What if there’s no time to prepare for the job interview?

In the June 19, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter is frustrated by last-minute interviews:

Here’s the harsh reality of job interviewing. You apply for a job, you are called in for the interview, and there is no time to do all the research and preparation that you recommend we do. I have been in this spot, as I know most people have. How many times has a headhunter called at 4:00pm and said, “I have a great job possibility for you. Are you available tomorrow at 9:00am?” How can you prepare yourself in the manner that you recommend? Should one just say no to the interview? I think not, especially when one has been out of work for a while. Your input/answer is?

My Advice

Why on earth would you want to go into an interview when you are unprepared, and likely to embarrass yourself?

I have three comments on this.

1. Don’t apply if you didn’t choose the job based on research.
If you selected this company as one you want to work for, I expect you selected it for several good reasons, all based on your research. Even if you were introduced by a headhunter, due diligence is necessary. Thus, you must know quite a bit about the company, or why interview?

2. Good headhunters always prep their candidates.
Any headhunter worth his salt has lots of information about his client company. If he isn’t willing to share some of it with you, you’re interviewing blindly. Why would you want to do that? If the headhunter doesn’t know enough about the company to be able to prep you thoroughly, then the company is not his client. (See “Is your resume spaghetti?“) You’re wasting your time. (Need help figuring out whether the headhunter knows what he’s doing? Learn How to Work With Headhunters.)

3. Preparation is more important than showing up on demand.
A request for an interview is not a command. It’s an invitation. You are allowed to say to the headhunter, “I need two days to prepare properly for this interview, to optimize my chances of success as well as your chances of earning a placement fee.” What idiot of a headhunter would want to send an unprepared candidate to an interview? (Hint: One whose placement strategy is scheduling as many interviews as possible.)

Please remember: Both you and the headhunter have an immense responsibility to make a job interview productive and profitable. Both your reputations are on the line. If you’re dealing with lousy headhunters, stop. If you’re desperate to interview as often as possible under any circumstances, stop.

My advice: Decline the interview until you are prepared. This isn’t a race. It’s business, and unprepared business people lose.

What happened the last time you went on an interview unprepared? Is there a way to fake it that actually works? How do you deal with situations like this?

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Zuck’s Stupid Recruiting Start-up: Moo!

Facebook is about to go face-down to $25 a share — but CEO Mark Zuckerberg may be saved by a new recruiting startup. (Recruiting industry watcher Joel Cheesman just keeps serving these flapjacks up, hot off the grill. I’m still LMAO about the last one.)

Identified.com

The Stanford University-spawned start-up Identified.com just got $21 million in sucker capital funding. (Disclosure: I went to Stanford and have yet to raise $21 million, but I do not hold that against Stanford.) And what does this “fastest growing career site for young professionals” actually do?

 

 

Yep — Identified.com sends traffic to Facebook.

Judging by the time-honored rule of putting your best assets right out front on your home page, Zuck’s got a winner by the short hairs. Somebody finally got the message — just send ’em over to FB right away!

Plus it’s not boring.

That’s the value proposition right off the bat. All you have to do is KMA and “Turn On Platform.”

Not Boring: Identified hangs out with Richard Branson

Courtesy of the Sacramento Bee, you can read all about it in the “unedited press release,” which explains nothing about how the “business” works. Well, it does say that Identified.com:

  • “transform[s] professional identity through gamification”
  • “aims to help young people achieve their professional goals”
  • “[is] taking the principles of game design and applying them to managing your career”
  • “[is] helping young people leverage data to make career choices in a fun, interactive way”

Then I realized where I’ve seen some of this stuff. It kinda reminds me of the classic resume objective statement: “I want to work with people to achieve my professional goals in a progressive company!”

But, the company’s business model, displayed on its front page, is that it’s driving more users to Zuck’s website… and that’s good for America.

And Identified hangs out with Richard Branson.

Dick Is Not On The Website

But the website doesn’t say dick about how it helps people and employers get together to fill jobs.

Because when I spent a few minutes to figure out what the proposition really is, all I learned is that:

The website says as much about the business as the press release. If you want to actually do anything on Identified.com, you need to talk to Zuck:

 

 

Why would V.C.’s dump $21 milion into a website that sends all its traffic to Facebook?

