Category Archives: Executive search

Visumés: The new way forward

PLEASE NOOOOO!!

Many people have talked about the concept of the visumé and their almost certain roles in our futures. Well, I was sent my first one yesterday and I have to tell you, that thought fills me with total horror.

As a coach, I can see they might have potential. The exercise would give individuals the motivation to focus on the content of their mission statement and USPs, as well as to the opportunity to perfect the delivery of their elevator sound bites to camera. It would certainly make any job seeker stand out if done professionally. As a recruiter, the thought of sifting through hundreds of 3 minute You Tube type presentations, delivered by what look like robotic newscasters of the lowest calibre, or possibly worse still the swaggering arrogance of Apprentice wannabes (see below), would frankly be intolerable.

So is this just my narrow-minded European view? Am I being a reticent Brit who sits there cringing through webinars and promotional clips from even quite highly regarded and rated amateurs? I decided to ask some contacts in the US, the home of “Show and Tell”, to let me know exactly what their thoughts are on the other side of the world.

Think hard
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Career Strategist at Career Trend suggests ” before stepping into the abyss of creative resume production, consider the goal of a resume: to hook the audience for further conversation (aka, the interview). As such, the buyer of your product initially is less interested in clicking on a 2-3 minute video and more interested in quickly absorbing your message through a glimpse of your written resume story.”

Professional
So to get past people like me  if you are going to do it – it has to be done well.  Creating a video resume  will mean more than sitting on a sofa, in front of a web cam in your living room and reading your CV.  But as interactive on-line video resumés become more commonplace,   I anticipate (dread?) a time when candidates will,  as part of their job seeking  and brand management strategies,  start crafting an on-line video presence to add to their search portfolios. 

There are also some basic operational issues as Jacqui mentions “ the viewer is required not only load up a video (and not all computer and smart phone systems will easily load up your video, causing frustration), but to listen and watch for 1-3+ minutes, versus an initial 15-30 second scan of a written resume. Most hiring and recruiting decision-makers I network with still prefer the written resume vs. a video for the initial touch point.

Performance
When you send or upload a CV or deliver your sales pitch,  the recipient reads your message before he or she hears it or sees it. With a visumé , you are essentially skipping the early parts of the process which are part of the job seeking building blocks and going straight for an audition. Julia Erickson, Career Expert at Careerealism.com, suggests that this is “actually not a resume at all, it’s a performance where you are attempting to show your personality as one the employer would like. So even if you have the qualifications, if the person watching the visume doesn’t like you or how you look or what you’re wearing, you won’t get an interview. “.

Image
There are advantages to both search strategies, if you are actually a skilled presenter. But as I know from my days of working in corporate HR for a major British TV company, working to camera goes one step beyond normal presentation skills and even the best presenters need on-camera training, with additional focus on image: clothes, hair, make up (even the men) and body language, more so than in an ordinary interview. Dan Harris’s sunglasses on his head are a definite NO!

Julia adds ” It’s been fascinating to watch some of the video resumes on-line and it confirms my opinion about them. It is even tougher to produce than a regular resume. If you are not using a professional videographer, you can make a mess. Vault.com is promoting them to a certain extent; they have a YouTube “primer” on how to make one that contains very basic tips. If you spend some money, you probably could get a video resume that was OK – if you want one

Across the Atlantic divide we agreed wholeheartedly, that as video is not an interactive medium, any personal chemistry is removed and there is no opportunity to respond to any body language or obviously questions. The candidate’s performance is generic and static, but each viewer will have a different perception of the delivery and you will not be there to engage.

Visual Resumés
Visumés are not to be confused with visual resumés. LinkedIn is a visual resumé site and I also have many clients who have added visual resumés to their own web site with great success. Julie cautions ” The important thing is to make your paper resume consistent with your virtual/visual resumes. All the information needs to be the same“.

Both sides of the pond also agreed that a Visual CV would never be used to replace a paper one especially when organisations have their own software application methods. Anything that creates extra work for hard pressed hiring or recruiting managers puts the candidates at risk. If you do go that route Julie recommends 2 sites : “Slideshare allows you to create a visual CV, and VizualResume that put your basic information into a jazzed up format”.

Visumés and VisualCVs allows candidates to give employers a look at your work product or portfolio, so as part of a wider approach they can certainly add value. They can also be added to a LinkedIn profile or website to enhance any job search strategy.

