Tech Sales Hiring on the Rebound – Fast and Furious !

Posted November 2, 2009 by gavinpitchford
Categories: Getting Hired, Headhunter, Hiring, Interviewing, Recruiting, sales jobs, sales resume, tech sales, technical sales resume

It might be too early to call this sudden burst of hiring a trend, but…  I’m going to anyway!

So if you’ve been thinking its time to move, get that resume dusted off  (see my blog for how to do that) and throw your hat in the ring. Now is the time.

Headhunting in a recession is not a good place to be.

The only group hit harder in a recession than rust belt manufacturing companies is headhunters. Suddenly, no one wants us.

The few companies who are hiring end up picking up other companies’ suddenly widely available cast-offfs, or managing recruitment in house.  This is usually a bad idea  – Why exactly were those sales people let go if they were so outstanding ??  And do you not really want to hire the person who is still making his number and not looking for a new job because they have to ?   Of course you do.

Nonetheless, it is an idea many companies adopt to avoid the perceived expense of paying a recruitment fee.

So let me tell you, this has not been a great year – or at least, it wasn’t looking good at all until October 15th anyway.

But in the past 2 weeks we’ve seen some major shifts that signal the end of the recession.

First, managers are firing again.

That may sound contradictory – but let me tell you why it isn’t.  Some companies impose draconian measures to restrict expense, and prevent managers from backfilling lost employees.  Therefore sales managers who know how to play the system respond by keeping the worst performers they would usually fire, simply because 30% of quota beats the alternative of 0% of quota they would get if the rep was fired.    Not exactly the best business practice and runs counter to what smart companies do, but especially dealing with sales people, companies get the behaviour they incent.

So when we see employees getting fired now, we know its because the manager can now replace them – and that’s usually the first sign of a recovery.

Second, there’s no discernible slack in the market – at least not in Toronto, Montreal or Calgary.   For example, anecdotally, I am aware of 5 separate companies who have been trying – either on their own or via US based recruiters – to find decent sales reps in Toronto, for at least 2 months, with no success in identifying anyone remotely useful.  These companies are looking for people to sell security, managed services, consulting services, software and networking hardware to enterprise and or major service providers.   They have a broad spectrum of products, but by and large are looking for one of two sales people: success selling security, or success selling to specific major carriers (Bell / Rogers).    They simply cannot find the right resources.

And Third, there’s the dramatic uptick in our own searches.  We suddenly need security sales people in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.  Since October 1 we have filled 3 roles in the networking hardware and OSS software space.  We need service provider account execs in Toronto to sell hardware, software, consulting services and managed services.  We need a national channel manager in Toronto,  and a couple more reps in the networking hardware space.  A client who paid us last April to help with outplacement is hiring staff back. There are two regional sales managers roles going in Toronto right now – first time in a while that has happened.  This hiring surge is ahead of same time last year, and way ahead of same time in any other quarter this year.

Most of the activity for us  is brand new openings approved since the end of Q3.     A third of it is replacement heads for people who have moved on or been fired.  We know of a variety of other companies who have recently hired.   Net a lot of activeity.  And there’s enough of it, that it looks like a trend to me.

Hallellujah !


Interviewing 101

Posted June 23, 2009 by gavinpitchford
Categories: Getting Hired, Headhunter, Hiring, Interviewing, Recruiting

(c) Gavin Pitchford, 2009


In writing this, I am assuming that you want to do everything you can to land THIS PARTICULAR POSITION and work for THIS PARTICULAR COMPANY, and that you will do EVERYTHING you can, to maximize your opportunity to achieve your goal.

If that’s not the case, go back to whatever else you were doing, and skip reading this …

My assumption is that you want the option of accepting this role when offered to you.  Can you possibly know for sure that this is the company you want and the role you want before you interview?  No, of course not.

But should you perform throughout as though it is? So that accepting or rejecting their offer of employment is YOUR choice – not theirs?    Absolutely!

And of course, by performing throughout the process as well as you possibly can, you not only maximize your chance of getting an offer – you also maximize the size and terms of the offer!

If your interviewer(s) believe that you not only want the role, but that you went to some lengths to prepare for your interview, your chances improve dramatically.  You will slide past other, better qualified, candidates, while they are still coming across as indecisive or uncommitted.

Dating ?

I have said many times that interviewing is like dating and without wanting to be sexist, I think men may understand this better – but  hopefully women as well – but there is ample research on the subject that is on point: When confronted with a choice between a “super model” who appears indifferent, or approaching a “not unattractive” alternative who seems eager,   most men will gravitate to the eager alternative.  Fear of rejection – either now or later – is a big motivator.  It has long been believed that men, when on the prowl in a singles situation, will settle for less than their idea more readily than will a woman.  A study, very recently published, suggests that it is not actually a factor of their sex so much as a factor of the role: if the woman was the pursued party, her standards remain quite high.  If however she was put into the role of a pursuer, her standards dropped to the same as the men’s.    There is a significant lesson in this behaviour that applies to getting hired.

Interviewing for a position is no different:  Most employers / interviewers will talk about wanting a super model,  yet pick the most attractive eager alternative they can find.  They worry about their ability to land the super-model – er  -super-candidate, and equally, worry about  their ability to continue to be able to satisfy that person later, when up against competition on an ongoing basis.

Obviously there are exceptions to this: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Cisco, Google, SAP, Oracle each perceive themselves to also be “super models” and so rarely hesitate to chase one.  And individual managers can sometimes have that same degree of confidence,  seeing their opportunity as exceptional and their own leadership as an opportunity for a top professional – and so pursue the “super model”  candidate – but it’s rare.

Net, regardless of whether you are a super-model or a “not unattractive” alternative,  you need to appear eager and back that up with meaningful data, and that takes both ample preparation and the right attitude towards the interview.

Button Down vs Commune ?  A Disclaimer…

The content in this chapter is intended primarily for people interviewing in a more “normal” or traditional corporate / business environment.  A great deal of the content is based on 30 years of observing human nature in an interview setting – but some of it is based on a paradigm that may not accurately reflect the role you are seeking.

Some companies deliberately choose to attempt to bolster creativity by allowing employees far greater flexibility in personal attire and conduct, such as bringing pets to work and offering a “T” shirt, shorts and sandals culture. Some of the advice provided will hurt your chances in such an environment.    Google comes to mind as an employer that seeks to break the traditional mould.

Most of the recruiting I do has been for more traditionally oriented companies, where it is never a mistake to arrive for an interview looking as good or a tiny bit better than everyone else in the department you are trying to join – and over dressing for an interview is expected.

But some companies view this type of thinking as rigid and indicative of someone who thinks in the box rather than out of the box – so you need to know what the culture is where you are looking to go, and adapt my advice accordingly.   Of course, if you are trying to work in such a company, despite the fact that most of the advice remains sound,  I figure the chances of you reading this are pretty remote anyway…


The first step in a great interview is preparation. In fact the 3 most important things in an interview are preparation, preparation and preparation.

Ideally, walking into any interview, you should be so completely prepared in advance that there is little stress, and the interview becomes a conversation.  Preparation includes being:

Physically prepared: You’ve planned and checked your clothing, your hair, what you carry with you, as well as making sure your brain and body are well set to respond:  You’ve been out of bed long enough to be sharp, you’ve eaten some protein, and consumed the right amount of caffeine for you, as well as some water to offset the diuretic effect and ensure your voice lasts (and doesn’t betray you by going high or scratchy).   You are ready to roll !

Research prepared: You know as much as is reasonable about the company, the role and the interviewer.  You’ve read their financials, Googled everyone involved, and understand their longer term goals and shorter term challenges.  You’ve looked at the profiles of others who work there and can draw parallels to your own skills and background.  You are confident you can make a contribution.

Mentally prepared: You go in, confident (but never cocky!) and almost relaxed,  knowing you are as fully prepared and rehearsed on the basic questions as you can be, and comfortable you understand the objective of the meeting,  PLUS – you remember that the interviewer is a little stressed as well – because interviewing is stressful on both sides – so you’re ready to have that conversation.

Assuming you have properly prepared physically and done you research, the mental prep is much easier to achieve.

Physical Preparation

Your Mind & Your Body

This is often overlooked.  You should think about whether you’re better / sharper in the morning or the afternoon, and try and schedule your interviews accordingly.  Some people – me included – are less sharp at 8 AM than at 4PM.  If that’s the case for you, do your best to play to your own strength and book your meetings and interviews to play to that strength.

Recent research suggests that the old adage and conventional wisdom of early risers being the most productive is actually false:  In studies published in April 2009, it was found that those who arrived earliest at the office were more often measurably  less productive 5, 6 and 8 hours later than those who arrived later.  And the early arrivals more typically worked a shorter day to boot.

The study determined that not only were the late arrivals more productive at the 5-6 and 8 hour point of their day, they were also more likely to work 10 hours and remain productive throughout.  (Finally ! Vindication !)

My typical day rarely involves a meeting before 10 AM if I can avoid it – I like to devour the newspaper between 7 and 9, catch up on my email, and get to the office for 10 at which point I feel ready for any meeting – but late as I “start”.  I’m often still working at 9-10 PM.  The message: understand your own body clock, and figure out how to use it to maximize your opportunity to succeed in the interview.

Some of these tips are pretty obvious – others less so.

Start with a great foundation: Make sure the previous couple of nights have provided ample sleep, and that you are well rested.

