HR’s Submission To ZipRecruiter

ZipRecruiterJust how much can ZipRecruiter insult its HR customers and still get their business? And how many arm’s lengths away from federal employment law violations can employers get?

HR: We pay ZipRecruiter to insult us

ZipRecruiter, a venture-funded, privately held company, markets itself to employers as “The Fastest Way to Hire Great People.” It lets HR departments “Post to 100+ Job Boards with One Submission.”

What’s so insulting about that? In a long-running Bloomberg radio ad, ZipRecruiter features an employer who says:

“Hiring people is probably the worst part of my job. It’s such a hassle — the searching. The sorting through resumes.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

Man, doing HR work really sucks. Is that an HR manager grousing? Or maybe it’s a hiring manager? Imagine a sales rep at your company complaining about what a hassle it is to sell.

HR executives ponied up over $100 million in 2016 to ZipRecruiter for help filling jobs so Zip could cast them as dopes who hate the most important part of their work — recruiting and hiring talent. That’s submission.

According to USA Today, “Zip makes most of its money by charging $249 monthly to employers to post [their job] listings.” That’s a lot of job ads. That’s a lot of passing the buck.

What’s it like when the vendor you rely on to do your job for you blares to the world that your job is one big bother? Do HR execs love being insulted? Well, they keep paying for it. “Revenue is up 270% since 2013,” says USA Today.

HR seems to love being abused.

“We started using ZipRecruiter about 3 months ago. Right from the start you could tell it was going to make hiring a lot easier.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

HR also loves getting millions of job applications that no human ever needs to touch. Candidates “roll in.”

“One click and my job was posted to 100+ job boards — all the top sites.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

One click and a job is sprayed all over kingdom come. Says one job seeker:

“I heard an advertisement for ZipRecruiter on the radio. In short, you can post a job on this site and it simultaneously posts it on other job boards and social media outlets. Does HR really need that many applications? Especially in these times?”

The challenge is not picking good hires. The challenge is wiping away the mess of unemployed lemmings dying for interviews. Who needs to learn how to recruit when you can have “all of the candidates” from all of the job boards in your “dashboard”?

What do you do with them?

“All of the candidates came to my dashboard and it’s easy to compare them. Thumbs up if I liked them, thumbs down if I didn’t. No e-mails and attachments, printing up docs, phone calls, none of that.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

Imagine: None of that. No “docs” — no resumes, no application forms. No communications with applicants — “no e-mails, attachments… phone calls…” Nada. 100% keywords, no humans need apply. And HR can go home.

Zip takes care of everything — including turning job applicants into your own private digital beauty pageant.

Except really ugly stuff happens in beauty pageants when there’s no regulation. And while some venture-funded firm sucks up the profits, humans submit and are sent home to clean themselves up for the next opportunity.

What job seekers are saying about ZipRecruiter

While ZipRecruiter’s investors are cleaning up, job seekers are left drowning in the mess.

One job seeker says it for many:

“My Gmail inbox is littered with e-mails from ZipRecruiter, Indeed.com, and others. It is so frustrating to go through the daily search and submission only to get the robo-e-mails from ‘Phil@ZipRecruiter.com’ — the Job Seeker Advocate — and similar messages from Indeed and others. Sometimes I think it’s all one big bizarre video game and I am the hapless mark helping to feed the Monster(.com?). At first, I viewed them hopefully, but now I see them as a part of a giant ruse.”

Another job seeker peals out:

“Things have changed too much for the worse. The old, tried and proven Agencies have gone to wayside and replaced with kids calling me…Saying, ‘Hey, I saw your resume on Indeed or Ziprecruiter or LinkedIn, etc.’ If you put enough monkeys in a room with keyboards eventually semblance of a word will be achieved. If this is how Americans get a decent job nowadays….OMG.”

And then it hits the fan.

H1-B Only: No Americans wanted

Employers operate in today’s “employment system” at arm’s length, enjoying seeming legal insulation by using “third-party” employers — known as consulting or contracting firms — to avoid violating labor laws. And these third-party firms in turn use services like ZipRecruiter to “recruit” at arm’s length while pretending they have no idea that the machine is cranking out Soylent Green.

Now here’s the backlash employers have exposed themselves to. My good buddy Suzanne Lucas, aka The EvilHRLady, just reported that the veil has been “accidentally” parted to reveal what’s really going on: legal violations.

What would you say to a job posting for a “Java Developer – H1-B Only?”

In her Inc. column last week, Iowa Company Accidentally Says No Americans Need Apply, Lucas turned up the heat on IT consulting firm American Technology Consulting, which posted the job. “In case you’re wondering what the problem is with the ad,” writes Lucas, “it’s that it violates one and possibly two laws.”

Lucas reported that Tara Jose, the president of ATC, said, “a third-party vendor recently used language when posting an advertisement on our behalf that was inappropriate and absolutely unacceptable to American Technology Consulting.”

Uh, “a third-party vendor?” (By press time Ms. Jose had not responded to an e-mail query for details.)

 

Jose told Lucas that her firm “did not write, condone, or authorize this language in the ad.”

So who wrote and authorized it? (An e-mail to Jose well before press time yielded no response.) More important, this ad is on ZipRecruiter. And as Lucas points out, it’s illegal. Possibly twice.

Was this an accident?

Is this accidentally at arm’s-length illegal?

When we were kids we’d walk up to a buddy, smack him, and chortle, “Sorry! I did it accidentally on purpose!” After we got smacked back a few times, we learned you can’t do that and get away with it. But in today’s employment industry, you can.

A company wants to hire Java developers on the cheap. As Lucas points out, it’s illegal to misuse the H1-B visa program to hire foreign labor cheaper than American labor.

But, can you “hire” a consultant from a “consulting” firm that in turn uses “a third-party vendor” that finds the Java developer by posting an illegal “H1-B Only” ad on ZipRecruiter — an ad that’s not written, condoned or authorized by the consulting firm? And besides, ZipRecruiter’s written policy says all ads must follow the law.

How many arm’s lengths from the l-o-n-g arm of the law are we now? Was that ad an accident? A one-off mistake?

Chatting with ZipRecruiter

I opened a chat with ZipRecruiter. Here’s what they told me.

The chat with Jason timed out. So I asked Taylor.

Is this accidentally on purpose?

I could have ended the chat there and we could have had an ad just like ATC had. But I kept asking the question in different ways. Finally, I was told it was up to me to make sure my job posting complied with “OFCCP and EEOC regulations.”

But here it was, three days after the Inc. article appeared, and on one screen I was chatting with ZipRecruiter and on another I was looking at that “H1-B Only” job posting — it was still there. The fastest way to hire H1-B Java Developers.

Sometimes Zip can also be the fastest way to scam people: Job seekers on ZipRecruiter being targeted by scams via email and text. Zip’s representatives blame it on “the front-end” and “the back-end.” But that’s just how the employment industry works — nobody’s fault. It’s all accidental: “No system is perfect, no matter how sophisticated or well intentioned,” says Zip.

Is this accidentally on purpose?

Are American employers using services that are largely unregulated to manipulate the job market? I don’t think there’s any doubt.

While state and federal legislatures feign interest in equal pay and equal opportunity, they condone a seemingly l-o-n-g arm’s-length chain of “contracting” relationships that seem to add no value to America’s employment system. How many middlemen can collect a fee to put you in a job working for someone other than who signs your paycheck?

