Psychology Today: Here To Help

Arizona Republic On The Use Of Career Agents

Like most executives, Harvey Maslin was so busy running his business that he had little time to run his career. When he left his job as the No. 2 executive of a $400 million personnel firm this year, he hoped to land the top spot at another company. Then a friend introduced him to Joe Meissner of Executive PR, a San Francisco career agent. Meissner convinced him to piece together his own company.

He launched a public-relations campaign on Maslin's behalf to burnish the executive' s image as a leader rather than as a subordinate and introduced him to potential investors, management talent and even acquisition targets. Maslin eventually created WorldStaff, retaining Meissner as an adviser and career steward. "I probably could have done this without him, but I would have needed a half-dozen people to help me," Maslin says. "And I wouldn't have gotten it done as fast as we have."

With executive jobs and career directions changing more frequently than in the past and the demand for "brand-name" executives heating up, the concept of the full-service career agent, common to the sports and entertainment fields, has filtered into the business world. Agents combine executive coaching and career consulting with marketing and negotiations. They plot career strategy, help build networks of business contacts, advise on salary talks and shape their clients' images.

They also screen job opportunities for employed clients. There aren't many of them yet. StybelPeabody Lincolnshire, a Boston retained search firm, has launched a similar service, complete with a team of financial planners, attorneys and even a theater director to polish presentation style. Most such agents work for a percentage of their client's salary.

Who could use an agent? Well-known CEOs are candidates. So are senior executives on the CEO fast track, some attorneys and consultants, cutting-edge technology wizards and turnaround artists.

If you're thinking of getting an agent, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you at or near the top of the class in what you do?
  • Is what you do in short supply?
  • Do you lack the time or ability to plot career strategy and build business contacts?

In some ways, executive agents operate from the shadows. Laurence J. Stybel of StybelPeabody conducts anonymous job searches for executives who don't want anyone to know they're sniffing around. Meissner remains in the background if a recruiter balks at his participation, not an uncommon experience.

Memo: Hal Lancaster can be reached at by e-mail.