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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LinkedIn Users Sucker-Punched by Wrong References

Filed under: Job scams, Job Search, Q&A, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks

In the November 11, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we examine yet another questionable LinkedIn “feature” that could cost you a job.

Question

The New York Times just did a story about a group of people suing LinkedIn for selling possibly invalid references to employers. Now LinkedIn has gone too far. This is causing employers to reject job applicants, and the applicants didn’t even provide the references! What do you think of this career sucker-punch?

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the bottom line: There is zero integrity in LinkedIn’s “Trusted References” sales pitch. While LinkedIn sells employers a reference checking service, it defends against the lawsuit by saying it’s not really selling a reference checking service — it’s just selling a list of names.

And LinkedIn thereby throws its own integrity into the toilet. I don’t see how any employer could even contemplate using such a “service.” in-your-faceIt really is a sucker-punch — LinkedIn connects an employer with wrong “references” and you can’t even defend yourself.

I’ve got over 500 LinkedIn connections — most of whom I’ve never met. Some may have crossed my path at a company with thousands of employees. How irresponsible is it of LinkedIn to sell those overlaps as my
“trusted references?”

What are references?

What if I’m a food critic and I write a newspaper column that tells you a restaurant is no good? You buy the paper and avoid the restaurant. Can the restaurant sue me for loss of business? Even though money changed hands for “data,” do you really think a restaurant critic could go to jail?

I think the New York Times did a poor job covering this story, because it confuses several issues and fails to clearly point to the real problem.

Before we get into that, let’s remember that references make commerce possible. They are an important part of business. People’s opinions and judgments about us — and about products, services, brands and companies — are the coin of the realm in any economy. When smart employers hire and when good headhunters recruit, we check relevant opinions and judgments first, to make sure we know who (and what) we’re dealing with. That’s why your reputation — and any company’s reputation — is so important.

It makes no sense to suggest that checking references before hiring someone is inappropriate, or that rejecting someone for a job because of poor references is wrong. It’s due diligence. The Times seems to confuse seeking and sharing opinions with privacy. I think the lawsuit does, too.

But that’s where the controversies start. The Times doesn’t address certain questions, and I’m not going to, either, because this isn’t an analysis of references. Nonetheless, I’ll bait your confusion by posting some of the questions I think need to be answered:

  • What is a reference?
  • Who owns references?
  • How far can an employer go when checking references?
  • Can you buy a reference?
  • What does an employer pay for when using LinkedIn to check references?
  • For that matter, what do you pay for when using LinkedIn to make contacts or to get a job?
  • Are people free to ask about you and talk about you if they want?
  • What if someone decides not to do business with you based on what they learn from others?

America’s employment system has become such a jumble of promises, marketing, expectations, data and databases that everyone seems incredibly confused about what’s right, wrong, possible or legal.

Disclaimer

I’m not a lawyer, so this is not a legal opinion or legal advice. I’m a headhunter and my comments are based on (I hope) my business sense. What others say about your professional reputation matters a lot, and it does — and should — influence whether someone wants to hire you. But, what if a fencepost is checking your references?

Reference checking requires integrity

Headhunters — like homeowners looking to hire plumbers — check opinions and judgments all the time. We’ll make discreet inquiries to find out who you are, how good you are at your work, and what you’re like to work with. If we hear something out of the ordinary — positive or negative — we must have the good sense to double- and triple-check the information before we risk our own reputations by referring you to our clients. Like good restaurant critics, we realize that opinions we gather will have consequences.

Trureferences-glassst and integrity are the hallmarks of our business — which is why I say about 95% of headhunters aren’t worth spit. Too many are in the business for a quick buck, and their own judgment stinks (to say nothing of their skills). It’s up to you — the consumer — to use your head before you rely on a headhunter, whether you’re a job seeker or an employer.

Likewise, it’s up to employers to judge what LinkedIn is selling them when it delivers lists of references. And it’s up to employers to ensure that their own in-house recruiters know how to select, check and evaluate references properly. In my opinion, 95% of in-house recruiters can’t be trusted with the task, and no one is the wiser. Worse, many employers outsource reference checking and have no idea whether the results are valid or reliable.

(See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.)

My point is, you have no idea where your references will come from or who is checking them — any more than a restaurant does. So be careful.

