How They Reached the Top: Nine Questions for Derek Duval

Nov 20, 2015
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
Derek Duval
Derek Duval

The Internet-TV series “Top Recruiter” shows how some headhunters do business, and as we know, it is only some. But the outlook of the show is limited. It is more short-term than long- term. The series doesn’t pose the questions some of us in the business want to know about the recruiters’ careers. What were their strategies? How many hours did they put in? Who helped them?

I want to know why and how many headhunters have reached the top. I hope you do too. With the many challenges facing our profession, and let’s not elaborate on those exactly, we can all use a little insight.

I used to write a regular newsletter that featured interviews with top business professionals. “The Network” had 229 – 229! – issues. I really liked those interviews, and I think the question-and-format is digestible enough for readers to browse, scan, or read.

This interview is Derek Duval. Derek is the owner of Duval Search Associates, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based recruiting firm that specializes in information technology.

Q. Joe Pelayo: What is your background, age, and family status?

A. Derek Duval: I am 45, married with two children, hometown: Charlottesville, Virginia.

Q. How did a UNC student with a B.A. in English become a well-respected recruiter in IT?

A. Well, it really has no bearing on IT. I would argue that a good recruiter succeeds in any industry, whether it’s IT or legal or medical or pick your flavor. It’s about having a genuine interest in people. I think of myself in the relationship business rather than the recruiting or placement business. I think an English degree teaches you about human relationships and human behavior; it’s about communication and understanding people’s needs and interests. You learn to listen effectively. It’s what clients and candidates deserve.”

Q: You mention on your site that many people disdain recruiters because of “hollow promises, gross misrepresentations, aggressiveness, self-serving tactics.” When did you conclude this about the recruiting profession and what do you to avoid that behavior?

A: Well, I would have to say that in any business there’s gray areas. Each individual has to decide for themselves how to behave. In the environment that recruiters operate in there is extreme pressure to get placements, and what they get into are gray areas and there’s a lot of room for bad behavior.  I hesitate to bring this up, because there’s a bunch of great recruiters who are honest who are in my business.

Early on in my career I was building a strong foundation but I basically got myself in trouble, because I wasn’t getting enough placements. This was about six months into my first job, and [at age 25] I was told I would need to step it up. By 14 months, I built up my business for the first time, and you can see where this is going. I didn’t get to make real money for quite a while, but I got there.

Q: What were your keys to success?

A: Having talked about my struggles in my twenties, I would say I was successful afterwards. The seeds were planted in my twenties but it took a while for them to bloom. Even in the Great Recession I had a lot of clients.

Q: What seeds had been planted?

A: My goal is to treat my clients with integrity, (be a recruiter) who understands their needs and shows modesty. Whatever conversation I would have with the person, they would be treated well, no matter if it was a career change or a promotion or a job.

Q: What can the industry do to encourage more ethical behavior?

A: (Pause 10 seconds). I pay a living wage to my employees. On their base salary, they earn a commission. (In a follow-up interview, Derek explained his salary structure.) My recruiters are paid enough to live on in base salary, so that they are not always stressed about chasing commissions.  However, the commission structure is generous and they make more than most other recruiters based on industry averages.

Q: When you made the leap to success, did you work harder or smarter?

A: I would think smarter, but in today’s competitive business environment you have to work smart and hard. Of course, you have to put in your time. But I guard my time carefully. If you look at my calendar, it’s heavily scheduled. I don’t accept requests to talk with anybody. I’m pretty efficient.  [Then again,] I don’t gear down well. When I work, it’s full throttle. One thing I’m getting better at is winding down my work.

Q: How did you learn to get efficient with your time?

A: I think it was a natural evolution. At first I didn’t know what I didn’t know any more than the next guy.  I kept at it.  Now if I plan to talk with someone over five minutes, it goes on my calendar.

Q: Do you have a secretary?

A: No, I don’t have a secretary. I have an administrator who helps me sometimes.

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