Is this the right company for me?

Is this the right company for me?

Question

When I consider doing an interview or accepting a job offer, I’ve always just picked what felt best, but how should a person decide? The money and the job itself are obvious but how do I know a place is the right company for me to work? I’ve made some mistakes and I’d rather not make another! Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

right companyUltimately, this is one of the biggest career questions you must face. I find that people go job hunting mainly because they joined the wrong company to begin with. As you realize, money isn’t everything. And I know you’ll know when the money is right.

I take five key factors into account when I try to help a job candidate decide if a company is right for them.

These are the fundamental criteria on which I think you should judge an employer. Evaluate an employer based on:

  1. its people,
  2. its products,
  3. its finances,
  4. its prospects, and
  5. its reputation.

Define these anyway that makes sense in the situation. You must explore each of these factors in as much detail as you can. (If we have to pick the three most important of those, I think it’s 1, 2 and 5.)

As you make your inquiries, you’ll see that some aspects of this approach are a little touchy-feely in nature, and some require objective research and analysis. This approach requires a lot of something you probably do in your work: talking with people. (See also: How can I find the truth about a company?)

You could fill a book with information about just one company. But you must decide how much is enough.

So I put it out there to everyone: Is this list sufficient? Would you skip over any item? What would you add? How would you flesh out each of the criteria?

Maybe more important, how would you get the information you need to effectively assess whether a company is the right place to work? What questions would you ask?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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For less job competition, avoid Fisherman’s Wharf

For less job competition, avoid Fisherman’s Wharf

Question

I’ve been applying to job postings for which I meet all the criteria, and I mean all of them. I figure that’s one way to beat my competition — to really stand out. How much job competition am I likely to have if I do that? I was one of over 70 people they screened and one of 16 they interviewed. And it happened again, I didn’t get an offer. I wasn’t even a finalist. There has to be a way to minimize competition from the start, I just haven’t figured it out. Is it really possible that 70 other applicants met all the criteria? I doubt it, so why do companies entertain so many candidates? How do I improve my odds from the start?

Nick’s Reply

job competitionEmployers complain they can’t find the right people to hire and I think it’s because their recruiting is a herding task. They solicit too widely. This yields a preponderance of undistinguished candidates with a low probability of finding anyone that stands out.

Recruiting job applicants: More is not better

When employers post a job online, they’re casting a wide net. But more is not better. And it’s even worse because cattle-call “recruiting technology” makes it so easy to invite loads of marginal or even totally wrong applicants. It yields more of the same.

Look at the math. In your case 70 applicants were screened and 16 interviewed. HR will tell us “We got a lot of candidates to pick from!” This means they made 70-16=54 errors. That’s a lot of wasted overhead. Imagine how often this plays out. Employers will routinely sort through thousands of applications, whether manually or via software. They believe (irrationally) that the more candidates they have to choose from, the better the hire they will eventually make. (See  Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Your competition is loads of wrong applicants

I believe this approach is actually likely to diminish the quality of hire they make, simply because they are sorting and interviewing many more wrong candidates than necessary. Often, the result is that they hire none and are mystified about why.

When a company hires the best of a large number of candidates, most of whom are disqualified, it is gambling, not really selecting. If the best hire it could possibly make is among loads of “noise” — dozens or hundreds of wrong applicants — what goes up is not the chances of making the right hire, but of missing the best hire among the noise.

Avoid job competition

What does all this have to do with the job competition you face, and how can you avoid it to increase your chances of really matching a job and getting an offer? This “more is better” fallacy reveals a really straightforward alternative that you can immediately use to diminish your competition and increase your chances of getting hired: The best way to avoid competition is to not go near it. That is, stay away from the databases full of applicants that are stocked by online job postings and job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed.

Fisherman’s Wharf

When I lived in Palo Alto, California, I often had guests from the east coast. I’d take them touring around the Bay Area. When we got to San Francisco, everyone wanted to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was all I could do to dissuade them: “Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist trap.”

“No, no — we heard it’s great! Everyone told us to go there! We want to see Pier 39! We want to eat crabs and sourdough bread!”

Of course everyone told them to go there. That’s San Francisco’s crowd-management marketing at work.

The HR Corral: Where the cattle go

San Francisco is a small city, surrounded by water on three sides, with no possibility of sprawling out. Residents and people that work in the city suffer enormous congestion on streets and sidewalks. I’ve always surmised that the city intentionally drives visitors to aggregate in and around Fisherman’s Wharf. The city’s marketing seems to keep visitors corralled there, offering many distractions that attract tourist dollars and time — while keeping those teeming hordes out of everyone else’s way.

