The Failure Option--Succeeding through mistakes
Network with your Boss: Manage, influence and challenge up!

Networking with the Headhunters

Love the term "headhunters" because it sounds so ghoulish, mercenary, and a bit scary. Of course, we politely call them executive recruiters and talent recruitment. Back in the day, these firms were considered pretty elite and mysterious. Don't call us we'll call you! Hired by larger institutions and corporations who paid at least 30% of first year comp--so very expensive. The key advantage is the good firms have robust databases and can call currently employed people and get them to consider career moves. And at the very least, they network with these people to get referrals. Like great sales people, recruiters network like no others, because searches cross sectors and industries, so meeting great candidates can always be useful for a future search. But the economy has hit these firms too. Searches are down and the pool of highly qualified candidates are way up. While the advent of the web and career search sites has reduced the influence of headhunters, they are still important--especially as you climb the career ladder. Puppet-heads-l

Not talking about the firms which try to place temps or fill vacant entry level positions for a fee. Although some of my advice applies to them.

My best opportunities have come from headhunters. I have been placed by some of the largest firms in the business. Korn Ferry, AT Kearney, Heidrick and Struggles, Spencer Stuart, but there are zillions of small specialty boutique local firms as well. And the giant companies like Google have their own internal search "firms". I probably have a conversation or e-mail from a head hunter every week. So I have cultivated relationships with many firms over my career and many view me as a hub for contacts. This has served my network well. Like all firms, the quality of the firm is measured by the quality of the rep and there is a range of talent in the best and small firms.

In general, head hunters are akin to commission salespeople. They need to produce and they need to think about the next gig. So if they are any good, they will be a bit pushy and want to know if you need their services, that's their job. Passive recruiters will be looking for new work. You accept that as part of the conversation.

I was given advice early in my career to treat inquiries from headhunters as special calls. Like warm network calls, make time for them. Why? Simply put, brand management and development. Your reputation and thereby your potential is sculpted by others, by the marketplace, by the 360 degrees of your sphere of influence. And headhunters can play a role in the shaping of your brand. What if every headhunter had you on their list? Remember the general rule of networking that I preach here ad nauseum:The more people who know you, your skills, your helpfulness, your career trajectory, and your smiling face--the better! 

But is your head worth hunting?...........Let's assume it is :)

By the way, headhunters call about specific searches and call people they are recruiting who also know candidates. They don't call the unemployed very often. So thinking, you will talk to them when you need them is the dumbest thought. Breaks the cardinal rule of networking: Give first, then receive. And besides you know that desperation networking or emergency job networking are the most dangerous varieties.

I was talking to a close friend who has an amazing background and career. Her reputation and brand are spectacular, better than she thinks. She is very successful, but has a disdain for headhunters. She is a linear career planner. She does not look at new opportunities to remain focused on her current role. Therefore headhunters are distracting. She does not interview or talk to recruiters, until she needs to. This approach has worked for her, but as you might suspect, I disagree adamantly with this mindset. Despite her personal view, I have pushed her recruiters and opportunities on a regular basis. I see her potential as much bigger than she does. Finally got her to pursue a few leads. I got her to consider these in the context of brand management for the FUTURE. I am trying to help her see beyond her current horizon, because the future is not predictable. And luck and certainly the past are not guarantees of what could happen tomorrow.

Here are my quick tips on head hunters:

  1. Do some research on headhunters: Find out who and what firms are considered the best in your field and which ones are not so well thought of. What firms would you hire if you ever needed one?
  2. When they call or e-mail, respond--Be a resource. Don't just reject this as a nuisance because you are not interested. Find out about the opportunity, get the job spec, give them advice and then try and refer them candidates. I usually give my network contacts a head's up and send them the spec vs just giving the recruiter a name.
  3. Refer great candidates to headhunters unsolicited. Not desperate unemployed friends. But terrific people you meet and know that are gainfully employed and should be on the talent radar screens. Encourage them to meet and try to make that connection. Not all firms will do this, but again based on your relationship with a specific recruiter, it can work.
  4. Meet with a recruiter face to face--After you get to know the recruiter or you sense some chemistry, meet with them to better understand their business and for them to get to know you. You know that every informational interview IS an interview, so be prepared.
  5. Invite recruiters to events to meet your circle of people. This can be a win win.
  6. When do I call the recruiter for myself? Almost never. I call them to get advice on career moves, on their take on certain employers and to get insider info on that sector/company/industry. You don't call them to announce your general availability. No No.

Building your brand is a full time job. Part of that process is engaging headhunters proactively to help them. Instead of viewing them as annoying salespeople, see them as part of a larger network that can assist you and your network. Like all great networking that is driven by helping, the benefits can be career changing.

Thanks for reading. John

Comments