How To Find The Right Headhunter For Your Company

Third-party recruiters may be a necessary evil, but they’re often the bridge between you and top talent. Here’s how to make the relationship work.

How To Find The Right Headhunter For Your Company

In the world of business, most third-party recruiters, who are also known as headhunters, are considered to be a necessary evil.


You give them a job description, they come back with a pile of candidates and you make a hire. You then cut them a check for services rendered.

Transactions like these take place every day with little thought as to how to improve this process for both the client, the company hired to fill critical positions, and candidates. You may be thinking, “Surely there is a better way,” and I can guarantee you wouldn’t be alone in your thinking.

The following are ways to significantly reduce the time and money you are spending with third-party recruiters, straight from the mouths of those in the business of securing talent on your behalf.

Find a Trusted Partner

Stop treating your third-party recruiters as if they were just another vendor. Instead, take the time to find a firm that has a strong reputation in the industry that you are in. “Do your research,” advises Tom Gimbel, CEO and president of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm. “More times than not, recruiters that are experts in a specific niche are well-known in the industry, making them a credible source to companies and job seekers alike.” When sourcing firms, consider the company’s experience and which companies it works with in that space.


Ask for Referrals

You wouldn’t hire just any architect to draw the plans for your new home, would you? Probably not. If you are like most people, you’d ask people you trust for a referral. Those of you looking to build a solid company will want to surround yourself with a team of people who are the best in the business. This includes a firm that has the experience and stamina to keep up with your recruitment demands. “Ask trusted colleagues in your industry who they use and why they like working with them,” advises John Todd, partner and account executive at Downtown Recruiting, a Boston-based placement firm. If you just arrived in town or you’re new to third-party recruiting, then Todd suggests contacting a local professional association to see who they might recommend.

Turn the Tables

If you are looking for a long-term partner, then consider turning the tables. Interview several firms to ensure the one you select is right for you. “A staffing firm should be an extension of your HR department,” notes Gimbel. For many applicants, recruiters from the firm will be the only face candidates see. What type of first impression are they making on you and would you be comfortable having these people represent your brand in the marketplace? If for any reason you have doubts, keep searching.

Ask Away!


As part of your due diligence, Todd suggests you ask:

  • What experience do you have recruiting for talent in my industry?
  • How many people have you placed in a similar role(s)?
  • How do you qualify your candidates before submitting them to a client?
  • What do you know about our company and this department?
  • What is your guarantee policy for candidate placements?

Check References

Both Todd and Gimbel believe in the importance of checking references of firms that you are considering. Todd goes on to say that you should check more than one reference. “A good firm won’t hesitate to connect you with three of its clients, at the least. Consider it a red flag if firms shy away from this request,” states Gimbel.

Clarify Expectations

When establishing any type of partnership it’s important to clarify expectations. Included in this conversation should be a discussion around the fees; terms of any guarantees; the definition of an introduction and how long this candidate is considered an agency referral; who will be working on your account and what their qualifications are; whether or not there is an exclusivity clause, which means only one staffing firm can be used at a time; and if the firm sources candidates from existing clients. Gimbel points out that some staffing firms work with job hoppers that are switching from one client to another, and other firms have strict policies against this. It’s best to know all of this up front to avoid unpleasant surprises that may pop up down the road.


“The most productive relationships are the ones where the agency is considered a partner,” says Todd. A trusting relationship will make the process much smoother, more efficient, and will yield results for years to come.

[Image: Flickr user Seyed Mostafa Zamani]

About the author

For more than 25 years, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, has helped leaders in Fortune 500 companies, including Best Buy, New Balance, The Boston Beer Company and small to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She is known world-wide as “The Talent Maximizer®.” Roberta, a leading authority on leadership and the skills and strategies required to earn employee commitment and client loyalty, is the author of the top-selling book, Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2011), a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book For Leaders