Whether you’re on the recruitment or job search side of the table, this is arguably the most active time of year. How fortunate we all are. And yet, it can be challenging to balance so many competing demands for our time and attention.

The New Year brings reflection (and, hopefully, bonuses), often leading professionals to proactively pursue a career move. Others quietly become more receptive to compelling overtures. In either case, most are fully employed in current roles with limited time for the intensive process of exploring a new one.

Simultaneously, executive recruiters face our own time management challenges. Clients expect speed, focus and intensity as Q1 searches launch, we’re helping candidates navigate sensitive negotiations and resignations as 2017 projects close, and our email and voicemail overflow with outreach.

My hope for this article is to help professionals and executive recruiters create the very best connection possible while removing unnecessary friction from the system. Please consider my advice a mix of guidance and encouragement, written with the candor of a native New Yorker, the insight of a 16 year veteran recruiter, and, above all, the best of intentions.

First, some quick context: retained executive recruiters spend the majority of our time focused on executing client projects. When backgrounds and mandates align, the response is immediate. If not, your outreach joins hundreds of other unsolicited emails, and it may take me a while to respond. To be candid, it’s mathematically impossible to keep up. I risk losing clients if I am not delivering, and my ability to serve anyone quickly disappears!

For professionals open to exploring new opportunities, it’s important to first consider your goals in reaching out to an executive recruiter.

Ideally, the desired outcome is to establish a strong connection and best position yourself for consideration on current and upcoming projects. A great executive coach would be much more effective for general career advice or resume reviews.

Let’s explore the 3 steps involved in communicating with executive recruiters: preparation, initial outreach, and keeping in touch.

Step One: Preparation

Before reaching out, it’s time to get clear on your current situation:

  • Why are you open to considering a new role?
  • What types of roles and firms are you open to? What is ideal?
  • Would you consider relocation? If so, where?
  • What were the circumstances surrounding each of your prior career moves?
  • Where are your former managers and colleagues now? Are you still in contact? Would they serve as positive references? Critical side note – if the answer is no, it’s time to get to work re-establishing or mending past relationships.
  • What are your compensation goals?
  • What are your current employment terms?
  • What research and networking have you done to identify recruiters in your space?

Step Two: Initial Outreach

Given time constraints, professionals have around 3 seconds to make a great impression. But here is an insider’s secret – it’s actually quite easy to differentiate yourself in a positive way.

Before clicking send, consider which category your emails falls in to and the likely outcome:

The Weak Email: will be deleted or filed at best.

  • Addressed to Sir, Madam, incorrectly spelled recipients name or no salutation at all
  • Inconsistent font size and/or type; clearly a cut and paste error
  • Experience and desired job are outside the recruiter’s expertise
  • Short, incomplete sentences
  • Resume or bio are missing
  • Resume contains errors or track changes (convert to PDF)
  • Negative tone
  • Sending a LinkedIn invitation without any prior connectivity or introductory note

The Good Email: will be saved, shared internally and responded to.

  • Salutation is tailored and specific
  • Highly professional and concise writing
  • A match exists between experience and recruiter’s expertise
  • Positive tone
  • Includes a current resume, bio or LinkedIn profile
  • Followed up by an invitation to connect on LinkedIn

The Outstanding Email: a real connection is established.

  • Contains all characteristics of a good email
  • References mutual connections or how you found the recruiter
  • Includes a short description of your professional background and desired next step, including geographic considerations
  • Offers to be helpful as a source on other projects
  • Followed up by thoughtful outreach

Step Three: Keeping in Touch

Statistically speaking, the likelihood of an immediate match between a job seeker’s experience and a current mandate is quite small. But seasoned recruiters play the long game, and so should you.

What does thoughtful follow up look like? First, a few examples of its opposite:

“I will be in town tomorrow. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

This question is so well intentioned, but risks being perceived as salesy and unrealistic. I would love to have coffee. Truly. In reality, my own husband only has about 5 minutes to tell me about his day (sad but true).

“Hi, are you working on anything interesting for me?”

Chances are, I am reading your email while traveling or in transit. Or, stealthily, at my son’s Saturday morning soccer game (also sad but true). Please reference our prior conversations and include a resume or LinkedIn profile.

Great follow up notes offer a fantastic opportunity for job seekers. Why? Because they are so incredibly rare. These notes contain every characteristic of outstanding initial outreach coupled with a willingness to offer something of value.

Specific examples:

  • news articles
  • white papers
  • invites to professional and social events
  • introductions to talented industry colleagues
  • potential new business leads

Only 5% of the emails I receive include any of these offerings. As such, great follow up notes are truly a differentiator and worth the extra effort.

Please keep in mind that no amount of thoughtful outreach can compensate for a career undergoing some real setbacks. If a professional frequently changed jobs or burned bridges, it’s time to hire a coach or focus on excelling in an existing role.

Finally, top talent have the luxury of being pursued proactively. Even aggressively. Rest assured, with thoughtful career management and outreach, the tides will turn. Executive recruiters will then be forced to work equally, if not more diligently, to capture your attention!


Laurie Thompson is a Principal in the Global Financial Services Practice at Heidrick and Struggles, the executive search and leadership advisory firm.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s.