Books: No understanding of the new generation

Far from offering career advice to aspiring management stars, this book is just a dull industry textbook, says Moira Benigson.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How to be Headhunted

John Purkiss and Barbara Edlmair

How To Books; £9.99; MT price; £7.99

To order, visit www.mtmagazine.co.uk

Last week, I had breakfast at Claridges with two human resources directors, one of whom had flown in that morning from New York. They work for two of the world's largest retailers and were meeting to exchange ideas on the latest hiring trends and policies. One of the main topics of conversation was the risky business of hiring stars; certain individuals may be judged a star in one company, but their lustre can fade in a new environment. It was a fascinating morning, with an easy flow of conversation about what was and was not working in their organisations. I sat back and listened and learned from these world-class experts, who are also my clients.

The really fascinating part of the morning was to see who else was breakfasting at Claridges. It's good to check out who's networking. I spotted the following: an ex-MP; the chairman of the world's leading cosmetics and fragrance company; the owner of a big London football club in deep conversation with an agent representing some of the Premier League's major stars; and three executive search consultants with prospective candidates.

Executive search is an honourable profession to be in. If you're anyone now, you have an executive coach, an acupuncturist, a personal trainer and a preferred executive search consultant. And here's the thing: we were once a society that valued personal relationships, we belonged to a community and we made lasting friendships. You joined your firm as a graduate and stayed there until you retired; your company developed you and there was no need to buy friendship from a consultant - advice came free of charge from the people who cared about you. Now, it seems, people are much lonelier and far more insecure than they ever were - hence the need for consultants.

So the most valuable skill in modern life has become selling. We now have to learn from an early age how to present a sales pitch. We have to know how to sell ourselves, to make sure we come across as that star, first for a school, then a university and finally for an organisation. And we, the headhunters, make our clients feel that out there is a star who'll be the making of their organisation.

Actually, the concept of finding a star is a myth - like the old adage that people are the most important asset of any organisation. People are not your most important asset - the right people are. It's really all about building the right balanced teams in organisations that want to go from good to great; such organisations get the best results from executive search consultants.

So on to the book, which I think deserves no stars at all. Read it only if you want to prepare for an interview to become a headhunter with one of the Big Five. In fact, the title should be How to be a Headhunter - it's a textbook on the workings of the top-five executive search firms, and an uninteresting one at that.

I was quite hopeful when I read the first chapter, which details the history of the industry. But there are no redeeming features from chapter two onwards, and no understanding of the new generation of candidates. The book might appeal to people with time on their hands, but not to the fast-track career-path people, those elusive stars for whom we headhunters are searching. Such people won't find any value in this book - which, frankly, is boring and uninspiring.

If you want to be headhunted, just be the best at what you do. There is such a shortage of talent out there that if you have managed your career well, one of us will call you. So, keep building those relationships, stay informed and up-to-date, and sharpen up your selling skills - you never know when you might need them next.

Moira Benigson is managing partner of executive search firm MBS Group.

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