Should I ask for a raise one more time?

Filed under: Changing jobs, Job Search, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning, Salary

In the July 28, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader has been waiting eight years for a raise while doing loads more work.

Question

I’m a gigantic fan who recommends Ask The Headhunter to everyone I meet. So thank you. I have a question, and if it doesn’t work for the newsletter, then I’d be good with a Talk to Nick session.

shrug-no-raiseI’ve been at my job eight years. With inflation, I make about what I made in 2007. My job responsibilities have grown enormously, and I have delivered tremendous, demonstrable value. My boss and his VP agree that I’m dramatically underpaid, and they “wish” they could do more, but you know, HR is horrible, I’m at the top of the pay band, and so on.

For a few years, I’ve sweated it out because frankly I like the place, and I get to spend more time with my kids than I would at a job where I was paid fairly. The kids are priority #1, so I don’t mind making less.

It’s a small company, and there’s not much room for growth. But I’m doing a job now that is quite different from my job title, and one that doesn’t exist here. I had a very ATH conversation with our CIO (my VP’s boss) in February, and it went quite well. He said he was going to see what he could do with HR. Then he got replaced after 32 years.

The new guy seems really talented, and sharp. But my dilemma is, how do I approach him to deliver the same sort of info I already told my CIO? I’d like to let him know that I’m doing a much more important job, while being paid for a lesser job.

My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning. So I have to do it myself.

I guess I just don’t know how to approach a guy who has been here for two months, and tell him how awesome I am, and that he needs to recognize my value. It’s like an interview, but not really. Your advice is appreciated. Thanks for all you do.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words — I’m glad you enjoy ATH! You might expect I’m going to recommend some magic negotiating method, but I don’t think you should negotiate for a better salary. (If I did, I might suggest something from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

I think you should leave.

There’s an old joke: A cynical out-of-towner steps out of New York City’s Penn Station onto 34th Street and asks a passerby, “Can you tell me how to get to Lincoln Center, or should I just go F myself?”

I’m afraid all you’re doing is asking to be told to go F yourself. You’re very close to this because you’ve been there so long. If you step back, you might see this differently and a lot more simply. We tend to make excuses for people — especially our employers. I think the signs are that you need to move on.

Consider the facts you’ve shared:

  1. Your pay has not gone up in 8 years.
  2. You’re doing lots more work that has effectively increased your employer’s “pay.”
  3. Your management acknowledges all this.
  4. Your management has clearly told you they’re not going to pay you more. Worse, they blame it on HR, which after all works for management!
  5. Your bosses are not going to advocate for you. (See 4.)
  6. There’s not much room for growth.

Even if the new CIO is a great guy, he’s not likely to buck the company line. (See 5.) Even if he does, and you pull this off, (6.) tells me you’re just stalling the inevitable — unless you just want to make like a tree and take root for life. (See Should I take a big counter-offer?)

I respect that you put family at #1. That’s got nothing to do with how these people are paying you while you help generate more profits for them. It’s possible to keep doing your current work, keep family at #1, and make more money. But it’s not permitted. It seems they’ve made it clear they’re not going to pay you more.

Do you see what I see? I’m not saying jump to another company where you’ll earn more in exchange for making your family #2. I’m saying start looking for employers who value the kind of work you do and who will pay for it. Nothing is stopping you from conducting a well-paced, savvy job search. Worst case, you won’t find what you want. My guess is, you will.

I think you’re making excuses for managers who aren’t doing right by you. The new guy is not likely to rock the boat or buck your own boss.

If you go talk to the new guy anyway — and start a search at the same time — be careful. If all the managers put their heads together and realize your comp is such an issue, you may become a marked man. My guess, though, is they’re too lazy and complacent to worry about it.

Management like that just waits it out. When under-paid employees finally quit, the company just hires new ones for even less. It’s a sad commentary on how some companies are run.

“My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning.”

That tells me pretty much everything I need to know. In a healthy company, bosses advocate for their best people. They don’t resort to excuses. But what cinches this in my mind is, they’ve never thrown you a bone in eight years. That’s a bad sign. If there’s some indication that the new guy might be helpful, I just don’t see it. You’d need to explain that.

pc-cover1-211x275In a “talent shortage” like employers complain about today, the best talent gets hired. Why not start looking at yourself that way?

I’d be happy to schedule a Talk to Nick with you, but I’m not sure what more I could tell you — except to flesh out how to handle this new CIO. (You’d spend less learning about Parting Company properly. In fact, I’ll give you 25% OFF if you buy Parting Company this week! Discount code=SAVE25) The real question is, why do you think the new CIO is going to make any difference to you? Just because he’s smart does not mean he’s going to buck the rest of management. In fact, it suggests he won’t.

I believe in negotiating, as long as you’re talking with someone who is negotiable. If they’re not, then don’t beat your head against a wall. If anything I’ve said is helpful, I’m glad. Sorry if it’s such a downer, but I call them like I see them.

Would you keep negotiating with this employer? Is there an opportunity here for a salary increase that I’ve missed? What would you do in this reader’s shoes?