This tawdry chain of consulting pimps seem to be sucking value out of the employment system and the economy — while government looks the other way. (See Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy.)

Notable companies that trade in profitable key words, profiles, resumes, and job postings are the front-facing businesses that are highly admired by a stock market that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about who’s getting a job, who they actually “work” for, where they came from, and who’s getting screwed by salaries that are manipulated in an international game of  “How low can you go?”

“All Candidates In One Place”

Joshua Brustein, writing for Bloomberg, exposes the state-of-the-art in the nebulous jobs cloud: The Secret Way Silicon Valley Uses the H-1B Program.

Far from some of the transparently political H1-B conspiracy mongering that’s become the click-bait of the blog world, Brustein takes us on a wild tour that exposes the systematic manipulation of the job market being practiced and vaunted as a laudable “industry.” These are the consulting and contacting companies, and the slimy job boards, that big tech firms hide behind.

“Contractors are also submitting many applications for foreign visas for work at other large American technology companies, according to a recent analysis of Department of Labor records covering eight major tech businesses between October 2015 and October 2016. Applications submitted by contractors accounted for half of the H-1B visa applications for jobs at PayPal Holdings Inc.’s headquarters, 43 percent of those on Microsoft Corp.’s campus, 29 percent at EBay Inc.’s headquarters, and about a quarter of those at the Googleplex.”

Brustein outlines the work of one researcher who “found that American tech companies are also utilizing large numbers of H-1B workers that are not highly skilled — they are just doing it through intermediaries.”

Do you need a pedestrian Java programmer — but prefer a lower-cost “H1-B Only” variety? Someone’s willing to write an “unauthorized” and illegal job ad for you under yet someone else’s name — but nobody knows who exactly we’re talking about. But we know where to find that ad — it’s posted on an intermediary. Or, as ZipRecruiter’s crack marketing team likes to say: “All candidates in one place.”

LinkedIn? Indeed? ZipRecruiter? The applicants just roll into your dashboard, and they answer your secret questions before you have to interview them. How’s that for arm’s-length?

No “docs” — no resumes, no application forms. No communications with applicants — “no e-mails, attachments… phone calls…” Nada. 100% keywords, no humans need apply. No need for HR.

And the candidates? Scrub ’em up and get ’em ready.

      Thumbs Up Thumbs Down

Nobody knows

ZipRecruiter says job postings must follow the law. ZipRecruiter says you can post jobs for foreign applicants only. An “H1-B Only” ad appeared for a reason — somebody approved it. Who? Nobody knows.

The impact on pay is dramatic. Bloomberg’s Brustein makes it clear. Businesses use H1-B to save money. Imagine you could tell your board of directors you’ve cut your costs by a third. Well, now you can.

“They paid an average of $88,500, which is about two-thirds the average salary for visa applications for jobs the companies submitted directly.”

“Hiring people is probably the worst part of my job. It’s such a hassle — the searching. The sorting through resumes. We started using ZipRecruiter about 3 months ago. Right from the start you could tell it was going to make hiring a lot easier. One click and my job was posted to 100+ job boards — all the top sites.”

Who needs more regulating?

When a privately held company like ZipRecruiter can knock the HR profession entirely out of the recruiting and hiring process, and HR both swallows the insult and relinquishes its job entirely, it’s game over for job seekers, employees, and managers who actually produce value to create profit. (Should HR get out of the hiring business?)

When HR funds the radio ads that reduce the profession’s most important functions to “a hassle,” and ZipRecruiter’s representatives tell you in a chat that you can post jobs for “foreign applicants only” and for “H1-B Only,” none of this is an accident.

What needs more regulating? Employers and HR execs who let an industry of digital job-board pimps sell out American job hunters? Or vendors that insult and abuse them all the way to the bank? How many arm’s lengths away from federal employment-law violations can employers get?

Are we all nuts, or what? There’s an emperor running around buck naked, and the hue and cry is that there’s a shortage of clothes. Or is that a talent shortage? One click, and it’s all going to be a lot easier. You’ll just roll right into the dashboard head-first, and it’ll be no accident. It’s one great big submission. What do you think? What do we need to do to fix this?

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How To Hire: 8 stunning tips

In the June 6, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager offers 8 stunningly clear tips about how to hire so effectively that other managers in your company steal your hires.

A hiring manager who prefers to remain anonymous teaches us how to hire. This should be required reading in every company. There’s nothing for me to add except Thank you.

how to hireA manager’s short course on how to hire

Most of my colleagues do not know how to interview anyone. They rely on rules of thumb, guts, or chicken entrails.

Actually, they have their direct reports interview the candidate and then vote on the candidate. I have a different way to hire and I think it works.

1. Recruit all the time

Always be in interview mode. Talk to prospective candidates even if you don’t have a place for them. (See The manager’s #1 job.)

2. Don’t hire by consensus

Do not allow your team to vote on candidates. The hiring manager hires. People are tribal and will pick people like themselves. Do not have a team where everyone is the same.

3. Start with all the resumes

Tell HR to send you all the resumes. Don’t let anyone edit your selection because they’re not as qualified as you are to judge the applicants. If you know what you want, you can go through them much faster than an HR clerk. (See also Sorting Resumes: A strategic hiring error and Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

4. Hire the dancers

Don’t hire anyone for whom the job is a lateral move. That’s what contractors are for. You want people for whom the job will make a difference in their lives. You want your new hires to dance to work.

5. Interview wisely

Interview only 5 candidates to prevent interview fatigue. Schedule interviews over a 3-4 week period and make a decision within 24 hours of the final interview. (Use the phone only to confirm availability. Phone interviews are nearly worthless.)

6. Can they do the job?

Ask candidates to audition for the job. Give them a simple assignment before the interview. (See What is the single best interview question ever?)

7. Act responsibly

Write to every candidate after the interview and give them your results. It is common decency. Besides, you may want to hire the second best candidate in a few months.

8. Get better at hiring

Last, review your process and look for improvements.

The problem with hiring this way is that the people you hire are so good that other departments will poach them. But that’s really okay, because you want to bring motivated people into your organization. Be proud of the impact your hires make.

Nick’s Reply

Like I said, this is so good that there’s nothing for me to add. What I think would be incredibly productive is to hear from this community — from hiring managers, job seekers and HR folks — about how you would flesh these 8 suggestions out.

How exactly would you put these tips to work? How would you tweak, bend and shape these ideas about how to hire, to make them work best in your work environment? If you’re a manager, maybe you already do some of these things. If you disagree with some of them, please explain and offer your own tips.

I’d like to thank the manager who essentially wrote this week’s column for me. For another manager’s hiring methods, see Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.


Update

Number of interviews

After this column was published, a good question was raised by readers (in the comments section below) about whether the manager (whose advice this column is based on) really means you should interview only 5 candidates in total, and how long the entire process should really take. So I asked him. Here’s his reply.

Scheduling a series of interviews with the internal stakeholders is not easy. You don’t want a candidate to return to the office multiple times to interview. Placing a line in the sand is for the benefit of the internal stakeholders telling them you will finish this task in 3 weeks. I have had SVP’s insist on interviewing a potential hire and then have their schedule full of meetings for the next 2 weeks. I have also had other managers want to interview a candidate to determine if they are good fit for their team.

