This is the second of a two-part interview with Kevin Collins, a capital markets recruiter who has made his career with April International in New York. In his words, “a recruiter’s biggest mission is to let people know what they’re worth in the marketplace.”
Please give an overview of your firm.
The firm was founded in 1978, and I’ve been here since 1989. A friend of mine who owned the firm approached me. At the time I was working at CBS News and also managing a restaurant. I went to see what it was all about and realized it’s a fun, people-person job. In restaurants there’s constant contact with people, and in the newsroom too, of course, so my experience was very applicable. In recruiting you learn something new about industry every day, so it was very attractive.
Now we work almost exclusively in capital markets, but in the early days we’d work with almost anyone. That was enjoyable because it broadened your scope. I’ve looked for Saul Steinberg at Reliance Insurance, for a helicopter pilot for him once. I’ve looked for patent attorneys for Sony Corporation. I have another client, an investment bank out of Europe, and they come to me for everything, areas that I don’t normally recruit in.
15% to 20% of my work is for hedge funds. The remainder is major investment firms: Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley. We primarily do quantitative analysts, risk managers, credit analysts, controllers.
How has the internet changed your business?
A lot less client and candidate contact, on the telephone anyway.
So a lot more screening happens before you even talk to anyone.
Absolutely. The telephone conversation is almost a thing of the past until you really identify the candidate. It used to be that you’d be on the phone with 30 to 40 calls a day. It’s probably down to 10.
Do you use networking sites?
I’m on them all. Do I utilize them much? I don’t, but maybe because I haven’t had the time to sit down and even toy with them.
Online job boards?
I try to stay away from them. Niche boards are one thing, but I don’t find the larger boards that helpful. My clients are in competition with me on them. So I have to be a little bit more creative. And posting jobs is very labor-intensive.
What persuades people to leave a position when they’re not actively looking?
Well, some people think they’re content, but change once they realize there’s a challenge out there. The routine is very comfortable, but then they realize they’re not challenged. They also realize that their career path is going to stagnate, if they don’t make the correct move, and their compensation will stagnate too.
You are the bearer of that challenge.
It’s what I would like to be, anyway — someone who lets people know what they’re worth in the marketplace and opens up new doors for them. That’s what I think a recruiter’s biggest mission is: to let people know what they’re worth in the marketplace.
Many years ago I had two friends that I graduated with: one fellow made the right moves, and the other didn’t make any moves, and one was making $45,000 and the other was making $98,000. So, I realized then that you have to make some critical moves in your career to maintain your salary.
How do you get their ear when they’re not listening?
Sometimes it is difficult. Especially in financial services, especially if I’m talking to somebody on the trading floor, it’s next to impossible. I try to defer and have a phone call later, possibly in the evening, when it’s more comfortable to speak. There’s nothing worse than trying to talk to somebody when they’re preoccupied, especially with business.
There’s more of a need for risk management within hedge funds now.
Absolutely, because of all the subprime debt they’ve turned up. They’re looking at their risk managers wondering, “What were they thinking?” They’re really going to want to comb through their books and see what’s going on.
What’s the outlook for hiring over the next year?
I’m thinking it’s going to slow a little bit. You know, hedge funds were meant for this environment — for the downturn in our economy. But a lot of hedge funds are involved in the subprime market, and they are going to be hurting, sounds like. They’re going to be working harder, but I don’t think they’re going to be hiring.
Do you see fund performance affecting employee loyalty?
There are some very solid funds, and there are some weak funds. Like any other type of business, I think if you have a well-capitalized firm, people are going to stand by and hang in there. If you have a shaky firm like some that got involved with the subprime market, people are going to run.
What can make a fund shaky besides its capitalization?
Most hedge funds are small enough that everyone’s making some sort of an impact, and that goes from the top down. If the leadership is not doing the right thing, it’s going to affect everybody.
How do you advise candidates to handle compensation negotiation?
Don’t handle it at all; that’s my position. Sometimes, we’re forced out of that role, but I always try to keep in close contact with my candidate to help him. It can be a very slippery slope, so first of all, keep him grounded and calm, and keep his eye on the ball. They don’t have to make any decision right away, or without discussing it with me.
Sometimes the client will want to be the driver of the deal, and it’s difficult for me to cut them out. It’s unfortunate, but I’m working for them.
What about handling a resignation?
Of course you don’t want to burn any bridges. This is a very small world.
Explain to your boss the reasons for it: for my own benefit, for my career development, for my progression. If it’s a right strategic move for someone, I can’t see any boss denying anyone that, because it’s how they got to be the boss themselves. The boss should be patting them on the back and wishing them well. Either that or come up with a huge counteroffer. A lot of candidate’s bosses don’t realize what they’ve got until it’s gone.
What kind of networking do successful candidates do?
Well, it’s a closed world in a lot of respects, but once you break in and find out where you have to go, and who you can go to, they usually open up. If an opportunity is good, people are not afraid of passing it along to their friends. It’s also a matter of trust; if you’ve dealt with people long enough, they’re more than happy to help.