Many headhunters specialize in certain specific industries or career levels only. This comes as a surprise to no one. So if you are looking for a new top position in your field, you can use a number of smaller or larger companies- depending on their experience. If you prefer personal contact, you will probably prefer to work with a smaller but more niche headhunting company. And taking of niches, the idea of establishing a headhunting or recruiting firm, specializing only in the recruitment of female managers and executives, initially does not sound very unusual – but is more exotic than you think.
Therefore, we would like to introduce a special interview partner for our regular headhunter insights series today. Christian Böhnke is the general manager of the Recruiting firm ‘Hunting her‘ specializing only in the hiring of female executives. In addition read her interview tips and be ready for your next career move!
Which questions should a candidate ask a headhunter?
Christian: I can tell you what questions a candidate should not ask under any circumstances: How did you find me? This signals to each recruiter immediately that the candidate was not very often contacted by a headhunter or even selected for a position. So in the end, they may sell below their value.
In addition, the recruitment consultants will perhaps not help you with an answer to that question honestly since they are bound by client discretion. And even if they do answer: What value can you derive from this question?
Basically, with an initial meeting with a recruiter, you should clarify the critical conditions on which the vacancy depends. What are the regional benchmarks? From what industry will the hiring take place and what revenue does the company make? If it is more of an established, older company or a young, dynamic start-up? What is the market position of the company and the strategic orientation they are likely to follow?
In addition, you should also obtain further information about the position itself: Where is the new opportunity? What advancement opportunities are there for you? At what level in the hierarchy does the position lie? What happened to your predecessor? Finally, you can of course also ask more details on the work-content or on what bonuses and benefits you can hope for. Be aware, however, that the headhunter will perhaps be terse here. Because if he or she gets into too much detail, ultimately he/she exercised little discretion with client information.
What is the worst way for a candidate to behave during the first contact with a headhunter?
Christian: Due to the specific nature of our recruiters, at least I can give you a typical female faux-pas. Women sell significantly below market compared to men particularly at higher levels of the hierarchy.
Just recently, I had a phone call with a candidate and found out her gross income for each year was 300,000 euros. You need to know that as headhunter, we are not interested, of course, to minimize the income of our candidates. This is also because, casually expressed, our fees are usually calculated as a percentage of the candidate income.
This otherwise really highly qualified top manager without any action on my part almost halved her salary benchmark within a few minutes. By her own testimony, the position fit so well with her work content that she would accept it for around 170,000 Euros. In men, however, we tend to observe the opposite extreme, which is also sub-optimal.
What is also an equally frequent as inappropriate behavior, is to discredit ex-colleagues or superiors. Also dishonesty is embarrassing. Arrogance is often observed, but is very unpopular in the recruiter circles.
How can a candidate establish the first contact with a headhunter?
Christian: This depends on how concrete the motivation to change is. Here, there are various possibilities. However, you should never forget to choose the right level. A responsible headhunter will usually have it adequately noted in his/her database if he/she deems the profile to be fundamentally interesting and also if it suits his/her industry or specialization.
If you are not in the “hunting ground” or a recruitment fit, a weekly card will not help to convince a headhunter otherwise. You may in no case do too much with your contact requests. Believe me, a day in the headhunter life is already well filled …
With what type of candidates do headhunter maintain long term contacts with?
Christian: This largely depends on the activity of the recruiter. Of course, the headhunter prefers to remain in contact with the candidates that have a convincing willingness to change. Also, the profile of the candidates should have a high demand. And, we all are just naturally also sympathetic, interpersonal relationships play a role, though usually more subconsciously.
How can a candidate proactively reach out to a headhunter?
Christian: This is in my opinion a rather difficult subject … you have to remember that not all recruitment agencies would like to receive unsolicited applications. You should check in advance before you waste your own time. The headhunter will indeed a respond with a friendly ‘thanks but no thanks’ e-mail but perhaps nothing more.
If a headhunter works on the principle of direct search or active sourcing, you may not even end up in the database. Your efforts are in vain. However, the majority of recruitment agencies are open to unsolicited applications. But you still need to be careful. Do not expect that your unsolicited application will help you achieve short-term success. It is very unlikely that the Headhunter will received a search mandate this exact moment, unless your profile fits an existing vacancy to the T.
Imagine, you throw a dart blindfolded on the dartboard. The probability that you will hit the mark here is extremely low. If you want to go down this road, you have to spread yourself thin and send your unsolicited application to several recruitment agencies. Give this process a little more time and its usefulness will increase rapidly.
Eventually you will end up in the database of a personnel consultant and can be contacted at the appropriate time. Here’s an additional tip: take the time to send your applications to the recruitment consultants that have proven success in your industry. And keep in mind that it makes perfect sense to turn to the “smaller” headhunters. There you will not be lost in the crowd …
How can the candidates identify the best headhunters – is it based on the expertise in a certain function or branch or should it depend on the size of the headhunting business?
Christian: In most cases, this is very confusing for candidates. The size of a recruitment agency or even your industry focus is single-handedly not a sign of quality or can’t guarantee success. Frequently, smaller and lesser known Headhunters fit more and better to your needs. In larger companies, you may often disappear in the database or get lost in the noise. If you headhunter contact is important to you, even in big headhunter companies you should specifically target the right headhunter for you.
To be honest, it is almost impossible for external candidates to assess the quality and competence of staff consultation. Certainly the industries served are an important clue but it is difficult to see behind the scenes of a headhunting consultation. Therefore, it is worthwhile to seek contact with various headhunters and to have multiple connections.
What are the key differences you see in the recruitment of female compared to male managers?
Christian: Here I see clear differences. Apart from the already mentioned, gender under-selling from female managers, it is pure mathematics for us at Hunting Her. Naturally very different challenges are present when hiring the generalists compared to executive search.
While in marketing and human resources up to 30% of managers are women, look at the numbers, for example, in the IT field or the natural sciences where they are significantly different. Here only 3-5% of management positions are held by women. To work in this area on the principle of direct search is economically very difficult, as it leads to disproportionate effort. Female executives are also often more closely linked to the needs of the family showing a stronger commitment in that aspect compared to the employer, so location flexibility and willingness to change certainly plays a role.
In male executives relocation of the family for new career opportunities is accepted far more, even by the partner. In the opposite case, this is less frequently observed. In our industry, it is more important than ever to a network.
At end: why did you choose to focus on specializing on hiring female executives?
Christian: When the company Hunting Her HR-Partners was founded in 2007, issues such as demographic change, the tendency of better performance with a mixed management team were already known – however, they were often not taken seriously enough. It is my firm belief that the potential of the female population in future will be the guarantor of success for companies.
The skills shortage is known, especially in the SME sector. Efforts to attract skilled workers from abroad, especially in STEM theme has not been very successful. For instance, in Germany, we now have one of the most educated generation of women in general. So I am quite puzzled why this question is still being asked and we are the only company that has specialized on this half of the population.
It is completely normal for recruitment agencies to differ according to hierarchical levels and sectors. But why the different needs of female and male managers are not paid more attention is a mystery to me.
We want to thank you Christian Böhnke for this interesting and in-depth interview! These insights are a unique opportunity for our readers, to learn more about the work and dealing with headhunters and to be one step ahead of everyone else.
About Christian Böhnke and HUNTING HER:
Christian Böhnke is the Managing Partner of HUNTING/HER HR-Partners, a leading recruitment consultancy for women. As founder of the “most important headhunting agency specializing in highly qualified female professionals and executives” is a business administration graduate, an author and a much sought after expert on women, management and career. In 2013, Böhnke was selected as an expert by the Economic Committee of the German Bundestag.