In the heart of Oxford, opposite William Butterfield’s rather imposingly designed Keble College, lies University Museum. And tucked away behind the dinosaurs and arthropods, in a dimly lit cavern, you will find the magnificent Pitt Rivers collection.
Arranged topologically in the court, surrounded by cabinets of anthropological delights from around the world, are the shrunken heads. The indigenous people of South America believed that through headhunting and making tsantas from their fallen enemies, they would capture their spirits and skills to protect their tribe.
Dealing with headhunters is a tricky business. Not the Ecuadorian kind, the be-suited professional ones that lop the heads off corporations by recruiting their best staff to up-skill other businesses.
When you are in work headhunters court you. They invite you to coffee, to a tête-à-tête to measure you up. They listen to your career story, purr at your successes and talk about the world of possibilities were you to change roles.
Having five or six headhunters briefed on my profile should keep me in the game for the unadvertised vacancies. But it is different when you approach headhunters to be decapitated after losing your job.
Of course there are the few that are in it for the long-term. Happy to plant acorns, they listen to your leaving story, give advice on what to say, maybe invite you to a video conference therapy session with a clutch of other puppy dog, hopeful jobseekers.
Some just don’t get you. Martin, a dour Ulster headhunter I know, refuses to see any virtues in my last employer. He just sees a failing business dominated by its past.
He doesn’t get the heroism, skill, tenacity and resilience in those who dare to try to turn around a business like that. All he sees is a failing company that isn’t fintech or DTC. He’ll never represent me as a potential candidate. Move on.
Others are pragmatic: difficult market, few roles at your level, slow process. Cheerfully, they nudge you towards their interim practice. But even there, the talk is deflation in day rates – although not, I hasten to add, deflation in their 30% margin. Still, most of us will have to be pragmatic. Interim may be the only option.
The rest (and it is the vast majority) simply don’t bother to return calls or emails. It is amazing the wreckage of relationships you find on the beach when the tide of your career goes out.
I’ve known some of these recruiters for years. Always in touch with an opportunity or after a referral. Sometimes pitching candidates. They are the worse kind of headhunter: indiscriminate, disloyal, and transactional. I shan’t be offering my head up to them as a trophy.