Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Executive search and recruitment: Who to trust...!

Many job seekers are often perplexed about how to handle unexpected calls from executive search or recruitment consultants, quite understandably because even in a Web 2.0 world, the process essentially involves releasing personal information over the phone to total strangers which is somehow more intimate! So how do you respond to those cryptic messages and conversations which could indeed lead to a golden opportunity for the dream job, but could equally turn out to be pernicious scams?

Why so cryptic? Discretion is in everyone’s interest. It is important to understand that very often the consultant’s hands are tied by their client who want any executive searches or recruitment drives kept under the radar for operational and strategic business reasons. Many companies don’t want their competitors to know what their plans are. Also as a potential candidate you may not want the process broadcast either. One high flying C level executive was approached by an executive search company to join a competitor. Somewhere during the process, (from the client not the search company I should add) confidentiality was breached and the exec was subsequently “let go” by his existing employer.

So how do you know who to trust? What is the best way to deal with consultants who might contact you?

If you follow the basic guidelines you will be able to establish pretty easily who can best represent you and the sort of red flags you should be looking out for.

1. Establish the identity of the caller: Get all the contact information immediately. Ask for the name of the consultant and the company they represent. Verify spellings, web site details and phone numbers. If possible ask about the specific opening they are calling about, the job title or level, the client company and any other details. Do not be overly concerned if the consultant will only give a thumb nail sketch - it is quite normal to be very discreet at this stage. A good, experienced consultant should be able to outline a position succinctly in a matter of minutes. I would suggest that there is very little to be lost at this point other than some time to at least hearing more about the opportunity if you are open for a career move
2. Schedule a call at a later date: preferably from, and to, a land line. Most ethical and professional recruiters are happy to oblige. If they are not prepared to do this, the chances are that they are working to meet daily targets. I would advise you to consider that thought seriously before continuing.
3. Environment: Arrange to speak in a quiet environment away from disturbances and interruptions. This could be that dream job we spoke about! Cars or kids combined with mobile phones are both high risk!
4. Research the caller: Check out the recruiters profile on Linkedin or the company web site. Check if the company is a member of a professional body. If the consultant lacks experience in search (e.g. if he/she were selling real estate or shoes 3 months previously) and doesn't have the necessary professional qualifications - be cautious. As someone who contacts candidates regularly I am happy to let anyone know how to check my credentials. My LinkedIn profile reference is included in my email address. All my qualifications and experience are listed in full on LinkedIn, together with professional recommendations. My email address also includes blog details which has an informative bio at the side. All this indicates to candidates that I am exactly who I say I am, so I never have credibility issues and am actually never even asked.
5. Research the opportunity: so you can present yourself in the best possible light and prepare appropriate questions. This call is part of the selection process and should be treated seriously. First impressions do count.
6. Verify the relationship with the client company: This is another way of asking if the consultant actually has the recruiting assignment. Some unethical recruiters go on fishing expeditions to harvest CVs to sell on later.
7. Is the arrangement for the search exclusive? This will let you know if they are a retained search company or if they are competing with other companies to present their candidates.
8. Query your suitability: Ask the consultant why he/she believes you might be suitable for the position. This opens a discussion that indicates if the consultant understands the job profile. It also tells you what you need to know so that you can orientate your CV if you decide to proceed.
9. Ask about the time frame and the process: If they are evasive - that is a red flag. Companies quite often ask for confidentiality because they don’t want competitors to know that they are recruiting key personnel. This does present issues for consultants, but an ethical consultant should be able to outline the process with a broad brush time frame. Thorough searches generally take between 3 and 6 months.
10. Ask for a profile. Preferred suppliers usually have an outline of one as a basic minimum, or can make a profile available after the initial contact. Clients don't want organisational details flying around cyber space until there is confirmed genuine interest. If there is any continued evasiveness, even at the client level about the job content, reporting arrangements, how performance will be measured – be very cautious

