Everyone in the advice business thinks their advice is pretty good, or why would they be doing it? (Well, never mind…) I think the advice I’ve been doling out for decades about how to find a job is solid and that it works. I base that on experience and on the outcomes I observe.
It certainly makes me feel good when a client or reader reports that my suggestions worked, but I’m even happier when they explain how they bent and shaped what they learned here to suit their needs to get the job they wanted.
That’s what I want to ask you about: How you use what you learn here from me and from one another. I got this idea from a member of our community.
How to find a job
Long-time reader Kevin Kane wrote a short article: Get Inspired: How to use Ask The Headhunter. It’s in the Guest Voices section. He discusses several key tips he’s used to win the jobs he wanted, and he suggests you consider these tips, too.
I love it when someone distills what I teach to make it easier to use. Like Kevin, I expect others in this community have “short versions” of what they’ve learned here that has worked for them — and that might be helpful to others.
Of course, I’m sure there are also ideas readers have picked up here that they tried and bombed! That’s just as important as learning about what worked. (And that’s why I often emphasize that no matter what I recommend, you must always use your own good judgment before you try it!)
How do you use Ask The Headhunter to find a job?
So, in this special edition of the newsletter, I’d like to ask you to share your own experiences and suggestions about how we find a job in this community: How do you use Ask The Headhunter?
What are some key ideas, tips and methods you’ve learned here that have worked well for you?
What have you tried that didn’t work out so well?
How have you altered and changed the advice here to suit your needs?
As you’ll see in his article, Kevin got an interesting reaction from a hiring manager after he used an Ask The Headhunter technique to “build a reputation” in the company before he even interviewed.
How have managers reacted to you when you’ve used one of the many unorthodox methods we discuss here? (I don’t expect these are all happy reports!)
How have HR departments reacted and what did you do in response?
It’s in your Comments
This all brings me around to why I’m asking you these questions. There are two reasons. One is that your answers will influence which ideas I emphasize going forward, and teach me how to do a better job helping job seekers and employers.
The other reason is that, after members of this community digest, critique and amend the advice in my columns, the best insights and advice on this website surface — in your Comments! I’m intensely proud of that. That’s why I think this can be a very important discussion. The collective wisdom in this community about how to find a job is the true value in this website.
So have at it. Please read Kevin Kane’s Get Inspired: How to use Ask The Headhunter, in the Guest Voices section. Then tell us, How do you use Ask The Headhunter to find a job? What lessons work best for you? Which ones don’t? How do you tweak what you learn here to make it better?
A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers, because they know the work best
HR (Human Resources) may be a close second — when HR actually goes out to look for and recruit workers.
But ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn and a league of database companies have succeeded in killing HR’s recruiting role — and the initiative of hiring managers.
Stripped of the function that once gave HR bragging rights for a company’s most competitive advantage — hiring great workers — HR now serves as little more than the fire hose that overwhelms companies with millions of inappropriate incoming job applications, and as the spigot that pours billions of corporate dollars into the pockets of database jockeys who know nothing about matching real people to real jobs.
Killing HR in 30 seconds
This is what the wildly successful marketing campaign to kill HR looks like:
This commercial — and others like it — have literally killed recruiting because they have replaced it in employers’ minds with a substitute that has no nutritional value.
Here’s how an HR vice president with a Fortune 50 company put it to me when the online “recruiting” industry first launched its brainwashing campaign:
“Executives from the online job boards wine and dine our top executives so relentlessly that virtually every dime of our recruiting budget now goes directly to them. I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”
A massive marketing campaign driven by database jockeys has replaced people — workers, job seekers, the actual talent — with automated streams of keywords and database records. Employers have de-funded real recruiting to the point where the task no longer has anything to do with actively pursuing, seducing, cajoling, convincing the best people to join your company.
A powerful, long-running marketing campaign has successfully sold the idea that “recruiting” no longer requires talent to do it, like other jobs require talent. “Recruiting” is now the automated churning and turning of databases. (See Job boards say they fill most jobs. Employer says “LMAO!”)
How can a 30-second commercial kill an entire profession?
The insecurity of HR
The success of this campaign to automate recruiting and bury HR is due not only to its persistence, but to the acquiescence of the HR profession itself.
With few notable exceptions, HR executives and professional associations across the board have slit HR’s throat and outsourced HR’s key job to database jockeys who have wowed them with “high tech solutions.” The HR profession as a whole was never very secure in the C-suite, and never very bright, so it folded quickly when fast-talking salespeople embarrassed its leaders with big terms like “algorithm” and “database” and “intelligent agents” and “semantic processing” — terms so misapplied and misconstrued in the HR context that they are laughable.
Loathe to admit their ignorance, HR leaders feigned excitement while their “HR consultant” brethren fed them white papers about the newest “best practices” that should be “implemented in software” immediately. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)
So, HR arrived fully brainwashed into a new era and promptly ran the talent ship aground in the shoals of the job boards, taking big parts of the economy down with it.
The brainwashing of HR
TV commercials like the one above from ZipRecruiter pound four dangerous ideas into the heads of corporate leaders, HR executives and hiring managers.
Recruiting and hiring are nasty work nobody wants to do.
Recruiting and hiring are very difficult tasks.
Nobody is good at recruiting and hiring.
ZipRecruiter (and Indeed and LinkedIn and other database companies) will do it for you if you pay them.
The trouble is, none of that is true. Those are some of the most dangerous lies ever created by marketing copy writers.
Count the lies
Recruiting and hiring are mission-critical tasks best done by you and your company — face-to-face, not by diddling a keyboard to pay a middle man who pretends to do it for you. Recruiting and hiring are so critical to your company’s mission that leaving them to firms that have no skin in the game is not only irresponsible — it’s an insane fool’s errand.
