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How to Properly Use Headhunters

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Whenever you start posting your resume on job search websites, you will invariably be contacted by recruiters, affectionately called headhunters. Headhunters can be a valuable asset in the job hunting process because their goals are in line with yours.

The typical headhunter scenario works like this. An employer is looking to fill a specific job opening within a few weeks. They go to a headhunting company that looks in its database of candidates and tries to fill the role. If the job opening is filled, the headhunting company gets paid. Headhunters are constantly on the lookout for new talent to add to their database, so they often search job sites, as employers do, for strong candidates. The job seeker never pays for the headhunter’s services, the employers do. (in fact, if a headhunter wants to charge you a fee, run the other way)

This post will teach you how to properly use these wonderful (free) additions to your job hunting team.

This article is part of Bargaineering Career Week 2009, a week-long series focused on your career – how to find a job, how to tailor your resume, how to find the job opportunities and how to nail the interview. This article is the third article of day three – on the hunt for a new job.

Beware Scams

There are a lot of scams perpetrated by supposed headhunters so you really need to be careful whenever you deal with someone claiming to be a headhunter. They should always have specifics about a job for you and they should never ask you for payment. Don’t send them your resume until you are absolutely certain the job they claim to have actually exists. Your natural fraud detector should be able to tell whether or not this person is just looking steal your identity or use you to get “in” with another company.

Headhunters will never need any personal information not normally included on a resume. Never give out your social security number, mother’s maiden name, bank information, names of family members or employees from your former company, or anything that seems strange.

You’re Not Married To One

There isn’t a rule that says you can only work with one headhunter at a time. If several contact you, take advantage of all of their services. The only thing that can beat having one headhunter working for you is having two, or three, or five. You probably won’t be contacted by five, it certainly doesn’t hurt to answer the phone to hear what they have to say.

Set Expectations

If you start working with a headhunter, be specific in setting expectations. You want them to understand the jobs you are interested, including salary requirements, location, travel, benefits, etc. You don’t want them to waste their time and yours on jobs that you’re unqualified for or not interested in. If you don’t set expectations and they bring you a bunch of leads you aren’t interested in, they may lose interest in you and then no one wins.

Interview, Resume Preparation

When it comes time to submit resumes, ask them to give yours a once over. They will have seen a lot of resumes in their time and they will have a good understanding of what are good techniques and what are not. Take advantage of their expertise by asking them for help. It’s in their best interests to have you put the best foot forward, so they’ll usually be willing to help.

The same goes for interviewing tips and coaching. They will have gone through the process so many times and it’s in their best interests for the employer to select you as a candidate, because then they get paid. They won’t have as much experience with interview tips but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Don’t Stop Looking

Headhunters won’t be looking for jobs for you, they’ll simply be trying to fit you to the pool of jobs they are currently recruiting for. You should in no way stop your own job search because it’s your job to find a job, not the headhunters. I’ve seen a lot of scenarios where people stop because a headhunter has a good job lead, only to have it fall through and the headhunter move on. Even if you have a job offer in hand, don’t stop looking until you’ve worked a day past the probationary period.

Have you worked with a headhunter? Do you have any suggestions on how to best utilize one?

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “How to Properly Use Headhunters”

  1. Martha says:

    I used headhunters to both find a job and as a recruitment tool. I actually landed my first position at my last employer with the help of a headhunter. Going through a headhunter can help you find jobs that are not posted on job website, they can also help you tailor your resume and prepare for specific interview types!

    However if you first are introduced to an employer through a headhunter the company will be required to pay a placement fee (or something similar) to hire you. This may be a negative since with any interview you may meet the employees and they find that you are perfect for another position that is currently not posted. In that case they will still have to pay the headhunter for finding you even if its not for the initial job.

    Also, some jobs through headhunters are temporary to permanent meaning that you will be hired as a “contractor” and within a set timeframe (e.g. 6 months) you will either be converted to a full-time employee of the company or your contact can be ended. If you believe that you can get a job and then use your time there to wow them (that was my plan :) ) this isn’t a bad technique. However it can be very stressful since during that 6 months you do not want to waste time looking for more jobs if you believe you will be converted however it is not a guarantee.

    Just a few thoughts from my experiences!

    Good luck job hunting!!

  2. Arohan says:

    Good advice, no doubt timely for many. I would like to emphasize that a headhunter works for the employer and not for you, so for example, do not depend on the headhunter solely to bring leads. You absolutely need to continue your job search through other means (boards, networking, referrals, etc)

  3. Finavigation says:

    Like most other things in life, there are good things and bad things about headhunters.

