June 21, 2021

Job searching for the first time? Here’s how (and how not) to use recruiters


I had a conversation with a family friend recently. Jack, a successful FinTech executive, found himself in need of job hunting advice.  And he could no longer rely on his personal network.

Jack’s question: “Should I call the largest Executive Search firms to let them know I’m on the market so they can start working on my behalf?”  

My response: “Sure…but don’t expect much from that.”

Which took him aback a bit.  

Jack’s resume is, after all, quite impressive.  A history of career-ascending moves with increasing leadership responsibilities.

Wouldn’t recruiters want to work with him?

The answer to this requires a bit of a primer in understanding the business model of the larger and more established executive search firms.  And how these firms might not be the immediate go-to for Jack’s initial job search efforts.

These firms work on a retained basis. The client (the hiring company) agrees in contract to pay the full fee and engage only with the retained firm. This model locks in the search firm and provides a motivation to throw all its resources into completing the search as soon as possible.  The search firm becomes a de facto extension of the client’s HR department. They work to develop a group of candidates that match the exacting specifications of the role.

When an executive like Jack calls into the executive search firm, there isn’t much they can do for him in the short term. Unless his background happens to match up to an ongoing client engagement. Not impossible but not probable.

It is still good practice for Jack to establish relationships with executive recruiters at the large search firms. As well as those at boutique firms that specialize in his practice area.  They may be willing to take Jack’s call for networking purposes. Hint: it helps if they perceive Jack as a future client when he lands his next gig and then becomes in a position to hire.

So he should send along his resume to those established and specialized recruiters. Although these introductory conversations may be low probability in leading to a job offer, they are worthy of a 30 minute phone call. Especially if you are in a full-time job search mode.

The alternative to the retained search is the contingent model. This is where search firms agree to work on a search in which they’ll get paid a fee only if they present a candidate who gets hired by the client.  In this case, the search firm will attempt to get Jack’s resume in front of as many companies as possible (and as fast as possible).

This can lead to more attention right away from employers but Jack and others in his situation should exercise caution. In the hands of an unscrupulous recruiter, your profile may be shared with clients without your consent. Which could create issues in the future if you attempt to present your resume to a hiring company.  Their applicant tracking system (ATS) may then flag your resume as already in their system. This can be off-putting to a potential hiring company and cast a pall on your potential candidacy.  

Some opportunities presented to you might not be spot-on fits for your background/level.  But the contingent recruiter may push you to go through with interviews with the hope that something might work out. And this isn’t always a bad approach, especially if you’re open to casting a wide net. Going through with an interview, even if you’re not sure the role or the company are the best fit, isn’t the worst idea.  It could serve as valuable interview “practice.” The hiring manager may also realize you are actually a better fit for another opening that is forthcoming.

The bottom line: You are in charge of your job search. Not a recruiter nor an executive search firm…you.  Working with executive recruiters should be one of the dozens of ways that you go about looking for your next gig.  But it is necessary to understand how to navigate and engage with executive search firms as you pursue your next role.

For further insight into successfully managing your job search: 




More blogs from Barclay Burns

No results found.
See all Talent Insights Blog entries....

Our Latest Featured Episode

Our Shows