How to Say It: What’s the point of an interview?

Discussion: February 23, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter a reader takes an interview with a company that wants to “meet and talk in general,” with no indication there’s a specific opportunity on deck. No problem, I say to the reader. It’s good to meet new people. But when the company brings you back for a second interview — to meet the president — and there’s still no objective, then it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing. I offered the reader a suggestion about How to Say It in the newsletter — “No job in mind? No meeting.” (Well, a bit more politely than that, but that’s the gist.)

But there’s more the reader could do to ferret out an opportunity — and to make some money in the meantime. Here’s what else to say to the employer:

If there isn’t a specific job you’d like to discuss, it might be because you’re trying to figure out what kind of position you want to define. I believe I could help you with that by applying my expertise in XYZ… Until you define and fill a position, I’d be glad to offer you my consulting services at $X per day. I look forward to hearing back from you… and I’d like to help you any way I can. Thanks again for your interest… I really enjoyed our wide-ranging discussion. Kind regards…

See how that works? You play every angle but put the onus on them to either define a job or pay you for your time to help them do it.

Otherwise, it’s a bunch of guys blowing smoke with nothing better to do than waste your time and their own. Believe me — many managers are clueless and should be fired for wasting company time and resources on meetings like these. Sometimes, you just have to realize there is no job there. That’s no reason to decline a first meeting — you might meet some cool people and explore possibilities. But beyond that, we’re business people and we work for a living. Either the employer has a clear agenda that presents a clear opportunity to you or he’s wasting your time.

(The tipoff in this reader’s story was that after the second interview with the president, the company did not follow up further, did not respond to queries or bring closure to the discussions. Bear in mind, it was the company that reached out and initiated the meetings.)


Readers’ Forum: What’s with the goofy tests?

Discussion: February 23, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter, a reader asks for advice:

What’s with the psychological multiple-choice questions in job applications? What are they looking for and what do I do when I don’t “test well” with these kinds of questions? I’m a great employee, but these tests mess with my brain! Are there any resources on how to answer these questions? I’m finding I can’t even get an interview unless I first pass this part of the application process.

You can’t tell a company to stop using those goofy tests, and you’re right: It’s virtually impossible to figure out how to “pass” one. So the alternative is clear: Don’t apply using job applications. Go directly to a hiring manager.

HR uses such tests to weed out “undesirables.” (At least in the opinion of the HR manager.) But if a manager has already decided to interview you or hire you, the personnel jockey is not likely to stand in the way. The “weeding” tools usually go flying out the window. When you have a manager already interested, the smart thing to do is politely but firmly decline to do this kooky stuff. “Once we meet and decide there’s a mutual interest in taking our discussions further, I’d be glad to fill out your application forms.”

This ever-more-ridiculous, impersonal “hiring strategy” that companies are increasingly using accomplishes one thing. It alienates the best workers, who refuse to play the game. They will find their way in the door through personal contacts — or they’ll go to work for a competitor. Rather than waste their time with such administrative roadblocks, job hunters with high standards will invest their time meeting and cultivating people who can refer them to a hiring manager. They won’t bend over for personnel jockeys.

So the way to handle such tests (and preliminary application forms) is not to do them. Avoid them. Get in the door through a manager or another employee of the company.

This article might be helpful: Employment Tests: Get an edge.


Colleges fail How

What do your kids learn in college? Lots of people ask the question only when they see the tab for higher education. It’s a good question. A better question is, do they learn How?

I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. Anything you learn is something that might “grow you,” and it might even be something you’ll someday use to good effect. So if that’s why you’re sending your kids to college, good for you.

If you’re paying for higher education because you think it’s gonna help your kids get better jobs, make more money and have a higher standard of life — well, think again. I’m not saying college won’t provide those benefits. I’m saying it isn’t really set up to provide them.

Lots of magazines publish annual college surveys that rank the schools and even suggest how much higher your kid’s lifetime earnings will be if he attends one school versus another. But I look at this another way — a far more pragmatic way.

