The other day someone asked me what I do for a living. The standard answer many people in my business give is: “I’m a recruiter” or “I’m an executive search consultant” or “I am a headhunter.” All of these are just labels. They really don’t tell anyone what it is we actually do. It’s very easy to respond that way, just like an accountant would say she is an accountant, or a teacher might say he is a teacher, or a lawyer might say she is a lawyer. Most people have a reasonably good understanding what it is that those professionals do, but few outside of the recruiting business truly know what WE do.
You can be educated in a profession like accounting, law or teaching, and you can get a degree in those fields. Not in recruiting. When people are young, they may dream about becoming a lawyer, accountant, teacher (or any one of countless other professions), but I seriously doubt any young person ever dreamed about growing up to become a recruiter. People usually enter the recruiting business inadvertently. Usually because a recruiter told them about the profession, the person became sufficiently intrigued, and then took a chance by becoming a recruiter themselves. Most have tried and failed in my profession, only because they never truly understood just how complex the role of a recruiter is. Those people weren’t willing to put in the sufficient time and effort to learn every facet of the business in order to become a success. There are few people who start out as recruiters and then early-on become real failures. They are just early quitters.
So when people ask me what I do, I have to try hard not to give them that usual knee-jerk, quick and easy reply; “I’m a recruiter.” Instead I try to remember to give them a better understanding of what I do by saying: “I am in the business of helping companies grow and prosper and I change people’s lives.” I can honestly say that, because through my service of placing top sales and sales management talent with my clients, their company will grow and prosper. In addition, I will have changed the candidate’s life by doing any (or all) of the following: placing him or her in a better company, in a better location, for more money, with a better career path. All of that improves his life and the lives of his or her family.
There are two major misconceptions in the minds of most job-seekers: (1) they think that they are our clients, and (2) that our job is to find them a job.
Clients are the employers – the hiring companies who pay for our services. We work for them to find top talent for their firms. Candidates are the people we recruit, or whom we have met before and keep track of for possible future assignments. The people we recruit are currently employed. Our job is to attract them to an opportunity at our client’s company, assist them through the interviewing process, help them resign their current job, and start a new career with our client. We are not a social services firm that tries to get jobs for unemployed people. We place only a small percentage of the people who approach us asking for help in leaving one job to get another. To be placed by us, they must have the talent, skills and experience that our clients want. We frequently hear candidates tell us they need to find a headhunter so that they can get a new job. That’s not how it works.
Still, there is much mystery about what we do. It all sounds rather cloak and dagger, since we hunt and find people for our clients. None of those labels (recruiter, executive search consultant, headhunter) really tells people what we actually DO. You can call us headhunters. We aren’t offended by that moniker. However, unlike the aboriginal namesake, we give people the opportunity to use their heads, not lose their heads.
So here, in no particular order are the things I do as a recruiter and what it requires of me skills-wise:
What I do is work in an intensely personal business and in an intensely personal sales job. I don’t travel by car or plane to sell. I travel by phone. I sell two parties with different needs at the same time. I coach and teach. I am a politician, a financial advisor, a career counselor, a human resources consultant and a marketing expert. I’m a talent scout. I am a business consultant, a mentor, an advisor, and a psychologist. I am a communicator. I overcome countless objections (as to using my service, to paying my fee, to not wanting to make a career change). I read between the lines, and I provide solutions to problems — some of them very complicated. I am a good listener. I employ a 6th sense. I have to see the unseen by using a refined sense of hearing. I conduct extensive research. I am a spin doctor. I use lots of patience with people and I handle the endless twists and turns I always encounter which are put in my path by employers and candidates. I help people get what they want. I am creative and very resourceful every day. I employ empathy for clients and candidates at all times. I am ultra-observant — not just of things I see or hear, but of things I don’t see or hear. I use true grit and I handle what will seem to appear to others as endless rejection. I am a negotiator. I am a masterful sales professional and I need to be just as good (or better) than my clients and candidates – who are all in sales. And finally, I close deals.
To add to all of that:
I deal with people, not products. So things change. Constantly. Within the mind of a candidate or employer, there exists a maelstrom of ever-changing thought, emotions, desires, needs, fears, and motivations. Candidates are influenced by parents, spouses, children, friends and co-workers with regard to any decision about making a career change, with an over-riding concern of avoiding a wrong decision. Employer’s minds are influenced too. They are influenced by their boss (and their boss’s boss); budgets, competition and even the fear of hiring the wrong person for what it might do to their own career. So understanding people, truly understanding them, and helping them weigh all their options, is the foundation for being a recruiter. We listen, truly listen, to our candidates and employers, and we provide them the highest levels of professional service in order to help them get what they want. We help people navigate through big decisions affecting their lives, their careers, and their businesses. It is the very thing that good recruiters do each and every day.
Recruiting IS a profession. It’s a profession where you never stop learning. Like any other profession, it takes study, ongoing study, and constant practice to get any good at it. For those who succeed it is a profession that can make them rich with the many business relationships they will form. They will find it a profession that will give them immense psychic fulfillment. And they will enjoy a very good living.
Peter Cotton is an executive recruiter with over 40 years of experience. He is the Founder and President of Best Sales Talent, LLC., a Franklin, MA executive search firm specializing in search, recruitment and placement of the very best sales, sales management and marketing personnel.