Advice for the long-term unemployed

In the May 23, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how “starting a business” can be the path from long-term unemployment to a new job.

Do you have any advice for the long-term unemployed? Since I’m not getting anywhere by job hunting, I’m considering starting a business, if only to keep myself busy! Then I remembered: You wrote somewhere that, in this economy, starting a business might be the best way to get hired. This sounds like a mental puzzle. Can you explain?

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!)

You say this sounds like a mental puzzle, but it really isn’t. You’ve been brainwashed to believe that your objective is to find a job. It’s not. Your objective is to make money and to earn a living. Shift your focus, and you’ll save yourself a lot of agony…

What does it take to start a business? You need a concept, a business plan, the right talent, and evidence that it will work. Ask any venture capitalist: That’s what she looks for before investing.

…To get a business started, you need to demonstrate that it will produce profit. Otherwise, who will give you money? Not investors and not customers. (Whether they realize it or not, this is why employers don’t give out job offers, either. They don’t see the profit.) So, you must bust your buns to produce a sound plan. That’s really what this is all about.

…In the process of producing a plan to start a business, you’ll show how you’d “do the job.” In courting investors and prospective customers, you’ll have proved your concept and yourself. You will have gone a hundred miles beyond the typical job candidate, who sits and answers canned questions with clever answers culled from some book that lists thousands of them.

What’s this got to do with ending long-term unemployment, and getting a job?

The plan is the job. When you deliver your business plan to a savvy prospective customer, to a potential business partner, to an an investor, to a supplier, or even to a competitor, you will find that some of these folks will want to hire you to work for them.

This is how I once landed a job. I shared my plans to start a business with the president of a company that would have been my competitor. (Don’t be surprised—such discussions happen all the time. Smart executives are always glad to meet with up-and-comers. It’s their way of defending their turf.) When he saw how good my plan was, he realized I would be serious competition. Since I’d “figured out the business,” that made me worth hiring. There was no job interview, just the discussion of my business plan. I planned this from the start, but the company president never figured that out. I made a lot of money for that guy—and for myself.

(…Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get the entire “Answer” and commentary in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

(Don’t wrinkle your nose or shake your head, just because this suggestion is foreign to your notions of what job hunting is. Remember? They’re not giving out jobs. So, why worry whether this is “proper job hunting?”)

People wind up long-term unemployed in this economy for many reasons. One step out of this quandary is realizing that you must be able to show how you’ll make money and profit — so, get to work starting a business. Formulate a plan — it can be a very simple one — and shop it around. Do you really think a resume would be more impressive?

Tired of being unemployed? Hire yourself. Or threaten to. A competitor might hire you first. Can a business plan really get you hired?

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Your Internet Leavings: Do you leave a mess?

In the May 17, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks whether what we post on the Net can hurt us.

Now that I’m job hunting, I’m taking stock of things I’ve posted around the Net. I wonder if my online writing could hurt my chances of getting hired. I suppose a diligent background check could turn up things I’ve written that could be misread. I also see that certain companies have policies prohibiting their employees from publishing blogs or anything that might reflect poorly on the company. Are we supposed to keep our mouths shut and stop posting online because “Big Brother” might find it? Is it best to use a screen name and to avoid identifying myself?

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 Net is a great way to hang out with people — there are some great discussion forums to participate in and blogs where you can comment. Done right, it’s a good way to make valuable new contacts, and a way to build a reputation.

I believe the main reason a person’s postings on the Net can create problems is anonymity. If we think we’re anonymous, we’re more likely to post stupidly. How can you seem stupid if you’re anonymous? It’s not difficult, for someone whose job is to investigate you, to map your silly screen name to a similar e-mail address, Twitter account or Facebook page, and through your online haunts, and to track it back to you.

So, don’t be anonymous. Use your real name, or don’t post. Clearly identifying ourselves helps keep us honest — and undoubtedly helps decrease the litter of Internet leavings (and the load of nonsense) on the Net.

I try to practice this not only when I post, but when I judge a posting. If a real name doesn’t accompany a posting, I give it less credence. I want to know who is behind the words. I want to know they’ve put some skin in their statements…

(…Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get the entire “Answer” and commentary in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

…In a time when intellectual property (IP) is the real asset, why do people (and companies) want to suppress the identities of those who create that IP?

There will always be dopes who make themselves (and their employers) look bad online. But the potential to build a good, solid reputation across the Net starts with accountability. Anyone who doesn’t believe they leave a persistent image of themselves online has a lot to learn — the hard way. Those who “get it” can prosper because the Net is a phenomenal amplifier of good IP.

I’ll put this more clearly: A consistent, responsible body of useful postings on the Net identified by your real name can gain you the kind of notice that leads to good job opportunities. (Please see this old gem of an article by Susan Raskin: Mining Candidates: How top recruiters really use the Net to fill jobs.)…

…Your privacy is of course valuable. That may be why you decide to use a pseudonym. But, if you have something worth saying, and if you are thoughtful and circumspect, then I suggest you put your real name on your writings. It’s the rare individual who can be proud of the trail he or she leaves. While that trail might attract nuisances, it also attracts opportunities.

You drop stuff all over the Net every time you post a comment on a blog or social networking site. Are your leavings making you look bad? Or, do you drop gold nuggets that suggest you’re a golden goose? (Okay, enough of that metaphor.) How do you account for yourself online?

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TheLadders: How the scam works

“The ladders is a scam, plain and simple. A class action lawsuit sounds like a good idea.”
— TheLadders (former) subscriber Robin Lynn

“I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”
— Employer Claire Peat, not a customer

TheLadders continues to discredit itself while suffering renewed attacks from its own paying subscribers, and now also from employers, who claim TheLadders is a scam. This article reports how job hunters and employers believe the scam works.

Recent disclosures reveal that TheLadders’s claims of exclusivity and “Only $100k+” jobs and candidates are untrue, and that it not only fails to deliver what it charges for, but that TheLadders interferes with the business of companies that are not even its customers.


UPDATE March 19, 2014Angry, frustrated customers of TheLadders who say they were scammed finally get their day in court. Federal Court OK’s Suit Against TheLadders: Breach of contract & deceptive practices

UPDATE March 12, 2013
A consumer protection class action suit has been filed against TheLadders. If you believe you’ve been scammed by TheLadders, you can join the suit by contacting the law firm that filed the complaint. More here: TheLadders sued for multiple scams in U.S. District Court class action


Among the key accusations is that TheLadders takes job listings from employers’ own websites without authorization, even after being told to stop, and that TheLadders misrepresents the salaries on those jobs so that it can beef up its questionable database of “50,000, high-level 100k+ executive positions.”

TheLadders CEO, Marc Cenedella, has admitted that 50% or more of those “$100k+” jobs are “scraped” from other online databases, over which TheLadders has no authority or quality control. At best, TheLadders may thus have no more than around 25,000 verified job listings that employers have actually posted in its database.

In the meantime, Cenedella also claims TheLadders has 4.5 million subscribers, earning “$100k+”, competing for those 25,000 “$100k+” jobs. (You do the math.)

Finally, employers have revealed that TheLadders costs them money, time and sometimes their reputations, when Ladders subscribers unwittingly apply for jobs that don’t exist or that employers never placed with TheLadders, or that don’t pay what TheLadders claims.

Frustrated employers and recruiters that don’t even do business with TheLadders say that angry Ladders subscribers blame them for misinformation delivered through TheLadders’ database, creating public relations problems.

In early 2011, TheLadders convened a public relations conference of job-board “consultants” and recruiting-industry “experts,” apparently in an effort defend itself against Internet-wide cries of fraud from its subscribers. Some of the attendees rushed home and posted glowing reviews of TheLadders’ business practices on their blogs.

The stark contrast between the intent of those bloggers — to laud TheLadders — and the resulting outrage of people who overwhelmed them with critical comments, created the embarrassing impression that the blog campaign was conducted by shills of TheLadders. While complaints from TheLadders’ job-hunting subscribers are common on the Net, the surprise on these blogs was the outpouring of complaints from employers.

The loud backfire of that Ladders public relations conference has led to new outcries of “fraud” and “scam” — this time with new details about how TheLadders does its business.

Frustrated Job Hunters

We’ve covered TheLadders extensively on this blog:

TheLadders: Going Down? | Rickety, Leads Nowhere | The Dope on TheLadders (230+ comments) | Marc Cenedella Sells E-mails: $30/month | TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud? (90+ comments) | TheLadders: A Long-Shot PowerBall Lottery Tucked Inside a Well-Oiled PR Machine (including audio from a Harvard presentation) | TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs! (40+ comments)

(There’s lots more if you type “TheLadders” in the search box.)

Most of these articles cite job hunters who say they’ve lost their money, wasted their time, and otherwise been screwed by misinformation and misleading advertising from TheLadders.

But the latest turn of the screw is being felt by employers, who now share experiences that suggest how TheLadders scam really works. (TheLadders’ business model is ultimately propped up by employers and recruiters that pay huge fees to access its database.)

The Scam

TheLadders promises to provide “only $100k+” jobs and candidates, but as demonstrated by Ladders employees, the company knowingly delivers jobs and job applicants that do not in fact earn or pay “only $100k+.” TheLadders claims to “hand-screen every job post,” but does not actually check those salaries with the employers that own the jobs. Read more

Interview Questions: You need just one

Dying to become relevant again, Monster.com sent out a promotional e-mail today, with a big, fat, blue title at the top:

There’s more to recruiting than finding the right candidates.

Well, no, there’s not. Finding the right candidates is 100% of what recruiting is and must be, or you wind up having to use 50 stupid interview questions to sort out all the wrong candidates.

The e-mail links to an article on the Monster.com website titled The 50 Toughest Interview Questions to Ask or to Answer. Proof positive that Monster.com is still totally irrelevant.

The Top Stupid Interview Questions

There used to be a book, published by Adams, titled 2,800 Top Interview Questions — And Answers! I always had a fantasy about that book. You walk into the interviewer’s office. You smile broadly and shake hands. “Glad to meet you! Let’s get down to business and have an interview!”

Then you slide that baby across the desk. “Here are all the questions… and the answers! Now you’ve got them, and I’ve got them, and we don’t need to waste our time on them. Now we can do something useful, and talk about the work you need to have done!”

Instead of teaching job candidates to talk shop with the hiring manager, career experts outdo themselves rehashing and regurgitating that list. And every book of those questions comes with answers — digested and marinated in expired creative juices, and about as satisfying as a bolus coughed up by the last person who interviewed with the manager.

fast-companyOne Good Interview Question

Back in 2003, the editors of FastCompany magazine put together a cover story titled, All The Right Moves: A guide for the perplexed exec. It was a collection of 21 Q&As for managers. Editor Bill Breen sent me a question and asked me to write a “memo” to managers with my advice. (Later, Breen told me that his boss, FastCompany founder and publisher Alan Webber, thought this one tip was the best of the 21 in the feature. Yah, I was tickled.)

I still think you can toss out every list of Top Stupid Interview Questions, whether it includes 50, 200, or 2,800, and just ask the one question I discuss in this FastCompany column, which is reprinted below. And Monster.com can go suck rocks.

16 . What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

Memo from: Nick Corcodilos, author, headhunter, and publisher of the Web site Ask the Headhunter.
To: Hiring managers everywhere
Re: Reinventing the job interview

The purpose of any interview is simple: to determine whether the candidate can do the job profitably. A smart interview is not an interrogation. It’s not a series of canned questions or a set of scripted tests that have been ginned up by HR. An interview should be a roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on meeting between you and the candidate, where all of the focus is on the job. Think of the interview as the candidate’s first day at work, with the only question that matters being this: “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”

How Can I Change Careers? picks up where that FastCompany column leaves off. And it’s not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview. The book explains why this “single best interview question ever” for hiring managers is also the single best question for candidates to bring up in the interview.

To successfully answer that, the candidate must first demonstrate an understanding of the company’s problems, challenges, and goals — not an easy thing to do. But since you desperately want to make a great hire and get back to work, why don’t you help the best candidate succeed? Two weeks before the interview, call up the candidate and say the following: “We want you to show us how you’re going to do this job. That’s going to take a lot of homework. I suggest that you read through these 10 pages on our Web site, review these publications from our marketing and investor-relations departments, and speak with these three people on my team. When you’re done, you should have something useful to tell us.” This will eliminate 9 out of 10 candidates. Only those who really want the job will put in the effort to research the job.

At the interview, you should expect (or hope) to hear the most compelling question that any candidate can ask: “Would you like me to show how your company will profit from hiring me?” The candidate should be prepared to do the job in the interview. That means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps that he or she would take to solve your company’s problems. The numbers don’t have to be right, but the candidate should be able to defend them intelligently. If the candidate demonstrates an understanding of your culture and competitors — and lays out a plan of attack for solving your problems and adding something to your bottom line — you have some awfully compelling reasons to make the hire. But if you trust only a candidate’s references, credentials, or test results, you still won’t know whether the candidate can do the job.

Recruiting is still — and always has been — about finding the best candidates. But the best candidate isn’t the one who can answer that question. The best candidate is the person who asks it.

More about this topic here.

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How to get noticed for a C-level job

In the May 3, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to get noticed among all the competition when competing for a C-level job, especially when he doesn’t have 100% of the “requirements” on his resume.

I believe I have a good, detailed resume. I am trying to make the jump from SVP/Division President to COO or CEO. How can I get noticed? I am also finding out that, in times like these, no one will talk with you unless you meet 100% of the requirements. Most of the times I meet 85%-95%, but I still get rejected. Any tips?

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!)

Think about this. Why would you apply for a C-level job by sending your resume to an X-level personnel jockey who’s working deep in the bowels of the company, far away from the C-suite? Honest, I’m just astonished at the degree to which smart, skilled managers get sucked into the bureaucratic herd mentality of corporate “recruiting” practices.

…Thanks to the prevalence of job-board databases, HR-department “resume scanners,” and the idiotic reliance on “keywords,” that’s where the problem of meeting 100% of the requirements comes in.

It used to be that someone with a brain would review a resume, read between the lines, and make an informed assessment about a candidate. That was before employers started soliciting thousands of applicants for one job. The most egregious example of executive job-hunting roulette is TheLadders, which claims to provide “exclusive” access to its “4.5 million subscribers”… for 50,000 “$100k+” jobs in its database! (Come look at the math.)

…We all know that you don’t need to be a perfect match to the job description to be the perfect candidate. So, how do you avoid being judged and rejected by your resume?

It’s simple: Avoid applying via resume!

Withhold your resume as long as possible. Navigate your way to a member of the board of directors or to the president of the company, without applying for the job. (Even a VP can help you get in the door.)

When you want to date a girl to get to know her, the last thing you say is, “You’re the perfect wife for me! Let’s get together to talk about getting married!”

Gimme a break. Show some finesse. Just because HR tells you to act stupid is no reason to do it.

Don’t walk blind on the job hunt. Establish a personal connection first. Rather than cry about your competitors, who seem to have the inside track, get on the inside track.

With this approach, you’re impressing a key decision maker or influencer with your acumen and your character — qualities that are not captured by keywords, but that are key decision factors for making a hire. Qualities that put you on the inside track.

How should you approach such top-level officers? By asking them for insight about the position that’s open.

How to Say It(Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get all the answers in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

You will be judged not by “100% of the requirements,” but by how you approach the challenges the company is facing. If the discussion goes well, suggest that you’d like to meet to discuss those challenges further. (Note that I said “discuss those challenges,” not “the job.” Top execs can smell a job hunter a mile away. They don’t want to talk about the job. They’ll let HR do that, with all those applicants who crowd the pipe. Top execs want to talk shop with a peer. Be that peer.)

That’s how you avoid an interview and have a friendly, peer-to-peer meeting instead. That’s how you get noticed for a C-level job: by behaving like a C-level exec.

If you’re a CEO, and you want to talk about acquiring another company, you don’t call that company’s HR department. You call the company’s CEO, or someone on the board of directors. So, why do you send a resume to HR when you want to talk about a CEO job?

I’d like to hear your stories about how you got in the door by going around HR to the decision maker — whether you were looking for a C-level job, or a staff position. It works the same way. The finesse comes in knowing how to get in the door without crawling through that sewer pipe full of resumes.

How do you get in the door?

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Readers’ Comments: Turn rejection into a very potent referral

In the March 14, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says rejection isn’t so bad, if you learn something about your career objectives in the process. I think rejection can lead to a whole lot more.

I found work that I love and that I’m good at, at a small, award-winning company. My meetings with the hiring manager and her team were very positive, and we hit it off very nicely. I was called back for a third interview, with the general manager. He yawned a lot and clearly did not want to be interviewing people, but went through the motions. Perhaps he had already decided who would be hired. In any case, I did not get the offer. I don’t have a question. I just wanted to tell you that even rejection can produce a pretty positive attitude, because now I know that such places are still here, and I just have to find them!

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!)

Most job interviews result in rejection. But smart job hunters learn from every experience.

I think the most common lesson is that the candidate applied for the wrong job to begin with…

Your case is different, and it’s an important lesson of another kind. You actually found a job and a company that seemed to be right for you. You clicked with the manager and her team. And you walked away with renewed confidence that you’re going after the right kinds of companies — and that the jobs you want are in fact available. That’s all good news.

So this really is a win for you, and you should not waste it. I know that you will now go look for other such companies, but I’d like to suggest something even more powerful.

…Forget about the general manager and his poor attitude. Focus on the hiring manager and her team. These are people with whom you clicked. Focus on the good match you found with the company itself.

There are more such managers and companies. And they know one another!

So let’s get to work. Don’t waste your momentum… The hiring manager and her team members are potentially your best references right now.

Go back to your new friends at the company that didn’t make an offer. Thank them again for the stimulating meetings, and let them off the hook for not hiring you. Start with the manager, but then follow up with the other interviewers you clicked with.

How to Say It
“I know you can’t hire everyone, and I’m not troubled that I didn’t get an offer. But I’m glad that I met the kinds of people I’d like to work with. Thanks.”

Then let them talk. They will probably wish you well in your job search. But don’t let it end there.

How to Say It
“I wonder if I could ask you for a professional courtesy. You didn’t make me an offer — but if your appraisal of my abilities was high enough, I’d like to ask if you would be willing to serve as a reference for me. I’m planning to apply for jobs at companies X, Y and Z. Is there any one there to whom you’d be willing to recommend me?”

All you need is one referral and recommendation. If no referral is offered, don’t fret. Just say, “Thanks, anyway. Again, I enjoyed meeting you. I’d be glad to talk with you again if another position opens up.” But, if you get a referral, don’t just say thanks.

How to Say It
“Your faith in me means a lot. If I can ever repay the favor, please don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll let you know how it goes. I want to make sure I…” [The rest of this How to Say It is in the newsletter, which includes lots more suggestions. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

Close with a thank you. Then contact the person you’ve been referred to, using the methods we’ve discussed here on Ask The Headhunter. (For a nice, neat package about how to apply the Ask The Headhunter methods when you’re talking to a prospective employer, check How Can I Change Careers? It’s for anyone who wants to stand out, not just career changers.)

…This is a very powerful way to leverage one good contact into another. It’s not such a long shot as it might seem. Since you made it through several rounds of interviews to the final one with the general manager, it seems the hiring manager and her team thought a lot of you. So my guess is, they may be willing to help.

If you get an interview based on this referral, remember that the reputations of the people who recommended you are on the line. Make them look good!

Now I’ll give you one more tip about how to make a rejection pay off, even months, if not years, after your interview. Stay in touch with the nice folks you met, and do them a favor. When you hear about an interesting opportunity — maybe it’s a job they’d be interested in, or a professional event, or even a sales opportunity for their company — , drop them a note (or call) and tell them about it. “You made an impression on me when you interviewed me a few months ago… and I thought I might return the favor by telling you about this…”

This is what makes the professional world go around.

The rare job interview turns into an offer. And few interviews yield friendships, or even mutual respect, between the employer and candidate. But even when two people click, they usually lose the momentum they’ve just found, and they both miss an opportunity. A rejection based on a strong interview can be turned into a powerful referral, if you know how. What do you take away from a great job interview, even if you are rejected?

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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

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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 Dice.com. But the only honest general-purpose job board I know is LinkUp.com, 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.

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TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs!

Egg on FaceBeleaguered and battered by the press, by career industry pundits and — mainly — by its own customers, TheLadders recently convened a war council to round up industry “leaders” to defend its flagging reputation. But this little event quickly blew up in TheLadders’ face, and now it’s leaving egg all over TheLadders’ leading apologists, who are beginning to look like paid public relations flacks rather than industry leaders.

TheLadders paid these folks “T&E” — travel and expenses — to attend the meeting in New York. Then it wined and dined them, and plied them with sugared-up stories about its business model, its phenomenal growth plans, and how it’s changing the world of job hunting and recruiting for the better.

TheLadders fed them a load of bullcrap, gave them some Kool-Aid to wash it down, and then deployed them back to the field, to spread the dung around the Net in a desperate effort to put down the surge of highly-vocal customer dissatisfaction with TheLadders.

But not all the “leaders” swallowed the KoolAid or played along. HR consultant Mark Stelzner says he was skeptical about the event, but accepted the T&E and attended anyway, but only after he pinged his list to get its take on TheLadders:

“The results were shocking to me but may not be to others. I received over 800 messages in less than two weeks… and not one of them was positive.”

Aroused all the more by these reports, Stelzner attended the event and decided to put his list’s concerns to the test. But he quickly found himself relegated to “a corner table” after he started asking tough questions about TheLadders’ business model — and its practices.

Stelzner’s report on the meeting (Climbing All Over TheLadders) quickly triggered the first of TheLadders’ T&E Mercenaries, Josh Letourneau of Fistful of Talent, to take the first shot at Ladders’ critics with TheLadders: More Cirque Du Soleil Than Evil Empire. (Stelzner says that virtually the entire bullpen of the HR blog Fistful of Talent was in attendance.)

Among Letourneau’s targets were Laurie Ruettimann (The Cynical Girl), who recently explained, in her no-frills style, why The Ladders Is The Single Biggest Piece Of Crap, and yours truly (TheLadders’ Marc Cendella: Burying the Pig).

The “event” was already paying off, and battle lines were being drawn. Letourneau set the tone, disparaging bloggers who have published Ladders’ customers complaints as “sheep,” and reporting that, “TheLadders truly cares about their perception among us HR Pros and Recruiters.” (Later in his own thread, Letourneau complains about the “personal innuendo” he’s been subjected to by “the sheep.”)

Though she didn’t post on the topic, Alison Green (AskAManager) quickly took LeTourneau to task in a series of comments on his blog:

Wow. This misses the point altogether.

The issue isn’t that they charge job-seekers. Lots of people charge job-seekers, from job coaches to resume writers. Who cares? If people are willing to pay for a service, great.

The issue is that they LIE to job-seekers and engage in fraudulent business practices. They claim they offer a service that they don’t offer. I would bet money that a lawsuit is in their future, and it will be well-deserved… It’s disappointing to see writers sent on an expenses-paid junket and then turn out posts like this one.

Jeff Dickey-Chasins (Job Board Doctor), had already piled on in late January, amplifying the complaints of Ladders’ customers in Is it ever ethical to charge the job seeker?

Another thorn in TheLadders’ side, Matt Youngquist (Career Horizons), had already published P.T. Barnum & TheLadders.com, discussing what TheLadders’ customers have been screaming about: fraudulent promises and advertising:

They not only claim to sell you access to a pipeline of hidden leads, but also claim to “filter” these leads in a way that will save you lots of time and ensure you’re only bothered by $100K+ opportunities.  Throw some high-profile television ads and snazzy web design around this concept, and boy, it suddenly sounds like an irresistible bargain for the low, low price 0f $30-40 per month!  The problem?  These claims are bogus.

But TheLadders’ bigger headache is now coming from the public sector: Human services organizations funded with tax dollars to help the unemployed. Karla Porter is the Direc­tor of Work­force Devel­op­ment and Human Resources for a mid-size metro area cham­ber of busi­ness and indus­try and eco­nomic devel­op­ment agency in Pennsylvania. I don’t think she knew about TheLadders’s war council meeting, but had she been in attendance, she probably would have been seated at the same corner table with Stelzner, for asking the question, WTF are they smoking over at TheLadders? Commenting on TheLadders recent “pole dance” commercial, Porter says:

If The­Lad­ders thinks this is cool hip and fun then call me a prude — but as soon as I hit the pub­lish but­ton on this post I’m can­cel­ing my sub­scrip­tion, because I no longer have respect for their on the job behavior…[sic]

The last place TheLadders wants to get noticed for bad behavior is among publicly-funded jobs agencies. That’s what brings investigations by state offices of budget and management, and the attention of state attorneys general.

But it was only a matter of time before TheLadders got some real ROI from its T&E Mercenaries crowd. Long-time HR industry pundit John Sumser finally came to TheLadders defense today, with his ironic Who Pays? (Hey, John, TheLadders pays, for travel, beds, drinks and mercenaries.) I expected more from Sumser, because his industry vocabulary is deep and broad, so his cold-served replay of the party line developed by Letourneau and Fistful of Talent was disappointing.

The best Sumser could offer:

What I saw during the time I spent with theLeaders at theLadders was pretty instructive. The company is growing. Their ambitions are big. They know what they’re doing.

Note to TheLadders: Next time, don’t just pay Sumser T&E; pay the guy a fee, and maybe you’ll get better than this.

What makes The Mercenaries’ statements embarrassing and transparent is that none of them address the specific, documented complaints leveled by TheLadders’ own customers. While painting a pretty picture of TheLadders’ financial success, and while telling us about the big smiles on the faces of the enthusiastic and brilliant Ladders employees, Letourneau and Sumser totally ignore the challenges issued by Ladders customers and its critics. They don’t answer, just like TheLadders’ didn’t answer Mark Stelzner’s tough questions at the war council meeting.

But they have no answers. It’s all public relations poppycock and verbal 3-Card Monte. In my comments to Letourneau, I said:

Josh: I’m calling you out. You asked, “Can you elaborate? What are they lying to Job Seekers about?”

I answered your question, which now appears to have been gratuitous.

If you really have standards for public discourse, it’s your turn: Respond to the examples I gave you.

Respond to Martin Burns, who provides one of the most damning indictments of TheLadders’ business practices that anyone could [on Letourneau’s own blog]: TheLadders posts jobs without the permission or knowledge of employers, thereby causing them embarrassment and unnecessary costs. This is an ongoing practice: I have published and cited other examples of Burn’s experience.

What I’m posting is not opinion. It’s evidence provided by Ladders customers — and, in the case of Martin Burns’ company, victims. Your opinions notwithstanding, let’s talk about the substance of the complaints, and about Ladders’ practices, which clearly seem to be systemic.

I posted a comment to Sumser’s PR pabulum a few hours ago, and I reprint it here because I won’t wait for him to decide to publish it. It’s really my response to all TheLadders’ Mercenaries, who have compromised themselves as credible, objective observers of the career and HR industries:

John,

You don’t offer any new spin on the apologists’ defense of the Ladders, but you base your entire post on the same fallacy. Paying for career help or for job listings isn’t the criticism. If someone can make a buck helping people get jobs, that’s good. And if those people actually land jobs by paying for help, that’s good, too.

The criticism against TheLadders is that the company’s practices are fraudulent. TheLadders doesn’t deliver what it charges for.

And, like the other Ladders’ apologists, you don’t address that anywhere in your post. You ignore it. You ignore the substance of all the critiques — “the noise” — that you disparage.

The rest of your post is fluff — a 3-Card Monte game that’s clearly designed to distract folks from the facts and information that many Ladders critics (myself included) have presented to demonstrate the fraud.

Your real agenda is revealed in this statement: “any publicity is good publicity. The critics may be a part of theLadders growth engine. The louder the noise, the faster the growth.”

Pure public relations flak. Because, John, not all publicity is good publicity. “Loud noise” might contribute to faster growth, but growth doesn’t prove the integrity or value of a service or of the company behind it. All it means is that more suckers are paying up. And if that’s your criterion for backing, defending and endorsing a business, well, go for it, Man.

You have not addressed any of the detailed, credible criticisms directed at TheLadders. Instead, like others who’ve been wined and dined by TheLadders, you just wrote a public relations release for Marc Cenedella.

I called out Josh Letourneau, and I call you out, too. Address the specific complaints of Ladders customers, and of employers who have been abused by TheLadders.

Yo, John! It ain’t about how much money TheLadders is making, or how clever its ad company is, or whether the investment bankers descide to buy in to this racket.

It’s about TheLadders’ customers getting screwed — job hunters and employers alike.

Maybe you’ve been wined and dined so many times that you’ve forgotten what this is all about?

Late yesterday, The Wall Street Joural reporter Joe Light called me to talk about the controversy that TheLadders’ customers have stirred up. He said he was preparing for a meeting today with TheLadders’ president, Alex Douzet. Can’t wait to see whether Douzet serves up some fresh answers, because those rotting eggs are starting to smell really bad.

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Readers’ Comments: How can you fight bad references?

We discuss references here periodically — most recently, in We don’t need no stinking references.

While many companies dismiss references as an afterthought, and job hunters think they can get by without them, I believe references are the coin of the realm. Employers shouldn’t hire anyone without checking them (though by “checking them,” I don’t mean that rote telephone query most HR folks make), and job hunters should be suspicious of any company that doesn’t check them.

In the January 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about his last boss torpedoing him.

Question

You’re supposed to say, “I left Company A because I wanted a more professional environment,” when the truth really is, “Company A fired me because we couldn’t deliver a product and because the boss refused to invest in some critical tools and training.”

When a reference says, “We fired him because he wanted some expensive training, and couldn’t learn certain technologies,” that leaves a person who is trying to leave an unprofessional environment in a terrible position. Any advice in dealing with that? Or are people basically doomed if they work for a scum-bag employer who doesn’t treat them like professionals?

Nick’s Reply

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!)

This is where other references come into play. A reference call is about you, but if it is handled deftly, it can also be about your other references.

At least one or two of the references you provide to the new employer should be (other) managers or employees at your old company who know the old boss’s attitude and behavior. Make sure they know the old boss might try to torpedo you.

The reference explains you did a good job, discusses your skills and talents, and endorses you. Then the reference explains how unfortunate it was that the lack of necessary tools and resources made it impossible for you to do the job you were assigned.

“I felt bad for the guy. He used all his skills to work around the lack of resources, but I’ll be frank with you: His boss found it easier to blame him than to buy the tools we needed. I think it’s a shame the company lost a great worker due to poor management. I’m going to miss working with him, but our loss is your gain. If you run a good operation, this candidate will do a phenomenal job for you.”

The reference counteracts the half-a-story that the old boss provides. This is subtle, and you must handle it with care… You cannot count only on your boss to be your reference. You might be surprised at what helpful references your associates can be, if you tell them the whole story.

I’ve used this method when delivering references about my candidates to my clients. I don’t try to hide the bad reference. But I make sure to provide a reference about the bad reference, who in turn casts doubt on the negative comments, and reinforces the candidate’s better qualities.

Put an unavoidable negative reference in context, and help a new employer see you in a positive light.

Sometimes you know that a former boss is going to torpedo you on a reference call.

Should you try to prevent a company from calling your old boss? Sure, but the call might be placed anyway. Your objective should be to counter the bad reference by providing references about your references.

Have you ever done that? Have you cultivated professional associates who would stand up for you in the face of such an attack? If not, start now. How have you prepared to defend against unfair negative references?

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