Why Companies Block Recruiter Calls and Emails: They Think They Own You

Why Companies Block Recruiter Calls and Emails: They Think They Own You

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.Click To Tweet Employers instruct switchboard operators to screen heavily 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 your 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.Click To Tweet

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, employers are disempowering diverse talent. 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 —  preventing recruiter access comes off as white privilege.

Blocking recruiter access to diverse talent does real damage to the advancement of their careers.Click To Tweet The primarily white and male leadership has not paused long enough to consider the financial harm that 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.

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LinkedIn Skill Endorsements: Fatuous or Fiction?

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements: Fatuous or Fiction?

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements are an iunreliable measure of the quality of the executive who is endorsed. Still, I must confess that whenever I receive a LinkedIn Skill Endorsement, I get a little thrill that someone has recognized my expertise. But when click to review the LinkedIn profile of the endorser, I am puzzled. Clearly, the person is in my network as a 1st-degree connection, so I likely met that person at a conference or other event. However, I wonder how he could possibly vouch for my work when I don’t believe I have ever worked with that individual.  Perhaps the endorser heard good things from mutual colleagues who have worked with me. Perhaps I”m flippin’ famous out there. However, as much as I would like to believe that, I suspect it is not the case.

Skill endorsers are not the problem, LinkedIn endorsements are.Click To Tweet

Maybe the reason that near strangers endorse my skills is to set up an implied quid pro quo as in I’ll endorse your skills if you endorse mine. But I also don’t think that is what is happening here. When you get right down to it, I suspect that the endorser simply wants to engage my interest for networking or recruiting purposes. In other words, the vast majority of my LinkedIn Skill Endorsements have been given by LinkedIn members who have never witnessed my work or any of the skills they have chosen to endorse. Of course, I could be an outlier. So please let me know what you have observed.

How many skill endorsers actually know your work?

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The Purpose of Skills Endorsements

Here is the way LinkedIn Skill Endorsements are supposed to work. First, a LinkedIn user lists up to 50 skills on their profile. Next, a 1st-degree connection of that user endorses one of that persn’s skills. When that happens, LinkedIn contends the skill is “validated”, which reinforces their “weighting” of what skill endorsements rise to the top of the user’s list of skills.

Skills endorsements are treated by LinkedIn as validations of the abilities they endorse. From where I sit, it is a false premise since most of the endorsements come from people who know little, if anything, about the quality of my work. Those relatively bogus endorsements are then used algorithmically to tell LinkedIn members which of my skills are the strongest. From what I’m able to gather, skills with the most endorsements rise to the top. Like the ingredients list on a food label, the skills are sorted from the most to the least.

Question: why does LinkedIn cap the number of endorsements at 99+? Is it that I’ve received too many to seem legit? (I honestly don’t know the answer. Let me know if you do.

LinkedIn Skill Endorsements


LinkedIn explains that the purpose of LinkedIn Skill Endorsements is to help “recognize and discover your 1st-degree connections’ skills with one click, They’re also a simple and effective way of building your professional brand and engaging your network.” True, they are simple. But because they are, for the most part, untrue, are they the most effective way? Do you really want to begin a relationship by demonstrating you are comfortable being dishonest?

Skill endorsers are not the problem . . .

Though often my LinkedIn skill endorser is technically fudging the facts, I do not blame the messenger. I see the bogus endorsement more as a shout out from the virtual wilderness as in, “Is anybody out there?” And with so much online that is incredibly destructive and bullying, I feel a sense of gratitude that there are people out there that want to give me “put ups” rather than putting me down. So I am not complaining about those who have endorsed my skills. Not in the least. Rather, I am questioning the frame, the LinkedIn Skill Endorsements themselves.

 . . . LinkedIn endorsements are.

Qualitatively, LinkedIn Skill Endorsements would not hold up under the least bit of scrutiny.Click To Tweet

Qualitatively, LinkedIn Skill Endorsements would not hold up under the least bit of scrutiny. They are not a reliable indicator or measure of excellence. They are more a nicety designed to help us make friends on LinkedIn. I get that. Besides, what would we do instead?  A “Can we please be friends?” button would come off as a little too needy. A “Let’s network” button might do the trick, but it demands a reply. I guess that’s the beauty of Skill Endorsements. You have LinkedIn members out there spreading good will as an entré to forging a real relationship. Let me do you a favor by saying you’re really great at something though  I don’t really know you and haven’t a clue whether you’re really great at that something.

