How to Say It: I can handle it!

In today’s October 27, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader has it up to here with employers who really, really want to know whether she can handle it…

I’m an administrative assistant, customer service, and office support worker and I’m very good. I have tons of experience under my belt working successfully with people of different titles, personalities and attitudes. Every interview I go on I’m asked whether I’ve ever worked with “this kind” of personality or “that level” of management. They invariably say that the people I’d have to deal with are the smartest or the rudest or the most demanding or the most temperamental. They are looking for an exact match. How do I deal with this question and say that I can handle anyone so they will believe me?

This is the sort of interview question that makes me groan. Clearly, employers are worried they might hire someone who isn’t capable of dealing with difficult people. “Uh, can you handle difficult people?”

I can hear the perfect reply. “People like you? Of course!”

How should this job candidate say it? (And what should she say?)


Readers’ Forum: No phone calls, please! (Version 2)

We recently heard from a reader who saw a job posting that warned, “No phone calls, please!”

In this week’s newsletter (October 27, 2009) another reader runs into the same warning, but the story has another twist. (What is it with employers who don’t want to talk to job applicants, anyway?)

I found the job of my dreams posted in an industry newsletter. The posting says to apply via, where a more complete job description can be found. I researched and found the name of the executive that position reports directly to and I also found her on LinkedIn. Do I send a message via LinkedIn? The posting does specify “No calls, please,” so I don’t want to get black-balled before I even apply.

On the one hand, we have a smart, motivated job hunter — the kind of out-of-the-box thinker companies claim they love. On the other hand, we have an HR department so goofy that it directs job hunters to a 3rd-party job board to apply for a job at the company… while the company’s managers are available on LinkedIn.

What would you do?


TheLadders’ Marc Cenedella makes a phone call

Paying members of TheLadders often shoot off angry e-mails to CEO Marc Cenedella and complain he never responds. Ask The Headhunter readers sometimes send me copies of these e-mail exchanges (along with their rants about Ladders). Here’s a typical response that Ladders customers receive from customer service, when they complain that Cenedella is not replying to them:

Hi Jorge,

Thanks for writing back in. With over three million members, Marc is not able to personally answer each email – though he’d love to.


Community Manager

One Ladders paying member complained loudly enough via his blog and a Twitter blast that Cenedella actually called him on the phone. Do ya think it’s snowing in hell now?

Check Brian Flores’ October 23, 2009 comment on my Fast Company blog. If you’re one of the many dissatisfied Ladders customers out there, note Cenedella’s comments as reported by Flores:

He listened very patiently and explained how some of my complaints were conscious design decisions made on the part of his team, while others were unintended UI issues which he would investigate.

And I thought there was no hope; that Cenedella doesn’t monitor online chatter about TheLadders. Turns out he does. He’s just ignoring you.

(“Unintended UI issues?” Is that like an accidental poke in the eye with a sharp stick? And, do you think it was really him??)


Overqualified Applicants: We are terrified of you

I don’t know whether the New York Times is trying to shed light on the growing unemployment situation or to poke fun at job hunters and employers. In a story yesterday ($13 an Hour? 500 Sign Up, 1 Wins a Job) the Times tells about a trucking company that ran a job posting on CareerBuilder… and what happened.

Turns out this company is afraid to hire people more skilled than it’s accustomed to — even if the price is right. If this isn’t proof the world has gone nuts, I don’t know what is.

The head of corporate recruiting was apparently stunned at all the resumes she received via CareerBuilder. How’d she decide on the finalists out of the 500 applicants?

She dropped significantly overqualified candidates right away, reasoning that they would leave when the economy improved. Among them was a former I.B.M. business analyst with 18 years experience; a former director of human resources; and someone with a master’s degree and 12 years at Deloitte & Touche, the accounting firm.

Imagine that: The economy has put some incredibly talented and skilled people on the market at a steep discount. These are smart people willing to take less money to do a lower-level job than they’re accustomed to. Buy low. Does this goofus know what that means? No, she’s worried that an “overqualified” hire will leave when the economy gets better.

Yo, Mamma! Anyone you hire is gonna leave for a better opportunity when the economy improves! Time to fire the HR lady.

But it gets better. Trucking companies are not immune to staggering incompetence at any management level — any more than any other industry is. One of the applicants rejected by the HR lady gets passed on to another manager. What does he do to assess this candidate and make a hiring decision?

Mr. Kelsey marched through many of his questions again. Then, trying to gauge her ability to be assertive among truck drivers, he added a new hypothetical: if she were in the stands at a baseball game and a foul ball came her way, would she stand up to try to catch it, or wait in her seat and hope it fell her way?

The other finalist had said she would wait. But Ms. Block said immediately that she would jump up to grab it.

Mr. Kelsey decided he had found his hire.

