Pssst! Here’s where you should be recruiting top talent!

Here’s an excerpt from a comment posted by Mason on another column, Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke:

The problem is this. Employers actually LOVE this current job market. They can control costs by paying exactly what they want for a given job/position…and they have an ENORMOUS pool of willing applicants from which to choose. Some of them, I would say most of the Fortune 1000, are doing well and extremely profitable. There is little reason or incentive for them to hire more people.

I just got rejected after 9 AM in the morning after I applied for a job at midnight. Something tells me a human didn’t actually read my application.

Companies who treat the employees like crap will be emptied out of their good employees once the economy gets better. Of this I am convinced. If a company craps on people in the bad times, they certainly cannot be trusted in the good times….

I think Mason is right. I saw his prediction come true in Silicon Valley more than once, after a bust cycle turned into a boom. Here’s how it works — and you tell me if you agree.

During a bust, revenues and profits crash. Business tanks, and companies lay off workers because they can’t afford them. As the cycle turns and we start toward a boom (or think we are, anyway), sales take off, revenues spike, and profits surge.

Junk profitability

The dirty little secret, though, is that a big part of the soaring profits stem from higher productivity that results from lower staffing levels. Fewer workers are doing more work, which yields higher profits for employers. This is nice. But it’s unsustainable. It’s junk profitability.

While some of the higher productivity can be attributed to increased efficiencies created by technology, much of it is still due to artificially low staffing levels. Companies today are teetering on the bleeding edge of high profits, and they really don’t want to start hiring again if they can avoid it.

Where the talent is ripe for the picking

The question is, how long can they sustain these levels of productivity and profits? Over-worked employees will leave the minute someone makes them a better offer.

And that’s an enormous opportunity for companies that get it. Riding the wave requires deft skills, and greed just causes more crashes. Some top-notch workers are already looking for better deals — because the economy is at a tipping point.

If you want to recruit top talent — dedicated workers who are ready to move — you need look no farther than the most profitable companies that haven’t been hiring. They may be advertising jobs, but as Mason suggests, they’re just pretending. They’re not hiring at levels significant enough to sacrifice their artificial profits. Their best employees are ripe for the picking.

Note to those employees whose eyes are wandering — these signals point to renewed freedom to negotiate really good compensation and benefits deals. I believe it’s always good to leave a few bucks on the table when negotiating, as a sign of good faith, but don’t leave too much. As Mason suggests, you still can’t really trust them, so take some profit of your own on the front end.

What’s your take?

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Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play

In the October 23, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks about bait-and-switch contracts used by “staffing” firms.

A recruiter at an IT staffing firm did something that I think is very unethical. I signed a contract with the firm to perform IT duties at a company where I successfully interviewed just days before. It specified the hourly pay and overtime.

I verbally negotiated the rate prior to signing the contract. Unfortunately, I did not ask for a copy of the contract. Yesterday, the recruiter asked me to sign more forms. There was a new contract, and a significant reduction in pay! The overtime was deleted and the pay was stated weekly instead of hourly.

When I pointed this out, the recruiter e-mailed that, “We lost the original contract.” I called the next morning, and the recruiter insisted I sign the new forms and said she would take care of my concerns. When I balked and declined to sign, she said they would redo the forms but it might be a day or two. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to start work tomorrow!

I find this utterly distasteful and unethical. I’m going to wait and see if the recruiter comes up with the correct terms before I contact the staffing account manager or the company I’m supposed to work for.

My question is, why are they stalling with the new contract? Why couldn’t it be immediately corrected? Maybe they are waiting to find something in my background check so they can report to the company that I am “unsuitable” for hire. Then, they can go out and find someone cheaper. What do you suggest?

Nick’s Reply

What you’re describing is, unfortunately, not uncommon in the IT “staffing” or “consulting” biz. (It’s not just the IT field that uses staffing firms.) These companies recruit and hire people, then “rent” them to their client companies at a profit. Things like this happen because overly-eager recruiters get excited when they find a candidate like you. They want to sign you up and assign you to a client, so they promise you a contract that’s to your liking. Later, the sales rep handling the account you’d be assigned to can’t get the rate the recruiter promised you — so the deal changes. It’s a classic bait-and-switch game.

