Executive Search : Death by a thousand cu*ts

I’m currently in the soul destroying position of having to tout myself around the shallow horror show that is the Executive Search market, surrounded by ghouls masquerading as Executive Recruitment Specialists. The real human beings you meet are bad enough, but when you throw in the shiteheads and charlatans that reside in the murky waters of search engines, networking apps and online recruitment, the picture gets even bleaker.

As with all things in my life, it’s my own fault. Throughout my career I’ve prioritised putting my head down and getting on with what’s in front of me instead of sticking my head up and spouting to anyone who’ll listen. Or “networking”, as it’s more commonly known. Now don’t get me wrong. I do understand that it’s important, but should it really be as important as it’s recently become? At the end of the day networking is a blatant self serving exercise in self promotion with pretty much the sole aim of opening doors for yourself and your future. Nothing much to do with the team you are building or the challenges you are supposedly wrestling with daily, and certainly nothing to do with the poor saps who currently pay your salary. And I know it’s different in sales, and I know it opens other doors for partnerships and ventures, but really? Life and business is about prioritising our precious time and focus on the stuff that really matters. And I make no bones about the fact that excessive networking has figured well down my own personal list. Which has worked just fine until now.

Now, of course, I feel foolish. Probably should have thought of myself a bit earlier. It is blatantly obvious to the ghouls and charlatans that I’m only “initiating a relationship” with them because I’m desperate. And they all quickly get to the question – “how well networked are you, because of course, over 80% of big roles get landed via contacts in you network rather than via us and the open market”. Great! Well why the hell are there so many of you then, and what the hell do you all do?

Typing that has brought back a great memory, so forgive me if I digress a little. Back in my first company, where I spent a wonderful and formative 15 years +, we had, as many big companies do, a few challenges in getting departments to work together for the greater good. I learnt later that, despite long lists of reasons to the contrary that you may read in journals, this almost always comes down to people. Early on in my career I worked on one side of a very split function, where sure enough the two leaders hated each other’s guts. This became apparent to the CEO who demanded that both leaders take their full departmental leadership teams on a “joint” off site to build bridges. And so off we were dispatched to Coventry – literally. However the two bozzos in charge had not quite grasped what was required, and by the end of day one, our side of the function, had spent the entire day in one venue conference room, without the other half, listening to our own boss spout. Obviously the other half did the same. We finished first though, and rapidly adjourned to the bar, where I sat with a very effective but rather loud and unsubtle mid level boss of mine. Right on cue, as we sipped our drinks, the far door opened from the other conference room and through marched the entire – and pretty excessive – leadership troop from the enemy. Bold as brass my unsubtle chum, upon seeing, deep in the crowd, a peer he knew at a similar level to him, announced shamelessly to all….”Ere Bob, why on earth are there so many of you, and what on earth do you all do?” Great times.

Anyhow, I should probably bring it back to topic. Executive recruitment, as you may have gleaned, is not a business I hold in high regard. Basic human niceties are fundamentally lacking. It probably took me 6 months and 20 meetings – their diary congestion rather than mine – to work out that they are instantly judging you the second they meet you, and if you are not spouting the exact mandated diatribe in a confident and exuberant manner (and let’s remember, you have just been sacked, errr made the tough decision to resign on your own terms) then you are dumped straight into their mental trash can, never to reappear. But of course they never actually tell you this, or give any allowance for nerves, confidence etc, they just ignore or placate you. For months. I have never heard such regular repetitive and rancid shite-spiel vomit from so many people about why you are not suitable for a role when you clearly are. “They” have decided you are not backable.

The only positive from my experience with these lowlife, are the exceptions that prove the rule. Two or three individuals I will keep in touch with, formally and informally, because they are decent people and are trying to help. You know, doing tough things, like actually calling you back, giving you advice and contacts and doing what they say they will do. That’s the sort of network I’m happy to build, and will use when the worm has turned. The rest are an amorphous mass of self congratulating morons, who the sooner they get disrupted out of existence the better.

Then there was the other guy. He sticks in my mind in particular because he is so out of the clique. Big title, big office and big ego, yet in a very incestuous market no one claims to have heard of him. I explained my position honestly to him, highlighting that my woeful networking position was a result of focusing on my own judgement of my priorities. He smiled knowingly, through golden teeth (my memory may be playing tricks), and said “I’ll work with you for exactly that reason”. Apparently he picked and chose who he worked with, and had a 100% success rate of placing those honoured enough to be chosen. This sounded good, and all I had to do was follow his process of four simple stages to be done over four different hour long sessions. Bring it on!

Very quickly I got myself ready for the next session. And just as quickly during the session my enthusiasm started climbing the wane tree. “Your CV is shit. Your linked in profile is shit. You come across shit. Frankly you are shit.” Thanks. Just what I need when at a low ebb. We never actually got to stage two.

But it’s all ok because to get the next gig it’s all in your own grasp. All you have to do is show resilience. It’s says so on all the best blogs and journals and it’s all over LinkedIn like a rash. Show it and prove yourself. Things will come good. And resilience is the answer. R-E-S-I-L-I-E-N-C-E. Well, Mr Blog, resilience can kiss my great big hairy arse, cos I’ve had a guts full of this crap.


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