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Secrets of a Corporate Headhunter

June 1, 2000
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Thescene is played out every day. The chief financial officer just turned in his notice. Weneed a replacement now. I don’t care how you do it, just do it. Consider it yournumber one priority. This will have a definite impact on your year-end bonus. And so theprocess begins.

Thehunt for an executive can and will have a huge impact on the success or failure of yourcareer and your company’s survival. A new executive can enrich or devastate the livesof hundreds or thousands of people who work for a company. It’s an awesomeresponsibility. But the thrill of the hunt, the buzz of the catch, selling the sizzle, andclosing in for the kill can be a galvanizing experience. It can also be an exercise inutter humility if you don’t have the proper tools, skills, and techniques to get thejob done.

Howand why should you take on the mantle of a corporate headhunter? Should you outsource itto an executive recruiter? What are the top secrets for finding and keeping incrediblepeople who can do wonders for your company? Below are just a few tips to keep in mind whenventuring into the illusive waters of executive recruiting.

  1.  Replaceyour HR hat with a steel helmet.

    Don’twait for your boss to start barking commands when a recruiting crisis develops. You needto formulate a plan and take massive action. Getting out of the administration arena andinto the executive suite should be your first order of business. Anyone can administrate.Few can navigate the choppy waters of the search game. That’s why many companies willhire professional executive search firms to get the job done. It’s quick, stealthy,and very expensive.

    Aprofessional search firm can easily cost your company $20,000 or more and there may not beany guarantees, depending on the type of recruiter you use. You need to convince your bossand yourself that you can do this. The savings factor alone will practically be a shoo-infor you. But you will need to trade in your HR hat for a steel helmet. This is a toughgame. Learning how to deal with rejection requires a certain amount of stamina,persistence, and a strong backbone.

  2. Salespeoplearen’t born, but it helps to have a good mouthpiece.

    Let’sface it, you’re either outgoing or reserved in various shades and flavors. If youhave a deadly fear of picking up the phone and talking to a total stranger about thewonderful opportunities that exist in your company, then it will be a hard hill to climb.The casualties of failure come in many dimensions in recruiting war games, such asdemotion, transfer, outplacement, or termination. There is a certain amount of risk in theexecutive hunt.

    Ifyou’re up for the challenge and can deal with the stress, then go for it. Don’tunderestimate what you can accomplish, but at the same time, don’t overestimate yourcapabilities. Some people don’t have the stomach for headhunting. Hey, it’s notfor everyone.

  3. Penetratinga company’s armor is nothing to be ashamed of.

    Somepeople have strong reservations about calling another company in an attempt to lure aquality person away. Let’s set the record straight. We live in a competitiveenvironment. We’re looking for a quality product at the best price. If your companyoffers a bigger and better lollipop, then start spreading the news. Competition is thekind of stuff that has helped make America great! If a company does not want to lose itsgood people, then it needs to put the proper mechanisms in place to ward off a potentialrecruiting assault. If another company has more to offer to a candidate, then that personwould be foolish not to at least listen to what the other side has to say. Sometimes thegrass really is greener, especially if your turf offers more in perks, pay, and a fun workenvironment.

    Anotherargument is that you should not try to recruit an otherwise happy, loyal employee. Theconcept of corporate loyalty has practically vanished from the face of Corporate America.Through the unending avalanche of mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, and mass terminationsacross the land, employees of today are more loyal to themselves and their families thanto mother corporate. While loyalty is great, it shouldn’t be a factor in therecruiting game. In fact, giving people an opportunity to work for more efficient andproductive companies will help to weed out those companies that are underperforming.

  4. Ifthe candidate isn’t a player, break the news quickly.

    Theworst thing you can do is string a person along because you find it uncomfortable to bethe deliverer of bad news. Don’t postpone the inevitable. If a candidate is notqualified, don’t beat around the bush. Your time is money and to prolong a negativedecision is unfair to the candidate.

    Formost human resource directors, the standard rejection letter is the most common mechanismfor communicating the veto. But when you’re dealing with the high rollers inCorporate America, either a phone call or an informal e-mail outlining the two or threereasons for striking out is the best approach. First of all, most executives can deal withrejection and will appreciate your candor. They might even be gracious enough to give youa referral -- and if they don’t, then you should certainly feel free to ask for one.It’s pure business, and as a headhunter, you’re obligated to ask the question.It goes with the territory.

  5. Onceyou find a winner, start selling the sizzle.

     Manyhuman resource recruiters will put the candidate through the ringer before they startselling the opportunity. Big mistake. You should not be spending the bulk of your timeweeding out 80 percent of the candidates through lengthy interrogations. That Perry Masonmentality should be left to the lawyers in the courtrooms of America. Playing therejection game is simply not an economical way to spend your time. You’ll have plentyof opportunity to check out the candidate’s credentials, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

    Youneed to develop a short list of critical factors that can quickly determine if you have aplayer. These factors should be objective and measurable. There are no gray areas. Onceyou have a world-class candidate, you need to sell the sizzle and get your candidateexcited and curious about the opportunity. The hard questions should come later. Rightnow, you are building rapport, trust ,and a fabulous opportunity.

  6. Ifyou want to sell candidates, know the house they live in.

     Whenyou start to pontificate about all the great things your company has, your candidate ismaking an immediate comparison and assessment of your company in relation to his company.You may be talking about things that are totally meaningless to the candidate. The key isto put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and try to see the opportunity from his orher point of view. Once you know your competitors, you will be in an excellent position tomake this determination. This is powerful. If you sound knowledgeable and can relate toyour candidate’s situation, you will succeed in winning him or her over.

    Butyour challenge does not end there. By asking the right, open-ended questions, you canquickly find out about the candidate’s hot buttons. Then you can tailor your sizzleto the candidate’s needs and desires. You must take the time to understand yourcompetitor’s strengths, weaknesses, strategies, sales plans, and more important, whatthey are doing that is frustrating to their current employees. A lot of companies are verygood at frustrating their employees.

  7. Thereal interview starts after the candidate is fully pumped.

    Whateveryou do, don’t start the interview off with a canned, dull list of dry questions takenverbatim out of some book you stumbled upon in a book store. First, get the big picture.If you are interviewing a sales executive, get a quick profile of what was accomplished.Look at the candidate’s performance last year: total accounts sold, total revenue,size of account, length of sales cycle, key contact, type of account, gross profit margin.Start with the big picture and then drill down on the details.

    Youdo need to ask the same questions of every candidate, but make sure they provide you withthe information you need to make an intelligent decision. Once you have arrived at adecision, make sure you can communicate the basis of your recommendation to your boss. Youdon’t want to be asked a question by your boss when you don’t know the answer.

Whilethe trend these days is to outsource recruiting to professional headhunters, there aremany companies out there that cannot afford the huge fees that recruiters demand. Any ofthese companies can jump into the recruiting game if they are lucky enough to have theright talent in-house to get the job done. Learning how to recruit executive talent can bea fun process and can certainly add a new dimension to any human resource professional’srepertoire of talents. Happy hunting!   

Workforce,June 2000, Vol. 79, No. 6, pp. 195-198 -- Subscribe now!

 

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