Why Executive Recruiters Do Not Return Calls

As I prepare for a speaking engagement set for tomorrow at the Military Officer’s Association of America (MOAA), I can’t help to ponder what I have been asked to speak about.  The agenda is for me to speak about best practices for working with retained and contingent recruiters. So, I could not help to revisit an earlier post regarding how to navigate the terrain of executive recruiters – whether retained or contingent.

You see, as the daughter of an Army officer, I personally witnessed my own father’s transition from a decorated military career to the commercial sector.  The process of understanding and navigating executive recruitment was daunting for him and his peers.  I hope, through my involvement with MOAA, that I give back in some way to their service.

I can’t help to wonder why individuals still want to know best practices for working with executive recruiters.  No matter how many times we try to figure it out, the bottom line is simple – they do not work for you.  Therefore, with all the insights and best practices shared be me or other thought leaders the issue does not change – they will not return your call unless they need you at the very moment they have the perfect fit that just happens, in some miraculous way, to fit your background.  They work for the company that is paying them – not you.  So, they do not have to return your call.

Before you begin your post-retirement job search, take time to self-assess or seek professional assessment services. This process will define your value proposition, strategy, and target market for the private sector. Without this exercise, you might lack clarity, value, and a strategy, which impedes a successful career transition from military service to the private sector. MOAA offers an experienced team of career-management consultants to help with this first step.

Solving The Mystery of Corporate Recruiting Models

Transitioning military officers often need help navigating the executive job-search industry. Most important, 95 percent of the search industry does not work on your behalf; they are compensated by the company, not you. Operating with any other mindset is a mistake. Executive recruiters will only invest their time in you when they have an immediate, open search to fill. There are three main recruiting models:

Retained. There are hundreds of retained search firms, ranging from large global firms to midsize and boutique. They operate as professional-services firms and typically are organized by industry and/ or function. Their fee is compensated completely by the company. Most search professionals handle six to 10 searches at one time, with a completion target of 90 to 120 days. Their fees are not based on success.

Contingent. These firms fill openings at lower- and mid-levels of the private sector and normally do not have exclusive listings. Their fee also is compensated by the company — but only if they place the successful candidate.

Hybrid. There is an array of new, disruptive models, which range from coaching services to those professing to handle the search on the executive’s behalf and those who represent the executive as their agent, similar to how sports agents represent an athlete. With these models, the recruiter typically is compensated by the candidate and a successful placement normally is not guaranteed.

There are important strategies and cautions when working with corporate recruiting models. Most important, it should not be your only strategy. It should be one prong of many in your search. With retained firms, identify those in your area of expertise and the partner(s) and associate(s) in that area. Through their website or LinkedIn profile, find their email address and send an introductory email stating your interest and value proposition, attach your résumé, and request a courtesy interview. After a few days, place a call requesting a meeting. If you don’t receive a response, then move on. Remember, they do not work for you. If a firm contacts you, then promptly respond. If you are a fit, you might become part of their search process — but only for that active search. Visit the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants website, www.aesc.org, regarding the “client bill of rights,” which outlines expectations of service during a search for client companies and job candidates.

Targeting Techniques

There are three market segments: companies, investors, and recruiters. Identify companies where you have an interest and where you deliver a value proposition. Locate contact details of the hiring executive for each company through the company website, LinkedIn, or your network; use these tools to find open positions, apply for them, and follow up with an email to the hiring executive, followed by a phone call. Use your network to help open doors. Ensure your email subject line references the targeted open position.

Investors also might be an important part of your search. Focus on mid-market, private-equity, and growth-equity firms and their portfolio companies. Replicating the process for companies, contact the partner investing in your area of expertise and follow the same research and outreach process.

Leveraging all of these prongs in an efficient, focused, and diligent manner will lead to success. Be patient, move on when it is not the right fit, and maintain self-confidence. And remember: If you do not ask, you do not get.


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