How to Get A Job: Get the inside track

How to Get A Job: Get the inside track

How to Get A Job Workshop

In the first installments of this special How to Get A Job series we discussed the pitfalls of resumes, how to get the right job by pursuing fewer jobs, and how to turn people you don’t know into personal contacts that get you in the door. In last week’s Comments section, readers “filled in the blanks,” discussing how to turn new contacts into meetings with managers that might want to hire you. So, then what? Get the inside track before your next interview! — Nick

How to Get A Job: Get the inside track

get the inside track

You may have heard me say this before. Never give your resume to a manager that you haven’t already had substantive contact with. If you do, you cannot stand out when it counts — before the manager starts interviewing your competition.

You may also have heard me say this. If you lost out on the last job to someone that had the inside track, next time be the candidate on the inside track!

So, you’ve put to work the ideas we’ve already discussed in this series. You’ve been referred to a hiring manager (or other influential insider) by someone who recognizes that you may be able to bring value to the operation. This personal introduction is worth far more than any job application or “professionally written resume.” A manager is far more likely to act on a referral from a trusted source than on an unknown applicant.

Then what?

In psychology, a job interview is what we call a cognitive script. The questions and answers — even the behavior and how people dress — are preordained. (If you could be any animal, what animal would you be? What’s your greatest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? I call these the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions.)

Now what do you do? You break the script and stand out.

Break the script

Almost every job-interview story line follows a conventional script. The process, the questions, the sweaty palms, the tricks, the clever comebacks — it’s all a kind of acting. Everyone acts a part.

This makes every job applicant like every other. The sameness is baked into the interview script everyone uses.

This is why, after a day of interviews, the hiring manager can’t distinguish Candidate 1 from Candidate 8.  You can’t get hired because you don’t stand out. You’re like an extra in a B movie whose ending you already know.

To get anywhere, you must stand out.

Get the inside track

The best thing you can do to stand out as more than just another job candidate is to break the script. Get the manager out of the same-old Q&A story. (What’s your greatest strength? Why are manhole covers round?) Do something your competition wouldn’t dare. Turn your conversation into something else — a discussion about the work. And start this new script before you even get a job interview!

Please get this straight. What we’re about to discuss is not what to say in a job interview. You must talk to the manager before you apply for the job.

This is what to say to a hiring manager even before they have seen your resume. How you handle this discussion can determine whether you earn a job interview as the candidate with the inside track.

How to Say It

Readers often tell me they understand what I’m recommending they should do, but they don’t know how to actually say it. So let’s run through some of your options, in “how to say it” format.

Now that a new contact has referred you to a manager you need to talk with, call (don’t e-mail or text) the manager. These suggestions may be used as alternatives to one another, or they may be woven together any way you wish to suit your style and approach. This is all about introducing yourself to the manager without a resume.

How to Say It #1

“I’ve been talking with so-and-so and so-and-so [people the manager knows] and they’ve pointed out to me that your operation is growing. They thought I might be helpful to you. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that two key problems or challenges that you are facing may be these…[briefly describe].”

If you approach a manager with an arrogant or presumptuous tone, they will blow you off. If you approach by saying, “So-and-so suggested that I give you a call,” that opens up the door. Always ask permission to continue.

How to Say It #2

“Thanks to some advice from so-and-so, I’ve been trying to study your business and I’d like to ask if you could give me a little more insight into where your business is going and where you might need some help.”

If you feel awkward and don’t want to come off as presumptuous, turn the discussion away from sounding like a pitch for a job.

How to Say It #3

“I have an interest in your industry. I’m not sending out resumes because I’m not applying for jobs, but people regard your company is a shining light in its industry. I’d like to learn more about [marketing, engineering, etc.] in your company, perhaps about your own department’s needs and about what you do before I apply for a job.”

If you’ve done your homework and spoken with insiders, you have three or four names to drop. Most managers will not ignore personal referrals, even if they don’t have an open job right now. More important, those people that referred you also tutored you in the manager’s business just enough that you’ve been able to formulate some good questions for a productive conversation.

Here’s a potent way to show the manager that you’re the one taking a risk.

How to Say It #4

“I don’t like applying for any job until I have learned enough to be able to go into the interview and demonstrate, hands down, how I can specifically contribute to the bottom line. If I can’t flesh out a plan, I wouldn’t expect any manager to interview me. I’m trying to develop that kind of understanding.”

Don’t ask for a meeting yet. Don’t hog the call. Be brief. Do not recite your resume or credentials! Let the manager talk. Whatever the manager might share with you, ask for a meeting shorter than any job interview; short enough that the manager may actually squeeze you in.

How to Say It #5

“Would you have fifteen minutes for me to stop by so I can get a little more insight about your operation, and about the work you hire people to do? I know you’re busy. I’ll be gone after fifteen minutes.”

Not many managers get phone calls like that. You’re clearly not asking for a job interview.

If you really want to be bold, try this.

How to Say It #6

“Look, I know you might think that I’m coming to you from out of left field, and if I seem like a know-it-all, please pardon me. So-and-so and so-and-so were kind enough to educate me about your company’s business. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to get a sense of how I might be able to contribute something to your operation. I’ve put together a very brief business plan I’d like to show you.”

(In the next edition, we’ll discuss how to create this “business plan for a job” that you can use both in your preliminary talk with the hiring manager and in your job interview.)

There’s another version of this you might like better. Can you see the powerful spin on it?

How to Say It #7

“It’s a fifteen-minute presentation. If you’ve got fifteen minutes for me, I’d like to come by your office. If after five minutes you don’t like what I have to say, stop me and I’ll leave, no questions asked. I’m not here to waste your time, I’m here because so-and-so suggested I speak with you — and because I think I can help you. But in any case, I won’t take more than fifteen minutes of your time. Promise.”

