Have I been blacklisted in my job search?

Have I been blacklisted in my job search?


I work in legal compliance in a growing industry. My skills are in demand and up to date. But I’m struggling to get anyone’s attention and I remain unemployed after a start-up I worked for failed. After conversation with a former colleague, I suspect that I may have been blacklisted either by recruiters or by a past employer. I discussed this suspicion with two career coaches and received the same pat answer: “Get those suspicions out of your mind! Stop worrying about it!”

I know about typical recruiter conduct (ghosting, ignoring), and I know to be professionally patient myself because folks are simply so busy these days. And I know there may be very good and logical reasons for getting no response from two specific industry recruiters who have always been friendly, responsive and supportive in the past.

But what if something really has occurred to hurt me? How to discover it, how to deal with it, and how to clear it up? How to get any feedback if they never write or reply to my job search e-mails? Would calling them to inquire or attempt to resolve be received as too direct or confrontational?

Nick’s Reply

blacklistedSorry to hear about this. You’re right, it might be nothing – just busy recruiters. Or it might be something. I don’t want to be dismissive, so if you really believe you have evidence, I’d talk with an attorney for advice and legal help. Interfering with someone’s right to work can be a serious issue — if that’s what’s going on. A lawyer might put a private investigator on this, though that may be a stretch.

Blacklisted? Maybe, maybe not

I don’t think I’d call the recruiters or employers about this. If they have really blacklisted you, how would it help to call them? If they’re not, your call may set them to wondering about you – Is this person paranoid? Without hard evidence, you just may create a problem where there isn’t one.

One measure you can take on your own is to hire a good reference-checking service to find out what’s being said about you. But that won’t be conclusive. Negative judgments about people are usually traded via back channels, not out in the open.

Blacklisted by A.I.?

In a recent column (Is Artificial Intelligence Adopting Recruiting’s Worst Practices?) my good buddy Suzanne Lucas discusses how A.I. is infecting employers and recruiters with a more insidious form of ghosting behavior. She asks whether high-speed rejection of job applicants is a new thing, and suggests employers should beware:

“This should be a concern for talent acquisition professionals and hiring managers because they remain legally responsible for their decisions — except they don’t know precisely how A.I. decides.”

This just might be your real problem. In the end, you must follow your own judgment.

Don’t chase after recruiters

My best advice is to avoid getting stuck in just one job-search mode. Stop relying on recruiters. The best solution is to learn to go straight to the hiring managers yourself. That’s the only way to control your job search.

This requires creating referrals and recommendations that will trigger employers to meet you. That is, by talking with people that surround your target employer, and giving them reasons to refer and recommend you, you will “go around” any possible blacklist problem. You can create your own positive buzz. Please read Want the job? Go around HR. It works with going around recruiters, too!

If you feel you need to discuss the confidential details of this, please check my Talk to Nick service.

I wish you the best.

Have you ever been blacklisted in your job search, with hard evidence to support your conclusion? It’s rare, but it does happen. Whether or not that’s the case in this reader’s story, let’s discuss what real blacklisting really looks like — and how to deal with it. What’s your blacklist story?

: :

When hiring, don’t send in the clowns

When hiring, don’t send in the clowns


It happened again last week. We brought in a candidate for a senior marketing position that pays very well. The candidate showed up, met with our personnel office for about an hour and then just said, “No thanks,” and left. This was a good candidate. But it’s the third that has ended the interview process before ever getting to me. I’m going to get my team together to figure out, are we doing something wrong when hiring? Or are job applicants just not what they used to be? By the way, I’m the Marketing V.P. and the job reports to me.

Nick’s Reply

Would your company send a customer service representative to close a big deal with an important new client? Of course not. You’d send your top salesperson, perhaps along with a company executive and maybe even an engineer from the team that builds the product you’re selling.

When hiring, impress candidates immediately

So, why do you send a $60,000-a-year personnel clerk to interview a top candidate when hiring to fill a $150,000-a-year job? (I’m guessing at these salaries.) It’s not so much the difference in pay that should signal a huge risk to you; it’s the irrelevance of the discussion that would ensue. What does a personnel clerk (even a smart, well intentioned one) have to say to a busy marketing expert who wants to talk shop? (Or, imagine an engineer, a computer programmer, a heavy equipment operator, or a specialized mechanic.)

Is this really how you want to establish your first important contact with a desirable job candidate? Don’t send in the clowns!

Every day, leading-edge companies send clerks to impress leading-edge candidates in screening interviews. (Your candidates seem impressed, all right — but not favorably!) These clerks must then wait to get on the hiring manager’s agenda to “present” the candidate — while the candidate cools their heels. Guess what? Such candidates don’t wait. They smell bureaucracy and walk away because they have other good options.

