Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?

In the March 29, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers’ demands are very inappropriate. She says she’s applying for a job — not a loan. What’s up with consent forms to access personal credit records and other private information?

I had a good phone interview for a job that seems interesting. I’m visiting them next week for an interview. Today, they sent me an e-mail application (a wee bit premature… I’m not sure I want to apply until after the in-person interview) and, more shocking, a consent form to check my credit report. I think this is beyond inappropriate, not to mention the fact that my report is locked because my husband had his identity stolen a few years ago, and we have no idea where it was swiped from.

So, my question, how do I politely tell them I’m not filling out the forms until after the interview, and until I’ve decided to move forward? Do I even need to explain about the credit report? Is this a new thing? Why on earth would they need my credit report in the first place? They’re not loaning me money.

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

Proctology?Imagine being asked to fill out a marriage license and to take a blood test before you have a first date with someone. Or to hand over your credit report before visiting a car dealer? Or to bend over for an exam before going on a job interview?

The explanation for this is simple. The HR department at this company doesn’t recruit or impress. This company’s HR department practices Pure Bureaucracy. Clueless about attracting talent, it serves warrants for information instead. I’m surprised they haven’t asked you to provide a urine sample yet. (Don’t laugh.)

You are right to question the request, and to decline to provide the information until after you have met with the hiring manager. If the company doesn’t have adequate information on which to base an interview, then it should not be talking to you.

Will saying “No” result in the interview getting cancelled? It might. There is always the chance that a company will dump you if you don’t do what it asks. On the other hand, most such requests are routine, and when people ignore them, companies often don’t even notice until it’s “too late.”

Here are your options:

  • Politely tell them you’d like to meet with the manager first. “If there’s mutual interest, then I’d be glad to fill out the forms. But a meeting is necessary to help us both decide that.”
  • Just ignore the request, show up, and do the interview. If they ask where the paperwork is, don’t pretend you forgot or were too busy. That would make you appear irresponsible. Instead, use the statement above. By then, you’re there, and they can deal with it.
  • Give them what they want. I don’t think this is a good option, because as you point out, it not only puts you at risk, it’s inappropriate and it’s a waste of your time.

I would not provide consent for a credit report, or even fill out application forms, until after you decide you’re really interested… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

If they press you, and you’re still interested in talking to a company that funds a bureaucracy, I I’d be frank: Your credit is locked because your identity has already been stolen:

How to Say It
“Many companies rely on third parties to perform credit and background investigations, and I know some of that checking is done overseas, in countries with no privacy protections. Having been seriously burned, my policy is not to grant consent unless I know exactly who is doing the checking, who will have access to my private information, and what will happen to it afterwards. I don’t permit my private information to be stored in anyone’s database. My lawyer would slap me if I did otherwise — this has already cost my husband and me a lot of money. I’m sure you understand.”

You could also ask the employer to sign a letter accepting liability if your information falls into the wrong hands. Then ask for a list of names of people who will have access to the information.

How to Say It
“I’m sure you realize… [Sorry, you’ve gotta get the free newsletter for the rest…]

Invasions of privacy by employers who have no vested interest in you, and that have not put their own skin into the game yet, are common. This is not a new thing… But again — taking a strong position could cost you an interview or a job. It’s up to you how far you go…

Sometimes you’ve got to wonder which department you’re walking into when you appear for a job interview. Is this HR, or Proctology? If people keep letting employers, investigators and background checkers poke around where they don’t belong, can the doctor be far behind?

Do companies seriously believe they’re recruiting when they tell you to drop trou and stand for inspection? Even before an interview? That’s not recruiting. It’s a joke. How far will HR go to abuse people before it tries to attract them? How impressed are you with a company that behaves this way?

And HR wonders why there’s a “talent shortage.” The only shortage is of common sense when recruiting and hiring. What do you do when employers want to check your teeth before they make you smile? (In case anyone got offended, I switched metaphors… so please post your comments and share your stories and suggestions.)


Finesse: The secret sauce of recruiting

In the March 21, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains about losing a candidate to another employer, and blames the headhunter. Was the manager in too much of a hurry?

I used a headhunter to help me fill a position in my group, but it didn’t turn out well. The good news is that the headhunter found us a great candidate, and we made a good offer. But after some back and forth, the candidate decided to take a job at another company. This was our #1 candidate. I stopped working with the headhunter after that because I was pretty upset. Now I’m wondering, did I shoot myself in the foot?

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

What I’m about to tell you is a story out of the ordinary. But it reveals the importance of cultivating relationships, staying in touch with people, and reading between the lines.

