How To Say It: I don’t do phone screens with HR

In the January 16, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets tired of recruiters and HR reps who want to do phone screens, then do nothing.

Question

phone screensSeveral 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?

Nick’s Reply

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.

Some insight from my book

Here’s a tip from the “Talking to Headhunters” section of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 66. When a recruiter or HR rep reaches out to you:

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!

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3 Anti-Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask Job Candidates

In the December 12, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager gets fed up with behavioral interview  questions and wants to know how to really judge a job applicant. 

Question

behavioral interview

My HR department insists I use a list of 30 Essential Behavioral Interview Questions published by LinkedIn when I meet with job applicants. These are the questions 1,300 hiring managers said they use.

The questions are canned and don’t reveal whether a candidate could do the job if I hired them. It feels silly to ask these questions because it’s like dancing around the REAL question — whether the person can do the job! What do I care how they handled a difficult situation at their last job, when they have no idea what a really difficult situation is at my company?

I haven’t gotten busted yet, but I’m one hiring manager who doesn’t use the behavioral questions. Maybe there’s something I don’t get. Do you advocate using them and, if you do, please explain the benefits.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t use behavioral interview questions. Like you, I think the practice is silly — and it’s frankly lame because, as you suggest, it’s like “dancing around the real question.” Behavioral interviews are indirect assessments that create more guesswork instead of enabling a manager to directly assess whether an applicant can do the work.

You don’t say how you interview and assess job candidates, but you hint that you focus your interviews on a direct assessment of whether the person can do the job you need to fill.

If we could all hire only great people who perform to their max, we’d all be rich. But choosing and managing new hires is a dicey proposition. I’ll warn you that my approach to interviewing job applicants will result in some of them canceling the interviews you schedule. No worries — it’ll just save you time.

The problem with behavioral interview questions

Loads of candidate assessment methods have come and gone through the decades. My own approach as a headhunter is to get one key question answered before I go on to other assessments.

Can the candidate demonstrate that he or she can actually do the job?

Surprisingly, that’s left out of most job interviews. Instead of getting a demonstration, most employers do an indirect assessment. They ask job applicants the popular set of “behavioral interview” questions, hoping they can read between the lines of a person’s answers about how they handled certain situations in the past. (Job seekers: See The Basics.)

If your HR requires you to use behavioral interviews, I agree that not getting busted for not using them should be your goal!

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3 Anti-Behavioral Interview Questions

Here’s my take on some of the lame questions LinkedIn suggests — and 3 anti-behavioral interview alternatives that actually nudge candidates to demonstrate how they’ll do the work. These are direct assessments because you’ll be talking about your team, your work, your job — not about some hypothetical situation that you don’t even know the applicant is telling the truth about.

Behavioral Question #1:

“Tell me about the biggest change that you have had to deal with. How did you adapt to that change?”

My anti version:

“We hit a challenge with the project you’ll be working on if we hire you. [Describe the problem or challenge in detail.] How would you approach that?”

That’s is a discussion about real change. You can of course ask the applicant about similar issues they’ve faced at other jobs. But if you focus on specific issues you’re facing, you’ll quickly learn not just how the person approaches work; you’ll learn a lot about problem-solving abilities that are relevant to you.

Behavioral Question #2:

“Tell me about a time in the last week when you’ve been satisfied, energized, and productive at work. What were you doing?”

My anti version:

Don’t ask a question. Invite the applicant to spend a couple of hours with your team in a live work meeting about a live project. Sit in on the meeting, but don’t say anything. Watch and listen. My guess is you’ll learn most of what you need to know about the candidate’s style and motivation, and it’ll be relevant to your setting, not someone else’s.

Behavioral Question #3:

“Describe a time when you volunteered to expand your knowledge at work, as opposed to being directed to do so.”

My anti version:

“Now that we’ve discussed the deliverables we’d expect from you on this job, please list the three relevant areas where you’d need to expand your knowledge. This is not a loaded question — I expect you’ll be learning as you go. Then outline how you’d get that knowledge and what you’d need from me to help you do it.”

I’m sure you see the difference in the questions. Though it may be interesting, I don’t care so much how you handled something at your last job. After all, I’m not hiring you for your past performance. I want a demonstration of how you’ll do this job for me.

Behavioral interview answers can be faked

Like other canned interview questions, clever candidates can study any of a number of books that list loads of typical behavioral interview questions. If you ask, “Tell me about a time when…”, you have no idea whether the experience the candidate discusses is real or from a book.

When you ask the questions I suggest, the applicant has to deal with a real-life situation from your business. You get to see how they’d handle a problem or challenge in the present or in the future. I can’t confirm what an applicant did in the past, so let’s talk shop on my turf, about the work I need done.

Learn more about the Working Interview in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, “How can I demonstrate my value?” pp. 8-9.

The book includes “How to do a Working Interview,” “What’s your business plan for this job?” and 10 other methods to show you’re the profitable hire — plus 8 How to Say It tips.

How to cull out the weak applicants

Now I’ll leave you with an unexpected suggestion to get the most out of your interviews. Let a candidate know in advance what you’re going to ask about.

Surprise every candidate. Call them in advance of your interview. (If they’re worth a face-to-face meeting, they’re worth calling first!) Outline the work, projects and challenges you want them to discuss with you and your team when they arrive. Let them prepare, just like you expect your employees prepare when you give them an assignment.

Heck, help them prepare. You want them to succeed, right? The best candidates will show up ready to rumble. (Check this article I wrote for CMO.com: Why You Should Treat Job Applicants Like Consultants.)

If you’re a job seeker, be ready for this kind of job interview! You cannot fake it, but you can Prove you deserve a higher job offer.
Those who don’t want to do the preparation such a “working interview” requires will cancel their interviews. They’re the weak candidates.

Like I said, that saves you time.

The best candidates will be prepared, ready to rumble, and excited about talking shop with you and your team. You’ll actually see their behavior in your real-life work setting!

Do behavioral interviews work? Or are they just another trick that prevents a manager and job applicant from getting to really know one another? If you’re a manager, how do you directly assess someone’s ability to do the work during a job interview?

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Job boards say they fill most jobs. Employer says “LMAO!”

In the December 5, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer questions the claims job boards make about how often they fill jobs. 

Question

job boardsI’ve read many of your posts about job boards, including Job Boards: Take this challenge, but it was one about The Bogus-ness of Indeed.com that really got my attention because it has over 200 comments on it, and because now I’ve seen how Indeed works for employers — and I’m LMAO!

My wife runs a popular retail chain store and recently took to Indeed.com to find qualified applicants. In Los Angeles, at a high profile new location opening (it’s in the news), she received just three applicants, all of whom had simply uploaded their resume and clicked any title that closely matched their interests. None of the three even knew who the company was, or what the details of the job posted were, they simply clicked “send resume.”

Two didn’t speak high-school level English, the third had never heard of the company and wasn’t sure where it was located, but applied just the same.