What to look out for….
1. CV Harvesters : if a recruiter can’t specify a specific search or a company – be cautious. Sometimes, as I explained, the company name is confidential, which to be fair happens frequently. However, a consultant can say for example “ US, multi-national, Fortune 500, B2B electronics , based in xx” etc)
2. Protect your contact information if you have any doubts: CV harvesters can pass on your resume to aggregators. These CVs are then used to cull contact information which is subsequently sold to the highest bidders. Don’t include your home address and do use a public email such as hotmail.
3. Vague or unresponsive to your direct questions: usually indicates a lack of knowledge = competence and perhaps even integrity. See above
4. The Trojan horse: Occasionally recruiters contact companies with known preferred suppliers, but where they are aware of an open vacancy. The consultant will go through the motions of presenting you as a candidate, even though candidates from the preferred supplier will get priority consideration. There is a risk that your application will be associated with a disreputable recruiter, which may jeopardise future and genuine applications.
5. Sales Targets: Some recruiting companies have a resume quota for their recruiters. They have to make x calls per day and receive x CVs per day. This encourages new recruiters to get resumes with any story possible. The chances of your resume being used for anything positive are very slim.
6. Arbitrary circulation of your CV: Resumes are randomly sent to prospective employers, with the recruiter’s contact information, not yours. Most companies do not follow-up on unsolicited resumes submitted by unknown recruiters. At best it will disappear at worst it will be associated with a poor recruiter.
7. Beware of job boards: Some unethical companies submit CVs to job boards. There your name and contact information are deleted and substituted with the recruiter’s details. Companies interested in your credentials, then have to go through the recruiter and split fees. One photovoltaic expert looking for a candidate for her own department, found what could only have been her own doctored CV on a job board!

Most search companies especially at the higher end of the market have strong reputations and would not want to damage those with unprofessional conduct. They are bound by codes of ethics from their professional bodies. These are just words of caution to protect against the odd " cowboys" that occasionally creep into any sector!

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Job search for the 50 somethings

One of the most vulnerable groups in this or any other recession is the 50 somethings. This is not necessarily because they are poor performers, but usually because they are simply more expensive than junior employees. Severing a few senior execs or older employees can make an instant and positive impact on any organisation’s salary bill. Additionally, at this level employees are also costly in terms of perks and benefits, with company cars, phones, lap tops, health and pension plans and longer holidays etc all contributing to reducing a company’s overheads when they cease. So whether you’re pushed or decide to take advantage of voluntary early retirement schemes, there are lots of things to take into consideration.


So what can you do ?

Emotional support : The higher you are - the further the fall. Losing your job is hard for anyone, but being displaced from near the top of the chronological or professional pyramid can be especially tough. Quite often there are angry thoughts about how many years you’ve put in and perhaps how little time you have left in your career. Deal with the anger, grief and anxiety and any perceptions of failure you might have as effectively and as early as you possible. All of these challenging emotions will impede your ability to move forward. Set up some coping strategies, a structured daily schedule to support yourself through this difficult time. My friend Sarah Robinson calls this structure “Walking the Grid”(
www.themaverickmom.com) She uses this strategy when “ ..I really don’t know what to do next, where I feel like I am grappling in the dark …” It might be walking, gym sessions, talking to close friends and family, networking, job search activities, relaxing, sleeping and eating correctly.


I knew one Coachee who didn’t tell his wife he had been laid off until 3 months after the event and every day he left the house as if setting off for the office as usual. In fact he was just sitting in caf├ęs and parks until he came home at the normal time. So if your own efforts don’t work consider seeking professional support or visit your doctor.

2. Take stock: What do you really want to do? List your passions. How so you want to spend the rest of your career - your life? Consider personal development programmes: think about training in another field or updating old skills. An old college friend, Russell Lewis, an ex-lawyer has retrained in dry stone walling techniques and thatching– simply because he wanted to spend his post- retirement career working out of doors. What do you want to do?

3. Update your CV: many older job seekers have not looked for a job or written a CV for a number of years. It is key to update it in line with current job search developments and presentation techniques, as well as to keep abreast of modern technology in this field. This is one age group which I strongly believe benefits from professional career support. You are no longer obliged to state your date of birth, or even the year you graduated on your CV, but most experienced recruiters are savvy enough to work out if you try too much camouflaging

4. Indentify your transferable skills: look at the challenges in your life and career and ask how these can be used in other fields or sectors . You have amazing life and career experiences to call upon, so make these your USPs.

5. Update your professional skills: it is really important now to be on top of all the latest developments in your field, profession or sector. You may not be operational in all of them, but being out of touch with current trends dates you.

6. Interim assignments: 50 somethings are quite often attracted to interim assignments, although this is a sphere that is challenging to break into because the Catch 22 applies that previous experience is quite often required. This is an deal sector for candidates who are nationally or internationally mobile and have had experience of hitting the ground running as project managers during their careers.

7. Networking: now is the time to really tap into your network. All those extra miles on the tires means lots more contacts on the Rolodex, which is a huge bonus. Maximise those connections. Make sure you attend all professional and alumni events. Sign up for news letters.

8. Become familiar with social media: make sure you have a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and any social media pertinent to your field. This is not just about raising your visibility , it’s also about being seen to be current! 50 somethings who
dismiss social media and modern technology out of hand and do so volubly, are immediately indicating that they are not at least in touch with modern trends. As a minimum you need to understand what it is all about and how it functions. If you reject it, do so from an informed position. It means that you can communicate with the 25 – 45 age group without your eyes glazing over or looking panic stricken.

