Nesrin Everett

Can You Trust Your Headhunter?

Photo by Duisenberg (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Trusting someone with your hiring requirements or with your resume can be nerve-wracking. As an ex-headhunter I’ve seen many different styles of headhunting, some very ethical, some utterly not so.

Headhunters often get bad press and I completely understand why. In my junior years as a researcher in the headhunting trenches, I saw some pretty shocking methods of working. One firm encouraged us to do whatever was necessary to get the information required: I witnessed bosses demand that researchers spin off lies such as:  “I’m his girlfriend and organising a surprise birthday party for him, so I need a list of all his team members….”;  I’ve been encouraged to make up fictitious positions in order to entice people to give me their resumes and had to listen to the most appalling statement, the day after the 9-11 attacks, made by one manager to the traumatised research team: “Well you can stay away from the phones today, but by tomorrow you all need to get online to New York again as there’ll be a lot of empty seats to fill.”  Ethics? What were they? All that mattered in that world was getting the names, getting the business and closing the deal. Profit was king. As in many arenas of business, headhunting is certainly not always a pretty picture. Fortunately, not all companies work that way and the short spells spent on the dark side, did teach me a lot about integrity and what kind of work ethics are sustainable in the long term.

Having survived some serious corporate toxicity, while moving from one firm to another, during the initial interview I was crystal clear. “I need to tell you,” I said “before you hire me, that I will not be using a false name, making up fictitious positions, or pretending that I work for another company. If that’s the kind of person you are looking for then just don’t hire me. I want to use my own name and be truthful about who I work for”. They did hire me and I had a wonderful and successful career with them in which we were able to deliver high quality work to our clients, professionally and with integrity.

What I loved about headhunting in my market (commodity trading) was that it was a mix of being a private detective, psychologist and intrepid explorer. Very often I felt like Indiana Jones, searching for the Lost Ark in the jungle of international trading. To do it well, and with integrity you had to earn people’s trust, keep their secrets, know your market and deliver, all while keeping your head and staying calm. The reason I left such a fun and challenging job? At the end of the day I realised that although I loved the dynamism, I was even more interested in using my skills to discover what truly mattered to the individuals I was working with. Often they would share a great deal of personal information with me and we’d have a real heartfelt conversation, but at the end of the day I was unable to help them with their hopes and dreams, as my priority was to find the most successful and appropriate candidates and to show them them why it was worth their while to walk away from a company where they were thriving, in order to join a competitor.

Enough about my story and back to the point:

First, let’s briefly clarify what a headhunter is, as so often I hear people misusing the term and confusing headhunters with recruitment agencies. There is a glaring difference between what recruitment agencies and headhunters actually do.

A professional headhunter/executive search individual works with a handful of clients on a handful of positions. Their clients will pay them a hefty upfront fee, to retain their services and to ensure that they are focusing purely on their hiring needs. A headhunter will be working on one, maximum 2 positions at any one time. Very often they are not even dealing with CVs as the position is not public, therefore no-one is “applying”, and they are speaking with individuals who are not looking for a new job. The headhunter is going out and researching the market for the exact type of individual that the client is looking for. Upon delivery, the day the candidate starts, the headhunter is due a large percentage of the candidates salary. In my day this was 25-35% of the total yearly salary, bonus and package. A headhunter will regularly place less than 10 candidates and have an extremely successful year. They will always be specialised. They less likely to help someone who is out of work or actively looking for a job.

A recruitment agent is working with a high volume of candidates. They mainly work with candidates who are actively looking for a new job. They do not work exclusively on one job search, often advertise positions in order to collect CVs and may be one of many agents also serving the same client. On hearing that a client is looking to fill a certain position they may speculatively send CVs to them regardless of whether they have had an in-depth discussion or even if there is an open position or not in the hope that the CV might “stick” and they can ask for a commission. They do not have time to offer detailed customer service as the volume of work that they are doing is so high. They are paid by their clients upon delivery of a candidate, and rarely upfront. Agencies will often be paid a very small percentage of the candidate’s salary thus they need to place a high volume of candidates quickly, in order to make a profit. An agency may or may not be specialised. They are more likely to help someone who is out of work or actively looking for a job.

