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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for April 2018

Interview ON: How to interview for 1,500 jobs

In the May 1, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, new technology levels the playing field between employers and job applicants. Enter the job seeker’s best new friend! Interview ON!

Question

For over 20 years the Internet and job boards have made it possible to maximize our chances of landing a new job because those jobs databases enable us to apply for 1,000 jobs instantly with the press of a key. Some “intelligent job agents” will even retrieve and e-mail me hundreds of matching jobs without my having to do anything but sign up.

But no one has solved the problem of how to actually get in front of loads of employers all at once to interview with them at high speed and in large numbers. It doesn’t matter how many jobs you can apply for. The real challenge is to be able to respond to all those recruiters who contact you, and to have lots of interviews quickly. Is there anything on the horizon?

Nick’s Reply

interview

Interview ON.

Hold on to your seats — it’s here. A new start-up company has created a new way to help job seekers navigate the job market at incredibly high speed. The technology is called Hank, and he enables you to interview for a job with as many as 1,500 companies in a single work day. He sits for screening interviews on your behalf with potential employers at a rate that would take most job seekers months to match.

He even sends customized follow-up e-mails back to his interviewers.

Perhaps more attractive — as far as his job-seeking clients are concerned — is that Hank works full-time for free and never yells at annoying recruiters.

Your job-hunting avatar does your interview

Hank’s secret: he’s not human. Officially known as “Avatar Hank,” the master job applicant is an artificially intelligent software technology that uses machine learning, allowing him to refine his conversational skills with more practice. At the moment, Hank is being used by several hundred job seekers to simplify the ongoing hunt for new jobs, according to Alex Kotts, who co-founded Avatar Hank with several partners in 2017.

“We wanted to create something that functioned like Uber for job seekers, but instead of calling a car, a person would be able to call a pool of companies to get a job,” said Kotts. “Right now, we have several hundred job seekers using Avatar Hank, which means Hank is doing about 50,000 interviews a day.”

Hank has the ability to speak at different speeds and sound like a man or a woman, depending on his job seeker’s preference. Kotts said the software is most effective for job seekers who apply to large numbers of blue-collar jobs, such as sales clerks, baristas, and construction workers, “which is where all those new jobs you read about are actually happening.”

How Hank works for you

The process starts when job seekers provide Hank with their LinkedIn profile and with titles and descriptions of the jobs they want. They can even specify which companies they want to work for but don’t have time to contact. Then Hank does the rest.

Get this: The avatar has an API (Application Programming Interface) that is linked to the leading ATSes (Applicant Tracking Systems) that employers use to interact with job applicants. These include CareerBuilder, Indeed, LinkedIn, Taleo, ZipRecruiter and half a dozen others.

Hank submits thousands of job applications directly to those systems per day. Recruiters have no idea where those applications are actually coming from — they assume it’s a human. When a recruiter responds, Hank intercepts the e-mail, “reads” it, and instantly generates whatever follow-up information recruiters demand — resumes, cover letters, references, salary requirements. The real magic is in the API access — Hank also fills out those pesky online job application forms that recruiters demand. (Talk about the job seeker’s revenge!)

Hank talks

When a match occurs and a recruiter actually wants to talk with the job seeker, the call is routed to Hank, who handles the conversation. This is where the technology kicks it up a notch.

In the interest of full disclosure (and of legal requirements) he says “Hi, my name is Hank, and I am an avatar. I will answer all your questions about Nick factually and completely, as if you’re talking directly to Nick. Are you still looking to fill this position?”

Kotts says, “If the answer is yes, Hank can handle the entire screening interview over the phone or by video interview. Our analysis shows that recruiters usually ask very few questions, and they’re simple, because recruiters don’t really know anything about the jobs they’re filling. We’ve programmed Hank to exploit this. Just like job postings are designed to lure the maximum number of applicants, Hank tells recruiters what they need to hear to increase his hit rate — the frequency of requests for in-person interviews.”

While the average phone screen typically lasts about eight minutes, Hank can talk for 16 minutes if necessary. He is also often able to ask pre-determined questions on behalf of the job applicant. Call analysis reveals recruiters respond best to the question, “Have I answered all your questions?”

Accuracy is good enough

Right now, claims Kotts, the software is able to respond accurately 82% of the time, a number the company expects to increase to 85% in the next few months. “That’s good enough for now,” said Kotts in one article, “because recruiters’ software is less than 20% accurate when picking job applicants to call.”

