#1 Tip-off that a headhunter is for real

In my last posting, I talked about the importance of qualifying headhunters who call you. The world is now awash in hucksters calling themselves recruiter or headhunter. Many are calling from overseas, likely from the same call centers that you call for computer support.

To avoid wasting your time, risking your reputation and professional credibility (these clowns will make you look like you’re desperately searching for a job by widely distributing your information), and driving yourself nervous waiting for results, vet every caller carefully.

There’s one key thing to look for. The headhunter who calls should already know you. Otherwise, why would he waste his time calling? Real headhunters don’t cold-call people they know nothing about. They “source” potential candidates through people whose opinions they respect. They call you only when they already know enough about you to determine that you’re worth calling. Underneath it all, the headhunter’s clients are paying for the headhunter’s network of respected contacts.

A legitimate headhunter will call you because they identified you as a potential candidate. This doesn’t mean they found your resume on some job board. It means they spoke with someone who knows and recommends you. This is what a headhunter’s clients pay for — the headhunter’s inside contacts. (They can get bundles of resumes pretty much for free.)

A real headhunter will have background on you. He will have a recommendation from someone who made a judgment about you and shared it with the headhunter. The headhunter calls you because you are you. And the headhunter already knows who you are.

Headhunters who call blindly and reveal they know nothing about you are nothing more than want ads delivered by telephone or e-mail. They aren’t earning a fee. They’re spinning a roulette wheel. They’re dailing for dollars. Is it any wonder you never hear back from them? The odds they’re going to place a random individual (you) are miniscule.

So, judge the headhunter. Ask every headhunter or recruiter who calls you, What do you know about me? What is it about me that led you to call? Who recommended me?

If they can’t tell you, it means they haven’t done their homework, and they don’t know you. They’re not headhunters. They’re not for real.

Managers take note: If you’re paying a “headhunter” or “recruiter” to randomly solicit people for a key job you need to fill, you need to vet your headhunter carefully, too.

How can I qualify a headhunter who calls me?

We’ve been discussing headhunters recently. One reader went off on a tear that’s worth sharing. And it includes a question worth answering. I’ll offer some advice at the end.

I just stumbled upon your blog after the last fruitless 30-minute phone call with another clueless recruiter. I could use some advice on qualifying recruiters in the first five minutes of the conversation. If you have some material on your blog/website along these lines, I’d really appreciate it.

Then I read your blog item, Headhunters: Novices, wannabes & clueless franchisees. You wrote:

“Today, the headhunting industry is so full of total novices, fast-buck entrepreneurs, online resume-scrapers, job-board mavens, LinkedIn miners, data-base scavengers, spam spreaders, and clueless franchisees that any company needs to ask one question when it interviews a headhunter: Do you know what the hell you’re doing?”

I said to myself, this guy has got it down. I am going crazy having seen all of the above in the past three months. I get recruiters who haven’t read my resume, who haven’t an idea of what the client really wants, and who propose me for jobs that I’ve told them I don’t want to consider (mostly short-term contract positions rather than permanent, direct hire). By the way, three of them came from Ladders and one involves a proposal for a classic Ponzi scheme.

Don’t get me started on LinkedIn. There, I get recruiters asking me to help them find the proverbial candidate who walks on water. Is perfection really the primary paradigm for filling positions?

Read more

Oops! There goes another one!

The foreman at a lumber mill is giving a tour to the Human Resources manager. He hears a voice over the din of all the machinery. “Ouch!” Concerned that the new, accelerated production schedule is resulting in accidents, they follow the sound to a worker running a huge saw that slices through trees like bars of butter. “What’s the matter? Why’d you cry ouch?” asks the foreman. “Well,” says the saw operator. “I was trying to put more logs through the saw faster, like we were told, and I just stuck my arm out like this, and… Whoa! I’ll be darned! There goes the other one!” The foreman turns to the HR manager: “Well, that does it. You were right. There goes another one. We need to post these jobs on CareerBuilder long before we need to fill them.”

Once again, a lousy economy is thrusting people into a job market where the talent is running scared. People will snatch up jobs, any jobs, to pay the mortgage.

I try to teach people the importance of pursuing the right job, not just a paycheck. But I always qualify that, because I certainly understand that putting food on the table and paying the rent may be a good reason — maybe the only reason — to take a job, any job. But even in dire circumstances, it’s important to step back and consider the consequences of such short-term thinking and decision making. The trouble is, business is leading the way.

Two articles in a recent edition of Computerworld highlight the problem. In Software Holding Back Spread of Multicore Chips, we learn that new computer microprocessors with four “cores” (translation: four brains) are now shipping to companies that want the extra processing power. But customers and analysts alike complain that there’s no software that takes advantage of this massive leap in computer hardware. Oops. Read more

Armchair Recruiting: Hiring what comes along

Headhunting firms routinely claim they will bring the best candidates to their clients. Employers like to say that people are their most important asset, and they hire only the best.

It’s a load of crap. Most headhunters and employers recruit and hire from what comes along. They not only don’t recruit who is the best in the field; they don’t know who is best because they don’t often seek them out. They don’t make it their business. Hiring managers who fail to recognize this risk the long-term success of their operations, and the people they hire risk their careers.

In Headhunters, Personnel Jockeys & Monkeys I wrote about companies that don’t want headhunters sending them job candidates whose resumes are already on the job boards. It seems the personnel jockeys at these companies are already busy “recruiting” from the boards (that is, scanning and sorting resumes), so why should these companies pay for more of the same?

