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How to position yourself with an executive recruiter

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

In my experience, when a recruiter / search consultant kicks off a new search they go through this exercise:

  1. Who do I know

  2. Who do we know

  3. Fresh research

Let’s break this down. They all look self-explanatory, but a small level of detail would be helpful.

  • “Who do I know” This process depends on the recruiter. It can be a mental exercise. It can be looking at past searches and who was called/interviewed for those roles. It can be a sophisticated database or LinkedIn 1st degree connection search.

  • “Who do we know” Again the “we” definition depends on the person. This can be the people literally sitting around them in the office, asking for recommendations. It can be one’s boss, or research team if they’re in a big search firm. It can be a search of the firm’s database outside this recruiter’s own searches. “We” can be one’s external network, reaching out and sourcing people who wouldn’t directly fit the role but would likely recommend someone.

  • “Fresh research” This is how it sounds, methodically going through a target list of companies. This is an entire skill set in itself, and leads to building the funnel above, making columns 1 and 2 bigger.

Here’s the thing. You want to be in the “Who do I know” pile. You want to be top of mind when that search comes up. But how do you stay there? A random “Hey just checking in” email won’t likely do it unless timing is 100% on your side.

Here’s how you get into a recruiter’s gut, into their mental network if they haven’t sent you on a client interview before.

Position yourself for the job you thrive in. When I talk to people one of my first questions is usually along the lines of “In what kind of role are you most impactful?” I’m trying to quickly get to this.

Here’s an exercise: Describe what you’re good at without using your title, company, or team size. Create three bullet points that people can recall when they think of you. And this must be deeper than words like impact, innovative, digital transformation, etc. What separates you?


  • Think of me when there’s a strong team in place and they need….

  • When there needs to be a talent overhaul because...

  • When the company needs to scale and…

  • When a company grew too fast and…

  • When there’s a need for global…

  • When a traditional company needs…

  • When a culture is… and needs to get …

  • When the customer experience is… and needs to…

  • When technology is in... state and needs to...

  • When driving change has roadblocks like...

The list goes on.

Then you’re more than your title, and people will remember the stories you share backing this up.

As I wrote in another post, no matter how much you feel that you should go to the beginning of your resume so the recruiter has the full essence of what you’re about, you shouldn’t. This won't help you get in the "Who do I know" pile.

Think about yourself in the present moment, but with a holistic lens on who you are now and what in your past defines that. Be your own best advocate. Celebrate your wins and talk about yourself in a way that showcases where you can thrive.

Then when the recruiter is taking down the job description they'll say "I know exactly who I'm calling for this!"


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