Double-0 Headhunters!

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Three years ago I reported on Deceptive Recruiting: HR’s last stand? The column was about John Sullivan and his sidekick Michael Homula, and their anything-goes, slimeball recruiting methods, all done up nice and pretty with a case study and many self-congratulatory pats on the back.

This week, The Wall Street Journal features the latest in rip-roaring, on-the-edge recruiting stories in Snack Vendor — or Undercover Job Recruiter? To Fill That Open Position, These Guys Go to Extremes; Stalking on the Ski Slopes.

Look out, boys and girls, these headhunters are exciting, daring, and they watch a lot of 007 movies. Some are ready to hang upside down from a tree like a monkey when you pass by. Why else would the esteemed Journal do a story about them? Headhunting is actually pretty boring, if you do it right. (Employers, listen up: Beware lest you retain a headhunter who turns you into the horse’s ass in the rear-view mirror.)

Let’s see what we’ve got here… and please post your own stories if you can beat these from the Journal… Think you know how to judge a headhunter?

One headhunter poses as a food-truck guy to spy on top talent at nearby companies. Another stalks an exec into the Montana wilderness to pitch a job while the guy’s fishing. Then there’s the headhunter who pays off a janitor to get a CEO’s phone number — for the phone in the exec’s private john. (“Uh, how would you like to talk about a new job? Or should I wait while you tug on the Charmin’?”) How about the headhunter who sits for a day-long shoe-shine, after he learns where his quarry gets his shoes polished, so they can “bump into” one another? The recruiter who poses as a waiter, approaches the candidate in a restaurant, and slips him a note offering $500 if he’ll talk?

Had enough? Wait — there are headhunters who will huff along behind you on mountain-biking trails (“Fancy meeting you here!”) and play ski patrol on the slopes, waiting for you to fall (“Can I help you get up?”)

Then there are headhunters who are boring, respected, respectful… and when they leave a message, execs return their calls.

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How to beat the age objection

A popular article on the web site is Too Old to Rock & Roll? People naturally worry that as they get older, employers will discount them or flat-out discriminate against them.

Yah, poor judgment knows no bounds. I have another point of view on age and job interviews. A reader recently  asked:

I have an interview with a large company. I possess all of the qualifications asked for and have used some of your techniques to bypass HR and contact the hiring manager. It worked. I have been out of work for over a year and as I prepare for the interview, my biggest concern will be age. As soon as I walk in they are going to know that I am in my 50’s (mid-50’s, actually). How do I confidently address the age issue? Do I even bring it up? What if I sense that this is the only thing holding them back? I don’t want to draw attention to it, but I also don’t want to lose a potential offer because of it.

You’ve heard it said that “whoever controls the agenda, controls the meeting.” Well, employers notoriously control job interviews. So, change that. Tell ’em what they need to hear. Modify the agenda to one that may jolt the interviewer out of mindless worry about your age — and take control of your job interviews.

Try The New Interview. Quickly shift the discussion to how you’re going to improve the company’s bottom line. (Of course, you should not be pushy or presumptuous.) The interviewer will forget your age. Employers think first about profit. Help the interviewer think about it more.

Decide for yourself the best way to do this, but ask the interviewer — who I hope is the hiring manager, or why are you wasting your time? — (the sooner the better) to outline the problems and challenges they want the person they hire to tackle. “What’s the realistic impact you want to see to your bottom line by filling this position?”

If they tell, then it’s up to you to outline how you will achieve the objective. (This is the hard part. You must be ready. If you’re not, you have no business in the interview.) Show some respect: ask permission to outline your plan. Use the white board or a piece of paper. Engage the manager in the discussion, as though you’re already on board and getting your boss’s input and buy-in for your plan.
That gets their minds off your age like nothing else I know: Profit.

Can you pull that off?

Meet your competition, Stupid

Recently we talked about how companies mouth the words, People are our most important asset!, while feeding  assets into the hamburger grinder. Your comments have made me more aware of articles on related topics, and I’d like to share a couple of good ones. One will make you grind a fist even harder into your palm, and the other will make you take stock of the supplies you’ve laid into your career bomb shelter.

Over at Networkworld, a guy who’s recently been through the grinder — Ron Nutter — shares 20 Ways to Survive A Layoff. I like the article’s fresh-out-of-the-trench smell. Nutter doesn’t pull punches, and he sticks to what matters. There’s no career-expert drivel here. Nutter shows that getting fired is a state of mind — not the end of your life.

