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Who says 58 year olds can’t get a job?

In the May 14, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tells how he landed a job with more money, more vacation, in short order — at age 58:

I just wanted to tell you that I got a new job. Though I got this job by responding to a posting on LinkedIn, I used some of your methods during the process.

over-50This employer required a personality test, a cognitive test, a panel interview, and a puzzle test. I had to figure out a problem during the panel interview. I also had one extra interview with the vice president. Your typical HR-centric process.

So, what did I do that followed your advice? To be honest, I was a bit upset at the testing process, but this seemed a little useless since it was a requirement and I passed all the tests easily. I decided that I would make a quick package to show how I would do the job.

  • I created an outline of how I would approach the job.
  • I defined a process called a “Business Intelligence Baseline” that I would do on my first weeks on the job.
  • I enclosed a sample of a similar project I had done for another employer.
  • I also included a quick summary of a conference I went to on Big Data, because I knew that this firm was looking to get into Big Data.

I sent it to the VP.

I was offered the job with a slight raise and twice as much vacation time as my previous employer. (I should have gotten your salary book to help me with negotiations!)

Well, I don’t think that is the “it” job. It is the “for now” job.

Now I am going to start doing the process you recommend. I am going to do the networking and the other things you suggest. I like the point you make in How Can I Change Careers? that a person should be doing this all the time. When I need to move on, I will be ready.

To put this all in context, I was laid off from my job on March 22. I contacted these people on April 9, and got a formal offer on April 30. I just want to thank you so much. I will continue to follow you online and via subscription. I am not expecting a response. I just want you to know that on this pass I have been only a fair disciple of your methods. I promise next time I will do better. Thanks again.

Your “only fair” disciple,

Andy Hoyt

PS — September 14 is my 59th birthday!

Nick’s Reply

Your story needs no reply, no advice from me. Just a hearty congratulations! Thanks for sharing it. Readers sometimes ask me for a “template” they can follow to their next job offer. You’re 59 — theoretically almost unemployable. Your template works! (Those looking for more about this, please check The Basics. Also related to Andy’s experience: Don’t miss Erica Klein’s excellent Guest Voices article, Employment Tests: Get an edge. Erica’s article will soon appear in greatly expanded format as a new Ask The Headhunter PDF book. Stay tuned! )

I wish you the best, and I hope you’ll stay in touch to tell us about your next job offer…!

I’d love to hear from job hunters who try an approach similar to Andy’s. The steps closely follow what we discuss on Ask The Headhunter. Andy showed how he’d do the job! Do you know anyone who made a deal like this one happen?

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Could you score an interview with this manager?

In the September 11, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager takes us into “the lab” and shows us how he actually interviews candidates to determine whether they can do the job.

Special Edition

Ever wonder whether the job hunting and hiring methods we discuss on this blog really work? Do you wonder whether there are managers that actually expect applicants to do the job in the interview? In this Special Edition, get ready to sit down at the table for an interview with a manager who gets it!

Ray (I’m withholding his last name) heads up product development and business development for an enterprise software company based in the midwestern U.S. This column is not an endorsement of his business — he is not my client — but I sure love his approach to hiring, because it’s what I teach job hunters to do in How Can I Change Careers? The method is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview by demonstrating how they’ll do the work profitably.

And that’s what this hiring manager does — he asks job candidates to show how they’ll do the work, right in the interview.

I’m ready to tie on a napkin and let Ray serve up his methods in his own words — from a recent series of e-mails, with minimal commentary from me. Then I’d like you to join us on the blog to chow down on these interviewing and hiring methods. Do you think you could score an interview with a manager like this? (You might even have a few comments about how he does it!) This all started innocently enough with a nice thank-you e-mail Ray sent me last week:

Dear Nick,

I love your approach to interviewing. As a hiring manager, I turn my interviews into exercises designed to give job candidates the chance to show me that they can do the job. Sort of Reverse Crocodile Headhunting! Thank you for the wonderful ideas in Ask The Headhunter!

So I asked Ray about his business and how he interviews.

I hire product evangelists, product managers and product marketers for a software company. Our products are sold to large enterprises. Successful candidates need to combine business skills with software technology skills to help design product strategy and product positioning. The sad part about my method is that, as a hiring manager, I have to step candidates through the whole process of showing their value. I have 99% given up on the idea that a superior candidate is going to walk in and be prepared to do this all themselves, without me asking. They all need to read your book!

What do you ask, and what are you looking for in those candidates?

The first question I ask: What two people would you start a software company with?

