How can I optimize my first day on the job?

In the February 14, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to make the most of the first day on the job:

I am starting a new job soon and would like your suggestions on how to make a great first impression. I can do the handshaking and small talk, but what else? I’ve read that one should meet with the boss at the end of the first day for a check-in. I really want to do this right and show that I’m part of the team.

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

It is indeed a good idea to stop by your boss’s office at the end of your first day to say thanks for the job and to check in. I’m glad that you’re thinking about the impression you will create. Too often, new hires are too nervous to think at all during the first day! Monitoring how you’re doing is an important part of achieving success.

I encourage you to apply this perspective not just to your first day, but to your first week, first month, three months, six months and first year. Asking for and getting good feedback is a great way to become part of the team.

Check in with your boss regularly to ensure you’re meeting expectations and that you understand your objectives. Be diplomatic and be confident.

If something goes wrong, or just feels wrong

(Sorry, this part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)…

After you’ve been oriented and after you’ve been assigned your first tasks, take time to outline the work you are to do. Also outline how you’re going to do it, including an overall strategy, specific steps, tools you will use, and so on. Include estimated (or mandated) milestone dates along with measures of your own performance.

Then sit down with your boss and go over your written outline.

  • Ask for comments and suggestions about your work plan.
  • Ask how you might tune it to match the company’s and the department’s style.
  • Discuss how your work will contribute to the company’s (or department’s) profitability.

This establishes an important kind of self-monitoring that will build your credibility.

If your boss responds positively, ask to meet managers and staff in departments “upstream and downstream” from your own, to learn how your work fits with theirs.

It’s very smart to start out on the right foot. But then you must demonstrate periodically that you’re not just doing the work — you’re thinking about how it affects the company’s success. After all, that’s what you were hired for, right?

(Once you figure it all out and you get good at your job, remember this: Don’t be afraid to do the job your way. Regular talks with your boss can make this possible.)

Best wishes on your first days!

What’s your experience been when starting a new job? What did you do to optimize your success? And… how did you screw up in those first few days or weeks? We’ll all learn something from everyone’s stories — please post and join in the discussion!

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Are Skype interviews good for you?

In the February 7, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says Skype interviews aren’t such a good idea:

Thanks so much for hosting an Open Mic session and offering your professional expertise. My career is in IT (information technology) and although I feel more like a commodity these days than the business professional that I am, there are interviewing techniques that throw up a big red flag.

Recently I was asked to do a Skype interview. There are many factors with a Skype interview that can be held against a candidate because it introduces things that are not common with the typical phone and face-to-face interview process. The interview is with a local company but regardless, I still find it as an unfair practice. What are 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

I’m with you. I don’t like “phoners” in general. If you’re uncomfortable with this kind of interview, you can’t tell companies to stop doing it, but you can politely decline.

How to Say It:
“I’d be glad to invest time to come meet with you. I think I can demonstrate how I can contribute to your bottom line by doing X and Y for you. But I’m sorry — I get so many requests for e-mail, telephone, and virtual interviews that I respectfully decline them. I need to know that a company is really interested in talking shop. When I attend such a meeting, I’ve done my homework. If you’d like to meet with me, I’ll be ready to show you what I can do for your business.”

I think if a company balks at that suggestion, it’s wasting your time. Are they really interested in hiring someone, or not?

There’s a time and place for social media tools, to facilitate communication. I don’t think an initial contact is it. Whether it’s via telephone or Skype, there’s an enormous difference between casually chatting with someone about his work, and conducting a job interview. I think the technology emphasizes the power one party has over the other, and it makes forthright, balanced dialogue awkward. The candidate is always at a disadvantage. (And the employer may wind up wondering why she wanted to interview a talking head.)

I don’t think it’s appropriate to make a person perform on video if there’s not already a relationship in place. The person who invites another to talk business has an obligation to make the experience pleasant. That’s why we buy one another lunch. It’s an expression of our investment in, and respect for, the person we’re soliciting.

I get fed up with the “social media” tools that employers use as an excuse to avoid investing adequate time to assess a candidate. Check Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters) for more about this. Perhaps there are ways to engage another person before suggesting that they appear on your computer screen for an interview, but it doesn’t seem the employer in your story has done that.

I hope the How to Say It example above gives you an idea about how to handle this. But please — use your own words, and modify the message so you’re comfortable with it. Sometimes, you have to push back firmly, but make sure you do it politely.

If you’re going to do a Skype — or any other kind of video — interview, don’t miss these 8 Tips for Successful Video Interviews by Rachel Ryan.

What’s your take on “phoners?” Have you ever done a Skype interview? Maybe I’m looking at this wrong, but I think Skype interviews put the candidate at a disadvantage, and they might leave the employer thinking he’s talking to Max Headroom. Please post your comments and suggestions.

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Cornell Executive MBA Presentation

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

The purpose of this posting is to continue the discussion.

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

How to make more money: Withhold your salary history

Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?

Salary history: Will HR put up or shut up?

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

How to negotiate with a headhunter

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

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

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

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How much should I say about getting fired?

In the January 31, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what to say in a job interview — if he got fired previously for doing something wrong:

I was fired for a minor policy violation. How much should I tell prospective employers about it? Everyone I’ve spoken to has agreed that my indiscretion did not warrant being fired, so in interviews do I tell what happened and hope for the best? Or, do I make up a story to cover it up? Should I refuse to speak about it at all? How much can my old employer say, or shouldn’t I use them as a reference even though they’ve agreed to do it?

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

Do not lie if you’re asked why you left your last job, and do not offer made-up stories to cover up the past. However, I believe the only ethical responsibility you have is to disclose anything that you believe would materially affect your ability to do the job the way the company wants it done.

Why not just ask your old boss what kind of reference will be given? (The policy violation was not “minor.” It was major enough to get you fired. This would be a good time to apologize, if you haven’t done so already.) If you know what the company is saying about you, you’ll know better how to handle it.

You can also research the reference indirectly. This is an aggressive approach, but if you do it without any misrepresentations, I think it’s legit… (This part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now! It’s free!)

More important, you must line up at least two good references at your old company. Their words will count a lot, even if your ex-boss says something negative.

If you’re asked in an interview, respond candidly. Admit you made a mistake but keep it in context. Demonstrate your self-confidence, and make a commitment.

How to Say It
“My references will tell you I’m very good at my work and I’m trustworthy. You’re getting a talented, dedicated, hard-working employee who has learned a lesson, rather than someone who has yet to make a mistake. I won’t let you down.”

That last sentence is a very powerful commitment. You must live up to it.

Some companies will decline to hire you. Others will hire you based on what they see and hear. Then it’s up to you to prove they made a good choice.

Have you ever been fired? How did you deal with the facts in a job interview? Did it even come up? If you’re an employer, have you ever hired someone who was fired for doing something wrong? Why did you take a chance on the person? How did it work out?

What advice would you give about the situation in today’s Q&A?

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Playing With Headhunters

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

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

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

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

My Advice

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


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

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

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

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

So the answer to your question has two parts:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Special Edition

I periodically do webinars and teleconferences for professionals, where I make a brief presentation — then we have an “open microphone.” Anyone may ask any question about job hunting or hiring, and I do my best to provide useful advice on the spot.

I love doing such events because I don’t have to prepare. In fact, I can’t prepare. I have no idea what anyone will ask. I also enjoy doing it because it tests me — how much value can I deliver, to someone with a problem, in the space of a few minutes?

These events grew out of a series of online chats I did a few years ago, before audio was really possible for large groups online. (The webinar I did for Harvard Business School attracted hundreds of MBA students and Harvard alumni.) We always promoted the old chats like this:

Show up online at noon tomorrow — and pound Nick with your questions! We’ll see how many he can answer, and how fast he can type, in the course of 90 minutes!

Chats aren’t very popular any more (and I can talk faster than I can type!), so I’ll be doing more webinars and teleconferences for various groups in 2012. But I’ve never done an “open mic” here, for my own Ask The Headhunter community. So here we go!

It’s Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Every week in the newsletter I answer one question from a reader in the traditional Q&A format. This week, I will do my best to answer any and all questions you post here on  The Blog — and I welcome our community to chime in on the discussions. The more variety, the better!

  • Lost your job and don’t know how to start hunting for a new one?
  • The employer wants you to do a stress interview?
  • Wondering how to deal with a headhunter who just called you?
  • They want your salary history, but you don’t want to share it?
  • Your company posted a job and you got 5,000 applicants. What now?
  • The manager made you a good offer, but HR just called to rescind it?
  • What’s your problem? Please post it and we’ll tackle it.

(You don’t have to include any identifying information.)

I’ve answered over 30,000 questions from Ask The Headhunter readers since 1995. This week I’ll answer as many as you post. So… please ask away!

(This column was published before the comment threading feature was added to Ask The Headhunter, so my replies to questions do not appear immediately below each comment. Please scroll down in the comments and look for my reply “@commenter-name” to each question. Sorry for the inconvenience!)

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Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke

In the January 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader ruminates about how stupid the recruiting and hiring process seems to have become. Employers aren’t really looking for talent — they’re shopping for mediocrity, using lists of keywords:

I’m a career changer and I’m finding it very hard to get past the recruiting agency or even the internal HR shell. I have a number of friends in similar situations in other fields and industries. Perhaps it’s the economy, or maybe it’s just the nature of the recruiting business, but it seems that these days if you don’t match a long checklist of criteria, you don’t have much hope. Many agencies even go as far as to specifically call this out in their ads: Don’t apply unless you meet all of these (10-15) criteria.

It’s a real shame, too, because it seems only natural that successful people will want to take on new challenges. But the recruiting practices of most companies lead them to search for candidates that have already done what they’re being hired to do, and who are content to continue doing the same. They seem to say, “Give me practiced mediocrity rather than a chance to find a star.”

Maybe that makes sense for a recruiter whose job is to maintain the status quo. But how does this produce truly exceptional performance or lead a company into the future?

I will continue to await the day when we try to measure each other by the limits we will have tomorrow, instead of those we had yesterday. In the meantime, thanks for your article The Horse’s Ass in The Rear-view Mirror, about how recruiters drive away a company’s best hires. It gave me faith that there are still people out there that hire people, and not tie racks or check lists. But what should I do next?

My Advice

This is even worse than you suggest. Stupid hiring practices are not a philosophical problem. This is a structural problem that’s destroying our economy from the inside out.

There are 14.2 million unemployed Americans and 3.2 million vacant jobs. That’s a 4:1 ratio, a 4:1 advantage to employers. But, “We can’t find people who match” is the refrain. Do the math. Those 14.2 million Americans are not morons, incapable of learning on the job, or worthless pieces of dung because they don’t have 100% of the right keywords on their resumes.

Reductionist recruiting

The problem is that employers have gotten sucked into a reductionist approach to recruiting and hiring that’s been foisted on them by job-board databases and recruiters and HR departments that have no idea “who” they’re looking for. They spend all day scanning buzzwords, driven by a fantasy of the perfect “match.” They’re not interested in people or in talent. Just in magic matches.

Consider the staggering cost of leaving those 3.2 million jobs vacant, because personnel jockeys can’t figure out who’s worth hiring — and because managers don’t know how to mentor, train, and bring those people up to speed. All that work — 3.2 million jobs — left undone.

There’s the hole in the economy.

The solution is teaching managers that management means hiring smart people and teaching them how to do the work. Management does not mean matching keywords and then sitting back while the peg fits neatly into the hole.

The problem is structural

The media feed the frenzy: “All those unemployed people are not qualified! They need new skills!” Well, “they” needed new skills in 1990 and in 1995 and in 2000. But “they” got hired anyway, and they did the work.

The problem is structural. This is the dominant “filtering” mechanism employers use. The problem is that employers really believe that, if they wait long enough, perfect hires will show up. The few headhunters who have brains, and the few employers who actually size candidates up for their abilities, are doing quite nicely, thank you.

The rest of the economy is sucking wind because work is left undone because managers aren’t managing. They’re waiting for the databases to spit out magic hires. It ain’t gonna happen.

Cut out the middlemen

Your challenge is to avoid the process that takes your keywords but ignores your ability to learn and to stretch. The alternative is simple: Cut out the middlemen — HR and the recruiters and the headhunters — and go directly to good managers you’d like to work for. Find out what work they need done, and show how you will do it. Show how you will boost their business and they will hire you.

Read that again: Go to good managers you’d like to work for. That means making choices before you approach anyone about a job. It means avoiding the cattle calls. It means avoiding waiting in line. It means avoiding asking for jobs from people you don’t know who don’t know you.

If you understand this, you have an advantage: Everyone else is diddling the job databases, while you’re out talking to a handful of managers you really want to work for who really want and need to hire you. No resume, no interview, no joke.

Here’s what to do next

Pick three companies or managers you really, really want to work for because they are the shining lights in their industry. Then describe (briefly) three problems or challenges each company really needs someone to tackle. (You don’t have to name the companies.) Post right here in the comments section — and I’ll show you what to do next to get in the door.

No resume, no interview, no joke.

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When should you bring up money?

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

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

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

My Advice

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

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

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

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

How to Say It

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

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

How to Say It

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

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

How to Say It

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

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

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

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

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How Employers Can Help You Get Hired

In the December 6, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who helps seniors find jobs shares an “interview invitation” one of his clients received. It’s a landmark! Why don’t more employers do this? Join me below to discuss other ways employers can help you get hired.

I’m a training and placement specialist and a long-time subscriber. I’d like to share an e-mail one of our clients received confirming an interview. I’ve changed the identifying information, but otherwise this is exactly how it was written. I love it when employers tell us what they expect. Too often, we are left to guess. What do you think of this approach to interview invitations?

Chris Walker
Senior Employment Center
Akron, Ohio

***
[Letter received by a job applicant]
Dear Joe,

You are confirmed to interview on Thursday November 17, 2011. You will be interviewing for the Mechanic position with XYZ Compost Services, Inc. The meeting will take place at the address and time listed below

ADDRESS
1234 Main St
Akron, OH 44313
(330) 888-8888

INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
10:00 am – 11:30 am

INTERVIEWERS
[name], Vice President, Operations
[name], Manager, Process Control
[name], Electrical Engineer

INTERVIEW PREPARATION
During your interview, you should expect to be asked behavioral-based questions where your responses need to be specific and detailed. Be ready to share several examples from your past experience — jobs, projects, teams, volunteer work — where you demonstrated strong behaviors and skills, and think in terms of examples that will show off your selling points. Be sure to come prepared with both positive and negative examples.

To learn more about XYZ products and services visit [our website].

Contact me with any questions.

Thank you.

[name], MBA
Director, Human Resources
**

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

Gee — Imagine that! An interview invitation that includes the actual names of interviewers a candidate will meet and talk with. Most employers won’t disclose this information for fear that the candidate might actually call them prior to the interview. Perish the thought!

That’s right, employers don’t want anyone bothering their managers with questions about an open job — least of all people who are about to invest their valuable time in a job interview. It’s better to let the applicant show up guessing what the employer wants, rather than help a candidate get hired by sharing a clear set of expectations. (The alternative for managers is to Open the door.)

Why don’t employers do everything they can to help you get hired? (For that matter, why don’t managers invest heavily in Interview futures, rather than shop for talent at the last minute?)

Most employers don’t want to tip their hand about what you will be asked in a job interview. That would be giving it all away and it would destroy the element of surprise! Why enable candidates to prepare before they interview? Better to let them show up wondering! Do these same managers also give their employees surprise assignments without any suggestions about how to do the work?

Employers behave like total dopes when they schedule interviews. It’s a rare employer that actually helps the candidate prepare. My hat is off to this organization — it clearly believes that helping a candidate succeed in the job interview will help it make a better hire.

But I’d take this further. As an employer, I would:

  • Call the candidate in advance, on the phone, and suggest specific resources the candidate should use to prepare for the interview.
  • Offer to let the candidate talk with team members to ask questions so he or she can prepare fully for the interview.
  • Conduct a “cook’s tour” of the facility prior to the interview, so the candidate can see firsthand what the work — and the business — is all about.
  • (…this last suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now. It’s free!)

Some employers might scoff that this would be a waste of time, and claim that the purpose of the interview is to discuss all these things. I say bunk. A good manager would never blind-side an employee with a work assignment. A good manager would encourage and help an employee prepare in advance, to help ensure success. The point of a job interview is to expedite hiring a capable candidate — so why not help ensure success by prepping the candidate? It’s all the same challenge: to get the work done!

This edition of the newsletter is intended to be more even more interactive than usual. Please help extend my list of what an employer can do to help a candidate prepare for an interview — and to help the candidate succeed.

What would you like to see employers do to help you get hired — and to help themselves efficiently fill a job and get the work done? What would you add to the list of helpful information offered by the employer in Chris Walker’s example? Is anything “too much,” or how extreme could an employer get?

Special thanks to Chris Walker for sharing “a live one” from one of his clients. This is a great topic — especially if hiring managers are out there “listening!”

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You’ll never get hired if you’re self-employed

In the November 29, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who’s run a business for years wants to know whether it’s true that the self-employed are unemployable.

I was on a discussion forum today where the consensus is that you’ll never get hired if you’ve been self-employed. Is that true?

I have had my own consulting business for the past 19 years. My original client base is drying up, but happily I have had some luck with a new market. I can definitely stay on my own, and there are good reasons to do so. BUT… I have not explored many job options over the years. Lately I have seen friends & neighbors get good-to-great jobs, things I would love to do professionally and personally. New challenges, terrific companies… and I find myself envying those folks.

I have been going on some job boards where I’ve seen jobs I would love to have. I’ve studied your approach and I feel confident that I could make good contacts with good companies. I know I would be a great, business-enhancing employee.

Then I came across that discussion forum today. Would it be hopeless for me to even try now? Given what you have written across-the-board, I feel like that forum’s assertion can’t be right. But I figured I’d rather ask you before embarking on a doomed-to-fail effort. (The people on the forum suggest all kinds of subterfuge to hide the “shame” of self-employment. I am very much against subterfuge!)

I have also read that people will “never get hired” if they’re over 50, stay-at-home moms, job-hoppers, or felons (!). I figure that, with the exception of the felons, there must be plenty of people in those categories who get good jobs. Yes?

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

I’ll tell you what I said to a young man I know who is applying to colleges. He wants to study physics. Princeton is virtually impossible to get into and everyone has told him not to bother. But he wants to go to Princeton.

I told him that if you want to do something, then go after it like it’s the only thing in the world. Your goal is to succeed, not to worry or even to think much about the so-called odds. And you certainly should not listen to the comments and speculations of people who are afraid of failure.

Odds matter only if we’re talking about a population of people, because odds are descriptive of a population. They don’t matter much when we’re talking about an individual. Odds don’t prescribe the right action for an individual. That is, just because Princeton rejected 20,000 applicants is no reason not to apply. What matters is what one person is capable of doing — and what he’s motivated to do.

So, ignore and stop reading that stuff on the forums. Do what you want to do. Do it the best way you know how. People with their own businesses get hired. I don’t know how many, and I don’t care. Even if every single one of them has failed to date, your objective is to be the first one to succeed. If you think you can be a great, business-enhancing employee, that’s what matters. It’s better yet if you can demonstrate those qualities. That’s what will get you hired.

My advice is to ignore everything you’ve been told. Then go do what you set out to accomplish. Either smile or smirk at the naysayers. They don’t matter. They’re pretty pathetic. Failure in America is built upon their fears and chatter.

A 63-year-old reader told me last year she’d landed the new job she wanted — in part because she ignored all the discouraging things she’d heard about age being a obstacle. The young man I mentioned applied to Princeton. Will he get in? Will his outcome affect whether you pursue the jobs you want? Go for it. Stay away from the “You can’ts.”

Did anyone ever tell you you’d never get hired? What’s the secret to success in a “lousy” job market? (Hint: There’s no such thing as a job market.) Tell us what you’ve pulled off in the face of incredible odds — that’s what matters.

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