An insider’s biggest beefs with employment testing

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

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

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

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

An Insider’s Biggest Beefs With Employment Testing

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

Erica writes in her new article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can this happen?

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

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

How employers help scammers steal your SS#

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

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

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

Where’s your data?

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

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

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

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

It’s time for employers to behave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LinkedIn busted by U.S. Department of Labor

It’s no big deal, suggests LinkedIn.

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

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

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

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

Judge says consumer class action against LinkedIn can proceed

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

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

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

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

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

Is LinkedIn a network marketing scheme?

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

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

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

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

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

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Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!

Filed under: Changing jobs, Headhunters, How to work with headhunters, Job Search, Making money, Q&A, Recruiting

In the August 5, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter’s troubles reveal how job seekers can help themselves:

flounderingI just read your expose on CareerBuilder (Employment In America: WTF is going on?). I have used them over the years with very mixed results, and now they’re eliminating my discount and almost doubling my cost. A major disappointing rip-off.

I am a niche technical recruiter in a sector that has thousands of jobs not being filled because there is a lack of heavy-industry engineers. I am on Linkedin with up to 14 million connections to the 3rd level. There are some legit contacts, but the recruiter tools are a rip-off. And like CB and Monster, their sales people are relentless and care little for their customers’ results.

I have been doing direct e-mail campaigns and making calls, and I’ve been posting to niche boards. I got slammed by junk resumes on Indeed. Monster wants to sell me a $5,000 per month program, and I am hitting the wall. I have used some professional sourcers and it has been a struggle. One sourcer’s fee would be 50% of the fee a client would pay me.

I am floundering. All the techie features of these online systems can be a distraction! What else can I do to find good candidates for my clients? This is still about finding good people for good companies. Part of the problem is that the people I am searching for in heavy industry don’t publish, don’t attend conferences and don’t operate or participate on blogs. The companies that I work for trust me and they know their positions need to be filled with leprechauns riding unicorns chasing purple squirrels. Nick. I don’t want to be a lousy recruiter. It is still an important service that changes lives… hopefully for the better. Any advice is appreciated.

Nick’s Reply

I hope job seekers, whose questions we usually discuss here, can learn something from my advice to a troubled headhunter.

The solution is old-fashioned. You have to go where these people (candidates) hang out — wherever that might be. You talk to people who know people in the business – and ask for referrals to other possible sources. You do this primarily on the phone, but as much as necessary by e-mail, too. The point is to create a potent network of solid contacts so that insiders in heavy industry will know who you are and refer others to you.

LinkedIn is little more than a fancy phone book. Everyone is in it, but consulting it isn’t recruiting. As you can see, a list of 14 million people and their data is useless in itself. And the job boards deliver swill by the bucket. The reason a company uses a headhunter like you is that this takes hard work and there are no shortcuts. That’s where the huge headhunter fees originated – for all the hard work. Those professional “sourcers” you mentioned — they actually identify appropriate candidates in very challenging industries, and that’s more than half the work of headhunting. Of course they want half your fee! The online shortcuts just don’t do it.

I’m not trying to give you a hard time, just a reality check. Headhunting is 90% meeting and talking with people all day long. That’s where assignments and candidates come from. I know you know this, or you wouldn’t be telling me how all these “services” don’t really work.

You can start with your clients. Meet with them and ask them where their best hires have come from – what cities, what companies, what schools, where? Then I’d start cultivating contacts in those places.

Then go to heavy-industry engineers you have placed. What competing or related companies do they admire? Do they know engineers there? What continuing education courses do they take and where? Sign up for some of those classes — it’s where you’ll meet engineers and sources of good contacts. What conferences do they attend? Attend them yourself. (I don’t buy what you’re saying. Engineers congregate with other engineers. Your challenge is to figure out where.) Don’t just talk to attendees; talk to the organizers and presenters. They are great sources of candidates. Just don’t forget to return favors!

I’m sure you know people in manufacturing, finance, operations, marketing and sales. Many of them know engineers who know the engineers you’re looking for. That’s who those “sourcers” are talking to. Your job is to talk to them, too.


For the job seeker

How Can I Change Careers?Networking is not about using people. It’s about hanging out with the people you want to work with, where they hang out — talking shop, contributing to your professional community and making friends. The How Can I Change Careers? Answer Kit (36 pp., PDF format) provides tips and tools for career changers and job changers alike, including:

  • A good network is a circle of friends
  • The basics of good networking
  • How to initiate insider contacts
  • Tell me who your friends are
  • PLUS: Create your next job
  • PLUS: Put a free sample in your resume
  • PLUS: A crib sheet to help you explore, choose and research the right opportunities; tips on how to enter a circle of friends; how to define an employer’s needs and map your skills; and how to create a business plan for a job that will make you the profitable candidate in an interview.

I’m also sure you know quite a few heavy-industry engineers who are not looking to make a change. Buy them a nice lunch anyway and pick their brains — express an actual interest in their work. Become more of an expert in the field you recruit in, and you will start to see connections and opportunities you never saw before. Don’t ask these engineers for referrals; instead, offer them introductions to other people that might be beneficial. For free. Become a hub of good contacts without expecting any return and those engineers will start referring their friends to you because they will come to see you as more than just another headhunter who throws buzz words around — they’ll see you as a valuable industry resource.


