In the December 11, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader needs help finding the right hiring manager.


hiring managerYou have said that the key to a successful job search is to contact the person you would work for within an organization, and to show how you can help out. How can I find the hiring manager who has the problems I’ll be able to solve?

Nick’s Reply

Your challenge as a job hunter is not to apply for lots of open jobs. It’s to carefully target the hiring manager that you can help the most. (Yep — that means you must avoid HR!)

Find the hiring manager who needs you

To find a manager who really needs you, it’s best to triangulate. That is, talk to people who know and work for managers who may be relevant to your job search. This includes less obvious contacts, like a company’s customers, vendors, consultants and business partners. They can lead you, or point you, to the hiring manager.

Another productive approach is to read business articles to learn what problems the entire industry is grappling with. Often, these articles will mention names of people who work for or know the company you’re interested in. Call those people. Explain that you are interested in their industry and the company.

These are the people who are well-positioned to introduce you to a manager who needs you. These peripheral people will also help you prepare for a knowledgeable discussion with the hiring manager.

Don’t ask for a job

Here’s the key: Do not ask for a job lead. That almost always triggers one reaction: “Go to our website and fill out the job application form!” That’s the last thing you want to do.

Instead, ask intelligent questions based on what you’ve read, like a peer would. Have a discussion.

  • What advice would these folks give someone who wants to work in their business, and perhaps for their company?
  • What kinds of help does the company need if it’s to improve its sales or operations?

These discussions will lead you to people who will bring you closer to a particular manager’s inner circle, then to the manager.

When you’re talking to people who work for the manager, you’re getting the information you really need (and a possible introduction).

Meet the right people

How can you do some of the key research, and how do you get ready to meet the people who can lead you to the manager?

The PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition includes a section titled, “Meet the right people”, pp. 1-2, that offers this suggestion:

Once I’ve picked the company I want to work for, I’d [like to] have five minutes apiece with: (1) a company engineer who wrote a letter to the editor of a technical publication; (2) the consultant who advises on the company’s finances; (3) the reporter who wrote a local newspaper story about the company.

These are the people who can help you navigate the organization by introducing you to a broad range of employees and managers who work there.

What to say

What should you say that feels natural and sounds friendly when you’re talking with a company insider? Try this:

The PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search includes a “How to Say It” tip on p. 8 about how to approach a company insider:

Asking someone for a job lead or for a job interview is awkward. Asking to meet other people who do the work you’re interested in is a different story. It’s natural to express interest in other people’s work. Here’s how to say it:

“I work in [marketing or whatever]. I’m interested in learning more about your marketing department. I think it’s important to get to know people who are among the best in their field. Is there someone in your company’s [marketing] department that you think I should talk with?”

Address the manager’s challenges and problems

Of course, once you’ve spoken with people who lead you to the hiring manager, you must be ready to say something useful to that manager! You must inspire the manager to talk with you about a job:

Two sections of How Can I Change Careers? deal specifically with these issues. (This PDF book is not just for career changers; it’s for anyone who wants to get an edge on changing jobs.) A section about how to “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume”, pp. 23-24 helps you show the manager how you’ll bring profit to the bottom line:

You have to clearly understand what makes your work and abilities valuable to companies in your field. Don’t just think about your skills. Think about how you have used your skills to help an employer succeed and be more profitable. Make a list. But don’t put that on your resume; that’s just more historical stuff. Just because you helped your last employer is no proof that you can help me. You need to package the information in a way that says explicitly to a prospective employer: “This is what I can do for you.”

Before you can deliver this job-offer-eliciting gift, you need to understand an employer’s needs. That means understanding the problems and challenges his company faces. And that can take quite a bit of research. Do it. There are no shortcuts to delivering value.

Talk to insiders to meet hiring managers

When headhunters search for good job candidates, they first study the business by talking to people in it — especially the movers and shakers. The secret is to talk shop and to demonstrate that your focus is on the work. This is what makes company insiders open the door to the right candidates.

Just as naturally, such insider conversations about a company’s problems and challenges will lead you to people who know the right managers — the managers you can help.

Yep, this is a lot of work. But so is that great job you want. There’s no better way to show your initiative, or to get an edge on your competition, than to find and meet the right managers through people they know and trust.

How do you get to the right manager to discuss a job? Is it even possible? If you’re a hiring manager, what’s the best way for a job seeker to get your attention directly?

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  1. Great post. And good example of that saying “looking for a job is a full time job in itself”.

    There’s a lot of deep diving to even prepare to try to make contact.

    If the person does that work and most important, convinces themselves they really want to work for that company and that person, a good thing to keep in mind, and follow up on is, that it isn’t over until it’s over.

    That is…if you succeed in getting access, & it seemingly goes well, but you don’t land or create a job..follow up. Success isn’t always instant, it can evolve…While not frequent, it’s also not rare that a new hire doesn’t stick. Or…a new role opens up.

    When I recruited, all too often when a good candidate didn’t get a job…you never heard from them again. As a company recruiter or hiring manager, I’m interested in people who aim to work for the company…or me. Have talked to a lot of people who say the right thing….but go missing.

    My advise to job hunters and myself as a recruiter or manager is to remember you are doing two things in concert. Yes, recruiting or job hunting….but also networking. It’s great when both intersect…but because you didn’t get an offer, doesn’t mean you lost on the networking side.

