Author: unknown Updated: June 2021

Working with Headhunters (Candidates and Companies)

***For Candidate***

  • Headhunters -- who are generally more active than simple recruiters -- primarily look for candidates to fill top-level, desirable positions. If you already have a job like that, they feel they can find you a better one; besides, when they find you a job, they get paid too.

  • If you are contacted out of the blue, it's probable that the recruiters found your resume on a job board -- one of our writers posted his resume on January 1, and by January 4 he'd gotten ten unsolicited calls. Since you probably posted your resume on several boards the last time you looked for a job, your information is out there.

  • When should I contact a headhunter/recruiter?

  • Contact recruiters before you need them. It could take a year or two before the right opportunity arises, so it's wise to develop relationships early. Find out which firms specialize in your industry and job level.

  • If you're about to change jobs, contact recruiters with whom you've worked, because you already have the relationship built with them and their companies.

  • How do I meet headhunters?

  • If you know someone who is searching for a new job, ask for an introduction to a headhunter/recruiter. Recruiters are always looking for qualified candidates to add to their internal databases.

  • If you aren't able to connect with a recruiter via networking, you can always approach them with a low-key, professional resume and letter. Never come across as being overly motivated to change jobs; you want the recruiter to work hard to find you the best opportunity, even if you're willing to take the first job that's offered.

  • How can I be sure my headhunter is trustworthy?

  • Given the economic situation that arose at the end of the last decade, recruiters have come to realize that they hold a lot of power when it comes to placing candidates. Many companies are choosing to hire employees first as contractors, so that if they don't work out or if the company needs to reorganize or reallocate resources elsewhere, it's easy to let them go. That said, recruiters are also extremely motivated to find you a job where you're happy and successful -- it increases the likelihood you'll use them again.

  • Generally, recruiters are more trustworthy now than they've been in the past 10-20 years. The advent of the internet and the sheer number of firms means that, once you're a client, you're a valuable asset they don't want to lose.

  • If you want to check into your recruiter, the best way to do so is to simply run a web search. You'll have to comb through at least a dozen pages of results -- often more -- because the recruitment firm's name will be on a lot of job postings. Seek out anything that sounds troubling to you, because in the end it's you who'll be trusting your information and your reputation to your recruiter. If you feel uncomfortable, choose someone else.

***For Companies***

What should I be aware of when I work with headhunters?

  • Working with headhunters can be tricky. Some are honest, and some are not.

  • Some have the best interests of candidates and their clients at heart, and others do not.

  • This should not deter you from using the services of a recruiter. Knowing what to expect from a good recruiter and knowing the warning signs of a less-than-scrupulous headhunter can make the experience of working with one more rewarding, whether you are a potential client or a candidate. However, understand that all headhunters are sales people, and good ones are trained to get what they want, quickly. What they want is a placement, and of course, their fee.

Therefore, I always tell companies that when they are dealing with headhunters to set ground rules.

  • Get everything in writing and don't accept a resume until you see the details of the fees, guaranties, etc. in writing.

  • Not all hires are good. Be sure there is a guarantee period that is at least 30 days.

  • Make sure that the fee is on base salary, not total compensation. You don't want to pay a fee on bonuses, commissions, and the like.

  • What is the candidate screening process. Do they meet the candidates or do they just do phone screens?

  • What are the payment terms? Is money due up front or when you hire someone?

  • Recruiters work on both contingency (you pay when they find someone), and retainer (you pay up-front and as you go along). There really isn't a preferred method. More experienced headhunters (like the author of this article), or executive search companies, will only work on retainer, they want to know that the client is committed before they start a search. That doesn't mean that inexperience recruiters work on contingency, many are simply more comfortable with a contingency arrangement.

  • Don't accept resumes from headhunters whom you do not have an agreement with, and let all your managers know. Be aware that in the United States it is not legal for anyone to send an unsolicited fax. Therefore, if you receive solicitations from headhunters via facsimile, send it back.

Many headhunters will not disclose the names of their clients to candidates.

They do that for several reasons:

  • The client doesn't want people knowing who they are.

  • The client doesn't want candidates calling them directly.

  • The headhunter does not want you calling the client, and going around them.

  • The headhunter does not want word to get out that the company has an opening, thereby increasing the chance that the client getting a sales call from another recruiter.