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2 Rules About Working for Start-Ups

Filed under: Heads up, How to Say It, Making money, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, Success at Work

In the July 21, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is in a pickle — er, start-up — without a salary, and without protection on the upside or the downside.

Question

Your advice in the newsletters is brilliant. However, I haven’t seen you say much about start-ups. I’m in my 50s and enjoy the chaos of a new company. I have been doing it for nine months, and I love it. I am not getting paid, or receiving any benefits. The company has been getting exposure, and a few small projects, but no investment backing. That means no money. The CEO continues to tell the development team, the editors, and writers that “we are so close.”

bait-and-switchShe also mentioned they are moving to Silicon Valley, but will be using distributed-teams software to push more projects out.

The problem is that my budget and time are expanding. I am worried that my “job” will be lost by their move. I have only a handful of e-mails outlining the stock certificates, with promises of full-time employment when investors come through. However, I have nothing legal or tangible to suggest they are serious.

I’m ready to quit, but need some guidance. How do I approach her about my concerns without questioning her integrity? Should I suggest several options that have some legal teeth that protect me? So far I have all the risk while she continues to pump out projects. Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

There are two good reasons to work at a start-up:

Why work for a start-up?

One, you’re an owner with ironclad shares that cannot be diluted without your approval. If the company takes off, you’ll get your reward. If it doesn’t, you at least had a deal that protected your upside.

Two, you’re an employee being paid a fair (if not good) salary, and you’re expected to work hard over and above anything resembling “reasonable” — because you have some shares and stock options as a reward if the business takes off. Your salary protects your downside.

If you’re working at a start-up under other circumstances, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re probably a chump — unless you’re independently wealthy and love that kind of work.

I’ve got two rules for working at start-up companies.

Rule #1: Don’t get screwed

star-wars

I love start-ups. Been there, done that, had great experiences… except the time I got screwed because I had nothing in writing. When the founder decided to bring in other investors, my 250,000 shares were instantly diluted down to virtually nothing. (See Start-Up Stock: What’s it “sort of” worth?) The first rule when joining a start-up is don’t get screwed. Invest in legal and accounting advice to protect your up- and downside.

Let’s discuss how to handle your boss. You’re being naively nervous about offending a founder that you’re giving free work to. It’s time to make it legal.

I’d sit her down without any apologies and without hesitation in your voice.

How to Say It
“I’m excited about what we’re doing and I love the work. However, this is a business proposition — I’m working for free for equity and the promise of a full-time job. I think it’s time we put this in writing for our mutual protection.”

If she indicates any problem with that, then I think you’re being taken for a ride, and that you’ll be summarily dumped by the side of the road. She should be apologizing to you and extending every courtesy — you’ve been working for free with no written assurance of any reward!

You might want to talk with other “employees” to see how they feel — and to find out whether they have contracts. You all need them. You may want to speak with her as a group. But in my opinion this has already gone too far. You’d be pretty upset if she took advantage of all of you at this point — so don’t fret about having this discussion.

Rule #2: Don’t get screwed

Before you do that, I’d talk with an attorney. (See Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.) Equity deals and contracts with start-ups are complicated and fraught with risk. If it’s not worth the legal fee, then how can the promise of this job be worth anything? Please take this seriously.

The other issue is that if and when investors come in, your boss will have very little to say about your equity share. Investors don’t like seeing their shares diluted. You could wind up with very little, if anything, if you don’t have a solid contract now — and the right kind of shares.

I don’t mean to scare you, but I’ve seen this again and again. Even a well-intentioned founder can wind up hurting the team that poured its blood and sweat into the business. Working with no contract is totally imprudent and un-businesslike. I’d get to it asap. Did I caution you not to get screwed?

Don’t forget about IP (Intellectual Property) rights. Have you signed an NDA or NCA? Have you signed over any IP rights to anything you’ve developed? Your boss could be screwed, too, without these. It’s another reason you need a good employment lawyer.

Get compensated

My philosophy is, get value for value. Your work is valuable. Ask for salary, and ask for equity. I don’t think suggesting “several options that have some legal teeth” will help you unless you talk to a lawyer first. This is easy: Just tell her it’s time for a written, signed agreement — and stock certificates. Something tells me that’s when she’ll tell you you’re not part of the move — though I hope I’m wrong.

Before you quit, give your boss a chance to protect your investment in this business by compensating you fairly for the risk you’re taking. Get compensated. That’s not a rule; that’s good business. Do your best to prepare yourself in advance. These Ask The Headhunter PDF books will help you with your “boss”:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire. This works even when discussing salary with your current employer!

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), especially “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15. Sometimes it helps to ask casually!

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, especially “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it,” pp. 23-25. This is a must when considering a job at a start-up, though this section applies to established companies, too.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, especially “Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?”, pp. 5-7.

There’s a lot more to start-ups, of course. (See Ben Slick’s excellent article, Evaluate a Start-Up Job Opportunity Like a Venture Capitalist.) If something I’ve said is helpful, I’m glad. I’d love to know what you decide to do and what comes of this. Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter!

