Headhunters' Job Search Tips and Interview Advice

Executive recruiters share words of wisdom about networking, finding a job, interviewing, improving your résumé, and climbing the corporate ladder (updated with a new tip every week)

Don't Panic Over Tough Questions

Never say anything negative when asked such questions as, "What do you think of your last manager?" Answer in a way that demonstrates your respect for authority and ability to work for different types of management styles.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Dump the Young-Person Baggage

Are you defensive? Insecure? Always worried about how you look to others? Cut that out!

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Ooze Confidence, Not Arrogance

Cocky is never O.K. During interviews, don't use superlatives such as "great at" or "wonderful" when describing yourself.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Try This Little To-Do List

1. Let people underestimate your abilities. 2. Vastly exceed their expectations. 3. Get promoted and enjoy the last laugh.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Come on, Get Real

Please don't waste your valuable time applying for jobs for which you fit none of the qualifications. This will only demoralize you when you get no response.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Help, Don't Opine

Co-workers don't value your input nearly so much as your cooperation. It's all about how you make the other person feel about him- or herself.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Turn Rejection into Enlightenment

Didn't make it past the initial phone screen? Don't take it to heart; try to get feedback on why. Always strike a friendly, open, positive tone when probing for feedback.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Take the High Road

The simplest and most elegant way to stand above the crowd will always be through the virtue of your actions. It means taking individual responsibility, making good on promises, not exaggerating, always having your mouth and your heart in perfect agreement.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Prepare for the Big Interview Question

The most frequently asked question is, "Tell me about yourself." The wrong answer is, "What do you want to know?" This tells the prospective employer you're unprepared for the interview.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Watch Your Words—and Tone

Real life is like high school. Get ready to be judged on popularity. Recognize that how you say things is often more important than what you say. Above all, don't tell people what's "wrong" with them.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Put Real Effort into Cover Letters

Generic cover letters are a big no-no. They turn off the prospective employer as they demonstrate that you didn't even have enough interest to research the job or hiring firm.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Turn a Negative into a Positive on the Interview

Instead of saying, "No, I've never done that" and feeling miserable afterward, try, "You know, I haven't had the opportunity to do that before but have always wanted to learn. Would I be able to here?"

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Go Traditional

What is the new look for interviewing? The old rule remains true: dark suit with plain shirt or blouse. You'd be surprised how many candidates get this wrong.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Let Interviewers Reach Their Own Conclusions

Your next boss wants to be enamored, not assaulted. In business as in love, infatuation rarely results from a hard sell or a soft-shoe routine. Always explain, but resist the urge to exclaim.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Explain Résumé Job Gaps Skillfully

Make it brief, honest, and positive. For example: "I felt I would be doing my employer a disservice by staying on once I decided it was time to move on and decided to make the job search a full-time endeavor."

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Do Like a Boy Scout

A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Need we say more?

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Write a Can-Do Résumé

A good résumé advertises not what you've done but what you can do for your future employer.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Remember: Worrying Produces Nothing

No matter how legitimate your need to panic—money, health, children—stressing and obsessing will only paralyze you. Has gunning the fear engine ever done anything to relieve the pain?

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Plan What to Ask

Make a list of questions to ask at your job interview. Avoid long-winded ones; get to the point. Ask upbeat questions the interviewer can answer with positive information about the organization.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Can the Holier-Than-Thou Stuff

Don't be sanctimonious. Hey, what's the weather like up there on Mt. Olympus? Nobody can stand that crap, so just don't start.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Remember It's Not Over Till It's Over

Write a follow-up note when you don't get the job. This is so unusual that you'll stand out, and perhaps the interviewer will know of other opportunities and recommend you. Don't be afraid to ask that question in the note.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Quit Groveling

Consider giving up manipulation entirely. Flattery, appeasement, and old-fashioned boot-licking are especially poisonous to a relationship, even if your manager is a modern-day Caligula.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Keep It Rosy During Job Interviews

Maintain a positive, upbeat attitude. Everyone wants to be around a winner. Never criticize your current or former manager or employer.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Enough with the Anxiety

When you worry, you're just recycling the past. This is now. Extricate yourself and do something useful.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Don't Get Ahead of Yourself

