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When a headhunter has to fire a client to save a candidate

In the September 19, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter screws up.

Question

headhunter

I read your PBS NewsHour column, Job interviewers shouldn’t be asking for your salary. Here’s why. I am a new headhunter and I agree with everything you said in that article.

I recently had a deal fall apart with a client in the northeast who was ready to pay up to a $220K base salary. My best candidate was making $150K in the midwest. He checked off most of the boxes on their wish list, was in a niche, and there are not a lot of people doing what he does. He was willing to move his family, but the company only offered $185K despite a $30K cost-of-living difference. He wanted at least $195K to make a move but the company wouldn’t do it because they were stuck on the 30% increase and thought it was too high.

Everybody in the company that met my candidate loved him. He was nearly perfect for the role but they wouldn’t budge because of his prior salary.

So my question to you is: How do you persuade your clients not to ask about salary history in states where it is allowed? I understand that you might not want to give out trade secrets but thought I would ask. Thanks in advance for your help!

Nick’s Reply

There’s no trade secret here. Just common sense, fair play, and good business. Your client is demonstrating none of those qualities. When a company pays a headhunter for help finding a top-notch hire, our job is to tell the client the truth and help them make a good deal.

But the problem here is not just that your client got stuck on your candidate’s prior salary. It’s also that you fostered the problem by disclosing your candidate’s salary to begin with. Get out of that habit. Learn to push back and say no. Part of telling your client the truth is telling them the candidate’s salary is none of their business — and not the basis for a sound offer.

When the client gets in its own way, the headhunter must take control — or fire the client. You can’t win when you do your job, deliver a great candidate for fair pay, and then let your client kill the deal so stupidly.

A good headhunter doesn’t run a bargain basement

What’s stupid is that your client is not recruiting your candidate for what he’s worth to them. They’re trying to get an unfair bargain by offering an excellent candidate only what he’s worth in the midwest. What’s going to happen is a competitor is going to snatch him up for what he’s really worth in the northeast.

The way to persuade your client to judge a candidate’s worth for themselves, without looking at salary history, is to tell them what I just told you. (Check the boldface in the paragraph above.) If they don’t respond well to that, then you tell them something like this:

How to Say It
“If you aren’t willing to pay someone what they’re really worth, then I won’t be referring candidates of this caliber to you any more. Your team loved him. He was highly motivated to take the job and do great work for you. We both know he’s worth at least $200K. If he was from the northeast, you wouldn’t hesitate to pay him $220K. So while you wasted his time and mine, you’re the losers. Lotsa luck when word gets around that you don’t know how to judge a person’s value to your business.”

If you can’t control your client with the first message, you have to fire them with the second. Do you want to go through this with them again? You’re not in the bargain-basement business.

Fire the client

Yes, I’d fire this client. They just cost you several big fees, because the candidate probably would have referred several other great candidates to you over the next several years if this had worked out.

This client has probably damaged your credibility with the candidate — and he’s going to tell people. While any headhunter’s fiduciary duty is to their client (the employer), the headhunter’s reputation rests on the experience of candidates, too. If you can’t negotiate a good — not just reasonable — compensation package for a truly good candidate, you’re hurting yourself.

A good headhunter controls clients

To other clients, I’d make your policy clear. Your job as a headhunter is not to disclose salary; it’s to negotiate it!

How to Say It
“I don’t disclose a candidate’s salary because it’s irrelevant. I’m working with you under the premise that your company has a competitive edge and is thus able to attract the best people. If you’re going to judge candidates by what other companies pay them, then where’s your edge? If you don’t have a competitive edge, why would my candidates want to come work for you? Why would I want to recruit for you? I’d be happy to invest whatever time is necessary to help you assess this candidate’s value to your company in this market and in this locale.”

A good headhunter controls candidates by teaching them how to manage their expectations reasonably and intelligently. But sometimes you also have to push back hard at a client, or you lose control – and that’s the end of any headhunter. When you disclosed your candidate’s salary, you forfeited your ability to negotiate a good deal for both parties. Everyone lost.

A good candidate becomes a client

I’m sorry you had to experience this. It’s a hard lesson. I’d fire the client, but I’d then quickly try to pick up some new clients — among its competitors. Can you get a similar assignment from them? I’m not suggesting peddling this candidate around town — that’s not what real headhunters do. (See Headhunters find people, not jobs.) But you’ve found one great candidate who will likely lead you to more, so work with what you’ve got.

If you can place him, I’d call back Lowball, Inc. and give them a heads-up.

How to Say It
“It looks like you’ll be working with Mr. X after all – but as a competitor. He’s a really talented guy, so I wish you luck! No, I can’t tell you where I’ve placed him — that would be unethical until he’s settled in. But you’ll know soon enough.”

And remember one other thing. When you fire a client, they become a source of candidates. And a good candidate can become a great client!

A good headhunter is a good broker

The best job seekers routinely encounter lazy, thoughtless, unscrupulous headhunters. So show this candidate you’re different. Build a relationship. I’d do all I can for a candidate who did such a great job to make me look good and to earn an offer, even if the employer blew the deal. If you can’t place him elsewhere, invest a few minutes to make some useful introductions for him in the northeast. He’ll remember it. That’s where new client companies come from!

A good headhunter is a broker who doesn’t just bring two parties together. A good headhunter educates, manages and guides them to a successful outcome that makes them both happy to work together. Sometimes you have to take charge to do that. And sometimes you have to fire a candidate or a client. In this case, your candidate may be more valuable to you in the long term than this particular “client.” If you can’t negotiate a fair salary with your client, fire the client and save your future relationship with the candidate. Don’t be any less than the best broker you can be.

I know some of my suggestions may seem a bit snarky, but employers that can’t get out of their own way aren’t good clients. I wish you the best.

My PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you is designed for job seekers, but it’ll show you how to be a good headhunter, too.

Dear headhunters in the audience: Do you disclose a candidate’s salary to your clients? How do you manage your clients? Did you ever fire one? Job seekers: Do headhunters help you get a better salary or do they let their clients roll over you (and them)?

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Revealing my salary earned me a lower job offer!

In the September 12, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader succumbs to an employer’s demand for his salary information and pays for not keeping his mouth shut.

Question

salaryNick, I need your help. I’m in a very tough spot with salary negotiations. HR told me the salary range for the position ($65K-$70K) on the phone before our interviews. They also asked for my salary expectations, and I told them $65K-70K. So we had the interviews knowing we were all on the same page. Or so I thought.

After the first interview, I was contacted by the HR rep and was explicitly told that I would need to provide my current salary or we would not be able to proceed further with the process. So I reluctantly gave my salary away ($53K, which will be $55K in five months when my annual merit kicks in).

After the second interview, which I knocked out the park, they made an offer. It was only $60K. On the phone, I told the HR rep that there is no deal but I would like to continue to try to negotiate the best compensation package, and we will revisit the offer in a couple days.

What do you suggest I do here? I don’t want to turn away more money, but they are $5K-$10K below my expectations. Is my only recourse to risk the offer as a whole? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

You ought to charge them $5,000 for helping them negotiate a lower salary, because that’s what you did. Congrats on getting an offer, but I agree with you – you ruined your negotiating position by strengthening theirs.

