The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for August 2013

What to do about a broken job

In the August 27, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is frustrated by interviewers who don’t want to talk about the work that needs to be done…

I think your suggestion to “do the work in the interview” is literally right on the money. Nothing else shows how you’ll contribute to the bottom line. But a lot of managers just won’t put a challenge on the table for you to work on during the interview. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to think that way. (Of course, it’s also a test of whether they understand their own job, how candid they are and whether they’re worth working for!)

What do you think of a manager who cannot or will not pose a challenge he’d want you to tackle if you were hired? What’s the next step if this happens in an interview?

Nick’s Reply

The job candidate who takes a job like this usually winds up sucking canal water. I’ll explain that in a minute…

Sometimes a true story of a job candidate’s experience is far more instructive than my opinion. So I’ll recount a story for you.

broken-jobsRichard was an executive at a major pharmaceutical company, working in research and development (R&D). A colleague tipped him off that there was an opening for an R&D manager at the pharmaceutical company she worked for, and he was invited to interview.

Richard met with the Vice President of R&D for the entire operation–a scientist who had been with the company most of his life. The interview went very well. The two men hit it off both professionally and philosophically. As the meeting wound down, the V.P. asked Richard if he had any questions. Richard recounted the story to me:

“I decided to follow your suggestion and I asked the V.P. if he could please lay out a live problem or challenge he would want me to handle if he hired me. This clearly struck him. The V.P. put his hand up to his lips and really thought about it seriously. This went on for a few minutes while we sat in silence. You’d think this was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t at all. It actually felt perfectly right, like I had stimulated the big picture for him. This man, a brilliant Swiss researcher who is known all through the industry, was really thinking.

“Finally, he put his hand down and leaned toward me with a friendly smile and said, ‘You know, that was a very good question and I really can’t think of anything right now.'”

The meeting ended, the two men shook hands and went their ways. To answer your question, there is no “next step” in a situation like this. You’ve just witnessed one of the most important signals a hiring manager can give you: There is no job here.

Three weeks passed. Having heard nothing, Richard called his friend at the company to ask if she could obtain some feedback about the interview.

“Oh, your meeting went very well from what I heard,” said the insider friend. “But they didn’t get back to you? The V.P. decided to cancel the position. He decided not to fill it.”

Richard called me next.

“You’ll never guess what happened… They might have decided not to fill the job for any of a number of reasons. But I could see it in the V.P.’s eyes while he was thinking about my question. My bet is that he decided there was no real job to fill when he realized there was no challenge that he could discuss with me. Call me presumptuous, but I think our discussion made him cancel the position. Imagine if I had talked myself into that job–there was no job. Just an open position!”

Asking a manager to lay out a live problem for you isn’t just a way to challenge yourself and to set the stage to show what you can do. It’s also a very loaded question that can reveal much about the employer and the position itself. Just because a position is open doesn’t mean, as Richard points out, that there’s a job with a future.

Companies often fill positions just because they have “head count”–budget to pay for an employee. The budget stimulates a requisition which stimulates a job description (which is often a rehash of an out-of-date job description). Soon the HR department is advertising for candidates, scheduling interviews, and preparing to make an offer.

The manager wants to protect his budget (Who wants to give up budget money?) and goes along with the process. But this is how “the work” becomes divorced from “the position” and it’s how serious hiring mistakes get made. It’s also how a job applicant winds up swallowing canal water.

When there’s no specific challenge the employer can tell you about, that means there’s no desired outcome for the job. Which in turns means there are no metrics to judge your performance. Which means the job is broken. And you’re screwed if you get hired.

If you ask the question Richard asked, and the employer lays out a challenge, will you be ready with a good answer? In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, you’ll find these two detailed sections of advice and how-to:

    • How to do a Working Interview
    • What’s your business plan for doing this job?

How would you handle a live challenge from an interviewer? Have you ever encountered a broken job? (See the canal water link to find out what that is.)

: :


How to get into a company that’s not hiring

In the August 20, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to break down the barriers to get into companies that are not advertising jobs:

There are several companies I’d like to work for that don’t have any positions posted, but my skill sets should make me a very viable candidate for them. I don’t have any networking connections to these companies. A few years ago, I submitted resumes and cover letters to these same companies for future consideration, as suggested on their websites, but they never went anywhere.

Do you have any tips for breaking through the barrier to get into these companies?

Nick’s Reply

Yes: To get into these companies, you must identify, make, and cultivate contacts. You’ve already seen that resumes don’t work. No matter how viable your skills may make you, the chance you’ll be considered is small unless you are recommended by someone they trust. There is no easy path.

not-hiringWhen I read your question, here’s what I see. First, you tell me you know where you want to work, and you explain why these companies should hire you. Great! By picking your targets thoughtfully, you’re ahead of the game!