I’m sure there are people really looking for work. Are they using the potential of Indeed? Glassdoor? Monster?

I know what you think of the job boards, Nick, but I doubt you’ve had to look for a job recently. I wonder what your readers think. Can you ask them what their experiences have been with the big job boards like the ones we’ve had such bad luck with?

Nick’s Reply

I’m happy to put your question to our community. They love red meat. (That’s a joke, vegans and vegetarians among us!)

Do job boards really fill most jobs?

Thanks for your story about your wife’s problems with job applicants from Indeed and other job boards. It would be interesting to hear from more employers, who don’t seem to say much (at least in public) about how effective the job boards are.

  • Indeed cites a report from SilkRoad (“the world’s leader in Talent Activation”) that claims “Indeed delivers 65% of hires and 72% of interviews from job sites.” (The actual report is free but must be downloaded from SilkRoad.)

What’s not to like? Game over. Problem solved.

  • A few years ago, while I was researching a story I wrote for PBS NewsHour (Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?) a CareerBuilder spokesperson claimed the job board accounted for nearly 50% of all jobs filled by staffing and recruiting firms — but told me the study behind the numbers was not published.

So, what’s the problem with all those vacant jobs?

  • Year after year, job-board watcher CareerXRoads has reported that around 25%-30% of external hires come from job boards.

Closer inspection of the data suggests about 10% of hires were being made during those periods through all job boards combined. (I have not looked at CXR’s reports recently.)

Truth or tricks?

Now go back and read those claims about where employers find their hires one more time. I’ve been watching these numbers for over two decades and I’ve learned the code. Can you find the tricks in those claims?

I’m really glad to get a question from an employer (well, from her spouse) on this topic. And I’m glad you’re asking Ask The Headhunter readers for their experiences and opinions — rather than me.

Okay, employers — big and small — are job boards delivering the hires you need?

You don’t have to be an employer to play. What do you make of Indeed’s (and SilkRoad’s) claims? I think there’s a deft sleight of hand — and some clever word play — in how SilkRoad, Indeed, and other job-boards characterize their “findings.”

Let’s get at the truth about job boards, folks. And if you’ve got some expertise in big data analysis, I’d really love to know your take on these reports. Do job boards really fill most jobs?

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Benefits: The employer trick that lowers your job offer

In the November 28, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader interviews for a job at an acceptable salary, only to learn the employee benefits would mean a 20% reduction in compensation.

Question

Well, thanks for hitting me between the eyes… again. I’m talking about your recent column, More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage. I was rationalizing a pursuit of a job offer. 

benefitsIt’s a great fit. I “did the job” with the Chief Information Officer and Director. The 30-minute phone interview turned into a 90-minute great discussion on where they want to be in 18 months. Now I have the technical interview. 

The problem is that I misunderstood the benefits. Originally I thought it was a wash in salary, and that the cost of living, benefits, retirement, and bonus were going to be a 20% bump. With relocation to a warmer climate, it was a win-win. Then I got the benefits package. 

I completely misunderstood. Once the benefits are factored in, it’s effectively about a 20% pay cut. There is no way I can absorb that. It’s a small shop and moving up would not be possible for a while given the staff they have in place.

(By the way, the recruiter for this company is absolutely amazing. She completely vetted me before she passed me to the company. She asked for my resume and then recommended that I change the wording on a couple of things. She never had me fill out an application. Then she set up the preliminary phone interview. We discussed salary but I think I heard what I wanted to hear. Fortunately, after that first interview, I asked for the benefits package. She sent it to me while I was on the phone with her.)

So here is my question for you. Do I go through with the technical phone interview and see if I can work with these folks? Then, before we put in any more time and money (and airfare), do I see if they can pay what I think I am worth? Or do I call it off now saying that it is a waste of our time if they are going to stick with their current salary range, given that the benefits are actually going to cost me money?

Nick’s Reply

The recruiter tells you: “The salary range is $X-$Y and the benefits are industry-standard.” Once upon a time, that meant you could decide to go on the interview based on the salary range. Today, it’s a common trick to lead you into a series of job interviews that result in a job offer far lower than you expected — after you realize that a lousy benefits package has effectively lowered your total compensation.

There are many other reasons to decline a “job opportunity.” See When job interviews are bad for you.
It seems you learned an important lesson: Get the compensation facts before you dive into a time-consuming interview process. That means understanding all the bottom-line terms, including benefits — up front.

Benefits are compensation

Make no mistake: Benefits are part of compensation. Lame HR managers like to say, “Oh, our benefits package is industry-standard,” as if you should be impressed. Really? A company’s benefits package should be as competitive as the salaries it pays — that’s what gives a company an edge!

(Note to HR managers: Learn to use your company’s benefits as a tool to get the best candidates to accept your offers! That means you must construct great benefits packages. That’s a key part of your job.)

Benefits and bonuses are components of compensation. Until you can tally up the total, you don’t really know what the offer is — or whether the company is worth working for.

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Why are benefits a secret?

But don’t kick yourself too hard. Companies generally don’t hand out benefits details before interviews – though they should.

Many employers consider employee benefits a company secret that’s not disclosed until you show up for orientation. (Imagine a car dealer saying, “We’ll tell you what the warranty is, and how many wheels the car comes with, after you pay for the car.”) As you’ve learned, benefits are a critical part of any compensation package. Meager benefits can undermine a seemingly good salary.

So, ask about the benefits and the salary range before you invest time interviewing.

Look under the rug

When a company’s lousy benefits have such an adverse impact on a compensation deal, there’s probably something wrong with the company. There’s dirt under that fine-looking rug. So turn up a corner and look underneath.

Is the employer a cheapskate? See WANTED: Top talent to work for dog food.
Good employers offer good benefits. And they don’t hide such information. When they do, it’s the oldest sales trick in the book: They count on you to rationalize a bad deal because you’ve already put so much time and effort into it.

I don’t see any evidence that you misunderstood. If you didn’t have the benefits information in advance, how could you really judge whether this was a good opportunity or a waste of time? How could you have judged the whole compensation package?

The recruiter’s role

What’s “amazing” about the recruiter is that she did not disclose up front that the company’s benefits package is lousy.

Is that really a good recruiter? Use these tips to decide: How to Judge A Headhunter.
I assure you, she knows, because other candidates have experienced the same shock you did. While I give her credit for some of the things she did (and didn’t do — like demanding an application), if she’s a really good recruiter, she reviews all compensation components before she recruits people like you. I’d never pitch a company with lousy benefits to any potential candidates. I’d wind up wasting their time and mine. My guess is she’s lost other good candidates late in the process, after all the facts came out.

Ask to see the benefits

Job seekers rarely ask to see benefits, retirement, vacation, bonus and commission details before agreeing to interview. That’s a mistake. Employers don’t like sharing such information until they make an offer, but that’s disingenuous. Any company with great benefits is more than happy to use them to entice good candidates to interview.

