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Oy, Oy, Gevalt:
The Inquisition

Here are some typical quiz questions that would-be clients toss at IPs. See if you can answer them:
•  Three well-dressed women stand huddled together. One is crying, but has never been happier, and the other two are smiling, but have never been more miserable. What's going on?
•  A man is walking up a hill, when he sees two naked people, a man and a woman, sitting on a large stone. He instantly knows that they are Adam and Eve. How does he know this?
•  You have two containers; one holds five gallons, the other holds three. You can have as much water as you want. Your task: measure exactly four gallons of water into the five-gallon container. How?
•  Can a man legally marry his widow's sister?
(Click here for the answers.)


Doesn't it grind you when you're deep into pitching your stuff to a wary prospect and explaining why you're the best o' the bunch -- and all of a sudden, your quarry is struck by an irresistible idea: A pop quiz! Why not throw this IP a curve, see if she's really got what it takes to handle our business? Let's smoke out the real gal behind the word-perfect résumé, the elegant brochure, and snazzy logo. And then your would-be client hits you with a few brainteasers, adding -- casual-like -- that the gig is riding on your answers. (See the sidebar for some less-than-delectable sample questions.)

Unfortunately, these devilish brainteasers do not offer the tiniest insight into the inner IP, and they're worse than useless at predicting how well a given IP will do on a particular project. Take it from somebody who knows this territory inside and out -- a headhunter. "There is absolutely no correlation between how well you interview and how well you perform," says Nicholas Corcodilos, who runs his own executive search and consulting practice in Lebanon, N.J. But, he laments, that fact doesn't stop prospects from hiring IPs "on the basis of personality, rather than their ability to do the work and do it profitably." If Corcodilos has his way, all that's about to change, and change big. Forget about breezing into a pitch meeting and relying on your trademark charm and a good line of patter. You've got to be able to do the work, right there in your very first meeting, or else stand back and watch the gig go to the candidate Corcodilos coached.

Nick Corcodilos is a veteran -- he's been matching up the right people with the right projects for more than 20 years. He first honed his eye for talent in go-go Silicon Valley, where he sent high-fliers to Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, IBM, and GE. Trouble was, by the time client and candidate got beyond the paperwork and met face-to-face, even super-qualified contenders would sometimes blow it. Since a headhunter is only as good as his placements, Corcodilos decided to revamp his whole approach to improve his hit rate. Instead of simply scouring the market for talent and shuttling it to clients as fast as he could, he started counseling the talented individuals he was about to recommend for big jobs. He showed them how to take control of what he calls the New Interview, "a hands-on, working meeting between someone who needs to get a job done and someone who is fully prepared to do the job during the interview." This far-out idea -- that there's a profound connection between the interview and the work -- proved so powerful that Corcodilos went on to host a popular job-search Web site and to write a book about what he knows about getting work (Ask the Headhunter). In it, he spells out in reassuring detail the new logic of getting work, and explains, step-by-step, what headhunters know that the rest of us don't.

True, Corcodilos has spent much of his time helping people land their dream jobs. As it turns out, what's good advice for the average job seeker is very, very good for the IP: The one thing that will get you the work you want is to show your prospective client that you can do it profitably. Here's how to drastically improve your success rate when it comes to getting gigs.

Deep-six the résumé. Corcodilos doesn't much care for résumés. "They're purely historical," he says. "Who cares what you did two years ago, if you can't convince me you can do this job now?" Ditch the part where you list all your fancy degrees, and don't bother listing your former employers and clients, either -- not even your past accomplishments, achievements, and awards, because, blasphemous as it sounds, none of that tells your prospective client what you can do for him. "The typical résumé leaves it up to the employer to figure out how you can contribute, and that's no way to market yourself," Corcodilos says.

Instead, do what savvy marketers have done for centuries to whet their prospects' appetites: Give your prospective customers a sample of what you can do for them. Do the same with your résumé. At the top of the page, right under your name, put a heading called "Value Offered." In no more than two sentences, spell out the value you'd bring to this client. Be specific. For example, this V.O. works -- "I will increase your revenues and profitability by teaching consultative selling techniques to your sales team" -- but this one stinks: "Strong sales and marketing experience with exceptional communication skills to benefit your bottom line." Of course, a Value Offered statement is not going to cut it unless "you clearly understand what makes your work and ability valuable, and what a prospective client's needs are," Corcodilos says. "Figure out what problems and challenges they face. That can take quite a bit of research, but do it: There are no shortcuts to delivering value."

Answer "yes" to the Four Questions. Now that you've researched your prospective client's business and you know something about their competitors, their market position, and their culture, here comes the clincher -- getting ready to do the work in the initial meeting. First, Corcodilos says, you have to prove that you understand the scope and goals of the project: Do you understand the job that needs to be done? "What problem does this client intend to solve by bringing you in? What's the main goal -- bigger profits? Higher sales? When you meet, start by describing the problem your prospect seems to be facing, and describe the work that needs to be done, as you understand it." Second: Can you do the work? "Be ready to show what steps you'd take to achieve the goal, and talk about the tools you'd use," which might include market studies or special equipment. Third: Can you do the work the way the client wants it done? "Ask the client what's most important about how the project should go," Corcodilos explains. "That approval is crucial, because if you don't get it right here, you won't get it right on the project, either." Fourth: Will the client profit by bringing you in? "How will your way of doing things benefit your client? Do you understand how the client measures profitability, and can you attach a number to it?"

It's not an interview; it's a meeting of equals who want to get a job done. Corcodilos believes that pretty much everything you know about interviewing is wrong. "IPs have to take control of that first meeting," he says, "and not think of it as a job interview, which weakens your position." What really matters is what you can do. Don't wimp out; take the reins. "Say, 'Here's what I understand about what you need. Let me show you how I think I can help you.' That sets the right tone -- it shows you're not there to squeeze a buck out of the bloke. You want a real, live, important problem on the table so you can show how you'd tackle it."

Let's say you're a Web site designer. Before you even dream of meeting with a prospect to discuss overhauling their pitiful excuse for a Web site, Corcodilos suggests that you check it out thoroughly beforehand, and find "some little thing about it that sucks. Redesign it, make it better, and email it to your prospect before you meet. Then you can explain how your new design will pay off in more traffic or more advertising. This approach takes time, and it will cost a couple of bucks, but do you want to stand out, or will you settle for being just another freelancer scrounging for work?"

In the end, Corcodilos says, the most successful IPs are the ones who "show their prospective clients how to be more successful here and now. Want to see a client's eyes light up? Go into that meeting and solve some of the problems that led that client to want to talk to you in the first place."

Illustration by James Stringer.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Nancy K. Austin if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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