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Monthly archive for November 2018

Afraid to ask for feedback in job interviews?

In the November 27, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says it’s awkward to ask for feedback after a job interview.

Question

feedbackInterview coaches say you should try to “close” on a job offer at the end of an interview. Say things like, “Is there anything that would prevent you from making me an offer?” or, “Can I tell you anything else that would help you decide to hire me?”

I feel awkward being that pushy. What I really want is some honest feedback, but it’s hard to ask for it for the same reason — it feels pushy. Got any ideas to help me?

Nick’s Reply

Those career coaches are recommending a cheap sales trick that every sales prospect and hiring manager has heard a million times. Note that the two “closing questions” you cite have nothing to do with the job you’re interviewing for! Such questions have nothing to do with feedback! They’re a cheesy way to ask, “Are you going to hire me?” and “Are you going to buy something?”

When you ask for feedback, do it with integrity. The topic is the job, not the job offer. So focus on the job, on the work, and on making sure you understand the details of it! A useful request for feedback triggers a loop, or a conversation, about the job. That’s what helps you prove you’re the best candidate.

The interview feedback loop

The feedback loop is a fundamental mechanism in so many working systems — biological, mechanical, computer, social. Nothing works effectively without feedback. In a job interview, there’s no way to address the employer’s needs effectively if you don’t know what the employer thinks of what you’ve already said.

Imagine meeting with your boss to get a new work assignment. He tells you what he expects. If you’re smart, you re-state it in your own words to make sure you’ve got it right. Then you explain what actions you will take to do the job. Your boss will share his reaction, and you learn more about what he really wants. You modify your plan, re-state it, and ask some more questions. Don’t leave his office until there’s enough back-and-forth that you’re confident you’ve got it right. That’s a feedback loop.

When I coach job candidates, I suggest they open a feedback loop at the beginning of a job interview, so they can ask feedback questions throughout the meeting.

How To Say It

Tune this to suit your style while you’re talking with an employer:

“I know this is an interview, but I’d like to ask you to judge me under an even stricter standard. Think of me as an employee. Please critique what I have to say during our discussion, as if you were critiquing someone on your own team.

“At the end of our meeting, I’d like to ask you to judge me as an employee. Would you give me an important assignment? Demote me? Fire me? Promote me?

“I say this not to presume control of our meeting today, but because I really believe that if I cannot demonstrate to you how I’d add profit to your bottom line, you should not hire me.

“But I’m confident I can show you, during our time together, that I’m the most profitable job candidate you’ll meet for this job. Your feedback is crucial to me whether I’m your employee or a job candidate.”

Interviewers who have a difficult time addressing your request for such feedback are probably terrible at communicating a work assignment to an employee. They don’t know how to work well with others. They have no business assessing job candidates, much less managing anyone.

Don’t wait until the end of the interview

How to do a Working Interview

“At a comfortable point during your meeting, ask the manager for permission to show what you can do…This is more than a demonstration. You will be working with the manager on a live issue as a member of his team. Invite the manager to define the goal. Create an outline, a list, or diagrams to help simplify the definition of the problem…Together, create a strategy to tackle the problem, and go over the tasks that need to be accomplished to solve it.”

From “How to do a Working Interview™,” pp. 22-24,
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6 — The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire

Job applicants who wait until the end of an interview to get feedback are squandering an opportunity. They have no business in the job interview if they don’t use the meeting to quickly learn what’s required — so they can demonstrate why they should be hired. And that requires lots of feedback.

So, set the stage early in the interview. Put your discomfort or fear aside. Ask for feedback throughout the interview, and show the employer how such back-and-forth is helpful to both of you. Use feedback to fine-tune your discussion about how you’ll do the job profitably! (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

I poll managers all the time: How would they respond to such a candidate? Only weak managers and personnel jockeys scratch their heads. Good managers tell me, “Are you kidding? I wish I could meet a candidate who knows how to discuss what I need like that!”

