(Many thanks to Matt Youngquist for providing permission to post his latest Puget Sound Business Journal article as a guest post on the Hire Wire blog.)
You know the old saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?” Sadly, during economic times like these, job hunters of all persuasion should tape this mantra up in a prominent place as they go about their employment search efforts. Failing to do so could easily lead an otherwise-savvy professional to succumb to the temptation and fall prey to one of the numerous career-related scams lurking out there in today’s market, seeking to part unwary job hunters from their hard-earned money.
Having observed the career services landscape for a great many years now, in fact, I’d point to three categories of service that tend to be the most ripe for fraud, exploitation, and abuse. Sure, there may certainly be some companies in these sectors that offer a legitimate service, at a fair price, but I’d still urge job hunters to exercise ample due diligence when dealing with firms in these particular genres. By and large, many of these services are the job market equivalent of “get rich quick” schemes or the diet fads that promise you’ll lose 50 pounds if you simply eat grapefruit…or take this pill…or attach electrodes to your abdomen. They lure thousands of people in with slick claims and promises, but at the end of the day, common sense must prevail. If getting a great job (or losing weight) required only three easy payments of $19.95, after all, wouldn’t everybody be doing it?
So, if you’re in the process of seeking a new opportunity and are tempted by websites touting access to exclusive job leads, inside contacts, or the “hidden” job market, I’d advise you to keep your guard up – high. Such firms often fall into one of three common categories:
Resume mass-distribution services: This first breed of firm consists of those websites offering to blast, zap, blitz, and/or shotgun your resume out to thousands of employers and recruiters. I haven’t heard a single account of them ever producing a viable job opportunity. This isn’t surprising, really, when you think about it. If you were in a hiring role, after all, would you want to be flooded with thousands of unsolicited resumes from random candidates?
What’s more, if you ask to preview the list of companies these services are proposing to contact on your behalf, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be disappointed at the lack of accuracy – and relevance – of the data you’re given. I evaluated the list of Washington state recruiters one service was using, for example, and hadn’t heard of a full 70 percent of the firms in question.
Fee-based employment web sites: The second category of service that I’d urge caution around are those employment websites that charge a fee to you, the job seeker. In general, any service that has any “special magic” to offer in terms of matching candidates to positions is going to have a business model that derives revenues from the employer side of the equation, not from the pockets of job applicants themselves. Additionally, the claims some sites make of having large numbers of “exclusive” jobs are almost always bogus – since most employers aren’t going to put all their eggs in one basket and most enterprising job seekers can find the exact same leads elsewhere, for free.
Career marketing firms: This last service niche encompasses those firms that charge several thousand dollars – up to $25,000 in some cases – with the promise to “professionally market” job hunters and greatly boost their success rate. There are countless stories of job hunters who pay these exorbitant fees, only to discover later that the fine print of the contract has entitled them to nothing more than a remedial burst of resume help and some lackluster mass-mailing support. Some of the more notorious firms in this field, in fact, change their names every few years to stay ahead of the state Attorney Generals that are starting to go after them – as well as to prevent job hunters from Googling them by name and turning up negative reviews on their service.
So at the end of the day, while there are definitely some resources worth paying for when you’re in career transition, it’s wise to follow a “caveat emptor” strategy at all times to avoid being taken to the cleaners. Want a better way to spend that $30 per month? Take a few of the most connected folks in your network out for coffee and ask them to help you with some targeted referrals or introductions. In the long run, it’s usually a far smarter investment.
I’ve spoken with countless people who have kept their jobs, but have had their pay cut or frozen – from a software developer who survived a layoff (but with a 10% pay cut and increased hours, work, and stress) to an executive at a local high-tech company that just completed annual reviews (which included telling all employees that there would be no merit or cost of living increases this year). I also work with a lot of job seekers and many are interviewing for jobs that are $10K – $15K below what they were earning before they were laid off. And, of course, the big news last week was Microsoft’s announcement that they are cutting contractor rates by 10% (which has caused quite a flurry of activity on local discussion boards). Does Microsoft have real financial issues that require this action or are they taking advantage of the recession by reeling in bloated budgets and pay at a time when it will be more accepted by employees and the public? Does it matter? Regardless, the clear trend is that even those who are keeping their jobs are earning less.
