Due to the short Thanksgiving week (I’ve got turkeys to roast), this week’s newsletter Q&A is a replay from last year. Hope you enjoy it!

In the November 22, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful executive who took time off then worked as a consultant says headhunters won’t touch him. What’s up?

I was an executive with a financial services software company for 20 years. I joined when it was a start-up. After the company was sold, I took a package and left, as did the co-owners and, eventually, all of the senior management. I have a five year gap in my resume after which I had a couple of consulting engagements, one of which lasted a year, the other approximately six months. I speak with recruiters frequently, but invariably the gaps prevent me from getting an interview. The recruiters will not even present me to the client. I would truly appreciate any advice.

My Advice

Most recruiters suffer from a buzz words syndrome. If the buzz words aren’t on your resume, then you’re not a candidate.

Happy Thanksgiving!Those recruiters obtain lists of “candidate criteria” from their clients, and they pattern-match those criteria to someone’s resume. My guess is that among those criteria are “stable work history” or “must be currently employed.”

You had a long, successful career building a company from the ground up. That’s trumped by “currently unemployed” only in the mind of a foolish recruiter.

Buzz words

If you had been as narrow-minded as those recruiters about whom you hired while building your start-up, the business would likely have failed. I’m willing to bet you hired people who spent time consulting or running their own businesses. You relied on your ability to recognize what people could do; you didn’t judge them on buzz words or on what they had done in the past. You probably hired people that others wouldn’t touch.

What I’m telling you is, those recruiters are helping you weed out companies you should not work for. I know this sounds like sour grapes, but think about it. We all have a selection process in mind that supports the way we live and work. We pick people and we make choices that reflect who we are and how we operate.

The perfect fit

Now, think about what that means. You’re being rejected by recruiters and companies that are looking for “the perfect fit” to their narrow criteria. But when did you ever encounter “perfect circumstances” and “perfect solutions” to the business problems you faced at your start-up?

Kiss those recruiters goodbye, because they’re working for narrow-minded employers that you probably won’t be happy working for. Instead, track down insiders who work with the kinds of companies where you’d shine. Start talking to lawyers, bankers, investors, realtors, landlords, accountants, consultants and other folks who do business with dynamic, growing companies that want talent — not perfect fits to static job descriptions. (You and I both know there’s no such thing in either case.)

Jump the gap

Those recruiters don’t work for the companies that will hire you. You will find your next employer through external consultants (like those I listed) who work with companies like the one you helped grow. The company that hires you next won’t be looking at the gap you’re facing — it’ll be looking at how effectively you can leap over that gap to help grow its business.

How did you leap over an employment gap? Did you ever hire someone with a gap? What the heck does a gap really say about a person, anyway?

Happy Thanksgiving!

: :

  1. I have a similar issue. I saved up my money and have taken off work for 1 1/2 years. Now that the money will run out soon, I have to get back in the workforce. Potential employers are going to think I have been looking for a job for that long. Fortunately, there is a demand for my profession (software testing), but I am sure some will not consider me based on the long gap without ever meeting me. Oh, well. The time off has given me my sanity back.

  2. It just so happened that I opened an online stock trading account right after a layoff. Well the “employment gap” turned into 4 years. It eventually occurred to me that I could say that I was self employed for those 4 years, so I put it on my resume. “Self-employed Internet Stock Trader, Member American Association of Individual Investors.” I wrote up a job description and accomplishments and the works. No one has ever questioned or doubted it and many have asked me for investment advice during interviews. The same can be accomplished with volunteer work.

  3. I’ve been giving the same advice for the past several years: The manager interviewing you was likely on the street recently, just like you. Don’t apologize for being out of a regular job for a while. Focus instead on helping that manager keep his current job, by helping him or her run a profitable operation. Show you can do that, and I think you’re in (if the manager isn’t just a bureaucrat).

