Katherine Turpin

Your Professional Branding Strategist

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Category: Job Search Strategies (page 2 of 3)

Wait…Job-Hunting is Like DATING?

How to deal with stuck
(because sometimes it feels like it’ll last forever)

Have you ever been doing everything right in a job search and then suddenly and for no apparent reason things came to a screeching halt?

You got your resume & LinkedIn profile all spiffed up, discreetly let a few friends and former co-workers know you were on the market. You found great jobs & applied to them. Had an interview or two, maybe even the promise of an offer. Things were going great. “What’s all the fuss?” you wondered, “This is easy!”

And then, ghosted.

It happens without warming: a search that’s humming along nicely goes silent. Nobody replies to emails (or worse, you get an inane hard-to-interpret reply). Offers are stalled, all activity just STOPS for no reason.

It can be freaky.  Because Waiting is the Worst.

You want to know what you did wrong. Did the market change and now the job’s being done by robots? Naturally, you want to DO something to end the torture and shake things loose.

This probably won’t surprise you, but job hunting is a lot like DATING: it’s designed to rattle you to your core (kidding, not kidding).

But seriously
  1. Don’t take it personally. Stuck happens. Sometimes it has zero to do with you. Hiring is important, but when a company has an ‘all hands on deck’, candidate interviews are the first thing to get pushed back.  So maybe it’s not you, it’s them.
  2. Walk away for a bit. Cosmically, detaching makes you mysterious and alluring. Oh, wait, that’s dating. Well, it’s also true for job-hunting: something magical happens when you stop pushing.
  3. Date around. Give your mission a little time off (you’ll know when you’re ready to get back to it, because your curiosity and enthusiasm will return).
  4. Once you’re not feeling even the slightest bit pissed off or stuck, take a tiny step forward. Do something silly, like applying for a job you’d never consider: zookeeper or barista or dog park attendant.

    See, you have to show yourself it’s not all that heavy and serious. Like “Tag, you’re it”, then you let it go. Forget about it. A playful touch is super important. Like in dating, “I’m interested, but I don’t NEED you.”

  5. Repeat. And keep having fun, staying curious, not being in a rush.
  6. Remind yourself you have valuable skills and that things always work out: yup, even when there seems to be no movement.
    Because you do, and they do.

Those are arugula sprouts, by the way. I love arugula. You know what else? Seeds take time to germinate. Just like the efforts you’re putting into your search (or dating).

We get tons of social cues to push on (damn Puritan work ethic). So it’s not your fault for wanting to muscle through.

But for god’s sake, when you’re stuck, take a break, will you? PS. you’re not really stopping, you’re just pausing. You’re resting a bit to let things unfold in the best possible way.

 

Does your professional brand need some love? Here’s a link to my calendar for a free 15-minute intro conversation.

 

Because Hope is Not a (Job Hunting) Strategy

The old ‘post-and-pray’ model (where Talent Acquisition publishes a job on the company ‘Careers’ page and HOPES that the right candidate applies) doesn’t work well.

We still post, of course, but we’re also reaching out to candidates and actively recruiting them.

‘Apply-and-pray’, the job seeker’s equivalent to ‘post-and-pray’, doesn’t work well either (unless you’re a mid-level developer). You might get lucky if you’re one of the early applicants. But especially at manager- and director-levels, your resume might not even get read unless you’re in the first wave.

I think the way we go about finding a new job needs to evolve.

That’s where marketing steps in.

You’ve heard of marketing campaigns, right? Companies create and run a series of visibility-raising programs to launch new products or to sell more of something.

In other words, while ‘apply-and-pray’ is a possible method (except, hope is not a strategy), there are other more-proactive (and interesting) routes to take.

Here are three:

  1. Create your professional brand 

Which problems do you most often get asked to solve? What kind of work do you love doing (and get paid for, of course)? Where are you happiest and most effective? What are you known for? How do you want to be known?

Are your resume and LinkedIn profile aligned and accurate? Do they clearly showcase your talents & accomplishments?

Once you’ve got your professional brand nailed (and you don’t need to do this with me), TAKING ACTION is important.

Because otherwise, you’re just putting yourself on a shelf and WAITING.

