Like any team sport, often the best performers and most skilled talent are invaluable and draw plenty of interest from rival teams.
The same can be seen in the startup, scale-up and corporate world.
Coined headhunting, talented employees are often approached by rival companies or recruitment agencies and lured away with higher salaries or improved employment benefits like work-from-home flexibility.
HeadHuntly Founder and Director Elizabeth McDonald said headhunters largely looked for in-demand, highly specialised talent with specific experience across certain categories, business models and technologies – people who will play a major part in delivering a company’s strategic goals.
“Recruitment efforts are largely focused on candidates actively looking for work,” she said.
“Headhunting is focused on engaging highly qualified specialist talent who are not actively looking for new opportunities."
“We are engaging people in conversations, essentially about their future and the opportunity to utilise their skill set and mindset to fulfil their interests and goals.
“Every company and every role is different – it’s not about who is available to fill a position right now, it’s about who is the game changer a digitally ambitious company is looking for.
“The emphasis is placed on finding the one game changer for that particular role, whether they are actively looking or not.”
How to headhunt someone
Ms McDonald said LinkedIn was the main tool used for identifying and approaching talent, but Hunter Executive Search Consultants General Manager Ben Oakley, who has worked extensively in recruitment and executive search, also noted that headhunting is an evolving skill that has changed over time.
“Before the rise of social media and platforms such as LinkedIn, headhunting was a lot tougher, but it has now become a lot more commonplace and is used by both executive search firms and hiring companies alike,” Mr Oakley said.
“Using the LinkedIn Recruiter platform for example, it’s a simple process to find people by searching job titles, keywords, companies, locations and more, and a competent user can quite easily put together a list of people to approach and send out a personalised inMail message en masse.”
LinkedIn is a great tool to find talent, but Mr Oakley prefers, where possible, to reach out with a phone call and have a conversation to see what drives the person, what their ambitions are and if they would be a good fit for the role.
He said LinkedIn has become a victim of its own success, with candidates now receiving so many messages they are often viewed as spam and skilled recruiters are needing to evolve and use other avenues to approach candidates and adapt their headhunting methods.
Headhunting or talent acquisition was somewhat of a dirty word 10 years ago but it is a lot more common now, according to Mr Oakley.
“Both client companies and recruiters are seeing a much lower response rate and quality to advertising, so are needing to be a lot more proactive and look at new methods to find staff,” he said.
“Advertising in the current market is not particularly effective, as there’s a shortage of candidates with unemployment sitting at around 3.5 per cent and the combined rates of unemployed and underemployment currently at its lowest level since 1982.
The lack of talent in the current job market means more employees are finding themselves headhunted and accepting new opportunities, along with the advancing digital world and shift to remote working making it easier for companies and agencies to recruit ideal candidates from far and wide.
However, although the process has become easier for people to move on to bigger and better positions, Ms McDonald said there was still an etiquette that needed to be followed when handing in your resignation.
“There’s a fine line between job hopping and just being open to an opportunity every two years,” she said.
“There’s a standard etiquette, whether you’ve been headhunted or not, which is making sure you fulfil your notice period and you do a proper handover.”
Mr Oakley advised candidates who are headhunted and decide to change jobs to stick to their decision once they have made it, as often their employers would try and make a counter-offer to keep them in the business.
“The one thing I'd say is to be confident in your decision once you have made it and stick with it,” he said.
“Don't accept a counter-offer and don’t be persuaded to stay once you've made the decision to leave.
“Firstly, your company will know that you've been interviewing for other jobs elsewhere and can perceive it as a lack of loyalty and trust.
“Also, if they are going to offer you more money or a promotion to stay, and think you are worth that, they should have offered you it in the first place.”
Mr Oakley said typically around 80 per cent of candidates who accept a counter-offer and stay with their current employer leave within six months anyway, noting that the promised promotions often come in a watered-down form, as many of them were knee-jerk offers and not feasible by the company.
Ms McDonald agreed and said the onus was now on the employer to listen to the needs of their people to avoid losing them to other offers, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic had changed the thought process of remote working environments.
“We all talk about customer experience, however, the emphasis should be equally placed on employee experience – there is a direct correlation between both,” she said.
“By the time someone’s got to that stage where they’re resigning, I think they’ve made their mind up.
“Counter-offers from the company they’re leaving often come too little too late – salary, flexibility and professional growth should have already been in place.
“Role requirements should be changing at least every six months or so, as customers and business priorities change. It’s no longer the case that the role you have today will be the exact role you are doing for the next two years.
“The companies that adopt this approach will be the ones that win and keep the change-makers.”
Where to from here?
The Finding and Hiring the Right People course aims to provide managers and HR professionals with the necessary skills and knowledge to make successful selection decisions during the recruitment cycle. Explore interviewing skills, post-interview responsibilities, behaviorally targeted questioning, robust selection strategies and more.