Ask the Headhunter: Insider Secrets to Landing the Job

BY Paul Solman  October 16, 2012 at 3:57 PM EDT


Job search websites. Image by the PBS NewsHour.

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.

Ricardo: I work with college and MBA students, and am writing to ask about cold call “cover letter” emails. “Cold call” because the student has exhausted networking-in opportunities.

I recommend students to write significant cover letters, especially if they are doing a career pivot. Research the company, know who you are writing to, what is his/her pain point, what is a solution, and then why you are part of that solution. So, instead of the typical (useless) three paragraphs, I recommend a five to nine paragraph story.

Essential elements are high content, conciseness, focus on the company and problem, and absolutely no fluff about how wonderful you are. The “perfect” cover letter, like a love letter, does not have a single sentence that could be reused in another letter. The cover letter is the body of the email (not an attachment). Resume optional; I recommend a very strong LinkedIn profile noted in your signature.

The other approach is the very short “teaser”, that can be read on a mobile. Any ideas on how to reconcile?

Nick Corcodilos: I think your advice to your student is perfect and on the money. Traditional cover letters are no more useful to a hiring manager than traditional resumes. They don’t address the manager’s needs. They force the manager to figure out what to do with the candidate. (Tip: Most managers are incapable of figuring this out from such paperwork.) A cover letter or resume should explain it all to the manager: Exactly why he or she should want to hire you, based on exactly what you’re going to do for them. That’s why I agree that a good cover letter cannot be reused. Ditto a good resume. My highest compliments for your high standards.

As for how to reconcile such a customized value statement with the need for a “mobile teaser,” that’s a matter of finesse. The job hunter must reduce all his or her value to a short statement that makes the recipient want to marry them. That was your analogy, right? The perfect cover letter is a love letter? Well, no one can write that for someone else. But the requirement is clear: You’d never send a stranger a mobile love note and expect love back. Not unless you knew so much about the recipient that you could fashion a deft statement that seduces the recipient with something they really yearn for. Does your student know that much about the hiring manager? If not, don’t send the mobile note. I do think it can be done–but this is ultra customization! Tell your student to sit down and summarize exactly what the employer really, really needs to be happy. Then deliver a relevant mobile offer in one or two sentences on the mobile. Or don’t use the mobile.

Eric Caron: There’s a job out there that I’m perfect for, and I’ve applied to the company’s website but haven’t heard anything back. I’m pretty sure their website is busted. I tried calling and emailing, but also never get any response. Job is still open, and I filled out the application over a month ago. How do I know when to give up and move on?

Nick Corcodilos: Now, Eric, move on now. You are wasting your time. Why do people think that a job posting means there’s a job behind it, or a company worth applying to? If you find a take-out menu lying in the street, do you call in an order because you’re hungry? A job posting online is no more than that. For all you know, that restaurant and that company have both been out of business a long time.

Look — I know I’m being sarcastic. So I’ll get serious. The quality of your job search starts with the quality of your judgment. You can answer job postings. Or you can pick a few companies you’d really love to work for, and do the hard work of meeting people connected to the company. Ask them for advice and insight. What’s it like to work there? Can they recommend someone who might tell you more about the department you’d like to work in, so you can decide whether it’s the place for you?

Don’t search for a job by putting yourself at a disadvantage from the start. If you can’t talk to a person inside a company about a job, don’t apply. Make that your standard. It means you can’t apply to many places. But it also means that when you do apply, you’ve got someone paying you the attention you deserve — and a much higher chance of being taken seriously and treated respectfully.

Adam: Nick, what are your suggestions for following up on a resume that I’ve submitted. I like to be assertive and call and let them know I’m very interested, but sometimes when I get someone on the phone they treat me like I’m bothering them. I realize basically every job application/resume is collected online, but too often I’m left wondering where I’m at in their process. Thanks!

Nick Corcodilos: No, you’re wrong. Not every job application is collected online. Did you know that, depending on which survey you look at, somewhere between 40% and 70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts? So, most “applications” are transmitted by one person directly to another — and there’s often no documentation involved at all! No resume! No forms! Here’s how successful hires start:

“Hey, Pete! I know you’re growing your department. Last week I met a guy at that training course I attended. I think he’s ready to make a job change, and he seems quite smart and very self-motivated. I told him a bit about our company already, and I spoke with the instructor, who has worked with him before. Gives him top marks. If you want to interview a talented guy, here’s his e-mail address.”

When your “application” is submitted to a manager that way, both the manager and the person who referred you are going to return your calls — simply because they already know you. It’s not impersonal. So, why apply with blind resumes to people you don’t know who don’t know you? I know this takes work. It takes careful planning and preparation. Just like the job you used to have. Why should this be any easier, or more “automated?”

