bckr | Tips For Working With Headhunters to Get the Role You Want
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Tips For Working With Headhunters to Get the Role You Want

Tips For Working With Headhunters to Get the Role You Want

Last week we were pleased to welcome Sophia Copeman from Perrett Laver – the global executive search firm.

Sophia talked us through how she conducts searches, how clients and headhunters come up with their shortlists, what she looks for in candidates and their CVs and the views that the headhunting profession and their clients have of lawyers on boards.

Here is a summary of what she had to say…

Perrett Laver was set up by two former partners of Saxton Bampfylde who wanted to concentrate on the non-profit and higher educational clients, and to draw out high quality talent from more diverse streams. Sophia, who started as a researcher, is now a consultant working with global not for profit organisations such as Oxfam, Save the Children and WaterAid.

Trustee appointments

She is usually asked to look for a group of trustees having completed a ‘skills audit’. They are often asked to meet the need for a diverse board i.e. diversity in gender, geography, ethnicity and age. But they also need to avoid discriminating or being tokenistic. The most important criteria is finding the right person.

Briefings by the stakeholder are intrinsic to their service. Engagement from the board, CE and or funders is very important from the very beginning of the search process. It is vital to understand the challenges and opportunities, as well as the often significant legal responsibilities a trustee will undertake on the governance side of things.

Not all boards have legal expertise but lawyers can bring a whole range of other skills to the boardroom particularly on sub-committees.

Perrett Laver will offer a range of services to their client when it comes to finding the right person.
• Print advertising – generally they experience a low return on investment with this method though it can be a good marketing exercise.
• The headhunter will employ their researchers to reach out to a wide network of contacts (can be as many as 200 individuals approached for one appointment). These researchers tend to be really quite young but you should not be put off by this but use these approaches as a way of letting people know what you are looking for so even if this particular role isn’t suitable – you will be considered for alternative searches
Once they have got the list down to 30/40 interested people they will be looking to understand:
• Why you are interested in joining a particular organisation
• Whether you are looking for a non-profit role in general

Things to consider when looking taking on a role:
• Get an understanding of the realistic time required (talk to the headhunters)
• Talk to the CE and present or past trustees of the organisation to get a better picture of how the organisation is run
• Think about how your skills can help the organisation – expertise will trump all
• Do you have a network they can tap in to
• What are your commercial skills – can you help the organisation to think strategically

Mistakes that potential candidates often make
• Treating the headhunter as a middle man
• Being put off by and dismissive of youthful researchers at the beginning of the process
• Poorly articulating your desire to be involved in the organisation


• With the changing environment in the charity sector – do you think there will be a greater appreciation of lawyers’ skills – and people who have experience of governance?
o These are dark times for the charity sector. The ability to help a charity think through risk in these times of uncertainty is vital. There will be particular scrutiny over fundraising methods and the ability to consider all options when regulations come in will become increasingly important.
• The charity sector is not used to receiving criticism – partly because so many people are working on a voluntary basis. New trustees going into organisations will be under greater pressure. There will likely be a fixed 3-year term and annual skills audits to make sure the board is covering the skills required.
• How do you know which organisations to avoid?
o If an organisation has been through a formal headhunter process then you should feel more comforted.
o Engage with the CE before committing. You will get a feel very quickly for how the organisation is being run.
o Strong governance is key to a well-run organisation. Things go wrong when the trustees are either too hand on or too hand off.
• What is your recommended approach if trying to land a university appointment?
o They do like big names
o They will nearly always be advertised in the Sunday Times
o If you are an alumni of the college it will give you a better chance (NHS trusts also like alumni)
o Be explicit about your previous NED expertise and the skills you can bring to the board.
o Interview panels tend to be large with a range of stakeholders involved.
o The process can be intense and is generally more organised and formalised than the charity sector.
• Is there a reduction in the candidate pool since Kids Company?
o Definitely more questions being asked by candidates
o People are more realistic about time commitment
• How can we prepare for the call from the young researcher?
o Have more than a paragraph bio or linked-in profile to hand.
o Talk to other trustees
o Talk about your governance experience. If you have never held a trustee role – if the organisation has a good induction programme – it’s not such an issue.
• How likely are you to take time to talk to candidates who is only making a general enquiry?
o Though headhunters are undoubtedly client driven they can glean a lot more about a person from a face-to-face meeting.
o You probably only get one go at a headhunter though so you need to make that meeting count. Come prepared.
• How do you present your CV for a general approach to a headhunter?
o Understand our executive career – particularly over the last 3-4 years.
o Illustrate skills like managing a team of x number, controlling a budget of y, participated in x and y committees, NED experience in ….
o Have a good covering letter which indicates the areas you are interested in. Don’t expect the headhunter to extract this information from you or your CV.