The job boards and databases serve the same purpose, if unintentionally. They are a corral not unlike Fisherman’s Wharf. Job seekers flock to them because HR tells them to gather there, stand and wait, like tourists eager to be fleeced, like cattle to the slaughter. “Jobs websites” are designed and marketed to make them seem the best way to apply for jobs. Even HR believes they are the easiest way to recruit and hire.

Steer away from job competition

If you steer away from the madding crowds of Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll find a lovely city with interesting things to do and people to meet. Every city dweller has a tip about the best restaurants, the hippest bars, the best neighborhood shopping and the coolest little-known sights. All you have to do is circulate solo, without a frightening horde surrounding you. You’ll find all kinds of wonderful experiences in San Francisco — and little interference from competition.

This is why you can’t seem to beat the odds: you’re allowing yourself to be corralled with all your competition. It’s easy to avoid the competition. Don’t go where the competition accumulates. Reduce your competition and increase your chances of getting hired.

5 tips for less job competition

Skip any gate or doorway to job-database corrals. Go where “the locals” hang out. Managers with hidden job needs, and people that can introduce you to their managers, hang out in accessible places that aren’t crowded with your competitors.

  1. Attend continuing education and training programs where you’ll find people that do the work you want to do.
  2. Participate in professional events where your future colleagues gather. It’s a low-pressure, fun way to meet insiders that can help you.
  3. Go have a drink or a meal where employees of your target companies socialize.
  4. Join in and contribute to the online work-related forums frequented by professionals you’d like to work with.
  5. Study the business media that cover the people, work, products, technologies and business dealings of companies you’d like to work for. Make it a game or puzzle: Try to suss out what jobs may be opening up based on news about a company. Contact the movers and shakers you read about, ask about their work and ask for advice.

Avoid Fisherman’s Wharf. Avoid corrals where your competition is penned up — but be grateful for them! Less competition means more high quality professional contacts for you. To improve your odds from the start, go where the insiders are more likely to welcome you because you’re not part of a cattle drive.

What’s the best way to avoid the herd (and job competition) when looking for work? Or, is it better to “play the numbers” and apply to job postings everyone else uses?

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Giving notice when you resign: 6 ways to avoid trouble

Giving notice when you resign: 6 ways to avoid trouble

Question

I’m getting conflicting advice about giving notice before I resign my job after accepting a new job offer. A career coach told me I have to give notice or ruin my reputation. (“Don’t’ burn bridges.”) A guy I used to work with got burned when he gave notice: his boss demanded he stay a month to train somebody! Another was immediately escorted to the door by company security. (He was counting on a couple of weeks’ more salary.) Not all stories are bad but I don’t like to take risks when I can avoid them. I’d prefer to just make a clean cut without notice. Do you have any tips to play it safe?

Nick’s Reply

giving-noticeI’ll summarize what I think are six important considerations that should help keep you out of trouble when giving notice that you’re quitting your job. I’ll emphasize up front that you must do your own calculation and decide for yourself what is your best course of action.

1. Check your obligations before giving notice

It’s astonishing how many people think their basic freedoms vanish when it comes to their jobs. Just as you’re free to move from one state to another when you wish, without anyone’s permission, you’re free to change jobs anytime you wish (with or without giving notice) — unless you signed an agreement accepting limits on this choice. Check the obligations you agreed to.

Do you have an employment contract? (These are rare in the U.S. and usually involve executive positions.) If you do, read it carefully, or have an employment attorney review it. Keep in mind that the job offer you signed may be a kind of contract, and it may incorporate by reference your company’s employee policy manual — which may say something about a notice requirement. It matters what you sign and agree to when you accept a job.

2. Check for “employment at will” law

In most U.S. jurisdictions employment is “at will” — your company can terminate you at any time for any or no reason, without giving you any notice. But if you work in an “at will” state, you can likewise quit. Whether you should quit without notice is usually your choice. Make sure you know the employment law in your state — and review what you have contractually agreed to.

3. Check your company’s history

Nose around before you decide. Has your employer made life difficult for other employees that quit without notice? Some employers actually handle resignations with aplomb. It’s worth finding out your company’s actual practices because that may factor into how you calculate your risk.

4. Check your reputation risk

That career coach is correct: resigning without notice can damage your professional reputation. (Your employer may put you on a no-rehire list.) If word gets out, it might damage your rep with other employers.