    One major good thing is that many times, they have an “in” with the company and know the actual hiring manager as opposed to having to go through the company’s HR or Recruiting departments who may not have as good of an idea as to what the position you’re applying for entails. This will likely increase your chances of getting the job, as they can talk you up to the person actually doing the hiring and give you pointers on what should work well during your interview with them.

    If you’re going the headhunter route, don’t be afraid to have multiple working for you. As I mentioned, some will have better connections than others, so working with a few of them will increase your chances. A word of caution when doing this, however. Always ask for the name of the company they’re sending your resume to before they send it. When an employer gets the same resume from multiple headhunters, it makes the applicant look desperate and it’ll decrease the chances of you landing the job.

  4. YoungUrbanPro says:

    Not to mention, your contract can be cut short at any time (not even two weeks notice) and leave you out to dry…

    this is where your emergency fund will come into play…it’s tough out there right now…take this from someone struggling at the moment (me)

  5. In my industry, it’s very common to use head hunters.

    Scams are a good thing to watch, another is salary inflation. HHs will always tell you a bigger salary than reality to get you to jump. Be realistic!

    HHs are also a great source of information to help negotiate your own position/salary better at your existing shop.

  6. fairydust says:

    Other than sitting back and waiting for headhunters to contact you after you post your resume on various job-search sites, is there any other way to find them? When I was job searching in the HR field years and years ago, I had the best luck (in terms of actually getting my foot in the door and interviewing at really good companies) with headhunters. Now my husband is actively looking – in a completely different field, the print industry – and wouldn’t mind if he were contacted by headhunters to maybe facilitate things beyond where they are now (Internet applications that seem to go nowhere).

    • Finavigation says:

      In the past, I’ve gotten in touch with several by applying for positions they had posted on job sites (monster, careerbuilder, craigslist, etc). This is how they fish for candidates.

      Once you talk with a few of them, you can get a sense of the quality of their service and of their contacts.

      Another way to find them is by using the power of your network. Ask family, friends, and acquaintances if they know of any good headhunters in your area.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Soccer9040 says:

    I had an odd situation once. The head hunter I was working with had an opportunity for me. The only problem was that I already had connections inside this company I already had an interview lined up without the head hunters help. It was more of a weird situation for the company because they obviously wernt going to pay him for an opportunity I found on my own.

  8. CareerPro says:

    First of all, I’m not publishing our website so this is not an ad and I’m not looking for business. I am, however, looking to help you understand PROFESSIONAL SEARCH AND PLACEMENT FIRMS, as compared to the rest of the guys that are looking to churn you and your potential employer.

    We have been in business for 28 years – we are a smaller and VERY successful firm, so we have a basis on which to speak to these issues. We live almost exclusively on repeat business. We are still here after all the downturn compared to many who have gone under or have suddenly re-emerged as insurance agents, stock brokers and various marketeers.

    The concept of having several search firms looking for you is not in your best interest. Do you want a “job”, or the “best possible offer” you can get with your skills and track record? If all you want is a “job”, don’t use executive search firms at all. There are lots of other places to waste your time – Careerbuilder, Hot Jobs, Ladders, etc. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and jump in. Fill out all the forms and flood the sites like everyone else has before you, applying for jobs that don’t exist and then get back with me after wasting 6 months of your time.

    Quite simply, YOU HAVE TO STAND OUT AMONG YOUR PEERS. HAVING YOUR RESUME BEING FLOATED AMONG SEVERAL FIRMS DOES JUST THE OPPOSITE. Think about it – are you a commodity like a barrel of crude oil or a bag of flour, or are you a unique entity like no other? Understand the difference.

    If you have a serious and professional search firm representing you, they don’t get paid unless you get the job. If we sense we are just being churned and determined “you” are floating everywhere, we will drop you immediately and move on to another serious candidate. We can’t command fees and maintain executive relationships peddling commodities. If you become one, it makes our job more difficult and immediately moves you into the commodity assembly line – not a good place to be when you are trying to stand out and above.

    We spend thousands of our money placing candidates. Why would we waste ours and our clients precious time and money peddling something that is a commodity – a gallon of gas or a bushel of corn? Frankly, we don’t and won’t.

    Professional executive search firms command higher fees with clients. We do as well. And we rarely lose a client. We deal directly with decision makers and hiring managers. Rarely, do we deal with HR since they also want to commoditize everyone as an ‘applicant’. You do NOT want to be an applicant. You are an executive “recruit” being represented by a firm who believes in you enough to represent you.

    You want to be represented by an agent and talent firm, or are you content to take your chances as a walk on or stand in? Think about it.

    Hope this helps.


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