    Follow up. Keep in touch…he helpful….Follow up shows that you really are interested in the company or working for that manager you worked so hard to reach. Do so, even if you land something else. Reaching that manager, having a meeting/interview shouldn’t be taken lightly. You made an investment which paid off. at least on the networking side…Take care of it.

    And a point on finding access. A good source of information…and for access can be former employees of the company in general & great if it’s someone who worked for your targeted manager or even to reveal who that manager is. Don’t assume former employees are disgruntled. They know 1st hand company details, personalities, structure, culture and hiring habits. I made my entry into recruiting via a former employee of the company I landed with…a total stranger, friend of a friend.

    • @Don: Great point! Both employers and job seekers are generally terrible at staying in touch. Each makes a substantial investment when they engage in the interview process, then they squander it if a deal doesn’t come through. That’s silly! Unless… and I think this is really the core of the problem… there was never any good reason for them to engage to begin with.

      I’ve always contended that most interviews (and perhaps hires) should have never happened to begin with. That’s why most interviews don’t yield offers and hires. The initial selection process is faulty.

      Nonetheless, Don, you’re absolutely right. So much more can come out of a failed interview if people stay in touch!

      • Good point on interview disconnects. The no-brainer toxic ones aside (recruiting mistakes, or extreme process slopiness), I think heavy disappointment lies with the near misses.. where one or both have to concede it’s not going to work. Where there’s a lot of pros, outweighed by the cons. Or in my experience in most cases…As a manager, more than one qualified and good candidates, but can hire only ONE.

        Having set on both sides of the table, manager and job hunter, I took into recruiting the idea of installing respect for people into into the process. I had a saying pinned in front of my face to remind me of it…even if you don’t/can’t offer a person a job, leave him/her with the feeling that they love this company.

        I tell job hunters (and myself) that the purpose of a resume isn’t to get a job, it’s to get an interview, And the purpose of an interview is to get another interview, and of course ultimately reach the decision maker/hiring manager and get an offer.

        As I noted it’s also networking. And out of that networking is info gathering on both sides. Walking out of interviews fully informed, is a good return on investment in its own right.

        If you treat everyone professionally you can maximize return on time invested..not only for you, but the applicant.

        For example, if you as a job hunter conclude interviews without an offer, but sense you won good rapport…are now positioned to ask this question “Can you suggest someone else I should talk to?” People really want to help..and no one is insulted by being asked for advise…You may find that you’ll get some good leads along with a personal referral. This equips you to turning a seeming failed interview into a successful one. Almost no asks these questions. So if you do, you gain some competitive edge over your job hunter competition. And this is a particularly important question, as it jiggles the manager to think of his/her peer managers, which most likely won’t occur to them on the fly. This isn’t hypothetical. I’ve interviewed people when it became obvious they shouldn’t be talking to me, but a colleague, picked up the phone called them, and brokered an interview while the person was still in the building…

        Or, if you are the recruiter or manager, you are well positioned to ask..”Now that you understand us, my department, goals and the job is there someone you can recommend that I talk with?” And as I noted..if they’ve had a great application and interviewing experience..You may pick up some very good leads that lighten your recruiting load. Rarely did my peer managers do this.

        Which is what I mean by saying it isn’t over til it’s over. And the purpose of an interview is to get another interview. No rule says with the same company.

        More broadly..goodwill is a real thing. Companies that treat applicants ethically & with respect, gain goodwill with applicants. Who can be advocates. People out there who by word of mouth say, “you should apply to the XYZ company”

        I’ve always felt that HR organizations, usually as an outsiders 1st company facing experience through the recruiting process..should pay a lot of attention to this PR opportunity…and don’t. And you know it’s a small world…today’s applicant may be tomorrows customer, buyer, …or competitor.

  2. @Don Harkness
    Always a pleasure.

    Things change, people change, both the seeker and the “seekee”.

    If the building is still standing, needs may have changed, and they may really want/need you this time around.

    If the building has new owners, the job seeker might be just the person they’re looking for. And they might be a better company to work for.

    I had a really bad experience with the hiring manager of an otherwise nice company. Maybe he’s gone now. Maybe he’s changed his ways. Maybe my mindset and skillset are exactly what he needs now.

    It is not a waste of time to revisit that company.

    My personal experince is that I once had the most fabulous temp ever, and I wasn’t authorized to keep him. So I wrote him a fabulous letter of recommendation before I had to let him go.

    Two years later, our receptionist handed me an application with a letter of recommendation attached.

    I immediately ran into the parking lot to keep the applicant from leaving so that I could hire him on the spot.

    Had to. I was the guy who recommended him.

    I’m glad he decided to check in again.

  3. This is good advice, but sometimes impossible to follow. I have been in the job search for too long and it is not common that I can find out who the hiring manager is. The companies do not have public facing directories and I rarely know anyone there. The few times that I do know someone at the company, they can’t figure out who the hiring manager is either. The few times that I could figure it out, I never got a reply to my attempt to contact.

    • Molly, if I knew your occupational specialty, I could be more specific but for the moment-

      First, in reverse order, re getting a reply and assuming you had that person’s extension/direct line or even their email address: the best way to connect is by telephone. Not by email or by sending a note at LinkedIn. The best times to call are either before that person’s secretary/admin comes in and begins taking that person’s calls or after 5pm, about 5:20pm/5:30pm when that person’s secretary/admin has gone home and the mgr/executive is working at their desk, doing some catch up work before leaving for the day.

