by Meridith Levinson

Must-read Q&A with Korn Ferry recruiters

Dec 22, 200510 mins

This past fall, I spoke with two recruiters from Korn Ferry International, Karen Rubenstrunk and Bob Blumenthal.  Karen worked for Meta Group for 10 years prior to joining “the Korn” (as employees refer to the firm): She led Meta’s coaching and advisory service for CIOs.  Bob joined Korn Ferry in 2005 from Heidrick & Struggles

I asked Karen and Bob for their perspectives on how CIOs can build constructive relationships with recruiters.  Their advice–at times amusing–is candid, practical and absolutely worth reading—all 1600 words of it!  I finally had a chance to edit the Q&A I did with them back in September.  I hope you enjoy it.  Please feel free to use the feedback mechanism to let me know what you think of it and if you have additional questions you’d like me to pose to recruiters in the future.    

CIO: How does the recruiting industry work?  Does the recruiter represent the company that’s looking to fill a particular position or does the recruiter represent the CIO who’s looking for a job?

Bob: Candidates often think we work for them, but ultimately, a company hires us to fill a position. Our fee comes from the company, therefore we are retained by the company [to conduct a search for a particular position].  Having said that, most recruiters in our business consider the candidate to be a very precious resource. We recognize that individuals have value to us as a potential candidate for a current or future search, and as a potential source of information on other potential candidates for a search. A smart recruiter will recognize that the candidate is in fact very important even though they don’t pay us a fee. 

How are you guys compensated? Do you get a percent of your placement’s salary or signing bonus?

Bob: All of the above.  We are paid a percentage of the first year’s compensation or estimated first year’s compensation because sometimes the candidate will be paid a base salary and expected bonus, and we don’t know for sure if they’re going to get more or less.

How do you find candidates for searches you’re working on?

Bob: Major recruiting firms like ours have gigantic databases that contain a lot of information on people. We’ve gotten that by having a thousand people in offices around the world talking to people and recording information on their backgrounds and their interests. When we take on a search, even though we have this gigantic database of potential candidates, there are always people we know in our personal networks that we tend to call. Those are our go-to people.

How can CIOs get into your networks?

Karen: You need to seek out one or two recruiters and develop relationships with them.  You probably want one relationship with a recruiter at a larger executive search firm like Korn Ferry or one with a search firm that specifically plays in your industry. Ask CIOs in your own network which recruiters they’ve used before and if they’ll introduce you.  I’ll pay more attention to someone I know calling me and saying ‘So-and-So is looking for a new job; you might want to consider him’ than if So-and-So just called me directly cold because we hear from so many people on a daily basis.  That’s one first step. 

The second step is the very brief and concise e-mail or voice mail. Don’t be afraid to follow it up two or three weeks later with another brief, concise voice mail or email. What’s bothersome is when a potential candidate whips into his life story. I don’t need your life story. Think through what you’re going to say before you get on the phone. Generally I want to know how many years you’ve been a CIO, your compensation range, the reason you’re looking, the industry you’re looking in and what you’re incredibly good at. That gives me enough information to quickly identify whether I need to add you to my network.

What else can IT managers and executives do to build relationships with you?

Bob: As a recruiter, what I look for in a relationship is someone who will take the time to pick up the phone when I call, who will listen to the search I’m working on, who will give me a good thoughtful response, including sources I can use for a search that they may not be appropriate for. When they take those calls, they are building a relationship with us.  They become our go-to people.  And they get two things out of taking our calls.  First of all, when they later call us and say ‘I’m looking for a new opportunity,’ we now know them.  I may not have a search [for which they fit] but I’ll find out which of my partners does and I’ll call my partner and say, ‘I’ve got this terrific friend who’s interested in an opportunity. Do you have anything for him or her?’ Secondly, the people who take our calls are going to know about the great assignments that we take on.  Those are the people who are going to hear about the job opportunities. Those are the people we’re going to call early on. And at some point, we’ll call them and say, ‘Do you have ideas of people I can contact for this search?’ And they’ll say, ‘Me. This is a great opportunity for me.’

