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A Great Way Not To Get Hired

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 7, 2015

With the job market beginning to tighten, those seeking employment are also raising their standards and, of course, all sorts of people and companies are ready to help them.  J.T. O’Donnell wrote a LinkedIn piece to address a point she claims readers have been raising with her. The piece is titled, 7 Lies Employers Use to Trick You Into Working For Them:

Any time a company makes the following claims, you should push back and try to get more information before assuming it's the truth. While some can deliver, others can't — and it's up to you to figure out which ones are sincere. The potential lies are:

1.   There's a lot of opportunity for advancement.

2.   The bonus structure will double your income.

3.   Your territory is protected and we won't change it.

4.   You'll get extensive training.

5.   You'll have scheduling flexibility and can work from home on occasion.

6.   We'll hire you some help when it gets busy.

7.   Once you fix this problem/department/project, etc., you'll get to work on something new and exciting.

Ms. O’Donnell goes on to explain how to confirm these claims before being hired:

When your turn comes to ask questions in the interview (usually, at the end of the conversation), you can prepare a list of open-ended behavioral questions that will force the employer to articulate more clearly how they deliver on the promises they're making. For example, check these seven questions as they relate to the potential lies above:

1.  Can you give me an example of someone who was hired in the last two years to a similar role who has already advanced in their career here? In particular, can you explain what they did to make that happen?

2.  Can I meet someone in the company who has doubled their income with the bonus structure? I'd like to learn more about how they accomplished that.

3.  I know territories can change as the business changes, what do you put into place to ensure this never happens? Is there a written legal contract of some sort?

4.  Can you break down the formal training versus the informal training I will receive? And, may I speak to someone who has been in this role a year to see how they best used the training to their advantage?

5.  What is the procedure for requesting to work from home? Can I speak to someone who uses this scheduling flexibility so I can learn what he/she is doing to make sure she is meeting the company's goals when working remotely?

6.  Can you share with me a recent example of someone who was hired on to help due to growth. What is the company's process for identifying and funding additional headcount?

7.  Can you share with me a recent example of someone who was hired on to fix a problem and has now gone on to a new project? What did they do to ensure they were given the opportunity to move on?

We actually doubt that a lot of companies intentionally lie to get people to work for them for the simple reason that people can quit. Hiring people takes time and money; setting them up and training them takes more, so if the employees are going to be unhappy and looking to leave, it rarely benefits the employer.

Ms. O’Donnell addresses this point and suggests that employers are guilty of wishful thinking, presuming that if they could just hire certain people, things would get better and the company could and would honor these commitments it is supposedly making in these interviews.

We suspect Ms. O’Donnell’s suggested techniques would only work with potential employees seen as great catches and at a significant level. Otherwise all these requests to interview people in the company are likely to be seen as too intrusive. More importantly they won’t actually work.

We typically have new hires go through multiple interviews including, typically, interviews with people in similar positions. These are our superstars, though, and though they could confirm that they advanced rapidly, earned big bonuses, etc. — the results are not typical.

We would think that, in general, the “lies” that employers have told to woo potential employees are more a matter of potential employees looking at jobs in a very non-entrepreneurial way, while employers increasingly look at employees as entrepreneurs within the corporate space.

This leads to a big disconnect. So without asking anyone very much, we look at the seven “lies” and would translate them for prospective employees:

1. There's a lot of opportunity for advancement.

Translation: The company would like to grow. So if you, through your efforts, help us to grow you can create opportunities for yourself at the same time. This doesn’t mean that if you simply manage to avoid being fired you can count on a better job every two years.

Put another way: There are opportunities, but you can’t expect them to passively come to you.

2. The bonus structure will double your income.

Translation: The reason we have a bonus structure is because the higher-level earnings are not guaranteed but are contingent on achieving certain levels of performance. Overall most of our staff does reasonably well under the system, but this is only because those who do not do reasonably well typically quit because they can’t live on the base. Getting rid of these low-performers is part of the reason we have this pay structure. 

We are offering you a position because we think you will do well — otherwise we wouldn’t bother – but our knowledge about you is imperfect. Your work ethic, personal habits – drugs, alcohol, etc. — interpersonal skills and time horizon are just a few of many things that will determine if and when these bonus payments kick in and to what degree they will kick in.

Put another way: we have mechanisms and opportunities to allow people to make good money, but whether you do so or not depends heavily on your intelligence, skills and motivation.

