What’s the Deal with Head Hunting?

February 2, 2001

By Liz Caxton

“Good morning, may I please speak to Elizabeth Caxton?”

“Yes, Liz Caxton speaking.”

“Arhh … good morning Liz. My name’s Gerard Smythe and I’m calling from Have-We-Got-A-Job-For-You, Australia’s largest headhunting organisation …”

In these days of frequent job switching, it is not unheard of for a recruitment headhunter to call to discuss an opening he or she is currently looking to fill. Receiving such a call is a boost to anyone’s professional ego and is usually extremely flattering. The very fact that you received such a call means that someone ‘out there’ knows who you are and what you do. You’re not merely an anonymous cog in the machine of corporate Australia – you’re a recognised part of it! Yippee! You’re a ‘somebody’ at last!

Yeeeess! Remember though, somebody who’s looking to fill a job for a client now thinks you may be a ‘somebody’. Never take yourself too seriously, you are a potential commission cheque, not God’s gift to the economy!

Naturally be a little flattered, secretly be very flattered if you want, but before you hand in your resignation and start packing up your ‘You don’t have to be crazy to work here – but it helps!’ desk plaque and photos of your nearest and dearest, think about what’s on offer.

Assuming you weren’t actually looking to move companies, just because someone has offered you the possibility of another job do you really want to leave where you are now? Remember, until this unexpected phone call you were quite happy with your lot.

“I felt very settled where I was and was enjoying my role within the company and really liked my colleagues,” recalls network administrator Claire Abbott. “When I got ‘the call’ I felt really flattered and my priorities seemed to change in seconds. Here I was being offered the chance of significantly more money and increased responsibility,” explains Claire. “I leapt at the opportunity of an interview and ended up landing the job in the end. As it turned out the organisation was a shambles and my line manager was such nightmare to work with I ended up resigning after six months!”

Claire’s career experienced this unnecessary blip (from which it has subsequently recovered) because she committed the first sin of the headhunted: she allowed her judgement to be clouded by flattery. Consider any unsolicited career propositions with a clear and unbiased viewpoint. Whoever has rung you may want you – but do you want them? You may be quite happy where you are and with whom you work. If this is the case, don’t change jobs just because someone offers you the opportunity. You don’t eat chocolate if you’re not hungry do you? (Probably not the best analogy, but you know what I mean!)

Equally, just because you’re quite happy with your current position do not dismiss any suggestions out-of-hand. Listen to what the headhunter has to say and allow yourself time to consider the details. (NB: if it’s not convenient to have this discussion at the time the headhunter calls, politely ask if they could call you back, or if you can call them at a more convenient time.)

After you have had time to consider the details let the headhunter know whether or not you are interested. If you are definitely not interested, make this clear and thank them for their interest in you. Be polite – you never know they may have your dream job in the future!

If you are interested, arrange to discuss the opportunity further with the headhunter. At this first meeting, which may be an elimination meeting of several candidates contacted, don’t be surprised if you are not told the name of the headhunter’s client. This is often not disclosed until the final short-list of candidates is drawn up.

Assuming you get through the first interview and make it to the second, consider the job being offered as you would any other job you had applied for. Carry out the usual pre-employment research on the company; if they are a listed company request a copy of their latest annual report and accounts (this is a public document, they are obliged to provide it to anyone who asks for it). Is the job really what you’re looking for? Is it paying enough? Will the management structure suit your professional style: for example is it democratic? Team-orientated? Results-orientated? Whatever, is it you?

If at this stage you are not happy to proceed any further, let the headhunter know, thank them for their time and return to your pre-headhunted life. Assuming it’s offered, and you wish to take the job, accept subject to receiving a formal letter of offer.

Before you resign from your current position, consider discussing your situation with your present employer. If you are moving companies primarily for more money, perhaps your current employer can match your ‘new’ salary. But be careful when accepting a counter-offer: money may seem like the answer to your prayers, but it seldom is when it comes to work. If you’d consider moving companies for more money, there’s usually something else that’s not going right for you as well.

“I’d been approached by a headhunter for a position at a competitor’s. I was interviewed and offered the job and was really excited about accepting the role – it was a real feather in my cap because the competitor was performing much better than we were. Their whole corporate culture was much more appealing and I really respected my to-be colleagues,” recounts brand manager Sally Thorne.

“To my surprise, during my resignation meeting, my employer offered to increase my salary to significantly more than I was being offered by the competitor. I thought about it for a couple of days and then decided to accept the increase and stay. Big mistake! After four or five months on my new super-huge salary I realised that the money wasn’t making me enjoy my job anymore than I had done previously. The reason I was so keen to leave in the first place was because I didn’t like the internal politics and the inflexibility of management to new ideas.”

In summary, if you’re approached by a recruitment headhunter, remain calm and rational. The job you’re being considered for may not be your dream job, but it might be just the exit you’re looking for … don’t let the door close on you before you’ve looked at all the angles.

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