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Monthly archive for November 2013

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

In the November 26, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, there’s no Q&A. Instead…

autumn-leaf1I normally take a break during Thanksgiving week and skip publishing an edition of the newsletter so that I can cook, bake, and fill the larder with goodies for Thursday. But I’m cooking up something different for you with this edition. Rather than normal Q&A, I’d like to share four tips from the latest Ask The Headhunter publications. If you find something useful in them, I’ll be glad.

The idea behind the new Fearless Job Hunting books is that finding a job is not about prescribed steps. It’s not about following rules. In fact, job hunting is such an over-defined process that there are thousands of books and articles about how to do it — and the methods are all the same.

What all those authors conveniently ignore is that the steps don’t work. If they did, every resume would get you an interview, which would in turn produce a job offer and a job.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. The key to successful job hunting is knowing how to deal with the handful of daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Here are some excerpts from Fearless Job Hunting — and if you decide you’d like to study these methods in more detail, I invite you to take 20% off your purchase price by using discount code=GOBBLE. (This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

You just lost your job and your nerves are frayed. Please — take a moment to put your fears aside. Think about the implications of the choices you make. Consider the obstacles you encounter in your job search.

FJH-11. Don’t settle

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, p. 4, The myth of the last-minute job search:

When you’re worried about paying the rent, it seems that almost any job will do. Taking the first offer that comes along could be your biggest mistake. It’s also one of the most common reasons people go job hunting again soon — they settle for a wrong job, rather than select the right one.

Start Early: Research the industry you want to work in. Learn what problems and challenges it faces. Then, identify the best company in that industry. (Why settle for less? Why join a company just because it wants you? Join the one you want.)

Study the company, establish contacts, learn the business, and build expertise. Rather than being just a hunter for any job, learn to be the solution to one company’s problems. That’s what gets you hired, because such dedication and focus makes you stand out.

2. Scope the community

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 6, It’s the people, Stupid:

FJH-3You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in the community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of.

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work.

The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

3. Avoid a salary cut

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), p. 9: How can I avoid a salary cut?

FJH-7Negotiating doesn’t have to be done across an adversarial table — and it should not be done over the phone. You can sit down and hash through a deal like partners. Sometimes, candor means getting almost personal. Check the How to Say It box for a suggestion:

How to Say It
“If I take this job, we’re entering into a sort of marriage. Our finances will be intertwined. So, let’s work out a budget — my salary and your profitability — that we’re both going to be happy with for years down the road. If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me. But I also need to know that I can meet my own budget and my living expenses, so that I can focus entirely on my job.”

It might seem overly candid, but there’s not enough candor in the world of business. A salary negotiation should be an honest discussion about what you and the employer can both afford.

4. Know what you’re getting into

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23: Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it:

FJH-8I think the failure to research and understand one another is one of the key reasons why companies lay off employees and why workers quit jobs. They have no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late. Proper due diligence is extensive and detailed. How far you go with it is up to you.

Research is a funny thing. When it’s part of our job, and we get paid to do it, we do it thoroughly because we don’t want our judgments to appear unsupported by facts and data. When we need to do research for our own protection, we often skip it or we get sloppy. We “trust our instincts” and make career decisions by the seat of our pants.

When a company uses a headhunter to fill a position, it expects [a high level] of due diligence to be performed on candidates the headhunter delivers. If this seems to be a bit much, consider that the fee the company pays a headhunter for all this due diligence can run upwards of $30,000 for a $100,000 position. Can you afford to do less when you’re judging your next employer?

Remember that next to our friends and families, our employers represent the most important relationships we have. Remember that other people who have important relationships with your prospective employer practice due diligence: bankers, realtors, customers, vendors, venture capitalists and stock analysts. Can you afford to ignore it?

* * *

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this community throughout the year. Have you ever settled for the wrong job, or failed to scope out a work community before accepting a job? Did you get stuck with a salary cut, or with a surprise when you took a job without doing all the necessary investigations? Let’s talk about it! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you purchase a book,
take 20% off by using discount code=GOBBLE
(This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

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Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #6 – #10

In the November 18, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about the rest of the stupid inteview questions… In the November 5 edition we discussed the first five of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. (There are of course lots more than 10, but who’s counting?) Let’s recap the reader’s question, then tackle #6 – #10.