3. Your territory is protected and we won't change it.

This is a rather dumb subject to even bring up. Obviously some companies sell routes or franchises and then, of course, they are bound by those agreements. We are just divvying up sales territories — a process that involves expected revenue, product assortment, personal relationships, available staff, market priority and much more. So if we drop a product, hire an additional salesman, decide to start selling overseas, etc., we may well need to rejigger things.

However, good people are hard to find, and we don’t want to lose them so, of course, in reallocating territories and subsequently developing a compensation program for the new territory, we try to develop win-win plans that work for the company and our best people.

Of course, the less valuable you are, the less you contribute, the less we see long-term potential, the less we will care about retaining you, so you might get the short-end of the stick in any reorganization.

Put another way: if you are great, we will be scared to death of losing you and will make sure you are protected in any reorganization. If you are mediocre… not so much.

4. You'll get extensive training.

Training about what? Obviously if your job requires specialized knowledge that only we can provide — say you are installing our brand of machinery or have to follow specified procedures — you will get training on our equipment or procedures.

Some companies do have formal education reimbursement programs to help pay for courses at college and university or offer an in-house “university,” such as McDonald’s famous Hamburger University, and, very probably, if they do have these programs they will be promoting them.

It is also true that companies offer various training options. These can range from paying for your course taking Excel to a treat, such as attending one of the programs such as United’s program with Cornell or one of the PMA FIT programs. Many people will send their up-and-comers to the Global Trade Symposium or Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum at The New York Produce Show and Conference, or they will give them an opportunity to attend The London Produce Show and Conference, which is super-educational and a first-class perk. Getting asked to attend these international events means you are thought of very highly.

But here is the truth: for most companies, training is heavily on-the-job. Every employee should consider it his personal responsibility to continuously sharpen his own skills. It is very nice if your company will pay for this, but learning how to handle a spreadsheet or taking a class in negotiations… these give you skills that you bring to this job — and other jobs you may ever have.

Here is the secret. If you get training and the training is effective, meaning it helps you to do your job better, you will be producing higher profits for your employer and that positions you to negotiate better wages, a new position, etc.

Put another way: stop looking for other people to make you a more valuable person and employee. Take the responsibility yourself. Own it. Then leverage the value you create in yourself to be a success.

5. You'll have scheduling flexibility and can work from home on occasion.

Anytime someone says “on occasion,” it means it is atypical. So this company is saying you are required to work from the office. If once every blue moon you are having all your windows replaced and can’t leave the house, they will probably accommodate you.

But here is the secret. If you are really super valuable to a company, they are much more likely to bend over backwards to accommodate you.

There is just this flavor of these concerns that leaves a prospective employee in an odd relationship to a position – sort of an expectation that the company will provide as opposed to an expectation that the employee has to produce the value.

Notice there is not a hint of anything the employee should do to work from home – say have a babysitter if kids are involved so the employee can still commit 100% to work?

Obviously different job types have different rules. You can’t decide to manage the nuclear plant from home because you are in the mood to work in your underwear. In other cases, teamwork requires your presence or consistency with peers, superiors and subordinates requires that special treatment be minimized.

Put another way: If you want to be a success, rather than looking at how you can be accommodated, inquire how you can contribute. If you are in a situation where you want a certain type of job — say you want to work from home to be near your children — then say that and look for a position that allows that. But don’t think an accommodation given occasionally meets this need.

6. We'll hire you some help when it gets busy.

The key here is whether you are applying for a responsible position or for a job where you punch a time clock. Obviously if there is something a company needs done, but it is too much for one person to accomplish, the company will have to hire additional help. That doesn’t mean that the company will hire extra staff just because not having more staff means you have to work hard or past five PM or avoid goofing off.

If you really want to succeed, how about committing to minimize the need for expensive extra staff — say by working diligently and identifying ways to optimize procedures so as to minimize the need for more man hours.

Put another way: Ask not how the company can pay money to make your job easier, ask how you can behave so as to optimize your value.

7. Once you fix this problem/department/project, etc., you'll get to work on something new and exciting.

Since words such as identifying a new project as “exciting” are marketing terms in the eye of the beholder, the obvious point here is that when this project is done they will put you onto something else.

Here is a shocker: The project will be determined by company need and the intersections with your abilities. Whether you will find it “exciting” or not is a fact the company won’t even know.

But if you find helping to solve needed problems and contribute to the success of the organization to be exciting, then you will find the project inherently exciting.

As always, the more valuable you are, the less likely a company will want to lose you and thus the more likely they are to try and find projects that will keep you engaged and happy.

Put another way:  If building the enterprise is the source of excitement for you, your work will be exciting.

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