This is a special posting connected to the Harvard Business School Career Management Webinar I presented on November 3, 2010. I’ll add more content here after the event — but the main purpose is to answer questions we didn’t have time for during the hour, and to carry on the discussion.

Can you stand out in the talent glut?

Please post your questions and comments below. Thanks for joining me!

[UPDATE: Don’t miss this audio excerpt from the webinar!]


  1. 1) I am looking for a job in the hedge fund industry, which as you know is highly secretive. How would I deal with preparing the business plan for a company of interest given this limitation.

    2) How do you keep your name current with headhunters. I have about 20 headhunters that I have been communicating with. However, after being out of work for a year I can tell that there does not appear to be as much zeal behing my candidacy.

  2. Luis,

    Thanks for joining us today.

    1) Check this article for an interesting company research methodology, based on sound investment research methods: (The link is also in the slide stack you received for the webinar.)

    2) Headhunters call people who are either potential candidates for a search, or – more important – who are good sources of candidates. Keep in mind that headhunters focus on specific assignments. They will find you if key people in your field recommend you. Headhunters don’t just call “candidates” – they turn to their sources first, and ask for advice and recommendations. And they work on very specific assignments. If you’re not a possibility, they won’t call you.

    The best way to meet the right headhunters is to ask your company targets what headhunters they use to fill positions. I discuss this further in “How to Work with Headhunters.” Check the column at right for a link.

    The best tip I can give you about headhunters is this: You must circulate among the people they turn to for referrals. That’s the link to make.

  3. Nick, I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation today. I read the Scuttlebutt link you referenced in your response to Luis above. I presume the same investigative techniques apply to smaller, middle market private companies. Any other suggested sources? I have been talking to bankers, accountants, PE firms, etc. Thanks, Dave

  4. Dave, Glad you enjoyed the webinar. Thanks for attending. Larry Stybel’s method is intended for the kinds of companies you’re describing.

    You might take a look at the source material for Stybel’s article, which is Philip Fisher’s “Uncommon Stocks and Uncommon Profits” for more details about the methodoloty that Stybel borrowed.

    You’re already into the game if you’re talking to people who consult to the kinds of companies you’re interested in. As I mentioned during the webinar, other sources include a company’s vendors and customers. Sales reps who sell to the company, and purchasing managers who buy from it, are great sources of information. It takes some tact and patience, but you can learn a lot — and make some useful new connections.

  5. Hi Nick. I really enjoyed your presentation today and have found your career change book and all the material on your blog and website immensely helpful. I’m in the early stages of a career change process and am finding your material really makes sense.

    A couple of questions:

    1. While I completely take your point on focusing on one company so you can really nail the business plan, do you recommend any ‘hedging of bets’ (i.e pursuing more than one company in the event the target doesn’t pan out or you decide it’s not where your true passion lies)?

    2. Can someone use a career coach/counselor effectively in your process, or is it hopeless since they are likely to be tied to all the unsuccessful ways of pursuing job change (focus on resume, focus on prepping for top 10 interview questions, etc.)?

  6. @Andrew: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pursuing a small handful of companies at a time. My point is to avoid chasing dozens, pretending you’d have something useful to say to them if they suddenly called you in. As I suggested in the webinar, if you aren’t ready to present a business plan to the employer, then you have no business in the interview. You’ll be a weak candidate; you will not stand out. Pick a few good targets, get to work on all of them, but don’t waste time with peripheral “opportunities” that are really no more than shots in the dark.

    A good coach can be helpful, but I think the most useful thing a coach does is give lazy job hunters a regular kick in the butt. If you need that, then get it. But I think people need kicks because they get bored. They’re not motivated, because they’re pursuing boring “opportunities” in a rote way. Of course they’re bored and unmotivated! Go after only the ones that really juice you, and I don’t think you need a coach.

    As you point out, coaches usually have a set way of doing things, and you get stuck with it. The best coaches will really assess who you are and your style. But those people are rare. I think you’re far better off doing what Jeremy did, whom I talked about in the webinar — spend your time with people who do the work you want to do. It’s more fun, and more productive.