Make sure your body is ready to go: a heavy meal or too much fluid beforehand can slow you down.  Too many carbs can produce an early kick – and poor performance later in the interview as your body responds.   Ideally, a light protein meal an hour or ideally two before your meeting starts should maximize your ability to focus and execute.  If you usually have caffeine, don’t over compensate and have much more, but do make sure you’ve balanced coffee with some water – and a bathroom break.  Coffee is a diuretic – worst thing you can do is stock up, and need the bathroom midway through a meeting.  Similarly, the coffee will dehydrate you, and may make your voice higher as a result – something your interviewer will interpret as “nervous”.

We all know – or should know – what works best for ourselves – so the purpose of this discussion is not to tell you what to eat and drink – but to be conscious of the effect it may have on your performance and plan accordingly.

Your Clothing& Appearance

First and foremost, you must wear the right uniform.

People inherently trust people who mirror themselves – so pick the right clothing with care.

Other physical preparation is critical: the right haircut, the right clothes, shoes polished, pants / skirt / suit pressed, and always a professionally laundered shirt / blouse – unless of course you are interviewing for a less structured environment.  As a rule of thumb, show up –  dressed up!

While your role going forward might not involve a jacket and tie or similar formal attire on a daily basis, if you might be in a situation  where it would require that (i.e. presenting to corporate customers) then prove you can step up and look the part from the get-go.

For guys, In 99.9% of cases, a “T” shirt will never be acceptable for an interview, regardless of whether everyone else in the department wears one every day – always a collared shirt even if it’s a golf shirt.  For women, nothing risqué, and no open toed footwear / sandals.  In both cases, the message is “too casual”.  This is NOT about what you might later wear to the office: its about getting hired !

Going to a jacket and tie / pantsuit rarely hurts in any interview.  It demonstrates that you care about getting the job.  Showing up under-dressed can kill you far more quickly that being overdressed, so always err on the side of conservatism.

There are other elements that will be noticed:

  • Shirts must – MUST – be pressed, and if in long sleeves, the cuffs done up.
  • Pants – recently pressed – and non-jeans with a sharp crease
  • Shoes – if they are leather and able to be shined, they should gleam!
  • Your hands should be clean, and the fingernails trimmed and perfect.
  • Invest in a recent haircut
  • No scent: there is an increasing incidence of people in the workplace sensitive to perfumes / aftershave.  I had a candidate show up recently with an unpleasant and strong aftershave – needless to say the interview was substantially shorter than optimal.

Net, your appearance is made up of nuances  which say to your interviewer “I can be detail minded” and “I can put together a good presentation” and “I’m not a slob around the office” without your saying a word – whereas failure to execute say the opposite – in loud volume.

Most companies expect people to dress up at least a little for an interview:  in the absence of some other explanation, they will assume that what you wear to the interview is as good as you know how to look – as good as you will EVER look – when on the job.

NOTE: If dressing up would send a clear signal to your existing employer that you were out job hunting, be sure to explain in advance if you will be dressing down so as not to tip off your present employer.

Gut Feel ?

An awful lot of the message that your interviewer takes away from your meeting will be their “gut feel”.  Gut feel is almost always a compendium of non-verbal things that your demeanour, appearance and personal conduct will say throughout your meeting.  Not what you said – but how your body said it for you.

We’ll return to this theme, but net you have very little time to make a great first impression that is the single most important thing you will do in the interview: failing to convey the right first impression gives you a very high mountain to climb back up if you fall down early.

It’s worth your while to visit a clothing store that would likely dress your boss at the companies you are trying to join, and colour coordinating an interview outfit that you can work with for a second and third meeting as well.  Get advice from the experts on a colour coordinated and fairly conservative look. For the guys, if you are wearing a tie, make sure it’s a fairly current model, silk not polyester, and is clean and pressed.  If it looks like the only tie you own, hasn’t been worn in years, has a stain, or is not properly tied and at your neck (as opposed to pulled open or down) it will not reflect well on you.

Colour is important !

Some basic rules: for corporate oriented roles don’t stray far from the traditional navy, grey or black suit / slacks or pantsuit.  Avoid browns and greens especially if seeking a more senior role or one where you would interact with customers or executives. A red tie or accent piece can say “high energy”.

Don’t mix stripes and dots,  Don’t wear patterns on two items of clothing (i.e. a checked shirt means a solid coloured suit or jacket, and a solid tie.

Dark on the bottom and lighter colours up top.

For guys, a black shirt and slack combo can make you look criminal, and black and white like a waiter.  Try for something in between.  Whatever you do, try for natural fibres instead of polyester or other man made fibres:  man made fibre can generate static electricity and a handshake can become a shocking experience: not the first impression you are hoping for, trust me!

Going “GQ” is not a good solution either – again in most instances, people want their employees to be reasonably conservative in their approach – not the subject of every whim of the marketplace.

The “Extras”

You want a crisp clean look: not too busy or something that detracts from the message you are sending.

If you’re interested in an accounting role, a flashy tie and expensive jewellery that says “embezzler” is probably not a good idea.  On the other hand, as a sales candidate, expensive but tastefully subdued jewellery such as a Rolex (just not too much of it!) can be a testament to your prior good results.

For a woman, the jewellery should match the opportunity: very limited and conservative jewellery in a button down company (i.e. diamond studs, not hoops) and a little less conservative – but not much less – in a less conservative environment.

Bottom line?  Your “extras” should not detract from you. If your interviewer remembers the jewellery but not the fact you over-achieved at your past 3 roles, you blew it!!   Tastefully conservative that doesn’t detract is usually fine: but remember that no one ever got hired for wearing great extras: lots of candidates have struck out for wearing the wrong ones.   In this case, less is more.

Final thoughts on Clothing

In many years of interviewing technical people, I have seen way more than my fair share of bad ties,  as well as pocket protectors, rumpled pants that are too short, white socks, and bad hair.    If you’re serious about landing the job, invest in your appearance and make sure you look smart and successful.   Plus a slight tan rarely hurts as it makes you look more vigorous and healthy.   Lay the “outfit” out one or two days before so you have time to make corrections at the dry cleaners or the store.

And be prepared to invest in a suit that comes from a store where the people helping you pick clothing do so as a profession – not as part time job.  I recently had a candidate –a bright young guy with a lot of promise – show up in a really nice suit – but one that was poorly cut for him and made it look like he was wearing his father’s suit – and his shirt button was done up, but the tie was at least an inch too loose.  Net, he looked like a kid dressed up for a job interview in clothes that didn’t fit  – and of course, he didn’t get hired for the role he wanted, because my client couldn’t picture him engaging with senior people at one of their customers, and being taken seriously.   You want the job? Show up dressed to do it!

Other Physical Preparation

If you are taking a laptop, make sure the keyboard and the screen are both clean: one of my clients who was also interviewing internally generated candidates from his HR department recently selected my more junior and less qualified candidate (complete with my not inconsequential fee) ahead of a seasoned veteran his internal HR had found – at no charge  (I should point out the other candidate was someone I respected and who came with a lot more experience than did my junior candidate ) – simply because the seasoned vet showed up with a laptop my client thought was dirty and thus indicative of sloppy work habits.  Not accurate – bad decision – but it was a final decision.

Do not carry more than one thing: you must have a free right hand for a firm handshake.   Women – leave the purse at home or in the car.  In most cases if at all possible, all men or women should have with them going into an interview is the tool(s) essential for that particular meeting: a portfolio / binder containing at least 3 resume copies, a fresh pad, and several working pens – and a laptop only if needed for  the meeting.

More than that, and you’re juggling – and appear uncoordinated and / or disorganized.  Neither is good !


Anyone who shows up with a phone not set to “silent” should not only not get the job, they should be hung drawn and quartered as a warning to those that follow.  Ideally the phone should stay in the car!

If there is some compelling, incredibly important reason you absolutely MUST be reachable, you need to apologise in advance to your interviewer:  “I’m so sorry, John, but my present company has a large deal resting on a particular call, and I tried to resolve the issue prior to getting here today but was unable to.  I’m really looking forward to our meeting and I didn’t want to cancel it, and so I hope you’ll forgive me, but if that one person calls, I will need to take the call “.   The only other permissible excuse might be a wife about to go into labour, or a family member presently hospitalized you might need to hear about.  In short – life or death situations.

Problems & Solutions

No sweat ! If you have a perspiration problem when nervous, wear a jacket to the interview – with perspiration guards if necessary,

Dandruff ? Wear a white shirt, or a light blue shirt with white stripes

Halitosis ? This is a killer!  See a doctor and get it fixed.  In the interim, floss before you leave home, find a coffee shop near the interview site, and run in to brush your teeth and tongue with toothpaste.  Then drink / gargle coffee right before you enter the building where you will interview.  Beware:   Peppermint  mints  and / or mouthwash smell  like you are hiding an alcohol issue.  Coffee is about the best thing going for masking odour and should get you through the initial handshake.  If you get offered a coffee during the interview say “yes”! And at the departure handshake, try to ensure you don’t speak into the interviewer’s face.

Smoker ? Beyond the obvious advice to quit, (you idiot) – you know that your olfactory senses are completely compromised ?   And you do understand that to a non- (or worse ex-) smoker, you absolutely stink, right?

Have interview clothes that you don’t  smoke in prior to the interview, unless outdoors, and then follow the coffee instructions for Halitosis above.