What did LinkedIn do?

According to the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California:

“LinkedIn has created a marketplace in consumer employment information, where it sells employment information, that may or may not be accurate, and that it has obtained in part from unwitting members, and without complying with the FCRA [Fair Credit Reporting Act].”

The problem, plaintiffs say, is that:

“any potential employer can anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based upon the information they gather, without the knowledge of the member, and without any safeguards in place as to the accuracy of the information that the potential employer has obtained.”

In other words, plaintiffs claim LinkedIn is selling information that leads employers to inappropriately rejecting people for jobs. They also suggest that there may be some violation of privacy. I asked employment lawyer Mark P. Carey about the privacy issue. He says:

“Everyone who maintains a LinkedIn account should expect that their information is public.That’s why we have these personal/professional marketing pieces. There is no privacy issue as far as I can see, especially if you signed the user agreement before gaining access to host your own page.”

But I do think LinkedIn has a problem. First, LinkedIn takes money for what it advertises as “Trusted References for Job Candidates.” In so many words, LinkedIn suggests the references an employer pays to access about you are accurate — “Trusted.” That’s where I think LinkedIn crosses the line, whether legally or with regard to its own integrity. LinkedIn cannot possibly know whether those references are trustworthy. So how can it pitch them with impunity to employers — or defend them to job seekers?

When people are rejected for jobs because of questionable references, we’ve all got a problem. LinkedIn especially.

Elsewhere in its Help section, LinkedIn says:

“A reference search locates people in your network who can provide reliable feedback about a job candidate or business prospect.”

That is, LinkedIn represents that an employer can rely on the references to justify hiring you or rejecting you. In fact, it uses those words to lure employers into buying those lists.

However, LinkedIn spokesman Joseph Roualdes tries to alter LinkedIn’s own representations when he tells the Times, “A [paid] reference search… simply lets a searcher locate people in their network who have worked at the same company during the same time period as a member they would like to learn more about.”

Suddenly, LinkedIn isn’t selling anymore. It’s covering its ass. The truth is on the web site: LinkedIn promises that the references employers are buying are “Trusted” and “reliable.”

References or just a list of names?

Here’s where I think the going gets dicey for the plaintiffs. Regardless of what LinkedIn sells and promotes — references — LinkedIn does not seem to really deliver references. It apparently delivers only a list of names. It’s up to the employer to talk to those people and ask them for references.

It seems to me that if the plaintiffs were rejected by employers due to bad references, the plaintiffs should be suing the references themselves for defamation — or the employers.

defamationLawyer Carey fleshes out the defamation issue for us:

“The real underlying issue here is whether and to what extent an act of defamation occurred… There is no legal claim there for anything, not even defamation. The article and the lawsuit dance across the fringe of privacy and defamation, without any substance. Only when a search adds content that provides a qualification uniquely driven at the particular candidate, then someone crosses the legal line of what is neutral and what is defamatory.”

But it doesn’t seem LinkedIn is “adding content.” That is, it doesn’t deliver the text of a reference, so there’s no defamatory statement.

Perhaps the employers who paid for those names have an action they can bring if the names yield inaccurate references when LinkedIn promises otherwise — but I don’t see how a job seeker could sue LinkedIn successfully because it sold names. That seems to be covered in the company’s terms and conditions.

The Times compares this suit to one against Spokeo, an online data broker which “agreed to pay $800,000 to settle accusations” that it marketed reports to recruiters and background screeners without providing consumers with protections afforded by the law.”

But LinkedIn doesn’t seem to sell reference reports about anyone. Again, I don’t see how LinkedIn can be liable for a bad reference. The data that employers rely on to make decisions did not come from LinkedIn; only names came from LinkedIn.

LinkedIn’s Customer: Fencepost, Inc.

The larger problem is that mindless employers believe ridiculous advertisements by LinkedIn that claim a list of names are “Trusted References… who can provide reliable feedback about a job candidate.”

(Remember, we’re talking about the same “professional networking” company that charges employers for lists of the best job candidates — while it sells high rankings on those lists to job applicants! We’re talking about the same employers that know this yet still pay LinkedIn to find job candidates! See LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters.)

fencepostSays the Times: “Sophisticated recruiters would not waste their time contacting people who clearly had no connection of significance to a job candidate.”

