Should I accept money from a headhunter to take a job?

Should I accept money from a headhunter to take a job?


Just as COVID hit I worked with a headhunter who attempted to place me with a firm in New York. (I live in Boston). Everything was set, then COVID ended the deal. Two months ago, the recruiter called to inform me that he was ready to pick up where we left off. That is when I learned that the salary had decreased, they would not pay my expenses for another NY interview, and they would not pay any moving expenses.

The headhunter has not been forthcoming with me, and he was noticeably irritated with my questions about reimbursement for travel to NY, and uncomfortable about advocating my financial requirements. This morning he informed me that the firm was anxious to hire me and that he would pay me $1,000 in moving expenses if I took the job.

It seems a little shady to me. The way he worded his offer to pay my moving expenses was definitely suspect: “You go down there, accept the position and technically you will be working for them. Then I will pay you the $1,000 in moving expenses.” Is this normal?

Nick’s Reply

headhunterNo, it’s not normal. A headhunter could legitimately “chip in” part of his fee to help you offset your relocation expenses, but this kind of payment can also be construed as a kickback unless it is disclosed to, and approved by, the employer.

Is this a bribe?

Suppose the company finds out the headhunter gave you that $1,000 and accuses you of taking the job because the headhunter bribed you. Suppose that in three months — after the headhunter’s guarantee period to the company ends — you decide the job’s not right for you and you resign. To the company, it might look like you and the headhunter conspired to defraud it of the search fee. For that matter, how would you prove to the company that the headhunter didn’t split his fee with you 50-50? (For the benefit of the uninitiated, it’s worth noting that if this job pays $100,000, the headhunter’s fee could be $25,000-30,000. Half of that is a nice chunk of change.)

Ask the employer about the headhunter

This wouldn’t be the first headhunter who “shared the commission” with the candidate. It’s unethical and it demeans the headhunter, the candidate and the employer. Instead of negotiating a hire, a salary and a fee that’s fair for all parties, these “headhunters” take the low road and make the transaction sleazy. Now, we could assume the best intentions of the headhunter, but if you secretly take money from a headhunter when you accept a job, I agree it’s shady. I wouldn’t do it.

You need not agonize about this. The solution is simple. My advice is to ask the employer about the offer. Be up front and expect the same from the headhunter. If he’s being generous, then the company should know about it and have no problem with it. But it seems you don’t have the whole story. (See Why do headhunters act like this?) Go to the company and tell what you know, then ask them to confirm how this all came to pass. “I just want to be sure I’ve got the story straight before I accept the position. I want this to be on the up-and-up.”

If you have any doubts about this headhunter, talk to the company directly. I wish you the best.

Has a headhunter ever offered you part of the placement fee, or suggested something unethical to you? Maybe you’ve encountered other sleazy practices. Tell us about it.

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Must I “kiss ass” to get a job?

Must I “kiss ass” to get a job?


My husband is a recent college graduate in need of a professional job. He’s had a couple of possibilities, but no offers or anything.

I know what the problem is. He’s going about it the old-fashioned way, by applying for “available” jobs he finds via the Internet. He dutifully fills out applications and sends resumes to places advertising jobs. Obviously he needs to get on the networking ball, but he’s having a difficult time with it, for two reasons.

First, he thinks it’s wrong. He wants to get a job on his merits, not because he “knows somebody.” He wants to feel like he earned the job by being competent, not by being the best ass-kisser or because somebody’s brother’s cousin’s friend has some pull with the company owner’s daughter’s dog groomer. I don’t know what to say to him about this, because I happen to agree. It feels like, at least in the current climate, success in a job search has relatively little to do with your actual ability to do the job.

Second, and this is the part I’d like your help with, it’s really a downright unpleasant thing to have to do. Calling up everyone you know, begging for a job and asking them to beg for you to everyone they know. I think it would be easier to ask people for money, frankly.

How do people do it? Do you reward yourself with a treat every time you make an icky phone call? Imagine your “contact” in nothing but their skivvies? Risk sinking into multiple personality disorder by dissociating yourself from the entire process?

Help, please!

Nick’s Reply

get a jobI understand your husband’s hesitation and his attitude, because I was a new college grad once. However, he is absolutely, positively, completely wrong.

It’s easy to assume that “who you know” is a corrupt way to get a job. The truth is, companies hire people they know because they’re less likely to encounter problems with “people they know.”

Need to get a job? We hire who we know.

A V.P. at a successful company explained it to me many years ago.

“We hire using our company’s ‘people filter’. We hire only people who are referred by our employees and by people we know. This assures us that we’re getting good people, because why would our friends and employees refer turkeys? It assures us that the new hire will work hard, because if she doesn’t it would reflect poorly on the employee who referred her. And, we are assured that the new hire will get lots of help and support — it’s a kind of guaranteed on-the-job-training.”

Know what? That V.P. doesn’t hire people just because they “know someone.” Good companies will still examine a highly-recommended candidate carefully. They will look at your skills and abilities, and hire you only if you’re right for the job. A good company won’t hire a turkey whose only credential is that she “knows someone.” But, that people filter is what gets a candidate in the door, and it’s what seals a relationship if all other criteria are met.

We don’t hire resumes or turkeys

You are worried that “success in a job search has relatively little to do with your actual ability to do the job”. Step back a minute. How is your husband demonstrating his ability to do the job? By sending employers a document with his name and credentials on it? Do you really think that convinces anyone he can do the job?

Contrast this with a candidate who talks to that dog groomer, who in turn introduces the candidate to a friend whose father owns the company. The friend talks with the candidate, satisfies herself that the candidate is talented, then refers the candidate to her dad, who refers them to a manager who is hiring. I’ll take that dog groomer over a scrap of paper any day — and so will most hiring managers.

When you send a company your resume, you’re not demonstrating anything. All you’re saying is, “Here are my credentials, all typed up nicely. Now, you go figure out what the heck to do with me.” Employers are lousy at hiring from resumes. A personal contact is your opportunity to actually show what you can do — it’s your opportunity to demonstrate your value and to suggest how you will help the company. (This won’t work if you’re a turkey!)

