When the economy turns sour and jobs are scarce, IT professionals often turn to recruitment specialists to help find their next job. IT consultants can also make use of recruiters when the economy directly affects work and project prospects.

The executive level is not my recruiting specialty, so I sought the help of three executive recruiters and asked them to share thoughts and advice that would help consultants get the most out of a executive recruiter relationship.

I interviewed Jeff Goldberg, president of Executive Search Group, a national firm specializing in placing information technology executives and sales executives; Steve Kendrick, founder of Kendrick Executive Resources, a retained executive search firm specializing in the recruitment of information technology executives; and Colleen Geyer, director of operations for Corporate Consulting Associates, a boutique executive search firm that specializes in the placement of executive and middle-management professionals.

I’ve compiled their advice in a list of 10 tips for establishing a fruitful relationship with an executive recruiter.

Tip 1: Make decisions before choosing a recruiter
The first and maybe most crucial step is finding the right recruiting firm to assist with your career progression strategy, said Geyer. Identifying a recruiter that specializes in your area of expertise is as important as locating a firm that regularly works with individuals in your salary range and within your geographic perimeters.

Before you call a recruiter, analyze your requirements for the position, industry, compensation package, and geographic region you’re seeking. You can then investigate recruiting firms and specialists. There are many sources available online and through your local library that will assist you in narrowing your search.

Tip 2: Create the right resume approach
The recruiters said that the candidate’s resume should be performance-based rather than simply a list of past job responsibilities. It should contain significant accomplishments that are represented quantitatively, for example, “Improved profits by 23 percent” vs. “Improved profits.”

Also, most recruiters prefer to have resumes in electronic format rather than hard copy. From the outset, keep track of when and to whom you’ve sent your resume. After choosing recruiters to work with, keep a record of search activity and results.

“This allows you to monitor the search firm’s effectiveness, as well as preventing your resume from being submitted to the same prospective employer by more than one firm,” advised Geyer.

Tip 3: Set specific expectations
View your relationship with a recruiter as long-lasting and mutually beneficial; decide who you would like to work with and generally limit it to two to three firms in the final selection process, said Geyer. In interviewing recruiters, ask each one what would be a reasonable frequency of contact and whether they prefer phone calls or e-mail—you want a very comfortable communication experience.

During the initial discussion, inquire about other searches with which the recruiter is having difficulty and see if you can help with referrals or contacts. The recruiter will appreciate your networking assistance and most likely will attempt to work harder in assisting you with prospective leads, said Geyer. Remember that an experienced recruiter can be a valuable career counselor. Even if the recruiter doesn’t end up helping you find your next position, that person can bring an invaluable resource to your long-term career.

Tip 4: Understand the recruiter’s true role
Understand from the outset that executive recruiters will call you about a specific set of requirements for which they have been engaged. As Kendrick explained, executive recruiters already have a client—a company seeking specific candidates—so their business is driven by that client’s leadership recruiting needs, not the “availability” of candidates. This is a major misconception about high-level recruiting and is always an issue when candidates begin working with executive recruiters, he added.

“While there are some firms that, for a fee, will focus solely on your job search, my personal feeling is that the value they offer isn’t worth the payment that they’re going to require. Generally, a good executive recruiter is going to offer a lot of the same assistance for free,” he said.

Tip 5: Keep an open mind and take counsel
Goldberg advised job seekers to listen to their recruiter with an open mind—especially when it comes to vital preparation and interview practice. Often, IT professionals believe they’re ready for interviews and don’t need practice.

“I spend roughly one hour preparing each candidate for their interview, going over basic interview skills. In order to maximize chances of success on the interview, candidates need to put aside their ego for a few moments and listen to the recruiter’s interview advice,” he said. While candidates are sometimes skeptical about the need for preparation, Goldberg said he is always thanked profusely after the prep.

“I couldn’t manage a NOC, but two things I do know are what my client is looking for and how to interview properly,” he said.

Tip 6: Tell the truth
It may be tempting to pad experience and exaggerate abilities, but it’s the wrong thing to do, according to recruiters. You have to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to your recruiter. Recruiters are solidly behind you and will be doing their best to help you get the great job you want. It’s imperative that recruiters know everything, said Goldberg.

“If we know the dark-side stuff in advance, we can help you best position it so that it doesn’t get in the way. If we don’t, and it comes out later to the potential employer, we all look bad and can end up losing the opportunity and our credibility,” he explained.

Tip 7: Keep the relationship ongoing
Quick and efficient responses are necessary to a successful recruiter relationship, and a key element is returning phone calls, said Kendrick.

“This is probably the biggest source of aggravation for recruiters. They invest quite a bit of time developing a relationship, critiquing a resume, coaching a candidate for interviews, then when you get the job, you stop giving them the time of day,” he said. Just because the job search has ended doesn’t mean the recruiter relationship should end, he added. You may need those services again, and recruiters with whom you’ve developed a strong relationship will really knock themselves out to help you when the time comes.

Tip 8: Contribute to the relationship
The candidate-recruiter relationship is a symbiotic one, said the recruiters interviewed. Job seekers should always try to be helpful with ideas, input, suggestions, or recommendations, noted Kendrick.

“Good recruiters will appreciate this and remember this in the future as it pertains to better understanding the candidate’s/source’s situation,” he said.

Tip 9: No undermining
While frustration and anxiety may tempt you, never circumvent the efforts of a recruiter who has submitted your resume to their client, stressed the recruiters. Although you may become impatient from lack of feedback, attempting to go around the recruiter could lead to an immediate dismissal of your background and jeopardize your relationship with the search firm (and possibly other referral sources of the firm), said the recruiting experts.

If you feel you can improve on the presentation of your resume to the recruiter’s client, you should document your justification in a concise summary that the recruiter can use to further qualify your background with their client.

Tip 10: If the relationship doesn’t work, find another recruiter
According to Geyer, candidates need to know that not all recruiter relationships are successful, and it’s important to know you can move on to another if the experience isn’t proving rewarding or valuable.

“Remember that your search consultant is your best representative to their client; if you are uncomfortable with their ability to represent you, withdraw your resume from their database and find a consultant you are comfortable working with,” he said.

Additional advice to job candidates
Finally, I’ll offer a bit of self-serving advice regarding the use of recruiters in general. Remember, we live in a dynamic world. Today you may not need the services of a recruiter, but tomorrow you might, and reciprocity and working together can be very beneficial for both job seekers and recruiters.