Reverse Headhunting or Outplacement?

1 April 2008 Anthony McAlister

Even when in employment, it pays to keep an eye on how your personal brand is valued in the marketplace. Anthony McAlister of Accipitor explains how reverse headhunting could provide the solutions to navigating the employment market.

Early last summer I met with a FTSE chief executive. During our chat he let on that a major shareholder had expressed some disappointment in his stewardship. He had been in post a little over three years

As expected, the chief executive played down the significance of this event and felt that his position was secure for the foreseeable future. He went on to mention that he knew a few headhunters and indeed a couple of opportunities had come his way recently. He had it all under control – or so he thought.

Wrong. He was deluding himself about the current situation and was suffering with the rather unsubtle blend of arrogance and ignorance often observed, but never admired, in senior execs. He had an over-inflated idea of his market worth without any idea of how the employment market works.

"There is no substitute for continuous employment."

He telephoned me a few short months after our initial meeting. He had just been fired by his chairman. Predictably, he decided not to rush into the first thing available and decided to take a well-deserved long family holiday. He was given the usual outplacement support once he had negotiated his compromise agreement and is now very busy meeting private equity groups, search consultants and his own network. He is still very unemployed and probably will be for a while yet.

What did he do wrong? If we ignore getting fired in the first place then he simply failed to understand his vulnerability and the inevitability of his position. He compounded his problem by not risk managing his position and then by further reducing his currency with his long holiday. I can safely predict that he will not be re-engaged at the same level of remuneration when he eventually is offered a role.

Despite what the touchy-feely HR types say, there is no substitute for continuous employment.


About the same time, having engaged with us eighteen months previously to help him achieve the next stage of his career, another chief executive and past client was accepting an ideal role with one of his target organisations.

"The time to act on your career is when you do not need to, because by the time you do need to it is too late."

He had not been under any threat but realised that he needed specialist help to preserve his personal brand and leverage his position. He was in his mid-forties and had been with his organisation for over twenty years. His career had been fairly meteoric, peppered with various awards.

He knew where the gaps in his knowledge lay, and with a high-pressure job, had little time to promote himself and navigate the pitfalls of job hunting. In working with us he was given focus and a reality check. He also refined his market intelligence and proactive marketing.

He has used some of our techniques in hiring some of his senior team. He describes his work with us as simply the best investment he ever made.

The time to act on your career is when you do not need to, because by the time you do need to it is too late.


Reverse headunting is simply where we work on behalf of a candidate who is looking for a number of opportunities and wishes to leverage their personal brand. We fulfill a number of roles: analysts, catalysts, motivators, coaches, marketers and negotiators.

It is a highly-individualised service and takes a long-term view. To be sure, headhunters work for one organisation, whether retained or contingent and look for a number of suitable candidates for one opportunity. Their primary consideration is winning assignments, not finding jobs for people. In fact, the top 100, ranked by fee income, on average handle less than three roles per annum for our typical client.

"When starting this business, I was determined it would be dramatically different to other types of career management consulting."

Reverse headhunting is just not the same thing. Outplacement has become commoditised. Paid for by the past employer, the outplacement consultancy has little or no incentive to deliver.

The reasons to use our services are the same as those for paying your accountant and lawyer: to protect your position and add value. For most people their career is the most important thing: it pays for the mortgage, the school fees, the alimony and the holidays. In fact, even when money is not the driver other equally important motivators come into play.

We work with both corporate and private clients over a range of circumstances such as succession planning, M&A, at risk individuals and NED assignments.

When starting this business, I was determined it would be dramatically different to other types of career management consulting. Our fees are time-based; you cannot charge a percentage of salary and deliver the same service. Our work is objective driven and warrantied. Our team is young and dynamic. You won’t find the pompous old farts that have defined recruitment and outplacement in the past.

So if you are prepared to leave your ego at the door and understand the value of managing your personal brand then reverse headhunting is for you. If you think you know it all and believe you are well connected good luck – you probably need it.