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The Correct Way to Deal with Retainer Firms

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The only sure way to get strongly involved with any retainer firm, large or small... and with any retainer recruiter, regardless of firm... is to be frank and helpful whenever you're called to solicit your personal interest and/or suggestions. Then you're helping the recruiter, not trying to get him to help you. If you sound impressive on the phone... and you genuinely try to help... those facts will be noted and preserved.

Later, when other recruiters in the firm get their hands on your information, the first recruiter's comments will encourage them to call you for suggestions, even when you don't personally look like the solution to their problem. Gradually, over the months and years, you'll meet many of the firm's recruiters by phone, and... when you're appropriate to be interviewed... face-to-face as well.

Just as you can't get a baby in a month by getting nine women pregnant... or if you're a woman, by encouraging nine men to get you pregnant... you also can't become the darling of Korn/Ferry or Russell Reynolds Associates by hustling several of their recruiters simultaneously. Rather than spending lots of time trying to reach more recruiters in the same large firm, you'd be better off contacting additional firms.

Go to the employer before you hear about his job from the recruiter... not afterward.

You must reach the employer before the retainer recruiter tells you about the employer's position. Once you hear about the job from the recruiter, it's too late for the direct approach.

Of course, if the retainer recruiter is free-within-his-firm to deal with you, and he's likely to decide you're an ideal candidate, you don't want to "go direct." Then you bask in the spotlight of his recommendation. You're part of what the employer paid upwards of $80,000 for... a "finalist candidate."

But suppose you're interviewed by the retainer recruiter... in the office, or just on the phone...and he decides you're not a "finalist." Maybe you lack something the employer has clearly asked for. You feel, on the other hand, that what's missing is outweighed by special advantages which, when the client's aware of them, will cause him to widen his specifications to include you...and perhaps others like you.

Now, however, it's too late to do what you easily could have done earlier. Now you can't go straight to the employer. If you do, it will be an outrageous affront to the recruiter. And remember that the retainer recruiter, unlike the contingency recruiter, is financially unbiased. Therefore, he usually helps the client evaluate all candidates from all sources, not just the ones the recruiter supplies. Someone you've slapped in the face will probably be asked his opinion of you.

On the other hand, if you'd gone to the employer before the recruiter turned you down, the employer might have pronounced you a worthy candidate. Or asked the recruiter to check you out...indicating that your deficiency wasn't disabling. Then, the recruiter could have "adopted" you. Indeed, you'd have broadened the specifications and made his work easier.

Now, however, you're a pain in the neck! Now you've defied the recruiter. And you've called his judgment into question. Why didn't he at least see you as a close case? Why didn't he at least ask if you were worth considering?

Pursuing a recruiter's client after the recruiter rejects you is unforgivable. Your centrally maintained information will be annotated. No other recruiter in the firm will ever risk a similar experience. You'll never again be a candidate of that firm. Yes, Virginia, there is a death penalty!

Once you get to an employer and persuade him you're a viable candidate, hidden blockages with the retainer recruiter disappear. Either the employer meets and evaluates you without involving the recruiter; or, more likely, he passes you on to the recruiter, who's forced to follow up.

If you were held back merely because the recruiter had plenty of other fine candidates, he may keep plugging his "finds." But he'll also "adopt" you. And he'll be glad to get the job filled, regardless of who's hired.

If "You-work-for-a-client" was the barrier, the recruiter may reveal it to the employer as his excuse for not "finding" you. Secretly, of course, he'll be delighted that you've innocently helped him complete his search.

If "You're-allocated-to-another-recruiter-in-the-firm" was the problem, the recruiter will never admit it, because this handicap of larger recruiting firms is never publicly exposed. However, he'll be equally pleased to have this roadblock removed.

No. Most of the time, your only choice is to contact the potential employer directly. Because most of the time you won't know:

And unless you know all three facts, you have no choice. Contacting the recruiter is impossible.

Even in the rare instance when you do happen to find out all three essentials, you'd better think long and hard before you go to the recruiter, instead of the employer.

Whenever you contact a retainer recruiter on a job you know he or she is handling, you're playing Russian Roulette with potential bangs in five barrels.

This "end run" can only be scored if you've already established a close personal friendship with one of the firm's recruiters...a relationship built over a period of years. Your friend probably first called you as a potential candidate. You weren't interested, but you went out of your way to offer excellent suggestions. Several became "finalists" or valuable "sources" of further ideas. You've made money for the recruiter. You've also been trusted with secrets that never leaked out. Maybe you've even met with him or her on several occasions.

If your recruiter friend wants to-and he certainly has no obligation other than friendship to "go around the rules"-he can do the following:

1. Get your information. He'll pull you up on his computer screen and identify himself as the person currently authorized to deal with you. And if someone "has you," he'll click "next to use," so he can have you when the current person "drops" you. This will pull you away from searches that don't appeal to you.

2. Look up the firm's assignments that could interest you. He'll consult his computer terminal or a weekly printout for this information.

3. Tell you the relevant searches, and help you select the ONE you like best. Probably there will be 20 to 60 or more such assignments among the various offices and recruiters of a large retainer firm doing thousands of searches per year. The computer will tell your friend the location, name of company and subsidiary, projected salary range, and name of the firm-member doing the search, for every active project. How far out on a limb he'll go to reveal these facts to you will depend on how much he trusts you to keep the discussion absolutely confidential.

If you later contact the employers on some of the other searches your recruiter friend has told you about, it'll be obvious that you violated his trust. Every one of the firm's clients that you reach is likely to involve his or her recruiter from the firm in evaluating you. And every recruiter will check the firm's central computer files to get permission to deal with you. Bang! Your deceit is automatically exposed! If you cheat, you'll be blacklisted by your friend's firm, and you'll lose one of the most valuable recruiter contacts any executive can ever have.
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