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Corporate matchmakers
Do you fit in the recruiter's puzzle?


Financial Post
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Philip Quinn

According to top Canadian executive recruiters, while there is a shortage of talented senior executives in the marketplace, a call from a recruiter may or may not result in a dream assignment for you, depending on what questions you ask.

The most important question probably is whether the recruiter is working on a contingency basis (paid after filling the position) or on retainer, namely where the recruiter is paid a fee up front.

"There's thousands and thousands of so-called executive recruiters out there in the marketplace," says Jay Rosenzweig, of the Toronto-based executive recruiters Rosenzweig & Company. "It's not difficult to hang up your shingle but it's very difficult to break into the retainer world and establish the kind of credibility such that you're able to charge up front to do a particular assignment typically on an exclusive basis."

If the recruiter has not been retained, and is working on a contingency basis, it's possible he or she is only on a fishing expedition.

"I know of someone who went through the entire exercise only to find there wasn't an actual job," says Jill Couillard, president of Staffing Strategists Alberta. "So the other question you want to ask the executive recruiter is the name of the client. The only time we would not be able to tell you that is when it is a confidential search."

A confidential search could arise when a company decides that a current senior executive needs to be replaced. The recruiter will attempt to provide as much information as possible to the potential candidate during the initial contact.

"[In that case] I can give you a position profile that will outline what this company is all about, and what the position entails," Ms. Couillard says. "If this generic position is of interest to you then come in for an interview and I will then get permission from my client ahead of time to tell you who it is."

Executives often want to know the reasons behind a recruiter specifically contacting them for a particular job opening..

"More times than not, I'll be able to say, that so and so, suggested that I call you because of the following relevance you bring to the assignment," says Mr. Rosenzweig.

Sometimes, the executive is unfamiliar with the name of the recruiter or his company.

"Ask for references; I'm happy to do that anytime," says David Kinley, CEO, Kinley & Connelly, a recruitment firm in Toronto and Silicon Valley.

"If I were an executive at a firm and Dave Kinley was calling and I didn't recognize his name or his firm, I'd say, 'do you have the name of a couple of people you've placed that I could call to find out what it is like to work with you'."

Of course, candidates want to know where the job is located and what their job title and compensation will be.

"I think people should look at the role rather than the title because I think title is so misleading these days," explains Mr. Kinley. "If they're saying they won't take it unless it's a senior vice-president type [title] I may say to myself, that doesn't seem like they're the kind of person that I want to place. I like it when candidates ask what the job requires to get done."

Although the amount of money has to be eventually negotiated, Mr. Kinley says it has assumed less importance in today's job market where many excellent opportunities are not being filled because of a lack of suitable candidates.

"So I think executives owe it to themselves to think about, 'where am I going to be happy; where is it going to be a rewarding place to work?' Very few people make decisions for money; people make decisions for emotional reasons. A decision to leave a job is a life-altering decision for a senior executive."

Most executive search firms prepare an extensive outline of the position and how it fits within the company. The more detailed and specific questions that a candidate needs to ask usually flow from that.

"In our firm that document may be easily 10 or more likely 20 pages and so our hope is that the individual will read it carefully ... and so by the time they finished reading it they've really made a self-assessment as to whether they might be a suitable candidate," says Ron Robertson, managing partner of the Ottawa office of Ray & Berndtson, an international executive search firm. "I respect that a great deal when a person does that," says Mr. Robertson who then usually arranges a face-to-face meeting.

"Some serious-minded and reasonable questions are: 'Why is this position available; what happened to the person who was in the role; what are the major challenges and opportunities facing the organization at present; can you give me some sense of how the organization has performed in the past three years?' "

"As the conversation gets a bit more detailed, I expect the person to go into the challenges of the role and of meeting those challenges. For example: 'Can you tell me about the team that will be reporting to this position?' "

A danger for the executive is to stop asking questions about the job at hand and instead focus on the process of selling himself. "If the person only spends his time selling himself when he's provided a document that suggests that at best he is only a sketchy fit for this role ... [this] can raise a question in the recruiter's mind," Mr. Robertson says.

The corollary to that is if the recruiter oversells the position. "If the recruiter is not forthcoming and puts a rosy spin on the position and the challenges that go with it and the person accepts the position under that scenario or under that set of beliefs then he or she is more likely to be disillusioned early on and a disillusioned feeling is exactly the opposite of what you want that person to experience when in the role," Mr. Robertson says.

Executive recruiters are so determined to get the right fit between candidate and company that they usually guarantee their work by offering to replace the person at no cost if the situation doesn't work out in the next six months to a year.

"I have to make sure that not only is this person a fit for the client but that the client is a fit for the candidate," Ms. Couillard says. "They need to know what the company is all about. I'm as open with the candidate about the so-called warts of the company as I would be with the client about the candidate."

© National Post 2006. All Rights Reserved.



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