Do Your Own Job: I’m Not Your Researcher, Sourcer or Contact Database

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Mar 5, 2012

Quite frequently I get contacted by people searching for something or someone. Normally, I don’t mind that.

Actually sometimes it is flattering that a random stranger or casual acquaintance found something about me intriguing enough to think I’d be a good person to contact to get help with their situation.

In posting this I realize I may ruffle some feathers and raise some eyebrows. My intent is not to come across as someone unwilling to lend a hand or offer assistance. The opposite is probably more my problem.

I have an unfortunate and inconvenient habit of going out of my way to respond to practically every request that comes along, even to my own detriment. It is a tough pattern to break, but I’m trying to create more balance.

Earlier this week I received an email from a person at an executive search firm. They wanted to set up a call or have me call them. I replied with my number and within an hour they called me.

Problem #1? Calling unprepared

Not being able to tell from the initial email what they were interested in, I was curious to find that out. After a brief intro of who they were, what their firm does and the type of client and candidate they deal with, they proceeded to ask for names of people that might be interested in an opportunity.

So far, nothing wrong with that. As I probed for some basic understanding of logistics, location, travel, and other standard details of the opportunity, the person seemed cagey and evasive.

First of all, they admitted that the search was brand new and they didn’t have that information. OK. Fine. But, those are the kind of things that ANYONE would ask and you are totally unprepared to be calling and expecting a stranger to help without having done your research and due diligence first.

They only gave a very generic description of the type of professional they were seeking. It was so vague that it could have been interpreted differently depending on the context, industry and organization. I was cut off a couple of times when trying to ask for clarification of their candidate criteria.

They said I could review their website to see their 20+ years in the search industry. Yeah, I’ll get right on that because you sound so credible, knowledgeable and experienced already.

Problem #2? Caring about quantity, not quality of names

The main point I was trying to make was that geography and work-life balance is an important consideration for most people in my network. Living and working in Southern California, we have dramatic traffic and commuting issues to deal with and everyone has different tolerance levels for what is acceptable related to frequency of travel, main office location and working conditions.

They went as far as telling me that I shouldn’t let those items get in the way or be a distraction at this stage. Huh? So, your client’s expectations and prospective candidates’ understanding of what the opportunity entails is an insignificant matter that no one needs to bother discussing?

By now I was losing patience and suggested that they email me a synopsis of their search criteria and I would give some thought to who I knew that might be interested and qualified. They were not at all in favor of doing that. In fact they acted as if (and even lectured me) that was a waste of their time.

Never mind, that they were asking for significant investment of my time to scan my contact list for leads. And, for me to just hand over names as if they were entitled to that access to my network.

Problem #3? Unprofessionalism

Wanting to wrap up the call, I inquired about how they found me. Again, they reacted as if that was none of my business or it was an unreasonable question. They said, “Oh, I have my team, my sources and my researchers and we find people using various methods. Most of the time I don’t know the exact way someone was identified and passed on to me. ”

As you can imagine, that last comment struck me as entirely unprofessional! So, you have no idea who you are finding, where you are finding them and don’t need to worry about answering their questions as long as you can take advantage of them and get what you are looking for with minimal effort?

Furthermore, I wondered if they have all of those capabilities and resources why on earth they were wasting time calling someone like me. Why would you expect me or anyone else to do YOUR job or the job of your researchers, sourcers or database?

What do you think? Is this a proper representation of the executive search profession?

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