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Although my casual appearance and demeanour may suggest otherwise, I actually started my career in what pompous London Recruiters call “Executive Search”. Back then, there was no LinkedIn, and although Executive Search was positioned (and priced) as something quite classy, the role of a Researcher looked as follows; If we were looking for a Marketing Director for an Insurance Company, I would first use Google to make a list of every financial services company in the UK. I would  then call the switchboard and ask for the name of their Marketing Director(s). They would then say “No sorry, we operate a no names policy”. I would then call back with a silly accent and ask to be put through to someone in Marketing, and they’d dutifully oblige. I’d then claim to be Nick Papagiorgio from “Marketing Week” collecting names to send invites out for our annual awards. Some poor marketing temp or intern would then tell me the names of the whole department. After doing this hundreds of time, we’d call all the Marketing Directors and see if we could persuade them to talk. Sophisticated stuff. I worked for many years in recruitment in the UK before I ever wrote a job ad.

It was with some surprise then when I arrived in New Zealand in 2011. Yes, there were search firms, but there was also huge addiction to ad writing. Recruitment firms who played at the top end of the contingent market rarely “market mapped”. They would call people on their database for sure, and send InMails to people who looked interesting, but picking up the phone and calling a stranger about a job was not a common practice. And from my perspective, it is even less common in 2023. With the Recruitment industry’s unhealthy addiction to LinkedIn, I’d argue that there are fewer true “headhunt” calls made than ever. However, is this the only reason we don’t do it?

Running an Agency rec-to-rec desk in this market is heaps of fun. Gone is the “we’ll hire any candidate manager although there are none out there” mentality, replaced with the “we are on/not on AoG, cautiously optimistic about the depth of the recession, and keen to hire people with very specific skills sets”. Although challenging, I would rather work with better clients, more senior candidates, clearer briefs….and higher fees. What this does mean however, is that ads are of limited use. Yes, I will always run them (which I’ve blogged about previously), but they are more about mopping up kiwi returnees and keeping our brand front of mind. Moreso, I’m now having to be more proactive in my approach. And for me, this means picking up the phone and calling people who don’t know me. I don’t have an issue with doing this, but lots of New Zealand does, and here’s why:

We think we all know each other

“Don’t call anyone from xxxx, they’re all rubbish”. Or “there’s no one of interest there – I’d know them if they were any good”. We have an obsession in New Zealand that we all know each other. And yes, we are a small country. However, let me put it this way: We recruit recruiters for a living and have done for almost 15 years, and yet I couldn’t name every employee of any firm which has more than 4 of them without checking online. And also, there are some superstars working at crap firms who you just haven’t crossed paths with. These people may not apply to your ad, you definitely don’t know them, and they might welcome your call.

We find the written form less confrontational

Calling someone relies on a credible introduction. A good phone manner. The ability to think on your feet. The ability to handle objections. Sending an InMail does not. Find me someone new to the industry who prefers calling a prospective candidate over messaging them, and I’ll bare my arse in Countdown’s window.

We think ringing multiple from the same firm is “poor recruitment”

This is a classic; “I couldn’t believe it. A headhunter called me but I wasn’t interested and two minutes later the headhunter called the recruiter sitting next to me. How pathetic!”. The fact that you think that’s pathetic shows what a pathetic recruiter you are I’m afraid. The Headhunter has been briefed by a client to find someone with a specific skillset. You no doubt have a very similar skillset to the person next to you (that’s why they’re…well…next to you). This a good recruiter doing a good job. Dress it up all you want, but recruitment is a numbers game, and it’s about catching a good candidate who’s having a bad day. Of course the quality of the call is a blog topic for another day…

We have stupid “Gentleman’s agreements”

I get briefed by clients all the time who say “don’t approach anyone from xxx firm as we have a breakfast club once a month”. Or “we can’t touch xxx firm because me and the GM worked together at Hays”. Given this is New Zealand and we work in the same industry, we’re all connected in some way. These stupid unspoken agreements stop people from building great businesses, and more importantly, deny people hearing about jobs that could give them a better life.

We think we can protect ourselves by briefing agencies

This is where I upset people. Briefing me on a job does not stop me from headhunting from your agency 6 months later. The only way you can protect yourself from me calling your employees or colleagues is to hire someone from me. You are then a “client”. We have had many repeat offenders over the years who feel that briefing us on an unfillable role, and then refusing to see any candidate who didn’t tick every box, counts as a client/supplier relationship. Personally, this only makes me more active in my approach to your recruiters. I can be mates with the GM, we could have worked fantastically well together 18 months ago – it doesn’t matter. We can just stop working together and no one needs to get upset.

We aren’t mature enough in how we view employees

And this brings me to the overarching issue with our dislike of headhunting. We think that employees owe us something. We take employee resignations personally. We think that anyone who facilitates this has made a personal attack on a business or hiring manager. I think we need to view this from another perspective. Here at Rice we’ve always had the view that you know you’re doing a good job when a client tries to hire you. Almost everyone at Rice and JOYN excluding me has experienced this. Do I then call up the client and get shitty with them? Not in the slightest. If someone tries to headhunt my star employee, do I get annoyed? Nope. If the job is better than their current one, then I make their job better or let them explore the opportunity. We can still be friends. Still share a beer. No one died. This is just recruitment.

Have a good weekend and sorry not sorry if I headhunt your top biller.