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Monthly archive for December 2013

Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course

In the December 17, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks for the short and sweet version of Ask The headhunter (and gets an earful):

Can you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter strategy and explain the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

caneThis is a good end-of-year question. The detailed answer is spread across the website, my blog, these newsletters and my PDF books. But I’ll try to summarize by sharing some of my tips, in the form of reprints straight from the books.

I’ve selected sections that should be helpful by themselves, and I hope they get you off on the right foot. If you’d like more details that are beyond the scope of the newsletter, I’d of course love it if you purchased the books they come from. And since I’m sure you’d love to save some money, I’ll offer you a holiday discount: Take a jolly 25% off your purchase by using discount code=JOLLY. [THIS DISCOUNT HAS EXPIRED]

Here’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell:

Find the right job

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do — people who are very good at it. Insiders are the first to know about good opportunities, but they only tell other insiders.

To get into an inside circle of people, you must earn your way. It takes time. You can’t fake it, and that’s good, because who wants to promote (or hire) the unknown? Here’s how the distinction works.

From How Can I Change Careers?, pp. 27-28, “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends”:

Don’t speculate for a job
The way most people network for a job smacks of day trading in the stock market. The networker has no interest in the people or companies she’s “investing” in. She just wants a quick profit. She skims the surface of an industry or profession, trying to find easy contacts that might pay off quickly.

When you encounter an opportunistic networker, you’ll find that she listens carefully to the useful information you give her, but once you’re done helping, she’s not interested in you any more. She might drop some tidbits your way, but don’t expect her to remember you next week.

Invest in relationships
Contrast this to someone who reads about your company and calls to discuss how you applied new methods to produce new results. She’s interested in your work and stays in touch with you, perhaps sending an article about a related topic after you’ve talked. She’s investing in a potentially valuable relationship.

This initial contact might prompt you one day to call your newfound friend for advice, or to visit her company’s booth at the next trade show and introduce yourself. Maybe it never goes beyond that or maybe one day you’ll work together. The point is, after a time you become familiar to one another. You become members of one another’s circle. You’ll help one another because you’re friends, not “because it will pay off later.”

The methods in How Can I Change Careers? are not just for career changers — they are for anyone changing jobs that wants to stand out to a hiring manager as the profitable hire.

Get the interview

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts. Between 40-70% of jobs are filled that way. Yet people and employers fail to capitalize on this simple employment channel. They pretend there’s some better system — like job boards. That’s bunk. There is nothing more powerful than a respected peer putting her good name on the line to recommend you. Deals close faster when the quality of information is high and the source of information is trusted. That’s why it takes forever to get a response when you apply “blind” to a job posting.

How can you get interviews via the insiders who have the power to recommend you? I once gave some advice to a U.S. Army veteran who had just returned home from overseas duty and wanted to start a career in the home building industry. This method works in virtually any line of work.

From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), pp. 15-16, “How to make great personal contacts”:

Pick the two or three best builders in your area; ones you’d really like to work for. They may not be the biggest, but they should be the ones you have a real affinity for. Find out who finances their projects. This is pretty easy — the name of the bank is often posted at the work site.

Then go visit the bank. Ask which vice president handles the relationship with your target company. Then sit down and explain that you are evaluating various companies in your town because you want to make a career investment… After you make your brief statement, let the banker talk. You will get a picture of the entire building industry in your area. Your goal, at the end of the meeting, is to make a judgment about which companies are the best. Ask the banker if he could recommend someone for you to talk with at each company. Then, ask permission to use his name when you contact them. This is how you pursue companies rather than just jobs.

So, don’t just send a resume. Figure out who the company’s customers, vendors, consultants and bankers are — and talk to them. It’s how smart business people do smart business with a company: by talking to people that the company trusts.

Stand and deliver

3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you. Everything else is stuff, nonsense and a bureaucratic waste of time. Don’t believe me? Ask any good manager, “Would you rather talk to 10 job applicants, or meet just one person who explains how she will boost your company’s profitability?” I have no doubt what the answer is.

The idea of showing how you’ll pay off to an employer intimidates some people. But it’s really simple, once you get out of the mindset of the job applicant and start thinking like a business person.

From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire,
pp. 8-9, “How can I demonstrate my value?”

Estimate your impact to the bottom line If the work you do is overhead and mostly affects costs: Do you shave two minutes off each customer service call you handle? Have you figured out a way to get projects done 20% faster? Multiply this by the hourly wage or by the salary. The savings are just one part of the profit you contribute. Get the idea? I’m simplifying, but few of your competitors will offer any estimates at all. This gives you a good, honest story to tell the employer about how you will contribute to the success of the business. It gives you an edge.

