Saturday, November 26, 2011

22 Secrets...Part IV

This week we’ll wrap up the last of “The 22 Secrets HR Won’t Tell You About Getting A Job.”

HR Secret Number 17:

“If you’re a candidate and the hiring manager spends 45 minutes talking about himself, the company or his Harley, let him. He’s going to come out of the interview saying you’re a great candidate.”

Yes, let him talk; but be very wary about accepting the job. Is this the type of person you really want to work for?

HR Secret Number 18:

“There’s one website that drives all HR people crazy: It supposedly lists average salaries for different industries, but if you look up any job, the salary it gives you always seems to be $10,000 to $20,000 higher than it actually is. That just makes people mad.”

HR people and headhunters do get frustrated with the misinformation that is out there about compensation. I know this sounds like a self-serving comment, but headhunters who specialize in an industry probably have the most accurate information about compensation. Often times company HR people are more out of touch than candidates when it comes to compensation levels, especially if they are hiring for special skills or experience outside of their normal hires.

HR Secret Number 19:

“On salary, some companies try to lock you in early. At the first interview, they’ll tell me to say, ‘The budget for this position is 40K to 45K. Is that acceptable to you?’ If the candidate accepts, they’ll know they’ve got him or her stuck in that little area.”

This is probably accurate for positions in this compensation range. For positions with higher compensation, money usually doesn’t come up in the first interviews. It’s also different when a search firm is involved. We’ve already provided the company with the candidate’s compensation history and we know what the company’s pay range is for the position.

The real message here is be careful when discussing pay, especially early in the process. If the interviewer throws out a number, just respond with something to the effect that your decision will involve more factors than just pay and that you’re looking for an opportunity to contribute and grow with a successful organization, etc., etc.

HR Secret Number 20:

“You think you’re all wonderful and deserve a higher salary, but here in HR, we know the truth. And the truth is, a lot of you aren’t very good at your jobs, and you’re definitely not as good as you think you are.”

Whoa…this may apply to some small percentage of candidates, but the HR person who made this statement must be working in an industry other than transportation and logistics. Of course, we run across candidates now and then who have unrealistic compensation expectations. Usually they are younger, less experienced candidates. But most people who have 10+ years experience in an industry have a pretty good sense of their value.

HR Secret Number 21:

“Be careful if a headhunter is negotiating for you. You may want extra time off and be willing to sacrifice salary, but he is negotiating hardest for what hits his commission.”

Seriously? I guess some headhunters are so desperate for an extra buck that they work every angle. But I think this HR “Secret” reflects the HR person’s attitude about headhunters more than the reality of how headhunters actually operate. If you can’t trust your headhunter to do what is best for you as well as for the company, then you’re working with the wrong headhunter.

HR Secret Number 22:

“I once hired someone, and her mother didn’t think the salary we were offering was high enough, so she called me to negotiate. There are two problems with that: 1) I can’t negotiate with someone who’s not you. 2) It’s your mother. Seriously, I was like, ‘Did that woman’s mother just call me, or was that my imagination?’ I immediately withdrew the offer.”

We don’t run into this with the types of positions we fill, BUT sometimes we do get the spouse jumping into the negotiation at the last minute. My advice to any candidate is to make sure they’ve had in depth discussions with their family members BEFORE getting into the nitty-gritty of interviewing and negotiating. We’ve certainly seen offers fall apart when a spouse starts demanding too much, too late in the process.

So we’re done with the 22 Secrets. Interesting comments by some of our “friends” in the HR community and worth considering; especially if you, as a candidate, are faced with the daunting task of dealing with an HR person on your own.

With all due respect to HR people, I will leave you with this:

Question: How many HR managers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None, but they all want to be involved.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back to The 22 Secrets....Part III

Last week I had to rant about the Penn State mess. This week we pick up again on the “22 Secrets HR Won’t Tell You About Getting A Job”. Week before last we looked at the first 8 secrets. Now I’m ready to tackle Secrets 9-16.

HR Secret Number 9:

“Most of us use applicant-tracking systems that scan résumés for key words. The secret to getting your résumé through the system is to pull key words directly from the job description and put them on. The more matches you have, the more likely your résumé will get picked and actually seen by a real person.”

This is probably good advice if you are responding to a job posting with a large corporation. Just don’t put a laundry list of key words on your resume. It may get you past the ATS, but when a person looks at it they will not be impressed. Take the time to work keywords into your resume where it makes sense and if your actual work experience supports their inclusion to your resume.

HR Secret Number 10:

“Résumés don’t need color to stand out. When I see a little color, I smirk. And when I see a ton of color, I cringe. And walking in and dropping off your resume is no longer seen as a good thing. It’s actually a little creepy.”

Agree. Me too. Ditto. Just don’t do it. Yes, it really is creepy.

HR Secret Number 11:

“It’s amazing when people come in for an interview and say, ‘Can you tell me about your business?’ Seriously, people. There’s an Internet. Look it up.”

