When I told my employers about my guest contribution to #nzlead they made fun of my love of social media. They then suggested I write it under a pseudonym in case real headhunters ousted me as a pretender. I guess that is fair as I’m really a researcher and contract resource manager with just a touch of high-end IT search and selection. However. I really love headhunting, there is a definite art to it and I find it a really enjoyable process. It can be considered the most rewarding form of recruitment with the best outcome delivered to all parties.
Some of my recent wins have been in industries I don’t normally engage with and where having a LinkedIn profile is not the norm. I was talking to a recruiter in one of these industries the other day and I have to say I really respect what they do. You can’t just whip up a Boolean string and find the person you’re looking for. They really need to know the guy who knows the guy who knows the guy. I respect “old school” networking and as much as I love my twitter, LinkedIn and various other social media channels, I know that my business is my phone (Samsung not apple – but let’s not start that argument here).
For the purposes of our discussion I think it is important to understand the differences between a headhunter or headhunting firm and the headhunting techniques that more generalist practitioners can use to improve outcomes. A headhunter is a specialist third-party recruiter. Their services are employed when usual recruitment techniques have failed or when searching for highly specialised individuals often at the top of their field. Headhunters are arguably the pioneers of what we now call “Social Recruiting”. Their work is exclusive and retained with fees often exceeding 30% of a successfully placed candidates annual salary. But 50% is not unheard of for some of the big players in cities like London and New York.
The employment arrangements for a true headhunter look very different to that of a Recruitment Consultant. Headhunters are often freelance and, although attached to a firm, it is the firm that gets a piece of the headhunter’s action rather than the other way round. So, for you agency recruiters out there think about your employer receiving your commission and you taking the lion’s share of that income. Remember however that a true headhunter assumes the risk that your employer takes by having you as a member of staff; it can be a high risk and high reward operation.
I mentioned of course that a headhunter’s work is exclusive. A good indicator (for any candidates reading) of a recruiters worth, is their willingness to be open about who their clients are. If they own that relationship then they won’t be worried about you going directly to the employer or trying to pick up the engagement through your agency of choice. They are that client’s trusted advisor and it is their responsibility to find the best person for that position. This is not always possible. But if your recruiter seems confident in discussing who they represent, you can bet you are talking to someone with a very real career opportunity. Another characteristic of the trusted adviser is dual branded advertising; this means that the employer in question values their recruiter enough that they want all response to go to them. A good indicator, but not one to rely on entirely, as some of the best recruiters never touch a job board these days they find you!
Headhunters work with researchers rather than the resourcers that many agency recruiters have attached to their teams. This is also a specialist role at the same level as the headhunter. It’s the researcher’s job to know everything about their market. They need to be true industry experts. A headhunter with an IT specialisation is part of the IT industry rather than the HR or recruitment industry and, with only a handful of true headhunter’s operating in our little corner of the world, our discussion is going to focus on headhunting techniques and what we can learn from these specialists.
Headhunting means different things to different people. There are a few different definitions online and I am aware that, for many, headhunting is just a synonym for Executive Search. In my mind I’m headhunting when I know exactly who I want to engage with and exactly the role I want them for. I’m going to contact the person, have a conversation and start a process that (hopefully) progresses all the way through to that person starting and succeeding in the role I have identified for them. I don’t consider myself to be completely successful unless my candidate is unaware that I have “headhunted” them (this is a personal thought rather than an accepted convention of the profession).
I like to help people make the realisation that they want the opportunity that I am presenting; I want them to have ownership of that decision and ownership of the process. A headhunt call from me will seem more like a curiosity call or a request for expertise. Once I have the “targeted candidate” on board there will be multiple opportunities to discuss and, with a little careful steering, my new candidate should feel like they have decided now is a good time to look at their options. This isn’t new or ground breaking but this is how I deliver the experience, and it is important to define my position on what headhunting is before moving onto the questions I want to discuss.
So, I would like your input and experiences around headhunting,
Q1) Can an HR professional or Internal Recruiter truly headhunt effectively based on my definition? Should they? Why or Why not?
Q2) Is there a defined process out there on how to successfully headhunt? Is this shared knowledge or best kept secrets?
Q3) What is best practice when it comes to headhunting?
Q4) How can we use social media more to headhunt effectively and efficiently?
Also… the Big Sleepout.
I will be sleeping rough in Auckland City raising awareness and funds with the aim of ending homelessness in New Zealand. Lifewise is an awesome charitable organisation and thanks to the Telecom Foundation 100% of funds donated will go to this important cause. It would be great if you could take a moment and follow this link. Donations or taking the time to share this event within your networks will be greatly appreciated.
Scott Bentley (@scotty_bentley)