The general intercontinental consensus is that to rely exclusively on a Visumé as the only tool in your job search box would be high risk – unless of course, you are looking for an opportunity on television.

Special thanks for great insights to :
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, MRW, CPRW, CEIP, Chief Career Writer and Owner – CareerTrend
Julia Erickson: Career Expert at Careerealism.com http://julieannerickson.blogspot.com/ http://twitter.com/juliaerickson

Red Alert Resumés


I’m going to come clean. I hate functional CVs. With a passion.

As someone who reads possibly hundreds of CVs a week, there is nothing more frustrating than reading a list of qualities and so called achievements and still having very little idea of what the candidate did, does now and where he/she did or didn’t do, what they claim they could do in the future. See how confusing it is?

Smoke screens
The notion of a functional CV seems to be put forward by career columnists and consultants who no longer work , or have never worked, in search and recruitment. Ironically what totally functional resumes do is send out an immediate red flag alert to any savvy recruiter that something isn’t aligned with the required job profile. Functional CVs are in effect a smoke screen. They are a band -aid thought up to help candidates feel better, without necessarily producing better results.

Functional CVs take time to figure out and most recruiters do not have the time to work anything out at all. Those abstract ideas included in a functional CV are supposed to supplement content not distract from it, or worse still , replace it. We want ” eureka” , not head scratching moments. No content at all will almost certainly mean hitting the reject pile.

Functional CVs are based on self assessment. To give them any meaning metrics are needed. “Strongly entrepreneurial ” could mean anything from running a garage sale , to your own business. Turnover figures and market demographics are needed. So why not say you ran your own business with dates and figures and save everyone a lot of time. “Financial acumen ” is another one I frequently see. If this acumen is gained in a Fortune 500 company, or as a School Treasurer with a budget of millions of Euros, then that sends out a different message to managing a lunch group with a budget of several hundred, kept in a tatty envelope in a desk drawer.

Context matters

Functional CVs send out the following possible messages:
• There could be a lack of required experience or gaps in a CV ( including time off for parenting)
• There has maybe been some job hopping
• There has possibly been a termination ( firing or redundancy)
• There could be unrelated work experiences
• There are possibly skills acquired outside the workplace rather than in it: volunteer work or social or sporting activities
• Most recent work experience is not relevant to the job, but past experience is
• There perhaps has been a period of self-employment , freelancing or consulting
• There are concerns about age at both ends of the spectrum

Identifying transferrable skills plays a key part in the creation of a powerful resume. For me, their rightful place is in a strong mission statement, which is a quick snap shot of your skills and achievements. But they do need to be put into context, with a clear career chronology and details of your educational and personal development background. One line manager I dealt with recently almost binned the functional CV of a potential candidate because he thought it was a long ( and very boring) cover letter, not a resume!

Camouflaging
The antennae of any experienced recruiter are finely attuned to identify immediately the lengths anyone might go to hide their concerns. Elaborate camouflage techniques can jeopardize chances of being selected for interview, just as surely as a straightforward explanation of your circumstances and the actions you have taken to deal with them. Understanding those challenges and gaining insight into yourself and the skills that were required to overcome them will prove to be vital, not just in the creation of a resume but in the interview process.

Being up front can help

If you lost your job last year – say so. Lots of people did. If you retrained, attended courses and volunteered that sends an important message about how you responded to the challenge.

If you took time out to raise a family – say so . What you did during that period to stay professionally connected will show.

If you have been fired – don’t say so, but be prepared to offer a constructive explanation. If you have been fired repeatedly, then some self-examination or professional support would seem imperative.

Avoid the use of the word ”problems”. Of any kind. Recruiters home in on that word and then avoid it like the plague.

If you have relevant experience early in your career you might need a refresher course or to completely re-train. Do it and then say so!

If you are in a certain age demographic, then I agree , don’t put your date of birth, simply because you maybe cut by ATS. But do make every effort to be up to date and current – and say so.

If you are young and trying to demonstrate potential and have very specific achievements which you can highlight with metrics. Say so.

If you freelanced, set up your own business or consulted – say so. That requires very different skills to being a full time employee. What are those skills? Share them.

So on balance, is it really best to deal with any issues up front and early?

I think so.

Can you risk not having a career strategy?

