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Yearly archive for 2018

Does it help to be the last job candidate interviewed?

In the March 20, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about being the first or last job candidate interviewed.


job candidateOne of the last questions I ask during job interviews is where they are in their hiring process. I have read that one should try to be the last applicant interviewed in the process. But in the majority of my interviews, I have been the first candidate, therefore setting the bar.

How does HR schedule the candidates with the hiring managers? What is your take on how the interview order affects who gets a job offer?

Nick’s Reply

There’s not a rule of thumb about this, but there are some interesting phenomena in the study of cognition and memory that might influence the order of choice.

Are you the most recent job candidate?

In memory research, there’s the primacy effect and the recency effect. The research suggests that we’re more likely to recall the first or last stimulus in a series (for example, a list of foods we’re supposed to remember) than we are to recall those in the middle. So, maybe it’s best to be the first or the last job candidate, but not one in between — because the interviewer is more likely to remember you more clearly.

Does this serial position effect influence who gets hired? I think sometimes it does — but it’s certainly not the most important factor.

In my own experience, I’ve interviewed so many candidates that they all seem to blur together because none stand out. But there’s the point: The candidate who stands out for some particular reason will stand out no matter where in the order they appeared. It’s not hard to see why a very good or very weak first candidate sets such a high or low bar that they stand out in the manager’s mind!

Who gets the offer?

I’ve sent candidates on interviews who were first, and they also wound up being the last to interview. That is, they were the only candidate. The manager cancelled subsequent interviews because my candidate was good enough to be hired.

I’m not suggesting I send in the perfect candidates. Sometimes good managers are just relieved to have a really good candidate. They make the hire and they get on with it. They just end the process at that point. That’s a manager who is being practical, and more power to him or her! Of course, sometimes my job candidate is first and gets the offer, but only after we have to wait quite a while for other interviews to wrap up.

I’ve also sent in candidates who interviewed last and got hired.

Which job candidate stands out?

To learn more about what really makes you memorable to a hiring manager, see Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.
Now that we’ve discussed what we might call the mind games of psychology, let’s get real. Your goal should be to stand out! That is, to blow away all your competition in your interview – not to manage the sequence. What matters most is what you demonstrate in that interview. That’s what counts.

Be the candidate who hands-down demonstrates how they would do the job profitably for the manager. Be the job candidate the manager remembers because of what you said and what you did in the interview — not because of when you showed up.

An employer that is determined to interview X number of applicants often wastes a lot of time. That employer is very likely to lose its first choices to competitors because the best candidates aren’t likely to wait around for a lengthy decision process. Many companies interview gratuitously. That tells you a lot about the quality of management. They’re so fixated on having lots of choices that they forget the objective is to hire someone who can do the job well! And that might be the first candidate.

Your goal should be to blow away all your competition in your interview – not to manage the sequence. For more tips, please read Why am I not getting hired?

Would you rather be the first or the last applicant interviewed? What has your experience been regarding where in the sequence of candidates you were interviewed? Does it make a difference? If you’re an employer, do you insist on interviewing more applicants even if the first one can do the job well?

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This job offer is unreal!

In the March 13, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader waits for a job offer and for the current employee in the job to quit.


job offerI applied for a job not too far from me. I was invited in for an interview. I went to the interview and did not hear back for two weeks. I e-mailed my potential boss to follow up and he responded by telling me something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry, I was just about to contact you and invite you in for a second interview!” So I went to the second interview and at the conclusion he said that I was one of the two last candidates and he would let me know in a week what his decision is.

I waited almost two weeks and e-mailed him back. The boss told me I’m the front runner but that the person currently holding the position revealed that he doesn’t know if he wants to leave the job. The boss is giving him 30 days to give a final answer. If the position becomes vacant, he will contact me first thing with a job offer and hire me.

He seems like a respectable person so I don’t want to read too much into it. But to you, could there be something else going on here?

Nick’s Reply

After two interviews, hours of time and a considerable emotional investment, it’s natural to rationalize that there’s a real opportunity here. And there may very well be if that manager is respectable.

Is this a real job offer?

I’d love for you to actually get a job offer, but I’d also like to tell you not to throw good will after bad.

If you really think there may be a good job here for you, and you’re willing to tolerate how this manager has treated you, then I’d thank him, I’d put it on a back burner, and I’d forget about it until you have a signed offer in hand. But I would not count on a job offer in any way because he has already shown you that you cannot count on him.

I don’t see any good will from that manager. Good will would have been a phone call or e-mail that you didn’t have to chase.

Move on

The risk you’re taking is that while you wait for an unreal job offer, you won’t put your all into the next real opportunity. I’d rather you cut your losses and move on. (An even bigger risk some people take is to quit their old job before a new job offer is solid. See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.)

I don’t think this is a respectable manager. He didn’t get back to you after you invested time to interview. Then he failed to let you know his decision in a week after he promised to. Then he told you he’ll make you a job offer and hire you — if the job opens up.

What do you think are the odds you’ll ever hear from him again?

Please, move on, even if you remain hopeful.

There’s no job offer if there’s no job to fill

Please don’t confuse this with my admonition to managers that they should spend at least 20%-30% of their time recruiting. That’s very different from conducting interviews and promising job offers when there’s no job!
There is no justification for a manager hedging his bets like this and making you pay for it. He’s interviewing several candidates prematurely and telling one or two they’re finalists – when he doesn’t even know whether he’s got an open job to fill!