But then you quickly say that you can’t do what’s necessary to achieve it — that is, make connections. You’re saying you’re doomed without even trying!

You’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Thinking you have no networking connections is a common mistake — don’t feel bad. The employment system just programs people to think this way.

But, then you make things even worse. You suggest that employers should figure out for themselves why they need you by reading your cover letters and resume. They won’t. Employers absolutely stink at this.

This is why companies have HR departments that offer excuses galore why, in this talent glut — 26 million Americans looking for full time work — those clowns can’t fill 3.2 million vacant jobs. They have an 8:1 advantage. Eight job seekers available for every job!

What HR says to all these job seekers is, “You’re all under-educated or not educated in the right new skills! You are not the perfect candidate!”

My A!

HR is just lazy. HR wants Instant Workers Who Can Do The Job Now, when what they really need is Smart People Who Can Learn Quickly. People like you.

No offense intended, because I don’t know you. But, virtually everyone I talk with who is in your shoes has the same problem: They learn to be helpless. But don’t feel bad, because helplessness can be unlearned.

So please rewind to your second sentence. You have to make the contacts who will vouch for you and recommend you even if you’re not the perfect candidate — and even if a company isn’t presently hiring.

Check these articles to get an edge

To get new contacts to take you seriously, start with The Interview, Or The Job? Next, Outsmart The Employment System to avoid getting buried by the system. Finally, when you get in front of the right people, Tell ‘Em What They Need to Hear.

Some tips about how to get in the door — even before a job is posted

From How Can I Change Careers?
Learn to initiate insider contacts. (1) Make friends before you need them. Meet people before you need them. Start by talking shop — about the work you both do. (2) Seek advice, not help. No one wants to help you find a job. But if you ask for advice and insight about someone’s employer or work, they’ll talk to you. That leads to introductions to other insiders. (3) Give before getting. Developing insider contacts requires time, effort, follow-up. You may even have to have lunch or a beer with someone. Express your interest in their work first!

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition)
(1) Don’t give references–launch them! Traditional references answer questions about you. Preemptive references call the employer first, and recommend you. (2) “I don’t know any insiders!” Bunk. You just don’t know them yet! Identify customers, vendors, consultants, lawyers, bankers, accountants who deal with the company. Call them. (See “Seek advice, not help” above.)

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search
(1) Hang out with people who do the work you want to do. That’s where hot tips about unadvertised jobs come from. (2) Learn how to say it: “I’m trying to meet the best marketers in my field. Is there someone in your company’s marketing department that you think I should talk with?”

This is how to break through the barriers. Keep in mind: If this were easy, everybody would be doing it. That means you have less competition.

How do you get in the door? What can job seekers do to earn your help to get into your company?

: :

Fearless Job Hunting: Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?

This week’s Q&A is an excerpt from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, $6.95 (PDF, instant download). Order your copy now and get Book 2: Avoid Employment Scams, Ruses & Rackets, which sells for $4.95, for FREE! Here’s how: E-mail me the full purchase confirmation for Book 4, including the transaction number, and I’ll send you a free copy of Book 2. (This offer is good only for purchases made no later than August 20, 2013.)

In the August 13, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders when human resources (HR) will call him about his application:

I’ve applied for a job for which I easily meet all the criteria. I even have several “value add” items in my past that make me an extra good candidate. But I have not been invited for even a preliminary interview. They sent me a rejection. Should I just give up, or is it acceptable/advisable to contact the human resources office and essentially say, “I can’t believe you’ve overlooked me!”

Nick’s Reply

The company didn’t turn you down, the screener did. When a human resources person rejects you, it’s like having the gardener tell you not to bother coming around a girl’s house. What does that tell you about whether the girl wants to date you? Nothing.

shooNow, some of my HR friends will want to slap me for telling you this. After all, many HR representatives put a lot of work into interviews, and they expect their conclusions to be respected. I understand that. But no matter how good HR is at interviews, if you think you need to talk to the manager directly to make your case, it’s your prerogative. You must take action.

I’ve placed candidates whose resumes were buried in the HR department’s files for months. After HR stamped the application NO, the hiring manager paid me tens of thousands of dollars to hire the candidate.

I’ve also had HR departments come running to me after the fact, claiming no headhunting fee was owed “because we already had the candidate’s resume.” Yes, but HR failed to interview and hire the candidate. Because I delivered the candidate and facilitated the hire, the hiring managers always thanked me and paid.

