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Working with ‘headhunters’

Posted by Patra Frame

I often am asked to recommend a ‘good recruiter’ (aka headhunter) by someone who is in job search mode. 

Recruiters in search firms can be a useful asset in your network.

But they are rarely the answer to your job search! Even if you already have a relationship with one who is excellent in your field, they have to have a job that matches your abilities and they often don’t. The time to develop your contacts at such firms is long before you are interested in changing jobs. Most search firm clients want currently employed people as candidates. Knowing top recruiters is always a smart way to keep yourself current in your industry or career.

The trick to working with search firms is to remember their 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 you could work with: Contingency and retained.

  • Contingency firms are the most common for entry- to mid-level jobs. They work with companies which pay them IF the company hires someone through the search firm.
  • 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.

Both contingency and retained firms often concentrate on one industry, such as bio-tech, or one career sector, such as health care.

Search firms generally find you directly. At the executive search level, you may be in their files because of your role in a professional or industry group or via a referral. You can develop a relationship with a recruiter at such firms. But, most are overwhelmed by resumes sent in ‘cold’ and are unlikely to contact you based on that action if they do not know of you. Contingency agency recruiters are also likely to find you by searching social media, such as LinkedIn, as well as from job ads that they place.

If you already know someone in search, do tell her about your job search. And ask for suggestions. If s/he wants your new resume, she will say so!

And remember that when the economy is poor, companies are far less likely to spend the money to use an agency. So do not spend too much of your time trying to contact such recruiters – use it to build your personal network and you will get better results.

Be sure you know the quality and reputation of any search firms you talk to or send your resume to. Unfortunately, anyone can call herself a recruiter, and some will just blanket the world with your resume without your permission. And some unscrupulous folks in the collections, background-checking, and identity-theft worlds do contact people and claim to be a recruiter.

If you are interested in working with a recruiter, check out who are the well-regarded recruiters for your field. Ask hiring managers you trust for a specific recommendation. Talk to your peers for their experiences. Then contact the ones who appear to meet your needs. Ask about their work and their specialty area of practice before you send them a resume. Remember, every conversation with a search firm recruiter is a form of job interview.

If you are contacted by a recruiter, get all the information you can on what they are offering and what they do. Then, consider checking on the person before you get into too many private details. Good recruiters 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.

If you do choose to work with recruiters, be clear about your work goals and any limitations. Respect their time and efforts. Tell them if you are interested in a position they have open 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 or is too far a commute, etc. Treat them as professionally as you want to be treated.

Final note: there are also external recruiters who work directly for employers. They are very different from those in agencies in their roles. These include RPOs, which are companies that provide recruiting to organizations on an out-sourced basis, and contract recruiters who work for a company, often when it has a surge in recruiting work.  These types of recruiters are basically, for your purposes, the same as an internal recruiter at the organization.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 29, 2010 1:00 pm

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