*** Blog will be offline for maintenance Fri 1/30 evening til Sat 1/31 morning

Filed under: Heads up

unpluggedThe Ask The Headhunter blog will be offline for maintenance from around Friday, Jan. 30, 9:00 PM ET until about 12:00 noon Saturday, Jan. 31.

Our hosting company is physically moving its servers to a new location. We hope they don’t stop too many times for donuts on the way.

Sorry for the inconvenience! I hope the blog will be back up by noon on Saturday.

If you need a dose of Ask The Headhunter in the meantime, please visit the website, which will not be interrupted.

Thanks for your patience!

– Nick

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Your Boss Hates You: The politics of CYA

Filed under: Changing jobs, Getting fired, How to Say It, Parting Company, Q&A

In the January 27, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is fed up with a boss whose idea of management is bad politics.

Question

mean-bossI work for a failing organization that brought in a new manager to turn things around. The problem is that the new manager has threatened to dismiss me. He clearly hates me. I have never been in this situation before.

Earlier this year I was given a merit raise and was told by my manager’s boss that they were very happy with my work. I’ll be resigning, but how do I insure that this company doesn’t say negative things to a future employer? Should I see a lawyer? How should I handle this in the meantime?

Nick’s Reply

You’re going to have to play politics, because your new manager started the game. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t play because it’s distasteful. This is part of managing your career and work life, so learn to play well. The key is not to go it alone. I’ll offer you some suggestions, but remember that your judgment matters more than mine because you’re in it, and I’m just watching.

First, assess where you really stand.

I’d go talk to your manager’s boss about what’s happened; that is, to the person who told you what a good job you were doing.

How to Say It
“I just got a merit raise and you gave me some nice compliments on my work — this motivated me to work harder and smarter. Now I need your advice. What am I to make of this threat to dismiss me? I want to do the right thing, for the company and for myself. But it’s very distracting to have my new boss threatening me. Can you please advise me?”

You must find out whether you have support, or whether the company will let the new manager toss you aside. It’s hard to say whether the big boss will come to your aid. Managers don’t like to battle with one another, but you must ask for guidance. Hopefully, you’ll get the help you need.

Regardless, you must also take action to protect yourself.

Second, establish a record.

Visit HR and get the facts. What does HR have on file about this matter?

Then create your own record. Start a written log of events (including names, dates, times, conversations), which may be helpful in the event you take legal action. Bring this with you to the HR office, where you can inquire about the problem you’re facing..

How to Say It
“For the record, have any negative reviews or complaints been filed against me? I have not seen a PIP (employee Performance Improvement Plan). Is there one on file?”

When you ask HR these questions, also submit them in written form. HR relies on records; you should, too. It’s part of playing politics well. If your manager is planning to fire you, HR will use a PIP to document your “problem behavior” and the company’s attempt to help you correct it. HR uses the PIP as a kind of CYA action to protect the company legally. It will tip you off to how serious your new manager is about canning you.

If there’s nothing like this on file, then I suggest letting HR know that your manager has threatened you. Bring along a short letter to HR that states what you’re about to say, and include accurate quotations of (a) what your manager’s boss said to praise your work, and (b) what your manager said to threaten you. If you wind up taking legal action, these documents may be helpful. When HR sees this in writing and observes you taking notes, you may not need a lawyer — your manager may need more help than you do.

Then ask HR for help.

How to Say It
“I’d like to ask your advice and help. My manager has threatened to fire me, but his boss recently said XYZ about my work, and I was given a merit raise. So, I’m confused and very concerned. My performance has been praised and rewarded, but now I’m threatened with dismissal, but there’s no warning in your files. Should I be talking with an attorney?”

please-fire-meWhile it’s a bit risky to bring up hiring a lawyer, providing HR with written documents puts HR on notice. Now, HR — if it’s got any integrity at your company — has to take this seriously. (Do you question HR’s integrity? See What’s HR Got to Do With It?) Ask for a response in writing. If HR doesn’t give it to you, log that fact, too. Lawyers love logs. Whether you go to a lawyer is of course up to you. I’m not advocating that, but I want you to be prepared with information a lawyer may need to help you.

While you’re meeting with HR, let HR see that you’re making notes about your conversation — and doing your own CYA. It’s part of playing politics, whether your idea of winning is a lawsuit or merely quitting and moving on.


Coming Next Week: A special edition about how to leave your job.

Did you get fired? About to get downsized? Ready to quit? We’ll discuss how to protect yourself so you can move on — on your own terms! Don’t miss it!


Third, develop options.

Now that you’ve assessed — and let HR know — where you stand, the third part of politics is to get some insurance.

Gather a few written references from managers and co-workers, if you can do it discreetly. If you have a good enough collection, you may not need to include your current manager as a reference when you go job hunting. Other managers will suffice. One negative reference that you can explain as a bad egg may not matter much, as long as you have the support of others who know you well. (For more about this thorny problem, see How can you fight bad references?) You might be surprised at how much support you have when you make your move — even if these same people can’t help you protect your job.

(See Take Care Of Your References.)

