Say goodbye to your psychopathic boss

Filed under: Heads up, Q&A, Stuff I worry about, Success at Work

I couldn’t make up a story like this if I tried. This week’s newsletter is based on a comment posted by a reader on the Ask The Headhunter blog, edited gently. It’s still long — but I’m publishing the gory details because it’s the sort of story I’m sure many of you have heard from a friend. Worse, it may be a story from your own work life. While many employers cry there’s a talent shortage, this is how some treat their employees.

In the September 30, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader recounts a story no one wants to experience:

After four years with my company, I made a choice to abruptly quit (even before I have officially secured a new job). I know that’s idiotic and irrational, but ever since new management took over last year, I’m mentally drained. They are a twisted bunch of jerks, to be quite frank. One incident in particular was the final straw for me!

psychopathI’m open-minded and actually enjoy change and new routines. However, I can’t function at a job where bosses let their authority get to their ego and judgment. Last month, one of my new managers flat-out bullied me. I’ve never had a full-on issue with a boss or co-worker ever, so it was devastating to be a target for no apparent reason.

There are two sides to every story, so I’ll admit… I was having an unusually horrible day (personal life, etc.). As I was walking back to my department, one of my managers ignored my friendly hello and then hastily asked me why I had gotten disorganized so suddenly with my workload. She said it in a confrontational way. I thought I was being over-sensitive, so I politely smiled and told her what my plan was to fix the problem shortly and I walked off to my destination.

Suddenly, she yelled at me over the P.A. system to go to her office pronto. I was annoyed, but sucked up my pride and did as I was told. She was seated like a high school principal about to expel a mouthy, troubled teen. I knew she looked angry, but I passively tried to discuss the issue she seemed to randomly have with me.

She barely let me say one word. Instead, she yelled at me that I had answered her in a rude, sarcastic manner. I told her: “I am having a pretty bad day. Maybe I came across as rude, but I didn’t mean to be.”

To rub salt into the wound, she paged another manager to join her in scolding me. She exaggerated everything to the other manager and got her upset at me, too. Obviously, my adrenaline was starting to flow now. I was in that fight-or-flight mode. It’s extremely rare for me to get upset in public or at work, so I was about to have a panic attack from the stress.

I quietly told her that I needed to walk away and use the restroom. I was fighting tears at this point, so I excused myself. She then yelled over the P.A. system again for me to go back to the office. So I did. Mistake! She was straight-up cutting me down this time. I snapped and said shakily: “Let me get back to my f***ing job and stop micro-managing me.”

I know, how unpredictable of me, however I was feeling threatened. She and the other manager then cornered me and yelled at me that I needed to go home immediately. I thought I was being fired so I cried as I walked past my co-workers. I went to my car and drove home crying. Really, I’m not normally a wuss, I just felt animosity towards the situation.

The next day I called to see if I had gotten fired. The HR lady said, “No, of course not.” After I explained to her what happened, she barely seemed to care at all. After four years of being a proactive and well-rounded employee, I felt appalled by her “whatever” attitude. I then wrote out my resignation notice and dropped it off on her desk within an hour.

I finished out my last day yesterday. I have a potential new job tomorrow (interview). I’m optimistic that I’ll land it with no problem, considering my slightly above-average resume. I’ll never tolerate that level of drama at any job, ever.

Having read “How your old boss can cost you a new job,“ I am afraid my old employer will not give me a good word for my potential new job. I’m hoping my possible new employer won’t find it necessary to call my old job.

I could have fought harder to maybe get my wrong-doers in trouble, but with the complexity of their office politics, it wasn’t worth trying. Sometimes you really do have to simply… quit. We are creatures of habit, so it takes guts to break routine and start fresh! But I feel a person’s mental well-being is more important than almost anything else.

Nick’s Reply

Never apologize for psychopathic managers.

I very rarely tread in the waters of clinical psychology, but it’s worth putting a name on what you encountered at your company: a psychopath. Don’t let the term intimidate you. Understand what it means so you can recognize it sooner next time. A psychopath is marked by:

“…a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior.”

Sound like your boss? Read on.

“Lacking affect and urge control, demand for immediate gratification, and poor behavioral restraints… Lacking empathy and close attachments with others, disdain of close attachments, use of cruelty to gain empowerment, exploitative tendencies… and destructive excitement seeking.”

I had a psychopathic boss myself during a long year in my life. This company president abused and terrorized individual employees in company meetings, held them up to ridicule, and encouraged others to attack them verbally, too. He held himself up as a godlike figure whose opinions were law. I didn’t realize what was going on until I heard a company customer dress him down and abuse him the same way — while he physically cowered, “Yes, Sir-ed,” and did exactly as he was told. A classic case of the abused abusing others. I quit soon after, to save my own soul.

In cases like this, as the verbal violence increases, your mind tries hard to rationalize it. (Maybe I should learn to accept such behavior. After all, we have such big-name customers, so my boss must be doing something right. Look at how much money he makes. Maybe this is what it takes to be successful, and so on.) But it’s not alright, ever.

No matter that you don’t have another job to go to. You preserved your self-respect and integrity. You were right to quit. It was the smart thing to do. Here’s the thing: You will quickly recover. Your former employer will not. Rest easy knowing that.

My one criticism is that, although I understand why a person might “go off” like you finally did, cursing in front of your boss is never acceptable. She succeeded in bringing you into her sick little world. In the future, avoid getting baited like that.

