Pest or hiring manager’s dream?

Pest or hiring manager’s dream?


I’ve been reading a lot of books about job searches. They all say you have to send in your resume then follow up with phone calls. In other words, be a pest! I am really annoyed by the junk phone calls I have to put up with both at work and at home, so I feel really stupid calling busy professionals and bothering them. Is this really the right way to go? Your advice and comments would be welcome. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

hiring managerThat depends on who you’re calling.

A hiring manager’s dream

Suppose you’re at your job and you need to discuss with your boss how you plan to do your work more effectively and to get the boss’s advice. Would you feel like a pest (that is, annoying or a nuisance) if you called your boss to talk about work? Of course not!

So, how are you being a pest if you call your future boss about the work? You’d be the hiring manager’s dream.

A pest

It also depends on what you’re calling about. Are you calling to find out whether the boss received your resume? Or to say you’re just like all other job applicants — that you’re “really interested in the job”? Whether you call the hiring manager or the Human Resources department, how are you making their day or their jobs better? You’re not being helpful, are you? That’s annoying.

If you think you’re going to annoy someone, don’t call them.

If you think you can help a busy hiring manager (or your own boss) solve their problems, meet the challenges they’re facing in their department and contribute to the bottom line, then call! Good bosses (and smart hiring managers) want to meet job candidates who can offer solutions. That’s who they will hire. Is that you?

Prepare to talk with the hiring manager

But here’s where the fun really starts. Forget the job application protocols you’ve been taught. Skip the traditional process and sequence of events. Don’t act like every other job seeker! Your call need not be a follow-up to a resume or to say you really want the job (like every job seeker does), or to follow up on an interview. Your call — not your resume — should be your first contact with the manager!

Be ready to talk shop with the hiring manager just like you’d talk shop if you called your own boss! Stand out from the resumes.

This advance call about the work creates an advantage that your competition doesn’t have. When the manager finally meets you, they will know you and what you have to offer. The interview will quickly turn into a working meeting where the two of you can immediately get down to brass tacks. That gives you a tremendous edge.

There’s a catch

What’s the catch? You’ve got to do lots of work to prepare a brief call where you can offer the help that a specific manager needs. But isn’t that exactly what thoughtfully picking a job to pursue is all about? If you can’t walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate both your understanding of the work to be done and your ability to do it, then you have no business in that interview! Why should a manager hire you? To pull this off, you must do a lot of homework and preparation so that you will be worth talking with — not a pest!

(When is the last time you delivered a completed project to your boss without first discussing it? A job interview is a project. You can’t do it without first defining the scope and the deliverable. That means talking to the manager.)

Pest vs. dream

Are you beginning to see the distinction between making a useful phone call and one that wastes a manager’s time? The difference lies in preparation. (No idea where to start? Try the most important question in an interview.)

Traditional job hunting protocol says you should call after you submit an application. Yah. What are you going to say? “Did you receive my resume? I really want the job and I want you to know it!” Such perfunctory information is no more valuable than the sixth marketing message you’re harassed with: “Did you get the e-mail we sent you last week? You’re gonna love our product!” It’s all irrelevant and annoying.

Good managers pay attention to smart people who can talk shop. So, worry about being a pest only if you’re going to act like one. Be the manager’s dream by telling them something they need to hear—and relish the advantage you’ll gain over your competition.

So, what should that call be about?

Have I left you wondering… Okay, but what do I say to the manager when I make that call? What should the call be about?

Uh-uh. Nope. I’m not telling you. (I’m not going to set tens of thousands of people loose on managers, making calls reciting the same message.) You figure it out, then give your potential next employer a call. Don’t be a pest. Be the manager’s dream — and deliver value. No resume is required.

I won’t tell you what to say, but I’ll give you this tip: To plan what you should say to a manager, put yourself in the manager’s shoes. If you were a manager, what would you want to hear from a caller who wants to work for you? As the job hunter, What does it mean to talk shop to that manager?

eclipse 2024Think. Upon introducing yourself to a manager who knows nothing about you and who has never seen your resume, what could you say to make the manager want to meet you — and hire you? Then come join us in the Comments section below to share your ideas about How to Say It!

NOTE: My apologies for not providing a heads-up that there would be no newsletter last week! I was in Texas with friends chasing the total eclipse, which we found in a Walmart parking lot in Killeen. Four and a half minutes of totality, but only a few glorious seconds without full cloud cover. It was totally worth the 3+ hours each way from Houston!

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Your job-search addiction: It’s all the same app

Your job-search addiction: It’s all the same app


I lost my job over two years ago, and have applied for over 4,000 HR (Human Resources) opportunities, with 97 interviews, and I am still unemployed. I’ve updated my resume to an ATS format (Applicant Tracking System) to meet the current job search filters implemented by recruiters who use ATS platforms. I am still being rejected with an automated message saying, “Thank you but No Thank You.” I have an MBA in HR Management. Can you tell me why I am not being hired? I’ve attached a copy of my original resume and a copy of the ATS formatted resume for your review. Thank you for your time and attention. I’ve been following your “Ask the Headhunter” newsletter for at least 10 years. I would like your expert advice on handling the current job search market. I look forward to hearing from you.

Nick’s Reply

job-search addictionSorry, I don’t review resumes, ATS-formatted or otherwise. It’s not my intent to berate or ridicule you but you do, after all, work in HR. How can you not know how the ATS game is played? The house wins, you lose. The house is the Employment System — ATS vendors and the job boards (and any employers that use ATSes). The rest of us are the gamblers.

