Bruce Weston of Garrison Associates (www.garrison-assoc.com) describes contingency tech recruiting for the top banks in NYC and how to use recruiter relationships.
Tell us about what you do.
I’ve been in this business six years. I just left a Fortune 500-size firm, and I was referred to this company by a corporate recruiter that I placed. I’ve been here a year, and love it.
One thing is freedom. I can really pretty much do whatever I want. We’re a small firm, so we don’t have any competition internally that a lot of big firms do have. We’re not fighting over candidates or fighting over clients. You know, we just all come to work and we work hard. Where in bigger companies — you have meetings and restrictions and territories, and it limits people from being successful.
The firm’s been in existence 10 years. We primarily are in the finance industry — I’d say 90-95 percent — and about 85 percent of our jobs are on the perm side of things. Five of the main banks: Goldman — for which we’re the number one IT vendor in the New York Metro area — Barclay’s, Deutsche Bank, Alliance Bernstein, HSBC, UBS. And then we have hedge fund clients. I pretty much do every type of recruiting. To me, it really doesn’t matter. I just match needs accordingly, of companies and individuals. But we’re predominantly focused in the finance world.
We just do contingency. I’ve personally done retained in the past, and I really don’t like it. We’ve gotten retained job orders from a couple of the big banks, that didn’t have success with the retained, and we’ll do them on a contingent basis because we’re pretty confident in what we do; and we’ve made very high level placements. And now we get the calls for the retained firms — and they don’t have to shell out the money beforehand.
What roles do you target?
Our roles are predominately IT…you know, we get everything from the VP roles — half a million dollar roles and up sometimes — a lot of developing roles, all different technologies, Java, C#, C++, a lot of project management roles, some are technical, some are more project-based, a lot of business analysts, a lot of QA Manager opportunities. It’s like this because we’re preferred vendors at all those major banks; we get access to every single job they have. We’re eighty percent here in the New York Metro, and 20 percent national.
Because we’re a small firm, we only work on the ones that we speak directly with the hiring managers. We go on a needs basis. If you get a call from a hiring manager, their need is much more imminent than 95 percent of all the recruiters out there making cold calls. We have these relationships established. So when they call us they’re not calling a million other headhunters. They say, “I need this,” and we say, “Okay, great, we’ll have you three to five people in a day or two.”
Hedge funds are smaller companies. The most important thing in placing someone in a hedge fund is personality or culture fit. They’re very particular about what school people went to.
What is the typical time to hire, from the moment you get the search to the moment the deal is closed?
Two to four weeks. If it takes more than four weeks, it’s not an immediate need by the client; or they’re just being really picky. I have some of my own clients outside the finance industry, smaller companies — I send them one person, if they like them, they’ll hire them within two to three days. Go back for a second interview, do a background check or a reference check, rather, and they’ll hire them because they know what they want, which is great for a recruiter. It’s good because you don’t risk losing candidates.
Has there been any fluctuation in the fee-per-hire?
Not really. For the big banks, we get 25 percent, 30 percent on high-level jobs, and 35 percent on really high level jobs. Smaller, private companies with smaller budgets will definitely nickel and dime you and try to get you down to 15. We won’t go below 20 percent because it’s not worth our time.
Firms that don’t want to pay fees that the big banks pay, will get what they can afford. There’s also a direct correlation with what a company pays for talent acquisition and what they actually pay their employees. Companies that don’t use headhunters, don’t pay their employees as high as the market does.
What skills are in the greatest demand right now?
I’d say developers, application developers — whether it’s Java, C Sharp — it all depends on which company, which groups. All the big banks need all of those right now. It comes in waves, also. Like at the beginning of the year, we had a lot of BA opportunities, because they had to gather the requirements before they bring them to the application developers. Once the BA’s are done, then they start hiring the developers.
What’s the hardest position to fill at this time?