If you cobble together an approach from these suggestions, and a manager blows you off, it’s probably not a place you want to work. That’s not sour grapes. A manager who has time only for scripted interviews with people unknown isn’t a good business person.

Talk with the hiring manager before you apply for a job

To establish yourself as worthy of a manager’s interest, you must completely bypass the conventional recruiting and interview script. You must stand out from all other candidates. You must earn the inside edge by earning referrals and tutoring from people the manager knows and trusts.

There is no resume. There is no interview. The opportunity before you is driven by who knows you. Someone the manager knows. It’s driven by talking shop outside the job hunting and hiring script we all know and hate.

This is the substantive contact you need, and you should create it well before any job interview. This is your new script for talking about an opportunity, and these are some suggestions for how to say it.

How would you re-cast my suggested “how to say its” for your own use? Does this give you any other ideas about how to gain an edge over your competition, and how to position yourself? Does it make sense that, to stand out, you must do something “stand-0ut” before you apply for a job or go to a job interview?

: :

10 steps for personal referrals to hiring managers

10 steps for personal referrals to hiring managers

Question

I can never get a referral to someone else. Perhaps that’s why I can’t get the ball rolling in my job search. What’s the deal with personal referrals?

Nick’s Reply

personal referralsIt’s awkward and intimidating, isn’t it — getting a personal referral? This is a critical challenge in a job search. Once a person has identified a company where they’d like to work, how do they get a personal referral?

This is one reason I started Ask The Headhunter over 20 years ago. Every “expert” will instruct you to “network” and to make actual contact with people, but rarely does anyone explain exactly how. On this website, we’re all about how. Detailed how. How-to-say-it how.

Getting personal referrals: Get ready to say it

I’d like to ask everyone for your input on this. What has worked for you? To whom do you go, and how do you actually say it?

Here’s one path that can lead you to a hiring manager through the recommendation or referral of someone they know and trust. It’s just one path — let’s discuss more!

  1. Ask yourself, which company do I want to work for and in what area or department? Search online for articles and information about that area. Check the company’s website, newsletters and press releases.
  2. Identify a product the company produces or a technology it uses (or a marketing method it relies on, etc.). Now you have a legit topic to discuss with an insider.

Personal referrals: Talk shop

Let’s say the company makes blue widgets and they use technology X to make them — state of the art, according to a recent press release! Cool! You’ve been in the widget business for years, but X is kinda new to you.

  1. What 3 questions do you have about X that would help you understand and possibly apply X? The more esoteric your questions, the better — you’ll be taken more seriously, and you’ll avoid being re-routed to the HR department. HR can’t talk shop. That’s why this works!

(See where this is going? Nobody’s talking about a job here. You’re talking about your work.)

Find the right people to talk with

Now use Google, LinkedIn or any other tool to find someone that works in the aforementioned department.

  1. Contact them, but not through LinkedIn! Avoid routes that add “noise” — and I mean social media. For example, everyone knows LinkedIn messages are usually spam from people that don’t know you. Find an e-mail address or — wow! — call the company and talk to the person!
  2. Introduce yourself very briefly. Express your professional interest in X. “I see X has made a huge difference to your product line.”
  3. Ask for their professional insights and advice.

Ask for insights

The value in any contact lies in what they know, what they think, and in what they’re willing to share with you. What makes this easy is that most people love to talk about their work. They love to tell you about themselves and what they think — if you ask. And they love to give advice.

Do not ask about jobs. Do not talk a lot about yourself. Start by asking for insights.

How to Say It

“I’ve found some online resources about X, but I’m looking for the inside scoop about X and how to use it most effectively. You guys seem to be leading experts on X. Can I ask you for your insights about X?”

Or:

“What are you reading that’s influenced the way you use X, or how you design and market your products?”

“Is there a training program you respect and recommend?”

“Who’s the shining light in the field about X?”

Congratulations, you’ve just opened a professional discussion about work you and the other person do — without asking for a job lead. You’re talking shop!

What should I ask?

  1. If the person responds helpfully, ask questions like these, then be quiet and listen.

How to Say It

“What do you think about that?”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Is there any downside to using X?”

Ask for advice

If the conversation goes well and you find you’re learning something useful, take the next step.

  1. Let the conversation flow. Do not ask about jobs. Instead, ask for professional advice.

“I’ve been so impressed with X and the products [your company] has created that I’m seriously considering moving to a company in this business. May I ask your professional advice? If you were me, would you pursue this?”

“What companies would you look at if you were me? Which are the shining lights in this business?”

  1. Then pop the question:

“If I were interested in working at your company, what advice would you give me? I don’t want to start a formal application process with HR. I really want to understand X and the company’s business — nothing proprietary! — before I apply. I want to be able to speak knowledgeably about X and the products first.”

You get the idea.

Get the personal referral

Once you’re talking shop, you’ve made a new friend, so act like a friend. Exchange some useful information about the topics you discussed. Offer to return the favor of insight and advice, if your new friend would like that.

  1. Finally, gently achieve the objective in any friendly networking experience: Get the name of the next person you need to talk with. Yes — this is another personal referral! You will likely get a chain of them. Follow it.

“Do you like working in this field? Before I think about making the leap, can you tell me what the management is like?”

“I’d like to learn more. Is there someone specific you’d recommend I talk with?”

Don’t forget to ask if it’s okay to say who suggested you get in touch.

This where personal referrals come from: talking shop with people who do the work you want to do, in the companies where you want to do it. Of course, not every discussion will lead where you’d like to go — to a hiring manager. But all you need is one successful exchange, one chain of personal referrals. Handle this with some poise, and every exchange you have will add to your list of professional friends. (See “A Good Network is A Circle of Friends” in How Can I Change Careers?, pp. 27-32.)

Sure beats filling out job applications and spamming “contacts” on LinkedIn.

These are just my suggestions about how to cultivate personal referrals to get a job. I hope to find loads more in the Comments section below!