For those considering the excitement of working at a start-up, if it’s what you really want to do, don’t be dissuaded by risk. As this reader points out, it can be an exciting experience. Just follow my two simple rules, and make sure you protect yourself on both the upside and the downside. I hope you get rich, but don’t end up losing your shirt.

(If you’re thinking about making the leap to starting your own start-up, learn more about Trading Your Job For Venture Funding.)

Have you ever worked for a start-up? How did it turn out? Did you protect yourself? (Did you get rich?) How would you advise this reader?

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Is this resume too long?

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

In the July 14, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks an age-old question.

Question

I’ve always abided by the standard advice to have your resume focused at one page. However, due to my eight years of experience, more than a few people (including a headhunter), are saying that a one-page resume doesn’t give enough information. To paraphrase a friend, “Just one page of detail makes me think you’re making crap up.”

What do you think, are one-page resumes for experienced people too short? Thanks for your time.

Nick’s Reply

There’s an old story about a college professor who graded term papers by sailing them down a steep staircase. The ones that made it to the bottom got the highest grades. Weight mattered. (We won’t get into aerodynamics.)

resume-longIn a story attributed to a man who was chided for having legs that were short, he replied, “Short? They both touch the ground!”

Does length of a resume matter? Should you stick to one page? Is it best to avoid multiple pages because no one will read them or because too much information might put someone off? (See The truth about resumes.)

I could answer with several more stories culled from my headhunter’s collection. Here’s one of my favorites. An engineering candidate I worked with had over 20 years’ experience and an extensive academic history. His resume was 12 pages long, and it was dense. It included details about projects he had worked on, articles he had written and research projects he’d done.

Like you, I’d been taught to keep a resume short and to the point. I was (still am) pretty good at editing and chopping, but try as I might, everything in that resume seemed relevant and important.

I sent this candidate to an interview with a client after presenting him only on the phone (no resume). When the meeting was done the client wanted the resume, to fill in the blanks about the engineer’s history. I sent those 12 pages. The client wanted it all. Every page mattered.

My advice: Edit your resume to make it relevant to the employer, and make it as long as it needs to be. Make sure it’s long enough so it reaches where it’s supposed to go.

For more about my view of resumes, please see Resume Blasphemy and Put a Free Sample in Your Resume. (Most of the latter is now in How Can I Change Careers?) If you’re going to use a resume writer to help you, seek out the best — but I suggest you do it yourself. Avoid the popular resume-mill scams.

Is your resume really long? Or do you stick to one or two pages? What works for you? If you’re a hiring manager, do you care?

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Don’t let employers always call the shots

Filed under: Interviewing, Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A

In the July 7, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets fed up with a company president who dawdles.

Question

I just had my first — and I think best — “Nick C. ATH” interview with a start-up. I communicated only with the president — two interviews, one phone, one in person. At the end I said, “I want this job!”

All seemed well — he discussed salary (we are both on target — he spoke first about their salary intentions, I congratulate myself on this) and then… it happened. A total regression to stupid, pointless, time-wasting, moronic game-playing.

call-the-shotsHere I am, hoping, praying to the employment gods that the offer is imminent. But it wasn’t. He said, “Well, I have one more person to interview. What I’d like to do is maybe have you come into the office to fill out an application so we can run your background check.”

Floored and disappointed (and I’m sure it showed), I struggled to remember what Nick says to say in this situation. Couldn’t remember, then calmly asked, “When do you intend to make a decision?”

“About three weeks,” he tells me. Three weeks? WTF?

Shook hands, yada yada, I went home like a stunned bunny. By the time I got there, I was feeling furious!

My take is, it’s over. He’s not going to offer, and I’ve decided I will only fill out paperwork and do the background check when I have a firm offer on the table in writing. If it’s contingent upon a drug test and references, no problem, I’m aces. But I gotta have the offer.

Later that day, I got an e-mail from a previous employer (HA!) asking me to apply for a particular position. I intend to use this to get the first employer’s best-best offer on the table, if by chance I should get a call back from him. My sister suggests I call him personally to let him know that “something suddenly came up” and that this prior employer tagged me for a job. I think she’s right.

Any insights? Thoughts about this employer’s behavior? Is he gaming me?

Nick’s Reply

No one bats an eye when an employer lays down the rules and says they’re going to talk to more candidates, or makes an offer and says you’ve got three days to make a decision about it.

Employers do this to maintain control over the hiring process, and because they control the purse strings. But, in today’s “talent shortage,” good job candidates control an important asset, too — the talent. Without good talent, employers can’t run their businesses.

Of course, no matter who is calling the shots, it’s always a risk. There are no sure things in this process. Jobs disappear, but so do great job applicants. The question is, are you always on the receiving end of ultimatums, or do you give ultimatums, too? (We discussed this once before in Why & how you should give employers an ultimatum.)

It’s time to show some control. I’d let the employer know you want the job, and that if they’d like to make an offer within five business days, you’d welcome it. (Of course, you’re still free to reject it if you don’t like the terms.) Explain that, past five days, you respectfully withdraw your application. If they ask why, tell them you’re discussing a job with one of their competitors — and remind them there’s a talent shortage.

(Caution: Do not disclose who the other employer is. It’s not hard for one disgruntled employer to nuke your offer from another.)

