I had yet another client ask me this question today. Here are my thoughts:
Regarding the efficacy of contacting recruiters or using recruiter sites and job boards in general, I do not think these activities are a waste of time and would not recommend them if I did. I can think of no more efficient way of getting yourself “on the radar” of a large number of recruiters and companies. However, I must point out that realistically, only a relatively small proportion of positions are found through recruiters OR job boards, with personal and professional networking accounting for 60 to 70% of hires.
This is why I encourage my clients to access either or both of these resources, but to do it in the most efficient way possible. Send your executive resume to a select, targeted group of recruiters. Upload your executive resume to executive-appropriate job sites. Set up automated job posting notifications to be sent to your e-mail inbox. Then you are free to devote the majority of your time to two activities:
a) Leverage and build your network by interacting with your personal contacts, participating in professional organizations, utilizing LinkedIn and other online networking resources (and establishing yourself as an expert there by asking and responding to questions), and perhaps joining executive networking organizations such as ExecuNet or Netshare.
b) Research companies that interest you and work to get your foot in the door by finding contacts who either work within those companies or know someone who works within those companies. You then initiate contact via online networking resources, phone or e-mail, or mailing them a customized letter expressing interest in their organization. (This works best if you can identify areas that may be of concern to them and offer your thoughts on suggested ways to address them, establishing yourself as an expert offering valuable advice.)
So although a relatively small proportion of positions are found through job sites and recruiters, positions ARE found through them every day. Why leave a possible source of job leads out of your strategy? However, take care that you do not find yourself devoting a large portion of your time to this. Get out there and network!