Discussion: February 23, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter a reader takes an interview with a company that wants to “meet and talk in general,” with no indication there’s a specific opportunity on deck. No problem, I say to the reader. It’s good to meet new people. But when the company brings you back for a second interview — to meet the president — and there’s still no objective, then it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing. I offered the reader a suggestion about How to Say It in the newsletter — “No job in mind? No meeting.” (Well, a bit more politely than that, but that’s the gist.)

But there’s more the reader could do to ferret out an opportunity — and to make some money in the meantime. Here’s what else to say to the employer:

If there isn’t a specific job you’d like to discuss, it might be because you’re trying to figure out what kind of position you want to define. I believe I could help you with that by applying my expertise in XYZ… Until you define and fill a position, I’d be glad to offer you my consulting services at $X per day. I look forward to hearing back from you… and I’d like to help you any way I can. Thanks again for your interest… I really enjoyed our wide-ranging discussion. Kind regards…

See how that works? You play every angle but put the onus on them to either define a job or pay you for your time to help them do it.

Otherwise, it’s a bunch of guys blowing smoke with nothing better to do than waste your time and their own. Believe me — many managers are clueless and should be fired for wasting company time and resources on meetings like these. Sometimes, you just have to realize there is no job there. That’s no reason to decline a first meeting — you might meet some cool people and explore possibilities. But beyond that, we’re business people and we work for a living. Either the employer has a clear agenda that presents a clear opportunity to you or he’s wasting your time.

(The tipoff in this reader’s story was that after the second interview with the president, the company did not follow up further, did not respond to queries or bring closure to the discussions. Bear in mind, it was the company that reached out and initiated the meetings.)


  1. Yes. Yes. Yes.
    Never turn down an interview, but if its value is decreasing to you, it’s time to start charging.
    I treat all interviews as “warm calls”–an opportunity to learn about myself, about the company interviewing me, about the field I’m in or the field I might want to be in.
    Time is not money, but unless you have money coming in from somewhere else, and don’t consider this an opportunity to volunteer for the good of mankind, your time at some point in the interview becomes valuable.
    A good way to follow up any interview that may not indicate an offer is to present yourself as an independent with an invitation to discuss your services and fees.

  2. I agree with Rick, never turn down an interview. I remind job hunters that they are really doing two things in tandem, yes they are seeking a job, but they are also networking. In most cases when the job side/interviewing doesn’t go their way, they go into the woodwork and stop exploring any advantages in the contacts they’ve made. At the very least to see if they have come across a good networking opportunity, whom they can help and in turn get help. Things happen, things change in companies, and there are ample examples of seemingly dead ends coming back to life to one’s advantage
    In this particular example I’d have said everything Nick said but probably left off the “at X$ a day”. they don’t need to know that at this time, but then that’s me & you have to follow your gut case by case

  3. Perhaps another approach to helping the firm that has the time to conduct general discussions in an effort to determine if there’s gold in those hills or not is to simply ask them what problem are they trying to solve? Clearly, thay must have had something in mind when they asked the individual in for the first “meet& greet” if after one session they still couldn’t articulate a need perhaps you hit a dry hole and you’d be better off drilling elsewhere?

  4. Hi Nick,

    You probably recall me preaching about the Berkshire Recruiting 4 step interview process for years and I still come back to it in almost every interview situation to see where a candidate could have done a better job interviewing. So he is our 4 step process and my analysis of what could have been done better.

