Ola and Grażyna, co-founders of GE Hunter, are experts in headhunting, recruiting and client advisory. In this episode, they share with us their process and tips for becoming a valuable and attractive candidate in the job market.
In this episode, Tina Persson interviews Grażyna Żywot-Ciecierska and Ola Samuelsson, who are co-founders of a global company called GE Hunter. They are experts in headhunting, recruitment and client advisory.
They have 20 years of international experience in finding talents for the pharma, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), medical, industrial and more sectors.
Ola Samuelsson specializes in roles within Finance, Supply Chain, IT and Manufacturing, while Grażyna Żywot-Ciecierska’s expertise are roles within General Management, Sales and Human Resources.
In the interview, the guests talk about the headhunting process such as identifying the most suitable candidates to the right companies and positions. This involves a well-structured process where candidates are coached to identify their interests and motivations. Finally, they match what candidates are looking for with the client’s expectations and vice-versa.
At the end of the episode, they share important tips for PhD candidates who are looking for jobs:
Be passionate about your interests.
Be social and communicate frequently.
Are you in the job searching phase of your career?
If so, you should definitely listen to this episode and take these tips with you.
Enjoy the interview!
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Tina: Hi and welcome, this is Tina Persson, founder of the podcast PhD Career Stories. Welcome to this episode, it is indeed a very exciting one because I have two guests here and you know what, they are headhunters, real headhunters from Europe. We have Ola Samuelsson sitting in Barcelona, Spain, and we have Grażyna Żywot-Ciecierska sitting in Poland. So very welcome to my podcast!
Ola: Thank you very much.
Tina: So, do you know what, I have followers here and I know from them that they are very curious about headhunters. So my first question is how did you end up in the headhunting business?
Ola: Well, I have been in the business now for about 10 years, which is much less than Grażyna and my colleagues. Still I always had some kind of interest for this business and that (unclear) experience as being a candidate. And being a candidate to recruiters, I actually had many times a bad experience. There were times when I was approached and nothing happened and sometimes I was approached. We had an interview and I was quite excited and this was a very interesting project and then - silence, nothing happened. So I have always been thinking before I joined GE Hunter “this is an interesting business”, but also “we can do much better”. I think there's a lot of room for improvement, and I still think there are many players that are very professional and do a good job, but still there are also many who don't do the job as it should be, and I think that also contributes a bit for some bad reputation or skepticism towards the industry.
Tina: I think that's a wonderful drive you had actually because I remember, from those who listen here, I wasn't recruited about 15 years ago and that was my drive into the business, I applied for a job and I've felt misunderstood and they didn't come back to me, they didn't give me feedback so that also drove me into the business a long time ago. You have been in the business Ola for how many years?
Ola: Yeah, a bit more than 10 years, we started GE Hunter in 2010.
Tina: And Grażyna how did you end up in the business?
Grażyna: Thanks for this question because it's always good to have some kind of reflection on how things started. Actually I had the dream to combine my education and I have graduated from oriental studies. So I wanted to combine my general interest in people with my education, which means how can I maybe help people, how can I support people, how can I share my knowledge on some cultures to people. So I was very lucky because at my first professional job, I was actually becoming a junior recruiter at that time where I had the chance to recruit people from Europe to work in arabic companies, in the Gulf countries. So that was a time when I understood how this job looked like and I could combine my interest in people with my background related to cultural differences and sharing this knowledge with people. So from the very beginning, I was very lucky, because that was my job which I'm very happy to continue these days as a senior headhunter. Starting as a junior recruiter now, it's time to be a headhunter.
Tina: But I understand that when you started as a recruiter you were also an adviser and helper basically, because people that were curious to work in the arabic culture, they got the advice from you.
