Think Like a Headhunter, Maximize Your Odds & Stand Out.

January 17, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More

I am a recruiter, or if you prefer, a headhunter. As I joke on my Linkedin profile, I don’t get too wrapped up in titles. I find and deliver specific talent to companies. In essence, I sell people to other people to pay my mortgage. While I make an important distinction between finding people jobs and finding talent for companies (disclosure: the companies pay my fees), I think a recruiter’s unique perspective can inform and assist folks looking for new opportunities. When people ask me what I do for work, I joke that I gamble for a living, but it is closer to the truth to say I constantly search for ways to maximize the odds of my own success, and so should every job seeker.

Searches I take on are often contingency searches, which means I only get paid when I present the winning candidate and the company successfully hires them,so I am careful where I spend my time. This is one of the first things I want to share with folks looking for a job: The person you contact matters, the way you make contact matters, and your presentation matters. Lots of layoffs are taking place, and the first reaction is often panic, fear, and gloom. One might feel like wallpapering every available surface with a resume and cover letter, but honestly that isn’t going to help.

Many people in today’s market have never had to look hard for a job, and the job search landscape has changed a lot in the last ten years. Now we have job boards, web based networking and electronic resumes. Most people don’t know how to search for a job beyond sending out batches of resumes or posting a resume on an internet job site. In my business we call that post and pray. Like most passive approaches it takes you out of control and does nothing to maximize your odds.

The first thing to do when you begin a job search is to look at what you have accomplished. Write down a list of accomplishments for each position you held in your career.. Be realistic, but also do not be afraid of sharing the best things about your history. Ask yourself what milestones made you proud. This will serve you in two ways. If you have been laid off, it will go a long way toward rebuilding your confidence. It will also give you more to choose from when constructing what will be the foundation of your resume. Most people just write a list of responsibilities under every position. Your job is to write impact statements about what you accomplished instead of bullet points stating responsibilities. Use numbers whenever you can. Your impact statements need to focus on how you have made money, saved money or made an difference in some way that accomplished either one. Companies are in the business of making money, and they hire people who understand that fact.

When writing a resume, think about how it will get used. It will probably get put in a database, so although all those fancy tables and ornate fonts might look fabulous printed out, go with clean, clear and simple. You should also have a key word section somewhere in your resume, even if it is at the very bottom of the last page. List specialized words or phrases from your industry that will help your resume get discovered by a key word search. While it is best to use such things in context in the body of the document, a key word section can maximize your exposure and keep you from sounding like you are just trying to use jargon.

I hear people say they were told to keep their resume to one or two pages. I think that is a mistake unless you are just starting out in the market. While one does not want to have a twelve page resume, I am far more concerned with creating a compelling presentation than I am with word count. I have no problem with a three or even four-page resume if it is succinct, to the point, and full of relevant material. You will want to have a general resume that can be tailored to fit any specific positions you are interested in pursuing. Impact statements can be focused on specific markets or environments and taking the time to do that can make you really stand out from the pack.

If you take only one thing away from my efforts here make it this: Get rid of the objective at the top of your resume. Banish it. Your objective is to get a job, we know that already. Use that space instead for a Professional Summary. Tell your audience who you are, what you have accomplished, and how well you communicate, but most importantly tell them what you can do for them. A resume is not just a summary of you, it should be a compelling presentation that helps the reader see what you offer to them. The cover letter you right should have the same focus. Build a bridge between your history and what the company wants. You have to make yourself pop in print just like in real life. The harsh reality is with a resume you probably have less than 15 seconds to make an impression.