We trust our icky contacts

Your husband needs to get over this. (And so do you.) If you don’t follow my logic, consider this. Companies pay headhunters lots of money to deliver the very best candidates for a job. A $100,000 position will yield a $30,000 fee. Do you know why companies pay that kind of money? Because they don’t want to waste time with thousands of resumes of people they don’t know. They want the personal referrals of the headhunter. They’re paying handsomely for those icky contacts.

When you develop relationships that gain you a personal referral, you’re being your own headhunter. You see, companies don’t hire people they know in order to do a favor for someone. They hire people they know because of the trust factor. They’re simply more likely to get a good hire from someone they know.

Trust: Get a job without icky

Developing professional contacts is crucial to success. If you regard it as icky, then you’ve got the wrong idea entirely. Is it dishonest or immoral to make an effort to meet people who do the work you want to do? Is it ass-kissing when you call people in your field to discuss their business and to learn how you can make a contribution to their industry? Is it unpleasant to take a step into your chosen line of work — or is it just uncomfortable because you don’t know how to do it? (Please check Natural Networking: An end to stupid networking.)

If your husband can’t get comfortable talking to people about the work they do (and the work he wants to do), then I can’t help him. He’s going to have to learn the hard way.

Here’s the risk he takes. If he gets hired strictly on the basis of a blind resume submission, the odds that he will have the support and attention he needs to succeed are much smaller than if he gets hired through a personal contact. My friend the V.P. devotes lots of time to help his new hires succeed because he’s beholden to the people who referred the candidate — there’s personal responsibility and trust involved. You see, it works both ways: personal contacts yield good hires for employers, and they yield the best opportunities for job hunters.

Don’t kiss anything to get a job. Networking must not be icky. It should be a natural, satisfying experience of getting to know good people in your field — and helping them get to know you.

I wish you and your husband the best.

What’s your take on networking and using personal referrals to get a job? Maybe more important, why do so many people think networking is “icky?” Is networking a skill, or an attitude?

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Is “the hot job market” a load of crap?

Is “the hot job market” a load of crap?


Here’s another article, this one from MarketWatch, about how The U.S. Jobs Market Is Scorching Hot. So why can’t I get interviews for a good job, much less a job offer? I’m pretty fresh out of school with desirable technical credentials and all I want is a good job at a good company. I’m not greedy about salary. If employers are so hot to trot and good people are so hard to find, why do they do 6 interviews on 6 different days then tell you it doesn’t seem you are really interested in their product line? Doesn’t the ability to learn quickly and work hard count? How long can a company leave a job vacant? I don’t know who’s measuring what, but the news about the hot job market is a load of crap. The job market stinks. Am I the only one that thinks so?

Nick’s Reply

hot job marketI’m inclined to agree with you. You’re not the only frustrated, befuddled job seeker. I get lots of mail like yours. People with solid credentials and experience — at entry and higher levels — are confused and angry.

What talent shortage?

Today there are around 11 million open jobs and 6 million people unemployed. There are far more open jobs than job seekers. Employers call this a talent shortage. “We can’t fill jobs!”

Here’s the rub. In 2016 I was hired to do a webinar for Kelly Worldwide. It was a conference of HR managers. Their #1 complaint? The talent shortage. But in 2016 around 20 million people were looking for jobs. There were around 5 million jobs open. I upbraided my HR audience for calling a 4:1 hiring advantage a “talent shortage.”

What’s changed? Nothing, really. The condition of the economy doesn’t matter. Employers keep making the same recruiting and hiring mistakes today as they did in 2016. They blame job seekers and they cry “talent shortage!” no matter how many people the Department of Labor says are looking for work!

Hot job market or HR failure?

Google’s former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, said something back then that still applies today:

“Most companies hire for the position, not the person. So they look for a match on LinkedIn for all of the criteria. They have to have five years of this and 10 years of that — and that’s precisely the wrong way to go about hiring.” (Fortune, 9/4/14)

How could “talent shortage” explain two very different economies and job markets? I think Schmidt says it all. Employers own this problem. They don’t know how to recruit or hire, and they make the same mistakes in any kind of economy. The rest of us suffer for it.

But the question here is, does the job market really stink today?

Hot job market, or stinky load of crap?

I’m not an economist or an oracle. But I think members of this community have information, opinions and insights on today’s inscrutable job market. So this week I’m going to ask readers some questions. I hope the resulting comments will shed some light on what I agree is “a load of crap” about “the hot job market.”

Dear readers:

  1. Is the hot job market really a load of crap?
  2. Are you finding it easier or harder than “normal” (whatever that is!) to get a good job? Please indicate whether you’re just starting out like this reader, or unemployed, or want to make a job move to something better.
  3. What are the main obstacles and challenges that make your job search difficult today? Have they changed?
  4. What should employers do differently to recruit and fill jobs?

Is the reader who submitted this week’s question an anomaly, or is “the hot job market” an illusion? What do you think is going on and what should we do about it? I hope you’ll share your comments on the four questions. Thanks!

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Should I rat on a job candidate?

Should I rat on a job candidate?


I find myself in the position of having to decide whether I should rat on a job candidate. My boss is about to interview someone who applied for a job in our group. I will not be involved. He is a former colleague from my previous employer, where he was a problem employee. He and I had a major falling out because I questioned a bad decision he made and then tried to cover up. It was very costly to the company. It was awkward but I had to “testify.” He got a “black eye” as a result, but the company didn’t know the half of what he had done. I have never told anyone here about it and the former colleague may or may not know that I work here. (Obviously, I didn’t say goodbye to him).

I have a very good relationship with my new boss but am afraid to tell her about this because I fear it may color her impression of me. Should I approach my boss about it? How?

Nick’s Reply

You have two responsibilities to your employer in this matter:

  • To do your job properly for the benefit of the company.
  • To do what you can to promote and protect your department’s and your company’s success.

You didn’t tell me the details of what transpired at your old company, and I don’t want to know them. I have to trust that your position in all this is above reproach. If it is, then I believe you must find the right way to notify your boss because if this person is hired, he will likely affect not only your ability to do your job, but everyone’s.

