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When the call comes...

A call from a head-hunter can be a morale booster or a waste of time if they dont know what they want. How do you get noticed by the ones that matter? By Stefan Stern

Monday morning, again. Youve just received a menacing

e-mail from your boss, or come out of one of those dreadfully unproductive meetings, when suddenly your PA says that an old friend is on the phone, and wants a chat. Only it isnt a friend its a head-hunter looking urgently for a talented HR manager to take up an exciting new opportunity.

It is enough to make you spill your morning coffee. At last, you think, my true abilities and value are being recognised. Eagerly you grab the handset and start picturing the new office, the new car and the extremely attractive share options.

It is an easy mistake to make. Of course it can be very flattering to get rung up like that, says Christine McCorry of Hays ZMB Human Resources, the search and selection consultants. But the important thing is to build a good relationship with a head-hunter, she adds. That means being professional and not getting carried away.

It also means being realistic about the nature of the head-hunting business. When it is done well, head-hunting is skilful, subtle and orderly. But if you are on the receiving end of an ill-prepared phone call, made by a rather desperate person looking for a commission as quickly as possible, the experience is going to be less pleasant. You feel like just another random name on a long shopping list; and when you turn down the offer, you are met with the inevitable enquiry, Do you know anyone else who might be interested? The caller never really knew anything about you at all.

You may feel your time is being wasted. Certainly, some HR professionals are underwhelmed by their experiences with certain head-hunting firms.

Some of these people have a very sketchy idea of what they are looking for, says Suzie Theobald, group HR director at logistics firm TNT UK. They dont have all the details of the job, and they are desperate to do a deal. Their telephone technique is bad, and they leave the vital information compensation and benefits, geographic location till the end, if they even have those details at all. If I were spending a lot of money on a head-hunting firm and then they represented me like that, Id be very disappointed, Theobald says.

But what if youre not getting any of those calls in the first place? Depression may set in if you think you are not getting noticed. Theobald gets a lot of calls about jobs nearly all of which are not suitable. So why does she get noticed?

Im very lucky, I do seem to get a lot of approaches. Raising your profile means being prepared to put yourself out there a bit speak at conferences, get quoted in the press. If youre doing a good job you will be noticed, she says. Theobald places less emphasis on networking. Its not necessarily about that, she says. Your work will speak for itself.

And even if firms arent able to hire right now, they will want to know about you. You dont have to wait for that call to come in, says McCorry. You can contact reputable consultancies when they advertise, and approach them in a professional way. And dont hold back important information: openness and disclosure are vital to building a valuable and effective relationship with a head-hunter.