How to Best Approach Executive Recruiters as a Candidate


There is little doubt in my mind that one of the most frustrating moments in life is when we realize that we need to find another job, or when we suddenly find ourselves without one. The sense of urgency is high, and the world just seems to move a bit slower when we need it to move a bit quicker. It's at that moment in time when people reach out to everyone they trust to ask for leads and the names of known executive recruiters to help them get a new job. That's when most people realize that executive recruiters are not exactly aligned with the immediate needs of job seekers as they are with the potential candidates their clients seek.  If you think job seekers, candidates, and clients are the same, keep reading.

executive_recruiter_contactRetained executive search firms are the gatekeepers to approximately 90,000 senior-level jobs worldwide every year. The clients (the ones who pay the bills) of these executive recruiters are organizations with a specific hiring need and so they seek candidates to fill those needs. The success and income of a recruiter is directly linked to finding the right candidates for their clients and doing it quick.

The life of a recruiter is very hectic, and it requires balancing their time between filling the positions that they have open with clients, proactively identifying candidates whom they feel their clients will need (a calculated gamble), and building client relationships.

Recruiters are typically so short on time and receive so many unsolicited resumes that most sit unread. In the best case scenario, a recruiter will open the resume, but if it does not catch their eye, it might not even make it into the database. You don't stay top-of-mind by just sending a resume, selling yourself and calling every month to see if a position is available.

If you want to approach an executive recruiter with success and stay top-of-mind, then give them what they need (hint: It's not always your resume).

Executive recruiters focus on a specific industry, region, or field to achieve a level of expertise that makes them more effective and efficient. So start by identifying and approaching recruiters in your industry, region, and field. Introduce yourself (don't sell yourself), let them know that you're in the market, briefly explain your area of expertise, and offer to help with any information or insight that can help them close their open positions. From there, build a relationship based on valuable interaction regarding trends and issues that affect the disciplines and industries where you have expertise. Help the recruiter stay on top of what is happening in that space. This level of interaction helps you and the recruiter build knowledge and expertise, making the relationship valuable for both beyond the specific transaction of a single job opportunity.

The Ultimate Executive Career Guide: Connecting with Executive Search

As a senior-level executive, you can use this guide to:
- Learn about executive search and how it differs from other forms of recruiting
- Discover the best ways to connect with executive search professionals
- Understand how the search process works
- Implement strategies that will help you become visible to the search community
- And more!

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About the author

Jose Ruiz's picture

As CEO of Alder Koten, Jose is a provider of vision, strategic direction and the roadmap for the firm's future. He is involved in executive search work focused on board members, CEOs and senior-level executives; and consulting engagements related to leadership and organizational effectiveness, helping clients create thriving cultures. Prior to joining Alder Koten, Jose was a Principle with Heidrick & Struggles' Global Industry Practice, based in Houston, TX and Monterrey, Mexico. He is also a bi-weekly contributor at Forbes.com.mx, writing about executive leadership and career development.

To Learn more about Jose and Alder Koten, visit http://alderkoten.com/.

Share your thoughts


Dear Jose,
Thank you for the tip. I liked the emphasis on the differentiation between a candidate and a job seeker (harsh but true) and helping the recruiters had not occurred to me. As a good number of energy/ oil and gas professionals, I became a job seeker last year after many years relishing the benefits of being a candidate and experienced the difference between the 2 categories. In order to keep things up after a solid career in companies like Petrobras, ABB, GE and Siemens I decided to start my own consulting business. It does not mean at all I gave up the corporate life, but consulting can keep me active and up to date, I think, until Energy/O&G (and Brazil's economy) recovers. My questions to you are: how would you see an offer of help through the consulting business and not by the individual? I.e. - would you remove a job seeker from your hot list on the assumption that this person's priority is no longer finding a job? Would you consider it mixed signals offering support/tips through the company and making it clear you are still looking for a good position? What do you recommend when submitting an offer support through the company?
Thanks and regards
Welter Benicio

Dear Benicio.

Thank you for taking the time to read the post and commenting. Don't lose sight that the relationship that you must seek is between two individuals. Not two companies, and not an individual with a company. That works both ways. You should not be looking for a relationship between yourself as a candidate and a recruiting firm, and you should not be looking for a relationship between your company and a consultant in a recruiting firm. You're seeking empathy, connection, and perhaps even friendship. That happens between two people. If you submit an offer of support via a company you are submitting an offer for a service, not a relationship. If a relationship is in place, you don't need to worry about hot lists. The best and most influential search consultants don't have or use job seeker hot lists. They have strong relationships with top talent, and it does not matter if the person is looking for a job or not. When the right opportunity comes along, they have potential candidates top of mind, they reach out and explore.

All the best,

Yes, this post has many useful tips that will help candidates. I have a friend who is preparing for getting a job in the IT industry and I found some tips that mentioned in this post might be helpful him. So I will share this post with him. Keep posting Jose.

Thank you for this article. I'm in the situation where I left a job with stability but lacked substance to a new position. I did not move on a whim and did my homework, however once in, I realized they oversold their stability. Now I'm looking again but still employed. I am very interested in the executive recruiter as they usually have the type of jobs in desire. Thanks to this article I will approach them with a letter rather than a resume. Wish me luck.

BlueSteps's picture

Thank you, Susan. Wishing you good luck in your search!

Very good article. It emphasizes that engaging recruiters to genuinely help them when it comes to ur area of expertise, creates a natural relationship that will help when your need arises to find a job. I have rarely interacted with recruiters and I see now that it is essential when you are seeking for a job. As an Oilfield Manager with over 30 years experience I had never been in a position of actively looking for a job. Your mindful insights are welcome.

Dear Jose,

Thanks for the post.

I am looking for a change but several requests to recruiter but rarely get a response back which include a minimum Thanks you note also. I agree they are busy but a minimum acknowledgement takes few seconds. This indicates the professionalism of the person on the other side of the table. Sometime after few discussion, all vanishes into the blue and no response ever.
Your view on this ?

BlueSteps Support's picture

Dear Gautam, Thank you for your comment. That can certainly be very frustrating! I encourage you to check out “Why Executive Headhunters Don’t Return your Calls”, written by Boyden-Thailand Partner, Tom Sorenson, for some valuable insight into the nature of the retained search process and how to persist beyond the odds. You can read it here: https://www.bluesteps.com/blog/why-executive-headhunters-return-your-calls. Best wishes, The BlueSteps Team

Thanks for giving the knowledge about this. Nice topic Post!

It is a really excellent Blog which provides useful informative topics, Keep posting!

Right on target. Always look for motivation. Offering to help the recruiter with insights that get them paid is the way to go. That's much more valuable (and memorable) than a CV with your hand out. Nice perspective.

There are job seekers today who still think they can contact a recruiter or headhunter whose sole job is to place the job seeker and find them a job. That’s false.

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