You need not rat on a job candidate

I suggest you tell your boss you are aware so-and-so may be considered for a job, then add, “May I make a suggestion?”

Stop there until you get the go-ahead to say more. If your boss declines your input, leave it alone. You aren’t in charge, and you’ll have to deal with whatever happens. If your boss clears the path, say, “If you do a careful reference check on this person, I won’t need to put myself in an awkward position by offering information that might seem self-serving.”

Note that you’re not disclosing what happened at the old company. You’re not ratting anyone out. You are making a suggestion to your boss about the hiring process. This may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but I believe it keeps you safe.

If your boss takes this at face value, let it go at that. Say no more.

Let another reference speak

If your boss encourages you to say more, make sure you’re in a private setting, whether on the phone, via Zoom or in person.

“Look, I don’t like to disparage anyone, and I know you can form your own opinion. I worked with him at my last company, and I wish that I hadn’t. I’d just as soon you got the story from someone else at the other company. The last thing I want is for you to think that I go around bad-mouthing people.”

You don’t have to rat on a job candidate. It’s better to let another reference outside your company provide the details simply because they won’t have the same vested interest you do. (You could suggest your boss learn a bit about how reference checking can be a competitive edge.)

If you don’t give your boss at least this much of a heads-up, it could hurt her and the company, and it could put you in the position of having to work with this person again. You’re not nixing the hire. (You don’t have that kind of power.) You’re encouraging your boss to look extra closely at the candidate. In my opinion, this meets your two obligations I mentioned above.

A circumspect reference

Your new boss may give you the okay to spill the whole story. Be careful not to compromise your own integrity as you tell it. Keep it brief and objective. In essence, you are providing a reference, so apply the same circumspection you would if a different employer contacted you for a reference on this candidate. Stick to the facts. Let your boss draw the conclusions, and encourage her to check with other references.

This is unfortunate, but I think you have to address it. I don’t think you’re ratting anyone out. This is business information. If you were your boss, wouldn’t you want to know? I believe my suggested approach demonstrates that, even if this matter is personal to you, you’re doing your best to handle it professionally.

If your boss hires this person anyway, you will probably have some other decisions to make. I hope for the best.

Is this “ratting on a job candidate?” What would you do? Is it possible for the reader to protect the boss’s (and company’s) interests without personal risk? Also, what would you do if you were the boss in this case?

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The 4 Questions™: Get a job with a mini-business plan

The 4 Questions™: Get a job with a mini-business plan

How to Get A Job Workshop

In the previous installment of this special How to Get A Job series we discussed how to get the inside track on the job you want. This requires connecting with the hiring manager’s circle of friends — people who can educate you and introduce you for a substantive, 10-15 minute talk with the manager. Now you need a mini-business plan using The 4 Questions™. — Nick

Make a mini-business plan: The 4 Questions™

So, what do you do in that brief talk with the manager? (This also works in a regular job interview, if you can take control.)

Outline your business plan for the job

The 4 Questions

Your objective must be to show the hiring manager you are worth interviewing at length. You much show (hint?) that you have a plan to do the job. It really is a mini-business plan. Your contacts to this point should have prepared you to demonstrate you’re there to talk more about the work than about yourself. Your brief talk must reveal that you can answer YES to what I call The 4 Questions™. You must leave the manager wanting more.

Please note that in the next section I’m giving you way more suggestions than would ever fit into a 15-minute talk! In fact, this should be more than enough to also structure a complete job interview later. (Some of the suggestions are realistic only for a full interview.) Choose what you think will work best for you — for the preliminary brief chat or the interview — then bend and shape it to suit your needs.

The 4 Questions™

In my experience, unless someone works out at least partial answers to The 4 Questions in advance, they have no business in a chat or in a job interview with a hiring manager. At least this much is necessary to make you stand out and to make you worth talking with.

1. Do I understand what the work is?
You should be prepared to discuss one or two problems and challenges the manager (or company) is facing. This is what you’ve gleaned from your new contacts! Consider it the minimum ante for your encounter. Even if your understanding is not very deep, you can diplomatically ask the manager what they’d expect a new hire to tackle, fix, improve, make better or otherwise bring to the team.

Another way to address this is to start a dialogue about what are the deliverables the manager expects. In other words, if you were hired, what would you plan to get done in the 1st month on the job, the 3rd month, the 6th 12th, 18th month, and at 2 years?

2. Can I do the work?
Your discussions with the people that got you into this brief talk should have prepared you for this question. Before your talk with the manager, you should have examined your enormous quiver of skills and abilities — but do not overwhelm the manager with your entire quiver! From these, you must thoughtfully select just a few specific “arrows” and demonstrate how you would use them to do the work the manager needs done. (Do not go on about all your “arrows!”) Briefly discuss these and ask the manager for feedback.

3. Can I do the work the way the company wants it done?
This is a matter of work ethic and style. Again, your preparatory discussions should have told you a lot about the company’s and manager’s approach to work. You should be able to say something about how you will fit into the culture (whatever that word really means!). There’s nothing wrong with asking the manager what qualities other successful employees share, and how they work together as a team. (A friend of mine asks Question 3 this way: Can you park your bike pointing the way everyone else does?)

4. Can I do the work profitably?
“Profit” can mean many things: More money, higher customer satisfaction, lower costs, higher revenues, more efficiency, and so on. What we’re really getting at is, will you deliver more than you cost? Can you estimate the added value you can bring to the job?

There is of course no way to state a “correct” number, simply because you don’t have all the information you need to make this estimate!  (Few managers could do this for their own jobs!) The secret to Question 4 is that it lends itself to a discussion. Ask the manager how the job contributes — or could contribute — directly to the department’s or company’s profits or success. Job candidates I’ve coached have wowed managers who have never encountered an applicant who so clearly shows they’ve thought hard about the bottom line — as much as they’re thinking about getting a job! Addressing this question is not about having a “right” answer. It’s about being able to “show your work” and defend your approach and conclusions. It’s about you and the manager rolling up your sleeves to figure this out.

