The Recruiter's Call and Other Windows of Opportunity

Your phone rings. The executive recruiter on the line asks if this is a convenient time to talk. He has an opportunity that's relevant to your background and wonders if you're interested in learning more.

Even to someone who has no near-term desire to change jobs, few calls are as flattering. Although it certainly does not define your success, a call from an executive recruiter proves that you are known in your field as a highly desirable leader.

Above and beyond being successful at what you do, you need to have visibility in the marketplace to be on a recruiter's radar. While building this sort of reputation doesn't happen overnight, there are a number of short-term steps you can take to build the foundation of a true professional and thereby raise your profile. And even if you plan to remain with your firm for the time being, these measures may also enhance your present career.

Increase Your Visibility

Well-known people are obviously more likely to be approached for opportunities. For any given search, a recruiter relies on contacts as sources for potential candidates. These sources could ultimately be anyone in your professional network: a former manager, customers, co-workers, fellow association members, etc. While simply being successful at what you do is a natural way to make people think of you in conjunction with opportunities, make sure that your approach to success isn't purely heads-down:

Expand yourself beyond the scope of your actual job. For example, speak at an industry event or participate in a panel discussion. Join the board of a nonprofit organization. Taking these steps not only increases the likelihood that a member of your network will one day refer you to a recruiter, it also demonstrates to future employers your interest in matters beyond your current role.

Network your way to prominence. Become more active in industry associations to occupy a more visible position within your field. Join the board of a small firm. Seek out ways to work more closely with customers and with a broader spectrum of co-workers in the course of your daily professional responsibilities. Even if you choose to remain in your current role, expanding your network can only benefit your career.

Improve Your Marketability

Becoming known to recruiters is only part of the story. A truly attractive candidate needs the right package of experience and abilities. So, how do you go about getting the right stuff?

Polish your profile. Assert your accomplishments appropriately so that anyone reading your resume will understand the skills and abilities that have been required of you throughout your career. The key here is to sell, but without blatant self-promotion or erring on the side of resume inflation. You may want to enlist the support of someone very familiar with your work who can provide a sanity check for your resume and make sure that you are neither overstating your accomplishments nor selling yourself short.

Create your own professional development program. Assess what you consider to be best in class in your field and work toward rounding out your background and experience. Seek out mentors within your company, as well as stories of your firm's "heroes." Organizational legends reveal a great deal about what is valued at your company. You can then create a professional development program for yourself to ensure that your skills align with those drivers. This requires a good bit of self-awareness, because you do want to continue to develop your own personal style while remaining open to changing your behavior. Try emulating some of your heroes to see if another particular style suits you or complements you current style.

Keep your finger on the pulse. Volunteer for initiatives involving new trends in your industry. Doing so will not only help you the acquire skills and experiences that make you more marketable, but will also potentially improve performance in your present career. In addition to industry trends, certain skills, such as change management, are in strong demand. You can acquire experience in these areas within your present firm by, for example, offering to manage virtual teams for a relevant initiative.

Practice emotional maturity. Every client tells me that functional and industry experience is only half of the equation. Real leaders have the emotional competencies and maturity to manage people and situations in a highly dynamic environment. Studies conducted by Korn/Ferry International have revealed that humility, confidence and empathy are critical to long-term success and therefore contribute to becoming a more attractive candidate.

Care and Handling of the Recruiter

So, what does one do once the recruiter is on the phone? Here are some simple guidelines to help you make the most of your contact:

Be responsive. How do you make the most of the call, even if you're not interested in the opportunity discussed? Offer referrals, and make yourself available to the extent possible as a source for market information (what trends you've noticed, which companies might have recruiting needs, etc). Recruiters that you have helped are more likely to think of you for future opportunities.

Show courtesy during the courtesy interview. You needn't necessarily wait for the phone to ring. Choose one or two reputable recruiters referred to you by someone you trust, and ask for a brief courtesy interview for advice on how to position yourself in your field. Try to avoid simply using the contact to push for job leads -- the relationship can be much richer than that and much longer-term.

Understand the relationship dynamics. In all interactions with a recruiter, bear in mind that the retained recruiter is, by the nature of the contract, working on behalf of the client. Do ask questions about the process, and work to understand all of the issues at play -- they may be internal, organizational, market-driven and even simply logistical. Above all, it's beneficial to be flexible in your interactions with the recruiter's firm.

Even if you don't want to make a change just yet, your present career will benefit from taking steps to raise your profile, improve your marketability and develop relationships with recruiters. And as a result, you should be well positioned to make a move when you are ready to do so.

Katie Tucker is a client partner at Korn/Ferry International. She can be reached at (404) 222-4045 or at katie.tucker@kornferry.com.

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