For the job seeker

The best headhunters are looking for you in places where the best of your peers are talking shop. They cultivate potent networks of solid contacts — and job seekers can do exactly the same for themselves. For a more structured approach to how job seekers can meet and work with the best headhunters, see How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you (130 pp., PDF format). It includes these sections and much more:

  • htwwh1Why don’t headhunters return my calls?
  • How should I judge a headhunter?
  • What are all the different kinds of headhunters?
  • Are online job boards a good way to find headhunters?
  • What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list?
  • What kind of resume will make me the headhunter’s #1 candidate?
  • How can I find a good headhunter?
  • How should I manage a call from a headhunter?
  • Should I divulge my salary to a headhunter?
  • How should I negotiate with a headhunter?
  • Can I boost the salary range for a job?
  • Can a headhunter hurt my reputation?
  • Should I tell a headhunter who else I’m interviewing with?
  • PLUS: How do I keep a headhunter from squeezing me out of negotiations?
  • PLUS: How do I avoid having my resume tossed in the trash?

Like good jobs, good candidates are found through relevant contacts and hard work. (Who is relevant depends on how creative and insightful you are. That’s another thing that makes those big headhunter fees hard to come by.) The contacts you need will grow out of your active participation in the professional community you recruit from.

I admire how seriously you take your work. But no one is going to do it for you, and no online service will replace you. Take that to the bank.

How do the best headhunters you’ve met operate? We’re always talking about what’s wrong with headhunters. Some of them are very good at what they do. What’s right about them? Please share your experiences. Let’s talk about how to use the best headhunters’ best methods yourself!

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WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls?

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

In the July 29, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t feel like doing a solo job interview:

What do you think of an employer that uses a video service such as Montage to conduct its pre-screening of job candidates? I was recently asked to do this and found the experience awful. You don’t get to hear responses played back before submitting them, and there is no conversation with the interviewer.

Nick’s Reply

inflatable_manI think it’s bulltarkus. Any company that asks you to do an interview by yourself on video might as well hire an inflatable doll. If an employer asks you to invest your time to apply for a job while it avoids investing time in you, think twice before doing it.

In fact, I think the decision to interview you by yourself on video was made by an HR doll that was inflated by a very lonely venture capitalist who will end up unsatisfied. It’s all overblown.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Montage — the Talk To The Doll App you’ve encountered — was funded to the tune of $4 million by Baird Venture Partners and — get this — the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. All you need to know is this comment posted to the article: “Very simple technology that will have little value in the future. It’s a groomed Skype with recording abilities.”

Montage is a “solution” that only a puffed-up HR executive with too big a budget could love. Next time, insist that a human show up to interview you.

WTF is up with venture capitalists (VCs), anyway? Didn’t we just cover a bunch of venture embarrassments in the recruiting space? The Stupid Recruiting Apps just keep coming, and you need to watch out for them.

Montage is just one notch up from another new app, Yo. According to The New York Times, Yo raised $1.5 million from Betaworks and other investors. Yo makes a “new smart phone app whose sole purpose is to let people send text messages saying ‘Yo.’”

“People think it’s just an app that says ‘Yo.’ But it’s really not,” said Mr. Arbel, one of Yo’s founders.

Rumor is that several Fortune 500 employers will be notifying job applicants whether or not they were hired with one word: Yo. “We like to call it context-based messaging,” says Arbel. “You understand by the context what is being said.”

Ask The Headhunter readers will be relieved to get any sort of feedback after their job interviews. (See Question 4 in 4 Tips for Fearless Job Hunters.) But, can’t we send one-word Tweets without having an app that sends only one word? Yes?

cenedellaThis is not to suggest there aren’t some seasoned recruiting industry veterans getting funded today. The former CEO of TheLadders, Marc Cenedella, has what’s probably the winning entry in the Totally Useless Apps category — Knozen. Business Insider says it’s “a new iPhone app that lets coworkers rate each other’s personalities anonymously… it’s like Yelp is for restaurants.”

I’d rather have an employment app that’s like OpenTable — it would guarantee me a place at the table! VCs including FirstMark Capital, Lerer Ventures and Greycroft Partners gave Cenedella $2.25 million. And here’s where you — the job seeker — come in. Business Insider reports that, “Eventually, Cenedella wants his app to become a ‘personality API’ that businesses can tap into during the recruitment process.”

Uh-oh — Cenedella is talking tech: API. So’s Yo investor John Borthwick: “over time [Yo] has the potential to become a platform.”

You can’t make this stuff up. “Cenedella feels Knozen is an extension of the work he was doing at The Ladders, a career site that matched executives with job opportunities that paid six-figures.”

And how’s Cenedella’s last start-up faring? Today TheLadders is fighting a consumer class action in Southern New York District Court for breach of contract and deceptive practices. Word is his lawyer dolls are keeping Mr. C. out of breath.

