Everything You Need to Know About Executive Search Firms, with Roy Notowitz

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 203:

Everything You Need to Know About Executive Search Firms, with Roy Notowitz

Airdate: August 7, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.

Every Wednesday on this show, I interview a career expert. We discuss the tools you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Roy Notowitz about everything you need to know about executive search firms.

Roy is the president of Noto Group,  an executive search firm that works with consumer brands. He started his career as a recruiter for Nike.

He joins us today here in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon.

Roy, welcome to the show. You run a retained executive search firm, how are you different from recruiters and headhunters?

Roy Notowitz:

First of all, thank you for inviting me. I appreciate being here.

Those terms are used interchangeably; so, recruiters, headhunters, staffing, executive search, and really, there are some…basically three different categories of recruiters. There are people who are in-house recruiters who basically work for the corporation in the recruiting or talent acquisition department, and that job, obviously, is different than a staffing recruiter or a contingency recruiter, which is different than a retained search, executive search, headhunter type.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, coincidentally, Roy, several episodes ago we had a staffing firm talking about their company. Now, tell us about what your firm does, retained executive search, because that’s different from in house or a staffing firm.

Roy Notowitz:

It is different.

Mac Prichard:

And it’s different from a staffing firm. Tell us about that difference.

Roy Notowitz:

It is different and I think I would even say sometimes even a little different from typical retained search firms but it’s a more strategic relationship. So, oftentimes, companies come to us when they have a specific need and we are retained to fill that position, whereas a contingency recruiter is oftentimes not paid unless they actually fill the position; so they are working on a contingent basis. It’s sad that we’re categorized by the way we get paid because I think that’s just an unfortunate way that it’s categorized.

However, the value that a retained executive search firm offers is different than what a staffing firm or regular recruiting firm might offer. One’s not better or worse, it’s just different situations.

Mac Prichard:

Well, what is the different value that a company like yours, a retained executive search firm offers both to employers and job seekers?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, on the employer’s side, sometimes they just need additional candidates. They might be trying to fill a job on their own. Staffing firms tend to work very quickly to generate candidates and they have a lot of job orders and they’re working on a lot of them at once, so the downside to that is they can only work on it for a certain amount of time. They have, oftentimes, less information and less contacts for the organization and so that is where the retained search firm comes in and understands the culture, where the company wants to go, how it wants to get there. They’re thoughtful about, where are going to find this person and build a narrative so that they can market the position to the candidates and then also think about the selection process, what questions to ask and how to facilitate that all the way through into the hire.

Much more hands-on and involved.

Mac Prichard:

Why is it important, Roy, for a job seeker or a listener to understand the difference between those different companies?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, so, on the contingent side, recruiters sometimes market candidates to companies or help people get job interviews, exploratory, because those are the types of relationships that they have. They can call…usually they’re more local, usually they have focus, creative or technology or healthcare so they have a local network of companies they work with and they’re able to know if a candidate might be a fit for one of their clients and they have sort of an open channel to share that.

Retained firms, we only work on, at least my firm, each recruiter has 5 jobs at a time, not 40, so we might fill 30 to 50 jobs a year total and we’re only working on jobs that we’re hired to fill. And so we’re not in a position really to market candidates to companies and our clients tend to be more national and focused in the areas that we’re focused in so a lot of search firms have a niche or a focus, specialty area, an industry or discipline that they focus in on.

Mac Prichard:

With a retained search firm, they’re fewer clients, employers that you’re working with at a given time and so the recruiter is able to give more attention both to the employer and the candidates as well, Roy?

Roy Notowitz:

Yes, so it depends on what type of candidate you are. So, for example, if you’re a candidate looking for a job and we don’t have one that is a fit, we can’t really do much to help you unless we have an internal resource person focused on that, which, most firms don’t, retained firms, but if you are a candidate in our process, what we do really well is understanding the company and all the different functions and how you might fit within that and making sure that you have all the information you need to make a decision and vice versa, that the company has all the information they need to make a decision, so it’s a really strong fit both from a competency and culture perspective.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and in your world of retained executive search firms, do you find that large companies, particularly national companies work with the same recruiters again and again over the years?

