June 20, 2011, 10:41 AM

IRCE 2011 Report: The best executives are happy and well-paid, and worried about the recession

A top e-commerce recruiter offers tactics companies can use to snag those professionals.

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The executives a retailer will want to hire are the ones a retailer is least likely to get: they are happy, well-paid and not interested in leaving their job, said Gene Manheim, who leads the e-commerce practice at executive search firm Herbert Mines Associates. He spoke last week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011 in a session entitled “Filling the Executive Suite: How to Find, Recruit and Keep the Right Top Execs.”

What makes matters worse, he said, is the recession. The financial uncertainty in the economy has caused many people to be wary of leaving a solid job, he said. And the collapse of the housing market has caused executives who would have to relocate to think twice because houses are not selling. Then there’s the issue of “the trailing spouse” during a time where jobs are few and far between, Manheim said. “Two-income families are the norm, and a two-income family will be worried about whether the spouse will find a job, and if so, how long will that take,” he said.

And there’s also the issue of “last one in, first one out,” he said, which is exacerbated by a down economy. If the economy were to take another downturn, companies may cut jobs, and the newly hired would have no job security.

Herbert Mines Associates takes an approach to finding and securing top executives that Manheim said is proving successful in getting those highly satisfied executives to make a jump, and to do so during the tough economic times.

First, a company should acknowledge on a first contact that it knows the desired executive is happy and that it just wants to have a conversation in case the prospective candidate has a never-say-never mindset. “That is a far better approach than a standard call where one says, ‘I’m calling from a fantastic company with a fabulous opportunity,’” Manheim said. “Most of the time people will say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ It’s coming at them too fast.”

Second, a company should manage its expectations, he said. The first conversation should be an exploratory chat combined with due diligence, he added. “If you say, “Why do you want to leave,” you are jumping the gun. You instead say, ‘What would it take for you to leave your current situation,’” Manheim explained. “And don’t turn on a candidate after initial conversations just because they do not seem interested. They are not drinking the Kool-Aid, they are there to gather information. If you think you will get a lot in the beginning you are shooting yourself in the foot.”

And third, a company should prepare with emergency tactics, Manheim said. If a hoped-for executive says they do not have a resume, a company should not ask him to create one and get back to him, as the company may never hear from the person again because he just doesn’t have the time and is happy, he said. Instead, simple tactics like reviewing a LinkedIn profile and hearing what a recruiter has to say can lead a company to instead tell the prospective candidate not to worry about a resume and invite him to a cup of coffee at a café he likes.

Another emergency tactic is to get senior management involved right from the start. To snag that happy, well-paid and uninterested executive that is so desirable, a company can have its CEO pay the executive a call and ask him for a meeting. “If you say you can meet the CEO,” Manheim said, “rarely do they say no.”


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