August 5, 2016 – The most valuable asset for any company is its human capital. For recruiters charged with keeping their candidate pipelines full, active and viable, they are always looking for new and innovative ways to power up these professional treasure troves whenever and wherever they can.
But one thing seems to remain constant among these talent databases: recruiters typically seek out professionals who are actively engaged in work, but not necessarily actively looking. That’s where Anthony Harling and his new business venture steps in.
Just over a year ago a new professional networking option for senior level executives came into play. Founded by Mr Harling, a long-time search veteran, together with Joseph Blass, former CEO of Toucan Telecom, Not Actively Looking launched in London.
After initially securing commitments from a handful of well-known search firms, primarily in the U.K. and the U.S., Not Actively Looking now boasts a membership of 124 leading recruitment firms from the four corners of the globe. Besides serving search firms looking for talent for client companies, Not Actively Looking services senior level executives and non-executive directors in an effort to help them more effectively manage their careers.
In the following interview, Mr. Harling — a former search consultant with Heidrick & Struggles and Eric Salmon & Partners — discusses why he formed Not Actively Looking and why this is a uniquely effective concept for top global business professionals.
Anthony, after many years spent serving as a search professional, why this, why now?
The concept came about when we thought about the frustrations on both sides of the search industry with the way that we manage information. Search firms struggle to keep track of senior people and their career aspirations, while senior people are struggling to work out which search firms are most relevant in their particular industry, and how they can get appropriate visibility to those firms. We just wanted to make things easier for everybody. We can all find basic information about hundreds of millions of people on networking sites like LinkedIn or XING, but the search industry is only interested in a tiny percentage of those people; the really senior executives. We want to know about their recent achievements and future aspirations, as well as the current mobile phone number or email address – information that senior people won’t share on public networking sites. So we thought, ‘What if we had a confidential platform that was only available to the search industry?’ A place where senior people could link up quickly and easily with precisely those firms who are most likely to be handling the right kind of roles. The idea that a search firm’s database is totally exclusive to them is really out of date. Executives will be in touch with maybe 10, 20 or 30 firms that they think are relevant. This information is exclusive to the industry, but not to one search firm. We figured we could make that so much easier by letting executives reach all of the firms that are relevant to them via one platform. We talked to a lot of firms about this concept and all of them emphasized the fact that clients pay search firms to find talent that they wouldn’t otherwise find – people who are not actively looking. That’s what search is about and that’s where we got the idea for the name. The more forward-thinking search firms quickly embraced the idea and realized how it could make their lives easier.
You now have 100-plus leading search firms as members. How were you able to attract them and to what extent are they benefitting from being part of your network?
In total we have over 120 search firms on the site now. To start with, we view search firms not only as customers, but also as partners and together we’re building the platform to meet their requirements. We started off going to see people that we knew. The first few gave us confidence that this could be something of real value to them. We then approached firms all over the world, in the U.S., Europe and in Asia. Nowadays, we get a lot more firms contacting us because we’ve been recommended. Obviously the ultimate benefit to search firms is the ability to get hold of the most relevant candidates for an assignment quickly and easily. Even before that the firms are benefiting in other ways because we help them to manage the process for handling speculative candidate write-ins. If the executive registers through Not Actively Looking, it saves the search firm time and money in not having to load those details onto their in-house database. Each executive will also then keep that profile up-to-date in the future. Each individual consultant can change his or her settings so that they get a personal notification when an executive relevant to their search practice connects with their firm. Someone specializing in supply chain, for example, gets an email saying that a senior executive in that area has registered on NAL and linked with that firm. Potentially, a much bigger issue is the impending changes to data protection introduced by the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe that will affect any firms holding data on European nationals or looking to do business in Europe. Companies working with Not Actively Looking no longer need to be a data controller; instead, the candidate controls their own data and may delete it or change it at will, thereby removing a tremendous burden from the search firm. The forward-looking search firms recognize that they don’t own candidate data per se, and the benefits of Not Actively Looking as a common platform for the industry look very compelling. Moreover, we have just introduced functionality around non-executive directors and interim executives which makes the proposition even more compelling.
LinkedIn and other social media people platforms now provide a central repository to gather in-depth information on millions of professional-level individuals / candidates. What differentiates Not Actively Looking from LinkedIn and others that track and maintain this data?
I guess there are a few things that differentiate us. Firstly, we are not a public networking site. We are an exclusive platform where very senior people, maybe the top one percent of people on LinkedIn, can share confidential information with a few search firms that they themselves select. Our platform is not available to in-house recruiters, corporate talent acquisition professionals, or lower level contingency recruiters. It’s only open to retained executive search firms. Even the search firms on our platform cannot automatically see all executive profiles, but rather need to be chosen by the executives. This exclusivity attracts the best people and gives them the comfort required to share their data.
How are you attracting candidates to your website to sign up?
We’re doing everything we can to spread the word and make people aware of the site. Many candidates join us through a link on the website of a search firm or through an email campaign done by a search firm. However, more and more, executives are joining us independently so we are assuming that there’s a certain ‘word of mouth’ effect. We have candidates now from literally all around the world from a variety of sectors – some actively looking for a job, but most are not actively looking. They just want to stay in touch. What unites all our candidates is their seniority.
As a U.K.-based organization and with many U.K.-based members in your network, how does the aftermath of Brexit affect Not Actively Looking? Are you making any adjustments as a result?
Brexit doesn’t really affect us. Search firms are global in many cases, and so are executives. We, too, are a global firm that happens to be headquartered in the U.K. By now, less than half the firms on the platform are U.K.-based and only 25 percent of candidates are U.K.-based.
The European Union has recently adopted a new framework for data protection, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). What are the implications for Not Actively Looking?
The GDPR has implications for anybody who may hold personal data about E.U. citizens, whether it’s a search firm or anybody else. The fines for a breach of the regulations could be as high as 20 million Euros or four percent of turnover, so it’s not something to be ignored. The beauty of our platform is that the executive himself or herself is responsible for managing their own data. He or she can amend, upload or delete the information, so effectively it is the executive, rather than the search firm, who becomes the data controller. For clients of Not Actively Looking, therefore, the system will remove a lot of the potential liability for search firms. People are more and more concerned about what personal data is being held and who controls that data. All we are doing is passing that control back to the executive.
Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media