It is crucial that you read everything before you sign, and make sure everything you negotiated is in the written contract.

No matter what you negotiated and they agreed to orally, what matters is what’s in the written contract. Make sure you get the counterpart of the contract — the copy they signed — and tell them you will not report to work until you receive it. Often, a firm will demand that you sign the contract, then they will “forget” to give you the copy they signed.

The games some of these companies play are unethical — but they do it anyway. Your protection is to insist it’s in writing, and to politely but firmly decline to show up for work until the written contract is to your satisfaction.

But be careful. If you sign something without reading it carefully, and then you decide you want different terms, too late — you’re already committed. Be very, very careful. Good contracts make good working relationships.

One tactic they may use is to ignore your requests right up until the last minute, maybe the day you’re supposed to show up for work. This puts you on edge and makes you very nervous. You want the job, but you don’t want the terms. They figure you will cave to get the work, so they will push the envelope hard and far. Unless you have a history of good experiences with them, don’t believe anything until it’s in writing in your hands.

You may really need the job, but you must decide in advance whether you will accept lesser terms or such behavior. Then stay calm, don’t complain, don’t get angry. Just state your terms. Your overriding strategy must be to make yourself highly desirable or indispensable to the consulting firm. Make them need you. Then make your reasonable demands calmly and firmly. Then let them decide, and let them reveal whether they are honest and have integrity.

You’re doing the right thing. This can be risky, but you must decide your tolerance for such risk: If they want to play the last-minute game, you can play, too. Just know what you’re doing in advance, and let this play itself out. If they don’t give you the contract you agreed to, then stop working with them. They’re not honest.

Be careful if you go to the actual employer to discuss this. Do not say nasty things about the firm. Be businesslike. It can be as simple as this:

How to Say It

“I enjoyed meeting with you, and I’d like to work on your team. However, I’m not happy with the way the consulting firm has handled the facts of the project. Is there another consulting firm you use that you respect? Can you recommend someone there that I can talk to?”

Not all companies will answer you — they get nervous. They may even have a contract with the staffing firm that prohibits them from discussing this with you. But you must decide whether integrity is important enough to kill a deal. In the end, you may need to meet a new staffing firm, and a good way to do that is to talk with a company where you’d like to work, and inquire which staffing firm they use. There are some very good staffing firms out there: Get a personal introduction to them, and learn to igore the rest. Get a personal introduction.

As more companies try to avoid the fixed overhead of staff, they’re going to look to hire “on contract.” Do you see this trend in your own business? Have your experiences with staffing firms been good or bad? What would you do in a situation like this? What methods do you use to avoid problems and to get a good deal from staffing firms?

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PBS NewsHour: The new Ask The Headhunter feature

When PBS NewsHour broadcast a TV segment I that I appeared in on September 25, viewers flooded us with questions about online job application forms — and about all kinds of daunting obstacles they face in the job search.

I answered many of their questions in a special column on the NewsHour website. And the questions kept coming.

The host of NewsHour’s Making Sen$e program, Paul Solman, asked me to do a regular Ask The Heahdunter Q&A column — and the feature keeps growing!

It’s Open Mic!

We’ve done Open Mic here on the blog before — and that’s the theme of my new feature on NewsHour.

What’s your problem? What challenges are you facing in your job search — or if you’re a manager and you’re hiring?

Join me for the latest round of Q&A! My hope is that you’ll post your own advice, thoughts, biting commentary, suggestions, and ideas about what makes the employment system stop and go.

Ask The Headhunter Archive

Here’s the archive of Ask The Headhunter columns on NewsHour so far:

Six Secrets To Beat the Job Market

More Job Search Secrets: Show Potential Employers the Money

‘Talk Shop, Not Jobs’: The Right Way to Network and More

How Can Starting Your Own Business Help You Find Employment?

Ask the Headhunter: Insider Secrets to Landing the Job

As long as you keep asking questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. As long as you keep posting your comments, I’ll keep chiming in — and I expect the input and discussion you generate will change some lives, just as it does here on this blog.

