Employers’ Facebook “Requests” and Your Job Search

By now, you’ve probably seen one or more articles about job candidates being asked by prospective employers to provide their Facebook passwords and/or to “friend” the interviewer. As with my previous post about automated reference checking systems, this is an example of the increasing encroachment by employers into areas we once thought were protected. In the case of Facebook, though, it seems not only questionable but potentially illegal behavior on the part of employers. Regardless, it’s definitely something to stay aware of and informed about…before you actually have to deal with it.

Employer Facebook Requests that aren’t Really Requests

As several recent articles have noted, some employers are basically demanding that job seekers provide their Facebook password so the company can check out the individual’s activity in that online space. An alternative request is that the candidate “friend” the interviewer, with the same end result in mind. Facebook has a policy against providing your password to others, for one thing, but that doesn’t seem to have deterred the companies so far or made them think twice about the legitimacy of what they’re doing. It should. The kind of behavior they’re indulging in represents a big step over the line into actions that are highly intrusive, if not actually illegal.

One article writer puts it this way when condemning employer Facebook requests: “I am not opposed to looking into a candidate’s background….It is all in how you approach the problem. If you are going to demand access to a candidate’s personal and private Facebook profile (or any other private information…), you had better make that clear in your job ad or prior to setting up an interview….You have no right to throw that curve ball after the fact….” As a job seeker, if you know ahead of time that a company takes that approach, you can decide whether you really want to bother interviewing for a position there. Maybe your time and energy will be better invested elsewhere.

Possible Boomerang Effect of Employer Facebook Requests

In situations where the job market has improved and/or will be improving going forward, employers might just discover that their sledgehammer approach to candidate evaluation boomerangs on them. Breaks my heart to consider that possibility…not! In a better job market, where many job seekers will encounter more opportunities than in the past, they should experience correspondingly greater latitude in deciding whether or not to pursue specific job opportunities. If you’re in that situation, you will have the option of doing what one individual did and declining to continue the interview once the request (demand) is stated. Even if you don’t have numerous job choices, you might still opt for the same response rather than seriously consider working for such an organization.

Companies who maintain that they’re asking for such information on altruistic grounds aren’t really fooling smart job seekers…or anyone else, for that matter. Supposedly, it enables them to connect with people regarding other jobs they might be interested in but aren’t aware of. Sears Holding, Inc. was the company mentioned in the latest article I read, offering this lame excuse. According to the writer, “That’s their line to warrant this invasion of privacy….If they wanted to see my background to consider me for a future job, they can peruse my LinkedIn profile, which is always public.”

What it boils down to is that you need to be vigilant and also prepared to handle such unreasonable requests if or when you encounter them. Don’t let them catch you napping!


Automated Reference Checking–It’s Not Your Friend

Whoa! This is not good news for job seekers! The whole situation of references and reference checking has recently started getting a lot more troublesome for you as a job seeker while it’s making life much easier for corporate recruiters and their employers. As you know, I’m inclined to be an optimist, but this development is challenging my inclination because it’s weighted so heavily in favor of employers and against job seekers.

Automated Reference Checking–Too Early

A recent article on Workforce.com talks about Pre-Hire 360, software that enables employers to check your references before they even decide whether to schedule you for a face-to-face interview. The article indicates that more than 50% of companies who use this software do it after the initial phone screen so they can winnow down the number of candidates they need to bring in. That means if your references aren’t stellar from start to finish, you could be forced out of the running early on–much sooner than you might have been before automated reference checking software existed. What’s even worse is that you might never know it had happened.

Bad References Too Easy to Give Now

Companies used to be very careful, as a rule, about how they responded to requests for references, mainly because they were scared about possible lawsuits. Many companies have a policy that basically only allows people to give “name, rank and serial number” on former employees. However, that apparently no longer applies when they’re using automated reference checking software, which allows anonymous responses. Jeffrey Wade, with Anchor Planning Group, an executive recruiting firm, noted that “without the threat of being identified…references tend to be brutally frank about their colleagues, yielding much more useful information.” Useful to whom? The prospective employer, of course–certainly not to you as the would-be employee!

How Many References Do You Need and When?

As if that weren’t enough, you might now be asked/expected to supply more references than in the past. We used to say 3 to 5 (with 5 being preferable if you have them). Now some companies are requiring a minimum of 5 references, which they expect you to provide immediately following the phone screen, and at least 2 of those have to be past or present managers.