“The Ladders was about showing the intangible qualities of yourself to employers,” says Cenedella. Yah — actually, it was about letting you lie about your salary to employers so they’d interview you for “$100K+ jobs.” (See TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?) Does Knozen somehow guarantee honesty?

How does Cenedella explain that TheLadders is now a Hazbeen while Knozen is new and cool? “I got more interested in how people present themselves when they’re already in a job, not hunting for it.” No shit. One Business Insider comment sums up this start-up: “Stupid app. Nark app.”

I usually limit the levity and try to rise above all this. But when:

  • We start talking about a single word “that over time has the potential to become a platform;”
  • Employers want to snooze while you talk to the hand about a job; and,
  • A discredited recruiting entrepreneur gets over $2 million from venture capitalists…

Then it’s impossible to keep a straight face. We’re talking about a total of about $8 million worth of phony “recruiting technology” that you might face when you apply for a job.

So what’s my advice? Do what my mentor Harry Hamlin taught me: Use your judgment, and do the best you can. Then remember what my other mentor, Gene Webb, said: “Never work with jerks.” And don’t talk to inflatable doll interviewers.

Are new recruiting apps helping you land a job? Who’s become more stupid — venture capitalists, or employers? Want to buy an inflatable doll from me — to send to your interviews?

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4 Tips for Fearless Job Hunters

Filed under: Fearless Job Hunting, Job Search, Q&A

In the July 22, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, four questions yield four tips to help you overcome some of the daunting obstacles you’ll face in your job search.

  • What should a job seeker always say to the employer at the end of an interview?
  • What should I do about application forms that “require” my salary history?
  • How can I avoid a salary cut?
  • What should I do about employers that won’t give me a decision when they promise to?

Recent questions submitted by readers reinforce the idea that it isn’t the “steps” of job hunting that matter most. It’s the unexpected obstacles. In this week’s edition, I’d like to share four important tips to help you overcome obstacles in your job search. My answers in each case are excerpted from the Fearless Job Hunting PDF books. I hope these tips give you an edge!


FJH-6From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Be The Profitable Hire, pp. 14-15:

Question 1

What should a job seeker always say to the employer at the end of an interview?

When I was job hunting, I always made it clear that I wanted the job. As a hiring manager, I want to ensure that positions are filled by qualified candidates who I know, undisputedly, want the job. Can you discuss the importance of this basic and obvious technique in interviewing that is often overlooked? That is, the applicant must always say to the potential employer, “I want this job.”

Tip 1: Learn to say “I want this job”

There’s a story I tell in my first book about a talented sales executive who interviewed for a job and failed to get the offer. I asked him whether he closed the interview by saying he wanted the job.

He argued with me that making such an explicit statement is awkward and that it suggests the candidate “has no class.” My response: “It’s good you weren’t hired. Failure to say you want the job shows you don’t have enough interest in working for the employer.”

“Of course I wanted the job!” he exclaimed. “The manager knows that! That’s why I’m interviewing!”

No, the manager doesn’t know that. Not unless you tell him. Interesting, isn’t it, how unacceptable some think it is to make an explicit commitment, when that’s exactly what an another person needs to hear.


FJH-4From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, pp. 11-12:

Question 2

What should I do about application forms that “require” my salary history?

Some companies I recently applied to have established online application forms that include the infamous salary question. Many of these forms have the field flagged as “required,“ which prevents you from moving forward without disclosing this information. Can you give some advice on how to handle this situation?

Tip 2: Beat the application form

There may be ways around it, if you’re willing to risk getting the application screener ticked off at you. (Ever wonder who screens those apps? Ever wonder why a company lets some clerk decide who managers will and will not interview? It’s crazier than nuts.)

Such forms don’t distinguish between text and numeric entries. Try entering CONFIDENTIAL instead of a number. If a number is required, I’d use lots of 9’s to make it clear that you’re not misrepresenting your salary, but protesting the field.

You might be considered a smart aleck, and your response inappropriate. So make a frank statement about your intent elsewhere on the application. (There is usually a field for comments.) I believe it’s perfectly legitimate to politely but firmly state that your salary is confidential, and that you prefer to withhold it until a serious mutual interest develops between you and the employer. What better way to get a screener to actually pick up the phone and call you? (That’s the point of applying, right?)


FJH-7From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games, pp. 7-10:

Question 3

How can I avoid a salary cut?

I had an excellent rapport with the CEO who interviewed me. The job is just what I was looking for. It would be a next step in my career. The salary, however, is 20% less than my last job… The CEO asked me to think it over during the weekend and call him next week if I have any ideas that could bring us closer to an agreement. He asked me not to accept the position unless I could be happy for the long haul. How can I avoid a salary cut?

Tip 3: Avoid a salary cut

It’s up to you to show the CEO how the work you will do will pay for that salary boost… Sales doesn’t mean convincing. At its best, sales means showing how you’re going to help the other guy make profit from your work, so he can pay what you’re asking. This simple idea is foreign to many people, yet it’s at the heart of any salary negotiation — and at the heart of any good business transaction.

Avoid a salary cut by showing the employer how you will help him avoid a dip in profits. Make the employer want to pay you more, by showing him how you will help him make more, too. Give the CEO some good reasons to work with you, and you may get some or all of what you want.


FJH-8From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, pp. 15-16:

Question 4

What should I do about employers that won’t give me a decision when they promise to?

Two weeks after my interview, I called to ask if a decision had been made. The HR person said the job was not filled, and that I was a top candidate… I have waited another two weeks without any word. I suppose I have several options: Continue waiting, call the company again to reiterate my interest, or give up and look elsewhere. Which do you recommend? How long is it reasonable to wait “patiently” after interviewing?

Tip 4: Play hardball with slowpoke employers

Never call the personnel office to find out where things stand. After the agreed-upon deadline, call the manager. Whether you talk to the manager or get voice-mail, leave this hardball message: “I’d like to work for you, but I’m considering another job offer.” Say no more. (Note that you have not closed the door to an offer.)

If none of this yields an offer or believable timetable information, then stop investing time and emotion in this deal unless it comes back. Move on.

I know only too well how frustrating this is, and how angry it makes you. The sooner you understand that many employers are too preoccupied to care, and that you’re not going to change their behavior, the sooner you can get on with your life. If you spend your time waiting for someone to make a decision about hiring you, then you give up control of your destiny. This is me playing hardball with you: Stop calling the employer.

There aren’t any “steps” to getting hired. If there were, you’d follow them and you’d have the job you want. Getting an offer is about knowing how to overcome daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Let’s talk about the obstacles you face in your job search!

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The employer is hiding the salary!

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

In the July 15, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about wasting vacation time interviewing for the wrong jobs:

I applied for a position in another state and got a call right away to set up an interview. I scheduled vacation time for this meeting and it went very well. I liked what I was hearing and my would-be future boss obviously liked what he was hearing so much that he scheduled another interview with the “powers that be” right away. So again I scheduled more vacation time for this interview. This also went very well.

At the end, when it came down to talking salary, all involved were very disappointed. My low end of expected salary was much higher than the high end of what they could offer. It was a good enough fit that the hiring manager e-mailed me a couple of weeks later wondering if there was any way I could come down in my salary expectations. After I turned him down again, he e-mailed me a few days later telling me how much he was disappointed that we couldn’t work things out. I asked him to keep me in mind for other opportunities.

It would save me countless hours of wasted vacation time and interviews if employers were not so secretive about their salary ranges. If I had known the salary range ahead of time, or at least at the end of the first interview, we could have saved each other so much time and disappointment. How do you suggest handling this?

Nick’s Reply

hidden-moneyIf I didn’t know better, I’d think that, as the economy improves, employers are trying to take advantage of job seekers by hiding the money. Perish the thought!

The other explanation is that it’s become a cultural problem. “Oh, we never talk about money… it’s so declasse…” Yah, and it’s also ridiculous.

Would you visit a Tesla salesroom for a $75,000 car if all you can afford is $25,000? Of course not (unless you’re just out for entertainment). Imagine if there were no way to find out the ballpark price of cars in advance. Would you visit a dealership twice, hoping the price might turn out to be right on the third visit? Of course not.

In one of the Fearless Job Hunting books I discuss how to respond to your boss when he offers you a promotion but fails to mention a raise in salary. Is there one? How much? The same method works perfectly before you agree to interview for a new job.


This excerpt is from the section titled, “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games:

“You should have asked about money first. Some might consider that presumptuous, but I don’t. It’s business. Setting expectations early is usually the best way to accomplish your goals. The psychology of this situation can be more complex than you might realize. If you embark on this meeting… without setting an expectation about money up front, you will wind up like a puppy waiting for a treat after you’ve jumped the stick 20 times.

“How to Say It: Keep it short and sweet: ‘What’s the pay like?’

“Those are the only words I’d respond with. It’s not a demand, or even an expectation. It’s a top-of-the-head, disarmingly honest, enthusiastic question that must be answered before any further discussion. Note that you’re not even asking for a specific number… I think the best way to ensure that compensation will be a part of negotiations is to put it on the table from the start.”


This is business. Get an answer before the interview, or move on to the next employer. The only reason employers don’t like to disclose a salary range — like the manager who kept challenging you to lower your salary expectation — is that they want to hook you early in the hopes that you’ll compromise. And, once you’ve gone to multiple interviews, you’ll be more likely to compromise your negotiating position to justify all the time you’ve already invested. It’s an old sales trick.

The manager you interviewed with is just astonishing. He asked you to lower your salary requirement — twice! Why don’t you send him an e-mail now, and explain that you’ve thought about it and you’d love to work on his team. Is there any way he could come up to your required salary?

See what I mean? It sounds kind of awkward and presumptuous for you to do that — right? Yet he did it with no problem. Maybe it’s worth trying. Maybe he’ll realize he can’t find who he needs for the money he wants to spend. (You might want to be ready to explain, How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?)

This is the salary double-standard. The manager wasted your vacation time twice and keeps asking you to to give up even more… for what?

I’m not asking these questions rhetorically. Employers like this need to do a reality check, because they’re a bit nuts and more than a bit unreasonable.

Next time, when an employer hides the salary for a job, ask. Save yourself some grief. (There’s another side to this double standard: Why do companies hide the benefits?)