Never, ever, ever disclose your current salary to an employer. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) They will use it to put a cap on any offer they make to you. Now you’re stuck.

You must decide one thing: What’s going to make you walk away from this deal? That is, what’s the least amount of money you’ll accept and still be happy?

They may offer you a bit more, or they may stand pat. If they raise the offer, my guess is it will be by one or two thousand dollars, to make you feel you won a concession. But that’s no concession. It’s still lower than the range they agreed to. They will still save money, and you’ll lose money. You have already made a concession, by considering less than the top of your range ($70K). The kicker here is that both parties plainly agreed to the same salary range before proceeding with interviews.

They screwed you.

What they did is bait-and-switch. They agreed to one thing but switched to something else. They screwed you. Now you must recover or walk away.

Once you decide what is the minimum acceptable offer is, the rest is easy – even if it’s not a happy thing. You cannot negotiate unless you know in advance what will make you walk away. Then you tell them this:

How to Say It
“I can do this job profitably for you, and I want to join your team. I make that commitment. But I told you very clearly when you asked me what salary range I would require: $65K-$70K. And you told me your range was the same. On that basis, I did the interviews with you. If you can meet the range you committed to and that I asked for, I’m ready to accept.”

The rest is up to them. Just be ready – they may say $60K is as high as they’ll go. Are you ready to walk away? If you agree to the $60K at this point, be prepared for lower-than-promised raises in the future, and other broken promises. These people have made it clear from the outset that they say one thing but do another.

The offer is based on your salary.

“HR logic” about salary goes like this. If you make $A, you don’t deserve more than about $A + X%, where X is some small percentage. Why does HR do this? Here’s what one HR executive wrote to me in response to my advice that job applicants should never disclose their salary to employers:

“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000.

“The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.

“I’ve been a vice president of HR, a recruiter, a labor negotiator and a candidate, so I know from which I speak… I am so dismayed that someone pays you to hand out this kind of information.”

[Excerpted from Keep Your Salary Under Wraps]

If they try to “explain” that their offer is based on your old salary, your response can be only one thing if you want to negotiate with strength.

Tell them to go pound salt.

If HR gets pushy or threatens to “end the process,” tell them I said they should go pound salt. Your salary is none of their business. Will they tell you their salary?

Here’s what an Ask The Headhunter reader posted recently on LinkedIn:

“To anyone who wants to maintain their salary history confidential in a way which no prospective employer can hold against you, I utilized Nick’s technique at one point in my career and was very successful — including getting the job I was interviewing for. Nick has a foolproof technique on how to address previous salaries which actually makes the company respect the candidate.”

Here’s what another said:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.”

You can decide for yourself how to proceed. Here’s my advice:

How to Say It
“My old salary is irrelevant. I told you my required range and we agreed to do interviews based on that. Will you make an offer in the range we agreed on?”

Once you decide your position, the rest is up to them. If they insist on judging your value on what your last employer paid you, it’s their loss, not yours. Move on. This is a company that admits it doesn’t know how to judge value for itself, or that cheats.

But please – this is your decision, not mine. If you decide $60K is good enough, then do what you think is right for you, not what I think is right. Only you have all the facts about your life and needs. I’d never criticize you.

Also keep this in mind: You killed the interviews. You impressed them. You pulled it off. Don’t let their negotiating tactics make you question your attitude, behavior, or worth. Do you think you can impress another employer? My guess is you can. But you must make that judgment for yourself.

We have of course discussed this topic many times before. See Goodbye to low-ball salary offers and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?

How do you negotiate? Do you disclose your salary? What should this reader have done, and do next?

Coming next week

In the next edition, we’ll discuss a topic that may have headhunters (and their clients!) up in arms: Why a headhunter should never disclose her candidate’s salary to her client.

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M.I.T. Calls B.S. on Skills Gap

In the August 29, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we call out employers, politicians and analysts who bellyache about the skills gap.

Question

skills gapA few years ago you called out employers for their misguided crying about the talent shortage. (News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!) Now the terminology has changed. Employers reject countless qualified job applicants (example: me) who don’t match 100% of the key words in a job description, bellyaching that we’re imperfect. Are we really just pathetic examples of a national skills gap? How can we fight this, uh, hiring incompetence?

Nick’s Reply

I’m not sure there’s a difference between the talent shortage and the skills gap. The terms are used interchangeably by unskilled personnel jockeys, employers, and untalented government wonks and elected dupes who haven’t had to look for a job recently.

Both these excuses for the national epidemic of hiring failure are bogus, but they’re easy for abused job seekers to swallow. It’s time to barf up the truth.

Wharton’s Peter Cappelli has long been sticking this conventional-wisdom pig with a fork, as noted in the article you mentioned. Now the M.I.T. Technology Review has stuck yet another bunch of facts into this “controversy” in The Myth of the Skills Gap, an article by Andrew Weaver at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Weaver is another voice calling B.S. on the cheap attacks leveled at America’s workforce.

Oh, yeah? Says who?

Just because HR executives blow their recruiting budgets on job boards, applicant tracking systems, and key-word databases doesn’t mean you have to behave stupidly, too. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.) Just because personnel jockeys and job-board marketing geniuses tell you there’s just one way to apply for a job doesn’t mean it’s so. I mean, we’re talking about people who unabashedly admit they can’t fill jobs!

Likewise, prisoners of the labor market who cry themselves to sleep without jobs or paychecks every night shouldn’t believe employers and HR experts. It’s not true that today’s workers don’t have skills worth hiring.

Weaver, who is an assistant professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations, writes that, “when we look closely at the data, this story doesn’t match the facts.” There’s nary a labor study, he points out, that even measures skills! So Weaver set about surveying employers about the skills they need, then asked whether they’re having trouble finding workers.

The skills gap is B.S.

Here are some of the surprises Weaver found.

  • Three-quarters of manufacturing plants surveyed complained they couldn’t hire skilled workers.
    But less than a quarter of them actually had job vacancies of three months or more.
  • IT departments complained of dramatic problems in filling help-desk jobs.
    But only 15% of IT help desks reported “extended vacancies in technician positions.”

So, where’s the lack of skills?

Weaver also found that the kinds of skills we’re told are sorely lacking are not really the problem.

  • Advocates for STEM education clamor for more workers with more “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills.”
    But Weaver’s data “show that employers looking for higher-level computer skills generally do not have a harder time filling job openings.”
  • Those who blame a skills gap also cite a lack of “soft skills” among younger workers — the ability to cooperate and to work on teams.
    But Weaver found the challenge for employers, even in manufacturing and help-desk jobs, is finding higher-level reading and writing skills.

The gap in conventional wisdom

Weaver and his fellow researchers focused their surveys on a narrow group of jobs (manufacturing and IT help-desk), but their findings seem to blow big holes in the conventional wisdom about many kinds of jobs. For example:

  • Top-level federal officials cry the workforce needs more computer programming skills.
    But programming isn’t what many jobs — even technical jobs — really require.
  • Lack of specific skills is the problem.
    But Weaver’s surveys suggest on-the-job experience and apprenticeship is what’s lacking.

