#NZLEAD PREVIEW: Headhunting

Scott Bentley Bio

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)



Perry Tims Bio

So this is my second UK-takeover of the best twitter chat for HR professionals on the planet.  #nzlead quite literally puts the ding in my Thursday twitter feed and a weekly dose of professional chat and contemplation over 140 character bursts.

It also chimes with a theme we’re working on here in the UK, #BraveHR as part of the ConnectingHR social HR practitioners community.  So this theme then: #BraveHR.  What is it?  Why are we talking about it and what will it get us if we are that?

Some people have blogged about it ALREADY.  Doug Shaw’s is a good read about Fear here and then there was Neil Morrison’s 10 Point Agenda for HR here and there’s been some twitter chat on #BraveHR – and there will be more.

I reflected on the title, on the likely discussion this would lead to and on my own experiences of being in organisational development/change and HR.  Was I ever brave?  If so when and what did it get me?  Is there any point in being brave inside a corporate organisation or is it best to go “head down and just get through”?  Is there a need to be braver when you run your own business?

Anyway, I may muse further on these but I also got to thinking about many of my past HR colleagues and connections and thought about the same questions.  Have they been brave?  If they were brave, why? What did it get them?

And I came up short.  They weren’t brave at all.  On the outside it looked that way anyway.  They were predictable, safe, reliable, steadfast, bureaucratic, process-driven, a bit 2-dimensional, moderately successful but nonetheless successful, by the book, tidy.  Brave?  Nope.  Not apparently.

There were times when they were involved in tribunal cases, mediation cases, restructure difficulties and Union negotiations.  Were they brave then?  Not by my definition.  They were firm, safety conscious, tactical, followed a process, kept tight documentary trails and often, they “won”.  I say won, because they got what the organisation was after – a resolution that didn’t cost them a lot in £’s and reputational damage.  Still not brave though.

So in my definition #BraveHR is this – Standing out and being different – being you whilst still part of a collective. 

A couple of examples to explain my point somewhat.

  1. Not accepting mediocrity in your colleagues, business and profession.  Mediocrity is the scourge of human success.  I would rather someone try to punch above their weight than be resplendent coasting along on cruise control “just” getting by.  What a waste of human potential and skill.  This needs calling out but not necessarily in a street-brawl kind of way.   More in a stimulating, energising inspiring way. # BraveHR in this example here means sticking to the principle that people are inherently capable of great things.  Instead of forcing that from people, HR creates conditions where that comes out naturally or with some stimulation – that takes bravery in my book.  Brave because for some HR folks, that’s too ideological and takes too much effort.

And then there’s another frame.

  1. Holding your nerve and believing in yourself in creating a better way.  Having confidence in yourself, your beliefs and your ways is not always easy.  Have you ever:
    1. Been persuaded down a path you’re not convinced by via experienced heads around you?
    2. Deferred to organisational hierarchical power or strong views put across by lead figures?
    3. Accepted a norm or a situation because you don’t have all the answers?
    4. Had a controversial line that others are scared by, confused by, laugh at you for so you backed off or watered down your ideas?

ALL these things have happened to me.  I can guarantee you one thing; when I compromised because of politics, hierarchy, self-doubt or just plain conciliatory thinking things didn’t work out.  I am to blame for that because I adjusted my way and I wasn’t brave enough to stand firm and hold my nerve.  Believe in myself.

When I changed my approach to this, I got some success, some things still didn’t work out but I felt better about it.  Better because I was brave.  I began to enjoy being controversial and different.  I revelled in it somewhat.  I broke more rules and I became a bit of a rebel.

So for me, #BraveHR isn’t about taking on the big jobs in global corporate or big ticket assignments necessarily.  It isn’t about being a fighter, an angry provoker/verbal jouster, it isn’t about kicking ass and putting the Dictator in HRD.  It is about YOU.  Being true to you; standing firm about you and what you believe in as a human being and a professional who is there to make organisations and human beings “work”.

#BraveHR is in all of us.  If we believe in ourselves.

My four questions are:-

Q1 – Why does HR need to be brave – are IT, Finance and Marketing brave?

Q2 – Taken we need more BraveHR – how and where do we focus that effort?

Q3 – If people in HR aren’t brave enough what do we do about that?

Q4 – What will be the signs that BraveHR has made a difference?

#NZLEAD RECAP: The Best Career Mistakes

It was great to read all the career mistakes that have happened to people. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting our participants to be so open about what they had been through in their careers and some of the things that had happened.

Some great ones that I liked:

and for a laugh…..

I’m not really sure what I expected, I am normally hesitant to voice mistakes in the public realm, but everyone just got stuck in and provided their mistakes left, right and centre. It was inspiring to see experienced professionals talk about mistakes they had made and offer their learning. It is easy to provide generic advice around what should be done and how it should be handled, but the advice provided was so down to earth and real. It was like everyone in our tweet chat knew each other and wanted to help each other learn and grow.

At the networking event where I presented on using twitter and the benefits, some attendees said to me afterwards “engaging with HR professionals on twitter provides a support network. HR professionals need to stick together and help each other”. This is very right. #NZLEAD offers a community support network where we can openly talk about things we have learned and how best to manage mistakes etc. This week’s chat for me was exactly that. It showed me that I have a community of professionals (not just HR) to tap into and ask for advice.

Talking about making career mistakes is important. I think that is why LinkedIn ran a series on exactly this called “My Best Career Mistake”. If we aren’t prepared to talk about slip ups, stupid decisions and bad mistakes, how do we expect others to know how best to deal with a similar situation? Yes, we should all learn from our own mistakes but how much better would we cope if we knew that there were similar situations out there (even happening to experienced people!).

Some great advice I will be taking on board:

There is so much more, we will have the storify up soon!

If you have some great advice, or learned some good techniques from your experiences share them here! We can all continue learning and we need to remember – it isn’t weak to talk about mistakes. It’s only weak if you never learn from them!

And we’ll leave you with this tweet from Mark who dislikes Cats (which some of us HR types talk about them too much):