August 7, 2012

Handouts: What information should employers give to job candidates prior to interviews?

Filed under: Uncategorized

In the previous posting, Why do companies hide the benefits?, we discussed what a job applicant can do when the employer makes a job offer but refuses to disclose the benefits package until the candidate accepts the job.

Gimme a break!

I suggested that employers should have a prepared handout for all job applicants: Here are all our benefits! Ain’t they great?

Before doing a job interview! That’s #1.

Because what’s the big secret about benefits? Include some disclaimers, state that certain terms are dependent on the position or negotiable — but for goodness sake, promote the quality of the benefits!

Which got me to thinking…

Employers could save themselves and job applicants an awful lot of time and hassle… There’s all kinds of handouts they could provide to job applicants prior to interviews. Like what? Well…

2. Why not hand out the salary range on the job?

What’s the big secret? Hand it out to everyone who applies:

“This position pays between $80,000 and $100,000. But that’s no guarantee. Please be aware that we will make an offer that we believe our best candidate is worth to our business.”

So what if the candidate knows what the employer is planning to spend? Afraid that’ll adversely impact the employer’s ability to control costs and negotiate? So does the candidate’s salary history — but employers don’t hesitate to ask for that.

I’d like to see a salary range handout.

What else should employers hand out to job applicants (and prospective candidates they’d like to lure)? This could be a whole new recruitment marketing initiative!

3. ??

Okay, you’re up… Somebody want to give me a #2? #3? More? What information should emloyers give you before you even agree to show up for a job interview?

: :

 

51 Comments on “Handouts: What information should employers give to job candidates prior to interviews?”
By marybeth
August 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Amount of travel and where to–a range is okay but the word “some” is not. Define what “some” travel means. To me it might mean a couple times per year. To the employer it might mean 3 weeks out of every month.

Ditto for “some” nights and weekends required. Once again, try to be less vague. Do you have a typical busy period, such as the January-mid April period for the insurance industry (then you go back to normal hours and get to have a life once tax season is over) or is it all of the time?

By AI
August 8, 2012 at 8:10 am

Specific definitions of phrases like “generous vacation days”, “flexible work”, “casual dress”, “ability to be on call”.

Is generous vacation 10 days a year or 20 days a year? Is flexible “I can time-shift from 7am – 4pm instead of the usual 8am – 5pm” or “as long as I check in regularly, it doesn’t matter what hours I’m in the office”? Is “casual dress” polos and khakis or t-shirts and shorts?

I think a description of the company culture would help job candidates decide whether they would fit in at that company and help the company filter out people who aren’t suited to their culture.

By Chris
August 8, 2012 at 8:12 am

I’d like to see information about co-workers and structure. Just general stuff. As an example:

This position will work in a department of 5 engineers in the fields of mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering. Average industry experience of co-workers is 15 years. Average tenure with the company is 7 years. The position is 3 steps away from a senior/executive position with the authority to approve your projects/significant expenditures.

And, to be snarky but still somewhat serious, a paperwork requirement:

To get anything done that needs approval, it will take X number of signatures on the paperwork. Getting approval typically takes Y days. (A breakout for signatures/days by project size would be even better.)

I once worked at a place that required about 5 signatures for a simple test/production variance. It took me so long to get them all that my projected completion date had already come and gone.

By Dave
August 8, 2012 at 8:30 am

I think another thing is to have a promotion structure/career path laid out for people.

This would be good for people already on board as well as a recruitment tool.

Why would one want to jump ship then in 2-3 years you’re stuck in a rut. Isn’t that a reason why people want to move in the first place?

By Chris
August 8, 2012 at 8:35 am

Oh, some other things I’d like to see:

Number of hours/days per year that are spent on job related training/education (external, NOT on the job orientation) for this position. Amount of money spent would also be acceptable.

A culture description as AI mentioned, but one more for the department/office. Culture can vary widely within an organization, particularly large ones. I can handle stupid corporate culture from the main office if the people I’m working with everyday are cool. The best one, warts and all, would be something written by the employees themselves. This would be a brave/risky thing to do, but I think it would pay off in spades in finding a good fit.