Have you interviewed for jobs where you didn’t know the salary? Were you surprised later? What do you think would happen if you insisted on knowing the salary range in advance?

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Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried

Filed under: Changing jobs, Getting in the door, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A

In the July 8, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader thinks his references ruined his chances at a job offer:

Help! I received a verbal offer of employment, but before the written offer they needed to verify my references through an online survey program. After two weeks, I’ve heard nothing from the employer and they’re not returning e-mails. Is it safe to say that the very people I trusted to provide good references (one that even promoted me) totally sandbagged me, or that they perhaps provided mediocre references? Do I have any legal recourse to obtain a copy of the reference report that the potential employer received? It’s absolutely devastating that some of my co-workers would do this.

Nick’s Reply

Whoa, there! I would not assume your references sandbagged you. There are other issues to consider first.

  • referencesFind out whether the online reference service has even contacted your references. Two weeks might seem like a long time, but employers routinely take months to process job applicants.
  • The problem might be no references at all. If I were one of your references, I’d never fill out such an online form. I’d have no idea who has access to it or how it will be used. I’d also find it offensive. If an employer wants me to invest my time to give you a reference, I expect the hiring manager to invest the time to actually talk to me. If your references declined to participate in an impersonal “check” like this, would you even know? Take care of your references.
  • You have no idea what questions the “survey” asked or whether the questions are valid. This puts you at risk the minute you grant permission for such checks.
  • You have no idea whether the personnel jockeys who “read” the results of these reference checks are qualified to interpret them. If the software merely assigns a score to your references, then the employer may not even have made a judgment. You may have been rejected by software.
  • If your reference used terms the personnel jockeys don’t understand correctly, is there a way built into the system so the reference can clarify what they mean?

I think using a “survey program” to check references is unprofessional, stupid and insulting. It’s like the classic children’s game known as “telephone.” By the time a reference’s opinion is processed through software and other intermediaries, who knows what it means? I’d never use such services myself, and I’d never consent to letting software check my references.

Reference-checking services

This raises another question: Is it legitimate for an employer to use a third-party reference-checking service, even if it’s a human being that calls your references? I think not. I don’t even accept a personnel office checking references. The hiring manager should do it. Nuances can make all the difference. The answer to a question might trigger certain other questions that only the hiring manager would know to ask. A reference check is not a survey; it’s a discussion. It’s an exploration.

Remember: References are judgments, and so is their interpretation. When an employer inserts third parties and middlemen in a judgment process, they’re more likely to make mistakes. Far too much of the hiring process is outsourced; so much, I think, that the decision making is effectively removed from the hiring manager. (See We don’t need no stinking references.)

Headhunters checking references

What about headhunters? I check references on my candidates, and I share the results with my clients. Should my clients, the references and the candidates trust my judgment? Yes — because next to the hiring manager and the hire, I have the biggest vested interest in the hiring decision. No personnel manager, no third-party service and no “online survey” will earn more money when a hire is made than I will. My living hinges on doing it well. I’d better be good at it, and I’d better be a good interpreter of what my client wants and needs.

But, even then, I will have the hiring manager talk directly with references before a hiring decision is made. Why? For the same reason I already shared: I have a lot riding on a prudent hiring decision. I don’t want to have to refund my fee. I want the placement to stick, and I want everyone involved to be happy. I want the manager using his or her judgment to make the final choice.

What should you do now?

  • I’d contact each of the references you provided to the employer. Don’t ask them what they said to the program. Ask them if they even received a reference request, and whether they completed it.
  • In the future, I would explain to employers that your references are busy people who would be happy to talk about you — but you’d never dream of asking them to fill out forms online. “Just as you wanted to talk with me in person, I’d like you to talk with my references in person. I’m sorry, but I can’t ask them to complete a form online.” Why risk irritating a reference when the irritation might be reflected in their comments about you?

My answers to your other questions:

  • It’s possible that it’s just taking the company a long time to process your offer and that everything’s fine. But to let you hang out there, waiting like this, is unprofessional in any case.
  • I doubt the reference company will give you the reports. It’s worse if they do — that means the references are not confidential. Check the agreement you signed (or clicked on!) when you granted permission for reference checks. My guess is you relinquished any rights to see the results. My bigger concern is, what other rights did you grant to the reference company? Are they free to give your reference reports to other subscribers without asking you? (That is, you might interview at another company that has access to your references without even asking you. Surprise!)
  • As for your co-workers delivering bad references: That would be my last concern. If you’re not sure what someone will say about you, then why are you using them as references? Finally, did you give your references a heads-up that they were going to be polled? That’s crucial — they need to be prepared for the request so they can think about how they’re going to respond. (If you need to deal with an undeserved nasty reference, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention.)

The bottom line is, impersonal, automated reference checking can cost you a job. What you think are references may be little more than checked-off responses to canned questions processed by software that gets your references angry.

I’d start by confirming the references were checked. Then I’d ask your references what they thought of this “online reference checking” system. You might get an earful. Finally, take a strong position on how employers check your references.

If you want maximum leverage with an employer, “Don’t provide references — Launch them!” That’s a section of Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition) that explains how to use preemptive references.

