Hello, All!

job search questionsThe Ask The Headhunter website and weekly newsletter have been on hiatus since the end of April because I couldn’t type. Surgery for a torn rotator cuff (shoulder) will do that — and can take months of physical therapy to recover. (Take good care of your shoulders!) I’m happy to report I’m doing well and recovery is proceeding apace, though it has taken longer than I expected. Thanks for the hundreds of e-mails and well-wishes — and thanks for your patience!

To get us back on track, I’d like to share a shortlist of some of the top job search questions I’ve received, along with my advice. I hope you find something helpful here. And I expect you will chime in with comments and with your own advice! Please feel free to once again submit your own questions and challenges about looking for a new job and about being successful at your work. As always, I’ll select the best, most relevant submissions for publication in the coming weeks.

It’s great to be back! Thanks for subscribing and for your participation!

Top 5 job search questions

1. Should I get a job, or start a business?

Many people toy with starting their own business when they lose a job because it’s so natural. Most would rather control their own destiny, were it not for fear of the unknown. Everyone knows it’s an enormous amount of work (and risk) to strike out on your own.

My advice: Stop pretending that it’s easier to get a job. Today, the only way to positively, absolutely convince a company to hire you is to demonstrate that you will add profit dollars to the bottom line. If you truly understand that, then you know there’s little difference between getting a job and creating your own.

Today, the Net makes it easy to apply for any job, or for thousands of jobs. But to apply for a great job that you really want, and to demonstrate that you are the single best candidate — that’s not very different from carefully creating a plan to start a business.

Remember that any great job is a business; a little operation that you run for your employer. So before you dismiss striking out on your own, prepare a business plan for the job you think you want. If it’s good enough to base a new business on, then you may have the pitch you need to get funding. Or, it might make a great script possible for a successful job interview.

2. How can I get the job boards to produce interviews for me?

The job boards continue to hide the facts. None of them report how often their users find or fill jobs. But studies conducted by independent third parties reveal that the results aren’t good. Over the years, the boards have been shown to collectively fill only around 10% of jobs, while some claim to fill over half of all jobs (see Indeed delivers 65% of hires. Yup? and this video). Ah, but there are so many jobs on the boards! Doesn’t that mean even having only tiny odds could yield success?

My advice: Less is better. Spend your time developing good, deep contacts at a small handful of companies you really want to work for. In other words, don’t chase thousands of jobs; select a few companies. Then do what’s required to get insiders to recommend you to management. That’s a lot of work, but so’s that great job you want. Start doing the hard work now.

3. It’s a wasteland out there. Who can help me land a job?

The harder it is to find work, the more e-mail you’ll receive from sophisticated-sounding scammers offering to help you. It used to be that these “job search consultants” charged thousands. (See Recruitment Ripoff from CBC-TV.) Now that it’s even harder to land a job, you can sign up with a “job-search club” for $49, because the scammers are desperate for your attention. The legitimate ones are very few and very far between. Don’t waste $49 thinking you’re saving thousands.

My advice: Hook up with a professional association that’s related to your work and that has online discussion groups. Look for managers and successful members who will take time to get to know you. Establish your credibility. These are the insiders who will make the credible personal referrals that will help you. (Needless to say, establishing such work-oriented relationships in person is even better.) The key to productive networking is shared experiences.

4. How can I get an offer at least as good as my last salary?

The economy is in upheaval. One reason that you got laid off was because your old company couldn’t afford your salary. Many companies are not willing or able to spend much on new hires. You may have to reconcile yourself to that. So there’s no easy answer to this question. But there are two things you can do to protect yourself.

My advice: First, never reveal your salary history, even if the HR manager tries to beat it out of you. (Your best, most honest tactic may be to explain that your old compensation is company-confidential and you cannot divulge it.) Once you reveal your history, they know where to peg any offer they make to you. In most cases, you’re better off if they have to figure out what you’re worth by talking to you. Then you at least have an opportunity to influence the offer. (Better than disclosing your salary: Check this Wired article about insider salary information.)

