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October 25, 2008

Managing the gatekeepers

As an employee, or a freelancer who works as a contractor, one of the major issues you need to deal with are the gate keepers. These are the internal and external referrers; those professionals who make it their job to find good candidates for roles within the company.

Although the function is similar, the attitude to their work is vastly different and it pays to understand their motivators, and approaches, if you are going to be able to navigate them correctly.

First and foremost the best way to work with these people is to not need them. That means that you have a brand and a network that is strong enough that the decision makers contact you, rather than you having to enter via a third party.

All well and good, but right now not everybody is in that position.

External headhunters

I like these people, particularly those who operate in the smaller more niche agencies. If you come across someone at this level they are normally industry savvy, experienced, and quick to recognize talented professionals when they come across them.

Find these people, maintain good relationships with them, and continually update them on your career moves, future outlook and with updates of your resume. A fantastic guy in this area for me has been Mr Graham Cross from Wise Recruitment in Australia.

Guys like this will represent you to their clients. They look after your best interests because they realize that you are a talented individual, and your talents will ensure that their reputation is protected with their clients.

They take a viral approach to decision making and candidate selection. That means they will check your LinkedIn profile, or Visual CV profile. They will hunt down and speak to your referrers, and they will base their decisions on their judgment of your suitability for the role.

The flip side of this are Internal Head Hunters or the HR department. These guys are similar to people who work with larger agencies and body shops.

Internal HR Departments

Where ever possible I try not to ever work with these people. They are often small "b" bureaucrats, with little industry experience and a deference to policy and procedures. Why so much deference? Because they invariably realize that their own skills and judgment is not enough to take decisions about your abilities.

These are the people who will write you out of the process based on academic qualifications without any understanding of your career experience. They rely on psychometric analyses rather than references, and any reference checks they do are aimed at supporting their hypothesis rather than discovering the talent of who they are speaking with.

I have reached a point in my career today that if I am challenged by some mid-level HR person, with no industry experience or understanding of what I do; then I am more than happy to walk away immediately.

Like all consulting the way you start will determine your success and how you finish. If you spend weeks or months chasing these peo0ple then you enter as one of the flock, in what is basically an auction between people that they have deemed to be of similar skill levels.

Regardless of experiences, regardless of referees and their standing int he community, and regardless of the obvious value you can bring.

Your best bet is to go straight to the clients themselves, speak with the decision makers and establish your undeniable value to them directly. If you can't do this then head hunters from small agencies who are dripping in experience are your next best option, particularly the good ones.

At all times avoid the "auction" processes of HR departments that are stuck in the late twentieth century - there is simply too much opportunity out there to have to worry about them.