Don’t be afraid of a C-level contact

In the September 27, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter says he’s got personal introductions to two C-level execs at a company where he wants to work. He worries, is it even a good idea to use them?

The CEO of my former company just gave me two of the best contacts that one could ever hope for. It turns out that he worked at the company in which I’m now interested. He gave me the direct numbers of the CEO and CIO there, and his permission to use his name liberally.

The problem is that I wouldn’t be reporting directly to either of these gentlemen. I technically fall under the CIO’s umbrella, but far removed — I want a web developer job that they have available.

Another problem is that I don’t know anyone else in this company of about 500 people. So how do I take advantage of these contacts without having the whole thing blow up in my face? Should I even try contacting them if they’re not going to be the ones to whom I’d be reporting? This might be as bad as trying to contact HR. Please advise.

My Advice

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The best thing you could do is ask your CEO buddy to call one of these people and recommend you. This is very powerful. If your old friend thinks so much of you, he should be willing to make the call.

Alternately, you could call the CIO, since that’s the area you’d be in, and say your old CEO suggested you call him. But: Do not ask for a job.

How to Say It

“Joe Smith, my former CEO at ABC Company, strongly suggested that I get in touch with you. He thinks I should consider a job at your company. I’m a web developer and I’m trying to get a deeper sense of what’s important to your company in its web presence. I don’t believe in interviewing just because there’s a job open — I like to make sure I understand a business first, and to make sure I can offer something useful and profitable. Do you have a few minutes to tell me a bit about your IT philosophy and your organization?”

Don’t ask for a job

The point is to focus on what a CIO is interested in: strategy and philosophy of IT. Then let him (or her) talk. At the end, state clearly that you’re interested in working for his company and ask if he feels you’re someone the company would be interested in.

How to Say It

“If you think it’s a good idea, I’d like to talk with someone on your web development team who can tell me more about the operation.”

If he tries to send you to HR, politely explain that you’re glad to talk with HR, but first you’d like to get more information about the web work being done there. Here’s how to say it:

(This part of my advice is omitted. It’s for newsletter subscribers only. Subscribe to the newsletter  to read all of next week’s Q&A! It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)

Note that you’re not trying to apply for a job through the CEO or CIO. The goal is to use your old CEO’s personal contacts to help you develop the relevant contacts you need in this company — in the IT department — not just to apply for a job.

Use the contact to make better contacts

Don’t be afraid of a C-level contact, and don’t feel awkward making these calls. You’ve been introduced. Talk shop with these execs, not about applying for a specific job. Use your conversations to learn about them and to expand your circle of contacts. Then ask for referrals to others in the company who can talk shop with you, and you’ll be in the door before you know it.

It’s almost always best, when you’re talking to someone higher up than you, to ask for advice and guidance. Use those exact words:

How to Say It

“I’d like to ask you for a little advice and guidance about how someone with my skills could help your web development team be even more successful.”

Have you ever used an executive contact to get ahead? If you’re an exec, have you given this kind of help? This is a topic that doesn’t get much discussion because many people feel awkward about making that call to an exec. How do you get over the hump?

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3 Ways to Be a Smarter Job Candidate

In the September 20, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wonders how to get smarter, negotiate better, and avoid getting taken advantage of:

I had what may be a “Eureka moment.” I’ve been accused of lacking the “cojones” to handle interviewing and the job market, and I think it’s true. I started my career when companies treated people with respect. Today, employers deliberately set things up so that the job candidate is at a huge disadvantage. The rules have changed so that employers can really take advantage of the diligent, loyal folks who have the 1950’s work ethic.

They make an offer and demand you respond within 24 hours, or it is rescinded. They make statements in interviews that they back out of as soon as you take the job. Don’t assume that they will send you a health insurance card, or that the work week is 40 hours, or that there’s even time to eat lunch. One place I worked made everyone buy their own pens and office supplies. You almost need a bulldog lawyer to negotiate everything for you.

