By Charlotte Payne. Published on 10 November 2016
I’ve always been something of a self-confessed optimist. I’ll freely admit I try to look for the best in almost any situation, and tend to see the glass as half full (or, if all else fails, ask for a bigger glass).
In times of particular crisis I find myself falling back on a favoured phrase of my grandfather’s: “perseverance, despite disheartening trends”. Having served as an NCO in the Royal Navy during World War Two, I’m sure disheartening trends were a regular occurrence and it seemed to work pretty well for him.
I’ve similarly found that, as a philosophy, this has worked well in my (somewhat less dangerous) career in Executive Search. We pride ourselves on always finding the right solution for our clients, which isn’t necessarily always straightforward. Our clients rightly have high expectations of our success, given the financial investment they’ve made and the very real potential for damaging their business both commercially and culturally if we get it wrong. Not simply walking away when things get tough is vital if you want to find the right candidate in the right way and add value at the same time.
Most people I speak to have had an experience where finding a new role has taken longer than expected, or the market just hasn’t been as buoyant as they would have anticipated. For a number of reasons (don’t mention Brexit) the job market isn’t as prosperous as we might otherwise expect at the moment. This is compounded by a highly fragmented recruitment landscape with smaller companies seemingly springing up on a daily basis. This can create a confusing and somewhat impenetrable world for someone dipping their first toe into the waters of the job search.
There seems therefore to be a degree of similarity between finding the right candidate and finding the right job. Here are a few of our techniques which can be applied to your next job search to make life a little easier:
1 – Do your research
Every new search assignment for me starts with the same thing – a clear understanding of the role and the market I’m about to explore. For me this means creating a target list of companies, not only in my client’s sector, but also in any others where relevant skillsets might exist. For example, if the client is in retail, I would look at other industries that are fast paced, multisite and consumer focused.
If you’re job searching, try using your investigative skills to hunt down company lists that exist online. Easy places to start are companies with head offices local to you, the FTSE100/250, or even places like Wikipedia can be surprisingly helpful at times. Often when companies are mentioned in the press, competitor organisations are talked about as a comparison. Start with a list of companies you’d be interested to consider and do a search to see what other organisations come up.
2 – Be methodical
Once I have my initial target list and I’m confident it’s broad but still relevant, I think about exactly which companies to look at first. Not every organisation is going to have a structure which includes the type of role I’m hiring for and I don’t want to slow myself down looking for someone who may not exist. So instead of going from A to Z, I work across different scales and sectors of companies from most to least relevant.
Similarly, take some time to really reflect on the list of companies you’ve drawn up. Consider: is this organisation likely to have a structure which will need the skills I can deliver? Will it offer the breadth of geographic remit I’m looking for? Given what I know of their culture, is this an environment that will get the best out of me? And so forth.
3 – Keep track of your progress
When going out to the market with a new role, I keep a very close track of who I’ve already contacted, how many messages they’ve received from me and what their response has been. In my mind it’s a cardinal sin of headhunting to contact a candidate for a role who has already told you no!
Keep a record of which organisations you’ve contacted and who your main point of contact has been. Make note of any conversation points you’ve covered and any agreed follow-up which has come out of the call. If someone mentions to you a lead which isn’t right for you, keep a note in case you can suggest it to someone else. Reciprocity can open a number of doors.
4 – Keep an open mind
As a rule the best Search firms don’t just rely on one channel to source candidates. Yes, we have a network of existing contacts, but this alone does not a shortlist make. LinkedIn has clearly opened up new lines of communication, but this is corroborated by recommendations from people we trust.
Clearly the best place to start your search will be with “who do I know who can introduce me to…?” and making use of warm contacts to make introductions on your behalf. But don’t feel that your network has to stop there. Sign up to LinkedIn groups which are relevant to you and your interests. Engage in conversations on message boards and strike up a dialogue. You never know where this might lead! Most importantly, ask people who they would be speaking to in your situation and take advantage of your network’s network.
5 – If at first you don’t succeed…
I think most people would describe their lives as “busy”, and catching someone at the right time to have a conversation about a role can be half the battle. For me it’s a fine line to walk, the difference between keeping yourself on someone’s radar and becoming a nuisance.
Whether you are contacting headhunters or trying to approach a company’s hiring manager directly, if you have someone’s direct email or phone number, this is almost always going to be the best way to start. But after the first message, don’t assume if you’ve haven’t heard back that they aren’t interested in talking to you. Try again, or follow up via a different medium after a couple of days have passed.
6 – Keep in touch
Ask most Search Consultants and they will tell you that they wish they had more time to dedicate to keeping in touch with their existing network. It’s something we’re all guilty of, both at home as well as at work. The strength of our network and personal contacts is what sets us up for success, and you don’t maintain that by never speaking to people again.
This brings us back to step three and keeping track of who you’ve spoken to. If you’ve been in touch with someone x weeks ago and you’re anything like me, you probably need some kind of reminder to get back in touch. The trick here is to build a meaningful dialogue by having something to offer in return. That way when you follow up with your contacts, instead of always asking “Do you have a job for me yet?” you can create a mutually beneficial relationship.
Can I sit here and claim this is a fool-proof way of finding a new role? Of course not. Much as with leading a search process, it’s an art not a science. But hopefully by applying a little bit of structure, and a fair dose of perseverance, you will prevail!
If you’re looking for your next role and have used some (or perhaps all!) of the techniques mentioned above, please let us know how you get on.