Grażyna: Well that's why I think I was extremely happy because it was like a dream job for me. It was a combination of applying my knowledge from my studies and sharing my expertise, helping people to understand how to work, how to live in different cultures. You know, for us Europeans, it's not so easy to work and live in the Arabic countries or any other countries which differ so much from ours. So I was kind of an adviser for them but I was also a recruiter which also brought them this new opportunity to start a new job, start a new life. So for many of them, it was like a life story that they had such an opportunity to work for a couple of years in such a different culture. I remember, I was very happy because that were my first matches. I was matching the clients, that time it was one of the biggest aluminum production companies, with engineers who decided to start a new employment in a different country, a different culture. It was a great first job I had.
Tina: And I guess that the candidates were also very happy to have you there to support them in the new job, because isn't this part of your job today as well, to inform and help the clients in the new position?
Grażyna: Yes that's what I have been doing as a recruiter, now we also do it as headhunters because we have to match, we have to understand the candidates motives and expectations to the clients requirements profile, but also culture of the organization. So this kind of matching between the two is absolutely part of our job these days. That's most important, to really address it during our projects, during our communications with clients and candidates.
Tina: Some of the listeners here are from STEM. They are highly qualified, they have a PhD background and when they end up in a recruitment process, they feel a little bit of what Ola said: I apply and I never hear anything. So they say they get some sort of feeling they don't like recruiters, I think it's the business, it’s not okay, they feel misunderstood in this recruitment business. But the experience I had myself was that, yeah, we did actually a lot of jobs as well as to match clients and then help the clients to get the job, help them in the interview, help them to understand to meet the expectations. Is that your experience as well, is it the way you work as well?
Grażyna: Absolutely, yes, we at GE Hunter try to work as a kind of a coach for the candidates, try to prepare them when needed, at the same time, of course, we are advisors to our clients, just to also prepare them to what is expected, what are the expectations and what really the market is offering. Because it happens that the clients are having some kind of debrief of a person who does not exist. We have to very proactively and in some kind of a partnership also provide the clients with our views on how the market works, and in a sense they can also change the expectations.
Tina: Yeah, you are experts of the labor market, aren't you?
Grażyna: Well in a sense for some certain sectors yes, we believe that we are not experts for each sector. We as a company, we are quite specialized, we mainly work for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, for FMCG companies, so we're not experts for all markets, but within these sectors we believe we should be experts, we should understand what are the trends and how we can help both candidates, but also companies to find and match (unclear).
Tina: It seems so. So to help the listeners to understand your business, what does actually a daily day look like for you guys? When you wake up in the morning and you get to work, maybe it's not so fun now, you are sitting in your flats maybe, but what does your day to day look like?
Ola: There are two parts: there are of course this day to day, we have projects that are about matching the right candidate with our clients. The other important part is to understand what happens in the market, to research and investigate the market, to understand the trends, so we know how it looks today and how it will look tomorrow. That's the only way we can support our clients.
Tina: I'm curious, how many interviews do you do per day?
Ola: It varies, we could have five or six interviews in one day, or we could have zero. It depends on the situation, how many projects we do and so on, but then of course the interview is important. It's where we really try to understand who this candidate is, is he a good match? If we have too many (interviews) we can lose a bit of focus throughout the day, so we try to not have too many.
Tina: I understand that. Our followers are curious about what you actually do, what does a classical head hunting process look like?
Grażyna: Well, maybe it’s important to say that we are assigned for certain projects. And then the process is very well structured and it's divided into certain steps, certain weeks. First it starts with creating strategy. A strategy where this kind of ideal candidate - I'm sure that this subject is interesting, who is an ideal candidate - but in general we try to think, to make a plan where this ideal candidate for a certain project can be currently employed. So first we start with this kind of preparation or we can call it brainstorming. Then we assign a team, because we have a team of researchers who specialize in certain steps of these activities. So this team of researchers is then contacting the candidates by starting approaching. At first maybe identification of certain candidates which would be on our list of interest. So we prepare a target list of the companies, we prepare different strategy documentation, which is a part of the process. So in week 2, we start approaching candidates, and here is where everything starts because you have to start your dialogue with potential candidates, and all these dialogues and talking to candidates, understanding their interests, gives you a broader and broader pool of contacts you are connected with. At the end of the process, which for us lasts around 4 weeks, you should simply have a group of candidates who have been already interviewed by us and who are motivated and interested in the job opportunity we are having. So that's a very intensive 4 weeks time and maybe just to give you some additional information, we use to approach a really big pool of potential candidates. And it depends on the kind of project and how specific it is, it can be 15 to 18 people who we approach during this journey of the project.
