The Headhunter’s Ideal Candidate – Are You The Total Package?

So you went to Yale, but you can’t say a single sentence without stuttering? According to headhunter Celine Choisel of BiermannNeff, the ideal candidate is well spoken, charismatic, and skilled. Sure, you may have years of experience and a doctorate degree, but if you can’t convince Ms. Choisel that you’re a good fit for the position, you may be out of luck. Ms. Choisel was kind enough to share her perspective on potential candidates, as well as her experience working as a female headhunter in a male dominated field. So read on to find out more about how you can become the total package, and a headhunter’s ideal candidate!

Celine Choisel bw

 1. How do you prepare for an interview with a candidate?

The first stage is, of course, cautiously reading the CV and trying to understand the consistency between the studies and the professional path. Usually I try to check the LinkedIn page or Google as well in order to get more information about the candidate. Normally, this “background check” helps me to find some specific questions in order to get a deeper understanding about the person and her/his motivations.

2. What candidate impressed you the most, and how did they do it?

In my opinion, the best candidates are people with strong technical added value, but who can express it through a smooth personality. Every day, we are meeting great people with an impressive academic and professional background, but the personality and behavior with others is really the key to get the top of the list. And it is something I very often see when I meet senior team leaders and highly successful people; they are charismatic but very good listeners, and highly respectful as well.

3. What’s the worst thing a candidate can do during the interview?

I would say, the worst scenario is when somebody writes false information on the CV. It is always very tricky when we find out that the person does not speak a language or has never done half of what is written on their CV.

 4. What tips do you have for a candidate who’s preparing to meet a headhunter?

First of all, if you meet with a headhunter regarding a specific role, you should know the job description and arrive with some questions in mind. If it is an open discussion as a first introduction meeting, the ideal situation is to take the time to review the headhunter’s website and to check if there is a clear expertise and track record about a specific field or if it is a generalist recruiter. The finance industry is so broad, I would highly recommend targeting specialists because you increase the chance to get more relevant job opportunities. Then, of course ask a lot of questions about the methodology, their track record, the kind of clients and jobs they follow etc. Moreover, if you are open for a big change, like going from Portfolio Management to Marketing, it is a good opportunity to talk about that and to get some advice.

5. Do you keep potential candidates in mind for future job openings, if they’re not a good fit for the current position?

Usually, I try to stay connected over LinkedIn with interesting candidate profiles, just to keep in touch even if I don’t have their CV. When a high potential candidate applies or just contacts me, I always take the time to have a chat over the phone in order to know more about this person and the motivations. Normally, we keep CVs of candidates who could be relevant in the future so we can come back to them. But they are always welcome to come back to us to give some news, of course. It is very important to keep in contact with targeted candidates because we can exchange some insights about the market. It’s a kind of win-win for long term relationships.

6. How did you first become a headhunter? 

After my studies in finance, I worked as a portfolio manager for a couple of years. But I quickly realized I was not very satisfied, as I prefer talking to people rather than sitting in front of a screen. I have always been curious about headhunting and  I was already quite involved in networking activities since I was a student. Thus a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join her head hunting team in Geneva. It was a bit unexpected but I took the challenge and left Luxembourg to set up a new life in Switzerland.

7. What’s the daily life of a headhunter like? What does your daily schedule look like?

For us, every day is different. We usually spend a lot of time on the phone with candidates or clients. We organize meetings when a client wants to meet with a candidate, then we have to do all the “follow-up,” which means taking feedback from both sides, trying to understand why something didn’t work, or to help the candidate to get ready for the next step until he/she gets the offer. At this stage, we try to advise both sides, in case there are some touchy questions regarding things like salary or other advantages. For us, the most important thing is to keep both sides happy, when they sign and also over the long term. Finding the perfect fit and finally hiring somebody is a long and painful journey, and we really try to work as long term partners for our clients and candidates.

And last but not least, we need to look for new potential clients, and to stay updated about what is going on in the market, who is recruiting or firing, which products or activities are trendy, new regulations, etc.etc. It is key for us to know as much as possible about the market we follow, because we need that to get credibility and to keep the trust of our clients and candidates. As I said above, sharing information and market insight is very important in this job in order to be efficient. And of course we meet people, in our office or outside for an informal lunch or during professional events.

8. Do you discuss candidates and job opportunities with other headhunters? Is there a lot of networking that takes place?

That is a tricky one! I have a few friends doing the same job and usually we mostly share our feelings about the market or some anecdotes about the day to day routine, but we remain competitors, so we never talk in details about clients or candidates.

9. What is your interaction with your client like? Do they prepare a full job description, how much do they inform you about their needs for the position?

It really depends from a client to another. That is the interesting thing about working as a “ partner” in the long term with clients; they really share a lot of insight about their corporate culture and strategy over the years. That is for sure the best working environment we can have, in order to target relevant and suitable candidates. But sometimes clients don’t share so much and we have to be patient and to reach that level of trust, step by step.

10. Any insights on working as a female headhunter, in a traditionally male dominated field?

I guess it is the same in all businesses, we instinctively have a smoother approach and global picture about people. For sure, it’s always easier for a woman to open the door but I would say that keeping a good balance male vs female in a team is very important because we don’t have the same ideas or reactions, so we can complement each others, especially during difficult situations. Nevertheless, this question becomes a really important subject, especially for the banking industry. That is why I am a member of a women’s association, “100 Women in Hedge Funds,” in order to discuss with other professional ladies and to share our views and experiences.

The editorial staff at Vantage Point would like to thank Ms. Choisel for her time, and her valuable insights! Don’t forget to do some research on your recruiter before the first meeting, and remember to stay poised and calm during your first meeting! Take note of these useful tips, readers, and good luck in your next interview with a headhunter!


choiselCéline Choisel graduated from a Business School in Paris before working in Asset Management for a French bank, both in Paris, then in Luxembourg. She finally decided to move into the headhunting business, first in Geneva and now in Zurich. Céline has worked these last three years in recruitment for asset management within the Swiss market and has joined BiermannNeff team to cover Romandie and French speaking areas.



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