Reference Abuse: Don’t do it

In the November 8, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a seasoned professional takes employers and recruiters to task for demanding detailed references too soon:

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately: Recruiters are asking for detailed references before I even meet them or decide I’m interested in the job. They want multiple references before they’ll even present me for a face-to-face interview with their client. I don’t get it.

Mind you, my references are consistently stellar, so I’m not afraid of giving them out for a serious inquiry. But if I’m still collecting information on the job myself, haven’t met the hiring manager, and haven’t even had any serious discussions about terms and conditions, I don’t want my references to be bothered. When I direct them to LinkedIn, where I have strong references from former managers and peers, they aren’t pleased. They want to speak with someone in person.

What gives with this new fetish of checking references so early in the conversation, and how can I get seen by the hiring manager without having multiple agencies pestering my past managers “just in case” I might be a good fit on a particular job? I have always been taught that one’s references must be protected. Your thoughts?

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

In some cases, headhunters and employers are just being more cautious — they can’t afford to make mistakes. They want to check candidates out thoroughly. But I think they’re making a mistake by asking for references rather than peripherally reviewing a potential candidate before initiating contact.

Whew — what does that euphemism mean? “Peripherally reviewing” someone? For a recruiter or headhunter, it means doing your homework by talking to people who know the candidate, to make sure you’re approaching someone who might truly be right for the job. Otherwise, don’t call the person. So my point is, the headhunter should check you out before even contacting you. That’s his job.

In other cases, when they ask for your references so early they’re fishing for new contacts — potential sources of additional candidates, or actual candidates themselves. (Ever see your references get recruited to fill a position you were being considered for? It happens.) You become a source, under the guise of being a potential candidate.

You have to use your judgment. A lot depends on how credible you feel the headhunter or employer is. I agree that it’s not prudent to let just anyone contact your references. Your references will get sick of the calls. Why put your references at risk? And that’s what I’d say to those who request the references. “Once you put some skin in the game, I will, too.” (See Take Care of Your References.)

Peripheral Review: The test of a headhunter

But lets explore further my point about peripheral review. This is something that inept employers and headhunters ignore: The very fact that a recruiter has contacted you suggests they have done their homework on you. They have good reasons to recruit you. That is, they have already checked your references — that’s what led them to you. Or — maybe not. Maybe they’re just fishing and they got your name out of a database. What then?

Well, then you’re wasting your time, because those recruiters aren’t doing their jobs. They want you to do their work for them. They want you to provide references that prove you’re worth recruiting. I think you see my point.

When an employer has a strong, well-founded interest in a candidate, they’re almost always flexible and respectful. They’ll work with you, and they will be sensitive to issues like this. They won’t be so insistent, because they don’t want to turn you off. They want to meet you.

If you don’t know the headhunter, and if you have never had contact with the employer — or they contacted you first — then there’s no reason to comply with unreasonable requests. Everyone has to ante up, including the recruiter and employer.

How do you get around this obstacle so you can talk directly to the hiring manager? You might not be able to. When a job opportunity comes to you, you relinquish significant control. But you can gain control by taking a firm stand. If this sounds overly aggressive, remember that no opportunity is real unless you are free to examine and judge it first. Be polite, but be firm. Try this:

How to Say It

(Sorry! This How to Say It tip is available only in the newsletter. Subscribe now! It’s FREE. Don’t miss next week’s extra content!)

Or, try this:

How to Say It

“Tell you what. You’re recruiting me. If you can provide me with the names of two people who endorsed and recommended me — That’s why you’re calling me, right? — then I’ll give you two more very good references. But if you don’t really know why you’re calling me, why would I give you more names?”

A good headhunter will defer to a candidate he’s serious about recruiting. The rest will hang up because you busted them. The best they can do is try to make you feel you must give up the goods if you want that good opportunity… it’s a classic sales ploy. Don’t let your references be abused.

(How can you distinguish a good headhunter from a lousy one? See The truth about headhunters.)

Just because a headhunter or employer asks for references doesn’t mean it’s time to hand them over. How do you use your references properly, and protect them from abuse?

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The employer that rejected me made a mistake!

