A good recruiter in a search firm usually places only one or two people a month. This is the most important statistic for you to know about search firms. This information will affect your entire thought process about search firms.

by Kate Wendleton, Founder, The Five O'Clock Club

If you’ve been learning The Five O’Clock Club approach, you know by now that there are four ways to get meetings in your target market. You can get meetings through search firms, ads, networking and by contacting companies directly. A technique is working for you if it results in meetings.

"A gentleman left his resume. Apparently,he wanted to ensure it didn't get lost with the others."

"A gentleman left his resume. Apparently,he wanted to ensure it didn't get lost with the others."

Of these techniques for getting meetings in your target market, search firms and ads are the most passive because you have to wait for something to happen rather than making something happen. If you contact a search firm, you have to wait. If you answer an ad, you have to wait.

In addition, when you rely on search firms and ads, you automatically have competition. Those job openings were posted! Other people are applying for the same job. On the other hand, if you contact a company through networking or through direct contact, you have no competition and you can be proactive: you can do something to get in to see someone at this company.

It’s also good for you to know that in good times only 20% of all jobs are found through ads and search firms COMBINED!. In bad times, the number drops to about 6% for both methods put together.

So most people get meetings and jobs through the other techniques: direct contact and networking. At The Five O’Clock Club, you should consider all four techniques for getting interviews in your target market, and then notice which techniques are working for you.

“Working for you” means a technique results in meetings for you. Meetings are the only way to measure the effectiveness of a technique. You don’t measure the effectiveness of a technique by whether or not you got a job. You measure the effectiveness of a technique by whether or not it’s resulting in meetings.

So, if search firms and ads are passive techniques, and if only 6% of all jobs are found through search firms and ads these days, how can you better understand how search firms work?

How Search Firms Work

There are good search firms and there are bad search firms. There are good recruiters and there are bad recruiters. We’re going to tell you mostly about the bad search firms and the bad recruiters because if we only told you about the good ones, that’s not going to be helpful. You don’t need to be warned about the good ones. You need to be protected against the bad ones.

There are two kinds of search firms in general, although the line has blurred in recent years. First, there are contingency search firms. These search firms are paid by the employer when they actually make a placement. An employer might give the job opening to four, five, six contingency firms and they’re all fighting to find people and put them in for interviews. When someone is hired, the firm that did the placement gets the fee, and the others get nothing.

Retainer search firms are also paid by the employer that has a job opening to fill. But the retainer search firm has an exclusive – no other firm gets the assignment -- and the retainer search firm gets paid whether they fill the job themselves or not. Employers use retainer firms usually when they need to fill more senior positions or very difficult-to-fill positions. The retainer search firm gets the fee regardless of who gets hired or how that person got hired. Even if the company finds the person themselves, they pay the fee to the retainer search firm.

A good recruiter in a search firm usually places only one or two people a month. This is the most important statistic for you to know about search firms. This information will affect your entire thought process about search firms. Recruiters needs to place one person a month to pay their mortgage! Recruiters who deal with junior-level people need to place two people a month to pay their mortgages. Recruiters who deal with the very highest-level people may place only six people a year! Don’t go on until you’re sure you have fully absorbed this important point.

So search firms are not handling as many jobs as you think and your whole life does not depend on this search person.  It’s actually very unlikely that a search firm and a specific recruiter will be able to place you. Should you talk to search firms? Sure, you should talk to search firms. Should you be afraid of them or count on them? Not a chance. There’s no reason to be afraid of search firms. They have actually very little power, and don’t count on them because they have very few actual jobs they’re trying to fill.

So this should put it in perspective for you. Now here are a few more pieces of information. Try to absorb them all. For a

"Your resume looks good. However I'd limit it from 17,000 pages to three from now on."

"Your resume looks good. However I'd limit it from 17,000 pages to three from now on."

recruiter in a search firm, it’s harder to find positions to fill than it is to find people to fill them. The search firm is paid by the company, not by you. They don’t represent you; they represent the employer. The employer is the one they want to please. And yes, there are nice recruiters who really truly want to help people, but that’s just because they’re nice people.