Wired magazine says:

“Facebook is on the cusp of becoming a medium unto itself — more akin to television as a whole than a single network, and more like the entire web than just one online destination.” (Cf., “We’re more popular than Jesus.“)

But then again, Wired also said:

“The sheer magnitude of Facebook’s success is one reason why, as the company charges toward what will likely be the most successful public offering in the history of capitalism…

Disclosure: Wired is my favorite magazine. But like I said, Facebook is about to suck rocks at the bottom of $25 a share. (Facebook Deathwatch reports $25.87 at today’s close.)

If I were Tim Draper, Bill Draper, Innovation Endeavors, VantagePoint Capital Partners, and Capricorn Investment Group, I’d get Marc Cenedella on the phone, quick — Identified.com needs a better blog and a more capable hawker of recruiting services. (No disrespect to all these renowned V.C.s, but Dudes, I went to Stanford, too.)

How are we going to do that? Dunno, but it won’t be boring.

About Identified:

“What Facebook did for your social life, Identified is building for your professional life. How’re we going to do that? We’re going to make managing your career not boring.

I was gonna say, who needs yet another online recruiting start-up? Who needs a business when you can just send all your traffic to Zuck?

But Cheesman already said it (I love this guy’s insights):

“The playbook for start-ups in the recruiting space usually goes something like this: Group of young, educated people — usually coming off their own job search, which apparently qualifies as experience in the employment space — come up with an idea to ‘make things better.’”

More Mooney?

When are the V.C.’s gonna learn that Facebook cow clicking is as good as it’s gonna get?

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Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?

In the June 5, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a guy gets honorably discharged from the military, carries a secret clearance, but has a misdemeanor conviction from 2003 for which he’s done probation. He gets a job offer. Then the nightmare begins:

Today I received a job offer from a large, well-known and respected company. I have a misdemeanor criminal conviction from 2003. I told the headhunter about the conviction. I put it in the application before my interview. I put it in the e-application for the background check. I even discussed it with the HR person that was giving me the offer.

After discussing the conviction, she extended me a verbal offer. At the end of the call, I accepted the offer. She welcomed me to the team and said I will get all the details after the background check clears. After the phone call, I turned down a competing job offer from another company and told my headhunters that I am no longer on the job market.

Less than an hour later, the HR person called me back and said she has to withdraw the offer because my three-year probation was cleared in 2006. Since that’s less than the company’s policy permits — seven years — I am ineligible for the job. The company’s security regulations would prevent me from gaining access to their campus.

The job posting required that the applicant must qualify for a government secret clearance. I was just honorably discharged from the military, where I held a secret clearance that I was able to renew after my misdemenor conviction.

It seems quite unethical to extend an offer prior to assuring that the information that I provided multiple times wasn’t an issue. This should have been caught well before I got the interview. Is this legal?

My Advice

This sounds like you got the shaft, but it’s a bit more complicated, based on the information you’ve provided.

I published your story in this week’s Ask The Headhunter e-mail newsletter, but I did not publish my advice and comments because I wanted to challenge our community to figure this one out. I asked subscribers to think about your story, and then come to the blog ready to post their take on it.

  • Did HR give this job applicant the shaft?
  • What went wrong?
  • How could this situation have been handled better?

Here’s how I see it.

HR blew it.

While it was nice of the enthusiastic HR lady to give you the offer on the phone, she jumped the gun when she “welcomed you to the team.” You weren’t on the team yet, and she had no business implying you were. Someone needs to call her on the carpet.

The HR lady tipped you off.

The key to this entire unfortunate episode lies in this sentence: “She welcomed me to the team and said I will get all the details after the background check clears.” That meant she made you a contingent offer. It was not bona fide. That is, it was dependent on the background check. In other words, you had no offer to act on.

You jumped the gun.

I always tell job applicants who “get an offer,” to never, ever, ever resign their old job, or turn off other opportunities, until they’ve been on the new job for two weeks. Sounds kind of extreme, eh? Yah, well, so’s what happened to you. While odds are pretty good that a job offer will turn out fine, the enormity of the consequences if anything goes wrong is why no one should do what you did. [Correction: My bad on a poor turn of phrase that confuses two issues — when to turn off other job opportunities and when to resign your old job. Please see my comment about this below.]

Before even orally accepting the offer, you should have waited for a bona fide offer in writing, signed by an official of the company.

Before setting aside other opportunities (because there is no sure thing), you should have completed the company orientation, met your new boss, started the job, and ensured nothing goofy was going on at your new job. I’ve seen many people quit new jobs within the first two weeks. It takes that long to… well… make sure nothing’s goofy. You don’t want to be out on the street with nowhere to go if the new job goes south. (Likewise, an employer should not stop recruiting and interviewing just because a candidate accepts its offer.)

