Brazen Careerist: An indistinct notion of cool

A couple of weeks ago I posted a column on my blog titled, Gen-Y, the Brazen Opportunist, and Curious Case of Penelope Trunk. It wasn’t until Nicole Crimaldi wrote about it on Ms. Career Girl that dialogue on the topic got interesting.

I just posted a comment on Nicole’s blog. Normally I wouldn’t reprint something here that I posted elsewhere, but I’d like to press this dialogue here, with this community. Ask The Headhunter is about advice, but you also know that I use this forum to critique the “career world,” which I believe is so out of hand and largely devoid of common sense that it does a massive disservice in the economy we’re living in.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Here’s my comment on Nicole’s blog:

I wrote the column in FastCompany that you’re commenting on, Nicole. You’ve stimulated a far better dialogue than my post did on FC.

As the title of the column suggests, its main topic is Gen Y — which is easily defined as people in their 20’s starting out on their careers. I closed the column with my point: I see a lot of pandering to an image of Gen Y’ers. Lots of businesses capitalize on that image. (But hell, people in their 20’s have always been a target of the media – the demographic spends a lot of money and pandering to it is a business unto itself.) I think people in their 20’s (no matter when in time we’re talking about them) deserve more credit than the advertising world — and Brazen Careerist — gives them.

Second in the title is Brazen Careerist, which behaves more like a social club than anything having to do with careers. (Nothing wrong with social clubs, but someone branded this one a career site.) Every generation of people in their 20’s needs and wants to reflect on itself. Brazen Careerist is a fun, if not rocky, place to do that. My point is that Brazen Careerist is a social clubhouse masquerading as a career-advice website.

The reference to Penelope Trunk points out that today no company can stand apart from the image and reputation of its boss. Brazen Careerist misrepresents itself: No matter how “authentic” people want to be, or how authentic they insist an employer must permit them to be, the reality is that most emlpoyers will eject a job candidate whose online persona is brazen and risky to the employer. I don’t care if someone doesn’t want to face reality; but don’t tell me employers don’t care, or that you’re likely to find an employer who’ll let you bring your dog to work and embrace your embellishments of brazilian waxes and board-room miscarriages. Good for you if that’s your objective. But good luck. You will need it.

Though some argue that the contradictions between the website and the boss make it all very interesting and instructive in a cool sort of way, there is no escaping the fundamental contradictions. They are fatal to most people’s careers because few will cultivate the successful brand and following that Trunk has cultivated. (You could also strive to be Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or Tiger Woods. You’d better have a backup plan, including someone who will clean up after you online.) Being brassy is fun and cool and it sometimes enables a person to develop a complex, compelling character that serves them well. But teaching, across the board, that being brazen while trying to establish a career is irresponsible.

“Living the authentic life” is an idea cultivated most simply and clearly by Aleister Crowley. His dictum was, “Do as thou wilt” and it’s very interesting. But Crowley did not hide the risks that walking on the edge of life posed. Hedonism, authenticity, personal branding — there isn’t even a debate today, because for the most part it’s all been reduced to b.s., with the apology that it’s up to you to figure out which is which. Crowley would puke. It’s a lot of fun to tell all in public forums, when you don’t have to worry about being ejected from a job interview (or from a venture capitalist’s office).

What anyone makes of Brazen Careerist or how they choose to use the site is up to them. My compliments to those who point out that they know how to separate shit from shine-ola. It’s been said again and again in this dialogue, on this forum, on the FC website and elsewhere: Beware of people who tell you to do as they say, not as they do. Asperger’s, hedonism, naivete – none of these are excuses OR explanations for giving self-contradictory advice to an audience that’s looking for legitimate guidance. Perhaps the worst of all the pandering and the gutless claims of “authenticity” is the use of Asperger’s Syndrome to foil criticism. Authenticity does not make anything and everything okay.

In a song titled, “An Indistinct Notion of Cool,” John Cale obliquely takes on what David (citing Rebecca Thorman) tackles in his comment [on Crimaldi’s blog]: self-indulgence. Cool is still a challenge to pull off, if it really is authentic. The character of the Brazen Careerist is mostly indistinct.

