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Headhunters, Litmus Tests and Fair-Weather Friends

Following a couple of conversations; one with a good friend and the other with a complete stranger in a club, I felt compelled to write on the subject of ‘friends’ and just what this word means for us headhunters.

My conversation with the stranger – whose name I will not disclose as I am certain he is known by many people here in Beijing, seemed to enjoy being ‘facetious’ (his word of the day) about various things but when I mentioned that doing what he does must mean that he knows a lot of people, this caused him to make a slightly acid comment about my profession. He said “headhunters probably think they have loads of friends when this is just not the case is it.”. Needless to say, I was baffled, I mean, what does he take me for? In fact, what on earth does he even really know about headhunting? He works for a bloody freely circulated magazine. No doubt this person is not the kind of person that gets headhunted often.

I did well to keep from losing my rag but here are some points about the people we cross paths with during any given day, week or month. Firstly, no headhunter in their right mind could possibly attempt to be ‘friends’ with absolutely everyone they meet. It is no secret that whether you are the client, the headhunter or the hunted, your relationships with people can sometimes be very fleeting, only a temporary arrangement where we attempt to help make people’s lives easier or better, or both. We help people in more ways than most realize I think, and always, the utmost gratitude is shown when we do extend a hand. To think that we form deep and meaningful friendships with everyone is just like saying that headhunters are thieving cockroaches.

Certainly, headhunters make a few friends through their work– some of whom, for that short period of time become close enough to trust you and confide in you – sharing their dreams, failures, positives and negatives, we meet more acquaintances than you can shake a stick at and have more brief encounters than most would care to remember. Whilst not every headhunter has the same style, I personally go out of my way to ensure that the people I speak to feel comfortable enough from the minute they say “okay, go” to be open and honest with me. That is all I ask for at the end of the day – not their friendship and care for my own well-being. I have received emails from people who genuinely appreciate the effort I make for them and there have been moments when, dare I say this, it was very moving.

Headhunters are not all cold-hearted, ruthless individuals, nor are they all fake. Instead, we are on a mission and while I cannot lie and say I’ve never told a rouse to get past the front-desk – tell me now, who in their whole lives has never spoken to a person and did not even once have an ulterior motive?

This brings me on to conversation number two. My friend was explaining to me the idea of the Litmus Test. Arguably a primitive instinct – we judge absolutely everyone who catches our eye - albeit sometimes it is so quick that we do not have time to form a thought let alone an adjective as to how we feel about said stranger. Apparently we use this test to better gage the viability of this ‘potential friend’.‘possibly maybe lover’or whatever it is you are looking out for. One of the most valuable skills a headhunter can possess is their ability to use their ‘Litmus Test’ with incredible precision. It is not easy to get the whole picture speaking to somebody on the phone – even if it is for half an hour at a time. However, by picking up on nuances, successful headhunters are excellent judges of character – but only when we make the effort to do so.

I would like to say, and I am certain I speak for others too, that I am under no misconception about the temporal nature of our so called ‘friendships’ but I’m not bothered and I doubt anyone else is either. Speaking of which, I don’t think I will be rushing to hunt down this Chief-Editor to add to my Facebook anytime soon….

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