April 24, 2012

Open Mic: What’s your problem?

Filed under: Q&A, Readers' Forum

Every week in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter I answer one question from a reader in the traditional Q&A format. From time to time, we have an “open mic,” where you pose the questions on the fly here on the blog.

This week, I will do my best to answer any and all questions you post. As always, I welcome everyone to contribute their best advice to the questions, and to add their comments to the discussion. The more input, 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 — and I’m sure you’ll get lots more great advice and commentary from the rest of our community. So… please ask away!

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69 Comments on “Open Mic: What’s your problem?”
By Nick Corcodilos
April 25, 2012 at 5:48 pm

@Skuldrick: Forget about headhunters. They want candidates who fit exactly into the job description a client handed them. That’s not you. You’re not plug-and-play. You’re thinking-on-the-job. That also makes you far more valuable.

I’d start by putting together a business plan for the work you want to do at your current company. Show it to management. Let them see how you believe you can contribute to the bottom line — and propose the position you want that pays what you want. Give them a chance to let you call your own shots.

If you go outside, do it on your own through your professional contacts, but do it the same way. Target carefully — where do you want to go, and what work do you want to do? Produce a plan and put a value on it. That’s what to show an employer. This might involve creating a position for you.

If you can show the employer how your idea for a job will pay off, why wouldn’t he create the job? It’s how new businesses get venture capital. They have to prove their concept up front. Jobs should be the same way.

You have something usual: A brain that solves problems. That’s worth money — but most managers lack the brain that can figure out what to do with you. So you have to tell it to them. :-)

By Nick
April 25, 2012 at 7:48 pm

@ Mike – if you’re close to a community college, you can contact the program coordinator in charge of the Welding program who can refer you to his or her graduates who are currently working in the field or to their top ranking students who you can take on as paid co-op students.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 25, 2012 at 9:26 pm

@Chelsi: Sorry, but I think you need to discuss this with a qualified doctor. I believe it’s best to be honest about anything that would materially affect your ability to do the job you’re being hired for. But this is a medical issue. I can’t advise.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm

@Paul W: Before you hire someone who tells you he’s a great mechanic, check this:

Job hunting is not a health problem for which you go to a doctor, or a car problem that needs a mechanic. I just don’t believe in “job hunting skills.” I think it all boils down to — Are you good at the work you do? If you are, then you can win a good job. Employers don’t pay for job hunting skills. They pay you to get a job done.

Identify the company you want to work for. You must choose.

Study the work you want to do. How will you do it? What’s your plan?

How will you make the work profitable for you and the employer? Plan it out.

Explain it to the employer. That’s it. To get to the employer, you need to meet people who work with the employer — employees, customers, vendors, consultants, etc. They will get you in the door if you ask them for advice and insight.

I just don’t think you can pay anyone to get you a job. Think about it: If you can’t figure this out, why should anyone want to hire you?

By Nick Corcodilos
April 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm

@Robert: I think the best way to explain why you’re leaving your last job is to be honest about it, without dissing anyone. Keep it very brief and move on to talk about how you’re going to help the new employer. Keeping it honest will keep you motivated in the interview. Nothing trashes an interview like fudging answers — it just weakens your presentation. Challenge yourself to say it honestly. (Okay — now someone will point out how this can be disastrous… bring it on!)

By Nick
April 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm

@ Nick and Robert – telling the truth isn’t disastrous . I recently had an interview and the HR person who did the interview totally understood my situation when I told her why I wanted to change jobs. Fortunately, some HR people get it.

By Greg
April 26, 2012 at 7:29 am

@Mike: welders and machine operators

There are professional organizations for welders and machine operators.

The place to begin is make your company a place where these people WANT to work.

Meet your current machinists and welders. Who do they know? How do they recommend tapping the labor pool?

Hold equipment and product demos, workshops, events that will help welders and machinists advance in their careers.

By Greg
April 26, 2012 at 7:34 am

@Nick Corcodilos: be honest about it, without dissing anyone

Practice the answer and be well versed before interview. Very easy to veer into the negative.

“I went as far as I could with my current company” and “My boss is deliberately holding me back” can both be true, but the second would be disastrous.

And move the topic back to the value you bring to the company you are interviewing with.

By Dave
April 26, 2012 at 1:07 pm


‘Most headhunters are lazy, as are hiring managers. They want someone who matches the job description 100%. They figure it’s an employer’s market, and there are tons of job hunters, so wait for Mr. 100% Right. But that’s stupid. As you point out, you can probably do the work with a bit of learning curve. It’s up to you to prove that up front, or these boneheads will just go to the next candidate. Before you give a headhunter your resume, ask for a clear description of what the employer needs done. Not the job description itself, but the actual work. What does the employer want the new hire to produce in the first month or two? Then outline how you’d do it — on one page. Tell the headhunter to give that to the employer along with your resume. “I want to help you close this deal as fast as possible. This added sheet will show your client how I will do the job.”’

