How to get to the hiring manager

In the December 11, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader needs help finding the right hiring manager.

Question

hiring managerYou have said that the key to a successful job search is to contact the person you would work for within an organization, and to show how you can help out. How can I find the hiring manager who has the problems I’ll be able to solve?

Nick’s Reply

Your challenge as a job hunter is not to apply for lots of open jobs. It’s to carefully target the hiring manager that you can help the most. (Yep — that means you must avoid HR!)

Find the hiring manager who needs you

To find a manager who really needs you, it’s best to triangulate. That is, talk to people who know and work for managers who may be relevant to your job search. This includes less obvious contacts, like a company’s customers, vendors, consultants and business partners. They can lead you, or point you, to the hiring manager.

Another productive approach is to read business articles to learn what problems the entire industry is grappling with. Often, these articles will mention names of people who work for or know the company you’re interested in. Call those people. Explain that you are interested in their industry and the company.

These are the people who are well-positioned to introduce you to a manager who needs you. These peripheral people will also help you prepare for a knowledgeable discussion with the hiring manager.


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Don’t ask for a job

Here’s the key: Do not ask for a job lead. That almost always triggers one reaction: “Go to our website and fill out the job application form!” That’s the last thing you want to do.

Instead, ask intelligent questions based on what you’ve read, like a peer would. Have a discussion.

  • What advice would these folks give someone who wants to work in their business, and perhaps for their company?
  • What kinds of help does the company need if it’s to improve its sales or operations?

These discussions will lead you to people who will bring you closer to a particular manager’s inner circle, then to the manager.

When you’re talking to people who work for the manager, you’re getting the information you really need (and a possible introduction).

Meet the right people

How can you do some of the key research, and how do you get ready to meet the people who can lead you to the manager?

The PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition includes a section titled, “Meet the right people”, pp. 1-2, that offers this suggestion:

Once I’ve picked the company I want to work for, I’d [like to] have five minutes apiece with: (1) a company engineer who wrote a letter to the editor of a technical publication; (2) the consultant who advises on the company’s finances; (3) the reporter who wrote a local newspaper story about the company.

These are the people who can help you navigate the organization by introducing you to a broad range of employees and managers who work there.

What to say

What should you say that feels natural and sounds friendly when you’re talking with a company insider? Try this:

The PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search includes a “How to Say It” tip on p. 8 about how to approach a company insider:

Asking someone for a job lead or for a job interview is awkward. Asking to meet other people who do the work you’re interested in is a different story. It’s natural to express interest in other people’s work. Here’s how to say it:

“I work in [marketing or whatever]. I’m interested in learning more about your marketing department. I think it’s important to get to know people who are among the best in their field. Is there someone in your company’s [marketing] department that you think I should talk with?”

Address the manager’s challenges and problems

Of course, once you’ve spoken with people who lead you to the hiring manager, you must be ready to say something useful to that manager! You must inspire the manager to talk with you about a job:

Two sections of How Can I Change Careers? deal specifically with these issues. (This PDF book is not just for career changers; it’s for anyone who wants to get an edge on changing jobs.) A section about how to “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume”, pp. 23-24 helps you show the manager how you’ll bring profit to the bottom line:

You have to clearly understand what makes your work and abilities valuable to companies in your field. Don’t just think about your skills. Think about how you have used your skills to help an employer succeed and be more profitable. Make a list. But don’t put that on your resume; that’s just more historical stuff. Just because you helped your last employer is no proof that you can help me. You need to package the information in a way that says explicitly to a prospective employer: “This is what I can do for you.”

Before you can deliver this job-offer-eliciting gift, you need to understand an employer’s needs. That means understanding the problems and challenges his company faces. And that can take quite a bit of research. Do it. There are no shortcuts to delivering value.

Talk to insiders to meet hiring managers

When headhunters search for good job candidates, they first study the business by talking to people in it — especially the movers and shakers. The secret is to talk shop and to demonstrate that your focus is on the work. This is what makes company insiders open the door to the right candidates.

Just as naturally, such insider conversations about a company’s problems and challenges will lead you to people who know the right managers — the managers you can help.

Yep, this is a lot of work. But so is that great job you want. There’s no better way to show your initiative, or to get an edge on your competition, than to find and meet the right managers through people they know and trust.

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How do you get to the right manager to discuss a job? Is it even possible? If you’re a hiring manager, what’s the best way for a job seeker to get your attention directly?

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Age Discrimination: Help me market my dad!

In the December 4, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader complains that age discrimination is killing his dad’s career.

Question

age discriminationHelp me market my dad. He’s over 50. It seems that as soon as his age becomes evident in a job interview he is somehow no longer qualified. Are there any businesses who hire someone with 25 years’ experience any more? He was a vice president until he got caught in a downsizing. People are still young and bring a lot to a job at his age. What can I tell him?

Nick’s Reply

Have you noticed the ridiculous conundrum in the recent news about the economy?

  • The trend in unemployment claims is down.
  • Employers are creating record numbers of new jobs.
  • Talent is in short supply — companies can’t find the workers they need.
  • The economy is booming and indications for growth are positive.
  • But highly talented, highly skilled, highly experienced people like your dad can’t get hired.

Are we stupid, or what? (See B.S. on the jobs numbers euphoria.) There’s a problem here. Employers should be in a mad competition to hire your dad — and others like him — and they should be making insanely high job offers to get him.

But they’re not. So, what gives?

Stupidity.