If the job affects revenue, try to quantify the impact. Your estimate may not be accurate, simply because you don’t have all the relevant information at your fingertips, but you must be able to defend your calculations. Run it by someone you trust who knows the business, then present it to your boss or to your prospective boss. You can even present your estimates in the interview, and ask the employer how you might make them more accurate. This can be a very effective ice breaker.

If you can’t demonstrate how you will contribute to the bottom line, then be honest with yourself: Why should the employer hire you? Or, why should your employer keep you?

Employers don’t pay for interview skills. They pay for your work skills. The rare job candidate is ready to discuss how he or she will do the job profitably. That’s who stands out, and it’s who gets hired.

Profit from headhunters

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start. Hang up on the unsavory charlatans and work only with headhunters who treat you with respect from the start.

If you’re not sure how to qualify a headhunter, when the headhunter calls you, here’s how to say it:

From How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 30, one of 34 How to Say It tips:

How to Say It
“If we work together, you will check my references and learn a lot about me so you can judge me. But likewise, I need to know about you, too. I’d be putting my career in your hands. Would you please share a few references? I will of course keep the names you provide confidential, just as I expect you will keep the names I give you.”

Don’t waste time with headhunters who don’t demonstrate high standards of behavior. Sharing references is test #1.

Then, instead of “pitching” yourself to the headhunter, be still and listen patiently to understand the headhunter’s objective. Proceed only if you really believe you’re a match. Then show why you’re the headhunter’s #1 candidate by outlining how you will do the job profitably for his client. Headhunters adopt candidates who make the headhunter’s job easier, and who help the headhunter fill the assignment quickly. (Coda: If you follow suggestions 1-3 carefully, you won’t need to rely on a headhunter. But if you’re lucky enough to be recruited, you need to know How to Work with Headhunters.)

That’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell.

Why ATH works

You ask what is the main difference between ATH and the traditional approach. It’s pretty simple. The traditional approach is “shotgun.” You blast away at companies with your resume and wait to hear from someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you. Lotsa luck. (ATH regulars know that I never actually wish anyone luck, because I don’t believe in it. I believe in doing the work required to succeed.)

ATH is a carefully targeted approach. You must select the companies and jobs you want. It takes a lot of preparation to accomplish the simple task in item (3). There are no shortcuts. No one can do it for you. If you aren’t prepared to do it right, then you have no business applying for the job, and the manager would be a fool to hire you.

How to be the stand-out candidate

I’ll leave you with a scenario that illustrates why the traditional methods don’t work well. You walk up to a manager. You hand him your resume — your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments, your keywords, your carefully crafted “marketing piece.” Now, what are you really saying to that manager?

“Here. Read this. Then you go figure out what the heck to do with me.”

Managers stink at figuring that out. You have to explain it to them, if you expect to stand out and to get hired. Do you really expect someone to decipher your resume and figure out what to do with you? America’s entire employment system fails you every day because it’s based on that passive mindset.

The job candidate who uses the Ask The Headhunter approach keeps the resume in her pocket and says to the manager, “Let me show you what I’m going to do to make your business more successful and more profitable.” Then she outlines her plan — without giving away too much.

That’s who you’re competing with, whether she learned this approach from me or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work.
The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing
to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2013. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined here in upcoming issues of this newsletter. Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

(Please note: I’m taking a couple of weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s, so there will be no newsletters those two weeks. See you with the next edition on January 7!)

Save a JOLLY 25%! [THIS DISCOUNT HAS EXPIRED]

hollysprigIf you purchase one or more Ask The Headhunter PDF books in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore, please take advantage of this jolly holiday 25% OFF discount. When you order, use discount code=JOLLY and I’ll deduct 25% from your purchase price — no matter how many PDF books you buy! (This is a limited-time offer for the holidays! Expires Jan. 1, 2014!)

How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What other methods of your own have worked well for you? (Did anything you did shock, awe or surprise an employer?)

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How can I cheat on employment tests?

In the December 10, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader has a friend who doesn’t do well on tests:

A friend of mine has an important job interview coming up. It’s for a pretty high level job. Before she goes to the interview, they want her to do a personality type of test, and she’s very worried because she doesn’t test well. Her idea is to have someone else do the online test for her because no one would know. I think that’s cheating, but I understand her concern — she could miss out on a really good job over a test that won’t mean anything once she starts the job. Is there any way they could find out it’s not really her taking the test?

Nick’s Reply

That’s a scary question.

cheaterWe live under an employment system where people think they can buy resumes, interview answers, keywords and clever methods to beat the filters employers set up when they’re recruiting.

