Job Hunting

How to Get Noticed by Headhunters

For starters, avoid the full-court press.
Lisa YoonDecember 3, 2002

“Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”

Ask a big-time headhunter how to get in the running for a plum job and that’s the line you’re likely to hear. And it’s not because executive recruiters are such snobs, either.

The fact is, there’s a big misunderstanding about what headhunters actually get paid to do. “Our job is not to find jobs for people,” explains J. Nicholas Hurd, managing partner of Russell Reynolds’s Boston office. Indeed, headhunters are in the business of filling positions, not finding work for the unemployed. What’s more, executives search firms almost exclusively devote their services to corporate clients.

Of course, there are other kinds of recruiters and services than retained search, many of which are more accessible to job seekers. But if you want to work with the Korn/Ferrys of the world, getting them to take your call is a bit trickier.

So, how does a job-seeker get onto the radar screen of a top-notch executive placement firm? Experts say it’s more a matter of what not to do.

For starters, do not mass-mail resumes and register at every executive job site on the Web. Why? Because this immediately dilutes an executive’s value in the job market. Hurd recalls receiving a resume from a CEO whom he knew, with no acknowledgement of their relationship. Turns out, the CEO had sent about 35 copies of his CV to various recruiters. “I said to him, “You’ve just commoditized yourself.’” Needless to say, there are more productive uses of your job-searching time.

Second, says Hurd, do not automatically send your resume to the head of the firm, or, worse, send it randomly to any consultant. Go to the company’s Web site and find the appropriate practice or industry for your search. Read the consultants’ bios and send a targeted letter and resume to that person. “It proves they’re willing to spend the time to find the person,” explains Hurd. By the way, he adds, “don’t ever call” without taking this step first.

Of course, that’s just the beginning of the process. Many headhunters only consider people who were referred to them by somebody — or some company — they know. This is especially true in a slow economy. “This is an era where we’re not looking for the ‘best athlete,’” says Hurd, “we’re looking for who’s done it.”

Therefore, it helps to know someone who knows the headhunter. And, Hurd stresses, it has to be someone the headhunter really knows and respects. “Don’t try to fake me out,” Hurd advises.

Finally, experts say job-seekers should always mention the salary range they’re seeking. That tends to speed up the process — and eliminate candidates who won’t work for less than what’s being offered.

The bottom line, says Hurd, is to consider the big picture of the headhunter’s world. “Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter: we’re busy, we have narrow specifications. So do your homework.”