However. This is a risk you must calculate. While quitting without notice can be a crappy thing to do, it might be prudent anyway. Sometimes we have to make tough choices. If giving notice might put you in serious jeopardy, avoiding the risk may be preferable to doing what’s expected.

Now let’s talk about potential jeopardy.

5. Check the consequences

Giving notice because “it’s the right thing to do” might trigger consequences you haven’t considered. Like the friend you mentioned, you may not get two weeks yourself — of additional salary or time between jobs that you expected. You may be told to leave immediately without a chance to gather your personal belongings. (“HR will mail your stuff to you.”)

If you work in sales or get paid a bonus, policy might dictate that you don’t get the money unless you’re employed there on the date it is set to be paid — and unless you provide notice. Quitting without notice may trigger instant recovery of educational or relocation investments the company made in you. If you work on a “draw” in sales, you might actually owe the company money it advanced you against future commissions. (See The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye.)

An employer cannot withhold your pay, but you must understand what constitutes pay in your specific case. But don’t run from choices like these. Depending on the financial rewards and professional opportunities provided by your new job, it may be worth resigning without notice.

6. Check the spite factor

Tendering a resignation usually elicits this question: “Where are you going to work next?” It may seem as innocent as HR’s request that you sit for an “exit interview” and explain yourself. But you owe no one any explanations, or information about your future.

I’ve seen spiteful employers go out of their way to nuke a departing employee’s new job offer. Is there any chance your old boss would contact your new employer and try to poison your well? Please think about this. That offer you accepted could be rescinded. In my experience, it’s rare. But if it does happen, the consequences for you could be dire. A risk might seem small, but when the cost is potentially immense, I don’t think taking a chance is prudent..

My advice: Don’t tell anyone even remotely associated with your old company where you’re going until you’re already there. “No offense, but I’ll be happy to get in touch once I’ve settled into my new job and we can have lunch.”

I’m not suggesting you should never give notice when resigning. But if you decide to part company suddenly, take time to evaluate the risks, and to calculate the potential costs and benefits of quitting without notice. Is your new job worth it?

Do you give notice when you resign a job? Have you been happy with the outcome? Are there circumstances when you think not giving notice in advance of leaving an employer is prudent?

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Salary Range Law: Will it help you?

Salary Range Law: Will it help you?

Question

New laws in New York and California require employers to include the salary range of a job in job ads. Theoretically this will help applicants apply for jobs that pay what they’re looking for rather than waste time playing “Guess the pay” before agreeing to interviews. Every law can be gamed. I can see companies posting ranges like $25,000-$100,000. Maybe they really plan to pay no more than $40,000. Do you think there’s any way a salary range law will help us?

Nick’s Reply

salary range lawHah — you’re right. If there’s a law about pay, somebody’s going to game it! You actually offer a good example: meaninglessly broad salary ranges. Who’s going to police that?

What’s the story on salary range law?

Proponents of salary range laws say employers have been getting away with underpaying workers. Disclosure of salaries in job postings will supposedly fix that and bring fairness to hiring practices. (New York Times)

SHRM, a professional association for human resources managers, says these laws will cause “salary compression” because employers will be pressured to increase starting salaries so they can fill jobs in a competitive market. And they’ll pay for that by leaving existing employees’ pay stagnant.

Leading Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini points out that the New York City law permits employers to exclude the value of benefits, bonuses, commissions, equity and other forms of compensation from these disclosures. This creates a lot of leeway around the new requirements, and confusion around salary negotiations.

Will a salary range law help you?

I’m skeptical. I think it depends more on the company you’re dealing with and on how it implements the law, if your state even has a law. It helps to read a variety of reports about these salary range laws, which seem to be spreading across states. (So far, New York City, California, Washington State and Colorado are on the bandwagon.)

I’m more interested in how real job seekers —  who experience all sorts of gaming of the employment system — view these new laws.

  • Have you been exposed to this yet?
  • Has it actually affected you, helping or hurting?
  • Are companies playing games with salary range laws?
  • How do you think this will affect your job-search experiences?

There’s no good answer about whether or how this will benefit job seekers. Penalties for failure to post salary ranges are up to $250,000. However, it seems that as long as an employer publishes a salary range, it is free to pay more or less than that range. Where does that get us?

Rather than count on the kindness of employers under the law, I think you’re best served by knowing how to negotiate to get the compensation you want.

Have you wasted your time interviewing for jobs that don’t pay enough? Will salary range disclosures be helpful? What kind of salary law would be helpful to job seekers?

