Your personality, strengths and brand
Not only is “who you are” what you are selling, but (a) this is sometimes the root of why you lost your job and (b) something you need to know for your integrity and success in life.
• What are you good at? What are you bad at? Do not underestimate what this means. Can you be thrown into situations requiring resolution of conflict? Can you write great software? Are you good with people and make them feel good about themselves? Will people follow your vision? Do you even have a vision or are you better at hearing an objective and getting it done? Are you a reliable performer? Do you get into negative spats with other people? And so on.
This will sound harsh, but in my experience what brings you to a job search has something subtle to do with what you are good at and not good at. In some subliminal way, your last job may have called for more from your weak spots than you were able to give. You need to ask yourself, very honestly, if your skills and weaknesses had anything to do with where you are now, and how should they will influence what you would be successful doing next.
• Play to your strengths No one is good at everything, but you are good at some things. Don’t take a job that is about what you’re not good at. Do stuff you are good at. This is the positive statement of the first point, which was sort of “Don’t take a job that you’re not going to fail at.”
• Self-evaluations. There are many sources of testing and self-evaluations that you can access online. I can point you to some. Learn about yourself.
• What do you want to do & Why? Sometimes you want to do what you used to do. But not always. People you meet will ask you this, not because they’re trying to expose you, but because they need to know. I was the head of IT. Maybe I still wanted to be the head of IT. Or maybe I wanted to advise clients on their issues and challenges, or maybe I wanted to be given a problem and generate a white-paper answer. Or maybe I wanted to teach high school. Stop for a moment and see your life as a book. It will have several chapters. No matter what, you are about to write a new chapter. What will it be about?
• Your elevator speech (es). When asked about what you want to do, you need a crisp answer. It’s called the elevator speech. You have just moments to convey your goal and your contribution. I’m not kidding when I say to practice this in private. You will f* it up more times than you imagine. Practice it and get it right. In today’s world, you have 15 seconds to get anyone’s attention.
Your situation & story
There are a few general rules that should apply to everything you do in your search:
• Do a great search not a haphazard one. That’s why you are here. But this takes work and effort on your part. Make the effort.
• Never embarrass your contact. Follow up as agreed. Your contacts are putting their personal credibility on the line to help you. Do your part to make them look good. Do not goof off and leave promises unfulfilled. If you promised to do something, do it. If you said “I’ll get back to you Tuesday,” get back to them Monday or Tuesday, not Wednesday or Thursday.
• Accurate and honest. Whatever you say or do has to be factually accurate, honest and check-ably so. Yes, you can do spin-doctoring, but do not overstep the line.
• Control your info. Do not just hand out your resume or give people license to promote you without your approval. This is about not diminishing your brand and avoiding information falling into the hands of people who may not have a motivation to help you.
• Confidentiality & privacy. By the same token, you will hear confidential things in your search. (Some companies look for a replacement for an incumbent holding a job.) Do not violate the confidentiality of what you learn/hear.
• Timeliness. I shouldn’t have to say this, but be on-time for appointments. That means arrive at the exact spot where you are supposed to be 10 minutes before you’re supposed to be there. Sometimes someone will have to come get you, so they need time to make the round trip and deposit you with the interviewer at the time she/he is expecting.
• Closure. I shouldn’t have to say this either, but if someone does something, give them closure. If you say you’re going to do something, do it and tell them it’s done. People are going to volunteer to help and if they venture something on your behalf, taking it for granted is a turn-off to them. Don’t overdo it though. You don’t need to say I called. They didn’t answer. I called again. Just say “thank you, I’ve got it. I’ll let you know how it turns out.” Or “I got your notes, thank you very much.”
Whoever does anything for you – be it an email introduction, giving you a lead, or reviewing something for you – follow up to let them know you “have it.” You can of course say thank you, but you want to convey closure to the person who sourced it. Most senior people like closure and handing something off to you, should always result in them knowing that at least you have it in hand. Similarly, but a little less important is to let the source know how it turned out. You have to gauge these. These you don’t need to follow up to say “nothing ever came of that.” Sometimes you will get referrals just to give you something to go chase. Sometimes the interest is more sincere and in these cases the source may want to know how it turned out. If the referral is successful, then it certainly warrants a follow up – especially when there’s any chance they’d find out through another party.
• Dress. Opinion be divided, but less so as one goes up. My advice is dress professional, suit, skirt, whatever. No one can be faulted for trying to look professional and sneakers and jeans are an unnecessary risk. It’d be nice if it didn’t look like you were wearing a tie for the first time in your life, but maybe you are. Anyway, look the part without using clothes as a power trip.
• Facial hair. I’m going to be out on a limb and in the minority, but I say no beards or mustaches. I’ll spare you the history on this, but the short story is that a beard is a mask and the wearing is hiding himself behind it. When the chips are down, he (and I guess it’s a he), can’t be counted on. I’m not saying this is all acknowledged fact. It’s an opinion with a body of people who hold that view. If your employer is one, you’d have virtually no chance of getting an offer.