Why strategic personal branding  is vital to career management
At the end of last year ,  I wrote about my experience adapting to a dramatically changing culture  and new methodologies in my own field of executive search and career coaching.    Although the central  theme,   slightly egocentrically,  focused on my own challenges and  frustrations of dealing with the  concept of  high on-line visibility, now a.k.a.  Personal Branding,   there was actually a key, underlying core message . The need for strategic forward thinking and preparation.

What is clear now is that we all need to develop and maintain on an ongoing basis,  a personal brand and career strategy , regardless of our current age or place in our careers.    

Why?  
The recent recession has highlighted  not just unemployment trends, but  shifts in workplace employment and recruitment practises.  Some companies have  been forced by economic circumstances to re – engineer their policies to reduce their salary bills and employment costs, just to stay afloat.   Other organisations have simply used the downturn as an opportunity to introduce workplace  flexibility to  instantly enhance  bottom line results . 

Job loss has slowed down going into 2010, but job creation still lags  behind.  Permanent positions in companies  have been reduced and are unlikely to return to previous levels.  Fringe activities such as outsourcing to low-cost employment areas  and the reduction of  a permanent workforce to what Business Week calls “Perma-temps”  is on the increase and now becoming mainstream . The growth in interim assignments at a senior level  is also rising, attracting not just the early retirees who wanted to do a “spot of  consulting “,   but senior professionals  with  no other source of income.  

 In 2009,  according to the UK Office for National Statistics  there was a 31.5% rise  in unemployment for people over 50 ,  so at this age , there is a one in six chance of being out of work,  compared to Gen X  where  the  unemployment rate increased by  21.6 % .   However, even  if you do have a job  David Autor of MIT , suggests that the chances of  older,  more highly educated professionals  being employed in  lower skill level positions has  also  increased.  At the  other end of the spectrum, Gen Y struggle to get even unpaid internships.  Their unemployment figures have hit 18%   with predictions  that they will not be fully integrated into the workforce until 2014 with all that implies.

This means that competition for permanent positions in strong, stable organisations will  continue to be fierce, long after the recession is officially over.  At all levels.  The need to raise our visibility and generate a personal brand as part of a  planned career strategy will be more important than ever.    

Be strategic
Brian Tracy  suggested ‘ Invest three percent of your income in yourself (self-development) in order to guarantee your future ”  The reality is that most people don’t do that in terms of their career.  They might take golf lessons or learn to paint,  but  the average person probably spends more time planning an annual vacation  and invests more money maintaining  their  cars, than  planning their careers.  So because they are unprepared,   any crisis ( redundancy, firing , lay-offs, promotion disappointments)   produces a flurry of activity,  not  specific or focused , but usually frantic  and urgent.  Deadlines  become short-term, limited to weeks or months, rather than anything longer term.  CVs are dispatched and uploaded, networks contacted, headhunters emailed  and sometimes  in extremis,  even career coaches sought out.  We would never think of taking off  on a  road  trip in  an  un-maintained car ( at least not once out of college),  yet we constantly look for jobs with un- maintained careers and wonder why there are difficulties!  

Avoid brand prostitution
 @TomYHowe:    suggested in response to my post “I think therefore I exist…Wrong , think again”   that on going brand management  could lead to   “Life as sales”     and he is indeed correct ,  if not  applied strategically.  There’s no reason why it should involve on- line soul selling and become brand prostitution. That would come dangerously close to some of the publicity stunts  I mentioned required to market celebrity scent.  

Return on Relationships
Nor does it necessarily mean as  @wpbierman:    amusingly quipped,  becoming ego related:   “I am being followed – therefore I am”.  Behind that funny one-liner there is for me  an excellent thought, that once again comes back to strategy. I am definitely in favour of return on relationships and for me the key message is what   Rory Murray   describes as  ” maximising your reputation in the marketplace through the effective use of your network of contacts for mutual benefit“.   

Measuring success only by the volume of connections/ followers/friends  can be misleading.  Lisa Brathwaite covers this concept beautifully in her post  suggesting that some  of the so-called on line experts can be some of the poorest users, simply because they do not engage.

But for job seekers and headhunters alike there  is a great deal of strength in a weak network.    It is the new, global Rolodex and  why I think it’s important to start developing that visibility and personal brand as wisely,  strategically and as early in your career as possible,  as the competition for permanent jobs hots up . 