    Thanks for your kind words!

  7. Hello Nick,

    Hope you are doing well. Your presentation was really insightful… to a degree it seems you give less importance to resumes and names than perhaps most of us recent MBA graduates do….

    Short background and questions: I realized late in my MBA that I wanted to do consulting mainly because it is location agnostic and opens very interesting opportunities (Biz Dev and Strategy roles) in almost any industry/location. Before the MBA did industry work as a PM. After the MBA I joined a start up and helped the CEOs set the strategy and operations. Now I am evaluating a move to consulting.

    – Seems ALL companies require top tier consulting experience for Corp Strategy and Business Development roles. More so during this financial crisis. Would you agree with this?

    – Consulting firms seem to have a pretty predetermined recruitment pathway. How would you adapt your ´Business Plan´approach to land a job in a top tier consulting firm?

    – Do you think it is worth it to “sacrifice pedigree” and go to a Top 15 consulting firm (PWC, Accenture) just to have formal experience in strategy and operations consulting?

    Thank you very much!

  8. @Sam: Generalizations can be useful when we’re trying to navigate new waters, but when we start talking about individual situations, opportunities, companies and people, it’s important to set them aside and consider the facts we can gather.

    So it doesn’t really matter what companies as a group seem to require in the way of consulting experience. (ALL is never accurate.) I think you have to focus on the specific employer you’re interested in.

    Your questions are good ones, but the answers will be unique and more fleshed out with each particular company. So my advice (which I follow myself) is this: Go ask the company you want to work for. Do they want top tier experience? Do they use a fixed pathway? Do they like Top 15 experience?

    These are actually good, off the cuff, “break the ice” questions to ask. Read up on a company, identify a key executive, call and ask politely. You might be surprised at the conversations you stimulate. One tip: Never ask for a job lead, inquire about open positions, or pitch yourself. Just talk.

    I think biz school teaches a lot of important things, but an academic education also leads people a bit astray. The examples and cases covered in the program encourage over-generalization.

    The best insight and information comes from trusted sources and good relationships. And it goes both ways. For example, a company that has a very fixed hiring procedure may bend it when a trusted individual recommends someone who isn’t on the curve. It’s a matter of judgment, but I’d rather cultivate the relationship and get in the door that way, than rely on my estimate of what the fixed process is.

  9. Nick,
    I found your webinar fascinating and helpful.

    Would you modify your advice in any way for the undergraduate student just entering the workforce?

    For example – similar to Sam’s inquiry – my daughter wants to get into brand management yet the companies don’t recruit at her school (and are 3000 miles away) and they screen all applicants through HR’s database system.

    Her other idea is to join a large company that offers marketing and other opportunities. Again, a database screen.

    She is making face to face contact with managers at her target companies, but the kind of relationships you encourage will take time. Do you think writing a business plan would stand out in this situation?

    Do you have any additional tips? Thank you very much.


  10. @Ilene: I think the same approach works for virtually anyone. And it does take time! Jobs usually come from the personal judgments of people who know us. And it takes them time to get to know us. Now is the time to start building the experiences that allow decision makers to judge us.

    I think producing a mini-business plan could make a huge difference, if your daughter can get it into the hands of the right manager. Don’t send it to someone you don’t know.

    My PDF book, How Can I Change Careers? can be used by a new grad – the concepts can be generalized with a bit of thinking. While new grads have little experience to lean on, nothing stops them from making new relationships.

    Look at it this way: Your daughter could be looking for a job for the next year in this economy. And by summertime she could also have a dozen or more good new contacts in the industries she’s most interested in.

    Also see this blog posting:

  11. Hi Nick,

    I’d love to hear the complete talk. I hope you really consider putting the whole thing on youtube or some other audio media.

  12. Albert Einstein is likely not the only person to have observed there are no simple solutions to complex problems. Two questions as this is my first time on this site.

    1. how to address my age, 66, in an increasingly younger job market (in my fields anyway)

    2. how, if it’s even possible, to make it through, or circumvent HR systems and meet with hiring managers or responsible decision makers