The Role of the Search Firms

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Search firms get service fees from the employers, not the job candidates. Headhunter acts as an agent between employers and job seekers. As a third party, headhunters have to be objective in all aspects of the recruiting pcoress.

Job seekers who qualify for senior-executive level searches often mistake executive recruiters for career transition, or "outplacement" specialists. Executive recruiters work for their client companies. They do not actively place out-of-work individuals. This would not only be a conflict of interest, it would also be financially unwise. A job seeker does not pay a recruiter when he lands a job. The client company pays the recruiting firm when it fills a position. This nuance is lost on many. It may be worthwhile to contact executive search firms if you qualify, but do not expect them to take time out of their schedule to talk with you or see you. They are driven by their specific assignments for their clients: they find people for roles, not roles for people. Executive search consultants can be "career makers" for some individuals, but for most, this will not be the way they will find their next role.

When choosing a firm, it is a good idea to consider carefully what you want from the relationship. While contingency firms offer a service with no money up front, they will often only work on those searches that can be executed quickly and do not have the time to focus on high-quality candidates. Another option is to hire one firm and give them an "exclusive contingency" arrangement so that the money is still paid at the end of the search, but there is only one firm working on the search. This gives the firm the benefit of time to truly focus on quality and the hiring manager is not flooded with resumes. A third option is to pay the firm an engagement fee. Generally firms with engagement fees are exclusive as well and then have more resources available to them to purchase additional research. This also moves the search to a "retained" level which brings a level of professionalism sought by many upper level candidates. At the retained level, a client could pay a "performance retainer" which means a payment to start the search, a payment when candidates are submitted and final payment when the candidate starts. These milestones are chosen due to the fact that the firm "performed". The more traditional retainer agreements are time based and are set at specific intervals regardless of retainers.

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