Who’s always in charge?

The problem for job seekers is, employers feel no pressure to make a decision. They drag out the interview process beyond what’s reasonable. Give them a friendly, reasonable deadline, and you’ll find out how serious they are. If they’re not serious, why bother getting frustrated with them?

Of course, you must decide what’s reasonable. Do you think your interviews are really sufficient for this employer to make a hiring decision? Since he’s the president of the company, it might well be. That call is yours to make. Is five days to make a hiring decision adequate, or should you ask for a decision on the spot? Again, only you know best.

Call some shots!

The point is, sometimes you should be the one calling the shots. If your gut tells you it’s a waste of time to stretch out the waiting process, then get it over with so you can pursue other opportunities with a clear mind. Waiting on a dawdling employer can be incapacitating.

Let them see that you made the decision, and that you ended the engagement. Let them go figure out what just happened. Meanwhile, there’s a good employer out there that will deal with you candidly and quickly, whether they hire you or not. Someone actually understands that talent can quickly disappear.

Learn to say “We’re done!” to indecisive employers who think they hold all the cards.

Have you ever told an employer to fish or cut bait? Do you think that’s an unreasonable position to take in some situations? Or do you think employers always hold all the cards?

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niib-coverThe original edition of the book that launched Ask The Headhunter — The New Interview Instruction Book — is available for a limited time. Click here for more information!

This classic is available only while the limited supply lasts!

“Thanks for making The New Interview Instruction Book available.  I bought a copy as soon as you announced it, it arrived quickly, and I finished it in two days. I have been following you and recommending ATH for some time. Even so, The New Interview is right now helping me as I am trying to find a new position — glad I ordered it! Also, thanks for the hand-written note on the shipping document.  Nice to know that you still take that kind of personal interest. If I had ordered The New Interview Instruction Book about three days earlier, I think I may be having a different outcome on my most recent job interview.”  – Chris Hogg


 

The HR Gantlet: How to leave your job without getting hurt

Filed under: Changing jobs, Fired, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning

In the June 30, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is faced with the HR gantlet on his way out the door.

Question

I’m leaving my company and HR is asking me to sign all sorts of forms and documents. I’m faced with reams of legal-ese! I’m worried they’re going to slip in something that hurts me later. I also want to make sure I get documents that I might need later, and I want to avoid doing anything that might get me sued. Do you have any tips so I won’t get hurt while I make my way through the HR gantlet on the way out the door?

Nick’s Reply

gantletThe path out the door, whether you quit or have been fired, is usually rushed and HR goes into high gear issuing orders and giving you paperwork to sign.

Some of the paperwork is for your own protection. For example, insurance and retirement account information. Some of it can indeed hurt you later. I can’t walk you through everything in a newsletter, but I can touch on some gotchas you should be aware of.

This is from the “Crib Sheet” section of my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 67-73.


  • If you were fired after being put on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP), obtain copies of relevant documents. Even if you don’t expect to take legal action, you may change your mind and your lawyer will need the information.
  • If you are given a letter of separation that requires you to sign off, consider having an attorney review it before you sign. Don’t forfeit your rights in an effort to exit quickly. Protect yourself.
  • Don’t leave your personal stuff in your office. Upon termination or resignation, you may not be able to retrieve it easily. Some employers will lock you out and pack what they believe is yours and ship it to you later. (See “Get your stuff,” p. 46.)
  • Don’t use company technology to store personal information. If the laptop and phone belong to the company, so does what’s stored on them.
  • If you work in sales, discuss who owns your customers and contact lists. Keep what’s yours, but don’t take what belongs to the company.
  • If you’ve been involved in inventions or patents or proprietary information, make sure you understand who owns the rights. Be aware of any restraints you may have already agreed to, e.g., Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). Retain copies for your files and possibly for your attorney.
  • If you’ve signed any Non-Compete Agreements (NCA), make sure you understand the restraints. NCAs usually define a time period, geographic region, named customers you may not call on, and other terms. Retain copies. [Note: NCAs are not legal in some jurisdictions. Employers want you to sign them anyway. Also be careful with NDAs — Non-Disclosure Agreements.]
  • Do you anticipate a lawsuit for wrongful termination, age or sex discrimination, or sexual harassment? Before you do anything pertaining to your exit, consult an attorney. What you say or do during the exit process might be used against you. Don’t limit your options carelessly.
  • Throughout your exit process, carry a notebook. Make it clear to HR that you are taking notes about commitments and representations made to you. To put it bluntly, this encourages HR to take it all more seriously—and it keeps everyone more honest.

If you think you may need legal advice, don’t dawdle. Start by identifying good employment lawyers through trusted referrals, and inquire what the fees are. An initial consultation often costs nothing, or very little. Compare that to the cost of parting company without legal assistance.

There are many daunting challenges and choices you probably don’t realize you’ll face during this awkward time.

