Could you score an interview with this manager?

In the September 11, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager takes us into “the lab” and shows us how he actually interviews candidates to determine whether they can do the job.

Special Edition

Ever wonder whether the job hunting and hiring methods we discuss on this blog really work? Do you wonder whether there are managers that actually expect applicants to do the job in the interview? In this Special Edition, get ready to sit down at the table for an interview with a manager who gets it!

Ray (I’m withholding his last name) heads up product development and business development for an enterprise software company based in the midwestern U.S. This column is not an endorsement of his business — he is not my client — but I sure love his approach to hiring, because it’s what I teach job hunters to do in How Can I Change Careers? The method is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview by demonstrating how they’ll do the work profitably.

And that’s what this hiring manager does — he asks job candidates to show how they’ll do the work, right in the interview.

I’m ready to tie on a napkin and let Ray serve up his methods in his own words — from a recent series of e-mails, with minimal commentary from me. Then I’d like you to join us on the blog to chow down on these interviewing and hiring methods. Do you think you could score an interview with a manager like this? (You might even have a few comments about how he does it!) This all started innocently enough with a nice thank-you e-mail Ray sent me last week:

Dear Nick,

I love your approach to interviewing. As a hiring manager, I turn my interviews into exercises designed to give job candidates the chance to show me that they can do the job. Sort of Reverse Crocodile Headhunting! Thank you for the wonderful ideas in Ask The Headhunter!

So I asked Ray about his business and how he interviews.

I hire product evangelists, product managers and product marketers for a software company. Our products are sold to large enterprises. Successful candidates need to combine business skills with software technology skills to help design product strategy and product positioning. The sad part about my method is that, as a hiring manager, I have to step candidates through the whole process of showing their value. I have 99% given up on the idea that a superior candidate is going to walk in and be prepared to do this all themselves, without me asking. They all need to read your book!

What do you ask, and what are you looking for in those candidates?

The first question I ask: What two people would you start a software company with?

Some candidates limit their answers to personal friends or family, instead of best-in-the-world business owners or technical software geniuses. E.g., Pete and Mary instead of Warren Buffet and Richard Branson. When I explain they could have mentioned anyone in the world, they say, “Oh, I didn’t know it could be anybody like that.” It kind of implies a closed mind set that won’t work outside the box.

I want to determine whether they study business people and the software business in particular. Most great business people study role models. If they want to work in the software industry, you would think that they actually study the best software companies and the best business minds at some point.

What’s a great response to the question?

My personal response would be Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci. Give Da Vinci a few months to understand iOS and Objective C and his apps would be remarkable, I suspect! By the way, I’ve never limited the choice to living people.

What I like about Ray’s approach to interviewing is that, while he opens with a “blue sky” question about starting a business, he quickly starts asking candidates how they would actually do the work:

What will your first product be? This is a perfect chance to demonstrate their analysis and strategy skills in our exact business area. If they do their pre-interview homework, this is a lob shot for them to use it to astound me with their ability to think and thus to do the job.

I love it. Ray asks people to do the job — conceive a product! Next questions in the interview?

If they make it this far, our meeting now turns into a chance for them to start working with me as if this were a real product discussion:

  • What will you price this at?
  • What will our first target market be?
  • Who should our first prospecting call be with?
  • Who will our competitors be?
  • If our first product is destined to never sell successfully… what will be the cause of the failure?
  • If it fails because of that reason, what should our next product be?

I might then give them an exact product situation using our current product line and current product market conditions. By the end of this exchange, I know already if I want this person to work for me, or for my competitors! We’ve already had a full dialog about a completely relevant and plausible project idea that would be similar to their eventual work if hired. Nick, in your words, they’ve already shown me that they can do the job and they should already know if they’ll like collaborating with me.

Dear Ray,

Thanks for serving up this week’s column, and for showing readers how a real manager applies Ask The Headhunter methods to interviewing and hiring. Whether you got your ideas from me, or developed them on your own, all I care is that they work!

Now I hope readers will join us on the blog to talk further about this approach. And if there are folks in the audience interested in working for your company, they’re welcome to say so — and if they can show they can score an interview with you, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with them off-line. And if something comes of it, we’ll report back.

What do you think of Ray’s approach to interviewing? Could you score an interview with a manager like this? How would you apply Ray’s methods in other kinds of jobs and companies?

I didn’t ask Ray whether he’s worried that he’s revealed all his interview secrets — and that, now, anyone who applies for a job at his company “will know what’s up.” Do you think it matters? Want a shot at an interview with Ray? You’ll have to prove you’re worth it!

