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Career Development Tip – Make Time for Executive Search Firm Calls!

I was fortunate in my corporate career to have retained executive search firms call me many times as a potential candidate, client and source. It afforded me the opportunity to hear what was going on in the talent marketplace, build relationships with search consultants who I respected, and, in several cases, help my colleagues’ careers by connecting them with these firms.

So now, having joined the executive search world as a search consultant two years ago, I’m often asked this question by leaders from all different industries and functions:

“How can I build relationships with retained executive search consultants that have contacted me?”

When I ask these leaders what their interactions with search consultants are like, I tend to cringe when I hear their responses. Answers range from:

“I didn’t have time to call them back,” or, “I wasn’t really looking to make a move, so it was a short 30-second call,” or, “I said I wasn’t interested and couldn’t think of any other people in my network or talented people in transition to pass along.”

And, of course, the one that really hurts:

“I never dreamed I would be affected by a merger, reorganization, or downsizing, so I didn’t think I needed to build relationships with executive search consultants.” Ouch! (As a very experienced search consultant in our firm has often said – don’t be one of those leaders who only reach out to search consultants once they’ve been affected).

Clearly the market for top talent is red hot. And, yes, a large piece of your career development should be internally focused on the talent management and leadership development programs your company has in place. However, keeping your eyes and ears closed to the external world is a big mistake. Developing relationships with retained executive search firms consistently should always be a part of your career strategy.

Having said that, here are several suggestions that can strengthen your connections with executive search firms of all sizes. These tips might sound simple, but trust me – after the comments I’ve heard from very talented leaders – they might just help you land the right future opportunity.

  • If called, take the call. If you don’t have time to speak with them, see if you can arrange a time to talk with them in the near future – even if it has to be early morning, in the evening or in some cases, on the weekend. (Yes, search consultants work 24/7 as well).
  •  If you receive a voicemail, return the call within 48 hours. If the search consultant leaves a message regarding a specific search you’re not interested in, think of others in your network that might be helpful to the firm and call them back. Even if it means you have to leave them a voicemail with the information, your message will be greatly appreciated and remembered.
  • Take a few moments and check the search firms’ website or LinkedIn to find out more about the firm and the search consultant’s background. This enables you to have a conversation that’s more than a few seconds, as you can speak with them about their practice specialty, companies/industries they’ve been in, or even Boards/activities they’re engaged with.
  • Keep a list of talented people in your network. When you receive a call about an opportunity that’s not right for you, search firms really appreciate it when you can help them find other talented people who may be a better fit.
  • If asked to follow up by forwarding your CV/resume, don’t delay. After the call, you most likely will get caught up at work and/or travel – time gets away from all of us at some point. However, the sooner you follow up, the higher the likelihood the firm will consider you as a serious potential candidate and a great contact for the future.
  • It’s ok to update the search consultant, even if you’re not engaged as a candidate on a search. Sending occasional emails with updates on your status, info in the news about you, awards, speaking engagements, etc. is a positive way to stay connected and keep them informed.

So – as you’re off and running in 2018, make sure you take time for your own career. They could be folks with the large firms, (often referred to as the SHREKs*) or the many great medium and small boutique, retained search firms.

And, always remember – return those calls from executive search firms! It could be the career game-changer call that leads you to your next great leadership role!!!

*SHREK Firms – SpencerStuart; Heidrick & Struggles; Russell Reynolds; Egon Zehnder; and KornFerry

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