    1) Build Rapport – probably went ok but it is unclear if the candidate made a good first impression or not. I will just assume this went ok because the candidate did get a second interview.
    2) Gather information – Clearly the candidate fell way short on this step as the candidate never gathered enough information to find out what he/she was being interviewed for. If the candidate took a “drill-down to the specifics of the job” approach, the candidate would have felt comfortable asking not only what the “position is” but also, what are the skills and experiences necessary to be succesful. Then the candidate would have been ready to answer interview questions.
    3) The interview – This is where the candidate demonstrates through specific measurable examples on how well he/she is matched up the required skills and experiences for the job. It sounds like the candidate jumped straight to this step and didn’t understand enough about the position to know how to present relevant examples to the companies need.
    4) Wrapping up the interview – If the candidate would have asked the following two questions, he/she would have known exactly where they stand and next steps. “Do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for this position” and secondly, “where do we go from here?” By asking the two questions, you find out how well you are matched to their needs and should also have a timetable set for the next steps. Instead the candidate sat on the edge of his/her seat for a couple weeks, waiting to find out if there was a next step or not.

    I have been preaching this four step process for 10 years and as a shameless plug, the information is available for free on our website at http://www.berkshirerecruiting.com. It is contained within our 65 page Self Placement e-guide.

  5. I have to slightly disagree with Nick and agree with some of the other posters: “take the meeting.”

    Assuming this person is not working and time constraints are not a big problem, what’s the harm in developing and cultivating new relationships? Sure, subtly bring up one’s interest in an actual job, but don’t make that a pre-requesite for talking.

    The most successful people are relationship oriented, not only task oriented, so it’s important to look at any job interview as, in the words of an earlier poster, a networking opportunity. If you made a positive impression, that’s a successful meeting—you don’t have to get a job offer right away.

  6. The ‘I could use my consulting services @ $X to help you define a position’ wouldn’t necessarily work because the candidate as a practitioner doesn’t equate to him/her being savvy in corporate development/planning.

    That said, I would have asked point blank at the 1st mtg why me & what business challenges/personnel issues they might have in future because they probably already had a position in mind. If I got no answers, I might respond to mtg#2 request with something like “I don’t think it would be productive to meet CEO without having a specific task/business challenge that he/she is looking to bring me on to solve. As such, I’d like to defer this until there is your needs are more specific”.

    However, this is like one of the top 3 choices for that jobhunter, s/he may want to humour them & clarify if the firm is all s/he thought it was.

  7. I also disagree with Nick on this one and would not take even the first meeting without a clear idea of the purpose behind it. One should always go into a business meeting with at least some idea of expectations. That is virtually impossible without knowing something in advance about the reason for the meeting. And let’s remember, the VP invited her in for an “interview”—not a social call. High caliber managers want to hire people who have the confidence to speak up, ask for clarity and understand the value of TIME. There is enough muddle in the world already.

  8. Sounds like the company knew something was wrong but had no idea what it was, much less how to fix it. After 15 minutes (if that long) of polite chitchat, I’d have asked, “Why did you invite me here?” If I didn’t get a simple, straight answer, I’d walk out immediately. Why would I be interested in a company like that?

  9. There is not one set answer. It depends what the interviewee wants.

    Job? Information? Contacts? Access to the interviewer’s network? Free lunch (lunch time interview)? Practice interviewing? Bored and lonely?

    By the interviewee defining exactly what they want, they can determine the best use of their time.

  10. If I asked 10 people the same question, I will receive the same answer most of the time. But, it becomes meaningful when the few provide a unique answer.

    To the person who was interviewed, you could have simply stayed in your comfort zone, in your warm-n-fuzzies, surfing the ‘net, and catching up on your blog reads.

    You did do the right thing by taking action and staying in motion with your job search.

    You never know what’s behind the curtain unless you look. We all thought the almighty Oz was some sort of higher power. And, then we found that he was just like you and me.

    We all believe there’s some set of job-search rules we must all follow to perfection. When the rules are different from our understandings, we become lost in confusion and begin to question ourselves.

    You’ve heard it before. I’ll say it again: today’s search for that special job is very different from what you’ve done before. Most people network with others who are unemployed. You got the chance to network with others who have a business, that’s still in business. Maybe not the business you’re interested in right now.

    If another opportunity develops to n-e-t-w-o-r-k with someone who has a job, perhaps you’ll see things differently …