An accurate description of the software and/or equipment used. Requiring skills and then giving someone a software package or tool that’s 10 years out of date doesn’t help anyone.

A real problem/issue to solve (i.e., do the job) that shows the nature/complexity of the work. That way, I can see if it even interests me. Initial submission/application should be my solution, not my resume. People making the first cut would then be invited to send in resumes.

By Lucille
August 8, 2012 at 8:50 am

I’ve been saying post the salaries for years!
And I’d like to see the salaries for all employees once I’ve joined the company.

By Dave
August 8, 2012 at 10:15 am

@Chris

“A real problem/issue to solve (i.e., do the job) that shows the nature/complexity of the work. That way, I can see if it even interests me.”

I think you’re onto something here.

I want details of the work I’d be doing. If it’s complex, I think it would be a good experience to have, even if the title isn’t that impressive.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Hey, maybe we’re starting a movement here… This is great stuff! All of it!

So far I think the most telling info would be what Chris is asking for: Info about co-workers and structure of the team/operation.

Most shocking one is Dave’s: Details of the work! Gee, what a concept! I play a game with people after they interview for a job. I ask them to describe in detail what they would be doing if they got hired – day 1, week 1, month 1, at 3 months, 6, and at a year. In other words, what exactly is the work?

9 out of 10 can’t tell me because the employer never discussed it with them. Cool, eh? It’s shocking.

I’ve been doing this poll of interviewees since I started headhunting. Then I ask managers what they tell applicants about the actual work. They look at me like I’m nuts. They’re too busy with indirect assessments (translation: tricky questions) of whether the person can do the job.

If I got good at headhunting early on, it’s because I learned to make my client managers tell me in excruciating detail what a job was all about. Then I explained it to my candidates, who showed up at interviews ready to show how they’d do the job. A manager thinks you’re godlike when you show up and can talk about how you’re going to do the job he/she wants done.

Come on – let’s have some more!!

Any ideas for how we could get some employers involved in this dialogue?

By Nic
August 9, 2012 at 6:44 am

@Nick “Then I ask managers what they tell applicants about the actual work. They look at me like I’m nuts. “That is no surprise to me.

I would like to see dress code enforcements and codes of conduct clearly outlined (in other words no sitting on social media garbage all day, no flinging of vulgarity, and professional dress standards as in no shorts and sandals, etc.)

Also, I would like to see some sort of regulation that cracks down on misrepresentation, (hard to prove but out there clearly) what is to me nothing but fraud, in other words the advertising of a job just to satisfy regulations …while they already have some friend, friend of a friend or relative set to get the position qualified or not.

By Shirl
August 9, 2012 at 9:14 am

You have got to be kidding. You would want to see all this on an info sheet BEFORE the interview. What happened to the applicant researching the business before they apply.

All these comments are questions and good discussion for the interview time. As a hiring manager I would not want to write out the office dynamics…they change. The complexity of work, that would depend upon the project. Do you know your industry well enough to understand the complexity of what is required?

As I read the comments all I could think was “WOW”. Maybe all jobs should have a headhunter do a pre-interview if this is what you are seeking prior to your own interview. I have always approached an interview as an opportunity to learn about the organization and determine how I would fit and if I wanted to work there. I’ve never turned down an interview….why would I apply to a place that I never wanted to work or an industry that I did not wish to be a part?

Salary ranges, dress codes, vacation, etc, those should be given – as well as basic benefit packages and should be mentioned up front. In all industries/businesses there are various benefit packages depending upon where a person is hired in the hiearchy of the company…it is all negotiable when you are at certain levels. As a hiring manager or one that facilitates the majority of hiring for my institution, I take exception to all the “specifics” that is wanted BEFORE an interview.

By Dave
August 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm

@Shirl

“You have got to be kidding. You would want to see all this on an info sheet BEFORE the interview. What happened to the applicant researching the business before they apply.”

Many times I’m (and many others are) contacted by 3rd party recruiters/Head Hunters who will not give up any information about the company until there is mutual interest to interview on both sides. It’s the who fear of bypassing them and all.

“As a hiring manager or one that facilitates the majority of hiring for my institution, I take exception to all the “specifics” that is wanted BEFORE an interview.”

