January 16, 2012

Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Filed under: Q&A, Readers' Forum

Special Edition

I periodically do webinars and teleconferences for professionals, where I make a brief presentation — then we have an “open microphone.” Anyone may ask any question about job hunting or hiring, and I do my best to provide useful advice on the spot.

I love doing such events because I don’t have to prepare. In fact, I can’t prepare. I have no idea what anyone will ask. I also enjoy doing it because it tests me — how much value can I deliver, to someone with a problem, in the space of a few minutes?

These events grew out of a series of online chats I did a few years ago, before audio was really possible for large groups online. (The webinar I did for Harvard Business School attracted hundreds of MBA students and Harvard alumni.) We always promoted the old chats like this:

Show up online at noon tomorrow — and pound Nick with your questions! We’ll see how many he can answer, and how fast he can type, in the course of 90 minutes!

Chats aren’t very popular any more (and I can talk faster than I can type!), so I’ll be doing more webinars and teleconferences for various groups in 2012. But I’ve never done an “open mic” here, for my own Ask The Headhunter community. So here we go!

It’s Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Every week in the newsletter I answer one question from a reader in the traditional Q&A format. This week, I will do my best to answer any and all questions you post here on  The Blog — and I welcome our community to chime in on the discussions. The more variety, the better!

  • Lost your job and don’t know how to start hunting for a new one?
  • The employer wants you to do a stress interview?
  • Wondering how to deal with a headhunter who just called you?
  • They want your salary history, but you don’t want to share it?
  • Your company posted a job and you got 5,000 applicants. What now?
  • The manager made you a good offer, but HR just called to rescind it?
  • What’s your problem? Please post it and we’ll tackle it.

(You don’t have to include any identifying information.)

I’ve answered over 30,000 questions from Ask The Headhunter readers since 1995. This week I’ll answer as many as you post. So… please ask away!

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99 Comments on “Open Mic: What’s your problem?”
By Nick Corcodilos
January 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm

@WD: The best way to do this is to skip past morons who don’t understand what military training means. The HR wonk who discounts what you did for 4 years should go visit a military base, you know, for “experience.”

A couple of years ago I was asked to do a presentation to an auditorium full of soldiers returning from Iraq to Fort Dix, to be processed out of the Army and into civilian life. Here’s what I told them:

Find companies that hire military folks. Don’t bother with the rest unless they come to you. Use that edge to your advantage – employers that “get it.”

How do you find them? Through former military folks who work there. Start by participating in online forums for ex-military. Get to know the participants. Then ask them for their advice and insight – not for a job lead. (Being asked for a job lead is like being asked to carry a monkey on your back.) Ask what companies they know that hire military. Then start reading about those companies. Contact people you encounter in those articles. Ask for more advice and insight. This trail will help you make friends – and get you introductions.

The problem with sending out resumes in response to ads is that you aren’t selecting employers – you’re waiting for them to reject you. Make the appreciation of the military experience one of your criteria for targeting employers.

I wish you the best. Thanks for your service to us all. Only an idiot would believe that when you left the military, you also left behind all you learned because it’s useless.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm


As technology allows more and more people to connect more easily and without any real cost

It doesn’t. The prevalence of job boards and software that puports to match people to jobs doesn’t mean it really works. It doesn’t. If it worked, America would not have 3.2 million empty jobs when there are 14 million people unemployed.

It’s a fallacy. Don’t buy into it.

Contingency search will always exist because there’s no risk to the employer, and a handsome fee for the headhunter who does a good job.

What’s next is what we’ve always had: A small number of good contingency headhunters being used by employers who need to hire.

By Gus
January 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm

With 20+ years of solid and credible experience, but no college degree, I find myself excluded at the online application stage from available positions in my industry. I’m also “mature” aka older than many applicants, which is readily gleaned from online applications requiring that one insert year of graduation from high school. I’m willing (not excited) to accept a lot less money than I was previously being paid, but I sense that my past pay rate is a barrier to even being considered for a new position. I know I have skills and energy to contribute to a new employer, but have found no way to convey that message in person.

By Robbie Bennett
January 17, 2012 at 7:45 pm


Thank you so much for providing this unique opportunity.

I am a graduating senior from The University of Tulsa. I am very interested in recruitment and love advancing organizations and institutions I am a part of and believe in. Obviously, a career in this very thing is something I am pursuing, but it seems as if few people my age are pursuing this type of career, and quite frankly, my confidence is a bit shaken without some support from others following my path or from others in the field. It seems very unclear what sources I should pursue and what steps I should take to recruit for a living. Therefore, my question is this: how does one in my position get into recruitment? Do I need to pursue a masters in H.R. MGT? Do I need to be an established expert in a field before I can move into recruitment for said field? Really what I’m asking is, what next? No one seems to provide me any real advice; people in similar positions that I’m looking at say they just kind of ended up there, and it seems like they were not necessarily pursuing that career anyway.

