When I give a presentation, the first thing I tell the audience — whether they’re job hunters or hiring managers — is, “Everything you know about job hunting (or hiring) is wrong.” Shoulders relax. People giggle nervously. They are so relieved to hear they’re not crazy. They know the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Then I tell them that a mistake everyone makes when job hunting or hiring is volume. We are all taught that it’s a numbers game. You have to wake up every morning and get 50 resumes out before breakfast. Apply to as many jobs online as you can. Then you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something before lunchtime! Or if you work in HR, keep your pipeline full of candidates so you’ll have a lot to choose from.


Let me give you a specific counter-example that blows the fallacy of “volume” out of the water.

I had lunch with John, a client, to discuss a position he wanted me to fill. It was a $125,000 marketing job. We spent two hours talking. For the next two weeks, I talked to several people who worked for John, and to others at his company who knew him. John had no idea I was doing this. I learned a lot about what his operation was like and about how his staff worked.

Then I talked to a handful of people around the country — a handful — who are experts in marketing and who work with experts in marketing. I didn’t run any ads. I didn’t solicit any resumes. I conducted no in-person interviews. I called John back and gave him a name and a phone number. I told him to call Joe, the guy who could do the job.

John and Joe talked and scheduled a face-to-face meeting. In the meantime, I put together a very simple resume on Joe using information he had given me and information I gathered from his references. I sent it to John so he’d have some background on Joe, to fill in the blanks.

They met. John offered Joe a job and Joe accepted it.

One job, one meeting, one candidate.

The resume was superfluous in the equation. John called me for help to fill the job because he didn’t want five candidates and he didn’t want 2,000 resumes. He wanted a guy to hire who could do the job profitably.

John could have done this himself, if he’d just sat down and called a few people — just like I did. Was this just a “lucky hit” for me? No. It just looks that way. I spoke to severak people who would have made decent candidates and John would have interviewed all of them, because he’s accustomed to hiring that way.

I put all those people aside. I knew none of them were right. Too many interviews today are done for their own sake.

Job hunter says: “I didn’t really want the job but I went on the interview because it’s good experience.”

Headhunter says: “The first three candidates I sent to my client weren’t so great, but I wanted my client to see the contrast between mediocre candidates and the one really good one.”

Hiring manager says: “I want to see a lot of candidates, because otherwise I won’t know who the best one is.”

What’s the point? The point is the parts of this story in red. The point is what happened during those parts of the process.

What do you think happened? What was that all about? And how did I avoid “volume?”


  1. What happened seems rather clear to me. You found out what John really needed and then went and found it. You were paid for your expertise in knowing that handful and narrowing it down to just one person for John to meet. While it may be easy to say what you did, there is some expertise in doing it well, as opposed to just doing it.

    At times I do think there is this mistake of crossing a line for both those wanting jobs and those offering jobs. The shotgun approach of sending out tons of resumes tends to not work that well as there isn’t anything special in that resume if it is going to hundreds of people. Similarly, companies seem to want to find someone with minimal effort on their end. If they put up a want ad they may get a deluge of resumes that doesn’t necessarily help as the resume is only part of the story. In the cases where I got a job, there was something to be said for having little competition which may be because I used recruiters at times or because of the channels I chose. Thus, conventional wisdom is a bit of a crock from my experiences.

    If you went and searched through the resumes on say TheLadders.com I think then you may have had too much volume to handle. Though that is where such jobs are supposed to be found, right? Yeah, right. I’ve read some of your comments about that site before and don’t use it and likely never will as I see it like I see monster.com but with an entrance fee that just makes no sense for me to pay. I’ll find other ways to find jobs and you know what, those have worked for me.

  2. @JB: Expertise. You make several very good points, but that’s one of the big ones. Let me play devil’s advocate (it’s not hard, because people have said these things to me…)

    “It’s easy for you because you’re a headhunter and you’re supposed to be an expert.”

    Everyone should become expert at hiring and job hunting. Because consider: I make a placement and earn 25% of the salary. The person getting a job makes 4X that. So, who has the bigger incentive to become expert at this?

    Is there a reason why a person cannot have the kinds of contacts JB refers to?

  3. I’d generalize the expertise in hiring and job hunting as really this is having a need and meeting that need. This isn’t any different than if someone needs an accountant, doctor, electrician, or plumber or any of 101 skills that people may require assistance with at some point in their life. While not everyone has their own personal accountant, there is a method for how people go about finding those with the desired expertise and then see if there is a connection or a fit.

    In a way this seems to be a basic skill for modern times as not everyone wants to do everything for themselves. How many people can say that they built their house, farmed all the food, did all the plumbing they use, and built their own vehicles? That should seem like something very very few people would even try to do. Thus, you need to know who have those specialties that make life good, whether that be doctors or lawyers or massage therapists even.

    While this may seem like common sense to me, I wonder if others would see it this way or not. There are times where I wonder how people got to be so risk-averse that they would rather stay in the ignorance rather than take the small chance of learning something that could radically affect their standard of living. Imagine the person that gets introduced to how to use the web and Google and discovers this massive world out there and becomes much better and happier with their hobbies because of people who share those hobbies give tips, suggestions and encouragement in doing more or better stuff.

  4. I absolutely see the point you are making about the efficiency exhibited in this story, and agree with it. My question would be about how hiring in this way might raise questions of discrimination, and not fit well with organizational diversity plans.

  5. Nick,
    Good presentation of a consultative selling technique. When I started working for my last organization I wanted to be a good new employee, so I went along with the status quo. The modus operandi was simply “show up and throw up”, meaning assume you know what the client needs and wants, show him everything you can do (like a trick pony) and help them decide which of your available solutions fit their need.

    You’ve described the optimal process, listen, uncover, probe, listen and understand what the problem is and then figure out how to solve the it.

    I became more successful when I threw out my pre canned demonstration and went with meetings and lunches to learn about the need.

    This program should work just fine with job hunting.

  6. @Chuck: Sometimes I talk (write) too much. Thanks for summarizing my point! What many don’t realize is that most of what I teach about job hunting comes from learning how to sell consulting services. Once you strip a job hunter down to what matters – proof he or she can do the job – you see what a job interview is all about.