Cornell Executive MBA Presentation

This evening at Cornell University’s Palisades, NY facility we talked about How to Work With Headhunters. Executive MBA students in the Johnson School of Business joined headhunter Deborah Matson and me for an hour and a half of Q&A. We covered a lot of topics — but the seminar sizzled over one question: Should you disclose your salary history to an employer?

The purpose of this posting is to continue the discussion.

We’ve covered this topic on the blog many times, and opinions sizzle here, too! Check out the controversy, which includes dozens of comments from readers:

How to make more money: Withhold your salary history

Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?

Salary history: Will HR put up or shut up?

The real reason employers want your salary history: Hiring is a crapshoot

How to negotiate with a headhunter

At today’s seminar, an HR manager from Johnson & Johnson made a good point: If you decide to withhold your salary history from an employer, how you say it counts a lot. If your attitude is uncooperative, an employer can read a lot into it. If you decline politely and respectfully, an employer might let it slide. What’s your take on disclosing salary?

Do you have other questions that we didn’t have time to cover? Comments and observations? Please post them here, and we can continue our discussion.

Many thanks to Cornell for its hospitality, and for the opportunity to talk shop with Johnson School EMBAs.

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Playing With Headhunters

In the January 24, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets calls from two different headhunters — who want to “submit” him for what seems to be the same job. How many headhunters should he work with?

A headhunter called yesterday about an interesting position. She is not ready to reveal her client until the client has seen my resume and expressed an interest. Today, another headhunter called about a position that sounds similar. (I can’t figure out who that employer might be). The second headhunter asked if my resume has been submitted to the employer. To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no, but the position from the prior day might be the very same job.

I have been confronted with this situation at least a few times. How should I handle it? How many headhunters should I work with at a time?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

My advice about this is in the PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. Here’s a free preview straight out of the book, from Section 2: Working With Headhunters to Get Ahead. I hope you enjoy it!

Don’t confuse real headhunters with people who solicit your resume blindly. These might include employment agencies, job shops and HR recruiters who work within corporations. Many of these “headhunters” may approach you. Giving them your resume indiscriminately is like giving your credit card number to every telemarketer who calls. You won’t like having lots of recruiters working with you, especially if two or more of them give your resume to the same company.

If, somehow, multiple headhunters approach you at the same time, then you need to know just one thing: Do they each represent a different company? If yes, then you’d be looking at different job opportunities and it’s fine to work with all of them at once. There should be no overlap in their assignments and no conflict for you.

If there is an overlap, then one company is unwisely using multiple contingency headhunters to fill the same position. The company is putting its headhunters into competition with one another. That’s like assigning two sales reps to sell to the same prospect — the company reveals poor judgment and sloppy hiring practices. Even so, you can still entertain an opportunity, but you would be wise to let just one headhunter present you to the company. Otherwise, you will likely be rejected out of hand because the company could wind up in the middle of a fee fight.

Who would be due the fee if you were hired? If the company interviews you via two headhunters — even if it’s for two completely different jobs — and then hires you, it could owe the fee twice. Don’t get in the middle of it. Work with only one headhunter at a time with respect to a particular employer.

So the answer to your question has two parts:

First, understand that if a lot of “headhunters” are soliciting you, it’s probably not wise to work with them because they have not carefully selected you. They are merely interested in blasting your resume around, hoping for a hit.

Second, if two or more headhunters contact you about different jobs at different companies… (Sorry, this part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)

You should insist that both headhunters disclose who their client is. It’s reasonable to agree that you will not disclose the opportunity to other job hunters — at least for a time. In any case, it’s not prudent or necessary to sign an agreement with any headhunter. If the first headhunter won’t trust you, then you don’t have a good enough reason to work with her.

The above section of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you is followed by these two Q&As:

  • Q: Is there a way to get multiple headhunters to call on me about legitimate job opportunities? (A: Yes…)
  • Q: What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list? (A: Yes…)

How have you handled mulitiple headhunters? — especially if they called you about the same job. Did it pay off, or have you gotten burned?