Some candidates limit their answers to personal friends or family, instead of best-in-the-world business owners or technical software geniuses. E.g., Pete and Mary instead of Warren Buffet and Richard Branson. When I explain they could have mentioned anyone in the world, they say, “Oh, I didn’t know it could be anybody like that.” It kind of implies a closed mind set that won’t work outside the box.

I want to determine whether they study business people and the software business in particular. Most great business people study role models. If they want to work in the software industry, you would think that they actually study the best software companies and the best business minds at some point.

What’s a great response to the question?

My personal response would be Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci. Give Da Vinci a few months to understand iOS and Objective C and his apps would be remarkable, I suspect! By the way, I’ve never limited the choice to living people.

What I like about Ray’s approach to interviewing is that, while he opens with a “blue sky” question about starting a business, he quickly starts asking candidates how they would actually do the work:

What will your first product be? This is a perfect chance to demonstrate their analysis and strategy skills in our exact business area. If they do their pre-interview homework, this is a lob shot for them to use it to astound me with their ability to think and thus to do the job.

I love it. Ray asks people to do the job — conceive a product! Next questions in the interview?

If they make it this far, our meeting now turns into a chance for them to start working with me as if this were a real product discussion:

  • What will you price this at?
  • What will our first target market be?
  • Who should our first prospecting call be with?
  • Who will our competitors be?
  • If our first product is destined to never sell successfully… what will be the cause of the failure?
  • If it fails because of that reason, what should our next product be?

I might then give them an exact product situation using our current product line and current product market conditions. By the end of this exchange, I know already if I want this person to work for me, or for my competitors! We’ve already had a full dialog about a completely relevant and plausible project idea that would be similar to their eventual work if hired. Nick, in your words, they’ve already shown me that they can do the job and they should already know if they’ll like collaborating with me.

Dear Ray,

Thanks for serving up this week’s column, and for showing readers how a real manager applies Ask The Headhunter methods to interviewing and hiring. Whether you got your ideas from me, or developed them on your own, all I care is that they work!

Now I hope readers will join us on the blog to talk further about this approach. And if there are folks in the audience interested in working for your company, they’re welcome to say so — and if they can show they can score an interview with you, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with them off-line. And if something comes of it, we’ll report back.

What do you think of Ray’s approach to interviewing? Could you score an interview with a manager like this? How would you apply Ray’s methods in other kinds of jobs and companies?

I didn’t ask Ray whether he’s worried that he’s revealed all his interview secrets — and that, now, anyone who applies for a job at his company “will know what’s up.” Do you think it matters? Want a shot at an interview with Ray? You’ll have to prove you’re worth it!

[UPDATE: If you have a serious interest in talking with Ray about a job at his company, drop me a note and I’ll get it to Ray. It’s got to get past me first. Please: No tire-kickers or resume spammers. In fact, don’t send a resume. Just use the ideas discussed here to make your case. My e-mail link is way the bottom of the right-side nav bar of the blog.]

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This Employer Earns an A in Hiring

In the August 2, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager explains hiring like it ought to be done and earns an A:

I’m a hiring manager and I like to ask candidates to:

  • Review our web site and provide written recommendations for improvement prior to the initial interview;
  • Meet with a sales manager who can assess their knowledge of our market;
  • Do a presentation;
  • Participate in some relevant pre-employment training to see how well they learn and interact with others.

This works for us and it keeps our turnover very low. From a hiring manager’s point of view, I think it’s important to get multiple looks at a candidate, and to give a candidate multiple looks at us. However, this takes quite a bit of time. What do you think?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

(For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

This is hiring like it ought to be. What you’re doing earns high marks, because you’re not conducting junk interviews. A candidate who is really interested in working for you will gladly invest time in your hiring process.

Often, the problem isn’t that companies spend too much time interviewing; it’s that they don’t spend it profitably. I believe hiring a person is like marrying them. Before you tie the knot, you should talk and work together in more than one context, and you should meet one another’s friends (or co-workers). That’s how to decide whether you belong together. In other words, the courting process must be substantive. I’ll offer three suggestions. (You’re already doing the first one, in your own way.)

First, Kick the candidate out of your office. Get the candidate out on the work floor, to meet your team and see how the work is done. Let the candidate participate. Don’t just test them; try them out.

Second, make sure you let candidates know from the start… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Third, if you’re going to ask candidates to do a presentation and meet people in other departments, help them prepare. Suggest resources, discuss your company’s preferences and style, and offer guidance, just as you would to your employees. For example, you might offer to let the candidate talk with one or two members of your team, by phone, prior to the interview. (If this seems like a waste of time, reconsider filling the position, because if you’re not willing to make this investment, why should anyone invest time to meet with you?) To get the best out of candidates, I believe you have to help them, just as you would your employees when you assign them a project.