      Have your elevator pitch ready. And with respect to our host, Nick, I must say I do not agree that accomplishments are ‘history’. The entire point to listing on a resume or citing in a conversation ‘relevant’ achievement bullets is that they match what the job description appears to say it needs of that person. This way, ‘equal’ bullets of achievement enable the employer/co. recruiter to see that what you have done is not only similar to what needs doing, they can reasonably anticipate that you would duplicate those achievements/successes for that [new] employer.

      When I need a name, as a headhunter, I may use a ruse call to the target company to solicit that information but assuming that does not suit you, I will also imagine the title of that person and combined with the company name, I enter that into Google and see what pops up. Cuidado! Sometimes when you call you will find that person has left the company so check your Google results to see how dated it is.

      Don’t be afraid to call someone ‘too high up’ on the org chart. You will get an executive’s secretary/admin and when you explain you are inquiring about the _______ position you saw advertised, that person will often give you that hiring authority’s name, usually because you are someone else’s problem and they are pushing you away nicely by helping you. Sometimes they will tell you to ‘go online and fill out the app’ or call HR and when that happens, say ‘okay, thank you’ and ‘oh by the way, who is the recruiter for that position?’. As a last resort, consider contacting that person.

      Annual Reports almost always list the top executives in a company. Use a relevant name to bridge yourself to the ‘correct person’, as I described, above.

      Someone here mentioned RefUSA. It is not only good for listing companies, it will also list the top several executives of a company when you fill out the search template appropriately. Gain access to RefUSA via your library. If your library does not have access to it, call another library until you find one that does. Get your library card and you use it to access the RefUSA site.

      Use LinkedIn as you would Google. Enter a likely title and the company name and often, even if you have to scroll through several pages, you will get that name, again, being sure they have not moved to another plant or company.

      Regarding ‘what a company needs’ well, after all, you are starting with a job description that spells out its immediate needs. Yes, do research and when possible, read at the Annual Report the “Management Discussion” several pages in so you can see what their challenges and problems might be. Combine that with what you do and make the suggestion that perhaps what you do will/could have a direct or indirect effect toward solving the cited issues, per that AR.

      As a rule, I do not leave voice mail but as a last resort, briefly explain you are calling about the __________ opportunity and then give your title and two or so at most bullets that match what the job description says it needs in a suitably qualified candidate. Leave your phone number and make a point of saying you would like to ‘stop by’ for a brief conversation to further talk about how what you do could have a meaningful impact on that person’s company. Do not say ‘interview’, say ‘chat or conversation’ because saying ‘interview’ will trigger that person into remembering they are supposed to push you away to the HR black hole of death.

      If you continue to have problems even getting a name of an appropriate contact, then buzz me and I’ll see if I can be more specific on your behalf. I am at LinkedIn and my contact information is listed.

    • I forgot to mention that deliberately calling the wrong department will often get you the information you need.

      When someone answers in Purchasing, you ask for the Accounts Receivable Manager. When the person who answered tells you ‘you need Accounting’, say ‘oh, sorry, I thought I was in Accounting, is that still Terry Haskell?’ and they will often correct you by giving you the correct name or at worst, the name of the Accounting Manager. This often works because people like to ‘correct’ people.

      Always double check the information you are given this way since too often people give out the name most familiar to them, not necessarily the ‘correct’ name.

      Enter the name into LinkedIn and/or Google to verify its accuracy.

      And don’t forget that at linkedIn, you can enter a company name and it will offer you [several] pages of that company’s employees with their respective titles. Again, calling a ‘wrong’ person will usually get you redirected to where you want to go. I do this and it works quite often.

    • Oops!

      And when given a name, ALWAYS ask for their extension. I will often add, “that’s extension 4125, right?” and the person will correct me by giving me the correct extension.

      This works as often as we breathe, LOL.

    • @MollyG: Don’t start with the assumption that you have a job posting and need to find the hiring manager. Start with a company and triangulate to learn the structure of the dept you’re interested in. Use biz news sources, trade publications, industry directories. Your challenge isn’t to find an open job, then the manager. Your challenge is to learn about the company and industry in detail, so that you can identify as best you can the problems and challenges your target company (and department) face. The discussions you have during that research will provide you with names of insiders you can track down, so you can then ask who runs the team you’d be most interested in.

      Don’t fall for the “find a job posting to get a job” mentality. It doesn’t work well. Understand a company’s problems first, then work your way to the right department and team, then to the manager. That’s the only way to figure out whether and how you can actually help a company and manager — and that’s what will make you a potent job candidate.

      This takes a lot of hard work, but so does the great job you want. You have to start here, so that you’ll have something useful to say to the manager when you get them on the phone.

      Paul Forel provides some interesting techniques headhunters use, but as he notes, you must decide for yourself whether they’re for you.

    • @ Molly, Paul.
      Molly, sorry for your discouraging results. Job hunting is a character building exercise. But persist.

      Paul’s tips are good and can work. Overall, he’s telling you…be your own recruiter and giving you some insights on how recruiters get “that name”. Though in my case, I never used ruses…it’s not appreciated when it surfaces…I’d simply admit. “I confess I’m a recruiter”.

      One could write a book on ways to attempt penetrating a target company, and many have. It’s best to plan for a non-trivial effort, but at times you get really lucky.

      Paul, and I think you, are talking about the usual practice of trying to talk to a hiring manager, if found, about an advertised job. An open job, etc. The Marsha factor in the Brady Bunch..It’s always job job job.