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When should you bring up money?

In the December 13, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader asks whether it’s okay to discuss salary range with a headhunter before taking time out of a busy work schedule to interview:

I’m a long-time reader. This is my second-time question — the last one was in 2004! I’ve just been headhunted for a position that would require an hour commute. We’re past the phone-screen stage, and now at a point of coordinating schedules for in-person meetings. This is the busiest time of year for my current employer, so to leave for a half day would be very difficult. Is it acceptable to discuss salary range before I invest time in interviewing? Or does that automatically mark me as a problem child?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Nice to hear from you again! “The money question” troubles many people. We all know there’s no hire until money is discussed, so why is it such an awkward topic? Why do employers and applicants alike prefer to “wait until later” to bring it up?

An employer has a budget for a position. It might stretch the compensation to hire a particularly good candidate. But that depends on the quality of the interviews, not on whether the salary range has been discussed in advance.

I think it’s key to get the money question on the table early — especially if you have to invest travel and time to interview.

I like the off-the-cuff approach. Call the headhunter, express your interest in the job, and then say the following.

How to Say It

“By the way, what’s the compensation like for this position?”

That’s not aggressive and it’s not the last word. It leaves room for further discussion. Then stay silent and let the headhunter speak. If she won’t answer you candidly, then don’t feel guilty pressing her.

How to Say It

“We should make sure we’re in the right range…” or “I’d like to make sure I’m on the same page as the employer before we all invest our time…”

If the headhunter deflects by asking what you’re making or what you want, you should turn the tables to test the headhunter. Yes, I said test the headhunter. Make her work to recruit you, or she’s not really worth talking to.

How to Say It

…(This last How to Say It suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now! It’s free!)

This makes the headhunter work for it. If she’s not able to engage with you now on the subject of money, then negotiations are likely to be difficult later, after you’ve invested a lot of time. (This is why both headhunters and employers often avoid talking money: The more time they get you to invest, the less likely you will be to walk away from a low offer.) For more about negotiating with headhunters, please see How To Work With Headhunters.

Could the headhunter conclude you’re a problem child and drop you? Sure — but you’ve hardly been “dropped.” Rescued is more like it. If you don’t know what the compensation range is, there’s really nothing more to talk about. Exploring new opportunities is a good thing, but not every recruiting call is an opportunity. Test the recruiter quickly. Find out how much she knows about the employer and the position, and make sure there’s a suitable payoff if you invest your time. If the headhunter thinks you’re a problem child because you want to talk about money, then the call itself is a problem.

Do you ask about money before you interview? I’ve heard lots of justifications for putting it off, but I don’t really buy any of them. Am I wrong? How far do you go before talking money?

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The truth about headhunters

In the October 11, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter who’s tired of high-pressure headhunters asks how to recognize the good ones:

The sales pitches I get from cold-calling headhunters are intense. They’re in a hurry, they avoid sharing details I need and they are high-pressure. How do I know when I’m talking to a good headhunter?

My Advice

This week’s Q&A is an excerpt from my PDF book, How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make them work for you. The book is 130 pages, packed with 62 myth-busting answers for fearless job hunters. I hope you enjoy this sample!

If the caller is a fast-talking salesman, hang up. It’s that simple.

Judging a headhunter and qualifying a headhunter are two different things. You can judge a headhunter’s character whether you decide to work with him or not. This kind of judgment is largely based on observation. If you’re going to actually work with a headhunter, first you must qualify him — and that means you’ve got to test him before you put yourself in his hands. Let’s discuss judging headhunters. (For a thorough discussion of how to qualify a headhunter, please check pages 28-33 of the book.)