The devil is in the details. Why take an interview if you’re just going to jump from one rut into another rut? Better yet, if you’re happy and/or a Rock Star at your current position, why would I want to come work for you? There has to be some compelling reason.

Also, I want some specifics so that I can better prepare for an interview.

I have been in some very uncomfortable interviews in my younger days that if I would have known the Compensation, Benefits, Company Policy and a better written job description, I probably would have declined.

By Shirl
August 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm

@Dave, I can see your point to a degree. An interesting factor is that some hiring managers and/or companies will promise you the moon and only deliver a sandhill even when specifics are outlined in letters of agreement. Then again I guess that is the difference between mid-range to high level execs. Most mid-range do not have the ability to leave a position when promises are not kept.

By marybeth
August 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm

@Shirl: I respectfully disagree with you re your statement about whatever happened to people doing research on the companies and jobs themselves. That is the point. People ARE doing research and they’re not finding out what they need to know about salary ranges, benefits, dress codes, amount of travel time required, “flexible” schedules, and everything that people have mentioned. It is being deliberately hidden from them. It puts the job seeker at a disadvantage, and it ultimately doesn’t help the employer either. Oh, it may mean that they’ll get someone but if they continue not to be honest and not to treat people fairly, they’ll lose the good help, which eventually impacts their bottom line.

While it is admirable that you have never turned down an interview, in my opinion, it is disrespectful for me to waste a company’s time (and my own time) by going to interviews for jobs that I either can’t afford to accept (too low salary, lousy benefits) or that won’t be a good fit (e.g., heavy travel requirements, mandatory unpaid overtime, etc.). I’m better off using that time not spent going on interviews to research companies that actually treat their employees well, to research jobs so that I can show an employer what I can do for him.

By Lucille
August 10, 2012 at 9:39 am

I would like the math behind the bonus payment. What is the bonus based on and how is it calculated. During the interview process is fine.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm

@Shirl: Here’s my loaded question back atcha. Why do you need a resume from applicants?

@Lucille: This is a good one. Most employers I’ve encountered don’t want to flesh out the bonus terms at offer time. They want the candidate to trust them. It’s a fool’s errand. Get it in writing. On sales jobs, don’t accept the commission plan until you get a spreadsheet that lets you calculate “what if” scenarios. The “contingent” components of a job offer should all be presented as formulae and spreadsheets — or something smells.

By Christie Adams
August 14, 2012 at 1:59 am

I would like to see more specific, quantifiable information in job postings rather than the vague requirements that I see. For example, I frequently see the following: “Must have excellent verbal and written skills.” First of all, the employer means, “Must have excellent skills in oral and written verbal communication.” “Verbal” pertains to words. “Oral” pertains to words that come from one’s mouth and “written” relates to one’s ability to write. So exactly what does the employer mean? Must the job candidate have a B.A. degree or an MA degree in English? Must he or she have written and published at least ten articles in newspapers, magazines or blogs? Must he or she have won one or more professional awards for excellence in journalism? Must the prospective employee be able to satisfactorily pass, with a score of 70 percent or higher, a written test in English grammar administered by the employer? Here in Hawaii, does the employer require the job candidate to speak standard English or does the employer allow the job contender to speak substandard “pidgin English” on the job? I hope you get my drift.

By Brian Jahnke
August 14, 2012 at 3:25 am

Following the same line as Chris’s comments, I have always struggled to learn three points that are key to my decision making:
1) What is the employer’s product? Especially when the job is advertised blind via a headhunter and the blather is vague and says things like “Is an industry leader in machinery…”, their descriptions usually tell me very little about the opportunity. Do they produce hand-held labeling machines or marine diesels for cruise ships? Are they B2B or B2C? Are they in an antiquated business or do they offer leading-edge innovation?
2) Is this a newly-created position (i.e. I need to help create the role, its support systems and metrics for measuring success) or is it an existing position (i.e. I am expected, to a certain degree, to fit myself into the role as it exists)
3) What is the average employee turnover for the company, by department, or whatever parameter makes sense? One of the key indicators employers look for on CV’s is how long a person stayed with their pervious employers; knowing whether the average was 2, 5 or 20 years says quite a bit about that person. Don’t we applicants, therefore, have the same right to know how long the average employee stayed/was kept at this potential employer? That would tell me much more about the work culture than their promotional blather.