I stop at 5 candidates because of interview fatigue. The candidates start to blur over time and they become difficult to compare. The interviews are at least ½ day and the cost to the team in lost work starts to show. If you try to interview 5 candidates in a week your team will not be able to get any work finished.

Also, at least 2 candidates will be from professional conferences or prior interviews. They are already known to the team and just have to run the HR gauntlet.

Salary

The hiring manager also explains how he handles the salary question during interviews.

I never ask the candidates current salary because I feel it is irrelevant.  I know the market clearing price and most of the time the candidate knows it.  The ones who don’t know it are HR and that’s where the struggle begins and ends.  That’s why it will sometimes take weeks to schedule an interview.  You don’t want to bring anyone in until HR agrees with you on the salary range.

I had one hire who told me that his new salary was 100% higher than his previous salary.   That was a person who danced to work every day.


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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!

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Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy

In the April 25, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader deals with modern employment: consulting.

Question

I’ve accepted an offer for a job at a company, but technically I’ll be an employee of the Consulting Firm that recruited me and is billing me out. There’s a third company involved, the Screening Company.

consultingToday I received an e-mail from the Screening Company, asking for W-2s from the employer I worked for between 2005-2011. I happen to know that companies verify prior employment electronically, so I asked the Consulting Firm why they needed W-2’s. He said the Screening Company couldn’t confirm my employment. This made no sense to me. I said I would call the Screening Company to work this out, since there was a number on the e-mail for customer service. The recruiter at the Consulting Firm said not to do that, and that I should download the W-2s from the IRS.

I called the Screening Firm anyway, and asked a customer service rep why they needed W-2s to confirm prior employment when I know they can do it electronically. She said the Screening Firm didn’t need W-2s for employment verification, and that it was the Consulting Firm that required W-2s.

But then she said they do call prior employers, in addition to doing electronic verification, and that my former employer did not respond to their request. “Would it be sufficient if my former employer called you?” I asked. She said, “Sure.” So I called the HR department at my former company and asked if they had any outstanding requests to confirm my employment. The answer: No. (Say what??) I asked if they would call the Screening Company on my behalf and they said they would only respond to a faxed request with a copy of my consent, and gave me their Employment Verification fax number.

Fair enough. So I forwarded the fax number to the rep at the Screening Firm and then e-mailed the recruiter at the Consulting Firm to keep him in the loop. I said if they had any other concerns to please contact me.

I already have the offer in hand. I never disclosed my salary history during the hiring process. Why would the Consulting Firm want my W-2s? What exactly is the Screening Company’s role? Why did the Consulting firm claim the Screening firm needed the W-2’s and then tell me not to communicate with the Screening Firm? I have more questions, but can you help me with these?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t see how your prior W-2 (salary) information is anyone’s business. If the Consulting Firm does its job right, it knows you’re qualified to do the job its client needs you to do. Otherwise, what’s it charging its clients for? What does it matter where you worked in 2011 or what you were paid? Just sayin’.

You’re asking good questions, but there’s a bigger question: Why are there so many middle-men involved in this?

A cluster of companies

You’ve got:

  • The Consulting Firm that recruited you. That is, your actual employer that will sell your work.
  • The company where you will actually be working. That is, the Consulting Firm’s client.
  • The Screening Company, which processes the hires that its client, the Consulting Firm, makes. The Screening Company seems to be handling the Human Resources tasks for the Consulting Firm.

I’ll hazard a guess that there’s a fourth entity — yet another firm that will process payroll, taxes, and benefits.

There’s a term for the amalgamation of arm’s-length client relationships and consequent finger-pointing that make up this employment game: Cluster-F*ck.

I have no idea how any of these entities can even stay in business with so many hands in the till. You’re not hired to work; you’re rented out to do work. The price being charged for your work far exceeds what you’ll see in your paycheck. Everyone’s getting paid for your work; everyone’s getting a taste of your pay. Good luck figuring it out, because I wouldn’t even start trying to. All I see is a hole in the economy, where money goes without the creation of any value. (See Consulting Firms: Strike back and stir the pot.)

This is not consulting

You’re not being hired by a consulting firm to help it consult to its clients. You’re hired by this Consulting Firm so it can rent you to another company. That’s not consulting. (And don’t confuse what your Consulting Firm is doing with headhunters. See They’re not headhunters.)

Real consulting is an honorable business that creates value. One company turns to another for specialized help: a consulting firm. The consulting firm employs experts in its field that are organized, usually as a team, to solve a client’s problems. Day-to-day work is not the product. A solution, delivered to the client, is the product.

The consultants report to a manager at the consulting firm, not to a manager at the client company. The consulting firm’s employees likely work on multiple client projects at a time. They’re never not working. They’re never “on the beach,” as modern rent-a-worker companies like to call unemployment. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)

The deal you’ve signed up for is not consulting. None of the companies you describe seem to be responsible for you — or to you. One hires you. You work for another. A third handles the transactions. (I still think yet another will handle HR tasks, like processing payroll and taxes, and administering benefits, if there are any.) When you have a question, each points a finger at the other.

Work for your employer

You’re asking good questions. I don’t have any answers. You’re being forced to deal with middle-men whose roles are questionable. In a well-organized, well-managed business, the functions of all those middle-men are functions of the company itself. A competitive enterprise leverages its expertise with all those functions to produce profit. Beware employers that you don’t actually work for.

consultingMy advice is, work for your employer. Avoid any drain of economic value from your work. Don’t let middle-men interfere with the employer-employee relationship. The risk you take when you participate in this kind of cluster-f*ck economy is that you are not the worker. You are the product. You become an interchangeable part. Worse, you become a returnable interchangeable part.

If the Consulting Firm is paying a Screening Firm to confirm who you are and to handle other transactions with you, so it can charge its client for those services, then what value is the Consulting Firm delivering to its own client?

The employment industry has become one of the biggest rackets going. It really is a clusterf*ck. With workers like you in the middle. But as someone advised a long time ago when a dangerous political entanglement could not be unraveled, “Follow the money.” The real problem here is with the company that’s paying multiple entities so it can rent you. Are you comfortable with this arrangement?

Who do you work for? Who pays you? Are you being paid for the value you create in the economy, or are middle-men draining your value?

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References: 5 reasons to withhold them

In the April 11, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader rejects recruiters who demand references before an interview.

Question

referencesWhat do you think of recruiters demanding the identity of my references  — and demanding to check them — often before there’s even any expression of interest from the hiring manager? Some recruiters get seriously butt-hurt when I won’t instantly hand over references, and claim they won’t submit me otherwise.

I would be nuts to have my references called every time some recruiter decides it would be convenient to check them. I never give references except directly to hiring managers after a successful interview with said hiring managers. Am I wrong?

Nick’s Reply

Your policy is a good one.

Most people view requests for their references as a good sign. They readily turn over a list of names because they assume the request means an employer is seriously interested in interviewing or hiring them. That used to be a reasonable assumption, but not any more.

Many reference requests are unreasonable, unwarranted, and sometimes even fraudulent — and you should know when to politely but firmly decline them. But before you try to decide whether a recruiter’s (or employer’s) request is legitimate, first consider whether whether you’re even being recruited! (See How to screen headhunters.)

Are you being recruited?