It’s even more amazing when a headhunter has taken the time to tell the candidate about the company AND the position AND provided links to the company website AND perhaps given the candidate even more information about the company’s key executives, competitors, financial results, etc etc….and the candidate still acts like he just landed from another planet five minutes before the interview.

HR Secret Number 12:

“A lot of managers don’t want to hire people with young kids, and they use all sorts of tricks to find that out, illegally. One woman kept a picture of two really cute children on her desk even though she didn’t have children [hoping job candidates would ask about them]. Another guy used to walk people out to their car to see whether they had car seats.”

I don’t know about this one. I guess there’s still some bias out there, but this one seems pretty dated. I think most people realize that kids and families are part of the deal. And you can make a case that someone with young kids is very motivated to work and earn a living. There are probably some jobs and situations where young kids can be an issue if the employee is the primary or only caregiver. If you have young kids and you need some flexibility to handle kid issues, focus on jobs which can accommodate that need.

Now don’t walk into the interview with the “kid thing” as your number one talking point. Don’t even bring it up if you don’t have too. Just make sure that this potential job situation will fit your personal life requirements whatever those may be. Otherwise, you might get the job, but it won’t turn out well in the long-run.

HR Secret Number 13:

“Is it harder to get the job if you’re fat? Absolutely. Hiring managers make quick judgments based on stereotypes. They’re just following George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air, who said ‘I stereotype. It’s faster.”

The bad news if you’re fat is that this is TRUE. The good news is that with so many people in our society now being significantly overweight, the odds are pretty good that the hiring manager is also fat. So it’s all relative. If the hiring manager is fatter than you are, you’re probably ok.

The real question is do you appear healthy and energetic? Weight is only one of many factors that can work against you. For example, if you smoke you smell like a smoker (and probably look like a smoker). In most cases a big negative. If you’re old AND you look a lot older than your age, it can be a problem. If you’re 50, but look 60, and you smoke, and you’re fat…you need to give some serious thought to a makeover. I know that sounds harsh, but it is what it is.

HR Secret Number 14:

“I once had a hiring manager who refused to hire someone because the job required her to be on call one weekend a month and she had talked in the interview about how much she goes to church. Another candidate didn’t get hired because the manager was worried that the car he drove wasn’t nice enough.”

There are a lot of reasons why hiring managers reject candidates. Life is not fair and the playing field is not always level. Prejudice is alive and well and cuts both ways. Sometimes you get the job for the wrong reasons and sometime you don’t get the job for the wrong reasons. This should not be a secret.

HR Secret Number 15:

“Don’t just silence your phone for the interview. Turn it all the way off.”

I’ll take it one step further. Don’t take your phone into the interview.

HR Secret Number 16:

“If you’ve got a weak handshake, I make a note of it.”

This is old-school and still relevant in the U.S. and Europe. But if you go global, just be aware of handshake customs and preferences in other cultures. A firm handshake might cost you a hand in some places.

Next week we’ll wrap up the 22 Secrets. In the mean time, have a Happy Thanksgiving.
If you’re reading this blog you probably have a lot to be thankful for. Chances are that you are living better than 99% of the people currently inhabiting this planet and better than 99.99% of those who have ever lived. So quit your bitchin’ and count your blessings.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Valley

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
-Edmund Burke

At first I said, NO, I’m not writing about the Penn State mess. It’s been beaten to death all week and I’m sick of it. But, I cannot ignore it.

The victims, the real victims, those boys who were molested; must be wondering why did it take so long? How could some adults know, and so many adults suspect, that something evil was happening to these children; yet do nothing about it? How can that be? I think it was because those adults decided that doing something would hurt more than doing nothing. It’s that simple. And the more one has to lose by doing something, the more it hurts and the less likely one is inclined to do anything.

Happy Valley, aka State College, aka the home of The Penn State University Nittany Lions, virtually the only big-time college football program that was still CLEAN; had a lot to lose. The Clean Football Program in The Happy Valley. Who wants to screw that up if they can avoid it? So they avoid it. But doing nothing always makes it worse in the long run. Ask the Catholic Church how well doing nothing has worked out for them?

If there is any lesson to be learned from this latest horror story, it’s that we cannot pass the buck when it comes to making a tough decision IF it’s the right decision. If you don’t make the tough decision today, you will always face a tougher decision tomorrow. Perhaps Happy Valley would not have been quite so happy for awhile had someone made the tough decision years ago. But recovery would have been quick and complete. Now the recovery will be long and painful and, perhaps never totally complete.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

22 Secrets...Part 2...and my pic for THE GAME

Last week I gave you the list of 22 Secrets HR Won’t Tell You About Getting A Job.
This week we’ll take a look closer at the first 8 secrets.

HR Secret Number 1:

“Once you’re unemployed more than six months, you’re considered pretty much unemployable. We assume that other people have already passed you over, so we don’t want anything to do with you.”