Now, let's think even harder.  Why is it that a search firm might not put you in for a job even though you are the perfect person for that job? This happens a lot.

So let me give you an example. Jim, a Five O'Clock Club member, was the best networker in the club. I had never seen anybody before or since who could network into so many companies. Jim was marketing guy, so he was a great marketer. During the course of his search, he uncovered fifty-two job openings. Of those, forty-eight were being handled by retainer search firms. During the course of his networking, he had already contacted every search firm that was appropriate. Yet, those search firms didn’t tell him about the openings. However, when he networked into or directly contacted the hiring companies themselves, and got in to see the right person in each of those companies, the hiring managers said, “We really like you, and we have a job that’s out for search right now. Here’s the name of the search firm. Call them and use my name.”

Jim had already contacted those firms, and they told him nothing about those openings. Now, Jim contacted the search firms again saying the hiring manager sent him to discuss a certain opening. It took all I had to urge Jim to be nice to the search firms when he finally met with them. So Jim calmed down. The search firms interviewed him for the jobs the companies told him about, and Jim ended up with five offers.

This has happened to lots of Five O’Clock Clubbers who have met with search firms, and were told they were absolutely inappropriate for the job or that there were no jobs for them. Then the Five O’Clock Clubber contacted the company directly and got in. Many Five O’Clock Clubbers got jobs after they had been rejected by a search firm.

Now why is it that a retainer search firm might not put you in for a job even though you may be the perfect person for the job?

Remember, search firms are hired by the organization to go out and “search.” That’s why they’re called “headhunters.” They’re hunting for “heads.” They’re hunting for the right people for the job. So say that a retainer search firm has already put in three candidates. They say to their client organization, “I’ve done a thorough search and these are the three best candidates, or the five best candidates for the job." They normally sequence them so the first person they put in is not the best and the second one’s not the best, maybe the third one is the best.  They have got the whole thing engineered. And then you come along. They’re not going to say to the employer, “Oops, by the way Mr. hiring manager, I’ve found another person for you.” That won’t make them look good. They might not put you in if they think it might make them look bad or if they think it’s too far along in the process and they don’t want you to muck things up.

Or it may also happen that in a larger search firm there’s a recruiter, only one recruiter, who is handling that search. When you contact that search firm, you contact a different recruiter in the firm. Perhaps the one you’re talking to doesn’t refer you over to the recruiter who is handling that particular search. It’s just too much trouble. So they tell you that they don’t have any openings right now that are appropriate for you.

Why is it that a search firm may tell you that a company is not interested in you when they haven’t even told the company about you? It happens all the time.

A retainer search firm says to you, “I’ve shown your paperwork to the organization, but the organization said they’re not interested in you.” Then you contact the organization directly because the search firm has already rejected you -- and you find that the organization has never even heard about you! It’s because the search firm was pushing somebody else. They don’t even want to show your resume to the organization. They have it lined up just nicely without you. They just don’t want to tell you that they’re not putting you in for the job. You cannot believe everything they tell you. Should you ask them? Sure, go ahead and ask them, but take it with a grain of salt.

This also means that if the search firm says an organization is not interested in you, and that you will not even be considered for the job, this now gives you license to go contact the organization on your own. Once a search firm has rejected you, contact the employer yourself. However, don’t mention that you heard about them from a search firm. Instead, read in detail our chapter titled, “What To Do When You Know There’s a Job Opening.”

Why might a search firm say you’re a strong candidate for the job when they really see you as weak?

Because they don’t want you to drop out of the picture. If you drop out of the picture, they have to dig up somebody else.

Here’s another point. Once you have met with the hiring team at the employer’s organization, follow-up directly with the hiring organization, not with the search firm. When we talk about following up after a job interview, we mean the follow upyou do with the organization itself, not follow up with the search firm.

Some search firms get nervous when Five O’Clock Clubbers say, “I’m writing a proposal for the employer.” Recruiters may be afraid you’re going to mess it up. But Five O’Clock Clubbers are actually better at this process than most search firm recruiters are. So don’t worry the recruiter about the follow-up you’re doing. Ask your small group for advice on this.

