In your career, an executive search consultant can be a great customer.  Like anyone who buys your services, you need to build loyalty and trust.  Let’s explore how you can get to know your executive search customer!

In my work with executives, I often hear, “I need to transition quickly. Can you introduce me to any headhunters?”  I admit I used to cringe at the question, as it reflects a true misunderstanding of the executive search profession.  If executives actually reflected on the role of executive search consultants, they could find much better ways to interact with this dynamic group of professionals. To build great relationships with members of the executive search community, you need to move from a transactional approach to a long-term customer-focused strategy.

The role of the executive search consultant (too often loosely called a “headhunter”) is to satisfy the employer’s need. Indeed, a very important point! Candidates are only important if they fit the specifications of an open position for executive talent. Usually, executive search consultants are experts in their industry and/or function area. There are typically two types of executive search engagements: retained search and contingency search.  Retained search is where the executive search firm is the sole representative of that role and advises the organization from start to finish, helping identify successful qualities for the candidate in the beginning stages, and assisting with offer discussions upon completion.  Most likely, the retained search firm is paid through a mix of a retainer and a commission upon successful hire (usually termed an “uptick”). In a contingency search, the organization may not be the sole representative of that role, and they will most likely be paid when a candidate is hired successfully.   Retained search engagements tend to be more consultative with an individual employer (the role is likely more high- profile, and a high degree of confidentiality is needed) while contingency search engagements are less consultative with an employer (there are multiple openings for the same type of job description and the candidate actually might be marketed to multiple employers at the same time).

Knowing these elements is essential, because executives can truly engage retained search consultants over the long-term to benefit their career.  Here are some suggestions on building a long-term relationship with the executive search world:

  1. Be in a job – While not always, you are in a much better position to have an honest conversation with someone in the search community if you are currently employed.
  2. Contact the right executive search consultant – Your background matters, so make an effort to do some due diligence to confirm that the person you are contacting will actually be able to help you. Often times, individuals will identify a retained search consultant, but they will not take the time to identify the industry or functional focus of that person (it’s usually on the person’s LinkedIn profile or company website bio) – you are a lot more likely to get a response if the search consultant can actually assist based on his/her knowledge and expertise.
  3. Fill the spec! – Always, always, always take a call from an executive search consultant. Even if you are not interested in the job, take the time (conversation won’t be long) to listen to the job description. Based on your understanding of the job, open up your rolodex and see if you can refer one or two people in your professional circle. Retained search consultants will view you as a helpful “source”, and building this goodwill with a search consultant will help you in the long term.
  4. Ask for market intelligence – Who better to engage in a conversation on a particular industry or role than with an executive search consultant? Be generous with your time and the search consultant will likely do the same. You can gain essential insights into whether a market is growing or contracting. Which organizations are hiring? What are they looking for? What are the compensation levels? This allows you to evaluate your current skills/experiences/accomplishments against what is being valued outside of your current organization.
  5. Don’t be offended if they don’t get back to you immediately – Recognize that when executive search consultants are actually conducting a search, they are under the gun to deliver for their client. It might take a few outreaches before they get back to you. It is not personal.