May 12, 2020 – As invaluable as executive search firms are for companies, they can also make a tremendous difference in the careers of professionals who are in the market for a new job. During COVID-19, what can be more important for an aspiring job changer than tapping into the right recruiter’s network for forethought as well as networking skills? Recruiter Dave Westberry of BridgeStreet Partners offers 10 tips to getting it right. We also hear from top search consultants who discuss how networking with recruiters has changed during the global pandemic crisis.
Having spent over three decades as an executive search consultant, including significant 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.
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“As we all continue to navigate this environment, below are a few common missteps that have recently crossed my desk in the past few months,” Mr. Westberry said.
1. Even during this COVID-19 business environment, 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.”
3. Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and building relationships, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. “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 layoff, 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.
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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 volatile 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.”
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.
Networking During a Global Pandemic
“The pandemic has overwhelmed recruiters with inbound calls from job seekers,” said Dave Melville, CEO of Boston-based executive search firm Bowdoin Group. “In this current environment, you can’t count on getting a call back. Even before the pandemic, that strategy didn’t work well. The best way to get a conversation is to find those mutual connections and see if they’re willing to make a warm introduction to the executive recruiter. I will advise against cold-calling executive search firms, especially today in this job market. Most of us are heads down servicing our clients.”
The COVID-19 Impact on Executive Search
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every business sector, executive recruiting included, costing organizations billions of dollars in lost revenue. Goldman Sachs estimates that economic growth around the world will be zero in 2020 thanks to the virus. To many, even that seems grossly underestimated. But the coronavirus is causing far more than just financial damage. Leaders are scrambling to secure supplies, trying to keep fearful employees motivated to work and, in some cases, maintaining bold strategic plans that have been years in the making from falling apart.
“My advice to all senior-level executives is to make it as easy as possible for search firms to find you,” Mr. Melville said. “Focus on telling your story through your digital footprint and online presence, especially on LinkedIn. Ask yourself: Would you be found if a recruiter was looking for you? If not, take a critical look at your LinkedIn profile and make sure you’re advertising yourself for the roles you want.”
Some recruiters take a different view. Dave Nerz, president of NPAworldwide, a global independent recruiter network, says that in many cases recruiters are likely to be more relaxed and approachable during this time of pandemic. “While not universally true, the quantity of jobs recruiters are trying to fill is down, so they have more time to learn and talk to candidates and hiring managers,” he said. “As evidence of this, our NPAworldwide network has seen a fourfold increase in attendance for training webinars. Some of this is due to reduced industry activity and some is due to increased available hours based on reduced work assignments, the productivity of working from home and even reduced commutes.”
When engaging with a recruiter to network, job seekers should be realistic. “Recruiters get paid a fee to place top talent in jobs where they are certain a candidate can do well,” said Mr. Nerz. “Recruiters are not interested in moving accountants into sales management roles or taking administrators and presenting them for leadership roles.”
Small steps forward are likely and possible but the more your existing experience matches the new job, the more likely a recruiter can help you. “Be honest about what you want and do not want,” said Mr. Nerz. “Be honest about places you would relocate and places you will never consider. If you have a partner with veto power on your next career move, get that on the table early. The more info you can share about your must haves, wishes and realities, the better a recruiter can work on your behalf to deliver.”
“The pandemic may create some comfort and ease for connection and conversation that did not exist prior to our current reality” said Mr. Nerz. “For the most part, things are not different; however, you may both be able to talk more freely as neither of you are in cubicles with co-workers listening or likely to interrupt the conversation. When engaging with a recruiter to network, be realistic. Recruiters get paid a fee to place top talent in jobs where they are certain a candidate can do well. Recruiters are not interested in moving accountants into sales management roles or taking administrators and presenting them for leadership roles.”
“With open positions fewer and farther between it’s more important than ever to effectively convey your value to a potential new employer and to search firms,” said Brad Law, partner, North America at Frazer Jones. “Be concise and clear in outlining your strengths and accomplishments to raise your profile above your competition. The market has shifted to more of buyer’s market and organizations feel they can be more selective in capturing industry experience or subject matter expertise they desire in new hires. Focus on opportunities that play to your core strengths in industries you are familiar with and you’ll be at the top of recruiter’s lists.”
The global pandemic has given rise to numerous virtual networking events with recruiters, job seeker peers and industry leaders, Mr. Law said. “Take advantage of not even having to leave home to get out there. Without being able to meet in person it’s important to go that extra mile and invest today in building your network.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media