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Desperate Recruiting: The yada, yada, yada interview

Desperate Recruiting: The yada, yada, yada interview

Question

Hiring great people is a noble goal but it raises two challenges: how to attract candidates with those rare, valuable qualities into your pipeline, and how to identify them in the interviewing process when everyone is telling you how talented, motivated, curious, and ethical they are (yada, yada, yada). Desperate recruiting doesn’t work! How do we get past all that so we really know who we’re hiring? How do we avoid hiring in desperation?

Nick’s Reply

desperate-recruitingLet’s talk about two fatal flaws in the entire recruiting and hiring process. First, we try to attract people when we need them. That limits us to rushed “just in time” recruiting methods that don’t work well. That’s desperate recruiting.

Second, these methods elicit rote responses from candidates who apply for jobs almost indiscriminately. We’ve all seen it — candidates with the “I’m your (wo)man” smile on their faces.

As you note, that’s the “Yada, yada, yada” interview. You can spend the entire time talking interview in your office when you could be talking shop in the real world.

Find and enter their pipelines

To find the few right candidates (rather than search through the entire universe of candidates), we can try to “attract people into our pipeline” all day long. But the ones we want are living in their own pipelines, or professional communities.

Here’s the problem. You can’t assess someone in a job interview. You need to see them in action. That takes time  because we must go to them.

To recruit effectively, we need to attract good people long before we need them, so our relationships will be based on common interests, not common desperation. That means we must go to them and enter their pipelines, long before we need to hire anyone. We need to create relationships based on shared experiences that have already revealed the right skills.

Recruit people you have already gotten to know that know you. That takes time and there is no shortcut to that kind of quality.

Desperate recruiting: Chasing people chasing jobs

The people we want are all around us on discussion threads on work-related forums all over the Internet, talking shop. They’re at conferences and in education programs. Talk shop with them, get to know them, establish your own cred and you’ll always have someone to turn to when you need to hire.

People make career changes only at certain points. We must meet them on their career tracks, and be present at the critical points in their work lives. We can be there to talk to the best because they already know us, or we can be out chasing people who are chasing jobs.

The Zen of it is this: You can’t really identify the people you want in the interview process. At that point, it’s too late, and it’s all too scripted. That’s desperate recruiting.

Every year, the world spends billions for “just in time hiring” through online job boards, but precious little on circulating among the narrow, relevant communities these folks live in. How silly.

Yada, yada, yada

If your pipeline is full of applicants and resumes, that’s desperate recruiting. The best you can do is Yada, yada, yada through 20 interviews pretending you’re getting to know someone. You can’t assess someone in a job interview. It can’t be done. You have to mix it up with them in their own real world. Really getting to know who’s the best takes time. If you want to hire them, you have to start last year.

How does your company hire? Do you “Yada, yada, yada” through your interviews? Or do you cultivate relationships? Tell me why it takes too long to do it my way…

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How do I explain I quit an unethical company?

How do I explain I quit an unethical company?

Question

I am currently employed full-time and grateful to have a job. I am in the finance department of a small but unethical company which has no accountability, multiple “hands in the pot,” and uses unethical business practices. My suggestions to improve the department and to comply with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) are always met with, “That’s just the way it’s done here.” I can’t live with this. I have an exit strategy and the support of my spouse while I seek employment.

How do I approach the issue in interviews with future potential employers when they ask why I left that job and why I’m not working? Although honesty is the best policy, I most certainly cannot discuss the wrong-doings. Suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

unethical companyYou work with bad apples and want to get away from them. That reflects well on you. You just need to say it the right way.

I worked for an unethical company

You could just come out and say it, but that’s not diplomatic. Saying it like that could raise questions about your tact in general. I don’t mean you should play the game of, “Well, you know what that means…”. But how you say you worked for a bad apple of an employer says a lot about you.

How to Say It
“I want to work for your company because you are one of the shining lights in this industry. I left my previous company because as a small, closely held operation it behaved in ways I was not comfortable with. I realized that I want to be in a more progressive company that is run ethically. Fortunately, my personal finances are solid and I can afford to take time to find the right company and job.”

Move the conversation along

That’s all I’d say. The passing reference to ethics will get the message across without you needing to say anything more but that you wanted out.

Say nothing about this in your resume, only in person or on the phone. A buddy of mine likes to say that your resume can’t defend you. This is a perfect example. You need to be in conversation so you can address any questions, and so you can steer the discussion toward what you can do to make this company more successful.

If an interviewer asks for details about the problems at your old company, just explain that you cannot disclose confidential information about a previous employer. That gives you room to discuss only what you want. Any good employer will respect that — and respect you for it.