What if you’re the employer?

We all know the employer is really in control of a job interview. The employer requested the meeting, and needs to decide whether to pay money to hire you. The feedback loop is critical to the employer, too, so the employer should use it!

If you’re the employer, the How To Say It suggestion above is easy enough to twist 180 degrees so you can explain what you need done in the job, then ask the candidate to re-state it to you. It’s a great test of a job candidate — and an honest test.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Can the candidate re-state your objectives accurately? (That is, does the candidate understand you?)
  • Does the candidate ask questions that will help clarify your objectives?
  • Does the candidate ask what tools are available to get the work done?
  • Does the candidate respond with an outline of sound methods to achieve your objectives?

Tell the candidate you’re viewing her as an employee — and that at the end of your meeting, you’re going to give her a performance review. Ask her to pretend she’s meeting with her boss — you — and you’re giving her a new work assignment. Explain that you need to see how she uses a feedback loop to get it right.

Then, deliver feedback yourself throughout the interview! Let the candidate know how she’s doing. Help her understand the job so she can perform at her best. Isn’t that what you’d do for an employee? Do it for every job candidate. That’s the only way you’ll be able to assess how they might perform if you hired them. That’s feedback!

Use feedback to have a Working Interview™

Interviews are usually little more than canned Q&A. They should be working meetings, but two people can’t work together if they don’t ask for, and give, feedback.

Don’t ask cheesy “closing questions” at the end of your job interviews. That’s not feedback! Real interview feedback happens during your job interview, not after it. It’s also known as the lost art of real conversation!

How do you use feedback to optimize your job interviews?

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What are stock options worth in a job offer?

In the November 13, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether to accept stock options as part of a compensation package.

Question

stock optionsI’ve been with the same company for five years, with total 18 years’ experience. I’m considering an attractive offer from a year-old start-up financed by a very respected venture capital group. The offer includes stock options. The idea is that someday they’ll go public and will be hugely successful, or someone will buy the company, and we’ll all become rich (on paper).

My question is, how would I go about putting a value on the stock options offered? Understanding the risk I assume, what should I negotiate for? Any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Venture funding for start-ups by respected venture groups is slowly picking up after a lull of several years – and that’s a good sign for the economy. But don’t count any stock options before they hatch.

There are as many subtle variations on evaluating options as there are start-ups. You could do well, or you could wind up very disappointed.

I’ll offer you two simple rules of thumb. There is no finesse in this. It doesn’t even involve calculations; just a blunt point of view that I’ve developed as a headhunter during many years of dealing with people who’ve faced this situation. A very few have profited from options, but most haven’t.

Stock Options: Rule 1

The first rule is that the factors which influence a start-up company’s success or failure are unknown to you at this point, and you have virtually no control over them. More important, to varying degrees we can say the same about the founders of the company and those who are funding it.

  • Thus, any attempt you make to rationally analyze how much start-up stock to hold out for — or to estimate what that stock is really worth today or in the unknown future is a crapshoot.

Stock Options: Rule 2

Here’s my second rule:

  • All stock options in start-ups are worthless by definition because you cannot put a value on something you cannot sell.

How to think about that job offer

Now for my advice, based on those two rules:

  • Accept the offer only if the work and the compensation package without the options would make you take the job.

How to negotiate the job offer

Negotiate for all the stock options you can get. But beware: A company is not likely to give you more options than it has already decided on. Management has thought about this more than you have, under the guidance of people who put up their cash to start the business. Unless you would be a key employee whose expertise would have a key impact on the company’s chances of success, you probably don’t have much leverage to negotiate options.

Now here’s the most important thing to take away from this discussion:

  • Negotiate harder for salary, bonus, incentives, commissions and allowances, and consider the stock options a lottery ticket.