The feature has been so popular that each new column has been trending on GoogleNews Spotlight. Join us and keep the discussion lively — and keep us trending!

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What’s worse? Online job application forms or job boards?

In the October 16, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks about those pesky automated “get a job” tools online:

I’ve been reading your new columns on the PBS NewsHour website, in particular your advice about on-line job applications (the video segment) and your suggestion to approach job hunting as if you’re starting a business. Two questions:

Are online job applications as ineffective as job boards?

Also, I have a hard time getting replies from people I’ve met with about starting a business. They express interest, even excitement, about my plans. I give them the time, space, and money requirements to get the business started, as they requested. But then all I get is silence. What to do?

My Advice

If by online applications you’re referring to a company’s own job listings on its own website, that’s a more productive channel than third-party job boards. The same surveys that show Monster and CareerBuilder deliver no more than 2%-5% of hires suggest that employers’ own sites are a better bet.

Nonetheless, using any automated job application method is a fool’s errand: They all dump you into a database, and good luck getting in front of a hiring manager!

Employers do tend to keep job listings on their own websites clean and up to date, and they usually turn to those first. None of the surveys address it, but I’d guess there’s less competition on a company’s own jobs pages simply because most job hunters prefer to apply for hundreds of jobs at once on the big boards. Ironic, isn’t it? They want an edge, so they compete with more job hunters on the boards!

If you find a job on a company’s own website, I suggest tracking down the manager and sending a personal e-mail. Don’t just reiterate your interest — there’s nothing useful in that. Instead, ask a good question about the job and the manager’s department. Get the manager talking about the work. It’ll set you apart.

In How Can I Change Careers?, there’s a section titled “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends.” It shows how to triangulate to meet people peripheral to a manager, so you can get a personal introduction to meet.

For what it’s worth, the only job search engine I know that sources all its results from employers’ own websites is LinkUp.com. They don’t “aggregate” listings from other job boards, like Indeed and SimplyHired do. (There’s a big difference between job boards and a job search engine. A board charges employers to list their jobs. A job search engine searches employers’ websites for jobs that meet your search criteria.)

Now let’s talk about why people who express an interest in your business concept don’t follow up with you. It’s almost always because they’re too busy, or because while they are sincerely interested, they’re not in a position to help you.

Try this: Talk to lots of folks about your idea, but then focus on just those who can really be helpful. Plan how you will follow up with them. When they express interest, outline your follow-up plan. Be frank: Ask them how exactly they think they can help, and what further information they need to do it.

But then, it’s up to you to check off the boxes on the “to do list” you discussed with them. Keep in mind that virtually no one will follow through with you. That’s just the nature of starting a business. All you need is one key supporter. And it’s up to you to figure out who that might be. It’s no different than carefully picking the employers you think you can help.

Are employers’ own online job application forms any better than using the job boards? More important, what methods do you use to meet hiring managers?

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How does the Working Resume work?

In the October 9, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter tries to figure out the Working Resume.

Question

working resumeOK. I’ve read your book and these 3 articles:


But I still can’t find a concrete example of what a “Working Resume” is supposed to look like. I understand that no Working Resume will look like another because each one will be tailored to a specific job in a specific company. Other than adding a “Value Offered” statement at the top of the Working Resume, how is it structured differently than the traditional resume?

For example, in Resume Blasphemy you say that you have to cover these four things (basically a restatement of “The Four Questions” from your book):

  • A clear picture of the business of the employer you want to work for.
  • Proof of your understanding of the problems and challenges the employer faces.
  • A plan describing how you would do the work the employer needs done.
  • An estimate of what/how much you think you could add to the bottom line.


So the “what” is pretty clear. My question has more to do with the “how” — the actual mechanics of doing so. Do you write out a proposal? A business plan? A project plan? I’m confused. 

Nick’s Reply

“Any or all of the above.” A Working Resume is structured differently from a traditional resume because it’s not a resume. So toss out your resume.

Seriously — your Working Resume can be a proposal, a business plan, a project plan, or an outline of how you will get the work done profitably.

