Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Plight Of The Single Industry Contingent Recruiter: The Issues We Face

I am making a confession that perhaps I should not be making publicly, but I thought my clients and my candidates ought to understand a little about the executive search business. There are many recruiters who do general search in all industries and functions, but I only handle advertising executives both for agencies and for clients.

For senior searches, I will only accept assignments on a fee basis.  For most other searches, I will work on contingency.  But here is the issue with contingent searches.

On a retained basis, it is rare that a client will call more than one recruiter.  Fee-paid retainers are almost always exclusive.  But contingent searches are usually given to multiple recruiters.  For a single industry recruiter like myself, I know which of my clients use me exclusively and which call multiple recruiters. As a result, contingent recruiters will only work diligently for two kinds of clients: clients who use a limited number of recruiters (and who don’t compete with us with their own internal recruiters), and clients who pay quickly and well.  The others, unfortunately, get second priority – they include companies which take sixty or ninety days to pay and companies which don’t discriminate and use too many recruiters on the same assignment.

(Often, the companies which take sixty and ninety days to pay, put their executive recruiters in the same category as those that place administrative help.  Secretaries and administrative people tend to leave quickly.  Executives rarely leave.  Besides, we guarantee that our candidates will stay.)

I once had a client who paid quickly (two weeks or less), but confessed to me that she called twenty or so recruiters on every assignment (She couldn’t remember who she called and generally started her conversations with us by saying, “Did I discuss the…assignment with you?). Because they paid well, I always did due diligence immediately.  As a result, I would conduct what is called a file search, meaning I would see who was in my files but if no one fit the brief or if I was really busy, I would probably not work too hard on the assignment. (There is nothing worse for a recruiter than to call candidates and discover that another recruiter had called them prior – sometimes as much as a week before – or, worse, to find out that this candidate had already been called by multiple recruiters.) I know most of the other successful recruiters did the same.  When so many recruiters are involved, there is no incentive to work hard on the placement. A recruiter’s time is valuable. The reason why the client called so many recruiters is that she did not nurture any of her recruiting relationships and none of these suppliers therefore felt special or loyal. The HR person figured (wrongly) that if she called twenty recruiters she might get lucky and get a couple of candidates.  She had no idea that she could get more candidates by being loyal to two or three recruitment firms who would work hard for her.  The shame is that it was a wonderful agency.

The bane of every contingent recruiter’s existence is to have a search cancelled because of the job going to an internal candidate.  While I have always thought it fair and smart for companies to promote and to rotate within their ranks, giving out a search and having it cancelled after having spent time working on it is frustrating both for the headhunter and for candidates, who may be far along in interviewing.

Or sometimes, for whatever reason, the search just gets cancelled.  Both cancellations and internal candidates are acceptable because it is part of the business, but it is not acceptable when the client knew of the internal candidate or knew it might be cancelled at the time they gave out the assignment (see my post on “The more we know the better we can perform”) and they neglected to tell us of this possibility.  If I know in advance, it is my choice to work on the assignment or not. If we are forewarned, it is not an issue.  I can also tell my candidates.

Companies that don’t pay well, clients who abuse our time or call too many headhunters end up getting the least consideration.

Unfortunately, recruiters are rarely evaluated on their true performance – finding great candidates – but they are judged by how quickly they are able to find the most candidates.  The recruiter who makes the placement is deemed, “the best”, whether true or not.  Often these same clients are not concerned about quality, but merely by quantity.  We often get called by new clients, but if we do not make the placement, they won't even return our calls in the future.

Those clients where we do the best, are those who work with us on a preferential basis and give us exclusives or at least limit the number of recruiters who work on the assignment to two or three.  This is a relationship business especially since our client base is limited.

I have always told clients that we may not get the first person we send right or even the second, but once we understand who and what the company is and what the assignment is, we can make placements efficiently and quickly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Speeding Up Hiring

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that companies were trying to find ways of speeding up the hiring process.  Bravo. If what I read about the economy is true, it is becoming a candidate’s market and speed in hiring may become essential after years of the other way around.

One source cited that it takes 29 days for an average company to hire an employee.  Add to that two weeks’ notice and you are into 44 days – over six weeks, start to finish.  One of the companies cited was media Agency MEC which has been streamlining its hiring process of entry level positions, apparently with great success.  My suggestion is that all companies should use some of the same techniques for hiring executives, both senior and junior.

