Ask The Headhunter: The Four Best (Not Easiest!) Ways to Land a Job

BY Paul Solman  April 30, 2013 at 9:43 AM EDT

By Nick Corcodilos

Photo by David McNew/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: Can you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter (ATH) job hunting strategy and explain the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks.

Nick Corcodilos: I’ve been holding back this question (and my reply) for a good occasion, and I think this is it.

On Tuesday, April 30 at 1 p.m. ET, I am participating in a live Ask The Headhunter Chat on PBS NewsHour’s website. I’ve invited our audience to pound me with in-your-face questions for an hour, about the most daunting problems and challenges you face when job hunting (and, if you’re an employer, when you’re recruiting and hiring.)

Let’s take your questions one at a time.

Here’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell. Because I can’t explain all these tips in detail in one column, I’ve included plenty of links to related articles. I hope you find this summary a helpful resource whether you attend today’s chat or not.

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do — people who are very good at it.

Insiders are the first to know about good opportunities, but they only tell other insiders. To get into an inside circle of people, you must earn your way. It takes time. You can’t fake it, and that’s good, because who wants to promote (or hire) the unknown? Start by identifying an online (or in-person) professional community where you can meet people who do the work you want to do. Join, participate, and start contributing to the dialogue.

(Here’s another angle on how to get in the door: “Meet The Right People.”

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts.

Between 40 and 70 percent of jobs are filled that way. Yet people and employers fail to capitalize on this simple employment channel. They pretend there’s some better system — like job boards. That’s bunk. If companies took more of the money they waste on the big job boards and spent it to cultivate trusted personal contacts, they’d fill more jobs faster with better hires.

There is nothing more powerful than a respected peer who puts her good name on the line to recommend you. Deals close faster when the quality of information is high and the source of information is trusted. There’s nothing easy about earning such a referral–you must actively cultivate relationships with people close to the managers you want to work for. Like it or not, you already know that this is how managers select most of their new hires. Be the person an insider recommends. But getting recommended means knowing “The Right Way to Get Coached.”

3. The best way to do well in a job interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you. Everything else is secondary (or a total waste of time).

Don’t believe me? Ask any good manager, Would you rather talk to ten job applicants, or meet just one person who explains how she will do the job to boost your company’s profitability? I have no doubt what the answer is. But it’s up to you to research and study the business (not just the job description) before you approach the boss.

Here’s the cold truth: If you can’t do that, you have no business in the interview. The good news is, when you’re prepared on this level, and when you’ve chosen a job carefully enough that you are willing to do such preparation, you will have virtually no competition. (For more on this, please see “The New Interview.”

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start.

Hang up on the unsavory charlatans who are dialing for dollars, and work only with headhunters who treat you with respect from the start. (How can you tell the difference? Read “How to Judge A Headhunter.”)

Instead of “pitching” yourself to a good headhunter, hush and listen patiently to understand the headhunter’s objective. Proceed only if you really believe you’re a match. Then show why you’re the headhunter’s #1 candidate by outlining how you think you can do the job profitably for his client. Headhunters adopt candidates who make the headhunter’s job easier, and who help the headhunter fill the assignment quickly. (Surprise: If you follow suggestions 1-3 carefully, you won’t need to rely on a headhunter.)

That’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell. If you wonder whether it really works, take a look at comments from people who’ve tried it: “Thank You, Masked Man.”

What’s the main difference between Ask The Headhunter and the traditional approach?

It’s pretty simple. The traditional approach is “scatter shot.” You blast away at companies with your resume and wait to hear from someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you. Lotsa luck. (ATH regulars know that I never actually wish anyone luck, because I don’t believe in it. I believe in doing the work required to succeed.)

ATH requires careful aim. You must thoughtfully select and target the companies and jobs you want. It takes a lot of work to accomplish the simple task in item three above. There are no shortcuts. No one can do it for you. If you aren’t prepared to do it right, then you have no business applying for the job, and the manager would be a fool to hire you. (This approach is detailed in the PDF book, “How Can I Change Careers?”, which does double-duty for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview. See the link at the end of this column.)

I’ll leave you with a scenario that illustrates why the traditional methods don’t work well. You walk up to a manager. You hand her your resume — your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments, your keywords, your carefully crafted “marketing piece.” Now, what are you really saying to that manager?

“Here’s my resume. Now, you go figure out what the heck to do with me.”

Managers stink at figuring that out. You have to explain it to them, if you expect to stand out and to get hired. Do you really expect someone to decipher your resume and figure out what to do with you? America’s entire employment system fails you every day because it’s based on that passive mindset.

The most potent job candidate keeps the resume in her pocket and says to the manager, “Let me show you what I’m going to do this job to make your business more successful.” Then she outlines her plan — without giving away too much.

Your competition is the person who can do that in a job interview, whether she learned this approach from me or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

I hope these “nutshell” tips and today’s Ask The Headhunter Chat help you get an edge in this difficult job market. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined above in upcoming columns.


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?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

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. This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown — NewsHour’s blog of news and insight. Follow Paul on Twitter.