What’s worse? Online job application forms or job boards?

In the October 16, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks about those pesky automated “get a job” tools online:

I’ve been reading your new columns on the PBS NewsHour website, in particular your advice about on-line job applications (the video segment) and your suggestion to approach job hunting as if you’re starting a business. Two questions:

Are online job applications as ineffective as job boards?

Also, I have a hard time getting replies from people I’ve met with about starting a business. They express interest, even excitement, about my plans. I give them the time, space, and money requirements to get the business started, as they requested. But then all I get is silence. What to do?

My Advice

If by online applications you’re referring to a company’s own job listings on its own website, that’s a more productive channel than third-party job boards. The same surveys that show Monster and CareerBuilder deliver no more than 2%-5% of hires suggest that employers’ own sites are a better bet.

Nonetheless, using any automated job application method is a fool’s errand: They all dump you into a database, and good luck getting in front of a hiring manager!

Employers do tend to keep job listings on their own websites clean and up to date, and they usually turn to those first. None of the surveys address it, but I’d guess there’s less competition on a company’s own jobs pages simply because most job hunters prefer to apply for hundreds of jobs at once on the big boards. Ironic, isn’t it? They want an edge, so they compete with more job hunters on the boards!

If you find a job on a company’s own website, I suggest tracking down the manager and sending a personal e-mail. Don’t just reiterate your interest — there’s nothing useful in that. Instead, ask a good question about the job and the manager’s department. Get the manager talking about the work. It’ll set you apart.

In How Can I Change Careers?, there’s a section titled “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends.” It shows how to triangulate to meet people peripheral to a manager, so you can get a personal introduction to meet.

For what it’s worth, the only job search engine I know that sources all its results from employers’ own websites is LinkUp.com. They don’t “aggregate” listings from other job boards, like Indeed and SimplyHired do. (There’s a big difference between job boards and a job search engine. A board charges employers to list their jobs. A job search engine searches employers’ websites for jobs that meet your search criteria.)

Now let’s talk about why people who express an interest in your business concept don’t follow up with you. It’s almost always because they’re too busy, or because while they are sincerely interested, they’re not in a position to help you.

Try this: Talk to lots of folks about your idea, but then focus on just those who can really be helpful. Plan how you will follow up with them. When they express interest, outline your follow-up plan. Be frank: Ask them how exactly they think they can help, and what further information they need to do it.

But then, it’s up to you to check off the boxes on the “to do list” you discussed with them. Keep in mind that virtually no one will follow through with you. That’s just the nature of starting a business. All you need is one key supporter. And it’s up to you to figure out who that might be. It’s no different than carefully picking the employers you think you can help.

Are employers’ own online job application forms any better than using the job boards? More important, what methods do you use to meet hiring managers?

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Getting in the door

In the October 2, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to avoid HR and take a different route to “get in the door” at a target company:

I have tried a couple of times with different companies to avoid the human resources (HR) department, without success. The first company I called, I asked for the investor relation (IR) department, because I wanted to ask about some statements that were in the annual report. I had to leave a message. I didn’t receive a call back, so I then left a message for the public relations (PR) department. (No one answers their phones!)

A few weeks later, someone from IR called back. I asked my question, and they responded by asking me why I was asking. I told them I was looking for a job, and when I said that, I was told to go to the HR department, even though the question was a technical question about their products. No one from PR ever called back.

I realized that I had not exactly followed your directions, since you suggest asking for the Sales department. Today I tried calling another company in the same industry as the first. When I requested the Sales department, I was asked why. I mentioned that I wanted information about a couple products of theirs. They asked who I was, and I said I was a job seeker who wanted as much information as possible before the interview. Without another word, I was switched to the HR department, and listened to a recording telling me I should go to the website to apply.

How do I avoid the HR department? I would rather not be dishonest when asked why I am calling. Any help you could give would be appreciated.

My Advice

More than once, I’ve suggested that one way to “get in the door” at a target company is through the sales department. Let’s look at this approach again.

I frequently go to IR or PR to get info about companies. I’ve never been ignored. Investor Relations in particular always responds quickly. I guess I wonder what’s up at the company where you’re not getting calls back.

These alternate doors into a company that we’ve discussed before require some finesse. If you immediately disclose that you’re looking for a job, you’ll be dumped into HR, as you’ve learned.

Let’s discuss this method in a bit more detail. When you call the company’s main number, ask for the Sales department like this:

How to Say It
“I’d like to speak to someone who handles Colorado region sales please. I’m calling about your widget product line.”

If you specify your region and mention the product, they’re more likely to put you through to the right sales rep. If they “beat you up” with questions, just press right back:

How to Say It
“My name is John Smith and I’d like to talk with someone in Sales about your widget products.”

If they press you about where you work, tell the truth:

How to Say It
“Look, if I were a customer, I’d ask for the sales rep assigned to me. I’m not presently a customer and I’m not ready to disclose my company. Can you please put me through to Sales? Or just give me the CEO’s office.”

When you get a sales rep, inquire about the product and request up-to-date product details. This is key. It’s information you’d need to prepare for an interview. Once that’s done, ask for advice and insight about the company as a place to work, as we’ve discussed many times before. (How Can I Change Careers? includes the section, “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends,” and covers this at length.)

But don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Until you’re talking one-on-one with the sales rep, do not disclose that you’re job hunting. Anyone else who answers the phone is going to do a mental calculation and try to route you to the “appropriate” department — not to the person you really want to talk with.

Of course, IR and PR are equally useful departments to talk with. Request appropriate information and web links from either office, then pause and ask for advice and insight about the company as a place to work. You may find yourself talking with an employee who is impressed at your approach, and who refers you to a manager in the department where you want to work. Of course, none of this is easy or quick. If it were, everyone would be doing it. You must prepare something to say in advance, to engage the person you talk to. Focus on their work, and on what they do before you start talking about yourself.

Someone’s going to read this and suggest that calling other departments in a company to research a job opportunity is a ruse — and that of course the IR or PR department is going to be upset that you are calling them rather than HR. All I can do is shake my head. Dedicated job hunting requires research and information gathering. All HR requires is your resume. Which approach do you think gives you an edge?

So in this case, the receptionist routed you to HR, which played you a recording that instructed you to apply on the website. That’s the corporate image IR and PR want to cultivate?

Is it any wonder I tell you to talk with anyone and everyone in the company — except HR?

There are other paths to the job you want. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition).

How do you get in the door? Whom do you talk and what do you talk about? Is HR even necessary at this critical point in your job search?

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PBS NewsHour: Online job applications keep America unemployed

Are online job applications driving people insane? Or just driving them away from jobs they can do?

When PBS NewsHour‘s Paul Solman reported on America’s biggest job killer — the automated job applicant sorter — he asked me what I think about this practice. And what do you think I said?

Check out Ask The Headhunter on PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$e. We taped my sections of this segment at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia recently:

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Is the Ask The Headhunter approach to job search the most encouraging advice for a human? Paul Solman says it’s “perhaps more practical than relaying on cyberspace in 2012.”


INVITATION: Want to be on PBS NewsHour? (You can use a screen name, of course!) As part of this PBS project, I’m taking questions from viewers! Submit questions on the Ask The Headhunter Q&A feature on PBS NewsHour. I intend to answer every question submitted on the PBS website! Please post questions on the comments section. The more questions you post, the more Q&A ATH columns will appear on NewsHour! Keep ‘em coming!


Online Job Application Forms:
Automating failure for employers and job hunters alike

  • Human judgment is eliminated from the process.
  • Human review is done only after the software rejects some of the best candidates.
  • The “out of the box creative thinking” companies claim they want is weeded out automatically. If you don’t fill out a “required” box, your creative thinking is rejected. The employer gets only applicants who perfunctorily follow all the rules. Rules that don’t work well at all. (Hell of a company to work for, that processes applicants like hamburger meat.)
  • Online forms encourage anyone and everyone to apply — employers have turned the recruitment process into a literal crapshoot. Like the New York Lotto commercials say, “You can’t win if you don’t play!” Employers and their personnel jockeys have turned hiring into cheesy gambling. And then they complain they get too many applicants! That’s why they need software to sort them!
  • That online form? It’s connected to an online job description. This is where an employer throws in the kitchen sink. They ask for everything, and if you lack anything on the list, you’re out. And the employer loses — because while you may lack one or two “qualifications,” you’re a fast learner who will get rejected. Meanwhile, you could be learning the job while the employer complains of the “talent shortage” and the job goes begging while the board of directors wonders why profits are down.(How’s that meatgrinder-worth of metaphors? Hamburger. Crapshoot. Gambling. The Lotto. Cheesy. Kitchen Sink. Works just like the job boards! “It’s in there!” And employers can’t find it!)

14.2 million

That’s how many Americans are looking for work.

3.2 million

That’s how many jobs are vacant in America. Do the math. What do Human Resources executives call that 4:1 advantage that employers enjoy in the market? A talent shortage! Give us all a break!

Q: If employers can’t hire who they need while there’s more talent on the street than ever in history, what are they doing wrong?

A: Processing applicants like hamburger meat. No one in HR ever touches the applicants. The grinder does it all. And HR won’t hire the product of that process. It’s icky.