You did the right thing, again and again.

You disclosed, from the start and throughout the interview process, that you had a misdemeanor conviction. That takes guts, and it was the smart thing to do. The company had an obligation to be as candid with you, and to disclose its policy about hiring people convicted of crimes. It had no excuse for not detailing its policies once you made your disclosures.


Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer's Full AttentionDo all employers behave like this? Absolutely not. It’s up to you to find the right employers and to know how to get their attention — because lousy employers aren’t worth your time or aggravation! Learn how to:

  • Stop walking blind on the job hunt!
  • Pick worthy companies.
  • Test the company. Is it a Mickey Mouse operation?
  • Recognize and beat age discrimination. (Or is it your own anxiety?)
  • Deal with a bad reference. Don’t get torpedoed!
  • Investigate privately-held companies — Here’s the secret!
  • And more!

Don’t waste your time with the wrong employers! These methods are all in
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention


But somebody didn’t do their job.

As soon as this employer learned about your conviction, HR should have pulled out its policy book and mapped it to your situation before making you an offer. The HR lady explained the policy clearly to you — too late!

What bunch of numbnuts knows it’s got a policy issue from the start, but ignores the implications of its policy? Especially because you were so candid and forthright about your problem, HR should have had the background check completed far sooner, and should have inquired about the dates of your conviction, sentence, and the resolution.

(I’m waiting for someone to suggest that, for legal reasons, the background check could not be done until you accepted the offer. That would be a good trick — accepting an offer for a job that company policy prohibits you from accepting.)

Who’s on the hook now?

I think the HR lady is on the hook. She should have made it crystal clear to you that the job offer was not yet bona fide, and that it was contingent on the background check. I think she should have even gone so far as to advise you not to take any other action until the check was confirmed. She blew it. She should be on the hook, but you’re the one who got hurt.

You’re on the hook because you rejected another (more bona fide?) job offer, and notified the headhunters that you’re no longer a candidate for a job.

Most important, this company’s HR practices are on the hook, and they need to be gutted and cleaned.


Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources ObstaclesThere’s no way to beat HR, is there? Sure there is! Learn how to recognize and overcome these HR obstacles:

  • HR demands too much private information, like your salary history. But two can play this game!
  • HR throws a “behavioral interview” at you.
  • Online job application forms — learn to get past them.
  • HR gets between you and the decision maker. Learn how to go straight to the hiring manager!
  • The HR rejection letter: Why you should reject it!
  • And more!

HR isn’t as tough as you think! You’ll find myth-busting answers in
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles


Doubling HR Costs: Time to change company practices.

Poor HR practices are what make HR executives scream that, “There’s a talent shortage!” Well, here’s the talent, fresh out of the military, worthy of a job offer, but… Aren’t an honorable discharge and a fresh secret clearance enough to merit more careful treatment when the company is looking at an applicant who qualifies for a secret clearance?

Now where’s the talent shortage? In HR.

HR spent a lot of company money to process this hire — only to stumble at the last minute. Now HR will spend the money again on another candidate. HR costs just doubled in this case. I wonder what the board of directors would have to say? Because HR will sweep the mistake under the rug, along with all the other good candidates HR lost because:

  • An otherwise excellent applicant’s keywords “didn’t match;”
  • A wise applicant didn’t want to disclose her salary history;
  • A highly motivated applicant dared to contact the hiring manager directly;
  • HR interviewed the engineering applicant but doesn’t understand engineering;
  • The applicant seems a bit old;
  • The applicant refused to meet with HR until he first interviewed with the hiring manager;
  • And on and on… through the myriad wasteful practices we discuss on this forum that cost companies good hires every day…

It’s time for this company — and many companies — to take a good, hard look at HR practices because good talent is not easy to come by.

Whose bad?

That offer was no offer, so give it back! Has an employer ever given you a job offer, then rescinded it? Why? What was the reason? What did you do? What’s your take on this reader’s experience?

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PoachBase: Another stupid recruiting start-up

You can’t make this stuff up. Now your company can recruit losers, and hire recruiters who can do it more easily.

Featured at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference: A pitch by a start-up calling itself PoachBase. The “company’s” tag-line: Poach talent from dying companies. The idea is to monitor other start-ups for death rattles and then go steal their employees.