There are risks in doing this. HR will try to cut you off if it learns that you “went around,” and depending on the hiring manager, HR might succeed. That’s HR’s job. So take it with good humor. You can be respectful and still be assertive.

Is another shot at the job worth HR’s ire? I say yes. If you get hired, you’ll have plenty of time to placate HR, and the fact of getting hired is the best argument for HR to accept you.

That said, how do you do this? It’s simple, though not easy.

  • You must identify the hiring manager who owns the job.
  • You must make contact.
  • You must show that you would be a worthy hire.

My suggestion is to triangulate — find two or three people who know the manager personally, and ask them to intercede. Ask them to introduce you, to urge the manager to contact you (“Don’t let this candidate get away!”), and to facilitate a meeting. Having lost a round with HR, you need to win one with somebody the manager trusts.

The more direct approach is to e-mail or call the manager. Be brief. Be ready to discuss ways to improve the manager’s operation. But don’t just ask for an interview or suggest that you should be interviewed. Prove that you are worth meeting. How? That’s up to you. If you can’t figure out how you could make the manager’s department more successful, you should not make the call. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book Three: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition). Your presentation must be compelling, because I don’t believe in wasting any manager’s time. If you’re not compelling, then our buddies in HR were right to reject you.

Don’t accept HR’s rejection letter if you think you offer something the manager needs. Go for it! Just be smart and ready.

Wonder what HR would say if you actually did this? On pp. 17-20 of Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, an HR manager responds to my advice and the fur flies! Order your copy of Book 4 now, and get Book 2: Avoid Employment Scams, Ruses & Rackets, which sells for $4.95, for FREE! Here’s how: E-mail me the full purchase confirmation for Book 4, including the transaction number, and I’ll send you a free copy of Book 2. (This offer is good only for purchases made no later than August 20, 2013.)

Did you ever go around HR after a rejection? What happened? If you’ve never done it, would you try it now?

: :

Did this headhunter overlook me?

In the August 6, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders when a headhunter will call him about his application:

I’ve applied for a job (online, to a headhunter) for which I easily meet all the criteria. I even have several “value add” items in my past that make me an extra good candidate. But I have not been invited for even a preliminary interview. Should I just give up, or is it acceptable/advisable to contact the headhunter and essentially say, “I can’t believe you’ve overlooked me!”

Nick’s Reply

In How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, there’s a section titled, “How should I judge a headhunter?” (pp. 26-27). It includes 10 tests that reveal a headhunter is a good one. Here are four of them:

  • A good headhunter doesn’t call anyone blindly. He already knows quite a bit about your background, or he wouldn’t call you.
  • He is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions he asks. Rather than rely on your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.
  • He will exhibit a sincere interest in your work and abilities, and in your interests and goals.
  • He will give useful advice if you ask for it.

blind_leading_blindThe root of your problem is that you’ve applied for a job indirectly — you applied (1) online, and (2) through a third party. Consequently, you know very little about the job or the manager. You might meet all the criteria that you know about, but that’s really very limited. What you don’t have is all the insider information that “insider candidates” have.

Applying indirectly puts you so far down on the list of realistic candidates that you’re really wasting your time. But I’m not here to berate you. This is a good learning experience if you understand why you’re wasting your time with this headhunter — who seems to have overlooked you because he’s working blind.

First, if the headhunter were any good, he or she would be actively recruiting you and sharing the inside scoop about the job with you. A headhunter who recruits via job postings is a pretty pathetic headhunter. This should be one big tip-off about how realistic the opportunity is. Please think about it: No one is “hunting” you if they’re waiting for you to come along via a job posting, right?

Second, If you’ve never actually talked to the headhunter, you don’t even know if the job is real, or whether the headhunter is just building his database with resumes. (This is common.) So you’re worrying about something that has never happened: The headhunter has invested nothing in you at this point.

That’s the danger of online job postings: They require no work. This is a trap that job hunters fall into all the time. They take job postings too seriously. The place to invest your time and energy is in people who actually know who you are and who take the time to understand what you can do for the employer. (These might be headhunters or employers themselves.)

Now consider the four tests of a good headhunter that I listed above. The headhunter in this case fails all of them. The main test is that, if the headhunter thinks you’re a good match and that he could make a placement, he’d be calling you. I think your best move is to move on — to opportunities where you have good information and contacts. And if you don’t have good contacts, start making them — that’s where the real opportunities lie.

Some guy posting jobs and waiting for a piece of spaghetti to fly across the Internet and stick to his wall isn’t really a headhunter. He’s not worth bothering with.

Do you apply for jobs online, indirectly, via “headhunters” you don’t know? What’s your hit rate? (Come on, make me laff…)

: :