Executive recruiters, sometimes called executive headhunters, are the recruiting professionals who focus on filling executive positions within companies. Depending on the knowledge and experience of the individual recruiter, an executive recruiter can fill professional positions like doctors or lawyers, or they may be focused on filling high level management positions. Some executive headhunters only work within certain industries, or they may work for an executive recruiting firm.
It is important to differentiate between agency recruiters (headhunters) and corporate HR professionals who specialize in filling senior management level roles. When most people use the term executive recruiter (the focus of this article), they usually mean the people who work at executive search firms (companies that earn fees for placing applicants with their client companies.) However, large companies often employ specialized talent procurement professionals within the HR department that focus on building, grooming, and retaining the executive bench.
Search firms that focus on very senior level management positions often work on what is called a retained basis or retainer. This involves a structure whereby the client company “retains” or pays a recruiter to work on a particular high level job. The executive recruiter “owns” the job requirement exclusively, so the only way for a candidate to get that position is to apply through that external search firm. Firms generally use a retained strategy with high level positions, because the candidate search process can easily surpass six months in duration. The external search firms are called upon to do the search, but then also perform a variety of value added services such as assistance with salary negotiation, market research, interview set-up, candidate consultation, legal advice, and tenure and performance modeling.
In general, the market for executive recruiting firms is very small and specialized. There are by definition very few open senior executive leadership positions at the Fortune 500 at any given time, so a few firms have the bulk of the market. However, for general senior positions (over 100K salary), the opposite is true – the recruitment market is highly fragmented and very few companies have any substantial marketshare.
Working with Executive Recruiters
Whenever you work with a search firm or staffing company, an honest, open approach is key to long term success. Candidates should view recruiting companies as career partners and build strong relationships with the individual recruiters. Strong agency recruiters have a wealth of information about individual hiring managers and open jobs that can give you the leg up over a regular applicant coming in through the web.
If you are an executive, however, the same advice applies with added significance. Executive jobs are few and far between. Quality executive recruiters (generally speaking) have a lack of open jobs, not a lack of candidates. The onus is on you to get through to the recruiter and make an impression. What you do after initial contact is what will set you apart – recruiters want to work with candidates that view them as strategic partners and not simple brokers. Leverage the recruiters industry and company knowledge and take the time to meet them – even if they do not have a retained relationship with the client, they may be able to offer valuable insight.
Additionally, know that the average life-cycle of an executive position is very long. Jobs stay open for a long time, since the process of executing a placement including search, selection, interview, and negotiation can easily take over a year. Be sure that you have very strong lines of communication with your recruiter and that they are giving you detailed feedback throughout the process. Because the recruitment process can fall through at any stage, be sure to have multiple job prospects going at once – however iterating your continued interest and thoughts to the recruiter throughout the process.
Executive Recruiting Best Practices
Because they are looking to fill high level positions, executive headhunters need to use all the recruiting industry’s best practices to stay ahead of the competition. Not only do they need to demonstrate a high level of professionalism and drive, they need to use the latest recruiting tactics to get the best candidates for executive positions. Here are some of the best practices for the executive recruiter who wants to get ahead.
- Utilizing Technology
- Executives at large corporations need to stay on top of the latest technology trends and understand how to use complex business software to get things done; recruiters who work with these high level executives need to do the same. In the competitive world of executive recruiting, you can’t afford to use outdated methods of sourcing and screening candidates. Technology like performance management or customer relationship management software can help recruiters track candidate information and marketing strategies, and many companies are now offering recruiting management software specifically designed to screen candidates and help with other recruiting tasks.
- Keeping Accurate Records
- While this may sound like something more suited for accountants or other businesspeople, keeping complete and detailed records of all clients, positions, applicants and candidates can be invaluable to an executive recruiter as well. Nothing turns off a client or kills the confidence of a candidate like a recruiter who doesn’t have all relevant information at their fingertips. It is extremely important for high level recruiters to keep thorough records of applicant information, their talent pool, every contact with candidates and clients, as well as marketing and development efforts.
- Growing Your Network
- A wide network of business contacts that includes prospects, clients and hires is a recruiter’s best asset. Executive recruiters need to tend this network like a garden, strengthening existing relationships with regular communication and constantly staying on the lookout for new relationships. Recruiters should check back with hires after they have been placed and make sure to ask for referrals to grow their network. It’s very important to hang on to every contact you have made; even if one particular contact isn’t the right fit for one position, they could be perfect for the next one. Growing your network through referrals is also an important practice.
- Become One with your Industry:
- Becoming one is not only a Zen ideal – in executive recruitment, it’s a necessity. You have to, in a sense, become your ideal candidate. If you recruit scientists, you should know at least 25% of what they do about the subject. Befriend scientists. Go to science conferences. Drop by your placed candidates for the first day and see what they do – analyze their real function and profession. Read what they read, dress like they dress, and play where they play. At the highest level of recruiting, search professionals should really stop being simple service providers and become respected resources to their industry. This reputation is only built by a dedicated interest for the area of recruitment and a dogmatic approach to building trusted relationships in the industry.
Whether you are interested in working with an executive recruiter or becoming one, the key to understanding the business is trust. Candidates need to build trust with recruiters and treat and demand respect. Likewise, executive recruiters need to become not just sourcing resources for their clients, but trusted professional leaders to both their candidates and clients.