Towards Your 1st NED Role – The Headhunter’s Perspective
At our last BCKR breakfast meeting we were delighted to get the headhunter’s perspective from Deborah Cooper – a partner at leading search firm, The Miles Partnership. Deborah specialises in top level recruitment, including non-executive directors. She has extensive experience in this field, having worked previously at Warren Partners, Heidrick & Struggles and Norman Broadbent.
Deborah wanted to let us know more about what she looks for in candidates, and what lawyers can do to increase their chances in this highly competitive area.
She started by saying that since we can only remember 3 things at a time it is possible to break down your journey towards your first NED role into these 3 areas:
• Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what we really want to do? You should treat it more as a project. Think about yourself as a proposition and how you can best sell yourself.
• Be decisive and purposeful.
• Believe it will happen. It will. It is just a question of timing.
They’re not looking for ego. Proactivity helps. Don’t be flattered into something, or rush. It’s ok to say no. It is not retirement! It’s just a part of your journey.
Many roles are advertised. But remember that fewer than 50% are. The other half come about through personal contacts and headhunters. You need to take a multi-channel approach to get yourself to market. Don’t let people make assumptions. Link what you do to what you want to achieve. We can all be busy fools. Ask advisers, clients, friends and neighbours as different channels to start your journey. But once you’ve made the connections, you need to stay in touch. And all these contacts should be made way before you get in front of a headhunter.
The Executive grapevine sometimes referred to as SHREK.
Heidrick and Struggles
These are the key headhunters whose books you need to get on. It’s not a high volume business so the more headhunters you keep in touch with the better. But all the time remember to think about who do you know. The researchers are very useful. But realise they don’t categorise people in the way you might think, or always share good contacts even among colleagues, so go multi channel within.
Find out how the relevant practice actually deals with the NED practice – always personalise it. Call people don’t just email. Make yourself memorable. Return calls even if they are after names for other things.
Make yourself memorable. Take opportunities to talk and network by raising your profile. Through speaking at events. Starting these things earlier on in your career, increases your confidence and raises your profile which hugely benefits your career.
Be specific and tight for the audience.
Your CV is an evolving thing. The opening sentence: ‘lawyer with 20 yrs experience’ isn’t going to get you a role. You need to demonstrate significant corporate knowledge. You need to show your breadth through the nature of your client base. Not more than 2 pages. Show your skill set and attributes. Keep it tight and crisp, making it easy to read and remember. Make sure you LinkedIn profile mirrors your CV. People look at it. Most nominations committees will visit it and google you.
Due Diligence –
NED recruitment is changing faster now than in previous years. But often there are assumptions based on where you’ve got to in brand hierarchy, regardless of attributes. Things are changing. There are tighter briefs with regards to skill sets, diversity and previous problems have led to traits and personality requirements in the recruitment process. So your particular mix may not be needed at that moment, but it may come in later. Still less involvement of psychometrics but it does come in in some processes – strategic, collaborative, independent minded.
How can you succeed in this competitive world? Prepare – still many people don’t. There is a halo effect if you’ve done your homework. Search consultants should have a balanced approach to clients and candidates. But some don’t, looking only to the clients.
If you haven’t got a brief for the client or the job, it would be good to know what you will be assessed against.
Is this an organisation that I should be joining, look into it, but can you add value? If you don’t feel valued you are likely to want to rotate off early.
If you get to the preferred candidate or at the shortlisting stage of the process, don’t limit yourself to the standard offering. It’s normal to ask for board minutes, meeting with functions within company, board meeting dates, induction timing and process. Make sure you have a second meeting with your headhunter to prepare properly.
Headhunters are looking for:
• sector background,
• functional background,
• diversity of thinking and behaviours (how to avoid group think).
Headhunters need to keep their clients open minded. You need to give them the confidence that you really understand what it’s like to work in a business. Perhaps you have had secondment to the corporate world. You may already be sitting in on many company boards through your clients. Make sure you highlight these things.
Lawyers tend to be
• incisive – taking in lots of information and coming out with salient points in the meetings
• good at writing professionally, good communicators
• independent minded
• learning oriented (if you don’t want to learn you are switching off from the world).
• agile thinkers.
You need to evaluate how a role will fit in with other things you are currently doing? Are their existing conflicts. Can you add value? Keep an open mind as to size. Start ups and smaller companies can be very exciting. Make sure you can commit the time.
If you are successful in attaining your first role – don’t build your portfolio too quickly. Three terms of three years is reducing. The average is now 4.2 years. Get a feel for your first role before moving on to the next. Keep your contacts and build a rhythm into your second role.
Be purposeful. Let people know what you’re great at and what you want to do. Listen to how you feel – make sure it is the right organisation for you. Something you can feel passionate about. Make a difference.
How to start with headhunters? Making contact with partners is the best but who the senior researcher is matters – contact them if you don’t get through to the partner. Use vicarious branding. Great researchers will influence.
NED courses: FT run courses which has received mixed reviews. It makes no difference to securing a role. But it is something that shows commitment as a minimum. The Institute of Directors, Spencer Stuart and Cranfield also run courses.
Stay networked to help too with the referencing by the headhunters. Advocacy by others works. Remember headhunters need to minimise their risk.