(Money Magazine) -- Decent job listings are pretty scarce these days -- which is why it's more important than ever to get your résumé in front of the top headhunters in your field. Executive-search professionals serve their client companies by quietly cherry-picking candidates for high-level jobs, many of which are never advertised. And if you're not on the recruiters' radar, you may miss out on prime opportunities. These strategies can help you get on the gatekeepers' good sides:
Find the right recruiters
Headhunters often specialize by industry or job function. Thus, the best way to find someone is via your network. You're likely to get a better response if you've been referred, so ask friends in your field which pros were helpful to them, or use LinkedIn to check whether current or former co-workers are connected to recruiters; alternatively, see whether your industry association can suggest someone. It's worthwhile doing all this even if you're not job hunting just yet. Building a network takes time, and you might as well get a headstart.
Make the initial contact
Write a brief introductory e-mail explaining where you've worked, what you have accomplished, and what you'd like your next move to be. Attach a résumé. If you were referred, say so. It's not necessary to request a meeting; most recruiters prefer to wait until they have a relevant opening, notes Jeff Lip-schultz of Dallas search firm A-List Solutions. If the response is positive, invite the person to connect on LinkedIn; that keeps you in the recruiter's network and memory.
Maintain the relationship
Stay in touch to stay top-of-mind. But avoid contacting the recruiter more than once a month. (Basically, treat the person the same way you would a hiring manager.) And don't just reiterate information, says Lorri Zelman of New York City staffing firm Solomon Page Group; instead, mention a project you're working on or share a news article of interest. Also, follow the headhunter's blog, Twitter, or LinkedIn postings -- recruiters often use those tools to report openings. Refer candidates when appropriate; people like to help those who have helped them.
Return calls quickly and be open-minded about opportunities, says New York City career strategist Barbara Safani: "Sometimes the job presented is not the one they end up hiring for." But if you're just not interested, thank the recruiter for considering you, explain why you don't think it's a fit, and recommend someone else.
When you do interview, recognize the recruiter's efforts with a thank-you note, no matter the result. And if you land the job? Be sure to tell the employer about your positive experience with the headhunter -- because recruiters especially like people who help them get jobs.
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