I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t!), so I took the LSATs, went to law school and became an attorney. I quickly realized I would have been a great lawyer if it wasn’t for all that darned fine print!
The first question people like to ask in social situations is “What do you do?” I’m a headhunter. “Huh?” I operate an executive search firm. “You mean you try to locate lost executives?” I’m a recruiter. “What’s that?” Companies hire me to help them find qualified workers to fill jobs that they are having a difficult time doing on their own. “Oh, I see! How do you do that?”
Good question, Grasshopper. I accomplish this with my “patented” proprietary process! I am a truly self-taught recruiter. I didn’t work at a large firm, didn’t have any mentors or managers to show me the ropes. For someone who works as a legal and compliance recruiter in financial services, I didn’t even know the difference between a stock and a bond! I learned the hard way, through trial and error. I made every mistake a person could make. I asked every dumb question that could be asked. And, slowly, I learned. Looking back, I’m thankful I did it this way, because it forced me to think about each and every move I made. While being part of a large corporate structure and having more experienced people around who can teach and mentor you can be beneficial, doing without those things requires more introspection and deep thought about process and procedure. In short, I became an independent thinker. My approach to work may or may not be the best way, but it’s MY way.
Recruiting is a combination of sales and marketing. “Cold calling,” or the process of talking to total strangers who most likely don’t want to talk to you, is a big part of the job. First, you must get over the fear of cold calling, and then, you have to make the most of those 5-10 seconds, which is all the time you might get. I always assume the recipient of my call is busy, and I respect that. I get so many sales calls from people who plow right into their pitch with an astonishing disregard for my precious time. I always start by asking “May I have a moment?” Most of the time, the answer is “yes.” If the answer is “no,” I ask for a good time to call back.
I work with two distinct groups of people: clients and candidates.
My clients have jobs they cannot fill on their own. They hire me to do what they have not been able to do. Typically, I will be sent a job description, which, more often than not, doesn’t provide me with all the information I need to do my job properly. One of the tools in my proprietary toolkit is the client worksheet. This page contains every conceivable question that could be asked about the job: the obvious questions such as compensation, location, and minimum years of required experience. And many questions that are not so obvious; I work with banks, BDs, RIAs-organizations that perform a wide and disparate array of functions. So, is it an equity or a fixed income shop? Does the job require certain licenses or certifications? How many people on the team? Any support staff? What title does the candidate report to? And some tough questions: are you in good shape with the regulators? Any violations that might complicate things? What is the reason for the opening: attrition, expansion? It boils down to this: I would rather have one long, detailed phone discussion that answers virtually all questions, than a series of calls as new questions come up. As a hiring manager, I know you are busy with other things. If you give me that extra 5-10 minutes, we will save much more time than that in the long run. Many of the questions I ask are the same questions the candidate will ask me, and it’s much more efficient if I can answer those questions quickly. This will give the candidate a good feeling about the company, and in my process.
Candidates have issues of their own. My job is to understand exactly why they are talking to me. But first, let me clear up a common misconception about recruiters, at least as far as it concerns me. I do not stalk candidates. I do not try and convince anyone to take a job (although I will do my best to convey the positive aspects of the job to a recalcitrant candidate who may not be in possession of all the facts, and may be prioritizing the wrong things). There is even a 2004 movie about a crazed headhunter called “Pursued.” I have another worksheet designed to help me understand the candidate, and, even more importantly, to help the candidate understand him/herself. My experience has shown me that, often, potential candidates don’t have a clear conception of what is motivating them. It is in both of our interests to have this understanding. What’s the motive? Is it purely money? Not enough opportunity for advancement or responsibility? The commute is killing you? I recently had an experience where I successfully placed a candidate, but not without a good deal of stress and hand wringing. The base salary offer was just a little short of her expectations, and she wasn’t sure if she was going to accept. She received a 10% bonus on her last year’s performance. I explained to her that this new position was offering a 20% minimum guaranteed bonus! She did the math and realized that all in, she would be making more than she expected. Even level-headed people can become clouded by emotion in the heat of the moment. Changing jobs is one of the most stressful occasions in life. Part of my job is to help the candidate step back, take a deep breath, and carefully analyze the situation.
I do this, in part, by making an initial determination as to whether the candidate is active or passive.
Passive candidates are not seriously seeking change, but like to know what their options are. These folks can usually be convinced to make a move only if the new role satisfies a major condition (oodles more money, commute time cut in half). I run into passive candidates when I’m prospecting (another way of saying “cold calling”). When I present opportunities, they usually say “no,” but if they do say “yes,” it usually means they have a deep, serious interest, and will likely accept a suitable offer. I never try to convince a passive candidate to submit a resume, because odds are it will not result in a placement.
Active candidates send me unsolicited resumes. They have serious motivations already in place (downsizing, feeling unappreciated, forced to relocate due to spouse’s new job, et cetera). Unlike passives, actives may have many irons in the fire. I ask them additional questions: Have you submitted elsewhere, how far along are you in the interview process, do you have any current offers? Depending on the answers, I may counsel the candidate to wait and see how these other scenarios play out. This benefits us both. The candidate won’t be overwhelmed with choices, and I can avoid awkward situations where the candidate rejects my client’s offer in favor of another.
These are just a few of the many tools that comprise my “PPP” (proprietary placement process). For now, the vast majority of them shall remain redacted.
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David L. Reitman, Esq.