Dealing with Headhunters, by Jo Thurman
Headhunters or Executive Search Consultants as they are also known, work to fill senior and top level management positions. They are typicallyretained exclusively by the hiring organisation to seek out, interview and shortlist candidates against a specific brief. Tending to specialise in a sector or discipline they research and map the market to identify the key players and rising stars and cultivate and leverage relationships within this specialist community to generate a shortlist. This commonly involves approaching individuals who are not actively job searching so the job opportunity is rarely advertised.
They need to engage therefore, only with individuals who could be their target candidate or lead to them. If this sounds harsh, it is simply the economics of their business model. They will work on few high level assignments for which there will be a finite number of suitable candidates.
So given that the Headhunter is not there to find you a job but to find the best talent on behalf of their client company what can you do to raise your profile with them and get the most from your relationship?
Be visible in your industry – To increase your chances of getting headhunted, showcase your expertise and know how through blogs and articles, becoming involved in your professional body, speaking at conferences, going forward for awards etc. – this will position you as someone to watch in your field.
Have a strong on-line brand - LinkedIn is a rich source of potential candidates for Headhunters so keep your profile updated and your network current. Also be active by joining and contributing to appropriate group discussions and writing and sharing articles.
Network extensively - In their research Headhunters ask for recommendations of suitable candidates so the more people who know you and what you are good at, the more likely it is that your name will surface. As the Headhunters often approach those who are not obviously job searching, continue to invest in your network whether or not you are in job search mode.
Target your efforts – Typically the Headhunter will initiate the contact. If you make the approach and are told that they are unlikely to be able to help you as they don’t work in that space, thank them for their time and move on. You and they need to invest in relationships which have the potential to be fruitful.
Name-drop –Ask around your network for the name of Headhunters they have worked with either as a candidate or client and use this name when you approach them to facilitate the introduction.
Take the long-term view – Given the relatively small number of assignments Headhunters manage your relationship may not result in a job opening in the short term. However the Headhunter is always seeking to build their contacts and sector knowledge so be helpful with industry information and contacts and the relationship could pay off for both parties time and again over many years.
Always take the call – The call from the Headhunter often comes out of blue. Always be willing to listen if you are considering a career move or not. If it is not right for you at that time you may be able to refer on someone within your network for whom it would be ideal. You will have benefited the Headhunter and had the opportunity to refresh them of your career status and brief.
Know what you want – If they have done their homework they will be targeting you for a reason. It’s important that you be clear on what you consider to be a good career move – they will not expect to help you to work this out. Don’t waste their time if the opportunity isn’t right.
Be honest and transparent – You can expect to be robustly checked out so don’t be tempted to lie or exaggerate.
Headhunters are an important resource for executives but you will need to work continuously on your visibility within your area of expertise, be clear and focused regarding your next career move and recognise that you need to be in it for the long term.