The economy of the past few years has disrupted many careers, but some of the most talented people I know capitalized on it by starting new businesses. Ah, if only it were that easy! Start a business! Get some funding and launch something new under the sun!
This is indeed the time to take a risk. But smart business people don't pursue just one path into the future. They leverage every opportunity to create more opportunities. They use every meeting not just to accomplish their defined goals; they use it to open new paths to even more opportunities.
Consider how headhunters work. We do a lot of work gratis. We are glad to share our insights and contacts to help anyone we think is worth helping. I might spend a few hours with an entrepreneur, helping her figure out how to staff a startup. I might let a banker buy me lunch so he can pick my brain about how he can help a company he's helping refinance to hire some key people.
None of these are search assignments for me; they do they generate fees, either. But all create opportunities that I cannot buy: They give me access to people I might otherwise never get to meet. And any one of those people might lead me to my next assignment.
Such meetings can be a great source of job opportunities and a great way to identify talent if you’re hiring. In a recent column--“Where Do Job Interviews Come From?”--we discussed how a person’s “story” can create opportunities. Now let’s take a look at how you can use a headhunter’s method to create relationships that lead to opportunities.
A successful sales executive I know has never had a problem finding a gig--until recently. His network dried up. That is, the people he has known all of his life are not in a position to help him land a job or a consulting contract. So he's pursuing almost anything that comes along.
Here's what he just wrote to me:
“I am off to Chicago this week. I am talking to a former colleague who has started a company. Unfortunately, he isn't funded. It’s one of those, well, you know the story…”
Yes, I know the story. I've invested a lot of my time with people whose prospects are uncertain. Why do I do it? Here's what I wrote back to the sales exec:
“You’re smart to make the trip and take the meetings. There may be an opportunity for you with this startup. But while you're meeting with your old buddy, try to meet with others connected to his project. Offer to help your colleague talk to any potential investors he's got lined up. Offer to help him talk to vendors, distribution channels, even competitors he's studying.
“The contacts you make while doing these things may help your old buddy launch his new business. . .and all of them are potential sources of jobs for you, too. This is one way to get access to people who otherwise might never talk with you: marketers, bankers, lawyers, technical people, investors, real estate brokers. These are folks who know executives in companies that need help, too. Execs who are, or will be, hiring.
“Going to meet with an unlikely startup founder need not be just about helping him start his business. It's about job hunting, too. This is the territory that headhunters roam, exploring the business landscape for opportunities. Not just one opportunity. All opportunities. All those people you read about who are trying to launch businesses--they know many of the best sources of funding, raw materials, distribution channels, real estate, legal advice. . .well, you get the picture.
“Opportunities come from meeting as many movers and shakers as you can. But you can't do that from behind a computer screen, sending out resumes. It's far better to go do some work for someone, even if it doesn't pay. More than once I've helped out an entrepreneur gratis, and, in the process I've met people that I could do business with. That's where I find clients. That's also where jobs come from.”
There’s no reason you can’t roam where I roam, or why you can’t find the same opportunities headhunters find.