As far as references, I guarantee you that any reference from that company will be worthless or toxic to you. The business community already knows the company and its management for what they are. All you need say to any prospective employer is, “I don’t disparage anyone I ever worked for. I look forward. I want to work with a good company that encourages me to use my skills to produce profit in a healthy environment.” Then provide excellent references from everywhere but your last employer. (See Take Care of Your References.)


I show how to “launch” your best references so they’ll really pay off, no matter how negative one reference might be, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, pp. 19-21. This PDF book also shows you how to get the truth about private companies, how to figure out whether a company is a “Mickey Mouse operation,” and how to pick worthy companies to apply to.


Please remember a piece of advice my mentor gave me many years ago — advice it took me a long time to understand: Never work with jerks. (It’s not the first or last time I’ll cite that advice.) As you learned while facing the sick wrath of your boss, It’s the people, Stupid. (No offense intended. We all need to think about that.)

When I resigned from my employer, I did it on my terms, like you did. I compliment you for not resigning on the spot in anger. It’s critical to take time to think, and to act with forethought and grace.

I wish you the best. Leave that illness you survived behind you — it’s a sick company. You’re healthy. Go work with healthy people and let the past go.

Have you ever had a psychopathic boss? What were the signs? What did it take for you to escape? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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Employers shouldn’t keep secrets from job applicants

Filed under: Changing jobs, How to Say It, Interviewing, Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, Uncategorized

In the September 23, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker wants to see the facts:

If I had realized some of the intricate policies of my current company, I may have thought twice before taking this job. For instance, they said you get two weeks’ vacation time. It turns out you get 80 hours of paid time off, but you aren’t eligible to use any of it until after your one-year anniversary. When I do look to move on from this job, I don’t want to be misled again. Is it acceptable to ask for a copy of the employee handbook before accepting a job offer? How likely is it that a company would allow that?

Nick’s Reply

Last week we discussed why it’s so important that all the details of your job offer are in writing. (Gotcha! Get job offer concessions in writing!) It’s just as important that you examine all the details of a company’s work policies before you accept any job offer.

Protected FilesWhether or not it’s acceptable to ask for a copy of the employee handbook isn’t the question. The question is, what’s smart?

I think it’s smart to ask for the employee handbook before accepting an offer. In fact, not requesting it is asking for trouble, as you’ve already learned. (See “3 Ways to Be A Smarter Job Candidate.”)

Some companies don’t like to hand it over. They will tell you it’s “company confidential.” They’ll say the same about the written employee benefits — you can’t see them until you take the job. That’s complete bunk. How can you agree to live under rules if you don’t know what they are?

My response would be very simple. Here’s How to Say It:

“I’m excited to get your offer, and I’m very enthused about working for you, but I’ll be living under your guidelines and I’d like to see your employee policy manual before I sign up. I’m sure it’s all routine, but I like to make sure I understand everything in advance so there are no misunderstandings later. I want our relationship to be solid. I can assure you that I will not copy or disclose the material to anyone for any reason — just as you will keep all my personal information confidential.”

If they won’t show it to you, your other options are (1) to walk away, (2) to accept the job. In the latter case, there’s something you could do that’s a bit risky. Don’t resign your current job just yet. Attend the new company’s orientation, get the handbook, read it — and then decide if you’re staying, while knowing your old job is safe.

Of course, you’d be putting your old employer in a bad spot, because then you’d have to leave without providing any meaningful notice. That’s not good. But I’m trying to help you understand just how onerous a practice it is for an employer to withhold documents you need before you can make an informed decision about accepting one job — and quitting another. (See “Why do companies hide the benefits?”)

Either of these options might seem extreme, but taking a job without knowing all the terms is risky. I wrote a short PDF book (30 pages) about other matters job seekers fail to take control of — until too late: Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers. Among the gotcha topics you’ll learn to handle:

  • Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer
  • How can I push the hiring decision?
  • Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it
  • Judge the manager
  • Get an answer at the end of the interview
  • …and more

I hope your next job works out better for you than this one did.

Did you ever accept a job only to learn that the rules of employment were not to your liking? What was the outcome? If you’re an employer, do you hide your employee handbook from job applicants? Why?

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Gotcha! Get job offer concessions in writing!

Filed under: Changing jobs, Interviewing, Job Search, Making money, Negotiating

In the September 16, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker tries to finesse a good job offer:

I just received a fantastic offer from a growing company that comes with a huge salary increase. I have a few days to decide while they conduct a background check and will enter negotiations once the hiring manager gets the all-clear from HR.

get-it-in-writingMy current job is close to home and incredibly flexible with my time (work from home, comp time, etc.). I would be giving much of that up for a big spike in salary and responsibility. I am not afraid of work and put in extra time when it is needed. In my industry it’s common to have big crunch-time spikes where you work 60 or 70 hours a week and then back to a normal load during slow times. I know what the job is, what is required, and I enjoy doing it. But the reality of my job makes it important to maintain work-life balance during the slow periods. I am hoping to negotiate some flexibility into my offer.

The company expects 9 hours “at the office” with a 1-hour break for lunch. I bring a sandwich to work and eat at my desk nearly every day. Even if I do run out to get something, I grab it and head back to my desk. I don’t need an hour for lunch and the extra 30 minutes with my toddler before bed time means a lot more to me. I know myself — I am going to end up working during “lunch” anyway. Reducing my scheduled lunch to 30 minutes so I can leave at 5 p.m. would make a big difference for me.

