When should top-performing recruiters change roles?

You’re one of the best consultants at your firm. Perhaps even the best. You never miss targets, you’re consistently a top biller, and you’ve built up an impressive client base that loves working with you. Why would you want to walk away and start again from scratch at another firm?

It’s a common conundrum for successful recruiters. They reach the top of their organisation, have a great reputation and are earning well. Making a big switch seems an unnecessary risk.

But their career has plateaued in recent years. It’s been a long time since they felt out of their comfort zone. And many of their well-respected colleagues are moving on to other opportunities elsewhere.

If you’re in a similar position, now may be the time to redefine your view of your current role.

Reaching the top

William Wilcox, a Senior Associate of Executive Search at management consultancy Korn Ferry, found himself considering his career options after spending more than six years working for a corporate governance recruitment firm in New York.

Originally from the UK, Will relocated to New York to help the business expand its US operations. He worked on internal audit and cyber security roles at the mid-senior management level for the financial services sector.

Within just three years, he’d become the firm’s top biller worldwide.

“It was a fantastic experience, and I had the privilege of working with fantastic management. There was a lot of pride that came with the success I had accomplished, both personally and as a team, and we continued to build on that foundation and success,” he explains.

So, what made him decide to move?

“There was no straw that broke the camel’s back,” Will says. “Ultimately, I’m a keen learner and found I wasn’t improving in my day-to-day role after about five years.”

He also realised that while he enjoyed working on Managing Director and executive level hires, they were few and far between at his contingency based agency. These roles are normally covered by retained search firms.

“Executive search became an option that began to genuinely interest me. And the more I started to think about it, the more I wanted to explore this transition seriously.”

Walking away

Will’s experience is typical among recruiters who quickly establish themselves as top performers, according to Dan Close, Managing Partner at Dryden Search.

They’re likely to be very comfortable in their existing role, but there are usually barriers that prevent their career from progressing further.

“It’s not necessarily about the money,” Dan says. “Sometimes it is, but there are many other reasons why an established recruiter will start thinking about taking the plunge and moving companies.”

“There may be a lack of infrastructure where they’re working, or the business may not share their personal values. Like Will, many of our candidates tell us they simply can’t get access to the roles they’d like to work on where they are now.”

But walking away from years, possibly even decades, of hard work establishing credibility and building up a network of loyal clients is easier said than done. Will admits it’s a tough pill to swallow, particularly in a niche industry.  

“That was the hardest part. Every successful biller would have the same predicament; the prospect of biting the bullet and leaving everything behind really is the most difficult choice to make,” he says.

Finding the right role

Many recruiters may not even be aware of the opportunities available to them in the market. It’s not surprising; when you’re extremely focused and performing well where you are, searching for your next role isn’t always a top priority.

However, consultants could be missing out if they don’t regularly take the time to weigh up their options.

“Even a lateral move into the same job title can have a big uplift on billings and earnings at the right company,” says Dan. “Your current firm may simply not have a name that resonates in the circles that you want to operate in.”

When considering a move to a larger company, some recruiters may also fear becoming just another face in the crowd. Especially if they’ve been the big fish in their previous pond. So, is it worth it? For Will, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

“I can honestly say the move into executive search has rewarded me with everything that I’d hoped for,” he says. “I now work with executive-level roles, have built a steady reputation amongst a much more senior C-level market and gained consistent access to senior management.”

“Candidates quickly become senior clients, and the invigoration you get from building your personal brand with that level of executive management is something that pays significant dividends throughout your career.”

Taking the next steps

Redefining your view of your current role is always difficult. Walking away from a stable, rewarding job is even harder. It’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly.

Does Will have any words of wisdom for people who are in a similar position to him?

“Make the move sooner than I did!” he says. “Being top biller at your company is a great accolade, but you quickly learn that everything is relative.”

“Having made the move, my only regret is that I didn’t get onto the corporate ladder within executive search earlier in my career.”


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