Ask the Headhunter: 7 steps to a new job — but first, burn your resume

Nick Corcodilos boils down his job search philosophy to seven steps -- but you can't get on board unless you first set your resume aside and prioritize a more personal touch. Photo by Flickr user photologue_np.

Nick Corcodilos boils down his job search philosophy to seven steps — but you can’t get on board unless you first set your resume aside and prioritize a more personal touch. Photo by Flickr user < ahref=>photologue_np.

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.

In a recent column, “Here’s why your resume isn’t getting traction,” I suggested that your resume is a crutch that actually hinders your job search if you rely on it to get you in the door. I said, “The key to job hunting success is people — meeting them, talking with them, and getting them to recommend you to managers,” and I offered some tips about how to conduct a much more active job search.

Some readers expressed consternation. Some even held that resumes are not only necessary, but absolutely required to get a job. What I see is that people prefer the easy way out, even if in their own experience it rarely pays off. One commenter issued a challenge that I said I’d address in another column — so here it is.

pazczyk: Here’s a bet for you: Pretend you are a new, entry-level employee, just starting out. Or perhaps an older person embarking on a second (or third) career, or returning to the workforce after raising a family. Get yourself a solid, entry-level, basic-office resume. Now, go find work. I’d love to see that experiment.

I’d burn the resume. (See “The truth about resumes.”) Here’s what I would do next, using some of the methods I teach via Ask The Headhunter.

  1. I’d look around my area and pick three to four companies I’d love to work for, but not just ones that are advertising jobs. In fact, if one of them has no jobs posted, all the better — there’s less competition, or none at all. (See “There aren’t 400 jobs for you” and “Uncover Hidden Jobs.”)
  2. I’d sit down and figure out (thank you, Internet) who works there, who does business with the company, and who its vendors, customers, lawyers, consultants, landlords and contractors are. (See “I don’t know anybody” and “Who does the work you want to do?”)
  3. I’d work backwards: Before looking for jobs, I’d look for referrals to the company. If you try this, research all the people and companies we identified in step two. Make it your goal to contact as many as you can — not to ask for a job, but to get advice and insight about each company. What problems and challenges are they facing? What kind of help do they need?
  4. When you reach these people, talk shop. Don’t ask for a job lead. Instead, have intelligent questions to ask about their work.

    How to say it: “I know you do business with Company X. Could I ask your advice on something? I’m considering working with X — what’s your opinion of their product line?”

    Your actual question would depend on your line of work and expertise. You might ask about what engineering methods the company favors, or how it stacks up financially.

    If you reach an employee in the department where you’d like to work, be more specific. Ask questions about their work, after you indicate that you do the same kind of work. Establish common ground. Don’t ask about jobs; ask about what kind of help they need, and home in on the areas where you could help.

    How to say it: “What are you reading nowadays… or what kind of training have you taken… that helps you with your job? If I wanted to work in marketing in your company, what advice would you give me about how to prepare myself?”

  5. Start making friends. Some people will be helpful, some won’t. If you make no investment, you’ll get no returns. A fun fact from the world of psychology is that people love to talk about themselves — and about their work. Express interest; encourage discussion. But never fake it. If you’re not genuinely interested, don’t make the call. (But then, why would you want to interview for such a job?)

    The productive contacts will be people who enjoy talking with you; the ones you will have several exchanges with in the next few weeks. They’re the ones who will talk about their work and the work you do. Now you’re making friends, gaining insight, getting advice, and potentially developing referrals to the managers who run the teams you want to work for. (See “Outsmart The Employment System.”)

  6. Avoid human resources departments like the plague. They’re the gate keepers, but they don’t make the decisions once a hiring manager is in contact with a job candidate. Your mission is to get to the manager before HR knows you’re “in the building.” (See “Get past the guard.”) After all, HR’s job is to identify great candidates for hiring managers. Make sure you get it right — identify yourself as a candidate to the manager so the manager can make a decision about you without HR in the picture.
  7. Keep in mind that this takes time, but the best referrals come from people who have gotten to know you. Your best contacts will be the people you’ve hit it off with — legit new buddies. Let’s say you work in marketing and you’ve gotten to know a marketer who works in your target company.

    How to say it: “Is there a manager in the marketing organization you can suggest that I might talk with to learn more about the company’s marketing philosophy and practices? I’m considering this as a place to work, but long before I apply for a job, I’d like to get a manager’s opinion about whether I could really help the company. If not, then it’s not the right place for me.”

    All you need is one such introduction — and you’re in. No resume.

Dear Readers: I never said this was easy. This approach takes careful planning and lots of work and preparation. It requires actively meeting and talking to people. (Kind of like what you do at your job, eh?) I know this is a foreign idea to most, because all our lives we’re taught that we find a job ad, we send in a resume, and we wait.

If you really think that works, then tell us your story — but in my experience it’s the exception to the rule. The rule is, most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. What I’m trying to do is show you how. It’s up to you to try it. My offer is to answer your questions and to help you try this age-old way of doing business — personally.

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!

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