04 March, 2011

Why Headhunters Prefer "Passive" Candidates

The job search discussion we're having in my Linked Liberals group on Linkedin reveals some misconceptions about headhunters and how to work with them.

Many job seekers think they increase their odds of getting the attention of a headhunter if they send out their resume -unsolicited - to as many headhunters as they can. Wrong. Don't send resumes to headhunters. When you send an unsolicited resume to a headhunter he knows you've also sent it to every other headhunter and employer and that you have wallpapered Corporate America with resumes. The headhunter who receives your unsolicited resume sees you as a lightweight. The headhunter who receives your unsolicited resume would rather work with a "passive" candidate, not an active candidate.

What is a passive candidate? Instead of just giving you a lifeless definition, let me draw you a picture of an actual passive candidate I recruited for a client way back in the early 90s.

My largest client needed a GM for one of their offices in the South. I knew that qualified managers in that market would likely be under non-compete contracts so I focused my attention on markets that were a commute away in hopes of finding someone who would either relocate or commute the adjacent market. Back in those days we didn't have Linkedin and Google so we had to identify good candidates the old-fashioned way. I started with my Rolodex - remember those? - and started calling everybody I knew in the markets surrounding the market in which my client needed the GM. One name kept coming up: Bob Maynard.

"The guy you need for this job is Bob Maynard", they'd say. "I don't know if Bob is looking, but he's great."

Not only was Bob not looking, Bob wouldn't talk to me at first. Bob had a steady job with a company that didn't appreciate him. Bob was underpaid and he probably knew it but, emotionally, he was at a place in his career where he was willing to swap job security for the chance to make more money and get on a track to career advancement. My client offered all that and I knew that if I could just get Bob to talk to me I could get him to meet my client and that when  he met them he'd leave his old employer and come to work for my client. I was right. Bob started as a GM and worked his way up to a VP job. He stayed with my client for 15 years and had what we call "a good run".

Incidentally, while it was a headhunter who got Bob to come in and talk, he was not unknown to my client. People in the organization knew who he was. His reputation had preceded him. All I did was get him to the table but Bob really earned the job by being a great center manager for a competitor.

Bob is the perfect example of a passive candidate. He was a great manager who didn't have a current resume and wasn't looking for a job but deserved a better job than he had. That's a passive candidate. Headhunters love passive candidates.

Had Bob been sending his resume to everybody I could have invested a lot of time in him and lost him to another employer.

I was once an "expert panelist" at a career night event. Someone in the audience asked me how to find headhunters. I said, "You don't find the headhunter, the headhunter finds you - if you're good."

As I've said in previous posts, headhunters network until they find what they need.

But it's still better to be introduced to an employer by your professional co-signer than it is to be introduced by a headhunter. I'll tell you why in tomorrow's post.

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