This is the only reservation I have about the job, and I believe I am prepared to take it either way. I am ready to give up a lot of flexibility because it is a great professional move, but I am hoping to keep just a little bit of my work-life balance in place. How can I negotiate flexibility without the perception that I just want to cut out early every day?

Nick’s Reply

Even if you win this concession, there’s a gotcha that’s even more important. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

You’ve already decided to take the job regardless of the 30-minute issue. So, please ask yourself, what’s really important to you? If it’s time with your child, then make that your priority. If you can live without that 30 minutes of family time, and you absolutely want this job and the extra money, then don’t negotiate. The worst position to be in when negotiating is when you have already decided to accept the other guy’s terms as they are. (In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, I discuss a powerful negotiating position to take if you already know what concessions you’re willing to make. See “Am I unwise to accept their first offer?”, pp. 8-9.)

But if you really want that time at home, then don’t feel guilty or hesitate to fight for it. When you discuss the offer, I suggest you explain that you want the job and are eager to start, but your acceptance hinges on one issue.

How to Say It

“I’d like to accept your offer and will deliver 9 hours at the office, and I will commit to X, Y and Z. But I’d like to discuss one of the terms. I’d like to swap 30 minutes of lunch time so I can leave work 30 minutes earlier to be with my child. When I need to work late during a crunch, I’ll do that. I’d like the written offer to reflect the 30-minute time trade. Otherwise, I’m ready to accept your offer as you have presented it.”

I’d explain it to them just as you did to me. There’s nothing inappropriate about your requirement. But you have to ask to make it happen. (By the way, I think you’re right – you will always eat at your desk anyway.)

You can add this: “I realize you’d need assurance or proof that I’m not abusing the 30 -minute trade-off. So, how could we ensure it’s handled properly? What I ask in return is that it be stated in my written offer.”

By letting the employer set some terms around this, you help them make the concession. But you should absolutely get it in writing if they agree. An oral commitment from the employer is not sufficient.

In fact, I’d like to emphasize this last point. It’s the gotcha I referred to earlier. You might win the concession, and lose it later. Any terms you negotiate in a job offer must be written into the agreement. If your boss changes, or if the person who made the promise disappears, this deal likely will come to a quick halt. Even under the best circumstances, people forget what they agreed to. (In the worst circumstances, an employer will just lie to you.) There’s nothing like being able to produce a piece of paper with a signature on it to ensure you’re getting the deal you signed. Don’t lose what you gained!

Please use your best judgment — not just my advice. Congratulations on the offer. It’s great you’re so pumped about it. Now make sure the terms are what you really want. (See That’s why it’s called compensation.)

Oral promises don’t mean much when the rest of the deal is in writing. Have you ever gotten screwed out of a promise after you started a job?

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A stupid interview question to ask a woman

Filed under: Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A, Stuff I worry about

In the September 9, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker wonders why male interviewers ask about her spouse:

I am looking for a job that is a greater challenge and I’ve been making the rounds with the recruiters in my industry. So far, of three male recruiters and three male interviewers I have spoken with, each has asked me what my husband does for a living. Why does this matter? If only one guy asked me that, I would shrug it off but every one of these guys asked the same question.

For what it’s worth, my husband is a software developer and I have answered the question every time. If I am asked the question again, what’s the best way to avoid it without sounding defensive?

Nick’s Reply

sexist_questionsSome might say I’m over-reacting, but when six interviewers (including the recruiters) ask about your husband, something’s up.

Try this: “My husband wouldn’t be interested in this position, but thanks for asking. What does your wife do?”

In general, I think “turnabout is fair play” is a good rule when you need to judge the legitimacy of an interview question. That is, an interviewer shouldn’t ask any questions he’s not willing to answer himself. (Of course, this would apply to women interviewers, too.)

If the retort I’ve suggested seems extreme, it’s based on the same logic I apply to the salary question. (See Should I disclose my salary history?) If an employer has a right to information about your salary history, then you have a right to salary history relating to the position at hand. That is, what does the company pay others who do that job, and what has it paid over the past few years? Likewise, if Mr. Interviewer wants to know what your husband does, he won’t mind telling you what his wife does for a living.

My rule is, always look at the business angle first. So before we get into sexist interviewers and discrimination, let’s look at another aspect of this: What does your answer gain the interviewer?

Two things. First, it tells him how much of a financial cushion you have, because that could influence the level of salary a recruiter will try to get you, and the kind of offer a manager might make.

Second, it helps him assess whether you’re likely to quit if your spouse gets a new job. (In other words, whose career comes first?) By itself, there’s nothing onerous about this; it’s just an aggressive negotiating tactic. It doesn’t mean the interviewer is discriminating. He could be a fine, upstanding fellow who is so focused on “the deal” that he misses the sexist connotation of his question.

And that’s why the retort I suggested is such a good one. A guy who meant nothing improper by it will blush beet red and retreat with an apology. He might still be a jerk, but he’s probably benign. He won’t be offended by your spiked response.

On the other hand, if the interviewer reacts with a nasty glare, you’ve just saved yourself from a complete waste of time. Guys who don’t know how to talk to women should interview inflatable dolls instead. You don’t need to know how to answer them. You need only recognize them so you can cross the street to avoid them. There’s no quarter in continuing an interview with a jerk. Your choice is to complain or sue for discrimination, or to walk away.

