Ask the Headhunter: The Right Way to Search for Jobs When Unemployed

BY Paul Solman  October 23, 2012 at 2:47 PM EST


Job applicants wait to meet potential employers at the NYC Startup Job Fair. More than 80 startup companies were represented, with some 600 job openings for the more than 1,000 applicants who attended the event. Photo by John Moore/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.

Making Sense

UCD (Under-employed and Clinically Depressed): Having survived clinical depression after the loss of my near-six-figure job in early 2009, and successfully (actually, luckily)
almost a year-and-a-half later, I still battle many prejudices in the employment game. Each year I gain more confidence that I can overcome them one-by-one, but recent developments in one area leaves me so horrified, I may have to find therapy for my therapist. Tough as she is, I don’t think she’d believe me.

Even before 2009, people doing the hiring would drop people from the candidate list if they were unemployed for more than six months. Now, you only have to be out of work for six minutes to be dropped from the candidate list. The first question I’m asked when an HR person calls is: Are you working now?

Nick Corcodilos: Ironic, isn’t it? America has one of its highest unemployment rates in history, and some companies state in their job postings that you must be employed to apply. Well, who do they think they’re going to hire? As Peter Cappelli pointed out in our recent Making Sen$e segment, employers want to hire people who have already done the job, and they don’t want to pay any more money. Why would an employed person change companies just to do the same work for the same pay? Where’s the career advancement in that?

This leaves employers primarily with the unemployed to pick from. And why not? There’s a good chance the hiring manager — who’s asking you whether and why you’ve been unemployed — was recently unemployed, too. So my advice is to not shiver. You have lots of company, but no job. That manager has a vacant job, and needs help. Don’t offer any clever answers about why you’re unemployed. Try this instead:

“I’m not working now. But if you’ll tell me what you want a new hire to accomplish in the next six weeks on this job, I’ll outline right now how I’ll do it for you. Of course, I welcome you to shape my approach. And if you hire me and I don’t succeed in six weeks, then I’ll quit. I’m willing to make a commitment to deliver the work you need to have done.”

Managers today are worried they’ll hire someone who won’t deliver. Be ready to deliver. Help the manager decide you’re worth hiring.

To accomplish this, you must be more prepared than every other competitor you face. Here’s a check list from my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?, which explains how to prepare even for a job in the same career:

When considering a position, ask the following series of questions. You will quickly realize how little you ever knew about some jobs you’ve interviewed for.

What exactly would you be doing on day one on the job?
What are you expected to accomplish by the end of a month? Three months?
What exactly would you be doing each day?
(There are many more steps in the book.)

Does that seem trite and obvious? Unbelievably, the actual work, the specific objectives and criteria for success (and exceptional rewards) are rarely discussed in a job interview or in a job description. Your success on the job will hinge on having answers to those questions. Get the facts before your meeting. Call the manager in advance and ask.

If you can discuss your plan to do the work, the manager will be more motivated to take you off the unemployment roll.


Billie Cassell: I am currently under employed (two to two and a half days a week as a dental hygienist). I had worked part time in two practices at one time (40 to 55 hours total a week) with partial benefits and health insurance. Now I have no benefits or insurance. I
make slightly too much to get state programs and I cannot get health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. I have been in the dental field for about 20 years. I have the Star Tribune app on my cell and I check Craigslist regularly for a job in my field. What can I do to improve my situation for employment and health insurance?

Nick Corcodilos: You can keep scrollling the apps on your cell, but all you’re doing is competing with more people than any dental office can hire. This is a common mistake. We all try to take the easy way to finding a job, which is to wait for one to come along in the listings. But as you’ve found, that doesn’t work. Stop for a minute and think.

If you were a dentist, who would you hire? Someone you don’t know who responded to a job listing on a smartphone app, or someone who was recommended to you by another dentist or healthcare provider?

