Working with Executive Headhunters in Singapore: 5 Rules of Engagement

When it comes to executive headhunters in Singapore, chances are you’ll go straight for S.H.R.E.K.—a rather unrefined acronym for the heavy hitters of the industry i.e. Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, Russell Reynolds, Egon Zehnder and Korn Ferry.

But if these are the only guys you reach out to, you’ll be severely restricting your search.

Firms like the above are but a handful of the 300+ vetted international search firms listed on the directory of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), operating in 75 countries worldwide.

The reason there is even such an association to begin with is that there are good apples, and there are bad apples. In Singapore, these form less than 5% of all recruitment firms.

They work at the highest echelon of the marketplace, and are typically hired to conduct searches for senior management or highly strategic positions that will have a significant impact on the company’s performance—hence the hefty search fees they charge (up to 30% of first year annual salary).

This means their searches aren’t limited to D and C-level roles but hard-to-fill positions demanding specialist skills or niche, needle-in-a-haystack industry experience.

Three reasons to work with an AESC-listed executive search firm:

  • They typically get first dips on the top jobs in town.
  • Working with legitimate, professional search consultants ensures that your personal information will be held in the strictest confidence, to be disclosed to a client organization only with your agreement.
  • It also means that you will more likely be treated as a candidate, not as an applicant, as the search consultant will put substantial time and effort into getting to know you and evaluating your background.
The 5 do’s and don’ts of working with headhunters in Singapore

Thanks to technology and hyper-connectivity, one of the most important trends when it comes to career networking is this:

Hiring managers/recruiters have become easier to reach, but much harder to engage.

Case in point—how many email subscriptions do you receive in your inbox each week? And how many do you actually open and read?

So what are the rules of engagement when it comes to working with executive recruiters?

1) Do give them your best from the get-go.

In other words, have your resume polished to perfection before you start networking with recruiters.

This sounds like a no-brainer but every now and then I get a request for an “express” job because someone needs a resume for the recruiter, pronto. 

The thing is…never underestimate the amount of time and effort that goes into distilling and compressing 15, 20 years of work history into 2 pages of high-impact content, even if you’re engaging professional help.

Also, having a tip-top resume demonstrates that you’re respectful of other people’s time and attention – even if you’re a star performer with the right pedigree, you definitely do not want to cobble together something in a rush and let the recruiter “figure it out.”

2) Do make a 1:1 connection.

Always connect directly with a specific recruiter, instead of depositing your resume into a generic company portal. In job search (as with many other important things in life), the path of greater resistance always yields better results, simply because most people like to take the easy way. The more high-touch your approach, the more memorable you become…the most powerful search engine/algorithm/database in the world cannot beat human warmth and charisma.

Your aim here is to get the recruiter to think, “Wow, I should speak with this person!”

3) Do diversify your recruiter network selectively.

No, this is not an oxymoronic statement.

If a search firm was previously retained by your company to conduct a search, that may well mean there’s a standing client relationship with your company that prevents the recruiter from poaching you for a role elsewhere.

In other words, they can’t touch you. Which means you have to broaden your network.

At the same time, never mass-mail a generic message to every recruiter in town. You most definitely do not want your personal information and resume all out there ESPECIALLY if you are still employed—you will risk your current employer getting wind of it.

4) Don’t take it personally when you don’t hear back.

Yes, it’s frustrating and demoralising when you reach out to recruiters and they give you the usual spiel along the lines of “Thank you for sending your resume across. We’ll be in touch,” but never hear back at all.

“We get a lot of CVs, 5 to 6 a week, sometimes more. We cannot speak to all of them, we can discuss when we have something specific. If we speak to all the people who sent in their resumes, we would not have time to do any search,” says one recruiter.

Do not be mistaken: Sending an unsolicited message or email and not receiving a response is not what “ghosting” refers to. Recruiter “ghosting” happens when you have attended an interview, but never hear back. You took the time and effort to prepare for it (sometimes even having to take half a day or full day off) and when the interview ended, were told to go home and wait for the outcome, but you never hear back after weeks and months. At all. Not a squeak. Not even the perfunctory “Thank you but we have decided to go with another candidate” note. In this case, shame on them. This is why it is important to ascertain at the onset that the recruiter is from an established search firm—the chances of being “ghosted” will be far less likely.

5) Don’t cross the line between proactive and pushy.

Once you’ve advanced past initial or early interviews, there’s no need to keep calling them for updates.

Understand that while recruiters have certain power to influence the hiring decision, they are themselves beholden to their clients, who are oftentimes comprised not of sole decision-makers but factions of stakeholders including board members, business heads and sometimes, even the business owners’ inner circle—especially if the job you’re interviewing for is high-profile and business-critical.

The more people are involved, the longer the decision-making process takes. As such, it’s counter-productive to be calling the recruiter every few days.

At the end of the day, executive recruiters form an important part of your job search plan, especially if you have a specialised skillset, experience in a niche sector or are targeting senior management roles.

Having someone on the recruiting side of the fence vouch for you in your job search is incredibly important, but they are not the only gatekeepers to your dream career.

In-house recruiting especially, is increasingly eating into the executive search pie, and factoring in this channel will help you build a more robust job search plan…but it does take a slightly different approach.