One of my favorite HR ruses is this statement: “We offer the same benefits to all employees. We cannot change our benefits for just one person.” People hear that and they shrug. Of course they can’t change their benefits just for me. That would be unfair to all the other employees. Then an applicant rationalizes that there’s no choice. If I want this job, I have to settle for what everyone else gets. Wrong. If the employer really wants to hire you, it can improve other terms of the offer to compensate (remember that word?) for poor benefits. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Companies with lousy benefits hide them, and HR managers try to make job applicants feel it’s “unprofessional” to ask for the information in advance. What’s unprofessional is luring people into dead-end interviews.

Don’t kid yourself

I see it again and again. Job applicants get offended and angry about the details of a job offer at the end of a grueling interview process — because they failed to ask about all the terms before they invested all that time and trouble to interview. Of course the terms matter! Don’t kid yourself! Understand the fundamentals of the deal before you work so hard to get it.

Many career experts recommend proceeding with the hiring process anyway. “Hey, you have a shot at a job! Why blow it by bringing up money?” They will tell you to wait until the offer stage to convince an employer to do what it already told you it will not do. Don’t kid yourself. That kind of advice reveals the advisor doesn’t have an answer for your predicament, because the advisor believes in fairies and miracles.

It’s up to you, but I would not rationalize any more, or move further into this process, now that you know the benefits are a deal breaker. Talk to the recruiter. Tell her your concerns. Tell her you’re very surprised and dismayed at the benefits package.

How to Say It
“Thanks for sharing the company’s benefits package. Unfortunately, it’s not competitive and would represent an effective 20% pay cut. I’d love to continue our interviews, but first I need the company’s commitment to compensate me for the significant difference in benefits they are proposing. It would be a waste of our time to keep talking about the job if the compensation terms — and that includes benefits — aren’t acceptable. Will your client make that commitment?”

What to ask for next

Don’t be too hard on yourself. If the salary range was acceptable and you based your decision to have a preliminary phone interview on that, I think you took a reasonable risk to explore the job. While you should have asked to see all the benefits up front, 99% of applicants don’t ask until after a job offer is tendered. At least you asked early in the process.

What troubles me is that the recruiter didn’t disclose the problem with benefits when she first spoke with you. I put that on her. So I’d let the recruiter know what’s wrong immediately.

Don’t say no to proceeding. Instead, tell her what the terms need to be so they’re acceptable to you. Don’t worry about whether the employer is likely to accept your terms. The point is to establish what it will take before you are willing to proceed. The details are up to you. Here are some possible gimmes:

  • Higher salary, commensurate with the loss of benefits value. I think this is the best offset because it will fund the difference.
  • A starting bonus, but keep in mind this would be a one-time payment that does not affect future pay. I’m not a big fan of this, unless you can’t negotiate higher salary. Then you must decide whether it’s worth it.
  • A higher bonus structure that effectively makes up for the loss in benefits. Just keep in mind that bonuses are not guaranteed. So ask for a guaranteed bonus.
  • Other terms that might satisfactorily compensate you.

Clearly, they are impressed enough with you to go the next step. They want to pursue this with you. That gives you leverage. Don’t be afraid to use it wisely and appropriately. Hey — if they have no qualms about offering you poor benefits, don’t worry that you’re asking for too much! Let them say no, or let them fix the problem.

Manage the recruiter

It seems you’ve found a pretty good recruiter — she’s done a lot right. Take advantage of that.

I’d tell the recruiter that if this deal doesn’t work out, you’d like to work with her again, if she commits to vetting these deals more thoroughly for you in the future, before setting up even phone interviews. Like this employer, she has recognized a good candidate. She is likely to work harder for you in the future because you represent a really good chance for her to impress another client — and to earn a good fee!

Make the employer work for it

Don’t get tricked into dead-end interviews by an employer that uses crummy benefits to effectively lower a job offer.

An employer uses interviews to test a candidate, to determine whether it’s worth proceeding with the hiring process. Job candidates should do the same. Test the employer. Will its compensation package, including benefits, bonus and other terms, measure up to your requirements? Then determine whether to proceed. Make them work for it, just like you do in your interviews.

I’d love to know how this turns out. My comments and suggestions are obviously limited to what I know. You’re the one that must live with the choice you make – so please use your best judgment.

What information do you demand before you agree to interview? We’ve covered only a couple of things here — salary range and benefits. What surprises have you encountered only after you’ve invested a lot of time in an “opportunity?” What else should this reader assess before going any further?

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Job applications are the biggest recruiting scam

In the November 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a careful reader gets recruited to fill out a job application. Welcome to recruiting today.

Question

recruitingEarlier this week a recruiter contacted me. The salary was stated as a maximum only, and it would mean a 20% raise from my current salary. Even though I am not looking, I went ahead and applied. Following your advice, I asked who the company was and the recruiter told me “in confidence.”  I disclosed that I know someone there, but didn’t give a name. The recruiter said he could still submit my name, so I gave him a PDF copy of my resume.

Things changed fast!  First, he said I would be required to fill out an online application for the HR department. But I couldn’t proceed with the application unless I put in a numerical value for salary. I asked about this and he said whatever I put in could be discussed later. I put in $0. There was also a short “personality test.” I completed all this by mid-day Friday. By noon on Saturday, I got a rejection notice. BAM!

Could it be my salary expectations were too high? The recruiter recommended I come down, but because I’m not desperate I did not. Could it be that HR was totally offended that I was non-compliant? My feeling is that a junior HR person went over this and saw one thing out of order, and eliminated me. I seriously doubt that this application got further.

The bottom line is that I would not want to work for these people anyway, but I will admit that such a rapid-fire rejection hurts. Maybe I will hear from the recruiter as the week begins, or maybe not.

Next time I will ask if the recruiter’s contact is a hiring manager or HR. If it’s HR and not a manager, I will pass. So this was a good lesson learned. It cost nothing. Insofar as missing out on the raise? No problem there because I am not yet vested with my current company and I would lose the equivalent of the raise if I moved now.

Two last questions: Why does just about every recruiter who contacts me seem like a slime ball? How can they sleep at night?

Nick’s Reply

Welcome to the biggest recruiting scam going: job applications. Thousands if not millions are victimized daily. They don’t even realize it. You didn’t get recruited. You got scammed. And it’s legal. Employers encourage recruiters to scam you every day.

A recruiter contacted you to recruit you. That is, he’s out scouring the world for the right candidates for his client. He identifies the best, and then he goes after them — he pursues them. He and his client still need to interview you to be sure you’re right enough, of course, but they chose you and now they’re approaching you, enticing you, seducing you, cajoling you, trying to convince you — the guy they selected to go after — to consider a job there. They’re trying hard to impress you with an opportunity so you’ll invest your valuable time to talk with them.

Is that how this process felt to you? Of course not.

Recruiting you to fill out a job application

You were not recruited for a job. You were recruited to fill out a job application.

