brand management

What is your story? Understanding your narrative and where it is taking you

I have found that people do not appreciate their own stories. There is such a premium placed on amazing, dramatic, tear-jerkers that average stories, just stories about who we are and what we want are relegated to the "boring" file. So these stories are neglected and unformed. Yet I have found that every personal story told is fascinating. 

Our stories are helpful to others so they can help us. But our stories can reinforce our own behaviors and actions and become self fulfilling prophecies. Greatest-story1

Not talking about your interview technique or even how to sound clever at a cocktail party.

I am talking about what you say to yourself and how that reveals itself to others. 

The classics: "I am not good at math." "I have a terrible voice." "I can't even draw a circle." "I can't even boil water." "I am such a terrible public speaker."

Whether you like it or not these are part of your story and become part of your reputation. 

What are you good at? What are you most confident about? Are you risk averse? Are you afraid of failure or looking stupid?

You can become what you say you are and not become what you don't say. 

What are you telling yourself about you?

I made a woman and a young man cry recently. I didn't mean to.

It was my interpretation of their stories that got them choked up.

The gentleman was testing his pitch for a new venture he was thinking of starting and I told him that people want to invest in you who are you. I gave him my version of the hardships he had overcome.

The lady was looking to make a very serious career change and I asked her to tell me why? She struggled with her answer. I summarized her rationale, qualifications and the value she would add. 

I loved their stories. Basically I told them their own stories. I gleaned from them what they were saying and I crafted the stories--positive stories. I have no special skill or technique. I listened to them and read their resumes. These were uplifting meetings for all of us. To see people's potential and share it with them was inspirational for me! When your story is set free and it resonates with the protagonist it creates vulnerability--like a secret was told out loud. It is liberating. It can be cathartic. It is empowering.

And your story evolves, if you allow it. If you keep an eye on the possibility ahead you can edit your story.

One of the many benefits of mentoring and networking is to work on your internal narrative. What story is guiding how you live and what you do. The greatest gift is to ask someone you trust: "What do you see in me?" 'Where do you see me going?" 

Steve Jobs advice from his famous commencement address still rings true. "Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly already want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Hearing your inner voice out loud gives it life and freedom far from the tyranny of others expectations.

Is your story fraught with limitations, excuses and pessimism? Or is it nestled in optimism, opportunities, and lessons? 

"I have few options." "I don't have the right (education, job, mentor, financial condition....)" 

Or

"There are so many things I can do and learn." "This problem is going to teach me new things." 

It is a choice. The story you tell. 

Stories we tell ourselves and others define our well-being. Depressed individuals often have deeply ingrained internal stories such as ‘I’m never good enough,’ or ‘My father told me I should have been a doctor.’  Versus athletes who visualize success and use mantras like "You have been here before. You know what to do."

From Phillipa Perry's book How to Stay Sane "The meanings you find, and the stories you hear, will have an impact on how optimistic you are: it’s how we evolved. If you do not know how to draw positive meaning from what happens in life, the neural pathways you need to appreciate good news will never fire up. We need to look at the repetitions in the stories we tell ourselves, at the process of the stories rather than merely their surface content. Then we can begin to experiment with changing the filter through which we look at the world, start to edit the story and thus regain flexibility where we have been getting stuck."

Take control of your story. Own it. Interrupt the negative audio loops. Open it up. Tell your truths. Talk about it. Listen to other people's assessments of it. Edit and enhance your story. See the possibilities over the problems. Your story is amazing. Sometimes you just have to get out of its way. 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Is Your Virtual Fly Open?

I can remember like it was yesterday my most embarrassing moments. When I was a 6th grader I gave a class presentation on the attributes of Argentina. The first question I got from a girl in the front row, "Why is your fly open?" Suffice it to say that it slightly undermined my wonderful talk about llamas. :)
Yet as I meet people  or prepare to meet people, I Google them and see that their virtual fly is wide open.  UNC fly is open
One of the greatest trends in the world today is the ability to promote and present oneself to the world. Like all reputational and brand matters you take control of this process or it controls you. 
Whether you like it or not you have created and not necessarily curated an online presentation of yourself . What is your online presence right now? What is your online reputation? Your online brand?

