Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Headhunting - Learning the Game.

Headhunting - Learning the Game

Headhunters are often thought to be the kind of people who can go out and acquire excellent job candidates for their clients, just at the drop of a hat. We all know it’s not that easy but it is the common perception of people outside the human resource field.

Behind these apparently effortless hiring results are literally years of developing and maintaining relationships with successful professionals. A determination to succeed is a pre-requisite for ongoing recruiting success and true headhunters do not work in the business for a few years and move on.

Most HR people will never work in the headhunting field but there is advantage to be found in looking at the basic skills and techniques that headhunters use, and how internal HR can take advantage of them and apply them in their own work.


It’s All Relationships

The key issue with true headhunters, as opposed to those who just put the title on the bottom right of their business card, is that their relationships with prospective candidates are long-term. Headhunters don’t mine databases for skills, and they have to keep momentum in their candidate relationship over long periods of time. This has to be done without going into any deep relationships until a suitable position has come up.

For this reason true headhunters are likely to be in a relationship with many potential candidates, even when they have no position to offer. This is the part that many recruiters never master.

The reasons for this are quite varied. Internal recruiters are often targeting a job as Human Resources Manager and don’t stay long enough in recruiting to develop any real depth in their relationships. The are often introverts and prefer deep relationships with a small number of people, to what they would she as the shallowness of multiple ‘friends’.

Turnover of recruiters is also high and a network of telecommunications people is quickly lost when the recruiter moves into industrial parts. In a War for Talent market like in our country there is a strong requirement to put ‘bums on seats’ and this precludes a long-term relationship approach.

To my mind only a few people and a few companies in the world have actually achieved a sufficient number of candidate relationships that qualifies them to call themselves Headhunters. They know who they are. Funnily enough, most of them prefer the word Search Consultants, as the expression Headhunter can have negative connotations.



Give To Receive

A cynical view of all this would lead us to believe that headhunters maintain false, shallow relationships that are based on purely selfish motivations. 

But reciprocation is one of the tools that I believe is essential to their success. Giving something away is good business because in most cases you can rely on the other person to give back when you need them to. People don’t like to have too much debit on the relationship balance sheet. It’s makes them feel uncomfortable, and that feeling can only be alleviated when the favour is returned.

I’m not a big fan of the ‘Guanxi’ network where you calculate the value of what you are owed, and expect it to be given it’s equivalent in return. These are shallow relationships that just happens to take a long time to work themselves out. True giving is done without the expectation of anything in return.

A good example is social networking, where the ethos is that members are required to give before they receive. Headhunters often have large connections bases on social networking sites and they are an obvious person to choose if you want to connect with someone else. Their inbox will be filled with requests to connect two individuals together.

Their natual tendency might be to refuse these connection requests, but if they think long-term they will oblige, even if it means the loss of a potential search fee. In the long run the obligations they build will be returned in the form of a basic trust, and this trust will eventually result in business relationships that will last a long time. Admittedly, it’s a long chain of causal connections but results will accrue to those who commit to their career, and who tough it out in the beginning.

This is a much different world from that of the internal company recruiter who used to spends his day as a PC-jockey, searching for skills in a Job Portal's search box.

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