Ordering at the interview bar

In the May 31, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to handle job interviews… in a restaurant or bar:

The company I’ve been talking with informed me that our next interview will be at a nearby bar where we can all sit down and relax. The manager also mentioned that he and his group will have some specific questions this time. (In the first interview, I listened more than I talked.) What’s the protocol for interviewing in a public place? I guess they want to see how I act and how I would fit in. Can you offer any Do’s and Don’ts for a “relaxed” bar interview?

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!)

There is some conventional wisdom about interviewing over a meal or over a drink. All of it assumes such a meeting is a clever ruse where the employer is watching your manners and your eating habits, and possibly trying to get you “loosened up” so they can find out what you’re really like.

I caution you: Don’t make any of these assumptions. It’s a business meeting. Be businesslike.

A long time ago someone taught me to take others at face value and to always assume the best. It’s good advice. If it turns out someone is playing games with you, that should be enough to tell you what kind of people they are — and that you probably want nothing to do with them. As long as you are honest and sincere in your words and actions, the burden is on the other guy to act the same. I’ve found this personal policy works very well. If someone screws with me after I give him the benefit of the doubt, I never deal with him again. Word gets around.

Be yourself. Don’t get caught up in the meaning behind the interview location. Do what you would normally do in an interview. (If you don’t feel comfortable in bars, say so and ask for a change of venue.) If you are a woman and the interviewers are all guys and the bar is questionable, use your judgment and trust your instincts.

Order what you want to eat, but don’t spend too much of their money. Use common sense and be polite.

Don’t follow suit. If the boss orders beer but you don’t drink beer, don’t order beer. If you want seltzer, order seltzer. Don’t be someone you’re not…

(…This is the missing part… Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get the entire Answer and Commentary in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

…Respect yourself and respect the employer. No games. Discuss whatever they want to discuss as long as you’re comfortable with it. Hopefully, they want to talk about the work. If you’re the one introducing topics, talk about the work. Contribute whatever information you think will help them see how you will do the job profitably for the company, and how you will fit into their social environment.

If you and they don’t fit together, this is the time to find out. If the meeting gets weird, order take-out.

Do the rules change when your interview is in a restaurant? How about in a bar? Have you had such interviews? How did you handle them?


Advice for the long-term unemployed

In the May 23, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how “starting a business” can be the path from long-term unemployment to a new job.

Do you have any advice for the long-term unemployed? Since I’m not getting anywhere by job hunting, I’m considering starting a business, if only to keep myself busy! Then I remembered: You wrote somewhere that, in this economy, starting a business might be the best way to get hired. This sounds like a mental puzzle. Can you explain?

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!)

You say this sounds like a mental puzzle, but it really isn’t. You’ve been brainwashed to believe that your objective is to find a job. It’s not. Your objective is to make money and to earn a living. Shift your focus, and you’ll save yourself a lot of agony…

What does it take to start a business? You need a concept, a business plan, the right talent, and evidence that it will work. Ask any venture capitalist: That’s what she looks for before investing.

…To get a business started, you need to demonstrate that it will produce profit. Otherwise, who will give you money? Not investors and not customers. (Whether they realize it or not, this is why employers don’t give out job offers, either. They don’t see the profit.) So, you must bust your buns to produce a sound plan. That’s really what this is all about.

…In the process of producing a plan to start a business, you’ll show how you’d “do the job.” In courting investors and prospective customers, you’ll have proved your concept and yourself. You will have gone a hundred miles beyond the typical job candidate, who sits and answers canned questions with clever answers culled from some book that lists thousands of them.

What’s this got to do with ending long-term unemployment, and getting a job?

The plan is the job. When you deliver your business plan to a savvy prospective customer, to a potential business partner, to an an investor, to a supplier, or even to a competitor, you will find that some of these folks will want to hire you to work for them.

This is how I once landed a job. I shared my plans to start a business with the president of a company that would have been my competitor. (Don’t be surprised—such discussions happen all the time. Smart executives are always glad to meet with up-and-comers. It’s their way of defending their turf.) When he saw how good my plan was, he realized I would be serious competition. Since I’d “figured out the business,” that made me worth hiring. There was no job interview, just the discussion of my business plan. I planned this from the start, but the company president never figured that out. I made a lot of money for that guy—and for myself.

(…Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get the entire “Answer” and commentary in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

(Don’t wrinkle your nose or shake your head, just because this suggestion is foreign to your notions of what job hunting is. Remember? They’re not giving out jobs. So, why worry whether this is “proper job hunting?”)

People wind up long-term unemployed in this economy for many reasons. One step out of this quandary is realizing that you must be able to show how you’ll make money and profit — so, get to work starting a business. Formulate a plan — it can be a very simple one — and shop it around. Do you really think a resume would be more impressive?

Tired of being unemployed? Hire yourself. Or threaten to. A competitor might hire you first. Can a business plan really get you hired?


Unemployment & Poverty: A choice American companies make

Curt Landi was raised in New Jersey, near Thomas Edison’s old laboratories. Landi says he used to sneak into one of the abandonned buildings when he was a kid, and wander around, dreaming of becoming an inventor. In the 1980s, Curt and Susan Landi started their company, Supracor, in a tiny Silicon Valley office. Curt invented flexible honeycomb technology, and he and Susan fabricated samples of their products by hand in their kitchen. Curt peddled his samples to anyone who would listen. The Landis lived for years on a shoestring, and invested their lives in their business. They launched Supracor without a penny of venture capital. Today, Supracor produces state-of-the-art technology and sells it to the world.

Landi’s company does something unusual: It manufactures products made from American raw materials in the U.S. and only in the U.S. — “in Silicon Valley, where the cost is enormous to do business for a traditional manufacturer.” He employs only American workers. And his company pays American taxes because all its operations are here.


At a recent business event, Landi explained the greatest threat to America’s future: Poverty. Landi issued a challenge — to every American company — that he says is the real solution to poverty and unemployment. At the start of his presentation, Landi asks executives in the audience, “Do you love your country? Are you patriots?”

By the end of his presentation, Landi lets them ruminate on the profound contradication between their answer to those questions, and the choices they have made for their companies.

“Just imagine, if technology is built here — not licensed off shore. Manufactured here. Think about it. We built China… They manufacture everything there. We manufacture hardly anything here. Imagine the opportunity — building machines, making clothing, making computers… here… American jobs…

50 million people in poverty. America needs to wake up… We need to bring manufacturing back here… Get us out of poverty. This is the answer. Not to be greedy… GE: billions of dollars in profit, and not one cent paid in taxes… Sacrifice a little profit. A little profit. Like I do. To provide jobs to American citizens here, and spread the wealth… We together can make this happen. It only takes a spark… and that’s what’s needed. It must happen, for the survival of the United States… Let us never forget that we are heirs to an American revolution.”


Your Internet Leavings: Do you leave a mess?

In the May 17, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks whether what we post on the Net can hurt us.

Now that I’m job hunting, I’m taking stock of things I’ve posted around the Net. I wonder if my online writing could hurt my chances of getting hired. I suppose a diligent background check could turn up things I’ve written that could be misread. I also see that certain companies have policies prohibiting their employees from publishing blogs or anything that might reflect poorly on the company. Are we supposed to keep our mouths shut and stop posting online because “Big Brother” might find it? Is it best to use a screen name and to avoid identifying myself?

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!)

…the Net is a great way to hang out with people — there are some great discussion forums to participate in and blogs where you can comment. Done right, it’s a good way to make valuable new contacts, and a way to build a reputation.

I believe the main reason a person’s postings on the Net can create problems is anonymity. If we think we’re anonymous, we’re more likely to post stupidly. How can you seem stupid if you’re anonymous? It’s not difficult, for someone whose job is to investigate you, to map your silly screen name to a similar e-mail address, Twitter account or Facebook page, and through your online haunts, and to track it back to you.

So, don’t be anonymous. Use your real name, or don’t post. Clearly identifying ourselves helps keep us honest — and undoubtedly helps decrease the litter of Internet leavings (and the load of nonsense) on the Net.

I try to practice this not only when I post, but when I judge a posting. If a real name doesn’t accompany a posting, I give it less credence. I want to know who is behind the words. I want to know they’ve put some skin in their statements…

(…Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get the entire “Answer” and commentary in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

…In a time when intellectual property (IP) is the real asset, why do people (and companies) want to suppress the identities of those who create that IP?

