NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Being recruited by a headhunter is like being given the keys to the executive washroom: You become a member of an elite club, and your life changes forever. Never again will you have to post your resume on Monster.com and wait by the phone hoping to be called in for an interview.
All of us have heard of headhunters – executive recruiters hired to find candidates without a company ever posting a job advertisement – but much fewer of us have ever gotten that call. It may be a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” kind of world, but that doesn’t mean you are powerless to get yourself on a headhunter’s radar and give your career a significant boost.
“I might get resumes from 60 people, narrow it down to 15 conversations, choose 10 for a followup, then send four or five to the company and they choose one,” explains Jennifer Johnson, who started her own eponymous executive search firm this year after 13 years in the field. “The client will choose one of the four people I put in front of them.”
With so much power resting in one pair of hands, headhunters take their jobs very seriously – and they don’t like being called “headhunters,” even though many know them only as such. From here on we’ll call them recruiters.
What is a headhunter – er, recruiter?
Recruiters are often specialists in a very well-defined niche, since matchmaking depends so much on personal networks. Johnson, for example, works in law-firm marketing, meaning she is hired to staff the marketing departments of law firms. That’s it. Tracy Baker, another recruiter, works at Careers for Women (and Men), Inc., which as the name indicates used to focus specifically on placing women, though the firm now serves plenty of men as well.
No matter what the niche or industry though, executive recruiting is not for everyone.
For the first few years of a person’s career, the job search is typically done through employment agencies and job boards either online or in newspapers. You find a listing, you send a curriculum vitae (or a resume) and appropriately-personalized cover letter to the listed contact, and you wait to hear back. It’s the way it’s been done for years, and for lower-level positions, it’s how it will continue to be done.
Executive recruiters come in when a company wants to find a person with a specific skill set and level of experience – usually a minimum of 10 years, says Johnson – for a management or senior-level position. The hiring company pays the recruiter to find someone that meets the requirements and matches the company’s culture.