Find Your Dream Job, Episode 247:
Choosing Your Target Companies, with Nick Corcodilos
Airdate: June 10, 2020
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.
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One of the biggest job search mistakes people make is applying everywhere. A better approach, says this week’s guest, is to chase companies, not jobs, and build relationships with employers before you apply.
Here to talk about how to choose your target companies, and why doing so will get you a better job, is Nick Corcodilos.
Nick is the host of asktheheadhunter.com, where he has answered more than 50,000 questions from job seekers and employers.
He joins us today from New Jersey.
Nick, here’s where I want to start, why is it important to choose target companies?
Well, let’s talk about why people go job hunting to begin with and I think people are surprised when I tell them what I’m about to say, one of the key things that I’ve learned from clients, candidates, readers on my website is that people go job hunting for one reason above all others. They tend to go job hunting because they took the wrong job, to begin with.
How does that happen? Don’t people know what they want? Why would they take a job that they don’t want?
Well, the employment system in the whole world, not just America, nowadays, is really one that serves up jobs to us, rather than put us in a position where we’re deciding what we want, and then we go after it. So, when you’re served up a lot of jobs, you’re what’s referred to in the world of psychology as a “forced choice.” Here are 5 choices. Pick one.
Did you pick the best one? How do you know it’s the best one? You don’t know it’s the best one because you had a forced choice. Job boards might give you 10 million jobs. It’s still a forced choice. You’re not going after what you want, what’s best for you. You’re accepting what’s being handed to you over the transmit, in essence.
Yeah, so it’s like going to a restaurant and you walk into the buffet room and there’s a choice but it’s limited to what’s on the table. Is the better approach, Nick, to order a la carte?
Well, I’m telling you to hire your own chef.
Okay, I want to hear more about that.
I don’t know that I can play that analogy out very far but…
Okay, so you need a personal chef when doing your job search, but seriously, tell me more about what you’re getting at there.
Well, I refer to this as the wrong job cycle. What happens is, job hunting is a horrible experience. It’s demoralizing, it’s frustrating, so when an employer flatters you in a job interview because they want to hire you, and you’re tired of looking, you’re frustrated, then when you get a job offer, you usually grab it. It’s a very common thing among people but then you need to jump again because you probably took the wrong job. You took what was offered rather than going out and pursuing your own, so the importance of choosing is really critical. And we get brainwashed.
Again, companies come after us. But they don’t really, just like we don’t go after them, really. There’s this intermediary, which is job boards, applicant tracking systems, you can even say the newspaper want ads in the old days. We’re basically given a selection to pick from and we all really come to believe that this is the way it’s done. HR departments train us this way, job boards train us this way, what we learn is that we have to go through this rote process.
I do a lot of workshops for some of the top business schools, and these executive MBA students who are typically managers with 7 to 15 years of experience, they come back part-time to get an MBA degree, and they always ask me at some point, “When should I go job hunting? How should I go job hunting? How do I get past all the rigamarole?”
What I tell them is, ask yourself, what shining light company you’d love to go work for? And then go hang out with people who do business with that company.
In hanging out with the right kinds of people, you’ll get ushered into the right room with the right hiring manager. Between 40 and 60% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts, and yet job boards, and I’m not talking about the big job boards here, but last I looked at a survey, about 10% of jobs are filled by job boards. So, if you’re spending more than 10% of your time of job boards, you’re probably not doing it right because most jobs are being filled through personal contacts between a candidate, some intermediary, and a manager.
You should look at the companies that you want to work at. When you talk to people about doing this, Nick, what is the biggest objection you hear from candidates? Why don’t they do this?
They don’t do it because, again, I go back to the brainwashing. Because job hunting is a painful process that nobody really wants to do it, we want to believe that someone else will do it for us, so we’re willing to believe that an automated agent, after we fill out an online form, is going to present us to jobs opportunities that are a match for us.
In fact, all that’s being done is a computer algorithm is matching keywords against keywords. There’s no way to really assess whether someone can do the job. So, what I ask people is, if you’re going to go into a job interview and you’re going to talk about what you can do for the company, are you really prepared to be able to explain…let me back up here.
Let me explain what I try to teach people. It really boils down to something very, very simple. I try to teach people to walk into a hiring manager’s office and demonstrate, hands-down, how you’re going to add profit to the bottom-line if they hire you. Stop and think about that. Some of these executive MBA students that I do sessions for, “What?” And I ask them, “What does this sound like to you?” “Well, it kind of sounds like a business plan.” I tell them, “Yes, that’s exactly what it is.”
