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”

 

 

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Why do I offer a 12 month 100% rebate on my placements?

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I’ve sat on both sides of the ‘recruitment fence’. I have been both poacher and gamekeeper. I understand the pressures that recruitment consultants face and I also understand the issues that the busy HR Manager has to deal with on a daily basis. The friction between both is well debated and obvious to all of us who work in either role. However, what is less examined is what can we do to make life easier for each party?

You see, as recruiters, we share the same goal. That is to ensure that the individual hired is the best person available for that role at that time and that the person hired remains in the role and adds value to their new employer by fulfilling and hopefully exceeding expectations. Which is why I often find it odd that such a great deal of time is spent negotiating rebate periods. In my entire 20 years in the industry I have never had to issue a rebate credit nor have I had to demand a rebate from a supplier. It is a rare thing but it is a valid concern.

We all know that recruitment is often about risk management. For an HR or Procurement professional, it’s very important to have peace of mind around after sales service, often missing from many agencies services.

This is why, for the last few years have offered a 12 month guarantee on my placements. I started doing this, not as a sales gimmick but rather to allow me to become more involved in the recruitment process, if I could demonstrate to my clients that I had a personal vested interest in getting the hiring decision right then they would be far more willing to trust my opinions and utilise my experience beyond that of a CV shuffler. As a buyer of recruitment services, I have never understood why more agencies don’t offer this. As an agent I know it is because it doesn’t often fit into the traditional agency business model. However, I take the approach that I’m not doing my job properly if I am not willing to offer this. Yes, it takes longer and delays sales but it ensures professionalism, and builds trust and that can only be a good thing.

With the advent of systems like Linkedin and the growth of in house recruitment specialists it has become increasingly important for recruiters to offer a level of service that goes beyond merely that of a CV shuffler. Any organisation can subscribe to one of the myriad of CV databases out there. Recruitment fees for what is essentially shuffling these CVs is hardly value for money. No matter how much you wish to automate a recruitment process, the more experience and expertise you can bring to an assignment the better. By offering this I am putting my money where my mouth is and from a professional point of view, ensuring that the client gets the benefit of their cash investment.

 

If you are in the business of hiring staff and you’d be interested in a 12 month 100% rebate on your hires then please drop me a line.

How to Talent Pipeline for HR Professionals

In the mid noughties I can recall sitting in the reception at Premier Foods HQ in St Albans, I was due to interview for an HR role. I had recently finished an interim assignment at Transport for London and was doing the rounds. I hadn’t considered the food sector before. One reason was an inherent prejudice, mostly through ignorance I had towards FMCG and especially food production – I simply didn’t get it. I’d spent much of my time prior to this working in the City as a headhunter. Finical Services, telecoms, new media, those were the cool places to work where the high flyers could be found. What did a smelly old Baked Bean factory have to offer or a bunch of cake peddlers? I could not have been more wrong.

The food industry in the UK is a hard forge. It is intensely competitive, customers are brutally demanding and relentless, suppliers uncertain, raw materials and commodities under pressure, factories aging, legislation burdensome, unions sparky and margins tight. The difference between success and failure can be down to a single person’s leadership skills. The margin between profit and loss is terrifying. I quickly began to understand that I could not have been more wrong. I had the privilege to work with some of the brightest and most talented managers I have encountered in my career, it remains a source of wonder how they could make profit from an intensely complex business armed with the most rudimentary systems and mostly from spreadsheets (this was pre SAP roll out you’ll understand).

Making my way to the factories the hands on leadership skills that management brought to the site became even more polarised. It became very clear to me that there was not only a huge risk to the business in losing key staff but that it was going to be essential to build a talent pipeline to ensure that any losses could be quickly replaced. This was more the case in the food industry that it was in any other industry I had worked in including rocket scientists. There was much talk of talent pipelining and there remains much talk around it, the problem is, time is against us all so, what can you do as a harassed HR professional to ensure that you have this key function covered.

Here’s a few pointers I picked up, hopefully they will be of some use to you:

 

  • Ensure you have identified the key talent positions within your area of the business, who are the key individuals who are really making the difference?
  • Once identified accept the fact that no matter how good your retention strategy, people move on therefore you have to plan how to replace them
  • Draw up a replacement strategy before it happens – a bit like the papers already have obituaries written for the famous, do the same – will we need an interim? Can we promote? Do we have a target list of individuals? Should we bring in a headhunter? Do we have a budget? Ensure that these documents clearly state that this is risk management strategy, and keep them highly confidential.
  • Start to keep a record of those who you interview especially those who impressed but were unsuccessful
  • Consider investing in a recruitment management system that allows you flexibility, it makes tracking people a lot easier, there are several excellent systems available some of which are highly scalable from the smallest of operations to the largest and can be surprisingly reasonable round cost
  • Build close relations with your trusted recruitment suppliers (you would say that, you’re a headhunter these days! I hear you cry. Yes, I am but I’ve also had to design and implement these strategies. Keep the effective ones close and draw them into confidence, it will ensure you have a quick go to solution as well as hopefully keep them from headhunting your key staff) get them to work with you, and be selective in who you use. It’s not jam jars or wheat you are buying, it’s talent.
  • Start to keep organisation charts of your competitors, these don’t have to be complex but it helps if you know who is on the x team at so and so or who the senior management team are at the factory in Bristol. You can gather this information from a number of sources, Linkedin, CVs, conferences etc. Even if it is just a simple black book, write it down, it is easy to forget.
  • Check to see if there is a company succession plan in place and if so, how realistic is it, succession plans are often created to tick boxes rather than to implement. Even if there is a plan in place, you might want to draw up a specific strategy for those key roles.
  • Check with senior management, do they foresee any change in the role should the key employee leave? Again, stress this is risk management, you don’t want to build a constructive dismissal case by mistake!
  • If you outsource your recruitment, don’t outsource the management or process of recruiting key staff, it is too vital to your business area and your value as an HR Business Partner to rely on a service who is not directly answerable to your employer. Keep tight control of the process and insist on being involved even if procurement force you to use an RPO. Keep tight control of your suppliers and go out of your way to support line managers and add value at interview time, it will pay dividends and ensure that the right candidate is professionally handled and flattered from day one and minimise the risk of them being inadvertently put off the opportunity by clumsy, inexperienced communication or interviewing.
  • Get this bit right and your life will be easier when the new key employee comes on board, you will already have a relationship with them and they will already see the value you can bring to their role.

 

This just scratches the surface, some organisations spend significant funds in building talent management and pipelines. However, just because your employer doesn’t it doesn’t mean you can’t do so on a local or micro scale. The starting point should be risk management anyway, which people can you not afford to lose – then work backwards from that. It doesn’t require much to make a huge difference and if you initiate this you’ll get major brownie points. Bear in mind the points above and it will not only allow you to get on the front foot but you may even shower yourself in glory as you miraculously produce a confident strategy, or even the CVs of the replacements at the very meeting their despairing manager gives you the news that they are off. If you get really stuck give me a bell.

 

With over 20 years experience in recruitment and talent management Richard Palmer has worked as both poacher and gamekeeper. He designed and rolled out the first in-house search team in the public sector and has hands on experience of designing and implementing talent pipelining and management strategies in several industries. He now works as a headhunter, talent consultant and interim management specialist in the UK Food industry.

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.