Count on your references

To compensate for your silence about the particulars of your unfortunate experience, you must have references that will back up your claims about your abilities. They need not be from your unethical employer. In fact, they could be from other professionals outside that company, people you had business with in the course of doing your job.

Don’t be surprised if one of those references spills the beans that your old employer is an unethical company with unsavory practices.

Always remember: When there’s a void in a job interview — that is, when there’s something you cannot talk about — the best way to fill it is to focus on showing how you’ll do the job profitably. In the end, that’s what every employer is really looking for in a new employee.

I’m guessing other readers have faced similar situations. How much should you say about a past employer that wasn’t on the up and up, leading you to quit?

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Doing free work to earn a job interview

Doing free work to earn a job interview

Question

I know you have addressed this in the past but it’s the first time I’ve encountered an employer that wants me to do free work to earn a job interview. I applied for a senior marketing position and, after an initial phone interview (with HR, who couldn’t talk about marketing), I was told that the next step would be an in-person meeting with the department.

Instead, I was sent three assignments to complete, all due in two days with “no late assignments will be accepted” thrown in. Having many years of senior-level experience, I was insulted. Very nicely, I told them I would share examples of previous work and even talk to marketing department members to show how I could increase revenue. I ended stating that, if that was not acceptable, that I would withdraw my application. I heard back that I was (surprise!) “No longer in consideration.”

Do you have any good ways for job candidates to express to employers how insulting it is to make people do free work for them in the hopes of maybe, possibly, getting a job?

Love your column!  Thanks for all the great advice.

Nick’s Reply

free workI don’t know one company whose executive team, or board of directors, ever reviews the recruiting practices of their HR department. They have no idea how many good candidates they’re losing over poor practices. This is why in many instances good headhunters decline to work with companies via their HR office — they’re not going to waste perfectly good candidates.

Can they ask me to do free work?

While testing your skills and knowledge shouldn’t be a problem, no employer should assign substantial work tasks to job candidates in whom the company has not yet invested any of its own time!

So, what do you, as a job seeker out there on your own, say in that situation? Here are a few suggestions.

I don’t do free work

How to Say It
“I don’t work for free. But I’d be happy to do your assignments at my normal $1,000/day rate, and if you hire me I’ll credit that against my salary.”

If you’re willing to compromise in exchange for a talk with the hiring manager — before you do any of that work — this could give you a substantial edge if you ever get the interview. However, you must be ready to ask a pithy question or two that will impress the manager.

How to Say It
“I’d be happy to do the assignments but I have a few questions about X, Y, Z [where X, Y, Z are highly technical marketing issues that HR could not possibly understand.] If the hiring manager would call me, I’m sure they could provide the information I need in about 5 minutes. No, I can’t submit the questions in writing because that would just result in more questions and require more follow-up information.”

One of the best responses is exactly the one you offered: “If that’s not acceptable, I will withdraw my application.”

Be ready to walk away

I give you credit for being explicit about withdrawing your application. HR already wasted your time in the screening call simply because HR is not qualified to discuss marketing. More to the point of your question, you have no idea who is going to review your “assignments” or even what they’re really looking for. There’s just too much chance you’ll be dismissed by an unqualified judge for the wrong reasons!

You must be ready to walk away if the employer is intent on violating your ethical and professional standards — and if it is wasting your time. The next step is to find a more worthy employer.

Ask about the free work policy

If you have no future designs on this company, I’d send a brief e-mail to the CEO or chair of the board describing what happened – with no complaints or recriminations, just the facts. Close with something like this.

How to Say It
“I wish I’d had a chance to meet with your marketing manager so that I could present the mini-business plan I created showing how I can do the job to add more profit to the firm’s bottom line. In today’s economy, when filling important jobs is so difficult, do you keep any metrics on how many excellent candidates you lose because HR doesn’t know anything about marketing when it conducts screening calls?”

Too busy to do free work

To avoid a “next time,” don’t agree to be screened by HR for any job. Tell HR you’d be happy to talk with them after you and the hiring manager have determined there is a mutual interest in investing more time.

How to Say It
“As a senior professional I’m extremely busy. I’m interested in your job opportunity, but my time is limited. I’d prefer to talk with a marketing peer at your company before taking time for discussions with HR.”

Fielding solicitations from recruiters and HR does not require that you suspend your standards of what’s reasonable, or that you jump through hoops or that you do free work to earn a job interview. I think you already know exactly what to do because you already did it! Again, my compliments. The loss is theirs.

