Off with your head! The skinny on headhunters

By Claire Klieger

If the term “headhunter” doesn’t conjure up Hunger Games-esque imagery, or,  as one dictionary website put it, “a member of society who collects the heads of dead enemies as trophies,” you probably think of some mythical creature who magically finds jobs for others. In reality, the term is much less glamorous, mysterious, and hopefully, a lot less bloody.  Here are some things to know about headhunters to help you not lose your own head when thinking about job hunt strategies:

“Headhunter” usually refers to someone who does executive searches, looking for very experienced people to fill high level openings, so this can be an especially good option for more experienced Penn Alumni. If you’re just getting started in your career or are only a few years out, you are looking for something called a “Contingency Firm.” And, as it happens, we have a wonderful directory of staffing firms (including contingency firms) in the Career Services Library. The Directory of Executive & Professional Recruiters (2012 edition just came in yesterday!) offers directory listings by location, industry or job function.

One big misconception about staffing agencies or head hunters is that the job seeker pays them. This is not true. It’s FREE. These agencies are paid by the employers who have vacancies to fill. As such, you really have nothing to lose by signing up with one (or more than one). It means your resume will probably be circulated more widely than not. I think it can be particularly helpful in cases where you are targeting a particular location. That said, since these agencies are not specifically looking to find you a job you shouldn’t rely solely on their services when seeking employment.

“I’ll never get a job!” – Cognitive Distortions, A Career Short List

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a theory and practice of psychology that focuses on how we think and perceive our world, and how these perceptions can change our experiences.  This field has identified common mistakes people make (more information from Wikipedia here.) These types of thinking errors are called cognitive distortions.

I want to write about cognitive distortions as they relate to your career.  You would not guess how many times I have heard a student say “there are no jobs in my field” or “it is impossible to find an internship now” – something along those lines. Of course, the student and I both know that the statement is generalizing, may even be hyperbolic.  Yes it is hard to find work, but are there NO job openings whatsoever, even since the economic downturn in 2008?  I haven’t met a single person who would take their own emphatic statement as the full truth.

So what’s wrong about making an exaggerated exclamation?  Well… the problem is that we often start to believe our own distortions, or use the feeling associated with them to guide our behavior.  Even if you know there are SOME jobs out there for you, if you go with the feeling such a statement might generate or enforce (frustration, helplessness) you are bound to stop trying when in fact, persevering in your networking or other job search efforts might be the name of the game.   My suggestion is to be aware of the messages you convey to yourself – think about if they are helping you, or may be making things worse.

Below are a few statements that may seem familiar, the cognitive distortion involved (From: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.), and an alternative that might be more helpful:

“I am so frustrated – there are no jobs in my field.” Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Possible alternative: “I feel frustrated right now.  I am going to focus on sticking to my strategy and getting some support from Career Services.”

I can’t believe I messed up that one question at the interview, I am sure that ruined my chances of getting to the second round.Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.  Possible alternative: “My answer to that one question kind of stank, but the rest of the interview went pretty well.  I need to practice in case I get that question again.”

“If I can’t become a professor I am going to have to wait tables – what else is there for PhDs?” All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Possible alternative: “I don’t know what I am qualified for besides being an academic; maybe I should explore my options.”

“Nothing came of my contacts at that career fair, I don’t know how I am ever going to get a job.” Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Possible alternative: “That career fair was a disappointment, so I am going to look into other strategies for my job search.”

“I still haven’t heard back regarding the job application. I must have done something wrong.”  Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible. Possible alternative:  “There are many factors that affect a hiring decision, I wonder if they need more time to decide or more information from me.”

When you are job searching, as in other parts of your life, your attitude can affect your outcomes.  Make sure you are serving yourself well when you reflect on your own thoughts and behaviors.  If you are interested in learning more about cognitive therapy and working on cognitive distortions, I suggest you read books by Dr. David Burns, Dr. Aaron Beck, and learn about the work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Cognitive Therapy .

Tis the Season: flu and interview. What to do?

What should you do if you are sick on the day of an interview?
Recently I chatted with representatives at a career fair on what happens if candidates are sick the day of a scheduled interview.  I don’t mean “on your deathbed,” but generally feeling unwell due to the average flu or cold.   Canceling a Career Services appointment is one thing – I appreciate when students get in touch when they are really sick and stay home, rest, and reschedule for a later date or call-in for their appointment instead (yup, we do phone appointments).   However, an interview with a potential employer is much more “high stakes” – you are trying to show professionalism, and there are a limited number of opportunities to do so in a job search.