When hiring, put your managers in the game from the start.

If your management team is too busy to get personally involved in the recruiting and hiring process, your company will lose the very candidates it wants most: the best ones. Even in a slow economy, the best candidates are in demand, and while you’re trying to put them through your administrative process, a headhunter like me will steal them.

No matter how you identify the candidates you want to pursue, never let anyone make first contact except the manager who would hire them — in this case, you. It tells the candidate you’re serious. It puts you ahead of other employers who send in the clowns first.

Make the candidate feel as important as the job you want them to fill.

Never allow hiring to be represented as an administrative process. This turns good candidates right off. No one wants to think they were invited for an interview because the personnel department dragged their resume out of a heap. The candidate wants to know that something specific triggered the company’s interest. Preferably, a manager — not a process — stimulated this encounter. Make recruitment personal, make it important, make it a carefully orchestrated courtship designed to make the candidate feel special. You get one chance to create a first impression. Send in the hiring manager!

Deliver value to the candidate.

I give similar advice to job hunters: The very first time they talk with the hiring manager, they must offer something useful that proves their value. Why do some employers think they can do any less when they are recruiting a candidate? You are not filling a job; you’re trying to change someone’s life. Make sure it’s for the better.

Never forget that you initiated this courtship. Don’t just make your meeting informative; make it intriguing and satisfying. (If it’s appropriate, plan a meal in the executive dining room or at a good restaurant.) Show the candidate, in your first encounter, how your technology, your products and your other employees will impact their life. Show what they stand to gain from working with you. If the value isn’t there in that first meeting, the candidate won’t be back for a second meeting — or, as in this case, they’ll just walk out.

Too often, companies relegate hiring to the personnel department, where candidates are to be scrubbed before they can be presented to management. Imagine trying that with a sales prospect.

You already know that one of the two most important people to your business is the customer. Now, start acting like the job candidate is the other.

Name 3 things you could do better when hiring, if you’re a hiring manager. If you’re a job seeker, name 3 things employers could do that would make a meaningful difference to you when considering a job offer. For everyone: What should employers STOP doing to improve their hiring process?

: :

Maybe you shouldn’t hire me?

Maybe you shouldn’t hire me?


So we all know the “What’s your salary expectation?” question. I was talking to a very nice recruiter who asked me that on our first call. I said $X. The recruiter presented my information to a company, including my desired salary. They said “We can’t offer $X base pay, but we can meet her at 90% of $X and then offer $N on top of that in bonus and incentive pay.” My question is, is it okay to feel like I am negotiating salary before I have interviewed? Does it leave room for negotiation at the offer stage? I have not come across this scenario before so I am just curious how you would advise to handle something like this in the future?

Nick’s Reply

hire-meI think the best way to get hired and get a salary that’s right for you is to challenge the employer not to hire you. But why would anybody suggest an employer should not hire them? I’ll explain why (and how) you should do just that! But first let’s address your question.

I wish all employers would start negotiating salary before an interview even takes place! It’s a great way to establish whether everyone is on the same “money page” before investing a lot of time!

Of course, it’s best to give a salary range, so you have room to maneuver later. (See Salary Negotiation: How much to ask for.) But the logic underlying this early negotiating strategy is simple, and you set the stage like this.

How to Say It: We’re gonna talk money

“Thanks — it seems we’re in the right ballpark, so I’m willing to invest some time to talk. Although I read your job description, I don’t really know what the day-to-day demands and deliverables of the job are. We’ll get into that in our interviews. So my compensation requirement could change depending on exactly what’s required of me — and what I can do for you.”

You just created a salary opening we’re going to drive a truck through.

Employers rarely can describe what the work is really all about in a job description. Job descriptions are HR-ese — keyword salad. (When I do presentations to professional audiences I often ask for a show of hands: “Who’s job today is what the job description said when you applied for the job?” Everyone cracks up and no hands ever go up!) Until we’re talking shop in a working meeting, we can’t figure out what a job is worth — and how much pay you can negotiate for.

If you’re in the right ballpark, it’s worth talking. But now you need to find out how you could relieve the employer of its pain.

Try something like this.

How to Say It: Why you should hire me

“Please tell me where it hurts. That is, what do you need me to fix, improve, make better, deliver — and I’ll do my best to show you how I will do it. That is, I’ll sketch out a kind of business plan about how I’ll take care of your problem. If I can’t do that for you, then you shouldn’t hire me. And if you don’t offer me enough money, then I won’t take the job. But as long as we’re in the ballpark, let’s roll up our sleeves and I’ll do my best to show you why you should hire me. Let’s talk shop!”