Computerworld‘s Mary K. Pratt delivers Five Ways to Drive Your Best Workers Out the Door (as if you couldn’t give her 20 more), and — like Nutter — nails the bigger point in her article’s subtitle: Employees don’t quit the job; they quit you.

The problem of corporate productivity is lost behind corporate PR about “our people.” The solution to being out of work is hidden by news stories about the pain of unemployment. Whether they’re employed in smelly corporate trenches or busy climbing back up out of the smelly trench of unemployment, people in America stand up to downsizing and they move on because Yankee ingenuity kicks in and reveals we’re all built to survive.

If only employers could find and harness that talent for survival and put it to profitable use rather than stupidly drive people away, only to watch them re-surface working for a competitor, we could all get on with driving our economy a little bit faster and a lot more smartly.

It’s the people, Stupid. Whether you dump them, lose them, or ignore them — they clean themselves off, find the next place to plant their foot, survive, and thrive. They are the seeds of new businesses, new companies, and new innovations.

Sorry to sound like a rah-rah American, but my money is on the individual with a brain, an aspiration, a hunger, and a need to pay the bills and feed the family. Keep dumping on them, but they’ll come back every time. Meet your competition, Stupid.

Learn to drive your parachute

Last weekend I had dinner with Dick Bolles, whose What Color is Your Parachute has now sold 10 million copies and is in its 39th edition. (Hey, I can dream.) It is correctly referred to as “the job hunter’s bible” — and not just because Dick was an Episcopal priest when he first self-published edition #1. Dick has spent more time thinking about career change than anyone on the planet. He thinks about it deeply and broadly, and his ideas have affected a lot of lives. The book covers a lot of territory.

Enjoying a wonderful meal with our wives at a very good restaurant, the talk was about life — about love, faith, and making choices. Since I’m another guy who spends a lot of time thinking about job change, I asked Dick a question that always circulates around my mind — What’s the biggest mistake people make when job hunting?

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People are our most important asset!

Every day, somewhere in America, the chairman of a corporation stands in front of the stockholders, pounds his or her fist on the podium, and proclaims, “People are our most important asset!”

Meanwhile, back at the Human Resources office, a personnel jockey is shoving resumes through a key-word scanner like so many soup cans at the grocery checkout.

People are our most important asset.

Yah. Between a company’s public relations, investor relations, human resources, and marketing departments, American business has turned into a voice-mail menu system where your call is very important to us, and thank you for holding while we figure out what the hell to do with you.

Yah. You’re as important as the poor suckers who work for us and as important as the professional community from which we recruit… more suckers.

A reader drove this home for me the other day. Here’s the story of one “most important asset“:

Ford Motor Company ranks employees on a 4-tier scale which estimates how much management potential they have. I was a 4, the lowest. Essentially, an engineer forever. People almost never changed tiers… as though (imagine!) managers didn’t want to admit they might make a mistake in their initial rating of people.

Tier 1’s were “golden children” — they could screw up massively, but they still got promoted. Anyway, after finding out I was a 4, I wanted to move up the list, so I found Ford’s “Leadership Profile” web page — what they said they wanted in their employees as traits of future leaders. Things like: Read more

Aim, aim, aim, shoot foot

In the August 5 edition of the Ask The Headhunter newsletter, “How can I push the hiring decision?” (sorry, it’s not online; you’ve gotta subscribe), I advised a reader that you can’t push companies to wrap up the hiring process (translation: make you an offer) because sometimes they just don’t want to.

Andy Lester, who writes The Working Geek, followed up with this story about complacent employers.

You forgot one other reason that people get led around by the nose in the hiring decision: The company is too incompetent to close the deal.

I recently had a friend, “Bob,” find a job that sounded like a great fit. The hiring manager said he’d be working with HR to get the offer worked out. A week later, no offer. Bob had wisely continued hunting and had some interest from a second company. When the second company called back for the second interview, Bob called the first company to light a fire. The first company was where he really wanted to work. “Yes, yes, we’re working on it,” the first manager said. Second company gives Bob an offer, who of course says he needs a day to think about it. He calls the first company with an ultimatum: “I need an offer by Wednesday at 5pm or I’m going with this other company.”

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Headhunters: Novices, wannabes & clueless franchisees

The headhunting business has never been an easy gig. Finding and (usually) stealing good talent for your clients is a challenge and a half. The best headhunters are those who know how to grasp what a client company needs. In other words, who is it you’re out there trying to recruit?