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah, I mean, if you do good work, then you tend to have those relationships because you really understand their business and become a true partner. And so, we’ve had clients…we’re a 10-year-old firm and we’ve had clients 10 years and they keep coming back. Not all the time, it’s just when they have a key hire or they have, maybe, a growth initiative or sometimes, if somebody leaves the organization, you know, they come to us first and that’s not to say they don’t use other resources for different scenarios but if it’s a key hire, where they want to make sure they don’t make a mistake, potentially or reduce the risk of that, they’ll use a retained search firm.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, now, our show is for job seekers and many of our listeners are curious to find recruiters in their world. How do you recommend listeners both identify and work with retained executive search firms like yours?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, first of all, you know, we didn’t mention it before but the executive level position, a lot of the other recruiting firms might work on lower-level positions, entry to mid-level or mid-level to senior level, sometimes executive level, and whereas the executive search firms tend to focus on director and above, sometimes just VP or C-level positions and so the way that they would work with us, to answer your question, would be to make contact to establish the relationship and see if the recruiter is even a fit for their discipline or industry expertise. And I would recommend doing some research upfront to find out, who are the well-known recruiters, who are the people who have the most links in common with you, who are the people who have been in their position for a while, seemingly have these client relationships over time?

A lot of recruiters have been known to jump around just like with lawyers. There are good lawyers and bad ones and the same with recruiting, although I would say there’s probably more bad recruiters. We don’t help ourselves very much, so I mean it’s really…it’s a case by case basis.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, I have to ask you, how do you tell the difference between a good recruiter and a bad recruiter?

Roy Notowitz:

A lot of times it has to do with how much information they have. So, how knowledgeable are they about the client? What do they know about how the position fits within the organization, with the other stakeholders within the organization? What kind of questions are they asking? Are they asking deep and meaningful and thoughtful questions? Even just asking the recruiter, “Is this a retained search or is this a contingent search?” What’s the relationship they have with the client and how long they’ve had that relationship and what they know, is a really good indication of whether or not they are a good recruiter.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s dig into that a little bit. Is it a problem to work with recruiters who are working on a contingency basis? I imagine they have a role to play.

Roy Notowitz:

Not at all. There are some great contingency recruiters.

Mac Prichard:

That’s not a sign of being a bad recruiter?

Roy Notowitz:

No.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Roy Notowitz:

No, in fact, they just don’t have as much time so I think if you’re working with a contingency recruiter you have that…and same with a retained recruiter, we just get so many emails. Recruiters just don’t have a lot of time so if the expectation is to go to coffee, which we get asked, you know, 30 times a day, it’s impossible. We could not do that and do our jobs so our clients come first, you know, making sure that we have people who are viable for them and there’s a lot of variables outside of our control. So whether someone will relocate, the compensation, whether they have the right skill set, if they’re even interested in making a move, and all that other stuff, and the decision making on the other side of the coin. There’s a lot of stuff recruiters are doing and don’t have a lot of time…

Mac Prichard:

Not a lot of time, so let’s, again, I want to be positive about this but warning signs that somebody might not be a good recruiter? You mentioned their understanding of the client and the client’s needs so if it’s pretty shallow understanding, that’s a bad sign, isn’t it, Roy?

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah, I mean, usually if they don’t have a lot of information, that’s probably not a good sign. If they don’t understand the industry or your discipline very well, you can often tell that by the questions they ask or how they show up. I would say also, just, I’m not making excuses for recruiters for not following up…if you’re actively engaged in a search, they should be communicating with you. The thing I would say is just to be patient because things don’t happen within 3-day segments; it’s usually 3-week segments. Because executives are traveling, they usually have other candidates in the process, they have other priorities within the organization and so we usually meet with clients on a weekly basis and go through and kind of keep things on track, and keep momentum within the process but oftentimes, candidates have expectations that, “Oh, I interviewed with you last week, how come you haven’t followed up?” So, if the recruiter just never follows up again, that’s probably a good sign.     

Mac Prichard:

A good sign of a bad recruiter.

Roy Notowitz:

Yes, something to consider next time around.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, we’re going to take a break in a moment but before we do that, I want to, just quickly, what are the signs of a good recruiter? That it’s somebody that knows their job and it’s going to be a positive relationship, what just comes to the top of your head?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, for us it’s passion about…we’re really connected with a lot of mission and purpose-driven companies and just caring about the client and making sure you get it right. So, the good recruiters will passionately represent their clients and understand and be very…take a lot of care in the process to make sure that there’s really good information and knowledge about each and every candidate and vice versa. That the candidate is really on board for the right reasons and has all the information they need.