You were recruited off the street to do what anyone does to apply for a job they found posted on a job board. My guess is the employer is not even the recruiter’s client. I doubt they have a contract. The recruiter is hoping to throw enough job applications at this employer, in the hope one might “stick” so the employer might pay the recruiter a fee.

The recruiter led you down the path every other job seeker takes on their own. Like every other job seeker that is summarily rejected instantly, you got rejected. No surprise!

The only difference between job applicants who go through the process and you is this: If by some miracle you had been hired, the recruiter would have earned a big fee for doing nothing but ushering random people through the application process.

I’ll say it again: You were recruited not for a job, but to fill out a job application.

Recruiting to fill a job

Here’s what recruiting really looks like. Last week I finally reached a person I’ve been trying to recruit for almost a month. She’s a good candidate for my client. The president of the company and I carefully selected her because our research showed she fit our carefully defined criteria. I knew exactly why I was reaching out to her.

When I finally reached her, it was to set up an interview with the president of the company. No forms. No online links. No personality tests. No obstacles.

My job for a month was to eliminate obstacles so my client could talk to her. I never asked her for her salary information. I still don’t know it, and I don’t care what it is. When I finally got her on the phone, I spent most of the time trying to impress her. I didn’t want to let her get away.

My goal has been to pursue and persuade her to talk with my client about a job — and to impress her with the opportunity so that we’d have a good chance of hiring her. Why would we risk offending her by making her jump through hoops? That would not have impressed her!

How to test a headhunter

  • Who are some of the headhunter’s clients? Get the names of companies and managers.
  • Who has she placed? Get the names of a few candidates placed recently and a year or two ago.
  • What firm does she work for?
  • Where is she located?
  • Who owns the firm?

From How to Work With Headhunters, pp. 28-29.

Why they do it

Recruiters like this one sleep at night by mentally counting all the lottery tickets they’ve acquired — job seekers they’ve convinced to fill out job applications. Then they dream that a company will pay off on one of them.

The daily recruiting scam is a numbers game. Recruiters play it because sometimes it pays off — just like everyone else plays the lottery.

How to save loads of time

The recruiter’s trick is to get you to spend loads of time applying for a job that pays “20% more than you’re making!” It’s a simple rule of behavioral psychology: The more the recruiter can get you to do, the more you will then rationalize doing even more to comply. So the recruiter’s goal is to get you to start complying.

You ask what to do next time. Here’s a quick and sure way to save loads of time. The next time a recruiter contacts you, ask this question:

“Why does your client want me?”

Then ask this question — and nothing else:

“When does your client want to talk with me?”

For more on this topic, see Why do recruiters suck so bad?
If the recruiter answers with a list of tasks for you to do first — submit your resume, complete online forms, take a test, disclose your salary — tell the recruiter to take a flying leap into a cactus bush.

It takes a mental re-set to realize what that guy did to you. He made you apply for a job. It’s the daily recruiting scam.

How do you sort out the recruiters? What percentage of contacts from recruiters have resulted in face-to-face job interviews for you? At what point should the reader above have recognized what was going on?

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Salary History: Use California’s new law for better job offers

In the October 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a deep dive into California’s new salary history law. Is it going to help you get a better job offer?

Note: This article is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining competent legal counsel about salary history disclosure laws.


salary historyYou’ve probably heard this from an HR manager who has demanded to know your salary history while you’re applying for a job: “It’s required. If you don’t disclose your salary we cannot proceed with your candidacy.”

It’s akin to a salesman on a car lot demanding to see your bank account balance before he tells you the price of the car you want. Once that cat is out of the bag, you can’t negotiate effectively.

Now the State of California has made it illegal for employers to ask your prior salary. See Assembly Bill No. 168. (See also this article in the San Francisco Chronicle.) This can help you negotiate a better compensation deal.

You have 2 new powers over personnel jockeys

But not so fast. Hiding your old salary isn’t going to help you get a higher job offer unless you can obtain another critical bit of information from the employer: What’s the salary range for the job you’re applying for?

Good news: The California legislature thought of that, too. Starting January 1, 2018, employers can’t ask your old salary and, if you request it, they have to tell you what the pay range is for the job you want.

You now have two new powers over employers and their personnel jockeys in California. You may:

  1. Decline to disclose your salary.
  2. Ask the employer “to provide the pay scale for a position.”

What you need to know

It’s important to understand the details of your new rights. Therein lies your real power — the power to avoid wasting your time with jobs, applications, interviews, recruiters and employers who want to break you down so you’ll cave in and accept a lower job offer. Use these powers thoughtfully, and you should be able to get the kind of salary you want.

Here’s what the new California law says (emphasis added):

SECTION 1.  Section 432.3 is added to the Labor Code, to read:
432.3.  (b) An employer shall not, orally or in writing, personally or through an agent, seek salary history information, including compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.

Now we’ll expand on the aforementioned two new powers you can exercise when applying for a job.

1. Decline to disclose your compensation

This means never disclose your prior pay or the value of your benefits:

  • When you fill out a job application.
  • When an HR recruiter from the company requests it.
  • When a third-party recruiter (or headhunter) solicits you for a job at the company.
  • When you participate in a telephone interview.
  • When you communicate with the employer or recruiter via e-mail or otherwise.
  • During a job interview, and,
  • Apparently, under this new law, after you’ve been hired and you’re filling out employment paperwork.

An employer that doesn’t know your old salary and benefits has a harder time low-balling a job offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employers say, “Our offers are 5-10% above a person’s old salary. That’s our policy.” As if that has anything to do with the value of the new job — or the value you bring to it! For more about this, see Revealing my salary earned me a lower job offer!

Never disclose your prior salary to anyone connected to an employer where you’re applying for a job in California (or anywhere else, but in that case for other reasons). Because if you do, you’ve relinquished your rights — because there’s a gotcha in the new law. We’ll discuss that in a minute.

First let’s look at the more important of the two powers California now grants you.

2. Request the pay range of the job

This is the best part. The employer has to tell you what the job pays. This is what will help you avoid wasting your time on jobs that don’t pay in a range you’re willing to accept.

(c) An employer, upon reasonable request, shall provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant applying for employment.

You read that right. They can’t ask for your salary history, but they have to tell you the pay range of the job you’re applying for. If you ask. So ask! And ask in advance of filling out forms, having interviews, and otherwise investing your time.

I think it’s more important to know the pay range of a job than it is to withhold your own pay information. But, of course, it’s best to use these two tools in tandem for maximum benefit.

Now, here’s the tough-love part. When they tell you the pay range, don’t kid yourself if it’s lower than you’d like. Don’t proceed under the impression that you can “talk them higher” later on. Conversely, if you use this law to apply only for jobs that pay twice what you may be worth, you’ll probably be disappointed if you expect enormous job offers.

Beware the gotcha in this salary history law

Those two new powers can gain you a lot during your job search in the State of California, unless you’re applying for a government job or other job that’s exempt. (Read the full text of the new law.)