I am always chagrined by companies, particularly ad agencies, which spend a long time to find a right fit candidate and, once identified, spend another week (or more) getting approvals, which delay the process even further. Those authorizations, despite the fact that the company initially obtained permission to  start the process, generally have to be signed off on by the finance department.  I have long held a theory that if the finance department can hold off on hiring, say, a $120k candidate for even a week, they know that they can put $2,500 right to the bottom line.  This is a false economy.

When someone resigns with two weeks’ notice, 44 days to fill a job, is a very long time.  My guess is that those 44 days don’t include the week during the notice period in which it takes the company to get its act together to decide to hire a replacement or go through counter-offers (which should not be given or accepted).  That adds another seven days or so.  Meaning that the company is without a functioning employee for at least six weeks.

This can be a disaster for service businesses like advertising.  It only means that other employees have to work harder and longer to fill in the gap.

Once the decision is made to hire and initial approvals are obtained from the finance department, there should not have to be additional approvals and sign-offs (unless the potential employee is over-budget).  Making the offer should be the providence of the hiring managers and human resources.

I have seen really good candidates lose interest because the process takes too long and if they are interviewing at multiple companies, the first one with an offer often wins.  Speeding up the process is a great idea and anything that can be done to expedite hiring is good business, especially as the economy improves.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ten Things To Look At In Evaluating A Job Offer

Nobody writes about how to determine if an offer is the right offer.  It isn’t always as simple as money, title or, even, opportunity.  Offers have to be evaluated in the context.  of your career, your situation and your goals.

Of course money and opportunity may be important, but what is most important is your career plan.  Everyone needs one and everyone should have one. If you don’t have a plan for yourself, your career may be doomed to mediocrity.  To put it differently, if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll never know when you have arrived.  I have seen too many people simply move for money or title, only to find themselves dead-ended because, in the long-run (sometimes even in the short-run), the job got them nowhere. 

I recently had a candidate who was in a dead-end job get a great job offer, which could have made her career take off again.  She turned it down because of money.  It was a bad decision.  This job would have ultimately gotten her the money she wanted and it would have put her on a great career track.  She spent so much time “running the numbers” and overthinking the benefits (including vacation days) that she completely missed the opportunity.

In April this year, I wrote about “One Way to Evaluate a Job Offer”. I want to go beyond that one way now.  The entire context of an offer is critical.  Here are some ways to evaluate an offer and put it into the proper framework:

1.    What are your career goals?
Will this job put you a step closer to achieving what you are striving for?

2.    What experience do you need to achieve those goals?
You must evaluate your current and past jobs and make a list of the things you need in order to advance your career.  Those are the things you should seek while you are interviewing.

3.    What will the new job give you that you do not have now?
(See the link to the prior post, above) This follows number 2, above.

4.    Why do you want to leave your current job and will the new job truly satisfy those needs?
Some people are in such a hurry to leave their current job that they forget to examine the new culture to make sure it is not a duplicate of what they already have.  And, of course, never accept a counter offer.

5.    Will you have or be able to get a mentor in your new job?
Everyone needs a mentor.  Those without them have a much harder time achieving their career goals.  Someone senior who can believe in you will be able to insure that your career progresses.

6.    Will you have management visibility in your new job?
Having a mentor is important.  But making sure that you are seen and known by the senior management of your company is critical to success.  You want to be sure your job is visible to management.

7.    What is your likelihood of advancement in this job and what would the timetable be for promotions?
This is an important question to ask while interviewing.  It will put your expectations in proper perspective.

8.    How have previous people in this job fared?
There are some jobs that are “career makers”.  (In the sixties and seventies, Compton Advertising, the forerunner to Saatchi & Saatchi used to send its chosen people to Ace Compton, their agency in the Philippines. At least four agency presidents that I know of came out of there and anyone else who went there, became a major player.) 

9.    Why do they want to hire you as opposed to anyone else?
This will help you to evaluate what you have to do in order to succeed.  In other words, you will know their expectations of you.

10. How do the people you will be working with compare to those you currently work with.
Even if the job you are considering is a lateral move financially, you want to be sure that you are gaining in terms of who you will be working for and with.

