Selection firms represent companies, and recruit through advertising campaigns, ‘selecting’ a short list of candidates from the responses received.  Selection used to happen mainly through newspapers, but now happens mainly through the internet: either on dedicated selection sites (often focusing on specific sectors or industries); or through companies’ own ‘talent management portals’.

Most firms combine Selection with either Search or Agency headhunting.  There are very few Selection-only firms these days; though there used to many during the days of newspaper job adverts where the whole process was more expensive and laborious due to the complexities of preparing copy for print deadlines. The most common combination is Selection and Agency, as Agency Recruiters tend to use adverts to hoover up extra candidates whom they can then sell to their client base.  It’s common for recruiters to post adverts for jobs that don’t really exist, or that they don’t have the mandate for, simply as a way of identifying new stocks of candidates to sell.  So, when you respond to an advert, you may get a response like: ‘Oh, sorry, that position has just been filled.  But why don’t you come in and meet us anyway?’.  It doesn’t really matter: at least you know it’s an agency that works in the sort of area where you would like to find a job.  In fact, looking at job adverts is often a good way to identify relevant Agencies to meet – just bear in mind that these will almost certainly be Agencies and not Search firms.  Make a note of the names of the agencies that tend to post jobs that you like the sound of, and then call them for a general meeting.

Companies use selection for two reasons:  either, to catch the ‘low hanging fruit’, or where they are looking for a combination of skills that might be found in a variety of backgrounds, or is quite rare.

In the first case, a company might decide to place a quick advert on its own web site, or on a job board just to see if any good candidates apply who might provide an easy hire. This is particularly the case for junior or mid-level jobs, where there is no particular need for confidentiality, or no strong urgency.  So the hiring company might run an advert for a month to test the waters.  If no one suitable turned up, they would then move on to Agency or Search recruiting.

In the second case, a company might use an advert where they are interested in a set of skills but are not so concerned about a specific sector track record.  For example, if one of my clients wants to hire an Equity Analyst, let’s say to cover the Pharmaceuticals sector, they would usually insist that any candidates must have worked within another asset management firm, ideally covering that sector, for a specified number of years. They may even narrow it down further and insist that the firm the candidate works in must have a similar investment philosophy and style to their own.   If that is the brief then we would definitely recommend a Search, the ‘research universe’ of Pharmaceuticals analysts within the sector can be defined and mapped quite easily, and we can apply the usual Search process (see the section on Executive Search firms).  But sometimes the client might not be so concerned about specific track record, and focuses more on the skills required – for example, understanding the Pharmaceuticals sector, having a good grasp of finance and/or accounting, or perhaps having experience of working within the sector, etc.   So, in addition to the candidate possibly coming from another asset manager, they might also be sitting within an Equity Capital Markets team in a Stockbrokers; or within a Merger & Acquisitions team in an Investment Bank; or within an Accounting firm, in the Pharmaceuticals audit team; or within the Financial Control department of a Pharmaceuticals firm; or within a Pharmaceuticals R&D company, etc.   This would not be Searchable as we cannot easily define the ‘research universe’ to be mapped. Even if we decided to restrict our search to only three or four of those areas, there would be far too many potential candidates to check out, with too unwieldy a research universe to cover in a reasonable timeframe (I know because, in the past, we made the mistake of attempting to do so).  So this type of a role would work best through Selection, where one could post an advert in various locations – possibly three or four adverts in different sector publications – and then see who applies.

In my view, from the candidate’s perspective, Selection is the most inefficient way of looking for a job.  It is slow, it is highly competitive (we often receive a couple of hundred applicants to any advert we run), and it is also a very passive and random way of looking for a job.  You have to rely on a job you like the sound of being posted, then you send off your application, wait for several weeks for a reply, only to not get through 99 times out of 100.

Pure Selection firms tend to be quite short-term in approach, considering current applicants against the requirements of the current job advert.  So you also have to treat each job advert as a new application, even if you have spoken to the Selection recruiter before about a different job.  You cannot assume that your details from a previous application will be matched to a current advert, even if you are a good fit.  So there is a lot of repetition involved too.

Having said that, it is probably a box you need to tick, and I know plenty of people who have found jobs through adverts.  They can also be useful for people trying slightly to change career focus, given that this is one recruitment channel where the client can be open to different sector experience.

So I recommend that you should by all means apply to adverts but do not invest even a nano joule of emotional energy into them.  Send the application off, and then forget about it.  Don’t get upset if you don’t get a courteous reply.  Don’t get upset if you don’t get a reply at all.  If you get a letter saying you have not be selected, don’t try and persuade the headhunter you are the perfect man or woman for the job.  Or pester them to send your application through to their client despite their decision.  Just move on to the next one.

If you expect the worst, then you are on the right track.  You should assume that nothing will come of any of your applications.  If you do get a response, so much the better: treat it as a pleasant surprise.  I am always amazed how even quite senior, otherwise-dynamic people place so much reliance on advertising to find a job.  Selection and Job Adverts should be seen as just one (fairly blunt) tool in the toolbox and not to be relied upon.  Having sent off your advert response, you should really crack on with other, more active methods of finding a job.

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