One small negative step can sink a job search. Never ask about telecommuting, job sharing, whether or not relocation is necessary, what sort of car will be part of the package, or whether this a cubicle or windowed-office position.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Don't Toady in the Presence of a Giant

The key to dealing with larger-than-life people who rule your destiny is this: Never suck up, but remember the conversation is always about their issues, not yours.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Avoid the 'Department of Redundancy Department'

Keep track of your career networking efforts so you never send out duplicate e-mails or notes, as this will be perceived as disorganization or worse, sloppiness.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Win Via Discretion

Assume that people never keep anything you tell them in confidence. Gain mastery over this secret weapon, and you will become powerful beyond your wildest dreams.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Let Job Sites Work for You

Use major job search agents, such as www.theladders.com or www.execunet.com, where you sign up and receive job listings by e-mail. You'll get to more jobs, more recruiters, and more opportunities.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Rise in the Wee Hours

Every successful person since the advent of opposable thumbs has risen at the crack of dawn. Set your alarm and get moving.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Feeling out of the Loop?

Contact former professors with whom you had particularly good bonds. Odds are they can advise you on how to get current in a changing job market.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Make Them Feel Important

Please remember that headhunters, like lecherous old men, need a little love, too. (Occasionally it's an overlapping demographic.) When a recruiter calls, say the magic words: "Hold on a second. I have to close my door."

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Get with the Gratitude

Thank-you notes are a must. E-mail is fine, but be specific as to what excited you about the opportunity, how you can hit the ground running, and what impact you can make immediately.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Talk About the Team

Whether interviewing or happily employed, learn to communicate without using the words "I" and "me." Talk about the players and the total effort, acknowledging and crediting others. It will become contagious and you'll get your share of the glory, too.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Strapped for Time on the Job Hunt?

Use services such as resumerabbit.com and jobdrone.com that post your résumé to multiple job sites at once. They can save you hours of data entry.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Forget Easy Tricks, Quick Fixes

There are no success secrets. It's about experience, performance, maturity, and attitude—rather than techniques, protocol, gimmicks, and magic talismans.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Take Community Action

Look for a community service project sponsored by the employer you're interested in and offer your skills to it. You will learn about the company culture and make some key contacts.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Post your photo on LinkedIn?

If it's a solid asset, great, then use it. Please make sure we can see your face clearly, the mug shot was professionally done, and it conveys a "strictly business" demeanor. When in doubt, leave it out.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Radiate Cash-Cow Karma

How do you get a recruiter's attention? Look like a meal ticket for future search business once he or she installs you in that sleek new corporate role.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Plain Old Hard Work

Perspiration still wins over inspiration. Being a professional doesn't mean you have to be super-motivated in everything you do. It means playing at the top of your game and performing as if you were inspired.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Come Clean Constructively

Don't be freaked out by the interview question, "What wrong turns or unfortunate choices have you made in your career?" Ability to answer this confidently demonstrates your capacity for honest self-analysis and introspection.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Stay Positive

Play to your strengths. Don't focus on what you perceive to be your weaknesses and limitations. It's a huge waste of energy.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

About Cover Letters

Think haiku. Didn't you hear the whole world has ADD? Since attention spans max out at about three seconds, mention that your résumé is attached and say goodbye.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

How do you get a recruiter's attention?

It's a distinctly unglamorous method but oh-so-reliable. Do memorable work in your industry or profession and we will find you despite your employer's best efforts to conceal your brilliance from the rest of the world.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Second-Place Blues?

If you were runner-up for a position that was exactly in your sweet spot, you have nothing to lose by calling the hiring manager 90 days later and asking how that new hotshot is working out. You may be surprised to learn that she wishes she had gone with you after all. Stranger things have happened.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Tell Your Boss the Truth

Here's an opportunity for an up-and-comer who doesn't have the universe to lose: Earn your boss's trust by saying the hard thing, the thing nobody else has the insight or courage to say.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

While preparing a résumé or interviewing, resist the urge to tell me you're a "highly motivated, results-driven, visionary, world-class entrepreneur." May I decide that for myself, after I've had time to consider your many accomplishments?

