Working with executive recruiters is one of the primary ways top executives find their next opportunity. Here are a few tips from the top retained recruiting firms that place senior executives and those seeking BOD positions.
- Make sure you match up your skills and industry with their specialty for best results – although many major recruiting firms cover most industries.
- Don’t worry about geography. Recruiters are primarily industry specialists and will have clients everywhere.
- Send them a great resume in PDF format. They may ask for a word version, or ask you to upload your resume into their database or fill out a form on their website (someone has to do it) as well. You can take a look at some of our executive resume samples here.
- Call. It takes more time to call, but your call will be worth it. Ask the person answering the phone for someone specifically or the recruiter who is in charge of your industry (e.g., the recruiter that specializes in general operations searches, or construction, or healthcare, etc.). Have what you want to say written out. Note that you should call before sending your resume if you are in a confidential or passive search.
If you have not sent your resume:
“Hi, this is ____ and I am a(n) ____. I am calling to introduce myself. I am in a (highly confidential – tell them if you are!) career transition and I wanted to reach out to you personally because I understand that you specialize in my industry. May I send you my resume? I would welcome a conversation if you feel I am a good match for any of your open searches.”
If you have sent your resume:
“Hi this is ____. I sent my resume in last week and wanted to follow up with a phone call to briefly introduce myself and to find out if you have any open searches in the ____ industry that I might be a good potential candidate for.”
If you want or need more tips on networking, phone and email scripts, I provide step-by-step templates in my online store.
- Understand what motivates recruiters to pitch you their best client company job openings.
- Have excellent marketing material and learn how to interview so they don’t have to train you.
- Act professionally on the phone and in person.
- If you say something that sounds an alarm, the client company will typically tell the recruiter. The recruiter may or may not divulge this to you, because it’s a slippery slope.
- Rehearse your interviews and understand what the right and wrong things to say are. Speak to the recruiter professionally; don’t confide, even if pressed or if you are buddies with the recruiter. They are not working for you, they are working for the company. You can find some tips on C-level interviewing here.
Executive level jobs and C-level jobs require very specific job search strategies, and some work better than others! In this article, I am going to go over the main executive level job search strategies, including the pros and cons of each. Hopefully, this information will help you decide what job search methods are best for your particular situation.
Most C-level executives believe they are bound to recruiting firms to bring them opportunities, but this is not necessarily true. Getting your resume to the top recruiting firms can open up potential opportunities for you!
The job comes to you and there is a lot of cachet. Executives enjoy believing that they have been handpicked by a recruiter to represent them to a company. The truth is that the recruiter represents the company, not you, the candidate, no matter what they are telling you or how they are making you feel. Still, it is a “pro” that the recruiter brings the opportunity to you.
A recruiter has the company’s best interest at heart since it is the company who pays them in the end. And sometimes the recruiter is paid so much (20% to 30% of your annual compensation) that I believe it can cut into your ability to fully leverage your salary package negotiations.
Recruiters limit your opportunities because:
- C-level searches are rare and a recruiter can generally only bring you an existing search – one at a time.
- Usually the recruiter will be asked to bring in at least 3 qualified candidates – so you have built-in competition.
- You may be constrained from speaking to the company directly as the recruiter will want to mediate and many times negotiate your offer on your behalf (even though his or her loyalty is to the company).
Your Best Move?
Make sure if you do a recruiter distribution, you find someone with a good list of top recruiters (hint: I have one!). Treat the recruiter and the company with the same discernment. Don’t open up to the recruiter as if he or she is being retained by you. They are not. You need to “sell” the recruiters on the value you bring to the company just as if you were “selling” directly to the company.
Networking can open up opportunities for jobs that are not advertised. If you are well-connected – or you know how to take initiative and “make rain” – this is a viable option for you.
You can tap into hidden opportunities. Get third party endorsements from people that you know and that trust and respect you – that can be invaluable!
Networking can be tough for executives who don’t know how to do it. After all, how does an executive ask their associates if they don’t know anyone who is hiring or who might be interested in them? This is largely demeaning for a powerful executive who is used to being a leader and in control. It can also take an average of 18 months to complete your job search if all you do is “network” in the traditional sense of the word and your income is over 6 or 7 figures.
