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Archive for the Fearless Job Hunting Category

Too rich to land a job?

In the May 20, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader with a trust fund just can’t get it in gear:

I got a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature three months ago, and I’ve been unemployed ever since. The only job that my Ph.D. would lead to directly is an academic one, but I was so tired of the academic world that I had to do something else.

trust_fund_babyI come from a wealthy family, and they’ve set up a trust fund for me, so I’ve had enough money to survive on, but just barely. I thought I’d use this time to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. And guess what? I haven’t. I thought at first that I’d like to be a freelance journalist writing commentary on current events and the arts. But it’s very difficult to break into that business.

So I’ve decided I’d like to get a normal job. My family really wants me to get a life, and they’ve got a lot of money, so they’d pay for any kind of training. And so that leads me to my question here: What kind of training is the most likely to get me a middle-class job as soon as it’s done?

Personality factors are important here. I’m intelligent and hard-working, but I don’t really have people skills. I can usually be polite with people, but not friendly. I’m not good at small talk. At a recent dinner, I was talking over a career in financial planning with my family, but they said that I don’t have the people skills for it. They’re probably right. I need anonymity. I would not be good at anything that required a great deal of schmoozing.

Probably a lot of the other typical job tracks for humanities people, like editing and publishing, would require a lot of schmoozing, too, so you’ll understand why I’m leery of them.

So, what would you recommend for a person like me?

Nick’s Reply

Your candor is a good sign, so I’m going to be extremely blunt with you. Sorry if I sound like I’m punishing you for your family’s wealth. I’m not. It’s clear that you could not live on your trust fund anyway, but I want to help you get past it, because I think your money is stopping you from moving on with your life.

You need to work. Any kind of work. If you didn’t have the little bit of money your trust fund provides, you’d be tackling any job you could get to pay the rent. The outcome of that would be a process of exploration and elimination. You’d quickly learn what you like and don’t like — at a very fundamental level — about the jobs you’ve taken.

Get a job

Flip burgers. Wash floors. Wait tables. Work on a production line. Do some typing. Answer phones. Crunch spreadsheets. Anything. I’m not suggesting that any of those might turn into a career, but rather that the experience of working would illuminate life and work in general for you. In any of the jobs I’ve listed, you’d be part of a larger company that encompasses all kinds of work and jobs. (For a good start, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search.)

For example, crunching spreadsheets at a public relations company could illuminate editorial, marketing, finance and other kinds of functions. Working a production line could teach you a lot about working with your hands. Like a rock band once sang, life is a minestrone. There’s a lot in that bowl, if you take time to look, and it’s all quite filling.

Get to know everyday people

Once you start working at any job, you will also meet your biggest challenge: dealing with people. Forget about anonymity. It’s not an option, especially at your age. If you let your lack of “people skills” be the excuse for not doing certain kinds of jobs, you will die half a person. You need to get close to other people if you want to find yourself. Trust me: You are one of us, and us has nothing to do with wealth.

Know where I developed my people skills? While I was in college — a shy, introverted, relatively asocial kid — I worked summers and holidays in a factory. My co-workers had third-grade educations, fast cars, long knives, drug habits, crazy girlfriends, very spicy food in their lunch bags, mean streaks, happy-go-lucky attitudes, and very high standards about who they called their friends.

It took a while, but I finally lost my holier-and-more-educated-than-thou attitude and learned to pay attention to the people around me. By the end of my first summer, I had friends who would take a bullet for me. (I mean that literally.) I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud to be accepted by other people. I graduated from that factory with a lot of people skills. And I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do. I passed many hours doing menial, repetitive work fantasizing about things that interested me. That’s how I found some direction — by working very hard, getting lost, and taking time to think while I collected a paycheck.

Start your life

Your bit of money is killing you. I’m not suggesting you throw it in the river. I’m suggesting that you get a job — any job. Learn to work with people, no matter how awkward it feels. (Don’t worry. If you’re rude or inattentive, they will slap you into shape, literally or figuratively. We all need that sometimes. I know I did.)

Your experiences with others will bring your real interests and motivations to the surface. And that will drive your choices. If you come up with something you’d really like to do, don’t do it. Make yourself wait until you’ve had a chance to change your mind. If you’re still focused on that one thing, then go do it. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to move on to something else. (For help getting in the door, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention.)

