Why Companies Block Recruiter Calls and Emails
Companies block recruiter calls and emails to prevent headhunters from poaching talent. The puppetmaster impulse is understandable. Most enterprises invest a small fortune to recruit, train, and onboard senior executives and technologists. In fact, it may cost a company in excess of $100-thousand in search firm fees just to get a senior executive in the door. Moreover, company fortunes are made by that talent. The very best CEOs spot the blue sky, set the strategy, and lead companies to massive multi-billion dollar valuations. Chief Revenue Officers capture millions in sales. Chief Technology Officers and Chief Architects deliver technologies and devices that create markets where none existed before. That’s why we call it human capital. Attempting to protect one’s investment seems a reasonable thing to do. In a Machiavellian eat-or-be-eaten business world, losing a key executive or genius technologist to a competitor can do serious damage to a company’s bottom line. In some circumstances, it can take a company down. So, it is no wonder companies try to hang on as long as possible to the best talent that they have.
Only thing is employers don’t own you: they can’t.
One way companies try to own top executives and engineers is by cutting off recruiter access. They block recruiter calls. They instruct switchboard operators to heavily screen and refuse to forward calls to a prospective candidate’s extension. Some companies monitor emails and set up filters to keep recruiter email from landing in executive inboxes. In fact, some corporations go to great lengths to wall off every mode of communication with their employees. While recruiters have ways of reaching out through other means to ensure discretion — in fact, we prefer it — sometimes that doesn’t work. Prospective candidates don’t always check their social media inboxes. They may ignore texts from people they don’t know. Cell phone voice mail may be turned off or full. So if those target candidates also have employers who block recruiter calls and emails, those people are out of luck. The better opportunity passes them by.
Cutting off communications is what cults and abusive partners do.
After cutting off communications, the next thing controlling companies do is keep talent hidden under a bushel. Some refuse to feature executives on their website, in press releases, or otherwise, make them discoverable on the Internet. Others don’t give leaders opportunities to speak at conferences or raise their profiles among their peers. They don’t want them getting credit or public acclaim for all their accomplishments for fear of attracting a swarm of recruiters to all that honey. The problem with companies that attempt to control the destiny of their top talent is they never asked for your permission. You never opted in. They do this while at the same time they claim to want the best for you because you’re a member of the company “family”. They dazzle you with corporate events and shiny promises. Controlling employers move like Jagger but don’t be fooled. It is all designed to keep you under their thumb.
The problem with employers that attempt to control your destiny is they never asked for your permission. You never opted in. At the same time, they claim to want the best for you. They say you’re a member of the company “family”. They dazzle you with corporate events and shiny promises. Controlling employers move like Jagger but don’t be fooled. It is all designed to keep you under their thumb.
You are not your company’s possession: you are not chattel.
While building a moat around your talent is common, I would argue the practice treats employees as if they were possessions that the companies don’t want to have stolen. Yet, senior executives and brilliant technologists are not property. They are people. At last check, one cannot own another human. That is why companies need to stop treating their most gifted workers like chattel. You wouldn’t want a loved one or friend to lose a shot at a better job just because their employer made him or her impossible to reach. You wouldn’t want a company to do that to you. How is it okay to turn around and do it to everyone that works for you?
Blocking recruiters is a bad idea. It does real harm.
When a company prevents someone from getting a better job elsewhere, it is actively doing harm to that person. First, there’s the financial harm that has life-long implications. That individual, in all likelihood, will make less in every job from that point forward. Since most people make more money when they join a new employer, you are suppressing that person’s wages into perpetuity. The cost in reduced income adds up. So maybe that worker puts off buying their dream home for half a decade or more. They steer their kids to the local community college because that’s all they can afford. They don’t save for a rainy day or retirement. Maybe they can’t afford certain life-sustaining medications. Employers need to think about the long-term impact that their recruiter-blocking practices are having.
You disempower diverse talent.