  4. I am in the IT sector and almost every recruiter seems to be looking for that “perfect fit.” I have attemted to build Nick’s suggested network of the right people. These people have been great including walking in with my resume and I have even gotten to have “coffee” with hiring managers where I have shown my value for their challenges and some. As soon as my resume hits the HR recruitment team I get rejected as the “not a good fit” candidate.

    This is both frustrating for not only me but those inside the company who I did see where I would be a benefit to the company by fitting in the gap they needed filled.

    I have recently been told this style of recruiting is regional and I would be better off seeking companies who were not West Coast.

    It is not so easy to quickly create such a network from 1000 miles away or pop in for a coffee and quick chat to show the values you bring to the company.

    Does anyone know a way of dealing with companies who after you have gotten both feet in the door and are seeing you as their solution then pass you to recruiters who reject you because they insist on using the check box system of finding that perfect fit?

  5. Nick et al.,

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on Obewan’s strategy. I too have been managing my own portfolio for the 2+ years since resigning my prior position and, given my age (52) and employment history, a potential employer might well conclude that my portfolio is substantial without my having to stoop to crass quantification.

    Is “Self-Employed Investor” better than frank admission of an employment gap? What are the keys to success if one adopts the former approach?

  6. There used to be a HR industry rag called “The Purple Squirrel”. The title describes perfectly what most HR guys are looking for: They want a purple squirrel to come bounding out from under the bush and hop into their lap.

    We all know that this is not going to happen. The “perfect match” is happy elsewhere, at his own consultancy, business, or independent coffee shop, or has crossed your company off his list of potential employers due to your hiring practices.

    As an aside “The Purple Squirrel” developed a reputation for not paying free-lance writers, and went of of business. Hopefully the hiring practices that follow this method will leave the business community as well.

  7. @Steve G: I don’t think the style is regional. I think it depends on the company. It’s astonishing to me that a manager responsible for an operation of a company would relinquish hiring to the HR department. So let’s step back. Maybe the manager doesn’t realize what HR is doing. So your best bet might be to ask the manager what’s going on. “You convinced me that your team is a great place to work, and I think I demonstrated what I could contribute. So help me out here: Why is your HR department leading me to believe I’m wasting my time?”

    Yah, that’s pretty assertive. But if it’s true, you’re not taking much of a risk. Sometimes you need to politely confront the manager. Another approach: “I’d be happy to spend time with your HR department, but only after you and I have decided we want to work together. I’m ready to make a commitment to you. But I’m very busy at my other job [or, I’m talking with another company about another project], and I need to know whether this is a go. I’d be glad to talk with HR, but only if you and I have agreed we’re going to work together.”

    If someone’s doing something stupid to you, sometimes you have to shake them.

  8. @Obetwo: I think Obewan really was an investor during that time. So if you were, too, then that approach makes sense. Please see my other comment above.

  9. @L.T.: That’s because the HR guys don’t have to hire and work with the purple squirrel in their own department. What do they care?

  10. An employer who hires a “perfect fit and job history”, instead of a “job done for me” pays threefold: 1. for the actual work 2. “perfect salary fit” surcharge 3. resume polishing and embellishing fee.

  11. @Nick

    I said something similar at an exit interview, which was too late for both of us.

    The company, which we shall Ashcan, Inc., used Taleo as the front end to its cadre of HR “professionals”. On the plus side, they were trying to convert the remaining contractors from a 3-year project to full-time employees.

    After the first couple positions were filled, I asked why I hadn’t even had the dignity of an interview. I was told that they thought I wasn’t interested because they never saw my resume.

    Afterwards I made sure all the hiring managers had my resume, and a couple walked them down to HR with a cover letter of their own, saying they wanted to see me for an interview. HR still filled the interviews with other candidates.

    After I’d been recruited, and taken the project manger position for construction of what turned out to be two TV stations, after the lunch with my supervisor, I was asked why my name had never come up for the PM positions that remained art Ashcan, I replied “HR never seemed interested”.