There are about five issues of integrity in your question, but all I’ll say about this in general is, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t fake who you are. Even if you survive the guilt and even if you beat the risks, there’s a good chance that the “payoff” might be that you’ll “win” a job that’s not right for you because you misrepresented yourself. Doesn’t your friend understand that this is a big part of employment testing? It can be to her benefit as well as the employer’s to do the test honestly.

My second point: I don’t like employment tests. I wish employers didn’t use them. If they’re going to truly assess a job applicant, they should do it directly, by spending time with the applicant and observing them in real-life work situations. Not indirectly through tests. So there’s my personal bias.

Now let’s put all this aside and deal with the very real problem of getting busted, because cheating on employment tests isn’t an option.

I recently published a book everyone should read long before they go job hunting in earnest: Employment Tests: Get The Edge… when you compete for a job, by Erica Klein. It’s the first book under the Ask The Headhunter imprint that I didn’t write — and it’s a key “insider’s edge” to getting ahead of your competition.

Don’t wait until you’re faced with an employment test, because it’s not a matter of whether you’ll have to take one of these tests (and there are many kinds — Erica’s book covers the gamut) but of when. If you’re not ready to deal with employment tests, you’re toast.

Your question is the perfect example of how ignorance about employment tests could needlessly cost you a great job — or even get you into bigger trouble. (Yes, bigger trouble. Read on.) There’s a section of the book that addresses your very scary question very directly, and I’m just going to reprint it below.


From Employment Tests: Get The Edge by Erica Klein (pp. 9-10):

What about cheating?

High quality pre-employment testing benefits both employers and job applicants by matching them to help ensure mutual success. One way to think about cheating is that, if you cheat, you can hurt yourself by getting shoe-horned into a job that is not a good fit for you.

What is considered cheating? Usually the rules for taking the test are laid out for you before you start the test. Rules for test taking vary but usually require doing your own work, answering factual questions honestly, not accepting help from anyone else and not accessing other sources of information while taking the test. The rules for different tests will vary. For example, some tests allow you to use a calculator and some will specifically instruct you not to use a calculator.

Some tests are set up to catch certain kinds of cheating. One increasingly common practice is to provide two versions of the same test. The first test you take is “unproctored” — you take it from your own computer and nobody is watching you. If you are in the top group of applicants, you might be invited to take the test again, but in a proctored environment where you are watched while you take the test and your identity is verified. If your score on the second, proctored test is significantly lower than the score on the unproctored test, then the employer assumes you probably cheated and excludes you from further consideration.

[Get it? There’s nothing to stop an employer from insisting that your friend take the test a second time, with someone watching. -Nick]

Applicants sometimes try to get a better score on personality or integrity tests by choosing answers that reflect what they believe would be a perfect person’s answers. Test manufacturers are aware of this strategy and they have built in “lie detector” scales that catch applicants who portray themselves as perfect people with no flaws. This is sometimes called “claiming uncommon virtues” or “faking good.” If you score high on a built-in lie scale, you may be excluded from consideration for the position. One example of a question that could be part of an uncommon virtue/lie scale is “Have you ever told a lie no matter how small?” It is a rare individual who has never told even a small lie in his or her entire life.


I mentioned that ignorance about testing can lead to bigger trouble. Erica adds this warning in one of the many Get The Edge sidebars in the book:

If you get caught cheating on pre-employment tests, you might ruin your chances for employment not only in the job you applied for, but also with that employer, and even possibly with other clients of the test vendor.

That’s right: Cheat on one test, and you could get blown out of many jobs, because the test vendor can keep track of your results from one employer to the next.

It’s quite an industry, isn’t it? That’s why I asked Erica Klein to write this book. It’s rare for someone like her — a specialist in employment testing — to address job seekers. Industrial psychologists like Erica normally conduct and interpret research only for the benefit of employers. I wanted her to translate it and make it useful and understandable for job hunters — to give you the edge.

I think the lessons Erica Klein teaches in her book are so important that I’ll give you a 25% break on the price to get you to read Employment Tests: Get The Edge. Use this discount code when ordering: EDGE. I’ll happily subsidize 25% of your cost of getting the edge.

Have you ever been surprised by an employment test? How did it turn out?

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Join My LinkedIn Gang-Bang!

In the December 3, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to join my network:

I wanted to send you a LinkedIn invitation to connect, but I noticed on your LinkedIn profile page that you only accept connections from people you already know. How can you expand your network if you don’t want to meet new people? I respect your policy, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I could introduce you to people you can do business with. What’s wrong with that?

Nick’s Reply

gang-bangPlease check my LinkedIn profile again. It’s changed since you last looked. Send me that request — I’ll accept it.

