Is a Search Firm Right for Your Job Search

Posted by Patra Frame

First, understand a search firm’s role is to satisfy the employer who pays them by finding a hire who meets the employer’s specs. Their role is NOT to get YOU a job.

There are two main types of search firms (aka “headhunters”) you could work with: contingency and retained.

1. Contingency firms are the most common for entry to mid-level professional and management jobs. They work with companies which pay them, ONLY if the company hires someone through them.

2. Retained (often called Executive Search) firms work with more senior-level positions, and they work on an exclusive contract with a company to fill a specific position.

Many search firms concentrate on one or two industries, such as intelligence and defense research, or one or two career sectors, such as health care or associations.

Search firms generally find you because of your role in your profession or via a referral. Most are overwhelmed by resumes sent in ‘cold’ and are unlikely to contact you based solely on that.

When you are contacted by a search firm, you need to know their quality and reputation. Also, some unscrupulous folks in the collections, background-checking, and identity-theft worlds contact people and claim to be recruiting to fill a position.

If you are contacted by a search firm, get all the information you can on what they are offering and what they do. Check on the person before you get into too many private details. Good search firms understand your desire to protect yourself and to work with the best. BUT, remember those in contingency search firms work on a very fast turn-around. If you are interested, say so. And get back to the person quickly.

Remember, every conversation with a search firm is a form of job interview.

If you do choose to work with a search firm, be clear about your work goals and any limitations. Respect their time and efforts. Tell them if you are interested in the position and ask them all the critical questions you can to be sure it is a potential match. Sell yourself professionally. Be responsive to their needs – including the possibility you may have to quickly modify your resume to more clearly highlight some experiences. Offer referrals if you know others who may meet their needs better than you do. Say ‘no thanks’ if the position does not interest you, is too far a commute, etc. Treat them as professionally as you want to be treated.

Patra Frame

Patra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Specialist. She is an experienced human resources executive and founder of Strategies for Human Resources.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 07, 2011 12:25 pm

2 thoughts on “Is a Search Firm Right for Your Job Search”

  1. Hello,

    I’m on the job market and I’ve been thinking about using search firms to more effectively look. You mention that contingency search firms find talent based on referrals or one’s role in their profession, and that resumes sent in cold hardly attract attention. For a job seeker, this seems like a passive strategy for using search firms. As a job seeker, how can I be active without cold calling or emailing my resume?

    Many thanks,

    1. Agencies are a very minor part of your search – they account for very few jobs filled. But if you are interested in covering this area, you want to get introductions to the right recruiters are the best agencies for your field. You do that by asking people you know for referrals and using those names in contacting the recruiter. You ask to talk – by phone or email, to the recruiter briefly to see if they do actually have the types of work you want and ask what they need to know from you. good hunting!

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