I want to touch on web research and networking tools like sites like Linkedin, and Jigsaw. People use them differently. Many folks choose to connect only with folks they know on Linkedin. My opinion is that I want as many connections on Linkedin as I can get, because many connections enhance its efficacy as a networking and research tool. I have 8500+ connections. From those connections I search from a pool of over 25 million individuals. By using Jigsaw and Linkedin together it is rare that I look up a company and am not able to get a targeted name and a contact number. Most importantly, I am often able to mine for connections between existing relationships. Priceless. If you had the option of having the friend of a friend pass your resume to a hiring manager or emailing it in amidst a deluge of competing job-seekers, what would you choose? I am not saying to bypass the posted rules, every time, one must be careful. But if you are doing your homework, it is most likely you’ll find the best way to enter a company will not be through the generic email address. The best place to enter a company is to find the person who is feeling the pain from not having the right person in place. That person will see you as a happy solution instead of one more candidate to run through the process.

I’ll give you an example from just last week. I have an associate who is looking for a new job, and while doing some research, he saw a mid-sized company he liked a great deal. He called me to see if I knew someone there, and even though I didn’t I was able to pull some contact names with phone numbers. I offered to make a call to make an introduction from him, because we know a reference reaching out on your behalf is often more powerful than reaching out yourself. I picked up the phone and called the president. He called me back. After a lovely conversation, we forwarded my friend’s resume which we had carefully tailored to fit that opportunity and organization. It was chock full of impact statements that applied to the work and the culture. I know he was on the top of the stack, despite our having not followed the directions posted on the website, because he got a phone call to interview the very next day.

I hope some of these ideas and techniques help folks navigate the job search landscape more effectively. Most of this is about getting to the dance. Once you get an interview, consider the information in some additional handouts I’d like to make available.

How to answer that dangerous but common interview question: “Tell me about yourself”
How to successfully ask for the job
Navigating tricky behavioral questions


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Category: American Culture, Communication, Current Events, Economy, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Lisa lives and works in the city of St. Louis, and is striving to develop the right mix of both while asking herself what it means to live a good life. You can follow her on twitter

Comments (7)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    PDF, Really? That is a format specifically designed for transfer to wood pulp media, but still a pain to read online. Why not post something that can be read in the appropriate format for any device, preferably a non-proprietary and handicapped-accessible format, like HTML? Then, if absolutely necessary, one can still darken cellulose with petroleum derivatives. </rant>

    Do people still use paper resumes? It's a dozen years since XML was standardized and over 20 years since the promise of "a paperless office". Isn't there a digital resume standard?

    'Course, I haven't had a "real" job (salary, 40+ hours/wk, etc) since 1987 (and I didn't use a resume to get that one). Then when the tech bubble burst in Y2K, my income basically halved. I'm well qualified for surviving the current economy. Only one of my regular clients found me from my crappy online (largely JavaScript) resume. The rest all came from personal connections.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    You might have given some direction to many people who are panicking these days. It's extremely well written, and you can just sense a lot of real-world experience behind those written words.

    Really terrific stuff. Upbeat and highly useful, even to those of us who aren't interviewing right now. What I mainly get out of this is that the interview process, to be successful, is not a "game." It's a time to step up and sell yourself based on what you really can offer, which needs to be based on what you've been achieving over the years. And yes, that cranking out paper resumes is not going to get the job done in many cases.

    When I have hired, I try to avoid resumes that look too slick. I want real world experience. I think I have a pretty good fluff detector. When I hire law clerks or lawyers, I try to get past the preliminaries so that I can talk shop with the candidates. We've got this case with A, B, C facts. What issues stand out and how would you address them? I'm looking for people who light up and show that they really want to do the sort of thinking through that they'd be doing. It's amazing how many applicants don't pass this test, because they look clueless, or hesitant, or too deferential.

  3. lisarokusek says:


    Yep, PDF. Many folks in my world use PDFs for documents that can be easily emailed, downloaded and shared. I myself rarely print PDFs, but I do email many articles in that format. I can also read PDFs just fine on my mobile devices, and I think PDFs are more user friendly than XML for the most part, especially for people who may not have a very technical focus but who may be able to download docments. Sorry if you don't like my format, I was more focused on the content.

    To my knowledge there is no digital resume standard, though I do use PDFs to submit candidates to my clients, most of whom enter the content into databases and also print out copies in order to evaluate who to interview.

