I’m a headhunter. I’ve been a headhunter for 15 years. I say “headhunter” and not “executive recruiter” because I want to distinguish between myself and those overdressed oily sycophants who
nibble finger food at IPO parties, sip white wine, and imply their purity by waving their little finger, smiling with big teeth, and professing how stunned they are at the overwhelming crassness of
I make my living (it’s a good one, thank you) by focusing very tightly on a small piece of the software market: sales and marketing professionals in the data warehousing/DSS/OLAP/Business
Intelligence field. By sales I mean sales managers and directors, direct sales, pre-sales or systems engineers, and consultants or post sales. By marketing I mean Marcom, product marketing
managers, product managers, etc.
I work nationwide, although most of my business takes place in the following cities: New York, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley, and Seattle. Occasionally I
am asked to find people in Detroit or Memphis or Minneapolis, but it’s not often, and I delight in working new territory.
Any manager trying to hire talent these days knows how tight the market is, so I need not waste words explaining how tough it is to find candidates for my clients. But what I find over and over
again — to my dismay — is the fact that so many hiring managers really don’t understand the way out of their own Catch 22: too busy to focus on hiring new people who can relieve them of being so
Here’s the dilemma: you’re a Marketing VP who needs two product managers at your home office in the Silicon Valley. You’ve got wall to wall meetings every day for the next two weeks. You’re off
to London the week after that. Then you’ve got a user’s conference the week after that. Your boss is asking you for launch dates on the new products. The Sales VP is upset about the lousy
brochures. The Marcom Director just got an offer from a firm down the street doubling his salary. A pre-sales engineer with six months of experience wants to be a product manager, and your wife
just dented the BMW. Ten headhunters are calling you wanting to know who you are and whether or not you want a job with an e-commerce firm in Toledo (lots of stock), and by the way, could you use a
product manager with twelve years of experience in soap?
So how do you A) find a headhunter who can help and B) establish a relationship that will work for both of you?
I say both of you because I want to focus once again on that nasty word: marketplace. Executive recruiters by and large don’t care about the marketplace. They care about their image; they want
respect, and they want to know that you admire them for their wisdom and their overwhelming professionalism.
Part One: Headhunters care about making money, about building long term relationships with clients that make them even more money, and about creating a professional story that
ripples out into the marketplace (that word again) so they can become infamous and make yet even more money. In the process, you just might get what you want so you can stop worrying about staffing
and concentrate on doing your job.
So ask the next headhunter who calls you: 1) can they distinguish between marketing and sales; 2) do they know what a pre-sales engineer does; 3) do they know what OLAP means? 4) who are some of
the main competitors in your space?
If they can’t answer three out of four questions like these to your satisfaction, they’re not headhunters. They’re executive recruiters. Next.
Part Two (you thought this was going to be easy?): Tell the headhunter precisely what you want. Saying you need a product manager in Houston is like saying you need a new man or
woman in your life. Be ready with a job description, a salary, a bonus schedule, some comments on the culture, who this person will report to, who you are and where you come from, how much travel
is involved, whether or not you would consider a telecommute two days a week, whether or not you will relocate someone, what firms you would not consider taking anyone from, what firms you would
like to hire from, and anything else on your want list.
In other words, be specific. Tell the headhunter what you want and what you expect. You’re paying a healthy fee, and you have a right to expect service. That’s what makes the marketplace work.
Headhunters understand that. Executive Recruiters don’t.
Headhunters want details. They want to know exactly what you want. They will then try their level best to deliver that and not something else. In other words, they want to get paid. Executive
Recruiters are thinking about a thousand other things.
Part Three: Tell the headhunter how you prefer to make contact. Phone, voice mail, e-mail. Usually, one works better for you than the others. Give them your home phone, and tell
them to use it with a lot of discretion.
Part Four: If you find an interesting candidate’s resume come across your desk on Tuesday, drop everything and FOCUS on calling the headhunter. Tell him/her you want to make a
phone appointment. Let them know you want to talk to the candidate. Do it NOW. Do not be shy. Do not wait for them to call you to ask if you like the candidate.
Why am I telling you this? Simple. If Joe Smith in Dallas is talking to me, a headhunter, about your job in Minneapolis, you can bet your booties he is talking with the eleven other Executive
Recruiters who are calling him every other day about jobs in Phoenix or Seattle or Baltimore or Dallas. If Joe Smith is talking to anyone he is talking to several. And if he isn’t talking to
several then you probably don’t want to talk to him.
In the last analysis, there is only one thing that works every time: FOCUS. The tighter the better. That and moving fast, not putting things off.