Research Preparation

Researching prior to an interview involves obtaining as much data as you can regarding:

  • The company
  • The market
  • The future
  • The technology
  • The interviewer
  • The corporate culture
  • The job itself

The Company:

Research here should include the company’s website, looking for financials, mission statements, interviews of the CEO, forecasts and a sense of how they see themselves.

You ideally need to be able to drop into the conversation “I noticed that your share of the widget market grew 12% last year” followed with a question that demonstrates that you understand the market.  “Do you think that was based on the introduction of the auto-configuration feature ?”

At very least, you should know the name of the CEO, and the CxO responsible for the department you will be interviewing for.

Is there growth ? New product ? New markets?  A change in direction ?

Two things go into driving this preparation:  First, can you prove you are aware of the “bigger picture” for the company?  And second, can you articulate a value proposition about yourself that ties your abilities and experience to the company’s growth and plans?

The Market

Who are the players ?  What new products have they released ?  How is their market growth compared to the interviewers ?  What is the overall market growth ?  Is it impacted by current political / economic conditions or initiatives ?   Who is the biggest competitor ?    What risks do they enumerate in their SEC filings ?

More to the point, what can YOU do to help?   As part of your prep, make sure you generate questions for your interviewer about their perspective as to both the market  and this company’s positioning within it.

The Future

What is the future for this company ? A dying industry or a growth opportunity?  Bleeding edge or second wave / established market.    Growing in Canada ?   Are they entering new markets ?  How can you help ?  What questions you can’t answer goes on your list to get details from the interviewer.

The Technology

Whether they’re selling it or using it: what technology will impact on your role.  What technology background do others in the company have – do you match it ?  or complement it ?  Use Linked In  as a resource to see what as many other people you can find who work there have and look for commonalities.  Especially pay attention to recent hires.   One of two things will be the case: most likely, the technology that others have will be a match to the role they are trying to fill now.  Less likely, but possible, is the expectation of deploying a new technology others lack – and that can be your opportunity.  For clues, look to see the background of those who have joined in the past few months for clues as to what you should most likely highlight in your background.

Once you have established the most likely scenario, make sure you brush up on that particular piece of your arsenal: review a white paper or two if appropriate as well as whatever else you can find.

The Interviewer

Linked-In, Facebook, Google – company website – anything that you can read that will give you a better understanding of your interviewer before going in.  Are hobbies listed anywhere ?  The smart person who comes in to interview with me and mentions sailing / boats / curling or woodworking gets my attention as someone who took the time – even if they have no personal connection to the sport – to do their homework.  And if they can use that data as an icebreaker – all the better.  Will it land them a job they aren’t qualified for ? Of course not.  Will it help them be first among equals? Absolutely.

Part of what I assess in considering candidates – particularly sales candidates – for my clients is the degree to which they commit to doing the best possible job.  Do they check facts – look for an edge – go the extra mile to improve their chances of success ? Regardless of whether  they’re in line for a sales or a non-sales roles, those are traits that can usually only benefit a company.

Other things to consider: has the interviewer steadily progressed in his or her career ? Have they moved every 2 years? or every 5 or 10?   Have they moved up and remained with the same company ?  Have they only worked for startups ? or major Fortune 500 companies ?

These facts can give you a sense of whether your interviewer in risk averse or a risk taker, ambitious, conservative, and perhaps a better view of how competent they will be as a manager, and you can present your background – without ever lying !! – in a light most likely to resonate with the interviewer.

A warning though – a 10 year stint with progression and success at an industry leader is not seen the same as a 10 year stay at a “B” player.

I have a client who has spent nearly 10 years at his firm, an acknowledged thought and market leader in its industry – and yet he has no time at all (or at least didn’t) for anyone who had stayed at one of his competitors – a firm with financial and reporting troubles – for more than a few years.

From his perspective, that length of time with a company he viewed as a “loser” indicated the individual was also likely a loser.   To survive an interview with this manager, candidates from the troubled company had to make sure to properly position their 5+ year careers with that “loser” company as one of personal growth and challenge, despite the issues faced by the company.

As part of your preparation for this segment, make sure to add a few questions for the interviewer about themselves: why they work for the company – how they’ve grown – how the company has recognized their success.

The Corporate Culture

Earlier I referred to “button down” or “commune” corporate culture as two extremes.  Obviously there are variations on those and other themes.  Look again at the Linked-In profiles of your prospective colleagues: do they come from one side or the other in terms of prior experience? i.e. did they all work at IBM or a bank ?  or were they at a raft of different start ups.  In the absence of a personal connection that can help you figure this out (or press or media coverage) these are clues that will help you in understanding what is most likely expected of you if you are going to “fit in”.

Most Importantly: The Job  Itself

Try your best to get a job description – or infer one from other sources.  If the company’s website doesn’t have the role posted, but you have a title, try inferring a job description from other profiles you can find on Linked In for people at the same company  with the same title.  Keep in mind the HR description on the website is usually generic crap in few ways reflective of the actual day-to-day roles and responsibilities.

So a significant part of your preparation involves the creation of questions regarding the role – and you should have lots!   Interviewers will judge you by your questions – so ask thoughtful ones as well as ones that demonstrate you are prepared to get down to work and start adding value quickly.

Generic examples:

  • How will you measure success over the first month – 3 months – six months – year ?
  • What is the key deliverable for this role ?  By when ?
  • What’s the most important thing to you that I be able to do immediately – and over the initial period ?
  • Where do you see the biggest opportunity for success in the role?
  • The biggest risk ?
  • What guidance / help will you be able to provide to the person you hire ?
  • Are you planning on being at the company for a lot longer ?  Why ?
  • Are you available to provide mentorship and advice ?
  • Why do you think this role is a good one?
  • Your references on Linked in say xxx about you – do you agree ?
  • Is the company well prepared for the challenges it faces in the market?
  • Where is the company’s biggest risk / opportunity ?


In addition to Linked In and Google, use the NYSE, Nasdaq, or the TSE and other similar sites run by any stock market your target employer is traded.  If the company is – or is trying to be – a public company, the Edgar database of SEC filings as well as their own website will be a good source of financial, risk and biographical data.  Newspaper websites are also often a useful hunting ground.

Mental Preparation

If you have followed the suggestions above, then you should be on your way to going into your meeting feeling confident and well prepared – and ready to engage your interviewer in a productive way.

Keep in mind that in most cases, the initial interview will not necessarily get you the job – the objective is to make sure it will get you to the next interview – typically in  the first meeting you need to make sure you hit the top two or three – and that over the longer evaluation process your commitment and follow up will help push you to the finish line ahead of your less focused competition.

Ideally, you should ask of your recruiter the process the hiring decision will follow.  Some firms use HR up front, and others at the back end.  Some not at all.  Some an exhaustive, multi interview process, and others fairly quick.  Knowing this you can prepare accordingly.

Some of the following are “HR Type “ questions. But typically you can count on the fact that at some point in the process, someone will ask at least on of the following.  These can often be the “differentiator” questions – and nailing these in the interview can be a game changer.

To nail them in the interview requires that you have put some thought into them in advance.  Like now…

So  to blow your competition away, you need to have good answers that don’t sound rehearsed – but  that you have actually rehearsed in a mirror – to the following questions:

  • Tell me about yourself  (also known as the elevator pitch!) This is a short, 3-5 minute capsule of your career so far, taking the listener from your education to the present day in chronological order.  Ideally it should be interesting enough to encourage questions, and  also show some progression.   I’ve added an example below, but in a nutshell, it has to cover your career from a 5000 foot level, be engaging, and end with a segue into why you feel the role you are interviewing for is the right next step.
  • Where do you see yourself in 2-3-5 years ?

Needs to be realistic, and not too aggressive in timelines,  Typically the safest answer is something to the effect of “The world is changing – technology is changing – so fast that its sometimes hard to tell what opportunities will open up in the next 5 years”  but net, “I really enjoy what I have been doing – I hope perhaps some time down the road to pursue (next role up) but right now my priority is being as good at doing (this particular role) as I can, and continuing to learn more and making sure I stay current on technology and methodology, and perhaps then move towards (whatever next step is)”.

  • Where do you see yourself long term ?

See above

  • Why do you want this job ?

This needs to make sense with the elevator pitch!  Should show some logical progression  – indicate what you hope to contribute and what you hope to learn.

  • What is it about this company you find interesting ?

You better have a reason for being there !

  • Give me an example where you encountered a conflict with a co-worker / customer
  • How did you resolve it?

First of all, everyone – or almost – has a conflict with a co-worker at some point.  If you haven’t simply say so, although you run the risk of looking like you’re lying or covering up.  It’s okay to start your answer with a pause – rather than being too quick out of the gate – better to have to think a few seconds before coming up with a conflict.  Try and think of a situation where consultation and communication were able to allow a positive resolution.

  • What has been your biggest success?

Short of winning a gold medal at the Olympics, ideally, recall a situation that you can use to demonstrate your exemplary commitment to the team / company where that extra effort on your part produced  a good result for the company.

  • What has been your biggest failure?

Everyone fails – the key is to learn from the experience.  Pick a situation where the results weren’t catastrophic, and where you are able to demonstrate that you grew – and won’t likely repeat the failure.

  • What are your biggest strengths?

Humour can sometimes be effective here… “Gee – there’s so many – its hard to identify the biggest… “  but it needs to be followed up with “seriously … I would say ….”   Good ones include – IF TRUE !!! –“my commitment to keeping my word – being reliable”, “creativity in solving problems”, perseverance, ability to get along well on a team, empathy.   “I’m always right”, I always stick to my guns” are not big winners.

  • What are your biggest weaknesses ?

“I work too hard” – “I’m too tough on myself” – “I don’t take enough time for me”– these are all examples of things that people have said to interviewers which aren’t true!  Try to be more creative.  You can use one of these if you absolutely must.  Others that can be useful – if the job requires a “broad” perspective – “I find I’m not as effective if I can’t see the whole picture and understand where my part fits”.  If it requires  you to be very detail minded “sometimes I can be very focused in ensuring I get all the details nailed”.  Ability to articulate at least a couple of weaknesses is essential.  Inability to do so indicates a narcissistic personality no one will like – or hire.

Keep them simple – and also be able to identify what steps you are / have taken to attempt to correct them.

The Interview Itself

The “Do” List

  • Make sure you have the physical, research and mental preparation items planned or nailed 24 hours before, and execute accordingly.  Confirm the location, plan your travel time to arrive 20 minutes ahead of time.  Make sure you have the interviewer’s cell number if at all possible.
  • Use the 15 minutes spare to review your notes, and concentrate on the first few moments
  • Arrive in their office 5 minutes before the appointed time
  • Dress appropriately
  • Have at lest 3 copies of your resume on plain white paper, a clean lined pad, and two pens in a portfolio type cover

As noted earlier, research suggests you have 5-10 – a maximum of 15 minutes – to cement your first impression.  Therefore mission critical first 10 minutes means that you must:

  • Greet your interviewer (we’ll call him or her “Sam” ) warmly, with a firm handshake,  looking them in the eye and saying “Sam, – so pleased to meet you – thank you for making the time for me – I’m really looking forward to our meeting !
  • As you enter the office they sit first – or tell you to.
  • Offer a copy of your resume – regardless if you know they have one (look prepared !)
  • Keep a copy for yourself open and accessible on your lap so you can refer to it as needed if questioned on a specific point.
  • Do NOT help yourself to their desk space – keep the portfolio on your lap.  If you are at a table, it is permissible to use your side of the table

As the interview begins, keep your answers short and fairly concise.  Listen to the question first – before responding – and never NEVER interrupt your interviewer other than to nod in agreement or signify your agreement with a “yes” or “absolutely” – or similar brief comment .  You are still in that initial phase where the last thing you want to do is provide a 10 minute answer to a 10 second question.    I have had candidates speak for 10 minutes in response to a simple “so what did you do at your first job? “   Their answers sometimes go from job 1 to job 5 without a breath.  By which time I am no longer remotely interested.

That doesn’t mean you answer in monosyllabic “yes” or “no”.  What it does mean is that you start with “Yes” or “no” – followed by a 30 second explanation, and a follow up question of your own: “Do you need me to expand on that ?”

For example:

q.    “So in job 1, did you have any interaction at the CIO level?”

a.    “A fair bit actually, Sam.  I was asked several times to meet with the CIO, to respond to his questions, and to present our proposed solutions.  There were also several times during cutovers that I was part of the key planning team and so we met once a week for several months to identify and resolve interdepartmental issues where he was often present. – Would you like me to expand on that?”

  • In the first 15 minutes your answers should never exceed 60 seconds unless you are being actively encouraged by the interviewer to continue.  At the 45 second mark wind it down with an invitation to the interviewer to have you “drill down” /” expand” /”provide more detail” if needed – or simply ask “Did I cover that ?”
  • As in the example above, “yes” is usually insufficient and will usually be interpreted as surly / aloof behaviour.  Equally so  would be providing the full detail of the purpose of every meeting.  As best you can, find a 30-50 second answer to any detailed question.

Q. Do you understand MPLS ?

A. Yes, Sam, reasonably well.  I’ve worked with Multi Protocol Label Switching since 2004 quite extensively – designed two large networks and implemented  other people’s designs several times, which involved significant trouble shooting, both at the edge and in the core.  Did I cover that ? or would you like me to drill down a little further ?

  • Note that this answer provided both a high level overview (i.e. 5 years – multiple projects) as well as a specific demonstration that the candidate knew details – what the acronym stood for – and clearly identified that the candidate understood there was a difference between implementing MPLS in a core, or at the edge of a network.  In some instances, this answer will be more than enough to satisfy the interviewer that the candidate has enough background to warrant further investigation – but if the drill down part of that investigation is going to happen in a peer tech review, it allows the interview to move forward now focusing on the other broader elements of the job.  At the same time, by using the phrase “reasonably well” the candidate trod a diplomatic path between claiming expert knowledge and setting himself up for a technical grilling designed to prove he isn’t the technical genius he claims to be.
  • Sometimes a “yes” or “no” – or equivalent – will be acceptable:

Q.  Are you legally allowed to work in this country ?

A.  Yes – Absolutely !

Phase two – ~ 15 Minutes or so…

  • As the interview continues, and you better start to understand your interviewer’s thought process, you might expand or contract your answers accordingly.
  • As the interview continues, you will build empathy and a connection by using – subtle – mirror techniques.  If your interviewer leans forward – you lean forward.  If they lean back, you lean back.  Your response should be time delayed by a few seconds in some instances, to instantaneous in others.  Mix it up  – and try not to be obvious.
  • If the role is one that requires a lot of energy, lean forward as you start to answer, and back in your chair as you finish as you answer different questions.  Use your hands / arms.  Sit on the edge of your chair.  All of these things suggest high energy – sitting back also suggests you can listen.
  • If the role is more analytical, pause longer before answering to think the response through, and use you  hands less often.
  • Pause longer when answering a personal question – give such questions due consideration.  If you think a question is a good question, and you’re not quite prepared for it, don’t hesitate to say so: “Wow Sam – that’s a good question – I’ve not thought about that before ! – I need to think about that…” and then take a moment to consider the question – and live with the silence that might entail while you consider – and answer – the question

Remember: Sometimes interviewers mess up too !  Like you, they can be nervous, especially if new at managing, new at interviewing, or if interviewing for a subject matter expert when they themselves are not.

  • If you have answered a question already – and your interviewer asks it again, never give the impression you are annoyed they didn’t get it the first time.  Simply answer the question to the best of your ability – again !
  • If the interviewer has it wrong, be very careful as to how you respond.  Sometimes it’s a trick question designed to see how you cope with a co-worker who has it wrong – and sometimes they just have it wrong.  If you are going to answer the question in a way that involves questioning the questioner, make sure you are respectful . Ask a question back, rather than make a flat statement.  “You know Sam,. I may have it wrong-, but I thought….”
  • If the interviewer misunderstood your answer – apologize for the disconnect and poor communication on your part – but make sure they have the correct information

Trickery is allowed !  Be careful !

  • We had a candidate once who was keenly interested in a job in the heart of downtown Toronto, but who lived in the heart of Welland – an extensive commute away.  We all agreed that his ideal job looked like the one we had put him forward for – and we equally all agreed that it was a shame the commute would be so bad, because the job was remarkably good.

We asked the candidate to consider the impact on his family, himself and his career  – and figure out if he was prepared to live with the commute – or not.  Because we warned him there was absolutely no chance the role would be a “work from home” role even one day a week.

We told him that if he concluded that he still wanted the job, he had to embrace the commute in the interview as though he was absolutely fine with it.  He had to come across as “No problem – happy to do it”.  He agreed – and so that was the plan.

Of course you know what happens next.

Candidate gets to the final (third) interview meeting the boss’s boss’s boss – the VP.  The meeting goes fabulously.  There’s no question this is a role the candidate would die for – or even drive 90 minutes each way daily to accept.   They get to the commute question.  The VP, smart dude, says to the candidate – “How are you with this commute thing ?”.

Candidate toes the line: “I’m fine with it – really.  I don’t mind driving – I might be a little late once or twice in the event of a significant snow storm but I have a 4×4 … blah blah blah.

VP: “Really ?  Because we were considering implementing a work from home part time policy for this and a few other roles.  Would that be something of interest to you ?”

Candidate: “Oh wow – that would be great !  Even if it were just once or twice a week it would help significantly.”

The interview continued for a short while and the candidate left, calling us from his car.

My immediate reaction to his play – by – play story: “You just lost the job”.

“No” he says – “The VP was for real – they’re making this a work from home role”.

“No they aren’t “  I informed him – “You just got bluffed – and you lost.”

Sure enough, an hour later the VP called and confirmed we were looking for someone who was truly okay with the commute, and no attempt to convince him the candidate would live with it was acceptable. And of course the candidate was furious he’d been tricked.

Ironically, we later found the candidate an alternative role that initially called for an hour plus commute and he made it faithfully most days for 5 full years before the employer in fact did turn the job into a work from home option.   He’s now been at the same company since 1999 where his contribution has been substantial and significant .  So the company made an error – but a forgivable one.

In the meantime, the VP hired another candidate who  was clearly less qualified but lived nearby, and that candidate lasted about 18 months before being lured away to another role in the dot boom.

