That unexpected phone call offering a plum job with another firm isn't always just a matter of chance. Given a little planning, the talent scouts can be directed to your door.Stephanie Jones explains how.
"Naturally, I was headhunted into my present job," a typical City whizz-kid boasts. "Headhunters ring all the time. During Big Bang they phoned us so often that we put their calls over the office loudhailer. Then we'd have a laugh when the headhunter said: “Confidentially, I have a uniquely exciting opportunity that might just interest you
Being headhunted is not only for young bloods and famous chief executives. Almost 90 per cent of the top 1,000 companies use executive search consultants to find senior people. In the last few years they have been joined by smaller companies, accounting and law firms, chartered surveyors, architects, private hospitals, the media, and even local authorities and Government departments.
So how do you attract those ego-trip phone calls which spell a new career opportunity?
John Harper, 33, has been headhunted three times. His first job was as a graduate trainee with Procter & Gamble where, after five years, he was a brand manager on Pampers, which he had launched in the UK market.
He was invited to Kenner Parker (the American toy and games manufacturer responsible for Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly and Care Bears) where in five more years he rose to be European marketing and operations director.
Then he was lured away into Avis, the car-hire giant, and two years later headhunted again into the job he started last week as international marketing director for Reebok, the sportswear company. He won't quote figures, but each time he moved his salary and benefits showed substantial improvement.
Not one of these positions was advertised. Indeed, before his latest move he was not considering a career change at all. So his advice to those hoping to hit the headhunt trail is born of experience:
• First, start out with a large international company. Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Shell, IBM and Mars, for example, offer not only excellent training but a ready-made network of contacts around the world, arguably more helpful to a career than being a Harvard alumnus.
• Secondly, ensure you are noticed by superiors. Headhunters frequently find people through referrals from a source, usually a more senior person who suggests suitable names. Successful and highly-respected mentors should be cultivated, so that they will think of you when approached.
• Thirdly, make an impression outside your company. The research departments of search firms take note of executives mentioned in the Press and trade journals.
• You can't be sure exactly which particular self-publicizing effort led to an approach (headhunters rarely reveal how they found you, and it is naive to ask) but developing a profile stands you in good stead. Whenever Kenner Parker was launching another toy or game, John Harper's name repeatedly cropping up in Marketing, Marketing Week and the Financial Times played a useful part in his progress.
• Fourthly, when you want to move - and don't stay in the same job, with the same company, for more than five to seven years - make it known. According to Harper it's rare, and only when you're hitting the big time, that a headhunter will call out of the blue.
Most headhuntees have put out the word that they are looking, and have taken the initiative by sending their CV to selected research consultants. When moving from Kenner Parker to Avis, Harper passed his CV to fifty searchers, identified through friends, contacts and other headhunters.
The likelihood that one of the search firms will be looking for someone just like you is remote, so it's wise to cast your net widely. Harper was headhunted into Avis by Bruce Rowe of Rowe International in Paris - not only one of his targeted search consultants, but a fellow ex-Procter & Gamble man, which underlines the value of his first piece of advice.
Finally, keep in with headhunters. This includes a willingness to act as a source. Harper admits he would not recommend anyone he was currently working with - it would conflict with his allegiance to his employer. But he will mention outstanding people he has worked with in the past.