How to Become a Corporate Headhunter

Jun 15, 2010

At Chicago’s SMA Symposium last month, I presented an updated version of my corporate recruiter scorecard. Here’s a link to the handout and the ranking form (when you get to the site, see my June 13 post, top center).

Before you rank yourself, you should assign your target candidates into one of the following six buckets based on their level of business impact, personal growth rate, job satisfaction, and job-hunting status. This will allow you to quickly separate the strong from the meek, and from this, determine the appropriate recruiting and sourcing strategy to use.

Super Passives: these are the top people who are making a big impact, totally satisfied, and not the least bit interested in looking. This group represents about 25-30% of the candidate pool. (We are now working with LinkedIn on a big survey to validate the percentages, but this is a good estimate.)

The Explorers: these are the top people, who are fully employed, but whose personal growth has slowed a bit. While they’re not looking, they are open to “explore” a new opportunity if contacted by a recruiter. This group represents about 40-45% of the total candidate pool.

Tiptoers: These people represent the hidden active candidate market. These are the top people who have decided to enter the job hunt, but only tell their close friends and former associates. Strong networking skills will uncover these people quickly. They represent about 10% of the total candidate pool.

The three groups above represent 75-80% of the total applicant pool, but require extra effort to find and recruit. The three groups below represent about 20% of the pool, and would be considered “active” candidates. There is a lot of overlap among these three groups, but from a time perspective they become more active as they become more desperate.

Searchers: I used to call this group “Googlers” but the folks at Bing suggested a more generic term. Regardless of what you call these folks, they use search engines and job aggregators to find their next job. This is where SEO, SEM, and talent communities reign as prime sourcing methodologies. The idea is to capture people as soon as they publicly enter the job market and nurture them along until something great comes along.

Networkers: Let’s get physical. This group differs from Tiptoers in their degree of activity. Tiptoers only tell their close associates about their desire to switch; physical Networkers tell everyone. They join groups, contact everyone they’ve ever met, and send emails to third-degree contacts in the hope of a 20-minute “just coffee.” Don’t ignore these folks, since some are top-notch and very discriminating, but you can’t build a sourcing strategy around this group.

Hunters and Posters: When things get truly desperate, top people will hunt and peck through career sites and job boards, post their resumes anywhere they can, and use agents to apply to anything with the word “job” in it. Again, while there are some good folks in this group, the effort to separate the good from the bad is not worth it.

A secondary sourcing strategy emerges from a primary strategy of sourcing active candidates. Collecting resumes of strong people who go off-market can be extremely important. Once these active candidates find a new job, they move into one of the passive categories. So as long as you stay connected, a year or two later, the best of these people are relatively easy to re-recruit.

It’s pretty obvious that if you want to increase your talent quality, you’ll need to spend more time targeting Explorers and Tiptoers. Although there are top people in each group, the best of them get picked up early in their search process. That’s why I call a strategy based on sourcing active candidates a Leftover approach, and suggest an Early-bird strategy as part of any talent program designed to increase quality of hire.

While technology is helping automate this process, it takes strong recruiting skills and involved hiring managers to be consistently successful hiring Explorers and Tiptoers. The 10-factor recruiter scorecard, summarized below, highlights the skills required to recruit these passive candidates.

From a scoring standpoint, you need to get at least 35 points out of 50 if you expect to be successful recruiting Explorers and Tiptoers. Recruiting active candidates is much easier. In this case, a score of 25-30 would suffice. However, regardless of your score, you also the time to do it right.

Rank yourself on the 10 factors below on a 1-5 scale. A five means you’re one of the best — in the top 5 percent of your team. A 2.5 is average. This is a non-linear scoring system. To get a three on any factor you need to rank in the top 20-25%, with a four putting you in the top 10-15%. A two would put you just below average, and a one in the bottom-third. Once you complete your score, have some team members validate it for you.

10-Factor Corporate Sourcer to Recruiter to Headhunter Scorecard

  1. Deliver consistent results. To get a full five on this factor you need to have measureable objectives, consistently meet them in terms of candidate quality (at least B+ or better), and be in the top 5 percent of your group in terms of results.
  2. Be an SME and SWK. An SME is a subject matter expert with respect to the job, the company, and the industry. SWK means you’re Someone Worth Knowing regarding networking and representing important jobs. You need to be both to recruit the best Explorers and Tiptoers. Neither is necessary if you’re only targeting active candidates who want to work at your company.
  3. Partner with hiring manager. If you don’t personally know and aren’t completely trusted by your hiring manager client, you don’t stand a chance recruiting the best Explorers and Tiptoers. You score a five on this factor if everyone you recommend is interviewed by your hiring managers without even having to review the resume.
  4. Understand the real job and how it represents a career opportunity. The best prospects expect the recruiter to fully understand real job requirements, know the hiring manager’s leadership abilities, and be able to quickly demonstrate how your opening represents a career opportunity for the candidate. To score a five on this factor you have to be able to demo all three after a 5-10 minute conversation with the candidate.
  5. Super sourcer — active candidates. While there are numerous techniques to be great on this factor, the true measure of success is delivering qualified candidates to the recruiting team without fail, consistently, and quickly. This means you’re probably a super Boolean expert, know how to write and position great ads, and can tap into your employee referral program to find outstanding talent.
  6. Super sourcer — passive candidates. To earn a five on this factor you have to identify and qualify top Explorers and Tiptoers. This means you’re great on the phone, can quickly develop a full slate of candidates in about 10 phone calls, and have superb networking skills. This is the most important job in the whole company, and your worth is priceless. If you’re a five you’re probably underpaid.
  7. Great organizer, aka juggler extraordinaire. You need great organizing and planning skills to successfully handle all of the activity involved in being a corporate recruiter. This means you need to plan out your day and week well ahead of time, build pipelines in your spare time, reprioritize on the fly, and stay calm while putting out fires. If you’re constantly falling behind, missing deadlines, and making excuses, you’re in the bottom half.
  8. Super techie. You need to be extremely comfortable with technology to be a successful corporate recruiter. Part of this is knowing your talent acquisition system inside out, and optimizing all of the latest sourcing tools. A four on this factor means you in total command, and a five means you’re so good, you’re training others.
  9. Accurately interview and assess competency. You know you’re a five on this factor if your hiring managers cede to your expertise. This means you’re both more accurate and more consistent than your hiring managers and they’re asking for your help training them on how to get better.
  10. Recruit and close top candidates who are not looking or who have multiple offers. To get a five on this factor you need to be able to have high conversion rates from first contact to the final close. You know you’re in the top of your game if you’re assigned the toughest assignments in your company and consistently deliver A-level candidates.

As you can see, even with enough time, it’s not easy to be a corporate headhunter. Third-party headhunters have it even rougher. They don’t get paid if they don’t deliver consistent results. However, if they do, they get paid a lot.

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