The client isn't always right.
There, I've said it for the whole world to see and argue about. Clients are sometimes under enormous and extreme pressure, but getting the right people in place is often the only way out of the hole they're in
Here are some customers I've encountered in real life. I hope they have learned something from the experience. I know I have and try to offer a safety net to stop the following happening whenever I can.
"I want you to find me another 'John'....."
The Problem: 'John' was a successful Finance Director from long ago. All too often people want to go back to times that were good. This is understandable, but wrong. Businesses change and evolve by design and default. What they needed only a few months ago more often than not no longer applies, and very often these companies are too deeply immersed to be able to identify what's going on.
The Solution: For an outsider (me in this case) to ask dumb questions such as: "What does a customer look like?" and "What keeps you awake at night?" and "If you could fix one thing, what would that be?" and "What new experiences would you like in your senior team?". Answering these questions helps define what's needed and what's not. They discourage people from looking back to the past (which is probably already seen through rose-coloured glasses) and focus on the real priorities for the future.
"I need this role filling yesterday....."
The Problem: Almost any bum on a seat will do. The client also wants to see likely candidates as they emerge so they don't waste a day. Trouble is they struggle to compare candidates at different times. The everything is done in a rush. The interviews are squeezed in between other meetings. High chance the employment decision will be made 'on the hoof'.
The Solution: Agree it's urgent. Agree a timetable that enables the candidates to be interviewed on the same day. Put the headhunter under some pressure to hit a timetable, but listen to them when they say it's a challenge".
"I can't make my mind up between the best two. My boss will interview them and make the final decision in two weeks......"
The Problem: (Probably my most common problem) The headhunt goes smoothly and the appointing manager can't split the final two, or needs their boss to give the final say-so. However, the candidates feel they're being played long. Both suspect they have come second and are being held in reserve. They smell indecisiveness. They cool down and start looking elsewhere.
The Solution: Make sure the final interview process is understood from day one. Make sure the headhunter is capable and eager to manage candidates expectation. Make sure the final interviewer is included in the entire process and feels engaged. Use psychometrics to check and verify interview conclusions, so at least the last two candidates (if they exist) can be split objectively.
"I'm very busy right now. Can you liaise with HR and I'll catch up with you at the interview stage....."
The Problem: The interviewing line manager will disengage with the process and not come align with the priorities on the interview day. Also, HR are very likely to have very different priorities and probably lack commercial awareness (sorry HR, but it's more true than not - particularly in my experience for commercial roles). They will influence the direction that the search takes more than they should.
The Solution: For the headhunter to be clear that they expect regular contact with the interviewing line manager - they should have the strength of mind to be prepared to walk away, or remove any guarantees, if the line manager wants to totally disengage. The line manager must be ready to take responsibility for making the appointing decision. I'm very sorry, but if the line manager isn't willing to stay engaged, it will go wrong in the end, because the disengagement will continue after the appointment - that's the way it always is with some people.
"I can see the candidates all meet the brief, but I don't like any of them"
The Problem: This is the headhunters (which is ME in this example) fault. I've not understood the cultural and behavioural needs of the client sufficiently well. This isn't an exact science, but with psychometrics this can be addressed with more objectivity than may be understood.
The Solution: Rigorous needs analysis by the headhunter right at the start of the search. Sometimes the client gets bored with the initial detail, but it's worth it in the end.
"I really like 'Jane' but I'm going to make her a lower offer....."
The Problem: Do I really need to explain? The client is looking to save some money. Expectation is dashed and the candidate is lost. I'm afraid this happens more often than is sensible.
The Solution: Have a real understanding of the package range. I've also learned to play down the salary so that when it does happen it's not a surprise, and when it doesn't happen, the candidate gets a pleasant surprise.
"I cut and paste the formal offer letter....."
The Problem: The verbal offer has been made and accepted in principle. Everybody relaxes. An offer letter is constructed from another recent offer that was accepted for a totally different role. Everybody is happy and they don't check the detail. The holiday entitlement and pension details are wrong, and the car allowance isn't explained. The candidate thinks they've been shafted. When it's explained it was a mistake, the candidate thinks the potential new employer isn't quite as hot as they'd been led to believe.
The Solution: Don't leave the offer letter in the hands of HR. In every case this has happened HR got it wrong. The line manager will have to live with this, so they're motivated to check the details before the offer is finally made. Leave it with them.
"This is a great company to work for......"
The Problem: The company doesn't want to air all their 'challenges' in the fear it will put candidates off. They paint a rosy picture to the headhunter and the candidates. Day 1: The candidate starts and talks to other staff and the problems soon surface. The candidate rightly thinks they have been conned and trust is shot in the foot. The headhunter is part of the problem here, because they've not tried hard enough to understand what's going on.
The Solution: For companies to outline the challenges. Good managers and leaders are often motivated by something they can get their teeth into. Day 1: The candidate walks in ready for what's about to happen with a smile in their face! It makes a massive difference. For further reference, here's 10 dumb things you should tell a candidate...
I'm afraid these examples are all real and quite recent. From my perspective, they have taught me that understanding much more than the Job Description is what makes such a difference to a successful headhunt.
Written by Martin Ellis - email Martin