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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Readers’ Forum: The ethics of juggling job offers

In the September 21, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to deal with two job offers, when you accept one then a better one arrives a few days later.

Question

I am in this dilemma and read your article about Juggling Job Offers. Yours is the only one that says to accept the first job offer, and when the second job (which would be a better offer and more suitable) presents itself, then retract acceptance of the first job offer.

However, the other articles and guidance suggests not doing this at all as it is unethical and can damage one’s reputation in a given industry. I have gone back to the first company and gotten a decision window of one week to decide. The timing is off as I need one more week for the second job’s response and possible offer.

Do I ask for yet another extension? Any thoughts?

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Sorry, but I don’t buy the ethics angle on this. As I point out in the article, if a company lays you off six months after hiring you, is it behaving unethically? No. It’s a business decision. What if it lays you off a week after you start, due to unexpected financial setbacks? What’s the real difference?

How many job offers do you really have?

The fact is, in a situation like this, you are not making a choice between two job offers. You are making a binary choice: Yes or No to one job. While I hope the other offer comes through, I can tell you that in many years of headhunting I’ve seen most “sure thing” offers go south. Either they are delayed indefinitely, or they never come through.

Is this about ethics or business?

I agree that accepting then rescinding your acceptance can have an effect on your reputation. But likewise, a layoff has an effect on an employer’s reputation. Still, sometimes it happens out of necessity. It doesn’t make the company (or you) unethical. It’s a business decision.

I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of rescinding an acceptance. But to behave as though the second offer is a sure thing is to put the first offer at risk. Is it unethical to continue to ask the first company — which has stuck out its neck and and made a commitment to you — to keep extending the decision deadline?

How many times will the second company need “one more week” to produce the offer, if it produces one at all?

Sorry, but a bird in the hand is the only bird you’ve got! Decide about that, and then deal with the future later.

For more about this thorny topic — and how to deal with job offer challenges — see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers.

Am I being unethical? Is it wrong to accept an offer then change your mind because a new offer is better?

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Military transition & discipline

My office is nice and cozy. I have a big cherry-wood desk and a great chair. Views of woods and grass through lots of big windows. It’s a peaceful habitat.  No one bothers me. I know I’m safe, and in a few hours I’m gonna see my wife and kids. So now I’m going to try and show my gratitude to one guy who foregoes everything I just described, every day and every hour, to ensure that I can enjoy what I have all day long, every day. That, and my thanks, won’t make him one bit safer where he is, but I hope maybe it’ll help him through his military transition into a good job when he returns home.

military transitionQuestion

Nick,

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog in my free time over the past week. I’m a Captain in the US Army, currently stationed in Iraq and making the transition to civilian life in the next 6 months. I was wondering if you had any tips for someone in this unique situation that could smooth the transition from a mid-level military officer to a managerial or leadership position in the business world?

I’m currently serving in the Logistics branch, so I believe my skill set will translate well, but I need some pointers on how to sell it. As officers, we are bombarded with spam from headhunting firms and database job mills (often to our professional email addresses). The majority of my peers have used these services with mixed results. Perhaps you could give some guidance in one of your upcoming posts?

Thanks for your time,

Kevin W. Ryan
CPT, LG
ISF Logistician

Nick’s Reply

Hi, Captain Ryan,

Thanks for what you and all our military do for us — I’m glad to offer any advice I can, hoping it might be useful.

Here’s the best initial suggestion I can make to you:

  • Don’t go looking for open jobs.
  • Avoid the job postings and ads.

If it’s open and posted, the competition is already so huge that your odds of success have dropped like a rock. The quality of your credentials and skills is almost irrelevant because the systems (human and otherwise) used to sort through applicants is not good at separating signal from noise.

Your best bet is to figure out what you’d like to do, and who you’d like to work for. Start with industry — which one? It helps to start with good targets. Don’t waste time with second-tier companies. Start with the best, the shining lights, whether they’re big or small. Research their operations, figure out what job functions might match your skills and interests. (Don’t get too specific. Like the guy said, most of what we know we learned in Kindergarten. The rest is about riding a fast learning curve without falling off.) The key is that it’s up to you to map your skills onto the work, as best you can.

