Are you a Headhunter or Search Consultant?

I will go on the record that I don’t like the term “Headhunter” although I know it is often well deserved. I believe it best refers to recruiters who “broker Resumes.” I’ve also heard the term, “Drive By Resume-Shooter” which is apropos. Candidate’s resumes are available in abundance today online. You don’t have to be a recruiter to find active candidates. Let’s face it, all you need to become a recruiter is a telephone and a computer with internet access. That is all one needs in order to qualify them as a “recruiter.” Recruiting takes many forms today and the kind of recruiting that has the greatest value to any organization is one of a true Consultant. Companies will often utilize multiple different recruiters and will task them with different searches to suit their needs. I have no problem with this as I accept that there are different types of recruiters. However, if you are one of those “Headhunters” who are chasing fees through volume, don’t expect to So what kind of recruiter are you? Recruiters who are relegated to the bottom of the “food chain” are what I call “Headhunters.” Headhunters are in a race to the “most available” candidates. The quickest draw often wins the fee with “Headhunters.”

If you are a recruiter and you want to have a meaningful career in search, you better become a Consultant to your clients or you will forever be classified as a “Headhunter” or “Flesh Peddler.” I have found that most “self respecting” Headhunters eventually either become Consultants or eventually place themselves back into a “real job” because of the lack of respect as a “Headhunter.” As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of this type of recruiter and every chance that I get, I encourage people to elevate their game. before you can elevate your game, you need to know where you stand on Search Scale. Are you a Headhunter or a Search Consultant, or somewhere in between? To know whether you are a true Search Consultant or merely a Headhunter, there are a few questions that you must ask yourself and your answers will make the case. The first question is” do you have full, unadulterated access to the decision maker? Or is there an HR person who keeps you under wraps and only allows “supervised visits” while you discuss whatever you need to with the real decision maker. If HR is in control of your every move, then chances are, you’re just a “Headhunter.” The next question is, after an interview, do you debrief the decision maker directly or do you get informed of the decision to move forward to the next stage or not? If you are not able to discuss the interview live with your decision maker, then you are not a valued part of the process. The extent of your contribution is “headhunting.” That isn’t all bad, I guess, if that is all that you aspire to. If you have gone to the length of recruiting passive people, then you have an obligation to both candidate and client to discuss the outcome of the interview and illuminate aspects and qualities of the candidate that were not on display in the first interview. This is what a true Search Consultant does. Presuming that you have spent hours on the phone with this person and vetted them, you will know them far better than the interviewer can in a single call.

Most headhunters will never elevate themselves to the level of a Search Consultant. They will remain in the periphery only to get second-hand information from HR. If this is you, there are things that can be done now to change the way that you work and are perceived by your client. If you can’t convey the value that you bring and the need for direct and timely feedback, then you will likely never make it.


You Can’t Fix “Stupid”

You can’t argue with the statement that “Some People are just average,” and some do really stupid things. If you work at a company that has significant issues, more than likely they’re a product of someone’s doing and not without cause. Some people have developed useless products that cannot compete in the marketplace. Some companies have developed solid products, but failed to develop the right marketing strategy and the product failed to launch. In other cases, the product and strategy were strong, yet sales were flat due to weak sales management and execution. In each case, the common denominator is that people screwed things up. Where do bad products and strategies come from anyway? People! Yes, well-meaning people who either lacked the ability to conceive of or execute what the market needed to produce the right outcome. Regardless of where the blame is laid, the buck stops at the top of the org chart.

