January 9, 2012

Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke

Filed under: Getting in the door, Job Search, Q&A, Readers' Forum

In the January 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader ruminates about how stupid the recruiting and hiring process seems to have become. Employers aren’t really looking for talent — they’re shopping for mediocrity, using lists of keywords:

I’m a career changer and I’m finding it very hard to get past the recruiting agency or even the internal HR shell. I have a number of friends in similar situations in other fields and industries. Perhaps it’s the economy, or maybe it’s just the nature of the recruiting business, but it seems that these days if you don’t match a long checklist of criteria, you don’t have much hope. Many agencies even go as far as to specifically call this out in their ads: Don’t apply unless you meet all of these (10-15) criteria.

It’s a real shame, too, because it seems only natural that successful people will want to take on new challenges. But the recruiting practices of most companies lead them to search for candidates that have already done what they’re being hired to do, and who are content to continue doing the same. They seem to say, “Give me practiced mediocrity rather than a chance to find a star.”

Maybe that makes sense for a recruiter whose job is to maintain the status quo. But how does this produce truly exceptional performance or lead a company into the future?

I will continue to await the day when we try to measure each other by the limits we will have tomorrow, instead of those we had yesterday. In the meantime, thanks for your article The Horse’s Ass in The Rear-view Mirror, about how recruiters drive away a company’s best hires. It gave me faith that there are still people out there that hire people, and not tie racks or check lists. But what should I do next?

My Advice

This is even worse than you suggest. Stupid hiring practices are not a philosophical problem. This is a structural problem that’s destroying our economy from the inside out.

There are 14.2 million unemployed Americans and 3.2 million vacant jobs. That’s a 4:1 ratio, a 4:1 advantage to employers. But, “We can’t find people who match” is the refrain. Do the math. Those 14.2 million Americans are not morons, incapable of learning on the job, or worthless pieces of dung because they don’t have 100% of the right keywords on their resumes.

Reductionist recruiting

The problem is that employers have gotten sucked into a reductionist approach to recruiting and hiring that’s been foisted on them by job-board databases and recruiters and HR departments that have no idea “who” they’re looking for. They spend all day scanning buzzwords, driven by a fantasy of the perfect “match.” They’re not interested in people or in talent. Just in magic matches.

Consider the staggering cost of leaving those 3.2 million jobs vacant, because personnel jockeys can’t figure out who’s worth hiring — and because managers don’t know how to mentor, train, and bring those people up to speed. All that work — 3.2 million jobs — left undone.

There’s the hole in the economy.

The solution is teaching managers that management means hiring smart people and teaching them how to do the work. Management does not mean matching keywords and then sitting back while the peg fits neatly into the hole.

The problem is structural

The media feed the frenzy: “All those unemployed people are not qualified! They need new skills!” Well, “they” needed new skills in 1990 and in 1995 and in 2000. But “they” got hired anyway, and they did the work.

The problem is structural. This is the dominant “filtering” mechanism employers use. The problem is that employers really believe that, if they wait long enough, perfect hires will show up. The few headhunters who have brains, and the few employers who actually size candidates up for their abilities, are doing quite nicely, thank you.

The rest of the economy is sucking wind because work is left undone because managers aren’t managing. They’re waiting for the databases to spit out magic hires. It ain’t gonna happen.

Cut out the middlemen

Your challenge is to avoid the process that takes your keywords but ignores your ability to learn and to stretch. The alternative is simple: Cut out the middlemen — HR and the recruiters and the headhunters — and go directly to good managers you’d like to work for. Find out what work they need done, and show how you will do it. Show how you will boost their business and they will hire you.

Read that again: Go to good managers you’d like to work for. That means making choices before you approach anyone about a job. It means avoiding the cattle calls. It means avoiding waiting in line. It means avoiding asking for jobs from people you don’t know who don’t know you.

If you understand this, you have an advantage: Everyone else is diddling the job databases, while you’re out talking to a handful of managers you really want to work for who really want and need to hire you. No resume, no interview, no joke.

Here’s what to do next

Pick three companies or managers you really, really want to work for because they are the shining lights in their industry. Then describe (briefly) three problems or challenges each company really needs someone to tackle. (You don’t have to name the companies.) Post right here in the comments section — and I’ll show you what to do next to get in the door.

No resume, no interview, no joke.

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64 Comments on “Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke”
By Debi Revelle
February 4, 2012 at 11:52 am

I agree with you. The problem is that recruiters do call, even though they can see it is a company. It is frustrating to me because I am getting lots of calls from recruiters, but then cannot put people to work. And if I do charge a finder’s fee, it is minimal because I would rather see people working.

I do try to find the clients, but it is hard to do given all the recruiting companies out there. I am not trying to be a recruiting firm, but rather a company with very skilled trainers and designers who just want to work in their field.

Any advise is appreciated!

By Nick Corcodilos
February 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm

@Debi: Please don’t misunderstand my comments as a criticism of you or your business. I think it’s great you’re trying to find work for these people. But that makes you a recruiter. I know it’s hard to do this due to all the competition, but that’s the position you put yourself in if you want to do this.

Why do recruiters call you if they know you’re a company, then they complain because you’re not an individual who wants a job? Because most “recruiters” are jerks dialing for dollars. They have no clue what they’re doing. (Which means if you get good at this, you’ll have little competition.)

My advice: What you’re doing is a business, not a free helping hand. Start charging appropriate fees, not “finder’s fees” and get to work doing this properly. You need to be talking to employers, not recruiters. Take this seriously, and I think employers will start taking you seriously. Word will get around that you are a source of good hires. It takes time, but the fees can be very healthy. Once your reputation is established, “selling” won’t be so hard.