However, as quantum information theorist Ivana Kurecix pointed on in a recent blog post, flattery is not the best way to make friends: sharing secrets is. She cites the study, Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings (A. Aron et al.; 1997). For those who do not wish to wade through all the data, she summarized the findings thusly:

Friendship Diagram

Endorse Me If You Wish: But Shared Secrets Are Better

So if you want to befriend me on LinkedIn, you can endorse me as a kind of shorthand that you are a good person who does good things. However, I find it far more interesting to cut the B.S. and have heart-to-hearts with people I trust who share similar passions and interests. At the end of the day, what we really want in this world, even at work, is a safe place to be our authentic selves.  In fact, you can “Google” it, with a capital “G”.  In research code named Project Aristotle, Google studied what makes top performing teams. Yet for the longest time, Google couldn’t quite figure it out because the best teams all seemed so very different. Then finally, one day, the secret revealed itself. The leader of one group spontaneously shared with his team that he was battling stage 4 cancer. With that, other team members shared their struggles. Eventually, their discussion returned to work and by then, the team dynamic had shifted, enabling it to excel. Google realized that “the behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond.”

What To Do Instead

So what’s a LinkedIn member to do if Skill Endorsements are not the best way to network? I’ve written about how to polish your LinkedIn profile to optimize networking on LinkedIn. That is essential. Without a polished profile, everything else you do on LinkedIn will fall short. That’s because the moment you say or do something interesting, members will check out your profile. So, while you can spend time endorsing the skills of virtual strangers, I’d recommend taking a more direct route. Focus on a handful of people you’d like to get to know. Do them a solid. Share a meaningful insight. Find a way to break through this virtual medium to get real. It isn’t easy, but it will yield greater results. I often follow people I want to get to know here and on Twitter. I read their blogs. I do that to get to know them. I then formulate an approach. Commenting on a someone’s blog often is a great way to open the door if what you say is halfway intelligent. People write with the intent of being read. Your comment fulfills that basic human desire and forges an instant bond over a shared interest. But for that method to work, you have to be real. That is something of an art in a virtual environment where truthiness in LInkedIn Skills Endorsements is accepted practice.

How to Get to Know a Retained Executive Recruiter

How to Get to Know a Retained Executive Recruiter

Stalking the Elusive Retained Recruiter

Senior executives are often advised to cultivate a relationship with a leading retained executive recruiter as a way to get ahead. However, that is not an easy thing to do.  Let’s say you’ve done all that a good executive should do. You’ve polished your resume to a high shine and have built out your social media profile on LinkedIn. You’ve demonstrated just how witty you are in tweets on Twitter. You’ve served as featured speaker at a leading conference or two to raise your profile. Yet for some inexplicable reason, retained recruiters aren’t the least bit interested. You can’t get them to return your calls or reply to your emails. The few times you manage to get a retained recruiter on the phone, you don’t sense any real connection. The goal of forging a meaningful relationship with a top retained recruiter remains frustratingly elusive.

Why Retained Executive Recruiters Are the Ones to Know

Executive recruiters are not all the same, as BlueSteps Career Services Executive Director Kathy Simmons pointed out in a recent article in Forbes.  Retained executive recruiters recruit top performing talent for senior-level executive openings. Consequently,

Of the two kinds of headhunters -- retained and contingency -- retained search partners are the ones to know. Click To TweetWe recruit to the most prestigious C-level job opportunities that the market has to offer.  In fact, the senior executive openings are so exclusive that the vast majority of positions that we represent are unlisted.  You will not find the openings posted anywhere on the Internet.  The average base salary for most retained search openings is $300,000 or more. Total annual compensation often tops one million dollars. When equity is part of the compensation package, retained search positions also offer the opportunity for significant wealth creation. We literally are the makers of dreams-come-true — dreams that include becoming richer than one could possibly imagine. That may explain why Headhunters beat LinkedIn Recruiter as search terms in Google Trends.)

Why Retained Recruiters are so Elusive

Because everyone wants to get to know retained recruiters, not everyone can. There simply isn't enough of us to go around. Click To TweetWhile it often feels like a personal slight, executive recruiters are hard to get to know because the numbers don’t work. The average retained executive search partner develops a long list of 200-to-300 contacts for every search engagement — potential candidates, industry sources, and other contacts with whom we network to identify and calibrate the best prospects for the job.  At any given time, retained search partners work on as many as a half dozen searches. Consequently, retained recruiters — and the associates and researchers who assist them — are actively in touch with as many as 2000 people.  And that’s just counting communications for active searches.

In other words, even if you’re lucky enough to get a call from a retained search partner, 2000 is the number you’re competing with as you vie for a recruiter’s attention. The utter irony is that we can only have meaningful relationships with 150 people in our lifetime. It is a total includes family members and schoolmates.  That figure, called Dunbar’s number, was derived by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. To forge a real relationship with a retained executive recruiter, you must make your way into the recruiter’s inner circle of fewer than 100 people. 

