Yesterday I did 20 minutes with Brian Lehrer on WNYC, New York Public Radio. (I archived the audio on the blog post prior to this one if you’d like to listen.) We’ll be doing an Ask The Headhunter segment every week through July. Hope you’ll join us!

20 minutes is not a lot of time to take questions from listeners, or to provide much in the way of advice. But Brian’s blog is full of good follow-up questions from listeners, and I’ve tried to answer many of them in the comments section.

One listener was bugged about what I suggested about becoming a consultant in today’s economy:

This was a terrible segment. Almost chilling. The conversation seemed utterly detached from reality; the idea that someone at their kitchen table, six months into being fired, is going to be able to tell some company (and whom exactly at that company?) how to run itself, (or use information technology or green technology or whatever), is bizarre. There seemed to be a huge disconnect between the reality of the callers’ situations, and the generic bromides and cliches that the guest suggested. Brian should have worked harder to bridge this gap.

It seems that the real issue is the social and knowledge-networking isolation of the recently unemployed, and the need for supportive communities, not a dated piece on how to turn yourself into a consultant from home…

Here’s my reply:

You’re right: Unemployed people become quickly isolated. But the problem is magnified when they join “support groups.” Unemployed people gathering to share job leads and advice. Think about that. It’s patently absurd. The best thing you can do to stay motivated and to actually get something done is to hang around people who do the work you want to do. Starting your own business is not bizarre at all. Waiting for some company to come along and hire you is what’s absurd. Waiting for some personnel jockey to pluck your resume from the millions on a job board — that’s absurd. As for telling a company how to run itself better, why do you think companies hire people? Not to fill head count. They hire you to help them make more profit. If you can’t explain that to a company that you work for, you will eventually get fired or laid off. If you can’t tell it to a company you want to work for, then you have no business in the interview. Job hunting is not a step by step process. If it were, every ad would yield an interview which would yield an offer. Far from it.

That listener is pretty demoralized. Maybe I’m misreading the comments, but what I read is a plea for magic dust and for a place to commiserate with others. And my point — which I discussed with Brian at the very beginning of the segment — is that job hunters and consultants must focus first not on getting a gig. They must focus on showing a company the money. Why should anyone hire you — or even sit through an interview with you — if you aren’t prepared to show how you’re going to improve the business?

Listeners from WNYC are welcome to post more follow-up questions here — I’ll try to get to them all. Unfortunately, Brian’s blog does not handle longer URL’s so I can’t refer to relevant articles there.

  1. Nick, I noticed a huge difference in perspective between you and many of the commenters on Brian’s blog. They want someone to find them a job. You’re offering advice on how to find rewarding work.

    I have a job. It used to be so rewarding that I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else, but the new CEO has radically changed the culture so that it now sucks for nearly everyone who’s not part of the corporate office echo chamber. I’ve been looking for rewarding work for a while, and expect my efforts to bear fruit in the coming months.

    Your advice has kept my outlook positive as I search for a company I want to work for, and develop the skills that I think will result in rewarding work. I think I’m well on the way to finding an employer (even if I wind up self-employed) whose values and priorities align with mine the way my current employer’s once did. Thanks for your continued assistance on this journey.

  2. Reading Brian’s blog is downright depressing: The people commenting (with some exceptions) seem to be waiting bitterly and passively for somebody to “give” them jobs. Few seem to get that the point of a job (or consulting gig) is to help an organization earn a profit. Without that focus, talking about software or networking tricks is like securing the prettiest stateroom aboard the Titanic.

    Thanks, Nick, for pointing out a reality that few of Brian’s readers seem willing or able to accept: If you’re not talking to REAL people about REAL problems that you can solve profitably, you’re probably heading nowhere.

  3. I can understand the perspective of the listener quoted, if you go the common route of looking for a job, it seems like it was designed to demoralize a person. Actually just a few days ago I had raised the question, why is our hiring process and our process of finding vendors so different? Essentially the goal is the same, you are looking for people to solve a problem that you are willing to pay for. I know every industry is different and there are regulatory issue that differ but the basics have always been the same in any industry I’ve worked in. If we treated potential vendors like a lot of hiring processes today, we would be blacklisted in the industry in no time.

    I really think a good portion of the attitude of candidates can be attributed to the process. HR people might say they need to protect the company from lawsuits or profit lose from a bad hire. Well, I have to do the same thing when looking for a vendor and the losses or profits can be millions or billions based on those decisions, and yet we keep it real without asking why is a manhole cover round.

  4. Edward,

    You refer to vendors. I like to compare recruiting candidates to selling to prospective customers. When a company wants to close a sale, it sends its top sales person along with a technical person who understands the intricacies of the product to meet with the prospect.

    To hire, a company sends an HR clerk to tell a candidate to fill out pages of forms and to pee in a cup.

    It’s no wonder at all that companies have a hard time hiring the right people.

  5. I work on IBM mainframes as a programmer, Systems Programmer, SysAdmin and general maven.

    I’ve had five jobs in the last 46 years and only interviewed about 10 times, all resulting in job offers. I’m sure I came across as supremely confident in my ability to do the job. I also made it obvious – almost a given – that they would offer me the job. The only thing to be decided was whether or not I would accept the job, given the salary and benefits.
    Three interviews involved techies entirely, the rest started with HR, but I quickly moved the interview from HR to the techies simply by making it obvious that only a techie was qualified to judge my qualifications.
    They weren’t interviewing me, I was interviewing them. A great deal of success in interviewing (and life) depends on your basic mindset. If you present a viewpoint with sufficient self-assurance, as though it were obvious to anyone with a brain, people are reluctant to contradict it. That’s how good salesmen work, and to an extent, an interview is a sales situation – you selling yourself, the company selling a position.

  6. Nick

    Believe me, there is a lot of selling on both sides when it comes to a new vendor. I did one Nov – Jan where we had to sell the vendor on if we were the right kind of client they wanted to do business with. It didn’t matter we are the biggest in the industry, they wanted to make sure they got something from it other than just cash from us.

  7. @Nick

    >”Brian’s blog does not handle longer URL’s so I can’t refer to relevant articles there.”

    There are a plethora of URL shorteners thanks to Twitter. Click my name to read a CIO article about them.

    I enjoyed the Q&A and reading your responses to the comments.

  8. @Charles: Yah, I know of the many URL shorteners… but I don’t run Brian’s blog! His team tells me they’re working on this..

    @Ray: I’ve met maybe half a dozen people who interview the way you do. It takes a great deal of confidence and self-control to project mental instructions to employers ;-). Good for you!

    All: Brian’s audience reveals what we all know. There’s a lot of frustration out there, and a lot submission to “the employment system,” which dictates how to go about a job search. At one extreme, Ray blows that up entirely. In general, I think anyone can change their behavior and shift their attitude – and project something very different to employers. “I’m here to do the job.”