People have told me I have a “golden retriever” personality—too eager to please and to be a good employee. I need to be more skeptical, and I need to be a much tougher negotiator. It is hard when you really need a job, but I’ve learned the hard way not to be so trusting. It may be better to risk ticking off an employer, or losing out on a job, than to take the job and find that someone took advantage of your good nature. How can I get smarter? How can I be a better negotiator? Can you help me out?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to set your standards and expectations high. Then judge others accordingly.

One way to approach this is to politely make the employer jump a few hoops, too. The lousy ones will refuse, and that saves you time. I doubt it will cost you any good opportunities. My advice: Quickly find out what kind of people you’re dealing with. If there’s a problem, move on. Here are some suggestions.

First

Make a list of what you think is reasonable behavior from an employer, so you’ll be more aware of what to look for. If an employer doesn’t measure up, call them on it. Give them a chance to try again. Their reaction will tell a lot by itself. Here’s an example.

How to Say It
“Thanks for the offer. I’m very pleased about it, but I cannot make a decision in 24 hours. I’ll tell you why. I want to stay with the company I join for the long haul, so I want to make sure it’s the right match. Before I accept, I’d like to spend a little time with people I’d be working with, and with people in related departments. Can we schedule some brief meetings with managers and employees in [manufacturing, finance, whatever] asap? Then I can assure you of a quick answer to your offer. I appreciate your consideration. It will help us both to make a wise decision.”

Massage the wording to suit your style. It’s a reasonable request, and I think it will quickly reveal which companies are good and which are lousy.

Second

Another way to be more assertive (and to protect yourself): Ask for the full employee manual and benefits package at your first interview, or before it. Hey, they have all your info in your resume and application, right? You want their info. If they won’t give you copies after your first interview, thank them and walk away. Don’t waste your time.

Third

(This part of my advice is omitted. It’s for newsletter subscribers only. Subscribe to the newsletter to read all of next week’s Q&A! It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)

There are good companies out there. You have to weed out the rest, and these are some ways to do it. Of course, you must be polite, reasonable and very professional. Never be pushy, demanding, or rude or presumptuous. Wear a big smile, grow some cojones, and be firm. Sure, this will cost you what people loosely refer to as “opportunities”—but they are really nothing at all.

Know what your standards are. Go in with a positive attitude. Stand firm the first time they push you where you don’t want to go.

Some employers demonstrate high standards. Others smile a lot and bite you where it hurts. Learn to tell one from the other by testing them. Today’s Q&A offers 3 suggestions. How do you test a company before you accept a job offer? Have you been bitten?

How can job candidates be smarter and negotiate better? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


The Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is 9 years old today! That’s worth a special deal!

To celebrate, I’m offering an extra $5 off the 2-Book Bundle! Discount code: 9YEARS. This discount code is good only until Friday, September 23, and only on the 2-Book Bundle! Click here to order, and type 9YEARS in the discount code box when ordering!

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Bankrupt & Unemployed: How to Say It

In the last post, Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?, we discussed how a reader who is applying for a job (and who is qualified) might overcome obstacles that come up when the employer does a background check. Problems like bankruptcy triggered by long-term unemployment — and a year-old DUI (driving while intoxicated) violation.

Knowing what to do is one thing. Facing the employer and knowing what to say — and being able to say it — is something else. In this edition, let’s discuss How to Say It.

There are two keys to convincing an employer to take a chance on you:

  1. Personal recommendations from credible people who know your character and your work ethic.
  2. A clear commitment — which the employer will never ask for, but which you must offer in order to get a job offer. To find out what that commitment should be, please watch the video.

What would you say to a hiring manager to get past such obstacles? And if you’re a manager, what would a candidate need to say and do to convince you to give him or her a chance?
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How can I find out whether a job board is the real deal?

In the August 30, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks:

Have you ever heard of JobSearchSite Inc., dba NOW? It sounds good, but how do you check on them to see if they’re the real deal?