Now let’s get to the aforementioned gotcha. Read this next part of the new law carefully. (Emphasis added.)

432.3.  (g) Nothing in this section shall prohibit an applicant from voluntarily and without prompting disclosing salary history information to a prospective employer.

Yep. That means you’re free to spill the beans if you want to. And here’s how spilling the beans will get you screwed:

432.3.  (h) If an applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses salary history information to a prospective employer, nothing in this section shall prohibit that employer from considering or relying on that voluntarily disclosed salary history information in determining the salary for that applicant.

Got that? Once you disclose your salary history “voluntarily and without prompting,” much of your protection under this law disappears.

Why you may need a lawyer

Any time you’re dealing with a massive amount of money — like the salary you’re going to earn for a year or more — it may be worth consulting a lawyer. A consultation with a labor or employment lawyer, to ensure you know what you’re doing in an employment matter, will cost you only a small fraction of that massive amount of money in order to protect that massive amount of money. Consider making an initial investment in legal advice, then proceed prudently.

You may also need a lawyer if you find an employer has violated California’s new law, because of one more gotcha:

(d) Section 433 does not apply to this section.

Section 433 of the California Labor Code says:

433.  Any person violating this article is guilty of a misdemeanor.

This means that while violations of other sections of the Labor Code are a misdemeanor, a company that demands your salary history or refuses to tell you the salary range of a job is not committing a misdemeanor. This new law does not define the penalties for violations.

If you want to fight violations of this new law, you’ll probably need a lawyer. It might even turn out that this Section 433 clause renders Section 432.3 toothless once it winds up in court.

What about your state?

Similar laws are under consideration (or have already been passed) in some major cities including New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and in some states including California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon and Puerto Rico.

Some of the legislation is controversial, and special interests are trying to block it. The Washington Post offers a good rundown in “New York City just banned bosses from asking this sensitive question.”

This issue is so hot that it’s best to look up your own city and state for accurate information.

What’s your best option?

We’ve barely touched on the myriad issues these laws raise. If you’re interested, you’ll find more here: Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.

Whether there’s a law against demanding your salary history or not, you can always say NO and decline to disclose the information. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) As long as you’re not party to a contract whereby you have agreed to disclose salary information (an employment contract might be an example), you never have to disclose it. There is no law I know of that obligates you to disclose your salary.

Of course, refusing to disclose might result in an employer rejecting you as a candidate. That may be their right.

In that case you may be better off finding a more reasonable employer who isn’t trying to manipulate salary negotiations by insisting on knowing your prior pay. You’ll get the best deal possible if you withhold information about your prior compensation, because the employer will be forced to base an offer on the value you prove you can deliver. (Did we just open a new can of worms? Yup. We don’t pretend anything is easy around here. See How do I prove I deserve a higher offer?)

Have you encountered one of these new laws in the wild? What happened? What’s your take on this kind of legislation — and on how to best protect your ability to negotiate compensation? What other issues do these new laws raise?

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Job Assessment Tests: Don’t jump through hoops

In the October 3, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t like doing assessment tests for employers who put no skin in the game.

Question

I really enjoy your direct and honest feedback to job hunters each week. I’d like to get your thoughts on jobs that make you do “assessment tests” to prove you are qualified.

assessment testsI do not work in the tech field where I know these are common. I’ve worked in marketing for 15 years, won awards, and worked for some top-name businesses. But recently I have encountered many recruiters that want you to prove your worth.

My favorite was for a company in the San Francisco Bay Area that needs to fill a marketing and web content position. Two hours before the phone interview, the marketing director sends me an e-mail saying that I need to prove my research skills and she will send me a question 10 minutes before our interview time. I have to research the question and have it submitted before the interview.

I was ready to walk but did it just to see if I could. (I succeeded). After the talk, I was unimpressed with her abilities and withdrew my application.

Recently, during my first in-person interview for another job, I was asked to write a five-page press release by the next day. I politely told the manager that my extensive work experience speaks for itself and I would be happy to send links to my previous press releases. She said that wasn’t good enough and I said, “I’m withdrawing my application.”

As you can tell, I’m ready to walk away from imposing situations like this that, for the most part, waste your time. What is the proper way to say “no” to these assessments? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

My compliments for walking away from these kinds of abusive hurdles. Such employers undoubtedly think what they’re doing is a clever “pre-assessment” of job applicants. That is, they want to assess whether it’s worth their time to meet and assess you. They lay the burden on you, while they avoid putting their own skin in the game.

My guess is they add this step because some HR consulting firm charged them a bundle for “best methods” in recruiting. But there’s nothing “best” about abusing the job candidates those same employers complain are in short supply! Talk about trying to appeal to a candidate!

Assessment tests are often bogus

For an in-depth look at this topic, see Dr. Erica Klein’s Employment Tests: Get The Edge.
Job assessment tests come in many flavors. Tests and assessments can be useful tools for employers and job seekers. But more often than not, they’re misused. Some assessment methods are transparently ridiculous and unreasonable — and they’re not assessments at all. They’re bogus.

I think the way you’re dealing with unreasonable demands is just fine. And I don’t think anything you say to employers or recruiters is going to make them stop insisting that you jump through hoops, participate in totally one-sided “interviews,” and do free work. These employers have established a policy and a process. You’re not likely to change any of it. But it may be fun to make a point to them — a point that may hit home after they lose lots of good job applicants to their competitors.

I love your story about the marketing director. I wonder if she instructs her company’s salespeople to pre-assess potential customers by making them submit a five-page statement about “Why I’m worthy to listen to your sales pitch.”

But you asked me how to say no to these “assessments.”

How to Say It

When you’re asked to jump through hoops that you think are unreasonable, be ready to respond. Here are my suggestions about how to say it, ranked by snarkiness. Decide how far you want to go.

Meet or beat it.

“I’d be happy to invest my time to meet with you so we can determine whether we should work together. If there’s serious mutual interest, I’d be glad to show you how I’d to the job profitably. But without a corresponding investment of time from a serious employer, it’s just not prudent for me to do what’s essentially a one-sided assessment. I’m currently in discussions with three other employers and I expect to choose one in the next X days. If you’d like to meet to explore working together, I’d be glad to come in on one of these dates and times: [list 2 or 3 dates]. If those are not convenient, please suggest some others and I will look forward to talking shop.”

That’s pretty assertive, but so’s an employer’s demand that you do work before just a phone interview. I’m a big believer in showing how you’ll do the work to win the job — in a face-to-face meeting. But if the employer isn’t investing its own time and effort, it’s presumptuous of them to expect you to do so.

Pay me to do your job.

Sometimes it helps to put a price on what the employer is demanding:

“Just as I’m sure you don’t charge prospective customers to do a sales call, or to provide product samples for their evaluation, I don’t charge for interview meetings or samples of my work. I’d be more than happy to meet with you. But if you want me to work solo while you attend to other matters, my hourly rate is $X. If you’re willing to invest a couple of hours of your time, I’ll invest mine, too — no charge.”