I could rant all day. Online job applications are keeping America unemployed while Human Resources wonks are crying there’s a “talent shortage.” Meanwhile, the best talent is talking to managers who have time to hire the best.

What’s the solution for the job hunter?

Don’t fill out online forms. Call the employer. Tell them you want to stand out, so you’d like to discuss your qualifications on the phone — and if they don’t have time, you’ll go talk to one of their competitors that does. Then find one. I guarantee you — there are savvy hiring managers that talk to job hunters because they know the best hires come from trusted referrals.

Your challenge is to meet people who do business with that manager and to get introduced. Oh — did I tell you that just as there’s no magic pill (job boards?) for employers, there’s no magic pill for job hunters. You have to do the hard work of getting close to the manager that will hire you.

And job boards ain’t it.

If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, learning how to enter a manager’s circle of friends is what we talk about here all the time. Check the postings on this blog — we tackle real problems faced by real job hunters — and visit the hundreds of how-to articles on asktheheadhunter.com. Don’t miss the special article I wrote for PBS: Six Secrets to Beat The Job Market.

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How do I sell my extensive academic credentials to an employer?

In the September 18, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to parlay his considerable academic credentials into a good job:

Here’s hoping you can knock some sense into me. The job search process has me bewildered. I have a degree in computer science and I had begun a doctoral program, but must now re-enter the job market. I am considered overqualified for much of what passes for entry-level positions, and realistically I would be under-challenged in them. Yet I have little in the way of a “track record” that would be of interest to employers looking for someone with a more specialized background. I have tried to sell my skills, but have only gotten form-letter acknowledgements. Any suggestions on getting to first base? Thanks.

My Advice

No offense, but nobody’s buying what you’re selling.

You say you have little in the way of experience to offer an employer in your field. That’s patently untrue, but it’s a common error in judgment that lots of new grads make.

Much of the experience and many of the skills you’ve acquired in school can transfer to the work world, but you need to do the mapping. (An employer won’t figure it out for you.)

What you’re selling isn’t what you’ve done. It’s what you can do.

Make a list of all the “hands-on” work you have done related to the kind of work done in your field — the kind of work you want to do. The work you’ve done might include academic projects, if it’s relevant to the jobs you want. People tend to dismiss their academic work because it’s academic. It can still be hands-on, it’s still experience, and it can be very valuable to an employer if you can show how.

Then put that list aside, because it’s totally useless without what we’re going to do next. (That’s why it doesn’t sell!)

Focus on the work the employer needs done. You must research and understand it before you can do any “mapping” of your skills. (Your skills are useless unless someone needs them!) That means learning about each target company and talking to people who work there. Try to describe the work you discover in terms of tasks — things you would have to do. Be as detailed as possible.

Then review each item, and describe how you could shape and apply each of your skills and experiences to help get the work done in a way that positively impacts the employer’s bottom line.

That is, how would hiring you be a benefit? (You can work through this process best if you focus on one company at a time.)

Remember that some of your skills are very fundamental, and these are the ones that can be best generalized to a specific job. For example, organizational skills, analytical skills, writing skills, and so on. The challenge is to find ways to apply them to the one job you’re pursuing. That is what an employer wants to see — not your resume. That’s what employers pay for.

This is what you’re selling.

I’ll say it again: As you do this mapping, be very specific. Sometimes, the inability to get specific stems from not really knowing what a company really needs. This is where your general research skills come in: Research the heck out of a company and its business. If you don’t, then you can’t demonstrate what you can offer, and you don’t deserve the job. (I discuss these techniques in more detail in The Library Vacation and Put a Free Sample in Your Resume, two key sections of the PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?)

Don’t worry that a job is beneath you. You will probably have to take an entry-level position to start. Don’t carry a negative attitude about this; it’s a necessary part of starting a career. It’s how employers decide you’re worth trusting with more sophisticated work. The point is to find a job in a company where you’re working with people who will offer you more and better work soon.

Give this an honest shot by looking at yourself through an employer’s eyes. You see, employers want one thing: to have a problem solved. Most won’t take the time to tell an outsider what that is. Offering value and solutions before you’re asked is the best way to find work.

I wish you success.

How did you get your first job out of school? What could this reader do to make you want to hire him? I think schools absolutely suck at teaching students how to find jobs. Why???

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Paying to Get a Job, Part 3: Job applicant tells Padres to “Suck my dick”

In 2008 I published a column titled How much would you pay for a job? The 2009 follow-up was Pay for a job? (Part 2). Earlier this year, I told you about an outrageous racket I helped expose in the “career industry” in cooperation with Canada’s CBC-TV: Rip-Off Edition: Who’s trying to sell you a job? (video).

