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PEOPLE AT WORK : Headhunter: Looking for Mr. Right

October 26, 1986|JOE APPLEGATE | Joe Applegate is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

Bill Mangum arrives one morning at his office on the outskirts of Pasadena; before sitting down, he picks up the telephone.

An executive recruiter, he might also be called a headhunter--and indeed his surroundings suggest the huntsman. The offices of Thomas-Mangum Co. are in a building that looks like a mountain lodge, complete with fireplaces, and, in another rural touch, borders a canyon that hums with overhead power lines.

But the surprising thing about Mangum is that, for a hunter, he does an awful lot of gathering. Even as he is on the telephone, talking with a client in Arizona, he stands over a fresh collection of resumes behind his desk. Some of them come from executives who five years ago might have scoffed at such a thing. Me? Send a resume to some recruiter I don't even know? Why? I love my job.

"That was before mergers and buy-outs," says Mangum, who has finished his call and taken a seat near the fireplace. "Now it's not so unusual for a guy who loves his job to see it disappear in a merger . . . or see his boss's job go out the window. Then suddenly he's stuck."

What would make his job easier, Mangum goes on to say, is for the happiest executive in the world to hang on to the next letter he or she receives from a recruiter.

"Instead of throwing it away," Mangum says, "the guy looks it over, notes the recruiter's name; he maybe even replies something like, 'Thanks for your interest . . . not at this time . . . may I suggest . . . ' and then he gives a name, and who knows? He does someone else a big favor. . . . In today's business climate, a recruiter should be a regular part of the top executive's contacts."

What does a headhunter do in a day? On this recent Thursday, Mangum devotes most of his time to preparing a letter and a mailing list in pursuit of an operations manager for a high-tech client. (Thomas-Mangum's clients include Northrop, Martin Marietta and Motorola.)

The letter includes a job description that Mangum had earlier sketched out and that was the subject of his first telephone call that morning. When the call is finished, he dictates to an assistant some changes that will flesh out the job description.

Down the hall, meanwhile, another assistant culls names of potential candidates from various publications and in-house lists. The company subscribes to technical journals just for the names that appear atop articles, and often a researcher is dispatched to the libraries of Caltech and USC to burrow for names and titles.

Bill Mangum, with a background in aeronautics--he was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy--belongs to some professional associations for the sole sake of attending their conventions. Not being fancy about it, he hangs a job offering on the bulletin board--and gets results.

Most other contacts are more subtle. There is the unsolicited letter, of course, and as the hunt progresses, the occasional clandestine meeting with a candidate in an airport lounge. With discretion, executives may be telephoned directly, although it's difficult during business hours, as most are well insulated.

Mangum remembers recruiting a rocket scientist for Rockwell. "I tried for weeks to get hold of him--no luck. Finally I called him at his office one night at 6:30. He picked up the phone. I said, 'I've been calling you every day.' He said, 'You have?' "

From the 100 letters that Mangum sent out that Thursday, a good response would be 20 replies. In addition to those names is a "cold candidate" winnowed from the daily stack of 50 or so unsolicited resumes behind Mangum's desk.

It is not a spirited task, going through those resumes. So many people mail them in not knowing that a firm like Thomas-Mangum works for companies with jobs to fill, not for people who want to fill jobs. Hence only one in 50 of the "cold" resumes fits the operations manager position.

Another problem, said Bernie Weiner, chairman of Nationwide Recruiting, is that most cover letters on resumes are too general. "People try to put the same shoe on both feet," he said. It is better to position oneself for a particular job and "not try to be all things to all people," he said.

An adage among executive recruiters--and a truth that makes the hunt more exciting--is that the very best candidates don't send out resumes and often don't return phone calls: They are simply not interested in changing jobs. Not even for the money.

Gary Hourihan, a consultant to corporations on what to pay their top executives, says that at the highest levels, mere money is not the greatest incentive. "At a certain point, an executive doesn't leave a job because he wants more salary to stocks or whatever. . . . He leaves to make a quantum leap to a whole new level of responsibility."

As Mangum puts it, "I try to convince some people that the new job will give them more zip."

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