Attracting the headhunters

If you have itchy feet, how can you attract headhunters? And if you are an IT leader, how can you prevent them poaching your...

If you have itchy feet, how can you attract headhunters? And if you are an IT leader, how can you prevent them poaching your staff?

I am often asked how people can attract the attention of headhunters, or executive search consultants, as they prefer to be known. (Or do they? I think they prefer the former image.)

Everyone likes to be headhunted. Why? Because we all share the same desire, to be valued.

There are specific ways to ensure you attract the attention of headhunters, and there are also moves that IT leaders can make to ensure they do not lose all their key people in this way.

What should you do to ensure you are on that list?

  • Speak at conferences - there is a huge shortage of inspiring and relevant presenters. Excellent speakers will always be remembered, and will establish a strong reputation

  • Be profiled in magazines or on TV. Make sure your story is special, preferably positive and relevant to your peers

  • Journalist comment. Let it be known that you are prepared to comment on stories - journalists need soundbites. If you have the ability to think up one snappy line, on the phone, immediately, you are on the right road

  • Build a reputation for a particular standing or crusade - but make sure you actually hold that belief, don't make something up

  • Network, and take it seriously. People still buy from people, and the recruitment industry is no different - it's both who you know, and who knows you. The two follow on from each other.


When you receive the call, take command of the situation. Ask three questions in a friendly, professional way:

  • How did they get hold of your name? (You might think this sounds aggressive but it always goes down well)

  • What is the salary and general location on offer? Headhunters will never reveal the name of their client on the phone

  • What are the top three skills they are looking for?


These questions let the headhunter know that you mean business. Remember, if the person calling believes you receive a lot of calls, you will become white-hot property fast.

I once referred to headhunters as parasites, and I did it at a high-profile IT directors event. It was great, the audience agreed with me, and I got even more calls afterwards.

Although IT leaders love to receive such calls, they most certainly do not want their staff receiving them. I know of companies which monitor external calls coming in to try to reduce poaching.

This is not the way to deal with the issue. The two most powerful ways to combat the threat of losing your key people are:

  • Ensure they enjoy working with you. This column has covered how to do this, the rest is up to you

  • Reverse headhunt. List the key people you have lost over the past year, and call them. Tell them they are welcome back, and let them know of the changes that have happened since they left the company. The majority of people who move positions quickly become disillusioned, but pride will stop them admitting it.


One word of warning, when you bring people back, do not bring them back to a more senior position, or word will get around that the only way to achieve promotion is to leave the company.

David Taylor's Inside Track, a provocative insight into the world of IT business, is published by Butterworth Heinemann. Tel 01865-888180

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