsletter I explain what to say to the manager when you finally make contact. (For detailed advice about how to give managers what they’re looking for, see the section titled Put a Free Sample in Your Resume in the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?) But the main message is to contact people peripheral to the hiring manager to establish direct contact. In other words, to get introduced. Don’t waste your time with the personnel office or with a blind resume.

Never send a blind resume. Make a good contact and get introduced to the manager. Most important: Have something useful to say.

Approaching the hiring manager through the sales department is not a ruse; it’s honest, but it’s also clever. It’s just one legitimate method for sidestepping the HR office to talk to the hiring authority. I’m sure you know other ways to do it.

Got tips? That’s what this edition of the blog is about: Your suggestions and stories about how to get the hiring manager’s attention. Please post them!


College: POP! goes the conventional wisdom

“The people running America’s colleges and universities have long thought they were exempt from the laws of supply and demand and unaffected by the business cycle. Turns out that’s wrong.”

Some might suggest this quote from National Review Online is politically motivated. The real problem is, Bill Barone’s article, The Higher Education Bubble, is chock full of food for worry.

Among Barone’s citations is WhatWillTheyLearn.com: A guide to what college rankings don’t tell you. Operated by ACTA (The American Council of Alumni and Trustees), this rating site evaluates schools on whether they require students to take courses in seven core subject areas. (ACTA also defines what success in these core subjects means.)

  • Composition
  • Literature
  • Foreign Language
  • U.S. Government or History
  • Economics
  • Mathematics
  • Natural or Physical Science

But here’s the catch, says ACTA:

“The fact that a college has requirements called Literature or Mathematics does not necessarily mean that students will actually study those subjects.”

ACTA  points out that schools might recommend certain core courses, but they let students slide by meeting “distribution requirements” that get them around those core courses.

“If a core course were one of several options that also included unqualified courses, the institution did not receive credit for that subject; credit is given only for what an institution requires of its students, not what it merely recommends.”

ACTA lines up the schools and busts their balls. Does Stanford University really rate a C? Harvard a D? Amherst an F? It seems a student doesn’t really have to master the core subjects at those schools.

Barone closes his article with this:

“As often happens, success leads to excess. America leads the world in higher education; yet there is much in our colleges and universities that is amiss and, more to the point, suddenly not sustainable.”

I don’t know anything about Barone or about the referenced website. But I’m interested in what you know about this topic and in your comments. Should we be worried that the conventional wisdom about going to college is far more wrong than it’s right? And if you think all kids should go to college, What are they learning?

(Thanks to Jason Johnson on the Phi Beta Kappa Group/LinkedIn for the heads-up on Barone’s article.)

PS — After I posted this column, I found a sort of poetic economic justice right below it, where I let Google publish its ads. While the ad periodically changes, it’s sometimes an ad from a certain for-profit college… They’re everywhere.


REJECT! How HR engineered its own funeral

We’ve been talking about the goofy behavior of HR departments in your favorite companies, and its counterproductive consequences. This topic seems to expand the more we talk about it.

In a recent thread reader Nic raises a fundamental question and puts a sharp point on the stick:

What I see taking place in these idiotic HR departments, especially during this economy, is the finding of every excuse under the sun NOT to interview someone. What is really going on?

It’s a simple thing, and it escapes virtually everyone’s attention. In companies across the country, HR is no longer in the hiring business. HR is in the rejection business, and for a very good reason:

HR solicits millions and millions of irrelevant resumes for a handful of open jobs.

Of course HR spends most of its time rejecting applicants. That’s because HR spends virtually all of its recruiting budget soliciting applicants who have no business applying for these jobs — except that HR asked them to.

RIP HRHR has planned its own funeral by engineering itself out of the recruiting and hiring business. HR is now all about picking millions of burrs out of its ass after sitting down in — no, change that, after buying its way into — the job-board weed patch. HR has surrounded itself with everyone it doesn’t want, and now it’s spending precious corporate dollars to get rid of what it bought.

HR’s chief function in corporate America has become to fund the job boards and the recruitment advertising industry. That’s why HR is in the rejection business. There is no other way for HR to deal with the masses of irrelevant, wrong, useless resumes and applications it pays billions of dollars to collect.

HR does indeed find every reason under the sun not to interview someone.  It must. What else is it going to do with the millions of zombies it invites to apply for jobs? This is a corporate funeral parlor, not a hiring office.

If you don’t want to join the walking dead after you submit your resume, don’t wander into the HR weed patch. Don’t let this be your funeral, too.


