Executive search consultants – how to develop authentic relationships

Take a Long Term Approach with Executive Search Consultants

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.  So, 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.

Difference Between Retained Search and Contingency Search

The role of the executive search consultant (too often loosely called a “headhunter”) is to satisfy the employer’s need.  Thus, 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.

To begin, retained search is where the firm is the sole representative of the role and advises the employer from start to finish.  They help identify successful qualities for the candidate in the beginning stages and assist 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 firm may not be the sole representative of that role.  Additionally, they will likely be paid when a candidate is hired. 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.  Contingency search engagements are less consultative with an employer. There are multiple openings for the same job description.  Additionally, the candidate might be marketed to multiple employers at the same time.

Executives can truly engage retained search consultants over the long-term to benefit their career.  Here are suggestions on building a long-term relationship with the executive search world:

Top 5 Tips on Building Relationships with Executive Search Consultants

  1. Be in a job – First, while not always, you are in a much better position to have conversation with someone in the executive search community if you are employed.
  2. Contact the right consultant – Next, your background matters.  Make an effort to do some due diligence that the person you are contacting will actually be able to help you. Often times, executives identify a retained search consultant, but they will not take the time to identify the industry or functional focus of that person. This information is on the person’s LinkedIn profile or company website bio.  You are more likely to get a response if the search consultant can actually assist based on their 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 to listen to the job description. Open up your rolodex and see if you can refer 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 reciprocate. 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? You can evaluate your marketability against what is being valued outside of your current organization.  You might also want to have a look at my blog on preparing for an informational interview.
  5. Please don’t be offended if they don’t get back to you immediately – When executive search consultants conduct 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.

Lets Continue the Conversation

Thanks for taking time to read my post on executive search professionals. If you are an HR professional who might be transitioning employees out of your organization, I invite you to view my TV appearance on how to handle a layoff and to learn more about my outplacement and exit management solutions.  If you are an executive or mid-career professional looking to make a career or retirement transition, I invite you to learn more about my career management approach.