    Good for you that you are in fine shape, I am just hoping to share some information for folks who might find it helpful.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    Yer info seemed spot-on. What irks me is the continuing legacy standard of display as though 8.5×11" bleached, pressed vegetable fiber format were some sort of natural law.

    F'rinstance, what is the benefit of top and bottom page margins to reading continuous digital media?

    Why must we be locked into a font (face and size) that may not be easily readable where we choose to read it?

    Why is it necessary to pass around relatively huge files containing 90% redundant formatting? The TMAY pdf is 104k, containing 13k of actual text, including headers and footers. It grows to about 20k if you preserve the fonts, colors, margins, indenting, and so forth using HTML and CSS.

    Why, in this world of free all-platform formatting standards (that come with all browsers, email readers, and word processors) do we need to load the bulky Adobe™ Acrobat<sup>®</sup> reader, or even Word<sup>®</sup> for that matter? Less expertise is necessary to read an html file than Acrobat<sup>®</sup>.

    But I'm off topic, here. The message that us prey must think like predators to survive is sage advice. If I were willing to get back in the box, I'd heed it.

  5. lisarokusek says:

    I hear you, Dan. But I send out articles and resumes in PDFs precisely because the documents retain my formatting for both aesthetic and marketing purposes. People forward documents they find helpful and my name and contact information is in each one. Part of this is playing the game. In business we currently use .doc formats and PDFs are also part of the landscape. People that don't play by those rules are often excluded. You choose to be an outlier, and to some extent so do I, but other folks don't have that luxury.

    Also you are technically sophisticated, but many folks aren't. It may take less expertise to read an html file, but it doesn't take less expertise to create one.

    I get and appreciate your perspective, and share your awareness, but for the purposes of gaining employment (or effectively selling people to people) one must, to a certain extent, play by the rules.

  6. Edgar Montrose says:

    Lisa, perhaps you can provide general comment about some things that I am encountering while searching for employment.

    How does one who has, for the past several years (basically for the duration of the Bush Administration) taken any job that one could find (in particular, jobs out of one's field of expertise), deal with interviewers who want specific examples of that expertise in the most recent jobs held? Older experience and education are dismissed as "ancient history". (This is particularly prevalent in Behavioral Interviews.)

    Similarly, how does one deal with salary offers that are 2/3 the "going rate" because they are based upon the much lower recent salaries earned in those "any job that one could find" situations?

    How does one deal with the increasing practice of subjecting interviewees to comprehensive psychological testing? It is difficult enough even for trained psychologists and psychiatrists to evaluate the results of these tests, let alone some overworked, underpaid, ill-trained human resources representative. Not to mention the fact that the tests border on the illegal because they can be indicative of medical conditions.

    How does one deal with on-site interviews in which the first order of business is to provide a urine sample (often without forewarning)? Personally, while I am TOTALLY clean, I find it objectionable to be judged by my bodily wastes, particularly when the results have veto power over my hiring. I think that a reasonable compromise would be to conduct the interview first, and then, if there is mutual interest, make an offer contingent upon a successful drug screen. But I'm not in charge.

  7. lisarokusek says:


    Drug tests, background checks and psych tests are more and more prevalent, it is true. Often companies hold off on that added expense until there is mutual interest. It is tough. I always give candidates with whom I work a heads up if that is part of the process so they can self-select out, and I will personally consider folks that are reluctant to take a drug test for positions where testing is not part of the picture.

    I have seen very gifted candidates tank because of psych tests and often they are used in a hamfisted manner instead of as nuanced tool from which to glean information.

    Compensation is always tough, but many employers, even in this market hire with an eye towards retaining employees even when the market improves. Lowballing folks hurts everyone in the long term, not just the candidate. Sometimes there are just companies that are not smart, or have bad hiring practices. There are ways to figure that out as well.

    No easy answers here, but there are some techniques I use to handle compensation and other issues, and to screen out clients I wouldn't want or that most folks wouldn't want as an employer. I am happy to talk with you about that if you want to give me a call or drop me an email.

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