The first rule: Make choices now. No sitting around trying to figure things out. No waiting for your family to bless your choices. Work.

Second rule: Be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. But don’t feel you must explain it to anyone, least of all your family.

This is not career counseling. It’s life. Don’t let “the world of opportunity” bog you down. Don’t be too rich to land a job. The opportunity you need is to see yourself work with other people. You’ll learn a lot about yourself — no matter what the work is. Sometimes menial work is better. Sometimes you can learn more by working with laborers who are closer to “work” than white-collar “professionals” are.

Please start your life now. Don’t let yourself develop a disdain for the world that is matched only by your fear.

By the way. I, too, was a Comp. Lit. major for a while. The result: Today, my friends are puzzled by my reading habits, but they have no idea that Turgenev, Nabokov, Dickens and Flaubert have influenced my writing style as much as Lenny Bruce. :-)

Never let any of this boggle your mind or make you despair. A fine mind can have a good time with any kind of work if it stops worrying. No more education — at least not yet. The best training for you is on-the-job-training. Go work anywhere to start. But go work.

(Beware of career counseling. For many, its sedative properties can be lethal. To get on your own path, try the short version of Pursue Companies, Not Jobs. The full version is in one of my PDF books.)

Did you discover yourself (and other people) through an unlikely job? What kinds of work have you done that shaped your work ethic? Which job taught you how to be a successful human?

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Desperate: No degree, can’t get interviews!

In the May 13, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says she can’t get interviews:

My husband works for a recruiting firm and suggested I reach out to you. I have been actively searching for a job for almost two years. I built my own firm from nothing to one of the largest in my city and sold it for a modest profit, and I was named a finalist for a local Business Woman of The Year award.need-job

I received one call for an interview a couple of weeks back, but was passed by for the position because I do not have a college degree. I usually don’t get a call, just a letter in the mail or an e-mail stating that I was not selected for an interview because I do not hold the basic requirement needed for the position: a bachelor’s degree.

I have explained this to my husband several times, but he thinks I am being lazy and refusing to work. I have attached my resume for you to review. If you can shed some light on why I am not getting interviews, I would greatly appreciate it. However, if the reason is simply because I do not have the bachelor’s degree, please, let’s not waste an hour of each other’s time, or $225 for a Talk to Nick session that I will have to ask my husband for. That will create yet another fight in my household. I look forward to your response.

Nick’s Reply

I’m not contributing to a domestic fight. I accept Talk to Nick clients only when I’m sure I can help. (I judge this by asking for a 50-word description of what exactly you need help with and how you think I can help. It must be very specific.) I don’t take clients who start out worrying it’s a waste of time or money.

I looked at your resume. Your experience is stellar. But no one’s going to give you a job, because nowadays they’re not giving them out. Even to people with college degrees. You’re not getting interviews because you’re doing it all wrong. So I’ll offer you some advice because it seems your husband is a fan, and I love my fans even if I don’t know them.

(I suggest you read my PDF books, How Can I Change Careers? and Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection. Together they cost far less than the $225 for an hour’s consultation on the phone with me. Each suggestion below comes from one of the books.)

  • Pick 4 companies you’d love to work for. Forget about whether they have jobs open. Research them in depth. What’s their problem? What challenges do they face? Then prepare a brief business plan about how you’d help them. Don’t send it. (See How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out as the profitable hire to an employer.)
  • Track down a handful of people who are somehow connected to each company — employees, customers, vendors, lawyers, bankers, consultants. Call them and explain you’re considering doing business with the company and you’re doing research. (If you’re considering a job at the company, this is a true statement.) Can they give you some insight about the business and the people who run it? (Also in How Can I Change Careers? — the section about how to network.)
  • One of those conversations will be good enough that you can ask for an introduction to the head of the department you want to work for. DO NOT ask for a job lead. People hate that. Instead, say, “Is there someone, preferably a manager in the X department, that you’d suggest I talk with to learn more?” (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door Way Ahead of Your Competition.)
  • Contact the manager that you’re referred to. Say that so-and-so suggested you call — and that you have a business proposition about X that you’d like to discuss. Briefly outline what’s in your biz plan, but not all of it. Request an in-person meeting. (See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)
  • Present your ideas in the meeting. (How Can I Change Careers? shows you how to “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume” — which in turn serves as the script for your in-person presentation.)