The job-search addiction

This gambling addiction is pernicious because that’s how job boards and ATSes are designed! ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Indeed and their ilk don’t make the big money when you get a job. They make the big money when you don’t get a job and when employers don’t fill jobs because then everyone keeps coming back to place another bet (or 3,000)!

The fundamental technology underlying the job-board and ATS ripoff is illustrated by another addictive con: dating apps.

Jobs and dating: It’s all a gambling addiction

Consider these clips from recent NPR news items about the “applicant tracking systems” used for dating:

“If you’ve ever done online dating, you know that it can be exhausting — the endless swiping, the conversations that go nowhere, the weird interactions where it feels like somebody is just on a different planet than you… Not to mention the emotional roller coaster of really vibing with somebody on the app and then getting to the date and it’s just nothing. Nothing there. It can make you want to stop dating entirely.” [How to ditch the apps and date offline]

Sound familiar? Endless applications, interviews that go nowhere, weird interactions where it seems the interviewer is on another planet… and the emotional roller coaster when you really think you found a match and BAM! you get ghosted.

It’s all the same gambling addiction. While job seekers haven’t really fought back legally, people seeking romance have:

“The popular dating apps Tinder, Hinge and the League hook users with the promise of seemingly endless romantic matches in order to push people to pay money to continue their compulsive behavior, according to a federal lawsuit filed in San Francisco on Wednesday.” [Maker of Tinder, Hinge sued over ‘addictive’ dating apps that put profits over love]

Addictive features & corporate profits

The parallels to the big job boards and ATSes are startling:

“While Hinge’s advertising slogan boasts that it is “designed to be deleted,” the lawsuit claims Match Group’s dating apps are really designed to turn users into “addicts” who do not find true love and instead keep purchasing subscriptions and other paid perks to keep the publicly traded company’s revenue flowing.”

Addicted to a dating app? (How about a job-hunting app? Is there a difference?) The complaint filed by six plaintiffs from several states claims:

“Match Group has violated state and federal consumer protection, false advertising and defective design laws… Harnessing powerful technologies and hidden algorithms, Match intentionally designs the platforms with addictive, game-like design features, which lock users into a perpetually pay-to-play loop that prioritizes corporate profits over its marketing promises and customers’ relationship goals”

That’s why you’re not getting hired – or finding love

Sound familiar? What exactly triggered you to keep submitting applications after the first thousand? After 3,000? Doing the same thing 4,000 times sure seems like an addiction to me! And, as with the dating apps, at the heart of the ATSes are… algorithms seemingly designed to suck you into believing there’s a proverbial brown pony underneath all that…crap. And you — and millions like you — keep coming back to look some more!


You’re applying to thousands of jobs, you’ve done 97 interviews, you have a keyword resume that’s supposed to play nice with the ATSes and you’re still not hired. And you ask me why you are not being hired?

That’s why you’re not getting hired.

What works

As an HR pro, you should know none of that stuff works. Now you know you’re also getting ripped off. As an Ask The Headhunter newsletter reader, you should know that on Ask The Headhunter we discuss what doesn’t work and what does every week. I know this can be hard to see when you’re so close to it.

Here’s my advice on handling the current job-search market. And there’s no A.I. or any algorithm that went into writing these articles. This is what works.

Library Vaction beats the Internet when job hunting

Job search success stories

How to get a job: Don’t write a resume

Drop the resume script: Be the wired candidate

The key to good networking

You mean doing it online doesn’t work?

A number of years ago I did a news segment with PBS News. If you watch it, check the date. Nothing has changed materially between then and now. It’s time for a Congressional investigation.

Is applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work?

Dating apps, job-search addiction — it’s all the same algorithms

In How to ditch the apps and date offline NPR offers the advice of a relationship expert to help wean the addicted from their poison. Take a few minutes to read it. The parallels to job search make it painfully obvious that the addictions are fundamentally the same — and so is the cure. It starts off like this:

“There is another option. It may not seem like it, but you can meet people to date in person.”

Sound familiar?

When the system is broken, you can’t use the system. You have to go meet people you want to work with — in person! I wish you the best. But, please — if you do get a job in HR, do something to stop addicting people to the algorithms!

What’s wrong with the dominant systems we depend on to match people to jobs? Do they serve us effectively, or are we just addicted to them without much care for how well they work?

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How do I bring closure to series of 6 interviews?

How do I bring closure to series of 6 interviews?


I have been on 6 interviews with senior management at a highly regarded company. Although the interviews were exploratory, the hiring manager looked to me to take over and manage a good portion of the department. After the second interview with the hiring manager, he advised me that he wanted to expand the role of the position due to my extensive project management experience.

Since I worked on an industry committee in which this company was represented, I was familiar with their operation. All the interviews went quite well, and I was told that a decision would be made within two weeks. I received a voice mail from the hiring manager yesterday and he advised me that it may take a little longer to make a decision. He stated that they are still developing the position, and some other “things” came up that diverted his attention.

What do you suggest I do to bring this to closure? Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

6 interviewsYou have two choices: bring this to a head, or let it alone. My advice is to let it alone. Let’s explore the other option, then I’ll explain why I think you should leave it alone

After 6 interviews, invoke your own timeline

You can bring it to a head by calling the manager and giving him a polite ultimatum, along these lines:

“I appreciate that you have internal reasons for this taking so long. However, I have some key decisions I need to make, too, regarding my work and some new commitments. I’d like to set a deadline for us both – say, two weeks? Respectfully, if your team can’t make a decision by that point, I will need to withdraw my candidacy for the job. I want you to know how much I’ve looked forward to working with you. I know I can do this job profitably for you. I hope you can respect the other decisions I have to make in the next couple of weeks, but I hope we have the chance to work together. Feel free to call me any time.”

