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Searching For Your Dream Job? Better Check Your Ego At The Door

09/27/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST

Receiving a call from a headhunter can put you on the path to landing that dream opportunity -- or it can lead to frustration, rejection and disappointment. Over the years, I have seen a lot of strong candidates miss out on great job opportunities because they did not fully understand the process and the role of the recruiter.

For example, a client recently hired our firm to find a new chief executive. We presented several high-quality candidates and one, on the surface, intrigued me: He had mountains of experience and success in this particular industry and he demonstrated the leadership qualities required to take our client's business to the next level. But the job went to another of our candidates, and this particular executive didn't even get a second interview.

Why? He didn't check his ego at the door and understand the "buy and sell" process we advised he keep in mind when being interviewed. Instead, he went into the interview with an hour's worth of questions, flexing his intellectual might and proving he'd done his homework.

"We didn't find out anything about him, but we sure told him a lot about us," a company director told me after the interview.

For a skilled senior executive, he broke one of the most fundamental rules in this business: Know when to talk and know when to listen. In first-round job interviews, employers are looking for suitability and compatibility. It is not a time for candidates to interrogate the interviewer.

Here are some key points that people should keep in mind when they get recruited for a job opportunity:

THE HEADHUNTER WORKS FOR THE EMPLOYER, BUT CAN ALSO BE YOUR FRIEND While recruiters cannot coach candidates, they can provide general advice and help. Use the recruiter as a sounding board. Allow the recruiter to act as an intermediary between you and the client. You can approach recruiters with issues, comments or concerns prior to speaking to the client. Without coaching you, they can provide you with sound counsel and advice on communication and other issues. Trust them and treat them with respect, and they will do the same in return.

RETAINER V. CONTINGENCY Ask recruiters whether they have been retained for the project. While some contingency recruiters are motivated by achieving a mutually beneficial result, others are simply interested in making a placement and receiving their commission contingent upon closure. In other words, they could push you toward a job that is wrong for you. Retainer-based recruiters tend to be less focused on short-term financial gain because they receive payment regardless of closure. In fact, they are usually motivated to close a search with the best possible solution as they build their business on referrals from satisfied clients.

SELL YOURSELF While overstating your accomplishments can backfire, it is also important to promote your skills and experience. When working with recruiters, help them present a positive representation of your candidacy. Provide your greatest achievements and outline your career trajectory so they can present that to their client. I've seen candidates blow it because they undersell themselves, afraid of appearing arrogant.

BE YOURSELF Recruiters and their clients can see through insincerity. Don't try to adapt your background or personality to a specific role. Not fitting a prototype does not negate your overall ability or "recruit-ability." You will lose a lot more by being disingenuous or dishonest. It's one thing to promote your role within a company; it's another to completely fabricate duties and responsibilities.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK Once you have begun your initial discussions with the recruiter, you should immediately begin researching the respective company. Learn about recent financial and operational developments, but don't expect to become an instant expert on the organization. Know enough to speak on a conceptual level without being too presumptuous, especially if the company interviewing you is in a sector a little bit outside where you have been before.

KNOW WHEN TO TALK AND WHEN TO LISTEN As in any business situation, it is important to distinguish between the two. Keep in mind an effective recruiter adds context and provides depth around the position in question and the business, and this helps you separate the wheat from the chaff before you sit down with the potential employer. This knowledge gives you confidence to know when to talk and when to listen.

TRY TO RELAX Especially when meeting a client for the first time. While preparing and doing homework is good, don't try to memorize answers to anticipated questions and don't appear over-anxious or too eager. I've seen finalist candidates lose out because their eagerness was interpreted as desperation.

BE HONEST ABOUT ANY OTHER OPPORTUNITIES YOU ARE CONSIDERING Both a recruiter and potential employer will understand if you have other options and may even work around your situation. But nobody likes to be blindsided, and it could come back to haunt you.

COME CLEAN Acknowledge any potential past issues, problems or indiscretions that could affect your future employer. Use the recruiter as a buffer, but be honest. Rather than taking a chance that it will not surface, remember that it is a small community and you would be respected more for volunteering the information rather than trying to conceal it.

ACCEPT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM Don't let your ego get in the way. When a recruiter or client provides constructive criticism, even in the context of turning your candidacy down, don't get defensive and combat the feedback. Use it to your advantage; if not for this opportunity, then for the next.

People now change jobs, on average, every four years. It seems we are all out there looking for that perfect opportunity. But finding it requires patience and perseverance.

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