What you need to know to perfect your headhunt.

This is the second part of my series on How to deliver quality headhunts that WILL win more business. If you’ve not read my first blog, I’d suggest you start there so the process I talk you through is in order. The first blog covers:-

  • The Definition of a True Headhunt
  • The Mind Set You Need To Deliver Real Quality
  • How to Compile the Search Reports, and what to show and not show your client
  • Name Gathering and How to Make Initial Headhunt calls

The pitch

Once you get a “yes, it’s a good time to talk” or they say no and you arrange another more convenient time, that’s the time to pitch.

As this is one of the more interesting parts of the process, a lot of recruiters get over enthusiastic and just jump into making the headhunt calls and wing it – wrong! If you look at what percentage of time is taken making these vitally important calls, and weigh up the importance level of this part of the headhunt you’ll then understand why you should invest real time working on the best pitch you can. What I’ve found helps in finding the best possible pitch more easily, and gets far better results, is writing the best pitch you can then trying it with a colleague you trust. Yes the first few times this might feel a bit odd, but if your colleague is someone you rate, the feedback from on your pitch and the discussion on how to improve it can make a huge difference to the quality of call, and in turn, success rate.

The whole point of the pitch is to gain interest in your role; you need to work hard to identify the key selling points of the role and your client. To get this right, you need enough information in order so that they can commit interest, but not so much that you run out of the most appealing points and end up giving them so much information that they find a reason to say no, or they simply switch off because they’re bored of listening to you! Opinions vary, plus your style and sector will influence how long your pitch should be but I would recommend keeping your pitch under a minute.

Name your client or not?

Historically the vast majority of recruiters hold back on telling the potential candidate the client’s name until the very last minute, often stipulating that they need a CV before they’ll reveal who the client is. It’s a fact that this annoys a lot of potential candidates, and usually the best will decline interest at this point. It is a hotly debated subject at which point do you say who your client is. In contingent recruitment, there is the fear that the vacancy will get out to other recruiters, however as you’re retained, this isn’t something that should worry you, your client will stay loyal to you and evade other recruiters, they won’t want to pay two fees! Personally, if your client has a good name in the sector and if the role isn’t confidential, I’d be happy to reveal who they are very early on, even as soon as they ask, or in some cases even in the pitch. Balance whether revealing your client’s name will open doors to the best candidates against the small chance someone goes direct (who probably wouldn’t be right anyway otherwise you’d have spoken to them). It’s a commercial balance of potential loss versus gain, and gain wins for me virtually every time.

OK, so now your target is interested.

How you proceed from here will be influenced by your market and level of seniority of the role. If it’s a very senior role you may want to dive straight into the “I’d like to come and meet with you to explain more about the role.  When is good for you?” This not only shows how committed you are by offering to meet the candidate at this early stage, but also allows you to sell the role direct, conduct your interview and (as they are senior) secure a warm contact for when they next recruit.

However, if you are getting a lot of interest and don’t want loads of meetings, aren’t sure if this person is right, or not a hiring decision maker, then do a telephone interview. Don’t rely on a CV at this point. You’ll have pumped up their interest by this point so allowing this interest to cool off while you wait for a CV will undo this good work, slow the search down, plus the CVs very rarely have enough info on them anyway. Of course, ask for a CV and use this for a follow up call and/or meeting, but if you rely on waiting for CVs, you will slow your search down and you will lose good candidates.

Meeting and interviewing your candidates

When you meet your candidates, it’s valuable to see it as a two-way interview. You want to leave the candidate with the feeling you are professional, well informed, thorough and a person they will want to use in the future and recommend. Plus, to carry on adding value to the search to win that all important repeat business, you want the candidate to speak highly of you when they meet your client. Trust me, clients put a lot of stock in the candidate’s opinion on how they feel you’ve worked, and often will ask them the direct question.

It’s shocking how a recruitment agency might not train their recruiters on how to interview properly. I can’t possibly cover it all in this blog, but here are some basic tips.

You must plan your questions first, this may be obvious but a lot of recruiters don’t, they just do a face-to-face version of a registration. Plan your questions around the key competencies of the role and the person criteria: –

“[Candidate] can you give me an example of when you’ve taken over a project running at a loss and turned it around?”