I’ll do it if you’ll do it.

Sometimes it helps to put the shoe on the employer’s foot. You’ll win only the most honorable fans with this, but please understand that this is the shoe the employer is trying to get you to walk miles in:

“Attached is a psychological assessment test to be completed by the manager I’d be working for if your company were to hire me. If you’ll please have him or her complete it, to help me ensure I’d be working for a properly qualified manager, then I’d be glad to take your assessment, too. Since you already have my resume, kindly forward a copy of the manager’s resume so I can review it. Since time is of the essence, please be aware that I’m at the offer stage with two of your leading competitors.”

I don’t do tricks.

This one’s pretty snarky but, hey, would you go on a blind date with someone who’s not going to show up?

“An interview is called that because inter- means between, mutually, reciprocally, together — not one-sided. I’m looking for a good employer, and that means one that respects me enough to invest time together and reciprocally. I don’t jump for treats. Do you really have so many great candidates that you can afford to ask them all to do tricks before you’ll interview them? I’m ready to interview you if you’re ready to interview me.”

You’re not worth my trouble.

This one requires no explanation.

Talk to the hand.

Why do they do this?

You know such jump-through-the-hoop job assessments are inappropriate and usually offensive. So do I. Why don’t employers know it?

It’s pretty simple. These are employers that don’t know how to recruit job candidates. They want you to do the work, preferably with no investment on their part. These employers want you to incur costs before they do. They want you to pay for hiring managers’ (and HR’s) ineptitude. They’re all telling you one thing: “You don’t want to work here because we have no idea how to hire.”

What are the most ridiculous or offensive assessment tests you’ve been asked to jump through? How have you responded? Is there a way to say no that keeps you in the running? If you’re an employer, how do you justify asking candidates to perform — before you invest any time in them? (That’s not a loaded question. We’d really like to know.)

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When a headhunter has to fire a client to save a candidate

In the September 19, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter screws up.

Question

headhunter

I read your PBS NewsHour column, Job interviewers shouldn’t be asking for your salary. Here’s why. I am a new headhunter and I agree with everything you said in that article.

I recently had a deal fall apart with a client in the northeast who was ready to pay up to a $220K base salary. My best candidate was making $150K in the midwest. He checked off most of the boxes on their wish list, was in a niche, and there are not a lot of people doing what he does. He was willing to move his family, but the company only offered $185K despite a $30K cost-of-living difference. He wanted at least $195K to make a move but the company wouldn’t do it because they were stuck on the 30% increase and thought it was too high.

Everybody in the company that met my candidate loved him. He was nearly perfect for the role but they wouldn’t budge because of his prior salary.

So my question to you is: How do you persuade your clients not to ask about salary history in states where it is allowed? I understand that you might not want to give out trade secrets but thought I would ask. Thanks in advance for your help!

Nick’s Reply

There’s no trade secret here. Just common sense, fair play, and good business. Your client is demonstrating none of those qualities. When a company pays a headhunter for help finding a top-notch hire, our job is to tell the client the truth and help them make a good deal.

But the problem here is not just that your client got stuck on your candidate’s prior salary. It’s also that you fostered the problem by disclosing your candidate’s salary to begin with. Get out of that habit. Learn to push back and say no. Part of telling your client the truth is telling them the candidate’s salary is none of their business — and not the basis for a sound offer.

When the client gets in its own way, the headhunter must take control — or fire the client. You can’t win when you do your job, deliver a great candidate for fair pay, and then let your client kill the deal so stupidly.

A good headhunter doesn’t run a bargain basement

What’s stupid is that your client is not recruiting your candidate for what he’s worth to them. They’re trying to get an unfair bargain by offering an excellent candidate only what he’s worth in the midwest. What’s going to happen is a competitor is going to snatch him up for what he’s really worth in the northeast.

The way to persuade your client to judge a candidate’s worth for themselves, without looking at salary history, is to tell them what I just told you. (Check the boldface in the paragraph above.) If they don’t respond well to that, then you tell them something like this:

How to Say It
“If you aren’t willing to pay someone what they’re really worth, then I won’t be referring candidates of this caliber to you any more. Your team loved him. He was highly motivated to take the job and do great work for you. We both know he’s worth at least $200K. If he was from the northeast, you wouldn’t hesitate to pay him $220K. So while you wasted his time and mine, you’re the losers. Lotsa luck when word gets around that you don’t know how to judge a person’s value to your business.”

If you can’t control your client with the first message, you have to fire them with the second. Do you want to go through this with them again? You’re not in the bargain-basement business.

Fire the client

Yes, I’d fire this client. They just cost you several big fees, because the candidate probably would have referred several other great candidates to you over the next several years if this had worked out.

This client has probably damaged your credibility with the candidate — and he’s going to tell people. While any headhunter’s fiduciary duty is to their client (the employer), the headhunter’s reputation rests on the experience of candidates, too. If you can’t negotiate a good — not just reasonable — compensation package for a truly good candidate, you’re hurting yourself.

A good headhunter controls clients

To other clients, I’d make your policy clear. Your job as a headhunter is not to disclose salary; it’s to negotiate it!

How to Say It
“I don’t disclose a candidate’s salary because it’s irrelevant. I’m working with you under the premise that your company has a competitive edge and is thus able to attract the best people. If you’re going to judge candidates by what other companies pay them, then where’s your edge? If you don’t have a competitive edge, why would my candidates want to come work for you? Why would I want to recruit for you? I’d be happy to invest whatever time is necessary to help you assess this candidate’s value to your company in this market and in this locale.”

A good headhunter controls candidates by teaching them how to manage their expectations reasonably and intelligently. But sometimes you also have to push back hard at a client, or you lose control – and that’s the end of any headhunter. When you disclosed your candidate’s salary, you forfeited your ability to negotiate a good deal for both parties. Everyone lost.

A good candidate becomes a client

I’m sorry you had to experience this. It’s a hard lesson. I’d fire the client, but I’d then quickly try to pick up some new clients — among its competitors. Can you get a similar assignment from them? I’m not suggesting peddling this candidate around town — that’s not what real headhunters do. (See Headhunters find people, not jobs.) But you’ve found one great candidate who will likely lead you to more, so work with what you’ve got.

If you can place him, I’d call back Lowball, Inc. and give them a heads-up.

How to Say It
“It looks like you’ll be working with Mr. X after all – but as a competitor. He’s a really talented guy, so I wish you luck! No, I can’t tell you where I’ve placed him — that would be unethical until he’s settled in. But you’ll know soon enough.”

And remember one other thing. When you fire a client, they become a source of candidates. And a good candidate can become a great client!