Here’s the pitch:

Now here’s the question: Why would anyone want to recruit employees that are still hanging around a loser company?

My advice (free, no software required): It’s more fun to recruit people from good companies while they’re hanging around the local watering hole after work. (Well, beer might be software.)

Recruiting-industry watcher Joel Cheesman’s explains the problem clearly:

“The playbook for start-ups in the recruiting space usually goes something like this: Group of young, educated people — usually coming of [sic] their own job search, which apparently qualifies as experience in the employment space — come up with an idea to ‘make things better.'”

This is kind of reminiscent of the job applicant whose resume emphasizes, “I want to work with people in a good company.” Maybe they’re all the same bunch.

(If you want to watch the recruiting industry, sign up for Joel Cheesman’s free newsletter. I love it.)

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Netflix: Another stupid employer

Netflix bungled its business last year and ticked off lots of its customers, who quickly cancelled the service. It was a case study of a business and public relations disaster.

Now Netflix is at it again — this time by advertising for “recent college graduates” to fill jobs anyone could do. Age discrimination anyone? The ad on craigslist is titled, “Netflix – Recruiting Researcher  (los gatos)” and it says:

“We treat you like an adult and expect you to act like one.”

(For a PDF of the full ad on craigslist, click here. For the “live” ad on craigslist — which will not be there forever — click here. For the ad on Netflix.com, click here.)


***UPDATE 5/18/12: Netflix has removed the job posting from its own website. For a PDF of the original, click here.

Netflix has not responded to a request for comment.


Netflix would do well to act like an adult and recruit people who can do the job — and that includes college grads from quite a while ago. Consider the Netflix job ad below. What’s in this job description that an older worker couldn’t deliver?

We’ve found that recent college grads have been most successful in this position because we need some who is:
– Self-motivated and directed; hungry to get started with a great, well-known company.
– Proactive; taking initiative and follow-through is a must
– Accustomed to multi-tasking and meeting multiple, tight deadlines
– A leader and will offer innovative and constructive ideas to continue our team’s success

I know a lot of hungry 40+ year olds who are out of work — they’re self-motivated, proactive, can multitask, and lead others.

Netflix goes on to say that:

“We don’t have rules.”

That’s clear. They could add, “We don’t have any common sense.”

I’m a big fan of hiring kids out of college — as a cohort, they’re suffering mightily in the job market. They need help. Perhaps Netflix can hire a new grad who can show the company how to recruit properly. Or maybe it needs someone a lot more experienced than the clown in HR who’s producing these job descriptions and ads.

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Another Top-10 Stupid Interview Question: “Tell us all about yourself!”

In the May 15, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter comes up with a good way to deal with one of the Top-10 Stupid Interview Questions:

I’m looking at positions as an intermediate- or senior-level software developer, and I’m trying to think of new ways to tackle the famous open-ended interview question. Here’s one approach I am considering.

Them: “Let’s start off our interview with you telling us about yourself.”

Me: “Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a few minutes to give you a little whiteboard presentation of some of the projects I’ve worked on during the past 3-4 years. May I?”

Basically, instead of giving them the typical, brief executive summary about myself, I’d like to show what I’ve done and discuss it, so I can use it as a reference throughout the interview. What do you think of this approach?

My Advice

Another of the Top-10 Stupid Interview Questions rears its head! “Tell us about yourself!” Sometimes I think employers are just lazy. The question reveals the interviewer has no idea whom she’s talking to. But let’s put criticism of employers aside…

I like your approach a lot, because it focuses on the work. When a person talks about the work they’ve done, they invariably reveal a lot about themselves in the proper context. In other words, the employer can see how the candidate’s personality and character fit the job. Talking shop is a good way to reveal a lot about yourself.

Loaded questions yield canned answers.

In most interviews, this highly-loaded question usually evokes a well-rehearsed narrative akin to a political speech. All it tells the manager is that you’ve rehearsed a pitch. But if you embed information about yourself in a discussion of work and projects you’ve done, the information is not just more palatable; it’s more relevant. Pause during your presentation to ask the employer how her team handles similar projects, and your presentation becomes a dialogue. Now you’re talking shop, and you will also find yourself relaxing because a discussion is more natural than a presentation. That’ll make you perform better.

Steer discussion to the work.

