Archives for posts with tag: headhunting

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I do, what value I add and how as a headhunter I make money.  Of course one could argue it’s a fairly simple model, sell a retained piece of work, find an employee, get paid.  It’s elegant and simple, if not always particularly exciting.  Is that it though?  Is that all our business model amounts to?

Actually the bits I enjoy about my job and the bits that interest me the most aren’t really the day to day bits of search it’s the much more commercial aspects of what I do that turns me on.  I love meeting a Chairman or a CEO who tells me something interesting about what they do or what they’re looking to do and then connecting them with other businesses or other individuals who can help them achieve their goal.  It’s meeting the entrepreneurs with a great idea who just don’t have the contacts or the capital to get it off the ground and then introducing them to the right people or the right organisations who can help.  Those meetings where you have a great idea for a joint venture between disparate companies that later becomes reality with a bit of a push.  Those are the most interesting aspects of my work but they’re not really what you’d call traditional search work.  Ironically though the value of these to what I do is probably the highest of all, they build my credibility often pay better than a simple search if it leads somewhere and best of all actually creates something which changes the sector I work in just slightly.  

If you’re in recruitment, what other things outside of traditional recruitment do you get up to?  How does it benefit your business and does it make you money?  


Networking, what a horrible word it is.  Perhaps a more apt way of describing it is socialising professionally so that you raise your own personal profile and gain valuable professional contacts. It’s not an easy thing to do and after several recent meetings discussing this recently I thought I’d do a bit of a blog on it. 

It’s fair to say that my job is all about networking, I meet people for a living and talk about lots of intangible things such as the ‘markets’ and trends we’re seeing within it.  I hope I’m reasonably good at my job though I fully expect that if ever anyone reads this I could have several naysayers!  With this in mind I thought I might give a few tips as to how to do this without seeming over eager or desperate.  The worst thing is to be the type of chap who is at every industry event and hands out business cards like confetti.  

Ideally you want to be in contact with people who are relevant to you, in other words the people of the right level who ultimately make decisions which could affect you in some way.  Be it your next job, your next non-executive position, your next client or your next sales target.  The problem with this is of course that these people are in demand, so how do you get to them without sounding like everyone else who’s trying to get to them?  In short, how do you stand out?

Without a doubt the best way to meet people and to network is by referrals.  If someone gives you a personal recommendation that is gold dust, people are far more willing to chat with someone if they’ve been referred to them by a friend or trusted colleague.  So the question becomes how do you get referrals?  Well that’s a little tougher but I believe there are two main areas to concentrate on, one is being damn good at what you do, whatever that is and do it for a long time, it builds word of mouth.  The second is to be an open networker yourself, by this I mean be generous with your own contacts.  Introduce people you know in similar fields, if for instance you know a pensions consultant very well and an in house head of pensions, why don’t you introduce them? It doesn’t cost you anything except a couple of minutes but it builds your credibility, of course assuming both your connections are good!  Ultimately both these people will be that little more willing to do you a favour and introduce you to someone they know when the time comes.  I’m a firm believer in what goes around comes around and if you share your time with others, help them with no thought of reward for doing so, ultimately others will come back and do the same for you.  

The more we all learn this skill and do it better, the more generous we are with our connections, then the more business will be transacted, new roles found and friendships formed.  It’s a valuable skill and one that benefits us all ultimately.  

Small post today but I feel maybe a useful one.  I’ve been mulling over trust and how it relates to business, as many of you know I’m a headhunter in the City (London) which effectively makes me a sales person.  Sure what I’m selling is people, or my own skills as a networker but whichever way you dress it up recruitment of any form is a sales job.  Now the thing with sales is you need a quality product, if you pick up the phone to someone senior in any organisation and try and sell them something, in my case a meeting with a candidate it had better be a damn good product.  The first time you’re caught out with something inferior or something everyone else has it’ll be the last time that client believes you and the last time you do business.  Which leads me to trust, you have to build up a level of trust with clients so when you pick up the phone to them and say ‘I just met this chap/chapess who is absolutely perfect for your company, she can do x/y/z which will bring you in a lot of new business’ they agree to meet because they trust your judgement.  It’s not something to be taken lightly, do it too often and it loses it’s power, do it with the wrong product and it ruins your reputation in an instant but get it right and your professional life suddenly becomes a much easier, happier place to be.

Linkedin, the one networking site I constantly use but I was thinking about this yesterday with some colleagues, what is linkedin good for?  Well first of all the positives, Linkedin has more professionals than anywhere else including their job titles, skills and previous roles and companies.  As you can imagine for a headhunter or a business developer this is brilliant.  Frankly for anyone who wants to expand their network, hire someone or simply converse with like-minded professionals about the important issues within your own industry I can think of nowhere better.  It’s revolutionised certain areas of business and is a boon to people who’s job it is to network around the world…

As I’m sure most people can sense though, there’s a but coming.  The problem I’m having and I assume others will start to have is the restrictive nature of their networking settings.  As linkedin is primarily a networking site I don’t understand why there is a setting that blocks you sending invites when too many people indicate they don’t know you.  Surely the whole point of a networking site is meeting people you don’t know?  If you only speak to those you already know, it’s not really networking.  I find this especially frustrating if you’re paying for the privilege of using their service.  It’s now at the point where a colleague of mine was told he could be banned for 30 days if it happens to him again, even though he too is a premium account holder.  If this isn’t an example of a company cutting off its nose to spite it’s face I’m not sure what is.  I realise they want people to more inmails but the way to go about it isn’t by limiting what should be standard services to everyone else, if they continue to go down this route they’ll simply open the door to competitors and lose the thing that was unique to themselves, open networking.  