Of course, top retained recruiters curate their inner circle. You’ll find it filled with venture capitalists, private equity investors, genius technologists, serial entrepreneurs. high profile senior executives, along with a smattering of gurus or yoga instructors. Namaste. If you are an Average Joe you likely will find it impossible to wheedle your way into the inner circle because, in the inner circle, average just won’t do. You must be the exception, not the rule. It’s either that or find a way to make yourself a priority in that retained recruiter’s life.

The Most Common Mistake: Elevator Pitch Run Amok

The most common mistake candidates make is immediately launching into a lengthy soliloquy without first pausing to establish common ground.  I understand that nervousness may be fueling the faux pas. Candidates frequently have to summon up the courage to call a retained executive recruiter. As a result, many rush through what they have to say without taking a breath just to get it over with.  Other executives seem to believe that the more they say the greater the likelihood that something in there will resonate and open doors. However, candidates that make the initial conversation all about them are not only rude, they risk coming off as arrogant and naive. That’s a bad first impression to make with a retained executive recruiter.

To cultivate a real relationship,  you first must learn how retained search works to understand what motivates retained recruiters. While filling an opening is the goal of most retained search engagements, retained search partners are not paid for making a placement.  We are paid a retainer to do the work of executive recruiting.  By comparison, contingency recruiters who focus on lower level job openings don’t get paid until they make a placement. They actively market Most Placeable Candidates (MPCs) to multiple employers to increase the likelihood of making a fee.  However, with retained executive recruiters, there is no direct financial motivation for a retained search partner to want to get to know you. The motivators are much more nuanced.

How to Blow It with a Retained Executive Recruiter

Assuming You Make Us Money. Gracing an executive recruiter with your presence and assuming that there is a payday in it for the retained executive recruiter is wrong-headed. Moreover, it suggests you really haven’t arrived at the senior executive level because you clearly don’t understand how retained executive search works. Remember, retained executive recruiters don’t get paid to place you. Consequently, as awesome as you are, your awesomeness will not motivate a recruiter to get to know you. Our world already consists of the best-of-the-best. You must find common ground and cultivate a real relationship. You must become genuinely interested in getting to know the executive recruiter the same way you wish he or she would show interest in you.

Assuming We’re Agents or Managers. Retained search consultants do not function as talent agents or managers. If retained executive recruiters were talent agents or managers, we’d have to be licensed and you’d have to pay us a piece of everything you earned before taxes.  In my former career as a television journalist, I paid 10% of my gross income to an agent and more than 20% to a manager for the duration of my contract. While some headhunters have tried to set themselves up as talent agents, the business model doesn’t really work in the world of executive search.

Assuming We Will Market You. Don’t assume that a retained executive search consultant will market you to multiple employers to get you the best offer. Because we are retained by a single employer, presenting you to other employers at the same time — so-called parallel processing — represents a conflict-of-interest and is considered unethical. No candidate that has been presented client company should be referred to a different client until the original client has closed out the candidate. Since contingency recruiters are not retained, they do market candidates to multiple employers at the same time. They do it to maximize the chances of a placement and getting paid. However, they only market so-called MPCs — Most Placeable Candidates — and focus on lower level roles.

Behaving Badly as a Candidate.  Retained executive recruiters will eliminate you from consideration — if not from their very lives —  if you treat them or their clients badly. Remember, executive recruiters are paid to assess your leadership and communication abilities. So if you fail to communicate promptly or if you lack the executive ability to navigate the recruiting process without screwing it up — then you have proven yourself unworthy of the executive suite.  Consequently, standing up a recruiter or client; failing to stay engaged and communicate promptly and professionally; lying or refusing to disclose mistakes you’ve made in your career; failing to set expectations or disclose the stage and nature conversations with other employers; or saying you’d relocate when, at the end of the day, your children would never talk to you again — that kind of behavior destroys your credibility with retained executive recruiters. When you burn bridges with retained recruiters, you cut off your access to elite opportunities.

Being Transactional.  The senior executives and technology candidates certainly deserve the jobs into which we recruit them. However, in most cases, the candidate would not have gotten there if it weren’t for us. As arbiters of great talent, we identify, calibrate, and advocate for the candidates we place –  that means behind closed doors we frequently go to bat for you. As a candidate, you probably did not like it when recruiters treated you transactionally and wrote you off once an executive search was complete. Retained search partners feel pretty much the same way. We invest hours interviewing you to learn how your career unfolded. We delve deep into your motivations, career preferences,  and goals.  We assess how all-that-you-are lines up with all-that-our-client-is. We orchestrate client offers and negotiate compensation packages, tending to every penny, percentage, and exchange rate. Throughout the process, we serve as diplomat, career counselor, and therapist —  helping candidates and clients avoid landmines and pitfalls to get to a successful hire. As a result, most retained executive recruiters feel incredibly invested in the candidate relationship by the time a search is complete. While a simple “thank you” is all that is expected, savvy executives use it as an inflection point to cultivate a more lasting relationship with the retained recruiter that placed them.

