Soon after I joined one of the prestigious executive search firms, I came across someone in the database I had gone to engineering school with years earlier. This person held a VP title at a recognizable Silicon Valley company; I was impressed in learning of her career achievements. When our team of recruiters had brainstorming sessions for other VP searches, her name would often come up. I wondered, “How did she get to that role and have such a strong reputation?” In looking at her record in our database, her background looked much like many other executives. What set her apart is that on every search she was called on she would listen and provide recommendations if she was not interested. Because of this help and the relationships she had built with recruiters in our firm, she was always in the communications loop to hear about plum VP opportunities. Her career continued to flourish.
In this article, with nine years of executive recruiting experience, I offer to you my advice in working with executive recruiters to further your career.
Recruiters are filling a specific position for a client, such as CEO of a content management software firm, VP Product Marketing in service oriented architecture, or Principal with supply chain expertise for a consulting firm. For each position, the job qualifications/experiences, personal characteristics, domain experience and cultural fit are different. We are looking for square pegs for square holes and round pegs for round holes as the early childhood toys taught us. The searches just happen to be shapes with very tight dimensions.
You will be better able to work with a recruiter if you are clear about your qualifications and fit with an organization. For instance, “I have a background in outbound and inbound product marketing, with more experience on the outbound side. I am especially strong at X and my domain experience includes Y and Z.” An executive recruiter is not going to spend a lot of time getting to know the person who says, “I could do product management or business development or be a CEO” or says, “I don’t know anything about the digital media space but I could learn.”
Your alumni career services office or the career section of a bookstore/library can offer many analytical tools to help you assess your strengths and determine a career direction (or see www.ullrichassociates.com/past_events.html). Use the resources available. Hire a business coach to help if you need further advice. If you are improving your golf or tennis game, you would hire a coach; why not hire someone to help with your career? When you understand who you are and what you offer, then you can effectively work with recruiters.
Become known to recruiters in your space
So how do you get to know recruiters? First, there are recruiters at the large executive search firms (Heidrick and Struggles, Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds, and Spencer Stuart) who specialize in your industry or functional area; you can find their names on-line. There are also boutique firms that specialize in your area. The 80/20 rule is backwards in the search business. It is a fragmented industry with firms such as Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc. being experts in specific niche areas. One way to get to know the boutiques in your specialty is to ask hiring executives in your function/industry who they use or receive calls from.
In becoming known to recruiters, use ‘warm’ introductions, such as a colleague providing the introduction or using the colleague’s name in an email. During the early 2000’s, recruiting firms were receiving a thousand resumes a week. Make sure you are not lost in the incoming emails; target your introduction to a specific person. In your email to the recruiter, provide a succinct background. If you are aware of active searches, be sure to mention them and the research you did. Share your function/industry/domain. Are you a square, round or octagonal peg? I prefer bulleted responses that are quick to read.
Understand retained vs. contingent recruiters
Recruiters fall into two general buckets: retained vs. contingent. The large executive recruiters are all retained recruiters. Clients pay the firm retainers to work on searches. The retained recruiters tend to be client focused finding the right candidate for the role. Contingent recruiters are hired by firms and paid upon completion of the search. In a contingent staffing firm with multiple job orders, your resume may be submitted to multiple companies. You may want to better understand the reputation of the firm and how you are being introduced to clients.
Develop your network before you need it
In my career transition after five years in strategy consulting, I realized that I did not have an active network. The long hours of consulting did not provide time to maintain a decent lifestyle, let alone a network. Developing and maintaining a network is critical to your job search as well as many careers. I encourage you to start developing your network now, whether or not you are looking for a job. Attend industry functions, speak at conferences, socialize with classmates, and build relationships with recruiters. Eighty percent of jobs are found through your network.
Own responsibility for your job search
When igniting your network for a job search, executive recruiters are only a part of your job search. Lay out a strategy that includes recruiters, alums, former colleagues, friends, on-line networking tools, etc. Recruiters can help expand your network but should not be the only source in your network. Let recruiters know you are in job search mode but do not depend on them for your job.
Be helpful, not a bother
Going back to the VP whose career flourished, you can build relationships with recruiters in your space by helping them with searches. If we call you, return our calls with suggestions. If sharp colleagues are on the market, introduce them to us. Call us to work on searches for your company. Become a useful resource that will be top of mind during our future searches. You might be surprised by this fact: the higher level the search, the higher the response rate to our calls. That’s right; your boss is probably calling us back more quickly on searches. I also caution to not become overzealous or the relationship building could backfire. During the dark days of the recession, a VP Marketing would send me periodic market updates of what he was seeing in the market versus other job seekers frequently asking for information about my next search.
Be honest and open
When you are sharing your background and experiences with recruiters, answer with integrity. If there are gaps in your resume, explain them and what you learned; don’t try to hide the gap. Be honest and open about background, interests, salary and relocation. Recruiters need know you to understand your fit with a role and client. Quality recruiters will want clients and candidates to be successful for the long term.
Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc. has recently completed another search for the internal consulting group at Countrywide Financial. Helena Kwon, recruiter within this group says about working with our firm, “You have really good instinct. When candidates make it to us we trust that they are very good candidates.” An SVP at Countrywide noted, “The caliber of your candidates is superb. I wish we would have hired you six months ago.”
Our current searches are in sales, business development/alliances, product marketing and consulting, as follows:
- VP and Directors of Sales – Early stage alternative energy company
- Director Business Development/Alliances – Software company
- Senior Product Marketing Manager in BPM – Leading integration software company
- Managers/Senior Consultants – Leading financial services corporation
- Senior Associate Investor Relations – Investment management firm
For more information, visit www.ullrichassociates.com. Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc. focuses on C-suite, VP and Director level hires across the functions of Product Marketing/Management, Marketing, Sales and Consulting for technology and services companies.
Read career advice about being a CEO in the summary of Getting to the Top--CEOs at the Top (www.ullrichassociates.com/past_events.html). The Getting to the Top from Consulting series is highlighted in the spring issue of Anderson Assets.
To help individuals acquire professional skills needed to reach higher job levels within marketing and sales professions, Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc., together with Alumni Career Services at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and UCLA Anderson School of Management, presents Getting to the Top. This series explores the skills and knowledge successful leaders leverage in their careers to get to the top. The schedule for 2007 is:
- May 22 – Getting to the Top in Sales and Business Development
- October 23 – Getting to the Top – CEOs at the Top
- May 31 – Getting to the Top in Sales and Business Development
- September 27 – Getting to the Top – CEOs at the Top