So, is it insanity or foolishness that leads employers and their HR departments to buy what the database jockeys sell under the guise of “recruiting?”
Please watch the commercial above. It’s short — 30 seconds. Here’s what the guy says:
“Hiring was always always a huge challenge. Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it. Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring. I post my job. They put it all over the web. And they send me the right people. Because their technology is smart. ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”
Count the lies.
1. “Hiring was always always a huge challenge.”
The truth: Hiring is your job; your number-one job. When ZipRecruiter characterizes hiring as something “huge” — something beyond you and your company — Zip disparages you and insults you. It also convinces you that the most important part of your job is a problem you should unload.
2. “Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it.”
The truth: If you’re spending endless hours on job sites, diddling databases, and sorting keywords, then I guarantee you have nothing to show for it — because that’s not where hires come from.
But that’s what ZipRecruiter sells — databases and keywords!
Zip, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and countless others of their ilk sell an excuse for not recruiting and hiring.
If you want something to show for your recruiting efforts, invest your time participating actively in your professional community, cultivating and meeting the movers and shakers and opinion makers who know all the best workers. Share valuable experiences with your peers and they will lead you to great people you can hire. No one ever wasted their time talking with peers.
3. “Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring.”
The truth: This is the biggest lie. ZipRecruiter and its ilk have not figured out hiring. They figured out their own business plan: how to make money.
The marketing trick is to convince you they are on your side, helping you do your job. But spend 10 seconds thinking about the business model behind these operations and you will see the blinding flash of the obvious:
These companies make money when you do not fill jobs.
They make money when you keep searching their databases looking for hires.
If ZipRecruiter had figured out hiring, its home page and its marketing would blare out audited metrics about employers’ success rates when they pay Zip for lists of job seekers. But that’s not what Zip has figured out, and it’s not what Zip is selling you or what you’re paying for.
Here’s what ZipRecruiter blares out on its website — this is what your company is paying for:
ZipRecruiter makes money when you keep paying for job applications — not when you fill jobs. I can find no metrics on Zip’s website and no evidence that ZipRecruiter has “figured out hiring.”
If you work in HR and this strikes you as an unreasonable criticism, call me when ZipRecruiter starts charging you only for the applicants you actually hire.
4. “I post my job. They put it all over the web.”
The truth: If you work in HR, or if you’re a hiring manager — you know, one of those people who pays ZipRecruiter to deliver millions of candidate applications — you can put your job posting all over the web yourself. While it’s true Zip does that, too, you don’t need it. The secret sauce of the web is that it’s designed so anyone can find anyone else easily.
Why would any HR manager with a brain want their job opening posted “all over the web?” What you get for that is 49,106,149 candidate applications. Is that what you really want? Because more is not better. Perhaps the single biggest talent problem HR faces today is overload. Having access to every resume on the planet — but no way to find actual people — has resulted in a kind of catatonia that HR executives disingenuously refer to as “the talent shortage.”
5. “And they send me the right people.”
The truth: ZipRecruiter makes no claims about how often it sends employers “the right people.” That’s left to the actor playing the restaurant owner in the commercial.
Let’s do a reality check. Not to pick on ZipRecruiter alone, let’s check another major “online recruiting service,” Jobvite.
In an April 4, 2018 press release Jobvite “announced that it has surpassed one million jobs filled, with 270,000 hires in 2017 alone.” Then it claims, “Nearly 54 million jobseekers [sic] visited a Jobvite-powered hiring website in the past year.”
We’re looking for success metrics. Do the math. 270,000/54 million is 0.5% — a one-half of one percent success rate for job seekers. While one might argue that there cannot possibly be a job for every job seeker, the more evident problem is that a robustly designed system should not indiscriminately snort 53,730,000 job seekers just so it can spit out a fraction of 1% into jobs.
Finding the best people to recruit is not a database problem.
Hiring is not a database problem.
Let’s do another reality check. ZipRecruiter claims it has “over 8 million jobs.” The U.S. Department of Labor reported on June 5, 2018 that there were only 6.7 million jobs available during the month of April. Ask any job seeker — they already know something is very wrong with all those job postings.
Let’s ask the restaurateur, just who are the “right people” for 1.3 million non-existent jobs?
6. “Because their technology is smart.”
The truth: The manager in the commercial closes his laptop after apparently posting a job.
How has ZipRecruiter solved his “huge challenge” of hiring so quickly? How has Zip made it so easy for him to find talent?
It’s frighteningly stupid. Zip has eliminated the very best filters in the hiring process. Zip has cut out all the humans with specialized training in Human Resources, Engineering, Finance, the restaurant business, and a multitude of other professional disciplines — all the humans who are qualified to judge the myriad qualities that make the best candidate special. None of them are needed in this business model. Zip has made it all easier by replacing expert judgment with recruiting technology so trivial it has generated a false talent shortage.
Yep, the truth is, all you folks in HR are superfluous. All your company needs is someone in Accounting to make an automatic payment to ZipRecruiter, Jobvite, and any of the other databases loaded with millions of job seekers. (See HR’s submission to ZipRecruiter.)
Ask any job seeker. They’ll tell you they feel like a drop of water in a fire hose turned on employers — one of the 49,106,149 applicants delivered in the sales pitch Zip makes to employers.
Except when Zip promises just the one right person, delivered the same day.
7. “ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”
The truth: ZipRecruiter doesn’t dare tell you just how often the woman in the video — who just waltzed into the restaurant — gets hired. (The marketing magic implies she gets hired instantly, the first time.)
Zip offers no success-rate metrics (audited or otherwise) about hiring or getting hired. The guy in the commercial does that.
ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture funding for his company (see recode), valuing it at close to $1 billion. While he offers no explanation on his website about how he finds jobs for people — or how he fills jobs for employers that pay him to deliver tens of millions of job applications — he says he wakes up every day thinking about it.