But you’re right: There is “something else” going here. The manager has wasted your time — and every other candidate’s — inexcusably. He has misrepresented a job as “available.”

Hedge your own bet

If you insist this may pan out, that’s up to you. What you should read into the situation is this: Your best next move in your job search is to move on to the next opportunity. If this deal doesn’t pan out, at least you’ll have something else on deck. Just like that manager, who is keeping you on deck.

Be careful. This is a manager who has no qualms about wasting people’s time. He doesn’t know what his own plans are any more than he knows what his current employee’s plans are! (All we know is that the current employee seems to be holding the manager hostage.)

I understand being hopeful. Just don’t rationalize the behavior of a manager who, so far, seems to be using you. This may be helpful: Who will lead you to your next job?

How do you tell a real job opportunity from a come-on? How do you know a promised job offer may not be real? Should employers interview to fill jobs they don’t have, “just in case?” What should this job candidate do? What should the manager do?

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HR People We Love

In the March 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who works in HR makes an impact and a great impression.

HRSometimes I fear readers think I hate HR. What I hate is what HR has become in a broad sense – highly bureaucratic; overly, counter-productively and inexcusably automated; and too distant from hiring managers and job applicants. (See 6 things HR should stop doing right now in the PBS NewsHour Ask The Headhunter feature.)

But I also see some shining lights in HR and I’m tickled to show you one in this week’s edition.

While it’s a rare company that has even a decent HR system in place, I get a kick out of individual HR people who apply common sense and business sense to the recruiting and hiring parts of their jobs. They shine! They get the best candidates in front of managers quickly, and their goal is to get jobs filled. When you encounter one of these folks, you know it because they make things happen intelligently, deftly and with a smile.

These are the HR people I love, and I love them even more when they share their insights and practices here on Ask The Headhunter.

Reader Jenn works in HR as a recruiter — and I’m going to let her discuss what I think are some of the best practices I’ve encountered in the rough-and-tumble world of HR. (Jenn posted another version of her comments on ATH. All I did was edit it a bit to fit the format of the newsletter, and to highlight her main ideas. All credit goes to Jenn.)

Jenn’s Rules of HR

Nick, in a recent column you wrote about the risk job applicants take when they wait for HR to judge them based on their resume: “The better risk for a job hunter is to deal directly with the hiring manager…”

1. Make it happen quickly

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a corporate recruiter (regional non-profit healthcare system) and my initial goal is to get the strongest candidates and hiring managers talking to each other as quickly as possible.

I care about the candidate experience and I know the best ones will have the most career options, so I want them engaging with the hiring manager sooner rather than later.

2. Avoid unnecessary screening

Sometimes I’ll have a hiring manager (HM) who is married to the idea that I must first phone-screen candidates, before the HM talks to them. Often this step is unnecessary and wastes valuable time.

I recruit for dozens of different competencies in several areas of the organization. I cannot always field in-depth candidate questions about the role and don’t see a lot of value in this. To me it’s a waste of the candidate’s time (and mine) and serves only to check a box that the hiring manager believes (incorrectly) to be important. And it means the position will go unfilled for that much longer.

3. Put the managers in the game immediately

I encourage my HMs to contact candidates of interest to them right away. I want them to start interviews as soon as possible. Especially if an HM is really excited about a candidate, it doesn’t make sense to insert an arbitrary layer into the process that adds no value, delaying a hiring decision unnecessarily.

4. Make HR’s role short and useful

What information does HR need to judge a candidate?

For me it’s only this: Does the candidate meet the bare minimum requirements? In our business that means the necessary specific healthcare license and relevant previous experience if the position is not entry-level.

That’s all that is needed before applications are turned over to the HM for review.

5. Use human judgement

However, I still read all resumes and cover letters personally. I look for the “nice to haves” that might make a candidate more desirable to the HM. I look for qualities that algorithms are likely to miss.

My goal is to identify candidates who are a stronger fit than most, for both the position and the organization. I look for qualifications beyond the minimum requirements. That requires human judgement.

6. Light a fire under managers

In my organization, the HMs drive the interview process and I don’t have any control over how quickly HMs are engaging candidates. All I can do is consult and advise, and make recommendations on the best way to proceed. It’s frustrating.

To light a fire under HMs, I rely on what applicants submit. I want to see it so I can discuss it with the HMs and encourage them to reach out to the candidates immediately, before they are no longer available.

7. Manage the hiring managers

Some of my HMs are really proactive and great at hiring. I coach the ones who aren’t there yet. My job is to help them make changes to their process that are better for the candidates and for the HMs — to get positions filled more quickly. [For an example, see Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).]

Nick’s Reply

Oh, what a relief to see a bright light in the corporate HR darkness. When companies need to have a recruiting and hiring process in place, they must remember how critical it is to have HR people who use the system rather than let the system use hiring managers and job applicants. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

No corporate hiring system is going to be as potent as I’d like because most are watered down with weak technology. But like the Dos Equis guy who says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…”

There are HR people I love, and Jenn is one of them. Many thanks to her for sharing her rules. I’d love to add more savvy rules from more HR folks! How about it?

