When A Recruiter Unexpectedly Calls

This post originally appears in my career advice column for Money.com and Time.com. Here is my original, unedited version (so you can play Where’s Waldo with the changes):

You’re happily employed, and pick up your phone to find a recruiter on the other end. How do you maximize this call when you’re not actively looking?

First and foremost, respond

You absolutely need to take the call (or return the message). As a former recruiter, I’ve had some prospects shoo me off the phone like a telemarketer – “I’m not interested” then they abruptly hang up. Or they never respond to an email, voicemail or online ping. This is short-sighted since recruiter calls provide good market information, and being responsive encourages that recruiter to think of you for other opportunities.

Become the interviewer

Don’t just fall into the traditional role of you as the candidate and the recruiter as the interviewer. You are in the driver’s seat because they called you. So take control of the call, and learn more about the recruiter, their company, their client (the company that actually has the job), and what they’re looking for. This gives you market information, regardless of whether or not this particular position suits you. If the recruiter shares salary information, even better! Interviewing the recruiter allows you to get to know the recruiter and whether or not you want them in your network.

Find a way to say Yes

I don’t mean say Yes to going on an interview or feigning interest in the job. I mean say Yes to something – if you’re not interested, recommend someone who might be. If the position isn’t the right level or functional area, let the recruiter know what would be the right role. If the opportunity sounds like a possible fit, but you hadn’t thought about looking outside, say Yes to one more conversation. You want to be seen as open-minded and helpful.

Maintain the relationship

Now that you have made this unexpected connection, continue the relationship with good networking follow-up. If you promised the recruiter you’d think about their search, think about the search and call back with your ideas or your interest. If you didn’t agree to a specific follow-up action, keep the recruiter’s information for your general networking efforts – include them on your holiday list; send them an update 3 months from now when you’re working on something new; introduce them to your talented friend who is looking. (Just remember that referrals reflect back on you, so recommend people you know are quality).

Turn the call into a wake-up call

When I recruited candidates who were not interested, I would always ask them what they would be interested in down the road. This way, I could keep them in mind for a relevant opportunity. Would you know what to say if someone asked you about your interests and next steps? If you weren’t prepared for this recruiting call, prepare for the next one. Be ready to describe what you do, what your expertise is, and what your value is. Be ready to explain what companies, work environments, and roles would be of interest.

If you’re not getting calls from recruiters, why not? For both senior and junior roles, I relied on word-of-mouth referrals, as well as researching online databases, such as LinkedIn. If you’re not getting calls, check your online profile and buff up your network so people know to think of you and refer you.

Four Ways To Break Out Of A Career Rut

This career advice post originally appears in my Work In Progress column for Forbes.com:

In a previous post, I shared career lessons from famous comedians, including this gem from the late, great Joan Rivers:

If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present. – Joan Rivers

It’s critical to embrace this notion of multiple doors – i.e., multiple options – because at various stages of your career, you will get stuck. You feel like you have topped out at your job. You hear No from a dream employer or to your request of your existing employer. You hear Yes and try something new, it doesn’t go as well as expected, and you need to bounce back. Here are four “doors” to try for breaking out of a career rut:

Look for similar options

If you’re looking for a job within one media company, pursue jobs simultaneously at their competitors. Even if you don’t want the other media companies, the research you’ll do will help you with your ideal target, and the leverage you’ll get from being active with the competitors will raise your value. If you’re gunning for a raise, have a wish list of equal but different demands – e.g., a title bump, additional resources, telecommuting option, flexible schedule.

Look for even smaller steps

Feeling topped out at your job doesn’t have to mean getting promoted or quitting. Instead, look for less disruptive alternatives in-between – transferring to a different group or switching responsibilities with a colleague. Even pursuing a new job altogether can be broken into smaller success points. It may seem most expedient for every contact to know about actual openings, but it’s unrealistic and presumptuous. However, your contacts may know who runs the group you want, what types of backgrounds generally get hired, and/or what uniquely defines the culture, all of which enable you to position yourself better. If your networking is hitting a brick wall, your requests may be too big.

Do the opposite

Sometimes the best career option is not career-related. One legal professional I coached was eager for a change but too burned out to launch a proactive search. Instead, he pursued a longtime film-related hobby which led to his successful career transition into…statistics. That’s right. The film hobby had absolutely nothing to do with his ultimate career interests. It was a personal detour that put him in a good enough mood to enable him to bring his best professional self to his job search.

