Put your head over the parapet to get in the sights of headhunters


One of the quickest ways of getting noticed is by becoming active on social media and networking sites.

One of the quickest ways of getting noticed is by becoming active on social media and networking sites.


Executive search companies are in the business of finding people, so they’re supposed to know who the movers and shakers are about town. But what if your company is not “in town” or you’re working abroad? The answer, the headhunters say, is to make yourself known.

There are various ways of doing this, from the blatant to the discreet. Right up there among the most attention-grabbing is renting a public hoarding to announce you’re available. In 2011, for example, “Jobless Paddy” aka Féilim Mac An Iomaire, forked out €2,000 to rent a billboard on Dublin’s Merrion Road with the tag line “Save me from emigration”. The initiative landed him a reported 20 interviews and five job offers, including one with Paddy Power.

However, as most senior managers are headhunted from existing jobs, this might be a problematic stunt to pull off.

One of the fastest ways of getting noticed is by becoming active on social media and networking sites. However, before you start, do a little housekeeping. Headhunters are likely to search your digital history as well as your formal references so make sure any content or photos you’re going to leave up cast you in a good light.

Be circumspect

Start by reviewing what’s out there about yourself on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter primarily – most potential senior hires are not expected to be active on platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat – and erase anything that could be seen as unprofessional. Become circumspect about what you tweet and post, particularly if your views are strong and could create bias.

Start linking your activity more directly into the networks and sectors relevant to the type of job you want. For example, if you’re a HR manager looking for a HR director’s role, join a HR-related group and post, share and like actively within it. Find a group that’s aimed a level or two above your current position as they are the people with the hiring power and where you want to be noticed.

You also need to become pro-active with your online profile, which means regularly updating, adding and changing things. For example, share on themes related to your job or sector to show you’re on point with the latest thinking and invest some time in agreeing, disagreeing or commenting.

It’s also worth authoring some posts of your own, especially if you have good insights or good experience to share.

Headhunters visit these groups and if you’re “a regular” you will be seen. Other ways to raise your profile include accepting opportunities to speak, organising events, joining professional groups and becoming active on their committees – especially those interacting with the outside world, determining strategy or leading the organisation forward.

Make sure you post or tweet about any awards or promotions you receive and send the details to relevant trade or professional sites/publications.    

If turning virtual somersaults on social media doesn’t get you noticed, Mark O’Donnell, a partner in the Dublin offices of the international executive search company Odgers Berndston, offers an easier starting point. “Lift the phone, as we will always take a call,” he says. “We get around 80 unsolicited CVs a month so it’s impossible to meet all the people behind them, but we will spend 15 or 20, minutes on the phone to put someone on our radar.”

O’Donnell says it’s important to have clarity around the message you want to get across, whether you’re trying to catch a headhunter’s attention by email, at a meeting or with an introductory phone call.

“By all means do the social chit-chat bit but have a clear idea of what you want. You need to be able to communicate what you are – a senior executive in financial PR, for example – and what you want – a job in investor relations,” O’Donnell says. 

Manners and tone

It might seem obvious, but mind your manners and your tone. “Bear in mind, whether we call you or vice versa, the assessment process starts from the very first point of contact. If someone is arrogant or offhand or rude, then that’s the impression that can stick,” says O’Donnell. Likely to turn a headhunter right off, he adds, is the person who assumes that because they are in a senior position and have achieved a lot in their career they are somehow entitled to a meeting.

“If I don’t have an opening for a VP of engineering, for example, I’m happy to chat on the phone but not to go to a meeting because it’s unlikely to be productive. People need to be courteous around respecting a headhunter’s time. We are paid by our clients, not by candidates, so that’s our focus.”

Headhunters often specialise, so do your research and approach the ones that look to be most active in your sector. CVs sent to headhunters typically go “on file” and stay there until a job comes up and they start searching their database. This is where a well-focused CV is likely to “pop” faster than one that’s too general. This may mean leaving things out or creating a second resumé with a different emphasis.

A great deal of living happens online these days, but there is still no substitute for getting out and about, especially in a small country like Ireland where it’s easy to network. Headhunters rely on their contacts for leads on potential talent, so if you are active in several business networks that increases the possibility that you will either meet a headhunter directly or get to know someone who knows one.

Previously published in The Irish Times.


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