Who do do you love in HR? Who does a great HR job within the confines of a corporate structure? How do they do it? What makes them stand out? What rules should HR live by?

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When to decline an employee referral for a job

In the February 27, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions how meaningful an employee referral is when it’s impersonal.


employee referralA friend at a company I’m interested in working for referred me for a job. I have a phone interview scheduled with a “technical recruiter” later today. I asked if there was any special preparation I could do for the interview. I was told no, that we would be covering my previous experience and projects during the call.

You always recommend using a job interview to demonstrate how the applicant would actually do the job. Since the interview is with a recruiter, not the hiring manager who runs the technical team, I somehow doubt there will be an opportunity to demonstrate I can do the job.

I’m surprised at the way they’re handling this. I already have a strong recommendation from an employee. Why should I talk to a recruiter first? Nobody needs to recruit me — I’ve already been recruited and referred!

[A reader posted a shorter version of this story as a comment on another column. I edited it so it would stand on its own.]

Nick’s Reply

This is a good example of a truly stupid move by an employer. You’re absolutely correct: There is no need for a recruiter to screen you because you’ve already been screened and recruited!

Why do companies even have employee referral programs if they’re going to treat referred job candidates like some unknown applicant?

Employee referral or bureaucratic process?

In fact, the intervention of the recruiter should give people like you pause. This tells you the company’s hiring process is broken. The company can’t tell the difference between random applicants and desirable job candidates — or doesn’t care.

We see another form of such foolishness when a recruiter interviews a random applicant (who was not referred personally), then tells them to go to the company website to fill out a lengthy form about their qualifications. But, what was the point of the interview if not to judge the candidate’s qualifications?

The problem in both cases is that the selection process is thoughtlessly bureaucratic and unduly stretched out after a candidate has already been scrutinized. This redundancy turns off the best candidates and often results in the employer losing them.

The purpose of any recruiting and selection process must be to get good candidates to the hiring manager as quickly and enthusiastically as possible!

(When it doesn’t work that way, it may be prudent to politely decline an employee referral for a job.)

Personal referrals deserve personal attention

I think you’re right to harbor doubts and to question how you’re being treated — and to be concerned that the upcoming interview with the recruiter is not worthy of your time. You won’t be able to show what you can do. Only the hiring manager is qualified to have that kind of exchange with you. Why waste your time?

When an employee makes a personal referral (it should have been made to the actual manager, by the way), the manager should personally jump on it and make the call immediately. The employee, after all, has done the manager a favor, and so have you. The manager should treat this trusted personal referral as a gift. Otherwise, it’s a huge dis to the employee — because why else would they ever make a personal referral again, if it isn’t handled personally by the manager?

Why bother?

We won’t even get into why you’d ever accept a referral from your friend again, if this is how you’re going to be received. The friend has an obligation to make sure the hiring manager welcomes you enthusiastically and gratefully. Unfortunately, employees of companies that have referral programs know they’re usually a bureaucratic nightmare. (For a better way to make a referral, please see Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).)

Of course, any job candidate should be thoroughly interviewed and assessed. A personal referral is no guarantee of a job. But it should be a guarantee of the best treatment a company and a manager can offer.

Sheesh, employers are stupid. Then they complain they can’t find good candidates. (See Referrals: How employers waste proven talent.)

My advice is to call your friend the employee and explain you’d be glad to meet with the hiring manager on the friend’s recommendation — “which I really appreciate.” But add that you didn’t apply for the job from off the street, and you’re not going to spend your valuable time getting grilled by a recruiter.

How to Say It:

“Look, I appreciate the personal referral. It was kind of you, and I hope I can return the favor some day. But if the manager isn’t ready to talk with me on your recommendation, then it’s not worth my time, either. I’m glad to invest time to show a manager how I’ll do the technical work properly and profitably. But I don’t have time to chat with a recruiter about my resume. If the manager would like to meet with me, I’m ready for that discussion any time. Thanks again for your faith in me.”

If I were the employee who made the referral, I’d go talk to the manager and suggest the manager make the call promptly. “I’m trying to help you fill a job, but I need you to help preserve the respect this candidate has for me and for our company. I made a personal referral expecting this individual would be treated personally and with care. Is there anything I can do to help move this along?”

Should a personal employee referral be treated personally? What’s your experience been when you’ve been referred for a job? Does your company have an employee referral program? How does it work — and do you participate?


The worst job hunting advice ever

In the February 20, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an HR pro warns unsuspecting readers to avoid getting hurt by bad advice on Ask The Headhunter.


adviceI’ve been in Human Resources 12 years and I have to say your article Resume Blasphemy is probably the worst advice I have ever heard anyone give to a job seeker. The best evidence of future performance is past achievement. I need to know where you worked, where you went to school and what you have accomplished. If that is not on the resume, I don’t read it.

I highly recommend you remove that article before you hurt any more unsuspecting job seekers.

Nick’s Reply

I’m hurting job hunters, when you’re the one tossing their resumes, unread, in the trash?

I help unsuspecting job hunters avoid getting hurt by teaching them how to get past personnel jockeys like you altogether.

The best HR people I’ve known don’t rely on resumes any more than I do. But they’re few.

A job hunter is lucky to encounter an HR person who knows how to read between the lines, both literally and figuratively. The best HR folks manage to avoid blinders when recruiting. They don’t approach candidates (or resumes) with preconceived notions. Like I said, these HR people are few, but they know who they are.

