EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

The executive search business isn’t what it used to be, but then what is?

I hate to bore those who already know the primary difference between recruiters, but I hesitate to assume. Retained recruiters typically have an exclusive right to find a particular candidate for a firm and they get paid whether they find an acceptable candidate or not. The only problem is that since they have been paid, they sort of have to keep working on it. Contingency recruiters don’t have an exclusive and will typically present what candidates they can find and then quit looking. Please understand that there is nothing inherently evil with either type of firm.

If you want to learn more about the differences between these two types of firms, I would suggest you get Rites of Passage by John Lucht.

The problem out in the market today is that corporations have too many options. The time was when only the major search firms could afford to maintain databases of potential candidates. Now, organizations like LinkedIn or the major public job boards effectively do this for them. The result has been that many of the bread and butter assignments that used to go out to search, say a Controller in New York City, no longer do. In addition to the public job posting sites which can be effective for some kinds of jobs, you have networking groups such as ours and informal lists of all kinds that can be tapped. Search firms also use these methods.

To make matters worse, because the tools to do search are easily available, many corporations have hired former and/or contract recruiters and set up their own in house operations. The result has been intense pressure on those recruiters who remain independent.

Corporations are reptilian in nature. Even when they put a job out to search with a retained firm, they may also post it to any or all of the public boards as a kind of check on the results of the retained firm. If they take a contingency firm approach on a particular assignment, they may put it out to several firms and also post it to the public boards. My sense from talking to our members about this problem is that they often don’t tell the firms involved that they have done this or even that other firms are also working on it.

The net result is that you as a candidate don’t know who or what to believe. I would suggest not believing anyone. (Hey, we’re financial people and we are suspicious by nature anyway, so turn that radar on and use it.)

It is hard to know if applying to a company’s posting on one of the public boards is the best approach or letting your credentials be sent in by a search firm is best. The public boards generate sometimes thousands of responses to the listed address and I have anecdotal evidence that corporations frequently don’t read any of them. So, just because you saw it on The Monster Board doesn’t mean the recruiter is lying. He may indeed have the search and he may also have a relationship that can be worked to your advantage if you are his candidate.

And, if you aren’t confused yet, corporations have been known to put things out to retained search and receive resumes from contingency firms and the public boards too. So, who is the evil doer and who is being honest? Unfortunately, it is anyone’s guess.

What you shouldn’t be bashful about is asking. Not to say you will get an accurate answer, but you should try.

A final point when dealing in the fog that is job search through recruiters is about references. To protect your best interests, delay providing references as long as possible and when you do, provide as few as possible. Three is the most I would recommend providing at any one time. A good search firm will seek out those who might know you whether or not you provide their names or not. A lazy search firm may call your references before they are certain you are a final candidate just to get that work out of the way. Until a company is ready to make you an offer or they are at least down to 2-3 candidates they really shouldn’t be calling your references. References get burned out by too many calls, so hold them close.

Regards, Matt

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