Isabel Verhelst
Feb 5, 2018 · 7 min read

I’ve been writing on this blog for more than 4 years now.
And the last months I felt it was time for you to get to know me a little better.

That’s why this blogpost is special.
For once, it is not written by me. But about me.

I worked together with a brand agency to put me in the spotlight.
So today, I welcome you into my office.
Have a lot of fun reading..!

Rise and shine

When I ask someone what Isabel does for a living, they mostly come up with “she’s a headhunter”. Well, that does sound a little violent, but nevertheless it’s true: she is a headhunter. But probably the friendliest one you’ll ever know.

Executive search, what does that actually mean?

Well, it’s the job of finding the right profile for a C-level vacancy. Or at least, that’s what I think it is. After getting to know Isabel, we’d rather come up with a new definition. With a little more nuancing:

“Executive search is about finding the right leader to fit inside a company’s true culture.”

That’s a whole different story. Or better, a more holistic vision on hiring in general. As you can see, Isabel doesn’t like to talk about “profiles”, but about people. And she doesn’t like to fixate on “job”, but rather look at a company’s culture.

Why are these nuances so important?
We drove over to Isabel’s co-working office in Antwerp, ready to find the answer.

Time for cultural fit

Tell me, Isabel. Why such a big smile today?
Oh, is it that obvious?
I’m always in a good mood when I get to meet new people. So today is a happy day for me.

So you love to meet new people. Is that what makes you excited about your work as well?
Yes, absolutely. I have a strong desire to get to know everybody around me. So I really want to know who the person is behind a resumé. And how he or she will match with my client’s company. That’s what executive search is all about.

“I have a genuine interest in the person in front of me”

You put a lot of focus on cultural fit. Why?
Today, companies are changing rapidly. The job you accepted a few weeks ago may have changed during your notice period or, god forbid, it may have disappeared; the manager you so wanted to work for, may have a different job by the time you join. You cannot predict these events when you accept a job offer. What you can predict is your fit with the company as a whole: ‘the company culture’.

If your own way of working matches the way of working of a company, then you will flourish regardless of the changes.

Can a job description change that quickly?
Yes, absolutely. Let me give you an example: I once hired a financial manager for a manufacturing company. He was asked to lead a team of 3 people, and take care of the financials for one specific division. And that’s how he started.

But after 3 months one of the senior managers left, and suddenly he had to manage a far bigger team. And another 6 months later his division got reorganized, and he got a different set of financial responsibilities.

“Companies should decide on attitude,
not on a technical resumé”

And.. did he stay?
What do you mean? He loved it!
Change is never easy, but that’s reality. Companies are always evolving. Think about it: is your role exactly the same as three years ago?

When you hire on a cultural fit, the candidate doesn’t agree to a role written down in a vacancy. The candidate agrees on working for you as a company. And that creates a sustainable relationship.

How would you define “culture”?
The company culture is an unspoken set of rules that define the unique ways of working in organization. It is ‘the way things are done around here’.

You can be an excellent candidate for a company that works through clear guidelines and responsibilities and be a total mismatch for the exact same position in a start-up where things are done in a much more entrepreneurial way.

But the candidate still has to match the technical requirements, right?
That’s an interesting question. Are the right people the ones who have the perfect technical skillset or are you willing to settle for a candidate with a somewhat different skillset who will blend in your company culture perfectly?

“Soft skills are far more difficult to learn”

Defining who that right candidate may be, starts by looking beyond a cv. Technical skills can be acquired. Soft skills such as communication skills, thought processes and emotional intelligence are inherent to a person and are far more difficult to learn.

No sugarcoating

Give me a little bit of history. How long have you been doing this?
I started my career in Finance, where I worked in audit and consulting. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I aspired a career in HR. I mainly focused on all aspects of human capital management. From my early steps in the HR world, I was taught how HR can contribute to bottom-line results through partnering with the business to attract, develop and retain the right people.

And how long are you working independently — as Ingenium Executive Search?
Six years ago, at 39, I decided to focus on the aspect of HR that I am best at and that I enjoy the most: talent attraction. So then I started Ingenium Executive Search.

How would people describe you?
They say I’m open, I’m upfront. That means I will never sugarcoat my message.

“I need two minutes to get a
general feel of a person”

Is that something you apply to executive search as well?
Yes. I help companies to be honest from day one. You have to tell the truth to candidates, from the very first conversation. Companies aren’t perfect, jobs aren’t perfect. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you give candidates the true story, they know what to expect.

It’s simple: honesty goes a long way.

Do companies follow your strategy?
I have a very good relationship with my clients. I don’t just bring them matching profiles, I help them to tell their story. Because it’s not always easy for a company to know what sets them apart. My job is to listen, and to sense their cultural profile.

Is that cultural sense what defines you as a headhunter?
Yes, true. I see a hiring process as a courtship period: both parties get to know each other, see if they like one another. Much more than the actual discussions, the atmosphere surrounding the interviews and the feeling candidates have about the entire process plays a role in the decision whether to accept a job offer or not.

In this dating process, I act as a matchmaker and intermediate to ensure that the expectations of both parties are in line.

Is it manageable to dig this deep into every job opportunity?
Yes. I created an automated workflow that allows me to do just that. I have to spend little or no effort into operational tasks such as communication and managing CV’s. So every hour I work brings added value.

For example, as of today, candidates will receive an invite to record a video pitch when they apply on the website. Combined with their cv, it gives me a broader view of that person. And then I can decide if it’s relevant to meet them.

It sounds counterintuitive, but digital tools make my workflow more personal. By making processes easier and more efficient, I can invest all my time in getting to know candidates and clients. And that’s what I love to do.

Last question. Why did you start Ingenium?
I have an entrepreneurial mindset, but that’s not the number one thing for me: I don’t get a rush from sending invoices. I started Ingenium because I love to match people and companies.

I just have a genuine interest in the person in front of me.

Written by Simon Timmermans. Photography by Renaat Nijs.

Secrets of a headhunter

Secrets of a headhunter