You’re entitled to your opinion, and I’m glad you’ve shared it. I’m publishing it because job hunters need to see firsthand how some HR representatives deal with resumes. (I stand by the Blasphemous Resume.) You make two statements that prove just how dangerous it can be to blindly send resumes to HR departments.

HR Advice: “The best evidence of future performance is past achievement.”

I’m always astonished at how horribly recruiters are hobbled by such claptrap. Here we have an employer who can ask job applicants for any information he wants. So, what does he ask for? A lame, one-size-fits-all recitation of “past achievements.”

First, what constitutes an achievement is subjective. I’ve met job candidates with achievement awards up the yin-yang from companies where showing up in clean clothes every day earns them a regular promotion and a raise. I’ve also met candidates whose resumes are nothing more than lists of tedious job functions, but who underneath all that are outstanding workers.

Second, a clever resume-writing service can apply “action verbs” to turn the most mundane worker into a seeming powerhouse of a job candidate.

Finally, I’ve known people whose resumes showed they were good performers again and again in their past. Unfortunately, they could not translate their abilities to handle the next job.

It took me only three months to land my dream job. It was advertised absolutely everywhere, so I’m sure they received a boatload of qualified candidates.

In thinking back as to how I grabbed this job, I’m 100% positive it was because I followed your Ask The Headhunter advice and did the job in the interview. That simple maneuver set me apart from all the others vying for the job.

Thank you, Nick. Being a member of this community has literally changed my life.

— Elizabeth Weintraub

But, can you do this job?

The outcomes in all these scenarios are problematic. Good candidates are lost and lousy ones are hired because the best evidence of future performance is not past achievements. (I’d go further and argue that past performance is not sufficiently predictive of future performance, no matter where it is described.)

When an employer can ask for any information he wants, he should ask for a demonstration of a candidate’s ability to do the work at hand. That means the candidate should show, right there in the interview, that she can do the work profitably, or learn to do it in short order. (I offer reader Elizabeth Weintraub’s quote as just one example.)

But it’s impossible for a job candidate to do the job in the interview with an HR representative, because no one in HR is expert in the specific work of any department of a company (other than HR). A job hunter wastes her time when she gets caught in the “HR filter” before she establishes with the hiring manager that there are good reasons to meet and talk.

HR Advice: “If that is not on the resume, I don’t read it.”

“I need to know where you worked, where you went to school and what you have accomplished. If that is not on the resume, I don’t read it.”

This statement is a good tip-off to job hunters: HR doesn’t read all resumes.

Any resume that’s missing what titillates the keyword algorithm gets nixed. And, who’s to say what might or might not stimulate your (that is, a personnel jockey’s) rejection reaction? Pity the poor slob who went to a school that pummeled your alma mater’s football team. Who wants to take that chance?

It’s also important for job hunters to remember that an HR representative is not the hiring manager. I’ve never met a hiring manager who would reject a candidate who provided a detailed plan of how she would do the job profitably. However, many are the managers who’ve said to me, “Just because she did a job at another company doesn’t mean she can do this job here. Our needs are unique.” (Mind you, I’m not arguing that history is irrelevant; only that it’s not the best way to introduce yourself to an employer, and that it’s not an adequate basis for screening candidates. See Tell HR you don’t talk to the hand.)

The rejection question

It seems you refuse to read resumes that you don’t immediately understand, in spite of the fact that you can’t possibly be an expert in all the disciplines that are important to your company. The smart job hunter will thus wonder, What’s on my resume that might get me rejected? and conclude that it might be anything.

The better risk for a job hunter is to deal directly with the hiring manager, who is likely more interested in the value of the candidate than in words on a resume or in the HR department’s (or some algorithm’s) binary judgement. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

I advise job hunters to skip, avoid, have nothing to do with the HR department until they have talked with the hiring manager.

Resumes: Too much noise?

There is not a single good reason for a filter at the HR level when a company is hiring. A good manager (these are few and far between, too) recruits, interviews and hires on his own. HR’s job is to provide support, not to decide which applicants the manager gets to see.

(The manager who argues that HR is needed to filter the thousands of incoming resumes should consider that he might be better off not relying on ads that generate tons of resumes that need sorting to begin with.)

noiseMy suggestion to most businesses is that they can relieve their HR departments of recruiting, candidate selection and hiring functions without any significant loss. The HR function is Human Resources, not Human Recruiting. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.) Recruiting is best left to people who have skin in the game: managers and headhunters who specialize in specialized talent markets. (Yah, I know, maybe we should exclude headhunters, too. That’s another debate.)

Blasphemous advice

Your warning confirms that my advice is indeed blasphemous. (Whew. Thanks.)

I contend that resumes include too much noise. Too many good candidates are lost because HR clerks rely on words in resumes to filter them out. Too many inappropriate candidates wind up getting interviewed just because they have the right buzzwords on their resumes. And it’s all just so much noise that hides the signals that truly matter.

I suggest you read Resume Blasphemy again, more carefully. Perhaps your resume-sorting habits have made you so accustomed to blocking things out that you missed something that matters. The point of the article is explicitly stated:

“In fact, once you have produced a Working Resume, you will likely have done the kind of research and made the kinds of contacts that will probably make a resume entirely unnecessary — you will already be ‘in the door’. (That’s the point.)”