The stupidity of age discrimination

There are some bright spots — and employers — however. For example, see Boeing Is Bringing Back Recently Retired Employees in AARP magazine. It’s no accident Boeing is one of the most successful companies in the world and that it actually makes something you can touch that doesn’t run apps.
Employers are not so rational or smart as you might think. The recruiting technology they rely on — ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Indeed, and their ilk, along with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes) of many flavors — instruct employers to keep looking for the perfect job candidates, and employers (and their silly HR departments) keep barking up that tree. They don’t just discriminate against older workers. They discriminate against anyone that doesn’t match ridiculous lists of requirements.

That’s why your dad can’t get hired. Automated recruiting makes it easy for employers to discriminate because the data they need to practice age discrimination is right there in the databases they use to select candidates.

But we’re not going to change how employers hire. We can’t. We’re not going to waste time complaining about employers. We’re going to try and change how your dad interviews so he can get hired in spite of age discrimination.

People your dad’s age (50+) bring a lot to a job. They’re not too old to contribute significantly to a company. (Check the article about Boeing in the box at right.) You clearly believe it. So does your dad.

The question is: How can your dad change his behavior in job interviews to overcome this discrimination? The answer may not be so obvious as you think.

Mike projects his fear

Several years ago, when AT&T went through one if its down-sizings, the company hired me to coach a group of executives who were told they had eight months to find a new job before they were terminated. Most people take that kind of time and use it to engage in wishful thinking. You know: “Oh, they’ll find something for me so I can stay. I’ve been here 20 years. They won’t let me go.” (Quite a few AT&T’ers succumbed to that thinking and were still fired.)

One of the guys I coached (I’ll call him Mike), took it dead seriously and he started looking immediately. But by the time I met with him, he was disheartened and angry. He’d been rejected by one younger hiring manager after another. All he wanted to know was, “How do I get these interviewers past the problem of my age? They’re all much younger than me and all they see is the grey!” What Mike was saying was, “My age is a problem to them, and I know it.”

Mike was 58. Sure, some employers prefer younger people. Some employers are also bigoted about all sorts of things, from race to religion to sex to where you play golf. My advice in those situations: Either file a discrimination suit, or move on to the next employer.

But regardless of his skills and credentials, Mike was quite naturally projecting his concerns about being an older candidate trying to impress younger managers. Even as I talked with Mike and listened to his frustrations about job interviews, I could smell his fear and discomfort. It was understandable — the guy was justifiably frightened. The trouble was, Mike was essentially walking around carrying a sign that plainly said, “I know you think I’m old.”

Change your own behavior

Call me an optimist, but I really believe most managers are more concerned about a person’s ability to do the work than about anything else, and they’re basically busy people who will give you a fair shake if you can help them meet their business objectives.

But something funny happens, as it did with Mike. When he acted defensively about his age, interviewers shut him down. The last thing an employer wants is a worker who projects worry about his age, because the preoccupation is likely to affect their work. Never mind that Mike wasn’t worried about his abilities. It was enough that he was worried that the interviewer was worried about his age.

I spent about four hours with Mike. I taught him to focus on one thing in the interview: the work an employer needs to have done. If the age issue comes up, I told him to shift gears and ask the manager what problems he needs fixed, and then to demonstrate how he’s going to tackle them.

You should have one goal, I told him: to show the employer what you’re going to bring to the bottom line. Do that, and you control the interview. Do that, and — much of the time, not all — you transcend the age (or almost any other) issue.

The point was not just to help Mike perform at his best. It was to help Mike change his behavior from worrying to showing he could do the work.

Controlling your behavior changes your own attitude

The truth about job interviews

A good employer wants to see what you can do. If he doesn’t ask, help him out and show him. It’ll turn your interview into a working meeting where you both roll up your sleeves, and during which the employer can do a direct assessment of your worth to his business.

“Please lay out a live problem you’d want me to handle if you hired me. I’ll do my best to show you how I’d do the work so it will pay off for both of us.”

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.

Mike changed his attitude, if only because for four hours I encouraged him to talk about how he does his work, and I refused to let him discuss age discrimination. It’s a simple law of psychology. When we change our behaviors, our attitudes follow — but not usually the other way around.

A week later I ran into Mike again. He had a grin on his face as wide as a barn. He walked up and clapped me on the shoulder.

“I did what you said. Company XYZ not only hired me; they’re giving me equity. When the interview started, I cut the manager off at the pass and asked him to lay out a live problem he was facing. That helped me stop worrying. I got more comfortable by focusing the meeting on what I do best. Then I showed him how I’d handle it. We talked shop. He stopped seeing the grey when I showed him the green,” he quipped. “It changed the whole interview!”

I’m proud of Mike because he got past his own age obstacle, and in doing so he got the employer’s mind off it. When an employer encounters a perceived obstacle like age, they tend to make a superficial judgement rather than deal with their bias. So the candidate has to deal with it.

Talk shop

This story is the best thing I can offer your dad. He’s got to get his age completely out of the equation and out of his own mind. Sure, he’ll encounter a jerk or two. But he’ll also encounter employers who need what he can do for them. It’s up to him to communicate that without bringing his fears to the interview.

It’s not an easy task, but it’s do-able. We all know this approach will not eliminate age discrimination. We’re not going to change employers. The goal here is to eliminate the worry and preoccupation with bias that job applicants often carry around themselves. The goal is to change our own behavior in interviews. In my experience, the best way to do that is to keep an interview discussion focused on the work the employer needs done and on how you will do it profitably. Talk shop.

I wish your dad the best — and I’ll ask you to share with him this success story: Who says 58-year-olds can’t get a job?

Talking shop is one way to get past the obstacle of age discrimination. Do you agree that older job applicants can actually control the problem of ageism by controlling their own behavior? How do you think older job applicants can help employers that are desperate to fill jobs? Is it worth being angry at employers that are prone to bias against older workers? Can we change biased hiring practices?

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