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How To Build Relationships with Executive Search Firms

By Jennifer Silvester

A black background with a white circle in the middle.  How To Build Relationships with Executive Search Firms

Executive-level business professionals may expect a more straightforward job search based on their set of skills and experience. Still, it can be challenging to make a career move or maximize career potential at this level without the assistance of an executive search firm. Senior-level positions are often less likely to be advertised publicly and to be handled in-house through a Human Resources (HR) department. Many companies use executive search firms for hiring executive roles.

In addition, an executive candidate’s high level of knowledge, experience, and skills are often specialized and unique, making it more difficult to find a position that is the right match. These hurdles only emphasize the need to work with an executive search firm for access to C-suite roles and guidance on career advancement opportunities that align with your professional experience, values, and goals.

If you have little to no familiarity with an executive search firm, forming a relationship with one may seem like an intimidating task. However, acquiring the skills needed to identify and establish a strong connection with legitimate search firms and consultants will not only help you find a well-fitting job in the immediate future but also help you to continue to advance your career for years to come.

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How to Recognize a Quality Executive Search Firm 

Expanding your networking approach to include developing relationships with executive consultants and search firms allows you to build a rapport with the firm before you’re actively looking for a job. This step is critical, as search firms will represent your voice in the job market, which relies on establishing mutual trust and offering insight on industry data or career moves to candidates, meaning your future success is dependent on a well-built connection early on.

Before associating with any executive search firm or consultant, conduct research to ensure the firm is legitimate, trustworthy, transparent, and operating with the highest standards to guarantee your information is kept confidential and only disclosed to a client with your permission. Verify if the executive search firm is vetted by the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC), which sets standards for a code of professional practice for members and includes a candidate Bill of Rights on disclosure, exclusivity, and other protections.

If you’re already in contact with a consultant, learn whether they work for a contingent recruiting firm versus an executive search firm. Contingency firms are most often used for middle-level positions and are focused on filling as many positions as possible, unlike executive search firms which are hired by organizations to fill senior-level and board positions, are highly knowledgeable about their client and industry, and take the time to develop a long-term relationship with candidates. Ensure you’re only communicating with executive search firms if you’re in a C-suite position.


The Importance of an Executive Search Firm with Matching Expertise

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While you may think connecting with a high number of executive search firms will provide faster results, quality is preferable to quantity. Investing in a strong relationship with several firms having expertise in your field offers you more short and long-term benefits. Often smaller boutique firms specialize in serving particular industries, functions, or regions, whereas larger executive search firms may have a broader focus overall and more specialized departments or consultants.

Developing a relationship with a firm that has functional or industry expertise matching your career needs is vital, as they will have deep knowledge and understanding of their clients and the leadership positions they’re looking to fill and credibility and connections within your chosen field, which is ideal for matching candidates with roles, offering guidance, knowing if company culture aligns with your values, or providing insight on how you might progress in the position or industry over time.

How to Build a Relationship with Executive Search Firms

After selecting a few ideal executive search firms, initiate contact by sending a clear and concise email or a message on an online networking platform, such as LinkedIn, with your resume, CV, or professional profile attached. Consider this correspondence your professional introduction, offering your experience and communicating your reasons for contacting the firm through a personal value proposition. This message aims to get a consultant’s attention by offering relevant information so that they feel compelled to contact you; however, you must be honest and authentic in your approach.

If a firm believes you are a good candidate for a position they’re working to hire for, they may contact you immediately, but if you do not align with their search criteria, their response may be slower. Be patient, and offer consultants an in-person or virtual meeting in your follow-up message to provide them with more information through a personal connection.

A black background with a white circle in the middle.Whenever an executive search firm reaches out to you, it’s in your favor to respond promptly. Make yourself available, be prepared to answer their questions, and ask your own about their policies or search process to ensure you’re building a relationship based on mutual value. Always be transparent with the executive search firm or consultant about your skills, experience, and what you’re looking for in a position.

Since the firm will evaluate you and your professional background, having a professional online presence, publishing thought leadership materials, sitting on panels or boards, and giving presentations or speeches might help you stand out from the pool of candidates trying to build a relationship with search firms. Consider establishing mutual visibility by following and interacting with firms on social media sites, introducing yourself at industry events they attend, or joining a professional networking group where they are a member.

Offering an executive search firm valuable information and insights into your role, industry, or function, even when you’re not interested in a position, keeps the communication worthwhile and demonstrates your helpfulness and mutual respect. Maintaining a close connection with an executive search firm, whether you’re an active or hidden candidate, also keeps you on their radar, leaving the door open for current and future opportunities.


Use an Executive Search Firm as a Resource During Your Job Search

Searching for a new position is a stressful, time-consuming process, and finding a job that aligns with your experience, skills, and values can take months, with an average unemployment duration of 21.5 weeks in the U.S. as of October 2022. An executive role can take even longer to find due to senior candidates having more specialized knowledge and skills, which aren’t as easy a match for many positions.

Using your relationship with an executive search firm as a resource in your job hunt eases the sole responsibility and burden of finding the proper role, as they can develop an effective search strategy, have access to hidden positions within your job market, utilize their connections within the industry and their clients, and help you stand out in a competitive pool of candidates and guide you through an otherwise complex process.