You should have a business plan for the job that you’re presenting to the hiring manager. “Well, that’s a lot of work.” Well, so is the job you want. So, how are we going to do this for all of the jobs that we’re applying for? And the answer is you can’t.
You can apply to 400 jobs online, but let’s say that you rang the bell the next day, the sun shine’s down on you, and out of the 400 that you applied to, 10 contact you and say, “We want to bring you in for an interview.”
Whether it’s a video interview or in-person, nowadays it’s a little tougher. Whatever the situation is, are you prepared to go into those ten companies over the next few days and do that kind of presentation? Demonstrate how you’re going to bring profit to the bottom-line. You absolutely can’t do that, so what do you do? Well, you choose carefully.
This is why it’s so important to choose carefully. If you don’t choose carefully, you can’t prepare to do that kind of presentation in the interview.
Let’s pause there, Nick, because many of our listeners aren’t going to business schools, and they’re not thinking about adding profit to the bottom line of a company. What would you say to a listener who says, “That’s not how I’m trained and how I think. This doesn’t sound like a good strategy for me.”
I’ll give you an answer that goes back 20 years. A long time ago, I was on a little radio station in Philadelphia, taking questions from listeners about job hunting. A fellow called in and he said, “I’m a blood lab technician, not an executive, not a manager, not even a professional.” He’s a blood lab technician.
He said, “So, I went in for an interview and I blew it. I knew I could do the job, but I didn’t do it right. What can I do?” I said, “Well, you should call the manager that you interviewed with and say, ‘If you’ll give me ten minutes, I know I blew my interview, but if you’ll give me ten minutes I’d like to come back in and show you how I would reorganize the steps in the blood analysis process, in terms of how the lab is laid out. And if I can’t show you in ten minutes how I could increase your efficiency by 5 or 10%, then I’ll just shake hands with you, and part company, no harm done.”
The manager said, “Ten minutes. Come on in.” So the guy said, “I did what you suggested. I sat down and I thought about what I could do to make the business more profitable.” And profitable means lowering costs, increasing revenue, doing things more efficiently, making customers happy, profit can mean a number of things. This guy asked himself, having seen the lab, “How would I rearrange things to increase efficiency a bit.” He got the offer. So, you don’t have to be an executive.
Generating profit for your employer is something that every single job in the world should require, and unfortunately, most managers and companies can’t look at a particular role or job or position or person in a company, and answer the question, “How does this person contribute to our profitability and success?”
What about government and nonprofit jobs, Nick? We have listeners in those areas, too, who say, “It’s not about profit in those organizations.”
Well, it’s not about revenue in those organizations but it is about costs. If you’re working for a government operation, you’re probably not selling something, but you are producing something, whether it’s service or product or what have you. There’s a cost associated with it. And there’s also the question of what kind of customer satisfaction you’re creating in your client base. If you can go on and show that what you’re putting in is producing more in terms of what’s coming out, whether it’s customer satisfaction, lower cost, whatever it is that you’re doing, you’re contributing to the bottom-line.
How do you start this process? Because as you say, most of us are trained, we assume that this is the way you do it, you look at job boards, you look at public postings, and then you send in an application and you wait to hear back. If you’re going to put the company first, Nick, whatever your job search goal might be, how do you get started doing that?
Let me give you an example. As I think you’ve pointed out or I’ve pointed out, I’ve answered over 50,000 questions from my readers over the past 20 to 25 years. I’ve heard everything. I’ve also had a service for one-on-one consultations. So, one of my clients several years ago was a fellow that lived in Connecticut. He wanted to work in Phoenix, and he called me up and he said, “How do I do it? How do I pull this off? How do I pick a company? How do I get a job?” So, we talked for a while, I made some suggestions, and what he did was, he invested his time into developing personal contacts.
He flew to Phoenix, on his own dime, after he did some homework. He looked at some professional organizations and events going on in the Phoenix area, in his field. He paid to attend one, showed up, went to the sessions, always sat in front, went to the break-out sessions, always sat in front, and made a point of walking up to the speaker afterward and introducing himself.
He never said that he wanted a job. He just said, “I’m so and so, and I’m interested in working in Phoenix. I wonder if you could give me a little advice and insight into the companies in this field? Who are really the movers and shakers, the shining lights?” Well, one thing led to another and he got introduced to 2 or 3 CEOs on his first trip.
