Get Serious (or buy a Jester hat)

For weeks on end, for 10 years, millions of TV viewers have watched Simon Cowell and his successors publicly berate dozens and dozens of people, all with a quest to exploit their talent in the name of success. Many people proudly stride onto the X-Factor stage, convinced their talent is world class only to be ripped to shreds and tossedSimon Cowell - Gary Chaplin on the unwanted pile. Yet despite perfect knowledge that over 90% of applicants end in that same way, 100,000s of people arrive each year to be subjected to the high-waisted-trousered music mogul’s critique.  Are they just wanting fame through public humiliation?

Or do they recognise that praise and acceptance from someone so straight-talking and so serious about his business really means something? (as opposed to the Louis Walsh ‘PC’ model of just loving everyone, especially the underdog).

For many it is the fame at all costs approach…..but those who are serious about furthering a career in the music industry recognise that if you get accepted by Simon Cowell, you really do have talent and really do have a chance at furthering your career.  What’s more, if Simon likes you so much as to offer advice as to how to improve your chances yet further, the serious person will take such counsel as gospel, and benefit from it. Serious approach, honest appraiser, straight-talking feedback, believable outcome.

Is that only relevant for those wishing to further a music career?  Or is it true, and available in any profession?

This side of finding the “Simon Cowell of Recruitment” and creating a career-accelerating reality TV show, the options would appear limited.

Walk into any high-street agency and you will typically get a faceless individual offering you a generic application form with 99 questions, the majority of which are more concerned with demonstrating an anti-discrimination stance through questioning your ethnicity and overall demographic profile. You may get to meet a real human being, who may give you some actual attention and may even spout some well-rehearsed corporate lines to you about the state of the market and how great they are at getting people a job and how your skills are so fantastic there really is no need to go and see a competitor. You might even hear from them again afterwards.

So execs move up the food chain to more experienced, genuine and credible Executive Search businesses/consultants. Anyone realistically approaching such a Head-Hunter will typically be seeking a £six-figure salary. That in itself is serious, and warrants a serious response. No time for lip-service, just straight talking.

A serious approach will elicit a serious response, and a serious service. Bluntly objective and honest feedback on you, your realistic chances of progression through a process, and of the outcome of every stage. Find the right, highly connected Head-Hunter, and you will get introduced to high-quality, synergistic business leaders within their network to open further doors for you and as minimum, extend your own network. But such a service will demand commitment from the job seeker.

If your head-hunter is prepared to meet you at all hours of the day, and more usually, all hours of the night, and introduce you to key members of his/her network of contacts he/she will expect commitment and a high level of seriousness in your approach, the format of your covering email, the style of your CV (tips here) and a desire to look for alternative opportunities.

The blanket approach (aka ‘Spray-and-Pray’) that some execs adopt will, without question, work against you. Just this week, I have advertised two roles:

  • One a Chief Operating Officer role, operationally focused, £400m business in the retail sector, salary around £150,000, package over £250,000.
  • The other a manufacturing Sales Director role, focused on the Far East & Middle East, salary £80-100k, package of £150-180,000.

It is difficult to get two more disparate roles…..and yet 19 people have applied for both. Unsurprisingly, all were suitable for neither. They are not taking their career search (and their career?) seriously, and the message it sends out is highly detrimental.

Unlike the X-Factor applicant, with the crowd sat behind Simon Cowell et al, prospective candidates will not have public support from the comments made by their blunt and starkly objective appraiser, nor will they get the chance of 3-out-of-4 yes votes. But again, getting positive comments and an acceptance to work with you, qualified praise and overall commitment from a straight-talking head-hunter is a great accolade.

That same serious, objective, qualified approach is an immense and vital asset when you are recruiting.  Over 70% of mandates I have undertaken have been vastly altered through consultation with the Hiring Manager/Director, HR Director or entire Board of Directors. Challenging the realism of procuring the skills you want at the remuneration level you are prepared to pay is the easy bit, gaining a true understanding of what is being sought and more crucially, what the role/individual is to deliver can be a highly contentious process.

Consulting (and at times arguing) on appointee backgrounds, levels, reporting lines, qualifications, demographic background needs a straight-talking partnership between head-hunter and client.  It also needs a serious attitude and above all commitment from the hiring manager. Salaries, packages and employment costs of a Senior Exec can be well into Capital Expenditure levels – commitment and bluntly objective discussion is essential from both parties.

Recruiting business leaders is serious business. Accept 80% in place of 100% and you water down the quality of your leadership team. Allow these 80%-ers to recruit at 80% of their competence and before you know it, your next generation of management will be only 50% as capable as you want, and need.

Easy to see why then the bulk of the country’s leading head-hunters, and indeed leading businessmen/women, are bluntly objective, place substance over style and above all demand seriousness from their partners.

Demonstrate a lack of seriousness and commitment at that vital initial impression stage and you can expect to be kicked off before you even reach ‘Boot-Camp’, let alone the ‘Live Finals’.

To Get Serious about your search, contact me

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