Within hedge funds, I would probably have to say sales positions — and that’s pretty much across the board. Sales people are the best communicators, they’re also the best liars. If someone’s very successful, they’re not looking to leave their job. So it’s a matter of timing. I tell clients, “I could send you 100 sales people tomorrow that are unemployed.” But the ones that are really good, to get them to make a move — they’re waiting for big commission checks. They’re almost pigeon-holed into their own current job, because they can’t leave, because they’re giving up a lot of money on the table. That’s why it’s the most difficult to place those people.
What are the trends in hedge fund compensation, base versus bonus versus equity?
Hedge funds just want the right person that they’re going to be there for a while. So they say, you know what? In order to get them over — like if someone’s working over at Goldman — they’re going to have to give them considerably more in the base, probably 30 percent more than what they’re currently making, plus a bonus. If you ask me, I don’t think any company in the world will pay better that Goldman Sachs, overall, total comp. But hedge funds tend to be a little higher on base salaries, less on bonus.
Do you see a standard career path in the hedge fund industry?
Usually, people that have been working at a bank for anywhere between, say, 8 and 15 years, that’s when they’re like, “You know what, enough with this big corporate world. Get me to a hedge fund.” You don’t see too many people going from hedge funds to banks; it’s more the other way around.
Typically, any industry, any position, on the average, good candidates stay between 3 and 5 years before they move on, because if you stay at a company too long, your value actually goes down nowadays.
There are some people, as long as you pay them enough money, they don’t care what they do. There are some people that say, “All right, you know what? I’ve been at this hedge fund or bank for X amount of years, and I’m not really learning anything new. It’s time for me to get into bigger and better things.” That’s where it comes down to individuality.
People who are really good and have good work histories don’t move unless it’s really 99 percent of what they’re looking for in the next role.
One of the things with hedge funds — if candidates are working at Goldman’s or Barclay’s, and they go interview at a hedge fund — they come back and they’re like, “They’re so far behind in technology, I don’t even know if I could deal with it.” But then they throw in money, and the environment, it’s not your corporate 12-15 hour day, and they end up going there anyway. Some of them are good, they can help implement change. But a hedge fund is small, so they’re kind of watching their cost. They kind of feel that they don’t need to have an updated infrastructure. They’re like, “Well, we’ve been using this e-mail and it works. I send you an e-mail; you get it within a second.” You know, they don’t tend to look at the fine details of technology, whereas you start speaking technology with a techie and they’re like, “Wow, this is way outdated.”
What’s the most common attribute among successful candidates?
Successful candidates? They’re good listeners. No one knows more about a client than the headhunter; and we know how to position our candidates and prep them in the right way based on all our successes at placing people there. The ones who listen, they say, “Wow, this is great stuff.” When I talk to a CEO, I tell him the same thing I tell an entry-level college kid when they’re interviewing, and they’re like, “You know what? This is so helpful because I’ve been interviewing people, but I never really thought about it from this end, and it’s really basic fundamentals.” And like a sports team, if you don’t have good fundamentals, you’re not going to win the big game.
You also have to listen to your interviewer. When you’re in there, the interviewer might start talking about what they’re actually looking for, and then ask different questions. If you listen to your interviewer and what their needs are, you can then present yourself as the proper solution. If you just start talking saying, “This is what I do, this is what I do,” and don’t listen to your customer or your hiring manager, you’re not going to get the job.
How important is a candidate’s past compensation?
It depends what industry they come from. If they’re coming from another hedge fund or the banks, then it’s a little bit more important. But really, once you get someone in there, they’re going to make sure it’s a cultural and personality fit. The compensation really only matters in terms of what they’re going to offer someone. A company pays on two factors. They pay on what the market rate is, and in coordination with — which I think is a little bit more important — what someone’s making.
Let’s say someone’s been on the job 15 years. They’re probably underpaid by about 40 percent, because they‘ve been at a company so long they don’t get the increases as if they moved onto new jobs. So if they’re making 100 and the role is 200, a company is not going to give the 200 for them to come on board. They’ll give them 140. I’m just using rough numbers.
