Working with an Executive Recruiter

I talk with many job seekers who have never worked with an executive recruiter in the past, or they are not sure how they should work with recruiting firms.  So I am writing a blog this week about the recruiting process, what candidates should expect, and how job seekers can work most effectively with recruiters.

First, some background information on the recruiting business which may be helpful:

  • Executive recruiters (also called executive search firms) specialize in finding top-tier candidates for senior-level or highly specialized positions for their clients. Finding top talent can be difficult, which is why many companies will hire recruiting firms to find candidates who may not be easily identified in the market. Most companies who decide to use an executive search firm do so because they don’t have the internal resources or time to recruit, screen, and evaluate candidates themselves.
  • The hiring company will pay the recruiter a fee for their search services. This fee is negotiated before the start of the search and it will not impact the candidate’s potential salary in any way.  Job seekers should never have to pay a recruiter fee, but it’s important for job seekers to understand that the recruiter gets paid by the hiring company and they usually have a contract in place
  • The relationship between a client and an executive search firm can be either “contingent” or “retained” for any particular search. A contingent agreement means that search fees are paid to the recruiter upon the successful placement of a candidate into the open position. A retained agreement means that the hiring company pays a portion of the search fee up front to the recruiter. This retainer fee will secure priority status for the search and ensures a higher level of dedicated service throughout the process.
  • Companies do not typically hire recruiting firms to fill entry-level or junior level positions. They do not need to pay a recruiter fee to fill positions which do not require a lot of experience or specialized skills – or where there is an abundance of candidates who are looking for positions. Job seekers can usually apply directly to these positions online.

So what does this mean for you as a job seeker?   There are several benefits to working with a specialized, experienced recruiting firm that knows your industry. This includes:

  • Recruiters are typically working on exclusive new positions where you can advance your career, face new challenges, and/or increase your compensation.  These roles often are not publicized or posted on job boards.  
  • Information: A good recruiter will provide you with abundant information about the hiring company, details about the open position, and key insights about the hiring manager.  They can also share information about company’s culture, growth potential, and corporate benefits.
  • Presentation: A good recruiter will seek to understand your key strengths and how you can impact the hiring company.  They will then present you to their client in a way that highlights why you are a fit for the position.
  • Preparation: A good recruiter should help you to prepare for your phone, online, and in-person interviews. They should provide you with information about the people you will be meeting, the types of questions they may ask, and what key elements of your background you should discuss.
  • Negotiation: Recruiters are skilled at negotiating compensation packages and they often have access to national and regional salary data to support their negotiations. Also, a recruiter’s compensation is usually based upon the size of the accepted offer so they will work with you to negotiate the best possible package.
  • Relocation: If relocation is required for a new position, the recruiter should be able to provide information and/or resources to help you evaluate the new location, the housing market, cost of living changes, etc.

If you decide to engage with a recruiter to advance your career, here are a few tips on how to best work together:

  • Find a good recruiter. I understand that there are some recruiters out there that give our industry a bad name. It is important that you find a recruiter who specializes in your industry, is well connected and professional, and represents the type of companies that you want to work for.
  • Share your preferences with the recruiter. If one particular opportunity isn’t the right fit for you, let the recruiter know and explain why.  This will help the recruiter to better understand your preferences and keep you in mind for opportunities in the future which would be a better fit.
  • Remember that the executive recruiter works for the client company. You might think that you are the perfect fit for a particular position, but your experience may not fit the bill based upon the client’s specifications.  Or you may have the right work experience but not the right demeanor to work effectively with the hiring manager. Don’t take it personally – recruiters know what the hiring company wants and what they don’t want.
  • Tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate your credentials or accomplishments or your salary. Many recruiters and hiring companies will conduct detailed background checks on candidates. Any falsehoods or exaggerations could hurt your reputation with a search professional, as well as with his or her clients.
  • Provide professional references. Many times recruiters are required to have professional references on hand for all candidates prior to any interviews.  And for retained searches, recruiters are usually required to check references before candidates are submitted for consideration.  You should have your professional references ready to go when they are requested by the recruiter.
  • Provide feedback immediately after interviews. If a recruiter has set up an interview for you, call the recruiter with feedback as soon as possible while it’s fresh in your mind.  Often the client will call the recruiter after your interviews to ask what you thought about your interviews and the job opportunity.
  • Don’t cultivate a job offer just to get leverage at your current job. This strategy usually backfires. If you want to be promoted or get a raise, there are better ways to accomplish this. Research shows that counter-offers from a current employer rarely result in good situations.
  • Understand that an executive recruiter may not be able to help you when you are just starting your career. As mentioned earlier, recruiters are typically hired by companies to find senior level executives or highly skilled professionals.  If you are just beginning your career, it’s unlikely that they could consider you for senior roles.

I hope this information is helpful.  A good relationship with an executive recruiter can be an asset to your career for many years.