In the January 11, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two readers raise related questions about headhunters and job hunters. (My short version of their questions is, Are these people insane?) But take a look for yourself:

Reader #1 asks:

I found the article, How to Judge Headhunters, to be one of the best I’ve seen a some time. I’m hoping that you might be able to comment on what I see as a disturbing trend.

Several times each week, I receive e-mails from recruiters that would suggest we’ve been “best friends” for years. The e-mail usually has an outline of a job, and a request that I contact them at my earliest convenience. But once I place the phone call, the recruiter is completely in the dark as to who I am.

Recently, a recruiter asked that I send him my resume, and said he would get back in touch with me if he feels I would be a good fit. This was after he sent an e-mail stating that he had read my resume and thought I might be a good fit for the position he’s recruiting for.

Now, I’m not so thin-skinned that I lose sleep over the idea that I’m “not qualified,” but I’m curious why these folks would contact me in the first place. The recruiters I’m talking about work for major, national recruiting firms. Please share your comments about this.

Reader #2, headhunter Clare Powell, is with Powell Search Associates and specializes in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Clare welcomes resumes from folks in those industries, but not from out of left field:

Every day, I know two things are going to happen. First, at least a dozen talented people will send us their resume without first making sure we support clients in their industry. These are mid- to senior-level people! A quick visit to our website would tell them more. So, either they are too lazy to do the homework, or they think their packaged-goods background, for instance, is readily transferable to an R&D job at Pfizer. I’ve asked a few of them why they contacted us, and they just say they didn’t bother to check out our firm. Crazy stuff.

I think candidates should do their own homework and be more careful with their personal information. Who knows what a disreputable firm will do with that kind of open invitation?

In the end, like you, I want these guys to land great jobs, but they do themselves a terrible disservice by not following the simple steps you talk about all the time, and that even common sense would dictate. I wish your newsletter were more widely publicized. It would surely help me! I’m happy to put a link to your website on our website… My motive is to help people get smarter faster!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The smart job hunter in the first story above reveals the unsavory, mindless “recruiters” who issue puzzling invitations and make contradictory phone calls to him. And he wonders why they do it. It doesn’t matter why, any more than it matters why someone in “Nigeria” wants to share $38 million with you if you’ll give him your bank account information.

The headhunter in the second story reveals the mindless pitter-patter of lemming-like job hunters who have no idea where they’re going, whom they’re talking to, or what they really want. They say they are looking for a job, but what these folks are actually looking for is a gofer that might find them a job in the bushes. (Otherwise, why would they contact a headhunter who specializes in a different field?) Clare Powell begs for relief from the onslaught of thoughtless resumes and mindless requests.

The job market is in the condition it’s in because the economy has still not recovered. But there are companies that have jobs to offer, and talented people who can do them. I think there are two problems:

First, people need to start looking for the jobs they want, and stop desperately asking someone else to do it for them.

Second, people need to stop wasting their time on questionable solicitations from shady, inept “recruiters” who prey on desperation.

Clare Powell is a good headhunter, but she isn’t the solution to your career problem. Nor am I. Nor is the fraud who e-mailed you saying your resume looks so good, and would you please immediately send him your resume? The insanity among fast-buck recruiters and desperate job hunters continues. Perhaps they all belong together, in some sort of Wishful Thinking Database, out of the way of the rest of us—so we can work diligently at finding and filling the few real jobs out there.

I know it’s tough out there. But please don’t act crazy. Use your noggin.

Has everyone gone insane? Are people spending all their time on “meta job hunting,” devoting their energies to finding someone who might find them a job? What are you doing to find a job? Are you going insane along with everyone else, or are you using your noggin?


  1. For my search practice so far this year I’ve:

    1. Created a new Meeting Agenda/Declaration of Purpose document that I”m forwarding to candidates interested in representation by my firm.

    2. I”m reviewing the responses.

    3. I’m scheduling follow-up calls and meetings with individuals that adequately complete the document.

    4. I’m developing custom marketing strategies for those individuals.

    5. I’m doing research on which companies to approach based on solid business logic.

    6. I’m awaiting permission from my candidates to approach the firms that I’ve researched on their behalf.

    7. Once permission is granted I’m approaching targeted decision makers with the candidates’ value proposition.

    8. I’m scheduling calls with interested decision makers (none of whom I’ve dealt with before so far) and addressing their questions and concerns about the candidates that I’ve presented.

    9. I’m scheduling interviews.

    So far so good.

  2. I completely understand the situation, I’ve always found pleasant but 100% clueless technical recruiters. They offer me jobs, mostly not related to what I do, because they do not read my resume, and do not understand my resume.

    But Yes I also agree, that we that hunt for jobs definitely need to do better work in researching.