Your Best Move?
Learn how to network without asking for a job. There are executive level strategies and communication techniques that approach these conversations in more of a fact-finding and consulting spirit. You need to learn how to do it so you can network confidently. I show executives how to do this both through private coaching and through my DIY home study program, the Job Search Success System.
VENTURE CAPITAL AND PRIVATE EQUITY FIRMS
Executives who are looking at management consulting or an interim position, helping turn around a poorly performing company, or are interested in a startup, may be interested in connecting with VC and PE firms.
If you are a C-level executive, it may be a pretty good move for you to send a distribution to these firms. There are companies that do this (including mine).
I have found that if you are below the C-level, distribution to these firms is less effective.
Your Best Move?
If you are a C-level executive, you can send out a VC/PE email distribution for around $300 and it might land you a handful of good leads if you sell your skills correctly. Smart move!
I personally believe that understanding how to reach out to companies directly is the most powerful strategy for success. Direct mail means sending an actual letter to the key decision maker in a company. Not an email, an actual letter – preferably on engraved stationery and high quality Cranes paper. You will invest a little money up front marketing yourself like this, but the ROI blows away any other job search strategy I know of in this job market climate.
You can identify and isolate your industry and cherry pick who you want to reach out to. You can even do this for free using Google maps. Lists are free or cheap if you know where to look.
With the power of the internet you can use Google news alerts to have information on companies or industries that are growing sent right to your inbox. Companies that are growing are often hiring.
At a salary of $250k+, over 90% of jobs are filled in the hidden job market and never advertised. That means reverse engineering your job search and going after what you want vs. waiting and waiting for the right job to come to you – and competing with dozens or hundreds of other executive job seekers for the same position – makes logical sense for executives.
Learn how to tap the hidden job market once and use this method for the rest of your career. People tap the HJM when they want to leverage themselves in the job market, command more money, minimize their competition and shorten their job search.
Your success in terms of how many interviews/offers you land is predicated on your industry, supply and demand and is hard to predict. Between 2% and 5% is average. But I have also seen executives send out 20 letters and land 5 interviews. It depends on many factors. This still beats job boards, but if you don’t understand marketing numbers this can be discouraging to you.
You must be the type of person who can take initiative and “make things happen” to successfully manage this entrepreneurial driven strategy.
These methods at the executive level generally require some help from an experienced career professional who can be your sounding board and show you the shortcuts to using HJM strategies successfully. You will have to hire some help or at least do some self-study, otherwise be prepared for some frustration and roadblocks.
Your Best Move?
I think everybody, not just executives, should learn how to find and capitalize on companies that are growing and know how to approach companies in an industry they potentially want to work for. I have seen executives grind away for a year in a fruitless job search – wasting precious time, losing confidence and often tens of thousands of dollars in income for those who were in between jobs – only to land multiple interviews in the first 30 days of refocusing their job search on the HJM (and often hiring a professional resume writer to beef up their marketing message). They all say the same thing in retrospect: my only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner for myself!
If you are a boomer executive that wants more flexibility you might want to consider your own consulting business. Management and technical consulting is one of the fastest growing industries. At 44% in 10 years, it’s grown four times faster than the workforce growth rate.
Consulting can be a nice “bridge” job and you might find the flexibility suits you. Many companies prefer hiring consultants – it’s safer for them and they can check you out first before they consider hiring you full time.
You can consult from anywhere. You don’t necessarily have to be a road warrior either. You can do much of your consulting via phone and internet (I myself have done this for years and rarely even meet my clients face to face).
You can consult in almost any field. One of our $500k+ CEO clients found businesses who could not afford to engage him full time as a CEO, but wanted his expertise. He negotiated a handful of engagements with several businesses – some one day a week, some for a few hours a week, and some for a couple days a month. He is now working fewer hours and making more than $500k per year. In one of our conversations, he remarked that he would never go back to a full-time job.
You can generally charge about two and a half to three times your hourly rate (you will have to break down your salary to get this figure).
You will have to market your business and this may or may not be something you like to do. Be prepared to invest 15% to 25% of your revenue on marketing. But of course, if it brings you business and you don’t have a lot of other overhead, this is probably a pro not a con.