I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. stupid-questions-moreWhy did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
  4. What are your best skills?
  5. What is your major weakness?
  6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
  7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
  8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
  9. What salary are you expecting?
  10. What have I forgotten to ask?

Nick’s Reply

6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?

Gimme a break. If you hire me, I’m working with you, right?

Clearly, the purpose of the question is to assess whether you are a solitary type who prefers to avoid interacting with other people. Like you’re going to fess up if you’ve got asocial tendencies… In any case, if you take a guess and tell the interviewer what you think he wants to hear, you might be wrong. Worse, you risk getting a job that’s wrong for you.

I think the best answer to this question is an offer.

How to Say It: “I’d like to offer to come in for half a day to show you how I’d do this job. Perhaps that would involve shadowing another team member, or working alone, or participating in a group work meeting. I’m happy to invest the time, so you can see how I work, and so I can experience first-hand how you and your team work together.”

What’s not to like about such a direct assessment, where everyone can relax, forget about silly questions, and actually do some work? (Caution: Don’t let this turn into you doing lots of free work!) You’ll learn lots more about this approach in Fearless Job Hunting Book 6 – The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.

7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)

“My long-term goal is to chuck it all, become a sailor, and sail around the world with my schnauzer. Do you like dogs and boats? If not, I suppose you won’t hire me.”

You could also try this:

How to Say It: “My goal for the foreseeable future is to help you increase your revenues and/or reduce your costs, and to improve your profit line by doing a better job than anyone else you could hire. I’m not perfect, but I’m determined. Let me explain how I’d do these things in this job…”

8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)

This is the proverbial loaded question — and most “experts” advise avoiding it because any answer may turn off the interviewer depending on what her interests are. (I’ve seen people rejected because they play golf and the manager recently blew a game.)

If the employer pays close attention to your answer and seems to be extrapolating from your hobbies — using some look-up table that explains what it really means when you say you like to read in your spare time — to decide whether you’d be a good hire, then this question is the least of your problems.

Your hobbies are no one’s business. But don’t lose the interview over this one. My advice: Tell the truth and damn the torpedoes. If the employer can’t deal with your interests and won’t hire you because of what you do in your spare time, to heck with her because she’s going to micro-manage you.

Everyone thinks they’re a psychologist. Thank you, Dr. Phil.

9. What salary are you expecting?

If an employer asks you this question instead of, “What’s your current salary?” you’re probably dealing with a smart employer. Smart employers don’t care what you’re making now, because they can figure out for themselves what you’re worth to their business — and that’s what they’re going to offer you, no matter what you made last year.

Show your respect and your own intelligence like this:

How to Say It: “Every good job is dynamic — it evolves and changes quickly. Let’s discuss what I’d be doing day one, week one, month one and by the end of one year — the actual work, the tasks, the deliverables. Then we can discuss how, and perhaps how much, I can add to your bottom line. That’s how I expect to come up with a salary range that I think represents my value, in terms of what I could bring to your bottom line.” (For more about how to handle salary topics in interviews, see Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).)

10. What have I forgotten to ask?

How to Say It: “You didn’t ask me the single most important question in an interview: How am I going to do this job profitably for your company? If I can’t demonstrate my ability to do that, you shouldn’t hire me.”

End of interview.

Now I’ll repeat what I said in the first installment of “The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions”:

If you memorize these answers and use them, you’re a dope. (No offense.) Every person, every employer, ever interview, every situation is different. Use the answers I provided as a spark to get you thinking in the right direction. Preparing your own actual answers will require an immense amount of work on your part, for every single job you interview for. The details will be different in every case.

One more note: Never take anyone’s advice about your job search, including mine. At best, leaven your own approach with something you’ve learned here — but make it your own, make sure you’re comfortable with anything you say or do, and never, ever, ever complain that you blew it because you did what Nick told you to do… :-)

Remember that giving the “right” answers is not the point. That could lead to a job offer for a job that’s totally wrong for you. You don’t want to just succeed in the interview; you want to succeed in getting the right job. And some interviews reveal lousy jobs that you should walk away from.

The key to the ATH approach is figuring out the connection between the work you do and the profit you can add to a business. Without that, your answers to interview questions don’t matter.

I hope you find my suggestions useful.

How do you answer the top 10 interview questions (stupid or otherwise)? What makes your interviews work — and when and how have you failed?

