Five Burning Questions About How to Work With Headhunters

How to Work with HeadhuntersThe unemployment numbers continue to rise. The pundits are predicting a slow--some say 'jobless'--recovery. If only you could get on some hot shot headhunter's radar, you'd be all set, right? Not necessarily, says a contrarian new book by Nick Corcodilos, aka the "Ask the Headhunter" dude.

In How to Work with Headhunters...and Make Headhunters Work for You (downloadable for $39.95), Corcodilos, a headhunter himself, debunks common fallacies about this breed, including the most common one: that headhunters find jobs for people. Not true! Headhunters, first and foremost, he says, are paid to find the best candidates for their clients--the companies doing the hiring--and often (cruelly!) the folks they're stalking are already employed. Which may explain why the bastards won't take your cold calls, or answer your emails. (So if some headhunter promises to find you a job, Corcodilos suggests you approach with caution.)

Corcodilos is brutally honest about the numbers in this game. While working with a reputable headhunter can open doors, relying primarily on headhunters to find you a job will likely result in disappointment. Only a paltry 3% of jobs are filled by headhunters.

That said, a good headhunter with an attractive offer, can change your life for the better, so it pays to know how to deal with them for best results. And that is what this book is all about.

In the engaging style that characterizes Corcodilos's column on the topic, he sets out to provide 62 "mythbusting answers" to the common questions most jobhunters have about this process. Here are some of the questions he addresses along with (abbreviated) answers:

Are online job boards a good way to meet headhunters?

Here's a simple rule of thumb: If a position is advertised on a job board by a "headhunter" it's probably not a headhunter. It's a recruiter in the mass resume and mass job posting business. If you insist on distributing your resume online, I suggest you go to companies' own Web sites and apply for jobs directly.

What's the secret to getting on a headhunter's list?

The best thing you can do when you meet a headhunter is to establish a sound relationship, regardless of how your first interaction turns out. Face it--the headhunter is not likely to place you. So make sure you get something else from the encounter: a valuable new contact. The odds of your getting placed grow with time and with the quality of your relationship. Help the headhunter complete her assignment (by sharing sources or industry insights) and you will make it onto her list.

How can I avoid having my resume tossed in the trash?

Don't send your resume unless they ask for it. Headhunters don't spend their time sorting through the unsolicited resumes of "people who come along." They actively pursue the people they want. Headhunters invest time in people referred to them by sources they trust. Those are the folks who end up in their databases.

How can I make myself the headhunter's #1 candidate? Should I just answer questions, or tell her what I can do for her client?

Test the waters. If you're good at what you do, you owe it to yourself to show it. Don't be arrogant, or dominate the interview. Learn to be compelling, but diplomatic. The more you can focus the meeting on the work you can do (versus reciting your work history), the greater edge you'll gain over your competition.

Should I tell a headhunter who else I'm interviewing with?

A legitimate headhunter will not ask this question. But that's a common ruse used by unprincipled recruiters who are looking for new clients and possible placements: they pry for confidential information, then potentially use that against you.

Should I divulge my salary to a headhunter?

Divulge your salary information only if you have evidence that the headhunter will use it only for your advantage. If a headhunter calls you, and wants to know your salary before continuing the discussion, Corcodilos suggests saying this: "Why don't you tell me what kind of compensation we're talking about, even if it's just a range. I'll tell you whether it fits my objectives, because I don't want to waste your time or mine."

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11 Comments

  • Kelly Blokdijk

    Very useful and informative article. At least once - if not multiple times, per week - I get asked all sorts of "headhunter" related questions by job seekers. They all seem to think that someone else (headhunter) is going to help them find a job! Anyway, nice to have a source, besides my own advice, to clarify how this "system" works...

    One of the most important aspects of a job search is knowing how to effectively market yourself from the perspective of what an employer wants to see. Many job seekers lack the objectivity and skill to create impactful presentations of their qualifications online, on paper and in person.

  • Nick Corcodilos

    Great comments on this thread... Thanks for the kind words. Linda did a great job excerpting some key ideas from the book.

    Sorry I've been late to post. We've been getting the Ask The Headhunter blog ready, so please check it out. First post: http://www.fastcompany.com/blo...

    And please join me for more... I'd like to take questions from folks on the blog, so we can cover topics that are immediately useful. Hope you'll bookmark the new blog!

    @Heidi: Thanks for explaining what headhunters do! I wish people could internalize this and stop wishing we can find people jobs...

    @GL: You still da man!

    @Jeff: Some folks think that because we get paid by the client company, we don't care about the candidate. As you point out, our business and our reps depend on how we treat the professional community from which we recruit.

    @Joshua: Keep saying it, Bud! Candidates are successful when they can show the client that they can do the job... this is not rocket science.

