Introduction to Executive Recruiters

Tips for Working With Executive Recruiters

Depending on your search, it may be helpful to identify and contact recruiters in the industry or functional space you are targeting. Recruiters can be very knowledgeable about the markets they search in and can provide important information about new job opportunities, strategy, compensation or company culture.

Before you contact a recruiter, make sure you understand the "rules" of working with executive search firms. Understanding how recruiters operate can help you avoid wasted time and significant frustration.

Types of Firms

Recruiters represent the clients who hire them to search for candidates, so they go to the marketplace seeking only those candidates who fit very specific requirements set out by the hiring company. There are two types of recruiters and firms: retained and contingency.
  • Retained recruiters are paid a retainer fee and usually have exclusive relationships with their client companies.
  • Contingency recruiters are paid only after a candidate is hired, and several contingency firms or individuals may be conducting the same search for companies at the same time. It's worthwhile to ask contingency firms about where they have placed people in the past. If the firm or recruiter does not have a strong relationship with a company on your list of targets, you might be better off approaching that company on your own via your network and avoiding the recruiting firm altogether.
Most firms — both retained and contingency — specialize in industries and/or functional areas. Regardless of the type of firm, the goal of recruiters is to fill open searches for their clients, not to help individuals — even highly qualified individuals — find job opportunities.

Strong Candidates for Recruiters

If your background is a good fit for a recruiter's open search, you are likely to get at least an initial response. If not, it's likely that a recruiter won't respond to emails or calls from you. Remember, this "cold shoulder" isn't personal. Recruiters are laser-focused on a specific set of skills and experiences mandated by their clients; they’re not in business to provide general feedback or career coaching.

Because of this laser focus, it's not advisable to contact recruiters if you're in the midst of an industry or functional change. Recruiters tend to be interested in and contact candidates only if they perceive a very close alignment of skills, experiences and expectations.

For example, a VP of finance currently working at a large tech firm like Google seeking a similar or perhaps somewhat bigger role at another tech firm, like Facebook or Microsoft, would be perceived as a very good fit. As candidates change either industry and/or function, they become less of a good fit for what the client has asked for, and thus less attractive to the executive recruiter tasked with the search.

Tips for Working With Executive Recruiters

Focus Your Approach
Be selective. Choose firms with experience running searches in your industry or functional area. You can — and should — ask where they have placed people in the past. Most U.S. recruiters work on searches all over the country.

Reconnect With Recruiters Who Have Contacted You in the Past
Let them know you are actively searching and want to be considered for openings where your background and experience are good fits. This same approach applies to any recruiters to whom you have made good referrals. Because their business model is so dependent upon the power of referrals, these recruiters are likely to "return the favor" and potentially be helpful to you.

Understand Recruiters Are Just One Component of a Strong Search Strategy
Develop the attitude that search firms represent a single channel of opportunity — and it's not the channel through which most people find jobs — and proceed accordingly. Submit your resume and a cover letter that details the kind of opportunity you seek, and then move on to other core search strategies of targeting companies and networking. If a recruiter sees a match, you'll be contacted; if not, it means that recruiter has no current searches for which you would be a fit.

Know Where Your Resume Will Be Posted
Once you have been contacted by a recruiter and have made it past the initial phone screening, clarify that you want to be notified each time the recruiter submits your resume for an opportunity. In this way, you will prevent your resume from being widely posted without your knowledge.

Be Clear About Your Requirements
In contrast to the strategy you might use when approaching a company directly, always be very clear and candid with the recruiter regarding your expectations about the role you seek, salary range requirements, relocation issues, etc. The recruiter is trying to assess your fit for an opportunity with very clear requirements, so this is not the time to negotiate. If a company ultimately makes an offer and is willing to negotiate, this will likely be communicated through the recruiter. Remember, if you are the right candidate for the job, the recruiter generally wants you to be successful in securing the best package possible.

Be Honest When Talking to Recruiters
If you are not interested in a position a recruiter has presented to you, do not waste time pretending that you are. Instead, be clear about what you are looking for and pass along any relevant referrals if you have them. Recruiters tend to remember good referrals!