  • Do you know how to resign? (p. 40)
  • Should you consent to an exit interview? (p. 53)
  • Did getting fired shatter your self-confidence? (p. 12)
  • Should you accept a “package” to quit your job voluntarily? (p. 26)
  • What’s the truth about counter-offers? Should you accept one? (p. 50)
  • How can you prepare for the shock of a downsizing? (p. 20)
  • Is outplacement a big, costly mistake? (p. 28)
  • How do you explain to a new employer why you left your old one? (p. 58)

Reprinted from Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 67-73.


I hope these few tips cover some of your bigger concerns. When I wrote this book, I spoke with some of the best HR folks I know — and some of their warnings surprised me. Parting company can be a trying experience, so be careful.

The last bit of advice I’ll give you is this: Be on your best behavior on the way out the door, no matter how your employer behaves. Do the right thing, be professional, be cordial — but protect yourself.

Parting company can be a friendly experience, or you can get burned. What’s your experience been? When you left a job, did you encounter any nasty surprises you’d like to warn others about? Or, did your old employer do something nice during your departure?

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How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants

Filed under: Employment Tests, For Managers, Hiring, Interviewing, Job scams, Job Search, Q&A, Recruiting, Stupid HR Tricks

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

Your XQ: More HR B.S.?

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

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

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

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

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

A $2 Billion Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The No-See-Um Assessment

What are HR departments looking for?

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

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

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

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

Meet Andy Biga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. There goes Andy Biga’s future.

Meet Charles Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

Correlation Is King

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

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

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

Meet Ray Dalio, animal wrangler

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

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

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

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

The Science Of Snake Oil

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

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

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

We Have Met The Enemy

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

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

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

So, how do I get a job?

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

It’s simple. Please pay attention.

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

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

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

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

HR will realize it when job seekers stop rolling over.

My Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6 Secrets of The New Interview

Filed under: Ask The Headhunter Products, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A, Salary, The job offer

In the June 16, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an old friend re-surfaces… for a little while!

The New Interview Instruction Book is BACK!

20 years ago, Ask The Headhunter was born from a discussion forum I started on Prodigy (does anyone remember Prodigy?) and a book titled The New Interview Instruction Book. The book was for sale only by mail order direct from me and from the Motley Fool, the personal finance site that hosted the ATH discussion forum — before I created the ATH website, newsletter and blog.

niib-coverIt was in The New Interview Instruction Book that I introduced the key concepts and methods that are still the foundation of Ask The Headhunter — methods for landing the right job by demonstrating that you can do the job profitably.

The book was taken out of circulation when Penguin Putnam bought the rights and issued a revised edition named Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing The Interview to Win The Job (1997). That book became a bestseller, and finally went out of print a few years ago.

Until now, neither edition has been available (except used). Now a limited number of copies of the original book are available until the supply runs out.

If you don’t have The NIIB or its successor, you can order your own original copy of the classic NIIB for $29.95 + shipping. (This is a physical, 157-page book, not a PDF. Check out the Table of Contents. All orders will ship Priority U.S. Mail. Note: This book is similar to the successor 1997 edition issued by Penguin Putnam as Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing the interview to win the job.)

Of course, a 20-year-old book has some anachronisms in it! But the concepts and the how-to are exactly what we discuss in this newsletter all the time — except there’s more how-to and much more detail! The methods in this book are just as valid and powerful today as they were in 1995! Please note that because quantity is limited, there are no returns or refunds on this book.

In this edition of the newsletter, I’d like to reprint a key section of The NIIB: The Six Secrets of The New Interview (pp. 21-24). I hope you enjoy it!


6 Secrets of The New Interview

The Six Secrets of the New Interview are not really secrets, because every good headhunter recognizes these facts, and uses them every day.

  1. Insiders have the best shot at the job.
  2. The real matchmaking is done before the interview.
  3. The interview is an invitation to do the job.
  4. The employer wants to hire you, and he will help you win the interview.
  5. The boss wants one thing from you: he wants you to solve a problem.
  6. You will win the job by doing it.

Let’s look closely at what the Six Secrets of the New Interview really mean.

1. Insiders have the best shot at the job.

Other things being equal, the boss will hire someone he [or she!] knows before he hires someone he does not know. Why? Because he has more information about people he already knows, like other company employees, than he has about you. And, the information he has is more reliable.

Part of a headhunter’s job is to build his candidate’s reputation within a company before the candidate goes on the interview. You can accomplish this for yourself, if you know how. In the sections that follow, we will discuss how you can make an employer perceive you as a valued employee rather than an outsider.

2. The real matchmaking is done before the interview.

The work of matching a worker with a job takes place before the interview, not during the interview. You have heard it said that in a courtroom a lawyer never asks a witness a question to which the lawyer does not already know the answer. Similarly, a headhunter never sends a candidate to an interview unless the headhunter already knows the candidate can do the job. You must ensure the same for yourself.

3. The interview is an invitation to do the job.

Most people treat an interview like an interrogation. One person asks questions, the other gives answers. This is wrong. Headhunters go out of their way to structure interviews to avoid this very unfavorable scenario.

An interview is a meeting between you and the employer — you are equals. The traditional notion of the all-powerful interviewer and the deferential candidate is hogwash. Unfortunately, this notion is promoted each time someone says that a candidate was interviewed by an employer.