No need to rag on HR, but let’s discuss the two assumptions this personnel jockey made. (1) Is past achievement really the best evidence of future performance? (2) What information on your resume does HR really need in order to judge you?

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Job candidate fires interviewers – all of them

In the February 13, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant takes the paddle to her interviewers.


You must get a lot of horror stories about job interviews. I’ve got some of my own, of course, but I’d love to know, what’s the worst you’ve heard?

Nick’s Reply


Ah, don’t bait me or I’ll start and won’t be able to stop! You’re right, I’ve heard some doozies — some of them from candidates I’ve sent to my own clients over the years. (On more than one of those occasions, I had to fire the client. That is, the employer!)

At the end of last year, as I was getting ready to put Ask The Headhunter down for a long winter’s nap so I could bake cookies (anybody know what Greek koulouria are?), put up Christmas lights and enjoy visions of sugar plums, I found a great little gift from Remy Porter that I’ve been meaning to share with you. This story also ended with someone getting fired! Needless to say, I’m putting it out there as bait, too — I’m hoping it’ll attract some of your interview war stories.

Crazed interviewers on the loose

Porter produces The Daily WTF (wish I’d thought of that!), a “how-not-to guide for developing software.” He’s a veteran developer himself, so he’s got the kind of edge I like.

The Interview Gauntlet is required reading for all employers and job hunters, not just those in the world of software. It’s about how a technical job applicant handled a series of ridiculous interview questions and the crazed interviewers behind them. This could happen to anyone interviewing for a job — and it probably has. So please listen up, because it teaches an important lesson most are loathe to learn.

Never tolerate a job interview that’s a gauntlet wherein interviewers beat you with paddles.

Irving’s wrong interview questions

If you’re an employer, you might have done something equally stupid as what Irving, a software director, did to Natasha, an earnest candidate who showed up to interview for a User Interface Developer job. (UI developers program the “look and feel” of a software application to ensure the user has a good experience.) One wonders how employers come up with so many wrong questions to ask job applicants. (Need examples? See Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1-#5 and A stupid interview question to ask a woman.)

I’ll let Porter tell set this up. He does it so well.

After [Natasha survived a] gauntlet of seemingly pointless questions, it was Irving’s turn. His mood hadn’t improved, and he had no intention of asking her anything relevant. His first question was: “Tell me, Natasha, how would you estimate the weight of the Earth?”

“Um… don’t you mean mass?”

Irving grunted and shrugged. He didn’t say, “I don’t like smart-asses” out loud, but it was pretty clear that’s what he thought about her question.

Off balance, she stumbled through a reply about estimating the relative components that make up the Earth, their densities, and the size of the Earth. Irving pressed her on that answer, and she eventually sputtered something about a spring scale with a known mass, and Newton’s law of gravitation.

He still didn’t seem satisfied, but Irving had other questions to ask. “How many people are in the world?” “Why is the sky blue?” “How many turkeys would it take to fill this space?”

After patiently fielding one confrontational question after another from a line of technical interviewers, and after Software Director Irving rudely snapped at her, Natasha finally bit back and fired them all.

She walked out of the job interview.

Interviewers are not your boss

Job applicants often forget — in the pressure-cooker of the job interview — that the interviewer is not yet their boss. The immediate job of a manager like Irving is to fill the job you’re interviewing for, or they’ve failed. When a job candidate ends the interview, the interviewer has failed.

Irving failed when he told Natasha that her attitude and behavior revealed she wasn’t a fit for the team.

“So I’ve heard,” Natasha said. “And I don’t think this team’s a good fit for me. None of the questions I’ve fielded today really have anything to do with the job I applied for.”

That was the best answer to the entire interview, because Software Director Irving failed to demonstrate he was qualified to be Natasha’s boss. He didn’t earn it.

Errant interviewers get fired

Natasha’s story is distressing because it happens every day, with the result that good, sincere job applicants realize they’re wasting their time. Such silly, unprofessional employer behavior is why important jobs go unfilled. (This entire embarrassing episode could have been avoided if Irving and his team had asked Natasha The one, single best interview question ever.)

When a patient but forthright job applicant finally snapped, we see that the employers in this story revealed themselves to be little more than schoolyard bullies pretending to be interviewers.

Natasha displayed amazing presence of mind and candor. I wound up laughing because six self-righteous techies and their boss probably still don’t realize Natasha was interviewing them — not the other way around.

They got fired.

Many thanks to Remy Porter for telling this wonderfully snarky story, and compliments to Natasha for thrashing the director. I intentionally left out the best part, at the end of his column. But I’ll offer you this caution: If you go read itdeja vu may strike you down!

If you’d been in Natasha’s place, what would you have done? Was Natasha wrong? Could the interview have been salvaged? Did you go read what they finally told Natasha about the job she thought she was interviewing for? Or, can you top this? (I can’t help it. Pile on!)

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Why cattle-call recruiting doesn’t work

In the February 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager who complains about irresponsible job applicants gets a lesson on the recruiting problem employers create.


