Rise of Headhunters

Perminus Wainaina and Sharon Kisire
Perminus Wainaina, managing partner and head of recruitment at Corporate Staffing in Nairobi and Sharon Kisire, general manager in charge of human resource and administration at Kenya Pipeline Company. FILE PHOTOS | NMG 

The higher you rise, the harder it is to get a better job that offers satisfactory perks. When you reach top management level, the best bet is headhunters.

They recruit top level managers and CEOs on behalf of corporates.

So what do headhunters exactly look for? Seasoned recruiters and headhunters offer insights into what the high-octane selection processes entails.

Perminus Wainaina

Perminus Wainaina is managing partner and head of recruitment at Corporate Staffing in Nairobi.

1. Perminus Wainaina is managing partner and head of recruitment at Corporate Staffing in Nairobi.

What qualities do headhunters look out for in candidates for CEO jobs?


It goes beyond just leadership and managerial traits. Businesses look for candidates who are well tried and tested. This makes track record a critical requirement. This is why executives such as Julius Kipngetich and Polycarp Igathe are highly sought-after, owing to their strong previous performances.

Besides experience, what other values do recruiters for top jobs seek?
Top jobs are not just about having a powerful résumé, but also being a change agent. Can you make change happen within a business? Are you able to manage this change? How the board and top leadership of an organisation perceives you as a candidate is vital. The need to be a strong personal brand cannot be overstated.

What intricacies are involved in the selection process for executive roles? How does this bear on how much one is paid?

Hiring for senior roles is done almost entirely through word of mouth “to a select few.” Being known out there strengthens your odds as a candidate. At this level of recruitment, compensation is based on the candidate’s ability to sell themselves. And what a better way to do this than through an appealing brand? This way, you are able to demand a premium from your potential employer.

What attributes determine whether or not a CEO succeeds in their job?

You may possess a strong brand but fail on the job. To excel, you must possess the multiple skill-set of relationships management and strong emotional intelligence. You will obviously flop if you allow your ego to take charge, if you can’t manage change or if you lack the ability to inspire your team. Having a deep and intimate knowledge of the company and industry is a requisite attribute.

Are corporates deliberately refusing to bet on women for top leadership roles?

It is erroneously assumed that as soon as a woman is married and starts to raise a family, she won’t be able to concentrate on business or her career. It is for this misplaced fear that many corporates invest in men for leadership roles at the expense of women. Research can help us to understand this and to address the inequality.

How can one position him/herself better for a CEO position?
Start enhancing your soft skills above all. Tailor your executive personal brand to the job you are eyeing. Stand out. Reinforce your reputation and network.

Is it true that men CEOs earn more than their women counterparts for the same level of jobs?

I have observed that when most organisations are hiring for a CEO post, they focus on what the woman candidate was earning at her previous post and use it as the basis to negotiate her new pay. Women thus end up getting a less attractive package than their men counterparts.

Sharon Kisire

Sharon Kisire, is the general manager in charge of human resource and administration at Kenya Pipeline Company.

2. Sharon Kisire is the general manager in charge of human resource and administration at Kenya Pipeline Company.

There is a growing concern over executive pay. Are chief executives being paid way too much?

Top executives’ freedom to decide their package and acute scarcity of top talent in the market are some of the key factors that influence executive compensation.

The business environment is growing more hostile by the day. This has driven demand for notable personalities who can steer a business out of financial, management and operational crises. Corporates are constantly on the lookout for executives who can manage business, meet shareholders’ expectations and grow its bottom line. An attractive compensation package is one way to attract and retain high-performance executives.

It is also worth noting that in the modern business world where every institution desires to market itself as the dream employer, organisations are compelled to pay their executives higher perks than other market players, thus driving compensation rates for such professionals to stratospheric levels.

So, are headhunters responsible for creating a market struggling to put a lid on executive pay?

Not entirely. Headhunters only advise organisations based on their understanding of the market. But the final decision on compensation is made by the recruiting company.

To what extent are headhunters responsible for creating diversity at top level management?

The threshold for top jobs is same for men and women professionals. But more often than not, men are preferred to women. This discrimination is historical.

Gender stereotyping, which women themselves have played into, has played a big role in the discrimination. This, however, is changing and more women are getting executive jobs and even sitting on company boards.

What differences exist between normal recruitment and headhunting?
Headhunters are individuals or companies appointed to identify, vet and introduce suitable candidates for vacant positions within organisations.

Head-hunters reach out to candidates directly whereas normal recruiters are in-house and usually work for one employer. Headhunters work for different organisations.

Inez Willeboordse is the managing partner at

Inez Willeboordse is the managing partner at Jobnet Africa, a platform that links international professionals who wish to work in Africa with job opportunities available on the continent.

3. Inez Willeboordse is managing partner at Jobnet Africa, a platform that links international professionals who wish to work in Africa with job opportunities.

If you had to choose between an experienced woman with a strong personal appeal and a man with a remarkable résumé for a top job, who would you settle for?

If the two candidates had the same profiles, I would go for the candidate with a personality that best adds onto the existing team and the company culture, irrespective of sex. I grew up in Europe where I was taught that men and women have, or at least should have, the same opportunities.

Why then is there disparity in the number of women and women CEOs?
Professional life the world over is still dominated by men because of the outdated thinking that women should take care of their families. To bridge this “unfair” gender gap on boards, the government and corporates should step up efforts to give women more space for growth and focus on their careers. There also needs to be stronger and effective family planning and management. Men too have to start taking more responsibilities in family life and support their wives in their career progression.

Do men’s negotiation skills play part in this inequality?

Not always. But in most cases, women will be content with the income they are offered, and often settle for less. Research has also shown that women tend to be paid less than men even in the general workforce, which occasionally happens in executive roles as well. But if women and men were in the same practical situations, negotiation skills for higher pay would not count.

What are some of the commonest mistakes that candidates for top jobs make when dealing with recruiters …

Most candidates stop short of getting feedback and updates from potential employers. Recruiters are often overwhelmed with CVs and interviews. This makes it difficult to keep every candidate up to date with the process. Unless you keep them on their toes, you might find yourself at the bottom of the pile. Besides, who wants to hire somebody who is not persistent? But even as you persist, be polite.

Tips for professionals determined to spring forward in their career in 2019?

Have a full pipeline. Never bet on one horse. Invest in personal development. Keep your CV spruce. Recruiters ordinarily look at CVs for seconds. If yours is not well-manicured, no one will care to glance at it twice. Get a professional to polish your résumé for you if you are not sure how to do it. Stand out.