The following is an excerpt from our guide "Connecting With Executive Search: Your Complete Guide"

Make Yourself Accessible

First of all, you need to make yourself available to receive a call from an executive search professional. One of the biggest frustrations of many search professionals is assistants who refuse to put the call through to the executive or executives who never call back. Make sure you always accept a call from a search professional initially. You can screen them out later or become a source (more on that later) if the role they’re calling about isn’t’ right for you. BE 

Prepare Ahead of Time

Are you prepared for initial contact from an executive search consultant? You should always have the following prepared in case you receive the call:  

  • Your updated executive resume information. 
  • Your elevator pitch: A brief summary of your current role and selling points based on your current responsibilities. 
  • Readiness and willingness for full disclosure and a mindset of trust as it is all strictly confidential—the recruiter needs to know accurate information about you in order to best make a decision on whether or not you are a fit. 
  • Accurate compensation details (knowledge of full package). 
  • Openness to networking: The recruiter might be calling you as a source, to see who you know and not work with you directly. 

Find Out If They’re From A Reputable Firm And Why They’re Calling

Finding out the nature of the call upfront will help you with the rest of the conversation. Is the recruiter interested in you or researching the market? Are they an executive search firm or contingent firm? Are they a member of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC)? When were they established? Who have their previous clients been? The more information you can find out about the firm’s reputation, the more comfortable you should feel about getting involved with their search assignment. 

Are You A Source of a Prospective Candidate?

Even if you’re called as a source, you have a unique opportunity to build a relationship with the executive search consultant. A source is someone who can be of value to the search firm in terms of directing them to suitable candidates, getting a lead, or offering market, industry, or company insight. A prospective candidate is someone who the search firm has identified as a potential fit for the position. The search professional contacts them to find out more about their qualifications and experience, and to gauge interest in a potential opportunity. 

If You’re a Prospective Candidate, Get As much information As You Can About The Position

As a prospective candidate, the search professional will give you the name of the company (unless it’s still confidential), details of the position, and information on reporting relationships. Feel free to ask for this information if it is not volunteered, but do be aware that some assignments are treated as completely confidential. As a potential candidate, you should also ask to see a copy of the job description. If there is no job description due to the high confidentiality of the search, spend some time researching the search firm after the call to double-check that they’re legitimate. 

Candidate Confidentiality

One concern candidates may have when working with search professionals is confidentiality. Candidates can expect full confidentiality from AESC member firms, according to AESC’s Candidate Bill of Rights. Executive search professionals know that the unintended disclosure of an executive’s interest in a new position can be highly disruptive—even catastrophic. Legitimate executive search firms and professionals protect the confidentiality of the candidate’s interests and other information. Ultimate Executive Career Guide - Part One - 10

Define Next Steps and Exchange Contact Information Before Ending The Call 

Ask the search professional if they would like you to send your resume/CV. If the consultant considers you a potential candidate, he or she will inform you of the next steps in the search process. Be sure to tell them how to get in touch with you and what times are best to call. 

It’s OK to Say No (Respectfully)

Don’t let the search process move forward if you’re not interested in the position. Instead, let the search professional know that you’re not interested in this particular opportunity (and what kinds you are interested in). Then, offer up any helpful information you can offer, such as other sources or candidates. This will earn respect and benefit the relationship so you remain on the recruiter’s radar screen when they next have a suitable assignment

Becoming a Trusted Source

Executive search professionals can be extremely busy, between working on their current searches, sourcing candidates, and building clients, it’s difficult to keep up with emails and resume/CV submissions from candidates. For this reason, as a candidate, you’re not going to keep yourself on the search professional’s radar screen by sending your resume or calling frequently to request a job. The best way to help out an executive search professional is to become a trusted source. You can do this by identifying executive search consultants in your industry, region, or function. Then, instead of messaging them with your resume and asking for a job, tell them about your area of expertise and that you are open to being a source of information or additional contacts. Once the search consultant responds (Give them a couple of weeks before sending one follow-up message.), you can build a valuable networking relationship around the latest trends in your industry and function. If the consultant doesn’t respond to your emails, see if there’s another way you can initiate a networking relationship. If they’re on Twitter or if they participate in a charity group you’re a part of, these can be less-traveled avenues to leverage. If a search professional reaches out to you, always take the call – even if you’re not looking for a new opportunity at this time. A five or 10-minute conversation is a small price to pay to expand your network and become a valued source. 

During this conversation, you can recommend relevant friends and colleagues, which will also boost your status among your own network. Calls from search professionals should be treated as networking opportunities, not cold sales calls. 

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