By treating their top employees like chattel, suppressing their wages, and blocking career advancement, they are disempowering them. So companies who claim to encourage the advancement of women and underrepresented minorities are proving themselves either hypocritical, insincere, or both when they prevent their best workers from grasping hold of the brass ring. When you consider the impact on women, particularly those in technology, the practice could be viewed as a form of unconscious gender bias.
When you consider the impact on underrepresented minorities — Black/African-American and Latino/Hispanic leaders — blocking advancement comes off as white privilege. The primarily white and male leadership has not paused long enough to consider the financial damage controlling access to better opportunities does. That harm is not to be underestimated. Frequently, the opportunities that I represent are once-in-a-lifetime, career-making, wealth-creating roles. I say that in all seriousness. There are times when compensation is in the millions and where the equity compensation holds the potential to make the executive a billionaire — as in three commas. Yes, in the technology industry in which we specialize, tres commas is actually a thing.
The same companies that block recruitment of their employees often have hoards of talent acquisition professionals actively poaching from competitors, partners, and even clients. That’s because companies have to recruit talent to grow. With all that recruiter outreach, gifted executives and engineers soon realize that they’re in demand and many leverage their market value to earn what they are worth. Poaching candidates from a competitor is common practice — a longstanding game of cat and mouse. Target companies hide the mice as a defensive move. To win, poaching companies simply offer more cheese.
I recruit top-performing executives and technologists into pretty extraordinary opportunities because clients require leaders of that caliber. The candidates are considered the best-of-the-best because they earned it. Most got there by working harder and longer than their peers — clocking more hours the same way Michael Jordan put in more time practicing. So from where I sit, it just isn’t fair or right to punish deserving leaders by holding them back. You wouldn’t want someone doing that to a loved one, so why actively fend off approaches by recruiters in an effort that may very well be crushing dreams.
If you build it, they will stay.
The simple truth is if you are an employer-of-choice that recruits the right executives and technologists and treats them well, for the most part, they will stay. They stick around not simply for the job, but for the work environment, the corporate culture, the scope of the role, and the opportunities to thrive. They stay because they have developed a sense of community with co-workers, some of whom now are friends. In fact, if you recruit the right people and treat your team well they will stick with you through the tough times. It doesn’t matter what kinds of opportunities are dangled in front of them. They stay put. So becoming Big Brother by monitoring and blocking outreach to your team is focusing on the wrong thing. You need to focus on the things that keep your best people engaged.
When a leader leaves, it is an opportunity.
The simple truth is if an executive does leave, chances are he or she was halfway out the door already. Exiting leaders whose hearts are no longer in their work often invest less and effort in serving their current company as they focus on the shiny objects at prospective next employers. Their productivity suffers. That stresses out other team members. So enabling less committed leaders to leave may be a strategy worth considering. It sets up an opportunity to replace an underperforming executive with a leader who will be more successful in the role.
Big Brother is a bad idea. Pay it forward instead.
So what’s a company to do? Stop playing Big Brother by blocking calls and monitoring email. It is wasted effort focused on the wrong things to retain talent and makes you look bad. Make sure you are treating your talent right. Make sure you’re paying your people what they are worth, but also understand that great talent thrives on opportunities to grow and learn, to lead, and to building relationships and community with team members. Make sure you are growing a bench of succession talent. And if one of your best people tells you they are leaving for an amazing opportunity at another company, be happy for that person. Congratulate them. Foster goodwill. Life is far to short. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a path to doing business together or working again. Of course, there may be a time it will give a competitor an advantage. But companies are stronger when they foster a culture of trust and community. If you are in it for the long play, it pays to take the high road. So do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There’s a reason the golden rule is golden. Paying it forward has its rewards.
Of course, I wonder what you think and what you’ve observed in your own career and company.
Executive Candidate Warning Signs
Recruiting top C-level senior executive talent takes time — often more than a CEO would like. In fact, for companies that really believe employees are their most valuable asset, the Founder and Chairman of Kevin Ryan has a “simple test” to make sure they walk the walk. In an article he wrote for Harvard Business Review, Mr. Ryan advises, “Ask the CEO if he or she spends more time on recruiting and managing people than on any other activity. For me, the answer has always been yes.”
