Branding yourself suggests you’re clueless

In the May 26, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, readers ask about branding themselves and about self-marketing. Two brief questions this week reveal the bunk in “branding” yourself when job hunting. The fallacy in this marketing tactic is that getting a job is about you. It’s not. It’s all about the employer and the work you need to configure yourself to do.

Question

What is your advice for promoting oneself through personal branding? How can a person do it elegantly, effectively, and without overdoing it?

Nick’s Reply

Michael Jordan has a brand. So does Madonna. You don’t have a brand. (I’ll prove that to you in a minute.) You have a reputation.

Here’s the problem with applying “branding” to yourself. Consider the definition of “personal branding” on Wikipedia:

Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the minds of others about an individual…”

The point of branding is to fix an image in people’s minds. It’s to define the person or the object and maintain that prescribed image — like Michael Jordan and Madonna.

cluelessBut consider what happens when you apply for a job. It’s the job that’s prescribed, not you. Your objective is to map your skills, abilities and qualities onto the work. Conveying a fixed image to an employer tells him he must fit his job to you. But what he wants to see is how you will fit yourself to the job. Winning a job means showing how you’ll apply yourself to the work; it doesn’t mean displaying your brand and waiting for the employer to figure out what to do with you. (See The $30,000 Strategy.)

Sports stars are brands. Star entertainers are brands. When your name is worth millions, you’ll be a brand, too. In the meantime, figure out how to shape yourself to meet the requirements of a job.

Don’t come off as clueless. You can try to show the employer your brand, or you can do what really matters in an employment transaction: Demonstrate that you understand the employer’s problem. I think the single best way to promote oneself is to promote the company’s overriding objective:

  • Show how your work will help produce profit for the business.

It’s so easy to forget this when the media scream at us that success is all about “branding.” Bunk.

Think instead about your reputation. A reputation for focusing on your employer’s bottom line is the best way to be successful yourself. (Unless, of course, you want to start your own business and hire others.) Don’t wait for management to figure out how you contribute to the bottom line. Tell them before they ask. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

One Ask The Headhunter reader explained what he did in a job interview:

Instead of worrying about my credentials or self-consciously seeking their approval, I talked about their business and how I could impact it. It was a working meeting [Book 6] more than a job interview, and I felt more like an employee than a job seeker. They called me the next morning with the offer.  – R. David Fox

Question

From the recruiter’s perspective, what are the self-marketing techniques that really impress a potential employer?

Nick’s Reply

What did people do before marketers sold them self-marketing? Like branding, I think that self marketing is bunk. The purpose of such terms is to sell books and services about self marketing!

The basics have been around forever. What impresses me in a person is their reputation — and the hard work they have done to earn it. A person who has devoted time and effort to be among the best in their field — no matter what it is — is a person whose name is on the lips of others in the business. Good headhunters, and smart employers, find their best candidates through personal referrals. (See The preemptive reference.) But that’s not marketing; that’s earned respect.

  • Rather than branding and marketing yourself, pick something and get very, very good at it.

If you have a good reputation, then I’ll find out about you. No marketing is necessary when respected people recognize your value. Their recommendation creates your future because they’ll hire you and tell others to hire you. (See Tell me who your friends are.)

You could try to focus on marketing your brand; or you could focus on being very, very good at your work — and by working with others that are, too. (See Work with people who are better than you.)

Here’s truth in the face of feel-good marketing: Winning a job is not about you. It’s about the employer and the work.

Michael JordanI said I’d prove to you that you don’t have a brand. After brushing aside the marketing bunk, it boils down to this:

  • Are employers calling you with huge unsolicited offers?
  • Are the media interviewing you and writing headlines about you?

Please take no offense, but you’re not Michael Jordan or Madonna. You might get famous, and one day your name might be worth millions.

On the other hand, you can prove today that you’re very valuable to an employer if you show you’ve got a clue about how to improve the business. Don’t talk about yourself. Produce a business plan that shows how you’ll do the job that needs doing.

How do you market yourself? Do you have a personal brand that anyone recognizes? What convinces employers to hire you?

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Spamming To Fill Jobs: Idiots peeing on telephone poles

In the May 19, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss the e-mail habits of certain job seekers and recruiters. What a mess.

I couldn’t make this stuff up

telephone-pole-1Lately I’ve been railing against institutional failures in the job hunting and hiring process — job boards, HR departments, and vendors of automated recruiting stupidity. But that’s not where America’s employment problems begin and end. Employers are justifiably frustrated, too, by idiots who seek jobs, and by idiot recruiters who use spam to “find” job applicants for exorbitant fees.

I get a lot of mail. Some of it is so idiotic — I couldn’t make this stuff up to amuse you. It’s real. Two recent e-mails take the cake, perhaps because they make good bookends on the story about what’s wrong with America’s employment system.

The job seeker

The first message from the real world arrived last week from a job seeker. It included his resume. I’ll spare the poor sucker further shame by omitting his name.

Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2015 7:00 AM
To: nick@asktheheadhunter.com
Subject: Any Jobs?

Hey there!

I saw your website today Thu, 14 May 2015 and im really hoping there is a opening or other possibility to get a chance to prove my competence.