I know of a creative director who, as a recent college graduate, got a job at a fairly mundane creative agency. While the experience was good, she was unable to do the kind of work she wanted and that satisfied her creativity.  She couldn’t find the kind of job she wanted in New York City.  So, she evaluated her options and took her second job at a creative agency outside of New York.  It was not for much more money, but it gave her the training and creativity she sought.  The ECD she went to work for was well known and fabulous.  That move, for only a year, propelled her career ahead so that she was able to get the job she wanted in New York City and subsequently, she become a major creative director at a great agency. 

The point of telling this story is that she had a plan, she knew what she needed in order to accomplish her own expectations and the move outside New York enabled her to accomplish her goals.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The More Recruiters Know, The Better They Can Perform

There is an us against them mentality in all business.  Ad agencies feel that way about clients.  Clients feel that way their suppliers; and candidates as well as hiring companies feel that way about their recruiters. 

I am not sure why this is, but it is.  Most candidates tell me they have never gotten a job through a recruiter.  This is absolutely true and always has been.  Even in the best of times, recruiters only accounted for 20% of job placements.  Today, with the internet, I am guessing that is down to about 15%.  But because of the lack of experience with headhunters, there is a commensurate ignorance of how to deal with us.  Same thing happens with corporate HR.

Corporations have hired their own in-recruiters to save money.  They reluctantly turn to outside recruiters when those internal recruiters strike out. Many actually don't know how to deal with us either

This doesn't mean that either companies or candidates should inadvertently actually work against their recruiters, but this often happens..

As a result, clients,  instead of partnering, keep us at arm’s length.  HR people and hiring managers think it is appropriate not to give us feedback or accurate status during the interviewing process – most won’t tell us whether a candidate is doing well or poorly, for that matter.  They think that that knowledge will somehow effect the outcome or, perhaps, my (our) attitude.  And the truth is, it will: if we know what the issues are we can often use that knowledge to find a more appropriate candidate, but that requires that we get accurate feedback.  And if we know a candidate is liked, we can begin to "pre-close" long before the process is over.

The better recruiters can partner and work with candidates and clients, the better we can perform for them both. 

Over the years, I have had many clients who truly partner with my firm.  They tell us their internal politics, they share the issues that affect hiring.  They tell us up front when there are internal candidates.  They tell us at the beginning that there are people they have already met and why they have reached out to us; if the candidates they have already seen have issues or there are questions about them, they tell us so we can recruit accordingly.  There are no surprises.

Those clients who trust us and partner with us get the best candidates, not because we choose to send others less good people, but because the more we know the better we can perform.  

We have the same issues with candidates.  They don’t share and partner enough with us.  All too often candidates leave us in a lurch by not confiding that they are close to obtaining another job or that they have issues with the company we have sent them to.  Many times those issues can be resolved – if we know what they are.  But without us knowing, we cannot help or address their problems. And, sometimes, candidates tell us how excited they are about an opportunity and in the middle of interviewing they take another job, which they never told us about. This leaves us blind-sided and is unfair to us and the company.  It happens all the time.

I had a candidate who received a job offer but only after she received it did he tell me what his issue was. The issue had nothing to do with the job, which he liked, but had to do with the type of company it was.  If I had known, I might have either withdrawn him or had the company address the issues early in the interviewing process.  I was made to feel almost like an outsider rather than a partner.
I recently had another candidate interviewing for a “C” level job – an EVP of an ad agency.  While he did tell me that he was talking to other companies, he never told me that all those jobs were for far more money and for a bigger title.  The job he eventually took was as a President.  All the while, he let both my client and I think that he was interested in the EVP job, even though he was not going to take it.  It was unfair to us both.

Like most good recruiters, the challenge for me is to become an extension of my client’s company while at the same time partnering with my candidates.  A good recruiter works for his or her clients – they are who pays the recruiter.  But a headhunter must do a good job for his candidates or neither the applicant nor the company will be happy.

I know that there are many poor recruiters out there – they are defined by their inability to send the right people to the right jobs; their sole interest is making a placement, no matter what the cost to either candidates or clients.  Those recruiters should be avoided by both companies and job seekers.  Although, in a high volume business like advertising, unscrupulous recruiters are allowed to flourish by companies with low standards that only want to fill jobs at any cost.  Candidates, especially those out of work, feel the same way: they just want to be sent out, whether the opportunity is right for them or not.

A good recruiter can partner with a candidate for many years.  Ditto the company.  Partnering is for the long run.
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