My profile used to say: “Don’t ask me to join your LinkedIn network if we don’t know one another or if we haven’t done business together.”

That was a lofty standard, and one I maintain in the real world.

If you don’t get it, think about it this way. If I get a call from an employer (or any business person) that wants to check your references, I need to know what I’m talking about, right? If I don’t know you well enough to give you references, why would I accept you as a LinkedIn connection? We’d both look like idiots.

But that was then, and this is now

Welcome to the new world of LinkedIn b.s. connections, where phony relationships are the coin of the realm and everyone can pretend to know one another.

In the real world, I have standards. On LinkedIn, I’ve deleted my aforementioned linking policy, because there are no standards. (I know a guy who has 118,000 connections. He’s an idiot, and the “influencer” articles he posts are as phony as his relationships.)

So, send me a connection invitation. I don’t care who you are any more than LinkedIn does — I’ll connect, because it means about as much as being in the old Ma Bell phonebook, or being findable on Google. Everybody’s already connected “because they’re in there.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love LinkedIn. It’s the best online phone book ever assembled. It’s incredibly nice to be able to look people up.

But I propose that LinkedIn do away with connections altogether, and just let users query the system when they want to get in touch with any other member, without pretending there’s a pre-existing relationship. Even LinkedIn seems to think there’s nothing special about your (or my) connections. It doesn’t care which button you click when you invite someone — colleague, classmate, friend… the system lets you fib.

My subversive agenda

In fact, a class action lawsuit filed recently in San Jose federal court says that LinkedIn doesn’t even recognize the value of contacts. The litigants claim LinkedIn hacks new members’ e-mail accounts and appropriates their contacts — to advertise LinkedIn, to get new members, and to implement the company’s mission. (LinkedIn refers to this as “new growth optimization efforts.”)

So, who am I to tell you I won’t accept your link requests? I do admit to a subversive agenda. If we all connect to one another, then we don’t need to pay LinkedIn for access to people outside our connections, and LinkedIn can’t block any of us from using its network the way it uses its our e-mail lists: To make money.

According to Bloomberg, LinkedIn programmer Brian Guan spilled the beans on his own LinkedIn profile. He describes his job as

“…devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!”

“Team Money” used to be a business network with standards that rose above, say, those of Facebook. It was, after all, a place for business people to transact business. But LinkedIn started cashing in its chips even before it did an IPO, and now it’s just one big data gang-bang. LinkedIn has signaled clearly that it’s just in it for the money — and any semblance of exclusivity, or integrity about connections, or concerns about members’ welfare is gone.

Here’s what led me to my decision to open up my network

  • LinkedIn charges for Premium membership, but users say there’s no need to pay a fee to access the most useful feature — viewing profiles.
  • LinkedIn expert Jason Alba agrees: “The most important thing is to have a really solid profile. If you want, you can walk away after that. People will still find you.”
  • If you haven’t noticed, all LinkedIn seems to do any more is sell. Its sales force grew from 207 reps in 2010 to 1,822 this year, but where’s the investment in network benefits to users?
  • LinkedIn recently issued $1 billion in new stock. Some might see growth; I see somebody trying to cover the costs of an unsupportable sales operation.
  • LinkedIn recently opened the doors to 13-year-olds. The company says it’s “so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right.” (That must have something to do with the Profitable Child Labor discussion group, eh?) Gimme a break. I think it’s so LinkedIn can tap the teenage data set, which is now worth around $300 billion in the U.S. alone.

LinkedIn is the new TheLadders, the world’s last failed “exclusive” network of businesspeople. Both companies have thrown the doors open to anyone and everyone, after making highfalutin’ representations about “networking.”

  • Both companies are now the subject of consumer class action suits.
  • Both companies are manned by the same people who invented the “churn ‘em and burn ‘em” model of the job boards — alumni of HotJobs and Monster.com.
  • And both companies tout the value of high-quality “connections” while de-valuing those very connections. (Endorsements, anybody?)

Join my LinkedIn Gang-Bang!

It doesn’t matter whether we know one another or have done business together. Send me your LinkedIn invitations, and I’ll accept them. No offense to you but, like LinkedIn, I want to use my connections to make money — and so do you. Unlike LinkedIn, I do have scruples — I’ll never sell your data to advertisers. But keep in mind that what I do with your data doesn’t matter. LinkedIn will sell our data to anyone that will pay for it. We’re all in the phone book, after all.

My only quandary: As a parent concerned with my own children’s safety, what do I do when 13-year-olds start asking me to connect?

What’s your take on LinkedIn connections? Do you limit your list, or is it a gang-bang like mine? Just how much b.s. will people pay for?

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