The risk you take is that he may say they can’t deal with the deadline, and you’ll have to walk away.


Sometimes closure is under the control of one party more than the other – in this case, the employer. When a company is ready to hire, they do it. When they hesitate, we could speculate about what’s really happening until the cows come home – we’ll never really know what’s up. So, don’t put your life and career on hold and wait by the phone. You’ve already given them 6 interviews. That ‘s way more than enough.

I’d focus on other things and leave the hiring manager alone. The ball is entirely in his court. Let him play it. He’s already told you he doesn’t quite know what this position is really all about — but you will never really know whether that’s a serious problem. You may get a job offer at some point but, depending on how long that takes, you may need “a little longer” yourself — to judge whether you want to work with these people.

There is really only one way you can take control. Get on with any other opportunities or plans you have. Pretend this one job doesn’t even exist. You’ve done everything you should. Don’t be sidelined because someone else isn’t ready to make a play.

What does it mean when an employer delays a hiring decision? Should you even care? What’s the best way to handle this kind of situation?

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Manager talked a blue streak in my interview

Manager talked a blue streak in my interview


What do you think of managers who interview by talking a blue streak? I interviewed with the VP of Technology in a good company. I followed your advice about how to gently take control of an interview. Even before I sat down I said, “You are in a tough business. What challenges does the company face in the months ahead?”

He answered in about five minutes then he talked non-stop about the position, himself and his company. When he finally finished I asked a few questions, but he kept looking at his watch. I didn’t get to say much.

At the end he said he wanted to make a decision within a week, and that the finalist would have to take two hours of psychological tests. I tried to “do the job in the interview,” as you recommend, but it didn’t seem to work. Now, what do you think?

Nick’s Reply

manager talked blue streakIf the manager talked a blue streak during your interview, I think the manager should let someone else do the interviewing.

He knows next to nothing about you after such an interview. He likely will make a hiring decision based on (a) the little you revealed about how you could help him, and (b) the phase of the moon, because he probably doesn’t have any other information other than your resume. In not having a real discussion with you and in not evaluating your ability to do the work when he had the chance, he revealed poor management habits.

If you’re hired, it will likely be for the wrong reasons. Once you’re on board, you’ll probably get as much of his attention as you did in the interview process. Is this someone you want to work for? He’s an example of what’s wrong with too many American businesses.

I’d sit for two hours of psychological testing only if they paid me my going hourly rate, whether I got the job or not. Before you do such testing, check last week’s edition and here.

Stories like this burn me up when I consider how much time is wasted. I think the best way to profit from an experience like this it to use it as a basis to judge the manager and the company. The manager didn’t just say a lot; he revealed a lot — probably all you need to know!

My advice: Look for managers who can articulate in detail the problems and challenges they face, and who then let you show how you will do the job. In a good interview, both parties roll up their sleeves and work together. It’s a back-and-forth, not a speech.

Other matters may be important, but the work comes first in a job interview. If it doesn’t, I think you’re probably talking to the wrong company.

This is a good example of “meta data” about a company. That is, data that provides context for everything else you learn about it. For example, this manager’s method of “interviewing” affects his department’s success every day. It tells you a lot about the company’s prospects. What kind of meta data have you gleaned in a job interview that helped you judge a job opportunity?

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A.I. Job Interview: You need to know why it’s crap

A.I. Job Interview: You need to know why it’s crap


I’ve been told once again that to be considered for a real job interview I have to first do a solo AI job interview via video with a robot called HireVue. I’m really fed up having to invest my time with nothing invested by the employer! They don’t even give you your results. Just a rejection colder than those little postcards HR used to send out! (Remember those? I’ve been around a while.) After the robot “interviews” you, they use software algorithms to “watch” your video and more algorithms to score your facial expressions and voice. Am I just unschooled in AI or is this a racket?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve been writing about the likes of HireVue and other vendors of AI job interview robots since they came on the scene. I predicted they’d die a quick death. I was wrong.

ai-job-interviewToday these highly questionable — but apparently profitable — HR technology systems proliferate. They purport to interview and assess job applicants, search social media to measure employee loyalty, and score people’s personality — all without ever meeting anyone. Among these companies: HireVue, IBM, Humantic AI, Fama, Arctic Shores, Good Egg, Ferretly, Intelligo, Predictim and many more. They are taking over HR.

Does anybody know how the AI job interview works?

These vendors have supplanted real job interviews and legitimate assessments of job applicants and employees, substituting AI and extreme automation. They have infected Human Resources departments everywhere.

Critical review of this phenomenon has been sporadic and scattered, and HR’s role in the pain you suffer when job hunting has been sketchy.

If you’re a regular in this community, you know I very rarely recommend books about job hunting and hiring. So I’ll get to my advice: Read Hilke Schellmann’s new book. Before you consent to one more job interview by a robot, before you sit and video-record yourself “talking to the hand” while unaccountable algorithms “assess you,” get this book and take notes while you read it:

The Algorithm: How AI decides who gets hired, monitored,
promoted and fired and why we need to fight back now

Schellmann reveals what’s going on, and you’d better strap on a rubber apron because it’s gonna get messy.

HireVue and HR’s other AI fantasies exposed

Hilke Schellmann, an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism professor at NYU, has delivered a stunning survey of what’s wrong with using AI to judge people. Somebody’s responsible for this growing blob of inscrutable fake intelligence, and we must follow the money. The purchase orders originate in Human Resources — they own it.