Hint: 40 to 70 percent of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. So you know what you must do. It’s not hard to prepare a list of every dental office in the towns and cities near yours. Then prepare a list of all medical personnel you know. Now comes the work. (It’s a job you want, right? This takes work. Playing with a cell phone isn’t work. It’s wasting time.) Go through your list of doctor’s offices and research them online. Most will have a website. Which seem big enough that they probably have some turnover? Which seem very busy? Which might need help? (Don’t worry about whether they have job openings.)

Now turn to your contacts in the business. Ask each of them whether they know an employee or a patient at any of those firms. Since you’ve been in the business so long, you probably also know some of the medical sales reps who always come calling at the doctor’s office. Contact them, too. In each case, don’t ask for a job lead. Ask about the particular office. How long has it been in business? Is it respected? What kind of place is it to work in? What kind of help does it need?

The more you talk, the more you’ll learn. The magic question to close with is this: Would you recommend this office as a place to work? Then: Who would you recommend I talk to, to learn more about working there?

This is how headhunters operate. We talk a lot to learn a lot. We need only one solid tidbit of information, and one solid personal referral, to do business. It’s what you need to get an interview in a good office. So start talking to people about the offices in your area, and get introduced. It’s how medical offices hire — through trusted referrals.


Gil John Gabato: Where can I find a job or some work online that can give me my everyday life needs?

Nick Corcodilos: Some people reading this will think you’re kidding. I want to assure them you’re not. I’ve gotten questions like this many times in almost 20 years of advising job hunters through asktheheadhunter.com.

People really think there’s an answer to this question. There isn’t. No one will pay you because you have “life needs.” They will pay you to do work that produces profit for their business. So stop looking for someone who will give you money to live. Sorry, but they won’t.

What you need to find is a business whose needs you can fill. So get a move on. Pick a handful of companies you’d like to work for, devote yourself to figuring out what they need, and prepare a good presentation about how you’ll do it for them. Make yourself the person they need to hire to make their business more successful. (This requires talking to people in the business, not looking for job ads.)

Please stop expecting to stand around for a job to come to you. It won’t.


Mark: Are there any statistics about the success rates of the major job boards? A related question: When job seekers visit a major job board, which industries and job-types are most searched for?

Nick Corcodilos: The fact that you can’t find those statistics easily tells us something very important: Job boards don’t want you to know their success rates, because their success rates are pitiful. “Analytics” about business on the Internet are as sophisticated as rocket science today. Any website can track its activity, its customers’ behavior, and its success. Job boards either do and aren’t publishing the data, or they don’t bother because they know the information would make them look bad.

There are some third-party surveys that have been done over the years, but even these are scarce. One company, CareerXroads.com, has surveyed employers annually for over a decade about their “source of hires.” The results are pitiful. According to the CareerXroads surveys, the two major job boards, CareerBuilder and Monster.com, have each been the source of hires no more than about 1.5%-5% of the time each year. Smaller, niche job boards tend to perform better. Employers’ own job listings on their own websites are even more productive.

In other words, having lots and lots of job listings from lots of employers all in one place doesn’t really pay off for job hunters, or for employers. Most jobs continue to be found and filled through personal contacts — something you’ve probably already guessed.
(Depending on which survey we look at, the figures run between 40 percent-70 percent.) But that doesn’t help the job boards, so they don’t talk about that.

I can’t answer your question about which jobs are most searched for. I don’t know. You might ask the boards themselves. Good luck. They don’t seem to have much useful data about anything they do. What many of them do like to publish are “testimonials” from customers who won’t allow their full names to be published.

For advice on how to judge a job board, please see my video Q&A, “How
can I find out whether a job board is the real deal?

But what use is a critique of the job boards if I don’t offer you some alternatives? See my blog post, “Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke.”


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.

We at Making Sen$e are working on a story to explain where the monthly unemployment numbers come from. To do so, we are looking for interviewees who have worked on the Current Population Survey (CPS; household survey) and/or the Current Employment Statistics survey (CES; establishment survey). Are you a former surveyor? Do you know one? If so, we want to hear from you! Please email us at businessdesk@newshour.org. Be sure to include your contact information. Very much obliged