How the Working Resume works

The Working Resume is essentially a business plan for how you will do the job. I think the instructions are pretty clear as you’ve reprinted them. Here’s one example, to give you some ideas:

Desired outcome of this job: Increased sales of blue widgets to the hospital supply industry.

Challenge your company faces: Two of your competitors are under-pricing you by 10%.

Underlying problem: Competitors’ products are inferior, but their advertising is effective.

My solution: Promote specific features the competition can’t match, both in ads, packaging and sales presentations.

My plan: Meet with product managers, marketing and sales team to coordinate a new presentation of the product and a new strategy for promoting it. Get this done in 30 days. Roll out new campaign in next 30 days.

Steps: [week by week plan and schedule of tasks involved in YOUR job]

Profit Estimate: Using these steps I believe I can help increase unit sales 10% in 60 days without reducing price. Such sales would result in 20% more collateral sales of associated products. I estimate this would increase total revenue by X% and possibly enhance overall profit by Y%.

If that kind of presentation doesn’t get attention, nothing’s going to help you.

You must tweak this format and content to suit your situation. Do not do it exactly as I’ve outlined, because every situation is different. That’s why I don’t publish samples of other people’s Working Resumes.

You have to deserve it

Needless to say, you can’t do a Working Resume like this for just any job that comes along. Here’s a tip from How Can I Change Careers?, which details how to prove to an employer that you would be a profitable hire — whether you’re changing careers or just jobs:

Employers respond best when you demonstrate your value:
Before you can legitimately ask for a job, you must assess the needs of a company and plan how you will contribute to its success. Don’t behave like a job applicant in the job interview; behave like an employee. Show up ready to do the job in the interview. Bring a business plan showing how you will do the work and contribute to profitability.

As you can see, there’s nothing easy about applying for a job with a Working Resume. That’s because, if you aren’t willing to make this investment, you don’t deserve the job.

Have you ever tried using a Working Resume? Or an alternative that shows an employer what you’ll do if you’re hired? Maybe you think this approach is bunk! Let’s discuss in the comments section below. What would you put in such an “alternative resume?”

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Getting in the door

In the October 2, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to avoid HR and take a different route to “get in the door” at a target company:

I have tried a couple of times with different companies to avoid the human resources (HR) department, without success. The first company I called, I asked for the investor relation (IR) department, because I wanted to ask about some statements that were in the annual report. I had to leave a message. I didn’t receive a call back, so I then left a message for the public relations (PR) department. (No one answers their phones!)

A few weeks later, someone from IR called back. I asked my question, and they responded by asking me why I was asking. I told them I was looking for a job, and when I said that, I was told to go to the HR department, even though the question was a technical question about their products. No one from PR ever called back.

I realized that I had not exactly followed your directions, since you suggest asking for the Sales department. Today I tried calling another company in the same industry as the first. When I requested the Sales department, I was asked why. I mentioned that I wanted information about a couple products of theirs. They asked who I was, and I said I was a job seeker who wanted as much information as possible before the interview. Without another word, I was switched to the HR department, and listened to a recording telling me I should go to the website to apply.

How do I avoid the HR department? I would rather not be dishonest when asked why I am calling. Any help you could give would be appreciated.

My Advice

More than once, I’ve suggested that one way to “get in the door” at a target company is through the sales department. Let’s look at this approach again.

I frequently go to IR or PR to get info about companies. I’ve never been ignored. Investor Relations in particular always responds quickly. I guess I wonder what’s up at the company where you’re not getting calls back.

These alternate doors into a company that we’ve discussed before require some finesse. If you immediately disclose that you’re looking for a job, you’ll be dumped into HR, as you’ve learned.

Let’s discuss this method in a bit more detail. When you call the company’s main number, ask for the Sales department like this:

How to Say It
“I’d like to speak to someone who handles Colorado region sales please. I’m calling about your widget product line.”

If you specify your region and mention the product, they’re more likely to put you through to the right sales rep. If they “beat you up” with questions, just press right back:

How to Say It
“My name is John Smith and I’d like to talk with someone in Sales about your widget products.”

If they press you about where you work, tell the truth:

How to Say It
“Look, if I were a customer, I’d ask for the sales rep assigned to me. I’m not presently a customer and I’m not ready to disclose my company. Can you please put me through to Sales? Or just give me the CEO’s office.”