When someone Googles you, they get search results and there you are. I know some stuff is out there that you can't control but there are also things you can. Like your photo.

So most of your networking is being done without you. This has always been the case. Your reputation precedes you. Your brand has attributes and travels around especially when you are not there. Social media and the world wide web just makes this process faster and further outside of your control. 
Each of you owns a social media company---YOU! 

Here's what guru Seth Godin says:

All of us own our own media companies now. We each have the ability to speak up, to tell our stories, and if we're good and if we're lucky, to be heard.

Too often, though, there's no signal. You may be pumping noise through your social media outlets, but noise isn't signal. It's merely a distraction. You're talking, but you're not saying anything, at least nothing that's being heard.

You get to choose your story. If the story you've chosen doesn't get through, it's up to you to fix that. Pick a story that reflects your work, sure, but also one that resonates with the receiver.

The point is you are the protagonist of your own reality show. Take control of the script. What is the story you are trying to tell? 

Consider these facts:
The company Adobe now sources more than half of its new hires via LinkedIn. Tech companies report that a full two-thirds of corporations use Facebook to bring on new talent, and 54 percent of organizations use Twitter to learn more about a candidate. Companies now are actively trawling the www waters for interesting fish. To recruit. To reference check and to network. 

So they checked out your Linked-in, Facebook or Twitter pages-- what do they see?  Your Fly is Open

Is your virtual fly open? Don't be embarrassed because you didn't check. :)

Here are a few examples of what I saw last week:
  • Linked-in page with a job title for someone who was fired a year ago!
  • Bad photos, Not just unattractive but weird and quasi inappropriate
  • I Googled a 39 year old professional and nothing came up! Nothing. No Linked-in.
  • Bad photos!
A few quick reminders and suggestions to polish up the olde online brand:
  1. Google thyself-- Just to check what others see. 
  2. Get a Linked-in account--If you are a serious job networker you must have one and use one. 
  3. Update your social media sites--Keep them up to date or take them down. Just lunacy to see Linked-in sites that look abandoned and neglected--there goes your brand.
  4. Consider starting a blog or a personal website to actively post relevant videos, papers, opinions, articles that you have created. 

Conduct a quick audit. Develop a strategy for your story. Take control of your brand management. 

Visibility is the key to success. It always has been. Can't see you, can't promote, or hire you.
I use to give career talks about speaking more or writing more to enhance your brand and your opportunities. Still good advice. But today you have to also actively manage your virtual media company. Your visibility has to differentiate you not disqualify you.
It use to be said that all publicity is good publicity. But that is no longer the case. The only good "publicity" is the publicity that is accurate and advances your story.

Or you can tell me how busy you are and hope nobody notices. 

Rest assured people and companies are networking with you, without YOU--right now. So, is your virtual fly open? 

If you need more proof of this, see the great infographic from mashable below.
Thanks for reading. John
E-rep-infographic


Name Dropper Syndrome

I used to have NDS--Name Dropper Syndrome. The superficial use of other people's names to impress and where the user does not know the named person well at all. I am a recovering name dropper. I  went through Name Dropper rehab. 12 steps to cure my addiction. But it takes vigilance and the support of others to manage my temptations. I want to Name Drop all of the time. I have urges to tell people who I met or who I "know". But I realized after a long time of name dropping and hearing others do it--we do it because of our own insecurity ( I know Duh!) But like many bad habits, no one told me. My mentors never counseled me. No one ever said, "Hey stop using other people's names to make yourself look good." It was through my own self awareness that I got on the path to addressing my problem. Name dropper

We all know NDS sufferers. People who have a Tourette's like ability to cough out names to impress you. I now play a game with these people. People I interview or I meet that clearly have NDS-- I count the names. I have always counted ums, ers, uhs. I know this is weird, but you know me. :) I counted these interrupting and distracting sounds when I became aware of my own usage. I went through trainings where others counted my ums or rang a bell! I do the same with names dropped. It is like a fantastic video game in my mind. The bigger the names the louder the whizz bang sound in my mind. The name dropper mentions someone I know--small splash sound. They mention a celebrity --Kapow! They mention a world leader, Bill Gates etc--fireworks!

The other day I met one of the world record holders for my game. He was a machine gun of name dropping. Hard to keep up with him. My mind was awash in explosions and bright lights and whatever he was trying to tell me was lost. I know I may need a different kind of rehab!