Overall, given the conversations I had with employers, my advice is that it is best if you show up for the scheduled interview, but it might depend where you are in the interviewing process.  If you have made headway and have already had an interview round by phone or in person, it might be okay to ask if you can reschedule an upcoming in-person appointment. However, the overall message I heard from your potential interviewers is go through with the interview, even if you don’t feel well, rather than cancel, reschedule or otherwise not show up.   One recruiter said that when she hears from people who call to say they are sick and wanting to cancel or change the date, she might not entirely believe them.  Conversely, she suggested if you show up, even if you are sick, people will be “more understanding.”
Other recruiters also suggested doing a phone interview might be a good alternative (especially for a first round interview). That mode of interviewing has its limitations compared to being face-to-face with your interviewers, but we have some tips for managing phone interviews here and in another blog post.

My colleagues (other Penn career advisors) had a few more points to add in the way of advice. You will note there is not complete consensus on the issue of handling a mild illness when you are interviewing, except for the last suggestion – prevention:

  • “Cancellation, except in the most dire of circumstances, is seldom a good option… do everything possible to prevent excessive nose running or coughing by taking appropriate (but not sleep-producing) meds, maybe drinking hot, herbal tea.  Certainly, the candidate should be prepared with tissues, hand sanitizer, and be sensitive to how s/he manages his/her tissue disposal, coughing, etc.    For example, one should make sure that s/he has VERY clean hands before the handshake and then offer hand sanitizer to the employer.”
  • “I would suggest that students might even mention to the recruiter if they are feeling under the weather just so employers will realize they are not at their best on that particular day, but still took the time to show up.”
  • “While it’s fine to disclose that you’re ‘under the weather,’ it should just be stated matter-of-factly, without the expectation of excessive sympathy or a ‘free pass;’ also, there are limits to how much information you should actually disclose about your illness” (in other words there is such a thing as TMI)
  • “I believe if you are really sick, you need to see a doctor then cancel by phone/email if necessary.  Otherwise, students should show up and do their best.”
  • “I am not an advocate for disclosing that you are not well.  If your symptoms (coughing/sneezing) are obvious, you can mention that you have been under-the-weather.   When you start a job and you go into work, you wouldn’t be announcing to your boss that you are sick, unless they ask, or if your symptoms are obvious.  I believe the candidate needs to follow through with the interview to show they are truly interested in the job and will do what needs to be done to complete the process.  Just like at work.”
  • “This is one of those ‘professional’ and adult life lessons – sometimes you don’t feel like doing something, certainly, but when the stakes are high, you must do your best and focus on the positives!”

Finally, and most importantly!

  • Prevention is key~  Try “practicing good health habits like getting plenty of sleep, washing hands frequently, getting fresh air, eating well, and all the stuff our mothers told us in order to avoid getting sick in the first place.”

A Day in the Life: Advertising

On September 22nd, we welcomed Suresh Nair from Grey Group to discuss careers in advertising.  To continue to learn about this path and the range of opportunities available, we will feature Justin Ching, SAS ’11, to @PennCareerDay on Twitter on Wednesday, September 28th. Justin has been with Google since July 2011 and  will discuss what his day is like working in advertising with this leader in technology. Read more about Justin below, and remember to follow him on the 28th!

Justin Ching graduated from the College of Arts & Sciences in 2011 as an Urban Studies Major.  During his time on campus, he was Director of The Excelano Project, Penn’s premier spoken word poetry collective. In between school years, he interned in Integrating Marketing and TV Research for Disney|ABC Television Group. Justin now works for Google Inc. as an Agency Strategist for their Global Advertising division.  Most recently, Justin has also taken a role as a Project Lead for Google TV Marketing.

A Day in the Life: Environmental Engineer

We had another successful year at our annual Engineering Career Day on September 15th.  As a follow-up to the career fair, we’re excited to have our next alumni contributor on Twitter’s @PennCareerDay highlight one of many possible paths for our students and alumni with engineering backgrounds.  Rakesh Shah will post on Wednesday, September 21st on his career as an environmental engineer in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan, which began in 1978. Read about Rakesh’s background below, and remember to follow him on @PennCareerDay on the 21st!  *Please note, he will be posting from India, so please consider the time difference.

Rakesh started in the field of environmental engineering in 1975 while he was  earning  his Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania.  His interest  in this area began thanks to a research study trying to establish a method for removal of Sulphur Di Oxide from flue gases.   Fortunately, after completing his degree, he had an opportunity to work with a US based company dealing with removal of “Hexavalent Chromium” from their wastewater stream.

Rakesh’s experiences helped him recognize the importance of environment related issues and happenings that were likely to surface in the future.   Subsequently, when he returned to India  he decided to gain and develop expertise in the field.   This in turn led to establishing a company to provide environmental engineering and related services to organizations, industries and institutes in India.  Developing the company in a new field of activity (which was not generally even heard of then) required a lot of convincing and presentation to industry as well as regulatory authorities.  At the same time, developing staff / personnel to an adequate level of expertise and delegation of work required immense managerial input.  His training and experiences in the USA and specifically at the University of Pennsylvania allowed him to have a successful career.