It’s easy to get discouraged when conducting an executive job search. As a lower-level manager or professional, perhaps it seemed that job opportunities abounded. But now, at the executive level, the available positions are harder to come by and it can be difficult to be privy to information about vacancies.

Working with retained executive recruiters and search firms can be an excellent way to gain access to the “hidden” senior-level job market, but it’s important to understand a few fundamentals before approaching them:executive recruiters

1) A recruiter’s primary interest is in filling their current search assignments, not finding you a job.

If you want to make a great impression when interacting with a recruiter, your approach should be one of trying to help the recruiter find the perfect match for his or her open assignments— whether through your own interest and availability or by offering quality referrals to other executives who might make a good fit. Approaching a recruiter in hopes that they will drop what they are doing to conduct a job search for you represents a fundamental misunderstanding of who the recruiter is working for.

2) A recruiter will never give you a menu of job options to choose from.

Retained executive search firms may have thousands of opportunities on the table at any given time, but you will never hear about all of them. You will only hear about one at a time. It would be a disservice to the clients they serve—the companies that hire them to find talent—if they were to offer a single executive more than one option at a time, because then they would be pitting their clients against one another. What is more, once you’ve rejected a position, it may take some time before you are back in the pool of eligible executives for the firm to draw from again. Therefore, if time is of the essence and you wish to move your search along quickly and be considered for more opportunities, you’ll want to reach out to a multitude of retained recruiter firms.

3) You’re too late if you’re trying to develop a recruiter relationship when you need a job.

Make an effort to be visible to recruiters long before you are in need of employment. You can do this by joining professional and networking groups and being active in them. Leverage LinkedIn to connect with recruiters and stay on their radar through frequent sharing, posting, and interacting. Ask people who are close to you for introductions to recruiters in your industry and start developing a relationship now. Just like with all networking, there must be give, give, give before you can hope for any take. Offering to help a recruiter and swiftly and politely responding to any inquiries from them— long before you need a job— is a great way to start building those relationships.

4) A recruiter’s time is very limited.

Recruiters are very busy people. They don’t have time to interview you or have a lengthy, unscheduled phone call with you unless you are exactly what they are looking for at that precise moment— so don’t insist. Anticipate the information they might need from you when reaching out, such as salary expectations and willingness to relocate, and include it in your email or cover letter. Be very communicative about any personal obligations or other deal breakers so they don’t waste time and energy offering opportunities that won’t work for you. 

Although recruiters are in their business to please their paying customers, they can still be a very valuable resource to you as an executive job seeker, if you can help them quickly and effectively do their jobs. For best results, think of recruiter relationship building as a long-term, career management strategy and bring a helpful and collaborative spirit to each interaction you have with them, setting aside your immediate self-interest.


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