In The Algorithm Schellmann skins HR alive, revealing the flaccid underbelly of AI-based HR technology in what seems to be the biggest rip-off ever of job seekers, employees and employers alike.

Rather than hold forth myself on the evils AI is visiting on your career, I’m going to show you what Schellmann has discovered and revealed about a phony technology propped up by PR, marketing and double-talk.


If you believe AI is still a relatively small component of hiring, consider that HireVue alone announced that by the end of 2022 its software had conducted 33 million “one way” job interviews. Schellmann reports that over 60 Fortune 100 companies use HireVue to conduct AI job interviews. One employer used HireVue to interview 50,000 applicants over just one weekend for 1,500 locations.

What this tells us is there is no Human in HR anymore. It’s called “Artificial” Intelligence for a reason — it’s Fake Intelligence. The only humans involved are job seekers suckered into “talking to the hand.” I read one account after another in this book about how these vendors misrepresent — or, if we want to be generous, misunderstand — the science behind their products. I believe any job hunter could save thousands of dollars and untold amounts of time and anguish in their job search by understanding that algorithms cannot judge your personality, analyze your facial expressions, fathom your character from how you move your head or predict from your voice whether you’d be good at a job.

Digging deep into the artificial HR

There’s nothing human about HR anymore. The profession has metamorphosed into a piggy bank for AI start-ups. To get to the bottom of it all, Schellmann played job seeker and used these AI tools herself, then cornered their developers with tough questions.

She interviewed at length the entrepreneurs behind the vendors. She consulted with psychologists, computer scientists and attorneys who evaluated the legitimacy of the “science” behind the tests, games and robots involved. She spoke with hiring managers and studied the experiences of job seekers who were subjected to AI assessments.

I’ve been waiting for Schellman to come along for a long time.

No single article can begin to portray the breadth of Schellmann’s findings, so I won’t try. I’ll give you some examples and I’ll hope you read her book.

Microseconds of deep thinking, or gas? Or a load of crap?

In its video AI job interviews, HireVue uses “facial expression analysis” to identify and measure emotions. Emotions are then scored and those scores are used to judge your “thinking style” and predict whether or not you would do a job well. Schellmann suggests compellingly that none of this has been shown to predict how well you’d do a job.

While discussing the “results” of a video interview, HireVue executive Nathan Mondragon tells Schellmann: “Your eye went like this and down and you went ‘umm.’ So two seconds of video capture, two seconds of data, but every microsecond of the video frame is frozen and your eye movement went down and your head tilted and you went into an alternative thinking style. A lot of times ‘eye going down’ means a deeper thinking style, and going up can be a creativity thinking style.” (p. 107)

After reviewing the facial recognition metrics and discussing the “science” of personality that HireVue’s algorithms rely on, an independent psychologist points out that “The face is not a window into the mind.” HireVue claims its algorithms determine your thinking style, but the psychologist points out that “thinking styles” are not supported by sound science. “We just don’t know what the meaning is of someone looking up or down… the movements don’t have inherent meaning… People scowl when they’re angry… when the are really focused, when they have gas.” (p. 113)

The theory behind their technology is “hugely problematic”

Much of the basis for the facial analysis algorithms rests on the (questionable, it turns out) assumption that if your best current employees display certain expressions during HireVue’s testing, then job applicants with the same expressions will be successful hires.

But Schellmann’s experts explain that to use facial expressions to identify emotions you must assume that ”emotions are indicated by roughly the same facial expressions that almost every human can recognize, and therefore computers could detect too.” (p. 112)

But bias creeps into the selection of “best employees” who represent the baseline.

“It could be that facial expressions… are just as random as hair color. If you look at high performers in video interviews and most people have brown hair, an unsupervised algorithm could pick up on that and choose only people with brown hair.”

Furthermore, the theory of universal emotions the technology is based on is outdated. “That’s what they’ve built their whole science around and it’s hugely problematic.”

We can’t check whether candidates can do the job!

This bit really warmed my heart because it proves effective marketing distracts us from crappy products.

Schellmann gets this little gem from Lindsey Zuloaga, the chief data scientist at HireVue: “What’s interesting with any job interview — if it’s scored by humans or by AI – is that a candidate only talks about their experiences. We are not seeing the candidate in action at their jobs. There is just a limitation of how do you know if someone’s going to do well at a job. The best way to know would be to let them do the job for a while and see how they do.” [Emphasis added.]

Duh, right? Now wait for it, because here it comes… “And obviously, you can’t do that,” said Zuloaga. “So assessing people is, in nature, kind of a proxy to getting to the actual job and the performance in the job.” (p. 101)

I can see this guy asking the seller of a used car to fill out a checklist about how well the car works but sees no reason to take it for a test drive. Zuloaga is so lost in his data that he has no concept of how people actually work “in nature”… by actually showing they can do the job! Better to use a proxy!

Skinning HR alive

These selected quotes are straight out of the book and speak for themselves. Memo to CEOs and boards of directors: Is this where your HR operation is spending your money?