The retort we discussed is a good though admittedly aggressive test. If it leaves the interviewer embarrassed, this gives you an edge so you can find out what he’s really like. At this point, I suggest asking and answering what I think is the best interview question ever. If he gets offended, then he’s not worth talking to.

If we expect the people we work with to have high standards, we often have to insist on it. You’re not being defensive when the interviewer is being offensive; you’re going on offense yourself. If these questions were asked innocently and in passing, I don’t think your antennae would be picking up signals that concern you. I see no legitimate reason for asking the question, unless the interviewer explicitly prefaces the question with the reason. Use your judgment, but stick to your guns.

(To learn more about situations where you might have to assert yourself, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.)

What’s the most personal or inappropriate interview question you’ve been asked? How did you respond?

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Can I trust Glassdoor reviews?

Filed under: Changing jobs, Heads up, Job Search, Q&A, Stuff I worry about

In the September 2, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a burned employee sparks controversy about anonymous employer “reviews” on Glassdoor.com:

Have you ever written about Glassdoor reviews? Based in part on positive reviews I read about a start-up company on Glassdoor, I accepted a job. This company was nothing like it presented itself to be. It was terrible. Two months into my tenure, another position came up and I left. (My rule is never to shut down the job search process until I am sure I want to stay somewhere.) It still bothered me that this company was so crappy and I felt I had been taken for a ride.

I had lookeglassdoord at the reviews in Glassdoor prior to the interview and, though there were negative reviews, there were overwhelmingly positive ones as well. I was concerned about the negative reviews, so I brought it up in my interview. The recruiter stated that the office prided itself on being different from its corporate parent, and he felt I was a good fit. So I took the job.

Here’s why I’m asking about Glassdoor. After I quit the start-up, I continued to follow the company on Glassdoor and checked LinkedIn to see what kind of turnover they had. It turned out some of the people hired during my time have since left. Strangely, when a negative review shows up, an overwhelmingly positive one shows up within a week. Interestingly enough, two of the most current negative comments say that HR is posting its own positive reviews! The recruiter I worked with left after a year. So, are these reviews worth anything? What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve never written about Glassdoor.com because I think its business is worthless except as a generator of revenue. At best, this public database of anonymous reviews about employers is a curiosity. (I’m skeptical about any kind of anonymous reviews, even on Amazon.) The very idea of a website that encourages people to anonymously critique employers is ludicrous and irresponsible. I think its use is widespread because it makes money. That fact impresses HR executives and the public, leading them all to base business decisions on admittedly untrustworthy information.

Just think about it: Any disgruntled employee or job applicant can trash a company publicly. An HR department can spam Glassdoor, singing its own praises. (It seems this happened with the company you quit.) Honest comments will get lost. Meanwhile, Glassdoor has no incentive to keep it all clean by making participants accountable. (The argument for anonymity is that people wouldn’t post honest comments if employers knew who they were. Duh. That justifies graffiti?) They make money with every posting. That’s how Glassdoor is like the job boards.

In fact, Glassdoor is a job board. (Like LinkedIn, the site uses the honeypot of “community” to lure you into an ulterior revenue model. See LinkedIn: Just another job board.) Employers pay to post their jobs. Where does the job seeker traffic come from? Job seekers show up every day that Glassdoor dangles its clever bait: “Come share your reviews and salary information — anonymously. Then look at job postings!” The revenue model is built on unverified reviews and unverified salary data. (Imagine if Glassdoor’s business model were legitimate: It would pay you for your honest reviews and salary information.)

In other words, HR departments pay Glassdoor to subsidize anonymous ratings and salary surveys. You suggested that HR departments use fake IDs to give their own companies good reviews I don’t doubt it.

The obvious problem is that, when no one is accountable for praise or complaints, every comment on Glassdoor is suspect. Your experience with the terrible start-up highlights the problem. Anyone can create an account without anything but an e-mail address. If Glassdoor were to require true identities, it would be another story. But it’s not.

Along the same lines of Glassdoor is a new app created by the founder of TheLadders, Marc Cenedella. He basically lifted Glassdoor’s concept and made it more personal. Knozen.com lets people post anonymous comments about their coworkers’ personalities. That’s more of a bathroom wall than even Glassdoor. I can’t wait for more lawsuits.

Reading anonymous customer reviews when you buy a camera or a waffle iron is one thing — if you make a mistake, you’re out a few bucks. But when you’re checking out an employer, due diligence is crucial. We’re talking about your career and your income. Check credible sources. Your best bet is always to seek out current and former employees at a company to learn the truth — but make sure they have real names. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, you’ll learn the powerful “scuttlebutt” method of researching even privately held companies — by talking to their competitors (pp. 22-24).

Here’s another important tip from the same book, in the section titled “How to pick worthy companies” (pp. 10-12):


Talk to the company’s customers and vendors
This is where you will find the hidden skeletons, and you will learn who are the real decision-makers in the company. This is also where you may find a hidden opportunity. It might not be with your target company, but with one of its customers or vendors, or with some other associated company. By extending your research and meetings to such companies, you’ll get a valuable, industry-wide view — not just of your target company, but of the work you want to do.


It’s not so hard to evaluate an employer. Invest the time to do it right next time, because anonymous reviews of employers can get you into serious trouble.

Is it real, or is it crap? The reader in today’s Q&A learned the hard way that, if information smells, it’s probably crap. Would you trust anonymous reviews and salary surveys to make a career decision?

