Search professionals come in a lot of shapes and sizes. One thing they ALL have in common however, is their constant need to identify and build relationships with relevant quality talent so that they can deliver on their client mandates.
This isn’t an article about basic mechanics. You want to know, presumably, what these folks are thinking and how you can profit. Well, here are some of my best pointers.
1. Don’t Be Needy. One of the biggest rookie mistakes when seeking out executive search professionals is behaving like the firm is there to help you find a job, and that given that you need a job, they should help you now. Wrong. The search firm is under no obligation to help you whatsoever. Try not to project an aura of neediness. (Hint: They can smell it.) Position yourself for the long-haul and you will do better.
2. Don’t Be Cocky. On the other hand, don’t be too full of yourself. You are just one prospective candidate in a daily parade of prospective candidates. Don’t be a peacock and puff yourself up. Confident humility is the way to go. A demonstrated ability to laugh at yourself doesn’t hurt either.
3. Appreciate the Role They Play. I am going to let you in on a secret. Search folks often don’t feel the love from their candidates, clients, and the industry in which they operate. It is the nature of the business. Show them that you think they do a pretty cool job. They will love you for it.
4. Be Useful. How do you build relationships? You give. What can you give them? Perspective. Advice. Insight. And leads to names. It is the way the game is played at the senior level.
Once you make contact with a reputable search person, close your conversation by offering to help on current or future searches. Sources, i.e. peer networks, are the primary means of finding quality talent. When the phone rings, go out of your way to assist, and bingo, you are in. Remember, they aren’t asking you who is looking. They are asking you, who can do this job. There is a difference. You can and should refer quality candidates to them. But be careful. If the folks you send aren’t up-to-par, you are damaging their perception of you as a judge of talent, and therefore, as a useful source.
5. Flexible Focus. In general, search firms like a candidate who understands his or her value in the market. At the same time, they love candidates who aren’t too rigid about what opportunities they will consider. Search assignments come in all sizes, and they often require a candidate with an out-of-the-box openness to get them filled. And by the way, when they phone, take the time to call them back, promptly. It pays off.
6. Dig the Well. Build for the long term. Contact them when you don’t need them. Take them to lunch. Send them an article on the industry. Whatever it is, dig the well before you get thirsty.
7. Don’t Embarrass. One of the best things that can happen to you is to be a candidate on a search, and do well without getting the job. Search professionals love to revisit past candidates, providing they have been an asset in past assignments, and not an embarrassment. If you make the short-list, impress the client, but lose out to another candidate, then chances are you have just made a friend with the search partner. You will be called again.
8. Cultivate the Pyramid. The established search firms aren’t much different from a law firm or accounting firm in how they are structured. A few partners are supported by numerous consultants, associates, researchers and assistants. The junior folks actually do most of the work of candidate generation. Each one of these folks can be your ally, or enemy. Act accordingly.
9. Make Them Comfortable. How do you make a search professional nervous? Be invisible. If they haven’t heard of you, or, more to the point, if their sources haven’t heard of you, then they only have your word to go on. Get known in your industry or market. You don’t have to be famous, but the more people who can say, “Joe, yeah, Joe is fantastic,” the better.
10. Nice Guys Get Elevated. Another secret? Search professionals often present an out-of-the-box candidate to their clients. Why would they do this? To fill out a weak, or lopsided list of candidates. To test the client’s requirements. In support of a hunch they have. Because it can be good consulting. Sometimes, those out-of-the-box candidates get the job.
Who gets this kind of opportunity? The nice, safe candidates they like. The ones the search partner can absolutely trust. Not the jerks. Make sure you are on the right side of the fence.
Developing a relationship with the search firms and their professionals is best looked at in the long-term. Yes, you can have a short-term payoff. But the real reward for nurturing those relationships is repeated access to opportunities over the course of your career. And, if you are lucky, relationships with interesting players in your industry.
Financial services, IT and biotech will be hot sectors for executive talent. That’s according to a recent survey in which retained search firms predicted the growing areas of executive search activity for 2006. Two-thirds of respondents noted financial services as a dominant sector, while more than half predicted the information technology and biotech industries to have strong demand for executive talent this year. The survey was conducted by the Association of Executive Search Consultants.