Ask The Headhunter: How Do I Get an Employer's Attention?
What do you do if you want to get a headhunter's attention? Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO via AFP/Getty Images.
Nick Corcodilos is an expert on how to get a job. We ran into him while doing a story on the relative futility of Internet job boards and asked him to post his own job search secrets. It became a palpable hit, so we asked Nick if he wouldn't mind taking some questions from our readers. It turns out that in addition to giving interviews to PBS, Nick hosts a website called asktheheadhunter.com, and publishes a free weekly -- the Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter.
Wonder how others "get in the door" for interviews while you can't? How can you make the "inside contacts" you need? Do employers interview you, then never call back? How can you change careers mid-stream? Nick Corcodilos answers your questions here in our weekly feature, Ask the Headhunter. Submit your questions in the comments below.
Veronica Diaz: Can you please recommend a reputable headhunter in The Los Angeles area?
Nick Corcodilos: Sorry, but I don't make such referrals unless I know both parties. But please understand that headhunters don't find jobs for people. They're paid by their clients (employers) to help fill positions. So don't spend too much time trying to find a headhunter. Learn to be your own headhunter. That's what I try to teach in this column every week.
If you're determined to find a headhunter, keep in mind that headhunters aren't likely to return calls from job hunters they don't know, because they're too busy with their assignments. So, how can you increase your chances of getting a good headhunter's attention?
I offer this suggestion in my PDF book, How to Work with Headhunters...and How to Make Headhunters Work for You, and I'll reprint it here for you:
"Pick out five or six companies you really want to work for: the shining lights in your industry, the places where your dream job resides. Call the office of the manager to whom you would report if you worked there. (Don't be lazy. Do the necessary research. If you find your quarry you must be prepared to talk shop intelligently.) If this is the president, the CEO or some other top-level manager, then that's who you call. Do your best to get to the manager, but if the manager's administrative assistant answers, this approach can still work.
"Here's how to say it. Introduce yourself briefly: 'I'm Mary Smith at Acme Widget Corporation. May I ask for your advice? I'm looking for the best headhunter in [marketing, finance, or whatever your specialty is]. I've always respected your company and I would value your suggestion. May I ask, What headhunter do you use and recommend to fill key positions in [marketing]?'
"This request is so unusual that it can be a very effective ice-breaker. Not every manager will provide a recommendation. (Some managers are very protective of their headhunters.) But some will.
"Many headhunters won't take calls from people they don't know and will talk to you only if they initiate the call. But now you are not a random caller. Tell the headhunter -- or leave a message -- that you're calling on the advice of his client. This is a call I will always take because it's a courtesy to my client. You just got my attention. Perhaps most important, you've found a headhunter who hunts for one of the companies you really want to work for. Could you have a better 'in'?"
It's the best way I know to get a good headhunter's attention.
Jo: After being laid off at 60, I went through an online job search looking for contract jobs. I had 2 offers within 2 months, both of which paid significantly more than I had been making as a regular employee. I don't know if this will be helpful to this audience; I can only say that it worked for me. I am in the computer industry
Nick Corcodilos: Thanks for the counterpoint. I'm not a fan of job boards because there are better ways to find a job. But sometimes they do work. As I discussed with Paul Solman in our Making Sen$e segment, the most productive job boards serve specialty niches. It seems that the narrower the field, the more focus there is on real jobs and real people on those websites. So, search for specialty boards. For example, if you're a nurse, look for boards that specialize in nurses. That helps you narrow the field and improves the results. One general-purpose jobs site that I like is LinkUp.com. It's not a job board, because you can't post a job there. LinkUp searches employers' own websites for jobs and serves them up to people looking for them. It's a jobs search engine. There are some good tools online for job hunting. Stick to the ones that make sense. Here's a 2-minute video lesson from my own site on how to judge job boards: How can I find out whether a job board is the real deal?
Ned James: What about networking sites like Linkedin -- aren't they more relevant in a job search today than the job boards?
Nick Corcodilos: Places where you can network and meet people are absolutely better for job hunting than job boards. And, yes, sites like LinkedIn can be helpful.
But consider why job boards tend not to work so well. First, they attract a lot of people. That lowers your odds of success because the boards increase your competition. When an employer receives thousands of applications online, you become a needle in the haystack.
