How Can Starting Your Own Business Help You Find Employment?

BY Paul Solman  October 9, 2012 at 1:33 PM EDT

Small Business Owners
Small business owners at work. Photo by Rod Lamkey Jr./AFP/Getty Images.

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.

James E. Walker Jr.: Do your comments about the down side of job boards pertain to LinkedIn, too?

Nick Corcodilos: I think LinkedIn is squandering its status as the leading business network by turning itself into a job board. LinkedIn should be helping its members to develop and share experiences with one another. That’s where jobs come from — trusted referrals from people who do stuff together. In comparison, building bigger databases is a trivial endeavor. (Suggesting job hunting is as easy as “pressing a button” just misleads millions of desperate job hunters. For more on this, see “LinkedIn’s New Button: Instantly dumber job hunting & hiring“.

A long time ago, when I first started headhunting engineers in Silicon Valley, I was friendly with another headhunter who specialized in finance jobs. He said he had a list of every engineer in the Valley, including their phone numbers and home addresses. This fellow always carried around a huge computer printout — about four inches thick — of all his industry contacts, so I believed him. (In those days, few headhunters had access to computers and databases of any kind.) He wanted to know how much I’d pay him for the list. As I fumbled for a reasonable offer for such a treasure trove of engineers, he reached under his desk and handed me the San Jose area phone book. “They’re all in here,” he said with a smile. It was an important lesson for a new headhunter.

LinkedIn is a wonderful compendium of resumes and information about people in all fields. So what? The added benefit is that you can “reach out” and “connect” to them via intermediaries. So what? I voice my cynicism not because LinkedIn is not useful, but because LinkedIn promotes relationships as being virtually automatic. Sign up and make contacts that will help you find a job! Using LinkedIn effectively is just as much work as leafing through that phone book and making lots of personal calls. If you haven’t got something useful to say to a new “contact,” the “link” is superficial and useless. If you don’t invest in developing shared experiences with your new contact over the next two to five years, the contact is not likely to be useful. I wish LinkedIn would stop investing so much in marketing its database and instead start teaching people how to develop solid relationships. That’s the next step for this important social networking service.

The job boards present the same problem: It doesn’t matter how many jobs or resumes are in the database. What matters is whether you do the hard work to turn a name and contact information into a relationship. If you use LinkedIn like a job board, you’re going to be waiting a long time for a database to find you a job. That’s why routinely delete boilerplate “link requests” from people I don’t know that don’t know me. If you’re going to use LinkedIn, check out Jason Alba’s excellent tutorial, LinkedIn For Job Seekers.

Ronald73: It bothers me that so many “smart” people think that getting a job is the only path they can take. I’d suggest that, if they are truly smart, they study how they can start their own business. But perhaps they have been trained or conditioned to spend their lives working for someone or some company. It’s hard to be master of your own fate working for someone else.

Nick Corcodilos: Paul Solman asked me to take questions from viewers here on the NewsHour site, but your comment is even better than a question! Ronald, there’s much more to your suggestion than many folks may see. It’s actually a great way to find a job!

Starting a business is a good risk nowadays. But in the process of trying to start a business, people unknowingly do most of the things they should be doing to find a job. That is, doing the work to start a business can lead to job offers. This happened to me once — and I took the job!

The research you must do puts you in contact with industry insiders. For example, market research introduces you to potential customers as you try to learn about their needs. Talking to potential investors and bankers takes you deeper into the business community — and it gets you great introductions to more insiders, like accountants and lawyers who know the best businesses in town. Talk about excellent job connections! This is true business networking!

Doing a business plan makes you hone your presentation about your business ideas. And what’s all this but a great way to produce “the story” you need to tell a prospective employer! (Who needs a job interview when you can talk to a company about doing business together?) This is perhaps the best way to identify and meet great companies who might become your customers OR your next employer. This is a method I teach to Executive MBAs at top schools like Cornell and Harvard. Read more in this article.

So, thinking about starting a business is really another way to network and land a great new job.

Jim: I’m currently working for a company that provides IT services. The work is project-based, so when my work on a project is done, I have a certain amount of time on the bench to look for another project. So far, I’ve been able to jump into another project before my bench time is done, and I’m out the door, but it’s been very close at times. On top of that, I’m about 5 years away from traditional retirement. Do you have any special tips for an older worker like me who is always walking the employment cliff praying he doesn’t fall into the unemployment abyss?

Nick Corcodilos: Working for “consulting companies” that assign their employees to work at client sites used to be a pretty safe career. But as you point out, you have projects to do only when your employer finds a contract for you. Some consulting companies provide for time “on the bench” while they find new projects, and the employee gets paid while waiting. Others don’t. If yours does not, and you are truly worried, then hedge your bets by talking to other such firms. But don’t go looking for them randomly, or merely respond to those that recruit you. Contact the best information technology (IT) departments at the best companies in your area. Ask them which consulting firms they use to “hire” people like you — and ask for a referral to a particular manager. Talk only to the best. Call or e-mail (I prefer the phone — it’s more personal) and introduce yourself. In the consulting business, I find that seniority is valued, because it’s usually accompanied by a history of reliability and trust. That’s the kind of consultant a good firm wants to send to a client. There’s a very good guest article on my website by an executive from an IT consulting firm, about the ins and outs of working for consulting firms. I think you’ll find it helpful.


Nick Corcodilos: 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, salary negotiations, etc. If anything I offer is helpful to you, I’ll be glad. I know you’re probably very frustrated, and the advice I offer isn’t always easy — but it can make a difference if you try it.

The commitment I’ve made is to answer all questions submitted.

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.

As usual, look for a second post early this afternoon. But please don’t blame us if events or technology make that impossible. Meanwhile, let it be known that this entry is cross-posted on the Rundown- NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.