The February issue of HR Magazine addresses this trend in several articles. In one titled “More Pay and Benefits Cuts,” they state that “companies that have implemented salary freezes jumped from 4 percent in October 2008 to 13 percent of those surveyed two months later…” Also, “61% of employers reduced their planned merit increases for 2009 from 3.8 percent to 2.5 percent.”
Another article titled “Strategies for Saving in a Down Economy” states that “one in four companies expects layoffs in 2009” and then provides a list of expected cost saving actions this year. 25% of companies will implement a hiring freeze, 25% will raise employee contributions to health care premiums, 12% will implement a salary freeze, 4% will reduce employer matches to retirement plans, and 4% will reduce salaries. In the list of the 10 most likely HR related budget cuts this year are professional development, tuition reimbursement, and fitness benefits. In other words, your pay may be frozen and you’ll need to pay for that gym membership.
So, just as real estate prices are “adjusting,” so are our salaries and career paths. Other than feeling frustrated or depressed, what can you do about it?
Well, if your salary is frozen or cut, don’t automatically think that looking elsewhere is the way to go. Know that it isn’t personal and it is happening all around you. The equity you have built up at your current company is worth a lot more than earning $5K more at a company where you’re the newbie. Think of it as sweat equity – you have a level of knowledge, intimacy, trust, and flexibility that can only come with time served. All of that is out the window and you start at zero when you start a new job.
If you’re a job seeker, you may need to lower your salary expectations. And, if you are applying for jobs that are not as senior as your last role, when you answer the “what salary range are you targeting in your job search” question, don’t tell them what you earned in the senior role. Tell them what you earned when you were in a role similar to the one you are interviewing for. Or say, “Based on my research on salaries in this industry and for this role, I am targeting between $x and $x.”
by Bridget Quiqq, PayScale.com
If you want to make adults squirm like kindergarteners, broach the subject of salary negotiation. Talking money makes most workers squeamish. And while they want such talks to succeed, they make plenty of blunders.
So what’s the best way to avoid stumbling and also boost your confidence? Rebecca Warriner, a job search coach and owner of Woodland Recruiting, a Seattle-based recruitment and outplacement firm, suggests pursuing a win-win situation for you and the employer — rather than starting out defensively, assuming you’re going to get a low offer. Warriner notes, “Salary negotiation is a dialogue that the company and the candidate should be having throughout the hiring process. It should not be a one-time conversation at the end.”
Warriner, who’s been on both sides of salary negotiation for over 15 years, offers a handy list of negotiation mistakes to avoid, noting they’re more important than ever because, nowadays, employers have plenty of candidates to choose from.
1. Being unprepared. “I get pretty frustrated as a recruiter when I ask somebody, ‘What are your expectations as far as pay goes?’ [and they do not have an answer],” says Warriner. She suggests doing some homework, and then determining what you’d like to earn. Warriner recommends several methods, including using salary information Web sites, talking to recruiters, asking friends who work in human resources, or connecting with local professional organizations that have salary information.
Once you have a solid answer, practice it. Get in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and say, “I earned $55,000 at my last job and I am targeting the $60,000s in this job search.” If you feel you were underpaid in your last gig but aren’t sure about bringing it up, Warriner advises raising the topic in a positive light, underscoring that you’d like to increase your earnings as you make your next career move to better reflect your skills and experience.
2. Playing games. Telling a prospective employer what you think they want to hear is risky business. “Oftentimes, a candidate will say that they are very flexible; that they are willing to take a step back in pay. Don’t say you’re really flexible if you’re not,” Warriner says. She points out that this approach assumes the company will be more invested in and attached to you at the end of the interview process, and therefore willing to offer you more money than you first asked for — but they won’t be.
The key, she says, is to be confident in the salary range you want, and walk away from jobs that aren’t offering it. More than anything, “don’t go through the [hiring] process to have compensation be the reason it doesn’t work,” she says.
Warriner also discourages pitting offers against each other, such as going to your current employer and saying, “I’d like to stay here, but this other company is offering me more.” She says, “Companies, especially these days, are not interested in candidates that are only interested in pay.” Warriner believes this will likely result in a lost job offer, and lost respect for you from all companies involved in the process.
3. Comparing apples to oranges. If you’re changing careers or moving into a different industry, Warriner says you should tailor your salary expectations. For example, a person moving from a larger company to a smaller organization, or from a corporate outfit to a nonprofit, should expect lower pay. She suggests looking at factors beyond salary in these cases, such as the commute, benefits, the team you’ll work with and industry experience you’ll gain.
4. Stringing a company along. When the time comes to say yes or no, you need to be ready. Warriner believes that “the comp package is something that should have been talked about during the entire process,” so you shouldn’t encounter any big surprises. If it really is the first time you’re seeing the offer and you need time to review it, say something positive, such as, “I’m really happy to receive this offer. I am happy to work for this company. I just want to make sure I am seeing everything and would like tonight to think about it.”
5. Following bad advice. “A lot of advice on salary negotiation is really old-fashioned,” says Warriner. “It is based on power plays and assumes that the company is being dishonest.” Some examples include delaying the salary conversation as long as possible, not giving a salary range/figure, or delaying your response to an offer for a week. Taking this power-play approach may cause the company to be turned off by you.
This is an interesting article written by Michelle Goodman for ABC News (and not just because I am quoted in it). I think it is an important article for anyone who is reaching out to or working with independent recruiters or recruiting agencies. The article is titled “Are You Scaring Recruiters?” and lists six things you should never do when working with recruiters. Here’s my take on the three that I run into most often.
Oversharing. On one hand, I think this is ok because the candidate can get emotional baggage related to their job search off of their chest and then move on. But, you are treading a fine line when you respond to a question with, “Do you want the real reason?” or, “I’d never say this in a real interview…” You do need to be careful about maintaining a high level of professionalism when talking with a recruiter – the same level of professionalism you’d maintain in a “real” interview. No recruiter wants to be told by their client that the candidate was bashing a previous employer or was generally unprofessional in the interview, so they may not submit you if you seem a bit risky. A good way to approach any difficult exits or contentious relationships with previous managers is to ask the recruiter for some guidance on preparing a professional answer. Recruiters are really good at giving advice and will appreciate being asked for some help. But, the best practice when a recruiter asks you, “Why did you leave?” or “How did you get along with your manager?” is to pretend you’re in a real interview…because you are.
Playing a Stalker. Early in my human resources career, there was a candidate who waited in the parking lot for me to leave work. He’d called several times asking about a job he’d interviewed for. I’d told him it was going to be a pretty slow process because of tradeshows and managers’ travel schedules and – not to worry – I would touch base with him as soon as I had something to tell him. So, when he continued to call and was then waiting for me in the parking lot a week later, it more than put the nail in the coffin of his candidacy for the job, it brought up questions of safety and sanity. This is, clearly, an extreme example. But, it just highlights the point that you can follow up too much. It is so frustrating as a candidate to not hear back from a company or a recruiter. But, do your one or two follow ups and then leave it. Should recruiters, human resources professionals, and hiring managers do a better job of communicating with you? Yes. Will they? Probably not. There is a LOT going on on their end – other candidates, other jobs, hiring managers throwing wrenches into processes, reluctance to call and provide no or bad news, the other 95% of their jobs. Just know that a polite, patient, professional and understanding candidate will live a long time in a recruiter’s memory.
Pulling a Blagojevich. This is pretty rare, but it has happened. I am very conscious of following up with candidates, making sure a week doesn’t go by without touching base, making sure candidates are fully aware of where they stand in the process, what’s holding things up – and, if they don’t get the job, providing very real and very specific reasons why. So, I usually get a “thanks so much!” even when I deliver bad news. But, every once and a while, there’s a candidate that lays into me. I’ve heard responses from “That’s a stupid decision,” to “I didn’t want to work for them anyway,” to “let me guess – they chose somebody younger?” to just hanging up on me. So, the other position I was just going to tell them about…or, the client I pick up the following week…they won’t be hearing about that. Door closed and bridge burned.
