In the January 8, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks whether I really mean it:

I agree with your non-traditional approach as the means to take control of one’s destiny in terms of choosing the work as well as the firm you want to work for, versus just scanning websites and settling for what’s available. However, you say, “demonstrate you can do the job.” Every company is so different about how they go about even routine requirements! The only way I can think of for someone to be able to do this is, you have to get connected to folks in the organization you want to work in and get them to tell you what is lacking and how they do things. That’s the only way for you to be able to demonstrate that capacity to the hiring manager.

Am I missing something? Are there alternative approaches to prep for the “demonstration?”

Nick’s Reply

(Note: Today’s question comes from a sales executive in a top U.S. company, and he asks if I really mean it when I say you have to talk to company insiders before you even apply for a job. Absolutely! What a great way to start the New Year! Let’s be perfectly clear about what effective job hunting really means!)

Get the factsNope — you’re not missing anything. You’re correct: “you have to get connected to folks in the organization you want to work in and get them to tell you what is lacking and how they do things.”

There is no shortcut

A shortcut to success in job interviews doesn’t exist. This is why effective job hunting is a challenge. You can’t approach 50 companies that have jobs posted. You have to focus and do the work to get connected so you can get the information required to make a potent presentation. Get inside the organization and get the facts!

This truth is incredibly difficult for people to accept, no matter how experienced or savvy they are. You’re a sales executive. You already know the truth, but “the employment system” has brainwashed even you to believe otherwise. Imagine meeting with a prospect to sell your services. Do you do a cookie-cutter presentation, a one-size-fits-all sales pitch to close a deal? Of course not! You’d never waste such an opportunity. You research the prospect’s business, talk to as many insiders as you can, and you figure out exactly where they’re having problems so that you can show exactly why doing business with you is the solution.

Too much hard work?

It’s no different when approaching a company about a job. The single biggest mistake job hunters make is to shotgun the market, using the same pitch everywhere. It just doesn’t work. But people resist what I suggest because it’s a lot of hard work. Of course it is. So’s that great job they say they want!

LinkedIn can promise you all the “connections” in the world, and SimplyHired can promise you all the job postings you can possibly respond to. It’s all bunk if you don’t do the hard work for each and every job you pursue. Each and every job, and each and every manager.

So let’s start off the New Year with an unambiguous statement about what Ask The Headhunter is all about:

You must talk to people connected to a company to learn exactly what problems and challenges the company is facing — so you can be ready to walk in and demonstrate how you’re going to help tackle those problems and challenges specifically.

Not ready to do that? Then you have no business in the interview, and I can’t help you. There is no easy way out of this requirement. The alternative is to be one of the millions who apply for jobs that come along, and to sit around waiting for some personnel jockey to figure out whether you’re “a fit” from a list of keywords. The sad truth is, personnel jockeys — and most hiring managers — stink at figuring this out. You must explain it to them. And there’s nothing to explain if you haven’t first figured out exactly “what is lacking and how they do things.” (I discuss this in The Basics: The New Interview, and I flesh it out in “how to” detail in How Can I Change Careers?, which is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to prove they’d be a profitable hire.)

Nice work!

My compliments for finding the fundamental message in Ask The Headhunter. I’m not making fun of you for asking whether you understand it correctly. I know you won’t read or hear this message anywhere else, so it seems odd. But you’ve got it exactly right. Understanding the other guy’s specific problems is a fundamental basis for proposing a business relationship.

The good news is, now you know exactly what you must do to succeed — and I’ll bet once you get past the horror of it all, you’ll realize this puts total control over your job search in your own hands. Employers are dying to meet someone who understands exactly what they need — someone who can deliver.

Is there any other way to land a job that’s not a crap shoot? Am I nuts? Is there really a shortcut to success in job interviews? Post your comments below so we can discuss the truth, no matter how much it hurts.

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  1. This is all so true. And the heart of it is differentiation. This is very clear when you’re the hiring manager…or as I am now as an in-house recruiter. Executive candidates all the way down, rare is the person who’s done their homework. The range runs from what I’d call common sense, trolling our website, down to the stunning few who haven’t even done that, and admit it.
    Those that do something beyond…stand out, and having done it, can gain credibility beyond seeming better bona fides on paper. Effort = interest and it is noted and appreciated.
    You can research the company ,the industry for starters.
    I think people over engineer “doing the job” It isn’t always dramatic when your facing an audience where the majority make zero attempt.
    When I ran a Software QA shop I still remember a candidate who I hired via transfer from customer support (a virtue in my view). On paper he was a carbon copy of scores of other candidates. But he came with a notebook showing is collection of
    appreciation letters from customers he helped, and from his management. It spoke volumes.
    As an agency recruiter, I had a client looking for a sr program manager. I met a candidate who fit. So did a # of others. But he came with a powerpoint that succinctly showed how he organize and run the project, based on another he ran of similar kind and scope.
    At times I connect the President of my company to potential senior managers and executives. If I were an agency recruiter I’d coach the heck out of them, but as an in house recruiter I don’t. But we are very transparent and I give all candidates a good briefing of the company, it’s history, issues, changes, and on the President. The President knows I do this. And he knows I don’t coach them on how to “handle him”. He counts on that. Mostly all of them shoot themselves in the foot with their boilerplated consultant approach bullet. e.g. “You should do this, you should do that” They’re dead in the water right away. His view is how can they give advise like that? they neither know him or the company or what keeps him awake at night. The best way to get that information is to ask him. The quickest and fastest research avenue. Look, if you’re vying for an executive role, you’re going to visit more than once. He’s perfectly OK with, and really impressed by someone who will tell him they don’t know him or his company, how they’d approach the job not knowing that, ask him what they need to know as well as picking up useful info from the discussion and ask to come back with their more informed take on the role, his needs, and how they’d add value. It’s really not rocket science. And that is doing an executive’s job

  2. Just wanted to say I really enjoy your work. I have an interview today, so this was the perfect reminder for me. I know this business, the owner and their people very well. It is a remarkable difference in mission and confidence to go in with a strategic plan, so to speak, and have a meaningful conversation.

  3. @Peg: I hope you’ll let us know how the interview goes! Thanks for your kind words.

  4. Nick,
    I am completely in accordance with your approach. So much so I have developed a new approach to job interviews – Active Interviewing which details a sales approach to interviews including using an interview presentation in the interview. Your readers can learn more about Active Interviewing at