I am a manager looking for reasons why candidates that apply for my jobs either:

  1. Don’t respond when I reach out to schedule an interview, or
  2. Don’t show up for an interview.

You often write about how irresponsibly employers, HR and recruiters behave toward job applicants. [See
How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.] I don’t disagree, but it appears that there’s some fishiness happening on both sides of this. Why do you think candidates don’t respond and don’t show up? Aren’t they just hurting themselves?

Nick’s Reply

I agree with you. Candidates hurt themselves when they apply to jobs or when you reach out to them, but then fail to follow up or show up. But often they’re not hurting themselves for the reasons you think.

Their real mistake is applying for jobs they don’t really want or care about. The people who are ignoring you have responded to cattle-call recruiting, and I’m afraid that’s on you — and on all employers that rely on it.

The problem with recruiting via job boards

The way the employment system works encourages people to apply for virtually any job that pops up in front of them. That’s the behavior you’re encouraging when you — as an employer — post your jobs on huge job boards where anyone and everyone can easily click and gamble. The system encourages people to apply to all the jobs they can. That’s how job boards like CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, Indeed and others make money.

Then recruiters and employers waste job seekers’ time with demands for resumes, more application forms, online video interviews by robots, silly phone and e-mail screenings, and instructions to “wait until we get back to you.” (See this oldie-but-goodie NewsHour article: Is Applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work?)

Is it any wonder the job applicants you’re puzzled about get fed up? The system dulls their motivation because it conditions them to a 99.9% failure rate. And if the job you’re contacting them about is a marginal one anyway — one they just clicked on for the heck of it — then if they’ve got a really interesting opportunity cooking, you’re just a bother.

How the system fails employers and job seekers

If you’re using job boards to solicit applicants, most of them are probably applying blindly, just because they saw the posting, not because it’s a job they really want. They apply to so many jobs this way that they just can’t keep up — or, by the time you get in touch, they’ve moved on. That’s why many are ignoring you. This is how the employment system fails you.

The problem is that when employers solicit so broadly from the pool of “everyone out there,” the rate of failure is virtually guaranteed to be huge.

Recruiting right requires work

My suggestion is, don’t solicit widely by using job boards. Figure out where the best potential candidates hang out. Carefully identify the people you’d really like to interview — and go look for them in those narrow hangouts. I think your hit rate will go up dramatically. Do the work to recruit right. (See Recruiting: How to get your hands dirty and hire.)

For example, if you’re recruiting programmers, go to a conference or training program where the kinds of specialized programmers you want congregate. This takes work, but of course it does. The automated method you’re using takes almost no work — and that’s why it doesn’t work.

I know that posting on job boards is what employers do. LinkedIn, Indeed, Zip make it seem so easy and they promise they will take care of everything. That’s nonsense. Please consider this: Job boards make money only when job seekers keep job hunting and when employers do not fill jobs. Everyone keeps spinning the roulette wheel. Only “the house” wins.

People who respond to cattle calls are not likely to be the people you want to hire. So please, employers — stop issuing cattle calls!

Do you ever ignore employers or blow off job interviews? Does the system dull your motivation? What can employers do better to hire the right people?

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The Zen Of Job Hunting: How to get past HR obstacles

In the January 30, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to overcome a mountain of job hunting obstacles controlled by HR.


job huntingJob hunting has become incredibly frustrating. I have always said HR should never screen candidates, but it is reality and I have to face it. I am looking for a job and can’t get past the initial screening. People hiring for jobs I have done won’t talk to me. I just started using Jobscan to try to get through the initial screening. The word-match is ridiculous, but again it is reality.

Why do companies still rely on HR to scan resumes? It has never been a good idea and now with software to do word matches, it is even worse. Any great ideas on how to change the corporate mentality so top management will tell hiring managers they need to screen the resumes themselves?

If the hiring managers say they are too busy, that tells me they are not good at their jobs or don’t know what they want and are unable to produce good job descriptions. I find they also screen for academic background and professional licenses when those are not needed. For example, I am not a CPA, but have an MBA. Unless I am signing off an audit, it should not matter. I have cleaned up many messes from CPAs who could not function in an operating company.

Any ideas on how to change hiring mindsets?

Nick’s Reply

Why do people persist in trying to change other people’s mindsets? Change your own mindset. That in turn will allow you to change your behavior. Only your own behavior is going to enable you to change the outcome of your job hunting efforts.

I agree with everything you say, except that you “have to face it.” (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business and The manager’s #1 job.) You don’t have to face the obstacles HR throws up at you.

“You have to face it” is a great fallacy that the HR profession and the employment industry (Indeed, LinkedIn, etc.) market and sell to us every day. It’s bunk, yet some of the smartest people still accept it.

There is no mountain when you’re job hunting.

There is no way to beat a system that is designed to make managers avoid talking to the people they need to hire. But don’t let that stop you.

There’s an old Zen koan: A novice goes to the master and says, “Master, I have tried to climb the mountain. It is too big. I have tried to go around the mountain. It is too wide. What shall I do?”

The master says, “Grasshopper (it’s always Grasshopper, right?), there is no mountain.”

Understanding this is the start of changing yourself.

Reject what you know is wrong.

When you cannot change the job hunting system, reject the system. Realize that the silly methods employers use to isolate managers from you is nothing more than a consensus of HR people who are wrong.

