asking an employer to match a counter-offer, how to get headhunted, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. Should I tell an employer that if hired, I’d change their hiring practices?

I am interviewing for a position that will including things like hiring new employees. One of the practices they currently have is making candidates fill out a salary progression / history form. If hired, it’s the first practice I will get rid of. I have confidence in my judgment. I don’t need to know what a person was worth to a different company. If asked what I would do in the first 30 days (60 days, whatever), should I say that? Or should I pick something that isn’t relevant to me?

(By the way, their policy has no impact on me. The salary I’ll be asking for, if it gets to that point, is within their range, supported by my history, and well within industry/area standards for my experience. I can “pass” their test. I just think it’s dumb.)

I’m glad to hear you’d change that because I agree it’s a senseless practice and one that invades candidates’ privacy, but I don’t think I’d use it as an answer to what you’d do in your first 30 days. First, it’s probably not a substantive enough answer to that question (and they’re probably not looking for an answer about eliminating any practice after only four weeks on the job anyway), and second, it’s a somewhat contentious stance to take in an interview context.

2. Can I ask an employer to match a counter-offer from my current job?

I might be about to get an offer from a new job. If my current employer counter offers, is it ethical for me to ask the new company to match it? If so, how do I go about it? I would hate to offend them and have my offer rescinded.

Ethical? Sure. Smart? Probably not. You’ll basically be telling them that you’re not actually interested in leaving your job after all unless they can match a counter-offer, which says you’re going to the highest bidder, even if it’s the job you wanted to leave. A lot of good managers will lose interest at that point.

I’d say that if you want to stay at your current job if you can get more money there, ask for a raise. But don’t use a counter-offer to do it (for the reasons I talk about here).

3. How do I get headhunted?

I often see questions from folks on your site saying something like, “I was headhunted and …” or “A headhunter called me…” or something to that effect. First, are headhunters and recruiters the same thing? And second, how do I get headhunted? How do I put out feelers to let a headhunter know I’m job hunting and I’d like them to consider me for jobs that are a good fit? Can I even do this, or do they prefer to use a network of contacts determine who is worthy?

Headhunters and recruiters are basically the same thing. Sometimes “headhunter” is used to refer to an independent consultant while “recruiter” refers to someone working with a search firm or working internally within the hiring company, but you’ll generally hear the terms used interchangeably.

As for how to work with them, you can ask around in your field about headhunters that others recommend, and then reach out to them. You can also check the websites of recruiting firms in your field; many of them will list the openings that they’re recruiting for. Or you can just apply for jobs that interest you; if some of them are being handled by headhunters and that person reaches out to you, you can try to form a broader relationship with them.

Keep in mind, though, that headhunters work for employers, not candidates, and they have specific jobs to fill, just like would be the case if you applied directly to an employer. In most fields, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience or sought-after skills, you can’t really just pick out a recruiter and decide to work with them; they need to approach you about a specific job.

4. Will I be eligible for unemployment?

If I have to reapply for my job and don’t get it, will I receive unemployment benefits?

Almost certainly. In most states, if you lose your job for anything other than deliberate misconduct, you’ll be eligible for unemployment.

5. How much can I volunteer before I have to be paid?

About 5 years ago, I lost a permanent job during the recession. Since then, I have taken on a few other temp jobs to supplement my income. Being that I have had a lot of downtime between temp jobs, I decided I would start volunteering. I am volunteering for a government entity. I didn’t mind the work at first and actually enjoyed what I was doing. Everyone, including the department I work in, treats me like I am an employee even though I am not.

At first, I was only working 16 hours a week there. Then the volunteer coordinator asked me to do more hours (28 hours per week). Figuring that I could get more experience faster, I agreed. About 2 months later, I found that another employee was thinking of leaving the department. I continued with the hours, thinking I could eventually have the job of the employee leaving or at least get in as a temporary associate. Though the associate changed departments, I was never put into a paid position at the office because everything is unionized and I need to take an exam given only once per year in November. I currently have at least 700 hours of volunteering under my belt.

My question to you is, how many hours can a person volunteer before they have to be paid for their services?

It’s unlimited. There’s no requirement that they pay you after a certain number of hours. If you’ve signed on as a volunteer, they’re assuming that you’re happy to continue to volunteer until you tell them that you’re not.

There’s also no obligation on the part of the employer to give a volunteer preferential treatment when it comes to hiring. So only volunteering in order to eventually get hired there, you might end up frustrated and resentful. If you’re no longer happy to be volunteering, or volunteering for this many hours, then you should stop volunteering or decrease your hours.

Additionally, in your case, if they can’t hire you until you take that annual exam, it makes no sense to be frustrated that they’re not paying you yet. It sounds like they’ve been straightforward with you that that’s the case. If you want to get hired there, plan on taking that exam in November. Whether or not to continue volunteering in the interim is up to you. (You might also talk with your contacts there about the likelihood of getting hired once you do; you don’t want to assume that it’s a sure thing once the exam is done.)

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. Poster formerly known as Jane Doe*

    #3, I don’t know what your line of work is, but I got recruited by being really really good at my job. One of my client’s told one of my competitors that the reason they weren’t getting contracts was because they didn’t have me. My competitor was a far better company, so when they called, I went for it. My point is that it seems like reputation and good work also comes into play.

    1. PEBCAK*

      Relatedly: I often write short articles for industry publications. This gets my name/email address out there.

