How to be the next head that is hunted

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The Independent Online
A HIGH proportion of senior management vacancies today are not advertised but are put into the hands of selection consultants. These "headhunters" seldom welcome unsolicited CVs. So how does one get onto their list of potential candidates for a given vacancy?

Some consultants specialise in a particular market sector, and network widely in order to get to know all the key players - personally or by reputation. Most employ "researchers" who produce an initial hit list of possibles by telephoning people in the relevant market sector and asking who might meet the criteria for that particular vacancy.

In theory, if you are really good at your job, your reputation should be widely known in the relevant circles. But in practice this is seldom true. You also need to be "visible". People have already been warned to expect a portfolio career and to develop constantly their employability. It is equally sensible to ensure that you are known within your job's market.

Networking is obviously vital. Forging professional links with colleagues in the same and related fields keeps one abreast of trends and so is important to the process of lifelong learning. But in terms of visibility, it is also important to be seen as a source of reliable information, advice and assistance - not just as a recipient. And to prove your competence in your field you need to ensure that the information and advice you give is sound and that any help offered is delivered fully and on time. Networking colleagues should be treated as carefully as clients.

Conferences relating to one's specialist field or industry are a fruitful place to network. Moreover, you sometimes get an opportunity to show some aspect of your expertise by asking an intelligent question or making a brief pertinent comment from the floor. As chairmen normally ask questioners to give their names and organisation, this can be useful self-promotion among your peers.

If a member of a professional institution, or a relevant learned society, take a reasonably active part in its activities. Many specialist headhunters are active members of such bodies and use them as a source of recommendations and candidates.

Professional meetings are good occasions for networking, so increasing both your knowledge and your visibility. If you go to meetings regularly, and make occasional well-judged contributions from the floor, you may soon find yourself on a sub-committee. Do well, and you will progress to other more important committees. If you can, join one dealing with technical developments, issues of change, strategic planning, professional education and development, or professional standards. You want somewhere to demonstrate your expertise.

Strong trade or industry associations can provide similar opportunities for networking as well as keeping up-to-date with current trends. Although perhaps not as influential as a professional or learned body in career visibility terms, being on a representative body suggests that you have some standing in your sphere. However, avoid getting caught in internal politics - otherwise you will alienate at least as many as you impress.

You might be invited to lecture - by a management training body, business school, learned society or professional body. If you have good presentation skills, the subject relates to your career interests, and your audience is drawn from a relevant group, accept. But having done so, prepare well and ensure that any materials you use are of high quality.

Management, professional and technical journals are widely read by consultants. Usually they are also short of good material from practising managers in the field. You may be invited to write an article out of the blue, but this seldom happens. But if you submit a good original article idea, and appear to be both expert and reasonably literate, your suggestion is likely to be welcomed.

But do not waste time in writing an article and sending it to an editor. The chances of publication are negligible. Your best chance is to write a letter to the features editor with a 50-100 word synopsis outlining an article idea.

Managers with good editorial ideas are scarce. Consequently they may sometimes be invited to join the "editorial board". The duties are usually negligible (attending between one and four editorial meetings a year) but your name appears on the list of the great and good published in every issue.

All these activities can help to make search consultants aware of your existence. But do not overdo it. Overexpose yourself and you will be seen as a dilettante rather than a competent professional.