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Hunting down a headhunter -- Page 2

It is likewise unethical for them to recruit from within a client's own ranks or to work too closely with a client's main competitor.

"There are times when even though it might be a great opportunity for me, I can't recruit from a client for another client," says Kefgen.

Retained executive search firms work exclusively with the crème de la crème. If you're an industry leader, they will find you, says Gurney.

"If a company is going to pay a recruiter thousands of dollars, that recruiter has to find the exact XYZ person for the exact XYZ job," he says. "Recruiters only fill 10-to-15 percent of all jobs, but they are the crucial jobs that companies are willing to pay the money for. They can get a so-so fit on their own."

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Kefgen agrees: "It tends to be a sort of rite of passage. Once you reach a certain level in your career progression, you start getting calls from executive recruiters."

Maybe you need a good coach
Geof Boole sees the other side of the employment dating game. As executive vice president of Right Management, an outplacement specialist, his goal is to help laid-off professionals get back on their feet and headed in a positive career direction.

Business has been good the past two years, unfortunately.

"We have people who have been knocked off the horse a second and third time and they know what to do but they still need help," Boole says. "Time was, if somebody had more than two or three jobs in a 10-year span, you probably wouldn't hire them. Now, if they don't have three or four jobs in a 10-year span, you probably would wonder about them. How times change."

Right Management eases workforce reduction by offering different services to different levels of the organization depending on their needs. In 2003, Right successfully placed 91.8 percent of their outbound workers. The average placement took nearly eight months.

Much of Boole's time is spent redirecting people who want to get back up on the same horse.

"As a result, you get more people looking for fewer jobs," he says. "The most advantageous way to get another job is to focus on where your industry is expanding instead of diminishing."

Getting your foot in the back door
Darrell Gurney switched his focus from recruitment to coaching after the dot-com collapse, and he's glad he did. Today, recruiters have too many top-notch candidates for too few openings.

"At the height of the dot-com era, if you were breathing, a recruiter could find you a job. Today, recruiters are still good to be in touch with, but the most you can do is to make sure you are in their system so they can find you whenever they are doing their keyword searches for candidates. You can't expect them to return your call, you can't expect them to chat with you, and you really can't expect them to fit you into something that you're not an absolute, absolute perfect fit for."

Gurney says effective networking -- "the back-door method" -- is more important now than ever before. He counsels his candidates to spend 20 percent of their time on the front door (applying for jobs, meeting recruiters, doing the old "post-and-pray" on Internet job sites) and 80 percent of their time making contacts within their industry.

"Going through the back door, it's not about if you've got a job (opening), it's about finding reasons to meet people and get on their radar screens and develop relationships," he says. "It's going to be your job security. We are moving away from the permanent-job economy into a freelance economy, and in the world of freelancing, it is all about who you know."

Boole agrees: "People are a lot more realistic today. They're looking at a five-year job window for the most part, and that's probably doing pretty well. I always think the stupidest question a recruiter can ask is, 'Where do you want to be in 10 years?'"

Getting and keeping those contacts may be time well invested in the new mobile economy.

"The worst thing a job seeker can do is meet somebody once and then not follow up with them any more, or once they get their next job, drop all of those contacts," says Gurney.

"I tell people, when you're in your career search, find a reason to be in touch with people who you've met every 30 days, and then when you get your next job you follow up every 90 days. You have to keep the tribe out there aware of you."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

-- Updated: Dec. 7, 2004
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