In a nutshell. Headhunters are…hunters and recruitment agents are gatherers. 

Below are several criteria that will help you understand if your headhunter is trustworthy and worth their salt: 

Clarity

For clients: Headhunting is a focused skill. A headhunter cannot be all things to all people. Your headhunter needs to be clear about what they can and cannot do. If, during your preliminary meeting they are quick to tell you they can help you fill a position without spending a good amount of time to discuss the requirements of the role,  beware. They may be more interested in getting paid a retainer than helping you out. If they tell you that they cover all markets and positions, be very sceptical. They should be clear about what their strengths are upfront. If you ask them to hunt in a market that is outside their normal scope of work, a trustworthy headhunter may tell you that although it is not their speciality they are willing to give it their best shot. They will be clear on how they plan to go about that and why they are confident they can help you.  Alternatively they may tell you flat out that that’s not their area of expertise and even point you in the direction of another headhunter that they believe can do the job for you.

For candidates: From the very start, the headhunter that calls you will be clear about who they are, which headhunting firm they work for and why they are contacting you. They will not be evasive. They will tell you if they can share information about their client or not. They will be clear if they are actually headhunting you or simply gathering information for potential future roles.  They will be clear that their role is not to find you a job – it is to know their market in order to help their clients find the right people to fill a particular position. They will tell you if they have submitted your CV, resume or bio to a potential client.

Communication 

A headhunter will give you timely and honest feedback. For both candidates and clients, there is nothing worse that not hearing any news and wondering what on earth is happening. Agencies deal with hundreds of CVs and many clients at a time, which is often their excuse for no feedback at all (still a poor one, as it only takes a copy paste to update someone). A headhunter has no such excuse, they are dealing with exclusive hiring mandates and a manageable number of candidates. They are offering a highly personalised service and therefore should be giving both clients and candidates regular status updates, most certainly you if you have made contact to ask what is happening. If not, they have either taken on more work than they can handle, are disorganised, lazy or do not care about the needs of their clients or the feelings of their candidates.

A professional headhunter will stay in touch. If you ask for an update they will keep you informed. If they are still waiting for news from either candidate or client they will tell you, that they have no news yet. If you are a candidate and a client has rejected your profile, the professional headhunter will relay this information to you. They will not keep you hanging for no good reason.

Timing and delivery

A professional headhunter will not promise you what they cannot deliver. They will explain the step by step process of finding the person you are looking for and will work on an agreed and realistic time frame in which they will deliver the information you need in order to select your candidate. They will tell you what they can achieve for you in that given time frame, and what will happen if they do not. They will honour their deadline and if for some reason they cannot, they will tell you in advance what the roadblocks are and what they plan to do to get past them.  If they cannot guarantee certain results they will tell you that at the beginning, not after they have failed to deliver. There will be check in calls and meetings agreed upon in order to make sure that both client and headhunter are aligned on the process.

Payment

A professional headhunter will not work for free and rarely will they work solely upon successful delivery of a candidate. Their time is valuable and they need to know that their clients are serious. They will not work on non-exclusive assignments, apart from some very rare exceptions and only for a good reason.  There’s nothing more tacky than several headhunters all contacting the same people for the same position. It leads to unprofessional shoddy work, a tonne of repetition and wastes everyone’s time. It makes everybody including the client look desperate. A professional headhunter will focus on the job for an agreed time for an agreed upon retainer and final placement fee. If a client is not willing to pay a headhunter anything upfront for the work that they do and wants a success only based payment, this shows lack of trust or inability to pay, on the part of the client and is hardly a foundation for a strong partnership.

Listening

For clients: A professional headhunter will be listening deeply at all times to what your requirements are. From your first meeting, right through to the end of the hiring process, they will be paying attention to your desires. They will not simply be rattling off everything that they can do for you or showing off about their market knowledge in an attempt to make themselves look good They will not be trying to educate you. They will ask you questions to clarify any uncertainty and to understand even more deeply the level of your needs. They will be honest with you about how realistic they believe it is to find what you want in your given time frame. If they feel you are looking for a needle in a haystack, they will tell you so.

