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?

: :

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?

: :

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!

: :

Bankrupt & Unemployed: How to Say It

In the last post, Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?, we discussed how a reader who is applying for a job (and who is qualified) might overcome obstacles that come up when the employer does a background check. Problems like bankruptcy triggered by long-term unemployment — and a year-old DUI (driving while intoxicated) violation.

Knowing what to do is one thing. Facing the employer and knowing what to say — and being able to say it — is something else. In this edition, let’s discuss How to Say It.

There are two keys to convincing an employer to take a chance on you:

  1. Personal recommendations from credible people who know your character and your work ethic.
  2. A clear commitment — which the employer will never ask for, but which you must offer in order to get a job offer. To find out what that commitment should be, please watch the video.

What would you say to a hiring manager to get past such obstacles? And if you’re a manager, what would a candidate need to say and do to convince you to give him or her a chance?
: :

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.

: :

How can I find out whether a job board is the real deal?

In the August 30, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks:

Have you ever heard of JobSearchSite Inc., dba NOW? It sounds good, but how do you check on them to see if they’re the real deal?

My reply:

In this edition, let’s try an experiment: Video. Hope you enjoy it.

There are so many job boards coming and going that it’s impossible to keep up — but I don’t even want to. While your competition is getting interviews and offers, you’d be spending your entire life trying to check these places out. Or you could pick four companies you’d love to work for and go research them instead, to make personal contacts who will give you the real low-down and help you get in the door.

Remember: There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. Choose carefully and approach doggedly.

I already know how the Ask The Headhunter community feels about job boards… but tell me, what’s your favorite alternative that produces results? (Are there any job boards you like?)

So… how’d this video experment come off? (Other than my novice production values!) Is video Q&A to your liking? Should we do more of these? Hit me with your critique — too long, too short, get a new shirt, stop the rapid eye movements (sorry, I had to use a few notes…), add a CNN backdrop… use hand puppets…?

: :

Am I chasing the salary surveys?

In the August 23, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a frustrated reader who’s been on the job for just a couple of months checks the salary surveys and wonders whether it’s already time to ask for a raise…

I love my new job. However, I checked some recent salary surveys and it seems I am underpaid as much as $5k/year. Since I’ve only been here for two months, how long should I wait to discuss this with my boss? Or do you think I’m chasing the salary surveys? This has really been bothering me and I want some peace of mind.

I think salary surveys are fine as general indicators, but do they tell you anything about yourself? I think using them to establish your salary requirements is like checking the cover of Vogue to plan what your face should look like…

What’s this reader to do? Are salary surveys good tools for career development? What do you think of how they present the data?

My detailed advice to this reader is published in the free weekly Ask The Headhunter newsletter, which is delivered only by e-mail. Subcribers and I discuss the question and my advice here on the blog. Please join us! But to read my advice — including frequent How to Say It tips and links to other valuable resources — Sign up for your own FREE subscription! Don’t miss another edition!

.

 

Are you over-qualified for a grunt job?

In the August 9, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter gets rejected for demonstrating initiative, and asks for a work-around:

You have urged us to convince the hiring manager we can bring value to a job. Believe it or not, this doesn’t seem to be appropriate in some circumstances, unfortunately.

I have had experiences with accounting and IT (information technology) hiring managers. Each had a detailed requirement of the role to be filled. When I focused on what I could bring to the table, the post-mortem in each case was, “She is overqualified.” They just wanted someone to tick off the boxes on the requirement and show proof of competence in those areas. Going beyond was automatic rejection.

Maybe certain roles demand a pedantic mind to succeed, and it’s not possible to present a good business case to such people when they are the hiring managers. What do you think?

Nick, do you have a work-around for this circumstance?

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!)

This is an excellent question. But I don’t think this is really about the job. I think it’s about the employer. I’ll take the liberty of re-phrasing it:

Do I want to work for someone who wants me to be a grunt, and not add anything to the job?

If you do, then don’t offer anything more in the interview than the interviewer asks for. That is, check off the boxes and go along for the ride. The trick, of course, is figuring out whether the employer wants more or not. I’m not sure that’s possible without betraying higher intelligence and motivation.

But if you want a job where you’re contributing to the business, and if you want an employer that cares, then keep doing what you’ve been doing. Show what you can bring to the table. Employers that want to hire robots will fail the interview, just as this one did.

No offense intended — honest — but I think what you’re getting at is, How do we dumb ourselves down so we can get a job that doesn’t require our full participation?

Maybe you just answer the questions you’re asked, and say little more than that… (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!)…

Note to human resources managers: If your company wants grunts, please stop talking about “hiring talent.” You know who you are.

I know there are managers who don’t give a rat’s batootie how capable a job candidate is, beyond meeting the minimum requirements. There are also people who close their eyes and gobble down anything in the fridge, because they consider cooking a waste of time. Anything they can stuff in their face will do.

I don’t disparage anyone who just needs a job to pay the bills, and who will take anything they can get. But that’s not the audience I write for. I write for people who love to cook tasty meals and enjoy seeing big, gratified smiles on the people sitting around their table — like their boss and their co-workers. Because life’s too short for just plain “competent.”