In executive search, it is important to manage time effectively by quickly eliminating executive candidates that are not viable. Culling your long list of candidates down to a curated short list of contenders optimizes executive recruiting and talent acquisition as it speeds time-to-hire.
A Greater New York City Area retained executive search firm, The Good Search recruits top executive candidates for executive recruiting clients in media and technology. Over the years in our work as executive search consultants, we’ve learned to recognize the signs an executive candidate is not a contender. Listed below is our list of the top 6 reasons not to hire an executive candidate.
6 Reasons Not to Hire an Executive Candidate
1. Money Fixation
As a retained search firm, we regularly negotiate annual compensation packages in excess of a million dollars with an opportunity for significant wealth creation. However, we grow concerned whenever a candidate fixates on money to the exclusion of more intrinsic motivations such as the pursuit of excellence, leadership, and creating real value. When a candidate cuts to the money early on in conversations and keeps returning to the topic — when they appear to be motivated by money alone — their values are flawed. Money-obsessed executives have trouble leading and inspiring teams to new heights. They become as fungible as money itself.
2. Dropped Balls
Executive recruiters often request that candidates forward a resume before a scheduled call. In addition to needing the information, executive headhunters use the resume as a litmus test to determine how serious a candidate is about exploratory discussions. Whenever candidates promise resumes that they then fail to provide, it is a warning sign. The executives may lack the executive ability to keep their word. They may also lack the necessary motivation to make a move to a new company. Another warning sign is when candidates repeatedly cancel appointments with little apology or reason. Their behavior is showing us who they really are and what to expect from them as a potential hire. For that reason, getting stood up by a candidate is reason enough to disconnect.
3. Dodgy Answers
Clearly, candidates are motivated to present themselves in the best possible light. However, the moment a candidate’s answers are intentionally evasive or misleading, they have crossed the line. Candidates that do not give a straight answer may lack the ability — to quote Oprah — to “stand in their own truth.” In a recent Harvard Business Review Blog Network article, the CEO of Banyan Family Business Advisors Rob Lachenauer reveals how impressed he was by a candidate who volunteered that she had a mental illness during her job interview. She explained that she had been on medications for a decade and had not had any episodes during that period of time. At the time, the CEO didn’t know what to say, but thanked her for her integrity. Ultimately, Mr. Lachenauer hired the candidate because she was qualified and because she had the courage and strength to reveal her vulnerability.
4. Radio Silence
Another warning sign is when candidates suddenly fall silent in their communications. An abrupt failure to respond to calls or emails is often an indicator that the executive may be engaged in discussions with another employer, or may have had second thoughts about the opportunity. I know of one candidate who actually accepted a formal job offer, then it was as if the executive fell off the face of the earth. She just stopped communicating, leaving the prospective employer first worried, then annoyed, and ultimately scratching their heads in disbelief. A week or two later, the candidate surface at another company, completely burning bridges with the company she had treated so disrespectfully. Some candidates fear openly admitting they are being pursued by another employer. However, being in demand is not a problem: being opaque about it is. Top performing executives are clear as to their intentions, and keep all interested parties informed as to their process.
5. Crippled Communications
Candidates whose answers lack organization or who fail to get to the point after so much blah-blah-blah most likely have problems leading. Most top performing executives have an exceptional command of the English language: they use it to their advantage to persuade and evangelize. While some typographical errors are inevitable in the thumb-typing, auto-correcting age in which we live. great leaders set themselves apart by in their communications. Whether they’re speaking off-the-cuff, in an email, text or tweet, their intelligence always comes through. In fact, as our collective attention span shrinks, as our emails are reduced to the size of tweets, top executives also display a mastery of the new haiku. Increasingly, great leaders must also be capable of distilling a message down it its shortest, purest form. Senior executives who lack a command of the written and spoken word are missing a critical skill set: walk on by.