I had a client that made an offer to a candidate I found. As in your situation, the candidate turned the offer down, and took a job at another company. I thought the candidate had made the wrong choice, so I didn’t walk away from the deal. I applied some finesse.

I put my client on hold as the next week played itself out, and I left my candidate alone as he got oriented at his new company. Then I called the candidate at work, and asked him some detailed questions about “how’s it going?”

Knowing more than he did about the company he’d joined, I was not surprised to learn things weren’t perfect. I let him talk. He’d had no one to talk to about his first week, and now he gave vent to his disappointment. I just listened. He soon made it clear that he was unhappy with his choice… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

…And then I gently pounced. “I think you could have another shot at that, if you want.”

He wanted. What I then explained to him was that I had not disclosed to my client that he had taken another job. The offer was still active. He accepted it and spent several happy years with the company.

Someone might accuse me of not fulfilling my obligation to my client, because I didn’t disclose that the candidate had accepted another job… My obligation to my client was to find and deliver the best candidates I could. And I did. It just took a little longer in this case, because some finesse (and a bit of gambling) was necessary.

A bit of discretion on my part got the job filled. That was the secret sauce. (It’s just another insight about How to Work with Headhunters.) In a recent blog comment, reader Chris Walker (a training and placement specialist himself) shares a related experience:

“I have had 2 clients in the past year who were hired after being rejected because the new hire didn’t work out, one just 2 weeks after her rejection letter. That’s why candidates should always send a thank you in response to a rejection.”

When you’re the job candidate, remember that There is no sure thing. Don’t move so quickly to turn off other opportunities, even if you’ve accepted a job offer… My client got the candidate “because the new job didn’t work out…”

…Sometimes patience and a bit of diplomacy can get you where you want to go. Don’t let job boards and high-speed decision making deter you. Slow down, think, and exhibit some finesse, because even “final decisions” are subject to change.

Did you ever get rejected (whether you’re an employer or job hunter), and still make the deal happen? How did you turn No into Yes?


Readers’ Comments: Turn rejection into a very potent referral

In the March 14, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says rejection isn’t so bad, if you learn something about your career objectives in the process. I think rejection can lead to a whole lot more.

I found work that I love and that I’m good at, at a small, award-winning company. My meetings with the hiring manager and her team were very positive, and we hit it off very nicely. I was called back for a third interview, with the general manager. He yawned a lot and clearly did not want to be interviewing people, but went through the motions. Perhaps he had already decided who would be hired. In any case, I did not get the offer. I don’t have a question. I just wanted to tell you that even rejection can produce a pretty positive attitude, because now I know that such places are still here, and I just have to find them!

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

Most job interviews result in rejection. But smart job hunters learn from every experience.

I think the most common lesson is that the candidate applied for the wrong job to begin with…

Your case is different, and it’s an important lesson of another kind. You actually found a job and a company that seemed to be right for you. You clicked with the manager and her team. And you walked away with renewed confidence that you’re going after the right kinds of companies — and that the jobs you want are in fact available. That’s all good news.

So this really is a win for you, and you should not waste it. I know that you will now go look for other such companies, but I’d like to suggest something even more powerful.

…Forget about the general manager and his poor attitude. Focus on the hiring manager and her team. These are people with whom you clicked. Focus on the good match you found with the company itself.

There are more such managers and companies. And they know one another!

So let’s get to work. Don’t waste your momentum… The hiring manager and her team members are potentially your best references right now.

Go back to your new friends at the company that didn’t make an offer. Thank them again for the stimulating meetings, and let them off the hook for not hiring you. Start with the manager, but then follow up with the other interviewers you clicked with.

How to Say It
“I know you can’t hire everyone, and I’m not troubled that I didn’t get an offer. But I’m glad that I met the kinds of people I’d like to work with. Thanks.”

Then let them talk. They will probably wish you well in your job search. But don’t let it end there.

How to Say It
“I wonder if I could ask you for a professional courtesy. You didn’t make me an offer — but if your appraisal of my abilities was high enough, I’d like to ask if you would be willing to serve as a reference for me. I’m planning to apply for jobs at companies X, Y and Z. Is there any one there to whom you’d be willing to recommend me?”

All you need is one referral and recommendation. If no referral is offered, don’t fret. Just say, “Thanks, anyway. Again, I enjoyed meeting you. I’d be glad to talk with you again if another position opens up.” But, if you get a referral, don’t just say thanks.

