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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Headhunters: tips for the profession

Have you analysed your professional status and career objectives lately? Do you plan your career in more depth than you plan a holiday? Most people don’t.
What is your attitude to your current employer? Could it be along the lines of ‘I am relatively happy here, I can easily move on if I choose to, I would not have to try very hard’? Or maybe it’s ‘My career is staying here, why change for fear of change? The work is stimulating. I am paid well, treated well, respected by my colleagues. I have plenty of opportunity to take my career exactly where I want it to go.’ If your attitude is the latter, congratulations on your good fortune, there is no need for you to read on! Should your attitude remotely resemble the former then you need to think long and hard about yourself before sitting in front of a potential new employer.

Arrogance vs confidence
Some people may think they are intelligent superstars, having progressed rapidly through the exams, and can wade through the most challenging technical workload, telling everyone how brilliant they are and scoffing at ‘less able’ colleagues. But few employers want to employ arrogance personal qualities inherent in people from all walks of life are as much in demand as hard-won actuarial skills.
For success in recruiting there must be a meeting of minds, with both parties understanding the other’s needs and expectations. It is a complex and intricate process of information gathering, evaluation, risk/
reward analysis, and, most importantly, personality traits must be compatible. Despite the countless methodologies and tools employed in employing, the majority of decisions are made on the ‘gut feeling’ surrounding a person’s abilities and personality. At best it is an imperfect process, and a few tips follow, based on personal experience, to help both employers and prospective employees through the process. (These tips aim to be generic but are based on recruitment experience where a third-party headhunter is involved in the process and candidates are not actively seeking a new role. A different set of criteria and techniques need to be used for applicants actively responding to advertising ie they want to be selected!)

Tips for people being headhunted
‘In my experience the individual who becomes the Most successful in life is not necessarily the smartest or hardest working, though that never hurts! It’s the one who’s the most adept at leveraging their career assessing an opportunity when it presents itself and making a timely career move.’ Steven Finkel Search Industry Guru
Most people are flattered if not a little embarrassed when they receive an unexpected call from a person about an opportunity to enhance their career more rapidly than with their present firm. How do you or would you react to it? Would it be: ‘I’m happy where I am’, ‘I am not looking at the moment’, or ‘I am too busy to think about it’?
Busy people are rarely prepared for a call like this out of the blue, as they have that report to do or are preparing for a meeting assessing and considering their career is probably furthest from their mind. But instead of reacting hastily just to get off the phone, try to recall the following when you do get ‘called up’.

Be in proper decision-making mode
The decisions you make in your profession follow a certain process. First, gathering all the available information, then processing it in your mind, and finally coming to a decision. You don’t go straight to step three without one and two in your profession so don’t do it in your career.
The main resistance factor in reluctant recruits is a fear of change and the comfort zone of the existing environment. We have also found that many people in the actuarial profession have a very high tolerance for negative factors in the workplace and will allow them to persist for anything up to 18 months or more before doing anything about it. When you do decide to look at an alternative career path, make sure you understand your frame of mind; it depends on whether you have been proactive or reactive to the opportunity, if you are currently happy and settled, or feeling overworked and undervalued. These thoughts could manifest themselves as positives and negatives to an experienced interviewer, as they will communicate your attitude as well as personality and abilities.

Interview technique
If you do decide to look around, think carefully about how you will present yourself at interview. Of course you will be asking yourself ‘what can this company do for my career?’ but you should also answer the question in the interviewer’s mind: ‘what can this person do for my company?’
You should be sensitive to the impression you leave the interviewer with if you project negative factors in your current situation, eg fear of change can be interpreted as a disinterest in new environments. Explaining the negative factors in your current situation after tolerating them for 18 months could either be interpreted as staying power or as a lack of assertiveness.
If you are happy and successful where you are, but open-minded to a career move, you will naturally be more relaxed and confident in the knowledge that a move is not essential to you. In this situation be careful not to appear disinterested or arrogant; the company may have excellent career opportunities and you could miss out on a great chance. It is far better to get to offer stage, even if you turn down after fully considering the opportunity, as you are more likely to leave the door open for when your circumstances do change in the future.
Social skills and personality are so important to many companies that they will overlook, say, slower progress through the exams (which can be addressed with technique). Projecting your true personality and skills may be difficult under interview conditions, but you must try to be yourself. The interview is not a test; your credentials will have already been assessed beforehand. The interviewer will simply be assessing whether you as a person could work within the team, culture, and company environment.
No matter what the interviewer’s format and criteria are for the interview, they will almost certainly be spending most of their time building up the impression they have made of you during the first 30 to 50 seconds. A smart appearance, direct eye contact, a firm handshake, a smile! These are all positive ‘scene setters’. Sit comfortably, have notes and questions ready, conduct yourself in a conversational manner. The interviewer will want to guide the meeting with questions but will want you to do most of the talking. Do not be afraid to interject with relevant comments or anecdotes to show your understanding and to illustrate an answer. This will make you both interesting and interested, and will bring through your qualities more naturally.

Tips for employers the headhunted candidate
In the current market, and for the foreseeable future, employers are increasingly using professional search consultants as a direct method of finding suitably talented staff. But do employers fully understand the difference between recruiting a headhunted candidate and an applicant responding to an advertisement?
Broadly speaking, applicants want to be selected and need to sell their skills to the employer whose need is to buy the resources of its selected applicant. Generally, applicants will be unemployed, unhappy where they are, or wanting to stretch themselves into a more demanding position. The employer will subsequently take on the best of the unemployed, the best of the unhappy, or the best of the unqualified. By contrast, headhunted candidates are more difficult to recruit; they are not usually actively seeking a career move, are probably happy, and settled in their present role and doing well. The aim is to encourage them to become open-minded to a career change based on their achievements and accomplishments, thereby qualifying them for a specific role prior to interview.
This is much more a sell-sell than buy-sell situation for the employer and requires an extra dimension to the recruiting process that of selling to the candidate. Employers not able or willing to sell the benefits of working for their company as an integral part of the recruiting process, particularly with headhunted candidates, are missing out on some of the most highly accomplished and productive talent in the marketplace.
As the demographic profile of the working population continues to increase the demand for professional skills, one of the most important steps to take in attracting and retaining the best talent is to define HR not just in the corporate sense ‘human resources’ but also as ‘human relations’.