Best practices for cultivating relationships with executive recruiters

Solveigh Marcks

So many wonderful relationships in private equity fall apart at the starting line.

An executive recruiter calls you about a job opportunity. You’re happily settled in a lucrative position. In a moment of pique you respond–curtly–that you’re not interested. The executive recruiter makes a note that future contact with you may prove unrewarding.

By the same token, you may recall past job searches where you emailed executive recruiters. You thought they would jump at the chance to help you. But little came of the outreach and you concluded that it was a waste of time.

In reality, many jobs at private equity firms and their portfolio companies get filled with the help of recruiters. Private Equity Career News, as part of its research for its just-published Guide to Private Equity Executive Recruiters, identified more than 100 executive recruitment firms and more than 300 individual recruiters. Nearly half of those surveyed earlier this year said they plan on completing 10 to 25 percent more PE-related assignments this year than last year.

As elsewhere in private equity, the key to making this system work for you is building relationships. That way, when you need a new job, you’re known to the executive recruiters and valued by them and “they’ll be very inclined to be helpful,” saidSolveigh Marcks, founder and managing director of executive recruitment shop The Denali Group (pictured). “The recruiting business is a relationship business…so building relationships that you can rely on is valuable in the long run.”

Below are five top tips for building mutually fruitful relationships with executive recruiters. These tips are based largely on insights from Marcks and from Chris Magill, founder and recruitment lead with Alternative Investment Staffing.

1) Cultivate relationships with a handful of executive recruiters. Once you’ve had an introductory chat with a recruiter make sure to keep up the relationship. It’s particularly important when you’re not in the market for a job. Here are five ways to do that:

* Tell them about job openings that you hear about at your firm or others; those could represent new business leads for executive recruiters.

* Did you apply for an interesting opportunity but never heard back from the hiring firm? Tell an executive recruiter. They may have a contact at the firm or even have done some recruiting for them. Again, this is a potential new business lead.

* Become a source for the recruiter. Sure, recruiters may hope that you’re personally interested in a position. But just as valuable for them is when you refer them to other candidates. Bear in mind that good recruiters will never give you away as their source. You can give them names and contacts. You don’t need to check with the candidates first to make sure it’s OK with them.

* When a recruiter calls with an opportunity, take the time for the call. Naturally you want to be forthright if a particular role isn’t attractive. But you may be able to refer the recruiter to other candidates. And it’s an opportunity to let the recruiter know what kinds of opportunities you would be interested in.

* Keep recruiters abreast of major developments in your career, such as when you get a promotion or land a new position. Make sure they have a copy of your updated resume.

* Communicate with recruiters the way they want to be communicated with. Some won’t return emails but will respond immediately to a text. They may even pick up their phone right away.

2) Understand that executive recruiters won’t be helpful in all situations. Are you making a mid-career shift from accounting to deal-making? Looking to jump from a junior-level to a senior-level position? Have you burned bridges at several former employers? A recruiter may offer some friendly advice. But they’re in the business of filling jobs quickly with candidates who are close-to-perfect fits. They don’t cotton to difficult stories.

3) Make sure the executive recruiter is a good fit. While some recruiters are generalists, many work within narrow practice areas, such as investor relations or deal origination. To get their names, ask colleagues about recruiters that they’ve liked working with. Keep an eye on job boards for attractive positions; many of those are advertised by the recruitment firms. Or consult a good directory, like the Guide to Private Equity Recruiters.

4) Be brief, be specific, be relevant. When reaching out to recruiters for the first time, be respectful of their time. Summarize your relevant background, describe the kind of position that you’d like, and let them know how you plan to follow up. Over and out. Always include your resume.

5) Keep your resume simple, truthful and conventional. Are you applying for a position in creative design or the fine arts? If not, you’re best off leaving out the colors, graphics and clever icons. “Stick to what you were taught in high school,” advised Magill. “Don’t do anything fancy. Because it’s just a pain…for everybody.” Also, make sure to submit your resume in Word, not PDF. The recruitment firm will typically add its logo/contact information to the resume so that the hiring firm knows where it came from.

**** Valuable Career Tool! Looking for a comprehensive guide to private equity executive recruiters? Eager to support your favorite private equity publisher? My all-new Guide to Private Equity Executive Recruiters includes detailed listings for more than 100 recruitment firms and contact information for more than 300 individual recruiters. Indices in the back let you zero in on firms by location, by type of clients sought and by type of positions placed. PECN subscribers get 20 percent off the $245 cover price. Just use the promotional code PECNSubscriber. Download your copy here. Editor’s note: If you unsubscribe from the promotional pitches for the guide you’ll be removed from the distribution list for the newsletter.

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