Who would you approach to get on the path to a personal referral, and how would you say it? What has worked (and not worked!) for you?

: :

Job Hunting With The Headhunter: Go around the system!

Job Hunting With The Headhunter: Go around the system!

In the December 17, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, The Headhunter calls a year-end time-out and recaps the fundamental rules of job hunting that will help you outsmart America’s broken Employment System.

job huntingSpecial Edition!

Judging from the many questions I receive each week from subscribers, I worry that job seekers are falling into the most obvious traps while trying to navigate America’s antiquated Employment System. Let me show you how to go around!

In place of the normal weekly Q&A, at the end of each year I publish a summary of Ask The Headhunter methods to help you land the job you want. Last year’s Ask The Headhunter Secrets in A Nutshell were based on key concepts in my PDF books.

This year, I’d like to review seven Ask The Headhunter rules that address some of the most fundamental misconceptions that lead job seekers astray. Relying on job postings, resumes, cover letters and traditional interviews is the worst way to approach your job search!

Don’t miss the limited-time HOLIDAY SPECIAL! Scroll to end of this column!

Job hunting with The Headhunter

The best way to win the right job is to use the approach we discuss here every week. Let’s step back to rediscover the basics about how to handle your job-hunting challenges. These tips should help you overcome the many obstacles the Employment System throws at you.

1. Avoid traditional, unproductive methods of job hunting.

Don’t leave control of your job search to external forces like job postings, personnel jockeys, employment agencies, resume screeners and software algorithms. Don’t rely on the passive approach of chasing jobs that come along, then filling out impersonal online job applications. Don’t rely on sending resumes (or your LinkedIn profile) to people who don’t know you. Don’t wait for boiler-plate rejections or silly instructions from inept recruiters who ask you for your information all over again.

Take control of your job search.

2. Select 4-5 companies you really want to work for.

You cannot reasonably and ably chase 50 jobs or companies, no matter what Indeed and ZipRecruiter tell you. Carefully select three, four or five companies — not because they’ve posted jobs, but because they’re the shining-light organizations you really want to work for! Research these carefully selected companies online using relevant news outlets, business journals and industry-specific publications.

Better yet, identify and contact your target company’s employees, customers and vendors. Go hang out where they hang out — get insight and advice from insiders!

The goal is to learn what specific problems and challenges an employer faces. These will reveal a company’s motivation to hire you. Understand these problems and challenges before approaching any company.

How Can I Change Careers? “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume,” pp. 23-26 (It’s not just for career changers!)

3. Define what you have to offer that’s relevant.

Be able to describe your specific skills and abilities but only as they relate to a company’s specific problems and challenges. A hiring manager doesn’t need to know everything about you. In fact, sharing too much makes evaluating you more confusing, and it makes the manager’s job harder. The goal is to make the manager’s job of assessing your value easier — by communicating exactly how you will be a truly useful hire.

If you don’t understand an employer’s exact needs, your presentation will not be relevant or useful to the manager and you will not be hired.

4. Prove your value.

Managers are terrible at figuring out what to do with a job applicant. It’s up to you to help a manager focus on the objective of a job interview: How will your abilities profit the manager and the company? This is perhaps the easiest idea for job seekers to grasp, but the most difficult to apply.

You should be ready to frame your candidacy like this: “If you hire me, I will do A, B and C, which should add $X to your bottom line.” Sound daunting? The best job candidates can do it, and you must learn how. Be ready to explain and defend your proposal and your rough calculations.

5. Identify the specific manager who will benefit from hiring you.

Get an introduction to the hiring manager through a mutual contact that you developed through your research. Those people you spoke with about the company’s problems and challenges? Some of them will be your perfect introduction to the right manager! Don’t waste your time with personnel jockeys in the HR department. That’s what your competition is doing.

The goal is to “tell it” directly to the manager who will hire you — not anyone else.

6. Go to the interview ready to do the job.

Be ready to clearly and convincingly show the manager how you will help solve his or her specific problems. Make your interview a hands-on, working meeting with the hiring manager.

7. Control your interview and win an offer.

If the manager interviewing you seems to be asking canned questions, bring the discussion around to how you would do the actual work. Ask what the specific job tasks and objectives are. Then take control of the interview by offering to demonstrate to the manager that you:

  1. Understand the work that needs to be done
  2. Can do the work
  3. Can do the work the way the employer wants it done, and
  4. Can do it profitably.

In other words, show up with a mini business plan about how you will do the job — to win the job!

That’s how to be the job candidate who stands out and gets hired. Avoid the silly conventions of the Employment System that daily conspires to keep apart managers and the people they need to hire. The links above will help you on your way around the system. As you develop questions, ask them here — I’ll offer my advice and so will the rest of our community!

Okay, I listed seven rules for job hunting. What did I miss? What smart rules do you recommend that you follow on your job search? How do we beat the broken Employment System?

: :

For additional help, don’t miss this limited-time offer on the Ask The Headhunter PDF books!


HOLIDAY SPECIAL: SORRY! THIS OFFER HAS EXPIRED!

Every Ask The Headhunter PDF Book

EXPIRED

(What books are we talking about? Click here to see all Nick’s PDF books!)

TAKE [EXPIRED]% OFF any book or bundle! ORDER NOW!

Use DISCOUNT CODE=MERRY40

This is a limited-time offer! [EXPIRED] Order now!

 


This is the last Ask The Headhunter column for 2019. I’m taking a couple of weeks off for the holidays! See you next on January 7, 2020! Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year — and all my best wishes for whatever holidays you observe this time of year!

If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, or just want a refresher on the main ideas we discuss here every week, please check The Basics — and take advantage of the search box at top right, as well as the Q&A Archive under Sections in the menu bar!

Want the job? Go around HR

In the March 5, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wastes time begging HR.

