How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants

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

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

Your XQ: More HR B.S.?

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

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

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

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

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

A $2 Billion Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The No-See-Um Assessment

What are HR departments looking for?

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

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

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

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

Meet Andy Biga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. There goes Andy Biga’s future.

Meet Charles Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

Correlation Is King

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

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

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

Meet Ray Dalio, animal wrangler

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

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

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

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

The Science Of Snake Oil

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

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

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

We Have Met The Enemy

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

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

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

So, how do I get a job?

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

It’s simple. Please pay attention.

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

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

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

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

HR will realize it when job seekers stop rolling over.

My Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6 Secrets of The New Interview

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

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

The New Interview Instruction Book is BACK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


6 Secrets of The New Interview

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

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

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

1. Insiders have the best shot at the job.

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

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

2. The real matchmaking is done before the interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. You will win the job by doing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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How to ask for an early salary raise

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

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

Question

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

Use a business plan

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

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

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

Here’s the key to pulling this off:

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

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

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

Now here’s the beef in this Q&A:

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

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

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

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Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit

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

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

Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every manager’s No. 1 job

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

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

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

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

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

Judge employers by their managers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Branding yourself suggests you’re clueless

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

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

Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spamming To Fill Jobs: Idiots peeing on telephone poles

Filed under: Headhunters, Heads up, Hiring, Job Search, Q&A, Recruiting, Stuff I worry about

In the May 19, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss the e-mail habits of certain job seekers and recruiters. What a mess.

I couldn’t make this stuff up

telephone-pole-1Lately I’ve been railing against institutional failures in the job hunting and hiring process — job boards, HR departments, and vendors of automated recruiting stupidity. But that’s not where America’s employment problems begin and end. Employers are justifiably frustrated, too, by idiots who seek jobs, and by idiot recruiters who use spam to “find” job applicants for exorbitant fees.

I get a lot of mail. Some of it is so idiotic — I couldn’t make this stuff up to amuse you. It’s real. Two recent e-mails take the cake, perhaps because they make good bookends on the story about what’s wrong with America’s employment system.

The job seeker

The first message from the real world arrived last week from a job seeker. It included his resume. I’ll spare the poor sucker further shame by omitting his name.

Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2015 7:00 AM
To: nick@asktheheadhunter.com
Subject: Any Jobs?

Hey there!

I saw your website today Thu, 14 May 2015 and im really hoping there is a opening or other possibility to get a chance to prove my competence.

As you will see in my resume I have a broad experience and knowledge in this line of work and im confident it will be worth your time reading it. I am excited to hearing from you.

Please see my attached resume.
Best wishes,

My reply:

This is NOT the way to find a job. What you’re doing is embarrassing and makes you look really bad.

We might cut this guy and his many kindred spammers some slack, and I might not be so caustic in my criticism — but such a solicitation is akin to a dog peeing on every telephone pole hoping to find love.

telephone-pole-2“Hey there!… I’m really hoping there is a opening [sic] or other possibility” is just stupid, disrespectful, and a waste of my time and the writer’s.

If this is how you’re going about your job search, stop. There aren’t 400 jobs for you. Don’t walk blind on the job hunt. Be your own headhunter.

If you think that was a really stupid inquiry — it’s not at all unusual. I get these a lot. The next one’s far worse because it involves big fees and the transgressor is a retained executive search firm. (See What flavor of headhunter is this?)

The “exclusive” headhunter

I received this unsolicited query from a “retained headhunter” whose job is to find and home in on only the best, most appropriate candidates for his clients. Retained headhunters are usually paid in the vicinity of one-third of the salary of the job to be filled.

From: [omitted]
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 5:45 PM 
To: Nick Corcodilos
Subject: New Retained Executive Search

Nick
[Our firm] has recently been exclusively retained by our client [omitted] (circa $3B Global leader in furnishing the work experience in office environments) to conduct a search for a Chief Engineer (Global Product Engineering Team).

We’ve showcased this new retained executive search in the following search specific website: http://executive-advantage.com/SCE [The headhunter includes this note in his solicitation: “Please feel free to share the Steelcase Chief Engineer role with others.” I’m telephone-pole-2feeling free. Maybe you’re a great candidate, but I doubt I’ve got any subscribers who sniff telephone poles.]

If you are aware of a stellar candidate that would excel in this role based on the brief position description below please have them send their resume to me, [omitted], Managing Principal, [firm name omitted] (Quickest/Best Contact is by Email: [omitted], slowest contact method is by direct dial: [omitted].