When you get a sales rep, inquire about the product and request up-to-date product details. This is key. It’s information you’d need to prepare for an interview. Once that’s done, ask for advice and insight about the company as a place to work, as we’ve discussed many times before. (How Can I Change Careers? includes the section, “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends,” and covers this at length.)

But don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Until you’re talking one-on-one with the sales rep, do not disclose that you’re job hunting. Anyone else who answers the phone is going to do a mental calculation and try to route you to the “appropriate” department — not to the person you really want to talk with.

Of course, IR and PR are equally useful departments to talk with. Request appropriate information and web links from either office, then pause and ask for advice and insight about the company as a place to work. You may find yourself talking with an employee who is impressed at your approach, and who refers you to a manager in the department where you want to work. Of course, none of this is easy or quick. If it were, everyone would be doing it. You must prepare something to say in advance, to engage the person you talk to. Focus on their work, and on what they do before you start talking about yourself.

Someone’s going to read this and suggest that calling other departments in a company to research a job opportunity is a ruse — and that of course the IR or PR department is going to be upset that you are calling them rather than HR. All I can do is shake my head. Dedicated job hunting requires research and information gathering. All HR requires is your resume. Which approach do you think gives you an edge?

So in this case, the receptionist routed you to HR, which played you a recording that instructed you to apply on the website. That’s the corporate image IR and PR want to cultivate?

Is it any wonder I tell you to talk with anyone and everyone in the company — except HR?

There are other paths to the job you want. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition).

How do you get in the door? Whom do you talk and what do you talk about? Is HR even necessary at this critical point in your job search?

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PBS NewsHour: Online job applications keep America unemployed

Are online job applications driving people insane? Or just driving them away from jobs they can do?

When PBS NewsHour‘s Paul Solman reported on America’s biggest job killer — the automated job applicant sorter — he asked me what I think about this practice. And what do you think I said?

Check out Ask The Headhunter on PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$e. We taped my sections of this segment at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia recently:

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Is the Ask The Headhunter approach to job search the most encouraging advice for a human? Paul Solman says it’s “perhaps more practical than relaying on cyberspace in 2012.”


INVITATION: Want to be on PBS NewsHour? (You can use a screen name, of course!) As part of this PBS project, I’m taking questions from viewers! Submit questions on the Ask The Headhunter Q&A feature on PBS NewsHour. I intend to answer every question submitted on the PBS website! Please post questions on the comments section. The more questions you post, the more Q&A ATH columns will appear on NewsHour! Keep ‘em coming!


Online Job Application Forms:
Automating failure for employers and job hunters alike

  • Human judgment is eliminated from the process.
  • Human review is done only after the software rejects some of the best candidates.
  • The “out of the box creative thinking” companies claim they want is weeded out automatically. If you don’t fill out a “required” box, your creative thinking is rejected. The employer gets only applicants who perfunctorily follow all the rules. Rules that don’t work well at all. (Hell of a company to work for, that processes applicants like hamburger meat.)
  • Online forms encourage anyone and everyone to apply — employers have turned the recruitment process into a literal crapshoot. Like the New York Lotto commercials say, “You can’t win if you don’t play!” Employers and their personnel jockeys have turned hiring into cheesy gambling. And then they complain they get too many applicants! That’s why they need software to sort them!
  • That online form? It’s connected to an online job description. This is where an employer throws in the kitchen sink. They ask for everything, and if you lack anything on the list, you’re out. And the employer loses — because while you may lack one or two “qualifications,” you’re a fast learner who will get rejected. Meanwhile, you could be learning the job while the employer complains of the “talent shortage” and the job goes begging while the board of directors wonders why profits are down.(How’s that meatgrinder-worth of metaphors? Hamburger. Crapshoot. Gambling. The Lotto. Cheesy. Kitchen Sink. Works just like the job boards! “It’s in there!” And employers can’t find it!)

14.2 million

That’s how many Americans are looking for work.

3.2 million

That’s how many jobs are vacant in America. Do the math. What do Human Resources executives call that 4:1 advantage that employers enjoy in the market? A talent shortage! Give us all a break!