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Resume Blasphemy

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

In the August 26, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker asks whether I’m serious about the Working Resume:

I recently stumbled upon your website and found it most useful. Thank you for sharing your insights and advice. I am starting to implement them in my job search. With respect to the Working Resume article (Resume Blasphemy), are you simply referring to a pitch book or some kind of presentation that acts as a discussion facilitator? Do you have any examples to guide someone looking to build something similar?

Nick’s Reply

resume-blasphemyHere’s the blasphemy: You write your resume only after you’ve talked to the hiring manager. It’s not your “marketing piece” and it doesn’t “introduce you.” You introduce you.

I have many examples of blasphemous resumes, but I do not publish them — everyone should create their own because the point is, each is and must be unique and tailored to a single employer. Besides, the examples I have belong to people who wouldn’t want their edge shared — it’s an enormous amount of work.

You can think of your blasphemous resume as a pitch facilitator or whatever works for you — but I intend it as an actual resume that takes the place of the traditional one. (See The truth about resumes.)

The reader follows up

At what point do you submit this “alternative” resume? Most trolls in HR don’t know the difference between a Working Resume and a blank piece of paper. I can see how preparing a Working Resume would help with the interview because one would be very well prepared, but getting through the screening round is usually the toughest part (unless of course someone within the company recommends you).

Are you still helping people find work or are you mainly focused on publishing?

Nick’s Reply

You’d never give a Working Resume to HR — that would be like needing a doctor but asking the doctor’s receptionist for a diagnosis! HR is usually clueless.

You need to get the document to the hiring manager. The catch is, if you can’t identify and talk to the hiring manager in advance, then you can’t possibly produce a Working Resume — that’s why virtually no one tries this and why, when you do try it, you have virtually no competition. It’s a lot of work. (That’s part of what’s so blasphemous about it — nobody wants to do the work!) But I believe that without this effort, no one has any business in a job interview. It’s the reason most interviews result in no job offers — just a waste of time.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, there’s a How to Say It box that suggests how to get the information you’ll need from the manager:


How to Say It

“I’d like to make our meeting as profitable as possible for both of us. It would help me to know a bit more about the job, so that I can prepare to show you how I would apply my skills specifically to the tasks you need done. May I ask you a couple of brief questions?”


That’s a powerful request and a powerful indicator to the manager about what you’re going to deliver in your interview — and in your Working Resume.

Unfortunately, job seekers and employers have it backwards. They start with the resume when they should start with a conversation about what the manager needs a new hire to do. So, commit resume blasphemy: Talk first, plan your Working Resume next, share it with the manager — and only then should you meet to show why you’re the profitable hire.

As a headhunter, I don’t help anyone find work. My clients pay me to find them the people they need. I publish Ask The Headhunter to share my expertise with job hunters. I also do very limited one-on-one coaching by phone, one hour at a time — I don’t believe in long-term “career coaching.” I think it’s a racket.

How blasphemous is your resume? Do you throw resumes around and wait for employers to catch them and call you? A Working Resume is a lot of work — but so’s that job you want. Do the work to win the job. Let’s talk about how.

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How and when to reject a job interview

Filed under: Changing jobs, Fearless Job Hunting, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A

When I answer readers’ questions, we don’t usually learn about the outcome. In this week’s edition, a reader follows up and we see what happens when someone takes my advice.

In the August 19, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews an employer before the interview:

thumbs-downI have been invited to interview for a management job at a small firm. I researched the company and reviewed the job description and requirements, which are vague at best but, in general, I meet all the criteria.

After agreeing on a date and time for the face-to-face interview (set by the HR specialist), I inquired about the possibility of a phone screen with the hiring manager so I can get all the larger particulars out of the way and then determine if there is any synergy between the company and my own employment interests. I was informed that the company prefers to do all screening in person.

I take interviewing seriously, but I have a good job now and I have very specific career goals. Also, I try not to waste time away from work unless I am certain the job interview will have a high likelihood in piquing my interest. So, with a few days to go, I sent an e-mail asking for the basic information in written form. This is how I phrased it:

Hello,

May I impose on you for a few details about this position that I will be interviewing for soon?

  • Is this a hybrid managerial/hands-on position? Can you guess-timate the percentage of hands-on to managerial time?
  • Is there a large amount of travel associated with this position?
  • Can you give a salary range?
  • Will this position have an annual training budget to keep up the skill-set needed to grow with the company?

Thanks very much!

I received no reply for three days. When I politely inquired again, I was told, “My apologies for the late response. Our management team will be able to answer all of these questions in the interview tomorrow.”

My instinct is telling me to cancel this interview. If the company cannot provide basic information to a prospective candidate, why should I spend three hours of my time? It’s a crap shoot at best, and a waste of time at worst. The interview is tomorrow afternoon. How would you handle this?

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for sharing a good example of when it’s good to turn down a job interview — even in today’s economy.

The questions you’re asking are all reasonable. In fact, they’re important to help you decide whether to go to the in-person interview. I wish everyone did what you’re doing. It’s smart and it’s professional.

I agree with your instincts, especially if you’re under no pressure to get a new job. But here’s what I’d do. I’d call the hiring manager if you can, and otherwise the person who has been e-mailing you from the company. (If e-mail is your only choice, fine, but I’d really try to talk with the person.)

Just as politely as you’ve already handled it, I’d explain that your work schedule is very busy, so you do your best to confirm whether a job is right for you before you attend interviews. Say you’d like to interview for the job — if they can first provide you with answers to the basic questions you’ve asked. Do your best to have this discussion with the actual hiring manager.