Also, we used to recommend not providing your references until after you had a chance to see that the employer was seriously interested (i.e., after you had an in-person interview). That way your references wouldn’t get pestered by a bunch of companies that might have no real intention of hiring you. However, the way the automated reference checking system is described in the Workforce.com article, it enables employers to check all the references you provide and to do it early.

Automated Reference Checking–What are Your Options?

Right now, the only one I see that’s potentially viable is to:

  1. Make an effort to acquire enough references so you can provide 5 to each employer who asks for them, without necessarily giving your entire list to any employer.
  2. Warn your references they might be contacted by employers you’re targeting and directed to respond via an automated reference checking system.
  3. Double-check with your references as to what they’re likely to say about you anonymously. Then try to weed out any that don’t sound as enthusiastic about you as you would like!

[Note: The article mentioned in this post can be found on Workforce.com; however, you have to register (which is free) in order to get access to it.]

Applicant Tracking Systems and Your Resume

Earlier this month, I briefly referenced the topic of applicant tracking systems (ATS) in another post, but I thought it merited further exploration, especially since I keep reading conflicting opinions as to who is using or not using it, how they’re using it, why or whether job seekers should be concerned, and so on. In our technology-driven age, it’s hard to know if there’s any single “right” answer to these kinds of situations, but hiding your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away is probably not the solution.

What is an Applicant Tracking System–What Does It Do?

Basically, as I understand it, an ATS is used by companies to manage all their job openings and screen the resumes that come in, so they only have to really look at a select few compared to the total number received. One way the system helps them do this is by searching for keyword or keyword phrases of particular interest. Okay, you’re probably familiar with the concept of keywords; it’s been around a long time now. In fact, those of us who write resumes for you make an effort to identify and use all the keywords and phrases that seem to be relevant to your experience and that appear to match some or all of the qualifications your target employers are seeking.

However, according to an article by Meridith Levinson, called “5 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems” (quoting from an interview with Jon Ciampi, CEO of Preptel), “what matters most to applicant tracking systems is the uniqueness or ‘rarity’ of the keyword or the keyword phrase….That is, the keywords and phrases must be specific to a particular job ad.” Farther on in the same article, Levinson notes that what shows up to recruiters when they see your “resume” isn’t much like the way your original submission looked. That’s because an ATS pulls data from resumes into a database according to pre-set instructions and apparently can make any number of mistakes along the way. Comforting to you as a job seeker? Not much!

Chances of “Gaming” the Applicant Tracking Systems

Can you “game” an ATS? I’m not sure I know the answer to that one, but I suspect two things: (1) it wouldn’t be easy, if possible; (2) someone (maybe a lot of someones) has probably already tried or will try soon. What most of the careers experts I know recommend is that you still aim to incorporate into your resume the keywords and phrases most likely to be of interest to the employers you’re targeting. (If you can access inside information on what those might be, more power to you!) Some say you should avoid using specialized format items such as tables and graphics because applicant tracking systems don’t read them well and will overlook or mess up your carefully formatted information.

Of course, it would almost certainly be best if you can find a way to circumvent all applicant tracking systems by going directly to the hiring manager–or, at the very least, someone who has a direct pipeline to him or her and can move your resume to the desired person without going through a tracking system. Just don’t expect the companies to make it easy for you to do that!

Sources of Hire–Latest News

We heard a while back that job boards were far from dead and actually producing some decent results–particularly for some employers. Now we have a fairly new report from an HR technology provider called SilkRoad (discussed in an article, “New Source of Hire Study…” by John Zappe on ERE.net), that suggests they’re doing better than expected. That’s particularly interesting since we’ve also heard that Monster.com is probably for sale and is seeing a decline in its North American revenue.

What Sources of Hire Should You be Looking at?

First, I should point out that if you’re waiting until someone stumbles upon you in a job board database, you’re wasting some valuable time. You need to get to potential jobs before the rest of the world does. However, I’m not going to keep beating that particular drum right now. Instead, I want to focus attention on the sources of hire mentioned in Zappe’s article and what the new information might mean to your overall job search.

In most cases, it won’t hurt and at least might help for you to tap into online job board resources as a part of your job search. Notice I said part, and it isn’t even the #1 part. Senior-level individuals (particularly high-level executives) probably don’t go the job board route anyway, because they tend to focus more on active networking and to target rarely posted positions. The rest of you, though, could try selectively dipping into the job board environment. That said, where might you want to start?