For more job search advice, keep your eye on this blog for new posts and look at previous posts. I always love to hear your thoughts, so submit a comment. And, I wish you the best in your job search!!
Rebecca Warriner, SPHR, www.woodlandrecruiting.com
These are the results from my latest survey. The data was gathered between December 3rd and December 20th from 115 respondents in the greater Seattle area.
Question #1 – How Concerned Are You About Your Job Right Now?
The results were close to evenly split among the four choices. However, only 33% of respondents were feeling confident about their job, while 48% of respondents expressed some concern and 19% had already been laid off.
Dozens of respondents posted a comment about this question and all can be seen on Woodland Recruiting’s web site. Here are a few that reflect the overall sentiment:
– My old job disappeared and I was “promoted” into a job I don’t want, but I feel like I don’t have much choice.
– I experienced a sudden 50% drop in my client base. This concerned me enough to start looking for employment outside of freelance work.
– The rest of the team has been laid off. I’m the last man standing in my area.
– I’m actually very concerned, but I don’t have my resume out there yet.
– My boss is pretty good about keeping us informed of our employer’s financial situation, which helps.
– Not concerned about my job but my husband’s.
Question #2 – If You Are Unemployed And In The Job Market, How Long Have You Been Looking For A Job?
One factor affecting the job market is many contractors and independent business owners have decided to look for full-time employment. Over the last few months, I have been receiving many resumes from this type of candidate and this survey reflected what I have been experiencing – several respondents were contractors, freelancers, and consultants that do not have the business they once had and are looking for regular part-time or full-time employment. The addition of these job seekers to the candidate pool just adds to the competition for jobs.
Another factor to consider is that many respondents talked about future layoff dates – the end of December, March and May were popular dates. Job seekers should expect the candidate pool to increase throughout 2009.
Here are some respondent comments on this question:
– I began my job search about 2 weeks before my previous position ended, so in all it took about 45 anxiety-filled days to find a new job.
– I was laid off in September, but found the new position I started a week ago within 2 months.
– 5 months and counting! It’s not looking good.
– I’m not unemployed, but underemployed, and have been looking for another job since June.
Question #3 – If You Are Unemployed And In The Job Market, How Confident Are You That You Will Find A Job Within The Next Three Weeks?
People often ask me how long they should expect their job search to take and, of course, that depends on a lot of factors.
In today’s job market, I think it is wise to give yourself at least 3 months and to be prepared for it to take 9 months or more to secure a job. This may mean that you will need to take steps to “fund” your job search – either through temp or contract work or by taking a less than ideal job until the market gets stronger.
You should also make sure that the factors you can control are as strong as possible – your resume, interview skills, and professional network are good places to start.
– I am now very flexible in my requirements (salary and location).
– I have a very good prospect right now. If that does not come through I will move to “not at all confident.”
– Found a job, but the search was much more challenging than I envisioned.
– I’m applying and looking around, but no bites.
– I’m planning to freelance for a while rather than look for a full time position.
– I know I can contract at Microsoft. But, that means taking 100 days off every year. I hope for a full-time job somewhere else and am starting to worry.
– The jobs have really dried up, especially in my line of work. It’s depressing. There are fewer openings to apply for and companies have cut back.
Question #4 – If You Are Employed, The Current Job Market And Economic Conditions…
These results are interesting for employers and recruiters.
First, many respondents said they were feeling confident about their jobs because of the communication they are receiving from their company or manager. Communication is the key in unstable times if employers want to avoid increased attrition. Lack of communication creates a vacuum that gets filled with worst case scenarios. Even if things are not looking so great, get your employees involved. Give them the facts. Get them involved in cost cutting measures. Communication and involvement creates loyalty and decreases attrition. And, if you do need to downsize, your employees will be much more prepared. Those leaving will have an easier transition into the job market. And, those staying will be much more resilient and there will be less of an impact on overall productivity.