  1. Decide how you’ll market / promote yourself. 

You can do this in lots of ways:

  • Work with a trusted agency recruiter who’ll leverage their relationships (and credibility) to connect you with the decision-maker (but beware: the fees charged by agencies can be a barrier);
  • Find and nurture connections who have relationships with decision-makers inside the company(ies) you’re looking to join;
  • Develop a relationship with the company’s talent acquisition recruiter who can connect you with the decision-maker (best to do this far ahead of need);
  • Get out there in the world and meet new people;
  • Ask how you can help others (really!);
  • Offer your expertise and opinions (by mentoring, publishing LinkedIn articles or blogging, volunteering, attending industry events and workshops);
  • Change your LinkedIn status to ‘open to opportunities’ (passive, but helpful);
  • Participate regularly in ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ relevant LinkedIn posts (especially those posted by people you’re trying to get to know)
  1. Settle in…this is a campaign

Campaigns are not flash-in-the-pan, do-it-for-a-coupla-weeks strategies. Companies, PACs, the military, and political candidates devote significant chunks of time to them.

This requires consistency, courage, and curiosity. But being visible is a worthwhile practice even when you’re not actively job seeking.

Instead of networking in a burst to find a new job, think of networking as part of your career responsibilities.

Decide to participate in the larger community and make new contacts AT ALL LEVELS regularly. Connect with them in a meaningful way, and of course, nurture your LinkedIn network.

I’ve worked with some job seekers who relish marketing themselves & networking, and others who dread it. Guess which ones land sooner? Guess which ones feel more confident in their futures?

I’ve been taking an informal poll, asking every single (former) job seeker how they found their new role.

And do you know what? 99% said they got connected through someone they knew.

 

Need a jump-start on your professional brand? Let’s chat! Here’s a link to my calendar for a free 15 minute no-strings intro call.

To Cover (Letter) or Not?

The real scoop on using cover letters today
quiz: use a Cover letter (pick one):

a) always;
b) never (they’re old-fashioned);
c) to hammer home why you’re a perfect fit for the job;
d) a and c;
e) b

I know, right?

Back when resumes were snail-mailed, a cover letter was an integral part of the application process, a genteel ‘nice to meet you.’ Today’s online applications have kicked cover letters to the job-hunting curb. Mostly.

So when DO you use a cover letter? What should it say? And to whom should it be addressed?

correct Answer:
use a cover letter when it’s not immediately apparent why you’re the right person for this job.

For example:

  1. Location (you live out of commute range): use a cover letter to briefly address:
    • What brings you to our fair state? (ie. to be near family, partner got a job or grad school placement here).
      We recruiters are leery of relocating someone JUST for a job, especially when Minnesota has things like…winter;
    • Timing (will you find a job FIRST, then move? How soon do you expect to be local?);
    • Will you be visiting the new metro (ie. be able to interview) before your move?
    • Are you looking for a relocation package (we’ll ask anyhow)?
  2. Job pivot : When you’re applying for a job that’s different than the ones you’ve held, help us connect the dots. Use a cover letter to address the reason why your skills/experience are a fit (tweak your resume, too).
  1. Stepping down:  From CIO to director, manager to sole contributor. Again, help us understand. Keep it short, acknowledging that you’re applying to a less-weighty role. Focusing on the value (experience) you can add while dialing your work responsibilities back, ie. “I’m ready to move from a leading role to a supporting role.”

That’s the ‘when’;
Some tips on what to say

 

  • Select 1-2 key requirements from the job description (don’t just match years of experience ~ find something juicier: talk about similar industry, company size, growth trajectory or how you’ve successfully tackled issues your target company may be facing);
  • Craft a couple of sentences about your experience as it relates to those requirements (ie. “with experience creating scalable processes within a rapidly-growing company, my background should be a good fit.”
  • Invite: “I’d welcome the opportunity for a conversation / interview / discussion. I’ve heard great things about <company / company’s transformation / other buzz>.”