If you don’t know, pack it in. Go home.

We refer to the headhunting business as search — and the implication is that we know what we’re looking for. That’s what separates good headhunters from the hacks and the wannabes.

So I’m perturbed. You’d think the one thing that all headhunters grasp is the simple (but not easy) concept that you must know what you’re looking for. But when the headhunting industry announces that its theme this year is The New Recruiting Mandate: Defining True Talent, it’s time for employers who use headhunters to head for the hills. Because that’s where they’re going to have to go to avoid the hacks and the wannabes who need a conference to figure this out.

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Getting fitted for a resume that walks the talk

When you pay to have your resume written, what are you buying? Just a resume? No, I think you’re buying a suit of clothes that shows off your form to best advantage and makes you look good when you’re walking the talk. Are you buying off the rack, or getting custom fitted so you’ll look your very best?

I still think a resume isn’t the best way to the job you want. But if you’re gonna use a resume, the best route to the best resume is to learn to be your own tailor. Learn to sew. Learn to write up your story yourself. But not a lot of people are going to do that, or do it well. That’s where an expert resume writer can help.

In Resumes-R-Us I talked about the problem of mills — companies that crank out one-size-fits-all resumes from a stock pattern, rather than create a unique image of the individual client. That’s the suit you buy off the rack. You have no contact with the writer.

If you want to look really good, I think the tailor needs to put his (or her) arms around you with that measuring tape and feel your body. The tailor has to see how your posture affects the way a jacket drapes over your body. This ain’t gonna happen if you call your measurements in over the phone or fill out a form. The resume writer can’t be hidden away in a back room bent over a sewing machine… er, computer. (Yet, that’s how the mills operate. A sharp point-man sells you the service, but the work is done by someone else, in the equivalent of a sweatshop, getting paid a tiny fraction of the fee you are charged. This is a critical flaw of some “headhunting” firms, too.)

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You’ve heard enough out of me about why you should toss your resume in the trash and get your next job by actually talking to people who can hire you. A resume is a dumb piece of paper. It cannot “sell” you, or be your “marketing piece” or defend you when a manager sees something on it that bugs him. Too many people use a resume as a crutch. “Look, I mailed out 100 of them! I’m job hunting actively. Now I’ll wait for employers to call.” Yah. You might as well send a dog with a note in its mouth.

But you’re gonna use a resume anyway. And I’ve got no beef with that. You should have a resume, a good one. Use it the way I do when I present a candidate to a client company. Not to get the candidate in the door, but to fill in the blanks.

I rely on my powers of persuasion to get my client to interview a candidate. Besides, my clients don’t want 500 resumes. They’re paying me to bring them three good candidates so they don’t have to waste their time sorting paper. If I provide a resume at all, it’s usually after the interview, when the manager needs to fill in the blanks — to understand the rest of the candidate’s background. And that resume had better be good, clear, to the point, and supportive of what the manager learned about the candidate in their meeting.

Most resumes are crap. Yadda-yadda-yadda. “OBJECTIVE: To work for a progressive company where I can experience career growth and where I can work with people.” (HINT: I love those resumes because the OBJECTIVE is right up top, and that helps me to instantly toss the thing in the trash. Gimme a break. You want to work with people. You want to work for a good company. You want your career to grow. So what? What’s that got to do with showing me why I should hire you, or present you to my client?)

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Baiting the talent

So a guy chases a woman around the world because he wants to marry her. Invests in air fares, cab rides, hotels, maybe even private investigators to find her. Then, when he catches up to her, he asks for her medical records, inquires about her religious affiliation, and wants to know, does she snore?

Makes perfect sense, because why would you marry someone you don’t know much about? Hey, we’re not stupid, right?

Take a look at Gary Capone’s comment on What is the single best interview question ever? Gary correctly points out that a manager should not give the first degree to someone the company is recruiting. You want to wine and dine them — figuratively or literally — first. You are trying to convince them to work for you; they’re not trying to get you to hire them. They are passive job hunters. You have to work hard to entice them.

So Gary suggests that a manager should wait til later in the process to ask The Bestest Interview Question Ever: “Can you show me how you’d do the job?” And I agree. But it set me to thinking.

Why in tarnation would a manager pursue and recruit a specific individual if the manager didn’t already know the individual could do the job properly? That’s what pursuit implies, right? That you want what you’re chasing? That you know what you’re doing.

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