How Not to Fall Over

My job doesn’t have that many occupational hazards being mostly indoors and behind a desk.

Okay, some of my work takes place beyond my leather Throne of Power and becomes slightly more dangerous. Mind you in 20 years there hasn’t been that much to write home about. There was the arse over tit fall in Atlanta in the pouring rain that put paid to a pair of chinos. The mugging attempt in Geneva where I fought the guy off and kept his hat as a trophy (if you want to be mugged in Geneva by somebody competent, go to a restaurant and buy some food). The green underwear in the suitcase mystery was stressful rather than potentially deadly. And a couple of weeks ago there was the loss of my mobile phone to a pickpocket in a Barcelona riot incident.

Other than that, nothing. I’m heading for Cambridge later today though, so there’s always the possibility of some calamity involving a Fen I suppose.

Anyway, I’ve come to realise that the most significant hazards that I regularly face are reputational ones.

The thing is, I have to spend quite a lot of time presenting what I do to clients and potential clients in a reasonably coherent fashion. There are some fundamental things I have to bear in mind. Stuff like: I can’t take it for granted that the person on the other side of the desk knows anything about headhunting even if they say that they do. Most underestimate the time required to carry out a headhunt assignment properly and assume that we work off pre-existing databases of ready to roll candidates.

By the nature of my business and where I base myself, I don’t often flock with people who do what I do. In other words, I never directly see how other companies present themselves. However, I can infer what they do by how my clients and potential clients feed material back to me, occasionally directly, “you might be interested in this Ivor” or indirectly, “well someone else said that…”.

Most of the time, I see two things. The first is other people’s shiny presentational material. Because companies leave this behind and repeat it in their online marketing, I have a collection of other people’s marketing collateral. It says something about me or my competitors that I’ve never felt the need to copy it. Okay, I’ve used other people’s marketing material to tell me what not to do – putting pictures of yourself on stuff, inspirational quotes, and terrible job specifications – that sort of thing but other than leaving behind decent quality business cards that’s about it.

The other theme is what is actually said in presentations and by whom. Unsurprisingly, I’ve noticed that larger branded headhunters will tend to send their Senior Partners to what are or will be their most significant accounts, this is all well and good and lovely people they are too. The problem is that the actual project delivery will devolve to someone who was doing an MBA two years ago and had to look up 21 CFR Part 820 because the Partner who handed over the brief just copied down the term from the job spec that the client’s HR department prepped.

It turns out that to promote your company’s headhunting, and to an extent consulting and fundraising, abilities all you have to do is to infer that you can solve the problem because you are the known brand and this works wonderfully up to the point that you have to deliver a solution and can’t.

Now I know that this must happen reasonably regularly as many companies have headhunting horror stories. The downside of this is that as night follows day because someone that I’ve never heard of was terrible at doing their job, then it follows that I too must be terrible because we all say that we’re brilliant, don’t we?

So, my regular presentational angst is that even though I have a gleaming website and over a year’s worth of blogging so that you can see my thought processes and methods of how I approach projects (if you can be bothered reading it all), my dislike of reading out prepared PowerPoints with flow charts on them and pictures of myself may fail to win people over.

Moreover, my self-interested desire, to be honest, can cut some meetings off somewhat faster than I’d like. For instance, when I realise that the person I’m presenting to has the wrong salary figure for a particular role. It never ceases to amaze me that people will quibble over £5,000 in salary for key strategic jobs that will cost them millions if the person doing it isn’t up to the task.

In short, if there’s going to be an awkward conversation, I’d rather have it at the start of the process and go no further than have it at the end of an assignment.

Now, where’s the nearest banana skin…

Posted on: 4th November 2019 by Ivor Campbell

Into his fourth decade of search Ivor has a voice with stories to tell, observations to make and the odd picture to share. Mostly related to the day job.

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