It’s a daily story — getting fired, laid off, downsized. Sometimes someone expresses his reaction in a way that cuts to the devastation of the experience. But seeing the glimmer of hope changes all that. I hope you enjoy this note from a reader as much as I did. (What impresses me is his attitude. He said he got fired. He doesn’t sugar coat it. That says a lot about how he approaches his work.)

I believe this article (Getting Fired is a State of Mind) is one of the best I have read in a long time.  I just recently got fired and I have always been on the other side of things throughout my career. I have always been among the top 3% in reviews in all the other jobs I have had. Having said that, I cannot help but feel like a failure in some way. I have now been out of work for 1 month. It has been tough but I believe I should be getting a job as consultant [soon]… This has been hard for me to take and as you know this a bad economy. Your words inspired me to keep my head up. Thank you.

A lot of talented people have been unemployed for months or years. But the devastation of getting fired hits immediately and makes a person question his worth. Breaking this state of mind is crucial.

My response to him: You cannot be defined by your last employer. They are gone from your life. How can they define you? You are still you. What defines you is what you do next. Even if this new opportunity doesn’t pan out, keep moving forward. Do what you do best. That defines you every day.

We talk a lot here about how to land the next job. But this reader’s note makes me ask you, how do you deal with the devastation of getting fired, laid off, downsized, sent packing?

Just how stupid do you think employers are?

Employers hire on a bell curve. Most hires are pretty good, and they fit somewhere with most employees, on the fat part of the curve, doing their jobs, but nothing to brag home about.

Now and then, along comes an exceptional talent with skills and knowledge to put the experts to shame. He’s on the thin leading edge of the curve… maybe off it altogether. A guy with chops that young turks would kill for. Possibly a mentor to your entire company.

What’s a company to do with someone like that? Well… Does he have grey hair?

I’m 61 years old. I have 30 years’ experience, up to the VP level, in four of America’s top 10 ad agencies. My next logical career step is with one of the “Top 100” advertisers. I’ve sent letters to most of them and have never gotten a response, other than directions to go to their career website to view open positions and apply. Maybe this is a polite way to say I’m too old. I’ve mailed letters and an index card with my elevator pitch on one side and a grouping of impressive logos of  firms I’ve done advertising for on the reverse side. I’m out of ideas. Is there a way to get past the gatekeeper (in this case their careers webpage)?

I know my answer. What I want is fresh answers and advice for this reader from you.

He also mentioned in his note to me that over the past three years he applied to 750 companies online. Even if this guy turns out to be less than he suggests… don’t you think a handful of companies would interview him just to see if he’s for real? Just how stupid do you think employers are?

Where are the headhunters?

Someone is stealing all the headhunters… or so it seems to an Ask The Headhunter reader:

Are there still headhunters out there? People paid by companies to find good candidates? I thought they were extinct. They all seem to have moved on to doing “outplacement” services. The only headhunters I hear from are the fee-for-service types! They want me to pay them. Are there any headhunters left in this economy, who actually place people with their clients?

Funny, I look around and I suddenly realize that lots of “headhunters” have indeed turned into outplacement consultants, selling services to job hunters — and to employers who are downsizing. Do you get calls from real headhunters any more? Or are they all selling something else nowadays?

Where are the headhunters?

Forum: Whistleblower’s dilemma

In the new! improved! Ask The Headhunter newsletter, a new “forum” section presents challenges that readers are facing — and asks subscribers to chime in with their ideas.

I’m getting so many e-mails about the forum that there’s no way to get all the good ideas into the next edition of the newsletter. So I’m going to try highlighting some of the submissions here on the blog. (Maybe next up is a discussion forum?) I’ll try to do this once a week to support the forum feature — but the blog will continue to cover a broad range of topics as always.

So here’s the scenario submitted by a reader to the newsletter — it’s what started this topic:

Employers keep asking me in interviews why I don’t want them to contact a previous employer. The reason is that I turned my employer in to the state attorney general for selling fraudulent discount health benefits. Instead of respecting my candor in answering the question (and for doing the right thing), they run from me like crazy. So how does a whistleblower effectively answer that question?

And here are some of the thought-provoking responses from other readers. (I publish readers’ names only if they give me permission to do so.)

This guy has integrity and I would use that value to my advantage. I would simply tell the truth in the interview but in such a way as to make it sound like (and it’s probably the truth anyway) he just couldn’t stand around and do nothing. His personal value of integrity just wouldn’t allow that. This in and of itself is a great asset to employers. What this is saying to an employer is that you as an employee will not allow that company to get ripped off by either inside or outside entities. Now what company does not value an employee like that?

Joel C. Whalen

There’s the direct, in-your-face approach that counts on the employer’s common sense: Read more

Jobs, jobs everywhere

Toby Dayton nails the problem: Jobs, jobs everywhere, but not an offer to be had. Twitter is the new channel — companies are paying to tweet their jobs? Coke oughta get into the act: Post them under bottletops or on can lids. (Who cares if the job gets filled by the time you flip the lid? TheLadders doesn’t care about stale jobs; why should Coke?)

Look, don’t screw around. Own your own channel for advertising: buy a shirt fromt this guy. At least, when all is said and done, you have a shirt.

“Executive Career Management” scams

I’ve been getting more queries than usual lately about “executive career management” firms. No surprise. There are lots more executives out of work.

These are the firms that offer to provide top-level consulting to top-level executives who need professional help finding a job. One of these outfits quotes Tiger Woods to make its pitch: “Professionals hire a manager to increase their chances of winning, amateurs don’t.”

In the career world, we can put it more accurately this way: “Professionals use their skills to get hired. Amateurs get scammed.”

The psychological underpinnings of the Tiger Woods pitch are classic. The message is, if you’re not paying for help, you’re an amateur. You’re not an amateur, are you? Of course not. Pay up.

This racket has not changed a bit. In The Executive Marketing Racket: How I dropped ten grand down a hole, a CFO tells how he got burned when he signed up with one of these outfits. Since I published this expose written by someone who lived it, Ask The Headhunter has turned into the place “the burned” turn to tell their tales. Executives and their spouses have shared demoralizing and depressing stories of getting taken for tens of thousands of dollars — at a time in their lives when they need that money to survive while they get re-situated.

There are good career counselors and coaches out there. But none of them go by the moniker “Executive Career Manager.” It’s the first sign of a crook. Another sign: The “firm” in question claims that it is an executive search firm and a career management firm. In other words, companies pay them to fill positions, and people like you pay them for jobs. Come on. No self-respecting headhunting firm does that. The ones who turn to selling “executive career management” are failed headhunters.

There is no one out there that you can hire to get you a job. Headhunters don’t do it; career counselors don’t do it; and career coaches don’t do it. Best case, you’ll get advice. The honest practitioners don’t promise a job. You will find the honest practitioners through their satisfied clients. And I don’t mean you ought to ask a coach or counselor for references you can call. I mean, find people who got good help from good practitioners — and ask them who they used. That’s who to go to, if you really want someone to advise you.

But job hunting is something you should do for yourself. If you can’t, you probably don’t deserve to be hired. Think about it: What good are you to a company that needs a job done, if you can’t do this job for yourself? That’s what Ask The Headhunter is all about. Try it before you relinquish your future to someone else. (No, I’m not trying to sell you a book. You can get the book for free at your library. And virtually everything else on Ask The Headhunter is free, too.)

Sorry if you’ve been job hunting a long time or if you’re very down on your luck. But paying someone to find you a job is not the answer. Because no one can guarantee you a job. Unless you believe what you read in an advertisement.

Yes, Virginia, offers sometimes get rescinded

This is a very painful experience. Sometimes, though, an employer shows integrity and the job candidate reveals common sense. This reader has been through the mill, but has survived and gained an unexpected benefit…

I just read your article The company rescinded the offer (Ask The Headhunter newsletter, 4/14/09 — too late to get that edition but not too late to become a subscriber — it’s free!) and was astonished to learn this situation is not uncommon.

Back in February I received and signed a written offer. Four days later, I got a call from the COO who delivered the news that we needed to push my start date out from March to April. Since this company is a small start-up, they’re running their business on a month-to-month basis. In between making an offer and pushing out my start date, the company lost two forecasted deals in their pipeline that shook their stability. The following week, one of their customers went into bankruptcy. The COO wanted to remain in contact and we agreed to talk weekly and he kept his promise. We talked every Friday and I got an update on the situation. It became apparent towards the end of March that the April start date wasn’t going to happen either. 

I had a quick thought about contacting an employment lawyer but chose not to. Would you have handled this situation differently, and how? 

(I did go back to the COO when I found a company that might be a potential partner for them. This company also happened to be looking for someone just like me! So I asked the COO to introduce me to the CEO and provide a reference for me. He happily obliged and gave me a wonderful reference. This hasn’t gone anywhere, but I think it speaks to the COO’s values and I was appreciative. And in the meantime, I’m still searching…)

I think the COO has class and good sense, and he used it in difficult circumstances. You made no mistake in foregoing legal action. You have made a valuable friend. Stay in touch with him. He probably has other friends he can refer you to. And don’t be surprised that if his company goes down, and he resurfaces somewhere else, you’re not one of his first hires. Thanks for sharing the story.

Show me the money!

We’ve talked about disclosing salary to employers, and we’ve discussed when it’s appropriate to bring up money during the hiring process. The conventional wisdom says job applicants shouldn’t bring up money at all — wait until the employer brings it up. (I think that’s nuts. But I’m not conventional.)

I think it helps to consider other situations where money plays a role in decision making. You go to a car dealer. You pick the car you want, you take it for a test drive, you decide it’s what you want. You sit down with the salesperson. You tell him you want to buy it. Is that when you first ask about the price? (I’d like to do that after test-driving a Murcielago or an Aston Martin DB9. Whoa, sorry there, Bud — turns out there’s not enough in the checkbook…)

An Accountemps survey of managers asked when money should be brought up during the hiring process.

Most managers (30%) say candidates should ask about compensation and benefits during the first interview. 17% suggested bringing it up even sooner — during the phone interview. Good for them! That’s almost half of managers advising job applicants to ask about money early in the process. 26% suggest raising the money question in the second interview. (That’s 73% advocating asking about money before an offer is made.) Only 12% suggest bringing it up after a job offer is made.

Guess the conventional wisdom is wrong. The trick is in How to say it:

“So, what’s the compensation like?” (Smile.) How could anyone get upset if you ask like that?

At what point do you bring up the money?

TheLadders’ rigid set of criteria

It used to say, “ONLY $100K+ JOBS. ONLY $100K+ CANDIDATES.” With the re-design of its web site, TheLadders now claims “Exclusively $100K+ jobs. Exclusively $100K+ talent.”

They must have hired a new ad company that owns a thesaurus. (Sorry, I’m not linking you to TheLadders web site. I won’t contribute to their traffic.)

We’ve had no website facelift here. Nor has there been any change in the story, the facts or the language. Liars at TheLadders still exposes the garbage-in, garbage-out database that Ladders rents to job hunters for $30 per month. They charge empoyers a whole lot more.

No one at TheLadders has questioned the statements made by one its customer service reps to a Ladders customer (and Ask The Headhunter reader) during a service chat:

Andy: First of all, we make no claims that all of our jobs are submitted directly to us. Many of the positions on our site are linked directly to from external job boards. Since we don’t have a direct way of knowing the pay range of each of these positions, we make an estimate based on a rigid set of criteria.

The rep was responding to a complaint about a job on TheLadders that paid only $50k, and the employer had no idea how it even wound up on TheLadders. His company did not post it.

I almost stepped in a dried-up, rigid set of criteria during my morning walk today. Another $30 saved.

Droolers, Charles Manson and A. Harrison Barnes

Man, I couldn’t have written it better myself. I’ve been watching a family of “job” sites that’s akin to a pack of electronic junkyard dogs trying to bite people. I’m not even gonna give you the link. The flagship site is called Don’t waste your time visiting it. Trust me: You don’t want those doggie cookies on your computer.

Steve Gosset over at RealityBitesBack soundly thrashes PC Magazine for promoting A. Harrison Barnes and his pack of rabid job sites including (again, no links because I don’t want you getting infected) a bunch of sites ending in “…Crossing.”

Kudos to Steve for spraying A. Harrison Barnes (Gimme a break! Does he belong to the Yacht Club?) and his dog team with poo-poo water. (You’ll have to read Steve’s post to see where Chas Manson and droolers fit in…)

I guess Marc Cenedella over at TheLadders has an apt competitor now. Throw ’em both over the clothesline before they spawn more puppies.

Update Dec. 17, 2009: Toby Dayton draws the clothesline tight…