Working with a Head Hunter
Myth vs. Reality
Misconceptions about working with a head hunter are rampant. Whenever I speak to executives in
transition about working with recruiters, I deliver a message they don't want to hear - recruiters
are not the answer to their job search problems. The ensuing debate generates a better
understanding of two key realities of working with a search firm:
The executive search business is driven by the clients who pay our fees. We are hired to find people
who match our clients' requirements, not people who merely come close to the mark.
Our clients hire us to find candidates they would not otherwise have access to. They hire us to find
passive candidates - candidates who are not looking for a new opportunity; candidates who are currently
employed, most likely with a competitor. It's no surprise that our first task on a new assignment is to
build a list of companies to target in our search. There's a good chance that the successful candidate will
come from one of these organizations.
As you take the quiz that follows, think about how these two key drivers impact your experience
with the head hunter community.
True or False...
A head hunter thoroughly reads resumes that are submitted in response to their job
False. Resumes are actually used to screen people out rather than in. You have 15 to 20 seconds to
get our attention before we move on. The things we look for? Do you work for one of the target companies we've
identified? Are there key words or phrases that "pop" in the summary section of your resume that match our requirements?
Is your last/current title consistent with the position we're working on? If a quick scan of your resume doesn't reveal
a match on these key variables, chances are we'll pass. And, that cover letter you so carefully crafted?
It's rarely, if ever, read.
An interview with a head hunter is not the same as an interview with the company. I can say things to a
head hunter that I would never say to a hiring manager.
False. The head hunter is the gate keeper - especially on a retained search. Treat your interview with an
executive recruiter just like your interview with the hiring company. Understand the position, the company, and
the industry. Ask questions. If you wouldn't say something to the hiring manager, don't say it to the head hunter!
I should be honest about my compensation requirements. I hurt my own credibility if I tell the recruiter
one thing and then try to negotiate something different with the hiring manager. Besides, I might be asked for
W-2's to verify my income.
True. Misrepresenting compensation is a recipe for disaster. If you think that you can play a form of
"bait and switch" with your compensation history, think again. This is true on both overstating and understating
where your compensation has been. It's sometimes difficult to compare companies in terms of titles and scope of
responsibility, therefore, compensation tends to be a good indicator of your relative position in the organization.
If you've been earning at the $250K+ level, but are willing to accept a role at $125K, what message are you sending?
Does desperation come to mind? Likewise, if you've been earning $125K and think you're qualified for an opportunity
paying $250K, the recruiter will recognize that something's amiss. The objective here is to make a good match.
Compensation can be an important variable in determining fit. A head hunter is likely to go to bat for you in salary negotiations
since our fee is based on a percentage of your compensation. Getting more for you usually benefits the recruiter as well.
A good recruiter will see how easily my skills transfer into other industries and functions.
False. While we all know that skills are transferable, the executive search community is not going to help you
transition into a new industry or a new function. Our clients hire us to find very specific expertise. Since we
work for the client who is paying our fee, our focus is to present candidates who meet their requirements. The best
way for you to transfer to a new industry or function is through networking.
I should post my resume on the internet. Companies and recruiters routinely look there for qualified
False. The internet can be a very helpful tool in your job search, but exercise caution in posting your
resume and then trying to work with the search community. If our client sees you on the internet, it damages
our reputation. We are hired to source passive candidates - those who aren't currently looking for a new opportunity.
We use resume databanks for leads into our target companies or to identify trade or professional associations that
fit our requirements, but not as a source of quality candidates.
I should spend at least 50% of my job search working with recruiters. They know about jobs that are
perfect for my background.
False. The statistics are telling - only 10-12% of all job openings are filled by executive
recruiters. On average, a head hunter talks to at least 10 people who are qualified for a position in order to find 1 candidate
we want to present to our client. The reality is that most people in transition find their next opportunity through
networking. So, if you're spending the majority of your time talking to recruiters, you are significantly reducing
your chances for success.
I have sent my resume to a whole list of recruiters and have not gotten any response. They won't return
my phone calls.
True. Keep in mind the key drivers of our business - clients dictate the requirements and passive candidates
are our focus. In order to break through, a candidate must have something very specific that we need. If you're in
transition, the bar tends to be higher. Since our focus is on passive candidates, your background needs to parallel
our requirements exactly in order to make the short list. The reality: if I'm presenting 5 candidates to my client,
I generally won't include more than 1 who's unemployed.
Spending time meeting recruiters face to face will increase my chances of landing a good opportunity
through them. I know that I'm good when I get in front of people.
False. If your background does not match a current opportunity, a face to face meeting is a waste of
everyone's time. It is helpful if you share as part of a brief cover letter or email your compensation requirements
and your ability to relocate. Most executive search firms have fairly extensive databases to track potential candidates.
To the extent we know your requirements, we can do a better job of matching your background to new opportunities
as they develop.
I know that if the hiring manager sees my background I'll get an interview. If the head hunter is blocking
me, I should just go around them and talk to the hiring company directly.
False. The client hires us to find the best candidates available for the position. It is not unusual for
us to make a few hundred phone calls to generate an adequate pool of potential candidates, from which we select
a handful for an in depth interview. From these interviews, we then select the 4-5 candidates who are best
qualified for the position. This critical evaluation process is what our clients pay us for. Since we are
partners in this process with our clients, we will find out that you went around us. We won't like it and
neither will our client.
When I was employed, I was constantly bombarded by head hunter calls. I wasn't looking, so I didn't bother
to call back. If I'm honest, I would have to admit that when they reached me directly, I was not very helpful.
Sometimes, I might have even been rude and abrupt.
True or False? How did you respond? The truth is that you need to develop relationships with the search
community when you're not looking, so we're ready to help you when you are. You don't need to be interested in
every opportunity presented, however, if you're helpful, it's a plus in how we remember you. You can refer others -
even if you know they are not looking. They might have someone in their network who fits the opportunity. In this
respect, a recruiter's job is similar to the job seekers - the best candidates, like the best opportunities, often
come through networking.
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