Then take this a step farther. Have a friend who is a manager at another company call your current manager, his boss and the HR office, and ask them for references. (Caution: Do not fake this. You need a real manager asking for real references. Never lie. But there’s nothing wrong with playing more politics.) You’ll quickly learn whether they’re torpedoing you. If they are, you may need to talk with an attorney who can put a stop to it.

Just remember that you can’t lead with your references. To be a truly potent job applicant, you must lead with your ability to show an employer how you’re going to contribute to its success. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

Of course, your most important insurance is to line up interviews with other good employers. Even if you take legal action, your best option is a great new job, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing another employer values you and treats you with respect.

I don’t know whether your boss really hates you, but if he’s threatened to fire you, that triggers HR processes, and that’s company politics. If you don’t believe me, you will when you realize that HR’s first job is to protect the employer, not you. So CYA. That means playing politics to protect yourself. Be prepared to fight fire with fire.


HR: Friend Or Foe?

While HR might be very sympathetic and helpful, it can also be your opponent — whether you’re leaving your job or trying to get hired. For more about dealing with HR, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles.


Now for my disclaimer: My suggestions can be risky. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. So use your own judgment and do the best you can.

Have you faced a boss who hates you in spite of your good performance? What did you do to protect yourself? How did it turn out? How would you advise this reader?

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Bait & Switch Job Offers

Filed under: Changing jobs, Interviewing, Job scams, Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, Stupid HR Tricks

In the January 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews for a senior job only to receive a silly offer for a lower level job.

Question

I have not been on the job market since 2007, and after a layoff early October 2014 I am fighting my way through this job market. I have the background, experience, and personality a high tech company was looking for when they advertised a senior technical position at $96,000. After all the interviews, we seemed to be doing great, until my final face to face interview, where I was informed there are now two positions — one senior and one junior. During my initial screening with the company recruiter I was clear on my salary requirements.

When I recmousetrapeived the company’s offer letter, it was for $75,000, way below what we had discussed. I was insulted, shocked, and angry. When I called the recruiter, she stated there were a lot of strong candidates, that there were actually five positions, and that I fit better into a junior role at the salary offered. I replied that I applied for only the senior position at $96,000 and that there was no discussion of four other positions. I asked about the differences between the positions, and it’s clear from what the hiring manager says that there are none but the salary!

I want to send a response letter stating that I was a candidate for only the senior job, re-emphasizing my experience and expertise, and referencing the original senior salary range. What would you recommend?

Nick’s Reply

If you stand a few feet back from this and look at it for what it is, I think you’ll see the proper answer. I’m going to show you how to improve this job offer dramatically, but you must be ready to play this game for keeps.

First let’s do a reality check. This employer is playing you. You laid down the terms for the interview when you (a) applied for a senior technical position, and (b) when you stated your salary requirements and they agreed to proceed with those two understandings.

Now look at the facts:

  1. They offered you different job
  2. At a much lower salary.

We could just call this a stupid HR trick, but there’s another name for it: Bait and switch. A car dealer baits you with a test drive in a car you want to buy after you saw the price. You show up with a check, and they offer you a different car at a different price. You’d kick them down the street for switching the deal and wasting your time.

You did what you were supposed to do, so you’re thrown for a bit of a loop. You interviewed for a certain job at a certain salary level. They knew your expectations, and they agreed to proceed with the interviews. Then they changed all the terms and made a ridiculous offer. Had they made no offer, I’d just say the match didn’t work out. But this employer is clearly manipulating applicants. (I find this is most common with staffing firms that hire people and assign them to work for their clients. See Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)

You’re trying to behave rationally, and you’re looking for a reasonable explanation and next step. The recruiter and manager should be trying to impress you — see Baiting the talent — but they are doing the opposite. They are breaking basic business rules and pretending the problem is yours.

But two can play at this, and you can play without doing anything unprofessional. First, you must decide that you are willing to walk away from the junior position at the junior salary. (If you’re desperate for a paycheck, then you know what you must do.)

What I’d do is sign the offer letter and send it back to them. But I’d cross out the salary and enter the salary you told them you wanted. Initial it. Cross out the junior title and write in the senior title you interviewed for. Initial it. Accept the position at the salary level you all discussed. Add a note that says:

“This is the job I applied for and that you interviewed me for, at the salary range we discussed. If you are prepared to sign off on the original terms as we discussed them, I am ready to start work in two weeks.”

Then let them figure it out.

My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again. However, there’s a chance that, having a solid acceptance in hand, along with a start date, from a candidate they have judged worthy of hiring, they might negotiate a reasonable salary for the job you want. You’ve written your own ticket, and it’s up to them to join you for the ride. If they decline, you’ve lost nothing (having already decided you wouldn’t accept less) and you’ve preserved your integrity and self-respect.


For more about dealing with the final stages of the interview process, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.


If they decline, write them off and move on. These are jerks of the first order and I’d never talk to them again. This is an unscrupulous recruiter who advertises a high-level, desirable job at a high salary to entice seasoned, experienced technical people like you to invest plenty of time in interviews — just so they can short-sell you on a lower-paying job that they’d prefer to fill with much more highly qualified candidates at a huge discount.

fishhookThey are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.

Many, many people in today’s job market would fall for this and rationalize that it’s the best they can do. Maybe so — but when you add in a confidence game, we’re left with a bunch of self-deprecating job seekers who let themselves be suckered. Con-men love that.

