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The New Job Hunter
By Anonymous in L.A.   

[Note from Nick: The author of this piece prefers to be called "Anonymous", rather than "Mud" after his boss reads it.]

Yogi Berra's famous saying, "It ain't over 'till it's over" applies to the world of the New Interview. If nothing else, my recent experience in the trenches of job hunting proves one thing: It ain't over till it's offered!

I'm a long-time fan of The Headhunter's methods who is determined to do business development work in a narrow area of IT consulting. After working in this business for several years, I've made a short list of small companies that excite me.

Doing The Job
When I saw the CEO of one of my target companies recently at an industry conference, I found myself long on ideas, and short on nerve. I decided to ditch my fears and go for it all, applying The Headhunter's methods I'd been reading about. It was at this point that an adventure unlike any job hunt I'd ever done began:

At the conference, I muster up all of the bravado I can find, and walk up to CEO during the lunch break. I introduce myself. "I read about your XYZ project in ABC Industry Times," I say. "I often encounter companies who can't see the benefits of moving ahead with this type of project. How did you demonstrate the potential recovery of investment to this particular client?"

CEO and I exchange ideas on this issue, and he clearly wants to hear more. The conversation moves quickly from this project to the competitive pressures his company faces. I offer specific strategies I'd use to address his challenges. After about five minutes of interesting questions and answers, I begin wondering whether this would lead anywhere. Until he asks: "Would you be interested in a position doing business development work for us?"

I want to say "Hell, YES!" But instead of running around the room beating my chest, I set up an appointment to continue our "conversation" at company headquarters in four days. The "conversation" that follows four days later is like no other "interview" I've done before. No silly questions about my "biggest weakness" or my favorite color. Just a working dialog about some specific clients they hope to attract, and my own strategies for working with those clients.

Two hours later, I can't believe how far I've come. From nowhere to the CEO's office. To lunch and a meeting with the department heads. To a discussion about a start date. I go home and crack open a two-dollar bottle of beer. My wife and I plan how we'll spend the big raise that's sure to follow. I start rehearsing a resignation speech for my current boss: Should I tell her how much I'll cherish our professional relationship forever or how I'd sooner choke on my own vomit than accept her offer to stay? That's the biggest question on my mind. The new job is already fact.

The Job Is Broken
An offer letter will merely confirm the terms the CEO and I had discussed. Right? I could soon call myself Director of Business Development. Right? Wrong.

Instead, I open a letter that details an entry-level sales job. It offers all of the disadvantages of a straight commission job, with none of the support or incentives that typically accompany entry level jobs in this industry. It also details the many common circumstances that will permit them to disallow or charge back commissions.

Wanting to believe the best, I consider a few possibilities: Maybe they didn't really "get" what I was talking about to begin with? Or, as Nick points out, some companies just can't get beyond "cost" to see profit. Were they too put off by the cost of bringing me aboard? Did they actually expect ME to take all of the financial risk while they simply waited to reap the rewards?

Taking Control
So, I call the CEO and explain why the package actually would deter the sort of high-level relationship building they say they want to do. After all, a guy who has to close sales nearly every day to meet a high quota doesn't exactly have time to explore complex client problems. On the other hand, if they do want to establish straight performance-based compensation, where's the customary commitment to pay expenses and provide internal supporting resources?

The old salesman's mantra to "always be closing" may work in a car dealership, but it's not commonplace in an environment where six-figure deals get put together over months, and client satisfaction's the priority. Real business development isn't a low-cost numbers game, it's a relationship building process. That's why cold-calling a zillion businesses in search of an IT problem to solve simply doesn't work.

No thanks, I say.

The CEO seems genuinely surprised. He actually apologizes for the comp plan, and offers an explanation. It seems that he invented the position, but had delegated the task of designing the compensation package to the company's marketing director. Assuring me that we could "work something out, " he invites me back for a meeting that will include the marketing director.