Asking a candidate to give an example where they failed or “hit the wall” is often seen as a trick question. In fact, asking any candidate to share anything negative about themselves is seen as a kind of test for which there really is no right answer. However, there are wrong answers. Anytime a candidate asserts he or she has never failed is a red flag. It suggests either that the candidate is arrogant or is unable to lead an examined life. When asked about their greatest weakness, whenever a candidate serves up the cliche answer “I work too hard”, I groan silently on the inside. The answer conveys a smug self-reverence at having turned an imaginary negative into a positive, as if it deserves an immediate high-five. In a piece he wrote for the Harvard Business Review blog network, David Reese, the head of people and culture at Medallia, shares insight on why it is better to give a real answer: you don’t want to leave them wondering who you really are. At The Good Search, we concur. The employers we serve want to hire smart, capable, and forthright leaders who can speak the truth, not spin it.
What other warning signs would you add to the list?
Your First Chief Data Officer
If knowledge is power, hiring your company’s first Chief Data Officer (CDO) may be the shortest path to a competitive advantage. According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, you hire a Chief Data Officer in order to compete with data.
That first Chief Data Officer will likely need data scientists, and eventually a data lab, and a data factory — respectively one place to do longer term, innovative, out-of-the box thinking, and the other place to do more process-focused data analytics aimed at more immediate results.
Hiring your first Chief Data Officer also involves significant change management. Your leadership, divisions, departments, and teams will need to be prepared to share their information. The walls of organizational silos must come down. In addition, when the Chief Data Officer serves up actionable intelligence, leadership must be prepared, after all, to act. That action can bring about seismic shifts as your company morphs into an entity that is more competitive.
The place to begin is by how you think about data: where it exists and how it might be used. Ask yourself what entities capture data specific to your business. In my former career as an investigative journalist, I learned that virtually every time a person interacts with the government, a record is created: that’s data. Today, virtually every time we interact with an electronic device, a record is created — every time we turn on our cell phone, send an email, visit a website, or scan in our credit card at the corner store. In addition to the data that your company captures, there are other data that are available for acquisition. Think about all the insights the data might hold. (More on this later.)
According to David Simchi-Levi, professor of engineering systems at MIT and head of the Accenture and MIT Alliance in Business Analytics, big data analytics addresses four kinds of questions:
- Descriptive: Tell me what happened.
- Diagnostic: Don’t just tell me what happened, tell me why it happened.
- Predictive: Tell me what will happen.
- Prescriptive: Tell me how I can I make it happen.
But there is one last question that CEOs must ask themselves as they consider the implications of the tsunami of data that is now available.
Tell me what happens if one my top competitors hires a Chief Data Officer first?
Since knowledge is power, the answer is obvious. Your competitor will have gained a significant competitive advantage. That is why a growing number of CEOs are deciding the time for their first Chief Data Officer has come.
Executive Search Firm Pricing
Search firm pricing is a top concern of executive search buyers. Whenever employers have an important board or senior-level opening to fill, it is reasonable to ask,”What does executive search cost?”
Of course, there is no easy answer: it all depends on how your company prefers to recruit and how important getting top talent is to your corporate strategy. The wide array executive search firms and recruiting services available means that executive search prices vary wildly.
However, I can give you a sense of what companies typically spend on an executive search by sharing common price ranges of various executive search services.
Executive Search Video: A Better Way to Recruit Executives
What if there were a better way to conduct executive search? That question inspired us to found The Good Search. It compelled us to innovate a next-gen search firm model, one that address the concerns of search buyers as it makes executive search smarter.
Our latest video shares our vision of a better way to recruit. It gives real examples of just how good executive search can be. All ou have to do is harness the power of data.
What if . . . ?” It is a question that has prompted entrepreneurs the world over to found startups and venture capitalists to invest and risk vast sums of money, knowing full well the likelihood of failure is high. The National Venture Capital Association reports that that 25% to 30% of venture-backed businesses fail. A story in the Wall Street Journal says the startup failure rate is more like three out of every four. Still, dreaming “what if” is how the Founder of Reddit identified a genuine need and set out of fill it.
We hope the questions we ask in our latest video inspire you to take executive search to the next level the same way it inspired us.