For most employers, it’s a long way to acquiring the skills necessary to go out and find the best candidates who are worth recruiting, enticing, cajoling, seducing and convincing to take a job. What candidates like you are subjected to is embarrassing. That employer wants you to do all the work of assessing whether you’re worth talking to. The shame is the HR clerk’s for rejecting you because you won’t do their work for them.

Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter!

We’ve discussed doing free work before

I think they expect me to work for free

And my good buddy Suzanne Lucas (a.k.a., The Evil HR Lady), offers some perspective, too: Job Interview or Bake-Off?

What’s your experience with “Do these assignments first!” Have you ever refused? Have you done the assignments only to get rejected without an interview at all? Where do such interview practices belong in the hiring process?

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You paid that career coach HOW MUCH?

You paid that career coach HOW MUCH?

Question

My question relates to these firms that allege to provide an executive career coach who will work with you to help you attain higher positions with higher earnings within an average of 60-90 days. They will redo your resume and LinkedIn profile, create your executive presence, and help you develop your personal brand. (One offers an $800 “quick action package.”) Everyone can use coaching from time to time as we all have things to work on, but $5,000 seems to be a lot, particularly when one is out of work and searching for their next role. Your thoughts?

Nick’s Reply

career coachThere is an awful lot of marketing and, well, B.S. in what many of these firms are selling. It’s no accident that they throw a lot of implied promises at you very quickly and want their fee in advance.

There are some very good career coaches out there. Finding one that’s trustworthy and helpful is another story. The cost of entry to the coaching business is small, making it an easy rip-off of one degree or another. There are loads of “certifications” and questionable“credentials” that virtually anyone can buy to advertise coaching services.

How to find a good career coach

Let’s cut to the chase, then we’ll discuss some of the gotchas to look out for when you feel you need a career coach.

The best way to find a really good coach is through their happy clients. In other words, ignore the marketing. Talk with others in your field, and at your level of work, and ask what coach they’ve used and recommend. Ask why, exactly, they like the coach. Then consider whether the coach might address your specific needs.

But don’t sign up because you were solicited or even because your employer recommended a particular coaching service when they laid you off. Just like a personal referral is an excellent way to land a job, a trusted referral is how to find a good career coach.

The tip-offs

How can you spot a likely rip-off? Let’s look at the tip-offs in the promises they market for those big up-front fees:

  • Higher positions
  • Higher pay
  • 60-90 day time frames
  • Quick action package
  • Executive presence
  • Personal brand

Higher job and pay

Much of the time, coaching (including for executives) is all about finding and getting a better job and more pay. The simple truth is that there can be no guarantees about an outcome over which neither the coach nor the client have any real control. Only an employer can make a job offer (or offer a raise), and I’ve yet to meet the coach that controls job offers or raises.

Job hunting, at any level, is a daunting task and often a depressing experience. There are a lot of questionable services purporting to help you get a job because there are a lot of potential suckers desperate to avoid the hard work of getting a job.

Here’s the lesson:
Please — even if you’re not really a sucker — consider what it really means when someone claims they’ll get you a better job and more pay if you’ll pay them.

“Guaranteed!” 60 – 90 days or less!

Some of the best coaches I’ve known have taken upwards of a year to help a client get the job and compensation they want. Sometimes the agreed-upon objectives are never attained. That doesn’t mean the coach isn’t a good one. But it does explain why the bad ones want the money up front.

A good coach will never promise, or even imply, a time frame in which you will reach your goals (and definitely not 60-90 days!). To do so is dishonest simply because every client is different — and so are their goals. At most, all a coach can promise is that they will improve your knowledge, understanding and skills about your career development.

Here’s the lesson:
Claims and promises of a job are different from an ironclad, written money-back guarantee. Some windbags will charge you thousands up front and promise to continue coaching you “for as long as necessary.” That is, for as long as you can swallow their questionable advice. So if there’s a big fee up front, ask for a signed money-back guarantee to help you get ahead with a new job at the pay you expect.

Never pay a a career coach a big fee up front

Does a therapist charge $5,000 in advance to solve your emotional problems? Of course not! Because no one can actually control whether you will get a job for the pay you want, unsavory practitioners want a sizable fee in advance because the longer it takes you to meet your goals, the less satisfied you will be — and the more you will wish you hadn’t already paid all that money.

$5,000, $10,000 and higher in-advance fees are common. The justification is wrapped around a marketing trick: They’re not merely coaching you, they’re selling “a program” or “an engagement.” They want to lock you in — and that should also tip you off that the coaching will be canned, not customized for your needs.