As you will see in my resume I have a broad experience and knowledge in this line of work and im confident it will be worth your time reading it. I am excited to hearing from you.

Please see my attached resume.
Best wishes,

My reply:

This is NOT the way to find a job. What you’re doing is embarrassing and makes you look really bad.

We might cut this guy and his many kindred spammers some slack, and I might not be so caustic in my criticism — but such a solicitation is akin to a dog peeing on every telephone pole hoping to find love.

telephone-pole-2“Hey there!… I’m really hoping there is a opening [sic] or other possibility” is just stupid, disrespectful, and a waste of my time and the writer’s.

If this is how you’re going about your job search, stop. There aren’t 400 jobs for you. Don’t walk blind on the job hunt. Be your own headhunter.

If you think that was a really stupid inquiry — it’s not at all unusual. I get these a lot. The next one’s far worse because it involves big fees and the transgressor is a retained executive search firm. (See What flavor of headhunter is this?)

The “exclusive” headhunter

I received this unsolicited query from a “retained headhunter” whose job is to find and home in on only the best, most appropriate candidates for his clients. Retained headhunters are usually paid in the vicinity of one-third of the salary of the job to be filled.

From: [omitted]
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 5:45 PM 
To: Nick Corcodilos
Subject: New Retained Executive Search

Nick
[Our firm] has recently been exclusively retained by our client [omitted] (circa $3B Global leader in furnishing the work experience in office environments) to conduct a search for a Chief Engineer (Global Product Engineering Team).

We’ve showcased this new retained executive search in the following search specific website: http://executive-advantage.com/SCE [The headhunter includes this note in his solicitation: “Please feel free to share the Steelcase Chief Engineer role with others.” I’m telephone-pole-2feeling free. Maybe you’re a great candidate, but I doubt I’ve got any subscribers who sniff telephone poles.]

If you are aware of a stellar candidate that would excel in this role based on the brief position description below please have them send their resume to me, [omitted], Managing Principal, [firm name omitted] (Quickest/Best Contact is by Email: [omitted], slowest contact method is by direct dial: [omitted].

The best headhunters search for candidates by talking quietly with industry insiders who know the very best people in their fields. Discretion and confidentiality are key. A good headhunter never broadcasts a search indiscriminately, in part because it would make him look bad. More important, broadcasting attracts all the wrong people and turns off the right ones. Employers also turn to retained recruiters to avoid putting out the word that they’ve got a weakness — that vacant, key position. What would a client who’s paying a $50,000 fee to fill a $150,000 position think if she learned the headhunter was spamming unknown people for leads — the equivalent of posting want ads on telephone poles and trees?

The employer could do that herself on Monster for a few bucks.

I don’t know this recruiter or his firm — but he’s been spamming me since at least 2012. I didn’t join his list. I’ve never responded.

Gimme a break

Now, why would I refer a “stellar candidate” to a guy I don’t know who doesn’t know me, and why would I trust that candidate’s resume to a spammer? This “headhunter’s” client might as well expect resumes to be gathered from a night of dumpster diving — for $50,000 fees!

The solicitation includes a sales pitch. (Why waste an e-mail, eh?)

We fill positions with top A-Player talent – we don’t throw stacks of resumes at our clients. If you, or any business colleagues, have similar search needs at -any- mission critical position level or functional discipline, we can help provide you with the same service as the recent clients below have commented on.

telephone-pole-1

Gimme a break, Mr. Retained Headhunter. You throw spam at people you don’t know, solicit referrals to “stellar candidates” and suggest your service is of the highest quality? What’s the difference between spam recruiting and posting jobs on Monster.com — except the fees and the “retained” firm moniker?

The job seeker highlighted in this column and the purported headhunter are examples of why employers try to automate recruiting and hiring. They’re tired of idiocy and telephone pole advertising. HR execs know they can dumpster dive for five bucks and come up with the same kinds of resumes. This is what’s led to the demise of our employment system. It’s why you can’t get hired.

Don’t sniff

Please try on these simple rules to avoid the pheromones being sprayed around the job market:

  • Don’t send your resume to someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.
  • Whether you’re a job seeker or an employer, take the time to actually cultivate relationships with credible people who will refer you to the person you need to meet. (That’s how credible headhunters operate.)
  • Don’t hire headhunters indiscriminately — make sure you know how they recruit.
  • Don’t recruit indiscriminately — it’s stupid and it makes you look bad.
  • You never know where your foolhardy spam solicitations will turn up, especially when you include instructions to distribute them through social media.

telephone-pole-3Keep your standards high. If you really can’t recognize a micturating marauder from a good headhunter, learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. If you need a reality check about how to get hired, consult Fearless Job Hunting — and practice The Basics.

Idiocy. It’s what’s wrong with recruiting, hiring and job hunting. It’s not just HR, job boards and applicant tracking systems that corrupt our employment system. There’s plenty of idiocy emanating from all quarters — and it includes job seekers and headhunters. It’s a small world, and everyone can see anyone who pees on telephone poles.

What qualifies as legitimate job hunting and recruiting? Can you fill and find jobs with lots and lots of e-mail? Just how high does the stink rise — and why does anyone sniff along?

