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Now that the holidays are over, those inclined to consider a job change or to secure a job if they are out of work are ready to spring into action. Headhunters can be helpful in this effort. The trick is: How to get their attention?

A Christmas-day front-page story on executive search firms in the Los Angeles Times revealed just how influential headhunters are in mid-wifing executive change in Hollywood.

But what good are job recruiters if you can’t get them to return your call? It’s like that 1980’s ad campaign by one of the major banks: “We’ve Got the Money.” So what if they’ve got the money? How do you get it?

The Times article noted that some headhunters are ex-CIA agents. You don’t have to be a spy to obtain a boost from a recruiter, but sleuthing and amateur psychology skills don’t hurt.

If you want help, you’ve got to understand who will motivate headhunters to respond to your request for an interview.

Number one, their clients, past, present and future. A search firm’s clients are the companies that have retained its services to fill positions. The client companies pay the headhunter’s fees.

Second, executives who have been previously placed by the headhunter. All the better if the person placed in the position actually succeeded in the job, since a recruiter will often bask in the reflected glory–and may use the executive placement as a means to trumpet their competence and expertise while prospecting for new clients.

Third, and more difficult to uncover, are those sources who may have discreetly helped particular headhunters in the past in connection with various searches.

Yet another network to consider: a headhunter’s colleagues and friends. Media/entertainment headhunters will talk to you if their search firm colleagues make a special request, or if you’re recommended to them by anyone else a recruiter cares about, professional or otherwise.

For executives seeking a job change, the idea is to avoid lobbing unsolicited resumes at headhunters via email, fax or snailmail. The reality is, unsolicited resumes are dealt with the same way studios normally handle unsolicited screenplays: They are ignored.

Unless the source of the resume is known to the recruiter or is someone perceived to be helpful to the headhunter’s interests, your bio will be tossed or, at best, added to their database for future reference. Follow up calls will be for naught.

If all that sounds bleak, there is some hope for those willing to do some legwork.

Information on a headhunter’s past clients and placements is actually pretty accessible via the various recruiting firms’ Web sites. Another source is the Hunt-Scanlon Web site, which in terms of impact is to the search industry what Daily Variety is to the entertainment industry. Successful searches and placements are listed on the site, and its archives are helpful.

Remember, the client company, if it is one of the large search firms, conducts hunts in a number of industries. Clients in any industry can be helpful in raising your profile on a headhunter’s radar screen.

Optimally, you should have a search firm’s client or placement make a strategic introduction or recommendation to the desired headhunter with a request that you receive a courtesy interview. When in peace, prepare for war. The function of the courtesy interview is to provide you with a forum to favorably impress the recruiter. If and when that headhunter gets a search calling for your skill set, he or she will now more likely think of you.

As to how to conduct yourself during an interview – that will be the subject of a separate column. However, I can tell you something not to do – refer to yourself in the third person during the interview.

It actually happened to me when I was interviewing someone as a potential candidate for an executive search that I was conducting. The candidate’s name was John. It got so bad that I started referring to myself in the third person. Finally, I invited John and Steve to leave the meeting so that we could have some privacy. Guess what: Steve never called John again about another position.

Excelling at your job, doing your homework and strategic networking are the best way to get a headhunter’s attention.

Unger is a leading exec recruiter. At various times, he led the media and entertainment practices of the world’s three largest executive search firms. He can be reached at sa.unger@verizon.net.