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Job Hunter Meet Headhunter (aka Executive Recruiter)


John Sattler offers some tips on engaging executive and professional recruiters.

Executive recruiting is now a $7B global industry with approximately 35,000 employees present in over 70 countries. “The use of search firms in pharma/biotech is at an all-time high” says Cliff Miras, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Cornerstone Search Group.

Historically, there has been a proliferation of confusion about exactly what executive recruiters do and how they function. This article will clarify basic misunderstandings and offer a few tips.

Definition of Executive Recruiter

A third-party, full-cycle executive recruiter, aka headhunter, executive recruiter, or recruiter, is an independent entity who forms business relationships with client companies to fill their job openings. They do this by recruiting, screening, and presenting candidates in return for a fee. Fees are paid by client companies, not candidates.

This model allows recruiters to learn about their clients and present candidates based on this specific company knowledge. It has been utilized for over 60 years and is highly effective and intensely personalized.

Bottom line: Recruiters do not work for you. They work for and are paid by their client companies.

Who do recruiters recruit?

Recruiters specialize in industry and/or job function and have a huge footprint in pharma and biotech. They seek candidates with specific knowledge, skills, experience, and other parameters set by their clients.

“Ideally, recruiters want to recruit passive candidates,” says Leslie Gaber of Leslie Gaber Associates, “who are not actively looking, have not applied for positions, and have not posted their resume anywhere. They are near the top of their game and highly promotable.”

Bottom line: If you are not who a recruiter wants, when they want you, where they want you, then you will not be engaged for that position. They have specific guidelines to follow, and meeting them is how they are paid and build their practices.

For what positions do recruiters recruit?

Normally, recruiters search for high-compensation positions: Executive recruiters for positions with base salaries of $225K; professional recruiters for those under $225K.

Since recruiters are paid to find exact – or near exact – fits, a Director of Operations is not going to be recruited for a Director of Sales and Marketing position. That doesn’t mean Ops managers cannot be DSMs; it simply means recruiting is not meant for cross-functional hires.

Recruiters conduct contingency searches and retained searches. In pharma/biotech, retained searches have traditionally been used exclusively for high-level executive positions, though this is changing. “There is now increasing demand for retained searches at the management level. Demand for this talent is far outstripping supply, and retained searches across the board are at an all-time high,” says Cliff Miras.  

Bottom line: Recruiters do not recruit cross-functionally. If you are a Director of Operations for a pharmaceutical division, you’re not going to be recruited to be a VP of Sales & Marketing.  Also, if you are at the management level and want to move into a higher position, the time has never been better.

Tips for engagement

• A highly competent, reputable recruiter can be a huge asset to your career if you are a highly competent, reputable professional.

• Do not call a recruiter expecting them to find you a job; that’s not how it works.

• To proactively engage a recruiter:

1) Write out a short “value proposition sheet” bulleted with your education, job title, current job tenure, two or three main accomplishments, and if you are willing to move, specify where.

2) Find a top recruiter in your industry (LinkedIn or Google) and job function.

3) Send the value prop via LinkedIn InMail, noting that you seek to link to one of the top recruiters in this space, what can you do to accomplish this, and what positions you are interested in.

• “If you are contacted by a recruiter,” says Cliff Miras, “it’s best take responsibility for knowing the purpose of their call.”

1) Do they want to consider you for an active search?

2) Do they want to network with you?

3) Do they want to learn more about you for future anticipated searches?    

“Clarify and cooperate” is your best bet if you feel the recruiter is coming across as a competent professional.

• As in any industry, the level of competency and integrity varies among recruiters. Check out a recruiter’s LinkedIn profile for endorsements, see how well they articulate in the summary and company description, and make calls to any connections you know. Check their website.

Remember, Google is your friend but spellcheck is family.

John Sattler is a 

Certified Personnel Consultant and 

Certified Professional Résumé Writer



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