So the moral of the story ?  Several  in fact…

  • If your recruiter seems a reasonable person and gives you specific advice on a particular topic, for crying out loud LISTEN!  And then take the advice.
  • Interviewers can, and will, take you down a rat hole to see how you react.  It’s a test. They will criticize their competition to see if you will do the same.  They’ll complain about their hours, moan about their boss and colleagues, suggest that they pad their mileage /expense accounts, admit to lying to customers, tell an off-colour joke – all to see if that encourages you to agree with them that you would do the same inappropriate thing.  Don’t fall for it!    If it turns out they are actually for real – do you really want to work there ?
  • If you really are prepared to live with a shortcoming in the particular position you are pursuing, embrace the entire job like the issue didn’t exist.   Any less, and you’re risking not getting hired.

Situations and Responses

S:    You are asked a technical question for which you don’t know the answer for sure

R: Tell the interviewer – “Sam, I’m not 100% on that one – if you were a customer I’d promise to get back to you- but I think its – such and such (substitute best guess here)-  Is that correct? No ? Fine – I’ll get the answer and get back to you with it as soon as possible.   Then make a note of the question AND make sure you respond!!

S:    A technical question that you definitely don’t know the answer for

R: Sam, I’m sorry – I don’t know.  I‘ll look that up and get an answer to you asap.

(in both instances record the question in your note pad!  Together with any other action item you develop over the course of the meeting)

S:    How much are you looking for ?

First – keep in mind this is a buying question – people don’t usually ask if they aren’t interested!

R: Sam, it’s really about the challenge, and the opportunity to grow professionally, and to be part of a team that I can contribute to and learn from over the next 5 years – and this role offers all that and more.

S:    No really – How much ?

R: Seriously – I haven’t given it as much thought as I should, and obviously it will depend on other things as well – my focus is really about the role, the company and the team first and foremost – and hopefully the compensation will be appropriate.

S:    Yeah yeah – how much ?

R: Well in my last / present role I was / am earning $xxx, and ideally I would like to see at least the same (or a  reasonable increase since my past company hadn’t increased salaries in 2 years) but it truly is more about the role than the money.

Phase Three

At some point if things have gone well – and sometimes even if they haven’t, the interviewer may come back to you with an offer to answer your questions and this is your opportunity to demonstrate a little more of the research you did – and your interest level as well.

Pull out your questions about:

  • The role
  • The company  / market / future
  • Your specific boss to be

And ask them.  If appropriate, make notes – or at least appear to. The questions should be well thought out, and more than just superficial.  And they should be asked in a way that demonstrates that you did some homework  – but are looking for validation.

Don’t be afraid of asking some tougher questions – people generally warm to people whom they have persuaded of something.  If you ask meaningful questions and your interviewer has to sell you a little, they will respect you more – but also like you more if you demonstrate to them that you embrace their answer as compelling / persuasive / something you like.  Net, asking some tougher questions and then allowing yourself to be persuaded can help your interviewer like you more than the person who doesn’t and is very careful to be nothing but positive.  How hard you probe requires that your read the interviewer.  If you ask a tough question and they embrace it, go with it.  If they cross their arms and legs that’s a clear signal to pull back.

Critical !! – ask for the job – be a willing bride !

No one – well almost no one – asks someone to marry them unless they think there is a pretty good chance the answer will be “yes”.

You can dramatically improve your chances of an offer by making clear the fact that you believe you are qualified for the role, can contribute, and hope to have an opportunity to do so – and that your answer will be “yes”.

“Sam, please let me be straight with you.  I’m really interested in this position.  I personally think it’s a great fit: you offer me a chance to learn some new stuff, such as x and y, but at the same time I have my strong knowledge of A, B, C and D, so I can contribute.  Everything I’ve heard and read about you and the company sounds great – and I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today.  I can see a good long term opportunity for myself.   Are there any questions or concerns you have about my ability to do the job or fit in here ?

What’s the next steps ?

Finally – read the 50 plus ways to screw up that follow !!  And then don’t do any of them…

Good Basic Format for a Sales Resume

Posted June 18, 2009 by gavinpitchford
Categories: Getting Hired, Headhunter, Hiring, Interviewing, Recruiting, sales resume, technical sales resume

We get asked a lot what an ideal resume should look like.  The answer varies a bit from Canada (longer- typically 2, but 3 pages max) ) to the USA (often 1 page – never over 2) but essentially the message is the same: people will not read past the first page if it isn’t both compelling and a match to their needs, so make sure you highlight your personal “compelling value proposition” in the summary, and get some meaty achievements tied to your desired position on the first page.  Ideally the most recent two positions will make the first page.

What not to do:

  • don’t waste space with an address on the first page: coordinates only
  • no “Objective” – HR uses this to screen you out – it never gets you an interview.
  • No personal data (i.e. marital status, number of children, race, creed, colour or political persuasion)
  • “No fuzzy” paragraphs: keep it in bullets, use statistics wherever possible, and keep it concise.

What you should do:

  • Quantifiable results (i.e. 121% of plan on quota of 10 million, grew YoY results 34%)
  • Specific major accounts (i.e. Responsible for the relationship with TD Waterhouse, Federal Government)
  • consider seeking professional help as to how to maximize the impact of your resume on your target employers

Example of a SALES resume…



Day time contact number (i.e. mobile phone) – Home phone – Personal Email address

Professional Profile: a short – 3-4 lines – overview of who you are professionally and summarizing your accomplishments.  For example “A highly successful xxxx professional with 12 years experience selling large solutions to FP 500 corporations.  President’s Club attendee 10 times, with numerous contacts at “C”  level” and a 12 year unbroken string of over quota achievement.

Objective: LEAVE THIS OUT ! It is used to screen you out – it is rare that your objective matches perfectly with the company’s wish list.  It will help you 1 time in 100 – hurt you 30% of the time, and simply be wasted space the rest of the time.  Focus on what you have accomplished.

Aug 2003              Present Company Inc.

to Date                 Senior Account Executive

The company sells unique widgetware to the emerging financial derivative wealth management marketplace, with sales of 6 zillion in the most recent year

Responsible for: a 4-6 point job description that includes the main highlights of your role.  Be specific.  Use numbers to demonstrate your ability to be specific. Use strong action verbs to indicate your high energy level and ability to persuade. Either bullets or a story format are acceptable. “As the only senior account executive in this territory, led a team of 2 other account executives and 3 systems engineers in pursuing major financial institutions as customers for Widgetware.  Typical initial sale of 1.5 to 2.5 million with sign off at CIO level and above, after a six to eight month sales cycle, generally followed by ongoing support and add on sales, typically more transactional in nature from $50,000 to $250,000.  Responsible for identifying target  accounts and high level strategy through to transaction completion.  Annual quotas between 4.2 and 6.3  million


  • Grew annual sales from 0 to 7.8 million in 5 years.
  • Exceeded aggressive quota plans all years
  • President’s Club (125% of plan or higher) 4 of 5 years
  • Developed strong long term person relationships across all levels of  several banks and major stock brokerage firms and two insurance companies.
  • Mentored less senior account executives.

Apr 1998 –           Second Last Job Corp.

Aug 2003              Major Account Executive

Notice the company description is in smaller type face (2 points less) and italicized.

Responsible for:

  • All sales to two major schedule “A” banks and 12 schedule “B” banks
  • Selling range of “Lastware” and “Secondlastware” products
  • Do not mix and match bullet format  with paragraphs for responsibilities in between jobs.  You can do a paragraph for responsibilities and do bullets for “Achievements” or “Highlights”


  • Get all your key stuff onto page 1.  Unless you are applying for a role where a professional designation is important (i.e. p.eng) push education to page 2.
  • Most interviewers don’t go past page 1 unless they are interested.  Critical that you have the interesting stuff  – i.e. the last 5 years and most relevant experience and accomplishments – on the front page.
  • Address will not get you the role – but could cost you.  Put it last.
  • No one cares about your first job out of school if it was 15 years ago unless it is directly on point.  Cover it in one line or less.  Other roles older than 5 years get less and less space on your resume as you go back.
  • NEVER LIE. Don’t miss positions out unless at the very beginning of your career, or of less than 2 weeks duration.  We regularly catch this kind of error.  Short stints can be explained.  Lies can’t.
  • Remember this is a sales document  (but not for vapourware !)  Be sure to list the things of note you have accomplished.


  • Do not include your high school unless it was somehow very unique
  • If you have lots of professional education, lead with that  – i.e. two headings: “Formal Education” (first) and then “Professional Education”
  • Like jobs, list in reverse chronological order
  • If you have no post secondary education, leave off Formal education altogether.
  • Do not invent a degree.  If you attended university but didn’t graduate, just put in the years to and from.


  • Nothing that will give away religion, creed, political leanings, disabilities or colour.   In short nothing upon which companies can be accused of discrimination.
  • Nothing about children or marital status
  • Best hobbies are those which benefit the company !  Noting that you are an avid philatelist and attend conferences worldwide will not help you land the job ! (unless by a 1 in a million chance, so is your interviewer!) Golf  ?
  • Mention activities which help with your role (i.e. attending theatre / opera if you focus on “C” level sales, charitable boards or clubs, Junior Achievement if they will increase your access to senior decision makers etc.) are worth noting.  Other items which will not hurt you are great and may be a point of connection between you and the interviewer.  Generally speaking, hunting is bad – golf is good ! Its not that you shouldn’t enjoy hunting – just leave it off your resume in case they hurt you.
  • Do not mention your Golf handicap (especially if it’s low)!  A little golf is good.  Too much golf says you are rarely working.
  • Max 3 lines of text – again – too many other interests says “I don’t work hard”

Address: If you still have room, it goes here.  Not essential, and can also be used to screen you out.