The system hurts you only if you accept and acknowledge it. You don’t have to accept the system. The stunning truth is that this silly system hurts employers, too. It results in enormous, unacceptable rejection rates in recruiting and hiring. When HR rejects so many people, somebody’s doing it wrong!

Stop expending energy on HR, screenings and obstacles. Invest all your time in finding, getting introduced to, and talking with managers. Don’t be intimidated by this. It’s a challenge like any other challenge you’ve faced in your work.

Focus on the right objective.

Remember that HR doesn’t hire anyone. It processes applicants. Only managers hire. So, focus on the correct objective — the hiring manager — even if HR warns you not to. This means you must change your objective, which means changing your mindset.

Throw out your old job hunting playbook. (And forget about using Jobscan to diddle your resume!) If you have to get to the manager (and you do), what are the steps? Work it out. It’s no bigger a challenge than anything else you’ve faced in your work. The nice thing is, you’ll encounter virtually no competition because everyone else is standing in line at HR’s door!

This article may help you develop your own methods: Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.

This extreme example may help you change your mindset: 71 Years Old: Got in the door at 63 and just got a raise! (Let Stephanie Hunter be your guide!)

Don’t worry about the job hunting mountain.

People in power depend on us to believe they control everything and that we cannot control anything. I think such brainwashing is the real source of your job hunting frustration.

Please: Accept the fact that all your other observations are correct. Don’t fight your own good judgment. Instead, act on it. Don’t worry about “changing hiring mindsets.” Don’t let HR screen you. Approach managers from directions that do not involve “the mountain.”

Don’t worry about HR. Let HR worry about you.

What obstacles keep you from talking directly to hiring managers? How do you get to the hiring manager?

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The Job Monopoly: How companies keep pay low

In the January 23, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a look at the job monopoly that keeps a lid on pay.


job monopolyYou’ve probably already read this on Slate. Three economists conducted a study that asks, Why Is It So Hard for Americans to Get a Decent Raise? (The paper is only in draft form so Slate includes no link to it.) I think your readers might have some interesting things to say about whether there’s a job monopoly that controls their pay.

Here are the key points:

  • “Workers’ pay may be lagging because the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of employers.”
  • “A lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay.”

In other words, in areas where there are only one or two companies posting a certain kind of job (e.g., delivery van drivers in Selma, Alabama), pay for those jobs has stagnated or declined. They call this monopsony. Like a monopolist that controls prices because it controls supply of a product or service, a monopsonist company controls pay unfairly because it controls the supply of certain jobs.

But I think it’s far worse. (You’ve already touched on this before in your article Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy.) I wonder if those economists are taking into account all those “consulting firms” — middlemen who provide, say, most of the computer programmers to several employers in an area — that create further aggregation of hiring entities who would otherwise be competitive.

What do you say about this? What does everyone on Ask The Headhunter think about it?

Nick’s Reply

Wow, that’s one cool new word for our vocabulary: Monopsonist. It opens up a whole new world of worry!

Consulting firms and the job monopoly

I don’t think there’s any question that a handful of “consulting firms” that funnel workers to lots of companies in a particular industry, field or discipline constitute a job monopoly that kills competitive pay. I suspect your insightful guess is correct: The consulting industry is aggregating jobs and labor, thereby controlling — and depressing — pay. It wouldn’t surprise me if those economists totally miss the consulting-firm factor. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)

The economists should ask workers who get their jobs via these aggregators, what is the difference between what a consulting firms pays them, and what the firm charges an employer for them. That’s never disclosed, and that’s the dirty little secret of the corporate world — and our economy. (We’ve looked at another topic that economists seem to view with blinders on: What the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters.)

But there are other issues and questions, too.

While I could ruminate for pages about what this means to workers and job seekers, and to our economy, I’m going to respect your request and roll this out to our community, in the form of a bunch of questions the article raises for me. Let’s see how everyone views this — and what questions and answers they’ve got.

I strongly suggest that everyone reading this column stop right here, and please read the Slate article before proceeding. It’s a worthy read — and I think it’ll get up your ire after it raises your eyebrows!

Are the data legit?

The Slate article by Jordan Weissmann raises a lot of questions, and not least of them is one about methodology.

  • The economists’ data set comes from CareerBuilder, “which publishes about one-third of all online job ads in the country.” Talk about an aggregator! What assumptions are those economists making about the validity and reliability of a major job board’s data, which comprises job listings that we all know are corrupt in more ways than we can count? (E.g., duplicate jobs, out of date jobs, fake jobs, composite jobs, inaccurate job descriptions, and so on.)

Questions about monopolistic pay practices

Nonetheless, the study raises provocative questions whether or not the data are legit.

  • In what other ways do employers monopolize a job market?
  • How do employers that are rolling in new-found profits explain this quote from the article?

“Since 1979, inflation-adjusted hourly pay is up just 3.41 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans while labor’s overall share of national income has declined sharply since the early 2000s.”

  • What other employment practices “[cut] into labor’s share of the economy?”

Questions about anti-trust

  • Should the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission investigate monopsony like it routinely investigates monopoly?

“Then there’s antitrust… This paper’s findings suggest that Washington needs to think more carefully about how mergers can impact the job market.”

Questions about minimum wage policy

  • Does the following assertion turn our entire political debate about wages on its ear?

