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Should I pay a recruiter to find me a job? Not if you are an executive!

The answer to “Should I pay a recruiter to find me a job?” is a simple one.  No.

Recruiters are known as headhunters for a reason.  They hunt heads.  While there are investments that can be made in your career, paying a recruiter to find you a job should not be one of them.

The hiring organization pays the headhunter.  The fee level will vary considerably based on the nature of the service provided.  A retained executive search fee is typically calculated based on the total compensation of the successful candidate – 33% is not unusual.  Contingency recruitment fees are often half of that – but, unlike with retained executive search, the recruiter is only paid if a placement is successfully achieved.  A recruiter working on a contingency basis may not even be operating on an exclusive basis.

So, how can you invest in your career?

While you should not pay a headhunter to get you a job, there are a variety of valuable services that will help with your executive job search.  These include everything from executive outplacement, through Linkedin optimisation to resume writing.  However, to evaluate the value of any of these options, you must first understand how executive jobs are filled.

How do executives get hired?

Senior-level recruitment is very different from the process that an executive may have gone through earlier in her career.  There are a limited number of positions at the top of any organization, and it would be highly unusual for a company to create a role just to hire you.  That can happen in more junior roles – particularly in sales  – but it’s almost unheard of in the C-Suite and other leadership positions.  What this means is that a company will only hire you if it has a specific opportunity that needs filling.

These positions are rarely advertised on executive job boards.  Some organizations have an in-house executive search team, but often a retained executive search firm will be brought in.  This search firm will be responsible for filling the position.  This means that you need to be known to that firm – or they need to find you.  If you are the best candidate, then it is the job of the recruiter to hunt you down.

So, to go back to our question – why would you pay a headhunter?  An ethical recruiter responsible for completing a search would not be willing to take your money – it would be a conflict of interest.  Paying a third-party recruiter will not change the core challenge you face – to be selected, you need to be known, or you need to be found.

Should an executive pay a headhunter?

To reiterate – No.  If you are the right candidate then it’s the job of the recruiter to find you, and one she will be rewarded handsomely for if she succeeds. If you aren’t the right candidate, she won’t put you forward to the client anyway!

That’s not to say, however, that it’s not appropriate to make an investment in your career.

Gatedtalent works with career coach Tim Windhof to put together executive career documentation on behalf of our clients.  He argues that an executive launching a career search should consider it in terms of a business investment:

“How important is it to have strategic marketing collateral in place when launching a new product or service for your company? When conducting an executive job search and targeting $200K+ opportunities, you are essentially trying to make a major sale that will always require top career marketing materials. An executive recruiter will initially spend as little as 10 seconds “scanning” your resume and you will want to make sure they “bite” in that time.”

If you believe that superior documentation will have an impact on your ability to find your next role more quickly, then you can quantify the upside.  It becomes a simple ROI decision.

Competing with subpar documents will jeopardize and impact your chances of getting found online and generating interviews. In other words, non-optimized career materials will prolong your job search time. Let’s say you are an executive with a $200K base salary which equals a daily income of $548. This means, that while in transition, you are losing $548 every day or $3,835 weekly. 

Now let’s assume you invested between $2,000 and $2,500 in having branded career materials created for you and those career materials empowered you to shorten your job search by just one week. By taking just one week off your job search time, you already had a wonderful ROI. And it is quite likely that top-notch career materials will slash your job search time more than just a week. 

Now think about your ROI if your optimized career materials enable you to take off not just weeks but several months of your job search time.”

Tim uses the example of an executive who is between roles, but the same logic works for an executive looking to make a change while employed – the ROI is based on the increase in salary associated with a successful job change.

In an executive outplacement service the way to go?

There are services designed to help support an executive job search.  Executive outplacement services do exactly this – they will work with you and provide career support, career documentation reviews and so on.  These services are expensive, however, and are typically paid for by the former employer of an executive – often as part of a negotiated settlement agreement.

For an individual executive seeking to move into a new role without having to cover the cost of executive outplacement services, however, that are a whole host of steps you can take for a significantly smaller fee – or for free.

So, how can you invest in your career?

Firstly, ensure that your Linkedin profile is optimized around the types of positions that you are hoping to be considered for. You can do this yourself, or it will cost from $400 for a qualified Linkedin profile writer to do it for you.

LinkedIn is a hugely valuable tool for both executive candidates and executive recruiters, but it is not the only one you should consider. Creating a profile on GatedTalent will allow you to provide select recruiters with far more detailed information on your skills and achievements along with your aspirations than LinkedIn does. It will also allow you to do so in a more private manner. It’s free to create a GatedTalent profile and get “on the radar,” but if you are in an active job search, you may wish to consider going Premium to take advantage of the additional visibility and career support provided.

Preparing to meet the interview questions with confidence is also key to success. While there is no set list of executive interview questions to follow, it is important to learn how to hone your answers and spotlight your skills and qualifications. Our executive interview coaching services can help you – whether you are in urgent need to practice or you are looking for a bespoke program.

Your offline executive career documentation

Your Linkedin and GatedTalent profile will both help increase your visibility.  You’ll also need to put together other documentation to support you as you go through the executive search process.  Executive search consultant John Jazylo of Leadership Capital Group makes the critical point that all of your documents should be in synergy – your executive resume, biography and covering letter, along with your LinkedIn and GatedTalent profiles should all be “on message” and in line with your executive brand.

While it may not be appropriate to pay a recruiter to find you a job, and a full outplacement service may be beyond your budget, having an expert produce career documentation that is fit for purpose is something worth investing in.

I’ve touched on the importance of optimizing your LinkedIn profile and keeping your GatedTalent profile up to date, but it’s also important to consider your offline documents.

Tim Windhof of Windhof careers is a qualified resume writer and is a GatedTalent partner.  If you are looking to have your resume and other offline documentation refreshed, he’s well worth speaking to.

If you are looking to have your both online and offline documentation updated, then GatedTalent can offer a combined service that brings together Tim’s expertise with the written word and our expertise with the Linkedin and GatedTalent algorithms.  Contact us to learn more!

Support through the process

It can take a year for an executive to complete a career change successfully.  Indeed- it can take ninety days from the point you are contacted by a recruiter on a specific search before you are finally placed.

As you go through the process, you’ll find a host of advice from executive recruiters in our executive career advice blogs (be sure to follow us on Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook to ensure you don’t miss anything!) and through our live Premium Member webinars which regularly feature detailed content and live Q+A sessions from leading recruiters, career coaches and senior executives.



Don't pay a recruiter to find you a job
Recruiting Brief