That’s how you’ll get a job, college degree or not. Managers sometimes create jobs for people who can show how they’ll drop profit to the bottom line. But managers don’t figure that out from resumes. You must present a plan.

One last piece of advice. Stop fooling around, pretending a degree doesn’t matter. Go get a degree. I don’t care how old you are. I recently met a guy who is 62 who just completed his B. A. A degree is not necessary, but it matters. If you think not having one is hindering you, find the time and earn it.

Job hunting and hiring are the two biggest rackets in America. Employers don’t know how to hire, and job seekers follow silly rules that don’t work. It’s why America is unemployed, degrees or not.

You can tell your husband you got a bunch of advice from me for free. Don’t have any more fights. I wish you the best.

What does it take to get a job interview nowadays? Do you need a degree? Or, what are employers really buying when they demand a degree? 

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I’m still waiting for the job offer!

In the May 6, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders what to do while waiting for the job offer:

I went in for an interview and all went great. I met with the personnel manager and the division manager. They called me back in a few days later to meet with the regional manager since he was in town. It also went well. The discussion was more general and laid back. I went back today to take a test.

I am trying not to get too fired up about all of this. But, I have to think that no company would subject an applicant to all of this without leaning toward the hire. When should I expect an offer? I figure that there can’t be much more for me to do than meet with some more top-level managers and take a personality test. Do you agree?

Nick’s Reply

Great expectations can leave you high and dry.

“I have to think that no company would subject an applicant to all of this without leaning toward the hire.”

Never, ever, ever get into this mindset. This is the point where people start to build unreal expectations because they feel they’ve “invested so much.” They’ve been invited back for lots of interviews. Everything “has gone well.” They start to believe the employer is now “heavily invested,” too. They wonder not whether an offer will be made, but how long it will take. The outcome is obvious, right?

Absolutely not.

Twaitinghe truth is, you have no idea what a company’s threshold is for taking action. Some companies will string you along — often unwittingly — for months, then take no action at all. As a headhunter who has dealt with more interviews than any job hunter ever will, I can tell you that most job opportunities go south.

In my experience, there is little correlation between how well the interviews have gone and whether a hire is made. Of course, when the outcome is positive, we can look back and see that everything clicked in the interviews. But much more often we’re left scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong.

For reasons that are usually clear as mud, a seemingly positive interview process often stalls and dies. You never find out why. And you couldn’t have predicted the result.

So what is my point? Manage your expectations so you can manage your job search. Don’t get sucked into foregone conclusions, because that will lead you to waste your time. While you’re counting on that “sure thing,” you’re missing other opportunities. There is no sure thing.

You should do your best with every job opportunity. Follow the process through to the end. Remain motivated and enthusiastic. Ask for feedback as you proceed. (That’s legit and important.)


What can you do to optimize your chances for a job offer? See “Playing hardball with slowpoke employers”, pp. 15-16, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.

Excerpt:
How to Say It: What should you say to the hiring manager before your job interview ends? This question baffles job hunters, but the answer is simple. Say: “I want this job.” Just four words. If the employer is on the fence, expressing this simple commitment can lead to a job offer.

You’ll find this and more tips in Play Hardball With Employers:

  • Do they owe me feedback after an interview?
  • What’s the secret to the thank-you note?
  • How can I push the hiring decision?
  • Thanks is not enough
  • Get an answer at the end of the interview

But don’t build expectations that distract you from your larger goal. Always have another opportunity on deck because most deals go south.

Don’t let my advice discourage you. Use it to strengthen your strategy. Motivation and a positive attitude are crucial. But never start believing, “I can tell they’re going to make me an offer.” Because you can’t. While you’re waiting for that offer, set the next opportunity in motion. That’s the only way to control your job search.

Where’s the job offer? What holds up job offers? How have you dealt with delays? Is there anything you can do to force a decision to hire you?

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Rutgers Business School Webinar – Q&A Overflow

This evening I presented a webinar to the Rutgers Business School Alumni Association, co-sponsored by the University Alumni Association: Fearless Job Hunting: Be The Profitable Hire.

rutgersThe Q&A section of the presentation was great — but of course, there were so many questions that we couldn’t get to them all.

So I invited attendees to post their questions here — and I’ll do my best to respond to as many as I can. And don’t be surprised when other Ask The Headhunter “regulars” chime in on these topics — and offer you even better suggestions than I do!

Congratulations to those who won copies of Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.

If you didn’t win Fearless Job Hunting but would like to purchase the collection, I invite you to use this $10 discount code: OLDQUEENS, which will be good through May 15. (Please note: This discount is good only when you purchase Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.)

Thanks for joining us this evening, and special thanks to the Business School Alumni team for their kind hospitality!

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Deal-breaker questions to ask employers

In the April 22, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to ask an employer tough questions… and just can’t seem to get answers:

I’ve done my research on the company, and the interview went well, but there are some things that I just couldn’t get information about, even in the interview. I want to know just how long the average individual stays in this particular job before moving up, as well as what other opportunities could be expected in the future. Also, who are the people I would be working with? How good are they? What kinds of tools and support would I have? Finally, I am a little vague on what the salary level might be.

My question: Is it okay to ask these questions in the interview? Thanks for your help.

Nick’s Reply

hidden-informationI’ll go you one better: Don’t accept this job until you get your answers. Your questions are excellent, especially those about the people connected to the job. (See It’s the people, Stupid.) If the answers are unsatisfactory, these are deal-breakers.

Many applicants are afraid to ask questions that seem “forward” in the job interview. I don’t know where this hesitation comes from. Perhaps it’s part of a deeper feeling that the job candidate is some sort of supplicant whom the employer steps down from heaven to talk to.

“You dare to ask The Great Oz…?”

Your questions are not only reasonable, they are very important. If the interviewer can’t answer them, ask to talk with someone who can. If the company won’t make any effort to answer you, you need to reconsider whether you want to work there.


Here’s another make-or-break question to ask the employer, after an offer has been made to you: “May I see the complete benefits package so I can study it along with the rest of your kind offer?” Many employers will decline to share the benefits details. Find out Why companies hide the benefits.


Don’t be shy. Interviewing is a two-way street. They want to know a lot about you, and you need to know a lot about them. Interview them. Don’t lower your expectations because they own the job. Remember that you own the solution to their problems.

Part of my work as a headhunter involves preparing a candidate to interview the employer effectively. I’ve found that good employers don’t react well to a candidate who just sits and answers questions. A good candidate probes for information, too. A good candidate expects candor and full disclosure.

  • Be polite and diplomatic, but also be bold and assertive.
  • Get answers to every reasonable question you have, or don’t take the job.

What’s a reasonable question? It’s one that, if left unanswered, might lead you to reject an offer. If you’re left feeling uncertain about something now, it’s going to be much worse once you’re on the job. Trust your gut: Get answers to every question that matters.

What’s the best time to ask your questions? Before, during, and after the interview. I’m not trying to be cute. It’s a judgment call. You wield the most power after you receive an offer and before you accept it. It’s really the only time you have great control in the interview process. That’s a good time to call the manager and explain that there’s some additional information you need. Can they meet with you briefly one more time? If they decline, that suggests a lot about how they may treat you later. (Is it possible they’ll be offended and rescind the offer? Sure, though I think it’s very unlikely. But, what would that tell you?)

A final note: Make sure you’re talking with the person you’re going to be reporting to. While the personnel department can answer questions about benefits, company policy, and the like, you’re not going to be interacting daily with the personnel staff once you’re hired. Your key questions are about the work, and it’s the boss who can tell you what you need to know — if you ask. And don’t be afraid to ask, ever.

If something is a make-or-break issue, it’s better to get answers before you accept the job. The best employers will be happy to share the information you need.

(If you need more detailed help assessing an employer, see “Due diligence: Don’t take a job without it” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball After The Interview, and “How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers.)

What tough questions do you ask employers? Has an employer ever refused to answer? Are there questions that are off limits for job applicants? I’d love to hear from employers, too.

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Fired for my ethics!

In the January 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets fired for not cutting corners:

I am about to be “removed” from my present position. The background reason is because I do my work by the book and will not take shortcuts that are unethical. Management says I’m not a team player. In 15 years, I have never been fired or had this kind of problem before. My question is, how do I handle this in interviewing for a job? And can I leave this company off my resume? The situation has me very depressed. I’m not dealing with it well, but need to get on and find a job. How will a prospective employer view this? Thanks for your time and help.

Nick’s Reply

Don’t ever apologize for your integrity. Don’t complain about anyone else’s lack of it when you interview. Those two rules will stand you well.

youre-firedIf you’ve been with the company more than six months, it will be hard to leave it off your resume. When asked why you left your employer, it’s perfectly honest to say, “I want to work for a better company.”

