August 13, 2013
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
If you are (or anticipate) looking for a leadership position, especially in higher ed, you need skills working with an executive search firm. Even if you’ve used one to recruit talent to your institution, it’s completely different being on the other side of the search. The next series of blogs will explore the issues.
First, everyone with good experience under their belt and with career aspirations should cultivate a relationship with a few of the major search firms in their field. How?
Get introduced to a senior partner through a colleague. A simple email introduction offers opportunity to begin a relationship, send a vita, and get into the firm’s database. Have a well-written vita that captures what you’ve done and its impact.
Or look on websites to see who those partners are and reach out with an email or call. If you’ve been around an industry for awhile, you may already know someone. Partner bios will tell their areas of focus.
If you have a geographic area of interest, find out who handles that region and start there. Suggest a coffee or a quick meeting, for example, when you’ll be in town for a conference or event. Plan ahead. By the nature of the business, search firm people spend their lives on planes, on the phone, or in meetings.
You don’t need to be looking for a job to reach out. If you’re beginning to outgrow your current job or are unsure of how to get where you want to eventually be, say so. Search consultants know the questions to ask about what you’ve done and what you want. A conversation like this is clarifying for career planning.
And since search firm folks have great interpersonal skills, they are enjoyable people to be with and can become trusted colleagues. When offered a job, for example, I got objective advice from two colleagues at firms that were not conducting the search, by running the opportunity by each for a “hey, what do you know that I should know or consider?” I got information I needed to make the right decision.
NOTE: Feel comfortable contacting search firms. You are doing them a favor, and they are predisposed to want to learn about you. Remember, an executive search firm is like a yenta. Both want to be ready, having identified as many possible partners as possible, to facilitate a good match for a specific opportunity when it comes along.
IMPORTANT: As in any relationship, there are people you hit it off with quickly and those you don’t. If the chemistry is good with a partner in your call, don’t push it. Ask if s/he has recommendations for someone else you should introduce yourself. Or wait a few months, look down the list, and try someone else.
Your fit and comfort with your contact partners are key. They have to like and trust you and vice versa. Your future rests in your ability to be honest about who you are, what you do well, and what you don’t.
Equally important, your future depends on their abilities to understand you as a person and a professional, remember you, and present your case (wrinkles and all) to organizations that can be right for you.