Not everyone that solicits you for a job is recruiting you. Learn to distinguish a solicitation from a real recruiting call. In today’s highly automated job market, this is a difficult distinction for most people. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.) Let me try to explain with an analogy — a solicitation I actually received.

I got a call from a company that wanted to sell me an extended warranty on my car.

“Wow!” I said. “That’s great! This is just what I need! Tell me more.”

For five minutes the caller explained all the benefits. A one-time fee would get me no-cost repair work and parts for virtually anything that might go wrong with my car for the next three years. She even patiently explained the exceptions. I told her I was ready to sign up. “What’s the make, model and year of your car?” she asked, as she started filling out the form for me over the phone.

“It’s a 1959 Chevy Bel Air 4-door,” I said.

She burst out laughing. “Sorry, I can’t sell you an extended warranty for a car that old!” she said.

“Then why did you call me?” I asked.

“I didn’t know what kind of car you have!” she replied, and hung up.

Her call was a blind solicitation. Like most recruiters, that telemarketer had no idea whether I was a potential customer. Nor do most people soliciting you for jobs have any idea whether you’re a realistic candidate. “But that’s why they’re contacting me! To find out!” you might respond.

No, that’s why they’re wasting your time. When a real recruiter contacts you, it’s because she has already spoken to people that know you and recommend you. (And that car warranty telemarketer would know what kind of car I own.) That’s likely how she got your name! She wouldn’t contact you otherwise. She doesn’t need your references until after she has interviewed you in detail, or after her client has interviewed you for a job.

When a “recruiter” asks for your references prior to an interview, politely but firmly decline and end the call, because you’re not being recruited. You’re being solicited by someone who has not done any work to justify contacting you. The “recruiter” wants you and your references to do all the work of proving you’re qualified for the job. In short, that’s not a recruiter calling. It’s a telemarketer. It’s why — two weeks after you’ve submitted all your information and gotten yourself all worked up about “an opportunity” — they never call you back. You’re a 1959 Bel Air. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

Reference theft

If that extended car warranty telemarketer calls you, would you give her the names of three of your friends, along with their phone numbers and makes and models of their cars?

Of course not. You know she’s going to call them with the same sales pitch she gave you. So, why would you give an unknown “recruiter” the names and contact information of three people who know and respect you?

In today’s dialing-for-dollars recruiting world, three credible referrals are worth a lot of money. Odds are good that the “recruiter” wants nothing from you but three new names. The caller is stealing your references under false pretenses — and even creating competition for the job being pitched to you.

That’s reference theft. It makes you a sucker because you’re doing the recruiter’s job for him. And it earns you the ire of three busy people who used to respect you.

Rules for references

Consider using these rules when anyone asks for your references.

  • Before you disclose anything about yourself, ask what the recruiter already knows about you. A good recruiter will not contact you unless she knows more than is on your online resume or profile. She’s already talked to people who recommend you — or she would not bother recruiting you. A real recruiter does not need to ask you for references. That would be like asking you on a date, but only after requesting a list of your friends and family.
  • Get the recruiter’s own references first: Names and contact information of three managers who have hired through the recruiter. Contact those managers to confirm the recruiter. I’d also ask for three people the recruiter has placed, and I’d talk with them. Does this seem like an awful lot of work to you? Don’t worry — you will rarely have to make those calls, because you will rarely encounter a recruiter who actually has references. But a good recruiter will be happy to comply, because the recruiter already knows you’re a worthy candidate and he’ll do anything reasonable to impress you with his excellent credentials.
  • Don’t invest until an employer invests in you. Remember: An employer or its recruiter contacted you, not the other way around. They want you to do something — to consider a job. They should invest in a face-to-face job interview to demonstrate their sincerity — and to show they’re worth your further consideration. If you’re satisfied the employer is worthy and that you really want the job, then it’s time to provide your references.
  • Find out who is going to contact your references and how. Do you really want a third-party “background checker” to call your references? How about an HR clerk who doesn’t understand the work you do? If it’s a legit reference check, will it be done via phone or e-mail? Or will it be an online form? Which of these reference-checking methods do you think will portray you best? Hand over references only to the hiring manager, and then ask the manager to make those calls personally. (See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.)
  • Find out who will have access to your reference report. Nowadays many reference investigations are done by third-party services. That means once your references are checked and filed, the reference-checking firm can sell them again and again to other employers — perhaps without your knowledge. A bad reference or a poorly handled reference can dog you for years, and you’ll never know why you’re being rejected again and again.

Inappropriate reference requests are a tip-off

Most good employers recruit you because someone that knows you recommended you. Real recruiting is not blind solicitation.

Inappropriate requests for your references are actually a good tip-off that you’re not dealing with a real recruiter. Hang up, or delete the e-mail. Real recruiters contact you only after they have checked you out. Respectful employers won’t ask for your references until after there’s mutual interest in taking discussions further. They will treat you deferentially because they’ve already invested a lot of time in you — before they got in touch.

You’ll know a good recruiter and employer from what they say when they contact you. But don’t kid yourself — they’re rare. Your next job will likely come from your own personal contacts, not from a recruiter. Don’t expect those odds to change just because you’d like them to. (Don’t know how to develop personal contacts? Start with this simple suggestion: Meet the right people.)

Protect your references

We haven’t even discussed the problem of letting many recruiters bother the people who volunteered to serve as your references. That’s because we don’t have to. You know better than to permit it. You know not to abuse your references.

Now let’s close on this complaint you made: “Some recruiters get seriously butt-hurt when I won’t instantly hand over references, and claim they won’t submit me otherwise.”

As you’ve already surmised, they have no idea who you are or whether you’re a reasonable candidate. If they’ve got you on the hook, but you won’t sell out your best professional references for a long-shot “opportunity” that you know nothing about — then they’ll drop you. Good.

If you’re having difficulty telling the difference between being solicited and being recruited, try the rules of references above. The first rule alone should usually be sufficient to save your valuable time, and to protect your valuable references.

When do you turn over your references? Have your references ever been abused or misused? Do you respond to recruiters who don’t know the first thing about you?

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What the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters

In the March 14, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we look at what some economists at the Federal Reserve say about jobs.

federal reserveRecent reports from the Federal Reserve suggest that switching jobs — and probably employers — is the best way to boost your salary and your career.

In this special edition, we’ll explore what the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters, and why you should stay away from recruiters who waste your time with been-there-done-that jobs and lower salaries.

Are recruiters killing careers and the economy?

The best recruiters and headhunters boost employers’ productivity by finding discounted talent and up-and-coming talent to fill jobs those people may not have done before. By stimulating capable job candidates with new, motivating career challenges, insightful recruiters help create value for an employer — and boost our economy.

But untrained, inept recruiters lack insight and foresight. They don’t bother to understand an employer’s future needs or a job candidate’s untapped potential. They look for quick and easy “perfect matches” turned up by automated recruiting algorithms. These keyboard jockeys do little but process resumes whose key words match key words in job descriptions. They add no value. They kill career growth and job productivity.

Inept recruiters far outnumber good ones, and that’s killing our economy. Companies aren’t filling jobs with the best hires. But the fault lies with employers themselves, and with Human Resources executives, who buy — hook, line and sinker, and at enormous cost — the reductionist job applicant sorting systems that drive hiring today. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

New research and analysis from Federal Reserve economists reveals a problem of mismatches between workers, salaries and productivity, but fails to identify and discuss the structural cause of the problem — counter-productive recruiting.