A couple of headhunters responded to the aforementioned posting, saying that they’ll take their candidates anywhere they can find them. This sharpens the distinction between active headhunters and passive headhunters. It also points out the enormous quality gaffe employers themselves make when recruiting. They are not hiring the best people for the job.

The distinction is sharp and it reveals a fundamental and profound difference in the quality of recruiting and hiring practices among headhunters and employers.

You can identify, recruit and hire the people you want by going out into the world with a set of criteria and tracking down the best people in your industry. You’ll encounter a few surprises and meet interesting people. You’ll become part of their network. A good network is a circle of friends, and those new friends will be your source for future searches, too. You’ll also learn a lot about the industry and profession you recruit for, and that makes you a better and more credible headhunter.

Or, you can sit at a desk and take what comes along. But don’t tell me you’re headhunting. You’re not a headhunter. You’re passive, like the employer’s HR department that does the same. And the quality gaffe you’re making is that you have settled — you have not hunted, found or recruited. You’ve made a forced choice. Read more

Headhunters, Personnel Jockeys & Monkeys

Welcome to the monkeyhouse.
When the economy is tight, the marginal members of the headhunting business get very nervous because the low-hanging fruit disappears. They actually have to work to make a living. Meanwhile, the best headhunters are busy with challenging assignments because The Truth About Speeding Trains is that while they may slow down a bit for a curve, they don’t stop. These companies keep hiring, but carefully.

You’ve probably heard me say that 95% of HR workers aren’t worth spit. And I usually put that in context by adding that 95% of headhunters aren’t worth spit, either. But look at the bright side. 5% of HR workers and 5% of headhunters have no competition.

Many “headhunters” don’t know how to find new clients, and they sure don’t know how to find the best candidates. They pick the low-hanging fruit and call it a job. Let’s take a look at what this means, and how it affects you.

Don’t give us low-hanging fruit.
A headhunter recently wrote to me, complaining that her corporate clients don’t want her to submit resumes of people whose resumes are already plastered all over the job boards.

We have seen a couple of clients indicate that they do not want to see resumes of candidates who have been sourced on the popular job boards (even if they have not sourced the candidate themselves). [“Sourced” means “found.”] We always clear the candidate on the client company to determine if they have been contacted or applied to the company. We would never submit a candidate who has indicated contact with a client company.

Translation: We find resumes on Internet job boards and we send them to companies, hoping to get an interview, a hire, and a fee. Read more

How much can you afford?

Many years ago I worked for a small, scrappy, successful company that cut the floor out from under its competition every day. No one could touch us — not on value, and not on price. But we always turned a very nice profit. Our competitors could never figure out how we did it. It’s a lesson in shrewd customer relations and sales.

When a sales rep would moan to the company president (and founder) that a prospect could not afford our price, his answer was always the same. “Sure they can afford it. Just lower the price.”

This drove new sales reps to distraction because they were not permitted to sell at a loss. “But we’ll lose money!

“No we won’t. Take something out of the product to reflect the drop in price. Then show the customer which part of our great products and services she’d have to forego to save a few measley dollars.

Ask the prospect how much they can afford. How much do they want to spend? Lower the price if you have to. Remove features from the product or service to make the product reflect the price. (Or, offer a different product that costs less.) But never walk away from the deal. Always let the customer spend what the customer says she wants to spend. Your job is to sell the benefits of the product, and to help the prospect realize she will get what she pays for. (And, of course, be ready to deliver everything she needs if she is willing to pay for it.)

At that little company (which became a very big company through acquisitions), the most valued sales skill was knowing how to give customers what they asked for, and then to show them the benefits of buying greater value. In other words, how to get lots more value in exchange for spending just a bit more money.

My good buddy Bob Lewis discusses this in another context in his Keep the Joint Running newsletter. Never say no, even when you can’t say yes, suggests Bob. “Your alternative to yes and no is, as always, “here’s what it will take.” You can get from here to there, but not for free. Some alternatives will require investment; all will have risks attached.”

When a manager suggests a job offer at salary $X, you can tell him you’d accept it, “if what you’ve described as the job is all you want me to do for you.” When the manager gives you a quizzical look, offer more. “Well, I could do the job you want. But I could do a lot more. For example, I can show you how I believe I could increase your departmental profitability by 5%-10%. I’d expect a higher salary for that, but that’s up to you.” (That’s at the heart of The most important question in an interview.)

What someone can afford is always a function of how much they get for their dollar.

How many employees is one customer worth?

Company CEO’s love to say, “People are our most important asset!” Uh, except when it comes to investors. Then the CEO proclaims, “Customers are our most important asset!”

So, which is it? Rob Preston asks in InformationWeek, Should Your People Come Before Your Customers? He lends his own logic and analysis, and his article is well worth reading, but I’ll tell you how I look at it.

  • What’s your company’s product?
  • Who builds/creates it?
  • Who improves it and adds value to it as the market becomes more competitive?
  • Who pushes it through the sales-and-distribution pipeline to generate revenue?
  • Who picks your company back up when it falls down?

Employees, of course.

Now, we must also ask, who forks over money (aka, revenue) to your company? Customers, of course.

Ah, but who finds, gets, brings, keeps customers?

Obviously, we need both to run a successful business. Since companies have limited resources, they must decide where to deploy those resources. They must decide whether to be more employee-centric, or more customer-centric.

Now, how many employees is one customer worth? And, which would you rather have tomorrow — a great employee, or a great customer?

My vote is easy. I go with the employee, because one employee can bring me many customers. Customers don’t bring me good employees, and good employees are hard to find. Am I nuts?