I interviewed Neal Click who discussed How Early/Mid-Career Professionals Can Select and Develop Relationships with Search Firms.
It’s nice to speak with you today, Neal. Today I’m looking forward to hearing your views on how early- and mid-career professionals can select and develop relationships with search firms. Can you start by providing a brief background of yourself?
Yes, Dustin. I spent many years in the transportation industry, primarily domestic transportation in North America, in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and various management executive positions. Then, over a decade ago, I got into the recruiting business, and, ultimately, one of the other recruiters and I bought the firm, so now the two of us own the search firm, and we specialize in recruiting management and executive talent for transportation, logistics, and supply chain organizations throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
My first question is: What is the role of the search firm?
Well, one thing the search firm is not is, the search firm is not there to find someone a job. I think that’s the biggest misconception. Especially early- and mid-career professionals often think that the search firm is there to find them a job, and that’s not what we do. Our role is really to find people to fill positions with our client companies. We see our role as one of identifying, evaluating, recruiting, and placing talented people with our client companies. When someone reaches out to me and says, “Gee, I need you to find me a job.” That’s not what I do. They need to understand that our role is really one of finding people for our client companies and, frankly, finding people who the companies would not find on their own, because they pay us a substantial fee for our services.
What should early- and mid-career professionals look for?
I think there are several things. First of all, I think you really want to look for knowledge, experience, and expertise within the target market you’re looking at within the industry segment. When I talk about market, not necessarily geographic market, but if you’re in transportation logistics, say you’re in freight forwarding, find somebody who has experience and has successfully placed people in freight forwarding. If it’s intermodal, same thing there or if it’s port terminal operations. Make sure that you’re dealing with a search firm or headhunter who has experience in that specific segment where you want to play. Likewise, if you’re in a very specialized, functional area within transportation—let’s say you’re an industrial engineer—then you want to make sure that you’re dealing with someone who has had experience in placing industrial engineers and can appreciate what’s required there.
I think the other thing that someone should look at, a candidate should look at in speaking with a search firm, what sort of questions is the search firm asking. Is that headhunter taking the time to get to know you, or are they just digging for key points so they could sell you to their client? Are they interested in your career, or are they just trying to position you so they can make a placement and get a fee? I think it’s very important that you listen to the questions that are being asked, and they should be asking a lot of questions about your career, your career journey, and getting to know you, not just digging for little key bullet points or nuggets they can use to present you for a position.
I think the next thing you need to really look at is the information that search firm is providing about the opportunity and that company. Are they being totally transparent? There are no perfect jobs, there are no perfect companies, and that headhunter should be telling you not only the good, but the bad and the ugly about that position, about that company. And if they’re trying too hard to sell you on the opportunity, you need to watch out.
This really all comes down to integrity. Are you dealing with a search firm that has integrity, that has that kind of reputation? Are they willing to provide references and talk about the type of jobs they’ve filled and some of the people who can speak to their professionalism? At the end of the day, you want to begin with someone you can trust. You’re providing them with a tremendous amount of information, and you want to make sure it remains confidential and that they will treat this relationship in a very professional and confidential fashion. That’s what you need to be looking for in that evaluation of the headhunter.
How do they develop a good relationship with the search firm? Any more you could say about the relationship?
Absolutely. I think, first of all, this sounds very basic, but take the headhunter’s call, even when you’re not interested in making a job change. They say the best time to look for a job is when you have one. I can say the same thing is true for developing a relationship with a headhunter; it’s when you don’t need one. Become a resource to that headhunter by referring candidates, and keep the door open for future opportunities. One thing you can count on is that things will change; you need to be prepared. Be open to taking those calls and having positive business conversations with that headhunter. Even if you’re not in the market to make a job change; build that relationship then.
Next, I would say, most important, be honest. Be honest about your work experience, your education, your accomplishments. Be honest about your compensation history and what your expectations are about that. Be honest about the positions you’ve held and the positions you’re looking to hold in the future. Be honest about relocation flexibility; most of our positions involve relocation, and it’s okay to say, “Well, I’m really only looking to move to this place or that place.” Don’t tell me that you’re wide open on relocation if you’re not. As we say, be honest about what you really want to be when you grow up. If you are happy being a direct-contributor salesperson, then that’s great. Don’t feel bad about that. Say, “I love being a salesperson, and that’s what I want to do.” If your motivation is to become the president of the BNSF Railroad, that’s okay.
Be honest about your motivation for making a job change. A good headhunter’s going to ask you that. “When it comes down to it, why would you consider making a change?” You need to be honest with yourself and with the headhunter. Otherwise, you’re going to end up wasting the headhunter’s time, you’re going to waste your time, and over the long run, you won’t have a very good relationship.
Next, be realistic. If you expect to make a giant leap in position, compensation, don’t expect the headhunter to help you; it’s not going to happen. You need to be realistic about what the next step in your career is going to be and what that looks like position-wise and compensation-wise, so be realistic.
Last, be patient. It may take months, it could take years before the right thing comes along. Don’t give up on the relationship because the dream job doesn’t happen immediately. Also understand that you may be submitted for an interview for several jobs, several positions before actually getting an offer, and you may get an offer or two that aren’t acceptable. That’s okay; it takes time and patience.
I think probably the keys there are: take the calls, communicate, be honest, be realistic, and be patient. Over time, you’ll have a good relationship, and that headhunter’s going to be instrumental in your career advancement.
Thank you for sharing today, Neal.
Thank you, Dustin, for asking us to speak about this.
About Neal Click
Principal and Managing Director