This article first appeared in Press Gazette
A week ago, we picked up a brief for a client looking for a media search consultant (us) to find them senior writers in the energy sector (see “Job Spy” for more details, by the way). We were given the brief because the client had previously worked with a contingency agency who had forwarded a number of CVs without meeting any of the candidates.
The client was appalled. How can you suggest team members, they wanted to know, without meeting them? It is a fair question. Unfortunately, some contingency agencies – as opposed to retained headhunters – have a churn-and-burn approach. Because they rarely get an exclusive brief, they have to work very quickly and will typically dispatch CVs within hours of getting a job; there is simply no time to meet potential candidates.
They are helped by increasingly powerful recruitment software. When you send in your CV, the salient points (experience, specialities. languages, etc) will be noted. When a brief comes along, the database will be searched and – if those attributes match up – your CV will be selected, along with others with similar skills, etc.
But that is where the problem lies. It means that recruitment at this level becomes auto-recruiting, an exercise in box-ticking. Writes on energy? Check. Speaks Chinese? Check. Lives in London? Check. But collaborative? Outgoing? Driven? Don’t know.
Of course, most recruitment software has a place for such notes, but it won’t get used until the consultant has something to enter into it. For those seeking career-change, this means making an effort to meet the relevant consultants. Look out for contacts who work in your sector and arrange a coffee with them. Don’t be too pushy: 15 minutes in Starbucks is better than nothing. Even in the hardest-pressed environments, recruitment is about discretion; understanding who might fit where. If the recruiter has an understanding of you as an individual, they should be in a stronger position to put you forward for roles that will really suit you.
When you do meet with them, have one or two points that you want to get across. Be specific, but not pushy, about what you can add that isn’t shown on your CV. Point out transferable skills, but stay away from pipe-dreams (it is perfectly reasonable to say that a sub-editor on Tunnels Weekly with a passion for cars could be a sub-editor on AutoFreak; less so to expect to be the replacement for Clarkson on Top Gear). But, above all, be likeable. The old cliché that “people buy people” is never truer than when selling yourself.
As headhunters, we will not put forward any candidate until we have met them. Even if we know them well, we will re-interview them for a specific role. This means we can give a personal perspective to our clients to which they normally listen. You can help recruitment agencies to do the same thing by making sure you meet them.