The job of executive recruiter is engaging and multifaceted. It calls for a wide range of tasks, draws on multiple skills and offers good money. Executive recruiter is the ultimate “people person” career.

What Is An Executive Recruiter?

Executive recruiters, sometimes called headhunters, specialize in finding candidates for high-level positions: senior manager, director and C-suite officer. They also recruit for less senior positions (salaries above $100,000). Recruiters frequently concentrate in one industry or a limited number of industries.

Most executive recruiters work for a search firm. An executive recruiter normally works on either commission or retainer. In a commission situation, the company pays the recruiter upon successfully finding and placing a candidate with the company. An organization pays a retainer to draw on the recruiter’s services over a given time period. Commission work offers higher pay while retainer fees provide a steadier income.

Executive recruitment is a specialized business. The demand is limited and highly specific; the candidate pool is small. Filling a position can take from several months to more than a year. Only a few firms handle the highest level positions for Fortune 500 companies. For lower level jobs, no one company controls market share.

What Do Executive Recruiters Do?

Job one for an executive recruiter is to find and establish a solid, ongoing client base. Clients –

companies looking to fill a position – provide revenue. Recruiters must reach out to companies every day to talk to HR executives, ask about company needs, and understand industry trends. A search firm is usually a company’s last resort, so the potential client’s answer more times than not is, “No, thank you.”

Job two is finding candidates – people looking for a job – that can fill a client’s need. Recruiters find candidates by posting listings, attending job fairs, visiting college campuses and surfing LinkedIn. Recruiters review resumes, test applicants, conduct interviews and contact references. Depending on the nature of the client contract, a recruiter might set up appointments, conduct market research, extend job offers, negotiate salary and perform onboarding.

For both jobs, networking is key for success. It is the day-to-day chore for building a list of clients and candidates. Recruiters can expect to be on the phone every day talking to prospects, arranging appointments and asking for referrals. Networking also means visiting people in the industry, keeping in touch with successful placements and attending industry conferences.

How To Become An Executive Recruiter

While requirements to become an executive recruiter differ among search firms, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum. Generally, no specific major is required, but coursework relevant to human resources is a good idea. Business, industrial relations, psychology, professional writing and human resource management are excellent areas of study for those who are interested in becoming an executive recruiter. A degree in a specific industry can be helpful to recruit in that industry.

Recruiters start at entry level, finding candidates for lower- and mid-level positions. Recruiting for executive, director and C-suite positions only comes after years of experience.

Few recruiters are successful starting on their own, due to a lack of clients, candidates and experience. True progress is more likely working for an established search firm, which can provide resources, contacts, mentoring and expert supervision.

For those interested in exploring a career as an executive recruiter, Lucas Group is a great place to find out more about this exciting career choice.


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