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Finding a job at an executive level can be a lengthy process. As you get more advanced in your career, there are fewer and fewer opportunities likely to be the ideal fit for you, much less a position that meets your role, salary and company culture requirements. The current economic climate has also made the competition more fierce.
As an executive search professional, I know from experience that such a task can take a year or more, and most of the attractive jobs are part of the “hidden job market” and rarely ever make it to job postings or boards.
Given that about 80% of jobs are found through networking, your best chances for success are via a referral, either a trusted colleague, friend or search professional that the hiring manager knows. I speak to multiple candidates in search of a job, and while I don’t get paid to connect with those looking to get hired (I get paid when my clients, the companies, hire me to find a candidate), I seek to help and support as many people as possible.
Before targeting recruiters, one needs to understand the two main types of executive search firms and recruiters. There are retained and contingency firms and recruiters.
- Contingency recruiters are paid after the search process when the client decides to hire one of the recruiter’s proposed candidates.
- Retained executive search firms charge a consulting fee — paid as a monthly retainer or a percentage of the candidate’s salary.
I work with a retained search firm, and we are hired by companies, our clients, who pay us to find candidates. We do not get paid by referring a candidate to a company we are not retained by.
Below are nine tips to help candidates land a job by connecting with an executive search consultant without having to pay for anything.
1. Target your search firm consultant — but do your homework first
Understand the search firm you are targeting and what practice areas they are known for and specialize in. Then, look for individuals within the firm that specialize in areas that you are an expert at or interested in. Put yourself in my shoes — I focus on people that will best fit a search I’m working on.
If you’re focused on a general or functional area I work on, I will want to know about you, irrespective. I always like to get to know great people, and as such, I will put your resume in our database. I also recommend adding your resume to Blue Steps Database, the largest and most diverse global community that offers C-suite executives mentoring, resources and visibility to the top retained search firms. You want to be visible to those. There are different levels of fee-based membership for this, so the recommendation is optional.
2. Have your LinkedIn, biography and resume up to date before your outreach
You’ve got one shot at a first impression to reach out to a recruiter, so ensure that your resume, bio and Linkedin profile are fully updated. Over 75% of recruiters rely on LinkedIn. We have resumes flying by our desks all day, and this is your first shot to stand out. If your first outreach isn’t appealing to a recruiter, your bio isn’t updated, or your social media profile shines some negative light, they likely won’t spend more time on you.
Related: Avoid These 8 Mistakes Leaders Make on LinkedIn Every Day
3. Get right to your accomplishments from the initial outreach
One value I teach to my kids and colleagues is to “spread sunshine,” meaning I’m always happy to help others where I can. But note I’ll likely only give your email 60 seconds, so get to your accomplishments right from the start. Rather than begin with your bio, take me through a case history.
Help me understand how you have been a benefit to anyone you have worked with. The STAR method is a good place to start. This is the Situation, Task, Action and Result. For example, explain to me that the company’s numbers were down and they needed a reboot. They brought you on as a Chief Marketing Officer, you rebuilt the team, put people in better roles, and after six months, the company’s numbers were up, or more specifically, the company was generating $20M in revenue per month, up from an average of $14M per month. I’m most interested in the results, and so are the companies you are targeting.
4. Note soft skills and people skills on your resume and email
In today’s business environment, soft and interpersonal skills are in high demand, particularly at the C-suite level and in leadership positions. Recruiters and hiring managers are really interested in communication, leadership, teamwork, interpersonal skills and how you adapt.
At Boyden, we look for what we call Human-Centered Leadership – we want candidates and leaders to embrace flexibility, empathy and especially diversity and inclusivity.
5. Be specific on your willingness to travel, work a hybrid model or be in an office
More companies are looking for in-office roles or hybrid instead of strictly work-from-home. If you don’t live in the city where the companies you are targeting are based, note your willingness to travel or move closer to the headquarters or satellite offices.
Related: Hybrid, Remote Work or Flexible Hours? Know Your Team and What Motivates Them
6. Increase your visibility
Alongside having your LinkedIn updated, increase your visibility in target communities by looking for or sharing recent speaking opportunities, podcast appearances, published articles or major awards and recognitions. Highlighting accomplishments increases your odds of being noticed and keeps you current with your target recruiters and companies.
If I see a candidate with a skill set that matches a search I’m working on, that can get results, has excellent soft skills and is keeping current, they will stand out.
7. Network, Network, Network!
But do it with intention and purpose. Networking doesn’t mean just talking to everyone you know and meeting as many people as possible. Rather, connect with colleagues, classmates and friends that can help get you referred. Use Linkedin to your advantage by searching for mutual connections and people that can be a great introduction point or reference. Start with the network you know, and dig a little deeper into their networks to see where they might have opportunities.
Related: 8 Tips Introverts Need to Network Effectively in 2023
8. Be specific and simple
When targeting recruiters and companies, keep the emails short and specifically explain what you are best at and how you have excelled at your current and past positions. Be simple (think the K.I.S.S. philosophy) by including your key value points, and do so quickly. If I’m reading your email, I’ll give you 60 seconds to 2 minutes, so ensure you hit those points clearly and as concisely as possible.
9. Be professional and courteous
It may sound obvious, but this is not the place or time for slang, social media acronyms, nor poor grammar. As with any professional email, check for spelling, discrepancies and syntax errors. Ensure you say “thank you,” and most importantly, check the spelling of the name of the hiring manager you are contacting. I cannot tell you how many times my name has been botched! While I do forgive, getting the name wrong doesn’t leave the best impression.
Looking for and finding a job that meets your skill set, interest, salary requirements and location can be a challenge. Take confidence in that companies are on the hunt for top talent, and many open positions are out there. The key lies in your ability to know how to network, best present yourself and develop relationships. You can even frame your follow-up as networking. For example, mention a mutual connection to your target. I love relationships and connecting with people, and if you mention a mutual contact that we share, I’ll be more inclined to pick up the phone and ask my contact about you. Keep your optimism high as you search for a job, be authentic and make yourself memorable without trying too hard. Using these tips, you should be salient.