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May 2022

Search in Plain Sight

Demystifying Executive Search




Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

“Somer, it’s not like I didn’t know my stuff! Quite candidly, I know my stuff more than the folks who discarded me.”


Jay, a technology executive, was fed up with the whole thing, with every part of finding a new job. Who do these recruiters think they are, judging him, a C-level technology executive, telling him he’s too junior for a role he’s qualified for?


Dealing with recruiters can be frustrating. You take the time to go through the process, talk to everyone on the search team, interview with the client, only to be left in the dark chasing recruiters for an ounce of feedback. Recruiters call you when they need you, and when you need them, they’ve disappeared off the planet. Even worse, when you finally get to the offer stage, you wonder if you can trust this person to be unbiased, knowing they want to fill the position. Who do recruiters work for anyway, the company or the candidate?


I get it. I’m a recruiter.


In February 2020, Jay reached out to me looking for a new job and wanting to be on my radar. I tried to help, but there was only so much I could do. I didn’t have any jobs for him, but I could provide transparency and advice. Executive search is a mystery, but it doesn’t have to be.


Jay had been at the same company for over fifteen years. He had truly believed he would climb the corporate ladder and one day retire from there. Everything was lined up perfectly until the new boss showed up. The new chief information officer (CIO) brought his own people, and Jay’s role kept getting smaller. His plan of retiring from this company was thrown out the window. It was clear that Jay needed to start looking for a new job.


He reached out to recruiters, had some interviews, and was told he was too junior for the positions he was interviewing for. With each negative piece of feedback, he became dis- traught. Jay knew he wasn’t too junior, but he wasn’t coming across the right way. These recruiters had never been in his shoes, yet here they were casting judgment on his seniority. Even worse, the hiring managers agreed. He knew he needed to approach his job search differently.


If you’re looking for an executive position, there’s a good chance you’ll end up speaking with recruiters at search firms versus solely with the company’s stakeholders. In 2020, the Statista Research Department reported that the global executive search industry was worth over $20 billion, $9.4 billion more than in 2012. Executive search isn’t going anywhere any time soon, which means anyone looking for access to these big jobs needs to know how executive search works.


Many executives think there’s a “cool kids club” of candidates that recruiters reach out to for every role, and they want to sit at their lunch table. Know who else they’re picturing at that table? A recruiter named Jerry McGuire who will be their personal agent and introduce them to companies. When they’re not invited to the club, they take things into their own hands, email executive recruiters they find online, and put themselves on the radar. They spend thousands of dollars on their résumé, so it’s perfect for those email introductions.


But this isn’t how people land executive jobs. I want to tell you how they do by showing you how it works.


You could say I had unfortunate timing launching my company, Distinguished Search, a month before the pandemic. All the momentum I had vanished when companies put hiring on pause while everyone was getting their head around what was happening with headcount, budgets, remote work, and the overall business. I had no jobs to recruit for and all the time in the world, so I did what I do best: I talked to people. Being forced to slow down gave me the gift of time and perspective.


When job seekers like Jay reached out, I had time to listen. I embraced every conversation and slowly became a go-to person for executive job search transparency. I noticed pat- terns in the questions and frustrations. I started posting my conversations as Q&A on LinkedIn, hoping the advice could help someone else. I wished I had an excellent resource to share that explained how executive search worked. They wanted one, too, but couldn’t find it. I decided to write it, and here we are.


I’ve been recruiting for twenty years and spent the last thirteen years in executive search. I spent six years at the seventh largest global search firm with coworkers and managers from all the big brand names. Before launching my company, I ran the North America Digital Technology and Commerce Practice at a leading boutique. Most job search tips aren’t written by recruiters like me – someone who has been on the inside. I’ve seen how it works as a junior recruiter rising to partner and want to bring this transparency to you. This isn’t general interview preparation; this is explicitly bringing you into the world that I live and breathe: retained executive search.


This book is for anyone who wants to land an executive position. If you’re an active job seeker, this is your toolkit to launch and refine your job search. If you’re passive, you’ll understand how to be a magnet that attracts great jobs months and years from now. This book is beneficial for people who have been heads-down working for years and haven’t put much time or thought into their job search. It is also helpful for emerging executives who have dealt with transactional staffing firms or applied to jobs online. The interview process for executive positions is different than they imagined, and there are new things to do to attract and land the positions they want.


In the following chapters, you’ll learn about executive search through the eyes of recruiters, job seekers, and industry experts. You’ll hear from Amanda, who has crafted how to boldly tell her story and is now getting multiple calls a week for jobs that pay seven figures. You’ll hear from recruiters from large executive search firms and boutiques about what makes specific candidates stand out and how they can leverage the recruiter through the interview process. You’ll also hear Jay’s journey of landing his new CIO job. He’s ecstatic as he catapulted his career to the next level, now interacting directly with the board. You’ll hear how he did it so you can too.


Once you understand what recruiters do, you will easily access the jobs you want and navigate the interview process. This isn’t about sending your résumé and being on the radar. This is about building relationships and having recruiters serve as your advocate. I also want you to understand why things are happening so you can give yourself a break. If you’re not getting past the recruiter or not getting feedback, you’ll understand why. You’ll read the lessons your peers learned so you don’t have to live them yourself, and you’ll realize that you’re not in this alone.


I have another mission for this book: We elevate the field by bringing transparency to recruiting. There’s no doubt you’ve had a negative experience with a recruiter, and that’s not okay. These behind-the-scenes conversations will show you what to expect from great recruiters as both a candidate and a hiring manager. When you’re hiring, choose to work with great recruiters. That’s how we change the industry, one conversation at a time.




Bibliography | Introduction


Itsathwv. “Show Me the Money! Jerry Maguire 1 8) Movie CLIP (1996) HD.” June  9,  2013.  Video,  2:32.


Statista. Market size of the executive search industry worldwide from 2012 to 2020. January 11, 2022. search-industry-worldwide/.

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