Managers who reject job candidates capable of doing more than the job description aren’t managers. They’re grunts, too. When grunts run a business, talented workers eventually all leave. The customers and investors usually depart after that. I think getting rejected by grunt managers is a good thing. But if you want to work around such rejection, just sit quietly and chow down on the mush grunts serve you.

I’m sure people have strong opinions about this. I’d love to hear them! Even routine jobs benefit from smart, motivated workers who want to help a business be more successful. But I could be wrong. Are employers smart to hire grunts?

: :

Butterflies in your interviews?

In the July 26, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter says butterflies interfere with interviews. What can be done?

I consider myself a fairly intelligent and eloquent person with strong skills in my field. Yet, when I go into an interview I turn into Elmer Fudd! I tend to make such comments as, “I think I could be real good at this job!” I’m sure I’m like most people: I get the proverbial butterflies in my stomach.

Only after the interview do the things I should have said start flooding into my mind. (I’ve tried role-plays, but they do not seem to help.) I’m sure this has cost me opportunities. What can I do? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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!)

Butterflies are very common, even among some of the most talented people I know (including executives). I’ll offer two suggestions to help you control butterflies.

1. Read Don’t Compete With Yourself. This article will teach you some simple ways to avoid pre-interview tension, and how to stay calm during your meeting.

2. Try The New Interview. Prepare a 20-minute presentation for the employer, and show how you’re going to contribute to the company’s profitability. This might sound daunting, especially to someone who gets nervous, but once you learn to do it for one employer, the next ones will be a lot easier.

The power of this approach lies in the fact that once you’re this prepared, you’ll never again get butterflies in your stomach.

You see, people get butterflies when they’re not completely prepared. They consequently (and naturally) feel unsure of themselves. I know what you’re thinking: “But I am prepared!” I doubt you are prepared to the extent I’m talking about.

Prepared means being able to outline two or three specific problems and challenges the employer faces, and then presenting a plan to handle them. (Don’t provide too much detail, because then you’d be working for free and giving away your assets.)

When you truly understand the business… (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!)…

If you think this level of preparation is a huge investment, you’re right. The employer thinks hiring you is a pretty huge investment, too. If you’re not prepared to do the job in the interview, then your competition — the candidate I coached to do what I suggest above — will blow you out of the water like a dead fish.

Consider this carefully: You can’t do this level of preparation for the 400 companies you’ve sent your resume to, because there aren’t 400 jobs for you. Thus, you must pick your targets very carefully.

When you achieve this level of business interaction, you are not interviewing. You are in a meeting where you’re doing the job. That’s such a liberating experience that nervousness almost completely disappears. It works. Try it.

Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you interview? Why do you think? Or do you have nerves of steel and demonstrate confidence? How do you do it?

Where does a good job candidate’s power come from? And how can you develop yours?

: :

Degree Inflation: Will it blow up in your face?

In the June 28, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager who has no college degree wonders how crucial a degree is, and asks whether it’s worth stretching the truth on the resume:

In the case of a successful manager, how important is a college degree to a headhunter? I don’t have a degree. With so much emphasis on education nowadays, should I fabricate the truth on my resume or completely eliminate the education section entirely? If I were to stretch the truth and include a degree on my resume, how often at my level of achievement does a search firm investigate?

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!)

Hmmm. I’m really worried about you. Just what kind of achievement is it to lie about your credentials? Can a successful manager believe it’s smart to even consider fabricating a degree?

Don’t lie and don’t stretch the truth. There’s an entire background-checking industry ready to expose you. Search firms investigate, but you don’t know how far, and they’re not going to tell you. If you lie about a degree, you will probably get caught. It could cost you an offer. Worse, because some of these background checks take time, the truth might not turn up until after you’ve been hired—then you’ll lose your new job.

If you think it’s bad to get caught by your employer, realize that once the headhunter finds out you lied, your name will be mud all over your industry.

Even white lies on your resume can blow up in your face. People might say, “Aw, everybody does it. Companies expect some inflation in a resume.” What do you want to bet? Your career? Your reputation? Let me remind you: Your integrity is everything. Protect it.

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

You will of course encounter headhunters who stick to the party line. If the client says it wants a degree, the headhunter will skip candidates that lack one. This is where the truly good headhunters will surface. They will guide and advise their client, and if it’s possible, they will help the client get past the lack of a degree to get to a good candidate that can do the job well. If you’re dealing with a headhunter who refuses to take you to the next step, it will buy you nothing to argue. Unless you have an inside track to the hiring manager, let it go. Move on to the next opportunity.

I discuss ways to effectively portray your value to a headhunter in How to Work With Headhunters. If you’re changing careers, How Can I Change Careers? teaches how to overcome obstacles—like, “You’ve never done this sort of work before!”

In the end, it’s up to you to have a compelling story to tell about how the employer will benefit from hiring you. The headhunter won’t figure it out for herself. You have to explain it.

If in the final analysis the lack of a degree continues to pose a problem, then get one. With all the good distance-learning schools out there nowadays, you will likely be able to skip some courses by testing out of them. Your experience will count for a lot toward the degree. Check with your state’s department of education for a list of accredited distance schools.

Everyone fudges a bit on their resume. It’s like stealing hotel towels. It’s expected.

Right?

Tell me where you think the line is, and whether inflating your college degree information is a step too far. (If you’re a manager, would it bother you?) Everyone does it, right?

.