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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Monthly archive for December 2014

‘Tis the season to land the right job

In the December 23, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, several job seekers bemoan the state of employment:

Question

  This week’s edition addresses submissions from several readers:

  • “I don’t understand it. I must have responded to over 50 job postings in the last month, and I haven’t gotten a single interview.”
  • caneI’ve completed over a dozen job applications, and I haven’t heard from one company.”
  • “The tight market puts employers and recruiters in the driver’s seat once again. Fewer jobs are available, and there’s a larger talent pool to choose from.”
  • “Companies that once had to make offers on the spot to snare candidates now have the luxury of time. They can postpone making hiring decisions until they find someone who meets all their criteria.”

The question behind all these plaintive protests is clear: Why am I not getting hired?

Nick’s Reply

Whoo-whee! It’s that time of the year — the best time of year to get a job. Companies are indeed hiring. They’re just not doing it the way you’d expect. They’re in a hurry but they don’t want to make mistakes. All across this blog, we discuss how to help employers make the decision to hire you. These concepts are laid out in how-to fashion in the Ask The Headhunter PDF books, and we’ll summarize some of them here.


If you’d like to buy one or more Ask The Headhunter books, I’ll offer you a holiday discount! Take a jolly 25% off your purchase by using discount code=JOLLY.

[Discount code JOLLY extended through New Year’s weekend!]


Consider the logic of the frustrated job hunters above. It’s not logic at all. It’s pure frustration that stems from not being the right candidate. Who’s fault is that? Difficult as it might be to hear this, please listen:

  • Don’t approach a company if you’re not the right candidate.
  • Don’t make rationalizations when a company ignores you.

It’s true that many companies are hiring fewer people because things are tight, but that doesn’t mean they have the luxury of time. In fact, the opposite is often true. Some managers are under great pressure to fill precious slots before the year ends and budgets close (or are cut). Thus, employers are not hiring slowly because they can, but because they can’t get the right candidates. They are deluged with every Tom, Dick, and Jane who has a minute to submit an application — and those same managers are burdened with applicant tracking systems that can’t distinguish strong candidates from weak ones.

Remember that most hires are made via trusted referrals and personal contacts. Why? Because this is the most reliable source of good, appropriate candidates. When managers can’t get a hire through this preferred channel, they turn to lesser sources, like ads and resume submissions. They know the odds of finding a good candidate are low, but they, too, are frustrated and desperate. They need to fill a job now. Put that in your Santa’s pipe and smoke it — and you’ll sweep past your competition.

wreath‘Tis the season to be truly right. If you are the candidate a manager needs, you can capitalize on the rush to hire. You can give a manager the gift he’s been waiting for: your earthly presence. Help him to spend his budget and make the hire. Be ready to articulate your value, but do it face-to-face or on the phone.

Make it personal. Like Baba Ram Das said in 1976, “Be here now.” A resume doesn’t cut it. An application doesn’t cut it. When you hide behind a form, you’re admitting that you’re not sure you’re the right candidate. You are afraid to face the manager because you have nothing compelling to say. If you’re the right candidate, then you have exactly what it takes to make a manager smile and say, “Yes!”

There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. You can be the truly right candidate for only one, or two, or maybe three different jobs. Pick them carefully. Study, prepare, create a business plan to prove your value to the specific manager, and go after those two or three jobs and no others.


Here’s the secret to showing an employer why she should hire you: Estimate as best you can how your work produces revenue or reduces costs for the company.

Excerpted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, p. 8:

Identify your role in the profit equation
If you work in sales or product design, you help produce revenue by selling or by creating products. That’s good for the company. The more you contribute to revenues, the more value you add to the business.

If you work in information technology or in manufacturing, you have a daily impact on the company’s costs. (But, of course, every worker is part of a company’s costs.) High costs are not good. Your job contributes to the success of the business by helping minimize costs (also known as increasing efficiency) while performing a function necessary to help produce revenue.

The difference between revenue and cost is profit. So, regardless of what your job is, ask yourself what you do to enhance profits. Do you sell more stuff at higher margins, or do you do some other job smarter, faster, and cheaper? Explaining this to an employer helps you demonstrate your value.


The frustrated candidates who submitted the complaints above are not being dismissed because their resumes are lousy, but because they are cows. If you merely send in a resume, what’s the chance you are really the right candidate? If you rely on nothing but a dopey job posting, how can you know what a job is about or what a manager wants? Please: Be realistic. Take the most reliable, proven path to a job. If you are really the right candidate, prove it by getting referred by someone the hiring manager trusts.

hollysprigI know I sound a bit harsh. My suggestions seem like an unreasonable burden on a job hunter. The notion that it’s up to you to pick the right job creates a daunting task. And making personal contact with hard-to-reach managers is so difficult. This is all very hard work.