      I don’t think that’s what Nick was primarily talking about. Applying for open jobs. The point I think is, to find attractive companies, via your research..that you’d really would like to work for. And talk with people, in those company(s) who, if sold on the idea, would positively influence and sponsor hiring you. Of course as noted, THE person you want to talk to and win over is the hiring manager. I say “people” because if you can’t immediately get to a hiring manager, getting to people whose opinions he/she respects, can be ultimately rewarding…Indirect via hiring manager allies, and that very much includes the exec admin community.

      Of course an open advertised job, falls into this space. But more important, so does the idea of creating your own opportunity, or finding a job not yet open.

      in for a penny, in for a pound. If you’re going to do all the work, expand your target. Tweak your focus to move past the usual game of job applications, to targeting companies..then the manager. Dive deep, do your homework, Why this company, and why that manager/department and why you?

      This requires preparation, belief in yourself, and ideas. It’s a different ball game. A job description isn’t required…you’d replace that with a business proposal, with the key point..bringing you aboard offers WHAT for this company and particularly that Manager.

      It sounds hard because it is. But from what you’ve said it sounds like you’ve been doing the same thing repeatedly without different results. So you’ve got nothing to lose, and something to gain. And in the process will be going some effective network building.


      • Well, actually, Don, what I describe are methods of identifying a manager or executive who heads up a particular department regardless of whether there is an advertised position or not.

        If one works in a sub department of Accounting, that person would logically speak to the Accounting Manager. If one is an Art Director, one would speak with the Creative Director. People generally know what the department head title would be if they were working for a company.

        Once they make contact, it is up to that person to describe how what they have been doing has had a meaningful impact for their employer(s) and if that person had done their homework, they would pick ‘bullets’ that match the target company so that manager/executive could visualize how that person’s past successes could be duplicated for their benefit. Or perhaps how their cumulative industry experience would be particularly suited to solve a current challenge to that company.

        People regularly use publicly available information to identify a department head. Google, LinkedIn and RefUSA are helpful in that regard and these resources are used all the time for this purpose. Just ask all those executives who get those cute LI notes in their LI mail. Of which most don’t get a response.

        The ‘hardest’ part of all this is actually getting through to a target manager/executive, especially if that person has a gatekeeper. And again, calling late in the day or early in the morning is not considered underhanded, it is just using the initiative to know when best to catch that manager/executive in their office.

        And as a last resort, one can always make a friend of that gatekeeper, asking that person to receive one’s resume and put it on that manager’s/executive’s desk for their consideration. Speaking directly to a Hiring Authority is always best but sometimes you have to take a second best shot at things.

        As I said to Molly, using ruse techniques are optional.

        And frankly, were it me, I’d rather be turned down by a HA five or seven times and get one interview vs applying online and never hearing back.

        And yes, Don thanks- what works regularly for those of us in the recruitment business can work for the everyday person. Some techniques you use, some you leave at home. Everything is optional.

        And yes, executives generally take our calls because they anticipate we are either calling to recruit them for that next better job or are bringing goodies for their consideration so their doors open for us fairly readily.

        Nonetheless, as someone applying for a position with a target company, as I said, given the choice of sending my resume into a black hole (aka ATS) or getting through and successfully securing an interview with an executive once for every ten times I speak with them, the choice is clear.

        And it should be kept in mind that most mindless first line company recruiters (with no imagination or initiative) routinely toss/file resumes if they look up at the Big Board and see no corresponding position for which that applicant is making an inquiry.

        So like you said, Don, I encourage people to use their initiative and give what works for us a try. It’s about getting a job….important stuff.

  4. @Citizen X
    That reference story is really neat.

    I’m a big believer in follow up & what it says about the person. Because I don’t think there’s any vocation/profession where it’s not an important performance attribute.

    When I was a hiring manager, I paid attention to people who did. Persistence was a virtue. I didn’t consider it pestering. I hired one guy who just kept after me. And eventually hired him though technically he wasn’t the best choice. He worked out just fine.

    When I was an agency recruiter, it was akin at times being on the end of a fire hose. I’d tell people that in all honesty I’d forget them in a week. Unless they kept in touch…And one day I got a call from a guy, who I’d forgotten, who technically wasn’t what the client asked for ..on the surface..but with reflection I thought he could do the job..and placed him.

    Very very few people/job hunters ever follow up. Those that do, stand out. So my SOP was to move them to the top of my do list. That didn’t mean they’d get hired…but it meant they’d get a response, and an interview.

    Another point I meant to mention relative to the great value in researching targets. There’s a basic question preceding gaining access to a hiring manager…”Do I want to?”. useful info coming out of one’s research is that you do not want to do business with the applicable manager. And that your energy is best spent elsewhere.

  5. @Don again

    Once again, similar story.

    Circa the time I started following Ask the Headhunter, a young woman who had temped for me checked back a year later to see if I had any jobs open. Nick never liked that word, so I focused on the word “work”.

    I told her that I didn’t have any “jobs” open, but if she’d like to come in, we might talk about what kind of work I needed done in my facility. She paused on the phone just slightly, figured out what I was up to, and agreed to come in to talk with me. I was able to slip her in. Back in 1998, we actually had this thing called “hiring headroom”, which allowed us, during “normal” business times, to slip in a talented entry-level person in hopes that they might hang around for a while, or even climb the company leadership ladder.

    She didn’t make it that far, but for the year that she was with me, she made many important contributions to our operation. A couple of years ago, I bumped into her and was proud to learn that she was heading up her own operation in a respectable operation in the city.

