Years ago, conventional wisdom held that you should never seek out executive recruiters, aka headhunters. Instead, you should wait for them to contact you. Make the first move and you’d risk coming off as too eager if not totally desperate.

There might have been some logic to that advice in the robust job markets of yesteryear. These days, however, if you don’t take the initiative, you could wait a long time for your phone to ring or a text message to ping. Maybe for your whole career.

Still, some ways of connecting with executive recruiters are more effective than others. The goal is to get on their radar without wasting your time or, heaven forbid, theirs. For example:

1. Be Visible

Not only will greater professional visibility increase the odds of recruiters coming your way, it will also make it more likely they’ll recognize your name and return your calls or emails when you reach out to them. So, if you haven’t done so already, join the professional associations in your field and try to become active in them. Attend industry conferences and look for ways to participate as a presenter or panelist. Contribute to professional publications and websites. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Your photo should be current, too, and portray you as the desirable – and hirable – professional you are. Anything you can do to get your name out there, short of making a fool of yourself, can help.

2. Attend Conferences

Yes, we’ve mentioned this already, but here it is again for a different reason. Recruiters often attend those conferences, too. It’s a good opportunity to network in what’s usually a collegial, low-pressure setting. Bring plenty of business cards and, just as important, get theirs.

3. Target the Right Recruiters

Executive search firms tend to specialize. Some large ones may cover multiple industries. Others focus more narrowly, such as on a single industry or a particular job skill. There’s no point wasting your efforts on a firm that doesn’t recruit in your field and may, in fact, have fewer connections there than you do.

For starters, plug the term “executive recruiters” plus your industry or profession into the search engine of your choice. For example, “executive recruiters information technology,” or “executive recruiters graphic design.” You can also localize your search with a combination like “executive recruiters hospitality Los Angeles.”

Also check online directories for other recruiters specializing in your niche. Among them are "The International Executive Search Directory of the Association of Executive Search Consultants" (AESC) and SearchFirm.com.

Your public library or the nearest university library may have printed directories or subscriptions to other online ones.

4. Ask Around

If you’re currently employed, you might not want to broadcast your interest in connecting with an executive recruiter. All the same, it’s worth checking with trusted colleagues and others in your network to see which recruiters they know and recommend.

Ask about their experiences (some recruiters are incredibly generous and helpful, others far less so). If your contacts know you well enough and are comfortable recommending you, ask them for a referral or see whether you can use their names in introducing yourself to the recruiter. 

5. Check Them Out

Just as you’d investigate any company you were hoping to interview with, research the recruiters, too. Look up their bios on their firms’ websites and read their profiles on LinkedIn. If any of your LinkedIn connections happen to be connected to them, too, consider asking for an introduction.

6. Play It Cool

Even if you really need a new job, there’s usually no point letting on. At any given time, a recruiter might or might not be working on searches for which you’d be a good candidate. So don’t expect results immediately but try to build a relationship that will ensure your name will be on the list – ideally, right up top – when a great opportunity comes along.

7. Be Helpful

If you're known in the industry, you might also meet recruiters when one of them checks with you as a reference for someone else they're researching as a candidate for a job. If recruiters come to rely on you as a productive, friendly and thoughtful information source, you may eventually be top of mind when they're searching for a job that fits your credentials. As you talk to them, find a way to indicate that you're always open to new opportunities yourself.

The Bottom Line

Getting known by executive recruiters is a goal that should be part of everyone's career planning. Start putting yourself in the way of meeting them – and being helpful to them – as early as possible in your career. For more information, see Who Are Headhunters And What Do They Do?

To look at recruiters and recruiting from the employer's side, see Are Headhunters Worth It? and Top Recruiting Tips For Using LinkedIn.