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Why Can't Jobseekers Approach Hiring Managers Without A Recruiter?

One of the common myths of employment advice is the idea that candidates possess the ability and the resources to directly reach out hiring managers. 

This has been common advice for thirty years, mixed, remastered, and delivered to an audience of jobseekers thinking that recruiters detract from the employment experience instead of adding to it.  The basic theory is that recruiters horde information that rightfully belongs to candidates.  If the candidate can learn the names of the hiring managers, they can connect directly, avoiding all the messiness of being screened by a recruiter.  This applies both to third party firms and internal recruiters.  We are all seen as obstacles to the magic healing power of a manager/candidate connection. 

It would be awesome, if only it were true.  

Hiring managers are often expected to be involved in the recruiting process. I've heard some pundits go as far as to say that they are required to be involved 100% of the time, as hiring is the most important thing they do.  Managers might disagreee.  While hiring remains an important part of their job, no manager will ever be as effective as a full-time recruiter. 

1) Managers are not paid to hire.  

Their performance is not based on hires.  In fact, the incentive for hiring is a better performing team, which can only be judged after the hire has taken place and the candidate has started to contribute to the team.  Delayed gratification with no direct financial incentive means managers don't have hiring as their number one concern, until it's their number one concern. 

2) Managers don't hire 40 hours a week.  

Recruiters spend at least 40 hours a week looking for and interviewing people.  A manager only interviews in fits and starts.  This means recruiters are practicing their craft, while managers dabble in it. 

3) Managers only get a finished product.  

Most managers don't have to go through raw resumes, which means they already have a skewed vision of what is available in the marketplace.  Even if a recruiter is bad, they still screen out the most ridiculous resumes and filter the bad phone screens.  Talk to a manager in a small company or the owner of a small business and you'll understand this better.  They've seen the whole market, not the sanitized version.

But let's not pick on managers.  Let's talk about candidates/jobseekers, and why they can't compete with recruiters.

1) Recruiters hire salespeople.

That's right.  10 years ago, the starting salary for a staffing salesperson was $40-60,000, plus commission.  That's one person beating the bushes looking for companies that need to hire, but can't do it on their own.  There is nothing comparable on the candidate side.  No jobseeker is hiring a salesperson to look for new opportunities.  This means that while a candidate can mimic some aspect of the selling process, they're operating at a huge disadvantage because there are hundreds of salespeople in the market, and they're better at making cold calls and evaluating companies. 

2) Candidates have a very small chance of getting hired by the manager they call. 

It all comes down to math.  If a candidate can get in front of a hiring manager, they have to count on luck. The hiring manager has to have a job, the candidate has to be a fit, the manager has to be open to speaking at the time they call, and the candidate has to be good enough for the manager to guide through HR. 

That's a lot of possibilities, that when multiplied together, equal a very low return.  It's not enough to find a manager who will talk to you. You have to find one that could hire you, would hire you, and can hire you.  You have to find a manager who wants to deal with salary negotiation, wants to check your background, and who doesn't see a need to compare you with others.

3) You're probably breaking the law, and or corporate policy. 

The Human Resources department exists in part to protect the company.  A manager that allows candidates to join the process without going through an internal or external process is a legal liability.  The problems are many.  From sexual harassment to discrimination to a failure to document the recruiting process, managers have a set of rules they are required to follow, and candidates just don't know what those are.  I don't like it anymore than the rest of you, but I'm aware of it.  Recruiters shield companies from liability, which is one reason they're used. 

So what do you do? 

One, is to recognize that there are always exceptions.  Some people get lucky.  What tends to happen is a candidate builds up a network of people (or gets lucky) and hears about jobs through the grapevine.  This gives them a leg up in the process, which means the best way to get in front of a manager directly is to have someone refer you.  That's a long-term process, and has a lot more to do with coincidence than planning, but it's good career advice in general.

The second thing to do is learn the system before you need it.  Job searches can be very stressful when you have to find work.  Add in an almost complete lack of knowledge of how the system works, and you have a recipe for complaints without solutions.  Forget what should happen, or what is supposed to happen.  Educate yourself on what does happen, and when the time comes, you'll be prepared. 


Picking A Technology Staffing Firm In St Louis

This blog has been awhile longer than most, and Google trusts it, which means I regularly get requests from people by email and phone to find a reliable recruiter.  