Don't confuse NDS with being referred by someone you know!

Be aware of yourself. Never show up and throw up. Think before you talk. Self edit. And Get feedback.

Name dropping done in excess and done recklessly hurts your brand. Can make you look superficial and egotistical. 

If someone you know has NDS--help them . Friends don't let friends name drop. Now that is mentoring I could have used. 

Thanks for reading. John


The 8 week interview diet

Many years ago I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to understand where I was going was to encounter as many people and opportunities as I could. Through some very hard lessons from my mentors and through life itself, I realized that I was in charge of my career path and choices. And more important, that my career path would neither be linear or sector centric. These revelations took my blinders off and I was able to see so many new opportunities that were not tethered to my past, my education, or what I preferred. Are you following me? In other words, once I realized I had to get out of my own way, my options and opportunities multiplied. Blinders 

Last week I met with a graduate class in public policy to talk about their impending graduation and their career choices. We discussed many things but I tried to impress upon them two basic ideas:

  1. It's the Boss--Other than mission alignment, your personal belief in the vision/goals of the employer, the number one factor in choosing a job is who your boss will be. Do you have a sense of chemistry with her? Do you see her helping you and providing counsel and advice? Have you done any due diligence on her? Your progression and future are tied more to her than the company's reputation.
  2. Your Toolbox is Transferable--Don't make the mistake I did early in my career by trying to find an elevator, escalator or a plain ole ladder to advance my career in a single silo sector. Your skills are applicable to other working worlds. Each one of you has so many other skills and abilities, in addition to your newly minted degrees. Pursue your curiosities and passions not just a rational career path.

Literally an hour after my invigorating session with the students, I was waiting at my doctor's office to have my annual physical. Dr P. comes in with a big smile and greets me warmly. I have been going to see him for almost 20 years. There are few who know you better than your MD! Since I have been having these annual checkups I have had 8 jobs in arguably five different fields. From for-profit to non-profit. Start-up to publicly traded company. Higher education to online education. Grantee to grantor. Anyway, Dr P has heard my various job stories and received a small collection of business cards over the years. He looks at me with a wry smirk and says,"Where we working now?" I have become pretty defensive about this question and find it less and less humorous. After all I have been at CCF for more than 3 years! The point is I have a bit of a reputation for making job and career moves, moves that are not intuitive to some, especially those wearing handcuffs of semi-precious metals.Handcuffs

Early in my career, I got occasional calls from recruiters. I found them uncomfortable conversations. I felt like I was cheating on my employer. I had a good job, a good boss and I was not looking. Some job prospects didn't make any sense in terms of mission, geography and fit. Others were intriguing. But I rarely did more than just try to be civil and discrete. I learned quickly that headhunters should become part of my network.

A mentor said to me that you have to inteview for things that interest you. And don't dismiss any opportunity until you KNOW you are not interested. Here was the the kicker for me: When you get out there and explore other opportunities you grow and so does your brand! He advised me to "interview" for information and inspiration on a regular basis. I later interpreted that to be every other month.  That's right, I will respond to at least 6 real and interesting opportunities that are presented to me each year. My record since 1993 is fully intact! These have been interesting opportunities to meet people, executive search firms, and think about something new. Had one such conversation on Friday, so I am good for another 8 weeks. :) I seriously do not have any interest in leaving my current employer, but the practice continues to yield so many benefits for me. I told my former boss about my "interview" goals and he said he wholeheartedly agreed on the concept of "interviewing". In fact he told me he expects 8 "job offers" a year!

Let me be clear, this is not about leaving, this is about learning. Being asked to interview is much different than seeking an interview. This is about staying fresh. This is about staying sharp. This is about strengthening your network. This is about finding yourself, advancing your brand and clarifying your path.

At the end of the week, I agreed to have an informational interview with this very accomplished gentleman referred by a close friend. He was just "exploring possible options" for his future. He was looking and had decided to leave his current job! We both knew what was going on. He told me this was his first "interview" in the last 12 years. Big mistake. Hard to move when your brand is stale and you are unaware of the landscape and frankly your own personal interests and your value in the marketplace. We discussed my "philosophy" and he said he had never heard of such a thing. But wished he had adopted the diet of 6 interviews a year, long before.