And to whom

  • Do a quick LinkedIn search on the company you’re applying to. Can you figure out who the hiring manager is? If so, address it to that person and say something like, “Based on my research, it seems likely that this position reports to you.”
  • If you can’t figure out who the hiring manager is, see if the job is posted on LinkedIn. If it is, who’s the recruiter listed as ‘point of contact’? Use that name. If there isn’t a recruiter named, address your cover letter to ‘Talent Acquisition’ or ‘<company name> Recruiter’ or ‘Hiring Team’.

put it all together: A template
(you’re welcome)

<Date>

<first last>
<title, department>
<company name>
<city state>

RE: <position title + job / requisition number from the company’s Careers page, if you have it>

Hi, <first name>,

I hope your week’s off to a great start. I’m very interested in being considered for the role of <insert job title> at <insert company name>. With my <insert relevant skill #1>, <insert relevant skill or industry experience> + <insert soft skill>, my background should be a good fit.

I look forward to hearing from you or someone on your team!

Warm regards,
<your first and last name>
c 123.456.7890
<your email address>

Want your cover letter to be read?

Keep it short, relevant and curious/confident (not ‘pick me! pick me!’).

There are no guarantees that your cover letter WILL get read, but when you’ve kept it tidy and trim, it’s much more likely.


I’m a word-nerd + recruiter who loves to help mid-career job seekers refine (or define) their professional brand.

Need some help? Here’s a link to my calendar for a free 15-minute chat.

When Your Job Quits You

3 Insights to Help You Maintain Balance

You’ve been let go: your company eliminated your position, your performance wasn’t up to par, layoffs happened. Most of us prefer being the one to decide to leave, but sometimes it happens: we get dumped.

It’s impossible to control the exact timing of finding your next job, but here are three things that are within reach:

1. Keep Calm and Carry On: Process your emotions, especially if this came as a surprise. Mourn, rage, do whatever you need to do. But then, be done dwelling in the story. A therapist I once knew said, “You get to tell the story twice. Beyond that, you’re just flooding your system with stress hormones every time you repeat it. Move on.”

Susan’s VP job was eliminated.  She’s got money saved, and her credentials are strong. Her biggest question was, “At what point should I panic?” Er, NEVER. People will step on each others’ faces to get away when the stink of desperation wafts up.

Desperate people often end up taking irrational action, like applying for all the open jobs at a company, even the ones they’re not qualified for (a surefire credibility-buster). Don’t be desperate.

Ratchet up your self-care: get enough sleep, spend time with encouraging people, get outside, move your body, eat good food, and tell yourself, “It’s okay” and “Things always work out for me.” Do this as often as you need to. Then, put Step 2 into action:

2. Stay busy. Give yourself assignments like ‘attend four Meetups in my area of interest every week’ and ‘have networking coffees with three new people’ and ‘find and apply to six appropriate jobs’.

Take a part-time job or a consulting gig to have some cash coming in (this is incredibly empowering).

Learn something you’ve been curious about but never had the time (extra points if it’s career-enhancing). Write and publish an e-book, volunteer at your kids’ school, help out at a food shelf or homeless shelter (you’ll feel incredibly fortunate). Run a GoFundMe for a cause you believe in. Start a new fitness program. One outplacement coach tells his clients to lose five pounds:  the discipline and feeling of accomplishment shores up their confidence.
Also (this is very important): take time to have fun!

3. Stare the fear down. If you’re awakened at 3am by panic at not having a job, here’s what you do: make an appointment with yourself to think about it in detail at 3pm tomorrow. Then, do your best to go back to sleep. NOTHING gets solved at 3am.

At 3pm the next day, reverse-engineer it, diving into worst-case scenarios: what would happen if you didn’t get a job? Maybe you wouldn’t be able to pay your bills. But would you get hauled off to debtors’ prison? Nope. Maybe you wouldn’t be able to buy groceries. Is there a food shelf in town? Maybe you would lose your place to live. Do you have friends or family who’d take you in?

Go all the way with your fear. Really feel it. Is it likely that any of those scenarios would actually play out? Even if they did, would you die? Not likely.

As Stonewall Jackson, a notoriously bold leader, said, “Never take counsel of your fears.”

Trust me: it’s OKAY to have gaps in your work history. It’s OKAY to pivot into a different job, it’s OKAY to take a bridge job. It’s OKAY to lose a job because a company downsized or closed its doors. It’s even OKAY to get fired (but, naturally, don’t make a habit of this).