It's not as easy as it seems to make such a suggestion.  Sure there are fine firms in the St Louis area that in general, I would recommend.  Kforce was always good to me, thought I haven't worked there in six years.  Bradford and Galt seems to be the genesis of every independent staffing firm, having been around for a long time and maintaining a good reputation.  Comsys and Technisource are national names, OCI and Technology Partners are local ones.  Matrix has a good national brand. 

And there are more.  But how do you pick? 

This is for clients:

First, recognize you're not working with a company, you're working with a person and their team.  Don't get fooled into thinking that a big name means big service.  It can, but I've seen national firms with two people working, and local firms with fifteen.  Generally, you're better off with a larger local presence, but you only know if you're willing to visit their offices. 

You should, you know.  You should see what candidates see when they walk in the door.  There's no excuse not to, and it will tell you much about how the compay functions. 

Looks aren't everything.  The second thing you should do is find out exactly who is working full time on your positions.  Do you have a specific recruiter who runs your account?  Is it a pool?  Are you competing against other companies for the best recruiting team?

It works like this.  An account manager brings in a job requirement.  Who works on it?  Do they have control over a recruiter, or is it just posted on a board?  Do they have someone they trust, a recruiter they sit down with and give the good reqs to?  Will the account manager tell you what a good req is and what a bad one is?  (if they say there is no such thing as a bad req, they're either clueless or lying.  Bad reqs are vague, hard to fill, little response back from manager, low bill rate, or low gross margin rate).  

Most companies don't think about such things.  They want to be sweet-talked into assuming a beaming workforce is just waiting to make calls on their behalf.  There may very well be a beaming workforce back at the offices, but do they roll their eyes when they hear your name? Does the recruiting manager tell them to check their boards, but work on the fillable reqs?

Bet you never heard the term fillable req from a sales guy.  

The truth is hiring is hard, and the system matters more than you know.  I never really made it as a staffing guy until I recognized that I had to do all the work myself.  In St Louis, the best ratio of sales to recruiting I ever had was 1:1. At one point I had one recruiter for three salespeople (three good salespeople).  Try hiring 60 people a year with that kind of recruiting power.  Ultimately, a lack of recruiting strength helped me make the decision to strike out on my own.  If you're doing all the work, why not do it all yourself?


1) Find out if the account manager knows anything about the technology you're hiring for.

2) Ask the about the structure of their recruiting process, including who works on the job

3) Ask to see the office, if only for five minutes

4) Ask the sales person who will actually work on the job, and what it takes to make your job a fillable req. 




Is A Reference Check In A Sales Call A Sign Of Weakness?

What is the purpose of a reference check?  Whether it's for a candidate or for a sales call, a reference check is designed to give some level of comfort to a buyer/hirer that the process they just completed was legitimate. 

It's checking to make sure that what you were told was the truth, and that you were not sold a bill of goods.  

Some people will say references are an important part of any sales process, of any interview.  It shows a thoroughness on the part of the checker - a covering of all bases. It is a risk management tool that serves as a warning to fraudsters and con men that they have to do more than spin a good yarn.

But enough with the metaphors, and on to the sales lesson.  I'm not here to talk about the importance or wisdom of references. I'm here to share a story about bad salespeople, who require references. 

I was learning at the foot of a master salesman.  The guy had been around, knew how to close, and most important, was willing to teach.  Sitting in his office, we would wait for sales agents out in the field to call in during client presentations.  The call was a necessary part of the sale.  Salespeople had to get authorization on their deals.  Anyone who has bought a car understands why this works, and its importance in negotiation. 

The strong ones called in and laid out the deals they were negotiating.  They used the call as a tool to show a process of buying.  That process made the clients comfortable.  It showed the salesperson had a company behind them, and the call was part of that process.  They weren't asking for permission to close, they were playing a role to create urgency.   

The weak ones used the call for backup.  The sales manager knew this, and would tell me before the call what would happen. 

"He's going to call in, tell us it's a good deal with an interested client.  He's going to say, 'They're almost ready to sign, but they want to talk to some references first.'"

And just like the sales manager was some kind of prophet, that's exactly what would happen.  The sales guy would call in, say he had a good deal, and explain that references were all that was needed to close the deal. 

Here's what I learned. References never close the deal.  If you cannot close the deal by yourself, references are not going to do it for you.  That's why they're called a reference check, and not a reference close.  

