How to get headhunters to do back flips for you.

Distinguish yourself as being one of the best that every headhunter wants to know.

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1. Learn what headhunters do and who they do it for.

Sorry to break it to you but, headhunters do not work for you ~ the talent. They work for the company that is seeking talent. Some might tell you they work for the talent, and will promise to send your work to as many agencies as possible, whether or not there is an opening.

No, that’s not how it works. Headhunters work for the company. They are hired by the company. The company hires them because they realize that headhunters talk to WAY more people than they do; this is what headhunters do 10 hours a day, and this is what headhunters specialize in. Getting to know the market. Getting to know who the best people are out there. If you’re one of the best people, getting to know you.

What happens when headhunters send unsolicited work to Creative Directors is it creates a set of circumstances where there might be a dispute over whether the headhunter should get paid for that unsolicited introduction, and well, that potential expense could cost you getting hired. Besides, many Creative Directors told me when I was still recruiting that it’s annoying to have recruiters send them unsolicited work. Especially since you’ve already sent that same Creative Director your work yourself.

2. Plan far in advance so you can be patient.

It addition to getting to know the market, headhunters need to stay focussed against the mandates that are real live jobs that need to be filled. Jobs where the headhunter has been contracted by the agency to find them the best people. So you may call a headhunter, and they may have something for you right now, or you may call a headhunter and they may not have something right away, but they want to know you, because they get a sense that you’re one of the best.

3. Don’t call a headhunter just because you’re having a sh*t day.

Call a headhunter when you’re ready. Ready to make the next step in your career. Ready with a book that is online and up-to-date. But listen, ready can also mean, ‘I’ve been thinking of these two routes. Route A makes sense because of this. Route B makes sense because of this. My goal is this, so which Route do you think will get me closer to my goal?” Do some of the thinking in advance of the call. Don’t reflex. Don’t react. Go for a walk around the block instead. Be a pro.

4. Tell the headhunter everything.

You called them didn’t you? You must want to talk about something that is happening in your career. So don’t get all “Oh I don’t want to talk about it” when they meet with you. Tell them your dreams, tell them your goals, tell them why those goals and dreams are important to you. Tell the headhunter who you are inspired by. Tell them what work you wish you’d done. Talk about what you’ve read recently that taught you something new. Be so bold as to tell them what you see happening in the world of communications. Where is it going? What is happening that is different from what was happening five years ago.

Be the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Agencies want to hire people who are turned on and super-charged and excited by the world around them. Agencies want to hire creative people who understand accountability and results. Agencies want to hire creative people who understand that their clients care about results. So if they ask you, after you’ve said that the campaign did really well, what the spike in sales was, know the answer.

Tell the headhunter who else you’re meeting, why what you’re considering interests you and what your concerns are. Tell them why you wanted to meet, and what you’re hoping will come out of the meeting with the headhunter. Describe the perfect job. Now, in one year, and in five years. Ten would put them over the top.

Give them your big picture.

Help them help you in the process of helping their clients. Win, win, win.

5. Develop a brand that is who you are, and then showcase that brand.

Be proud. Stick out your chest. Show off what makes you uniquely you. Tell your story. Tell what makes you different. Tell what makes you a great hire. (Most people draw a blank when I ask them that question. Shocking.) Tell what you stink at, and what you’re doing about it, and by when. Come with a brand plan. Do some thinking about who you are and what you want. Think of your plan, and say what it is. Put your headhunter to task. Ask questions. Solicit feedback. Demand brutal honesty. Make them tell you what you need to do to be considered one of the best. The best that they’ll proudly and fiercely endorse to their clients. The clients that are dying to hire the best talent they possibly can.

6. Make the recruiter tell you what is wrong with the job.

There are no perfect jobs. There are no perfect people. Because you’ve given them such a great understanding of who you are, they now know what you might not like about this particular job. And what obstacles you might encounter. So you can make the appropriate decisions. And not go into this job blind. Ask. Arm yourself. Demand honesty back in exchange for the honesty you’ve given. Develop a relationship.

7. Don’t let your friends run your career.

Would you go to an accountant, get his professional opinion, then have your aunt review and revise your income tax return? Would you visit a lawyer then do what your best friend says to do instead? Recruiters, oh sorry, headhunters, see a lot of people do a lot of things, some good, some bad, some confusing, some inspiring with their careers. They also see and hear a lot of what’s going on in agencies. They also see a lot of portfolios and know which ones stand out, and why they do. They are willing to share what they’ve learned with you, and in fact, want to, and can’t figure out why your friend Cindy’s opinion matters more than an expert’s.

8. Help them find you.

This one point alone will make you stand out from everyone else and make them love you. It’s funny, in other industries, people seem to get that. “Tell the headhunter where to find me so he can regularly call me with jobs. I know I can say no, I know I can pass, I just like knowing about the stuff that’s out there.”

Headhunters are messengers of opportunity. Make it easy for opportunity to find you. Send them an email, tell them where you are.

9. Interview back.

See if the recruiter you’re being interviewed by knows their stuff. Do they have a thought or two, study the work globally, read, are experts on the business and what’s happening where? I don’t mean gossip. Gossip is transitory and has a shelf life of maybe 24 hours. Who cares. I mean the stuff that really matters. Leadership, presentation skills, courage, decision making, presence, strategic thought, networking, oh and how to make money. And keep making money in this business.

10. Take charge of your career.

Be in charge of your career, your life, your future. Do you know what my dream interview is? I had one like this in 15 years of recruiting. Here’s what happened. He showed up with an amazing book. It was impeccably presented. He took me through each piece in his book and told me why he created it, what it was for, why he chose to do what he did, what the work did for the client, what awards it won. (Every piece had won an award.) He told me how much money he made, how much money he wanted to make, what he was good at, what work he loved, what kinds of jobs I should call him about, why he thought he was qualified for those jobs, what he was learning, what his goal was, and when he was going to achieve that goal, and how he was going to get there. During the entire meeting, he was pleasant, engaging, listened well, had interesting points of view, shared some personal stories, was honest, and open, and collaborative.

Guess what.

Today he is one of North America’s most sought after Creative Directors. No surprise. I did back flips for him then. If I was still recruiting, I’d do back flips for him today. Any recruiter would.

~ heidi

HEIDI CONSULTS is a career consultancy that helps creative people achieve the career of their dreams. To find out more, click here.