Ask The Headhunter®

the insider's edge on job search & hiring™
October 19, 2010
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This week's Q&A


How I got the job: Talking shop!

Talk to Nick
: For job hunters, managers, HR
Reader's Forum: Does talking shop beat all?


This week's newsletter is a departure from our regular Q&A. I'd like to share a success story with you that I think is so instructive, it might change the way you pursue your next job.

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Early in 2010 I spoke with an Ask The Headhunter subscriber in a Talk to Nick discussion. He had been using LinkedIn to approach companies he was interested in working for, with little success. He wanted to start contacting vice presidents of marketing at those companies directly, and he asked me "how exactly to go about doing that."

In a half-hour long phone call, I explained the basics of finding and contacting people who could introduce him to the VPs he wanted to talk with. I showed him how to cultivate these contacts, and urged him to approach the task not as "networking," but more casually—to make new friends, not to ask for job leads.

This is a difficult concept for most people to grasp. They are in a hurry for results. But developing good relationships takes time, and it requires more giving than receiving. Jeremy Gorr got that. He started investing his time in making friends, without asking for job leads. The e-mail below is his brief version of the outcome.

Talk shop, win the job


I got the job! Finally, I will be moving to [new city] for a great job. I still don't believe what I was able to accomplish with your guidance.

Readers' Forum

Does talking shop trump all?

Can you really ignore job postings, toss out your resume, and go have fun meeting people to win the job you want?

I think yes. So does the reader who submitted this week's success story.

What do you think? Come join us on The Blog.

Now THIS is a job description!

Somebody over at Microsoft gets it. Stop recruiting with tiny-font bureaucrat-ese. If you show people where you work and what you do and who you have lunch with and what you all talk about and what kinds of cool tools you get to play with... well, that's recruiting!

Come take a look and add your two bits! This week on The Blog.

The Nobel Prize for Jobs: The artifacts of Duh-oyyyy!

"It takes time for unemployed workers to be matched with the proper opening, since people are not identical, cookie-cutter units, and neither are jobs."

Gimme a break. They gave out a Nobel to 3 economists for this? Come talk back to the Nobels on The Blog.

I got a job:

  • In my target industry,
  • In my target city,
  • In my target role,
  • At a high level and not an entry level.

All of that despite the fact that I was unemployed for 10 months, was moving to a city where I didn't know anyone, and had little experience in that industry. My phone call with you was the best money I ever spent. It will return tens of thousands of dollars for me over the next few years and probably hundreds of thousands over my lifetime.

After our phone call, I resolved to use your methods every day. I dramatically shifted my approach to what you outlined in our call. I would never have found this job (or any job) by following the traditional methods.

In this economy, I have found that submitting my resume to HR yielded no results in a year of trying. The only way I had any success was networking my way to the hiring manager and talking shop. And all my skills in that area came from you.

Here is the breakdown of how I got this job:

  • Attended an industry event in target city.
  • Introduced myself to founder of the event.
  • He introduced me to a local industry consultant.
  • Attended second industry event in target city and had in-depth conversation with industry consultant.
  • He introduced me to his friend, the president at the company where I eventually got an offer.

Prior to meeting you, I wouldn't have done any of these things. They are all outside my comfort zone. You gave me the tools to get out there and do it. Thank you so much. These tools have added so much to my life. It turned me from a non-networker to someone who will use networking for almost everything I do in the future.

And what you said at the end of our call is most valuable of all: Even if my networking failed to get me a job, at the very least I'd have some friends out of it. And that has turned out to be true: I now know dozens of people in [my new city] in my profession who want to meet with me when I arrive in town. I probably found a few lifelong friends in my search that I have a lot in common with. I am now entering [the new city] not as an outsider, but probably better connected than most people who have been in [the city] a decade.

Best regards,
Jeremy Gorr

Nick's Comments

When someone lands a job using anything they've learned on Ask The Headhunter, I'm happy. They often graciously grant me permission to quote them in the Readers' Comments section of this newsletter. But only rarely does a subscriber provide details about how he did it.

What are the keys in this story? Jeremy Gorr:

  • Didn't rely on passive "tools" like job postings or resumes.
  • Didn't compromise on the level of job he would accept.
  • Picked a target city and went there to meet people.
  • Picked a target industry and honed in on it for months.
  • Invested time and money to join a target professional community.
  • Used his work skills to stimulate interactions. ("Talked shop.")
  • Met people to make friends, not to land a job.
  • Developed a reputation as someone good to talk shop with.
  • Gradually got introduced to more people in the industry.
  • Positioned himself as a "newly arrived hub" of influential professionals.
  • Persisted, but without burdening anyone with requests for job leads.
  • Kept talking shop and made a lot of influential friends.

Jeremy changed his objective from "get a job" to "make friends with people who do the work I want to do." Landing the job he wanted stemmed out of Jeremy's new behavior. At one point, he realized he was making lots of new professional friends, but not taking the final necessary step. This is what I told him in a brief e-mail:

It's hard to justify talking about a job after just a single meeting. But once you have formed a connection based on two or three meetings, phone calls or other kinds of contact, and if the other person has established a comfortable connection with you, it's perfectly legitimate to pause and say, "I'd like to ask you something. I've been studying your company, and I'm interested in joining the team. Can you give me a little guidance or advice about pursuing a job there?"

You seem to have gotten quite good at forming these relationships. That suggests people like you and feel comfortable with you. And that means you can talk to them about a job now. "Pull the trigger."

It took months and a serious investment before Jeremy felt confident about pulling the trigger. Had he done it before he was confident about his new friendships, he would have behaved awkwardly and he likely would have stumbled. People can smell an opportunist coming. But Jeremy's new friends knew him as a peer whose success they wanted to promote.

What enabled Jeremy to survive over seven months of meeting people without landing a job (or even asking for one)? His friends. No matter what the job outcome might be, he had a solid foundation of new friends he could count on.

This says it all: "I am now... probably better connected than most people who have been in [the city] a decade."

Jeremy refers to what he has accomplished as "networking." It's the only thing I disagree with him about. He thinks he networks, but I know what he really does is make friends by talking shop. And those friends lead him to work.

Come join us on The Blog to talk about talking shop to win the job!

Special thanks to Jeremy Gorr for his kind permission to reprint his e-mail.

(Before you conclude you need half an hour with me on the phone, try practicing the basics of this approach in How Can I Change Careers? This Answer Kit is not just for career changers; it's for anyone changing jobs—and it costs far less than half an hour of my time. It includes an entire section about today's topic: A Good Network is a Circle of Friends, from which you'll learn how to invest in friendships. It also includes Put a Free Sample in Your Resume, which shows how to make a manager want to hire you.)


Nick Corcodilos
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"My phone call with you was the best money I ever spent. It will return tens of thousands of dollars for me over the next few years and probably hundreds of thousands over my lifetime."       — Jeremy Gorr

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Readers' Comments

"I particularly liked your response [9/21/10 edition] to the fellow who wanted to know about whether it was okay to drag out the decision time on a firm job offer in the hopes of getting an offer on the job he really wanted. I've certainly learned to not count my chickens before they've hatched (apologies for the cliche, but I've yet to have my morning coffee). You had a very sensible reply. In fact, I find most of your replies sensible and well reasoned, well written, and fluff-free. I've learned a lot from ATH, and I'm glad I signed up for the newsletter. Keep up the good work."

Liz Crompton

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