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Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired

In the May 12, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I launch a rant about runaway technology in the world of employment. I mean, it’s way past stupid and counter-productive. It’s dangerous!

Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled

If you’re going to recruit and hire people for your business, or if you’re going to look for a job, you need to understand why America’s institutionalized employment system doesn’t work. It’s important to know the short history of reductionist recruiting — layers of matchmaking technology designed for speed, distribution, and for handling loads of applicants.

It has nothing to do with enabling employers to meet and hire the most suitable workers.

reductionistWant Ads

When somebody invented the newspaper want ad, it was an innocent enough way to find people to do jobs. An employer said what it was looking for, people wrote a letter explaining why they were interested, threw in their resume, and mailed it in.

Because a want ad cost quite a bit of money (thousands of dollars in The New York Times), ads were almost always legit. Applicants had to pay for a stamp, and motivation was high to apply only to the most relevant. What’s not to like? Even when professional resume writers stepped in, and started touting salmon-colored paper to make their clients’ submissions literally stand out, it was still manageable; employers knew immediately which applications to throw out! Meanwhile, the newspapers made out like bandits advertising jobs.

Internet Job Boards

When the Internet came along, somebody thought to put all the ads online — to get better distribution, and more responses from more applicants. The jobs sites quickly realized this made wants ads cheaper, and to make money, they had to sell more ads.

Wink, wink — questionable ads, like multi-level-marketing schemes, were welcome! So were ads for expired jobs, kept there by employers who liked a steady stream of resumes even when they didn’t need them.

This never worked very well at all — and it became a disaster of such epic proportions that somebody named it “The Great Talent Shortage.” (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.) HR departments got flooded with applications they couldn’t process — so somebody invented keywords.

The Keyword Age

Employers no longer needed to read resumes or applications. Software compared words in job descriptions to words in resumes, and HR could accept or reject applicants without even knowing who they were!

Clever applicants started larding their resumes with keywords — making HR’s job all the harder, and job interviews a waste of time. It was so easy for people to fake their way past the system that HR panicked and drew the blinds. Everyone was rejected.

This experience led employers to agree that, yes, America is in a terrible talent shortage — during the biggest talent gluts in history. Even the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, banged the gong:

“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire and the most frequent thing I hear from them is all too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

“Too many people”?? Say what?

Reductionist Recruiting: Get paid for $@*#&!

Perez isn’t holding those employers accountable. They use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to solicit thousands of job applicants to fill just one job — then they complain they’ve got too many of the wrong applicants. The employers themselves are responsible for the problem. (News Flash: HR causes talent shortage!)

meatgrinder

Welcome to reductionist recruiting: Jobs don’t matter. People and skills don’t matter. The coin of the realm is what computer scientists call character strings: strings of characters, or letters and numbers, standing in for jobs and people. That’s what’s sold by job boards and bought by employers.

Think that’s far-fetched? Then why don’t employers pay when they actually hire someone from a job board or applicant tracking system?

The product is keywords. The system has nothing to do with filling jobs, or that’s how LinkedIn, Monster.com, Taleo and JobScan would get paid.

They get paid to keep the pipeline full of character strings. Employers and job seekers get scammed every day they play the game. And HR is the culprit, because that’s who signs the purchase orders and the checks to use these systems.

The New Age Of More Reductionist Recruiting

The high-tech-ness of all this (Algorithms! Artificial Intelligence! Intelligent Job Agents!) sent venture investors scurrying to put their money into reductionist recruiting, because HR departments didn’t care whether they hired anyone. Their primary business became the “pipeline” of job postings and processing incoming keywords.

That’s why Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner are getting rich while you can’t get a job.

It’s all stupid now. The head of Monster.com promotes “semantic processing” algorithms that match keywords better than any other job board. LinkedIn (LinkedIn: Just another job board) claims that special keywords — called “endorsements” — add powerful credibility to all the other keywords on people’s online profiles. And “job board aggregators” like Indeed.com collect all the keywords from every job board, grind them up and sort them, and deliver more and better keywords than any other technology.

We know this is all a big load of crap when the next iteration of recruitment start-ups are designed to further distance employers and job seekers from one another.

Reductionist Recruiting 3.0

That’s the point behind a new start-up called JobScan. This new service gives job seekers the same power employers have. For a fee, JobScan “helps you write better resumes.” Cool — we need better ways to help employers make the right hires!

reductionismBut it turns out JobScan doesn’t do that. It doesn’t help match workers to jobs any more than ATSes do. All it does is help job applicants scam ATSes by using more words that will match the words in employers’ job descriptions. More reductionist recruiting.

James Hu, co-founder and CEO of JobScan, told TechCrunch that, in the past, a real person would review your resume to judge whether you were worth interviewing. “But now you are just a record in the system.”

Duh? And Hu’s service treats you as nothing more. JobScan’s home page shows two text boxes. In one, you post your resume. In the other, you paste the description of the job you want to apply for. You click a button, and it tells you “how well your resume matches the job description.” Now you can add more of the correct keywords to your resume.

