Ask The Headhunter: Three Ways to Be a Smarter Job Candidate


By Nick Corcodilos

A job seeker; photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBeing a smart candidate requires setting your standards high and making certain demands on potential employers. Photo courtesy of Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via 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 had what may be a “Eureka moment.” I’ve been accused of lacking the “cojones” to handle interviewing and the job market, and I think it’s true. I started my career when companies treated people with respect. Today, employers deliberately set things up so that the job candidate is at a huge disadvantage. The rules have changed so that employers can really take advantage of the diligent, loyal folks who have the 1950s work ethic.

  • They make an offer and demand you respond within 24 hours, or it is rescinded.
  • They make statements in interviews that they back out of as soon as you take the job.
  • They avoid sending you a health insurance card.
  • They say the work week is 40 hours, but it’s a lot more.
  • There’s not even time to eat lunch.
  • One place I worked made everyone buy their own pens and office supplies.

You almost need a bulldog lawyer to negotiate everything for you.

People have told me I have a “golden retriever” personality — too eager to please and to be a good employee. I need to be more skeptical, and I need to be a much tougher negotiator. It is hard when you really need a job, but I’ve learned the hard way not to be so trusting. It may be better to risk ticking off an employer, or losing out on a job, than to take the job and find that someone took advantage of your good nature.

How can I get smarter? How can I be a better negotiator? Can you help me out?

Nick Corcodilos: The best way to avoid getting taken advantage of is to set your standards and expectations high. Then judge others accordingly.

One way to approach this is to politely make the employer jump a few hoops, too. The lousy ones will refuse, and that saves you time. I doubt it will cost you any good opportunities. My advice: Quickly find out what kind of people you’re dealing with. If there’s a problem, move on. Here are some suggestions.

Make a list of what you think is reasonable behavior from an employer, before you go on an interview, so you’ll be more aware of what to look for. If an employer doesn’t measure up, call them on it. Give them a chance to try again. Their reaction will be telling. Here’s an example.

How to Say It
“Thanks for the job offer. I’m very pleased about it, but I cannot make a decision in 24 hours. I’ll tell you why. I want to stay with the company I join for the long haul, so I want to make sure it’s the right match. Before I accept, I’d like to spend a little time with people I’d be working with, and with people in related departments. Can we schedule some brief meetings with managers and employees in [manufacturing, finance, whatever]? Then I can assure you of a quick answer to your offer. I appreciate your consideration. It will help us both to make a wise decision.”

Tweak the wording to suit your style. It’s a reasonable request, and I think it will quickly reveal which companies are right for you and which are wrong.

Another way to be more assertive (and to protect yourself): Ask for the full employee manual and benefits package at your first interview, or even before. Hey, they have all your info in your resume and application, right? You want their info. (You’d be surprised how many employers will decline to share their written benefits and policy manual before you accept an offer.) If they won’t give you copies after your first interview, thank them and walk away. Don’t waste your time.

More important: Never make a decision about a job offer that’s presented only orally. Ask for the offer in writing, and ask them to include all the terms they discussed with you. In almost every hiring situation, an employer will make promises or imply benefits that are not in the written offer. If they won’t put it in writing, then something’s wrong.

There are good companies out there whose intentions are above board and whose behavior is honest and transparent. But you have to weed out the rest, and these are some ways to do it. Of course, you must be polite, reasonable and very professional. Never be pushy, demanding, rude or presumptuous. Wear a big smile and stand firm. Sure, this will cost you what people loosely refer to as “opportunities” — but they are really nothing at all.

Be a smarter job candidate. Know what your standards are and expect others to respect them. Get all the information you need from the employer. Get everything in writing. Then, politely stand your ground the first time they push you where you don’t want to go.

Readers: How do you negotiate to ensure you’re getting a fair deal? Have employers tried to take advantage of you during the hiring process? How, and what did you do?

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