In the December 20, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks for ATH in a nutshell:

Can you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter strategy and explain the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks.

(This Q&A was such a hit last year that I’m reprising it — hope you enjoy it!)

The 4 “nutshell” tips are:

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do — people who are very good at it. Insiders are the first to know about good opportunities, but they only tell other insiders. To get into an inside circle of people, you must earn your way. It takes time. You can’t fake it, and that’s good, because who wants to promote (or hire) the unknown?

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts. Between 40-70% of jobs are filled that way. Yet people and employers fail to capitalize on this simple employment channel. They pretend there’s some better system — like job boards. That’s bunk. If companies took more of the money they waste on and CareerBuilder and spent it to cultivate personal contacts, they’d fill more jobs faster with better hires. There is nothing more powerful than a respected peer putting her good name on the line to recommend you. Deals close faster when the quality of information is high and the source of information is trusted. That’s why it takes forever to get a response when you apply “blind” to a job posting.

3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you. Everything else is stuff, nonsense, and a bureaucratic waste of time. Don’t believe me? Ask any good manager, Would you rather talk to 10 job applicants, or meet just one person who explains how she will boost your company’s profitability? I have no doubt what the answer is.

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start. Hang up on the unsavory charlatans and work only with headhunters who treat you with respect from the start. Instead of “pitching” yourself, shush and listen patiently to understand the headhunter’s objective. Proceed only if you really believe you’re a match. Then show why you’re the headhunter’s #1 candidate by outlining how you will do the job profitably for his client. Headhunters adopt candidates who make the headhunter’s job easier, and who help the headhunter fill the assignment quickly. (Coda: If you follow suggestions 1-3 carefully, you won’t need to rely on a headhunter. But if you’re lucky enough to be recruited, you need to know How to Work with Headhunters.)

That’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell. If you wonder whether it really works, take a look at comments from people who’ve tried it: Thank You, Masked Man.

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Why ATH works

What’s the main difference between ATH and the traditional approach? It’s pretty simple. The traditional approach is “shotgun.” You blast away at companies with your resume and wait to hear from someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you. Lotsa luck. (ATH regulars know that I never actually wish anyone luck, because I don’t believe in it. I believe in doing the work required to succeed.)

ATH is a “rifle” approach. You must carefully select and target the companies and jobs you want. It takes a lot of preparation to accomplish the simple task in item (3). There are no shortcuts. No one can do it for you. If you aren’t prepared to do it right, then you have no business applying for the job, and the manager would be a fool to hire you. This “rifle” approach is detailed in How Can I Change Careers?, which does double-duty for any job changer who wants to stand out in the job interview. (When you buy the 2-Book Bundle for $38.95 using discount code=JOLLY, you’re basically getting How Can I Change Careers for FREE, because How to Work With Headhunters normally sells for $39.95 by itself!)

How to be the stand-out candidate

I’ll leave you with a scenario that illustrates why the traditional methods don’t work well. You walk up to a manager. You hand him your resume — your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments, your keywords, your carefully crafted “marketing piece.” Now, what are you really saying to that manager? “Here. Read this. Then you go figure out what the heck to do with me.”

Managers stink at figuring that out. You have to explain it to them, if you expect to stand out and to get hired. Do you really expect someone to decipher your resume and figure out what to do with you? America’s entire employment system fails you every day because it’s based on that passive mindset.

The job candidate who uses the Ask The Headhunter approach keeps the resume in her pocket and says to the manager, “Let me show you what I’m going to do to make your business more successful and more profitable.” Then she outlines her plan — without giving away too much.

That’s who you’re competing with, whether she learned this approach from me or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2011. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined above in upcoming issues of this newsletter. Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what holidays you celebrate or where you celebrate them), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

Merry Christmas!How has ATH worked for you?

How have you used ATH to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees?

You’ve got no stories — just problems? Post those, too, and I’ll do my best to help (so will other readers!), both in our blog discussion, and in next year’s newsletters. I welcome you to pile on — please tell our community how we can help!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what holidays you celebrate or where you celebrate them), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

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  1. Interesting that the advocates (including coaches) of the shotgun approach claim that it’s marketing 101, same as direct mail and a lot of other large number approaches to scarce customers– furthermore, that the naysayers just “don’t get it”. I think we get it, we just choose not to go that way even if, as they warn, it may take longer. (It can take pretty long their way too, once you have to start over from a bad fit.) Never mind that “marketing 101” would probably also tell you that multiple touches with a small prospect base would probably be better.