The mad rush to fill jobs mindlessly

With the Department of Labor reporting lower unemployment and increasingly scarce talent, employers are rushing to fill jobs by relying on methods that yield staggeringly low signal-to-noise ratios.

By design, these systems actively solicit as many applicants as possible for each job. (Consider the applicant funnel ZipRecruiter, which exhorts HR managers to post a job on “one hundred-plus job sites.”) The ease with which these systems enable and encourage job seekers to apply for any job in a mindless feeding frenzy contributes to understandably low yields. Then HR managers, who fail to realize that more is not better, claim to be shocked and cry “talent shortage.”

When matches are made, they’re often undesirable to the candidate. It’s a common complaint among Ask The Headhunter readers: Employers want to hire you for a job only if you’ve done that job for three, four or five years already — and they’ll often pay you less. Even when they offer you a raise, the job is usually a lateral move. It’s not a career opportunity or a chance for you to hone new skills  — it’s just an easy database match.

This seems to be much more than a job-seeker frustration. According to economists reporting from several branches of the Federal Reserve, it may be one of the causes of inflation and lower productivity. (See Bloomberg Businessweek: Job Switchers Solve An Inflation Mystery.)

But the economists don’t attempt to explain why employers are making such short-sighted, self-defeating hiring decisions — and I think it’s because the problem is so pervasive that it’s invisible. Although job seekers have long been very vocal and angry about it, the backdrop of reductionist, rude, automated recruiting across America seems to be such a necessary evil that no one but the job seeker sees or questions it. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

The compelling need to fill jobs obscures the importance of planning to hire strategically and wisely — not just to fill round holes with round pegs quickly. American companies seem unaware of their mad rush to fill jobs mindlessly, and economists seem content to accept the prevalent recruiting infrastructure without reviewing it, simply because employers are content to keep paying for it.

This seems to be what the Fed’s economists don’t know about recruiters and the job market.

The failure is on the front line

Job seekers report wasting enormous amounts of time today fielding fruitless recruiting inquiries and participating in interviews for the wrong jobs. The question arises:

Why do employers look for perfect matches between workers and jobs?

The assumptions behind this quixotic search are incorporated into the ads that candidate vendors like Indeed, LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter run constantly:

  • Employers must hire without training anyone or allowing time for a learning curve.
  • Perfect hires are best.
  • Talent can be had at a discount.
  • Employers don’t have time to find talent on their own.
  • Every job can be posted to “a hundred-plus” job boards instantly.
  • “Big data” makes perfect hiring possible.
  • More job applicants is better.
  • And so on.

These assumptions push employers head-long into automated recruiting. But when we start questioning those assumptions, we’re left with the boots on the ground that create the biggest constraint on hiring the best talent: Inept recruiters on the front line.

When complex factors make it difficult to suss out what triggers the choices business people make, I get lazy. Though I’m not a scientist, I was trained as one, and I find that even if a problem seems complicated, it’s best to start with the law of parsimony: The simplest explanation is probably the right one.

If employers had better recruiters, they’d hire better people, increase productivity and stimulate the economy.

Yet, an employer’s first contact with an engineer, a scientist, a software developer, a machinist, an accountant — anyone the employer needs to hire — is through a person who is probably the least likely to understand qualities and characteristics that make the candidate the best one for the employer. It’s a person least likely to understand the work and the job. Except in rare, wonderful cases where employers have very good recruiters, it’s an incompetent recruiter.

Because employers believe they now have “intelligent applicant systems” at their disposal, many (I think most) dispense with highly trained and skilled recruiters. Employers on the whole have unsophisticated, untrained recruiters who quickly eliminate the best candidates because they’re rewarded for making the easy choices, not the best ones.

The Federal Reserve connects the dots between talent, pay and productivity

Bet you’ve been waiting to see how the Fed fits into this. Let’s dive in.

The job boards say employers can hire the best talent for less money because their databases are bottomless and the perfect candidate is in there, if you just keep looking.

But the Federal Reserve says higher productivity coupled with better career opportunities and higher salaries is better for everyone — and for the economy.

Consider the ambitious little Bloomberg Businessweek article referenced earlier, Job Switchers Solve An Inflation Mystery, that deftly puts the jobs puzzle together:

“Labor economists… are increasingly studying how job-hopping Americans drive compensation gains and affect the traditional interplay of low unemployment, wage gains, and inflation.”

It turns out those economists are now focused on what we already know: The surest way to get a big salary boost is to change employers and stretch yourself.

Consider this handful of factoids and data cited by Bloomberg, from economists at the Chicago Fed, the Atlanta Fed, the New York Fed, and the St. Louis Fed:

  • “23 percent of employees are actively looking for another job on any given week, putting in four or five applications over a four-week period.”
  • “Employers are poaching workers, as 27 percent of offers to the employed are unsolicited.”
  • “Job switchers earned 4.3 percent more money in July 2016 than a year earlier, while people who remained in the same job enjoyed only a 3 percent increase.”
  • “The so-called quit rate, a favorite indicator of [Fed Chair Janet] Yellen that measures voluntary separations from an employer… has almost recovered to levels seen before the recession of 2007-2009.”
  • “Job-to-job changes and the threat of job-to-job mobility are strongly predictive of wage increases.”
  • “Job switching is ‘a good sign for the economy’ and ‘an indication of dynamism,’ according to the [Atlanta] Fed’s [President Dennis] Lockhart.”

And note this nugget of gold in the Bloomberg story:

“While [St. Louis Fed economist David] Wiczer said that the bulk of wage hikes occur from job switching, he cautioned that the gains are highly cyclical, as the median job switcher didn’t reap much of a salary increase during recessions.”

What this means to you: With the economy shifting from recession to inflation, your best bet to make more money today is to switch jobs. I’ll stick my neck out and say that my reading of the Fed analysis — and my own experience and reports from Ask Headhunter readers — is that that you also need to switch employers if you want that dramatic pay increase.

But you can and should optimize that bet by making sure the next job you take also enables you to be more productive. Of course, recruiters sabotage that objective almost daily when they solicit you for jobs that would set your career back five or ten years.

Warning! Warning!

We already know that most recruiters love to stick you into a “new” job that’s not new at all. They don’t get paid to give you a chance at career development — or to help a manager hire for the future. They offer the same job you’ve been doing because you’re the least risky choice for them.

They pluck you from thousands of job applicants only when their database algorithms show that you’re already doing the exact job they’re trying to fill. There’s no need to train you. You will require no learning curve. You are the safest bet and, if you’re unemployed, the recruiter knows he can probably nab your desperate ass for less than you were earning at your last job because you need a job.

But that recruiter is dangerously naïve. The “perfect match” won’t increase productivity because you’re being plugged into the same job you were doing elsewhere, and your motivation is going to plummet along with your value.

Even if the new job pays more than your last one, this is a huge red flag for employers, warns Giuseppe Moscarini, a visiting scholar from Yale at the Philadelphia Fed:

“What we should worry about are wage raises for workers who stay on the same job and are not getting more productive.” [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Whether the “same job” is at the same employer or a new one, Moscarini suggests wage inflation without higher productivity seems to fuel inflation in the economy.