Second, job boards by their nature make it very easy to apply for lots of jobs. This isn't good for employers, or for you. Employers now complain they get too many inappropriate candidates -- people who are just fishing for any opportunity. Ease of applying encourages people to play "the numbers game," hoping they'll get lucky, even if they're not suited to a job. This is another way that boards increase competition, and lower your chances of getting a job offer.
Finally, job boards have changed the way employers think about recruiting and hiring. They seem to believe that "the perfect candidate" is out there somewhere: Someone who meets all the criteria. This silly faith in the database leads employers to reject everyone who is not a perfect match -- even if no such thing exists. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli tells the story of an employer that received 16,000 applications to fill a routine engineering job. All were rejected. Why? Probably because no one was an exact fit. That's what the database is looking for. Meanwhile, the employer probably missed out on some very talented engineers who could quickly come up to speed on the job. This false sense that employers have -- that there's a perfect candidate -- hurts them and it hurts you.
Now let's get back to networking sites. The best ones are really discussion forums. Places where you can meet and talk with people who do the work you do -- or that you want to do. That's a good thing. But when networking sites like LinkedIn start serving up job listings, they turn into job boards, and then you face the same problem. LinkedIn now heavily promotes its jobs database to employers and to job hunters. If you focus on those listings, rather than on using the tools that let you engage with others, then you fall prey to the same problems the job boards cause.
Networking sites are relevant and useful only to the extent that employers and job hunters use them as meeting places where they can exchange ideas and get to know one another. But the best of these sites are not new. They've been around forever -- online and in the real world. The best examples are professional publications that have websites with vibrant discussion forums, where the users talk shop with one another. That's the best, most productive form of online networking there is.
I think that the bottom line is this: Good networking requires common ground, providing value to another person, and time. The hardest thing to learn is to put in the time.
Robert Stomber: Nick, in various networking sessions we are told that maintaining a positive attitude is the most important thing that we can do during a job transition. This is easier said than done for many of us. We can read positive thinking books and things like that. But what do you feel are the most important things that we can do to have a consistent positive attitude?
Nick Corcodilos: I know it's very hard to be positive when the media blast us with bad news about the economy and when every time you apply for a job you get a rejection or, worse, you are ignored. But you're right: So much of this is about attitude. But attitude alone won't yield a job offer, so I get tired of hearing that kind of advice as much as you do.
Behavior is far more important than what a person is thinking. Some of the best research in psychology tells us that "thinking positive" won't make us behave in more productive ways. The research actually reveals that changing our behavior is more likely to improve our attitudes, than the other way around.
That is, even if you don't feel like it (because you're down and miserable), change your behavior anyway. Force yourself. Or your attitude isn't likely to change.
I know that sounds harsh. But it's true. Consider the classic job hunter, sitting before a computer screen all day, searching for jobs and submitting applications. The behavior doesn't work, and the misery grows. Trying to feel "up" doesn't change the behavior, and we already know that applying online doesn't work very well. All that's left under our control is our behavior. So start thinking about behaviors that get you closer to the leading source of jobs -- personal contacts.
How can you meet more people connected to the businesses you want to work for? Where do they hang out? What can you say to them? I've offered specific suggestions in these columns, so I won't repeat myself. (For some helpful tips on what to say to "insiders" when you find them, please see this brief article: The Interview, or The Job?
But sometimes, the best ideas come from yourself. Get a piece of paper. Forget about finding a job. Make a list of where you can go (online and in real life) to meet people connected to companies you want to work for. Then change your behavior: Go there and talk to them.
Nick Corcodilos: I started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and I've answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade -- and I'm glad to share what I know with you. I offer no guarantees -- but I'll do my best to offer you useful advice -- so please feel free to post your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. I am the author of three "how to" PDF books, available on my website: How to Work with Headhunters...and how to make headhunters work for you, How Can I Change Careers? and Keep Your Salary Under Wraps
Questions will be collected from here and we'll post my advice on a series of Ask The Headhunter columns here on Making Sen$e. You'll also find my comments sprinkled throughout this discussion forum about various topics. Thanks for participating!
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