Are Head-Hunters Afraid Of the Future?

Mar 9, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Head-hunters, internal and external, need to stop concentrating on the stuff anyone can do and work on their people skills, because technology is catching up to us.

I’m a fan of U.S. sci-fi of the 50s and 60s. I love the fact that it is both a tour of the imagination and a window into American attitudes and society at the time. In particular, Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg.

Both wrote about the effect of technology on people, which is always more interesting that Death Robots from Mars intent on incinerating virginal heroines, which is how most sci-fi of that time is remembered.

In particular, I remember a book that had a world where people only ever met via 3D imaging – many people had never actually been in the room as another living person since birth.

When I go online, I find that we’re halfway there — “best friends” have never actually met!

Conversely, I’ve been meeting and greeting a bit lately. I was present at a ‘Tweet-Up’ (a Twitter group meet-up) where 15 people met for the first time.

They discussed social media. Eleven of them were online, sharing the discussions with others. The discussion was streamed live to in case you couldn’t be there!

That night, I ran an in-the-flesh event for a LinkedIn networking group I manage, with 25 people actually talking face-to-face. Wow!

Coat-Tie-and-Boardshorts and Webcams, Oh My!

But surely, such events are going against the trend. Aren’t we on the verge of becoming a coat-tie-and-boardshorts culture, staring into a webcam from behind a desk?

Isn’t everybody a website? I know I am!

Therefore, trade shows – massive events which require money, logistics, and people on the ground – would have to be a bit yesterday, surely? All those people in the same place at the same time selling the same stuff?

Turns out, they’re not. Attendances and exhibitors have been pretty steady over the last 10 years.

If you check out the last downturn – I’m suggesting the IT crash of about 2001 – the net effect on trade shows was negligible. The percentage of people who bought anything at a trade show dropped, but the number of attendees and exhibitors didn’t. The only other indicator that dropped was the “exhibit attraction” scales, which indicated that booths were a little less fancy.

As a head-hunter, I run riot at trade shows! Why? Because companies often send their up-and-coming stars, along with a few senior managers.

I had a briefcase burst at Sydney Airport after a conference last year. I’d whipped through the other two events on at the same venue as the conference on the same day and collected so many business cards and brochures that the poor thing just gave up.


Given my love of tradeshows and a crop of business cards, I’m a little enamored with, a searchable card database collected from trade shows.

To explain, they go to trade shows, collect all the cards, stick ‘em online, and sell you access to the searchable database of images of the actual cards.

It’s an amazingly simple concept. And it works.

Let’s suppose I have been asked to find someone to sell restaurant POS systems in New York.

My favorite place to start is LinkedIn, so I dug out the postcode for NYNY and did a search with the likely parameters. As I have 16m+ in my network, there’s gotta be someone who fits the bill!

In fact, six people turned up, and after discounting one who is a “waitress wanting to be an actress,” that left five quite good prospects. Certainly worth a call, if only I had their phone numbers. Looks like more detective work.

I ran a similar search on Cardbrowser, which was quicker and easier. It returned 17 business cards – all of them useful.

So, on the one hand, I have five people to whom I can send a message who might reply or might not. On the other, 17 business cards, many with mobile phone numbers, certainly with emails and landline numbers.

Given that Cardbrowser seems to be effective, it’s worth a quick description.

It has a serious interface. No hype, nothing hysterical. It looks like the marketing department went to lunch and the SQL team did the layout.

And it’s so simple. There’s more than 175,000 cards in there, and judging by the rate of acquisition – their calendar lists 25 trade shows that they are attending just this week as I write this – it will expand rapidly.

So you stick in an industry and/or a location and/or a job category. Press a button. Get a list.

They offer a few add-on services – both small but useful, such as using an address-grabber to move the individual data to your own contacts and mass-scale, such as spreadsheet export – for a fee. Such services tend to be offered to you just at the point you might like to use them.

And here’s a sobering thought – when you look at their news releases about their big customers, they aren’t search firms. They’re major corporates, looking to rob hardworking head-hunters of our right to charge enormous fees in return for the results of our cleverness.

Being a head-hunter has two parts. Being able to find candidates that no one else can find, or find as quickly as you can. And being persuasive and charming on the phone or via email, in order to get interest from the target candidate pool.

Cardbrowser is a very effective way of addressing the first requirement.

Five years ago I was pretty sure I could walk into any room full of people in my hometown and be better at the first part than anyone. Now damn near anyone can get a reasonable list together.

These days, to be a successful head-hunter you need to be exceptional at both parts, and increasingly, the second part.

Sure, when something like Cardbrowser comes across your radar, then you should aim to be better at it than anybody else.

The point is, while you’re honing your Boolean arguments and search strings, gathering Shally Steckerl’s cheat sheets and building your online networks, don’t forget to develop your language, vocabulary, manners, persuasiveness, diligence, and charm. It’s what separates you from those who can make a list – which these days, is anyone with a credit card and few hours to spare online.

The good news is I’ve now got a few more hours to spare to work on my charm– I don’t need to go to trade shows anymore.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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