What experience has taught us

Written by Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland & Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa

In our practice as Executive Search and HR Consultants, we are confronted daily with candidates, their history, their approach, their beliefs – right or wrong, their attitudes and tactics and are privileged observers of their interaction with recruiters and line managers. This is an attempt to share the lessons learnt and give some practical tips as to how to improve your chances in the market. Some of the things listed will seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how often we see even seasoned managers make mistakes they could easily avoid.

The format chosen is that of a weekly series of 6 short articles. Today is the fourth episode in the series. It is somewhat longer and more complex than the prior ones because it seeks to identify the drivers behind the behaviour of the recruiter:

Episode 4 – Recruiters: how they work and think – click HERE to watch the video

How does a recruiter’s mind work? How do you maximize your chances of getting to the next stage in the process? How do you awaken an interest in your profile? What do you need to know about their modus operandi that could help or hinder you? The answer lies in understanding their motivations.

As in all walks of life, you will find there are good recruiters and bad, long- and short-term oriented, quality conscious and rudimentary, ethical and unethical… Some will think only of their own short-term interests while others will have a more balanced approach.

The long-term interest of a recruiter (whether a headhunter, contingency recruiter, in-house recruiter or HR Manager) will be the same as that of the company or his client, namely to find the best possible person for a role at the best possible cost. His short-term interest is, however, quite different. He therefore faces a series of dilemmas:

  • Best fit or first fit: the long-term interest of the recruiter is to find the best possible match for a role (be it only not to be faced with a warranty claim), while his immediate gain is to close the search as quickly as possible for maximum profitability or KPI fulfilment (in-house recruiters are often measured in the number of days needed to close a vacancy).
  • Lowest or highest cost: again, the best way to ensure client satisfaction would be to provide him with the best value, while his short-term interest is to attract candidates with a higher cost (easier to “sell” the role if the salary is good; the headhunter’s fee is often a percentage of the salary, so the higher the better; this also contributes to shorten the duration of the search).
  • Higher potential or lower risk: at a time where you hear everywhere that the value of experience is lessened because we live in a world of constant change, everything concurs to increase the chances of the most conventional candidate as opposed to the flamboyant outsider who represents a risk but could potentially deliver exceptional results: the line manager who hires such a candidate and fails will be held accountable and so will the recruiter. Large corporations in which it is difficult to identify a clear chain of command and in which compliance is first and foremost do not encourage risk-taking.
  • Client first or candidate first? Even though the recruiter is representing both parties, and should do so ethically, the money comes from the client. He is therefore understandably more focused on his clients/assignments than on candidates. Recruiters find people for jobs, not jobs for people.

It follows therefore that the recruiter, who in the end is no more than a supplier, has these objectives corresponding with his role: quality (the ability to deliver good candidates), lead time (the ability to do so quickly), reliability (candidate information; for example salary or mobility should not be contradicted by said candidate at a later stage and candidate should be interested and committed to the process) and lastly; profitability (cost of finding the right person).

Based on these insights, there are a few things you should do and on the other hand, avoid, when dealing with headhunters and recruiters in general:

  • When you are contacting a recruiter spontaneously, ask yourself why they should take time out of their day to talk to you: you might fit a current vacancy (unlikely) or a potential one (possible). You might also be a source of information or a potential client. Do not assume that your profile is of interest to them, act in an arrogant way or insist a lot when they do not respond. Seek rather to maintain contact by reconnecting periodically (every few months) so as to be “top of mind” with them.
  • Remember they actually want to hire you: if the recruiter doesn’t call or get back to you after you sent your resume, it means that you don’t fit the required profile. Bear in mind that there’s a lot of things you do not know about an open position (even in those cases where you saw an advertisement). The recruiter’s objective is to fill the role as fast as possible, so he will make sure to reconnect if you do fit. Again, do not harass them but rather inquire politely and not too often.
  • Do not negotiate at the first contact: remember the headhunter’s primary concern is not with your salary. When he asks you for an indication of your compensation level, he only seeks to ascertain whether you are in the range budgeted for the role. If you are not, he will tell you.  Responding that you are “not looking for a job at that time”, beating around the bush before giving the information or using other similar negotiation tactics will not achieve anything. It might rather annoy and create a negative impression as you are making the recruiter’s life difficult.
  • Be reliable and consistent: respond to messages and queries truthfully (or at the very least in a consistent way). Do not hide information or change your expectations once you’ve agreed these with the recruiter already. For example increasing your compensation expectations after this has been communicated with the client or bringing up new elements you did not mention before; confirming you are geographically mobile but later saying that you want to go back home on week-ends or work from home, not responding to messages (especially about meetings with the client), etc.
  • Make it easy for them: remember that the recruiter has a client. Show flexibility, be proactive and don’t ask too often what the situation is. You can be assured that his aim is to close the assignment as soon as possible, so if there is a delay, it may mean that you are a “reserve” candidate (nothing you can do about that) or simply that there is delay on the client side and pressuring the recruiter will achieve nothing.
  • Try to build a personal relationship: be truthful, interested and open, show empathy and try to establish trust. This will make the recruiter feel good about promoting you as a candidate.

In short: remember the recruiter’s interests are not necessarily the same as those of the hiring company and adapt your behaviour accordingly.  Be a reliable partner and try to show the authentic you to ensure that you will be offered suitable roles with a good culture fit in which you can be happy and successful.

Written by Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland & Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa

Do not miss out on the next episodes:

  1. The value of a good network
  2. Social media: your image to the outside world
  3. Preparing your CV: your sales brochure
  4. Recruiters: how they work and think
  5. Preparing for the interview
  6. Acing the interview