Career Switchers: An interview with Wharton’s Dawn Graham

In the August 14, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader complains about the difficulties in changing careers — and about the costs. So we’re going to discuss career switchers in this special audio edition! Hope you enjoy it!

Question

career switchersI’ve been around the block a few times, that is, I’ve changed jobs. It was never easy, except for one job I got from a personal referral without even a job interview. But nothing prepared me for changing professions. I’ve all but concluded it’s impossible. Even if I could do it, now I question whether it’s worth it because of the haircut I’d have to take in pay.

I’m a successful IT executive. I always wanted to work in investment banking. Everyone told me I’d better get an MBA, so I did. Even the school — a big name — promoted its program as a “career changer.” After a huge tuition bill and three years working diligently at getting into the investment world, I realize career change is a game no one wants to play with you because they’re never going to see what you can do, only what you’ve done. Employers can’t get past the labels. I tried everything from job boards to headhunters to networking meetings to expensive career and life coaches. Can you tell me something I don’t know? Should I give up?

Nick’s Reply

I wouldn’t give up, and I hope you learn something you don’t know in this special audio edition of Ask The Headhunter.

I’m going to let my good buddy Dr. Dawn Graham, Director of Career Management for the MBA program for executives at The Wharton School, answer this one. A former headhunter, Dawn is also a clinical psychologist and she hosts a weekly radio show — “Career Talk” — where I’ve been a guest many times.

This is where the fun starts! In a recent program we turned the tables and I interviewed her about career switching — and we’re going to borrow some excerpts from that interview so we can do an audio edition of Ask The Headhunter this week. (Cool, eh?)

Career switchers

“If you’re like most Americans, you will spend around five years of your life engaged in some type of job search activity. You’ll hold about eleven different positions in the course of your career, and each job search might take you six months or longer. The new normal is not only to switch jobs but to change professions — which isn’t easy to accomplish.”

That’s from Graham’s new book, Switchers, which is a how-to guide for people like you who are pursuing career change. Graham notes that the average time a person spends in a job these days is 4.2 years, so job change of one type or another is quite common.

However, she offers the same caution you’ve heard from me here on Ask The Headhunter: Job change is not as easy as LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter and Indeed suggest it is.

switchers“In our one-click world of instant access, job seekers might expect the same ease in the job search process. Technology has become a seductress, luring candidates into endless hours of internet searches and countless online applications. These methods are barely effective for even the most qualified job applicants, and career changers who rely on them don’t stand a chance. Career Switchers tend to give up not because they lack the skills to excel in their desired profession, but because they don’t have the proper search strategies and knowledge.”

Audio Ask The Headhunter

Knowing I was going to tackle your question here, I waited until Dawn and I  discussed the topic on “Career Talk” so I could share some of the audio here with you. (This originally aired on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School.)

A radio talk show goes quickly, so it’s not possible to get into a topic in great depth — but I thought we could have a little fun with an audio edition of Ask The Headhunter and help the reader who asked this week’s question. I hope you enjoy this little experiment — and that you chime in with your own advice!

Excerpt 1

Let’s start by discussing the two main kinds of career “switch” a person might attempt: the industry switch and the functional switch. Or both! The important insight is that the traditional hiring process has not shifted to make switching easier.

      Switching careers in today's employment market

Excerpt 2

Does the hiring manager think you’re too risky a hire?

      Are some switches more difficult than others?

Excerpt 3

Headhunters and hiring managers are usually averse to risk, so they go for the easy candidates; the ones who are a clear fit with lots of relevant experience. But you may have visions of a radically new career — and none of this seems fair.

      Managers hire the safe candidate

Excerpt 4

Understanding the hiring manager’s mindset will help you deal with the natural biases of hiring managers — and with the inevitable role of emotions in hiring. What are some fundamental laws of psychology that you need to know?

      Emotions & Bias: The psychology of hiring

Excerpt 5

What you think the employer wants, and what they really want, may be two totally different things. Can a candidate figure out what a manager really wants?

      What the hiring manager wants

Excerpt 6

No one wants to take a salary haircut when they change jobs. How realistic is that when changing careers?

      The cost of switching

Excerpt 7

Do you really need more education to get the job you want? More important, does the employer think the education you’re buying is going to make you a more desirable hire?