What to Do to Cultivate a Relationship with a Retained Recruiter

Make Virtual Recruiter Connections Real. Even if a retained recruiter or two are in your social network, that does not mean the relationship is one you can count on. While social media have served as a multiplier of people we “know” — either as “friends”, “connections”, or “followers” —  as David Weinberger has written, these connections are “loosely joined”.  Disposable.  Find a way to root your social media relationships with a retained executive recruiter in the real world through real-time contact by phone, video chat and in-person.

Target the Right Retained Recruiters. Develop a list of a half-dozen recruiters partners that focus exclusively on your industry or function. For years, Kennedy Information has published The Directory of Executive and Professional Recruiters, which tells you which search firms are retained and what each firm’s specialty is. But no more. The search firm database now contained in Custom Databanks, a resume distribution service of Monster.   The Riley Guide was another great resource. It got gobbled up by MyPerfectResume.com. So you will find it here. Of course, you can also “google” the best recruiters in your business and network with your colleagues to develop a list of a half-dozen recruiters to target.

Avoid Fake “Top Search Firm” Websites.  Up until recently, the website topexecutivesearchfirms.com was fooling visitors. It is a fake website, according to a web SEO business listing the site in its portfolio. The web marketer revealed that topexecutivesearchfirms.com was created as a micro-site to drive traffic to one of the search firms listed in the top 20. It was online for years until I approached the CEO of thes search firm behind the site to comment on the deceptive practice.

Date a Few Recruiters. Marry One.  “Date” a few of the recruiters you’ve targeted before selecting the one retained search partner you want to cultivate for life. Make sure the retained executive recruiter deserves your trust and is incredibly discreet.  Seek a retained search partner whose advice is so brilliant and filled with insight that you suspect that person is actually smarter than you. You want a recruiter capable of serving as a trusted partner and advisor for the remainder of your career.

Get to Know Your Retained Recruiter.  Being an executive recruiter is a little like being a shrink. We listen to candidates all day long. It rarely works the other way around. So one way to get a recruiter’s attention is to turn the tables. Take a little time to get to know the recruiter. Ask them questions and then really listen.  What they share will inform your thinking around what you can to pay it forward to support the recruiter’s success as he/she supports yours.

Become a “Friend of The Firm”. Cultivating a relationship with a retained executive recruiter is not about trading favors — quid pro quo. We can’t shoehorn you into the position of your dreams if the client doesn’t want you. You can’t promise to use us or recommend us for every executive search that comes your way. However, for the relationship to flourish, it must be mutually beneficial.  Friends of the Firm foster goodwill by making thoughtful gestures that demonstrate their loyalty. They send the recruiter a quick email with a link to a relevant article or industry report.  They share industry intelligence and insight. They regularly refer potential clients and executive searches. They know the more they help their retained search partner prosper, the more they help themselves. It is a circle of virtue.  The book Never Eat Alone is a great primer on ways to support the success of those with whom you network.  Retained search is, at its core, a relationship-driven business. Most of our business comes through referral from “friends of the firm”.

Play the Long Game. While executives want to get close to retained executive recruiters whenever they’re ready to make a move, savvy executives keep us close, regardless. Retained recruiters — the really good ones — are friends with benefits of a different kind. We help senior executives build top performing teams. We serve as trusted advisors and confidants. Because we are incredibly well connected, we frequently broker lucrative deals and valuable introductions. Our introductions to venture capitalists frequently result in funding. We facilitate M&A and private equity investment.  We regularly serve as executive coaches —  helping senior leaders weigh options and sort through priorities.  We help them navigate inevitable crises that business throws our way — we have access to the best lawyers, accountants, and assorted fixers. In all these ways, we function as success magnifiers. However, we only do it for select “friends of the firm”.

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Ageism in Recruiting | What to Do About It

Ageism in Recruiting | What to Do About It

Ageism in Recruiting

ERE Media’s Todd Rafael tackles the hot topic of ageism in recruiting and executive search in an interview with The Good Search CEO Krista Bradford.

Ageism exists.

So it is more a question of what executive recruiters are going to do about it to ensure equal opportunity for all candidates. We must become aware of our own unconscious bias and ensure we’re assessing candidates for the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that they bring to the table, detached from age.

Check Yourself.