I’d be interested to know what you do and what happens. The problem, of course, is that there are desperate job hunters who will accept any job under any terms and at any pay. This employer counts on that. It’s what’s wrong with our economy today: Crooks and suckers. They create a market that can’t last. It can only go south. For more about this, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

(I mean no disrespect to job seekers who need to put food on the table and who will take any job to do so. I’d do it myself. But the economic reality is that being put in this position creates a vicious downward cycle that encourages more of the same from ruthless employers.)

There is nothing wrong with you or your expectations. If you can afford to walk away from this, I would not look back. Jerks make lousy employers. You need only one employer with integrity.

Did you ever feel pressured to accept a lousy offer for a job you never applied for? What’s the most bizarre job offer situation you’ve been in — and what did you do? Was I too tough on this reader? What would you advise?

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2 really insulting interview questions

Filed under: Changing jobs, Headhunters, How to work with headhunters, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A

We often discuss the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions that employers ask. This week we’ll talk about two really insulting questions that interviewers should never ask — and how you might respond. One question was posed by a headhunter, and the other by an employer.

In the January 13, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two job seekers’ personal space is invaded by presumptuous interviewers:

Question #1

I am aggressively searching for an IT Technician position, and I have been contacted by several headhunter companies. They usually ask, “What other positions have you applied for?” and, “Which companies have you spoken to?” This makes me uncomfortable. What is the best way to answer?

Nick’s Reply

The best answer is short and sweet: “Sorry, I don’t disclose that information.”

tell-meBe polite, but be firm. It’s none of their business. More important, sharing that information puts you a risk. Unscrupulous headhunters (and there are lots of them) will go straight to the employer you mention and pitch other candidates to compete with you. In the meantime, the headhunter may not schedule any interviews for you at all. He’s used you.

In How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, I discuss this problem in more detail. The headhunter will likely try to explain that he needs to know where else you’re interviewing because he doesn’t want to create a conflict by submitting you to the same company. Yah, sure.


From HTWWH pp. 85-86, “Should I tell a headhunter who else I’m interviewing with?”:

The argument that the headhunter “just needs to know” to ensure you’re not already interviewing with her client is hogwash. She can just as easily determine that by divulging who her client is. After all, the headhunter called you, not the other way around. A good headhunter should not be bothered because you decline to divulge what companies you’re talking with.


Don’t fall for this ruse.

If they don’t respect your not wanting to disclose, then they’re not worth working with. They lack integrity.

If the headhunter presses you, try this: “Can you please tell me the names of employers and hiring managers you sent candidates to interview with this month?” Of course, it’s none of your business. And where you’re applying for jobs is not his, either.

Question #2

polygraph

I have been on many job interviews in the last two months and each time they have asked me if I would be loyal to them as my employer. I have been laid off a couple of times, though it had nothing to do with the quality of my work or my loyalty. It was due to a downsizing and a change in the job, requiring new skills I didn’t have. But employers seem to hold me responsible for those short jobs. Is there a nice way to say that I have been loyal, but employers were not loyal to me? I find it interesting and a little suspect when this question comes up in an interview. Do they expect an interviewee to tell them if they were not planning to stay more than a year or so? Why would they ask this? It seems like an unrealistic question.

Nick’s Reply

I think employers ask that question, best case, because they’re naive. At worst, because they’re stupid. If they seem puzzled when you explain it wasn’t you, but the employer, that made the choice to downsize, then that should tell you all you need to know. Their reaction is a non sequitur.

Telling them the truth and committing to the new job is the best you can do. But my cynical answer to these clods would be a question: “Well, how long do you keep your employees?” Of course, they’d be insulted, but turnabout is fair play.

Don’t over-think this. Often, the reason employers question an applicant’s loyalty is because they’ve already got a turnover problem. Rather than root out the real cause, they want you to promise you’ll stick around. Duh.

Another, more interesting, way to handle this is to go on a polite, professional offensive. Before they get to that question, ask them what the turnover rate is in the department you’re interviewing with. By taking the initiative, you also gain the advantage. If they answer honestly, they’ll become defensive. Then you can ask why people keep leaving. By the time they get to questions of your loyalty, their own “bad” is out of the bag.

Be careful, of course. I’m not suggesting being sarcastic. But it’s legit to ask an employer about employee turnover, don’t you think?

(For a head-on approach to changing the path of your job interviews completely, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, especially pp. 16-18, “How do I overcome my deficiencies?”)

The two questions employers posed in these two Q&As are insulting because they are presumptuous and invasive. No one can assure an employer they will stay at a job, and a job seeker’s other prospects are none of a headhunter’s business. The best way to deal with such questions is to politely but firmly decline to answer them. How snarky you get is up to you.

What really insulting interview questions have you encountered? What’s your advice about the questions in this week’s Q&As?