Thanks for your wisdom and support!

By marybeth
January 17, 2012 at 8:28 pm


Thanks so much doing this open questions session.

My question to you is: how do I handle the gap in employment on both my résumé or sales letter (I’m moving away from using résumés) and in the interview?

I’ve been unemployed since Sept. 2010. I’ve been dealing with some family health and wellness issues (my mother’s), but I’m concerned how prospective employers will view my employment gap. Is there a way I can put a positive “spin” on it?

I know that lots of people probably have employment gaps now, but I still read stories about employers who list as a qualification “only the employed need apply”. The job market is lousy, making it hard for me to find work, and with my mom’s health issues, I’ve been spending much of my time in doctor’s offices and running to p.t. appointments and to hospitals for tests.

Thanks for your insight and ideas.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 17, 2012 at 9:09 pm

@Thomas: You could contact the manager directly to discuss the job, but you’d be stepping into a “script” that’s already playing. That is, the manager is probably already reviewing applicants. If you call, he’ll crank up that script and tell you to submit your resume, so that you can get in on the script. Make sense? He’s primed to tell you to forget about jumping into another story line.

Of course, you might handle the call so deftly that he agrees to meet you. If you can pull that off, more power to you!

On the other hand, if you call the manager and start a new script that’s appealing to him, you might have a better chance of getting what you want. Example: Do a search on the manager. Does he have a blog? Was he written up somewhere in an article about his company? Contact him and ask about that – have one or two intelligent questions about his work, and tie it to your work. Spark a dialogue. (This is Dating 101, by the way.) Then ask for his advice: “I’ve thought about working for your company. My interests are in XYZ. I don’t like floating my resume out there, but I’d sure like to know more about your business. Can you offer me any advice?” It’s the soft way in the door, and it bypasses the resume script.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm

@Gus: Please check my replies to some of the other questions here on this thread – I think you’ll find some useful suggestions.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

@Robbie Bennett: I joined a small search firm in Silicon Valley straight out of graduate school, recruiting engineers. I knew nothing about technology OR recruiting. I learned like this:

If you want to recruit in an HR department, my advice is forget it. It’ll turn you into a bureaucrat sitting in front of a pc all day long. If recruiting seems interesting to you, learn to headhunt. It’s where the action is. And the money, too, if you get good at it. It can be a fun business, especially if you start totally green and learn from a pro who really loves the business. I wish you the best.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 17, 2012 at 9:20 pm

@marybeth: Sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with family health issues. But the problem with resume gaps isn’t so much the gaps as the resume. It’s a barrier by itself. Once you hand that document over, you’re cooked. It cannot defend you when the employer has a question or concern – and you’re not there to address it. So be there. That is, don’t use a resume – apply in person. Try this for a while: Apply for jobs only by calling the manager directly and striking up a conversation. (I discuss this extensively in some of my other replies on this thread.) When you talk with a manager, talk shop. Find out what he or she needs done, and explain how you’ll do it. Focus on the work. If you can impress the manager with your skills, your planning, your motivation – then what you did last year isn’t so relevant. Good managers are far more interested in evidence that you can do THIS job NOW. Once you’ve demonstrated that, then answering questions about what you did for your family is secondary and not such an obstacle.

By Becky
January 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Hi, Nick – I found myself participating in what turned into a comedy of errors over two possible temp placements at the same company because I’m scared about finances.

This was my first interview since my last contract ended in May, 2010; I did my best to stay relaxed and not put my foot in my mouth. I used your suggestions several times throughout the whole process, and they worked in all regards – except that the actual position was deadline oriented without enough flexibility on scheduling, and my first priority is being my dad’s caregiver.

(I had advised the agency I needed flex scheduling and couldn’t be tied to deadlines, but they didn’t pay attention this time. I’ve got an excellent reputation with them and have made them a lot of money over the years.)

Both of the people I interviewed with had been in the same situation, so they knew I might not be able to serve two masters despite my best intentions. In retrospect, I’m glad they decided the way they did. I would have hated having to make the choices. I just have to believe things are the way they are for a reason.

Thanks for all the great guidance you give us, and also for providing such a quality open forum for people to share their experiences and information.

By Thomas
January 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm

@ Nick – thanks again for your feedback. I’m going to implement your ideas!

January 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Hi Nick,

Thanks for offering this opportunity to ask you questions directly. My concern stems from prospective employers doing background checks and having access to credit report data.

