"Anyone who attempts to contact a search firm needs to do their research first. If you don't, you're an unknown entity, and you could fall into a black hole," says Smooch Reynolds, president and CEO of The Repovich-Reynolds Group, a retained executive search firm, and author of Be Hunted: 12 Secrets to Getting on the Headhunter's Radar Screen.
Prior to divulging your work history and salary level to a recruiter whose number you spotted in the classifieds, interview your interviewer. "Before you get into a dialogue about a specific position, get some background on the search firm," Reynolds says. "Find out how extensive the recruiter's knowledge is of the type of job search being conducted."
With so many generalists around, candidates should find a search firm that specializes in a specific industry, job function and/or professional level. If you can obtain an agency's client list, call on companies directly, and speak with someone from human resources about their experience with the firm. Professional associations, career centers and alumni organizations also can serve as additional sources for finding firms with above-board ratings.
With today's corporate layoffs, it's in your interest to work with more than one recruiter. Win-win relationships are those which are nurtured over time. "If you change jobs or get promoted, keep us informed," says Reynolds. Since a recruiter may be working on multiple searches at once, remember to be respectful of work style and schedule.
The etiquette (or lack thereof) displayed toward a recruiter can affect their perception of your candidacy. "If a candidate doesn't get a job and behaves like a sore loser, his leadership qualities are thrown into question," Reynolds says.
There are people who are frequently targeted and called upon by recruiters; these people know how to market themselves. Moreover, they understand their competition and know their street value. "A lot of candidates are not as astute, and as a result, they are often pushed by a recruiter to accept an inappropriate compensation package," Reynolds says. To raise your "brand visibility" among recruiters and in the business world, Reynolds suggests becoming an active member of an industry association, speaking at industry-related events, and writing articles in trade publications.