I think he wakes up each day counting the HR departments he has laid to rest while their recruiting budgets have been redirected to his coffers. I’d like to introduce him to the former HR executive who told me, “I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”
If Siegel and his ilk are to be recognized for anything, it’s for a business model that produces profits without results. They have designed marketing campaigns that have killed off HR and what was once known as recruiting.
They don’t make money when jobs are filled. They make money when you don’t fill jobs and don’t get hired. Their business model requires that you keep paying to search their databases.
If HR is going to be brought back to life, it has to remove its recruiting prosthetics, shake off the ZipRecruiters and Indeeds that are sucking its blood, and flex its hiring muscles again. A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers and a healthy, robust HR department.
I just showed you a TV commercial that I think undermines and insults HR professionals, hiring managers and business owners by trivializing one of the most critical tasks in any business — hiring. But ZipRecruiter is not alone. We’ve discussed the stunning failures of Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder and TheLadders, among others.
Here’s another example of a commercial that kills HR — from Indeed. Can you find the holes in this “#1 job site” and explain to us how the commercial corrupts HR and undermines effective recruiting, hiring and job hunting? Or am I unreasonable and nuts?
Is HR really dead? Is real recruiting a dead art? Are these commercials a marketing plot to undermine the hiring process so database jockeys can profit from the resulting mess? Maybe you think our modern hiring systems are just fine. If you think some other bugaboo makes it unreasonably hard to hire and get hired, please tell us what it is.
In a recent column, The worst job hunting advice ever, an HR manager beat me up for giving out bad advice. Then a reader — Kevin — took off on a really interesting tangent in the comments section about how he finds work.
Mo’ betta than that, Kevin listed how he got every job he’s had.
Not to be outdone, reader VP Sales posted a list, too — and suggested I should do a column where we take a deep dive into this question. (Here ya go, VP!)
How’d you find your jobs? All your jobs.
Where Kevin’s jobs came from
One frustration that I have is that it is much easier to get ahead in one’s career by taking new jobs rather than doing different things for the same company for a long time. Having that sense of history and solid experience is priceless.
So in response the this article I thought about the different ways I have found jobs. You will see references to newspaper classified ads – that was one way to find a job when I graduated from college in 1989. The list for my job search is as follows.
Job Fair (first job out of college with move)
Professional journal ad
Golfing buddy of a friend
Placement firm (a very good headhunter)
Internet ad (contract work)
Contract work at job where placed with placement firm previously
Placement firm (same one as before)
Former girlfriend (with wife’s approval and huge raise)
Corporate Application Tracking System (current job)
LinkedIn search (possible new job)
My whole point is that some of these jobs have been absolutely great, and some were bad – it did not matter how I found the job. If this looks like a lot of employers, remember that I am 52.
Where VP Sales’ jobs came from
Well, Nick needs to make a new thread on this. Here’s how I got all my jobs starting in high school in the 1970s.
VP Sales’ List
Pushed my way into news photography with a daily newspaper
Graduate student referral to another department
Graduate student hire into industry
(Break for grad school)
Return to chemical industry job above for temp work
Hustled my way into first sales job by calling hiring manager in area for product demo
(Insert 20 year career in sales and sales management)
Got fired. No, wait, I fired them. Went off on my own in 2008 charging them 6x more than they paid me for telling them how not to make the same mistakes.
Where Nick’s jobs came from
Okay, I’m gonna play, too… Like VP Sales, I’ll start in high school, also in the 70s.
My uncle hired me to work in his diner
Buddy recommended me when another guy quit (grounds work)
College career center job posting (assembling Barbie campers, Mattel factory)
Newspaper ad (factory, making Head tennis racquets)
Professor recommendation (monkey lab at college)
Professor’s next recommendation (Bell Labs)
A newspaper ad (first headhunting job)
Manager who quit that job invited me to start our own business
Called president of a company, told him I was starting a competing business, so he hired me (didn’t tell him til years later I set him up)
A sales rep told his customer if she didn’t hire me, I’d go work for her competitor
Chucked it all and started my own business again
Note that nobody named any job boards. (Hah — what’s that mean?)
Where did your jobs come from?
What’s your list? How’d you find all your jobs, in order please! You don’t have to list your jobs by name, unless you really want to, or any other details — just tell us how you really got them!
(It occurred to me that this could be a poll attached to a database so we can analyze the results, but there are so many interesting vectors that lead people to their jobs that I doubt it would work. If anyone has a good idea about how to analyze the data, let’s hear it!)
Are there any trends here? Do some sources of jobs (I like to think of them as vectors) stand out? Is there a meaningful shift in where your jobs came from over time, as you developed your career?
You must get a lot of horror stories about job interviews. I’ve got some of my own, of course, but I’d love to know, what’s the worst you’ve heard?
Ah, don’t bait me or I’ll start and won’t be able to stop! You’re right, I’ve heard some doozies — some of them from candidates I’ve sent to my own clients over the years. (On more than one of those occasions, I had to fire the client. That is, the employer!)
At the end of last year, as I was getting ready to put Ask The Headhunter down for a long winter’s nap so I could bake cookies (anybody know what Greek koulouria are?), put up Christmas lights and enjoy visions of sugar plums, I found a great little gift from Remy Porter that I’ve been meaning to share with you. This story also ended with someone getting fired! Needless to say, I’m putting it out there as bait, too — I’m hoping it’ll attract some of your interview war stories.
Crazed interviewers on the loose
Porter produces The Daily WTF (wish I’d thought of that!), a “how-not-to guide for developing software.” He’s a veteran developer himself, so he’s got the kind of edge I like.
The Interview Gauntlet is required reading for all employers and job hunters, not just those in the world of software. It’s about how a technical job applicant handled a series of ridiculous interview questions and the crazed interviewers behind them. This could happen to anyone interviewing for a job — and it probably has. So please listen up, because it teaches an important lesson most are loathe to learn.