The best headhunters search for candidates by talking quietly with industry insiders who know the very best people in their fields. Discretion and confidentiality are key. A good headhunter never broadcasts a search indiscriminately, in part because it would make him look bad. More important, broadcasting attracts all the wrong people and turns off the right ones. Employers also turn to retained recruiters to avoid putting out the word that they’ve got a weakness — that vacant, key position. What would a client who’s paying a $50,000 fee to fill a $150,000 position think if she learned the headhunter was spamming unknown people for leads — the equivalent of posting want ads on telephone poles and trees?

The employer could do that herself on Monster for a few bucks.

I don’t know this recruiter or his firm — but he’s been spamming me since at least 2012. I didn’t join his list. I’ve never responded.

Gimme a break

Now, why would I refer a “stellar candidate” to a guy I don’t know who doesn’t know me, and why would I trust that candidate’s resume to a spammer? This “headhunter’s” client might as well expect resumes to be gathered from a night of dumpster diving — for $50,000 fees!

The solicitation includes a sales pitch. (Why waste an e-mail, eh?)

We fill positions with top A-Player talent – we don’t throw stacks of resumes at our clients. If you, or any business colleagues, have similar search needs at -any- mission critical position level or functional discipline, we can help provide you with the same service as the recent clients below have commented on.

telephone-pole-1

Gimme a break, Mr. Retained Headhunter. You throw spam at people you don’t know, solicit referrals to “stellar candidates” and suggest your service is of the highest quality? What’s the difference between spam recruiting and posting jobs on Monster.com — except the fees and the “retained” firm moniker?

The job seeker highlighted in this column and the purported headhunter are examples of why employers try to automate recruiting and hiring. They’re tired of idiocy and telephone pole advertising. HR execs know they can dumpster dive for five bucks and come up with the same kinds of resumes. This is what’s led to the demise of our employment system. It’s why you can’t get hired.

Don’t sniff

Please try on these simple rules to avoid the pheromones being sprayed around the job market:

  • Don’t send your resume to someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.
  • Whether you’re a job seeker or an employer, take the time to actually cultivate relationships with credible people who will refer you to the person you need to meet. (That’s how credible headhunters operate.)
  • Don’t hire headhunters indiscriminately — make sure you know how they recruit.
  • Don’t recruit indiscriminately — it’s stupid and it makes you look bad.
  • You never know where your foolhardy spam solicitations will turn up, especially when you include instructions to distribute them through social media.

telephone-pole-3Keep your standards high. If you really can’t recognize a micturating marauder from a good headhunter, learn How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. If you need a reality check about how to get hired, consult Fearless Job Hunting — and practice The Basics.

Idiocy. It’s what’s wrong with recruiting, hiring and job hunting. It’s not just HR, job boards and applicant tracking systems that corrupt our employment system. There’s plenty of idiocy emanating from all quarters — and it includes job seekers and headhunters. It’s a small world, and everyone can see anyone who pees on telephone poles.

What qualifies as legitimate job hunting and recruiting? Can you fill and find jobs with lots and lots of e-mail? Just how high does the stink rise — and why does anyone sniff along?

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Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired

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

In the May 12, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I launch a rant about runaway technology in the world of employment. I mean, it’s way past stupid and counter-productive. It’s dangerous!

Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled

If you’re going to recruit and hire people for your business, or if you’re going to look for a job, you need to understand why America’s institutionalized employment system doesn’t work. It’s important to know the short history of reductionist recruiting — layers of matchmaking technology designed for speed, distribution, and for handling loads of applicants.

It has nothing to do with enabling employers to meet and hire the most suitable workers.

reductionistWant Ads

When somebody invented the newspaper want ad, it was an innocent enough way to find people to do jobs. An employer said what it was looking for, people wrote a letter explaining why they were interested, threw in their resume, and mailed it in.

Because a want ad cost quite a bit of money (thousands of dollars in The New York Times), ads were almost always legit. Applicants had to pay for a stamp, and motivation was high to apply only to the most relevant. What’s not to like? Even when professional resume writers stepped in, and started touting salmon-colored paper to make their clients’ submissions literally stand out, it was still manageable; employers knew immediately which applications to throw out! Meanwhile, the newspapers made out like bandits advertising jobs.

Internet Job Boards

When the Internet came along, somebody thought to put all the ads online — to get better distribution, and more responses from more applicants. The jobs sites quickly realized this made wants ads cheaper, and to make money, they had to sell more ads.