Why? To stand out in a crowded market place 

  •  to make sure you appear in on-line searches run by people like me.   That’s how you get noticed
  • To build up a strong on-line presence and reputation. This is what differentiates and extends your reputation  and how you get those calls from people like me.
  • Build up  a strong  network as part of an ongoing career management  plan.

 That’s how you avoid crisis and improve your job search chances.

Thanks to WP Bierman,  Lisa Braithwaite,   Rory Murray    and Tom Howe

 

“I think therefore I exist?”. Wrong…think again!

Personal Branding and the 50-somethings!  
Every week I get messages from executives of a certain age , partly because of my post “ Job search strategies for the 50 something’s “   A typical one would be “ I  m working really hard,  have contacted 4 head hunters, sent off 25 CVs, been called for 8 interviews and short listed for 2 – but no luck.  Will I end up stacking shelves in Tescos/ Walmart / Carrefour  in January?   What do I have to do? P.S  Send food parcels”

The answers are in no particular order:  1) possibly  2) postal address  required  3) something different  . 

Visible message
The main point I took from this is despite being as  pro – active as they can,  these execs are still  not being contacted by head hunters as passive candidates.  So I check out their LinkedIn profiles , Twitter presence and Google them and can immediately tell if they have what  the new buzz word calls a Personal Brand. This seems to trip off my tongue lightly. Don’t be fooled!  Truthfully it is a phrase that I have only become familiar with over the past year because I had to confront it  both personally and professionally.  It is new speak for your clearly defined, highly  visible, core message.  

You too..
I  had always thought that personal branding was something associated with celebs (major and minor) being photographed getting out of cabs  (with or without underwear)  after  launching  over  priced costume jewellery ranges or  marketing dodgy smelling perfume.   So definitely NOT my thing!    The news  I received a year ago that I needed to work on an under performing  SEO,  conjured up notions of  an inactive muscle group,  requiring painful sessions with a trainer. Or worse still,  as financial markets lay in tatters  a  meeting with my bank manager .

So not only did I have to adapt my coaching programme to deal with changes in the job search market,  I also had to practise what I preached and get myself out of my comfort zone.  If anyone had told me that by the end of 2009 I would have been posting weekly blogs, writing comments and tweeting  like a trooper,  with my face splashed over the internet I would have been highly incredulous.   But here I am! So,  I can truthfully say that  I have walked the talk. I have also found it challenging, frustrating,  fulfilling, mind-opening. I have made amazing global connections and  come across some individuals who are simply different  in their expectations. Some I have let go, some I have embraced. So a formative learning curve.

Google ranking
A  year ago on Karen Purves’ advice  somewhat embarrassed, I  furtively Googled myself.  I always felt this was faintly narcissistic,  an activity reserved for aforementioned ego fragile  starlets. I gave up after about 10 pages. Even I was bored!  And I am me … or at least I thought I was. Not only was I not unique,  (there are numerous Dorothy Daltons)   I did not stand out from the crowd  at all.  Worse still  I was totally  invisible.  Whatever happened to ” I think therefore I exist”?

So after masses of research and consulting experts including Karen ,  it was obvious that there were 2 alternatives : a crisis or a plan .  I opted for the latter, knowing from experience that no matter how attractive drama  can appear  in the short-term, crises are a lot of work. Eventually there  has to be a plan.  It was partly laziness.  Age does have some advantages  – if there’s a short cut we look for it!

Get  a new habit
So to paraphrase Paul Getty, if business success is the force of habit , we 50 somethings  indeed have some deeply engrained ones. Some  are undoubtedly good,  some may need tweaking,  a few just totally nuking.  But we also need new ones. One of those is to  let go our cautiousness  regarding  on-line visibility and make that activity part of our daily routine.  If your name is not appearing  in any searches ( metrics- conveniently shown on your LinkedIn home page  – mid right ) or  getting those  discreet under the radar calls  from executive search companies,  this means that you too are probably regrettably invisible.  Gen Y are used to having every living moment  displayed on Facebook. Us Boomers are generally a more private generation.  But we need to get over that.    As Karen said  Google yourself! 

This personal journey I feel  has actually helped me have some credibility as a coach.  It is genuinely –  me too! If I can do it –  anyone can.

What do you need to do?