The Boss Is Broken, Too
The meeting begins late in the afternoon. I walk into a bland conference room. A charming receptionist escorts me to a seat at the far end of the table. At the opposite end sit the CEO and the Marketing Director. I'm expecting either an inquisition or a negotiating session that will be more complex than a bank merger. Instead, we exchange formalities, and the Marketing Director begins asking questions. Fluffy questions. The kind Nick writes about when he talks about "personnel jockeys:"

"So what's your biggest weakness? What attracts you to this industry? Where do you see yourself in five years?"

I'm wondering when she'll ask me about my favorite color. Why go down this road AFTER an offer's been extended? I'm clueless. So I try to focus the discussion on the offer itself. I explain why I think both the offer and the numbers game approach it reflects are problematic.

After expressing my concerns, I ask the Marketing Director if she agrees. Instead of a "yes" or "no," she explains that she doesn't know whether I can actually do the work, so why not bring me aboard at no risk to the company? (By offering a low-rent sales comp plan, complete with low base, no backing, high quota, and high illusory bonus.) She adds that "the job is to get on the phone, sing from the company hymn book, bring 'em in, and get 'em to sign on the dotted line." When I ask whether she has actually DONE any business development work or sales in this industry, the answer is "no."

Now I'm wondering whether we're discussing an offer or doing another interview. A New Interview? An old interview? A scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross or Death of A Salesman?

I try to salvage the situation and return to Nick's New Interview. I bring up a specific client that they're trying to win, and ask her how much spending authority I'd have to pursue the account. "I'll give you enough rope to hang yourself," she replies.

The Standard Is Raised
This isn't the sort of confidence-booster I can use. But just when I think they'll both say "see ya," help comes from the strangest place. Without making eye contact with the Marketing Director, the CEO looks at me and tells me that they intend to revise the offer. He says "it's clear that we have work to do," and walks me out of the room. As we stand by the elevator, he assures me that "we'll get this thing put together."

A few days later, the CEO calls to offer me more than 50% more money, and a far more favorable comp plan! I'm almost ready to break out more beer. This time, I'm going for the domestic six-pack. But then comes the punch line: I would report to my new boss, the Marketing Director. Hold the beer.

That's right, the woman who's never actually DONE any business development work or sales in this field would be supervising and evaluating my ability to do it. The woman who likes and supports me enough to encourage me to "hang myself." I thank the CEO and decline the offer. He asks me why. I hesitate for a moment. Then I decide: Ah, what the hell? Let's give credit where it's due...

The New Job Hunter Emerges
I explain how the Marketing Director has effectively demonstrated why whoever accepts this position will fail. Real clients in search of real expertise don't want to hear someone "sing from the company hymn book" and pressure them "to sign on the dotted line." I think the CEO will either wish me well, or hang up. But instead, we have an interesting conversation about some of the most difficult issues in his business, and the growth pressures he faces. He asks me more questions about my impressions of the Marketing Director and her approach. Unfortunately, he doesn't know what he'll end up doing about the situation. We part with a genuine appreciation of each other's insights and advice.

I come away from the experience feeling good. For the first time in a long history of job hunting and job interviewing, I experience the relaxation that comes with telling the truth. Not the formalized, resume-packed, self-serving version of the truth. The whole truth about who I am and what I want to do.

A year ago, I never would have imagined myself asking a CEO some of these questions or stating my intentions point-blank. I was just too afraid of being laughed out of the game. It's really no game at all -- that's what Ask The Headhunter helped me to see. Nick also helped me to find a voice I didn't know was there: A voice with candor, confidence, and sincerity. The great thing about The Headhunter's methods is that they demand serious thought and thorough preparation. I think I gave this effort both. That's probably why it didn't take long to see why the offer and the company wouldn't work for me.

I wish I could have written about how the New Interview propelled me at warp speed into a dream job. Instead, I can only tell you that it saved me from a broken job in a broken company -- a service that's no less valuable.

[Messages to the anonymous author of this article may be routed through The Headhunter.]


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