[UPDATE: If you have a serious interest in talking with Ray about a job at his company, drop me a note and I’ll get it to Ray. It’s got to get past me first. Please: No tire-kickers or resume spammers. In fact, don’t send a resume. Just use the ideas discussed here to make your case. My e-mail link is way the bottom of the right-side nav bar of the blog.]

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Summer Slam: Monster, options, skirt protocol & resumes

In the August 28, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we do the Summer Slam — “Speed Q&A” about:

  • Monster.com’s and CareerBuilder’s paltry success rates
  • Employers that toy with job applicants
  • Pantsuits or skirts?
  • Blasphemous resumes

Every week I publish a real problem from a real reader along with my detailed advice. But I get tons of questions that never get published. Although I can’t possibly answer every question, when I have time I dash off answers to as many as I can. This week’s edition is a summer slam — high-speed Q&A culled from those brief e-mails. I hope you enjoy it!

Question: Monster-ous success rates

Do you know what the current success rate for Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com is? I have heard a statistic of 3%. I saw an article written back in 2005, but was wondering about more current information.

Nick’s Reply

The big job boards don’t report their success rates because they stink. According to CareerXroads.com, the two job boards were the “source of hires” about 2-4% of the time for employers polled:

  • 2002: Monster 3.6%, CareerBuilder 1.5%
  • 2004: Monster 2.6%, CB 2.4%
  • 2006: Monster 2.9%, CB 2.5%
  • 2008: Monster 2.7%, CB 3.5%
  • 2009: Monster 1.5%, CB 5.3%

These figures had to be teased out of CareerXroads surveys. In subsequent years, it seems the reports were burying the job boards’ consistently poor performance. In 2011 they reported that “88.9% of survey respondents attribute at least one hire to Monster during 2010.” They’re boasting about one hire? Gimme a break. My read is that neither board delivers more than 3-4% of hires. It’s pathetic. A dog with a note in its mouth could go out and bring you more hires. I’d stick to the niche job boards. The only big job board I like is LinkUp.com because they pull jobs only from employers’ own websites.

Question: Options

I applied for a job with a small company. I got a call saying they have not ruled me out as a candidate but they were taking their time filling the position with someone with more experience. Months later, the job is still posted. Should I call them and offer to do the job as an intern? I really want this job!

Nick’s Reply

I know your motivation about a job can be very high. But let’s play devil’s advocate: Why would you want a job so much, when they don’t want you? They’ve put you on hold. They don’t see a fit. Not ruling you out doesn’t mean much if they have not stayed in touch with you. My advice is to move on and find a company that really wants you. Be careful with intern jobs — it’s often the signal to a company that you’re willing to do anything. Your best negotiating position with these guys is to develop other options.

Question: Skirt protocol

As a professional woman, I’ve always heard you should wear a suit with a skirt to interview. Lately I’ve seen women interviewing in suits with pants. What is the norm? Have we reached the point where women can interview in professional pantsuits or is it still skirt protocol?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think any rule about attire covers all employers, but it’s worth finding out how employees at a company dress. Follow suit (no pun intended). If possible, visit the company’s location. Observe the people going in and out of the office. Dress one notch above the employees, because the point is to show respect. However, over-dressing can backfire. I’ve seen employers drop candidates who showed up over-dressed, worried the person might not fit in.

Question: Resumes

I love your Resume Blasphemy idea, but I am still confused about how to build a good resume. I was wondering if you have a resume sample or template that I could download? One that gives me examples. I really wish that I could finally figure this out, and quite honestly you are the only person that I feel gives out good advice. You need to write a book on resume building, Nick.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words. The Resume Blasphemy approach is like a Zen koan. The message between the lines is, don’t use a resume. Don’t try to climb the mountain; go around it. To produce a blasphemous but powerful resume, you must talk to people connected to the company to ferret out what makes the business tick. Figure out how exactly you could contribute to its success. Once you do that, you don’t need a resume. You’ve already started talking to the right people, who can introduce you to the boss. A good resume is a business plan for doing the job. But you can’t produce a plan after reading a job description on a job board. (And you can’t create a plan by looking at someone else’s. Sorry, I don’t share samples of other people’s work!)

Hope you enjoyed this collection of short Q&As. Now please add your advice or to improve mine!

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Am I cheating on the company that’s interviewing me?

