A strong relationship with executive recruiters is a key part of an executive career management strategy, although for many catching their attention seems like a daunting task. But, there are a number of steps job seekers can take to greatly increase their chances of success. In this two-part series, I will share the most effective ways I have come to learn as a professional career advisor and executive search consultant. Part One featured advice on how to optimize your career documents. Here in part two, I focus on advice on how to present yourself to executive recruiters and what to expect.

executive recruiters


#1: Be Visible & Accessible

Be easy to find. Recruiters can’t find you if you’re not visible and reachable. If you are not employed, make sure you include an email on your LinkedIn profile. If you are employed but looking, include your email on your LinkedIn profile. If you are an association’s Chapter President or National Board member see if they will list contact information for you on their web site. You need to let recruiters know how to reach you via email.

#2: Create a Strong and Effective Network

Networking is the #1 most effective job search strategy that gets you noticed, puts you beyond the reach of gatekeepers, and ahead of other candidates. Almost 40% of hires come from referrals yet only 7% of job seekers get referred. No other job search strategy is so effective. It is the golden ticket.

Being a power networker requires effort. Like any skill, it needs to be learned and practiced. Understanding what to say, how to quickly establish relationships and implement effective follow-up strategies for activating, expanding and maintaining your network is an essential tool for successful job search.

#3: Be Interesting and Stand Out

I’ve received emails with exactly the same opening line within hours of each other. It’s clear these emails are being sent by some service that does not personalize them. My attitude is if you’re not willing to spend the time customizing an email you send because you want my help in getting you a job, why should I spend my time doing what you’re not willing to do for yourself? I don’t even finish reading the rest of their email. They’ve already created a bad impression.

Be different. Don’t send the usual boring cover letter to recruiters who receive hundreds and even thousands of unsolicited emails every year. Make your email genuine and authentic so it starts to create an image of who you are that stands out from the crowd. That’s what creates interest. That’s what will make your email memorable.

#4: Give Before You Take

Every single initial email has the same message—help me, give to me. One way to stand out from the crowd is to focus just a little bit on the recruiter’s needs. Don’t be like everyone else who is focused on taking, be a giver. You can offer to be a subject matter expert or a referral source.

#5: Have a Strategy Before You Contact an Executive Recruiter

You need to have a strategy for contacting recruiters. Why? You want to create a positive impression rather than annoying the recruiter and wasting their time.

  • First, you need to know what industries and positions recruiters specialize in. Don’t expect recruiters to put in the effort to get to know you when you’re not willing to put in the time to research what they do to ensure it’s not just a shot in the dark. Do not waste a recruiter’s time. Contact recruiters who specialize in your industry and level.
  • Second, personally address your unsolicited email to the recruiter. If you don’t know the recruiter’s name, don’t send the email.
  • Third, be humble. You’re asking for a favor.
  • Fourth, do not brag or be arrogant. Don’t tell me that you’re the perfect person for the job when you haven’t even seen the position description.
  • Fifth, keep it simple. All I need to know is your industry, title, years of experience, the name or some indication of the size or prestige of the companies you’ve recently worked for and physical location desired. If it’s for a specific position clearly, and, preferably let me know at a glance how you match up with the requirements. If it’s a match I’ll spend the time scanning and possibly reading your resume.

#6: Have reasonable expectations.

When you send an unsolicited resume for an unspecified position, for several reasons the goal is not to have a conversation or a meeting with a recruiter. It is extremely rare that a retained executive search consultant is looking for candidates with your experience at exactly the same time you are looking. Second, having a conversation is just as likely to create a bad impression as a good one especially if you are currently unemployed. It’s unreasonable to expect a recruiter will want to meet you if you are not a candidate for a current search.

Instead, the more important goal is to have your resume entered into the database so it can be retrieved when there is a search that meets your experience and qualifications.

#7: Understand that a Recruiter’s Time is Limited & They’re Not Obligated to Read Your Resume or Respond to Your Unsolicited Inquiries

Retained recruiters are paid for by a company to find the best person who meets the job qualifications and has a good fit with the company’s culture. Their job is not to read your unsolicited resume. The retained search process does not typically include unsolicited candidates unless they are referred. Recruiters will quickly scan unsolicited emails but not necessarily read the attached resumes because there is a low probability of being a good fit or because you’ve created a bad impression with your email.

Respect a recruiter’s limited time. One of the most common mistakes candidates make is to believe recruiters have time to carefully read your resume, meet with you, talk to you on the phone, or respond to your email. They don’t. Retained Executive Search Consultants are under pressure to fill positions as quickly as possible. Not to socialize or talk to jobseekers that aren’t a match for current searches. There is no reason for the recruiter to spend any time reviewing your resume or speaking with you unless you match the qualifications of a currently available job. It’s a waste of precious time. It’s not personal. There’s simply not enough time in the day.

#8: Executive Recruiters Look for Experience not Potential

Some job seekers are under the mistaken belief that it is a recruiter’s responsibility to stretch the job requirements because someone may have the potential to fill the job. Wrong. Recruiters are not looking for potential. They are seeking someone who has already done significant if not all parts of the job. Apply for jobs that you are qualified for, not ones you might be able to fill.

#9: Your Last Job is Likely to be Your Next Job

Lateral moves will attract more attention from retained executive search consultants. They are the easiest transitions to make unless you’re dealing with an experienced recruiter who understands you can move from a larger company to a smaller company at a higher level. Why? Past performance is a good indicator of future performance.

#10: Retained Search is Risk Management

Retained recruiters are hired to reduce the risk of bad hires as much as they are to find qualified candidates. A lateral move reduces the risk factor inherent in new hires but is still risky. Aspirational moves are the most challenging to achieve because it increases the risk for the recruiter and the company. The recruiter fundamentally is vouching for the candidate who hasn’t done the job before. The recruiter’s reputation is on the line. Would you be willing to risk your reputation and earnings on someone who has never done that job? Inherently, it is not a comfortable place and one that most people would choose to avoid.

Understanding recruiter’s need to manage risk will change how you communicate. The underlying message you need to convey during interviews is “I’m a safe bet….You can trust me…I won’t let you down.” How do you do that? Understanding your personal brand and integrating it into your communications will create a sense of consistency that creates trust. During interviews, it’s your ability to convey a consistent picture of who you are, how you think, your decision-making style, and the intangible qualities that make you unique in a manner that quietly reduces the sense of risk.


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