The Art Of Being Headhunted

Here's what to do when recruiters are calling, and how to stand up and be noticed when they aren't

Like other search professionals, she looks to speakers bureaus, professional organizations and colleague referrals for executives who will be attractive to her clients.

When you are “discovered,” your name goes into a database where you are earmarked according to your skill set, experience level and related associations. If a client has an opening with specific requirements that match your background, the recruiter will call you. Once you decide to explore an opportunity with a search firm, keep in mind that the recruiter’s loyalties lie with their client–the one who is paying them.

There are two types of recruitment agencies: a retained firm and a contingency firm. They differ in how they collect their fees and how they work with candidates. Retainer firms are hired to conduct a search–an exclusive assignment to fill a particular position, usually at the senior executive level. Whether or not its candidate is hired, the retained firm collects fees from the client. A retained firm will present you to only one client at a time and will often guarantee confidentiality.

Middle managers and unemployed executives looking for maximum exposure will benefit most from the use of contingency firms, which are paid only if one of their candidates is placed. They are often hired by companies that wish to recruit from a competitor and avoid “hands-off” agreements. Contingency recruitment is a volume business, so they may show your resume to as many of their clients as they deem appropriate. To ensure discretion, make sure the recruiter contacts you before sending out yours. If not, your resume could end up floating to your current employer.

Tom Rodenhauser, editor of Executive Recruiter News, says that whether the firm is paid for placement or for the value it brings to a search, you should always expect professionalism and the highest degree of confidentiality. “Don’t be afraid to ask the firm about the kind of searches it does or how long it’s been in business,” says Rodenhauser, who advises executives to request references and proof of a firm’s placement history.

“While there is no such thing as ‘my recruiter,’ a good recruiter can become like an agent,” adds Vincent L. Berkeley, who landed all of his positions with the help of search professionals. Berkeley, the senior vice president of restaurant operations, U.S.A. South for Burger King Corp. in Miami and a volunteer with the Sickle Cell Disease Association and the Florida Zoological Society, is considered an excellent source for executive recruiters. As an African American executive with chain store experience and numerous contacts at the senior executive level, Berkeley gets a call about once a month.

“The first time I worked with a headhunter was a positive experience. He was very professional–and knew when to push the right buttons and when to back off,” says Berkeley. “Most of all, he helped me evaluate the opportunity and [recognized] that I needed to look out for my own career,” he recalls.

Gather plenty of information about the firm that calls and the opportunity available, advises Monroe

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