Managers can ask job candidates anything they want in an interview. Why didn’t Mr. Kelsey ask the applicant what she’d do if, when that foul ball came her way, a truck driver seated beside her elbowed her in the face so he could catch the ball instead? Would she:

  1. Deck him?
  2. Thank him for saving her face from the incoming projectile?
  3. Wipe her bloody nose and scream for a cop?
  4. Ask him whether Mr. Kelsey is hiring?

(Just kidding.)

My compliments to whoever hired that IBM business analyst. You got a bargain. If you treat him well and make good use of his skills (which you’d never get a shot at in a good economy), my guess is he might not even quit when the economy gets better… because you found good ways to capitalize on skills you couldn’t afford in a better economy… and maybe you were astute enough to create something better for him at your company so he’d stay. And even if he leaves, if you were smart you made profitable use of the time he was working for you. Nobody stays at your company forever, assuming your company is still in business in a coupla years…

I’d like a count, please: How many managers or HR people out there would pass on an “overqualified” applicant willing to work for less money because they don’t know how the hell to capitalize on a windfall of unexpectedly superior skills?

(Thanks to Steve Amoia for sending me the NY Times article.)


Readers’ Forum: What do I owe the headhunter?

A reader’s problem:

Five years ago a headhunter convinced me to interview with Company A. I wasn’t offered a job after the interview, but the experience motivated me to find a job with another company, B. After a few months, Company A offered me a job (through the headhunter), but I had to decline since I had already started working at Company B.

Now that 5 years have passed, I’d like to pursue a job at Company A. Am I obligated to work through the headhunter? Or is it fine to contact the hiring manager at Company A directly?

Forum: Does this reader owe the headhunter a call? What’s the best way to handle this? Post your comments and I’ll add mine later! (If you have a copy of How to Work with Headhunters, you can handle this one with your eyes closed… and you also know why the reader should have stayed closer to that headhunter!)


How to Say It: No phone calls, please!

Well… I’m not going to tell you how to say “No phone calls, please!” (It’s just a nice, catchy title.)

But I hope we can address what a job hunter should do when the personnel jockey warns  not to call anyone at the company…

A reader asks:

I researched the company and sent in the requested cover letter and resume, but after discovering your website today, I would like to do more towards “being my own headhunter.” The problem is that the job posting on the company website clearly states “no phone calls, please.” Does this exclude me from contacting people within the company who are not the hiring manager? How do I communicate that I think I deserve an inside edge?

If you get the newsletter, you know what my advice is. (You don’t get the newsletter? Well, sign up now — it’s free — or you’ll miss my advice on the next How to Say It!)

Your turn now: Can this reader still make the call? (Ah, that’s a loaded question!) How? And how should she use the call to leverage an inside edge on the job?


The Monster-ous quality of choice

A recent post, Congress to Employers: You’re not proctologists, drew a comment that reveals the dangerous new cracks in our employment system  — and hints at the problem employers need to address if the quality of hiring is to improve.

In a comment on that post, dated October 19, 2009 at 6:52 am, reader Nic says:

This to me is all about people fuelling their new crackpot ideas for business modelling and human resources; and in my view, it is all lunacy. What does this really mean? The quality of employee has declined drastically over the past 20 years. Does this mean a further dumbing down?

I don’t think the quality of the employee has declined. Rather, the quality of the selection process has declined. It has become so automated that it is now counterproductive.

The personal judgment of managers no longer filters the best job candidates into the final interview process. The first cut of candidates is made thoughtlessly using key word searches and is further dumbed down because the pool itself is limited to people who list themselves in data bases. Gone are the candidates a manager seeks out for their rare and relevant qualities.

The Human Resources Soup Kitchen waters down the quality of the hiring process by ladling resumes out of the huge job-board swill pot — and those are the candidates the hiring manager is permitted to choose from. That’s where the “talent shortage” starts. When your head is stuck in the swill pot, all the world is a mediocre candidate — and you always have an excuse for mediocre hiring: We use the latest technology but today’s candidates just suck!

I was recently on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss trends in job hunting and hiring and to take questions from listeners. Joining me was an executive from

A caller who runs a management consulting firm challenged Monster’s Doug Hardy over the “task matching” — or “keyword” — method of scanning resumes for matches to jobs.

Listen to the question and to Hardy’s response: Read more

Q&A: Climbing out of the hole

You think you have problems?

We’re the parents of a 30-year-old college-grad-gone-wrong man. Our son now has two incidents and a criminal record as a result of his ten-year obsession with eastern culture (martial arts/intense spiritual yoga indoctrination). He got fired from his daytime jobs and still has a few hearings scheduled in court.

While we provide support for him, there must be some honest labor or odd jobs that he can do. Not only for $, but we feel that a sense of providing for himself can restore his self-esteem, which could be just the thing to tear him away from that spiritual breakdown and return him to society.