The 4 Questions™ break the script

Perhaps the most fatal flaw about job interviews is that they’re devoid of back-and-forth about the work. I find that when a candidate helps a manager talk about the work that needs to be done, job interviews are dramatically more productive. As we discussed in the last column, we’re breaking the hiring script and creating an edge. The candidate that is prepared to talk shop stands apart.

If you suspect that answering The 4 Questions is also a good script for a full job interview, you’re absolutely right. In fact, some of what I suggest in the four questions above works better in a job interview than in the brief chat with the manager. Turn your job interview into a demonstration! I call this doing the job to win the job.

Never do this presumptuously. Ask the hiring manager (Never attempt this with HR!) for permission to present a mini-business plan for how you would approach the job if you were hired. Then pull out a tablet or ask the manager’s permission to go up to the whiteboard to draw an outline.

Your mini-business plan for the job interview

Lay out your plan. Keep it brief! I think it’s far better to actually sketch this out than to merely talk about it. Clearly, this is based on The 4 Questions, too.

  1. You understand the job. In just 3 or 4 bullet points, briefly outline your understanding of the work to be done: What are the outcomes (goals or deliverables) the manager wants? Coax the manager to help you get it right!
  2. You know how to do the work… List the tasks necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. This is your map, or plan, for doing the job. Then back it up. Explain how you’ll apply 3 or 4 of your specific skills appropriately. (Work this out well in advance!)
  3. …the way the manager wants it done. Query the manager about how the team’s style and culture contributes to (or interferes with!) getting the work done. This is a discussion that can give you insight on how to handle the rest of your interview!
  4. You can do the job profitably. This is the fun and risky part! Draw a line beneath your presentation so far, and write a number in dollars — your estimate of what you think you can contribute to the bottom line. (You must do your estimate in advance.) The number almost doesn’t matter! Explaining how you arrived at it, and the ensuing discussion, is what matters! It shows a smart manager that you’re not there just for a paycheck. You’re thinking about the company’s bigger picture, and you have at least attempted to tackle the bottom line.

I poll managers about how they’d respond to a job candidate who showed up with a mini-business plan like this. The answer is always the same: “Are you kidding? I’d be shocked and stunned and ready to talk!”

This works only if you choose targets carefully!

Remember our discussion about why there aren’t 400 jobs out there for you? There is no way you could perform like this for 400, or 100, or even 10 jobs! You must choose your target employers, managers and jobs with care. As you work out what you want to say to a manager, whether for a short get-to-know-you chat or for a real job interview, I think you will grasp why I say If you can’t pull this off, you have no business meeting with a busy manager!

What makes you a truly worthy job candidate? How would you apply The 4 Questions to get in the door and stand out in an interview? What is the minimum ante — or preparation — to warrant a meeting with a hiring manager? Does it seem to you that most job interviews fail to yield offers because the candidate isn’t ready “to do the job in the interview?” (Ah, that’s a loaded question!)

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How to Get A Job: Get the inside track

How to Get A Job: Get the inside track

How to Get A Job Workshop

In the first installments of this special How to Get A Job series we discussed the pitfalls of resumes, how to get the right job by pursuing fewer jobs, and how to turn people you don’t know into personal contacts that get you in the door. In last week’s Comments section, readers “filled in the blanks,” discussing how to turn new contacts into meetings with managers that might want to hire you. So, then what? Get the inside track before your next interview! — Nick

How to Get A Job: Get the inside track

get the inside track

You may have heard me say this before. Never give your resume to a manager that you haven’t already had substantive contact with. If you do, you cannot stand out when it counts — before the manager starts interviewing your competition.

You may also have heard me say this. If you lost out on the last job to someone that had the inside track, next time be the candidate on the inside track!

So, you’ve put to work the ideas we’ve already discussed in this series. You’ve been referred to a hiring manager (or other influential insider) by someone who recognizes that you may be able to bring value to the operation. This personal introduction is worth far more than any job application or “professionally written resume.” A manager is far more likely to act on a referral from a trusted source than on an unknown applicant.

Then what?

In psychology, a job interview is what we call a cognitive script. The questions and answers — even the behavior and how people dress — are preordained. (If you could be any animal, what animal would you be? What’s your greatest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? I call these the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions.)

Now what do you do? You break the script and stand out.

Break the script

Almost every job-interview story line follows a conventional script. The process, the questions, the sweaty palms, the tricks, the clever comebacks — it’s all a kind of acting. Everyone acts a part.

This makes every job applicant like every other. The sameness is baked into the interview script everyone uses.

This is why, after a day of interviews, the hiring manager can’t distinguish Candidate 1 from Candidate 8.  You can’t get hired because you don’t stand out. You’re like an extra in a B movie whose ending you already know.

To get anywhere, you must stand out.

Get the inside track

The best thing you can do to stand out as more than just another job candidate is to break the script. Get the manager out of the same-old Q&A story. (What’s your greatest strength? Why are manhole covers round?) Do something your competition wouldn’t dare. Turn your conversation into something else — a discussion about the work. And start this new script before you even get a job interview!

Please get this straight. What we’re about to discuss is not what to say in a job interview. You must talk to the manager before you apply for the job.

This is what to say to a hiring manager even before they have seen your resume. How you handle this discussion can determine whether you earn a job interview as the candidate with the inside track.

How to Say It

Readers often tell me they understand what I’m recommending they should do, but they don’t know how to actually say it. So let’s run through some of your options, in “how to say it” format.

Now that a new contact has referred you to a manager you need to talk with, call (don’t e-mail or text) the manager. These suggestions may be used as alternatives to one another, or they may be woven together any way you wish to suit your style and approach. This is all about introducing yourself to the manager without a resume.

How to Say It #1

“I’ve been talking with so-and-so and so-and-so [people the manager knows] and they’ve pointed out to me that your operation is growing. They thought I might be helpful to you. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that two key problems or challenges that you are facing may be these…[briefly describe].”

If you approach a manager with an arrogant or presumptuous tone, they will blow you off. If you approach by saying, “So-and-so suggested that I give you a call,” that opens up the door. Always ask permission to continue.

