Tips for Partnering with an Executive Search Headhunter

Posted · Add Comment

We hear from clients and candidates that are unhappy with their past experiences in working with executive search headhunters. Typically, the unhappiness is because the expectations of the experience itself were not clearly defined. To help to better define expectations, thought it worth writing about some basic areas of breakdown that can occur both on the candidate side and the hiring manager side of the retained executive search equation. I think one of the areas that causes misunderstandings it that the definition of the types of recruiters and the types of executive search are not clearly understood leading to unhappiness on the candidate side and the hiring manager side.

First let me define the difference between an executive search headhunter and a recruiter. An executive search headhunter researches and proactively pursues passive talent to fit a client opportunity with the goal of finding the very best candidate available for their client’s requirements. A recruiter typically posts a job and sifts through the inbound traffic selecting the best person that came to them. The recruiter is not ensuring that their organization gets the best candidate available, but the best candidate that comes in through inbound traffic. Before, people start getting angry with me for this statement, not all recruiters are created equal, this is a generalized statement about recruiters who rely exclusively on inbound candidates to fill jobs. Some recruiters do headhunt but most do not. So if you truly want the best talent available for a crucial executive role, hire an executive search headhunter, not a recruiter.

Let’s break executive search headhunter tips down to two primary areas:

Tips for candidates 

 Again, let’s start with a definition. Retained executive headhunters are paid by their clients to find the best talent available for their executive search opening. That means, an executive search headhunter will reach out to a potential candidate when they have an assignment that is a potential fit. Given that, make an introduction and give the executive search headhunter the basics of what you are seeking for your next role, what cultures are best, if you are willing to consider relocation and if so where, your compensation range (yes we do ask, and yes you should tell us), the benefit and bonus package you are interested in, and the time frame that you are working within. Once that has been communicated, don’t follow up every day or week, the executive headhunter knows you are there and will reach out to you accordingly.

If you are looking for advice on your job search, data on the job market, help revising your resume, or other “can I pick your brain” topics, there are people who specialize in doing this. Typically there titles are executive coach not retained executive search consultant. Coaches and outplacement professionals are compensated by candidates or companies that are looking to assist laid off or outplaced candidates or people looking for work . Headhunters are compensated by hiring companies.  Educate yourself on the type of people that can help you before reaching out and expecting a retained executive search headhunter (who is not compensated to assist you) to take the time. Also, make sure the executive search firm that you are contacting actually specializes in your field. If you are a CFO and are sending your CV to an executive search firm that specializes in CMO, CRO, COO, CEO search, don’t be offended when  you do not receive a call back. If you do not hear back, it is typically because you are not a fit for what the executive search firm specializes in or what they are currently retained to work on. no offense is intended.

 Tips for hiring managers      

Tips for hiring managers on how to get the best result out of a retained executive search headhunter, like managing any process, the success or failure of a process can be sourced back to the structure itself. If you are not getting the result that you need or are looking for, try to understand the “why behind the what”, don’t just demand to see candidates as soon as possible, in so doing you are minimizing the effectiveness of the process.

If any retained executive search firm promises that you can have candidates to consider before two weeks of work, is not vetting the candidates effectively enough. The process takes a minimum of two/three weeks before any candidates can be presented. If the headhunter has someone they worked with before and knows the candidate well, this is the only time that the process may be reduced to a lesser time frame. Be patient, the best results take time. Filling a crucial role with the wrong person is far worse than having patience in the process. With that said, if you have not seen any candidates after 4 weeks, you should ask why as this is an area of concern.

Retained executive search is rooted in research, process, and methodology. The process is truly a collaborative partnership between the executive search firm and the client company. To truly be effective, it must be an equal partnership, not an autocratic process. An autocratic process can result in the client company partner not fully  benefiting from the expertise of the retained executive search professional. The process should be highly collaborative to truly be the most effective.