If you’re asked what specifically made you leave your job, tell the truth, but keep it very brief and unemotional. Don’t dwell on it in an interview, but don’t be defensive about it, either. Decide what you’re comfortable saying, and stick to it. The employer’s reaction will depend a lot on how your attitude comes across. (Learn to use one and only one brief, business-like explanation no matter who you’re discussing this with — family, friends, or new people you meet.) The key in the interview is this: Turn your discussion back to the topic that really matters — how you are going to bring added success to the manager you’re meeting with.

This is where your good references come in. You need to provide an employer with compelling proof of your abilities. You’re going to need to be selective about what references you use from your last employer — but you should definitely have references from people there who know you well. This includes co-workers and managers in other departments that know you. (You don’t have any such references? Tell me who your friends are.)

Remember that your old company’s customers, vendors, and professional consultants (lawyers, bankers, accountants) can also be powerful references, if you had such contacts in your last job.

But take this extra step: Ask your references to call a prospective employer before he calls them. (I discuss this and other powerful reference techniques in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, especially in the section titled “How do I deal with an undeserved nasty reference?”, pp. 19-21.) A good reference won’t have a problem doing that for you, as long as you don’t ask too often. An employer will see this as a very powerful recommendation.

Don’t be depressed. Moving on is the right thing. When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you’ll be looking at someone with integrity. Your previous employer may find an image in his own mirror that isn’t so pleasing. There are lots of companies that want ethical workers. To find them, keep your standards high.

Ever get fired because you didn’t “fit?” How did you handle it? What did you do for references?

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The Stress Interview: How employers abuse job applicants

In the January 7, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader takes on employers who play games in job interviews:

You have an awesome newsletter and I am glad that I have subscribed to it. I wish more people (especially companies that hire) would read it. Have you ever heard of an interview process where there is more than one interviewer, and the second or third interviewer just sits there and acts bored or is rude the whole time (yawning, etc.)? How would you recommend dealing with it? What is this type of interview ? I have found no information on the web about it.

I have never personally had this happen to me but I have had friends tell me these things have happened to them. One interviewer will ask a question and, when the interviewee attempts to answer, the second or third interviewer will start talking to another interviewer or yawn in what seems like an obvious attempt to throw the interviewee off guard.

I was in the Army some time ago and I heard that this was frequently done during oral board interviews for promotion. The military I get, but not a company that is supposed to be professional.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words about the newsletter — glad you enjoy it. Believe it or not, there are lots of HR folks who subscribe. They tell me they’re not the “personnel jockeys” I write about. I figure if they keep reading, maybe they’re not!

rude-interviewThe situation your friends are experiencing is a variation on the “stress interview,” where an employer will introduce something to stress out the job candidate. The classic move is for the interviewer to start yelling at the applicant, just to see what he’ll do. (Of course, your friends might just be visiting employers that have actual, rude employees or managers in those interviews!)

But it doesn’t matter to me whether we’re talking about rude interviewers, or about interviewers who intentionally abuse applicants to test them. My advice is the same: Stop the interview.

Calmly but firmly explain that you’re there to talk shop — to demonstrate how you’ll do the job profitably for the employer.

“But I don’t work for jerks, or tolerate bad behavior in any business environment, including this interview.”

Then I’d walk out calmly, without raising my voice or being rude in any way. Because you’re dealing with jerks.

If you really want to drive home the point to those interviewers,explain it to them this way:

“If you worked in sales and treated a prospective customer like this, would you be surprised if the prospect got up and walked out? Of course not. You wouldn’t be surprised, either, if your VP of Sales fired you. Now, what do you think I’m going to tell people in our professional community about my experience here?”

Honest — that’s what I’d do. People who behave like that are either naturally jerks, or they’re “manufactured” jerks who behave that way because someone told them it was a cool way to interview people, by abusing them. None of it is acceptable.

The minute you convince yourself that it’s acceptable, and try to appease your abuser, you become a sucker for an employer that (1) has no idea what it’s doing, or (2) has just revealed what life will be like if you take a job there. I’ve walked out of meetings like that, and I’ve felt great. I couldn’t care less what “opportunity” I might have missed, because dealing with people like that is no opportunity.


