In the December 19, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants the short version of secrets to landing a job. Okay… here we go!
I’ve been reading Ask The Headhunter all year long. I read The Basics, but as a year-end favor, would you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter secrets and highlight some of the most important parts? Help me understand the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks and happy holidays!
Anyone who’s been around Ask The Headhunter for a while knows this question often comes up around December. But there are no secrets! The ATH strategy is spread across this website, in the free weekly e-mail newsletter (This is the 700th edition! Please subscribe!) and in 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 this column, please check the links.
Here’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell:
You want secrets? 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… but there are no secrets!
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 (or secrets). 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 hard 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).
Please read my lips:
- There are no shortcuts.
- No one can do it for you. (Nope, not even headhunters, not even job boards, not even algorithms created by database jockeys.)
- 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 her 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 his 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 he outlines his plan — without giving away too much.
That’s who you’re competing with, whether he learned this approach from me or whether it’s just his 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.”
The Q&A Archive
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?)
Merry Christmas to you! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for your continued efforts to make the world of work a better place.
From all the tales of misadventure and foolishness that you hear of from candidates who’ve been burned by silly processes and kafka-esque administrative worm-holes, I imagine that you must occasionally despair that the system is irrevocably broken.
DO NOT EVER GIVE UP!!
For those who will take the time to put in practice your suggestions, It’s working like a charm.
Thanks, Eric. This week I published the 700th edition of the newsletter — where has the time gone? :-) I appreciate your kind words!
Happy New Year to all and the best success in your new employment search!!
In June 1997 I demonstrated to a former employer how I would do the job by providing a several page analysis of a company that they held a large portfolio position — Merck(MRK).
I recommended sale because of multiple patent expirations and impending generic price competition. The insurance company took my work product and sold the stock avaoding a major market decline. Good news so far — Right?!!!
Well, not really because the company followed my recommendation, sold a large position in the stock, as I learned from regulatory filings; the did NOT offer me the position!!!!
I had to litigate to be compensated for my stolen work.
David E. Westphal, CFA
Founder WHO Venture Partners, LLC
Congratulations on your 700th issue. The notes and subsequent comments are always enlightening.
Have a great holiday, Nick, and thanks for all your good work!
Thanks for uttering that simple phrase, “Merry Christmas” (along with well wishes for all others).
I have read ATH since it was in print publications (what are those?) decades ago. Your methods are common-sense and they work. But as you say, they’re not easy. And that’s the real beauty, yes? Great summary this week, and lots of reading in those links for those who want more and specific information.
America’s hiring process is in tatters. Will it ever get better? Thanks for providing a smart, sensible way to opt out of the HR game. Maybe we can start a quiet revolution on these pages.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and keep the faith!
@Nick: Congrats on #700 and may there be 700 more. Happy New Year!
Thanks for 700 issues of helping us deal with America’s dysfunctional hiring process and providing a way to bypass the anti-personnel department (aka HR). Keep up the good work and have a Happy Prosperous New Year!
Ditto for me on all the above.
Congratulations on #700 and thanks for helping us job seekers and hirers figure out ways around the system. Keep up the good work!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Happy 700th, Merry Christmas … and thanks for what you do.
To affirm what you are saying, here’s a real-life story from four weeks ago.
Manager A is thinking about adding a case manager position to Program A, but the budget hasn’t been approved yet. Manager A asks Manager B (on a different program) if he knows any good candidates “just in case.” Manager B has a relationship with Candidate 1 from outside the agency, talks to Candidate 1, and asks if Candidate 1 would be interested “if something opens up.” Yes, definitely. Manager B asks Staff Member B to meet with Candidate 1, prepare a resume for her, and interview her to “get a feel” for fit. Staff Member B follows through, sends a copy of the resume to both managers, with a strong recommendation for fit and “technical ability.” The budget gets approved. Manager A calls Candidate 1, interviews her, and offers her the job. She accepts. Started last week.
Total elapsed time, three weeks. Number of other applications / resumes received, zero (because the job was never posted on the agency web site, posted on a job board, or communicated outside the agency). Number of happy people, four (Manager A doesn’t have to go through the “hiring process,” Manager B has done a good turn for a fellow manager, Staff Member B is seen as a contributor to the process and feels good about being asked to help out, Candidate 1 has a new job which fits her to a “T”).