My buddy Brooke Allen, who runs, came up with a test of colleges that makes a lot of sense. Brooke is a numbers guy, so his test is really cool because it’s got nothing to do with numbers. Here it is in his own words:

Here is an experiment: Find an on-line college catalog. Search for the phrase “how to” and see if you find it anywhere, in a title or in any course descriptions.  (Things like, “How to sign up for this class” don’t count.) If you find a course that promises to tell students how to do anything, let me know. I haven’t found one yet.

I’ll tell you something: Nothing has gotten under my skin lately more than this. Sure, there are college courses that enable students to walk away and do something or other… so what’s the problem? The problem is that colleges don’t structure their curricula around how to do anything. Learning is fine, but where is the doing?

I think there are probably no courses about How to do something because colleges don’t value How. It’s not part of the institutional mission. So professors don’t teach How to do anything because to the institution, How doesn’t matter.

Why don’t colleges teach How to Be an Accountant? Or, How to Make Money? Or, How to Build a House? Or, How to Do Anything? (All are credible skills that would serve a student — and Mom and Dad — well.)

Now I’m re-defining what it means to me that education is good for its own sake. Learning What is fine, but that doesn’t “grow you” unless you learn How to put it to use. I don’t care if you never get a job or do any work or ever apply the How, because that’s up to you. What I care about is that the How is missing, and How is at least half of any education.

Any school that fails to teach How — about any subject it teaches —  fails its students.

Why don’t colleges teach How? And why do you pay so your kids will learn only What?


TheLadders: Would DaVinci buy a resume from Marc Cenedella?

When is TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella gonna give it up? This latter-day P.T. Barnum knows no shame.

On January 21, 2010 I posted How to apply for a job: The Working Resume, highlighting a job application Leonardo DaVinci sent to the Duke of Milan. (DaVinci’s letter was brought to my attention by reader Phil Hey.) I used DaVinci’s application to demonstrate the job hunting methods I’ve been teaching on Ask The Headhunter for over a decade.

A few days later, Marc Cenedella posts a strikingly similar article on his blog: Leonardo DaVinci’s Resume. It also appears in his February 15 e-mail blast. Gimme a break. It seems Cenedella is running out of ideas.

I don’t read Cenedella’s sales letters because he sends them via e-mail, so they’re useless as bird-cage liners. (I get plenty of those in my U.S. mail already.) But reader Rick brought today’s missive to my attention in a comment he posted on this blog:

Nick – I trust you are on Mark Cenedella’s email list, and have received this morning’s pep talk from him… er you… seeing as its a copy of this post. Now we know that Cenedella reads this website… Hey Mark, I want a job that pays 100k give or take!!!!


Coincidence, ripoff or merely more of Cenedella’s P.T. Barnum-esque carny-barking? Whatever it is, it’s all in keeping with the adage, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The sales pitch promotes one thing, while the huckster delivers something else entirely.

So where’s the contradiction in Cenedella’s current e-mail? Take a look at TheLadders’ resume-writing services. Ladders will sell you a $900 update to your resume, but wait minute… the Ladders CEO is warning you that such resumes aren’t what you need…

Cenedella tells his users that they need a DaVinci-style resume that emphasizes an employer’s needs rather than their credentials:

“… that’s exactly what your resume needs to do, too. Not the laundry list / standard bio that talks about you, but the marketing piece that talks about the benefits to your future employer and how you fit into his or her needs and desires.”

Trouble is, TheLadders runs a resume-writing operation that sells you a pricey, traditional “laundry list / standard bio that talks about you.”

Cenedella goes on to explain that, “I’m a hopeless pedantic, so of course I’m going to take this opportunity to let you know what you can learn from Leonardo’s resume…”

…Uh, learn what? That Cenedella’s advice and his own resume writing service totally contradict one another? Would Leonardo DaVinci buy a resume from TheLadders?

Perhaps Rick is correct, and Cenedella lifted from this blog the idea that DaVinci’s letter to the Duke of Milan is a model resume. More important, Rick’s posting points out that there are lots of people like Rick who are paying attention. They’re talking about fraud. They’re talking about Cenedella’s goofy sales e-mails and they question his ethics. They’re taking Cenedella and TheLadders to task for charging customers for “Only $100k+ jobs” that aren’t only $100k+. They’re not suckers.

Maybe Cenedella will address that in one of his e-mails.


Readers’ Forum: Better to be unemployed when job hunting?