Karen: Returning our phone calls really ingratiates yourself to a recruiter. It’s part of being a passive job seeker. You don’t have to always be actively looking.  A passive job seeker is one who will accept calls from recruiters, will reach out and provide information even though they aren’t looking themselves because at some point in their life they will [be looking].   

Bob: We note who returns our phone calls and who doesn’t in our big database.  We always try to put a couple of notes into our database after we’ve had a conversation with someone.  You’ll frequently see notes there saying, ‘So-and-so is a very helpful reference.’ That’s a nice thing to see.  We’ll also see things that say ‘Left message for John Doe. Left a second message for John Doe and never heard back from him.’ We might not be as likely to call John Doe next to someone who was more helpful. 

Karen: This business is relationship-based.  Relationships have to be created and maintained. Once your name is known to a recruiter, the easiest way to maintain that relationship is to touch base with him or her every six months or whenever there’s a major change in your life. For example, send them a quick e-mail saying, ‘I just received a promotion.  I hope things are going well w/ you.’ 

Bob: Also, contacting us when someone you really like has a big change going on.  We like to get those kinds of e-mails.  Another e-mail we like to get is one that says, ‘My company is going through some changes. There may be an opportunity to do some recruiting,’ or, ‘I have a friend who left Company X. There may be an opportunity to do some recruiting for that company.’ Boy oh boy do we perk up over that.  But you do have to exercise balance and good judgment. You don’t want to over do it.  For example, I had a candidate for a search I did two years ago who almost had the job.  When the search was finished he asked me if he could call me from time to time to keep himself at the top of my mind.  I’m a nice guy and I’m anti-confrontational and I’m a wimp and I said yeah sure.  This guy called me every first day of the month for it must have been a period of 12 months. The first month, I got that call, I thought, ‘He’s following up.’ He ended that first phone call with me by asking if he could call me again.  I said yes.  However, at month number seven, I wanted to kill him! I wanted to wring his neck!

Karen: I bet you didn’t want to be in the office that day. 

Bob: I was thinking of changing my phone number and my identity! 

Are CIOs generally resistant to taking calls from recruiters? If so, why?

Karen: I don’t know they’re reticent [sic] to take our calls, honestly. I have not found that.  I have found that sometimes they–and I hate saying this because, having run a CIO service for so long I got so damn tired of people saying CIOs are too technical and don’t know how to build a relationship and I think all of that is so overused as an excuse–but there is still a population of CIOs that don’t understand the value of relationship development and the process of relationship management. It’s reflected not just in their response to recruiters but also in their work on a daily basis in their own companies.

Bob: Also, CIOs are used to getting calls from vendors, from somebody who wants to sell them DASD disk drives. They’re used to screening calls and not necessarily building those relationships. 

One of my readers’ wrote to me with the following feedback: “Often recruiters are not interested in an ongoing relationship.  They seem to just want to fill the position they are currently working on, and if a person doesn’t meet the criteria for that position, recruiters don’t seem interested in learning about you as a potential candidate for anything in the future.”  Has this person just had a bad experience or is there validity to what this reader is expressing?

Bob: I think there’s validity to that [statement].  That is absolutely true to some degree. There’s no malice intended The economics of what we do and the way we work for a living says we’re hired by clients who pay us a very large fee to delight them, to solve some major problem.  Why else would they pay our large fee? Therefore, that’s how we spend most of our time. If I spent 20 minutes with every single person who sent me a blind resume, I’d have no time for my clients. 

Karen: That’s just the way the business is.

Bob: That really is the business.  This is not to say that we don’t care about the candidate.  We do.  We really care if there’s a good fit between the candidate and the company–not only for the company’s sake; we want it to work out well for the candidate, too.