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‘Tis the season to land the right job

Filed under: Getting in the door, Job Search, Q&A

In the December 23, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, several job seekers bemoan the state of employment:

Question

  This week’s edition addresses submissions from several readers:

  • “I don’t understand it. I must have responded to over 50 job postings in the last month, and I haven’t gotten a single interview.”
  • caneI’ve completed over a dozen job applications, and I haven’t heard from one company.”
  • “The tight market puts employers and recruiters in the driver’s seat once again. Fewer jobs are available, and there’s a larger talent pool to choose from.”
  • “Companies that once had to make offers on the spot to snare candidates now have the luxury of time. They can postpone making hiring decisions until they find someone who meets all their criteria.”

The question behind all these plaintive protests is clear: Why am I not getting hired?

Nick’s Reply

Whoo-whee! It’s that time of the year — the best time of year to get a job. Companies are indeed hiring. They’re just not doing it the way you’d expect. They’re in a hurry but they don’t want to make mistakes. All across this blog, we discuss how to help employers make the decision to hire you. These concepts are laid out in how-to fashion in the Ask The Headhunter PDF books, and we’ll summarize some of them here.


If you’d like to buy one or more Ask The Headhunter books, I’ll offer you a holiday discount! Take a jolly 25% off your purchase by using discount code=JOLLY.

[Discount code JOLLY extended through New Year’s weekend!]


Consider the logic of the frustrated job hunters above. It’s not logic at all. It’s pure frustration that stems from not being the right candidate. Who’s fault is that? Difficult as it might be to hear this, please listen:

  • Don’t approach a company if you’re not the right candidate.
  • Don’t make rationalizations when a company ignores you.

It’s true that many companies are hiring fewer people because things are tight, but that doesn’t mean they have the luxury of time. In fact, the opposite is often true. Some managers are under great pressure to fill precious slots before the year ends and budgets close (or are cut). Thus, employers are not hiring slowly because they can, but because they can’t get the right candidates. They are deluged with every Tom, Dick, and Jane who has a minute to submit an application — and those same managers are burdened with applicant tracking systems that can’t distinguish strong candidates from weak ones.

Remember that most hires are made via trusted referrals and personal contacts. Why? Because this is the most reliable source of good, appropriate candidates. When managers can’t get a hire through this preferred channel, they turn to lesser sources, like ads and resume submissions. They know the odds of finding a good candidate are low, but they, too, are frustrated and desperate. They need to fill a job now. Put that in your Santa’s pipe and smoke it — and you’ll sweep past your competition.

wreath‘Tis the season to be truly right. If you are the candidate a manager needs, you can capitalize on the rush to hire. You can give a manager the gift he’s been waiting for: your earthly presence. Help him to spend his budget and make the hire. Be ready to articulate your value, but do it face-to-face or on the phone.

Make it personal. Like Baba Ram Das said in 1976, “Be here now.” A resume doesn’t cut it. An application doesn’t cut it. When you hide behind a form, you’re admitting that you’re not sure you’re the right candidate. You are afraid to face the manager because you have nothing compelling to say. If you’re the right candidate, then you have exactly what it takes to make a manager smile and say, “Yes!”

There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. You can be the truly right candidate for only one, or two, or maybe three different jobs. Pick them carefully. Study, prepare, create a business plan to prove your value to the specific manager, and go after those two or three jobs and no others.


Here’s the secret to showing an employer why she should hire you: Estimate as best you can how your work produces revenue or reduces costs for the company.

Excerpted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, p. 8:

Identify your role in the profit equation
If you work in sales or product design, you help produce revenue by selling or by creating products. That’s good for the company. The more you contribute to revenues, the more value you add to the business.

If you work in information technology or in manufacturing, you have a daily impact on the company’s costs. (But, of course, every worker is part of a company’s costs.) High costs are not good. Your job contributes to the success of the business by helping minimize costs (also known as increasing efficiency) while performing a function necessary to help produce revenue.

The difference between revenue and cost is profit. So, regardless of what your job is, ask yourself what you do to enhance profits. Do you sell more stuff at higher margins, or do you do some other job smarter, faster, and cheaper? Explaining this to an employer helps you demonstrate your value.


The frustrated candidates who submitted the complaints above are not being dismissed because their resumes are lousy, but because they are cows. If you merely send in a resume, what’s the chance you are really the right candidate? If you rely on nothing but a dopey job posting, how can you know what a job is about or what a manager wants? Please: Be realistic. Take the most reliable, proven path to a job. If you are really the right candidate, prove it by getting referred by someone the hiring manager trusts.

hollysprigI know I sound a bit harsh. My suggestions seem like an unreasonable burden on a job hunter. The notion that it’s up to you to pick the right job creates a daunting task. And making personal contact with hard-to-reach managers is so difficult. This is all very hard work.

Yep. But so is the great job you want. The task of finding and winning it has never been easy. If you believe otherwise, you’re grasping at straws. You already know this isn’t simple. You already know that being dead-on for a job is a rare experience. But if you don’t make it happen, it’s not likely to happen on its own.

Take advantage of this high-pressure time when managers really do want to fill jobs. But don’t be casual about it. Get personal. Be the right candidate who picks the one right company, the one right job, then picks up the phone and delivers the solution a manager has on his wish list.

(For more on job hunting during the holidays, please read The Third Fallacy.)

The candidate who does all that is who you’re competing with, whether she learned this approach from me or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

These are some key tips to help you get the edge you need over your competitors:

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2014. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined here in upcoming issues of this newsletter. Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year! See you with the next edition on January 6!