As a disclaimer I ought to add, I have no problem with people rejecting invitations, if you don’t wish to speak to someone that is obviously fine.  It’s simply linkedins attitude to this which is concerning for me.

As some of you may know I work as a headhunter, I work mainly in the senior actuarial market and a lot of what I do focuses on investments.  I do work in other sectors and my team covers pretty much every area of actuarial work, we work senior roles from £100,000 up to well into 7 figure salaries and we have a strong network of contacts across consultancies, asset managers, life businesses, insurance companies and banks.  Why am I telling you this?  Well it’s a little bit of background really as to the nature of the post.  I’ve found myself challenged recently as to what I do, both on social media and in real life.  Thankfully though not by my clients!

Recently I’ve been told I’m barely above bankers in terms of the ethics of my profession, I exist merely to push up ‘fat cat salaries’, I add no value to the business world and I quote ‘humans are not for hunting’.  Well as you might expect, I would like to quibble a little with this!  I think many people either don’t understand or don’t realise what value you can get from a good headhunter, please don’t get me wrong there are some bad ones out there.  I’ve heard all the shocking tales about dodgy recruiters of all levels, for a flavour of that the Kernel magazine did an excellent report on the good the bad and the ugly amongst technology recruiters. 

Firstly let me distinguish between a recruiter and a headhunter, there is a difference and it can be quite large.  A recruiter is someone who works on a contingent basis ie not paid up front on a variety of roles released to them by their clients.  Those same roles may be released at the same time to several other agencies and a good recruiter works fast to find the best candidate on the market, either through their own database or via advertising or occasionally a headhunt.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not disparaging this form of recruitment, until mid way through last year I did it myself.  If you’re say a company like RBS with a need for accountants, marketers, procurement professionals etc this is an easy way of getting talent in the door without having a giant HR function to do it for you.  A headhunter works in a couple of different ways, either a direct introduction where a contact is actively seeking a new role and you know a company who may be interested in their skills or a retained up front payment to search for the best candidate on the market to fill a job.  The method we use is search and we actively speak to every person, actively looking or not, who are able to fill that role.  As you can imagine for some roles that is quite a long list!  Of course for others, when the role is niche it can be significantly shorter.

So is this all a headhunter does?  Do we simply find the best talent for our clients?  In doing so don’t we bump up the salaries of the people we find?  Well yes, in a simplistic way this is true.  For the sake of argument if you hold a CFO position in one insurance company and a similar sized company asks me to headhunt you to work for them then there has to be an incentive to move.  What can the new company offer that the old one can’t?  Yes there can be other factors, the challenge of a failing company is one that some people crave.  Perhaps a better work life balance but realistically at that level I’d doubt it.  Perhaps a greater variety of work?  Possible but realistically your only option is a bit of a cash hike.  So yes in some respects I’m guilty as charged on that one.

So is that all a headhunter does?  It’s certainly all we’re paid to do but do we add value elsewhere?  You bet we do.  Let me give some examples here of why if you are at a senior level in any organisation you should be in reasonably regular touch with a good specialist headhunter.

A headhunter spends his or her entire life on the phone, either speaking to clients or candidates or HR teams.  When you spend that amount of time speaking to people you build strong relationships, or should do, if you’re good!  This makes you become an expert in your field, maybe not in depth (stochastic modelling?  I couldn’t model a coin toss!) but certainly in breadth and in the range of contacts we have we’re unparalleled.  Who else speaks to both your competitors, your colleagues, not to mention your suppliers and potentially your sales targets all in the same week?  If you’re a start up business and you need to meet people, I’m not talking candidates here but contacts, then why aren’t you talking to your headhunter?  I’ve lost count of the amount of people I introduce, I don’t get a fee for it even though it may result in some business happening but it builds my credibility while helping build your business.

As a headhunter I don’t work with that many clients, I can’t or I would have too many ‘hands off’ agreements.  However again this is something that benefits my clients.  Let’s say you’re a large company looking to grow, you might not just want one senior person,  you might need a team, or even an acquisition of a smaller company.  Before you pick up the phone to your friendly corporate finance teams who do you think might know of companies that could be potentially up for sale?  That’s right your headhunter, we’ve probably spoken to the CEO or the CFO, we know the state of their business and we know who is ripe for doing a deal.  On this one, yes I’d charge for making the introduction but a tiny percentage of the value this brings to your company. 

You need some market information, what your competitors are doing?  Speak to your retained headhunter, we’ve after all spoken to candidates who are working for your major competitors.  I’m not suggesting for a minute we’d do anything underhand but in broad brush stroke terms I’m happy to talk to clients about companies I don’t work with.  Salary surveys? No problem, free of charge.  Why get your HR teams to do something most headhunters will provide gratis?

If you have fallen foul of this awful economy and you’ve been made redundant who’s the first person you should pick up the phone to?  Your headhunter.  We might not be working on anything right now that fits but if you have an in demand skill and you need introducing to companies where you have no contacts of your own, we’re ideally placed to help.  Even if it comes to nothing an introductory chat still increases your own network of people and one day that chat might lead somewhere else.  The pool of talented good people is small and everyone wants the same people, make sure you’re well networked and make sure you have a good relationship with a headhunter.  Who knows what benefits it might bring?

In short, yes I’m here to make money but I’m also a repository of information, sometimes useless but sometimes invalueable.  I want, in fact no I need my clients to succeed so anything I can help to do along the way I will.  In the long run, what helps my clients helps me and what helps us all generates more money and benefits the wider economy.