In all those cases, third-party “firms” were selling people “help” finding jobs. The help even came with “guarantees.” (If I could guarantee you a job, I’d be writing this from a private island.)

Such third-party “career management firms” have always attached themselves like leeches to the help-wanted business. But the worst of the offenders are employers themselves: companies you want to work for that reject your resume then try to sell you the “opportunity” to get a job with them.

Today’s example: Major League Baseball. The San Diego Padres.

Pay Us For a Chance at a Job

After Taylor Grey Meyer applied for several jobs with the Padres baseball team and received rejection after rejection, the Padres sent her an invitation to come meet “hiring managers” at the “Sports Sales Combine here at Petco Park.”

What’s the Combine? It’s made to look like a job fair. Except the Padres say, “Please note that this is NOT a job fair.” Oh, it’s much, much more!

  • “We anticipate attending sales managers will be looking to fill 50+ jobs at the Combine. “
  • “Teams from the MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL, MLS and college athletics all use the combine as a key source to find talent for their organizations.”
  • “Having been to multiple combines myself, and hired numerous people from the events, I could think of NO better way to get a start in the sport industry.”

Sound like a job fair pitch to you? Sure sounds like one to me! The Padres’ personalized e-mail to Meyer came from a Padres sales manager at a padres.com e-mail address and laid it on thick:

“Taylor, as we look for the best young talent from across the country we wanted to make sure you were aware of the opportunity. You can find the combine application at Teamwork Online through the link below.”

Clicking through to the “application,” Meyer found she could attend this “job fair” by paying $495.

Okay, Give Me The Job

The San Diego Padres are using a mailing list of rejected job applicants to sell an “opportunity” to get one of “50+ jobs.”

I don’t advocate profanity or nasty come-backs in business, especially when you’re trying to convince an employer to hire you. But Meyer knows a job from a come-on. After getting slimed with enough stupid Padres rejection e-mails to fill a hard drive, she responded in exactly the right way:

“I would like to extend you a counter-offer to suck my dick.”

Meyer then demonstrates to the male-dominated Major League Baseball sales guy that her cojones are bigger than his:

“Clearly, I don’t have one of these, so my offer makes about as much sense as yours. But for the price you’re charging to attend the event, I’m sure I would have no problem borrowing one.”

Kudos to Deadspin.com for publishing Taylor Meyer’s story: “I Would Like To Extend You A Counter-Offer To Suck My Dick”: A Rejected Jobseeker Sends The Padres The Best Letter Ever. A bit of research reveals that the Padres — along with other MLB and pro sports teams — are hooked up with SportsSalesCombine.com, a website run by “Drs. Bill Sutton and Richard Irwin,” that sells job applicants a “chance to be discovered by the pros!”

Scam Alert

SportsSalesCombine.com triggers my #2 scam alert: There’s no physical location listed for this business — just a gmail address. And there’s no explanation of its relationship to the Padres or any other sports team, except that an awful lot of the Padres’ (and other teams’) coaches are listed as “staff.”

The Padres also trigger my #3 scam alert, one of the oldest sales tricks in the book: They want you to fill out an application to qualify to pay $495.

What’s my #1 scam alert? The Padres strike out big-time for soliciting job applicants to whom they then pitch a chance at job “opportunities.”

As for that suck-my-dick rejection letter Taylor Meyer sent, the Padres deserved it. They rejected Meyer again and again, then “invited” her to “apply” to pay for a chance at a job. Deadspin.com reports Meyer’s letter has already generated at least one job interview from a team that saw a second-hand copy of her e-mail. Now, that’s networking and creating a personal brand. And it won’t cost Meyer a dime. Seems to me that Meyer has demonstrated the “Sports Sales Combine” pitch is for losers.

You apply for a job. The employer rejects you again and again. Would you then pay $495 to that employer for “the most authentic training and networking experience available” and for an “opportunity” at “50+ jobs?”

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Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution

In the July 17, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains that Human Resources (HR) departments are behind the talent shortage:

I don’t have a question, but I want to share stories about two candidates that I interviewed. (I am a manager.)

I am continually astounded at the kinds of idiotic discrimination I see companies engage in when they’re hiring. This simply confirms my suspicions that bad HR managers are a major impediment to good candidates getting good jobs.

I’ve been to job fairs where companies tape up signs saying “U.S. Citizenship Required” and “Must Speak English.” This puts me in mind of the “Irish need not apply” and “No Blacks” of earlier years. There are very few jobs that genuinely require citizenship (as opposed to employment authorization) and I’ve found precious few on this side of the Atlantic who come close to speaking proper English!

