Should I have returned the job offer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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HR Pornography: Interview videos

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

In the October 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker won’t make a video:

My wife, a veteran in her field, began a search for a better job and company. In the past, she used the broken and traditional job hunting methods. After showing her the Ask The Headhunter website and purchasing the companion books — and with a little coaching from me — she landed two job interviews with hiring managers within three weeks.

watching-computerSuddenly, a personnel jockey injected himself into the ongoing discussions with the hiring manager. The recruiter insisted that my wife submit herself to a one-way, online digital video taping, answer a series of pre-selected “screening questions,” and upload it to who knows where for “further review and screening” by who knows whom.

She found the request creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, voyeuristic, unprofessional, and perhaps even unethical. (I’ve attached HR’s e-mail.) She declined, instantly prompting an automated “Do Not Reply” rejection e-mail. She was not worthy because she wouldn’t subject herself to a dehumanizing “HireVue Digital Video Interview.”

This new wrinkle in HR practices seems like the most unsettling and counterproductive yet. It not only removes access to the hiring manager, but also live, human interaction. It sounds like “HR pornography,” where perverted personnel jockeys huddle around a monitor to gawk at videos of “virtual job candidates,” picking apart perceived blunders while they screen you out.

Would you please share your comments and advice on this new and bizarre interviewing phenomenon?

Nick’s Reply

This HR department cheapens itself, the employer, and everyone it subjects to automated interviews. “Talk to the camera by yourself” is not an interview. It’s stupid. Your wife is right to say no, and she’s smart to move on to a better employer.

A recent survey of 600 HR professionals by McQuaig Institute, which develops talent assessment tools, found that 65% of respondents said their company’s hiring managers are not very good interviewers. Meanwhile, HR says its job is to train managers to interview. Is it any wonder HR cuts itself and hiring managers out of interviews and farms the task out to a video company?

A 2013 ADP survey found that, “Consistently across the globe, employers have a significantly more positive impression of how they manage their workforce versus what their employees experience in the workplace.” ADP concludes that “as a whole, HR does not have a handle on the asset it is hired to manage.”

In short, HR is doing a lousy job at interviewing, and HR seems to think it knows what it’s doing — while employees disagree. HR has cornered the market on stupid.

If your wife has already decided not to “make a porn with HR,” I suggest she call the hiring manager and say something like this:

“What’s up with your HR department? I’m glad I spent time talking with you about the job and how I could help your company. But I don’t make videos. I’d be glad to come in for an interview with you. If we decide there’s a match, I’ll fill out a form for HR, but I don’t talk to imaginary interviewers on camera. I find that insulting. I leave the rest up to you.”

Of course, use whatever expressions you are comfortable with. But let the manager know you’re interested in further discussion with him, but not in solo videos for HR.

  • An alternative is to offer to do a Skype interview with the manager. HR may not realize that Skype is basically free, while video interview services can be pricey.

Managers who relinquish control of job interviews to HR likely also let their mothers vet their dates. The culprit here is HR, but the real problem is the hiring manager. Will he stand up and do what good managers do — make his own decisions? (For more about how HR’s missteps can cost you a job, see 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make and The Recruiting Paradox.)

I reviewed the e-mail instructions your wife received — all boilerplate. It’s pitiful and sophomoric:

“One of our Recruiters will review your information and if there is a good match, you’ll be contacted either via e-mail or phone to schedule additional time to speak live.”

But the hiring manager has already decided to spend “additional time speaking live” with your wife. So what’s up with this? How is a “Recruiter” (capital R) going to judge whether there’s a good match better than the manager who has already been interviewing her? Stupid.

“This is a real interview! Be sure to treat this interview as you would an in-person interview.”

Bull dinky, not it’s not! It’s a fake interview with no interviewer.

  • An alternative is to offer to meet with the hiring manager again, rather than do the video. There is no need to say no if you offer a sound alternative.

If anyone fears saying no means “losing an opportunity,” the far bigger risk is having your video rejected by HR — and then having it float around the company forever — if not in some video-interview vendor’s database. (How do you know it won’t be shared with other employers?)

“Feel comfortable to be yourself. We want to see your personality.”

What they mean is, we don’t want you to see the personalities of our personnel jockeys because, face it, they’re a bunch of data diddlers that we don’t want talking to anyone. (I wonder what they’d say if you asked for a video of HR answering your questions? For more stupid HR tricks, see WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?)

If I were your wife, I’d want to talk with the manager one more time, to find out what he thinks about all this. If he tells her he has no choice, my reply would be, “I’m amazed. I left our discussions very impressed, but I’m going to be blunt with you. I’d never take a job in a company where managers don’t manage the hiring process. It says a lot about the operating philosophy at your company. I wish you the best.”

Is your wife taking a risk by talking to the manager like this? I think there is little, if anything, to lose when you are forced to the back of the line by the HR department and the manager concedes. A professional community that does not call out questionable behavior is not worth living or working in.

watching-computer-2To see the punch line in all this, you have to visit HireVue.com, the company that handles video interviews for this employer. Scroll to the bottom of the homepage, where HireVue offers a “success story” from a leading customer — Rodney Moses, VP of Global Recruitment at Hilton Hotels. But Rodney doesn’t tell his story in a video; it’s a slide show hosted not on HireVue, but on SlideShare.net. Video interviews are good enough for you, but not for HireVue’s best customers. HireVue and HR need to eat their own dog food before feeding it to job seekers.

More important, HireVue reveals the real problem employers face, in the introductory video at the top of its homepage.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “In a sea of candidates that all look the same, how do you find the ones that stand out? Since 2005 the number of applicants for any given job has increased four-fold, making it impossible to properly screen and assess each individual…”

No kidding! And what do you suppose caused that increase?

HireVue’s business model is predicated on employers blindly soliciting staggering numbers of applicants — far too many — via indiscriminate digital advertising. The results overpower any employer’s HR resources, so HR needs a video screening process to deal with a job posting process gone haywire. The real solution is to turn off the firehose and eliminate the flood of inappropriate applicants.

If HR would stop drinking from a firehose, it wouldn’t need to throttle its candidate pipeline. Besides, it’s unbecoming to do either.

A manager talks to a candidate again and again, only to have HR demand that the candidate make a video in front of an unmanned camera so HR can decide whether to continue discussions.

Just say no. But it’s the manager who should be saying no — to HR — about making inappropriate requests of job applicants.

Your wife did the right thing. Is it worth letting top management know what’s going on down in HR’s playroom? If HR is busy playing digital spin-the-bottle, HR should get out of the hiring business.

HIREVUE AUDIO: “Your best candidate could be the 100th to apply, yet you’ve only got time for the first 25.”

Ah, the promise of being able to view a hundred or more candidate videos!

How many videos can HR watch before it goes blind? How does HR explain its disrespect of hiring managers’ interview skills — and its own failure to teach them? Would you make an HR porno? :-)

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News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!

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

Hold the presses! I’m going to show you how HR created “the talent shortage.”

I recently did a Talk to Nick consultation that illustrates why employers aren’t filling important jobs — while they complain there’s a talent shortage. The real talent shortage is in corporate management, where hiring is treated as an expense rather than an investment. Here’s what crummy job offers cost employers.

In the October 7, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker turns down a lousy job offer:

I heard from my old employer today. I got an offer that’s approximately the same amount I was getting paid when I left five years ago!

Background

low-offer“Mark” (not his real name) is a successful engineer who asked me for help in 2012 — to land a better-paying job elsewhere. He succeeded, and since then his engineering skills have grown and he has developed expertise in operations and quality assurance. This talented R&D engineer can now convert technically challenging concepts into products ready for production. His skills and abilities are far more valuable today than they’ve ever been. He contacted me again a few months ago when a manager at his old company encouraged him to apply for an R&D engineering position — in other words, to return.

After an hour’s consultation with me, Mark had a series of interviews, including a meeting with the manager who knew him so well the first time around. Here’s what Mark reported happened next.

