Careers Insight: Pay attention to the headhunter

Forging an alliance with a headhunter could reap dividends in the long term

All sectors feature appointments made following a headhunter searching and shortlisting on behalf of their client.

When roles are considered high value, focusing on specific targets is an attractive option, and clients value a headhunter’s thoughts on an individual’s prominence in that area.

If a headhunter impresses you with their depth of knowledge of the sector, which will normally be reinforced by evidence that they enjoy good relationships with key figures in the industry, this could be a great opportunity to form an alliance.

How you manage that first approach can have a genuine impact on your career in the future, whether or not the actual role is the right fit.

If you do not feel that pursuing the role is the right option, take a few minutes to listen to how well-informed the headhunter is of the plans of key firms. The level of trust that has been bestowed upon them will give you a clear indication of how much influence and respect they have with that client and allow you to judge whether they have a credible insight into the sector.

Investing your trust

Headhunters use a number of techniques to identify talent. From personal experience, I know that to explain to someone that an approach is not just one of many being made, but is one that has been researched, makes a big difference to how a candidate feels about engaging in a discussion.

The better the research, the more that first approach is likely to progress. Similarly, how a candidate manages that first approach can define the way in which the headhunter will choose to ‘mark your card’.

If a role is not for you, explain the reason(s) why. This can help shape future approaches, and just as importantly, how you articulate what position would interest you and what has got to happen for you to know the time is right, lets a headhunter know that you have a plan.

It is a leap of faith to trust someone who has approached you for the first time, but headhunters will help you to be more proactive in planning your career.

The advantages of investing time increase the likelihood that you are not just waiting for the next vacancy being brought to your attention.

This does not remove the onus on you to build your profile, whether through traditional networking opportunities, such as industry events, or through writing articles for your industry.

Moreover, having an active online presence is increasingly being used to build brands.

The golden rule is to make sure that if your name is being mentioned, it is for the right reasons. You never know who is connected to whom.

Agencies tend to tell you what salary ranges are, whereas headhunters will tell you what your market value has the potential to be, and what type of career trajectory you should be looking to and the things that you should be delivering in order to progress.

Building connections

Both traditional and internet-based networking should be seen as a long-term investment in your future. By building genuine connections over time, you are more likely to find people who are willing and able to help you when the time comes to look for a new job.

There are many different recruitment models, and of course there are many online portals and careers pages that an individual has to consider when thinking about moving jobs. However, having a positive alliance with a headhunter does give you the chance of having a key person of influence working productively on your behalf.

In the same way that headhunters will be selective about the assignments they work on, they will be discerning in how they invest in your alliance.

Time is a scarce commodity for you and the headhunter alike, but taking the time to explain your credentials and your career plan – however minor that may seem – can be the catalyst for a healthy, collaborative alliance.

Peter Gwilliam is the owner of Virtus Search

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