What makes a good headhunter?  Well, three words came to mind: curiosity; tenacity; and honesty.  Let me explain each of them.

Curiosity. We ask questions about what the client needs (as opposed to wants), what the candidate can and can’t do.

If they fit the client, is the candidate misleading about the CV? We ask about the job, the organisation – its culture, style, reputation and so on. We explore the reporting line, working team (if any), responsibilities, opportunities for promotion and career growth, travel expectations, stakeholders, etc.

We distill the information down to perhaps five essentials, without which a candidate won’t be considered. Then our process takes over where we assess all candidates out there against the brief, interview the most promising people and deliver a shortlist.

We usually end up with a handful of interested and qualified (important word there) candidates from which to make our choice. 

I say qualified as, although most people rate themselves very highly, in truth only the top few per cent are in the top few per cent. The rest of us are the general workforce. It’s always good to know how good you really are!

Tenacity kicks in when we hear that magic word, “no”.  “No, I’m not interested in a move; No, I don’t care if your client has great career prospects; No, I don’t want to leave my job.” 

We hear that word one-hundred times a day. Everybody has a story and is somewhere on their life journey. Our challenge is to find those who are open to our siren song and respond positively. 

To do that, as I’ve said before, we have to kiss a lot of frogs to find our prince/ss.  Just because quality people aren’t open to us right now doesn’t make them a bad candidate, or count them out of the running forever.

Honesty is paramount. Part of our job is managing information, the interface between employers and candidates and, of course, we want to close the position, but we can’t do that without honesty.

Changing jobs is not to be done without deliberation, and it’s incumbent upon us to treat the candidates with respect – they are making a big decision.

Similarly, clients don’t just offer jobs to someone because they like them, or feel sorry for them. They do it because they think that person can move the organisation forward.

It’s vital that we play our part, setting expectations honestly and clearly on both sides. It will only end badly if we don’t. If we don’t assess people honestly it could go wrong.

Finally, because we are retained we don’t mind WHO gets the job – we know that one of our candidates will, so we don’t have to play favourites with them or influence the client.

We just want them to hire the best candidate out of the highly-qualified and interested selection we have provided. Simple, right?

As usual, if you have any ideas or questions for this column, let me know.

Gary Woollacott is an executive search consultant who works for Horton International in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. He can be reached at +84 8 3910 7682 or via oollacott@hortoninternational.com .