If companies are often complaining that they cannot find good talent, they need only remember what my father has told me since I was a child: if you want people to be honest, fair and loyal to you, you need to first be the same to them.

Brian Jahnke
International Sales Executive

By Thorsten
August 14, 2012 at 5:11 am

For a technical position, I’d like to see the exact requirements for the position. Too often, a laundry list of technologies and acronyms is used, that tells me nothing about what the core skills for the position actually are.

When I was hiring for technical positions, I would actually give candidates the list of questions I’d be asking them, and gave them suggested reading material.

I can say, to my dismay, that very, very few candidates made good use of that information. What I was looking for was somebody that would start digging and learning. I’ve heard “I am a fast learner” so often that it has become to mean “I am too lazy to prepare.” But if someone actually can learn rapidly, I want to know.

Disclosing technical interview questions up front would help a business figure out who truly is on the ball, technically. A candidate who came to me and said “I had a vague idea about product X two weeks ago. Here’s what I have learned since”, would have been a very strong candidate indeed, provided they have the necessary background and base knowledge.

But doesn’t that encourage cheating, you say? Of course not. Follow-up questions always go deeper than the starting point. You’ll know whether someone memorized an answer, or understands the topic. If someone understands the topic after a few weeks of studying, because I told them it was relevant to the job: Why wouldn’t I hire them on the spot?

So, employers: Give me access to the technical interviewer up front, and let that interviewer tell me just what skills you are looking for. I’ll prep. And you’ll know how rapidly I can adapt when you are bringing vendor Y on.

By Anton
August 14, 2012 at 6:25 am

One question I always ask is about the working context:

* the people, the team I will be working with
* the office space, building, facilities parking and what is nearby in the way of eating places, green spaces and so forth.

No, really: I met one corporate HR-droid who was proud of the fact that he didn’t know the hiring manager or anything about the site. As it happened the site was within walking distance of my home, in a green setting, easy access to the highways, good parking, variety of eating places nearby, plazas and mall within walking distance, heath club across the street and I did know the hiring manager.

Hiding information is ne thing: wilful ignorance is another.

By Phil (San Diego)
August 14, 2012 at 7:33 am

This is a business decision. I would expect information necessary to evaluate the position – that is, calculate the value offered. Typically the verbal understanding which is going to be manifested in an offer letter comes down to just one number.

When a business negotiates services with a client, only a foolish business owner or account manager would commit themselves to receiving a fixed number for revenue while leaving terms of service unquantified and undefined. I want an accurate estimate of hours per week the position requires, an accurate estimate of average on-call hours per week, and if there’s a pager, details on who, how often, and under what terms that leash can be tugged. Amount and terms of vacation time; imagine finding out that due to staffing, the coming year’s vacation requests are required to be submitted for consideration in December.

I’ve said it before; companies have a tendency to assume that their employees are stupider than their shareholders.

By Christopher
August 14, 2012 at 7:55 am

Funny how so many people in the U.S. are against unions…I work at a state college, and everything, like benefits, vacation time, sick time, etc., is spelled out in writing, in a contract. I’ve never had any problems with these issues.

By Erika
August 14, 2012 at 9:43 am

1. Salary range!!!! Can’t stress that enough— don’t waste my time and I won’t waste yours.
2. Details of health insurance benefits, vacation days offered, and other benefits
3. Career paths — or is the position a dead-end job? Be honest. How are promotions awarded– by seniority, by obtaining additional degrees, by excelling in the current position? Will my current education and experience level cap my opportunities at a certain level?
4. Info on coworkers, bosses reported to, and an org chart so I can understand how my position fits into the overall corporate structure
5. Info on daily responsibilities and duties. What does a typical day look like? This is crucial! How will the skills you ask for be applied?
6. External training opportunities
7. Hours– flexible or fixed?

Please stop asking for my professional references and ancient college transcripts before we have even met! Please don’t make me fill out a 2-hr application when I don’t even know about the salary range or daily duties.