But they do, and if the New York Times is going to skate over this key fact, then it’s drawing the wrong conclusions, because most HR recruiters are fenceposts. Just ask any job seeker that deals with them. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?)

Those same recruiters stupidly waste their time interviewing candidates simply because LinkedIn represents that the “profiles” it sells are “accurate.” Is it any surprise that recruiters are suckered into making hiring decisions based on “references” that may not be accurate?

A law professor cited in the article concludes, “A company can now decide which people associated with you can be curators of your reputation in situations that matter.”

But companies have always done that. The trouble is, now there’s no need to verify that a reference is legit — that is, valid or reliable. Because LinkedIn ensures us that it is.

What’s the real problem?

LinkedIn does not sell reference reports or reference information, so I don’t think anyone can hold it liable when employers reject applicants based on comments made by a list of people LinkedIn sells.

I think the wrong plaintiffs are suing. Employers should be suing LinkedIn for its failure to take reasonable measures to ensure that the lists of references it sells are in fact “Trusted References” and that they “can provide reliable feedback about a job candidate.”

Just how stupid are recruiters who “trust” LinkedIn references? The Times reporter says the plaintiff’s lawyer showed her that recruiters have no idea what they’re buying — or whether they’re calling real references at all. The lawyer ran a “LinkedIn reference search” on the reporter:

“The search produced a list of 43 people in his network who currently work or have done work for this newspaper — including a former I.T. consultant, a freelance contributor and two former interns. I had met only four people on that reference list, and none of them had direct experience working with me.”

Just imagine: A recruiter uses LinkedIn to search his network for people who are your “Trusted References” — but the recruiter has no idea whether any of them had any direct experience working with you.

You get rejected, because someone who never worked with you provided a questionable reference. (As I pointed out, I don’t know most of my connections, thanks to LinkedIn’s marketing mission to link everyone. What if a personnel jockey gets hold of an overlapping contact and trusts it as a reference about me — and I get screwed?)

The underlying question — and concern — is, how skilled is the reference checker, and is the check done properly and with integrity?

The recruiter’s purchase of a list from LinkedIn becomes the faux justification for one potentially bad decision after another — and one unemployed LinkedIn user after another.

Have you been sucker-punched by wrong references?

LinkedIn’s “Trusted References” service is a cheap sucker-punch straight to your career and reputation. Now any personnel jockey can “check a reference” on LinkedIn without having the faintest idea what she’s doing — and you get screwed out of a job. For that reason alone, I hope LinkedIn gets its ass sued sixteen ways from Sunday. I’m not sure this suit will succeed, because I think it focuses on the wrong issues. But the legal issues are for the lawyers and the courts.

The business issue is, LinkedIn is talking out of two sides of its mouth. It markets a references service to employers, while telling the judge it’s really no such thing. And employers buy both stories.

Perhaps more to the point, since it’s consumers suing LinkedIn, those consumers need to admit that they bought into a marketing machine that uses their personal information to make money at their expense — and they agreed to the terms. When someone walks straight into a sucker-punch, it’s hard to sympathize with them.

Lots of questions remain. Whatever happens with this suit — or others that I hope it spawns — the thing that’s clear is LinkedIn’s marketing strategy: There’s a sucker born every minute, and we’re going to sell them all anything they’re willing to swallow.

Has LinkedIn’s reference service interfered with your job search, or cost you a job? How does LinkedIn’s credibility rate with you?

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How to tease a job interview out of a manager

Filed under: Getting in the door, How to Say It, Job Search, Q&A

In the November 4, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker’s mail to a hiring manager winds up routed to HR:

Question

What if the hiring manager forces you to deal with the personnel department?

My friend’s mom works at the company where I want to work. She came through with the name of the hiring manager for the job I want. I’ve learned from your articles that it’s best to go straight to the manager. So, I wrote a good letter demonstrating how the strong points of my background would make me the right person for the position and sent it to the manager. Now I find out the manager just passed it on to the recruiter for review!

So, what do you do when the hiring manager forces you through the recruiter?

Nick’s Reply

passing-along-the-resumeEvery time I hear that someone had a friend “get me a manager’s name” I want to laugh uncontrollably.

You went to a lot of trouble to develop a good inside contact, but then you squandered it. No offense, but I’ve got to say this: You’re acting like just another job candidate, and the manager is treating you that way.