Perhaps most stunning is a problem Weaver exposes in the ranks of economists and “labor-market experts” who drive public opinion and corporate hiring strategies: They “don’t know the exact mix or level of skills that particular occupations demand.” So why does anyone accept their declamations about skill gaps?

What’s the real problem?

Employers and labor-market experts, who aren’t even assessing or measuring skills, seem content to go along with the unsubstantiated contentions of “conservative tax cutters” and “liberal advocates of job training” that workers lack skills. That’s distracting everyone from a fact-based approach to managing the labor market and improving it. And it’s polarizing employers and workers.

Andrew Weaver’s findings dovetail with Peter Cappelli’s.

  • The problem isn’t with workers. The problem is employers “promoting unproductive hand-wringing and a blinkered focus on only the supply side of the labor market — that is, the workers.”
  • Employers are not cooperating with those who teach skills to workers; for example, colleges and other training institutions.
  • Employers are not investing adequately in employee training and development. “Only half of U.S. plants provide formal training to their production workers,” reports Weaver. Twenty years ago, 70-80% did.

Weaver closes with a warning:

“Misguided anxiety about skill gaps will lead us to ignore the need to improve coordination between workers and employers. It’s this bad coordination — not low-quality workers — that presents the real challenge.”

So, what should a job seeker do?

I publish only a small selection of questions, stories and complaints I receive from readers. The #1 issue I hear about: Frustration with employers who don’t seem to know what they want, who they need to hire, or what skills they really need in a worker. The fallout is confusing interviews, unexpected and questionable rejections, and enormous amounts of wasted time and energy.

The real skills problem seems to be this: Employers want skills, but they’re not willing to contribute to the skills pool or to pay for the skills they need. Meanwhile, employers pretend the problem is you — the workforce. So what’s a job seeker to do?

It’s not hard to navigate around the piles of b.s. in the jobs market. Let’s consider some strategies and tactics. These are just my thoughts and advice. The best advice is yet to come — so please post it.

Take control of your job search

“Based on your book I went into a job interview without the requisite experience but still won the job because I demonstrated that I understood the business objectives and challenges of the company and had a plan to achieve them! Thanks!”
-Sandeep Srivastava

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, “How can I make up for lack of required experience?”, p. 8.

I think the strategy is easy, if we define the objective for ourselves rather than let the pundits and policy makers confuse us. The objective is finding and landing the right job.

Finding and landing the right job is not about appeasing the jobs processors. It’s about picking good employers and being ready to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands-down, how you’re going to do a job profitably for the employer and for you.

Such jobs are not in job boards or in key-word lists. Jobs are controlled by individual managers who need profitable work done. Go find the individual managers and get the facts directly. Go around HR. Ignore the recruiters. (See HR Managers: Do your job or get out.) Ask the manager: What’s the work? What’s the deliverable? What skills do you want and need?

Don’t buy the education that schools market. Don’t listen to the headlines or to the Department of Labor. Find out what skills the employer you want to work for needs, then design your own education accordingly. That’s right: Contact companies that make products you want to work on, get in touch with the managers of departments you want to work in, and ask them exactly what skills you should learn. Schools that lack close ties to industry don’t know what industry wants, so don’t trust their curricula — or their marketing!

Pick employers with a solid, documented record of training and developing their employees. Bypass the rest. You’ll save loads of time because researchers have shown that most employers stopped investing in their workers many years ago. Be selective. Invest your career only in companies that can show you they’ll invest in you.

Pick schools that have a documented record of close ties and cooperation with employers. Look for active internship and apprenticeship programs. Bypass schools that can’t demonstrate such relationships. If what you want is a good education and a good job on graduation, don’t compromise on this. Most of the biggest names in higher education fail this test. (See New Grads: How to get in the door without experience.)

Pick schools with great career offices. This will make your choices easy because most schools don’t offer solid career services. Go visit and meet with the counselors. Study their career programs and offerings. Ask for references — grads who are working and employers who hired them. A college that delivers courses in your area of study but fails to deliver education in how to get a job is delivering only half an education — and it will leave you with a fatal skills gap.

Is there a skills gap? How can the gap between capable workers and jobs be bridged? What will it take for employers, schools, and government to get together with the workforce to create a healthy job market? I’ve shared a few tips for job seekers — but the best is yet to come. Please post your suggestions about how to wrangle a job out of an employer whose hiring methods are full of gaps!

(Many thanks to long-time reader Nick Tang for tipping me off to Andrew Weaver’s article!)

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Where’s the college course about getting a job?

In the August 22, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who works in a college says students need more than academic education. They deserve career education.

Question

Colleges need to do more to teach students how to negotiate, how to dress for success, and other life skills.

I currently work at a community college. To say that the majority of the student body is under-served is putting it mildly. They need a lot of help, much more than we can provide, but we are there to try to help them succeed.

collegeA few years ago, one of the student workers at the library was selected (her name was randomly drawn) to keep the clothes and accessories the Student Success Center and a women’s organization purchased for her as part of a dress-for-success workshop. She also got to have her hair done, and learned how to do her makeup. She was so thrilled and grateful, because she couldn’t afford to go to Kohl’s and spend $350.00 on a few new (professional) outfits for herself.

The problem is that for some jobs (I’m thinking business, not nursing) you have to look like a million bucks even if you can’t afford a designer suit, shoes, and handbag just for the interview. She was 30 and admitted that she didn’t know what was appropriate for interviews and even where to begin. The workshop taught her about interviews, including how to dress for them, and she found the class helpful, as do most of our students.

Do you think part of the purpose of every college is to give people the skills to get better jobs? I think that includes more than academic knowledge and technical skills. Where’s the college course about how to get a job?

Nick’s Reply

New grads are generally very unprepared for the challenge of getting a job. While colleges vie for position in magazines that rank them on the salaries of new graduates, the same schools deliver woefully inadequate career education.

College education

I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. Nothing we learn is ever wasted. The main purpose of a college education is not to get you a job. But I’ve come to believe that there’s no excuse for any college not to prepare every student and graduate for employment.

College just costs too much for most students not to be able to recoup their (or their parents’) investment in education. Colleges have an obligation to address their graduates’ need to work.

The program you’ve described is a great example of how a school adds an important benefit to education. But it also highlights the fact that this young woman essentially won a lottery, because it’s clear not all students at your school get the important benefits she won.

The bigger issue, of course, is why all schools don’t deliver the necessary preparation to all their students.

Bring jobs into every course

My proposal to colleges and universities is this: Dedicate one class meeting in every course a student takes to how the subject matter relates to a profession, a career, and a job. (See Colleges fail How.) Bring in guest speakers to discuss and explore how a course topic applies to their work — or to tell how it has influenced their jobs or careers and how it has contributed to their success.

Sure, many such presentations could be a stretch. How does a course in early American literature play out for a salesperson? How does a financial manager benefit from a course in cognitive psychology?

