how headhunters work

Headhunters work in a variety of ways and the term “headhunter” means different things in different parts of the world.

In America, for example, the term “headhunter” refers to someone who works on behalf of a candidate; a kind of career management service, acting on the candidates’ behalf to find them a job. Typically a headhunter in the USA is paid by the candidate, not the client.

In the UK a headhunter typically acts on behalf of a client, looking for candidates to fill a particular role and it is the client that would pay a headhunters’ fees.

If we explore the UK market and focus on a headhunter providing services to a client.

Headhunting, or Executive Search as it is often referred to, when conducted in a traditional way, is a research-led targeted exercise where candidates are identified and then approached for a particular role. Typically it involves approaching identified individuals and “pitching” them an opportunity. Often these target candidates are not actively looking for a new job so can’t be reached using other recruitment methods like advertising and CV searching.

It’s important if you are considering using a headhunting service that you are speaking with a proper headhunting organisation and not a recruitment agency that claim to headhunt. There is a big difference between the two.

The typical headhunters process should consist of the following steps as a minimum:

  • A detailed briefing meeting to understand the role
  • A research phase to identify target companies and candidates
  • An approach phase to speak with potential candidates
  • An assessment and interview phase which should as a minimum include a face-to-face interview and psychometric/cultural profiling
  • The headhunter should offer to interview alongside the client
  • Detailed reports should be provided every step of the way

The thoroughness of the process should be reflected in the headhunter being confident they have found the right candidates and as such they should offer extended guarantees on placed candidates to reflect this.

All this takes time. It takes time to do the research and it takes time to nurture a potential candidate so they are interested in meeting a client (from a starting point of not having been actively looking). If your recruiter offer a headhunting service and a shortish in a matter of days then they will not have been doing a proper headhunt. More likely they will conducted a database or network search.

A typical headhunting process takes 5 to 6 weeks; a recruitment agency process 5 to 6 days.

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