Until recently, my credit has been excellent, but due to the past several months of unemployment, as well as an incompetent, uncooperative lender who denied me assistance on my mortgage, the picture is less rosy than it once was. So, my question is how to handle that with a prospective employer. Knowing that this will be part of, if not the final, step toward an offer, does it make sense to address this with the employer? I know legally there are limits to what they can and cannot do with this information, but, I’m sure they will never admit that you were denied employment due to your credit report. With long term unemployment rates and big banks that were given bailout money to help customers, but don’t, I’m sure I’m not the only one whose credit has been affected.

I’m not applying for high-level positions with banking or financial institutions. And while the roles I’m seeking would deal with departmental budgets, there would be checks and balances to any approved spending. Also, I’m not a person who takes their (or their employers) financial obligations lightly. So how do I best address this “elephant in the room?” Thanks in advance, for your help and insights.

By Jake
January 17, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Nick, I have a Master’s and some advanced certifications. I am white, 58 yrs old, English-speaking male. I have I have successfully succeeded in leading 4 non-profit corporations, a national organization, and a regional association from the brink of bankruptcy and foreclosure to restoration, expansion, debt elimination, and resigned to do the same thing when they had up to $1/3 mil cash reserve in the bank. I also have been a prof for 16 years on a P-T basis at nights, being certified to teach for courses. I have held “titles” of Pres/VP/and Exec Director. I hired an Executive Mentor to help me secure another leadership position after failing to do so on my own. Over $5k and years later, I have yet to get an interview. I would be happy to be offered a 5-digit salary, not a 6 or 7-figure one! I have a foot-thick stack of applications and letters I have sent out with no positive results. My resume has been rewritten for times. I am told I am overqualified OR that the hiring agent believes I will want too much money OR leave if offered a better-paying job. The end result is the same: no job offers or interviews. It is despairing to be so successful and yet not be able to get in front of anyone. Any advice?

By Mona
January 17, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I am a long-time fan of your concepts and approaches, especially in the business world. I have frequently passed on specific articles or suggested that job-seekers sign up for ATH.

But now, a recent PhD who seeks employment in higher education is telling me that those approaches don’t work there. He claims that academia requires extensive paperwork from its applicants — that they do not accept candidates through direct contact.

How would you propose approaching the hiring process within academia?

By Nick Corcodilos
January 18, 2012 at 12:01 am

@Mona: To borrow a popular analogy used frequently on maternity wards, that would be like stretching your lower lip up and over the top of your head.

Your friend the PhD is correct. Academia does require extensive paperwork, and the process is so prescribed that you could have a baby in the time it takes to get processed. Nonetheless, personal contacts do count. I’ve seen it happen. A school will go through the motions, then hire a favored candidate. But all candidates must submit the required paperwork to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and that no one who really stands out has an advantage. (Heaven forbid.)

I think the best way to approach this is to work backwards. If you assume that personal contacts do count, you need to figure out how they matter in a particular school. Who needs to be approached? What do they need to hear? What factors matter most? Then handle it accordingly.

In the end, unless a school’s hiring is corrupt and nepotism walks the halls, personal contacts merely emphasize that a particular candidate has qualities the school wants – if the candidate really does. That is, personal contacts can still give you an edge, because all those professors and administrators, way underneath the gloss, are really human beings who have personal preferences.

But you still might prefer to give birth before you go looking for a job in academia.

By H.M.
January 18, 2012 at 12:43 am

Hi Nick:

I’ve been out of work for two years. The past year I have been in school updating my computer skills. My former supervisor often discriminated against me and set me up in order to prevent me from getting promotions. She set me up in order to get me fired. In negotiations, I was able to get severance pay and resign due to the abuse and discrimination I suffered. In order to get the severance pay, I had to sign a statement that I wouldn’t bring discrimination charges against them.

What do I tell potential employers about this mess? Most job applications require us to sign our rights away and allow anyone to say anything about us in background and reference checks. We have to agree to hold them all harmless regardless of the damage they cause.

I am concerned that this former employer may be preventing me from getting a job. This past summer, I was close to getting a job I really wanted. After checking my references and work history, the potential new employer gave me a quick brush off and hired someone else.

I have a list of references that include former co-workers, a former supervisor, and a teacher but I am concerned that the potential employers may still be contacting the former employer/supervisor who sabotaged me.

Do job applicants have any rights whatsoever? How do we protect ourselves against hateful former employers or supervisors? To make matters worse, I am 50+ years old and may be shut out due to my age.

I need to get back to work soon. What advice do you have for me?

By Sean McDermott
January 18, 2012 at 3:04 am

Dear Nick,

I am currently 28, unemployed for mostly 2 out of the last 3 months, live at home with mom and dad, and am constantly walking a tight rope that could leave me homeless in a county where there aren’t any homeless shelters.

