Never work with jerks

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In the May 21, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader fails to see that the problem is jerks.

jerksQuestion

I need help with a recent job interview. The position was customer service work in a software engineering office setting. This is a start-up company with an 18-month history. I was interviewed for 3 hours by 5 people including the CEO and COO. The CEO asked me, “Why is your English so good? You don’t have an accent?” I have an ethnic name and I am a woman in a male-dominated field. Unbelievable! Then he asked me where I was born. Right here in this city, I said. The guy was speechless, puzzled. But how could that be? How should I respond to this?

Nick’s Reply

You must decide for yourself, but I’ll share the advice Gene Webb, my mentor at Stanford, gave to me and his students many years ago: Never work with jerks.

Period.

How we deal with jerks

The first time Gene Webb shared his rule about jerks I of course understood it — intellectually. But it took me 25 years to accept it, because we rationalize working with jerks. We all instantly know a jerk when we encounter one. Then we make a profound and very stupid mistake.

We tell ourselves that, “Dealing with jerks is part of the job. I just have to do it.” It’s so much a part of our social and work culture that articles and books abound and preach that, “There are jerks everywhere. We must learn to work and live with them.” We’re told that dealing effectively with jerks is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

None of it is true, yet we knowingly walk ourselves into a hornet’s nest only to act surprised when we get stung.

Rule #1 and Rule #2

I dealt with jerks most of my life. Like you, I was proud that I knew a jerk when I encountered one.

Rule #1 is to recognize a jerk and accept the fact.

That was when my “dealing with jerks” skills kicked in. I could deal with the worst of them. But that wasn’t Gene’s instruction. Gene didn’t say, “Deal with jerks.” He said don’t work with them. Ever. That was very difficult for me to act on.

I finally learned there is no reward in dealing and working with jerks. I got hurt one too many times. It had become exhausting to accommodate yet another jerk. Jerks depend on our ability to deal with them. You can’t win with a jerk when you concede to be around them.

Rule #2 is: Leave.

I quit two jobs in rapid succession before I realized my pain was caused not by me, or by circumstances, but by two specific people. In the end, Gene’s truth hit me extra hard because the second jerk had surrounded himself with more jerks. It was like showing up every day to a Jerk Fest. Maybe I was lucky to be surrounded by jerks because what should have been obvious was now blinding.

So I finally started practicing what Gene Webb taught me: Decide whether someone is a jerk. Act immediately — don’t rationalize. Leave.

Listen to jerks once

Judge the manager

Judge a manager’s sincerity about working together. Does she want to hire you because you can add something to the way the work is done, or does she want another interchangeable part for her machine? Listen carefully to what the manager says. You will hear either a mind interacting with your own, or a machine waiting to grind you up.

Excerpted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 28

This book includes: “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer,” “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it,” and “Judge the manager”

With a few short questions, that CEO told you he’s a jerk. He wanted you to know his biases. He wanted you to acknowledge him.

If you think you’re dealing with a jerk, pause, consider carefully and be brutally honest with yourself, no matter how much you “really, really want this job.” Do the calculation: Is this person telling you they are a jerk? If yes, walk away and don’t have any regrets. Jerks will always hurt you – maybe not for a month or a year or two, but they will hurt you.

(Legal recourse is your other option. You can hire a lawyer and pursue action against the employer for possible discrimination. It’s a long, costly path. For more tips about avoiding trouble at the end of the interview process, see 13 lies employers tell about job offers.)

The good thing about jerks is, they can’t hide it. Their jerk-ness slips out in little ways, like the comments this CEO made to you. He believes he’s entitled to give you a backhanded slap during your interview, perhaps to test how willing you will be to tolerate him in the years to come.

Here’s the hard part: You must listen when a jerk tells you they’re a jerk. Listen just that once and you won’t have to suffer.

My advice

Unfortunately, there is nothing unbelievable about how this CEO behaved toward you. “Unbelievable” is the fallacy his ilk rely on to convince people to take a job with their company anyway. It will all be very believable once he’s your boss.