A good headhunter is a good broker

The best job seekers routinely encounter lazy, thoughtless, unscrupulous headhunters. So show this candidate you’re different. Build a relationship. I’d do all I can for a candidate who did such a great job to make me look good and to earn an offer, even if the employer blew the deal. If you can’t place him elsewhere, invest a few minutes to make some useful introductions for him in the northeast. He’ll remember it. That’s where new client companies come from!

A good headhunter is a broker who doesn’t just bring two parties together. A good headhunter educates, manages and guides them to a successful outcome that makes them both happy to work together. Sometimes you have to take charge to do that. And sometimes you have to fire a candidate or a client. In this case, your candidate may be more valuable to you in the long term than this particular “client.” If you can’t negotiate a fair salary with your client, fire the client and save your future relationship with the candidate. Don’t be any less than the best broker you can be.

I know some of my suggestions may seem a bit snarky, but employers that can’t get out of their own way aren’t good clients. I wish you the best.

My PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you is designed for job seekers, but it’ll show you how to be a good headhunter, too.

Dear headhunters in the audience: Do you disclose a candidate’s salary to your clients? How do you manage your clients? Did you ever fire one? Job seekers: Do headhunters help you get a better salary or do they let their clients roll over you (and them)?

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Revealing my salary earned me a lower job offer!

In the September 12, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader succumbs to an employer’s demand for his salary information and pays for not keeping his mouth shut.

Question

salaryNick, I need your help. I’m in a very tough spot with salary negotiations. HR told me the salary range for the position ($65K-$70K) on the phone before our interviews. They also asked for my salary expectations, and I told them $65K-70K. So we had the interviews knowing we were all on the same page. Or so I thought.

After the first interview, I was contacted by the HR rep and was explicitly told that I would need to provide my current salary or we would not be able to proceed further with the process. So I reluctantly gave my salary away ($53K, which will be $55K in five months when my annual merit kicks in).

After the second interview, which I knocked out the park, they made an offer. It was only $60K. On the phone, I told the HR rep that there is no deal but I would like to continue to try to negotiate the best compensation package, and we will revisit the offer in a couple days.

What do you suggest I do here? I don’t want to turn away more money, but they are $5K-$10K below my expectations. Is my only recourse to risk the offer as a whole? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

You ought to charge them $5,000 for helping them negotiate a lower salary, because that’s what you did. Congrats on getting an offer, but I agree with you – you ruined your negotiating position by strengthening theirs.

Never, ever, ever disclose your current salary to an employer. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) They will use it to put a cap on any offer they make to you. Now you’re stuck.

You must decide one thing: What’s going to make you walk away from this deal? That is, what’s the least amount of money you’ll accept and still be happy?

They may offer you a bit more, or they may stand pat. If they raise the offer, my guess is it will be by one or two thousand dollars, to make you feel you won a concession. But that’s no concession. It’s still lower than the range they agreed to. They will still save money, and you’ll lose money. You have already made a concession, by considering less than the top of your range ($70K). The kicker here is that both parties plainly agreed to the same salary range before proceeding with interviews.

They screwed you.

What they did is bait-and-switch. They agreed to one thing but switched to something else. They screwed you. Now you must recover or walk away.

Once you decide what is the minimum acceptable offer is, the rest is easy – even if it’s not a happy thing. You cannot negotiate unless you know in advance what will make you walk away. Then you tell them this:

How to Say It
“I can do this job profitably for you, and I want to join your team. I make that commitment. But I told you very clearly when you asked me what salary range I would require: $65K-$70K. And you told me your range was the same. On that basis, I did the interviews with you. If you can meet the range you committed to and that I asked for, I’m ready to accept.”

The rest is up to them. Just be ready – they may say $60K is as high as they’ll go. Are you ready to walk away? If you agree to the $60K at this point, be prepared for lower-than-promised raises in the future, and other broken promises. These people have made it clear from the outset that they say one thing but do another.

The offer is based on your salary.

“HR logic” about salary goes like this. If you make $A, you don’t deserve more than about $A + X%, where X is some small percentage. Why does HR do this? Here’s what one HR executive wrote to me in response to my advice that job applicants should never disclose their salary to employers:

“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000.

“The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.

“I’ve been a vice president of HR, a recruiter, a labor negotiator and a candidate, so I know from which I speak… I am so dismayed that someone pays you to hand out this kind of information.”

[Excerpted from Keep Your Salary Under Wraps]

If they try to “explain” that their offer is based on your old salary, your response can be only one thing if you want to negotiate with strength.

Tell them to go pound salt.

If HR gets pushy or threatens to “end the process,” tell them I said they should go pound salt. Your salary is none of their business. Will they tell you their salary?

Here’s what an Ask The Headhunter reader posted recently on LinkedIn:

“To anyone who wants to maintain their salary history confidential in a way which no prospective employer can hold against you, I utilized Nick’s technique at one point in my career and was very successful — including getting the job I was interviewing for. Nick has a foolproof technique on how to address previous salaries which actually makes the company respect the candidate.”

Here’s what another said:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.”

You can decide for yourself how to proceed. Here’s my advice:

How to Say It
“My old salary is irrelevant. I told you my required range and we agreed to do interviews based on that. Will you make an offer in the range we agreed on?”

Once you decide your position, the rest is up to them. If they insist on judging your value on what your last employer paid you, it’s their loss, not yours. Move on. This is a company that admits it doesn’t know how to judge value for itself, or that cheats.

But please – this is your decision, not mine. If you decide $60K is good enough, then do what you think is right for you, not what I think is right. Only you have all the facts about your life and needs. I’d never criticize you.

Also keep this in mind: You killed the interviews. You impressed them. You pulled it off. Don’t let their negotiating tactics make you question your attitude, behavior, or worth. Do you think you can impress another employer? My guess is you can. But you must make that judgment for yourself.

We have of course discussed this topic many times before. See Goodbye to low-ball salary offers and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?

How do you negotiate? Do you disclose your salary? What should this reader have done, and do next?

Coming next week

In the next edition, we’ll discuss a topic that may have headhunters (and their clients!) up in arms: Why a headhunter should never disclose her candidate’s salary to her client.

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M.I.T. Calls B.S. on Skills Gap

In the August 29, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we call out employers, politicians and analysts who bellyache about the skills gap.

Question

skills gapA few years ago you called out employers for their misguided crying about the talent shortage. (News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!) Now the terminology has changed. Employers reject countless qualified job applicants (example: me) who don’t match 100% of the key words in a job description, bellyaching that we’re imperfect. Are we really just pathetic examples of a national skills gap? How can we fight this, uh, hiring incompetence?

Nick’s Reply

I’m not sure there’s a difference between the talent shortage and the skills gap. The terms are used interchangeably by unskilled personnel jockeys, employers, and untalented government wonks and elected dupes who haven’t had to look for a job recently.

Both these excuses for the national epidemic of hiring failure are bogus, but they’re easy for abused job seekers to swallow. It’s time to barf up the truth.