    2. Jen*

      I have been recruited when I worked at a well-known company. I was at a really well-known national non-profit and I would get calls on a regular basis from headhunters representing other businesses in that industry. Now that I’m at a less well-known university, I haven’t gotten may calls. Still just as good at my job but my employer doesn’t have as much cache to a recruiter.

      Some industries use headhunters way more often. My husband is in advertising and he gets calls on a regular basis no matter where he’s working.

      1. Sara M*

        My husband is constantly fending off recruiters. He got that way by learning as many computer systems and languages as thoroughly as he could, so he hits all their keywords. So yes, being superb at your job with lots of skills is the way to get recruiter attention… which you may not want as much as you think you do.

  2. CoffeeLover*

    3. Linkedin! If you don’t have it, then get it. Make sure you have a solid profile too. Personally, I’m too early in my career to be headhunted, but I set up an account for my Dad and he went from having never been contacted by a headhunter, to receiving several interesting offers.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Yep, this might not apply everywhere, but I got headhunted through LinkedIn (early in my career, but in a field that’s only starting to develop in this country).

      1. Windchime*

        Same here. I never got recruited/headhunted at all until I set up a profile in Linked-In. I have some certifications that are kind of hot in healthcare right now, so I got contacted a lot when I first came onto Linked In.

        1. KB*

          Same. A headhunter looked at my profile, we connected, and she has sent my resume along to some contacts in my industry. Joining groups on LinkedIn helps too, gives you names of people in your industry and also can be good for current events.

    2. hamster*

      I got headhunted/called by recruiters working with companies/hr departments /etc by having my profile on linkedin and other jobs site portals ( like monster) . I had one true amazing job offer like that ( at the moment) but the best of opportunities were positions i seeked myself , or that i found out through contacts. Maybe because you’re more invested and unlike a headhunter have your best interests at heart?

      1. AB Normal*

        People who are constantly contacted by legitimate recruiters in LinkedIn have experience in one area for which it’s rare to find qualified candidates. Even if you are an amazing writer or online marketers, there are too many candidates out there. If, however, you have experience in “helping healthcare companies get certified in Meaningful Use”, “designing power-aware database centers”, “implementing web analytics using Adobe Site Catalyst”, the keywords on your experience summary would be attracting recruiters who have openings to fill and are having a hard time finding people with the right profile.

        1. hamster*

          I am in IT and my skills are definitely very specific. BUT i feel sometimes recruiters can call a lot of people in the hope it might be a good idea. Once my husband went to an interview for a position for senior chocolate teapot designer 5-6 years experience designing lidless teapots. He went there, and found out they needed senior teapot saucepan designer with 5-6 years of experience . He said well, thank your for your time, obviously we don’t fit. In 2 months or so, a different recruited contacted him “AGAIN” for the same position. So yeah, they don’t always understand the specifics . Or perhaps it’s difficult to convey from an on-line cv.

          1. AB Normal*

            Yes, lots of recruiters don’t really know how to match people to positions, but for a recruiter in LinkedIn to find you there, most likely the recruiter was searching for keywords. It’s unlikely for someone to be contacted via LinkedIn for a job, say, in Java development, if you only have C# and listed there.

    3. Ashley*

      I was coming here to say this. I get headhunted A LOT because I have a bangin’ LinkedIn profile and I post updates about industry news. I keep things fresh around there so whenever I am ready to look for a job, things are already in place. I am happy where I am right now, but I have been contacted for a number of really great positions and I have passed along the names of other qualified candidates who have gotten hired. I think people underestimate what things like LinkedIn can do for you in the right field.

    4. Two Cents*

      Also, if you have your resume publicly posted anywhere like on Monster or another online board, they will contact through there as well. I know someone who moved into a very nice permanent position by being contacted this way. But there is a slight down side. Recruiters will contact you for jobs for which you are not remotely qualified. I believe they sometimes purposely work this way to obtain more contacts – “well if you’re not interested, who else may I contact?” and sometimes I think these recruiters are very entry-level type workers who have no idea about the needed qualifications for the jobs they are to fill.

      1. Judy*

        I always offer to take down the information, and pass it along to anyone I hear who might be interested. I don’t give other people’s name out to cold calls.

  3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


    A million times no. Not during the interview and not during your first 30 days. Or 60 days. This is not the way you effect change.

    After you get the job and get settled, start to ask questions about why things are done a certain way. If you find out the boss’s boss put the policy in place and *loves* it, it’s an entirely different change matter from finding out the answer is “dunno, we thought that was the way it should be done, do you have a better idea?”

    If, in an interview, anyone ever asks you what you would change, the only good answer is to describe your careful and analytical approach to change after learning about the organization after you start, IMHO. Any other answer is a trap because you’ve no idea if the current way of doing thing stakeholder is sitting right in front of you.

    I was hiring for a high level position about two years ago, took me 9 months to find the right person. At first or second interview, all of the serious candidates (unbidden) produced five to 15 page analyses of what they would change about this area. It was a bit tiresome because they did not know enough yet to come to these conclusions, although not as odd as it sounds because these kinds of analyses are common in this particular line of work.

    Second interview with the guy who’d eventually get the job I say, “where’s the 10lbs of paper, everybody else hands me 10lbs of paper by this point”. He blinks says, “I don’t know enough yet”, and from there we spent an hour just talking to each other. He asked questions, I answered, he came up with an idea, I threw in input …. one thing and another, he had a third interview and an offer within a week. (Everything has worked out great.)

    1. Joey*

      Yes, yes, yes. Changing things without understanding why they’re there in the first place is a mistake. And assuming you know the why is a second error.