Some educational background:
A.)Bachelor’s Degree, Communications, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
B.)Certificate of Completion, Business and Information Technology, The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (successfully finished program working alongside high-level executives on the International Marketing Team for Blackboard, Inc.)

I have sought everything pertinent to my degree since graduation. I enjoy learning, but my largest premise to go back and put myself in debt was because salary breakdowns of the college graduate have generally been understood to be higher than the drop-out or the High School Grad (My 7th grade teacher gave us an annual income break down of each, and I was given multiply similar lectures that sent me back to school in 2005.)

I have a serious qualm that fumes me: I know of drop outs, derelicts, and drunks making more money than me and haven’t a degree at all. So without carrying on further, let me list some questions. Answering only a few is understood and appreciated, but answering all will be greatly adored.

A.) *What am I to do with this degree that I have?* I added a stressful internship because I saw that Communications itself wasn’t going to be enough of a demand. I worked briefly as a Staff Writer for my campus newspaper, and later worked as a Headlines Examiner (Examiner.com) collecting near-to-nothing ad-revenue for posting news columns pertaining to my suburban New Jersey county.
B.) *How am I to gain not only experience, but maybe ONE interview granting me a tiny chance at some marketing, journalism, or other work experience if no one will hire me first?!* The majority of my work experience is 8 years of part-time, retail, food-service (I could send you a copy of my resume if you feel this may be a resume tuning issue. I’d think after this much time and revision, it would have stood out.)
C.) I tried my luck switching industries to Warehouse/Production in May, 2011. I started off as an attendant, and then quickly moved up from attendant to line leader within a month of being hired. I was punctual, and for two out of five months employed, I performed duties valued to direct-hires of $15.00 p/hr. for only $9.00 p/hr. Two weeks prior to my contract’s end, I was “granted” an interview for a lesser-paying, attendant job. My interview frequented to my non-relative work experience on my resume, and they never called me back. I proved day-in, day-out I could perform the job with higher or lesser responsibility in a field where I had no prior experience.
*How do I NOT think this was a result of a company taking advantage of cheap labor?*
D.) I have a DUI from 2003. *How do I know if this has been barring me from employment despite its occurrence over 8 years ago (I have inquired without response.)*
E.) My credit score is bad because I ran up credit cards surviving at school. *When does someone recognize that someone with a crappy credit score will DEFINITELY work hard to get his/herself out of this mess rather than be perceived as a louse, a thief, or an irresponsible individual?*
E.) Lastly, I wanted to present my most important question because my employment problems after graduation have left me to be a strong supporter of The Occupy Movement. I have a few friends telling me “ANYTHING YOU POST ON A FREE WEBSITE CAN BE SEEN REGARDLESS OF YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS! (speaking of Facebook, etc.)” I confess, I frequently post “Occupy Material” much less out of naivety and protest, but more adamantly because of it’s potential to be one of the biggest violations of freedom of speech rights in American History. My question is: *How certain are you, or do you think it is even possible, that there is some form of a “beta-search” or other “secret well” of data where anything I post can be found and used against me without my knowledge or discretion?*

My situation is much more complex than my academically-lacking peers have been snickering at me for since my graduation. This is horrific to me not only because I am far from self-sufficient at this point, but I may never topple my debts or my own morale in my quest for financial freedom and holistic solitude.

This state has gotten disgusting, and I know I did not go to college simply to enhance my pride. It is very hard for me to not take it all to heart, and I really think there needs to be immediate emphasis on the fact that a minor part of the population, like me, have a degree and only debt to show for it (feeling strategically pinned against the uneducated and the educated who are oblivious to me with their own careers.) I haven’t made more than 11 dollars per hour since I was 20, and as stated, am 28.

Help, and thanks.

–Sean McDermott

PS: Sorry for the chapter here.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 18, 2012 at 10:10 am

@CB: There’s no way of telling what an employer has unearthed about your background, and whether they got it legally or otherwise. You really need to make a judgment call and it should depend on the employer and on your motivation to work there. My first inclination is to avoid bringing up anything unnecessarily. But if you believe they’re “looking,” then a preemptive mention of the problem by you can be helpful. The idea is to make it forthright, short, and sweet. By sweet, I mean a quick explanation of how you’re dealing with it. Then move on – talk about how you’re going to do the job successfully. Focus on the reasons to hire you, not on your personal problems.

In many such cases, a new job with a paycheck is the solution to the tarnished financial record.