Wink, wink — questionable ads, like multi-level-marketing schemes, were welcome! So were ads for expired jobs, kept there by employers who liked a steady stream of resumes even when they didn’t need them.

This never worked very well at all — and it became a disaster of such epic proportions that somebody named it “The Great Talent Shortage.” (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.) HR departments got flooded with applications they couldn’t process — so somebody invented keywords.

The Keyword Age

Employers no longer needed to read resumes or applications. Software compared words in job descriptions to words in resumes, and HR could accept or reject applicants without even knowing who they were!

Clever applicants started larding their resumes with keywords — making HR’s job all the harder, and job interviews a waste of time. It was so easy for people to fake their way past the system that HR panicked and drew the blinds. Everyone was rejected.

This experience led employers to agree that, yes, America is in a terrible talent shortage — during the biggest talent gluts in history. Even the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, banged the gong:

“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire and the most frequent thing I hear from them is all too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

“Too many people”?? Say what?

Reductionist Recruiting: Get paid for $@*#&!

Perez isn’t holding those employers accountable. They use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to solicit thousands of job applicants to fill just one job — then they complain they’ve got too many of the wrong applicants. The employers themselves are responsible for the problem. (News Flash: HR causes talent shortage!)

meatgrinder

Welcome to reductionist recruiting: Jobs don’t matter. People and skills don’t matter. The coin of the realm is what computer scientists call character strings: strings of characters, or letters and numbers, standing in for jobs and people. That’s what’s sold by job boards and bought by employers.

Think that’s far-fetched? Then why don’t employers pay when they actually hire someone from a job board or applicant tracking system?

The product is keywords. The system has nothing to do with filling jobs, or that’s how LinkedIn, Monster.com, Taleo and JobScan would get paid.

They get paid to keep the pipeline full of character strings. Employers and job seekers get scammed every day they play the game. And HR is the culprit, because that’s who signs the purchase orders and the checks to use these systems.

The New Age Of More Reductionist Recruiting

The high-tech-ness of all this (Algorithms! Artificial Intelligence! Intelligent Job Agents!) sent venture investors scurrying to put their money into reductionist recruiting, because HR departments didn’t care whether they hired anyone. Their primary business became the “pipeline” of job postings and processing incoming keywords.

That’s why Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner are getting rich while you can’t get a job.

It’s all stupid now. The head of Monster.com promotes “semantic processing” algorithms that match keywords better than any other job board. LinkedIn (LinkedIn: Just another job board) claims that special keywords — called “endorsements” — add powerful credibility to all the other keywords on people’s online profiles. And “job board aggregators” like Indeed.com collect all the keywords from every job board, grind them up and sort them, and deliver more and better keywords than any other technology.

We know this is all a big load of crap when the next iteration of recruitment start-ups are designed to further distance employers and job seekers from one another.

Reductionist Recruiting 3.0

That’s the point behind a new start-up called JobScan. This new service gives job seekers the same power employers have. For a fee, JobScan “helps you write better resumes.” Cool — we need better ways to help employers make the right hires!

reductionismBut it turns out JobScan doesn’t do that. It doesn’t help match workers to jobs any more than ATSes do. All it does is help job applicants scam ATSes by using more words that will match the words in employers’ job descriptions. More reductionist recruiting.

James Hu, co-founder and CEO of JobScan, told TechCrunch that, in the past, a real person would review your resume to judge whether you were worth interviewing. “But now you are just a record in the system.”

Duh? And Hu’s service treats you as nothing more. JobScan’s home page shows two text boxes. In one, you post your resume. In the other, you paste the description of the job you want to apply for. You click a button, and it tells you “how well your resume matches the job description.” Now you can add more of the correct keywords to your resume.

In just a couple of entrepreneurial generations, we’ve gone from stupid ATSes that rely on word matches to deliver “too many people…[that] don’t have the skills necessary to do the job,” to a whole new business that enables job seekers to manage the words they dump into those useless ATSes.

(Note to venture investors who missed out on the first rounds of Monster.com, Indeed.com and LinkedIn: This is a new opportunity!)

JobScan’s algorithms tell you which additional keywords you need to add to your application to outsmart the employer’s keyword algorithm.

It’s like your people talking to my people, so you and I don’t have to talk to one another. We can sit by a pool sipping Caipirinhas (my new favorite drink from Brazil), and wait for our respective people to do a deal that will make us all money.

Except there aren’t any people involved. Reductionist recruiting, meet reductionist job hunting: DUMMIES WANTED!