At my company, HR often turns away good candidates for reasons just as ludicrous as those signs. This is what happened to two people I interviewed. HR ignored both of them as “unhireable.”

One candidate had a Chinese accent so thick that I had difficulty understanding anything she said. During the interview I resorted to asking her to write or draw in order to assist communication. I saw strong technical skills through the language problems that this new immigrant had and I made the offer.

Another candidate was so nervous that he completely messed up most of the questions in the first half of the interview. I persevered, put him at ease and satisfied myself that he was technically able. I hired him, too.

Both these people have been stunning performers in my company. The Chinese candidate has improved her language skills to the point where communication is no longer a challenge. The formerly nervous candidate has gained confidence. The only downside is that either candidate could now go elsewhere and breeze through interviews with the sort of lame-brains who (I believe) routinely pass up good candidates because it takes a bit of extra effort to get to know them.

The moral of this story is, if you are a candidate, try to talk to managers, not HR. If you are the solution, prove it. If you are a manager, try to get at the candidates before HR filters out all the good ones. If you are a recruiter, drop the dumb prejudices! There is no talent shortage, just a shortage of good hiring practices and patience!

My Advice

I could kiss you. Thanks for the reality check. Employers are losing great candidates due to crappy judgments about who is worth interviewing and hiring.

I haven’t seen the sort of signs you refer to, but then again, I haven’t been to a job fair in a long time. However, I have seen good job candidates passed over by corporate representatives who had no skin in the game. That is, they weren’t hiring managers. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that a good hiring manager will dig a bit deeper to get to know a candidate than an HR manager might — because the manager needs to fill a job.

Do HR workers, in general, discriminate? Are they lazy? Your stories raise these provocative questions, and you deliver a sharp message: Companies do themselves a disservice when they keep the hiring manager at arm’s length from the hiring process.

Today HR uses software to filter candidates before any human judgment is brought to bear. The result is that excellent prospects are denied before the hiring manager even knows they exist. Why does HR do this?

HR’s answer is just as dumb as it sounds: HR has so many applicants that it has no choice but to use software to filter them!

And my rejoinder reveals just how stupidly HR behaves: HR created the problem itself! Where do you think all those tons of applicants suddenly came from? HR posts jobs and solicits any and all applicants — then complains it’s got too many?

For $50 I’ll give any HR department the solution: Stop posting jobs and soliciting millions of resumes. More is not better — so stop with the stupid excuses already. End the problem of “more applicants than we can handle.” If too many are applying, you’re not doing your job. The point is to use methods that attract the right candidates — not tons of candidates!

And here’s the rest of the solution: HR should handle the administrative process of getting new hires on board, but HR should get out of the business of recruiting, selection, interviewing, and hiring. That’s for managers – those who have skin in the game.

You didn’t ask a question, but there’s lots to learn from what you had to say. I hope employers (and job hunters) see the lessons in it.

Both managers and job hunters need to get down to brass tacks: Talk about how to do the job profitably. In How Can I Change Careers? (or jobs) is a simple method for preparing for interviews so you can prove to a manager that you’re worth hiring. It’s not difficult for managers to set up an interview to ensure the candidate will have a chance to show what they can do — so the manager can make a sound hiring decision as quickly as possible.

If you’re a manager, have you ever missed out on good hires due to HR’s “filtering” process? How do you find your new hires? If you’re a job hunter, how do you get past the HR meat grinder so you can actually talk to the hiring manager?

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Say NO to job leads

In the July 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter complains that job leads don’t pan out any better than job postings:

To build up my networking, I’ve started going to two different job clubs. One is related to my line of work, information technology (IT), and the other is more general, with people from lots of professions attending. Both groups start with a job lead portion of the meeting and some good information is given out. But I wonder what you have to say about this, since you advocate networking so much. None of these leads have panned out any better than job postings I respond to. I submit my resume and I try to call, too, but nothing develops. Job leads from real people should be more productive than answering job postings, you would think. Is networking a fallacy or am I doing something wrong?

My Advice

Networking is not a fallacy, but the term is so over-used that I think it’s confusing you. Getting job leads at job clubs is not networking. What you’re doing wrong is wasting face time, and I’ll try to explain why. But first, I think you’re right that “job leads” are no better than job postings.

Most job leads are like job postings

Have I gone totally nuts? Am I telling you to say NO to a job lead?

Not all job leads are the same. While getting a lead at a meeting might seem more personal, it’s very different from a personal referral from some who knows, respects, and trusts you — and who has true insider connections. The leads you’re talking about could originate anywhere. They are more like job listings than leads.