This isn’t the only way employers will abuse you.
Learn how to Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, and find out how to Play Hardball With Employers.


A company that tests you to see how you will deal with jerks is risking its reputation. I believe such “techniques” are invented by failed human resources managers who are clueless about how to judge people, so they start “HR consulting practices” and invent goofy tricks that they then “sell” to their clients. And it goes around like an infection.

If the Army uses this technique, I’m surprised. What kind of salary would you expect an employer to pay you to go to boot camp and be a full-time soldier for them?

Have you ever been abused in a job interview? What did you do? How would you advise this reader?

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4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

In the November 26, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, there’s no Q&A. Instead…

autumn-leaf1I normally take a break during Thanksgiving week and skip publishing an edition of the newsletter so that I can cook, bake, and fill the larder with goodies for Thursday. But I’m cooking up something different for you with this edition. Rather than normal Q&A, I’d like to share four tips from the latest Ask The Headhunter publications. If you find something useful in them, I’ll be glad.

The idea behind the new Fearless Job Hunting books is that finding a job is not about prescribed steps. It’s not about following rules. In fact, job hunting is such an over-defined process that there are thousands of books and articles about how to do it — and the methods are all the same.

What all those authors conveniently ignore is that the steps don’t work. If they did, every resume would get you an interview, which would in turn produce a job offer and a job.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. The key to successful job hunting is knowing how to deal with the handful of daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Here are some excerpts from Fearless Job Hunting — and if you decide you’d like to study these methods in more detail, I invite you to take 20% off your purchase price by using discount code=GOBBLE. (This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

You just lost your job and your nerves are frayed. Please — take a moment to put your fears aside. Think about the implications of the choices you make. Consider the obstacles you encounter in your job search.

FJH-11. Don’t settle

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, p. 4, The myth of the last-minute job search:

When you’re worried about paying the rent, it seems that almost any job will do. Taking the first offer that comes along could be your biggest mistake. It’s also one of the most common reasons people go job hunting again soon — they settle for a wrong job, rather than select the right one.

Start Early: Research the industry you want to work in. Learn what problems and challenges it faces. Then, identify the best company in that industry. (Why settle for less? Why join a company just because it wants you? Join the one you want.)

Study the company, establish contacts, learn the business, and build expertise. Rather than being just a hunter for any job, learn to be the solution to one company’s problems. That’s what gets you hired, because such dedication and focus makes you stand out.

2. Scope the community

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 6, It’s the people, Stupid:

FJH-3You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in the community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of.

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work.

The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

3. Avoid a salary cut

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), p. 9: How can I avoid a salary cut?

FJH-7Negotiating doesn’t have to be done across an adversarial table — and it should not be done over the phone. You can sit down and hash through a deal like partners. Sometimes, candor means getting almost personal. Check the How to Say It box for a suggestion:

How to Say It
“If I take this job, we’re entering into a sort of marriage. Our finances will be intertwined. So, let’s work out a budget — my salary and your profitability — that we’re both going to be happy with for years down the road. If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me. But I also need to know that I can meet my own budget and my living expenses, so that I can focus entirely on my job.”

It might seem overly candid, but there’s not enough candor in the world of business. A salary negotiation should be an honest discussion about what you and the employer can both afford.

4. Know what you’re getting into

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23: Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it:

FJH-8I think the failure to research and understand one another is one of the key reasons why companies lay off employees and why workers quit jobs. They have no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late. Proper due diligence is extensive and detailed. How far you go with it is up to you.

Research is a funny thing. When it’s part of our job, and we get paid to do it, we do it thoroughly because we don’t want our judgments to appear unsupported by facts and data. When we need to do research for our own protection, we often skip it or we get sloppy. We “trust our instincts” and make career decisions by the seat of our pants.

When a company uses a headhunter to fill a position, it expects [a high level] of due diligence to be performed on candidates the headhunter delivers. If this seems to be a bit much, consider that the fee the company pays a headhunter for all this due diligence can run upwards of $30,000 for a $100,000 position. Can you afford to do less when you’re judging your next employer?

Remember that next to our friends and families, our employers represent the most important relationships we have. Remember that other people who have important relationships with your prospective employer practice due diligence: bankers, realtors, customers, vendors, venture capitalists and stock analysts. Can you afford to ignore it?