In the August 21, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know whether it’s okay to interview with a company, when another company paid the airfare:

When a company flies me in to interview, is it okay to interview with other employers? Here’s the situation. A person is interested in two or more companies in the same industry and in the same locale. Obviously, the most efficient way to interview at these companies would be to fly out for a stretch of time (say a day or two), and interview at all of the companies over that time. My question is, should I let all the companies know that I will be talking to other companies on that trip? Or am I cheating on the company that pays my airfare?

My Advice

When a company pays to fly you out for an interview, you owe them two things: serious interest in the job, and the time required to interview you. They own your schedule for the time they want to meet with you. If they expect to see you for more than one day while you’re there, you must live by their schedule. They paid for the trip.

What you do the rest of the time is your own business. Do you need to tell them you’re going to the movies in the evening? Having dinner with an old friend, or with a manager from another company? I don’t think so — as long as it doesn’t interfere with the time they need with you. If you call the airline and arrange to extend your stay so you can meet with other companies (or to vacation) at your own expense, that’s up to you.

One thing you should not do is ask another company to split the cost of your trip with the company that’s flying you out anyway. (I have seen this done, but I think it complicates matters. Suddenly, you have two competitors trying to cooperate for your benefit.) You may, however, ask the second company to cover the cost of your hotel for the extra day you’re staying over to meet with them.

Keep the arrangements separate, and keep each company’s activity with you confidential. Make sure you’re giving the company that’s footing the bill all the access they need while you’re in town. But by all means, interview with as many companies as you’re interested in while you’re there. I see nothing unbusinesslike or unethical about it.

There is no need to tell any of the companies what you’re doing, unless you think it will aid you in getting offers. Personally, I think flaunting one company’s interest to another can backfire — and it’s inappropriate. But that’s your judgment call.

When’s the last time a company flew you out for an interview? It doesn’t happen often nowadays! When it does, be ready to capitalize on a visit to your target city. How do you optimize out-of-town interview trips?

Bonus Question: If you’ve got one interview out of town, how do you get more while you’re there?

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Why do companies hide the benefits?

In the August 7, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to why an employer refuses to disclose what the employee benefits are until the offer has been accepted:

I’ve been offered a job by a very large company. The salary is fine and the job sounds good. The offer letter states that I am eligible for benefits, but it doesn’t say what the benefits are.

I asked the headhunter who was working to place me, and he said the company’s policy is not to disclose the benefits until after I’ve accepted the position. This sounds really bizarre. The headhunter has assured me that the benefits package is very good and I shouldn’t worry about it; I’ll be happy with the package.

Should I take his word for it and accept the job, or should I run the other way?

My Advice

You’ve run smack up against one of the most perturbing and ludicrous practices of many companies: They will not divulge the details of their benefits package and/or their employee policy manual until after you have started work.

Why? Honest, this is the usual answer: “Our benefits package is considered a competitive secret, and our employee manual is confidential.”

You are right to be skeptical.

They invite you to join the game, but you can’t see the rules in advance. You may make an investment in the company, but you may not see the financials. You may buy the house, but you may not do an engineering inspection first.

Did you ever ask to see a menu at a restaurant only to be denied?

Please rest assured, the company you’re dealing with is behaving stupidly. You may be tempted to run away, but don’t. Take some control of the negotiation.

Call the office of the CEO and very politely explain that you are sitting on a job offer that you’re ready to accept, but you have a question no one — including the HR department — seems able to answer to your satisfaction. Decline to say what the question is until a staff member from the CEO’s office (someone who is not in the HR department) agrees to talk with you. I’ll bet you dinner (I’ll even show you the menu) that the CEO’s office has no idea that HR withholds such basic information from potential hires.

If you get to talk with a sensible company representative, here’s How to Say It:

“I’m impressed with your company, and I’m eager to come to work with John Jones, the manager of your finance department [or whichever department]. However, I cannot accept this offer without knowing all the terms of employment. I could no more sign an employment agreement without knowing all the terms than your company could sign a contract without knowing what it was committing to. I’m sure you understand. Could you please send me your employee manual, benefits package, and any other documents that would bind me after I start the job? Once I have these, I will promptly respond. I look forward to accepting your offer, and to making a significant contribution to your business. Please don’t ask me to talk with your HR department — they have already refused to provide these basic documents. I hope I can count on your help so we can all get to work.”

Although I think a company’s refusal to disclose benefits is sufficient reason to decline an offer, I should warn you that the more serious risk lies in taking the job before you’ve seen the employee policy manual. This is where things like non-compete rules, prohibitions against moonlighting, surrender of invention rights, and other important terms are sometimes hidden.

