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By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

I was recently asked for some advice by a friend who had been headhunted. The salary on offer constituted a significant uplift and, although he didn’t know a great deal about the company in question, he was understandably intrigued enough to attend an interview. As the process progressed, he started to weigh up his options and subsequently came to me for my perspective as a recruiter. As is often the case, his head was spinning as the approach had come out of the blue (he was not actively looking for a new role) and what he needed was a reality check so he could consider the offer rationally.

So, here is the advice I gave him which I hope will come in useful if you ever get the call!

  • Firstly, I must clarify what I mean by headhunted. Being headhunted in its purest sense is when you have been specifically targeted by an organisation (usually a competitor) for a specific role, usually based on a recommendation or based on research which indicates that you are a proven top performer. The approach could come from the company directly, indeed some blue-chip companies are now hiring ex-headhunters to join their in-house teams to set up their own internal ‘search’ function. Most likely, the approach will be made by a search firm that has been engaged by the company. This is different to being contacted by a recruitment agency who have identified that you may be suitable for one of their client’s vacancies.

 

  • When you receive a headhunt call, it is worth establishing the credentials of the person calling. By nature, if you are not active in the market, it can be hard to track you down and so search firms may need to take a cloak and dagger approach in order to make contact, often calling you at your workplace. They should say who they are and which search firm they work for, even if at the initial stage they cannot reveal the name of their client. Bear in mind that you may also be asked to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) if the brief is confidential.

 

  • A search is generally done in response to a specific role so the company should be able to give you a detailed brief, if not a copy of the Job Description. The top search firms will produce a detailed overview of your experience, skills and behavioural qualities which they will submit to the client if you are included in their shortlist and as such they will need to meet you face to face.

 

  • Usually you will be headhunted because of your specific skillset/client base/black book/track record and the approach will probably come from a competitor who knows about you. In this case, you should know a lot about the company but it is still really important that you do your research. This is even more important if you do not know the company. You need to find out what their market is, how they are performing financially, who their clients/customers/major accounts are, what their growth strategy is and most importantly (and harder to find out), what they are like to work for, how they treat their employees, what opportunities there are to progress internally. This is where you need to hone your research skills. Use the internet to find out company information and to read latest press releases, news articles etc. Scour the company website for latest annual reports. Glassdoor.co.uk is a useful source of information about company culture as it collates reviews from current and former employees (although generally at low to mid levels). The most powerful method of finding out about them is to speak to your network – do you know anyone who has worked for them recently or who works for them now?

 

  • Keep your ego in check! It is hugely flattering to be properly headhunted, particularly on the back of a specific recommendation of your work. It is easy to get swept away as you are ‘wooed’ by your suitor showering you with compliments, offering you all manner of riches and generally making you feel very special. This will be all the more powerful if you are feeling a little disgruntled in your current role – perhaps a promotion has been promised but not delivered or the company is not paying out bonuses. It may be a fantastic opportunity but you should still do your due diligence before you make any decisions. Equally, be careful not be too aloof – just because you have been approached doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed the job – you are merely entering the selection process and so you will still have to prove your worth.

 

  • In the words of Jessie J, “it’s not about the money, money, money”! If it is just about the money then be very careful indeed. If you heart starts to race thinking about the salary on offer, stop and think. Then, get a blank piece of paper, a calculator, your P60, current contract and details of your benefits package and start to do your sums. You need to compare the new offer and your current package like for like. Separate each element of your package out and work through them line by line. How do the car allowances compare? Does the new offer include personal mileage? What about health cover – does it include cover for all the family or just you individually? How are bonuses calculated, when are they paid and how much has typically been paid out in recent years? What impact will a move have on your pension, share scheme, equity? Only by doing this exercise, will you really have an accurate picture of what this move will mean for you financially.

 

  • If you currently work for a large organisation and the headhunt has come from a smaller company, weigh up the relative opportunities presented by staying in your current company (strong brand on your CV, more opportunities laterally, more security) versus making the move to a growing business (more rapid progression, bigger role).

 

  • “Discretion is the better part of valour”. ON NO ACCOUNT, feel tempted to tell your current boss/colleagues that you have been headhunted. While this may give your ego a gentle stroke in the short term, it could plant the seed of doubt in the mind of your employer. Equally, breaking the confidence of the search firm may seem inconsequential, however be aware that reputational integrity, once lost, is almost impossible to recover. These firms have the ears of the most senior HR and Line Directors in your industry and it is prudent to maintain a positive relationship, even if you decide not to pursue the approach.

 

Clearly, this advice is equally relevant whether you have been headhunted or have applied for a role however the big difference with a headhunt call is your state of mind. If you apply for a role, you will have spent time preparing your CV and generally getting in to the mind-set required to find a new role. You will be ready to leave your current company and chances are you will have drawn up a list of your target employers.

A headhunt call, by its very nature, will catch you unawares and you need to understand the steps you need to take if you decide to proceed so you can ultimately make the right decision for your career.

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