How to Say It #2

“Thanks to some advice from so-and-so, I’ve been trying to study your business and I’d like to ask if you could give me a little more insight into where your business is going and where you might need some help.”

If you feel awkward and don’t want to come off as presumptuous, turn the discussion away from sounding like a pitch for a job.

How to Say It #3

“I have an interest in your industry. I’m not sending out resumes because I’m not applying for jobs, but people regard your company is a shining light in its industry. I’d like to learn more about [marketing, engineering, etc.] in your company, perhaps about your own department’s needs and about what you do before I apply for a job.”

If you’ve done your homework and spoken with insiders, you have three or four names to drop. Most managers will not ignore personal referrals, even if they don’t have an open job right now. More important, those people that referred you also tutored you in the manager’s business just enough that you’ve been able to formulate some good questions for a productive conversation.

Here’s a potent way to show the manager that you’re the one taking a risk.

How to Say It #4

“I don’t like applying for any job until I have learned enough to be able to go into the interview and demonstrate, hands down, how I can specifically contribute to the bottom line. If I can’t flesh out a plan, I wouldn’t expect any manager to interview me. I’m trying to develop that kind of understanding.”

Don’t ask for a meeting yet. Don’t hog the call. Be brief. Do not recite your resume or credentials! Let the manager talk. Whatever the manager might share with you, ask for a meeting shorter than any job interview; short enough that the manager may actually squeeze you in.

How to Say It #5

“Would you have fifteen minutes for me to stop by so I can get a little more insight about your operation, and about the work you hire people to do? I know you’re busy. I’ll be gone after fifteen minutes.”

Not many managers get phone calls like that. You’re clearly not asking for a job interview.

If you really want to be bold, try this.

How to Say It #6

“Look, I know you might think that I’m coming to you from out of left field, and if I seem like a know-it-all, please pardon me. So-and-so and so-and-so were kind enough to educate me about your company’s business. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to get a sense of how I might be able to contribute something to your operation. I’ve put together a very brief business plan I’d like to show you.”

(In the next edition, we’ll discuss how to create this “business plan for a job” that you can use both in your preliminary talk with the hiring manager and in your job interview.)

There’s another version of this you might like better. Can you see the powerful spin on it?

How to Say It #7

“It’s a fifteen-minute presentation. If you’ve got fifteen minutes for me, I’d like to come by your office. If after five minutes you don’t like what I have to say, stop me and I’ll leave, no questions asked. I’m not here to waste your time, I’m here because so-and-so suggested I speak with you — and because I think I can help you. But in any case, I won’t take more than fifteen minutes of your time. Promise.”

If you cobble together an approach from these suggestions, and a manager blows you off, it’s probably not a place you want to work. That’s not sour grapes. A manager who has time only for scripted interviews with people unknown isn’t a good business person.

Talk with the hiring manager before you apply for a job

To establish yourself as worthy of a manager’s interest, you must completely bypass the conventional recruiting and interview script. You must stand out from all other candidates. You must earn the inside edge by earning referrals and tutoring from people the manager knows and trusts.

There is no resume. There is no interview. The opportunity before you is driven by who knows you. Someone the manager knows. It’s driven by talking shop outside the job hunting and hiring script we all know and hate.

This is the substantive contact you need, and you should create it well before any job interview. This is your new script for talking about an opportunity, and these are some suggestions for how to say it.

How would you re-cast my suggested “how to say its” for your own use? Does this give you any other ideas about how to gain an edge over your competition, and how to position yourself? Does it make sense that, to stand out, you must do something “stand-0ut” before you apply for a job or go to a job interview?

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How to Get A Job: Network? I don’t know anybody!

How to Get A Job: Network? I don’t know anybody!

How to Get A Job Workshop

For several editions, we’re devoting the Q&A feature to a workshop. Instead of Q&A, this limited series of columns will be “All Answers,” or, if you will, “How To.” This week we continue with How to Get A Job: Network? I don’t know anybody! I hope you find this deep dive helpful, and that you will — as always — dive into the discussion in the Comments section below!  — Nick

How to Get A Job: Network? I don’t know anybody!

how to get a job networkEvery survey ever done shows that the single most successful path to a new job is personal contacts. Yet, time and again people complain to me that they just don’t know anybody who can help them gain entry to a particular company.

And that’s flat-out wrong.

Welcome to your new network

I’m going to enumerate some of the many people you know who can help you.

  • The reporter who wrote the story about the company you want to work for.
  • The manager featured in the article about how that company beat profit projections.
  • The friend whose friend works in the marketing department of your target company.
  • The accountant who works for the CPA firm that handles payroll for the company.
  • The purchasing manager who places orders with the company every week.
  • The lawyer who knows the lawyer who represents the company.
  • The stock broker who knows the analyst who follows the company’s performance.
  • The engineer who wrote the article about the new technology the company uses.
  • The sales rep who answers the phone to help customers in your region.

But, you say you don’t know all those people? That’s a minor detail! You just don’t know them yet. You probably know at least one of them, and the rest you can get to know by picking up the phone. Anyone you know about you can also get to know.

Get wired

If you try to avoid this critical step in your job search, you’re kidding yourself about where jobs come from. While you’re crying that you lost out to somebody who was wired for the job, you’re doing nothing to be the wired candidate for the next one. Jobs come from insiders that help you get the inside track because you got to know them first.

Contacts like these are on the critical path to your next job because they have the inside story about the companies and the managers you want to work for. You need to talk with them. This is how the best headhunters glean the hard-to-find information they use to land new clients and to find the best job candidates for those clients. They get to know the people they need to know.

Get to work getting to know people

People love to talk about their business. You’ve heard me say it before: You can almost always get someone’s attention by talking shop with them. (You don’t need to do the icky kind of networking!) By asking intelligent (well-researched!) questions about their work. By expressing your educated interest in work they do that you want to do, too.

As you start to gather their insights, you will learn a lot, and you will formulate more good questions. This leads you to talk to more people. “Well, gee, who else do you recommend I talk to in the company regarding the marketing department?” This is how you get in the door through personal referrals.

