Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Changing World of Headhunting (Part III…continued). How it is impacting the Employer-Recruiter Relationship.

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken was involved; the pig was committed.”

I think the case has been made that technology has radically changed “headhunting”. The way candidates look for jobs has changed and the way employers look for candidates has changed. Headhunting just ain’t what it used to be. But there is still a place for third-party recruiters. To succeed they must be experts in their industry, develop long-term relationships with both candidates and clients and use their time wisely.

For me, the two critical keys in the Employer-Headhunter relationship are Commitment and Communication. If the client is truly committed to filling the position, committed to using my services AND is willing to communicate; we have a winner. If any of those are lacking, then it gets dicey. In the last blog entry I said that I would wrap up this series with a look at the different types of Employer-Headhunter relationships. For me there are four basic relationship types:

Low Commitment-Low Communication
Low Commitment-High Communication
High Commitment-Low Communication
High Commitment-High Communication

I do my best work in the High Commitment-High Communication quadrant. The other three are shaky at best. I would almost prefer dealing with a Low-Low where my expectations are also low and my investment of time and energy is equally low. The Low-High is the worst. The Low-High is big boots, big hat…no cattle. They tell you how great this opportunity is and how much they need an exceptional recruiter like you to find them just the right candidate and there will be more searches like this one in the future and on and on. You submit candidates and everyone gets excited. They interview, these are great candidates, you are doing a wonderful job, where have you been all of my life, hopefully we will make a final decision before the end of the month….and then it dies. You find out the hard way that they were not all that committed to filling the position in the first place, or at least not from the outside or certainly not if it includes paying a fee to a headhunter. Low-Highs are killers. On the other and, I can work with a High-Low. Not as good as a High-High, but if the commitment is there, I am willing to tolerate less than the best communication.

Writing this series on the Changing World of Headhunting has been an interesting exercise for me. A reader might conclude that I am pessimistic about Headhunting’s future. Actually, it’s just the opposite. I am optimistic. For the most part I think the changes have simply exposed more of the low hanging fruit in the job search-recruiting orchard. There will always be headhunters and candidates and employers looking to make things happen faster and cheaper. If one sees people as just another commodity to be traded in the marketplace, then perhaps faster-cheaper is the logical approach. But when it comes to making long-term investments in people, faster-cheaper is not necessarily better. I believe that candidates and employers who are investors, not just traders, will continue to partner with those headhunters who know how to find good investments.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Changing World of Headhunting (Part III)…How it is impacting the Employer-Recruiter Relationship.

Dialogue from the movie "Dumb and Dumber"

Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me... ending up together?
Mary: Well, Lloyd, that's difficult to say. I mean, we don't really...
Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I'd say more like one out of a million.
Lloyd: So you're telling me there's a chance...YEAH !

Over the past few weeks I have written about how much the job search process has changed. It is now much easier for candidates to find jobs and it is much easier for employers to find candidates. This very fundamental component of recruiting…the finding or sourcing of candidates is no longer all that difficult. As a result, the Employer-Recruiter Relationship is changing.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that we are talking about contingency fee based recruiting. In other words the headhunter only gets paid if he places one of his or her candidates with the employer. For a contingency search firm the most attractive search assignments are those which are confidential, the employer is not trying to fill it themselves and no other search firms are working on it. The reality is that for many years, search firms would accept searches that were not confidential or the company was trying to fill it on their own or there were other search firms working on it. We always asked qualifying questions and if the position had been too widely publicized and/or multiple firms had been working it for some time, then it probably wasn’t worth the effort. Most search firms took that approach and most companies understood that’s how it worked. If the employer had just run an ad or two for a couple of weeks and perhaps did some “networking” within the industry, search firms were more confident that they did have a reasonable shot at filling the position and would take it.

Today it’s different. When we ask the question: “What have you done to fill that position?” and they reply “Well, not much. We have not advertised it. It is on our website and we have only done a little networking,”… what does that really mean? Often times it means that their website posting is drawing hundreds of responses. Their “networking” may have included a message on LinkedIn or Facebook to a few thousand of their closest friends regarding their need to fill this position. Therefore, the additional questions headhunters must ask today include: “How many responses have you had thus far?” “How many candidates are you considering?” “How many have you interviewed?” “Have you extended offers to anyone?” And depending on the answers to those questions one then has to ask, “Why haven’t you been able to fill the position?” “What’s the problem?”

The reality is that increasingly, employers are just “kicking tires” when they decide to use a contingency search firm. It is a no-cost, low-risk option that simply adds to the thoroughness of their recruiting process. When their boss ask the question, “Are you sure that we have found the best person for the job?” they can respond with a long list of activities and resources which have been utilized in the process. Clearly, employers still have a very good reason for using contingency search firms… as long as they don’t have to pay them.

The other reality is that in many industries there is a shortage of talent. This is certainly the case in our specialty, Transportation & Logistics. Along with this talent shortage, there is a considerable gap between what employers expect to pay for talent and what that talent expects to be paid. If relocation is involved, the pool of qualified, “affordable” talent dries up very quickly. As a result, many employers are putting forth a lot of effort trying to fill positions and may even use multiple search firms. Over the past year, we have had more calls than ever from employers who are unable to fill positions, even after multiple job board postings, direct recruiting on their own or using other search firms.