There will always be dopes who make themselves (and their employers) look bad online. But the potential to build a good, solid reputation across the Net starts with accountability. Anyone who doesn’t believe they leave a persistent image of themselves online has a lot to learn — the hard way. Those who “get it” can prosper because the Net is a phenomenal amplifier of good IP.

I’ll put this more clearly: A consistent, responsible body of useful postings on the Net identified by your real name can gain you the kind of notice that leads to good job opportunities. (Please see this old gem of an article by Susan Raskin: Mining Candidates: How top recruiters really use the Net to fill jobs.)…

…Your privacy is of course valuable. That may be why you decide to use a pseudonym. But, if you have something worth saying, and if you are thoughtful and circumspect, then I suggest you put your real name on your writings. It’s the rare individual who can be proud of the trail he or she leaves. While that trail might attract nuisances, it also attracts opportunities.

You drop stuff all over the Net every time you post a comment on a blog or social networking site. Are your leavings making you look bad? Or, do you drop gold nuggets that suggest you’re a golden goose? (Okay, enough of that metaphor.) How do you account for yourself online?


TheLadders: How the scam works

“The ladders is a scam, plain and simple. A class action lawsuit sounds like a good idea.”
— TheLadders (former) subscriber Robin Lynn

“I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”
— Employer Claire Peat, not a customer

TheLadders continues to discredit itself while suffering renewed attacks from its own paying subscribers, and now also from employers, who claim TheLadders is a scam. This article reports how job hunters and employers believe the scam works.

Recent disclosures reveal that TheLadders’s claims of exclusivity and “Only $100k+” jobs and candidates are untrue, and that it not only fails to deliver what it charges for, but that TheLadders interferes with the business of companies that are not even its customers.

UPDATE March 19, 2014Angry, frustrated customers of TheLadders who say they were scammed finally get their day in court. Federal Court OK’s Suit Against TheLadders: Breach of contract & deceptive practices

UPDATE March 12, 2013
A consumer protection class action suit has been filed against TheLadders. If you believe you’ve been scammed by TheLadders, you can join the suit by contacting the law firm that filed the complaint. More here: TheLadders sued for multiple scams in U.S. District Court class action

Among the key accusations is that TheLadders takes job listings from employers’ own websites without authorization, even after being told to stop, and that TheLadders misrepresents the salaries on those jobs so that it can beef up its questionable database of “50,000, high-level 100k+ executive positions.”

TheLadders CEO, Marc Cenedella, has admitted that 50% or more of those “$100k+” jobs are “scraped” from other online databases, over which TheLadders has no authority or quality control. At best, TheLadders may thus have no more than around 25,000 verified job listings that employers have actually posted in its database.

In the meantime, Cenedella also claims TheLadders has 4.5 million subscribers, earning “$100k+”, competing for those 25,000 “$100k+” jobs. (You do the math.)

Finally, employers have revealed that TheLadders costs them money, time and sometimes their reputations, when Ladders subscribers unwittingly apply for jobs that don’t exist or that employers never placed with TheLadders, or that don’t pay what TheLadders claims.

Frustrated employers and recruiters that don’t even do business with TheLadders say that angry Ladders subscribers blame them for misinformation delivered through TheLadders’ database, creating public relations problems.

In early 2011, TheLadders convened a public relations conference of job-board “consultants” and recruiting-industry “experts,” apparently in an effort defend itself against Internet-wide cries of fraud from its subscribers. Some of the attendees rushed home and posted glowing reviews of TheLadders’ business practices on their blogs.

The stark contrast between the intent of those bloggers — to laud TheLadders — and the resulting outrage of people who overwhelmed them with critical comments, created the embarrassing impression that the blog campaign was conducted by shills of TheLadders. While complaints from TheLadders’ job-hunting subscribers are common on the Net, the surprise on these blogs was the outpouring of complaints from employers.

The loud backfire of that Ladders public relations conference has led to new outcries of “fraud” and “scam” — this time with new details about how TheLadders does its business.

