Gary Chaplin, the “Maverick” Headhunter, On Clients, Candidates and Chemistry

Like most headhunters, Chaplin never dreamed of going into recruitment. “I was set on becoming an accountant,” he said, “until 3 months in, I realized I was bored.” When an international recruitment group made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – a 50% pay raise and a company car – Chaplin took a chance, and joined the team. Most professional recruiters have their own preferred strategies for finding and matching top candidates with top clients.


Since his start as a headhunter, Gary Chaplin never cared much for traditional practices. “I was disruptive, seen as a dangerous maverick,” he says. But after working for three different sizes and styles of recruiting companies, Chaplin realized that he was onto something. Now, his company Gary Chaplin Executive Search is based in the UK, where he specializes in C-Level senior placements. And with over 20 years of business experience, it seems as though his “maverick methods” are working.

A New Perspective

Chaplin’s intro to the world of recruiting was hardly ideal. He didn’t care much for his first experience with the international firm: “After two years, I realized that the nucleolus of the recruiting sector was fantastic, just poorly executed.” Chaplin moved next to a small recruiting firm for three years, “to properly learn the trade and develop my style.”

From there, he moved to a boutique Executive Search business, where he says that his “birth as a headhunter occurred.” It was there that he started to shine, and where he recognized his passion and talent for recruiting. “That was 15 years ago,” he says. “I’ve never looked back.”

Chemistry Counts – Chaplin’s Process

When it comes to placing top talent at quality companies, Chaplin’s not shy about his skills. The industry standard for a placement guarantee – how long a newly placed candidate stays with a company – is 3-6 months. Chaplin promises a full year, or he’ll find a replacement candidate for free. That’s a big claim, but he believes that his unconventional style of headhunting and interviewing candidates play a large role in his success.

“Skills and experience are always critical,” he says, “but my process ensures that chemistry fit is placed as paramount.”

Chaplin starts this “process” by spending a full day with his client at their office. He observes their work style, their company culture, and takes notes on the corporate ecosystem, to understand “the personalities of the key stakeholders and relationships for the role.” Through this immersion, he can get a better sense of what kind of candidate would complement each particular company.

Next, he takes some time to work with his client to finalize a brief, the official job description and candidate requirements, and an “off-the-record wishlist.” He calls this “‘The Full Picture,’ a very comprehensive discussion and understanding.” Then, he writes a “Role Profile, a 10-12 page document detailing every aspect of the role, the business, the personality sought, etc.” Once the client approves or amends the Role Profile, Chaplin says that further interaction with the company is usually minimal.

He explains, “They have engaged me to take the headache of senior and C-Level recruitment away from them.” So he hits the pavement, meeting new people every day and amassing more contacts to add to his network of more than 25,000 professionals, so he can identify the perfect short-list of candidates and present them to his client around four weeks later.

Know Your Candidates

Chaplin says that candidates shouldn’t prepare for a headhunter interview any differently than for a normal interview; they should know about the role, of course, and they should be well-versed in the industry of the given job. According to Chaplin,“You just need to be yourself, know your own career (and your own mind), be on your A-game, and be personable.”

He prefers to get to know his applicants in restaurants, bars, any laid back setting where “the meeting becomes less formal, and personalities will get to show.” But he has one golden rule: “I never interview in my office, as it encourages a power struggle, leaving the candidate in ‘defensive interview mode.’ Then I won’t get to see their personality and gauge that fit.”

Unusual? Yes. Effective? Definitely. By getting to know his candidates so personally, it allows him to assess their fit without the pressure of a classic interview. By doing so, Chaplin has had countless experiences where candidates really dazzled him, several who stuck out in particular.

“Often, within five minutes, you just think, ‘Wow!’ It’s always the passion that grabs the attention, and the personality – or lack of ego – that holds it.”

One candidate stunned him with her long list of achievements, her humility, and her personality – he liked her so much, he placed her twice for different positions, and she is now the chairman of a large company, he says.

“Another that blew me away professionally was an über-bright 1st Class Oxbridge Graduate, 1st time pass ACA, PhD, INSEAD MBA, former McKinsey consultant, that had risked it all to join a fledgling media company. Five years later, he was standing on stage with Samuel L Jackson, collecting an Emmy for his work.”

This is the best possible way to make yourself memorable – with passion. Chaplin says, “The one common lesson that I learned from all of my mentors was to know your candidates. Even now, I can tell you my best candidate for any given sector or discipline.”

But for every incredible candidate, there are also horror stories. “Plenty of them …” says Chaplin.

“There was the sales director who started the interview by throwing a statement of his last year’s earnings (£450k) across the table, saying, ‘If you can’t beat that, then I’m leaving.’ Or the CEO who refused to disclose any information about himself until I guaranteed him a place on the shortlist. Or the candidate who sent his wife to the interview, because he was ill, and ‘she knew everything about his career anyway …'”

Talk about leaving a lasting impression …. And on that note, Experteer Magazine would like to thank Mr. Gary Chaplin for sharing his time and his thoughts. Candidates, study up, and remember to be yourself.

Only then can a headhunter determine whether or not this position is the right fit for you. We wish you success with the next step in your career, and thanks for reading!

About Gary Chaplin:

HeadShot RMCH 2Gary Chaplin has over 20 years recruitment experience, the latter fourteen of which have been in executive search. Having worked with a number of established search firms over that time, he founded Gary Chaplin Executive Search in January 2012, initially as a Joint Venture, to bring something different to the Executive Search market. Having specialized in C-Level senior appointments for over a decade, Gary’s network of contacts, experience in designing methodologies, and understanding the chemistry fit give him an unrivaled position in northern England. Gary has successfully completed HR, Sales, General Management, Finance, Procurement, Operational and Non-Exec mandates.

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