Discussion: February 9, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A column a reader wonders whether it’s better to be unemployed and job hunting full time, or to explain why he’s underemployed and jumping ship so quickly for the job he really wants. Do managers care? Does it make a difference?

I outline three different risks in my reply. But what do you think?

(You missed the newsletter because you don’t subscribe? It’s easy to fix that for free.)


How to Say It: My degree beats your certification!

Discussion: February 9, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s edition a reader says, “My degree beats your certification!”

Why are firms so ignorant of one’s university degrees and instead treat certifications like CPA with much more respect? To complete a degree takes quite a bit of effort. (Try to take MBA school in four exams like a CPA does!) Degrees are expensive, but firms treat us like idiots. What’s so special about a certification? After much consideration I finally sat for FAR part of CPA certification. It cost me $235 and content-wise it barely covered the scope of my undergraduate accounting curriculum. Am I missing something here? My MBA degree is far more valuable than a certification. I need to know How to Say It when I meet with an employer.

How to Say It: Would someone like to explain this? Yah, a certification is proof that someone passed a qualifying exam… whether in accounting or data base administration… but is it more valuable than a college degree? And how do you say it to an employer?


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.


What do your job interviews sound like?

I’ve spent years sharing advice about job interviews. My main advice is to walk into a job interview prepared to stand and deliver: Show the employer how you will do the work profitably so the employer will want to hire you.

But sometimes I forget that that’s the substance of a good interview. A good interview also has style and presence. What’s that? It’s how well you communicate. And how well you communicate is an indication of your conviction.

Employers are impressed with people who can and do speak with conviction. That’s who they hire.

Talk to a kid in grade school today, or to a high schooler or a college student or someone just starting out in the work world. You’ll experience one of two things. Either you will be amazed at how thoughtful some kids are and at how well they speak — you can hear their conviction. (You might cringe a bit, remembering how awkward a speaker you were at that age.) Or you’ll be shocked at the miasma of meaningless sounds emitted from their mouths — at the confusion they betray and at their lack of conviction.

In my opinion, our schools don’t do a very good job at teaching kids to write and speak. Some teachers pull it off and my hat is off to them. But I worry about how students coming out of college present themselves in job interviews. I worry how they present themselves when they try to develop the contacts they need to get in the door at the companies they want to work for.

Poet Taylor Mali makes the point better than I do — with conviction. Watch the video above.

You are judged by your presence and your conviction. What do your job interviews sound like? Which part of Taylor Mali’s poem do you sound like?

If you need help, I suggest these two books:

Talking Your Way to the Top, by Gretchen Hirsch.

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less, by Milo Frank.

(Thanks to IT guru Bill Sterling for sending along the link to Taylor Mali’s poem!)


How to Say It: You want me to start WHEN?

Discussion: February 2, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s edition a reader asks how to deal with a job offer that has a three-month starting delay. The candidate is interested in the job but cannot start work immediately. But there are risks in accepting the offer today — what if a better deal comes up in the meantime? Is it honest to accept now, if you can’t predict the future?

(There’s lots more about this in the newsletter… it’s not as simple a situation as it seems. That’s why you ought to subscribe… it’s still free.)

How to Say It: The only fact in hand is the offer the reader has today. Tell the headhunter: “If the company is willing to take the chance that I will still be available in three months, I’ll take the chance that the job will still be there in three months, and I will accept the offer.”

That’s one way to put it, while leaving other options open.

What would you do about such a job offer? Is it legit to accept it?


Readers’ Forum: When to tell all

Discussion: February 2, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks for advice:

After several years of being a single mother I am now looking for work. However, due to family obligations I do not wish to work full time; ideally 20-30 hours per week. I have successfully found work using your approach in the past and would definitely use it again. However, I’m not sure at what point in the discussions to bring up that I’m only looking for work part time. Should I mention this right off the bat? Or wait until a job offer is being discussed? I’d love to get reader feedback here. (My gut says to mention it earlier, rather than later.)

Can a job applicant interview for a job without disclosing she’s interested only in part-time work? The obvious answer might seem to be no. But put your thinking caps on: What would justify pitching a part-time solution to a full-time job?

Stretch your mind without stretching the truth or your integrity.