6 Things You Must Know Before Working With an Executive Recruiter - Senior Executive
Executive Life 8 min

6 Things You Must Know Before Working With an Executive Recruiter

Executive recruiters can lend a helping hand as you search for your next gig. Here’s how to make the most of these relationships.

by Brian O'Connell on March 22, 2022


  • Corporate leaders looking for a leg up when job hunting can work hand-in-hand with an executive recruiter

  • While executive recruiters usually work for the hiring company, many are open to working with job-hunting executives

  • Once engaged, executives should expect a progress report once a week on possible job openings or, if already interviewing, any updates on the hiring process

The Great Resignation isn’t just affecting your frontline workers. Many senior executives like you are re-evaluating their professional priorities — and are weighing a move to greener pastures. 

“The added stress of constant business change and a difficult hiring environment has left managers feeling burned out,” says Art Wittmann of Oracle NetSuite.

As of 2021, 47% of managers are considering taking a less demanding job, according to Oracle NetSuite. Another 35% are considering quitting without another job lined up.

You may also be itching to start a new role, find a position with more work-life balance or just see what opportunities are available in the job market. Partnering with an executive recruiter can lead to better outcomes as you survey the marketplace for new opportunities.

“Not only do recruiters bring longstanding and exclusive relationships with hiring companies, but executive recruiters are also trained professionals who understand your strengths and your desires relative to work, culture, compensation and confidentiality,” says Amy Sullivan, senior talent acquisition specialist at advisory practice Think

You may be looking to proactively engage a professional recruiter — also known as a third party search consultant — to see what jobs are available. Or, a recruiter may reach out to you with a specific open role. In both scenarios, leaders should begin with due diligence. Here are six frequently asked questions you need to know. 

Why Should I Work With an Executive Recruiter? 

When job searching as a senior executive, you likely won’t have a choice. Senior-level roles are often posted by a recruiter on select job boards, or a recruiter reaches out to executives directly to garner their interest. 

“Typically, when base compensation reaches $175,000-plus for senior corporate leaders, many firms reach out to retained executive recruiters to help them source and fill the position,” says Ed Samuel, executive and coach at recruiting firm SamNova, Inc.

However, executives are also free to take the initiative and reach out to professional recruiters to gauge the landscape and see what open roles the recruiter is trying to fill. Often these engagements start with informal conversations. If the recruiter is already working with an employer that has a role matching your interests, the formal process can begin.

It’s uncommon for executives to directly hire a recruiter. However, execs often work closely with recruiters, who guide them through applications and interviews. That said, the recruiter is paid by the company posting the job opening, and service to that company overrides any relationship between a senior executive and a professional recruiter.

If you want someone who exclusively works for you, consider an executive career coach. “These types of coaches are doing different kinds of work to make executives more attractive to more external recruiters and in many cases teach them how to land a job at a C-level with help from an executive recruiter,” Samuel says. “The coach should also be an objective sounding board as the job search progresses.”

Some coaches, like Samuel, may also offer “reverse recruiting” to their clients. “This means the recruiter brings the clients to firms that have put jobs out to bid on private job boards,” Samuel notes.

How Much Does an Executive Recruiter Cost? 

When executive recruiters work for the company with an open position, they are paid by the employer. “These retained searches are typically high stakes, and the executive recruiter is being paid a portion of the recruiting fee upfront,” Samuel says. “They are normally expected to deliver three ‘A’ candidates to an employer within a 30-day period.”

According to Samuel, executives “should not pay” an executive recruiter already working with a company on a specific job opening, as they are already being paid by the employer. Savvy job seekers also will avoid working with only one recruiter, “as they likely represent other candidates for the same job,” he said.

If the executive does wind up hiring a high-level recruiter, the same payment model that companies use will apply. “It’s common for independent third-party recruiters to be paid on a contingency basis, which means they don’t get paid unless their applicant is hired,” says Michael Knight, co-founder and head of marketing at Incorporation Insight, a business consultancy. “The normal charge is from 20% to 30% of the entire first-year compensation in a new job.

If you go the career coaching route instead, expect to pay between $200 to $500 an hour. These engagements often occur over a 6-month-long time period.

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How Can I Find an Executive Recruiter?

Perhaps you’ve worked with a recruiter when you landed your last gig. Or, you invested time in building your network of recruiters and career coaches. Good news, execs who have these solid relationships can contact these recruiters first, Samuel says. 

“The recruiters may or may not have job opportunities at that time for them,” Samuel says. “The best practice is for executives to nurture a handful of relationships with executive recruiters aligned to their industry expertise.” 

According to Samuel, that relationship requires regular communication between the executive and the recruiter, usually in the form of emails, texts and face-to-face engagements at business functions.

At this point in the relationship, the recruiter can refer the executive to someone in their network with an ideal job posting, act as a sounding board on career options and provide advice on a company’s culture, history and management style.

If you don’t yet have these relationships, cast a line where recruiters tend to gather.

“To land a skilled executive recruiter, consulting with industry associations is a must,” says Knight. “Recruiters often join groups and attend conferences related to their field, which can lead to being recommended as a job candidate.”

What Happens After I Get in Contact With an Executive Recruiter?

After you get connected, a recruiter will ask you to complete a screening application, resume and profile. You may also be asked to fill out an in-depth questionnaire to gauge your interests. After, “an initial phone screen, Zoom meeting and a face-to-face session can follow,” Samuel adds. “A personality assessment could also be required.”

What Qualities Should I Look for in a Professional Recruiter? 

Great recruiters and executive career coaches should come with countless testimonials, ideally on LinkedIn profiles since they are public declarations,” Samuel says. 

You should know what industry the recruiter specializes in, the seniority of the clients that they work with and the number of placements they have successfully made in the past, Sullivan says. 

If a recruiter is working with you for a specific role, they “should have a high degree of knowledge of the target hiring firm, of potential hiring managers and any situation tied to the open job,” Samuel says. For example, the recruiter should know why the position is open and why the last person left.

Sullivan advises finding a recruiter who can be both your advocate and partner throughout your job search. Look for someone who understands what you’re looking for and is willing to stand up for your best interests. 

“Remember, a professional recruiter is there as a strong advocate who has a complete understanding of what the client wants and also grasps what you bring to a role to position you as a great fit,” Sullivan says.

What Should I Expect When Working With an Executive Recruiter? 

When working with an executive recruiter, expect a solid screening and well-defined process. “Nothing should be panicked or rushed,” Samuel says. 

It could be eight to 10 weeks before interviews begin, as the recruiter vets your professional job history and works on presenting you to a company in the best possible light. Be open and transparent. The more information the recruiter has about you, the better your chances of landing the new role.

Once engaged, executives should also be updated at least once a week on possible job openings or, if already interviewing with a hiring firm, any movement on the hiring process. “Anything less at an executive recruiting level would be considered ‘poor’ at best,” Samuel adds. “A solid communication pattern needs to be expected and executed at all times.”

You should be able to tap your recruiter for guidance when navigating compensation inquiries and market insights, Sullivan notes. A recruiter should also be able to prepare you for the application process ahead and give constructive feedback.

“You’ll undoubtedly have an advantage working with a good recruiter,” Sullivan says, “but more importantly, leverage the recruiter’s knowledge and expertise along the way.”

Have you worked with an executive recruiter? What worked best, and what challenges did you face? Send us an email to share.

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