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Yearly archive for 2011

Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell

In the December 20, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks for ATH in a nutshell:

Can you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter strategy and explain the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks.

(This Q&A was such a hit last year that I’m reprising it — hope you enjoy it!)

The 4 “nutshell” tips are:

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do — people who are very good at it. Insiders are the first to know about good opportunities, but they only tell other insiders. To get into an inside circle of people, you must earn your way. It takes time. You can’t fake it, and that’s good, because who wants to promote (or hire) the unknown?

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts. Between 40-70% of jobs are filled that way. Yet people and employers fail to capitalize on this simple employment channel. They pretend there’s some better system — like job boards. That’s bunk. If companies took more of the money they waste on Monster.com and CareerBuilder and spent it to cultivate personal contacts, they’d fill more jobs faster with better hires. There is nothing more powerful than a respected peer putting her good name on the line to recommend you. Deals close faster when the quality of information is high and the source of information is trusted. That’s why it takes forever to get a response when you apply “blind” to a job posting.

3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you. Everything else is stuff, nonsense, and a bureaucratic waste of time. Don’t believe me? Ask any good manager, Would you rather talk to 10 job applicants, or meet just one person who explains how she will boost your company’s profitability? I have no doubt what the answer is.

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start. Hang up on the unsavory charlatans and work only with headhunters who treat you with respect from the start. Instead of “pitching” yourself, shush and listen patiently to understand the headhunter’s objective. Proceed only if you really believe you’re a match. Then show why you’re the headhunter’s #1 candidate by outlining how you will do the job profitably for his client. Headhunters adopt candidates who make the headhunter’s job easier, and who help the headhunter fill the assignment quickly. (Coda: If you follow suggestions 1-3 carefully, you won’t need to rely on a headhunter. But if you’re lucky enough to be recruited, you need to know How to Work with Headhunters.)

That’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell. If you wonder whether it really works, take a look at comments from people who’ve tried it: Thank You, Masked Man.


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Why ATH works

What’s the main difference between ATH and the traditional approach? It’s pretty simple. The traditional approach is “shotgun.” You blast away at companies with your resume and wait to hear from someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you. Lotsa luck. (ATH regulars know that I never actually wish anyone luck, because I don’t believe in it. I believe in doing the work required to succeed.)

ATH is a “rifle” approach. You must carefully select and target the companies and jobs you want. It takes a lot of preparation to accomplish the simple task in item (3). There are no shortcuts. No one can do it for you. If you aren’t prepared to do it right, then you have no business applying for the job, and the manager would be a fool to hire you. This “rifle” approach is detailed in How Can I Change Careers?, which does double-duty for any job changer who wants to stand out in the job interview. (When you buy the 2-Book Bundle for $38.95 using discount code=JOLLY, you’re basically getting How Can I Change Careers for FREE, because How to Work With Headhunters normally sells for $39.95 by itself!)

How to be the stand-out candidate

I’ll leave you with a scenario that illustrates why the traditional methods don’t work well. You walk up to a manager. You hand him your resume — your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments, your keywords, your carefully crafted “marketing piece.” Now, what are you really saying to that manager? “Here. Read this. Then you go figure out what the heck to do with me.”

Managers stink at figuring that out. You have to explain it to them, if you expect to stand out and to get hired. Do you really expect someone to decipher your resume and figure out what to do with you? America’s entire employment system fails you every day because it’s based on that passive mindset.

The job candidate who uses the Ask The Headhunter approach keeps the resume in her pocket and says to the manager, “Let me show you what I’m going to do to make your business more successful and more profitable.” Then she outlines her plan — without giving away too much.

That’s who you’re competing with, whether she learned this approach from me or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2011. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined above in upcoming issues of this newsletter. Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what holidays you celebrate or where you celebrate them), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

Merry Christmas!How has ATH worked for you?

How have you used ATH to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees?

You’ve got no stories — just problems? Post those, too, and I’ll do my best to help (so will other readers!), both in our blog discussion, and in next year’s newsletters. I welcome you to pile on — please tell our community how we can help!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what holidays you celebrate or where you celebrate them), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

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When should you bring up money?

In the December 13, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader asks whether it’s okay to discuss salary range with a headhunter before taking time out of a busy work schedule to interview:

I’m a long-time reader. This is my second-time question — the last one was in 2004! I’ve just been headhunted for a position that would require an hour commute. We’re past the phone-screen stage, and now at a point of coordinating schedules for in-person meetings. This is the busiest time of year for my current employer, so to leave for a half day would be very difficult. Is it acceptable to discuss salary range before I invest time in interviewing? Or does that automatically mark me as a problem child?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Nice to hear from you again! “The money question” troubles many people. We all know there’s no hire until money is discussed, so why is it such an awkward topic? Why do employers and applicants alike prefer to “wait until later” to bring it up?

