Is Working With A Headhunter The Right Move?

Ah, headhunters. They go by a variety of names, from third party recruiters to employment agencies. Based on the inquiries I get from my career-coaching clients, they all seem to have one thing in common: They’re somewhat of an enigma.

Many people struggle over whether or not to respond to a recruiter, wondering if the “opportunity” is some sort of scam. For example, some headhunters may “bait-and-switch” a candidate on a role that has already been filled. On the other hand, I know that when I was an in-house recruiter, I worked with a handful of highly qualified headhunters as another way to build my pipeline and hire stellar candidates. Whenever I saw the recruiters’ names in my inbox, I knew that their candidates had already been vetted, meaning they were top notch and warranted consideration.

But what does this mean for you, the job seeker? Is working with a headhunter the right move for your career? Here’s what you need to know – positive and negative – if you’re considering working with a headhunter.

They’ll get your foot in the virtual door. Typically you can count on qualified third party recruiters being well connected, with contracts with various companies and the ability to submit your resume directly past the gatekeepers into recruiters’ inboxes. Depending on how well connected they are, the recruiter may very well have spent time with the internal recruiting team to learn more about that specific department’s culture and nuances, which they can share with you prior to your interview, giving you an advantage.

They’re your partner in the hiring process. Many recruiters will go above and beyond sharing your candidacy with the internal recruiter, by prepping you on what to expect and/or conducts mock interviews. And it’s not uncommon for them to give you feedback after the interview from the employer – something you wouldn’t typically get from the employer themselves, which we all know is an incredibly frustrating part of the job hunt.

They’ll go to bat for your salary. If you do land the job, headhunters tend to negotiate on your behalf. In many scenarios, the internal recruiter extends the job offer to the headhunter, who then closes the deal with you. And they want you to close high. Why? While the headhunter is free to the candidate, they do typically get a percentage of your base salary from the employer. In most cases, the better the package is that they negotiate for you, the sweeter the commission is for them.

They can sometimes be too aggressive. As you may know, some headhunters can be quite pushy. This can be great when they’re negotiating for your salary, but frustrating when you’re not clicking on the appropriate opportunities for you. For instance, several years ago, I briefly worked with a headhunter. After researching the company and position he sent me further, I decided to withdraw my candidacy prior to interviewing. The headhunter was adamant about me interviewing and did not want to take no for an answer. I didn’t want to exert the time or energy – or that of the company – toward interviewing for a position I wasn’t interested in. I insisted I wasn’t going to interview and the recruiter finally let up, but it took more “no’s” than I thought were necessary.

They don’t all have enough cred. Other recruiters may not be well known in the industry, so when they submit your resume to the company, it doesn’t get any eyeballs. They may screen you and continue to reach out with roles they think you’re a fit for, but your expectations may quickly fall flat if they don’t send you on interviews within the first few months.

They need to earn your candidacy. If you get a cold call from a headhunter, it may be worth at least having a conversation. Learn more about who they are, their track record, how they got your information and what positions are currently on their radar for you. Remember – it’s just a conversation, but they should prove to you how they’d add value to your job search. Perhaps they have their finger on the pulse of the industry and you can even ask them about starting salaries for someone at your level and years of experience. Other times, not so much. But it’s worth a try to find out where they stand in the field, and how much work they might be willing to put in for you.

Parting words of wisdom: The best way to find a reputable headhunter is through industry events and word of mouth. The more specialized the headhunter is, the better — an ideal one for you is immersed in your specific industry and skill set. Similar to your job search overall, the more focused you are, the better your results will be.

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