Why Your Reputation Matters

May 15, 2009

Headhunters are paid to find candidates who will thrive in their client organizations. Certainty is elusive so the promise of success is always weighed against the probability of failure. Risk is the key variable to be controlled.

Headhunters manage risk in several ways. They journey to the past to predict the most likely future. They probe candidate accomplishments, setbacks, personalities, behaviors and lessons learned. They cobble together themes and narratives and put forth hypotheses as to fit with their clients’ needs.

Headhunters also solicit external data points to corroborate or contradict their hypotheses. Scores of people are contacted for recommendations, opinions, and insights into companies, industry landscapes, the movement of talent and specific executives. Wary of any one source of intelligence, headhunters do pay attention when executives are repeatedly lauded as stars or flagged as underperformers. An executive’s reputation is the aggregate of these general estimations.

Reputations live on the edges and in the shadows. They speak of the person but they do not necessarily speak to the essence of the person. Reputations are contextual, and sensitive to the perch from which they are offered. In their aggregate though, reputations are more accurate than not, and they matter. Reputations add color and provide clues in understanding an individual. They can also comfort and confuse. Great, consistent reputations grease the wheel of recommending candidates, while poor or mixed reputations demand effort to unravel the strands that weave through them. The greater the effort required to sort through a person’s reputation, the less likely the headhunter will assume the risk of promoting them to their client. The same can be said for the client firm contemplating a hiring decision.

Next…Individuals and their reputation.