Headhunters nowadays are not just out to fill senior executive positions. More and more of them are filling posts at all levels of management. Search consultants are called up when certain skills are lacking on the market, when, for example, no suitable applicants respond to a job advertisement and the company seeking to hire has only one chance left − poaching from competitors. This practice has become commonplace in the media business, particularly in the online sector.
Headhunters will approach you not only by phone, but often via e-mail, especially if you're present on a variety of Internet platforms.
Being contacted in the latter case is generally uncomplicated. You can write back to the headhunter if you’re interested, communicate your interests and intentions, and let him know how and when he can reach you. Things are more difficult when the headhunter calls you, particularly if you're sitting in an open-plan office and people might be listening in. In cases like this, you need to know how to react professionally.
How might you react if you're interested?
a) If the call is on a landline phone:
− you express your interest and give the caller your e-mail address. The headhunter can then write to you, giving you the opportunity to do some research and think things over.
− you give the caller your cell-phone number and ask him to call you back later.
b) If the call is on your cell phone:
− you leave the room if possible and conduct a short conversation to see if the offer might be something for you.
− you say you don't have time to talk right now and ask him to try back in the evening at a set time.
− if the call happens to come at the wrong time, while you're sitting in a meeting, for instance, you have no choice but to push the red button. Hopefully your voice mail will take the call. Search consultants often call with a hidden number, however, so you can't always call them back.
At any rate, it's always a good strategy to have information sent to you by e-mail − the job specification, details about the company seeking to hire, etc. − because only then can you get a firm idea of what it’s about.
From a strictly legal point of view, German law allows you to take an initial call from a personnel consultant while at work, on both an office phone or cell phone, describing the vacant position and sounding out your interest (BGHZ 158, 174).
If the job offer is something that interests you, you should first set a date for a more in-depth telephone conversation. The subsequent talk should serve to find out if the position is one that really suits you, if the salary range is appropriate, if it offers you enough development potential, and if the company is right for you. If all of these questions are answered in the affirmative, it’s now time to send your application materials to the headhunter so that he can get a more detailed picture of you. The next step is meeting with the headhunter in person.
Assuming the consultant is well-informed, this initial interview gives you the opportunity to gather a wealth of information. The interview could be the start of a long and fruitful relationship. Once the consultant has a good idea of your career situation and where you're headed, he can come back to you at a later point in time if the current position isn't right for you. The headhunter can also offer you sound advice concerning your application materials, advice that’s well worth heeding.
When he finds the right position for you, he'll send your materials to his client, along with his personal assessment of you.
If the company seeking to hire is impressed by your application, the client will invite you for an interview. This will often be preceded by telephone interviews.
A good headhunter will prepare you for these interviews and give you inside tips that external applicants don't have access to. At 1a Zukunft, we always brief our candidates before they head to a client.
What you should keep in mind:
Make sure that your personnel consultant is competent − that he's knowledgeable about the market and your line of business and that he's able to properly evaluate your professional skills.
Stay away from so-called "CV brokers," i.e., recruiters that merely distribute your CV without so much as a personal interview. They usually aren't contracted by clients, but simply harvest résumés then "bombard" a company with unsolicited applications.
A good human resource consultant will advise and consult you. He will also tell you when a position doesn't suit you. He never pushes you to apply if it's a position you don't want. And he will never send your application materials to a company without your prior knowledge, but always with your consent, and always with respect to a specific vacancy.
What can a headhunter expect from you?
First off, a headhunter is a human being just like you, someone who is doing his job and wants to be treated with respect. Call him back if he asks you to and tell him outright if you're not interested in working together. That way you'll avoid a flood of calls on your voice mail (headhunters tend to be very persistent and will keep on calling till they get you on the line). Be reliable when you make an agreement. It makes things easier for everyone involved. And once you've found a personnel consultant you like and can trust, who you’re sure has good contacts and clients in your market sector, stay in touch with him. Your career development can only benefit.
© Dagmar Schimansky-Geier