It’s an old confidence game: Take the sucker’s money all at once, because by the time the “client” realizes what the game is, their money’s gone.

Here’s the lesson:
Pay as you go, or don’t do it. If the coach is good and you are happy with the progress, you are free to continue — just as you would with a therapist. This guarantees a stop-loss mechanism. If you find you’re not satisfied, you can terminate the relationship at any time without any further losses.

Quick action for a small added fee?

This one is a dead giveaway. If I could get employers to make quicker job offers for an extra $800 I’d be a genius! There are no geniuses in the career coaching business, just a lot of very frustrated, and thus gullible, job seekers. Everyone’s in a hurry and someone’s glad to charge an extra fee because you’re eager to pay it.

Executive presence and personal brand

Find me an employer that includes these requirements in a job description and I’ll be glad to charge you oh, another $800 for a nice, starched white shirt to wear to interviews and for a cute logo you can stamp on your resume and forehead.

Gimme a break. Desperate job seekers call for fatter fees and fancy terms for “great reputation” — which no one can sell you!

Virtually all of what career coaches deliver is available free online or at your local library. Nonetheless, you still might want help, especially to address specific hurdles and challenges. Ask around. What coach do respected people in your field vouch for? Discuss what the deliverables are and understand the important distinctions between advertising and guarantees. Pay as you go, and monitor progress closely.

Good help really is hard to find. Don’t make me ask, “You paid HOW MUCH for career coaching?”

How much have you paid to hire a career coach? Did you pay up-front or as-you-go? What was the outcome? What’s your advice to this reader? Did you ever get burned? What would you do differently?

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How can I change careers mid-stream?

How can I change careers mid-stream?

The first edition of the Ask The Headhunter newsletter was published 20 years ago. This was the Q&A column subscribers received via e-mail on September 20, 2002. I haven’t changed a word. When I wrote it, I intended my advice about how to change careers to be “evergreen” — that is, to remain valid even with the passing of time. I’d like your opinion: Did I succeed? Is it still valid today? (If you don’t subscribe, please do!)

Question

Recently I read an article about the 15 symptoms of burnout. The article said if you had five of the symptoms you might be burned out. I have 14. I’ve pretty much done all I can do career-wise at this company, except bide my time and move into senior management. So I can either gut it out for few more years, which I’m dreading, or do something different. So, how do you change careers?

I require two main things from a job. First, I’ve already spent a lot of time paying my dues in the trenches, so I’m really not willing to come in on the bottom rung and just be a worker bee. I’ve got to have some responsibility. Second, I need to make close to what I’m making now because I have a house payment and some bills coming up in the future. I don’t want to downgrade my lifestyle too much.

Of all the millions of jobs out there, can you make a lateral transition from another industry like I want to do (I think)? How do you change careers midstream?

Nick’s Reply

change careersThere’s a ton of re-hashed advice out there about how to change careers. Like most things, however, career change requires common sense, and the conventional wisdom relies too much on nonsense. Career change requires that you know where you want to go, and that you know what to do to get there. You’re not going to find the job you want by reading want ads and sending out resumes.

Plan how to change careers

First, you’ve got to know which businesses would stimulate you. That is, what’s worth pursuing?

Second, you must figure out what’s the work? that each business needs to have done. You must research this carefully until you truly understand the specific problems and challenges the business faces.

Third, you need to figure out how, exactly, you would tackle those problems and challenges so you could get the work done profitably for the company. Finally, you must show the hiring manager why you’re right.

Don’t expect an employer to figure it out

I know how obvious that sounds, but few people go about career change that way. Most people do it backwards. They don’t select an industry, research the best companies and prepare a business plan showing how they’ll do a specific job. Instead, they skim the classifieds and pick an ad — and then they’re stuck trying to “sell themselves” to this mindless ad. No wonder so many job hunters feel stuck and dejected. They’re not preparing for a career change; they’re hoping some personnel manager will “see the connection” between their skills and a job and pluck them off the street. Lotsa luck.

It’s very different to first explore what’s there, make choices, and plan your approach carefully. The real work lies in studying a business and the kinds of work done in that business. But that’s the whole power of this approach.

People flub career change precisely because they fail to really understand what the work is all about. They hand their resume to the employer, and essentially say, “Here are my qualifications. Now, YOU go figure out what to do with me.” Employers won’t do that; especially when you’ve never worked in their business before.