Interim full-time consulting gigs can leave you scrambling for new assignments and are problematic. Avoid them and try to find a few clients who need your help part time. This is safer relative to your income streams and it’s easier to land these gigs in general. If you find 2 clients who need you just one day a week, you might find yourself making as much as you made in your past full-time job. Many companies desperately need heavy-weight talent, but can’t afford a full-time person.
Your Best Move?
If you are an executive with any kind of entrepreneurial desires, this could be an excellent move for you!
I lost count of how many clients have told me they hung their hat on one or two recruiter relationships but nothing ever panned out in terms of landing a great job. If you don’t know how to work with recruiters you can easily be tempted to feel that you have been let down in your relationship with them.
Here are a few facts about recruiters to help you get a baseline of perspective:
A recruiter works for (and are paid by) their client companies. They don’t work for you, have no real allegiance to you and will only be interested in you if your career history is a match for their searches.
Knowing that will help you go into establishing relationships with recruiters with more objectivity.
Recruiters come in all shapes and sizes. I have met many of them and I was one of them for seven years. Some are good, some are nice, and some are not.
When you send your resume to a big handful of recruiters that specialize in your industry or position you will get a mixed bag of responses. Some will respond with interest, some will send you an automatic message to fill out their generic candidate forms on their websites, some will not respond at all and some may even respond negatively. Be prepared for all of it – and take none of it personally.
And by all means don’t skip this step! It’s a necessary step you must play out in order to garner the interest of the smaller percentage of recruiters who may be able to help you!
Recruiters generally like straightforward, chronological resumes. They tend to prefer your academic background be listed somewhere on the first page. They look at a lot of resumes each week and they don’t like to have to scan through a resume to try and guess what you do.
If you have a functional resume (one that highlights skills, rather than industry background and job history) don’t be surprised if you catch a couple terse comments from recruiting firms. But don’t worry, chances are your resume isn’t bad, nor have your done anything wrong. It’s just a typical preference for recruiters.
Recruiters look for career backgrounds that match their search criteria. If you are looking to make a slight shift into a parallel industry or a slight shift in terms of your position, then a recruiter may be able to help you. If you are looking to make a career transition into another industry, then you can skip connecting with recruiters all together. They are paid to find exactly what their clients have asked them to find…and nothing less. Other job search methods will work much better for you.
What is the definition of a recruiter’s “star” candidate? If you are looking to remain in your industry and have a solid and successful background in it, then you will be especially attractive to recruiters…a “star” candidate. “Star” candidates are also defined as those who have held no more than three jobs in the past ten years and those with a complimentary and impressive academic background. The more attractive you are to recruiters, the more negotiating power you have.
What else does a recruiter look for? A good personality, tact, diplomacy, and promptness returning phone calls and emails are often major components to a successful match. Remember when a recruiter sends you to one of their clients; their reputation is on the line. They are acutely aware of this, and you should be too.
One last valuable tip: a recruiter is somewhat limited in his or her ability to bring you “your dream job”. They can and will only offer you positions they are working on for their clients, and only if you are a potential match for the position.
Additionally, you will probably not be the only candidate they send to interview for the position. Generally recruiters send in two to four qualified candidates for each position they are paid to fill.
If you want to build good relationships both short and long term with recruiters you should:
• Find either paid or free lists of recruiters who specialize in your position or industry. Generally the recruiter’s geographical location is of little importance, they often have many clients outside of their physical location.
• The paid lists I endorse are through Executive Agent (listed on my website). Their system is quick and easy to use and very affordable. Their reputation in the industry is excellent….as are the results they provide.
• Follow up with courtesy phone calls to the best recruiters on your list based on your needs and how they measure up. You will look more professional and get on their radar screen.
• Always be pleasant, positive and diplomatic.
• Treat the recruiter just the same as you would a potential employer in an interview.
• If you are really attached to your industry, then building long-term relationships with recruiters isn’t a bad idea. Recruiters are heavily networked, appreciate referrals and the good ones will remember your generosity, kindness and professionalism. They will go out of their way to contact you with five-star positions they may have down the road.
Recruiters can be extremely helpful to you and your career and knowing their hot buttons and the best ways to find them and build positive relationships with them will not only save you time but serve to flush out additional job opportunities!