After the phoner, Hanks analyzes the typical interview in less than 900 milliseconds and passes promising job opportunities directly to the human job applicant in the form of a detailed report. The human, of course, makes the final decision about a job.

Saves time and frustration

The technology’s primary benefit is that it saves job applicants time. Kotts said human job seekers waste hours filtering through job postings that are no longer available. He said job seekers often must answer 100 phone calls from recruiters just to find one job that’s actually a fit for them and pays their desired salary. (I think we can all corroborate that!)

One article about the Avatar Hank technology quotes a job seeker: “Recruiters waste my time. This was what drove me to try the new approach and use Avatar Hank. Now I have my own weapon!”

Kotts said Hank’s inventors have been surprised that recruiters often prefer to conduct interviews with Hank than with human applicants. “I think they feel they’re getting more accurate answers because they feel the algorithms will tell the truth.”

Kotts said, “What I see is that job seekers will begin managing AI more and more and using it as a tool to avoid wasting their time with all the tire-kicking recruiters who constantly contact them about the wrong jobs. Hank gives job seekers automation to respond to the automation used by employers and recruiters. Hank levels the playing field.”

Will employers interview Hank?

Kotts is circumspect about how employers in general will react when Hank is rolled out in three months to Facebook’s 2.2 billion members worldwide. Will recruiters interview Hank instead of a human?

“What are they going to do? Complain about automation?”

How will HR deal with automation in the hands of job applicants? I asked a top HR exec at a Fortune 50 company that question.

“Oh, my Gawd,” she said. “Payback is a bitch, I guess.”

Do I have your attention?

What if Avatar Hank were real? He’s not, of course — but only because job seekers can’t afford to spend the billions of dollars HR dumps every year into “recruiting automation.” Otherwise, HR technology companies would create him.

Unfortunately, there is no “job seeker’s revenge technology” to match the ATSes and goofy “algorithms” that HR sics on job seekers. I made it all up, but there is truth to Avatar Hank — a lot of truth.

robotHank’s evil sister

I made this all up for a reason. I stole the story of Hank from Peter Holley’s April 25, 2018 article in The Washington Post, Want to work for Ikea? Your next job interview could be conducted by a Russian robot.

But in Holley’s account, there’s a real robot named Vera that reportedly interviews about 50,000 job applicants a day, enabling HR departments to nap while job applicants sweat out 8-minute phone calls with a cartoon. Nobody’s making that up. Employers are paying to use Vera on real people.

That’s 833 personnel jockeys dozing eight hours a day (without time off for lunch) while 50,000 suckers are required to talk to the robot hand if they want a chance at a real job interview.

Now, what happens when nuclear HR weapons are put in the hands of — gasp — job applicants?

Hey, HR!

So my evil purpose in this week’s column — I don’t think I’ve ever fabricated a whole column before — is to wonder out loud how HR would like it if we deployed Avatar Hank against employers the way employers deploy Vera and robo-recruiting avatars like ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, Indeed, Taleo and their ilk.

Apologies to The Washington Post and Peter Holley for satirizing their article to make a point, but thanks to them for shining a light on Vera, the spawn of HR technology. We know she’s not real because if she were, she’d start every phone interview with, “#MeToo!” There is no one named Alex Kotts and no robot named Avatar Hank. You’ll have to read Holley’s article to learn who’s behind Vera.
How would HR like it if “the talent” refused to appear in person — like recruiters and hiring managers refuse to appear in person — until the employer talked to the cartoon hand first, and filled out the forms, and got diddled digitally?

How would HR like it if the next 50,000 job applicants it called to conduct phone interviews were robots? Would job seekers’ robots be any less legit than Vera?

Hey, HR, can our robots have phone sex and produce skilled offspring to do your jobs?

Shame.

Hey, Boards of Directors

Vera and Hank tell us one thing: It doesn’t take any brains to interview 50,000 job applicants or to interview for 1,500 jobs.

HR, employers, corporations invest billions of dollars every year avoiding using their brains — they spend it on what’s plainly stupid, laughable, and counter-productive “technology” that they’d never abide if subjected to it themselves. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

Managers have destroyed any chance of matching the best workers to the jobs they need to fill because they refuse to show up. They deal in avatars, robots, algorithms, HR technology. They deal in keywords, automated job applications and programmed applicant “assessments.” They’re trying to wash their hands with rubber gloves on, to recruit without recruiting, and to identify the best candidates by rote. (Contrast: Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.)

How do we point out the real problem with hiring?

