The final step before beginning to contact recruiters is to think through just what kind of recruiter is best suited for your position search. Here are some criteria to consider:
- Retained vs. contingency. As a general rule, you will get more attention and assistance from contingency recruiters. The line between retained and contingency firms is becoming more blurred, as more firms are doing both. If you want “deep” consideration, exclusivity and confidentiality, contact retained recruiters. But don’t contact a retainer firm that your employer uses; such firms will not work with you. If you want broad reach, fast placement, and are willing to explore jobs that may not be a perfect fit, contingency firms may be your best bet.
- Specialty vs. general, and boutique vs. large firms. If you’re looking for a firm with strong contacts in the industry or profession of your choice, a specialty firm is an obvious choice. But the flip side is that while specialists have excellent contacts in the industry, they are less likely to open new doors for you in other industries. Also keep in mind that many generalist firms actually operate like a department store of specialist or boutique firms. So, by working with a generalist, you may enjoy the advantages of specialization along with the broader set of possibilities that the generalist offers. Boutique firms will tend to get you better matches and work more closely with you to achieve your goals, but your credentials must be right to get their attention. Many recruiters recommend working with a mix of specialists and generalists.
- Functional specialists vs. industry specialists. Is it better to work with a functional specialist–that is, a recruiter working with your profession (accounting, finance, marketing, IT, for example) or an industry specialist (aerospace, computers, food, financial services)? The conventional wisdom is that both dimensions are relevant, and working with all recruiting firms with which your credentials fit makes sense.
- Individual recruiters vs. recruiting firms. As you look through recruiter-selection resources, such as online directories of recruiters, you may see recruiting firms and the names of individual recruiters within those firms. If you have the credentials and are looking for placement in the specialty–publishing or logistics, for example–contacting the individual may represent the wisest course. Keep in mind that while these special recruiters may look out for you and develop a personal relationship with you, you may never get into a database. If that specialty individual has no opening at the time, he or she may not bother to put you into the system for others in the firm. But to get a first chance at an available opportunity, you’re in better shape to go to the individual recruiter directly. If you’re trying to put yourself “on the shelf” for upcoming opportunities, you may be better off sending your material to the firm. Keep in mind also that the firm is always there–while individuals come and go.
- Geography. Obviously if you have specific geographic preferences or objectives, dealing with recruiters in that area is the way to go. Working with recruiters in the particular locale of desired positions also makes sense. Technology executives or professionals would gravitate toward recruiters in Silicon Valley or other high-tech locales; aerospace professionals toward Seattle, Southern California, or certain Midwestern cities. A composite broad-and-narrow approach often works best. Some recruiters suggest contacting one recruiter in each region–that way you get broader coverage while maintaining an exclusive approach to working in each region. But keep in mind that most recruiters, though located in a region, work nationally. They have positions available from other regions.
- Branch vs. central office. For large recruiting firms with branch offices, do you send resumes to each branch office or to a central headquarters location? Recruiters recommend sending to branch offices to get faster visibility with recruiters working actual positions. Those recruiters may not search central databases if they feel the right candidates are available locally. But the downside is that branch-office recruiters may not bother to put you in the central database. Again, a blended strategy may be best.
- Recruiter professionalism. Obviously, you want to select recruiters with a high degree of respect and professionalism in the business, those who attract the best clients and positions and give minimal surprises. Although ascertaining professionalism, particularly of individuals, is difficult, membership in Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) or International Association of Corporate and Professional Recruitment (IACPR) is a positive indicator. Word of mouth, previous placements, and time in the business all are factors. Once they establish contact, many candidates interview their recruiters to confirm this important criterion.
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