And here are some general things you should know.
• Stigma and what smells. There is not automatically a stigma attached to being out of work. But it’s not a positive thing. If at all possible, be doing your search while you still have a job.
Recruiters and employers will also look at your resume for telltale signs of an issue in your past employment. Make sure you have a very clean, simple explanation and that it’s check-ably accurate. Some stories are better than others. A merger is better than a downsizing is better than a job elimination is better than being let go for cause. Figure out your story and practice it.
• Leaving your job. Generally this is not fun. Resign yourself to feeling bad about yourself for a while, but work to compartmentalize it and overcome it.
• Age, race and sex. The reality is that all of these are factors in getting hired. I don’t think we need to dwell on the unfairness of it. But if they’re factors, there’s also not much you can do about them. You can decide the risk/reward of raising them openly in the process, but generally, except for age, I’d recommend against it. Some people don’t do this, but I show the year of my education on my resume. One can back-figure your age from it, but I assume they’ll know or estimate my age well enough anyway, and I’d rather get points for unabashed honestly.
• Start now. Do not delay. In my experience it may take a week to lick your wounds when you get laid off. So OK, take a week to get your head together. But not much longer than that. I see people who go on 4 month sabbaticals, and in my experience it makes the process harder and less effective. I don’t care if it seems obsessive. Start your search right away.
• Do not quit out of pride. Sometimes in the corporate metabolism, you will wind up getting shunted aside, layered, reporting to someone you don’t like and/or doing work you don’t like either. My view is “choke it down.” Just take it – and take the pay check. It is far better to do a search when you have a job than when you don’t. The net of the humiliation is worth it.
• Your friends & emotions. I think you will be surprised who helps you and who doesn’t. Most of the people who stay in touch and try to help may have been the recipient of help once themselves and they remember that it, well, helps. I don’t know what to say about those who become uncomfortable and distant, but expect some of it. Possibly you’ve done the same.
Your job history
In some sense this is the DNA, the skeleton, of your career. It is the accreted trail of your passage through the work world. What it wants to show is:
• Progressive responsibility. That is, each job, later in time was in some way bigger than the job before. This may show within a company or across companies.
• Top tier affiliations. Ideally you worked for brand-name recognizable and respected organizations. Did you work for The Gap, Nordstrom’s and Macy’s? Great. Did you work for The Gap and Murray’s furniture warehouse? Oh oh. Something is broken there. Is it better to have worked for Barnes & Noble than The New York Times? Is it better to have worked for the New York Times than the Sullivan County Shopping weekly? Yes. A gap or discontinuity in the stature of you worked for is going to be a sticking point later one. You have to choose your employer to keep up a consistent level of “appearance.”
• Fewer, more important jobs. It’s healthy to have worked in different companies/organizations. There’s no magic number, but generally you want each company affiliation to have been no shorter than 5-7 years. (Hence the total number of jobs on your resume will be a function of your age.) During your time at any one company you may have held 2-3 positions and that’s fine. But 3 two year jobs is a problem. Don’t create one by changing jobs too soon.
• Skills. You need to bring something to the party and have something obvious to contribute. And by nature, you should be a contributor, not a taker. The further you go in your career the more obvious it should be that you have broader, deeper knowledge and experience than others. It’s not easy to keep up to date, but there’s not much to be gained by not learning. I’ve often been happily amused by the advice “Knowledge comes at a price. Pay it.”
• Results. Your work is not about your responsibilities, it’s about what you got done. We’ll cover this more in the section on the Resume itself.
If you could stand inside your job history and shine a flashlight out through it to project its shadow on a wall, the shadow would be your resume. It is the text expression of who you are and what you’ve accomplished. The resume is important and has a purpose. But the resume can only present who you are and what you’ve done.
Repeat after me. The purpose of the resume is to get an interview. That’s it. It’s not to get a job. It’s to get an interview. This is really self-evident, and should tell you what you want your resume to do. It needs to get noticed and not get discarded. This is mostly optics but it’s “effective communications.” A good resume takes intense editing but it gets noticed and stands out. Some principles are:
1. Quantifiable results are a must. Employers are not interested in a grocery list of duties. They’re drawn to significant accomplishments that are quantified with numbers, dollars, and percentages.
2. Please no clichés or unsubstantiated adaptive skills. The rule is to prove it. If you’re innovative, what would be evidence? Did you develop a program for inner-city youth that promoted a cooperative environment, reducing violent crime by 50%? If so, say it.
3. Tailor your resume to each job, when possible. Employers don’t want a one-fits-all resume that doesn’t address their needs or follow the job description. By the way, for all you job board junkies, a resume using the Target Job Deconstruction method is an adequate alternative to tailoring thousands of resumes.
