The phone rings at 4:30 in the afternoon, and it’s Tom Headhunter, dropping upon you a tempting position that’s a “must” career move. At the end of 10 minutes of talk, you know little of the position and nothing of Tom Headhunter. What do you do? How do you decide if this position–and this person–are worth doing business with?
It’s hard, because you don’t want to be taken for a ride into a vast unknown, risking your confidentiality and relationship with your current employer–and perhaps other executive-search consultants. Just the same, you don’t want to hastily turn Mr. Headhunter aside. You could gain some value in the position and the potential relationship. When these cold calls come in, most executive search consultants advise the following:
First Things First – Interview the Executive Search Consultant
Interviewing the executive-search consultant may sound like an odd way to turn the tables, but start with a few qualifying questions to the consultant before moving on. Find out:
- Who the executive search consultant is/what firm he or she represents. An executive-search consultant should disclose his or her firm and whether it’s a contingency or retainer firm. Be skeptical if the consultant won’t disclose. Don’t necessarily expect him or her to identify the client hiring firm, however. While you may get that information from the consultant, you often won’t as he or she has been instructed not to divulge.
- Background in field. Ask the recruiter how long he or she has been in the firm and industry, what types of placements and clients he or she handles. Specific names of client employers are better, but you may not get them. Just as the executive-search consultant will want to know more about you, you should know more about the headhunter before proceeding. Look for competence, professionalism, and experience in the field of specialty. Avoid the used-car salesman type who tries to pry you loose to nab a quick commission.
- Learn the executive -search consultant’s process. Ask a few questions about how he or she conducts business.
Don’t Commit to Anything
Be careful not to go too far down the path in the first call. Yes, an executive-search consultant’s time is important, and if you’re talking to one of the industry top names on the phone, you could benefit if you keep going. Preferably, though, gather some information, start the relationship, and then step aside. “I’ll get back to you” is a good line to keep in mind.
What do you do before getting back to the executive-search consultant?
- First, think through everything that was said. Does the position really sound like a fit for your experiences and objectives? Most people get excited, even emotional, at the prospect of an employer wanting them. Let this emotion subside and discern whether you really want to be wanted in this situation. At the risk of a tenuous analogy, think through your dating experiences.
- Do your own research. Look up the recruiting firm online. Does the firm indeed specialize in your industry? Has it been around for a while, and is it a member of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants or other accrediting organizations? Look at its Web site. What types of positions does it deal with? What type of clients, if it discloses? Does the site and its message convey a professional tone and manner, or is it sales-y?
- Then, use your network. Talk to peers, colleagues, and executive search consultants if you know any. Talk to people outside your organization but in your industry. Have they heard of or dealt with the executive search consultant or his or her firm? Do your contacts know what kind of clients this executive search consultant typically works with?
After satisfying yourself with these answers, call the executive-search consultant back. Getting comfortable with the consultant may take you minutes or days, but doing so is important. Whether you initiate an executive-search consultant relationship this way or by contacting the consultant initially, the next step is to work with that executive -search consultant toward a productive and effective job placement.
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