In just a couple of entrepreneurial generations, we’ve gone from stupid ATSes that rely on word matches to deliver “too many people…[that] don’t have the skills necessary to do the job,” to a whole new business that enables job seekers to manage the words they dump into those useless ATSes.

(Note to venture investors who missed out on the first rounds of Monster.com, Indeed.com and LinkedIn: This is a new opportunity!)

JobScan’s algorithms tell you which additional keywords you need to add to your application to outsmart the employer’s keyword algorithm.

It’s like your people talking to my people, so you and I don’t have to talk to one another. We can sit by a pool sipping Caipirinhas (my new favorite drink from Brazil), and wait for our respective people to do a deal that will make us all money.

Except there aren’t any people involved. Reductionist recruiting, meet reductionist job hunting: DUMMIES WANTED!

A Short History of Failure: More venture funding wanted!

Entrepreneurial ATS makers game the employment system to make loads of money while employers reject more and more job applicants. Now there’s another layer on this scam — and it was inevitable. Entrepreneurs are getting funded to create ways to help you beat the databases to fool employers into interviewing you, whether you can do the job or not. (I wish thoughtful entrepreneurs like Hu would put their talents to work creating value, not outwitting admittedly silly job application systems.)

Job seekers are taught every day that it doesn’t really matter whether you can do a job profitably. What matters is whether you can game the system to get an interview, just so you can get rejected because, in the end, employers don’t hire words that match jobs. They want people who can do jobs. They just don’t know how to find them. (See Getting in the door for alternative paths to the job you want.)

Of course, any dope can see the real problem: HR isn’t willing to hire key words, even though it pays an awful lot of money for them. And it certainly has no idea where the talent is.

I can’t wait for employers to wake up and smell the coffee: Start paying LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed only when those suckers actually fill a job.

Am I nuts, or has America’s employment system gone completely to hell with plenty of venture funding behind it?

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UCLA Anderson Webinar: Parting Company – How to leave your job on your own terms

ucla-logoThis is a Q&A overflow area for attendees of today’s webinar Parting Company: How to leave your job on your own terms, presented to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management — students, alumni and faculty. The webinar was based on the book Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Many thanks to the team at Anderson for their kind hospitality, and to the audience for sticking around well past the end of the presentation — I enjoyed all your questions! If you have more, please feel free to post and I’ll respond to them all!

Today’s webinar agenda included:

  • When is it time to go?
  • Hitting the wall
  • How to resign right
  • Oops! Got fired!
  • Exit Interviews: Just say NO
  • Parting Company Cribsheet: Avoid the gotchas
  • Resources
  • Q&A

 

 

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How to deal with a micro-manager

In the May 5, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a happy employee becomes unhappy when the new boss gets overbearing.

Question

After four months of working very independently and successfully in my current position, reporting directly to a manager who loves my work (as does the senior manager), they have decided that all of us “little people” (non-exempt, hourly employees) should report to a supervisor on a weekly basis instead. Our manager is too busy to manage us.

I am now the direct report of a micro-manager, a real control freak (she said so herself) who wants everything done her way, yet insists she doesn’t want to micro-manage me.

In our first meeting of 45 minutes, she insisted at least six times that she wasn’t trying to micro-manage me. (Of course, it felt like 20.)

What should I do? I am trying to be cooperative and play it low-key, but I feel I may need to speak with the senior manager about it. Any advice on how to handle micro-managers? I really need my job. I am well-liked, work hard and effectively, and was quite happy before she was appointed.

Nick’s Reply

First, I would sit down with your new supervisor. Show her a list of the tasks she has assigned to you, as you understand them. Ask her if there is anything she’d like to change or add. If there is, add it as you sit in front of her. Be very polite, very respectful.

When the list is complete, ask her what timeframes she sees for the deliverables — that is, when should the tasks be completed?
Negotiate to make these realistic. Once you both agree, tell her this:

How to Say It
“I find I can get the most work done when I’m free to get tasks done my own way, with the full understanding that I’m responsible for delivering exactly what my boss asks. The commitment I will make to you is that all these tasks will get done on schedule. I’d like to ask you for a commitment, too — to permit me to manage my work on my own. If I don’t deliver, then I will accept any consequences. But during the work period on these projects, I would like to manage my own work. Can we do that?”

(These two articles may help motivate you: Be known first for the truth and Don’t be afraid to do the job your way.)

If she says no, then sit down and write up a log of your conversation, date and sign it. Put it in your file. You may need to show it to the human resources manager later. Then, go talk to your old boss and explain to him that your supervisor will not permit you to manage your own work. Ask for his support. Do not make any threats. Do not get angry. Just calmly focus on your work and on your commitment to get it done on schedule. Don’t even appear upset.

How to Say It
“Being micro-managed is very distracting and decreases my efficiency. I accept my responsibilities in my job. However, I cannot do my job if I am micro-managed. Here is the commitment I will make to you: If I do not deliver after being left alone to do my job, you should fire me. The commitment I ask of you is, get my super off my back so I can do my job. Can we do that?”

If you get no support, you should be prepared to leave the company and find another job. In fact, I would start a job search, just in case. Odds are pretty high you will have to leave. As Dear Abby is fond of saying, people are not likely to change.