For candidates. Your headhunter will be listening deeply to what you are telling them about yourself. Once they have the information they need and even if you do not have the ideal profile, for the position they are looking for, they will take the time to listen to your point of view and answer any questions you may have. They will not simply put the phone down in order to call their next potential candidate, they will listen to your point of view and thoughts and respect your opinion. They will make a note of what you have told them, so that next time they speak to you they know who you are and what you have discussed. They know that just because you may not be a fit today, you may be the perfect candidate for one of their clients in the future, or may even become a client yourself.

Confidentiality: 

For clients: A professional headhunter will keep your information completely confidential. They will not disclose your name to anyone without your prior agreement. If at any stage they feel the need to disclose information they will speak with you first. They will not share your hiring situation with the competition, even if the information you give them is valuable and could make them look ahead of the game. They will respect your privacy.

For candidates: I’ve had “so-called” headhunters telling me about my own team members, “Last year when I spoke to your colleague X he told me that he was looking to leave the company, how is he doing now?”. This is a huge red flag. If this headhunter is sharing information like this so freely, it’s quite likely that they will not hold back when it comes to sharing your secrets. Nevertheless, don’t forget that a headhunter’s job is to find out about the market, so it is natural for them to ask questions, however, they should never make you feel that you are obliged to answer any questions you are uncomfortable with or manipulate you into giving information. They should agree with you on what they will do with the information you are giving them. You have the power to tell them what you want to have on or off the record. They should not be forcing you to provide them with a CV if you are not ready. You do not have to give them any information you do not want to, however bear in mind that you do want your a employer to know what you are capable of, so share accordingly in a way that feels comfortable. You cannot withheld all the information and expect to get a meeting with a prospective client. Your headhunter will also be clear about what information about their client they can and cannot share with you.

Finally, it almost goes without saying, but I’ll put it down for good housekeeping: if a headhunter has a contract with you, respects you and wants to keep working with you as a client, although the whole firm may not be off-limits to them (unless stipulated in your contract), they will certainly not be poaching your team members. 

At the end of the day, your headhunter is a human being. They are fallible. Perhaps they are great at communication and identifying the perfect candidate, but a bit slow on delivery. Perhaps they are so focused on finding the perfect candidate and delivering on time, that they have forgotten to update you. They are not perfect. They are going to make mistakes just as you are – so, as in any relationship, decide what matters most, cut them some slack when you need to and do your best to work with them. You’ll know soon enough if they’re on your side or not.

How do you know if you can trust your headhunter? 

What do you think about headhunters? 

Kick-start Your Commute!

Photo by Mattbuck

I had flown to London, for a meeting at one of the main financial centres, Canary Wharf. Realising I’d hit the rush hour and remembering my days of working in the City, I knew I had to watch my step or get out of the way; fellow commuters en route to work would behave like robots, eyes closed, or focused on one fixed point (usually their paper), then getting off the tube and walking straight to the office looking neither left nor right. They had the potential to trample right over you, should you accidentally fall out of line or God forbid, fall over. I did in fact once trip on the underground stairs, and the lady who helped me scramble to my feet encouraged me with: “Quick, get up, get UP, THEY’RE COMING! “ Back to Canary Wharf; there I was, wearing a cream mackintosh, like a lone white chess piece surrounded by black suited pawns. I smiled at the scenario, as although I was still on the chessboard of the working world, living in relatively quiet Geneva, I was no longer involved in the “game” in quite the same way as before. I could now really see the commute from an outsider’s perspective. It was like a sci-fi movie; the futuristic buildings, with what looked like zombified clones moving past me, just focusing on getting to their destination. They appeared devoid of life, non-human; expressionless faces, vacant eyes. I had to phone someone to share what I was witnessing! Which brings me to the point of my article:

It’s so easy to take the same route to work day after day and fall into a routine. Of course there’s nothing wrong with routine, as long as it’s serving you well. Routine can help give us structure and stability. However, it can also stagnate us if it leaves us drifting through life with a loss of awareness. When routine becomes stagnant, it’s easy to become “programmed”, as the clone-like commuters at Canary Wharf, traveling in a trance like state because you’ve done this journey a thousand times before, only to wake up when take your first sip of coffee at your desk.