The challenge is to invite these guests to tell their stories and to draw connections, some of which might be direct (how a course in physics affects an engineer’s job in designing circuits), and some of which might be tenuous (imagine a lawyer talking about how Art History has played into her work.)

The challenge to make these connections is the point. The purpose is to help students see the myriad and often unusual ways a college education contributes to success at work. The ensuing dialogue would give students an enormous head start in understanding the world of work and jobs.

It’s the people, Stupid

There’s another benefit from such guest presentations that I’m shocked colleges have not figured out already — and that students and their parents have not demanded.

If colleges incorporated my suggestion into their curricula, at the end of four years a student who takes the roughly 40 courses to earn 120 semester credits necessary for a degree will have met around 40 people who do 40 different jobs in 40 companies in an enormous number of industries.

It’s of course up to the student to ask these guests questions, to get to know them, to stay in touch with some — and to form mentoring relationships with at least a few.

When the time comes to apply and interview for jobs, every college senior will have a professional network the likes of which is unheard of today. (For more suggestions about how students can start networking effectively, see College Students: Start job search freshman year.)

Make it part of the job of all educators

Would this be such a difficult undertaking for any college? I’ve heard professors argue it’s not their job to relate a course to the world of work, and that they just don’t have the class time to waste on such curriculum content.

Then, whose job is it? (See Your college owes you a job.)

Preparing students for jobs is not a frivolous enterprise for colleges and universities. The ivory-tower cynics in education should consider that the more successful their alumni are and the more they earn, the better they’ll reflect their alma maters, and the more likely they will be to give back. (Where do you think all those guest speakers will come from?)

Being prepared for work and being well-educated go hand in hand.

What are your ideas for colleges to better prepare students for jobs? What incentives (or pressure) would encourage schools to deliver career education that pays off for everyone?

If you’re an educator, do you think my suggestion of an extra class meeting is nuts?

If you’re an employer, what level of readiness for work do you see in new grads? What are your suggestions for colleges?

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Library Vacation beats Internet when job hunting

In the August 15, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to know why I say your local library is a better job hunting tool than the Internet.

libraryQuestion

I purchased and read two of your books, How To Work With Headhunters and How Can I Change Careers? You have a great business here. Kudos to you!

I have a question about your coaching regarding “The Library Vacation” in How Can I Change Careers? (pp. 15-22). You advise actually going to libraries to explore job and career possibilities. Given that technology and the Internet have changed significantly since you wrote your book, do you still recommend going to a library versus working on the Internet to explore careers, employers and jobs? Thanks in advance!

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words and for purchasing my books.

The Library Vacation is a thoughtful, deliberate method for exploring careers, industries, jobs and employers that flies over all the popular, automated, high-speed, mindless Internet surfing that passes for job hunting today.

For those who don’t know anything about The Library Vacation, I’ll quickly summarize. The idea is that changing careers (or employers or jobs) should not be restricted by what job boards, employers and search engines serve up to you. Your field of exploration should be wider and deeper. I think you can get that only at a good library.

We’ll talk more about The Library Vacation in a minute, but first I think it’s important to step back and look at the Internet as a jobs resource from a higher vantage point.

Lose the brainwashing

library

The dumbest way to try and find a job is on Internet job boards. You might as well stick your hand in the ocean and try to catch a fish. Yes, it’s that dumb. The job boards promise one thing: The jobs are all in there. So are all the fish. Good luck.

Having access to all jobs and employers is meaningless.If it worked, you wouldn’t be reading this. Or fretting. Or getting depressed. Or wondering why all those jobs you keep applying for — jobs you’re perfect for! — keep slipping through your fingers like so many molecules of water.

The Internet is a great source of information about careers, employers and jobs. But it’s mere brainwashing and marketing that have trained you to trust it’s the best way to find the right job for you. It’s not — not by a longshot!

In How Can I Change Careers? there’s a section titled “The Library Vacation” where I offer this message:

“[Your job] search has to be self-directed. In other words, you’ll never find what you’re looking for if you let someone else point you toward what they think you’re looking for.” (p. 15)

The Library Vacation

Here’s the simple idea:

“Take at least three days off and spend them at the library. (A week is better.) Go into the periodical stacks. Forget about job hunting or careers. (This is the vacation part.) Read whatever you feel like. At first, you’ll start with magazines like People, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, foreign newspapers and so on. Then you’ll start checking out various specialty and industry-related periodicals. Just read stuff that attracts you… As you follow your gut, you’ll start to see trends in the sorts of industries and product areas you’re reading about. That will tell you something: This might be your path.” (p. 16)

Does that sound retro? Low-tech? Too cumbersome? Too time-consuming? Well, how’s online job hunting doing for you?

Even with all the resources the Net offers, I still advise people to visit a good library for a Library Vacation. There are several reasons.

Wandering in the library is good

Serendipity is a big — and very important — part of exploring careers and jobs. In the library you’ll find industry and professional publications you’d never search for because you don’t know they exist. Those publications will lead you to industries, products, companies and people you’ll never find online because you didn’t search for them. Your wandering eyes will turn up surprises that only your hunches can exploit.

When we’re looking for a career opportunity, wandering is the point! Algorithms limit us. Libraries set us loose.

Most important, unlike that ocean of job postings, the library will reveal problems and challenges those industries and companies face. And therein lies the opportunity for you to step in and be the solution.

Reference librarians beat Google

Libraries have a precious resource you can’t find online – a real, live reference librarian. I’ll take one reference librarian over 10 search engines or algorithms any day. (See Get thee to a reference librarian.) They’re the real semantic processors! They actually understand you, and they ask good questions no algorithm can, to help you explore in productive directions.

I still pick up the phone and call my local library reference desk for certain kinds of research. Those librarians are really good at what they do. And they ask good questions to help me explore and drill down into an industry, company or professional community more intelligently. Google can’t do that. And job boards don’t even try.

Get up, get out!

There’s one big reason for going to the library that’s lost amidst the “convenience” of the Internet. It’s just good to get out!

For the same reason it’s good to aimlessly scan the stacks of publications in a library, it’s good to sit in a comfy chair and leaf through a series of surprising publications that catch your eye.

The point is not to find what you’re looking for. It’s to find something new that you were not looking for. The same is true when you’re networking among people (rather than information collections).

To understand this better, check out Duncan Watts’ excellent book, Six Degrees: The science of a connected age. Like some of my books, it’s a few years old — but it’s “evergreen” and the ideas will always be incredibly valuable. Watts talks about how the value of a network connection goes up the farther on the periphery of a network you go – simply because the odds are higher that you will find an unknown, unexpected, untried node of high value. When we stay too close to home, we encounter mostly our friends – whether they’re people or publications. Likewise, when we rely on algorithms, we are stuck with only limited search results.

Get motivated!

While the Internet promises results, the library delivers vistas you never considered exploring. The library lets you stumble into unanticipated connections. When your brain exploits these connections, you get a rush of adrenaline at your success — and this in turn motivates you to drive harder toward your new objectives. For my money, the library is the best way to track down the job that you will then stop at nothing to win.