All of which tells me that Brazen Careerist is not a career advice site — at least not a credible or useful one. It’s a successful social club that takes its audience to a brink without warning them where they’re stepping. The message of my FC column: Gen Y’ers who want a chance to do work they aspire to should reflect on that.

Like I said in my posting — I think Gen Y deserves more credit. What do you think of all this?


Limited time: 1/3 off expires Jan. 2

In the last edition of the newsletter, I posted a special offer for 1/3 off on my two new PDF books, How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you (regular price: $39.95) and How Can I Change Careers? (regular price: $12.95).

The special offer of $34.95 for the 2-book bundle has blown away even first-day sales for each of the books!

Guess I under-estimated the interest! The offer was set to expire midnight December 26… I was very pleasantly surprised at the record daily sales. Now I’m stunned.

I figured the extra interest would peter out on the 24th, but word has gotten around and orders keep coming in for the package of 2 for $34.95. (The two books together normally sell for $52.90.)

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I’m grateful for the sales and I’ve extended this 1/3 off special price for the bundle until midnight January 2, 2010. Thanks for sharing the link to this promotional offer with friends!

(On January 3, the price goes back to the regular $39.95 for Headhunters and $12.95 for Change Careers.)

To all who have purchased Ask The Headhunter products, Thank You! And to everyone who is part of the Ask The Headhunter community, I wish you the best for the holidays and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.

(If you’d like to order this 2-book bundle for $34.95, please DO NOT click the book images in the navigation bar on the righthand side of this page… instead please click here to get the lower price.)


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…)


Readers’ Forum: How to learn from failure

Discussion: December 22, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

Usually the Readers’ Forum in the Ask The Headhunter newsletter starts with a problem or scenario posed by a reader. Then we all pile on it, here on the blog.

This week I’d like to pose a problem myself. The current edition of Wired magazine features an article about failure that occurs in science labs. It set me to thinking. (Everything I read flows through my headhunter filter.) How can this be applied to solve job hunting or hiring problems?

A sidebar in that article is titled How to Learn from Failure. It suggests that when scientific experiments fail, the outcome of the effort is an anomaly. Anomalous outcomes should makes us analyze failure in these four steps:

Check Your Assumptions
Ask yourself why this result feels like a failure. What theory does it contradict? Maybe the hypothesis failed, not the experiment.

Seek Out the Ignorant
Talk to people who are unfamiliar with your experiment. Explaining your work in simple terms may help you see it in a new light.

Encourage Diversity
If everyone working on a problem speaks the same language, then everyone has the same set of assumptions.

Beware of Failure-Blindness
It’s normal to filter out information that contradicts our preconceptions. The only way to avoid that bias is to be aware of it.

Can these failure analysis tools be applied to job hunting and hiring? Here are my four suggestions about how to apply these tools to a failed job interview. Rather than think you failed at the interview:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is this the wrong job for me?”
  2. Explain to someone outside your business what the job is about, and what happened in the interview. Ask for their insight.
  3. Do (2.) with someone way outside your field. Ask your grandmother or a 12-year-old. If you’re forced to change the vocabulary you use to describe the failure, you might learn something new.
  4. You might believe that the salient take-away from a failed interview is that you failed at the interview. Is it possible you failed to pursue the right kind of job, company, manager?

I think there’s something here. Help me find it. How can these four failure analysis steps be used to learn from failed job interviews?


Puppy-dog headhunters

Is the job market picking up? If headhunter activity is any measure (and I’m not sure it is), then maybe hiring activity is on the upswing…

A reader asks:

A recruiter I know (but have never met in person) called me about a position. I told him I was interested based on the description, reporting chain, location and salary range. After our conversation, he talked to his client about me. Before asking for my resume, the client asked him what my previous salary had been, which was about $30K more than this position’s upper limit.

Without asking me and without having received my permission previously, the recruiter divulged my salary, and the client would not proceed further based on the fact that I was “too expensive.”

Again, I knew the range of the position and had told the recruiter specifically that I was fine with that salary range. As far as I am concerned, the recruiter had no right whatsoever to divulge my salary, which I consider confidential.  I believe this was a breach of ethics.  What do you say?