    I too kept a pile of applications or resumes of the people I wanted to hire but couldn’t. Those people had ususally moved up elsewhere by the time another spot oppened up at my shop, but at least I gained confidence that I could pick out the winners, even if my company couldn’t lure them back.

    But back to my “work” story. After that incident, I instructed the people in the office to chase away any walk-ins looking for a “job”. But if the walk-in expressed curiosity about what kind of work we did there, to page me up front for an on-the-spot interview. Otherwise, walk-in apps were put in three piles: immediate interview if a position openned, willing to interview if a position opened, and required by law to retain the application for seven years. That system saved a lot of application shuffling.

  6. In 1995 I quit my job and went to graduate school to pursue my dream of becoming a full time Cathedral musician. An organist by profession, I contacted a professor I knew and ultimately studied with her. After getting my master’s degree in the specialty of organ performance and church music, I took a full time position that I held for 5 years – not in a cathedral but in a large church. The job was tough and yet wonderful, and I got some of the best management experience one can get.

    When that job became part time, and there were fewer full time music director positions (and I was a family man by that time), I went back into engineering.

    I happened to have a friend who knew someone looking for an engineer with my background at the nearby military base with extensive research facilities. They were golfing buddies. It turned out that the customer representative had been in my choir at one time! He said, “I never knew you had this talent.”

    I got the job, and had it for three years.

    I had been out of engineering for 8 years but came back into it.

    There is much to be said about personal contacts.

    • Kevin – absolutely! Even when I worked at a large military organization much more “behind-the-scenes” communication went on at the golf course – even between military and civilians (but I don’t golf). The mental debate I have is – do I pursue extra-curricular activities because they might foster occupation network connections, or because I like them/find them rewarding?

  7. Regarding calling the “wrong” department to get a hiring person’s name or other info:

    This is also a common method for recruiters to “social engineer” the info they need to contact people to poach the away for other jobs. I have worked for large employers that have a policy that ALL mis directed calls go back to the operator/switchboard. So that may work for smaller companies, but the larger ones may have policies that make the “wrong number” method impossible to use,

    • Yes, there are many safeguards companies use to thwart headhunters but frankly, we have so many methods to our business that believe me, if one approach does not work (at one particular company), we have many alternate methods available to us. What I described to ‘Molly’ only scratches the surface to what we do when necessary.

      What we do is serious business. Effecting a meaningful career change is not a casual endeavor and to the tune of $30K to $50K in recruitment fees.

      Barricades, just as in the military, are meant to be breached.

      As Hancock said, “…you do you and I’ll do me….”

    • Actually, it has been my experience that ruse calls work best at large Fortune companies where everyone is ‘go-go’ and are too busy to give thought to a [ruse] call.

      At smaller companies, the executives/managers often know of each others’ activities and are often ‘curious’ to know the nature of a call and will start asking questions of me to know more about what someone is doing, what vendor, what project, etc., etc.

      When ‘everybody knows everybody’, getting in quickly and out again just as quickly doesn’t always work.

      But it is good practice!


  8. To give color to this, it is the Aerospace companies and Insurance companies where the secretaries and administrative assistants are hep to headhunter calls.

    Try making a dumb ruse call at an Aerospace company (“…which product development engineer is it who….?” and you will get told off and hung up on faster than you can blink.

    There are so many recruiters contacting Actuaries at the Life/Health Insurance companies that the secretaries and administrative assistants there can recite our ruse calls back at us, backwards and forwards so well they could all become headhunters, themselves!

    Makes life slightly more interesting when one has a long day of calls to make.

  9. Being resourceful, and using outside the box thinking is one thing, but this recruiter’s serial posts on impertinent advice, dubious methods, and downright sleazy techniques, is just one of the many reasons that I have a very dim view of recruiters and head hunters. I recall Corcodilos once making a statement (I’m paraphrasing) that “999 of 1000 recruiters are worthless”. So then, if that statement is factual (and I’d submit it’s reasonably accurate), why pursue such an ethically questionable and ignoble occupation? Further, why hook your wagon to such shylocks?

  10. @Paul: I once worked down the hall from another search firm, run solo. Your mild ruses pale compared to what this guy used to do. He would invite us into his tiny office for some of his performances on the phone, trying to reach people who had stone walls around them. And he was good, but it was bad. This “talent” of his was firmly rooted in his experience as a stand-up comic and his ability to change his voice, use accents, and his over-the-top acting ability. Most of the time, the person on the other end of the phone just gave up and passed the call on to the guy’s target.

    None of us dared try any of that. It was funny, and it worked, but it was unethical because he fully portrayed himself as someone else. The only BUT I will add is that some companies treat their employees and managers as chattel. Not only would they control incoming and outgoing calls; they’d prohibit employees from attending industry events and from being quoted in the business press for fear they’d get recruited. So this cuts both ways.

    What’s a ruse and what’s a legitimate technique is on a continuum. As you and Don Harkness point out, what one is willing to do “to get through” is a personal choice.

    That headhunter down the hall, by the way, found himself in some very hot water. Not because of his ruses on the phone. But because his willingness to stretch into really bad territory had no bounds.

    • Hey, Nick….

      Where I got my initial, formal training in the Executive Search business, we also had someone who was a part time actor and could use different voices to his benefit. It was a real advantage since most of us have to wait a day or two so someone we are going to call back does not recognize our voice from the previous day. This person could get more done in the same day.