An employer has a budget for a position. It might stretch the compensation to hire a particularly good candidate. But that depends on the quality of the interviews, not on whether the salary range has been discussed in advance.

I think it’s key to get the money question on the table early — especially if you have to invest travel and time to interview.

I like the off-the-cuff approach. Call the headhunter, express your interest in the job, and then say the following.

How to Say It

“By the way, what’s the compensation like for this position?”

That’s not aggressive and it’s not the last word. It leaves room for further discussion. Then stay silent and let the headhunter speak. If she won’t answer you candidly, then don’t feel guilty pressing her.

How to Say It

“We should make sure we’re in the right range…” or “I’d like to make sure I’m on the same page as the employer before we all invest our time…”

If the headhunter deflects by asking what you’re making or what you want, you should turn the tables to test the headhunter. Yes, I said test the headhunter. Make her work to recruit you, or she’s not really worth talking to.

How to Say It

…(This last How to Say It suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now! It’s free!)

This makes the headhunter work for it. If she’s not able to engage with you now on the subject of money, then negotiations are likely to be difficult later, after you’ve invested a lot of time. (This is why both headhunters and employers often avoid talking money: The more time they get you to invest, the less likely you will be to walk away from a low offer.) For more about negotiating with headhunters, please see How To Work With Headhunters.

Could the headhunter conclude you’re a problem child and drop you? Sure — but you’ve hardly been “dropped.” Rescued is more like it. If you don’t know what the compensation range is, there’s really nothing more to talk about. Exploring new opportunities is a good thing, but not every recruiting call is an opportunity. Test the recruiter quickly. Find out how much she knows about the employer and the position, and make sure there’s a suitable payoff if you invest your time. If the headhunter thinks you’re a problem child because you want to talk about money, then the call itself is a problem.

Do you ask about money before you interview? I’ve heard lots of justifications for putting it off, but I don’t really buy any of them. Am I wrong? How far do you go before talking money?

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How Employers Can Help You Get Hired

In the December 6, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who helps seniors find jobs shares an “interview invitation” one of his clients received. It’s a landmark! Why don’t more employers do this? Join me below to discuss other ways employers can help you get hired.

I’m a training and placement specialist and a long-time subscriber. I’d like to share an e-mail one of our clients received confirming an interview. I’ve changed the identifying information, but otherwise this is exactly how it was written. I love it when employers tell us what they expect. Too often, we are left to guess. What do you think of this approach to interview invitations?

Chris Walker
Senior Employment Center
Akron, Ohio

***
[Letter received by a job applicant]
Dear Joe,

You are confirmed to interview on Thursday November 17, 2011. You will be interviewing for the Mechanic position with XYZ Compost Services, Inc. The meeting will take place at the address and time listed below

ADDRESS
1234 Main St
Akron, OH 44313
(330) 888-8888

INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
10:00 am – 11:30 am

INTERVIEWERS
[name], Vice President, Operations
[name], Manager, Process Control
[name], Electrical Engineer

INTERVIEW PREPARATION
During your interview, you should expect to be asked behavioral-based questions where your responses need to be specific and detailed. Be ready to share several examples from your past experience — jobs, projects, teams, volunteer work — where you demonstrated strong behaviors and skills, and think in terms of examples that will show off your selling points. Be sure to come prepared with both positive and negative examples.

To learn more about XYZ products and services visit [our website].

Contact me with any questions.

Thank you.

[name], MBA
Director, Human Resources
**

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Gee — Imagine that! An interview invitation that includes the actual names of interviewers a candidate will meet and talk with. Most employers won’t disclose this information for fear that the candidate might actually call them prior to the interview. Perish the thought!

That’s right, employers don’t want anyone bothering their managers with questions about an open job — least of all people who are about to invest their valuable time in a job interview. It’s better to let the applicant show up guessing what the employer wants, rather than help a candidate get hired by sharing a clear set of expectations. (The alternative for managers is to Open the door.)

Why don’t employers do everything they can to help you get hired? (For that matter, why don’t managers invest heavily in Interview futures, rather than shop for talent at the last minute?)

Most employers don’t want to tip their hand about what you will be asked in a job interview. That would be giving it all away and it would destroy the element of surprise! Why enable candidates to prepare before they interview? Better to let them show up wondering! Do these same managers also give their employees surprise assignments without any suggestions about how to do the work?

