Why Reaching Out to Headhunters Won't Help an M.B.A.'s Job Search

by Perri Capell | March 10, 2009

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Question:I am a recent M.B.A. and have been trying to land a strategy or analysis job for 10 months. I want to use a headhunter but haven't found an appropriate one. Any advice?

Answer:Banish all thoughts of "using a headhunter" to help you find a position. Very rarely do search professionals -- or headhunters -- assist candidates in need of jobs. Instead, their clients are the companies that pay them to find highly qualified people for specific openings. "When companies hire a search firm, it's to find people they can't find -- typically people who work for other companies" who aren't necessarily looking for new opportunities, says R. Gaines Baty, an executive recruiter in Dallas.

Employers seeking recent M.B.A.s for strategy or analysis roles normally recruit them on campus or through their own human-resources or recruiting staff. They usually don't need to pay a search firm to locate such candidates, Mr. Baty adds.

As to your approach, you told me separately that you have tried networking through alumni, Internet-based groups and other connections and have had only a few interviews. When analyzing your job-search strategy, it helps to look at where you have stalled. "If you aren't getting phone calls, there may be something wrong with your marketing package," says Dave Opton, chief executive officer of ExecuNet, a career-networking organization in Norwalk, Conn.

Strategy is a popular function, so it is likely you are competing against experienced candidates. Since you told me you have little experience, consider applying for roles that lead to corporate strategy and analysis positions. Examples might be analyst jobs with consulting firms, financial institutions or research organizations, says Mr. Baty. Assess your skills and experience and determine where you would fit best, he suggests.

Research organizations to find those with problems you can solve and try selling your candidacy to them on that basis. You may be able to uncover an opportunity before it is advertised. "I guarantee you that someone has a problem and is wondering how to fix it, but hasn't created a job specification for it yet," Mr. Baty says. He also advises talking with as many people as possible about companies they know about and asking for referrals to other people you can speak with.

If these suggestions don't work, consider working with an executive coach or career counselor who can help you to redo your marketing materials and improve your networking and interview skills. Counselors at your business school's career center might be good resources. Ask for referrals to independent career professionals, and always check references.

Be wary of promises by career-services firms that say they can find you a job if you pay a fee up front. Job hunters who paid fees as high as $10,000 to such firms have been disappointed with the services and unable to get their money back.

Filed Under: Job Search

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