Jumping Employment Gaps

In the November 22, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful executive who took time off then worked as a consultant says headhunters won’t touch him. What’s up?

I was an executive with a financial services software company for 20 years. I joined when it was a start-up. After the company was sold, I took a package and left, as did the co-owners and, eventually, all of the senior management. I have a five year gap in my resume after which I had a couple of consulting engagements, one of which lasted a year, the other approximately six months. I speak with recruiters frequently, but invariably the gaps prevent me from getting an interview. The recruiters will not even present me to the client. I would truly appreciate any advice.

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

Most recruiters suffer from a buzz words syndrome. If the buzz words aren’t on your resume, then you’re not a candidate.

Happy Thanksgiving!Those recruiters obtain lists of “candidate criteria” from their clients, and they pattern-match those criteria to someone’s resume. My guess is that among those criteria are “stable work history” or “must be currently employed.”

You had a long, successful career building a company from the ground up. That’s trumped by “currently unemployed” only in the mind of a foolish recruiter.

If you had been as narrow-minded as those recruiters about whom you hired while building your start-up, the business would likely have failed. I’m willing to bet you hired people who spent time consulting or running their own businesses. You relied on your ability to recognize what people could do; you didn’t judge them on buzz words or on what they had done in the past. You probably hired people that others wouldn’t touch.

What I’m telling you is, those recruiters are helping you weed out companies you should not work for. I know this sounds like sour grapes, but think about it. We all have a selection process in mind that supports the way we live and work. We pick people and we make choices that reflect who we are and how we operate.

Now, think about what that means. You’re being rejected by recruiters and companies that are looking for “the perfect fit” to their narrow criteria. But when did you ever encounter “perfect circumstances” and “perfect solutions” to the business problems you faced at your start-up?

Kiss those recruiters goodbye, because they’re working for narrow-minded employers that you probably won’t be happy working for. Instead, track down insiders who work with the kinds of companies where you’d shine. Start talking to lawyers, bankers, investors, realtors, landlords, accountants, consultants and other folks who do business with dynamic, growing companies that want talent — not perfect fits to static job descriptions. (You and I both know there’s no such thing in either case.)

Those recruiters don’t work for the companies that will hire you. You will find your next employer through external consultants (like those I listed) who work with companies like the one you helped grow. The company that hires you next won’t be looking at the gap you’re facing — it’ll be looking at how effectively you can leap over that gap to help grow its business.

How did you leap over an employment gap? Did you ever hire someone with a gap? What the heck does a gap really say about a person, anyway?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The employer that rejected me made a mistake!

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

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

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

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

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

My Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to manage gang-up interviews

In the October 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager indicts “panel” interviews and says he’d never consent to one — or conduct one. Are panel interviews a bad idea?

I was taken aback recently when my HR department scheduled me as a part of a panel interview. When I queried our hiring team, they claimed this was the “latest thing” and it provided a “challenging atmosphere for the candidate while minimizing expenditure of company resources.”

I was on my way to register my discontent with the HR VP when my Blackberry indicated the interview had been cancelled because the candidate had accepted another offer. That didn’t shock me—I wouldn’t accept a panel interview, either. Shortly thereafter, the HR VP “innovator” left to “pursue other career opportunities.” Good riddance!

This doesn’t mean some other “idea person” in our company won’t try to resurrect this sort of thing, but not on my watch. I believe in giving each candidate a chance, as much as possible, to “do the job.” It’s much more productive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for candidates meeting the teams they will work with, just not in a formal interview environment. Is this panel interview approach really creeping into our already dysfunctional job interviewing system?

Kudos for the continuing wisdom emanating from your Ask the Headhunter empire! Your straightforward approach is a win-win for employers and candidates and removes the HR-injected “smoke and mirrors” from the hiring process. It certainly has helped me in many ways. Good luck and keep ‘em coming!