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Outplacement Or Door Number 2?

In the November 12, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about outplacement:

My company is downsizing and I know I’m going to get cut. HR tells us they’re going to give us help finding a job from a top firm that specializes in this. What do you think of outplacement?

Nick’s Reply

When you get fired, outplacement is often the consolation prize. The employer spends 10 or 15 grand to help the employee “transition” (that’s used as a verb, so help me) and the gullible departee is grateful that someone is going to find her a job.

door-no-2Now read my lips: Outplacement might extend your unemployment rather than help you land a new job. So take ownership of your status, and maybe put some extra cash in your pocket. Here’s how.

Some years ago, when AT&T was doing a big downsizing, I got a call asking if I’d like to help with outplacement. I explained that I don’t scale — I can’t coach 5,000 people into new jobs because I don’t think anyone can do that. No, no, no, they said — you’ll be working with just a handful of managers who really need your help. So I took the gig.

The handful of managers comprised the career development team — that branch of the human resources department responsible for outsourcing “transition assistance” for 14,000 employees to a bunch of huge outplacement firms at a cost of $15,000 per person.

But the career development team didn’t want to go sit in cubicles with thousands of other newly minted job hunters. They wanted something better. They wanted highly customized help. Now, this was a huge feather in my cap. I represented “something better,” and I was proud of it. I did a good job helping every single one of them land in new jobs, and I got paid well.

But the point of this story is that the HR exec who hired me explained that outplacement isn’t so much for the departing employee. It’s mostly for the legal protection of the employer. I’ll over-dramatize how it plays out in court:

Downsized employee: “Your Honor, after 20 years on the job, they cast me out on the street!”

Judge: “Did they give you expensive outplacement services to help you find a new job?”

Employee: “Well, yes. They spent 15 grand on Transition Gurus, Inc. to help me, but they never found me a job.”

Judge: “Fifteen grand on a big-name company like Transition Gurus?! Why, they gave you the best! No matter that it didn’t work. No company ever got sued successfully for retaining Transition Gurus, Inc. Case closed! Next!”

While there are some boutique outplacement firms that do good work, the outplacement industry is dominated by a few big players that process the downsized like cattle. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Here’s how big-time outplacement often “works”:

  1. You don’t choose the outplacement firm or the counselor you work with. Your employer does. So from the start, you’re in the back seat of this adventure.
  2. The outplacement firm works for your employer, not for you. The firm’s job is to get you out of your employer’s hair, keep you busy, and make you feel like someone’s going to get you a job so you won’t sue your employer for wrongful termination. Outplacement is mostly about the company’s liability, not your future.
  3. Outplacement firms earn more money when you don’t find a job. Say what? Just what I said. Some of these firms drag out the process to milk the client for more fees, and to make it look like their “process” is thorough. Many programs are boilerplate presentations conducted by lightweight trainers. In some cases, they’ll talk you into buying “premium” services with your own cash.
  4. While you try hard to swallow the drivel some greenhorn counselor is feeding you (after all, you really do need help…) months drift by and your status deteriorates due to protracted unemployment. The firm looks busy, while you look like damaged goods.

Outplacement might be helpful, but never forget that you are responsible for your next career step. Don’t be lulled into thinking that a high-priced consultant — who works for your former employer — has any real skin in your future. The skin is yours alone.

(Special Case: Rip-Off Edition: Who’s trying to sell you a job? This is where outplacement and “career management” turn into scams. Beware.)

Some employers are willing to give you cash in lieu of outplacement services if you ask. (You might have to sign release to get it. Talk to your lawyer.) It might be the best deal, and it might help you get into high job-hunting gear faster. If you decide to spend the money on outplacement with a good small firm, that’s up to you — you get to choose the firm and the counselor. If you use the money to tide you over while you conduct your own job search, that’s also up to you. I’d take Door Number 2: Go for the cash.

Have you ever been downsized and outplaced? Tell us about your experiences!

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Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1 – #5

In the November 5, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about “sample” inteview questions and answers:

I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:

  1. Tell me about yourself.stupid-questions
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. Why did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
  4. What are your best skills?
  5. What is your major weakness?
  6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
  7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
  8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
  9. What salary are you expecting?
  10. What have I forgotten to ask?