Losing a job can feel awful. It can make you doubt yourself or question your value. It can also be an opportunity for reflection and growth. By being launched “out there” into the job market, you’ll learn things you didn’t even know you were missing. People will step up to help in ways you couldn’t imagine, and you’ll emerge stronger and surer.

You’ve got this. And these three insights will help you handle the challenge with grace.

Need to talk with someone who’s been-there-done-that and who can offer some clarity? Here’s a link to my calendar for a 15-minute, no-strings-attached call.

Networking for the Rest of Us

5 Non-Cringe-y Ways to Get Yourself Out There

You’re ready: you’ve got your professional brand tightened up.  Your resume is fine-tuned and your LinkedIn profile represents you well. You’re ready to take the next step in your search: putting the word out.

One of the most cringe-y activities I can think of is <insert dramatic movie music here> a networking happy hour.  First, because it’s hard to hear people talk over the din. Second, happy hours tend to be pretty superficial. And finally, all I want at the end of the day is to get home and unwind.

Happily, there are lots of other ways to put the word out.

Here are five to get you started:

  1. Have a clear message: I think it’s important to have a clear idea of the kind of job/company you’re seeking. “Confidentially, I’m looking for a senior director or VP role in a manufacturing firm that’s headquartered in the Twin Cities” is more actionable than “I’m looking for a new job”. Of course, if you’re not working and anything will do, your message can be just that. But assuming you’re currently working and that you have time to be strategic, clarity will get you farther.
  2. Start with your inner circle: Tell family members and close friends “Confidentially, I’m looking for a senior director or VP role in a manufacturing firm that’s headquartered in the Twin Cities”, followed by a question: “Who do you know that works for this kind of company?” Maybe they don’t have an answer today, but your question will have them thinking. Check back with them periodically to see what bubbles up.
  3. Touch base with former co-workers: maybe you’ve lost touch with them, but there’s a group of people that you’d love to reconnect with, and now’s the time. Use LinkedIn to find them. What are they up to these days? How can you help them? And of course, let them know, “Confidentially, I’m looking for a senior director or VP role in a manufacturing firm that’s headquartered in the Twin Cities” followed by “Who do you know that works for this kind of company?” Again, they may not have a contact for you today, but check back. And be sure to offer your help.
  4. Be curious about people outside of work: your network is larger than you realize, but maybe it needs a little cultivating. Notice and take an interest in the people you see at places other than work: at kids’ activities, at the gym, at sporting or cultural events, standing in line at the coffee shop, at church, during volunteer activities. Take an interest: What do they do? Where do they work? Can you connect them with anyone in your network?

    Dale Carnegie said it best: “To get what you want, help someone else get what they want.”


    5. Get yourself out of your comfort zone:
    no, I’m not suggesting networking happy hours (but be my guest if there’s one that calls to you!). Here are some ideas, though, for putting yourself in a target-rich environment: industry events, Meetup groups (find a topic that’s related to your career), focus groups, civic causes, fundraising for non-profit organizations. For best results, choose something that genuinely interest you. Authenticity is irresistible.

When you’re thinking about buying a certain kind of car, have you noticed that suddenly you see them everywhere? Well, once you start thinking about networking as more than a cringey happy-hour activity (and begin taking action), you’re going to find all kinds of interesting people. Some that will even help you get closer to that shiny new J.O.B.

Happy connecting!

If you’re NOT ready to begin networking (ie. you need help with professional branding), I’m your gal! Click here to get started on your new-and-improved resume + LinkedIn profile.

Not sure if we’re a fit yet? Let’s chat!
Here’s a link to my calendar for a no-pressure-no-strings-attached intro call.

Recruiters: Friend or Foe?

Chances are, at some point you’ll have the opportunity to work with a recruiter, either as a hiring manager (for a fee, they help you find the right candidate) or as a job-seeker (they recruit you for one of their searches or generously share their network with you).

Two tips for engaging with a recruiter: “Be nice,” and “Be discerning.”

Be nice, because even though you might get more calls and emails than you’d like from recruiters, at some point in your career, you might need them. It’s easy to say, “No, thanks” or “Thank you, not now”, whether you’re a hiring manager with a job posted or a candidate with hot skills. That very same recruiter you hang up on today might be the recruiter for that job you really want five years from now.