4. Your resume needs to show relevance. Employers are interested in the past 10 or 15 years of your work history; in some cases less. Keep it to 2 pages and cut older stuff if you have to.
5. Keywords are essential for certain occupations that are technical in nature. They’re the difference between being found at the top of the list or not at all.
6. Size matters. Some employers are reading hundreds of resumés for one job, so do them a favor and don’t submit a resume that doesn’t warrant its length. The general rule is two pages are appropriate providing you have the experience and accomplishments to back it up. More than two pages requires extensive experience. In some cases a one-page resume will do the job.
7. No employer cares what you want. That’s right. Employers care about what they want and need. If you happen to be able to solve their problems, get along and make them look good, they’ll love you. So drop the meaningless objective statement that generally reads, “Seeking a position in a progressive company where I can utilize my journalism skills.” Great if the employer cares about your desire to employ your journalism skills. Super great if they need a journalist.
8. Start your CV with a punch. Below your name and contact information is your brand. Within 130 characters or so, you can capture the attention of the employer by stating what you do and in what capacity. General Manager doesn’t do it like: General Hotel Manager | Hospitality | Committed to Enhancing Customer Service | and Maximizing Hotel Profitability. See Resume Sample #2 for a good representation of the brand.
9. Make it easy to read. Your resume should not only be visually appealing, it should be visually readable. Employers who read hundreds of resume s will glance at them for as few as 10 seconds before deciding to read them at length. Make your resume scannable by writing shorter word blocks, three to four lines at most. And ONE LINE bullets. Aboslutley no typographic “widows.”
10. Wow them. Use Wow statements in your professional profile in the form of accomplishments. Remember you are being seen by eyes that see thousands of resumes. You have only a few moments to get their attention with quantified.
And a couple of grueling editorial rules. These are harder to do than they seem.
• Experience headers. Start each company in this form:
$1.5B Global IT information and Services. 4,000 employees worldwide
Vice President, Executive Partner 2012-Present
Executive Partner 2010-2012
Providing IT advisory services to 30 clients each with revenues > $10B mostly in the NY Metro region.
Typical client engagements included:
That is, the company name is bolded and sited above a 1-2 line italicized description of what it does and its size or something important about it. Then your various job titles arranged chronologically, oldest to newest, bottom to top, with the date (in years, not month and year) flush right.
• Accomplishments. These are bulleted under the company headers. They are one line each. One line. Not two. If it takes two, make it two bullets. Each line starts with a verb. You led, developed, built, facilitated, designed, produced, achieved, transformed, maintained, ruined, produced, sold, …
• Increased productivity 30% and reduced IT costs and head count 20% ($800K/yr).
• Modernized and upgraded large scale IBM mainframe systems.
• Established technical controls and streamlined operations to improve availability eight-fold.
• Directed a multi-year plan to triple throughput and reduce costs 20%.
• Implemented a Quality Assurance program that reduced product defects from 5% to .2%.
• Developed order and costing system that cut delivery time 20% and eliminated 85% of delays
Get it? One line each. If you can’t do it, you’re boring. You want to resume to be tight.
• Hobbies. No. Other interests. No. This is not a popularity contest. It’s business.
• Education. Sure, but it comes last. Because your resume reads newest downward to oldest. There is a debate if you want to include the years of your degrees. You must include it on your jobs, but if you put it on your degree, people will reverse engineer your age. Me, I say show the year of your degrees. It is what it is, and the older you are, the more guts it takes to put it out there.
• Samples. I’ve attached a few sample resumes at the end. Me, I vastly prefer the first one, but it’s more suitable for the more experienced person. The second styles are more suitable – easier to achieve – for younger or entry level people (which may be you). See also comments on Age above. The samples are
o Sample 1. A mid-career person in my preferred format. I consider this a certainty to get an interview.
o Sample 2. Similar, but in a slightly softer form that suits some people’s style and where there is less to say. The branding statement is great.
o Sample 3. Fresh out of high school with virtually no work experience, but just to prove anything can be made clear and professional looking
o Sample 4. The same person a few years later with a bit more experience. You can see the resume growing in a way that will eventually look like Sample 1.
• Data of record. One more thing, not strictly on – or in – the resume. This will sound obsessive, but it will save time and avoid flubbing things you should know. Make a spreadsheet (or table) over every job you’ve ever had. You want to list the company, its location, your title, your start and end dates (month is sufficient), your starting and ending compensation, the name(s) of the person (people) to whom you reported and your references for each position. You need this information to be dead accurate, and it will surface in applications and interviews.
The process (and the state model)
Finally we get to something important and not as obvious. This is the machinery of running your search and it is the difference between a between deliberate and an accidental search and the difference between a haphazard and a great one. The bad news is that it’s grueling and requires self-determination and self-discipline. The good news is that it’s just a matter of execution. What to do is clear. You just have to do it and it can be done well. Good results are predictable and repeatable.
