How to get on headhunters' radars

You've achieved some excellent results, but one of your peers has just landed an unadvertised job that would have been right up your street. Now you've realised the headhunters don't even know you exist. Here's a Crash Course in getting on their radar.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Understand the market. Recruitment and search are fundamentally different, says Sue O'Brien, group MD of executive search consultants Norman Broadbent. 'Recruitment is often advertised, with the agency working on behalf of the candidate and only getting paid if it places someone. Search is driven by client relationships, and our mandate is to find the best talent out there, even if they're not looking,' she explains. Headhunters are seldom briefed for positions paying under £100,000.

Walk the talk. 'The best way to get noticed is to perform well,' says Patrick Hynes, global leader of business and professional services at search firm Spencer Stuart. 'It's not just about how people perform, it's also how people go about it, their values, integrity, honesty and how they develop people. A client is interested in all these things.'

Take the direct approach. A first step is to get on a headhunter's database. 'We get 1,000 CVs a week and they are logged,' says Kit Bingham, a partner at search firm Odgers Berndtson. 'It's not the only place we look, but it is one of the first.' Make clear the type of role you want, and research the market to find the search consultants in your sector.

Build a relationship. You want to get to know agencies when you are not looking, so you can let them know when you are. 'If you are a buyer of executive search, that gives you a way into the industry,' says Bingham.

Get recommended. The best way to get yourself on the headhunters' radar is to be recommended by someone they listen to. 'How you market yourself in your own organisation is more important than marketing yourself externally,' says O'Brien. 'We will often get recommendations or seek referrals from people who've worked with someone previously.'

Go public. Being quoted in the media, presenting at conferences, having a blog can all boost your profile. But, too much media punditry could suggest you don't spend enough time on the day job. 'Recommendations are taken much more seriously,' says O'Brien.

Create an online profile. Having a good profile on sites such as LinkedIn fulfils an essential purpose. It provides a detailed account of your history and achievements, and also offers a means to discreetly contact you without calling you at work.

Play a straight bat. When you meet a search firm, don't try to be something you're not. 'Don't oversell yourself, be honest and be yourself,' says Hynes. 'If you project yourself as the person you think we are looking for, we will generally see through it.'

Do say: 'I've a few suggestions for that role - why don't you take my details?'

Don't say: 'I never speak to headhunters - that way they'll want me even more.'

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