Some sentiments transcend borders, and in the world of government affairs executives, one that I have heard reflected across different cities and languages probably more than any other is the one captured in the opening quote.
Senior leaders from diverse backgrounds and across this field seem to share the belief that, beyond a certain level of seniority in their careers – usually “Director” titles and above – it is no longer their job to… well, find jobs. “If a company wants to hire someone like me, they should come talk to me” is a typical attitude that experienced consultants in the executive search industry will recognize as all too familiar from this kind of profile.
When this mindset takes root, it runs into direct conflict with the prevailing traditional practices that the majority of employers use to hire: passively sourcing talent by advertising open vacancies.
This is true not only for smaller operations competing to stand out or carve out space in the market – those who believe that bigger brands with a high name recognition factor must necessarily have both quantity and quality of applicants would miss the mark. For organisations of all sizes, a reliance on online job adverts and open calls for applications fails to reach or to inspire senior profiles in particular. And indeed, given the nature and scope of their work, the bigger the company the more likely it is that a broader set of tools and channels is needed to source the best talent, as both the demands and the complexity of filling such roles scales exponentially rather than linearly.
Retaining a headhunter does not need to necessarily be the first port of call. Many organisations would prefer to wade into the job market themselves before seeking specialist support, and there are a number of factors that play in to how successful such a first venture may or may not be. What does apply across most, if not all, cases, however, is the importance of approaching talent directly, with the following key questions/steps in mind:
1. What is my market size for a profile with X level of seniority, specializes in Y areas and has Z policy or industry expertise?
How many people responding to this description are likely to exist in that audience?
For a meaningful search with chances of success, the final number – depending on the level of seniority – should range between 50 and 200 people.
2. The 80/20 rule: if I want 80% of my audience of qualified professionals – a realistic-if-ambitious target; even professionals don’t hit 100% – to know about my vacancy and be motivated to apply, what channels should I use? If I don’t have someone to find them for me, how do I ensure I go to where they can be found and effectively engaged?
Market trends indicate that once you have done that, you will end up engaging – meaning talking to and interviewing – 20% of that group. The larger your initial audience, of course, the more candidates will land in that 20% subset.
3. A mindset switch for HR: not only do more senior profiles expect you to come to them, they expect you to sell to them as well: to convince them that they should leave their role and join your team. Prioritise selling the company’s story and the USPs of the role first – or, put another way, don’t offer an interview, offer to be interviewed first.
As with any interview – especially when you’re offering to be interviewed – to be good at it, you’ll need to know who is across the table from you. That means reversing everything that comes with that mindset switch: don’t presume that it is on the candidate to educate you on who they are, but go in with a clear idea of the unique profile so you can best present your company and the opportunity on offer.
4. Roles and responsibilities, or, “who does what”. Whether it is you as the hiring lead (a direct approach); your team (helping with the mapping and engagement); an HR or talent acquisition team that sits elsewhere in the organization; or an external partner like us. If you don’t have clarity and a process that reflects it, the best talent will gravitate to where that clarity and process signals will be the best place for them to work – no doubt.
5. How does it get done? Regardless of who is doing what, best practice is not to lean on the job description as the starting focus or roadmap for the process. Rather than be your opening play or “main card”, keep it in your back pocket until the end, as something to read for complementary thoughts or provide a broader idea that solidified or fills in gaps in more targeted, individual conversations based on profiles and priorities. Instead, prepare a 10-line message about what you offer, what the position will work on, what’s hot on your plate and why it’s exciting to work on it, what the perspectives are inside the team – not just vertically – and next steps towards a casual discussion.