To prepare for this article, I spoke with several clients and executive job seekers who are currently being barraged with calls from executive recruiters. What I’m learning is discouraging because many recruiters are misrepresenting their corporate client opportunities with vague inquiries and bait-and-switch routines.
Many of my colleagues and good friends are quality recruiters with impeccable integrity. However, as in any industry there are inexperienced recruiters in the marketplace who are not worth your time. Many are sourcing dozens of opportunities at once, it’s a numbers game and the fastest hires produce the fastest fees, while filling the recruiter’s pipeline for future opportunities.
Always trust but verify the recruiter’s job opportunities. Similar to our job offer due diligence process—to protect your time.
Here is an exchange of recruiter emails with a recent client (names are fictionalized).
“Hi Georgie Porgie:
I'm working with an exciting and well-established climate tech company that is searching for a Head of Engineering.
They are well-funded and have deep existing relationships with Fortune Global 500 clients. At a high level, the platform will enable, among other things, large global enterprises to measure and manage their climate impact, and fulfill their very public carbon neutral promises.
I'd love to connect and explore this exciting opportunity with you. Do you have just a few minutes tomorrow for a short phone call?
Thanks for your time and hope to talk soon,
Revello the Recruiter
Smashing Recruiters Inc.
My client's response:
Thank you for your inquiry. Are you retained by the firm directly? Please forward the job description for my review, and I will get back to you within 24 hours with a time to connect.
Forwarded from Craig Morgan:
New Software Development Leadership role in Hocus Pocus (Currently remote)?
My name is Craig and I thought you had a nice background!
I'm recruiting on some great Software Development Leadership roles for Hocus Pocus located in Kingston. These positions are FULL TIME and the company will offer excellent compensation.
Are you in the market for something new these days and does this sound like something that could interest you?
My response to my client after they forwarded me this:
I find Craig’s email casual, unfocused and somewhat unprofessional. Recruiting for “some” roles tells me he’s likely not retained. Not sure this is worth your time, although he does have 24 recommendations on his LI profile. He also recruits for mid-level roles.
Forwarded from Dave Johns:
Georgie, Do you want to help the most underserved and poorest Americans have a future? I have a 100% remote VP of Engineering opening @ a Healthcare tech company that matches your background perfectly. They just landed 50M as the largest seed round in the midwest history from Inez Capital.
From my client:
This one was complete misrepresentation. The title was Head of Engineering, to which I declined after researching the company. Then they said they will change the title to VP, and asked me to interview because they liked my background a lot. I spoke to their internal recruiter, but then they decided to set me aside because I didn't have later stage growth experience, which was never a requirement. I was so upset, the hiring manager didn't even speak with me, it was a cluster.
Again, I would be very clear at the outset that you are ONLY considering VP and above roles. Seed round feels early stage—not what your target is.
Recruiter due diligence:
Prequalify the recruiter
Protecting your time is important. For example, consider your hourly rate at $200 per hour. If you’re investing three to four hours per inquiry (telephone interviews, in-person interviews, following up, etc.), you will see the real cost of speaking with the recruiter. Avoid the opportunity cost of speaking with the wrong recruiter for the wrong opportunity.
Put yourself in control of the process and take a leadership position by pre-qualifying the recruiting firm before you speak with them. You will avoid wasting time and emotional energy by choosing to only speak with recruiters who match your criteria.
Of course, it goes without saying that you will be polite and respectful while being deliberate in your response and management of recruiter inquiries.
Vague inquiry—but looks interesting
Thank you for your inquiry. Are you directly retained by the client corporation for this opportunity? If so, kindly forward the job description for my review and I will respond appropriately within 24 hours. I appreciate your consideration.”
If the recruiter insists on speaking first because of confidentiality and you’re interested in the role, you can say:
I appreciate your position. I receive dozens of inquiries each month and I’m not in a position to speak unless I can determine the position aligns with my future goals. I’m currently exploring roles in healthcare technology at the VP, SVP, or CTO level (depending on the size of the company) for Fortune 1000 companies and other quality small to mid-cap companies in the US Midwest.
If this aligns with your search, I would be delighted to discuss once I’m able to review the job description.”
Not appropriate role but looks like a quality recruiter
Thank you for your inquiry. This opportunity, while it looks very interesting, does not align with my career goals at this time. Good luck with your search.”
You may want to add:
“I’m currently exploring roles in healthcare technology at the VP, SVP, or CTO level (depending on the size of the company) for Fortune 1000 companies and other quality small to mid-cap companies in the US Midwest.”
Recruiter requests on LinkedIn
A few days ago, my client in Denver received this message in her LinkedIn account. An SVP of Software Development for SaaS companies, she is currently seeking a CTO role. She contacted me to see whether the following inquiry seemed valid.
When I looked at the email address and company name, I realized they are located in Japan with North American locations for both electrical supply and pharmaceutical companies. That certainly seemed valid to me. However, the type of language used in this screenshot feels vague and untargeted to the client. You will note, of course, the author of the message doesn’t refer to the client’s area of expertise only “after a review of your profile the management is in need of your service / firm…”
I further explored and noted that although the companies are valid, a Google search on the email address and language in the message revealed a scam relating to this company. The date on the website where the scam is described is September 15, 2014—several years ago. Although the company is valid (or so it appears), the offer is not.
Go direct to the company website
A visit to the company website indicates what appears to be a pharmaceutical company with operations in North America. I suggested the client to explore the website and ignore the LinkedIn message and approach any job opportunities with the company with extreme caution.
Legitimate recruiting firms will disclose the firm’s name and the full name of the recruiter with appropriate contact information.
Recruiters asking for your current salary
I understand from many executives I speak with regularly that recruiters want to know their current salary. I disagree with offering this confidential information to recruiters. Disclosing your targeted salary is appropriate at the appropriate time. A recruiter whose initial call is focused exclusively on your salary is quickly trying to pre-qualify you for an open role. This type of approach is in the best interest of the recruiter, but not necessarily in the best interest of the executive candidate.
Budgets will drive the recruiting process, and this is valid. However, disclosing your current salary may pre-emptively disqualify you for an otherwise appropriate opportunity. Here is an example of this dynamic:
Aveling was currently underemployed. She had accepted a lower-level role during a period of health challenges, and she realized that in order to recover from her neck injury, she would need to assume a role that kept her from traveling (this happened in 2018/2019 before COVID 19). She was earning $60K annually and was performing well in the role. She underwent surgery to correct a neck injury and six months later she was ready to level up to a higher-paying job and a salary she had left behind in 2017 when she was injured.
A former business development executive, Aveling took on a role in inside sales for an electrical manufacturing company. Soon into her post recovery, she received a call from a recruiter who was sourcing a business development executive for electrical transformers serving the electrical utility industry. She was a perfect match for the role. When the client asked me whether to disclose her current salary, I said “absolutely not!”. The salary for the new role was a base of $120k with an upside to $340k if she hit the targets.
If Aveling had disclosed her current salary with the recruiter, she may have been immediately disqualified for a role that she did assume (and was very successful at, too). I encouraged Aveling to discuss the value proposition for the electrical transformer company—not her current salary. What is the value she could bring to this organization?
Here are a few scripts you can customize when you’re asked this intrusive and personal question:
“Ebenezer, unfortunately I’m not in a position to disclose that information. What I can tell you is that I’m targeting a role in business development with a base of $150k and a total compensation of $425k.”
Then stop talking. Let Ebenezer respond.
If Ebenezer insists on knowing your current salary, you can say:
“As I mentioned, I’m not in a position to disclose that information out of respect for my employer (if this is true for you). My confidentiality agreement precludes me from discussing my salary. Again, my market research tells me I’m positioned for a salary in _______ to ________ range.”
By taking a leadership position from the start of the conversation, you will be in control of your search and your future.
We have collected a few dozen resources for your job search. Access them in the download below and good luck with your career journey.
Our best advice for you if you are an executive seeking a new opportunity
Go direct to organizations that interest you. Carve out the middleman and save your new firm a hefty recruiting fee. Investing in time-honored relationships with recruiters is an excellent idea, but don’t waste your time on vague inquiries that are not in your best interest.
If you have any questions or comments relating to this post, contact me directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.