Mac Prichard:

And they’re doing that even when they’re representing or rather bringing forward, perhaps, two or three candidates but they’re passionate about those people.

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah, and a lot of the candidates that we bring forward are not actively looking, so we kind of have to make sure that they’re really interested for the right reasons and not just kicking the tire, so to speak.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, Roy, we’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, I want to continue the conversation about working with retained executive search firms and particularly a question you said you get asked all the time which is, can people take you out to coffee? I know people do that because they want to build a relationship with you, your colleagues, and companies like yours. I’m wondering what the right way to build that relationship might be.

Hold that thought and we’ll be back after this break.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Roy Notowitz of the Noto Group.

Roy, before the break, we were talking about how to build relationships with executive retained search firms like yours because I know people struggle with this and often the default request is, “Hey Roy, can we get together for coffee?” Or, “Can I pick your brain?” Why isn’t that the right way to build a relationship, Roy? And what’s the better way to do it?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, for retained executive search firms, in particular, retained recruiters, it’s because we like to get to know people. When we have something that we’re really exploring with an opportunity and that’s where we really get to know their magic, their superpowers, their talents, and them as a person and what their career aspirations are and so we spend a lot of time doing that with candidates that are in process for existing opportunities. But leading up to that, I might know people for several years, and the way that usually starts is, or the best way would be, with an email, if it’s someone within the industry at the right level, in the right type of position, I will always invest time. Or somebody from my team will invest time in getting to know them. We have people our database, or our system, where we’re keeping track of notes and we have an understanding of their interests, and that in the future, these are the types of things or locations that they’d be interested in.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about that email for a moment, Roy. So, I work in your industry. I know you’re in the consumer goods space, particularly athletic and outdoor wear and other brands, and I want to get an executive position in your field, somebody’s given me your name. What should I say in that email?

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah, well, first of all, if you don’t have any industry experience related to the kinds of companies that we have, it’s difficult for us to help you because that’s not what our clients pay us to do.

Mac Prichard:

So, for career switchers, it’s challenging?

Roy Notowitz:

It’s challenging. I’ve helped people do that but it’s not…I do that on the side if I have time, but I think it’s making sure that your experience is relevant and communicating that concisely. You don’t need to write a huge letter.

Mac Prichard:

Find a recruiter in your world, not somebody who works in another sector; it’s the sector you want to be in. I found you, I want to continue to work in that world and I’m getting ready to hit send on that email. What should that message say?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, first of all, it’s helpful if you can share a little bit of information about your background and what your strengths are as a candidate but I would say just keep it to 3 bullet points. If there’s a personal connection, like if somebody referred you, that’s always something that’s helpful and you can look on LinkedIn. There’s a lot of people who are connected to recruiters so if you see somebody that you know well connected to that recruiter or multiple people, you could start getting information about that recruiter and getting a little bit more knowledge about them and that might help you communicate something interesting or meaningful or a connection you might have with them.

Mac Prichard:

What is your ask in that email? You’re introducing yourself, you’re talking about your accomplishments and experiences. Should the author simply say, “Please keep me in mind for future opportunities,” or should they ask for a phone ask or a meeting? How do you begin to build that relationship with someone like you?

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s okay to ask for a touch-base call, maybe a 15 minute call. I like to use Calendly app where you can schedule 15 minutes; you can send them a link. That’s really helpful for them to just quickly look at their calendar. It’s the back and forth scheduling that’s really hard and more than 15 minutes, 5 to 15 minutes is hard, so if you can keep it short, just a quick phone call or touch-base, that’s probably the best way to go.

Mac Prichard:

What’s the purpose of that call? Once you’ve been clear about who you are, what you want, what you want to do next, and you’ve asked for a quick phone call, you’ve provided the Calendly app, which is an online scheduling tool, for those who might not be familiar with it, and once you get that recruiter on the phone, what is it you want to walk away from that conversation with?