    And perhap’s that’s the big lesson we can all learn in this economy. That what would have settled or worked when jobs were a plenty, is that we can be lazy and undisciplined, but in this economy, we must do our due diligence, or we will stay unemployed.

    Someday I’ll find a recruiter that understand’s coldfusion, but I highly doubt it.

    But good luck and God Bless all.

  3. I haven’t used headhunters, but I do agree with general principles Nick covers in his article. We (general we) all need to do more research and yes, we should all know better. What I have found is that some (not all, but some) job descriptions are so vague that it is hard to know if I am qualified, much less whether I would be a good fit for the job and the company and vice versa. I’ve called HR, and oftentimes HR can’t help me. If HR can’t help, and calling the dept. for which the job has been posted gets no further illumination, then what? My quandry now is do I take a chance and apply for a job that I may not be qualified for or that might not be a good fit or do I avoid it and keep looking? I’ve taken jobs in the past simply because I was desperate and needed A JOB. I’ve learned the hard way what a mistake that was.

    I research companies now, and I try to talk to both current and former employees–former employees because I want to know the bad and the ugly as well as the good, and current employees aren’t always forthcoming about the culture or the job. Sometimes I can read in between the lines (6 different people have held this particular job in a 2 year period? That tells me there’s a big problem–it could be that they hire unqualified people, or it could be that the job is undoable, that the culture is toxic, etc.) or I can tell by the “vibe” I get from the interviewer (non answers to my questions, trashing former employees, or just by their vague answers to questions that should have answers). And I’ve also worked for places where the prospective employee didn’t do his or her homework. At one library, we required that the applicants have an MLS (Master of Library Science) from an accredited school, and the number of résumés we received from people who lacked MLS degrees and in many cases lacked even a college degree but who thought it would cool to work in a library because they could read all day or because they wanted certain hours was astounding. The job description was clear–successful candidate MUST have an MLS degree from an accredited institution and MUST have at least 3 years professional experience in technical services, and we received résumés from supermarket check out cashiers, waiters, daycare workers, high school dropouts, and more. It goes both ways. I pay attention to requirements, and would hope that anyone writing a job description would also pay attention.

    Nick, I think the problem is also that people just don’t read or if they do, they don’t read carefully. They don’t pay attention to the details, and, in the cases of the mid and upper level professionals, they assume a lot–that all headhunters know eachother and that they will just forward résumés not applicable to the current job to some other headhunter. At my last job, I remember getting an application for admission and the applicant wrote that he was applying for admission to our school for social work. We didn’t have a school for social work, and the criteria for admission and what he wanted were so different that there was nothing I nor the Grad Admission office could do but notify him that the university didn’t have a school for social work. If he had read through the university’s website and our program’s website, he would have seen that. He called both our depts and said what’s the problem–are you too lazy to forward my application to your SSW? Ummm….there was NO SSW at the university at all. And no, no one would forward anything–it wasn’t due to laziness, but to not having enough staff to contact each applicant who wasn’t clear in which program(s) s/he wanted or to be able to read their minds and forward things. Then they’d be blamed for forwarding it to wrong program.

    Due diligence indeed…but it is needed across the board.

    That said, I do agree with your comments about the headhunters–be picky, as if you were choosing a spouse. If they’re this careless (obvious that they haven’t read your résumé), then that tells me that they will be equally careless when it comes to promotting you.

  4. I read the job description carefully before applying for a job. Sometimes, I do not meet every single criteria listed but I think I can do the job. If I think I can do the job and have done my homework, I apply. At my current workplace, I’ve seen jobs go unfilled for months b/c a candidate is not an exact match.

    Some employers post job descriptions that are short and vague, while others have two pages criteria.

    It seems that little thought is given by job hunters who will not do the homework and by the employers who post vaguely-worded or impossible-to-fill job descriptions.

  5. @DLS: I do what you to. I scrutinize the job description, and if I do not meet every single criteria listed but I think I can learn the job and do the job, then I apply. Some companies are willing to take a chance on someone who isn’t an exact match but who is willing to learn and to work hard. Others are not–they don’t want to train the new person and expect him/her to step in and be able to do the job.

    As you said, if the employer is looking for an exact match, he might be waiting for a long time. I would think that it would be more important to fill the position–if the new employee has some brains and is willing to work and learn, the new employee will be up to speed by the time the employer waits for months hoping for the ideal candidate (the perfect match).

  6. Hmm.

    I’ve finally quit working for others, and am developing a business as a person who helps others overcome job hurdles, learning from Nick and others – check out for more good ideas about career and work.

    I’ve met “certified” career coaches and career counselors, and other than those who specialize in the mental health aspects of career, none of the “certified” folks seem like they have anything valuable to offer. For example, one “certified” lady brags on her website that she won a contest as the best executive resume writer! Who were

    I would like to run a business teaching people to become their own best headhunters, but is it viable?

