What really goes on in the mind of a search consultant? And how can knowing help your C-level job search? To find out, I interviewed Gina Riley, Executive Search Consultant and Career Coach at Talence Group in Portland, OR. She shared with me many things you might expect — and a few you might not! Read on to get a behind-the-scenes look into the world of executive recruiting.

Randi Bussin: Thanks for speaking with me, Gina.  When it comes to vetting candidates, what do executive search consultants focus on?

Gina Riley: We look at candidates who meet the job profile. Have they done this job before? If I’m skimming resumes, I’ll be looking for particular keywords top to bottom that match the profile. We also look for quantifiable results — think percentages, numbers and dollar signs to show financial impact. One of my clients helped grow a $5 million company to $100 million, for example.

However, we take things a step further. We do a mini-SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) of the client’s organization before we even look at candidates. We interview the client’s executive team and do a 360-degree review of the open role.  We determine the leadership-level attributes that the successful candidate will need to have to meet the company’s current challenges. We’re not interested in a carbon copy of the person who most recently held the role.

RB: So, you’re looking more for the contextual environment of what the organization is going through – whether it be growth mode, M&A, etc.?

GR: That was elegant, Randi! Yes, we definitely look past words on a resume. Also, we strive to make a match with the company’s values versus a “culture fit.” As part of the SWOT analysis, we ask for the client company’s mission and vision statements, and look for a candidate who can fit in well at the company.

RB: What are the most common mistakes you see on resumes or in interviews?

GR: I would say the mistakes fall under four categories.

First, there are a lot of assumptions about executive search consultants. The first touchpoint with the job seeker is often a phone screen. The C-level job seeker may not realize they’re speaking with the consultant who talks with the client daily. It is important to treat everyone respectfully in this process because you never know how influential the executive search consultant can be.  

Second, I sometimes read meandering resumes that don’t tell a career story quickly. I’ve learned if the resume is unclear, it usually translates to a poor interview.

Third, I see many candidates who don’t prepare well for a video interview, in terms of physical appearance, adequate lighting, or sound interference in the background.

Finally, people sometimes push back when they’re told they’re not a fit for a particular role. The more people push back, the less mature they seem. If a recruiter says you’re not the right fit, you need to gracefully accept the decision.

RB: As a candidate, what do I want to say or not say regarding compensation?

GR: Before even introducing the subject, we describe the role and try to get a feel for if the candidate is interested in it.

We approach compensation by asking, “What do you think the pay range is for this job?” By listening for their answer, we get a sense of the candidate’s “sweet spot.” If we’re not in their range, we’ll often explain why – i.e. if the client company is a non-profit.

We did have one search where the client was offering a compensation package that was not at market rate, so we went to the market to find out what the best candidates’ salary expectations were. We then passed this information on to the client and were able to get the compensation range raised.

RB: How long do executive search consultants keep resumes in their databases?

GR: The Talence Group doesn’t purge resumes. However, we do begin each search with a clean slate. We want someone who is in the right place today, not eight years ago.

RB:  How can I increase my chances of being found online by an executive search consultant?

GR: Start off by googling yourself and seeing what comes up. It’s important to take steps to get rid of anything that doesn’t reflect on your professional persona.

The best place to concentrate your efforts is on LinkedIn. Make sure you have an up-to-date, professional headshot and update the “banner” image behind your headshot (the LinkedIn default is the standard blue banner). The absence of a banner image shows the candidate hasn’t attended to their LinkedIn profile for some time.

Include your strategic value proposition in your LinkedIn tagline — not just your current role, which is the default setting. My teammates read at least the first couple of lines of a LinkedIn summary, too, to get a flavor for people.

As far as the experience section goes, don’t just cut-and-paste your resume. I would hit the high points of your experience in your LinkedIn profile and not the minutiae. I also want to see how you lead “with and through” people, so I can get a sense of you as a person and a leader.

For LinkedIn recommendations, take a 360-degree approach — ask peers, supervisors, and subordinates. I always advise my clients to ask for the recommendation, offer to write it and send it to your colleague so they can put it in their own voice. Let them know the top three skills or accomplishments you want to be known for so they can focus on what is meaningful to you now.

RB: Good advice. Any final thoughts?

GR: Remember your ABCs – Always Be Connecting. And as a C-level jobseeker, you should do as many things as possible…. you start by figuring out your battle plan. It’s the most persistent who win this game.