Now I’ll try to explain why you should say no to most job leads. Matt Bud is a friend of mine who runs The FENG — The Financial Executives Networking Group. In a recent newsletter to over 40,000 members, Matt discussed one of The FENG’s services: in-person meetings where financial folks network and share job leads. Matt makes the same point I do — and I think very few people get this, so please think about it carefully:

“Sharing old job leads, which is what happens at face to face meetings, doesn’t really benefit anyone. It just takes up time that could be better spent networking.”

I do pro bono presentations for a local job club. Here’s what I say to them:

“So, here you are — a bunch of unemployed people, coming to meetings where you expect other unemployed people to give you job leads…”

Most job leads are old news

As Matt points out in his newsletter, any job lead is old news by the time it gets to you. It’s almost no better than a job posting on Monster.com. But, you might say, this is information fresh from the lips of real people who often get job leads from personal contacts.

Here’s Matt’s take on the value of such leads:

“Were they filled yet? Probably not, but the candidate slates aren’t likely to be expanded if the job is over a few weeks old. They sound good, but you are receiving totally useless information.”

Invest in opportunities, don’t chase what comes along

The age of job leads isn’t the only issue to consider before you quickly tap out a resume submission on your smartphone. That lead — even if it’s sound — is for a job that came along, not one you developed yourself. This is an important point.

While you’re likely to chase what comes along, by quickly e-mailing an application on a lead, you’re probably far more motivated to invest in a more effective approach if the job (or employer) is one you carefully researched and decided was a top-quality target for you.

For example, you might triangulate around the job to get inside information that confirms the fit and bolsters your presentation. You’re also more likely to cultivate a strong personal referral who actually recommends you to the boss. Both actions help you vet the opportunity and boost your chances of success dramatically.

But you’ll shake your head and ask, What’s the point, since any lead, no matter where it comes from, could turn into a good opportunity? My point is that opportunities that “come along” often turn into mistakes, precisely because you didn’t choose them yourself. I think most people go job hunting because they took the wrong job to begin with, most often because “it came along.”

Network with a plan

Job leads that come along are not what’s best for the job hunter. True opportunities that are really good for you are carefully selected and developed, not picked up at a meeting. Showing up and listening to a broadcast of leads is not networking, even if it’s done in person.

Most of the time, networking is a lifestyle. It’s about meeting new people and blue-sky exploring. In this context — active job hunting — networking is a tool in the service of a clear objective. “A job” is not a clear objective. A particular employer or job is. The approaches are radically different.

Carefully select a target employer or job, and network to gather information that lets you develop a plan you can present to the employer. Be ready to demonstrate why you are the profitable hire. Network to convince insiders to recommend you. The most effective form of networking involves finding people who introduce us to employers, and who teach us how we can help the employer — so we can stand out as the person the employer wants to hire.

A job lead picked up at a meeting gives you no such edge because you didn’t work for it.

Say NO to job leads — Say YES to networking

I agree with Matt Bud. Getting together with other job hunters to hear about job leads is a waste of time. Learn to say no to job leads, and instead use the time more profitably. Use face time to network — but have a very specific, clear objective.

My PDF book, How Can I Chang Careers?, includes a pivotal chapter titled “A Good Network is a Circle of Friends.” One section, “Seek advice, not help,” emphasizes the importance of having a specific objective you need advice about — whether you’re changing careers, or just jobs:

“No one wants the ‘Can you help me find a job?’ monkey on their back because the monkey requires feeding and lots of attention. That’s why most people you ask for help will quickly refer you to the personnel office. On the other hand, if you approach me for advice rather than help, that’s something I can provide…”

The person you’re networking with will be happy to share advice and engage in discussion that reveals whether you’re worthy of friendship. And friendship is what leads to personal referrals, which is where jobs really come from.

Am I splitting hairs, or is a job lead about as useless as a job posting? How do you network to get truly useful referrals? Do you give out job leads? What’s the best way to get in the door for the job you really want?

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Business Cards: What do Asians know?

In the March 27, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a business owner defends business cards:

I just read an article in the L.A. Times that says Passing out business cards is quickly becoming passe. Instead, I’m supposed to “bump” my phone with someone else’s to trade contact information. If cards are optional, then so are new clients and referrals. The end of that article points out that in the world’s fastest growing market, Asia, you’d better have a card because it’s crucial. I run a successful small business and I think anyone who doesn’t carry business cards is naive. Do you use business cards?

My Advice

Hmmm… what do Asians know that the rest of us don’t?

I run an online publishing business, and “digital” is an enormous part of my work and life. If there’s a way to do something more effectively or efficiently, I take advantage of it. Sometimes, digital technology enables us to do things we could never do without it — like publishing this newsletter and my books.

