Questions?  Call us now at 1-888-564-4448 (24/7)     Resume Samples      Resume Critique       Get Started      Free Resources
For additional tools and resources, please visit our NEW Resource Page





Nearly all executive search firms will operate on both a retained and contingency basis when given the opportunity. Contingency-based searches operate in much the same manner as they do in an employment agency, although the focus is usually on higher-level and higher-paying positions. When working on a retained basis, however, the search firm is “hired” by a company to conduct an exclusive search in order to find a select group of candidates that are qualified to fill a specific opening. In most cases, a retained search is reserved for more important key positions within fairly large companies. Agencies conducting retained searches are generally paid a portion of their fee before the search begins, another portion during the course of the search, and the balance at the conclusion of the search. Regardless of whether they operate on a retained or contingency basis, executive search firms are looking for people who are achievers, who make strong first impressions and, ideally, who are employed.

Some executive recruiters would prefer to find you, rather than have you come to them. They usually get the names of potential candidates from directories, articles in the press, and their own professional and business contacts. The only time they will usually advertise in classified newspaper ads or on their web site is if they are having difficulty with a particular search. So unless your credentials happen to arrive just as a search is commencing for someone with your particular background, do not expect much from them. Nevertheless, if you are seeking a high-level assignment, contact the appropriate search firms early in your campaign. Just remember, recruiters are not likely to show much enthusiasm if they discover you have widely published your availability to companies in their search area.

You obviously have the option of contacting a limited number of firms, or conducting a broad-based marketing campaign. If you are searching for a position in a smaller geographic area, such as in a single city, it is wiser to contact only one or two of the better firms focusing in your particular area of expertise or industry. If you are conducting a search over a broader geographic area, such as in several states or nationwide, do not hesitate to contact a large number of recruiters. 

When working with a limited number of firms, try to obtain from associates and friends the name of a recruiter, or better yet a partner, in each search firm you wish to contact. Referrals work best. You may then contact the recruiter and explain that your associate – use the person’s name who referred you – suggested that you call. In other words, treat it in much the same manner as you would any other networking contact. Lacking such referrals, identify the firms you wish to contact, including the name of a recruiter within each firm, and send them a copy of your credentials. Follow up with a phone call, and if distance permits, attempt to get a personal meeting. Or, if you prefer, you may call first and then send the recruiter a copy of your resume. Then follow up with another telephone call to confirm receipt and, distance permitting, see if you can schedule a personal meeting. 

If you are conducting a broad-based marketing campaign, identify every firm that recruits in your field or industry and send them a copy of your credentials. Obviously, this could amount to many hundreds, if not thousands, of firms on a national scale. You may use a resume and cover letter, or a two page resume letter. If possible, direct your correspondence to a specific individual to make it appear more personalized and to improve the likelihood that your credentials will be reviewed. 

  • The Resume Approach - Send an electronic or paper copy (by mail or fax) of your resume and cover letter to every recruiting firm on your list. If possible, your cover letter should be individually addressed, although it can be quite short. You might, for example, simply say, “My research indicates that your firm specializes in executive searches in the financial industry. Among your clients you may have one seeking a Mortgage Banking Officer with strong leadership abilities and a record of running efficient and profitable loan operations. A summary of my qualifications is attached. Thank you.” Or, if you have a referral, you might say, “A close associate, Mary Carter, has informed me that your firm specializes in searches for the Human Resource function. Since I am in search of a position as Vice President of Human Resources, I have enclosed my resume for your review against the current needs of your clients. Thank you.”

Do not indicate your present earnings in your initial correspondence. Wait until the recruiting firm expresses an interest in you. You should, however, indicate the minimum salary requirements that you would consider for a new position. Make sure you include a telephone number where you can be reached during normal business hours, or you will lose at least 50% of your potential leads. Wait approximately seven to eight weeks and make another mailing to those firms which did not give you a positive response (early follow-up mailings to recruiters do not normally prove very effective).

  • The Letter Approach - The use of a personalized and informative resume letter (paper version only) will frequently bring more inquiries than a standard resume and cover letter. A letter enables you to project a favorable image without revealing liabilities that may be apparent on your resume. It also lets you minimize the appearance of being an anxious job hunter. This is easily accomplished by indicating that over the course of the next few months you expect to explore new positions. Your letter would then provide enough detail about your background to stimulate interest. 

General Guidelines
Sending an electronic copy of your resume and cover letter to executive recruiters is considered quite acceptable. However, if you speak to a recruiter on the telephone before submitting your credentials, ask which format the person would prefer – regular mail, fax or electronic. Many of the larger firms prefer to receive electronic copies since it saves them the time of having to scan your paper resume into their electronic database. Smaller recruiting firms frequently do not maintain electronic databases, so they may prefer your paper version. Nevertheless, for a broad “shotgun” type of mailing, do not hesitate to send an electronic version to your entire list of recruiters, regardless of their size.

Executive recruiters usually guarantee their “placements” to an employer for up to a year, so they tend to be extremely thorough when screening potential candidates. To improve your chances of success when dealing with an executive recruiter, don’t forget to be completely honest about your current situation (income, education, experience, etc.) and share your true motivation for wanting to move. Also, be willing to provide a list of companies you have already contacted, as well as the names of other recruiters with whom you have made contact within their local geographic area.

Top-notch recruiters are a valuable resource, but if you depend on them as your primary source of leads, you are likely to spend a considerable amount of time waiting for your phone to ring. Don’t forget, less than 15% of all managerial, professional and executive-level positions are filled through this source. To put your odds in better perspective, consider the statistics of one particular medium-size executive recruiting firm. On average, they place approximately 110 candidates annually from a database of nearly 40,000 applicants, the number of which is growing on a daily basis. Executive Recruiters should be part of your marketing strategy, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

For additional tools and resources, please visit our NEW Resource Page