Ask the Headhunter: Is 'whom you know' the wrong way to get hired?

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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 a recent edition of my main Ask The Headhunter blog, "The Magic Resume Calculator: Save 95% of your job hunting time!", I wrote:

My advice to job hunters: Get introduced. Make contact through someone the hiring manager knows. I'll bet you don't pick up hitchhikers, or give telemarketers your credit card number, or ask strangers for money. Get the point? Don't send a resume to someone you don't know who doesn't know you.

I know this idea strikes some as radical, because job boards and resume systems are designed to let you submit your resume to thousands of employers you don't know, and who don't know you. One reader expressed her ire at my suggestion:

I'm sorry, but to expect every single unemployed person to "know the right person" to get a job just seems insane to me and not realistic at all. I know plenty of people from my now-defunct career but not one of them is the golden goose in charge of hiring (might as well just play the damned lottery, because it's based on luck). I remember visiting my mother's native Macedonia, where I observed this phenomenon, i.e., to get anything at all you had to "know someone." That America is now no better than the aforementioned third world nation…well, that's seriously screwed up.

Here's my reply:

Why do you speak so pejoratively about "knowing someone?" What's bad about that? No one's talking about being "given" a job just because you're "connected." (That happens rarely, and only in companies where management is corrupt.) When choosing a doctor, do you prefer to do it randomly, or by asking someone you trust for a referral and an introduction? There's really no difference. To say, "I don't believe in getting a job because I know someone" is to say, "You shouldn't hire anyone you already know because that's not fair."

The stark reality is that most jobs are filled through people the manager and applicant know. Why? Because it's smart to hire a known entity. Odds of success are higher and risk is lower.

I think what you're complaining about is that it's a lot of work to "get to know the right person." And it is. And it should be. It's as hard as the job you want. So do the work up front. Start a chain of legitimate contacts, find and meet the people who need to fill the jobs. Become one of the insiders. The insiders are not bad, or unfair, or "privileged" — unless we say it's a privilege to be trusted by someone.

News flash: Business is built on trust. Not on random selection where "everyone gets the same chance."

Luck has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. I think your version of "knowing the right person" means standing on a corner waiting for the boss at the company where you want to work – and expecting them to offer you a job. My version means doing the hard work to earn credible contacts and referrals. Because, why would a manager hire a "lucky" unknown rather than someone known?

News flash: Business is built on trust. Not on random selection where "everyone gets the same chance." The people who do the work and make the contacts are the ones most worth hiring. They're the ones who go to the trouble to show they're worthy.

Few unemployed people "know the right person." But they'd better start finding and getting to know them if they want to get employed.

The alternative is to send out a hundred resumes – that is playing the lottery. Just how well does that work for anyone you know?

Dear Readers: Am I bonkers? Is there something wrong with getting hired through people you know, who know the hiring manager? Is it better to do it some other way? Is America "no better than [a] third world nation" because it helps to "know the right person" when you're looking for a job?


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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