A note to employers: Why do you bother interviewing job candidates in person, and then rely on impersonal, indirect reference checks conducted by software? If you’re going to talk to the candidate, then talk to the references, too! Or why not just let the software make the hiring decision? (I take that back. I get the feeling that, lots of the time, software does make the decision.)

Are your references real or software? Do you let employers “poll” your references rather than talk to them? What’s the best way to handle your references?

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Why do recruiters suck so bad?

Filed under: Headhunters, Heads up, Hiring, How to work with headhunters, Job scams, Q&A, Recruiting, Stuff I worry about

In the July 1, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader expresses serious reservations about recruiters:

I am a 46-year-old woman who has been rendered 100% unemployable in the New Economy. I’d just like some help in understanding what’s going on. My experience with recruiters has been terrible, and as a recruiter I thought you could maybe offer some insight into why they have become so useless.

I’ve spoken with lots of other “permanently unemployable” professionals over the age of 40 and their experience with recruiters is identical to mine. Are recruiters truly incapable of providing real feedback? Why do recruiters suck so bad?

Nick’s Reply

sucks-so-badYou’re opening up a can of worms. So let’s tie on our aprons and take a good look at the slop that passes for “recruiters” nowadays.

There are some very good recruiters out there — both inside of companies (in the HR department) and on the independent side (those that HR pays to deliver candidates). They are few. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.) On the whole, recruiting sucks really, really bad today.

The problem is automation

The number one problem is that recruiting is now wholly automated. Both the HR profession and independent recruiters don’t really recruit. To recruit means to go out into the world to find, talk to, assess, judge, cajole, seduce, convince and bring home the best people to fill a job for a client. This still requires getting one’s duff out of the chair from behind the desk and the computer display to actually meet people. (See Executive Search: Don’t pay lazy headhunters.)

But, show me 1,000 recruiters and I’ll show you 999 lazy keypunchers who are terrified to talk to anyone, and content to get paid for diddling their keyboards. They pay monthly fees to access huge databases of “job seekers” — and their expectation is that “the system” will deliver candidates. So, what do employers need recruiters for?

The 1,000th recruiter — who actually goes out and recruits — is worth his or her weight on gold. He doesn’t suck. The rest aren’t worth spit.

Everybody can play!

The other biggest problem is that the cost of entry to the recruiting business is virtually zero. Anybody with an Internet connection and a cell phone can play. The automation thus allows a proliferation of drive-by recruiters who run over job applicants while scratching their lottery tickets. It’s why you hate recruiters: You’re just another casualty and there are plenty more where you came from. (See Does the headhunter own my job interviews?)

I could riff on this for pages, but I’d rather just show you the very disturbing trend that proves my point: It’s not about recruiting any more. Proof lies in the “state of the art” start-up firms that get funded because idiot investors get excited about “new business models” that do absolutely nothing to advance the art and science of recruiting.

If these are the kinds of companies that have been funded, what does it tell us about the state of the business? (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?) As you put it, this is why recruiters suck so bad.

NotchUp

One of the early dim-bulb recruiting start-ups was NotchUp, started in 2008 by a couple of guys whose first concept was a “pay for interview service” that didn’t quite make it. In 2010, BusinessInsider called NotchUp a “Hot Silicon Valley Startup You Need To Watch.”

What was this exciting new concept in recruiting? It was a “crowd-sourced lead generation platform on top of social networks.”

Notchup was basically an app that was supposed to leech job seekers from social networks. It was designed to avoid recruiting. The app circulated job listings across social networks and matched them to users’ connections. Then they waited for results, just as “recruiters” inside major corporations wait for job boards to “deliver” hires. NotchUp no longer exists.

Standout Jobs

This start-up arrived in 2007. Standout Jobs was described as a “do-it-yourself, interactive career site.” A few years later, founder Ben Yoskovitz admitted, “I didn’t have a strong enough understanding of the HR/Recruitment market going in.”

Surprise: None of the clownish “entrepreneurs” looking to cash out know a thing about recruitment. They’re selling apps and database services in lieu of recruiting.

Clicking on StandoutJobs.com yields an “error establishing a database connection.” The business was acquired in 2010 by another up-and-coming online recruiting business, Talent Technology, which garnered a “top HR product” award from HR Executive magazine. The award seems to have been purged from the web, and Talent Technology Corporation is nowhere to be found online. (What does this tell us about HR Executive magazine?)

Tony Haley is a seasoned London headhunter who’s been watching these start-ups a long time. “You have people with little or no recruiting experience introducing new services and putting spin around them,” he explains, “about how they will improve the recruiting process without understanding it in the first place.”

Haley points to the real problem: HR executives who know nothing about recruiting, either. The recruiting services they turn to “match the misguided demand from employers that cheaper is better. These services encourage low-level, high-activity churn. It encourages more inexperienced people to go into recruiting — people who think they can make quick money. It drives down the quality of candidates and it hinders the speed of service.”

Referral recruiting

The main idea behind many online recruiting start-ups is “referral recruiting.” It’s simple: Recruiters suck at finding job candidates, so let’s find someone else to find job candidates, thus recruiters and employers can both avoid recruiting. We’ll introduce a cool new business model: Split the placement fee with anyone who touches the process.