If the person you speak with will not answer your questions, or insists that you show up for a meeting, I’d politely explain that, unfortunately, in the absence of this basic information which you need to make a reasonable judgment, you’ll have to respectfully decline the interview. I know someone will chide me for telling a job seeker to walk away from an opportunity, but not all interviews are worth attending — they’re not opportunities. What’s shocking is how employers waste so much time and resources on ill-advised interviews. (See Half-Assed Recruiting: Why employers can’t find talent.)

I admire your integrity and your sense of doing good business. If you don’t get the information you need, I wouldn’t go to the interview. Every job seeker needs to draw a line somewhere. (Here’s another line: Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.) Just bear in mind that the company may put a big X on your file and never consider you again. On the other hand, you may not want to reconsider them any time soon yourself.

I’d love to know what you decide to do, and the outcome. It would be a shame to miss a good opportunity over something like this – but this is a data point that more people should think about more carefully.

Employers are crying there’s a talent shortage and that they can’t make good hires. Then they behave like rule-bound fools when a candidate they want to meet demonstrates the kind of intelligence they’d like to hire. Go figure. You’re trying to save them time by demonstrating good judgment and good business practices. As a buddy of mine likes to say, people who behave like this make it easier for those of us that “get it” to succeed – because there’s less competition.

The reader responds

Nick, thanks very much for your reply! I managed to find the e-mail address of the director of the department that has the open job. I sent this e-mail:

Hi <name withheld>,

I hope this e-mail isn’t too intrusive. I have been invited to interview in person for a manager position later today. I’m contacting you because HR has declined to provide me with some basic information about this position. (I asked about travel requirements, salary range, hands-on vs. managerial, education budget.)

If you know the hiring manager (or maybe you are the hiring manager), would you please pass my number and e-mail on to that person and ask them to contact me? I am hoping to get some basic questions answered before committing time out of my work schedule to attend an interview. I have specific career goals and usually like to have a brief ten-minute conversation with the hiring manager before the actual interview. In my experience, this strategy saves time for everyone involved in the process.

I appreciate any effort you can make in this area and look forward to possibly meeting you. Thanks…

After a few minutes, I received a response:

Thank you for your e0mail.

We use our interview process to ask and answer questions. We have not been in the position before that an applicant requested to have questions answered prior to the interview. Frankly, given the size of our company and resources, we do not have a good avenue to address these types of requests, as multiple team members would be able to address different types of questions in the interview. I understand your position, and agree that it does not make sense to waste the time of either party. If you prefer to not go forward with the interview, please let me know and I can take you off of the schedule.

It sounds like they aren’t using logic at this point. She states that they “have not been in the position before…” where an applicant asks questions before showing up, which I find unbelievable. Is there really no “good avenue to address these type of requests?” Seriously, are my questions that difficult? Am I the only one that finds this puzzling? Anyway, I will decline the interview at this point. Again, your advice and column are extremely helpful and appreciated!

Nick’s Reply

In the time it took to write all that, the director could have answered your questions. Or, perhaps the director didn’t have the answers. That’s another problem altogether. I do admire the fact that you were given the choice about whether to proceed — they didn’t reject you for pressing them.

Nonetheless, I smell a management problem. Too bad. Here’s what bugs me the most:

“We do not have a good avenue to address these types of requests, as multiple team members would be able to address different types of questions in the interview.”

Your questions are all simple, factual ones that the director should be able to answer easily in advance. I think you’re doing the right thing.

The cost of interviewing job applicants is significant for employers and, as you’ve pointed out, you incur a cost, too. Too often, job seekers think any interview itself is the big payday, and they are loathe to pass it up, even when it’s irrational to go. Your questions were all legitimate make-or-break issues that a company can easily respond to in e-mail or on the phone. If applicants asked more questions before interviewing, and if employers were more candid, then fewer interviews would be a waste of time.

All I can say is, keep on truckin’. The point is to meet a company that’s a match, not to talk to every company that comes along. Again, I admire your integrity.

Think twice

I’d like to make one comment to job seekers who might think you (the reader in today’s Q&A) can “afford” to turn down this interview because you’re secure in your job — while they may not have that “luxury” because they’re unemployed. Every interview requires an investment of time, energy, planning, and — yes — gas money. The point isn’t to get more interviews; it’s to get interviews where the job meets your objectives, whatever they are. There are multiple downside costs to every wrong interview because it takes you farther from truly good opportunities. Pick your jobs carefully before you pick your interviews — and that requires thinking twice when an employer can’t give you good answers before you buy more gas.


Additional Resources

If you want to check out employers more thoroughly, see “How to pick worthy companies” (pp. 10-12), “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” (pp. 13-15) and “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies” (pp. 22-24) in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention.

To dig even deeper before you take an interview, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, you’ll find “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer” (pp. 11-12) and “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” (pp. 23-25).


What makes you reject an interview invitation? Or, nowadays, is it just best to take any interview you can get? What do you think the reader in this week’s Q&A should have done?

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An insider’s biggest beefs with employment testing

Filed under: Ask The Headhunter Products, Employment Tests, Getting in the door, Job Search

cover-shadowLast fall I was tickled to publish the first guest author in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore: Dr. Erica Klein, who wrote Employment Tests: Get The Edge. The book stemmed from enormous interest in a short article Erica wrote for the Guest Voices section of the Ask The Headhunter website. I asked Erica to turn it into a book, and boy, did she!

