Guest Comment: My life as a parasite

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As a headhunter, I am a parasite who will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. I know this to be true, since Geraint Anderson, the former Dresdner analyst now known to be City Boy, says so.

It's the latest of many attacks upon my profession. Are we really that bad?


How do I know? Well, at the Global Derivatives & Risk Management conference in Paris, our group ended up in a bar arguing about latency for algorithmic trading (which is what I did when I had a real job). In a momentary lapse of judgement, I let slip that I was now a headhunter. The guy sitting next to me jerked as if I'd stuck a pin in him, and flatly refused to rejoin the conversation, such was his loathing.

Over on we read about someone whose career was capsized by a headhunter who "accidentally" sent his CV to his boss, and who is now sidelined.

One evening recently, I met with a senior manager at a bulge bracket who had been emailed so many CVs from one agency that day that it had taken down his inbox, causing real pain. So much for 'search and selection'.

Why is it that bad?

Here's the answer I gave him whilst pouring the wine: "You know that XX carpet bombs CVs, you know they lie, and change CVs, yet you still do business with them."

Apparently they also regularly tried to take out staff they had put in, in straight violation of their contract, and since they are an entrenched supplier, "nothing can be done".

But that is exactly why you hate me - even though we've never met, and I don't actually work for one of the carpet bombers.

The same issue applies to candidates. Because I openly offer careers advice I get correspondence of this sort: "Is X bank really hiring an entry-level quant?" Of course not! Its headhunter is simply trying to get you to go for the interview in order to collect information.

Some deceit is done with cunning and secrecy, but if you can't be bothered to research the firm you're trusting with your career, then frankly you deserve what you get.

Repeat business in financial recruitment is the exception, not the rule - at least from the point of view of the candidate - and staff turnover at some agencies is at Indian call centre levels. Thus the agent cares only about getting bums onto chairs. The concept of a long-term relationship is alien to someone with a monthly target and no knowledge of the business.

I've done the CQF, but apparently most headhunters think Bloomberg is a skiing resort and that Black Scholes is some kind of upmarket shoe.

HR has a real opportunity to make this better: after each hire, ask about the quality of service the hiring manager got - some simple scale of 1-10 is enough. Then circulate the results. Bad agencies will feel pain very quickly.

Candidates can do the same: simply say, "I've read about you, goodbye", when they ring.

Until you do these simple things, stop complaining.

Dominic Connor is a director of P&D Quant Recruitment.

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