Frustrated Job Hunters

We’ve covered TheLadders extensively on this blog:

TheLadders: Going Down? | Rickety, Leads Nowhere | The Dope on TheLadders (230+ comments) | Marc Cenedella Sells E-mails: $30/month | TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud? (90+ comments) | TheLadders: A Long-Shot PowerBall Lottery Tucked Inside a Well-Oiled PR Machine (including audio from a Harvard presentation) | TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs! (40+ comments)

(There’s lots more if you type “TheLadders” in the search box.)

Most of these articles cite job hunters who say they’ve lost their money, wasted their time, and otherwise been screwed by misinformation and misleading advertising from TheLadders.

But the latest turn of the screw is being felt by employers, who now share experiences that suggest how TheLadders scam really works. (TheLadders’ business model is ultimately propped up by employers and recruiters that pay huge fees to access its database.)

The Scam

TheLadders promises to provide “only $100k+” jobs and candidates, but as demonstrated by Ladders employees, the company knowingly delivers jobs and job applicants that do not in fact earn or pay “only $100k+.” TheLadders claims to “hand-screen every job post,” but does not actually check those salaries with the employers that own the jobs. Read more

Interview Questions: You need just one

Dying to become relevant again, Monster.com sent out a promotional e-mail today, with a big, fat, blue title at the top:

There’s more to recruiting than finding the right candidates.

Well, no, there’s not. Finding the right candidates is 100% of what recruiting is and must be, or you wind up having to use 50 stupid interview questions to sort out all the wrong candidates.

The e-mail links to an article on the Monster.com website titled The 50 Toughest Interview Questions to Ask or to Answer. Proof positive that Monster.com is still totally irrelevant.

The Top Stupid Interview Questions

There used to be a book, published by Adams, titled 2,800 Top Interview Questions — And Answers! I always had a fantasy about that book. You walk into the interviewer’s office. You smile broadly and shake hands. “Glad to meet you! Let’s get down to business and have an interview!”

Then you slide that baby across the desk. “Here are all the questions… and the answers! Now you’ve got them, and I’ve got them, and we don’t need to waste our time on them. Now we can do something useful, and talk about the work you need to have done!”

Instead of teaching job candidates to talk shop with the hiring manager, career experts outdo themselves rehashing and regurgitating that list. And every book of those questions comes with answers — digested and marinated in expired creative juices, and about as satisfying as a bolus coughed up by the last person who interviewed with the manager.

fast-companyOne Good Interview Question

Back in 2003, the editors of FastCompany magazine put together a cover story titled, All The Right Moves: A guide for the perplexed exec. It was a collection of 21 Q&As for managers. Editor Bill Breen sent me a question and asked me to write a “memo” to managers with my advice. (Later, Breen told me that his boss, FastCompany founder and publisher Alan Webber, thought this one tip was the best of the 21 in the feature. Yah, I was tickled.)

I still think you can toss out every list of Top Stupid Interview Questions, whether it includes 50, 200, or 2,800, and just ask the one question I discuss in this FastCompany column, which is reprinted below. And Monster.com can go suck rocks.

16 . What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

Memo from: Nick Corcodilos, author, headhunter, and publisher of the Web site Ask the Headhunter.
To: Hiring managers everywhere
Re: Reinventing the job interview

The purpose of any interview is simple: to determine whether the candidate can do the job profitably. A smart interview is not an interrogation. It’s not a series of canned questions or a set of scripted tests that have been ginned up by HR. An interview should be a roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on meeting between you and the candidate, where all of the focus is on the job. Think of the interview as the candidate’s first day at work, with the only question that matters being this: “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”

How Can I Change Careers? picks up where that FastCompany column leaves off. And it’s not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview. The book explains why this “single best interview question ever” for hiring managers is also the single best question for candidates to bring up in the interview.

To successfully answer that, the candidate must first demonstrate an understanding of the company’s problems, challenges, and goals — not an easy thing to do. But since you desperately want to make a great hire and get back to work, why don’t you help the best candidate succeed? Two weeks before the interview, call up the candidate and say the following: “We want you to show us how you’re going to do this job. That’s going to take a lot of homework. I suggest that you read through these 10 pages on our Web site, review these publications from our marketing and investor-relations departments, and speak with these three people on my team. When you’re done, you should have something useful to tell us.” This will eliminate 9 out of 10 candidates. Only those who really want the job will put in the effort to research the job.