My reply:

In this edition, let’s try an experiment: Video. Hope you enjoy it.

There are so many job boards coming and going that it’s impossible to keep up — but I don’t even want to. While your competition is getting interviews and offers, you’d be spending your entire life trying to check these places out. Or you could pick four companies you’d love to work for and go research them instead, to make personal contacts who will give you the real low-down and help you get in the door.

Remember: There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. Choose carefully and approach doggedly.

I already know how the Ask The Headhunter community feels about job boards… but tell me, what’s your favorite alternative that produces results? (Are there any job boards you like?)

So… how’d this video experment come off? (Other than my novice production values!) Is video Q&A to your liking? Should we do more of these? Hit me with your critique — too long, too short, get a new shirt, stop the rapid eye movements (sorry, I had to use a few notes…), add a CNN backdrop… use hand puppets…?

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You blew the interview? Fess up and fix it.

In the August 16, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a rejected job hunter fesses up that he got cocky and didn’t prepare for his interview.

Question

I have five years experience in a technical job and I want to move into a related management role. I’m the go-to guy in the department and I am considered a “vital” part of the team by both my peers and senior management. When I presented a case for the creation of a management role and development of a team, it was largely ignored and placed on the “long finger.” The whole experience made me realize I need to focus on moving my career forward.

I recently interviewed for a management job with a company that I have long admired. The job itself is a carbon copy of my current position, but it would include two or three people working under me. I was called back for a second interview, but I was unsuccessful in moving forward to the next phase.

On reflection, there were several reasons I probably didn’t move forward including being too cocky leading up to the interview, and thus not being 100% prepared. I don’t think my desire to change jobs was shining through in the interview.

The logical next step for me is management. How can I make this transition? Many thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

You probably nailed the reason why you failed the interview. You weren’t prepared for the meeting, and maybe a bit cocky. You blew it. While you seem to have admitted your mistake, you said nothing about what you plan to do about this. It’s not even clear to me that you care — you just want to move on to the next opportunity.

A manager doesn’t just tackle a project. A manager gets it done. And if the manager makes a mistake, he doesn’t just walk away. The key here is that you recognize what you did wrong. A good manager figures out what he did wrong, tunes up his approach, and goes back at it. Is it possible that the employer who interviewed you thinks you’re not interested in correcting your mistake? I don’t know, but my concern is that you don’t seem to care.

Before you move on to the next management opportunity, fix what you did wrong this time. There’s probably nothing to lose in taking another shot, and what you’ll gain is self-respect and perhaps a second chance. My advice is not to give up so quickly. Go back to the employer who already invested in two meetings with you.

I’d either call the manager, or send a short note. Fess up and fix it. The note is for fessing up, and the plan that you attach is for fixing it.

How To Say It

“I apologize for being a bit cocky in my interview. The truth is, I was distracted by some issues at my current job, and I didn’t carefully analyze your needs to formulate a useful response. While it may be too late, I need to do this for the sake of my own integrity. Attached please find an outline of my understanding of the job you need done, and what seem to be the key problems and challenges. Along with that, I include a brief plan for how I would do the job for you, describing how I’d achieve the three main objectives, and my estimate of how my work would contribute to your bottom line. This is how I try to approach any job, including the one I’m doing now. I didn’t accomplish this in my interview with you. I’m sorry if I wasted your time when we met. I want you to know I take every job seriously, whether I win it or not. Thanks for your time. I hope you find something useful in what I wrote for you. If you find my comments worthy of further discussion, you won’t regret meeting with me again.”

The details of this approach are covered in detail in How Can I Change Careers?, a PDF book that I should probably re-title, because it’s not just for career changers, but for anyone who’s changing jobs and wants to stand out in the interview. It teaches how to show an employer that hiring you will be a profitable decision. If an employer can’t figure out whether it’s worth giving you a shot at a management job, you must prove that it’s a wise choice. The interviewer won’t figure it out for herself. That’s why you must submit a plan showing how you’ll do the work.

