You may remember this from the 1946 film of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Cast me as George Bailey, and cast Mr. Potter as the executive recruiter. This is how I felt when I met with executive recruiters early in my career.
(Potter’s office – daytime) CLOSE SHOT
Potter is lighting a big cigar which he has just given George. The goon is beside Potter’s chair, as usual.
Thank you, sir. Quite a cigar, Mr. Potter.
You like it? I’ll send you a box.
Well, I… I suppose I’ll find out sooner or later, but just what exactly did you want to see me about?
George, now that’s just what I like so much about you. (pleasantly and smoothly) George, I’m an old man, and most people hate me. But I don’t like them either, so that makes it all even. You know just as well as I do that I run practically everything in this town but the Bailey Building and Loan. You know, also, that for a number of years I’ve been trying to get control of it… or kill it. But I haven’t been able to do it. You have been stopping me. In fact, you have beaten me, George, and as anyone in this county can tell you, that takes some doing. Take during the Depression, for instance. You and I were the only ones that kept our heads. You saved the Building and Loan, and I saved all the rest.
The lesson of the story? In a topsy and weird economy, keep your head, and keep your senses about you. Go back to the basics of how to work with executive recruiters. They don’t have all the power. They shouldn’t intimidate. Both exec and recruiter should work together with respect. Executive recruiters may not have time to be good career coaches (that’s really not their job) but they can be and have been for me; they aren’t trying to be careless and callous like Mr. Potter. Let’s just say this — they taught me tough lessons.
In my early days, I would call or essentially sit in front of executive recruiters Bailey style, in their really small chairs, and advocate for my clients. When they would pull out the stacks of resumes or show their database of numerous resumes and said “it’s about the job and job seekers area a dime a dozen it made me realize that for recruiters it’s like real estate – t’s about the listings in Pottersville. Most job seekers feel a bit Bailey level powerless when dealing with executive recruiters. What to do?
Know Recruiter Types.
If you’re working with a recruiter, you need to know if they are in house or third-party. Are you familiar with the terms “recruiter,” “executive recruiter” and the slang term “head- hunter”?
Recruiter is a general term that can refer either to an in- house recruiter (company has their “built-in” recruiting team) or a third-party retained (paid and has an exclusive rights to find the person although part of how they can be paid is at the end as a final success fee) or contingency recruiter (headhunter who is paid on placement success usually a flat fee). Executive recruiters can be vendors for a company you want to work for. Then there are cases where an executive recruiter may not be in house, but has a contingency relationship with that company to provide qualified candidates for potential hire. You may also be working with retained recruiters. Retained recruiters generally get paid their fee partly up front and partly after hiring success. Contingency recruiters, however, are paid based upon performance only even if they have an “ongoing relationship” with the company.
Build Your Relationships Before You Need Them.
George Bailey ended up in Mr. Potter’s of office in a vulnerable hour of desperation. Hopefully, you don’t send unsolicited resumes or, worse, show up in an executive recruiter’s email, LinkedIn in mail or with an attitude that suggests you are in your greatest time of need — when you need a job and your communication focuses on that vs. your value proposition. In my early experience I would see so many executive and other jobseekers blast recruiters with unsolicited resumes, and I quickly learned a key lesson: Recruiters “place people,” they don’t “find jobs.” Today they are more inundated with resumes than ever before.
A recruiter may dispense job-search advice, but most of his or her time is spent finding the right talent for the client, the employer. Approaching an executive recruiter with the right expectations is a major factor in how successful your relationship will be. It’s wisest to step back and take the long-term view of your relationship with a recruiter.
You should make your first contact with a recruiter long before you are in desperate need of a new job. Think of it as a networking relationship in which you have a relaxed give-and-take rapport and information sharing. Know their focus. Many executive recruiters now are specialists so know their specialty. A good recruiter will always be interested in good leads and information. Depending on how comfortable he or she is with you, they may even be able to give you advice on ways to improve your chances for job placement in the future — such as what specific accomplishments in your current job will make you more attractive to potential employers. They may know trends in hiring or upcoming opportunities to network online or offline. Use them as a resource and be a resource for them.
In turn, you should be helpful to the recruiter by providing good job prospects for him. This doesn’t mean just throwing names at him or her but offering up substantial information that will be helpful. Remember that the executive recruiter is essentially working for the client company — and he’s often working on multiple placements at any given time. If you’re not on his or her radar screen when the job you’d be qualified for comes up, then you’ll have missed your chance. The best way to stay on his radar screen is to offer assistance without expecting anything in return.
Don’t Be a Wandering Generality.
I remember telling an executive recruiter how great one of my clients was and how this person could help his rm drive revenue and reduce costs. He let me prattle on for about employers, so if an employer has said they want someone with 15 years of experience and someone comes along with the right experience over a different number of years, they’re not necessarily going to lose that battle. And these days, he observed, with so many people in the applicant pool, companies are in the position to be even more choosy than in the past. Make sure you answer and try to show examples that apply to their laundry list of needs.
He went on to explain Potter style, “I don’t get paid until I find an exact match for one of these positions and I don’t work with, talk to or do much of anything else as it relates to recruiting.” This lesson taught me that some recruiters must specialize in very restricted niches. Assume they do. When working with highly focused recruiters, it’s important to quickly identify what they’re looking for and convey specific achievements, find out what they have open and where they network. If they give up intel and share openly listen. There are a few Potters out there but there are many that are more friendly.
Ask Great Questions.
Do you or any of the recruiters at your firm specialize in placing people like me and my specific background?
Who at your firm knows if I would be a good candidate to be placed?
How can I study your most recent opportunities so that I know I am a good candidate for your firm to place?
Prepare resumes professionally and carefully, and go into any interview, including interviews with third-party recruiters, with intelligent, cogent questions.
Don’t be intimidated by executive recruiters. Don’t hate them. They don’t hate you. They can still make about 30% of your first year’s income on your placement. Be nice, polite and respectful in all your communication with them. Pick up some intel. They don’t run the a town called Pottersville and are not the only hiring authorities. They can, however, be an important part of your search process and career progression. Get help in identifying them, how they work, how they think, where they network (online and off) and how they can help you. Make sure you speak to them and find out their niche, and how you can help them. While they ultimately work for the client company, they also have a vested interest in helping you. Relationships matter – it finally worked out for George Bailey and it can work out for you.