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Despite their having e-mail and interactive Web sites, headhunters may seem more impersonal and remote than ever. But you can increase the odds of being contacted for an interview.
Dennis Dugan, 57, who has been job hunting since January, says he receives good response to his e-mails from recruiters. He has been a finalist for two search-firm assignments in the past four months. Previously, he was president of Xcelecom Inc., a unit of UIL Holdings Inc. in New Haven, Conn. His secret: contacting search firms only when his skills match the requirements of their posted openings.
"When your skills are a good match to their needs, you get a whole lot of attention," says Mr. Dugan, who lives in Basking Ridge, N.J.
But many other senior-level job hunters are dismayed by the lack of response they get from leading search firms. Although this frustration is nothing new, nowadays it's more maddening to executives because search firms seem to invite contact by posting job openings and listing individual recruiters' e-mail addresses on their sites.
Jim Sherburne, a marketing executive from Scotts Valley, Calif., sends e-mails to the personal e-mailboxes of recruiters handling searches for jobs that fit his skills. But recruiters from large search firms don't respond, he says. Mr. Sherburne has been consulting since his last job as senior vice president of marketing for Parasoft Corp., a software company, ended in 2002. "My theory is that I should be an ideal candidate for the large firms," he says. "In practice, I have found them to be almost uniformly unresponsive."
One reason recruiters don't respond to candidates' e-mail is that most receive hundreds of messages daily. James Citrin, global practice leader for technology, communication and media for Spencer Stuart, notes that he received 1,700 e-mail messages in a six-week period recently. "I get several hundred a day," he says. "You could spend your entire day being helpful and responsive to people, but not doing the jobs that clients have paid you to do. That sets up the tension right there."
Retained recruiting firms -- so named because clients pay them monthly retainers to find candidates -- have some of the best brand names in the search industry, having held the top spots in annual industry rankings for the past decade. Typically, they receive plum assignments to find executives for chief-officer level and higher jobs, and most senior job seekers view getting on their radar screens as important to search success. To reduce your frustration and improve your chances of having a recruiter respond to your e-mail or phone calls, heed these tips:
Top executives seeking new jobs typically are "consumed" by their searches and anxious about their futures, Mr. Citrin adds. "If people are ignoring them, or are rude and unhelpful, it has a really magnified negative effect," he says.
Most recently he was senior vice president, CFO and treasurer at Celox Networks Inc., a technology company in Southborough, Mass., which closed. "These days, it's difficult to get past the recruiter if you don't hit all the key requirements," says the 46-year-old. "In the past, you could miss one or two, and they would still talk with you."
Being placed in his last job by Korn/Ferry International, a top retained firm, and having a track record of accomplishments have helped him establish credibility with recruiters and become a finalist several times, he says.
Mr. Dugan says he never makes cold calls or tries to network with search executives. Instead, he sends personal e-mails to headhunters when their assignments match his skills. "I respond to the specifics of what the job may be," he says. But he knows many job hunters who get annoyed when recruiters don't return their calls, "Many of us in transition view it as an insult, but it's because they looked at our resumes, and it isn't a good match," he says.
Mr. Citrin says he'll phone or meet with candidates he's never met if they are referred by someone he trusts or have been in senior positions at companies he knows. He says he tries to spend 10% to 15% of his time each week talking or meeting with such senior candidates who have contacted him but who don't necessarily fit any of his searches.
"They wouldn't approach a company they are looking to do business with by sending an e-mail and saying, 'I am CEO of XYZ Co. and looking for business. Will you speak with me?' " he says. "They would find out the name of the right person to speak with and create a strategy for setting up a dialogue. They must see their search as another project in their career, not as a job hunt."
Mr. Sherburne says he's been pleased with how smaller firms have responded after he's contacted them. "I have found them to be pretty responsive and professional," he says. "If there's not a fit with their jobs, at least there's a dialogue."
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