Q: If employers can’t hire who they need while there’s more talent on the street than ever in history, what are they doing wrong?

A: Processing applicants like hamburger meat. No one in HR ever touches the applicants. The grinder does it all. And HR won’t hire the product of that process. It’s icky.

I could rant all day. Online job applications are keeping America unemployed while Human Resources wonks are crying there’s a “talent shortage.” Meanwhile, the best talent is talking to managers who have time to hire the best.

What’s the solution for the job hunter?

Don’t fill out online forms. Call the employer. Tell them you want to stand out, so you’d like to discuss your qualifications on the phone — and if they don’t have time, you’ll go talk to one of their competitors that does. Then find one. I guarantee you — there are savvy hiring managers that talk to job hunters because they know the best hires come from trusted referrals.

Your challenge is to meet people who do business with that manager and to get introduced. Oh — did I tell you that just as there’s no magic pill (job boards?) for employers, there’s no magic pill for job hunters. You have to do the hard work of getting close to the manager that will hire you.

And job boards ain’t it.

If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, learning how to enter a manager’s circle of friends is what we talk about here all the time. Check the postings on this blog — we tackle real problems faced by real job hunters — and visit the hundreds of how-to articles on asktheheadhunter.com. Don’t miss the special article I wrote for PBS: Six Secrets to Beat The Job Market.

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10th Anniversary Special: 4 Top Answers from The Archive

The September 25, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a SPECIAL EDITION celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the newsletter! I’ve culled four of the top Q&As readers have cited among their favorites from past editions. I had fun summarizing them, and whether you’re a charter subscriber from 2002, or relatively new to Ask The Headhunter, I hope you learn something new and useful!


UPDATE: Coincidental with this edition, PBS NewsHour — Making Sen$e with Paul Solman — aired a segment yesterday that I taped with them at Wharton School of Management. The video is now posted here: PBS NewsHour: Online job applications keep America unemployed. The lead-up article I wrote for this is also on NewsHour online: Six Secrets to Beat the Job Market.

Want to be on PBS NewsHour? (You can use a screen name, of course!) As part of this PBS project, I’m taking questions from viewers! Submit questions on Paul Solman’s PBS NewsHour Q&A. I intend to answer every question submitted on the PBS website! Please post questions on the comments section of the blog. The more questions you post, the more Q&A ATH columns will appear on NewsHour! Keep ’em coming!


(I started the newsletter on September 20, 2002 — 10 years ago! You’re reading issue #449! Many of you have been reading since issue #1, and today there are tens of thousands of subscribers — and not just job hunters.)

Top Question 1: “Why are you leaving your old job?”

I began a job search this week. I’ve read so many suggestions about how to answer this question that I am not sure about it any more. I have an interview coming up. Can you please give me some advice about what to say when I’m asked the reasons I am leaving my current job?

Nick’s Reply

The real problem with this question is that you have no way of knowing the interviewer’s intent. And it’s not worth guessing and being wrong. If you believe that explaining your reasons for leaving your last job will reflect well on you, then by all means explain. If you’re worried the details could hurt you, then try this:

How to Say It
“I love my work, and I want to work in a better company where I am free to do my job effectively.”

If they ask you what the problem is with your current employer, be honest but turn the discussion to what really matters:

How to Say It
“I’m looking for a good job with a good company, but I never disparage anyone I’ve ever worked with. I came to you because your company is one of the shining lights in this industry, and I’d like to talk about how I can help you be more profitable. Can you give me an idea of what problems or challenges you’d want the person that you hire to tackle? I’d like to show you how I’d do that.”

That’s the best way I know to approach any employer, and to get past that question. Focus on the company you’re meeting with, not on your past or your old company. Explain how you’re going to help them be more successful. That’s what any good employer is really looking for. (Learn more in The Basics.)

Top Question 2: How can I get the truth about a job?