The root of the word “interview” means between. “Interview” does not imply that one person is doing something to another. It refers to an exchange of information between two or more people. Specifically, it does not imply that the employer has power over you, the candidate. The only power either of you has is power you have each granted to the other. If you grant an employer the power to intimidate you and interrogate you under a hot light, then that’s your decision. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of candidates allow to happen. Interviewers (and personnel jockeys) take advantage of it.

There is one power you and the employer share. If you can capitalize on it, you will turn the interview into a decisive problem-solving experience that will make the employer view you and treat you like a member of his own team. This power lies in your choice to work together, with the employer, to get the job done. This means avoiding interrogations. It means doing the job in the interview. We will talk more about how you can put this power to work, and thereby avoid getting interviewed in the traditional sense.

4. The employer wants to hire you, and he will help you win the interview.

This might seem absurd to some. It’s not. It is precisely why the employer is meeting with you. Every headhunter knows that. The headhunter counts on the employer being ready to hire the candidate. So should you. If the employer hires you, he wins, too. He can stop interviewing, and he can start earning the profits that having you on the job will yield.

Give the employer what a good headhunter gives him: proof that you can do the work. He wants you to be the right candidate. Half your battle is won. No other single fact about interviewing ever made me more relaxed, comfortable and powerful in an interview when I was looking for a new job.

5. The boss wants one thing from you: He wants you to solve a problem.

Every employer who interviews you has a problem: a job that needs doing. Most candidates don’t solve the boss’s problem because they don’t know what the problem is, and because they’re too busy “doing the interview”. That’s what keeps headhunters in business — job candidates who can’t identify and solve the boss’s problem.

A headhunter makes sure his candidate knows exactly what problem he has to solve to win an offer. If one of your predecessors had proved they could solve the employer’s problem, the employer would not be talking to you.

Ask yourself The Four Questions before you meet the boss. If you can answer them all “yes”, go in and do the job. How do you do the job before you are hired? Solve one or more of the manager’s problems during the interview. See what happens.

6. You will win the job by doing it.

You will not win the job by talking about it. Managers end interviews with, “I’ll get back to you” when they can’t decide whether to hire you. That’s because they’re not sure you can do the job. What more compelling way is there to convince a manager to hire you than to do the job the way he wants it done right there in front of him? If you waste your meeting answering questions rather than doing the job, you will lose the job to another candidate who was well prepared to do the job.

Good headhunters know these secrets and apply them all the time. They treat all interviews as practical meetings with a purpose, and the purpose is to show that a job candidate can do a job so that he or she will be hired. The headhunter devotes all his energy to achieving this purpose.

I niib-coverhave shared these ideas over the years with job candidates I’ve sent to meet my clients. It is important for candidates to recognize how important they are to the employer. I want them to see interviews for what they are: opportunities for skilled people to demonstrate to an employer the best way a job can be done.

These ideas will change your job hunt in some very important ways if you put them to work. You will be freed from the banality of the traditional interview. You will form a relaxed attitude about interviewing and develop the confidence and power a talented worker should have. You will blossom from a job candidate into the solution to a manager’s problem.

I know I’m making you wait, but I can’t teach you how to use methods that work until you first understand why the rules drilled into your head by the employment industry are a waste of your time. In the next section we will look more closely at why traditional interviews don’t work. We’ll take a practical look at why companies use the traditional interview process, how they misuse it, and how this puts job hunters at a disadvantage. Understanding the problem will help you make the best use of the concepts presented in this book.

[The New Interview Flowchart shows the key steps to a job offer, from p. 154.]

Reprinted from The New Interview Instruction Book. This classic is available only while the limited supply lasts!


These are age-old ideas for landing a job. When I wrote a book about them long ago, I didn’t expect I’d be discussing these ideas with you 20 years later! Do they still hold up? I think they do — mainly because thousands of you have proven it to me! Are there secrets of your own you’d like to add?

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How to ask for an early salary raise

Filed under: Fearless Job Hunting, Making money, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, Success at Work

In the June 9, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader excels at a new job, fixes what was broken, and wants an early raise. Is that possible?

Question

I have been working for a small company for six months. My duties expanded dramatically soon after I was hired. When I got here, I walked into a disaster. It took a lot of hard work, but now I’ve got the department going like clockwork.

I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m worth more than my current compensation. Is it appropriate to renegotiate my salary at this point? What approach should I take? If terms cannot be met, should I look elsewhere? Thanks for the advice!

Nick’s Reply

dilbert-ask-for-a-raiseI like your pragmatic perspective. If you’re worth more today than when you were hired, you should be getting paid more! Some employers will be shocked, but they’re the ones that will lose their best workers to the competition for underpaying them.

Your job quickly turned into much more than you were told when you were hired. That’s actually pretty common — I’ll bet lots of Ask The Headhunter subscribers are in this boat. Management is often clueless about what a job is really all about, or what it’s worth (see Salary surveys: Know when to fold ’em). But a capable new hire quickly realizes how much work must be done — and does it. The added payoff to the employer is significant.

Sometimes, the employer is conniving. It knows there’s much more work than it lets on during interviews, and hopes to gain a much higher ROI on the salary it offered. The new hire gets stiffed, but isn’t likely to quit.