Save a JOLLY 25%!

If you purchase one or more Ask The Headhunter PDF books in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore, please take advantage of this jolly holiday 25% OFF discount.christmas-tree

When you order, use discount code=JOLLY and I’ll deduct 25% from your purchase price — no matter how many PDF books you buy! (This is a limited-time offer for the holidays! Expires Jan. 1, 2015!) [Discount code JOLLY extended through New Year’s weekend!]

How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What methods of your own have you used successfully? Please share, and let’s discuss — what matters most is what works best out in the field!

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After 2 big salary jumps, I landed hard

Filed under: Changing jobs, How to Say It, Job Search, Making money, Q&A, Salary

In the December 16, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker gets two 25% salary boosts and lands hard:

Question

I left a management job at Company A 16 months ago after ten years. It was becoming uncomfortably similar to the company you refer to in Death by Lethal Reputation. A friend recruited me to Company B for a 25% pay raise. Company B turned out to be a good place to work, but after six months there another friend requested I talk with his director as a favor, and to cut to the chase, Company C offered another 25% raise on top of what I was making and I took it.

is it-about-moneySince then, at Company C I have had six different bosses, management has re-structured three times, and my co-workers have been very difficult to work with since they all seem focused on the politics of positioning for the next shake-up. (It’s scheduled for next month.) This caught me completely by surprise since this kind of thing really hadn’t been happening there before.

I am growing impatient with the chaos and losing confidence in my managers, but I am reluctant to have another change so soon on my resume. I’m very good at what I do, which is highly specialized technical work. I’m fortunate to be in such demand, and I admit the money was a big part of jumping to Company C, though it’s clear that I blew it.

How many changes are too many on a resume? How much patience do I owe this employer? How would I present myself to a prospective employer without appearing like I am hopping jobs for money?

Thanks and best regards.

Nick’s Reply

Time to pay the piper, eh? Don’t feel too bad. While you should have looked under the rug more carefully before you took this latest job, I know it’s hard to turn down such salary increases from companies that are hungry to hire specialized workers.

When you pursue that next job, interview the company in more detail. (See “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.) The only way to get the real story before you take the job is to talk to managers that are peripheral to your own department, and to other employees who know how the business really works.

When a company begins to indicate that it’s serious about you, that’s the time to ask to meet more members of the organization.

How to Say It
“It’s important to me to know how Sales (or Operations, or Engineering) functions, because I’ll be affecting their success and they’ll be affecting mine. I’d like to meet with the manager of Sales, and with some of the other technical people in the department I’d be working in. Can you arrange that?”

This is the kind of insight that will help you make a more informed decision, and help you avoid surprises.

kangaBut let’s look at your current situation. What is your responsibility to this company? You’ve been there about ten months. You might stick around long enough to see how the new re-org works out. Then I’d have no qualms about leaving if things don’t get any better. But even if you give that six months, you’re still talking about a short tenure right after a six-month stint at Company B.

No matter how you cut it, you come across as a job-hopper who’s gone for the bucks. I’m not criticizing you for that, but I will suggest that now’s the time to figure out what you really want in your career. Define it clearly — industry, business, company, technology, function, compensation, the work itself, the people. Then pursue it. Ignore the wrong jobs. Go after the companies where you want to work.

Here’s some advice that emphasizes just how deep you must dig to avoid another mistake — from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, p. 12:

Check a company’s references
Talk with people who depend on the company for a living: attorneys, bankers, investors, landlords, and others. This will give you a community-wide perspective and also help keep you out of harm’s way. Explain that you are considering an investment in the company. (Your career is indeed an investment!) Ask for their insight and advice. Is this a good company? Why?

When companies pursue you too aggressively, they can hurt you. You can start to look like damaged goods because you’ve jumped around too much. I wouldn’t say you’re there yet — not with two short jobs on your resume.

My guess is you might have to take a pay cut to get the kind job (and environment) you want. If it comes to that, consider it the cost of getting back on track. In a good company, you’ll have a chance to make it up pretty quickly. (See “Taking A Salary Cut to Change Careers” in How Can I Change Careers?)

The best way to deal with the resume issue is to avoid using one. (See Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.) The kinds of contacts who helped you win your last two jobs should comprise your strategy. When a buddy introduces you, he or she can also explain your situation, and that you’ve learned a lesson. And don’t avoid that topic in an interview: Be blunt about it.

How to Say It
“I made a serious mistake. Not just going for the money, but not looking carefully at a company before enlisting. Before I take another job, I want to make sure I’m right for the company, and that the company’s right for me. So please feel free to be blunt with me, and I will be with you, too. I want to make sure we can live and work together to get the job done.”

As you decide which companies you want to work for, make it your first goal to develop contacts there. If you lack them, you can create them by polling your friends.

Even if you decide to stick around till after the re-org, start your search now. Work at this patiently, and choose carefully. Put your two lemons in their place, swallow the sour taste, and get ready to move on.

I wish you the best.

Have you ever regretted taking too much money? How many job leaps are too many?

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The Magic Resume Calculator: Save 95% of your job hunting time!