1) Only a durned fool gives bad references.  While I've seen it happen for candidates, that's because candidates have learned that a lot of companies don't actually check references.  In sales, that doesn't happen.  That means that only positive references are given.  What use are those? 

2) It's not the reference check that's the problem.  It's the idea that it has power.  Reference checks are designed only to make the checker feel good in their decision. 

What's the proper way to handle a request for a reference in a sales call?  This is what I was taught. 

Sales Manager:  Tell them this.  Tell them of course you're going to give them references, but you're sensing there is something else going on. Do they have concerns about the project?  Are they prepared to buy right there?  If we call and get the references on the phone, will they sign upon hanging up?  We ask because references have to be protected.  They've graciously allowed us to use their name, but it's not their job to sell for us.  So again, tell them of course they can check references, but let's make sure that there isn't anything else stopping them from signing. 

It's a beautiful understanding of the sales process, and the response of the prospect would tell us all we needed to know. 

1) Just give us the references, and we'll call them: This meant they were stalling, and asking for references was their way of ending the sales meeting without having to sign a commitment. 

2) They admitted their were other factors in place: including time, budget, and/or revisions to what we intended to sell them:

3) They got belligerent: This was usually followed by the suggestion that a failure to provide references was a sign we were hiding something. 

This was always the most interesting, because it told us the problem was not the product.  Those who got belligerent fell into two camps - those that had purchased a similar product and had been burned, and those who did not trust the salesperson.

The belligerence was based either on fear of getting burned again, or distrust of the salesperson.  In both cases, it showed someone who could be sold by the right person.  

In no case, and in no time since, has a request for a reference check in a sales process ever led to a sale. Reference checks asked before the conclusion of a deal happen because the salesperson failed to unearth relevant information about the prospect.  While it is entirely normal for a prospect to ask for them, the time and manner in which they ask should serve as a signal as to whether or not you will close the deal.   


I Want To Be Indispensable

I was 25 years old, and had spent two years at my first office job.  After years in catering, restaurant, and retail, I was working at a desk in an office with computers and printers and an undefined role. 

At the time, I was a marketing/IT/sales/management hybrid, developing a mapping project for outside salespeople to use in collecting leads while in new markets.  With the help of the 3rd fastest computer in the company, and a whopping 4 GB of memory, I redrew the United States into walkable sections based on business lists purchased from ABI. 

In addition, I handled special marketing projects, served as a liaison to other departments (shipping, sales, marketing, enterprise, customer service), served as a buffer between  my boss and the sales floor, and for a while, I sang in the choir. 

I was in a growing company, and had won my spurs in the first year, placing in the top 5 salespeople dialing 125 times a day setting up appointments with car dealers, mortgage companies, retail stories, and distributors on selling an incentive program. 

This is all brought up because I just noticed Seth Godin has a book called Linchpin, Are You Indispensable?

Indespensable.  At the age of 25, that's all I wanted.  I remember standing in a bar on a Friday explaining to a group of 8-10 people what I actually did.  The answer was everything.  Anything my boss wanted me to do. Anything I saw that needed to be done.  Anything other people wouldn't do.  From recruiting to admin to training to reporting functions to IT Help Desk to UX work - my job was simply to solve problems. 

And so when they asked, I told them my job was to be indispensable. 

One guy - a real stud, both in sales and in life, looked at me with sympathetic eyes and 10 more years of experience and said, "No one can ever be indispensable."

It's been 12 years since, and I'm now inclined to believe him. Companies move on, more often than not.  When they lack personnel or lose someone important, they move to different things.  Whether they fail aor succeed, they move on.  How can one man be indispensable in a system that adjusts itself through sheer inertia?  Whatever satisfaction you get from helping the company win or watching it lose, the result is temporary.  Indispensable simply doesn't last forever. 

That desire never left me, and so in 2006, I started my own company.  Ultimately the only way to truly be indispensable for any length of time was to do it all yourself.  To date, I'm still indispensable, but I'm actively working each day to make myself obsolete.  It will be a joy the day I can sit back for six months and watch the company work on its own.  How crazy is that?    

I'm out every day looking for employees that are indispensable.  I'm out every day looking, and not finding, because on thing is true - people who want to be indispensable can't reach their potential working for others.

Clearly I've yet to read Godin's book, but the title struck a memory chord, and a strong one.

Are you indispensable?  Is it even possible to be?  

