How to Spot a Head-Hunter (And Get Spotted in Return)

How to Spot a Head-Hunter (And Get Spotted in Return)

What is a "head-hunter"?

Just another word for a recruitment consultant?


Recruitment agents or consultants use either their own database of candidates or they advertise for candidates. Head-hunters actively and discreetly seek out and identify suitable individuals to fill their client's post.

Back in the dark ages BBL (Before Berners-Lee) virtually all head-hunters were retired, grey-haired senior executives with a lifetime's knowledge of who did what, where, for whom and how well. Head-hunters were sector specialists; they worked in very small areas of business and could recommend a short-list of people almost off the top of their heads. Head-hunters never advertised. Head-hunters didn't accept CVs from people. When you got a call from a head-hunter he would never discuss a position over the phone; he would invite you for a quiet chat somewhere neutral (seldom his office).

Though head-hunters are now generally younger, and as likely to be women as men, much of the modus operandi is still true. Although many recruitment consultants style themselves as head-hunters, they are not, and simply don't know how to.

Head-Hunters still don't advertise, and they will not often, if ever discuss the client or the position over the phone. Finally, they don't accept CVs from applicants.

So how do you get spotted by a head-hunter?

First of all have a job! Harsh but true but head-hunters rarely approach the unemployed. Yes, if you are a captain of industry and you announce your intended departure from an organisation, you may get several calls about non-exec posts, but if you are not in the walnut corridors already that is simply not likely to happen.

Secondly, you need to build a profile that makes you stand out. Simply clicking the box on Linkedin that says you are interested in employment opportunities is too passive. Find quality forums that relate to your business speciality and make thoughtful and thought-provoking posts there, under your own real name. Also consider using a personal branding website such as Brand Yourself. Offer to speak at trade events or professional meetings. Offer case studies relating to your (and your team's) successes and discoveries. Join groups of like-minded individuals on networking sites.

Find out who the head-hunters are in your area of expertise; not just company names but the actual individuals. When you attend events, look out for these people and swap business cards with them, offer to discreetly provide names for them when they have opportunities (rather than offering your own), as this is a useful service to them and they will not let on where they got the names from. If you have the opportunity, give them some business. You may not have the authority to appoint them to find your organisation's next CEO, but many head-hunters will offer a "lite" version where they will discreetly approach specific individuals that you name.

This can be a good way to build a relationship.

One similarity between head-hunters and recruitment consultants is that they both work for the prospective employer, not the job seeker. So don't be pushy and don't appear desperate, remember the three "R"s: develop a Reputation, become a Resource, build a Relationship.

That way you'll get the fourth and fifth "R"s: Recognition and Reward.

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