How do you know who to trust in an executive search process?
Many job seekers are often perplexed about how to handle unexpected calls from executive search or recruitment consultants. This is understandable, because even in digital world, the process essentially involves releasing personal information over the phone to total strangers which is somehow more intimate! So how do you respond to those cryptic messages and conversations and know who to trust. They could indeed lead to a golden opportunity for the dream job, but could equally turn out to be pernicious scams.
Why so cryptic? Discretion is in everyone’s interest. It is important to understand that very often the consultant’s hands are tied by their client who want any executive searches or recruitment drives kept under the radar for operational and strategic business reasons. Many companies don’t want their competitors to know what their plans are. Also as a potential candidate you may not want the process broadcast either. One high flying C level executive was approached by an executive search company to join a competitor. Somewhere during the process, (at the client end, not the search company I should add) confidentiality was breached and the exec was subsequently let go by his employer.
So how do you know who to trust? What is the best way to deal with consultants who might contact you? If you follow the basic guidelines you will be able to establish pretty easily who can best represent you and the sort of red flags you should be looking out for.
1. Establish the identity of the caller: Get all the contact information immediately. Ask for the name of the consultant and the company they represent. Verify spellings, web site details and phone numbers. If possible ask about the specific opening they are calling about, the job title or level, the client company and any other details. Do not be overly concerned if the consultant will only give a thumb nail sketch – it is quite normal to be very discreet at this stage. A good, experienced consultant should be able to outline a position succinctly in a matter of minutes. I would suggest that there is very little to be lost at this point other than some time to at least hearing more about the opportunity if you are open for a career move.
2. Schedule a call at a later date: preferably from, and to, a land line. Most ethical and professional recruiters are happy to oblige. If they are not prepared to do this, the chances are that they are working to meet daily targets. I would advise you to consider that thought seriously before continuing.
3. Environment: Arrange to speak in a quiet environment away from disturbances and interruptions. This could be that dream job we spoke about! Cars or kids combined with mobile phones are both high risk!
4. Research the caller: Check out the recruiters profile on LinkedIn or the company web site. Check if the company is a member of a professional body. If the consultant lacks experience in search (e.g. if he/she were selling real estate or shoes 3 months previously) and doesn’t have the necessary professional qualifications – be cautious. As someone who contacts candidates regularly I am happy to let anyone know how to check my credentials. My LinkedIn profile reference is included in my email address. All my qualifications and experience are listed in full on LinkedIn, together with professional recommendations. My email address also includes blog details which has an informative bio at the side. All this indicates to candidates that I am exactly who I say I am, so I never have credibility issues and am actually never even asked.
5. Research the opportunity: so you can present yourself in the best possible light and prepare appropriate questions. This call is part of the selection process and should be treated seriously. First impressions do count.
6. Verify the relationship with the client company: This is another way of asking if the consultant actually has the recruiting assignment. Some unethical recruiters go on fishing expeditions to harvest CVs to sell on later.
7. Is the arrangement for the search exclusive? This will let you know if they are a retained search company or if they are competing with other companies to present their candidates.
8. Query your suitability: Ask the consultant why he/she believes you might be suitable for the position. This opens a discussion that indicates if the consultant understands the job profile. It also tells you what you need to know so that you can orientate your CV if you decide to proceed.
9. Ask about the time frame and the process: If they are evasive – that is a red flag. This can present issues for consultants, but an ethical consultant should be able to outline the process with a broad brush time frame. Thorough searches generally take between 3 and 6 months.
10. Ask for a profile. Preferred suppliers usually have an outline of one as a basic minimum, or can make a profile available after the initial contact. Clients don’t want organisational details flying around cyber space until there is confirmed genuine interest. If there is any continued evasiveness, even at the client level about the job content, reporting arrangements, how performance will be measured – be very cautious
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What to look out for….
1. CV Harvesters : if a recruiter can’t specify a specific search or a company – be cautious. Sometimes, as I explained, the company name is confidential, which to be fair happens frequently. However, a consultant can say for example “ US, multi-national, Fortune 500, B2B electronics , based in xx” etc.)
2. Protect your contact information if you have any doubts: CV harvesters can pass on your resume to aggregators. These CVs are then used to cull contact information which is subsequently sold to the highest bidders. Don’t include your home address and do use a public email such as gmail.
3. Vague or unresponsive to your direct questions: usually indicates a lack of knowledge = competence and perhaps even integrity. See above
4. The Trojan horse: Occasionally recruiters contact companies with known preferred suppliers, but where they are aware of an open vacancy. The consultant will go through the motions of presenting you as a candidate, even though candidates from the preferred supplier will get priority consideration. There is a risk that your application will be associated with a disreputable recruiter, which may jeopardise future and genuine applications.
5. Sales Targets: Some recruiting companies have a resume quota for their recruiters. They have to make x calls per day and receive x CVs per day. This encourages new recruiters to get resumes with any story possible. The chances of your resume being used for anything positive are very slim.
6. Arbitrary circulation of your CV: Resumes are randomly sent to prospective employers, with the recruiter’s contact information, not yours. Most companies do not follow-up on unsolicited resumes submitted by unknown recruiters. At best it will disappear at worst it will be associated with a poor recruiter.
7. Beware of job boards: Some unethical companies submit CVs to job boards. There your name and contact information are deleted and substituted with the recruiter’s details. Companies interested in your credentials, then have to go through the recruiter and split fees. One photovoltaic expert looking for a candidate for her own department, found what could only have been her own doctored CV on a job board!
Most search companies especially at the higher end of the market have strong reputations and would not want to damage those with unprofessional conduct. They are bound by codes of ethics from their professional bodies. These are just words of caution to protect against the odd ” cowboys” that occasionally creep into any sector!