If you are ready to move up to a senior management role, knowing how to capture the attention of executive recruiters is an important part of a successful search strategy. That’s because more senior roles (roughly 26 percent) are filled by executive search consultants than any other recruiting process.
But executive recruiters (especially those who work on a retained basis) don’t follow the same playbook as recruiters for more junior positions. Here’s a look at how executive search firms find candidates, as well as some things you can do to get on their radar.
Targeted Search Process
Recruiters who work on a retained basis have a strategic relationship with their clients, explained Martha Heller, who specializes in searches for CIOs and senior technology executives as CEO of Heller Search Associates. They have exclusive agreements and keep working until the job is filled, as opposed to contingent recruiters who focus on job orders that are “close to the money.”
“Executive recruiters do more due diligence,” Heller said. “And because they corroborate a candidate’s experience, their search process is longer and more precise.”
Retained recruiters typically work on just two to three searches at a time, explained Joe Gross, president of retained search firm CIO Partners. They usually submit eight to 10 candidates for a position, not dozens of candidates, so they won’t waste anyone’s time.
Executive recruiters don’t play games, and neither should you, Gross added. For instance, be ready to discuss your willingness to relocate or travel outside the country.
Executive recruiters know whether a company is willing to consider an up-and-comer for a position, Heller noted. Even if you don’t meet all the requirements, sometimes a company will create a position for a strong candidate to build management depth, she added.
However, because there are fewer senior-level positions available, you need to plan ahead. “Aspiring tech leaders need to start networking one to two years before they want to change jobs,” Gross said. “Take the initiative to meet executive recruiters when you're not on the market. Your efforts will pay off in two years, not two months.”
The best way to meet an executive recruiter is to ask a mutual connection for an introduction, preferably someone they have placed before.
Executive recruiters are more likely to engage in a conversation with someone who was referred. When someone has achieved at the highest level, it’s easy to trust the candidates they refer to you, Gross noted.
Talk to other execs, fellow alumni, and industry leaders about how they got their jobs. Network with speakers at conferences and post white papers, articles or videos—anything that will increase your visibility in the executive recruiter community. In addition, make sure your boss (and your boss’s boss) knows that you are eager and capable of taking on more responsibility; you never know how word will trickle back to a recruiter.
Focus on the Job You Want, Not the Job You Have
Executive recruiters don’t use keyword searches to find a résumé, online portfolio, or professional profile on the web. In fact, they don’t really care about your technical skills; they’re more interested in whatever positions you as management material.
To position yourself for a bigger job, focus your online presence on the skills needed at the next level such as industry expertise, budget and planning, and change and crisis management, as well as the size of your company and the teams you’ve led. Emphasizing your ability and desire to advance to a higher level will help capture the attention of executive recruiters and their researchers.
Pay It Forward
Leverage the power of reciprocity to proactively build relationships with executive recruiters. Share tips about potential openings or executive movement within your industry. Become an advocate for your “rock star” colleagues. Seize the opportunity to show that you are connected and have what it takes to succeed at the next level.
Never Miss an Executive Recruiter Call
Even if you aren’t interested in changing jobs now, never miss an opportunity to discuss a plum career opportunity. Every call with an executive recruiter is a chance to showcase your expertise and ambition and refer a well-qualified colleague.
Finally, always ask the recruiter if they are working on a retained basis, since they keep pipelines of candidates who will be ready to move up in the next year or two, Gross said.
And don’t forget: After any interaction, send a thank you note and an invitation to connect on professional networking sites. Increasing your visibility and connections today will eventually pay off—sometimes in a very big way.