Roy Notowitz:

I think it’s having them understand your strengths and having sort of get to know you a little bit. So, you don’t have to have a huge goal other than, I think, it’s helpful to have some questions prepared, specifically if you have thoughts about how to position yourself. I think it’s really important, especially if you don’t have a focus, you can’t really arrive at a destination of a job that you want in the future unless you know what that address is. And so if you need help clarifying that or you need help positioning yourself within the industry the proper way, if you’re trying to move laterally into a different function to get a new, fresh experience, you can ask recruiters any kind of question related to work, job, career stuff, but I think it’s helpful to think that out in advance and maybe even send an agenda in advance. You don’t really have meetings without agendas typically so I think it’s helpful to have an agenda in mind.

Mac Prichard:

Is there a typical agenda you’d recommend for a listener who’s going to have a call like that?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, first it’s just to get to know the recruiter. People like to share information about where they work or who they work with or their company or firm. It’s good to remember that recruiters are also trying to build relationships with hiring executives and oftentimes, we only get calls when people are looking and not the reverse, so if you really want to have a relationship, I think it’s good to have a 2-way relationship, thinking about, what is it that that recruiter is interested in, whether it’s topics, information that you can send to them, or client relationships, people you know in the industry who might be a good contact for hiring and just also candidate leads.

If you look on their website and see what jobs they have open, if there’s one that fits your skillset and competency, then definitely bring that up first and foremost or other people you may know for those jobs.

Mac Prichard:

Think about what you, the candidate, might do for the recruiter. I’m curious, Roy, how often do people say in these calls or conversations, “Hey Roy, what can I do for you?”

Roy Notowitz:

It does happen and I think it’s great.

Mac Prichard:

Do you think…is that a good thing to say?

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah, I mean, as long as it’s authentic and you actually follow through with it and at the same time, I don’t have very high expectations. I know, and I understand that they’re looking for what might be next. Sometimes they’re urgently looking and other times it’s a long-term strategy and I think for retained search firms, just remember, it’s a long-term strategy. There are people I’ve known 20 years I haven’t placed and there are people I’ve known 20 years that I’ve placed 3 times. It’s not because those people are better, it’s just coincidence that we’d have an opportunity at the same time they’re available and they’re a good fit and all those other various…it’s kind of a miracle when it actually does all align that way.

Mac Prichard:

After you have that phone call, what happens next? Should you try to check in with a retained executive search recruiter regularly? Should you wait to hear back? How do you see people maintain these relationships over a period of 5, 10, even 20 years?

Roy Notowitz:

It’s hard, I feel like I’m speaking for all executive search consultants and I’m nervous about what they might think.

I think, yes, it’s okay to check in regularly.

Mac Prichard:

Is that every 6 months?

Roy Notowitz:

That’s 6 months, yeah, I mean at most quarterly. We send out a quarterly newsletter so that candidates can subscribe to that and I think that’s the right amount of time to check. If you’re actively looking, you can check their website monthly because there are always new roles that come in on a monthly basis or follow them on their LinkedIn page. So I think it’s good to keep up with what’s going on out there.

Mac Prichard:

I didn’t ask this at the start of our conversation but I think for many listeners, recruiters, whether they’re working on a contingency or on an executive search firm like yours or for a staffing agency, they’re kind of a mysterious group that everybody wants to get in front of you but they’re not quite sure how to do it. How do you recommend, when someone is beginning a search, that they…what kind of research can help you find a recruiter in your field in your community?

Roy Notowitz:

Well, it’s funny, I always say, I wish I was this popular in high school so I do get a lot of…maybe 300 emails a day.

Mac Prichard:

People do find you.

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

How do they find you, Roy?

Roy Notowitz:

Through LinkedIn, I think, a lot, mostly and again, it comes down to how many contacts they have in common. So, you can search, you can narrow it down to your industry sector, location, job title, and you can look at their company page and see how many people are following them that are in common with you.

Mac Prichard:

Can you actually search on LinkedIn by recruiter for a field?

Roy Notowitz:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Okay so that’s something listeners can do.

Roy Notowitz:

Or by title. Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and you can narrow that to a geographic area as well.

Roy Notowitz:

I mean, I recommend upgrading your LinkedIn. I sound like a LinkedIn commercial, but I mean, it gives you more ability to search and research and find information.

Mac Prichard:

Any other tools you recommend besides LinkedIn for identifying recruiters in a particular sector in a community?