      The myth of education in career change

Do these excerpts give you some ideas about how to change your approach to switching careers? I hope they at least encourage you to not lose heart and to not stop trying — but to modify your approach a bit.

Career Switching

On the “Career Talk” program we just touched on a few important ideas about switching careers. In her book, Dawn Graham gets into loads of detail, methods and techniques for making career switches. It’s the kind of advice she delivers every day to Executive MBA students at Wharton to help them with their career goals. You’ll have to look long and far to find a column where I’ve endorsed a book — this is one of those rare times. Switchers: How smart professionals change careers and seize success (AMACOM, 2018) is a great tutorial from an accomplished expert I respect.

My goal here, with you, is to riff on what we just heard on the audio excerpts, and to launch some discussion on how to make career change happen. Do you find the issues Graham raises helpful? Is there really a distinction between job change and career change, and is one more challenging than the other?

Have you ever tried to switch careers, either at the industry or functional level — or both? Did it work? Do you recognize any of the issues Dawn and I discussed? Do you have any suggestions on how to expand these ideas to help others change careers? If you were a guest on that edition of “Career Talk,” what questions would you have asked Dawn? (Did you enjoy the audio? Want more in the future?)

: :

How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants

In the June 23, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, Nick responds to readers who want to know what he thinks of a Time magazine cover story about employers that use “XQ” to assess job applicants.

Your XQ: More HR B.S.?

Readers have been peppering me with questions, asking my reaction to a recent Time cover story: How High Is Your XQ? It’s about “strange questions you need to answer to get a job in the era of optimized hiring.”

Translation: It’s about employers’ new-found love for letting third-party personality-testing companies decide whether to reject you before the employer even meets you.

I give the author of the article, Eliza Gray, credit for dealing with “optimized hiring” candidly and critically. The article is worth reading. (If you don’t subscribe to Time, you can’t read the full story online. Everyone, however, can read an online companion piece, Find out if your personality fits your job.)

In this week’s newsletter, I’m going to tell you what I think, and suggest how you might deal with this latest effort by HR executives to abrogate their responsibilities for hiring.

But what really matters in all this is what you think, because that’s what will rattle these employers. Read on, then join me in the discussion below. We’ll talk.

A $2 Billion Industry

Time reports: “Convinced by the gurus of Big Data that a perfect workforce can be achieved by analyzing the psyche and running the results through computers, hundreds of employers now insist that job candidates submit to personality tests.”

stuffed-animalA $2 billion testing industry, funded by your friendly neighborhood HR department, “evaluates” job applicants even before an employer decides they’re worth interviewing. Yes, you too can get rejected before you’re even considered.

What does all this entail? “Tests that can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours,” says Time.

Why does HR do this? It’s simple. HR doesn’t want to recruit, judge job applicants, hire, or be held accountable. So HR execs farm their work out to third parties that are not regulated — but who control whether you get a job.

What it means: HR has left the building. There’s a stuffed animal in the HR VP’s chair signing contracts, outsourcing hiring to clowns wearing psychologists’ hats. These employers consider their employees fungible commodities. (See An insider’s biggest beefs with employment testing.)

My advice: Strike back, especially if you’re gainfully employed. “Sorry, my policy is not to take tests or fill out voluminous forms until the hiring manager and I decide there’s good reason to continue talking. When can I meet the manager?”

I realize that if you’re unemployed, you might hesitate to be so assertive. But consider that after you invest your time, odds are very high that you’ll be rejected by an algorithm — time you could spend interviewing with a human who really wants to hire you.

Bottom line: Any employer that won’t take the time to meet you before rejecting you operates without integrity and is not one to work for.

The No-See-Um Assessment

What are HR departments looking for?

algorithmTime reports: “It isn’t an IQ rating or even EQ, the emotional intelligence quotient that came into vogue in the 1990s. There’s no name yet for this indispensable attribute. The qualities are so murky that often not even the employers chasing it are able to define it; they simply know that an algorithm has discovered a correlation between a candidate’s answers (such as an expressed preference for classical music) and responses given by some of their most successful workers. So let’s call it the X quotient… your XQ test, an exam that no one has prepared you for.”

What it means: You apply for a job. HR has no time to interview you. (See 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make.) It makes you take a test instead, saving its time and money, while you play outsourced psychological games, spending your time like it’s free. These tests reveal correlations, which reflect nothing about your skills or ability to do a job.