    @Lloyd: Pls read the previous comments from others. A headhunter can help you after he or she finds you. It's not out business to find jobs for people. But sure, if a headhunter finds you though a mutual network, and you're a fit for a search, you could move from freelance to a job.

    @Jim Littlefield: AMEN, Brother! Thanks for saying it! Pursue jobs where you know you're a 97% fit and you will avoid a lot of frustration!

  • Jim Littlefield

    Here's my approach based on my own experience and insights from the article.

    1. It's in everybody's best interest to find the best person for the job. Only pursue opportunities where I am a 97% match to the positions requirements. As mentioned in the article, there are no perfect jobs, nor are there perfect candidates.

    2. I avoid sending my resume as an attachment and prefer to send a link to my online resume http://smallpasture.com/enterp.... It is search able, a recruiter or headhunters who know a little about search (search "resume software sales leader") will find me. Google Analytics allows me insight into what search terms people are using, where they are from and how long they reviewed my resume.

    3. Let respected colleagues know the kind of work I am looking for. Particularly if they are currently employed. For some reason people who have jobs are more desirable than those who don't. When those people are contacted by headhunters they can provide a referral.

    Treat others the way you want to be treated. For example I find positions that are not a good fit I refer them to better qualified candidates. Connect the dot's and put the two together. It feels great to connect people with well matched jobs.

    Is that why people enjoy being headhunters?

  • Lloyd Lemons

    Can a person who's been an independent (freelancer) in a marketing field for years get back into the work force via a headhunter?

  • Lloyd Lemons

    Can a person who's been an independent (freelancer) in a marketing field for years get back into the work force via a headhunter?

  • Maro Onokpise

    Great, great article. What sometimes gets lost in this whole thing is that there are people out there that still need jobs. The landscape of the job market is so much more different than in years past. When we do our events, I can see the frustration in their eyes. I hope people get a chance to read this article and put some of the advice to use.

    http://www.jux-ta-pose.com

  • Joshua Letourneau

    Kudos to Nick on an outstanding article. As a fellow Executive Recruiter (aka "Headhunter"), I am often surprised by some of the business practices endorsed and taught to new recruiters in our space. Often, the recruiter has no idea they may be acting unethically; after all, asking where someone is interviewing is what they were taught to do (as it is important to gauge your candidate's level of motivation to make a change if they're currently employed), along with asking for 5 - 7 references, etc. In fact, certain search firms build these metrics in as Key Performance Indicators, meaning you're on the chopping block if don't meet certain minimums (i.e. 100 outbound calls per day, 20 face-to-face interviews in the office per week, ~5 references per face-to-face interview, 1 organizational chart per month, etc.)

    The best advice I can provide to the candidate market is actually quite simple, however I rarely see it employed. Headhunters want someone who can verbally handle themselves and present themselves as 1. someone who can solve the organizational challenge that justifies the hire, and 2. someone is keenly aware of the value they bring to the table. This means that we lean toward candidates who are confident (not cocky), and can express their accomplishments quantifiably. It's not enough to say, "I increased sales." Rather, we want to hear something more like, "Under my direction, our team increased sales in FY08 by 30% to $15 Million USD, despite lagging sales in our sector due to the recession."

    In the end, be prepared to toot your own horn - half my time is spent taking great candidates and teaching them to present themselves as great (not just 'good'). If you can speak to quantifying the difference you've made and the value you've created, you will be leagues ahead of the competition.

    Joshua Letourneau
    Director, Search Practice
    Knight & Bishop Technical Resources (www.knightbishop.com)
    jl(at)lgexec.com

  • Jeff Lipschultz

    Successfully working with recruiters boils down to relationship building. The comment about offering recruiters something other than just your resume is valid. Indeed, recruiters work for (and get paid by) the clients, not candidates. But a good recruiter cannot be successful without a network of (and relationships with) the best candidates. It is mainly a matter of timing. Job seekers should see the relationship with a recruiter as long term. Much more on this is discussed in a blog post I wrote a while back: http://tinyurl.com/d7crgu
    Or just click "Working with Recruiters" in the Category Cloud in http://tinyurl.com/yc2edpd

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  • GL Hoffman

    I have read Nick's writings for several years now. I have always found him to be one of the clearest voices in this entire HR/Career/jobs space. He might be the one advisor who can actually help a job seeker.

  • Heidi Ehlers

    Great article - and thank you for repeating what I've said about 100,000 times in the past 14 years - "I don't find people jobs. I find people FOR jobs." and "I'm not a talent agent, I'm a talent scout." But it's the headhunters themselves that allow this myth to propogate - which ultimately leads to disappointment on the talent side - and more mistrust of the profession. My article entitled How to get Headhunters to do Backflips for you", may shed more light on the matter - link attached http://www.blackbagonline.com/... ~ heidi http://www.blackbagonline.com

  • Lloyd Lemons

    Can a person who's been an independent (freelancer) in a marketing field for years get back into the work force via a headhunter?