When you get a personal referral to a hiring manager, you don’t write a letter. You use that referral to establish a more personal level of contact.

(For an example, see How to get the hiring manager’s attention.)

You would have gotten the most mileage out of this by having your friend’s mother actually go talk to the manager. She should just poke her head in the manager’s door and make a clear referral:

How to Say It

“I heard you’re looking for someone to do XYZ, and I thought I might be able to help you out. There’s someone you should talk to who would be great at this job. His name is… Would you be interested in talking with him?”

This is a preemptive reference. If your friend’s mom isn’t willing to go the extra mile to help you, then you’re wasting your time and hers, too. To boost the mom’s willingness to help, first get your friend to introduce you to her mom. Make it personal.

Here’s the key to this approach: There is no resume. Offering the manager a resume — or even a letter — is the best way to make him ignore you. (And that’s exactly what happened.) If you ever want to recommend someone to a manager, tease the manager. You read that correctly. Tease. It’s what every advertisement does to make you want to try or buy a product. Make the manager crave an introduction.

If the manager is interested, what your friend’s mom says next is crucial.

How to Say It

“He’s being pursued by a couple of companies and you’d have to move quickly if you want to interview him. If you’d like, I’d be glad to invite him over for lunch in the cafeteria and you could drop by to meet him.”

This builds the tease to a higher level. It forces the manager to make a choice immediately. Does he want to meet an in-demand job seeker, or not? Does he want to beat his competitors to the punch, or not? This is how to Get past the guard.

One way or the other, you’ll know immediately. Inserting a letter or resume into this process merely drags it out. But you want a clear indication now about whether the manager is really interested. So, force the manager to take an action now. Having lunch is an action. Passing your resume on to HR is a cop-out for you, your friend’s mom, and the manager.

If your friend’s mom’s pitch works, and you get to talk to the manager, here’s how to get an in-person meeting.


How to Say It

“My name is John Jones. Ellen Smith suggested I give you a call, after she explained that you’re facing some challenges with doing X,Y,Z. I’ve put together a brief business plan. If you have a few minutes to meet, I’d like to show you how I could tackle those challenges and related problems you’re facing, to help make your business more successful.”

Reprinted from “Pest or manager’s dream?” (pp. 18-19) in the PDF book, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3, Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition).


If the manager doesn’t invite you in after that, then anything else you do will be a waste of time because the manager simply doesn’t get it. In another section of the same book (“Drop the ads and pick up the phone,” pp. 9-11), a successful job seeker tells how she got an interview without providing a resume at all.

It’s very common for a manager to route all resumes to HR. Here you had a great inside contact, but you still relied on an impersonal approach that made it easy for the manager to ignore you. If your contact had gone a step further, you’d be talking directly to the manager (whether in the cafeteria or on the phone) while your competition wallowed in that stack of resumes on HR’s desk.

What should you do now? Ask your friend’s mother — do this yourself, not through your friend — to go tell the manager he’s going to miss out on a great candidate. “I suggest you call him directly yourself as soon as possible. He’s in demand and won’t be around by the time HR calls him. I’m not sure he’d even talk with HR at this point in his job search — I believe he’s got offers.”

Yes, this is assertive. It requires a strong referral, or the referral is worthless. (Most referrals, like the one you’re using, are weak.) In the meantime, move on to something else while you wait. But please: Do this differently next time. Don’t send letters or resumes. Call. Job seekers who rely on documents usually see those documents routed around while the assertive applicants are having interviews.

Of course, it could be that this particular manager just won’t talk to candidates until they go through HR. I’d think twice about working for such a manager. (See The manager’s #1 job.)

How do you get in the door? Have you learned the art of teasing managers, or do you let managers tease you by “passing your resume along to HR?”

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The Indeed.com Game: Are you as dumb as HR?

Filed under: Job scams, Job Search, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks

Pssst! Want a job? You might have to relocate to… Anonymous Proxy, Ohio (???)… Read on to learn how!

In The Bogus-ness of Indeed.com we discussed phony success metrics published by “the world’s #1 job site.” The point of that column is that Indeed implies it fills lots of jobs and finds jobs for lots of people (“140 million”) — yet never actually claims anything of the sort.

