‘Talk Shop, Not Jobs’: The Right Way to Network and More

BY Paul Solman  October 2, 2012 at 2:36 PM EDT


Photo by Bloom Productions via 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 for landing a position and asked him to post his own job search secrets. It become a palpable hit, so we asked Nick if he wouldn’t mind taking some questions from our readers. Ask The Headhunter

clarisaclarity: Are community boards such as Craigslist considered job boards? The reason I ask is because I have had reasonable success using Craigslist over the last decade. I did however, abandon job sites such as Monster almost as soon as they came out.

Nick Corcodilos: I’m glad you’ve had some success with Craigslist, but I think Craigslist is not really different from Monster or CareerBuilder, or any other job board. Just as anyone can post almost anything on the cork-board near the shopping carts at the supermarket, anyone can post any “job” on a job board. That’s the problem, and it’s why job hunters have such low success rates. “Anyone” includes people posting jobs for the sole purpose of ripping people off (resume scams), stealing their money (money-mule ads), stealing their identity (please enter your driver’s license or Social Security number), or just making you pay for things you should not be paying for ($24.99 for a kit on how to apply for U.S. postal positions).

Then there are “job aggregation” sites that collect and publish jobs from thousands of job boards around the web. This might seem like a benefit, since the postings are all in one place. But the problems that afflict the job boards are just magnified on these aggregation sites. Then there’s the added problem of duplicate and expired postings.

An alternative to job boards is the jobs search engine, of which I know only one. LinkUp searches corporate career websites and “returns” results to you. You see only jobs that employers themselves list currently on their own websites. If you find a job listing you want, you click and you go directly to the employer’s own website. There’s no third party site — a job board or an aggregator — that collects (or misuses) your personal information. Why use a job board where anyone can post anything, when you can use a search engine to find jobs on employers’ own sites?

bskooter: I found this to be interesting, and I can’t say I’m surprised about job boards in particular. As someone who has only been out of work a few months I am finding it really difficult to even get interviews, and all of them, save for one, has been through networking. That being said, I’m trying to shift career paths since I was working in retail banking before and now, at 27, I’d really like to get away from being a teller. Do you have any advice on how to approach changing careers, especially with no experience in other industries?

Nick Corcodilos: What makes career change so difficult is being able to do the work you want to get hired to do. If you can’t do it, you won’t get hired. So career change requires a lot of preparation. You can’t just write a clever resume that gets you an interview or gets you hired. The sad mistake people make is that they think they can pay someone to make that magic. There’s no magic.

There is, however, planning and preparation. You need to learn all you can about the industry you want to be in, and the work you want to do. Break it down into functions and tasks. The more fundamental, the better. As you start to appreciate the complexity (and the newness), you’ll also start to see tasks that you probably can do. They may not be the bigger tasks, but you’ll be able to apply your basic skills to them anyway — even if this is a new world for you. The challenge now is to identify jobs that you could do adequately with the skills you have. In other words, you’re probably going to have to take a lower-level job than you have now, and less salary. Most people don’t like that — but employers don’t like paying workers who can’t do a job, either. So face it, and decide whether you’re willing to make the investment.

The other investment you can make is in education and training. That costs money. But what concerns me is that people run and pay for special training, expecting that will “qualify” them for a new career. It won’t. Not unless you check with the employer first, and find out whether it’s sufficient before you make the investment. That’s the smart way to go.

In the end, you must be able to meet the employer and show you can do the work. That’s a tall order. Yet many people pull this off by making the investment in learning and in dedicating themselves to the challenge. There is nothing easy about it. But the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get where you want to go. For more about taking a salary cut to change careers, see this blog post.

Will Stewart: Our small but effective (for our population) school was forced to close this year. My 30-year-old science teacher got a job for this fall; my 63-year-old math/Spanish teacher has had a number of interviews but no job offers. I have had one of two interviews (was promised a call back that was canceled) and no others. I have decades of experience as a private school teacher and administrator. At 61, I really do not want to be forced into an early retirement. As a former Head of School, should I be visiting my former head colleagues?

Nick Corcodilos: Jobs in education can be particularly challenging to obtain. The hiring process is often highly prescribed. Nonetheless, who you know matters. If you’re willing to do the work that insiders have already done to get an edge on such positions, your prospects will improve.

So, yes, you should be visiting your former colleagues, but you should also be contacting them through other means: telephone, e-mail, and via mutual contacts. You might understandably be loath to do this. One of my newsletter subscribers recently referred to networking as “icky.” But it’s only icky if you behave or think presumptuously. Contact people to renew your friendships and relationships. Don’t bother them with requests for “job leads.” No one likes that — it’s like putting a monkey on their back.

Here’s the secret. Actually, two secrets. When you reach out to people, ask them for their advice and insight about their own employer or other organizations. Talk shop, not jobs. Let them talk about what they like and don’t like about an organization. Ask for more advice and insight on more specific things, like a certain department. Ask what they’re reading lately that influences how they do their work. Ask who they admire in their organization, or in the profession.

As the discussion proceeds, politely and gently ask if they’d suggest that you should talk with people they know to learn more about an organization. Again, don’t refer to jobs. People hate to talk about someone else’s job search. They love to talk about their own work and about their friends. From this arises useful information and introductions. And something else magical happens. I learned in my study of cognitive psychology (that’s my background) that when people perceive that we like them, they are more likely to help us. And people perceive that we like them when we express interest in their work. So talk shop, be liked in return, and get referred to others. It can take time — all good relationships do. But that’s where between 40 to 70 percent of jobs come from. So use all means possible to re-connect with your colleagues, and meet new ones, too!


Nick Corcodilos: I started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and I’ve answered more than 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.