Question

Can I re-apply for a job if there are vacancies still open after my application has been turned down?

HRNick’s Reply

Of course you can. But why would you want to? Fool me once, fool me twice — you’ve already learned this company chews up applications and spits them out without even talking to the applicant.

Think about this: The hiring manager probably doesn’t even know you applied! The manager probably has never seen your resume! A personnel clerk with no expertise in the work you do (or in the open job) put a big X on your application.

But there’s a smart alternative: Go around Human Resources (HR). Go around the job application form.

Go around the system

The conventional advice on this problem is that if HR has already rejected you, you shouldn’t waste your time. But that’s like the boy who shows up to a girl’s house to ask her on a date — and the gardener shoos him away, so he gives up.

Personnel jockeys don’t control the jobs, so don’t let their officious posturing convince you that they do. They control the applications — but don’t go that route! Don’t take no for an answer until you hear it straight from the hiring manager.

Go around HR

Get in the door without an application, and without facing the “job application meat grinder software.” Here are the basic steps for going around the system — though they are not for the meek.

1. Throw out your resume.

The average time a manager spends reading a resume is six seconds. It’s not a good way to get in the door. (See Tear your resume in half.) Don’t use a resume.

2. Don’t apply for jobs. Find problems to solve.

You have millions of competitors applying for millions of jobs, so stop competing with them. Don’t submit job applications. Instead, read the business and industry press. Find a handful of companies that have specific, well-publicized problems. Decide how you can help solve those problems. (If you can’t figure that out, then that company or job is not for you.)

3. Find the managers.

HR will tell you you’re not allowed to contact hiring managers directly. That’s the best reason to contact the managers directly! But don’t ask the managers for a job. Talk shop. Explain that you’ve learned about their problem. (See How to get to the hiring manager.)

4. Offer a solution.

Whether in person, by phone or e-mail (in that order of preference) briefly explain to the manager how you can help solve the problem. Outline your solution in 3-5 steps. Don’t give all the details — but your summary had better be good.

5. Ask for a 20-minute meeting, not a job interview.

“If you’ll spend 20 minutes with me, I’ll show you why I’d be a profitable hire. If I can’t prove it to you in those 20 minutes, I will leave.”

That’s no easy task. But if you can’t show in 20 minutes why you’re worth hiring, then you have no business in that meeting. Of course, you will have to present a more detailed “proof” if the manager is impressed.

Everything else is a waste of time, designed to make busy work for HR that looks like productivity. You can and should apply for a job you believe — and can prove — you can do. But don’t waste your time applying on a form to the HR department.

For more about this approach to landing the job you want, please see Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.

If you want another shot at another job at this company, of course you can try again! But don’t waste your time with the gate keeper. Go talk to the real decision maker!

Now get to work, because doing what I suggest is hard work — as hard as that great job you want. So do the work to prove you can do the job.

I’d like to hear from those who are willing to invest the time and effort to try what I’ve suggested. Any takers? How do you go around HR?

: :

How to get to the hiring manager

In the December 11, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader needs help finding the right hiring manager.

Question

hiring managerYou have said that the key to a successful job search is to contact the person you would work for within an organization, and to show how you can help out. How can I find the hiring manager who has the problems I’ll be able to solve?

Nick’s Reply

Your challenge as a job hunter is not to apply for lots of open jobs. It’s to carefully target the hiring manager that you can help the most. (Yep — that means you must avoid HR!)

Find the hiring manager who needs you

To find a manager who really needs you, it’s best to triangulate. That is, talk to people who know and work for managers who may be relevant to your job search. This includes less obvious contacts, like a company’s customers, vendors, consultants and business partners. They can lead you, or point you, to the hiring manager.

Another productive approach is to read business articles to learn what problems the entire industry is grappling with. Often, these articles will mention names of people who work for or know the company you’re interested in. Call those people. Explain that you are interested in their industry and the company.

These are the people who are well-positioned to introduce you to a manager who needs you. These peripheral people will also help you prepare for a knowledgeable discussion with the hiring manager.

Don’t ask for a job

Here’s the key: Do not ask for a job lead. That almost always triggers one reaction: “Go to our website and fill out the job application form!” That’s the last thing you want to do.

Instead, ask intelligent questions based on what you’ve read, like a peer would. Have a discussion.

  • What advice would these folks give someone who wants to work in their business, and perhaps for their company?
  • What kinds of help does the company need if it’s to improve its sales or operations?

These discussions will lead you to people who will bring you closer to a particular manager’s inner circle, then to the manager.

When you’re talking to people who work for the manager, you’re getting the information you really need (and a possible introduction).

Meet the right people

How can you do some of the key research, and how do you get ready to meet the people who can lead you to the manager?

The PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition includes a section titled, “Meet the right people”, pp. 1-2, that offers this suggestion:

Once I’ve picked the company I want to work for, I’d [like to] have five minutes apiece with: (1) a company engineer who wrote a letter to the editor of a technical publication; (2) the consultant who advises on the company’s finances; (3) the reporter who wrote a local newspaper story about the company.

These are the people who can help you navigate the organization by introducing you to a broad range of employees and managers who work there.

What to say

What should you say that feels natural and sounds friendly when you’re talking with a company insider? Try this:

The PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search includes a “How to Say It” tip on p. 8 about how to approach a company insider:

Asking someone for a job lead or for a job interview is awkward. Asking to meet other people who do the work you’re interested in is a different story. It’s natural to express interest in other people’s work. Here’s how to say it:

“I work in [marketing or whatever]. I’m interested in learning more about your marketing department. I think it’s important to get to know people who are among the best in their field. Is there someone in your company’s [marketing] department that you think I should talk with?”