Recruiters are paid between 25 to 33 percent of your first year’s salary to place you. Theoretically, the more money you make, the more money they make.

So why is it that search firms are sometimes not interested in getting you the highest salary possible?

Remember: recruiters make one or two placements per month. They’d rather have one placement at a lower salary and get a lower fee than make no placements that month. It’s like a real estate agent who just wants to move that house. Better to sell it at a lower price and get a lower commission, than get no commission at all.

What’s more, they can brag to the employer what a great job they did: “Have I found a bargain for you!” Remember, they work for the hiring organization, not for you!

I’ve told you a lot of negative things, yet, some of my best friends are recruiters. Many recruiters are lovely people who went into that field because they wanted to help people. Still, remember that being a recruiter is basically a sales position. And it’s my job to warn you about the bad guys, not to tell you how lovely some of the good guys are, and they are. Recruiters are trying to match people up. It is like a real estate agent who is trying to sell a house or is trying to get the seller and buyer together. The realtor is trying to get them to come together on price and the realtor wants to stay in the middle.

If you’re trying to change careers, chances are a search firm cannot help you. It’s not their job to go out and reposition you and market you to the right people. That’s your job.

Let’s examine how you can find headhunters. One of the best ways is through networking.

§  When you’re out there networking, you can increase your chances of finding good search firms by asking people, “Are there any search firms you used or that you think I should talk to?”

§  Be suspicious of ads in the newspaper. Sometimes some contingency firms will put ads in the paper even when they have no openings because they need to get in a fresh batch of resumes. The people they have on file have already gotten jobs. So you call about an ad you’ve seen and they say, “That job is filled; let me talk to you about other jobs that may be right for you.” You can’t trust that every ad you see in the paper represents a real job.

§  So, think about that the next time you see an ad in the paper or on the Internet and you think that job is too good to be true. It probably isn’t true. They placed a great, generalized ad to pull in a lot of resumes.

§  On the other hand, ads do list search firms that handle the kinds of jobs you’re looking for. So contact those search firms, but not necessarily for the job they have listed in the paper.

§  Another way is through the Directory of Executive Recruiters, put out by Kennedy Publications. It’s terrific. You’ll find it at just about every library. It has the name of every search firm, contingency as well as retainer, and a list of their specialties by geographic area. However, as you’ll hear later, we don’t think you should contact contingency search firms blindly because bad things could happen. Instead, have a targeted list of search firms to contact rather than giving your resume to everybody.

§  Now, if you’re leaving a company because of a downsizing, ask your human resources department which search firms they use. If you’re staying in the same field, contact the search firm that your prior employer used. That will give you some clout because you can say that ”Jane Doe in Human Resources at Databank, Inc. suggested I call you.” Since Databank, Inc. pays the search firm for placements, their search firm is likely to try to help you.

Remember, we are reluctant to encourage you to do a mass mailing to contingency search firms, because there are good and bad search firms.  Search firms can help you, but some can actually harm you. For example, a firm, even one that’s normally a retainer search firm, could say to you: “Oh, don’t worry about your search. I’ll take care of it for you.”  Then they blanket the market with your resume – or contact companies you would have contacted on your own anyway. Now the hiring company cannot consider ever hiring you unless they want to pay a fee. When you contact the company, they say that they already have your resume from a search firm, and “We don’t want to pay a fee.” Therefore the search firm becomes your competitor. They got into the company before you did.

Contact companies on your own. If the search firm offers to market you around, I know it sounds like a gift. Don’t do it! Market yourself around. If employers don’t want to pay a fee, they will not even touch you.

§  Make sure to tell the search firm, “Don’t send out my resume without calling me first.”  Make sure you keep control of where your resume is going. Don’t let them mass-mail your resume. They may send it to your present employer by accident! They may not even be paying attention to what they’re doing.

§  One of our coaches used to be in human resources. She tells about the time she received resumes from four different search firms on the same day for the same person.  The resume looked great, but she wasn’t going to touch this person because then she’d get in the middle of a fight of who should get the fee if she ever hired this person. Find out what a search firm plans to do with your resume.