“Take the minimum wage. The classic argument against increasing the pay floor is that it will kill jobs by making hiring more costly than it’s worth. But in a monopsony-afflicted world where companies can artificially depress wages, a higher minimum shouldn’t hurt employment, because it will just force employers to pay workers more in line with the value they produce.”

Is hiring no longer competitive?

Weissmann closes on this point:

“We’re living in an era of industry consolidation. That’s not going away in the foreseeable future. And workers can’t ask for fair pay if there aren’t enough businesses out there competing to hire.”

I’ll bring it back around to the insight (offered by the reader who kindly brought all this to our attention) about “consulting firms.” (I put that in quotation marks because most of these firms don’t consult at all — they merely rent workers for profit.)

  • To what extent does consolidation of hiring by a relatively small number of body shops (I think body shops is the more accurate moniker) result in manipulation of pay?

And who’s going to do anything about it?

Okay, folks: Have at it! Is there a growing monopoly on jobs that affects pay? How does it work? What do you think about all this? What questions do you have that we can all try to tackle?

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How To Say It: I don’t do phone screens with HR

In the January 16, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets tired of recruiters and HR reps who want to do phone screens, then do nothing.


phone screensSeveral companies and recruiters in the past year have reached out to me on LinkedIn regarding job opportunities. They do phone screens, tell me how great my experience is, love my ideas … then radio silence.

I believe some HR reps and recruiters are using LinkedIn as part of their due diligence process. They already have a final candidate in mind, but they want to be able to tell their employer or client that they have chosen the person from a selection of prospects — and I’m one of their fibs.

It’s impossible to tell which of these recruiters are for real until I either get the interview or get dissed. How can I figure it out faster and avoid wasting time with phony phone screens?

Nick’s Reply

Recruiters and HR reps don’t just do this as cover, to pretend they’ve got more candidates so they can fib to their bosses or clients. (But doesn’t that give the lie to claims that Linked and other online sources make it possible to interview more good candidates?)

LinkedIn also makes it instantly easy for recruiters and HR to check off Equal Opportunity boxes fraudulently. “Look, we recruited three women and three people of color!”

The technology is abused in more ways than we know. But I think your real question is, how can you instantly separate the tire-kickers from someone who might really have a job for you?

If an employer gushes and expresses the sentiment that you’re so great, why not test them on the spot?

How to Say It: Are you serious?

“If you’re serious, then schedule a face-to-face meeting and I’ll come in to talk.”

If they defer, then really test them. Take a more aggressive approach, since the odds now are that they’re tire-kickers:

How to Follow Up
“Thanks, I’m flattered, but please don’t waste my time if you’re not ready to act to fill the job.”

This sort of approach terrifies most people. What if the recruiter is offended and this costs you an opportunity? Well, what of it? If a recruiter or HR rep isn’t taking action, they’re being offensive. Leading someone on is not a skill. It’s a revelation of ineptitude that job seekers see almost every day. (See Job Spam: 6 tip-offs save you hundreds of hours!)

If the recruiter presses you for a phone screen, test them some more. Just say you don’t do phone screens.

How to Say It: No phone screens

“No offense, but if a recruiter doesn’t see a clear match, I don’t have time for phone screens. I would be glad, however, to invest as much time as a hiring manager needs to talk face-to-face about how I can do the job profitably.”

Any recruiter who won’t do that is not serious, and your experience (that’s why you wrote to me) already confirms you know that. Telling you how great you are and how much they love your ideas without taking the next step is frankly puerile. They should be fired for wasting valuable time blowing smoke. Their job is to schedule interviews so jobs can get filled. (Even if you advance from an HR phone screen to a phone screen with an actual hiring manager, you’ve at least moved the ball down the field. Use these tips to decide How and when to reject a job interview.)

I think we all know that most HR reps and recruiters lack confidence, judgement and skill. (To those who are better than that, stand up and be counted!) Pretending that a tire-kicker is going to give you a ride is not a reasonable way to spend your own time. The best thing you can do is test the recruiter so you can move on quickly — or get an interview if they’re legit.

Some insight from my book

Here’s a tip from the “Talking to Headhunters” section of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 66. When a recruiter or HR rep reaches out to you:

Your challenge is to learn all you can before you commit hours and hours of time to delivering a resume, attending interviews, filling out forms, calling for updates and agonizing over whether you’ll be chosen.

Don’t be afraid: A legitimate headhunter [or recruiter or HR rep] will not hang up on you because you behave like a prudent business person. A good headhunter wants to know that you are enthusiastic, but also smart and careful. If a headhunter [or HR rep] gets testy, end the call, because his objective is to control you, not to recruit you.

The serious headhunter will have already qualified you — or he wouldn’t be calling. Please remember that. You should detect that the headhunter already recognizes you when you begin your conversation. [That is, the recruiter has done a level of homework to vet you in advance, otherwise, why are they contacting you?]

I think there’s nothing to lose in this approach but aggravation! And at least it puts you in control, which will make you a more potent (and serious) job seeker.

This is indeed an assertive approach — it’s not for everyone, so please use your judgement. Perhaps it will give you some courage and ideas of your own that you can try comfortably.

So here’s my question to you. Do you use a recruiter’s first contact to test them? How do you judge whether an “opportunity” is real? How do you say it? Let’s have some provocative suggestions and tips that might help others move the ball — and avoid wasting their time!

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