Friday, November 26, 2010

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Headhunters

If you read my last blog, you know that we are now ready to apply all that we’ve learned about evaluating search assignments. Jerry Jones, Owner/GM and Puppet Master of the Dallas Cowboys has asked me to find him a Head Coach. Should I take the search?

First, we have The Client. What can I say? I only know what I read in the papers and see on TV. The Client is not much inclined to listen to others unless they agree with him; and in the end he will do whatever he wants to do.
So on a scale of 1-10, the Client is a 0.

Second, The Company. Well, the Cowboy organization isn’t what it used to be. In this case the Client has virtually redefined the Company and not in a good way. However, there is still some shine left on “the Star”, and they do have those cheerleaders, and Jerry does have all that money. I’ll rate it a 5.

The Job has pluses and minuses. It is big money and a big spotlight. A great opportunity to succeed or fail magnificently. On a “comparative value” basis it’s not a totally bad job. However, the requirements and qualifications are tough. The candidate must be willing to work for a high-control owner/general manager whose kids are heavily involved in the business. The Head Coach will have lots of responsibility but limited authority. Compared to other head coaching opportunities, this one really is below average. I’ll give it a 3.

Lastly, The Search. It’s ugly. It’s certainly not confidential. There’s plenty of competition, solicited and otherwise. The need is there for sure, but the urgency is moderate. Nothing is likely to happen until after the season is over. He has a strong internal candidate, Jason Garrett. He is also considering the list of unemployed and available head coaches who have successful track records. But Uncle Jerry likes to show people how clever he is and may go in an entirely different direction. The interview process will be goofy. It just will be. Trust me on that. Who knows how the hiring decision will really be made? The best thing the search has going for it is a GINORMOUS FEE. But even that’s not enough to rate it more than a 2.

So should I take on this type of search? None of the four key areas are positive. The answer to “should I” take on the search is obviously NO. But, it is tempting. Sometimes it’s just fun to take on something out of the ordinary, especially if it’s difficult and no one else would attempt it. I call it a Mickelson (you golfers know what that means). That said, taking on a Mickelson like this deserves to be filmed for one of those Jack Ass movies. It definitely has a “Hold my beer and watch this” feel to it.

But sometimes it’s not all about the facts or the fundamentals. Sometimes it’s about fun and foolishness. Would I take on the search to find the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys? Hold my beer…

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How 'Bout Them Cowboys...Contingency Search (Part 4)

OK, I closed last week’s blog entry with a “How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?” teaser. I had no idea they would show up Sunday afternoon and beat the Giants. Now I’m confused and will postpone further discussion of the Cowboys until next week.

Over the past three weeks you’ve read about my process for evaluating contingency search assignments. First, I consider my relationship with the Client. Second, what is the Company’s reputation? Third, is it a good Job? Now we are down to the Search itself.

I think there are 8 key factors which impact the actual search process:

1) confidentiality
2) competition
3) need
4) urgency
5) other options
6) interview process
7) hiring decision
8) the fee

Let’s briefly discuss each of these factors and why they are important.

Confidentiality. I like confidential searches. Usually there is less competition (other search firms, advertising, networking, etc). It can be a little tougher to recruit certain candidates who insist on knowing “the company”, but overall confidentiality is a plus.

Competition. The more competition on the search, the less likely I am to be successful. When a client tells me that they are using multiple search firms, running ads, have the job posted on multiple websites and social networks, etc etc.; I am not inclined to put much effort into the search. If the search has been underway for some time and now they are asking me to join in, I have to question why they have been unable to fill the job. Too much competition or a search that has gone on too long are major red flags.

Need. We get a lot of “tire kickers” in the contingency search business. Clients know that it doesn’t cost them anything to have me search. If the client is not truly motivated to fill the position, then my odds of success go way down.