If this were easy, everybody would be doing it

You’ll know you’re doing it right when your supply of new friends overflows, and when you’re talking with them about their work — not about getting a job.

Here are a few of the things you should not say:

  • Let me tell you about myself…[and start reciting your resume]
  • Do you know about any open jobs?
  • Can you please pass my resume on to the company [or the manager or the HR department]?
  • Can you get me an informational interview?

It’s all about personal contacts, but not about awkward, mercenary networking. It’s about establishing a credible interest in a company, in educating yourself deeply, and in helping the business. Never ask directly for a job lead—you’ll just be referred to the HR department.

So get to work. Stop saying you don’t know anybody, or you’ll never land a great job through personal contacts — which is how most people find jobs.

Sorry, I didn’t say it was easy. If this were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Then what?

I throw it out to you!

  • What other kinds of new contacts are on the “critical path” to your next job?
  • Who can you contact next? (Not to talk about a job!)
  • What should you not say to new people you meet?
  • What do you say to new contacts you make, to help educate yourself about the company and to help get you to the right hiring manager?

Let’s talk about “Then what?” The Comments section below awaits your ideas, suggestions, frustrations questions and discussion. We’re all here to figure it out.

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How to Get A Job: There aren’t 400 jobs for you

How to Get A Job: There aren’t 400 jobs for you

How to Get A Job Workshop

For several editions, we’re devoting the Q&A feature to a workshop. Instead of Q&A, this limited series of columns will be “All Answers,” or, if you will, “How To.” So the only question we’ll be addressing will be about how to get a job. We began with Don’t write a resume! This week we continue with There aren’t 400 jobs for you. I hope you find this deep dive helpful, and that you will — as always — dive into the discussion in the Comments section below!  — Nick

How to Get A Job: There aren’t 400 jobs for you

“Apply for hundreds of jobs with just one click!”

400 jobs“That just showed up in my inbox,” a subscriber wrote me. “Sigh… who needs your advice when I can apply for hundreds of jobs with just one click?”

“In the interim,” he added, “I’m waiting to hear back from a hiring manager who needs help securing networks. A former team member introduced me to him. I suspect I’ll have a new job shortly, for some reason…”

That subscriber is highlighting a harsh truth.

There aren’t 400 jobs for you.

When you write your resume, or apply for jobs online, you are working with a ridiculous premise: that going after a lot of jobs is a good thing. You might as well go buy a lottery ticket, because it doesn’t work that way.

Here’s the biggest load of bunk:

“When you’re job hunting, the most important thing to do when you wake up each day is send out 20 resumes and job applications. Do that first, and you’ll feel better because you will have done something to find that new job!”

That’s the conventional wisdom.

Here’s why it’s bunk: After a month you will have applied for 400 jobs, but there aren’t 400 jobs out there that are right for you. There might be a small handful at most. The rest are someone else’s idea of what job might be right for you. And they’re wrong.

Wrong jobs

Where do all these wrong jobs come from?

  • Silly solicitations like the one a reader reported above.
  • The job ads, which tell you next to nothing about the actual work, the manager, or the people you’ll be working with.
  • Your friends, who think that in desperation you’ll consider just about any job they’ve run across.
  • Your college (if you just graduated), which leaves you thinking you must get a job related to your new degree.
  • A headhunter, who calls to tempt you with something, anything.
  • The media, which daily tell us what jobs are “hot.”

The right job is the work you want to do at the company where you want to do it in the industry you want to be a part of. So, ask yourself while you’re climbing out of bed, are you pursuing the right job, or 400 wrong jobs?

Don’t walk blind on the job hunt.

From the lowliest support personnel to the most highly paid executives, earnest job seekers venture out on the job hunt with their eyes closed. They smile that idiotic “I’m your solution!” smile at employers they don’t know from Adam.

These people are all conducting a blind job search. That’s where you broadcast information about yourself to people you don’t know who don’t know you and who have no reason to care. Then you wonder why these employers aren’t impressed. You wonder why they haven’t called you back.

It’s because you’re walking blind.

  • Know who you’re contacting, or don’t contact them.
  • If you don’t know the person you want to contact, first contact someone that does and get introduced.
  • If you wouldn’t recognize someone on the street, don’t walk blind into an interview with them.
  • Send a resume only when the hiring manager already has at least two other solid reasons to be interested in you. Those reasons are probably people the manager trusts.
  • Never pursue jobs you’ve “heard about.” Pursue only jobs where the manager has heard about you. If they haven’t heard about you yet, see that they do.

Open your eyes before you venture out. The best employers are watching and, in general, they don’t think you know where you’re going. Don’t walk blind on the job hunt.

Pursue companies, not jobs

Audiences look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them the best way to find a great job is not to look for a job.

What’s the logic behind this? If you pursue a job, you’re probably going down a dead end. Soon you’ll be looking for another job at another company.

If you go to work at the right company, you should have a future of progressively better jobs. Why pursue one job, when you can have a career full of them in one place? Think ahead!

So, why is it that people bang the Submit! button and apply for jobs in lots of companies, rather than investigate the depth and breadth of opportunities in a single company where they may have a chance to grow and prosper? (Maybe it’s because employers themselves can’t see past six months or a year. They pitch individual, often ephemeral, jobs rather than promote their company’s future prospects. Hey, no one said it’s easy to find a worthy company.)

Pick a small handful of the best companies. Companies that ring your bells. Companies that excite you. The leaders, the shining lights of the industry you want to work in. Life is short, so why waste time with anything less?

Study each company’s business. Study its competition. Look at the problems and challenges it is facing. You cannot do this for 400 companies! Lasting success depends on careful choices.

I know there’s a lot of justified cynicism among job seekers. Employers have laid waste to any ideas of loyalty. They hire for the short term. They leave workers high and dry without training or professional development. But that’s not true of all. Worthy employers are still worth finding.

Companies worth the work are the only companies worth pursuing

Very few jobs and companies are worth the hard work you must do to prepare for an interview where you will truly stand out.