Make a door

If you’re itching to try a new skill or launch an idea, you don’t have to do this only in your job. Start a side business. Volunteer with a non-profit. Take the idea to your professional association. One experienced financial executive I coached was consistently tacking on new responsibilities till the bottom fell out of the market, and the firm tightened his options (and bonus potential). Continuing to pursue in-house growth while the whole market was hurting was unrealistic, but he stepped up his professional association work, taking a high visibility Board role which kept his skills and network growing in other ways, while the market stabilized and he could resume his in-house trajectory.

12 Months Of Career Ideas

This career advice piece originally appears as This is How Smart People Get Ahead at Work in my weekly column for Money.com and Time.com. Here is the unedited version:

It’s Labor Day – a good reminder to think about your career. It’s also the back-to-school season which for many is also the official back-to-work time after a slower summer. Now is the perfect time to plan out your career activity for the upcoming year. Here is a month-by-month guide:

September: Coordinate your work and family calendars

Now that school and after-school activities are back on, double-booking becomes an increased possibility. Even if you don’t have kids, the fall season is when many professional associations turn up the programming. Block out your work schedule now for personal events so you don’t overschedule.

October: Plan out your end-of-year push

It’s the last quarter of the year. Check your year-end goals to see what the priorities are for these last three months. Check deadlines for submitting year-end reviews and/ or budget requests for next year.

November: Take advantage of company benefits

For many companies, November is when you need to select your benefits options. Don’t assume your current selections will just carry over – your circumstances may warrant new choices; or your company may have changed the choices. Benefits are a career perk, but they are also a career tool – taking care of yourself means you have more to give on the job.

December: Take advantage of increased networking activities

The holiday season means more professional and social get-togethers. Take advantage of this time to catch up with people you don’t regularly see in a relaxed and festive environment. Even if you don’t talk about work (and you probably shouldn’t!) you rekindle the connection and open the door to schedule a later meeting where you can put work on the agenda.

January: Pick your career resolutions

As you pick your New Year’s resolutions, think about which ones relating to your career you want to include. Is this the year you increase your management responsibility? Is this the year you pick up a new skill? Is this the year you change industries? If you’re happily employed, look at your company’s goals for the year and plan out how you are going to orient your work towards these specific goals.

February: Take a cue from Valentine’s Day and focus on love

No, I don’t mean start dating someone at workJ I simply mean focus on bringing love, enjoyment or passion back into your work. Make a list of your favorite clients, colleagues, projects, and day-to-day responsibilities. How can you plan your day to include more interaction with these things?

March: Get your taxes (and finances in general) in order

Ideally, tax planning is a year-round event. But for the typical working professional, you file once in April, so start getting your items in order now. Keeping your finances in order supports your career. A solid financial foundation gives you confidence (e.g., confidence to ask for more management responsibility), allows you to make career investments (e.g., money to afford classes to pick up that new skill) and enables you to take career risks (e.g., financial cushion as you change industries).

April: Spring clean your workspace

Don’t just spring clean your house. Organize your work files. Finally read (or discard) those company memos and newsletters. Renew or remove subscriptions to trade publications and memberships to trade groups. While you’re combing through key documents, look out for testimonials and other evidence of work results and happy clients and colleagues.

May: Catch up on relationships

May has Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner. Even if you’re not a working parent, we all have personal and professional relationships that need tending. Block out time to see colleagues outside your normal area; professional contacts outside your company and industry; personal friends and mentors. This is a particularly good time because it’s been several months since the holiday networking season. If you don’t proactively schedule catch-up time during the year, you’ll forget.

June: Do a mid-year review

Even if your company does not have an official review, give yourself one. Revisit the goals you set in January – are you on track? Gather evidence of wins you can share with your boss — use the testimonials you found from your April spring cleaning! Make a plan for how you will use the remaining months of the year to build on what’s working and to refine what is not.

July: Do a mid-year review, part 2

You’ve looked at your goals and made a plan for how to hit them by year-end. Now look out longer-term – past this year, past this job. How is your career overall? Do you know what’s next for you in 2, 5, or 10 years? By asking yourself this question at least once a year you give space for bigger ideas to pop up. At the very least, you can update your resume and online profile as a way of auditing your career to date, and that’s a good annual habit to have.

August: Take a vacation

Americans tend to forego their vacations. If you haven’t already, take a break before the calendar resets at September.


Two Characteristics Of Effective Networking Ice Breakers – Video Blog

In this career success video blog, I cover the 2 characteristics of the best networking ice breakers:

Our July radio show was dedicated to questions about networking. You can hear the replay at Your Networking Questions Answered – Radio Show.