  7. DLS, MaryBeth: You might enjoy this article

  8. Thanks Nick for the link to the article. I read it and completely agree. I plan to share this with a coworker.

    The only thing I can do is change how I would look for a job; I cannot change how companies hire.

  9. On the theme of unqualified applicants take note of something called unemployment checks. In TX as I’m sure elsewhere those that submit claims must apply for X# of jobs per week. A checkoff thing. and they do by dropping applications willy nilly: You can spot them because typically they bang in a resume sans any notation e.g. which job, or in some cases no subject. They then fill out their weekly application on line noting how many jobs they’ve applied to along with a worksheet with the details, who what when where what for etc
    As to reading job description. My wife says “men don’t scroll” and that appears to be very true. Job title is read, after which a knee-jerk application is sent out. For example. Our descriptions include compensation information as a range. A promising candidate responded. He wasn’t local so I needed to phone screen/interview. I asked him via email if he read the description. Yes AOK with him. I emailed it to him the morning of the call so he could have it at the ready. Asked him again if he’d gotten & read it. Yes works for him!. Called him spending about 1 1/2 hours on the phone. Again asked him if he was OK with the comp package. He didn’t recall it! Told him. Oh he couldn’t possibly relo to Houston for that. In retrospect I can see he read squat. (I harped on the comp because we are a tiny company that gets applications from some heavy players..and also I don’t like to play games with the comp question so we put it right out there)
    I agree with DLS’s comments: As a hiring manager I’ve seen peers keep looking for the Holy Grail candidate, just perfect in every way, hanging with an open req until the validity of the need is highly suspect. Sometimes there’s justice and it’s given to someone else who knows how to manage the risks and tradeoffs in hiring. There are no perfect candidates. I also agree with DLS’s point about applying if you think you’re qualified, within reason, and with credible pitches. As an in house recruiter we make an effort to deflect searches for the perfect. Assuming a useful description we respect people who push back when they feel we’ve underestimated their value-add and show a strong belief that they can do the job, better than just do add value. I don’t advertise it, but when someone pushes back, persists, that we’ve misjudged them, they move up on my list, and I’ll talk to them. This adds minimal work because hardly anyone does this. So those that do, show promise in my book.
    If indeed someone has researched the company & expresses an interest in the company I tell them to keep in touch. Especially those who got shortlisted. If they go into the woodwork because they didn’t get a rise out of us, or were shortlisted and didn’t get an offer, they are essentially telling me it was all about the job. If we pass, and they keep coming back, a claim that they are interested in the company grows and they’ll get a hearing. The last sales guy we hired networked with me for about a year and continued applying. Technically he didn’t hit the description, but he hit the attributes of a sales guy we liked..he was selling. Best hire in a long time
    Job descriptions can be whimsical collections of platitudes and unsubstantiated needs. We wrestle the hiring managers to the ground for descriptions that mean something to them.
    Even for what it’s worth, I can’t stand the concept of “being overqualified” nor fortunately does our company President. I like to treat people like adults, and not make assumptions about why someone who seemingly could do more..applies. Our view is we have an opportunity to pick up a really good resource.
    Jobs finish, jobs change, but the company is only as good as the people in it.

  10. @don: Excellent point. Our state unemployment offices encourage silly “applications.” Any system that doles out rewards can be gamed, and what’s ludicrous is that the unemployment system has been getting played the exact same way for decades. Doesn’t the govt realize that people apply for any and every job? Not to say it should be made harder for people to get unemployment benefits, but come on — all the govt is doing is polluting it’s own data pool. When millions apply for random jobs in order to quickly and easily fulfill the requirements to get benefits, that data makes its way into federal jobs reports, which in turn affect economic reports. Goofy.

  11. Update: After presenting a candidate value proposition proactively to a head of strategy at a major division of a Fortune 100 organization last week, I received a call from one of his reports today and was asked to describe the candidate a bit more and to provide more detail in writing as to what he could do for them. It was explained that though there are no formal openings at present for someone like my candidate that they are looking at this opportunistically and would welcome the opportunity to partner with my search firm for a one-off placement should we provide them with something compelling enough.

  12. As a headhunter, it is always better to have people sending in CVs to you than not.

    I understand thatwork is very important to our lives, perhaps more so than life and death beacuse upon death, everything ends but having work before that big day comes is crucial to determine the quality of life a person can have.

    I think a lot of recruiters out there are so busy chasing up their business targets, they need to be “creative” with the type of people they present to their clients and hence some of you out there may receive irrelevant job opportunities.

  13. I was told about a job by someone who thought I had good skills and qualifications for the job and was even told they “really need people to fill these particular positions” (there is more than one opening available for this position and the job has been posted for over two months). I submitted the application, along with my resume and a cover letter that provided examples about how I could do the job.