I find that volunteering that it’s possible there is no match is incredibly disarming. It changes your meeting from a job interview to a test that you yourself are proposing. It opens the door to discussing the employer’s most important needs. It tells the employer you are taking the load off their back and you’re going to explain to them why you’re the best hire because you’re going to show them.

And that can change how they evaluate all your competitors.

Raise expectations

I find this takes the interview way beyond your resume and the job description. You’ve raised the stakes because you’re not just applying for a job like everyone else. You’re about to present a business proposition, and that raises the employer’s expectations for all applicants. It leaves the door wide open to negotiate for more than they expected because no employer expects the job candidate to actually have a plan.

After you’ve learned the whole story about “where it hurts,” after you learn what they really need — the actual deliverables — then you’ll have a lot of control when negotiating salary.

Suggesting they should not hire you if you can’t talk shop and show you can fix, improve, make better, and deliver on what the employer really needs sets you up to have their complete attention.

Of course, you’d better be ready to prove what you can do in this meeting. Because if you haven’t prepared to do that, then you have no business in the interview.

: :

Enthusiasm, Persistence & Intelligence

Enthusiasm, Persistence & Intelligence


The prevalence of the “keyword approach” to selecting job candidates to interview seems to leave a gaping hole in how companies recruit — and it certainly doesn’t reveal the “stars.” There is so much emphasis on “AI,” on algorithms and resume parsing that the important intangibles get lost. I’m sure you’ve seen loads of resumes. What do you look for when you judge a candidate? Is it even on the resume at all? (I’d like to ask every HR person and hiring manager this question!)

Nick’s Reply

enthusiasm persistence intelligenceSales managers, more than managers in other corporate functions, are always reaching for the stars and asking this question: What are the early signs of a star performer? The best definition of a star employee was shared with me a long time ago.

Dave Csira, the V.P. of Sales for a computer distributor, told me the three attributes he always looks for are enthusiasm, persistence and intelligence. Every year that goes by I test this combination and find that this set of attributes seems to represent value better than any other, and not just in sales.

You can build your own value by focusing on developing these three attributes in yourself.

To me, your resume isn’t on a piece of paper. (See How to Get A Job: Don’t write a resume.) It’s in your actual work and in the outcome of that work. It’s in the reputation that follows you wherever you go. So, you build value in your reputation by building value into the work you choose to do and in the ways you do it.


The first way to build value is to do work that you want to do. Choices made with enthusiasm produce value because they draw out the best you have to offer. And that’s what any employer is looking for.

Never take a job because it’s there, or because the employer “bought” you with a great job offer. Sure, you may perform well on any of a number of jobs, but unless your enthusiasm runneth over for the work, for the products you work on, for your peers and for your customers, you’ve left value on the table. You could have been doing something that revealed 110% of your talents, not just 90%.

When you describe a past job to a prospective employer, your eyes should light up with genuine enthusiasm. You should be able to describe it as an exploit and an adventure, not as just a job.


Persistence is the tool that turns a job into productive work. That’s what an employer pays for when it hires you. It’s what a good manager looks for on your resume.

The only jobs that don’t get done right are the ones people give up on. “It’s too hard. No one can do it. It’s never been done before. It won’t work. No one will buy it.” You build value on your resume by finding a way to do the job effectively.

Being persistent often means transcending the job description and re-designing the work so you can achieve the goal. You see, jobs themselves don’t matter. (That’s why more of them are eliminated every day.) What matters is work that achieves a company’s goals. Your first job is to re-design your work so that it will pay off. Make that achievement part of your reputation.


The trouble with enthusiasm and persistence is that they’re dumb attributes. You can jump up and down with glee and never stop — but you’ll never produce anything worthwhile unless you are smart. You have to know which end is up, and you have to “know sh-t from Shinola.”

If your resume reveals one thing about you, it’s the choices you’ve made. Choices about which companies to work for, which products to get behind, which people to work with, and which failures to learn from. These choices may seem minor when you’re making each of them, but on your resume the picture of your intelligence crystallizes when your choices are suddenly summarized.

Building “smarts” is largely a function of who you work with day-in and day-out. Even the dumbest among us learn by rubbing elbows with the smartest. Does your resume show you’ve rubbed elbows with the best?

Add up enthusiasm, persistence and intelligence and you come up with accomplishments. But remember: accomplishments don’t tell a story to an employer. They tell only the ending. The proof of your value lies in showing how you got there. When a prospective employer can see these three critical attributes in your reputation and on your resume— that’s when it sees a star. That’s when it knows you can help add something positive to the bottom line.