* * *

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this community throughout the year. Have you ever settled for the wrong job, or failed to scope out a work community before accepting a job? Did you get stuck with a salary cut, or with a surprise when you took a job without doing all the necessary investigations? Let’s talk about it! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you purchase a book,
take 20% off by using discount code=GOBBLE
(This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

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Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #6 – #10

In the November 18, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about the rest of the stupid inteview questions… In the November 5 edition we discussed the first five of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. (There are of course lots more than 10, but who’s counting?) Let’s recap the reader’s question, then tackle #6 – #10.

I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. stupid-questions-moreWhy did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
  4. What are your best skills?
  5. What is your major weakness?
  6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
  7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
  8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
  9. What salary are you expecting?
  10. What have I forgotten to ask?

Nick’s Reply

6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?

Gimme a break. If you hire me, I’m working with you, right?

Clearly, the purpose of the question is to assess whether you are a solitary type who prefers to avoid interacting with other people. Like you’re going to fess up if you’ve got asocial tendencies… In any case, if you take a guess and tell the interviewer what you think he wants to hear, you might be wrong. Worse, you risk getting a job that’s wrong for you.

I think the best answer to this question is an offer.

How to Say It: “I’d like to offer to come in for half a day to show you how I’d do this job. Perhaps that would involve shadowing another team member, or working alone, or participating in a group work meeting. I’m happy to invest the time, so you can see how I work, and so I can experience first-hand how you and your team work together.”

What’s not to like about such a direct assessment, where everyone can relax, forget about silly questions, and actually do some work? (Caution: Don’t let this turn into you doing lots of free work!) You’ll learn lots more about this approach in Fearless Job Hunting Book 6 – The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.

7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)

“My long-term goal is to chuck it all, become a sailor, and sail around the world with my schnauzer. Do you like dogs and boats? If not, I suppose you won’t hire me.”

You could also try this:

How to Say It: “My goal for the foreseeable future is to help you increase your revenues and/or reduce your costs, and to improve your profit line by doing a better job than anyone else you could hire. I’m not perfect, but I’m determined. Let me explain how I’d do these things in this job…”

8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)

This is the proverbial loaded question — and most “experts” advise avoiding it because any answer may turn off the interviewer depending on what her interests are. (I’ve seen people rejected because they play golf and the manager recently blew a game.)

If the employer pays close attention to your answer and seems to be extrapolating from your hobbies — using some look-up table that explains what it really means when you say you like to read in your spare time — to decide whether you’d be a good hire, then this question is the least of your problems.

Your hobbies are no one’s business. But don’t lose the interview over this one. My advice: Tell the truth and damn the torpedoes. If the employer can’t deal with your interests and won’t hire you because of what you do in your spare time, to heck with her because she’s going to micro-manage you.

Everyone thinks they’re a psychologist. Thank you, Dr. Phil.

9. What salary are you expecting?

If an employer asks you this question instead of, “What’s your current salary?” you’re probably dealing with a smart employer. Smart employers don’t care what you’re making now, because they can figure out for themselves what you’re worth to their business — and that’s what they’re going to offer you, no matter what you made last year.

Show your respect and your own intelligence like this:

How to Say It: “Every good job is dynamic — it evolves and changes quickly. Let’s discuss what I’d be doing day one, week one, month one and by the end of one year — the actual work, the tasks, the deliverables. Then we can discuss how, and perhaps how much, I can add to your bottom line. That’s how I expect to come up with a salary range that I think represents my value, in terms of what I could bring to your bottom line.” (For more about how to handle salary topics in interviews, see Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).)

10. What have I forgotten to ask?

How to Say It: “You didn’t ask me the single most important question in an interview: How am I going to do this job profitably for your company? If I can’t demonstrate my ability to do that, you shouldn’t hire me.”

End of interview.

Now I’ll repeat what I said in the first installment of “The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions”:

If you memorize these answers and use them, you’re a dope. (No offense.) Every person, every employer, ever interview, every situation is different. Use the answers I provided as a spark to get you thinking in the right direction. Preparing your own actual answers will require an immense amount of work on your part, for every single job you interview for. The details will be different in every case.

One more note: Never take anyone’s advice about your job search, including mine. At best, leaven your own approach with something you’ve learned here — but make it your own, make sure you’re comfortable with anything you say or do, and never, ever, ever complain that you blew it because you did what Nick told you to do… :-)

Remember that giving the “right” answers is not the point. That could lead to a job offer for a job that’s totally wrong for you. You don’t want to just succeed in the interview; you want to succeed in getting the right job. And some interviews reveal lousy jobs that you should walk away from.

