SAN FRANCISCO—So, you've decided it's time tostart thinking about your next career move. Ormaybe you've just lost your position, so it is not just “startthinking”, but it is “uh oh, turn on the spigot; I gotta find a newjob.” In either case, you are putting together your strategy andare wondering how to best work with recruiters. Recruiters areindeed a valuable part of one's job search and overallcareer management.

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Big picture, recruiters should play only alimited, but important, role in your job search and in your overallcareer planning. Unless you are in the C Suite, it is most likelythat your next position will be found without a recruiter in themix. So, by far, the most important part of your job search is yourown networking and outreach into the market. But, as part of thatstrategy, definitely reach out to headhunters, particularly tothose who you know are leaders in your industry or niche.

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We have lots of tips on networking, but thisarticle is about how to work with recruiters. First, it isimportant to know the difference between contingent and retainedsearches. [Please note, my firm does only retained searches.] Theseare the two types of business models in the recruiting business andthey come with very different behaviors. Both types of recruiterswork for, and are paid by the company that is looking to fill aposition, but the dynamics and behaviors of each are verydifferent. There are some recruiters who will take a fee and“represent” a candidate generally in the marketplace. My advice:run, don't walk. Bad dynamics, particularly if you agree with myoverall premise that “your job search is your responsibility andcannot be outsourced”.

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The first type of search, mostly found at thelow and sometimes mid-level (rarely above $200,000 incompensation), is contingent. Contingent recruiters work on apaid-upon-placement basis with a company, often on a non-exclusiveagreement. They make money only if they make a placement. Hence,they need to make a “sale” to get paid. You are their “sale”. Giventhe probability of a placement, they act essentially as brokers andmatchmakers since they can't really spend the time to intimatelyknow you as a candidate.

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If you network with a contingent recruiter,he/she might tell you that they will present you to some of theirclients for unspecified positions. Again, run, don't walk. Theymight just send you out in an email blast, which essentially puts aprice on your head (the client has to pay them if they get yourresume in first). If they are presenting you to companies without aspecific client-driven mandate, they are actually going to try tonetwork into the companies that you should already have on yourtarget list. Hence, if you are working with a contingent recruiter,I highly advise you to require them to notify you and get yourpermission before they send your information to any potentialemployer and to only send to clients when they have an existingmandate.

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Retained recruiters, on the other hand, work onan exclusive basis for a client to fill a specific position and arepaid as consultants along the way. Retained recruiters work at thehigher end of the employment spectrum, almost always above $150,000positions. A retained firm typically collects about half of theirfee in retainers with the other half paid when the candidate ishired. Like contingent recruiters, a retained firm is motivated togenerate revenue by making placements, but given the dynamics, ourbehavior is more as a consultant than as a broker or matchmaker.Retained recruiters are advisors to their clients and, secondarily,as advisors to their candidates. Since we are matching candidatesagainst a specific, retained mandate, we do get to know candidateson a fairly intimate basis. I view my in-depth interviews as a twoway investment for both me and the candidate, after which thecandidate is potentially inside-my-circle in terms of arelationship.

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So, how do you work with recruiters when youare in outreach mode on your job search? When a headhunter, eithera contingent or a retained recruiter, gets an unsolicited call orresume, they will be immediately responsive if the resume happensto fit one of one of their current searches. But just think aboutthe numbers – a recruiter, or their firm, is working on a limitednumber of assignments and the chances are that your background doesnot fit anything in their current line up.

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Recruiters also take what'll seem like aconservative approach just by the nature of our business. A clientcomes to us with an assignment. We work hard with them to identifythe core skillsets needed from candidates for that job. It is thenour job to find a group (four, six or more) of candidates who meetthe bull's eye (or, as we say “checks all of those boxes”). Assuch, this sets up a fairly transparent and competitive process inwhich the client will then hopefully get to select the best fitfrom a group of qualified candidates, any of whom could do the jobwell. Lesson #1: it is really hard for an out-of-the-box candidateto get into the process and even harder for them to win the job.Lesson #2: get to the client before they hire a recruiter since theclient will not approach filling a position with as disciplined aprocess. Lesson #3, although this fits in with interview strategy,which is a different topic, if you do get an interview, assume itis a highly competitive process and that you will not get the job –use the interview to make a contact with whom you will wind updoing business one way or the other. That guarantees a win nomatter what the outcome. So, it all circles back to networking.

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Be aware that it is hard for recruiters to keepup with the number of requests from what we all call“unsoliciteds.” And that includes requests from friends of friends.So, if you do not fit a current search (which, as said above, ismost likely), either the recruiter will be non-responsive or willsend you a note that they are putting you into their database forfuture searches and to check back periodically.

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Do not take that as a form of rejection; it isjust reality. Do beware of the limitation of recruiters' databasecapabilities or of their individual memories and certainly of theirtime. While most recruiters use sophisticated databases as contactmanagement tools and to search for potential candidates, thedatabase technologies are behind the times and do not alwaysdeliver back logical candidates based on Boolean queries. Indeed,LinkedIn is sadly often a better tool than a recruiter's owndatabase, so make sure that you have a strong LinkedIn profile anda deep network in your industry to help recruiters in finding youthrough that vehicle. I tell candidates to check in occasionallyvia email and, when checking back in, to resend their resume. Itsaves us the step of checking the database to retrieve your resumeand, truly, people do not always make those extra mouse clicks, somake it easy for the recruiter.

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There is a consistent theme—I view careers andcareer strategy in the long term view, not just the currentepisode. With that in mind, every professional should build along-term relationship with one or two recruiters and maintain itas a two-way relationship—recruiter helps candidate when needed,candidate helps recruiter when recruiter needs help. Your career isa long-term game and your relationship with one or two recruitersis part of managing your career. Given our knowledge andunderstanding and perspective on the human capital part of yourindustry, recruiters can be great advisors.

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So, if you are embarking on a job search, it isindeed important to know how to engage with recruiters. Know theirbusiness model and therefore motivations, will help yousuccessfully manage and guide these relationships. Remember thatyour job search is primarily your responsibility. Take the longview. Your relationships with recruiters should be viewed in thatcontext, as well as your meetings with everyone with whom younetwork during your search – if you handle well, you will findhigh, lasting value from both recruiter and industry connectionsthat you make during your search.

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Matt Slepin is the founder and managingpartner of Terra Search Partners—an executive search firm focusedexclusively on the real estate industry. The company has workedwith some of the largest multi-family developers across the nation.Headquartered in San Francisco, the firm also has locations in LosAngeles, CA, Seattle, WA and Washington DC. For more information,please visit www.terrasearchpartners.comor e-mail matt at [email protected].The views expressed in this column are the author's own.

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