Urgency. Sometimes we have clients who sincerely have a need, but always move slowly. In this business we say “time kills deals”. I’ve had searches that drag on for months even after the client has interviewed and targeted two or three candidates for the shortlist of finalists. I have even made placements on such slow-moving searches. But generally speaking, the longer things drag on, the less likely we are to have a successful outcome.

Other Options. This is really just another form of competition and it bites recruiters more often than most would like to admit. The most common “other option” is an internal promotion or transfer. I always ask something like: “Have you considered internal candidates?” or “Is there no one within you organization who can step into this role?”
This is a critical issue. Some companies use the search firm just to “see what else is out there” or to validate their decision to promote internally. If a company is seriously considering an internal candidate, be careful about investing too much time in the search.

Interview Process. Just knowing the interview process is a big plus. I can prepare the candidate for almost anything if I know what’s coming. Some recruiters don’t like companies who make candidates go through multiple interviews with different people throughout the company. My experience is that a lot of great organizations do this, so I’m all for it IF it’s done properly AND IF I know it’s coming. A lot of not so great organizations just sort of “wing it” through the interview process. Not good.

Hiring Decision. Closely related to the interview process, I need to know how the hiring decision will be made. The more people involved, the tougher it gets to make the placement. For example, I’ve had candidates left “standing at the alter” because the primary hiring authority finds out at the last minute that his boss or some other senior executive has a bias against people from the candidate’s current or former employer. Always beware of too many decision makers and/or the hidden decision maker.

The Fee. Size matters. Would I rather have a 40% chance of earning a $50,000 fee or an 80% chance of earning a $20,000 fee? You do the math.

So we have the model for evaluating contingency search assignments:
The Client
The Company
The Job
The Search.

Next week I’ll apply this model to an actual search assignment. What if you got a call from Jerry Jones and he asked you to find the next Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Purple Squirrels and Unicorns....Contingency Search (Part 3)

So assuming we have a functional Client Relationship and the Company is not too Bad or too Ugly, our next consideration is THE JOB itself.

When looking at the job I start with two major questions:
I. What is the comparative value of this position relative to similar positions in this industry?
II. Are the candidate qualifications and requirements reasonable?

I continue to be amazed by hiring authorities who attempt to get "A" level talent with "C" level compensation/benefits. I think there are several reasons why companies go this route. Probably the most legitimate reason for this approach is “salary compression”. This condition exists when the internal compensation level (what the company pays their current employees) is less than the external compensation level (what the company will have to pay to attract top talent from outside). This can occur for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the company has a long pattern of hiring less qualified and/or less talented people at lower compensation levels. When the day comes and they decide to “upgrade”, they are faced with the dilemma of needing to pay more to get what they need than they are currently paying for what they have. We also see salary compression in companies that grow their own talent and have a high level of employee retention. People may stay because they like the company or there are not many other employment options in the area or the company has great benefits and other extras. But it can still make it very tough to hire people from outside who are unwilling to make a lateral move or take less money just to work for this company.

There are other less legitimate reasons for companies to try hiring “on the cheap”. One is that they are just cheap. They think if they open enough channels (search firms, job boards, employee referrals, social networks, etc) they will find a highly qualified and talented person who’s willing to take their below market compensation package. And, occasionally it works out that way. But as a recruiter, you don’t want to be spending your time chasing that rabbit.

Another factor in the “comparative value” equation is career advancement opportunity. A position that offers significant career advancement opportunity is a major plus for a recruiter. Especially when going after top-level talent. So don’t focus entirely on the compensation/benefit package.

Now to Question Number 2: Are candidate qualifications and requirements reasonable?
(Or am I looking for Purple Squirrels and Unicorns.) I turndown as many searches over this issue as I do over “comparative value” concerns. Sometimes the hiring authority has a list of “must haves” that makes the search virtually impossible. The recruiter’s only option is to try and talk the hiring authority down off the ledge. (This get’s back to The Client Relationship. Will they listen to me?). But if the hiring authority is dead set on finding someone who meets all the specs, the recruiter has to decide if it’s worth the effort. And I would tell you that sometimes it is worth the effort. If it's a high-level position with a good company, I will seriously consider it. Some of my best candidates (and clients) have come from recruiting projects where, in the beginning, I was essentially looking for that Purple Squirrel or Unicorn. But, if in the process of looking for that which does not exist, I can develop relationships with highly-qualified, talented people; it’s not a bad investment. And sometimes, I can eventually persuade the hiring authority to consider an exceptional candidate who may not be a 100% match.