Nick’s Reply

Ah, yet another version of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions! I’m sorry you didn’t share the suggested answers, because whoever wrote this is ushering you toward your interview demise.

Are there really stupid questions? Of course — they’re questions that are old, loaded, and worn out. They are not worth asking because any fool can find dozens of clever rejoinders in books and articles (like this one) and regurgitate them with a smile. Interviews shouldn’t be about questions — they should be about two-way discussion.

But let’s get back to what you asked. There used to be a book titled The Top 2800 Interview Questions… And Answers. I have this fantasy: You walk into an employer’s office, shake hands, and say, “I know you have a lot of questions for me. So let’s save us both a lot of time.” You slide that baby across the desk toward the manager… “So here they are, along with all the answers. Now can we cut the crap and talk about the job and how I’ll do it for you, okay?”

Most interviewers are clueless about how to interview and hire good people. Like most job hunters, they’re brainwashed by the employment industry to focus on everything but the one thing that really matters:

How are you going to do this job profitably for my company?

Your challenge is to turn the interview around to a discussion based on that one question. But, here’s how I’d handle those Top Ten questions, because interviewers do ask them. Heads up: If you use my suggested answers, you’re a dope. Don’t be a dope! Use what follows as a first step to re-thinking how you manage your interviews. Turn them into discussions or working meetings.

1. Tell me about yourself.

Before you start talking, think about how people nuke their own job interviews: Don’t Compete With Yourself.

You’ll note that I’ve abbreviated that article because it’s now part of Book Six, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire in the Fearless Job Hunting collection. But here’s a tip from it:

“Most job candidates sit like cornered mice, waiting for the interviewer to start the action. Don’t wait for the employer to ask you the first question— the question that will bring your anxiety to a head. Speak first. Get the ball rolling on a topic your scared self can’t interfere with. Talk about something you know absolutely nothing about, and which your scared self can’t screw up.

“Start an unexpected conversation. Ask the manager about himself, about his successes, or about the state of the industry. There’s nothing to be nervous about, because you are letting the manager perform. You’ve immediately handed him the ball while you acclimate yourself. In the process, you are learning something that might help you with this interview.” (pp. 2-3)

(Hint: You should ask the interviewer about this before he asks you.)

2. Why do you want to work here?

“You are one of only three companies I want to work for. The others are A and B. I believe your business model makes it possible for individual employees to make a clear impact on the bottom line. With your permission, I’d like to go up to your whiteboard and outline how I think I could do that.”

(You’d best have done your homework and know for a fact that what you’re saying about this company is accurate. Otherwise, why interview?)

3. Why did you leave your last job?

If you can answer question #2, all you have to say is that your last employer didn’t view each job in terms of how it contributed to the company’s success. “A job was a job unto itself. I believe all jobs are interconnected, and how I do my work affects how effectively others can do theirs. I left that employer because I want a job where I can contribute to the business.”

4. What are your best skills?

“My most important skill is that I can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. Every job is different and requires new skills, new approaches and new ideas. I’m a quick study, and I can break down a task so I can get it done. In fact, if you’d lay out a live problem you’re facing right now, something you’d want me to handle if you hired me, I’d like to roll up my sleeves and show you how I’d apply the necessary skills to tackle it.”

(This requires lots of preparation in advance. If you’re not willing to do it, then you have no business interviewing with this company.)

5. What is your major weakness?

(Smile when you say this.) “That’s one of those Stupid Interview Questions Nick Corcodilos talks about on Ask The Headhunter. By the time I’m done showing you how I would do this job profitably for you, my weaknesses won’t matter. If you think I have critical weaknesses when we’re done with this interview, then you shouldn’t hire me. (Smile again.) Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really believe that one thing matters above all: You should evaluate me based on what I show you I can do, not on some clever answer I found in a book.”

Next week, we’ll cover Stupid Interview Questions #6 – #10. I’ve already got them worked up, but if you offer different questions that are better qualified for this notorious list, I’ll substitute your choices for the ones in this reader’s list.

Of course, if you’ve got better suggestions than mine above, I expect to see them posted below as comments. Remember: This is about having a discussion with an employer. Not about clever answers to stupid questions.

What’s the most ridiculous “serious” question an employer has asked you? Are canned questions really useful for assessing job applicants? What do you do when such questions come up in interviews? Join us on the blog!

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