    2. some1*

      I’m confused, did you ask the candidates for a report asking what they would change? If you did so knowing that they didn’t have enough background to give you the secret answer you wanted (“I actually don’t know what I would change yet”), it seems kind shady.

      1. Joey*

        Nope. I’ve done that. The point is to understand the thought process, the critical thinking skills.

        People can talk about change in broad terms. For example you could talk about how you are going to be an industry leader if its clear you’re not. Or you could talk about how you plan to improve a specific aspect of the business that you know needs improvement.

        But, its hard to be really specific without knowing the ins an out of the job and the business.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        No, I didn’t ask for the reports and was taken aback when the first candidates were handing them in rather routinely. I came to understand that it was routine, in this area I’d never hired for previously, to do this kind of analysis in an interview phase.

        I’ll defend this though, even though it wasn’t my secret plan, it should have been:

        “If you did so knowing that they didn’t have enough background to give you the secret answer you wanted (“I actually don’t know what I would change yet”), it seems kind shady”

        It’s not shady to see what someone’s thought process is re change. You have to gather data and learn an organization first (and in this case, the candidates also had to learn our industry), before you can recommend change.

        In this case, this was key hire who it was mission critical wouldn’t come in like a bull in a china closet but who would listen and learn before making important moves.

        Which is what I got. :)

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          No, I think some1 is saying that it’s shady to ask for a big report if the right answer is “I don’t know enough yet,” because then you’re just waiting for that one person who has the gall and the personality to go “f*ck your assignment!!! I’m a rogue applicant!!!” and then.. What, you go “You passed the test!!” ?
          I think some1 was just pointing out that that would be a trick question. (And I think that that thought was based on a misunderstanding of your post.)

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Mmmm, yeah, but this factor turned out to be so critical to making the right hire, if it hadn’t happened on its own, I should have made it happen.

            I’m not used to making high level hires. We usually hire entry level or step above and grow our own. These were people vying for a job where they would be creating a new dept, hiring their own staff, and being responsible for an area significant to future growth. It was a total investment of hundreds of thousands of my budget dollars annually.

            Asking a serious candidate to create a plan so you can observe their approach to change isn’t out of line. If I had created that situation (at 3rd interview level) and then made my myself available for questions/information gathering for an hour for each candidate, that might have been brilliant.

    3. SJK*

      I asked question #1.

      I won’t give that type of response in an interview (it’s just so glaring, it’s hard to ignore). And I certainly won’t show up at an interview with a book of things I want to change. But if someone asks me a question, I’m going to answer it. To me, “the boss likes it that way” isn’t a good enough answer. It never has been. If the boss can explain why he/she likes it that way, great. I would also expect the boss to listen to why I want to change it. But being dismissed with “we won’t change it because they like it”, will never be good enough for me. If someone is going take offense to that, this is not the right company for me to work at.

      I’ve always been a very direct person. If I think something needs to change, I say so. I do try to make sure I understand why something is the way it is, but I don’t let who made the initial decision stop me from recommending something be different.

      That probably sounds a lot more confrontational than I mean it to…

  4. anonomouse*

    #5 I think represents the idea that one can intern/informational interview themselves into work. Reminds me of folks who try and force relationships, get taken advantage of and wonder what happen.

    I understand the desperate need for work but PLEASE someone stop this awful trend. Dairies won’t buy the cow if the milk is free!

    1. Zillah*

      I… kind of don’t agree.

      Volunteer work and/or internships will not necessarily get you a job with that particular company, and it’s not a good idea to go into it with that mindset.

      However, volunteer work and/or internships *can* sometimes lead to employment within the company – I know several people that this happened for.

      Additionally, they can also give you valuable experience and industry contacts that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s also worth pointing out that IME, most volunteer work is done at government agencies or non-profits, who often *can’t* “buy all the cows.” They just don’t have the money in their budget.

      It’s not ideal, especially because it perpetuates SES differences, and obviously everyone would prefer to be paid for their work… but telling people to stop doing something that helps them build contacts, references, and industry-specific skills is absurd. What’s the alternative? Do nothing but apply for jobs, even though nothing has come through? Fail to build up your skill set, especially as a new worker?

      I’m sorry, but no. I’m not buying it. No, you shouldn’t go into internships or volunteer work assuming that it will lead to a job, but it’s also not fair to bash all internships and volunteer work when they do lead to tangible benefits and paying work, either directly or indirectly.

      1. some1*

        Agreed. If nothing else, it’s something for the LW to put on her resume while she is not working a paid job. Even a volunteer job shows prospective employers that you showed up, followed directions, completed tasks, got along with your supervisor and your co-workers, vs. having a gap of doing no work at all.

        In fact, I believe AAM has recommended volunteering to SAHP who leave their job but eventually want to return to the workforce.

      2. Librarian*

        Whatever happened to entry level jobs? This is how you used to “build contacts, references, and industry-specific skills.” It seems employers now expect employees to take the risk and financial burden of working for free to gain this capital. Frankly, I think this is wrong. We need true entry level positions and to invest in promising young people (or career changers). Stop expecting people to work for free and feeding this cycle.

        1. E.B.*

          They exist…sort of. I graduated from college almost a year ago, and despite doing two internships, I often get passed over for someone with more more experience. My guess is more experienced candiates who are overqualified apply to these jobs because of the economy, and said company takes advantage of the fact they can pay them less than they normally would. So, if everyone is adhering to the “take any job you can get” strategy, that leaves employers with more power to effect the climate of the market than they would if it was a better market.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes — more experienced candidates apply to entry-level jobs because of the job market. And employers hire them, because why wouldn’t you want to hire the person who needs less hand-holding and has a track record of good work over the person who is unproven? That’s not taking advantage of someone; that’s just doing the most practical thing for your business.