Like I said, you must use your own judgment. But you asked my advice, so here it is: Find a good CEO to work for. This is not one. He just told you so. Listen to him.

There are lots of good, honest, respectful, smart people in the world. Find one of those to work with for the next several years. No jerk is worth fooling yourself about – because you will have only yourself to blame if you rationalize.

Let’s explore jerks.

  • How do you recognize a jerk?
  • Who’s the biggest jerk you ever worked with and why?
  • How have you accommodated a jerk and why?
  • Can someone make a good case for working with a jerk? (There may be a case and it might make sense to some people.)
  • Got a good story about a jerk’s demise? Or success?
  • Did you have an epiphany about jerks like I did? What was it and how long did it take before you had it?

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Why do headhunters act like this?

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In the May 14, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter some readers get fed up with headhunters who waste their time.

Question

headhuntersMy friends and I are successful IT (information technology) types and receive calls about positions from headhunters often. We are all experiencing the following:

  1. The initial salary range presented is higher than what the employer discusses or offers and thus, everyone’s time is wasted. The recruiter then weasels out of the lie.
  2. The headhunter calls with a “hot” opportunity, gives us the details, finds out if we’re interested and then tells us that interviews will be conducted very soon. We never hear from the headhunter about that particular position after that and our phone calls go unanswered, until another opportunity comes up and the process starts all over again.
  3. The headhunter asks if we will interview but he doesn’t know any specifics about the job, like what the company specializes in or what technologies they use.

Are these really legitimate positions? Why don’t headhunters take the time to research the position in order to convince the candidate to pursue the opportunity? Why don’t they return our calls or explain what happened to the “hot” position? Do they really think we will recommend potential candidates when they are so unreliable and inconsistent with their stories? (We are called upon to refer candidates to fit entry level and lateral positions.)

What’s going on? We don’t have time to waste talking about positions that don’t exist, or to interview for positions not in our specified salary range. Many thanks for your input!

Nick’s Reply

Most “headhunters” are no better than most personnel jockeys. They’re ignorant of their own business, they have no clear business goals (other than to make money), they don’t understand the jobs they’re trying to fill, their strategy is to “dial for dollars,” and they lose their credibility quickly.

The problems with headhunters

You must understand two things.

First, the cost of entry into the headhunting business is so low that anyone (and I mean anyone) can give it a shot. All it takes is a cell phone and a free LinkedIn account.

Second, turnover in most of these firms is very high because they do next to nothing to train new headhunters (I shiver to even call them that) properly. The result: the experiences you describe.

You hit the nail on the head. Refuse to have your time wasted.

Play hardball

The solution is to grill the headhunter. Play hardball.

Get references: Ask to talk with three people in your field that the headhunter has placed and three managers that have hired the headhunter’s candidates.

Issue a warning: Assuming you get those names, tell the headhunter that if she doesn’t call you back when she says she will, her name will be mud among your associates.

Know headhunters from telemarketers

Fast-buck artists who talk a good line, make little sense, and don’t keep promises aren’t headhunters. They’re telemarketers playing long odds to get a fee every now and then. Most of them don’t know the first thing about dealing with the professional community they recruit in. If they sound like they don’t know anything about your work, it’s because they don’t. Heck, most don’t even recruit — they copy and paste keywords, job descriptions and resumes.

Make them earn their money.

(To any “headhunters” reading this, if this describes you, don’t send me your complaints. You get no sympathy from me for treating candidates like this.)

Good headhunters

Should I give a headhunter my references?

If a headhunter presses you too soon for the names of references, politely take control of the discussion.

How to say it: “I think you’ll enjoy talking with my references — have you already talked with people who know my work? If not, then first we need to talk about the position you’re working on. If you decide I’m a viable candidate, and if I decide I want to pursue it, then we can talk about my references. So, tell me more about the position. Who is the manager?”

From How To Work With Headhunters, p. 84

Good headhunters are few and far between. Remember my advice to ask for references? The “headhunter” who contacts you is very unlikely to give you any because he doesn’t have any. That’s the first sign you’re going to waste your time.

