"Nothing is more humiliating than seeing idiots
succeed in enterprise whilst oneself fails."
Gustave Flaubert
Did you say "head-hunters"?
This term may be striking but it is too aggressive, even warlike, to reflect the truth. I prefer the expression "hunter of talents", referring to a consulting job which has been baptised "executive search" by its creators. Those with this job know that it does not involve cutting heads in order to transplant them; but that it is about advising a company, and identifying, attracting and convincing the person that is considered best for the job to be filled.
For more than 15 years, I have advised companies on their choices of senior executives. In this capacity, I participate, like my colleagues, in the building of beautiful careers. Without overestimating this activity, it is fair to recognise its pertinence: a successful career is never just chance related. During the years, I have met hundreds of valuable candidates, but they did not have the required qualities to become a finalist and claim the victory. This proves that corresponding on paper to the criteria for a job is not enough to obtain it.
In France, the recruitment of senior executives for the main companies is often done without enlisting the help of consulting firms. Knowing the objectives and the methods of head hunters represents an advantage, even when an internal promotion is preferred. The criteria which govern the choice of a candidate in the case of a non professional search are not far from those of executive search assignments, except in the case of nepotism, cronyism, tradition or error. Discovering the work of a recruitment consultant will help you to understand that if you have the ambition to reach the top, management of your career is imperative.
Why this book?
In sharing my secrets of hunting, this book offers readers advice that neither a "grande école" nor experience gives them in order to answer THE crucial question: why do certain people reach the higher level jobs whilst others, who possess apparently the same qualities, do not progress to a superior position? Those who can lay claim to exceptional careers start with the same weapons: a good education, strong ambition and a first experience in their chosen sector. They then go on to distinguish themselves at a higher echelon. What makes the difference is the capacity of someone to manage his/her own career, to become his/her own "coach". Think of the sporting metaphor: work hard, train every day to make constant progress, create a mind of steel, keep it, try, retry, never admit defeat in playing fair, seize opportunities, perform well and endure in the long term : these are the qualities of a high level sporting achiever, which a future senior executive must also strive to attain. He who prefers to count on luck or tricks will not go far. He who lacks personality and morals, even if he succeeds at getting to the top, will be quickly unseated.
Managing a career is a difficult challenge to accomplish; the decisions to be made nowadays are not as straightforward or clear as before. Today, a professional who accumulates 30 years of experience has changed employers on average five times and he who has only ten years behind him has often changed three times. This trend does not appear to be levelling off. Cost reductions, restructuring and relocations mean that today no one can be sure to find a job equivalent to that which they risk losing: there is no safety net.
Knowing the secrets of hunting provides an advantage for those who are preparing for the ups and downs of a career path. It is a major asset for those, becoming rarer, who are thinking of evolving in the same company. Whilst my experience concentrates mostly on moving from one company to another, the lessons you can take from it are equally as valuable in the other case.
Help in choosing the right path
To succeed in your career is a difficult objective to fulfil. It is not enough to respect certain rules. Success is the fruit of an investment which requires a lot of time, effort and even sacrifices. A beautiful career has to be seen more as an adventure, full of emotions and surprises; an eventful journey across a turbulent sea rather than down a long calm river. Each decision will spark a chain reaction; each movement of the ship has a knock on effect on the arriving currents.
This publication is not a recipe book but cartography of reference points to help you orient your navigation and avoid or by-pass pitfalls which risk impeding or diverting your progress. There exist many elements each person needs to deal with individually, according to personality, strengths and weaknesses, aspirations and current situation.
What makes the difference is not so much strategy, positioning or technology, as quality of leadership. The winning firms are those who follow the best management techniques, those who do not view human resources as similar to machinery and those where the energy of each human is directed towards a shared goal. To succeed in this miracle, firms need excellent managers; men and women who, beyond their CV, are eloquent, possess presence, charisma, passion, a taste for risk and the capacity to generate and communicate a vision for the company.
The logic behind this book
What signifies for you a successful career? There exists as many definitions as there do people. How to navigate and hold your course when you do not know your objective? Family, society, books and the media all give a set standardised image of professional success. What is your definition of the word success, what does it mean to you? It is important to take the time to find your answer to this question so when searching you know what you are looking for.
What qualities are head hunters looking for in a candidate? Who is, in their eyes, the ideal applicant? In answer to these questions, I provide markers to help you succeed in all stages of the professional recruitment process, from the first contact by telephone to the final face-to-face meeting between client and company. The first part ends with a summary of the main points allowing you to memorise the errors that must not be made.
Secondly, I explore the maze of career management: the best choices to make according to the different situations people face (current job, age, area of expertise, etc.) and how to increase your professional worth throughout your journey in order to become the maker of your own success? What are the factors (internal and external) that determine who is finally crowned and who has access to the top? What would you face upon reaching your ultimate objective? How do you remain at the top? Finally, is being a company senior executive so fulfilling?
Translated by Stephanie MORTON, BA Nottingham University Business School, UK