That’s how you pick the job(s) in the company — not from ads.

Once you’ve selected a handful of companies, and identified some functions and jobs, you need to make new friends. Something like 40-70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. So don’t waste time with other channels. The next task is to work backwards from contacts you already have, and ones you can develop quickly, to meet and talk with insiders — people connected to each target company. They need not be employees. They might be vendors, customers, attorneys, accountants, landlords, bankers, etc. Find them any way you can — one good way is business articles about the company. Look for names of such folks. Google them, email them, call them. Be brief and respectful. Explain you’re considering working for company X, and you know they do business with X, and you’d like their insight and advice. Have a few good, friendly questions to ask about the company.

You score when the person personally refers you to someone in the company for more information. That’s when the real fun starts.

Use these introductions (you need only a handful, and you may have to talk to lots of folks to get them) to more closely map yourself to the work and function in the company. The best way to tackle this is to ask:

“What problems and challenges is your company facing in [logistics, purchasing, marketing, whatever]? Can you give me a little insight? I’m interested in working for your company, but I haven’t yet identified where I can contribute the most to the bottom line.”

It takes only one savvy manager to hear the words bottom line, and you’re in.

This is actually a lot of fun, because you’re meeting new people, learning new things, and getting into the circle you want to be part of. If you’ve got six months, I encourage you to start now. It takes time. But it’s the only reliable way to get in the door and find the job right for you.

Employers are lousy at figuring out what to do with job applicants. Most of the time, they realize people are just looking for a job, any job. If you start by picking an industry, a handful of companies, and then focus on mapping yourself onto a company’s challenges — that’s how you use your brain to create your own job opening. More likely, you’ll identify something that’s about to come open, and you’ll be the first candidate to interview. No competition. And due to the research you’ve already done, your motivation will translate into very effective dialogue in interviews. While your competition is answering questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness? If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?”, you’ll be busy explaining how you think you could add 10% to the department’s bottom line. Big difference!

Do me a favor and stay in touch. I’m glad to help. You’re ahead of the pack already because you took time to make contact in the business world. Keep doing that. Reach out to insiders in your target industry and companies. Forget the job applications and resumes. Do this right, and you won’t need a resume. The conversations you have will evolve straight into interviews.

You might have noticed that I didn’t mention military transition once except in the title of this post. That’s because the same methods that work for everyone else will work for you, because this is all about delivering profitable work, no matter where you’re coming from.

The edge you have is discipline. The military has given you that in spades. It’s something every job hunter in the civilian world needs, because roaming the job boards isn’t a task. Identifying your objective, focusing on it, pursuing it, and not stopping until you attain it requires… well, you get it. You don’t need to transition. Just apply your discipline to the task at hand and don’t abandon what you learned in the Army about getting the job done. Not to be rude, but civilians won’t be much competition.

Start with The Basics: Pick your targets. You know the old saying, you can’t get there if you don’t know where there is.

Be safe. I’ll be thinking about you.

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Get paid to interview for a job?

It’s always interesting when someone comes up with a new approach to recruiting. Imagine getting paid to go on a job interview. Clever, eh? CIO magazine reports that a Recruiting Firm Pays Candidates for Job Interviews.

Help me work through the logic. Notchup.com suggests that the best people are busy at their jobs, and they probably don’t search for jobs or post their resumes online. Makes sense to me. So, Notchup will help employers attract these people. (The fundamental issue here is the distinction between attracting people, and going out and finding the ones you really want. Notchup doesn’t deal with that, but that’s for another column.) Notchup serves as a go-between, allowing companies to offer money to these desirable folks to come in for a job interview. So far, it’s interesting. Notchup lets hard-to-find candidates fill out a form about themselves and post information so the process can get started… And that’s where we hit the wall. Read more