Thanks for reading. John


Self Awareness Networking and Mentoring

Met with a grad student who needed to conduct an interview on leadership for a class. As I preach, I make time for these interactions because I know I will always learn something new and invariably, something about myself. This interview was a bit different because the focus was on "self-awareness". He started off the interview with unexpected questions: "What is the role/importance of self awareness in effective leadership?" "How are you aware of your own development and your own issues?" "How do you become more self aware?" The student was well prepared and I became aware of how poorly prepared I was.

Self awareness is so intuitive and simple, isn't it? Just be aware of what you are doing and how it appears to others. How can you see yourself? And how does this vision/understanding reconcile with your authentic self and what you intend?

When you are a floating observer of self, you see and hear things differently. You can more easily judge yourself, praise yourself, and advance yourself. However, like most self improvement, from cutting your own hair to self diagnosis, this is very hard to do alone. Getting outside assistance is not only advisable but most often more effective.

It was a challenging interview for me. While it is a subject I think about, I rarely discuss it. I was making statements about self awareness as I was becoming hyper aware of what I was saying and how I was saying it. Listening to yourself CAREFULLY takes enormous effort. My conversation with the grad student progressed on the importance, relevance, and benefits of self awareness. I wish I had a video tape of my interview. I must have been a sight to be seen. Talking about self awareness and trying hard to be self aware! Not a pretty picture.

Cat self-awareness

I started to think about the media training we conducted for some of our executives at work. These are people with great confidence but who have not been placed under the microscope of the media. Intellectually it is never difficult--answering questions about a subject one knows well. Not even talking about the 60 Minutes antagonistic approach. Listening to your answers and watching your facial expressions on a video tape is a whole new world. The revelations for our colleagues were abundant! What we say and how we say it vs. what we think we say and think we look like can be two alien planets. Going through this training many times and watching others endure the ugly and beautiful mirror is a lesson in self awareness. Videotape is the most amazing teacher. Seeing what others see is an eye opener!

"Self awareness', I rambled on with my attentive grad student, "can be a bit masochistic. It is the reconciliation of intention and reality."

I tried to impart the following lessons of self awareness to my interviewer (now with the benefit of hindsight a bit more eloquent:)

  1. Know thyself---Who you are and what you stand for is critical. What is your vision for yourself?
  2. See thyself---Finding "mirrors" to see your true self is a life long process. The best "mirrors" are mentors and confidantes that never shade the truth. They help you become your best. They reflect your flaws and your talents. They guide your trajectory and your development.
  3. Reflect---Taking time to contemplate the events of the day. Re-running the videotapes from the previous events, conversations, moments--to appreciate what you have done, what you have left to do, and what could have been done better.
  4. Connect with others---Establishing meaningful and substantive connections with diverse people will always expand your sense of self. Finding examples and moments that teach us who we are and who we are not is the true power of networking.
  5. Seek the mirror---Pursue and ask for feedback. Seek opportunities to learn about yourself. Not just an open door but an open mind.
  6. Become a mirror----Helping others you care about see themselves in the best and worst of times. Constructive praise. Supportive advice that helps your inner network improve and advance.

Self awareness must be stalked and hunted. It does not arrive in a box with a bow on your doorstep.

I am fascinated by the Buddhist thinking of Naikan. It is a process of introspection and was an early form of a "time out". Using deprivation as a way to have people, including young criminals, reflect on the wrongs they have committed. It evolved into a series of three questions about our relationships and focusing on one person at a time:

  • What have I received from (person's name)?
  • What have I given to (this person)?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)?

The fourth question that naturally follows in this series. "What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)? Is NOT part of the reflection because we are so adept at thinking about this question! And this focus on our own misery and not the misery of others is part of our problem.

We are all works in progress. Disconnects between who we are and who we think we are are deadly. Like reading our own autobiography and being impressed! So easy to delude ourselves by settling for what we have become and expecting others to deal with it. Much harder to face the videotape of life and learn from the truth.

 In the end, I hope my interviewer got what he needed to complete his assignment. I got what I wanted. I learned many things. I became more self aware and had the great luxury of sharing some thoughts with him and with myself.