9. Assess your image: now is the time to objectively ( and tastefully) update your image and make sure your clothes, hair style and general appearance are at least from the 21st century.

10. Look after your health: If you look healthy and fit ( and hopefully are) you will appear energetic.

11. Interviews: there is a strong possibility that everyone in the process might be younger than you. Try not to let this bother you. Don’t assume that because you are older, you know more, or better. Your area of expertise is just in another area. Appearing flexible, current and open will be key factors to emphasise. Try to keep your points of reference relatively recent. Referring to experiences from 30 or 40 years ago, unless it is of specific value, dates you. So forget Flower Power, Glasnost, Thatcher, Mitterand and Clinton and make sure you have a good general knowledge of recent national and international events plus general cultural developments. If you don’t know what an Ipod is you might be in trouble.

12. Re-location: older employees are sometimes less tied to specific geographic areas because of young families etc. If you are able to extend your job search net wider, so much the better.

13. Volunteer: Not- for-Profit organisations are happy to have senior level volunteers. This is always helpful for networking, refreshing old skills or learning new ones.

14. Become an Expert: Offering pro- bono consulting services is another way of raising your visibility and show casing your area of expertise. Write a blog or articles for your local newspaper or your professional newsletter, which also increases you visibility. Set up a web site. You have a lot to offer. There are certain areas where “Village Elder “ experience is invaluable. E-How (
www.ehow.com ) offers the opportunity to make money on line by writing and publishing your own content.

15. Anti – social hours: Consider working hours that younger workers with families won’t/can’t work.


16. Is this the time to be self employed? With your wealth of experience could you start up your own business or join forces with someone else with complementary skills . You Noodle is a place to discover and support the hottest early-stage companies and university innovation. They develop decision-making technology and tools for the start up world. (www.younoodle.com) Check it out.

Some companies actually value expertise and experience. I hope you find them!


Six of the most costly words in life or business can be " This is what I've always done."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some recruitment myths debunked

Today, not only are there fewer job opportunities, but many individuals come away feeling disillusioned, depressed, inadequate and somehow short changed after their dealings with recruiters. A recent survey conducted by FPC Workplace Web Poll Data between March and July 2009, indicates that having no response at all to resume submissions is actually the greatest challenge to job seeking in this economy ( cited by 42% of the poll) .

In the last months I have talked to many job seekers who complain about poor experiences with recruitment and search companies, and a number have asked for support to explain how to negotiate what at times can actually be a more disheartening process than being out of work.

At the root of all of these issues seems to be mismatched expectations by potential candidates of the people, the process and the organisations involved in job search. It might be helpful to map out what you can realistically expect from any recruitment or search organisation. What can you do differently to avoid disappointment?

The recruiting process in a business context
· Talent Management / Human Capital / HR, whatever you want to call it, can be very much the poor relation in many organisations ( why is a whole other topic). Sometimes the function is not even represented at executive board level. This can weaken the strategic voice within a company.

· During the downturn, as a service function, HR professionals have seen their teams cut and many are simply overworked, under supported and beleaguered. They are caught between demanding executive committees and angry, confused employees. You may have read about demonstrations and actions taken against HR professionals as the “company voice” in many parts of the world, which is even called “ Boss Snapping” in France.

· Any pressure HR professionals are under to reduce their hiring costs, are then passed onto search and recruitment organisations. Sometimes companies will give the same assignment to multiple recruitment companies who will compete against each other to place candidates. The unsuccessful organisations will have invested resources in good faith in this process and will not receive a fee.

· At the same time recruiting companies themselves have been hit by the downturn and have laid off large numbers of staff , so many are also operating on reduced budgets and manpower. Some work on contingency (no placement = no fee) and it is not economically viable to invest time in candidates that are not on target. Additionally they are dealing with huge numbers of unsolicited CVs during this recession with lower staffing levels.

· When there is a drive to reduce costs in whatever sector you are in – this can impact the quality of the final product and service.

Anders Borg, President of Hansar International and current global Chairman of the AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants) comments: " A retained executive search firm is in the Leadership consulting business and helps client corporations achieve their strategic goals. Talent acquisition is one of the activities, the goal of which is to give the client company an optimal return on investment. The global spend on recruitment is currently down by a considerable number, even in the retained executive search talent base. With an overall drop between 30-50% , hundreds of consultants are now leaving the profession".

Who do recruiters work for? Not you!
This is the first job search myth that needs to be dispelled. The recruiter works for the hiring company not you. Hoisting that one simple fact on board will help enormously in managing your expectations of the outcome of any contact.

