Employment agency

Return of the headhunters

March 31, 2011: 11:36 AM ET

After steep declines in recent years, executive recruiting is continuing to pick up. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are contacted by a search firm.

By Stephenie Overman, contributor

FORTUNE -- If you make six figures a year, or reasonably hope to move into that league, dust off your resume. Headhunters are calling again.

Senior executive recruiting has had a dramatic resurgence. Following a precipitous 32.5% decline in 2009, the industry grew by an average of 28.5% in 2010 and is on track to do well in 2011, according to the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

Retained search firms -- executive search firms that companies hire to recruit candidates -- are looking for "senior executive talent, people on the fast track," says Peter M. Felix, AESC president. "It's unlikely a firm will be searching [to fill a position] below $150,000 base salary or the equivalent. If you're earning less than $100,000, retained search is not for you."

It's worth remembering that a retained search firm represents the company, not the job candidate, and is paid regardless of the outcome of the search. So-called contingency firms often represent individuals seeking placement and are paid for whatever placements they make.

"It's not well understood," Felix says. "Many executives come to search firms, expecting us to be an employment agency. Absolutely not. There are firms who represent candidates, but not retained search firms." These retained search firms are the gatekeepers to 60,000 to 70,000 senior-level jobs worldwide every year, he adds. More

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