The April 3, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a SPECIAL AUDIO EDITION.

(This is no April Fool!)

On Sunday, April 1, I conducted a workshop for a group of Executive MBAs at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management. (These guys attend the EMBA program on weekends!) The topic was the differences between applying for a job and delivering profit to a company.

The presentation ran almost two hours, and the discussion and debate were lively. One of the key points we explored was about how we view employers and jobs when we go job hunting, and how employers view us.

  • Are you being interviewed to help a company fill out its open headcount?
  • Or are you more like a business the company is considering acquiring or merging with?

The difference in these two approaches is profound.

I don’t think anyone should behave like “the next hire.” I think every time you approach a company about working together, you should be prepared to show that you are a profit-making operation unto yourself.

Are you ready to get acquired? Please listen to this brief section of the Cornell presentation:



Now here’s an excerpt from the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers? (p. 9) that explains how to Create your next job, rather than just get a pre-made job:

How do you inspire a company to create a new job for you? Forget about your credentials, your history and your past jobs. They are irrelevant. If that’s what you focus on when searching for a new job, you’ll shoehorn yourself into the same kind of job you just left.

Decide where you want to work. Study your target company. Explore the problems and challenges it is facing and figure out how you can help the company tackle them profitably. Apply your skills and abilities in new ways to re-define your qualifications. Think in terms of what the company needs but doesn’t have: That’s your new job. That’s the business plan you need to present.

The job you want to create is essentially a new business. But don’t expect your target company to figure out whether this “new business” is justified. You must be ready to explain it to them. Show how you’ll deliver profit in new ways. That’s what may prompt the company create a new job just for you.

(How Can I Change Careers? isn’t just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out from their competition.)

I think we’ll find the value in this topic in the discussion more than in what I have to say.

What does it mean to get acquired or to merge with a company?

  • How does this change the way you’d approach a new gig?
  • Does it change salary negotiations?
  • Do you even need to apply for a job — or what’s the new alternative this approach suggests?
  • Have you ever felt like you were acquired — or merged — rather than just hired?

: :

  1. “Study your target company. Explore the problems and challenges it is facing and figure out how you can help the company tackle them profitably.” is the tricky part requiring inside knowlege of/in the organization, Not the kind you find in websearchs or blabed by insiders. Most firms worth working for are closely held and private. The key knowlege is likely to be propriety/confidential. How would I get such info as an outsider?

  2. @Edward: Larry Stybel suggests a great way to do this, based on Philip A. Fisher’s seminal book on investing. Check out Scuttlebutt:

    It works well for publicly-held companies, too.

    The approach is based on a more general method I discuss in “How Can I Change Careers?” It’s all about getting into the “circle of friends” that surround a company — from their employees to their consultants, bankers, etc. It takes time, but anyone who is serious about their career should be investing time and effort in this all the time. You can’t start when you really need it. You must lay the ground work early, and the smart thing to do is continue cultivating.

  3. Nick, you’ve made good points. But I think Edward also raises an interesting point. A side point to consider is the truthfulness of anyone you talk to about any company. I’ve learned that people aren’t always truthful, so I think there’s at least two levels of vetting to do–vetting the companies you think you’d like to work for and vetting the people (circle of friends that surround companies) you’re trying to connect with to learn about the companies. Sometimes “friends” have ulterior motives that have nothing to do with you.

  4. While I agree that you should think about how you can be a profit making entity, I don’t like the language of “merging” or “being acquired.” It sounds like you’re an asset like a building or machinery or stock ticker. You’re not; you’re a human being.

    Rather, think of it as two business entering into a mutually beneficial arrangement. We do this all the time. Businesses only buy from other businesses when those purchases (be they products and/or services) enable both to generate profits.

    If a business is going to “merge” with me or “acquire” me, I want some ownership in the final entity…..;^)

  5. @marybeth: Hey, if this were easy, everybody would be doing it!

  6. @Chris: You’re opening up an important debate. What are we when we take a job? I wrote an article a long time ago titled, “Journeyman, or Partner?” that addresses the issue you raise.

    I think if the alternative is to get hired for my skills and because I match a job description, I’d rather do a merger or acquisition. Of course, the metaphor breaks down at the point where you can un-merge, or quit.

    Few jobs offer ownership – it’s why they’re jobs. I think it’s worth fleshing out the differences in approach.

    My over-riding point is that the steps we go through in a traditional “hiring” situation pale beside the kind of interaction that happens when we talk about an acquistion or merger. I think at least in that regard, both the job hunter and the employer could benefit a lot by approaching the transaction they way companies do when vetting one another for an M or A.

  7. @Chris: I understand your point. We’re human beings, not machinery or cogs in the equipment. But I also understand Nick’s point: the purpose of a business is to make money/increase profits for the owners. So that means a business is going to be concerned re how you, a potential employee is going to doing just that–how are you going to make money/increase profits for the company? If you’re not going to do that, then there’s no point in hiring you.

    I think Nick is trying to get you to see how businesses think so you can address these issues. If you’re not contributing to the increased profit, then you’re breaking even (okay but not good) or you’re a drain (definitely not good).

    And he’s right–very few jobs offer ownership. Employees typically aren’t owners unless you think about mom-and-pop businesses (owners also work there). Some law firms follow this model–the owner of the firm also practices law. And medical practices too–doctor is the owner and treats patients. But in a traditional (bigger) business, or if you decide to work for a college or university, or for Apple or GE, probably not.

  8. @Nick–I know (it isn’t easy)–I just wish it didn’t have to be SO hard!

    Thanks again for another good topic and for the tips!