By Inquiring Mind
January 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

I am working with a headhunter but the HR department of the company keeps wanting to talk to me directly. Is this appropriate? We are at the point of scheduling the onsite interview.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 18, 2012 at 10:55 am

@Jake: You’re asking me for a complete job search strategy, which I can’t do in a posting. It’s what all of Ask The Headhunter is about. Start with the free stuff on http://www.asktheheadhunter.com, then read through the blog. If you want to spend a few bucks (less than $5k!), I think you’ll find “How Can I Change Careers?” helpful. It’s for any job hunter who wants to stand out in today’s market – not just for career changers.

The problem most people face is pursuing jobs that “come along” in postings or ads. That makes you a very weak candidate. The better approach is to select companies carefully, and work your way in by triangulating – talking with people who deal with the company. This gets you introduced, so you become one of those “insiders” who are “wired” for a job. In many cases, there is no job. Recognizing your value, a company creates a job, or fits you into a path toward the job that’s ultimately right for you.

Unfortunately, you’ve seen what career counseling can be: A cash suck. It’s important to have defined deliverable in the agreement, and periodic payments based on milestones – not an up-front lump-sum. Check this:

By Nick Corcodilos
January 18, 2012 at 10:59 am

@H.M.: You’re asking a lot of legal questions, but I’m not a lawyer and I don’t give legal advice. You need to talk with your state’s labor office to find out what the rules are in your state.

As for references, check this:

The best reference is the person who refers you to a particular manager in a company, and who speaks up for you. Applying blindly through ads just doesn’t work well, because no one in the process really knows you. Throughout Ask The Headhunter I discuss ways to “get inside” and avoid the claptrap of applications and blind job hunting. Please check some of my articles.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 18, 2012 at 11:06 am

@Inquiring Mind: Keep one thing in mind about headhunters. They don’t work for you; they work for the employer. Second thing: You are not bound to the headhunter because you have no contract. You can do what you want. Don’t do anything to tick off a good headhunter, but don’t dis his client, either. If HR wants to talk with you, let the headhunter know – and talk. Your goal is a job. The headhunter’s job is to manage the process properly.

One way to handle this: Tell HR thank you, you’re gald to meet and talk, and would they please notify “their” headhunter about what they’re doing. That should cover you.

Remember: The headhunter can be incredibly helpful to you if you have a candid relationship. Don’t “go around” the headhunter unless the client instructs you to. If you’re going to be dealing with headhunters, learn “How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make them work for you.” http://www.howtoworkwithheadhunters.com

By Nick Corcodilos
January 18, 2012 at 11:12 am

@Sean: I think you’re suffering from Liberal Arts-itis. I was commissioned to write this article by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

You might find it helpful. Here’s another, about How to Make Your Liberal Arts Degree Pay Off:

We get pretty brainwashed in college about work – most schools behave as though your education has nothing to do with earning a living. That’s a pathetic, irresponsible attitude for schools to have.

In the end, they teach you to pursue work related to your degree. In reality, there’s often no such thing. What matters is the skills you acquired, not the knowledge. It’s up to you to figure out what a particular employer needs – one you carefully selected – and then to demonstrate how you’ll meet those needs. A resume doesn’t cut it. A little business plan for the job – that can do it for you.

By H.M.
January 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm

It’s hard to avoid giving out salary information when asked. I ended up giving a salary range when pressed but it was lower than the amount I actually wanted or had received in the past.

Is it really possible to dodge this question?

By M.L.
January 18, 2012 at 1:32 pm


I am not much older than you and had a little trouble out of the gate too in terms of finding a job.

I think temp agencies will get you in the door. With a major in Communications, you probably could do Advertising/PR. I don’t know how far you are from NYC or the larger cities within NJ such as Jersey City, Newark and Hoboken. Temp agencies offer two advantages: they usually do not do stringent background checks beyond reference and education checks and a roster of mid-size and large companies as clients. Usually, if a temp agency does a drug test or credit check, it is because a client specifically requests it (mainly financial services oriented companies do this).

By H.M.
January 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Hello Nic:

How do we handle the over-qualification issue? In this economy, just getting a job is the goal. Most of us cannot afford to hold out for the perfect job.

I was advised to only list the most recent ten or twelve years of my work experience but that leaves off some of my most important experience.

By Rick D.
January 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Hi Nick,

Thanks so much for hosting an Open Mic session and offering your professional expertise.
Here is my question. My career is in IT and although I feel more like a commodity these days then the business professional that I am, there are interviewing techniques that throw up a big red flag.

Recently I was asked to do a Skype interview. I do not find this as an ethical interviewing practice because it is in my opinion discriminatory. There are many factors with a Skype interview that can be held against a candidate because it introduces things that are not common with the typical phone and face-to-face interview process.

The interview is with a local company but regardless, I still find it as an unfair practice.

What are your thoughts?