He went out a second time, went to another event. By talking to people, and I call it “talking shop.” Never ask for a job or a job lead, never ask someone to take your resume into the manager or HR. Instead, you say to someone, “Tell me a little bit about your company and how you guys operate because I’m really interested. I may not be job hunting but I’m trying to understand how your company operates so that I can decide whether I have something to offer. If you’d give me a little bit of advice and insight, that would really be helpful.”
It’s kind of a disarming question because it’s easier to say to someone, “Yeah, give me your resume, I’ll take it into HR for you.” When someone asks you for advice and insight, and they ask you to talk shop about their work, we love to talk about our work. We also love to give advice to people.
One thing leads to another and it’s easier to get referred to someone who might be able to tell you more. That’s your step in the door.
Ask for advice, talk shop. I love both of those points because you’re right, people love to be asked for advice. Whether professional, personal, and especially for those of us who are farther along in our careers, we know a lot but often people don’t ask us for advice, and even people close to us have stopped listening to what we have to offer.
I want to pause right now and take a quick break, and when we come back, Nick, I want to talk about how to…just the practical steps in applying that strategy, and particularly, I want to start with how to get clear about those companies.
Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Nick Corcodilos, who will continue to share his advice about how to choose your target companies.
Once you’ve chosen the companies where you want to work, talking with people on the inside is one of the best ways to learn about and land upcoming jobs.
And in these conversations, you’ll be asked to share your resume. Are you ready to do so?
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In just two business days, a professional writer at TopResume will tell you what works in your resume and what you can improve.
And that will save you time and energy. So you can focus on making the connections that can help you get a job at one of your targeted companies.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Nick Corcodilos.
He’s the host of asktheheadhunter.com, where he has answered more than 50,000 questions from job seekers and employers.
Nick, you gave a great example of somebody who went out to Phoenix and started talking to leaders in the industry where he wanted to work, and obviously you don’t have to fly to Phoenix to use this strategy. You can use it wherever you might live and work, whatever your city.
But how did he, in this example, how did that person get clear about his target list of companies? What came out of those conversations, and did he boil it down to a shortlist of 5 or 10? What happened exactly?
Well, here’s what I suggested to him. I said, when you’re looking at companies, and this is my conclusion from 20 years or more experience as a headhunter, consider 4 factors. Number one, look at the people in the company that you think you’re interested in. Number two, look at their product. Number three, look at their prospects; in other words, what’s in their product’s pipeline, what’s down the pike for them, and finally, look at the finances, which is kind of obvious.
You can usually rule companies out pretty quickly over one or two of these factors, so that you can dust them off the table. And in fact, as you start drilling down into your industry and researching various companies, more will drop off than will stay on because you will quickly find that most companies are probably not worth working for, for you, maybe for someone else, so you have to have some sort of criteria.
There’s an article that used to be on my website, it’s in one of my books now, it’s called “ The Library Vacation” and I’ll tell you in essence what it’s all about. In order to pick a company that you want to go after, go to your local library, go into the stacks, not the books, journals, pick up Soap Weekly, Boating, Electronic Engineering Times, whatever strikes your fancy. You’re not looking for a job, you’re just exercising your curiosity. Read whatever you feel like.
Spend 2 or 3 days doing this. As you go through, you will find, “Well, gee, I was fascinated by soap. So, I was reading about how soap is made but you know what? Soap doesn’t really ring my chimes anymore.” Okay, drop it. I give you permission. “But I’m really interested in boats and how they’re designed and how they perform.” So you start drilling down.
From the industries, you go down to the companies. Which companies seem to be the shining lights, in these publications that you’re reading? As you research the companies, look for articles. Forget about the company’s business plan, their SEC filings, and what have you. Read the business press and identify the names of key people in the companies who tend to get written about or are quoted in the press.
Those become now your targets, you can use LinkedIn effectively to look people up and learn about them. I don’t recommend trying to contact them through LinkedIn, because I’ve got thousands of contacts. I’m not going to respond to you, nor will some manager. But the more you learn about the manager, you’ve now rolled down from the industry, the company, to the manager level, now you triangulate.
You try to find people who do business with the company. It could be employees, it might be vendors, customers, their lawyers, their consultants, their landlords, their bankers, all kinds of people deal with a company. The more people you talk to, the more you’ll be able to determine whether this company might be right for you, and in the process, you make a bunch of friends but they will tutor you in your conversations on the business of the company. So, when you go to an interview, guess what? You’re already an insider. You have something to say, you have something to offer.
