Where Are You?

“It’s like a jungle sometimes

It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under”

Carl Davis, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five 1982

After the rush of big trade show comes the reality of the post-trade show activity downer. 

There are reports to be written, emails to be sent – some with detailed proposals others to say thanks for a 15-minute chat over coffee. The world shrinks back once again from being a bright, glamorous show to a desk and computer screen somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.

Don’t get me wrong, a return to Snedden Campbell’s mountain lair is never a disappointment, but however you think about it, this location isn’t exactly next door to everyone we work with. 

Now, I chose not to base us in a big city, mostly for quality of life issues. I know the air is cleaner here than in London because when I blow my nose soot doesn’t come out. For this reason, we base ourselves closer to the top of Ben Nevis than any half-decent wine bar.

You might think then that we work at a disadvantage to other headhunters. You might think that, and you’d be wrong. Okay, so there’s not much chance out here of me meeting David Cameron in the Ivy but where would that get me?

The thing is, I’m visiting clients or potential clients across the UK and Europe (and occasionally the USA) once a week on average. Okay, so I have to get up early in the morning to reach some places.

The thing I’ve noticed is that even at quite a high level, headhunting tends to be quite parochial, local recruiters, who may or may not claim to be specialists, dominate individual cities, regions or, in some cases, small countries. The number of wide-ranging international headhunters in medical technology is tiny compared to the total number of recruiters. It is also the case that more prominent companies will try to open offices as physically near to what they see as their potential and actual key accounts as they can.

All of the above has consequences; in my experience, the key one is that it tends to produce quite narrow local shortlists. Now this is fine up to a point and that point is where you as a client have aspirations to be national or world-class, the chances are that in Europe your local area’s ability to supply world-class people is finite, so you’re going to have to compromise by taking on one of the usual suspects locally or go large and accept that a relocation from somewhere is the solution. Here’s your challenge then, if your usual suppliers are all local, how are they going to find people from outside their geographic comfort zone and, most importantly, how are they going to persuade them to relocate to where you, Mr Client, need them to be?

Now, there are some international recruiters with a global or multiple regional reach. But there is no doubt in my mind that if you are a potential client company with a specific need requiring a high degree of detailed industry knowledge to identify appropriate candidates and if those candidates are outside your local area, then your choice of expert provider is dramatically reduced.

In my opinion, it is challenging to be an effective headhunter if you are not inquisitive and a vital part of that inquisitiveness means that you have to go and meet with companies in their natural habitats whether that’s their office or, as last week, a huge trade show.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a big international trade fair would attract specialist recruiters like bluebottles to cowpats. And you’d, once again, be wrong. Three days I spent at Medica in Dusseldorf last week and not one rival did I meet – although one did announce on LinkedIn that they’d opened an office in Belgium. It doesn’t mean that no specialist recruiters went to Dusseldorf; it just means that none that I have any connection with seem to have attended.

So what? Well, seeing as you ask if I in my remote Highland hideaway can turn up week after week to client sites and relevant exhibitions from Barcelona to Berlin, why are so few others doing it? Am I doing something wrong? Should I do everything by phone and email and not bother doing my homework? 

My feeling is that what I’m seeing comes from the same root as turgid websites and crappy corporate blogs. Once owners and managers release the troops from their desks and let them see the big wide world control is lost. Something might go wrong for heaven’s sake; the wrong thing might get said to the wrong person about the wrong topic. I think there’s also an element of imperial ambition wherein the calibre of a headhunting business is measured by the number and location of its offices, not what it delivers in terms of results based on a genuinely deep understanding of what’s going on out there.

Posted on: 28th 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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