Nick, what you keep telling us is true, the ATH method works.
Chris: That’s a great story. Why does HR believe the claptrap from job-board database jockeys, and shovel enormous HR budgets into such unproductive systems, when what you just described is what works? Where’s the institutional effort to teach managers and employees to hire like that??
Thanks for your kind words!
When I get contacted by a so-called “recruiter” and the fit obviously isn’t right, or even if the fit is good but I can tell they didn’t take time to determine my fitness, I just say, “Sorry, but I only deal with hiring managers when looking for a job – never a recruiter.” A few have sent me back e-mails asking why I have such problems with recruiters and begging me to give them a try. Sorry, not interested.
There are truly good recruiters out there, and I did get contacted by a person from an agency that has placed me before – in two different jobs (I liked both jobs, but I could see one was going away so I left, and I got a huge raise and left the other one). Even though I am now far away from that agency, the fact that they really zeroed in to the right positions those times they placed me made me want to pay attention. The bottom line is my company may need some talent – and they are one group that I would trust due to my own good experience. (They are over 2000 miles from where I live now.)
So what made this firm different? First, they had me meet with them personally and went through my work history in detail. They also talked with me about how to present myself. They also worked to get feedback from potential employers. For example, one potential employer felt I didn’t have enough experience in a particular important area of their work, and they gave me that feedback. Even so, they did work hard to place me when I wanted something new. They are now affiliated with a national agency of high reputation.
The bottom line is that there are no shortcuts to performing any task well. Many people see computers as magic, time-saving machines that will do everything from hiring people to driving us places. Balderdash! I have said before that Caltech looks over each application personally (even though I am sure they could implement advanced artificial intelligence algorithms in powerful computers) – whether college admissions or employment, you need the human touch. Insofar as autonomous vehicles, remember that in aircraft where we have had autopilots for decades (even with auto-land features), it is still required that a qualified pilot be present at all times. I am a private pilot, but to use autopilot, I would require ADDITIONAL TRAINING.
Likewise with automobiles, I think the training requirement for drivers should increase with autonomous vehicles. I know there is talk of some “ride sharing” services that want to go autonomous, but I don’t use these services – I call a taxicab. Just so you know, a taxi driver told me they have to carry $1 million in liability insurance, and they are subject to a strict background check. The ride sharing services have background checks, but nothing compared to a taxi. People say that ride sharing is cheaper than a taxi, but I found that not to be the case. As a regulated entity, taxis cannot charge more or less than what they advertise. In one example, a whole bunch of students were recently returning to a local university by train. When they got off, they found a ride sharing service was going to charge $70 to take them 3 miles. So they called the local cab – I think the cost was $15.
I know this is a long reply, but my whole point is that even with carrying a powerful computer in your pocket, we still need the human touch. One last point: I am losing weight with one of the longest existing self help groups that got started in the 1960’s when a woman met with a group of people for support in their weight loss journey. Today, they do have an app and a web site that helps you track your diet and exercise. It is the most well researched commercial weight loss program. Seen to be not as popular, the fact is that weight loss is hard work (but my doctor told me I’ve got to do it). You can go to meetings, use the app, or both. I do both, and the other day I saw a young man who works for a high tech company adjacent to where I work. He is a software developer – a quintessential millennial. He uses the app, but he comes to the meetings as well. I have lost 42 of 90 pounds. My wife also had a significant weight loss and even at goal still works to maintain that weight and still attends meetings which this organization lets you do for free when you are at goal weight.
We need human contact, and I think that is what Nick points out in this blog. Yes, there’s an app for that – but contact with people will greatly enhance the app. Maybe that’s why my overseas trip last week to another part of my company is greatly accelerating my ability to accomplish my work.
“There are truly good recruiters out there, and I did get contacted by a person from an agency that has placed me before – in two different jobs (I liked both jobs, but I could see one was going away so I left, and I got a huge raise and left the other one).”
Kevin, awesome comment and information. Can you please share the firms you used/recommend?
Congrats on 700.
ATH helped me get my dream career and increase what I expected to earn. Before reading ATH, I thought $40K was my upper limit, and that I had to stay in a career I hated, because “everyone” has to put up with low wages, pointless work and back-stabbing bosses.
ATH taught me how to take more control of my destiny.
My favorite part of ATH is connecting college students to it so they will know what I learned at 50 before they are 30.
