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HUMAN RESOURCES

The headhunter's survival guide

When I am at business cocktails or receptions and I introduce myself as a headhunter I generally meet with three types of reaction. One is that of an angry manager who does not like headhunters, probably because they blame the headhunter for losing good employees. Another reaction is of managers who are interested in learning more about potential job offers for themselves. The third is from the manager who needs key people and is interested in learning more about our services.
Is it right to blame the headhunter when your people are leaving the company? Does a headhunter have such a strong influence on individuals that they quit their job and start somewhere else? I do not think so.
The applicants we offer jobs change company of their own free will and there is no manipulation or pressure from our side whatsoever. The most frequent reasons that applicants change are:


Gerard Koolen

When I am at business cocktails or receptions and I introduce myself as a headhunter I generally meet with three types of reaction. One is that of an angry manager who does not like headhunters, probably because they blame the headhunter for losing good employees. Another reaction is of managers who are interested in learning more about potential job offers for themselves. The third is from the manager who needs key people and is interested in learning more about our services.

Is it right to blame the headhunter when your people are leaving the company? Does a headhunter have such a strong influence on individuals that they quit their job and start somewhere else? I do not think so.

The applicants we offer jobs change company of their own free will and there is no manipulation or pressure from our side whatsoever. The most frequent reasons that applicants change are:

1. No clear possibilities for future growth, both personal and career wise. If there is no clear communication with your ambitious high-potential staff and if you do not create enough challenges for them they leave (and headhunters locate them).

2. Unrewarding salaries. Many companies pay their loyal key people below market-level salaries. Close to Bratislava a foreign production company pays its key managers about 30-40% below labour-market value. The result is that their managers are constantly challenged to change employer and they will, sooner or later.

3. Relocating. Many qualified people work in Bratislava and other big cities and are ready to move back to their hometown the moment they find a suitable job there.

4. Problems with company management. Because of weak communication skills among managers their subordinates often feel attacked, ignored and undervalued. Further, many employees notice poor behavior among their direct management and when corrective action is not taken by top-management your best people are the first to leave your company.

When people are unsatisfied they are open to job offers and headhunters are a great source for ambitious and talented people.

Another reaction my title produces is that many ambitious people address me with questions about other job offers and the overall level of salaries. Can you blame your ambitious people for being curious? No. Constant benchmarking in an information era is unavoidable and necessary. It is a matter of survival. The labour market is a competitive market and if you, as an employer, ignore the conditions of that market you are bound to lose your best people. You can be sure that your employees will find out about salaries and other positions on the labour market as easily as you can (through salary benchmarking reports).

But, being an employer, you might feel the necessity to close your company against aggressive headhunters trying to contact your people. Well... here are some tips:

1. Instruct your telephone operators, secretaries and everybody else answering external calls not to connect unidentified callers to colleagues without knowing a name, company name and the reason for the call. Do not connect if a stranger calls and asks: "Can you connect me with your production manager? Oh, and by the way... what is his or her name?"

2. Do not invite headhunters into your office. Meet them on neutral territory. This way you prevent them learning more about the internal matters at your company.

3. Create open communication lines with your people and inform and prepare them about the possibility of their being contacted by headhunters. This way you will get immediate feedback when this happens and you are able to react before it's too late.

4. If your company is in a restructuring process i.e. a new general manager is coming, a takeover or joint venture is on its way - these are all reasons your people start worrying about their future at the company. Many top-managers in these situations fail to communicate in an open way, increasing the worries. This often results in top people leaving.

The very best way to prevent your key-people from running away is to keep them satisfied. As long as you offer competitive salaries, fair management, training, challenges and positive career support they will stay.


Gerard Koolen is a partner at Lugera & Maklér. His column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to gerard.koolen@lugera.com.

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