Second, you must be ready to discuss what you want in terms that will benefit the employer. This isn’t easy, but then again, companies don’t hand out money just because job candidates ask for it. It’s up to you to understand two or three things that are broken at this company; things they’re hiring you to fix. Prepare a brief but clear plan to show how you’ll do it, and include estimates of how you’ll do it profitably. Hang your desired salary on that, and you will have a defensible basis for negotiations.

Now let’s look at this last of our five job search questions.

5. They haven’t called back since the interview. What should I do?

Just send the employer a check — for $1,000, or whatever you think will get their attention. And now maybe I’ve got yours. (I was kidding. Don’t send employers money!)

Once you’ve made your presentation and demonstrated your ability to help the employer, the rest is up to them. In your wildest dreams you’d never learn what’s taking them so long because most companies are, to be blunt, inept at hiring. Contrary to what many career books suggest, there is next to nothing you can do to get a company off the dime.

My advice: Don’t let someone else control your agenda. Stop telling yourself, “But I really want that job and I need them to know it!” The single best way to deal with “the wait” is to develop other opportunities at other companies. I know you don’t want to hear that, because you really, really know you have a great shot at this one… but trust me: Most interviews end without job offers, and yours may be one of them.

Get working on two or three other targets (jobs, or maybe your own business ideas), and you will be more in control of your life.

What are your top job search questions? We spend all our time here tackling such challenges. How have you handled the five issues we’ve discussed here?

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  1. Thank you for these great tips, Nick

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better!

  2. Welcome back to spurring us thru the job-hunting adventure, Nick! ?? #JobHuntDrama

    Oh man, Nick, my job hunt is like riding a rollercoaster built by twisted recruiters, online scams, and sketchy freelance platforms! As an experienced pro battling Ageism and Cultural Racial Profiling, every job ad I come across online (because we’re all brainwashed to apply through ‘their portal’ now) seems to hum the soulless tunes of ‘be a robot,’ ‘just obey orders,’ ‘must be under 35,’ and ‘look like a Barbie or Ken doll.’ ????

    It’s definitely wicked and captures the frustration and absurdity of the job-hunting process!

  3. Nick, now we’ve got these wicked resume writing platforms promising the moon, all thanks to Artificial Intelligence. They claim to sprinkle magic keywords in perfect harmony with the recruiter’s ATS (Applicant Tracking System), with a hefty price tag on it, ranging from $150 to a whopping $300.

    Nick, what’s your take on these AI-generated resume services? ???

    • Betting that Nick would give that the serious stinkeye,tbh

      It’s easy enough to find some of these AI resources on your own and use them to fiddle with your resume. In the same task, you are learning a new skill they say we’ll all eventually need: AI interaction.

  4. Welcome back Nick! Sending you positive thoughts that your rotator cuff continues to recover!

  5. Nick,

    Glad to hear you are on the mend – I was getting worried that rotator cuff surgery could be fatal. :)

    All good advice for the five questions, but I really thought the first one drove home the point. You want to start your own thing? Getting the right job isn’t that much easier. Either way, you’re in for a lot of work. Or you can just flap in the breeze created by the job boards.

  6. Hey Nick! Welcome back! I’ve missed you and I’m glad it was “just” your shoulder. (As a weight lifter and former boxer I concur that rotator cuff muscles Do Not Play!)

    I appreciate this list — especially #1. As an accidental entrepreneur who’s now spent over half her 35-year career as an independent, this is a really important point. Thanks for continuing to tell it like it is and not bullsh*t people!


  7. I have been putting in my cover letter that. I expect a from a person within 5 business days. Nicely. But no call means no reply
    If enough of us do that, employers will get the message.

  8. Welcome back Nick! I’m glad that your surgery and recovery have gone well. I missed your letters and advice!

  9. Nick, Glad you are back in action. Stay well and keep away from heavy lifting,
    You offer sensible advice for people in job transition.I have been a fan for many years.Keep going strong.

  10. Welcome back! We missed you. Glad you are on the mend.

  11. Welcome Back Nick. The best advice I would say to the client/manager is a win-win! Profits and kudos to clients and teams.