Employment Tests: Get The Edge is the only book of its kind — we dare you to find anything like it on Amazon! It’s been a runaway bestseller, providing insights and advice about employment testing from someone who has been developing and administering employment tests since 1998. (Erica has also taken more of them than she can count!)

Following a recent spirited discussion I had with Erica, she came back to me with a list of her concerns about employment testing — concerns that I think every job hunter who has ever faced such a test has, too. She’s turned her worries into a great article that serves as a companion piece to the book — and she asked me to publish it as a way to help job seekers deal with three more daunting obstacles they’ll encounter when employers want to test them. You may read her full article here:

An Insider’s Biggest Beefs With Employment Testing

It’s housed in the Guest Voices section of the website, but I wanted to share with you here the gist of her three biggest beefs — because I’d love to have a discussion about your comments and experiences with employment testing.

Erica writes in her new article:

My #1 complaint about pre-employment testing is the disrespectful treatment of test takers. This can start when you are asked to take a test without warning or explanation. It continues through tests that seem to make no sense in the context of the job, and it can culminate when employers provide no feedback to test takers about test results.

My #2 complaint about pre-employment testing is lack of “face validity.” Face validity is a subjective judgment the test taker makes about at test, not a quality of the test. A test is face valid if it appears to be measuring what it is actually measuring. Since pre-employment tests are always measuring and predicting attitudes, behaviors and knowledge related to work, the test is face valid when it asks questions related to the work.

For example, in my opinion, face-valid pre-employment tests should not be asking about how you act at parties, your personal life, whether you take the stairs two at a time (I’m serious: this is a famous, real test question!) or anything that does not appear to be related to the work.

My #3 complaint about pre-employment testing is that some employers use tests that are no better than horoscopes. [An article about bad tests] by Dr. Wendell Williams: “Is Your Hiring Test A Joke?”… says it very well: “When something looks good on the surface, but [is] completely without merit, it is called a joke. You might not have thought of this before, but many hiring tests fit that bill. I’m talking about tests that deliver numbers and data that look good on the surface, but do nothing to predict candidate job success.”

Employers have an obligation to use tests that are good at predicting success, and you have a right to expect that any test you take will indicate your chances of doing well at a job. As a job applicant, you might find it difficult to tell bad tests from good tests — especially given that not all good tests will look like what you think they should (see complaint #2).

Dr. Klein goes on, in the article, to suggest what you can and should do to protect yourself in these three key testing situations — because it could have a significant effect on the outcome of your testing — and job application — experience.

Please read her tips — and come back here to share your thoughts!

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How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number

Filed under: Getting in the door, Heads up, Hiring, Interviewing, Job scams, Job Search, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks

It was inevitable: Scammers are stealing job seekers’ identities using over-the-top interview protocols established by employers to gather sensitive personal data. Have employers gone too far demanding too much of job applicants before they even need the information?

Great news! A well-known employer in your area sends you an e-mail saying it wants to interview you by phone — they found your resume online or your profile on LinkedIn. You answer the phone at the appointed time and have a job interview. Perhaps the interviewer makes an offer on the spot — your lucky day! He helps you complete the job application right there on the phone. What’s not to like?

steal-ssnHighmark, a BlueCross BlueShield healthcare company, warns on its website that the interview you think the company just conducted with you was a fraud — and someone stole your private information in the process:

Important Notice
Recently, Highmark has received several reports of possible fraudulent online activity in which an individual posing as a Highmark human resources representative contacts job seekers by e-mail or phone/text, conducts interviews and makes employment offers on behalf of the company. In most instances, those contacted have never applied for a position with Highmark. These false job offers are likely made in an attempt to gain access to your private information, such as your social security number.

– Warning posted on Highmark’s Careers page, detailed further in this notice

While fake online job postings are common and used to get you to fill out forms with personal information that can be used to steal your identity, this fraud is bold. Someone posing as a well-known employer actually calls you up and interviews you — and by the time it’s over you’ve got a phony job offer and the scammers have your very real social security number and other private information.

How can this happen?

An alert job seeker might recognize a phony e-mail address behind the official-sounding name of the company and the recruiter. But some won’t. Job seekers are understandably excited to get an e-mail asking for an interview and will quickly follow the “script” we’re all accustomed to — an e-mail expressing interest, a phone interview with a recruiter, and an intimidating demand for highly detailed “job application” information that includes private personal data that no employer really needs — but demands anyway.

Of course, not all victims will believe they just got a job offer on the phone without an in-person interview — but some will. And even if the “recruiter” doesn’t make an offer on the phone, he makes it awfully easy to “complete the application” on the phone while he does all the writing for you. He’ll even write down your social security number and your home address and phone number. What’s not to like?

How employers help scammers steal your SS#

Employers have programmed job seekers to quickly disclose private, confidential information — when there’s no real benefit to doing so, but lots of risk. Long before the employer decides you’re even a serious contender for a job, it demands your home address, your social security number, names and contact information of your references and permission to contact them, your salary history (which you should never disclose) and loads of other information that’s none of their business at this juncture and which they don’t even need. (When you fork over your references, you’re putting them at risk, too — probably not a good idea if you want good references!)

Why do HR departments routinely demand all this information? Simply because they can. You’ve been trained to  deliver “the required information” just to apply — while the employer hasn’t even checked your qualifications or indicated the slightest interest in talking with you much less hiring you. (See Does HR Go Too Far When Screening Candidates? — especially comments by HR manager Earl Rice. As you’ll note from the 2003 date on this article, this is not a new employer protocol.)

