Korn Ferry CEO: Your Network—Not Your Resume—Will Get You Hired

Gary Burnison on standing out in the job hunt

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer January 30, 2019
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​It's the start of a new year, which for some means it's time to get serious about searching for a new job. Whether feeling unappreciated in their current position or seeking new challenges, many will pump themselves up, get back out there and land a new job. But for most it's not that simple, according to Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry, the world's largest executive search and recruiting firm, and the author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job (Wiley, 2018).

Resumes are necessary, but Burnison has seen too many job seekers place too much reliance on them. He discussed that with SHRM Online and shared how to prep for interviews and ways to win over those with hiring authority.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

SHRM Online: In your book, you say job seekers put too much importance on their resume. Why is that?

Burnison: They assume their resume accounts for 90 percent of getting a new job when it's only about 10 percent. Sure, you need to have a resume, but it's really not much more than a calling card. Far more important is the story you tell about yourself and your accomplishments, purpose, passion and motivation.

SHRM Online: If not a resume, what first hooks an employer's attention and leads to an interview?

Burnison: You need a "warm introduction" from others. This starts within your network. Do you know someone who knows someone who knows somebody in the company who can tell you about the culture and what it's like to work there? As you establish rapport with that person, you can communicate your interest in a particular job. Explain what you'd bring to that particular job. If the other person can see that you are a good fit, most likely you'll be introduced to an internal recruiter or hiring manager. You'll get your foot in the door that's opened far wider with a warm introduction than if you tried to stand there knocking yourself.

SHRM Online: What are a few tips for expressing yourself in a job interview?

Burnison: It's all about authenticity. And authenticity begins and ends with honesty. It seems obvious [that you should] tell the truth, but a lot of people will exaggerate, stretch the truth or outright lie. I think of authenticity within the context of your "ACT." It applies to everything—networking, interviewing and interacting with others professionally and personally. "A" is for being authentic—truthfully presenting yourself, your experiences and your background. "C" is for connection—forging a positive emotional connection with others. In a job interview, that's critical. You accomplish this by what you say and how you say it—facial expression, eye contact, body language, tone of voice. People make snap judgments about others all the time—it happens in a matter of seconds. When you come across as personable and engaged, you'll connect with others. Finally, "T" is for giving people a taste of who you are. What would it be like to work with you? What contributions can you make?

SHRM Online: What is your take on video interviewing?

Burnison: I understand the appeal of video interviewing, especially in the initial screening process. But I believe there can be a really big difference between how people come across on video and how they are in person. It's really hard to make the same connection with people virtually. I would never make a final hiring decision based on a video interview. I'd want to interact with that person face to face, observe them, engage in conversation, see how they operate in the moment. Even more important, I want to see how they think.

SHRM Online: As a CEO who's interviewed and evaluated many people, what impresses you about a candidate?

Burnison: In an interview, I look for five things. The first is accomplishments, not just activities. Accomplishments speak to what you've done and what you'll bring to your next job. The second one is very important: motivation. What gets someone up in the morning before the alarm clock? What gets them excited about their work? The third thing is making a connection. When I interview someone, I always meet the candidate in the lobby or reception area and then take the person into the kitchen to get coffee or water. It's a familiar setting and puts people at ease. We start with small talk—where they're from, where they grew up, a little about their family. We get to know each other, which encourages a connection. From there, the conversation deepens. The fourth thing I look for is whether someone knows about the company and the position they're seeking. It's one of the early questions I'll ask a candidate, and it's astounding how many people can't give a decent answer. If only they'd done a little homework using the company website, press releases, LinkedIn, etc. The last one is culture fit. The more senior the position, the more fit matters. But even at junior levels, you have to know how well someone will fit with the company culture and the way work gets done.

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