Readers’ Forum: How to get the hiring manager’s attention

In the September 14, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I know that a local company has new positions in the works, but I can’t get anyone to talk to me. The personnel office doesn’t return calls and I don’t know how to reach the manager. Is my only alternative to send a resume and hope it is seen by the district manager? 

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

No, don’t give up yet. Call the company’s sales department—those calls always get connected. Ask for advice.

Sales reps are usually talkative as long as you don’t waste their time. Be polite and be respectful. Learn all you can, then ask for a referral. “I don’t want to apply for a job until I learn more about the operation. I’d really like to have this kind of discussion with someone who works in the department I’d be applying to. Can you recommend someone—other than the personnel office—who might talk with me? I’d be beholden to you.”

In the newsletter I explain what to say to the manager when you finally make contact. (For detailed advice about how to give managers what they’re looking for, see the section titled Put a Free Sample in Your Resume in the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?) But the main message is to contact people peripheral to the hiring manager to establish direct contact. In other words, to get introduced. Don’t waste your time with the personnel office or with a blind resume.

Never send a blind resume. Make a good contact and get introduced to the manager. Most important: Have something useful to say.

Approaching the hiring manager through the sales department is not a ruse; it’s honest, but it’s also clever. It’s just one legitimate method for sidestepping the HR office to talk to the hiring authority. I’m sure you know other ways to do it.

Got tips? That’s what this edition of the blog is about: Your suggestions and stories about how to get the hiring manager’s attention. Please post them!

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Pissing on the applicant

In a private response to HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?, a reader sent me this question:

Is there any point in attempting to negotiate with thug companies that agree on a rate, say they’re going to extend an offer, then the offer comes in at 66% of what you thought was a done deal?

Forget about companies that poison their own well. That’s bad enough. This employer is pissing on the applicant.

My response:

If you are really ready to walk away anyway, push the paper back at them and say, “I’m ready to sign for the amount we agreed on. Not a penny less.”

You’ll learn quickly whether they’re really thugs. Then consider the rule my mentor taught me years ago: Never work with jerks.

I deleted a couple of more choice sentences in my reply to this reader, because I believe that no matter how ticked off you get at an employer or a headhunter, don’t ever go off. Bite your tongue. Swallow your bile. Until you get a chance to tell the story to someone else who might consider working for the jerk.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

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Readers’ Forum: How should I choose a new career?

In the August 17, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

Changes in the economy and in my industry have left me jobless, and my career has become a dead end. It’s time to move on. How should I choose a new career? My problem is how to select one where I can transfer my skills. Any suggestions?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Do not look for jobs that seem to require the skills you used at your last job. That will limit you. Pick a business you want to work in and figure out what it needs. Create a list of functions and tasks to help you sort it out. Build a flowchart. This takes research and effort. No employer will do it for you. You need to figure it out, and you may have to talk to a lot of people to do this. That’s good, because the massive effort will help you to identify work that motivates you, and to weed out jobs you’re pursuing for no good reason at all.

Then, while focusing on the work, look at your most basic skills. Restructure them. Reorganize them. Draw up a simple plan showing how you will apply them in new ways (new to you) to do some aspect of the work. If you believe you can pull it off, there’s the career to pursue. (To avoid stepping into something unexpected, don’t forget Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it.)

Understanding the work helps you rearrange skills you already have to do something new—and that makes you a potent job candidate. Be realistic, but be aggressive. Drive your new-found interest until it dies, or until you get where you want to go.

(I discuss the parameters of career change in five detailed sections in the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?)

There’s a lot of controversy about how to change careers. Some counselors advise taking aptitude and psychological tests. While those may be helpful, I think the farther from yourself you set the locus of control, the less likely you are to generate the honest self-motivation necessary to succeed. In other words, while it’s good to get help and advice, you need to figure it out yourself.

Have you changed careers? Know someone who has done it successfully? How?

What’s great about the Ask The Headhunter community is that every question is best answered by the real experiences of real people. So please pile on!

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Readers’ Forum: Capitalizing on good contacts

In the August 3, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I had a Talk to Nick call with you recently. I am following your advice to the letter, and I am building a network of contacts. I now have about 30 – 40 great contacts in my field in the city I’m targeting. I certainly am not surprised that I haven’t stumbled on the right opportunity yet, but I was wondering if there is any additional way I can leverage the people I’ve already met.

Now that I keep trying to meet more people, I feel like I am collecting lots of contacts rather than utilizing the contacts I have already made. I am visiting my target city next week. I will try to set up meetings with hiring managers that I have already had phone conversations with, in order to deepen the relationships. My question is: Is there any specific gambit I can use in these face-to-face meetings to get more directly to my point of getting a job in their company?

I do what you say and don’t talk about jobs and only talk shop. But how do I make the shift to talking about a job without sounding like a salesman? I just fear that I will ruin all the trust I put into the relationship by asking for a referral.

Any insight you could give me in order to make these face-to-face meetings effective would be helpful. Thanks again for setting my job search and my life on the right track. I have not gotten a job yet, but I am persistent and confident. You have single-handedly guided me from being someone who doesn’t know how to network to a master in three months. People I talk to on the phone tell me how they wish they could network as effectively as I do.

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Once you’ve established good relationships with all those new contacts, it’s time to harvest some useful advice from them. “I’m going to be in your city on business in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to ask your advice. While I’m there, I’d like to meet some people who know Company A and Company B… Are there people you would suggest I meet while I’m out there, on a casual basis, to explore job opportunities?”

Meeting new people and talking shop is a great way to expand your network in a friendly, honest way. (Who wants to be a brazen careerist???) So, where is that line? When can you shift a friendly conversation about work, to ask the other person to help you with a new job?

Have you helped someone who asked you in just the right way? What did they say that kept it comfortable?

This is what makes the world go ’round, folks! Please share your experiences and the subtle methods you use to advance your career without losing your friends!

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Readers’ Forum: Why interview when there’s no job?

In the July 27, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

Rather than chase job listings, I took your advice and picked three companies I really want to work for. This is fun, because I work harder when I am totally focused. I did extensive research, identified the right managers, and arranged introductions. What if they don’t have any jobs open? Isn’t that a waste of time?

Absolutely not. These are still the people you want to get to know and stay in touch with.

About 60% of jobs are found through personal contacts. The managers on your list are your best new personal contacts — whether they have a job for you or not. Your investment of time is a good one because they could lead you to your next job even if they don’t hire you. But take note: You must be credible if you want your contacts to be productive.

(You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Job hunting isn’t about getting a job. It’s about getting known. As you’re starting to see, your credibility is greatest when you approach companies and managers you really want to work for. When you’re motivated and know your stuff, managers take notice. When you meet with managers you care about, that’s what makes the outcome productive.

How much time do you invest in getting to know people you’d really like to work with? Even if there isn’t a job to talk about?

And, how do you go about it?

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OMG! They found out about my air baths!!

Reader Steve Amoia shared a Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth Garone that might terrify you: Five Mistakes Online Job Hunters Make.

(Does this mean that if you’re not an online job hunter, you’ve got nothing to worry about?)

Steve writes:

I’m curious about something:

“Assume your future boss is reading everything you share online,” she says.

How much do you look online when you are checking out a potential candidate for a client? This WSJ article seems to imply that we are so important that recruiters have nothing better to do than peer into our online “lives.” Obviously, we all need to exercise good judgment. But if a young kid (or someone older like us) posts something stupid, should that be held against him years from now or negate positive career achievements?

Good questions, and ones that have become popular fodder for career pundits. But in practice, are recruiters and employers getting kooky? Should employers really worry so much about your online “record?” Garone says that,

“A December 2009 study by Microsoft Corp. found that 79% of hiring managers and job recruiters review online information about job applicants before making a hiring decision. Of those, 70% said that they have rejected candidates based on information that they found online.”

Say what??

I’m not surprised at all the online checking employers do — but 70% dumped applicants because of what they found online?

If I looked through the employers’ garbage cans, I’d probably find something that might make me want to dump them, too. Steve points to a kooky new sort of problem: To what extent should such “information” be used to judge job applicants?

To some extent, certainly. But, to borrow from Ben Franklin (who probably would have gotten rejected by any employer who learned that the man took “air baths” regularly — sitting naked in front of an open window): Everything in moderation!

I check people out online, but I also exercise judgment. Not until the Net came along were we able to look into so many corners of people’s lives in such detail… So what?

Before the Net, we didn’t know stuff we know now. So what? Just because you learn something doesn’t mean that it means anything. Or that it’s anything new. But when a practice like this becomes part of a routine process of checking people out, we have to start worrying whether the people who do the checking know how to weight a piece of data. The more data they have, the less they are likely to distinguish useful information.

Does it matter that I take air baths?

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Readers’ Forum: How to get to the hiring manager

In the July 20, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

You have said that the key to a successful job search is to contact the person you would work for within an organization, and to show how you can help out. How can I find the manager who has the problems I’ll be able to solve?

(You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

[UPDATE: The special, limited-time discount on the 2-Book Bundle that I offered in the current newsletter has generated so much attention that I’ve published the entire edition — including the discount code — online: Read the entire newsletter here and get the discount. Thanks to all for your interest! Man, sometimes you bowl me over! But please sign up for your own free subscription to find out about other special offers in the future.]

In the newsletter I suggest that your challenge as a job hunter is not to apply for lots of open jobs. It’s to carefully target the manager whom you can help the most.

To find a manager who really needs you, it’s best to triangulate. That is, talk to people who know and work for managers who may be relevant to your job search. This includes less obvious contacts, like a company’s customers and vendors.

But the point is to talk shop. Don’t ask for job leads — that’s like asking for an introduction to the personnel office!

Getting to the hiring manager is a lot of hard work. But so is that job you want, right? (Get it?)

How can you do some of the key research, and how do you get ready to meet the people who can lead you to the manager? Two sections of How Can I Change Careers? deal specifically with these issues. (This PDF book is not just for career changers; it’s for anyone who wants to get an edge on changing jobs.) A section about how to “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume” helps you show the manager how you’ll bring profit to the bottom line.

How do you get to the hiring manager? What methods have you used that helped you get past the teeming hordes of job hunters — so you could talk directly to the manager (or to someone very close to the manager)?

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Readers’ Forum: I need a headhunter who will market me!

 A reader asks:

I realize that headhunters work for the employer, but my past experience has been that a good one will pick up an individual with good qualifications and do some marketing to achieve a match. They don’t seem to work this way any more. How can I find a headhunter who will really market me?

Discussion: July 6, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

In the newsletter, I explain that good headhunters don’t market individuals and they never have. Good headhunters focus on filling positions for which they’ve been assigned a “search” by a corporate client. I also offer a tip about how to find a good headhunter — it’s one of the 62 answers for fearless job hunters that’s included in How to Work with Headhunters.

The fact that some “headhunters” waste your time doesn’t mean all headhunters are bad, any more than all HR folks are. The best headhunters will recruit you and, if you’re the right candidate, negotiate a deal that will make you happy enough to refer your buddies the next time the headhunter comes looking…

It’s easy to turn up nasty stories about experiences with headhunters, and I’ve printed many over the years. Do you have a story about a good experience with a headhunter? Please post it. What did a headhunter do that made a difference in your job search?

(And if you’re really burned up about headhunters, well, I’m not going to delete your rants if you post those, too…)

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Readers’ Forum: What’s is good networking REALLY?

Discussion: June 15, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

(You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

A reader says:

Everyone talks about networking as the best way to find the right job. There must be a key to this approach beyond just going to networking meetings and signing up with one of the online social networks. What advice can you give me about how to do it right?

In today’s Q&A I tried to outline some of the parameters of good networking. In a nutshell, I think networking is really about making friends. It’s got virtually nothing to do with getting a job or with any other kind of “payoff.” You do it because it makes life and work more enjoyable—and because giving something back makes your professional community (and the world) a better place. And when you live in a better place, somehow your life becomes better, too.

In the newsletter, I talked about what makes for good networking: Common ground, value and time.

What’s your experience with networking? Do you do it? Why? Has it paid off? What parameters do you believe make for good networking? (Should we even call it networking?)

Please share your experiences and comments!

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Readers’ Forum: What’s in a cover letter?

Discussion: May 4, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks:

I was recently laid off and I am applying for jobs online. The question I have is whether to include a cover letter or not? Do they really matter these days? I always feel silly saying things like, “I am motivated and enthusiastic, and would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to your firm’s success.” If I do need to include a cover letter, what do employers want to see that would make them look at the resume?

Resumes? Cover letters? What do hiring managers want to read? Does a cover letter buy you anything? I’ve got it… How about a cover letter without a resume? Save time… arouse curiosity?

Do you use a cover letter? Think it helps? What’s the magic — or is there none? Help this reader decide what to do next.

[Update May 18, 2010: Okay — humor me. No cover letters. They’re illegal now… What’s a good alternative to get your message to the hiring manager that you can do the job profitably? No rationalizing… alternatives only, please! Let’s do something new under the sun…]

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