I won’t waste your time with links, because most of them are dead, but the lsplit-feesandscape is littered with the corpses of brilliant, “award-winning” referral services: refer.com, KarmaOne, YorZ, h3.com, referrio.com, and more.

When you get that call, you realize recruiters suck because the state-of-the-art in recruiting is not about recruiting. It’s about splitting recruiting fees while avoiding recruiting. And what of the employers that try out these services?

Says Haley, “Do they really think recruiters will do more for less? They will do less for less and the employers get what they pay for. Time spent working to fill jobs is minimized, which means quality is affected, speed of service slows down and the candidate experience is poor because no one really cares about the candidate. It’s all about the cost.”

Under this model, the recruiter who actually does the work is left with a tiny fraction of a fee. And you guessed it — this is how employers wind up working with really crappy recruiters, because the best ones don’t need help and aren’t going to share their fees. The intermediary “recruiting services” wind up pimping recruiters who can’t do the business themselves.

Scout Exchange

A representative from Scout Exchange (www.goscoutgo.com) tried to get me to write about this latest recruiting concept. I’ve included the URL in explicit form because the company’s mascot really is a dog. So they get their wish. The company charges employers to find recruiters who will find candidates to fill jobs.

Disintermediation, anyone?

I think what this tells us is that inept in-house personnel jockeys not only can’t recruit to find hires — they can’t find good recruiters. (Oops. We’ve inadvertently figured out why internal recruiters suck, too!)

Employers sign up for the service, which matches them with recruiters who sign up to share placement fees. Explained the rep: “Scout is an online platform that uses advanced data analytics and algorithms to find the best matches between specific job reqs from enterprise and specific third-party recruiters.”

(Note there’s no claim that anyone is matching workers to jobs. This is matching companies to recruiters. Recruiting recruiters. Do pimps have pimps?)

Tony Haley: “There are no advanced data analytics and algorithms that can account for human interaction, emotion and, therefore, decision making.” He took the words out of my mouth.

wild-dogWhen a job is filled after being “touched” by who knows how many parties, the employer pays a fee, which winds up shared by recruiters and Scout.

I was told: “Employers benefit from Scout’s bidding feature that allows recruiters to submit talent at the placement rates they feel are appropriate, often reducing agency costs for employers.”

This service encourages recruiters to fight like dogs for the right to have their throats slit by “clients” looking for bargains. When one of these recruiters calls you about a job, do you think they’re going to take time to act professionally? That’s the game.

Better yet, what do you think happens when a recruiter bids the lowest price? Does she bite the hand that feeds her?

RecruitFi

My favorite new recruiting service is RecruitFi. The company’s Business Development Director pitched me to do a story about the company, and excitedly told me they have “gameified” recruiting. (It seems these firms spend a lot of time trying to get into blogs. Is that business development?) Like Scout, RecruitFi doesn’t improve recruiting in any way that I can see. The game is that it merely spreads around the fees employers pay. But they spread the fees farther.

Here’s how it was explained to me. Buckle in for some serious doubletalk. (I added the highlights):

“There is higher engagement with incentives, because we have a large pool it helps us keep recruiters motivated as we connect them with new clients. [sic] We want the highest quality candidates for clients and small rewards as recruiters do searches acts [sic] as an incentive to be in our community. We also pay the candidates which closes the loop of hiring conformation (as well as establishes the relationship with their recruiter and us).”

Read that part again: They pay the candidates!

I asked David Hines, an HR consultant with Human Capital Solutions, LLC, for his reaction. “This model will get 95% of back-bencher contingency recruiters to participate. The best 5% of recruiters would never play in this arena because it would quickly kill their reputations,” said Hines. “As for paying candidates… Unbelievable. I can’t believe that these idiots don’t see any ethical violations here.”

Here’s what I told the biz dev guy from RecruitFi:

“First, about 5% of independent recruiters/headhunters are really any good. The rest are fast-buck artists who will do anything to make a fee. That’s who your model will engage. ‘Engaging’ all of them is a waste of time and counter-productive. When all of them are chasing the same candidates, it pollutes the pool and makes it more difficult to hire the best people. (See Headhunters, Personnel Jockeys & Monkeys.)

razor“Second, the best headhunters will not invest their valuable time to get partial fees. They’ll go work on real assignments, where the client wants the best candidates and is willing to work closely with one headhunter – even if only on contingency — who will earn a full fee. Key here is the fact that you’re not lowering the fee the client is paying – just distributing it. There’s no benefit to the client. Having ‘more headhunters’ working on an assignment has never resulted in better searches or better placements.

“All your model does is encourage headhunters to slit one another’s throats for the benefit of working with you. You will wind up with a pool of poor or mediocre headhunters throwing all the spaghetti against the wall that they can – to make a few bucks. The best assignments and the best placements will be done by the best recruiters.”

