Throughout your career, you will at some time be dealing with an employment agency, search firm, or executive search firm.

The first important issue is to understand the difference between these firms, before you entrust your resume and career to them.

  • Employment Agency
    The type of firm that is called an, "APF" agency means the applicant pays the fee. As an example, a retail store seeking a supervisor decides to work with an "APF" agency. The agency charges the potential employee a percentage of the annual salary. The applicant, not the employer, pays a fee to obtain employment.
  • Contingency Search Firms
    This type of firm specializes in one or more industries at the professional level, such as: information technology, engineering, or finance. These firms only handle positions that are fee-paid; this means the company pays the fee only when and if, the firm places the person with the company.
  • Retained Search
    There are different levels of retained search firms that all have one thing in common. They only handle positions where the fee is paid "up front" to the firm.

With a "true" executive search firm, the positions are senior-level beginning at the $100,000 range. These firms have an exclusive contract with the company to locate an individual. The majority of professionals will probably work with the contingency search firm. As noted, the fee is paid by the company, not by the individual. Many people have no idea what a search firm does, or how to deal with a search consultant. Follow these tips and you will gain a better relationship with the firm, and a better potential career opportunity.

  • Check references.
    Ask the firm if they would mind sharing the names of some companies they have done extensive work with over the last year. If the firm is good, they will have no problem providing you with the names of reputable companies they have worked with in the past. In addition, ask your colleagues for recommendations of ethical and effective search consultants.
  • Be honest.
    Once you have selected an ethical firm to work with, you should apply the same ethical business standards when dealing with the search consultant. Some candidates believe it is "OK" to lie to a recruiter, or to omit critical information. If you want to have a good relationship with your recruiter, do not ever lie to him/her. This means you should be honest about your salary, the number of agencies you are working with, and other companies you have interviews with at that time.
  • Have reasonable expectations.
    A search firm is paid by a company to locate a person with specific skills for a specific position. This means the search consultant spends the majority of his/her time working for the company. Obviously, the search consultant needs qualified candidates to complete a search, but his/her job is to locate a specific individual for that company. Therefore, you will have the highest level of frequent contact with the search consultant, when you are working with them on a specific career opportunity with one of their customers; otherwise, your expectations should be that you will be in contact with them on a less frequent, periodic basis for review or update discussions.
  • Keep your career information current.
    It is extremely important to update your search consultant on any new work skills, education, or career moves that you make throughout your career. You may have a new set of skills that would enable you to hear about a lucrative opportunity with stock options; but, if your search consultant does not know - neither will you know.
  • Do not work with too many search firms.
    If you need to work with more than one firm, be honest with the other one or two firms. Never, ever give your resume to 5+ firms in one city. Additionally, you should ensure that the firms you are dealing with review all potential opportunities with you before they send your resume. This ensures your ability to communicate effectively about the status of your career search.
  • Work on the relationship.
    Once you have found a good search consultant, it is important for you to maintain that relationship. Keep in touch with the search consultant and be friendly. The nicer you are to the consultant, the greater effort he/she will expend to help you find that opportunity.

Never, ever, ever, underestimate the power of a good headhunter with a powerful network and a good reputation. When your company outsources your department, or the company is sold and you need a position, you want your telephone call to be returned first and with gusto.