            1. Mouse*

              And this is why the best cover letter in the world is not going to change the fact its a numbers game when applying to jobs.

              This is ultimately the problem with employers today, is they don’t want to take risks or invest in anyone. What if that unproven person has a lot of potential? Well you will never know because they can’t even get an interview. Individuals have to constantly invest in themselves and going to college simply is not enough anymore.

              So now you have to work for free to gain experience, its a race to the bottom. Unless its a nonprofit, you are being taken advantage of if you are working for free.

              But that’s how much people are worth in this market.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Sure, it’s a numbers game. But great cover letters can and do change that calculation, by making you someone more worth talking to than you’d otherwise appear.

              2. Joey*

                Seems more like a candidate problem than an employer one. Who, in their right mind wouldn’t do the same thing if they were the employer?

                If you want to know why college simply isn’t enough its because in many, many professions it doesn’t do a very good job of preparing you. Very few college graduates are prepared to actually do entry level professional work. One of the common problems with college graduates is they too often just go through the motions without a lot of thought. One of the signs of this is canned resumes and cover letters. So if you can actually compose a useful and engaging cover letter and résumé that’s a sign that you’re going to take less work than most grads. That might not put you on par with people who’ve already proven themselves, but it will certainly separate you from the new grad pack.

                1. Mouse*

                  I think the one thing everyone agrees with on this website is how terrible college career centers are. They are so out of touch and need to realize the job market fundamentally changed.

                  There need to more opportunities outside of the classroom provided through these institutions, not just working in the dining hall.

                  That being said, there may be structural problems, but there are growth problems as well. There just are not enough entry level jobs for how many grads are produced. And this is a global problem.

              3. fposte*

                “This is ultimately the problem with employers today, is they don’t want to take risks or invest in anyone. What if that unproven person has a lot of potential?”

                Why is that a problem with employers, though? Isn’t that pretty much a universal trait? When you’re spending over $40k, and maybe a lot more, are you giving it to the person who’s got a history of doing what you want with that money, or are you giving it to somebody with no track record but who seems really eager? If you’re having surgery or going to court, do you seek out brand new doctors or lawyers with potential or do you give your money to people who’ve performed well in similar circumstances? When you buy a car, would you buy from an entirely new company that nobody’s ever driven anything from before if you could buy a reliable model with a proven record?

                I’m not saying it doesn’t suck to be on the other side, but it’s not that employers are somehow particularly problematic in this respect–it’s that when we spend a lot of money, we like to improve our odds of getting the result we want.

                1. Mouse*

                  There are qualified people who are unemployed though. Like someone else said, its a supply and demand issue.

                  I understand your argument, but following that logic, new products would always fail. Young doctors and lawyers would never succeed in their careers. Some people do fail in their careers and some products never sell. This is called the free market.

                  There may be reasons for why they fail, but for people and companies to succeed there needs to be more opportunity for everyone. Right now things seem to be very one sided, stock market is great and companies are making record profits.

                  Yet unemployment is still high. Tons of low paying jobs. But if you are looking at things only through a financial lens, you don’t care. It doesn’t affect your profits.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  Am grinning. My husband’s expression was one should hire the ones who are hungry.
                  Meaning the broke professionals might end up doing a better job than the established professionals- because they need to eat.
                  I can see that working out once in a while. I thought it was more of an amusing thought than a practical thought. It does not take into account peer pressure, lack of cash flow, etc.

        2. Audiophile*

          Entry level jobs are hard to come by. I graduated in 08 and most entry level jobs wanted 2 years experience. We could argue til were both blue, whether this truly counts as entry level, but that’s what was out there and still is out there. I just recently took on a volunteer position to get more social media experience, as that is an area I’m looking to go into and it aligns nicely with my communications degree and marketing experience, but other than volunteering there isn’t much in the way of entry level positions. So people have to volunteer or do internships. Besides building contacts, it gives you a reference (should you do a good job ).

          1. Kelley*

            Yes, this! Most entry level jobs in my field ask for 1-2 years of experience and a master’s degree. But it’s not uncommon for them to want as much as 3-5 years of experience. With so many people with degrees and multiple years of experience out of work, there are no shortage of candidates. Making yourself a known entity through internships or volunteering is one way to stack the deck slightly in your favor.

        3. Zillah*

          As has been said, the job market these days is competitive enough that entry level jobs often go to people with some experience in the field. If you’re lucky enough to find one straight out of school with no volunteer work or internships under your belt, great, but most people can’t.

          And, as an aside: you might want to check yourself next time you feel inclined to get accusatory, because you know nothing about me. When you say, “Stop expecting people to work for free and feeding this cycle,” it seems like you think that I’m in some kind of position to perpetuate this cycle.

          I’m not. I’m finishing up an MLS, and I need to be pragmatic if I want to find a job next year. Not getting paid for my work is not the hill I want to die on, because I’d like to get paid for my work in the long run, not sit at home and endlessly apply to things because I’m opposed to doing work for free in the short term.

          1. Librarian*

            Sorry, “Stop expecting people to work for free and feeding this cycle” was not directed at you, but at the employers who engage in these behaviors. That wasn’t clear.

