When I created the new Fearless Job Hunting books, I packed almost 100 of the best Ask The Headhunter Q&As and advice columns into The Complete Collection. Even so, lots of great Q&As didn’t make the final cut — I just had to stop somewhere. This edition of the newsletter includes one of the Q&As I wish I’d had room to include in Fearless Job Hunting. I hope you enjoy it!

In the July 9, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks whether employers hire 64 year olds:

scared-of-sellingShouldn’t you be encouraging people to use headhunters like you, instead of trying to sell me on how I should do it for myself? I have no experience “selling” myself. Basically, while I’m a supreme analyst, I stink at people sales. While I’m absolutely great at crunching numbers (by the way, I loved your job board metrics discussion [CareerBuilder Is For Dopes] — very meaty and revealing), I’m not good at grabbing the people I need to meet, connecting with them, making the pitch, and closing the deal. That’s sales. I have limited experience. You are an expert.

So, why shouldn’t I utilize the best resource for the project? Why shouldn’t I utilize someone who could complete the project (finding me a job) in one tenth of the time it would take me to do the same thing?

It seems to me that using placement services is the best angle. But then again, what do I know? I’m an analyst. I like your ideas, and will give them a shot. It might take me a while to learn the techniques, but I’ll get there…

Nick’s Reply

The answer is in your last statement. It takes a while to get good at this.

It’s like dating — you can try an “introduction” service, and it may be helpful, but can you do that every time you want to meet someone (whether for a job or a date)? It’s far better to invest some time and energy in learning to do it yourself.

It’s one of the skills in life that’s important to learn. Don’t worry about how long it takes. I’ve been at this for a long time and I still don’t have it down. And I was very shy to start. I was lousy at making myself walk up to someone to start a conversation.

I’m not going to offer “how-to” advice about meeting and talking to people, but here are a few of my favorite books on the subject:

Influence: The psychology of persuasion by Robert Cialdini

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less by Milo Frank

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

I also recommend the Dale Carnegie program and Toastmasters. Both teach how to talk to people. It’s a lost art, but a key element of success. In my experience, the failure to communicate effectively is a root of personal and business failure.

As for headhunters, remember that they don’t work for you. They don’t find jobs for people. They find the right people for their corporate clients. Even “consulting companies,” which I think you’re referring to, are not the best solution. You might get lucky getting others to find work for you, but you’re better off learning how to do it yourself.

Yep, it takes time. But it can be enjoyable. And once you learn to do it, no one can take it away from you. But I disagree. It’s not sales. You can’t think of it that way, or it tastes sour. You can’t create a relationship by selling. You do it by engaging someone on a subject you have in common and that’s meaningful to you.

In other words, you make a friend, and Poof! a sale has happened. Think of it as an artifact, not a process or an objective.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a position through a consulting service, or via any channel that works for you. But you know the old saw: You can feed a person, or you can teach them how to fish. I’m glad you intend to give it a shot, so you can always feed yourself.

Thanks for your compliment about CareerBuilder Is For Dopes. I’m not an analyst or numbers guy — that stuff comes hard to me. I’m always afraid I’m missing some analytical angle and getting the conclusion wrong. If an analyst like you finds it meaty and compelling, then I guess I got the analysis right!

Hang in there. Forget about selling. Think about getting to know people. Big hint: People love it when you ask them about their work. It’s a hop and a jump to asking for insight and advice. And that’s where new friendships — and new jobs — come from.

(This is one of the Q&As that didn’t make it into the Fearless Job Hunting books You’ll find almost 100 more in-your-face ways to overcome the daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks in Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.)

Do you feel awkward “selling yourself?” What do you do about it? Post your fears and comments below…

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  1. Interesting. While what’s stated about recruiters only working for their corporate clients makes sense, as a recruiter I’d say that the facts argue against it.

    I had one individual speak with ten companies last year that were non corporate clients all in the name of helping people to succeed and structuring a win/win placement. The CEO of one of those companies even stated on the call: “Thank you for contacting us about this person. I know that it’s something that’s not easy to do.”

  2. Whether a recruiter finds a position for you, or you find the opportunity yourself, you still need to sell yourself. At some point, it will be you and the hiring manager in a room having a discussion. And you will need to seal the deal.

  3. @Alan: I’m a headhunter, and I’ve “shopped” candidates to companies, too. But it’s not my job, and it’s not what client companies pay me for. It’s an artifact of headhunting. Sometimes you encounter an outstanding person, and you know from experience with your clients that the person might be a great fit for one of them. I earn a fee when I do this (always from the employer), but I think it falls into the category of “profitable professional courtesy” – it’s not my business, never has been.

    There’s a troubling conflict in operating this way all the time. The headhunter’s allegiance and responsibility is to his client – the company. So if I take a person and pitch him to my client, I’m doing my client a favor in one way, but a disservice in another. I’m not out looking for the best possible candidate – I’m presenting someone I encountered. That’s not a search, and I don’t think it’s the way to identify and deliver the best possible candidate. It’s a “one off” kind of deal. The candidate and the client may both be very happy, and I get paid. But it’s not headhunting.

    I’ve got no problem with headhunters (or myself!) who do this. But if headhunters start taking on job hunters to find them jobs, all they’re doing is exploiting the fact that companies pay fees to find hires – when the headhunter is not really finding a hire. The headhunter is peddling people.

    This might seem like splitting hairs, but I think it’s an important distinction.

    Looking at it from the job hunter’s side, is it worth investing time to find a headhunter who peddles people? Sure – but good luck. Most “headhunters” operate this way far on the edge of the curve, collecting resumes from job boards, throwing them at companies like spaghetti against a wall, and hoping for a hit and a fee. Anyone – and I mean anyone – can play this game. Trouble is, job hunters get hurt when they let random spaghetti-throwers toss their resumes around – and I think employers, do, too, because it’s a very sloppy way to meet job candidates.