That’s why you become an easy target for scammers. Scammers exploit the intimidating “script” employers have taught you to follow. That’s how unreasonable, over-the-top job application requirements put you at risk. But it’s even worse.

Where’s your data?

Even a real, live employer that collects your private information puts you at risk. Many employers use third-party applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to log your application information and personal data. It all goes into “the cloud” — and good luck protecting it. When you complete that application, you’re usually asked to sign a waiver that gives the employer and its “agents” (translation: any third parties it deals with but that you don’t know about) permission to do with your data as they please.

You have no idea where your data goes, who has access to it, or how well (if at all) it is secured. Personal job application data is stored in unregulated, central repositories that even employers have no control over. Who controls these enormous databases? Companies like Oracle Taleo, Bullhorn, HRIS, IBM’s Kenexa, iCIMS, JobVite, HireBridge, JobScore, and ADP VirtualEdge among others. (For more about the applicant tracking system racket, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

Of course, to apply for a job you must provide basic information. But it’s up to you to be judicious about what you share and at what point in the recruiting process. Do they really need your social security number — when they haven’t even met you or given you any clear indication that they’re going to make a job offer? Most people today have already been brainwashed by the employment system to hand over anything and everything an employer says it “needs” to “process you.”

BAM! It’s that misconception that turns you into a sucker when a phony recruiter calls you and asks for all your data.

It’s time for employers to behave

It’s time for employers to stop demanding information they don’t need to recruit you. Today, HR departments ask for the kitchen sink simply because they have a database for kitchen sinks. “We’ll just get all the person’s data up front, so we don’t have to do it later.” More cynically, “We’ll get all their data before we even decide they’re viable candidates because then we can use a keyword scan to quickly reject people we haven’t even talked to yet.” (Less politely: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)

When employers put some of their own skin in the game, then they can ask applicants to do the same. For example, what’s the salary range on the job? How much did you pay the last guy in that job and the one before that? What’s your Employer Identification Number? May I see some references from your customers, vendors and former employees? How about your credit rating? You’re privately held? I still need that information — I’m privately held, too. Are some of those questions over the top? Hmmm…

It’s also time for job seekers to stop being suckers. You are always free to politely but firmly decline to disclose any information you think is too private to share — until you think it’s warranted to process your job offer. Don’t be a sucker for either a legitimate employer who asks for too much — or for a scammer. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers for tips about how to stay in control when you’re talking with an employer.

(For more on this story, see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which interviewed me about the scam: Insurer says swindler posing as Highmark job recruiter.)

Where do you draw the line when disclosing private information to apply for a job? Do employers ask for too much, too soon? How do you apply for jobs while protecting your private information?

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LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users

Filed under: Heads up, Job scams, Job Search, Stuff I worry about

LinkedIn busted by U.S. Department of Labor

It’s no big deal, suggests LinkedIn.

linkedin-hackAccording to a Computerworld report (LinkedIn pays almost $6M for U.S. wage law violations), LinkedIn was busted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) when it “violated overtime and record-keeping provisions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.”

DOL investigators found that the online networking and job-board company “did not record, account and pay for all hours worked in a work-week.”

359 current and former employees were affected at LinkedIn’s branches in California, Illinois, Nebraska and New York. LinkedIn agreed to make restitution to those employees. “The payment to the workers under the accord includes over $3.3 million in overtime back wages and about $2.5 million in damages,” says Computerworld.

The high-tech database company, which tracks the online profiles and behavior of over 300 million members, many of whom pay for the service, told Computerworld that the violations were “a function of not having the right tools in place for a small subset of our sales force to track hours properly.”

Judge says consumer class action against LinkedIn can proceed

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled that a case against LinkedIn can proceed. Computerworld reported that “LinkedIn will have to face a lawsuit that alleges it damaged the image of users by repeatedly sending emails to their contacts inviting them to join the social network.”

At issue is whether LinkedIn derives “economic benefit” by using its existing members’ names to solicit other people to join the service. This is illegal in the State of California.

According to Computerworld’s report, Judge Lucy Koh ruled that, “The Court notes that this type of injury, using an individual’s name for personalized marketing purposes, is precisely the type of harm that California’s common law right of publicity is geared toward preventing.”

LinkedIn has taken a lot of heat from its users for its practice of cleverly scraping addresses from their private e-mail directories, and then spamming their contacts repeatedly with solicitations to “connect” on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has also been accused of conflict of interest because it charges employers to search its database for the best job candidates — while LinkedIn also charges members for “premium” positioning in those search results. (See LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters.)

Against LinkedIn’s protests, the court ruled that the case may proceed.

Is LinkedIn a network marketing scheme?

LinkedIn holds itself up as the standard bearer of ethical networking — yet more than half its revenues come from selling access to members’ information to third parties. In a Fortune article (LinkedIn’s Networker in Chief), LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says:

  • “values are the first principles we use to make day-to-day decisions”
  • “Compassion has essentially become my first principle of management”

But based on these news stories, this quote says a lot about Weiner’s motivation and priorities:

“I didn’t realize until I got to LinkedIn that without access to economic opportunity, nothing else matters.”

It seems LinkedIn may have become too focused on its own “economic opportunity” and that the cost is being borne by its employees and members. Has the leading professional network turned into a sort of network marketing scheme?

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