Executive leadership must quickly recognize when the wrong people are in the wrong place in their organization. They must identify the heart of the problem and find the solution or else they will, themselves, be at risk. Where is the solution to the problem, you ask? It is in the mind of a person or persons who have yet to be exposed to the problem. The solution to virtually every problem that exists in your company has a name. Your answer in times of trouble is PEOPLE! The easy part is the “gap analysis” to figure out what is missing. The challenge is finding the best person to replace them who possesses the right stuff to bring fresh perspective and creativity to bear and fix the problem. Let’s be honest, all people are not equal, despite the prevalence of “Participation Trophies.” Our culture hates to admit that there are those who “Over-Achieve,” those who “Achieve” and those who “Under-Achieve.” Not everyone who dons an LA Lakers jersey is a “Kobe Bryant.” Admittedly, it is possible that an “Under-Achiever” could possibly be an “Over-Achiever” in a different area, function or company. It depends upon their “mosaic” of competency, character and chemistry. Different people have different talents, experiences, abilities, skills-natural and learned.

Any executive whose company is experiencing difficulty must find the right people to solve their organizations toughest problems. Prior to starting this process, the executive must evaluate whether they CAN hire an “Over-Achiever”. Not all companies are capable of doing this based upon a variety of factors, ie. culture, value proposition, compensation. Is the company one where people are empowered, or is the culture one of politics and fear? It won’t do you any good to hire the right kind of person to solve your complex problems if they are not enabled to thrive in the environment with autonomy. This caliber of person must have the freedom to do what they deem necessary to fix the problems or they will not be effective. This is why so many smaller companies out-perform larger ones. The larger companies are stuck in a political rut. The hierarchy has become the driving force in the company and no longer the ideas that people create. When this happens, people who are visionaries become stifled and grow frustrated and before you know it, they’ve moved on. Before you hire one of these Over-Achievers and task them with fixing your problems, you’ve got to determine if the problem is Systemic or not. If your problem is systemic as in cultural, you must concurrently address this problem or suffer. Even cultural problems are a result of having the wrong people in control and can be improved by the right leadership. Notice that I didn’t say, “New Leadership,” because the best person for the role may already be in a different role within the company. Be ready for things to get shaken up if you are addressing a cultural issue. Most often changes of this sort are very welcome to the rank and file. Regardless of your problem, you must find the right person to solve the problem. Sometimes, it takes a fresh perspective, one with objectivity to identify the source of the problem. Whether the best person to address the problem is within or needs to be recruited, it requires action!

The point that I am driving home is that EVERY problem in a company has its solution in a PERSON. How you arrive at that point is up to you.

The Problem With Recruiters

The problem with recruiters is that most of them are focused on “closing the deal” and all else is just details. They will do anything necessary to simply make a placement and invoice their customer. They don’t have their customer’s best interests at heart. His only concern is getting paid and getting past the guarantee period!

Sad, but true for many, if not most recruiters. Oh sure, they “care” about the outcome. But not more than they care about submitting an invoice. In most cases, they are not committed to the success of their clients. They are committed to doing whatever is necessary to obtain a fee for services. This is almost universally true of contingency recruiters and sadly even true for many in the retained camp. It’s a basic human flaw that people are “self” first and “others” second. It is rare to find a recruiter who will do the right thing when they must decide between telling the truth and remaining silent. There is a lot at stake for a recruiter in the short term, and it takes incredible character to do the right thing when there is a large sum of money at risk. There is a sacred trust in a relationship with a company and it’s recruiter. My belief is that very few of them make the right choices when facing this dilemma.

Here are some examples of What is Wrong with Recruiters:

A. Over-preparing candidates on how to appeal to all of the hiring managers’ “hot buttons”
B. Editing a resume to cover up “red flags”
C. Pressuring both candidates and hirers to make a decision that may not be in their best long-term interests
D. Not searching for the best candidates, but only skimming the “low hanging fruit” of the Internet
E. “Flinging” resumes of people they haven’t vetted nor received permission from
F. Presenting the same candidate to multiple companies in order to create greater urgency
G. Concealing obvious flaws of their candidates

These are some of the problems with recruiters and “just cause” for HR to suspect bad behavior from them. Considering these examples, is it any surprise the industry has a poor reputation?

