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  • Headhunter Hazards

    Four Mistakes to Avoid When
    Working with Executive Recruiters

    By Katey Tryon and Mary Heideman

    It’s one of those days. Two chapters are threatening mutiny because of a recent dues increase. A board member is calling in five minutes to “make a few adjustments” to next week’s board meeting agenda. A front-line staff member hasn’t shown up for work yet. And now you get a voicemail message from a headhunter asking if she can run an assignment by you. “No time,” you think, hitting the delete key.

    You’ve just committed the biggest error you can make with a search consultant – a professional with the potential to be a major resource even when you’re not in the job market. To help you avoid making the same mistake twice, here are four thoughts to avoid when an executive recruiter calls.

    Mistaken Thought 1: “I don’t have time to return headhunter calls.”

    Next time, hit the save button and call the consultant tomorrow, after you’ve put out the fires. The headhunter may be working on an assignment that will turn out to be your ideal position. But even if that opportunity isn’t right for you, there are benefits in listening to what the search consultant has to say.

    First, you may know someone else who is a great match. Search consultants appreciate and remember sources who refer on-target candidates. Second, by listening to the characteristics and skills other associations require, you can gauge how marketable your own talents may be. And third, by listening to how search consultants present a position, you can determine if this consultant is someone you want to stay in touch with.

    Prepare right now for the next phone call by composing a five-minute summary of who you are. Include a quick review of recently held positions, a success that best demonstrates your strengths, and insights into your personal style. If you’ve thought about this self-introduction ahead of time, you’ll impress a search consultant with your ability to quickly summarize and you’ll both spend less time determining if an opportunity is the right fit.

    Mistaken Thought 2: “I only talk to headhunters when I’m in the market.”

    The best time to look for a job is before you need one. Search consultants can be valuable partners in making that next move. Now is the time to make them aware of how you can add value to an association.

    Certainly, an updated, accurate, and succinct resume that showcases your talents is one way to advertise yourself to the search community. But developing long-term relationships with the right search consultant means more than sending out resumes. You can get a search consultant’s attention by sharing leads for upcoming searches, presenting an opportunity for them to write an article, or offering them a chance to make a presentation to highlight their services.

    As you learn more about search consultants’ individual styles and how they approach an assignment, you’ll naturally be more comfortable with some than others. Right now is the best time to develop a relationship with a professional you can trust and respect.

    Mistaken Thought 3: “The headhunter doesn’t need to know everything.”

    Always present your credentials, experience and desires accurately. Search consultants do confirm education and work history. Misleading information will irreparably damage your credibility. However, if you are up-front about, for example, never finishing your undergraduate degree, the search consultant can honestly tell you how important that criterion is to the client and avoid disappointments for both parties.

    A productive relationship with a search consultant also requires frankness. During the search process, a good consultant will ask you if you’re seriously interested in pursuing the position. If you know you’ll never be happy living in Los Angeles, say so. The earlier you volunteer this information, the better. In a typical CEO search, a Search Committee will interview a short list of qualified candidates. By pursuing a position you’ll never actually accept, you may knock a qualified candidate out of the running.

    Another benefit to frankness: The more search consultants know you and your goals, the more accurately they can present your case to the client. If second thoughts surface in the course of a search, bring them to the consultant’s attention. They can provide up-to-date information to clarify your thoughts or perhaps just serve as a good, informed listener. Surprises are a search consultants’ worst nightmare. Respect their ability to handle the truth.

    Mistaken Thought 4: “Now that I have the offer, I no longer need the headhunter.”

    Most search consultants can do more than find the right candidate. For example, although many recruiters recommend that the Board extend the offer directly to a successful CEO candidate, the firm can still act as a valuable intermediary in the negotiation process. Search consultants can also clue you in to how the culture of a particular association might affect negotiations. For example, you need to know if they’ll never include a country club membership as part of the package – or if they won’t negotiate at all.

    Because good search consultants have performed due diligence on the client association and worked with the Board to formulate the hiring criteria, they can provide a wealth of information to both the Board and the new CEO in developing an orientation program. Continuing your relationship can facilitate the most efficient transition program. What’s more, search consultants invest a lot of time and energy working on the right match, and they guarantee their work. They have a vested interest in your success and want to know how you’re doing. It’s never a mistake to pick up the phone and call them every once in awhile.

    Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2001 issue of Executive Management Forum Newsletter, copyright 2001, American Society of Association Executives, Washington, D.C.