How to Choose a Head-Hunter

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Thus article is aimed at HR Managers and senior hiring managers and will hopefully give you some value and insider information when selecting a head-hunter for a specific task.One of the periodic headaches for any HR Manager or hiring manager is who to choose when a retained Executive Search is required. It’s a tricky one, I have both commissioned searches (up to £350k salaries) and sold search services. Based on my experience as a customer and a head-hunter, here’s a brief guide:

First thing to consider is when it is appropriate to use retained search over success based recruitment. Definitions, retained search is when a supplier is solely appointed to a project and their fee is split into an initial project retainer and one or more other payments either at stages or on success. Contingency or success based recruitment is when one or more suppliers are given the vacancies to fill and their work is paid for on successful delivery. A general definition is that a ‘Recruitment Consultant’ tends to work on a contingency basis and a “head-hunter” or “search consultant” tends to work on a retained basis. However, that is not always the case as depending on sector you get RCs who also offer, and are very capable head-hunters when appropriate and head-hunters who will be willing to work on a success only basis when it is appropriate. Choose on specialisation and reputation and not on job title.

When to use retained search?

A general rule of thumb I have always followed is consider retained search when the position is either business critical, senior, a very rare skill set or where confidentiality is required. If it is absolutely critical that you have the best available candidate in the market at that time in the job by a certain date then retained search is definitely the route to go down. Search and Selection Consultancies essentially sell risk management.

What service to demand/expect?

You are not just paying for the role to be filled. You are paying for the role to be filled by the best candidate available (when compared to their peers) at that moment in time and who is interested in the opportunity. This means that when you hire Mr Snooks you can rest easy knowing that Snooks has been selected against a thoroughly vetted shortlist that was based on a quality long list of potential candidates initially approached. Depending on the service level agreed as a minimum you should expect to be:

1/ provided with a shortlist of candidates selected from a long list (which should also be provided)

2/ comprehensive report on the reaction of candidates in the market to the client’s position and brand both positive and negative

3/ detailed interview and personal notes on each shortlisted candidate, unless exceptional circumstances occur the head-hunter should have met and extensively interviewed the candidate at least once.

4/ reference and document checking as well as qualification checking should be provided

5/ management of the candidate throughout the offer stage and throughout the notice period

6/ professional communication to all unsuccessful candidates

7/ evidence of the activities carried out during the search

8/ some after sales service.

 

 

Who to choose?

I’m going to make myself unpopular with some of my colleagues here. If you don’t do anything else, choose the head-hunter and not the company they work for. Head-hunters are like lawyers, they get to know their area of specialisation, they become respected within that area, they become trusted in that sector and within the pool of professionals within that sector, when they move their business tends to follow them. Appoint on this reputation and expertise of the delivering consultant. Remember, big names and fancy brands are OK if you want to make a big noise in the market and keep shareholders happy but if this isn’t a requirement, time spent finding niche experts will pay dividends. Over the last 8 years, more than at any other time, there has been huge churn within the search industry. Many household name companies have struggled and as a result, many of the expert consultants and head-hunters who worked for them have either left to set up their own businesses or are working with sector specific companies who, due to their smaller cost base, will be more willing to pay higher rates of commission to the best head-hunters. Ask your colleagues, who would they recommend as a head-hunter in the sector? Check on LinkedIn, it’s now a highly sophisticated source of information of this type. Another benefit is the smaller cost base of the independent specialist company means that your fees are usually less. You are not paying for Mayfair offices, a fleet of powerful cars, teams of researchers and admin or expense accounts, these businesses will be lean and mean and have seen a growth in recent years at the expense of the ‘big boys’. Above all remember that the amount of money you throw at the search doesn’t necessarily translate into successful delivery.

What to pay for?

Ensure you know what you are paying for. In the past some companies have charged excessively for additional expenses. Phone bills, paper, photocopying, secretarial support, travel are all extras which some search companies will charge you for. One business I had dealings with in the past (no, I won’t tell you who it was)once hit their client with a ‘supplemental recruitment charge’ of £10k as they were a few K short of their target that month and bolted the  charge onto the back of a search, the client paid it without question. Now sometimes these extras will be necessary and the search company might genuinely require assistance to pay for them. For example, you decided to take a suite of rooms at The Connaught for candidate interviews or there is a requirement to interview candidates in Australia etc. However, all these additional expenses can and should be discussed and agreed on before the search starts. Go through the terms of business with a fine toothed comb, if you feel it is necessary, get a procurement or commercial expert to help you with the terms and negotiation. You are the customer here.