So quite a big pool of candidates which, as we said, at the end should select the 4 to 5 best matching candidates. Best matching in our view. Quite intensive process, very rigorous, very well structured.
Tina: It is an intensive process and I see you have the numbers to get these 5, 6 candidates to approach.
Do you have any advertisements or you work by looking up to people, you got to LinkedIn or you use your referral network? What is your process here?
Ola: We don't use any advertisement, we only work with what we call “direct search”. The main pot goes for our network, our recommendations. Additionally, we also do online search. Depending on the project, we can get a limited number of candidates working for a limited number of companies, then we can ask the candidate directly if they are interested.
Tina: So to clarify for the listeners, let's say I am a company and I'm looking for a Regulatory Affairs Specialist. I am in a field where I'm looking for someone that knows RNA or DNA, a very specific experience. Then I would say that most likely you have to approach these 5 companies, who in Europe particularly work in that field.
Grażyna: That's exactly how it works and that's what we call a true headhunting, when we really have these 5 target companies where we can find these potential candidates. We of course will then also search for candidates who have previously worked for these companies, not only these 5 because maybe it's not enough. This is the way headhunting looks like. You have a target list of companies and you approach what we call “passive candidates”. Candidates who are not actively looking for the job, who are not advertising themselves, they are not in any portals, they are not actively looking for the job, they are passive candidates and we simply try to tempt them.
Tina: Yeah, and now we come to that, headhunting and recruitment, because headhunting is really what you guys do, whereas recruitment they can also very often advertise for the (unclear), so active candidates can find it. Some of our followers are sitting at universities: do you have top companies/organizations that contact you and say “we need someone in Physics with very good skills at algorithms”. Would you then approach universities? Has that happened to you?
Grażyna: Yes, it depends on the brief we have and we have noticed more and more often that especially pharmaceutical companies and medical devices companies, they are interested to also assess the profiles of candidates who are currently employed at universities and do not have commercial or business experience. But it's mainly related to medical functions. Kind of limited requests that we are having for that kind of profiles, but yes we are starting to have an increase, but a bit limited.
Tina: That's good to hear. As a coach, I say to PhDs “maybe you are not the target for headhunters at the moment. But if you enter the industry and you get a job in a pharma company or small biotech company and you get attractive skills in that company, then you will be a target for headhunters”. Would you agree on that, am I giving correct advice?
Grażyna: Absolutely, when the candidates already get some business experience on the business side, then they will be first on the target list to be approached by headhunters.
Tina: Meaning that it is not the first job that is important but what can come afterwards.
Now I'm curious, what do you consider: what is an attractive, outstanding candidate?
Ola: The first question is if such a candidate even exists. Our client always has requirements for the candidate, and the candidate ideally should match all the requirements. However, very few candidates match all the criteria. I'm not sure we ever had a “perfect” candidate. We try to build a kind of a partnership with the candidates. We talk with candidates relating to the project but we also talk with them for the future. It is also important that the candidates are motivated, interested and prepared. If we have an interview discussion, we would like that the candidate has done the homework. We would like to know that they understood the client and so on. Otherwise, it is very much about you having to be yourself. There is always a weakness and that is fine. If the candidate tries to pretend something, that's not a good solution. Be yourself and then it is a question if there is a match or not. You don't have a bad or good candidate, it is a question of existing a match or not.
Tina: You are saying some very good things. When I'm coaching, many of my clients are super afraid of showing they have weaknesses. They ask “how I can hide them” and I say they should not hide them, because when you start the work it will come out anyway. There is no perfect candidate, it is always how you handle things. Then of course, for certain jobs, if you have a weakness, maybe it's not the ideal job for you, but there are other jobs in which you fit better. Thank you for that answer, many will be relieved to know that there is no perfect candidate. Grażyna, would you like to add something?