Either way, I think under the circumstances six months is not too early to approach management about a raise, if you can justify your request. (In fact, it may take six months more to actually get the raise, if it is approved!)

If you suspect management isn’t going to respond well, then start a quiet job search before you make your request, not after. This will give you true leverage in the negotiation, if only because you know you have other options.

Use a business plan

Now that I’ve encouraged you, let’s consider who you’re negotiating with. No company wants to feel pulled over a barrel, no matter what you’ve accomplished. So, be responsible and friendly about this. Your presentation for the raise should include a business plan that covers these things:

  • What you have accomplished,
  • How much you think you have saved — or profited — the company (an estimate is okay),
  • The challenges that need to be dealt with next (be specific),
  • What your plan is to tackle and meet those challenges and,
  • How your next year’s plan will profit the company.

You didn’t think I was going to wave a magic wand and make this easy, did you?

Here’s the key to pulling this off:

Raises are rarely given as rewards for past performance. They’re offered as inducement for even better performance in the future. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Intervview: Be The Profitable Hire, I suggest that you take this discussion to your boss:

This means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps that you would take to do the job and solve the company’s problems. The numbers don’t have to be exact, but you should be able to defend them intelligently. (pp. 30-32, “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”)

If you think in terms of a business plan that promises profitable performance, you’ll have a potent case. Based on what you’ve already shared, I think you can pull this off if your employer has any integrity and realizes workers like you are hard to come by. (See How to Say It: Mo’ money is the problem!)

Now here’s the beef in this Q&A:

In preparing your little business plan, interview key managers and personnel in the company about your job functions, to establish support for your presentation. This will help you perfect it, and it will also help you test it. (If no one’s very impressed, you may want to reconsider your plan, if not your request.)

If you’ve taken all my advice, and the company doesn’t see its way clear to pay you what you’re worth, you’ll have an alternative already on deck (an active job search), which is better than having to go create one at the last minute.

Have you ever asked for an early raise, when you realized a new job was far more than you were told — and because you blew through the employer’s expectations? Or did you quietly keep doing the job without asking for more money? What should this reader do?

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Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit

Filed under: For Managers, Hiring, Q&A, Recruiting

In the June 2, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders what the problem is with employers. They really can’t find the hires they need??

Question

Why do companies seem to have such a hard time finding the people they say they need — the “talent?” I apply for jobs that I know I’m a fit for based on what they say they need. We do a short dance, and they stop talking to me and move on to the next applicant. Most of the time I’m talking to Personnel. It’s not just me. I know several very successful people out of work who keep having the same experience. Is it us, or the employers?

Nick’s Reply

We’ve been discussing how human resources departments, technology and job boards contribute to the problems employers claim to have when trying to hire the talent they need.

But I think the real solution lies not just in eliminating the artificial obstacles to recruiting and hiring. Employers must learn how to actively do it right. And there’s no mystery about how to do it right — and no artifice in it at all.

The problem you and your friends face is that you’re not being recruited. You’re being solicited. Recruiting right doesn’t require more technology or more investment or specialists of any kind. The best recruiting and hiring tool is already in place, waiting to be deployed.

recruitBut there’s the rub. Very, very few employers deploy the army of recruiters that already exists in their ranks. Line up 10 managers and they’ll give you 10 different answers to the question, What is your No. 1 job function?

You can take all the skills of all managers and pile them up and they won’t outweigh the one most important skill of a good manager: hiring great people.

If a company keeps failing to hire great people who stick around and do profitable work, then it has to take a look at how good its managers are at this one function.

Every manager’s No. 1 job

Managers who hide behind HR — or who fear HR — don’t deserve the title. Managers who don’t recruit should be sent packing.

If managers are not personally spending at least 20 to 30 percent (that’s one to two days per week) of their time identifying, meeting, cultivating, recruiting, interviewing and hiring great people, they’re not earning their keep. Hiring is every manager’s No. 1 job.

I know this will shock many managers (and HR executives), but hiring is not and cannot be HR’s job. In fact, HR needs to get out of the way entirely — and leave recruiting up to the managers who run the departments that do the work, and that understand firsthand the tasks and tools required for the business.

Just ask anyone who has ever interviewed with an HR representative: Did HR demonstrate any expertise in the skills it was judging you on?

Only managers can do that. And it’s time they started doing their jobs and making their companies proud. I’ll bet they’d make job seekers happier, too — because interviews would suddenly become more relevant and intelligent. And HR could go back to processing payroll.

Judge employers by their managers

For job seekers, it’s worth judging employers by who’s on the front line of recruiting. Does the hiring manager make first contact with you, or is that a personnel jockey calling? (See The Recruiting Paradox.) What do you imagine would happen if you referred just-say-nosuch calls to your administrative assistant (or agent) — instead of talking to the employer yourself? The employer would be appalled, of course. So, why should you be fielding calls from administrators when you’re being recruited? Where’s the manager that wants to hire you?

My point is that job seekers — especially when contact is initiated by the employer — should politely request to have that first discussion happen with the hiring manager, or no dice. No resume. No filling out applications. No employment tests. No social security numbers. First let’s see what that hiring manager has to say, and if it’s worthwhile, go from there. Hey — we all need to weed out the tire kickers, right?