It doesn’t take any more than flipping around Peter Holley’s account of Vera technology. We subject employers to fake job applicants, like they subject job applicants to fake “selection processes” via robo-forms and algorithmic judgments. We deploy cartoons to apply for jobs and to “show up” to be phone screened by recruiters.

The boards of directors behind these companies reveal that they are the truly unskilled and clueless stewards of industry. Would you have lunch with a cartoon character to talk about the future of your business?

You deploy a talking cartoon character to judge whether a person is worth interviewing for a job — then you report to your investors that there’s a talent shortage?

Go ahead. Look us in the eye and say, HR technology — then realize you and your robots are talking to our robots.

Interview: ON.

How does HR learn a lesson from the stupid HR technology it foists on job applicants? Can job applicants turn the tables and make HR eat its own high-tech dog food? Will a tech company create Avatar Hank and make recruiters talk to the robo hand? What can job applicants do to even the playing field — do they have to dumb the game down to HR’s current level, or is there a way to raise the ante and the standards?

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We need to know your salary because —

In the April 24, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader cites the law about employers demanding job applicants’ salary history.

Question

The job application I had to fill out required I provide my current salary info. I just read that a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that employers can’t use my old salary to decide my job offer, so why do they keep asking? (Court Ruling: There’s Never a Reason to Use Salary History When Calculating Pay.) I’ve started asking HR why they need that information and, Man, have I heard some real doozies. Seriously, HR thinks we believe that stuff? You and your readers have probably heard bigger whoppers than I have — can you share a few?

Nick’s Reply

salaryThanks for asking. My purpose behind this week’s column is revealed in the title. When we get to the end of it, I’m going to ask everyone to complete that sentence: “We need to know your salary because — .”

But first, please bear with me while we briefly discuss that new court decision.

What’s the value?

I’ve been warning job seekers not to disclose their salary to employers since I before I started writing Ask The Headhunter, because I’ve routinely refused to tell my clients (employers) how much money my job candidates were making. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.)

“I will help you assess what the candidate is actually worth to your company so that you can make a competitive job offer,” is my counter-offer to the employer’s demand for salary history information.

I’ll admit, I’ve lost a few clients over this, but I also fired a few over it. Most employers realize it’s a healthy exercise to figure out a particular job candidate’s value independent of what any other company paid them.

If they’re not willing or able to figure this out for themselves, then I think they’re not worth working with (or for) because relying on some other employer’s judgement of a worker is both stupid and a revelation that a company has no competitive edge on judging value.

You can just say NO to demands for salary information

I’ll never forget the guy who called to thank me for his 75% salary increase when he landed a new job with one of my clients: “You just helped me buy my first house!” His old salary was $44,000. The job offer he accepted was for $77,000. “Thanks for instructing me not to disclose my current salary even when they insisted, because they backed off!”

While not all HR departments will back off if you politely but firmly decline to disclose (“My salary information is private and confidential.”), readers report that HR usually lets it go and proceeds with the job interview. You must judge for yourself how to respond, but you must also realize that if you do disclose, you’ve probably destroyed your ability to negotiate the best job offer. An employer may have the right to ask for your salary, and it may be legally free to terminate your application, but you also have the right to say NO.

Gender-mandering the salary issue

The article you refer to was written by my good buddy Suzanne Lucas (a.k.a. The Evil HR Lady), and she correctly points out that while the issue in Rizo v. Yovino was gender pay disparity, the decision is not about the gender issue per se. While the gender pay gap is a big concern to me (see Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!), for now (just for now) I’ll leave that angle to Suzanne.

My bigger concern is that in the battle over equal pay for women the courts keep missing the fact that once an employer learns anyone’s salary history, everyone gets screwed when job offers are issued. Knowing your old salary enables an employer to easily cap your new job offer. That’s actually the defense offered by the Fresno County Schools: They freely admit that they’ve stuck it to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years — men and women — it’s the policy!

[Fresno County Schools attorney Michael] Woods said in an email Monday, “FCSS’ policy, applied to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years, was similar to policies used by many other employers…”
Fresno Bee

While some employers don’t play that game, in my experience most do. It’s never smart to disclose your salary. (See Should I disclose my salary history? and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?)

The Court issues a general rule about prior salary

Certainly, any legal win that protects women’s right to equal pay is a good thing. But now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has finally articulated the law in broader terms that seem to apply to everyone (emphasis added):

Prior salary, whether considered alone or with other factors, is not job related and thus does not fall within an exception to the Act that allows employers to pay disparate wages.” – Rizo v. Yovino

It doesn’t say “between genders.” This interpretation of the Equal Pay Act, a federal law passed more than 50 years ago, seems to prohibit any general use of anyone’s salary history to determine a job offer. Maybe I’m reading this too broadly, but I expect the debate has just begun.

