free advice:

about headhunters:



We are the home of "Ethics Defined," a set of criteria and practices we believe could elevate the entire consulting business. more »

Why you might need one, how to choose which type, how to interview, reference check, and motivate headhunters.


Why You Might Need an Experienced Search Consultant and Real Recruiter Today?

Reasons for the Hiring Executive or Talent Acquisition Team:


Increased need for the truly skilled. You are running a lean enterprise. There's no more fat to be cut, and headcount remains conservative. Your continued success depends on leveraging dependable talent quickly.


Access to the best. The best are busy, and have no time for even seeing your post, nor the energy to respond.


Social isn't cutting it. Top performers don't have time to manage their online presence. You need a talent scout with hundreds of deep relationships that make the most of each hour and every phone call.


Improved search results. An experienced recruiter with deep people reading skills will ferret out potential problems before you invest more corporate time. It's not just about finding talent, it's also about courting, negotiating, landing and keeping the talented. That's the acquisition part.


Time. It takes a minimum of 50 corporate manhours to conduct a search from req to start. You need to cut that to 10.


Discretion. Friends, relatives, neighbors and former employees are out of work. You need to fill this but keep it quiet. Less noise, more signal. Only a specialist with niche expertise can target search efforts so precisely.


Floods. You post, tweet or link an opening, you have 700 responses by 4PM. You can't drink from a fire hydrant anymore.




Reasons to Use Recruiters for Job Seekers:


Discretion: If you are currently employed, you need to be discreet as well. Every company has had layoffs, and they're not over. Any suggestion that you are not loyal to your employer puts you at greater risk. If you're looking, you need to keep it quiet. On LinkedIn, everywhere. (By the way, turn OFF your member feed and status update settings when your activity increases.)


Access: The hidden job market doesn't make it to the web. Never did and never will.


Types of Talent Acquisition Teams, Scouts, Recruiters, Sourcers, and Search Firms:


Suggestions for Screening, Reference Checking, Selecting,
and Motivating Them

There is valid criticism about the recruiting profession, and much damage can be done by an unethical or inept recruiter's actions. However, there are some honest and ethical recruiters around and you can find them if you know what you are looking for. Here are the three major types:


Corporate Talent Acquisition teams and internal recruiters work inside the company. They may or may not have the ear of the hiring exec. They may or may not have a depth of industry segment or personal network to draw on. From the Employer side, ask how much this person is "working the boards" or involved in “Social.” ALso investigate if they are really a sourcer, or more of a full cycle recruiter, two very different skillsets.


Sourcers, Social, and Internet recruiters frequently work from home or a bullpen. Some communicate by phone occasionally, most communicate electronically only. Some will misrepresent the working relationship they have with the company. Some will ask permission to forward a resume to their client (or perhaps just a prospect), many will not. A few will conduct a decent interview by phone and want to speak to a reference, the vast majority will not. We believe this level of service warrants a sourcing fee, no more.


Real Recruiters, Talent Scouts, Headhunters and Search Firms will take the time to know their clients and candidates. Their networks are deep and relationships are developed. Sometimes they need additional research or sourcing, but most can rely on an active network they have developed over many lunches and cups of coffee. Their people reading skills are invaluable, and they counsel for the most advantageous results. They have statistics to demonstrate their skill level.


Retained vs Contingency: Pros and Cons For Candidates and Clients
Retained "Executive Search" firms and contingency firms share more of the market than they used to, and the hybrid has become commonplace. For clients, keep in mind, the larger a search firm is, the more corporations on their client (a.k.a. "hands-off") list. Also, negotiate for certain levels of service instead of leaving the search open-ended. Ask retained firms what percentage of searches have been completed, average time to fill, and references.


For the candidate, there can be advantages with all types. A firm on retainer is more likely to show only one opportunity at a time to a candidate. They will also tend to be more discreet, and can often assist in relocating nationally and internationally. But they can ethically only show you one opportunity at a time.


A good contingency firm can also be discreet, but it has more flexibility to show a candidate more than one opportunity simultaneously (since they usually don't have the "golden handcuffs" of a full retainer). A client can get the attention of a contingency firm with a deposit, arranging for the bulk of the fee to be earned upon completion.