Thanks for reading. John


Non-verbal networking

We all know how important the non-verbal cues are to effective communication, relationship development, and networking. Our body language, inflection of our voice, our eye contact, facial expressions dominate the words we say. Those that study this stuff have said that words are only about 7-30% of the communication we intend. As I said, we know this in our heads, but we are not conscious of it.Body language 2

Tell your face---You see this one everyday, if you are paying attention. We have these robotic exchanges that have become meaningless transactions. You enter the elevator, or the office in the morning and you say something to greet anyone and everyone. It is neither sincere or intentional. We say things like "Good Morning", or "How are you?"--even if the morning sucks and you are not interested in or care about anyone's well-being. In fact, if the target of our pre-recorded pablum speaks, we are awakened  from our slumber and struggle to respond. My assistant for years, Patsy, would greet me every morning with a confusing happy voice and an enthusiastic Good morning! and a severe frown. At first I thought she had been part of a botox experiment gone awry. :( The first time she did this, I said, "if it is a good morning, tell your face!"

Do you remember the Michael Dukakis passionless response to the question about whether the death penalty should be applied to the murderer and rapist of his wife Kitty?

Without putting energy into your daily deliveries of words and messages, you will communicate poorly. Your posture, handshake, intonation, and your facial attention can undermine your persuasiveness.

A few basic tips to remember to keep focused:

  1. Engage the other person by looking into their eyes, listen and observe their body language.
  2. Keep your hands in front of you, instead of folding them, on your hips or in the "fig leaf" position.
  3. Smile. It will always brings energy into your voice and your eyes.

Lead with your passions--When people talk about what they care about, they stand up straighter, their eyes light up, and their voice is overflowing with expression. So funny, because many people have asked me if I have ESP. I listen to and watch people, and when they really smile and start becoming more animated, I tell them how obvious that this is an important subject to them. "How could you tell?", they query. Find out what others are passionate about, then your encounters and conversations will feed off one another.

How can you understand, see and hear any incongruences or distracting body language you create?

You practice in front of a mirror. You videotape your presentation skills. You get candid feedback from colleagues and confidantes. When I started the process to refine my speaking and presentations, I immediately improved. Seeing and hearing is believing. You become a student of yourself. How do others see you? How big is the gap between what you think you are doing and what others see? This is a critical skill, your accurate awareness of you. I became painfully aware of my strange an previously unknown habits and body language expressions through a thorough and relentless examination of my schtick. Still working on it and never again took it for granted.

Always suprised how under prepared people are for making impressions. They wing it. They hope that the right words and body language magiacally appear when called upon. Some people think they are Robin Williams! Most of us know that Robin doesn't ad lib, but draws on a library of practiced and rehearsed routines. I am not saying that you need to script yourself, but preparation with a keen eye on what it really looks and sounds like is essential.

As Allen Iverson said, "Are we talking about practice?" Yes we are!

Connect your mind to your body through your conciousness. Don't let your folded arms, furrowed brow, repeated "ums", shifty eyes, or inaudible voice, steal your opportunities and your compelling ideas.

Carry yourself, express yourself, with the spirit and energy that it matters--because it does.

Your ability to network is directly tied to your trustworthiness, believability, and likability. How you present yourself deserves at least as much prep and attention as your clever words and phrases.

I dedicate this post to my brother in-law Andrew Kim Weaver, who was tragically taken from us this week. Andrew was fiercely candid and famous for his non-verbal communication.

Thanks for reading. John


Network with your Boss: Manage, influence and challenge up!

There are so many misconceptions and myths about networking and mentoring. One of the most ignored and neglected networking opportunities is with your boss. Many people mistakenly think that relationship development is aimed at only new, external prospects, and higher ups outside of your work environment. Those of you who have followed my principles and posts know that the key to effective networking is to focus on your existing network. People that you know and are comfortable with are the keys to your success. And your boss is one of them. Bob Beaudine in his book The Power of Who calls this "The Who". The people in your inner circle. We tend to neglect people we know, or think we know. And one of the most neglected and overlooked targets of networking is your immediate supervisor. I can hear you loud and clear! "That relationship is not going to yield the sort of benefits I need!" "I need new inspiration and new ideas." Perhaps. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, your current boss can determine your fate, your greater influence as an employee and undoubtedly your future path. And if you have invested a great deal of time and energy in understanding your boss and his or her perspective, background and connections, then you are the exception. My experience tells me you just haven't. By the way, this applies double if you do NOT have a great relationship with your manager!  Managing up

