“It just makes sense for you to know how to reach top headhunters,” said Bill Mason.

Educate yourself before looking for that next top security executive job.

Thanks to the Internet, especially the new breed of “Web 2.0” interactive business sites, there are ample opportunities to showcase one’s professional credentials. Nonetheless, most senior-level hires result not from an impersonal scan of online job postings, but from one-on-one interactions. To access key career opportunities, the most effective path remains the long-standing, tried and true approach of being on the radar of a top, industry-specific, retained executive search firm.

These search firms are both your doorway to these employers, and gatekeepers guarding the entry. So it just makes sense for you to know how to reach them, attract their interest and demonstrate your suitability for a next-step-up position.

Attention Indicates Respect

You may, in fact, have been called by a headhunter, asking if you are interested in a new opportunity or seeking an introduction to your successful co-workers and peers. Getting such calls is an indication that you have achieved respect and credibility in the security field. Cultivating a relationship with a retained executive recruiter specializing in your industry and discipline is essential if you are interested in maintaining an up-to-date “pulse” of the opportunities in your career sector.

Here are ways you can maximize this kind of a career-enhancing connection.

If you are early in your climb up the management ladder, it is certainly acceptable to send an unsolicited résumé to a large number of contingency headhunters. These recruiters market active job seekers, in something of a commodity fashion, and generally have no exclusive, retained relationships with employers.

However, once you have established a career track record, and have attained a commensurate level of compensation, you should never – repeat, NEVER – send out an unsolicited résumé. Your résumé should go out only after you’ve received a specific request or a quality referral, and with the recipient’s pledge of confidentiality if appropriate.

A contingency headhunter who receives your unsolicited résumé will, if it looks good, announce your active search to the world – possibly including your current employer, your employer’s competitors and others whose knowledge may be embarrassing or counterproductive to you. A retained executive search consultant will rarely read or acknowledge receipt of an unsolicited résumé.

Cold Calls May Have Dangers

Equally ineffective and potentially hazardous is a cold call to a retained headhunter. He or she will be reluctant to consider a candidate who has blindly approached them.

However, there are many ways to make certain you appear on the right retained headhunter’s Rolodex – or, more accurately, their database.

Well-connected friends within your professional or social network can be the best source of an introduction to the right headhunter.

Don’t overlook the online tools for virtual networking – FaceBook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Plaxo, Xing, Ryze, Spoke, Ecademy and many others. Use them, carefully, as a way to maintain and enhance your business relationships. Your goal is not to have a long list of “contacts” you barely know, but a true network of professionals, some of whom will almost certainly be able to introduce you to a recruiter. Recruiters tend to believe, with justification, that birds of a feather do flock together – and that is especially true of eagles and other high-soarers.

There’s another, quite practical, reason for the recruiter to want to meet with you after being introduced by a respected executive or professional. The recruiter wants to enhance his or her relationship with your “messenger,” for future referrals to additional quality professionals such as yourself. Don’t make the mistake of working hard to orchestrate an introduction but ignoring what your “messenger” will say about you. Your contact should speak succinctly to your experience, skills, know-how, track record, persona, management style and drive. Give your colleague some key talking points.

Before you send that e-mail to your contact person, or pick up the phone, think about what you want to communicate. You want your friend to know about your experience, and how it, along with your talent and ability, would translate into a new management role.

Your message should be concise and consistent – just as you would want it to be conveyed to the appropriate headhunter. Chances are that you will find it equally useful when you are communicating with others in your network.

When you have that first meeting with a retained search professional, remember that they are gatekeepers to the next step in your career path. They are very knowledgeable of new career opportunities, and adept at determining if you bring the right combination of credentials to a challenging and rewarding security executive’s role within their client’s organization. You may not be the perfect candidate for their current engagement. But there’s always the next one, and the one after that.