The recruiter may be on your side or they may not be. They may be trying to promote another candidate and get information from you so they can use it against you.  Be careful. Tell the search person enough so they put you in for the interview. Then deal with the hiring organization. Be savvy.

Some job hunters are afraid if they turn down a job offer they received through a search firm, they’ll never be considered for another job again from that search firm. Will the search firm refuse to work for you?

No. You’ve proven yourself to be marketable; you’re a person who can land jobs. Recruiters have a hard time finding people that can actually get offers so if you got one offer, you can probably get another one. Now, if you turn down too many offers, then it’s not worth their time.

Why is it an unethical contingency recruiter may call you after a six months on the job, and try to move you to another company? Or the recruiter may call you after you've been in the job just one month, find out you're unhappy, and urge you to give it a try--"just for six months. If you're still unhappy, I'll try to help you find another position."Why is that? Because the fee agreements often state that you need to be in the job for six months. If the recruiter moves you again, they can get another fee.

A contingency recruiter asks you where else you've interviewed and who have you talked to there. They say, "I really need to know the kind of positions you're looking for. And who did you talk to there? I want to know where you're seeing people so I don't send your resume to the same places.” Now, why do they want to know where you’re interviewing? Because recruiters need to find job openings. As soon as you leave their office, an unethical recruiter could be on the phone to that hiring manager telling them that they have the ideal candidate for the job—and it won't be you! They'll put one of their other clients in for the job so they can get the fee.

Retainer firms work differently and you’re not as much at risk by answering this question. However, if a retainer firm fills jobs for your present employer, they cannot help you to leave your present employer! In fact, some major organizations will actually put a search firm on retainer just so that the search firm cannot recruit from them.

Try to meet directly with the recruiter. Make sure this recruiter is someone you want to represent you. Any recruiter who doesn’t want you to be part of the follow-up process or the salary negotiation process is doing you a disservice.

So, have I scared you away from search firms? I didn’t mean to. I just want you to be on your guard against those firms that may use tactics that are not in your best interests. When times are good, search firms may be less likely to resort to these tactics. But when times get tough and business is more difficult to come by, firms are more likely to do things that you need to guard against. Should you use search firms? Absolutely! Should you rely on them? Absolutely not!

Now that you’re ready to use search firms, here’s how to contact them. Let the search firm know how marketable you are—in your cover letter:

Paragraph 1 might say: "In the course of your search assignments, you may need a ... List a few job titles, industries and geographic areas. They need to know your targets, so tell them up front. They also need to know your level, so you have to give them a salary range, a very broad one. If you were referred in by someone, be sure to use that person's name up front.

When you write a great cover letter, which has bulleted accomplishments, the recruiter can then pick up the phone and use your cover letter to sell you to a company. The recruiter could say, “Gee, Joe, I’ve got right here a person who has increased sales 40% at his last firm, and trained a sales force of 20 people, and a bunch of other accomplishments I think you’re looking for.” Help the recruiter to help you.

Paragraph 2: Your summary

Paragraph 3: Your bulleted accomplishments,

Paragraph 4: the close.

If the recruiter wants you to redo your resume, do it if you think you’re very interested in the job they’re talking to you about. But some search firm people become very idiosyncratic and narrow. They want the resume done a certain way. It worked for them, but they think it won’t work for anyone else. Just change your resume for them, but in general, don't change your resume for the rest of your search just because of what a recruiter wanted. You'll go crazy trying to satisfy all of them. If you're insecure you may be willing to listen to any "experts" who are dealing with only 3% to 10% of the job market. Instead, listen to your Five O'Clock Club small group.

Don’t bother a recruiter with follow-up phone calls. They get thousands of resumes. If, however, you can help them because you know lots of people, then you can follow up with a call because you have something to offer them. Generally, the time to develop a relationship with a search firm is not when you’re job hunting, but helping them when you’re employed.

So, finally – do use search firms, but be sensible. Remember search firms do not hold your future in their hands. Use them, but do your own search and you’ll feel more powerful and be more in control of your own destiny.

And now you know a lot more about search firms and ads than you did before.

Take good care of yourself and your career. Good luck to you, and God bless.

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