There was once a hiring manager who seemed to take great satisfaction in slamming the phone down on any recruiter who happened to call. He became known for his rudeness.

The years came and went. He was promoted from manager to director. Things seemed rosy as his company grew and grew. But the day came when his very successful company was acquired. Suddenly, he needed to find a new job. But the recruiters remembered his rudeness and stayed away.

Be nice to recruiters. You never know when you’ll need them.

And be discerning, because not all recruiters are equal.

How do you find a good recruiter? The same way you find a good doctor, daycare provider or dry cleaner: you ask people you trust to give you a referral. Are you a hiring manager looking for help in filling a role? Ask other managers in your company, or others in your area of expertise. Google ‘IT recruiters in (your city)’. Look on LinkedIn. Then contact the recruiter and let them know what you’re looking for. Find out how they work, what their most-common searches are, and ask for some success and failure stories.

How do you choose the right recruiter? Here are some good questions to ask:

  •    What’s your specialty / area of expertise?
  •    What’s your process like?
  •    What are your most-common searches? Not all recruiters cover all types or levels of searches.
  •    How do you find your candidates? How do you find your searches?
  •    How many recruiters does your firm have? What’s their average tenure?
  • Do you have references I can talk to?

A good recruiter will have at least five years of recruiting experience and over 500 LinkedIn contacts. They’ll have a professional LinkedIn bio and a crisp, clear head shot. Take a look at their recommendations, too. Are they recent?

A good recruiter will want to meet you, whether you’re a candidate or a client. How can they represent you (or your company) if you haven’t met? They’ll spend at least an hour with you and ask a lot of questions. They may have suggestions on fine-tuning your resume or your LinkedIn profile (if you’re a candidate) or your job description (if you’re a client).

The best recruiters are not afraid to ask the hard questions. They’ll tell you if they aren’t the right resource for you. They’ll respond to your calls and emails, they’ll offer feedback and they’ll be in touch even when you’re not actively looking. They’re relationship builders. When you’re underway on a search, they’re responsive, and they show their leadership by offering best-practices and advice for success, whether you’re hiring or being hired.

Bad recruiters can be sales-y, irrelevant, ineffective and around only when you have something they want, but the good ones are worth finding and holding on to. A good recruiter will be your eyes and ears in the marketplace. If you’re lucky, s/he’ll be your biggest advocate and your secret career weapon.

A RECRUITER’S GUIDE TO LAUNCHING YOUR SEARCH FOR THE RIGHT NEXT JOB

Sure, you can find jobs online and apply to them, crossing your fingers and HOPING you’ll hear back….

But mapping your job-seeking journey using mindfulness, preparation and some initiative will more likely get you to the right destination: a job and company you really like.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Update your resume. With data, yes, but also review and fine-tune it. Do your best to capture the essence of your strengths without overwhelming the reader. For recruiter-recommended best practices, check out this video.
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is looking good: use an updated head shot, the right amount of information in your ‘about’ section (not too long or blocky), along with some recommendations from current co-workers or clients. Make sure dates align with those on your resume. Be careful about being overly active on LinkedIn, though ~ it can be a red flag to your current employer that you’re looking (or shut off notifications).
  • Create a target list of 20-30 companies whose work and culture you find attractive. Keep commute in mind, too. Find your target companies using online research and talking with people. Another good resource is the Business Journal’s “Book of Lists”, available in larger cities.
  • Conventional job search wisdom would tell you the next step is to look for open positions on your target companies’ CAREERS pages, and if you didn’t see anything, you would drop that company from your list. BUT more than 80% of job seekers find their new roles outside of the traditional application process! Set Google alerts to help you stay informed of new postings on your target companies’ Careers pages so you’re in the know.
  • THEN… narrow your target list to around 10 first-choice companies, your shortlist.
  • Start networking: meet as many people as possible (ideally at least 5) from each company on your shortlist.  Do not use LinkedIn messaging for this ~ figure out their work email address. In your email, ask them (in a non-stalker way) if they’d be willing to meet up for a 20-minute coffee to tell you about what it’s like to work at their company. Don’t call it an “informational interview”; you’re simply making connections. And connections are what get you to the front of the hiring line.
  • Craft an elevator pitch about what you’re good at and the kind of work you’d like to be doing next. Role play with your partner (or friend, or in front of a mirror) until this 30 second description flows out of your mouth like you’ve been sayin’ it all your life.
  • Make sure your self-care includes enough sleep, regular exercise, plenty of water, healthy food, not too much caffeine or alcohol. Add in positive self-talk  & creative/ social downtime. Create balance, because this isn’t a sprint.
  • Ask your references ahead of time if they’ll put in a good word for you when the time comes (and then alert them when that time arises). Yes, in many cases, references are still checked. Also ~ be aware of what your references are saying about you! If you’re not sure, ask them how they describe your work. Even tell them what kind of role you’re being considered for so they can have their thoughts prepared.
  • Stay positive & be patient. Remember, you don’t know what lies around the next corner: that next conversation may lead to a wonderful job. Don’t give up a few inches shy of the gold!
  • If you’re between jobs, consider contracting. The all-or-nothing “get a permanent job only” mission might rule out otherwise-great opportunities. Know how much you need to earn to cover your expenses. Have an idea of what health insurance will cost you. Be aware of the going rate for your skills niche so you don’t inadvertently price yourself too low (or out of the market). If you’re working with a recruiter and your rates are at the higher end of the scale, their markup may make you too expensive.