Filed under: Getting in the door, Job Search, Q&A, Resumes

In the December 9, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker asks how to format a resume for best results:

Question

When you reply via e-mail to a job ad, what is the preferred method of sending a cover letter and a resume? A formatted document, or plain text? Many don’t specify.

Nick’s Reply

First let’s use my Magic Resume Calculator to figure out how many resumes you should send out. Then we’ll discuss how to format them.

How many resumes?

resume-calculatorThe Calculator needs to know the number of resumes you’ve already sent out, and the number of job applications you’ve completed, in the past several months. What percentage resulted in no job offers?

I’m guessing 95%. But, use your actual results. I’ll stick with 95% for this example, based on my experience with all the job seekers I know. Pretty pathetic, eh? Yah, that’s why you’re so frustrated, and it’s why you’re asking for advice.

Now let’s consider the next number: What percentage of the time did you submit a resume or application to someone you actually know, who knows you? I’m guessing maybe 5%. (Sheesh, eh?)

The Magic Resume Calculator tells us you can save 95% of your time by sending out 95% fewer resumes. To maximize your chances of success, send resumes only to people you know who know you.

Obvious, huh? Well, then why aren’t you already doing that?

How to format your resume

When you submit a resume, whether via e-mail or on paper, it’s reasonable to assume that an employer will shove it through resume scanning equipment. So your first step is to call the company and ask exactly what format the machine prefers. That is, if you really want to compete for a machine’s attention.

resume-mistakesAs a headhunter, what matters to me is whether your resume demonstrates your ability to do the job and to add profit to the company’s bottom line. To a smart employer (where a human is doing the reading), formatting doesn’t matter if the information is valuable. You could put it in the body of an e-mail, in an attachment, or on a piece of paper.

Here’s what matters most to me when I receive a resume:

1. Is the sender someone I know? If not, it gets deleted. I have no time to waste with people who have not taken the trouble to track me down and talk with me before they send me a piece of paper.

That’s not to say I like unsolicited phone calls. The people I’m most likely to talk with have been referred to me by other people I know and trust.

My advice to job hunters: Get introduced. Make contact through someone the hiring manager knows. I’ll bet you don’t pick up hitchhikers, or give telemarketers your credit card number, or ask strangers for money. Get the point? Don’t send a resume to someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.

This single piece of advice is lost on almost everyone. Because this requires real work and effort, most people skirt past it. I know, I know: It’s just so much easier to send resumes out in bulk anywhere you find jobs posted…. So, why not do it? Because it’s really stupid.

In a contest between a trusted referral and your blind resume, you will always lose. I won’t open your resume, and what’s in it doesn’t matter. That’s how hiring managers and I save 95% of our time.

2. Is the information useful? Let’s say you get my attention through someone I know. Here’s your next hurdle. If your cover letter is a boring, empty pitch about how available you are, and your resume is a recitation of your experience, I won’t spend any time on it. Nor will any hiring manager

Why? Because we don’t have time to figure out what to do with you. You have to explain it to us quickly and clearly. (See Resume Blasphemy.)

My advice: Whether you’re calling an employer or submitting a proposal about a job, learn how to make a compelling presentation, and make it brief. A very helpful book is Milo Frank’s How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less. Be ready to discuss the work I need done, exactly how you’ll do it, and how the outcome will be good for me. The hard work lies in editing your message down to only the information that will matter to me. Figuring that out is your challenge; don’t make it mine. (This is how to profitably use the 95% of your time saved.)

In general, a resume by itself is a dumb piece of paper (or e-mail), no matter how it’s formatted. It cannot represent you or defend you. (See the section of How Can I Change Careers? titled “Put A Free Sample in Your Resume.”)

What matters most to an employer or headhunter reading a resume is that it came via a personal introduction from someone we trust. Your competitors will almost always come in second.

Disclosure: I didn’t invent the Magic Resume Calculator. It’s prior art. Back before we had the Internet, phones, and reliable mail, people had a great incentive to pursue only jobs for which they were recommended: They couldn’t afford to waste their time. Today, employers waste your time and theirs, too, simply because they can. Use the Magic Resume Calculator to save time, and don’t worry how your few resumes are formatted. What really matters is that you know the few managers you hand your resume to, and that they know you.

I know you understand all this. But, do you send out unsolicited resumes anyway, hoping for the best? What’s your hit rate with blind resumes?

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Wanted: HR exec with the guts to not ask for your SSN

Filed under: For Managers, Getting in the door, Hiring, Job Search, Q&A, Recruiting, Stupid HR Tricks

In the December 2, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker hesitates to hand over a Social Security number:

Question

The more I read your columns, the more I realize that the employment process is not just broken. It’s inappropriate and run by people who think they can demand anything from people who need a job. Like private, personal information you’d never just hand over to anyone.

I viewed an employment application yesterday and I didn’t have issues with most of what tssnhey asked for, until I got to the request for my SSN. What do they need that for? My thinking is that providing your SSN would only be appropriate if and when you are hired. In your opinion, when would it be acceptable to provide your social security number (SSN) to a potential employer?

Nick’s Reply

Employers, like your phone company and gas company, use your SSN to identify you in their databases because it’s a unique number. It’s the lazy vendor’s way to track customers, and the lazy HR department’s way to track job applicants. And it’s frankly irresponsible.

Here’s what Pam Dixon, Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum, says:

“Never put a Social Security Number on your resume. You can provide it when you are invited for an interview or when the employer obtains your permission to conduct a background check. Widespread access to your SSN puts you at risk for identity theft.”

(So, uh… do employers ever conduct background checks before meeting you, or without your permission? Yep. For an example, see Big Brother & The Employment Industry: “All your employment are belong to us!”)

I know many HR workers will shake their heads and say I’m being overly cautious, and that they really do need a job applicant’s SSN. So here’s my challenge: Give me one good reason why an applicant’s SSN is necessary to proceed with a job interview.

I’ve asked this question of HR again and again, and no one has been able to answer it satisfactorily. We’ve already discussed how this “SSN protocol” has spawned unintended scams: How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number.

If it needs a unique identifier, why doesn’t the employer just ask for your credit card number? For that matter, why don’t you — the applicant — ask the HR representative for his SSN, as well, so you can do a background check on him? (Two can play this game, if one thinks he can justify it.)got-guts

Yes, these are rhetorical questions — but they’re no nuttier than improper requests for your SSN.

I don’t believe any employer really needs your SSN until you are hired, when it’s necessary to process and report your contributions to your social security account. If the employer needs it to conduct a background check, wouldn’t you want the employer to put some skin in the game first — for example, by actually interviewing you and indicating it’s interested in hiring you? I’d take that a step further and ask the employer to (1) disclose exactly what kind of check it’s going to do, and (2) agree to show you everything it finds. (Even credit bureaus are required to show you what they find. Which reminds me: You should be just as wary of requests by employers for your credit report: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)

If you think my suggestions are a bit over the top, then try responding to the employer with these two businesslike questions: For what reason do you need my SSN? Or, What are you going to do with it?

The reality is, some software designer included an SSN field in the employer’s database, and the HR department bought the software without questioning the design and intent. Because HR relies on such software to process you, HR doesn’t know what to do if you decline to provide data the software “requires.” Go figure. Suppose the software included a credit card field instead — that’s unique to you, too, right? But no one would expect you to provide it, because the employer doesn’t need it.

I feel your pain. Some employers will boot you out of the hiring process if you don’t give them your SSN (and your salary history) — just like a phone or cable company will refuse to sell you service without it. I wish someone would file a lawsuit.

When you’re stuck, blocked by a faceless job application form that asks inappropriate questions, there’s just one thing left to do: Go mano a mano. Yes, I’d call the employer — on the phone — and explain that you’d like to apply, but that you will provide your SSN only if you are hired. “So, how do we proceed with my application?”

Of course, HR might have a problem dealing with a human applicant, and it may have a policy against talking to applicants on the phone. Hey — where did you get HR’s private phone number, anyway…?

Do you hand over your SSN when applying for jobs? Is there an HR executive out there with the guts to stop asking for job applicants’ SSNs until after HR has decided to make an offer?

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4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips for Thanksgiving

Filed under: Changing jobs, Fearless Job Hunting, Interviewing, Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, The job offer

In the November 25, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, there’s no Q&A. Instead…

pumpkinI used to take a break during Thanksgiving week and skipped publishing an edition of the newsletter so that I could cook, bake, and fill the larder with goodies for the holiday. But last year I started a new tradition and cooked up something different for you with the Thanksgiving week edition. Rather than normal Q&A, I’d like to share four tips from the latest Ask The Headhunter publications. If you find something useful in them, I’ll be glad.

The idea behind the new Fearless Job Hunting books is that finding a job is not about prescribed steps. It’s not about following rules. In fact, job hunting is such an over-defined process that there are thousands of books and articles about how to do it — and the methods are all the same.

What all those authors conveniently ignore is that the steps don’t work. If they did, every resume would get you an interview, which would in turn produce a job offer and a job.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. The key to successful job hunting is knowing how to deal with the handful of daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Here are some excerpts from Fearless Job Hunting — and if you decide you’d like to study these methods in more detail, I invite you to take 20% off your purchase price by using discount code=GOBBLE. (This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

You just lost your job and your nerves are frayed. Please — take a moment to put your fears aside. Think about the implications of the choices you make. Consider the obstacles you encounter in your job search.

FJH-11. Don’t settle

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, p. 4, The myth of the last-minute job search:

When you’re worried about paying the rent, it seems that almost any job will do. Taking the first offer that comes along could be your biggest mistake. It’s also one of the most common reasons people go job hunting again soon — they settle for a wrong job, rather than select the right one.

Start Early: Research the industry you want to work in. Learn what problems and challenges it faces. Then, identify the best company in that industry. (Why settle for less? Why join a company just because it wants you? Join the one you want.)

Study the company, establish contacts, learn the business, and build expertise. Rather than being just a hunter for any job, learn to be the solution to one company’s problems. That’s what gets you hired, because such dedication and focus makes you stand out.

2. Scope the community

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 6, It’s the people, Stupid:

FJH-3You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in the community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of.

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work.

The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

3. Avoid a salary cut

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), p. 9: How can I avoid a salary cut?