Recruiter failure

I don’t think employers or economists see the razor that’s cutting into productivity and economic growth. But it should be clear to any Ask The Headhunter reader.

It’s the recruiters.

Most recruiters look for an exact match of a resume to a list of key words in a job description. They’re not assessing job candidates to find value a competitor missed or the value an employer can leverage into higher productivity and profit over time. They tell managers to interview any candidates the automated recruiting system flashes on their displays.

Recruiters, who are an employer’s front line in the talent war, are generally not equipped to do their own jobs. They’re doomed to fail because they’re not really recruiting. They’re checking boxes on a database app. The result is hires that are less than optimally productive.

Job Seekers: Follow the money!

The Fed economists are offering job seekers and career-oriented workers a gift of tremendous insight, even if it seems obvious: Your smartest career move may be to switch jobs and employers.

Pursue only jobs that offer you substantially more money and require you to stretch your skills and capabilities — that is, to do more productive work that’s more profitable for you.

That strategy, they also suggest, may be best for employers and for the economy.

Smart workers don’t change jobs or employers without an opportunity to learn and develop new skills, to take on greater responsibility or authority, to stretch themselves — and to make more money. Those who accept been-there-done-that jobs do it reluctantly or because they feel they have no choice, especially if they’re unemployed.

The Fed tells us not only that lots (23%) of employees are actively looking for new jobs, but that competitors are trying to steal them away. Done for the right reasons and for the right opportunities, switching jobs and companies can pay off big. Employers give people who switch 40% higher raises than they give to people who stay where they are (4.3% vs. 3%).

So, follow the money. When a recruiter pitches you a re-run job for little or no extra money, suggest he go find a job he’s better at — because he’s not helping you or the employer. He could be killing your career and the economy. Has anyone told that to the Fed’s economists?

Did you get a better raise for staying in your job, or for switching out? What was the percentage? Did a recruiter move you into another same-old job, or help you advance your career? What’s your take on the Fed’s findings and conclusions?

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The only 2 reasons to tell recruiters your salary

In the March 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions advice about divulging salary information to recruiters.

Question

recruitersI have your book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, about how to avoid telling an employer your salary history. I agree: Disclosing salary hurts your ability to negotiate the best job offer.

But now HR expert Liz Ryan asks, Should you tell a recruiter your salary? (Recruiters Don’t Need Your Salary History — But Here’s Why They Want It.)

She says absolutely not, and hundreds of people have posted their comments. Can we hear from another HR expert? I want to know what you say. Is telling a recruiter your salary different from telling an employer?

Nick’s Reply

I’m not an HR expert and I’ve never worked in HR — perish the thought. I always worked on the outside as an independent headhunter. According to Liz Ryan’s LinkedIn profile, her experience is in HR, not in independent recruiting or headhunting. That might explain our difference of opinion.

I don’t think you should ever disclose your salary history to any employer. (See Should I disclose my salary history?) But that’s not what Ryan’s column is about. What she is recommending is a dangerous whitewash of a more complicated issue. She’s saying you should never disclose your salary to a recruiter or headhunter.

2 kinds of recruiters

Let’s be clear on one thing, because it’s important. When she says don’t tell a recruiter your salary, Ryan is referring to a third party recruiter, or a headhunter — not a recruiter working in the employer’s HR department. (When you disclose to an employer’s recruiter, you’re disclosing to the employer.)

The recruiter she’s talking about will earn a fee if you are hired, and also stands to gain tremendously if you’re happy with your job offer and new job. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, to avoid confusion here, when we’re talking about an independent, third-party recruiter, we’ll call that a headhunter. A happy, newly placed candidate refers more great candidates that are worth a lot of money to a good headhunter.

Ryan is wrong because a headhunter’s motivation is very different from an employer’s. A good headhunter can use your salary history to help you, not hurt you, in part because the headhunter wants valuable referrals from you after you accept a new job she’s helped you land.

Employers and headhunters have different motives

Never tell an employer your old salary because he’ll use it to cap any offer he makes to you. In other words, your old salary becomes what’s known in behavioral economics as an anchor. It pulls down the job offer. (If your old salary is higher than the employer hopes to pay, you might be rejected outright, but that’s another discussion. Please see How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?)

A headhunter actually earns a higher fee when your job offer is higher, so she’s motivated to get you the best offer possible without jeopardizing an offer altogether.

There’s no good reason to give employers — or their recruiters — your salary history.

But the only good reason to tell a headhunter your old salary is if it’s going to help you get a higher job offer.

And that’s where Ryan blows it while she bangs the drum to say no. She’s confusing motives, and that’s naïve. There’s more to it.

When to tell a headhunter your salary

testHere are my two rules about salary disclosure:

  1. If it’s an employer asking — the hiring manager, the HR manager, the HR recruiter, or the company’s online application form — do not disclose your salary, ever.
  1. If it’s a headhunter or third party recruiter, disclose your salary only if:
    (a) The headhunter agrees not to disclose it to the employer without your express permission. No exceptions.
    (b) The headhunter explains how she’s going to use the information for your benefit — and the reason had better be good.

If the headhunter can’t pass tests (a) and (b), don’t tell.

A good headhunter’s obligations

While a headhunter is paid by the employer and thus has a fiduciary duty to get the best deal for the client, the headhunter is also beholden to you if she wants introductions to more good candidates — and a sterling reputation in the professional community she recruits in.

So a good headhunter will not use your salary history to low-ball your job offer for the benefit of her client. If you think she’s going to do that, then walk away immediately — because that’s not a headhunter you want playing middle-(wo)man for you with any employer. (See How to Judge A Headhunter.)

When Ryan says not to disclose salary to a recruiter, what she should be saying is, Walk away from any headhunter you’re not sure you trust.

And that means most headhunters that solicit you — because they’re not headhunters. They’re unsavory spammers and telemarketers dialing for dollars. They’ll never do a good job for you. Work only with the best, or don’t work with a headhunter at all. Satisfy yourself that the headhunter is going to optimize your job offer — and, more important, get you in front of the right manager for the right job. Those are the headhunter’s obligations to you.

Now let’s discuss what Ryan avoids.

Why disclose your salary to a headhunter?

What legitimate reasons could a good headhunter possibly have for wanting to know your salary? If it’s me, I want to understand how your career growth and salary growth reflect one another so I can make a good placement — for you and for the client paying my fee.

  • Do I think you’re over-paid? Under-paid?
  • Do I think you’re squandering your abilities for too little money?
  • Is your salary expectation unreasonably anchored by your current salary?
  • How does that affect how you behave in interviews?

I’d rather discuss these questions with you before you talk with my client, because it could affect how I advise you to interview and negotiate.

Maybe you’re on the wrong career trajectory. You might be earning at the top of the range for, say, a digital design engineer. If you want to be an R&D engineer, you may have to take a step back in salary to shift to the new career direction. I want to prepare you for that. I don’t want you to get sticker shock after you’ve invested your time in interviews with my client.

If you don’t trust a headhunter like you’d trust a doctor when sharing your personal information, then don’t work with that headhunter. If a headhunter isn’t discussing these questions with you, run.

The 92% salary increase

I’ll give you an example of when it pays to tell a headhunter your salary. I recruited a candidate who was earning $40,000. I helped him get a 92% salary increase.

He was hoping to get a 10% salary bump. After a lot of assessment including talking with his references and having him talk with an industry expert whose opinion I respected, I knew he’d be great for a very different kind of job with my client.