And honestly, I don’t think that’s right, but then again — and I judge things from Goldman because they’re the top bank and they hire a lot of people — they’ve learned in the past that they want to hire the best. So, if they get someone really good, and they’re making 100 and they want 150 because they’re underpaid, they give them 150. Now they’re making 150. In two years, they can go somewhere else because now they’re making the money they want to be making, plus they have Goldman on their résumé, so they don’t stay there — and that’s not the goal of a hiring company.
What can someone do to proactively manage their career?
When they start a new job, make up their résumé as if they’ve been working there for five years. Incorporate everything they got on their job description into their new role that they’re starting. Because as time goes by, people lose e-mails, they forget documents, and people forget what they actually started doing, even though their role changes. And when you start, it’s good to have a job description — put it into your résumé right when you start.
What’s the most common reason that a firm fails to land the candidate of its choice?
I’d say the time frame. Most would think money, but it’s the time frame; they don’t move quickly enough. Number two is definitely money; they don’t offer them enough. But if you’re using a headhunter, you really shouldn’t encounter that problem because I understand my candidates’ needs and I’m not going to send them anywhere if their monetary needs aren’t realistic, or I know that the client can’t pay that much.
It could come down to, literally, two or three days, where if a candidate has an offer from another company and they have to give an answer by the end of the week, and I tell my client on Monday, “Look, you better get them in there on Tuesday or Wednesday. At least give them two days to think about it. Even though he doesn’t have to make a decision right away, he doesn’t want to let the other offer go.” And if they say, “Look, we can’t see them till Friday,” I’m like, “All right. Well, I’ll set it up, he’ll go in, but you’re going to lose him.” And sure enough, they lose him.
I’ll do everything I can with the candidate — sometimes the candidate won’t share who the other offer is from, and I don’t push that fact because I understand people have their own intricacies on what they like to divulge or not. They always tell me what the offer is. I say, “Look, I can get you more; it’s just going to take a week or two.” Sometimes they’ll listen and say, “I really like the company because I went to the interview; I like the person, I like the manager. Let’s see what they put.”
But most people, if they have an offer, if they’re at least 85 percent happy with it, they’re going to take it unless they get a better offer real quick. Or then, you get those 10 percent of candidates that accept every job they get; then they’ll decide to cancel every other offer, which makes everybody look bad.
What would be the biggest obstacle in getting someone to move from one hedge fund to another?
If someone just doesn’t get along with someone at the hedge fund they’re currently working, they look to make a move very quietly. That’s when they go to a headhunter. Honestly, I think smarter people, especially at that level, they understand that a headhunter will get them a better job, and it’s their decision whether they’re going to take it or not.
So if you find one or two headhunters that you trust, and you know won’t send your information all over the planet, just work for them, and wait for the right opportunity, rather than blasting your résumé in a million places. Once your name gets seen twice by someone, it’s considered stale. I can’t tell you how many times a manager has said, “You know what? I’ve seen this guy’s résumé a few times. Not interested.” I say, “Why aren’t you interested?” “I’ve seen his resume too many times.” I’m like, “What does that mean? That means you’re working with a bunch of lousy recruiters who are just sending paperwork. I met this candidate. I qualified him.” And 90 percent of the time, they’re like, “No.”
I always tell people, keep yourself exclusive. Keep your name fresh when someone new sees it. And also, I’ve noticed with hedge funds, especially senior level roles like trading and operations — it’s a financial community. Everybody knows someone in another bank, another firm. So when they see a résumé, especially at the high levels, they’re doing a reference check before they even bring in anybody for an interview. They’ll be like, “I know a guy who used to work here when he used to work there. Let me call there and see who might know this guy.” And then once they do that, they’ll say, “Okay, I want to bring this guy in for an interview.” I’m like, “Oh, good reference check?” They’re like, “Yes, how’d you know?” I’m like, “Because that’s what you guys do.”