  1. If the caller sounds like an earnest business person politely asking for your help with an assignment, you should keep talking.
  2. The best headhunters reveal high standards of conduct and reveal the same qualities they look for in candidates.
  3. They are easy to work with because they are straightforward. They speak clearly and directly. They are not secretive or cagey.
  4. They don’t waste time playing games or putting on airs. They make you feel special, rather than imply they are.
  5. They are not in a hurry. They take time to talk. They pay attention. They answer your questions.
  6. They are knowledgeable about their business, their client, the job they’re trying to fill and about you.
  7. A good headhunter doesn’t call anyone blindly. He already knows quite a bit about your background, or he wouldn’t call you.
  8. A good headhunter reveals integrity by being honest and trustworthy. He will do what he says — including returning your calls.
  9. He is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions he asks. Rather than rely on your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.

If you’re a possible candidate for the headhunter’s client, you’ll get an interview in short order. If you’re not a fit, he won’t lead you on. He will move on. You may feel you’ve been dropped, but a busy headhunter won’t spend more time with you than his assignment warrants. He’s not being rude; he’s doing his job.

Try this test.

When you’re done talking to a headhunter who sought you out, ask yourself, Could this headhunter write an adequate resume about me based strictly on our phone call?

I sometimes write a candidate’s resume just like that, after a phone call, and I provide it as a summary to my client. It’s a good test of my own grasp of a candidate’s credentials and value. If a recruiter’s call is so cursory that you don’t think he could write your resume from it, that reveals an unskilled headhunter or an inadequate recruiting call. A headhunter who calls to merely request your resume is no better than a job posting on the Internet.

When you meet a good headhunter, you’ll know it from the characteristics listed above, and you’ll recognize him as someone with whom you want to cultivate a long-term relationship. (Needless to say, the headhunter could be female.)

(For more answers about headhunters, check the Table of Contents. 30 sub-sections of the book include 62 Q&As that teach you how to conduct your job search with and without headhunters… plus How to Say It examples and Insider’s Edge tips.)

How do you judge headhunters? What tips you off to a good one, and how do you avoid the lousy ones? Have questions about how headhunters behave? Post them and we’ll discuss.

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How should headhunters fit into your job search?

In the June 14, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what percentage of job-hunting time should be devoted to working with headhunters:

I’ve heard that headhunters fill less than 10% of open jobs, so one should spend no more than 10% of one’s job hunting time working with headhunters. Do you agree? Also, could you please explain the difference between contingency and retained headhunters? Thanks.

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

You should not rely on a headhunter to put you into a job any percentage of the time, because a headhunter is paid by a client to fill a particular position, not to find you a job. To put it another way, you couldn’t devote 10% of your job hunting time to “working with headhunters” even if you wanted to, because it’s not your choice to work with headhunters. They choose to work with you — so it makes no sense to plan to make headhunters part of your job search.

(For what it’s worth, surveys conducted over the past ten years suggest that headhunters and other “third party” recruiters fill only about 3% of jobs, not 10%.)

If a headhunter calls with a position that is suited to you, for a job he believes you can do exceptionally well, then there’s a chance you’ll get a job offer from the headhunter’s client. But a real headhunter is not going to “market” you to his or her clients. You may be confusing headhunters (who focus on finding a specific candidate for a specific assignment) with employment agencies (which focus on spreading your resume around to lots of employers).

(On another note, don’t confuse headhunting with what other career practitioners do: They’re not headhunters.)

When a headhunter identifies the right candidate for a client, that’s when the headhunter coaches (and helps) that candidate. Having identified the right candidate, the headhunter’s mission is to win a job offer and to complete the assignment. Otherwise, headhunters don’t spend time helping job hunters.

Retained Headhunters
When a headhunter works on retainer, the client pays a percentage (usually one third) of the fee up front, to retain the headhunter’s services. The headhunter becomes the exclusive channel to fill the job, and gets paid whether he fills the job, or whether the company hires someone who walks in the front door without the headhunter’s involvement. The next two thirds of the retainer are paid upon certain milestones. The retainer ensures the headhunter’s attention to the project, and usually buys other services for the employer (which I won’t get into here). Employers typically use retained headhunters only for the highest-level positions.

Contingency Headhunters
In a contingency arrangement, the headhunter earns a fee only if he actually fills the assigned position. The position may be assigned exclusively to one headhunter, or to more than one.