    While some practitioners do this properly and in an above-board way, widespread practice gives headhunters a bad name and misleads job hunters into thinking that all they need to do is “hook up with a headhunter” to find a job. It just doesn’t work that way.

  4. @rkc: I agree that it’s up to you to seal the deal. But people get very hung up and confused by the idea that they must “sell themselves.” Most people suck at selling, and they admit it. Selling can have a very positive connotation, but for most people it’s a terrifying if not distasteful thing. I think it’s important to get away from the notion that people must sell themselves.

    A good sales effort, of course, means showing how “the product” matches the need in a cost-effctive way. But good luck explaining that to people. It’s why I emphasize talking shop and showing how you’ll do the job. This takes the edge off and helps people see the interview as an oppotunity to work with the manager, rather than as a nervous “sales pitch.”

  5. @Nick

    My allegiance is to helping people succeed from a clean sheet of paper if need be. My intent, which my reference clients and candidates understand is that this is not about “shopping candidates.” This is about building businesses in the best interests of shareholders, stakeholders and stockholders which is why the CEO mentioned in my example above thanked me for contacting him about someone and explaining the value that that individual is bringing to the table.

    If anyone asked me to “shop them around” or “peddle” them to someone I’d pass.

    I’m not here to encounter an outstanding person and situationally profit from it. Again, this is about building great businesses and doing what’s necessary to make that happen.

    I’d add that my finest placements are “one of a kind.” Clients challenge me to help them to raise the ante and present individuals that go above and beyond what they currently have in place. If that means challenging their thinking about what they need and helping them to think out of the box for key strategic positions, so be it.

  6. Since there’s some confusion about this topic I feel compelled to add that one of the biggest placements of my career required some negotiation at the tail end. While we were in that phase the candidate actually said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you these things, you work for them (the paying client)not me.” I told him that this isn’t about my joining forces with the client to strong arm him to accept the position, there’s a bigger, more strategic and longer term picture to consider that go beyond closing a quick deal.

    He since has directly hired candidates that I’ve referred, “gets it” and has never stated “You work for me” not the candidates that you recommend.

  7. Nick,
    Your dating analogy is as usual perfect. Whether you meet someone directly, or through a service, you are going to have to sit down and sell yourself. Even better, you need to listen to whether this person is right for you. Most people get that; I don’t know why it is so hard for them to see it in an interview.
    My daughter used to be an actress, and she did more interviews (auditions) by the time she was 12 than most people do in a lifetime. Needless to say she is really, really good at selling herself in interviews as an adult.

  8. It seems to me the questioner did a pretty good job of expressing hinself right here. It may not be what he wants to convey to a prospective employer, but he sure sold me that his feelings were genuine. The phrases “selling yourself” or “convincing someone” convey a sense of having to put on an act. Nick’s advice to talk about subjects of concern to you is a cure for self consciousness, the real culprit. I’ve had most success when I approach prospective employers as colleagues. Job seekers need to think of themselves as applicants, not supplicants.

  9. Perhaps my point is too hidden in this Q&A column. It goes like this:

    1. Most people are terrified at the idea of “selling” anything, much less themselves. Or, they feel it’s demeaning to “sell.” (The problem with this attitude is for another column. I don’t agree that selling must be demeaning at all.) I’m trying to deal with a perception that hobbles people’s efforts to get a job.

    2. The alternative is to view your meeting with an employer as a sit-down working meeting, where you talk about the employer’s businses and how you’re going to do the work.
    Many people will still refer to this as “selling,” but I think this approach is really the behavior that underlies selling (and trying to get someone to go out with you).

  10. @Alan: You clearly have a hybrid model that works for you and for your clients and candidates. You make one very important point: A headhunter may have a fiduciary duty to his client, but that doesn’t mean he’s working against his candidates. Far from it. A headhunter’s livelihood depends as much on satisfying the candidate as doing right by the client. I think this is why there are not many really good headhunters out there. It’s a challenging balancing act that most cannot get right.

  11. If someone had told me 30 years ago that sales would end up being my career, I would have laughed in their face. I hated sales people. I considered them pushy and obnoxious. But once I did it for awhile, I found that you don’t have to be pushy to sell. In fact, I consider myself a very low key salesperson.

    My point is that no matter what we do for a career, we’re selling. If you crunch numbers for a living and you want to move up in the organization, you’d better be selling yourself. Even if your work is impeccable, you’ll be passed over for a promotion by someone who is less talented but has a terrific outgoing personality. The reality is that we’re all selling something, even if it’s just ourselves.

    For us shy people, this isn’t that easy. But as Nick said, it comes with time and practice. I took the Dale Carnegie courses on “Effective Communications & Human Relations” and their sales course a number of years ago and they did help.

    Keep in mind the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

  12. I agree with @Mark Gibson. In a real sit-down business meeting which has nothing to do with interviewing, there is tons of selling going on, even among people who’ve never been on a sales call in their lives. I wouldn’t want to hire someone who will spend meetings sitting in the corner never talking, assuming technical skills are about equal. What good is even the best idea that stays lodged in someone’s head?

  13. Nick, thanks so much for recommending Toastmasters! I’ve been a Toastmaster for almost 15 years, and I have no idea how I managed to function in the world before that. I was so shy that it literally took me a week to get up the nerve to call for a hair appointment. Now I teach job search classes (liberally using your advice and of course crediting you) almost every day, and it’s my favorite thing. Toastmasters did that for me, and it can do it for anyone. Thanks!