If you balk at these rules after you’ve started the job, your only option is to quit — without the freedom of being able to fall back on your old job. Moreover, be aware that those rules may still apply after you quit. A job offer is a contract, and certain terms of that contract may survive your resignation or termination. Get it all in writing. A company’s employee manual is usually incorporated by reference into a job offer. When you accept one, you accept the other. But don’t stop there: Beware the cause clause.

Be very careful. Question authority. Question such policies. They stink, and there’s good reason to say so. You risk getting the company upset, but as I asked earlier, would you agree to pay for a meal at a restaurant before you know what’s on the menu? (In some European restaurants, they go a step further and graciously invite you into the kitchen where you can see how the food is prepared and check out the bubbling pots for yourself, before you even sit down!)

Not all companies have such policies about benefits information. I discourage you from signing a contract (a job offer) from a company that will not divulge everything you need to know. I’d tell the headhunter you have your own policy: I need to know what the entire offer is — including the benefits.

Have you ever taken a job without knowing the employee benefits? Have you encountered a “gotcha” too late? What else do you need to know before quitting your old job to accept a new offer?

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How to negotiate salary through a headhunter

In the July 24, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know how to get the best compensation deal through a headhunter:

What can I expect from a recruiter when I’m negotiating salary and compensation? After all, doesn’t he work for the hiring company?

My Advice

This question is so common that I include an entire section about it in the PDF book, How to How to Work with Headhunters … and how to make headhunters work for you. This advice is from Section 4: Talking Money.

To understand a headhunter’s motivations for negotiating your compensation, you must understand the headhunter’s job.

How to help the headhunter help you

Before there’s any chance to negotiate, the headhunter’s real challenge is to get a company and candidate to agree they want to work together. This has nothing to do with money. It’s all about the people, the company, and the job. That’s why it’s crucial for you to decide whether you actually want the job (as long as the terms can be worked out).

Saying you want the job doesn’t mean you’ve accepted the offer, but it sets the headhunter loose to get you a deal you’ll accept. It helps you win the headhunter’s cooperation, because half the battle is won. There’s nothing for the headhunter to negotiate unless you let him know you want the job.

Once your motivation to take the job is settled, the headhunter can get to work on the financial terms. Even though the headhunter works for the employer, he earns no fee unless he can work out terms that are satisfactory to you.

Be ready to express what you want

This is where many job candidates blow it. They don’t want to express what they want. They believe that if they don’t state what they want, they might magically get more. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take note: If you have an offer, the employer has already put a number on the table. It’s decision time for you. If you can’t decide what you want, you can’t make the headhunter work for you. You must arm him with specific instructions. At this stage the headhunter will advise you what’s reasonable to negotiate with the employer — but he will do the negotiating on your behalf with his client.

So, be frank, but don’t be ridiculous. Tell the headhunter what offer you would accept. If the headhunter thinks your terms are nuts, he’ll tell you, but don’t hold it against him. He won’t go back to his client with an unreasonable request. But he’s not likely to drop-kick you out of the deal, either. He may try to convince you to take the offer as it stands. Or, if he thinks there’s some wiggle room in the offer, he will try to negotiate with you and with his client for a compromise.

Know where you fit in the negotiations

The headhunter’s position as the middleman makes it easier for you to work out the terms without jeopardizing the offer altogether. He wants to get the deal done as much as you do.

The client pays the headhunter, but the headhunter needs your cooperation, so he’ll work with you to set reasonable terms for your acceptance. The client gets the hire. You get a job you want on favorable terms. The headhunter gets his fee. All three parties must work together.

Of course, this all assumes you’re dealing with a good headhunter, but that’s another question, covered in another section of the book, Section 1: Understanding Headhunters. You’ll also learn more in the book about exactly why this approach to negotiating with a headhunter helps him negotiate a better deal for you. (Needless to say, the headhunter could be a she.)

What’s your experience been with headhunters? Did you get the deal you wanted? How did the headhunter handle the negotiations between you and the employer? How did you protect your interests?

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Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution

In the July 17, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains that Human Resources (HR) departments are behind the talent shortage:

I don’t have a question, but I want to share stories about two candidates that I interviewed. (I am a manager.)

I am continually astounded at the kinds of idiotic discrimination I see companies engage in when they’re hiring. This simply confirms my suspicions that bad HR managers are a major impediment to good candidates getting good jobs.