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

Thanks for the laugh, and for your kind words. No, I don’t see ganging up on a job candidate as a new trend — although in some organizations this has long been routine. Innovative HR VPs… unfortunately, they’re not a trend, either.

It’s refreshing to hear from a manager who doesn’t support contrived methods of assessment. It seems that many HR execs think the more over-defined the interview process is, the better. They’ll accuse me of being a yokel, but whatever happened to just talking with someone and working together, to figure out if there’s a match?

I believe that a simple, engaging, no-tricks, personal interview experience is what gets people’s attention and interest. The more direct and one-on-one the assessment, the better. As you point out, there are good ways for candidates to meet the entire team. Candidates are sick to death of “the process.” They want to work with managers and people who truly want to get to know them. The happiest candidate is one who’s hearing about the work that needs to be done, and who’s being asked how he or she would help do it. I encourage you to go that route at your company.

A thorough assessment can include other activities, but any interview should start with a respectful, “working” meeting — not a confrontation by a gang.

So, what should a job applicant do when the employer schedules a panel interview? Like the candidate who took the other offer and declined the panel interview, the manager who asked this question has the answer: “I wouldn’t accept a panel interview.” What you do, of course, is up to you. (Maybe you like panel interviews!)

While an employer may be taken aback, there’s nothing wrong with saying you’d prefer to meet the hiring manager one on one, and that you’d be glad to meet the rest of the team if that first meeting goes well. Remember — the candidate gets to judge the employer in an interview, too, and doesn’t have to proceed with more discussions unless the experience is satisfactory. Alternately, if you find yourself stuck in a panel interview, try this: How to Beat The Stress Interview.

You can get relief from situations you don’t like by politely and firmly saying no. It’s the sign of a credible job candidate.

Are panel (gang-up) interviews legit? If you’re a manager, do you do panel interviews? What’s your experience been?

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The truth about headhunters

In the October 11, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter who’s tired of high-pressure headhunters asks how to recognize the good ones:

The sales pitches I get from cold-calling headhunters are intense. They’re in a hurry, they avoid sharing details I need and they are high-pressure. How do I know when I’m talking to a good headhunter?

My Advice

This week’s Q&A is an excerpt from my PDF book, How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make them work for you. The book is 130 pages, packed with 62 myth-busting answers for fearless job hunters. I hope you enjoy this sample!

If the caller is a fast-talking salesman, hang up. It’s that simple.

Judging a headhunter and qualifying a headhunter are two different things. You can judge a headhunter’s character whether you decide to work with him or not. This kind of judgment is largely based on observation. If you’re going to actually work with a headhunter, first you must qualify him — and that means you’ve got to test him before you put yourself in his hands. Let’s discuss judging headhunters. (For a thorough discussion of how to qualify a headhunter, please check pages 28-33 of the book.)

  1. If the caller sounds like an earnest business person politely asking for your help with an assignment, you should keep talking.
  2. The best headhunters reveal high standards of conduct and reveal the same qualities they look for in candidates.
  3. They are easy to work with because they are straightforward. They speak clearly and directly. They are not secretive or cagey.
  4. They don’t waste time playing games or putting on airs. They make you feel special, rather than imply they are.
  5. They are not in a hurry. They take time to talk. They pay attention. They answer your questions.
  6. They are knowledgeable about their business, their client, the job they’re trying to fill and about you.
  7. A good headhunter doesn’t call anyone blindly. He already knows quite a bit about your background, or he wouldn’t call you.
  8. A good headhunter reveals integrity by being honest and trustworthy. He will do what he says — including returning your calls.
  9. He is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions he asks. Rather than rely on your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.

If you’re a possible candidate for the headhunter’s client, you’ll get an interview in short order. If you’re not a fit, he won’t lead you on. He will move on. You may feel you’ve been dropped, but a busy headhunter won’t spend more time with you than his assignment warrants. He’s not being rude; he’s doing his job.

