No Need to Get Lucky: Ask The Headhunter’s Best Advice for Getting the Offer You Want

BY Paul Solman  July 30, 2013 at 10:10 AM EDT

Some of headhunter Nick Corcodilos’ best advice includes always asking for a written offer and speaking to other employees before accepting a new position. Photo courtesy of Flickr user xianrendujia.

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, we round up the best of Nick Corcodilos’ “Ask The Headhunter” columns, reprising advice from Nick that has gotten the most traffic from our readers this year. Excerpts of these columns appear below, but there’s more to read, just follow the links to the full posts.

Remember to send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. He’ll return next week.

Many of us have been there: we have one job offer dangling in front of us, but there may be another coming down the line, so we feel we need to choose between the two. What to do? Nick tackles that question in “The Dangers of Trying to Juggle Job Offers,” an excerpt of which follows:

You can’t juggle two job offers when you have only one offer. So deal with what’s real. Your challenge is to make one of two available choices at this point: to accept or decline the offer A. You have no other offer, and you don’t know whether you will get one. If you don’t care about A, then reject it and wait for B. If you want the A offer, then accept it and deal with B when and if they make an offer — and you don’t know whether they will.

Job hunters often get very confused about their options in situations like this. You have just one binary choice at this point: Yes or no to company A.

But accepting the offer from A does not mean you must stop talking with B. Do you think an employer stops talking with other candidates because it made an offer to one person? Of course not. They behave in a businesslike way, and ethics have little if anything to do with it. They hedge their bets because they know new hires sometimes change their minds, and the company must cover itself. Likewise, at some point in the future, you will look for a job again and go on interviews again. There is no difference between that and continuing to interview after you accept an offer from company A today. …

And if you needed another reminder to act only upon the offer you have in hand, remember never to resign your current position until you have an offer in writing for your new job. In “What If My Job Offer Was Rescinded After I Quit My Old Job?” Nick offers invaluable advice for avoiding that conundrum:

Whoo-whee! This is nasty. This kind of situation — rare as it is — is what prompts me to tell job hunters to never, ever resign their old jobs before they have the new jobs locked down. Always get it in writing!

I can’t tell whether your offer was oral or written, but I’ll bet you had nothing in writing from the new employer. Job hunters get so excited at an offer given on the phone that they fail to consider what a cliff they might walk off if they resign too soon.

Before you quit your old job, make sure you talk with the hiring manager before you accept it. (It’s rare, but even written offers get rescinded.) Get the details reconfirmed:

  • Your new title and job description
  • The compensation
  • Your start date
  • Where you will report on day one,
  • Who will greet you
  • Who will orient you
  • What your tasks will be on day one, week one, and month one

Do not rely on the personnel department alone. Talk with your future boss. Does this sound extreme? It’s not. It’s necessary. Getting all these details in advance helps make it all “real” for everyone involved. If there’s a problem, it will likely surface while the manager is getting all these questions answered.

End your discussion with this question: “Will you please confirm that the job offer is bona fide and that you are ready to have me start work?”

If the answer is yes, tell the employer that you accept the job in principle, but that you cannot accept it formally until you have it all in writing. Never accept a job offer until you have it — and all the terms and details — in writing. Never resign your old job until you are sure the new job is locked down. …

Another part of being careful when accepting a new job, besides demanding a written offer first, is making sure you actually want that job. That may mean talking to many more people than just the manager hiring you. In “Don’t Take a Job Without Due Diligence,” Nick advises readers to vet tempting promotions before saying “yes”:

Question: I recently started a great new job within my company in a new city. When I say “great,” I should say “great on paper.” It’s an excellent resume builder, and a bump in pay, but I’m miserable. It’s affecting my home life and keeping me up at night. My employer paid for the relocation of my family, meaning I’m on the hook for a year before I can move on without potentially having to pay them back for the transfer.

It’s been three months, and I’m willing to stick it out for a year if I have to, but when do I start looking in earnest? I find myself at home trolling job-finder sites, but I know it’s too early to start looking for the next step, right?

Nick Corcodilos: Too often, people accept a new job because it comes along, not because they pursued it or because they carefully decided it was the best thing for them. It sounds like you took this job for the wrong reasons, and without due diligence.

I realize that an internal move like this — even though it was to a new city — seems safer than jumping to a new employer altogether. But due diligence is always necessary. I’ll offer some suggestions about how to check out a company and a job before you accept it, and I think that will help you see what you need to do next as you pursue yet another job in your new location.

In the PDF book, “Fearless Job Hunting | Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers,” I offer some tips on how to avoid disaster when considering a new job. Here’s an excerpt:

Once an offer is made, you have a measure of control you didn’t have before. Politely but firmly ask to meet managers of departments that are upstream and downstream from your job. That is, departments whose output would affect your department.

For example, if you’re in sales, ask to meet the chief of engineering and the head of the shipping department. One designs and builds the products you have to sell, and the other ensures that your customers will receive what you sold them.

If you work in engineering, ask to meet the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), who funds product development, and the manager of manufacturing, because that’s where the products you design will be assembled. Find out what they think of the way “your” department operates.

(No matter what job you’ve been offered, ask to meet the sales department. In my experience, sales knows the condition of a company better than anyone — and where the skeletons are hidden.)

By talking with people who manage other areas of the company, you will learn a lot about the manager of the team that wants to hire you, and you will also learn about the integrity of the entire organization. If there are cracks in the corporate foundation, this is where you’ll see them. If you’re not permitted to meet these folks, you should reconsider the job. …

And finally, Nick summarized Ask The Headhunter’s job-hunting strategy in “The Four Best (Not Easiest!) Ways to Land a Job” before participating in a live chat with readers to answer more of their burning questions. (Check out those responses here in case you have some of the same concerns.) But first, here are the four Ask The Headhunter tips you need to know:

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 10 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 number one 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.) …

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. Follow Paul on Twitter.