If you want to be the “go-to guy” in a management job, I think you need to get back in touch with that employer. Show that you know how to handle rejection by changing your approach and by acting like a versatile manager. If you hear nothing back, chalk it up to learning. Either way, you will have developed the plan you need to approach any promotion to a management job.

(Here on the blog, I usually print only a part of the advice I offer in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter — and we discuss the topic here. This week, I ran it all. Next week, it’ll be a partial reprint once again. But don’t miss another issue! Be on top of the discussion! It’s free!Sign up for the weekly newsletter!)

Can you go back after the employer says No?

It happens to everyone at some point. You blow it in the job interview. You know why, and you feel like a dope. You could have performed much better. Can you go back for another bite at the apple? Have you done it? Did it work?

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Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m

Rude employers who don’t bother to follow up with job candidates after interviews, even after promising a hiring decision within X number of days, are a staple topic on Ask The Headhunter. And it’s no wonder — job applicants are fed up with, “Hurry up and submit your application! Hurry up and fill out the forms! Hurry up and show up for an interview! Then hurry up and wait while we contemplate our navels!”

Comments on I really, really want this job, a discussion about frustrated job hunters, turned back to the problem of employers that fail to display the most basic courtesies.

Reader LT commented:

Back when HR was “wages and benefits”, management made darn sure there were hoards of fresh-faced stenographers and typists to crank out correspondence of all types, including but not limited to “We thank you for your interest in XYZ Company, and will have a decision by Friday next.”

But, complains LT, after you do all that HR asks of you, “the next sound you hear is utter, complete rude, deafening silence.”

Were companies better citizens then?  I don’t know.  I do know that, at least form a potential employee’s perspective, their “corporate culture” is so blatantly demeaning that it is beyond comprehension why anyone would care to work there.

LT raises a very good question. What changed?

Is it the lack of support staff to write thank-you notes? I think it’s a far more serious and systemic problem. In many companies, HR doesn’t behave respectfully any more because it has boxed itself in.

As a profession, HR has created a monster. While some HR departments actually recruit, HR on the whole funds job applicant sources like Monster.com, CareerBuilder, HotJobs, TheLadders to the tune of billions of dollars a year. For what? To ensure a massive, untenable, unworkable, impossible-to-process pipeline of incoming job applicants.

When HR got into bed with the databases, its standards slipped, and thoughtful, careful recruitment turned into a mindless, sloppy, “volume” business. Sorry, LT, but there is simply no way for HR to process all the incoming “applicant” crap it pays for, much less send out nice notes to people it interviews. Personnel jockeys are drowning in the drek gushing out of the job board pipe. They have no time to actually deal with candidates.

The good HR folks out there know who they are. They’re selective. They’re respectful. But the rest of HR has made its bed, inviting too many to jump in. Today, Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m is how HR does it, and don’t expect a call tomorrow.

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LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring

I don’t know who I feel more sorry for: Job hunters or employers. LinkedIn has introduced a new button that lets you instantly apply for a job — no resume, no cover letter, no effort. It’s instantly dumber for everyone concerned. (From Mashable: LinkedIn Launches Button That Lets You Apply for Jobs.)

The last thing job hunters and employers need is a quicker, easier way to apply for a job. What we need is more prudent, thoughtful, and careful job hunting and hiring — which means improving the process, not speeding it up. LinkedIn’s new button puts the emphasis on getting an application in quickly — while LinkedIn’s founding philosophy is that making good contacts and cultivating relationships requires effort and patience.

It’s dumb ideas like this that instantly put you into even more mindless competition with thousands, if not millions, of other instant applicants. This is why employers find themselves sorting through more and more drek applications. A bigger, fatter pipeline with a button that accelerates the flow of crud doesn’t improve recruiting and hiring. It instantly devalues LinkedIn’s equity in the personal networks it has worked so hard to facilitate.