This approach is even more effective if you discuss not just the work you’ve done, but your understanding of the problems and challenges the manager’s department is facing. In other words, steer the discussion away from your last employer’s objectives, to what this employer needs. Map your expertise and abilities onto the manager’s projects as you understand them. (Ask the manager to confirm you’ve got the story right.) This is a polite and deft way to turn the discussion around to the employer. If you can get the employer to outline one or two things she needs a new hire to take care of, then you can show the manager what you can do in terms that matter to her.

All of a sudden, you’re the candidate that’s solving problems, right there in the interview. That makes you stand out. (For more detailed tips about how to stand out, please see How Can I Change Careers?, which is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in a job interview by showing what they can actually do for the employer.)

If you do your homework carefully before your interview, you’ll be able to conclude with “the bottom line” when you describe each project. That is, how did your work benefit your employer? If you can describe this in dollars, all the better.

Now for the capper.

Discussing how your work paid off for your old employer is a perfect launch pad for a dialogue about how you might help the bottom line of the projects the manager needs done. Suddenly, you’re revealing an unusual focus (for a software developer, or for any employee): You’re talking about the impact of your work on the company’s success and profits.

Now you really stand out.

If the manager presses you for “what your career goals are” (This is just another angle on “Tell us about yourself”), turn the discussion back to the employer again.

How to Say It

“I love developing software, but I could do that on my own. The satisfaction I get out of my work comes when I see how it actually produces a profit for the company. My goal is not only to be a great developer, but a profitable one. I really believe that my career success depends on that more than anything else.”

I get the feeling you’ll be able to provide some examples from your background. It seems to me you’re already taking this in the right direction! My compliments.

(Do you like to talk about yourself? Does it get you anywhere? What do you think an employer is really looking for with that question?)

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How to Boost Your Salary Quickly and Often

In the May 8, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re covering something different: A wild story…

From The Headhunter Files

People seem to enjoy hearing some of the stranger stories from The Headhunter Files. I usually share these only in my live presentations and workshops, but I think it’s time to go public. Rather than Q&A this week, we’ll do a “Headhunter File,” and if subscribers enjoy it, we’ll do this as a regular feature in upcoming editions.

Fred was an engineer I spoke with while I was checking references on another engineer during a search I was conducting in Silicon Valley. No one had recommended Fred to me (you’ll see why this is pertinent later) — but after my reference call was done, he asked me if I could help him land a better job. I took his resume and filed it, but I wasn’t working on any assignments he’d be a fit for anyway.

But Fred was persistent. He called me again and asked why I wasn’t helping him out. I explained that I didn’t find jobs for engineers — I found engineers for my clients, based on specific requirements. Here’s roughly how the conversation went.

Let’s make money together

Fred: “But if you’ll help me, I’ll make you a lot of money.”
Me: “I’m sure I could earn a good fee placing you, if I had the right assignment.”

Fred: “Just send me to interview with any of your current clients. I’m very good at getting job offers. You’ll earn a fee quickly and it will be good for both of us.”
Me: “Sorry, I don’t work that way. But since you brought it up, what’s your specialization? What do you do, exactly?”

Fred: “I’m an engineer, and I can do almost anything. I got a 15% raise to take this job. If you can get me 10% more, I’ll take it.”
Me: “How long have you been at your current job?”

Fred: “About two months. Before this job, I got almost a 20% raise on the last job.”
Me: “Really? How long were you at that job?”

Fred: “No more than six months. My goal is to get my salary up as high as possible.”
Me: “Don’t you think you’re building a reputation for jumping around?”

Fred: “Employers want the best people they can get, and as long as they pay me and my salary keeps going up, I’ll go wherever I have to.”
Me: “Sorry, but my clients don’t pay me fees for engineers who will pack up and leave every few months. You should be careful.”

Fred: “There’s no need to tell them I changed jobs recently. I’ve only been here two months. Just tell them I’m still at the last company. And that would be true. I’m doing both jobs.”
Me: “You’re working at two companies at once?”

Fred: “Yes. It’s a lot of work, but I don’t mind. I’ll do it as long as I can and make all the money I can.”
Me: “Do both companies know you’re doing this?”

Fred: “Of course not. Look, I could earn you several fees in just one year! We’d be a good team.”
Me: “No, you look — don’t call me again.”

Fred: “If you’re going to tell anyone, let’s just forget it.”
Me: Click.

I could have said something more clever, but I just told Fred to bug off. He never told me where he worked, and I didn’t want to know. Since no one had recommended Fred to me — another engineer used him as a reference — I had no context for a relationship with him, and no one to blame!