I think you are spot on here. :-)

The problem is getting HR/Managers/Recruiters/Head Hunters to buy into this model. As you say, it’s much easier to have a checklist of desired attributes.

By Nick
April 27, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Is it better to get into a company first so one can work their way into the division he or she wants to work for?

By Nick Corcodilos
April 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm

@Nick (is there an echo in here? ha ha): I think a great way to get the job you want is to get into the company first, in any reasonable job, and move to what you really want from there. This can take time and patience, but it’s up to the individual. How much do you really want the target job? (More Nicks are always better…!)

By Nick
April 27, 2012 at 5:51 pm

@ Nick – echos are great :) I really want that target job so I’m going to go for it (you only live life once). Thanks again for your invaluable help and advice! Everyone appreciates the time you’ve taken out of your day to read and respond to these blog questions; ditto for your email newsletters.

By LabRat
April 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm

@Nick – Thanks for the link and suggestions. It helps me a lot. Appreciate your kind time.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm

@All: This has been a great series of questions and discussion! Thanks to everyone for posting! If anything I’ve suggested has been useful, I’m glad. I learn far more from all of you than you could possibly learn from me.

By Emjay
April 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Hi Nic ( & all),

Firtly , thanks to Nick – he is one person out there thats truely a ‘purple cow’ – and a breath of fresh air in the job game (lottery).

But here’s my situation – as a tech exec, we moved to Australia 5 yrs ago. (so now I’m an ex-exec)
Ever since, I’ve been unable to find work in my field seemingly due to a combination of ‘scaring them off’ (overqualified)to ‘no Australian experience or referee’s. (What balony, but I can’t change the culture!)

SO what do I do ? I took ‘silly’ work to get by , but that hasn’t helped ’cause I’ve still no top drawer references locally.
And yet, if I apply for middle to base senior level roles, (ie dumb myself down)they’re scared I’m going to get bored/jump ship at the 1st opportunity, so I miss out.(and the local refs I do have now will pidgeon hole me as a low level mgr)

The other day I found a good role in Perth and was called within an hour of applying. But they(HR)were reluctant to set up a video-con for the interview – and they’re an IT MNC. (But they wanted me to fly over despite it being 4000km away). Huh?

I’ve had countless cups of coffee doing face-to-face networking in my area (admittedly its not a big city, but one lives in hope that someone knows someone….), I’ve tried countless variations of my Resume, I’m on LinkedIn, I’ve applied for well over 1000 roles and so far – nada, nix, zip. Seriously, not even an interview.
And despite being very up-front about wanting to re-locate (almost anywhere) it seems noone wants to consider this option seriously.(Oh and to echo one person above, trying to apply for a US job is quite impossible unless you have an S/S number)

And back in Oz, the current cry is “professionals needed”…. “Skills shortage gets worse”.

Seems to me that with an oversupply of people, it’s mostly a case of cut risk & employ known people ie jobs for mates.
And I think people like me simply carry too much uncertainty & risk for recruiters & HR alike – despite ‘stellar’ career credentials in 2 other continents a long time ago …

So my question is, short of crawling into a hole and hibernating, what else can I do to break this unbelievable logjam? WIth many past contacts having moved on, Co’s changed or gone broke & I not havingBill Gates on my speed dial it all seems like mission impossible( Oh, I did try sending Bill a birthday card, but he chose not to reply personally. Its true!)

So to Nick (and anyone else for that matter), please believe me when I say I’m really , really listening when it comes to a new strategy!

By Greg
April 30, 2012 at 6:56 am

@Emjay: It sounds like a time for this…

By Nick Corcodilos: I think a great way to get the job you want is to get into the company first, in any reasonable job, and move to what you really want from there. This can take time and patience, but it’s up to the individual. How much do you really want the target job?

By rmr
May 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

Thought the ATH readership might enjoy this mini-rant about unqualified recruiters “evaluating” technical and IT people:


By dave
December 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I was fired in January of 2013 for having a bad drug test. I went to work at a different company. I started February 4 2013. On October 31st my current employers company was purchased by my previous one. I was told I was being laid off. I am on the no rehire list there. It has been 8 weeks of job searching and I have yet to find employment. I filed for unemployment and have not received any benefits. I contacted unemployment and was told it was still under review due to the employer stating I was fired. Will I get my unemployment and if so when?

By Nick Corcodilos
December 28, 2013 at 12:33 am

@dave: Sorry, I can’t advise you on your state’s unemployment rules. But it seems to me the “new” employer would have a whole lot of ‘splaining to do about why it fired you after you were on the job 8 months without a problem. I hope you’re given a chance to tell your side of this in writing.

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