My role at OnTalent as Partner, Search and Engagement is often described as being a ‘Unicorn Hunter’. What this means is that I lead a team to source and engage top talent for hard-to-fill, specialist or executive roles. As a rule, we generally don’t advertise these types of roles, instead we utilise a range of methods to identify the very best talent in the marketplace and then approach them with the opportunity. This ensures our clients have access to the complete talent market, not just those who are actively searching for roles on job boards.
If you’re approaching the point in your career where you feel the next step is an executive or highly specialised assignment, then ensuring your details are on the radar of credible search consultants or headhunters is important. Here are my top tips on how you can build your own personal brand to increase your chances of being discovered, and my recommendations on how best to engage with a search approach.
Commit Time to Your Network
Contrary to popular opinion, most of our leads don’t come from social channels such as LinkedIn, instead the best source of industry intel comes from our networks. As search consultants, we dedicate an enormous amount of time to building and maintaining our own networks. This means that when we have a requirement there are always a number of trusted people we can speak to for recommendations. These recommendations are usually far more valuable than any other source, because they come with context and a balanced opinion.
There are many publications written on how to expand a professional network. My advice is simple, commit dedicated time to networking and treat it as a personal project with planning and focus. As examples, at the beginning of the year you could plan the events you are going to attend or seek opinions on various industry associations that you are considering joining. I also heavily advocate that my clients don’t ignore the network benefits of personal activities or memberships, cycling and golf clubs are where some of the best business relationships are built. It is important to commit time and effort to maintain relationships with those already in your network. Consider organising one lunch a month where you meet with someone from your network, and also rekindling dialogue by sending through interesting and relevant content or news.
Maximise Your Personal Brand
Beyond networks, search consultants will generally begin to look at information that is available in the public domain. This could include conference speakers, conference attendee lists, press releases, website bios, published journals or articles and of course LinkedIn.
As there is so much noise online now, we tend to value leads that provide us with the best and most credible information first. Normally this is content that hasn’t been created with a career in mind, because it is less one-sided and provides a real-life view of your brand. As an example, a listed speaker at a technology conference would imply that person has a degree of credibility and that others value their opinion and achievements.
Again, there is plenty of existing literature on building your personal brand. My key tips are to plan your approach and focus on the areas that are going to yield the best value, and the areas that you’re most comfortable with. In most circumstances writing in journals or publications is going to be the starting point of any brand. To get published (or the opportunity to speak) you will have to be fairly proactive, publications are all looking for good quality content, but it is very rare that an editor will reach out to an unknown author. A word of caution here, be careful with what you do publish. Once something is online it is very hard to remove.
LinkedIn shouldn’t be forgotten; here I recommend ensuring your profile is credible, clearly articulates what you have done (and critically, what you can or wish to do), has relevant recommendations, and includes logical keywords which pertain to your experience, plus, ensure you’re well connected. Lastly, LinkedIn does have a function where you can make recruiters aware you are interested in being approached about career opportunities without alerting your employer. Be warned though there isn’t a guarantee that your current employer won’t spot this.
Dealing with an Approach
If you’re already receiving enquiries from headhunters, there are some considerations to factor in to ensure your time isn’t wasted, and to nurture relationships with good quality search consultants who may be able to assist you (either with a new role for yourself or with hiring other people) in the future.
Our industry, like most, does have different levels of professionalism. Therefore, it can often be a reflexive instinct to keep approaches at arm’s length. This isn’t bad advice, but I would suggest as a first rule of thumb to always initially review the profile of the consultant and the firm they work for. Do they specialise in the executive sector? Does the individual have tenure? Are they credible (recommendations and shared connections can provide good insights here)?
As search consultants, we know that not every opportunity is right, and we appreciate straight, honest opinions as it saves everyone time. However, if you are interested in consideration for other opportunities, relay the types of challenges that would appeal. This way it ensures future contact will be more aligned to your own goals.
The search function is a great tool for businesses to find and engage talent for specialist, high-level, or hard-to-find roles. Keep in mind that these approaches don’t come lightly. If we approach someone for a role, it’s the result of an extended period of careful searching, analysis, and deliberation, where we’ve come to the conclusion that the person is a good potential fit for the role in question.