Do we take on the search and if so, how much effort do we make on it? If we don’t take the search or take it and make a poor showing, what message does that send to the company? Especially given the number of eager beaver headhunters who are willing to waste their time working on dead-end searches just to get their foot in the door. The answer is that if the position is in the core of our practice and it is likely that we have candidates or can quickly find candidates who are a match, we’ll give it a shot. Worst case, we strengthen our relationship with the company. Better yet, we find a candidate or two who will fit future searches. Best case, and frankly a long-shot, is that we actually fill the position. YEAH !

So what does the Employer-Headhunter Relationship look like going forward? Well, obviously it depends on the employer and the headhunter. And I think circumstances and the history of the relationship will define the future relationship. Next week, we’ll wrap up the Changing World of Headhunting series by looking at the different types of Employer-Headhunter Relationships we see in today’s market.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Changing World of Headhunting (Part II … continued). How it is impacting the Candidate-Recruiter Relationship.

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Last time I described how much things have changed when it comes to the availability of information about candidates and job opportunities. So what does this mean for Candidates and how does it impact the Candidate-Recruiter relationship?

For the most part, the changes are positive for candidates. If you so choose, you can be found by a lot of employers and search firms. If you so choose, you can receive vast amounts of information regarding job opportunities that meet your specific criteria. But, there is a downside to all of this transparency. Everyone has the information. Many do not know how to use the information. And some will use the information against you.

So we see job postings generating hundreds or even thousands of responses. If yours happens to be one of them, good luck getting noticed. It has become such an issue that we now include language in our agreements with employers to the effect that if we submit a candidate who is already in the employer’s database, but not “active”, that candidate is ours and we are due a fee if they decide to hire the candidate. We’ve gotten some pushback from clients, but it does open the conversation regarding the fact that they are so overwhelmed with information that they don’t even know what they have in their own database. Some large employers with aggressive in-house recruiting operations are actually “linking” with candidates and creating records in their applicant tracking systems (ATS) based on LinkIn data or other online information. They often fail to notice qualified candidates right in their own database, but will claim that they “already have the candidate” when a search firm submits that candidate for a specific opportunity. Bastards.

Increasingly I hear complaints from candidates who say they have responded to job postings for which they are clearly a match, but never even get an acknowledgement, much less an interview. In some instances, the candidate has been overlooked. But in others, they just did not appear to be as good a match as some of the others who responded. The more competition you have for a position, the tougher it is to stand out. Sometimes it simply comes down to which keywords the ATS is looking for or perhaps an entry level HR person has been instructed to give priority to those candidates who have worked for XYZ company or held certain job titles. Welcome to the jungle.

Then there is the fact that your current employer can see your online activity. I would not call it a trend yet, but over the past year I’ve spoken with candidates who have reported being questioned by their employers regarding their LinkedIn activity. “Hey, I see that you’re connecting with some headhunters and/or competitors. Are you looking to leave?” As a result, some candidates are dropping out of the “social network” or significantly edited their online profiles. Again, it’s not yet a trend, but I think as the economy improves and companies put more effort toward retaining their best talent, there will be more discussions about online “self marketing” and job hunting.

So how is all of this impacting the Candidate-Headhunter relationship? First of all, search firms are starting to seriously evaluate how much time they invest with candidates who are “over-exposed”. Candidates are going to have to pick their poison. They can be all over the internet with a big network, responding to everything and everyone, hacking through “the jungle” so to speak; or they can be more selective. This is not to say that a search firm will not recruit you, or accept your resume or submit you for an opportunity even if you are “over-exposed”. We’ll take the shot where it makes sense and sometimes we’ll be successful. But, we cannot afford to invest a lot of time with candidates who are power-shopping the online job market. Ultimately, search firms are paid to source, evaluate, recruit and negotiate the employment of candidates with their client companies. To the extent that companies can do this on their own without using a search firm, that is exactly what those companies will do.

If I were a candidate these days, what would I do? It depends. Assuming that you are employed and wish to maintain some level of discretion, I would avoid putting too much out there. I think it does make sense to have a presence on LinkedIn with enough information that you will be identified for job opportunities, either by companies or search firms. It’s probably ok to have your personal email address on the profile. I would not list a phone number nor would I indicate an interest in “career opportunities”. I would not post my resume on line. Be like Fonzie. Be cool. Also be cautious about responding to inquiries whether they come from headhunters or directly from employers. Make sure that you know the who, what, where and why of the inquiry. Regarding relationships with search firms, I would limit it to no more than three. Pick firms that work in your industry and routinely fill positions that would be of interest to you. Work with reputable firms you can trust. Build long-term relationships by being open, honest and offering to help with referrals and recommendations.

If you are unemployed, then you have to get more aggressive. This is where search firms are becoming less of a factor. We don’t find jobs for people. We find people to fill jobs with our client companies. However, if you are a senior level executive, I still think it pays to be like Fonzie. Be cool, even if you are unemployed. If you get over-exposed too quickly, most search firms will ignore you. And many higher-level positions are still “under the radar’ being worked by search firms. When I am included in a blast email where someone is sending their resume to dozens of search firms or “undisclosed recipients”, I usually just hit the delete button. My guess is that most experienced headhunters do like wise.

Next time, we will look at what this changing world of headhunting means for Employers and the Employer-Headhunter relationship.