So look at the diagram below. It is the “waterfall” model of doing a search. You want to march everyone you talk to through the process. The idea is that each prospective job (or person) has a “state.” Are they a prospect? Are they active in your mind or have they pretty much said no or not responded? Did someone you spoke to give you a new contact? Have you contacted them yet? Most all of those flows and states are represented in the diagram. One sort of enters it from the left to “find” a contact one has “heard of.” Then you get introduced, or introduce yourself and know you have “met” or “know” the person. From there you can keep going and/or they may give you a new referral to a colleague, where the model starts over again for the new contact while the prior one works its way through the pipeline. The discipline to see and manage all the activity in this framework is the hard work of the search. Everything you do needs to be recorded and managed.
Now for the heart of the process. Take this model. Take all your contacts and leads and reach out and contact about 3-5 new people per day. Got it? Move 3-5 people per day into the state of “now I’ve known or have spoken to x.” I’ll say it again. Network 3-5 people per day. Now these can be people you know but have not been in touch with, or they may be people you’ve been referred to who you’ve never met, or people you just think would be good to call. Want to call Jeff Bezos? Go ahead. That counts as one of your three calls. Remember the manager from 5 yrs ago? Email her. Let her know you’re looking for a new job. That’s your second one.
Bear in mind that in addition to the 3-5 new contacts, you have to do the follow up from whatever irons are already in the fire. You have calls and emails from the people you contacted last week. You have to take care of them plus do the new contacts. This is the grind of the search. This is why I say it takes self-discipline to do it and it takes self determination to sit down and grind this out when it might be more fun to get a frozen yogurt.
The reason for the 3-5 is it’s a manageable number. If you pick a bigger number, like 20, you will generate so much activity you will not be able to handle the results. If you pick too few, nothing will sprout. The 3-5 new contacts is the little seed of nuclear fusion that powers whole armada of your search. Without new leads, nothing happens, and in fact, your world will contract to nothingness. You have to have the gumption to make cold calls to make this happen. You can introduce yourself by saying “I’m so and so and other person said I might give you a call. I’m looking for X. If you have an X, great, or maybe you know someone else I should talk to.” You will likely at least get a referral and so net, you use up a contact, but get a new one. This is marketing. This is full time work.
My own database runs to 400 rows and here is a camouflaged sample from it.
I’ll say it again. Managing all the activity, keeping track of who t to call, when you last spoke to whom, when you are supposed to call Fred back, when did Laticia say she’d get back to you about your resume, is grueling and you can’t afford to mess up any of it. You have more to keep track of than you think.
I don’t think it matters what tool you use. I’ve used Excel, Act and Access. You could use Word if you felt like it. Personally I find Excel to be adequate and the least effort though Access what more fun. The net of adding 3-5 contacts a day minus those that go cold is that you should shoot to have about 5-10 irons in the fire at any one time. That is 5-10 people or situations where you a credible dialogue going on. They’ve seen your resume, you’ve spoken, they’re checking this or that and will get back to you, or whatever Think of all your prospects graded A, B, C, D or F, you should be able to list (right out of your database) who they are and what’s the next step. My point is to keep options running concurrently. (It’s a secondary matter whether you think you can do this in your head for 6 months. I’d be impressed if you could, but I don’t know why you would if you could put it into some form of database.
So here’s another guideline – that I don’t actually think is very accurate, but it should help set your expectations. To estimate how long your search will take, allow 1 month for every $10K in annual salary. As I say, I don’t think it’s exactly accurate, but more lucrative jobs take longer to find. I mention it here only so you have some idea how long you may have to sustain the data maintenance.
I have to tell you that you have a high chance of heartbreak in all this. The math of the funnel is not kind. I’m guessing, but let’s say that for every 100 people you contact, half will end up as dead-ends. Of the remaining half, maybe a quarter will have something you can interview for. And of those maybe 5% will result in an offer. The point is, not only are you going to encounter dead-ends but sometimes you will really want a job and not get the offer.
It’s pale advice, but if you’re solid in who you are and what you are selling then treat it as statistical. 5 equally good people apply for a job, but 4 go home disappointed for nothing other than statistical probability. You just have to pick yourself up and play again. The good news, is that unlike the gambler’s fallacy, your luck does not need to change. You just need to play again. It takes a lot of personal resilience though, and it’s not a bad thing to have a good friend who can console you should the need arise. An ironic consequence of job searches being so tough, is that they also tend to humanize and humble us. See previous reference about who helps and who doesn’t.
Even without heartache, there will almost certainly be ups and downs. Things you want may fall through or get delayed. Sure-things will get bogged down. There will be hiring freezes, vacations, other candidates, budget cuts, and people leaving their roles. It happens. The ball isn’t in the pocket until you are filling out your W4.
