If you’re at all typical, when it’s time to look for a new job (for whatever reason(s)), you quite probably say something like this: “I’m going to ‘dust off’ my résumé and start contacting some ‘headhunters.’” Both of these moves can be integral to a successful new job search, but when it comes to contacting—and perhaps ultimately working with—a “headhunter,” you can save yourself considerable time and trouble if you first make sure you understand the actual role(s) played by a “headhunter” in the job-hunting process.

If you haven’t worked with a “headhunter” during previous job searches, chances are, you are probably harboring some misconceptions about what a “headhunter” actually brings to the hiring game. Let me begin this blog by telling you just a few things that a “headhunter” does not (and cannot) do for you during a job search.

A “headhunter” cannot/does not . . .

  • “Find you a job.”
  • Charge you, the job hunter, a fee.
  • Even consider working with you unless you have clearly branded yourself as being among “the best of the best” candidates available for open positions in his/her market “niche.”

Let me briefly explain why each of these things is true.

First and foremost—and this quite often comes as both a shock and a surprise to most job hunters—a “headhunter’s” client is not the job seeker. The company having the open position is the client in this situation. And since that is true, it’s also the reason you, the job seeker, are never charged a fee by the “headhunter.” The hiring company pays the “headhunter’s” fee, if his/her candidate is the successful candidate for the position.

Why does a “headhunter” only work with the very top candidates? Simple. Hiring companies are not going to pay me (or any other “headhunter,” for that matter) to find them “over the transom” candidates that they can easily find themselves using existing employee acquisition systems and approaches.

Well, you might be asking yourself at this point, if a “headhunter” can’t “find me a job,” then why should I even consider working with him/her? Actually, if you’ve branded yourself as being among the crème de la crème of candidates, there can be many distinct advantages. Let me cite just a few of them.

A “headhunter” can/does . . .

  • Have access to and knowledge about key open positions that are neither advertised nor widely known about outside the executive circles of the hiring company.
  • Offer a wide variety of FREE professional assistance and services to you, e.g., preparation of a job-winning résumé, thorough coaching and comprehensive preparation for job interviews, salary/benefit negotiation, etc.
  • Provide you an opportunity to establish an ongoing, potentially quite productive professional relationship with him/her. That means, if you prove not to be a “good fit” for a currently open position, you may be considered for appropriate, future positions.

All ‘Headhunters’ Not ‘Created Equal’

If you think you may be able to benefit from working with a “headhunter” during your job search, and equally important, if you are absolutely convinced that you have adequately branded yourself so that you can attract the attention of “headhunters,” it’s crucial to keep in mind this fact: All “headhunters” are not created equal.

As is the case with virtually all professions, “headhunters” specialize in a specific industry or market niche. For example, my executive recruiting firm, Hire to Win, specializes in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals. So, if you are seeking a new job in, say, the advertising industry, not only could my firm not be able to help you, we wouldn’t even try. Obviously, you would have to locate a recruiting firm that focuses on and specializes in the advertising industry.

How to Find a ‘Headhunter’ in Your Market Niche

This, of course, begs the question of how, precisely, do you go about finding—and then connecting with— a “headhunter” in your unique market niche. The short answer to this question is merely to conduct an online search using appropriate key words, e.g., “’Headhunters,’ advertising industry, Atlanta, GA (or any other geographic locale you might desire).” Today, however, a far, far better approach to take is to conduct this same type of search on LinkedIn, since this site is the “first-stop shop” for most recruiters.

Regardless of the search approach you take, expect to get a significant number of returns. That means you will have to then do your “due diligence,” i.e., identify which recruiting firms can potentially best serve your job search needs and requirements. While there is no definitive way of determining which firm(s) will work best for you until you actually make contact with them, a good place to start is at their websites. What kind of candidate assistance/expertise do they offer? How long have they been in business? What is the geographic “reach” of the firm, i.e., statewide, nationwide, worldwide? Can the firm’s claimed “track record” on placements be independently verified?

And Finally . . .

Let me conclude this blog by referring back to the headline: Can a “Headhunter” Help in Your job search? The word “Maybe” was added to the headline by design because I wanted to make you aware that, despite the very common misconception, not every job seeker is a viable candidate for a true “headhunter” (in contrast to, say, a job placement specialist). Maybe you are a good candidate and maybe you are not a good candidate. One way to find out for sure is to “throw your hat” into the ring. If you do prove to be a good candidate for a “headhunter,” the benefits can be substantial!


Skip Freeman is the author of the international bestselling job hunting book “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! (http://portal.sliderocket.com/BFDSG/Find-Your-Dream-Job) and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.