The real message here is that the recruiter must honestly evaluate THE JOB before taking on THE SEARCH. You owe it to yourself and to your client. The client may be locked into a situation where they simply cannot offer a highly competitive compensation package. What is the best they can get for what they can afford? The client may have totally unrealistic expectations regarding candidate qualifications. What is reasonable? What should they expect? Recruiters who know their industry can answer these questions. Recruiters who work for clients who will not listen better have some other source of income.

Next week, Part 4 of Contingency Search….”How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...Contingency Search (Part 2)

Last week we identified four key factors a headhunter should consider before they take on a search assignment: The Client Relationship, The Company, The Job and The Search. Then we wrote about how important it is that the headhunter establishes a strong working relationship with The Client. This week it’s about The Company.

Alert the media…news flash: It’s easier to recruit for a good company than it is for a bad one or an ugly one. Which begs the question, what separates the Good from the Bad and the Ugly? From the recruiter’s perspective (which in this case tends to be much the same as the candidate’s perspective) it’s mostly about the company’s reputation, situation and location.

Let’s talk first about location. This is a big deal for candidates. If the job is located at the company headquarters it’s a major and immediate issue for candidates. If it’s an issue for prospective candidates, then it’s an issue for the recruiter. I’m not going to pick on specific cities; but in general, transportation, logistics and supply chain professionals resist relocation to California and major metro areas in the Northeast. (This does not mean that we can't fill the position. It just means that the pool of potential candidates will consist mostly of people currently living in or originally from these areas.) Smaller towns tend to be less attractive. Warm climates generally win out over cold climates. And there are certain cities and states that suffer from negative images, deserved or not. Even if the job is not located at corporate, the corporate location has an impact on the candidate. Candidates think about future opportunities and where they might end up living. Company location matters, regardless of where the actual job is located.

Then there is the company’s “Situation”. What do the numbers say? How is the company performing financially? What does the balance sheet look like? What is the condition of their assets? Technology? Service ? Safety? Turnover?...etc,etc. If the company is performing poorly, headhunters know that it’s going to be a tough search. It’s sort of that whole lipstick on a pig deal.

Last and most important, the company’s “Reputation”. Joan Jett may have sung, “I don’t give a damn ‘bout my bad reputation”, but if your company has a bad reputation, prospective candidates do give a damn. And you better start giving a damn. Frankly, I consider company reputation to be the most critical of “The Company” factors. The company’s situation is a big part of their reputation. I get that. But here I’m talking about how the company is perceived by the candidates I am being asked to recruit. Example, a company may have a great reputation overall, but if the have a history of churning through sales people; then they will likely have a bad reputation with sales candidates. Some companies just have a bad reputation period. They may generate superior business results and even be in a great location, but if they develop the reputation of being a place where “outsiders” (people who did not grow up in the company) tend to fail, then it becomes a really tough recruit.

So as a contingency fee recruiter, I have to determine if this is a company worth recruiting for. If they are in a bad location, performing poorly and their reputation sucks; what are my odds of success? It depends. Who is my client contact? Maybe the company has brought in new leadership. Things may change for the better. Who knows? But I would say this. If I don’t have a solid relationship with someone at the company, and the company is bad and ugly, and all indications are that it will continue to be bad and ugly; why would I waste my time on a search? There comes a point where even if I thought I could make the placement, it’s just not worth being associated with that company.

Next week, Part 3 of Contingency Search…Purple Squirrels and Unicorns.