Christopher, I wish my profession had a union and a collective bargaining agreement.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 14, 2012 at 10:11 am

@Thorsten:

“When I was hiring for technical positions, I would actually give candidates the list of questions I’d be asking them, and gave them suggested reading material. I can say, to my dismay, that very, very few candidates made good use of that information. What I was looking for was somebody that would start digging and learning.”

I want to encourage you not to get discouraged about this — it’s what you want. Fewer candidates. I try to teach managers your approach, because it works. Of course you’ll get very few “takers.” Most job applicants are tire-kickers. They’re not particularly interested in the job you’re trying to fill — they just want a job. They’re not going to do the work you expect in advance. And that’s good — it weeds them out.

Expect few good applicants because there are few. Why waste time with the tire-kickers? Once you give them all that info in advance, you’ve created a wonderful filter. Your challenge is to tap into pools of people that will be interested. My compliments for coaching your applicants in advance!

By Dave
August 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

@Thorsten, @Nick…

I agree with your approach. I wish more places did this sort of thing.

I think this would lead to more productive interviews because you’d know who didn’t take things seriously and who would actually be worth hiring (and you’d have a productive conversation with them… Something I find lacking in most interviews).

By Joyce
August 14, 2012 at 11:58 am

One of the best I’ve seen was a job description that needed the applicant to clean the toilets at the end of the shift. The job description was “sanitized” (really) by stating “tidying the workplace” – what a waste of time for both the surprised candidates who said no thanks, and the employer, who spent a whole lot of time interviewing disinterested candidates.

Describe the job, the skills needed, the day to day activities and challenges that need to be addressed or problems that need to be solved, the corporate culture, salary and what would be an ideal “fit”.

We ask job seekers to be specific in their interviews – why can’t employers do the same beforehand?

By Jean
August 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Ditto Erika’s comments.

I also want to know the address where the job will be located. Often times large companies with multiple locations in metropolitan areas leave it up to candidate to try to figure this out. Why not be upfront. If I know the address and the position is within 1/2 hour commute, I’m okay with it. If it’s an hour commute, I may reconsider applying.

By Kimberley
August 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I think that the onus is on you, the jobseeker, to get clarity on most of these points at the interview. Sure, it would be nice to know some of the details ahead of time to save time, but it’s not realistic. Want to know about the corporate culture? Ask. Why is the position open? Ask. How much travel is required? ASK! You are allowed (and encouraged) to ask questions.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm

@Kimberley: In the end, everything is up to the person looking for a job. What we’re talking about here is how employers can improve the quality of job candidates, job interviews, and recruiting overall. Of course applicants can ask all those questions in the interview. But frankly, it’s stupid of employers to run recruiting that way.

Employers can and should disclose lots of information – far more than most do now – before the even ask people to apply. I don’t think anyone has posted suggestions about such information that aren’t legitimate or useful. Employers can pick and choose what to disclose in advance, but sticking to the status quo isn’t going to help them hire more effectively. They need to disclose lots more, for their own benefit.

I think what’s happened is that bureaucratic HR practices have developed, that are based on an “us vs. them” mentality. HR seems to think that a job interview is some sort of game. “The less we disclose, the more we’ll learn about the applicant. We won’t tell them the job requires skill X. Let’s see if they figure it out in the inteview themselves.”

It’s as if HR wants applicants to fail by withholding key information. What manager withholds information from an employee when giving them a work assignment. A manager WANTS an employee to succeed. Why don’t managers and HR want applicants to succeed – and thus give them tons of info in advance to help them?

Who wins when employers wait for applicants to show up at the interview to ask basic questions that employers don’t answer in advance?

This is a pathetic habit that business needs to break.

All of the “interview” questions you suggest that candidates ask can easily be answered by the employer on a handout before the interview. Why don’t they do it?

Why isn’t it “realistic” to expect the info in advance? (Sorry – don’t take this as a personal affront. But you posed the very position that employers take, so I’m using your comments to tackle the issue. Thanks for saying it just as you did.)

By Erika
August 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Nick, can I take a stab at answering the question you posed to Kimberley– why it isn’t “realistic” to expect employers to disclose anything in advance? HR / companies want to send the message that they hold all the cards and we job seekers can take it or leave it. It is a classic power play.