When you have settled on less than five companies that are truly worth your time, sit down and ask yourself, “How can I go into each company and help contribute to the bottom line?” If you don’t take a profit-based approach to your job search, you’re wasting your time. You’re then just another job candidate. You’re just another resume.

Do what none of your competitors will. Talk with people who work in the company and people who do business with the company. Talk with vendors, customers, and people who are involved in the industry. Do the hard work of picking the right targets. Learn what problems and challenges a company faces in the area where you want to work.

You need only one right company

Once you’ve figured out what you can bring to a company’s bottom line, put together a little business plan. A business plan basically says, “This is how I would do this job in a way that would be effective and profitable for your business — and for me. Your company is worth the work I put into this plan.”

When you are able to prepare this business plan, it means you have chosen a worthy company you’re ready to talk shop with. To create this plan, you developed contacts who tutored you and got you in the door. Now you have something that is better than a resume — proof that you’re worth hiring at a company worth working for. (See How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers.)

Do you see why you cannot possibly do this for 400 companies?

Now you don’t need to apply to 400 companies.

How many jobs have you applied for that you did not get? Do you think maybe you applied for too many and wasted precious time pursuing the wrong ones? Did you ever take a wrong job just because “it was there?” What’s the best way to pick the right jobs to pursue?

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How to Get A Job: Don’t write a resume

How to Get A Job: Don’t write a resume

How to Get A Job Workshop

For the next few weeks, we’re going to devote the Q&A feature to a workshop. Instead of Q&A, this limited series of columns will be “All Answers,” or, if you will, “How To.” So the only question we’ll be addressing in several editions of the newsletter and in this column will be about how to get a job. We’ll start with “Don’t write a resume!” I hope you find this deep dive helpful, and that you will — as always — dive into the discussion in the Comments section below!  — Nick

How to Get A Job: Don’t write a resume

don't write a resumeThe first step on your job search is to become aware of the myths of job hunting. The first myth is that your resume will get you in the door for a job interview.

It won’t. It’s a fallacy.

Don’t write a resume

Don’t write a resume to start your job search. It’s a terrible habit that will slow you down. Worse, you’ll find yourself defending your resume in job interviews when you should be tackling the job you want. A resume tells the hiring manager what you’ve done. What the manager needs to know is what you will do if you’re hired to make the business and the manager more successful. Your resume can’t do that.

Resumes have failed at getting you in the door so often that you’ve accepted it as an unavoidable trauma. All job seekers have come to accept resume failure as normal. But failure is what you choose every time you submit a resume (or the equivalent: a job application) to apply for a job interview.

Calculate the resume myth

You can prove to yourself just how costly the resume fallacy is. How many resumes have you sent out during your life? Make a reasonable estimate. Now, how many job interviews have you gotten from those resumes? Draw a ratio:


I know the ratio it’s tiny. Minuscule. Practically meaningless.

Let’s go a step further: How many resumes have you submitted for every job offer you’ve gotten?

No one wants to view their future as a game of chance, but the resume ratio reveals most job seekers are desperate gamblers.

Your resume will get you rejected

Software developer Joel Spolsky created several successful software companies including StackOverflow, which gets over 100 million visitors per month. He sold the company for $1.8 billion. He built his success by avoiding the myths and hiring people who are smart and get things done. Here’s what this expert hiring manager says about Getting Your Resume Read:

“We get between 100 and 200 [resumes] per opening. There is no possible way we can interview that many people. The only hope is if we can screen people out using resumes. Don’t think of a resume as a way to get a job: think of it as a way to give some hiring manager an excuse to hit DELETE.”

Spolsky isn’t against using resumes per se, but this entrepreneur points out the dirty little secret about using a resume to get a job: It’s a myth that wastes your precious time when you need to stand out and to get an edge over hundreds or thousands of competitors for the job you want.

But it’s actually worse. The resume fallacy is a systemic problem. The employment system itself conspires to make it even harder to get an interview from your resume. As more and more job seekers learn to feed resumes into job-board databases, and as employers rely more and more on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes), these automated resume-scanning machines keep increasing your competition. This lowers the odds that your resume will do what HR managers claim: “The purpose of your resume is to get you in the door for an interview.”

Those HR managers are lying. As Spolsky points out, the purpose of your resume is to help employers reject you. The automated deluge of incoming resumes leaves them no choice.

What gets you in the door?

Consider this: You send your resume to five hundred companies and it sits in a manager’s file while thousands more resumes pile in after it. At some point, the manager will decide whether to interview you. Meanwhile, my candidate is sitting in the manager’s office describing how they will help the manager produce profit and contribute to the bottom line.

There’s a difference between a job hunter who uses a resume and a job hunter who cultivates and uses personal contacts to get into a company they’ve targeted. One gets the job and one doesn’t. Hiring managers rely on their trusted contacts to endorse and personally recommend good job candidates. Meanwhile, your resume is used to reject you.

(A headhunter is a special case of the personal contact that gets you in the door. But don’t count on a headhunter’s help. It’s far better to use a professional referral. 50-70% of jobs come from personal referrals. Only about 3% of jobs come from headhunters.)

So, what’s a resume for?

Should you not have a resume? Of course you should have a resume: a good, simple list of your work experience, expertise and credentials. (Believe me: Employers don’t trust resumes even as they solicit millions of them, because they know over 80% of people lie on their resumes.)

Here’s my myth-busting advice: Don’t write a resume to start your job search.

  • Never hand your resume to anyone “to get in the door.”
  • Never use a resume to apply for a job.
  • Never use a resume “to market yourself.”

The only time you should use your resume is after you have established substantive contact with the hiring manager —

  • not with a recruiter
  • not with HR, and
  • not with any automated applicant system.

Your resume by itself does not count as substantive contact. You have to earn substantive contact, which is usually made through a trusted referral.

What’s a resume really for? The only purpose of a resume is to fill in the blanks about who you are — after you have used better means to meet a hiring manager. If a hiring manager does not already know exactly why you are worth interviewing, your resume isn’t going to help.

To get a meaningful shot at winning the job you want, make sure the hiring manager knows all about you before they read your resume. Rely on your resume only to fill in the blanks for a hiring manager who already has adequate information to want to interview you.