I’ve been to job fairs where companies tape up signs saying “U.S. Citizenship Required” and “Must Speak English.” This puts me in mind of the “Irish need not apply” and “No Blacks” of earlier years. There are very few jobs that genuinely require citizenship (as opposed to employment authorization) and I’ve found precious few on this side of the Atlantic who come close to speaking proper English!

At my company, HR often turns away good candidates for reasons just as ludicrous as those signs. This is what happened to two people I interviewed. HR ignored both of them as “unhireable.”

One candidate had a Chinese accent so thick that I had difficulty understanding anything she said. During the interview I resorted to asking her to write or draw in order to assist communication. I saw strong technical skills through the language problems that this new immigrant had and I made the offer.

Another candidate was so nervous that he completely messed up most of the questions in the first half of the interview. I persevered, put him at ease and satisfied myself that he was technically able. I hired him, too.

Both these people have been stunning performers in my company. The Chinese candidate has improved her language skills to the point where communication is no longer a challenge. The formerly nervous candidate has gained confidence. The only downside is that either candidate could now go elsewhere and breeze through interviews with the sort of lame-brains who (I believe) routinely pass up good candidates because it takes a bit of extra effort to get to know them.

The moral of this story is, if you are a candidate, try to talk to managers, not HR. If you are the solution, prove it. If you are a manager, try to get at the candidates before HR filters out all the good ones. If you are a recruiter, drop the dumb prejudices! There is no talent shortage, just a shortage of good hiring practices and patience!

My Advice

I could kiss you. Thanks for the reality check. Employers are losing great candidates due to crappy judgments about who is worth interviewing and hiring.

I haven’t seen the sort of signs you refer to, but then again, I haven’t been to a job fair in a long time. However, I have seen good job candidates passed over by corporate representatives who had no skin in the game. That is, they weren’t hiring managers. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that a good hiring manager will dig a bit deeper to get to know a candidate than an HR manager might — because the manager needs to fill a job.

Do HR workers, in general, discriminate? Are they lazy? Your stories raise these provocative questions, and you deliver a sharp message: Companies do themselves a disservice when they keep the hiring manager at arm’s length from the hiring process.

Today HR uses software to filter candidates before any human judgment is brought to bear. The result is that excellent prospects are denied before the hiring manager even knows they exist. Why does HR do this?

HR’s answer is just as dumb as it sounds: HR has so many applicants that it has no choice but to use software to filter them!

And my rejoinder reveals just how stupidly HR behaves: HR created the problem itself! Where do you think all those tons of applicants suddenly came from? HR posts jobs and solicits any and all applicants — then complains it’s got too many?

For $50 I’ll give any HR department the solution: Stop posting jobs and soliciting millions of resumes. More is not better — so stop with the stupid excuses already. End the problem of “more applicants than we can handle.” If too many are applying, you’re not doing your job. The point is to use methods that attract the right candidates — not tons of candidates!

And here’s the rest of the solution: HR should handle the administrative process of getting new hires on board, but HR should get out of the business of recruiting, selection, interviewing, and hiring. That’s for managers – those who have skin in the game.

You didn’t ask a question, but there’s lots to learn from what you had to say. I hope employers (and job hunters) see the lessons in it.

Both managers and job hunters need to get down to brass tacks: Talk about how to do the job profitably. In How Can I Change Careers? (or jobs) is a simple method for preparing for interviews so you can prove to a manager that you’re worth hiring. It’s not difficult for managers to set up an interview to ensure the candidate will have a chance to show what they can do — so the manager can make a sound hiring decision as quickly as possible.

If you’re a manager, have you ever missed out on good hires due to HR’s “filtering” process? How do you find your new hires? If you’re a job hunter, how do you get past the HR meat grinder so you can actually talk to the hiring manager?

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Say NO to job leads

In the July 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter complains that job leads don’t pan out any better than job postings:

To build up my networking, I’ve started going to two different job clubs. One is related to my line of work, information technology (IT), and the other is more general, with people from lots of professions attending. Both groups start with a job lead portion of the meeting and some good information is given out. But I wonder what you have to say about this, since you advocate networking so much. None of these leads have panned out any better than job postings I respond to. I submit my resume and I try to call, too, but nothing develops. Job leads from real people should be more productive than answering job postings, you would think. Is networking a fallacy or am I doing something wrong?

