I recently got a phone call from Marsha, a highly placed financial executive in a large international firm where I once worked. We chatted about the terrible lack of talent in general and her fears that a key position she had would not get filled quickly. She asked me whether I could recommend someone for this senior-level, strategic position in her firm.
I am frequently the recipient of job announcements and often get calls from executives asking me to recommend people for a variety of positions. Marsha’s call is only one of several I have received in the past month from business executives looking for people who can help them meet the challenges they face.
But the question these calls bring to my mind is why don’t they go to their own recruiting staff or recruiting manager to get recommendations? Why are they calling me and others like me for help?
The answer may seem simple. It could be that they feel people outside the company know more people or have a better network. But after some thought, I believe the reasons are deeper.
Lack of Business Credibility
Other executives, business owners, and even search consultants rank higher in perceived business acumen than recruiters. In reality, most recruiters are not business savvy. They are not likely to know many senior-level executives, nor are they experienced enough or socially connected to the right people.
Often, they don’t really understand the business or its products or services, and may not even know how the organization is doing financially. I have worked with recruiters who could tell you all the details involved in doing a particular tactical job, but had no idea how their organization was perceived by the market or by customers. They often aren’t really very knowledgeable about who makes up the competition or what the corporate strategy is.
To be a successful top-level recruiter you need to learn everything you can about your organization. What it does, how it has done financially over the past five years, and what its prospects are for the next five. Learn how to scan the annual report for critical facts about growth prospects, philosophies, and also about potential lawsuits or negative issues that could affect a candidate’s decision.
The more you know about the business, and the more you let senior management know that you know, the higher you will be regarded. Learn who makes up the senior team at a variety of competitors and other similar organizations. Research their backgrounds, previous employers, and their education.
With this information you can at least sound informed when talking with your executives and can test them on their reaction to names you might mention in conversation. This will help you see who they respect and who they don’t. Without developing a basic level of respect from management, you will never get the inside information or the choice recruiting assignment.
Many executives do not believe that internal recruiters will keep their searches confidential and that other executives or managers will learn about openings or discover that someone is about to leave.
Insider knowledge can affect decision-making and impact profitability, so executives tend to be very cautious. By going to one of their acquaintances or outside experts, the executive believes she is building a layer of security that is lacking internally.
Recruiters have to establish a gold-plated reputation for confidentiality. You can explain how you are going to approach the search and set up clear guidelines and expectations that are approved by the executives.
If you are a recruiter, tell only authorized people of the hiring plans in your company. If you are a recruiting manager, you have to become trusted and you have to give assignments only to those recruiters you know can treat the information wisely.
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Guide: Practical Tips for Remote Hiring
Your recruiting record, past performance, and how well you have communicated your success to management will all be part of whether you get the confidential searches. You need to show that your business knowledge, connections, and background are strong enough to put you in the know about key individuals.
Many executives doubt their recruiters are strategic enough or well-connected enough to know any of the key people they might consider hiring. If you are thought of as a clerk, you will never be taken into their confidence or given the best assignments.
Get out and learn. Take the time to build a network and learn how to grow and leverage it to your benefit. Spend time taking people to lunch or dinner and try to get invited to the activities where the kinds of people your firm would employ meet. This may mean joining associations, attending Rotary meetings, taking active roles on committees or as part of volunteer groups, or joining local charities.
Also, take the time to learn how to communicate what you are doing to senior management. This does not mean “blowing your own horn,” as they say. It means making sure you use the principles of public relations and advertising to tell a positive message about you and your team. Build your own brand as a competent, knowledgeable, and trustworthy partner in finding key talent. This takes a conscious effort on your part and time to execute.
Can you offer up possible candidates as quickly as an outside search consultant or colleague of the hiring manager? Most executives have a built-in bias toward search firms. They believe they are more efficient and effective than their internal recruiters. It takes a big effort to demonstrate equal capability and show them that both the quality and the speed you can provide is as good or better than they can get from outside.
This is really the heart of your job, and the best recruiters will have already identified potential key players. They will have started developing communication strategies to let potential candidates know about opportunities.
Streamline processes and perhaps even build a network that can help you to pre-qualify agencies able to work with you as a partner to find the best people. Speed is often the result of having built the right networks and forging relationships.
Nothing here is new or unusual, and you know what you need to do. Success is built on skills, communication, and perseverance.
The recruiter who lets his or her skills slide, who doesn’t stay up-to-date, and who doesn’t work toward better business skills will not get the really significant searches or even be around for the next act.