I’m taking time to advise you because you have what few “recruiters” have — a sincere desire to put people in jobs because you want to help them. That gives you a tremendous edge. But you must learn to do the business. That means selling to employers and having a steady stream of good candidates. You don’t have to put these people on your own payroll to make this a viable business. Just charge a placement fee. Make sense?

By Debi Revelle
February 4, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Thank you for this great advice! My company actually started out with several people I knew who had lost their jobs coming together in sort of a support group atmosphere and has evolved into what it is today.

I knew I needed to sit down and think through the strategy and business model. Reading your advice has put a smile on my face! Thank you!!

By Mason
October 24, 2012 at 9:15 am

The problem is this. Employers actually LOVE this current job market. They can control costs by paying exactly what they want for a given job/position…and they have an ENORMOUS pool of willing applicants from which to choose. Some of them, I would say most of the Fortune 1000, are doing well and extremely profitable. There is little reason or incentive for them to hire more people.

I just got rejected after 9 AM in the morning after I applied for a job at midnight. Something tells me a human didn’t actually read my application.

Companies who treat the employees like crap will be emptied out of their good employees once the economy gets better. Of this I am convinced. If a company craps on people in the bad times, they certainly cannot be trusted in the good times….

Another thing, everyone gets the “sneaky game” that people OVER 40 are being put out to pasture–so to speak–as long as you lay off the same amount of people UNDER 40.

Keep trying, even though it may be hard to be unemployed/underemployed. You can’t win the Powerball if you don’t buy a ticket….

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Pssst! Here’s where you should be recruiting top talent!
October 24, 2012 at 10:46 am

[…] an excerpt from a comment posted by Mason on another column, Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke: The problem is this. Employers actually LOVE this current job market. They can control costs by […]

By Nick Corcodilos
October 24, 2012 at 11:40 am

@Mason: Your comments are so good, I think they warrant a highlight and more discussion. http://www.corcodilos.com/blog/5773/pssst-heres-where-you-should-be-recruiting-top-talent

By Kris
October 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Hi Nick- stumbled across you from a PBS link and hoping your offer still holds.

Company A: start up non profit that teaches technology usage to churches
1 – start up, not well known
2- needs to charge low fees to get hired, but needs to pay (contract) instructors for growth
3- no particular business plan (just a mission statement)

Company B: online publisher, aligned with established print publisher
1 – mediocre web page
2 – third name/format change in as many years
3 – strong competition in niche market

With both – I’d like to be a online instructor, in person presenter and writer, or a N.E. manager.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

@Kris: I think you’re stumbling into trouble. Without a business plan, A has no idea where it’s going, other than “being helpful.” You’d be along for the ride. If you get great satisfaction from just helping, go for it. If you want a career and a regular paycheck, I’d start asking about that biz plan.

With B, you describe a start-up whose only edge is that it’s got a deal with a print publisher. Nowadays, that could be a downside because print is in trouble in general.

How to approach both? A sounds rather loosey-goosey. I’d just pick up the phone and explain you do training for non-profits. You want to know whether it would be worth merging your “businesses.” My guess is you’ll get a meeting.

With B, I’d study what they publish. Pick out a good topic they’ve published, and write a thoughtful rebuttal or “alternative viewpoint.” Make it chock full of useful information for readers. Call and ask them if they’d like to publish it. I wouldn’t charge for it. This gives them a taste of your skills. Next step is to ask if they’d like some freelance columns from you. Next step is a regular gig.

In both approaches, you’re going “person to person.” There’s no application or resume. You are the resume and your work is proof of your abilities. I hope this helps!

By Trevor McAlpine, Business Coach
March 25, 2014 at 1:23 am


Many of the comments above (and your post) allude to what I see as the biggest problem affecting businesses today: the desire to NOT LOSE vs. the desire to WIN.

All too often, those I coach speak of the same problem: If they try anything new or different and it fails, they get lambasted. But if they toe the line and follow the established process, well failures are suddenly “no one’s fault” or get explained away and are swept under the rug….

Seriously, you would think that a failure was an opportunity to improve. But that would imply that the boss (who likely designed or at the very least approved the process)is implicated in the failure, and we cannot have that! But I digress….

If you are an entrepreneur, it pays to take risks and try to hire based on transferable skills, talent, work ethic, etc. You take the pain if it fails, but you reap all the reward if it succeeds. So you play to WIN.

If you are a salaried HR staffer, the most you win is really another day on the job — you really get none of the benefits if a non-conventional process yields a great hire. But the opposite is not true — a bad hire from a non-traditional process exposes you. Ultimately, taking any risks needlessly exposes you to potential (and likely real) career and financial pain. Remember, your “smart risk” is your manager’s “reckless behavior”! So you play to not lose.

So let the computer filter the candidates. Have a poor or mediocre hire? Must have been a bad list of requirements from the manager who wants to hire (i.e. the hiring manager’s fault, not HR’s fault). HR screened them well … HR did its job…. :-(

BTW, loved your line about HR’s willingness to engage recruiters on retainer but itself “not being willing to work on retainer…”. Brilliant, just brilliant. :-)


By Thassos
July 15, 2014 at 11:29 am

But there’s an ATH regular who said something that really stuck in my head:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

Maybe that’s the best way to look at this. I don’t think we’re going to convince HR to change a bureaucracy that pays so well.

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By James Green
July 23, 2014 at 4:40 am

I think the best way to get hired in any job is be on self, confidence and do your best on the interview. This is not about education, this all about your skills and what is your capacity to help the company.

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By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Is this resume too long?
July 13, 2015 at 11:49 pm

[…] sent this candidate to an interview with a client after presenting him only on the phone (no resume). When the meeting was done the client wanted the resume, to fill in the blanks about the […]

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