How To Catch The Eye Of A Headhunter

1. What is the difference between a head hunter and a recruitment agency consultant?

A head hunter would at all times work on exclusive assignments on a retainer basis. This means that we work very closely with our clients against very specific criteria to fill a position. Thorough environmental scanning and third party sourcing would be done before we contact potential candidates. No confidential reports will be submitted to the client without a personal interview with the head hunter and the approval of the candidate to submit his/her confidential details to the client.

Remember ± 85% of head hunted candidates are not active in the job market. Various employment agents can work on the same position for a client. It has happened that candidates are not even aware that their curriculum vitae’s were submitted to a client! If too many agencies contact a potential candidate this can also result in candidates indicating no interest in a position.

2. What are the kinds of personality traits that you would look for when trying to fill an executive position for a firm?

First and most important is displaying that you are able to walk in a fellow executives ‘moccasins’ (empathy not sympathy). Long-winded executives that cannot make a point will never make it to the ‘real’ top. Communication skills, whether verbal or written, are critical.

Integrity and honesty are well received. Even well seasoned executives sometimes cannot answer this question “what is the biggest mistake you have made in your life and how did you rectify it?” Executives must also be aware of their development areas.

3. What sort of qualifications should people have if they want to be headhunted for a top executive spot?

It very much depends on the industry. It is highly unlikely that the group CEO of a mining house would not hold a relevant mining degree from a reputable university coupled with an MBA. On a lighter note I cannot imagine the CEO of a well known wine, beer and spirits company not having a keen interest in wine tasting and not knowing the difference between a good or mediocre wine.

A solid basic university degree or a good B Tech degree from a technikon is only an entry point not a guarantee to success, similarly a prestigious MBA might raise your profile, but at the end of the day if it cannot be applied optimally in the work place then that prestigious qualification is only good on paper.

4. What experience (for example, how many years in an executive post) do people need to be considered for an executive placement?

The first criteria is work history and a proven track record. Good executives are not ‘job hoppers’. Executives that have steadily climbed the ladder with the same employer is a positive. To change jobs just for better remuneration is a no go. Hard core competencies are non-negotiable.

It is not the number of years that is important, but the knowledge you have gained during those years you worked and what change or turnaround record you have to offer to a prospective employer. One can have ten years experience, but in fact only have one year repetitive experience.

5. What kinds of behaviour would turn you off a potential candidate?

Executives with big ego’s and “I did this and I did that” (as if his/her team does not exist) leave a bad taste in the mouth. Mr know-it-all can often shoot himself in the foot when being interviewed by a knowledgeable panel.

Trying to ‘sweet talk’ can be irritating, it always makes me wonder if he/she has a habit of ‘brown nosing’! This is a very negative indicator for future success in the work place.

Bad cell phone habits and being more interested in the emails coming through is not only disrespectful, but this kind of executive will do the same in an executive committee meeting or a board meeting.

This is not a minor detail – dirty shoes, often executives are wearing Armani attire and beautiful ties but forget to clean their shoes! This certainly also applies to female executives.

6. Does age matter – for example, would there be a minimum age you would consider?

Officially age should not matter, but it would very much depend on the retirement age policy of the organisation at the older age spectrum. The pendulum is returning to where companies would consider a 55 year old for executive level employment. The age cut-off depends on the skills set the executive has to offer. At the younger end of the scale it would depend on the position requirements. The determining factors being qualifications, competencies and most importantly emotional intelligence.

It is often said that age is not a criteria. The youngest Group CEO of a well respected listed company that I know of was appointed at the age of 28. Was it a good appointment? Certainly yes, today he is the Chairman of the company and still relatively young.

Auguste (Gusti) Coetzer is a founding director of and shareholder in Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.

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