            1. Joey*

              I’m sure you know this, but gone are the days a librarian could graduate and go right into a librarian job. Part of the problem is that librarianship is frequently a job that has a very large component that you can’t learn until you actually start working. I don’t have an MLIS, but most librarians I worked with (public library) didnt learn things in school like cash handling, dealing with the mentally ill, managing teens, dealing with theft, among many other things. I’m not sure its employers that are causing this. Its more that so many people have/are getting degrees now that more and more see that the lower they go the more they stand out from the crowd. Employers haven’t changed- they are still and will always hire the most qualified.

                1. Joey*

                  Its disheartening to see that so many people don’t realize this is simply a supply and demand issue. If you’re finding yourself having to lower your standards -too much supply. On the other hand if you’re coming out of school and are “lucky” enough to find a well paying job- well that’s probably not luck, its demand.
                  I just wish that more people would think about this and make decisions accordingly.

          2. Kat*

            If you’re finishing up your MLS, please take into consideration that you are now a professional who, by volunteering, is just giving away your skills that you (likely) paid a pretty penny for. Yes, there are many, many merits to volunteering. Just be careful with your time and skills. Volunteer on specific projects, for organizations that are all volunteer run, or for professional organizations. You want to make sure you don’t get into a situation where a library won’t offer you a paid position because, hey, you’re willing to work for free.

            1. Zillah*

              I’m finishing it up in May – I’m not done yet. I’ve both worked for pay and volunteered in the past (at different institutions), and have an unpaid internship in a well-regarded nonprofit for the spring. Rest assured, when I graduate I will not be taking volunteer work – I need to make a living! However, the volunteer work I will have done prior to that point will probably help me a lot. :)

              1. FreeThinkerTX*

                Asking a question from a position of total ignorance: Why does one need an MLIS to work in a library? Isn’t a library kind of like a big warehouse where the employees just need to help customers find the item they’re looking for (i.e., Floor 2, Aisle 15, Bin 13A), and then restock the shelves? Sure, there’s dealing with the [difficult] public and handling cash, but millions of retail workers do that every day without an advanced degree. I’m assuming there’s special software involved, but that’s pretty universal for all jobs now, too.

                Again, I’m asking from a position of total ignorance, NOT snarkitude, and would love to hear from actual librarians (versus Wikipedia or the marketing material from universities offering these degrees). Thank you!!

                1. Joey*

                  Programs, collection development, community outreach, and literacy partnerships are big ones. Librarians don’t just find a specific book for you, they find information. They’re like info concierges. Say you want to do research on something random like a historic neighborhood in your area and nothing comes up on google? You don’t know what book to ask for? A good librarian will find the info if it’s out there.

                2. Editor*

                  When I worked in various libraries, I didn’t have a degree in library science. I fetched books, shelved books, organized books by shelf reading, handled cash, fixed the copier, filed McBee card (that dates me!), answered basic questions (where’s the bathroom? how long can I take this out for?), checked out books, checked in books, and moved books around when sections got full and the library was rearranged.

                  The librarians I worked with did things their degrees prepared them for. Other than all the administrative work involved in running a library system or an individual library, among their professional responsibilities were collection development (deciding which books, newspapers, magazines and journals to buy and whether to expand the offerings or diminish the number of materials in a particular subject or medium such as audiobook), handling purchasing details (complicated for academic journals), cataloging books and other materials (s0 there’s a code on the spine of the book or somewhere on other items) that places the book with works on a similar topic, answer reference questions on a wide range of topics, run educational programs, raise funds for the library, preserve the privacy of borrowers, provide community outreach programs, and more. Modern librarians will undoubtedly be able to add more aspects of the job, including dealing with ever-developing privacy and copyright issues and dealing with various aspects of computerization and the Internet.

                3. KLH*

                  Don’t worry, librarians argue about that very point amongst themselves. And honestly, most of the people you will meet in the library these days don’t have a MLIS, because a lot of the day to day work has changed/been outsourced/been downgraded so that you don’t need it.

                  But, to use your public library example–who is going to take those books and figure out what the subject is, catalog them, and figure out where they go? Who is going to make sure that the storytime isn’t just random stories but also folds in different subjects and ways of learning for the little ones, and maybe offers some progression in skills over a month or 6 months so they can learn something? Who is going figure out the budget and how much space you will need in 5-10 years, and manage the resources to get you there? Who is going to select the books and make sure it’s a balanced collection, and also know that OMG, everybody in this damn branch loves thrillers, so we’ve got to have a collection with multiple copies of the new ones and how will we pay for that?

                  So the MLIS has really been downgraded recently. It used to be the basic criteria for a “librarian” job–but a lot of librarian jobs are now library assistant jobs, and need a smart person with great retail skills who likes people and isn’t freaked by the weirdness of the public. (But it’s hard to find.) A MLIS is more of a background in the theory that guides the practice of libraries, what we do and why we do it, and helps in making the big picture administration decisions.

                  But there are lots of different kinds of libraries, not just public ones, and the needs are different places. I’m a medical librarian, and I was hired for a bunch of different skills and traits, including my ability to absorb and translate information coherently and quickly, being approachable and enthusiastic, being able to search through the medical literature and determine relevance to the question asked, and empathy. Most of that came through experience, both work and life.

                4. Zillah*

                  Other people have answered this well, though I also want to mention that these days, there’s quite a lot of technology that goes into an MLS, because a good amount of what we do continues to require more and more advanced programs and skills with using them.

