Should You Be An Executive Talent Agent?

Being retained by, advising, advocating for, and representing prospective employees can be a fulfilling career in the recruiting industry, especially for those who enjoy individual job search coaching, extensive interaction with candidates, and focusing on individual candidate’s needs.

Executive talent agents and headhunters (also called executive search consultants or external recruiters) are often mistaken for each other. They appear to produce the same outcome: introducing executives to potential new employers. However, the two roles should not be confused. The two professions are paid by, loyal to, and represent separate parties that may have different priorities and opposite interests related to the employment transaction.

For candidates, having an executive talent agent can be a competitive advantage by providing expert, confidential, personalized career guidance, exclusive entrée to prime inside connections, and comprehensive professional services that support the daily job search-related needs of busy executives. Various financial models exist. Some agents collect 100% of their compensation from candidates. Others work on a modest retainer from candidates and charge employers a much larger placement fee. Total compensation for each client can range from a percentage of an executive client’s annual compensation to a project-based or hourly fee. While executive agents are engaged by candidates, hiring authorities also benefit when an experienced third party serves as a liaison brokering a transaction.

An executive talent agent shares their experience and know-how with their client, the candidate, including assistance to establish marketability, define goals, differentiate themselves from their competition, cultivate interest from employers, and negotiate favorable terms of employment. Uniquely, an executive talent agent can promote their client (candidate) to a hiring authority even if there is no official opening.  This attracts clients/candidates eager to access the unadvertised or hidden job market. Executive talent agents can coordinate creating a new position just for their candidate because they are not restricted to finding the perfect individual as specified by an employer.

Like recruiters, executive talent agents craft resumes, prepare candidates for interviews, and set up introductions and meeting appointments. They may have more frequent and deeper interaction with candidates than with hiring decision-makers.  Executive talent agents are consultants, coaches, and advisers to individual executives and have been compared to the agent model in the entertainment field and sports industry. Their role is to advocate for the candidate in an employment transaction. As experts in the careers industry, executive talent agents provide a distinct advantage for the individuals whose careers they manage. Their knowledge, guidance, connections, and business savvy propel their clients’ success and promote candidate best practices.  Executive talent agents assume different responsibilities including being the candidate’s loyal representative, business coach, leadership mentor,  confidant, and scout. An executive talent agent can be a long-term partner or retained on a short-term basis to advise on single job search campaign project.  Agents often specialize by industry sector, professional discipline, or position type.

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The job market has enough demand for both executive talent agents and traditional external recruiters. These two closely related functions are distinguished by who their client is and hence, where their loyalty is. Executive talent agents evaluate situations from the personal perspective of individual executives, focus on the executive’s career, and are the candidate’s advocate. In contrast, the employer is the recruiter’s only client and rightfully puts company needs and interests ahead of an individual candidate’s.

Here’s a summary of what is expected of an executive talent agent and the benefits they deliver.

  • Providing objective advice and counsel gleaned from a wide range of practical industry and personal experience- more than any one person might gather in a single lifetime.
  • Devoting 100% of their time and resources to their client’s career management issues. Customer service is top priority. Sample assignments include developing strategy, evaluating alternatives, analyzing deal structure, researching and collecting information, preparing documents, initiating introductions, planning new mandates, conducting follow-up activities, etc.
  • Maintaining their client’s privacy and conducting business or setting up meetings on a confidential basis. Protecting the client’s current status while pursuing more rewarding future challenges consistent with the client’s career goals.
  • Incented financially and motivated by the client’s success in finding a new job, getting promoted, or closing a deal on favorable terms, not satisfying an employer’s needs.
  • Independent agent: not restricted by employer-defined recruiting agreements that limit which other employers they are allowed to present an executive as a prospective candidate.
  • Each executive’s career comes first. No limitations on where an executive is introduced based on other search engagements undertaken by other headhunters in the firm.
  • Access to the 80% of executive positions that are not advertised. Agents deliver leads in the hidden job market. Establishing new connections for their clients to place them on the radar screens of hiring authorities in advance of other potential candidates.
  • Bypassing human and automated gatekeepers and opening closed doors to connect clients with hiring decision-makers, key industry leaders and academic trendsetters. Promoting their client’s visibility, building their client’s credibility, and strengthening their client’s competitive positioning for their next gig.
  • Unparalleled cachet that differentiates an agent’s clients commanding attention, developing credibility and promoting meaningful dialogues with contacts leading to productive business relationships, new opportunities, and creative ventures.

Retaining an executive talent agent is an investment decision.  Those most likely to appreciate and value this relationship are executives that fit into the following categories:

  • Doesn’t have a network or known contacts are not generating leads
  • High stakes campaign: search must be confidential, discreet, sophisticated
  • Re-entry candidate emerging from a sabbatical or early retirement
  • Changing career or industry: needs new, targeted inside contacts
  • Not prepared for today’s complex job market. “I never had to look for a job before because I was always promoted or recruited.”
  • Limited time and restricted availability for networking and researching
  • Job search progress stalled and needs diagnostic to remove barriers
  • Needs sharper focus and consistent execution of the right strategy
  • Seeking hands-on partner: “Can I hire anyone to job search for me?”
  • Current employer has retainer agreements with key external recruiters and candidate’s new opportunities are restricted by these covenants

If you enjoy career and job search coaching, then the role of an executive talent agent may be the right career choice for you.

Debra Feldman is the JobWhiz?, a nationally-recognized executive talent agent who designs and personally implements strategic, customized senior level executive job search campaigns that banish barriers and accelerate smoother, successful landings into positions often created in response to her compelling introductions. In addition to her private practice, writing featured columns, and conducting exclusive workshops, she is a recommended resource to alumni of top-tier business schools and has been profiled in Forbes as Matchmaker: Part Sleuth, Part Networker. Contact Debra via and follow her on Twitter at @Debra_Feldman.


3 Comments on “Should You Be An Executive Talent Agent?

  1. Hi, this is a great article. I do some of this work and there is a certainly a demand for it. I love matchmaking so this is right up my alley too. Thanks for your insight. Thanks, Carrie

  2. Indeed, being an executive talent agent is being a matchmaker, helping candidates identify what their requirements are and helping them find an opportunity that matches their criteria. Just as you said you do, I love to facilitate interactions between my clients and hiring decision makers who appreciate them and want to advise them, hire them, or refer them to potential job leads. Thanks for your comment, Carrie!

  3. I have been asked by candidates if we have this service. What are the licensing requirements? Do you need to be licensed as a personell agency?

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