Yep. But so is the great job you want. The task of finding and winning it has never been easy. If you believe otherwise, you’re grasping at straws. You already know this isn’t simple. You already know that being dead-on for a job is a rare experience. But if you don’t make it happen, it’s not likely to happen on its own.

Take advantage of this high-pressure time when managers really do want to fill jobs. But don’t be casual about it. Get personal. Be the right candidate who picks the one right company, the one right job, then picks up the phone and delivers the solution a manager has on his wish list.

(For more on job hunting during the holidays, please read The Third Fallacy.)

The candidate who does all that is 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.”

These are some key tips to help you get the edge you need over your competitors:

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2014. 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! See you with the next edition on January 6!

Save a JOLLY 25%!

If 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.christmas-tree

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, 2015!) [Discount code JOLLY extended through New Year’s weekend!]

How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What methods of your own have you used successfully? Please share, and let’s discuss — what matters most is what works best out in the field!

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After 2 big salary jumps, I landed hard

In the December 16, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker gets two 25% salary boosts and lands hard:

Question

I left a management job at Company A 16 months ago after ten years. It was becoming uncomfortably similar to the company you refer to in Death by Lethal Reputation. A friend recruited me to Company B for a 25% pay raise. Company B turned out to be a good place to work, but after six months there another friend requested I talk with his director as a favor, and to cut to the chase, Company C offered another 25% raise on top of what I was making and I took it.

is it-about-moneySince then, at Company C I have had six different bosses, management has re-structured three times, and my co-workers have been very difficult to work with since they all seem focused on the politics of positioning for the next shake-up. (It’s scheduled for next month.) This caught me completely by surprise since this kind of thing really hadn’t been happening there before.

I am growing impatient with the chaos and losing confidence in my managers, but I am reluctant to have another change so soon on my resume. I’m very good at what I do, which is highly specialized technical work. I’m fortunate to be in such demand, and I admit the money was a big part of jumping to Company C, though it’s clear that I blew it.

How many changes are too many on a resume? How much patience do I owe this employer? How would I present myself to a prospective employer without appearing like I am hopping jobs for money?

Thanks and best regards.

Nick’s Reply

Time to pay the piper, eh? Don’t feel too bad. While you should have looked under the rug more carefully before you took this latest job, I know it’s hard to turn down such salary increases from companies that are hungry to hire specialized workers.

When you pursue that next job, interview the company in more detail. (See “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.) The only way to get the real story before you take the job is to talk to managers that are peripheral to your own department, and to other employees who know how the business really works.

When a company begins to indicate that it’s serious about you, that’s the time to ask to meet more members of the organization.

How to Say It
“It’s important to me to know how Sales (or Operations, or Engineering) functions, because I’ll be affecting their success and they’ll be affecting mine. I’d like to meet with the manager of Sales, and with some of the other technical people in the department I’d be working in. Can you arrange that?”

This is the kind of insight that will help you make a more informed decision, and help you avoid surprises.

kangaBut let’s look at your current situation. What is your responsibility to this company? You’ve been there about ten months. You might stick around long enough to see how the new re-org works out. Then I’d have no qualms about leaving if things don’t get any better. But even if you give that six months, you’re still talking about a short tenure right after a six-month stint at Company B.

No matter how you cut it, you come across as a job-hopper who’s gone for the bucks. I’m not criticizing you for that, but I will suggest that now’s the time to figure out what you really want in your career. Define it clearly — industry, business, company, technology, function, compensation, the work itself, the people. Then pursue it. Ignore the wrong jobs. Go after the companies where you want to work.

Here’s some advice that emphasizes just how deep you must dig to avoid another mistake — from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, p. 12:

Check a company’s references
Talk with people who depend on the company for a living: attorneys, bankers, investors, landlords, and others. This will give you a community-wide perspective and also help keep you out of harm’s way. Explain that you are considering an investment in the company. (Your career is indeed an investment!) Ask for their insight and advice. Is this a good company? Why?

When companies pursue you too aggressively, they can hurt you. You can start to look like damaged goods because you’ve jumped around too much. I wouldn’t say you’re there yet — not with two short jobs on your resume.

My guess is you might have to take a pay cut to get the kind job (and environment) you want. If it comes to that, consider it the cost of getting back on track. In a good company, you’ll have a chance to make it up pretty quickly. (See “Taking A Salary Cut to Change Careers” in How Can I Change Careers?)