Do you know any job source that can tolerate his criminal record? I asked his public defender. He had no clue! We will appreciate any leads for him. Thanks a million.

The problem is that he’s getting fired presumably because of his behavior. I don’t know of any job where that would be tolerated. He has to want to build his self-esteem, or his behavior will not change.
This might sound strange to you, but a program like Toastmasters or a Dale Carnegie course might help him — if he wants the help. These groups teach self-reliance and the ability to get up in front of people to talk with poise. I find that problems with work and self-esteem often stem from a lack of self-confidence. Learning to talk to others publicly is a great path to building confidence. By changing his behavior around other people, he may be able to change his underlying attitudes. (This is a simple tenet of behavioral and cognitive psychology — behavior change can stimulate a change in attitude.)

Toastmasters is free. Carnegie charges.
The nice thing about both? Many of the people you meet in those programs have jobs in good companies. They can be the first step toward a new job.
He has to want to do it.
I wish you the best.


Turn down the volume

When I give a presentation, the first thing I tell the audience — whether they’re job hunters or hiring managers — is, “Everything you know about job hunting (or hiring) is wrong.” Shoulders relax. People giggle nervously. They are so relieved to hear they’re not crazy. They know the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Then I tell them that a mistake everyone makes when job hunting or hiring is volume. We are all taught that it’s a numbers game. You have to wake up every morning and get 50 resumes out before breakfast. Apply to as many jobs online as you can. Then you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something before lunchtime! Or if you work in HR, keep your pipeline full of candidates so you’ll have a lot to choose from.


Let me give you a specific counter-example that blows the fallacy of “volume” out of the water.

I had lunch with John, a client, to discuss a position he wanted me to fill. It was a $125,000 marketing job. We spent two hours talking. For the next two weeks, I talked to several people who worked for John, and to others at his company who knew him. John had no idea I was doing this. I learned a lot about what his operation was like and about how his staff worked.

Then I talked to a handful of people around the country — a handful — who are experts in marketing and who work with experts in marketing. I didn’t run any ads. I didn’t solicit any resumes. I conducted no in-person interviews. I called John back and gave him a name and a phone number. I told him to call Joe, the guy who could do the job.

John and Joe talked and scheduled a face-to-face meeting. In the meantime, I put together a very simple resume on Joe using information he had given me and information I gathered from his references. I sent it to John so he’d have some background on Joe, to fill in the blanks.

They met. John offered Joe a job and Joe accepted it.

One job, one meeting, one candidate.

Read more

How to Say It: Informational (gag!) Interviews

Informational interviews — gag me with a spoon. They call it an informational “interview” because… it’s a veiled job interview. The challenge is how to get the information you need in the right setting. And an interview ain’t it.

In the October 13, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions advice she was given by a career counselor about informational interviews. Lucky she asked.

I know that I’m supposed to call the people I know in decision-making positions in my field to set up appointments for “informational interviews.” A career counselor I’m working with suggests that I should say, “I was wondering what unmet needs you have now or anticipate down the road.” But it just doesn’t sound natural or productive to me. I bet you have a better idea.

Gimme a break and fire your career counselor, who is telling you to go embarrass yourself by asking for a job with a wink and a nod. Imagine asking that exact same question in an attempt to get a date with someone… Urrrrgh.

Why is every interaction between a job hunter and an employer assumed to be some kind of interview? Why can’t we just have a little talk? You know — talk shop. Discuss business. Share information and insight. Everything doesn’t have to be a dad-blasted interview.

This means you have to shake loose from talking about “the job,” “a job,” “an opening,” “an unmet need,” (Jeeze, I wouldn’t touch that one even with a lawyer in tow…) or anything having to do with getting hired.

And that means talking to the manager in a different setting. What industry associations does she belong to? Where does she take professional development courses? Does she volunteer somewhere? Find out where you can run into her, then do it. Assuming you really want to learn something new, here’s How to Say It:

“Hi, nice to meet you. I know you work for ABC Company. I’ve always admired ABC’s stature in its field. Could I ask you something? What’s your opinion of this industry and where it’s going? What do you think are the hurdles and opportunities coming down the pike?”

This can easily turn into a talk about her company and even about her department. And that’s the beginning of your “informational” discussion, if that’s what you really want.

If what you really want is an excuse for a job interview, I can’t help you. Don’t mix up job hunting with a peer-to-peer discussion with someone in your field. It’s rude.

Am I wrong? What’s the best way to say it, and in what setting?

I think it’s legit (and smart) to learn all you can about an industry, a company and a job. But is the “informational interview” a legit way to do it? I don’t think so. (I discussed this topic in another post, Informational (heh-heh) Interviews over a year ago. But don’t look at that til you’ve posted your comments here!)