So you know you need “leads.” You have some already. You have all your friends and work associates. Everyone – and I mean everyone – is a potential source of either a job or a referral. Once, many years ago, I got a job because my wife met a friend of hers – not even mine – on a railway platform. I’d never met the woman and wouldn’t even have considered her husband an acquaintance, but her husband knew someone else, and eventually I got that job.
• You need to sign up for the standard Online aggregators (like TheLadders, glass ceiling, Monster, etc) at whatever level and industry is right for you. You can milk LinkedIn too.
• Cold calling is tough, but it can work. I once got a job cold calling someone I’d never met. It took a while, but in the end it was real. Think shameless. Do stuff you never thought you’d do.
• Generally, I favor quantity over quality. Quality is great, but it is what it is. Quantity you can influence. And we’re playing a game of odds, the more the better.
• You need to have a very crisp statement of what you want out of the call. An “I’m calling because…” spiel. Practice it out loud to yourself. I think I gave an example of the structure of the conversation earlier.
• The other thing you want to do is “get the word out” that you are looking. Some people do this through public speaking engagements, but me personally I tend to shy away from overly self-promotional activities. But still, engaging any professional organizations can’t hurt. I’d not look to them for the answer, just more connections that you can mine. I’m lukewarm on self-promotion. If you’re a senior person, it’d be better that you be known in your industry.
• One way of “getting in” is be referred by some senior or well-connected person in the organization. Your resume will at least get seen in a more serious light if someone higher up is recommending that the recruiter or hiring manager “take a look at this one”. Use who you know. It may be a consultant that is doing work for the company you are targeting that has relationships higher up, or it may be an actual employee there. But check out who works there or is connected to people that work there to get a referral.
As per the model above, recruiters are a “channel”, but they deserve a section of their own.
This is a bit of a taxonomy, so bear with me. There are essentially two types, and then there is a subdivision of one of them. The big division is Internal vs. external. Internal ones work for the company in question and only that company. They have a double-edged job. They have fulfil the needs of hiring managers and they also need to not pass along the wrong kind of people as then they’d look bad. Their job is to look a candidate and say “no” to people who don’t fit the job or company “culture.
Internal recruiters perform “screening” interviews. You need to pass them, but there’s little point in wowing them. Be enthusiastic, know something about the company, and be engaging so the recruiter has a good time. Bear in mind he or she has seen 20 people just like you and they’ve had a nearly identical conversation. Try to make their day easier. Do NOT bring up anything negative and don’t as too many questions. Bear in mind their main job is to filter out people who don’t fit, so try to fit. Internal recruiters are general salaried and not working on commission.
External recruiters live on the deals they close. They need to find candidates the hiring company will hire. They have a requisition for position X and they try to find an X. If you are not an X, they will have a great conversation with you, but you will go into a database. They just asked the database for an X and perhaps you showed up. Or perhaps you coincidentally you just sent them a resume that looks a lot an X. Anyway, they need to keep their network alive, so they will generally be nice to you. But as a practical matter, if you are a Z, they can only place you with people looking for a Z.
External recruiters come in two flavors, contingency and retained. Generally contingency get paid on closing a deal. Retained get paid no matter what the outcome. They tend to do a much more thorough job, have much greater industry knowledge, and do more checking and grooming of candidates. They tend to work on higher paying, more senior positions. For example, there are no contingency recruiters for CEO jobs.
Recruiters are all people you want to maintain good relations with. They may or may not ever place you, but likely you will get at least one job in your life through a recruiter. They get a disparaging wrap amongst your peers, but don’t fall for it. Most are good – to extremely good -- at what they do and they can add 50% to the power of your search. Most are possessed of extraordinary, extrasensory perceptions about people and they can help you learn and grow.
An external recruiter may be working on 20-50 jobs at any one time. If you don’t fit now, ask when you should check back. Things come and go and being top of mind doesn’t hurt.
Recruiters are excellent at smell detection. They can look at a resume and get a sense if there’s any hidden problem. During their interview of you, they’ll be looking for the “tell.” What happened here? Why did you change roles? Did you start that job immediately after the prior one? Be prepared to have a good story. You can’t lie but you can put the best spin on things that you can. If there’s anything funky, practice your story in the mirror.
If your job in “the process” was quantity, the recruiters’ job is quality. They want to put good people in front of the employer. Your job in front of the recruiter is to convince them that you are a top-flight person. You want them to include you in the slate of people they put forward.
External recruiters come in two tiers. There are a handful of multi-industry, international firms and then there are smaller, usually regional companies. If you get your resume to a person at one of the companies, it goes into their worldwide database. Which is to say that submitting it to 10 recruiters at the same company is not only unnecessary, and sort of marks you as a noob. Ideally, you’d submit and meet with the leader of the practice in your area (e.g. IT, Finance, whatever) and have her or his evaluation in their file on you. But the practice leader may be far away, so take who you can get.
