How to make the headhunter hate you

  • Reading time:13 mins read

You have of course heard that executive search and recruitment firms find people for jobs, not jobs for people. If you can accept the argument that real clients are those who pay for your services, or customers who pay for your products, then you will also agree that in recruitment, the real clients are the companies who are looking for people and not the job seekers.

Before you start sending me hate mails, I must quickly add that a search firm with clients, but no candidates, is like a nightmare Tom Yum Kung crisis 1997 repeated. We do need you. Believe me, the greatest pleasure we have is when candidate and client connect.

You may remember from one of my previous articles, Why Headhunters Don’t Return Your Call, I apologized for stating that most people have no clue about how executive search firms work. And rightly so, why should they. Oh yes, there was a time where I was on the other side of the table.

So here’s my point. We are all living our careers to the fullest. All of us will change job 5-10 times, so to position yourself correctly and timely, you can help yourself by observing a few simple rules when on the job market. Or commit career suicide by making the headhunter hate you.

Let’s count down the Top 10 faux pas, as they say in French, the top horror violations of broken etiquette rules and social norms in the world of recruitment, which I have experienced in Thailand over these many years.

Dear Bob when my name is Tom

Wrong: Do you too get upset when people call you Sombat when your name is Annan? Or getting an email: Dear Bob when your name is Tom? Does it not show some level of attention or rather lack of attention to details? When someone can’t bother to double check that you address the person correctly, what else does this person get wrong? Probably a lot.

It’s annoying to receive an email and resume which has been sent to a large group of recruitment companies and executive search firms.

Correct: Make sure that you always read your email one more time before hitting enter. Double check that the name after Dear is the right person you intend to contact.

If you wish to forward your personal resume to more than one recruiter, do yourself a favour and send one email at a time. To show a level of integrity and professionalism, personalise the message and use the name of the person who you email.

Resume of too many pages

Wrong: A resume with too many pages will still get max 20 seconds. If that much. Placing personal information and a photo on top of page one, writing about your responsibilities instead of your achievements, including in details what you did 20 years ago, will not help you get that attention. Remember that the purpose of a resume is to get someone to call and invite you for an interview.

Correct: We look at resumes throughout the day and initially try to locate the headlines of current and most recent work experience, the industry you work in, your functional responsibility, perhaps a quick glimpse to see if the education is more than the usual. Use two pages made in a Word document.

Dressed up for Saturday night disco when going to an interview

Wrong: There is a big difference going to the disco Saturday night and attending a job interview. The mini skirt, high heels and red lip stick are all fine at your local dance club. But that’s where it stops.

Correct: Dress up please. To the women, it means no short skirts, no big earrings and rainbow coloured nails. Be careful with too much perfume. To the men, wear a tie and even a jacket if the company is in the business where such dress code is the norm.

Invest in a classy pair of black shoes to underline you are a businessman.

If you must use a hand shake to greet the interviewer instead of a wai, deliver a proper firm hand because a limp or weak can break the first impression. And you may have lost the interview before it even began.

If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail

Wrong: One of the most common openings in an interview is to ask: “what do you know about our company?” If you really have no clue, stand up, apologize for not preparing and ask to be excused. Then leave. You have no chance to save that blunder.

Correct: If you want to be successful in life, prepare, prepare and prepare. This is the key to success. Before attending your interview, please look up the company web site to see where the company comes from, how big they are, what are their products, how long they have been in Thailand.

Before your interview meeting, read your resume a few times to remind yourself what you wrote back then. Print out the resume and bring along for the meeting, place it on the table in front of you. Have an extra paper where you have noted all your questions. Put that on the table as well.

Claim you got an MBA when you actually didn’t

Wrong: It was earlier this year that the internet giant Yahoo’s new CEO falsely claimed a computer science degree on his resume. He didn’t get away with it and was fired. According to research conducted by The Society of Human Resource Managers a few years ago, over 50% of individuals lie about their resume in some way.

Correct: With access to information on the internet, the world is getting smaller, and it’s really easy to conduct reference checks or the more thorough background investigation checks.

If you attended parts of an MBA or other studies, but didn’t graduate, either say what you attended and what not; or leave out the information all together.

Don’t fall for the temptation to beautify your resume. Real search firms will typically outsource the background investigation to companies specialising in this work.  Be warned, we’ll get you.

You forgot to mention that allowance of 25,000

Wrong: We are coming to the Top 5, the worst of them all. At the end of any recruitment process we start negotiating compensation and benefits. The headhunter will usually liaise with both parties as a buffer, just to prevent that there are no hard feelings brought into the employment because of some tough negotiations.

Once you have tabled all details of your current package, it’s a killer in any discussion, suddenly and late in the process, to claim that you forgot to mention the 25,000 Baht allowance you also receive every month. Honestly, we all look stupid in the eyes of the prospect employer who no doubt will see this as a scheme to deceive or outwit them.

To pull this trick out of the hat when the employer has tabled you an offer, makes you look either extremely greedy or your intelligence runs far ahead of your common sense and will get you in trouble.

Correct: When the recruiter or client asks you to give details on your current package, do make sure you get absolutely every big and small amount or benefit on the table.

Ask the recruiter if they have a list of typical bonus types, allowances and benefits. Then use that as a check list when you prepare the compensation.

Merge two jobs into one period and one company name

Wrong: Job hoppers are usually perceived as negative because they have switched jobs too many times. But even so, it’s career suicide to merge two jobs into one by combining the length of the two jobs into one period. And then use one company name and title as a header.

Reference checking and background investigations are made by good recruiters. Not necessarily with the people you have referred.

Correct: With the contracting labour force around the world, the dwindling pool of talent as well as the new emerging Y generation, we will see a more frequent change of jobs than ever before. We all have to get used to job hoppers whether we like it or not.

Say one thing to me and something different to my client

Wrong: Presenting a resume with a current job, talking in the interview with the recruiter as though you are actually still working there. Or even more disturbing, telling the recruiter where you are now working but then at the interview with the possible future employer, suddenly be revealing that you have not been entirely true and in fact you have left that “current” company and are now unemployed.

I still cannot get my head around what anyone would think this strategy is working to their advantage. Hiding facts from the headhunter you want to help you. Showing the client interviewer that you cannot be trusted. Go figure.

Correct: Isn’t this really obvious? Put the cards on the table please. Tell the recruiter if you have already left the last company shown on your resume. Tell us if you have already given your current employer notice to terminate the employment even you may still officially be on their payroll.

Presenting a document with false information, withholding employment details from the recruitment or search firm, will label you as a cheat and liar.

Cancel interview last minute or not showing up at all

Wrong: OK, so we have set you up to meet our client’s CEO, but you call us in the morning to say your boss has asked for an urgent meeting. You can’t go. Never mind that our client CEO is a regional manager who came in the night before from Shanghai just to meet you.

What could be worse than that? Only one thing is more inappropriate and selfish, that of staying away without letting anyone know you do not intend to come for the interview. No-show and totally incomprehensible. And yet it happens.

Correct: Take half a day off from work and focus on the new opportunity. If you are not really taken the interview that serious anyway, then have the courage to tell the recruiter that you are not ready to consider a new job right now. Call it and we will not end up red-faced.

Spare yourself from being blacklisted because you didn’t have the courtesy to let the people know you.

Accepting counter offer from your current employer

Wrong: To the Number 1 mistake that will get the headhunter really hate you. The dreaded counter offer. Here’s the picture:

“Sorry, but I don’t think I can join your client. I know I already signed the employment contract and that I promised I would never change my mind. But you see, my boss has given me a new big important project. He told me I’m the only one in the company who she can trust to lift this sort of responsibility. They are all so nice to me. And she also gave me a new title.”  Me (after he hung up): Aaaaarrrrggghhhh !*$#@#$*!!!

Accepting a counter offer is a shortcut to a career de-tour. As bad as having an affair with the boss. The counter-offer is an insult to your intelligence. You have been bought and it should be a blow to your pride. By resigning you are essentially breaking a trust that you had with your employer. If you take the counteroffer and stay, your company may feel that it owns you. You will be known as the one who caused your employer grief by threatening to quit. You’ll no longer be known as a loyal employee.

Correct: Make it clear when you hand in your notice that you have already committed yourself to join another company. That you have signed a contract and will not entertain any counter offers. You only want to talk about how you can assist with a smooth transition.

Using this script makes it clear to your boss that you are not planning on talking about your decision to leave – but to focus on how to make the last weeks a good transition.

It is also critical that the resignation letter and meeting make no reference to where you are going, what you will be doing there or how much you will be making. The best tactic is the direct to the point approach. Don’t beat around the bush and start a small talk.

Tom Sorensen

Tom Sorensen is an executive search veteran with over 25 years of experience recruiting in Asia, Europe, and Africa. He has worked in executive search in Thailand since 2003 and is recognized as one of the country’s top recruiters and most profiled headhunters.