At the interview, you should expect (or hope) to hear the most compelling question that any candidate can ask: “Would you like me to show how your company will profit from hiring me?” The candidate should be prepared to do the job in the interview. That means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps that he or she would take to solve your company’s problems. The numbers don’t have to be right, but the candidate should be able to defend them intelligently. If the candidate demonstrates an understanding of your culture and competitors — and lays out a plan of attack for solving your problems and adding something to your bottom line — you have some awfully compelling reasons to make the hire. But if you trust only a candidate’s references, credentials, or test results, you still won’t know whether the candidate can do the job.

Recruiting is still — and always has been — about finding the best candidates. But the best candidate isn’t the one who can answer that question. The best candidate is the person who asks it.

More about this topic here.

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How to get noticed for a C-level job

In the May 3, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to get noticed among all the competition when competing for a C-level job, especially when he doesn’t have 100% of the “requirements” on his resume.

I believe I have a good, detailed resume. I am trying to make the jump from SVP/Division President to COO or CEO. How can I get noticed? I am also finding out that, in times like these, no one will talk with you unless you meet 100% of the requirements. Most of the times I meet 85%-95%, but I still get rejected. Any tips?

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!)

Think about this. Why would you apply for a C-level job by sending your resume to an X-level personnel jockey who’s working deep in the bowels of the company, far away from the C-suite? Honest, I’m just astonished at the degree to which smart, skilled managers get sucked into the bureaucratic herd mentality of corporate “recruiting” practices.

…Thanks to the prevalence of job-board databases, HR-department “resume scanners,” and the idiotic reliance on “keywords,” that’s where the problem of meeting 100% of the requirements comes in.

It used to be that someone with a brain would review a resume, read between the lines, and make an informed assessment about a candidate. That was before employers started soliciting thousands of applicants for one job. The most egregious example of executive job-hunting roulette is TheLadders, which claims to provide “exclusive” access to its “4.5 million subscribers”… for 50,000 “$100k+” jobs in its database! (Come look at the math.)

…We all know that you don’t need to be a perfect match to the job description to be the perfect candidate. So, how do you avoid being judged and rejected by your resume?

It’s simple: Avoid applying via resume!

Withhold your resume as long as possible. Navigate your way to a member of the board of directors or to the president of the company, without applying for the job. (Even a VP can help you get in the door.)

When you want to date a girl to get to know her, the last thing you say is, “You’re the perfect wife for me! Let’s get together to talk about getting married!”

Gimme a break. Show some finesse. Just because HR tells you to act stupid is no reason to do it.

Don’t walk blind on the job hunt. Establish a personal connection first. Rather than cry about your competitors, who seem to have the inside track, get on the inside track.

With this approach, you’re impressing a key decision maker or influencer with your acumen and your character — qualities that are not captured by keywords, but that are key decision factors for making a hire. Qualities that put you on the inside track.

How should you approach such top-level officers? By asking them for insight about the position that’s open.

How to Say It(Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get all the answers in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

You will be judged not by “100% of the requirements,” but by how you approach the challenges the company is facing. If the discussion goes well, suggest that you’d like to meet to discuss those challenges further. (Note that I said “discuss those challenges,” not “the job.” Top execs can smell a job hunter a mile away. They don’t want to talk about the job. They’ll let HR do that, with all those applicants who crowd the pipe. Top execs want to talk shop with a peer. Be that peer.)

That’s how you avoid an interview and have a friendly, peer-to-peer meeting instead. That’s how you get noticed for a C-level job: by behaving like a C-level exec.

If you’re a CEO, and you want to talk about acquiring another company, you don’t call that company’s HR department. You call the company’s CEO, or someone on the board of directors. So, why do you send a resume to HR when you want to talk about a CEO job?

I’d like to hear your stories about how you got in the door by going around HR to the decision maker — whether you were looking for a C-level job, or a staff position. It works the same way. The finesse comes in knowing how to get in the door without crawling through that sewer pipe full of resumes.

How do you get in the door?