A Short History of Failure: More venture funding wanted!

Entrepreneurial ATS makers game the employment system to make loads of money while employers reject more and more job applicants. Now there’s another layer on this scam — and it was inevitable. Entrepreneurs are getting funded to create ways to help you beat the databases to fool employers into interviewing you, whether you can do the job or not. (I wish thoughtful entrepreneurs like Hu would put their talents to work creating value, not outwitting admittedly silly job application systems.)

Job seekers are taught every day that it doesn’t really matter whether you can do a job profitably. What matters is whether you can game the system to get an interview, just so you can get rejected because, in the end, employers don’t hire words that match jobs. They want people who can do jobs. They just don’t know how to find them. (See Getting in the door for alternative paths to the job you want.)

Of course, any dope can see the real problem: HR isn’t willing to hire key words, even though it pays an awful lot of money for them. And it certainly has no idea where the talent is.

I can’t wait for employers to wake up and smell the coffee: Start paying LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed only when those suckers actually fill a job.

Am I nuts, or has America’s employment system gone completely to hell with plenty of venture funding behind it?

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UCLA Anderson Webinar: Parting Company – How to leave your job on your own terms

Filed under: Ask The Headhunter Products, Fired, Job Search, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning

ucla-logoThis is a Q&A overflow area for attendees of today’s webinar Parting Company: How to leave your job on your own terms, presented to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management — students, alumni and faculty. The webinar was based on the book Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Many thanks to the team at Anderson for their kind hospitality, and to the audience for sticking around well past the end of the presentation — I enjoyed all your questions! If you have more, please feel free to post and I’ll respond to them all!

Today’s webinar agenda included:

  • When is it time to go?
  • Hitting the wall
  • How to resign right
  • Oops! Got fired!
  • Exit Interviews: Just say NO
  • Parting Company Cribsheet: Avoid the gotchas
  • Resources
  • Q&A

 

 

How to deal with a micro-manager

Filed under: Changing jobs, How to Say It, Job Search, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Success at Work

In the May 5, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a happy employee becomes unhappy when the new boss gets overbearing.

Question

After four months of working very independently and successfully in my current position, reporting directly to a manager who loves my work (as does the senior manager), they have decided that all of us “little people” (non-exempt, hourly employees) should report to a supervisor on a weekly basis instead. Our manager is too busy to manage us.

I am now the direct report of a micro-manager, a real control freak (she said so herself) who wants everything done her way, yet insists she doesn’t want to micro-manage me.

In our first meeting of 45 minutes, she insisted at least six times that she wasn’t trying to micro-manage me. (Of course, it felt like 20.)

What should I do? I am trying to be cooperative and play it low-key, but I feel I may need to speak with the senior manager about it. Any advice on how to handle micro-managers? I really need my job. I am well-liked, work hard and effectively, and was quite happy before she was appointed.

Nick’s Reply

First, I would sit down with your new supervisor. Show her a list of the tasks she has assigned to you, as you understand them. Ask her if there is anything she’d like to change or add. If there is, add it as you sit in front of her. Be very polite, very respectful.

When the list is complete, ask her what timeframes she sees for the deliverables — that is, when should the tasks be completed?
Negotiate to make these realistic. Once you both agree, tell her this:

How to Say It
“I find I can get the most work done when I’m free to get tasks done my own way, with the full understanding that I’m responsible for delivering exactly what my boss asks. The commitment I will make to you is that all these tasks will get done on schedule. I’d like to ask you for a commitment, too — to permit me to manage my work on my own. If I don’t deliver, then I will accept any consequences. But during the work period on these projects, I would like to manage my own work. Can we do that?”

(These two articles may help motivate you: Be known first for the truth and Don’t be afraid to do the job your way.)

If she says no, then sit down and write up a log of your conversation, date and sign it. Put it in your file. You may need to show it to the human resources manager later. Then, go talk to your old boss and explain to him that your supervisor will not permit you to manage your own work. Ask for his support. Do not make any threats. Do not get angry. Just calmly focus on your work and on your commitment to get it done on schedule. Don’t even appear upset.

How to Say It
“Being micro-managed is very distracting and decreases my efficiency. I accept my responsibilities in my job. However, I cannot do my job if I am micro-managed. Here is the commitment I will make to you: If I do not deliver after being left alone to do my job, you should fire me. The commitment I ask of you is, get my super off my back so I can do my job. Can we do that?”