Employers behave like total dopes when they schedule interviews. It’s a rare employer that actually helps the candidate prepare. My hat is off to this organization — it clearly believes that helping a candidate succeed in the job interview will help it make a better hire.

But I’d take this further. As an employer, I would:

  • Call the candidate in advance, on the phone, and suggest specific resources the candidate should use to prepare for the interview.
  • Offer to let the candidate talk with team members to ask questions so he or she can prepare fully for the interview.
  • Conduct a “cook’s tour” of the facility prior to the interview, so the candidate can see firsthand what the work — and the business — is all about.
  • (…this last suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)

Some employers might scoff that this would be a waste of time, and claim that the purpose of the interview is to discuss all these things. I say bunk. A good manager would never blind-side an employee with a work assignment. A good manager would encourage and help an employee prepare in advance, to help ensure success. The point of a job interview is to expedite hiring a capable candidate — so why not help ensure success by prepping the candidate? It’s all the same challenge: to get the work done!

This edition of the newsletter is intended to be more even more interactive than usual. Please help extend my list of what an employer can do to help a candidate prepare for an interview — and to help the candidate succeed.

What would you like to see employers do to help you get hired — and to help themselves efficiently fill a job and get the work done? What would you add to the list of helpful information offered by the employer in Chris Walker’s example? Is anything “too much,” or how extreme could an employer get?

Special thanks to Chris Walker for sharing “a live one” from one of his clients. This is a great topic — especially if hiring managers are out there “listening!”

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Sales Source: The best sales blog for job hunters

Meet Geoffrey James. He writes a sales blog that will help you land your next job.

“When you go job hunting, always remember that you’re selling!”

That’s the refrain from job counselors, coaches, resume writers and HR people. I don’t buy it, because “sales” is misunderstood as a task by most people. They think of selling as delivering a brochure — or a resume — and then reiterating what’s on it to the prospect’s (employer’s) face, while they stretch a big smile across their own.

That’s not selling. Selling — and job hunting the way I teach it — is all about focus and knowledge. When you’re job hunting, true selling is about focusing on the employer and addressing what he or she needs. And then it’s about using the knowledge you’ve developed to demonstrate how you will deliver.

True selling is not about you or your product. It’s about the other guy entirely. A truly good sales pitch is all about the person who needs something.

Geoffrey James gets it, and he’s been writing about sales for a long time. He used to author the Sales Machine blog for the now renamed BNet. And now he’s moved into more exciting territory, writing the Sales Source blog for Inc. magazine online.

James teaches you almost everything you need to know about sales to address an employer’s needs so he or she will want to hire you. Start with this incredible gem:

7 Steps to Closing a Deal Via Email: He should be charging for this stuff. If you’re going to follow up with an employer about a job you want, this is how you want to structure your e-mail. James even gives you tips about what not to put in it.

Check out James’ suggestion for how to instantly draw yourself into the employer’s world before your interview starts: Forget Small Talk: How to Craft the Perfect Icebreaker. (Forget about last night’s game or this morning’s big news story.)

Then graduate to Why the “Power of Branding” Is a Myth. I’m not the only other big mouth out here who says “branding” is totally misunderstood and a waste of time and breath. Before you spend another minute “creating your brand,” consider what James suggests: Your brand is what the employer experiences after you’ve worked there for a while. Trying to “brand” yourself to get an interview or a job just reveals you don’t know where the value is.

The Sales Source blog won’t give you career advice — not in any direct way. But if you study it, you’ll realize that you can bend the ideas James offers in almost every column — to help you get in the door, to convince an employer you can do the work he or she needs done, and close the deal on a job. Sales Source is about true selling. And it’s a lot of hard work. Just like that great job you want.

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You’ll never get hired if you’re self-employed

In the November 29, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who’s run a business for years wants to know whether it’s true that the self-employed are unemployable.

I was on a discussion forum today where the consensus is that you’ll never get hired if you’ve been self-employed. Is that true?

I have had my own consulting business for the past 19 years. My original client base is drying up, but happily I have had some luck with a new market. I can definitely stay on my own, and there are good reasons to do so. BUT… I have not explored many job options over the years. Lately I have seen friends & neighbors get good-to-great jobs, things I would love to do professionally and personally. New challenges, terrific companies… and I find myself envying those folks.

I have been going on some job boards where I’ve seen jobs I would love to have. I’ve studied your approach and I feel confident that I could make good contacts with good companies. I know I would be a great, business-enhancing employee.