LinkedIn’s New Career

LinkedIn, the bastion of online “social networking” and “relationships,” seemed to have taken a smart turn when it announced its “careers” initiative a few months ago. The company would offer tools to help employers and job hunters find one another, using LinkedIn as their path to personal contacts that yield the best working relationships.

The social networking company started building a new career service by hiring some top-notch business development folks from top-tier companies — implying it was going to build on the success of the networking tools it has become so famous for. Then LinkedIn drove off the road, and picked up churn-’em and burn-’em sales people from the big job boards and — Presto! — LinkedIn is now dumbing down hiring and job searching, just like Monster and HotJobs and CareerBuilder.

What’s the brilliant new idea these sales nomads from the job boards dragged in the door? Now you can apply for a job with a button.

A Button for The Drek Pipe

Gimme a break. We’ve seen it before: A hot company does an IPO and suddenly loses sight of its essence and turns the reins over to a management team with a solid history of selling commodities faster and harder. Where LinkedIn once preached use your contacts and your brain, now it’s selling volume and instant.

The highly-motivated new hires that LinkedIn originally brought in to launch the careers initiative — we’re talking cream-of-the-crop, seasoned relationship-builders from some of today’s leading companies — were given marching orders to extend LinkedIn’s dominance in social networking into the career sphere. That’s what lured them to LinkedIn. And it all sounded great: a natural extension of one of the most valued brands on the Web.

But in short order, LinkedIn went from selling the value of networking and personal relationships to dialing for dollars and pulling a Ladders-type about-face. (Remember TheLadders’ “exclusive” services for “executives only?” What a promising concept! Today TheLadders is just another job board selling database access for $15/month to any sucker who’s inbetween HotJobs and Monster.)

Like a lot of entrepreneurs with a great idea, Reed Hoffman implemented his idea as a database. Like a lot of great concepts supported by databases, Hoffman’s great idea became the database — with the result that LinkedIn’s database is now the product. It’s far easier to expand a database and to sell access to it, than it is to think up new ways to make personal relationships generate profits.

It seems LinkedIn has abandoned the concept that made it so successful.

Selling The Database

The impressive business development and relationship-building experts the company hired last year found that their long-range objectives had suddenly morphed into boiler-room-style monthly quotas. They were told to hit the phones and start burning through call lists. Selling the commodity and closing quick deals became more important than developing relationships that would lead to long-term business. The word on the street is that LinkedIn’s primo new hires, who believed in the mission, found themselves cast aside.

Their replacements, a second-string crew of telemarketers (reportedly including some from the likes of Monster.com), were closing deals with employers — but hardly relationship-building deals. Word got out that companies would sign up to search the database to make one hire, then bolt. The telemarketers weren’t selling a relationship with LinkedIn. They were hawking short-term access to a database, slapping the high-quality LinkedIn brand on Monster.com-level services.

It looks like the promising links between career development and thoughtful networking via LinkedIn snapped.

The Button: Impulse Job Hunting

I held off on commenting on what I’ve seen, hoping that LinkedIn was just straying momentarily from its mission to link all people and all companies into an incredibly facile network based on knowledge and solid relationships. I hoped LinkedIn would get back to the knitting. I visited Linkedin.com’s About section, hoping to find LinkedIn’s mission statement, or at least a definition of what the company’s objectives are; something that would indicate the company could find its way back. To my surprise, LinkedIn has no statement of purpose, or even a definition of what the company does. Not unlike TheLadders, LinkedIn defines itself by its database and with statistics about all its members. There’s not a word about the value of relationships and connections. It’s all about the database — the path to job board perdition.

Then I saw the announcement in the Mashable article: Just push the LinkedIn button. Says Mashable:

“The button is much like the Twitter tweet button or the Facebook Like button… The button essentially lets you submit your LinkedIn profile as your resume — no cover letter necessary.”