      That ‘recruiter’ you speak of may have been basically dishonest. Such people have no boundaries and respect only themselves. That they occasionally end up breaking rocks for a living is no surprise.

      As far as ‘hard ball’ tactics, I was taught a few but chose long ago to not go there. Ack! Some of those tactics would make your toes curl, for sure.

      There is a middle ground, even if many people don’t see it that way.

  11. While I certainly find Paul Forel’s methods interesting, I cannot help but think that that some may border on the unethical.

    I work for a small oil company, and we get calls from recruiters and sales people all the time, who want to speak to the CEO, the CFO, or technical people, with more or less sneaky arguments.

    We therefore have a policy that such people are given the polite version of f*** o**, because otherwise we would not get much work done. But we may give out email addresses if the call seems legit.

    Those recruiters who are really legit and go the extra mile, find us via LinkedIn or the yellow pages any way.

    • Just clarifying: The switchboard gives the polite version of f*** o**, but may occasionally give our email addresses.

    • @Karsten: Check another comment I made to Paul Forel’s ruse discussion. You’re of course right — it can get unethical. It’s no accident that such behavior arises in recruiting and sales because both are sales.

    • Strictly speaking, Karsten, I suppose it could be said that telling a white lie in order to secure a name or telephone extension is “unethical” but when that fib results in our being able to identify and offer someone a career enhancing job opportunity, that harmless fib, that hurts no one, is a fair exchange.

      We don’t use these techniques to secure bank account information, steal a little old lady’s life savings or trick people into buying subscriptions to non-existing products or services.

      So while there are those who cringe when they read what I posted, someone gets a better job that has a direct positive effect on their lifestyle and family and I walk away with a happy client who paid our recruitment fee.

      Regarding LinkedIn and Google and I only say this because I see you post here often:

      There are those of us who specialize such as Nurse or Physician recruitment or maybe Accounting professionals. In such cases, these recruiters need to know ALL Nurses, Doctors, Cost Accountants since each one could be a future hire for a client. With that in mind, using LI/Google will surely garner some names from a company but the only way to be sure we have gotten a fix on all those nurses, et al at any one company, it becomes necessary to confirm there are no others other than the ones who showed up at LI/Google.

      So sooner or later, it is necessary to ask ‘who else’ might be on staff in nursing, physician staffing, accounting, etc. and the only way to get that information is if the person on the other end of the phone thinks I have a legitimate reason for asking. So while it is true I am wasting that person’s time for that minute or so they are talking to me, again, that fib I use to portray myself as someone appropriate to be speaking with is not toxic and has no criminal intent.

      You don’t have to approve and as Nick said, what we do is not for everyone but in the end -yes, the end justifies the means- it is all for a good cause and everyone affected walks away happy.


  12. As I noted I didn’t buy into ruses. I’ve met smarmy recruiters like Nick described who prided themselves by BSing their way through barriers.

    By fooling people. and making them look bad in front of their bosses, and really bad if their job is to prevent it. Which hurts their credibility.

    for example, if, as is common, you want to talk to a manager/executive who has an exec assistant. They are guardians of the gate, and time managers. They take & screen calls for a reason. So you get by or around them. In so doing you’ve not made that person look good, and not looking good can be career limiting.

    Further in this example…you are undermining any hope of developing a client or working relationship with that company. As anyone who’s worked in a corporation that employs cross them at your peril…no matter how important you think you are.

    • Yes, I received training that suggested I use a false reason for ‘needing’ to speak to an executive/manager but I discarded such stupidity early since it was clear to me, even as a beginner, that using such dumb tactics will only make me look unprofessional.

      Now, there are shades of gray to a ruse and so when I do speak to an admin/secretary and am wanting to speak to that person’s boss, it is true that I may choose something down the middle that sounds appropriate. Once I have been transferred, I make it clear right away that I am a headhunter and am calling to share a career opportunity with that person.

      Again, some people have no stomach for this kind of thing and again, we are not draining peoples’ bank accounts, we are offering career-enhancing job opportunities or in some cases, Best In Class/SME candidates we would like to see get hired by that person.

      So I am judged all the way to the bank.

      This business of making a secretary or admin ‘look bad’ is a stretch. Most, I’m sure, are forgiven since it is generally understood that we are professional liars and support staff cannot really be held accountable for having been tricked into forwarding our call to that person’s boss.

      And as I said, no executive/manager is going to swat their support staff for having allowed a headhunter to slip by them when that recruiter just finished recruiting them.

      Now, to seal this, I will also say that sure, yes, there are companies that don’t want to use/don’t need to use headhunters for many openings. These are companies that have long lines of applicants stretched around the block three times every time they run an ad. If I am given the bum’s rush by a manager/executive at such a company, that is actually a good thing since, after all, we can’t recruit from our clients, now, can we? So, those companies that hand me my hat and show me the door have done me a favor.

      Case in point, just the other day, I was told that neither the secretary/admin nor the executive I was seeking to speak to ‘take unsolicited calls’. I added it up, determined that I didn’t really need that company, after all and have added them to my ‘recruit from’ list for the future. They basically did me a favor.

      It may not be pretty but it spends.

      And again, while some may reject this style of doing business, there are happy clients on the other end who are paying our fees to get someone who will have a meaningful impact on their profitability, productivity and branding.

