Of course, I had read a few blogs about this and I remember digging out old 101 cheat sheets back from business school days. I remember thinking “it’ll do the trick”…. Hell no!
No-one had told me that it is not just about performing well at recruitment interviews. No-one had ever warned me before about a few human mistakes which, although they might not fully disqualify you for a given job, will strain your relationship with the headhunter to a point you do not want to.
Here are my 5 key learnings on how to deal with headhunters effectively:
- Contacting the headhunter on a need-basis only: Do not contact headhunters only when you need them. Research shows that non-asking contacts are far better remembered through time than asking ones. And remember continuity is a great catalyst to any healthy relationship… think of a headhunter as a gate keeper to not only one door you’ve just had a quick glance at, but to multiple ones you don’t even know of and that may open in the future… not because you’ve thought about your headhunter, but because he or she has thought about you. So make sure that’s the case.
- Giving out as much information as possible: When meeting with a headhunter, one naturally feels obliged to give out as much information as possible about one’s current employer as if they owed this to the headhunter. While I think this is fine to some extent, it should be done with caution and care. As a simple rule, I would say: do not ever give out any current sensitive information about your company (eg. M&A activity etc.), it is neither helpful nor does it reflect well on your ability to keep things confidential. Some headhunters may only interview you to get a rumor confirmed. Some are more genuine but still very curious (so they should)… To the invitation: “I hear you are absorbing company X, I guess you are happy?”, the temptation is very high to mechanically answer “absolutely yes, it makes good sense …” do resist it and show professionalism instead.
- Going on the “ego trip”: Do not go to them without researching the headhunter’s background. Like in any relationship-based activity, this business is a two-way thing. Knowing well who you are meeting with can be a tremendous help to establish a stronger connection than through the sole job opportunity at stake. Moreover, the personality and the connections of a headhunter are naturally reflecting on the nature of the opportunities he or she may have for you. Remember it is not just about you. Who you can be introduced to is a lot about the headhunter himself, not you.
- I am therefore I think … (as a candidate): Do not strictly act as a candidate. Let’s not forget that the customer is neither you nor him or her, but the employer. Of course the headhunter will filter you out if he or she is not confident about you standing in front of the customer – so pay very much attention to how you look and talk – but you can say things and behave in a way you could not when sitting in front of the employer: so make the most of it…
- Not considering the headhunter as a peer: Do not underestimate the headhunter’s understanding of your area and industry. Especially if you are still in the early days of your career. Although headhunters cannot generally be as technical as you can, by the very nature of their work and the number of people they meet within your industry, they often know much more than you on your industry dynamics, competitors‘ stats, key trends etc. So be prepared and act accordingly.
I find dealing with headhunters not always an easy task. Beyond the obvious things to avoid such as coming unprepared for an interview or neglecting how one looks and talks, there are also a couple of natural pitfalls to avoid. But in the end, and in case of doubt, I find it always comes down to two simple self-checks: firstly, am I acting in a professional manner, one I would recommend if I saw it? Secondly: am I giving the consideration the other end of the relationship deserves, for his or her benefit, but also and more importantly for mine?”
About the author:
Victor is a 36-year-old Marketing and Sales executive in the Financial Services industry in France. A French national, Victor has also worked as EMEA Marketing Manager for a US-based software vendor and prior to this as a Management Consultant with a Top 5 Audit and Consulting firm in London. He has worked in multiple geographies including the UK, the US and France. Victor holds an MBA from INSEAD.