03 March, 2011

Answers To Questions About Working With Headhunters

Lately, I've been getting some questions about headhunting and headhunters. How to "hire" a headhunter to find you a job. How to attract headhunters.

Since I'm not interested in writing about boring, "inside baseball" stuff and since I'm not interested in starting a war with headhunters whose methods I dislike, I'm going to use the question of how to work with a headhunter as an excuse to show readers how to exploit this arcane information in your job search whether or not you ever talk to a headhunter.

First of all, headhunters don't usually "find" candidates that were previously unknown to their clients nor do headhunters usually bring their clients candidates they couldn't have "found" for themselves. This was true in 1993 when I first started "finding" talent for a a few clients and, in the age of Linkedin and Google, it's even more true today. Over the years I have placed nurses, respiratory therapists, sales reps, managers, engineers, architects, marketing gurus, pharmacists, etc., with clients only to find that my client either (a) already knew the person they had just paid me to find or (b) my client could have easily found this candidate for themselves by leveraging their existing network of professional contacts. After I have arranged a meeting between the client and the successful candidate, we learn that Bob in accounting knows the new hire from a previous job or Sally from R&D knows the candidate from a civic group or the hiring manager actually knows the candidate from church or because their kids go to the same school. 

On a few occasions, clients have actually provided me with the names of people they wanted me to recruit.

"Why" you may be wondering, "would an employer pay a headhunter to "find" someone he has already found?" There are several reasons: A lot of employers are like insecure high school boys who won't ask the pretty cheerleader to the dance until he knows for sure the answer is "yes". Also, employers don't want to lose the upper hand in salary and benefits negotiations so they don't want the desired candidate to know he or she is on the short list of preferred candidates. If the headhunter fee is less than the salary, perks and benefits advantage the candidate would gain by knowing how badly the employer wants him, it makes sense to pay the headhunter, not the candidate. 

Notice that if the hiring manager wants to talk to you about a job but he doesn't want to appear too eager, it really doesn't matter if you're brought to him by a headhunter or by Karen in marketing who knows you from a previous job. 

Knowing that employers are so bad at leveraging their own networks that they will actually pay headhunters to bring them candidates they could have "found" and hired without the headhunter provides you, the job seeker, with a great opportunity to exploit their ignorance or laziness. How? Networking is a 2-way street. If the boss is too lazy or too networking-challenged to use the network that connects the two of you together, then you can use the network the boss is ignoring.  

Remember the list I told you how to make 2 posts ago? Perhaps Karen in marketing is on that list and perhaps the hiring manager wants to talk to you but he'd rather somebody brought you to him. You need a job, right? is Karen from marketing on the list? Call Karen and ask her to be your professional co-signer.

Second, make yourself easy to find and contact. Headhunters and enlightened employers use Linkedin. to identify people with the right degree or the right experience so make sure your Linkedin profile has actual contact info on it and make sure it's replete with all the appropriate buzzwords that show off your SKEs - skills, knowledge and experience. When using Linkedin to identify prospective candidates, a headhunter may type "P&L" instead of "profit and loss" so put both in your profile. 

About 97% of the Linkedin profiles I see contain no contact info. Make sure either your phone number or your email address or both are on your profile. If you don't know where to put it, look at my profile.

Join Linkedin groups that connect you to the kind of people who might want to hire you and to the people you may have worked with in a previous job. 

This piece of advice may seem counter-intuitive but don't send your resume to headhunters. 

Headhunters prefer "passive" candidates, not "active candidates". I'm not saying you should play hard to get but I am saying that desperation gives off a bad smell that repels everybody. I could write an entire blog post on that last point - and perhaps one day I will - but for now, just know this: there is no reason to send your resume to a headhunter unless he asks for it and has a specific job opening in mind. Sometimes I don't ask for a resume until I've already arranged the meeting between client and candidate. Sometimes I don't even send the client a resume, just my own notes on what I know about the candidate. 

Finally - and this may be the most important thing I can tell you about working with headhunters - it wouldn't have been necessary for the employer to secure the services of a headhunter had the employer's existing network brought employer and candidate together so work proactively to network yourself to the employer whether or not there's a job opening that you know about. If Bob in accounting or Sally in R&D are on that legal pad list I told you how to make two posts ago, call them and get yourself recommended to your next boss. 

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