I wouldn’t be in business without the Internet. I love it. But it’s not the only, or even best, tool for certain kinds of research: Highly motivated exploring.

I hope you find something helpful in what I’ve said. By no means do I think you should not use the Net to explore. But get up, get out, go bump into the unexpected at a good library. Lounge in a chair with something good to skim, new possibilities to alight on – and let your mind wander away from the glow of a display.

And tell the reference librarians you meet that I sent you.

Find something that drives you

There’s more to this, of course. The Library Vacation is just the first step. It helps you identify your goal — a new career, employer or job that you become incredibly motivated to win. It also emphasizes the freedom you need to change your mind:

“The only rule is that you must drive your interest until it dies, or until it gets you to your destination.” (p. 22)

What do you do when you find the job you want? How Can I Change Careers? shows you how to walk into the hiring manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, why you’re the most profitable hire.

Do you use your local library to explore industries, companies, products and jobs? What trade-offs do you see with the Internet? What constraints does each research tool impose? How should this reader use both?

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Why does he get more pay than me?

In the August 8, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader becomes disgruntled upon learning a co-worker at the same job gets more pay.

Question

more pay

I recently started a new job, and there is one other person here who does what I do. He was hired about six months before me. While he was helping me get settled, he showed me his annual benefits enrollment form as an example. It had his salary pasted all over it, and I was dismayed to find out that he makes 30% more than I do.

We have the same job, the same responsibilities, and my initial assessment is that my skills and background are stronger than his. (He did have a contracting relationship with the company for some time before he was hired.)

It’s been very demoralizing to learn this so soon after starting this job, which is otherwise a good situation for me. Is there any way to handle this, besides going out and finding another job? It’s hard to be happy and effective at work knowing someone else who does the same things you do earns so much more. Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

There’s a parable in the Bible that’s useful here. Two farm hands hoeing a row of beans stop for a break. Abe mutters, “I can’t believe I work this hard for $5 an hour.” Isaac is stunned. “$5 an hour? I get only $3 an hour!”

Later, Isaac goes to the boss. “How come you pay Abe more than you pay me?” The boss arches an eyebrow. “What did I offer you to do this job?” Isaac answers, “$3 an hour.” The boss leans toward him a little closer. “What do I pay you to do this job?” Isaac shrugs his shoulders, “$3 an hour.”

“So, I’m a man of my word,” says the boss.

Why more pay?

You have no idea why the boss pays your buddy more than he pays you. But there may be many reasons. For example:

  • Your buddy may have been hired on a career track you’re not aware of and he may have skills you don’t have that the boss will need later.
  • Your buddy may have been better at negotiating his deal than you were. (Need to beef up your negotiating skills? Here’s some help.)
  • Maybe the company can’t afford to pay more now.
  • Or, it may be easier to find workers today than it was six months ago.

The list of possibilities goes on. The point is, you accepted a certain deal, and your boss is honoring it. Don’t leap to a conclusion about this.

Justify more pay

My guess is your boss isn’t going to pay you more just because you want more. You’re going to have to justify your request, and it won’t help to compare yourself to someone else. Demonstrate your own value. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

When the time comes for your first performance and salary review, I suggest you prepare for it like this:

  • Outline what you think will be the three biggest challenges, problems, hurdles or objectives in your job next year.
  • Then, list three things you will do to tackle them. This should include significant detail, but don’t overdo it.
  • Finally, explain how your approach to doing the work will be profitable (or beneficial) to the company.

This approach will help you justify your value — and the extra money you want — to your boss.

What’s fair depends on the facts

In the meantime, consider how presumptuous it would be to ask your boss for more pay, right after you accepted the deal you did. I’m not going to get into the ethics of hiring the exact same kinds of people for the exact same kinds of jobs at different rates of pay, because I have no idea whether everything is equal. Do you?

Be careful: Value isn’t as obvious as you might think. Your co-worker may be more valuable to your employer than you are. While you may be getting treated unfairly, you just as well may not have all the facts to make that judgment.

(My good buddy Suzanne Lucas, aka The EvilHRLady, offers some strong advice about equal pay practices in 5 Ways Smart People Are Solving Income Inequality.)

You made the deal

I believe employers should pay equitably and people should be paid what they’re worth — but value is relative depending on the needs of the employer. You may indeed be worth more than you’re being paid, but you made the deal.

Could you have made a case for more pay? If yes, then this is on you. But consider that negotiations will come around again at review time. I suggest that you focus on the issues we’ve discussed — issues that might not seem so obvious — and that you respect the deal you made until the time is right to renegotiate it. It doesn’t sound like the salary was unsatisfactory when you accepted it. (Needless to say, you always have the option to quit.)

My advice is to take this one step at a time, and be careful not to disturb your good relationship with your co-worker. He’s hardly to blame. Focus on what the boss knows about your value, and make it your job to clarify that.

Finally, my apologies to the Bible for mangling a good parable.

(Ever wonder how asking for a promotion and a raise are similar to interviewing for a new job or a new career? The challenge is almost exactly the same — it’s about how to deliver more value to get more money and a better position. To learn more about how to make yourself stand out in front of your manager — or the boss you want to work for — check out How Can I Change Careers?)

Should you suck it up when you accept a deal that suddenly appears less desirable? For how long? And, how can you fix it? If you’ve been in this situation before, tell us how you handled it. What can this reader do now?

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How can I make the inside job contacts I need?

In the August 1, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an Army graduate needs help making inside job contacts to get around the personnel jockeys.

job contacts

Question

I am looking for work and I am studying your book. If you have any advice on how to build the contacts I need to land a good job, that would be extremely helpful. I recently transitioned out of the Army. I’m new in town and don’t know anyone. Without contacts, I’m at the mercy of those personnel jockeys — and I’m not having much success. Certainly someone in my area (Pittsburgh) needs an experienced information security administrator!

Nick’s Reply

Don’t worry that you’re new in town. Remember that new relationships are based on common interests. Key among these is your work. You need to identify — through the press, trade publications, local professional groups — a handful of key people in Pittsburgh who are experts in information security. The more respected they are, the better. The nice thing is, such folks are also visible. You’ll read about them in the media — it’s a free high-level professional directory. Your goal is to make them your new friends.

Study up on them.

  • What are they working on?
  • What are they most expert in?
  • What articles have they written?
  • What publications have written about them?
  • Familiarize yourself with their work.

Then call them, not as a job hunter, but as a peer who is impressed with their work and interested in what they’re doing.

How to Say It

“My name is Bill Smith. I just got out of the military where I was doing XYZ, and I’m new in Pittsburgh. This story I read about you [or your company] instantly aroused my interest because I’ve been working on related things in the Army. I’m exploring the state of the art in our field in the commercial world. So, I’m curious to know what is influencing your work — that is, what are you reading? Books, journals — materials that are influencing your thinking about security. Being new in town, I’m trying to learn where the most interesting work is being done here. Are there any local groups that you find relevant and useful?”

Making job contacts, making friends

Now you’re talking shop and making a friend. Where you take it from there is up to you and your new buddy.

