An executive search professional, my role is to help client companies fill open positions. But I also get many calls and emails from senior financial officers who are looking for jobs. On rare occasions, serendipity intervenes and the person is actually a good fit for a current assignment. Otherwise, I try to help them as I can, usually with advice or networking support. I reserve Friday mornings for these job-seekers. It’s the right thing to do.

Service providers – not only recruiters but also lawyers, accountants, insurance brokers, bankers and others – can be great sources of information and referrals for job-seekers. That’s especially true for CFOs, given how many external relationships they manage. While there is no immediate payoff for the service provider, the good ones know that lending a hand is a great long-term business development strategy. Many executives in transition remember the help and are eager to maintain these relationships after they’ve successfully concluded their job searches.

However, there is a small minority who don’t. If I could offer any executive – financial or otherwise – just one piece of career advice, it would be: “Don’t be that guy.”

“That guy” only reaches out when he’s lost his job. He’s eager to meet; he’s looking for referrals; he wants my knowledge of the market. He also seems to forget I exist the moment he finds his next job. I have a few of these in my network, but there is one who stands out. He’s a CFO who has been in transition three times over the last 15 years, and those are the only periods when he showed any interest in having a dialogue. In each case, we met, I helped and he landed, after which he didn’t return my calls or emails. He just landed again in the past few months, and the silence is deafening.

Why do I care? A recruiter sees you as a referral source, a source of information on the market, and – to be transparent – a potential client. But it’s in both parties’ best interests to make those connections long term rather than simply transactional. 

Beyond that, returning the communication is the right thing to do. While I hold no particular affinity for Buddhism, I do believe in karma. My feeling is that if you put enough good things out in the world, good things will come back to you, often from unexpected sources. I don’t keep a scorecard when I help someone out. But I have to tell you, when I make a referral that leads to an employment opportunity, it’s annoying when I don’t get an acknowledgement of that fact. I’m not asking for business or a fruit basket. A simple “thank you” would suffice.

Perhaps my annoyance shouldn’t necessarily bother you very much. But you should know that my reaction is mild compared to the way some of my peers in professional services react. Going ballistic and immediately writing off any executive who displays this behavior is a common reaction that can be the kiss of death for the executive’s network. You don’t want to be on an influential service provider’s do-not-call list.

So, if you are “that guy,” I hope you are safe and secure in your current position. Because if you find yourself in a spot where you need to restart your network, you might find the return calls few and far between.

John Touey is a principal at executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group with 20 years of experience providing executive search, human resources and management consulting services to organizations in the healthcare, financial services, utilities, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries. Follow him @JohnTouey.

Photo credit: Creative Commons Flickr member Ann Lloyd.

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