A search on Linkedin will bring up more than 700,000 individuals purporting to be executive recruiters. There are more than 20 million pages on Google referencing executive search. That’s a lot of pages to wade through, a lot potential recruiters to contact, a lot of email addresses to find and a lot of work to do. As an executive looking to find a new job, is making individual approaches really the best way to find a headhunter? In this blog, I’ll explain various approaches to getting on the radar of headhunters and introduce the GatedTalent executive search directory.
Understanding the motivations of the executive recruiter
Firstly, it’s important to understand who the executive search firm works for. It’s the hiring organisation (for clarity, I’m talking about executive recruiters working in retained executive search firms here – not executive placement firms). If you are a potential hiring manager, looking to retain an executive recruiter to find talent, there will be a huge number of search firms who would love to hear from you. If you are an executive embarking on a job search? You might be surprised to learn that most headhunters will have no particular interest in you.
You want to find a headhunter – but does the headhunter want to find you?
From time to time, you will contact a search consultant who happens to be working on an opportunity for which you are an excellent candidate. In this scenario, they will be delighted to hear from you. More often than not, however, search firms don’t actually encourage ‘write ins’ (you’ll notice that the majority of retained search firms don’t even have a resume submission area on their websites – they genuinely don’t appreciate unsolicited resumes).
So, contacting dozens of individual firms may well take a lot of time and be of no use whatsoever.
Can you target specific recruiters?
So, logically, your strategy needs to be to identify and reach out to recruiters working on opportunities that are directly relevant to you. So how do you do that? Historically, you often could not research executive opportunities. The vast majority of executive appointments are filled confidentially. You can’t easily identify which search firms is responsible for filling your dream job – because that type of information is generally not publicly available.
This is why executive job boards are notoriously so broad in the definition they use of the term”executive.”
So, if you can’t identify the recruiter responsible for specific opportunities, your next best aim is to find recruiters who operate in the field you are interested in. Some of the larger search firms operate across multiple industries and sectors; there are also a huge number of boutique recruiting firms who operate exclusively within certain sectors or functions.
So – Which search firms do you target?
Well, one approach is to identify search firms on recruiting directories. While sites such as Google are terrific for identifying certain types of products and services, an executive aiming to identify a “Financial Services executive search firm in the United States” or a “HR recruiter in Singapore” is going to have to wade through a lot of results that are not relevant. Search firm directories allow for a more targeted approach to finding a headhunter and can save a lot of time. You can use the GatedTalent directory of executive search firms to target on specific criteria including industry and location if you do decide to take this approach.
How do you find and connect with a recruiter?
Keep in mind that a retained search firm is not going to try to find a job for you. If they have a match, of course, they will talk to you about it. But chances are they will not. As a result, your approach should be subtle and based on your knowledge of what motivates them.
As a result, rather than going in hard as a “job seeker”, a more subtle approach might be to target recruiters who are directly relevant to you and go in with a relatively gentle contact. Introduce yourself, and explain that you are assessing opportunities, but also offer to help the recruiter:
“I’ve held a number of leadership positions with Megacorp and around the widget industry, and if I can help you by introducing you to any of my network I would be delighted to assist.”
The aim here is to play the long game. It’s statistically unlikely that any particular recruiter is going to be working on an ideal opportunity for you at the time you make contract, so your aim has to be to develop a relationship so that you are kept in mind when something relevant does materialize.
Define “save a lot of time!”
In reality of course, an executive wishing to be on the radar of all of the firms in her sector is still going to have a huge amount of work to do. As a result, a better approach is to aim to increase your visibility to all search firms. The aim here is to get the recruiters to come to you when they have a specific opportunity that might be a good fit.
How to increase your visibility offline
Executive search firms aim to map the market and identify all of the best candidates that might be appropriate for a specific position. They do this through both offline and online research.
Offline research typically involves speaking to sources. Researchers will contact people they know in and around the client sector and seek recommendations. Clearly, the wider your network, the more chance you have of being found. Traditional techniques such as speaking at events and writing for industry publications (or even social media) can all help with this.
Optimizing on Linkedin makes a difference
There’s no doubt that the quickest and most effective way to increase your visibility with recruiters is to maintain an optimized Linkedin profile. Recruiters spend a huge amount of time on Linkedin, and putting the time and effort into ensuring that you are visible for the right searches can make a huge difference.
Strategic career management – Always networking, always visible
It’s a sad fact of life, that it is far harder to get a job if you need one. There are a host of reasons for this – from practical (if you are between jobs, you will be listed less frequently in Linkedin search results) to issues based on perceptions. As a result, it is better to do the prep work for a career search before you need to. Executive recruiters view everyone as a candidate – passive or active – and it’s worth you taking a similar view. Unless you plan to retire soon, the likelihood is that at some point you’ll need or want to make a change. Your best chance of doing that quickly and successfully is by preparing now – by working on online visibility and building relationships – rather than suddenly needing to find a recruiter and build a relationship while under pressure.
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