Never tolerate a job interview that’s a gauntlet wherein interviewers beat you with paddles.
Irving’s wrong interview questions
If you’re an employer, you might have done something equally stupid as what Irving, a software director, did to Natasha, an earnest candidate who showed up to interview for a User Interface Developer job. (UI developers program the “look and feel” of a software application to ensure the user has a good experience.) One wonders how employers come up with so many wrong questions to ask job applicants. (Need examples? See Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1-#5 and A stupid interview question to ask a woman.)
I’ll let Porter tell set this up. He does it so well.
After [Natasha survived a] gauntlet of seemingly pointless questions, it was Irving’s turn. His mood hadn’t improved, and he had no intention of asking her anything relevant. His first question was: “Tell me, Natasha, how would you estimate the weight of the Earth?”
“Um… don’t you mean mass?”
Irving grunted and shrugged. He didn’t say, “I don’t like smart-asses” out loud, but it was pretty clear that’s what he thought about her question.
Off balance, she stumbled through a reply about estimating the relative components that make up the Earth, their densities, and the size of the Earth. Irving pressed her on that answer, and she eventually sputtered something about a spring scale with a known mass, and Newton’s law of gravitation.
He still didn’t seem satisfied, but Irving had other questions to ask. “How many people are in the world?” “Why is the sky blue?” “How many turkeys would it take to fill this space?”
After patiently fielding one confrontational question after another from a line of technical interviewers, and after Software Director Irving rudely snapped at her, Natasha finally bit back and fired them all.
She walked out of the job interview.
Interviewers are not your boss
Job applicants often forget — in the pressure-cooker of the job interview — that the interviewer is not yet their boss. The immediate job of a manager like Irving is to fill the job you’re interviewing for, or they’ve failed. When a job candidate ends the interview, the interviewer has failed.
Irving failed when he told Natasha that her attitude and behavior revealed she wasn’t a fit for the team.
“So I’ve heard,” Natasha said. “And I don’t think this team’s a good fit for me. None of the questions I’ve fielded today really have anything to do with the job I applied for.”
That was the best answer to the entire interview, because Software Director Irving failed to demonstrate he was qualified to be Natasha’s boss. He didn’t earn it.
Errant interviewers get fired
Natasha’s story is distressing because it happens every day, with the result that good, sincere job applicants realize they’re wasting their time. Such silly, unprofessional employer behavior is why important jobs go unfilled. (This entire embarrassing episode could have been avoided if Irving and his team had asked Natasha The one, single best interview question ever.)
When a patient but forthright job applicant finally snapped, we see that the employers in this story revealed themselves to be little more than schoolyard bullies pretending to be interviewers.
Natasha displayed amazing presence of mind and candor. I wound up laughing because six self-righteous techies and their boss probably still don’t realize Natasha was interviewing them — not the other way around.
They got fired.
Many thanks to Remy Porter for telling this wonderfully snarky story, and compliments to Natasha for thrashing the director. I intentionally left out the best part, at the end of his column. But I’ll offer you this caution: If you go read it, deja vu may strike you down!
If you’d been in Natasha’s place, what would you have done? Was Natasha wrong? Could the interview have been salvaged? Did you go read what they finally told Natasha about the job she thought she was interviewing for? Or, can you top this? (I can’t help it. Pile on!)
I am a manager looking for reasons why candidates that apply for my jobs either:
Don’t respond when I reach out to schedule an interview, or
Don’t show up for an interview.
You often write about how irresponsibly employers, HR and recruiters behave toward job applicants. [SeeHow HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.] I don’t disagree, but it appears that there’s some fishiness happening on both sides of this. Why do you think candidates don’t respond and don’t show up? Aren’t they just hurting themselves?
I agree with you. Candidates hurt themselves when they apply to jobs or when you reach out to them, but then fail to follow up or show up. But often they’re not hurting themselves for the reasons you think.
Their real mistake is applying for jobs they don’t really want or care about. The people who are ignoring you have responded to cattle-call recruiting, and I’m afraid that’s on you — and on all employers that rely on it.
The problem with recruiting via job boards
The way the employment system works encourages people to apply for virtually any job that pops up in front of them. That’s the behavior you’re encouraging when you — as an employer — post your jobs on huge job boards where anyone and everyone can easily click and gamble. The system encourages people to apply to all the jobs they can. That’s how job boards like CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, Indeed and others make money.
Is it any wonder the job applicants you’re puzzled about get fed up? The system dulls their motivation because it conditions them to a 99.9% failure rate. And if the job you’re contacting them about is a marginal one anyway — one they just clicked on for the heck of it — then if they’ve got a really interesting opportunity cooking, you’re just a bother.
How the system fails employers and job seekers
If you’re using job boards to solicit applicants, most of them are probably applying blindly, just because they saw the posting, not because it’s a job they really want. They apply to so many jobs this way that they just can’t keep up — or, by the time you get in touch, they’ve moved on. That’s why many are ignoring you. This is how the employment system fails you.
The problem is that when employers solicit so broadly from the pool of “everyone out there,” the rate of failure is virtually guaranteed to be huge.
Recruiting right requires work
My suggestion is, don’t solicit widely by using job boards. Figure out where the best potential candidates hang out. Carefully identify the people you’d really like to interview — and go look for them in those narrow hangouts. I think your hit rate will go up dramatically. Do the work to recruit right. (See Recruiting: How to get your hands dirty and hire.)
For example, if you’re recruiting programmers, go to a conference or training program where the kinds of specialized programmers you want congregate. This takes work, but of course it does. The automated method you’re using takes almost no work — and that’s why it doesn’t work.