So, here is some inspiration to refresh your trip to work and enliven you!

1. Change your route: Do you always take the same route to work? The quickest, fasted, most efficient one perhaps? The one that lets you have a little longer in bed? I invite you to change it. If you travel overland by car or bike, pick another route, perhaps a prettier more scenic one, even if it is a little longer. If you take public transport, particularly the underground/metro, and have the option, pick a different station to change trains or buses. If you have no choice, get off a stop or few earlier and walk the remaining way to work. If you are lucky enough to be close enough to walk, go a different way, just for fun!

2. Change your mode of transport: I realise this wont be possible for everyone but for those who can; do something else for a change. Instead of driving, take the bus. Instead of taking the bus, cycle or walk. You’ll get a different perspective. If you are always travelling on your own, by being on public transport you will get to be with other people. If you are often on public transport and decide to walk or cycle you will get some time on your own. The pace and environment in which you travel will also change and you will have a completely different experience.

 

3. Change your entertainment/activity. If you are normally a reader, or have your head buried in your phone, do something else (for example listen to music, or a podcast). If you always read the paper, take a novel with you or do a crossword. If you have a hobby that’s portable take it with you: perhaps you like writing, so start writing. If you have your hands free and some space, you could even do some craftwork! Which leads me on to the next point, you could just…

4. Look around you:  If you don’t have to have your eyes on the road, and are walking or on public transport look around you. If you normally look down, look up: notice the sky, the architecture or the trees. If you are normally in your thoughts, look at the different people who pass you buy. Pick something different to notice each time you travel. Pay attention, you may be amazed by what you see.

5. Meditate: Perhaps you are a super active person using every spare second to do or think about something. In this case you could use your journey to meditate. This is different to just zoning out. Actively use your time to focus on your breathing, and creating a calm space for yourself in the midst of the flurry. Perhaps you would like to repeat a positive statement in your mind to set your intention for the day. e.g. “Today I intend to be calm and peaceful”.

6. Talk to someone: (I mean a real person not a virtual one!). Perhaps you sit on public transport with your head in your book or typing messages on your phone. Look at the people around you. Notice what’s going on. If you feel comfortable with the person you are near to, start a conversation. Find out about your fellow man or woman. Just smiling at another person can put their day and yours to a great start and you never know, you might make a new friend or business contact, or who knows, even a romance!

7. Don’t go straight to work: Wake up earlier, and stop off on your way to work, Perhaps you could have breakfast in a different cafe to the one you normally do? Maybe you normally eat breakfast at home or at your desk, so just going to a cafe would be a novelty. Perhaps you’d like to meet a friend also on their way to work at  a mid-point? Some cities offer early morning lectures or concerts, see if there is one going on near your home or office. If there’s a beautiful view or place on route, stop off and spend some time there.

What’s the purpose of all this? Why shake up what’s working? By all means if what your doing is working keep it going! Here’s my question: How do you feel on your way to work work? Excited? Full of energy? Alert and aware? How do you feel when you walk into the office? Happy to be alive? Or does it take you the first cup of coffee to get into gear? How about if you walked through the doors of the building full of energy because you felt fully alive having already started seizing the day?

For those of you who already love their journey to work, please do share, I’d love to hear about what works for you and your ideas could help others. For those of you who feel that something needs to shift, I invite you to try some of these ideas out and let me know how you do. If nothing changes with regard to how you feel, I would I’d love to have a conversation with you to find out what really needs to happen to spark you up!

Can’t Take Your Lunch? Yes You Can.

Photo from YouTube 

“You don’t understand. I just can’t take lunch. They won’t let me!”, the panicked young trader exclaimed, his eyes looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. In my days as a headhunter, I would frequently interview people, who, realising they could trust me, would let their guard down and tell me what was really going on at work.

I stopped him in his tracks. “Really? You can’t take lunch? What are they actually going to do to you if you take lunch?”, I asked. He hesitated, “Well..no-one else in the office does….my career…….they might think I’m not serious…”
I decided it was time to share with him the best piece of career advice I had ever been given.