Hiring is a manager’s #1 job, and you do it intelligently. Most employers barely earn a passing grade at hiring, and their turnover shows it. I challenge them to reach for an A at interviewing. Your “very low” turnover proves what a valuable investment you’re making. My compliments. Thanks for sharing a manager’s point of view.

In today’s newsletter, we hear from an employer who knows how to hire for success and profit. What do you think of these interviewing methods? What else would you like to see employers do in the job interview? Tell us about an employer you know that deserves an A for interviewing and hiring — and why!

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Unemployment & Poverty: A choice American companies make

Curt Landi was raised in New Jersey, near Thomas Edison’s old laboratories. Landi says he used to sneak into one of the abandonned buildings when he was a kid, and wander around, dreaming of becoming an inventor. In the 1980s, Curt and Susan Landi started their company, Supracor, in a tiny Silicon Valley office. Curt invented flexible honeycomb technology, and he and Susan fabricated samples of their products by hand in their kitchen. Curt peddled his samples to anyone who would listen. The Landis lived for years on a shoestring, and invested their lives in their business. They launched Supracor without a penny of venture capital. Today, Supracor produces state-of-the-art technology and sells it to the world.

Landi’s company does something unusual: It manufactures products made from American raw materials in the U.S. and only in the U.S. — “in Silicon Valley, where the cost is enormous to do business for a traditional manufacturer.” He employs only American workers. And his company pays American taxes because all its operations are here.

At a recent business event, Landi explained the greatest threat to America’s future: Poverty. Landi issued a challenge — to every American company — that he says is the real solution to poverty and unemployment. At the start of his presentation, Landi asks executives in the audience, “Do you love your country? Are you patriots?”

By the end of his presentation, Landi lets them ruminate on the profound contradication between their answer to those questions, and the choices they have made for their companies.

“Just imagine, if technology is built here — not licensed off shore. Manufactured here. Think about it. We built China… They manufacture everything there. We manufacture hardly anything here. Imagine the opportunity — building machines, making clothing, making computers… here… American jobs…

50 million people in poverty. America needs to wake up… We need to bring manufacturing back here… Get us out of poverty. This is the answer. Not to be greedy… GE: billions of dollars in profit, and not one cent paid in taxes… Sacrifice a little profit. A little profit. Like I do. To provide jobs to American citizens here, and spread the wealth… We together can make this happen. It only takes a spark… and that’s what’s needed. It must happen, for the survival of the United States… Let us never forget that we are heirs to an American revolution.”

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Finesse: The secret sauce of recruiting

In the March 21, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains about losing a candidate to another employer, and blames the headhunter. Was the manager in too much of a hurry?

I used a headhunter to help me fill a position in my group, but it didn’t turn out well. The good news is that the headhunter found us a great candidate, and we made a good offer. But after some back and forth, the candidate decided to take a job at another company. This was our #1 candidate. I stopped working with the headhunter after that because I was pretty upset. Now I’m wondering, did I shoot myself in the foot?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

What I’m about to tell you is a story out of the ordinary. But it reveals the importance of cultivating relationships, staying in touch with people, and reading between the lines.

I had a client that made an offer to a candidate I found. As in your situation, the candidate turned the offer down, and took a job at another company. I thought the candidate had made the wrong choice, so I didn’t walk away from the deal. I applied some finesse.

I put my client on hold as the next week played itself out, and I left my candidate alone as he got oriented at his new company. Then I called the candidate at work, and asked him some detailed questions about “how’s it going?”

Knowing more than he did about the company he’d joined, I was not surprised to learn things weren’t perfect. I let him talk. He’d had no one to talk to about his first week, and now he gave vent to his disappointment. I just listened. He soon made it clear that he was unhappy with his choice… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

…And then I gently pounced. “I think you could have another shot at that, if you want.”

He wanted. What I then explained to him was that I had not disclosed to my client that he had taken another job. The offer was still active. He accepted it and spent several happy years with the company.

Someone might accuse me of not fulfilling my obligation to my client, because I didn’t disclose that the candidate had accepted another job… My obligation to my client was to find and deliver the best candidates I could. And I did. It just took a little longer in this case, because some finesse (and a bit of gambling) was necessary.