Roy Notowitz:

I would say, just talk to your colleagues, people that you trust. Obviously, if you’re actively looking for a job there’s a sense of confidentiality but if you also go to trade shows and events on a national scale, you’ll hopefully get to meet those folks. A lot of them work with private equity firms and investment bankers and lawyers so if you have contacts in that space, that’s a good way to find out who’s kind of, moving and shaking and in the mix, so to speak.

Mac Prichard:

While we’ve been talking about executive-level recruitment, these principles are probably, I’m guessing, are applied to any stage of a career; entry and mid-level too.

Roy Notowitz:

Yeah, we don’t…at the executive search level, most people don’t apply, so we’re really just reaching out to people directly or they’re reaching out to us directly. There’s not a lot of posting or…I mean, we put the jobs we’re working on on our website but most of the time, we’re really just targeting people who we want to talk to and vice versa, they’re targeting people who they want to talk to.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Roy, tell us, what’s next for you?

Roy Notowitz:

Thanks for asking that. So, you know, as a firm, I’m really interested in connecting what we do with a bigger purpose. And so we’re a B-corp and so we work with a lot of purpose-driven companies and so our goal is really to be the go-to firm for purpose-driven companies and to connect what we do to their success and so that’s underway and we just started a podcast that you can sign up for at our website. That is called How I Hire which is talking about a lot of these topics but from the other side of the table. From the hiring executive’s point of view. So it should be exciting and interesting.

Mac Prichard:

I think that’s an invaluable perspective because often, I know job candidates wonder, “What are hiring managers thinking?” And it sounds like your show will provide some insights into that.

Roy Notowitz:

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about your company and your new podcast by visiting your website, that’s notogroup.com.

Now, Roy, given all the advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want our audience to remember when thinking about what they need to know about executive search firms?

Roy Notowitz:

That’s a good question. I think it’s, first and foremost, just understand that executive and retained recruiters are different than contingent recruiters and different than in-house recruiters and so that’s the first step. And the second is to realize that time is really scarce for everybody, including the hiring managers and everyone involved in this whole hiring process and it’s very time-consuming. And oftentimes, there’s a really competitive pool and so being self-aware, self objective around your own fit within that role and also understanding that these things take a little time and communication is important but also challenging, so I think it’s incumbent upon the candidate and the recruiter to really keep that contact going with updates and things like that.

Mac Prichard:

Excellent advice, Roy. Thanks for being on the show today.

Roy Notowitz:

Thank you.

Mac Prichard:

Here’s the most important point I took away from my conversation with Roy and that’s the importance of knowing what you want and building a relationship with the recruiters in your world that can pay dividends over the years. And I love the specificity of Roy’s advice about how to find a recruiter and then connect with them in that introductory phone call and do it in a way that makes it easy for the recruiter to say yes and then, having clear expectations about how you can continue that relationship. And sometimes, it might be years before it pays off but it also, as Roy shared, he’s had clients who he’s been able to place in multiple jobs over the course of a decade or two.

That was terrific advice and it all begins with having a clear focus about what you want. And if you’re struggling with focus and getting clear about your goals for your job search, check out our free resource, Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

You can get it today, go to the Mac’s List website, that’s macslist.org/focus, and download your free copy.

You’ll get a free step by step guide to setting goals.

Well, thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Rachel Boehm. She’ll explain how to own the room in a job interview.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

As a vice president or C-level executive, you need to find an executive search firm that understands your industry and your expertise. Even if you are not actively seeking a new position, a good executive search firm will continue to build their relationship with you and keep you in mind for future opportunities. Finding an executive search firm can be a challenge, says Find Your Dream Job guest Roy Notowitz. You have to do your research up-front, and identify people in your network with years of experience and many common connections. Most importantly, you have to know what you want and be willing to build relationships over time in order to find your dream job.  

About Our Guest:

Roy Notowitz is the president of Noto Group, a purpose-driven executive search and consulting firm with expertise in recruiting for Director, VP and C-Level roles. Noto Group executive search practice spans across business functions and channels within the outdoor, active performance, sporting goods, food and beverage, fashion, and natural products industries. Roy started his career as a recruiter for Nike.

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you’re an executive who’s ready to connect with a purpose-driven, executive search firm, check out Roy’s firm, Noto Group.
  • To hear more about today’s topics, but from a hiring manager’s point of view, listen to Roy’s new podcast, How I Hire, starting mid-September 2019