The other side of the search

If you’ve been a star performer recently, chances are good you’ll get a call from a headhunter in the future. Executive search firms typically approach currently employed executives in the limelight.

“I’m much more interested in people who are not looking for a new job,” says Tim O’Brien, president of O’Brien & Company, a Cleveland-based retained executive search firm.

O’Brien captured many large and small contracts since founding the company in 1988. Current clients include Abbott Labs, American Greetings and Ernst & Young.

O’Brien & Company is a retained search firm. Recruiters can be retained or contingency based. O’Brien explains that a contingency firm sells the skills of an individual to a company, collecting a fee once that person is placed. A retained search organization works on behalf of clients to research the market, identify, validate and screen potential executives. The biggest difference is, one seeks jobs and the other seeks top level managers.

So before you dismiss a recruiter’s call as an interruption, ask a few questions. If they are from a retained firm, your experience, skills and education have matched up with an executive level position waiting to be filled and a window of possibilities has opened.

Whether or not you are in the market for change, it’s wise to look at your options, so understand what the recruiter is looking for and perhaps you can help them find it in you.

Integrity, trustworthiness and straightforwardness

A recruiter knows a lot about you before he or she ever makes the initial contact. Even your first, more casual conversation is definitely not a time for stretching the truth or exaggerating details. Good or bad, speak the truth to gain trust.

Problem solving skills and creativity

“We like people who are creative, that is, they’re not emulators, they look for new, workable solutions to problems,” says O’Brien, adding that people with get-up-and-go need no prodding – they run with the ball.

Personal and professional accomplishment, achievement and balance

Personal achievement is as important as professional, O’Brien says. It can be as simple as mastering the violin or writing a newsletter for a nonprofit organization. It is an important indication that a person has a well-balanced life, and in turn, can offer well-rounded leadership.

Anyone can be on a board but not any one can tackle a problem and come out on top Keep a mental running note of the problems you’ve encountered and the solutions you’ve implemented.

O’Brien points out that there is typically a correlation between those who are successful in the world of commerce, accumulating a healthy financial status, and those who have a history of making the right choices.

While there’s no need to flash your portfolio, don’t hesitate to answer financial questions. The recruiter is not just looking for free investment advice.

Affiable, mannerly and engaging

“I look for people who have a good appearance, who meet well, who have good manners…they look you in the eye and they’re engaging,” says O’Brien.

In turn, people who believe in themselves spread a contagious enthusiasm and an atmosphere that attracts other successful people. Be cognitive of the aurora you create.

The last thing you want to do is buddy-up to executive recruiters. To most good search firms, friendship stays out of the search equation.

“Contribution is the key word,” says O’Brien. “Make a significant contribution to the organization you’re working for. The more you do that, the more you’re preparing yourself for bigger and better things.”

How to reach: O’Brien & Company, (216) 575-1212