Insider Tips on Working with Executive Recruiters


I recently attended a seminar sponsored by Career Masters Institute and presented by Shelly Goldman (a published recruiter and career coach) providing insights into how to work with recruiters in your executive job search.

I came away with confirmation of much of the knowledge I have about recruiters, and some things that were startling revelations. Here are some points that executives in career transition will want to keep in mind:

  • A retained recruiter typically will NOT recommend a candidate for interview for several positions at a time, whereas a contingency recruiter will.

  • Retained recruiters normally work at executive level exclusively, while in general contingency recruiters also work extensively with more junior level candidates.

  • Contract-based firms and staffing services may be a good solution for a candidate with a great deal of movement in the career background, but they do not work extensively with senior level positions.

  • Internal recruiters have a thankless job and are overwhelmed with candidates to interview and screen for referral to the next level in the process. It is important when talking with an internal company recruiter not to give away your salary requirements and defer this discussion until an offer has been extended. There is only one reason these internal recruiters ask for salary requirements–to screen candidates OUT.

  • Conversely, you MUST reveal the salary range you are looking for to a contingency or retained recruiter. They do not want to waste their time with a candidate who is going to turn down the best offer a company is willing to make and will drop you from consideration if you are stubborn on this point.

  • The best ways to find a recruiter to work with are through referral or by contacting one with whom you have worked before, perhaps for filling positions on your staff or in a previous career move.

  • Before speaking with a recruiter, prepare a list of questions for them to see if they really understand your market, industry, and function, as well as to see if there is rapport and you feel you can trust them.

  • Determine if the recruiter is networked well. If they have strong relationships with their hiring companies, they may actually “market” your resume even when there is no specific position available at the moment.

  • You must have prepared a 30-90 second response to the “Tell me about yourself” question, and you must NAIL it when the recruiter asks it.

  • Do not expect loyalty or follow-up from recruiters. It is not unusual to hear from an enthusiastic recruiter and then never hear from him or her again (especially true with contingency firms).

  • Sometimes recruiters will throw your resume into a mix of ones referring to the hiring company, not because you are the strongest candidate but just to have enough candidates to refer. Both retained and contingency firms will do this.

  • It is an absolute MUST to build ongoing relationships with recruiters, even when you are not actively engaged in executive job search. If you are not right for a position proposed, think about passing along referrals.

  • It is ABSOLUTELY OK and even necessary to work with more than one firm.

  • If contacted by a recruiter scanning job boards, before answering any questions about salary, find out if they are retainer, contract, contingency, or internal. Your answer is dependent on what type of recruiter you are talking with.

  • There is no such thing as guaranteed confidentiality. Reputable recruiters and firms will attempt to keep your search confidential, BUT, see the first sentence in this bullet.

Turnoffs and Show Stoppers:

  • The candidate refuses to share his or her compensation requirements with a retained or contingency recruiter.

  • LYING to the recruiter. Just don’t do it.

  • Circumventing the recruiter and going directly to the hiring company to handle things that should be handled by the recruiter. For example, do not talk compensation requirements with the hiring company or increase the requirements you had told the recruiter. Also, scheduling of the next interview should be handled by the recruiter.

  • Sending your resume to a recruiter and following up with a phone call (unless you obtained that recruiter’s name through a referral). Imagine how many calls a recruiter would get when they receive dozens to hundreds of resumes A DAY!
    Exception: It is okay to follow up with recruiters who are internal to a company, but not too frequently. One follow up after sending a resume is fine.

  • Accepting jobs and then deciding not to start… leveraging one offer against another.

  • Poorly written executive resume or other documentation.

  • Failure to send a strong and targeted cover letter.

  • Inability to verbalize precisely what want.

  • Negativity.

  • Contact information that is not up-to-date and accurate. Must include e-mail address and phone numbers, and check e-mail and voice mail frequently throughout the day.