I try not to be cynical, and I try to expect the best, but life is short. No one should have to live and work like this. A boss who micro-manages has an emotional problem and is not likely to change. You must have a good contingency plan.

The best outcome would be if your supervisor recognized how serious a problem she has created for her department. Like I said, odds are that you will have to move on. Don’t let that bother you. It’s a natural thing. Not all companies, bosses, and employees can work together effectively. Staying in a dysfunctional organization is wrong. But, give your managers a chance to recognize the problem, and to fix it. The key is, you must be very respectful about your approach. No anger. No recriminations. Just matter-of-fact business. It’s all about doing your job.

I wish you the best. There is a significant risk in doing what I suggest. There’s an even bigger risk in working with such frustration. For more about how to leave your job fearlessly, see Parting Company: How to leave your job. [THIS WEEK ONLY! Save $3 on this book! Use discount code=SAVE3. Order now!]

Have you ever worked for an over-bearing boss? What’s a diplomatic way for this reader to deal with the boss? My suggestions are just one way to approach this. Let’s hear some other angles!

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How can I find the truth about a company?

In the April 21, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders if it’s possible to figure out what an employer is really like — before accepting a job offer.

Question

You emphasize the importance of showing how you’d “do the job” in a job interview, and how you’d produce value for the employer. But that is in a perfect world. What about the real world?

How does one ascertain in an interview what the political environment is in a company? Most companies have some kind of political system, defined here as the messy arrangements one goes through to actually get something done.

What questions could one ask to determine the real political environment as opposed to the happy faces they present in the interview? They are all “team players” and they all want team players, but what are the rules of the game in that company? Is there any way to really determine this before taking a position? What questions could one ask that wouldn’t just generate “the company line?”

Nick’s Reply

under-the-rugOuch — please don’t accuse me of giving advice in “a perfect world.” If it were perfect, who would need advice?

Your questions are excellent, and there’s only one way I know to get them answered: Look under the proverbial rug! Meet the people who will affect your life and job at the company. Before you accept an offer, ask to talk with:

  • Others on the team you’ll be joining.
  • People who have jobs in departments that will affect your success at your job.
  • Managers who run teams that will interface with yours.

Don’t ask these people about the politics. Just ask them to tell you how they do their jobs and who they interact with in the company. Then hush and let them air their laundry. You’ll learn a lot. If you talk with enough of them (at minimum, one from each category and preferably three from the team you would join), you will get a very good sense of how the company really operates. (See also It’s the people, Stupid.)

Another good approach is one I try to use whenever I’m meeting with a prospective client. Have lunch in the company cafeteria and ask to be introduced to the people they work with. You will learn a lot while people talk as they are sipping soup or munching sandwiches.

If a company refuses to schedule such meetings for you prior to you accepting an offer, that ought to tell you something. A good, healthy company will be proud to show off its people, and management will be impressed that you’re willing to take the time to meet them before making a commitment. Frankly, I’m surprised all employers don’t insist on such activities before making a job offer. (See Kick the candidate out of your office.)

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, I explain how to expand your due diligence on an employer. This includes tracking down former employees of the company, and talking to its customers and vendors.

Does that sound like a bit much? The employer will check you out in detail — so it’s astonishing how little a job seeker will do to check out an employer! Here’s one specific tip from the book (pp. 12):

Check a company’s references. Talk with people who depend on the company for a living: attorneys, bankers, investors, landlords, and others. This will give you a community-wide perspective and also help keep you out of harm’s way. Explain that you are considering an investment in the company. (Your career is indeed an investment!) Ask for their insight and advice. Is this a good company? Why?

It isn’t a perfect world, so we’ve got to scrutinize jobs and employers closely. In my experience, most people who go job hunting do so because they took the wrong job with the wrong employer to begin with. Don’t make that mistake! Do your due diligence, and look under the rug!


For more about how to judge an employer, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, which includes these sections:

  • Introduction: Don’t walk blind on the job hunt
  • Do I have to “kiss ass” to win a job?
  • How can I make up for lack of required experience?
  • How to pick worthy companies
  • Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?
  • Age discrimination or age anxiety?
  • How do I deal with an undeserved nasty reference?
  • Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies

How do you examine a company’s culture and politics before you accept a job offer? Have you ever made the mistake of not looking closely before jumping into a new job?

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Why & how you should give employers an ultimatum

In the April 21, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader meets an employer who is losing the best job candidates to the competition because he uses interviews to reject applicants — not to hire them.

This week’s story is long, but it puts a sharp focus on the trouble with employers these days. It just seems that, no matter how motivated a manager might be to hire, the actual process to hire has gone haywire. Demoralized by such experiences, job seekers often go along with silly demands from employers. In my reply, I offer a solution that more folks need to learn how to use.

Question

I had an interview with a VIP at a huge local tech company looking to hire a designer with video/animation experience. Our initial phone interview started with him sounding very disinterested. After briefly explaining what he’s looking for, he said he’s disappointed with the candidates he’s getting because they are all print designers. As he spoke I uploaded a few of my videos to my website and told him to take a look. His demeanor completely changed. “This is exactly what I’m looking for! I’ve gotta run to this meeting but do you have time again today to talk more?” He came right back from that meeting to continue our call.

wasting-my-timeYou would think this would have a happy ending, no? No.