This is very common. Once a headhunter gets your “permission” (translation: interest) regarding a position, he’s likely to discuss you in detail with his client, and any info you provided is fair game.

Remember that the headhunter’s fiduciary duty is to his client, not to you. That said, headhunters are dopes when they do what this one did. He could easily have told his client that he needed to confirm your salary history and call back with the information — and in the meantime discussed the position with you as well as how to handle your salary history with your permission. But this headhunter seems to be the client’s puppy — eager to please, loathe to take time to be a good advisor to his client. Puppy-dog headhunters are such pushovers that they do a disservice to their clients. You might have been an outstanding hire, but the client will never get a chance to find out. And that costs the headhunter, too.

He should have asked your permission before divulging your salary. But like most HR people, headhunters consider salary info no big deal. Worse, they quickly use it to decide whether a candidate is “a fit.”

And that’s stupid.

Next time, be explicit about what info you want kept confidential when you talk to a headhunter. So, yah, I think it’s an ethical breach, but it’s “industry standard” with too many headhunters.

If you want to know more about the in’s and out’s of dealing with headhunters, check out How to Work with Headhunters.


How long does the headhunter control you?

I don’t normally post the weekly Ask The Headhunter newsletter online, but I got so many requests for this week’s edition that I’ve put it up:

How long does the headhunter control me?

An excerpt:

To understand how to work effectively with headhunters, it’s important to know the differences between retained and contingency headhunters, employment agencies, job shops and career management firms. Also relevant are the kinds of contracts employers and headhunters use. Perhaps most important in this case is knowing how employers routinely deal with headhunters. It’s not complicated, but if you don’t know how employers manage headhunters you’ll never be able to manage them yourself… (click for more)

(The newsletter is free — you’ll find a subscription link when you open this sample edition.)


Readers’ Forum: Where are the weirdoes?

Discussion: December 15, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks:

I am a mission-driven person (and a turn-around expert) who shares a fair number of beliefs from the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works style of business and project management. Even today, this is still an “out of the box” style of management and is not exactly listed in job postings as a qualification. Companies don’t seem to express it to recruiters or discuss it on their websites. I rarely find this style among people or businesses. But when I team up with them it is true business magic. How do I find these kinds of companies and people?

Whew! Why do out-of-the-box thinkers keep showing up here? Hmmm… We’re all weird on Ask The Headhunter and no one knows what to do with us. One thing left to do: Take over.

How can this reader find other innovators who crave autonomy and avoid bureaucracy… And hopefully a company that tolerates (and hires) them?

Help us break the bureaucracy. Please give us some insight!


How to Say It: Can I dispense with the headhunter?

Discussion: December 15, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A a reader is worried that she can’t apply for a job on her own, at a company where a headhunter was not able to get her a job offer.

Her concern might be justified. (Please see my response in today’s newsletter — I don’t normally archive the newsletter, but today’s is online!) But regardless, no headhunter has a permanent claim on you. If he can’t get you an interview at a company after a reasonable effort and window of time, you should close the window. First, send him a written request: Does his client intend to interview you? If the answer is no, then send a certified notice by mail.

(The How to Say It below is reprinted from page 119 of How to Work with Headhunters.)

How to Say It (in writing): “Since you have not scheduled an interview with your client, I conclude that you have not been able to generate interest in me as a candidate. I therefore consider this matter closed. I hereby cancel any permission I may have granted you to present me to [company] or to any other company, effective immediately. Kindly confirm receipt of this notice.”

If you’d like to continue working with the headhunter, you might omit “or to any other company”—that’s up to you.

Got a better suggestion for How to Say It to help this reader “detach” from the headhunter? Have you ever dealt with a headhunter who continued trying to “represent” you when you did not want to be represented? What did you do about it?


An open question to Robert McGovern, CEO Jobfox

Dear Robert,

I just went to the Jobfox web site to send you an e-mail, but your profile page doesn’t provide an e-mail link. I wasted only about two minutes searching elsewhere on the site but gave up. Figured I’d just post a note to you here on my own blog. (You are welcome to e-mail me back: I love hearing from my audience. It’s something Tom Peters taught me a long time ago — it’s good for business.) I still can’t figure out why people who run websites don’t want to be bothered with e-mail. (Marc Cenedella over at TheLadders really doesn’t want to be bothered with e-mail.)