                  It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many different kinds of librarians. I’m currently concentrating in archiving, which is very different from what public librarians do (though no more or less valuable). For us, at least, advanced training is required to learn how to (among other things):

                  – appraise and build collections
                  – identify important areas of research interest in the moment and build your collection as events occur (very important in the digital age especially)
                  – make decisions about whether to digitize documents, how to do it, and where to store them
                  – make decisions about how to present digital materials
                  – arrange and describe materials in a way that is helpful to researchers
                  – assist researchers in finding the information they want

                  There are a lot of behind the scenes decisions that librarians in general, including public librarians, have to make. The general public doesn’t necessarily see that, but it is there. :)

        1. KLH*

          #5, are you in the state of Arizona? I just ask because that seems to be our latest great idea for running some of the government.

          It sounds like between the the once a year test and the few openings like this is not a place to find a job, so I’d figure out what other skills you’d like to develop, find another job/volunteer opportunity that would help you with that, and use this place as a reference. Don’t chase after a dead goose.

      3. Kou*

        I do agree, though, that you should never assume (as the OP seems to) that a volunteer position is a track to a paid one, or that an open position near volunteers is necessarily open to them. Some places hire volunteers, yes. It can be good experience for sure. And you’re right in that orgs that have volunteers have them because they need more hands for less money, which is why it doesn’t make sense to hire a volunteer a lot of the time. It’s easier to hire a new person than bring in a new volunteer, typically, so moving a volunteer you already have into a paid position can actually leave you short handed a lot of the time. Many just want to keep those roles distinct for other reasons.

        Basically, if you’re volunteering, you’re volunteering. That’s what you signed on for. Expect to keep doing it.

    2. Meg*

      Volunteering is like a Friends with Benefits arrangement with a company. You might get the official title, but don’t go into one for the purpose of getting your foot in the door.

  5. The IT Manager*

    Uggg! I am really having a negative reaction to the term “headhunted,” and I found I really wish Alison’s answer had been that a headhunter is the same as a recruiter and then she had proceeded to use the term “recruiter” and “recruited” for rest of her answer.

    Headhuneter – not so bad
    Headhunted – cringe

    BTW Since “headhunter” is a cultural/societal designation, couldn’t be construed to be a slur like “gyped” or “jewed”?

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think it is a cultural/societal designation–it’s a term for a practice that has been associated with various peoples. Seems more like “hunter/gatherer” to me.

      1. Cat*

        I can kind of see it since I’m guessing (though don’t know) that there probably aren’t people who self-identify as headhunters and the practice, in whatever form it exists, has probably been pretty distorted by Western narratives to emphasize the savage and uncivilized nature of people Over There.

        That said, “headhunter” in the recruiting context doesn’t really seem to draw on those narratives or comment on them in a derogatory fashion, the way “jewed” or “gypped” does. So it doesn’t really strike me as super problematic, though I could be persuaded otherwise.

        1. fposte*

          Headhunting has happened on every continent save for Antarctica, though, so nobody really gets to point fingers.

              1. Cat*

                Yeah, I think that’s where it gets into possibly reinforcing racist tropes. I mean, as I said, I don’t think the use usually does and it doesn’t bother me and I use it myself, but I can see how someone could argue that it does.

                1. FreeThinkerTX*

                  Sadly, I can see how someone can argue insult and discrimination into *any* phrasing. I’m sure someone could decide Native Americans should be insulted by the informal title, “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer”. And one of my city’s council members took offense at the phrase, “Taxpayer money disappearing into a black hole. . .” and claimed it was racist. Another one objected to “brown bag lunch” claiming it was an insult to Hispanics.

                  “Headhunter”, as used for recruiting, does not find its origins in disparaging any societies, “savage” or otherwise. :: sigh ::

    2. Jen in RO*

      I am trying to find a connection between ‘headhunted’ and ‘jewed’ and I can’t find one… To me, headhunted is more… ‘This person is amazing and we want him /her!’, while recruiting is more ‘Let’s try these 10 people, they seem right for the job’. The distinction might only exist in my head though!

      (And I was sure it referred to the practice of killing people and keeping their heads as souvenirs, not hunter/gatherer.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        For those peoples who do/did headhunt in the traditional sense, it was a highly ritualized activity and belief, not something they just did for fun or souvenirs. It’s sort of like in a video game, if you kill your enemy in a certain way, it allows you to gain all their powers.

        I don’t have a problem using the term for recruiting, however. The idea is kind of the same–that you’re seeking to acquire the talent the person has, where the traditional headhunter sought to acquire his enemy’s spirit and fortitude.

        1. Jen in RO*

          Yeah, I know, but I was typing from my tablet and it’s slooow, so I try to use as few words as possible :P

      2. HR lady*

        I’ve never been a recruiter or headhunter, but I have worked in HR for many years. Everyone I’ve met who does these types of jobs has a job title of recruiter — not headhunter. I always thought that the term “headhunter” was old fashioned (or maybe slang?).

      3. fposte*

        I wasn’t saying that it’s the same activity as hunter/gathering; I’m saying that it’s a common societal practice that has existed in more societies than it hasn’t, so that it’s not stigmatizing any particular group any more than saying somebody hunts or gathers is.

        Horror films may have played into a particular narrative about headhunting, but anthropologically it’s pretty global, and I don’t think horror films get the final word on the conccept.

      1. De Minimis*

        It’s not really tied to a specific group of people, so I don’t know if it’s quite the same as some of the other terms.