I know that posting on job boards is what employers do. LinkedIn, Indeed, Zip make it seem so easy and they promise they will take care of everything. That’s nonsense. Please consider this: Job boards make money only when job seekers keep job hunting and when employers do not fill jobs. Everyone keeps spinning the roulette wheel. Only “the house” wins.
People who respond to cattle calls are not likely to be the people you want to hire. So please, employers — stop issuing cattle calls!
Do you ever ignore employers or blow off job interviews? Does the system dull your motivation? What can employers do better to hire the right people?
Job hunting has become incredibly frustrating. I have always said HR should never screen candidates, but it is reality and I have to face it. I am looking for a job and can’t get past the initial screening. People hiring for jobs I have done won’t talk to me. I just started using Jobscan to try to get through the initial screening. The word-match is ridiculous, but again it is reality.
Why do companies still rely on HR to scan resumes? It has never been a good idea and now with software to do word matches, it is even worse. Any great ideas on how to change the corporate mentality so top management will tell hiring managers they need to screen the resumes themselves?
If the hiring managers say they are too busy, that tells me they are not good at their jobs or don’t know what they want and are unable to produce good job descriptions. I find they also screen for academic background and professional licenses when those are not needed. For example, I am not a CPA, but have an MBA. Unless I am signing off an audit, it should not matter. I have cleaned up many messes from CPAs who could not function in an operating company.
Any ideas on how to change hiring mindsets?
Why do people persist in trying to change other people’s mindsets? Change your own mindset. That in turn will allow you to change your behavior. Only your own behavior is going to enable you to change the outcome of your job hunting efforts.
“You have to face it” is a great fallacy that the HR profession and the employment industry (Indeed, LinkedIn, etc.) market and sell to us every day. It’s bunk, yet some of the smartest people still accept it.
There is no mountain when you’re job hunting.
There is no way to beat a system that is designed to make managers avoid talking to the people they need to hire. But don’t let that stop you.
There’s an old Zen koan: A novice goes to the master and says, “Master, I have tried to climb the mountain. It is too big. I have tried to go around the mountain. It is too wide. What shall I do?”
The master says, “Grasshopper (it’s always Grasshopper, right?), there is no mountain.”
Understanding this is the start of changing yourself.
Reject what you know is wrong.
When you cannot change the job hunting system, reject the system. Realize that the silly methods employers use to isolate managers from you is nothing more than a consensus of HR people who are wrong.
The system hurts you only if you accept and acknowledge it. You don’t have to accept the system. The stunning truth is that this silly system hurts employers, too. It results in enormous, unacceptable rejection rates in recruiting and hiring. When HR rejects so many people, somebody’s doing it wrong!
Stop expending energy on HR, screenings and obstacles. Invest all your time in finding, getting introduced to, and talking with managers. Don’t be intimidated by this. It’s a challenge like any other challenge you’ve faced in your work.
Focus on the right objective.
Remember that HR doesn’t hire anyone. It processes applicants. Only managers hire. So, focus on the correct objective — the hiring manager — even if HR warns you not to. This means you must change your objective, which means changing your mindset.
Throw out your old job hunting playbook. (And forget about using Jobscan to diddle your resume!) If you have to get to the manager (and you do), what are the steps? Work it out. It’s no bigger a challenge than anything else you’ve faced in your work. The nice thing is, you’ll encounter virtually no competition because everyone else is standing in line at HR’s door!
People in power depend on us to believe they control everything and that we cannot control anything. I think such brainwashing is the real source of your job hunting frustration.
Please: Accept the fact that all your other observations are correct. Don’t fight your own good judgment. Instead, act on it. Don’t worry about “changing hiring mindsets.” Don’t let HR screen you. Approach managers from directions that do not involve “the mountain.”
Don’t worry about HR. Let HR worry about you.
What obstacles keep you from talking directly to hiring managers? How do you get to the hiring manager?
You’ve probably already read this on Slate. Three economists conducted a study that asks, Why Is It So Hard for Americans to Get a Decent Raise? (The paper is only in draft form so Slate includes no link to it.) I think your readers might have some interesting things to say about whether there’s a job monopoly that controls their pay.
Here are the key points:
“Workers’ pay may be lagging because the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of employers.”
“A lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay.”
In other words, in areas where there are only one or two companies posting a certain kind of job (e.g., delivery van drivers in Selma, Alabama), pay for those jobs has stagnated or declined. They call this monopsony. Like a monopolist that controls prices because it controls supply of a product or service, a monopsonist company controls pay unfairly because it controls the supply of certain jobs.
But I think it’s far worse. (You’ve already touched on this before in your article Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy.) I wonder if those economists are taking into account all those “consulting firms” — middlemen who provide, say, most of the computer programmers to several employers in an area — that create further aggregation of hiring entities who would otherwise be competitive.
What do you say about this? What does everyone on Ask The Headhunter think about it?
Wow, that’s one cool new word for our vocabulary: Monopsonist. It opens up a whole new world of worry!
Consulting firms and the job monopoly
I don’t think there’s any question that a handful of “consulting firms” that funnel workers to lots of companies in a particular industry, field or discipline constitute a job monopoly that kills competitive pay. I suspect your insightful guess is correct: The consulting industry is aggregating jobs and labor, thereby controlling — and depressing — pay. It wouldn’t surprise me if those economists totally miss the consulting-firm factor. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)
The economists should ask workers who get their jobs via these aggregators, what is the difference between what a consulting firms pays them, and what the firm charges an employer for them. That’s never disclosed, and that’s the dirty little secret of the corporate world — and our economy. (We’ve looked at another topic that economists seem to view with blinders on: What the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters.)
But there are other issues and questions, too.
While I could ruminate for pages about what this means to workers and job seekers, and to our economy, I’m going to respect your request and roll this out to our community, in the form of a bunch of questions the article raises for me. Let’s see how everyone views this — and what questions and answers they’ve got.
