21 reasons why there is more to Head-Hunting than using LinkedIN

“We’ve decided not to appoint a headhunter, we’re going to have a look on LinkedIN instead.”

Possibly the most increasingly common thing I have heard from businesses with a need to recruit in the last year or so.  LinkedIN has, without doubt, revolutionised people’s ability to network and to forcibly expand their own networks of contacts (much as the premise of LinkedIN was to simply connect you with existing contacts, the commercial pull of being able to act as a search engine was too much to ignore – witness revenues increasing 56% from Q3 2012 to Q3 2013!).

There is no doubt that LinkedIN has revolutionised the head-hunting sector, and forced it to increase its average service offering to the level that the best of us delivered anyway – this is a good thing. But it has also caused some recruitment businesses to be sheer lazy.  The industry completion rate for retained mandates has dropped in the last 5 years from over 80% to barely over 70% (although some of us have maintained 100%!) – LinkedIN is a part of that demise. Why?

Charge a 33% retainer, do a search on LinkedIN, submit a second-rate shortlist, along with a 2nd invoice this time a 33% shortlist fee. By the time the hiring manager has realised the shortlist is second rate, he/she has been invoiced two-thirds of a fee and even if they realise it, will be contractually bound to paying.

Against a backdrop of such poor service from second-rate search firms (and generalist recruiters purporting to be search firms), it is easy to see why businesses will attempt to use LinkedIN themselves to complete on a role. So why do majority fail?

Not everyone is there.
Social Media is still a relatively new science. LinkedIN and Google undertook research in 2013 and discovered that only c15% of leading organisations’ management grade employees are on LinkedIN – the data being so reliable that Google now base their search engine technology on that premise.  This can be verified individually, looking at the names of the ‘just joined’ everyday demonstrates how many people are yet to immerse themselves in Social Media, including LinkedIn.  Over 30% of the people I have placed in the 18 months are STILL not active on LinkedIN. For C-Level professionals, that increases to over 50%.

Even moreso, try doing a search for FTSE-350 main board directors – how many of the 3000+ individuals can you see on LinkedIN? (Clue: Less than 500 are there in total)

How connected are YOU?
As LinkedIN gets more savvy (read that as commercial), only those people in your 1st or 2nd degree network are fully visible (unless you pay a premium, premium rate). Take a look at your own LinkedIN stats as to how many of your total network is 1st or 2nd degree. My LinkedIN network has just under 27,000,000 in it, almost 10,000 are first degree and just over 922,000 are first or second degree and thus fully visible (and only 280,000 are in the UK). This means that I can’t see more than 26,000,000 of my own network.

It effectively means that unless you know someone that knows the person you are looking for, you can’t see them.  If you only have 500 connections, your accessible network can be comparatively small and you will miss not only those who aren’t on LinkedIN, or don’t use LinkedIN, you won’t even know about 99% of people that are!

It is estimated that over 40% of LinkedIN profiles are dormant. i.e. people registered having received an invitation, but have not accessed their account for in excess of 12 months. Again, of the people I have placed in the last 18 months, less than 40% have truly active LinkedIN accounts, and half of those admit to not really giving it any real attention.

Data out of date.
Managing your social media footprint takes time, time that the majority of execs simply do not have. In a recent exercise we undertook, 2 out of every 5 profiles was out of date in terms of current employer, current job title and crucially, contact details. Almost 40% of those we looked at had an out of date email address – many their email at a former employer!

Understanding who to target.
Without knowledge of the wider market, and minimal understanding of competitor businesses, knowing who to target is close to impossible – you are basing your search purely on job title with no understanding of what that person does.  Task: What does a Technology Research Manager do? And what would he/she be earning? (Free CV re-write for anyone that gets the correct answer!).

Understanding what you want/What you can get.
Every single role we undertake gets challenged and ultimately changed, by us. Sometimes only slightly, sometimes a totally different role. This is based on our knowledge of what is out there/available, salary levels and simply being able to challenge your thought process. Specialist, independent engagement is vital.

Do you know me?
Knowing the name of your target’s business, and their job title will tell you precious little about them. Unless you have done research on each target before contacting, your chance of being ignored is immense.

Playing the game.
Websites used to try and trick Search Engines by attaching an exhaustive list of tags on their pages, often repeated. Active job seekers will knowingly or otherwise do the same thing on LinkedIN. Keyword searches will highlight those words irrespective of the relevance. These same keywords are what you would use to find candidates for your role.

PR/Impression of your business.
It is acceptable to undertake junior recruitment via LinkedIN, however even at middle management, approaching execs through LinkedIN smacks of cost cutting, “cheap” and not putting the attraction of talent as a serious consideration for your business.

Senior managers and even more so Directors & C-Level professionals (even if you DO manage to get through to them) will be positively turned-off a business who uses what they will see as an HR Junior to make speculative approaches rather than engaging a respected Head-Hunter. Two of the Main Board placements I have made in the last 12 months had initially been approached by In-House recruitment functions for the same role and had dismissed the opportunity. Another had been dismissed by the HR Asst!

Automatic dismissal of emailed approaches.
What percentage of unsolicited emails get opened? You are lucky if it’s 5%. LinkedIN emails will typically be up to three-times higher than that, but that will still be less than 1-in-5 people that you are able to find, will even read the approach let alone action it. The typical default response to an unrequested email is to delete (even I have learned that now!).

