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What Do Headhunters Recommend to Their Friends

Dr. Monika Becker, Business Unit Director of Hager Unternehmensberatung, a consultancy that specializes in executive search, has more than 20 years of experience as a headhunter, especially in the IT industry. How to optimally plan your career (think one step ahead) and why a management job is overrated (the future belongs to teams of experts)? A twelve-step guide

1. Networking is Not a Private Pleasure

Many jobs are not even advertised, but are filled within the network. Therefore, it is worthy to stay in contact with old colleagues and former bosses. Send a message every now and then, post a small comment or meet for lunch. Of course it’s all about give and take, this is not an ego show. Nevertheless, you are allowed to keep in touch for strategic reasons. The same applies to contacts with “selected personnel consultants of trust”. Of course, a good personnel consultant will thoroughly search the market and thus also come across the ‘socially passive’ candidates. However, a candidate who keeps ‘his or her personnel consultants’ informed about changes is likely to be approached earlier and has a time advantage for an attractive position. I often see that people who are very busy chronically underestimate this social game. Networking is part of career planning and should therefore be understood as part of the job. You don’t have to explain to anyone anymore that well-maintained social media channels are also a part of it, where just posting the pictures of your dog is not sufficient. Theoretically. In practice, such trivial advice is unfortunately still necessary.

2. Be One Step Ahead in Your Career

One of the most important principles in career planning, is to have a sophisticated scenario in mind – and to think not only about the next step, but also the one after that. When you think about a potential good move, you need to know how headhunters actually proceed. We ask ourselves: Where could someone, who is fitting for our profile work? And of course, companies are at the top of the list, being seen as leaders or innovators in a market segment. Conversely, for your own career planning, this means: If I have the choice of starting as a head of sales in a no-name company, which has uncertain finances, then I should be aware of the follow-up risk. A ‘simple’ sales role with perspectives in a company with a strong brand may be a better choice. Company wins over position.

3. More Movement, Please

Consistency and loyalty may be a good thing in other areas of life, however, it may be a disadvantage in terms of career. If you stay too long in one job, you seem inflexible and anxious. Attributes, with which one does not necessarily want to be associated. Sure, every change also means a certain risk and nobody likes job hoppers. But: No risk, no successful career.

4. Anything Goes? Watch Out!

Lateral thinkers and entrants have made an enormous image change. But this does not mean that there is a place for them in every company, even if it is claimed. It only sounds good. The misunderstanding can be seen, for example, when it is said that a lateral thinker and excellent team player is needed. The two do not really go together. Either I’m the one who supports a team in the best possible way or I’m the one who questions the status quo and sometimes ‘crosses’ the line. I also find this ‘anything goes’ attitude problematic. You have to be able to plausibly explain to your counterpart what specific additional value you bring to the team. The broader your skills are, the more arbitrary your profile is – and arbitrary is not necessarily attractive.

5. Required Profile is Relative

Of course, you do not have to meet all the criteria of a job advertisement. Often a distinction is made anyway between a must and a nice-to-have. I would even say, that you don’t have to meet all the ‘must’ requirements, but you should have a good reason for being considered anyway. For example, because you are so well positioned in other areas that you can easily learn this specific task. Not to mention that the ability to learn is one of the most important skills of all.

6. Alarming Signals: Let’s Get Out of Here

There are a few situations, where you should be suspicious. A few examples: You get the impression at the job interview that (critical) questions are not received positively? This does not necessarily indicate an open discussion culture. The interview partners are not prepared at all and have obviously not dealt with your CV? Indicates a lack of appreciation for the employees. Another red flag: An infinite number of interviews are taking place without any apparent purpose. Of course, it can sometimes be necessary to complete four, five or even six rounds. But if you always start from scratch, there is a lot to be said for the fact that nobody is allowed to decide anything here. Of course, you can imagine that things will be similar in daily business. By the way, I would always listen to my gut feeling. A decision matrix is certainly useful. But when we talked with people, who had problems with their new job, their gut feeling was wrong from the start.

