My fellow Willamette U alum and search executive Ron Jordan, founder and principal of Carter-White & Shaw, gave me some well intentioned / well received grief ( “By the way, I am a head hunter, but unlike the ones you have berated, you should talk to us , personally before you make judgments, that are very biased“) last month regarding my post Can You Trust the Recruiter?
The gist of that post was the recruiters – both internal company recruiters as well as external recruiters such as contingent and retained headhunters – are paid to fill open positions with candidates. That focus, filling openings with jobs, generally biases search people to keep their options, and candidates, open and “warm” until the placement closes.
“Trust” in this case becomes relative: most recruiters aren’t going to tell largely qualified candidates that they’re not going to get a job until the position is closed? Why? Because they may need to circle back to the candidate as someone who is viable if other candidates fall through.
In addition there is a small element of people in the recruiting business who are, to put it mildly, shady. And in a case of a rotten apple spoiling the whole barrel, they are people to be careful with because to trust them blindly is to put your career in the hands of someone who should not be trusted.
There are, though, recruiters that I do think are trustworthy and can be trusted. I mentioned some of the internal recruiters (Mark Pressler, Amy Spillane, Jody Altman, Rik Avalos, Ming Yue, Kathleen Nelson Troyer, etc. ) that I had work with me when I ran recruiting for Barclays Global Investors in the United States in an earlier post. And there are a number of executive recruiters such as Charley Geoly at Russell Reynolds, Phil Johnston and Liz Fisher with Spencer Stuart, Melissa Norris at Jamesbeck Global Partners [Disclosure: Melissa and I set on a Board of Trustees together] and Lee Hanson, and Tim Holt at Heidrick & Struggles that I’ve known through the years and would trust impliclty.
So how do you know when you can trust the recruiter?
The quick answer is only after you’ve got experience with the recruiter to know three sets of data: are they reliable (do they do what they say they’re going to do), are they competent (do they know what they’re doing), and do you know their motive (are they driven or incented by what you know or they say they are, or is something hidden / opaque)?
Trustworthy recruiters are search people who are transparent. That doesn’t mean they’re blabbermouths, or not confidential. It does mean that they give an accurate read on your skills and abilities as they apply to the search at hand, and can give you an accurate rendering of the role and work environment for which you are being considered. They also know they’re stuff: they deploy some proven methods of sourcing, assessment, client engagement, and follow-through that make searches run and go well.
I remember Charley Geoly years ago giving me some straight shooter feedback for a role in which I was being recruited by Russell Reynolds for one of their clients. Not only was the assessment and advice spot-on, but it was also helpful in a broader career sense: the placement never happened for me, which I think was a good thing, and I had a fair idea why and how. It also showed me that Charley had good assessment abilities, was candid, had judgement that could be trusted and was also discreet – all qualities that I looked for when I’m on the hiring side of the equation.
And my guess on Ron Jordan? Call it intuition, or a nose for competence, but he seems like someone I would engage on a search, and trust if I were a candidate.
The proof, as with anyone, is in the doing.