Ask the Headhunter: Avoid the laziest way to find a job, and you just might get one

Don't let the human resources department brainwash you into thinking that all you have to do is submit a resume. Photo by Flickr user Elliot P.

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, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


In last week's column, "Here's why your resume isn't getting traction," I suggested that you don't need a resume to get a job. In fact, I think relying on a resume to get you in the door diminishes your chances of competing successfully against the hundreds or thousands of people applying for a job. I said the far better approach is meeting people who do the kind of work you want to do — and then meeting hiring managers through trusted personal referrals.

Our readers piled on in the comments section, stirring lively debate. Quite a few told stories about how they find their jobs through personal contacts. More disagreed with me and said things like this:

  • "Even if you network and learn about a position, you are told to apply online."
  • "You don't even know the name of the hiring manager or anyone working on the team."
  • "The author makes it sound like meeting people within a random company is just the easiest thing in the world."

Their willingness to cower before "the rules" troubles me, as does their hesitation to make and use personal contacts. There are ways around these objections, and we'll discuss them in next week's column.

For now, I want to focus on why job seekers are so brainwashed. HR convinces them that there is only one way to get an interview and a job: submitting a resume and waiting. I think that's absolutely wrong.

One commenter offered what I think is a scary perspective that reveals a lot about why talented people get rejected before a hiring manager even knows they have submitted an application. I think this is where employment problems begin. (For more about this, see "The Recruiting Paradox," about why companies send a personnel clerk to do a hiring manager's job.)

Erin Beth Grote: As a recruiter [who works in HR], I hate phone calls, and do NOT do walk-in appointments — MUCH prefer resumes. Anyone can talk the talk. Let your experience and skill at presenting yourself in writing show… that will tell me what kind of business writing skills you have, and what sort of knowledge base you will bring to my company.

Please don't bother me trying to convince me of how you are a hard-worker, and learn quickly… everyone says that. Write a great cover letter, learn how to write measurable, MEANINGFUL and pertinent achievements on your resume, and send it in. Customize your resume and cover letter for EVERY position you send in, and double and triple check it.

That being said, some of the advice in this article IS worth while. Research the company BEFORE you apply. Learn more about the job you are applying for than just what is in the job description. Networking is great, you can learn not just what the company does, but if you actually want to work there…

How does a recruiter know from a piece of writing (a resume) that an engineer, marketer, scientist, programmer or biologist is worth talking to, especially when the recruiter has no real expertise in any of those fields? We both know that anyone can hire a professional resume writer to script that document — so you really don't know at all how good a "presenter" the applicant is, much less how good they are at their job.

I've seen so many good people come off poorly in a resume that I will not rely on a resume as an introduction to me or to my client.

I've seen so many good people come off poorly in a resume that I will not rely on a resume as an introduction to me or to my client. I want direct contact and a trusted professional referral. (That's what recruiting is really all about; it's not about posting ads and fielding applications in an armchair.) I find the resume approach to be a lazy way to recruit that demonstrates incredible bias and overlooks suitable talent.

You've just described all that's wrong with recruiting today. "If you actually want to work here…" sounds like a threat that tells people, "I'm not an engineer, marketer, scientist, programmer, or biologist in my company…. but I will decide whether you're good enough at your specialized work to make it to the hiring manager for an interview, and you'd better do it my way, or else…"

This is precisely why employers miss out on good hires — because they judge people by keywords. And because the first cut is made by recruiters, not hiring managers.

It's frankly an insane business practice. I think it's the root cause of America's phony "talent shortage." There's no shortage — just an abject failure to directly assess the people applying for a job. (See "Unemployment — Made in America by Employers.")

What you are doing is not recruiting; it's paper shuffling. You are scanning keywords as they flow across your computer display. You are "hiring who comes along" — it's not active, responsible recruiting.

(While I may seem to be knocking HR alone, I offer similar cautions to job seekers about headhunters. I try to answer a frustrated job seeker's blunt question in this column: "Why do recruiters suck so bad?")

Real recruiters go out into the field and actually meet, talk to and learn about the people they want to recruit. They go after the people they need to hire by spending time in the professional communities where their targets live and work. They don't pluck people from a list of keywords without really knowing anything about them. And they don't reject people based on words on a document that was probably written by someone else.

While you, as an HR recruiter, are adamant about how people will get into your company, a hiring manager tells a different story: "Why Insiders Get Hired — And You Don't."

Next week, we'll look at a challenge from a frustrated commenter on last week's column about why your resume isn't getting traction:

pazczyk: Here's a bet for you: pretend you are a new, entry-level employee, just starting out. Or perhaps an older person embarking on a second (or third) career, or returning to the workforce after raising a family. Get yourself a solid, entry-level, basic-office resume. Now, go find work. I'd love to see that experiment.

I'll offer a step-by-step way to do your own experiment, without a resume, and without having to deal with any HR gatekeepers.

Dear Readers: I think employers' practice of using a gatekeeper, who is not expert in the work you do, to reject you is bogus and dangerous to any company that wants to hire the best people. Do you believe there's a problem with how employers recruit and hire?


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!

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