When I interviewed for my job, I was told that the person who hired me would be my boss. It turns out that I actually report day-to-day to someone else. If I had interviewed with this person, I would have kept looking for another job! I am working on a team that is abusive and for a boss who is unsupportive and disrespectful. I saw none of this in my interviews. You can’t fix that for me, but what I’d like to know is how to avoid this in the future. How can you really find out about the work environment and culture? A Google search (done too late) revealed some of the problems I discovered later. This company displayed a wonderful “we-are-so-caring-and-ethical” face, but the reality is quite different. Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

It’s called due diligence. Never take a job without investigating the company and its people. After you receive an offer, turn around and interview the company. Politely insist on meeting your future boss and the team, as well as others that you will interface with on the job. This includes people who will work directly with you; people who work uphill and downhill from your job function; and people in other departments who will influence your ability to succeed at your job.

For example, if you work in information technology, meet folks in manufacturing and accounting. Your work will affect both departments, and your fate will be influenced by how they operate. Your meetings will tell you about the viability of the company, and you will learn about the personalities of the players. Add up the personalities, and you will get the company culture. Company culture is hiding in cubicles and in meetings.

Ask to sit in on a department or team meeting before you accept the offer. Spend half a day shadowing a couple of your future co-workers. Make sure this includes lunch time, where people loosen up and talk. That’s the only way to really get at a company’s culture firsthand. Never take a job without knowing “the rest of the story.” Savvy companies set up these meetings for you. They recognize savvy candidates who are willing to invest time to get to know the people and the operation.

Top Question 3: Do I have to say it?

When I was job hunting, I always made it clear that I wanted the job. As a hiring manager, I want to ensure that positions are filled by qualified candidates who I know, undisputedly, want the job. Can you discuss the importance of this basic and obvious technique in interviewing that is often overlooked? That is, the applicant must always say to the potential employer, “I want this job.”

Nick’s Reply

A sales VP who interviewed for a job and failed to get an offer told me that making such an explicit statement is awkward and that it shows the candidate “has no class.” My response: Failure to say you want the job indicates you don’t have enough interest in working for the employer.

“The manager knows I want the job!” he exclaimed. “That’s why I’m interviewing!”

Interesting, isn’t it, how socially unacceptable some people believe it is to make an explicit commitment when that’s exactly what an employer needs to hear. When I first started headhunting, a manager turned down an excellent candidate I sent him — and I couldn’t figure it out. So I asked, and the manager was crystal clear: “He’s a talented guy, but I’m just not convinced he really wants to work for me.” This prompted me to coach every candidate to say it.

Consider this very appropriate analogy. You fall in love and want to marry the object of your desire. If you don’t explicitly say, “I love you,” do you think the person will marry you? The commitment must come first. You have to say it.

Top Question 4: How can I demonstrate my value?

I think you’re right: To get a company interested in me, I need to demonstrate and somehow quantify what my value is to them. But if I’m not a salesperson or entertainment star, how do I quantify my value to an employer’s bottom line?

Nick’s Reply

Here’s my general approach: Estimate as best you can how your work produces revenue or reduces costs. If you work in sales or product design, you help produce revenue in your job by selling or by creating products. That’s good for the company. The more you enhance the revenue-producing process, the more value you add to the business. If you work in finance or in manufacturing, you have a daily impact on the company’s costs. High costs are not good. Your job contributes to the success of the business by helping minimize costs.

The difference between revenue and cost is profit. No matter which part of the company you work in, you can help boost profits by doing your part to raise revenue or lower costs. Regardless of what your job is, ask yourself how you do it to enhance profits. Do you sell more stuff at higher margins, or do you do some other job smarter, faster, and cheaper? That’s your edge.

Estimate your impact to the bottom line. Can you shave two minutes off each customer service call you handle? Can you figure out a way to get a project done 20% faster? Multiply it out by the rate you get paid. That’s just one part of the profit you’ve contributed to the business. Get the idea? Yes, I’m simplifying, but any calculation like this that you do is more than any other candidate will even attempt. It gives you a good, honest story to tell the employer. It gives you an edge.

(Want to learn more about how to reveal your value? Check out my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in a job interview. Learn how to prove to an employer that you would be a profitable hire. Plus: Learn how to pick the handful of companies you should really pursue, and how to become the candidate on the inside track for the job you want.)

