TAO Self-help

Title:Military Placement Firms, aka "Headhunters"; The right one will expand your network and increase your odds of success

Author:Tom Wolfe, Career Coach

Date:December 2012


Getting interviews is all about having contacts and a placement firm can be your contact at potential employers where you do not already have one. They establish and maintain relationships with their client companies. They get to know you, your search criteria, and your motivators. They help you get your foot in the door. More importantly, they know where all the doors are, who has the keys, and what is behind each of them.

A good placement firm will be more than just a doorman. Its counselors will also be excellent talent scouts, coaches, mentors and matchmakers. Most military personnel do not really know what they want to do in the civilian sector. Once they get beyond "work with people" and "management" they have a difficult time expressing their job objectives. The right placement firm will evaluate a candidate's marketability; identify areas of interest, and assist in preparing for interviews. Considering the amount of value this adds to your search, how much should you expect to pay?

Nothing. Really? How can this be? Placement firms are not charities. They have expenses. They work for profit. What is the source of their revenue? Their client companies value their services and pay for them. These fees can be substantial — as much as $20K on a $60K salary, for example. What is the economic justification? Using the placement firm can decrease or eliminate other expenses associated with recruiting. They will also increase the odds of both an offer and an acceptance, thereby reducing risk. Reducing risk saves money.

Although a good placement firm is an excellent tool to have in your transition toolbox, identifying the good ones and determining which one is right for you are not easy tasks. Here is a list of DOs and DON'Ts to help you in that selection process.

DO keep in mind that although placement firm personnel are also sometimes referred to as headhunters, many prefer to be called counselors, recruiters, personnel consultants or placement specialists.

DON'T assume they are all created equal. Most of them will profess or confess to some expertise or specialization.

DO seek out one that meshes well with your background and/or priorities. Some specialize in a particular geography or a specific industry or a target segment of the military population.

DON'T sign anything. The reputable placement firms will not ask you to sign any contracts or letters of understanding. Even if they do not require you to sign, the fact they even have one is a danger signal.

DO be selective. Yes, they will screen and interview you prior to taking you on as a candidate, but you should also interview them and ask for references.

DON'T pay any placement fees at any time. Make sure they are fully fee-paid by their client companies.

DO ask for a list of clients. Reputable firms are proud of their client lists and use them as a marketing tool. An unwillingness to disclose this information is a danger signal.

DON'T allow them to market you to companies without your approval in advance. Duplication of effort can lead to sponsorship conflicts, the resolution of which could damage you the most.

DO remain proactive in your self-sponsored job search beyond the activities of the placement firm. Be up-front with them about your independent activity.

DON'T work with placement firms that require you to cease all job search activity beyond what they control, regardless of how they attempt to justify such a restriction. A request for an "exclusive" relationship is great for them, but whose job search is it anyway?

DO ask them for their appraisal of your marketability and their ability to assist you in getting what you want.

DON'T register with more than two placement firms. If you pick the right one, one is all you need. Having a fallback position is a good idea, but keep in mind that if you reduce the firm's odds of placing you too much, then the incentive to assist you will also be reduced.

DO be up-front with the firms about your overall plan. Let them know the companies where you have inside connections. Tell them of your plans to use other placement firms, but remember — very few people like playing second fiddle.

DON'T self-sponsor to a company that the placement firm has proposed to you as a potential employer. Being up-front and ethical flows both ways.

DO keep in mind that a placement firm can be an excellent supplement to, but never a total replacement for, your overall search plan.

DON'T work with an individual who has very little experience in the business. It is his or her experience, knowledge, contacts, and savvy that gives you value. If you are assigned a rookie make sure he or she has the backing of an experienced team.

DO work with a placement firm with whom you feel some sort of a connection. Look for a feeling of trust, empathy, honesty, ethical behavior, and maybe even some background commonality. Personal, one-on-one contact is always preferred.

DON'T work with one where your file is continuously handed off to someone new. Look for continuity and closure. The good firms know that your long-term value to them as a representative of a client company in the future far exceeds the short-term value of placing you.

DO keep in mind that when all is said and done, you must look in the mirror to find the person who is most responsible for the final outcome of your job search.

Good Hunting!

© Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in their new jobs. Prior to civilian life, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a surface warfare officer. He teaches transition courses, gives seminars on career and job change, writes about the career transition process, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, was published by Potomac Books in 2011. Tom lives on the North Carolina coast with his wife, Julie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maggie.

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