Address the manager’s challenges and problems

Of course, once you’ve spoken with people who lead you to the hiring manager, you must be ready to say something useful to that manager! You must inspire the manager to talk with you about a job:

Two sections of How Can I Change Careers? deal specifically with these issues. (This PDF book is not just for career changers; it’s for anyone who wants to get an edge on changing jobs.) A section about how to “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume”, pp. 23-24 helps you show the manager how you’ll bring profit to the bottom line:

You have to clearly understand what makes your work and abilities valuable to companies in your field. Don’t just think about your skills. Think about how you have used your skills to help an employer succeed and be more profitable. Make a list. But don’t put that on your resume; that’s just more historical stuff. Just because you helped your last employer is no proof that you can help me. You need to package the information in a way that says explicitly to a prospective employer: “This is what I can do for you.”

Before you can deliver this job-offer-eliciting gift, you need to understand an employer’s needs. That means understanding the problems and challenges his company faces. And that can take quite a bit of research. Do it. There are no shortcuts to delivering value.

Talk to insiders to meet hiring managers

When headhunters search for good job candidates, they first study the business by talking to people in it — especially the movers and shakers. The secret is to talk shop and to demonstrate that your focus is on the work. This is what makes company insiders open the door to the right candidates.

Just as naturally, such insider conversations about a company’s problems and challenges will lead you to people who know the right managers — the managers you can help.

Yep, this is a lot of work. But so is that great job you want. There’s no better way to show your initiative, or to get an edge on your competition, than to find and meet the right managers through people they know and trust.

How do you get to the right manager to discuss a job? Is it even possible? If you’re a hiring manager, what’s the best way for a job seeker to get your attention directly?

: :

 

HR People We Love

In the March 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who works in HR makes an impact and a great impression.

HRSometimes I fear readers think I hate HR. What I hate is what HR has become in a broad sense – highly bureaucratic; overly, counter-productively and inexcusably automated; and too distant from hiring managers and job applicants. (See 6 things HR should stop doing right now in the PBS NewsHour Ask The Headhunter feature.)

But I also see some shining lights in HR and I’m tickled to show you one in this week’s edition.

While it’s a rare company that has even a decent HR system in place, I get a kick out of individual HR people who apply common sense and business sense to the recruiting and hiring parts of their jobs. They shine! They get the best candidates in front of managers quickly, and their goal is to get jobs filled. When you encounter one of these folks, you know it because they make things happen intelligently, deftly and with a smile.

These are the HR people I love, and I love them even more when they share their insights and practices here on Ask The Headhunter.

Reader Jenn works in HR as a recruiter — and I’m going to let her discuss what I think are some of the best practices I’ve encountered in the rough-and-tumble world of HR. (Jenn posted another version of her comments on ATH. All I did was edit it a bit to fit the format of the newsletter, and to highlight her main ideas. All credit goes to Jenn.)

Jenn’s Rules of HR

Nick, in a recent column you wrote about the risk job applicants take when they wait for HR to judge them based on their resume: “The better risk for a job hunter is to deal directly with the hiring manager…”

1. Make it happen quickly

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a corporate recruiter (regional non-profit healthcare system) and my initial goal is to get the strongest candidates and hiring managers talking to each other as quickly as possible.

I care about the candidate experience and I know the best ones will have the most career options, so I want them engaging with the hiring manager sooner rather than later.

2. Avoid unnecessary screening

Sometimes I’ll have a hiring manager (HM) who is married to the idea that I must first phone-screen candidates, before the HM talks to them. Often this step is unnecessary and wastes valuable time.

I recruit for dozens of different competencies in several areas of the organization. I cannot always field in-depth candidate questions about the role and don’t see a lot of value in this. To me it’s a waste of the candidate’s time (and mine) and serves only to check a box that the hiring manager believes (incorrectly) to be important. And it means the position will go unfilled for that much longer.

3. Put the managers in the game immediately

I encourage my HMs to contact candidates of interest to them right away. I want them to start interviews as soon as possible. Especially if an HM is really excited about a candidate, it doesn’t make sense to insert an arbitrary layer into the process that adds no value, delaying a hiring decision unnecessarily.

4. Make HR’s role short and useful

What information does HR need to judge a candidate?

For me it’s only this: Does the candidate meet the bare minimum requirements? In our business that means the necessary specific healthcare license and relevant previous experience if the position is not entry-level.

That’s all that is needed before applications are turned over to the HM for review.

5. Use human judgement

However, I still read all resumes and cover letters personally. I look for the “nice to haves” that might make a candidate more desirable to the HM. I look for qualities that algorithms are likely to miss.

My goal is to identify candidates who are a stronger fit than most, for both the position and the organization. I look for qualifications beyond the minimum requirements. That requires human judgement.

6. Light a fire under managers

In my organization, the HMs drive the interview process and I don’t have any control over how quickly HMs are engaging candidates. All I can do is consult and advise, and make recommendations on the best way to proceed. It’s frustrating.

To light a fire under HMs, I rely on what applicants submit. I want to see it so I can discuss it with the HMs and encourage them to reach out to the candidates immediately, before they are no longer available.

7. Manage the hiring managers

Some of my HMs are really proactive and great at hiring. I coach the ones who aren’t there yet. My job is to help them make changes to their process that are better for the candidates and for the HMs — to get positions filled more quickly. [For an example, see Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).]

Nick’s Reply

Oh, what a relief to see a bright light in the corporate HR darkness. When companies need to have a recruiting and hiring process in place, they must remember how critical it is to have HR people who use the system rather than let the system use hiring managers and job applicants. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

No corporate hiring system is going to be as potent as I’d like because most are watered down with weak technology. But like the Dos Equis guy who says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…”

There are HR people I love, and Jenn is one of them. Many thanks to her for sharing her rules. I’d love to add more savvy rules from more HR folks! How about it?

Who do do you love in HR? Who does a great HR job within the confines of a corporate structure? How do they do it? What makes them stand out? What rules should HR live by?

: :

CEO to job applicant: “Hiring is not my job!”

