Don’t take that recruiter’s call!

(And she may wind up not taking your call, either.)

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Lots of things seem to come in bunches: grapes, bananas, good news and bad news, to name just a bunch. Lately I’ve received a bunch of calls from technology executives who chose not to interview with one of my clients or didn’t answer my voice mails or emails or LinkedIn messages during a search I was conducting.

When I asked them why they were contacting me, each of them confessed that s(he) had recently been let go by their employers, or were fretting that their job could be in jeopardy. They had kept my phone number handy and now that they were in a job search, their first calls were going out to recruiters who had once contacted them with great sounding opportunities.

It seemed liked a good answer at the time...

My follow up questions to this cluster of unlucky executives was, “Why did you decline the opportunity for an interview?” and “Why didn’t you return any of my calls/emails/LinkedIn messages?” Typically, and all too predictably, their answers usually sounded like this: “Well, I appreciated the call and the job sounded really interesting and the location was perfect but (and there’s always a but) I was A) very happy; B) My boss promised me that I would someday replace him; C) I was in the middle of a big project and wanted to see it all the way through; D) I’m a loyal person and don’t like to hop around; E) I’ve always moved when my boss changed companies and s(he) always took good care of me; F) etc., etc., etc.

Every one of those answers sounded perfectly logical to the former or soon-to-be-former VP of Infrastructure or CIO or Head of Omnichannel at the time s(he) said it. And, while I did try to convince the person to keep the process going, (and the convincing might have transpired over multiple calls and a sit down meeting), when it was obvious that s(he) had zero curiosity in my client’s company and opportunity, I politely asked for a referral and moved on.

Passive vs. active candidates

You will hear the phrases "passive candidate" and "active candidate" if you spend any time talking to an executive recruiter or a human resources executive. Most of my clients have been more intrigued by the passive candidates I present to them, who are happy with their jobs and companies but are willing to explore interesting opportunities, than they are by the active candidates, who even through no fault of their own, are either in transition or about to be. It’s human nature to pursue that which seems less accessible than the stuff that’s there for the asking.

After I’ve exchanged a few pleasantries with my regretful caller and finish discussing the roles they passed on that were filled by other people, then time permitting, I offer them a few suggestions for their job search. The first piece of advice usually startles them a bit: I recommend that they contact as few search firms as possible, explaining that retained executive search firms rarely place active candidates who proactively call search firms out of the blue, hoping that there’s a job waiting for them. We’re retained by our clients because we have the relationships and research resources to uncover very unique candidates for extremely focused roles. We rarely place people who called into the firm.

A few tips for the active candidate

Then I review the outline of my career coaching model: They need to think of themselves as the "CEO of their careers," and perform a self-inventory of their professional passions and unique abilities (usually one and the same); develop a "network map" of their professional relationships; construct a project plan for their job search; and then get busy on the phone because time is not on their side, particularly if they took a few months off after receiving some kind of separation package. They’re in a highly competitive market, without the leverage (i.e., credibility) they’d otherwise have if they were employed.

A healthy sense of curiosity is good for your career

Lots of people in transition land good or great jobs. By no stretch of the imagination are they unemployable. However, far too many of them passed up opportunities to explore new companies and unique jobs because they were too comfortable in their former roles. At the very least, those spurned interviews were also opportunities to meet new people and learn about how other companies are meeting or exceeding their respective technology and business challenges.

So, if you’re reading this article and you’re happily employed and an intriguing sounding voicemail from an executive recruiter is waiting for your response or an interesting looking position description is sitting in your email inbox then take the time to evaluate both the opportunity and the professionalism of the recruiter. If a retained executive recruiter is leading the search then the client company has what we call in the business, ‘skin in on the game’. It means the employer is paying the search firm up front and throughout the duration of the search for its work because of the critical nature of the role and its importance to the company’s leadership team.  

Return that call or answer that email. What do you have to lose?

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