How to Become an Executive Recruiter


Advances in technology, globalization, and all of the opportunities and challenges that accompany them have turned the world of recruiting on its head. It’s no wonder, then, that recruitment is undergoing just as dramatic a transformation. At the highest level, recruiting is shifting from “traditional” recruiting to “network” recruiting.

Network recruiting involves transforming a company’s recruitment efforts into a network of both external and internal contacts that include candidates, potential candidates, employees, contractors, and even corporate alumni, with the ultimate goal of building and maintaining a strong candidate pool. Today’s recruitment efforts involve new talent acquisition platforms that focus on leveraging networks, referral marketing, and the work of the talent acquisition manager.

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Talent acquisition managers, also often referred to as executive recruiters or “headhunters,” are the solution as today’s corporations seek to locate and retain the best talent. Talent acquisition managers are now recognized (and being rewarded) for making a significant impact on an organization’s bottom. These professionals are focused much more on the strategic nature of recruiting than on the conventional standard of filling requisitions.

Talent acquisition mangers are the nucleus of the mission critical function of executive and high-skill recruitment for today’s organizations, corporations, and businesses.

The Difference Between Talent Acquisition Managers and Recruiters

Although talent acquisition managers may, at first glance, appear to be little more than glorified recruiters, their focus, goals, and mission are actually quite different.

So, who are talent acquisition managers? They:

  • Often recruit executive-level professionals to replace or augment a companies leadership team
  • Are constantly seeking new ways to build relationships
  • Are constantly searching for new places to look
  • Are focused more on the type of contribution candidates can make instead of simply verifying their skills
  • Recognize that an uninterested candidate today may be the perfect candidate in just a few, short months
  • Recognize that an unqualified candidate of last year may be a viable candidate today
  • Focus on the motivations and needs of the candidate to find a long-term match for the company
  • Recognize the cost of turnover and the resulting loss of productivity is far costlier than the hire
  • Search for leads over resumes
  • Are focused more on a candidate’s abilities and accomplishments than on a chronological work history

Talent acquisition managers, in short, recognize that the right people, who possess the right mix of skills, abilities, and experiences, can learn new processes, software, and methodologies, and they understand that leadership, passion, and capability often outshine specific technical skills. They don’t wait for the lead to come to them; they come to the lead.

Their search is for motivated people who can solve problems and who possess specific leadership qualities. They don’t let the talent slip away to the competition. In fact, if they find the right person with the right qualities, they don’t let a lack of a job opening stop them because they understand that the perfect candidate will make significant contributions to the corporate team.

Job Description for Talent Acquisition Managers

Internally, talent acquisition managers are part of the human resources team. Therefore, they devote their time to learning the business and the factors needed for its success. They also get to know the current talent so they can best understand where gaps may exist. Filling these gaps allows talent acquisition managers to both meet and exceed the goals of the company. Because the needs of an organization are always changing and evolving, the process of talent acquisition is often viewed as an ongoing one.

The work of talent acquisition managers may involve developing relationships with colleges and universities, where they seek to build talent pools as to meet the company’s long-term vision. Their work often includes developing projects with universities and colleges as to build relationships with talented students throughout their education process.

Talent acquisition managers spend much of their time on building leads and relationships through public relations events and programs (industry association events and symposium, for example).

The strategic elements of a talent acquisition manager’s job often include:

  • Ensuring business alignment and workforce plans are in place
  • Possessing a deep understanding of the labor markets
  • Understanding the different workforce segments and the positions within those segments
  • Articulating and defining a company’s image and exploiting its key differentiators, reputation, and products and services as to attract quality candidates
  • Defining sourcing strategies as to know where the candidates will come from to fill specific roles
  • Building positive candidate experiences and managing candidate communities
  • Tracking and using key metrics to drive continuous improvements regarding recruitment decisions and the quality of hires

Steps to Becoming a Talent Acquisition Manager

The road to becoming a talent acquisition manager is often different from one professional to the next. That’s because talent acquisition managers are known to come from a variety of backgrounds and professions. However, for individuals with a goal of working as a talent acquisition manager, a solid foundation in both business and human resources can be a great place to start.

Degree Programs for Talent Acquisition Managers

A bachelor’s degree in an area such as human resources, business administration, or business management, followed by a master’s degree in human resource management, organizational development, or a similar field is sure to provide candidates with the skills and knowledge necessary to understand the complexities of business, talent acquisition, and the human resources field.

A broad degree that is designed to prepare students to serve as human resources senior leaders, such as managers, directors and executives, for example, is the Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Human Resource Management. Unlike other graduate degrees in human resource management, an MBA provides students with a comprehensive course of study that is designed to address the specific challenges faced in HR management, both in private and public organizations.

An MBA in Human Resource Management emphasizes the following areas of study, thereby preparing individuals to seek senior-level careers in HR, such as talent acquisition managers:

  • Human resource planning
  • Human resource development
  • Human resource training
  • Human resource recruitment
  • Human resource selection
  • Human resource retention
  • Global human resource management

Professional Certification Programs for Talent Acquisition Managers

Like so many other professions, voluntary professional certification through a nationally/internationally recognized certifying body is an excellent way for HR professionals like talent acquisition managers to receive the distinction of being a leader in their field.

Two certifying bodies that offer professional certification for recruiting and staffing professionals include:

    • AIRS
      • Professional Recruiter Certification (PRC)
      • Certified Social Sourcing Recruiter (CSSR)
      • Certified Social Media Recruiter (CSMR)
      • Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR)
      • Certified Diversity Recruiter (CDR)
      • Advanced Certified Internet Recruiter (ACIR)

Salary Expectations for Talent Acquisition Managers

Although salaries for talent acquisition managers are often difficult to gauge, given that these professionals are most often hired on a contract basis and work as independent contractors, recruitment managers earned about $89,900 annually, as of 2013 and talent management executives earned an average salary of $234,900 during the same period (From the 2013 Human Resources Compensation Survey Report-U.S. by Towers Watson).

A 2011 article on talent acquisition services reported that fees for headhunting services averaged about 21 percent of a new hire’s first-year salary.

A 2015 article by Staffing Industry Analysts found that spending on talent acquisition was up by 7 percent (or nearly $4,000 per hire) in 2014. The increase in spending, according to the article, is driven by an increased competition for talent and a shortage of critical skills.

Agencies and third-party recruiters accounted for 18 percent of organizations’ recruiting budgets in 2014.

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