So You Want To Be a Headhunter?

There is a major and accelerating shift now underway at most major U.S. corporations regarding how to best recruit new talent. Corporate recruiting departments are now more serious than every before about competing head-on with third-party agencies and executive search firms.

The shift started six or so years ago, as job boards became the expected weapon to win the war for talent. Everyone figured they wouldn’t have to use search firms anymore and they could bring all of this business in-house. This was phase 1 of the shift.

Phase 2 started a few years ago as these same corporations discovered that there was more to hiring top people than just desire. The best people were not responding to online advertising as the job boards predicted.

As a counter-measure, corporations began the hiring of corporate recruiters with search firm or agency experience to target more highly qualified and generally passive candidates. This helped if a good recruiter was hired. But it helped less if the new agency-to-corporate recruiter was given too many requisitions or too little contact with the hiring manager. In addition, what was also discovered is that just because someone had headhunter experience, that didn’t mean the person was good at it. What a shock that must have been.

Phase 3 is now underway, as the realization is setting in that there is more to hiring top people than hiring experienced headhunters. Here’s a quick-take on some of the big issues involved:

A shift to a market-driven hiring strategy is a prerequisite to hiring less active and passive candidates. These people are more selective and consider different factors before changing jobs. Unfortunately, the hiring process at most U.S. corporations is not designed to address the unique needs of these passive candidates. For one thing, they’re too restrictive and process driven, where rules, regulations, and past practices determine how candidates are found and hired. These often preclude the best from even applying. In order to hire more top passive candidates, the underlying culture, hiring manager attitudes, and hiring processes need to be overhauled to meet the needs of top candidates. This is less important if the company has a strong employer brand or the supply of top candidates exceeds demand.
Technology is not the solution; in fact, in many cases it’s part of the problem. While technology is a powerful tool, in most companies it’s either used inappropriately or underutilized. At a minimum, user interfaces must be better designed to better meet the needs of its primary users — i.e., candidates, recruiters, and hiring managers.
Recruiting passive candidates requires more hunting than farming on the part of the recruiter. This means lots of cold-calling, building networks, getting referrals, and handling objections, like “I don’t want to relocate,” or “I don’t know anybody who’s looking.” (See below for some tips on handling these objections.) Most corporate recruiters don’t have the time, training, or nature to do this.
Recruiting passive candidates is more like solution selling than it is order processing (with a bit of career counseling thrown in). This means recruiters need a better understanding of actual job needs and the growth opportunity. This requires working more closely with hiring managers, and the ability to professionally assess candidate competency to determine job fit.
Recruiters need some type of sales training equivalent. No company would put a newly hired sales rep, regardless of his or her experience level, into the field without significant sales training.
Recruiting managers need to become more like professional sales managers. This means working more closely with each team member, coaching and monitoring performance. It also means tracking quota-like metrics, including the number of qualified leads, number of phone presentations, qualified candidate conversion rates, number of referrals, and sendouts per hire, among others.
Assuming everything else above has been addressed, to hire more passive candidates, corporate recruiters need to get off the PC and on to the phone. When they do, they’ll confront a few classic problems headhunters deal with everyday: getting quality referrals, getting them on the phone, and then overcoming the “I don’t want to relocate” objection.
Getting Quality Referrals

Here are some ideas to get you started on the referral part. This is what sales hunters do every day, and why they need lots of training to do it.

Getting referrals is the real key to successful recruiting. In my opinion, the easiest way to do this in a corporate environment is to ask your employees for the names of the best people they worked with in the past. This is different than the traditional employee referral program. Your employees know many more people than those they typically refer. Proactively ask them to identify names of key people from their prior companies who are rising stars, the best sales reps, the most creative developers, the strongest engineers, the top managers, the award winners in any field, and those with great reputations. They don’t even have to know these people personally. Asking your employees to identify these people is a great way to start getting some pre-qualified names of top passive candidates.

Once you get a person on the phone (no easy matter) recruiters need to qualify the person and get more referrals. This is where sales-like training is required. (Here’s an early article on networking I wrote which might help.) Most outside people are reluctant to give referrals of good people, so sometimes an indirect approach can work best.

Consider asking someone who might have worked with the person you’re trying to hire rather than someone who is competing for the same job. For example, people in purchasing work with salespeople; engineers and software developers work with product marketing people; operations people work with cost accounting; and consultants work with everyone. These indirectly connected people are often more willing to provide a name of a top person they worked with on some cross-functional team.

One of my favorite direct ways to get names is by creating an organization/work chart during the prequalification call. To do this, just ask the candidate to describe his or her peers, supervisors, subordinates, and other people the candidate worked with inside and outside the company. Not only is this a great way to get at span of control, you can also get some great names. People are quite willing to mention specific names at their prior companies if you ask for them.

At the end of the call, especially if the person isn’t a fit for the job, ask for other names of the best people the person has worked with in the past. The key to name generation like this is to get in the habit of asking for names on every call in every possible situation. Tell the candidate this is how you develop a network of great people to call for future opportunities, so push here. This way you can generate a self-sustaining list of top people for any search. You can do the same thing when working off a cold list generated through direct sourcing, a social networking site, or Internet data mining.

Converting a corporate recruiting department into a team of hungry headhunters requires more than hiring experienced recruiters. It starts with a cultural shift and a market-driven hiring strategy. This ensures that every executive and manager buys into the changes needed to hire top passive candidates. This also establishes the marketing approach needed to eliminate all barriers to entry.

Passive candidates get turned-off easily. Boring ads lead the list. Unprofessional recruiters or weak hiring managers don’t help either. Companies need to make sure that these hot prospects don’t opt-out or turn cold for some silly reason. Recruiting managers also need to step up to the plate. Managing a team of headhunters is not a passive activity. Monitoring performance and keeping the team motivated needs to be the primary task of recruiting managers in a recruiting agency-like environment.

Developing a team of professional headhunters is the final piece of the puzzle. If you’re not hiring enough top people, some part of this strategy-management-team triad is most likely out of whack. This is big-picture thinking, but it’s what’s required if you want your corporate recruiting team to compete head-on with any third-party agency or executive search firm. Original resource

By Lou Adler

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