Skills Schmills – What About Your W2?

Quite possibly the toughest type of marketing to do these days is self marketing (that is, selling yourself); that is, if you are on the market for a job. It seems that, in any line of work, if you are not incorporated, you are going to get the short end of the stick as both a freelancer and a job hunter. The Information Technology field is definitely not an exception; in fact, it is probably one of the places where employees are exploited the most. If you are a job hunter looking for an IT job, read on but, brace yourself: it will get ugly quickly.

Any IT field veteran can atest to this: the IT market is now more competitive than ever. Since outsourcing and overseaing are cheaper than hiring people internally, the career path IT guy has very little options beyond doing some cheap labor as a consultant and hoping he gets hired full-time. It used to be that the most skilled people would get the job if they made a good impression on the face-to-face interviews but, nowadays, you’re lucky to get even past the phone interview. I’ve heard it from many guys on the field: they’ll be overlooked because Joe College who just graduated and has no work history is cheaper labor and, if he can’t get the job done, there’s always India, Russia, or China; you can hire an entire call center for the price of one US IT guy if you go that route. Heck, even Brazil is becoming a sort of mecca for IT.

Why the massive increase in competition? Well, simply put, companies still do not see IT as a valuable asset even though it is the backbone of their business. They will cut corners and salaries even after disaster strikes because they look at an IT department as a cost center. The trend now is to get the guy that gets his hands in everything so he can take on three or four distinct jobs. Recruiters have very specific needs. You need to know specific software releases (down to the fourth decimal point, if you know what I mean), printer repairs, shell scripting, .Net framework, web development, and brain surgery just to become a junior-level network engineer. Past work experience doesn’t matter – just flash some paper credentials (and place lips to rear – just kidding).

Heck, the President can write a letter of recommendation for you and employers won’t care. They just want you to have credentials and low self esteem so you’ll take their terrible salary offer. It may sound cynical and exagerrated but I have yet to see otherwise. Most jobs these days go through recruiters unless you find a way to work around them or have someone on the inside that can get your foot in the door. Recruiters will undercut you as much as possible to get a nicer bonus on their side. Your best interest is not their top priority.

Knowing that there are many people in Corporate America looking to steal your job, get you fired, or replace you with twenty people overseas, the rules of engagement have changed. Being good isn’t good enough. Even being great is not enough. It’s about who you know, the image you convey, and the values others have placed on you. Hell, these days, brown-nosing is a more powerful skill to command than excellent written communication skills, time management, or even leadership.

Recruiters in NYC and most big cities are even more crude in their ways (no surprise there since, to the rest of the world, we’re the rudest people around). They want to cut straight to the chase. It’s not even about how much you made in your last job or what your highest salary was but how much you made on your W2 last year; to these “brilliant” people, your worth is directly determined by your net value the previous tax year. Yes, there are many recruiters that have the audacity to ask this to a total stranger and very early in the process, no less. I know I was shopping around for some simple gigs, just to supplement my current income, and I felt as if I was going through a gauntlet full of orcs and imps trying to steal my goodies. I mean, for a mere $12/hour (pigeon feed in many places, unless you live in a quadruple-income household), the requirements and expectations are insane.

My recommendation is simply this: search for companies in your target indusrtry and send out resumes (don’t focus on large corporations only), even if they are not really hiring and give yourself time for follow-up – but only do so if you include a COVER LETTER (in fact, some would say send personalized cover letters and leave the resumes behind after the first interview)! You can usually figure out what companies are thriving and which are not. The beginning of any year is typically a hot recruiting period since most people get fired in Q4 when companies decide their profit margins are not good enough and the execs are not driving nice enough cars (LOL). Put out some fishing lines well before this period and follow up here and there. If you can find people that work at the companies you want to work for, you can find out more about what type of culture they have, what bad signals to be wary not to project, and how you can get your foot in the door.

There are still many companies that will actually promote internally, rather than hire people from the outside or use consultants to get a nice head count. If you can find these places, take whatever job can give you a lateral or direct lineage to your target job. Sometimes, this means working in the mail room until they see that you’re also good at computers, know a lot about marketing, or whatever it is that is truly your “thing”. I find that it is inevitable to wear many hats, especially if you fell for the fad trends and jumped into a career that is heavily-saturated, such as Information Technology. These days, I do everything from logo design, web design, cartooning, ghost writing, network engineering, security analysis, sales, and promo jobs just to keep the cashflow steady. So is the nature of freelancing.  To that end, it helps to be able to show off some of your work  at every point of contact.

For those that truly want to go the career path, it’s all about building that Rolodex because, ultimately, that gets you in the right doors. This advice applies to freelancers and small business owners too, of course, but it is imperative as a career rat race participant. Honestly, it never fails to see this: you can be average or even below average at what you do and still succeed if you are well-liked and “play ball”. Once you get into a manager or director position, it’s all about leveraging the people that DO know what they are doing. It’s sad but this is the food chain called Corporate America: those at the top typically reap all the benefits while everyone else busts their humps and remains expendable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people steal the credit from their team. It’s very disturbing, if you ask me.

Back to this W2 thing, yes, people will ask you bold questions such as what you made last year and why you are currently not working [where you want to be]. These loaded questions can often be an indicator of wasted efforts on your part but I see this becoming an upward trend and, eventually, the norm. People don’t have time anymore to spend time with the right ones so they’ll go for the wrong ones, so long as they get their pay check. Sad times indeed. It makes you want to be a hot dog salesperson, waiter, or car mechanic; heck, these days, those are far more noble jobs.. Less cut-throat, less BSing.