Bob, an Ask The Headhunter reader who uses no surname, just sent me something interesting — more bogus-ness from Indeed that’s worth a laugh. You can play along, too!

I call this game…

Are you as dumb as HR?

Bob suggests we visit I got a job! at Indeed.com. (Please open a new browser so you can play along without closing this page.)

indeed-i-got-a-jobWow! Look at all the millions of  success stories people have posted! Now click the button at the upper right of that page, labeled “Add your story.” Indeed gives you a form:

indeed-form

Cool form, eh? Well, to play this game, you don’t have to do any more work than the good folks at Indeed do to find you a job. Don’t enter any information. Leave it all blank!

Just click the button labeled “Share your story.”

BAM! You’re done! Indeed will congratulate you on your new fake job and add one to its counter.

indeed-total-stories-shared

Did you win?

You just helped Indeed fake out the next person that comes along!

Bob says, “What this means is that robots can actually click this and increase the job count automatically.”

Boy, those robots must be indeed-anonymous-proxyawfully tired! Indeed is helping people get jobs… where? Why, in Anonymous Proxy! (Hey, is that in Ohio?)

One of Indeed’s big marketing lines is about “How the world works.” Now you know how Indeed works. It doesn’t claim it filled all those jobs. You claimed you got all those jobs!

But wait a minute… You’re not as dumb as the HR departments that dump billions of dollars into job boards like Indeed every day! Yay!

But if you keep playing this game, you still lose — because you’ll keep wondering why you can’t find a job online!

Is there another way? Of course there is — don’t play games! There’s no faking it. There’s no automated shortcut to the job you really want. Check Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course for 4 tips that include no shortcuts — or dumb online forms.

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How can I go back and ask for more money?

Filed under: Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, The job offer

In the October 28, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two job seekers make one very wrong assumption. One gets burned, the other still might learn. These two readers made the same mistake–they bungled their salary negotiations. Could they have handled it better?

Question

I got an offer from a prestigious company and accepted it two months ago. During my notice period of three months, I got one more good offer. It was higher than the first offer. After careful analysis, I have decided to join the first company, where the salary is lower. This is my first job, and I accepted the offer without negotiating the salary. Now I would like to ask the employer to increase the offer. I still have 15 days before I start work. Could you please suggest how to proceed? Thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

want-moreCongratulations on your offer, and on having a job with a company you really want to work for. If you’re happy with this new job, don’t try to grab a few more dollars. Rather, earn them in your first promotion and performance review. (Here’s the first thing that I think everyone should learn about this topic: That’s why it’s called compensation.)

Now I will caution you: You said you have already accepted the job offer. That means negotiations are closed, over, finished, done.

If you go back now and ask for more money, there is a chance they will become justifiably upset with you and withdraw the offer. After all, you accepted what they offered. In my opinion, what you are contemplating is inappropriate. I think it will suggest a lack of character to the employer.

(However, if you were to rescind your acceptance so you could take the higher-paying job, I’d have no issue with that. I discuss this in Juggling Job Offers, an article that is now expanded in the PDF book, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.)

It is common to have second thoughts about salary, especially when another company offers you more. It is also common to feel we could have negotiated a few more dollars. But consider this: You chose the lower salary job for a reason–apparently it’s a better situation for you. That’s a form of very valuable compensation in itself.

I have a rule: When you negotiate, always leave a few dollars on the table. It makes the other guy feel the negotiation was a success, and it makes him regard you and your new relationship more highly. Those few dollars are worth a lot in good will. To put it another way, never be greedy. Negotiate as best you can during negotiations–but when you’ve agreed to a deal, negotiations are done.

Read on to see what happened to another reader who changed her mind–too late–and tried to ask for more money.

Question

I had an interview last week with a professional office, and I told them my desired salary range. My mistake. I quoted a lower amount than I needed. They checked references and they called to offer me the job. I explained that I had made an error and quoted them a range for a 30-hour work week rather than a 40-hour work week. I did not mention a new salary amount.

The hiring manager told me he was “put back by the lack of communication” and wanted me to come back in and speak with them again. I responded with, “It’s not a problem. I will accept your offer and I’m ready to start work.” He seemed frustrated and said he would call me back after talking to his partner again. He did not call back. I called yesterday and left a message, but he has not called me. I don’t want 25% more. What’s your advice?