In the May 9, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader discovers that a company’s high turnover problems start with the CEO.

Question

In a recent column (Consulting Firms: Strike back and stir the pot) you said we should contact a company’s CEO if the HR department’s hiring process is nutty. So I did. The CEO actually called me back!

ceoFirst, a little background.

Let us bother your references

I talked with a hiring manager who, despite having my resume, told me that I was required to fill out the online application in order to go further in the hiring process. When I got to the section for references, there was no way for me to proceed until I had typed in names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and where my references work.

I called the hiring manager and politely explained that I cherish my references and don’t want them bothered until a job offer looks like a real possibility. He fobbed me off onto HR, saying it was “government regulations” that required them to ask for references. I know better. There are no government regulations that require applicants to list references.

I also remembered one of your previous newsletters which discussed how some employers are outsourcing reference checking to third parties, sending references e-mail forms to fill out instead of having the hiring manager telephone the references and talk to them about the candidate. But the manager wanted me to discuss it with HR, so I did. HR refused to budge, and the hiring manager caved to HR.

I even asked HR how they handle reference checks, and I was told that wasn’t any of my business, so that clinched it for me. I walked away since there was no offer on the table.

Come back!

A few weeks later the hiring manager called me back, asking if I was still interested! I said, “Yes, but…”, reiterating my concern about disclosing my references. He started sucking air, complained that there’s no good help out there, and that everyone has to provide their references up front because of “government regulations.” Once again, I walked away.

That’s when I e-mailed the CEO. I was shocked when he called me, but we had a very pleasant chat. You were right, Nick — he was unaware of HR’s requirements in order to proceed to an interview. But I also learned that he was perfectly content to leave all aspects of the hiring up to HR.

CEO: Out to lunch

He seemed puzzled that there are no government regulations requiring applicants to list their references and their contact information before an offer is on the table, much less accepted. He breezily informed me that he doesn’t worry about hiring because that is HR’s job, that he doesn’t believe in interfering in the hiring process, and that HR knows best because that is what they do!

That tells me a great deal about the company — much more than I could have gleaned from an interview. No wonder the hiring manager seemed so rattled! The company is small, there is a lot of turnover, and little to no guidance from the CEO. He’s out to lunch! It isn’t a start-up, but they’re flying by the seat of their pants, putting out fires as they break out — and they are breaking out with greater frequency as people get disgusted and leave.

So I thanked the CEO for calling me, told him that I was no longer interested, and wished him and the company luck in their future endeavors. (You might recognize that as standard fare in kiss-off letters HR sends to rejected job candidates.) I already have a wishy-washy boss who can’t make even simple decisions such as hiring extra help. We are constantly short-staffed and the underlings are putting out the fires.

I decided not to go from the frying pan into the fire (assuming that I’d be hired at the other place).

A stinky company

The other concern I had about the laissez faire CEO is that, when you’re that disengaged from the day to day goings-on of your business, that’s a recipe for a company to go belly-up, because the person who is in charge isn’t involved.

Although I made the decision to walk away when HR refused to let me proceed without providing my references, my conversation with the CEO confirmed my decision.  I have no regrets and don’t give it any thought. You’re right: On to the next!

I have learned so much from your comments and advice, and from the other readers’ comments.  I feel that I’m a better educated job hunter now than I was before I signed up for your newsletter.

I think you could have a whole new job educating CEOs about the importance of sane hiring practices.  Or maybe teach this subject as a graduate course in business school — then you’d get them before they become CEOs and abdicate their authority to HR.

I concluded that HR in this company does what it does because the CEO doesn’t care. Fish stink from the head down.

Nick’s Reply

Wow — what a story! We touched on the problem of top managers avoiding recruiting and hiring tasks in Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!

I’m not sure the employer in your story wins a prize for citing “government regulations” as the reason for demanding references so early. That goes to employers that demand salary history before they’ll interview anyone. But this CEO wins the prize for taking a career-long lunch!

It sounds to me like you did the right thing. The company gave you some clear signs that it’s not worth working for.

  • Management is indecisive and powerless. (The manager had your resume but insisted that you regurgitate your work history in an online form.)
  • Management doesn’t woo good candidates. (The employer wanted you to deliver references before it bothered to invest in meeting you first.)
  • HR doesn’t know the law.
  • HR sacrificed a candidate the hiring manager was eager to interview (twice!) because there’s no good help out there.
  • Turnover is high.
  • The CEO thinks hiring is not his job!

While the hiring manager defers to HR, the high turnover suggests the problem is higher up than HR. You found the problem in the C-suite. The CEO might find another way in Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.

Your experience highlights two key rules about picking an employer that we discuss here again and again.

  • First, judge a company by its hiring practices.
  • Second, talk to top management before taking a job.

What you see at the interview stage is what you’ll get on the job. When the CEO doesn’t care about hiring, middle managers leave it up to HR, and HR takes its cue from the CEO.

Oh, yeah: The lesson

Thanks for sharing your experience, and my compliments for drawing the right conclusions. You showed us what it means when a company pushes a job candidate unreasonably, and how important it is to talk to a company’s top management. But there’s actually a more subtle lesson in your story.

When they’re job hunting, people rationalize. They’re afraid they won’t get picked, so they tolerate all kinds of niggling abuse. Making someone jump through hoops — online forms, silly rules about when references are due, eating dust when HR serves it — is not right, smart, or good business. But job seekers will probably jump through hoops because they want a shot at a job. Or that’s what they tell themselves. It’s for a shot at the job. So they tolerate demeaning and meaningless demands.

That hiring manager who wanted to hire you so badly that he called you after you rejected the company wanted you to rationalize the company’s behavior because he rationalizes it.