If I hadn’t asked for his salary history, he’d have blown the interview, because the job paid over $70,000. His jaw would have dropped if this came up in the meeting with my client, and he’d have betrayed his old salary if only in his body language. My client never would have offered what he was worth. I’d have had no idea, if I didn’t know the candidate’s salary.

We had a long talk about how to behave while discussing a job that would almost double his salary. Based on the candidate’s aptitude, I negotiated a $77,000 job offer. My client never batted an eye, and never learned what its new hire had been earning. The candidate and his wife were able to buy their first house. I earned a nice fee — and several great referrals. The new hire performed so well that I got more search assignments.

I asked for, and got, the candidate’s salary history — but I never disclosed it. I used it to coach him properly so he could get a better deal.

If you’re not satisfied a headhunter is going to work that way with you, hang up the phone or delete her e-mail.

Liz Ryan is wrong

A headhunter is not an employer. Different rules apply when a job seeker deals with a headhunter. It’s up to you to understand the differences. That’s why I wrote a 130-page book about How to Work with Headhunters, and how to make headhunters work for you. What I just explained is in the book.

Liz Ryan sometimes offers good advice. This time Liz is wrong. She sounds right because she’s being contrarian, but she’s whitewashing a question that requires more insight and discussion.

Her advice to not disclose your salary is reasonable only if you’re dealing with a questionable or unsavory headhunter or recruiter — but in that case, you shouldn’t be working with that recruiter anyway! Just as there are lots of lousy HR people who will waste your time, there are loads of unsavory headhunters. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?)

Know when to say yes

If you’ve properly vetted the headhunter, and the headhunter gives you satisfactory answers to the two tests I posed above, you might gain a lot by letting the headhunter know your salary history so she can assess and coach you properly. Make sure the headhunter will:

  • Keep your salary information confidential — that is, won’t disclose it to the employer — and,
  • Use the information to your advantage.

A good headhunter stands to make a lot of money by helping you get the right job for the best possible salary. And the headhunter’s client never needs to know your old salary. But it’s up to you to draw a line in the sand. Don’t be afraid to say no — and know when to say yes.

9 tips for dealing with recruiters and headhunters

If you don’t know how to separate good headhunters from unsavory ones, check the nine tips in The truth about headhunters.

Do you tell recruiters your salary? Why? If you’re not sure why, then don’t do it. How do you handle headhunters and employers’ own recruiters? How do you keep control of being recruited?

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WANTED: Top talent to work for dog food

In the February 28, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the talent (a nurse) would rather walk dogs than work for kibbles and bits.

talent foodQuestion

There’s no skills shortage, no matter what anybody says. If there’s a shortage why am I working as a waitress making more than I could nursing, which I’m certified in? I have a college degree, because I was told it was necessary in today’s market to compete. One interview after another is a waste of time. HR tells me I “look good” and to expect a call. And the permanent and contract offers I’ve gotten — I could walk dogs and make more. There’s so much talent that hospitals just wait for somebody who will work for peanuts. And they are rude. Does anybody want to hire an experienced RN for a living wage?

Nick’s Reply

Two reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts issued late last year tell us a lot about the problems you’re describing — but you’re not going to like what they say:

Imperfect candidates need not apply

A lot of healthcare facilities need experienced RNs (registered nurses) and require degrees. But they don’t want to pay for your degree and experience. I suggest you send a few quotes from Pew to your legislators.

“Hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies and doctor’s offices, like a lot of employers across the country, have a specific resume in mind. Employers often want new hires to have experience in a specialty such as operating room nursing.”

They’re looking for perfect candidates. (See The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge.) The problem is clear: Employers don’t want to invest in training, on-the-job experience and development, or in a learning curve. They want someone who’s been doing the exact job for three years already. The question is, why would someone like that change jobs just to get the exact same job?

Where are competitive wages?

Pew offers a suggestion that healthcare administrators should be spanked for pretending not to understand:

“A long-term solution for the nursing workforce also would have to resolve critical pay issues, including whether Medicare and Medicaid fee schedules support competitive wages, and figure out how to make sure nurses don’t get burned out and quit.”

Pew also addresses another common problem:.

“Employers also have a retention problem. Being a nurse is demanding, and new nurses, like new teachers, are particularly likely to leave their jobs: About 20 percent of new nurses quit within a year, according to a 2014 study.”

Duhhh… Do you think it has something to do with the fact that you can make more money waiting tables at a good restaurant? (For tips about negotiating a job offer upwards if you manage to get an offer at all, see Negotiate Even The Worst Job Offers: Say Yes, IF.)

Meatball management

This is not a problem just in healthcare. The Pew reports cover all kinds of jobs, and reveal that employers across industries are eyeing talent they want but refuse to pay for it.

“To [the head of Minnesota’s Labor Market Information Office] … the focus on work experience suggested that employers were being too picky. They wanted to hire someone who could be fully productive on day one. But at the same time they weren’t willing or able to pay enough to attract that perfect candidate.”

There’s that problem again: Cheapskate employers.

An accounting manager told me last week that his company — whose business and profits are “growing like gangbusters” — has a customer support staff of seven. “We really need 15 just to support the customers we already have,” he complained. “But it’s impossible to find qualified people.” I asked what the job pays. “$7.50 an hour,” he answered. “Our turnover is over 20%. It’s terrible.”

No kidding.

Pew suggests businesses’ eyes are bigger than their budgets. But it seems the real problem is a kind of cognitive deficit in the ranks of management.

“It’s worth noting that employers can’t always diagnose their own problems. Only 22 percent of employers surveyed by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services last year named low wages as a hiring problem, but 68 percent of those employers were offering below average wages.”

Someone is thinking steak, while budgeting for meatballs.

“We want college degrees we don’t need!”

Then there’s the claim employers make that today’s workforce just isn’t well-educated. Or, is it possible that employers want more education than jobs require?

Pew hits the nail on the head again:

“The overwhelming majority of open production jobs across south central Minnesota don’t require a college degree, in fact. Nor do almost two-thirds of openings statewide.”

Yet employers ask for a degree — just because they can. It used to be a nurse needed only a certification to get a job in a hospital. It seems now hospitals want education they don’t need — but aren’t willing to pay for.

Reports Pew:

“In New York, for instance, there are more licensed RNs in the state than there are jobs for them. So employers are raising the bar, saying, ‘Hey, if I can get a [nurse with a] bachelor’s degree, why not?’ said Jean Moore, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany.”

WANTED: Top Talent Cheap!

So there you have it. The Pew Charitable Trusts suggest employers are the problem, not nurses, or anyone else. While more training and education can certainly be beneficial to anyone who wants to excel in their line of work, it seems employers think training, education, and talent shouldn’t cost much to hire.

I wish I could give you an answer to your problem. And I wish the Pew reports covered the other elephant in the room — recruiting tools used by employers that make it easier to reject good applicants than to hire them. For more about that, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

Meanwhile, what are we going to do about cheap employers?

Is there a talent shortage, or a shortage of good pay for good workers? Are modern, automated recruiting systems the solution, or do they just make it easier for employers to reject imperfect job applicants who won’t work for peanuts?

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The Truth About Job Fairs

In the January 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader blasts employers for job fairs and bogus recruiting. 