Readers’ Forum: A matter of college degrees

In the August 31, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I am making a career change to improve my life, and I plan to pursue a master’s degree. Any suggestions on how to proceed after I earn it? The U.S. News & World Report school rankings are out again, which reminds me that it seems to matter where your degree comes from. Do you have any tips on selecting the best grad programs for the best career payoff?

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

Magazine school rankings make great birdcage liners. For every edition of a magazine that ranks schools there are several articles that criticize the methodology. Perhaps more important, serious questions have been raised about the cost of higher education. Take a look at a recent USA Today report: Where’s all that college tuition money going?

It’s not just unclear which schools are “best,” but it’s not clear whether your tuition money is well-spent. I don’t think it’s even clear that you need additional education because, if you think about it carefully, you may not be the best judge.

When you buy education, you are certainly the customer, but you’re not the only customer… So what about that “other” customer who’s ultimately paying for your education—with a salary, after he hires you? The question the employer tries to answer is, Does the advanced degree mean better performance on the job?

(In the newsletter, I also discuss what to ask your target employer before you invest in that new degree.)

College degrees. Advanced degrees. MBA’s. Executive MBA’s. What about them?

Let’s take the matter of more learning off the table for a minute. More learning is good. But the question here is about value.

  1. DiplomaDo more degrees pay off? Are we all brainwashed to believe that more college degrees mean better careers and higher salaries? Sometimes I think it’s all about marketing. Schools tout their position in the rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and other magazines.  They promote the “value” of their degrees, but none will guarantee you a higher-level job or higher salary once you spend tens of thousands of dollars on the degree.
    (How silly, Nick! Schools can’t do that! Well, then why do they advertise and promote the correlation between degrees and earnings?)
  2. Do you get what you pay for? A scathing new book by political science professor Andrew Hacker (Queens College, New York) and Claudia Dreifus (Columbia University) tears into exorbitant college tuitions and accuses schools of spending students’ money in all the wrong places — and least of all on delivering education. Higher education: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids contends that the price of your degree is wildly inflated because schools don’t apply the tuition dollars you pay them to educate you.

A special case of degrees is the MBA and the EMBA (Executive MBA). We discussed this in Should you get an MBA? I also covered the topic in a special edition of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter: How executive MBA’s do it, where I suggested that a job candidate’s initiative might trump any degree. (I wrote the latter article after I gave the keynote presentation to the career center directors of 30 of the top MBA schools in the world. Many of them read this blog — and I’d love their comments especially!)

What’s your experience? If you’re a manager or a coach, what’s your advice? Do higher degrees pay off? Would you invest in another degree?


Toilet paper resumes: More feels better?

[Some bloggers cleverly carry a theme from one post to the next. I’m not into that. Honest: I wasn’t looking to flow the theme from Pissing on the applicant into today’s post. Toilet paper just kinda backed up into the system when JaneA posted a comment on Readers’ Forum: HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?]

Businesses that are hiring are so intent on gathering as many resumes as possible that they forget “more is not better.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal (that paragon of Job Board Journalism), Mike Michalowicz touts his method for diving into the resume dumpster. When Michalowicz posts a job, he tells applicants to include — word for word — a certain sentence from his ads in their job applications. Then he lets an e-mail filter find the applications that include the magic sentence, and he deletes the rest.

“I only consider applications that contain the sentence, which cuts the number of résumés I have to look at by upwards of 80%.”

Nice trick. He wouldn’t need it if he’d stop solicting thousands of applications by posting job ads.

Employers like Michalowicz have themselves to blame for the “overwhelming response from unqualified applicants.” If you ask to have a dumpster full of resumes delivered to your e-mail bin, you’ll get them. Job boards like Monster.com, CareerBuilder, TheLadders and even the WSJ’s very own job board are ready to charge you for garbage delivery. You get what you pay for.

Then I noticed that Michalowicz is “the author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. He is an advocate of a business philosophy by the same name.”

I believe it. Toilet paper resumes seem to fit right in. More feels better.

I pose this question to Michalowicz and to every employer (which I believe is the majority of employers) that consider recruiting and hiring a pain in the ass:

If you can ask job applicants anything you like — including asking them to include this sentence in their submissions: “It is with my utmost respect I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.” — why don’t you just ask them to tell you how they’d do the job profitably?

You’d have a lot more fun reading those submissions once your e-mail filters cleaned up the mess you made when you flicked open the sewer valve. Or, you could avoid the resume sewer altogether. And you’d get a free bonus: You won’t have to wipe.


Pissing on the applicant

In a private response to HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?, a reader sent me this question:

Is there any point in attempting to negotiate with thug companies that agree on a rate, say they’re going to extend an offer, then the offer comes in at 66% of what you thought was a done deal?

Forget about companies that poison their own well. That’s bad enough. This employer is pissing on the applicant.