So if you are a hiring executive or recruiter and you find yourself describing a candidate as being “long in tooth”, check yourself. One fifth of the working population is over the age of fifty. In the end, you’ll only hurt your own company if you unconsciously discriminate against older workers. Ageism doesn’t hurt the candidate. It hurts your company as well. There’s something to be said for someone who has been-there, done-that. It is unlawful to reject a job-seeker because he or she is over the age of forty. So let us not let Age Discrimination get in the way of good hires. The opportunity cost is too high.

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What Adoption Did to Steve Jobs

What Adoption Did to Steve Jobs

What Adoption Did to Steve Jobs

The film Steve Jobs by director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin speaks the truth in a way no other film before it has — about Steve Jobs and about the adoption experience for adult adoptees. You get a sense of what adoption did to Steve Jobs,

This weekend, I went to a local movie theater to view Steve Jobs at the suggestion of my friend venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, who is mentioned in the film. I was born a stone’s throw away from the Apple founder. Like Jobs, I was adopted. My first computer was an Apple IIe. My second a Mac, then a Palm Pilot and every iteration since. iMac. Macbook. iPod. iPhone. iPad. (Add to that the PC/ Windows platform iterations as well . . .  I am a woman of many tech gadgets.)

I have always seen Job’s unique persona as one that is inextricably interwoven with his adopted-ness. Though his being adopted has been well-reported, no one seemed to recognize how it, in so many ways, made him who he was. No one ever seemed to put that together until this film. This first scene  — the first in a triptych of scenes between Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and Jeff Daniels as former PepsiCo-turned-Apple CEO John Sculley — laid me bare.

It's having no control. You find out you were out of the loop when the most crucial events of your life were set in motion. As long as you have control . . . I don't understand people who give it up.Click To Tweet

Steve Jobs IssacsonIn his book Steve Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson reported that “Jobs confided to close friends that he was driven by the pain he was feeling about being put up for adoption and not knowing about his birth parents.” That drive led him to create an extraordinary persona for himself.  He was, in effect, his own creation. A good many adult adoptees do that because we are not the reflections of our adopted parents. Few understood the nuances of Steve Jobs’ inner life as well as Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief of Design.

“So much has been written about Steve, and I don’t recognize my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a surgically precise opinion. Yes, it could sting. Yes, he constantly questioned. ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’ but he was so clever. His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!”

As an adult adopted person, I grew up not knowing who my birth parents were.  My adoption records were sealed and remain sealed to this day.  My birth certificate was amended and my adoptive parents’ names are listed as though they gave birth to me. Like Steve Jobs, I realized I was given up or, in coarser terms, “rejected” by my family of origin.  Like Jobs, my adopted parents told me that while I wasn’t expected, I was selected.


Being chosen is a story that many well-meaning adopted parents tell their adopted children. In fact, many parents read The Chosen Baby to explain how we came to be adopted and, therefore, special.

The Chosen Baby about adoption

However, the chosen baby construct isn’t entirely honest. We were never selected. Rarely, if ever, are adopted parents given the opportunity to “choose” their child from an array of multiple babies. We do not come in litters. Adopted children put that together pretty quickly.  On Amazon.com, one adopted adult reviewer of the book adopted a child and was warned not use the book.  The reviewer states:

I still had the original book so I re-read it and soon understood the problem. In this book,the social worker is telling the prospective parent that they would find just the right baby for her, and not to worry if they didn’t feel that baby was what she wanted, they would find her another one. My mother, whom I loved dearly, used to tell me that she had sent a baby back. She said she had a big head. I’m sure from her perspective she was trying to make me feel special, but did it?

As you view the life of Steve Jobs and other adoptees, know that there’s a flip side to being told one was chosen: the underlying fear that one may be sent back from whence we came if we are not special enough. Clearly, those of us who have gone on to achieve great things do so for a whole host of reasons. For many adult adoptees, adoption provides a compelling reason for achievement.

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Genius Candidates

Genius Candidates

Genius Candidates

As an executive search consultant that specializes in technology, I frequently encounter genius candidates. It is my job to determine which ones are top performers. While it is easy to be blinded by brilliance, successful candidates much do more than think,

The Autism-Genius Connection

Geniuses frequently hyper-focus on their area of interest. It enables them to draw brilliant insights others miss. One condition that enables people to filter out life’s distractions is autism. Though they are diagnosed as suffering from a developmental disability, autistic savants demonstrate cognitive abilities that exceed what most people can do. They often demonstrate breathtaking genius in art, music, arithmetic, spatial relationships, or and calculating dates. A savant can determine what day of the week some date is with speed and accuracy.

