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Jan 30 2017

What Makes a Good Headhunter?

With so many ups and downs, it set me thinking: what makes a good headhunter? Well, three words came to mind: curiosity; tenacity; and honesty. Let me explain each of them.

Curiosity. We ask questions about what the client needs (as opposed to wants), what the candidate can/can't do, if they fit the client, is the candidate misleading about the CV etc. we ask about the job, the organisation – its culture, style, reputation and so on – reporting line, working team (if any), responsibilities, opportunities for promotion and career growth, travel expectations, stakeholders etc. We distill the information down to perhaps five essentials without which a candidate won't be considered. Then process takes over where we assess all candidates out there against the brief, interview the most promising and deliver a shortlist. We usually end up with a handful of interested and qualified (important word there) candidates from which to make our choice. I say qualified as, although most people rate themselves very highly, in truth only the top few per cent are in the top few per cent. The rest of us are the general work force. (It's always good to know how good you really are!)

Tenacity kicks in when we hear that magic word, no. No, I'm not interested in a move; No, I don't care if your client has great career prospects; No, I don't want to leave my job. We hear that word a hundred times a day – and we are fine with it. Everybody has a story and is somewhere on their life journey. Our challenge is to find those who are open to our siren song and respond positively. To do that, as I've said before, we have to kiss a lot of frogs to find our prince/ss. Just because quality people aren't open – right now – to us doesn't make them a bad candidate, or count them out of the running forever, it just means that they aren't open right now. They might change their minds in a week, a month, a year. But only tenacious and resilient people who can handle hearing 'no' all day can be effective headhunters; it's what we're used to.

Honesty is paramount. Part of our job is managing information, the interface between employers and candidates and, of course, we want to close the position. But we can't do that without honesty. Changing jobs is not to be done without deliberation, and it's incumbent upon us to treat the candidates with respect – they are making a big decision. Similarly, clients don't just offer jobs to someone because they like them, or feel sorry for them. They do it because they think that person can move the organisation forward. So it's vital that we play our part, setting expectations honestly and clearly on both sides – it will only end badly if we don't – and make as sure as we can that the right person is going into the right role. If we don't assess that honestly it could go wrong, there’s a quick resignation and no-one is happy. And, finally, because we are retained we don't mind WHO gets the job – we know that one of our candidates will, so we don't have to play favourites with them or influence the client. We just want them to hire the best candidate of the highly qualified and interested selection we have provided. Simple, right?

As usual, let me know if you have any particular topic you would like to see covered here.

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