I did try clicking on your My Press Bio: Here’s what my handlers say to the press, but it goes to a dead page. Ah, well. Anybody who admits he’s got handlers to handle the press is out of my league anyway, but I guess if all they give people is a dead web page, that keeps you covered. (Cendella’s handlers write e-mail to his customers, who really get pissed off when they spend a bunch of money on an expensive new resume but can’t get a note back from the boss.) Hell, when I saw that you’re the founder of CareerBuilder I realized I’d be wasting more time communicating with you privately. We probably wouldn’t agree on much. I think the big job boards suck. (Hey, did you see the latest CareerXroads survey? CareerBuilder was the source of hires for employers less than 4% of the time among companies polled. Guess you’re glad you bailed when you did, eh?) **Update: Never mind. I just checked 2002, the year you left CareerBuilder. The figure was only 1.5% in 2002.

Jobfox has been characterized as another me-too job board and resume mill. (That combo — big job board + resume services — seems to tip people off to job boards that don’t work well and need alternate ways to suck some bucks out of customers. Did you ever think of offering special resume-writing services for the HR managers who pay to post jobs? That could be a real winner.) So I thought I’d take a look.

I don’t usually waste time with new job boards (well, I did post something nice about LinkUp, which doesn’t send out long sales letters) because let’s face it, most of the entries in this space are all alike — they load the database with crap, churn ‘n burn the customers, let them get lost among the millions of dusty old jobs and multi-level marketing come-ons, and sell access to their “info” to personnel jockeys who are glad to spend millions to… get lost in the database, because who cares? At 5pm everybody goes home and tries again tomorrow.

Anyhow… Here’s why I wanted to get in touch with you. An Ask The Headhunter reader posted a comment on You idiot, you showed this résumé to an employer?? (That’s a pretty old posting, but older stuff gets read around here — “Content is King” and all that.)

Skott Coffee (comment dated December 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm) was concerned that Jobfox has started using a lemon of a marketing ploy that Marc Cenedella has already squeezed all the juice out of. Skott seems pretty ticked off. He posted the entire sales letter he received from one of your people — and I have to say I agree with him.

I mean, 1,400-word sales letters selling resume-writing services kinda went out with hawkers selling oceanfront property in Arizona, Bernie Madoff-style “double your money” investment programs and TheLadders selling boilerplate resumes for $900.

Sales letters that just go on and on until you finally just break down and buy something generally make people feel like they’re being flagellated or something — and that’s not a good sign when you’re selling resume-writing services that are supposed to deliver resumes that make managers want to hire you.

I think Skott has a point. The sales letters Jobfox sends out make it look like the resumes you produce are going to flagellate the managers who read them. I’d have a hard time paying for that.

Skott says your resume services are selling boilerplate. I think he also means the sales letter is biolerplate. 1,421 words worth of it. Do your resume writers actually write those letters? You might want to take a look into that. They could be writing 1,400-word resumes! And charging for them. I could see how that would piss people off. Hell, it would piss me off if I were running Jobfox. But like I said, I think big job boards suck so that’s not even a remote possibility. What sucks even more is job boards that try to milk people for resume-writing services, using boilerplate sales letters that kinda demonstrate exactly the opposite of what a good writing service should be. That really sucks.

Anyhow, Skott’s comment (I read all the comments people post on my blog) got me thinking.

How do you sleep at night?


Readers’ Forum: Ability or credentials?

Discussion: December 8, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

The Q&A column in this week’s newsletter asks whether employers are too hell-bent on hiring only “the perfect candidate,” when ability and talent might be the more efficient path to getting a job done. How long will a manager wait until perfection arrives?

Do employers really want only someone who has already done the exact job? Am I nuts, or is there something wrong here? Do credentials matter more than ability to ride a learning curve and come up to speed?

(Oops! Maybe ability is harder to assess than credentials, eh?)

How can you get an employer to hire you, if you haven’t already done the exact job?