Subscribe
The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for January 2018

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.

Question

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?

: :

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.

Question

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?

: :

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.

Question

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!

: :

Want the job? Tell the manager you want to get married!

In the January 9, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who is “killing the interviews” still can’t get a job offer. What’s the secret? 

Question

Interviews I had for the last three jobs I applied for all went great. I got compliments from the hiring managers, all the team members who interviewed me, and even from HR. Especially from HR! On two of the jobs the HR managers told me they were going to recommend I be hired. So what’s the problem? I’ve gotten no offers from any of these employers!

I know I’m killing the interviews. I follow all your main tips. I show how I’ll do the work. I talk about how I’ll add to profitability. I ask for live problems to show how I’d handle them. But nada. I walk out of those meetings all pumped, but no offers! What am I missing?

jobNick’s Reply

This is easy. You’ve already done the hard parts.

Make it clear you want the job.

I’m going to explain this straight from my book, Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing the interview to win the job. (The book is out of print, but I’m working on a new edition. Many of the concepts and methods in that book can be found in the Fearless Job Hunting books.)

All too often, a candidate for a job leaves the interview convinced he (or she, of course) did well. He wants the job and thinks the interviewer knows it. But he has not explicitly expressed his commitment. This can be a fatal mistake.

The interviewer knows you want the job only if you say you want the job.

It doesn’t matter what comments you successfully “slipped into the conversation” to make him think you want the job. You have to tell him.

Tell the manager you want to get married.

Let me try to explain this another way. My wife would never have accepted my marriage proposal if I hadn’t come out and explicitly told her, “I love you.” Similarly, I would never hire someone who didn’t specifically come out and tell me he wanted to work with me. That they love me. We all need to hear a commitment.

Make the commitment.

The manager needs to hear it.

Keep in mind that until a company makes you an offer, the ball is not in your court. You have no real decision to make until an offer is presented to you. Completing an interview without letting the interviewer know you want an offer is like playing basketball without ever taking a shot at the basket. You can’t just dribble and pass. You have to shoot.

If you would consider an offer from the company, you must say so.

The manager doesn’t expect you’ll accept an offer on the spot. But she would like to know how motivated you are to do the work and to work together. Most interviewers will never ask you. They want you to take the initiative and tell them.

If you want to hear a job offer, make a commitment at the end of the interview. If you want the job (assuming the offer is right), say so — because other good candidates won’t bother.

How to Say It

Look the manager directly in the eye and maintain eye contact as you say this:

“I want this job. I hope I have convinced you that I can do it, and do it well. I want to work on your team. I would seriously consider an offer from you.”

Remember, this doesn’t mean that you have to accept an offer if it’s made. The offer must be as attractive as the job. (See Job Offer Too Low? Here’s how to ask for more.) This is a crucial distinction. The commitment you have made is to the work, the manager and the job, not to any particular salary or other employment terms. Everything else still needs to be discussed. (See Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES.)

It is perfectly legitimate to turn down an offer for a job you really want, if the offer isn’t acceptable and you can’t negotiate a mutually acceptable deal.

Stand Out: Say the words.

If you’re killing the interviews like you say you are, you’re way ahead of the game. But if then the employer doesn’t make you an offer, something’s missing: You failed to offer the commitment that distinguishes a capable candidate from a motivated one. (If you’re a job seeker who doesn’t stand out, learn how to Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition)).

Should you win that offer by telling the employer you want to get married? Of course not. Just say you want to work together — that you want the job!

At the end of the job interview, what do you say to close the deal? Does it work? Is it as good as a marriage proposal?

: :