Then I came across that discussion forum today. Would it be hopeless for me to even try now? Given what you have written across-the-board, I feel like that forum’s assertion can’t be right. But I figured I’d rather ask you before embarking on a doomed-to-fail effort. (The people on the forum suggest all kinds of subterfuge to hide the “shame” of self-employment. I am very much against subterfuge!)

I have also read that people will “never get hired” if they’re over 50, stay-at-home moms, job-hoppers, or felons (!). I figure that, with the exception of the felons, there must be plenty of people in those categories who get good jobs. Yes?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

I’ll tell you what I said to a young man I know who is applying to colleges. He wants to study physics. Princeton is virtually impossible to get into and everyone has told him not to bother. But he wants to go to Princeton.

I told him that if you want to do something, then go after it like it’s the only thing in the world. Your goal is to succeed, not to worry or even to think much about the so-called odds. And you certainly should not listen to the comments and speculations of people who are afraid of failure.

Odds matter only if we’re talking about a population of people, because odds are descriptive of a population. They don’t matter much when we’re talking about an individual. Odds don’t prescribe the right action for an individual. That is, just because Princeton rejected 20,000 applicants is no reason not to apply. What matters is what one person is capable of doing — and what he’s motivated to do.

So, ignore and stop reading that stuff on the forums. Do what you want to do. Do it the best way you know how. People with their own businesses get hired. I don’t know how many, and I don’t care. Even if every single one of them has failed to date, your objective is to be the first one to succeed. If you think you can be a great, business-enhancing employee, that’s what matters. It’s better yet if you can demonstrate those qualities. That’s what will get you hired.

My advice is to ignore everything you’ve been told. Then go do what you set out to accomplish. Either smile or smirk at the naysayers. They don’t matter. They’re pretty pathetic. Failure in America is built upon their fears and chatter.

A 63-year-old reader told me last year she’d landed the new job she wanted — in part because she ignored all the discouraging things she’d heard about age being a obstacle. The young man I mentioned applied to Princeton. Will he get in? Will his outcome affect whether you pursue the jobs you want? Go for it. Stay away from the “You can’ts.”

Did anyone ever tell you you’d never get hired? What’s the secret to success in a “lousy” job market? (Hint: There’s no such thing as a job market.) Tell us what you’ve pulled off in the face of incredible odds — that’s what matters.

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Jumping Employment Gaps

In the November 22, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful executive who took time off then worked as a consultant says headhunters won’t touch him. What’s up?

I was an executive with a financial services software company for 20 years. I joined when it was a start-up. After the company was sold, I took a package and left, as did the co-owners and, eventually, all of the senior management. I have a five year gap in my resume after which I had a couple of consulting engagements, one of which lasted a year, the other approximately six months. I speak with recruiters frequently, but invariably the gaps prevent me from getting an interview. The recruiters will not even present me to the client. I would truly appreciate any advice.

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Most recruiters suffer from a buzz words syndrome. If the buzz words aren’t on your resume, then you’re not a candidate.

Happy Thanksgiving!Those recruiters obtain lists of “candidate criteria” from their clients, and they pattern-match those criteria to someone’s resume. My guess is that among those criteria are “stable work history” or “must be currently employed.”

You had a long, successful career building a company from the ground up. That’s trumped by “currently unemployed” only in the mind of a foolish recruiter.

If you had been as narrow-minded as those recruiters about whom you hired while building your start-up, the business would likely have failed. I’m willing to bet you hired people who spent time consulting or running their own businesses. You relied on your ability to recognize what people could do; you didn’t judge them on buzz words or on what they had done in the past. You probably hired people that others wouldn’t touch.

What I’m telling you is, those recruiters are helping you weed out companies you should not work for. I know this sounds like sour grapes, but think about it. We all have a selection process in mind that supports the way we live and work. We pick people and we make choices that reflect who we are and how we operate.

Now, think about what that means. You’re being rejected by recruiters and companies that are looking for “the perfect fit” to their narrow criteria. But when did you ever encounter “perfect circumstances” and “perfect solutions” to the business problems you faced at your start-up?

Kiss those recruiters goodbye, because they’re working for narrow-minded employers that you probably won’t be happy working for. Instead, track down insiders who work with the kinds of companies where you’d shine. Start talking to lawyers, bankers, investors, realtors, landlords, accountants, consultants and other folks who do business with dynamic, growing companies that want talent — not perfect fits to static job descriptions. (You and I both know there’s no such thing in either case.)