My Advice

Networking is not a fallacy, but the term is so over-used that I think it’s confusing you. Getting job leads at job clubs is not networking. What you’re doing wrong is wasting face time, and I’ll try to explain why. But first, I think you’re right that “job leads” are no better than job postings.

Most job leads are like job postings

Have I gone totally nuts? Am I telling you to say NO to a job lead?

Not all job leads are the same. While getting a lead at a meeting might seem more personal, it’s very different from a personal referral from some who knows, respects, and trusts you — and who has true insider connections. The leads you’re talking about could originate anywhere. They are more like job listings than leads.

Now I’ll try to explain why you should say no to most job leads. Matt Bud is a friend of mine who runs The FENG — The Financial Executives Networking Group. In a recent newsletter to over 40,000 members, Matt discussed one of The FENG’s services: in-person meetings where financial folks network and share job leads. Matt makes the same point I do — and I think very few people get this, so please think about it carefully:

“Sharing old job leads, which is what happens at face to face meetings, doesn’t really benefit anyone. It just takes up time that could be better spent networking.”

I do pro bono presentations for a local job club. Here’s what I say to them:

“So, here you are — a bunch of unemployed people, coming to meetings where you expect other unemployed people to give you job leads…”

Most job leads are old news

As Matt points out in his newsletter, any job lead is old news by the time it gets to you. It’s almost no better than a job posting on Monster.com. But, you might say, this is information fresh from the lips of real people who often get job leads from personal contacts.

Here’s Matt’s take on the value of such leads:

“Were they filled yet? Probably not, but the candidate slates aren’t likely to be expanded if the job is over a few weeks old. They sound good, but you are receiving totally useless information.”

Invest in opportunities, don’t chase what comes along

The age of job leads isn’t the only issue to consider before you quickly tap out a resume submission on your smartphone. That lead — even if it’s sound — is for a job that came along, not one you developed yourself. This is an important point.

While you’re likely to chase what comes along, by quickly e-mailing an application on a lead, you’re probably far more motivated to invest in a more effective approach if the job (or employer) is one you carefully researched and decided was a top-quality target for you.

For example, you might triangulate around the job to get inside information that confirms the fit and bolsters your presentation. You’re also more likely to cultivate a strong personal referral who actually recommends you to the boss. Both actions help you vet the opportunity and boost your chances of success dramatically.

But you’ll shake your head and ask, What’s the point, since any lead, no matter where it comes from, could turn into a good opportunity? My point is that opportunities that “come along” often turn into mistakes, precisely because you didn’t choose them yourself. I think most people go job hunting because they took the wrong job to begin with, most often because “it came along.”

Network with a plan

Job leads that come along are not what’s best for the job hunter. True opportunities that are really good for you are carefully selected and developed, not picked up at a meeting. Showing up and listening to a broadcast of leads is not networking, even if it’s done in person.

Most of the time, networking is a lifestyle. It’s about meeting new people and blue-sky exploring. In this context — active job hunting — networking is a tool in the service of a clear objective. “A job” is not a clear objective. A particular employer or job is. The approaches are radically different.

Carefully select a target employer or job, and network to gather information that lets you develop a plan you can present to the employer. Be ready to demonstrate why you are the profitable hire. Network to convince insiders to recommend you. The most effective form of networking involves finding people who introduce us to employers, and who teach us how we can help the employer — so we can stand out as the person the employer wants to hire.

A job lead picked up at a meeting gives you no such edge because you didn’t work for it.

Say NO to job leads — Say YES to networking

I agree with Matt Bud. Getting together with other job hunters to hear about job leads is a waste of time. Learn to say no to job leads, and instead use the time more profitably. Use face time to network — but have a very specific, clear objective.

My PDF book, How Can I Chang Careers?, includes a pivotal chapter titled “A Good Network is a Circle of Friends.” One section, “Seek advice, not help,” emphasizes the importance of having a specific objective you need advice about — whether you’re changing careers, or just jobs:

“No one wants the ‘Can you help me find a job?’ monkey on their back because the monkey requires feeding and lots of attention. That’s why most people you ask for help will quickly refer you to the personnel office. On the other hand, if you approach me for advice rather than help, that’s something I can provide…”

The person you’re networking with will be happy to share advice and engage in discussion that reveals whether you’re worthy of friendship. And friendship is what leads to personal referrals, which is where jobs really come from.

Am I splitting hairs, or is a job lead about as useless as a job posting? How do you network to get truly useful referrals? Do you give out job leads? What’s the best way to get in the door for the job you really want?