“The problem exists when the data that underlies some of this is filled with errors or the design of the algorithms is filled with errors,” [said assessment tools expert John Scott] about Humantic AI’s and Crystal’s software. “It’s this going after the latest technologies that has resulted in a commercialization of these assessment tools that exist at the expense of sound, professional practice and good science.” (pp. 48-49)

[AI vendor] Crystal acknowledged that there are no independent studies verifying that its method works. (p. 48)

When we ran Humantic’s AI [which analyzes social media postings] separately over participants’ Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, the software returned different personality predictions for many of the people in our study. (p. 49)

[Harvard business professor] Joe Fuller’s report calls it ironic that company leaders keep complaining about not having enough qualified candidates for jobs, when they know that their own hiring processes are broken and actively excluding the very applicants they claim to so desperately want: “Employers almost universally acknowledge that these negative filters cause them to inadvertently exclude qualified candidates some, if not most of the time.” (p. 25)

There is a company that predicts personality traits based on users’ social media feeds — with or without users’ consent…. Humantic AI advertised that with just an email address the company’s algorithm can scan social feeds of job candidates and give hiring managers hidden insights into job candidates: “Get to know their real persona, not just the persona they want you to see. Let DeepSense predict their culture fit, personality and behavior for you.” (p. 30)

One job seeker whose uses the pronoun they… was able to see the report [compiled by Fama]. It contained more than three hundred pages analyzing all their tweets, retweets and likes. They were not amused by what they saw. (p. 36)

I spoke to a lot of hiring managers. Most pointed to one main problem they were hoping AI would solve: they are overwhelmed by the number of job applications they receive. AI promises a quick fix. One hiring manager, who started using an  AI-based resume screener… told me that his people are not checking whether the algorithm works, since artificial intelligence never makes mistakes. (p. 46)

[Uh, if the company stopped soliciting so many applications via fire hose, its managers would have time to screen the resumes? Now we’ll close with the most embarrassing quote in the book. –Nick

Book: The Algorithm8.
Safe Hammad, the chief technology officer, and cofounder of game-based assessment provider Arctic Shores said… “For me, it’s magic. I understand the science a little bit underneath. I certainly understand the mathematics, but it’s like magic.” p. 56)

These quotes barely scratch the surface of  Schellmann’s findings and analysis. There’s so much more, and I so admire both the depth and breadth of her research. Some of her interviews with AI firm managers made me crack up — they seem as clueless about being exposed as they are about the missing scientific underpinnings of their slap-dash “products.”

My hat is off to Hilke Schellman. A fine job of delivering a valuable public service!

Join the book club!

I’m not even done reading the book. I spent as much time writing in the margins and highlighting as I’ve spent reading! This is a remarkable book. A downright scary analysis, expose and general all-around skinning of HR — the good folks that fund these AI companies and make you talk to a screen. (I haven’t even brought up the parts of the book about withholding the files these firms create about you…)

What do you think? Is it like magic? Are you already aware of the scope of AI (FI?) being inflicted on job seekers, employees, employers, managers and, well, the entire economy? How much of “the jobs numbers” do these AI dealers and their HR junkies affect? Have you been subjected to the magic? Is Hilke Schellmann serious? Do “we need to fight back now?” How?

Let’s start a book club. Get the book (from your library or buy it so you can mark it up!), post your comments, questions, analysis and, uh, intelligent banter. That’s what we’re here for. (This website earns a small commission from Amazon on books you buy from links you find here. I use the funds to pay for the servers and maintenance. Thanks for your support.)

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Over-worked, about to crash & burn

Over-worked, about to crash & burn


I am extremely valuable to my employer, working 55-60 hours a week and too close to burn-out for comfort. I’m curious what else is out there, but don’t have time to do the networking that’s necessary.

I really don’t want to leave, but am fearful that as more gets added to my plate, I’ll fail to meet my employer’s expectations and I will burn out trying – a very bad combination. I have 12 years experience in finance and project management and I have been with my company for three years, working up from accountant to finance director. It’s a tough business – contract services, national scale. I revolutionized our budgeting process, saving thousands of man-hours while generating budgets that were fair, challenging, and achievable, resulting in excellent annual growth in earnings. How can I find out how marketable I am without taking time away from my job?

Nick’s Reply

I commend you for recognizing you’re over-worked, but there’s no excuse for not taking time to learn what other opportunities are out there. When it comes to career development, complacency (no matter what the reason) is professional suicide. It may feel like prison, but only if you allow it.

over-workedMake time!

Over-worked and crashing

Diversify your career investment. Start turning down some projects. Delegate more tasks to others to create time for yourself. Take a little away from your job and put it into your future. You can meet all sorts of people in your industry through your work. Go to conferences, seminars and professional gatherings including continuing education — whether via Zoom or in person. (Do yourself a favor: in person is better than Zoom. Do it.)

I’ve met many people who share the “fly high/crash and burn” syndrome. They let themselves be over-worked and they all crash.

Burnout is not a career

Here’s how it goes: You use all your skills and talents to benefit your employer and gain recognition. When you hit the wall, you compensate by working harder and longer. Impressed (or just taking advantage), your employer “gives” you more responsibility. You feel blessed. To prove yourself worthy, you accept it. To handle it, you work even harder. Finally, you burn out, or you start making mistakes because there’s too much on your plate and you don’t know how to say No!

Meanwhile, you’ve trained your employer to expect more. Suddenly, you are not meeting expectations (ridiculous though they have become). You either quit in frustration and anger, or you get fired. You might brag to your friends that four people were hired to replace you, but that doesn’t change your situation. There goes your career — and possibly your health.

Take control

Stop aiming for quantity and quality at the same time. Start managing your employer. When you’re given more work, sit your boss down. Enumerate the work you’ve done successfully so it’s evident. Outline your next projects and tasks in detail. Then map out your work schedule and show where time runs out. Calmly explain the company needs to allocate help, or something has to give. Let your boss decide what. “Which projects or tasks would you like me to omit from this month’s schedule?”

