What You Need to Know about Search Firms

by | Dec 12, 2019 | Career Transition, Future of work, HR, Networking | 0 comments

We often meet senior executives who assume they will be showered with attention by recruiters when they enter a career transition. After 40 years of executive coaching, training, and corporate management, we know better.

Executives from larger companies who have reached the C-Suite have interacted with a number of search firms – either as potential candidates or as customers that retain search firms for an outside search. That’s a start, but the reality is that unless you’ve kept in regular touch with the recruiter – and frankly, how many do? – you will never be top of mind. Our clients are skeptical when we warn them about this lack of interest, but they soon learn this hard lesson.

It is Just Business

Executives often confuse a business relationship with a headhunter as friendship. It isn’t. As hard as that is to accept, it isn’t personal. They are in business to put the right person in a role, collect the fee, and move on to the next assignment. That is how they are compensated. Search executives who are willing to take time to talk with you when you are in transition are rare. (They are the good guys.) But, if they did that for everyone, they wouldn’t have time to do their job.

Although search is one channel, we advise our clients to network aggressively on their own. To read an excellent piece about the value of networking, I encourage you to check out this article written by our client, Jeff Patuto, whose story was published by the highly respected CFO magazine.

You Must Do the Work

Engagement with search firms requires significantly more work than most of our clients realize. “I talked to a headhunter a few weeks after I got out and so I’m good there. Their firm knows me and I’m in their database. The ball is now in their court and they will be approaching me with offers.”

It doesn’t work that way. You have to stay in touch with recruiters on a regular basis – we recommend every six to eight weeks – so that you are top-of-mind. Here is a template that should be customized when touching base with a recruiter:

“Dear (search executive)

I hope that things are going well for you and that you are taking some time to enjoy these welcome summer days.

I wanted to update you on my search. As you may remember, my CFO background includes Fortune 50 corporations, mid-cap private companies, and entrepreneurial ventures. I have been involved in corporate strategy, risk management, treasury, and M&A in manufacturing, business services, technology, chemicals, electronics and consumer products. I have been an advisor and Board member in public-private partnerships, PE portfolio companies, high-tech firms, professional associations and NFP.

I’m targeting a CFO role in a $500M to $3B public or private company in manufacturing or business services. I anticipate a $275K base salary with market-competitive bonus and equity or long-term incentives.

For your convenience, my resume can be downloaded using either of the following links:

I appreciate your help and look forward to hearing from you when you are engaged in relevant searches.



Avoid This Fatal Mistake

It is crucial that you reach out to the right recruiters. We’ve seen candidates punished by search firms when they have made numerous inappropriate queries.  Recruiters consider these communications to be a waste of their time.

We once had a CFO who wanted to send his resume to a search firm that specialized in human resources because he “knew someone”. He would have looked like a novice. That is why we leverage our very precise (and expensive) databases to match our clients with the right recruiters and the right firms so they appear both informed and knowledgeable.

Don’t Get Blocked

When a recruiter contacts one of our highly attractive clients and ultimately puts him/her in front of a potential employer, the recruiter has an ethical obligation to “block” the candidate from further introductions. No search executive wants to present a single candidate to multiple companies at the same time.

If an executive and a hiring company don’t come to terms, the recruiter is supposed to “unblock” the executive in the database so he/she is free for future interviews. So many executives just assume this happens automatically, but recruiters are human and sometimes forget to unblock the candidate. This happens more often than anyone would like. That is why we coach clients to follow up with the search person at the conclusion of the process.  This allows the client to ask for feedback and then at the end of that conversation, to confirm he/he has been cleared of any blocks.

These are just a few tips for C-Suite executives on how to work most effectively with search firms. There are many others. Working closely with a transition advisor who knows the ropes can make all the difference in terms of how long it takes to find the next role and the compensation package you negotiate.