Interestingly, those in the autism spectrum seem especially drawn to technology, which is where I come in. I recruit some of technology’s most brilliant minds. According to evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber Ph.D.in Psychology Today, ten percent of autistic people have savant abilities. About half of savants are autistic, the rest suffer from some form of brain injury or disease. A growing number of software employers are discovering that autistic people make ideal software engineers because coding requires an extraordinary amount of attention to detail.

If you ask, some people with autistic spectrum disorder including autism and Asperger’s Syndrome prefer to be referred to, collectively, as Autistics or Aspergerians or Aspies. Others prefer to use the person-first as in ‘person with autism’ or ‘person who experiences autism.’ Many in the autism community are of the belief that the condition should not be considered something in need of a cure, especially given the connection between genius and autism. (See What Genius and Autism Have in Common, Time Magazine). They make a good case. Imagine a world without Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Andy Warhol, or Dan Aykroyd. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been described as “a robot,” and having “a touch of the Asperger’s.

Still, genius is as magnificent to behold as it is awkward, as this scene from HBO’s Silicon Valley captures so well.  Here, the genius of venture capitalist character Peter Gregory is revealed through his process.

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Genius — or insanity — is the ability to see what others do not.  With genius, what you see is real.  It just hasn’t been made manifest yet. In addition, geniuses make connections that elude everyone else, as was the case with math prodigy and schizophrenic John Nash Jr., on whose life the movie A Beautiful Mind is based. Remarkably, Dr. Nash is able to discern which imaginings are delusions and which are intellectually transcendent. While in a bar, Russell Crowe’s Nash discovers what later became known as Nash Equilibrium in game theory.

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In Rainman, Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt is an autistic savant with the ability to memorize part of the phone book. That was when there were such things as phone books.

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Yet Babbitt’s stunning ability to memorize has little practical application in the real world.  We have computers with the ability to store vast amounts of data. Employers don’t need a human to do that, particularly if that human lacks social skills. Far more important is our ability to reason, to extrapolate, and to play nicely with others — unless the others aren’t so nice in return, as is the case in this scene from Good Will Hunting.

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As is also the case in the movie Social Network. Here the Mark Zuckerberg-like character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg verbally shreds his opponents in a lawsuit.

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Albert Einstein

Photograph by Orren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J. Modified with Photoshop by PM_Poon and later by Dantadd. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius Like Albert Einstein

Of course, if you weren’t born a genius, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. You may simply be a late bloomer, as Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The New Yorker details.

Yes, there was Orson Welles, peaking as a director at twenty-five. But then there was Alfred Hitchcock, who made “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho”—one of the greatest runs by a director in history—between his fifty-fourth and sixty-first birthdays. Mark Twain published “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at forty-nine. Daniel Defoe wrote “Robinson Crusoe” at fifty-eight.

While IQ can play an important role in determining one’s success, research has found one cannot succeed on genius alone. Wisdom is required.

Finding Your Calling

Finding Your Calling

Finding Your Calling and Live Longer

Finding your calling is worth the effort, say the experts. According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, it can help you live longer. Lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada says the research has clear implications for promoting positive aging and adult development.

Connect the Dots of Your Career

As a teenager, I was inextricably drawn to television news. I knew I didn’t want to get stuck working in the same office every day. I longed for the kind of travel and adventure detailed in CBS correspondent Eric Severeid’s book Not So Wild a Dream. I wanted to witness history in the making first hand. While I didn’t realize it at the time, there was another deeper motivation that drove me.

Though I didn't fully understand why until recently, my work has always been a calling. I have always felt compelled to do what I do.Click To Tweet

Uncovering Closely Held Secrets

Shortly after starting work as a reporter at KTVI-TV in St. Louis, I started reporting on nursing home fraud. I met confused and frail elderly victims whose life savings had been stolen by nursing homes owned by the mob as in the Mafia. While covering congressional hearings on organized crime, I met a newspaper reporter who introduced me to investigative journalism  — uncovering and reporting on closely held and difficult to obtain information. It was then I realized this form of reporting held the power to right wrongs and, actually, to save lives.

And still, I didn’t fully understand what drew me to a career in reporting. Shortly thereafter, I discovered the wonders of computer-assisted journalism. It could prove wrongdoing that had previously been impossible to nail down.  For some twenty years, I broke award-winning stories that made a difference. I did it by uncovering closely held secrets.

Searching for the Perfect Candidate

I left reporting to found an executive search firm, a new career that leveraged all my investigative skills. I found searching for the perfect candidate strangely compelling. I also found the work incredibly compelling. Executives and technologists who work hard to become the best-of-the-best deserve to be found and rewarded for their good efforts. No one’s light should remain hidden under a bushel.

When I became a reporter and then I recruiter, I didn’t realize my underlying motivation.  But looking back a common thread emerged explaining why my work has always felt like a calling.