Somehow you got this boss. You had something to do with it when you got hired or promoted or transferred. You picked this employer and supposedly evaluated the organization's capacity to nurture your special and unique gifts. You must have conducted some due diligence on your hiring manager, right? It is well understood that the professional development culture, your specific boss' desire and capacity to grow talent AND your chemistry with this person is worth 20%+ of your comp. But hopefully you already knew that. If not, make a pledge to do it in your next transition, especially if you are making a career shift. Really young green inexperienced people do not assess the quality of their supervisor and get distracted by the reputation of the employer (I want to work for Disney for example) or the initial salary and often a not so helpful boss. Your ticket to a sustainable and growth filled career trajectory are placed in the hands of your immediate supervisor and his/her boss.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book Mojo recounts many stories and case studies about these challenges. Here is an excerpt from the book where Goldsmith gives his advice:

Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make that decision--not the "right" person, or the "smartest" person, or the "most qualified" person, and in most cases this is not you. If you influence this decision maker, you can make a positive difference. If you do not influence this person you will certainly not make a positive difference. Make peace with this. You will have a better life, help your organization in positive ways and be happier.

Goldsmith is referring to your supervisor! And the power and choice you have to influence your boss and manage up!

We have all  dealt with difficult and important "customers". Quirks, attitudes, and personalities that we had to endure to get the job done. Just holding our nose, doing the minimum, or avoiding contact would be career suicide. You had to use your full complement of powers and talents to make it work with grace and with professionalism. And many times you would actually enjoy it, the process of the relationship. Yes, there are the jerks that we have encountered. But most people, once you get to know them are decent well-intentioned, and often very interesting. Your boss is your most important "customer". He/she needs TLC but also expects great work and service.

Don't respond like a sitcom husband whose brow beaten wife wants his attention, "I am here everyday ain't I, I do what you ask---that's how I express my love."

The point here is turning your impressive research, charm, attention and relationship development skills on your boss. Not to suck up and kiss butt. But to manage up, influence up and challenge up. How do you develop a more trusting relationship with your boss? How do you generate a more conducive environment to have conversations about your future, the future of the department and of the entire organization? How can you help your boss succeed and add real value to the department and the organization's goals?

Some boss basics:

  1. Do some basic beyond the bio research on your boss? Do you know his/her interests, family, charities, and ambitions?
  2. 360 degree network with other colleagues---How are others relating? What works for them?
  3. Make additional to time to meet to share thoughts and compare notes outside of your regular meeting as often as you can.
  4. Get to know your boss' asst. How else will you know when he/she is in a good mood or how to get on the calendar?

Here are some tips on managing up:

First of all bosses need and want to be managed. It may come from on high, from their assistant and or from their subordinates (that's you!). They need help to do everything that's expected of them, which takes your insane job duties to another level of craziness. In this light here are a few recommendations that have worked on me:

  1. Meet and exceed your job duties: This gives you the opportunity to be influential. A slacker with great ideas is still a slacker.
  2. Prepare solutions to problems: Always have an way to solve a problem, otherwise you join the whiner's chorus line.
  3. Submit new ideas: New ideas are great, but writing them down shows you are serious and your written ideas will be treated as such.
  4. Give honest feedback: Be a source of accurate feedback on presentations, speeches, e-mail announcements from your boss. Few employees provide advice and counsel on how to improve these leadership initiatives and therefore things don't evolve.
  5. Don't gossip or feed the rumormill: Be smart about what you say about your boss, your employer, and your colleagues.
  6. Step up and jump in: Be among the first to volunteer for new opportunities.
  7. Make your boss' world simpler and easier: Advise on systems, processes, and methods to make his/her work life more efficient. Young tech savvy employees have an advantage here!

Do some or all of these things and your influence will rise and your ability to effect change in your workplace and in your career will also increase. Managing up gives you much more to say about your achievements in your job. Building more trust in your relationships, especially with your boss can be very rewarding.

Thanks for reading. John


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