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So, what is a headhunter anyway?

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By: Bill Wednieski

The term recruiter is broad. Too broad. There are many types of recruiters such as internal recruiters, external recruiters, RPO or recruitment process outsourcing, and then there are The Headhunters! Internal recruiters are straightforward, these people work directly for a company and frequently have a title that includes “talent acquisition.” External recruiters, RPO, and headhunters are third parties that are hired by companies to find candidates to fill specific job positions. Headhunters are also referred to as executive recruiters, although I prefer headhunters. Headhunting is the highest level of service an employer can engage in, and is often required for the most difficult open positions or critical positions an employer must get right. 

How does headhunting work?

Every single search is unique but here are my steps in a common framework. 

    1. Intake. A proper intake call takes place between the headhunter and the employer. During this call, the headhunter gathers a full understanding of the role and the company and gets to know the hiring manager and the direction of the company. We also validate the job description with the hiring manager to ensure it is accurate.
    2. Source. The headhunter identifies or “sources” candidates that are not necessarily looking for a new job. Sometimes we have an ideal candidate in our back pocket that has informed us what they “need” to consider any new opportunity.
    3. Engage. The headhunter tactfully engages with targeted candidates to tell them about their client’s opportunity and why it may be worth considering. This can be a 5-minute conversation or an hour-long session helping a candidate weigh the pros and cons of making a move.
    4. Screen. If the candidate is interested, then the headhunter “screens” or interviews the candidate to determine if the candidate can perform the specific role their client is trying to fill. 
    5. Present. If the candidate wishes to proceed and is qualified, the headhunter accurately and succinctly presents the candidate to the employer. When this is well done the headhunter addresses all of the top needs of the hiring manager in a concise yet detailed written candidate summary.
    6. Admin. The headhunter frequently plays admin in coordinating all the schedules for their candidates and the interviewers. The headhunter also confirms all parties will attend interviews and that everybody knows where they are going whether the interview is in person or video. We also gather feedback at every step and keep the process moving so all parties remain engaged and excited.
    7. Secure. Whether we are in a candidate or employer market, this is truly an art and subject to an infinite number of scenarios. I’ll keep it as concise as possible: a great headhunter offers an unbiased opinion to candidates and employers. We are in multi-party sales, and success only happens if all parties are happy. A candidate needs an acceptable offer from an employer they want to work for. An employer needs a qualified candidate that they like and fits in their budget.
    8. Stay close. The headhunter helps candidates transition out of their current roles, and into their new roles. The headhunter should periodically check in with the candidate to ensure they are comfortable and happy, and then do the same with the hiring manager to ensure the candidate is performing and fitting in.


Putting all this in writing feels a little like we’re giving away our secret sauce. Although I can promise that just because we’ve laid it out does not mean anybody can be a Headhunter. Headhunter, recruiter, headhunters, hiringThe headhunting process can end at any step above, and there are countless ways to screw it up, starting with a bad job descriptionThis profession offers the highest of highs when it works efficiently and you help a candidate land a dream job. It can also offer the lowest of lows when candidates (or employers) get cold feet, candidates accept counteroffers rather than the offers we work so hard to secure, or an employer lowballs a candidate resulting in a turned-down offer. Companies and hiring managers should understand the different types of recruiters and when a Headhunter’s expertise is called for. 

Bill Wednieski is the Managing Director for The Headhunters. Learn more here.

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