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How to Make a Search Consultant Your Friend and Why it Matters

Consultant handshakeA recent message I received recently was similar to hundreds I have received over the years: “My name is Mike. I sent you my resume. I hope you have had a chance to review it. I’m in the job market and I am looking for advice regarding my job search…”

The message, from someone I had never spoken to, went on to explain in great detail all aspects of his career accomplishments. The message length exceeded three minutes and the amount of detail was numbing. The phone number he left was one I recognized immediately. It was from a local outplacement firm. For some reason this firm encourages their clients to follow up on their resumes sent to search firms, a practice I find puzzling at best and at the least, a terrible waste of time and resources.

Activity – some outplacement firms confuse – is more important than engaging in behaviors to ensure someone in a career transition finds a new opportunity. Ask anyone who has engaged significantly in this activity of following up on a resume about the results. They will probably say that they made few friends in the headhunting business. Making a friend out of a search consultant, someone who could possibly impact your career direction, is a delicate art, but when done properly can yield positive results.

Once it is known how search consultants operate, it is easy to understand why calling them is futile in most circumstances. Retained search consultants are contracted by client companies to find very specific professionals, usually at a mid-to-senior level. This professional is narrowly defined by a list of criteria, which is often more extensive than most position descriptions in the business world. The criteria include: specific sets of skills and experience, personality characteristics, and attitudes that the client-company requires as keys to success. Often, these requirements immediately screen out 95% of the candidate population. Only if the background information on a resume is a match to these client requirements, is it likely that the candidate will be called for consideration.

Search consultants do look at the unsolicited resumes. They file or scan them and retain them for only 3 – 6 months before shredding them. However, if a candidate represents a possible solution to the client’s staffing problem, they will be called immediately.

Here are a few suggestions about how and when to contact a search consultant.

1. Call only when you have a direct connection to the search consultant

If you have had previous contact, such as being previously recruited or interviewed for a position, you not only should contact the search consultant, but it is advisable to make sure the search consultant is one of the first people you contact. Search consultants work every day with people with whom they have had previous contact. It makes sense. If a search consultant knows someone is in the job market, they will go back to that candidate, because the candidate is a known entity. Every search consultant I know has a personal file of resumes of quality candidates or of people they consider a good networking source. For that reason, it is more important to make yourself known to the search consultant as a resource long before you need to do a job search.

2. Network to find someone who will refer you to a search consultant

If you do not have a personal connection, try to find two or more people that do. Most search consultants generally will not return a phone call like the one referenced earlier, but they are more inclined to return a phone call from a referral contact that they know and respect. If all else fails, mail your resume to recruiters every three months. Remember resumes have a 3-6 month shelf life, but recruiters pick up new assignments all the time. If you only mail your resume every six months or only at the beginning of a job search, many opportunities might be missed simply because a recruiter will not think an old resume will yield the results for which he/she is looking, or it may have already been shredded.

3. Be honest

Our database has numerous notations of “do not contact” because the person lied about his/her background. There is one thing you can do to be assured of never getting another call from a search consultant; that is to waste their time and resources with a fabricated resume. Some fabrications include: glossing over or adjusting time gaps, lying about degrees, changing titles, listing lapsed memberships in associations, lopping off significant pieces of work history, removing positions because they are not “germane” to the position being sought. Search consultants generally feel that the resume should be an accurate depiction of one’s work history, not a fictional piece for entertaining reading. Whenever referencing any dates the more specific the better. Actual dates like 7/98 to 5/00 are better than 1998 to 2000. We have worked with people who have built careers that were based on lies. They act shocked, even mortified, when the veracity of their statements cannot be confirmed. Frankly, no matter how dense the fog during graduation ceremonies, most people are aware enough to know the exact year they graduated and what degree they obtained.

4. Offer a resume that is easy to be submitted to a company

Having a well-written resume in an easy-to-read word processing format helps. These days, electronic resumes are the way of the world. If interviewing with a search consultant, have the resume on a disk (if not already e-mailed) in the most popular word processing format. Keep in mind, each search firm may use their own specific style in submitting reports, so it is important to keep resumes as free as possible from fancy formatting like protected columns, animations and text sections. Bolding and underlining are okay, even different fonts are fine, because they are easily changed. Another strategy that works well is having a “career biography” available. This is written in third person and chronologically details work experience, reasons for moving from one position to another, and the accomplishments that were part of each position. Three to four pages are acceptable. Provide this bio only after interviewing with a consultant. Do not send it with the resume or when first inquiring at a search firm. The search firm may or may not choose to use it when introducing you to their client. It may, however, be a source of information that could be helpful in the recruiter’s assessment.

5. Be helpful

Oftentimes the position for which a candidate is the best fit is not the position for which a candidate was originally contacted. Recruiters often go back to those they have had prior contact with for other positions. If the position is not for you, try to be as helpful as possible. Refer others, if known, that may be qualified. Offer to work your network on behalf of the consultant if you have the available time. If an interview with a consultant yields a “you’re not a fit,” don’t argue with the assessment of the consultant. You may ask to clarify, but move on graciously. Thank them by offering to be of assistance and sow the seeds with the consultant for the next appropriate position available. Provide a status report via e-mail or note if the status of your employment changes–it makes it easier for you to be contacted in the future.

One way to ensure a search consultant keeps you in mind is to remember the quality of the experience you had, and then refer business to them. Retained recruiters represent client companies, so the responsibility for the quality of the relationship between the search consultant and a candidate rests mostly with the candidate seeking the position.

About the Author:

Tim Pappas is a principal with Pappas DeLaney, LLC, a Milwaukee-based consulting firm specializing in working with CEOs and top-management teams on leadership strategies and organizational alignment for corporations nationally.