    Looking forward to more great material in the new year.


  2. ATH is Marketing 101 because Mktg 101 is all about differentiation. and the ATH is all about differentiation. It stands out.
    I’d only add/reinforce the points by reminding people that what goes round comes round. the door swings two ways. eg. be receptive to people who make an effort to network, make an effort to meet & refer good people, if you’re a manager, set the scene for working with the candidate.
    I practice all these on the networking side in giving people a hand, and back in the day I’ve deployed #3
    It just occurred to me as I write this that I took the #3 approach in the same job move. that is on leaving one job I had two opportunities, one inside the company and one outside. The inside opportunity was a rather vague Corporate Staff job. In discussing it with the VP (who I knew, which admittedly was a help) I laid out my plan, what I would do with the position. He offered me the job because he told me i was the only one who laid it out for him. In the outside one I did that too, but it didn’t have quite the impact until I started showing him some actual deliverables, some software quality metrics that would make his life easier on managing the software development crowd. I hit a bullseye on clearing up something in terms he could understand that he thought would be valuable as well as helping him assess what I could really do for him.
    In sum..ATH is the way to go.

  3. Thanks, Kent and Don. “Value” and “what goes around” are concepts that immediately get lost when job hunting and hiring become reductionist exercises. I’ll be writing more about this soon — I found some interesting research on the dumbing down of the hiring process, and what it’s costing employers.

  4. This website gave me the courage to cold call/email the people I wanted to work for to ask whether or not they’re hiring instead of browsing job postings on line. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas.

  5. Thanks Nick, Don, and Kent. Even though I haven’t had any success yet, what I have done is change my outlook and approach as well as my strategy in the year plus since I’ve been receiving the newsletter. Yes, it takes longer, in some ways, but that is because I am doing more research and being more careful. Anytime my gut tells me to bail, or anytime a hiring manager directs me to HR, who only have the authority to weed me out, never to hire me, I know it is time to move on.

    This approach to job hunting (as well as interviewing tips, salary negotiations, how not to burn your references, etc.) is something that I wish I had known about years ago. It certainly would have altered how I approached searching for a job. But no one teaches you that in high school, or in college. It is the same old same old–standard résumé, going to HR, yada yada yada. It doesn’t work, not in today’s horrible job market. It probably didn’t work all that well years ago either, but I didn’t notice it because before computers took over the hiring process, human beings actually looked at résumés. Now, “reviews” can be done without any human touching them. Scary. What’s even scarier is that employers are shooting themselves in the foot by letting computers do one of their most important jobs for them–deciding who gets called for interviews.

    Nick, I’m interested to know what the dumbing down of the hiring process is costing employers–maybe it is time to put the “human” back in human resources (or better still, take the screening taskers away from HR and limit HR to doing payroll and benefits).

    Happy holidays and happy new year. Let’s hope that 2012 will be better than 2011.

  6. @Thomas: Dude, you’re who I do this for. Thanks for posting. If you need help, just post your questions on these blog postings and I’ll do whatever I can to help. Merry Christmast to you, too.

    Now that you’ve called people you want to work for, next time don’t ask if they have a job opening. Instead, add one more step. Talk to someone at the company first — preferably someone who works in the dept you want to work in. Track them down. I know it’s not easy. Ask people you know. Then when you reach those insiders, ask them to tell you about their operation – but don’t ask about jobs. Ask for “advice and insight.” Ask, “If I wanted to work there, what would it take?” Ask for an introduction to their boss, then tell the boss, “I’ve learned from so and so that you guys might need help with X. Well, I’m really good at X. If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d like to come in and show you how I’d do it. If I can’t show you what you want to see, I’ll leave, no questions asked. I really think I can help you.”

    It’s a different kind of approach that avoids job postings and resumes. This is how people USED to get jobs — by talking.

    I wish you the best. Just some thoughts to keep you moving along…

  7. @ Nick: done! I also appreciate the time you took to write some additional advice for everyone to help them with their job hunt.

    All the best to you as well.

  8. I’m in the UK – some bits of ATH are rather US-orientated, and it makes me glad I’m not working there; UK working & hiring practices seem a lot more civilised! Perhaps employment legislation has a different focus.

    But certainly your advice on researching your target company, and keeping in contact with a network of peers, is excellent, and applicable world-wide. I appreciate the weekly insight into different aspects of ‘the hunt’, and when it’s time to move on I will feel more confident that I’ll know how to approach it.