If you’re afraid you’ll “lose an opportunity,” consider this: Most inquiries from employers go nowhere. But you already know that. The ones that lead to a job usually start with the decision maker. No manager is going to sacrifice a candidate he or she really wants to meet if the candidate declines to talk to HR first. The rest are tire kickers.

I think that’s the approach you and your friends need to start taking. Assert yourselves. I think there’s nothing to lose, and you may very well get an audience with a real decision maker.

Here’s a heads-up for all employers: The talent crisis is managers who don’t know how to recruit. The shocking solution to the “talent problem” is for managers to do their own recruiting.

How does “the manager’s No. 1 job” rank in importance at your company? Would you rather be recruited and interviewed by an actual manager, or by HR? When you are rejected, who rejects you: HR or the manager who would hire you? Why do companies put middlemen in the hiring process, when middlemen just bog it down and lead to errors?

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Branding yourself suggests you’re clueless

Filed under: Getting in the door, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A, Stuff I worry about

In the May 26, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, readers ask about branding themselves and about self-marketing. Two brief questions this week reveal the bunk in “branding” yourself when job hunting. The fallacy in this marketing tactic is that getting a job is about you. It’s not. It’s all about the employer and the work you need to configure yourself to do.

Question

What is your advice for promoting oneself through personal branding? How can a person do it elegantly, effectively, and without overdoing it?

Nick’s Reply

Michael Jordan has a brand. So does Madonna. You don’t have a brand. (I’ll prove that to you in a minute.) You have a reputation.

Here’s the problem with applying “branding” to yourself. Consider the definition of “personal branding” on Wikipedia:

Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the minds of others about an individual…”

The point of branding is to fix an image in people’s minds. It’s to define the person or the object and maintain that prescribed image — like Michael Jordan and Madonna.

cluelessBut consider what happens when you apply for a job. It’s the job that’s prescribed, not you. Your objective is to map your skills, abilities and qualities onto the work. Conveying a fixed image to an employer tells him he must fit his job to you. But what he wants to see is how you will fit yourself to the job. Winning a job means showing how you’ll apply yourself to the work; it doesn’t mean displaying your brand and waiting for the employer to figure out what to do with you. (See The $30,000 Strategy.)

Sports stars are brands. Star entertainers are brands. When your name is worth millions, you’ll be a brand, too. In the meantime, figure out how to shape yourself to meet the requirements of a job.

Don’t come off as clueless. You can try to show the employer your brand, or you can do what really matters in an employment transaction: Demonstrate that you understand the employer’s problem. I think the single best way to promote oneself is to promote the company’s overriding objective:

  • Show how your work will help produce profit for the business.

It’s so easy to forget this when the media scream at us that success is all about “branding.” Bunk.

Think instead about your reputation. A reputation for focusing on your employer’s bottom line is the best way to be successful yourself. (Unless, of course, you want to start your own business and hire others.) Don’t wait for management to figure out how you contribute to the bottom line. Tell them before they ask. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

One Ask The Headhunter reader explained what he did in a job interview:

Instead of worrying about my credentials or self-consciously seeking their approval, I talked about their business and how I could impact it. It was a working meeting [Book 6] more than a job interview, and I felt more like an employee than a job seeker. They called me the next morning with the offer.  – R. David Fox

Question

From the recruiter’s perspective, what are the self-marketing techniques that really impress a potential employer?

Nick’s Reply

What did people do before marketers sold them self-marketing? Like branding, I think that self marketing is bunk. The purpose of such terms is to sell books and services about self marketing!

The basics have been around forever. What impresses me in a person is their reputation — and the hard work they have done to earn it. A person who has devoted time and effort to be among the best in their field — no matter what it is — is a person whose name is on the lips of others in the business. Good headhunters, and smart employers, find their best candidates through personal referrals. (See The preemptive reference.) But that’s not marketing; that’s earned respect.

  • Rather than branding and marketing yourself, pick something and get very, very good at it.

If you have a good reputation, then I’ll find out about you. No marketing is necessary when respected people recognize your value. Their recommendation creates your future because they’ll hire you and tell others to hire you. (See Tell me who your friends are.)

You could try to focus on marketing your brand; or you could focus on being very, very good at your work — and by working with others that are, too. (See Work with people who are better than you.)

Here’s truth in the face of feel-good marketing: Winning a job is not about you. It’s about the employer and the work.

Michael JordanI said I’d prove to you that you don’t have a brand. After brushing aside the marketing bunk, it boils down to this:

  • Are employers calling you with huge unsolicited offers?
  • Are the media interviewing you and writing headlines about you?

Please take no offense, but you’re not Michael Jordan or Madonna. You might get famous, and one day your name might be worth millions.

On the other hand, you can prove today that you’re very valuable to an employer if you show you’ve got a clue about how to improve the business. Don’t talk about yourself. Produce a business plan that shows how you’ll do the job that needs doing.

How do you market yourself? Do you have a personal brand that anyone recognizes? What convinces employers to hire you?

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