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A candidate's guide to what headhunters do

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I had a very interesting and illuminating interaction on LinkedIn with a prospective candidate this week. This was someone who had applied for a couple of jobs in the past that I've advertised, but who I have never met in person. 

It started a few days ago when, noticing that I'd viewed their LinkedIn profile, they dropped me a message asking if there was anything potentially coming up. I answered that I had been doing a search for a specific role but that they did not have the key skills that my client was looking for on this occasion. I assumed that was that...

To my surprise, I then received a reply which went along the lines of:

" I am not your resource...I have a question for you. I have been on your books for seven months, how many interviews have you won for me? I bet you will not have the intestinal fortitude to respond." 

The comments were quite revealing from a customer service perspective in understanding how some prospective candidates may mistakenly perceive what headhunters and recruiters actually do, and why we may look at their profile on LinkedIn.

This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but I do have the intestinal fortitude to respond. I also believe in the key principle of customer service: treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.  

What I explained in my reply was this (some precise details have been changed in the interest of maintaining confidentiality):

"Just to clarify, when I reviewed your profile I was undertaking a targeted search on behalf of a client who tasked me to find a CFO from their specific sector who has extensive M&A experience. To identify such prospective candidates I did a search on LinkedIn for all the CFO's in Perth that I know (around 700) and swiftly reviewed all of their profiles in order to identify the handful that had that may have the specific experience sought, before contacting those people to explore further. Exactly the way that recruiters, head hunters and HR professionals worldwide use LinkedIn each and every day.

We at Lester Blades are a boutique executive search firm. Clients hire us to search for executives and senior managers with specific skills sets. On average I will work on around fifteen roles each year, of which usually around a third to a half will be CFO (or similar) roles. For those roles I would on average shortlist five candidates for each role. Therefore in total about seventy five people will be shortlisted by me each year for interview with my clients. In addition I meet/interview around two to three hundred people across many disciplines each year, for a general 'get to know you' as opposed to discussing a specific role .

Much as I would love to get interviews/shortlist everyone I meet I am sure you can appreciate that is not physically possible. I work at the mercy of the client briefs that I am given. If you have the right skills for a particular brief then I would contact you to discuss it.

Irrespective of whether I ever shortlist a candidate, I personally will always endeavor to assist them in whatever other way I can. In particular by providing advice on how to improve their own odds of success in what is a highly competitive job market - hence the driving force behind me writing my book, Career Karma.

I can totally understand your frustration at how difficult it must be seeking a role in a market where very few come available and where on most occasions there will be a hundred plus applications for those roles. You are certainly not alone there. Keep plugging away, keep exploring every possible avenue for job opportunities and keep working on your marketing strategies to continually improve your odds of success and that success will come."

So there you have it.

Was I right in bothering replying at all? Absolutely. The candidate in question subsequently replied, apologising profusely for their venting which was fueled by the very understandable frustration in having been unemployed for quite a period of time.

The real question is, is this the way many people view what headhunters and recruiters do, and therefore do we in the industry need to work to address this misconception? I would greatly welcome your thoughts.

This article was published on LinkedIn

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