Those recruiters don’t work for the companies that will hire you. You will find your next employer through external consultants (like those I listed) who work with companies like the one you helped grow. The company that hires you next won’t be looking at the gap you’re facing — it’ll be looking at how effectively you can leap over that gap to help grow its business.

How did you leap over an employment gap? Did you ever hire someone with a gap? What the heck does a gap really say about a person, anyway?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Half-Assed Recruiting: Why employers can’t find talent

In the November 15, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter who tries to take a personal approach to an employer is told to “go tell it to our website” in order to comply with federal rules:

Nick, this is a new one to me. Do we really need to apply online for positions before contacting anyone in a company, “to be compliant with government programs?”

Is this true, or are they using a federal smokescreen here? I made a personal inquiry about a job through LinkedIn, and they sent me to their website to apply. Here is the reply I received:

“In order to be considered for any of our positions at [Fortune 100 company] it will be important to apply to the position. To be compliant with our Govt programs, a candidate has to apply to the positions to be considered. Also, if you are interested in moving forward, can you please send to me a copy of your resume and I will send it over to our hiring manager.

Mary [surname omitted]
[tel omitted]
[e-mail omitted]
[Company]
Global Recruiting
BE VITAL in your career, Be seen for the talent you bring to your work. Explore opportunities within the [Company] Family of Companies”

When I did as I was told in the past and applied online at this company’s website, they immediately sent out a notice of rejection, thanking me for applying, saying they have no open positions at this time, and wishing me best of luck in my job search.

How do they expect to get good candidates?

My Advice

Many companies have policies requiring submission of an application online, even if they don’t cite federal law. (The feds require employers to document their compliance with equal opportunity hiring laws, and this may be why some companies like to have an online audit trail of applications.)

But what does this have to do with intelligent recruiting and hiring practices? Nothing at all. Employers can be total dumb-asses when it comes to hiring and recruiting, and still obey the law.

You’ve encountered a company recruiter who is more concerned about dotting i’s and crossing t’s than recruiting competitively. Telling you that the personal approach you took is inadequate, and to go fill out the online form, is not smart, competitive behavior. (I do give her credit for requesting your resume. But after you went to the trouble to make a personal contact, her suggestion is no more personal than filling out that online form.)

Even if this recruiter were to respond to you outside the confines of those online forms, she could still make sure that your application was properly documented — later. To answer your question, I don’t know how a company expects to attract “VITAL” candidates and to “see the talent you bring to your work” when the first order of business is to shunt them to the website, where applicants can do the HR staff’s adminstrative work — filling out forms and tracking applicants.

What you should do

Keep taking the personal approach. If you can make a good contact through LinkedIn, go for it — but don’t bother with contacts in the personnel department. Find a manager in the company who actually needs to hire someone. Establish mutual interest, and even get an interview if possible. If the discussion becomes serious, then you can submit the online stuff to satisfy the bureaucrats who had absolutely nothing to do with attracting you to the company. In the meantime, you’ve got the ball rolling with that hiring manager, ahead of your competition.

The personnel jockey who told you to go fill out the online form will be busy driving away good candidates — to her competitors.

Half-assed recruiting

Your experience isn’t unusual. Employers seem to have turned half-assed recruiting into a top-level strategy for turning away top talent. “Recruiting” has been reduced to running ads, telling people to fill out forms, and waiting for talent to show up. In New Jersey, lazy, mindless recruiting practices are getting companies busted for violating the law: See my blog posting, Employer Fined for Stupid Recruiting, about the first employer to be fined for posting a job that requires applicants “to be currently employed.”

I’ll keep saying it: Stories like this prove that the talent shortage is in the recruiting department and in the leadership of many companies. It’s why employers can’t find talent when we’re in the biggest talent glut in history. Goof-ball personnel jockeys send talent away, while foolhardy CEOs (see the aforementioned New Jersey story) would rather leave a job undone for three years than even consider jobless talent.

Did you go sour on an employer who wouldn’t give you the time of day after you went to the trouble to make a personal contact? Have you opened a door to introduce yourself to an employer, only to wonder, “Is there anybody in there?” What behavior do you see among employers that tells you they’re not doing this right?

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Employer Fined for Stupid Recruiting

New Jersey is the only state where it’s illegal to publish job ads that exclude unemployed people. Is that because New Jersey has especially stupid employers, or because New Jersey is the first state to recognize that there are too many employers everywhere that behave stupidly?

Does it matter? Here’s what matters: The company that took the first bust under this new law reveals a lot about Stupid Recruiting.

CEO J. Michael Goodson explained Crestek’s recruiting strategy. The job posting for a service manager included the requirement, “Must be currently employed” because Crestek wanted someone “at the top of their game and not people who have been unemployed for 18 months.”