 

Guarantee and after sales support

Most companies involved in recruitment offer a rebate scheme should the candidate leave . This is typically on a sliding scale and can be ayting from a week to 6 months. I offer a 12 month free replacement if the person I headhunted and placed decides to leave the business within the first year of employment. It is beyond me why this is so rare in the industry. Surely if you are doing your job properly then you should put your money where your mouth is. It also ensures after sales support. A new employee is a change in the business environment and change is always an issue. It is very important that the head-hunter, with the agreement of all parties, remains in touch with the individual hired after they start the new role. I have seen and experienced several incidents when after sales communication has prevented the hire from leaving or failing in the role, especially when the new hire is not given the support required, it often takes a 3rd party to highlight the issue to the employer or make HR aware so they can take action. This is after sales service and it can be highly effective if professionally used. I always offer it, it beats me why it’s so rare in the industry.

 

Which method you choose and which search company you appoint always ensure it and they are fit for purpose. High risk, confidential, senior, business critical, rare skills or bum-on-seat-by-definite-date then absolutely consider retained search. Otherwise contingency should do.

 

Next episode – “How to set up an In House Search Function, The Basics”

 

 

Remember – the point interviewing is not to assess how well a candidate interviews

How many times have you sat in room with colleagues after an interview and someone has turned to you and said: “well they interviewed well”?

I’ve lost count. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I have reminded my fellow panel members that we are not there to assess how well someone interviews, we are their to work out if they are the best fit for the vacancy we are recruiting.

The pressures on ensuring consistency of assessment, especially in competency based interview there is always a danger that a gem of a candidate gets rejected because they didn’t shine at interview. I have always believed that it is the job of the HR manager on the panel to ensure that this doesn’t happen and you don’t end up missing the best candidate just because they are having an ‘off’ day. This can lead to absurd situations and can result in the wrong hire being made just because a candidate is a ‘good interviewer’ I’ve seen panels discuss this and still make the wrong decision “well, I thought ‘x’ would be our hire but she interviewed dreadfully and waffled on for ages and was nervous. ‘y’ however, he’s a superb interviewer and scored highly on the assessment form because of his answers”. As an HR professional you will likely be the most experienced interviewer on the panel. Therefore it is your job to ensure that you get the information you need to make a decision from each candidate no matter how nervous or stressed they are. Yes, an interview is a formal process but you are dealing with humans at the end of the day. We all have ‘off’ days.

I can distinctly recall one interview I managed some years ago. The interviewee was highly nervous, he’d been out of work for 6 months, had a family to support, was under huge financial pressure. The interview started and he was terrible. The first half dozen questions he made a total mess of and the more he could see we were disengaged the worse it got. After forty minutes of this I interrupted proceedings and said “would anyone like a cup of tea?” This stopped the candidate and the hiring manager, who had resorted to roasting the candidate, in their tracks. The tea arrived and we had a general chat. During this chat I confided in the candidate that I could well sympathise with his predicament. I’d been made redundant some years before and, despite being a professional interviewer could not get past second interview. I had a family to support and as under huge pressure and I couldn’t help this coming over in interview as nerves and desperation. My confidence was shot. Eventually I got a job but it was a miserable time which got worse and worse. Was he finding the same thing in his job search? From then on the candidate started to open up and relax. We started again and by the end of the interview all on the panel knew this was the guy for the job. We offered him the role and within the first 6 months he had won 400,000 Euros in new business for the company and opened up Benelux where they had no presence before.

car towards cliff

I’ve found that a bit of preparation with panel members can pay dividends. Pre empting the above situation by understanding a candidate’s personal circumstances and motivation can avoid this and saves everyone time.

 

I’ve found the following steps essential to ensure this doesn’t happen:

