The term executive recruiter refers to an agency that specializes in the identification and hiring of individuals to fill senior-level positions in a company. Executive recruiters are typically hired by companies on a retained search basis; however, they can also work on behalf of qualified candidates.
Also known as an executive headhunter, executive recruiters specialize in the placement of senior level managers. Normally, companies will enter into a retained search agreement with an agency to fill an executive opening in their organization. Executive search firms maintain a detailed list of contacts across a number of industries, and will work through a fairly rigorous process to identify potential candidates to present to their client.
The process these search firms utilize will normally start with a needs analysis that results in a detailed list of client requirements. From there, the firm will research and identify potential candidates. Once identified, the firm will conduct a series of screening interviews before presenting a slate of candidates to their client. Once a successful candidate has been identified by their client, the executive search firm may also provide downstream services such as contract and salary negotiation as well as post-offer reference checks.
When approached by an executive recruiter, it's important for potential candidates to be open and honest about their credentials and experience, since the recruiter will eventually validate all claims. It's also important the executive recruiter understands the candidate's requirements, including any geographic or industry restrictions. If an offer is made, and subsequently rejected by a successful candidate, it's important to explain the rationale to the recruiter; especially if the candidate wishes to be considered for placement in the future.