But I do carry business cards, and I don’t intend to give them up. Guess I’m good to go to Asia.

Last week I gave a presentation, and afterwards I had a cup of coffee with one of the attendees — who is a potential client. She asked me for a business card. Suppose I’d told her, “I don’t use business cards. Find my e-mail address on my website.” I’d have broken the pace of our discussion. It would not have helped.

I do a lot of business online and I don’t always meet my clients, so there’s not always a chance to use a business card. But for those in-person meetings and work sessions, cards are a necessity. I’ve encountered some people who don’t have a card to share, and sometimes — not always — this sends a bad signal. I quickly assess whether the person has a viable business, or is just knocking around, trying to get lucky. It affects how I judge them. Is that fair? I don’t think that matters. I know other business people who react the same way. Cards are cheap; so’s a simple website. If you’re too cheap to have both, you may not be worth talking to.

But there are lots of subtle benefits to cards. Some people are in too much of a hurry to recognize them.

If you want to encourage someone to talk to you again, it’s easy to offer your card. Asking for their e-mail address or getting them to jot down yours is a bit more awkward. (Not all phones “bump.”) Contrary to what that article suggests, cards are not all tossed in the trash. I have a large digital contact list, but I also have a well-organized box of cards that I refer to often.

I can write a note on the back of a card, to personalize the memory someone has of me. And when they give me their card, I can jot a note on theirs, too. I could do it on my Droid, but so what? That card stays on my desk for a while and reminds me of the person. If the information is only in my phone, I won’t see it until I have reason to search for it.

A university professor is quoted in that article: “It’s time-consuming to organize business cards — and not portable.” That’s pretty naive. New contacts earn their way into my phone. Many start out as cards. If I need them more than once or twice, I add them to my digital list.

One last reason cards are good: Design. A person’s card tells me as much about their brand as their website does. Do they care how they come off?

What’s most unfortunate about the article is its self-righteous tone. It pits “under-30” and “young and Web-savvy people” against… who? Over-thirty and Web-ignorant people? Gimme a break.

The real punch line in the article reveals how gratuitous it is. “Firms that do business abroad, particularly in Asia, have found printed business cards to be crucial to corporate culture and ritual there.” In one of the fastest-growing markets, cards are crucial. Did someone miss a bigger point when writing this article?

Why come off like a clueless dork? Carry cards as well as one of those digital communication thingies, what do you call it? A smartpod? A pad thingy. You know what I mean — here, I’ll write it down on my card for you… Call me. We’ll do lunch.

Do you use business cards? Are they on the way out? What do Asians know that the rest of us don’t? Do biz cards offer anything that digital doesn’t? Post a comment… or write me a letter…

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Resumes: Job hunting suicide

The Wall Street Journal reports that you’re screwed if you’re looking for a job, in Your Resume vs. Oblivion. A guy at IBM who sells the systems employers use to process incoming resumes says that 90% or more of employers use sophsticated technology (“which can cost from $5,000 to millions of dollars”) to scan resumes.

So the Journal offers lots of insider tips about “How to Beat the ‘Black Hole’.” (Ain’t it funny how derogatory even the insiders are about Resume Hell? The Journal cleans up on its own job board, which wants you to submit all the resumes and applications you possibly can.)

Chief among the tips:

  • Copy the keywords from the job posting right into your resume. That way, the scanners will pick them up and your resume will fly right through the drek into the hands of many excited personnel jockeys who are waiting to call you up!
  • Keep the formatting simple, to make it easier for the scanners to read your credentials!

If you’re going to play this game, I’ll give you the best tip of all:

Copy the entire friggin’ job posting and paste it right onto the last page of your resume. That way you can’t get screwed by the software because it’s all in there!

Of course, there’s another solution entirely, that will thwart both the machines and the “millions” of competitors you’re facing:

Don’t use a resume at all. Here’s how to write a resume that’s designed to be tossed in the trash when you’re done, and still get the job — without ever showing it to an employer.

Like the guy at the end of the article says about a company whose HR director is too busy to read his resume, “What I’m going to do is turn up on their doorstep,” says Mr. Denton. “I really have nothing to lose.”

Sure he will.

The inside joke is, the hiring manager at that company is going to hire someone who was personally referred by a trusted contact. Not someone who sent in a resume.

Meanwhile, millions commit job hunting suicide every day when they swallow this drivel about “how to beat the machines” at the keyword game. They dutifully craft their resumes, pull the trigger, and lean into the mass grave.

