Tag Archives: Headhunters

Out of the Firing Line (part 2)

In the previous part of this series I looked at some of the critical early steps to take if you find yourself at risk of being let go or have actually been unfortunate enough to have had the axe fall on you.  In this post I’m going to look at some more of the things you should do in preparation for that first meeting and some of the techniques that have worked for me in getting through the door. 

Don’t just spray your CV around; be creative in your job hunt.  Remember that the sole purpose of a CV and application letter is to get you an interview. Most of your early efforts should be focussed upon networking, research and applications.  Moving through the next stages is something else entirely. There are no rules for the job approach and it is quite possible for a well thought out and executed but unconventional approach to succeed. Two examples that have won me interviews may give you some ideas.

Some years back I had an appalling shopping experience in a major retailer and, as a consequence, wrote to the chairman of both the retailer and the manufacturer of the product concerned.  The response from the retailer was interesting (a story for another blog post) but the response from the manufacturer (also FTSE100 Company) was fascinating.  I ended the tale of my shopping with a sentence or two on my experience of the sector and suggested a meeting as I might be able to assist them. The chairman wrote back suggesting I contact his CEO, which I promptly did and a meeting was duly arranged.  What followed at corporate headquarters in London was the strangest meeting I have ever had.  The CEO, prompted by careful questioning on my part, poured out his heart for 2 hours in terms of what was wrong with the business and his frustrations. I offered my assistance and, at his suggestion, made a detailed proposal to him which was subsequently referred to the chairman, who turned it down.  I later learnt that the chairman would only employ and deal with those who held a technology based PhD (usually Cambridge– that should give a clue as to his identity).  Bad luck perhaps but the approach worked; it got me deep into a major organisation at the highest levels.

The other approach that got me interviews was through thoroughly scouring the national business news every day and, when finding something of interest concerning a target company, I would then write to the CEO.  The letter would refer to the news item (say a major planned new investment project) followed by a sentence or two that outlined the aspect of my experience that was relevant and close by suggesting a meeting.  This approach got me through doors.  Don’t wait for a response though, tell the target that you will be calling in a couple of days and do just that.

Another opportunity for creativity arose when I lost out after being down to the final two for a position running a national chain of builders’ merchants.  Having invested the time to carry out a great deal of background investigation on the firm and its competitors I thought, why waste it?  I waited a few weeks and called the new MD, introduced myself as the guy who came second, congratulated him and suggested we meet as I had a proposition that could assist us both.  He was sufficiently intrigued to agree to meet me.  When we met I made the suggestion that as he was busy getting to grips with a big new role there was a way I could help.  He listened very carefully to what I had to say about the industry, the position of his company and the issues I had identified.  He considered for what seemed an age and then said he would be pleased to receive a proposal.  I went away and submitted a detailed proposal for a very focussed consultancy project which he accepted.

Use head-hunters carefully.  The worse thing you can possibly do is to fire off your CV to as many head-hunters as you can find.  The resource I have found to be invaluable is the directory of UK search consultants published by Executive Grapevine (www.thegrapevinemagazine.com/publications/).  This publication lists every search consultancy firm in theUK, lists its sectoral specialisms, gives the salary ranges it typically fills and lists the search consultants together with their specialisms. Choose who you approach carefully and only contact the most relevant.  If your approach does result in an invitation to a meeting, don’t necessarily expect a job interview but use the occasion to find out more about their view of your experience & your target sector and be open to advice. Some of the search consultants I met provided invaluable advice to me and became people whose advice I could seek again and who sought me out over time.  And, of course, some approaches did lead to company interviews.

If you’ve been turned down for a position (especially after making the shortlist) don’t view the experience as a waste of time.  At one level you can use the process to review your approach and to refine your future technique.  On a different level it’s a good idea to follow the fortunes of the company concerned and to keep in touch with whoever interviewed you.  If you reached shortlist stage you will have been communicating my email and possibly mobile.  A way I have found of keeping in touch is (again) to follow the company and industry news.  When you see an interesting item, just send an email with a link, say something like “Hope all is going well with the business.  Saw this item and thought of you in case you missed it”.  It keeps the lines of communication open and can be of real benefit. Over the medium term if you are still interested in the company, it does no harm to drop a short note explaining the additional (and relevant) experience you have gained and simply saying you would still value a role within the business.  Many appointments fail to work out in the first 12 months and keeping in touch will position you well.

A word on CVs.  I’m not going to try and repeat or improve upon the plentiful and professional advice that abounds on the internet.  However, I’m not a fan of the competency based CV approach, preferring a well laid out reverse chronological document with clear statements of job scope, responsibilities and achievements.  However, keep the CV short; I once received an application for a management position that ran to 13 pages and included (amongst more extraneous detail that you could imagine) pictures of the man himself, his wife, his children, his dog, his holiday and the garden.

When you get that job offer stay calm.  Ahead lies a whole process of negotiation.  In my last business we had a policy of a cafeteria approach to pay and benefits.  Some aspects might have to be fixed but as far as possible we offered candidates a headline package and let them negotiate on how they would like this split (e.g. car allowance instead of company car, less salary and higher pension contributions).  It’s quite reasonable to make this suggestion to any prospective employer and to expect them to be flexible.

There are unfortunately employers who will attempt to get you on the cheap if they know what your situation is.  If you fall victim to such a response, I’d be inclined to walk away. It is so short-sighted to try to get someone at a below market rate because it will cause you problems over time.  Brush up on your negotiating skills; learn what is really important to your prospective employer and where they may be prepared to bend.  Don’t be cavalier in your negotiating stance but do be persistent. Also get every single aspect that is promised, hinted at or inferred in writing.  Treat the process as the legal contract that it is; as I’ve posted before, any legal contract has to be right first time.

When you consider any offer, ask yourself these simple questions; will this role further my career (more important that the package itself)? And, what will my CV look like in a couple of year’s time?  It is so important to start any job with the clearest idea of what you want to achieve from the job and its role in your career path

Remember that there is neither shame nor penalty in the job hunt when you are ‘between positions’; in fact it can work in your favour (all other aspects being equal) to be immediately available.  Despite the earlier advice concerning ensuring you don’t sell yourself too cheaply, when faced with two equally qualified and experienced candidates, one of whom is still very much in post, a company can decided that entering into an inevitably longer (and more expensive) negotiating process is not worth the trouble. Many employers have also found that a candidate who resigns can be tempted to stay and nobody likes going back to the other guy (you) when it is clear they have been turned down. In the last few years of all of the board appointments I have made, around 90% of the candidates were between positions.  Don’t try to hide this fact as it can count against you if you are seen to be hiding something – why destroy trust?

Stay positive.  Yes, you will have highs and lows during the job hunt, everyone does.  Don’t blame others when things go wrong, just make sure you learn from them and adjust accordingly.  Good people are hard to find even in a recession.

I’ve tried to put down in these posts some of the experiences I have had and some of the advice I have arising from my job hunts.  I’m sure that many of you have stories to tell and advice that you have found that really works.  Why not drop a comment or two so others can learn?

Finally good luck!

Image courtesy of lifehack.org