FJH-7Negotiating doesn’t have to be done across an adversarial table — and it should not be done over the phone. You can sit down and hash through a deal like partners. Sometimes, candor means getting almost personal. Check the How to Say It box for a suggestion:

How to Say It
“If I take this job, we’re entering into a sort of marriage. Our finances will be intertwined. So, let’s work out a budget — my salary and your profitability — that we’re both going to be happy with for years down the road. If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me. But I also need to know that I can meet my own budget and my living expenses, so that I can focus entirely on my job.”

It might seem overly candid, but there’s not enough candor in the world of business. A salary negotiation should be an honest discussion about what you and the employer can both afford.

4. Know what you’re getting into

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23: Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it:

FJH-8I think the failure to research and understand one another is one of the key reasons why companies lay off employees and why workers quit jobs. They have no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late. Proper due diligence is extensive and detailed. How far you go with it is up to you.

Research is a funny thing. When it’s part of our job, and we get paid to do it, we do it thoroughly because we don’t want our judgments to appear unsupported by facts and data. When we need to do research for our own protection, we often skip it or we get sloppy. We “trust our instincts” and make career decisions by the seat of our pants.

When a company uses a headhunter to fill a position, it expects [a high level] of due diligence to be performed on candidates the headhunter delivers. If this seems to be a bit much, consider that the fee the company pays a headhunter for all this due diligence can run upwards of $30,000 for a $100,000 position. Can you afford to do less when you’re judging your next employer?

Remember that next to our friends and families, our employers represent the most important relationships we have. Remember that other people who have important relationships with your prospective employer practice due diligence: bankers, realtors, customers, vendors, venture capitalists and stock analysts. Can you afford to ignore it?

* * *

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this community throughout the year. Have you ever settled for the wrong job, or failed to scope out a work community before accepting a job? Did you get stuck with a salary cut, or with a surprise when you took a job without doing all the necessary investigations? Let’s talk about it! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you purchase a book,
take 20% off by using discount code=GOBBLE
(This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

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The Do-It-Yourself Interview (for managers)

Filed under: For Managers, Hiring, Interviewing, Job Search, Recruiting

In the November 18, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a look at what managers need to ask themselves, before they ask job candidates anything:

You’re a hiring manager

Your human resources department just handed you a list of questions to use when interviewing job candidates. Put it aside. We can do better.

tell-meThe problem with such questions is that they quickly make their way into hundreds of books with titles like Top Interview Questions & Answers! Any job candidate with a decent memory can recite clever rejoinders to the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions:

  • If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • How would you handle a difficult boss?
  • Gimme a break!

Before you decide what questions to ask job candidates, interview yourself.

Managers are not ready to interview

As we saw in HR Pornography: Interview videos, a recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers.

I find that most managers conduct rote interviews because they fail to understand what they really want out of a new hire. (See Don’t conduct junk interviews.) They don’t ask themselves, What am I really trying to accomplish for my business?

More common than the failure to assess a candidate properly is a manager’s failure to understand what’s important to him. Once you can get a handle on that, you will be able to develop your own interview questions without help from anyone. (Just what does your HR department really know about your department’s business, anyway? Enough to come in for a few days and do the job you’re trying to fill? If HR can’t do that, then what qualifies them to pose legitimate interview questions?)

I think most managers aren’t ready to interview anyone because they haven’t interviewed themselves first.

I’d like to suggest some questions for you — the hiring manager — to answer before you meet any candidates. I hope this exercise leads you to expect a lot more from the interview process. Perhaps these questions will give you food for thought, and you’ll think of more of them.

Questions for managers

  1. What’s the one thing you wish you could quickly figure out about every candidate in an interview?
  2. A year from now, how do you want your department to be different as a result of filling this job?
  3. If a candidate were to go up to the board and draw a detailed outline or flowchart, what would you want him to draw?
  4. At what point in your search for the perfect candidate will it start to cost you more to keep interviewing than to hire and train a talented person in the necessary skills?

man sketch a bulbI’ve got lots more of these questions for a DIY interview for managers, but I’d like to invite you — Ask The Headhunter subscribers — to suggest more good questions managers should ask themselves before they ask you (job applicants) anything at all. I’m sure you’ve been in enough interviews that went south for lack of productive discussion — and you probably could have helped the interviewer. (Not doing so might have cost you a job — so, maybe, next time you should nudge the manager back on track for your own good!)

It never ceases to amaze me. Managers can ask job candidates for almost anything they want — so, why do they ask for a resume, and about where you see yourself in five years? Why don’t managers address the really tough stuff? For example, why don’t they ask all candidates to show how they’d do the work, right there in the interview? (See The Single Best Interview Question Ever.)

I think the employment system is broken because employers use a worn-out, one-size-fits-all script when they decide to add people to their teams. Managers simply don’t know what they want much of the time, and they don’t take time to think about it. Consequenty, they conduct ridiculous “interviews” and wind up rejecting outstanding job candidates who never get a chance to really show what they can do.

The manager and the job candidate both lose.

Don’t you think managers could do a much better job of deciding what they want before they ask for anything?

What questions should managers ask and answer before they ask you to apply for a job and go to an interview? What can managers do to make interviewing a more productive experience?

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