Headhunters and Executive Search – A Candidates Guide

November 11, 2011  |   Career Coaching Blog   |     |   0 Comment

Executive Search Companies are also known as headhunters and can be a valuable tool in helping you find a new role.


What Do They Do?


Headhunters are known as such because they proactively go out and approach candidates to fill the roles they have been assigned to fill. Whereas a Recruitment Agency will either search a database of candidates they have on file, or advertise for candidates. An employer will describe to a headhunter the qualities, skills and experience they want in a candidate. The headhunter will use researchers to identify people who are normally already employed who match the requirements of the employer. The headhunter will then contact the candidates that have been found by the researcher to discuss their interest in the vacancy. They will invite them to come in for an interview and put forward the best 2/3 candidates to the employer. The employer will make the final selection.


How are They Paid?


Employers are normally charged around 25% – 30% of the salary (or salary package) of the job they are trying to fill as a fee by headhunters. So for a £100,000 per annum job the fee might be £30,000 and this is likely to be paid in three stages. The first payment when the headhunter is instructed, the second when a shortlist of candidates is put forward and the final instalment when an appointment is made.


This means you should never be asked to pay any fee if you are approached by a headhunter.


Which Firm to Contact?


Executive Search firms and headhunters tend to specialise in particular areas of the job market. They may concentrate of specific industry sectors, for example banking or retailing. They may also specialise by particular functions such as marketing, HR or supply chain. So the first thing to do is establish which firms specialise in your area of interest. You can look at the websites of the different companies; this often tells you a lot about the type of roles they fill. However remember they tend to fill vacancies with salaries of at least £90,000 per year or higher. So there is no point in contacting them if you are currently earning £45,000 per year. The other important point to note is that headhunters tend to be less interested in speculative CVs, after all they earn their fees by going out to find the candidate for the employer. The employer will be unimpressed if the headhunter presents 3 candidates who just happened to send in their CV!



Build a Relationship


If you want to use a headhunter it is always best if you have built a relationship prior to when you are actively seeking a new role. Headhunters often call senior managers to ask if they know of candidates suitable for roles. If you get a call like this, be helpful and get the name of the headhunter. Then make sure you stay in touch.


If you are out of work and need a job, or if you are in a job and actively seeking a new role you should seek to build a personal relationship with headhunters in around 3 companies. This means using your network to get an introduction. So for example if you have just been put out of work ask your HR Director for a contact. You don’t need a recommendation, you just need the HR Director to send an email to his/her contact to say it has been suggested you give the headhunter a call. Alternatively speak to your contacts to find out which of them knows a headhunter.


When you get a name give the person a call and ask if they could spare you the time to meet over a coffee to discuss if they may be able to help you.  Do not just send in a CV and hope for a response because you probably won’t get one!


Meeting a Headhunter or Executive Search Consultant


These things may be obvious but you must make sure that you


  • have a good CV that is up to date. There is advice on writing a good CV that will get you interviews on this site
  • make sure you are able to run through your CV within 4 minutes highlighting your key skills and competencies
  • are clear about the kind of job role you are looking for
  • make sure you have a view of the salary package that you are looking for
  • make it clear if you are prepared to relocate for the right role


Maintain Contact


Once you have had the meeting it is important to keep contact with the headhunter. There may be no jobs for which you would be a suitable candidate at the time of the meeting. However this may well change over a period of time. If you don’t stay in touch you may float off the headhunter’s radar screen and just be forgotten. You should call at least once in every 12 weeks. Use the call to find out how the job market is looking and to update the headhunter on your search activities and any change in your circumstances.


Do Not Rely on Headhunters to Find a Job


Do not make contact with a headhunter and then sit back and wait for a job to fall into your lap. This is unlikely to happen as the headhunter will be dealing with only a small percentage of the actual vacancies that need to be filled. Plus they are only really interested in candidates that will earn them the fee they need to keep running their business. At a senior level at least 70% of potential vacancies are filled through networking activity. You should therefore be spending at least 70% of your time in this activity. This is a good guide to networking to successfully find a job Please use it to get started if you are not sure how to begin. Headhunters may be a useful vehicle for helping you get the job that you want, but you should use them alongside other routes for getting the job that you want.




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