By following these steps, you’re creating a vision and a brand for yourself, as well as building a network along the way. Time spent in figuring out your destination ahead of time, preparing yourself, and asking for a little help with directions will help you arrive at the right destination.

Have a great trip! If you need a little direction, click here for a free 15-minute “Ask me anything” call.

You’ve Got the Perfect Experience. WHY Didn’t You Get the Interview?

5 Common Resume Missteps

Of course, there could be other factors why that interview didn’t come your way. But if you have a hunch that your resume isn’t opening doors, try taking a look at it with these 5 tips in mind.

1. Your resume is too long. But how long should it be? you ask. My answer: it depends. Generally, 2-3 pages (contractors’ might be longer because assignments are typically outlined). If you work in technology, tools change quickly, so while the work you did 10 years ago may be relevant, the tools have likely been replaced. A common technology mistake: listing every single tool or technology ever used. Trim it to the ones you know best. If you’re mid- or later-career, going back more than 10-15 years can make you look out-of-step.

A resume is an appetizer, not the meal.
It should whet the appetite, not overwhelm it.

2Your resume doesn’t highlight your skills for THIS job. I know, I know. You don’t want to tailor your resume for every job to which you apply. To an extent, I agree. However, pay attention to the key requirements (from the job description) and call yours out. Especially if it’s not a clear match, if you REALLY want this job, and/or you don’t know the person receiving your resume (HR/Talent Acquisition).

As one of my hiring managers once said, “If they’re applying for a six-figure job, I expect them to tailor their resume at least a little bit.” You decide.

3. Your resume is hard to read. Take an objective look: have you used blocks of text? A block is anything more than a couple of medium-length sentences strung together. People tend to skim when reading resumes, so format yours with the reader in mind. Use bullet points, shorter sentences, and proofread it from their point of view.

Does it draw you in? Or is it overwhelming?

4. Your resume is poorly-worded or has inconsistent grammar/spelling/punctuation. I’ve seen resumes whose ‘responsibilities’ sections were copied from a job description. Or they’re written in a way that assumes the reader has familiarity with you and/or with what you do. It bears repeating: keep your reader in mind as you write your resume. Also, make sure verb tenses align (they should all be past tense, except for the job you’re in now). Spell check! Punctuate correctly. When you think you’re finished, have a picky friend review your resume.

Ask , “If I were the hiring manager, would I want to talk to me?”

5. It’s not long (or detailed) enough. Create context: how many people did you manage? What was your impact (# users, # facilities)? What was the $ savings / % growth / whatever you achieved? What’s the size and industry of your employer if it’s not well-known? Instead of writing ‘fifty million dollars’, use ‘$50 million’. Did you notice how the symbols also drew your attention in?