      I have recruits who have been on the job for over ten years and in one instance, I have someone who has spent eighteen years working for the same employer, doing what he loves to do, all while being paid $200K a year, year in and year out and he drives five minutes to work each day in sunny Brentwood, CA.

      No one is complaining.

  13. @Paul Forel: In my life and work, I prefer not to “go rogue” – my conscience bothers me. If success means going rogue, I’ll keep right on being just an engineer. :-)

    Certainly I do not accept that the means justify the ends except in an emergency. (When I took flying lessons one of my instructors told us that in an emergency all bets were off and you just need to land the aircraft – don’t worry about breaking the law. So landing on the freeway in that case might be a viable option. Rogue? Yes. Legal? Not really. If no one gets hurt, then the means justify the ends.)

    Another case of the means justifying the ends is if someone is doing something illegal or unethical it might mean going rogue.

    In calling people, then, I like to be honest about who I am and why I am calling. If I don’t think that person will accept my call, I like to find someone who can ultimately lead me to that person – also known as networking.

    I like to go through appropriate channels to get things done. It takes more time, but it also preserves the working relationship.

  14. Kevin,


    “…going rogue…” is a characterization that serves you. It may or may not apply. Especially when ‘going rogue’ suggests one is deviating from normal procedure. It is normal procedure, in our business, not yours, to tell a fib so a secretary will tell me the names of their buried-deep-in-the-organization’s department’s cost accountants, the names of all the nurses who work in pediatrics or the names of all the pension actuaries in the enrolled actuary department. No one is going to freely and knowingly give out the names of their employees so I can recruit them away from that employer.

    I have as yet to be chastised by someone I recruited and subsequently hired by my client saying, ‘Paul, thanks for introducing me to this great new job and oh, by the way, I hope you didn’t trick any secretaries in order to get my name that subsequently enabled you to call me and have me hired at this better job’.

    Going ‘through channels’ is a made up conversation that suits you. There is no ‘channel’ for recruiting away an employee, manager or executive from their employer.

    Networking has its time and place.

    To clarify: when calling to recruit someone, I introduce myself, our company and then we discuss the possibility of that person’s suitability for a client opportunity. That person I endeavor to recruit is perfectly capable of saying ‘no thanks’ and in fact, it is often that same person who begins with resistance to my call who later agrees there is merit to my call, after all.

    When I am in discovery mode, gathering names so I may research those people and later call some or all of them, I am whomever I need to be to get those names.

    When I later call them, I am me, introducing myself, my company and our business.

    It is relevant to understand the difference between calling someone directly to introduce them to a client opportunity and when I am making calls to gather names for examination and follow up.

    You are not a recruiter so it may not be clear to you why telling an occasional fib to a secretary is harmless and leads to a three-way win.

    The last time I ‘went rogue’ was when I was a Medical Platoon Sergeant in the Army and was suddenly short of medics for a live fire range. I had a choice of shutting down the range -which would have been costly and detrimental to the unit’s training mission- or I could and did commandeer another unit’s medics so I had proper coverage.

    Going rogue that day cost me a case of beer for that unit’s 1SG so he wouldn’t lower the boom on me for having stretched the envelope past the norm.

    So, one more time- when approaching a target recruit, we represent ourselves and our business.

    When I am in discovery mode, I take on a fictitious identity so a support person will give me the information I need to satisfy a client’s requirements.

    Your comparisons between us about how you would go about doing what I do is not accurate and does not apply.

  15. @Paul Forel:

    First, I love the story about your experience in the Army – and that workaround is something I not only approve of, but I also advocate.

    I do question the ethics of pretending you are someone you are not, but then both of my kids are active in theater (jr and sr high). They spend much time pretending to be someone they are not!

    I’m actually upset about the whole recruiting game lately. A recruiter called me sometime ago and I verified that she was a retained recruiter for this company – I’m getting on the plane tonight to interview with them tomorrow. The pay would likely be significantly higher than what I make now. At the same time I don’t care for the location. The recruiter said that a number of new hires do a long distance commute. They really need people.

    The thing is, I feel like I have been had. Tricked. Sweet-talked. In fact, this week, as happens at this time of year, my boss gave me my letter that tells me what my new pay level will be. He told me he was very pleased.

    Also, the new company does not have sick leave. I had a motor vehicle accident this year and had to be away a lot. I still got a decent raise and my boss says I’m doing well.

    Oh, how I wish that company was not trying to recruit me!

    PS: I live in an apartment complex in the middle of a bunch of buildings this same company has – so I do want to be a “good neighbor”. Could I do my work where I live now? (10 minute walk). Maybe this guy will be so impressed he’ll tell a friend of his near where I live. (Unlikely)

    The bottom line is that I feel tricked, and that does not sit well with me. I’ll try to keep an open mind.

    That recruiter was very, very good.

  16. Kevin, Hello…

    I have been apologizing for other recruiters’ behavior since I’ve been in this business.

    And perhaps you have brought up a good point, if I may be allowed to describe:

    First, generally, no one cares that I tell fibs to secretaries/admin’s to get names. It is not generally understood we do this and for the most part, no one really cares.

    Many people have a bad taste in their mouths about ‘recruiters’ because they suffered at the hands of one:

    A job was not accurately portrayed and an interview did not go well because of this;

    Many ‘recruiters’, for a number of reasons and some for no reason, drop out of sight after ‘demanding’ a recruit send them that person’s resume, only to leave them hanging, not hearing back from that ‘recruiter’;

    In some cases, the ‘recruiter’ did not accurately describe the client company and again, as a result, an interview did not go well.