The lesson is, don’t. Being asked to address a challenge about how you’d the job, or about your work ethic — that’s legit. But when an employer demands something demeaning from you, it tells you it’s a demeaning employer. The lesson is, as Marcus Aurelius once said, “to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Have you ever rationalized a company’s nutty hiring practices to get a shot at a job? Yah — I’m needling you. I’ve caved to such treatment, and I’m not proud of it. Maybe by sharing our blunders we can help one another avoid them!

: :

 

 

Why employers should make higher job offers

In the February 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader marvels at employers who discount job offers to save money.

Question

job offersI worked as an intern while in college, and after graduation they offered me a job. It was my first experience negotiating higher job offers. I discussed my proven performance and gave examples that demonstrated my value. The employer granted me the higher salary.

My advice to others is to capitalize on your value and have the courage to negotiate for what you think you’re worth. Of course, your value may not be viewed as high as you think. That’s okay. Just weigh the pros and cons of the position along with your needs and make a decision. Either way, keep in mind, it’s up to you.

But here’s what’s interesting. After I accepted the position, I went back to the hiring manager and asked why he offered a lower salary to begin with. He responded, “If you had accepted the lower salary, I would have saved $3,000 a year.” What do you think of that?

Nick’s Reply

It’s astonishing is how casually the hiring manager responded that he’d save money if you had accepted a lower job offer. On its face, that might seem like simple market economics. But there’s a profound fallacy underpinning the manager’s behavior.

Salary is not an expense to a company, though that’s how accountants portray it, and everyone accepts that. What a company pays you is an investment. And that’s not semantics. A company buys a piece of equipment as an investment against an expected return — and capitalizes it. An employee is capital, too — the employer expects an ROI (return on investment). The fallacy is that an employer can save its way to higher returns by making lower job offers.

Of course, with machines or people we want to pay less to maximize our ROI. But neither is simply an expense.

The value of higher job offers

All my life as a headhunter I’ve encouraged my clients to offer a desirable job candidate more than the candidate asks for or expects. The reason is simple.

Unlike machines, people perform better when motivated. So, when a candidate expects $75,000, offering the candidate a totally unexpected $78,000 triggers an incredibly valuable response: enthusiasm and motivation. Even gratitude. For an extra 4% investment, the employer will likely get far more than a 4% higher return.

However, when they offer less, I think employers suffer with a far lower ROI than the salary savings might suggest. (Maybe you’ll argue with me; that’s what the comments section below is for.)

Managers like your new boss may think they’re being rational by offering less to save money. They’re missing an opportunity to get a higher return. Salary isn’t an expense. It’s an investment. Done right, investing more returns more.

(See Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.)

Why employers hire

Remember: We’re saying the employer really wants to get that very desirable candidate on board. (What other kind of candidate would the employer hire?) So why not maximize both the chances the candidate will accept the job and the potential return by making a higher job offer to prove it?

Nobody ever worked harder or more enthusiastically because a company low-balled them.

But I don’t want to skip over the reality. I parenthetically asked what other kind of candidate an employer would hire, if not a very desirable one. I think much of the time employers hire like they’re checking off boxes and plugging holes in leaky companies. They aren’t thinking about boosting the bottom line by making a really good hire.

And that’s why they see no value in higher job offers, but are proud of saving money when candidates accept lower offers.

In my book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps: How to say NO when employers demand your salary history, to make them say YES to higher job offers, I quote an HR manager who sent me an astonishing complaint about my advice that job seekers should never disclose their salary history. She said:

“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000. The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.”

Many managers don’t hire to make more money for their companies. They hire to save money for their companies by using less of the hiring budget. As if the purpose of the hiring budget was to save it!

I believe treating salary as an expense makes it far easier to hire and fill jobs. If the outcome of hiring and filling jobs were measured on ROI, most HR managers and hiring managers would be fired.

I wonder how many CEOs and boards of directors realize their accountants and HR departments are saving their way to higher profits!

Nice work!

I realize your main point is that you succeeded in getting a higher offer not by just asking for it, but by demonstrating your higher value. Nice work! (See The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer.) Your story delivers a valuable lesson to others.

But I was tickled by your new boss’s suggestion that if he’d paid you less he’d have saved money. My guess is you’ll work harder than the extra three grand cost him — and he’ll make more money.

Am I nuts?

Why should anyone pay a job candidate more than they ask or expect? Is a candidate really more likely to accept a slightly higher offer? Will a bit more money motivate better work? I can’t prove it objectively, but I think yes.

What do you think? Does that little boost in an expected job offer pay off? Is salary an expense or an investment? Has an employer made you a bigger offer than you requested or expected? Did that make you more productive?

: :

Tell HR you don’t talk to the hand


Why does Ask The Headhunter look different? Because it’s mo’ betta! Learn all about it!


In the July 12, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader refuses to waste time interviewing with HR.

Question

talk-to-the-hand-2Your column HR Managers: Do your job, or get out reminded me that most of what HR does makes no sense, and it’s not smart to bend to HR’s will when I’m looking for a job.

HR always wants me to do a meeting with them first, before they’ll let me talk to the hiring manager, but that’s a guarantee of doom! HR knows nothing about the work I do, and rejects me before I can even meet with someone who is qualified to judge me and what I can do. I know your advice is to tell HR I won’t talk to the hand, but how do I actually say that without sounding like a jerk?

Nick’s Reply

“How to say it” is a big part of Ask The Headhunter — and I know this is where people often stumble. They know they have to push back sometimes, when an employer makes demands, but they freeze up when it comes to actually expressing themselves.

I get it. I used to wonder what the problem was, but I’ve realized that unless you’re dealing with these situations all the time, it’s hard to come up with the right words. Some readers can do it; others can’t. (If headhunters didn’t know how to do it, we’d starve.)

The specific challenge you’re facing is something I wrote about in detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, pp. 5-6. Here’s how to tell HR you don’t talk to the hand:

Candidates don’t realize they can insist on interviewing only with the manager. (Why waste time with anyone else?)