By dlms
August 15, 2012 at 7:48 am

@Erika: I’m sorry to say that you are right. We have over 7% unemployment in my state, and people want to work but are having a tough time finding jobs. For now, employers do hold the cards.

By Kimberley
August 15, 2012 at 9:33 am

@Nick

I agree in a perfect world it would be great. But when was the last time you saw a decent job description, let alone a job posting?

I come from the agency world where I do pose all of those questions to my clients at the time of order – therefore any of our candidates have that information prior to being presented. However, getting that information from HR or the hiring manager is usually very difficult. I find it shocking how few actually have any clue what their employees job duties are. Many don’t even know what their company benefits are.

My viewpoint (if I were a job seeker looking on my own without the benefit of an agency) is that I need to find the answers to these questions.

Sure in a perfect, utopian world every job posting would list not only the job, duties, and pay, but also why the position is open, how much training can be expected, what the company culture is, what the turnover rate is… But with more job seekers than jobs, coupled with Managers doing the jobs of several people (due to downsizing, etc), that’s never going to happen.

By Dave
August 15, 2012 at 10:12 am

@Kimberley

“But when was the last time you saw a decent job description, let alone a job posting?”

Amen!

“I come from the agency world where I do pose all of those questions to my clients at the time of order – therefore any of our candidates have that information prior to being presented. ”

Then you are doing it correctly.

“My viewpoint (if I were a job seeker looking on my own without the benefit of an agency) is that I need to find the answers to these questions. ”

That is correct. However, as a job seeker, it would be nice to know info as soon as possible. Especially if one is employed, they need to have more information in order to see if it’s worth making a move.

“Sure in a perfect, utopian world every job posting would list not only the job, duties, and pay, but also why the position is open, how much training can be expected, what the company culture is, what the turnover rate is… But with more job seekers than jobs, coupled with Managers doing the jobs of several people (due to downsizing, etc), that’s never going to happen.”

This doesn’t make things right, however. People claim there is a talent shortage and that they can’t find the right people, or that there’s too many applicants. But, they do nothing to address the underlying propblems.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 15, 2012 at 10:31 am

@Kimberley: I get your point. But I think it’s going to change. Last year companies spent $1.1 billion on Monster.com, to get only about 4% of their hires. Job boards are just one example of stupid recruiting. The way I look at it, changes comes when an employer gets bested by a competitor who hires better workers by using smarter methods. Shoveling resumes into the pipeline is not a better method. Nor is pasting a sign up, saying “We’re hiring.” As budgets get squeezed, smart companies will hire more effectively. The exmample I think about: The manager whose budget to recruit is cut to zero. She’s got to do a better job of marketing her jobs to the best prospects. And the best prospects don’t pay attention to silly job descriptions. My two bits.

By Erika
August 15, 2012 at 10:55 am

I hope Nick C is right, that this will change. Candidates are tired of being disrespected and inconvenienced over a job they might not even want. Give us enough info to decide if we want to move forward. I have had companies request resumes, redundant applications (in addition to resumes) with specific instructions not to write “see resume”, transcripts from college and grad school, 3 letters of recommendations, professional and personal reference, blah, blah, blah—- all BEFORE we have even had a chance to meet and discuss the basics of the job, requirements and compensation. Of course, this is why Nick C is telling us to go around HR, but it would be great if Nick C started giving seminars to companies talking up the wisdom of ending these ridiculous practices, if he is not already doing so. Nick C, how about it?

By Nick Corcodilos
August 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm

@Erika: I’ve done recruiting and hiring workshops for employers on these very topics. Some figure it out on their own, after they realize their competitors are eating their lunch. And I’ll keep doing this as long as they keep hiring me! If you’ve got any ideas on how to get more to do it, I’m all ears! But I think who needs to hear there’s a problem is the employers themselves – and most in HR don’t worry much about effective hiring. They’re more worried about showing they use the hottest online “social tools” and the latest Applicant Tracking Systems. It’s the old “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

I’m not saying this is going to change overnight. But sometimes it takes a job applicant who walks in and offers to help take a job interview in a better direction — or who declines to be interviewed until they get the info they need in advance.