    So then someone like me comes along in the public forum and admitting out loud I tell fibs, occasionally, gives ammunition to those who have a preexisting grudge with ‘recruiters’ and I get burned at the stake or get put in stocks. I could have said I give away free ice cream cones with every hire I effect and I’d still get chased out of town by those who have been burned by a ‘recruiter’ in the past.

    So ‘fibs’ are not the issue, simply being in the recruitment business is.

    Back to your situation, I do not know enough to advise you beyond suggesting that since you have apparently decided to fly out for that interview, make the most of it, knowing you have nothing to lose by being inquisitive about the details of the job. Be sure you speak to all relevant managers/executives who are directly or peripherally associated to the job so you can be sure you all are on the same page.

    And as Nick would say, if you do accept a position, be sure to get the job description, etc. in writing. For example, being able to telecommute and the expenses of telecommuting being borne by the employer needs to be confirmed in writing so there is no argument later.

    Be sure you ask yourself if the new job would be career-enhancing. Will it get you to the next higher level of responsibility, etc.? Will it benefit you beyond an increase in compensation? What is the likelihood of a similar/better opportunity coming along? Maybe you should pass on this one and bide your time until another opportunity presents itself, clearly indicating the advantages and benefits of that next job.

    What that ‘recruiter’ has done so far does not necessarily define what happens next. So be sure you do the Ben Franklin -adding up the negatives and positives- before committing.

    Thank You.

  17. @Paul Forel: Thank you for your note. I’m actually quite happy with my current job. The thing is, organizational changes were announced recently. We are OK at my location – some jobs are being moved between two locations (8 total) but they left us alone. The affected employees have 6 months to move or find something else. Having my company on a person’s resume is very positive. I have learned to always investigate good opportunities. This one may be very good. Also, it’s nice to be wanted.

    As a reader of Nick’s blog, I know how to check out recruiters. As a reluctant candidate, these people know that it is going to take a lot of convincing to get me to take this job.

    Bottom line: I can always say “no.” I’m a little concerned as I just don’t want recruiters coming back and trying to put on a guilt trip. That said, I will do what is in my best interest.

  18. Well, good luck, Kevin.

    Be sure to also determine if this new job opportunity represents what I call a ‘stepping stone’ opportunity or is it a ‘last stop’?

    As a stepping stone job, it needs to manifestly give you the opportunity to execute significant achievements and enable you to measurably improve your professional capacities so you have plentiful ammunition when you make your next move after this one.

    As a ‘last stop’, you will want to confirm the enterprise is wide horizon enough to keep you meaningfully engaged until you retire or perhaps veer off and change professions.

    As far as “guilt trips” are concerned, I’m sure Nick and I are on the same page when I suggest that if you are pressured by that ‘recruiter’, you should push her away and make up your own mind.

    A new opportunity should be defined by how it improves your professional standing and perhaps your personal lifestyle, not what is best for that recruiter who is probably mostly interested in her commission.

  19. @Paul Forel: I had the interview today. I liked the people. It was maybe an hour chat followed by a walk over to see the company’s products, including a product that has a subsystem of a circuit I designed! Then we had lunch. The manager let me know the timeline. Later in the afternoon, he wrote ME a thank you note.

    In the interview, they said my resume speaks for itself on technical capabilities. We talked about how we do the job – teamwork, conflict, how I get the job done. They liked it.

    It all comes down to do I want to uproot my family again? Probably not. Time to wait and see what kind of offer they make, if any.

    Regardless of how it turns out, it was good. At least I know a little bit about what’s out there.

  20. I will say something that is contrary to what I would want to have happen to me by saying that interviewing occasionally is a good way to know what your options are and it also may make one better appreciate their current employment.

    So, like I said, you will need to add it all up to determine the advantages, benefits and maybe the shortcomings of the new opportunity.

    I will cut and paste what I said here already:

    A stepping stone job needs to manifestly give you the opportunity to execute significant achievements and enable you to measurably improve your professional capacities so you have plentiful ammunition when you make your next move after this one.

    As a ‘last stop’, you will want to confirm the enterprise is wide horizon enough to keep you meaningfully engaged until you retire or perhaps veer off and change professions.

    Plus family considerations.

    Let us know what you decide, Kevin.

  21. Nick,

    You mention that job seekers need to think about how they can contribute to the bottom line and or sales of a company they are interested in.

    I have experience in the graphic design and art collections management sectors. How would I approach this based on both a creative and logistical/inventory job history?

    Perhaps examples: quality design increased business somehow or efficient collections management/inventory streamlined efficiency of organizations I worked at in the art world?

  22. TEST2

  23. TEST D

  24. I walk in, and know from looking at the interviewers, not a chance.
    Interviewers are homogenous,
    – 100% men in their 50s with ponytails
    – 100% Asian
    – 100% young men
    Is it me? A friend tells me he’s the same experience, his abbreviated explanation is that he knocks it out of the park on the phone screen, but is immediately apparent by the look on their face the moment they see his gray hair.
    They are not requirements they tell HR.
    One HR apologized profusely, knowing full well I was well qualified, but didn’t meet the unstated “requirements”.
    There’s a problem, and that problem is not being addressed, in practice, in advice, anywhere. If they were one off, we’d deal with it, but it’s rampant, particularly in tech.

    • @Amy: I’m confused. All are men in their 50s and all are young men? It seems you’re talking about age discrimination?