What is Executive Search


Executive Search Firms

Also known as “headhunters,” executive search firms seek out and carefully screen (and weed out) candidates, typically for high-salaried technical, executive, and managerial positions (although lower-salaried positions are handled by many such firms as well). Executive recruiters are paid by the employer; the candidate is generally not charged a fee. Unlike permanent employment agencies, they often approach candidates directly, rather than waiting for candidates to approach them. Some prefer to deal with employed candidates.


What should I do if a recruiter calls me at work?

Since executive recruiters often prefer to work with those who are currently employed, they usually contact people at work. That can make for an uncomfortable situation if your boss, or anyone else, is hovering nearby. If you are interested in working with the recruiter, ask him if you can return the phone call at a later time. Then do so on a break or lunch hour using your cell phone and not an office phone.

Whether you're employed or not, don't contact an executive search firm if you aren't ready to look for a job. If a recruiter tries to place you right away and finds you aren't really looking yet, it's unlikely he will spend much time with you in the future.



Types of Executive Search Firms


There are two basic types of executive search firms — retainer-based and contingency-based. Essentially, retainer firms are hired by a client company for a search and paid a fee by the client company, regardless of whether a placement is made. Contingency firms receive payment from the client company only when their candidate is hired. Some firms conduct searches of both types. The fee is typically 20 to 35 percent of the first year's salary, with retainer firm fees at the higher end of that scale, according to Ivan Samuels, president of Abbott's of Boston, an executive search firm that conducts both types of searches.


Retainer Firms


Generally, companies use retainer firms to fill senior-level positions, with salaries over $60,000. In most cases, a company will hire only one retainer firm to fill a given position, and part of the process is a thorough, on-site visit by the search firm to the client company, so the recruiter can check out the operation. These search firms are recommended for a highly experienced professional seeking a job in her current field.


Confidentiality is more secure with these firms, since a recruiter may use your file only in consideration for one job at a time, and most retainer firms will not freely circulate your resume without permission. This is particularly important to a job seeker who is currently employed and insists on absolute discretion. If that's the case, make sure you don't contact a retainer firm used by your current employer.


Contingency Firms


Contingency firms make placements that cover a broader salary range, so these firms are preferable for someone seeking a junior or midlevel position. Unlike retainer firms, contingency firms may be competing with other firms to fill a particular opening. As a result, they can be quicker and more responsive to your job search. In addition, a contingency firm will distribute your resume more widely. Some require your permission before sending your resume to a company; others ask that you trust their discretion. Inquire about this with your recruiter at the outset, and choose according to your needs.


Finding an Executive Recruiter


Look for executive recruitment firms that specialize in your field of interest or expertise as well as generalist firms that place people in a variety of fields. You don't need to limit yourself to firms in your geographic area, as many firms operate nationally or internationally. Once you've chosen the specific recruiter or recruiters to contact, keep in mind that they are working for the companies that hire them, not for you. Attempting to fill a position — especially among fierce competition with other firms — means your best interests may not be the recruiter's only priority. For this reason, contact as many search firms as possible to increase your chances of finding your ideal position.


Making Contact with an Executive Recruiter


A phone call is your first step, during which you should speak with a recruiter and exchange all relevant information. Find out whether they operate on a retainer or contingency basis (or both), and ask some brief questions, if you have any, regarding the firm's procedures. Offer the recruiter information about your employment history and the type of work you are seeking. Make sure you sound enthusiastic and assertive, but not pushy. The recruiter will ask you to send a resume and cover letter, probably by e-mail.


Occasionally the recruiter will arrange to meet with you, but most often this won't occur until she has received your resume and found a potential match. James E. Slate, president of F-O-R-T-U-N-E Personnel Consultants, advises that you generally should not expect an abundance of personal attention at the beginning of the relationship with your recruiter, particularly with a large firm that works nationally and does most of its work over the phone. You should, however, use your recruiter's inside knowledge to your best advantage. Some recruiters will coach you before an interview, and many are open to giving you all the facts they know about a client company.