These numbers are also interesting because, while employers are in a good spot right now when it comes to hiring, sometimes the candidate you really want has decided not to budge from their current position because they feel more secure there. The best thing recruiters can do is try to screen for this early in the process so they can focus on the candidates who will say yes to an offer. And, maintain a high level of openness and communication throughout the interview process.
– Motivating me to work on my certifications and work on things people are looking for in case next year I need to find another job.
– But since I don’t like my job, that is a double-edged sword. I’d love to find something that brings me enjoyment.
– I work for a solid company with some recession proof plans and they talk to us about what they are doing, as well as, solicit ideas for cost cutting.
– I hate my job, but now is not the time to be looking!!! No making waves either. Just shut up and do the work.
For those of you who are taking TheLadders up on their offer to critique your resume for free, here’s some perspective. I’ve had two free resume critiques from TheLadders forwarded to me and – while some of the comments in the critiques were perfectly solid and valid – overall, I was pretty taken aback at how dire the critiques were and at how much it was going to cost to have TheLadders rewrite the resumes.
First, know that they are using a form letter when responding to you. The critiques were written by different people – and I understand that there needs to be a standard format because typing up an individual response to everybody would be very time consuming. But, here are the word-for-word exact matches in both letters:
“Thank you for your resume submission! My name is (name) and I will be providing your resume critique.
“Please note that I am NOT critiquing your background, experience, or potential for success. I am commenting on how you are MARKETING those assets to potential employers and how you are competing against others with similar goals. Your resume needs to be assertive in showing prospective employers how you would be of value to them, because no matter how good you are at your job, the resume is what really lands the interview.
“Before I begin the critique, I do need to warn you about my style, because my comments can seem blunt. But the reality is that the job market is very competitive now, so I find it beneficial to tell it as it is rather than “yes” people to death. (I hate it when people do it to me!)
“That being said, here are the major issues I see on your resume.”
“To be honest, your resume is not jumping out at me, saying that I just picked up the resume of a high caliber Professional. It is certainly not showcasing your experience level or skill-set”
“We really need to work on elevating the language throughout the document!”
“Its ‘average’ – not what you want when you are trying to sell your abilities and position yourself above the competition.”
“Go back and reread your resume, and you will see that this document is selling you short. The bottom line: Your resume simply does not reflect your professional caliber at all. You have an excellent background…you have the qualifications…but you are just not making that first impression count. Frankly, the resume positions you for a lower-level job and salary than you desire—or deserve.”
“Please understand, all of this is not to say that you are not a good candidate, merely that the way your resume presents your career is not yet very effective or exciting to the reader (who typically has read 100+ resumes just before getting to yours). In this market, your resume really needs to serve as your personal branding document.”
Those are just the exact matches in text. I did see some other very similar statements. And, both critiques are laced with exclamation points and capitalized text all emphasizing how terrible the resumes are. Here are some quotes:
“I can tell you right off the bat that there is a MONUMENTAL mistake”
“So, right now, you don’t stand out as an achiever; you just blend in with the crowd (and it’s a huge crowd, as you are well aware).”
“As you can imagine, I see a TON of resumes on a daily basis. I can spot a resume that gives an amateur appearance versus a professional appearance right from the get go. Recruiters and hiring managers can too. Yours, unfortunately, is not on par with other excellent resumes I see.”
“Your overall lacks the polish and appearance of a professional resume.”
“On paper, your wording and presentation leave much to be desired. Your resume does NOT generate enough excitement and professionalism to be considered a top candidate.”
“The wording of the job descriptions is too weak and does not project a strong message about your expertise.”
“In your current document, nothing jumps out at the reader”
“Overall, the content of the experience section is a little bland and not written in an easy to read format.”
“The document’s verbiage is too low-level to support your goals.”
“To be honest, nothing in your document is jumping out at me”
“Unfortunately, your resume isn’t effectively communicating for you.”
“Unfortunately, your resume is missing key strategies and using others that are outdated and ineffective.”
“This really needs to be rewritten!”
“the resume does little to convince the reader of your value or that you can make a difference. You must generate excitement and interest in a resume but this document is not accomplishing that. The resume positions you for a lower level job and lower salary than you desire. The document is difficult to read through, and to top that, it is definitely missing the WOW factor.”