If your boss says nothing can be cut and indicates you have to work even more hours, you must decline. “We need to hire help, or the work won’t get done. Here’s what we need…” Be ready with a clear, cogent plan for the work, and be ready to quit or get fired.

(You could try “quietly quitting,” or slowing down and letting things take their course, but I’m not a fan of this passive-aggrssive approach.)

You take a risk when you push back. You must decide what’s important to you and stand up for it.

Invest some time in your future. Yours is the classic cry for help. Please listen. Your well-being depends on it.

Have you ever been so over-worked that you were afraid to push back? Did your job ever make you sick? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?

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I was not hired, and I love it

I was not hired, and I love it


I want to share a wonderful story about how I didn’t get a job.

I interviewed and was not hired. Although the job was through a recruiter and my first interview was with a personnel clerk, at the end of the interview the hiring manager himself gave me his decision that I wasn’t right for the job. He said it was a difficult decision, but he was impressed with my qualifications and asked if I wanted to be considered for future openings.

not hiredHe also volunteered to help me in my job search with his industry contacts! He told me to wait while he called two managers he knows in other companies and suggested they should meet me! At first I thought, how insane, but then I realized how smart it is! This is a very busy person who travels non-stop and has all of the same reasons that everyone else has for not following up with people. Yet he made the time for me.

In my whole life, this has never happened when I did not get hired. I think the benefits of an employer handling a situation like this are tremendous. Would I send him business if I had the opportunity? Would I recommend this company to other people? Of course!

I hope other employers read this and act accordingly. You have everything to gain by being direct and honest with people who have invested time with you and your company regardless of the outcome. It can be good for you to help a candidate you did not hire to get hired elsewhere.

To everyone who did not get hired for a job, I hope someday you get treated like this. Simple decency and respect go a long way. It changes everything!

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s important to note what really happened here, what did not happen, and why you’re happy even after you were not hired.

First, the manager took personal responsibility for notifying you of his decision. He showed unusual character and integrity. That’s why you’d recommend his company to others.

Second, the manager has acknowledged your value to his professional community. He didn’t hire you, but he didn’t reject you. He offered you the professional courtesy of introductions to his peers. Everyone benefits. Recommending good people strengthens the entire professional community.

Finally, he treated you respectfully. Your joy makes you likely to recommend people for jobs there — and you may apply again yourself. You’re happy because even though the manager didn’t hire you, he’s aiding your career. How often does that happen?

If I were you I’d send this manager a note acknowledging his kindness and largesse. Whether or not one of his buddies hires you, I would stay in touch from time to time. Let’s encourage high standards!

A note to managers: The next time you interview a job candidate, remember that the manager in this story is your competition. Are you as good as that?

And now I rap employers for stupidity

What happened to this job seeker may seem a bit off the wall. But consider how stupid it is for employers to invest loads of money and time recruiting impressive candidates only to dismiss them without another thought just because they didn’t hire them. Where’s the ROI in that? What a waste of talent, not to mention the hiring manager’s time and other company resources!

This is a big reason why the Employment System is so broken. There is no reason to waste good candidates! The manager profited from this “no hire” by building good will all around — with this good candidate, with the other managers he referred the person to, and by showing that his company doesn’t waste talent or valuable new personal relationships! The candidate might even return for another job, having had such a good experience — even if no hire was made the first time.

Cultivating talented people in your company’s professional community that hold you in high regard should always be a top business objective. Because It’s the people, Stupid.

Have you ever been treated this way after you were not hired? The manager’s behavior is certainly an anomaly. What might make other managers adopt this manager’s practices? Can you think of two or three ways an employer could encourage its managers to behave this way? In what ways could it pay off?

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“We can’t proceed with your job candidacy.” WTF?

“We can’t proceed with your job candidacy.” WTF?


I am a member of the long-term unemployed and need the benefit of your experience. I stopped tracking the number of jobs I’ve applied for. (It’s in the high hundreds.) The few interviews that I have been selected for have failed to progress past the phone screen stage. The interviewers have been unwelcoming and downright unprofessional. I grade myself pretty hard, but I have gone into these phone screens confidently and with a positive, cooperative attitude. I adapt quickly to the interview style and I’m less nervous than I used to be, and I have a strong command of subject matter.

job candidacyMy most recent opportunity left me with the impression that I would be invited for a site visit. But after a full 30 minutes of discussion on the phone, they e-mailed me that my job candidacy “will not proceed.” I have a nagging feeling that they don’t really know why.

Anyway, I am running long and my intent is not to burden your time. I hope you can share your thoughts. How do they decide I “will not proceed?” What does that even mean?

Nick’s Reply

Job seekers rarely “proceed” past an employer’s screening because they don’t know you and you don’t know them.

What do you really know about your job candidacy?

Please think about this. When you search for jobs in online databases (Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, a company’s own “career pages”), all you know about “an opportunity” is that the job has a title, a description and a bunch of keywords. So what do you know about your job candidacy?

Software determined that your keywords earn you a screening — by phone, online form, video or otherwise. That’s all you know about anything. It came in over the transom. What made you believe it was a good match?

What does the employer really know about you?

Without any respect to the “intelligent algorithms,” because they don’t deserve it, the employer really knows nothing about you. That company didn’t come looking for you because you are a good candidate for the job. You’re just a database record.

The company knows nothing about your abilities, motivations, integrity, performance, successes, failures, aspirations, interests, or likelihood that you’d be a profitable hire. It knows nothing about how respected you are in your industry, whether you can ride a fast learning curve, or whether you perform best verbally in person, on the phone, or via video. It has no idea whether anyone in your field would actually recommend you because you can actually do the job.

You know really nothing about the job. Even if you recognize the name and research it, it’s not an employer you chose and pursued with great intent. It’s something that dropped into your lap thanks to a database “search.” If you’re honest with yourself (and here I mean anyone, not just you), you’re applying simply because you can.

The employment databases are so HUGE!

Human beings need to see some kind of connection, a trusted mutual friend or associate that brings them together. We like to see that we have something in common, that we have shared experiences by which to justify further discussion about working together.

The system that dominates employment today offers none of that. So it’s no surprise that virtually all “opportunities” you encounter online turn out worthless. The online jobs world is not fertile ground on which to spread your credentials. It’s a huge arid desert that impresses people because… it’s so huge! As if that’s a benefit!

Nobody needs access to 10,000 jobs or 20,000 candidates to fill a job! A company needs four or five good candidates. The same goes for the job seeker. More is not better. The dirty little secret is that this desert doesn’t produce many good hires.

This system is pretending to be an “intelligent agent” that uses “semantic algorithms” to initiate your job candidacy. But it cannot tell the difference between you and the next 50 candidates it selects for screenings. All 50 of you “qualify,” but — WTF? — after the screening no one can explain to you why you can’t “proceed.”

“I know William”

So how do people and jobs get together? Through mutual contacts, through professional associations and industry events, via customers and vendors and consultants and other trusted connections who can supply this basic element that’s crucial when matching a person to a job and a company:

“I know William. He’s great at doing X. You really ought to talk with him before one of your competitors snatches him up.”

Wouldn’t you love to be the name on that referrer’s lips? If you want a real chance at a good job, you have to be.

Trust your nagging feeling

There is nothing wrong with you. Your judgments are sound: those screenings are unprofessional and unwelcoming. Your sense that you’re not being judged properly – you’re absolutely correct about all of it.

Stop doing what you’re told by “the employment system.” Start doing the kinds of things to find a job that you’d do in the normal course of doing your job. Define your objective, do your homework. Plan who you need to meet and talk to that can help you. Figure out what problems and challenges an employer faces. Map your abilities onto those – and share with the people you meet how you’d do the job. They will tell you whom to talk with next.


WTF indeed. Good question. The answer is right in front of us: Big Marketing by Big Job Boards tells us hiring and looking for work are now totally automated, totally intelligent, and easy! And that’s a lie.

This is all a lot of work. But, so’s that good job you want. Don’t trust your search to databases and automatons. Diddling your keyboard and talking to screeners who don’t know you from their left foot doesn’t work. So do the work.

Make friends and focus on talking shop with people who do the work you want to do at the company where you want to do it.

Make sense? You can’t get the good job you want by crafting keywords and applying for jobs whose keywords match yours. You can’t “proceed” when they don’t know you and you don’t know them.

What do you think they’re really doing behind the wizard’s curtain when they tell you “We can’t proceed with your job candidacy”? How do they decide, when they don’t really know you? What did you really know about them when you applied? How do people and jobs really get matched? How should they? Looking back at the last time you were told “We can’t proceed,” what do you think really happened?

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I took the wrong job. What now?

I took the wrong job. What now?


I just started a new job that might be the wrong job. My new employer lured me away from a very good job at a very good company, and moved me to a new city. I have been at the new job for one month and am beginning to see a not-so-pretty picture of what my job actually entails, compared to what was originally sold to me during the interviewing process.

I have a strong feeling that things will not improve. I want it to work out, and I have spoken to my supervisor, but I honestly do not think anything will change. What is the best route to take here? Should I speak with the recruiter who sold me on the job? (This is a full-time position, not a contract.) What did I do wrong? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

wrong-jobYou’re on board now. Given that you relocated, there’s no easy way to turn back, unless you want to move back to your old company, and they’re willing to have you. That’s doubtful. Let’s discuss what to do now, then we’ll explore why this may have happened and how to avoid a repeat!

Did recruiter deliver the wrong job?

You should indeed speak to the recruiter, who might be able to serve as your advocate with the employer. I’d do this right now—the sooner, the better.

In most cases, the recruiter’s fee is contingent on you staying at the job for some period of time (90 days is common). So, the recruiter will have more than a passing interest in helping you work this out.

But let’s hope the recruiter didn’t deliver a wrong job.

Can you and your boss “right” a wrong job?

You should also continue to work with your manager to turn things around. It may take time, and you need to be very positive in the way you present this on an ongoing basis. You need to convey your interest in doing your work in the way that will be best for the company, and that “the way” is what you agreed to from the beginning. Don’t start with recriminations—that won’t help at this point. Approach it as a partner, because that’s what you are. Try to set the wrong job right.

This might mean your boss alters your job now, or agrees to change your work in the near future.

How to avoid taking a wrong job

The traditional recruiting and hiring process too often neglects the very issues that may have put you in the spot you’re in.

In the end, if the only real solution is to move on, you’ll know it. Remember that the purpose of a job search is not to “get a job”. The purpose is to win the right job. The best way to avoid situations like this is to address these questions before accepting a job:

  1. Has the work been clearly defined? Do you truly understand it? By the time HR gets done chewing up a job description and spitting out the job posting that lured you, you may be interviewing for a job even the hiring manager doesn’t recognize. So, discuss the wording of the job posting with the boss. This is best done in the interview, but it’s very important to review it together now.
  2. Can you do the work they want done? The only way to determine this for sure is to demonstrate your abilities in the interview, so they can see how you will approach the work. This also gives you the all-important opportunity to see what they really mean by “the work.” This may be why you’ve been taken by surprise — and why you’re in the wrong job.
  3. Can you do the work the way they want it done? Clearly, there’s a disconnect here, and you and they are not “matching.” Again, this needs to be covered during the due diligence phase of the interview process. It’s as much your responsibility as the employer’s.
  4. Can you do the work profitably, for you and for the employer? I doubt this ever got discussed, and it has likely contributed to the misunderstanding. If you had raised this issue and discovered what really matters to the employer, you may not have taken this job.

