The etiquette of headhunters


Executive selection specialists disclose their working methods and what to do to call their attention

October 2008 – The telephone rings there is a headhunter on the line with an invitation for you. Without disclosing the name of the employer, almost always a big company or a start-up with hefty investments, the headhunter offers a dream job: excellent salary, career evolution opportunity, and a huge bonus. Whoever has experienced such a thing probably wonders how the headhunter got hold of him/her. Voce S/A heard several executive recruitment specialists to know what to do to call their attention, for the better or for the worse. We also revealed the strategies talent hunters use to reach the best candidates. The first finding is that the headhunter’s informant can be right next to you. On a regular basis, most talent hunters keep in touch with experienced and trustworthy professionals in big companies and can provide invaluable tips about a certain executive.

The selection companies have corporate structures in the database. Depending on the position’s profile, recruiters aim directly at professionals of certain corporations, whose culture is similar to of the company that hired the executive. Also, talent hunters map the market, asking for recommendations, listening to suggestions and making questions. For that reason, whoever has an active network is better positioned to be found. That is, fostering good relationships always helps.

Sending your résumé directly to the talent hunters can be a shot in the dark. They are extremely coveted and tend to shy away from being contacted by strangers. Ricardo Rocco, director of Russell Reynolds, says he receives 20 résumés per day, on average. The big problem, according to headhunters, is that many people get in touch regardless of whether their profiles are a good match to those headhunters are looking for. Before submitting your résumé, evaluate which industries and hierarchical levels the headhunter usually recruits for. “Do not waste energy with unfruitful contacts,” say Ricardo. But, if you find yourself a good fit for the profile of a certain position, don’t be shy, submit your résumé.

Recruiters select candidates based on the hiring company’s request. Besides technical skills, they are attentive to the executive’s personality. “Not always the best professional is chosen, but rather the one with the emotional and behavioral skills that are most aligned with the profile of the company and position,” says Jeffrey Abrahams, director of Abrahams & Associates, in São Paulo. To find information about behavioral traits, talent hunters look for ex-bosses, ex-work colleagues, clients and former subordinates. “Initially, people hesitate to criticize, but with care, we extract good information from the professional,” says August Carneiro, director of Zaitech, an executive search company in Rio de Janeiro.

Of course, a good background is essential in choosing an executive, especially for higher positions. But that alone does not impress a recruiter. In addition to behavior, headhunters check the professional experience. “I look at what happened before, during and after the achievements of a candidate in each company, and at the positions occupied,” says Jeffrey. In other words, invest in your background, but be aware that that only does not guarantee a position. You will also be evaluated by your practical experience.

Those who admit their own mistakes earn extra points in the headhunter’s evaluation. Learning through mistakes is a skill that is valued by them. Do not lie to cover up a failure. “When discovered, a lie will compromise credibility,” says Iônio Mello, director of Stanton Chase International, an executive recruiter with offices in 14 cities in Brazil. In an interview, tell about your career evolution briefly. Highlight important points that convey, for example, how you reacted to difficult situations and what you learned about them. “Knowing how to identify landmarks in your career reveal maturity and good analytical capability,” says Jeffrey Abrahams.

When receiving a proposal, evaluate carefully if a new position contributes to the development of your career, if it is aligned to you life plans. If after that you decide to decline the offer, be transparent and tell the headhunter your real reasons, leaving open doors for the next opportunities. This way you demonstrate coherence and control over your career. Concluding the process, accepting the offer, and changing your mind right before joining the new company is unforgivable. “That shows instability and lack of commitment. Who would want to take that kind of risk again?, ” says Augusto Carneiro.