By Anton
August 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Nick said:

> But sometimes it takes a job applicant who walks
> in and offers to help take a job interview in a
> better direction — or who declines to be interviewed
> until they get the info they need in advance.

I asked questions like this this of a corporate recruiter once. All I succeeded in doing was upsetting him because it was very clear he didn’t know the answers and didn’t know how to get them. It was as if I was showing him to be a fool in his own eyes – of course!

So long as the situation is as Nick describes, the managers have no hiring budget and are forced to use the corporate HR department and these recruiters who don’t have a clue – no clue about the subject matter that the candidates are supposed to be skilled and no clue about the corporation, the questions we’re asking here – then things aren’t going to improve.

I occasionally see the old “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” dictum. But how are these people in corporate HR being measured? What are the Key Performance Indicators?

Nick says “most in HR don’t worry much about effective hiring. They’re more worried about showing they use the hottest online “social tools” and the latest Applicant Tracking Systems”.

This is the point where I usually refer people to
http://www.solipsys.co.uk/new/AnneLearnsToRecruit.html

By Nick Corcodilos
August 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm

@Anton: Thanks for the link to Anne Learns To Recruit – it’s priceless.

We can talk about this til we’re blue in the face. Until CEOs and HR join the dialogue, change will occur only where hiring becomes critical.

My main concern is job hunters. In this column, I tried to show how employers undermine the recruiting and hiring process, whether intentionally or not. This puts job hunters at a huge disadvantage. The point is, you must understand how this happens if you’re the job hunter. The rest of Ask The Headhunter tries to teach how to get managers off the dime, so applicants get an honest shot at helping them fill jobs. In the end, it’s up to the applicant to turn the process around to his or her advantage – by focusing on issues and info that really matters.

By Lucille
August 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm

@Thorsten,
I agree with your approach of handing out the questions to people can prepare. And I agree with Nick that it would be a natural filter.

I’d like to the employer to assign a candidate on the second interview, a programming test and give the applicant a week to finish it. And I’d like the assignment in lieu of the “technical phone screen” where the employer can ask any pop quiz on any arcane programming subject. Or test that says in 20 minutes, program some random thing.

What you say? The applicant could plagerize the results? Not really. And if they do, the employer will have a lot of time to spot it.

The applicant would have enough time to do their best and really polish their presentation. Or as Nick would say, if they flunk, it is a filter on the pipeline.

By Phil (San Diego)
August 16, 2012 at 7:28 am

“I’d like to the employer to assign a candidate on the second interview, a programming test and give the applicant a week to finish it.”

In using the interview to do the job or solve a problem, what are reasonable boundaries? A number of years ago for one interviewer I took a simulated certification exam, then had to write a business letter, and finally, an interview.

After an immediate second interview with his partner he stated that he wanted to test my skills by sending me out in the field for half a day with one of his field techs. I declined to pursue the position further because the company would be billing their client for these services that I was expected to provide “on spec”.

By Lucille
August 16, 2012 at 9:05 am

@Phil, you are correct, slave labor is illegal.

However, if I am to have a programming test, I’d rather not have the pop quiz format on any arcane subject without warning on what it is. I don’t have the entire programming language compiler memorized. And many of these pop quizes start out with some innocuous questions, but then go off into la-la land. Its a inhospitable way to treat a candidate.

By Erika
August 16, 2012 at 10:54 am

Lucille, I agree with how irrelevant and inhospitable pop quizzes can be, and not just in programming. (I don’t know how to program, not my field.) Sometimes I don’t know the answer to every obscure science and engineering question off the top of my head, but I know how / where to find the answers and that is half the battle. Interviewers, tell the candidate what skills you want to test in advance and then stick to the subject and keep it modern.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

@Phil: You raise an important point. How far should an employer go in “trying out” the applicant? I think it’s a legitimate thing to do – but both the employer and candidate have to demonstrate a lot of integrity. No free work. I advocate to candidates that they demonstrate what they can do – but only up to a point. And the point is to prove their value, not to do free work.

