November 8, 2018 – Employers typically use a search firm when a top job opening is important enough, senior enough and when discretion is at a premium. All three factors warrant the investment of bringing in a search firm.
But what about career-minded professionals? When should they turn to a recruiter and what’s the best way to network with specialists in the field?
Having spent over three decades as an executive search consultant, including a significant portion of time as a senior partner with a large global firm, Mr. Westberry has completed over 400 assignments recruiting senior-level executives for clients ranging from middle-market companies to those in the Fortune 500.
He has interviewed well over 6,000 executives during his search career. Often, he hears from senior-level executives who wonder why when they are looking for a job executive search consultants never return their calls or answer their emails.
Mr. Westberry provides 10 tips that may prove helpful when interacting with a search firm.
1. Before contacting a search consultant, an executive should understand how the firm operates (i.e. retainer or contingent), read the firm’s website, know the players in the firm, know the partner’s/ firm’s area of focus and understand what level of executives they recruit. “I once received a resume from a meteorologist who wanted us to help him find a job in television,” said Mr. Westberry. “He obviously did not know where we focus or that we operate on a retainer basis.”
2. Most executive search consultants have specialties and focus in specific industries or functions. “Accordingly, if you plan to send your resume to a consultant, do the research necessary to know the area in which the targeted consultant works,” Mr. Westberry said. “For example, if a consultant specializes in the financial services sector, he or she will not be of much help to you if your entire career has been in the industrial sector.”
Dave Westberry specializes in recruiting senior-level executives for companies in the technology, industrial, and service sectors ranging from start-ups to major multinationals. He also works closely with private equity firms and their portfolio companies to help recruit talent. He has recruited chairs and members of audit committees and financial experts for boards of directors.
3. Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and building relationships. “Contacting a search consultant with whom you have no relationship and wanting to meet and network because you are out of work provides no value to that consultant,” said Mr. Westberry. It’s much more effective for an executive to have developed a relationship with the search consultant before a lay-off, downsizing or sale of the company/ division. “I receive 20 or more emails a week from executives, the vast majority with whom I have never had any interactions, who want to talk about career opportunities,” he said. “Contacting someone when you need something is not networking.”
4. “If the consultant determines your background is interesting and/ or fits the requirements of an active search assignment, the search consultant will want to understand the details of your experience, compensation package and any contractual obligations,” Mr. Westberry said. “Always be very open, candid and honest about information as it will all be verified at some point in the search process.”
5. If an executive’s background does not fit the requirements of a current assignment, the consultant will more than likely not have time to meet and network. “One must remember that when a firm is retained to conduct a search, the consultant’s time and focus goes to the client paying the retainer to recruit an executive, not helping an executive find a job,” said Mr. Westberry.
6. If the search consultant asks for a resume, do not send a bio, send a full, well written resume, Mr. Westberry said. “The consultant wants to see a steady progression of increased responsibilities since graduating from college … including the year of graduation. No one is trying to determine your age.”
In today’s market, it’s about experience, energy, accomplishments and leadership. “I find the current trend of listing key words, factors, experiences, etc. as a section of the resume meaningless,” Mr. Westberry said. “If a resume is well written, these words should be in the body of the document and will be identified by any software being used to pick up key words.”
7. If a search consultant does agree to meet, do not regurgitate your resume. Most consultants will have read it and know your background. “Be prepared to engage in a meaningful discussion about you, your career to date, what caused you to leave your last employer and what would be an attractive opportunity going forward,” Mr. Westberry said. “A seasoned consultant can determine a great deal about an executive’s emotional intelligence based on how he or she interacts during this meeting.”
Things to Know About Hiring a Search Firm
Hiring top executives who can both effectively manage and lead an organization is a major challenge. When a company makes vital senior-level appointments, the risks are high. For top roles, the base salary is typically more than $150,000.
8. “Most executives believe that introducing their unemployed colleagues to an executive search consultant is beneficial to that consultant,” said Mr. Westberry. “Search consultants understand the executive is clearly trying to help a friend and are happy to review the resume.” If the executive is really interested in establishing a relationship, however, the consultant would prefer that the executive be helpful in the sourcing stage of an assignment and/ or by referring new business. “On several occasions there have been senior executives seeking a new opportunity with whom I have met, counseled, and assisted only to never hear from them when they land in a new role,” said Mr. Westberry. “This behavior does not encourage assisting the executive in the future.”
9. When conducting a search, consultants know that targeted executives are extremely busy, and their time is a precious commodity. “However, responding to an email or phone call from an executive search consultant will pay dividends in the future,” Mr. Westberry said. “The inquiry from the search consultant may not be of interest at the moment, but more than likely the consultant works in your area of expertise and your professionalism, or lack thereof, will be noted with regard to future assignments.”
10. Once an executive secures a new position, those interested in building relationships will always follow up and provide their new contact information to the executive search consultant that provided helpful advice or input.
“These 10 tips are offered in the spirit of helping senior-level executives gain a deeper understanding of how to more effectively network with executive search consultants,” Mr. Westberry said.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media