Last month, we introduced two types of search firms and discussed what they look for in candidates. In this month’s blog, we explore how you can best identify and network with an executive search firm.

Element 1: There are so many firms out there. How do I know which firms to target?

As an executive, the search firm’s experience in your industry and/or job function becomes paramount. The firms you work with should have a background in placing positions like the one you want. By searching websites like BlueSteps and ExecuNet, you can target a firm and search consultant who cover industries and roles that are a fit for you. You can also ask your executive-level peers for suggestions of firms to work with, as they will most likely have many contacts of their own. Before you engage too deeply with a firm, be sure to check the executive search firm’s references, and even look at their performance metrics – i.e., how many days does it take them to fill a position.

Also, as you’ll work with them over a long time period, you want to know that the firm places a high value on its relationship with you. It’s important to work with a group you know you can trust, so you have confidence in your communications with them and won’t be tempted to go around them directly to the hiring firm, which is a no-no. Membership in the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants ( also confirms a firm’s legitimacy.

Element 2: How do I communicate and network with executive search firms?

Whether the initial contact to begin the relationship comes from you or the firm, it’s crucial to have a clear executive job search strategy in place first. You can start by either cold-calling or e-mailing the consultant, with the goal of setting up a meeting or getting their attention for a future job search.

When sending an introductory email to a search firm, be very clear about what you are looking for, where you are in your career trajectory, and why you have reached out to them.  Be sure to have your resume/cv ready in case the executive search consultant asks for it, and don’t hesitate to ask questions about the open executive role.

The key to a successful relationship with a search consultant is building it before you need their help. Your networking with a search firm should be like any other executive-level networking you do; it’s a two-way street. And you can be a “trusted advisor” to the firm, as well as them to you.

When they call, be sure to take the initial call. Discuss other industry-related issues aside from your search and ask them for advice. When they have a need for which you’re not a candidate, help them with their searches and suggest some of your contacts. However, make sure the people you put forward are strong candidates, since their performance will ultimately reflect on you.

The “science” of search firms includes many more “elements” than most people realize! However, if you learn these elements and put thought into your search firm strategy, you’ll soon be benefitting from a strong professional relationship — and maybe even the job of your dreams.