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My employer withheld my pay

In the July 3, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a 20% bonus disappears:

When I was hired, my offer letter included the promise of an annual 20% bonus. Recently I was transferred internally, but there was no notice of a change in my compensation deal. Bonus time came around but neither my old or new department budgeted for my bonus. I’ve been making monthly appeals to my boss, who keeps getting the runaround from Accounting. It turns out that no one else at my level gets bonuses. To make matters worse, the company was acquired and all our jobs are up in the air.

Is there any way I can get the bonus I’m due? The amount is substantial. This sounded too good to be true when I got the offer letter, but there it is in black and white: 20%.

My Advice

I don’t ordinarily tackle questions that require legal advice, but there’s also a matter of principle here. It seems the company is breaking a simple agreement and it’s worth discussing how to deal with that. However, my advice is not legal; for that you’ll need an attorney.

Since your offer letter promised an annual 20% bonus in writing, and since you got no other written notice to the contrary, then I think the company has an obligation to pony up the money. While a company may have the right to reassign you to a different job or department, I don’t believe it’s got the right to withhold compensation.

If your boss is “getting the runaround from Accounting,” that’s not your problem. Accounting doesn’t decide whether you’ll be paid; your employer does. This passing of the buck suggests that who’s getting the runaround is you.

Given the circumstances, I’d pursue this quickly and create a document trail. If you get laid off before you put the issue on the table, it’s going to be harder to resolve it.

Take this to the highest level HR manager you can. Put a copy of your offer letter on the desk and politely ask what the problem is. (Keep the original under lock and key.) The difficulty is that you’ve waited a long time since the bonus was due, but that doesn’t excuse your employer. I’d also ask HR for a written statement about the company’s position on the matter — build that document trail.

Listen to what the HR manager has to say. If there’s no resolution within a week, send a certified letter (with proof of receipt) to HR outlining the situation, and copy the letter to your attorney. Do not say anything accusatory in the letter: Be purely factual and request your bonus.

It’s unfortunate that you need help to get paid what you were promised. But my expectation is that this is going to require the help of an attorney. When your boss blames Accounting for not paying you, you can blame your attorney for any awkwardness, too.

By the way: Don’t let the idea of turning to lawyer make you uncomfortable. A good lawyer will work with you to control legal costs, and to develop a strategy for collection that avoids spending more than the recovery would be worth. Start with a consultation to help you decide what your best options are, and to estimate the costs.

Ever get paid less than you were promised? Was it in writing? What did you do to recover the money?

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What if there’s no time to prepare for the job interview?

In the June 19, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter is frustrated by last-minute interviews:

Here’s the harsh reality of job interviewing. You apply for a job, you are called in for the interview, and there is no time to do all the research and preparation that you recommend we do. I have been in this spot, as I know most people have. How many times has a headhunter called at 4:00pm and said, “I have a great job possibility for you. Are you available tomorrow at 9:00am?” How can you prepare yourself in the manner that you recommend? Should one just say no to the interview? I think not, especially when one has been out of work for a while. Your input/answer is?

My Advice

Why on earth would you want to go into an interview when you are unprepared, and likely to embarrass yourself?

I have three comments on this.

1. Don’t apply if you didn’t choose the job based on research.
If you selected this company as one you want to work for, I expect you selected it for several good reasons, all based on your research. Even if you were introduced by a headhunter, due diligence is necessary. Thus, you must know quite a bit about the company, or why interview?

2. Good headhunters always prep their candidates.
Any headhunter worth his salt has lots of information about his client company. If he isn’t willing to share some of it with you, you’re interviewing blindly. Why would you want to do that? If the headhunter doesn’t know enough about the company to be able to prep you thoroughly, then the company is not his client. (See “Is your resume spaghetti?“) You’re wasting your time. (Need help figuring out whether the headhunter knows what he’s doing? Learn How to Work With Headhunters.)

3. Preparation is more important than showing up on demand.
A request for an interview is not a command. It’s an invitation. You are allowed to say to the headhunter, “I need two days to prepare properly for this interview, to optimize my chances of success as well as your chances of earning a placement fee.” What idiot of a headhunter would want to send an unprepared candidate to an interview? (Hint: One whose placement strategy is scheduling as many interviews as possible.)

Please remember: Both you and the headhunter have an immense responsibility to make a job interview productive and profitable. Both your reputations are on the line. If you’re dealing with lousy headhunters, stop. If you’re desperate to interview as often as possible under any circumstances, stop.

