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When the Headhunter calls...

It is a moment that could dramatically affect the rest of your career. 

“Hello, I’m a headhunter. Can we talk?” Many people reading this article will be familiar with this call.  You may not realise it at the time, but this may be a life-changing moment. How you react to this call may significantly affect your future career.

This article seeks to explain the role of a search consultant (often known as a headhunter), why they may have approached you and how you may choose to deal with them.

It is, firstly important to remember that a search consultant will be working on a specific assignment for a client.  In most cases, they have been paid a retainer to undertake the work required to identify suitable candidates, interview them face-to-face or by video call and draw up a shortlist of candidates who meet the client's criteria and are interested in the proposed role.  It is highly likely that the first approaches will be made to people based on recommendations. Do not be surprised if they only have minimal information about you.

When undertaking an executive search, the researcher or consultant who first makes contact will have ideal candidate criteria with which they will wish to compare your details.  Unless you are prepared to lose control of your career details and where they are sent, you should be wary of anyone who does not insist on either a face-to-face or video conference meeting before seeking to arrange interviews on your behalf.

Once the researcher is satisfied that the primary criteria have been met, they will wish to provide basic outlined details of the role (without disclosing any sensitive information). They will test whether or not you are interested in the opportunity and are open-minded to a meeting with one of the company’s consultants.

Should the role you're being considered for be of a sensitive or confidential nature, you may be asked to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before receiving complete details regarding the position.

For your initial meeting with the Search Consultant, allocate a sufficient amount of time - around an hour and a half - to ensure a comprehensive dialogue. Reserve this block of time in your schedule, and if the meeting will be conducted via video conferencing, secure a distraction-free and confidential space for the discussion. If the meeting is in person, many executive search firms offer private interview facilities nationwide, or a neutral location such as a hotel may be utilised. This first meeting is equally important to both parties. Prepare thoroughly for this meeting and be ready to sell yourself!

The search consultant will know the recruiting client personally and will wish to assess whether you are the type of person who will meet the client’s tangible criteria.

Assuming the search consultant feels you are suitable, they will want to sell you the role, its good and bad points, and identify your level of interest.  You should expect to receive a written brief on the role and ideal candidate criteria, which will help you prepare for the interview if it is appropriate for you to go forward.

What should I expect from a Headhunter?

Headhunters stand and fall by the number of short-listed candidates put forward, so you should expect to be dealt with professionally at all times by people who understand your market.

Most senior executive search firms belong to professional bodies such as the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and will be bound by an appropriate code of conduct.

During the shortlisting and interviewing process, you should expect to hear regularly from the search company, its consultants and researchers, keeping you up-to-date and regularly testing your interest in the role.

At the end of the process, if you are successful, the headhunter will help to negotiate your terms.  Even if you are unsuccessful, you may expect to receive calls occasionally, which may or may not lead to other opportunities.

How can a Headhunter help me?

Recruiting companies often see executive search companies as the best option for filling high-quality senior vacancies.  As a result, those companies most serious about senior recruitment will retain an executive search consultant to identify the best quality candidates, many of whom are not currently seeking a move.

While this is often not the cheapest method, it is nearly always the most successful method of identifying candidates who will make a difference to their organisation.

Just as many discerning high net-worth customers prefer to deal with fee-based, rather than commission-based, IFAs, many of the clients who are most serious about their senior-level recruitment are inclined to retain the services of an executive search firm rather than place their roles out to the market generally on a success only basis.

If the recruitment company is prepared to invest in its recruitment process, it will likely invest in its employees once recruited.  The headhunter is the crucial link between top candidates and top jobs.

What should I be looking for when a Headhunter calls?

You should expect a brief outline of the role they are seeking to fill, followed by a series of questions to identify if you meet the outline criteria.  You should also expect reassurance that your details will be treated confidentially and that no action will be taken prior to meeting with you,

At the face-to-face or video conference meeting, you should expect to meet a consultant who is knowledgeable about the financial services industry and the investment sector.  You can expect to be asked for evidence of income and career successes and be provided with a complete outline brief of the role, the ideal candidate criteria and the remuneration package.

Ask for details of professional memberships and confirmation of the basis on which they are working.  Have they been retained, or are they working on an exclusive basis?  Do they understand the market in which you work?

Finally, a reminder.  If that call from a headhunter may be a life-changing moment, shouldn’t you be prepared for it?  Have your questions ready in advance!


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