Predicting The Future Is Easy. Complaining About The Future Is Getting Old

One of the lamer trends that pops up every six months are so is the column from an industry stalwartbemoaning the rise of social media in the human resource community.  Having watched this unfold for over ten years, the pattern of behavior as social media invades yet another walled fortress makes this really boring to me, but the earnestness in which social media is denounced and accepted compels me to write something about the situation. 

Social media is all over the place because it's scary.  With a public (that consists of both B2C and the general public) that craves information and now has learned to share it, the ability to tightly control information is no longer possible.  In fact, once social media has breached the walls, attempts to control information actually increase the growth of adoption as people learn they don't have to take it anymore. 

This is very damaging to the old guard.  It first hits pundits, who find themselves forced to cover social media, but only at a distance.  Later it progresses to consultants, who explain that social media is important, but not as important as the basics they teach. Finally, it reaches executives who have not prepared their companies for change, and are terrified of what it portends.  It's true in every industry, starting with the media, and continuing on to marketing, sales, customer service, and of course human resources.  It's about the only thing we can count on in today's economy.  That order is also the order of outrage, with first pundits, then consultants, then executives taking to blogs and online magazines  (ironically) to decry the barbarians at the gate.  "You Lack Experience," they proclaim. "You Can't Show Your Results," they mock.  "You Need A Steady Hand" (one they provide at hundreds of dollars an hour), they beg.  And many people cheer them along, grateful that someone is there to protect them from LinkedIn invitations and Twitter searches.

And then another year passes, and the naysayers turn around to find themselves surrounded with change, as social media participants in their company, supply chain, customer base, and competitor's sales force ignored their warnings and just dove in.  Without consultants and without direction, working off slivers of information provided at conferences and online, the companies and people of the world are doing more on their own, without the hallowed gatekeepers giving them the go ahead.  The peasants are revolting, without even bothering to ask for permission. 

It's as if the early adopters, in using their imagination and testing out new technology, sparked the use of creativity and imagination among the workforce, who in their day-to-day activities realized their customers were already using social media.  

It's as if early adopters, far from being the catalysts for change, were simply noting that the world was changing, and that paying attention to those changes might be important if a company didn't want to get lost. 

What we now know, is that early adopters are not special.  They are not super talented gadget freaks with magic social powers.  We know this because the masses who came after them are exhibiting the same behaviors once exposed to the platforms.  In other words, paying attention to the early adopters and their actual use of social media, was a pretty gosh darned good way to predict what would happen. 

These trends aren't difficult to see in hindsight.  It wasn't that long ago that people didn't use credit cards online, and certainly wouldn't swipe it to a mobile device.  Now?  We're on the cusp of using our phones as the credit card.  Mobile check-ins seemed a huge invasion of privacy, until you start checking and realizing that the information you need about a place was left by the last 10 people who were there. 

I'm not one to give "social media consultants" a pass simply because they're on Facebook, but I do see a value in simply jumping into the pool, and if a business is comfortable paying someone to do so, more power to both parties.  For those who like to complain, I simply wait a few months, and then point out they've added "social media consulting" to their website, despite having done nothing to earn it. 

The world is changing, and that means learning new ways to sell, market, hire, and provide customer service.  When someone tells you that nothing has changed, it's a sure sign they' are afraid of being left on the sidelines.  It's an understandable reaction, but one I've seen too many times.  I may be a social media consultant, that most vile of the barbarian hordes, but at least I'm original. 

Other Ways To Say Hello To Jim Durbin

Social media sites like to work on their SEO for their profiles, and I just got a notice from awesomize me that I'm testing out. So I thought I'd show you some other places to find me. 

My New VideoBlogging Series On Social Media

The Slideshare account for Social Media Talent.

Jim Durbin's answers on Quora

Social Media Talent Facebook Page and brandstorming fan page

Social Media Talent biography of Jim Durbin and Craig Fisher

The Brandstorming contact page for digital marketing

My ERE author page

My Empire Avenue page

My backup Twitter account


VideoBlog: Don't Put That On Your Resume

I have to giggle a little at a comment on this - near the 7:30 mark, I say, "When you ask for and get an after hours interview, something goes wrong with your brain."

This is a videoblog discussing a Quora question concerning whether or not to pick "salary confidential" on your resume. 


For more videos, and to submit and rate questions, head over to, or follow me on @smheadhunter


The full question and answer is on Quora. If you like what you see, follow me there, too.