If you truly want to be assertive, as you say, then rather than calling a company that thinks you’re a bother, take a training course. Go to an industry event. Meet insiders on a good online professional community and talk shop.

Here’s a bit of advice I offer in the PDF book How Can I Change Careers?: “What matters most for successful [job] change is hanging out with people who do the work you want to do. This circle of friends will help educate and guide you and lead you to your next boss. Hey, I didn’t say this was easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.”

Trust me: Few people are doing this. But if you look at the statistics, it’s how managers are actually hiring people — 40%-70% of the time!

CastleRock: It seems that internal recruiters are very quick to respond to resume/job submissions, but once the process is turned over to the hiring managers, they tend to be in no hurry to hire. I have landed several interviews in the past month, and it seems once the interview is done, unless I keeps on top of them, they stop communicating all together. They are quick to set “lots of hooks”, but don’t want to “reel any fish” in. Either there is no urgency to hire, or companies and their recruiters have become less professional these days. Is it too much to ask of employers some common courtesy on post-interview status?

Nick Corcodilos: Welcome to ineffective hiring practices. Good managers should be ready to take action when they start interviewing. I caution managers about this all the time. They don’t get it until they’re finally ready to hire someone and the candidate has taken a job with the competition!

Make no mistake — it’s rudeness. The excuse is that employers have so many applicants to contend with, they simply cannot respond to all of them. Imagine if a sales rep at one of those companies said that about a prospective customer to the sales manager! If employers can’t handle such applicant volume, they should recruit much more selectively.

I wish I could give you a secret tip to get those managers off their duffs to make a decision. But short of what you’re already doing, there’s no magic. There are just too many reasons why they might be delaying, and if you guess wrong and press in the wrong way, it could cost you a job.

But there is a way for you to deal with your frustration very productively: Move on to the next opportunity. If an employer has not said no to you after an interview, it’s proof positive of your value in the market. Take that value to the next employer you want to work for, and be all the more assertive because you’ve got one or two deals already cooking. It’s amazing how much better a negotiator you’ll be when one of those companies comes back with an offer — if you’ve got others on the burner.

(This article about unresponsive employers — “Loopy feedback failure” — includes some great advice from a career counselor in one of the comments. Look for the advice from “Phil” here.)

Pamela: What are the best replies to “required” online questions asking for “high school graduation year” and “current salary?”

Nick Corcodilos: No matter what an employer claims, it is probably using your graduation year and your salary to reject you quickly, if you’re “too old” or make the “wrong” amount of money. As if either has anything to do with whether you’d do a good job, or whether you’d accept a job offer!

Online application forms make it harder for job applicants to apply for a job, and they make it easier for employers to reject you. If you’ve read my other advice here, you know my recommendation is to not apply for jobs online at all. Figure out how to reach the manager or some other human being at the company. Apply directly, and request an interview in person. The more you consent to automated firewalls like those forms, the more rejections you will face. Look at it this way: If it’s not worth doing the work required to get to the manager, how could the job be worth having?

If you want to play the online game, sometimes you can enter “dummy data,” like 11/11/1111 for a date, and $9,999,999 for a salary. Clearly, you’re registering your objection to those items. But you must make note of that or you could be guilty of misrepresenting yourself. Most online applications have a section where you can enter “free text” information. Use one of those boxes to add a note, and politely explain why you entered “dummy data,” and that you prefer to keep certain information confidential “until we have established a mutual interest in talking further about working together.” I think that’s a reasonable, polite way to handle it. Some companies may disagree. You have to decide how important it is for you to withhold certain information.

It’s worth saying something more about your salary history. I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a short PDF book about why (and how) you should Keep Your Salary Under Wraps. Never, ever disclose your salary history to an employer. They will use it to put a cap on a job offer, or to rule you out of interviews.

No employer has ever been able to give me one good reason why it needs any applicant’s salary history. “It’s our policy” is not good enough. (Imagine if their policy was to know how much money you have invested in the stock market.) No matter what they claim, they don’t need to know what another company paid you. Any good company should assess your value for itself, and make an offer accordingly. (If they need to rely on another company’s assessment of your value, what does that say about their competitive edge in hiring? It says they have none!) Now, you might get booted out the door for declining to disclose your salary history, but you’re not required by law to disclose. All I can tell you is that many in the Ask The Headhunter community have politely but firmly said NO to this request, and they report the company backed off. This is a choice you must make for yourself. I prefer to control a negotiation by keeping my private information private.


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!

Copyright © 2012 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.