Interview with a Headhunter

Interview with a Headhunter

No one wins or fills a job by following the traditional rules. Instead they succeed by beating the system because they know the best way to handle a few make-or-break situations and therefore set themselves above the competition.

Career Planning Guide - Part 1

How does the recruiting industry work?

You may have got to your current position without ever using a headhunter. But what if you need to one day? CIO talks to Michael Burgett, founder and president of CIO Partners about the dynamics of the recruiting industry and how CIOs can build long-term relationships with headhunters.

CIO: How does the recruiting industry work? Does the recruiter represent the company that's looking to fill a particular position, or does the recruiter represent the CIO who's looking for a job?

Burgett: That's a good question. Most people are unclear about that. They think we represent a potential candidate on a for-fee basis. In fact, we represent the companies that are looking to fill a particular position.

How do you find candidates for positions your clients are looking to fill?

The primary way we find candidates is through our personal networks. We do use the national job boards and we subscribe to several national resume databases. We also use Internet-based spidering tools to find names of individuals with the skill sets our clients are looking for.

How can CIOs meet recruiters?

I was a CIO [of RTM Inc.] so I know what I did or didn't do at the time to meet recruiters. As CIOs, we never typically think about the network of individuals we create until we really need it. I would encourage IT leaders to talk to recruiters they're currently using to fill their internal positions. A lot of those firms place CIOs, so they might be able to work on your behalf in the future. Also, reach out to your peers: Find out who they use for job searches and contact those firms. Start building that relationship with a recruiter now, when you don't need their services, so that when you finally do need that relationship, it's in place.

Another simple way to build relationships with recruiters is just by returning their phone calls when they call you to talk about opportunities for them to work with you and your company. You can turn that phone call into political capital for yourself down the road. As a CIO, it can be tough to return phone calls from recruiters and spend time building that network because you're so bogged down with so many activities. Tons of CIOs have told me: "I wish I had developed my network."

When a CIO who's looking for a new job calls you to introduce himself or herself, what kind of a pitch do you want to hear from him or her?

Before you call a recruiter, think about what you can offer the recruiter besides yourself as a candidate for a position. You need to come to the conversation with an offer of some value other than your personal resume. For example, open up your personal network to the recruiter. Ask the recruiter what searches they're working on and give them a few names of people in your personal network who might be a good fit. I like to hear from CIOs who understand and look for that win-win, who go into the conversation thinking: "Not only do I want you to help me, but I'm going to help you." Instead, a lot of folks will call and say: "I'm a CIO. I've got great experience. I've done great things. I'm offering myself to you so you can present me to a client." They don't realize they possess additional value that they can offer to recruiters. When IT executives approach a conversation with a recruiter by thinking "how can I help this recruiter increase his business" [as opposed to how can this recruiter find a new job for me], they've earned the right in the relationship to demand something back in return. They can then use a company such as ours to get advice on how to best present their credentials or to get some counselling on what to do next in their career. That's free advice and they're owed that.

One of my readers wrote to me with the following feedback: "Often recruiters are not interested in an ongoing relationship. They seem to just want to fill the position they are currently working on and if a person doesn't meet the criteria for that position recruiters don't seem interested in learning about you as a potential candidate for anything in the future."

A lot of people in this industry think transactionally: Their number one goal is to match people to opportunities. It's not as if this industry is clamouring to build relationships with everyone. Recruiters move quickly and they can be less strategic. But in every recruiting firm, there are also individuals who think about relationships strategically. Your reader should keep reaching out until he or she finds the right recruiter for him or herself.

Anything else CIOs should know about how the recruiting industry works?

It's very important for a CIO to have proper expectations on how a search progresses and it's important for recruiters to set clear expectations with candidates on how that process unfolds and when the candidate can expect to receive information. Searches never progress fast enough [for a CIO looking for a job.] The key thing for CIOs is to be patient with the process. If they are the right individual for a particular opportunity, the recruiter with whom they're working will do everything in their power to fit them into that position because their goal is to find the right person for that company and to do that as efficiently as possible.

One other thing: Always tell a recruiter you're working with where you're at in your job search - what other opportunities you're working on or considering. A tough way to begin a relationship with a recruiter is if they believe you're only so far along in the process of looking for a job and they're pushing you for an opportunity when suddenly you accept a different job offer. Recruiters have long memories. It's best to be completely open with them. You'll use a recruiter more than once in your career and you want to make sure that relationship is more long term than short term.

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