Thanks again, Nick.
Many thanks to you all for your very kind words — but mostly for hanging out here with me all these years to talk shop! When I tell someone about Ask The Headhunter, I tell them the folks here teach me (and one another) more than I teach anyone. It’s your stories, questions, experiences, ideas and suggestions (and hearty debate!) that make this forum what it is. I don’t know any website community where the standards of behavior and discourse are higher than they are here, and for that, I thank all of you!
Nick, as always, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’d also add something that seems obvious, but it just happened this morning: Be kind.
I was visiting a client when a highly qualified candidate came in for a job interview.
She started out by being unfriendly to the receptionist.
During her interview, she brought and read through the job description out loud, saying for each item, “I’m qualified for this. I’m highly qualified for that.” Not *why* she was qualified, not examples. Just the statement.
When prompted for examples of her qualifications, her responses were positive about her own contributions, but negative about past managers and co-workers.
The hiring manager, who was initially excited about this candidate’s prospects with the company, was turned off by the end of the interview. It’s unfortunate, because she had a strong chance based on her background.
I came here to share the story because I know you have many readers who scour your website for ways to get ahead in their job searches. Don’t forget the basics, people!
I do have a question that, strangely enough, didn’t come to me today. It isn’t even the “What are the secrets to getting hired” type of questions, but one even more blunt: Why do we suddenly NEED to know all of these secrets to get hired? I mean, in the past, you just went in, maybe demonstrated ability, and then applied and you either got it or you didn’t.
Now, we have to learn about thank-you notes, resume formatting, learning how to use the right keywords to get past the scanners, how to get past TALEO, how to get through all the personality tests, etc. It’s like getting hired has been set up to be a leviathan to keep us out, yet supposedly all of this technology was designed to make hiring EASIER, not make it harder.
One interesting thing you keep bringing up is how incompetent HR is or how they aren’t needed. So I thought, that, in part, this whole leviathan mess is a sneaky CYA scheme to avoid HR, and, management too, from having to take responsibility.
There are enough mazes and points where things that could wrong that, more often than not, it makes it easier for people to either blame themselves or be clueless as to the source of why they can’t get hired.
And because it can be manipulated to make it look like the employees aren’t up to speed, HR can keep themselves employed by passing the buck off to the job applicants. And, since they aren’t getting the hires they want and things don’t go so well at the company, the executives cry “talent shortage” to themselves pass the blame to the applicants to shirk their responsibility.
So another question, spurred on by the one above, is how would one find a way to convince someone to take the time and energy to go through with them and hire them, instead of just stringing them along out of convenience and face saving?
So it would seem that the best way in, if you can get it, is to try and make some kind of tie with someone in there and get past the labyrinth and get noticed and get hired. Thus, you’d have to target a few companies and spend a lot of time getting in rather than spending lesser time on dozens and dozens of companies via quick applies like Indeed or whatever where most likely you’ll get lost in the bureaucracy, if you’re even noticed by a human at all!
So far, it seems that you’re one of the few that’s addressed these questions and I’d like to thank you.
If there is any more you’d like to add to the above (wish there was an edit button as I knew I was forgetting to add something) that could answer my main question of why it’s so hard to get hired now and there seem to be more steps than ever and my theory that it’s designed to be complicated so that HR and management can pass the buck and if you think there’s anything to that theory, please let me know.
Meant to say “Didn’t come to me till today”.
Hi Paul. Here are my thoughts.
> “Why do we suddenly NEED to know all of these secrets to get hired?”
I think you already answered your own question. Technology plays a role, it’s supposed to make processes more efficient but people haven’t caught on yet that when it comes to “human resources” technology can only go so far. So it acts like another obstacle to get to the end goal.
> “the executives cry “talent shortage” to themselves pass the blame to the applicants to shirk their responsibility”
Yeah, exactly. Although I do wonder if this isn’t partly the ‘natural’ way that things inevitably turned out given various factors, rather than it being purposely designed so. Most likely a mix of both.
> “how would one find a way to convince someone to take the time and energy to go through with them and hire them”
Here I think you answered your own question too. Be more selective, and target a smaller number of companies. Get in touch with people on the inside. And ALWAYS remember: you’re looking for a fit, you’re not trying to convince them necessarily, but more trying to create a win-win situation. You’d approach it like: here’s what I can do, here’s what you need, and here’s how I can do it. They can take it or leave it. But if they take it, that doesn’t mean you have to as well—only if you see a good fit too.
May take while. But it’s worth it.
I hope you’ve answered your own (main) question by now. Automation to narrow down job applicants keeps someone in HR employed, helps promote the junior analyst who recommended the software and slashed the HR budget, and serves as HR’s CYA if things go wrong.
But your suggestion about thank-you notes and resume formatting (for example) miss the mark. Those particular things ARE important. The employment acquisition and recruitment business (how’s that for a new catch phrase!) is one made up of marketing, personal communication, sales, presentation, negotiation, and performance (not necessarily in that order). It depends on respect. Job applicants often think they earn it (and rarely get it), but how often do job applications show proper respect for the people who try to recruit them? This goes beyond simple pleasantries.
Are you presenting your pitch in such a way for a hiring manager or recruiter to get the message quickly that you are a terrific find and they should read your resume for more details (within the first sentence or two of your cover letter)? Are your qualifications for THIS position easy to find within the first few seconds of someone reading your resume and/or qualifications statements?
Imaging yourself as a hiring manager or recruiter who would be reading what you’re presenting. And if you were making the decisions, wouldn’t proper etiquette (i.e. thank-you notes, and follow-up letters even if someone else got the job) leave a lasting impression? Granted, most recruiters and hiring managers I’ve encountered are disrespectful and unprofessional, but you can’t tell which ones aren’t.
Unless you’re planning on submitting your pitch and resume as machine code, you’re wasting your time trying to manipulate poorly functioning “talent management” software. There’s no program that can make sense out of my multi-discipline rich experience resume. Every attempt I’ve seen resulted in gibberish. My resume is intended for human comprehension.
Although I regularly produce different marketing resumes for my employer to pitch different kinds of work, that approach for my own pitches hasn’t been successful. There, the cards are always stacked against me. The “management” software was written with much younger, less experience or much narrower experienced individuals in mind. But we might not make it that far since systems like brassring and bamboo have hidden field length limits, so it’s unlikely that the many “hits” I may have in my resume that match the job qualifications, will fit in whatever goes to an HR person (if it goes to anyone at all). Brassring, in particular, appears to be proving the Infinite Monkey Theory to be true.
By this time you should have already come to the conclusion that you (and I, and others) aren’t supposed to complete the application process, since we weren’t supposed to be hired. For example, HP has been openly discriminating against older employees, targeting older employees for Workforce Reduction, consistent with CEO Meg Whitman’s announcement that HP’s entire workforce must be “younger.” (Very well documented.) Very easy to find other current job listings from other employers advertising for only “recent college graduates.” Just found several posted by “National Debt Relief,” “Vanguard Staffing,” “Wawa” (within “1 year” of graduation), just to name a few. Since it’s rare to find a “recent college graduate” older than 30, we all know what that means.
So, you’re exactly correct that “we” need to bypass these obstacles, with recruiters and HR being the major obstacles, in order to be considered for any positions now.
Great write up Nick. I’ve always had a problem with the hiring process and all the crap people go through for a job. When I found this place (I’ve been reading for a while although I don’t comment much) it was like the clouds had parted and my beliefs were validated to a degree that felt very relieving.
What’s very telling about the system in place today, is that the ATH strategy should be the norm, I mean it’s so straightforward, effective, and as simple as it gets: you have a conversation with a hiring manager about how your skills fit with their business needs or solves a problem they have. If there’s no fit, move along. if there is, for both parties, great! Don’t settle. Don’t allow them to treat you like cattle.
But what we see happening today is a complicated time sink on both ends, for companies and applicants alike. Companies are obsessed with unnecessary rules and making what’s easy very hard. If HR isn’t really needed, you’d think they’d want to save on costs by at least reducing the size of the HR department. But as it stands, companies are obviously operating on some really outdated beliefs that no longer work. Couple this with the fact that the majority of people feel like they have to play by their rules (it’s easier but the downside is that they end up wasting a lot of time, or in jobs they aren’t a fit for, or in companies with toxic cultures, etc) and you’ve got this mess.
ATH is a huge wake up call. You’ve helped a lot of people, me included. Your work is really appreciated.
Thank you, Vera. You’re very kind. And you get it :-).
Congratulations on 700th edition. I learn something new every time I read your newsletter. Keep it up!