    Also, my current (tiny) company is hoping to be able to expand next year, and we have no HR behemoth – so I’ll be sure to use your advice from the other side of the table.

  9. I like the 3rd point of doing the job. I’ve mentioned this in previous comments. But as a Corporate recruiter for a small company, I’ve had the opportunity to help structure the process.
    And for executive hires we incorporated the 3rd point into the process so that potential hires could “show their stuff” so to speak.
    To clear the decks, and maximize time in a face/face we just sent each one a questionaire to address the typical Q&A stuff. They could mail that back and take the time to think it through. That also gave us some consistency.
    I suppose some recruiters would say that took the edge off seeing how they responded on their feet etc, removed the surprise etc. We didn’t worry about that, as when I say typical I mean there’s very little originality in a certain % of an interviewing dialogue, and provided useful addendum information, e.g. clarification questions relative to the resume, what they aspire to, what they love to do, where they believe they’d add value.
    As an executive wanna-be we wanted to make better use of time by giving them a real department head issue to work with and prepare for, e.g. how they improve/reduce missed shipment dates. And turn the meeting (with would-be peers and selected mgmt team) over to them and let them drive the bus, just as if they worked for us. Their choice per they style as to how they wanted to handle it…death by PPT, free wheeling it on the cuff, both. Since it was their meeting they could also introduce their own points, grill us, whatever they felt would sell their value. This wasn’t all that we did, but this part was one platform to doing the job, If it progressed well they’d have a one-on with the CEO and could have at it again on doing the job.
    This sets the scene for a point to consider if you are a hiring manager and/or corporate recruiter about #3, doing the job.
    Don’t assume it will be well received. Or well done. Some people don’t know what to do if you let them drive the bus. They are attuned, coached, prepped for extensive Question and Answer approaches, and feel more secure going that route.
    As an agency recruiter, if I knew that doing the job was the game plan, I’d coach my candidates. But as a Corporate recruiter I’m not going to do that. I want to see what they’ll do with it. And again we don’t spring this as a surprise. They are briefed on the process and have ample prep time.
    The candidate has to understand, and have the chutpah and creativity to use ATH #3. It asks a lot of candidates to move outside their comfort zones. and perhaps that’s its real value from the hiring side.
    As a hiring manager and agency recruiter who got a lot of interviewing training the mantra was “you drive the bus” don’t let the candidate “drive the bus”, but ATH says…so..what’s wrong with that?” If you hire them isn’t that what you want them to do, or were you planning to follow them around all day.
    From the hiring side, from what I’ve seen, those that do…stand out, you remember them, and you get much better insights on their potential value

  10. @Don: Thanks for your insight. And it is really nice to see that some of your clients are taking your advice re letting candidates show them what they can do. It makes perfect sense to me because that is what you, as an employer, ultimately want–to hire the person who can do the job (without a manager having to hover or manage him to death). You can’t get that from standard interview questions, or from weird (what kind of animal would you be) interview questions.

    I love this idea–give candidates a “problem” to solve. It is a win-win–candidate can demonstrate what he would do for employer, employer gets to see if he really can do what he says he can.

    As a job seeker, I wish more employers did this. A résumé only gives your past and current job history, not what you can do. Some folks look good on paper, and can’t do the work, while others don’t look good on paper, yet are the right people for the job.

    Nick is right–there are better ways to handle interviews.

  11. @Mary Beth.
    I’m inside a corporation. in this scenario I’m in a position where I can just run the idea by the President of the company and he liked it so we did it. If I have a client, it’s in the “internal customer” concept & he’s my primary client.
    In my former life as an agency recruiter, there was only a few of my clients where my relationship was close enough to where they’d listen to a suggestion on how they could handle their interviews.

  12. @Don: Oh….even better! And I’m sure that the results are better too.

    The more I think about this week’s article, the more sense it makes, and it is common sense. Sometimes, I think we (collective we, both employers and job seekers) know much of this, but we’ve been so brainwashed re how to conduct a job search, going to HR, résumés, references, etc. that stating the obvious helps.

    I’ve learned a lot, and the insights you and Nick and others have re how things work, changes people have noticed and how to get around them, have been sooo helpful. I just need prospective employers so I can put all of the good advice to use!

    Thanks again, and happy holidays!

  13. @Marybeth: Likewise, Happy Holiday and a great 2012.

    Marybeth I note your regular input and search for your next adventure. Where are you and what are you shooting for? Don

    I’m in the Houston area