How much dumber can the career industry get? Job boards have turned HR departments into swill pots of incoming drek from job hunters who have learned to play the numbers and apply for every job they can find, whether it’s a fit for them or not. There are more inappropriate candidates in HR’s inbox than ever — and now LinkedIn makes applying for a job no more thoughtful than liking a website.

LinkedIn’s great accomplishment is to make job hunting an “impulse buy.” A drive-by app. Dumber than dumb. Could the database whizzes at LinkedIn already be busy building that mobile app? Drive by a company, submit an application via your smartphone! See a product ad or an article about a company? Scan the code and Bam! your application is in! It could be a great place to work! Don’t hesitate!

Ever wonder why employers never call you back or return your calls after you go on a job interviews? This is why. Expect more of it.

Just Another Job Board: Wishful thinking for dummies

On the comments section of the aforementioned Mashable article, reader Mike Young says:

“Will apply for all of them ;-)”

Another says:

“Awesome! Now all we need is an “Apply All” button so we can make the job apps fly.”

Mike Young sounds like he’s kidding. But LinkedIn isn’t. LinkedIn just made it easier for Mike to act dumb (if he chooses), and easier for employers to be dumber. LinkedIn could post its mission statement as one simple sentence: Wishful thinking for dummies.

Good jobs come from great personal contacts and from the hard work of building solid relationships. (If Reid Hoffman is reading this, Remember why you started LinkedIn? Do we need another job board?) There’s an astonishing amount of talent on the street today, due to our uncertain economy. Rather than recruit intelligently, employers waste untold overhead dollars “processing” millions of inappropriate incoming applications from thoughtless job hunters who believe the more jobs they apply to, the better.

Now LinkedIn has created a button to make it even easier to apply for any job that comes along. (What’s the harm, eh? The more, the better! HR departments will love it!)

Dumber Living Through Databases

George Carlin had a great line: Suppose you could have everything in the world? Where would you put it?

Today, every employer has every job hunter’s information, and every job hunter has every job listing on the planet — right there, online. And none of them know where to put it.

LinkedIn was a great idea. It could be fostering a whole new era of job hunting and hiring, by showing people how to cultivate relationships and parlay them into opportunities to work together. But rather than raise the bar, LinkedIn’s career team is taking a reductionist approach. Rather than delivering the hope of good relationships by teaching people how to behave smarter, LinkedIn is selling a database.

Rather than create new career services based on the company’s trademark networking and relationship-building, LinkedIn has allowed its brand to be commandeered by the same people who brought you “better living through job boards.” Having turned Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and HotJobs into useless data dumps, they’ve glommed onto LinkedIn as a Great Brand ripe to be ransacked. But the brand can’t cover up the same-old dumb business model that cheats employers of their time and money, and job hunters of good job prospects.

Get Back to Work

LinkedIn is still a good idea, but if you want to use it to find a job, you’re better off using it the way it was originally intended. You have to invest your time to develop relationships that LinkedIn merely helps you start. You can’t send LinkedIn, like a dog with a note in its mouth, to apply for a job for you.

Don’t be a dummy. Don’t get suckered into another job-board-style “career service” that will do the work for you. No one can do this for you.

Check out Jason Alba’s LinkedIn For Job Seekers. Alba teaches you how to exploit the LinkedIn database by using your brain to develop and cultivate healthy relationships by doing a lot of hard work.

If you push the button, your naked LinkedIn profile instantly arrives — and sits — in some personnel jockey’s inbox while the job hunter who carefully cultivated a personal contact is already talking to the hiring manager. And you just look dumb and dumber by the minute.

So does LinkedIn.

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Butterflies in your interviews?

In the July 26, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter says butterflies interfere with interviews. What can be done?

I consider myself a fairly intelligent and eloquent person with strong skills in my field. Yet, when I go into an interview I turn into Elmer Fudd! I tend to make such comments as, “I think I could be real good at this job!” I’m sure I’m like most people: I get the proverbial butterflies in my stomach.