My father isn’t one to give a lot of unsolicited advice, which is why when he does I pay attention. When I began my first job in financial markets, we were having a conversation about how things were going. He said, “I’ll give you once piece of advice. Always take your lunch”. I remember saying, “But what if I have a lot on? What if I don’t have time?”. He replied, “Make time. It’s your break, make a habit to take it, and if for any reason you need to skip it, make up for it”. I took his advice, and I have to say it made all the difference in my career and my stress levels.

What did I do in my lunch break? All sorts of different things. Sometimes I just went out and ate my lunch, either on my own, with a colleague or friend. Sometimes I would go for a walk and discover a new location near my office. Sometimes I’d go to the gym. Sometimes I would run errands (bills do need to be paid, and shopping does need to be done!). Sometimes I’d go to a peaceful place, like a park, or a church, and just sit there and be quiet.

What was the benefit? Why not just work? Why not indeed. There is always work to be done. We could work 24 hours a day if we wanted to. However, if you don’t create breaks for yourself, when will you rest or have time for other non-work related activities? I know that I always felt re-energised after taking my break and ready to tackle whatever lay ahead.

For those who wish they could take lunch but feel they can’t, I pose the question: What do you think is going to happen if you don’t take your break? Is the world going to come to a standstill? Does the entire responsibility of the company’s future rest on you personally not taking your lunch-break? Does anyone actually have you in some kind of headlock and is preventing you from taking your lunch? Of course I understand that the work needs to get done and that you want to do a good job. I’d also like to point out that even in the army, unless you are in the middle of out-and-out combat you have to take your lunch (I know this because I was in the officer training corps at university, and have friends who are currently still serving in the British armed forces). I can assure you something would have had to have gone seriously wrong for us not to have had our lunch. These days, in my spare time I lead hikes in the mountains. I know for a fact that if you want your team to function well, unless you are in the middle of an electric thunderstorm or concerned about avalanche danger you absolutely need to give them a lunch break and a rest.

Now and then, I agree there are times, when you might work through lunch – in order to meet a very important deadline, or to take that time out to do something else later, e.g., catch a flight, leave earlier to go to see your children’s school concert, or escape the rush hour. You may even have a career where you may need to work through traditional lunch hours, in which case you will have a break provided later. However, if you are making it a habit to not take your break and are never making up for lost time, I’d love to find out how you feel at the end of the day: well rested and fulfilled with plenty of energy for the evening to come and looking forward to your next day at work? Or tired, irritated and a little bit cranky desiring simply to go home and collapse on the sofa and not even wanting to think about the next working day?

How you manage your energy and time throughout the day is entirely up to you. If you feel that you have too much work to do that does not allow you to take a lunch-break, then rather than whining about it and feeling sorry for yourself, have an honest conversation with your colleagues or your manager. Perhaps they can help you with your priorities, or see whether some of your responsibilities can be delegated. Your time management and well-being is just as much your own responsibility as it is your employers’.

We are of course all different souls with individual needs for R&R. I do appreciate how hard it can be to tear yourself away from your work if you are really getting involved in it. The point that I am trying to make here is this: you do have a choice. You can take your lunch-break if you want to. Will you be fired for that? Highly unlikely. Will you be passed up for promotion because you chose to exercise a human right of taking time out for lunch? Well, all I can say is, if you are…is that the kind of environment you want to be working in? If so I certainly hope it is worth it.

How are you managing your time and energy throughout the day?
How often are you working through lunch? If often – how often is the work you need to do urgent?
How do you feel at the end of the working day? 

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post on Sep 30, 2015 

What Kind of Resources are Your Humans?

“Human Resources”. The term that replaced “Personnel”. I have to confess that I prefer personnel. “Personnel” relates entirely to people, whereas with human resources, the human aspect seems somewhat negated by the word “Resource”.