Nick’s Reply

I’m a big advocate for negotiating the very best compensation possible. But as I pointed out in the Q&A above, you can’t change a deal after it’s struck. (You can walk away from it, but that’s another story.) The problem is clear: You destroyed your credibility by changing your salary range. I understand you made an error. But when you called to explain it, all they heard is that you want to change the terms. That worries them. Now they don’t trust you to be up front and accurate with them.

You introduced uncertainty. I think that’s what turned them off. I’d send them a short, handwritten letter. I’d apologize for causing confusion, thank them for their time and interest, and tell them you understand why they may have decided to drop the matter. Sign it with best wishes and forget about it. There’s a small chance they’ll consider this a classy action and call you back. But if they don’t, I’d leave them alone, chalk it up to experience, and move on.

This is a hard lesson. I hope it’s one that the person who asked the first question above takes to heart. I don’ t think these are greedy people; I think they are naive negotiators. Never go into a negotiation without knowing exactly what you want. (Here’s some very simple but very powerful help: How to decide how much you want.) Once you state what you want, you kill your credibility if you change your position after the deal is settled–and it’s perfectly understandable if the other party withdraws the deal altogether.

Can you go back and re-negotiate a settled deal? I think there’s a difference between rescinding your acceptance of a job, and re-opening negotiations to get a better deal. What advice would you give these two readers?

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Should I have returned the job offer?

Filed under: Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, The job offer

In the October 21, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker gives back a job offer:

I had an offer for a great new job a few weeks ago. Before accepting, I had to resolve some issues regarding my relocation. The company was great during this time and worked with me to make it agreeable for both of us.

no-thanksHere’s the dilemma. It was taking longer than expected to resolve my personal issues. I felt uncomfortable delaying my start date further, so I returned the offer letter. Two days later, my personal issues were suddenly resolved. I called the company and said I was now free to take the job, but they were lukewarm and said they might want to consider other candidates.

I’m left with no job because I resigned my old job of 10+ years. The new company had remarked on numerous occasions that they would not pull the job offer from the table and I was free to work out whatever issues I had.

Although I felt I was doing the right thing by letting them move on, I feel somewhat betrayed by their treatment at this point. Did I handle this wrong?

Nick’s Reply

First: Never, ever, ever resign a job until you have accepted another.

But there’s more to this: Please read When should I tell my boss I’m resigning? It’s too late, but please remember this next time, and I repeat it for everyone else: Never, ever, ever resign a job until your new job is nailed down tightly.

Now to your main question: If anyone should feel betrayed, it’s the company. You made a decision that forced this company to deal with the situation in a way they didn’t expect.

You rejected an offer that was left wide open to accommodate you. When you returned the signed offer, you terminated the hiring process. Now, they quite reasonably want to turn to other candidates. I’m afraid you may have damaged your credibility with the company. (See Do what you say you’re going to do. This company gets credit for doing it right.)

The better choice would have been to let the deal sit on the table until they withdrew it, while you tried to resolve your personal issues. I realize you were trying to be considerate about this, but in the end you hurt your own position, without giving any real benefit to the employer.

At this point, all you can do is go straight to the hiring manager and make a clear commitment. (See Do I have to say it?) If you don’t act, then nothing at all happens. Offer a firm start date; something the company can bank on. I think this is worth a shot. But don’t be surprised if they look at you like you’re crazy. In that case, apologize and move on.


For more about how to handle job offers, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, which includes these sections:

  • FJH-9The company rescinded the offer!
  • Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?
  • Am I unwise to accept their first offer?
  • Can I use salary surveys to goose up the offer?
  • The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers
  • Juggling job offers
  • Give us the pay stub
  • Vacation Time: What’s good for the goose
  • How do I decide between two offers?
  • How to decline an offer
  • Does a counter-offer include pay-back?
  • Am I stuck with this non-compete agreement?
  • How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?
  • How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer

The lesson in all this is that a company is perfectly capable of looking after its own interests. It was indicating its strong interest in you by keeping the offer open and giving you the time you needed. You should have kept the offer.

Would you give back a job offer? It’s one thing to decide to reject an offer. But to return it? How should this reader have handled an awkward delay? Now put yourself in the employer’s shoes — what would you do?

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