Ask the Headhunter: How to overcome employers’ biases against you

BY Nick Corcodilos  March 4, 2014 at 4:11 PM EDT
Don't trick employers to hide who you are; that's a waste of time for you. Concentrate your efforts on showing how you will be a productive employee. Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images.

Don’t trick employers to hide who you are; that’s a waste of time for you. Concentrate your efforts on showing how you will be a productive employee. Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I discovered your advice columns on the PBS NewsHour site. I liked your disruptive advice so I went to your website, read several pages, signed up for the newsletter and bought “Fearless Book 3.” As an immigrant female POC [Person of Color], I think some of your advice is too much because our communities lack those ties, and the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing.

I also think that POC would be taken to task harder if they implemented some of your more radical advice. That is, they’d be seen as scary rather than persistent. Overall, however, I did enjoy your advice and I think it would be be interesting to hear specifically from POC that followed your process, so please consider a series of posts, and please consider addressing bias and ways to overcome it. Thank you.

Nick Corcodilos: Thanks for your note — you’re raising an important topic. I’ve grappled with questions about discrimination since I started publishing Ask The Headhunter. I think there are two clear options, and a bunch of tricks.

The first option is to sue the company that discriminates. Like it or not, that can be costly, but it’s the main remedy available under the law. You can also file complaints with regulatory agencies. But these approaches won’t help you land a job.

The second option is to make your value to the employer a higher priority than the company’s biases against you. This takes a bit of work, but I think it’s a better plan. I won’t get into details about how to do this here because virtually all of Ask The Headhunter addresses the “how to.”

Option one forces the employer to comply; option two convinces the employer that hiring you is the best thing to do. Of course, success in getting hired does not mean the employer will stop discriminating otherwise.

Then there are the tricks: Avoiding letting the employer see your skin color or guess your race until you get the interview. Coloring your hair to remove the grey. Using an initial for your first name to avoid disclosing you are female. Changing your last name to hide your origins. When you finally face a bigot in the interview, you’re still toast — except you’ve wasted your time, too. None of this will really help you.

I don’t agree that the methods I teach are “too much” or that communities of people of color lack ties that help their members get ahead. (Don’t say, “I don’t know anybody.” That’s bunk.) Nor do I agree that the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing — that’s like saying people of color are largely one way or another. In “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention” (available in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore), there’s a section titled “Don’t walk blind on the job hunt,” where I offer this important suggestion:

Know who you’re calling, or don’t call them. If you don’t know the person you want to call, first call someone who does and get introduced.

I think the only way to be successful at job hunting is to take everyone and every situation individually and personally, and to make judgments and choices accordingly. Learn to live like an exception.

Of course, discrimination is real, and so are cultural and personal attitudes. You’re showing a bit of bias against Anglos, and I’m sure some people have revealed their biases to you. I’m not in a position to change any of that, except to tell people to stop doing it.

To me, the fundamental truth is that our society tends to favor productivity and people who can produce what others need and are willing to pay for. (See “Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.”) There’s nothing easy about it. You’ll be ignored and rejected even if you’re quite productive. But it’s even less likely that you’ll be hired (or start a business) and become successful if you are not highly productive.

So learn to show how you will be productive for the employer in question. Lead with that. Don’t lead with your past; don’t lead with a chip on your shoulder. (If the chip is big, then sue the bastards.)

Not all people start out equally in their efforts to be productive and successful. Some must surmount incredible obstacles, including racism, discrimination, sexism, ageism and more “isms” than we can count. But in the end, our society craves and rewards productivity and profit. (See “What did you pull off?”) If you can take something and add your skills, acumen, insights, hard work and persistence, you’ve got a chance at success. That’s what I try to teach with Ask The Headhunter, and it’s what we discuss on the blog every day: How to do it.

You seem to like the ATH approach, but you doubt it can work for you and other people of color. All I can suggest is that you bend and shape some of these methods into something you think you can try on your own. This is not “all or nothing.” And your good judgment must temper it to suit your goals.

Now let’s get to your final request: How have people of color — and people who are discriminated against for other characteristics — used Ask The Headhunter effectively? How has ATH failed them? What’s the best way to use these methods? These are questions for this community, and my guess is there are some great ideas and tips forthcoming.

Dear readers: How have you used Ask The Headhunter to overcome discrimination? Or, maybe you tried and it didn’t work. If you’re a manager, and you’ve been a bit biased, did anyone ever overwhelm you with reasons to hire them anyway?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.