It’s important that you structure your interview well if you are going to be able to judge who should be on your eventual shortlist. Plus, when you are writing your interview notes the example answers to these questions add weight by backing them up with real illustrations of previous successes that match the person spec e.g. ‘must be able to trouble shoot loss making projects.’  This allows you to sell them on this point.

Also, a tip here on covering the ‘reason for leaving’ question (i.e. why they are looking), which you’ll need to cover for counter offers etc. When you ask this question you may get the odd “I’m not looking, you approached me”. To counter this, I suggest “Sorry yes I understand, however if you could change anything about where you are working now, what would it be?” It’s very, very rare that there isn’t some reason they aren’t totally happy where they are and this will get it out. Also add “what is it about this role that interests you?” which is good to use when selling the candidate in, plus prepping the client to sell on this point.

Interview notes

Typing up interview notes isn’t fun for most of us, but is an essential part of the search, as well written notes reinforce the difference in quality between success only recruitment and a well delivered headhunt assignment. These notes are of big value, plus they do increase the chances of repeat searches, so think of this when your motivation isn’t at its best.

Well written interview notes are also additional confirmation to your client that your candidate is right for the job and increases the likelihood your client will be more positive going into the interview.

How to present the shortlist

I recommend presenting your shortlist face-to-face with your client where possible; this is your chance to do a face-to-face sell on all the candidates, plus again reinforce the higher perceived value of retained search.

The acceptance of the shortlist should trigger your second stage payment if you have agreed the traditional payment structure. Also, after all the work you’ve put in, this is another big moment in the search where the client sees what they’ve got for their money. Lastly, this is a big factor in whether your client does genuinely see the list you’ve put forward as the very best candidates available. If you can achieve this last part, your client should simply choose one, if not more, without even considering if there might be better candidates out there.

For this meeting, take your shortlisted candidates CVs, interview notes, and psychometric results if they have been included. I’d recommend you bind them with a well designed corporate looking front sheet to give that added feeling of quality, and lastly take your search report.

Start the meeting by showing your client the search report to impress them with the amount of work you’ve put in  They’ll hardly ever give your report more than a glance, but still make sure your report is well put together just in case they do decide to give it a good read. Then, give your client all the shortlisted candidates’ files and sell them verbally one by one. If you’ve done your job properly, you should be able to close interviews for all the candidates, and leave your client with the feeling that they chose right in assigning you and your recruitment agency to undertake the headhunt.

How do I know these added value aspects to the headhunt work for repeat buys?

When one of my businesses scored low on clients coming back regularly for future headhunts, I initially presumed our success rate of filling the roles must have been low. However when I saw that wasn’t the case at all, but that actually we successfully completed nearly all our headhunts, I was at first puzzled.

I spoke to our clients about how they felt about the headhunts, the value they felt, customer service and results. I discovered the low satisfaction score was because they had no or very little, real feeling of value during or after the headhunt. We knew we had conducted a thorough headhunt but where we let ourselves down was by not showing the client that we had, and with excellent follow up after offer, and after the candidate started working for them. So to them the headhunt didn’t feel sufficiently better than that of success only. In their eyes they were unsure exactly how much more they were getting over the success only method.

We needed to step up and improve our 1 in 4 repeat buying statistics. So after talking more to our customers, we made sure all our headhunts included all the below as a minimum: –

  • A headhunt brief, including a job description and candidate profile written by us
  • Target company lists provided at the start of the headhunt
  • Promised a report at the end of the search
  • Face-to-face interviews of all candidates
  • Thorough interview notes presented to the client face-to-face
  • Access to that full headhunt report
  • Follow up calls and preferably visits to see how the candidate(s) are working out

Our success ratio of happy clients who either bought from us again or said they would automatically come to us next time improved to 5 in 6 within 6 months of making these changes. So this shows how that feeling of value for money, with the additional tangible aspects to the headhunt, really does massively increase the amount of repeat headhunts you get. So if you’d prefer a very high profit, low new business, desk try adding the contents of this blog to your headhunts.

Rhys Jones
Written by Rhys Jones Managing Director – Davidson Gray

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