A tip: Don’t try to turn the conversation into a job interview unless he does. (Leave that for another discussion.) Share your e-mail address and get his. Drop a note with a useful link to an article on the topic. Stay in touch. The point is to form a connection based on your work. This can lead to job opportunities if you’re patient and friendly without being pushy. Get it out of your head that jobs appear instantly on Indeed or LinkedIn. Worthwhile connections take time and effort!

Make job contacts anywhere

This approach works well in almost any field. You may wonder how this would work for jobs where there are no “recognized experts” — for example, a secretary’s job.

You’re not likely to find famous local secretaries in the newspaper, and they’re not likely to tell you what books they’re reading about “the state of the art.” But you will find secretaries (or programmers or sales reps) working for notable people. And you can call those notable people and respectfully ask them which managers and which companies in the area hire only top-notch secretaries (or programmers or sales reps).

People love to talk about their work, and they love to talk to others who are enthusiastic about their work. If you approach them with honesty and sincerity, without expecting a job, many will gladly talk with you for a few minutes. (Click here if you think making new contacts is awkward!)

Be respectful

This is key: Respect their time. If a discussion doesn’t pan into anything, don’t force it. Say thank you and move on to another. You need just one fruitful contact to say to you, “Hey, you ought to talk to Mary Johnson at Company X. Here’s her number. Tell her I suggested that you call.”

This is how a headhunter finds good people. You can use the approach to meet the right people and to find the right company.

This article may help you further: Network, but don’t be a jerk!

For a more in-depth look at building an honest, productive network, see “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends,” pp. 27-32, in the PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?

I’ll bet one of the people you call using this approach knows a company that needs you. Don’t hunt for a job. Call people who do the work you do, and talk shop. That’s how you make the insider job contacts that will get you hired. One step at a time; patience and perseverance.

How do you build your network? What advice would you share with this Army vet who’s transitioning into the commercial world?

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Job Spam: 6 tip-offs save you hundreds of hours!

In the July 25, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a seasoned reader recognizes job spam and deletes it.

job spamQuestion

I just received this URGENT OPENING from a recruiter I don’t know. I’m in Silicon Valley with a real job. The contract position is in North Carolina. Now I realize how many hours I’ve wasted over the years, responding to job spam, filling out forms, doing phone screens, even showing up for interviews — when I should have realized I was being jerked around from the start. (I even got scammed on an airline flight I paid for without getting reimbursed.) The worst of it is the anticipation and wasted energy expecting something to happen! But these e-mails keep coming, with barely a few legit ones every now and then. You must have some way to quickly pick the ones to ignore. I’d love to hear your tips!

Nick’s Reply

You can save lots of time (and frustration) by checking those e-mails for the tell-tale signs of job spam — also known as drive-by recruiting. Don’t become just another victim by responding when you should hit the DELETE key.

Thanks for sharing that e-mail. I’ve redacted the names so we can take a look at it. I’ll show you want to look for. You’re not being recruited. You’re being asked to apply for a job.

This is not a recruiter.

A real recruiter or headhunter comes after you specifically. He knows who you are and why you’d be a good candidate, or he would not get in touch. Here are the tip-offs that this guy is wasting your time. (See Why do recruiters suck so bad?)

1. He “came across your resume” and is polling you “to see if you or someone you know is interested” in an “opportunity.”

A real headhunter doesn’t “come across” you. He already knows this job will appeal to you, because he’s studied your background and is confident he’s got something that will get your attention. He will usually drop the name of someone you know and respect — because they recommended you –, to get your attention and to establish his own credibility. (See How to screen headhunters.)

But this is not a recruiter.

2. The second tip-off that this is job spam: The sender wants you to “read the Job Description.” Say what?

This guy wants you to do the work of matching yourself to the job! He has no idea whether you’re a match, or whether you and his client have any reason to talk! He has sent this mail to hundreds if not thousands of people.

And if he found your resume online, why does he need “an updated MS Word version?” If he’s coming after you for this job — that is, actually recruiting you — then he doesn’t need another version of your resume.

He’s sucking you in by making you take an action while he does nothing at all. In case you don’t realize it, this e-mail has all the impersonal hallmarks of a mail-merge from a database. This guy doesn’t even know he sent it to you! If you respond, next you’ll rationalize why you’re wasting your time sending him even more information and filling out job application forms that a real recruiter does not need. Then you’re hooked. Then you’ll write to ask me why you’re not getting responses to your follow-up e-mails.

3. He’s not really a recruiter. When a recruiter or headhunter tells you he’s going to “help you” with “positions,” run. He’s telling you he’s a phony.

Real recruiters and headhunters find people for specific jobs. They don’t help you find a job. (See Headhunters find people, not jobs.) While a good headhunter may remember you for a job that comes along later, this come-on is the classic sign of a quack trying to get you to respond to spam.

Read our database.

4. You’re a number. Just like the “Job id” in the e-mail, you are a number in a database. A real headhunter would never say he’s recruiting you for “Job id-CRNGJP00011964.” How impersonal is that?

When you ask someone on a date, do you say, “Hey, Babe — Wanna join me for some WYPF94006 at LOCATION: Hickory, NC?”

Gimme a break. The purpose of this mail is not to recruit you. It’s to make you read a database record.

A real headhunter contacts you to entice you. To cajole you. To inspire you. To convince you. To sweet-talk you into talking with him about filling this job. (See How to judge a headhunter.)

This guy has no time to discuss the job with the 2,000 people he’s sent this spam to. He wants you all to read it while he has lunch. I’ve cut off the rest of his solicitation — but it’s 469 more words he wants you to study and check off before you bother him.

Now we get to the insult.

Do my job.

This guy needs to fill a job fast to make a buck, and he’s made that your problem. Er, “opportunity.” So sit up and beg, and do it fast.

5. “Hurry up and do my job!” He’s got a deadline! Did you ever ask anyone out on a date — and tell them they have to decide “by CLOSE OF BUSINESS TOMORROW?”

A real recruiter is worried he’s going to lose you. He’s not going to threaten you — not any more than you’d threaten the person you hope will go to dinner with you!

But the real tip-off that this is a worthless drive-by recruiting e-mail is in what it doesn’t say. There is nothing personal in the closing. There is no effort to demonstrate a sincere interest in you.

This is a cheap salesman telling you to apply for a job. You can do that on any job board without being insulted.

This is job spam.

Now for the piece of resistance, the drop-dead, in-your-face, no-question tip-off that this is junk mail — not anyone recruiting you.

6. This is job spam. We know it’s spam because of the opt-out section at the end that’s required by the CAN-SPAM Act. When’s the last time you saw this at the bottom of a legit e-mail?

Please: Get real!

Desperate job hunters want someone else to find them a job. They engage in wishful thinking — and get suckered easily by spam like this. There is no recruiter behind that mail!

A real headhunter will call or e-mail you (I’d call you — e-mail is too non-committal) and say something like this:

“Hi, Steve. I’m Nick Corcodilos — I’m a headhunter and I’m filling some key positions for Big Buzz Systems. Sharon Jones, who worked with you at Superfluous Technologies, suggested I talk with you about a design engineering position I’m working on at Big Buzz. This job could get you into the project management role Sharon tells me you’ve been working toward. Please call me at (800) 111-1111. Thanks — I look forward to meeting you, Steve.”