There’s a fine line between ‘too long’ and ‘too short’, but your resume shouldn’t just be a few Cheez Its.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of resumes. Most are perfectly fine and will do the trick (especially when you have a sought-after skillset). Some resumes are incredibly good, and some are really bad. But if you’re applying and not getting interviews, try these 5 tips.

If you’re still struggling and would like 1:1 resume advice, let a recruiter revise your resume (it’s like having the IRS prepare your taxes).

Behind the (agency) curtain

Some tips on engaging more effectively

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, agency recruiters and search firms are a fixture on the job search (or hiring) landscape. But they’re not interchangeable and they do need some cultivation. Here’s a roadmap to save you some time and potential heartache.

PART 1: they’re not all created equal :: Things to know

Agencies have different focuses. Some search firms only recruit and place people with deep skills in a particular technology tool (ie. Office 365 or Salesforce). Others focus on a skillset (developers, scrum masters, etc). There are agencies that target midlevel (2-10 year) candidates and others that only work on executive search (senior- and C-level). If you’re new to working with agency recruiters, take a look at their ‘available opportunities’ to get an idea of their practice. Make sure their area of specialization aligns with your skillset.

They often have different lines of business: some work strictly on contract or contract to hire job searches, others only work on permanent placement. Find out what their ‘bread and butter’ is ~ and then, if their focus isn’t the same as yours, keep moving.

Just because a recruiter calls does not mean you need to work with them. Do your homework! For instance, if you’re looking for a perm/direct hire role, don’t waste time (yours or theirs) with a firm that only places people in contract roles, unless you’re truly open to a contract position.

In the direct-hire / permanent placement world, there are different kinds of searches:

Contingent (the agency doesn’t get paid unless they find a candidate that the client hires); usually non-exclusive and a race with other firms to present qualified candidates.

Engaged (the client company pays part of the agency fee up front), which generally gives the agency some exclusivity and traction with the client.

Retained (the client company pays the agency fee in installments, even if the agency doesn’t find a candidate). Essentially, the agency is getting paid for its time, and hopefully for a well-suited candidate. Retained searches are most-often used for senior- and executive level searches.

Why is this relevant? Because the agency’s influence depends on whether the client is using them exclusively or putting the search out to many firms.

Recruiters vary wildly in experience. The big firms like Robert Half  and Modis hire inexperienced recruiters, train them up, and see who makes it. Recruiting is a tough and competitive game with a high turnover rate.  Especially if you’re 10+ years into your career, be discerning. Work with a recruiter with 5+ years of experience (and proven success).

Just like the rest of us, agency recruiters have relationships of different degrees with their client companies. It’s worth asking how well they know a hiring manager and whether they’ve made recent placements with the company before agreeing to be represented there.

Here’s why: once an agency presents your resume to a company, the agency can charge a placement fee if you’re hired. Agencies typically claim this right for 6 – 12 months.

The problem comes when a company is NOT willing to pay an agency fee. If you’re competing against someone who comes in via the company’s Careers page or a referral, it could easily tip the balance in their favor.

So ask your recruiter: how many people have they placed with the client company?  Who pays the agency fees: Talent Acquisition (which might say no even if the hiring manager agrees to consider agency candidates)? Or does the fee come out of the hiring manager’s budget (meaning s/he has decision-making power over paying an agency)?

An agency recruiter who’s invested in your success will generally have answers to these questions. They’ll also tell you if their relationship is strong enough to get traction on your behalf.

PART 2: How to work smart with your agency recruiter

NOTE: You are not the agency recruiter’s client ~ the hiring company is. You’re paying your recruiter zero dollars. Please don’t be that candidate who expects their recruiter to do everything. They’re not your agent, though a good and well-connected recruiter will often act as one for a top-notch candidate.

