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Part 1 – A “headhunter’s” mission

So, you’re looking for a new career opportunity, either because you have lost (or expect to lose) your current job OR because you are one of the many ready to “test the waters” now that the economy is getting better. In fact, there are about 108 million currently employed people interested in new opportunities at this time (according to recent surveys from Manpower and LinkedIn.) If you are like many job seekers, chances are you will think it’s a good idea to contact a “headhunter” and seek his or her assistance in finding a new job. And, while that may indeed be a wise move, you should also know that it’s not always a wise move.

Let me begin this blog by dispelling some common myths about recruiters, aka “headhunters,” i.e., what we do and, equally important, what we DON’T do.

photoA true “headhunter’s” mission is to IDENTIFY, QUALIFY, ATTRACT and then LAND the TOP performing talent for a client company. (And, yes, the COMPANY is the client in this transaction, NOT the job seeker.) Contrary to what appears to be a popular belief, our job is NOT to help a person find a job. Moreover, we are NOT career counselors; we are NOT outplacement firms; and we are NOT staffing agencies. These three types of organizations focus on the candidate and do indeed help him or her find a job. Conversely, a “headhunter” focuses on finding the best talent for a company’s opening and then determining if there could be a mutually beneficial fit between that client company’s needs and the candidate’s skill sets, professional background and career aspirations.

Focused on a niche

You should also know and understand that “headhunters” almost always focus exclusively on a niche market (or markets). For example, my recruiting firm specializes in placing top candidates in sales, engineering, management and research & development in the industrial sector with most positions being, more specifically, within the chemical industry. So, if you are seeking an opportunity in, say, the advertising industry, not only could I NOT help you, I wouldn’t even try because that industry is not within my niche. Virtually all true “headhunters” operate this same way.

OK, let’s assume that you are in fact seeking a new position in a skill set that falls within my market niche. Does that mean I can or will then work with you? Not necessarily. Since a company pays a “headhunter” a fee somewhere between 25% to 33% of the successful candidate’s first year’s base salary, the company, is expecting us to present to them ONLY candidates that meet two criteria:

First, anyone we present must now be doing the work (or very similar work) within the area of hiring interest (referred to as “current relevant experience”)
Secondly, the individual must have a proven track record of quantifiable accomplishments and achievements

So if you read the first bullet point carefully, you begin to realize that, in general, “headhunters” cannot present to a company an unemployed candidate. Now, what this does NOT mean is that an unemployed person can’t (or won’t) be considered for the open position. What it DOES mean is that the company will NOT pay a “headhunter” a fee to hire from them an unemployed candidate.

Why? The company expects the unemployed professional to be going after opportunities themselves and not coming to them with a “price on their head.” All too often the unemployed waste too much time with “headhunter” (recruiters) when they would be better served going after opportunities directly. I would be doing a disservice to every unemployed person if I didn’t point this out.

As you further analyze the first bullet point, you also realize that, as a “headhunter,” I can’t present candidates who have transferable skills but aren’t doing the job at hand. Let’s say, for example, that I am working on a business development position for a company that sells industrial chemicals. You may be a great sales professional with a proven track record of quantifiable accomplishments and achievements selling financial instruments, but I can’t present you on the position I am recruiting for. It doesn’t matter how great your sales skills are. It doesn’t matter how well you build relationships. It doesn’t matter how “transferrable” your skills and background are, if you are not currently doing what the position requires, i.e. selling industrial chemicals, I can’t present you.

Now once again, it doesn’t mean that the company won’t hire you. What it does mean is that they won’t hire you from me. Their comment to me would be, “Skip, why do we have to pay you $20,000 for someone we have to train and take a risk on?” They may train you and they may take a risk on you, but not for an additional $20K.

On the radar

Thus, to get on a “headhunter’s” radar, your branding requires that you have “current relevant experience” coupled with significant quantifiable accomplishments and achievements. If you do, then seeking out a “headhunter” is a wise move on your part. If not, then spending your time directly marketing yourself is your most productive approach for finding a new career opportunity.

Bottom line: never, never wait until you need a job to connect with a good headhunter that is in your field of expertise.

NEXT WEEK: Part 2 – Want to be ‘Headhunted’? Here’s How!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.