Reflections of a Headhunter - The Mental Game

I find what we, collectively, do to be amazing.  We headhunters are the envoys of employment, the captains of commerce, the of potentates of potential!!  We help our clients accomplish their challenging goals by finding and securing for them the talent they need to succeed.

It really is a beautiful thing, man.

I've been feeling especially reflective because I am heading into my 5th year of being in business for myself. I've been a recruiter for wow, 17 years, I can barely believe that.  I know many of you have been doing this longer, but honestly, this is the longest time I've done anything in my life. As a recruiter I have always been a one man band, or working for a tiny little firm.  I've never been inside. I've always run a full desk. For the last 17 years it has been me and my telephone carving out a living out of the shifting sands of business.  I am humbled and amazed every single day.  


In my mind, recruiting and self-employment combine to provide me with a unique opportunity for personal development.  I get to face my fears and figure out how to pay my mortgage each month. They are those things are very related. As a mostly contingency recruiter, no one pays me nuthin' unless I make the placement. That can be daunting in itself, but really what I look at every day is how very little we really control.  


We sell people to people.  Think about it.   There are a ton of variables in that equation and, for me, only by stacking the deck in my favor as much as possible, and only by keeping my head on straight can I manage the uncertainty. 


I try to limit my clients to those who want my level of detail, positioning and advocacy.  If they want someone who doesn't ask questions, I am not their girl. If they want someone content to fling volumes of resumes without needing feedback, I am not their girl. If they want someone who must step out of the picture and abandon candidates to an internal process I am most likely not their girl, though I can be flexible as far as process goes.  I took yoga to get super bendy for my clients, but there are limits to my flex. If they want the cheapest girl in town,


If they want someone who can find and enthuse excellent talent and smooth the process by ferreting out and preventing potential trainwrecks on both sides, thus resulting in a smooth and happy close, well thats a happy place.


I make a point of congruence in what I say and what I do.  I strive to treat people like human beings (on both sides of the employment equation) and I think what we do is important. I am not perfect by any means. I screw up, I get pissy, I take things personally sometimes (But I am a heckuva lot better at that than I used to be). I think this business requires a rigorous program of self-honesty, a willingness to look at things as they are (instead of what we wish they were,  and a determination to do it better today than yesterday, while also striving to be gentle to myself and others.


This is why I have a meditation practice and I am not kidding about that. Training my brain may be the single most important thing I have ever done for my desk.

I have a few slogans I have collected over the years that keep me on track and up my mental game:

  • Nothing is real until it is and then not until the check clears.
  • Anybody is capable of anything at any time (Including me. That includes really awesome and not so much)
  • Don’t assume anything. Probe the obvious to avoid trainwrecks.
  • If it was easy everyone would do it.
  • It is never as good or as bad as it seems.
  • Do the thing you dread first.
  • Smooth seas do not a skillful sailor make.
  • Manage your ups and your downs. 
  • Step up and do the difficult thing, you'll stand out.
  • Don’t expect applause.
  • Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?
  • Winning means cashing the check.
  • Not everyone plays by your rules.
  • Communication is the best lubricant.
  • Be granular in all things.
  • Pause.
  • Manage expectations to get to the close.
  • Positioning is what it is all about.
  • Too much freedom can feel like a prison.
  • Life happens on life’s terms, not on your terms.
  • Doing business with friends and family is always more complicated.
  • It is what it is. (It always is)
  • Don’t postpone joy.


Views: 3079

Comment by Gene Leshinsky on August 19, 2011 at 5:30pm
I think working on the inside has it's advantages to working in an agency. But working for yourself is a beautiful thing too.
Comment by Valentino Martinez on August 21, 2011 at 2:09pm

Very well said, Lisa.

Your list of slogans reminds me of a slogan I had posted in my office in a prison setting where I directed a rehabilitation program working with prisoners preparing for parole.  It read:

"Cuando las cosas se ponen difíciles los fuertes ayuda."

"When the going gets tough, the tough get help".  

Noticing the comments here responding to your post—one can appreciate the RBC folks who value a commaraderie and a willingness to be helpful to each other.  As competitive as we are and must be--we can all also be helpful and supportive of each other.

Comment by Paul Sturgeon on August 25, 2011 at 9:15am
Thanks Lisa. I run a firm about 6-8 recruiters, and each day can be a roller coaster. I printed your article and put it on our conference room wall as mandatory reading.
Comment by Elizabeth Adams on August 26, 2011 at 10:46am

Great post Lisa. Excellent overview of a life of recruiter. 

Comment by Charlie Davenport on August 26, 2011 at 4:27pm
I sent this to Lisa directly, but now that I am a member... My favorite, and do think about it, was left to me anonymously on my desk during my first year of recruiting - "Quiet People aren't the only ones that don't say much."
Comment by Recruiting Animal on August 29, 2011 at 5:27pm
This is material aplenty for an appearance on the @animal show - it doesn't have to  last an hour. I'm starting a series of shorter contributions but there is a lot here if you can supply stories to back up your general statements
Comment by Barbara Goldman on August 31, 2011 at 12:09pm
Great post. This is a great business. You have missed nothing by avoiding a big firm. Recruiting is small, and individual, no matter how big the office.


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