As long as you don’t duplicate your submissions within one recruiting company, there’s no reason not to submit to multiple agencies. As a practical matter you may want 10 top tier agencies and 20-30 smaller retained or contingency agencies to be aware of you. Bear in mind that these 30-50 people all need to be called every 6 months so now you have 600 phone calls to make a year. Remember the part about the database and the process model and being disciplined? That would apply here.
Targeting a company
An effective ways of getting a job is to target a company or, if you are to interview at one, get your head completely around the company in question. Now in truth this is something I’ve only seen done and have never done well myself. But watching it done made it clear that it was hugely effective. I’m too lazy to do all this, but what they did was learn the dynamics of the industry in the specific geography. Then they studied the company values and culture. There’s material on the culture of most big companies. How does Volkswagen differ from Tesla? How does Target differ from Bust Buy? And then they researched all the managers (the job being high enough that the structure was guessable. They studied their backgrounds and profiles. This person went to the interview VERY prepared. They had solid questions, good suggestions and managed the balance between being an outsider and being able to add value.
You’ll have worked meticulously and hard to get to an interview. This is a go/no-go moment – or rather set of moments.
It is not unusual to have 6 or so interviews for one job. This is partially because groups often make better decisions than individuals, but also because (a) you will likely have to get along and work with the people you meet, so they have to be vested in you too. (c) Cynically, it’s a risk mitigation strategy to get other people’s finger prints on the hiring decision. It’s also not unusual to have the process take 2 months or so. Beyond that the employer is maybe not making enough of an effort to keep you warm.
• Go on them all. If the point of the resume was to get an interview, the purpose of the interview is to get an offer. An offer is not binding on you. You can turn it down. In fact you may have no interest in the situation at hand (having ruled it out for travel, comp, work, and whatever). But go on the interview. Go on every single interview you can. You need the practice. On the theory that you will make some mistakes and that you will mess up some percent of your interviews, you might as well mess up on some you don’t care about. (I wash my odd socks when I do the laundry for the same reason. One seems to lose 1% of one’s socks, so I keep hoping to lose the one I only have one of.) But seriously, you will learn from the companies, the industries, you will learn from the questions and you should learn about your own thoughts, composure, performance, and people skills in the process. Go on them all.
• Internal screening interviews. We talked about this before. You want to be hugely positive and not particularly realistic. You want to be project that you are excited about the exploration of outer space, not worrying about the dangers of liquid oxygen. As you get deeper into the nested shell of interviews you want to be asking more questions, but never negative ones. You want to show a desire to understand the issues and contribute to their solution.
• The 80/20 rule. In general the interviewer should talk 80% of the time. Or at least it’s not unreasonable if they do. You may ask a question and he/she needs to give you a 5-10 minute answer that will connect to other things in his/her head. I know a world class manager who has a rule to let a candidate talk as long as he/she is willing to hold the floor. Maybe they were making chit chat, maybe the manager had asked “did you find the place OK?” but he’d let the candidate speak. It was not uncommon for him to report that candidates had spoken 20-50 minutes uninterrupted before starting a dialogue. They were done before they were done. Your job is to listen and learn and the interviewer will be reading the signature of your knowledge, judgment, intelligence, composure and personal likability, Do not be inane, boring, extroverted, nervous or saying things that don’t mean anything just for the sake of talking.
• Why didn’t it work out? I don’t mean why the interview didn’t work. Instead this is a question a CEO used to ask his team about candidates. His question was “Suppose we’re sitting here 3 years from now and Jürgen hasn’t worked out. What would the issue have been?” We all have our flat spots and people will be looking for yours. One obvious way to camouflage them is to name them if asked and say how you compensate. You’re not a good at financial forecasting? You always build close ties with Finance and have a qualified analyst do the modeling. You think you are sometimes too demanding, you always give your people permission to tell you when you’re into diminishing returns.
• The airport test. They may not say it, but the interviewer is thinking “if I got stuck in an airport with this person for 24 hours, would it be fun or awful?” Try to be personal and to give the impression that you’d “wear well.”
• Both sides buying and selling at the same time. In principle this is amusing. But it’s true and it adds complexity. You want to be selling yourself, or at least appearing as the most attractive option. Find out what’s important to them and say – or show examples – that you’re great at that. The funny thing is that people believe what you tell them. If you say “I’m great at that” they will actually tend to believe that you are great at it. Sell firmly but not aggressively. Make them want you. Meanwhile you can make your own buying decision later. Keep the digging for negative aspects to yourself. Yes, you can ask how much travel is involved. 90%? Oh that’s fine. Deal with it later.
I’ve said this before, but it applies here: Do not create problems or barriers. Do your selling on the outside and your buying on the inside.
• Make it seem like you work there. You will do some of this through your knowledge of the industry and the company and by showing your relevant experience (“oh, I don’t know if would apply here, but at Marblenose, we had a similar problem and here’s how we solved it….”
Similarly, know the industry lingo. Is it “Revenue” or “Turnover?” is it “annual” or “per annum?” And you have to know the industry and your functional specialty too. Likely a recruiter would not take a Finance person from a retail environment and put her forward to a health care provider. But if you were an IT person, you might make a connection with a Telco to do some consulting work. You already know your functional specialty. So learn as much as you can about the industry. Worst case, you can say you’re an athlete, not a quarterback. If you have to learn a new position, you can. In today’s market, this doesn’t often win, but it can work sometimes if everything else is aligned.
• Meals. Lunch meetings are possible later in the process. Dinner meetings are possible later in the process for more senior positions. I’ll just say it. Watch your manners. Use your knife and fork properly. Ditto your napkin (don’t wipe your face), Don’t chew with your mouth open and don’t get drunk.
• Ask memorable questions. Asking questions serves several purposes. It avoids the fatal mistake of droning on (as described above). It engages the interviewer and makes him/her think. It generates dialogue which is a chance for you to interact and weave yourself into their mind as “I thought he had a good head on his shoulders and enjoyed talking about tariffs with him.” It also adds value to the interviews life now as it gives perspective and feels fresh, plus of course good questions linger and reinforce your brand in their minds later.
• Say you want the job. I mean this literally. Mouth the actual words “I like this job and I’ll take it if you offer it to me.” Or something to that effect. Remember in the concurrent dance of both sides buying and selling, you taking a stance helps simplify the situation for the hiring manager. It will also differentiates you in their mind. Not everyone will be so forthright as to ask for the job. Plus, cunningly, it’s harder for them to say no to someone who asks directly.
And while it might seem that it tips your hand and weakens your negotiating stance, it doesn’t. Remember we’re in an interview and the purpose of the interview is to get an offer. We’ll deal with the offer when you get it. Right now you want the offer (assuming you do). If this was one of those interviews where you’d never take the job, then there’s little to be gained of teasing out an offer you’ll automatically reject – though who knows?
• Samples of your work. I’ve always liked people who brought samples of their work. It shows confidence and pride. It can be a “we did this” sort of inclusive thing. Plus it’s hopefully reinforces your brand and gives the two of you something more concrete to talk about.
It’s hardly worth the mention, but the physical (online or paper) application is just a possible pitfall, so get it right. Filling out the app won’t get you a job, but a mistake there can be a problem. Make sure every date is accurate. Make sure all compensation numbers are correct. Sometimes base and bonus don’t exactly equal your total compensation (say differing by commission), so you can use your total W2 but if possible put a note to that effect. Dates of employment, titles, and compensation will be checked and an error basically indicates lying, which is a red-flag disqualification. Don’t do it. If there’s some odd circumstance, it’s better to leave the question blank and do the explanation orally or in a side note. Your application will likely go to a company for fact checking. A false fact is potentially deliberate and a deliberate falsehood is a lie. And a lie is a show-stopper.
Sometimes there is a question about the minimum compensation you will accept. If yours is reasonable, fine, fill it out. If there’s an issue (say part time or contract work), leave it blank or put “Let’s discuss” or something to that effect. This question is mostly there to weed out people with requirements in excess of what the company is willing to pay.
Remember that list we made of every job you ever had? You will need that info now. You may have needed it earlier with a recruiter.
A “reference” is a person who is supposed to vouch for your ability to do what you have represented you have done and can do. References are more the norm for higher level, retained search background checks. It is best to figure out at the beginning of your search who you might want as your reference. You can pick 5-10 people and then ask them if they’d be willing to serve as a reference when the time comes (and it comes at the end of the process). This asking-in-advance is more professional and respectful than calling out of the blue with some deadline ask. Let the reference know it may be some months, but you wanted to check in advance.
When you are finally asked for a reference and you supply one, let the reference know that you’ve done so. Let them know what the job is, etc. Let them know who you think may be contacting you on your behalf. Then, once it’s settled, let them know the outcome of your application regardless of the outcome. Maybe they didn’t offer you the job. Maybe you turned it down. Maybe it was perfect fit and there was a happy ending. But someone vouching for you deserves to know and deserves to know how you handled it.
And it’s not impolite to offer to draft a written reference saying what you’d to be said about you. The draft is a courtesy to the reference to give them a starting point. Similarly, it’s not a bad idea to collect letters of reference as you leave jobs during your career. Would someone say something nice about you? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a folder of 5-6 of these for use 10 years later?