First, he ends the call not by inviting me in for an interview, but by saying, “I think I’ll have all the candidates look at the stuff we’ve had done by an agency (which he wasn’t happy with) and see what you all would do to redesign it.”

Oh, great, the “test,” that is, work for free. The call ended and I wrote the place off. Then HR e-mailed, saying he’d like to schedule an interview. It lasted 90 minutes. I have never had a better interview experience. More than once he said that I’m the only candidate who appears qualified. Again, it ended a bit sour with him saying, “I’ll probably have the final candidates come back and meet with the team”: the dreaded “approval by committee.” But I left feeling good.

The following week, I get an e-mail from him: ”You have offered examples of your work, however, I am asking all candidates to take a shot at creating something for us.” And he listed not one but three design projects he wanted to see redesigned. One was a video. “Just re-do the first 30 seconds.” WTF? This guy clearly has no clue as to how much work and effort goes into something like this. So, I did a few story board sketches, made a few recommendations and ended the e-mail by saying I have received an offer for another opportunity and hence am no longer available.

And that was the end of that. No doubt he will either continue to struggle to find the “perfect” candidate or he’ll just send my comps to the agency he’s currently contracting with. And I have gone through this exact scenario more times than I care to recall over the years.

Initially, I blamed my field of design, but I don’t think it’s that anymore. I met a guy over on StinkedIn, a systems analyst with a Ph.D. who’s in his 40s and unemployed for two years. He flew out of state for an interview, met with twelve people over two days, showed that he knew his stuff (“here’s your problem, here’s what I recommend”), they were clearly excited and he thought for sure he’d get the job. He didn’t. When he asked why, the hiring manager told him the two twentysomethings on the team didn’t like him because he “came across as arrogant.”

So, who’s to blame for these scenarios? HR’s only job here was to schedule the meetings. Do they send a brochure to all who put in a hiring request with tips on how to disqualify your best candidate? I dunno…

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for sharing your story. (Readers may have noticed this “Question” was no question!) You should have just given that VIP an ultimatum. I’ll explain why and How to Say It.

While I advocate a “show what you can do” approach to interviewing, there’s no guarantee that any method will lead to a hire — or that an employer won’t abuse the candidate who’s ready to show he or she can do the work profitably. You must know where to draw the line with greedy, unreasonable employers like the manager in this story.

And if you manage to get a meeting with a manager who’s also a jerk, jerk-ness spoils any intelligent interview activity of the job seeker. Anyone who wastes your time is a jerk. (See Work for free, or no interview for you!)

This manager will keep looking for the “perfect” hire — while his competitors eat his lunch. They will jump to hire people like you, rather than concoct yet one more exercise to get free work out of you.

There are two important lessons here. One is to use the ultimatum, and the other is to survive and thrive if it doesn’t work.

First, never get bogged down in just one job opportunity. Really, really wanting one particular job is a dead-end strategy. You took the wise route. You controlled your outcome by developing other opportunities in parallel, so you wouldn’t get sucked into waiting and wishful thinking. You put that greedy VIP into healthy competition with another employer, so you won. He lost.

I’m a big believer in showing how you’ll do the work in order to get hired, but when employers demand free work during the interview process, tell them to take a hike. (By the way, I think you made a big mistake in delivering those story boards, having already seen what the VIP was up to.)

Second, force the manager to decide now. You handled this well, but I’d have given the VIP an ultimatum. After he told you that you were the only qualified candidate, you could have told him you wanted a decision on the spot.

commitHow to Say It: “I’d like to work on your team. With the right offer, I’m ready to start in two weeks. You can keep looking for other candidates, but I agree I’m the best for this job. I can do it for you profitably. Either hire me, or let’s end this process, because if you don’t hire me, your competitors will. You need to decide now.”

Sometimes the strongest position a candidate can take is to draw a line and insist on a decision. Be ready for NO, but also be ready to walk away from an indecisive manager who probably doesn’t know what he wants — and who routinely loses his best candidates to competitors, which is probably where you should be working.

Congratulations on a successful job search. I hope others consider the lessons from your story. Employers lose their best candidates all the time because they think their mission is to hire perfection and to ensure they reject anything less. It’s how they wind up with weak candidates who will do anything for a job.

I discuss more methods for “Playing hardball with slowpoke employers” and how to “Line up your next target,” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers. You don’t need to be the one left holding the bag!

Do you have the guts to issue an ultimatum to an interviewer? Or am I nuts? Where do you draw the line with a greedy employer?

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A headhunter locked me out of jobs for 6 months

In the April 14, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says getting referred for a job by a headhunter cost him the job — because the employer didn’t want to pay the fee.

Question

I applied for a job on Indeed.com at a medical facility. A person called representing herself as working for the facility. She did a five-minute pre-screening interview, and set me up for a phone interview with an HR representative. The short version of this long story is that the organization wanted to hire me, but wasn’t able to because of a recruiting fee of $12,000.

I’ve been informed that this recruiting company has put a six-month “lock” on my name. Is this legal? This kind of thing has never happened to me before. I’m appalled that they can get away with it! Do I need to contact the state attorney general’s office? I never signed any documents stating any agreement for them to represent me. Please help!

Nick’s Reply

This is a deep crack in the law that you’ve fallen into. Employment agencies and third party recruiters (a.k.a. headhunters) are not regulated everywhere. The recruiter has submitted your resume as one of her referrals — and if the employer hires you as a result of that referral, it may owe the recruiter a fee.

(Of course, the recruiter serves a purpose. Without her, you may not have gotten the interviews with this employer. But her intervention should not cost you a job!)

I’d do two things.

Get the facts first

Call the employer’s HR office. Don’t tell them what happened. Just ask whether they have a contract with that recruiter.

My guess is they do not, but the recruiter’s referral may be interpreted by the employer as an obligation to pay a fee to hire you. That’s the crack in the law.

Recruiters will sometimes find and use resumes like yours as an entree to a company they don’t have a contract with. They will threaten the employer with a lawsuit to collect a fee, because they were the source of the referral. This may not stand up in court, but the easy way out for the employer is not to hire you. So you lose. My guess is that’s what’s going on here. The loose interpretation of the law might be that if the hospital hires you within six months of the referral, it owes the fee. After that, there’s no fee. That’s what the “lock” refers to.

But all this is questionable. What recruiters like this one bank on is an HR department’s unwillingness to risk legal action — which is silly.

What’s important for you to realize is that — I’m sorry to say — you are at least partly responsible for all this:


Have you ever put your resume on an online job board? Then you may have slimed yourself because anyone who has access to that resume can do exactly what that troublesome headhunter did with your implied blessing. You’d have a hard time convincing a judge or jury that the headhunter did anything wrong if your resume is already widely available.

Excerpted from How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 114.


Use regulatory powers

The second thing I’d do is call your state’s department of commerce. Find out whether the recruiter is licensed. Not all states require licensing. If yours does, and she’s not, she’s out of luck. I’d explain that to the employer — and I’d turn her in to the authorities..

Of course, it’s possible the recruiter has a contract with the hospital. In that case, what the lock means is the hospital has agreed to pay a referral fee for up to six months after a referral is made. Thus the lock is not on your name, but on the employer. You are not bound by a contract you are not a party to.

But here’s the risk you face, and it’s significant: If this recruiter circulates your resume to lots of employers, under her letterhead, such referrals may be construed by those employers as an obligation to pay a fee to hire you — even if you later apply directly. A good headhunter or recruiter would never refer you to any employer without your knowledge or consent. An unsavory recruiter will plaster your resume all over kingdom come — under her letterhead.


There are two sections of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you that you’ll find helpful in the future. “How should I judge a headhunter?”, pp. 26-27, defines a set of standards that good headhunters adhere to. “How should I qualify a headhunter?”, pp. 28-33, goes into great detail about how you can separate the good headhunters from the unsavory ones.

Some of the book is about how to protect yourself, but most of it is about how to leverage headhunters and recruiters to your advantage.


Assert yourself & protect yourself

I would immediately send the recruiter a certified letter, with a return receipt, stating that she is not to refer you to any employers, and demanding that she notify you what companies she may have already referred you to. Again, recruiters like this one bank on people not fighting them legally. It can be a nasty game.

Depending on what you learn, you may want to contact your state’s department of labor and employment. Explain what happened and ask their advice. If the recruiter misrepresented herself as an employer, I’d consider filing a complaint of consumer fraud and possibly identity theft, citing the recruiter’s misrepresentations, and for her failure to tell you that it would cost a fee to hire you.

Much depends on whether the employer is willing to stand up to the recruiter. I doubt the employer or the recruiter would want to see an article in the newspaper about a job seeker in a tough market finding out he got screwed out of a job because of all this.

I’d love to know what you learn and decide to do. This is a murky situation because much depends on who did what, and on whether the employer has a contract with the recruiter.

Keep this in mind: None of these agencies or recruiters work for you. Their client is always the employer. They have no contractual obligation to you, or you to them. Yet many such firms will use phrases like, “We will represent you…” They do not represent you. The employer pays them, and their fiduciary duty is to the employer. But it’s an odd business, because they can imply that they represent you — with the result that employers might lock you out of jobs due to the fee they’d have to pay.

Finally, remember that posting your resume or profile online makes it easy for anyone to “refer” you to an employer and to claim a fee. You can fight this, of course — but good luck, because employers are more likely to protect themselves than fight to hire you.

Has a recruiter or headhunter ever cost you a job? What would you do if you were the job hunter in this week’s Q&A?

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Reddit’s Ellen Pao: Your pay is what I say

ellen-paoReddit CEO Ellen Pao sounds like an HR manager whose goal is to save salary dollars: If you interview with her, you’re not allowed to ask for more money than she offers you. See Reddit CEO Ellen Pao bans salary negotiations.

Well, I’ve got a simple answer to that: I’ll go interview somewhere else, where candid dialogue is welcome.

Pao’s purported aim is to help women avoid discrimination. According to studies she cites, male and female managers reject women who negotiate assertively. But changing the rules the way she has at Reddit will likely result in lower compensation packages for men and women — something CEOs get patted on the back for by shareholders.