To change careers, don’t just change jobs

When you “apply for what seems to be available,” you’re essentially begging for a job. But, when you study specific businesses to figure out how you can help them, your task is very different — it’s to solve a company’s problems.

I pity the poor jerk who thinks career change is about finding a job. Companies don’t give out jobs. They hire people who can help them make more money — and they’re willing to pay for that. If you approach career change any other way, you will fail.

So, when you approach a company, you must explain how you fit to them. Believe me: they will not get it on their own. You need to create the equivalent of a business plan, mapping your skills to their needs.

A business plan to change careers

Now I’ll cue you in to the single reason that most attempts at career change fail, at least in my experience: The job hunter never expends the effort necessary to understand what the employer’s work is all about. The job hunter is too focused on “the job” and on the “qualifications.” The actual work is rarely defined in the job description. It’s hidden under all the bureaucratic jargon. The only way to get at it is to talk to people who do the work you want to do at the company you want to work for.

You’ll know whether you’ve really figured this out if you can write a short paragraph at the top of your resume that explains (1) the main challenge and problem the employer faces, (2) the specific skills you have that can help him solve it, and (3) how you’re going to pull it off. No matter how some people try, they wind up describing their past accomplishments rather than explaining what they’re going to do for this employer now.

Changing careers is an investment

This is a tall order. Career change is a tough challenge. But it’s do-able if you’re determined and willing to put out the effort. If you focus on the specifics of the job you want, and on a plan to deliver real value, you will quickly recoup any loss in salary you took in order to make a career change.

As for avoiding a salary cut and starting closer to the top, well, expect to exchange value for equal value. If you can actually deliver the value of an experienced worker in the job you want to do, you deserve the same pay. Otherwise, consider career change an investment. You must put up something in order to get something in exchange.

I hope you find this helpful. It’s the only approach I know that works.

The original 2002 column linked to three articles that became sections of the PDF book How Can I Change Careers?: “The Library Vacation,” “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume,” and “Taking A Salary Cut to Change Careers.” I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me!

Have you tried to change careers? How did it turn out and why?

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Can I use Twitter to reach a hiring manager?

Can I use Twitter to reach a hiring manager?

Question

I wanted to get your perspective on trying to use Twitter to get attention from a hiring manager. I’m interested in a role that is a great fit and have tried networking but thus far I haven’t been able to get introduced to him by anyone at his company.

I put together a slide deck discussing ideas for growth opportunities tor the company (It’s a strategy role). I am thinking of sharing the slides and introducing myself on Twitter. I’ve never done something this bold before but am really interested in the role. What are your thoughts? Should I share the slides and indicate my interest in the role, then wait (hopefully) for him to ask me to send him my resume? Or should I share both the slides and my resume?

Nick’s Reply

twitter hiring managerThere has been a spate of articles online about how to use Twitter to get a job. It just seems so reductionist — cramming what you want to say into a tweet.

Worse, you’re exposing your entire pitch to the world. How does that get you an edge? It might get you more competition. Just because a hiring manager you want to work for is on Twitter doesn’t mean that’s the best way to address them. (You can “direct message” a manager only if they follow you, or if they accept DMs from anyone, which is unlikely.)

You could try it, but putting my little critique aside, the real problem is that Twitter is just another indirect communication layer you have virtually no control over. Why not go direct?

I’d find the manager’s e-mail and send him the deck you prepared. Better yet, track down someone the manager works with and trusts — and get introduced. This is a different kind of “communication layer” because there’s nothing like a personal referral, even if it’s someone you only just met. You said you’ve unsuccessfully tried networking your way in.  It’s not hard to engineer such meetings. Try a method I call “triangulate to get in the door.”

I admire your creativity. Just because I’m not a fan of addressing a hiring manager publicly on Twitter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, but I’d do something more personal than hang yourself out on a social media platform.

The reader responds

Nick,

Thank you so much for your response, and your insightful advice. I actually did as you suggested and drafted a “pain letter,” showing what I understand about what the manager needs help with. I sent it along with the slides and my resume directly to the hiring manager. (I spent a couple of weeks on the deck to make sure it was relevant!)

He responded and I’m “in the door!” So this stuff actually works! Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

Yah, this stuff actually works. Managers are often startled by people who skip the job applications and instead jump right into “doing the job.” Glad you tried it! Even before a job interview, you’ve started demonstrating what you know about the job and how you’re going to do it. That gives you a substantial edge.

Please let me know how this turns out!

Have you ever used Twitter to get a job interview? What did you say in your tweet? How about other social media? Does this work any better the other way around — have you been recruited via Twitter?

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