Making jobs pay

How was it possible for Fred to keep jumping jobs, getting 10%-20% higher salaries, and not get caught? He told me he worked odd hours, but that’s common for engineers. He’d put in just enough time at each job to keep his head above water, then leave when things got hot. After around three years, he’d boosted his salary by over 50%, and made much more than that by holding two jobs at a time. He made sure to stay employed, so headhunters would call him with interviews — he’d figured that much out. He was “working” headhunters who filled jobs without asking too many questions.

Fred said he was “making jobs pay.” You could say Fred was just playing the market, and beating employers at the salary game. He’d lucked into some employers that didn’t do much background checking — or that trusted “headhunters” to do it for them.

I write a lot in this newsletter about employers that go too far with background checks, and about job hunters who get abused in the recruiting process. But employers sometimes take it between the eyes, too, from unscrupulous “salary hunters.”

What Fred was doing can be done — but not for long. The issue wasn’t the salary boosts he was getting — that’s a matter of negotiating. The problem was that he wasn’t comitting to a job, and that was his routine.

Do you think people can hold down multiple jobs of the same kind, and do it successfully and legitimately?

I didn’t keep up with him, but my guess is Fred didn’t spend many years in the engineering profession. I’m sure he got busted. There are many lessons in stories like this. What do you get from this one?

Got a good, weird tale of job hunting or hiring? Let’s hear it! (Want to hear more true stories from The Headhunter Files? Let me know!)

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Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Every week in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter I answer one question from a reader in the traditional Q&A format. From time to time, we have an “open mic,” where you pose the questions on the fly here on the blog.

This week, I will do my best to answer any and all questions you post. As always, I welcome everyone to contribute their best advice to the questions, and to add their comments to the discussion. The more input, the better!

  • Lost your job and don’t know how to start hunting for a new one?
  • The employer wants you to do a stress interview?
  • Wondering how to deal with a headhunter who just called you?
  • They want your salary history, but you don’t want to share it?
  • Your company posted a job and you got 5,000 applicants. What now?
  • The manager made you a good offer, but HR just called to rescind it?
  • What’s your problem? Please post it and we’ll tackle it.

(You don’t have to include any identifying information.)

I’ve answered over 30,000 questions from Ask The Headhunter readers since 1995. This week I’ll answer as many as you post — and I’m sure you’ll get lots more great advice and commentary from the rest of our community. So… please ask away!

(This column was published before the comment threading feature was added to Ask The Headhunter, so my replies to questions do not appear immediately below each comment. Please scroll down in the comments and look for my reply “@commenter-name” to each question. Sorry for the inconvenience!)

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How long does the headhunter control me?

In the April 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to cut the cord to a headhunter:

If a recruiter gives a company your resume, how long are you tied to that recruiter concerning that company?

For several reasons, I recently lost what I consider to be a great opportunity with a small company, A. I am now accepting another good position at another company, B, but not the one I really wanted. In the situation with company A the recruiter was not very helpful and virtually non-responsive when I had questions, which I am learning is not unusual. I would like to approach company A again at a later date under my own representation. (Perhaps that is not the best attitude to have going into a new position, but my long-term career goal would be better served at company A.)

Can you please tell me how long this recruiter controls my resume at company A, and at what point the company may consider me without the original recruiter’s involvement?

My Advice

People get it into their heads that headhunters have some sort of magical powers, or that they control companies and jobs. It’s not true. The headhunter may have no rights at all if you contact company A on your own. A lot depends on what kind of headhunter or recruiter you’re dealing with.

To understand how to work effectively with headhunters, it’s important to know the differences between retained and contingency headhunters, employment agencies, job shops and career management firms. Also relevant are the kinds of contracts employers and headhunters use. Perhaps most important in this case is knowing how employers routinely deal with headhunters. It’s not complicated, but if you don’t know how employers manage headhunters you’ll never be able to manage them yourself. I cover all these issues and more (including how to find headhunters and how to leverage them to negotiate the best salary offers) in How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

How long company A would respect the recruiter’s involvement depends on a few things.

Did the recruiter send you to an interview with the company?
If no interview took place, I think you could reapply at any time without a conflict, though I’d probably wait a few months to avoid irritating the headhunter. If you had an interview, it depends on the company’s policy and on the contract it has with the recruiter–if there is one at all.