My response:

If you are really ready to walk away anyway, push the paper back at them and say, “I’m ready to sign for the amount we agreed on. Not a penny less.”

You’ll learn quickly whether they’re really thugs. Then consider the rule my mentor taught me years ago: Never work with jerks.

I deleted a couple of more choice sentences in my reply to this reader, because I believe that no matter how ticked off you get at an employer or a headhunter, don’t ever go off. Bite your tongue. Swallow your bile. Until you get a chance to tell the story to someone else who might consider working for the jerk.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.


Readers’ Forum: HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?

In the August 24, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader says:

After being tested and interviewed by the senior vice president of a local company for a senior executive assistant position, they dropped off the planet and made no contact with me. I sent an e-mail to the VP enquiring why there had been no contact and the HR manager responded to me:  

“Your e-mail below was forwarded to my attention as [VP] is away.

“Please be advised that we had not yet concluded our recruitment effort for this position. I appreciate that waiting can be frustrating and you may have preferred more frequent contact during this process. It is our practice, however, upon completion of the interview process, to contact all applicants either once they are no longer being considered for the position or to make an offer. You had not been contacted yet because you were among those being seriously considered for this position.

“We have made an offer to a candidate today; therefore, this opportunity has now closed. Thank you for your interest in employment with [the employer]. We wish you well in your employment search.

“Thank you,
[HR Manager]”

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

If by employers you mean hiring managers, I think sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But what really matters is that hiring managers relinquish to HR their front-line interface to the professional community they recruit from (that’s you). In other words, hiring managers let HR make them look bad. They let HR make their company look bad.

This dismissive attitude — and this kind of behavior — is just one of the Stupid Hiring Mistakes employers make. Employers take note: How much time would it take an HR manager (or the hiring manager) to return a call from someone who took the time to apply for a job, attend an interview and take a test? Very little. It would have been a good investment for either manager.

It’s a safe guess that, like disgruntled customers who have been treated poorly by your company, this disgruntled job applicant will invest a bit more time — to poison your well by sharing their experience with others in the business. Including your customers.

Good luck with your next applicant, and with your next sales prospect. And good luck to the sucker that accepts your job offer, because bad behavior is pervasive, and Death by Lethal Reputation is slow and agonizing.

And to the reader who submitted this story: If the candidate who received the offer rejects it, and the company calls back to offer you the job, What’s your poison?

The person whose story is featured in today’s Q&A asks a very important question: Do employers know what HR is doing?

In general, I think not. I think the problem is pervasive. Does the board of directors know what HR is doing? Does the Public Relations department? Companies spend enormous sums to create good PR. Meanwhile, on a daily basis HR provokes the professional community from which a company recruits. Today’s Q&A is just one example. Maybe HR should report to PR for a while, until HR learns the impact of its behavior.

You’ve no doubt seen employers thoughtlessly poison their own wells during the recruiting and hiring process. Please share your stories. I think employers just don’t get it. And they need to hear it.



Readers’ Forum: How should I choose a new career?

In the August 17, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

Changes in the economy and in my industry have left me jobless, and my career has become a dead end. It’s time to move on. How should I choose a new career? My problem is how to select one where I can transfer my skills. Any suggestions?

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

Do not look for jobs that seem to require the skills you used at your last job. That will limit you. Pick a business you want to work in and figure out what it needs. Create a list of functions and tasks to help you sort it out. Build a flowchart. This takes research and effort. No employer will do it for you. You need to figure it out, and you may have to talk to a lot of people to do this. That’s good, because the massive effort will help you to identify work that motivates you, and to weed out jobs you’re pursuing for no good reason at all.

Then, while focusing on the work, look at your most basic skills. Restructure them. Reorganize them. Draw up a simple plan showing how you will apply them in new ways (new to you) to do some aspect of the work. If you believe you can pull it off, there’s the career to pursue. (To avoid stepping into something unexpected, don’t forget Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it.)

Understanding the work helps you rearrange skills you already have to do something new—and that makes you a potent job candidate. Be realistic, but be aggressive. Drive your new-found interest until it dies, or until you get where you want to go.

(I discuss the parameters of career change in five detailed sections in the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?)

There’s a lot of controversy about how to change careers. Some counselors advise taking aptitude and psychological tests. While those may be helpful, I think the farther from yourself you set the locus of control, the less likely you are to generate the honest self-motivation necessary to succeed. In other words, while it’s good to get help and advice, you need to figure it out yourself.

Have you changed careers? Know someone who has done it successfully? How?

What’s great about the Ask The Headhunter community is that every question is best answered by the real experiences of real people. So please pile on!