Other things to remember…

  • Keep it to two pages if you can, three pages max.
  • Lots of white space.  Wall to wall text won’t get read or absorbed
  • Break up at least part with bullets (i.e. for accomplishments) to improve readability.
  • Format a half line between jobs / companies.
  • If you have Multiple roles with the same company or through a buyout, with multiple companies, format the company name (if a buy out give the current name and then the old name(s) i.e. “Nortel Networks (formerly Bay Networks, formerly Wellfleet Communications) and dates for the total time at the top, and then nest the individual roles and their dates below that.  Don’t mention the company name repeatedly, as for someone skimming resumes it scans quickly as though you had multiple jobs  with different companies – which will hurt you.

i.e. 1993 to Date                Nortel Networks (formerly Bay Networks / Wellfleet Communications)

2002 – Date        VP – Central Region Sales

6-10 lines of detail and achievements

2000 – 2002         Director – Financial Accounts

5-8 lines of details and achievements

1996 – 2000         Account Executive – Major Financial Accounts

4-6 lines

1993 – 1996         Account Representative – Toronto East

3-5 lines (less space for roles longer than 10 years ago)

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Interviewer…. Cold….

Posted March 12, 2009 by gavinpitchford
Categories: Getting Hired, Hiring, Interviewing, Recruiting

Tags: , ,

Mistakes we see every day…

50 plus mistakes that can cost you chances…

  1. Arriving late, or more than 10 minutes early
  2. Poor resume: (there are at least 20 different mistakes you can make on your resume alone – that’s another blog !)
  3. Show up without a resume
  4. Poor handshake
  5. Poor Eye contact
  6. Bad breath, body odor, unshaven
  7. Disorganized / disheveled / dirty clothes or shoes
  8. Carrying too much “stuff”  (coat / handbag / briefcase / laptop)
  9. Loose tie / stained tie / unpressed shirt / creased suit
  10. Inability to answer the question “tell me about yourself” in a concise, 1 minute or more lengthy 3-5 minute long sound bite depending upon the interviewer
  11. interrupting the interviewer
  12. sitting before the interviewer
  13. spreading out on their desk without permission
  14. not answering the question that was asked
  15. rambling answer
  16. answers that are too brief /one word / “yes” / “no”
  17. Answers in the first 10 minutes that are too long (over 45 seconds)  or too convoluted
  18. Mobile phone rings audibly
  19. Worse, you answer it !!
  20. Negative comments about any former or current boss, company, or coworker
  21. Too up-tight to smile or laugh
  22. swearing
  23. making any off color, sexist, or discriminatory  remark
  24. telling a joke without being invited to
  25. not having a joke ready to go if needed
  26. asking about benefits, salary, vacation
  27. failing to ask good questions about the company, the role or the boss
  28. failing to have properly prepared
  29. sharing any confidential information from any source
  30. excessive slang, poor grammar
  31. talking too fast
  32. talking too slow
  33. not asking for the job
  34. not being able to describe why interested in the job
  35. not being able to describe why qualified for the job
  36. disclosing any prior instance of poor judgement
  37. suggesting that you take the job less than seriously
  38. not having any interests outside of the job
  39. discussing politics, race, religion, sexual preference, country of origin, or that of anyone else
  40. not able to articulate a clear value proposition
  41. unable to answer straightforward questions about your resume accurately and consistently
  42. dirty briefcase or laptop
  43. too much jewellery
  44. not committing to future meetings
  45. asking third interview questions on the first interview
  46. asking for too much money, responsibility – or not enough !
  47. chewing gum
  48. stinking of cigarettes
  49. dandruff / grooming issues
  50. obviously nervous – clicking a pen repeatedly
  51. no demonstrated career strategy or ambition

Did we mention not asking for the job ?  The number one thing you can do, is to tell someone you want the job, and explain why you should have it.

Maximizing the Value You Can Get From a Headhunter in Today’s Market

Posted March 12, 2009 by gavinpitchford
Categories: Getting Hired, Headhunter, Hiring, Interviewing

Tags: ,

With the job market being what it is, we’re getting lots of calls these days from people thinking (hoping ?) we can find them a job.

Some of them even treat us like they think they’re doing us a favour by speaking with us.   Those, of course, are the calls we return first.

But finding people a job isn’t what we actually do…

So let’s understand what a headhunter does, and what his / her responsibility is, and to whom.   Because if you understand that, you can better leverage your interaction and get more from it.

The Business Model

Our clients pay us a lot of money to provide them ultimately with the single, very best candidate available, in whichever geography, to fill a very specific role.      Often, they want to meet 2 or 3 great candidates to help them consider relative strengths or weaknesses, or different elements of the role.    But in 2 decades plus, not one client I can recall (at least no one who actually knew how to manage) has ever said “Please – show me 10 people who are kind of qualified”.   They want only qualified candidate.  They want them soon.  And they want them to be people likely to accept the role and remain engaged for a number of years.

And it is to our client that we are beholden.  It is for them we search, look under rocks or up trees, leaving no stone unturned in an effort to find that best available candidate.

The Process

Sometimes we may show them two of exactly what they asked for, and at other times, we might add a candidate we think might be closer to what they do actually need (whether they know it or not), or perhaps we’ll add someone whose personality, soft skills and ability to learn more than compensate for the experience on another candidate’s resume.   That’s both our responsibility and our value add – sometimes an outside perspective adds an element our client hadn’t considered.

We recently had a situation in Calgary where the hiring manager was adamant, based on the resumes, and clear experience differential between two candidates, that he only wanted to consider, interview, and likely would hire candidate “S”.    After some persuading, he agreed to also meet candidate “M” who, despite not fitting the official spec anywhere near as closely as “S”, was in our opinion, a better candidate, based on his attitude, aptitude, soft skills and a maturity that was impossible to convey on a resume.   In the end, “S” came a close second, but our client ultimately agreed with us – and “M” was the clear and unanimous first choice of each of the 3 stakeholders in the hiring decision.

My point ?  We’re not just blind slaves to matching a written spec with the bullet points on the resume – after an interview we can usually do a pretty good job of assessing your fit for a particular role.  But net, our clients pay us to provide them with a very short list of those people we feel, in our professional judgement, are the absolutely best available for any given situation – not anyone we find who could, in theory, with a few weeks or months of training, do the job.   The current market conditions also dictate that the client’s hiring manager has to absolutely justify his decision to his boss, and then beyond his boss, and so – even if he believes a candidate to be likely a better fit in the long term – if that candidate does not – on paper – look to be qualified, the chances of them getting hired at the moment are pretty slim.  The market itself is providing plenty of risk – no manager is looking to increase it by making a hiring decision they won’t be able to defend in 6 months, should the new hire fail.

So Why Argue ?

Despite this, candidates will often suggest to us that they are qualified or capable  for certain roles, and ask to be put forward and are sometimes offended when we prefer not to do so.   And In the absence of better candidates, they might well be right.   And so we absolutely get it – given the right set of circumstances, they could do the job very well.

The thing is – at the moment at least – it’s a question of statistically, could someone else do it better, or be productive sooner.  Because that’s who is getting hired…

Our firm has an averge hit rate of about 50%, – meaning that roughly half of all the interviews we arrange ultimately result in employment.   And I would say that in about 90% of cases, regardless of how many candidates there are, I can accurately predict in advance who the winning candidate will be.

While another headhunter who doesn’t know my particular market niche might consider you a fit for the role, our value add to our client – and to you – is in knowing why that’s a bad call. Putting you forward for a role for which you are not one of the best 1 or 2 candidates is a waste of your time, the client’s time , and ultimately my time.   Time that could be better spent looking for a job you will be the top one or two for.

Putting you forward for a role in which you will likely fail isn’t a good strategy for anyone either – especially you !  While you might need a job right now, you also need to keep the next one – and not to lose another one, so it’s actually better to be on the bench a while longer before taking the right role, rather than add a short term stay (=failure…)  to your resume.

So How to become the Favoured Candidate ?

My personal favourite candidates are the ones who :

  • have a great, documented and quantifiable track record of success in my market niche,
  • have a well prepared resume
  • come in for an interview for which they are well prepared, can discuss their accomplishments in a meaningful fashion
  • are dressed appropriately, arrive on time, etc. (see my soon to be published blog on ways to mess up in an interview)
  • actively seek and subsequently execute on interviewing techniques / resume advice I may have provided, and
  • are realistic in terms of what they can expect from both me – and especially the market
  • work with me to define next steps

What happens then ?

The best candidates leave my office having reached an understanding with me as to next steps.  In some rare cases, I might initiate action on their behalf: perhaps fire off an inquiry or a call, perhaps using that call as an opportunity to reach out to a client I’ve been meaning to call anyway and introducing the candidate as a possible hire

In most case though, unless I called them for a specific role, we’ll agree on a next step where they should feel free to call me if they see something I can help them land or pursue, but otherwise to stay in touch about every three weeks or so, alternating calls and emails.   There’s no question that candidates fade from mind after a few weeks.  We don’t know if you’re still looking or not, we may have 30 more resumes that have landed on top of yours, so a call every 3 weeks is a great idea just to keep it fresh.

To set a reasonable set of expectations though – in most cases – probably 80% – the candidate we place are the ones we head hunted for specific roles.  This is universally true of most headhunters.