    I received an automated reply from the HR department indicating they are looking for someone who matches the qualifications more closely, even though I provided that exact information to them.

    Sometimes, it is not the recruiter’s fault, but a blind, deaf, and dumb HR deparment who thinks there is always someone better on the horizon.

  14. @dims
    For context, I’m not an HR professional, but a recruiter in an HR dept. and in past lives have worked with same as well as HR.
    Very often I see HR department as the fall guy for unsatisfactory results. Often all you’re doing is flogging the messenger.
    There’s a hiring manager in play as well and HR merely is trying to satisfy them. Your point about looking for someone always better, in my experience is a hiring manager affliction, Can’t close, can’t make a decision, looking for perfection. I can safely bet there’s an HR person/ recruiter or manager more frustrated then you trying to wrestle them to the ground…also being blamed for “not coming up with good candidates” .
    Always remember. HR does not make the hiring decision…
    when people flog HR, the issue usually isn’t HR but an HR/Hiring manager combination.

  15. @Don Harkness
    In this case, I know people who work at the company, and it is the HR department that is the gatekeeper about whose resume is seen or not seen.

    I was also told recently they use scanning software to look for key words in resumes that match key words in the job descriptions.

    Sorry, but this totally falls on HR this time.

  16. @dlms; can’t argue with that. but again, who writes the job descriptions that drive the key words…usually the hiring manager. that’s why I believe in most cases, they share the blame. They are not working together, and the hiring manager is not doing due diligence to what HR is doing or not doing for them.
    Even if you can get through the screening you have people who then don’t take the time to look at them.
    any way in a dysfunctional system, there’s multiple reasons, and often HR is one of them.
    And as we speak new software is being created to help them make it more difficult.

  17. @Don Harkness
    Unfortunately, you are write about the software. I know people who work at large and medium companies, and most of them employ key word software.

    Dysfunctional is right too. But, qualified people are being passed over for positions b/c their resume and/or cover letter did not contain the right key words to match a job description. Then, the position goes unfilled for months while the managers complain about work not getting done. I see it where I work too–work goes undone b/c the manager is waiting for the “perfect” candidate.

  18. @dlms:
    they use current key word search software, here’s insight on the next wave..

    there are two pointed phrases there in “laser” and “thinking like recruiters…
    pin pointing with laser accuracy means anal enablement, helping find that absolute perfect combination of key words..i.e. the perfect candidate…
    and thinking like recruiters means??? which recruiters..apparently those that want laser like accuracy
    and that’s not the way I recruit. I never liked someone to screen for me, and certainly not an app.

  19. @Don & @dlms: Software has become a crutch for employers just as resumes are a crutch for job hunters. In the end, both wind up more hobbled by the crutch because they stop exercising common sense. Relying on software to filter candidates on the the first cut is ludicrous. The insane claims made by these “applican tracking system” vendors are swallowed by the HR folks that buy them and then depend on them. If you lose some good candidates before you ever interview them, it’s your fault for relying on the software. I think the practice has gotten out of hand. Employers are missing so many good candidates that they now refer to it as “the talent shortage.” They’ve created it themselves. The talent is out there. But the filters don’t work. Sorry — the blame lies with those who put the system between the employer and the candidates. And that’s HR.

  20. Good day,

    I found your weekly newsletter that I signed up for after doing some reviews on Head Hunter-Recruiting agencies. After reviewing your articles I put my credit card away.

    I just had to giggle a little about your comment regarding hiring a stranger to represent us new job seekers (new career) instead of doing the job myself !! One of the strongest skills based on past performance happened to be the way I negotiate . So to your point “Touché “, not using the noggin. But then again, I never had to look for a new career because of networking and being recruited in the past .
    Quite frankly I just thought going through a “Talent Aquisition ” or Recruiter (Head Hunter), was the way it is done now days ?

    My concern would be if I go rogue on the process companies have by by-passing HR or The Talent Aquisition Manager etc., How will that affect my chances when there is a pool of people and I didn’t follow process , rather went around it ? Just wanted to know your thoughts if I may please .



  21. @Heather

    Don’t over sweat your concern. HR or Talent Acquisition people’s jobs is to help the Hiring Manager find the needed talent, actually the Hiring Manager’s job.

    Yes usually there’s a process, but when a hiring manager finds a person they want on board, let’s say via networking. They become the sponsor and tell HR let’s get this person in (and on board). If they get in a snit so what? their job is now just administrative.

    And good ones noses won’t get out of joint. Believe me they usually have all they can handle with Manager’s who need hand holding to fret about a manager who doesn’t need it.

    Think of a company like a house. There’s a lot of ways to get in, front doors, back doors, side doors, windows. If you find a way to connect directly to the decision maker, you just used a different door than the HR Door.

    Don’t worry about it