I don’t think much of anyone who doesn’t negotiate assertively, male or female. Curtailing negotiating hurts everyone and avoids the real problem. Here’s an analogy: Certain people are not allowed to sit at the lunch counter. So the lunch counter is removed to eliminate discrimination.

Is that a solution? Of course not. Neither is Pao’s policy.

If the studies Pao bases her action on are correct, the way to create salary parity is to change the way men and women respond to women who negotiate. Pao’s solution cheapens women who dare to negotiate — but in the end, it’s those women who will change the system. Shutting them down accomplishes nothing in the long term but to save money for employers.

Is Pao’s policy really going to make getting a job more fair for women? Or does it make dumbos of us all — men, women, job seekers and hiring managers alike?

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Dissed By HR: Can you top this?

In the April 7, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader hears a tired, old story from an HR manager. How much bad HR behavior will job seekers and employers put up with?

Job hunters say the darndest things — things that sometimes cost them interviews or job offers. But job hunters don’t represent entire companies, while HR does. So, when HR (Human Resources) says something really dumb to a job applicant, it costs the entire company its reputation.

A long-time reader sent me a brief exchange he had with the Human Resources manager at a company that interviewed him — and the diss he received in reply is so transparent, so foolhardy, and so naïve that it’s worth a discussion.

It really is a nightmare world out there, folks. Lots of HR people are clueless about what constitutes a royal F-you to a job applicant. Is this what they’re teaching in HR school?

A reader’s note to HR after an interview

Dear [HR Manager]:

It’s been four months since I first came in to interview and, based on the “radio silence,” I am assuming that I am not being considered for hire. Could you please confirm that the position has been filled, or that it has been put on hold? Thank you.

The HR manager’s reply

Hi [applicant],

Well, as I told you, an old employee appeared on the scene and he became our first choice, based simply upon the fact that he had quite a tenure here and could have hit the ground running. We dissedwaited for schedules to coincide and then some travel came up on both ends and then he eventually decided to stay with his current company.

We have yet to fill the position and I’ve not been told that you are out of the running but I think it would be safe to say they hoping for more of a perfect fit, personality-wise. (That is based on the personalities that are already ensconced here…) I will keep in touch with you.

Warm regards,

[HR Manager]

Where do I begin?

The job applicant shared a draft of the response he planned to send, but I know there are a few very young subscribers to this newsletter, so I can’t print it. I advised him not to send it, and he expressed this concern:

“There’s a local recruiter I know, who said that people get blackballed in the local HR groups.”

Yes, HR folks have pretty good back channels for sharing such stuff and for exacting punishment. But let’s get back to what the HR manager wrote. It’s one of the best F-you e-mails I’ve ever seen from HR to a job applicant, mainly because it’s so innocent and reveals a staggering naivete and nonchalance about the HR manager’s role in representing the employer.

Where do I begin? I’m going to make just three comments about it, and I want to throw this out to the Ask The Headhunter community.

First, this is a company manager writing the note. It’s not some greenhorn personnel clerk — but a person with authority to make decisions and to represent the employer. This company is dead meat in the public relations crucible — and the HR manager belongs in the Thunderdome.

Second, rejecting a candidate is one thing, but the entire note is all about the company’s hiring problems. There’s not one word about the job applicant’s qualifications. Why is the HR manager disclosing details about the company’s travails in trying to re-hire an old employee who’s not interested?

Third, I understand that employers don’t like to give applicants reasons for rejection — to avoid litigation — so, why does this HR manager tell the applicant that his personality is the problem? But the capper is the psychopathy: The HR manager closes with warm regards.

I don’t think this HR manager’s intent was to diss the applicant, because it’s plain that the manager is naïve. That makes this the company’s fault because it chose this manager as the interface to its professional community. And that’s why this is one of the worst disses I’ve ever seen.

(If you’re a hiring manager, and this story troubles you, you’re not alone. Please see Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.)

I suggested to the reader that his best course of action was not to reply at all, because the risk in expressing his ire is greater than zero. It’s not worth venting to someone who can hurt him.


In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, “Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?” (pp. 15-16), I suggest that a job seeker should “Get past the guard: You don’t get into a company by asking the human resources department to let you in. That’s for tourists.”

This 26-page PDF book includes sections about:

  • Does HR go too far when screening job candidates?
  • Who is the decision maker?
  • Don’t let HR isolate you
  • Time for HR to exit the hiring business
  • Candidate 1, Boss 1, Morons 0

…and lots more!


Make no mistake: Job hunters are often guilty of faux pas as bad as this. But when an HR manager does it, an entire company suffers because job applicants spread the story throughout their professional community. And that’s how companies like this one are taught a terrible lesson. (For more about how employers hurt themselves, see Death By Lethal Reputation.)

Okay, it’s time to share your thoughts:

  • What do you think is wrong with this e-mail from HR to the job applicant? (There’s so much more than the three issues I pointed out!)
  • Can you top this reader’s story? What’s the biggest diss you’ve been dealt by HR when applying for a job? And, to balance this out, what’s the best behavior you’ve seen from an HR manager?

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