If you get no support, you should be prepared to leave the company and find another job. In fact, I would start a job search, just in case. Odds are pretty high you will have to leave. As Dear Abby is fond of saying, people are not likely to change.

I try not to be cynical, and I try to expect the best, but life is short. No one should have to live and work like this. A boss who micro-manages has an emotional problem and is not likely to change. You must have a good contingency plan.

The best outcome would be if your supervisor recognized how serious a problem she has created for her department. Like I said, odds are that you will have to move on. Don’t let that bother you. It’s a natural thing. Not all companies, bosses, and employees can work together effectively. Staying in a dysfunctional organization is wrong. But, give your managers a chance to recognize the problem, and to fix it. The key is, you must be very respectful about your approach. No anger. No recriminations. Just matter-of-fact business. It’s all about doing your job.

I wish you the best. There is a significant risk in doing what I suggest. There’s an even bigger risk in working with such frustration. For more about how to leave your job fearlessly, see Parting Company: How to leave your job. [THIS WEEK ONLY! Save $3 on this book! Use discount code=SAVE3. Order now!]

Have you ever worked for an over-bearing boss? What’s a diplomatic way for this reader to deal with the boss? My suggestions are just one way to approach this. Let’s hear some other angles!

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How can I find the truth about a company?

Filed under: Fearless Job Hunting, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A, Success at Work

In the April 21, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders if it’s possible to figure out what an employer is really like — before accepting a job offer.

Question

You emphasize the importance of showing how you’d “do the job” in a job interview, and how you’d produce value for the employer. But that is in a perfect world. What about the real world?

How does one ascertain in an interview what the political environment is in a company? Most companies have some kind of political system, defined here as the messy arrangements one goes through to actually get something done.

What questions could one ask to determine the real political environment as opposed to the happy faces they present in the interview? They are all “team players” and they all want team players, but what are the rules of the game in that company? Is there any way to really determine this before taking a position? What questions could one ask that wouldn’t just generate “the company line?”

Nick’s Reply

under-the-rugOuch — please don’t accuse me of giving advice in “a perfect world.” If it were perfect, who would need advice?

Your questions are excellent, and there’s only one way I know to get them answered: Look under the proverbial rug! Meet the people who will affect your life and job at the company. Before you accept an offer, ask to talk with:

  • Others on the team you’ll be joining.
  • People who have jobs in departments that will affect your success at your job.
  • Managers who run teams that will interface with yours.

Don’t ask these people about the politics. Just ask them to tell you how they do their jobs and who they interact with in the company. Then hush and let them air their laundry. You’ll learn a lot. If you talk with enough of them (at minimum, one from each category and preferably three from the team you would join), you will get a very good sense of how the company really operates. (See also It’s the people, Stupid.)

Another good approach is one I try to use whenever I’m meeting with a prospective client. Have lunch in the company cafeteria and ask to be introduced to the people they work with. You will learn a lot while people talk as they are sipping soup or munching sandwiches.

If a company refuses to schedule such meetings for you prior to you accepting an offer, that ought to tell you something. A good, healthy company will be proud to show off its people, and management will be impressed that you’re willing to take the time to meet them before making a commitment. Frankly, I’m surprised all employers don’t insist on such activities before making a job offer. (See Kick the candidate out of your office.)

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, I explain how to expand your due diligence on an employer. This includes tracking down former employees of the company, and talking to its customers and vendors.

Does that sound like a bit much? The employer will check you out in detail — so it’s astonishing how little a job seeker will do to check out an employer! Here’s one specific tip from the book (pp. 12):

Check a company’s references. Talk with people who depend on the company for a living: attorneys, bankers, investors, landlords, and others. This will give you a community-wide perspective and also help keep you out of harm’s way. Explain that you are considering an investment in the company. (Your career is indeed an investment!) Ask for their insight and advice. Is this a good company? Why?

It isn’t a perfect world, so we’ve got to scrutinize jobs and employers closely. In my experience, most people who go job hunting do so because they took the wrong job with the wrong employer to begin with. Don’t make that mistake! Do your due diligence, and look under the rug!


For more about how to judge an employer, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, which includes these sections:

  • Introduction: Don’t walk blind on the job hunt
  • Do I have to “kiss ass” to win a job?
  • How can I make up for lack of required experience?
  • How to pick worthy companies
  • Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?
  • Age discrimination or age anxiety?
  • How do I deal with an undeserved nasty reference?
  • Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies

How do you examine a company’s culture and politics before you accept a job offer? Have you ever made the mistake of not looking closely before jumping into a new job?

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