7. The First Impression – And What Can Go Wrong

I always think it’s good when people worry about the dress code. As uncomplicated as it may be in some industries: You can be completely wrong in both cases and, accordingly, be over- or underdressed. It’s all about the famous first impression and there is often no second chance for that. And beyond outfit issues, there are also other stylistic faux pas: It is extremely unpleasant when interview partners sit there with an arrogant laid-back attitude, according to the motto: “So, now explain to me why I should work with you”. That is not unacceptable. This allows us to draw conclusions about how this person will approach tasks later on and how they will interact with colleagues. No matter how the contact was established, you should always have a good, convincing story about yourself and the decisive facts and figures of the company in your head.

8. The Eternal (And Miserable) Question of Salary

The target salary is a point where, in my experience, applicants put too much pressure on themselves. I would recommend not to have this on the agenda of their own accord, but to let the company bring it up. As far as the increase is concerned, there is also no rule of thumb. It depends on the particular setting: At the beginning of the career there are bigger jumps in it, above a certain altitude it might be more about tasks than money. An example: For an IT manager, who earns 220,000 euros per year, an annual salary of 200,000 euros can be quite acceptable if the job appeals to them and the position is financially limited. Whether one earns 10,000 euros more or less net, does not make a decisive difference. It would be a pity if you took yourself out of the race with a certain amount of money in mind, even though you would have liked the job.

9. Career Works Without a Management Job

There is this classic idea that a ‘real’ career must include a management position. This is a pity and it’s wrong and, above all, not up to date – for several reasons. Not everyone has the talent and personal skills that are needed to lead a team. But maybe this person is a proven specialist in his or her job. Who says that this expert must necessarily lead a team? Why can’t they concentrate on their professional work? How often have such people been promoted in the past, out of an automatism? And how much some people have filled these positions against inner resistance and are even desperate about it! I think it is time to say goodbye to this conventional career concept. In the future, it will all be about making the composition of teams and the roles of the individual team members more flexible; by switching roles from management job to specialist and back. This comes much closer to our understanding of a modern, agile working world.

10. Do Well – And Let Others Talk About It

I think it is very important to actively manage your reputation. That means not hoping that others will see that you are doing a good job, but making sure that it is seen. That’s why it’s crucial to demand positive feedback from clients or bosses after projects that have gone great. It’s about seeing these moments in your career and using them for your advantage.

11. How to Recognize Good Headhunters

The problem is that the job profile of personnel consultant is not protected. That is why there are a few black sheep in this industry. There are those, who have no mandate and try to get hold of CVs, in order to build up a database. Or even worse, those who invent a vacancy to get a CV. That is why research is advisable: Ask colleagues who know the industry, search the Internet for evaluations, pay attention to how well the personnel consultant knows their client and how detailed the preliminary talks are. A red flag is: If you don’t hear anything anymore or the contact is suddenly out of reach. In this case, you should insist on the basis of the GDPR, that the data is deleted and threaten legal action if necessary.

12. Do Not Wait Too Long

You shouldn’t put off changing jobs until you’re desperate. It’s not the best psychological state to be applying for a new job. Of course, it can always happen that you get fired out of the blue. Or you want to leave, because you can’t get along with a new supervisor. But as a rule, developments along the way point to the negative. And one should take these signs seriously and take action. The advantage is, that you have the luxury of saying no. Pressure is a bad advisor. And one wrong decision can quickly lead to another one. Unfortunately, this creates an unfavorable dynamic.

This article is part of a content cooperation between FemaleOneZero (F10) and Hager Unternehmensberatung. The company, which specializes in executive search, has repeatedly been named one of the best personnel consultancies in Germany by the magazines WirtschaftsWoche and Focus. Hager Unternehmensberatung employs around 110 people and, in addition to its extensive know-how in the field of digitalization, is also considered a specialist in issues relating to diversity and innovation.

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