That’s it. Would you call me back?

That’s not what those e-mails say to you? Please. Get real. How many hundreds of hours will job seekers waste responding, sending information, filling out forms, waiting for feedback from junk mail? It seems you have finally figured it out. My compliments, and many thanks for sharing this example of cheesy “recruiting.” I hope these tips wear out the DELETE key on everyone else’s keyboard before thousands or millions of hours get wasted on job spam!

How do you know it’s not a real recruiter? What tips you off to job spam? And what kinds of embarrassing time-wasters have you fallen for? Don’t feel bad — please share so we can all learn how to avoid getting suckered!

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LinkedIn Job Roulette: A career suicide game?

In the July 18, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, LinkedIn members reveal how they use the network to commit career suicide.

Question

Do you think LinkedIn has lost whatever promise it once had for people hoping participation would lead to job leads and better positions? Does it have any value now to the job seeker, or to the person seeking a better position than the one they currently have? Thank you for your thoughtful commentary.

LinkedInNick’s Reply

LinkedIn once showed promise as the leading professional network. Sadly, today it is at best merely an online directory. I think CEO Jeff Weiner sold out LinkedIn’s original mission when he first hired a boiler room of phone jockeys to sell “seats” to recruiters. This instantly turned LinkedIn into just another job board. The Microsoft acquisition seems to have had no meaningful impact on LinkedIn’s business model.

LinkedIn sells dope to dopes

When it told members to upload their contacts and tacitly encouraged them to connect to every connection of everyone they knew, LinkedIn devalued all those professional relationships. In generating every meaningless “contact” possible, LinkedIn could claim that every person and employer could make every possible job match. All its members had to do was ask.

And ask they did — and ask they do. You and I get their requests every day.

LinkedIn turned the delicate matter of approaching the right employer about the right job into a game of roulette. Every spin through millions of “contacts” leads to a beggar’s banquet at the world’s biggest professional-data dumpster, where everyone gambles for scraps.

Job search as gambling addiction is now the preferred way to commit career suicide. While publishing “career content” that urges members to make only quality connections (wink, wink), LinkedIn’s system facilitates and speeds up random, stupid, embarrassing and potentially self-destructive begging for jobs.

LinkedIn’s connection engine — LinkedIn messaging — is the new mail merge. It makes otherwise intelligent, capable, respectful people look like idiots. LinkedIn sells dope to people it turns into dopes. Every time I get a LinkedIn message announcing that someone I don’t know wants me to read their profile and lead them to “an opportunity,” I want to connect them to an addiction clinic. They’re not looking for jobs — they’re avoiding talking to employers.

Do you know what you look like?

Long ago, most LinkedIn users stopped being selective about accepting connection requests (see Join My LinkedIn Gang-Bang) because more connections meant higher status. Now the value of your n-th connection is probably zero. LinkedIn is a useful research tool, but forget about it as a networking tool. Look up people you want to do business with, but make contact with them the old fashioned way: through trusted referrals that actually know you. That still works best.

A person panhandling on a city street corner knows what they look like. Does this LinkedIn member who contacted me through LinkedIn Messenger know what he looks like?

Nick, My name is [Name]. I am looking for a position in healthcare. Do you know of/have any openings? Thank you.

He looks desperate and clueless — lost in the job market. Why would I recommend or hire someone who doesn’t know how to approach the right employer? Why would I want a healthcare worker who gambles with his reputation? Why would I want him working with my patients or customers?

Job panhandling

Let’s take a look at some of the panhandling requests I get via LinkedIn from people I don’t know who don’t know me. I don’t respond to most of these, but I sometimes fantasize about the snarky replies I’d send them.

Hello Nick, I’m currently looking for a full time job as an analyst or client/project manager. Please take a look at my professional and education background on my LinkedIn page. Kindly consider my application for any current or future employment opportunities. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks, [Name and cellphone number]

Nicks’ Snarky Reply

My responses to each sentence of that query, respectively:

  1. Who cares?
  2. How will looking at your LinkedIn page pay off for me?
  3. No.
  4. Don’t bother.
Hi Nick, I hope you’re well. I am interested in learning if we can work together. I am an MIT alum with 4 yrs experience running a startup in Silicon Valley, and am currently looking for a FT role (open to industries). Is this something you specialize in? Thank you. [Name and cellphone number]

Nick’s Snarky Reply

You went to MIT and you’re panhandling strangers for a job? Is this how you got your startup funding, by spamming venture capitalists? If you don’t know what I specialize in, why did you contact me?

Hello Nick, Thank you for Linking. I am currently seeking the next chapter of my 20-year marketing career. Throughout my career, I have established a reputation as a leader who is driven by challenge, undeterred by obstacles, and committed to furthering standards of excellence. My expertise encompasses business development and marketing administration, from controlling costs and maximizing revenues to harnessing team strengths to improve brand awareness, client service, and project performance. Further, my ability to build consensus among executive teams and stakeholders to promote transparency and influence positive change has been repeatedly proven. I have attached my resume for review and am excited about this next chapter of my career and hearing about any new opportunities that are out there. Sincerely, [Name and telephone number]

Nick’s Snarky Reply

You work in marketing and you can’t write a note that instantly makes me want to call you? You want to hear about “any” opportunity? Paint my house.

Hi Nick, hope you doing great. we specialize in IT consulting and provide manpower ,if you have any open position you can contact me on [telephone number] or email me your requirement details at [e-mail address]. Regards, [Name] Business development Executive [Company]

Nick’s Snarky Reply

How’d you sneak in among job seekers? You specialize in IT consulting? Everybody specializes in IT consulting! Do you paint houses?

Nick, do you headhunt now? I need a job! Sorry to be so dense. I could really use someone to help me get my next great job in the greater NYC area. Thanks so much! [Name]

Nick’s Actual Reply

Please check these two articles:

Headhunters find people, not jobs

They’re not headhunters

You have a common misconception. It doesn’t matter how much you need a job. The best headhunters will not help you find a job. They focus on the assignments their client companies give them — and they go looking for the people their clients need.

Do not rely on headhunters in any way. If one finds you, great — but that’s like counting on lottery winnings to pay your mortgage.

Hi Nick, Thanks for connect. I am looking for Job change, would you dont mind to help me with relevant job opening matching my current job role pls. Currently working with [Company] as Sr Manager content/ OTT domain responsible for EMEA and India markets distribution across digital channels, formats & screens, managing annual revenue portfolio of $ 10 MN. Shall remain at your disposal. Regards, [Name]

Nick’s Snarky Reply

Yes, you shall remain in my disposal! Regards!

How to search for a job

You search for a job by identifying companies that make products or deliver services you’d like to work on. (See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.) Then you figure out — figure out — what problems and challenges those companies face in running their business.

Most important, you carefully and thoughtfully pick a handful of your skills that you could apply to those problems and challenges, and you prepare a brief business plan showing how you’d use those skills to make the business more successful.