Mark’s Story

I heard from my old employer today. I got an offer that’s approximately the same amount I was getting paid when I left five years ago! I declined to state my current salary in the screening interview, and instead explained the salary range I’d expect for an engineer with my experience. The personnel jockey replied that, “You know you will have to provide this at some point to move forward.”

I suspect the HR people pegged me based on my last known salary. If I had stayed with this company for five more years, I would be making more than the offer — a figure around my current salary.

I negotiated with the hiring manager, but HR handled the offer. There was some motion on their side, but only in the form of a one-time check that had large strings attached. The deal fell through. Companies succeed in spite of themselves!

The reasons why they could not improve the offer were as bizarre as some of the excuses I used to hear on my personnel reviews about why I could not be rated higher. In my conversations with the hiring manager, he stated that they recently lost a good employee in much the same way they lost me. I just chuckled. Thanks again for your assistance.

Nick’s Reply

The McQuaig Institute (a developer of talent assessment tools) recently polled over 600 HR professionals. The #1 reason they lose job candidates — reported by 48% of U.S. companies — is because the offers they make are too low.

HR knows where the talent shortage comes from: Lousy job offers.

Peter Cappelli, a human resources and labor researcher at the Wharton School, confirms that “employers can’t get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered.”

Employers know exactly what the problem is, but they play dumb.

Cappelli points out, “That’s an affordability problem, not a skill shortage. A real shortage means not being able to find appropriate candidates at market-clearing wages. We wouldn’t say there is a shortage of diamonds when they are incredibly expensive; we can buy all we want at the prevailing prices.”

loserEmployers today refuse to pay market salaries and wages, then blame the labor force. (See How to decide how much you want.) That’s how HR — which took control of your job offer — lost you, along with other employees, and created the talent shortage at this company. This is how HR turns companies into losers.

It can be hard to swallow the reality that a company just isn’t going to make a prudent decision when it makes a ridiculously low job offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve advised clients to raise offers — after I’ve shown them what it’s going to cost to leave work undone. Crummy job offers also cost employers their reputation — in their own professional community when word gets out that their offers are too low.

Many just don’t get it. Employers incorrectly view hiring as an expense rather than an investment with an ROI. The great irony is, the actual extra dollars spent on higher offers are almost irrelevant when compared to the value the new employee will create. The more subtle lesson that some companies — but not most — learn is that enhancing an offer can make a new hire happy, more loyal, and more productive. Money doesn’t buy love, but it can buy better work.

However, Cappelli points out that corporate accounting systems do not track the cost of leaving a job vacant, making it appear that the “cost savings” of leaving the job empty translate into “profit.” (Yes, I’m still laughing my A off at that one. Call it revenge against the bean counters!) A crummy job offer costs an employer — and our economy — quite a lot.

Employers are shooting themselves in the foot when they make silly job offers. An engineer plus five years’ more experience, plus expertise translating designs into buildable, quality products, plus the maturity to work across corporate departments is worth more than the same engineer five years ago.

Except to a cheap employer with a serious talent shortage in the executive suite.

Good for you for rejecting a lousy offer. I realize not everyone can afford to do that. (See Turn down that job offer.) I think such jobs get filled because employers wear applicants down and convince them that “this is the way it is, and you should accept it.”

In Pursue Companies, Not Jobs, I suggest that you (or anyone) should pick a good company, take the best job you can get there, and navigate the company once on board to get to the jobs you really want in time. It’s all about the quality of the company and the people. Salary is such a small component of a company’s business, yet HR is so focused on it that enormously bad business decisions are made over a few bucks. (Meanwhile, HR blows billions on job boards, applicant tacking systems, and other automated “tools” to help it make more low-ball offers to save money… gimme a break!)

Your old boss confessed to you what crummy salaries and job offers do: They make talent disappear. So you don’t need a news flash — you already know.

Thanks for sharing the outcome. Seriously – move on to a better opportunity. Start picking your next target, and be ready to express your desired salary range, and to negotiate a fair compensation package. You’ll learn more in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, and in Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).

Have employers created the talent shortage? Are they paying for crummy job offers in ways they don’t realize? Have you been smacked with a ridiculous offer? What implications do you think this has for our economy?

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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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