Are You a Headhunter or an Entrepreneur? Why Not Both?

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Nov 17, 2011

When my husband convinced me to close my recruiting business, I had no idea what might be in store for me. After all, I had been in the recruiting industry for almost a decade. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I lived and breathed headhunting—in all its glory. The good, the bad, and the challenging.

Yes…I realize I’m writing this article for The Fordyce Letter — a publication that “delivers straight talk for the recruiting profession…” So why am I writing about leaving the profession?

Do you really think you’ll be a ‘headhunter’ for the rest of your life? Do you think, as I did when my husband suggested I leave the business, “What else do I know how to do?” When I considered closing the doors on my business, I was seriously concerned about finding something that would replace the income I enjoyed as a recruiter.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate that during my years as a recruiter I had acquired business savvy that would serve me throughout the next two decades of starting new businesses. I was unknowingly armed with skills that, in looking back, were remarkable.

So, as you continue on your merry way, take heart. You are acquiring prowess, strategic thinking, and moxie that will serve you well for a lifetime—whether you remain in your current field or choose to move on. No matter what your choice, why not take a minute and bask in all that you know? Want to know just what a smart cookie you are? Consider some of the greatest skills that will carry you through life come from the things you’ve learned along the path to becoming a great recruiter.

Interviewing your way to the best team you ever had

I remember one time I was interviewing a candidate for the Managing Partner spot for one of my best law firm clients. Her CV was impressive­­­—with the exception of a little 6-month gap in gainful unemployment. So I asked her, with an expectant expression, “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” Without hesitation, she told me her six-month gap in employment was because she had been in rehab for a drug addiction. She also assured me she had been clean for the past three days. End of interview, at least for a job opening at a law firm specializing in criminal defense.

Variations of this question always worked wonders, back then and today. For example, I was considering hiring a contractor to work on an apartment building I own. Toward the end of the interview I asked, “Is there something I should have asked you that I haven’t asked?” His reply? “I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning and I never make it to work on time.”

As a recruiter, I interviewed thousands of job candidates, never realizing at the time I would be hiring my own team in a variety of businesses.

The skills you are acquiring as an expert interviewer are invaluable. Very few employers and business owners possess the skills you have honed as a professional recruiter. And I’ve found it’s like riding a bike…these are skills you never forget.

Did you check references?

I have a friend who has gone through seven housekeepers—in three months. In itself remarkable. People will jump through all sorts of hoops looking for employees. They will suffer through the long and time-consuming interview process. But they tend to stop short at checking references. It’s the lazy man’s out.

As a former recruiter, of course, the first question I asked my friend after listening to her lament about her struggles in ‘finding good help’ was, “Well, did you check references?”

I’m sure you do this as naturally as you breathe. After your first dozen reference checks are completed the intimidation factor pretty much vanishes. Knowing how to listen and to ask questions when hiring and screening prospective employees is a critical skill for any entrepreneur to possess.

“We wash windows”

One of the biggest challenges I faced in my graphic design business when working with a new client was in getting the client to describe their business. I had a client with a fairly substantial window washing business that had grown through pure hard work from a one-person operation into a company that employed dozens. At our first exploratory branding session, I asked my client to tell me a little bit about his company. He replied, rather gruffly, “Well… we’re a window washing company. You know. We wash windows.”

And this is where a lot of designers stop. They accept a response like the one my window washing friend gave me. They’ll proceed to spend hours at the computer to come up with a brand they think adequately embraces their client—only to be told, repeatedly, to return to the drawing board. What an amazingly frustrating experience…for designer and client alike.

However, we know better, don’t we? After working with hundreds of clients we learn to ask questions like:

  • What’s your corporate culture?
  • What’s your personality?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What makes you distinct and separates you from the competition?
  • Who is your target employee (audience)?
  • Can you specifically describe your field of business and particular job openings?

These are branding questions. And knowing how to brand yourself is a marketing skill that is, frankly, priceless. We’ve all pushed, prodded, and pulled this information out of clients a gazillion times! This is a skill that will never grow old or out of vogue.

Your ability to understand the landscape and environment of your clients will help you brand and market your own businesses. Have you heard people talk about ‘finding your voice’? You are already a pro.

The greatest skill of all

When I first started looking to buy an apartment building I checked the local newspaper listings for buildings for sale and I looked at the top commercial real estate listing sites online.

But I didn’t stop there. That would be like listing a job opening for one of your recruiting clients and hoping a flood of resumes will hit your inbox. Or hoping candidates for job openings would be like the proverbial low hanging fruit…just ripe for the picking.

Nor did I stop after calling a couple of commercial brokers.

I found my first building as a result of calling property management companies, writing direct mail letters to individual apartment building owners, contacting vendors and services providers to the apartment market, and speaking to leaders of the local and national apartment associations.

Recruiters, more so than any other entrepreneur I’ve met, understand business is all about ‘who you know.’ It’s about contacts. They’re not afraid to pick up the phone and make the calls that would intimidate most people.

Think about it. We know how to start at the top—we’ll call anyone. We ask for the business. We don’t take “No” personally. We never try to force an outcome. And we have tons of patience.

Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart.

Fortunately, everything you’ve learned as a recruiter has positioned you to be the perfect business owner: you understand the art of negotiation; you know how to call a bluff; you have a solid understanding of your client’s needs and that your client comes first; you realize providing awesome service to your client precedes collecting a commission; and above all else, you’ve learned to manage your expectations and to be flexible about outcomes.

You have the unique personality to be a success in just about anything you set your mind to. And you possess the fundamental skills to be an extraordinary business owner!

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