How to Say It
“Your faith in me means a lot. If I can ever repay the favor, please don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll let you know how it goes. I want to make sure I…” [The rest of this How to Say It is in the newsletter, which includes lots more suggestions. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

Close with a thank you. Then contact the person you’ve been referred to, using the methods we’ve discussed here on Ask The Headhunter. (For a nice, neat package about how to apply the Ask The Headhunter methods when you’re talking to a prospective employer, check How Can I Change Careers? It’s for anyone who wants to stand out, not just career changers.)

…This is a very powerful way to leverage one good contact into another. It’s not such a long shot as it might seem. Since you made it through several rounds of interviews to the final one with the general manager, it seems the hiring manager and her team thought a lot of you. So my guess is, they may be willing to help.

If you get an interview based on this referral, remember that the reputations of the people who recommended you are on the line. Make them look good!

Now I’ll give you one more tip about how to make a rejection pay off, even months, if not years, after your interview. Stay in touch with the nice folks you met, and do them a favor. When you hear about an interesting opportunity — maybe it’s a job they’d be interested in, or a professional event, or even a sales opportunity for their company — , drop them a note (or call) and tell them about it. “You made an impression on me when you interviewed me a few months ago… and I thought I might return the favor by telling you about this…”

This is what makes the professional world go around.

The rare job interview turns into an offer. And few interviews yield friendships, or even mutual respect, between the employer and candidate. But even when two people click, they usually lose the momentum they’ve just found, and they both miss an opportunity. A rejection based on a strong interview can be turned into a powerful referral, if you know how. What do you take away from a great job interview, even if you are rejected?


Readers’ Comments: Garbage in Your Resume – Take it out

In the March 8, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders, just what really needs to be on a resume?

I’ve read conflicting advice about what to put in my resume. Right now, it runs over two pages, since I’ve got quite a bit of history that I need to present. Some resume advice says to keep it short, even just one page, and to say only what’s necessary. But what’s necessary?

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

The purpose of a resume is not to recite your entire work history. At least 30% of any resume is jargon that’s in all resumes — cut it.

Here’s what I’m talking about. The “objective,” for example, is purely wasted space. Look at five resumes, and you’ll see all the same jargon and gibberish about wanting a job with a growth-oriented company, and good opportunities, and a progressive work environment, where you can make a positive contribution as a team player by “working with people.”

Gimme a break. Gag me with a spoon. Your resume doesn’t need to explain to anyone why you want the job.

If the hiring manager doesn’t already know why you want to work there, then don’t send the resume…

Another 30% of resumes is past history that is repeated, in one way or another, from one job description to the next. Cut it or shorten it way down…

The biggest waste of that 30% of space devoted to detailed work history is job jargon…

At least 10% of a resume is about credentials that, especially for management jobs, aren’t used to make a decision to interview you…

That leaves about 30% of the space in your resume to show how you’re going to apply what you’ve really got in your toolkit, to help the employer.

Where in your resume is that? Where do you show how you will do the specific job for the specific employer in a way that will drop additional profit to the bottom line? That’s what’s necessary… [Want a more detailed explanation and tips? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which includes the entire discussion.]

Try this test: Tear your resume in half. Read the top half. Does it tell me how you’ll bring more profit to my bottom line?

I can tell in 5 seconds whether your resume is worth reading. It quickly tells me you have a good idea about what I need, and outlines how you’re going to do it. Or it’s a bucket of history that I have to sort through, to figure out what you can do.

And I don’t have time to do that. Don’t gag me with your history.

Oh, I know it’s offensive that a headhunter or a manager won’t invest the time to read, fathom and understand who you are — and to guess what you can do. The reason you haven’t landed a new job is because you haven’t found a manager willing to carefully read your resume, right?

No, the reason is that your history doesn’t matter as much as what you can do next. And managers suck at figuring that out.

So tell me: What do you put on your resume? Do you even use a resume?


Cornell Presentation: How to work with headhunters, and without them

This is a special posting connected to the presentation:

  • Ask The Headhunter / How to Work with Headhunters, and without them
    Cornell University Johnson School of Management
    March 5, 2011, in Palisades, NY

(I posted a preview of the topic here: Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.)

I’ll add more content here after the event — but the main purpose is to answer questions we didn’t have time for, and to carry on the discussion.

Please feel free to post your questions and comments below — I’ll do my best to respond to them all. Thank you for joining me, and special thanks to Cornell’s Johnson School for the wonderful hospitality!

Quick access to resources I referred to:

How to Work with Headhunters

How Can I Change Careers?

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less by Milo Frank

Six Degrees: The science of a connected age by Duncan Watts