  • Unless you have sought-after skills (and even if you do), collaborate. Stay in touch (find out from your recruiter how often is appropriate). Ask about positions you’ve seen on the agency’s ‘opportunities’ page. Mention jobs you’ve seen posted on companies’ Careers pages to see if they’ve got a lead in.
    DO NOT APPLY TO THE POSITION FIRST AND THEN ASK YOUR AGENCY RECRUITER FOR HELP ‘GETTING IN FRONT OF THE HIRING MANAGER’. Once you apply to a role directly, the agency cannot represent you at that company.
  • Give back: offer to help your recruiter by tapping your network, by introducing them to potential candidates, etc. If you’re a hiring manager who needs help filling a job on your team and you can use a search firm / agency, your recruiter should be your first call.
  • Don’t be needy. Calling for daily updates or expecting your recruiter to fix your resume / LinkedIn profile is asking too much.
  • Slow down a bit and ask questions, especially as you get close to an offer. It’s your future. Here is where an unscrupulous recruiter (who’s getting paid to place you) might not be 100% forthcoming. If you have niggling doubts, address them. Ask for a final phone call with the hiring manager or HR if you’re not clear on things. Better safe than sorry.
  • You can work with different agency recruiters. However, you cannot (generally) be represented by more than one agency to the same company (even for jobs in other departments) within the same 6-12 month period. Once your resume is inside the company, that’s the agency who’ll get the fee if you’re hired.

A longstanding relationship with a trusted recruiter provides a lens into the marketplace, even when you’re not looking. As with any relationship, it needs attention, care and feeding.

Consider it an investment in your craft
to have a good recruiter on speed dial.

I use my agency- and corporate recruiting experience to help mid-career job seekers.
Got questions?
Here’s a link to my calendar for a free 15-minute Q&A.
Don’t be shy.

Red Flags in Job Opportunities

a cautionary tale + some real world advice

A story I’ve heard more than once: a posting for the perfect job appears. You apply. Astonishingly, you get a call and an interview request shortly thereafter. You go in. The office is gorgeous. The people seem to be exactly the kind you’d like to work for (and with). After the requisite number of interviews, they tell you an offer is forthcoming.

You’re elated ~ this came together so effortlessly! It seems like a great next step. You’re ready to give notice and climb aboard this new train.

Is this the real thing? Or is it too good to be true? Of course you do your research, like reading Glassdoor reviews.

What constitutes a red flag? Here are the most-common:

  • You didn’t meet or talk with your new leader or future peers (true story!).
  • The reason the position is open is vague or hasn’t been explained to your satisfaction.
  • You’re not a senior leader or C-level exec, but you’re asked to come in for an inordinate number of interviews (>3).
  • You’re going to be in a leadership role, but your request to meet with your future team without your prospective leader in the room is denied.
  • There isn’t a clear set of measurable expectations for your success (ie: “If we fast forward 3-6 months, what should I have accomplished in order to be on track?”).
  • The offer, the position, the speed with which it all came together is amazing, but you still have this niggling feeling that there’s something you’re not being told.
  • OR things move quickly at first, but then drag out for weeks or months, with a lot of unexplained communication gaps.
  • The salary is okay but the bonus potential is fantastic. However, they can’t quite come up with the track record for bonus payouts, confirm when bonuses are paid or describe the parameters / requirements for qualifying.
  • There’s disturbing press about the company or negative word on the street. You inquire, but your interview team is not forthcoming about what’s being done to address it or fix the problem.
  • You ask about the company’s mission / vision and the C-level exec says, “I guess we’d better get one.”
Some general guidelines for your due diligence:
  • Meet with 360 degrees (subordinates, peers, leaders). Extra credit if you have friends on the inside and/or vendors with a trustworthy lens into the company (ie. do they pay their bills?)
  • Get a satisfactory answer for why the position’s open, especially if there have been several people in the role within the last few years.
  • Know what will be expected of you. Corollary: make sure your leadership is invested in your success.
  • Trust your gut. If you have doubts, slow down and find out why.
  • If the bonus is a large part of the compensation, know what you need to do to achieve it and what the payment history has been.

None of these red flags mean you should automatically decline an offer. They ARE indicators that you need more data. Asking too many questions during the interview process makes some folks uncomfortable ~ they worry that their chances of being hired will be clipped.

You’re vetting your future company to the same degree that they’re vetting you. If you can’t satisfy your curiosity without getting kicked to the curb, is this a place you want to work?

And…what other opportunities are you letting go of for this one?

Questions are good.
Red flags can also be good.

Answers are better. Get them before you make big decisions.

I use my recruiting + writing experience
to help mid-career professionals better-define
their professional brand.

Curious? Let’s talk.
Here’s a link to schedule a 15-minute, no-strings-attached call.

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