That said, about 10 days ago, a candidate came out of nowhere as a referral and was a perfect match to a set of specs I took an hour later – Serendipity !!!  He was hired last Friday and started Monday – less than two weeks after his former employer closed their Calgary office.   Incredible for him.

However, given market conditions, he needed to be prepared to accept a 25% cut in target compensation.   His alternative was to wait out another job n his specific niche, at which point, if Nortel does collapse, he’d be competing against 5 other qualified guys in a market that in a good year adds fewer than 3 or 4 vendor sales roles a year.  So credit to him for realizing the only way he was going to make last year’s number again this year was going to be to work hard and longer and beat his quota.

Other ways to leverage  your headhunter and get hired FASTER

If candidates see a specific role they are interested in pursuing, they should be sure to let a trusted headhunter know as soon as possible.

Often – in my niche – I can help them get straight to the right person, and in many circumstances, my endorsement would dramatically increase the chances of their being able to interview.  If I can’t, I’ll let them know right away.

Because here’s what happens behind the scenes:  The “hiring manager” has a requirement they pass to HR.  HR, overworked, understaffed, and trying to fill 10 jobs from marketing to engineering to sales to admin has no time to properly absorb the posting, has little in depth knowledge of the role, and so may fire off a dozen – or these days – 5 dozen – resumes.  Resumes that they think *might* be appropriate.  They usually aren’t.

The manager – equally overworked,  looks at the stack – and – having seen that same stack before, ignores it.

Because their role is to do the rest of their job, and a couple of hours sifting through resumes, looking for the one or two gems, calling 5-10 people for phone screens – well – let’s just say few have the time to do that – nor is it a productive use of their time.   To alleviate their pain they will happily accept input from a trusted resource: and if the fee is an issue happily go to bat to justify it based on lack of other resources.

From the candidate’s position also a great call – the head hunter can give them a tremendous leg up so they go in armed with inside knowledge on both the role, as well as the manager  and the company,and as well, can get interview tips based on the headhunter’s recent experience with them.  Between the four items, their chances of getting hired go up substantially.

A good headhunter will be up front however – and tell a candidate either immediately – or within a few days at latest – if they simply can’t get traction within the company.  Then submit your resume and make your pitch to HR.

Where Headhunters are Close to UselessSwitching Careers

In our role as a headhunter, helping candidates in these areas is completely outside of our job description.  If companies wanted to hire people with no actual experience in the role, they would advertise in the paper or on Monster,  or visit a university.  They sure as heck wouldn’t volunteer to pay us a lot of money for the privilege – they can find badly qualified people for their roles on their own !  We’re typically the last people they call when open to filling any role in that fashion.  It’s a matter of economics.

If candidates want to shift careers, or  advice as to how to land a particular role, especially one for which they aren’t well qualified, that advice is certainly available – but it comes at a price – from a coach or career counsellor.

Our firm does offer that service, but at either a pre-set package price or an hourly rate.   When you go to a headhunter you  should be able to clearly articulate a value proposition that doesn’t include “well, one of my friends thought I might be good at selling technology….”

I hope to blog more on this subject soon, as downturns and exit packages often help motivate people to pursue other options, and clearly with a couple of decades plus of helping people transition from one role to another, I have ideas how once can accomplish this with some success.

What about a “Candidate Pay” situation, with people who offer to help me uncover “the hidden job market”.

Our job is to fill open roles – not to place specific candidates.   But there are some companies out there, that, for a fee, will try to place specific individuals that pay them to do so.   To be fair, I have no statistics on how successful they are.  Obviously they must succeed some of the time, otherwise I assume they’d be out of business.    But I can tell you that none of my clients are likely to engage a candidate represented by a firm the candidate had to pay to help them find a job or even to accept their referrals.

And I doubt that any company with a good job and an expectation of hiring a well qualified person for it would do so either.

Pretty much common sense.

On the other hand, if I had a lousy job no one wanted, who better to work with than a company whose candidates are so anxious to find a job, they’ll pay someone else to look for one for them.                More common sense…

If you note what my blog says in an earlier post about pulling second rate candidates off a resume site like Monster or Workopolis, how much worse is a candidate likely to be if they had to pay someone to find them a job ?  Net – it sends the wrong message.

Ditto for the guys who send out the resume blasts on your behalf.  Can’t tell you how many of those services are locked in as spam on everyone’s mail server.   Net – this is free advice and worth every penny you’re paying for it, and perhaps a little more: Don’t waste your money without specific measurable outcomes that are meaningful.

For example, career coaching, resume preparation coaching, and interviewing coaching can be a terrific way to sharpen your approach, but look for practical results and services with predictable measurable outcomes.

So how do you best approach a headhunter ?  And what should you expect ?

First and foremost – if we’re going to spend time together, you need to have a successful track record in my niche market !!

I don’t usually want to meet “for coffee” – I  simply don’t have time to go out for coffee unless the market is completely and totally dead (it isn’t!!)  in which case, I suspect the meeting would be redundant anyway.  So don’t ask me for that unless we’re friends.

If we’re going to meet at all, it is because I think there is at least a 10% chance I will ultimately be able to add value for you at some point, either immediately or in the future.  But the meeting will be a formal interview, because for me to do my job, I need to be able to assess a candidate in a formal interview setting.  Ditto for Lunch. Breakfast.  Dinner.

Treat the headhunter as though you were going to an interview with an employer – not like you were going to hang out with a buddy and  talk about your job.  We are absolutely not your buddy.  We may become your buddy AFTER the work is done, but before then the most you can hope for is that we become your ally – and that is your objective for the meeting.

To make sense, you need to be in “my niche”.  My company is remarkably successful in our niche – and like candidates – while we might be able to fill a certain position, we are not able to add as much value outside our niche for either a client or a candidate, so we don’t want to waste your time – or ours.   If you haven’t done the research to know who the most highly regarded headhunter in your niche is, call two or three companies you would be interested in working for, and ask them who they would be most likely to use as a headhunter.

Then make a business call that demonstrates your ability to do an equally good job representing any future employer.

Our niche at Delta is keenly focused in building exceptional customer facing  and delivery teams for major technology vendors,  and their channel partners, primarily for those who sell networking, security, storage or software solutions to enterprise or service provider accounts and roles closely related to those listed.

We also work for large end-users of those products, helping them build teams to architect and implement those solutions.

Outside that niche, we’re not completely useless – good interview skills are good interview skills etc. – but we’re not as in touch with the market, so we won’t have the best jobs – or the best candidates,  except by fluke.

Virtually every firm is similar: the search companies who try to be all things to all people typically provide poor to middle of the road results to everyone.  Truly successful corporations who are intent in building the best teams they possibly can,  typically identify search firms in each niche for which they need people, and use them exclusively for those roles.

So before you contact me – or any other head hunter – try and make sure I’m the right head hunter for your niche.

Otherwise, you are wasting your time.

Once you do so, all the regular interviewing rules apply (again – see future blog).

But one in particular applies more than the others: We don’t work for you – we work for our client !   Anything you tell us should be true, but for crying out loud ! Don’t tell us something you don’t want our client to know unless there’s a very good reason and you first swear us to secrecy.  I’ve had candidates come in and trash their present / former employer, come in in jeans, take cell calls mid way through our meeting etc.  When I ask, their response is almost universally, “Well I would only do that / say that in front of you”!

Really ?   Why don’t I believe you ?   And if  it is actually true, are you seriously that stupid ?  not only to do it – but then to disrespect me by telling me I somehow don’t count ?   Please !

I’m the trusted advisor / gatekeeper, who is paid a lot of money by someone to find the best sales person for their team, and you just insulted me with your conduct, and now you want to insult my intelligence by expecting me to believe that you wouldn’t do the same to an IT Director when you’re hoping for his or her support in getting to the CIO ?

Because I don’t.   Believe you, that is.  I assume anything you do with me you will do when interviewing with my client – or worse, once on the job.

I’ve got a streak going  (knock wood) of not having a single candidate that I have placed get bounced during their “probation period” since 1993.  16 years.  Do you seriously think that if I take my work that seriously that I would take a chance on you ?    Because you’d be wrong.

My strategy in any interview is to try and understand your  ability to achieve once on the job.  If you screw up that badly, the only possible response at that late stage is to apologize instead of getting defensive.  Maybe you get a second shot…    I would expect any good headhunter would have a similar response to mine.

If there is a legitimate reason that needs to be kept confidential, and otherwise your departure will raise questions then share it in confidence.  Examples might be being asked to do something unethical, harassment of some sort etc.  Wanting to leave because there is no path to the next job is absolutely fine so ambition is an acceptable thing to share.

Expectations: What should you expect  from your Headhunter?

  • a detailed enough interview that they can act as your advocate – that they know enough about you to represent you to their client accurately
  • that they know enough about the client / opportunity to allow you to properly consider it.  Inadequate knowledge is a first sign that the relationship with the client may not be all you are being told it is..
  • an honest assessment of their sense of how likely they are to represent you
  • an assessment of their sense of your fit for the role you are seeking  (this is your chance to correct any misconceptions that may have arisen)
  • timely follow up from them  on any commitments made as to representation.   (if they told you they could work with ABC company that should happen within days, not weeks.)
  • timely follow up from them after any meetings you might have with their client (typically 48 hours or less)
  • straightforward feedback on likelihood of their client hiring you
  • IF YOU AREN’T GETTING THESE THINGS, keep in mind that once a headhunter has put your resume forward to a company and you permit them to represent you,  you are stuck with that in most cases for six months to a year or more.  If they don’t strike you as knowledgeable in your niche, about the client or the role, or don’t know enough to properly represent you, consider declining to be represented by them.

