Rachel, how do I find a headhunter?
The right media recruiter will save you loads
December 15, 2005
Like many media directors, I’m looking for a good mid-level planner. This is a hard position to fill, and I’m not having any luck through the usual channels. I’m considering using a headhunter for the first time, but I wanted some advice. Where do I look for one that specializes in media? How can I tell if they are trustworthy? Can they be helpful for a small agency in a medium-sized city like mine?–Planned Out
Mid-level talent is the hardest to find. After the economic downturn post Sept-11, when so many ad budgets were slashed, many media department people, especially junior-level staff, were laid off and forced to leave media for other lines of work. The result, these years later, is a dearth of qualified talent in the middle.
So using a headhunter is probably a good choice. At the least, it could save you months of looking on your own, and you could very well end up with a far more qualified hire.
That being said, many small-and mid-sized agencies don’t. “We have not had to use a headhunter in many years due to a great network in place–friends and co-workers past and present,” one media veteran at a mid-size agency tells me. “You could say we’ve been fortunate to have a solid network.”
But why not make a headhunter part of that network? They can do for you the same thing they do for large firms, find you great talent and in the process keep you up to date on much that goes on in media.
And keep in mind, the more specific the job description, the more you are likely to need one. They are most valuable when it comes to filling that one very special position.
In your search for a good headhunter, Shannon Batson, recruiting manager for GSD&M in Austin, advises starting with recruiting firms that are media specialists. Try Googling “media planner, recruiter.” And don’t neglect online classifieds. Look at media postings. Many list a third-party recruiter as the contact. Also, try contacting media directors at other agencies for a recommendation.
“Once you have some names of media recruiters, you will need to check references. Ask the headhunter for a recent client where they have made a successful placement, and ask if you could speak to that client,” Batson says. “Most reputable recruiters have close, trusting relationships with their clients, and would have no problem asking them for a reference.”
And don’t forget to rely on your own instincts. Check your comfort level with the recruiter in conversations and emails. If she asks about your agency and its needs, that’s a good sign.
If instead you’re getting a lot of hard-sell, if you sense the recruiter is just anxious to turn a fast buck, end it right there. Selling is an important part of what recruiters do, but they should be selling themselves, as all good sales people do.
Barbara Rodgers, senior vice president and director of media operations for GSD&M, says it is very important that you are honest in how you represent yourself and your agency to the headhunter.
“If you truly want good candidates, you’ve got to be open,” Rodgers says. “We are in Austin, so that is attractive. But if you are somewhere less appealing, be forthright about the environment and about what you are willing to pay.”
The going rate for a recruiter for a mid-level position is 20 percent of the first year’s salary, due between 30 to 90 days after hire, Batson says. For an extremely difficult search, a small retainer may be required as well (no more than a third of what the net fee would be), which should then be applied to the fee after the search is successful.
An important part of the process is having a signed contract in place before moving forward with a recruiter. And remember, a contract is always a two-way agreement. The headhunter will have his or hers already done up and printed. You need to have your version. Between the two, a contract that works for both sides will emerge.
You may be able to find a boilerplate agreement online, which you can customize to your needs. Or try calling other agencies to see what sort of terms they include in theirs.
“I think most agencies will be fairly open and helpful about that, and at least give you general details,” says one agency HR coordinator.
Remember, and this is most important, when it comes to taking on a recruiter you’re looking to build a long-term relationship, not just to fill a job slot. What you’re getting, provided you make the right choice, is a lot more value for the fees you end up paying through the years. If you make the wrong choice, you’re going to have a passel of headaches.
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