The best recruiters don’t play games and have no competition

Does this explain why most recruiters you encounter suck so bad? The very recruiting industry now sucks, because the newest developments are not about recruiting — they’re about introducing more hands to grab at limited placement fees, and paying even more wild dogs to abuse job applicants. They’re even paying you when you accept a job! This is the business model venture capitalists like to fund — because they don’t understand recruiting, either.

Yes, it sucks. The trouble is, employers support these “innovations” which amount to little more than recruiting recruiters to do the work recruiters inside corporations aren’t doing.

Meanwhile, the best recruiters have no real competition. They don’t play “games” or dice up fees, or abuse job applicants. For more about how to distinguish the real recruiters from those dialing for dollars, check How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. Much of the book is about how to avoid recruiters that suck. The rest is about how to profit from the best. And this week it’s 25% off! (Use discount code=FIREWORKS.)

Let’s hear about your experiences with recruiters that suck — and about those that don’t. And tell me whether you’ve encountered any clever new “recruiting services” that actually work to your advantage — whether you’re a job hunter or an employer or a recruiter.

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Illiteracy is a sign of ignorance

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

In the June 24, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions the value of spell-checkers:

A friend of mine applied for a job as a “Principal Engineer” at a local software company. The company recruiter asked lots of questions about his writing ability. It turned out that the recruiter almost threw his resume out, believing my friend had misspelled “principal.” The recruiter said the title is “Principle Engineer.” However, anyone who knows this position knows that “principal” is the correct spelling. That is, one shouldn’t be engineering one’s principles!

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Once he got to the Real Engineers, my friend wowed them and got the job. In this linguistically-challenged era of the spell-checker, I wonder how often good resumes get tossed because the screener can’t spell. (A quick check of Monster turns up dozens of ads for “Principle Engineers.”)

Nick’s Reply

Okay, it’s time for my literacy rant, right after my rant about resumes. Thanks for sharing this common story, which often has a less happy ending.

This is one of the many ways resumes (or LinkedIn profiles) can sink you. They are dumb pieces of paper (or characters on a computer screen) that cannot defend facts, spelling, or credentials. When resumes are screened by personnel clerks, you lose. That’s why I advocate using personal contacts to get interviews. Your friend got lucky. Don’t rely on luck. (See How (not) to use a resume.)

Now let’s tackle “the other problem,” because it’s far more important: Illiteracy is a sign of ignorance.

It isn’t just illiterate recruiters who create problems. It’s become distressingly common in business and in the professions to hear that “your point” is more important than “how you express it.” That’s bunk. (Watch the Taylor Mali video.) People shrug off poor spelling and incorrect grammar as though it’s inconsequential. I see people smirk and roll their eyes when someone points out errors in their writing, as if to say, “Look, I’m successful. I don’t need no spellin’!”

(You say you use a spell checker? Lotsa luck! In the example we’re discussing, “principle” would not be flagged as incorrect — the word is spelled correctly. But it’s the wrong word.)

What’s a discussion about language doing in Ask The Headhunter? Poor spelling, incorrect grammar, lousy writing and poor oral presentation are all signs of illiteracy. I don’t care what field you work in, how much you earn, or whether you’re a production worker or a vice president. The way you use language reveals who you are, how you think, and how you work. And that will affect your career profoundly. You can pretend otherwise, but you can also walk around buck-naked believing you’re invisible because you’ve got your eyes closed.

We all make mistakes when we write or speak. When I’m in a hurry, I type too quickly. I’ll drop a suffix, substitute a word and fail to delete the original one, or use the incorrect case. That isn’t the point. The point is to know the difference between correct and incorrect usage, and to be able to use language properly.

Incorrect use of language will cost you a job or an opportunity, if it hasn’t already. If you have a problem with usage, I urge you (that is, anyone reading this) to get help. Remember that a software spell checker knows nothing about semantics, and that no grammar checker understands grammar. Take a writing course. Get some good reference books and use them. I write for a living so I’ve got more of these than you’re likely to need, but here are some of the references I keep on my shelf where I can reach and use them. Buy one to get started and use it. Over time it will improve your reputation, your self-confidence, and possibly your income.

Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook. You may remember this little book from college. It’s standard issue for English 101. Most students sell it back to the bookstore, glad to be done with their basic composition course. Too bad, because it’s indispensable and lasts a lifetime. The Handbook will help you quickly find the answer to almost any question about writing and grammar. Keep it next to your dictionary.

Modern American Usage by Bryan Garner. This is my favorite reference because it’s fun to read. Garner writes about language with a great sense of humor. This book will teach you more than definitions — it will educate you about how to use words more effectively and precisely.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. There are lots of good dictionaries, but this one will teach you about words through good examples and discussion of their history. It costs a few bucks, but you can pass it on to your grandchildren. I’m taking mine with me.

Literacy matters in business and at work. People who notice your errors will rarely correct you, but they will always judge you. When I goof, feel free to nail me. I welcome it because I want to get it right. Try the same with your friends, in a polite way. Then invite them to monitor your usage, too. Don’t be offended when they point out your errors. Instead, “go look it up,” or suffer the hidden consequences.

Does spelling matter to you? Do you judge people by how they use language and express themselves? I do. And I love hearing success stories and horror stories about the role of our language at work. Please share yours!

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