I strongly suggest that everyone reading this column stop right here, and please read the Slate article before proceeding. It’s a worthy read — and I think it’ll get up your ire after it raises your eyebrows!
Are the data legit?
The Slate article by Jordan Weissmann raises a lot of questions, and not least of them is one about methodology.
The economists’ data set comes from CareerBuilder, “which publishes about one-third of all online job ads in the country.” Talk about an aggregator! What assumptions are those economists making about the validity and reliability of a major job board’s data, which comprises job listings that we all know are corrupt in more ways than we can count? (E.g., duplicate jobs, out of date jobs, fake jobs, composite jobs, inaccurate job descriptions, and so on.)
Questions about monopolistic pay practices
Nonetheless, the study raises provocative questions whether or not the data are legit.
In what other ways do employers monopolize a job market?
How do employers that are rolling in new-found profits explain this quote from the article?
“Since 1979, inflation-adjusted hourly pay is up just 3.41 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans while labor’s overall share of national income has declined sharply since the early 2000s.”
What other employment practices “[cut] into labor’s share of the economy?”
Questions about anti-trust
Should the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission investigate monopsony like it routinely investigates monopoly?
“Then there’s antitrust… This paper’s findings suggest that Washington needs to think more carefully about how mergers can impact the job market.”
Questions about minimum wage policy
Does the following assertion turn our entire political debate about wages on its ear?
“Take the minimum wage. The classic argument against increasing the pay floor is that it will kill jobs by making hiring more costly than it’s worth. But in a monopsony-afflicted world where companies can artificially depress wages, a higher minimum shouldn’t hurt employment, because it will just force employers to pay workers more in line with the value they produce.”
Is hiring no longer competitive?
Weissmann closes on this point:
“We’re living in an era of industry consolidation. That’s not going away in the foreseeable future. And workers can’t ask for fair pay if there aren’t enough businesses out there competing to hire.”
I’ll bring it back around to the insight (offered by the reader who kindly brought all this to our attention) about “consulting firms.” (I put that in quotation marks because most of these firms don’t consult at all — they merely rent workers for profit.)
To what extent does consolidation of hiring by a relatively small number of body shops (I think body shops is the more accurate moniker) result in manipulation of pay?
And who’s going to do anything about it?
Okay, folks: Have at it! Is there a growing monopoly on jobs that affects pay? How does it work? What do you think about all this? What questions do you have that we can all try to tackle?
Several companies and recruiters in the past year have reached out to me on LinkedIn regarding job opportunities. They do phone screens, tell me how great my experience is, love my ideas … then radio silence.
I believe some HR reps and recruiters are using LinkedIn as part of their due diligence process. They already have a final candidate in mind, but they want to be able to tell their employer or client that they have chosen the person from a selection of prospects — and I’m one of their fibs.
It’s impossible to tell which of these recruiters are for real until I either get the interview or get dissed. How can I figure it out faster and avoid wasting time with phony phone screens?
Recruiters and HR reps don’t just do this as cover, to pretend they’ve got more candidates so they can fib to their bosses or clients. (But doesn’t that give the lie to claims that Linked and other online sources make it possible to interview more good candidates?)
LinkedIn also makes it instantly easy for recruiters and HR to check off Equal Opportunity boxes fraudulently. “Look, we recruited three women and three people of color!”
The technology is abused in more ways than we know. But I think your real question is, how can you instantly separate the tire-kickers from someone who might really have a job for you?
If an employer gushes and expresses the sentiment that you’re so great, why not test them on the spot?
How to Say It: Are you serious?
“If you’re serious, then schedule a face-to-face meeting and I’ll come in to talk.”
If they defer, then really test them. Take a more aggressive approach, since the odds now are that they’re tire-kickers:
How to Follow Up “Thanks, I’m flattered, but please don’t waste my time if you’re not ready to act to fill the job.”
This sort of approach terrifies most people. What if the recruiter is offended and this costs you an opportunity? Well, what of it? If a recruiter or HR rep isn’t taking action, they’re being offensive. Leading someone on is not a skill. It’s a revelation of ineptitude that job seekers see almost every day. (See Job Spam: 6 tip-offs save you hundreds of hours!)
If the recruiter presses you for a phone screen, test them some more. Just say you don’t do phone screens.
How to Say It: No phone screens
“No offense, but if a recruiter doesn’t see a clear match, I don’t have time for phone screens. I would be glad, however, to invest as much time as a hiring manager needs to talk face-to-face about how I can do the job profitably.”
Any recruiter who won’t do that is not serious, and your experience (that’s why you wrote to me) already confirms you know that. Telling you how great you are and how much they love your ideas without taking the next step is frankly puerile. They should be fired for wasting valuable time blowing smoke. Their job is to schedule interviews so jobs can get filled. (Even if you advance from an HR phone screen to a phone screen with an actual hiring manager, you’ve at least moved the ball down the field. Use these tips to decide How and when to reject a job interview.)
I think we all know that most HR reps and recruiters lack confidence, judgement and skill. (To those who are better than that, stand up and be counted!) Pretending that a tire-kicker is going to give you a ride is not a reasonable way to spend your own time. The best thing you can do is test the recruiter so you can move on quickly — or get an interview if they’re legit.
Your challenge is to learn all you can before you commit hours and hours of time to delivering a resume, attending interviews, filling out forms, calling for updates and agonizing over whether you’ll be chosen.
Don’t be afraid: A legitimate headhunter [or recruiter or HR rep] will not hang up on you because you behave like a prudent business person. A good headhunter wants to know that you are enthusiastic, but also smart and careful. If a headhunter [or HR rep] gets testy, end the call, because his objective is to control you, not to recruit you.