You’re talking shop, not asking people for jobs. What’s your favorite question to ask in these conversations? Is there one that you come back to again and again?
As a job candidate or an employer?
As a job candidate trying to find out…talking to leaders in the industry, having these conversations about shop, not about your job search. What’s your number one question for job candidates to ask to help move their candidacy forward?
In a job interview, you’re saying?
No, Nick, I meant as you do this research, you’re trying…
Going to door to door.
I think the question I would ask is, “If you needed a product or service that this company makes, would you buy it from them and why?”
What does that answer tell you, when someone responds?
I think what that tells you is what the quality of the company as an organization is, and whether it’s an environment where you could be successful because they’re being successful. When I do a reference check on someone, for example, I’ll ask the reference all kinds of questions, and at the very end, I’ll pause and say, “Thank you very much for your time. Oh, by the way, I’d like to ask you one more thing. If you had the chance to hire Joe again, would you do it?” And I’m not looking for a yes or a no; I’m looking at how long the pause is before they give me an answer.
If there’s a long pause before they say yes, I’m concerned. So, it’s maybe a little bit of a psychological trick. You’re trying to get a sense of what people who do business with the company think of it.
Are you listening for a pause when you ask that question about product or service?
I am. I’m looking for a pause, what I’m more interested in when I’m talking about a company is, is the person going to give me any level of detail of information that they know? If you say, “Give me an answer.” They say yes about the company that you’re going to interview with, go to work for. If they don’t know much about it, then I know that they don’t have much to base their judgment on, so I’m going to go on to someone else. But I’ll tell you in the end what the key question I think is that we need to be asking about companies we want to go to work for, whether we’re researching them or actually interviewing with them.
The question is this, “If I were sitting, talking with a manager, could I demonstrate to you how I could do the job in the way that you want it done and in a way that will add profit to your bottom-line?”
And if I can’t, you shouldn’t want to talk to me. We’ll shake hands, part company, still be friends, but if I can’t help you be more successful in your business, then you shouldn’t want to talk to me. And if I can’t do that for a company that I’m considering applying to, I shouldn’t apply.
You recommended doing research at the library, having conversations with industry leaders about who the stars are in a field and who’s doing interesting work. What other preparation, Nick, do you suggest people do to get ready for that conversation, so that you can demonstrate, as a candidate to a manager, that you’ve got the knowledge and understanding of their needs to make a significant contribution?
Well, this is really where the business press comes in. Whether it’s physical hard copy publications, whether it’s online, whether it’s LinkedIn, people think they’re going to use LinkedIn to get a job. Use LinkedIn to ferret out information about a company and an organization. You want to try to understand it as best you can.
I happen to like print publications, because I think the print publications that have survived, for example, Bloomberg or BusinessWeek, tend to be the best ones because people need them and want them and they have quality reporting. The wealth of information you can get on various companies in publications like this is just incredible.
The more you learn, the better questions you will ask, the better judgments you’ll be able to make, and the better you’ll be able to formulate in your own mind how you can help the company tackle its problems because, in the end, you’re going to get a job because you have figured out, to some extent, as best you can, what makes the company hurt. Where’s the pain? What problems and challenges is this company facing? And at your level job, what can you do to lessen the pain, tackle the problems, and deal with the challenges?
In other words, how can you help them? Again, we come back to this idea of a business plan. You need to take it on yourself, because most managers will not ask you in an interview, “Hey, how can you help us out? How can you make our business better?”
There’s busy asking the top 10 stupid interview questions. “What animal would you be if you could be any animal? What’s your greatest weakness? What’s your greatest strength?” Who cares? What matters is can you show me how you can do the work? So, in doing this research, you’re not doing it to fill your head with facts that you can regurgitate during an interview.
What you’re doing is trying to understand enough about the business so that you can map your specific skills onto that company.
Again and again, you come back to conversations with people and relationships, and some of these aren’t particularly strong ties that you might have with people at a conference after a presentation.
Why do you think relationships are so powerful in getting the job that you want and finding the companies that you want to work at?
You know, there was an article I read a long time ago about shared experiences. I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that people get hired and want to work together, or they decide they want to date and maybe get married because of certain shared experiences that they’ve had. The way the employment system works in America today is, there are no shared experiences; there are keywords, there’s data about you, there are records about you.
