Executive recruiters or headhunters as they are more commonly known, work from outside the hiring company to attract management talent.
Headhunters advertise jobs, interview candidates, and present suitable candidates for final decision to be made by the employer. They have access to senior management jobs around the world. They often determine which candidates are to be introduced to client organizations. The employers hire search firms to find special talent which is in short supply. Executive recruiters look for candidates who are currently employed, have a good growth record, and are making good compensation.
Headhunters can be very helpful to you at some time in your career. It is wise to cultivate relationships with some of them in your field. When you meet a search firm’s criteria, you get immediate attention. On the other hand, remember that search firms work for employers and get paid by them. When you do not get a response from a search firm, it means that you do not meet their criteria for positions they are trying to fill.
There are two types of executive search firms – retained search firms and contingency search firms. Retained search firms generally have an exclusive assignment to fill a specific position, and they get their fee even if they are not able to fill the position. Contingency search firms are paid a fee only when they fill a position.
The starting point for your approach to executive search firms is to realize that they are not under any obligation to talk to you. Their fees and expenses are paid by hiring companies, and their primary obligation is to the employers. However, they need suitable candidates to meet their obligation to client organizations. A recruiter from a search firm would be interested in talking to you only when you are a good match for a current search assignment, a possible match for a future assignment, or when you are referred by a good source known to the search firm.
The search firms receive hundreds of resumes for each job posting. They go through a quick screening to find possible candidates. As a recruiter, I was able to find only one or two candidates for phone interviews, out of every 100 resumes I received. The other applicants did not fit my area of recruiting specialization, lacked the required qualifications, or just did not generate any interest for further investigation.
Whenever sending your resume to a search firm, remember to include a cover note pointing out how you fit the job requirements for an advertised position or the search firm’s area of specialization.
When you are contacted by an executive search firm, you should expect to answer questions about your background, experience, and current compensation. The recruiter is trying to determine whether to consider you for referral to the client organization. Any attempt to withhold information or provide a vague answer is likely to disqualify you from further consideration.
When the headhunter thinks you are a possible match with the job requirements, you will probably have a phone interview to be followed by face-to-face interviews. And if the recruiter decides to refer you to the hiring company, you will be invited for interviews with the employer. Since the executive search firms are paid by hiring companies, they always try to satisfy the employer’s interest. The employers have to pay substantial search fees for recruiting candidates through executive search firms, and therefore, they use this resource mostly for senior management positions or those positions that are hard to fill. Reliance upon executive search firms is more useful for candidates for senior level positions and less effective for junior level jobs.