Getting your next role without relying on a headhunter

16 apr 2019

Getting your next role without relying on a headhunter

In part one of this series, Ed van der Sande, Managing Partner, Odgers Berndtson Amsterdam, explained how getting fired can be step one towards a fresh new direction. Now he answers the question: “How do I get the role I really want?”

First off, a fact to remember. The chance that a headhunter has a job for you, the moment you need one, is small. Just think, how often have you been approached in the past three years for a role that’s exactly what you want? Maybe once or twice? Why should this situation be any different?

So, the chance that when an executive wants a new job, I will have something for them, is often not really there.

Job hunters who think they can just slide into a process, think again. Sometimes, they are used as ‘stuffing’ by lazy headhunters. In other words, as a third, fourth or fifth candidate to be shortlisted. So, you may get the feeling that you are active in two or three search processes, but there’s actually nothing going on.

"The danger is too much reliance on a headhunter."Definitely come and talk to me, make yourself known, that always helps. It’s very good for networking, for both of us. But be realistic, suppose I had something. You won’t be the only one in the running for the role. In all likelihood, I’d have two or three others who could do the same. And we would approach you in any case if you’re fit for the role. So, you go into a process and spend a long time doing something that gives you the feeling that you are doing well, but at the end of the day, the chances of success are very low.

My advice? You have to have multiple options side-by-side.

A valuable proposition

If you’re in a role, finding one that suits you, even more, is a pretty hard task.

In this case, take on a headhunter, by all means. But that’s not the only way to go.

Start by identifying those companies that actually need your proposition, and start thinking about how you are going to get to pitch yourself to them. But you need to have the time to do so. Executives often say that companies have no role or position for them. That is factually correct. But it’s not about that either. It is about sitting down and thinking about how you can ensure that you will be able to sell your proposition to the company you find attractive.

Suppose you are a CFO and good at upscaling companies, taking them from the second to the third level. You need to identify the companies with that potential and target them. They might not need a CFO at the moment, but you can use it to test your proposition. It helps to see a headhunter and say: “Listen, this is my profile and I’m interested in that company, how do I do that, do you have contacts there?”

"You created your personal proposition, but if you want to put it to market successfully, you must also consider the question, “who needs it?” Your objective must be to approach target companies and exchange ideas with the CEO, a shareholder or investor, and discuss your proposition, suggesting where you can add value.

Of course, that investor can say: “Nonsense”. If you hear that two or three times, chances are your story is not good enough. Time to go back to the drawing board. But something else may happen too. The investor might say: “You’re right, but I already have someone like that.” Right, since you can’t fire that person, just tell your contact you wanted to test your ideas.

Do that on various fronts, very focused, like a sniper. Then people will start talking to each other. A large part of the process is indirect. Not everything goes through a headhunter.

Are you a Dutch citizen and you live in The Netherlands, but want to work elsewhere in the world? In that case, it helps if you approach a Dutch organisation, such as Friesland Campina, which is active internationally. If you think there’s an easy route into Huawei, for example, forget it. Unless you have international contacts.

Give to receive

If you target an investor, HR- or business unit director, for example, in a targeted manner, you will be bringing something of value to them. Your vision of that company.

Remember, you are giving to receive, so if you’re only out to get something for yourself, then it becomes a futile task.

Also, you must be convinced of your point-of-view. Anything less than total conviction won’t work. Be bold, but not arrogant, not over the top, not “I know it all better”. Simply present a good story based on facts. Then, the other person also benefits.

This isn’t easy, it takes time. You have to sit down and think, “if I want to get in at Company A, do I know someone there”? If you know no one there directly, you may know someone who knows someone there. It’s hard work, and frustrating too. It’s an approach that won’t suit everyone.

One shot

Chances are, you only get one chance per company, so you must seize the opportunity immediately and do well right away. The danger is that this takes a lot of time. You have to realise that. That is because most of us have thought too little about this beforehand.

Everyone arranges a transportation budget for themselves, but there is no growth budget to use for you, where you can sit with someone and talk about what the best next steps are. Many people have coaches, great. But a coach is more focused on an issue, there to solve a problem.

The executive needs someone to guide him or her. What I am arguing for is that we move to a system where you do so during the course of your career. Then, when you arrive at that moment where you either want to leave or have to leave, then you would have already done your homework.

Now, there are hardly any resources available for that. Occasionally a company has something similar but on a coaching level. But that is not about you, who you are, what you can do and where you want to go. You would need a budget for that. Pure headhunting has no role in that, and for them, it is not about that these days. For me, today it is about candidates taking responsibility and making sure they are better prepared for their own futures. Executives often think about that, but most of them don’t do anything. Maybe they should.

Read the first part of the series, “So you’ve been fired. Now what?”, here