All Head Hunters are Parasites?

I am beginning a new blog series today about jobs, work and the technology sector. I published an blog entry last year call So…I am overqualified which generated significant reactions and that inspired me do this series.

I have been the hiring manager for well over 100 positions in my 30 year career. With an average of 10 interviews per positions, that is well over a thousand interviews. I have reviews 100s of resumes for each of those positions.

On the other side of the table, as a candidate I have far less experience. I think I had no more than 20 interviews has a job seeker.

But in both these roles, I never found any “head hunter” that truly helped me.

As an hiring manager, they never seem to really understand the needs of the position that a need to fill and they would provide me a bunch of candidates that do not fit the profile at all. I even found that the internal human ressources department that I have worked with were not very good either at finding the good candidates.

The fact is that technology is a complex domain and it is not so obvious to find the really outstanding candidates.

I would even say that the very good candidates for technology jobs (like TV, IT and R&D professionals) are not the one who are the best at outlining their skills or how well they fit the position.

Based on my experience for instance, exceptional programmers are not exceptional communicators. Therefore, if an HR professional look at resume they will find very good match to their evaluation grid but those will probably not be the best candidates.

See, from my experience, HR people and software are mostly in the business of eliminating candidates not in finding the truly exceptional one.

It’s perfectly understandable. In the Internet age, it is easy to send a job application so the responses to a job offer  may come from all over the world and finding the outstanding few is like finding a needle in a haystack.

So they will use a grid that can be apply by a software system and an HR specialist. They will eliminate those that present any challenges. Foreigners, people that need relocation, the ones without a formal degree etc. Rather than taking a real look and finding the best and then making the call on the cost/benefits of using them rather than “easier” candidates, they will just weed out the more complex cases.

In some way, it is not an option for them to do otherwise, they lack the expertise to really spot the outstanding ones.

What did I do to find outstanding candidates? I did look at the resumes myself. I would just ask HR to eliminate those that are obvious not qualified, for intense, there are sales people who administrative assistant that send their resumes in response to a software developer job! But aside from eliminating the obvious one, I would ask HR to print all other resume and I would look at it one by one. Hundreds of them for a single job. I would then use my deep knowledge of the job as an domain expert and hiring manager to eliminate the one that are not at all what I am looking but then take a deeper look at those that may be a fit.

Sometimes, people will stand out by something they did within a previous role. That may have nothing to do with the job evaluation grid but it may be a skill that I will recognize as valuable and transferable.

If I find an outlier, someone who seem to be a weird candidate but may show promises from my point-of-view, I would call them. After a phone call, if I think they are still promising, I will have them come in for a face-to-face interview.

The best hires I did in my career have often been the least obvious ones. People who had no direct experience in the job but tons of potential, brights and ressources, yet often terrible at selling themselves.

In a sense, thinking back at those hires, it is not surprising that an HR profession or a head hunter could never propose one to me, they are just HR professionals, they don’t have the skill to evaluate them.

What as been my relation with Head Hunters? Well, waste of time.

As an hiring manager, they always waste my time by presenting me candidates that are average at most, never outstanding. As a job seeker, they call me, get excited, propose a phone interview and then let me know that I am not what the hiring manager was looking for. So, in both cases, they did nothing for me but to waste my time.

The conclusion is that they are way too expensive in any of my roles. My time is valuable and they are just an intermediary that make me waste it. I would rather browse through 100s of resume myself than waste time interfacing with them.

Maybe my domain of work is just too specialized for them. Maybe they are doing a very helpful job for other kinds of job?

I would like to see what is your experience with Head Hunters. Good or Bad?

6 Comments Add yours

  1. jeremy cook says:

    I think that you are right in most of what you wrote, most head hunters are a waist of time. Many of them do not spend anywhere near enough time understanding a clients needs and wants not just on the technology side but personality side which is even more important than ever compared to how we recruited in the 80’s and 90’s. Thinking outside the box to find that jewel of a candidiate isnt done as much, going the extra mile doesnt seem to be a priority that is the only way to find passive outstanding candidate.

    Not all head hunters though are a waist of time, like your candidates you have to search hard to find one that really understands you and allows you to build a solid working relationship which includes trust and honesty. Its not easy as we all know as there isnt alot of them out there.

    Good luck

  2. Lisa Montesanto says:

    I think that you have not found the right one, and it could be that you did not educate them as to your needs. Just like finding the right doctor, or dentist, you need to find the right head hunter. Just like lousy hiring managers, lousy teachers, lousy presidents, there are lousy head hunters. You need to develop a relationship with someone who puts your needs, AND the candidates needs first. Be very careful using words like ALL OR EVERYONE. You wouldn’t like being lumped into a category such as that. I have been a head hunter, and I have worked with head hunters. There are some great people out there!

  3. Stéphanie Maude Savard says:

    Lisa, please note that I haven’t said that all are, I am asking the question. I am reflecting on my personal experience. Also, let’s say that some are very good and very effective and truly helps. Then the question becomes: Who do I find them? And what time will I have to invest in order to find that gem? Would that time be better off focused on the end-goal (finding a candidate or finding a job, depending of the situation) ?

  4. Hmmm. I have found the only people worth talking to right now for me are the head hunters at least they have done in-depth interviews and tried to dig a little.

    I am so relating to the other aspects of what your writing though. I think that the web has made the job of finding outstanding candidates actually harder and unfortunately I bet a lot of time the best candidates aren’t even getting interviews.

    When I was running my television production company I always looked for related experiences and outside the box experience and frankly I found some of the best people that way. I was small and the tv industry in Toronto isn’t that big so I wasn’t swamped with applicants perhaps that gave me the luxury that others don’t have.

    But once the main criteria are met finding the best candidate isn’t a cookie cutter exercise particularly in creative industries or small to medium sized companies.

  5. Mike Duke says:

    The best friend of my wife was the PA to a top London headhunter. We had long pub evening recently and she told me that their business model was essentially just poaching candidates from one job to another, from competitor to competitor essentially, on a sort of merry-go-around. When the senior candidate was placed, the unspoken rule was he then hired his juniors through the head hunter (essentially a bribe). This would get him preferential treatment when he moved, was fired or needed to be poached next time. That is pretty parasitic and corrupt behaviour, however you cut it.

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