By Larry Small

For many executives at earlier stages in their careers they have normally been delighted to gain entry level opportunities to get established, build up experience and prove themselves. While grappling with the challenge of adapting from an academic to a corporate work environment, probably the last thing on their minds will be an unsolicited call from a recruiter, offering the prospect of a career move.

Coping with a recruiter’s unexpected call may be a new experience – yet it could just prove be one of the most important conversations you will have in your career. A recent Wall Street Journal article described research claiming two in every four senior and upper middle management positions in the US are being filled through the resources of ‘headhunters’ or executive search consultants. Clearly it is a something to factor into the job market dynamic – and requiring some essential preparation and forethought.

If you are approached in a professional and discrete manner, the old saying, “It never hurts to listen” should always apply as a first step! 

Assuming the call is of initial interest, however, you should always be conscious that engaging with the recruiter is a ‘two way process’…Just as you will be seeking as much information as possible from the caller, he/she will be assessing your responses to help decide if you are a possible candidate for his/her client’s brief.

Once you have established that it is a convenient time to talk (defer and offer an alternative time if necessary), the first step should be to find out as much detail as you can about the role being offered, without disclosing too much information about yourself. Be ‘guarded’ in your approach, while at the same time receptive. As a rule of thumb, you should allow the recruiter just enough time to explain who they are, the headlines of why they are calling, then wind the conversation down, giving you a chance to gather your thoughts for a more detailed discussion. 

Important to establish is how the recruiter became aware of you. Was it your profile on social media or has someone recommended you? Then try to work out if you are of PARTICULAR interest for the opportunity under consideration or is it a more ‘general’ enquiry -  where you sense you may be one of a number being approached. Your measured response should then be pitched accordingly.

If you are interested in hearing more about the opportunity, then your check list should include:- 

  1. What is the recruiter’s relationship with their client? How well briefed are they and have  they been exclusively retained to advise on the appointment? 
  2. Is the consultant free to disclose their client’s identity and how has the position become available?
  3. Can the recruiter describe the client’s organiasational culture and the career prospects offered by the role?
  4. To avoid wasting time, is there a ballpark remuneration level under consideration? 
  5. Where is the position located and is there likely to be travel involved? 

In practice however, recruiters may be reluctant to divulge too much information  - other than to gain your potential interest – and in the interests of both parties, a move to a confidential interview meeting with the recruiter should be the next step.   

Even if the opportunity doesn’t pan out to be a match, or the timing may not be right for your next move, the chance to meet with the recruiter could prove valuable  - both for the experience of the process – and for your future reference. If you strike up a good rapport with the consultant and sense they have a genuine interest in you and your career path, they could prove a valued ongoing advisory contact for you.  The approach may also stimulate you to take stock and reflect upon how satisfied you are with your present employer and future prospects.

In short, how you handle the recruiter’s call can prove to be a vital and cornerstone influence upon your next career move.    

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