(Note that this does not involve reading job postings.)

Then you hang out with people who have business with the company, for as long as it takes to make friends with them, until they get to know you well enough that they’re happy to refer and recommend you personally to the manager whose department you could clearly help.

That’s how you connect with a job. You don’t ask someone else to do the work. Because they won’t.

How to commit career suicide

When you hang out on an online street corner (LinkedIn is just a street corner), throwing handbills (your profile) at passersby you don’t know who don’t know you — and expect one of them might take you by the hand and lead you to a good, well-paying job — you commit career suicide.

When people in your line of work recognize you on that street corner — or meet you later — they realize you’re undisciplined, lost, thoughtless, and incapable of demonstrating your value to the handful of employers that would really benefit from working with you.

I want to ask those who sent me the above requests, did you calculate what happens when all of my (or anyone’s) LinkedIn contacts send such queries to all their connections? LinkedIn makes money! But you kill your career. Your blind solicitations make you a dead man walking.

It’s embarrassing. Begging opportunities from people you don’t know that don’t know you reveals that your judgment stinks. Playing LinkedIn job roulette is a sign that you’re addicted to gambling. And people who gamble are bad risks in anyone’s business — or professional circle.

What kinds of LinkedIn solicitations do you get from people you don’t really know? Is LinkedIn a job hunting tool? Or an excuse for not job hunting?

ADDENDUM

In the comments section below, reader Cynthia Wharton, a headhunter, explains better than I have how LinkedIn has become the career suicide game de rigeur. When they use the tools LinkedIn conveniently provides to easily spam all of kingdom come with “requests” for job leads and introductions to employers, users kill any interest a good headhunter or employer might have in them.

Says Wharton:

I steer a wide birth away from Linked In candidates and resort to what I do best, headhunting the perfect fit via my own network and other avenues that have been successful in my career.

She steers away because over-exposed LinkedIn candidates appear desperate and undesirable:

…candidates have over saturated their resumes out via Linked In and I cannot consider them if they have already sent their details to the employer I have in mind for them…

And it’s not only headhunters who don’t want sloppy seconds. Wharton notes that employers steer away, too:

I am finding many of the companies I do placements for, have indicated they are exceptionally frustrated by the daily inundation of unsolicited applicants. I’ve had several tell me that when they see a resume come in from the site, they instantly drag it into their trash folder. They know full well that every one of their industry competitors more than likely also has it as well. Why would they hire someone who may be constantly contacted by other employers?

That’s what I mean when I suggest LinkedIn is a game of career suicide. Thanks to Wharton for explaining it better than I did. Please read the rest of her comments below.

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Don’t Fill Out That Job Application!

In the July 11, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker tries to avoid going down the job application hole.

In the last edition, we discussed mistakes people make regarding information they share about themselves — and about information they fail to get from an employer. Now we’ll focus on a special kind of information employers demand from job applicants — your salary history.

job applicationThis has always been a hot topic, mainly because employers just won’t stop asking for information that’s none of their business. Even if HR managers swear up and down that they need your salary data “because that’s our policy,” we all know why they really want it: It gives them an edge on job offer negotiations.

I also promised you some interesting statistics about the value of personal referrals. What’s that got to do with how to deal with salary demands? Let’s take a look!

Question

When I go after jobs through job boards, they always send me a link to a job application form. I’m just curious about your thoughts on the advice of a career coach about what to do when those online forms require you to enter your salary at your previous jobs. She says to type in your desired salary and, when you come to a text field, explain what you did. Do you agree with this?

Nick’s Reply

I think that advice stinks. It’s thoughtless right off the bat. If you have to enter your salary for each of your previous jobs, what sense would it make to enter the same desired salary (for the new job) for each of the old jobs?

More important, such tricks encourage job applicants to play along with a game rigged against them, rather than to pursue the best way of getting hired.

We are so brainwashed by employers to do what they ask that many “experts” don’t realize that it’s simply wrong. The answer to this problem is to consider the facts and to refuse to be manipulated.

Say NO to job application forms

The problem is not whether to disclose your salary history. The problem is the job application form itself. If your path to a job is a job board followed by a job application form, don’t fill it out at all, because it puts you at a disadvantage. Don’t apply via the application. Ignore the application because people get jobs in other, smarter ways all the time.

Now we’re going to un-brainwash ourselves and change the subject to what really matters when applying for jobs: how you get in the door.

A 2013 study from the New York Federal Reserve Bank (“Do Informal Referrals Lead to Better Matches?”) compared methods that a single company uses to hire. The purpose of the study was to test theoretical models of where hires come from — not to describe hiring across many companies.

Where most job offers come from

The Fed researchers found that most job applicants — 60% — at this one company came from online job boards. Only 6.1% of applicants came from personal referrals by employees. But the biggest chunk of actual hires — over 29% — came from those meager but incredibly powerful employee referrals. (See How to engineer your personal network.)

Of course, you might be referred by a company’s employee and still be asked to fill out that form — but now you’ve got an advantage over every applicant who arrived via job boards.

Says the Fed report: “The pool of candidates receiving serious consideration increasingly favors the referred over the course of the hiring process.” (This doesn’t even include personal referrals and recommendations from people outside a company.)

Personal referrals pay off big

The study concluded that:

  • Referred candidates are more likely to be hired.
  • Referred workers experience an initial wage advantage (which dissipates over time).
  • Referred workers have longer tenure at the company.

Getting referred clearly pays off in many ways.

Other studies I’ve seen in the past two decades suggest that personal referrals can account for up to two-thirds of hires. But the main point here is not what the percentages are. It’s that you don’t need anyone’s advice to see that a job seeker’s best bet is to go find people connected to a company — and get them to refer you. (See Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).)

Do the work to get the job

“But Nick, that’s a lot of work!” you’ll say. Yep. So’s the job you want. Start working at this now, or you don’t deserve an interview. Stand out from your competition. Don’t take the way in the door that’s offered.

When you get referred by an insider — whether it’s a company employee or a company’s customer, vendor or consultant — you also have more power to say, “No, thank you” to questions about your salary history. A personal referral makes you a much more powerful and desirable job candidate.

How to Say It
“I’d be glad to fill out your application form after I’ve spoken with the hiring manager. [The person who recommended me] spoke very highly of the manager, and I’d like to make sure this is a potential match before I fill out any forms. I’m looking forward to telling [the employee who personally referred me] that I had a great meeting with the manager.”

Does that seem very personal? Yep! It has to be personal if you want to avoid being impersonally abused and rejected!

A personal referral makes you a worthy applicant. If it’s not worth the work to get that referral, so you can avoid job boards and mindless forms, then the job isn’t really worth it to you. Move on to a job that is.

Always question authority — even when it’s a clever career coach. Leave the job application forms for your brainwashed competitors. (See “Make personal contacts to get a job? Awkward…” Get over it!)

Most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Everyone I know knows that — but few act like they know it. Why do people still rely on job boards, application forms and rote methods? (Don’t tell me “it’s easier!”) What one thing could we change to shift job seekers’ attention to what works?

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