Did the headhunter give the company your resume?
Companies usually rely on an actual interview as proof of the recruiter’s referral. If the headhunter submitted your resume but there’s no interview, the headhunter probably has no claim to you. However, if the personnel office read and tagged your resume REJECT, and you then reapply on your own, the initial rejection may be invoked and you’re toast.

I don’t think it’s ethical to go around a headhunter who introduced you to a job and a company. But if that headhunter was not able to get you in the door for an interview, then he probably has no claim on you. You could approach the company anew on your own.

How about if the headhunter got you an interview, but you were not hired? The headhunter’s contract with the employer might earn him a fee if you are hired within a certain period of time. Here’s what I’d do to test the waters. Have a friend call the company’s personnel manager to find out what the policy about headhunters is.

How to Say It:

“I’d like to ask about your headhunter policy, but I’d rather not disclose my name. If I interviewed with you through a recruiter at one time [don’t say when–the less info the better], and then I came back to apply for a job myself, would you consider me without the recruiter’s involvement? What are your rules about that?”

Don’t make this call yourself. There is no telling how the personnel manager might react, and you don’t want this to backfire. (I see nothing inappropriate or unethical about someone calling a company to ask about its policy.)

Where confusion might arise is if the headhunter (or recruiter) works for a “job shop” or “consulting firm.” These businesses will recruit and hire you, put you on their own payroll, and assign you to do work at their clients’ offices. A contract protects the recruiter from company A “poaching” you without a fee, after the recruiter made the initial introduction. And that’s as it should be. The contract probably locks you out of company A for one or more years, unless the recruiter is involved. (There’s an entire section in the aforementioned book about job shops and how to protect your options when working with them. There’s also a section that answers the question, Can I fire the headhunter?)

The best way to settle this might be to notify the headhunter that you consider his involvement with you terminated. (While this is a powerful move, it might end your relationship completely.) There’s a special How to Say It section in How to Work with Headhunters about how to handle this effectively.

Know what you’re doing when you work with headhunters. A good headhunter can boost you into the next phase of your career. An inexperienced headhunter might frustrate you by being unresponsive, and your misunderstanding of his role could cost you a great job.

Have you ever had to cut the cord to a headhunter? What happened? Were you able to “get back in the door” at a company where a headhunter failed to get you an interview (or to get you hired)?

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Don’t Get Hired, Get Acquired: Audio from Cornell workshop

The April 3, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a SPECIAL AUDIO EDITION.

(This is no April Fool!)

On Sunday, April 1, I conducted a workshop for a group of Executive MBAs at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management. (These guys attend the EMBA program on weekends!) The topic was the differences between applying for a job and delivering profit to a company.

The presentation ran almost two hours, and the discussion and debate were lively. One of the key points we explored was about how we view employers and jobs when we go job hunting, and how employers view us.

  • Are you being interviewed to help a company fill out its open headcount?
  • Or are you more like a business the company is considering acquiring or merging with?

The difference in these two approaches is profound.

I don’t think anyone should behave like “the next hire.” I think every time you approach a company about working together, you should be prepared to show that you are a profit-making operation unto yourself.

Are you ready to get acquired? Please listen to this brief section of the Cornell presentation:

 

      Don't get hired, get acquired

 

Now here’s an excerpt from the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers? (p. 9) that explains how to Create your next job, rather than just get a pre-made job:

How do you inspire a company to create a new job for you? Forget about your credentials, your history and your past jobs. They are irrelevant. If that’s what you focus on when searching for a new job, you’ll shoehorn yourself into the same kind of job you just left.

Decide where you want to work. Study your target company. Explore the problems and challenges it is facing and figure out how you can help the company tackle them profitably. Apply your skills and abilities in new ways to re-define your qualifications. Think in terms of what the company needs but doesn’t have: That’s your new job. That’s the business plan you need to present.

The job you want to create is essentially a new business. But don’t expect your target company to figure out whether this “new business” is justified. You must be ready to explain it to them. Show how you’ll deliver profit in new ways. That’s what may prompt the company create a new job just for you.

(How Can I Change Careers? isn’t just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out from their competition.)

I think we’ll find the value in this topic in the discussion more than in what I have to say.

What does it mean to get acquired or to merge with a company?

  • How does this change the way you’d approach a new gig?
  • Does it change salary negotiations?
  • Do you even need to apply for a job — or what’s the new alternative this approach suggests?
  • Have you ever felt like you were acquired — or merged — rather than just hired?

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