  •  Decide on  your “brand” focus.   This involves basic discovery work and goal setting. What are your USPs and success stories.  This is just another way of asking what is your core message? What do you offer?
  • Reserve your name  if you can as a url on a number platforms: LinkedIn,  Facebook and Twitter, Skype,  plus the .com domain.  If you name isn’t available make it something as close as possible. Use that consistently on all platforms.  
  • Use the same photo on all media
  • Make sure your email address and urls coincide. Lose hottotrot 1985@hotmail.com That stopped being cool circa 1987.
  • Set up a full LinkedIn profile ( Viadeo,  Xing, Naymz or any other … or all of them) Pro-actively increase your network and raise your visibility
  • Open a Twitter account with personalised home page and start to engage.
  • Set up a blog –   with a feed to your LinkedIn profile establish yourself as  a sector guru and expert. 
  • Participate in discussions, answer questions, post comments on other people blogs 
  • Create your own web site.

I am a work in progress –  as indeed we all are.     Karen  has very kindly offered to give me an end of year performance appraisal! 

Watch this space…

The strength of a weak network

In the past year I have attended more conferences, courses (on and off-line) seminars and webinars than possibly in the whole of my previous career. I have read articles , periodicals, blogs, newspapers, e- zines, magazines and worthy tomes. I wouldn’t consider myself to be especially perceptive generally, but I could see a year ago as markets crashed and millions of people were impacted by events outside their control,  that for my profession,  adapting to change would be key to prepare for any upturn.  So there was a strong need to get up to speed.  I identified pretty early on and somewhat unusually quickly for me,  the strength of what is now called a “weak network”.

Resisting change
In my role as a coach and an executive search professional I constantly come across individuals erecting barriers to embracing change in the way business is now being done across many sectors, but especially in recruitment and search on both sides of the process. People who are active in these new media tend to endorse each other’s efforts and so are essentially preaching to the choir. But in the general congregation I have noticed undoubted resistance and scepticism.

Impact of social media
Last week I attended the AESC European Conference ( Association of Executive Search Consultants) where a number of speakers eloquently shared their thoughts and studies of different economic changes and the impact these would have on talent management and executive search in Europe. @GeorgKolb  of Pleon,  Deutschland, gave a great and dynamic presentation on the impact of social media on the sector and  there was some talk that executive search could be reduced to a job  matching process by these new developments.

Wide networks
Many executive search consultants rely on their Rolodex contacts to facilitate introductions to potential candidates. But at the same time global internet sourcers, who could be based in India, Eastern Europe or anywhere else in the world, are equally active using Boolean Strings to remotely identify passive and active candidates they have never even heard of,  from information that is in the public domain via the internet. These might be professional networks, or any other source.  Many of us are not aware that  we all constantly leave our footprint in cyber space and are visible and traceable, whether we or not we want to be,  or even like the idea. The profession is in the throes of a major refocus when as a recruiter I am  possibly more likely to  identify a candidate from  social media or  on-line network than my immediate physical one.  My LinkedIn network, modest by some standards,  has a global reach of over 18 million people. Most of them could care less about me until maybe one day, they appear in a search and I approach them for what might be their dream job. The chances of me reaching that number of people through traditional networks are I’d say…. zero.

Cyber Sleuths
There is now a new breed of recruiter called a Cyber Sleuth! Such is the power of having a wide “weak ” network Shally Steckerl  of Arbita  has been arbitrarily stopped by LinkedIn from extending his network any further now it has reached 30000 LinkedIn users.  One client Nils Oudejans has voluntarily limited himself at 26000 connections before any restrictions are imposed on him.

Another strength of a weak network is that it is democratic. You don’t need to be in the right club or church, have attended a certain school  or worked in  a specific company to get connected. Generally if someone has a strong and professional on-line presence,  adds value  and  communicates  in an appropriate way, they are accepted. There are no barriers to entry based on academic qualifications, age, gender, race or sexual orientation. There are no exorbitant subscription or membership fees.   Porn and affiliate marketing spammers are treated the same as they would be in any network – excluded!  People who don’t engage get left out. Same as in  a physical network.

Personal Branding
On the transition side I coach clients specifically in raising their on-line visibility, now called Personal Branding.. Many are conservative and concerned because they don’t know  ” these people” who contact them via social media platforms and who invite them to “be- friend” “follow” or “connect “.   It’s sometimes an uphill struggle to explain that it doesn’t matter if they haven’t been physically introduced and no one cares about that,  and it’s about the added value of the contact, however remote. Do any of us know absolutely everyone in our alumni associations or golf clubs? No, of course not. This is no different.  On-line connections can actually be just as meaningful and sometimes more so, than physical ones. It’s about being visible, not just to them directly, but to their networks and being seen to offer quality.

