Style over substance.

“Image is everything”. We spend £1,000s on clothes, skin care, hair products every year (and women can be even worse) all in the quest of improving our image. Dozens of entire industries have been born out of humans desire to maximise how others see and perceive us – irrespective of what the reality is underneath.

We are all guilty of assessing people based on their image, and those opinions formed are seldom changed easily. The way someone looks, talks, smells – their body language, their vocabulary, their clothing, their perceived Body-Mass-Index.  Some will term them prejudices, others just being human. And it is just human.

One of the worst examples of a snap shot assessment of individuals is in an interview situation. “You pass or fail an interview in the first 5 minutes” is incorrect – you have nothing like as long as five minutes. Visual assessment of an interviewee (and interviewer) – 10 Seconds? 20 seconds?  Full opinion formed – 2 minutes? As long as it takes to assess their handshake? You get the idea.

NB: This is where your Head-Hunter/Consultant should really earn their stripes: Interview preparation (expect a future Blog, but contact me in the meantime for further info). Understanding the person you are meeting and ensuring that crucial first impression is maximised is vital. Chemistry is everything in recruitment. Beyond that you become more technical and enter the amazing world of Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP) – but more of that in a future Blog as well; in the meantime Google Richard Bandler or Tony Robbins (twitter: @TonyRobbins) for more on NLP.

But what about in broader life and crucially, in business?

Image/Style is important. Everyone likes to see and be in a smart office. The law firm with a prestigious Downtown/City/New York address, or their professional advisor that is ‘obviously so good/successful’ that he arrives in a £150,000 executive car (and negating the weak “your fees are obviously too high” retort – see Celebrating Success for more details), but where does substance fit in?

The internet, and dare I say it, Social Media has made Style easy to maximise.  Anyone with a reasonable £4-figure budget can build an impressive looking website; even better, with wordpress sites (such as this one) and a bit of time, patience and flair you can build a passable website for nothing. Add in a reasonable social media understanding, strategy and presence, even the smallest entrepreneur can look like a global enterprise – ever wondered why some search businesses perennially have ’25 staff’ yet you only ever hear about 5 of them?

But style is short lived. Even impressive looking websites, owned by drivers of £150k executive cars with a flash City address will be left wanting as soon as you dig beneath the surface. No-where is this more prevalent that in recruitment, and particular in executive search. With minimal barriers to entry, the industry is awash with businesses and business leaders for whom style is greater than substance. Fortunately the majority of these are comparatively easy to spot. Anything that appears too good to be true, especially with cost, is usually cause for alarm bells.

Many head-hunters have made great careers out of promising masses at minimal percentages, but delivering very little, and wasting weeks and weeks of client time in the process. But by then the head-hunter has two-thirds of his fee, without any contractual refund or even rebate clause, and he can move his slick sales patter on to the next.  Style over substance.

So it’s all substance?

Substance (delivery) is important, again especially in a recruitment context. People serious about attracting the best talent are focussed on the acquisition and delivery of that talent – it’s all about the candidate. Ergo; the ability to deliver, to successfully complete becomes the critical factor. Those few head hunters with a 100% successful track record have an unparalleled USP – having maintained a 100% success track record on retained mandates throughout my career is still my biggest USP, and the element that wins more business than any other. It is all about delivery.

Beyond that, both individual and client companies will benefit from a substance biased advisor. Straight talking, knowledgeable, direct and in control.  Passion is also a vital component. The last two mandates I won were hugely influenced by the fact that both contacts saw how much I wanted the business, and how tirelessly I would work to ensure delivery, and not just to maintain my 100% record.

However…..If you are serious about finding THE best candidate, and not just the best candidate on cheaper recruiter’s database, substance will need style to be successful. In a world where we have to sell your opportunity and your business, at times more than selling candidates to you, it is essential you have an advisor that has the ability to manage your PR, understand your business, and then sell your business, and gain significant  interest, without over-selling it.

If we accept that the bulk of the higher quality talent will have to be headhunted – they don’t sit on recruitment databases – then for many such prospective senior managers, their first introduction to your business will be the head-hunt call they get. Much like the interview situation, the initial impressions are formed in seconds. Style has a place. Likewise through the process, every impression gained of you/your business prior to interview will be in the hands of your Head-Hunter. You don’t want a beige cardigan (miss)selling your business.

Money where our mouth is

Ceteris Paribus – ensuring a delivery focus (substance) solution is still the most important objective for the best recruitment and executive search firms. Doing so in the most client focussed manner is what has driven me to work differently. Eliminating risk from Executive Search and rebutting the criticisms levied against our sector.

Guaranteeing successful conclusion within 6 weeks (against an industry average of 4 times that) or your money back – not a rebate/credit note, cash wired to your account immediately, such is our confidence in our ability to deliver. Furthermore, offering a free-replacement for a YEAR after placement should the individual leave. No one else in the recruitment sector has the confidence in their substance to offer the same. 

The Final Caution

The final caution on employing style over substance is the most common reason why in-house recruitment solutions fail. Remember our interview comment above – the first impression. Many businesses forget or simply don’t bother to dig beneath the surface of those they interview. In short, recruiting people they personally like and could be friends with, rather than matching both skillset and organisation chemistry fit. Without the control of an independent head-hunter, many businesses not only fall into the Fur Coat/No Knickers trap, they get caught fully exposed.