Is it better to be recruited by a headhunter who is on retainer, than one working on contingency? Nope. The chances of success depend more on the quality of the headhunter than on how he gets paid.

How to Work with Headhunters
Of course, if a good headhunter calls you with a good job opportunity, that’s a good thing. That’s when it’s important to know how to work with headhunters effectively, and how to optimize the outcome. Likewise, it’s good to make yourself “findable” to the best headhunters in your field. Here are a few tips, excerpted from How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you:

1. Judge headhunters before you work with them. Most people who try to “recruit” you are not headhunters. They collect thousands of resumes which they submit to hundreds of employers — unsolicited. Having your resume plastered all over kingdom come does you no good. It can hurt your reputation. So, judge every “headhunter” that calls you. Ask for references. Talk to people they’ve placed, and with companies that use their services. Otherwise, you’ll get frustrated and waste your time.

2. Meet good headhunters before lousy ones find you. Fast-buck artists posing as headhunters scrape the Net to find your name or resume. Legitimate headhunters find good candidates through trusted contacts. Meet those trusted contacts and establish your credibility with them. Who are they? They’re the respected workers in your field. They’re not necessarily famous, but they’re the experts others turn to for advice, guidance and introductions. You’ll find them on industry discussion forums, at professional events, and on the best blogs. Get to know them, and make sure they know you.

3. Be helpful. Most calls from headhunters will not yield job opportunities. The headhunter is usually looking for a referral to the right candidate. Be helpful. Introduce the headhunter to good workers in your field. But, do it only after you follow the two instructions above. Never introduce a headhunter you don’t know to associates you respect. If you think you’re the right candidate, don’t pitch yourself. Instead, ask smart questions about the headhunter’s assignment. Map your skills to the details of the job only after you find out what all of these are. Remember: The headhunter is trying to do his job. Help him, and even if this job isn’t for you, he’ll call you again next time.

If you’re going to work with a headhunter, know who you’re dealing with, and know what you’re doing. Make the experience pay off.

Headhunters work on some of the tastiest jobs. So, how do they figure into your job search strategy? Have you ever been placed by a headhunter who had a positive effect on your career? Ever waste your time with a sleaze ball who called himself a headhunter, but wasn’t?

Let’s talk about headhunters. No holds barred. Useful tips especially welcome!


Cornell Presentation: How to work with headhunters, and without them

This is a special posting connected to the presentation:

  • Ask The Headhunter / How to Work with Headhunters, and without them
    Cornell University Johnson School of Management
    March 5, 2011, in Palisades, NY

(I posted a preview of the topic here: Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.)

I’ll add more content here after the event — but the main purpose is to answer questions we didn’t have time for, and to carry on the discussion.

Please feel free to post your questions and comments below — I’ll do my best to respond to them all. Thank you for joining me, and special thanks to Cornell’s Johnson School for the wonderful hospitality!

Quick access to resources I referred to:

How to Work with Headhunters

How Can I Change Careers?

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

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

Six Degrees: The science of a connected age by Duncan Watts


Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes

Next week I’m doing a presentation to a group of alumni from Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business, about how to work with headhunters. These are seasoned executives who have been running companies for 7-15 years, and who turn to their alma mater’s Career Management Center for an added edge. What they want to know is, how can they get a good headhunter’s attention? What’s the big secret? And, how can they speed up the process?

When I do such talks, I usually find my theme in a current controversy. This time, it surfaced in a BNET blog posting by Jessica Stillman: Secrets of Job Hunting in a Post-Job Board World.

Kudos to Stillman for even writing about “a post-job board world.” Her article is really about how to get past the job boards by getting the attention of real, live people, including headhunters. In referring to a list of “tips” from yet another blog, Stillman triggered afresh a controversy that I think has long bewildered job hunters at all levels: If you decide to forget the job boards, can you really find a job by developing real, live contacts?

I found the theme for my Cornell presentation by picking at some of the suggestions Stillman passes along. Let’s see where it gets us.

Be findable: But who do you want to find you?
In Stillman’s posting, the “seven things employers should tell job seekers about how to get considered” starts with some suggestions about using keywords to be “findable.” Let’s be careful here. If you want to be findable to headhunters, there are headhunters, then there are headhunters. How you set yourself up to be found depends on what kind of headhunter you’re trying to appeal to.

The majority of “headhunters” aren’t really headhunters. They’re dialing-for-dollars, and they are indeed looking for your keywords, because they understand little about the industries and companies they recruit for. They rely on buzzwords to “turn up” resumes that they blast out in bulk to their “clients.” To such headhunters, clients are any companies that are advertising jobs — and the “headhunters” throw resumes at them, hoping the spaghetti will stick to the wall and earn a fee. It’s a numbers game. When you feel a “headhunter” has wasted your time, it’s because the wrong one found you.

What’s really key?
Good headhunters aren’t looking for keywords. They are looking for key people, in places like discussion forums where the best and brightest are talking shop. Good headhunters look for substance, and for the gurus that others turn to for advice. They target those discussion leaders as potential candidates. It takes a lot more than keywords to get the attention of good headhunters, who are looking for complete sentences and proof of skills and reputation.

So, be careful how you make yourself findable. The keyword/buzzword route will waste a lot of your time, because it attracts flies. The ability to talk shop with your peers, and to develop a strong reputation, will get the long-term attention of good headhunters. Once they identify you, they will start to follow you around, because those headhunters realize that you’re not just a potential candidate. You will likely lead them to other good candidates.

Find good headhunters by going where they hang out.
These important distinctions between headhunters also suggest how you need to appeal to the ones you’re interested in. Although good headhunters use the Net in deliberate, thoughtful ways to identify movers and shakers in the community they recruit from, they don’t spend most of their time behind a pc, waiting for names to turn up in response to search strings and keywords. They don’t scour the stale databases of job boards for resumes. So, where else do they hang out?

They attend industry events. They circulate in real time in the real world. Are they going to find you out there, among the movers and shakers in your business, who hang out with like minds? Do you go to such events? Do you attend seminars and presentations? Do you take continuing education courses? Do you contribute your knowledge and expertise at such events, as a presenter or teacher? Do you have a real life in your industry? That’s where good headhunters are looking for you — in the real world.

Good headhunters don’t gather dead resumes.
The suggestion that it’s important to “post your resume” is troubling. Lots of the most talented people don’t even have resumes. Their resumes are represented by the chain of their contributions to their field, by the people they influence, and by the circle of friends they belong to. Their living resume is often found in the pages of the industry press, across discussion forums, and in the products they design, make, and sell. It’s also on the lips of other industry notables, who are quick to recommend experts they know and trust. That’s the living resume — it doesn’t have to be written, or on paper. It’s the resume that good headhunters are looking for.

If you are going to have a written resume, then it matters where you post it. If you have a blog where you teach your peers something useful, that’s a high-quality place to put your resume, because the blog proves the resume and brings it to life. If you participate actively on professional forums, where you are tested, critiqued, and judged by your peers, that’s good, too. That’s where good headhunters hang out, looking for living proof of talent. But slapping a written resume all over the job boards will just make you look desperate or too-easily available. That’s a dead resume, because there’s no proof connected to it. The spaghetti headhunters that pick your resume off one board or another will soon have you splattered all over kingdom come.

What kind of headhunter?
The dig about contingency headunters, in the list of tips that Stillman quotes, is a shallow one. Some of the best headhunters work on contingency. That is, they get paid only if they fill a position. Retained headhunters get paid whether they fill a position or not, and whether they find the candidate or whether the candidate is recommended by the hiring manager’s brother. Both kinds of headhunters can do an excellent job; they just operate under different models. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing the contingency folks; they fill some of the tastiest positions. Judge headhunters by their behavior, not by how they bill their fees. (For a comprehensive look at how headhunters operate, see How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

What is killing the job boards?
I agree with this in Stillman’s column: Some recruiters will keep using job boards, but job boards will also continue to commoditize people. Most job boards rent, trade, sell, and “scrape” resumes. There are quite a few legitimate niche job boards, like But the only honest general-purpose job board I know is, because it does just one thing: match people to real jobs.

Otherwise, the job board business has become so corrupt that its model no longer has anything to do with filling jobs. It sells stale data to wishful employers and desperate job hunters, and also “upsells” that data to companies that make money from it in other (sometimes questionable, sometimes illegal) ways. (What do you think is one of the leading channels of identity theft?) That’s why you find expired three-year-old jobs on services like TheLadders, and it’s why you get e-mails from spaghetti headhunters long after you thought you removed your resume from a job board. These job boards don’t care if you find a job, they just want you to keep coming back to look for one, and they will “curate” your resume forever, all over the Net.

Yes, some recruiters will keep using job boards, and some employers are looking to buy spaghetti. But the uproar from angry customers — both job seekers and employers — is what’s killing the job boards.

You don’t need to “sell” yourself to someone who trusts you.
Today, the biggest load of bullshit in the career industry is that getting a great job is all about selling yourself. This popular metaphor — that you are a product — leads to dangerously useless practices, like creating a “brand” and “making your resume your marketing piece” and having “an elevator pitch.” While a succinct outline of who you and what you’ve done can be useful, what really matters is demonstrating what you can do next, with whom, and for whom.

And you need to express that only to the tightknit circle of friends who do the work you want to do (whether they know you yet, or not). That’s a tall order — and it’s a whole lot harder than “selling.” You have to build a life and a cohort and a reputation over time. You must be one of the best in your business, whether at entry level or as an executive.

To a good headhunter, substance always matters more than sizzle. And to communicate your substance, you need more than a resume, or a bunch of keywords, or a good pitch. You need to be part of a circle of friends — people who do the work you want to do — that imbues you with a fine reputation. Far from selling anything, you have to earn your way in by making a substantial contribution. Headhunters will find you among people who know, trust and respect you. Not splattered on a wall for the world to pick at.

In the end, getting hired by a good company, or through a good headhunter, is about being able to demonstrate what you can do to bring success and profit to a company’s bottom line — not about how you advertise your availability. Even if you like to operate below the radar, good headhunters and good employers will find you, because people they trust put their own reputations on the line and recommended you. Not because you spread your keywords around somewhere.


Readers’ Comments: How to negotiate with a headhunter

In the January 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets a job offer through a headhunter, and asks how to negotiate for a higher salary:

I got an offer today! The headhunter called me with the offer, and I told him I’d think about it and get back with him. I’d like to ask for $5k more, but I’m not very good at negotiating—and I have no idea how to negotiate with a headhunter who stands between me and the employer. Any suggestions? 

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The key is to know how headhunters think. They want one thing: to close the deal. (While some headhunters may pressure you to accept an offer without negotiation, a good headhunter will go to bat for you, if he thinks that what you want is reasonable.)

What headhunters don’t like is a wishy-washy candidate. They want to know exactly what you want. They may not always be able to get it for you, but if it’s reasonable, they will try to satisfy you (and the employer) to get the deal closed. Too often, a candidate who is facing an offer will balk, but not because the money isn’t right. He may hesitate because he’s not sure he wants the job itself. You must be honest with yourself, and with the headhunter, on this point. If the job itself is the problem, discuss this candidly with the headhunter. Otherwise, you could send him off spinning his wheels trying to get you more money, when you’re not even sure you want the job.

This is a key thing to understand about headhunters. A good one will work hard for you, but only if he’s sure you’re ready to take the job. Otherwise, why bother? If the problem is the job, then negotiate a different position. Give the headhunter clear directions.

If you’re sure you want the job, then make things black and white for this headhunter, and he’ll respect you for it. So here’s what to do:

How to Say It
Tell the headhunter: “This is an offer that I’d have to take some time to think about. I’m not sure I’d accept it. If it were $5k more, however, I’d accept it on the spot. In fact, if you can get the offer raised by $5k, you don’t even need to call me back. You can tell them I accept. So, tell me, what do you think?”

When you arm a headhunter with a firm number that will guarantee your acceptance, you give him great power to close the deal. Make that commitment to him, and you’ll quickly find out whether the extra bucks are possible. Then it’s all up to the headhunter—and his client.

Negotiating with headhunters — and getting them to negotiate for you — is different from negotiating directly with an employer. This edition of the newsletter is actually an edited excerpt from How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.

HTWWHs includes lots of additional insights and tips to give you an insider’s edge on how to negotiate successfully with a good headhunter:

  • Split the 2 parts of an offer to your advantage: The job and the terms
  • How to negotiate the terms and the job itself
  • Additional How to Say It tips to give you an added edge
  • The truth about whether the headhunter’s fee affects your offer
  • How to ask for higher compensation that costs the employer less
  • The one thing that can kill salary negotiations and your credibility
  • The headhunter’s secret: What to put on the table to win big

And that’s just one section (7 pages) of the 130-page How to Work with Headhunters…, including 62 myth-busting answers for fearless job hunters. Why stop here?

Are headhunters difficult to negotiate with? Yah, sometimes they are. But, if you find them difficult, odds are good you’re not dealing with a good headhunter. The hacks want a quick buck. The best headhunters want a valuable addition to their network. They will hear you out, and try to help you if they can. Because one happy placement is worth many good referrals in the future… which is what good headhunters really want.

What’s your experience been with headhunters? Not just the worst, but the best? Please share your cautions, advice and stories. Most important — what can others do to negotiate the best deal through a headhunter?


Readers’ Forum: Headhunters & Job Hunters: The insanity continues

In the January 11, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two readers raise related questions about headhunters and job hunters. (My short version of their questions is, Are these people insane?) But take a look for yourself:

Reader #1 asks:

I found the article, How to Judge Headhunters, to be one of the best I’ve seen a some time. I’m hoping that you might be able to comment on what I see as a disturbing trend.

Several times each week, I receive e-mails from recruiters that would suggest we’ve been “best friends” for years. The e-mail usually has an outline of a job, and a request that I contact them at my earliest convenience. But once I place the phone call, the recruiter is completely in the dark as to who I am.

Recently, a recruiter asked that I send him my resume, and said he would get back in touch with me if he feels I would be a good fit. This was after he sent an e-mail stating that he had read my resume and thought I might be a good fit for the position he’s recruiting for.

Now, I’m not so thin-skinned that I lose sleep over the idea that I’m “not qualified,” but I’m curious why these folks would contact me in the first place. The recruiters I’m talking about work for major, national recruiting firms. Please share your comments about this.

Reader #2, headhunter Clare Powell, is with Powell Search Associates and specializes in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Clare welcomes resumes from folks in those industries, but not from out of left field:

Every day, I know two things are going to happen. First, at least a dozen talented people will send us their resume without first making sure we support clients in their industry. These are mid- to senior-level people! A quick visit to our website would tell them more. So, either they are too lazy to do the homework, or they think their packaged-goods background, for instance, is readily transferable to an R&D job at Pfizer. I’ve asked a few of them why they contacted us, and they just say they didn’t bother to check out our firm. Crazy stuff.

I think candidates should do their own homework and be more careful with their personal information. Who knows what a disreputable firm will do with that kind of open invitation?

In the end, like you, I want these guys to land great jobs, but they do themselves a terrible disservice by not following the simple steps you talk about all the time, and that even common sense would dictate. I wish your newsletter were more widely publicized. It would surely help me! I’m happy to put a link to your website on our website… My motive is to help people get smarter faster!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The smart job hunter in the first story above reveals the unsavory, mindless “recruiters” who issue puzzling invitations and make contradictory phone calls to him. And he wonders why they do it. It doesn’t matter why, any more than it matters why someone in “Nigeria” wants to share $38 million with you if you’ll give him your bank account information.

The headhunter in the second story reveals the mindless pitter-patter of lemming-like job hunters who have no idea where they’re going, whom they’re talking to, or what they really want. They say they are looking for a job, but what these folks are actually looking for is a gofer that might find them a job in the bushes. (Otherwise, why would they contact a headhunter who specializes in a different field?) Clare Powell begs for relief from the onslaught of thoughtless resumes and mindless requests.

The job market is in the condition it’s in because the economy has still not recovered. But there are companies that have jobs to offer, and talented people who can do them. I think there are two problems:

First, people need to start looking for the jobs they want, and stop desperately asking someone else to do it for them.

Second, people need to stop wasting their time on questionable solicitations from shady, inept “recruiters” who prey on desperation.

Clare Powell is a good headhunter, but she isn’t the solution to your career problem. Nor am I. Nor is the fraud who e-mailed you saying your resume looks so good, and would you please immediately send him your resume? The insanity among fast-buck recruiters and desperate job hunters continues. Perhaps they all belong together, in some sort of Wishful Thinking Database, out of the way of the rest of us—so we can work diligently at finding and filling the few real jobs out there.

I know it’s tough out there. But please don’t act crazy. Use your noggin.

Has everyone gone insane? Are people spending all their time on “meta job hunting,” devoting their energies to finding someone who might find them a job? What are you doing to find a job? Are you going insane along with everyone else, or are you using your noggin?


Readers’ Forum: The dogs of recruiting

In the November 16, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks why she’s being chased by wild dogs after she posted her resume online:

Dogs of RecruitingI’ve suddenly been contacted by four different “recruiters” from different recruiting companies. On Thursday, one recruiter cold called me and said he saw my resume on Monster, asked me a few background questions, and then the next morning informed me he submitted me for the job we discussed to his client. On Monday, another recruiter e-mailed me, then she called to further discuss the position, and it was exactly the same job as the one I had talked to the other recruiter about. I provided her the information, and she e-mailed to say she had submitted me to her client.

I started reading a lot about this practice, and how being submitted for the same job by two different recruiters means your resume will go into the trash bin. So I feel totally screwed and wonder what I did wrong, since these folks called me. Should I trust cold-calling recruiters? What are my ethical obligations in dealing with these people? Do I have an obligation to tell the second recruiter I had already been submitted for the job by a different recruiter? Should I even be wasting my time with these folks at all? I obviously have very little experience dealing with them, and I don’t know what the “rules” are, if any. Can you shed some light on this phenomenon?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

“So I feel totally screwed and wonder what I did wrong, since these folks called me.”

No, you called them. You did that when you posted your resume on Monster. That opens you up to the dogs of recruiting. And you’re right—when multiple recruiters submit you for the same job, employers often trash it, because they don’t want to get into a fee fight between recruiters who will claim the placement.

Don’t take this personally, because I don’t know you, but, Gimme a break. You post your resume information online for anyone and everyone to snap at, and you think only intelligent, serious, thoughtful, legitimate employers are gonna respond to you? Your resume is a piece of raw meat tossed into a street full of starving dogs who don’t even care that you’re human. All that matters is the chance to earn another fee.

Putting your resume online is what starts this whole process. If you want to know about recruiters, it’s all here: How to Work with Headhunters. (I’m asked the questions you posed so often that I finally put everything I know about this subject into a book. It covers almost everything you ask about, including how some of these characters online operate, and how to know the good ones from the lousy ones.) If you’re going to work with headhunters, you need to formulate your own rules.

Now let’s address some of the specific issues you’ve listed.

  • Find good headhunters to work with, before the lousy ones find you.
  • If you don’t sign a contract with them (like they sign with their client companies), then you have no obligations to them.
  • Agree to work only with a recruiter who shows you proof that he has a contract with a given employer.
  • You don’t need recruiters or headhunters to find a job. Talk to companies directly.

Most people who call themselves “recruiters” or “headhunters” are little more than wild dogs chasing the same candidates and jobs. Avoid the feeding frenzy. The odds you’ll get bitten severely are pretty high.

Are all those “online recruiters” for real? Why do several of them call you about the same job? What obligations do you have to them? (Do they have any to you?) Can you get screwed working with more than one of them? Can you avoid the dogs of recruiting?