5 Traits To Avoid In Job Interviews

This job search advice piece originally appears as 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Yourself In Job Interviews in my weekly career column for Money.com and Time.com. The original, unedited version is posted here:

The letter A is often associated with good things: bring your A-game; get an A rating; be on the A-list. However, the letter A can also be a shortcut to remember 5 deadly traits you don’t want to be described as in an interview:


You might be nervous in an interview, but you don’t want to show it. You certainly don’t want to show neediness or desperation. It makes the interviewer doubt your ability: can I put you in front of senior executives? Can you handle top customers? Can you perform in high stakes events? Role play with a friend, mentor or coach (ideally someone who has hired before). This way, the actual job interview is not the first time you are selling yourself, explaining your body or work and answering tough questions. Your rehearsal also lets you practice being nervous and performing well anyway.


Ideally you demonstrate confidence instead of anxiety. However, you don’t want to be overconfident, which can be interpreted as arrogance. Yes, you want to demonstrate that you know the industry, company, and role at hand. But watch out for sweeping recommendations that might conflict with inside knowledge you won’t know as someone who doesn’t work there – yet. Don’t correct the interviewer or ask such probing questions about the company that you turn the conversation into an interrogation. If you have a tendency to always want the last word, remind yourself: do you want to work with a know-it-all?


You might be leaving your job because you don’t feel challenged or there’s no room to advance or you are at odds with the company strategy. You might even be tempted by the interviewer to say negative things when s/he asks what is missing from your job or what don’t you like about your boss or who is your most difficult client or colleague. Don’t ever get negative. Don’t be judgmental. Stay neutral in your tone of voice. You have to respond to negative questions if the interviewer asks, but point out a constructive recommendation instead of complaining: I would love to work on emerging markets, but this isn’t the company’s focus. I do my best work with more autonomy but my boss is more hands-on. My clients are terrific, but I’d like to focus on the Fortune 100 and our company serves middle-market. My colleagues are terrific, but I’d like to see more resources devoted to X and there isn’t budget for that right now.


A great way to avoid getting too negative is to minimize the talk about your old job and focus on the new job at hand, more specifically your interest and excitement for it. In this way, you avoid the next deadly A-trait — apathy. Employers want to hire people who want them. A job interview is not the time to be coy about your interest in the job. Tell the interviewer why this company is where you want to work and why this role is exactly what you want to do. Keep your energy high. You never want the interviewer to think you don’t really want the job. In the above example, you can use your high level of interest to keep from going negative: I’d like to focus on emerging markets, and that’s why this role is of particular interest to me. I work best autonomously, and your company culture is well-known for its entrepreneurial spirt.


Some candidates think that remaining apathetic or coy will help them negotiate better offers because they can take or leave the job. It’s true that a good negotiation tactic is to be able to walk away, but a better way to demonstrate that leverage is by avoiding the final A-trait – being too readily available. Instead, be in demand – you could stay at your current job, or if you’re in transition, you have multiple leads (ideally offers) in play. You want this employer 100% (remember to avoid appearing apathetic!) but you are not waiting by the phone for a Saturday night date! You are busy with work, with networking with their competitors, with other potential opportunities. You would make yourself available to your ideal employer but you are not just waiting around.

One A-trait you DO want to demonstrate is approachability. You want to be likeable. You want the interviewer to want you around the workplace. Of course, you want to showcase your skills, expertise and experience but people hire people, and people especially hire people that they like.

Building A Business That Serves You – Soul Purpose Company

The SixFigureStart story is featured on Soul Purpose Company via podcast and brief transcript. Here are some excerpts:

Getting Started: It’s All About the Network

Before you market your idea to strangers, start with the people who know you – people you’ve worked other jobs with or went to school with.

“We both came from big, corporate jobs,” Caroline says, “so we [already] had a network. We tapped into people who already knew us.”

“They knew our work product and they knew our work ethic and our integrity,” she says, “so the sale at that point was easier than if we were cold calling strangers.”

Going Longterm: Be an Expert

Longterm sustainability means marketing your business to strangers outside of your original network. And that means looking like an expert.

Speaking at events is the most widely recommended way to gain trust and notoriety, but Caroline says she’s surprised at how far writing got her, too. An editor at Forbes approached her to do a regular column because she had seen Caroline’s name so many other places online.

Part of your longterm strategy should include writing and speaking for as many outlets as possible. Soon, people will recognize you without you having to put in as much effort.

Read on for Achieving Abundance and Charging What You’re Worth and listen to the podcast at Soul Purpose Company: Building A Business That Serves You.


Reading Chekhov May Help Your Job Interview Skill – Video Blog

In this job search video blog, I share a tip for getting into your peak performance zone for job interviews:

Reading Chekhov isn’t the only unconventional way to prepare for your next interview. You can read more unexpected tips at Zany Ways To Get In The Zone For An Interview.