This is pretty obvious, but if there are any information about you online that might be viewed with suspicion, you’d best be prepared that they will come to light. For jobs above a certain level, everything that’s knowable will be on the table. If there needs to be an explanation, get it (or them) ready.
The offer and negotiation
At this point, and for the first time in the process, you are in control. Usually the offer is made first orally, then agreed with a real or virtual handshake and then sent in written form. They buyer has now said they want to buy and in essence that’s agreement to try to reach a deal.
• When to raise issues. I’ve argued all along to defer raising issues (say relocation, travel, reporting, and title). But now is the time. I recommend deferring them earlier as they can only serve to shoot yourself down prematurely. Raising them now is of course fair and honest, and there is no later time. But the point is that the hiring company is now at a disadvantage in their negations with you. Or you have an advantage. Everyone has invested a lot to get here and no one wants to see it go bad now. And for the most part you are in control. The company can of course decline to meet your “ask” but you still have wiggle room. Can’t do the title now? How about next year? Still requires week days in New York? Will they pick up the travel? You can negotiate anything. It’s mostly what one CEO used to call “small items.” I’ve even seen them all bundled into a lump sum.
• Professional help. Depending on your level you should hire a labor attorney. It will cost you, but you will never regret it. Older employees have more issues as the money is more and the safety net of time is less. Plus you may have more complex vesting relations. What I say below are just my personal thoughts, not qualified legal advice.
• Compensation. Go for it, but don’t over-reach. If you have a job, you’re reasonably safe looking for a 20-30% increase, but you may have to accept a larger portion “at risk” (i.e. a performance bonus) but maybe it’s guaranteed for the first year.
• Title. Think of how this job will look on your resume and a title that has the right optics (and responsibilities.)
• Signing bonus. Honestly signing bonuses have always been a mystery to me, but if they’re on the table, take it.
• Contract. Ideally you should have a written letter outlining your job, compensation and severance conditions and pay. These are of course more the norm the higher you are. But even a letter of understanding makes sense.
• Severance. For a high level job, this needs to be specified.
• Change of control/duties. Make sure this condition is recognized. If the world changes, you may want to leave in the future.
• The high earner paradox/golden handcuffs. I mentioned this, but you may have benefits from your current employer that your new one can’t match (for qualified tax reasons). Just be aware that all this needs to be looked at carefully.
• The Turkish rule. I’ve heard it’s a Turkish expression, but I don’t know for sure. But I like the sentiment. “Every major decision should be made once drunk, once sober.” The idea is that your head and heart have to be onboard. If you do it for the money, but you hate it, it will end badly. If you do it for love, but take too many risks, well, you know.
• Never go back after agreed. I just saw an example of a thing I’ve seen before with lower level people. They got a job and as soon as they were on the job, they asked for raise. An agreement is an agreement. In general it should only be revisited if new questions arise. No one is going to want to hear about new answers to old questions.
Consulting and contract work
Some searches drag on, or sometimes as part of leaving you have the option to do some “consulting” (aka contract) work. You will have to balance the time it will take to do the assignment against how much time it takes away from the search itself. If you bring the search to a dead stop, it will go cold and be harder to restart. On the other hand consulting work keeps you active and engaged, it helps your self-esteem and of course there’s money. There are exceptions but if you put a gun to my head, I’d say “say ‘yes’ to everything.” I may not sound it, but I’m an optimist and I think contract work can lead to full time employment (if that’s what you want).
However, consulting/contract work has some risks and you need to treat them carefully. Aside from the fact that consulting uses different skills and behaviors than being a regular employee, there is actual liability. You are legally responsible for the work you do. Errors can be in the form of actual errors or omissions, things you didn’t say but should have. There is insurance for E&O and some companies will require that you carry it (others won’t).
And then there are tax implications. You will have a 1099 (which needs to be legit) but also the opportunity to deduct some costs as business expenses. You’ll also need to decide what form of entity you want to be. Roughly this ranges from sole proprietorship, various kinds of partnerships and various forms of Corporations.
And then there is the actual contract for the work. You will need a form for this that has your basic terms and conditions. Some companies will accept your, and some may impose their own. It is best – but few do it – to consult both an accountant and an attorney before getting too far into contract work. I’ve attached a sample so you can see the extent of issues you need to cover.
Since there are issues of liability and of taxation, you will need to keep accurate records. Plus do the work. Plus keep up the mainline search.
When it’s all over – and it will end – drop a note of thanks to everyone who helped you. I mean an individual note, not a Facebook post or a giant cc. Say something to the effect of “You were of great help to me in my search so I just wanted to let you know that I wound up at xxx. My new contact info is xxx. Blah blah blah.”
This serves three purposes. First it recognizes and shows appreciation for the help you received. Second, for recruiters, it allows them to update their database so they can find you the next time they want to. And lastly of course, it humanizes you and sustains your network – which is likely what got you to the end of your search.
Sample resumes will be posted separately.