How To Work With An Executive Recruiter To Find Your Next Job

Do you know how to partner with executive recruiters to find the best next job for you? An essential career advancement skill is the ability to work well with a recruitment professional to ensure a win/win outcome for yourself, the recruiter, and your future employer. Dr. Dora Summers-Ewing is a management psychologist and former partner at Korn/Ferry International, one of the world’s premier providers of executive talent management solutions. Dr. Summers-Ewing knows the recruiting process inside and out. She shares with us how to work effectively with recruiters:

Many executive job searchers would love to enlist the assistance of a recruiter to help them find a new job but they aren’t sure how executive recruiters can help. What exactly does a recruiter do?

The short answer is that executive recruiters are employed by organizations to find the right talent for a given job role in a particular company. The long answer is that executive recruiters are experts at using their experience and industry backgrounds to match people to senior leadership roles, which include Directors, VP’s, C-suite Executives and Directors for Boards. They seek to understand the company’s strategy, business needs, and challenges and then create a Job Specification which captures all of this while detailing the role responsibilities and needed qualifications. Then they seek out talented people who fit this profile to see if they are interested in being considered for the given position.

How do executive recruiters find candidates?

Various sources. For example, the sources we use at Korn/Ferry are: 1. An internal Korn/Ferry database (ekornferry) which holds the resumes/files of people who have previously expressed interest in being considered for roles that match their qualifications, 2. Korn/Ferry’s proprietary knowledge management system which searches for people in like positions to the one being recruited for and obtains their contact information, 3. Referrals from other recruiters, 4. Self referrals from candidates, and 5. Referrals from other contacts. These are the most common sources for the major search firms (e.g., Korn/Ferry, Spencer Stuart, Russell Reynolds, and Heidrick & Struggles) but smaller recruiting companies don’t have sophisticated databases so they also place ads in online forums like Monster.com, and in newspapers. For highly specialized roles, they will also advertise in industry journals and through professional associations. (Note from VocationVillage.com: Since this interview was completed, LinkedIn.com has also become a major source of leads for recruiters seeking talent).

What are the biggest mistakes you see executives make when they attempt to partner effectively with a recruiter?

Often, execs cannot articulate exactly what they want in their next job role. If they don’t know, how will a recruiter know? For executives who want to connect with a recruiter for job search purposes, make it as easy and clear as possible for recruiters to understand what your background and experience are and what you are looking for in your next position. The second biggest mistake is a poorly written or out of date resume that doesn’t reflect well on the executive candidate’s qualifications, experience and most importantly, their accomplishments. Your resume has to market you effectively because this is the document that the employer reviews. Next, you should be able to do the “30 second elevator speech” which introduces who and what you are to another person. Think of this as your promotional announcement or mission statement. Finally, don’t give up on a recruiter just because they don’t call you back right away. Recruiters are very busy folks who travel quite often, so try, try again! They will also admire your persistence and motivation.

Any other advice you’d like to give executives contemplating a career move?

If you plan to move into a substantially different industry or role than the one you are in today, then be certain you have done your homework. By this I mean, make sure you have done many informational interviews to understand the pros and cons of the given role/company/industry you are considering and have a realistic job preview of what to expect. Next, make sure your resume accurately and vividly describes who you are and what you can bring to the party. If your career spans more than 20 years, focus on the most recent 10-15 years and be sure to describe your job roles, key accomplishments, and ability to learn quickly and incorporate this learning on a continual basis. You should also create tailored resumes to fit different situations, and you’ll likely need a bio as well. Always present yourself as the professional you are already or want to be! One more thing…..ask trusted and respected colleagues and friends for a referral to an executive recruiter.

This is such helpful, detailed career advice. Thank you!


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Dr. Summers-Ewing specializes in leadership assessment and executive coaching. She has assessed thousands of executives for specific searches and she has seen the entire recruiting process unfold from start to finish. Prior to joining Korn/Ferry, Dr. Summers-Ewing was the Director of a University Career Center and she says that her first passion remains career counseling.