I am an adult adoptee.

My adoption records and birth records are sealed by the court in California. While I was growing up — though it was natural for a child to wonder  — I never knew who my birth parents were. I never knew the story of how I came to be, what my birth was like, or why I was given up for adoption. My birth certificate is amended. Though it is not true, it lists my adoptive parents as the ones that gave birth to me. In my early twenties, I spent 2 years searching for my birth parents and I found them. It was a good thing. Moreover, I believe it is essential for health reasons to update one’s familial medical history. My adoption journey explains why uncovering secrets and searching for people has been so incredibly rewarding as a journalist and as an executive recruiter. I was meant to do this.

Restoring the Rights of Adult Adoptees

In my personal life, I am involved in the adoption reform movement: we are the only class of Americans denied our original birth certificates, access to our own heritage, and to our current medical histories.


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Top 20 Things Headhunters Want to See in LinkedIn Profiles

Top 20 Things Headhunters Want to See in LinkedIn Profiles

What Headhunters Look For in Your LinkedIn Profile

Listed below is a Top 20 “hot list” of the things that headhunters look for in the LinkedIn profiles of senior executives and technologists for their corporate clients. In fact, one Fortune 100 client counted among the “Best Companies to Work for” uses the same criteria as a hard filter to determine who will move forward as a candidate and who will be eliminated from consideration.

The Quest for Top Talent

While every industry has its high-profile VIPs, the best and brightest are not so easy to find. Often, the usual suspects turn out to be empty suits or executives that have lost their mojo.  That’s where headhunters come in. A former investigative-journalist-turned-investigative-recruiter, I look for clues to locate and calibrate top talent. In doing so, I seek off-radar luminaries and up-and-coming stars who may not be as adept at self-promotion. Frequently, gifted technologists become so engrossed in inventing the Next Big Thing that they operate in perpetual stealth mode. Many do not hang out on LInkedIn.

However, common sense would suggest if you want to get ahead, it shouldn’t require detective work to discover you. If you have worked hard to become the best, it makes little sense to undermine your own success with a neglected and outdated LinkedIn profile.  Worse, you can do real harm to your chances of advancement with a LinkedIn profile that is so haphazardly slapped together that it is riddled with typographical errors and topped off with an unprofessional photo that more resembles a Nick Nolte mug shot.

Conversely, even if your LinkedIn profile is pretty polished and complete, you should double-check to make sure you haven’t left out something important.  For instance, you may not think your high GPA and academic honors are worth mentioning on LinkedIn — in fact, you may find it a tad obnoxious to overtly tout achievements in so public a place.  However, your ideal next employer may quietly exclude you from consideration if you fail to list those very achievements on LinkedIn.


Three Kinds of Critical Information to Include

Our Top  20 Things into three main categories of LinkedIn data:

  1. Easy ways to find you and reach you
  2. Sufficient and current career detail
  3. Evidence that suggests you are a top performer

So grab a cup of coffee, pull up your LinkedIn profile, and then step through the punch list below to see if there is anything you’ve overlooked and then, if needed, pop in a detail or two. It takes but a  minute, but the effect is lasting. It functions as your virtual publicist and agent round-the-clock. Moreover, the benefit extends beyond impressing executive search consultants and prospective employers. It raises your profile and stature in your current role — so that good things come your way.

Top 20 Things Headhunters Want to See in Your LinkedIn Profile

  1. A public profile so we can find you
  2. A polished profile photo
  3. Evidence you like to network: OpenLink Network or 100+ connections
  4. Ways to reach you: shared phone, email, social links with 1st connections
  5. Summary that includes corporate biography and specialties
  6. Up-to-date title, employer, and location.
  7. Previous jobs since graduation with full job titles
  8. Month and year for job start and end dates
  9. Descriptions detailing job responsibilities and accomplishments
  10. Accurate industry
  11. Education detail of college and degree obtained
  12. Evidence of academic achievement, such as high GPA or graduating with honors
  13. Extracurricular leadership roles, such as intramural sports, fraternity, or sorority
  14. Video, such as a keynote address, that give us a sense of how you “present”
  15. Honors and awards that set you apart as a top performer
  16. Patents that created valuable intellectual property for your employer
  17. Volunteer work or other giving back that speaks to your character
  18. A consistent track record of success with pattern of increasingly senior titles and greater responsibility with each successive job
  19. Recommendations from former direct superiors that speak to the quality of your work
  20. A network filled with respected colleagues, luminaries, and VIPs

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Unemployment Catch-22 | You Need a Job to Get a Job

Most everyone knows it is easier to get a job when you have a job. Employers are inclined to suspect that there may be something wrong with an executive who has been downsized. The reason? Companies often use downsizing as a way to rid themselves of underperforming employees. However, while it has always been hard for someone who is unemployed to get a new job, it has never been harder than it is today. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow recently noted that people who are unemployed are staying unemployed for an average of 40 weeks — the highest level ever since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track.