The key to the ATH approach is figuring out the connection between the work you do and the profit you can add to a business. Without that, your answers to interview questions don’t matter.

I hope you find my suggestions useful.

How do you answer the top 10 interview questions (stupid or otherwise)? What makes your interviews work — and when and how have you failed?

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What to do about a broken job

In the August 27, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is frustrated by interviewers who don’t want to talk about the work that needs to be done…

I think your suggestion to “do the work in the interview” is literally right on the money. Nothing else shows how you’ll contribute to the bottom line. But a lot of managers just won’t put a challenge on the table for you to work on during the interview. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to think that way. (Of course, it’s also a test of whether they understand their own job, how candid they are and whether they’re worth working for!)

What do you think of a manager who cannot or will not pose a challenge he’d want you to tackle if you were hired? What’s the next step if this happens in an interview?

Nick’s Reply

The job candidate who takes a job like this usually winds up sucking canal water. I’ll explain that in a minute…

Sometimes a true story of a job candidate’s experience is far more instructive than my opinion. So I’ll recount a story for you.

broken-jobsRichard was an executive at a major pharmaceutical company, working in research and development (R&D). A colleague tipped him off that there was an opening for an R&D manager at the pharmaceutical company she worked for, and he was invited to interview.

Richard met with the Vice President of R&D for the entire operation–a scientist who had been with the company most of his life. The interview went very well. The two men hit it off both professionally and philosophically. As the meeting wound down, the V.P. asked Richard if he had any questions. Richard recounted the story to me:

“I decided to follow your suggestion and I asked the V.P. if he could please lay out a live problem or challenge he would want me to handle if he hired me. This clearly struck him. The V.P. put his hand up to his lips and really thought about it seriously. This went on for a few minutes while we sat in silence. You’d think this was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t at all. It actually felt perfectly right, like I had stimulated the big picture for him. This man, a brilliant Swiss researcher who is known all through the industry, was really thinking.

“Finally, he put his hand down and leaned toward me with a friendly smile and said, ‘You know, that was a very good question and I really can’t think of anything right now.'”

The meeting ended, the two men shook hands and went their ways. To answer your question, there is no “next step” in a situation like this. You’ve just witnessed one of the most important signals a hiring manager can give you: There is no job here.

Three weeks passed. Having heard nothing, Richard called his friend at the company to ask if she could obtain some feedback about the interview.

“Oh, your meeting went very well from what I heard,” said the insider friend. “But they didn’t get back to you? The V.P. decided to cancel the position. He decided not to fill it.”

Richard called me next.

“You’ll never guess what happened… They might have decided not to fill the job for any of a number of reasons. But I could see it in the V.P.’s eyes while he was thinking about my question. My bet is that he decided there was no real job to fill when he realized there was no challenge that he could discuss with me. Call me presumptuous, but I think our discussion made him cancel the position. Imagine if I had talked myself into that job–there was no job. Just an open position!”

Asking a manager to lay out a live problem for you isn’t just a way to challenge yourself and to set the stage to show what you can do. It’s also a very loaded question that can reveal much about the employer and the position itself. Just because a position is open doesn’t mean, as Richard points out, that there’s a job with a future.

Companies often fill positions just because they have “head count”–budget to pay for an employee. The budget stimulates a requisition which stimulates a job description (which is often a rehash of an out-of-date job description). Soon the HR department is advertising for candidates, scheduling interviews, and preparing to make an offer.

The manager wants to protect his budget (Who wants to give up budget money?) and goes along with the process. But this is how “the work” becomes divorced from “the position” and it’s how serious hiring mistakes get made. It’s also how a job applicant winds up swallowing canal water.

When there’s no specific challenge the employer can tell you about, that means there’s no desired outcome for the job. Which in turns means there are no metrics to judge your performance. Which means the job is broken. And you’re screwed if you get hired.

If you ask the question Richard asked, and the employer lays out a challenge, will you be ready with a good answer? In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, you’ll find these two detailed sections of advice and how-to:

    • How to do a Working Interview
    • What’s your business plan for doing this job?

How would you handle a live challenge from an interviewer? Have you ever encountered a broken job? (See the canal water link to find out what that is.)

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