What you need to deliver to your headhunter:

  • complete professionalism
  • immediate follow up on changes to your resume you agreed to make
  • complete confidentiality on any opportunity you discuss
  • good preparation invested in any interview you agree to go on
  • immediate follow up after any meeting with a client (within 1 hour)
  • straightforward feedback on the chances of you accepting a role, if offered
  • that – once you have made a commitment – you not renege on it

Do your research up front, prepare for your interview, and articulate clear reasons why a company would be better with you as an employee, and you’ll be well on the way.

Chicken Little Takes Over: Who Knew No sales = No bad debt !

Posted February 25, 2009 by gavinpitchford
Categories: Recruiting

This has nothing to do with building a great sales team  – but it’s a telling story about the insane state of corporate chicken-little-like decision making that seems to be prevalent at the moment.

While there’s lots of issues in the current recession brought about by real events, this is yet another example of the media’s hysteria and individual company’s knee jerk reactions causing a ripple effect that will be felt all the way down the line – and no one will benefit.

In this crazy world, where the idiots seem to be in charge at the moment, and courage has seemingly vanished, the following is a true story of how a few idiots at a major multi-national company have personally guaranteed sales for one division will fall this quarter with a knee jerk over-reaction that has seen sales of certain products fall to zero !

But hey – the bad debt number will be zero as well, so everything is good!  Right ?

This is a true story – incredible – but true.

The major multi-national, (we’ll call them “RB”) about 5 years ago acquired another substantial US based company that has in turn had a 60 year long relationship with a friend of mine’s family run company (that we’ll call “FriendCo”).  Sixty years.    Literally a lifetime relationship.

A few years ago, as a thank you (note sarcastic tone) RB took all the major reseller accounts in Canada that FriendCo had developed over 60 years and turned them into direct sales accounts, cutting out FriendCo as the distributor.  Majors like Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Home Hardware etc.

But despite that FriendCo remains one of RB’s major distributors in Canada to all the smaller independent accounts, and is also a supplier back to to RB, as FriendCo continues to manage all the RB returns and warranty claims in Canada, resulting in a substantial amount of cross billing.

For years, since their sales were “restructured” for them, FriendCo has been selling an average of 20K a month of RB products, while billing RB about 10K in return for managing returns & warranty repairs.  As per industry standard, their line of credit was established at 60K and the accounts have always been well managed.

But in a knee jerk reaction to the current financial woes, RB’s finance guys (let’s call them collectively Adolph) cut the credit limit of all of RBs customers by 75%. No warning – just cut them overnight. And decreed that no orders could be shipped for more than the new credit limit.

Net result: FriendCo has a 20K order and a new 15K credit limit – which means order not shipped unless FriendCo is prepared to pay in advance instead of their usual 60 day terms.

Of  the 20K order, at least 10K is parts and products needed to honour the Canadian warranty service that FriendCo runs for RB (money that will be charged back to RB) Meaning the customers – and the retailers, from Walmart to Home Depot, Rona – you name it – are getting increasingly annoyed.

The entire 20K US order translates into aboute $39K in CDN dollar business, once landed cost is taken into account, and the products are resold, representing about 7K in profit for FriendCo – profit they need to run their business, but also impacting the transport company, the customs broker and everyone else in the chain.

Worse – In addition to the 10K RB will owe FriendCo after the shipped order results in the settlement of warranty claims,  RB already owes FriendCo at least another 10K for warranty service already performed, but Adolph won’t offset one against the other – and RB is taking their full 60 days to pay!

Calls from RB’s Canadian Head Office to Adolph have done nothing to alleviate the problem.   Adolph is in charge – and bad debt will be zero !!

Adolph’s policies have impacted another area as well.  RB just acquired a new company (we’ll call them CS) that had their own unique product line and unique dealer channel.  Adolph has unilaterally set all of the substantial  “new” channel partners’ credit limits to $250.00 (yes – $250) until RB can run their own credit checks and reset accordingly – a process expected to take 2-4 months.

Meanwhile, CS’s prior policy of minimum orders of $300 remain in effect.

Meaning the Channel Partners literally can’t buy ANYTHING.  Because any order – EVERY order – would exceed the new credit limit.  And RB doesn’t accept credit card transactions.  A lot of the products from CS themselves cost over $1,000.

Net: Sales of RB’s new division CS will be zero.     (Although bad debt will also be zero – so everything is good!  Right ?)

And no doubt RB will have a bad quarter.   Go figure… And the media will report their profits are down.  Go figure…   But Adolph will have cut bad debt to zero – cuz if you don’t actually sell anything… there can’t be any bad debt, can there?

Will Adolph get promoted?

It’s craziness like this that will make the recession worse than it already is.  

Wake up and smell the coffee !  It really doesn’t need to be this bad.

Hiring is like Dating: SEND FLOWERS !

Posted February 19, 2009 by gavinpitchford
Categories: Hiring, Interviewing, Recruiting

Tags: , , ,

So you get set up by a friend, and go out on a first date with someone you’re kind of interested in. The date goes really well – or at least you think so.

Next day, you call the friend who set you up. Tell them all about it and how interested you are in having a second date. They haven’t heard from the other person, but they promise to share with you the feedback when they get it.

A week goes by – still no feed back. Your friend has tried to call your date , but couldn’t get through and … nothing.

Your response: human nature kicks in to build a protective wall – you no longer like the person you dated and even if they do call you back, at this point, the chances you’ll go out with them again are pretty slim. In fact the more you think about it, the less appealing they were. You’re moving on. In fact, their big nose and that annoying laugh…

This is the same reaction almost everyone would have. And it is exactly the reaction candidates exhibit when they can’t get feedback.

And yet employers do the same thing all the time – and lose great candidates in the process.

If you like a candidate, get that message through to them as soon as possible. Set realistic expectations as to your process – and make sure you follow through with great execution.

When you say “I’ll get back to you in a week to ten days” understand the candidate hears / hopes that means “before the end of the week”.

Momentum is absolutely huge in landing the candidate you most want to hire. Assuming basic fit for the job, it is one of the most – if not THE most – important factors in building your best possible team and landing the best possible candidate.

Positive feedback and proper execution can be a huge factor in persuading a top sales performer that you love them, that you’ll have their back, that you can deliver the product they’re going to be selling, and that they can trust you. And for someone who is succeeding somewhere else to leave their current employer – and suffer the income disruption that usually entails – they will need to feel the love to make the jump. And they need to absolutely trust you.

I’ve seen my clients acquire top performers who would otherwise be out of their league by executing flawlessly and building momentum – making the candidate feel respected and appreciated – and equally I’ve seen arrogant clients lose great candidates because they felt no obligation to execute – behaved like they were in the driver seat and had obviously forgotten that the number one reason people leave one company for another is that they feel under-appreciated.

Is she really going out with him ?

I’ve seen candidates knowingly pick – lesser companies with worse jobs because the company – knowing they were competing – was able to make a decision and deliver a letter of offer in less than a week – while the other – a vastly superior company with the better job – had a prolonged process that took three weeks and included some unexpected delays. Logical ? NO ! But dating isn’t usually all that logical either…

About a year ago, our candidate “W” who had been recently let go when his company closed the division he was in and didn’t offer him an alternative started interviewing with one of our clients.

Still feeling vulnerable, W went through a reasonable hiring process of about 2 weeks duration with our client. After several meetings, the manager made him a verbal offer which he accepted. It was agreed an offer was to be delivered in 2-3 days.

The requisition process was then fouled up by the hiring manager’s boss when he failed to prioritize the request – or even act on it – arrogantly believing the unemployed candidate would wait – and then to make it worse, went on vacation for a couple of days.

Two to three weeks is not unrealistic for a hiring process, but when a process of two weeks has been completed and an expectation of two to three days – the norm – has been set, when 6 more days had passed, “W” started to feel a little less loved and ultimately no longer bound by the verbal agreement. Especially after Company “M” got into the act.

M Interviewed W three times, executed flawlessly and delivered an offer within 4 days from start to finish. Worse offer, worse company to work for. Ultimately they delivered their offer the day after the initial company – and 10 days after W had accepted the other company’s verbal offer

When W accepted the offer from Company M, the original company’s manager’s response was a fairly predictable “Well, I’m glad I found out NOW that he couldn’t be trusted”.

Completely oblivious that it was he who had broken the trust first.

Net, both parties felt betrayed by the other – and both responded with knee jerk reactions that prevented what should have been a great move for both sides.

Don’t let it happen to you.

If you like a candidate enough that you might want to hire them:

  • Give specific and positive feedback within 24 hours of every meeting or expect no one is showing up for the second date
  • Make sure that you set realistic expectations of next steps, and timing
  • Execute on the expectations within the time frame allotted, or reach out and personally apologize for the delay, being sure to reaffirm your interest – and the reason for it – in the candidate directly to the candidate
  • Make sure your process can readily execute once you’ve picked the right candidate – start a parallel process if necessary to get a requisition approved
  • You wouldn’t promise your fiancee a diamond ring and show up with a glass imitation – you’d get turned down: Make sure your offer comes in at the expectation level you set !