Your answers to useless questions like, “Do you understand why stars twinkle?” correlate with the answers of successful employees. But statistical correlations don’t prove anything. They merely suggest you’re similar to someone else. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter that you can do the job better than any other current employee. You lose.

My advice: Don’t play the No-See-Um Game, in which no one interviews you. Insist on being seen by a hiring manager in person. There are many companies that respect job applicants and assess them face to face. (See Kick the candidate out of your office.) Don’t feed the $2 billion racket. Find an honest employer instead.

Meet Andy Biga

If hiring decisions that are based on test correlations are really not a good thing, why do employers rely on them?

jet-blueTime tells about a JetBlue HR executive named Andy Biga who “optimizes hiring.” He processes 150,000 job applicants for the airline, and hires 3,000 of them after they “get past the battery of tests Biga’s team designed.”

Biga says, “I believe this is really the future for hiring.”

Oops: It seems Andy Biga is full of baloney. I know, because I spoke with Dr. Arnold Glass, a leading researcher in cognitive psychology at Rutgers University. Glass adds a measure of Real Science to Biga’s claims about Big Data in the service of HR:

“It has been known since Alfred Binet and Victor Henri constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job. Therefore, the idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

The Time reporter “called Biga and his protege, another 30-something data wiz named Ryan Dullaghan, after the conference to see if they’d talk me past the buzzwords and through what they’re really looking for in a new hire. No dice. After all, if the traits they wanted in an employee were printed in TIME, they said, job applicants might be able to game the test.”

What it means: JetBlue and companies like it don’t hire you for what you can do. They hire you because you correctly agree or disagree with statements like, “I feel stressed when others rush me.” What that means is a secret. That’s how they game you.

ftcMy advice: Buy a lottery ticket instead. Because, can you imagine how Andy sorts through 150,000 applicants? BZZZT! That’s a trick question! He doesn’t. Nobody at JetBlue does. If JetBlue had any idea how to recruit the right people, it wouldn’t throw 150,000 strands of spaghetti at the wall.

Andy has a big problem: The FTC is looking into how these hiring algorithms promote bias and discrimination. Ashkan Soltani, the FTC’s chief technologist, says, “We have little insight as to how these algorithms operate, what incentives are behind them or what data is used and how it’s structured.” CIO magazine reports that the FTC has formed a new Office of Technology Research and Investigation to look at bias in hiring algorithms.

Soltani cautions: “A lot of times the tendency is to let software do its thing. But to the degree that software reinforces biases and discrimination, there are normative values at stake.”

Oops. There goes Andy Biga’s future.

Meet Charles Phillips

This racket is so corrupt that I couldn’t make up what Time disclosed.

Time reports: “One of the bigger outfits is Infor, a New York–based software company that claims to assess a million candidates a month–a number that translates to 11% of the U.S. workforce.”

b-s-buttonHertz, Boston Market and Tenet Healthcare outsource candidate testing to Infor. The company “concocts a job applicant’s ‘Behavioral DNA,’ a measure of ’39 behavioral, cognitive and cultural traits,’ and compares them to the personality traits of the company’s top performers.”

What it means: “Behavioral DNA” is a B.S. marketing term with no scientific meaning. Now for the good part. Says the Time reporter: “Infor CEO Charles Phillips admitted he’d never taken the test when we spoke, adding, ‘I’m scared of what I might find.’”

My advice: A CEO who admits he won’t eat his own company’s dog food — but wants to feed it to you — has no business rejecting you for a job at arm’s length. Kudos to Time for exposing Infor. Look up the list of Infor’s clients. Would you apply for a job at any of them, knowing how you’ll be “assessed?” Find employers who don’t serve Charlie Phillips’ dog food to people who apply for jobs.

Correlation Is King

What is Infor selling to gullible HR executives who couldn’t recruit a dog to bite a mailman? Correlations, reports Time.

Phillips and his testing chums sell “a mostly unchallenged belief that lots of data combined with lots of analytics can optimize pretty much anything–even people. Thus, ‘people analytics,’ the most buzzed-about buzzword in HR circles at the moment. Included in people analytics is everything from looking at the correlation between compensation and attrition to analyzing employees’ email and calendars to see if they are using their time effectively… Correlation is king, even when causation is far from clear. So it’s only natural that data worship would take hold in hiring.”