Have something to say about these top questions — and my advice? Have a question of your own to ask? Bring it on and we’ll tackle it! Please post away in the Comments section below!

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JobFox: We are not a crook

JobFox, the job-board spawn of CareerBuilder, is rapidly sinking under the weight of mismanagement, financial distress, a class action lawsuit, claims of fraud, and complaints from customers and vendors.

JobFox was started by Rob McGovern, who also founded CareerBuilder. Like TheLadders, JobFox tried to take refuge in the resume-writing business, but quickly realized that was a sink hole.

Now the bottom has fallen out. Things are so bad that McGovern has published a video explaining that JobFox is not a scam.

Where have we heard those last words before?

Back in 2009, I sent McGovern an e-mail asking an important question. He didn’t answer it then, and he didn’t answer it in the video.

I hear Marc Cenedella over at TheLadders has some pretty good executive job openings, and he writes a pretty mean resume for top executives.

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How do I sell my extensive academic credentials to an employer?

In the September 18, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to parlay his considerable academic credentials into a good job:

Here’s hoping you can knock some sense into me. The job search process has me bewildered. I have a degree in computer science and I had begun a doctoral program, but must now re-enter the job market. I am considered overqualified for much of what passes for entry-level positions, and realistically I would be under-challenged in them. Yet I have little in the way of a “track record” that would be of interest to employers looking for someone with a more specialized background. I have tried to sell my skills, but have only gotten form-letter acknowledgements. Any suggestions on getting to first base? Thanks.

My Advice

No offense, but nobody’s buying what you’re selling.

You say you have little in the way of experience to offer an employer in your field. That’s patently untrue, but it’s a common error in judgment that lots of new grads make.

Much of the experience and many of the skills you’ve acquired in school can transfer to the work world, but you need to do the mapping. (An employer won’t figure it out for you.)

What you’re selling isn’t what you’ve done. It’s what you can do.

Make a list of all the “hands-on” work you have done related to the kind of work done in your field — the kind of work you want to do. The work you’ve done might include academic projects, if it’s relevant to the jobs you want. People tend to dismiss their academic work because it’s academic. It can still be hands-on, it’s still experience, and it can be very valuable to an employer if you can show how.

Then put that list aside, because it’s totally useless without what we’re going to do next. (That’s why it doesn’t sell!)

Focus on the work the employer needs done. You must research and understand it before you can do any “mapping” of your skills. (Your skills are useless unless someone needs them!) That means learning about each target company and talking to people who work there. Try to describe the work you discover in terms of tasks — things you would have to do. Be as detailed as possible.

Then review each item, and describe how you could shape and apply each of your skills and experiences to help get the work done in a way that positively impacts the employer’s bottom line.

That is, how would hiring you be a benefit? (You can work through this process best if you focus on one company at a time.)

Remember that some of your skills are very fundamental, and these are the ones that can be best generalized to a specific job. For example, organizational skills, analytical skills, writing skills, and so on. The challenge is to find ways to apply them to the one job you’re pursuing. That is what an employer wants to see — not your resume. That’s what employers pay for.

This is what you’re selling.

I’ll say it again: As you do this mapping, be very specific. Sometimes, the inability to get specific stems from not really knowing what a company really needs. This is where your general research skills come in: Research the heck out of a company and its business. If you don’t, then you can’t demonstrate what you can offer, and you don’t deserve the job. (I discuss these techniques in more detail in The Library Vacation and Put a Free Sample in Your Resume, two key sections of the PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?)

Don’t worry that a job is beneath you. You will probably have to take an entry-level position to start. Don’t carry a negative attitude about this; it’s a necessary part of starting a career. It’s how employers decide you’re worth trusting with more sophisticated work. The point is to find a job in a company where you’re working with people who will offer you more and better work soon.

Give this an honest shot by looking at yourself through an employer’s eyes. You see, employers want one thing: to have a problem solved. Most won’t take the time to tell an outsider what that is. Offering value and solutions before you’re asked is the best way to find work.

I wish you success.

How did you get your first job out of school? What could this reader do to make you want to hire him? I think schools absolutely suck at teaching students how to find jobs. Why???

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