If you can create a situation where you can share an experience with someone, you’ll become closer, you’re more likely to become friends, you develop something in common. But you need to spur that on and trigger that and make it happen, because it’s not going to happen naturally by itself in the world unless you step up to the plate.
By asking someone, for example, “Hey, could you give me a little insight about your company? It seems to be a great company. Can you tell me what it’s like to work there? Can you give me an idea of what the challenges are that you guys are facing nowadays?”
When you have that kind of discussion, it’s a shared experience. If you can say to someone, this is my favorite things in the world when looking for a job, “Hey, I don’t live too far from your company. I know you probably have a cafeteria there, or there’s a restaurant nearby that everyone goes to for lunch. Can I buy you lunch and maybe just get the cook’s tour of your facility? Maybe meet a couple of the people that work there and just get a sense of what the place is like?”
Again, not everyone is going to say yes, but if you’ve forged enough of a connection and they bring you in, now you have an advantage that most people would give anything for.
That advantage stems from that shared experience, that connection, doesn’t it, Nick?
Exactly, because so much of the time, we are nothing more than a resume, we’re nothing more than a set of keywords, we’re an email, you know, there is no personal connection and I’m not suggesting that you physically always have to be present. You can do this by email, you can do this by Zoom, but people want to know that there’s a personal connection.
Again, I’ll go back to the statistic, and it is varied between 40 to 60 to 70%, that percentage of jobs are found and filled through some kind of a personal connection. It’s just a fact. Everyone knows it and yet people will spend 70 or 80% of their time zapping out resumes or applying to jobs online just because they’re there.
The personal connection is what makes it happen, and you have to make that personal connection happen for yourself.
You mentioned at the start of the conversation that we’re trained to send in applications, to look at job boards and public postings, and that’s why so many of us do this, but are there other reasons that stop people from sending that email or making a phone call to someone to see if they might buy them lunch inside…someone who works at a company that they’re dying to learn more about or even perhaps work at?
Well, what some of my readers will tell me is, “Nick, your ideas sound great but I’m an introvert. I don’t know how to network?” And I ask them, “Well, what does networking mean to you?” And they invariably say, well, one person put it very well, “That’s when you go ask someone to do something for you that doesn’t really know you and that’s icky.” And I’m like, “Well if it’s icky, why would you do it?” “Well, because that’s what networking is. It’s what I’m supposed to do.” No, no, no, no, no.
If it feels icky don’t do it. Ask yourself, what would you feel comfortable doing to introduce yourself to someone or get to know someone and then try that.
This has been a terrific conversation, I’m sorry we’ve run out of time but tell us, Nick, what’s next for you?
Well, the Ask the Headhunter website is actually being redesigned to an extent. What I’m trying to do is make it easier for readers to ask questions that I can answer online. And then what we do, this goes out in a newsletter, by the way, for the past almost 20 years, I’ve been publishing a newsletter where I think Issue 805 is coming out. I take real-life questions from real-life readers about real-life problems and I answer them in a newsletter. And then we all go pile on the website and discuss the topic and the problem, and often, my readers offer better advice than I do. So, improving the website is number one.
Number two, the newsletter is free. I encourage anyone who is interested in more information about this to sign up for the newsletter. You get it free every week on Tuesday mornings. There’s also a series of PDF books that I’ve published, e-books. You mentioned one of them, “Fearless Job Hunting.”
What I like to do is offer your audience a discount on these products if they’d like; it’s 25%. Go to the website, asktheheadhunter.com…go to the ordering section and use the discount code “dreamhunter,” and you’ll get 25% off of anything you buy through, let’s say the whole summer. I think summer ends on September 22nd, so I’ll offer that for that long.
Well, that’s terrific and very generous of you.
Well, I know people can learn, again, more about you, your books, and other services, and ask a question by going asktheheadhunter.com.
Nick, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about choosing a target company?
Well, what I want you to remember is that you need to prepare yourself to the point that you can walk into a manager’s office and show that manager, in one way or another, how you’re going to do the work in a way that will bring more success and profit to the company’s bottom line. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be in there asking for an interview or for a job.
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Next week, our guest expert will be Mark Mohammadpour. He’s a strategic communications executive, certified personal trainer, and health coach. Mark also hosts the podcast, Chasing the Sun.
In every job interview, you need to connect with your interviewers. It’s hard to make this chemistry happen in person. How do you do it on a Zoom call?
Mark and I will talk about how to build rapport in a virtual interview.
I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.