Ask the Headhunter: How to Search for a Job if You’re an Introvert

BY Paul Solman and  October 30, 2012 at 6:00 PM EDT


Photo by Peter Dazeley via Getty Images.

Making Sense
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.

Xira: You offer excellent advice for how winning “in demand” extroverts can remain winning in-demand extroverts, but it does not help the vast majority of us who aren’t winning or in-demand or extroverts.

Nick Corcodilos: You’re right. Introverts have a particularly hard time doing the things necessary to land a good job. But introversion is not a disease, it’s not a condition, it’s not a failing. It’s a behavior, and it can be changed. But you have to work at it. I’ve seen the most meek people learn how to walk up to a manager and compellingly explain why she should hire them. Try a local Toastmasters meeting, where people learn from one another how to develop confidence when speaking to others. Read Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism.” Try Milo Frank’s “How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less.” And Mark Levy’s excellent “How to Persuade People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded.” Not all extroverts are in demand, and introverts can make friends and win good jobs. But it takes considerable effort and an investment in new behaviors.

gordon_wagner: Why is it that on their websites corporations will ask you to upload a PDF of your resume and then expect you to fill out both employment history and education? Kind of defeats the purpose of the PDF, doesn’t it? Experience suggests that most HR people are like fat lazy cats and do very little actual work aside from explaining to Russian and Chinese hires why they’re not earning much and won’t be earning much in the U.S. Do I sound bitter?

Nick Corcodilos: It kind of reminds me of calling a company for customer service. The automated system asks you to enter your name, your account number, phone number and other identifying information. When you finally get a human on the phone, they want to know your name, account number and phone number. Does this smell like a disorganized bureaucracy?

HR people will tell you they read or “scan” your resume electronically, and that the purpose of the form has to do with legal compliance. The government wants to see what kinds of applicants a company is soliciting, and whether the company complies with equal opportunity recruiting laws. That’s a noble thing, but when employers put the extra work on the applicant, it often costs them applicants. Like one of the job hunters in our original Making Sen$e segment, people get fed up and won’t complete the form. The alternative is to skip the forms and “go direct.” That is, talk to the hiring managers. We’ll discuss how to do this in the next question, so that we all can avoid automated repetition.

prootwadl: The hardest thing I found when looking for work the last time (2004) was actually finding a human to talk to at a company. Outside of networking, it was very difficult to actually talk to a hiring manager unless I decided to cold call them, and I found that cold calling was not a successful approach at all. How do you suggest that a job searcher get in contact with hiring managers given the HR barriers in place in most organizations?

Nick Corcodilos: The answer is to go around HR. It amazes me that virtually every career book focuses on how to write a resume, how to use the “right” keywords for online job applications, and which online job boards to use. But few tell you how to meet the manager. Learning to do this actually requires that you unlearn the conventional ways to find a job. It’s why I tell people to throw out their resumes and stop applying online. You might keep using both these tools, but if I can get you to stop using them exclusively, then you’ll have time for what I’m about to suggest.

Meeting managers works the same way as meeting anyone else. Of course, most people get nervous at the thought of meeting someone they don’t know, because doing it seems contrived. Who wants to be seen as a stalker? But this isn’t stalking. Start a conversation with something you feel comfortable with — the work you do. Most people love to talk about their work, and the subject relaxes them because they know it well. So find someone connected to your target company who does work similar to yours.

You may find them at an industry event, or on a professional online discussion forum. It does take work to find them — but it’s a worthwhile effort. When you reach someone, probably by e-mail to start, ask them to recommend a more effective way to do the work you both do. Or, what are they reading nowadays that influences their work? Start a conversation, and follow up later. You need not discuss anything awkward. Stick to the work! Offer a link to something useful you’ve read. Keep the conversation going. This is how people make friends!

When you’ve established meaningful contact, ask for “advice and insight” about the person’s company. (Please: Do not ask for a job lead. People who don’t know us don’t like that sort of request.) What’s it like to work there? Do they like it? Do they recommend it? Is there someone they’d recommend you talk with, to learn more about the relevant department?

As you can see, this is a step-by-step process. Some consider this sneaky or improper. Yet it’s how we get close to the objects of our affections when we want to date them! Of course it’s a bit awkward, but if you stick to topics you are comfortable with (whether it’s a date or a peer you’re talking to), it’s also sincere and friendly.

If you can’t find someone who does the work you want to do at the company, reach out to people connected to the business: vendors, customers, consultants, lawyers, accountants. Triangulate, and get closer to your target manager. This is far more fun and productive than sending out blind applications to companies you don’t really know. I discuss these methods more extensively in my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?, in the section titled, “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends.”

Dave: Having directly hired more than 800 people personally in my career as a business owner and having personally live-interviewed thousands of people over 30 years, your tips about “tossing your resume” and never, ever, disclosing a past salary are foolhardy. Those kinds of deficiencies and that kind of interview arrogance will earn you a “fast trip down the elevator shaft.”

Nick Corcodilos: Perhaps using a resume and disclosing salary history worked 20 and 30 years ago, but today employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes) to process resumes in bulk, and they misuse salary history to quickly put a cap on job offers they make. Accumulating resumes may be desirable for employers (I can’t understand why). Knowing someone’s salary history might pay off for employers. But both practices put job hunters at a disadvantage today.

As Wharton Professor Peter Cappelli and I discussed in our Making Sen$e news segment, electronic applications don’t work — and that’s all a resume is today. Corporate executives apply for jobs in their own companies, and they get rejected because the ATS doesn’t find a “keyword match.” But it’s perfectly possible to apply for a job without using a resume. (Check my advice to reader prootwadl in this column.) Managers tend to hire people who are referred to them by trusted contacts. Your challenge isn’t to get your resume out there; it’s to develop those contacts.

Your salary information is confidential and private. There’s no law that says you must disclose it in order to apply for a job. Certainly, some companies will reject your application if you don’t fill in the magic box with your salary. But hiring managers almost never ask for it. Over the past 15 years, subscribers to the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter report that they politely but firmly decline to disclose their salary history, and much of the time employers respectfully back off.

In my PDF book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, I offer these suggestions:
Don’t anchor your salary. Stating a number — your past salary — before you negotiate establishes an anchor that works like a magnet to pull down any job offer an employer makes. Don’t start negotiating at the lowest possible point by telling your old salary.
Take the initiative and take control. Approach each hiring manager personally and individually to talk about a job. A manager who needs you is more likely to respect your privacy than is a job form or a personnel clerk.

How to Say It: Your salary history is confidential. Employers do not routinely disclose their employees’ salary because they recognize it is confidential and private. If an employer presses you for your salary history, cite your own employer’s policy: “Under the terms of my employment, I’m not permitted to disclose my salary or my compensation plan. My former employer requires that I keep the information confidential.” (Of course, make sure that’s true, or don’t say it.)


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, 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.

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 Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions