In the August 28, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we do the Summer Slam — “Speed Q&A” about:

  •’s and CareerBuilder’s paltry success rates
  • Employers that toy with job applicants
  • Pantsuits or skirts?
  • Blasphemous resumes

Every week I publish a real problem from a real reader along with my detailed advice. But I get tons of questions that never get published. Although I can’t possibly answer every question, when I have time I dash off answers to as many as I can. This week’s edition is a summer slam — high-speed Q&A culled from those brief e-mails. I hope you enjoy it!

Question: Monster-ous success rates

Do you know what the current success rate for and is? I have heard a statistic of 3%. I saw an article written back in 2005, but was wondering about more current information.

Nick’s Reply

The big job boards don’t report their success rates because they stink. According to, the two job boards were the “source of hires” about 2-4% of the time for employers polled:

  • 2002: Monster 3.6%, CareerBuilder 1.5%
  • 2004: Monster 2.6%, CB 2.4%
  • 2006: Monster 2.9%, CB 2.5%
  • 2008: Monster 2.7%, CB 3.5%
  • 2009: Monster 1.5%, CB 5.3%

These figures had to be teased out of CareerXroads surveys. In subsequent years, it seems the reports were burying the job boards’ consistently poor performance. In 2011 they reported that “88.9% of survey respondents attribute at least one hire to Monster during 2010.” They’re boasting about one hire? Gimme a break. My read is that neither board delivers more than 3-4% of hires. It’s pathetic. A dog with a note in its mouth could go out and bring you more hires. I’d stick to the niche job boards. The only big job board I like is because they pull jobs only from employers’ own websites.

Question: Options

I applied for a job with a small company. I got a call saying they have not ruled me out as a candidate but they were taking their time filling the position with someone with more experience. Months later, the job is still posted. Should I call them and offer to do the job as an intern? I really want this job!

Nick’s Reply

I know your motivation about a job can be very high. But let’s play devil’s advocate: Why would you want a job so much, when they don’t want you? They’ve put you on hold. They don’t see a fit. Not ruling you out doesn’t mean much if they have not stayed in touch with you. My advice is to move on and find a company that really wants you. Be careful with intern jobs — it’s often the signal to a company that you’re willing to do anything. Your best negotiating position with these guys is to develop other options.

Question: Skirt protocol

As a professional woman, I’ve always heard you should wear a suit with a skirt to interview. Lately I’ve seen women interviewing in suits with pants. What is the norm? Have we reached the point where women can interview in professional pantsuits or is it still skirt protocol?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think any rule about attire covers all employers, but it’s worth finding out how employees at a company dress. Follow suit (no pun intended). If possible, visit the company’s location. Observe the people going in and out of the office. Dress one notch above the employees, because the point is to show respect. However, over-dressing can backfire. I’ve seen employers drop candidates who showed up over-dressed, worried the person might not fit in.

Question: Resumes

I love your Resume Blasphemy idea, but I am still confused about how to build a good resume. I was wondering if you have a resume sample or template that I could download? One that gives me examples. I really wish that I could finally figure this out, and quite honestly you are the only person that I feel gives out good advice. You need to write a book on resume building, Nick.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words. The Resume Blasphemy approach is like a Zen koan. The message between the lines is, don’t use a resume. Don’t try to climb the mountain; go around it. To produce a blasphemous but powerful resume, you must talk to people connected to the company to ferret out what makes the business tick. Figure out how exactly you could contribute to its success. Once you do that, you don’t need a resume. You’ve already started talking to the right people, who can introduce you to the boss. A good resume is a business plan for doing the job. But you can’t produce a plan after reading a job description on a job board. (And you can’t create a plan by looking at someone else’s. Sorry, I don’t share samples of other people’s work!)

Hope you enjoyed this collection of short Q&As. Now please add your advice or to improve mine!

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  1. Your blog on Monster and Career builders confirms something I’ve felt for a long while. I’ve never had so much as a nibble from one of these sites. I applied for a job that I knew I was qualified for on one; because I also knew to company, I called to do a follow up and HR said they never received me resume.

    Now I use the boards only to see what’s available then find the company to apply for the position.

  2. “I’ve seen employers drop candidates who showed up over-dressed, worried the person might not fit in.”

    I have a special interest in this topic. I co-authored an article a few years ago entitled, “Dressing Down is the New Dressing Up.”

    Nick, let’s change this sartorial example a little bit. What if the candidate shows up with piercings, tattoos, and flip flops which might signal “He doesn’t fit in.” Won’t some companies fear being sued for employment discrimination by someone that does not meet their concept of conventional dressing norms but who otherwise has impressive credentials?

    I have trouble understanding why a company would penalize a candidate who over-dressed (in their eyes). Perhaps the one not fitting in is the employer. Not the candidate.

  3. Nick,
    Actually, I received several nibbles, and two actual offers off of Monster ads last year. Their real usefulness? If you are on your last legs of unemployment, and you need to document your job search and have at least three job leads a week, then you can usually find at least three jobs to throw a resume at each week.

    You may ask, How did I get such good results from Monster leads? I was able to see possibly open positions at companies that were not otherwise on my radar, especially some smaller companies. Once they were on my radar, I could use the process you have advocated to target them and get the interviews and offers.

