Headhunters and Search Firms: Unlocking Their Secret Code
The world of search firms and headhunters can seem extremely mysterious. In certain fields (e.g., finance, law) they can be critical to gaining access to elusive positions at elite firms especially as you mature in your career. Here are some key issues to keep in mind when trying to navigate the sea of search firms:
- Ask around. Finding a great headhunter really makes the difference when you are searching for niche positions. Talk to the people around you in those kinds of coveted roles and ask them if they have ever used a headhunter or can recommend one. The best way to evaluate a headhunter is by their placements. It will show you who their relationships tend to be with and who they place.
- Know yourself. Be able to clearly articulate and sell who you are professionally (special skills, accomplishments, value that you can add) and what you are looking for and where (i.e., a general profile–not a specific company). A headhunter is NOT a career counselor. They are not going to take time to figure out where you are a fit. You need to be able to present that to them. Remember when they meet you they are thinking about where you might be a fit in what they have available and how you’ll present yourself to their client. So, don’t get too personal or comfortable even if they are — be congenial, but keep it professional.
- Look for specialized firms. Don’t go with a general placement firm. You want a firm that has significant relationships with people in your field of interest.
- Watch out for scams. Never pay for services or tests. The employer typically compensates the firm. You are NOT to do that.
- You can have more than one. You can use more than one headhunter, but don’t spread yourself too thin. You want to make sure you have enough time to attend interviews and respond to inquiries.
- Keep the relationship going. Typically headhunters that have successfully placed you or who you have a good relationship with will continue to contact you throughout the years. Maintain the contact as you never know when you will be looking again.
- Handle all interviews with decorum. These are the relationships that have been developed with the headhunter. If you act inappropriately, it’s likely to get back to them and that most likely will be the end of your relationship with the headhunter. On the other side of that, if someone acts inappropriately with you make sure that you immediately report the incident to the headhunter.
- Keep in contact with your headhunter. While in your search, you may hit a lull and not hear from them. Reach out at that point and make a meeting to discuss what’s going on. Don’t stalk them either. No one like that. It reeks of desperation.
Hopefully, that will get you started. Check out the great article in CFO Magazine for more tips on working with search firms and headhunters.