Do headhunters use LinkedIn for senior people?

16 May 2016 By Northern Lights

Do headhunters use LinkedIn for senior people? image

scott hutchinson - LinkedIn

Senior people are still sceptical about the value of LinkedIn – yet are looking for their next chair, non-exec or board position.  So here we asked Scott Hutchinson, a performance coach and career trainer, to explain how LinkedIn is used by headhunters.

How do headhunters find people?  And more to the point, is it important/relevant for chief exec, chair and board positions generally?

These were the questions posed to me when asked to compile this piece. I’ve spent 21 years in senior recruitment – alongside my coaching and training – so I suppose I am as qualified as anyone to answer it. But in order to answer it, let’s go back a bit…

In the beginning (1994 for me) there were filing cabinets. A huge office with filing cabinets pinned to the walls, in possibly the drabbest colours known to humanity. Brown. British Racing Green. British Racing Beige. Grey. Greyer. Filing cabinets are still this colour. (Note to filing cabinet makers – why not have a collaboration with Emma Bridgewater or Paul Smith or …anyone).


Fast forward to 2015 – the first thing the new boss said upon arriving in a world-class executive search business I was working in was “this database is an absolute flipping state”. Or words to that effect.  It had 85,000 records on it. I smiled and remembered my own database had about 45,000 on it or (in other words) about 40,000 too many.

Recruiters have given up selling the size of their database now. Clients are wise to it. They realise a database of a million candidates actually means nothing (apart from a headache for the team trying to manage it). The problem with a recruitment database is that it’s out of date every day. Making it look pretty is like painting the Humber Bridge. As soon as you’ve finished you have to start again.  People move on, people die, people retire, people (wait for it) get new jobs. You are reliant upon everyone putting the right codes in. Codes that are largely becoming obsolete, replaced by keywords – the words that describe who you are, what you do and why it’s useful –  and enable you to be found online or on recruiter databases.  (If you want to understand more about keywords and getting to the top of Google, read this blog on Think Like a Search Engine – just apply the principles to you as an individual.  And remember LinkedIn is a search engine).

If we sneak into any major recruiters and peak at their database, I would guarantee you we will find a huge out-of-date mess. Some recruiters may well challenge me on this: “Our database is perfect” they will say “everyone puts everything on it correctly”. That may certainly be true. This week. Like all politician’s careers eventually end in failure, all recruitment databases eventually end in chaos.

As soon as LinkedIn gained real traction a few years ago it quickly became one of the first ports of call for most headhunters (and their researchers) who had mandates to find senior candidates that were out of their immediate network of say, one hundred individuals. This is key – most headhunters or interim providers will have around one hundred people on a call cycle that they keep in touch with. When a role comes in, it’s perfectly natural that this list will be the first port of call. Once exhausted, then it’s briefing the research team or looking themselves. Many recruitment databases have “hotlists” – like a database within a database – where great candidates are stored and easy to find. After this, it’s almost certainly going to mean a visit to LinkedIn.

And for the most senior positions, of course these get passed to the research teams.  Where do you think they are doing their research?  Yup, Google and LinkedIn – plus talking to others in the industry.  But the starting point is nearly always online search.

A typical search now will comprise doing an “advanced search” into LinkedIn and putting Keywords into the search engine. Keywords are words or phrases that are used to match your skills and experience with the terms that people are searching for when they are looking to hire.

When I did a keyword search recently in realtime, during one of the career workshops I was running, one of the delegates actually yelped with delight when I found him almost immediately, despite not even being a second degree connection. He looked really surprised. As if I’d performed alchemy/witchcraft, rather than just use the platform for what it was designed for.

Because we still have social media deniers out there. They come on my workshops, fold their arms and proudly say “I’m on the LinkedIn but don’t really use it”. Do you know who these people sound like?  They sound like the people in the 1930s who said they would never have a telephone, the people in the 1960s who would never have a television and the people in the 1990s who would never have a mobile.

As Alison Chesson says in her blog on LinkedIn (which I am delighted to see, confirms my views here) “I’m continuously surprised that so many people still don’t use LinkedIn effectively. In fact, I find that many active candidates don’t even have a LinkedIn profile.”

LinkedIn is the most powerful business tool in the world. Its main use (according to their data) is “Talent Solutions” ie Recruitment. Almost every working professional in the UK is on it.  This is why, irrespective of how senior you are, you should take time and care to get your LinkedIn profile looking good. What do you think the first thing a CEO is going to do the moment they receive your CV? Even traditional chairmen recruiting a chief exec or a non-exec position are increasingly likely to go on LinkedIn. That’s right. They are going to Google you or look you up on LinkedIn. I know this to be true because of two reasons.

1. The amount of people hiring who casually say “yes I got their CV and I’ve had a look at their profile”

2. The amount of candidates who say “X was all over my LinkedIn profile last night” Where “X” is the hiring manager, the chief exec or the chair of the company we’ve submitted the CV to.

And have you noticed that if you search for an individual on Google, their LinkedIn profile is nearly always at the top or near the top for that person?  That’s because LinkedIn is such a powerful search engine, it is figuring top of Google’s searches.

If your profile doesn’t look good, it’s already subconsciously creating doubt. Doubt is the enemy of hiring. I am a huge fan of marginal gains theory – the philosophy utilised by Sir Dave Brailsford and Sir Clive Woodward that celebrated the tiny incremental improvements necessary to become successful. Woodward believed that if his teams did 100 things 1% better they would become 100% better. As in sport, so in business.

So how do you get found by executive searchers in 2016? There isn’t one thing that will improve your chances of being found for your dream role, but having a great LinkedIn profile will certainly be a significant marginal gain and more than a step in the right direction.  Think carefully about what a headhunter will do their search on – ‘FTSE, FD, high-tech’ or ‘chairman, retail, digital, exit strategy’.  These sorts of words are what you need to include in your professional headline (no, it’s not just for your job title) and in your Summary.  More tips here on how to write directors’ LinkedIn profiles.

And even if you are not looking to be headhunted, but want to be found for your expertise as a speaker or for a key piece of business – LinkedIn is your tool.

Filing cabinets, grey or otherwise, are old hat.  Google and LinkedIn are now the key business search tools.






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Written by Northern Lights

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