Remember what Rutgers’ Dr. Glass said: “The idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

Meet Ray Dalio, animal wrangler

According to Time, one employer that does its own “people analytics” is Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund. The company’s founder, Ray Dalio, expresses a belief that HR execs are quickly adopting:

wild-animal“Without data, we are no better than cavemen he says. ‘Society is in its animal, emotional state that is the equivalent of the dark ages. We are in this transition period where all that is hidden in darkness will come out through statistical evidence,’ he says.”

What about all this testing, correlation and prediction to assess candidates for jobs? Peter Cappelli, a leading HR researcher at the Wharton School of Management, cuts to the chase: “Nothing in the science of prediction and selection beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

But none of the executives cited by Time select candidates by observing them actually performing a job.

The Science Of Snake Oil

dissedIt’s no accident that Andy Biga, Charles Phillips, and Ray Dalio are not scientists. They’re snake oil salesmen using fake technical lingo (Behavioral DNA? Jump, Spot, jump!) to impress lightweight HR executives. “Big Data” impresses HR charlatans who hide behind other charlatans to whom they outsource their own jobs — recruiting and hiring.

The bunch of them love to pontificate about “evidence based” assessments. Yet real HR researchers, cognitive psychologists, Time magazine, and the FTC tell us there’s no evidence, no science, and possibly no integrity in any of this.

(There are ways to apply for a job by going around these obstacles. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3, Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition)).

We Have Met The Enemy

Job seekers at every level — including some of the smartest, most educated people in America — have met the enemy on the jobs battlefield. And the enemy is job seekers themselves. They’ve let themselves be suckered.

As long as job seekers consent to be treated like commodities, as long as they let their teeth be checked like horses at auction, as long as they subject themselves to imperious bureaucrats who hold up hoops to jump through, then they’ll be abused.

Job seekers are their own biggest enemy. Folks, you have to grow some integrity of your own and refuse to be abused.

So, how do I get a job?

Job seekers tell me all the time that they’re terrified to buck the system. So, how can they possibly land a job in this miasma of phony science, trumped-up hiring technology, and HR bullying?

It’s simple. Please pay attention.

Time reports that job seeker Kelly Ditson finally landed a job after subjecting herself to demeaning online applications and personality tests. She stayed up “as late as two in the morning to finish just four applications.”

In one case, “she made it to the 95th question on the Chili’s [restaurant chain] application only to have [the] wi-fi connection cut out. She had to start all over. Chili’s had no comment for Time. Ditson said she was exasperated… In the end, she got her job the old-fashioned way: calling the manager at the Olive Garden until she hired her. She started in March.”

Ditson went and talked to the manager she wanted to work for. One on one, not one in 150,000.

No one can make a fool out of you if you don’t let them. (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?) When will HR wise up and realize it’s losing the respect of job seekers every day? When will HR realize it’s being played for the fool by software companies masquerading as scientists? When will HR realize that “the people game” is played with real, live people — not phony “evidence” derived from “Big Data” by tech wonks working for stuffed animals in the HR suite?

HR will realize it when job seekers stop rolling over.

My Advice

HR execs say there’s a talent shortage. That puts you in the driver’s seat, folks — it’s a seller’s market!

keep-calm-and-have-integrityThroughout Ask The Headhunter — the website, blog, newsletter, books — I talk (write) myself blue in the face about how to demonstrate that you’re the profitable hire. (For example, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.) The best employers hire those that can do the job — they don’t diddle databases to find people who hate opera singing, know why stars twinkle, or would like to be the color red.

If you don’t say no to employers who treat you like a dog begging for a bone, you’re going to wind up in the dog house. There are good employers and managers who respect talented workers. They will meet you and judge you in person. They will introduce you to their teams and assess whether you can do the work, get along with others, and contribute to the bottom line.

HR executives and the employers they work for should be ashamed of themselves — outsourcing hiring, the most proprietary edge a company has. Ray Dalio is wrong. You are not an animal in an emotional state. Tell any employer or testing company that treats you that way to shove it. And go work for one of their better competitors.

That’s the only way to end the optimized rejection of millions of job applicants.

Is there an end to this? Have you been abused by employers and subjected to “evidence-based hiring” that relies on phony “science” and made-up “tests?” Are you ready to say NO and move on to employers that respect people enough to talk to them rather than “analyze” them blindly? Let’s hear about employers that are worth applying to!

: :