Sam Harrison, an Executive Headhunter, provides a glimpse of life as a headhunter. In this article, he touches on the rewards and challenges of his chosen career. Sam also talks about one of the most difficult aspects of working with a headhunter to land a new job role, highlighting how best you, as a senior level candidate, can develop an effective working relationship with a headhunter. 

Tell us about your role as an Executive Headhunter… 

I’ve been a Search Consultant at Executive Headhunters for just over seven months now and have gone from being a complete rookie with little experience talking to people over the phone to a successful whole-of-market headhunter for senior executives with a number of top level placements to my name.

Being thrown in at the deep end combined with a steady flow of projects has accelerated my development and I lost count of the number of candidates I’ve spoken to a while ago. However, I, like my colleagues, can still withdraw an individual’s name from the candidate memory bank at a moment’s notice which comes in very handy when you work projects across all industries and sectors.

Candidates please note: making a good impression makes you more memorable.

My story so far

My biggest challenge

I’d say the biggest challenge of working as an executive headhunter is dealing with the stringency of our process on a day-to-day basis. There are times where I feel it may be unnecessary to be so thorough and rigorous when approaching candidates but the benefits of being so are often realised later on in a project. Headhunting projects can be full of surprises, from both clients and candidates, so it pays to cover all bases and stay on track from the off. Plus, it’s imperative I work with complete discretion and confidentiality at all times for my client.

Most surprising finding

Coming in to the role on day one, I had a number of preconceptions on what to expect from senior candidates. One of them being that they would all be motivated my money and any placement would ultimately hinge on the salary offered. I was wrong. Salary is obviously still a major deciding factor but I’ve found that other perks often weigh in to influence a deal. For example, I’ve seen a clear path of progression and the promise of added strategic input clinch placements.

Most rewarding aspect

The most rewarding aspect of my role has to be the relationships I’ve been able to develop with my candidates. I’ve found a strong candidate-headhunter relationship benefits both parties and increases the chances of an individual landing a role.

I’m aware that most candidates aren’t too sure how to get the most out of their executive headhunter as they tend to feel, because they were headhunted, that they’re pretty much through the door with the employer already. However, this isn’t the case as in a typical headhunt we’ll approach 40-50 people and submit a shortlist of 4-5 to the client so you still need to bring your ‘A game’ post approach and registration.

Search Consultants like myself are more likely to recommend people to the project’s Managing Consultant with whom we’ve developed a rapport and feel could make a good impression on the client.

Here are seven key personality traits that’ll get you a long way with headhunters:

Perspective

If I come to you with an opportunity and, for whatever reason, you feel it’s not right for you. Don’t dismiss it out of hand. Have a chat with me and begin to build a relationship. Take every opportunity to speak with a headhunter, you don’t know what’s around the corner.

Honesty

Honesty is crucial. If we don’t know exactly what your circumstances are or what you’re looking for it makes things harder in the long run. One of the worst situations for me is when a candidate tells me one thing during a registration but then says something contrasting in a final interview with the client. It’s embarrassing for both me and the candidate when this happens and is detrimental to our relationship, plus, moving forward, I’m much less inclined to recommend a candidate I don’t trust.

Concision

This may sound cynical but I’m busy and you’re busy, so time is an influential factor in both our lives. Please be concise and to the point with your answers. This helps me streamline my process, get the information I need and ultimately get my shortlist to the client on time which makes me happy. Getting in my good books is a sure fire way to increase your chances of getting a place on my shortlist.

Enthusiasm

Why would I put somebody in front of a paying client who doesn’t sound enthusiastic about their vacancy? I appreciate you may have been approached for X amount of roles but to my client, their opportunity is the most important and they need to see that it’s the most important opportunity for you as well. Increase your chances of landing the role and don’t make me look unprofessional for putting forward somebody who appears to be treating this vacancy as a back-up or fishing expedition.

Patience

It isn’t uncommon for a lull in communication between me and my candidates to come about during a project. Patience is key; we can’t deliver results overnight. Please understand that, as the middle man, I’m also at the mercy of my client who will also be very busy and probably part of a larger chain of communication within their company. It’s about finding the right balance between being keen and being irritating.  I will always do my best to touch base in this situation and will always relay feedback to you, positive or negative.

Compliance

I respect that it’s likely you’ve become as successful as you are by taking risk or doing things your own way at some point. However, it aids mine and my colleagues’ process when candidates get on board with us from day one. If we ask for particular information there’s always a reason and it’s more than likely because our client requires it.

Reliability

It takes money, time and resources to find the right candidate for a job. If you want to be taken seriously, it’s important that you’re seen as reliable. This doesn’t mean simply turning up for interviews; if we organise a time to speak and you get called into a meeting, drop me a quick line so we can rearrange. After all, we want to help you better your career and potential but making a good first impression is vital.

As a whole-of-market headhunter, I could be working three or four projects all for roles in different industries and sectors and will often have to swot up on relevant trends and affairs in order to talk to candidates. It’s a part of the job that I see benefitting me greatly in the long term.

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Sam Harrison

Executive Headhunter

sam.harrison@executiveheadhunters.co.uk