Take a proactive stance in selecting consultants and firms to work with! We believe that clients and candidates who do not carefully screen the recruiters they are working with are partially responsible for the quality they accept. We recommend you consider the level of service you want, then interview and reference check several recruiters. Use the interviews and references to determine talents and integrity levels. You must have a candid relationship with a recruiter, or you should hire sourcers instead.


Interviewing Headhunters


Potential Clients and Candidates might want to ask the following
(not all issues may be important to you):

  • How does the recruiter determine which corporate clients to accept?
  • Do they visit the companies in person?
  • How does he or she screen candidates?
  • Does the recruiter meet his/her candidates?
  • Has the recruiter ever rewritten a resume? (If so, this could signal that they might repackage and subsequently misrepresent candidates.)
  • How many fee disputes or lawsuits have they been involved in?
  • What are their strengths?
  • What projects are they not good at?
  • How many "fall-offs"(placements that do not last) have they had?
  • How many searches do they work on at one time?
  • What are their statistics? Search assignments accepted/completed? Average time to fill? Resume submissions to interview? 1st interviews to hire? Offers accepted?

In addition, Hiring Officials might want to address these concerns:

  • Does the headhunter recruit from clients?
  • With which companies do they have a "hands-off" policy? (You may have a conflict.)

Candidates need to ask recruiters about their resume policy. When do they send them, if at all? Are they simply submitting resumes into Talent departments, or are they actually arranging introductions with the hiring executive or manager? Check their references on this topic especially. There are epic complaints that resumes and profiles are being submitted without the candidate's interest or permission. Keep in mind, however, how small Silicon Valley is.


If you are working with a recruiter, never respond to an ad, corporate website, or job board until you have coordinated your response with him or her. After all, if he or she can arrange an interview for you, you have achieved your goal. Invest at least as much time on your job search as you would in buying a car!


Checking References if you are a job-seeker:

Suggested Questions:

  • Ask for references of people the recruiters have placed, and those they did not, who can testify to their discretion and professionalism. Some recruiters even change their names every few years! Many change "desks" or specialties. Ask for references from a recruiter's early days. If he or she is not in touch with anyone that far back, why not? Ask for references demonstrating a client's repeat business. Ask for references until you are satisfied that this is a person you can trust.
    • Was their time respected?
    • Were phone calls returned?
    • Were commitments kept? Were they misrepresented, strong-armed, or mishandled in any way?
    • What does the reference think this recruiter is particularly good at?
    • Will they work with this recruiter again?

Notes to Potential Candidates: Discretion should be mandatory! We often hear stories of accidental exposure: a resume ending up on an HR rep's desk, and his next door neighbor turns out to be your current boss! We also hear often of the same resumes being sent by two or more agencies in an afternoon to the same company. Weigh the risk/reward ratio of your current situation and decide what level of discretion is mandatory for you. Then shop for the recruiter that best suits your style.


How to Motivate Your Recruiter


Note to Potential Clients: Do not enlist the help of a recruiter if you plan on penalizing candidates for the fee attached. Only if you are going to assess all candidates fairly should you actively seek out a recruiter. The fee should be something you are prepared to pay for the best candidate.


Exclusives: It is a good idea for both candidates and clients to provide incentive by giving the recruiter an exclusive for a specific period of time. Be wary of a recruiter, or office, who claims to have the whole market covered; but know it is a reasonable request that you work with only one recruiter at a time to avoid duplication of efforts. When two agencies are fighting over date stamps on resume submissions, no one wins. (Ask the recruiter what he does in that situation.)


Deposits: Verbal commitments, though well-intentioned, mean very little to headhunters today. So many projects and requisitions are canceled or postponed at the last moment that deposits for top-rated service are becoming the norm even in the contingency search business. Entice a good recruiter to prioritize your assignment with a deposit or mini-retainer for a set period of time. Negotiate for discounts in return for deposits. Clarify what you expect from the recruiter (hours, face-to-face screening, company visits, reference checks before presentation, etc.).



back to top