by CIO Staff

Recruiter’s Advice: How to Work With a Retained Executive Search Firm

Jan 23, 20065 mins
IT Leadership

By Jane Howze

With a new year recently begun, it is time for all of us to reassess the past year with an eye to having 2006 be better. Some of you will determine that it may be time to change positions. Others may not, but January always proves to be one of the months executives are most likely to receive calls from search firms.

After working in the retained search industry for nearly 25 years, I have reviewed more than one million resumes, interviewed more than 10,000 people and spoken to enough candidates to fill the Rose Bowl. Going through the recruiting process with a search firm is an art and skill. One gets better with practice and one never forgets——it is like riding a bicycle. The following suggestions may help your next ride be a smoother one.

The Don’ts

  1. Don’t confuse the different types of search firms. Retained search firms are hired by a corporation to conduct a process to identify and recruit executives with a particular skill set. Contingency firms are paid when a company hires their candidate. Thus, recognize that if retained search consultants spoke with everyone looking for a new position, they would not be able to focus on their paying clients. It is actually rare for a person to submit a resume to a retained firm and the firm to have a search in progress at that time that would be a fit. The best way to approach a retained search firm, assuming there is no personal relationship there, is to send a resume with a cover letter to the effect: “I would appreciate your adding my resume to your database in case you are retained for a search that would match with my qualifications.”

    The corollary to rule one is to remember that retained search firms are not career counselors for individuals looking for new positions. Their obligations are to their corporate client.

    The second corollary to rule one is not to call a retained search firm and ask them to find your brother-in-law a job in Muncie, Indiana. That is not what retained search firms do.

  2. Don’t argue. If you get the “Dear John” call saying that the search firm’s client does not see you as the best fit, don’t argue with the search consultant. It is not easy for him or her either. Handle the rejection with grace and a thank you for being presented as a candidate.
  3. Don’t circumvent the search firm. Respect the search process. In hiring a search firm, a client has basically “outsourced” the search. It is not usually a good strategy for the candidate to call the client directly. Many clients believe that it shows impatience, entitlement and a refusal to follow rules.
  4. Don’t be impatient with the process. Remember that search consultants are not the candidate’s advocate. They are seeking the best person for their client. Many people make the mistake of thinking that if they call the search firm daily, then the search firm will press the client to move faster. It is fine to follow up with the search firm after the client interview but avoid calling for daily or weekly updates. Clients have their own cadence and a search firm’s goal is not to get a person a job but to facilitate the client’s process. On the other hand, return the search firm’s calls once you are a candidate. If you decide to remove yourself from consideration, do so quickly and graciously with the intent to cause as little bad will from the client and search firm as possible.
  5. Don’t negotiate like it’s 1999. Companies are not going to give you a CEO’s salary, a $100,000 sign-on bonus, a million options and the company plane. Those days are over. Make rational requests when it is time to negotiate salary. If the company meets most of your requests, be reasonable. Don’t make new requests. Otherwise you might be holding your breath for the next dot-com boom.

The Dos

  1. Try to learn something about the search firm and its practice. Some search firms are specialized by industry and others by types of positions. Many firms are not specialized but individual recruiters may have a specific background or focus.
  2. Treat a search firm professional the way that you would like to be treated. The search community is a small community and its members have long memories. One cannot refuse to return calls from search firms and expect the search professional to return your call when you decide to make a job change. Act with integrity. If you use an opportunity with another company as a means to secure a better salary in your current position, it will be remembered and at some point come back to haunt you.
  3. Look before you leap. If you are contacted about a position that involves relocation, talk to your family first before wasting the client’s money and your time to interview for the position.
  4. Give feedback. Tell the company executives who interview you what you think of the search firm and your interaction with the recruiters. Executive search is a professional service and we can only improve our services with feedback.
  5. Keep in touch. If you made it to the final rounds in a search and established a good relationship with the recruiter, drop him or her an e-mail if you change jobs. Search consultants want to stay in touch with strong candidates and eventually the right search might come along.

Jane Howze is the founder of The Alexander Group. Her recruiting experience has focused on banking, legal, human resource, information technology, administrative, healthcare and financial positions. She also directs board of director searches and is actively involved in the firm’s diversity practice. She answers readers’ questions as one of our Career Counselors.