Wide networks can be narrower than you think!
I can only speak from experience. I have more daily contact with some members of  my virtual network than even my family, who  I suspect might not understand what I do! This isn’t even a generational issue. My own Gen Y son,  is completely resistant to the idea that recruiters access Facebook to search for entry-level candidates  and will not use it for professional purposes. His new LinkedIn photo bore a striking resemblance at one time to what I can only describe as a tree. Happily this has now been changed. I have baby boomer executive search colleagues with limited on-line presence who balk at the idea of filling out their profiles and others who resist using keywords in all their presentations,  despite all the evidence that this is what they need to do.

When I met @MarionChapsal who I connected with via Twitter, my brother @MD60 was issuing ominous warnings about  potential axe murderers lurking in cyber space.  As 1 in 6 marriages today in the US  begin with  an on-line connection,  the way adults initially interact  before physically meeting  for the first is time  is constantly changing.   Not that I wanted to marry Marion by the way, beautiful though she is – it was just an illustration of changes going on! As we saw in the backlash against  Jan Moir,  after her  ill advised article about the death of Stephen Gately,  Twitter has the potential to be more powerfully viral than swine flu.

Best combination for best talent
I am in no way dismissing traditional executive search and recruitment strategies for identifying the best talent. They are invaluable skills. At some point telephones have to be picked up and face-to- face interviews arranged  – so for me on -line job matching is not the best option for finding high calibre candidates.  Just as job seekers  have to leave the security of their computers and exhibit strong inter personal skills.  But the combination of the old methodologies combined with the new cyber sleuthing skills, make a formidable combination for identifying the best global talent.

Job Search: The blame game?

The blame game

The blame game

This continues my series on  the  key players in the job / candidate seeking process.  Under fire from job seekers,  HR professionals  and recruitment and search specialists respond. 

Earlier this summer I posted a blog  “Some Recruitment myths de-bunked ”  listing  the frustrations job seekers experience in the recruitment process and tried to debunk some of their expectations.   Bottom line: recruiters and executive search consultants do not work for the job seeker. They work for their client. Nevertheless, the overall view was  that the interface with recruitment specialists was as demoralising as being out of work.   To get some balance,  I also posted a discussion on LinkedIn  asking about the image of recruiters  inviting comment from the professionals in the field . I was overwhelmed by the response  and it has taken until now to collate the comments.Many posted comments and an equally large number wanted to talk off the record.  Sorry, I haven’t had a chance to contact everyone, but I hope to do so in time.

Bad practices

Lewis Turner, poacher turned gamekeeper, moved from Recruitment into Corporate HR two years ago as Technical Recruitment Manager at DisplayLink , can understand the job seekers frustration  “ I really was not prepared for the onslaught of bad practice I was to experience as a customer, much to the amusement of my new colleagues in HR”.  Read Lewis Turner’s article  where he documents his whole experience.   Two years later his view is more balanced “Those that had shocked me with some dubious behaviour are no longer suppliers . “   He is now working with a group of quality hand picked organisations and has basically fired the under performers .

Variable quality

 This was exactly the comment  made by Anders Borg , Chairman of AESC with regard to the quality of  executive search companies. He strongly recommends checking any company’s affiliation  to  the AESC  The AESC membership is a guarantee of quality and if I were a candidate, I would only consider such firms”   He adds  “ The AESC also has a number of boutique firms as members, who  do excellent work” and advises candidates to consider contacting them .

If you have a strong CV, are easily marketable and the consultant has an assignment or anticipates one, you are likely to be able to cultivate a good relationship with him or her. If you don’t, your CV will simply go onto the data base and strong keyword usage will be required to make sure your resume comes to the top for any future searches within that organisation.

Following up

Kathy Stevens Senior Recruiter “ … I try to do my best to follow-up with people in a timely fashion. I think what most candidates (especially anyone outside of HR) do not realize, is just how many applicants recruiters and/or HR professionals have to deal with at any one time. Especially in this economy, we are flooded by large numbers of applicants applying to positions. When organizations are running leaner than ever, we all have a lot on our plate”.

Sector verticals

Search companies also tend to be set up on a sector vertical basis. The upside of that structure is that the consultant will have deep knowledge of the sector and an excellent contact book. The downside is that candidates get frustrated because they feel pigeonholed, as scant attention is paid to transferable skills if they want to move in another direction.