Grażyna: Yes, because I'd like to add something that for me, personally, is very important. There are some candidates who also have a strong belief, strong interest or strong passion for something. And it happened to us, just to give you one example, we had a candidate who was not matching to the brief. He was very junior compared to the brief we had. But his attitude was extremely exciting because he was passionate about the job, he was extremely passionate about the job, and he really tried to do his best to convince us headhunters that yes, he's not in the brief but he can do the job. And in this precise case, I remember that we decided to recommend a candidate who was not in brief, and there was a big gap between what the client expected and what the candidate possessed. However, we decided to do it and do you know what happened? He got the job. He got the job because the client saw what we also had seen. Yes, he doesn't have full competencies. But he has such a strong motivation, such a strong belief that he can catch up during the journey, that he's the one who has something extra, because of this motivation, of his passion. So I also would like to highlight this fact that, for us headhunters, but also for our clients, the attitude, this motivation, maybe passion for a certain subject, certain functions or certain element of the job, is as important as other competencies match. I just mentioned this one example but I think we have a couple of examples in our professional experience in which the person was not matching but still got the job.
Ola: Yes, I would like to highlight that passion is a very good factor. You may be missing some hard facts, but if you have the right passion and motivation, that's very important.
Tina: And I like to hear that. It is important to clarify this for listeners, that you need to meet at a certain skill level, but then passion comes. If you have 2 candidates and one of them sits very heavy in the chair, not really being super motivated, but has all the skills. And then you have another candidate that does not have all the skills but is super eager. Then you will probably take the super eager one.
Grażyna: We could also say that candidates should be brave, we can encourage candidates to be brave. If they really want something, it's good to try to get it.
Tina: Another question: I'm curious - why are companies using you as headhunters? Why do they need you?
Grazyna: Well there are different reasons for why we are needed, why headhunters are needed. One of the reasons could be that there are some confidential projects, such as the projects where we are assigned to search for (to be honest) replacing a person that is currently employed. For these types of searches, an external partner is very much needed, so that's why we are assigned. That's one of the situations when we really can help because of the situation. But I think in the majority of cases, it is that - as we already said - searching for the right person needs time, needs focus, needs a lot of actions. It needs a lot of interviews. I think we are best suited to - after, of course, understanding the culture of our client, understanding the brief - we are best suited to tempt candidates, to approach candidates, to start this dialogue with them, to finally - at the end of this process - present the best of the best. The best matching four or five candidates. So I think that we can very often work as the ambassadors of the client. We don’t like to be treated as GEhunter as an external partner. We are working very much in partnership with the client and as an ambassador. We just simply do the job which cannot be done by them because we are simply experts. During our process we can really identify the best hunts. I think that’s why they need us. Just one example from our experiences: In many companies, there are internal recruitment teams, which work on behalf of the client by themselves. It happens to us quite often that after the job that was done by them, we have been assigned, we have been asked to search for the person. Very often, we notice that a three months project conducted by the internal person, was not so successful because it was not so well targeted, there was no strategy where exactly that person could be found. In our dues, it was not so intensive. We see that the number of people identified/contacted was very limited compared to what we used to do during our processes. That also proves that in many cases, it’s really crucial to have this external ambassador to support.
Tina: You became experts. You do this full-time. I can just share with you and also with our listeners: I worked as a headhunter and that’s only five years ago. I jumped in a little bit and it just recalls back to me that we want these three people and from these two companies. And we can’t do the job. I contacted 80 people and I placed three. So, it’s really hard work. But it’s fun. It’s hard work to be a headhunter.