A bit of discretion on my part got the job filled. That was the secret sauce. (It’s just another insight about How to Work with Headhunters.) In a recent blog comment, reader Chris Walker (a training and placement specialist himself) shares a related experience:

“I have had 2 clients in the past year who were hired after being rejected because the new hire didn’t work out, one just 2 weeks after her rejection letter. That’s why candidates should always send a thank you in response to a rejection.”

When you’re the job candidate, remember that There is no sure thing. Don’t move so quickly to turn off other opportunities, even if you’ve accepted a job offer… My client got the candidate “because the new job didn’t work out…”

…Sometimes patience and a bit of diplomacy can get you where you want to go. Don’t let job boards and high-speed decision making deter you. Slow down, think, and exhibit some finesse, because even “final decisions” are subject to change.

Did you ever get rejected (whether you’re an employer or job hunter), and still make the deal happen? How did you turn No into Yes?

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Recruiting: Have employers put on their thinking caps?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joe Light (Recruiters Rethink Online Playbook) suggests employers may have put on their recruiting thinking caps. Light discusses whether employers and recruiters are shifting their focus away from job boards and towards more personal (and productive) recruiting methods.

“About 24% of companies plan to decrease their usage of third-party employment websites and job boards this year,” reports Light.

Duh. Why this change?

“We need to reach candidates earlier, before they’re being pursued by competitors.”

Duh.

“Now, the company is hiring different types of recruiters who specialize in headhunting, including finding candidates to poach from competitors, rather than those who are good at processing and filtering applications.”

Duh.

Companies are dumping the job boards, and instead putting recruiters out in the field, to talk to people. Duh.

Why is it so difficult to understand that smart people prefer to do business with others they know and trust, or with folks who are personally referred to them by trusted contacts? While most “headhunters” don’t hunt (just dial for dollars), the best earn their $40,000+ fees (per placement) by going out into the world and talking to, meeting with, forming relationships with, the shining lights in the fields they hunt in. This should tell any job hunter something important: It’s the people, Stupid!

Joe Light is shining the light (sorry!) on a sea change in recruiting. The smartest companies don’t even need headhunters, if they put their best managers out there to find great candidates. This isn’t rocket science. But, nor is it the stupid database game that most seem to think it is. You can’t get a job by having a machine plaster your resume all over kingdom come, using “keywords” and “semantic analysis algorithms.”

TheLadders, Monster, CareerBuilder and that ilk are fascinating businesses — they make wads of money while their products don’t work! (They represent the “source of hires” about 0.7%, 4%, 3% of the time, respectively, according to annual surveys done by CareerXroads.) Yet personnel jockeys continue to throw cash at them.

While the trend seems to be changing, I worry about one of the last bits in Joe Light’s article:

“Instead of using senior recruiters to filter through the company’s applicants, lower-level screeners process them first and only hand off the most-qualified.”

Really? Just how does a company get better candidates, when it uses lower-level clerks to sort out the best candidates? Gimme a break. Sometimes the problem of “mindless recruiting and hiring” is a bigger part of a problem corporate mindset than we realize…

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Readers’ Forum: How I got the job – Talking shop!

The October 19, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a special edition. A reader shares his story, about how he talked shop to meet the people who led him to the manager who hired him:

Nick,

I got the job! Finally, I will be moving to [new city] for a great job. I still don’t believe what I was able to accomplish with your guidance.

I got a job:

  • In my target industry,
  • In my target city,
  • In my target role,
  • At a high level and not an entry level.

All of that despite the fact that I was unemployed for 10 months, was moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone, and had little experience in that industry.

In this economy, I have found that submitting my resume to HR yielded no results in a year of trying. The only way I had any success was networking my way to the hiring manager and talking shop. And all my skills in that area came from you.

Ordinarily, the newsletter is not archived online. You can read the whole thing only if you subscribe. But this week’s edition is so important that I’ve archived it, and you can find it here: How I got the job: Talking shop.

Please read the full column online. Then join in the discussion:

Can you really ignore job postings, toss out your resume, and go have fun meeting people to win the job you want? I think yes. So does the reader who submitted this week’s success story.

What do you think? Have you ever talked shop… all the way into a new job?

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Now THIS is a job description

I still think the best way to find great people to hire is to go where they hang out and talk to them.

But if you’re gonna post something online to tell people about your organization and to get them interesJob descriptionted… Joey deVilla over at Microsoft Canada has a good idea.

Just tell people about your business.

Check it out: Developer Evangelist. Toronto Area. Now Hiring. Maybe You?

