Navigating change: Local job recruiter teaches transformational skills

Andy Cowan (Courtesy of Andy Cowan)

A self-employed executive search specialist for the past dozen years, Saugertesian Andrew Cowan has seen major changes in the country’s employment habits, changes that have mostly accelerated during the now-receding pandemic.

Cowan was himself an early adopter of the self-employed lifestyle option that has become so widespread among knowledge workers. He is fully aware when thinking about job habits that the new normal won’t be like the old normal, especially for knowledge workers who now have much more control over where and how they work. But Cowan maintains that organizations aren’t necessarily blending the old ways and the new in the most productive way possible. This employment recruiter wants to help them do better. 

Twelve years ago, friends were telling Andy Cowan, then living in New Jersey after a diverse business career, that he had the skills and the work experiences that over time would make him an excellent executive recruiter. He considered taking on a franchise from a national executive recruitment firm. In exchange for those connections and that status, he said, he would have had to pay the franchiser ten percent of his recruitment income for 15 years. On the other hand, if he were to start his own business from scratch instead, he calculated it would at best take him six months to a year to build his own connections into a viable business.

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Which was the better option? He decided to go it alone. His income would derive solely from his ability to provide employers with job-seekers they wanted to hire. 

Andy and his wife Yvonne were living in Bergen County at the onset of the Great Recession; when their daughter left for college the Cowans decided to make a lifestyle change and specifically opted to look in a semi-country environment like the Mid-Hudson Valley. 

They called local broker Sharon Breslau, whom they had known previously. Through Breslau’s auspices, the Cowans found and bought their present home on Hommelville Road northwest of the Village of Saugerties off Route 32. Andy describes the home as a permanent remodeling project.

[Related: How to overcome ageism in the job search: five case studies]

Cowan was free to spend his time off any way he wanted. He’s been a motorcyclist for 40 years, and has been involved with the world of cars for at least that long as well (he once managed nine dealerships simultaneously and later sold top-of-the-line luxury cars at a dealership in Connecticut). He’s also a singer, a vocalist who acknowledges a wide variety of influences, from Otis Redding to John Fogerty, the Blues Brothers, Ray Charles, Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.

Yvonne Rojas-Cowan is a recognized painter. She’s a board member of the Saugerties Arts Commission.

Cowan’s phone area code still suggests a New Jersey location, but that’s only due to his having had that number for his business for a dozen years. The Cowan’s have been full-time Saugerties residents since 2015 and love the area.

His company is called The InFocus Group, LLC.

The job of an executive recruiter is to present employers with a list of prospects, usually six to eight, whom the recruiter thinks would be a good fit for a specific job vacancy. If the employer chooses to hire one of the prospects on the list, the recruiter gets paid.

A lot of Cowan’s time is spent working on increasing the employability of job applicants. Employers don’t want to pursue applicants whose resumes don’t impress them. They don’t want to spend time with applicants who don’t interview well. And they don’t want to hire people who they feel can’t do the job they want done.

That’s why positioning is important. Andy Cowan can provide the unvarnished understanding of the marketplace from which all job applicants can benefit. He helps applicants compete.

Cowan is particularly sensitive to age discrimination, a common form on prejudice in the job recruitment field (see sidebar). He admits to having felt a whiff of ageism himself as he matured. What makes the prospect lists he compiles for employers different from what his own competitors might, he says, is the inclusion where appropriate of an older competitor. He’s convinced that many employers, especially younger ones, dismiss older prospects to their own disadvantage. “I don’t automatically rule out or avoid older candidates,” he explains.

The pay differential between knowledge workers of the kind Cowan places and non-knowledge workers has been growing for decades. Most placements were in the $90,000-to-$120,000 range. Most salaries of recruited executives now call for pay of $150,000 to $250,000 annually, he says. 

The balance between job-seekers and job-providers has changed. Just in the past couple of years, the American employment picture has been transformed in ways whose consequences we are still learning about. People in the front lines like Andy Cowan are in a sense the first responders to the matching process. They have stories to tell about how our lives are likely to be lived in the future.