12 Secrets of Executive Recruiters
By Suzanne Raga
Whether they call themselves executive recruiters, headhunters, or executive search consultants, they’re the people who help companies fill open positions by finding the best candidate for the job. That means plenty of time spent prospecting for companies, searching for candidates, and staying glued to LinkedIn. We spoke to a few executive recruiters to learn their secrets—from how much they get paid to why they sometimes have a reputation for being less than polite.
1. THEY WORK FOR THE COMPANY, NOT THE JOB SEEKER.
Although interacting with candidates is a big component of their job, executive recruiters are loyal to the company that’s hiring, not the candidate applying for the job. “Many people who call on an executive recruiter feel that when they send us their resume, we stop what we’re doing and work for them as their talent agent,” says Chris Gardner, the CEO and founder of Artemis Consultants. But a recruiter’s only obligation is to their client—the company that’s paying them to find an employee. “So if the candidate doesn’t match any of a company’s existing openings, candidates will most likely not receive the attention they need or want," he tells mental_floss.
2. THEY CAN EARN BIG BUCKS FOR PLACING ONE CANDIDATE.
Like real estate agents, most recruiters work on commission, earning 20 to 30 percent of the candidate’s annual salary. That means that if they place a manager or a CEO, they can earn a large chunk of change. Ryan Cook, a recruiter in Kansas, reveals in an interview with PayScale that he understands how it might sound ridiculous for a company to pay a recruiter as much as $75,000 for a candidate. “But when the placed candidate can end up bringing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in revenue to the company, who cares how much the finding fee was,” he says.
3. THEY SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH EXCEL.
Depending on their size, recruiting firms may conduct hundreds of searches each year, considering candidates for jobs around the world. Since recruiters have a ton of data to keep organized and readily accessible, spreadsheets are an integral tool that helps them do their job. Recruiters will make (and regularly update) lists of potential companies, job openings, and candidates, hoping to find the one perfect person for a given job spot. And even if a company passes on one of their candidates, recruiters keep the names and contact information of good candidates in their spreadsheets for future opportunities.
4. THE WORD THEY HEAR MOST OFTEN IS “NO.”
Whether they’re cold-calling a potential client or emailing a candidate about a job opening, recruiters face a lot of rejection. Because they hear the word “no” so often, successful recruiters are persistent, persuasive, and have a thick skin.
“You are constantly selling yourself to new clients,” Cindy Picciano, an executive recruiter at Ability Professional Network, tells mental_floss. “On the candidate side, especially if they are not actively looking, you are selling yourself as someone worthwhile to speak to—to open up and share intimate information about their career dreams, compensation, and personal/family objectives,” she adds.
Once recruiters find a candidate that matches a job opening, they must convince the candidate that they should work at the company. "That’s a lot of selling,” Picciano says.
5. THEY’RE ADDICTED TO LINKEDIN.
According to recruiter Christine Lee, executive search professionals in the late ‘90s relied on cold calls and bought CDs that contained research on candidates. Although making phone calls is still a big part of a recruiter’s job, LinkedIn has revolutionized the field, making it easier for recruiters to find and connect with job candidates. “Today, instead of being attached to the phone all day, executive recruiters lurk in LinkedIn every day. We’re addicted to it,” Lee writes. Those who pay for LinkedIn’s Recruiter Tool can send messages to candidates, see the jobs that they’ve applied to via LinkedIn previously, and look at profiles for red flags such as incompleteness and gaps in employment.
6. DEALING WITH DEJECTED OR DISHONEST JOB SEEKERS DRAINS THEIR ENERGY.
According to recruiter Mark Wayman, it’s not uncommon for unemployed executives to whine about their situation. Job seekers who have bad attitudes and blame others (such as former bosses or difficult spouses) for being out of work make it harder for recruiters to place them at a company. And because they’re not career coaches, most recruiters have neither the time nor the desire to offer encouragement to sullen job seekers.
To make matters worse, some job seekers even lie to recruiters about their previous salary or about being laid off versus fired. Wayman’s advice? “Quit complaining and move on. Bitter is not attractive, and it [is] one of the top issues I see in unemployed executives,” he writes on The Huffington Post.
7. THE BURNOUT RATE IS HIGH.
Although new recruiters may be enthusiastic about using their people skills and negotiation chops to rack up commissions, most recruiters don’t stay in the profession for long. Experts estimate that 70 to 90 percent of recruiters choose to leave the profession in their first year of work. The reasons for the high burnout rate are complex, but recruiters who don’t cut it may feel discouraged by multiple rejections or realize that their temperament isn’t suited to the job. Other recruiters may leave the profession because they're simply not making enough money via commissions.
8. COMPANIES USE THEM AS A LAST RESORT.
Some companies may pay a recruiter a retainer fee, using her services to discreetly fill any open top-level positions that they don’t want to advertise on job boards. But many companies don’t have the resources to pay recruiters a retainer to find candidates, so most companies only use recruiters as a last resort. “The hardest part of our job is finding clients/employers that value search services enough to pay a fee,” Gardner tells mental_floss. Although recruiters must search for candidates, the parallel part of the recruiting business entails searching for clients. “We can’t place candidates without paying customers. And we can’t get paid without finding qualified candidates that meet our clients’ preferred profiles,” Gardner says.
9. THEY’RE CONSUMMATE SPIN DOCTORS.
Most recruiters are honest, respectful, and professional. But to some people, they have a bad reputation. Some recruiters may be brusque when making countless cold calls or dealing with a candidate who isn’t a good match for an open job. And some feel their role as an intermediary between company and candidate gives them leverage to get their candidate placed by whatever means necessary. For example, they might gloss over aspects of a candidate that don’t fit with the company, or push candidates to accept a lower salary than they wanted to close the deal.
10. THEY’RE LESS COMPETITIVE (WITH EACH OTHER) THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.
Recruiters who are proactive and aggressive are often more successful than more timid ones, but recruiters are less competitive with one another than you might think. If a recruiter can’t find the right candidate for a job opening, she may take advantage of her relationships with other recruiters. When one recruiter refers a candidate to another recruiter, the two recruiters may split the placement fee 50/50. Earning half of a commission is better than earning nothing, so recruiters are motivated to seek partners in other recruiters rather than simply view them as competition.
11. THEY ACCEPT THE REALITY THAT THE BEST CANDIDATE DOESN’T ALWAYS GET THE JOB.
Wayman advises candidates and other recruiters to remember that the job search process isn’t fair. “You get fired, someone else gets your promotion, you don’t get the job interview,” he writes. “Believe me, I see it regularly. A mediocre candidate beats out an outstanding candidate. People that make terrible business decisions just keep on finding jobs.” Although recruiters can’t control which candidate a company ultimately decides to hire, they can choose to focus on what they are able to control—finding and suggesting exceptional, qualified candidates who would be good fits for the company and the role.
12. THEY LOVE SOLVING PROBLEMS FOR THEIR CLIENTS.
Ultimately, successful recruiters enjoy working with people and matching a job seeker to a company. “I love making clients happy. It’s extremely satisfying to know that you’ve solved a problem for them,” Gardner says. Picciano adds that the reward for making a great match between a company and candidate goes beyond simply earning the recruiting fee: “It is knowing that you have been instrumental in positively changing the future for both the company and the individual. That is the true reward!”
All photos via iStock.