A “Human Resource” currently reminds me of something from a sci-fi horror movie; once no longer required, the resource is disposed of or even destroyed. This doesn’t seem far from the truth when I observe the methods some companies use to manage their people. In my 10 years of international headhunting and coaching in the commodity and financial markets, I have regularly encountered institutions laying off swathes of employees in a panic reaction to a poor year of profits. Often, 12 months later, once the panic is over; they spend double or even triple the amount of money rehiring similar individuals to fill the same roles; not to mention the amount of money spent on paying redundancy packages, or “gardening leave” fees to keep ex-employees out of the market. Naturally this is fantastic for the recruitment industry which benefits from the high turnover. However, is it really necessary?

Hire and fire policies for short-term gains: not at all dissimilar to the way in which our consumerist, disposable society has been operating. If something no longer serves you, throw it away, and buy a new one. Don’t try to repair it or reallocate it another role – ditch it! The long-term results of this, from a consumer perspective are: waste, landfills of redundant items and ultimately pollution. From an employment perspective, the long-term results are: a waste of time and money; a loss of potentially excellent staff; not to mention a loss of loyalty, goodwill and ultimately, a lack of trust. The danger of this, is that it leads to an ambivalent attitude from the employer towards the employee and vice versa. The employee, knowing that they are only a “resource” that can be “disposed” of at any time, will not put their heart and soul into the business and will only be there to get what they can out of it; always keeping an eye open for other opportunities. Similarly, the employer, considers the employee as something (yes although human, they are nevertheless treated as a “resource,” a “thing”) expendable that can be replaced whenever necessary. Even more disturbing than “Human Resources” is the term “Human Capital”. The human is no longer a soul, a being; but a dehumanized cash-cow. Money on legs.

Having seen the effects of the industrial revolution and the current dangers of abusing our natural resources, the world is gradually coming to understand the importance of sustainability and the need to treat our resources with respect, if we want to continue to reap bountiful harvests. What would happen if we created sustainability in the workplace?  What kind of harvests would each company reap then? I’m not advocating that we go back to the days of receiving a gold Rolex for 30 years of committed service; however, right now what is disturbing me, is hearing saddened HR managers tell me” “Management don’t actually care about the people in this company at all”, or employees tell me, “Well I suppose it pays the bills doesn’t it?” and sighing.

I may have painted a somber picture, however my intention is not to depress us all. On the contrary, there is plenty of hope! Just as globally we are moving forward with sustainability, there are indeed companies making a supreme effort to help their staff thrive. They realize that happy, healthy, valued staff are going to perform well and in a sustainable manner. They are able to see the bigger, long-term picture, not just the quick buck. They invest in training, coaching and development. If redundancies do at some point genuinely need to be made; rather than purely paying people off; they also invest in making their transition to a new role easier. There are also employees who are thinking about more than just paying the bills; who value professionalism and teamwork and want to put in their best effort; who are willing to ride out the lean years if and when they come; because they believe in the company and in the work that they do.

Employers, if you want more than a bunch of robotic droids working for your company and desire living, thriving, contributing, creative, productive individuals; then please think about how you treat your “resources”. Are you running the equivalent of a slave labor plantation, eking out everything you can from your golden handcuffed workers, in order to produce, produce, produce — with the only objective being profit — or are you creating a thriving, enterprising industry, knowing that well-managed, healthy, happy, appreciated staff are going to give you the best long-term returns?

Employees, it takes two to tango. What kind of company do you choose to join?  One that puts the well-being of its staff as a top priority, or one that pays huge bonuses for a pound of flesh? How do you choose to show up every day? Do you invest in the organization you join, by bringing your best efforts to the table and having the right attitude for a long-term commitment, or are you simply doing the bare minimum and collecting a paycheck?

For both employees and employers, you reap what you sow: if you are ambivalent in your attitude you can only expect ambivalence in return.

As you may have noticed, I am passionate about this subject! My desire as a coach and thought partner is to help individuals reach their full potential and to help create healthy and profitable working environments. In my opinion, creating cultures of sustainability — where there is a genuine win-win partnership between employer and employee, allowing both individuals and businesses to thrive — will create the greatest long-term value.

Some questions to ponder:

What does a resource mean to you?
What’s the best way of combining being a human and a resource?
How do you work with your resources?

Field in summer

Field in summer