The Preemptive Reference

Sometimes an idea gets a point on it when there’s a story to tell…

Chris Walker is an “ATH Regular” from Ohio. He is a Training and Placement Specialist at the Senior Employment Center in Akron. That means Chris helps seniors find jobs. He just sent me this note, which made my day:


One of my recent grads had a very positive and lengthy telephone interview. She scheduled a face-to-face interview and then called all her references to give them a heads-up as to the company and position.

One of her references recognized the company and asked, “Did you interview with Mary Smith?”

When my student said yes, he said, “Hang up the phone. I’m calling her right now. I’ve worked with her for years.”

That was on January 7; she started the new job February 1. This was my first encounter with The Preemptive Reference. Powerful, my friend, powerful.

Thanks, Chris! You just made my day… Click here to find out what Chris is talking about: The Preemptive Reference.


How to apply for a job: The Working Resume

When I first started publishing Ask The Headhunter online in 1995, the most popular and frustrating question I’d get from readers was, How can I write a really great resume that will get me an interview?

My answer was simple: Throw your resume in the garbage. Don’t use a resume. A resume is a crutch. A dumb piece of paper. It cannot defend you to a manager who finds something wrong with it (or missing from it). It will get you rejected before you have a chance to make your case for the job. While your resume is gathering dust on some manager’s desk, my candidate is negotiating a salary package with the hiring manager.

But people kept asking, so I figured that if I can’t provide a useful response to the question, I’m useless. So I wrote an article titled Resume Blasphemy to answer the question. Shortly thereafter I added another on the same topic: Put a Free Sample in Your Resume. The two articles describe what I refer to as The Working Resume™.

Since then, I’ve challenged people to submit their idea of a Working Resume — cautioning them not to bother me with traditional resumes, which I won’t bother reading. A few have submitted interesting efforts because they get the main idea. But only a few. Others beg me to publish the good ones, but I won’t. Why should I give away one person’s insights to competitors? Besides, if I give you a template, you’ll just use it rather than figure it out for yourself. And figuring it out is 100% of the challenge.

Recently a longtime reader, Phil Hey (The Writing Coach at Briar Cliff College, Sioux City, Iowa — Thanks, Phil!) sent me an excellent example of The Working Resume that’s in the public domain. It meets the criteria I set forth in my articles — and it got the writer the job he was seeking.

Frankly, this resume kicks ass because it observes the #1 rule for a truly blasphemous resume: It should say nothing about you. It should be entirely about the work the employer needs to have done.

The killer part of the resume is at the very end. The job applicant volunteers to show up at the employer’s place — and do the job to win the job. He says he’ll prove himself.

You don’t have to be Leonardo DaVinci to produce your own Working Resume. But you’ve gotta be damned good and ready to prove it. If you’re not, you don’t deserve to be hired, do you?

Here’s Leonardo DaVinci’s letter to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, applying for a job in 1481 :

Having, most illustrious lord, seen and considered the experiments of all those who pose as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and finding that their inventions differ in no way from those in common use, I am emboldened, without prejudice to anyone, to solicit an appointment of acquainting your Excellency with certain of my secrets.

1. I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable, with which to pursue and defeat the enemy; and others more solid, which resist fire or assault, yet are easily removed and placed in position; and I can also burn and destroy those of the enemy.

2. In case of a siege I can cut off water from the trenches and make pontoons and scaling ladders and other similar contrivances.

3. If by reason of the elevation or the strength of its position a place cannot be bombarded, I can demolish every fortress if its foundations have not been set on stone.

4. I can also make a kind of cannon which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail, and of which the smoke causes great terror to the enemy, so that they suffer heavy loss and confusion.

5. I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages either straight or winding, passing if necessary underneath trenches or a river.

6. I can make armoured wagons carrying artillery, which shall break through the most serried ranks of the enemy, and so open a safe passage for his infantry.

7. If occasion should arise, I can construct cannon and mortars and light ordnance in shape both ornamental and useful and different from those in common use.

8. When it is impossible to use cannon I can supply in their stead catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other instruments of admirable efficiency not in general use — In short, as the occasion requires I can supply infinite means of attack and defense.

9. And if the fight should take place upon the sea I can construct many engines most suitable either for attack or defense and ships which can resist the fire of the heaviest cannon, and powders or weapons.

10. In time of peace, I believe that I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another.

I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, also in painting I can do as much as anyone else, whoever he may be.

Moreover, I would undertake the commission of the bronze horse, which shall endue with immortal glory and eternal honour the auspicious memory of your father and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the aforesaid things should seem to anyone impossible or impracticable, I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Now, who gives a rat’s ass what the job applicant’s credentials and experiece are, where he went to school, what grades he got, what skills he has, who else he has worked for, what titles he has had, and what his prior accomplishments are — when the applicant says he can do all the things you need him to do and is willing to show up and prove it? That’s a Working Resume.

(Republished from Yurica Report. If you need The Writing Coach, Phil Hey, contact him at

Readers’ Forum: Is this company worth working for?

