CXO

Ask these questions when screening a recruiting firm

Two TechRepublic members who sent in career questions, one about seeking consulting opportunities overseas and one about a technical sales position, get advice from a career counselor. Listen in to the answers he gave them for some useful tips.


Tim Heard is a technical recruiter for JC Malone, a career placement service. Tim shares his career advice by answering questions from TechRepublic members.

Question
I was working for an American multinational in Asia. They had to scale back their operation and decided to pull out of the region. Rather than be repatriated back to New Zealand (my home country), I decided to stay in Asia.

I am seeking a new IT executive role with another multinational but am finding it difficult to make any real headway: The hirers are in the United States, and I'm in Asia.

I had hoped that being an experienced manager with many years of experience in Asia and already residing in Asia would have provided me with a competitive advantage. Can you give me your ideas on the best way to proceed?
—Martin

Answer
First of all, I’m going to assume—based on the fact that you’re technically savvy—that you have already posted your resume on the various Internet job boards.

The only thing that I might add is that you need to be clear about your expectations. State clearly when you post your resume on a job site where you live and where you want to work. Also, be up front about your visa status in your resume posting. There is nothing that frustrates a recruiter more than candidates who have withheld such critical information while trying to market themselves.

If you are comfortable that you've covered that ground, with few tangible results, it’s now time for you to begin working with a search firm. In my opinion, this is the route that will get you a job. It’s not that a headhunter is a better communicator than you; they just tend to have more connections.

In general, most search firms operate in one of two ways. They either find clients with open positions and then try to fill them with qualified candidates, or they locate good candidates and work to find them open positions. Many firms are a hybrid of the two, but they still tend to fall into one pattern of behavior more than the other.

In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter which type of search firm you select. What’s important is how well networked it is.

Here are some questions you may want to ask when screening a search firm:
  • Is the firm a part of an international network of recruiters? Regardless of how good your personal consultant is, he or she will not know about all of the possible openings for which you might be qualified. You want to find someone who can share your resume in a secure environment with others. Ask how your resume will be distributed to others and who can access it.
  • Can the headhunter provide you with a written policy regarding the ethical standards that he or she must follow? As trivial as this may sound, you want to make sure that you aren’t going to get caught in the middle of a conflict between recruiters or between a search firm and an employer. A written policy is no guarantee, but it’s certainly a sign that the firm will attempt to operate honestly, and having the policy in writing might provide you with some legal recourse if things go badly.
  • How familiar is the recruiter with your field and/or industry? Unless the recruiter has the experience to accurately represent you, your efforts may be in vain. Throw around a bit of lingo when speaking with the recruiter and see how he or she responds. Find out how long the person has been doing technical recruiting.
    You need not find a former IT pro, but the person should know the difference, for example, between a software engineer and a network engineer.
  • Avoid any recruiter who attempts to charge you a fee in order to find you a job. Finally, I would strongly suggest that you limit the number of firms that you work with. While this may seem counterproductive, nothing diminishes a recruiter’s motivation more than to contact a company, only to find that your resume has already been submitted by another firm.

It’s a tough job market right now. Don’t go into this expecting overnight success. However, if you do your legwork in selecting the right firm, I think that your chances for success will be greatly improved.

Question
I have been asked to sell software, Web development, hosting, network configuration, and training. I have done sales successfully for many years in other fields, and I am not familiar with what a reasonable commission is for such sales.

Are there any industry standards?
—AI

Answer
Some technical sales positions are in very high-margin markets, whereas others might not be as lucrative. If you would just like to get a general idea of what technical salespeople in your area are making, you might check out the information provided at Salary.com or SalaryExpert.com.

I would strongly caution, however, against using such information to try to negotiate a better compensation package, because you just can’t be certain that you’re comparing apples to apples. My guess is that a position such as the one you’re considering, which involves selling a variety of different products, won’t be well represented in a salary survey.

The sit-down and the lowdown
I would suggest that you have a detailed conversation with the hiring manager in which you have your sales goals spelled out, allowing you to determine your target salary. Make sure to ask if the employer is willing to offer you a nonrecoverable draw against your commissions for a period of time while you learn the ropes.

Next, you might ask to meet with some of the current salespeople. Find out what they think of the sales targets and how many people achieved their targets the previous year.

Also, ask how long they have been employed. Short tenures may be a sign of high turnover, which might indicate that the compensation plan is too low or the sales goals are unrealistic.

What the job description doesn’t show
One thing that comes to mind is that this position might be a foot in the door for you. While this particular role may not make you rich, it may be a way to redirect your career into a more technical arena, which might yield long-term dividends.

In short, you’re going to need to do some digging in order to determine if this is the right choice for you and, ultimately, your choice should be based largely upon your personal goals and where this position might take you.

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