Best Regards,

By Sandi
January 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm


I have a job offer but I’m reluctant to accept. Mainly b/c of three point:

1. I would have to move to city where the cost of living is higher.
2. The base salary is low.
And, 3. (most importantly) They offer a base + commission and tell me I should land at $53,000. However, they will NOT supply the commission rate. They tell me it’s based on a team goal. When I pressed the hiring manager for the commission formula I was told she didn’t know the formula. Really?!? Then how will I get from my base of $35,000 to $53,000.

Currently I am unemployed, been searching. However I feel uncomfortable accepting a position where I have to move to a higher priced city (Chicago) not knowing all the detail of compensation. I left Chicago 6 years ago making this amount, and it’s not easy. Is this common practice for companies when it pertains to sales positions? I’ve never heard of not releasing how commissions are calculated. Additionally, when I asked for sales goals in 2012, I was told I wouldn’t find out until I started.

By Maya
January 19, 2012 at 8:30 am

Hi Nick,

I have been reading your newsletter and have your book since 2004. About 4 years ago I followed your advice and made a career change which I wanted. Now, I work in consultancy/analysis, however when I look for new opportunities with companies I really want to work for, I have to face another challenge.

I have strong analytical skills which are proven through my work. However, I am bad at tests. As you know, quite often consulting companies test candidate’s analytical skills by asking to complete a certain number of problem solving tasks within a limited period of time.

Every time I get to the stage when a potential employer selects me and asks to complete a test, I know I would not be able to pass that stage. Under usual circumstances, I can complete all tasks successfully, but when I have to do the test, I fail.

Could you please advice how to pursuade a company I am still capable at doing a great job, when I am unlikely to pass the initial screening?


By jessa
January 19, 2012 at 10:32 am

Thank you so much for offering to do this, Nick.

I feel like there is something very basic I am missing about networking and contacting the people I want to work for outside of job postings. That seems to be the major advice for finding an awesome job, but it largely doesn’t make sense to me (I don’t have the best social aptitude, so I do sometimes totally miss things). The places I try to target are university libraries and museums and historical societies. I just cold-call or write to people who work in these settings at the places I am targeting? I call and say, “hey, I really want to work with you and/or do the things that you do here”? Then what? That seems like such an awkward and random interaction that I struggle to understand how that transforms to being an “insider” that they consider in particular when there is a job opening. I understand how volunteer work in a big non-profit library or museum or historical society can make me an “insider”, though does not guarantee it. Taking classes with these people and finding a mentor among these people (but how?) also makes sense. But this cold-calling sort of thing is totally beyond me. Does this start with informational interviews and job-shadowing or asking for career advice? But how does that turn into something more than a one off interaction? Why would these people want to do me favors?

By Nick Corcodilos
January 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm

NOTE TO ALL: The problem with recruiters seems to be such a big topic here that in the midst of addressing one reader’s comments, I realized he deserved a longer explanation. So I responded with a new posting:
Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters).


By Nick Corcodilos
January 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm

@H.M.: Hey, you’re not reading the blog… ;-)

Check all the discussion about disclosing salary: http://www.corcodilos.com/blog/3686/salary-history-can-you-afford-to-say-no

And check the article I reference. Lots of people have learned to say no, without getting booted out of the interview.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm

@H.M.: I’m starting to think you don’t love Ask The Headhunter. There’s a little search box way down the right-hand side of every page. Search for what you need.



By Nick Corcodilos
January 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm

@Rick D: I’m with you. Phoners or any kind suck. You can’t tell companies to stop doing these, but you can politely decline.

Here’s How to Say It:

“I’d be glad to invest time to come meet with you. I think I can demonstrate how I can contribute to your bottom line by doing X and Y for you. But I’m sorry – I get so many requests for e-mail and phone-type interviews that I respectfully decline them. I need to know that a company is really interested in talking shop. When I attend such a meeting, I’ve done my homework – I’ll be ready to show you what I can do for you, not just recite my credentials.”

Honestly – a company that balks is wasting your time. Are they hiring, or not?

I really get fed up with the “social” tools that employers use as an excuse to avoid really assessing a candidate. Skype is just another such tool. Check my rant about this:

I hope the “How to Say It” above gives you some ideas. Sometimes, you have to push back firmly but politely.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm

@Sandi: Sheesh. Here’s How to Say It to those guys:


Forget the offer — I wouldn’t stand in the same room with people like that. Your intuition and common sense are working just fine. Anybody who makes a salesperson a job offer without including a commission spreadsheet that allows the candidate to play “what if” before they take the offer — is a clown looking to take advantage.

This is up to you, of course, because I have only the details you’ve shared. Maybe there’s a reason to sign on anyway… like they’re deposting a million bucks in your account before you make the move. I’d toss them a quarter, tell them to find a payphone, and keep recruiting.