Every January, pundits publish their predictions for the new year. I don’t make predictions because I prefer not to be judged when I’m wrong ;-)

But it’s not hard to surmise that if the economy improves this year, the employment shoe will be on the other foot. The personnel jockey who has routinely been spitting rude questions at job applicants and challenging them to accept 20% lower salaries will likely wind up swallowing bile in 2010. Time to get out the kleenex and wipe up the drippings.

Computer World's Between the Lines by John Klosser

My favorite IT (information technology) publication is ComputerWorld. The first 2010 edition includes a cartoon from the very pointed pen of John Klossner that every smart employer should take a look at. (And if you’re a job hunter, take note: Employers can whip you only so hard in job interviews before you instinctively tell them to shove it.)

There are two messages in this cartoon. First, challenge employers to assess whether they are qualified to hire you. Maybe the company isn’t a good place to work. Second, Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.

While the demoralized guy in the applicant’s chair says he’s “looking for someone,” he’s really looking for a company.

A sound company.

And that’s the point. You may need a job and a paycheck, but you also need a future that doesn’t require going job hunting again in a few short months. While you’re sitting across the table from that interviewer, figure out, Does this company suck?

Yah, there are other ways to say what the guy in the cartoon is saying. What are they? How do you politely but clearly challenge the employer to make sure it’s a company worth working for?

[Computerworld does not seem to publish the cartoons from its magazine in its online edition, or I’d link directly. Credit where it’s due: Computerworld, January 4, 2010.]


How to Say It: Can I help you?

Discussion: December 22, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter: Some readers have sad tales to tell of job hunting gone bad. Others have found success after trials and tribulations.

[Update: The newsletter is not normally archived online, but I’ve put today’s edition up to make it easier to share and to encourage more folks to join our  discussion. Click here.]

You know someone who despairs over their failure in the job search. They’re down, they’re out, they feel like they’re in deep, cold water. You’d like to help pull them out. How do you say it?

How to Say It: “Come on. Let’s go have lunch. We’ll talk.”

That’s my very simple idea, and it’s what I do.

If someone has helped pull you out when you felt like your career was spiraling down the drain, how did they do it?

Have you helped someone out? What did you do? If we post enough stories, ideas and suggestions, maybe we’ll start a trend… (Hey, maybe consumer spending isn’t the way out of this economy. Maybe spending time with other people is…)


The only headhunter on Google

I don’t use this blog to crow about what I do, but something interesting has dawned on me and, well, I wanna crow about it.

Am I the only headhunter on Google?

Before you roll your eyes and chuckle at that… Google “headhunter”. The top 10 results include Ask The Headhunter (that’s me)… and no other headhunter.

In fact, there’s not even a headhunting firm listed. Just directories, job listings, and sometimes a big job board like CareerBuilder. (Since when is CareerBuilder a headhunting firm?)

I’m certainly not the biggest or baddest or most successful headhunter in the world. Other headhunters make more money than I do. They certainly have bigger advertising and public relations budgets than me — I know because mine are zero. (I imagine CareerBuilder spends a lot of money on SEO — search engine optimization — to get itself in the top 10 search results for headhunter even when it’s not a headhunter. I don’t spend a dime on SEO.)

So, why is it that I turn up high in the Google results?

Google ranks web sites based on the extent to which they are referenced by other relevant websites. What does that mean to people who search for headhunter on Google?

To start with, people look for headhunters because they want job hunting help. But since headhunters fill only a tiny fraction of jobs, you’re not very likely to ever have any contact with a credible headhunter. As far as Google goes, I’m it. And I’m very up front about the statistics. In fact, I’ll tell you outright that I’m not going to read your resume or place you in a job. I don’t use Ask The Headhunter to recruit or to solicit headhunting business. So what does it mean when someone finds me when they Google headhunter?

It means a lot of other busy, relevant websites think you’ll learn something about job hunting and hiring by going to Ask The Headhunter. It means there is one headhunter by name out there who will tell you how to use a headhunter’s methods yourself. And that’s all I offer or promise. Many Ask The Headhunter readers get that and they’re willing to do the hard work to apply the very basic methods that we discuss on the website and in this blog.

And that’s kept me doing this for almost 15 years: the fact that you get it. And there’s no question that I’m tickled to be the only headhunter in Google’s top 10. I’m very grateful that lots of other highly-ranked websites link to Ask The Headhunter. I just had to crow.


LinkedIn for Job Seekers: A personal tutor

I don’t write about many products or services because it’s rare that I find one worth writing about. Let’s face it, the Net is rife with hyped-up garbag-io. But sometimes something comes along that’s worth talking about. Even then, I can’t get interested in a product until I know who is behind it.

I met Jason Alba a couple of years ago at a conference where I gave the keynote. We spoke afterwards, I took his card, and I checked out his, which is such a simple idea implemented elegantly in software that I saved the link so I could look at it in more detail later. We discussed partnering on something at some point since he’s a fan of Ask The Headhunter and we’re both fans of keeping things simple. Then I ran into Alba again, indirectly while talking to a friend at Microsoft who sang his praises. That was the tipping point and I started paying attention to what Jason was doing.

