Making Headhunters Work for You

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Posted by Garth McCardle on June 15, 2011
Making Headhunters Work for You

One day the phone in your office rings. It's an executive recruiter, speaking as if she knows you. She touts your accomplishments and resume, and whispers sweet financial nothings in your ear. She wants to float your name for several lucrative possibilities.

You ask yourself: Who is this woman? Am I jeopardizing my job by listening to her? Can she really help my career?

Quickly, the answers: She's an executive recruiter. You're not jeopardizing your job by listening to her. And yes, she can really help your career-though that's not a foregone conclusion.

Headhunting and the Economy

Companies are evolving new strategies each quarter in order to stay competitive. Most don't have time to put ads in the paper to fill positions. And job listings were never a really good way to get a job, anyway.

These days, executive recruiters are increasingly responsible for finding and placing employees, particularly for high-level positions. Companies hire recruitment firms to find talented employees and bring them in to take high-salaried, high-profile jobs that are not often publicly advertised. Some industry surveys suggest that recruiters play a role in 30 percent to 40 percent of all new hires.

If you're dissatisfied with a job, seeking a mid-career challenge, or just like to have options at your disposal, an executive recruiter may be the perfect agent of fate. And you don't have to wait for one to call.

How Recruiters Work

Recruiting firms are employment agencies. Companies hire executive recruiters to find and bring in candidates for management positions-anyone with two years of professional work experience on up. The corporation is the recruiter's client, and the job candidate is the product. Thus, recruiters normally find a person for the job, not a job for the person.

Recruiters are compensated either on retainer or a contingency basis; either way, the standard fee structure is 25 percent to 35 percent of the position's first-year salary. Retainer firms have exclusive contracts to handle higher-level positions involving six-figure salaries.

Most firms are specialized in some manner, either regionally, by profession (such as accounting, legal, advertising, marketing), or industry-such as high tech or pharmaceutical. Some firms have exclusive contracts to do all of a company's outsource hiring.

Finding the Right Recruiter

Step one is finding a recruiting firm that works in your field. Begin by asking people you know. If your dream job is at a specific company, find out who does their recruiting.

Once you've found a firm, choose an individual recruiter with whom you can develop a good relationship. "Above all, find a person you trust," says Howard Hegwer, a managing partner of Management Recruiters International, in Seattle. "If there is not a bond of trust, then the relationship will be unproductive and disappointing."

Put the recruiter to the test. How established is the firm? How long has the person been recruiting? What did he or she do before? Does he or she have a solid working knowledge of your field? Years of experience are great, but not absolutely essential. Someone who spent 20 years in consulting can probably step right in and act as an excellent recruiter for consulting jobs.

Be certain you understand how the recruiting process will work. If you are currently employed-and hope to stay that way until you decide otherwise-discretion is a must. Insist on preapproving your resume's travel itinerary, so it doesn't show up in the hands of your boss's golf partner. The more initial information you give to the recruiter, the easier it'll be for him or her to find the right fit for you.

If you can find two or three recruiters whom you trust and with whom you want to work, so much the better. Recruiters rely heavily on their personal contacts and arrangements with certain companies, so each recruiter widens your circle. But be careful not to make the circles so wide that they overlap. Recruiters may lose zeal to promote you if they send your resume to a company, only to find that another recruiter already did so. Tell your recruiters about one another so they have that information to work with.

Putting Your Best Head Forward

How can you best help the recruiter help you? The more you put into the process, the more you'll get out of it. Be honest and clear about your career goals. Describe the type of position you want, your salary requirements, where you want to work, and anything that is prima facie unacceptable. "The more I know about a candidate and what they are looking for," says Hegwer, "the more likely it is that I can make a great presentation about that person to a company."

Remember that you're the product the recruiter is selling. "Listen to the recruiter when it comes to interview technique and negotiation," says David Gomez, CEO of David Gomez and Associates, a Chicago-based recruiting agency specializing in marketing, advertising, accounting, finance, and diversity recruiting.

Recruiters send people out to interview all the time, and they get feedback afterward from both sides on what worked and what didn't. A good recruiter may be able to tell you the interviewing style of the person you'll be meeting, and perhaps even some of his or her trick questions. Even if you've spent a number of years in your field and know who you are and what you're worth, a recruiter can point out key details that will make your presentation of yourself more enticing to a potential employer.

Other Resources

You should be able to find a directory of the National Association of Personnel Consultants in the reference section of a moderately sized public library. This will list all the association's members, their contact information, and their specialties.

State employment agency associations can also provide names and addresses of local recruiters.

If you're a passive job seeker, you can post a resume and let the recruiters come to you, or create a Web page in one of the virtual communities.

Recruiters Online Network posts business information and website addresses for hundreds of recruiting firms worldwide, and also features resume-posting sites and job banks.

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