Question

I’m sure a lot of employers read this newsletter, so this is an open question to them about job fairs. Maybe they will respond. But I’d like your opinion, too.

job fairsTo Employers:

I go to job fairs to meet your company in person, but your representatives tell me to visit the company website in order to apply for a job. Call me crazy, but I thought the purpose of a job fair was to actually meet you — a real, live hiring manager.

By going to a job fair, I am separating myself from those who are sitting at their computers all day just sending out resumes. I am making an effort to drive (mind you, the cost of gas) to a job fair after getting all dolled up in a great suit and actually seeking to talk to someone to place my resume ahead of someone else’s. I’m trying to stand out and show you I’m serious about working for you.

And my reward for this effort? You slap me in the face and tell me to go home and apply on-line.

Why do you even bother “recruiting” at job fairs? Why is it that your representatives don’t know anything about jobs at your company? Why do they tell me, “We are not taking resumes?” I didn’t need to drive 20 miles to see you only to have you tell me to go home and apply online. What if I’m someone who does not have Internet access at home? What if I’m that person who is strapped for cash and had to decide between paying for groceries this month or keeping an Internet service provider and I chose to forego the Internet?

Come on! Give me a break. I go to job fairs so you can see a face behind my resume in hopes of landing that interview! I attend so I can meet real flesh-and-blood hiring managers. And you send “personnel representatives” who don’t even act like they work for your company! Maybe they don’t! Why are you wasting my time?

(Thanks for letting me vent, Nick.)

Nick’s Reply

Oh, you’re welcome. Venting is good, especially when you’re not the only one doing it. I get frequent mail on this topic. And I’ll tell you, you’ve nailed it. I don’t recall the last time anyone told me they went to a job fair and got a job.

The truth is, job fairs are largely a waste of time.

Companies go to job fairs because HR clearly has nothing better to spend its money on. They send greenhorn HR reps to collect resumes or to direct people to the website. You could do better standing on a street corner handing out your resume.

The other little secret some HR folks have sheepishly shared with me is that job fairs enable them to check off more boxes on federal employment regulation forms. Maybe this is how they identify race, color and disabilities and get credit for entertaining certain applicants. I welcome HR managers to explain their behavior.

You have dispelled one of the key myths about job fairs: that they are a good place to actually meet the hiring managers. Let’s dispel two more job-fair myths.

Job Fairs: Myth #1

You can cover a job fair with 300 employers in one day.

Or some huge number. The pitch is that more is better, so why not go? Even if you slice it down to 100 employers, a six-hour job fair will allow you 3.6 minutes for each employer. (Do you think that if you were to spend anywhere near six non-stop hours at a job fair you might get dizzy and pass out?) Trust your common sense: That’s not enough time for a meaningful exchange.

The alternative to job fairs: Get detailed job-fair information, including lists of employers, jobs and departments that are hiring. Invest that six hours identifying and contacting people who work at three good target companies that are “going” to the job fair. Tell these folks you can’t make it to the job fair, and ask for their insight and advice about their company.

Then ask for introductions to managers who seem to be hiring. Save gas and use it to attend interviews instead.

Job Fairs: Myth #2

Job fairs are a great place to find unadvertised jobs.

Any job openings advertised at job fairs are already old news. Job fairs are often a company’s last recruiting resort. While a personnel jockey is scanning your resume at the job fair booth, my candidate (or some other headhunter’s) is sitting in the hiring manager’s office demonstrating how she’s going to do the job profitably for the manager. That’s who you’re competing with.

But if you really think about it, why would an employer try to fill good jobs with the best candidates at a job fair — when so many of the best potential candidates have jobs and aren’t likely to attend a fair? That’s not to disparage unemployed job seekers; the best candidate for a job may be currently unemployed. But how does the job-fair strategy for hiring make sense for employers? Either HR is goofy, or HR isn’t being honest.

The alternative to job fairs: Truly unadvertised openings are in managers’ heads. Even HR doesn’t know about them yet. So skip the places where HR clerks hang out (job fairs). Instead, go where the hiring managers and their employees go: professional conferences, trade shows, and training courses. Get ahead of your competitors rather than stand behind them.

Sure, bring a resume, but first make some friends. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for the gold ring that smart headhunters reach for: insight about the person’s company and work. That’s what leads to real relationships, real personal contacts, and valuable personal referrals to hiring managers. And that’s where you will learn about unadvertised openings. (For more on this, see Meet the right people.)

Beware of the empty sales pitch

Like online job boards, job fairs are where many HR departments gleefully waste corporate recruiting budgets. Why? Because job boards and job-fair operators are very good at marketing their wares. You’ve seen the promotions: “Hire the best people! Use our service!”

It’s not a stretch to imagine this sales pitch by a job-fair operator to HR: “You can send your greenhorn clerks instead of expensive managers to the fair! Save money and still get applicants!” So HR saves money while appearing busy.

Need I say more? Thanks for sharing your story and ire. I hope your open letter draws responses from HR folks who spend money on job fairs.

Have you been to a job fair? What was your experience? If a job fair paid off for you, what’s the secret? If you work in HR, please give us the straight dope. I mean, the truth.

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“Make personal contacts to get a job? Awkward…” Get over it!

Quick Question

Thanks for your advice about meeting people and making personal contacts to get a job in Do you discriminate against employers? You should. It makes sense… except when you don’t have friends! LOL! Besides, it’s awkward!

personal contactsNick’s Quick Advice

Yeah, I know — it’s awkward to meet people to get a job. (It makes you cringe, right?) You’re in good company. And everybody in that company is wrong.

When I bring up making new personal contacts, everyone likes to excuse themselves by saying they just don’t have professional contacts, their old work buddies are long gone, no one can help them.

My answer is: Bunk.

It’s an excuse, my friend. We all learn to be lazy because we feel awkward reaching out to new people. You have to get over it.

Meeting people, making contacts, making new friends and talking shop is a skill. You learn it and practice it. (Please see I don’t know anybody.) If you don’t practice this important skill, you lose — and the job boards and online applications will not be your automated substitute for the 40-70% of jobs that are filled via personal contacts.

If you quietly fill out online job applications, you’re at the mercy of HR departments that process database records all day long while you wait for them to contact you. You already know that doesn’t work, so why do you keep pretending?

The only alternative is the one that has worked for centuries:

Personal Contacts: Go talk to people.

Meeting people to get introduced to hiring managers and new job opportunities makes sense. You know it does — but you just don’t want to think about it. I know it’s awkward for many people. So go into your bathroom, lock the door, look in the mirror. Smile at yourself for a few seconds, then scream at yourself:

PRETENDING A DATABASE IS GONNA FIND ME A JOB IS BUNK! I KNOW BETTER!

And you do.

Diddling the keyboard to find a job makes no sense at all — except to “job services” like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Monster, and every other job board. Their entire business model is based on you not finding a job, and on you returning again and again to the digital swill pot for a drink. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Those companies make more money when you can’t find a job and when employers can’t fill jobs. That’s how the employment industry works. It’s not how people get hired.

I’m not beating you up, just shaking you a bit. Please listen.

For more about making personal contacts, see “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” and “How to initiate insider contacts” in How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out when applying for a job. Until Dec. 5, 2016, you can get 40% off any Ask The Headhunter PDF book — at checkout, use discount code=MERRYATH.

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