Now for the punchline: According to the Star-Ledger, Goodson “spent three years seeking the right person and sifting through resumes was time-consuming…” [Emphasis added.]

Recruiting is hard work: You have to sit and wait an awfully long time.

This $185 million company spent three years trying to fill a position so important that the CEO waited leisurely for a resume to come along and nibble on his job-ad line. Translation: Hiring what comes along. Gee — I wonder how much it cost Crestek to leave that job unfilled for three years while Goodson sifted incoming resumes. Did it ever occur to Goodson to go out and find, cultivate, cajole, steal and otherwise recruit the person he needed?

The Talent-Shortage Brain Fart

Waiting for job ads to deliver a top candidate to your front door is like waiting for customers to show up. Doesn’t Crestek have a sales force that goes out to find customers? Then why doesn’t Goodson get out there to find top talent? Why is this company banking its future on want ads? I can see Goodson’s next initiative: Fire the sales force and run more ads!

Why did this company resort to warning jobless applicants away? “This was the only time we ever advertised that way and we only ran it when the other ads failed to produce any viable candidates.”

Ahhh… this was an experimental, state-of-the-art job ad. A new way address the talent shortage. A brain fart.

Remember the talent shortage? 4.2 million Americans are out of work, and almost half a million of them in New Jersey. Not one qualified applicant came along while Crestek was dipping its line in the water. Must be the talent shortage at play — or poor management?

Stupid Recruiting: A sign of lousy management

Says Goodson: “For this job, I wanted somebody that’s in the service business and is employed. If someone is out of work for 18 months, my concern would be that their last job was in a bakery or pumping gas.”

If I were looking for a job at a good company, my concern would be that the service manager’s job at Crestek was empty for three years because the CEO didn’t know how to fill it. I’d wonder whether the the company might be better off if the CEO would go pump gas.

Running ads and waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to show up at your company is passive recruiting and poor management. Now that the CEO has tripped over his tangled recruiting line, Crestek’s corporate resume has been updated with a rap sheet for violating New Jersey employment law. But no state in the union fines companies for Stupid Recruiting.

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Reference Abuse: Don’t do it

In the November 8, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a seasoned professional takes employers and recruiters to task for demanding detailed references too soon:

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately: Recruiters are asking for detailed references before I even meet them or decide I’m interested in the job. They want multiple references before they’ll even present me for a face-to-face interview with their client. I don’t get it.

Mind you, my references are consistently stellar, so I’m not afraid of giving them out for a serious inquiry. But if I’m still collecting information on the job myself, haven’t met the hiring manager, and haven’t even had any serious discussions about terms and conditions, I don’t want my references to be bothered. When I direct them to LinkedIn, where I have strong references from former managers and peers, they aren’t pleased. They want to speak with someone in person.

What gives with this new fetish of checking references so early in the conversation, and how can I get seen by the hiring manager without having multiple agencies pestering my past managers “just in case” I might be a good fit on a particular job? I have always been taught that one’s references must be protected. Your thoughts?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

In some cases, headhunters and employers are just being more cautious — they can’t afford to make mistakes. They want to check candidates out thoroughly. But I think they’re making a mistake by asking for references rather than peripherally reviewing a potential candidate before initiating contact.

Whew — what does that euphemism mean? “Peripherally reviewing” someone? For a recruiter or headhunter, it means doing your homework by talking to people who know the candidate, to make sure you’re approaching someone who might truly be right for the job. Otherwise, don’t call the person. So my point is, the headhunter should check you out before even contacting you. That’s his job.

In other cases, when they ask for your references so early they’re fishing for new contacts — potential sources of additional candidates, or actual candidates themselves. (Ever see your references get recruited to fill a position you were being considered for? It happens.) You become a source, under the guise of being a potential candidate.

You have to use your judgment. A lot depends on how credible you feel the headhunter or employer is. I agree that it’s not prudent to let just anyone contact your references. Your references will get sick of the calls. Why put your references at risk? And that’s what I’d say to those who request the references. “Once you put some skin in the game, I will, too.” (See Take Care of Your References.)

Peripheral Review: The test of a headhunter

But lets explore further my point about peripheral review. This is something that inept employers and headhunters ignore: The very fact that a recruiter has contacted you suggests they have done their homework on you. They have good reasons to recruit you. That is, they have already checked your references — that’s what led them to you. Or — maybe not. Maybe they’re just fishing and they got your name out of a database. What then?