Laurent Brouat, Career Consultant, in his blog “Recruiters are not Creative but hardworking ” August 25th,  2009   calls this “ the copy/paste” selection… Same industry, same level, same company. They only recruit me-too or clones because it is the simplest way to please the client”

However once again  Tom C, Senior Consultant in a major executive search company in New York suggests: ”  A good consultant with a strong relationship with the client will advocate for a candidate he or she believes in and even groom them for presentation. It is up to the job seeker to provide a strong resume”.

Broader scope

There are  also generalist organisations, and as Anders Borg suggests it’s sometimes better to consider going via this type if you want a broader scope. Even within these organisations there will be a disparity in the quality of consultants those that are more experienced than others. Shop around until you find one that you can connect with. Lewis Turner’s experience is “Agencies definitely have their place; but is still the individual recruiter that makes the difference”

Recuiter pressures

Recruitment companies representing the middle and lower end of the market, quite often they work on a contingency basis, this means no placement = no fee Consultants  might also be working to targets and are paid on commission, so may have little time for time-consuming admin or professional courtesies. They have their own pressures to find the right candidates with limited resources, quite often in competition with other contingency companies. This is the reason why job seekers don’t get the attention they’d hoped for and complain of feeling left out of the communication loop and demoralised. As consultants get paid when they successfully place a candidate, they do tend only to cultivate people they are confident about placing.

Laurent adds “ Recruiters are hardworking: they are caught between the clone pressure of the client (“send me only the same people I know”) and the stress pressure of the candidate (“find me a job or your are not really good”) so they have to put in a lot of hours to be able to match the clients requirements

Executive ” look-see”

Job seekers complain that executive “searches” are a misnomer and should be re-titled executive “look see” into the data base. ( I could have done that job is the plea!  Why wasn’t I called? )    Hayley M , Senior Executive Search Associate  in the UK offers a defence “ Clients are constantly driving prices down and asking us to work to tighter deadlines than ever before. That almost automatically means a data base or network search. They are also risk averse especially in this economic climate and need candidates who can hit the ground running . We are just giving them who they want,  on timeFrom the client perspective this is excellent service.” 

HR pressures

So  is it the client then that is causing the problems then? Dirk B, HR Director Benelux makes the following comment “ …in the last 12 months, my department has been cut by 50%. I outsource sparingly and cost is a real issue.   I am now even doing some of the recruitment myself.  Line managers want candidates who can be immediately effective,  as they too have had their headcount slashed. It doesn’t leave much room for creativity. I always respond to candidates who meet the requirements of any ads I post, but not unsolicited CVs. I just don’t have time. We get thousands for every opening currently and most of them are  not on target  ”

Charlotte M , HR Manager California gave this input “  we have re- introduced the concept of  a web-based application form, simply to try to receive focused applications . We can’t cope with the volume of candidates who are blindly sending their resumes, regardless of whether they meet the requirements of the job.  We even joked about returning to handwritten, hard copy resumes to get past the  click and apply mentality”

Coach pressures

Job seekers also complain  about Career Transition Coaches  “ preying on our distress” is one comment I read.  James B,  Career Coach (Philadelphia)   counters ” Business gurus say that 3% of annual income should be set aside for personal development.  Although most people spend more  time in work than almost any activity in their lives, many are not prepared  to invest in themselves or their futures, even those who are highly paid!” . 

Communication gap

It seems to me that this massive communication gap is leading  to some sort of blame game and I’m trying to look for a conclusion.  Recriminations bounce back and for. I would like to think that shoddy practises are dictated by responses to economic imperatives and it is the stress that everyone is currently under – but I’m not convinced that the recession is the real  culprit.  These underlying tensions have been there for years.

Managing expectations

There will,  of course, never be any substitute for highly qualified search professionals, working in tandem with equally qualified HR specialists who have strategic voices within their organisations.  Additionally  a strong process requires line managers who understand well the long-term benefits of  effective talent management programmes and are demonstrably committed to that ethos. Candidates  also need to be  prepared to invest in their own futures and be active about their personal development . Today, nothing is permanent and they must take responsibility for their long-term careers.   If any of these factors are out of sync, then  I suspect that both a  communication and expectation gap will continue to be inevitable.

What do you think?

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!