So I spent some time on JibberJobber, an online job hunting tool that helps you organize your job search. Kinda like an Act! for job hunters but tuned specifically for the task. I liked what I saw so much that I got back in touch with Jason and we started talking. But this is not about JibberJobber. (I’ll talk more about that in another post.)

albadvdThis is about LinkedIn. Jason told me he’d produced a DVD training program for job hunters, aptly (and simply) titled LinkedIn for Job Seekers. (It’s based on his book, I’m On LinkedIn: Now What?) Still trying to figure out LinkedIn for my own purposes, I welcomed a chance to learn by watching.

I expected a slick video of Jason in a suit lecturing me. (I dunno about you, but I can’t stand scripted videos and droning talking heads.) What makes this video so effective is that it focuses entirely on the LinkedIn screen while Jason stands over your shoulder and walks you through every important page, screen, feature and tool LinkedIn has to offer. There’s no droning…

My plan to skip around and get a feel for the DVD was dashed. I wound up taking my time and taking notes! I’m not job hunting, but I learned much of what I need to know to use LinkedIn for my business. (Job hunters will walk away knowing how to leverage LinkedIn for job hunting.) All I can say is, thank you, Jason, for not reading a script — thanks for standing over my shoulder and walking me through it like a private tutor!

This list is by no means complete because there are 18 chapters on the DVD, but here are some of my notes about what Jason will teach you in LinkedIn for Job Seekers:

  • How to structure, format and present your resume so it’ll work for you
  • How to engage employers through deft selection of what to put in your LinkedIn profile
  • How to use LinkedIn to leverage your references, and how to manage quality vs. quantity
  • How to use third-party applications to add value to your image and presentation without going overboard

(When I signed up on LinkedIn, I studied how to use it, but nothing showed me how LinkedIn actually works as an integrated collection of tools… to absorb that, you have to see it all in front of you.)

  • How to protect yourself and your privacy
  • How to use LinkedIn’s “ask questions, get answers” tools to build your credibility and reputation
  • How to give and get recommendations (Seeing how to turn these into professional references is worth the price of the DVD by itself.)

I think this product works so well because Jason Alba is immersed in JibberJobber and he spends all day long thinking about what helps job hunters. LinkedIn for Job Seekers costs $49 (if you catch the current promo price). An hour with a tutor will cost you more than that. Yah, this is a sales pitch: I recommend Jason’s LinkedIn tutorial. No, I don’t get paid a dime. It’s tough enough finding someone else online who produces really good products — and I want to help Jason keep producing good products that I can use myself.


What’s integrity?

Reader Edward said something provocative on Attitude in a “crappy job market”:

It’s actually fairly easy to check for integrity, if you first know what it is.

Well, what is it?

I think I’ve got the start of a useful definition and I’ve used it pretty successfully, though I think it needs to be fleshed out more: A thing (or person) has integrity when its form and behavior are consistent with the way it represents itself, and when it performs as promised.

Okay, it’s not a definition of integrity. It’s more of a sign of integrity. I have intentionally not checked a dictionary because I think it’s important to figure out what we think it means. So please leave your dictionaries closed for now — we can open them later.

What is integrity to you?


Attitude in a “crappy job market”

I don’t believe in the idea of a job market (that’s another discussion), but the very idea that we deal with a “market” when we search for a job leads some to get depressed and dispirited. If it really is a market, then it can be crappy and if it’s crappy we have no control which leads to a sense of helplessness. And for some, the world ends.

Reader Karen Seekins shared this with me the other day. I think it’s a potent antidote to the pain a lot of people feel about their job prospects. Read it, copy it, take it home, put it on the wall, live with it and let it remind you that you are the captain of your life.

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.

Charles R. Swindoll

Life doesn’t suck. But sometimes our perspective does, and it’s up to each of us to turn around and look at things the way we need to.


Top 10 Stupid Inteview Questions: #8

Reader Mike Urbonas did a nice post about my 1997 book (not to be confused with the new book, How to Work with Headhunters) … Thanks, Mike! … But that’s not what’s so cool about his post.

Mike brings up an old story published by Mr. Angry (Melbourne, Australia) that’s very instructive and a good reminder that just because some guy is asking you stupid questions in a job interview doesn’t mean you have to behave stupidly, too. Pointless Interview Questions actually conks us all on the head — and rips interviewers a new one.

Top 10 Stupid Interview Question #8 (well, maybe it’s #7) that a recruiter asked Mr. Angry:

How would you move Mount Fuji 1/2 a kilometre to the South?

And part of Mr. Angry’s let’s-come-back-to-reality response:

How could that possibly benefit the business?

Why do employers ask stupid interview questions? Mr. Angry reveals the sad truth — interviewers can’t justify the canned questions they ask. They’re asking them simply because they read somewhere that asking what animal you’d be if you could be any animal reveals deep truths about a candidate… Gimme a break.

Mr. Angry’s transcription of his interview is a must-read. His handling of the interviewer is funny, but it’s much, much more. His responses are dead-on. All kidding aside, I’d use a personalized version of what he said to the interviewer without hesitation.

Thanks, Mike. Mr. Angry — kudos to you!