In the October 25, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job candidate explains that an employer made a mistake when it hired another applicant. He wants advice about how to help the employer rectify the mistake. Don’t laugh — it’s easy to get caught in this trap of frustration.

I recently made a lateral move to a large firm in a different state. Here is the problem: I was originally interviewed for the Senior Vice President (SVP) job, but the executive recruiter thought I didn’t have the right experience. So she recommended me for the next level down, the Vice President (VP) job. The client offered me a good package for the VP job, and I took it.

The same recruiter then brought in several other candidates for the SVP position. They gave the job to a person from a big firm in a different industry, who has less experience than me (three years versus my seven years), and who was unemployed for one year. Overall, he’s far less qualified than me, in my opinion. But now I’m reporting to him.

What do I do? I’m tempted to call the recruiter who brought me to the client and tell her that she screwed up. I also want to tell the head of HR (who interviewed me) about this situation, but I’m not sure what to say. That is, how can they rectify this situation? Any thoughts?

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

Wow — time out! You can’t “rectify” a company’s hiring decision that you disagree with, because it’s their choice. I know you’re frustrated, but please step back and look at this calmly.

If you were to approach the company or the recruiter about this, you would come across as presumptuous and arrogant. You have no idea what their reasons are for the choice they made, or what criteria they used to select an SVP. You are not the decision maker, nor do you have any place in the decision process. Please be very careful. It’s easy to feel that someone else has made a huge mistake — but it’s not your place to suggest that they rectify it.

I think the reason you don’t know what to say about this is that you realize it would be inappropriate to say anything.

This is actually a common problem among job hunters at all levels. Some of the smartest people I’ve known get a twitch when they feel usurped by a competitor. The twitch is unjustified, but they make themselves suffer deeply, convinced they’re right and that the employer is wrong — even when they lack information about why a decision was made. They really believe they must — and can — “rectify” the employer’s “mistake.” It’s painful to be rejected, but I think the best cure is to accept the truth behind a profound quote from author Vladimir Nabokov: “You are not I; therein lies the irreparable calamity.”

Though we should learn what we can from rejection, in the end it’s often about the differences between people, not about errors or failures. No offense intended, but the decision you need to make is whether you want to work for this company and whether you will be content with the VP job.

Please think about this carefully. If your behavior betrays your frustration, it could contribute to failure on the job. You accepted the VP job, and I assume you had good reasons for doing so. Part of your job is to work closely with your new boss, the SVP. If you harbor serious reservations about this, you should consider resigning. Otherwise, make a commitment to having a good working relationship, because your employer is not about to give you the SVP’s job.

Ah, the pain of rejection! And the pain of getting over it. Have you ever gotten bogged down in resentment over a lost job opportunity? How’d you get past it?

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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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Hey, Babe, don’t I know you from somewhere?

In the October 4, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks whether social networks like LinkedIn are a great way to get a foot in the door when looking for a new employer.

I am currently looking at new job opportunities. Your suggestions are to network in order to find out more information about a company and to get to know the right people before you even think of trying to get a job there.

What is your view on making contact with people you don’t know at all via social networking sites, such as LinkedIn? I have joined some of the professional communities and this seems like a great way to make initial contact with people in a particular industry, but is this just a fake idea or is there actually some merit in this method?

My Advice

Getting to know a company through people connected to it is the best way to land the right job, and it’s the best way to avoid mistakes. But social networking sites portray this inaccurately. They show you a cool database of names and information, and they suggest that the links between people’s records constitute “your contacts.”

What’s a link?

That’s absurdly reductionist. It’s like suggesting that because your name sits alphabetically beside another, you share a “contact.” In the database, perhaps you do. But in real life, the fact that we both do business with a certain auto mechanic, or that the mechanic attended the same college we did, doesn’t hold any value. The only thing we share is a coincidence. To make that serendipitous “link” useful, one or both of us must invest a lot to create the shared experiences that lead to a relationship and friendship.

What are you going to do for me?

LinkedIn — like any other online social network — is just another social environment. Imagine walking up to someone at a friend’s party — someone you’ve never met — and asking them to recommend you to the president of their company. Other than the fact that you and the person “share a link” via the friend whose party you’re attending, there are no shared experiences between you. There’s no justification in asking for such a favor, and the person has no reason to trust your intentions. Even if the referral were made, the president of the company would not be able to obtain any useful judgments about you from the mutual contact, because there’s no basis for such judgments. There are no shared experiences. Just that serendipitous meeting.

That’s why you feel so awkward asking a favor of someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you.

The LinkedIn party is not much different. In both cases, the only way to make a real contact is to start a conversation on a legitimate topic you’re genuinely interested in. Use the normal rules of conversation. Invest in a real relationship that takes time to develop. But don’t expect someone who is “linked” to you in a database to feel any obligation to talk to you.

I found you in the phonebook

People construe the existence of a social network as permission to exploit nodes (people) when there’s no substance in the links between them. That is, they think that belonging to a huge list of people means those people should bend over backwards to help them. When help doesn’t come, LinkedIn turns a dumb expectation into a dumber process: Make more links until you get what you need!

LinkedIn is little more than a big phonebook. No one’s going to take your call just because you looked them up. It takes more. (See also: LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring.)

Take a hike

To answer your question, I think a social network is just one more list of people. So’s a phonebook, and I always hang up when someone calls me from a list. I also instantly delete e-mails that say, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” That’s the new “Hey, Babe, don’t I know you from somewhere?” and it’s just as presumptuous — and just as offensive.

LinkedIn is a nice directory. Social networks are the new phonebooks. How you make new friends who care about you, however, hasn’t changed. You still have to hang out with them and share experiences that matter.

What do you think about social networks? How do you use them effectively? Hey, is this blog a social network? Have you met anyone on the blog who’s become a friend?

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Bankrupt & Unemployed: How to Say It

In the last post, Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?, we discussed how a reader who is applying for a job (and who is qualified) might overcome obstacles that come up when the employer does a background check. Problems like bankruptcy triggered by long-term unemployment — and a year-old DUI (driving while intoxicated) violation.

Knowing what to do is one thing. Facing the employer and knowing what to say — and being able to say it — is something else. In this edition, let’s discuss How to Say It.

There are two keys to convincing an employer to take a chance on you:

  1. Personal recommendations from credible people who know your character and your work ethic.
  2. A clear commitment — which the employer will never ask for, but which you must offer in order to get a job offer. To find out what that commitment should be, please watch the video.

What would you say to a hiring manager to get past such obstacles? And if you’re a manager, what would a candidate need to say and do to convince you to give him or her a chance?
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Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?

In the September 13, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks:

I have a challenge that I’m not sure I can overcome very easily in this job environment. I was forced to file bankruptcy due to long-term unemployment. I also received a DUI (“driving under the influence”) about a year ago. I’m afraid that, despite my qualifications, prospective employers may reject me after they do a background check. Any suggestions on how I can overcome this challenge?

My reply:

Here’s the video version of my advice, and below it is the printed version. (I don’t do videos from a script, so this is not a literal transcript.)

1. Avoid job hunting tools that can’t defend you.

Your resume cannot defend you when a manager sees a problem and wonders how it would affect his business. Nor can an online application form. Only someone who knows you can defend you and override objections by emphasizing how you’ll deliver benefits to an employer.

So the answer is clear: Invest most of your time getting someone who is credible and who respects you to contact the employer and recommend you. It’s not easy. But it’s the best tactic. A reference doesn’t have to be your former boss. It might be another manager from your old company who knows your work ethic, or even a customer or consultant. But it must be someone who will make the call and stick their neck out for you. (I know it might be painful to make such a request. But you’re in a painful situation, and like I said, you have to have the stomach for this.)

2. Help the employer focus on what matters most.

The employer is right to be worried. Any red flags pose a risk to his business. So it’s up to you to help the employer stop worrying. Be honest and candid about your bankruptcy and your DUI. But don’t dwell on them. Quickly focus the employer on your clear commitment to help him make his operation more successful. In other words, distract him from your problems in a way that engages him in what matters: his success. Show him that you’re worth taking a chance on.

(This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)… 

Just remember: The manager who hires you deserves this kind of effort from you, because he needs convincing. He won’t ask you to do it. You must volunteer.

The economy sucks, and losing a job opportunity because you’ve got problems in your personal or work history sucks even more. What if you’re qualified and have a solid work ethic? Should an employer reject you because you were forced to file bankruptcy due to unemployment? How about a DUI violation? Should it hamper getting hired? How would you handle this?

UPDATE: In part 2 of this pair of posts, learn How to Say It — and about the almost-magic commitment you can make that can move a manager from “No way!” to “I’m willing to take a chance on you!” Please check Bankrupt & Unemployed: How to Say It.

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How can I find out whether a job board is the real deal?

In the August 30, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks:

Have you ever heard of JobSearchSite Inc., dba NOW? It sounds good, but how do you check on them to see if they’re the real deal?

My reply:

In this edition, let’s try an experiment: Video. Hope you enjoy it.

There are so many job boards coming and going that it’s impossible to keep up — but I don’t even want to. While your competition is getting interviews and offers, you’d be spending your entire life trying to check these places out. Or you could pick four companies you’d love to work for and go research them instead, to make personal contacts who will give you the real low-down and help you get in the door.

Remember: There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. Choose carefully and approach doggedly.

I already know how the Ask The Headhunter community feels about job boards… but tell me, what’s your favorite alternative that produces results? (Are there any job boards you like?)

So… how’d this video experment come off? (Other than my novice production values!) Is video Q&A to your liking? Should we do more of these? Hit me with your critique — too long, too short, get a new shirt, stop the rapid eye movements (sorry, I had to use a few notes…), add a CNN backdrop… use hand puppets…?

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Are you over-qualified for a grunt job?

In the August 9, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter gets rejected for demonstrating initiative, and asks for a work-around:

You have urged us to convince the hiring manager we can bring value to a job. Believe it or not, this doesn’t seem to be appropriate in some circumstances, unfortunately.

I have had experiences with accounting and IT (information technology) hiring managers. Each had a detailed requirement of the role to be filled. When I focused on what I could bring to the table, the post-mortem in each case was, “She is overqualified.” They just wanted someone to tick off the boxes on the requirement and show proof of competence in those areas. Going beyond was automatic rejection.

Maybe certain roles demand a pedantic mind to succeed, and it’s not possible to present a good business case to such people when they are the hiring managers. What do you think?

Nick, do you have a work-around for this circumstance?

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!)

This is an excellent question. But I don’t think this is really about the job. I think it’s about the employer. I’ll take the liberty of re-phrasing it:

Do I want to work for someone who wants me to be a grunt, and not add anything to the job?

If you do, then don’t offer anything more in the interview than the interviewer asks for. That is, check off the boxes and go along for the ride. The trick, of course, is figuring out whether the employer wants more or not. I’m not sure that’s possible without betraying higher intelligence and motivation.

But if you want a job where you’re contributing to the business, and if you want an employer that cares, then keep doing what you’ve been doing. Show what you can bring to the table. Employers that want to hire robots will fail the interview, just as this one did.

No offense intended — honest — but I think what you’re getting at is, How do we dumb ourselves down so we can get a job that doesn’t require our full participation?

Maybe you just answer the questions you’re asked, and say little more than that… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week,  subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Note to human resources managers: If your company wants grunts, please stop talking about “hiring talent.” You know who you are.

I know there are managers who don’t give a rat’s batootie how capable a job candidate is, beyond meeting the minimum requirements. There are also people who close their eyes and gobble down anything in the fridge, because they consider cooking a waste of time. Anything they can stuff in their face will do.

I don’t disparage anyone who just needs a job to pay the bills, and who will take anything they can get. But that’s not the audience I write for. I write for people who love to cook tasty meals and enjoy seeing big, gratified smiles on the people sitting around their table — like their boss and their co-workers. Because life’s too short for just plain “competent.”

Managers who reject job candidates capable of doing more than the job description aren’t managers. They’re grunts, too. When grunts run a business, talented workers eventually all leave. The customers and investors usually depart after that. I think getting rejected by grunt managers is a good thing. But if you want to work around such rejection, just sit quietly and chow down on the mush grunts serve you.

I’m sure people have strong opinions about this. I’d love to hear them! Even routine jobs benefit from smart, motivated workers who want to help a business be more successful. But I could be wrong. Are employers smart to hire grunts?

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LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring

I don’t know who I feel more sorry for: Job hunters or employers. LinkedIn has introduced a new button that lets you instantly apply for a job — no resume, no cover letter, no effort. It’s instantly dumber for everyone concerned. (From Mashable: LinkedIn Launches Button That Lets You Apply for Jobs.)

The last thing job hunters and employers need is a quicker, easier way to apply for a job. What we need is more prudent, thoughtful, and careful job hunting and hiring — which means improving the process, not speeding it up. LinkedIn’s new button puts the emphasis on getting an application in quickly — while LinkedIn’s founding philosophy is that making good contacts and cultivating relationships requires effort and patience.

It’s dumb ideas like this that instantly put you into even more mindless competition with thousands, if not millions, of other instant applicants. This is why employers find themselves sorting through more and more drek applications. A bigger, fatter pipeline with a button that accelerates the flow of crud doesn’t improve recruiting and hiring. It instantly devalues LinkedIn’s equity in the personal networks it has worked so hard to facilitate.

LinkedIn’s New Career

LinkedIn, the bastion of online “social networking” and “relationships,” seemed to have taken a smart turn when it announced its “careers” initiative a few months ago. The company would offer tools to help employers and job hunters find one another, using LinkedIn as their path to personal contacts that yield the best working relationships.

The social networking company started building a new career service by hiring some top-notch business development folks from top-tier companies — implying it was going to build on the success of the networking tools it has become so famous for. Then LinkedIn drove off the road, and picked up churn-’em and burn-’em sales people from the big job boards and — Presto! — LinkedIn is now dumbing down hiring and job searching, just like Monster and HotJobs and CareerBuilder.

What’s the brilliant new idea these sales nomads from the job boards dragged in the door? Now you can apply for a job with a button.

A Button for The Drek Pipe

Gimme a break. We’ve seen it before: A hot company does an IPO and suddenly loses sight of its essence and turns the reins over to a management team with a solid history of selling commodities faster and harder. Where LinkedIn once preached use your contacts and your brain, now it’s selling volume and instant.

The highly-motivated new hires that LinkedIn originally brought in to launch the careers initiative — we’re talking cream-of-the-crop, seasoned relationship-builders from some of today’s leading companies — were given marching orders to extend LinkedIn’s dominance in social networking into the career sphere. That’s what lured them to LinkedIn. And it all sounded great: a natural extension of one of the most valued brands on the Web.

But in short order, LinkedIn went from selling the value of networking and personal relationships to dialing for dollars and pulling a Ladders-type about-face. (Remember TheLadders’ “exclusive” services for “executives only?” What a promising concept! Today TheLadders is just another job board selling database access for $15/month to any sucker who’s inbetween HotJobs and Monster.)

Like a lot of entrepreneurs with a great idea, Reed Hoffman implemented his idea as a database. Like a lot of great concepts supported by databases, Hoffman’s great idea became the database — with the result that LinkedIn’s database is now the product. It’s far easier to expand a database and to sell access to it, than it is to think up new ways to make personal relationships generate profits.

It seems LinkedIn has abandoned the concept that made it so successful.

Selling The Database

The impressive business development and relationship-building experts the company hired last year found that their long-range objectives had suddenly morphed into boiler-room-style monthly quotas. They were told to hit the phones and start burning through call lists. Selling the commodity and closing quick deals became more important than developing relationships that would lead to long-term business. The word on the street is that LinkedIn’s primo new hires, who believed in the mission, found themselves cast aside.

Their replacements, a second-string crew of telemarketers (reportedly including some from the likes of Monster.com), were closing deals with employers — but hardly relationship-building deals. Word got out that companies would sign up to search the database to make one hire, then bolt. The telemarketers weren’t selling a relationship with LinkedIn. They were hawking short-term access to a database, slapping the high-quality LinkedIn brand on Monster.com-level services.

It looks like the promising links between career development and thoughtful networking via LinkedIn snapped.

The Button: Impulse Job Hunting

I held off on commenting on what I’ve seen, hoping that LinkedIn was just straying momentarily from its mission to link all people and all companies into an incredibly facile network based on knowledge and solid relationships. I hoped LinkedIn would get back to the knitting. I visited Linkedin.com’s About section, hoping to find LinkedIn’s mission statement, or at least a definition of what the company’s objectives are; something that would indicate the company could find its way back. To my surprise, LinkedIn has no statement of purpose, or even a definition of what the company does. Not unlike TheLadders, LinkedIn defines itself by its database and with statistics about all its members. There’s not a word about the value of relationships and connections. It’s all about the database — the path to job board perdition.

Then I saw the announcement in the Mashable article: Just push the LinkedIn button. Says Mashable:

“The button is much like the Twitter tweet button or the Facebook Like button… The button essentially lets you submit your LinkedIn profile as your resume — no cover letter necessary.”

How much dumber can the career industry get? Job boards have turned HR departments into swill pots of incoming drek from job hunters who have learned to play the numbers and apply for every job they can find, whether it’s a fit for them or not. There are more inappropriate candidates in HR’s inbox than ever — and now LinkedIn makes applying for a job no more thoughtful than liking a website.

LinkedIn’s great accomplishment is to make job hunting an “impulse buy.” A drive-by app. Dumber than dumb. Could the database whizzes at LinkedIn already be busy building that mobile app? Drive by a company, submit an application via your smartphone! See a product ad or an article about a company? Scan the code and Bam! your application is in! It could be a great place to work! Don’t hesitate!

Ever wonder why employers never call you back or return your calls after you go on a job interviews? This is why. Expect more of it.

Just Another Job Board: Wishful thinking for dummies

On the comments section of the aforementioned Mashable article, reader Mike Young says:

“Will apply for all of them ;-)”

Another says:

“Awesome! Now all we need is an “Apply All” button so we can make the job apps fly.”

Mike Young sounds like he’s kidding. But LinkedIn isn’t. LinkedIn just made it easier for Mike to act dumb (if he chooses), and easier for employers to be dumber. LinkedIn could post its mission statement as one simple sentence: Wishful thinking for dummies.

Good jobs come from great personal contacts and from the hard work of building solid relationships. (If Reid Hoffman is reading this, Remember why you started LinkedIn? Do we need another job board?) There’s an astonishing amount of talent on the street today, due to our uncertain economy. Rather than recruit intelligently, employers waste untold overhead dollars “processing” millions of inappropriate incoming applications from thoughtless job hunters who believe the more jobs they apply to, the better.

Now LinkedIn has created a button to make it even easier to apply for any job that comes along. (What’s the harm, eh? The more, the better! HR departments will love it!)

Dumber Living Through Databases

George Carlin had a great line: Suppose you could have everything in the world? Where would you put it?

Today, every employer has every job hunter’s information, and every job hunter has every job listing on the planet — right there, online. And none of them know where to put it.

LinkedIn was a great idea. It could be fostering a whole new era of job hunting and hiring, by showing people how to cultivate relationships and parlay them into opportunities to work together. But rather than raise the bar, LinkedIn’s career team is taking a reductionist approach. Rather than delivering the hope of good relationships by teaching people how to behave smarter, LinkedIn is selling a database.

Rather than create new career services based on the company’s trademark networking and relationship-building, LinkedIn has allowed its brand to be commandeered by the same people who brought you “better living through job boards.” Having turned Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and HotJobs into useless data dumps, they’ve glommed onto LinkedIn as a Great Brand ripe to be ransacked. But the brand can’t cover up the same-old dumb business model that cheats employers of their time and money, and job hunters of good job prospects.

Get Back to Work

LinkedIn is still a good idea, but if you want to use it to find a job, you’re better off using it the way it was originally intended. You have to invest your time to develop relationships that LinkedIn merely helps you start. You can’t send LinkedIn, like a dog with a note in its mouth, to apply for a job for you.

Don’t be a dummy. Don’t get suckered into another job-board-style “career service” that will do the work for you. No one can do this for you.

Check out Jason Alba’s LinkedIn For Job Seekers. Alba teaches you how to exploit the LinkedIn database by using your brain to develop and cultivate healthy relationships by doing a lot of hard work.

If you push the button, your naked LinkedIn profile instantly arrives — and sits — in some personnel jockey’s inbox while the job hunter who carefully cultivated a personal contact is already talking to the hiring manager. And you just look dumb and dumber by the minute.

So does LinkedIn.

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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!

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