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Pull Off a Feat

Getting on the A-list at work is ridiculously simple. Take on a miserable-but-important project that nobody wants or where others have failed … and succeed.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Give Yourself a Break

Come down off that ledge. Please remember that what's happening out there is a reflection of the overall economy. It's not a commentary on your specific qualifications.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Behave Like an Invested Party

At job interviews, show prospective employers you want to add value to their organizations. Act like you're already on the payroll.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Hold Your Own at the Interview

The more you want to be taken seriously as a candidate, the more you should forget that you are one. Imagine instead that you're a consultant and that you've just been paid a huge, nonrefundable fee to attend this meeting.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Make It a Bit Personal

Don't address letters to "Dear Recruiter." Acknowledge the recipient by name, and he or she might actually remember yours.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

A Few Words About Cover Letters

Cover letters need to be way brief. Think haiku. Didn't you hear that the whole world now has ADD? Mention that your résumé is attached and say goodbye.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Empathize With the Résumé Reader

Think of whoever reads your résumé as an audience, then manage their eye movements. Did someone tell you those horrid little bullets would make it easier to scan? That's exactly why you don't want to use them. Shameless self-promotions, garish buzzwords, and "inventive" graphics are as image-positive as polyester leisure suits.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Be Realistic About Your Trajectory

If you're a dermatologist in Buffalo who wants to pitch for the Yankees, you'll need a wicked slider because even the best résumé won't help. And no, 10 years of accounting experience broken down into core competencies doesn't qualify you to become the next CFO at Google. Putting fantasy on paper won't make it come true. Ask yourself honestly, "Can I get there from here?"

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Advance by Achieving. It's That Simple

Don't rely on recruiters to package or promote you. Seriously. We are not the answer to your prayers. Most of us never even answer our phones. Do brilliant work in your industry or discipline and we will find you when we have the right opportunity.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Make Your Résumé Just the Facts, Ma'am

Write your résumé the way Jack Webb spoke on Dragnet: simple, direct statements in government-style, gray-flannel prose. No embellishing. The number of pages doesn't matter; substance does. Tell your story and get out of there.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Don't Jump at the First Offer

Take a lesson from Smokey Robinson and "Shop Around." Avoid jumping into a job where you think you'll be miserable. Chances are there's at least one more option around the corner.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Know That You Will Get a Job Soon Enough

Understand that despite what you see on the cable networks, we are not living in the End of Days. Yes, it's miserable out there—worse than most of us have ever seen—but it will be a bad memory sooner than you or CNBC imagines.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Work Swiftly but Patiently

Listening too closely to your inner "job clock" can get you wound way too tight. Yes, time is of the essence—there's not a minute to waste—but most people underestimate how long it takes to find the right gig. Pace yourself and spare the whip.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Don't Throw Out the Baby …

Revitalize yourself, but don't reinvent. Companies need the experience and accomplishments you've earned over time. Leave the instant makeovers for people who have something to hide. Leverage what you already have instead of focusing on what you fear you may lack.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Rein in Expectations

Be realistic and set your goals at achievable levels. Naked ambition is a great thing, especially on reality TV, but baby steps may be more effective at the moment. Besides, starting at the top is overrated.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Job Hunters, Calm the Heck Down

Bleak as the employment market may seem, the solution is not finding elaborate gimmicks or reaching the perfect pitch of frenzy. Forget the video cover letter, the chocolate-chip cookie résumé, and the Robin Williams interview style.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Network with Care

Work your contacts, but don't work them over. Your network is a precious resource and should be treated as such. Now is the time to use it … but gently. Ask for a reference, not a job. When you don't put your friends on the spot, they're more inclined to help you.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Don't Become Prey on the Job Hunt

Keep your wallet in your pocket. If someone offers to craft you a "killer résumé," put you in touch with the "hidden job market," or coach you to become a newer, more marketable you, just say "No." Whether they're asking for $3,000 or $300, it's overpriced. Don't take candy from strangers, either.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

Interviewing

On the job hunt, remember that it's not you…it's the economy. Stay calm. Take a deep breath. Hyperventilating is never pretty, especially during an interview. Prospective employers want Jason Bourne, not Jason Alexander.

—Mark Jaffe, Wyatt & Jaffe

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