Working as a headhunter, I have got to know a lot of people, I’ve worked with quite a few companies and I’ve made some good friends. It’s an enriching line of work and one that gives you a slightly different perspective on life: you are focused on people’s values, what makes them tick, their hopes and plans. Dealing with people means that every day is different, that you continue to learn and that each day is more fun than the previous one, even if the sector itself is not moving in such a positive direction in terms of business. It is my pleasure to share with you here some (if not all) of my experiences with candidates over the past couple of years, dusted down especially for the occasion:
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words but at other times images can distort things, as when a candidate sent me by different means his professional profile with photograph attached. When I compared them on receipt, I couldn’t believe it – the profile was the same but the photographs were of different people. I was not inclined to look any further into the matter.
One piece of advice that is always given to candidates is not to lie in their professional history. In spite of that there are some real specialists who are very difficult to detect, as in the case of the candidate who had made a perfect forgery of an MBA degree issued by an accredited business school. A check with the said institution revealed that they had never undertaken any such course of study there. We recommended to the candidate that they give up engineering and take up art.
A salesperson is someone who makes the most of any contact opportunity to let you know about the advantages and benefits you will obtain by acquiring the product they are pushing, as happened with a putative candidate who seized the moment of interview and proceeded to demonstrate the products he represented with an in situ simulation. He obviously disqualified himself from the process, but we bought several of the products he was selling and marked him down as a stellar business candidate.
In marked opposition to the case of the forger, there are some candidates who can move you with their sincerity, as we found on first interviewing one particular candidate. When we asked him why he had decided to change company, he explained that he didn’t get on well with his boss and had “come to blows” with him. We refrained from pursuing his former company for references.
Such candidates are not so common, but they are alarming when they pop up. Their technique for being selected is to issue threats, some with references to important people who will see to it that all doors are closed to our business should we fail to select them; and other, let us say, less subtle candidates, who warn you directly of the consequences of not selecting them…And anyone would have thought that headhunting was not a dangerous profession.
When it comes to languages, a minority of candidates make a poor show of things and in some cases we find that, at the very least, they suffer from stage fright. When they indicate a high level of English, for example, we automatically change the language of the interview and find that things grind to a halt. The well-worn explanation is that the high-level mastery is in reading but that it is some time since they have practised the spoken form. Should the vacancy require mastery of more than one foreign language, the candidate’s avidity for reading is proportional to the level required.
While it is true that clients value a degree of curiosity and willingness to learn, one example I came across qualifies as extreme. Right at the start of the interview the candidate took out a piece of paper with a whole series of questions about my professional profile, the place where I lived etc., etc. The dear man responded to my show of surprise by explaining that it was a matter of reciprocity and that he wanted to know in depth just who he was talking to from the outset. After two coffees and a detailed account of my life we became friends, although I thought it best not to put him forward as a candidate.
Taking decisions is a critical moment in the life of a manager. There are those who have no fear when they decide, others who can never decide because they need a mass of information before taking any decision, and then there are those who are overcome by an uncontrollable, alien science fiction-type fear once they have taken a decision, which makes them go back on it. That was the story with a final-round candidate in a rather long selection process which gave us the opportunity to get to know each other quite well and the candidate himself to get close to the client. After taking leave of his old company, on the very day that he joined his new one and from what would become his office, he called me to disqualify himself from the process as he didn’t believe he was ready. After a long conversation about the good and the divine and a reaffirmation of the profound, he boarded his new company/spaceship. That was two years ago now and the results he has been achieving ever since have been unbeatable.
Another piece of advice that trainers give when it comes to CV writing is to make them consistent and to present any gaps due to inactivity logically, relating them to the professional activity. A few months ago, I came across a candidate with a chronological gap of some 17 months in his work history. When I asked him about this, he explained that he had gone on holiday and that before he knew what had happened, this had been extended to take in innumerable countries and places, for which he gave me full descriptions and references. As the vacancy was for a travel consultant with a well-known agency, we presented him as a final-round candidate and he got the job. Our candidate had skirted round his travel experience, which was in fact key to the vacancy to be filled!!!
The Cheeky Chappie
Sometimes human resourcefulness and chutzpah seem to have no limits. During the selection process for a finance director, a person turned up at our office for a pre-confirmed interview. He reported to reception and asked for me. The moment I entered the room, I realised that it was not the same person I had appraised in an initial interview a week before. It seems that he was the workmate of the person we were interviewing and that he had made a point of finding out about the process his colleague was going through. Believing himself better trained and fancying his chances more than the latter’s, he’d taken the quick way to jump the queue and get an interview. On his way out he passed his workmate arriving for his appointment…no comment…just imagine the scene.
In some cases self-confidence is fundamental to getting a job but in others it is a permanent obstacle. That was true of a candidate we had arranged to interview for a Director of Engineering job. Once there and just as I began to get the ball rolling, he told me that it was all quite unnecessary and that he was not going to go through any selection process because his extensive experience meant that he could turn up at any site with his CV and be taken on and given the VIP treatment. Unfortunately the members’ club was closed that day.