Well, then you’re wasting your time, because those recruiters aren’t doing their jobs. They want you to do their work for them. They want you to provide references that prove you’re worth recruiting. I think you see my point.

When an employer has a strong, well-founded interest in a candidate, they’re almost always flexible and respectful. They’ll work with you, and they will be sensitive to issues like this. They won’t be so insistent, because they don’t want to turn you off. They want to meet you.

If you don’t know the headhunter, and if you have never had contact with the employer — or they contacted you first — then there’s no reason to comply with unreasonable requests. Everyone has to ante up, including the recruiter and employer.

How do you get around this obstacle so you can talk directly to the hiring manager? You might not be able to. When a job opportunity comes to you, you relinquish significant control. But you can gain control by taking a firm stand. If this sounds overly aggressive, remember that no opportunity is real unless you are free to examine and judge it first. Be polite, but be firm. Try this:

How to Say It

(Sorry! This How to Say It tip is available only in the newsletter. Subscribe now! It’s FREE. Don’t miss next week’s extra content!)

Or, try this:

How to Say It

“Tell you what. You’re recruiting me. If you can provide me with the names of two people who endorsed and recommended me — That’s why you’re calling me, right? — then I’ll give you two more very good references. But if you don’t really know why you’re calling me, why would I give you more names?”

A good headhunter will defer to a candidate he’s serious about recruiting. The rest will hang up because you busted them. The best they can do is try to make you feel you must give up the goods if you want that good opportunity… it’s a classic sales ploy. Don’t let your references be abused.

(How can you distinguish a good headhunter from a lousy one? See The truth about headhunters.)

Just because a headhunter or employer asks for references doesn’t mean it’s time to hand them over. How do you use your references properly, and protect them from abuse?

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Big Brother & The Employment Industry: “All your employment are belong to us!”

Suppose that every time you applied for a job, some guy in a little room checked an Excel spreadsheet and notified the employer: “No interview for this guy. He’s a bum.”

It’s already happening.

Several years ago I published a series of articles about identity theft via job boards, including a report about Monster.com’s troubling practices by Pam Dixon from the World Privacy Forum (Click, You’re Hired. Or Tracked). Later, I published a newsletter titled Does HR go too far when screening candidates? in which HR consultant Earl Rice warned that:

“…in their zeal to protect themselves and their companies, HR departments may be covering up illegitimate and possibly illegal practices. When HR outsources background checks and investigations of candidates, is HR doing its job, or is it ensuring plausible deniability while letting loose an investigative demon that systematically violates people’s privacy and feeds the specter of identify theft?”

Trading privacy for Big Brother’s social initiative

It’s a world where Facebook routinely collects and profits from massive amounts of personal information. It’s a world where people enjoy the benefits of “social networking” and just want to keep up with their friends minute-by-minute. It’s a world where Big Brother has taught people to shrug and say, “Privacy? There’s no privacy any more. My information is in lots of databases and it’s not worth worrying about it!”

It’s a world where corporate employers are covering their legal asses while you get rejected for jobs that have long been vacant because “there’s a talent shortage.”

It’s also a world where opening a financial account in your name doesn’t take much more than your name, address, social security number (SSN), and a signature — any signature. But in today’s economy, the permissions you grant to employers when you apply for a job can continue to cost you lots of jobs — and you’ll never know it.

Let’s go back to what HR consultant Rice said back in 2003:

“If you have signed one disclosure for one employer, the investigations company that did the checks will keep the information about you in their database and then just re-sell the results to their next client.”

How does this happen? HR outsources the investigations, and the third party investigations company owns the information it gathers about you. The next employer rejects you for the same reasons the last one did. Were those reasons legit?

“This total invasion of privacy beyond your wildest dreams (actually, nightmares) is outsourced. The worst part is that much of the data and information these outsourced security agents collect is erroneous.”

You sacrifice privacy; employers buy legal protection

But while you’re giving up your privacy for certain “social” benefits (like the ability to apply for a job), employers are capitalizing on the holes you just punched in your life. Then, those same employers are buying legal protection in case you sue them for peeking through the holes. Rice reiterated that the quality of information about you in those databases isn’t the issue; insulation of employers from legal liability is the issue. Rice warned warned that an employer’s intentions could be far more complex:

“This is an industry that is almost totally unregulated. The multiple levels of outsourcing and subcontracting yield enough plausible deniability to the companies themselves,  and their clients, that abuses run rampant.”

Are employers using third parties to distance themselves from legal liability when checking you out? Who’s responsible for auditing and tracking the use and security of personal information an employer gathers about you?