There is much that can be done to positively impact this bad rap, but it must start with recruiters doing the right thing at every turn. It is simply the best way to build your practice and reputation. It requires seeing beyond the short term financial gain and believing that by doing what is right for your client, you are building a business with honor and integrity, and by doing it this way, you will get repeat business. As i said, it is the right way to build both your business and reputation. If you can’t stay in business doing it right, you really should get out. There are far easier ways to make a living. Besides, you’re bringing down an entire industry!

Bad behavior isn’t right no matter how many placements you make! Do us all a favor and go do something else!

HR’s Double Standard

The purpose of this post is NOT to vent, but to highlight some of the oddities that I have observed as I have been in search for more than 12 years.

I have a client that retained my firm to hire a Vice President of Sales for a $250mm division of a larger Medical Device company. This was a repeat client with whom I had placed three other VP’s in the past, albeit with a different division. Working with different HR executives at this company, I acknowledge that each has a unique approach and style. With one of their HR executives, it went quite well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as lucky with the others.

After extensive recruiting and vetting, we presented a slate of candidates and scheduled an array of telephone interviews for the President to meet these prospects. What happened next was an example of a double standard coming from HR that they don’t seem to recognize. For the second time in a matter of two weeks time, the President, who was scheduled for a telephone interview with a VP prospect, had to cancel the interview only minutes before the call would be placed. This didn’t happen once, but twice! After the second cancellation, my candidate made a snarky comment about the recurrence and eventually, said that he understood and would be flexible.

The irony is that the same HR person informed me that because a different candidate cancelled his interview only a few hours before his interview due to a conflict with his schedule at his current company, her company was no longer interested in interviewing him stating that “he didn’t show enough interest and it obviously wasn’t important enough to him to keep his appointment.” So here I find myself wondering why it is NOT OK for the candidate to cancel the interview on short notice but it IS OK for them to do the same thing not once, but twice!

Could this HR person be that out of touch with their own reality? Is this Double Standard acceptable? Is the Customer Always Right?

I would love to know what others think…

The Problem with HR

This series will focus on some of the things that HR does wrong. I guess I need to start with a disclaimer saying that there are a lot of things that HR does well. I am speaking in generalities of course, but HR is really good at spearheading policies and procedures. They are quite good at keeping all the regulatory records required by our oppressive government and administering benefits such as health insurance and 401K’s. There are various and sundry other things that HR is quite effective at doing. Furthermore, I find that many HR people that I have worked with are extremely dedicated and put it extraordinary efforts and extremely long hours. Having said that, most HR executives that I have seen are sort of “Jacks of All Trades,” when it comes to juggling many different priorities in a company. Their problems have to do with recruiting. Recruiting is a function of sales & marketing and let’s face it, if HR folks were interested in sales & marketing, they would have pursued that as a career, but they didn’t. Recruiting is the life-blood of any company regardless of its stage or size.

The problem with HR is that they seem to think that because they have a job description and a basic understanding of the roles and responsibilities, they therefore know what it takes to be successful in identifying, attracting and compelling someone to join their company. It is obvious to me that the vast majority of HR peeps have an inability to identify talent, and that is just the beginning. I don’t blame them for this because it is an extremely complex formula that requires a deep understanding of the skill sets and context of the position that you are recruiting for and the psychology of bringing someone from the point of indifference to interest. In a recent blog that I read called “People Who Suck Don't Know They Suck” I instantly thought of 90% of the HR people I’ve worked with over the years who have no clue how to assess talent or recruit talent, yet they are convinced that it is one of their core competencies. I believe this is one of the reasons for the tension that is often present between HR and Executive Search Consultants.

