Ask the Headhunter: How to put an end to stupid job interviews

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.

I know you've experienced one of these scenarios:

  • You find a job listed online, fill out the application, and never hear a word back.
  • An employer or recruiter contacts you, asks for loads of information, then never responds.
  • You show up for an interview, only to realize the employer has not read your resume.
  • You do an interview, only to realize the job is not what they said it was when you applied.
  • You accept a job offer, only to learn the job isn't the job they said they were hiring you for.
  • You go through a long recruiting and interview process, invest a lot of time, but the employer never gets back to you with an answer.

The leading reason for all these types of job applicant abuse — let's call it what it is — is that most employers are stupid about recruiting and hiring. They recruit improperly and mindlessly. They use mass solicitation methods that by nature encourage job seekers to play a numbers game and to make applications that are iffy at best — then HR blames the applicant.

HR's general hiring strategy is to get as many applicants into the pipeline as possible, and to cull through them later. This creates epic costs for employers, and it's what gets you rejected out of hand after you've invested hours of time filling out forms and going on interviews that you quickly realize aren't even for the right job. (See "Why employers should pay job applicants.")

There's a simple — but not easy — way to avoid all this stupidity.

In last week's column, we discussed how to ask for (and get) a higher job offer. I offered one key suggestion that seemed confusing and counter-productive to some readers. Underlying it is a very important, very fundamental truth in job hunting that has been lost in the miasma of myths about interviews and hiring. Ignorance of this truth is what makes employers stupid about hiring, and it's what makes you go crazy dealing with employers.

Here's what I suggested that a good job candidate should say to the hiring manager:

"Of course, if I can't show you why I'm worth more, you shouldn't offer me the job."

Some readers responded that it's a terrible idea to say something so negative to the manager:

"What is likely to be the best case scenario from telling [a hiring manager], 'If I can't prove this [you shouldn't hire me]…'? It seems counterintuitive… to direct their attention to a possible reason to dismiss you."


"Are you suggesting to the employer that the offer should be withdrawn because you can't convince the employer to pay you more?"

I don't think there's anything negative about making your job interviews more challenging. By clearly emphasizing the manager's key need, you set yourself up as the one candidate who can meet it.

"If I can't show you how I'll improve your business with my work, then you shouldn't hire me."

Why would anyone think that's a risky thing to say to a manager? You must really be able to demonstrate that you can do the job more profitably than expected, or you have no business going on that interview. That's the fundamental truth of job seeking. It's become lost in today's world because employers themselves have forgotten why they are hiring. That's why readers worry my suggestion is risky.

Employers really do behave stupidly. They cast about for indirect measures of candidates.

    • Did the applicant pass the employment test?
    • Does she have the right key words?
    • Does she know what animal she wants to be if she could be any animal?
    • Do he have a cool "greatest weakness?"
    • Has he filled out the application correctly?
    • Is he following all the rules of our process?

I can see you cringing, because you recognize this nonsense every time you apply and get turned down for a job. Employers talk around the issue at hand. Whether an employer acts like it or not, the key metric in any job interview is a direct one: Can the applicant do the work profitably? (See "The Do-It-Yourself Interview (for managers)".)

I say most employers are stupid because they never ask this question. That's why you should raise it yourself. Raise the bar in the interview — for yourself and the manager. If you're not ready to jump that bar, then why did you go on the interview?

The job seeker must prove he or she can drop more profit to the employer's bottom line. That's the big truth that job seekers, hiring managers and HR have almost totally lost sight of in today's economy. They're too busy arguing about "criteria" that have let hiring degenerate into a bureaucratic nightmare that prompts employers to mindlessly abuse countless job applicants — and to complain of a phony "talent shortage."

I said that you can save yourself untold time and agony by understanding the key fact that I've already repeated so many times. If you pursue only jobs where you can show how you'll be the profitable hire, you will never get suckered by job postings, recruitment calls and personnel jockeys. Apply only for jobs where you're able to gather the information you need to do that profit demonstration in an interview.

You can't get that information? Then don't waste your time — unless you want the employer to waste yours.

(Yes, this means you'll be applying for very few jobs. Do it right. As a headhunter, employers pay me huge fees to find very few candidates. Why would you invest less to get the right job?)

If you want employers to stop abusing you, force them to raise their game. Make them ask you the only question that matters. Don't be afraid of it. And please, do yourself a favor: Be ready to answer that question before you dare apply for a job or go on an interview. (See "What is the single best interview question ever?")

Dear Readers: Does this one interview question frighten you?

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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