As for the 2012 sales goals — it sounds like management has no idea what they are, either, until they can sign on a few suckers.

I think you figured this one out on your own. And, no, good sales organizations don’t play this way. They actually want to attract reps like you, not turn them off.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm

@Jessa: I think you already get it. Cold calling is not networking. Networking — yecch. I don’t even like the word any more. The second half of your post is where you need to go. Meeting people and doing things with them. That’s how you make friends in professional circles. Share experiences. Invest time. Choose only groups or people who are worth spending time with.

Never open by asking about jobs or working together. You’re right: People hate that.

What most folks don’t get is that this takes time. It’s not a job hunting method. It’s a way to live. If you start now, it might not pay off for a couple of years. But in a couple of years, if you haven’t done this, you’ll look back and realize… Hey, I should have been making friends, and now it would be paying off.

I think you get it. But you have to nudge yourself to join groups and actually walk up to people (in person or on line) and talk to them. Talk about what? Here’s the magic: Talk shop. Ask them about their work. Let them talk. Then ask for “insight and advice” about their field — what it takes to be successful.

One thing leads to another, but not all the time. And that’s okay, because when you don’t get referred for a job, you still make a friend. And that’s what it’s all about.

In the PDF book, “How Can I Change Careers?”, I talk about how to go the next steps, and actually show how you could help a business — and help the manager justify hiring you. http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/store/bundle1.htm

By Nick Corcodilos
January 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm

@Maya: I’m a big believer in honesty and candor. You’re clearly good at your work, so you should be able to show that you can do it properly. Focus on that.

Here’s where the candor comes in. What do you think would happen if you were to say to an employer, when the testing is brought up…

How to Say It:
“Look, I want to be up front with you. I’m great at my job. But I suck at tests. I can show you a plan for how I’d do this job profitably for you. But that’s not going to come out in a test. Tell you what: I’ll take the test, and I’ll ask you for half an hour where I can actually show you how I’d do this job. Or, I’ll volunteer to come in for half a day and actually work on a project with your team. What do you say?”

When you just flat-out know you’re going to blow it, tell them up front, and suggest an alternative. A smart manager will appreciate your candor and your emphasis on proving what you can do.

Hope that helps!

By marybeth
January 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Thanks for the advice Nick. I appreciate it. I also appreciate the open mic this week–lots of questions and comments, far more than I see in a normal week.

@Mona: I worked in academia in my last job, and Nick is right–it takes a very long time, a year, maybe longer, to fill a position, and that’s when the dept. already knows who they want to hire before they post the position. At my last job, one of the divisions within the dept. wanted to hire someone–they knew precisely who they wanted to hire, but still had to play the game. Everyone on the hiring committee knew this, and even the dept. sec’y, who had to submit all of the paperwork and make sure that the ad ran for the position, knew who was going to get the job no matter how outstanding any other candidates who applied were. Everyone involved openly discussed it and called it the Kirby (not the real name of the person who was hired) search. How’s the Kirby search going? Did you submit the paperwork for the Kirby search to the faculty on the search committee? Did you notify HR of the Kirby search? Did you close the Kirby search? The sec’y said that there were some really good candidates, but they never had a chance. And yes, Kirby was hired. But we knew that in advance.

Since you don’t know if any of the jobs you’ve applied for are like the Kirby search (they already know who they’re going to hire, but they’re running the ad, posting the position just to cover themselves), maybe it would be more productive if you contacted faculty who mentored you in your Ph.D program and ask them if they know of any job openings, what they know about the reputation of Scaramouche University’s biology dept. (or whichever dept. you’re trying to find jobs in), whether they know Dr. So-and-So at the UConn medical school. You never know–they might not know anything, but they might know the faculty in that dept. (they might have worked with them, attended conferences with them, even gone to school with them)–it can be a very small world.

And sometimes a dept. does do a legitimate search, i.e., they don’t already have someone they plan to hire, and it can still take over a year. At my last job, the dept. sec’y did all of the paperwork for a search for 3 faculty positions in one division; she received over 400 CVs and supporting documents, and ultimately the faculty on the hiring committee decided to hire none of applicants. They set their standards too high, didn’t get the kind of applicants they wanted, so there were no hires. The sec’y had to start the process all over again the following year….and with a different hiring committee.

By Dave
January 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm


Sounds like a nightmare.

By marybeth
January 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm


Yes, it is a nightmare, especially for the secretarial staff who have to do all of the paperwork for a faculty search. And for the members of the search committee (talk about a time sink–the hours you spend going over CVs and other documents that could be better spent doing research, bringing in grants, and other things that will guarantee that you’ll still have a job the next year)

I hope I didn’t scare Mona, but if intends to work in academia, especially as a faculty member, then having an idea of the amount of time the hiring process takes is a good thing so she can plan and figure out what she needs to do to support herself while the committees make up their minds (if it is a bona fide search) or approach it from a different angle (such as getting intros and connections from faculty in her field who know those who are doing any hiring). Sometimes it is a shell game–there is a position open, but it has long had a name on it. If she can get info, she might be able to avoid those and the frustration that goes along with applying for a position that she has no chance of getting.

Oh, and I worked for a public (state) university. I don’t know if the process is as political and/or long at private universities and colleges.

January 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm

OK, here’s my current issue:
I’ve been doing pretty much the same kind of work for about 20 years, and I’m very good at it. Currently, it’s very difficult to find this type of work. Partly that is because of the state of the economy, and partly it’s because changes in technology make it less necessary. I’m also getting a bit bored. So I’m thinking about how to reposition myself, or to change careers. I don’t know what that will turn out to be. In the end I might end up doing different work for the same kinds of companies that I have traditionally worked with, or I might work for different kinds of organizations completely, or I might continue doing basically what I’ve been doing in the past. But it’s clear that talking to people will be a large, and critical part of the process.

So, how do I talk to people about what else I could do without potentially talking them out of hiring me for the bread and butter work that I’ve been doing? I’ve been considering beginning all my conversations with something like “I don’t want to discourage you from hiring me for xyz, but … ” [xyz = what I’ve been doing up to now]

That seems kind of kludge-y. Do have any other ideas?

By Jeff K.
January 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm

I’ve been temping and searching for permanent work for several years – through the duration of this recession – with a focus on entry-level admin work. I have the qualifications and have the experience and have the know-how, and have interviewed well, but after all this time, I still have not received any job offers.
It probably doesn’t help that I have no idea how to network in person with total strangers. Am I completely screwed? What should I do?

By Nick Corcodilos
January 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm

@Jeff K: There’s no way around learning to talk to people without your head exploding at the thought. You need to practice, and you need to stop thinking about it as if you must make stuff up in order to talk. Talk shop. Check these blog entries for ideas:




And consider looking up your local Toastmasters Club. Most people are afraid to speak up and get a conversation going. Toastmasters helps you get past that. And you’ll meet some interesting people.

(BTW: They’re strangers only until you start talking to them…)

By Nick Corcodilos
January 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm

@ZA: I wrote an entire (short) book about How Can I Change Careers?


But here’s the short version: You can talk to people “about what else you can do” by first figuring out what they need done. Not by reading job ads, but by talking to specific people in a company. This takes effort. (Check the links I provided in the comment just above this one, to Jeff K.) People can’t figure out what to do with you if they hire you — you must explain it to them. Learn enough about their biz so that you can offer one or two suggestions about what you could do to improve their biz — keep practicing at this, and you’ll get people’s attention. Don’t “sell” — instead, present your ideas, and then as for “advice and insight.” Start a conversation. People love to talk shop with others — as long as you’re not asking them for a job interview!

By David B.
January 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm


Your site is a gold mine. I look fwd to reading “How to Work With Headhunters”.

I am just starting my job search, and no headhunters have reached out to me (yet). So I am doing what I can to reach out and build relationships with headhunters that handle my geographic and/or career areas.

My question is this…

When screening headhunters, what do I look for (or ask) to find out what type of headhunters they are? I wish to work with the fee-for-service (employer-paid) types that have been retained by employers to fill high-level positions. I wish to AVOID the type of headhunters that simply peruse employer job postings and blast resumes out to them. (After all, I could find these jobs myself, and blast out resumes if I wanted.)

Plus, in my experience, the highest-level opportunities tend to not be posted on company web sites, and these are the jobs for which companies hire executive search firms.

So how to I find the RIGHT type of search firms and headhunters?

By Nick Corcodilos
January 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm

@David B: Glad you like ATH. When you get your copy of HTWWH, jumpo to page 59: “How can I find a good headhunter?” It’s all in there.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Are Skype interviews good for you?
February 6, 2012 at 8:23 pm

[…] for officePlaying With HeadhuntersRecruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters)Open Mic: What’s your problem?Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no jokeAsk The Headhunter in a […]

By Lisa Rogers
December 11, 2015 at 9:17 pm

I recently applied for a records technician & I did receive a call the next day but not to schedule an interview. They called to ask me qualifying questions. I was given the impression since I don’t have experience that I’m not being considered for the position. The description of the position didn’t say anything about experience. I willing to & capable learning new skills but they’re not considering that. I’m available now but the position will probably stay open for months.

By Nick Corcodilos
December 12, 2015 at 12:35 am

@Lisa: You’re probably right. It seems this employer isn’t communicating very well and wasting everyone’s time – including its own.

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