Headhunters – A Guide for Candidates

Most candidates don’t truly understand how the recruiting industry works. They have a vague notion that a headhunter is someone who can get them a job but the details of how and why this happens are not clear.  I think that this lack of understanding can lead to misaligned expectations so I’ve made it a point to explain how contingency-fee headhunters, like HireStarter, make money with every candidate I meet.  I want to be absolutely certain that expectations are set properly and do my part to shed a little light on the dark and misunderstood corners of our profession.  Here’s what I tell them…

The basics.

Companies come to contingency-fee headhunters when they can’t find the candidates they are looking for through their own efforts.  They sign a contract that says that they will pay the headhunter a fee only if they hire a candidate that the headhunter has brought to them.  That fee is usually calculated as a percentage of the candidate’s base salary.  The fee is also subject to a guarantee period (usually 90 days) so that, if the candidate leaves or is fired within the that period of time, the headhunter must provide a replacement candidate or sometimes a refund.

We don’t find jobs for people, we find people for jobs.

The term “headhunter” is quite possibly the most accurate term to describe what we do… we find candidates to fill jobs for our client companies – we hunt heads.  We do not find jobs for candidates.  If a candidate contacts us out of the blue, there’s a chance that they might fit for one of the roles we are trying to fill and, in that case, the candidate feels like we “found them a job” but it’s critical to understand that’s not actually what happened.

The companies pay, the candidate doesn’t.

There’s an overused saying that advises “If you’re not paying, you’re the product” and with headhunting that’s still technically true.  While I believe every candidate should keep in mind that, financially, a headhunter is beholden to their client companies, that doesn’t mean that they should be treated like a product. A headhunter is nothing without their trusted network and the long-term relationships that they build with candidates are the lifeblood of their business – they should act accordingly.  If you feel that a headhunter you are working with is ignoring you or is unresponsive, that’s not a good sign that they value your relationship.  That said, to make a living, headhunters have to focus on filling the jobs they are working on and, if you’re not a good fit for any of them, their time with you will be a bit more limited.

We are paid to be selective.

Many people believe that a headhunter will get them access to companies that might turn them down if they simply applied for a job.  While there are rare cases where a headhunter can see the hidden potential in a candidate and convince a company to interview them, it’s far from the norm.  Our client companies come to us when they want a very specific skill-set and they can’t seem to find the right candidate through their own efforts.  That’s when they decide that it’s worth the added cost of using a headhunter to find candidates with these special skills.  When they come to us, they want us to bring them their ideal candidate – they don’t want us to send them candidates that are off the mark in any way.  So, if you’re stretching… trying to get access to a job that you’re not qualified for, jumping into a new industry, or attempting to start a new career, a headhunter probably won’t be able to help you.

It’s not like real estate.

Some candidates want to be able to call a headhunter like they call a realtor.  They explain what they are looking for and they want that headhunter to go find them a job.  While it’s possible for a headhunter to go out and market the candidate to any company, keep in mind that this industry is not like real estate where commissions are standard and any realtor can represent a buyer or a seller in any transaction.  Headhunters cost money and some companies don’t use headhunters, use them to fill only certain positions, or only work with certain ones.  Those companies might refuse to look at a candidate from a headhunter due to the costs involved.  For these reasons, it’s best to consider headhunters as representatives of their client companies – the ones that they already have contracts with.

Not all of us are the same.

As in every industry, there’s a wide variety of players.  There are headhunters that spam the earth with job postings, responding to only a few of the candidates they think are best while igoring the rest.  There are headhunters that take a good candidate’s resume and shop them around to every open job they can find, using them as bait to get new business.  I could go on and on but I won’t, I want to tell you what kind of headhunter HireStarter is:

We try to be transparent and provide value to everyone that comes to us.  If we contact you about a role we are working on, we promise to be respectful of your situation and not use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to interview.  If you let us represent you at our clients, we will help you at every step of the interview.  If you come to us looking for a job and we don’t have anything that would be a good fit, we will take some time to try and help you with advice or introductions.

I hope this was helpful.  We look forward to working with you.