“you need to sell yourself to potential employers and if this is what you are offering, they’re not going to buy!”
I think it is important to note that between these and the form letter statements, the reviewers did reference specific sections and text in the resumes. They clearly had read the resumes. And, they made some strong and valid points. However, it seems as if the approach is to write what, to the job seeker, appears to be a very individualized letter in a very strong “your resume sucks” voice and form letter. And, after you’ve read three pages of “you’re going to get a lower level job at a lower pay, if you get a job at all,” they hit you with the quote to rewrite your resume.
The first resume I received definitely needed some work. On a scale of 1 to 5, it was a 3. It was fine, but primarily needed some reformatting. I did the work that was required in two hours. TheLadders quoted $900.
The second resume is really strong. TheLadders made some good points, but nothing critical. This candidate has been using this resume for a couple of months and is getting a lot of interviews – so much so that he feels confident walking away from jobs that are not of interest to him. Work required for this resume – maybe an hour? But, any work would have been superfluous. TheLadders quoted $650.
Looking for a job, writing a resume, interviewing – it is all very stressful and can have a huge impact on your confidence, self-esteem, stress level, etc. You don’t know what’s going on half the time, you don’t get a response from companies, they won’t tell you why you didn’t get the next interview or the job. When you think about it, job seekers are in a very vulnerable position. I’m not saying that TheLadders is taking advantage of this. But, I would say that they are not being sensitive to it.
And, when it comes right down to it, these resumes did not need the amount of work that was quoted.
Every resume needs work – even a really strong resume could be improved. Resumes are like studying for a test – you can never study enough. And, you can never stop rewriting a resume. But, at some point, you start to lose site of the goal. The point of the resume. The objective. Which is to get the interview. Tweaking details in the third bullet point on the second page is not helping you attain that goal.
So, the point of this blog post is to encourage people to get more than one critique and quote on a rewrite of their resume. And, look for resume writers who will work with what you have (rather than starting from scratch) and will work on an hourly basis.
I’m sure if either of these job seekers had used TheLadders’ resume writing service, they would have received excellent results (I haven’t seen any resumes written by TheLadders). But, I do think the critiques and the quotes were over the top.
And, take it with a grain of salt. But, it can be a useful resource during your job search.
Glassdoor.com’s goal, as stated on their web site, is to create an online community where employees can post reviews about the companies they work for – and share salary information.
How this is beneficial for your job search:
- You can get a sense of what it is really like to work for the company – the inside scoop instead of the ideal story that you hear during the recruiting process.
- You can see what salaries are at the company – and at other companies in your industry and geographic area. This, coupled with Payscale.com or Salary.com, can help you answer that dreaded salary question.
- Ratings: Just as a customer is more likely to complain after a bad experience than to provide a testimonial after a good experience, a bitter/jaded/burned out employee is more likely to post a rant than a happy employee is going to post a glowing review. Take note of how many reviews there are about a company. If there is just one review, then you’re clearly not getting a very in-depth picture of the corporate culture. If there are 45 reviews and they all paint a consistent picture…well, you may want to take that seriously. Also keep in mind what you are looking for in your career and what you need to have on your resume to take the next step. Just because a company isn’t a good fit for one person, doesn’t mean it isn’t a good fit for you. You may have something to gain there, while others have acquired it and need to move on.
- Salary: You need to give information to get information. Some people – perhaps most people – don’t want to share their salary details, but want to see what others earn. The temptation to provide bogus information in order to see the salary data is too great, which then skews the accuracy of the information. Even if the salaries are accurate, there is always an individual component when negotiating compensation – years of experience, technical expertise, etc. Nothing will turn a company off faster than a candidate saying, “I saw on Glassdoor.com that engineers make $x here.” That will likely mean you will earn $0 there.
So, as with most things in life, approach Glassdoor.com with moderation. It should be one resource of many in determining whether a company is right for you and in negotiating a fair and competitive compensation package.
Here are some links with more information and reviews about Glassdoor.com: