Many of my executive clients have a very limited understanding of how executive recruiters (aka headhunters) work, and how they wind up on the radar screens of recruiters that they do not personally know.
The truth is that a high-caliber executive recruiter will learn about you through your reputation in your industry, previous and current peers, supervisors and subordinates, and from publications that quote or talk about you. They actively and conscientiously research and source potential candidates, while maintaining an in-depth knowledge of the industries in which they specialize and the key players in those industries.
Those are the high-caliber executive recruiters. Unfortunately the majority are not nearly so professional. They will get your name from databases they purchase such as magazine subscriber lists, or through job boards. While there is nothing wrong with a candidate found on a public job board, you could hardly describe this method of finding candidates as providing added value for the employer whose job order they are attempting to fill. You or I or even the employer could have done just what they did.
A key point that I reiterate nearly every day to my clients is this: It is very important to realize that an executive recruiter is NOT working for you. He is NOT going to go out and pound the pavement and find that next wonderful job for you. He works for the company that is looking to fill a position, and he is paid by that client.
This makes it all the more important that, if you should garner the attention of a quality recruiter, you need to be sure that you do everything you can to start and maintain a good relationship with him or her, even if the position discussed turns out not to be right for you. Do your best to provide suggestions for alternative candidates, and demonstrate your knowledge of who’s who in your industry. You want to position yourself as an industry insider and valuable contact, helping to also ensure you will come quickly to mind when the right opportunity should present itself.