How the Right Recruiter Can Push Your Career

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If you're accustomed to thinking of recruiters as a chromosome apart from telemarketers, think again. A good search consultant is your ally through flush times and lean.

Jay Gaines is president of New York-based retained search firm Jay Gaines & Company, whose clients include Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays Capital and Freddie Mac. He says, "If you're in the ranks, you want to build career relationships with a couple of people in the recruiting world whose careers are going to grow parallel to yours. You really want to share information because recruiters can be a wonderful source of what's happening in the industry and a good source of advice."

Specifically, a recruiter can share market information, identify trends, spread the word about emerging jobs, help you think out of the box about your own career, and provide personal introductions to other professionals. And you can learn what you're worth on the market just in time for performance reviews.

In return, you'll proffer occasional information about what's happening in your sector or firm and about individuals who might make good candidates for a particular search. It's a win-win arrangement whether you're looking for a job or not-provided you find the right recruiter.

Putting Yourself on the Map

"A lot of job seekers think that getting attention is just a question of barraging people with resumes and endless telephone calls," says Allan R. Starkie, a partner at New York-based executive search firm Knightsbridge Advisors. Starkie counts UBS, Legg Mason and Commerce Bank as clients.

While Starkie says barrage tactics won't win you any friends, if your phone isn't ringing with recruiters vying for your attention-or even if it is-you would do well to take matters into your own hands. Here's what you can do to show you know what you're doing:

Approach a contingency recruiter. Because they're only paid for successful hires, contingency firms are more likely than their retained cousins to consider resumes that come over the transom. It's often easier to make human contact with contingency recruiters.

Ask for referrals from colleagues or friends. Janice Reals Ellig, co-chief executive of retained search firm Chadick Ellig, whose clients include Ctigroup, Capital One, The Guardian, and Deloitte & Touche, says, "One of the best ways to get on my radar is to be referred to me by someone I know, including clients, and I will make time to see the individual."

Research respectable firms operating in your area. Search the web or visit the library to consult the Directory of Executive Recruiters, which profiles practice areas, size, and salary level handled. If you earn at least $100,000, consider paying to register with the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) database, BlueSteps. The AESC's members-retained search firms who agree to follow certain professional practice guidelines and ethics-routinely troll the database for candidates.

Make your approach. Send an introductory email to the search partner who handles your area at a particular firm. Follow up by phone no more than twice; don't nag-go to the next search firm on your list. If you do make contact, try to get a face-to-face appointment

Eyeball to Eyeball

Use your meeting with a search consultant to gauge his or her professionalism. Susan Teeman, president of contingency-search firm Teeman Perley Gilmartin, whose past clients have included Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, and Morgan Stanley, says, "Look at the office space. Ask about the person's experience with the Wall Street product they're handling, what kind of placements they've made and what firms they're dealing with."

If you're talking to a retained search firm, confirm that they belong to the AESC. It's not a deal breaker, but membership is a good indicator of professionalism.

You may find yourself opposite a less-than-professional recruiter. If she or he is sitting on a hot opportunity, you may still want to proceed after ratcheting down your expectations and setting a strict policy against sending your resume without permission.

Here's how to handle yourself at your initial meeting with a recruiter:

1. Be prepared to explain yourself-why you're different from all the other candidates, that is. Retained search consultant Ellig says, "I always ask, 'What do people say about you?' I want to hear in a concrete but not arrogant way what you've accomplished and what differentiates you. If you're going to be too shy about it, that's not good."

2. Know your product, understand the movement in the marketplace, what's going on at different firms on the Street and what's happening in your sector.

3. Don't talk negatively about prior bosses or companies, and don't divulge confidential or proprietary information. ("I don't know if I should be telling you this, but...").

Even if you don't fit a current opening, keep the long view in mind. Ask the recruiter for introductions to three people who might be helpful as you explore your options. Good search consultants know the value of introducing worthy clients to one another.

To wrap up an interview, ask if it's okay to email every 8 - 12 weeks to check on new searches. And send a thank you. Email is good-handwritten is better. Follow these steps and you may find your disciplined approach pays handsome dividends throughout the rest of your career.

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