In an ideal world, headhunting is a win-win. But here are some things a headhunter probably will not tell you.
1. “Three months ago, I was selling shoes.” You cannot study headhunting; we have all done another job before. Therefore, we might not understand what you do for a living or what the job we’re recruiting you for entails. Although we will gladly accept the assignment to search for a CIO, for example, we might have no idea about what makes a good one or whether this job will advance your career.
In other words, we are generalists in a world of specialists. So do your research and do not expect us to give you well-informed answers to your questions about the company or job responsibilities.
2. “I haven’t read your résumé or cover letter.” Our decision about whether to call you for an opening is based on a 5 to 10-second glance at your résumé. So make sure we can quickly spot the essential information. Boil your bio down to a maximum of two or three pages. Consider adding an executive summary at the top, letting us know what makes you special. For instance, “MBA, 15 years sales leadership, fluent Spanish,” will get your message through, even if the recruiter doesn’t read the rest of your résumé. Avoid hackneyed words like, “dynamic,” “proven track record” or “team player.”
3. “You don’t make a good presentation.” Based on your outfit, the way you carry yourself, or the way you speak, a headhunter might decide not to put you in front of a customer. Although only one candidate will be hired, our aim is to get positive feedback on all of them. Our fantasy is for a client to say, “The four candidates you presented were all fantastic. I will retain A and B and as a back-up also C and D. You wowed me and I will never ever again work with anyone else.”
Recruitment is part science and part art. If we have invited you to meet us, we did so because we thought that you could do the job; that’s the technical part–“the science.” Your motivation, attitude and presentation are “the art.” Once you make it to the interview with us, focus on these three. Impress us, and we will be confident to work with you.
4. “You are not competitive in today’s labor market.” There’s no substitute for a solid education if you want to make a career as a knowledge worker. The good news is that there are excellent alternatives to a Harvard MBA. Online studies have become more widely accepted and decision makers care less about where you earned your degree. Furthermore, executive education such as Ivy League senior management programs (also called “mini MBAs”) can lift your profile to today’s standards. The term “lifelong learning” – though overused – is the No. 1 buzzword for today’s career management. If you want to be competitive for the next decades, you must hop on that train.
5. “I probably will not find you a job.” A headhunter may invite you to meet about a specific job or for a generic interview. To fill a job, we usually see no more than 10 candidates and present the client with a “short-list” of three or four of them. Only one will be hired, so your chances of getting the job when there’s an opening are 25-33%.
However, if we invite you for a generic interview, we usually find a new job for 1 or 2 out of the 10 candidates – that’s an industry average. In that case, the probability that we will help you land a job is 20%.
In short, although headhunters play an essential role in the labor market and many jobs can only be accessed through recruiters, the numbers are working against you.
6. “I won’t tell you why you have been rejected.” We will present candidates once, maybe twice – but not a third time if they have been rejected. Sadly, you may never learn from your mistakes, since we will not tell you the truth about why you didn’t get a second interview. Our client might say you seemed narrow-minded or out of date, but we won’t pass that along to you.
To improve your chances in the future, ask headhunters who you have worked with in the past, colleagues or bosses for feedback. Then take their comments to heart.
7. “You are the missing candidate for my ‘short-list,’ but you don’t have a prayer of getting this job.” Our second invoice is due upon presentation of a “short-list” of three candidates. If we only have two good ones, we have to find a third. The terms we use are “challenger” or “outsider.” If you hear those words, don’t get your hopes up.
Finally, beware of unrealistic career moves or a job that sounds too good to be true. Due diligence is your responsibility–not the headhunter’s. No one cares about your career as much as you do.
Thank you for your attention,