According to SilkRoad’s data, Indeed.com (a well-known job aggregator) “is the leading source of external hires for its 700+ customers, providing 42 percent more new hires than CareerBuilder, the #2 source.” The company also learned that “55 percent of the total hires came from three sources: internal employee candidates, employee referrals, and company career sites.” The rest were mainly from job boards.

Wise Use of Sources-of-Hire Information

It certainly wouldn’t make sense to depend on job boards as your only job search tool. However, since it appears that a number of employers do find employees that way, you might not want to totally discard them as a possible tool. Keep in mind that you can incorporate this method into your job search without having it consume an excessive amount of time and effort. That might mean you start by using Indeed.com to help you identify posted job possibilities that fit your criteria (what you want to be doing, are good at, etc., and what your target employers might be looking for). Then you can decide which to pursue, if any.

At the same time, you can be updating your LinkedIn profile if you haven’t done that recently. Although LinkedIn didn’t come in high on the SilkRoad survey, it does enjoy a reputation among many employers for being a useful resource to identify and research candidates–particularly those classed as passive (theoretically, not actively seeking a new position). Updating your profile doesn’t need to take a lot of time or a huge amount of effort, if you do it periodically. Just remember to turn off your activity notification if you don’t want your current employer to be made aware that you’ve been making changes, in case the company views it as a surreptitious job search action (it might be, but you don’t really want to signal that to them!).

Cover Letters–Not Your Life Story

Some job seekers start to write a cover letter and don’t seem to know when to stop–or how to focus, for that matter. If that description fits you, I suggest you think seriously about what it is that you want and need your cover letter to accomplish. If it’s to bore the reader (employer) to tears or motivate him/her to turn the letter into a paper airplane, no problem. Your over-long, poorly focused cover letter will do the trick nicely. On the other hand, if the letter needs to reinforce the strong value message hopefully communicated in your resume, you’ll have to do a lot better than that.

Your Core Cover Letter Message

This is no secret. I’ve written about it before. But you might be surprised at how many people don’t “get” it. You cannot count on the employer reading every wonderful word you’ve crammed into your cover letter, no matter how interesting or important you think all the information is. You will have to decide–sooner rather than later–what the letter needs to achieve and make sure it aims for that. Even your aunt Edna (or whatever your family equivalent is) probably wouldn’t read eight 6-line paragraphs on a page that has half-inch margins all around, even if you’re her favorite relative. It’s a certainty that no employer is going to.

When a banquet speaker starts out by saying something like, “My career began with a discovery in kindergarten that…,” attendees know they’re in for a sleep-inducing evening. However, short of being really rude and walking out in the middle, they’re stuck–they’re a captive audience. The employers you will be targeting in your job search don’t have the same restriction. They can essentially leave whenever they want, by putting your letter and resume in the stack that winds up in or near the wastebasket. Your cover letter needs to do the business-like equivalent of shouting, “I have something to say that will make you successful (competitive, market-leading, and so on)” and then prove it.

Cover Letter Temptations to Resist

For the most part, basic details that are already appropriately presented in the resume don’t need to be restated in the cover letter. As an example, say you’ve noted in your resume that you obtained a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Stanford University in 2009. You don’t need a line or two in the cover letter that tells the reader essentially the same thing. He or she also doesn’t want to read a list (even limited) of what your current and most recent jobs were and at what company. Again, the resume should already contain that information and more.

Providing a list of why you left your last four jobs also doesn’t enhance your cover letter. At least, not unless you can turn it to good account on your behalf. If, for instance, those employers were each acquired by another company, you might lightly note that you had accepted positions at companies that you felt showed a lot of promise–so much so that they were bought by other companies interested in growing–and, unfortunately, the typical process of trimming duplicate staff then came into play.

The point? As always, speak to the prospective employer’s enlightened self-interest, but keep it succinct, focused and as loaded with your unique value message as you can reasonably manage.

You’re Not an Entrepreneur? Really?

Probably most of you aren’t what would normally be described as an entrepreneur. Wikipedia says that’s “an owner or manager of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative.” However, I believe there’s an element of entrepreneurship in most people, whether they recognize it or not. It’s just that in many cases, the business they’re in and the product they’re selling is themselves and their skills. I think we might call these people “personal entrepreneurs.”

