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 a key variable to be controlled.
Headhunters manage risk in several ways. They journey through candidates’ pasts to project the trajectory of their most likely futures. 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 pay attention when executives are repeatedly lauded as outstanding or flagged as problemmatic, self-serving, unethical, autocratic etc etc etc. An executive’s reputation is the aggregate of a myriad of observations, estimations and outputs over time.
Reputations take shape over time. They speak of the person though not necessarily the full essence of the person. Reputations are contextual, and sensitive to the perch from which they are offered. In their fullness 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 wheels of careers, 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.
Reputations matter. They speak to values and character and they should be contemplated and cultivated.