The best way to deal with the resume issue is to avoid using one. (See Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.) The kinds of contacts who helped you win your last two jobs should comprise your strategy. When a buddy introduces you, he or she can also explain your situation, and that you’ve learned a lesson. And don’t avoid that topic in an interview: Be blunt about it.

How to Say It
“I made a serious mistake. Not just going for the money, but not looking carefully at a company before enlisting. Before I take another job, I want to make sure I’m right for the company, and that the company’s right for me. So please feel free to be blunt with me, and I will be with you, too. I want to make sure we can live and work together to get the job done.”

As you decide which companies you want to work for, make it your first goal to develop contacts there. If you lack them, you can create them by polling your friends.

Even if you decide to stick around till after the re-org, start your search now. Work at this patiently, and choose carefully. Put your two lemons in their place, swallow the sour taste, and get ready to move on.

I wish you the best.

Have you ever regretted taking too much money? How many job leaps are too many?

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The Magic Resume Calculator: Save 95% of your job hunting time!

In the December 9, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker asks how to format a resume for best results:

Question

When you reply via e-mail to a job ad, what is the preferred method of sending a cover letter and a resume? A formatted document, or plain text? Many don’t specify.

Nick’s Reply

First let’s use my Magic Resume Calculator to figure out how many resumes you should send out. Then we’ll discuss how to format them.

How many resumes?

resume-calculatorThe Calculator needs to know the number of resumes you’ve already sent out, and the number of job applications you’ve completed, in the past several months. What percentage resulted in no job offers?

I’m guessing 95%. But, use your actual results. I’ll stick with 95% for this example, based on my experience with all the job seekers I know. Pretty pathetic, eh? Yah, that’s why you’re so frustrated, and it’s why you’re asking for advice.

Now let’s consider the next number: What percentage of the time did you submit a resume or application to someone you actually know, who knows you? I’m guessing maybe 5%. (Sheesh, eh?)

The Magic Resume Calculator tells us you can save 95% of your time by sending out 95% fewer resumes. To maximize your chances of success, send resumes only to people you know who know you.

Obvious, huh? Well, then why aren’t you already doing that?

How to format your resume

When you submit a resume, whether via e-mail or on paper, it’s reasonable to assume that an employer will shove it through resume scanning equipment. So your first step is to call the company and ask exactly what format the machine prefers. That is, if you really want to compete for a machine’s attention.

resume-mistakesAs a headhunter, what matters to me is whether your resume demonstrates your ability to do the job and to add profit to the company’s bottom line. To a smart employer (where a human is doing the reading), formatting doesn’t matter if the information is valuable. You could put it in the body of an e-mail, in an attachment, or on a piece of paper.

Here’s what matters most to me when I receive a resume:

1. Is the sender someone I know? If not, it gets deleted. I have no time to waste with people who have not taken the trouble to track me down and talk with me before they send me a piece of paper.

That’s not to say I like unsolicited phone calls. The people I’m most likely to talk with have been referred to me by other people I know and trust.

My advice to job hunters: Get introduced. Make contact through someone the hiring manager knows. I’ll bet you don’t pick up hitchhikers, or give telemarketers your credit card number, or ask strangers for money. Get the point? Don’t send a resume to someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.

This single piece of advice is lost on almost everyone. Because this requires real work and effort, most people skirt past it. I know, I know: It’s just so much easier to send resumes out in bulk anywhere you find jobs posted…. So, why not do it? Because it’s really stupid.

In a contest between a trusted referral and your blind resume, you will always lose. I won’t open your resume, and what’s in it doesn’t matter. That’s how hiring managers and I save 95% of our time.

2. Is the information useful? Let’s say you get my attention through someone I know. Here’s your next hurdle. If your cover letter is a boring, empty pitch about how available you are, and your resume is a recitation of your experience, I won’t spend any time on it. Nor will any hiring manager

Why? Because we don’t have time to figure out what to do with you. You have to explain it to us quickly and clearly. (See Resume Blasphemy.)

My advice: Whether you’re calling an employer or submitting a proposal about a job, learn how to make a compelling presentation, and make it brief. A very helpful book is Milo Frank’s How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less. Be ready to discuss the work I need done, exactly how you’ll do it, and how the outcome will be good for me. The hard work lies in editing your message down to only the information that will matter to me. Figuring that out is your challenge; don’t make it mine. (This is how to profitably use the 95% of your time saved.)

