Nonprofit Career Search: What can you expect from most search firms?

November 2, 2015

Guest Blog by Bill Fitzgerald, Founder/Managing Partner of Exec Careers DC, Associate Member of Maryland Nonprofits


Read the original blog here.


Based on what I hear from many people, the answer to this question would be –  Very little. As someone who has been in the search business a long time, that’s hard to hear. Most of us go into this business because we want to help people succeed in their career. There are however, some realities associated with the search business itself, that have to be acknowledged and accepted. Understanding that puts a candidate in a better position to establish a meaningful relationship with a search firm.

For starters, the only way a search firm makes money is if they develop a reputation for making placements. Search consultants have limited time and can only pay attention to a certain number of candidates at anyone time. You may want, and even expect someone to return your call or email but they simply don’t have the capacity. While a search consultant may want to extend the courtesy, they are under the same time and cost restraints as everyone else.

There is also a math problem. How many of the candidates that send their resumes into a search firm will likely ever be placed by that firm? I don’t know if anyone has ever done the calculation, but when you think about the hundreds of thousands of resumes that some search firms receive, unless you are one of the very, very best at what you do, the odds are not very high. Search firms fill a very small percentage of openings available at any given time. Most jobs get filled via networking.

What are the odds a recruiter is working on an assignment that matches your background perfectly at the exact time you call or send in your resume?

Search firms also prefer to work with people they know and trust and rely heavily on networking. Unsolicited resumes generally receive very little attention.

Does this mean you cross them off your job search strategy? Of course you don’t. But you need to understand the best way to work with a search firm.

  • Have a well-rehearsed elevator speech about who you are professionally and what you want to do. It’s not a search firm’s responsibility to figure this out for you. They are not career counselors.
  • Have an updated resume available that speaks clearly to your responsibilities and accomplishments. Get rid of the fluff- long lists of self-professed competencies. No one cares and without context, they are meaningless.
  • If you are lucky and get called by a search firm, you need to understand and respect their process. They will talk with lots of people to find the exact right fit for their client. If that isn’t you, you may not hear back from them. I know that seems rude, but that’s the reality. After you’ve followed up a couple of times and haven’t heard anything back, you can be sure that ship has sailed.
  • It’s ok to periodically follow up with a search firm, but once every 3 months is usually enough and email is preferred.   More often than that and you begin to look desperate.
  • Not all recruiters are the same. Use the Kennedy Directory to find recruiters that specialize in your industry or discipline. That will increase the odds that someone will be able to help you.
  • Find ways to endear yourself to the search consultant long before you are ready to look for a job. This may be the most important advice of all. Reach out and provide them with information about industry trends, insights about possible candidates, or helpful news about specific companies. This increases the chance of building a relationship that someday may pay dividends.

Unfortunately, this is one relationship where you have very little control. When a relationship does occur, it’s one you’ll want to nurture. This is a connection you’ll want to maintain for the rest of your professional career. Don’t take it for granted and don’t let it go!

Learn more Exec Careers DC here


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