I personally like the approach of saying no first. If someone puts up a wall or tries to test me in such a manner, I tell them I am not interested. Really, I will not let someone undermine me and, the moment you do let that happen, you’re basically kicking your career and resume 5-10 years back.. And that corporate ladder is very, very tall…

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5 thoughts on “Skills Schmills – What About Your W2?

  1. I just applied for a Collections Manager position and the Recruiter sends me an email asking me to fill out an Assessment profile (fair enough) then proceeds to request a copy of my W-2 for Y/E 2006? This makes no sense, what do my earnings last year have to do with the position I am applying for? I’ve already explained to him how much I earned last year it’s not as though I am trying to conceal my income. Should I send a document containing such sensitive information to someone I have not even met yet?

  2. Coming from an IT executive background, and because of health reasons, turning into a ugh— recruiter, to help a friend out with his company, I have a unique outlook on what and what should not be happening in the headhunter industry. When I initially speak with candidates for medium to high level IT positions, I’m looking for their ability to fit into my clients company. Money, benefits, hours, travel, etc… are all negotiating points to be brought up on the second conversation or in the email I send out when the candidates says he/she might be interested. I am a proponent of the rule that my financial situation and history is private information for only me and the IRS and maybe my banker to know. Hint: Get the job details, then find a recruiter that doesn’t require that information and have him or her work the job.

  3. Bill, my apologies but it seems WordPress ate made my original response magically disappear. It seems that Mike made all the points I wanted to emphasize. I too come from an IT background and have been involved in the hiring process on many levels. I can say without equivocation that any seasoned recruiter (or someone with some common sense) knows that the money questions, no matter how you dress them up, are hardly ever appropriate first-date questions.

    It seems that recruiters and processes thereof have become a major sore point for many people so I will be writing much more on it, providing my usual witty, yet open-minded perspectives. I can certainly appreciate why the significant drop in QoS has come about but I still thinks there are so many little things recruiters can do to handle qualifying steps better. In this day and age where identity theft and scam artists are always a possibility, people treat information like their W2 forms as if they were their best-kept treasures, and they should.

    I notice more and more recruiters cutting straight to the chase without giving candidates anything to go on. Here are some of the conversations I’ve heard reported by others, summed up in one simple exchange:

    Recruiter: Hi, I am Mr. Many Jobs For You calling on behalf of Many Jobs Incorporated. I found your resume on/in Dice/Monster/Hotjobs/Pathfinder/my dreams. Your skills seem impressive. I believe you may be a good match for some of the positions I have to fill. Are you currently looking/available?
    Candidate: Yes, I am, actually.
    Recruiter: Great. Tell me about yourself. What are you currently doing and what has you looking?
    Candidate: Well, it all started…
    Recruiter: Hey, that’s great. Well, you seem the guy that we’re looking for…
    Candidate: But…
    Recruiter: May I ask what you made on your W2 last year?
    Candidate: Umm, could I hear more about these positions you have.
    Recruiter: Sorry, that’s confidential.. Are you in a place where you cannot talk?
    Candidate: Well, it’s just that you haven’t told me much of anything and that information is rather private.
    Recruiter: I see, well, based on this conversation, I must say that I believe you are not what we are looking for. Sorry to have wasted your time.
    Candidate: Right…

    Conversations similar to that are shared as fun little anecdotes all the time but the sad truth is that they are very real. What’s worse is that some of these recruiters do not even say those things in between; instead, they cut straight to the second or third-round questions or, evne worse, ask you to treck out to their office, only to reveal that the many positions you may match is only one. Essentially, they use seller talk to dress things up when, in reality, they have nothing for you, the job seeker.

    Working with recruiters these days is definitely hit-or-miss but, fortunately, you have guys like Mike that have actual field experience and know what to look for. In my next piece, I will get into some of the core issues and how job seekers can make their lives and that of recruiters easier. One of the things I find recruiters often lack is the ability to create an environment that encourages open communication. That is often where the problems start and everyone starts to dance around the issues, rather than talking straight and making some real progress.

    Thanks for the feedback, Mike. I am with you all the way! I too suffered from health issues that made me shift my approach. I notice that you work with a friend which is another reason you may be successful: you have more play with how you do things. A lot of the big recruiting firms today are all about head count and numbers; to them, it’s purely about sales, which makes interaction less warm.

    More on that to come… 😉

  4. Pingback: Bad Recruiters, Identity Theft, and What To Do About It « Yogizilla’s Blankity Blank-Blank

  5. I just wanted to bump this old blog entry up and say that I do give my kudos to recruiters that actually get to learn the industries they recruit in (especially if you worked in the field). I think one of the biggest frustrations for me, in the past, is that recruiters basically only knew keywords and acronyms; that is, they had no grasp of the underlying or umbrella concepts tying things together.

    A perfect example goes back to around 1999. I was looking for a data networking position, or some flavor of it. I clearly illustrated that I had hands-on experience with Local Area Networks and Wide Area Networks. I even discussed specifics about projects dealing with ATM, Frame Relay, FDDI, and other technologies. A recruiter looked at my resume, which I kept as short as possible, and asked “..But do you have LAN/WAN?”


    As a result, dealing with recruiters of this sort turned my resume into a lengthy search engine abstract, loaded with the sort of stuff that SEO/SEM enthusiasts would drool over! Fortunately, I was able to find someone that actually knew what they were talking about. I got a good gig and I was quite happy.. Until the company got taken over and went down the crap chute! But that’s a whole different story… The point is that the story had a happy ending once I stood my ground!

    In short, don’t allow yourself to feel like a beggar, desperately seeking sustenance (a job). Look at job hunting like dating. You want to make sure that the relationship you may potential enter will be mutually-beneficial to all parties involved. It’s only once you are married that financial information and other intimate details can or should be fully disclosed. I think some recruiters have forgotten how to wine-and-dine their candidates. 😉

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