HR’s salary game

Now let’s get to the purpose of this article: to discuss the games HR departments play regarding your salary history.

“We need to know your salary because…”

You’ve been there. You’ve applied for a job. Maybe HR called or e-mailed you and asked for your current (or most recent, if you’re unemployed) salary. Maybe you didn’t fill in that box on the job application form, and HR called to reprimand you.

You’ve heard the lines:

  • “We need to know your salary because… without it, we cannot continue to process your application.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… it’s the policy.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… we need to know whether you’re in our salary range.”
  • “Just tell us, because we SAID SO!”

What excuses have you heard?

The explanations for why HR “needs to know” your personal, private, confidential salary information are legion. But in all my years in business, I’ve never heard one good justification for why an employer needs to know how much money you make so it can consider you for a job.

The “reasons” are all so disingenuous and such tautologies that I have a standing challenge to all who work in HR: Give me one sound reason why you need to know how much anybody makes?

I’d like us to compile as extensive a list as we can.

What excuses for this salary demand have you heard? Let’s rack ’em up, expose them, look at them closely and discuss what it all means.

I’d also like to know what responses you’ve offered to HR — whether serious or snarky!

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Shared Experiences: The key to good networking

In the April 10, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader seeks the keys to good networking.

networking

Question

Everyone talks about networking as the best way to find the right job. There must be a key to this approach beyond just going to networking meetings and signing up with one of the online social networks. What advice can you give me about how to do it right?

Nick’s Reply

You may have been to networking events where people spend a minute apiece with you after cycling through several other new “contacts,” and then expect that you will introduce them to your closest business buddies. Such gatherings have gotten a bad reputation because they can be mercenary and impersonal. You’ve met, but have no real common ground, and there’s no value in your new connections because they are ephemeral and because there are no shared experiences between you. (See Please! Stop Networking!)

The online social networks are even more problematic. You sign up, add the names of your co-workers, former employers and friends, and the network links you to other members with similar backgrounds. Everyone is encouraged to dump names into the system, then to collect contacts. But while these networks create lots of connections, there is little emphasis on the quality of those links.

Networking: the quality of the connections

And that’s the key: The quality of connections is in relationships.

From Shared Experiences: The path to success (p. 12)

Don’t squander a good contact because you didn’t cultivate it carefully, personally, and intelligently. No one can afford to waste good contacts. But don’t try to force a contact to produce results all at once. Go slowly, and let the contact blossom for you through shared experiences.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition) 

Social networks like LinkedIn suggest that quality of contacts is important, but the mechanics of how that network operates reveal that having lots of contacts is more important to LinkedIn than having good contacts or in doing things with the people you meet.

That’s why LinkedIn (and other networks, like Facebook or Twitter) help you highlight your number of links. Why? Because the networks themselves profit mainly from their size. It’s an inherent contradiction and even a conflict of interest.

But the people who actually benefit from online social networks are the same people who know how to turn a first meeting into a healthy, long-term relationship. They know it requires a considerable investment; there’s nothing automated about it. Nor is there anything phony.

Quality Networking: Common ground

I think good networking has three key ingredients. First, it requires common ground. People must have something to share that is useful to others. The best place to start is with your work. Identify people who do the work you do (or want to do), then e-mail them, call them, meet them and talk shop with them. (Not about jobs.)

Quality Networking: Value

Second, good networking is sustained by value. What can you do to either help or genuinely engage another person? How about a tip that will enable her to be more productive? Or you can ask honest, sincere questions about the work she does, to educate yourself and to draw her out. That creates more common ground. And that requires an honest, willing investment. If you’re not truly interested in someone, leave them alone.

Quality Networking: Sharing time

Third, good networking takes time. Trust grows between people through repeated good experiences. Sharing takes time.

From Shared Experiences: The path to success (p. 13)

Be likeable: Talk shop. When you talk to people about the work they do, they perceive you as likeable because you exhibit interest in them. It’s a basic human reaction. Talking shop with people makes them remember you positively. When you meet again to talk about a job, you’re the likeable candidate. And, right or wrong, people recommend who they like, and managers tend to hire people they like.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition) 

Once I trust you, I’ll draw you into my circle of friends—and that’s where valuable job referrals come from. Lazy, self-centered people have lousy networks and scant, weak relationships, and they’re the first to complain that networking is icky and that networking is phony. “Besides, who has time?” (See Networking For Introverts: How to say it.)