Don’t post a job description. Well, deVilla does provide a copy of the thing — he stuck a link to it near the top of his posting, so you can look at it if you want to. But it doesn’t get in the way of his message. I mean, if the rest of what deVilla says about the job doesn’t get your motor running, why bother looking at the spec sheet from HR?

This ain’t rocket science. Here’s why deVilla scores major points with me. This is a guy talking about a job he loves doing himself. He’s telling you what gets him up in the morning, about his boss, about the cool gear you’d get to work with, about the team’s philosophy, and much more. The sort of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily find out til you showed up for an interview.

Job description 2And that’s the point. deVilla is telling you up front what this gig is really like. Yah, he makes it look great — there’s definitely some selling going on here. But lordy, there’s no selling at all going on in that other document. If deVilla’s posting makes it look like working with his team is a party, that HR word pile up above makes it look like life in a straitjacket!

HR departments take note: Don’t waste people’s time with bureaucratic job descriptions that read like every other employer’s boilerplate. We all know what’s really in that tiny print: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua…”

The key thing about what deVilla is doing is that he’s doing the recruiting himself. He’s not waiting for some personnel jockey to post a job or run an ad. deVilla is the guy in the department who does the work, telling the world what the gig is all about and what it’s like to work there.

One last comment about the job description itself, which, as I mentioned earlier, is found via image and link at the top of deVilla’s post: Bleahhhh. Take a look at that thing.

What, Microsoft doesn’t have any web designers doing work for the HR department? I mean, this looks like the drug interaction notice on that medical sheet the pharmacy gives you along with your new prescription. Gimme a break! Why doesn’t it look like deVilla’s posting? Blah blah blah 6-point type?? I barely got through the first two sentences. Does anybody believe anybody else reads this stuff? Come on — tell the lawyers and the compliance people to go home. A typeface and a layout like that tell you one thing: There’s something snarky and legal hidden in here and if you find it you’ll never apply. So, let deVilla write and format that thing so it says something.

Yo! Does this make sense to anybody? HR should get out of the recruiting business. (See Why HR? and REJECT! How HR engineered its own funeral.) Let the people who own the job tell the story. In fact, don’t let anybody else do it.

Recruiting. It’s the manager’s #1 job. And if managers aren’t doing it, they’re not doing their job. Kudos to deVilla and to his boss, and to Microsoft Canada.

My only advice to deVilla: Add an e-mail link, so interested applicants can talk to you directly. Don’t leave them with that dopey application form, because having inspired the best of them, you’re going to lose them if they can’t get in touch with you now. Please re-read the first line of this post. Now that you’re getting them to come hang out where you live, Open the door and talk to them.

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No jerks allowed

Company mission statements usually remind me of public relations dogchow. I wanna gag. I don’t know anything about Connectria — but I love the company’s guiding principles.

Especially the last item. If they really abide by it, it’s probably one of the most important career development tools any company can implement and offer to employees and new hires. (On Ask The Headhunter, there’s a related article titled It’s the people, Stupid.)

The only thing missing in the guiding principles, I think, is, “We work hard to make more profit.”

If the point of a company’s mission statement (or principles list) is to send a message to the world, I think Connectria pulls it off. And my guess is they wrote it over beers, not by paying a PR consultant.

Does any of this really mean anything? Know any companies that have meaningful (or startling) mission statements that seem to make a difference?

[Thanks to buddy Jeff Pierce for passing along Connectria’s link.]

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The down side of job hunting

About 15 years ago, when I first started publishing Ask The Headhunter online, I met a fellow that I’ve stayed in touch with on and off. Recently we renewed our acquaintance — and I encouraged him to start a blog.

He prefers to remain anonymous. He calls his blog Unemployed and Clinically Depressed in the Midwest. I’ll call him UCD. Though his medical diagnosis is “clinically depressed,” what’s notable about UCD is his candor and forthright perspective on who he is, what he’s been through, and where he’s going. He minces no words. UCD doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He reveals both his confidence in his future, and his fears about the things that confront his confidence.

Unemployment exacerbated UDC’s depression, and his story quickly pulls us into a realm that none of us want to look into.

There are a lot of people unemployed. Some get depressed as a result. Some suffered from depression to begin with, and the agony of unemployment has pushed them to the edge. Some jump. Some find the courage to turn around and take a new direction in their lives. Some, like UCD, find strength and power in teaching others — and in learning more about who they are. UCD has taken control of his next steps.

UCD has written a an anti-suicide note to the world. It’s his story, blunt and direct, honest and hopeful. It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve read: Suicide. It’s about getting up from the down side of job hunting.

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