Unfortunately, this is often the way HR looks at unemployed candidates. It’s sad and has resulted in many candidates “fudging” on their resumes. Increasingly we see resumes reflecting dates that would make one think the candidate is still employed. Or people are just using the year employment ended rather than month and year. Anything to hide the fact that they have been out of work for several months. With managers and executives who may have received a severance package of some sort, they sometimes show employment through the severance period. Some of the “fudging” is recommended by outplacement firms or headhunters. I say don’t do it. Tell it like it is.

If you’ve been unemployed for more than six months, be prepared to tell your story IF you get an interview. There’s not much you can do if the company “policy” is not to consider unemployed or long-term unemployed candidates. But in many cases you will get a shot and you will be asked something like “why do you think it’s taken so long for you find a job”. How will you answer that one? I’m not going to cover the entire subject here, but there are certain responses you should avoid. For example, if you’ve been holding out for pay equal or above what you were making, don’t say that. Avoid saying anything that makes you appear inflexible, unreasonable or picky…even if you are. Another no-no, is saying that you’ve had dozens of interviews, but no offers. That just confirms the HR person’s opinion that you are probably unemployable. (If you’ve actually had dozens of interviews but no offers, you do need to figure out what’s going on.)

HR Secret Number 2:

“When it comes to getting a job, who you know really does matter. No matter how nice your résumé is or how great your experience may be, it’s all about connections.”

This is true. All things being equal the person with connections will get the job over the person without connections. The message here is network, network, network BEFORE you need a network. And, of course, network with a few select and highly competent headhunters…wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Seriously, don’t underestimate the value of the headhunter’s network. If a headhunter knows that you are a high quality candidate who can bring value to one of his clients, he may be able to get you in the door, even if you’re unemployed or have had some recent job hops (through no fault of your own, of course).

HR Secret Number 3:

“If you’re trying to get a job at a specific company, often the best thing to do is to avoid HR entirely. Find someone at the company you know, or go straight to the hiring manager.”

I agree, but with the caveat that there is the potential that you could shoot yourself in the foot if HR is freaky about control. You’re generally ok if you know someone in the company. They can tell you whether you should go through HR and the best way to do it. But going straight to the hiring authority can be dicey. It’s actually less risky if you’re not responding to an specific job posting that has clear instructions about the application process. If you want to work for a certain company, contacting the hiring authority who is most likely to need someone like you is not a bad move.

HR Secret Number 4:

“People assume someone’s reading their cover letter. I haven’t read one in 11 years.”

I’ll challenge this one. Very few cover letters get read BEFORE the resume gets read. But if the resume gets my attention, then I will glance at the cover letter. If the cover is just form letter BS, then I ignore it. But if it actually adds something to the resume and has an “executive bio” quality to it, then it is a positive. So if you have something valuable to say in a cover letter, use it. If not, don’t.

HR Secret Number 5:

“We will judge you based on your e-mail address. Especially if it’s something inappropriate like or”

If this is a secret to you, then you may well be among the “unemployed for more than 6 months” crowd. C’mon man…common sense. Use a professional email address in your job search. And if you have a really bad one like “johnnylikestodrink”…get rid of it…that’s not even right for personal emails.

HR Secret Number 6:

“If you’re in your 50s or 60s, don’t put the year you graduated on your résumé.”

Good advice, but don’t go overboard trying to hide your age. I see resumes where someone only shows the last 10 or 15 years of experience. The positions one has held are usually an indicator of where one is in their career. So it’s fairly easy to figure out if a person is leaving off a big chunk of career history. If you are in your 50s or 60s, it’s ok to only list positions over the past 15 years or so, but I always recommend that the candidate include a comment to reflect something like “held prior (sales, management, operations, etc) positions in the such and such industry.”

The other option is to go way back but not all the way back. If you’ve got 35 years of industry experience, go back 25 years. Especially if the first 10 years of your work history isn’t really relevant to your current career path and the past 25 show steady progress. But the 35 year veteran who only shows the last 15 years and no indication of prior work experience just ends up looking foolish.

HR Secrets Number 7 & 8 are closely related:

“There’s a myth out there that a résumé has to be one page. So people send their résumé in a two-point font. Nobody is going to read that.”

“I always read résumés from the bottom up. And I have no problem with a two-page résumé, but three pages is pushing it.”

I agree with 7 and slightly disagree with 8. If you are well-established in your career, your resume will be at least two pages and running over to page three is acceptable. For me, a four page resume is pushing it. It also depends on the quality of information included on the resume. Long “career objective” statements or introductory lists of skills and accomplishments apart from specific positions are a waste of space in my opinion.

Next week, we’ll pick it up with HR Secret Number 9.

(As for the college football game of the year, I’m rooting for LSU because an LSU win over Alabama is potentially better for Arkansas….but if I were a betting man, it’s Alabama 27 – LSU 20.)