Job Search Advice from a Senior Headhunter

In addition to writing from my own experience, I also want to share career advice from experts in the field. Last week, I spent 90 minutes chatting with one such expert – Steve Meyers, a senior recruiter in executive searches. I met Steve a few years ago at a Wharton MBA alumni networking lunch.

I really respect Steve’s opinion because he has been both a business executive (seven years in management positions at Chevron, GTE, and The Gillette Company) and a very seasoned recruiter (20+ years of experience in executive search).  He currently runs his own recruiting firm in the Bay Area, and specializes in the recruitment of financial and strategic planning professionals.

Given the length of our interview, I will write three posts. This one is on general Job Search Advice; the next one is on Salary Advice; and the last one is on When to Use a Headhunter

Q: Which industries are acquiring talent at a rate faster than others here in the Bay Area and the rest of the US?
Steve: Clean tech / green tech is the hottest sector right now, followed by biotech and high tech companies. Retail and financial services, on the other hand, are just brutal, as you would expect.

Q: What is the most effective way to market yourself in today’s job market?
Steve: Always try to find the hiring manager for the opening position. In today’s market, the most common online sites like monster, careerbuilder, hotjobs, are almost useless. There are so many candidates, and the resumes of potential matches all go to HR folks. You just become one resume among a stack of hundreds of other resumes.

HR folks today are also so worried about keeping their jobs, they often become bottlenecks in the process. They want to create extra work to justify their existence, so it may take forever for them to review the resume or forward some to the hiring manager. Long story short, don’t deal with HR. Be creative — find the name of that Director, VP or CXO who may be hiring for that position. You can do your research online, use Linkedin, use your networks, and/or even cold call the receptionist of the company to find this person. Once you find the person, try to submit your resume directly to him or her. You will have a much better chance.

Q: What makes a resume outstanding?
Steve: Executives today may all look outwardly cool, but most are completely stressed out and have no time to review resumes. All they want to see on a resume is “name, rank, and serial number.” Therefore, the executive summary is the most important part of the resume. If you can catch his attention there within a few seconds, then he may take a few more minutes to read the rest of your resume. Bolding within the executive summary can help if you bold the right places.

I also highly recommend the book The Element of Style by Strunk & White, written in 1918. Even though it’s old, it is still the best book on how to write well and concisely.

Q: Industry-specific skills aside, which key things do recruiters look for today in potential candidates, given the abundance of supply?
If you are talking about soft skills, then one very important skill is personality or likability – could this person work well with others on this team? Do I like this person? It can play a big part on whether or not you will be recommended for the next round of interviews.

Q: What are 3 common but not obvious pitfalls people make in their job search efforts?
Steve: I don’t know about being able to tell you three, but the most common thing I see with candidates, and also my biggest pet peeve, is they don’t listen. This is especially true for people from top MBA schools, which is where I focus. Candidates are sometimes so busy trying to talk that they don’t clearly hear the question or understand it before trying to answer it. It will quickly leave a bad impression in the mind of the recruiter or interviewer.

People who don’t listen well also have a tendency to cut people off. I actually don’t have a problem with that, as I do it myself to show enthusiasm. However, not every interviewer is like me. Even if you are enthusiastic, you need to match your interviewer’s style. Some interviewers can be very offended if you cut them off.

Q: What are common interview faux pas?
Steve: Besides the above, another thing I see in many candidates is an unwillingness to say “I don’t know.” Instead, many try to “throw in the kitchen sink” and try to BS their way through the answer. The interviewers know the answers to their questions, so this will just make the candidate look stupid. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and try saying something like the following — “I don’t know the answer, but I will research it and can get back to you with a good answer after the interview.”

Q: Any other advice?
Steve: It’s important to remember that recruiting is also seasonal. January to May are the best months for job searches. Summer months, June to August, holidays, and mid November to the first week of January are dead, since so many people are on vacation. There is some activity between September and November.

Try any way to stand out. I notice, for example, that your resume has your yahoo email on it. Use your Wharton alumni email instead. It’s another way to remind people that you went to Wharton.

Thanks, Steve, for your time and valuable advice. Thanks to my readers for sending in suggested questions for this interview. I look forward to your comments or any follow up questions. Stay tuned for the next post on Salary Advice based on my talk with Steve. Good luck out there!

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– Lei

5 thoughts on “Job Search Advice from a Senior Headhunter

  1. Anonymous

    Finding the hiring manager directly is a great tip! Also, can't agree more on the personality and likability – that 'fit' is the deciding factor.

  2. Anonymous

    Found the information about contacting the hiring manager directly and resume tips really helpful! Will definitely apply to this the next time I'm searching for a job.


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