Wharton’s Peter Cappelli has long been sticking this conventional-wisdom pig with a fork, as noted in the article you mentioned. Now the M.I.T. Technology Review has stuck yet another bunch of facts into this “controversy” in The Myth of the Skills Gap, an article by Andrew Weaver at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Weaver is another voice calling B.S. on the cheap attacks leveled at America’s workforce.

Oh, yeah? Says who?

Just because HR executives blow their recruiting budgets on job boards, applicant tracking systems, and key-word databases doesn’t mean you have to behave stupidly, too. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.) Just because personnel jockeys and job-board marketing geniuses tell you there’s just one way to apply for a job doesn’t mean it’s so. I mean, we’re talking about people who unabashedly admit they can’t fill jobs!

Likewise, prisoners of the labor market who cry themselves to sleep without jobs or paychecks every night shouldn’t believe employers and HR experts. It’s not true that today’s workers don’t have skills worth hiring.

Weaver, who is an assistant professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations, writes that, “when we look closely at the data, this story doesn’t match the facts.” There’s nary a labor study, he points out, that even measures skills! So Weaver set about surveying employers about the skills they need, then asked whether they’re having trouble finding workers.

The skills gap is B.S.

Here are some of the surprises Weaver found.

  • Three-quarters of manufacturing plants surveyed complained they couldn’t hire skilled workers.
    But less than a quarter of them actually had job vacancies of three months or more.
  • IT departments complained of dramatic problems in filling help-desk jobs.
    But only 15% of IT help desks reported “extended vacancies in technician positions.”

So, where’s the lack of skills?

Weaver also found that the kinds of skills we’re told are sorely lacking are not really the problem.

  • Advocates for STEM education clamor for more workers with more “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills.”
    But Weaver’s data “show that employers looking for higher-level computer skills generally do not have a harder time filling job openings.”
  • Those who blame a skills gap also cite a lack of “soft skills” among younger workers — the ability to cooperate and to work on teams.
    But Weaver found the challenge for employers, even in manufacturing and help-desk jobs, is finding higher-level reading and writing skills.

The gap in conventional wisdom

Weaver and his fellow researchers focused their surveys on a narrow group of jobs (manufacturing and IT help-desk), but their findings seem to blow big holes in the conventional wisdom about many kinds of jobs. For example:

  • Top-level federal officials cry the workforce needs more computer programming skills.
    But programming isn’t what many jobs — even technical jobs — really require.
  • Lack of specific skills is the problem.
    But Weaver’s surveys suggest on-the-job experience and apprenticeship is what’s lacking.

Perhaps most stunning is a problem Weaver exposes in the ranks of economists and “labor-market experts” who drive public opinion and corporate hiring strategies: They “don’t know the exact mix or level of skills that particular occupations demand.” So why does anyone accept their declamations about skill gaps?

What’s the real problem?

Employers and labor-market experts, who aren’t even assessing or measuring skills, seem content to go along with the unsubstantiated contentions of “conservative tax cutters” and “liberal advocates of job training” that workers lack skills. That’s distracting everyone from a fact-based approach to managing the labor market and improving it. And it’s polarizing employers and workers.

Andrew Weaver’s findings dovetail with Peter Cappelli’s.

  • The problem isn’t with workers. The problem is employers “promoting unproductive hand-wringing and a blinkered focus on only the supply side of the labor market — that is, the workers.”
  • Employers are not cooperating with those who teach skills to workers; for example, colleges and other training institutions.
  • Employers are not investing adequately in employee training and development. “Only half of U.S. plants provide formal training to their production workers,” reports Weaver. Twenty years ago, 70-80% did.

Weaver closes with a warning:

“Misguided anxiety about skill gaps will lead us to ignore the need to improve coordination between workers and employers. It’s this bad coordination — not low-quality workers — that presents the real challenge.”

So, what should a job seeker do?

I publish only a small selection of questions, stories and complaints I receive from readers. The #1 issue I hear about: Frustration with employers who don’t seem to know what they want, who they need to hire, or what skills they really need in a worker. The fallout is confusing interviews, unexpected and questionable rejections, and enormous amounts of wasted time and energy.

The real skills problem seems to be this: Employers want skills, but they’re not willing to contribute to the skills pool or to pay for the skills they need. Meanwhile, employers pretend the problem is you — the workforce. So what’s a job seeker to do?

It’s not hard to navigate around the piles of b.s. in the jobs market. Let’s consider some strategies and tactics. These are just my thoughts and advice. The best advice is yet to come — so please post it.

Take control of your job search

“Based on your book I went into a job interview without the requisite experience but still won the job because I demonstrated that I understood the business objectives and challenges of the company and had a plan to achieve them! Thanks!”
-Sandeep Srivastava

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, “How can I make up for lack of required experience?”, p. 8.

I think the strategy is easy, if we define the objective for ourselves rather than let the pundits and policy makers confuse us. The objective is finding and landing the right job.

Finding and landing the right job is not about appeasing the jobs processors. It’s about picking good employers and being ready to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands-down, how you’re going to do a job profitably for the employer and for you.

Such jobs are not in job boards or in key-word lists. Jobs are controlled by individual managers who need profitable work done. Go find the individual managers and get the facts directly. Go around HR. Ignore the recruiters. (See HR Managers: Do your job or get out.) Ask the manager: What’s the work? What’s the deliverable? What skills do you want and need?

Don’t buy the education that schools market. Don’t listen to the headlines or to the Department of Labor. Find out what skills the employer you want to work for needs, then design your own education accordingly. That’s right: Contact companies that make products you want to work on, get in touch with the managers of departments you want to work in, and ask them exactly what skills you should learn. Schools that lack close ties to industry don’t know what industry wants, so don’t trust their curricula — or their marketing!

Pick employers with a solid, documented record of training and developing their employees. Bypass the rest. You’ll save loads of time because researchers have shown that most employers stopped investing in their workers many years ago. Be selective. Invest your career only in companies that can show you they’ll invest in you.

Pick schools that have a documented record of close ties and cooperation with employers. Look for active internship and apprenticeship programs. Bypass schools that can’t demonstrate such relationships. If what you want is a good education and a good job on graduation, don’t compromise on this. Most of the biggest names in higher education fail this test. (See New Grads: How to get in the door without experience.)

Pick schools with great career offices. This will make your choices easy because most schools don’t offer solid career services. Go visit and meet with the counselors. Study their career programs and offerings. Ask for references — grads who are working and employers who hired them. A college that delivers courses in your area of study but fails to deliver education in how to get a job is delivering only half an education — and it will leave you with a fatal skills gap.

Is there a skills gap? How can the gap between capable workers and jobs be bridged? What will it take for employers, schools, and government to get together with the workforce to create a healthy job market? I’ve shared a few tips for job seekers — but the best is yet to come. Please post your suggestions about how to wrangle a job out of an employer whose hiring methods are full of gaps!

(Many thanks to long-time reader Nick Tang for tipping me off to Andrew Weaver’s article!)

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