When these questions are not clearly and honestly addressed in the recruiting, interview and hiring process, people can land in the wrong job and wind up job hunting again very soon.

I hope you can work this out. Don’t assume yet that you took the wrong job. First, make sure you are doing a good job, then find out where this job leads. If you really took the wrong job, the sooner you move on, the better. (I won’t get into this here, but if you need to move on, please see Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

Never take a job unless you’ve addressed the questions above. Never hire anyone unless these questions have been addressed.

Have you ever taken a wrong job? What led up to the mistake? Were you at fault or was the employer? Should this reader even try to work it out with the boss, or just quit? What other methods should the reader try to get this resolved?

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Fired 6 times. I need help

Fired 6 times. I need help


My question is about my recent inability to keep a job. I have over 20 years’ experience in corporate management. I was with a great company for 9 years but lost my job when the company was sold. To this day, I have glowing references from the owners and other managers. Since I was laid off a few years ago, I have been fired from 6 different jobs and I can’t understand why. They never give me reasons and when I ask, they make excuses.

firedI was also diagnosed with PTSD and have been in treatment for that, but I know my job inside and out and perform well. The one thing I have noticed is that I feel fearful when I’m being confronted in an unfriendly or angry manner. I seem to have the fight, flight, or freeze response and my brain shuts down — I freeze. I don’t always have the words I need, so I often request a follow-up meeting so I have time to gather my thoughts.

I really need some help with this situation, as well as how to craft my resume. I can’t put 6 different jobs for the past 5 years. I am a dedicated, loyal employee. I always make sure deadlines are met and, with all my experience, I run my department like a well-oiled machine and deliver results in a timely way. I hope this is something you can help me with. Thank you kindly for any help you may be able to provide.

Nick’s Reply

Am I going out on a limb if I guess that you didn’t always have these problems during your long, otherwise successful  career? Perhaps you just never needed to learn how to defend yourself effectively. But business has changed – and not always for the better. Now you need new tools for dealing with complex emotions.

Job search obstacles, or emotional challenges?

Lots of people are running kind of scared – probably including some of the employers who fired you. Many managers resort to aggressiveness and to blaming others. Couple this with a new employment system that features non-stop advertising telling employers they have instant access to thousands of resumes and job applicants – so employers see no need to treat employees with respect. Just fire them and get another one! It’s a bad situation all around.

I specialize in helping people overcome obstacles in the job search. And even though I have an advanced degree in Psychology, it’s not in clinical – it’s in cognition. I don’t pretend I’m qualified to help people who have problems like yours.

Fight, flight or freeze – that’s a set of emotional issues, and many people face them. It seems clear to me you’re good at your work and good at working with others when they behave properly. Dealing with jerks is another story altogether!

Fired and ready for CBT?

Although an honest self-assessment can be healthy, I think your challenge is learning how to cope with difficult people and situations. Behaving professionally is a lost skill because, well, workers are fungible. Bad behavior is now the norm. Just look at our politics.

We all face difficult bosses at some time or other. It seems some of your recent bosses have triggered your stress response.

Have you talked with your PTSD therapist about this? I’m a fan of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) for dealing with many problems at work. Learning to change and control our behaviors can lead to wonderful changes in how we see the world and ourselves. Please consider and perhaps explore CBT. Interview some good practitioners and see if it’s a good fit for you.

Fired: Time to get personal

The only advice I’d offer you is, don’t rely on job postings and impersonal job applications. Please read some of my recent Q&A columns. I think the best way for you to find your next job is by cultivating and using good personal contacts – people who can explain to a hiring manager your strengths and abilities, and also put the manager’s mind at rest about your recent frequent moves. Opportunities where this doesn’t work are probably not for you. You need a good employer who will let you do your job, not abuse you. Good employers respond well to referrals from trusted personal contacts. It’s up to you to cultivate such contacts and use them to get in the door.

As for how to handle being fired, please check these two articles and the excellent comments posted by readers.

How much should I say about getting fired?

Can they find out I was fired from my last job?

Keep an untroubled spirit and get help

I’d be glad to schedule an hour of Talk to Nick for you – we’d probably come up with some things you could do to make a material difference in your job search. But I think it’s more important for you to get help with how to deal with jerks. A good CBT therapist could help you cope better. I’ll recommend an oldie-but-goody book by Richard Farson: Management of The Absurd. It’s a quick, illuminating read.

I hope something I’ve said is helpful. Please check the comments and suggestions from other readers that will likely appear below this column. I’m betting lots of other readers have faced challenges like yours.

I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Marcus Aurelius: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.“

It seems you face your problems and know what they are. But as you tackle them, learn to apply the first rule more often. I know the business world makes that difficult. Getting some good help to learn how to deal with the stress is essential. I wish you the best!

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Have you faced emotional crises at work? Have you been abused to the point where you’ve lost your confidence? There’s big abuse, there’s small abuse, but it all makes for a difficult work life. Sometimes we all need help. What kind of help has worked for you? What advice would you offer this reader?