Tips for Your Next Headhunter Interview

Informed, Motivated, and Engaged – Tips for Your Next Headhunter Interview

In a meeting with a headhunter, would you hungrily wolf down a sloppy sandwich? Or back him into a corner by demanding to know, “How did you find me?” This is no way to make a first impression. On the other hand, if you enter the interview well informed about the position and the company in question, and pose relevant questions to the headhunter, this will count in your favor. Today, we spoke with Dr. Thomas K. Heiden, of the recruiting firm heiden associates, recently recognized by Focus Magazine. Read on to learn how you can best prepare yourself for an interview with a headhunter. With these tips for your next headhunter interview, you’ll score points and get an edge on your competition.

Tips for Your Next Headhunter Interview

1. You’ve compared the search for the right candidate to looking for a needle in a haystack. How do you find the best candidates for a company?

The “ideal candidate” is different for every company and every position. Our experience shows that a detailed briefing with each client is essential. Oftentimes, the company’s HR leader has already gone through the first round of hiring and compiled a list of all of the technical and social competencies that they require in a candidate.

This means that most companies require their candidates to fulfill a two-digit list of corporate and personal characteristics – most of the times, traits on this list are contradictory. To find an assertive, decisive and goal oriented leader who is also team-oriented with great social skills can be very difficult. The goal of this briefing is to work with the client to create a focused requirement profile.

2. Do you Google candidates before meeting them? How important is online presence for you?

A Google search gives us the chance to get an overview of the candidate, besides what’s already shown in the cover letter and resume. In addition to a candidate’s social media presence, we also get a lot of background information from Google about the candidate’s environment, like references, or club activities, etc. A professional influence in social media can positively influence a candidate’s profile, photos posted at 2:30 am from the last beach party usually don’t.

3. For a candidate’s portfolio (resume, CV, etc), what do you pay special attention to?

In a nutshell:it’s important that a candidate’s documents answer the relevant questions about their fit to the job description for our mandate. This means that the candidate should clearly communicate his goals and expectations in his cover letter, and explain why this position piqued his interest, and naturally, why he’s qualified for the job. Concrete questions that have been posed in the job description should also be clearly answered, questions like salary expectations, starting date, and the willingness to relocate.

Often times the applicant wonders why questions about things like salary expectation should be concretely answered in a cover letter, and not in an interview. We find that a good applicant should know his market value, and be able to name it clearly. There are countless sources of information available on the internet that can provide valuable insights. [Editor’s note: with the Experteer Salary Calculator, you can determine your market value – fast and simple.]

4. What tips would you give a candidate who wants to prepare for an interview with a headhunter?

Most headhunters require at least two interviews. In the first short interview, it’s mostly about getting an impression of the applicant, and clarifying important details. Normally, the first interview will either be conducted via telephone or – like we do – with Skype. As an applicant, make sure to secure a reliable functioning telephone or computer, and a quiet place before the interview! Besides this, candidates should be familiar with the job description, they should know their resume well, and they should be able to confidently explain what motivated them to apply and why they’re qualified for this position.

At heiden associates, the second interview round is conducted at our office, with the ten most promising candidates. The applicant must solve a case study in advance, one supplied by the client. Then we discuss and analyze how each candidate would tackle this challenge, they must present their solution to us, and explain their reasoning. Through this, we have a very good method of comparing our candidates.

5. What’s the biggest mistake a candidate has ever made in an interview?

The biggest mistake that a candidate has ever made was not in an interview with me, but rather the closing dinner with their future employer. Apparently, the candidate drank five bottles of beer, and an entire bottle of wine – on his own. He was so thrilled and excited about his new job that he got into a “party mood,” but he should have avoided the excessive alcohol consumption. This is extremely unprofessional, and leads to lots of unnecessary questions.

6. How can a candidate get in touch with a headhunter?

The medium itself doesn’t matter so much, in my opinion, but what’s important is the occasion. Ideally, the approach should be in regards to a concrete job opening, a recommendation from a third party, or a desire to receive career coaching.

What bothers me the most is when a candidate calls in reference to a job opening, then starts turning the conversation into an unrelated direction… “I don’t know if I should really apply, maybe you can give me a few tips?” The first phone call decides what kind of impression you’ll be leaving on a headhunter throughout the entire process.

7. What do you pay attention to during the first meeting with a candidate?

“There’s no second chance at a first impression.” This old cliche still rings true in the professional field of recruiters. It starts with appropriate clothing. For a senior executive in a start-up company, then a button-down shirt, jeans and a jacket are okay. But for a management position in sales for a mid-sized auto supplier, a dark suit, shirt, and an elegant tie are standard.

I always look at the shoes of an applicant. Do they match the suit, and are they polished? What do the body language and gestures of the person say? Do they have good posture, how does the candidate present himself, are they eloquent?

But what’s very important is the question of whether the candidate has informed herself about the potential future employer before the interview – for a sales position, for example, one should incorporate pertinent market topics into the conversation. For a financial position, they should share their perspective on the last three financial reports of the company. Based simply on the questions that a candidate raises in our conversation, I can learn a great deal. For example, I can recognize their motivations and strengths, as well as their ability to integrate into new markets and industries.

8. What questions should a candidate never ask during an interview?

A classic question that young applicants like to ask recruiters in the first discussion is, “How did you find me?” A  professional researcher doesn’t approach candidates randomly. He carries out extensive research through social media, targeted discussions with clients and experts in the network, and gets leads and recommendations on potential candidates. Most of the time the referents like to stay anonymous.

For this reason, the question, “How did you find me?” is very problematic. It would be extremely unprofessional for a recruiter to name the person who referred the candidate. I believe that candidates like to feel valued – after all, they were recommended because of their professional success, and through this, they’ve attracted the attention of a headhunter.

9. Can you name a time when a candidate really impressed you?

I’ve been impressed by lifestyles more often than concrete situations. People who weren’t born with a massive stock portfolio or an important name, but have still made a huge career for themselves. People who have overcome critical situations, learned their lesson, and successfully moved forward in their career – these people amaze me.

Many thanks for this insightful interview, Dr. Heiden. Dear readers, hopefully now you’ve learned some more insights on how to earn points with headhunters. Take these tips to heart – then you’ll succeed in taking the next step in your career.

About heiden associates

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Dr. Thomas K. Heiden and his colleagues from heiden associates (Berlin / Dortmund / Stuttgart /Wiesbaden) support tech companies (from startups to midsized companies) with executive search, management audits, leadership development, and coaching. Heiden developed a Teamfit Analysis which considers a team’s environment, when reaching inform personnel decisions. After Heiden finished his studies in air and space technology, he worked for McKinsey as a consultant, then took several management positions in the telecommunications field before he switched to the venture capital industry. In 2003, he founded heiden associates and has since continued to expand his recruiting. In April 2015, heiden associates was named to the Top 10 Recruiting firms in German, in the Executive Search category, in Focus Magazine. For more information about heiden associates, click here.



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