This is what will keep you truly motivated day in and out. While I understand when a start-up’s founders say they want employees who are truly motivated to “throw in with us and take a risk,” you must decide how much of a risk you can afford to take — and whether you’re willing to give up part of your own market value today (cash compensation) for a chance to hit it big later.

Talk with a lawyer

No matter what they put in your job offer, a startup is a special situation because the risks are different from those in a mature company (even a small one). That’s why you should talk with a lawyer to get your job offer reviewed before you accept it.

These Ask The Headhunter PDF books will help you with the compensation end of a job offer:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire. This works even when discussing salary with your current employer.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), especially “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15. Sometimes it helps to ask casually.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, especially “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it,” pp. 23-25. This is a must when considering a job at a start-up, though this section applies to established companies, too.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, especially “Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?”, pp. 5-7.

This article by my own attorney will highlight some of the issues you should consider: Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.

What’s your tolerance for risk?

Here is a sobering question to test your tolerance to risk in this situation:

  • If you had a chance to buy into this start-up without working there, would you buy its stock today?

If you wouldn’t invest in this start-up as a bystander, why would you take part of your pay in stock?

No matter how many options you get, if the company strikes it rich, I guarantee you’ll look back and think, “I knew I didn’t get enough options when I took this job!”

If the stock winds up worthless, you’ll be glad you were doing work you really wanted to do, and getting paid a nice package in the meantime.

Have you ever taken stock options as part of a job offer (with a start-up or otherwise)? How did it turn out? How did you negotiate the details? How would you advise this reader?

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Recruiting scams and job interviews on social media

In the November 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries that job interviews via social media like Google Hangouts are recruiting scams.

Question

The Web seems to be full of recruiting scams targeted at job seekers. They often use social media to lure victims. Should we accept interviews using services like Twitter and Google Hangouts?

Nick’s Reply

recruiting scamsIt’s not clear whether you’re referring to being recruited for an interview via Twitter and Google Hangouts, or whether you’re going to actually be interviewed that way. Regardless, social media do indeed seem to be popular for recruiting scams.

Interviews: Person-to-person only

My rule is that interviews should be on the phone or in person, or via Skype — but no video. I’m not a fan of video interviews or automated interviews of any kind.

A recruiter or employer that asks you to invest your personal time to participate in a job interview must be willing to do the same. If they expect you to “interview” indirectly or virtually, I suggest you tell them you want a person-to-person interview, or move on. (See HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage.)

Use multiple online resources to verify identity

If a recruiter uses Google Hangouts (or Facebook or LinkedIn or some other social network) to recruit you and to schedule an interview, I’d politely ask that they e-mail or call you to confirm the interview. I’d insist on at least a telephone call for the interview itself. Then track their contact information to confirm their identities.

If they are going to initiate the phone call, ask them to:

  • provide their telephone number anyway
  • along with their street address
  • their website
  • and their LinkedIn page.

Then look them up using multiple online resources to confirm their identity – and that they are legitimate.

Keep in mind that just because a recruiter claims to be working for ABC Company, doesn’t mean they really are. Make sure the contact information they provide resolves back to the employer whose job you’re interested in.

The gold standard

Here’s the gold standard: If you can independently find the company online, call the main telephone number listed and ask for the Human Resources department. If HR doesn’t recognize the person that’s recruiting you, then you will know there’s a problem. Even third-party recruiters have identities that you should be able to verify.

For examples of questionable recruiting solicitations shared by readers, check the most recent comments on this article.

Legit employers will behave transparently. But it’s still your job to check them out first. There are simply too many recruiting scams out there to trust anyone who cannot or will not provide identity information that you can verify independently.

Don’t let the ridiculous levels of automation in the recruiting and hiring process lead you to dispense with your common sense. Even if it’s legitimate, any employer that’s so disrespectful as to demand your time without investing its own is probably not worth your consideration.

I hope that helps you select good employers and avoid questionable ones.

Have you ever been scammed by a “recruiter?” What tipped you off that it was a scam? Do you agree to job interviews via social media?

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