All Entrepreneurs Need Customers

My view of the situation received a boost when I read an article a couple of days ago by Jay Block, titled “Ain’t No Sunshine When There Ain’t No Customers.” The following quote from his article lays out what I consider to be a few key points:

“…what we have come to know as entrepreneurship, has NO VALUE, until it creates something a customer wants….Successful entrepreneurship…and business success is dependent upon identifying and pursuing customers who have ‘the ability to pay’ and ‘the desire to buy’….Most entrepreneurs don’t have working models and strategic plans to identify paying customers and to provide value propositions to entice customers to part with their money.”

I should note that Jay’s article is focused on the subject of innovators versus entrepreneurs and the problem of trying to generate jobs in a difficult economy. However, I can easily see the value of his points for a serious job seeker or any individual focused on effective career management.

So Maybe You Are an Entrepreneur and Don’t Know It

Your entrepreneurial spirit just needs to be directed toward the “business activities” you should be engaging in to achieve a productive job search campaign or career management plan. That includes identifying as precisely as possible several critical factors, including what it is you want to sell, to whom you want to sell it and what value you believe can and should be placed on it (in other words, reasonably expected compensation). For instance, you might think you’re “worth” a certain amount of salary, but unless you can find the right company and convince them of that, it doesn’t matter what you think you’re worth.

Note that identifying customers (employers) who will pay and getting them to part with their money (salary, etc.) might not be an easy task for you to tackle, but it’s essential. As a personal entrepreneur, you aren’t likely to have someone else who’s going to take care of this for you, although I certainly hope you will have a support team who can help you do what you need to do.

One last point on the subject: Your personal entrepreneurship must continue even after you land your next job. Your performance on that job needs to convince your boss (and the rest of the company, in fact) that he/she made a wise choice in hiring you—that you are worth every dollar of your salary and a lot more besides. It should also position you to make an even better “sale” when you’re ready to move again, by giving you impressive ammunition to share with the next prospective employer.

Job Search Persistence–How Does It Work?

In February I posted an item about “Persistence in Your Job Search and Career Management.” Recently I received an email from Shantae, who asked some good questions about persistence in the job search. Because I thought they might touch on issues some of the rest of you have struggled with, I decided to make today’s post a response to Shantae’s questions. I encourage appropriate comments and questions that might be helpful to others.

Job Postings with “No Phone Calls” Statement

Question #1: How do I stay persistent for a position that has a “no phone calls please” type of job posting? What can I do to follow up?

This question has multiple possible answers. First, if you are responding only to listed job postings, you are limiting your possibilities to the ones that have the highest amount of competition. Researching companies and networking with people who work there or know people who work there can help you unearth desirable opportunities that aren’t widely publicized.

However, if you do find listed postings that sound interesting but contain those dreaded words, “No phone calls please,” you have at least a couple of choices: (1) Call anyway and risk getting shot down. (2) Don’t call and just hope your submission hits the target (generates a phone call). I’m not trying to be funny, but choice #1 has more potential than you might think. If you do some research before you call, you can find out more about the company, maybe get the names of people who work there that you might contact, and try to gain additional information from this research that will increase the chances of your submission being well received. If you’re on LinkedIn, that’s a great place to start looking.

With regard to following up, presumably after you have submitted your resume, that’s a different issue. You can call a company to make sure your resume was received, but the odds of getting a meaningful response are slim. If you’ve actually been able to talk to someone at the company, you can at least call that person and reiterate your interest in finding out more about the position, being able to talk to people about it, and so on. Some job seekers are more assertive than others; you just need to tread a fine line between persistence and obnoxiousness. Interest and enthusiasm are acceptable; harassment is not.

Serious Job Interest versus Over-the-Top Image

Question #2: How do I make it known to the potential employer that I am a serious applicant without sounding over the top?

To me, “over the top” means making outrageous-sounding claims about what you can do and not providing evidence to support those claims–or promoting yourself too strongly for a position you’re over-qualified for. If it’s the former situation, the answer is not hard. You need to use appropriate wording and information to suggest your potential value to the organization for the target position. The key word is “appropriate.” If, for instance, you are an IT tech who has facilitated major moves with no system down time, that’s a legitimate claim and one any company can see value in. Another example is a sales rep who has captured a long-sought account or salvaged a major account that was about to jump-ship to a competitor. These are solidly-grounded value statements; they’re not “over the top.”

Basic point: You need to evaluate each situation and see whether you can take action that will move you closer to the company and the opportunity–without presenting you as someone who is a pain in the posterior! You want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.