Try this test.

When you’re done talking to a headhunter who sought you out, ask yourself, Could this headhunter write an adequate resume about me based strictly on our phone call?

I sometimes write a candidate’s resume just like that, after a phone call, and I provide it as a summary to my client. It’s a good test of my own grasp of a candidate’s credentials and value. If a recruiter’s call is so cursory that you don’t think he could write your resume from it, that reveals an unskilled headhunter or an inadequate recruiting call. A headhunter who calls to merely request your resume is no better than a job posting on the Internet.

When you meet a good headhunter, you’ll know it from the characteristics listed above, and you’ll recognize him as someone with whom you want to cultivate a long-term relationship. (Needless to say, the headhunter could be female.)


(For more answers about headhunters, check the Table of Contents. 30 sub-sections of the book include 62 Q&As that teach you how to conduct your job search with and without headhunters… plus How to Say It examples and Insider’s Edge tips.)


How do you judge headhunters? What tips you off to a good one, and how do you avoid the lousy ones? Have questions about how headhunters behave? Post them and we’ll discuss.

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

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

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

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

My Advice

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

What’s a link?

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

What are you going to do for me?

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

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

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

I found you in the phonebook

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

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

Take a hike

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

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

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

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Don’t be afraid of a C-level contact

In the September 27, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter says he’s got personal introductions to two C-level execs at a company where he wants to work. He worries, is it even a good idea to use them?

The CEO of my former company just gave me two of the best contacts that one could ever hope for. It turns out that he worked at the company in which I’m now interested. He gave me the direct numbers of the CEO and CIO there, and his permission to use his name liberally.

The problem is that I wouldn’t be reporting directly to either of these gentlemen. I technically fall under the CIO’s umbrella, but far removed — I want a web developer job that they have available.

Another problem is that I don’t know anyone else in this company of about 500 people. So how do I take advantage of these contacts without having the whole thing blow up in my face? Should I even try contacting them if they’re not going to be the ones to whom I’d be reporting? This might be as bad as trying to contact HR. Please advise.

My Advice

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!)

The best thing you could do is ask your CEO buddy to call one of these people and recommend you. This is very powerful. If your old friend thinks so much of you, he should be willing to make the call.

Alternately, you could call the CIO, since that’s the area you’d be in, and say your old CEO suggested you call him. But: Do not ask for a job.

How to Say It

“Joe Smith, my former CEO at ABC Company, strongly suggested that I get in touch with you. He thinks I should consider a job at your company. I’m a web developer and I’m trying to get a deeper sense of what’s important to your company in its web presence. I don’t believe in interviewing just because there’s a job open — I like to make sure I understand a business first, and to make sure I can offer something useful and profitable. Do you have a few minutes to tell me a bit about your IT philosophy and your organization?”

Don’t ask for a job

The point is to focus on what a CIO is interested in: strategy and philosophy of IT. Then let him (or her) talk. At the end, state clearly that you’re interested in working for his company and ask if he feels you’re someone the company would be interested in.

How to Say It

“If you think it’s a good idea, I’d like to talk with someone on your web development team who can tell me more about the operation.”

If he tries to send you to HR, politely explain that you’re glad to talk with HR, but first you’d like to get more information about the web work being done there. Here’s how to say it:

(This part of my advice is omitted. It’s for newsletter subscribers only. Subscribe to the newsletter  to read all of next week’s Q&A! It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)

Note that you’re not trying to apply for a job through the CEO or CIO. The goal is to use your old CEO’s personal contacts to help you develop the relevant contacts you need in this company — in the IT department — not just to apply for a job.

Use the contact to make better contacts

Don’t be afraid of a C-level contact, and don’t feel awkward making these calls. You’ve been introduced. Talk shop with these execs, not about applying for a specific job. Use your conversations to learn about them and to expand your circle of contacts. Then ask for referrals to others in the company who can talk shop with you, and you’ll be in the door before you know it.

It’s almost always best, when you’re talking to someone higher up than you, to ask for advice and guidance. Use those exact words:

How to Say It

“I’d like to ask you for a little advice and guidance about how someone with my skills could help your web development team be even more successful.”

Have you ever used an executive contact to get ahead? If you’re an exec, have you given this kind of help? This is a topic that doesn’t get much discussion because many people feel awkward about making that call to an exec. How do you get over the hump?

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3 Ways to Be a Smarter Job Candidate

In the September 20, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wonders how to get smarter, negotiate better, and avoid getting taken advantage of:

I had what may be a “Eureka moment.” I’ve been accused of lacking the “cojones” to handle interviewing and the job market, and I think it’s true. I started my career when companies treated people with respect. Today, employers deliberately set things up so that the job candidate is at a huge disadvantage. The rules have changed so that employers can really take advantage of the diligent, loyal folks who have the 1950’s work ethic.

They make an offer and demand you respond within 24 hours, or it is rescinded. They make statements in interviews that they back out of as soon as you take the job. Don’t assume that they will send you a health insurance card, or that the work week is 40 hours, or that there’s even time to eat lunch. One place I worked made everyone buy their own pens and office supplies. You almost need a bulldog lawyer to negotiate everything for you.

People have told me I have a “golden retriever” personality—too eager to please and to be a good employee. I need to be more skeptical, and I need to be a much tougher negotiator. It is hard when you really need a job, but I’ve learned the hard way not to be so trusting. It may be better to risk ticking off an employer, or losing out on a job, than to take the job and find that someone took advantage of your good nature. How can I get smarter? How can I be a better negotiator? Can you help me out?

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!)

The best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to set your standards and expectations high. Then judge others accordingly.

One way to approach this is to politely make the employer jump a few hoops, too. The lousy ones will refuse, and that saves you time. I doubt it will cost you any good opportunities. My advice: Quickly find out what kind of people you’re dealing with. If there’s a problem, move on. Here are some suggestions.

First

Make a list of what you think is reasonable behavior from an employer, so you’ll be more aware of what to look for. If an employer doesn’t measure up, call them on it. Give them a chance to try again. Their reaction will tell a lot by itself. Here’s an example.

How to Say It
“Thanks for the offer. I’m very pleased about it, but I cannot make a decision in 24 hours. I’ll tell you why. I want to stay with the company I join for the long haul, so I want to make sure it’s the right match. Before I accept, I’d like to spend a little time with people I’d be working with, and with people in related departments. Can we schedule some brief meetings with managers and employees in [manufacturing, finance, whatever] asap? Then I can assure you of a quick answer to your offer. I appreciate your consideration. It will help us both to make a wise decision.”

Massage the wording to suit your style. It’s a reasonable request, and I think it will quickly reveal which companies are good and which are lousy.

Second

Another way to be more assertive (and to protect yourself): Ask for the full employee manual and benefits package at your first interview, or before it. Hey, they have all your info in your resume and application, right? You want their info. If they won’t give you copies after your first interview, thank them and walk away. Don’t waste your time.

Third

(This part of my advice is omitted. It’s for newsletter subscribers only. Subscribe to the newsletter to read all of next week’s Q&A! It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)

There are good companies out there. You have to weed out the rest, and these are some ways to do it. Of course, you must be polite, reasonable and very professional. Never be pushy, demanding, or rude or presumptuous. Wear a big smile, grow some cojones, and be firm. Sure, this will cost you what people loosely refer to as “opportunities”—but they are really nothing at all.

Know what your standards are. Go in with a positive attitude. Stand firm the first time they push you where you don’t want to go.

Some employers demonstrate high standards. Others smile a lot and bite you where it hurts. Learn to tell one from the other by testing them. Today’s Q&A offers 3 suggestions. How do you test a company before you accept a job offer? Have you been bitten?

How can job candidates be smarter and negotiate better? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


The Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is 9 years old today! That’s worth a special deal!

To celebrate, I’m offering an extra $5 off the 2-Book Bundle! Discount code: 9YEARS. This discount code is good only until Friday, September 23, and only on the 2-Book Bundle! Click here to order, and type 9YEARS in the discount code box when ordering!

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Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?

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

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

My reply:

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

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

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

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

2. Help the employer focus on what matters most.

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

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

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

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

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

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You blew the interview? Fess up and fix it.

In the August 16, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a rejected job hunter fesses up that he got cocky and didn’t prepare for his interview.

Question

I have five years experience in a technical job and I want to move into a related management role. I’m the go-to guy in the department and I am considered a “vital” part of the team by both my peers and senior management. When I presented a case for the creation of a management role and development of a team, it was largely ignored and placed on the “long finger.” The whole experience made me realize I need to focus on moving my career forward.

I recently interviewed for a management job with a company that I have long admired. The job itself is a carbon copy of my current position, but it would include two or three people working under me. I was called back for a second interview, but I was unsuccessful in moving forward to the next phase.

On reflection, there were several reasons I probably didn’t move forward including being too cocky leading up to the interview, and thus not being 100% prepared. I don’t think my desire to change jobs was shining through in the interview.

The logical next step for me is management. How can I make this transition? Many thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

You probably nailed the reason why you failed the interview. You weren’t prepared for the meeting, and maybe a bit cocky. You blew it. While you seem to have admitted your mistake, you said nothing about what you plan to do about this. It’s not even clear to me that you care — you just want to move on to the next opportunity.

A manager doesn’t just tackle a project. A manager gets it done. And if the manager makes a mistake, he doesn’t just walk away. The key here is that you recognize what you did wrong. A good manager figures out what he did wrong, tunes up his approach, and goes back at it. Is it possible that the employer who interviewed you thinks you’re not interested in correcting your mistake? I don’t know, but my concern is that you don’t seem to care.

Before you move on to the next management opportunity, fix what you did wrong this time. There’s probably nothing to lose in taking another shot, and what you’ll gain is self-respect and perhaps a second chance. My advice is not to give up so quickly. Go back to the employer who already invested in two meetings with you.

I’d either call the manager, or send a short note. Fess up and fix it. The note is for fessing up, and the plan that you attach is for fixing it.

How To Say It

“I apologize for being a bit cocky in my interview. The truth is, I was distracted by some issues at my current job, and I didn’t carefully analyze your needs to formulate a useful response. While it may be too late, I need to do this for the sake of my own integrity. Attached please find an outline of my understanding of the job you need done, and what seem to be the key problems and challenges. Along with that, I include a brief plan for how I would do the job for you, describing how I’d achieve the three main objectives, and my estimate of how my work would contribute to your bottom line. This is how I try to approach any job, including the one I’m doing now. I didn’t accomplish this in my interview with you. I’m sorry if I wasted your time when we met. I want you to know I take every job seriously, whether I win it or not. Thanks for your time. I hope you find something useful in what I wrote for you. If you find my comments worthy of further discussion, you won’t regret meeting with me again.”

The details of this approach are covered in detail in How Can I Change Careers?, a PDF book that I should probably re-title, because it’s not just for career changers, but for anyone who’s changing jobs and wants to stand out in the interview. It teaches how to show an employer that hiring you will be a profitable decision. If an employer can’t figure out whether it’s worth giving you a shot at a management job, you must prove that it’s a wise choice. The interviewer won’t figure it out for herself. That’s why you must submit a plan showing how you’ll do the work.

If you want to be the “go-to guy” in a management job, I think you need to get back in touch with that employer. Show that you know how to handle rejection by changing your approach and by acting like a versatile manager. If you hear nothing back, chalk it up to learning. Either way, you will have developed the plan you need to approach any promotion to a management job.

(Here on the blog, I usually print only a part of the advice I offer in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter — and we discuss the topic here. This week, I ran it all. Next week, it’ll be a partial reprint once again. But don’t miss another issue! Be on top of the discussion! It’s free!Sign up for the weekly newsletter!)

Can you go back after the employer says No?

It happens to everyone at some point. You blow it in the job interview. You know why, and you feel like a dope. You could have performed much better. Can you go back for another bite at the apple? Have you done it? Did it work?

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I really, really want this job!

In the July 19, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter interviews for a job and gets no call back, but really, really wants the job and is… uh… freaking out.

Question

I interviewed for job A and job B at the same company. After two interviews for job B, I was told I would be contacted within a week either about a third round or to let me know what was going on. I got no call. I really hate that.

Looking through a jobs site, I freaked out when I saw job A posted again. (I was runner-up on that one.) So yesterday I made a courtesy call to the manager I interviewed with for job B to let him know I am still interested. Still no call.

Now I am truly freaking out. I don’t want to be screwed out of a job with this organization. Friends have advised me not to keep calling. But isn’t there some way to find out what’s going on? The key is I really want to work for this organization—period. Suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Please, read this carefully: You cannot control what a company does after you have interviewed, if there’s no communication.

Now look at what you’re saying:

“The key is I really want to work for this organization—period.”

“I don’t want to be screwed out of a job with this organization.”

“Now I am truly freaking out.”

That attitude is good groundwork for failure. Desire is a good thing when it motivates you to succeed. But if your desire dominates your good sense, you’re hurting yourself.

An employer is not obligated to hire you, or even to respond to you. Now, I think it’s rude and irresponsible for a company not to follow up, especially if they promised to. But if that’s what’s happening, the appropriate response is not to doggedly pursue the company. It’s to move on. If they’re ignoring you, then you’re wasting your time. You have no control over the company’s inaction. Stop freaking out. And stop thinking someone is screwing you.

As companies kick up their hiring a bit, they’re going to kick up their interviewing even more. They are going to meet lots of candidates, and they’re going to reject most of them. It’s understandable that you strongly believe this job is perfect for you. But it’s not understandable to freak out because the company doesn’t see it the same way.

No matter what you want to believe, there might be, in fact, zero correlation between the level of your desire for a job and your suitability for it. I’m haranguing here because many people get completely stuck on their perception of a deal. Any deal requires two parties to have the same perception. Vladimir Nabokov punctured our wishful thinking when he wrote, “You are not I; therein lies the irreparable calamity” (Invitation to A Beheading, Vintage, 1989).

We all want to think we know what a company wants and needs. But we don’t, because often the company doesn’t know, either — not until it stops interviewing and makes a hiring decision. So, don’t let a rejection affect your self confidence. That rejection is not necessarily a judgment about you, as much as it is a choice about what the company needs.

It’s important to carefully choose the companies you want to work for, and to Pursue Companies, Not Jobs. But if you want control over your job search, never put all your energy and desire into just one objective. When you schedule an interview, you should also take care of another important chore: Line up your next target. Don’t go to an interview unless you have an alternative already in your sights. If you pursue just one opportunity at a time, you will have nowhere to go if it doesn’t pan out. That leads to desperation and depression. And even if you do get an offer, having no other options can result in misguided negotiations for the job you “really want.”

Sometimes a job interview seems like an invitation to a beheading. You show up, hoping you’re not the victim. The employer makes a decision and brings the blade down, and you never even realize it’s over. The calamity is when you continue your wishful thinking, at the expense of other options.

The key is not that you “really want to work for this organization.” The key is that you’ve lost control. Move on to the next opportunity. That’s the only way to stay sane and to control your job search.

Only one job candidate survives the interrogations. Only one gets the job. The rest get cut. Yah, it’s painful, and yah, you might really, really want that job…

What you can do? And when should your wishful thinking end?

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