From hunting heads to coaching careers

From hunting heads to coaching careers

By Ottawa Business Journal Staff

Alan Kearns of CareerJoy, one of Ottawa’s best-known headhunters is now a career coach, illustrating how recruiters have adjusted to the high-tech bust.

Since January, TalentLab’s former president and chief executive Alan Kearns has been working with his new career coaching company, CareerJoy.

While Kearns concedes there were practical considerations in getting out of the recruiting business, he says his biggest motivation was to tackle an untapped potential for career coaching.

"All the way through a market, there are new career issues," Kearns says. "Many people don’t clearly know what their talents are. They know their job title, but not their talents."

With this in mind, Kearns is approaching companies that want to have more effective human resources strategies that are adaptable to tough economic times. CareerJoy also counsels individuals looking to develop their careers.

"The role of the HR department is changing," Kearns says. "It’s not their mandate to coach a person’s career."

While Kearns says TalentLab continues as a "fundamentally sound" business, other recruiting firms have closed as their high-tech client base dried up.

This has left some of the more established search firms with a dominant share of a smaller market.

Perry-Martel International Inc. is one of the survivors. The firm’s managing partner, David Perry, says his company avoided the temptation to branch out during the high-tech boom.

"We came to the point where we made a decision, ‘Do you change industries or focus on what you do like a laser beam?’" says Perry. "It was hard to watch a lot of colleagues and friends abandon the industry they love."

Perry recalls when his firm was courted for nine months in 2000 by U.S.-based Christian & Timbers; such was the scale of the industry’s growth potential.

Perry says early 2001 began with a rapid downfall for recruiting agencies once the high-tech giants started to drastically reduce headcounts.

"By February 2001, 90 per cent of all recruiters were gone," says Perry. "The problem was many became Internet recruiters without a whole lot of added value."

The remaining executive search firms face a different market challenge. Although companies are still hiring, many are looking for vastly different skills and experience.

A few years ago, employers pursued executives just to beat their competitors. Now, they want senior managers who can bring immediate financial returns, Perry says.

"It’s focused on results. They’re turning back to the 40-plus executives," he says, referring to the age of the most desirable candidates.

Perry says many companies are looking for vice-presidents of sales and marketing, not to mention senior executives. Many of these executives need international marketing experience, he adds, since the drive for profitability is more urgent than it was three years ago.

Both Perry and Kearns stress the days of high-profile, local headhunters are over, meaning much of the work in connecting employers and prospective employees lies with the job seeker.

In an upcoming survey of 19,000 technology leaders conducted with the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, Perry-Martel found most respondents said they expected job seekers to approach companies well before being considered for job openings.

"Candidates have to do the heavy lifting," says Perry.

This sentiment seems to match what job seekers are looking for. Kearns says many of his clients are looking to take back control over their careers from employers.

"People want to be more empowered," he says.

— By Michael Hammond