In the case you describe, I think the employer should have offered to pay you for your time. If he thinks he’s assessed you far enough to justify half a day, then he should put his money where his judgment is and pay you for the time. But if I were him, I’d do it with this proviso: “I’m glad to pay you for your time to assess you. But if I hire you, it’s your first half-day on the job and the money will be contributed to your first paycheck.”

I think that’s fair. If you think the employer has integrity, it’s a good deal to take. Worst case, you walk away with half a day’s pay. Best case, you get a job you want and know more about.

What do you think?

By Nick Corcodilos
August 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

RE: Testing. I think employers get lulled into thinking that tests are a quick way to learn a lot about a candidate. It’s just not true, unless some thought goes into it. For example, a boss would never bring a programmer into his office and demand that the programmer write a routine right there. The boss would give out the assignment and let the programmer get whatever tools, manuals, etc. necessary to get the job done. That’s the point, right? So why not do testing that way, too? No pop quizzes – not unless you routinely give those to your employees!

By Dave
August 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm

@Nick

I am a fan of testing, but as you say, you need to give them the resources to be successful.

When I was in grad school, my professors had a novel idea… No tests – because you did not have all the resources available to you, so it limited the type of questions they could ask. Instead, they gave harder projects to do – which ended up being more meaningful (and rewarding when you finished) and a better learning experience.

If you’re going to give a test/pop quiz, you’re going to grade accordingly – and take a good hard look at their their thought process.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm

@Dave: I’ve told this one before so stop if you’ve read it… I had a calc professor in college who announced the first test in the course. This was back when calculators that did basic trig functions cost $80. Somebody asked if we could bring our calculators. He said, Sure. So someone else asks, Is it open book? Sure, says the prof. The next guy smirks and shoots the moon – Can we use our lecture notes? Sure, says the prof. Then he cocks his head and says, Oh, I get it. Ha ha. You want to bring all your tools to help you. No problem. You just can’t talk to one another, okay? But you can bring anything you want — because, if you don’t understand the concepts, NOTHING WILL HELP YOU DO THIS TEST. Dead silence except for the gulping sounds.

The test didn’t ask anything that was in the book or from lecture. It asked you to work through problems using the ideas you’d learned. Like a good boss, this prof taught you what you needed to know to do the work, and he let you use any tools you wanted. Either you knew how to do the work, or you didn’t. I sweated that course out, but I learned calc. Sounds like you had similar profs.

By Lucille
August 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm

@Nick,
I’ve been on a whole bunch of interviews where they give tests – program something in 1/2 hour. No advance warning. Bosses do this ALL the time.

By Dave
August 17, 2012 at 12:36 pm

@Nick

Yes, it does sound like we had similar experiences.

@Lucille

I interviewed with Google a while back. They give you some questions during a “phone screen” and ask you not to look up the answers.

I understand what they are trying to do, but some of the questions are stuff that I did in college a decade or more ago. The theory is all familiar but I just needed a slight refresher and slightly more time to put some thought into my proposed solutions.

By Matthew
August 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I sometimes give candidates mini-cases or real life scenarios to help me better understand their analytical abilities, organizational skills, and communication skills.

By Lucille
August 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm

@Dave and Matthew,
I give an interviewee a small, well defined business problem using common business terms and let the them pseudo code it on a white board. I don’t check syntax or grammer and I don’t specify what language to use.

I want to know can you ask me questions to figure out the business problem and can you come up with a reasonable approach that will solve a common business problem. The problem I give is something like update the order total when you add an item to a shopping cart.

By Angry IT guy
September 7, 2012 at 8:03 am

Companies never disclose the salary range because they want to get the cheapest price. Always. Who cares about talent, it is price baby!

Benefits? Who cares.

If the company won’t hire you, salary levels and benefits are information that are completely worthless. Give that information to the people who are being OFFERED a job.

By Erika
September 7, 2012 at 11:25 am

@Angry IT guy,
I don’t need to be offered a different job if the salary level and benefits aren’t worth it; in fact, I don’t even want to bother applying. Employers, don’t waste my time and I won’t waste yours! Let me know the salary range upfront. Don’t wait until you are ready to make an offer to let me know if it is even feasible.

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