How to Say It
If the employer insists that you meet with a personnel jockey before the hiring manager, try this:

“I’m afraid my schedule is very busy, and my time is limited. I’d be glad to meet with a representative from your HR department, but only after the hiring manager and I have met and decided that there’s a clear, mutual interest in working together. Once that’s established, of course I’ll make time to meet with HR.”

If the company balks, be firm.

”Thanks for your interest, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. If the manager decides to meet with me, I’d be glad to schedule some time.”

Then let it go. Move on to another opportunity, where the employer respects you and your time.

Is this risky? Of course it is. But so is wasting your time with someone who isn’t qualified to evaluate you. “Playing along” isn’t going to change this. It’ll just demoralize and frustrate you. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

The approach I recommend emphasizes that your time is not free — it’s valuable. And, while you might respect HR’s role in hiring, you’re no dummy — you know that only the hiring manager is qualified to judge you. If the employer is really interested in you, HR will back off and respect your wishes and your time. If they’re just putting you through a mindless meat grinder, then it’s better to find out up front. That’s what makes this a good test of whether you’re looking at a real opportunity, or the blind leading the blind.

I’m glad you found the HR Managers: Do your job or get out helpful. But it wasn’t just a challenge to HR. It’s also a challenge to you. Are you willing to stand up for yourself, and for sound business practices?

HR’s behavior will not change as long as job seekers keep agreeing to silly demands. Why would you want to get screened by HR, when HR isn’t expert in the work you do? Would you let the gardener tell you not to knock on the homeowner’s door? (See Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?) You don’t have to talk to the hand.

If you want to optimize your chances of winning the right job, keep your standards high, and don’t do foolish things just because someone tells you to. Insist on meeting with the hiring manager first.

Are there “magic words” you use when HR confronts you with unreasonable demands while you’re applying for a job? Please tell us “how you say it” when you tell HR to take a hike. Let’s talk about where you draw the line, and about what works.

: :

Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit

In the June 2, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders what the problem is with employers. They really can’t find the hires they need??

Question

Why do companies seem to have such a hard time finding the people they say they need — the “talent?” I apply for jobs that I know I’m a fit for based on what they say they need. We do a short dance, and they stop talking to me and move on to the next applicant. Most of the time I’m talking to Personnel. It’s not just me. I know several very successful people out of work who keep having the same experience. Is it us, or the employers?

Nick’s Reply

We’ve been discussing how human resources departments, technology and job boards contribute to the problems employers claim to have when trying to hire the talent they need.

But I think the real solution lies not just in eliminating the artificial obstacles to recruiting and hiring. Employers must learn how to actively do it right. And there’s no mystery about how to do it right — and no artifice in it at all.

The problem you and your friends face is that you’re not being recruited. You’re being solicited. Recruiting right doesn’t require more technology or more investment or specialists of any kind. The best recruiting and hiring tool is already in place, waiting to be deployed.

recruitBut there’s the rub. Very, very few employers deploy the army of recruiters that already exists in their ranks. Line up 10 managers and they’ll give you 10 different answers to the question, What is your No. 1 job function?

You can take all the skills of all managers and pile them up and they won’t outweigh the one most important skill of a good manager: hiring great people.

If a company keeps failing to hire great people who stick around and do profitable work, then it has to take a look at how good its managers are at this one function.

Every manager’s No. 1 job

Managers who hide behind HR — or who fear HR — don’t deserve the title. Managers who don’t recruit should be sent packing.

If managers are not personally spending at least 20 to 30 percent (that’s one to two days per week) of their time identifying, meeting, cultivating, recruiting, interviewing and hiring great people, they’re not earning their keep. Hiring is every manager’s No. 1 job.

I know this will shock many managers (and HR executives), but hiring is not and cannot be HR’s job. In fact, HR needs to get out of the way entirely — and leave recruiting up to the managers who run the departments that do the work, and that understand firsthand the tasks and tools required for the business.

Just ask anyone who has ever interviewed with an HR representative: Did HR demonstrate any expertise in the skills it was judging you on?

Only managers can do that. And it’s time they started doing their jobs and making their companies proud. I’ll bet they’d make job seekers happier, too — because interviews would suddenly become more relevant and intelligent. And HR could go back to processing payroll.

Judge employers by their managers

For job seekers, it’s worth judging employers by who’s on the front line of recruiting. Does the hiring manager make first contact with you, or is that a personnel jockey calling? (See The Recruiting Paradox.) What do you imagine would happen if you referred just-say-nosuch calls to your administrative assistant (or agent) — instead of talking to the employer yourself? The employer would be appalled, of course. So, why should you be fielding calls from administrators when you’re being recruited? Where’s the manager that wants to hire you?

My point is that job seekers — especially when contact is initiated by the employer — should politely request to have that first discussion happen with the hiring manager, or no dice. No resume. No filling out applications. No employment tests. No social security numbers. First let’s see what that hiring manager has to say, and if it’s worthwhile, go from there. Hey — we all need to weed out the tire kickers, right?

If you’re afraid you’ll “lose an opportunity,” consider this: Most inquiries from employers go nowhere. But you already know that. The ones that lead to a job usually start with the decision maker. No manager is going to sacrifice a candidate he or she really wants to meet if the candidate declines to talk to HR first. The rest are tire kickers.

I think that’s the approach you and your friends need to start taking. Assert yourselves. I think there’s nothing to lose, and you may very well get an audience with a real decision maker.

Here’s a heads-up for all employers: The talent crisis is managers who don’t know how to recruit. The shocking solution to the “talent problem” is for managers to do their own recruiting.

How does “the manager’s No. 1 job” rank in importance at your company? Would you rather be recruited and interviewed by an actual manager, or by HR? When you are rejected, who rejects you: HR or the manager who would hire you? Why do companies put middlemen in the hiring process, when middlemen just bog it down and lead to errors?

: :