Interviews and jobs don’t come from resumes

Beware the resume myth. Don’t start any job search by writing a resume that’s “a marketing piece.” Your resume doesn’t “sell you.” It is a dumb document that a manager can use to quickly reject you after spending about 6 seconds looking at it.

So don’t waste precious time on resumes when you can invest it meeting hiring managers. People don’t get jobs from resumes. They get jobs through people the manager knows and trusts.


How to Get A Job: Pick only the right 3-4 companies

I invite you to post your thoughts, experiences and advice about resumes and how to get a job in the Comments section below. Related questions and suggestions for future topics in the Workshop are welcome!

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Why headhunters waste your time

Why headhunters waste your time


May I ask for your advice? I’m a headhunter. What is the best thing to say to a candidate when they ask who is the client I’m representing? I don’t want them going after the job on their own or using another headhunter. Thanks for your time.

Nick’s Reply

headhunters waste timeNice to hear from a “headhunter,” but I’m more concerned about what a candidate should do when you won’t disclose your client. Why on earth would you not tell a candidate who your client is? Aren’t you proud of the client?

Unfortunately, I say that with tongue in cheek. I know why you won’t disclose who your client company is. You’re afraid the candidate will take the information, contact the company directly about the job, cut you out of the loop, and cost you a placement fee.

Is this a headhunter or a “headhunter”?

But there’s more to this that job candidates need to know, because this is part of how “headhunters” (I shudder to call them that) waste job candidates’ time. I’m betting you’re worried because you have no control over your client, and that’s because you have no contract or written agreement with the company. (If you do have a written agreement but it’s not exclusive, candidates face the same problem.) It’s simply bad business when a company welcomes lots of “headhunters” to submit resumes of the same candidates indiscriminately and all at once. If the company hires a candidate submitted by 10 “headhunters” and makes a hire, one of the “headhunters” gets paid and the rest get diddley-bop.

Pardon me if I’ve got it wrong, but I think that’s why you’re worried. That’s why you’re a “headhunter” and not a headhunter. (Note to job seekers: Please read They’re not headhunters.)

The Employment System is Broken

This is also proof positive that the Employment System — how HR recruits and hires — is a sham, a scam, an irresponsible cluster-f@ck that doesn’t work for anyone but the database jockeys who build the software that props up this indefensible house of cards. Yes, I’m talking about Applicant Tracking Systems, LinkedIn and Indeed, the baddest HR consultancies and “recruitment automaters,” phony “A.I.”, phony algorithms that “view and judge” video interviews, and HR-we-do-it-all outsourcing rackets. These all contribute to indiscriminate, more-is-better and massively erroneous candidate selection, “review” and “processing.”

I’m sure readers are already laughing because they’ve had loads of their time wasted by headhunters! Now we’re going to take a look at how this happens.

Job Candidates: How headhunters waste your time

Most headhunters work on contingency. That is, they are paid only when the employer actually hires a job candidate the headhunter submitted for a job. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this business model. It’s very common and it can work well enough for the job seeker, the headhunter and the employer. But problems arise when the search is not assigned exclusively, but thrown like chum on the waters to create an insensate recruiter feeding frenzy.

A contingency search assignment should at minimum give you 30, 60 or 90 days to complete without competition or interference from other sources of candidates. You are the only headhunter authorized to submit job candidates for X days. That’s what makes it exclusive. That’s what makes it worth your time to do a good, thorough job. That’s what makes you proud and happy to tell the candidate who your client is.

When an employer solicits many resumes from many sources all at once, it’s practicing garbage in-garbage out recruiting. It wastes job candidates’ time and its own. When “headhunters” are forced to compete this way, they will submit anyone for any job, hoping to get lucky.

How does this waste a job candidate’s time? Because earnest job seekers go on interviews totally wrong for them while the “headhunter” is hoping to get lucky. The candidate’s time costs the “headhunter” nothing because the “headhunter” costs the employer nothing unless a hire is made.

Is this a bona fide job search?

A company that assigns an exclusive search to a headhunter it trusts gets fewer but better candidates simply because it’s worth the headhunter’s time to dedicate the resources to recruit accurately and quickly. Everybody is more likely to win.

So the problem is not how to answer that question. It’s to start with a bona fide search that’s exclusive. Anything else is not good business for you, for the employer, or for the job candidate. The very fact that you fear competing with your own candidate tells us there’s a fundamental problem with the business model you subject yourself to.

If you don’t have a meaningful agreement with the company, recruiting and submitting candidates becomes a crapshoot and you’re not likely to make a placement because of all the counterproductive and phony “competition.” (It’s phony because all the candidates come from the same databases!)

You should not be wasting your time trying to make a placement without a solid, exclusive relationship with your client. And a candidate should not work with you if all you’re doing is submitting yet another copy of their resume to the same employer.

Headhunting is not a numbers game

I know this is hard advice. But headhunting is hard work. That’s why we get paid up to $30,000 to fill a $100,000 job. What most “headhunters” are doing is playing a recruiting lottery, hoping to get lucky. They’re not real headhunters.

Of course, you could just tell the candidate the truth: You can’t name the company because you know they will apply directly or apply through five headhunters hoping the numbers will work in their favor. Or, you could tell them the name and beg them to work only through you.

Please think about this. Headhunting can be a great business — if you are actually doing business with written agreements, trusted clients and trusted sources of great candidates. Everything else is dialing for dollars.

My advice to any headhunter is to do exclusive searches.

Go exclusive or go away

My advice to job seekers is to work only with headhunters that have the inside track on filling a job for a company. They should always ask the headhunter, “Who is the employer, and are you handling this assignment exclusively?” (See headhunter Joe Borer’s excellent article, How to Judge A Headhunter.)

I have no advice for employers that tolerate and encourage a feeding frenzy of “headhunters” competing to fill one job. They deserve the mess they’re in. This is how and why “headhunters” waste job seekers’ time.

I wish you the best.

Do headhunters tell you who their client is? At what point? Have you ever “gone around” a headhunter? Have you ever learned that multiple headhunters submitted you for the same job? What happened?

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