There are a number of ways career opportunities come to the market but whether the company is a retained executive search company or a recruitment company working on contingency, in all cases the client is the hiring organisation – not you.

How do I find a high calibre recruiter?
There are large numbers of highly qualified, skilled and committed search professionals throughout the world. But clearly, as in any profession there are cowboys and there will always be degrees of excellence, or lack of it with the people you encounter.

The AESC is the professional body overseeing executive search and recruitment organisations and their members adhere to a globally agreed code of professional ethics and conduct. It is best to select organisations that are members of this body, or other similar local or regional groups. Nevertheless still a word of caution from Anders: "Beware though that it is not the firm's brand name that is the key attraction. It is still the individual consultant that counts".

In many countries there are no professional barriers to entry which allows anyone with limited or no relevant academic qualifications or even functional experience to set themselves up in this arena and claim to be a recruitment professional. If your consultant was selling real estate 3 months earlier – be cautious. It is perfectly OK to check them out as individuals before finally committing and to shop around until you find someone with the type of experience you are looking for. LinkedIn or the company web site would be a good place to start any verification process.

Anders advises " As in all professions, some are excellent, a few are abysmal and the rest are somewhere in between. Try to seek out the excellent ones."

Why won’t recruiters give me career advice?
While many recruitment consultants are also certified coaches (as I am) most are not. They are not your personal coach and their role is not to motivate you or help you map out your career path. Many will be helpful, but others may have little understanding that even throw away phrases can have a very negative impact on anxious job seekers. There is no ill will usually involved in this, they simply don’t know any better and have their own stresses to deal with.

Why do I get no response to my job applications?
The worst experience job seekers claim they have, is no response at all. Uploading your CV and it disappearing into the ether of cyber space and having no idea what, or if anything at all will happen to it is very disheartening. You should understand well that indeed nothing is happening to it. 97% of CVs are not identified by ATS systems.

Why do recruiters never follow through?
Many recruiters are working on contingency – sometimes multiple companies working on the same assignment competing against each other. If they don‘t place a candidate they don’t get paid. Consultants are working to targets and focus on candidates they can be sure of placing. Many will take the time to develop candidate contacts but others do not have time or resources for professional courtesies and admin, so their dealings can be transactional. It is up to you if you decide to work with such organisations – but at least you know now in advance that this is what is going on.

Generally it is better to have a few solid trusted contacts than sending out your resume to every search company on the internet. Focus your time energy on raising your general visibility and connectivity and making your job search strategic.

What can you do?
Don’t let your desire to spread your job search net as wide as possible cloud your judgement about which recruiter to use. Cherry pick. Job search strategies are just that - strategic !When you contact search or recruitment companies Anders suggests "Focus on transferable skills and spell out how they would be of value in different environments. Leadership qualities and change management experience are often the key factors in this context".

- Research the company beforehand. Check if it is a member of the AESC or perhaps a similar regional or local professional body. Very often the names of practise heads are published on the web site. Assess the experience levels of the consultants who are usually listed.
- Check if there is an open assignment section and see if anything is appropriate to your skill set.
- Sign up for alerts
- Upload your CV via their web site or by email using strong vocabulary, mirroring techniques (as appropriate) and keywords to make sure your CV comes to the top 3% that get past keyword recognition software. If your CV is regularly disappearing into the job search ether - you need to do something different and change your key words or personal branding presentation
- Understand that consultants are unlikely to contact you unless they have a specific opening. It’s a fine line to tread between being tenacious and a nuisance, requiring empathy and marketing skills when you contact these organisations.
- Absolutely do not pay any fees - If a recruiter asks for a fee just to receive your CV , they are not a recruiter. By definition, no recruiter should ever charge the candidate. If they have a search, the company pays. Just let that go. That process should not be confused with an outplacement or career coaching where a tangible service is provided and YOU become the client. Very often the company that has made you redundant will pay that fee and you should look into that too.

What to do when you find a recruitment or company to trust :
1. Develop a relationship with the recruiter: People work with those that they like and trust.
2. Be correct, courteous and efficient in all your dealings - remember first impressions count
3. Add value : Source colleagues, friends or even competitors who might be suitable if you are not. Recruiters appreciate and will remember that courtesy.
4. Develop a reputation as an industry or sector source or technical specialist. If you gain a reputation in this area then the chances are that the recruiter will come back to you.

Coming next! Tips on :
- Inside recruitment and search companies
- how to handle recruiters and search professionals when they contact you



With Special thanks to Anders Borg: President Hansar International and Chairman of AESC http://www.hansar.com/