In general, a resume by itself is a dumb piece of paper (or e-mail), no matter how it’s formatted. It cannot represent you or defend you. (See the section of How Can I Change Careers? titled “Put A Free Sample in Your Resume.”)

What matters most to an employer or headhunter reading a resume is that it came via a personal introduction from someone we trust. Your competitors will almost always come in second.

Disclosure: I didn’t invent the Magic Resume Calculator. It’s prior art. Back before we had the Internet, phones, and reliable mail, people had a great incentive to pursue only jobs for which they were recommended: They couldn’t afford to waste their time. Today, employers waste your time and theirs, too, simply because they can. Use the Magic Resume Calculator to save time, and don’t worry how your few resumes are formatted. What really matters is that you know the few managers you hand your resume to, and that they know you.

I know you understand all this. But, do you send out unsolicited resumes anyway, hoping for the best? What’s your hit rate with blind resumes?

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Wanted: HR exec with the guts to not ask for your SSN

In the December 2, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker hesitates to hand over a Social Security number:

Question

The more I read your columns, the more I realize that the employment process is not just broken. It’s inappropriate and run by people who think they can demand anything from people who need a job. Like private, personal information you’d never just hand over to anyone.

I viewed an employment application yesterday and I didn’t have issues with most of what tssnhey asked for, until I got to the request for my SSN. What do they need that for? My thinking is that providing your SSN would only be appropriate if and when you are hired. In your opinion, when would it be acceptable to provide your social security number (SSN) to a potential employer?

Nick’s Reply

Employers, like your phone company and gas company, use your SSN to identify you in their databases because it’s a unique number. It’s the lazy vendor’s way to track customers, and the lazy HR department’s way to track job applicants. And it’s frankly irresponsible.

Here’s what Pam Dixon, Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum, says:

“Never put a Social Security Number on your resume. You can provide it when you are invited for an interview or when the employer obtains your permission to conduct a background check. Widespread access to your SSN puts you at risk for identity theft.”

(So, uh… do employers ever conduct background checks before meeting you, or without your permission? Yep. For an example, see Big Brother & The Employment Industry: “All your employment are belong to us!”)

I know many HR workers will shake their heads and say I’m being overly cautious, and that they really do need a job applicant’s SSN. So here’s my challenge: Give me one good reason why an applicant’s SSN is necessary to proceed with a job interview.

I’ve asked this question of HR again and again, and no one has been able to answer it satisfactorily. We’ve already discussed how this “SSN protocol” has spawned unintended scams: How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number.

If it needs a unique identifier, why doesn’t the employer just ask for your credit card number? For that matter, why don’t you — the applicant — ask the HR representative for his SSN, as well, so you can do a background check on him? (Two can play this game, if one thinks he can justify it.)got-guts

Yes, these are rhetorical questions — but they’re no nuttier than improper requests for your SSN.

I don’t believe any employer really needs your SSN until you are hired, when it’s necessary to process and report your contributions to your social security account. If the employer needs it to conduct a background check, wouldn’t you want the employer to put some skin in the game first — for example, by actually interviewing you and indicating it’s interested in hiring you? I’d take that a step further and ask the employer to (1) disclose exactly what kind of check it’s going to do, and (2) agree to show you everything it finds. (Even credit bureaus are required to show you what they find. Which reminds me: You should be just as wary of requests by employers for your credit report: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)

If you think my suggestions are a bit over the top, then try responding to the employer with these two businesslike questions: For what reason do you need my SSN? Or, What are you going to do with it?

The reality is, some software designer included an SSN field in the employer’s database, and the HR department bought the software without questioning the design and intent. Because HR relies on such software to process you, HR doesn’t know what to do if you decline to provide data the software “requires.” Go figure. Suppose the software included a credit card field instead — that’s unique to you, too, right? But no one would expect you to provide it, because the employer doesn’t need it.

I feel your pain. Some employers will boot you out of the hiring process if you don’t give them your SSN (and your salary history) — just like a phone or cable company will refuse to sell you service without it. I wish someone would file a lawsuit.

When you’re stuck, blocked by a faceless job application form that asks inappropriate questions, there’s just one thing left to do: Go mano a mano. Yes, I’d call the employer — on the phone — and explain that you’d like to apply, but that you will provide your SSN only if you are hired. “So, how do we proceed with my application?”

Of course, HR might have a problem dealing with a human applicant, and it may have a policy against talking to applicants on the phone. Hey — where did you get HR’s private phone number, anyway…?

Do you hand over your SSN when applying for jobs? Is there an HR executive out there with the guts to stop asking for job applicants’ SSNs until after HR has decided to make an offer?

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