My advice: Decline the interview until you are prepared. This isn’t a race. It’s business, and unprepared business people lose.

What happened the last time you went on an interview unprepared? Is there a way to fake it that actually works? How do you deal with situations like this?

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Is Your Resume Spaghetti?

In the June 12, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter asks a candidate to remove contact information from a resume before submitting it. Is that normal?

I was contacted by a headhunter about an opportunity. I was asked to provide a resume in Word format. I said I could not, and instead I provided a PDF version so that I could ensure the visual appearance is what I want it to be. Then the headhunter asked me to remove my contact information, but said a PDF version would be okay. I was assured that this was normal, but I wonder about this.

I spoke with the recruiter once after this happened, and we had contact just once more by e-mail. It has been three weeks since our last contact. The recruiter has not returned three voice mails or responded to three e-mails.

What do you think is going on? Do you think my qualifications threw the client or the agency off?

My Advice

This is a classic example of how most headhunters operate. What people don’t know is, these headhunters don’t create resumes for their candidates. They take what the candidate gives them and merely pass it along to their client. This doesn’t add any value to the recruiting process. There’s an insider technical term for this practice: “throwing spaghetti against the wall.”

Headhunters who work this way are wasting your time and their clients’ time. This isn’t recruiting. This is dialing for dollars, also known by yet another technical term: “dumpster diving.”

The worst of these headhunters will bundle any and all resumes they can get their hands on, and send them along to an employer who might pay them a fee. This means the personnel department must sort the incoming drek, just like they sort resumes they buy from job boards. The headhunter adds no value to the process, and any HR department that accepts such resumes should be closed down.

Adding value

A good headhunter doesn’t just find candidates for a client company. A good headhunter interprets how a particular candidate can help the client get a job done. The headhunter carefully interviews the candidate and maps the candidate’s abilities and skills against the requirements of the position. As I explain in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, when I’m done interviewing a candidate for my client, I’ve got all I need to produce a simple, clear, and very compelling resume. It’s exactly what my client needs prior to interviewing the candidate. If the candidate doesn’t match the client’s requirements, why would I even refer the person to my client?

Do you see the problem? The headhunter you’re dealing with is merely pumping resumes into an employer’s sorting process. The headhunter is not carefully assessing and judging you, to ensure he’s sending only qualified candidates to his client. What I’m really saying is, if that headhunter had truly interviewed you, he wouldn’t need your resume. He could and should write a custom resume for you and then present it — with your permission — to his client.

Did the headhunter really interview you?

That’s not to say that the resume you wrote isn’t useful. The headhunter can use it to fill in the blanks surrounding key facts he’s learned by talking with you in depth. But if the headhunter just forwards your resume to the employer, he’s not contributing anything to the recruiting task. He’s not highlighting the specific skills and abilities that prove you’re a good candidate for the job. A smart client demands this from a headhunter — the client wants to know why you would be a good fit. And the fact is, there’s just too much stuff on a resume that a hiring manager doesn’t need to know about you. The headhunter’s job is to demonstrate the match, not to dish the spaghetti.

So this is how you can tell a really good headhunter from a dumpster diver: Did the headhunter conduct a thorough interview with you?

What (most) headhunters do with resumes

The headhunter you’ve described wants your resume in Word format so that he can delete your name and contact information. (A PDF version from which you’ve omitted that information is just as good to him — it’ll save him time.) He doesn’t want his client to know who you are until the client promises a fee before interviewing you. If the headhunter had a solid, healthy relationship with his client, the headhunter wouldn’t be worried about the employer going around his back. That’s why the headhunter wants to control your contact information.

Whether it’s a modified version of the resume you provide, or a new one the headhunter has written, you should always ask to see the document the headhunter will send to his client. You don’t want to defend resume errors in an interview. If you trust the headhunter, a Word version might be best to facilitate his editing it. But if you don’t trust the headhunter, or don’t know his practices, your PDF policy is a good one.

Splat!

This is how the game is played by many headhunters. Learn to judge headhunters by whether they actually interview you in depth. If they don’t, then they’re not going to present you properly to their client, are they? What I think is going on in this case is that the headhunter is throwing spaghetti against the wall — and yours didn’t stick.

Do you give your resume to people you don’t know — headhunters and/or employers? If you do, I think you’re nuts. You’d have better odds playing the lottery. Have you ever met a headhunter who thoroughly interviewed you even before requesting your resume? If you’re a manager, do headhunters splatter resumes on your wall — stuff that’s not even recognizable as a “right” candidate?

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