        Usually I’m the first one to advocate people no longer using a lot of those terms, but I don’t really see an issue with “headhunter.”
        It would be interesting to see if it was considered a slur in other parts of the world that might have a more historical tie to the term.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        I remember way waay back when the term was first invented as a recruitment tool. I have always pictured a Tarzan movie (popular when I was young), although I don’t think there were headhunters in any of them.

        And “headhunted” isn’t a word.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, if it’s an offensive term, I think that’s being decided for the very first time right here. I just Googled it and couldn’t find a single reference to anyone else finding it offensive.

        1. HR CoolFish*

          “Yeah, if it’s an offensive term, I think that’s being decided for the very first time right here”

          Another AAM First!

          For the record, I don’t hear it as a slur or offensive in any way.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        If my ancestors were head collectors- I don’t think I would jump up and say I was offended by the term.

  6. Joey*

    To me head hunters and recruiters are different.

    I’ve always seen head hunters referred to as finding candidates who aren’t looking for a job while recruiters find people who are in the job market.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Although good recruiters do a lot of the former (as opposed to just waiting for candidates to come to to them). Bad ones are more passive and just screen resumes.

    2. FreeThinkerTX*

      And in my line of work (tech sales), headhunters are more often thought of as finding six-figure-plus people (who weren’t actively looking) to fill high-level positions, and recruiters are more often thought of as finding folks to fill staff or lower positions (whether they’re actively looking or not).

  7. Audiophile*

    I’ve handed out my business card, but it’s a personal one. Not affiliated with any company. It has my website, Twitter handle, email and phone number. I don’t hand it out at interviews. I hand it out as I make connections with people. I have gotten some nice compliments on it, this is of course after people assume it’s two cards stuck together because the paper stock is so heavy.

  8. Kristin*

    I often assume headhunters search for passive candidates (people who haven’t applied but are standouts in their field or are found on sites like LinkedIn, where people aren’t there just to look for work) and that recruiters deal with active candidates ie. people actively searching for jobs – applicants and people who’ve signed up for specific job search websites like CareerBuilder or

  9. anon-2*

    #2 – depends on the place and company you’re in. If they have a “managers will not bid against themselves” policy, and you like working there, AND have a lot of time invested there – it’s OK.

    As I said, I worked in a place – the ONLY way to get a substantive increase, and the only way to get promoted was to give your notice.

    If you knew how the game was played at that place, it’s OK to play the game – and WIN. Your manager then can go up the ladder, present your resignation letter – HE or SHE then has the clout to get you what you want.

    I will admit – it is a STUPID way to manage – you are better to have employees work toward goals, than to know that they have reached them, and then challenge and dare them to find a better offer.

    1. some1*

      True, but you risk burning a bridge with the other company. If you end wanting to leave or being let go, you may not get another chance with the other company.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yes, and as Alison has said before, once the counter offer shows up, you can basically be assured that you will be tossed out at some point (possibly soon) down the line. The company making the counter-offer now knows you want to leave and had gone through the process of doing so by getting an offer from another job. They will now keep you with the counter-offer, but probably also start looking for your replacement so they can do the preemptive move of dumping you before you dump them.

        anon-2, I get that in your job the game was get counter-offer and get better treatment, but that doesn’t seem to be the case on the whole and people shouldn’t expect that. Also, totally agree with you that it was a stupid way for your company to manage. But then, I’ve heard all kinds of ridiculousness around this topic. One place I worked would cut your pay if you asked for a raise. Seriously. It’s crazy what goes on out there sometimes.

        1. anon-2*

          “Yes, and as Alison has said before, once the counter offer shows up, you can basically be assured that you will be tossed out at some point (possibly soon) down the line. ”

          This is not always the case. Yes, “employment counselors” (read = headhunters) always say that, but the counter-offer is their worst enemy.

          It doesn’t always happen. Especially in a place where the only way you can advance is through the counter-offer game.

          If your manager goes to the wall to get you that raise/promotion that was overdue/held up/”no money in the budget”/ etc. , he’s not likely to begin scheming your firing after going out of his way to keep you.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I don’t think it’s a guarantee that you’ll be pushed out (which I hope I’ve made clear in the past). It’s just that the chances are high enough that it’s a bad idea, particularly combined with all the other reasons that counter-offers are a bad idea.

          2. hamster*

            I find it disheartening if i ask for a raise, they tell me there is no possible budget for it, and if i give notice they suddenly offer a promotion/counter offer.

            1. anon-2*

              hamster, they may be right. There may be “no money in the budget”, but many enterprises may be able to find money “off budget”.

              In one place I worked – there was “(parrot squawk) no money in the budget, no money, no money (squawk!)” but when a resignation came, and the company wished to counter, there was an “emergency / contigency / retention fund” they could dip into to cover it.

              Dilbert even had a cartoon about it. Most companies of any size have that. If they didn’t, especially in healthy economic times, they couldn’t survive.

              The management books won’t tell you that….

          3. Ruffingit*

            It’s possible it won’t happen, that can certainly be the case, which is why I used the words “basically be assured.” Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed, just that in some businesses, it’s letting your employer know you are unhappy and they will sometimes do that preemptive strike against you to get you out so they have control over when/how you leave.

  10. Beth*

    #5, volunteer hours – this depends on the state. In my state, it is 8 hours a week. There is also a guideline which says that if the work the volunteer is doing is central to the organization – the organization couldn’t function without the work being done – having a volunteer do it is a violation of the employment law. This is true even of non-profits – my industry, which is largely non-profit, puts out a brochure specifically covering the use of volunteers because they are often exploited, in violation of the law.

