Understanding the headhunting game


THE best CV I’ve ever received came from a well-respected FTSE non-executive director who managed to squeeze his already successful career onto a single page. I love to receive CVs, but paragraphs of superlatives and hyperbole are not very useful. Recruiters work to find candidates who fulfil their clients’ concrete requirements. We look for evidence that you could be sold as a certain type of person: two years’ experience of doing this, a degree in that, for example. Basic information. Don’t risk losing those facts under a medley of words.

LinkedIn can be criminal in this respect. Candidates do not need to say everything about themselves on their profile. Contrary to what many believe, you might be in danger of overplaying your achievements if you do this. You don’t want a recruiter to feel disappointed when they meet you.

Many recruiters conduct their assessments by phone and email. I prefer to meet face-to-face. I do this because it is surprising how often people who seem impressive on paper don’t measure up in person.

This means that you must be interview-ready if you approach a recruiter. While these meetings might be sold to you as a chat (I don’t, but some do), they are a preliminary interview. Many people don’t realise this. For example, I recently interviewed someone who spoke non-stop for 20 minutes before stopping to suggest that I might like to ask some questions. I did but by then I had already lost interest – interviews are a two way process.

Many people look to recruiters to help them move into a new sector. Occasionally this happens, but looking for what a client has asked for comes first.

You need to try to understand the employer’s motivation for enlisting the help of a headhunter. They are hoping to minimise the number of left field candidates that end up on their desk. They want a safe pair of hands that they can feel confident about – why else would they pay someone to look for them?

Most importantly, try not to be put off if you don’t get something you feel qualified for straightaway. The job of a recruiter is to put excellent candidates in front of an employer. This can often mean competitions with more than 200 applicants. You need to accept these are tough odds no matter how good you are. Think of it as good interview practice.

And one final thought: if you feel like you are not being treated fairly by the headhunter or recruitment firm, I would suggest that you gently remind them that you could one day become a client.

Edward Wild is the founder of Wild Search, a headhunter that specialises in leadership and non-executive appointments. Former clients include Odey Asset Management, Conde Nast, the Law Society and the Country Land and Business Association. www.wildsearch.org


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