The economic crisis has left millions of people in the U.S. and abroad in a period of intense transition, as the recently unemployed struggle to face significant losses of the financial security and personal identity they have derived from their profession. This is equally true for executives who otherwise have excelled throughout their careers and are ending up on the market unexpectedly.
It is natural to turn to executive recruiters under these circumstances. Executive recruiters have deep connections at the world’s leading organizations and are in a unique position to present people with compelling career opportunities. However, having a realistic perspective about how search consultants work is essential if you hope to establish relationships that will ultimately lead to a new role.
It is important to recognize that recruiters at the leading retained search firms work for their clients – the hiring organizations – and not the candidates. This distinguishes them from outplacement firms that do work for candidates. Against this backdrop, if you are seeking to connect with a search consultant for the first time, you will stand the best chance if your background and skills directly match an opportunity that the recruiter is actively working on.
Occasionally, executive recruiters will have such an intimate understanding of an organization and its needs that they present an executive even if there is no immediate opening, but this type of “speculative” work is less common.
Recruiters want to help executives succeed, but they interact with dozens of candidates every day. One of the most effective ways to get noticed is to be introduced directly by someone the recruiter trusts and respects, including their clients or a well-known industry contact. Leverage your network to be put in touch with a recruiter specializing in your sector, function or geography.
If you are actively looking for a job, strategically target a single recruiter within a firm, rather than throw a wide net to many recruiters at a firm. Your contact can will facilitate connections to others within the company who might be able to help you.
Introduce yourself in an email; that allows the recruiter to circulate your credentials to colleagues. Include an updated version of your resume and an introductory letter. The importance of a strong introductory letter cannot be understated. It should include a quick snapshot of your career accomplishments and a description of the types of opportunities that interest you.
Recruiters will look for what is unusual or uniquely differentiating in your resume like the maginitude of the jobs you have held, organizations for which you have worked, number of people you have managed, and results or profits for which you have been accountable. In the current environment, executives who have successfully managed in a downturn are especially attractive. If your background matches an open position, you will be approached by a consultant to take the next step.
Assess opportunities realistically and do not feign interest in a job that you don’t intend to follow through on simply to get face-time with a recruiter. You won’t be taken seriously as a candidate if you do. At the same time, be open to different job possibilities. Particularly in this economy, avoid narrowing your scope so dramatically that you limit your options.
Have realistic expectations. Building a personal relationship with a recruiter should not be your goal. In fact, it is something that they will avoid to maintain an ethical code of conduct. Rather, you can expect a recruiter to prepare (but not coach) you before an interview at the hiring organization; represent you throughout the negotiations; and track your progress during the first 90 days on a job. Executive recruiters are not career counselors. They can give you a snapshot of what is happening in the market at large, but cannot help you focus your job search if you lack clarity.
Stand out by sharing contacts and market knowledge to prove that you know what is happening behind the scenes in your industry. This will help you stay in a recruiter’s mind longer and will provide a reak reason to reconnect periodically.
Finally, be transparent without making claims that will not stand up to rigorous background and reference checking. Recruiters are responsible for thoroughly investigating potential employees, and they will discover anything that is fabricated or exaggerated.