The best way to become well-connected is to meet and stay in touch with people who do the work you’re interested in and who are good at what they do. Don’t go to them when you’re job hunting. Go to them to share experiences that are meaningful to you both. Establish the kinds of relationships—and a reputation—that makes people want to come to you when they learn about a great job.

Friends share experiences

In a nutshell, I think networking is really about making friends. It’s about doing stuff together.

It’s got virtually nothing to do with getting a job or with any other kind of “payoff.” You do it because it makes life and work more enjoyable—and because giving something back makes your professional community (and the world) a better place. And when you live in a better place, somehow your life becomes better, too.

What’s your experience with networking? What are the keys? What do you look for in a healthy professional connection or relationship? What makes you want to refer someone for a job?

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Where did your jobs really come from?

In the April 3, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I steal an idea from a couple of readers about where we find our jobs.

Question (from me to you)

jobsIn a recent column, The worst job hunting advice ever, an HR manager beat me up for giving out bad advice. Then a reader — Kevin — took off on a really interesting tangent in the comments section about how he finds work.

Mo’ betta than that, Kevin listed how he got every job he’s had.

Not to be outdone, reader VP Sales posted a list, too — and suggested I should do a column where we take a deep dive into this question. (Here ya go, VP!)

How’d you find your jobs? All your jobs.

Where Kevin’s jobs came from

One frustration that I have is that it is much easier to get ahead in one’s career by taking new jobs rather than doing different things for the same company for a long time. Having that sense of history and solid experience is priceless.

So in response the this article I thought about the different ways I have found jobs. You will see references to newspaper classified ads – that was one way to find a job when I graduated from college in 1989. The list for my job search is as follows.

Kevin’s List

  • Job Fair (first job out of college with move)
  • Company transfer
  • Classified ad
  • Classified ad
  • Professional journal ad
  • Golfing buddy of a friend
  • Placement firm (a very good headhunter)
  • Internet ad
  • Internet ad (contract work)
  • Contract work at job where placed with placement firm previously
  • Internet ad
  • Placement firm (same one as before)
  • Former girlfriend (with wife’s approval and huge raise)
  • Corporate Application Tracking System (current job)
  • LinkedIn search (possible new job)

 

My whole point is that some of these jobs have been absolutely great, and some were bad – it did not matter how I found the job. If this looks like a lot of employers, remember that I am 52.

Where VP Sales’ jobs came from

Well, Nick needs to make a new thread on this. Here’s how I got all my jobs starting in high school in the 1970s.

VP Sales’ List

  • Teacher referral
  • Newspaper ad
  • Pushed my way into news photography with a daily newspaper
  • Graduate student referral to another department
  • Graduate student hire into industry
  • (Break for grad school)
  • Return to chemical industry job above for temp work
  • Hustled my way into first sales job by calling hiring manager in area for product demo
  • (Insert 20 year career in sales and sales management)

 

Got fired. No, wait, I fired them. Went off on my own in 2008 charging them 6x more than they paid me for telling them how not to make the same mistakes.

Where Nick’s jobs came from

Okay, I’m gonna play, too… Like VP Sales, I’ll start in high school, also in the 70s.

Nick’s List

  • My uncle hired me to work in his diner
  • Buddy recommended me when another guy quit (grounds work)
  • College career center job posting (assembling Barbie campers, Mattel factory)
  • Newspaper ad (factory, making Head tennis racquets)
  • Professor recommendation (monkey lab at college)
  • Professor’s next recommendation (Bell Labs)
  • A newspaper ad (first headhunting job)
  • Manager who quit that job invited me to start our own business
  • Called president of a company, told him I was starting a competing business, so he hired me (didn’t tell him til years later I set him up)
  • A sales rep told his customer if she didn’t hire me, I’d go work for her competitor
  • Chucked it all and started my own business again

 

Note that nobody named any job boards. (Hah — what’s that mean?)

Where did your jobs come from?

What’s your list? How’d you find all your jobs, in order please! You don’t have to list your jobs by name, unless you really want to, or any other details — just tell us how you really got them!

(It occurred to me that this could be a poll attached to a database so we can analyze the results, but there are so many interesting vectors that lead people to their jobs that I doubt it would work. If anyone has a good idea about how to analyze the data, let’s hear it!)

Are there any trends here? Do some sources of jobs (I like to think of them as vectors) stand out? Is there a meaningful shift in where your jobs came from over time, as you developed your career?

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