  • Good headhunters will share references.
  • Because they circulate in your professional community, they probably know people whose names you will recognize.
  • They will treat you with respect, and they will do what they say they’re going to do.
  • They will also instantly reveal that they know a lot about the work you do.
  • They will ask intelligent questions, and they can answer yours.

It really is that simple. For a good primer about headhunters, please read Joe Borer’s How to Judge a Headhunter. Joe is a good headhunter, but please don’t try to contact him. Good headhunters don’t field unsolicited calls from job seekers. (See Headhunters find people, not jobs.)

Be your own headhunter

The purpose of Ask The Headhunter is to teach you how to be your own headhunter — even when you’re not actively seeking a job. Cut out the middle man when necessary. But when you meet a good headhunter, you’ll know it – they’re worth your patience and your attention, because they’ll treat you with respect and negotiate a deal like you never could on your own.

I usually rant about personnel jockeys and career counselors and coaches. Did I ever tell you the one about the inept headhunter…?

How do you judge headhunters? Give us three signs that quickly tell you who’s for real and who’s going to waste your time. Let’s compile a list everyone can use.

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Should I quit Microsoft after a week to join Facebook?

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In the May 7, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader juggles job offers between Facebook and Microsoft.

Question

I accepted a position at Microsoft and started the job. Within a week I got an offer from Facebook. The pay at Facebook is far better. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

This is not a bad problem to have. Congratulations on getting two offers, even if this seems to put you in a quandary.

A common concern in a situation like this is about leaving a new job so quickly. Don’t worry too much about it. Sometimes employers make a new hire walk the plank early or even before they start the job — it’s a business decision. We discussed a related issue last week in Should I keep interviewing after I accepted a job offer? and we’ve considered the problem of employers rescinding job offers.

But I’ll caution you not to worry so much about the money. Your long-term career success and income are more likely to hinge on the people you work with and on other factors including product quality and the company’s prospects. (See It’s the people, Stupid.)

Microsoft vs. Facebook: The people

I’m not privy to Facebook’s or Microsoft’s hiring practices, so I can’t advise you on how either company might react if you follow my suggestions. But before you accept Facebook’s offer, ask for some additional meetings with three classes of its employees:

  • People on the team you’d be a part of.
  • People upstream from your work flow. For example, if you will work in software development, ask to meet with the appropriate product design team. These are the people who will hand off projects to you. Are they good at their work?
  • People downstream from your work flow. For example, quality assurance people who will review and test what you build. Their skills and practices will impact you a lot.

Assessing these three groups will help you see how successful you are likely to be, because all of them will directly affect the quality and success of your own work. Of course, the company’s sales, finance and other departments will affect you, too. Decide which operations you want to know more about before you throw your lot in with any company.

Due diligence

If Facebook balks at letting you have these meetings, why would you want to work there? You’re about to invest your life. They should be glad you’re willing to invest an extra day’s time to meet your future co-workers and to see how they operate!

Of course, you should have done this before accepting the job at Microsoft, too. Maybe you ought to quickly spend some time with those three groups at Microsoft, too, before you decide what to do. It’ll give you something to compare to your findings at Facebook.

This kind of investigation prior to accepting a job offer is called due diligence. There are all kinds of due diligence. There’s a section about this in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, — “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it,” pp. 23-25.

Decision factors

Money, people, and many other factors should play a role in this decision. I won’t argue you shouldn’t move for more money, as long as other important factors are to your satisfaction. While I think loyalty is a good thing, don’t let anyone tell you that you “owe” an employer two years on the job you just accepted before you move on to a better opportunity. There is little meaningful difference between leaving a job after two years or two days if the reasons are compelling. “Juggling job offers” (pp. 15-17) may also be helpful, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.

I’ve offered a few factors to consider before making your decision, but there are many more. I’d like to ask our community to suggest what else you might consider and what you might do to help ensure you make the best choice.

How would you decide whether to make a move like this? Would you jump from one employer to another after just a few days? Is there anything wrong with that? What factors should this reader consider before making the leap?

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