    1. Beth*

      Apparently even the US Department of Labor has something to say on this matter, and among other things, if the volunteer is being told to show up at a specific time, and work for a specific duration, this classifies them as an employee. Now, obviously volunteers often have schedules to avoid chaos, but if the schedule is imposed by the employer, that is not okay.

      Additionally, if the volunteer replaces a paid employee, that is also not okay. It sounds like that means the employer choosing to get rid of the paid employee, with a plan of replacing the employee with a volunteer, rather than the employee voluntarily leaving, and not being replaced by another paid employee. Still, if that employee’s work was central to the organization – the organization couldn’t run without it – having a volunteer do it is not okay.

      1. Interested*

        Beth – would you please let us know where it is stated in federal law that volunteers cannot replace paid staff?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m unaware of any state that has a number of hours over which someone can’t volunteer, but it’s certainly possible one does. Beth, what state are you in?

      In general, the federal government (and most if not all states) make clear that people can volunteer for nonprofits and government entities (and many do so quite legally for hours that are both long and pre-scheduled by the employer — for instance, Red Cross volunteers, crisis hotline volunteers, etc.). The Dept of Labor does say, however, that you cannot volunteer in a part of a nonprofit that is commercial and that serves the public, such as stores or restaurants.

      1. Judy*

        What is the definition of commercial? I know my neighbor volunteers at the thrift shop run by her church. I volunteered in the past at a nature center, and there were days they had me work the gift shop (more like a gift counter).

    3. Elysian*

      That’s interesting and kind of surprising.

      With the Federal government, at least, you can volunteer as much of your time as you want, preferably all of it. Oh, and also, the federal government has rules against outside work. I pursued, but did not apply for, a new ‘position’ with the Department of Justice called the “Special Assistant United States Attorney.” It sounds oh so formal, but really means you are permitted to work at the DOJ without pay. Also, you aren’t allowed to hold any paying position at the same time. So, that’s fun.

      1. De Minimis*

        It may vary by agency, outside work is permitted for our employees, but they must get approval first to due to ethics rules.
        I could see DOJ needing to be more strict, though.

        1. Elysian*

          Here is a link to one example job posting – it’s pretty clear about outside work. I mean, I guess I would work as a barista or something while I’ll holding down my non-paying full time job, but I couldn’t work in a position where I would use my law degree. I know the feds are allowed to put these restrictions out there, but its unfortunate that the only people who can work such positions would be people who are otherwise funded. It doesn’t seem right that only the richest lawyers get to prosecute the bad guys. That sounds like its inviting trouble.

  11. SA*

    #2 – there are also some geographical differences to this. In the US I would never offer more money to someone who wanted to leave and was at the point where they had an offer. And I would never make a counter offer to someone I was trying to hire. Both are signs the person does not want to be in the role long term and I’m better off finding someone who does.

    Outside the US there are countries where this is standard business practice in extremely competitive environments. I tend to rely on advice from the local manager.

    1. CAA*

      But it happens in the U.S. too. I agree with you that it’s usually not a good idea to make or accept a counter offer, but it’s pretty common anyway.

    2. anon-2*

      Depends on the situation. SA, what would happen if you had an employee who was seriously under-paid, sought to resolve that situation and was rebuffed by a “don’t bid against yourself” directive?

      Oh yeah, and Mr. or Ms. Underpaid would be willing to continue employment with you at a lower salary than you’d have to offer someone coming in off the street?

      Do you stick to your guns, or do you sit back and reflect, and consider — “Gee, I’ve gotten away with this for so long, but now it’s time to shore up and be fair?”

      1. SA*

        I haven’t faced this exact situation so I can’t say for sure how I would handle it. I’ve had a couple people leave who felt they were underpaid although they were at the high end of the salary range (we are not known to be overly generous with salaries!). In those cases I did not offer an increase and wished them well at their new jobs.

        Another person on my team was underpaid relative to the rest of the team due to a role change and legacy salary issues. For her I worked with my management and HR on a series of small increases over a period of time and kept her updated on what was happening. Took a while but she is now in a similar position as other people in comparable roles.

        1. anon-2*

          Well, if they are at the high end of YOUR salary range and they want more, then you can’t stop them.

          But if they’re at the low end of your range – and deserve more – and the person is a solid performer you don’t want to lose, would you think it would be better to directly negotiate and get the problem resolved (it is a problem and distraction for the employee) — than to roll the dice, let the person walk, and take your chances with whoever comes through the door next?

  12. Mena*

    #1: I suggest focusing on how your experience can benefit the new company. Make a suggestion with clear benefits rather then just telling them what you think they are doing wrong.

  13. anon-2*

    #3 = Networking, hard work, and GOOD work.

    Pebcak remarked that she/he writes for industry journals. I do that occasionally, too. That CAN get your phone ringing.

  14. JessB*

    #3 getting headhunted
    I’ve never been headhunted, but my brother has- often! He has a one in a million skill-set, is fantastic at his job, and is incredibly personable. He attends lots of industry conventions and often presents at them. He is frequent being contacted by people he knows in the industry with job offers.
    For my brother, it’s a case of being amazing at his job and bring very well-known in the industry.

    #5 volunteering
    I volunteer at a Museum in Australia, and we have strict rules that no volunteer is allowed to do work someone should be getting paid for- we can assist with ‘extra’ tasks, but we can’t take a job away from someone who should be getting paid for it. I don’t know where you are, or what the rules might be there, but I’d agree with Alison’s advice to talk to people at your institution about transitioning from volunteer to staff member.

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