Readers’ Forum: Ask The Headhunter in a Nutshell

In the December 21, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks for ATH in a nutshell:

Can you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter strategy and explain the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks.

Normally, I publish only a short excerpt of the newsletter here on the blog. But this is the last newsletter of 2010, and it’s a summary of some of the main ideas of Ask The Headhunter. I’m posting the entire December 21, 2010 newsletter online: Click here for the full edition of  Ask The Headhunter in a Nutshell.

The 4 “nutshell” tips are:

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do.

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts.

3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you.

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start.

For the details behind each tip, please see the newsletter… And as always, please post your comments here on the blog!

Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?

How to Work with Headhunters

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What more do you need?

That’s the Readers’ Forum question this week. All through the year, I try to teach the nuts and bolts behind the four main ideas discussed in today’s newsletter. Your questions help me flesh out the details of these ideas — and that’s what every edition of the newsletter is about!

In this week’s Readers’ Forum, The Headhunter Asks You: What more do you need to be successful at job hunting and hiring? What daunting problems or challenges can I help you deal with in your job search (or if you’re a manager, when hiring)?

Merry Christmas!Please share your questions, problems and challenges, and I’ll do my best to help, right here on the blog, and in next year’s newsletters. I welcome you to pile on — please tell me where I can help!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what holidays you celebrate or where you celebrate them), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!


Readers’ Forum: Where do I see myself in 5 years?

In the December 14, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to best answer an age-old interview question:

Many job-related sites talk about this interview question, but none suggest how to best answer it. The question is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Obviously, this question relates to a person’s goals, but it can be sticky in some situations, especially a small business to which you are applying where the only promotion may be to the interviewer’s position. What do you suggest?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

So, what should you say to the five-year question? My cynical answer is another question: “Will your company still be in business five years from now?”

Yah, that’s a little rude, but a dopey question sometimes deserves a pointed rejoinder.

This is why I include “five years” in my list of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. You see, the problem doesn’t lie in coming up with an answer. The problem is the question itself. I advise employers not to ask “where you see yourself in five years” for a number of reasons:

  • There are so many canned answers floating around that it’s meaningless — few people answer it honestly.
  • Many businesses really won’t be around in five years.
  • Changes in technology and business render almost any career goal ephemeral.

I suggest you be honest with the employer. If you don’t know where you see yourself in five years, tell him where you see yourself in six months or a year: “Contributing to the profitability of this company by doing A, B, and C for you.” Then explain what A, B, and C are in detail. (Do your homework, or don’t go to the interview!)

Talk shop! Steer the interviewer away from goofy questions like, What’s your greatest weakness? If you could be any animal, what animal would you be? No matter how you decide to answer (or parry) a worn out interview question, you can take control of the interview. In the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers? I offer many suggestions to help you take the interviewer out of fantasyland. Here are two of them:

  • Don’t talk about yourself. Talk shop and demonstrate your abilities. Ask the interviewer: What’s the main problem or challenge you’d like the person you hire to tackle? I’d like to show you how I’d go about it…
  • Skip the elevator pitch. Offer value and make a commitment. Rather than say, “I’m a hardworking, capable operations manager seeking opportunity for advancement,” (so’s everybody!) try this: I will reduce your operations costs by negotiating better deals with your freight vendors and streamlining your shipping department by doing X, Y and Z… (Again, you’d better have done your homework, and be ready to get very specific!)

(How Can I Change Careers? isn’t just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out by demonstrating their value to a specific employer.)

Don’t get lost trying to answer distracting questions. If you find a job interview is going off the track, you can also steer it back on course by raising (and answering) The Most Important Question in an Interview.

Employers seem to think that certain interview questions are a must. Is “the five year question” one of them? Does it matter where you see yourself in five years?

Besides, hasn’t this question been so over-analyzed and the answers “faked” for so long that it’s meaningless anyway? Gimme a break. I’d rather be asked why manhole covers are round.

What’s your take on it? Is this just another stupid interview question? How do you answer it?


Readers’ Forum: How much should I pay a new hire?

In the December 7, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer asks how to set the salary for a job offer.

I’m an employer, and I need some information on the average salary I should expect to pay an experienced (5-10 years), degreed individual to manage part of my software company. I am looking for someone who can take over and manage with little or no supervision. How do I set a salary on this?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

No salary database describes your position, or the particular manager you want to hire. You might find some data that appear to be relevant, but just one factor could throw off your entire calculus and lead you to make a terrible mistake.

I know that you need to set a range for your budget, but why not think about this person’s salary in a new way that might attract the best candidates? (Why would you want to focus on average salary? Do you want an average hire?)

Ask yourself, Is my hiring strategy to limit my costs, or to boost my profits? That is, are you willing to pay more to get more? This requires some analysis that few employers consider.

How much added profit could a candidate add to my business? In the interview, ask candidates to discuss their abilities in those terms. How would they increase your profits by 10%? Decrease your costs by 15%? Create products that increase market share by 20%?

Then, pay based on added profit.

(You say you can’t calculate profit for a particular position? Well, then your business plan is totally screwed. But don’t feel too badly — few employers have any idea how a single job contributes to profit. Think about that: How can anyone run a company rationally if they don’t know how each job contributes to the bottom line? My suspicion is that this problem is a fundamental cause of business failure.) 

A candidate who can answer those questions in a compelling way may be worth more than the market—or any salary survey—suggests. So, think out of the box. Turn your interviews into working meetings where you and the candidate roll up your sleeves and tackle ways to improve the job to make it more profitable.

This sort of interview turns into a business planning session…

(If you’re a job candidate, don’t let salary surveys limit your job negotiations, either.)

Maybe HR told you there’s $X in the budget for the job you want to fill. Maybe you checked the industry averages and set the salary range accordingly. Maybe you picked a number out of a hat.

Maybe you have no idea how the job is supposed to contribute to your bottom line!

Which is it? How do managers decide what salary to offer a new hire? Let’s talk dollars. How do you think they should do it?