Only after the interview do the things I should have said start flooding into my mind. (I’ve tried role-plays, but they do not seem to help.) I’m sure this has cost me opportunities. What can I do? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Butterflies are very common, even among some of the most talented people I know (including executives). I’ll offer two suggestions to help you control butterflies.

1. Read Don’t Compete With Yourself. This article will teach you some simple ways to avoid pre-interview tension, and how to stay calm during your meeting.

2. Try The New Interview. Prepare a 20-minute presentation for the employer, and show how you’re going to contribute to the company’s profitability. This might sound daunting, especially to someone who gets nervous, but once you learn to do it for one employer, the next ones will be a lot easier.

The power of this approach lies in the fact that once you’re this prepared, you’ll never again get butterflies in your stomach.

You see, people get butterflies when they’re not completely prepared. They consequently (and naturally) feel unsure of themselves. I know what you’re thinking: “But I am prepared!” I doubt you are prepared to the extent I’m talking about.

Prepared means being able to outline two or three specific problems and challenges the employer faces, and then presenting a plan to handle them. (Don’t provide too much detail, because then you’d be working for free and giving away your assets.)

When you truly understand the business… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

If you think this level of preparation is a huge investment, you’re right. The employer thinks hiring you is a pretty huge investment, too. If you’re not prepared to do the job in the interview, then your competition — the candidate I coached to do what I suggest above — will blow you out of the water like a dead fish.

Consider this carefully: You can’t do this level of preparation for the 400 companies you’ve sent your resume to, because there aren’t 400 jobs for you. Thus, you must pick your targets very carefully.

When you achieve this level of business interaction, you are not interviewing. You are in a meeting where you’re doing the job. That’s such a liberating experience that nervousness almost completely disappears. It works. Try it.

Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you interview? Why do you think? Or do you have nerves of steel and demonstrate confidence? How do you do it?

Where does a good job candidate’s power come from? And how can you develop yours?

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Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?

In the July 12, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter questions whether it’s prudent — or even possible, when forced to use an online form — to say NO to an employer that demands your salary history.

Question

I read your article “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.” While I found it to be an excellent article overall, I couldn’t help but wonder when it was written. Within the last several years, many employers have moved their application process to the web. Current salary (along with desired salary) is a required field in the online application, and there is no option to quote a salary range.

In this economic downturn, with so many people still without employment, the competition is beyond fierce. It’s definitely an employer’s market these days. Unless you are a highly sought-after executive or the best of the best in your field, the company has plenty of other applicants to move onto if you don’t provide the information they are seeking. 

As an HR professional, I don’t mind giving them my desired salary range, because I keep up with the market and I have done my homework. However, I despise the question, “What are you making currently?”, or, in my case, “What were you making in your last position?” As you state in your article, I don’t believe it’s anyone’s business, and it definitely has no bearing on what the job is worth. Yet, can I (or anyone else who is unemployed due to the recession) afford to be “contrary?”

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

I wrote that article several years ago. But it’s still valid. I know the pressure is on, and employers don’t make it any easier with their cattle-call job applications. It’s up to you to protect your integrity.

salary history

Say NO to demands for salary history

I think good candidates must be contrary. They must stand out. Withholding salary history is not indicative of an uncooperative candidate. Demanding it reveals a company that’s not going to negotiate based on the candidate’s value. This is fundamentally wrong. I think you’re letting an employer’s poor management practices seduce you into complicity.

Don’t let application forms intimidate you

If an online application requires salary history, ignore the application. Find a better way in the door. As you point out, if you don’t cooperate, the company has plenty of other applicants who will do what they’re told, and destroy their ability to negotiate. Let the company have them. It wants cows, not people who think and act outside the box. Join a company like that, by playing along, and soon you’ll be looking for yet another job. The herd mentality hurts employers that rely on it, too—especially in difficult economic times.

Read what a successful job hunter has to say about this. He attended a presentation that I gave at Cornell University recently, then he interviewed for a top job.