The serious headhunter will have already qualified you — or he wouldn’t be calling. Please remember that. You should detect that the headhunter already recognizes you when you begin your conversation. [That is, the recruiter has done a level of homework to vet you in advance, otherwise, why are they contacting you?]
I think there’s nothing to lose in this approach but aggravation! And at least it puts you in control, which will make you a more potent (and serious) job seeker.
This is indeed an assertive approach — it’s not for everyone, so please use your judgement. Perhaps it will give you some courage and ideas of your own that you can try comfortably.
So here’s my question to you. Do you use a recruiter’s first contact to test them? How do you judge whether an “opportunity” is real? How do you say it? Let’s have some provocative suggestions and tips that might help others move the ball — and avoid wasting their time!
Interviews I had for the last three jobs I applied for all went great. I got compliments from the hiring managers, all the team members who interviewed me, and even from HR. Especially from HR! On two of the jobs the HR managers told me they were going to recommend I be hired. So what’s the problem? I’ve gotten no offers from any of these employers!
I know I’m killing the interviews. I follow all your main tips. I show how I’ll do the work. I talk about how I’ll add to profitability. I ask for live problems to show how I’d handle them. But nada. I walk out of those meetings all pumped, but no offers! What am I missing?
This is easy. You’ve already done the hard parts.
Make it clear you want the job.
I’m going to explain this straight from my book, Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing the interview to win the job. (The book is out of print, but I’m working on a new edition. Many of the concepts and methods in that book can be found in the Fearless Job Hunting books.)
All too often, a candidate for a job leaves the interview convinced he (or she, of course) did well. He wants the job and thinks the interviewer knows it. But he has not explicitly expressed his commitment. This can be a fatal mistake.
The interviewer knows you want the job only if you say you want the job.
It doesn’t matter what comments you successfully “slipped into the conversation” to make him think you want the job. You have to tell him.
Tell the manager you want to get married.
Let me try to explain this another way. My wife would never have accepted my marriage proposal if I hadn’t come out and explicitly told her, “I love you.” Similarly, I would never hire someone who didn’t specifically come out and tell me he wanted to work with me. That they love me. We all need to hear a commitment.
Make the commitment.
The manager needs to hear it.
Keep in mind that until a company makes you an offer, the ball is not in your court. You have no real decision to make until an offer is presented to you. Completing an interview without letting the interviewer know you want an offer is like playing basketball without ever taking a shot at the basket. You can’t just dribble and pass. You have to shoot.
If you would consider an offer from the company, you must say so.
The manager doesn’t expect you’ll accept an offer on the spot. But she would like to know how motivated you are to do the work and to work together. Most interviewers will never ask you. They want you to take the initiative and tell them.
If you want to hear a job offer, make a commitment at the end of the interview. If you want the job (assuming the offer is right), say so — because other good candidates won’t bother.
How to Say It
Look the manager directly in the eye and maintain eye contact as you say this:
“I want this job. I hope I have convinced you that I can do it, and do it well. I want to work on your team. I would seriously consider an offer from you.”
It is perfectly legitimate to turn down an offer for a job you really want, if the offer isn’t acceptable and you can’t negotiate a mutually acceptable deal.
Stand Out: Say the words.
If you’re killing the interviews like you say you are, you’re way ahead of the game. But if then the employer doesn’t make you an offer, something’s missing: You failed to offer the commitment that distinguishes a capable candidate from a motivated one. (If you’re a job seeker who doesn’t stand out, learn how to Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition)).
Should you win that offer by telling the employer you want to get married? Of course not. Just say you want to work together — that you want the job!
At the end of the job interview, what do you say to close the deal? Does it work? Is it as good as a marriage proposal?
I’ve been reading Ask The Headhunter all year long. I read The Basics, but as a year-end favor, would you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter secrets and highlight some of the most important parts? Help me understand the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks and happy holidays!
Anyone who’s been around Ask The Headhunter for a while knows this question often comes up around December. But there are no secrets! The ATH strategy is spread across this website, in the free weekly e-mail newsletter (This is the 700th edition! Please subscribe!) and in my PDF books. But I’ll try to summarize by sharing some of my tips, in the form of reprints straight from the books.
I’ve selected sections that should be helpful by themselves, and I hope they get you off on the right foot. If you’d like more details that are beyond the scope of this column, please check the links.
Here’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell:
You want secrets? Find the right job!
1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do— people who are very good at it. Insiders are the first to know about good opportunities, but they only tell other insiders.
To get into an inside circle of people, you must earn your way. It takes time. You can’t fake it, and that’s good, because who wants to promote (or hire) the unknown? Here’s how the distinction works.
Don’t speculate for a job The way most people network for a job smacks of day trading in the stock market. The networker has no interest in the people or companies she’s “investing” in. She just wants a quick profit. She skims the surface of an industry or profession, trying to find easy contacts that might pay off quickly.
When you encounter an opportunistic networker, you’ll find that she listens carefully to the useful information you give her, but once you’re done helping, she’s not interested in you any more. She might drop some tidbits your way, but don’t expect her to remember you next week.
Invest in relationships
Contrast this to someone who reads about your company and calls to discuss how you applied new methods to produce new results. She’s interested in your work and stays in touch with you, perhaps sending an article about a related topic after you’ve talked. She’s investing in a potentially valuable relationship.
This initial contact might prompt you one day to call your newfound friend for advice, or to visit her company’s booth at the next trade show and introduce yourself. Maybe it never goes beyond that or maybe one day you’ll work together. The point is, after a time you become familiar to one another. You become members of one another’s circle. You’ll help one another because you’re friends, not “because it will pay off later.”
The methods in How Can I Change Careers? are not just for career changers — they are for anyone changing jobs that wants to stand out to a hiring manager as the profitable hire.
Get the interview… but there are no secrets!