Ola: I think, for companies and people in general and the rest we meet so that the work is done, it’s not just “Well, we need to find them”. We said it before when we start a project, it is a huge planning work needed to really understand what we are looking for and to set a strategy on how to find this. As Grazyna said, it happens from time to time that the clients say: “We do it ourselves. We have internal.”. And then, many times they are simply coming back after a while and they say “Well, it was not so easy.” If a company comes to ask tomorrow and says “We need this”, I mean we can present five CVs the same day, but it is about finding the right one. Our clients want the best of the best. When we start the search process, we probably find a very good candidate on Day 1 or Day 2, but when it is a question to continue and to continue and to continue, to really be sure “Now we have covered this, now we have found the best one”. Maybe it was the first one. But maybe it was not.
Grazyna: Maybe it was the first, yes, sometimes it is the first one.
Ola: From what I said from the beginning and why I became interested in this industry: Maybe I also thought at that moment “this is not so difficult”. But now I also learned: it is a lot of work. It is clear: there is a need for headhunters for many companies, absolutely.
Tina: And I agree with you guys, because I would say that you both, you do an amazing job. And since I had the job, I know: It’s a lot of effort behind it. And it is - as you said - it’s a collaboration. You can have the best candidate or the best matching candidate as number one, but it is also about convincing the company. And the team in the company that that candidate actually is the best one. And another amazing thing is that when you realize that their expectations - we can’t find those clients. They need to change the profile: If you change the profile, if you do this - then you will have him. That part of the headhunting - at least I found it - was extremely fun. You know, being in the middle of it.
Grazyna: But then of course you have to have clients that really like to work on this partnership basis. To be very honest: there are also clients who are really interested in building such partnerships, but there are also some clients who are not so flexible. They just have a brief and they just want us to go in line with the brief. Of course, as all companies, we have some clients we like to work with most, because of this approach, because of this openness that they have or do not have. That’s maybe also worth mentioning that there are different cases. Every case is different.
Tina: We are coming to the end of the podcast here, but I hope that you listeners here know when I am sitting listening to you and we should do so, it is so clear that you love your jobs. I hope that you are listening to this podcast and realize how complex headhunting is. It is not that we just take someone and put them here, it is partnership, its quick, its many candidates, you said it is up to 100 candidates in a pool, you have a lot of interviews, and you are reviewing, you are planning and targeting, so I really hope you listen to this here. Maybe you PhDs say “Wow, that’s a job here I like to have, sounds to be an exciting job” and I can tell you, yeah, for the right person it is an exciting job, but before ending here, I would like you to share with our listeners, we can start with Ola and then Grazyna here, 3 tips to become an attractive talent today on the market. Ola, would you like to start: 3 tips on how I make myself attractive.
Ola: I think we have covered that a little bit here. I think it is very much about having passion and motivation and it is also very important to show that. Then of course the formal qualities are needed. Also, again we were talking about the partnership which means be in touch with the headhunters. Network with the headhunters and stay in contact. I think that is also a good thing, and then of course I think it is very much about openness, honesty, don’t pretend, something you are not. I think it is a little bit of repetition of what we already said.
Tina: Networking, partnership, be honest, trust them and be yourself. This is what Ola said. Now we hear what Grazyna says.
Grazyna: Well, I have to in a sense repeat, but I will start with passion. Build your passion and be yourself when communicating with us, don’t pretend you are somebody else. Also be in contact with us, be responsive. I mean you never know what we are offering today or tomorrow, so respond to our contacts. I think that would be it.
Tina: And now I come to my followers here, they are probably wondering now: how do I find Ola and Grazyna in GE Hunter? How can they contact you?
Ola: They are very, very welcome to contact me and Grazyna. We have our website, gehunter.com, where our contact details are. So we are looking forward to all listeners to contact us!
Tina: So you hear that. They want you to contact them. So don’t be shy and with that I will say thank you very much Ola and Grazyna for this wonderful interview with you here. It was absolutely a pleasure and I hope for you followers here now, for PhD Career Stories, listen to this podcast carefully because now you have got some 10 million dollar tip that you can contact headhunters! You go to their webpage and there you have an email and then you probably send your matching resume explaining what you are looking for. That’s how you do it. And then networking, be yourself and there is nothing like a perfect candidate. So, thank you very much, this was Tina Persson from PhD Career Stories.
Ola and Grazyna: Thank you for having us.