  • Spend 5 minutes before each interview running through the CV and circumstances with the line manager. Point out potential areas of concern and also whether or not the candidate is likely to be under stress sufficient to effect their interview conduct.
  • Ensure that you understand any apparent ‘weaknesses’ in the CV. For example: candidate made redundant 3 years ago, unemployed for 6 months, takes the first job that he is offered because he has a family to support but it didn’t work out. A candidate should not be judged too harshly for this. Get the line manager to put themselves in the candidate’s shoes, there is a world of difference between someone who is flaky and someone who had no choice but to take the job
  • Bear in mind the economic conditions out there. If a candidate has been unemployed for a year and has had dozens of interviews despite having huge experience and a lot to offer the chances are that his or her confidence has gone and that they are under huge stress in their personal life due to financial pressures etc. You must bear this in mind and look beneath the nerves. Such a candidate will frequently be an excellent hire because they are so grateful that you had the imagination to see beneath their stress
  • When conducting a Competency Based Interview, should the candidate answer a question with a poor example, ask them for another example, explain the reason for the question. e.g.” We are trying to ascertain how good you are in a crisis, can you think carefully about your career to date and tell us of an event which you believe best demonstrates your ability to ‘x’.”
  • By the same token, if a candidate wanders from the point of the question. Don’t sit there with a fixed grin on your face. Interrupt and being them back on track. What you interpret as lack of focus is often just nerves or even enthusiasm.
  • Desperation in candidates is not a bad thing. There are many things that can motivate it. If someone has a family to support and are unemployed, yes, they will be desperate. You need to see through this and understand and empathise with them. “didn’t like ‘x’ he was too desperate” is not an acceptable reason for rejection.
  • Remember that those who have only interviewed a few times in their career or are coming back from a long career break (back to work mums etc) will tend to be less slick at interview. Bear this in mind.
  • Above all, empathise with the candidate and don’t judge too harshly, there are often reasons for behaviour and interviewing is very stressful.

 

Improve your Linkedin profile it is your key to your next assignment

the world of the Interim Manager you hear all the time how vital it is to keep your Linkedin profile up to date, problem is many of us don’t know where to start and lack the time. Those of us who started their careers without a computer can be especially challenged by this. Increasingly the service that most ‘recruitment agents’ use to find interim managers is LinkedIn. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important for everyone, in particular professional interim managers to ensure that their Linkedin profile is not only up to date, but contains information that will allow the recruiter to find their profile quickly and also allow them to ascertain how relevant the profile is for the role they are hiring for. Now, when I was an interim manager I was pretty bad at keeping my Linkedin profile up to date. You know how it is – when you are looking for a contract you are on Linkedin all the time (as well as all the relevant ad sites) when in a contract, work and life seems to take over and we become less than diligent in updating and checking our Linkedin account for updates. Linkedin is a movable feast, in the 10 odd years I have been a member the site has changed hugely and it continues to change and develop. One of the things that is changing is that your position in Linkedin searches no longer relies solely on the number of key words you have in your titles and profile etc. Increasingly your participation in regular and relevant online activity is rewarded with increased profile. Therefore it is vital that you respond to blogs (starting with this one J) and consider contributing your own content as well as logging in regularly and giving your profile as much attention as your tomatoes. For some, this will require a major change in the way they look at Linkedin. Linkedin is your online presence, it is even more important than a CV and therefore it is vital that it contains the information that allows you to be found by recruiters and others in your sector. I’m not saying this to make my life easy, but rather to increase your profile within your area of expertise. I don’t view Linkedin as social media and neither should you, the very word social implies non-professional, leisure-time etc. Rather see it as your primary tool in securing your next assignment.

Here are a few tips

  • Ensure your profile and experience reflects not only what you do but what you want to do and contains key words
  • Ensure your profile has your name – Initials don’t work, yes, in the old days of Linkedin when the world and their dog could contact you it did help to restrict spam BUT these days you need to be standing out.
  • Don’t EVER attempt to elevate your Linkedin position by filling your profile with key word lists. If Linkedin find an account like this they will simply delete it with no warning
  • Ensure you log into your Linkedin account at least once a week when ON ASSINGMENT and every day when off assignment, hirers will be using Linked in to contact you about work so ensure your smart phone has the app installed and is activated. If you don’t have a smart phone, get one
  • Start to interact with others, keep it professional, no stupid photos or non related humour – pics. of your cat and kids are for Facebook, keep it that way
  • Ensure you have a photo, don’t make it too cheesey and formal (like some of our American cousins) but also don’t make it too informal, people don’t want to see your sweaty body on the beach or in some mid-life-crisis-extreme-sport-activity (yes I know my photo makes me look like a beachbum – I will be changing it)
  • Consider starting to contribute to topics you read
  • Consider starting to post relevant content to your skills set
  • Consider paying for a Job Seeker or Premium account, I would recommend this, and no, Linkedin aren’t paying me for saying this. It makes you more visible and extends your reach.
  • Be careful with your network, If you are an Interim Food FGM then ensure that your network reflects that and is peopled by those in your industry and sector, don’t accept every invitation just because someone wants to connect, if your profile is right then the right connections will start to come to you

These are a few starting points some of which will take you 5 minutes and will seriously increase your likelihood of being found. There are many other things you can do and should consider doing and this is just a starter. These points are relevant for anyone on Linkedin but are particularly important for the Interim Manager. Invest time in this, it is essential. If you are really stuck then there are always those who offer can offer you professional help.

If you would like more advice on this then please feel free to get in touch.