An up and coming executive expressed angry frustration with the whole recruitment process. Called twice for attractive positions that apparently represented career advancement, each opportunity ended with the job being awarded to internal candidates who were less qualified and lower paid.
“What am I doing wrong?” Nothing and everything.
Nothing in the sense that his resume was an excellent reflection of his career progression, his performance, and the value creation for each prior employer. In each case, the recruiters expressed great interest and assured the candidate that he would be a perfect fit – just what the client was looking for. He interviewed exceedingly well – no apparent mistakes. He received assurances from several of the interviewers that, in fact, he was just what they were looking for, but in the end, the jobs were awarded to internal candidates who were less skilled, less experienced but with a lower salary target. This leads me to the “everything” part of my answer.
The young executive had no career plan, no targeted industry on which to focus, no concept of career brand management, a narrow list of networking contacts, and a lack of understanding of how the talent acquisition process really works. Ten years ago, his list of “have nots” would have been largely inconsequential. Today, those deficiencies are huge.
Here are some important career management points to consider:
Recruiters are focused on building a credible panel of candidates for their client – whether as a search consultant working for an external firm or as an internal headhunter. That is how they are compensated or evaluated. They may, or may not, have your best interests at heart. They certainly do not work for the candidate, regardless of how friendly the relationship. They are probably unaware, or do not care, how not being selected for a position can subtly impact your personal brand. Candidates who look at numbers of positions are naïve if they do not believe that the “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” image will ultimately affect their career brand.
Always ask if there is an internal candidate. Recruiters do not always like to divulge that information, but you are entitled to know. Push the envelope and try to find out if that candidate is credible or if their involvement in the search is more “political” or “for show.” If the candidate is a strong contender, or if the recruiter is evasive, it is time to hit the brakes. In this troubled economy, employers are less likely to take a risk with a more expensive outside hire for non C-suite positions. Candidates can always tell the recruiter to call them back if something cannot be worked out with the internal person. Or better yet, just decline consideration. This can be a smart, brand-enhancing move but timing and style are everything. However, be forewarned that it is not a good idea to treat a recruiter badly. They have memories like elephants, and they share information internally with notes to the candidate database.
Develop a career plan – the sooner the better – focusing on a specific job or a type of work that brings joy and satisfaction. Focus on a sector or an industry segment, if possible, and begin building your networking of contacts across this spectrum. Do not focus building relationships only with external recruiters since they handle less than 35 percent of all management and executive recruiting projects. Keep an open mind given there is a good chance you will not end your career doing the job you thought you would always have. Finally, allocate time every week to focus on career networking and industry research. This is as important as staying relevant with new ideas and technological developments in your current field. This is not “your parents” job market and it is only going to become more challenging.