Lost in the Database Abyss
By Bill Heery, Sr. Consultant
Harris Heery & Associates

In 1981, when we began our company, we had virtually no one in our database. Over the years, as our organization grew, so did our database. Today, it has expanded to approximately 16,000 contacts and we are adding more and more everyday. This kind of growth is not unusual. Many other firms such as ours have also been building significant databases. Although, ours is unique in that it is constructed of purely consumer marketing and sales individuals, the fact remains that there are still over 16,000 people waiting for a phone call. Imagine for a moment what a database at a generalist recruiting firm must look like. How many people across how many levels across how many industries across how many functions must there be? If youíre in their database (and you should be), how often is your profile updated or, for that matter, even looked at? Or are you lost in the database?

When a recruiter leaves a client with a new recruiting assignment, they start immediately to formulate a recruiting plan. Considering not only the required technical skills, but other intangibles such as corporate culture, the recruiter will likely develop an informal list of potential candidates. Once back at the office, the recruiter will meet with other recruiters and researchers within their company to review the clientís needs, specifications and the developing recruiting plan. From these meetings, other potential candidates will begin to emerge. It is not until the next phase of the search that the database is tapped.

Most databases allow the user to expand or restrict the search criteria. A good search begins with very targeted criteria and then expands outward until an appropriate number of candidates have been identified. Many times however, you, as a potential candidate, will not be contacted for a search despite the fact that your credentials would seem to be appropriate. Why? The answer is quite simple: For that particular search, there may be a very high number of potential candidates so the recruiter narrows the field. Unfortunately, when the field was narrowed, the criteria didnít consider you. The simplest example of this would be a search for a Vice President for a food company. The recruiter will begin the search by looking at candidates with food backgrounds. He may draw the lines even tighter by adding filters such as only looking at candidates currently with food companies, strong new products and broker and club store experience. In the Harris Heery database, that shift would take the potential field down from about 1,000 potential candidates to perhaps 500. If the recruiter is unsuccessful identifying enough candidates from this group, he begins to remove some of these filters in order to expand the criteria. If the recruiter exhausts all these candidates and still isnít comfortable with the group, the criteria is expanded again. This time he may look at candidates outside of the food business, but who were in food in their previous position.

When all is said and done, you may be a perfectly qualified candidate currently working for a household products company, but you may never get the call on an assignment such as this. You might even be in the food business and not get the call. If, when the search firm runs the initial search, they get good candidate response, they may not have to call all 500 potential candidates in order to develop a strong field. So you never get called. When you hear about the position over the grapevine, you ask yourself, ďWhy didnít they call me?Ē ďDonít they like me?Ē

In todayís market, there are many searches where the client is looking for a strong marketing professional, but donít limit considerations to candidates from only one industry. A candidate who has spent their entire career in HBA may be just as apt to get that recruiting call as the candidate who has spent his entire career in household products. This type of inclusive search makes for a very large field for the search firm to sort through and therefore reduces your chances of getting the call that could change your life.

So how do you avoid getting lost in the database? How do you increase your chances that your name will be pulled over someone elseís? We suggest the following strategies for you to practice throughout your career, not just when youíre thinking of making a move:

  1. Identify those search firms that are most apt to be able to help you and develop relationships with them. Itís better to build that relationship today---even if you donít need it right now.

  2. Communicate frequently with these search firms on career issues.

  3. Try and meet someone in as many of these firms as you can. Recruiters will always call an appropriate candidate who they have already met before they call someone equally qualified who they havenít met.

  4. Think of the relationship you enjoy with these recruiters as a two way street. Offering to help them with their current searches will almost always help to separate you from the crowded database.

  5. Refer friends and colleagues to those firms.

  6. Periodically, send the recruiters information about yourself such as press releases, published interviews or trade news about the product you are working on.

In order to avoid falling into the database abyss, learn to ask yourself this basic question: When you call one of these recruiters, do they have to go to their database to recall who you are? If so, itís time to climb out of the database abyss!

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