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Can Executive Search Firms Really Help?

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That depends on what level you have reached in your career. Unless you can qualify for a job that pays over $50,000 a year, most search firms will not be interested in you.

Understand that search firms find people for neither jobs, nor jobs for people. That is a profound difference. Search firms do not work for you; they work for their client companies.

In fact, many search firms (as well as employment agencies) are becoming quite specialized in the industries or functions they serve. We see firms searching only for financial managers, or sales managers or managers in very specific industry fields such as entertainment, high tech or energy. As the information age grows and expands through the 1990s and into the year 2000, this trend toward specialization will continue. Today, it is almost impossible for any search firm manager to stay abreast of changes and new developments in more than a single field. This trend means that the job seeker soliciting search firms must be aware of their specializations in order to minimize wasted time, money and energy.

How Do Search Firms Get Paid?

A search firm is paid by an employer to find superior candidates for a particular job opening. The fee generally amounts to between twenty-five percent and thirty-five per-cent of the annual salary paid for the job. In other words, if the position pays $100,000 a year, the search firm stands to be paid a fee of between $25,000 and $35,000.

Actually, there are two types of search firms: retainer and contingency. The retainer firm enters into an exclusive arrangement with an employer to fill a particular opening. The firm is paid a percentage of the fee up front (before the search begins) and the remainder over the period of the search. A contingency firm is paid only if a candidate they have located is actually hired for the job. Theirs are non-exclusive arrangements, and it is common for a number of different contingency firms to be searching for candidates to fill the same job opening. Incidentally, contingency firms will occasionally handle positions that pay less than $50,000 a year, so if you are making less than this, it is a good idea to find out whether a firm is exclusively retained or contingency, because the former will not be interested in you but the latter may be.

How Do I Locate and Get in Touch with an Executive Search Firm?

First, try your local yellow pages. Search firms are usually listed under "executive search consultants" or sometimes under "management consultants" (but with these, phone before sending a resume-they may do other kinds of consulting, not executive searches). For a nationwide directory of executive search firms, refer to the Directory of Executive Recruiters. Your local library may have a copy, but if not you can order a copy from publications.

Once you have identified a search firm, try to arrange an interview or meeting through a personal contact, someone who knows someone in the firm. If that fails, write a letter briefly outlining your experience and the type of position in which you are interested. Include a resume, and be sure to indicate the salary range that you need. Then follow up your letter with a telephone call a few days later. Be realistic about your chances, however. Many search firms receive hundreds of resumes each week.

Only a very small percentage, perhaps as little as two to four percent, actually qualifies for a position that the firm is attempting to fill at the time. And time is money to these people, so don't expect much attention.

Again, your chances for consideration will improve if you can somehow arrange a face-to-face meeting. You never know what assignments will come in next week or next month, and having seen you in person, the search executive is more likely to remember you.

Are Search Firms Really Worth the Bother?

Sure. Just don't pin all your hopes on finding a job through one of them. If you meet the standards necessary to qualify for consideration by search firms, you have nothing to lose by contacting as many as possible. Our advice is to send a letter and resume, then call and try to arrange a meeting. If you can't arrange a meeting, forget that firm; they will call you if you fit a search they are conducting. However, here is some good advice. Before you send your resume to a search firm, phone to see who is in charge of your specialty, your functional area. Tell that person's secretary that you will be sending a resume. That way, you will be writing to a partner or senior manager, rather than letting a lower-level researcher decide whether you are kept or "trashed."

If a Search Firm Calls Me, How Should I Respond? What Do I Tell Them?

Assuming you have gotten a message and are to call them back, be sure to place the call from a quiet, private place. If they are calling you, and if you have no office door to shut, call them back at a better time-that is never a problem. Next, be honest. Don't be coy or secretive, or try to "expand" your degrees, experience, responsibility or titles. These folks have ways of trapping you, and if you haven't been straight, they will drop you like a hot potato. You'd better be honest about your salary, too. Also, don't expect free advice or an overly long conversation. Answer the recruiter's questions quickly, but with an eye to the problems you have solved and the real responsibilities you have had.

Ask if the recruiter has an assignment, and probe as to what it is and how you might fit. Even if the job is way off base, try to meet with the headhunter. After all, even though the current search may not fit you, tomorrow is another day, and maybe there will be a search that will fit. And, a personal meeting always puts you a step ahead, because now the headhunter has you in the computer. Also remember that legitimate executive recruiters are always paid by the employer. If a recruiter asks you for money, such as a registration fee, hang up!

Then, too, there are a lot of "one-man-bands" in the search business. Some of these folks work out of their homes and/or phone booths. This doesn't mean they are not competent; it simply means they are small. Therefore, don't expect them to have a long list of clients, and don't spend a long time or pin a lot of hopes on one of them. Going in to see their offices can usually give you an idea about the size of a recruiting firm.

Once I Have Been Called by a Search Firm, How Soon Will I Know If I Am a Candidate for a Job?

That depends on a lot of factors. For example, you may be eliminated for various reasons after your initial conversation, or you may end up a finalist among a selected few being considered for the position. The time frame is somewhat controlled by how long the search has been active at the time you are called. If contact is made at the beginning of the search (a search may take between two and six months to complete), the recruiter and employer may not be anxious to narrow the field until more candidates have been uncovered. On the other hand, if you are called midway into the search, or after they have been working on it for a considerable length of time, you can expect some pretty quick action. When you are called, simply ask the recruiter how long he or she has been working on the search.

Sometimes a problem can occur when the final three to five candidates are presented to the client company, but the client can't make up its mind. In this case, two things can happen: either more time is needed for interviewing the finalists, or none are chosen (which may mean the search goes back to square one). In a nutshell, you never know how long the process will take.

If I Send My Resume to One Office of a National Search Firm or Employment Agency, Will It Be on Their Computer for Other Offices?

Maybe, but don't count on it. Search firms get such huge volumes of resumes each week that they only computerize a small percentage of them. So play it safe, and send your resume to the search firm office in each city you are considering, just to be sure.
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