2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts. Between 40-70% of jobs are filled that way. Yet people and employers fail to capitalize on this simple employment channel. They pretend there’s some better system — like job boards (or secrets). That’s bunk. There is nothing more powerful than a respected peer putting her good name on the line to recommend you. Deals close faster when the quality of information is high and the source of information is trusted. That’s why it takes forever to get a response when you apply “blind” to a job posting.
How can you get interviews via the insiders who have the power to recommend you? I once gave some advice to a U.S. Army veteran who had just returned home from overseas duty and wanted to start a career in the home building industry. This method works in virtually any line of work.
Pick the two or three best builders in your area; ones you’d really like to work for. They may not be the biggest, but they should be the ones you have a real affinity for. Find out who finances their projects. This is pretty easy — the name of the bank is often posted at the work site.
Then go visit the bank. Ask which vice president handles the relationship with your target company. Then sit down and explain that you are evaluating various companies in your town because you want to make a career investment… After you make your brief statement, let the banker talk. You will get a picture of the entire building industry in your area. Your goal, at the end of the meeting, is to make a judgment about which companies are the best. Ask the banker if he could recommend someone for you to talk with at each company. Then, ask permission to use his name when you contact them. This is how you pursue companies rather than just jobs.
So, don’t just send a resume. Figure out who the company’s customers, vendors, consultants and bankers are — and talk to them. It’s how smart business people do smart business with a company: by talking to people that the company trusts.
Stand and deliver
3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you. Everything else is stuff, nonsense and a bureaucratic waste of time. Don’t believe me? Ask any good manager, “Would you rather talk to 10 job applicants, or meet just one person who explains how she will boost your company’s profitability?” I have no doubt what the answer is.
The idea of showing how you’ll pay off to an employer intimidates some people. But it’s really simple, once you get out of the mindset of the job applicant and start thinking like a business person.
Estimate your impact to the bottom line If the work you do is overhead and mostly affects costs: Do you shave two minutes off each customer service call you handle? Have you figured out a way to get projects done 20% faster? Multiply this by the hourly wage or by the salary. The savings are just one part of the profit you contribute. Get the idea? I’m simplifying, but few of your competitors will offer any estimates at all. This gives you a good, honest story to tell the employer about how you will contribute to the success of the business. It gives you an edge.
If the job affects revenue, try to quantify the impact. Your estimate may not be accurate, simply because you don’t have all the relevant information at your fingertips, but you must be able to defend your calculations. Run it by someone you trust who knows the business, then present it to your boss or to your prospective boss. You can even present your estimates in the interview, and ask the employer how you might make them more accurate. This can be a very effective ice breaker.
If you can’t demonstrate how you will contribute to the bottom line, then be honest with yourself: Why should the employer hire you? Or, why should your employer keep you?
Employers don’t pay for interview skills. They pay for your work skills. The rare job candidate is ready to discuss how he or she will do the job profitably. That’s who stands out, and it’s who gets hired.
Profit from headhunters
4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start. Hang up on the unsavory charlatans and work only with headhunters who treat you with respect from the start.
If you’re not sure how to qualify a headhunter, when the headhunter calls you, here’s how to say it:
How to Say It
“If we work together, you will check my references and learn a lot about me so you can judge me. But likewise, I need to know about you, too. I’d be putting my career in your hands. Would you please share a few references? I will of course keep the names you provide confidential, just as I expect you will keep the names I give you.”
Don’t waste time with headhunters who don’t demonstrate high standards of behavior. Sharing references is test #1.
Then, instead of “pitching” yourself to the headhunter, be still and listen patiently to understand the headhunter’s objective. Proceed only if you really believe you’re a match. Then show why you’re the headhunter’s #1 candidate by outlining how you will do the job profitably for his client. Headhunters adopt candidates who make the headhunter’s job easier, and who help the headhunter fill the assignment quickly. (Coda: If you follow suggestions 1-3 carefully, you won’t need to rely on a headhunter. But if you’re lucky enough to be recruited, you need to know How to Work with Headhunters.)
That’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell.
Why ATH works
You ask what is the main difference between ATH and the traditional approach. It’s pretty simple. The traditional approach is “shotgun.” You blast away at companies with your resume and wait to hear from someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you. Lotsa luck. (ATH regulars know that I never actually wish anyone luck, because I don’t believe in it. I believe in doing the hard work required to succeed.)
ATH is a carefully targeted approach. You must select the companies and jobs you want. It takes a lot of preparation to accomplish the simple task in item (3).
Please read my lips:
There are no shortcuts.
No one can do it for you. (Nope, not even headhunters, not even job boards, not even algorithms created by database jockeys.)
If you aren’t prepared to do it right, then you have no business applying for the job, and the manager would be a fool to hire you.
How to be the stand-out candidate
I’ll leave you with a scenario that illustrates why the traditional methods don’t work well. You walk up to a manager. You hand her your resume — your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments, your keywords, your carefully crafted “marketing piece.” Now, what are you really saying to that manager?
“Here. Read this. Thenyou go figure out what the heck to do with me.”
Managers stink at figuring that out. You have to explain it to them, if you expect to stand out and to get hired. Do you really expect someone to decipher your resume and figure out what to do with you? America’s entire employment system fails you every day because it’s based on that passive mindset.
The job candidate who uses the Ask The Headhunter approach keeps the resume in his pocket and says to the manager, “Let me show you what I’m going to do to make your business more successful and more profitable.” Then he outlines his plan — without giving away too much.
That’s who you’re competing with, whether he learned this approach from me or whether it’s just his common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:
“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”
I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2017. The newsletter and the website will be on hiatus for two weeks while I take a vacation! See you with the next edition on January 9! Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very MerryChristmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!
How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What other methods of your own have worked well for you? (Did anything you did shock, awe or surprise an employer?)