  4. @Steve Amoia

    I think Nick is referring to settings such as IT, creative professions and non-profits (such as hospitals) where employees do not dress in a business suit but may be more business casual (i.e: a polo shirt and chinos). Some of these employers may think dressing up in a business suit is too formal. I totally agree wth you that potential employers should apprepriate the effort that you make to look professional for the interview. Nick’s advice is on the money,try to learn as much as possible about the company’s culture prior to the interview.

  5. RE: Resumes

    I heard a mid-market talk show host advocate getting your resume on a business card. NOT to cram it on there in small type, etc.

    Name, Job Title, Phone, Email, Fax (if you have a personal one at home) “20 Years Experience” if you must.

    IMHO, if the hiring manager can’t develop interest from that, they aren’t a manager.

    Unfortunately, the gatekeeper in HR never will get it.

  6. @Steve: A company figures an overdressed (in their opinion) candidate might be a stiff who will be difficult to work with. In other words, it’s a reverse stereotype. Who gets hurt is the candidate, legal or not. Better to know it happens and act accordingly.

  7. @Charlie E: If Monster worked for you, go for it!

  8. @M.L.: When I had settled into my headhunting job early in my career, I would dress in a suit all week but in sneaks, jeans and a sweatshirt on Fridays, when I’d never meet with anyone. One Friday a company I was dying to work with expressed an interest in a candidate I had told them about, and they wanted to schedule an interview with him – and they wanted his resume pronto. (Even back then I didn’t like using resumes to get interviews.) So I hopped in my 280ZX and hand delivered the resume to the manager, who was clearly not impressed with my garb. I muttered half an explanation about my casual Friday, squirmed, and left. I don’t recall what happened to the candidate whose resume I delivered. But I do remember thinking, here I am in the middle of casual Silicon Valley, where I’m always a bit over-dressed, and this guy doesn’t like my jeans and sweatshirt? I started keeping a change of clothes in my office. My goal was to place people and make money.

  9. iCIMS recently published an article on source effectiveness for their clients and found that Indeed was responsible for more hires than all other job boards combined including LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, Monster and Simply Hired.

  10. I work in Silicon Valley. When kids from college come to interview, I don’t worry about them being overdressed, since they probably got told to wear a suit and don’t know any better. However if someone with experience shows up that way I’d really wonder. If the person is brilliant, it won’t matter a bit, of course.
    Your advice about seeing what people wear is probably the best.

  11. As for over dressed, when I started with one small firm, almost as a joke, I came the first day in a full three piece suit. I joked with them that I would be a little more casual each day, and by the end of the week, would be in shorts and sandals!

    The real joke was that the company was holding its annual shareholders meeting (it was private, with an employee stock plan.) Since I had no other duties, I went to the meeting with my boss. Most of the other employees didn’t know who I was, but in that suit, assumed I was a banker, or venture capitalist, or something. Whatever they thought, I did get noticed, and I think, actually got a little subliminal respect when I would meet them later!

    As for the interview? I wore a sports coat with slacks. A little dressier than the normal polo shirt and jeans, but nothing extra fancy…

  12. While the whole dress thing seems silly at first glance, it is really about fitting in. Employers want to know if you can do the job, and if they’re interviewing you, I would think that they’ve already determined that you probably can do the job, so the other purpose of the interview, besides satisfying HR by asking those stupid, silly questions, is much more subjective–to see if the candidate will fit in–fit in with the company/corporate/agency culture, fit in with the dept./unit s/he may be joining. While I think you do need to show respect by dressing appropriately for an interview, I agree with Nick that a better idea would be to suss out the company’s employees and how they are attired for work. You may even want to observe them more than once. You might happen to hit the day that the big cheese muckety-muck is paying a visit, so everyone is super dressed up (over dressed) vs a more normal day (sans big muckety-muck visitors from corporate headquarters or the governor’s office or your institution’s/school’s accreditors). And you know your profession–if you’re applying for a job at a law firm, tailored suits are de rigeur. If you show up in khaki pants and a polo shirt, you give the impression that you don’t fit in. Ditto if you’re applying for a tech job or something in a creative field. If the standard “uniform” is more casual (but not cut-offs and flip-flops), then showing up in a tailored three piece suit makes you stand out, and not in a good way.

    Oh, and I hate the term “business casual”. I’ve worked in places that had a dress code business casual, and it was different for all those employers, and even within the same company (different depts). People don’t know what it means, and it means different things to different people.

    In one of my first post-college jobs, I remember asking my soon-to-be boss (after she offered me the job) about the dress code. She laughed, and said, “well, you have to wear a shirt, and you have to wear shoes”. In my dept., which didn’t deal with the public, my boss and the other 2 employees dressed up much more than those who worked in circulation and reference and kids. They were in jeans and sneakers and sweaters, very casual skirts and t-shirts and dresses. Downstairs in cataloging, it was skirts and jackets or nice sweaters, no sneakers (low heeled pumps or nice flats). Observation is really the best, or if you know someone in the company, ask!

  13. @Marybeth

    You make an excellent point that the term ‘business casual’ holds a different meaning for each person. I was taught that business casual is everything but the jacket and tie for a guy and the jacket for women. However, at my current company, business casual means wearing jeans and a nice collared shirt for some people. I have even seen some people in t-shirts and shorts.