Lack of independence.
Head-Hunting is a two way process, a head-hunter needs to be able to advise why the targeted exec will benefit from the potential role. A non-targeted approach from an HR function in a specific business will be very one dimensional. If the target has a preconceived opinion of your organisation, you are unlikely to be given the opportunity to put your case forward. Handling the objections created by a pre-formed opinion will be infinitely easier as an independent, seen as being able to give objectivity.

Our independence can also help you scope out your role, factoring in what is available/attainable/in demand.

No real market knowledge.
As an ‘internal’, your knowledge of the overall recruitment/search market will be hugely limited and second-hand. Accordingly you will have no real-world benchmarking information on alternative opportunities, salaries, career prospects etc

Make me feel special.
A faceless message, or worse still, a non-personalised ‘invitation’ is not the way to begin a professional relationship. A professional approach needs to be professional.  It doesn’t tell your target ‘why them’.

On the assumption that you are not going to be so crass as to simply fire off the standard, prewritten invitation to the segment of your accessible network, each approach takes time. The same as when a professional headhunter (or their researcher) approaches people. You will have a far smaller list to sift through, but each individual will take time to investigate if they are worth your approach. If you don’t investigate, it will be obvious.

Took your time.
The average time taken to respond to LinkedIN requests is over 6 weeks. For those not as active on the site, and most senior execs fall into that category, it can easily be double that – just to make that initial contact. By that time, a search consultant will have successfully completed the process (and eradicated risk through a 3 month guarantee, or in our case 12 month guarantee) and your appointee will be a significant way into their notice period, or even approaching their start date with you.

No Sell.
Businesses have to sell themselves to get any interest from quality candidates. Your initial contact will offer little scope to sell if it is through LinkedIN. Preconceived ideas about your business will be the majority decision-making trigger on whether to even respond.

Get them to say “Yes”.
On average, 80% of people we short-list said no on first approach. That is likely to be even worse for an in-house approach. Knowing how to turn that around takes not only skill and experience, it also needs the perception of independence and the integrity that brings.

Drop-out rate.
An approach made though LinkedIN will not be taken seriously, and even if you do get an initial “yes”, the potential of drop out mid-way through the process increased exponentially.

Opportunity Cost.
However you go about it, using LinkedIN is a laborious process. Even with the minimal window of execs you can genuinely access, the hours/days/weeks of speculative approach can certainly be better utilised by senior managers.

Too Big?
LinkedIn is at danger of becoming a victim of its own success, it is becoming too big. With almost 300 million users (over 30% of which are in the US alone) and a public user target of 3 billion, it is at risk of being unmanageable. Add in the imperfect information risk as mentioned above and the results are impossible to realistically use. I LinkedIn Search. Gary Chaplintried three simple searches for the purpose of this blog. Finance Directors currently (or claiming to be) in retail, MDs/CEOs currently Marketing/Advertising and Sales Directors currently in IT.

Results are in the image opposite, but showed there were:
3,830 Retail FDs within an hour’s commute of my office (23,727 available to work in the UK)
36,751 Marketing/Advertising MDs/CEOs within an hour’s commute (250,985 in the UK)
35,890 IT Sales Directors within an hour’s commute (303,419 in the UK)

Be linked in, not LinkedIN.
The final and biggest issue of all, is the network of contacts your head-hunter will have. I have over 9,000 personal contacts in my ‘little black book’ (nowadays held on an iPhone/iPad/iDevice/iCloud). I have spent 20 years meeting between c15 people per week, plus group/networking encounters. Even allowing for re-meetings, that will be over 15,000 professionals met, and increasing!

That network, the market knowledge it brings and the benchmarking it facilitates cannot be replaced through any form of short-term solution. In every position I have been retained on, at least one ultimately shortlisted candidate was thought of within a couple of hours of the process starting. In many circumstances, that person/those people have been submitted immediately and the process completed within days – and we’ve not even charged more for such a fast-track solution….! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Use it to YOUR advantage.

LinkedIN undoubtedly has a huge place to play in recruitment. For more junior roles, those which are not business critical and for those businesses who adopt a ‘bums on seats’ strategy to part of their recruitment, LinkedIN can save you a lot of time and contingent recruitment fees (many contingent recruiters will use LinkedIN as a key part of their strategy anyway). This leaves greater financial resource to engage a proper process for more important/critical/senior roles.

But if you genuinely want high quality staff, there is still no substitute for an experienced Head-Hunter. Don’t believe me? Try it.

3 Comments on “21 reasons why there is more to Head-Hunting than using LinkedIN”

  1. Just picked this up mate, great piece. LI is nowhere near as prevalent in NZ which might be a good thing but its crazy reading your facts and stats.

    Do you know anyone that might help be sort my profile out? A couple of people in Oz have suggested i need to spruce mine up if I want to keep that option open? I wouldn’t know where to start.

    Thanks mate

  2. I love this blog too, what a great piece. LinkedIn is already almost too unmanageable in the US but it isn’t as prevalent for recruiters, more for direct sales personnel. I must get a dozen approaches per day from sales professionals wanting to sell their wares and assume that the C in my job title will translate to a decision maker tag.

  3. Great points made. LinkedIN has just been adopted by 1001 recruiters as a lazy way to contact en masse. Most don’t even personalise any approach and message me and a dozen other people breaching confidentiality. I’ve used your email response style a few times Gary 😉


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