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In his [url=http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/03/how-to-handle-headhunters-executive... post [/url]Mark Derricutt said:
[quote]Hey guys - just listening this show on headhunting and found it quite timely.

I recently received an email from an ex-manager of my current employer asking to “catch up for coffee” - he’s a good guy, I hadn’t seen him for awhile, so I went. I didn’t really have any preconvieved notion this would turn out to be a head-hunting operation but as I sat waiting for him at the local Starbucks the thought crossed my mind.

Sure enough, after a brief “so hows the office? this is what I’ve been up to” conversation came the innocent enquiry of “so we’re looking to expand and grow - and I thought of you…”.

Normally it’d would have been taken positively, and whilst it was in this instance, I also had a sense of “this startup might be onto a good thing, but they sound technically disorientated” - which in and of itself might be a good thing for me - to be able to bring some order and process to a fledgling organisation.

The conversation however came to an abrupt uncomfortable silence as I was asked “so what do you think? Interested?” Now, I’m not one that takes change easily, if asked a year ago I would likely said yes instantly but now - my current job has turned itself around and the company is a good place to work, and once again enjoyable. So even thou I’m not currently in the market, I’m also no longer in the headspace of wanting to walk.

I had no response for him, I wasn’t about to say yes, but I also hadn’t had any time to even think about it. Even after telling him this an uncomfortable silence remained for 3-4 minutes as thou we were both waiting for someone to somehow end the meeting.

Now, I’m not actually sure what I’m asking you guys, maybe its a generic question on the best ways to actually deal with these kinds of situations where you can’t just say “no thanks ” and hangup on them. I’ve not heard back from the guy and nor have I folllowed it up yet.

Anyway, look forward to the next show… [/quote]

mauzenne's picture

Mark,

A couple of thoughts ...

I'm tempted to go down the path of discussing why I don't think it's appropriate to say "no" at this point, but I don't have enough information to make that argument effectively. I'll just say that I heard in your writing a bit of anxiety about being presented an opportunity when you're not ready for it, or not looking. Regardless of how happy you are now in your job, your circumstances can change in an instant -- new boss, current company gets acquired, downturn in the economy necessitating downsizing, etc. So, you certainly want to encourage folks presenting opportunities to you.

Perhaps I read you wrong, but IF you have ANY unease about a consistent flow of opportunities being presented to you, this is something you need to work on. Bottom line, don't confuse the process of getting offers with the process of "accepting" offers. Expression of interest in you and your skills, even if you're not "looking", is a good thing and should be cultivated.

So, assuming you have good reasons for cutting off the discussion immediately, the conversation doesn't have to be awkward. So, how do you do that, you ask? My suggestions:
[list=1]
[*]Acknowledge the positive aspects of what your friend presented. He is excited about the opportunity that exists and thought enough about you to bring it to your attention. Acknowledge that and THANK HIM for the opportunity. Otherwise, he may feel unappreciated and feel less likely to present opportunities to you in the future. And you don't want that!

[*]Tell him WHY you're not interested AT THIS TIME. For example,
[list]
[*]"John, I'm right in the middle of a challenging project that I find is really building my skills in Project Management, an area I'm currently focusing on in my career development plan. And although I can see why your company is very interesting, I need to focus on the skills I'm currently developing -- it will really make me a more effective X as I complete this project." i.e., your currently developing skills will make you a MORE valuable employee/candidate in the future.
[*]"I'm on a project now that I feel particularly committed to finishing up. I'm a critical member of the team, I've committed to the team, and I need to see it through." i.e., if and when I come work for you, you'll get a fully committed employee.
[*]A little more complicated, but well worth it would be an explanation of what really WOULD interest you (assuming the current opportunity isn't a good fit and not just a timing issue).
[/list:u]
[*]Let him know that you would appreciate any heads-up on any future opportunities that are a closer match or fit your timeframes.

[*]If possible, suggest someone that you feel WOULD be a good candidate and offer to put him in touch with him or her. Doing so let's him know that you appreciate his need to fill the position and puts in place the law of reciprocity (he owes you).
[/list:o]
That's it. It doesn't have to be complicated. Thank him, give him a reason you don't want to pursue the opportunity that makes him want you as an employee even more, let him know to keep you in mind down the road, and help him solve his need, if possible, by suggesting one or two candidates.

Mike