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: Never divulge my current salary, and Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done. They oughta make you a Cornell professor! I can already see that the one hour you spent with us will have as much impact on my MBA ROI as any class that I have taken in the program, if not more so.” — Rich Mok

That presentation was based on How to Work With Headhunters. The audience was a group of corporate executives in Cornell’s Johnson School of Management Executive MBA program. You don’t have to be an executive to stand your ground, but you do have to be the right candidate. (Otherwise, you have no business applying for the job!) Rich Mok reveals how to redirect an employer’s attention: Show what you’ll do to make the company more successful. Your salary history (and your resume) won’t matter so much. I’ve seen this work at every level of compensation.

Don’t compromise yourself to appease an employer

You clearly agree that salary history is no one’s business. Then why capitulate and compromise yourself? You need not forego an opportunity if the application requires salary history. You just have to demonstrate your mettle and find a better way in the door. Being contrary when the world behaves foolishly doesn’t mean you’ll be rejected. It makes you stand out. It’s what makes you worth hiring — and worth interviewing.

Do employers force you to disclose your salary history? It’s a perennial argument. You feel you can’t afford to say NO when an employer demands your salary history. I say you can’t afford to disclose private information.

So, what do you do? Can you protect your integrity and still apply for the job?

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Advice for the long-term unemployed

In the May 23, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how “starting a business” can be the path from long-term unemployment to a new job.

Do you have any advice for the long-term unemployed? Since I’m not getting anywhere by job hunting, I’m considering starting a business, if only to keep myself busy! Then I remembered: You wrote somewhere that, in this economy, starting a business might be the best way to get hired. This sounds like a mental puzzle. Can you explain?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

You say this sounds like a mental puzzle, but it really isn’t. You’ve been brainwashed to believe that your objective is to find a job. It’s not. Your objective is to make money and to earn a living. Shift your focus, and you’ll save yourself a lot of agony…

What does it take to start a business? You need a concept, a business plan, the right talent, and evidence that it will work. Ask any venture capitalist: That’s what she looks for before investing.

…To get a business started, you need to demonstrate that it will produce profit. Otherwise, who will give you money? Not investors and not customers. (Whether they realize it or not, this is why employers don’t give out job offers, either. They don’t see the profit.) So, you must bust your buns to produce a sound plan. That’s really what this is all about.

…In the process of producing a plan to start a business, you’ll show how you’d “do the job.” In courting investors and prospective customers, you’ll have proved your concept and yourself. You will have gone a hundred miles beyond the typical job candidate, who sits and answers canned questions with clever answers culled from some book that lists thousands of them.

What’s this got to do with ending long-term unemployment, and getting a job?

The plan is the job. When you deliver your business plan to a savvy prospective customer, to a potential business partner, to an an investor, to a supplier, or even to a competitor, you will find that some of these folks will want to hire you to work for them.

This is how I once landed a job. I shared my plans to start a business with the president of a company that would have been my competitor. (Don’t be surprised—such discussions happen all the time. Smart executives are always glad to meet with up-and-comers. It’s their way of defending their turf.) When he saw how good my plan was, he realized I would be serious competition. Since I’d “figured out the business,” that made me worth hiring. There was no job interview, just the discussion of my business plan. I planned this from the start, but the company president never figured that out. I made a lot of money for that guy—and for myself.

(…Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get the entire “Answer” and commentary in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

(Don’t wrinkle your nose or shake your head, just because this suggestion is foreign to your notions of what job hunting is. Remember? They’re not giving out jobs. So, why worry whether this is “proper job hunting?”)

People wind up long-term unemployed in this economy for many reasons. One step out of this quandary is realizing that you must be able to show how you’ll make money and profit — so, get to work starting a business. Formulate a plan — it can be a very simple one — and shop it around. Do you really think a resume would be more impressive?

Tired of being unemployed? Hire yourself. Or threaten to. A competitor might hire you first. Can a business plan really get you hired?

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