Like many people, I put all this aside and chalked it up to Big Brother’s ubiquitous presence in our lives… the Internet, after all, is the Big Brother we’ve invited into our lives, choosing to accept the quirks of his behavior in exchange for all the social gifts he bears.

The little man who controls your career

That’s how I compartmentalized it all, until a reader sent me the story of his recent experience with a major American corporation with operations around the world. The reader is a 20-year veteran of the information technology field, and has more than a passing knowledge about security. Read it and decide how worthy a trade we’re making — some of our privacy, in exchange for the wonderful social gifts Big Brother delivers into our lives.

During Q4/2010, I was being considered for a position with [Company X]. Before I could be submitted for consideration to the hiring manager, the recruiting agency required my name and full SSN so that it could be checked against a database of Company X’s former employees. I decided to dig into their process.

Each agency was collecting names and SSNs within their offices in a spreadsheet, then submitting them periodically to a third-party agency via unencrypted e-mail attachment (Excel file). I went as far as to contact the individual at the third-party agency who was receiving and processing the queries.

He told me that he logged into a Company X mainframe application to enter the names and SSNs, then returned the spreadsheets to the agencies with a Yes or No indication for whether the candidates were acceptable to Company X on the basis of when and how they may have might have been terminated, or if his check could verify that they had never worked for Company X. He then combined each of the spreadsheets into one of his own so that he could independently track and verify the names and numbers he had already processed.

Me: “Where do you keep that spreadsheet?”

Him: “In my in-box in Outlook.”

Me: “Do you see any security risk in that?”

Him: “No, it’s just on my desktop.”

I was shocked.  That was when I decided to pass on the opportunity. I also informed the agency rep who had contacted me about the job that this was how it was being done, and while he agreed that it wasn’t very good, he had no way to change the process put in place by Company X.

All your career are belong to us

You worry that you’re too old, or that you lack the proper college degree or skills. But employers are rejecting you before they check any of your work credentials. Your career is subject to “judgments” far more stupid and unsophisticated than you could imagine — judgments that could well be incorrect, and over which you have no right of appeal.

In 1991, a poorly-translated warning appeared in a popular video game: “All your base are belong to us.” Today, the game ends for many job applicants before it even starts.  Your career belongs to the little man with the spreadsheet, who operates at legal arm’s length from the employer that rejected you. He works for an agency that is contracted by lots of employers to handle candidate investigations, and to notify employers whether you should be interviewed.

But, the business is not about hiring; it’s about selling and re-selling data about you whose accuracy you cannot confirm.

“The larger outsourced security/investigative companies have started keeping databases of their own. One advertises they have a database of over 1.5 million people for employers to run their candidates against.”

At the time Earl Rice contributed his commments to Ask The Headhunter, he was working for a major employer that outsourced background investigations to third parties that weren’t even in the United States. They were based in what we used to affectionately refer to as Iron Curtain Countries.

“They start with a name and phone number and e-mail address from a resume or application. Then, they cross-reference information until they get a date of birth or social security  number and go from there. When an applicant walks into HR for that first  meeting, they already may have been investigated. Never mind that much of the  data gathered may be erroneous. The ‘data’ was gathered at arm’s length, but the  employer will treat it as absolute fact.”

Advantage Employment Industry

Employers are ultimately responsible for the way job applicants are treated, no matter how carefully they’ve instituted legal protections by outsourcing candidate rejection. But the problem job hunters face is a systemic one. There’s an entire employment industry that now relies on Big Brother and the holes you permit in your personal privacy. Privacy expert Pam Dixon boils it down:

“The business of searching for jobs online has grown from a market niche to a multi-billion-dollar, rapidly consolidating industry that relies on the eager search activities — and employment dreams — of millions of job seekers.”

Every time a job hunter submits an application through the rote channels established by corporate HR departments, the employment industry gets paid — whether a match is made or not. The job hunter loses, and the hiring manager cries about the talent shortage. Employers give the advantage to the employment industry — a mafia of consultants and contractors who bear no responsibility, because they just manage that spreadsheet.

Every time a job hunter agrees to apply for a job via Big Brother methods, rather than through a personal contact with a hiring manager, the job hunter sets in motion the wheels of an entire data industry designed to make money — not to match people with jobs. Most of the time, the job hunter gets taken down in a drive-by data attack. The little man with the spreadsheet wears a hood, and even the employer has no idea who’s driving the data base. Or where the keys are.

The IT manager who shared the story above decided to skip the little middle man — and Big Brother. His next contact with an employer was direct, and he hasn’t submitted to a strip search of his personal information. His job search isn’t easy, but he still owns his career.

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