Companies & Industries

How to Let the Headhunter Do the Job


Once you're close to getting an offer, having faith in the professional's ability to close the deal will work to your advantage

Say you've been informed of your status as the leading candidate or you've received an official offer of employment. Your courtship as a potential candidate for the headhunter's client has indeed been a journey.

Finishing this journey depends on trust and faith. You have to trust the headhunter can communicate with the client and reinforce why you are the best candidate for this job. You have to have faith in the headhunter's ability to fulfill your expectations about compensation and other benefits—and to negotiate in earnest. And yes, you have to have faith you are up to a new assignment.

If you haven't already, you will probably be asked to provide references who can confirm your fitness for the job. Make sure the references you provide know you well and will say good things about your work experience, professionalism, and capacity to tackle a new senior-management role.

Pitfalls of the Counteroffer

If you're in line to become a C-level officer, don't be surprised if the hiring company wants to run a background check and perhaps even asks you to get a medical exam. Given the investment the company is contemplating, these are reasonable requests. You should also brace yourself for what could appear to be a too-good-to-turn-down counteroffer from your current employer, with a fatter salary and a loftier title. But it rarely makes sense to forsake a promising new position under such circumstances.

Accepting a counteroffer, after all, will only buy you and your employer a little extra time to attempt to find common ground about how you can live up to your true potential. Your current employer may also wrongly perceive that you're motivated purely by financial gain, which could change the way it treats you in the future. And should you accept a counteroffer, you can kiss goodbye the relationship you've developed with the headhunter who has taken you this far in the process.

Beware of Family Ties

Much in the same way the headhunter must orchestrate mutual commitment between you and the client hiring organization, you must inform and manage communications with those closest to you about your potential transition. If you've told the headhunter and the client you're willing to relocate, you should really mean it. If you have a trailing spouse, partner, and children, you owe it to those currently pursuing your candidacy for this new leadership role to make sure those family members are on board with the change and are willing to disrupt life as they know it.

More than a few executive headhunters have seen their otherwise flawlessly orchestrated search assignments go by the boards because the candidate never fully won the support of loved ones for relocation during the recruitment process.

It's this potential search-busting dynamic that leads many consultants to simply steer clear of any high-performing executives with a child who is a junior in high school. To the list of relocation nonstarters one might increasingly consider adding an executive's inability to sell the family's home for something near what they paid for it (in which case the executive's net worth could take a real beating if the new employer doesn't cover the loss) or a family's commitment to serve as caretakers for aging (perhaps also ailing) parents or other relatives.

Creating a Win-Win Scenario

As the executive search approaches a successful conclusion, you should plan to be in close and almost constant communication as the headhunter negotiates and otherwise advises the client about the true market value of someone with your credentials.

Often, these discussions lead to the hiring organization agreeing to pay you more than it had anticipated when it first launched the search. That may be because someone of your caliber was deemed unattainable at the outset or because the hiring organization has received advice from a compensation consultant.

You can trust the headhunter to go to bat for you and, in the interest of closing the search to the client's satisfaction, try to create a win-win scenario. After all, he wants to work for the company again, and if your new role requires you to recruit new external talent, the headhunter might also view you as a future client.

Onboarding Feedback

As you prepare to sign an offer of employment, you should press the headhunter and your new employer to include a provision for performance feedback, or what is often referred to as "onboarding" feedback. You will want the employer to commit to gathering feedback from key stakeholders about your performance 90 to 120 days after you start the new job. Such feedback is intended to reveal how your entry into your new employer organization has been perceived, how peers, boss, and subordinates would rate your performance to date, and whether you truly mesh with the organization's culture and internal politics.

That kind of environmental intelligence is critical. It can help you course-correct if need be. Otherwise, it should make you confident others believe you're firing on all cylinders.

After you start work, you can expect tan occasional call from the headhunter to make sure things are going well and to see how you feel about the new job. Take these calls and maintain your relationship with the headhunter. Staying on the headhunters' radar—and continuing to build your own professional network, for that matter—is one of the best ways to position yourself for the career and lifestyle you want.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker and advisor on executive recruiting and corporate management succession best practices. He is the author of Deciding Who Leads: How Executive Recruiters Drive, Direct Disrupt the Global Search for Leadership Talent, which has been recognized as "one of the 30 best business books of 2008" by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

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