A disturbingly large percentage of children reportedly say they want to be an actor, a model or a rock star when they grow up. Leaving aside the sheer superficiality of such an ambition, it is certainly normal to want to stand out in your field, and be recognised for your individual talents.
For decades, the headhunter, the traditional recruitment agency, and the executive search specialist have been the go-to guys for candidates with bankable channel sales skills, business acumen or technical skills.
However, top IT performers in the US are now hiring the services of Hollywood-style agents to promote their best interests when it comes to contracts and roles.
The superstars of IT – top programmers of everything from MySQL to Illustrator, MongoDB, Python and Ruby – are hiring the likes of 10x Management.
Based in San Francisco with a second office in New York, 10x Management bills itself as "the talent agency for the technology industry" and has what it believes are some of the best freelance or consultant programmers and designers available on its books. Customers have included the likes of Google, Microsoft, the White House, and Citibank.
What sets firms such as 10x apart is their attention to individual needs, it seems. It engages in contract negotiations, deal and payment structuring, customer relations, goal setting and benchmarking for the roles, renegotiating in case of scope creep, and invoicing.
It will handle legal involvement if required, as well as nurture the talent by what it calls "career planning and lifestyle design" – helping develop long-term goals, both professional and personal.
It also gives help with red tape, including taxation, insurance, and access to other tech professionals on its books, putting together teams for specific projects if the customer requires.
According to founder Altay Guvench, this enables "the talent" to concentrate on his or her performance. Customers, similarly, do not have to do the legwork of sourcing and interviewing candidates.
Could the UK channel stand to gain? IT professionals often moan and groan about the service they get from recruiters, that it often does not go beyond a cattle-call of CVs, whittled down by keyword.
Many complain they waste time applying for roles that have been advertised with several agencies when only one job is actually available – or, even worse, that an advert may have simply been posted to test the market for certain vacancies.
Lee Wade, chief executive of cloud services provider Exponential-e, has been involved in the sales talent sourcing and training game for 15 years. Currently the company is on about the sixth or seventh iteration of its specialist academy that aims to nurture the sales superstars of the future.
He says the UK market could be very close to seeing its first agents for channel talent that go beyond what the traditional recruitment round and executive search offer – perhaps even offering golden handshakes to the more exceptional.
"I totally understand the concept behind it. And I would say we are not far off that in the UK industry, which has now become so fraught, so competitive," Wade says. "And I am surprised I have not yet seen salespeople being offered £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000 ‘golden handshakes' to come and join them, because it is such a bullish market."
He says top salespeople – or top prospects – tend to have three personality traits or drives as common denominators: aspiration, industriousness, and ambition.
Predictors of success
Those are the best predictors of success as a salesperson. And perhaps because they are intangible personal characteristics, rather than concrete skills, it might be hard to filter candidates for those qualities. Here is where a more personal professional service, such as a talent agent, might come into its own.
Wade says that top telecoms salespeople are approached daily by companies wanting to tempt them away from their current employers; there is no doubt their skills and talents are in special demand.
And just like on The X-Factor or in Hollywood, the talent that is required can sprout anywhere and emerge from all kinds of backgrounds. What is needed is a system for recognising it and promoting it to the right clientele.
When it comes to other IT skills, those in demand – including anything involved in big data, cloud or mobility – are already benefitting from individual recruiter attention and the higher status that comes from being sought after.
And according to a European Commission e-skills report by German firm Empirica with IDC and Insead released in March, degree candidates are demonstrating less interest in IT skills than ever. IT skills will be in high demand from now until 2020 at least, as well as the leadership and more general business skills that must wrap around the technical skill sets, it said.
This trend does not bode well for the future of the channel – although it just might hint at serious rewards on the horizon for a canny, entrepreneurial recruitment specialist.
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