Executive Search Best Practices

As an executive leader, you’ve achieved a level of success that has set you apart. And whether you’re simply ready for a change, or you want to make a move that will accelerate your career growth, you’re considering reaching out to a retained executive search firm to let them know of your interest in making a move. If you’ve never worked with a retained executive recruiter before, you might not be aware of how the process differs. Below we outline executive search best practices for candidates when working with a retained firm.


Your resume is more than a chronological list of your professional experience. How does it position you? There is no right or wrong answer per se. Being aware of what story your resume is telling is important. You may want to have different variations of your resume that focus on specific areas you want to highlight to prospective employers. Take the time to update and consider your professional story before reaching out to a recruiter.


You may not realize that more than 90% of the openings at the VP or C level are never advertised. Working with an executive search firm greatly improves your chances of being considered for these openings. To find the right search firms for your specialization (marketing, engineering, etc…), geography, or industry, you’ll need to do some research.

The largest executive search firms may be able to cover a variety of industries and specialities, but they tend to work with large multinational companies. The majority of the businesses out there work with smaller, boutique retained search firms. Knowing which firms address your needs will save you time, so you’re not reaching out to firms that can’t help you.


Once you have identified the best executive search firms for your industry or speciality, use your network to see if you have any connections to the firm. LinkedIn is a great tool for this, especially if you are keeping your search quiet. If you have identified someone you trust that is connected with the firm, ask them for a referral introduction.

Recruiters receive a large number of emails and phone calls every day from prospective candidates. A referral is the number one way to move to the top of the list for a recruiter to get back to you. It’s important to remember that executive recruiters work for the companies they conduct searches for, not the candidate. If you can’t get a referral, a succinct, focused note to the recruiter is your best option. You don’t need to revisit your resume. Get their interest with a compelling narrative that touches on your achievements and goals for your next position.


Working with an executive search firm is a relationship. Unlike a contingency search agency, there is a good chance the recruiter will not have an active search for you the moment you reach out. But now you are on their radar. In the meantime, they may reach out to you with other opportunities their firm is working on. Where possible, provide a referral if you know someone qualified. Only responding to a recruiter when you are looking yourself diminishes your value to them. Responding in a timely manner and providing your insight to them keeps you top of mind when the next applicable search comes in.

At Sheer Velocity, we work with executives across a variety of industries and have offices in seven US cities and international reach to 30 countries. If you’re interested in working with us, review the four R’s presented here and send us a note letting us know what sets you apart from the pack.