Can you point to where on your resume an employer can find enthusiasm, persistence and intelligence? Are these qualities evident in your reputation? What are the best ways to communicate these qualities? What other qualities would you add to these three?

: :

The job-offer fallacy: A deadly assumption

The job-offer fallacy: A deadly assumption


A friend ignored my advice and fell into the job-offer fallacy. He was so thrilled to get a job offer he wanted that he cancelled two other interviews. I told him to do the interviews anyway. What’s the harm? Well, he never really had a job offer, just a verbal one, nothing in writing. A real offer never came, but they strung him out for almost three weeks. You can guess the rest. The other two opportunities disappeared. He begged for those interviews but the other companies wouldn’t even respond to him. Do your readers a favor and warn them not to put all their eggs in one basket no matter how good it looks!

Nick’s Reply

I think you just gave that excellent warning! But I’ll take this two more steps — and you might be surprised. Your friend had only a verbal offer, nothing in writing. But he should have hedged his bets even if he had the a job offer in writing and even if he started the job.

What is the job-offer fallacy?

job-offer fallacyJob hunting produces stress more than almost any other experience. That’s why there’s nothing like the immense relief you feel when the job offer has arrived. Finally, you’re done! Or, are you caught in the job-offer fallacy? It goes like this:

I just got the job offer I want, so I’ll cancel my other interviews. I don’t need them.

The fallacy is that you don’t need them. Never, ever cancel an interview or terminate your job search just because:

  • You had a great interview and they said they’d make an offer.
  • A company made you an offer in writing.
  • You started the new job today.

Here’s why:

A great interview isn’t an offer

After a positive, hopeful interview experience, it’s natural to let your enthusiasm get the better of your common sense. It seems logical to put further job search activities on hold until the employer makes that offer. After all, this is the job you really want! And you’re so busy at work — who’s got time to go on other interviews or to continue contacting more employers? Why not just see what happens with this one first?

Any headhunter will tell you that most good interviews fail to produce job offers. Likewise, more job offers are rejected than accepted. That’s why headhunters (who are responsible to the employers who pay them) always keep other candidates on deck. And that’s why you should never assume an offer is on the way, or that it won’t explode, or that your first day on the new job is the end of it. It’s why you should continue full steam ahead on your job search and keep other irons hot in the fire.

A written offer can be rescinded

An offer is a guarantee of a job, right? Well, not necessarily. Companies don’t always worry about what’s proper or what’s legal. If the company suddenly re-organizes, or its finance department runs the numbers and realizes money is tight, or if the company hears something about you that it doesn’t like, the offer could be rescinded. Even if the offer is legally binding, you could be in for a battle. If you don’t have a fall-back position, you’re without a paycheck.

Here’s an example from the Ask The Headhunter case file. A job candidate fudged past salary on the application form. The employer made an offer, then demanded to see a pay stub from the candidate’s last job. When the numbers didn’t match, the offer was withdrawn. The candidate had already resigned the old job and cancelled other pending interviews, having decided to accept the offer. That was a deadly incorrect assumption.

Day #1 can be your last day, too.

I’ve seen it happen more than once. A new employee finds the job doesn’t really match what what was described, or in a quick re-shuffling is reporting to someone other than the manager who made the hire. Or, the new co-workers are a miserable bunch. Whatever the problem, the new hire decides it was a bad mistake and this isn’t the place to be. The new hire is ready to resign before really starting the job.

Here’s another example from the Ask The Headhunter files. After taking a job and closing the door on other opportunities, the new hire went through two weeks of training only to be told the department was being eliminated. There were two choices: leave, or switch to another department and another job for $20,000 less in salary. Our new hire decided to sue. Three months later, the lawsuit was barely off the ground and our litigant was still without a job and saddled with legal bills.

Beware the job-offer fallacy because it ain’t over till it’s over

Is this likely to happen to you? Probably not. But here’s my rule about taking risks. If the potential for disaster is small but the consequences would be huge (like no job, no income), don’t take the risk.

There is no security inherent in a job offer. If you believe there is, you’ve bought into a fallacy. So, what is a smart job hunter to do?

Until the dust settles, don’t regard an interview, a job offer, or a job itself as the end of your job search. Hedge your bets. Keep your options open until you can take a look around and decide the ground beneath you really is firm. Don’t cancel other interviews. Don’t discourage other offers. The disasters I described don’t happen often. But if such a disaster befalls you just once and you’re without a safety net, it will seem like the end of the world.

Have you ever cancelled a job interview because you were so sure of a “job in the hand” only to encounter the job-offer fallacy? How bad were the consequences? How do you control the risks when pursuing a new job opportunity?

: :