The proof is in the pudding. Not only are most of their hiring processes over-engineered, they are inflexible to the nuances of a successful recruiting process. It requires acute insight into the mind and soul of a person to persuade them to consider a major life change. HR doesn’t seem to fully understand that all people cannot be processed through a check list and evaluated exactly the same even though they are being considered for the same position. Most HR types seem to be under the impression that prospects need to fit into their neatly wrapped hiring process when the best person to determine the ideal process is the one who understands their motivation and the unique triggers that would entice them to make a move. The most effective searches I’ve conducted either didn’t have an HR person involved because it was a start-up or the senior executive took the reigns away from HR and circumvented the sanctioned process and hired the candidate that they wanted. I can’t recall a well executed search where there was an internal HR executive who led the process. The successful searches I’ve conducted with larger companies have been where the HR executive deferred to me and played a supportive role in the process. I fully appreciate that many of them are very reluctant to yield control of the process because they either have reason not to trust the Search Consultant or they simply have “control issues.” I have seen it both ways. The point that I am making is that HR plays an vital role in companies, but when it comes to recruiting talent they are best as a support to the Executive Search Consultant and not the lead.

Alright, now let the bullets fly…

Helping the Unemployed Secure Their Next Job

Admittedly, my blog was never meant to be a resource for job seekers. My focus is on the Executive Search space and recruiting. However, I am struck by what I often see as executives who seem lost in a quagmire while trying to find their next position. This is especially true when they have been let go for whatever reason. I find all too often that the individual loses their achievement drive and stop believing in themselves. They feel dependent upon a recruiter to help them find the next best thing. The longer that this process takes, the more disjointed the individual seems and more desperate they often become. My heart goes out to these folks as I have seen many of them struggle for several months in a strangely awkward place. They seem lost! Their confidence is shaken and it is as though they have forgotten who they are and what got them to where they are.

Once in a while I must exhibit some tough love to these folks. When I do, it usually looks something like this: “Listen my friend, you need to turn your search up side down and quit looking to others like me to be your answer. You are a successful executive who has managed to make your own success. You’ve got to dig deep to remember how you did it the first time and ignite that passion once again. You have to quit expecting another to advocate on your behalf. You must make your own success! Quit being passive and merely talking to recruiters and friends. Go outside your comfort zone and attack your job search with the intensity and vigor that you would if “finding a phenomenal job” WAS your job! Be your own consultant and advocate. Knock down the barriers in your job search just like you would if someone was paying you to do it. There is no better display of your passion and will to win. If you can’t do this on your own behalf, who else can?”

Sometimes, extreme times call for extreme measures. I don’t like being “that guy!” But, sometimes, I feel that it’s just what they need to hear in order to crank up their engine again and motivate them to snap out of it. If I’ve done this for you and it helped, great! If I’ve done it to you and it didn’t help, at least I tried. Godspeed!

Lesson learned from being a Contingency Recruiter

In January 2000, I bought a recruiting franchise and attended a three week intensive training program at the corporate headquarters in Cleveland. While I sat in the classroom for 12 hours per day, I was indoctrinated by the best of them. They retrained me from my prior form as a consultive sales person into a “Headhunter.” Needless to say, I was drowning in a sea of new information and was disoriented by a completely different approach to business than I was previously exposed to. At first it was refreshing to have a new beginning in a new industry. By week three, Doug, the expert trainer, used this phrase to summarize the “Marketing” call content. “I’ve got what you need, what do you need? 30%.”. This was the fundamental purpose of the call we were to make to Hiring Authorities in order to convince them to work with us. I’m not sure how many of my classmates felt as I did, but it just didn’t feel right to me. To say I have what they need, before knowing what they need, was a stretch to say the least, but it was only the tip of the iceberg.

The whole approach of the marketing call made it feel like I was a disingenuous boiler room- telemarketer who placed dozens of cold calls to key decision makers to convince them to agree to the terms of my agreement.

I would know nothing about my potential client and yet pretend to know exactly why they needed. This was a normal part of the business of Contingency Search. It became clear to me that this technique was not for me. I went on to learn many other nuances to the business of contingency search that made it ultimately impossible for me to continue in it. This little thing is the tip of the iceberg of the dishonest “tricks of the trade.”. Many Headhunters don’t understand why they have such a poor reputation. Perhaps it is because they have no issues misrepresenting facts.

What do you think?