From jaredbernsteinblog.com

Former Chief Economist and Economic Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden Jared Bernstein recently published a chart on his blog that breaks unemployment into three groups. There are the recently downsized, the new entrants to the job market, and then there’s everyone else mired in continued unemployment.

As leaders in Washington grapple with job stimulus programs, the biggest problem that needs solving is that of not being able to get a job unless you have a job — a classic catch-22.  We at The Good Search and at our recruiting research division Intellerati regularly hear from strong candidates who through a perfect storm of events have found themselves unemployed longer than they — or anyone really — thought possible. Author Joseph Heller first coined the term in a historical novel by the same name. His satire on bureaucratic think and circular logic resonated so deeply that “catch-22” has since come to mean any “no-win situation”. Until we solve the catch-22 of persistent unemployment, nobody wins. Our recovery will remain elusive as Major Major’s sanity.

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How to Get a Job: Try a Mustache and No Pants

How to Get a Job: Try a Mustache and No Pants

How to Get a Job

What Happened to the fake mustache, no pants guy?

Ever wonder what happened to the fake mustache, no pants guy who waged a 'Google, Please Hire Me' campaign to get a job at Google? We did.Click To TweetEver wonder what happened to the fake mustache, no pants guy who waged a “Google, Please Hire Me” campaign to get a job at Google?

We did.

Back in 2011, Matt Epstein waged a guerrilla marketing campaign targeting Google as his next employer. To this day, the innovative campaign serves as a case study on how to get a job by making a grand gesture. While one can always respond to job postings, you may not always learn of the most attractive job openings.  In fact, research has found the Google Ad platform offered men ads featuring better jobs opportunities. Matt did not wait for a job opportunity to find him online. Rather, he turned the process on its head.

  • Matt set up a website that spoke to Google and Google alone. To leave no doubt as to the purpose of the website, he selected the domain name googlepleasehire.me.
  • Next, he created a video where he adopted an intentionally cheesy persona along with a fake mustache.
  • In the video, he appears without pants in his boxer shorts.
  • He brought it all home in the video by allowing us to meet the real Matthew at the end.

The “Google Please Hire Me Campaign” Went Viral

Matt’s experiment worked. It went viral. In the Internet world, that’s not an easy thing to do. Some would argue that accomplishment alone qualified him for further scrutiny as a marketing candidate. His innovative method of applying for a job demonstrated he can write and market effectively with few resources at his disposal. Moreover, his effort demonstrated he is creative and that he is willing to go-for-it and risk possible failure.

Grand Gestures Often Work

Matt’s “grand gesture” is a tried and true device that has been used by some of the most successful people in the business world. Donny Deutsch, one of the most successful CEOs in advertising history used it to capture clients. Donny is reported to have sent car parts to the home of the Pontiac rep to land an account with Tri-State Pontiac dealers. He sent a fender with a note that read, “We’ll cover your rear end.” Donny won the account, doubling its size.

So What Ever Happened to Matthew Epstein?

Matt Epstein became an Internet sensation. If you Google the name of his campaign, it returns more than 25-thousand pages. He made the evening news on network television. In fact, news organizations around the world covered the story. #GooglePleaseHireMe took off as a Twitter hashtag. Like hashtag gurus Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, Matt was an early mover on the use of hashtags. Perhaps, the biggest accomplishment was being featured in an article of AdWeek, a marketer’s dream.

While applying for a job in your boxers is not an approach we’d recommend in today’s #MeToo environment, back in 2011, Matt Epstein’s campaign was a huge success. The video got him 300,000 unique visitors at his website googlepleasehire.me which has since been redirected. To date, the video on YouTube has been seen more than million-and-a-half times. In addition, his 2011 campaign generated 400 LinkedIn requests and captured phone interviews with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce,

So Who Ultimately Hired Him?

Ultimately, Matt accepted a job at a financial services startup called SigFig where he stayed for 2 years. Next, he took a job as employee number #1 at an HR benefits startup called Zenefits. There, he ultimately became CMO, helping grow revenue to $60MM+ ARR and the company to 1,000+ people. While at Zenefits he built and managed a team of 24 marketers. He also created a sophisticated lead gen machine that fed 300 + sales representatives.

Matt’s LinkedIn profile indicates has left Zenefits a year-and-a-half ago. I’ve reached out to find out what he is up to these days and to discuss lessons learned along the way. But I’m guessing Matthew is looking for his next gig. Naturally, I wonder what he might do to top his earlier effort.

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