This is probably going to ruffle a few feathers, but please allow me to “keep it real” for a moment. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve served the recruiting industry on both sides of the desk. So,I know a good bit about search firm marketing.

I literally receive 5-10 calls per day from various third-party recruiting firms that almost all claim – in some way, shape, or form – to be “executive” recruiters. Executive? Really? Let’s peel the onion back a bit on this overused term.

First, if you call and say you provide temporary administrative support and “executive recruiting” services, you have an identity crisis. It’s all but impossible to be effective at both ends of this spectrum and my guess is that you are pretty good with admin staff. Just play to your strengths.

Secondly, if you call and say you are an executive recruiter that specializes in – let’s say – difficult-to-find, technically oriented IT staff, you have an altitude crisis. While these jobs are very important, they are by no means at the “executive” level. I’d rather you be honest and say you are a rock star technical recruiter. Just don’t try and impress me with the word “executive”. It doesn’t work.

Thirdly, if you call and say you are a “contingency and retained” executive search firm, you are really just a contingency firm hoping someone will throw a little cash your way at the beginning of a search. You have a competency and confidence crisis a mile wide, pretending to be something you aren’t. You are either retained or you’re not. And if you’re not, that’s cool – just don’t fake the funk.

Finally, if you call and say you are an executive search firm and you only recruit for positions at the director level and above, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you are indeed an “executive” recruiter. Until you take any search I throw your way, regardless of the level. Then, you’ve lost me.

The term executive deals with senior leaders who have significant span of control over strategy, people, and resources. Anything else is, well, not “executive”.