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Update: Not all employers operate resume grinders. Mike R., an HR manager at a small manufacturing company, posted this comment on Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters):

“As someone who does review every resume that is submitted (no keyword screens for us), one problem that I often see is that many people do not take your advice and explain how they will do the job profitably. In my job postings and contacts with candidates, I spell out what the person will have to do and achieve in the position to be successful. However, many people simply send me a standard resume, which gives me little clue to whether they can do the job. It’s almost as if their attitude is, I can’t be bothered to customize my resume to demonstrate that I can do the job, so YOU figure out whether I can do the job or not.”

Would you make it past this human screener who actually has a brain and behaves like a savvy businessman?

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Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke

In the January 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader ruminates about how stupid the recruiting and hiring process seems to have become. Employers aren’t really looking for talent — they’re shopping for mediocrity, using lists of keywords:

I’m a career changer and I’m finding it very hard to get past the recruiting agency or even the internal HR shell. I have a number of friends in similar situations in other fields and industries. Perhaps it’s the economy, or maybe it’s just the nature of the recruiting business, but it seems that these days if you don’t match a long checklist of criteria, you don’t have much hope. Many agencies even go as far as to specifically call this out in their ads: Don’t apply unless you meet all of these (10-15) criteria.

It’s a real shame, too, because it seems only natural that successful people will want to take on new challenges. But the recruiting practices of most companies lead them to search for candidates that have already done what they’re being hired to do, and who are content to continue doing the same. They seem to say, “Give me practiced mediocrity rather than a chance to find a star.”

Maybe that makes sense for a recruiter whose job is to maintain the status quo. But how does this produce truly exceptional performance or lead a company into the future?

I will continue to await the day when we try to measure each other by the limits we will have tomorrow, instead of those we had yesterday. In the meantime, thanks for your article The Horse’s Ass in The Rear-view Mirror, about how recruiters drive away a company’s best hires. It gave me faith that there are still people out there that hire people, and not tie racks or check lists. But what should I do next?

My Advice

This is even worse than you suggest. Stupid hiring practices are not a philosophical problem. This is a structural problem that’s destroying our economy from the inside out.

There are 14.2 million unemployed Americans and 3.2 million vacant jobs. That’s a 4:1 ratio, a 4:1 advantage to employers. But, “We can’t find people who match” is the refrain. Do the math. Those 14.2 million Americans are not morons, incapable of learning on the job, or worthless pieces of dung because they don’t have 100% of the right keywords on their resumes.

Reductionist recruiting

The problem is that employers have gotten sucked into a reductionist approach to recruiting and hiring that’s been foisted on them by job-board databases and recruiters and HR departments that have no idea “who” they’re looking for. They spend all day scanning buzzwords, driven by a fantasy of the perfect “match.” They’re not interested in people or in talent. Just in magic matches.

Consider the staggering cost of leaving those 3.2 million jobs vacant, because personnel jockeys can’t figure out who’s worth hiring — and because managers don’t know how to mentor, train, and bring those people up to speed. All that work — 3.2 million jobs — left undone.

There’s the hole in the economy.

The solution is teaching managers that management means hiring smart people and teaching them how to do the work. Management does not mean matching keywords and then sitting back while the peg fits neatly into the hole.

The problem is structural

The media feed the frenzy: “All those unemployed people are not qualified! They need new skills!” Well, “they” needed new skills in 1990 and in 1995 and in 2000. But “they” got hired anyway, and they did the work.

The problem is structural. This is the dominant “filtering” mechanism employers use. The problem is that employers really believe that, if they wait long enough, perfect hires will show up. The few headhunters who have brains, and the few employers who actually size candidates up for their abilities, are doing quite nicely, thank you.

The rest of the economy is sucking wind because work is left undone because managers aren’t managing. They’re waiting for the databases to spit out magic hires. It ain’t gonna happen.

Cut out the middlemen

Your challenge is to avoid the process that takes your keywords but ignores your ability to learn and to stretch. The alternative is simple: Cut out the middlemen — HR and the recruiters and the headhunters — and go directly to good managers you’d like to work for. Find out what work they need done, and show how you will do it. Show how you will boost their business and they will hire you.

Read that again: Go to good managers you’d like to work for. That means making choices before you approach anyone about a job. It means avoiding the cattle calls. It means avoiding waiting in line. It means avoiding asking for jobs from people you don’t know who don’t know you.

If you understand this, you have an advantage: Everyone else is diddling the job databases, while you’re out talking to a handful of managers you really want to work for who really want and need to hire you. No resume, no interview, no joke.

Here’s what to do next

Pick three companies or managers you really, really want to work for because they are the shining lights in their industry. Then describe (briefly) three problems or challenges each company really needs someone to tackle. (You don’t have to name the companies.) Post right here in the comments section — and I’ll show you what to do next to get in the door.

No resume, no interview, no joke.

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