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Leadership Disrupted: Headhunting Vs Traditional Recruitment

The following few points explain the key differences based on certain aspects.

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The era of traditional resumes and recruitment methods are dead. LinkedIn killed it. Your best hire as a recruiter may not have the perfect resume, and vice versa, because challenges for senior leaders today are as complex as they are varied. 

Imagine yourself driving around in a racetrack at a constant 30 kmph. No stress, anyone can do this. Now imagine with each lap the speed increases incrementally to the point that your ability to control the car at such a breakneck speed fails you. 

This is the kind of changing pace and complexity that business leaders are dealing with, thereby creating a new level of playing field to make sustainable and effective decisions. While business disruption is nothing new, macro-forces such as changing regulations, demographics and political heatwaves can wreak havoc for companies. Recruiters often receive frantic calls from hiring managers looking to fill roles. Some are for management-level positions, and some are to fill jobs that will lead the company for years to come – the difference in filling a position as opposed to headhunting.

Matching the right recruit with the company’s ambitions in an era driven by technology in an accelerated pace, has therefore gone beyond the traditional ways of recruitment. The following few points explain the key differences based on certain aspects.

Finding leaders for business in the fast lane

Take this resume for instance. 

This candidate’s parents gave him up for adoption, he never finished his college, has moved between different jobs quite a bit, sojourns to India for a year, and to top it off, is dyslexic. Any traditional recruiter may immediately put this resume in the discarded pile. Yet, billions of people know him as Steve Jobs.

The aforementioned example emphasises the fact that traditional recruiting methods are nearly obsolete. As an industry, we need to deep-dive into the process and find diamonds out of coal mines. In case of a CTO, this becomes even trickier since they need to not only be technologists, but must also have a long term, futuristic vision for the organisation. Technology as a common disruptor has arm-twisted company cultures forged in previous times to keep pace with new realities. Working with digital tools, collaborating on virtual realms and innovating for new revenue lines require leaders who try to propel the organisation into the future, instead of ones who cling on to long-obsolete models of success.

As opposed to a traditional way of recruiting managers, employees or even filling staff positions, headhunters typically interview only a handful of senior executives for a leadership position. 

Here are the three primary ways headhunting differs from traditional recruitment strategies/methods:

  1. Finding and matching candidates: The finding and matching process is handled differently. A recruitment agency typically puts out ads and maintains an extensive candidate database, as opposed to a headhunter who searches the entire market (including ones who are not actively looking) to find the best fit. 
  2. Mapping skill-sets: Traditional recruiters look for candidates who can wear multiple hats for a variety of positions. Headhunters look to fill very specific positions and hence search for candidates who have more than one but highly specialized skill-sets. 
  3. Time to match: Traditional recruiters often need to fill a large number of roles across departments for their clients. This means a small amount of time is spent on each position and candidate. For headhunters, the focus is quality rather than quantity. Hence, they spend as much time as is required, to align the personal objectives of the candidate with the core values and mission of the company to ensure the right match. 

Key considerations for a headhunter: Choosing a visionary, not a boss 

When hiring senior executives, headhunters engage in a deep discourse about the candidate’s ideas, and the ways he/she can take the organization to the next level. The objective for the headhunter is not to find a boss, but a visionary leader who doesn’t just last for a long time, but also develops positive influential relationships with stakeholders, employees, and peers. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the ‘digital transformation’ in an organisation, leadership recruits today need to be able to distinguish the use of resources. Depending on the task at hand and speciality of the human employee, new technologies such as AI and analytics can be immensely powerful, or utterly useless.

Which is why the ramifications of ‘mis-hires’ are far-reaching. If the candidate fails to prove their vision or work collaboratively, the entire organization suffers from issues such as loss of productivity, division within departments and dissatisfied employees. There are hundreds of nuances particular to every company in the world, and if the candidate can’t quickly grasp them and learn to work or evolve with everyone, it’s a culture-fit problem. 

Headhunters understand the difference between candidates ‘working for the company’ vs ‘working on the company’. Executives don the role of ‘vision-sellers’, who must tie the entire business ecosystem efficiently to deliver value to the marketplace and end-consumers. The stakes therefore for headhunters are a hundred times higher as opposed to traditional recruitment methods. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Roopa Kumar

The author is COO, Purple Quarter

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