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Finding a Headhunter: 5 Tips on Choosing a Headhunter for Your Company

Kristin Bachman
7 min read

Hiring top talent for high-level roles is essential to organizations committed to growing and thriving. However, finding, attracting, and negotiating with these professionals can be difficult and time-consuming. The challenge is evident in a C-Suite Outlook Midyear 2022 survey, as the global CEO respondents say that failure to attract and retain top talent is the leading issue for organizations.

What are companies that need to hire senior-level professionals to do? For many, the best answer is to partner with a headhunter recruitment firm.

Today’s article will dive into how to select the best headhunter for your open positions and lay out the best practices that make a company-headhunter partnership successful. Let’s get started.

Recruiters vs. Headhunters: What’s the Difference?

It’s important to note that while people often use the terms recruiter and headhunter interchangeably, there are subtle differences between them. They have similar roles, yet each has a different focus.

A traditional recruiter works for either the company itself or a recruitment agency, and this individual’s goal is to fill open job positions quickly — preferably by the most qualified candidates who are available and are seeking employment opportunities.

On the other hand, a headhunter (also called "executive recruiter") is a third-party talent finder who largely performs the same job but emphasizes identifying the best possible talent — whether that prospect is actively searching for a new job or not. 

The headhunter will strategically initiate a connection or relationship with that prospect, position your company as a potential employment opportunity, and then make an enticing pitch to lure that prospect to your company.

Typically, headhunters go after one top manager or executive at a time, whereas recruiters typically fill any positions that are needed — in other words, every headhunter is a recruiter, but not every recruiter is a headhunter.

5 Tips for Selecting a Headhunter for Your Company

All executive recruiters have strong and weak points: Some of them possess the knowledge and experience working with the job seekers you want to connect with, while others are in their first year on the job.

Companies face significant pressure in choosing a high-performing headhunter. Hire the wrong one, and you could have to deal with inadequate candidates, which can drag out your hiring time.

Below are five of our best tips for ensuring that your company hires the headhunter who will professionally represent your brand and find you the best candidates for your open roles.


Tip 1

Pursue Specific Industry Experience

A headhunter may possess loads of experience placing high-level manufacturing professionals. That's great, but it won’t help a biotech company fill its roles.

It’s common for headhunters and recruiters alike to work with any company, regardless of industry or niche. While your headhunter may have all the skills needed to attract top talent, a deep understanding of your industry plays an important role.

How can your headhunter know exactly what to look for in a potential hire if they don’t understand the qualifications and attributes that are most needed for the job?

Unlike general recruiters, niche headhunters specialize in a certain field — an industry where they have the experience and access to networks, connections, and resources.

You’ll also find that many headhunters even have past career experience in a specific industry, which can often be the difference in whether a candidate considers an opportunity.

Pro tip: Ask others in your network for a referral

Don't just do a Google search and choose the staffing agency at the top of the list. Leverage your contacts’ knowledge and experience. Put feelers out to people in your professional networks and on LinkedIn. Ask for the contact information of a headhunter agency they’ve used successfully.


Tip 2

Look for Experience Filling Senior Roles

In this job market, recruiting talent is as hard as it's ever been. Consider your headhunter’s experience, recruiting methods, and track record in attracting and engaging top talent.

If they've never successfully landed a big name for another company in your industry, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. When the opportunity to make the pitch to your prospect presents itself, your headhunter may not have the skills to close the deal.

There’s more at stake here than merely missing out on a new hire. Your business’s reputation and image are on the line, too. A headhunter who uses the spray-and-pray approach to pitching positions can cause you to overexpose your company to the market, leaving a sour taste in prospects’ mouths.

Don’t be afraid to ask important questions when discerning whether the headhunter is qualified for the job:

  • What is your successful completion rate?
  • What is your process for attracting top talent?
  • How would you pitch our company to a top-level executive?
  • What is your timeline for getting it done?
  • What is your current workload?
  • Do you have a guarantee period?

Pro tip: Stand out from the crowd

The best recruiting efforts find ways to differentiate your company from the competition. Set your company apart from the others by pinpointing your positive attributes and using them in the hiring process. These may be a positive company culture, new opportunities for growth, time off for healthcare needs, lucrative perks, flexibility in work hours, and more.


Tip 3

Make Sure the Headhunter Understands Your Company’s Needs

Even though you may be looking to attract the best possible talent and add them to your team, the most talented executive isn’t always the best fit for your company.

Qualifications and skill sets are essential, but you must also consider other attributes when searching for your next hire.

It’s up to your headhunter to develop a keen understanding of your company, values, culture, hiring timeline, and team dynamic, allowing them to discern the perfect fit from a good fit.

Remember that it’s your responsibility to communicate these expectations clearly to your headhunter so that you’re both on the same page and working towards the same outcome.

Pro tip: Conduct interviews and check references

Even if you're in a rush to fill your open position, don’t cut corners in your decision making. Narrow down your choices with an in-depth interview. Once you identify your top two to three search firms, contact their professional references to see if you can uncover any red flags. For example, how long have their previous hires typically stayed in their new roles? If you find that their recruits leave their new positions (or are fired) shortly after starting, you may want to look elsewhere.


Tip 4

Prioritize Exceptional Communication Skills 

Communication is the key to successfully attracting qualified executives to your company. Without exceptional communication skills, your headhunter will be ineffective.

Because the headhunter is the middleman between your company and your prospect, there needs to be seamless communication flowing both ways.

Consider a headhunter committed to communicating with your candidate throughout the entire hiring process, including onboarding — where candidates often experience a communication breakdown.

You’ll also want to make sure you communicate clearly with your headhunter. This effort will directly impact your headhunter’s ability to represent your company fairly and convey your vision effectively to potential candidates.

Pro tip: Have a concrete plan to evaluate communication skills

Measure the headhunter’s communication skills by how they answer your questions and describe their services. Do they speak clearly and effectively? Do they include specific details? If you’re in person, watch their body language. Are their facial expressions engaging, and do they make eye contact? 

Another way to gauge their communication skills is through their emails and texts. Do they get back to you promptly with well-thought-out responses? Are they gracious and friendly? Do they follow up promptly? Your communication experiences with the headhunter will tell you everything you need to know about how they will approach and engage with your candidates.


Tip 5

Consider a Network-Based Recruiting Agency

When in doubt, consider going with a reputable network-based recruiting company instead of an independent headhunter.

Executive search firms in the U.S. offer a balanced mix of recruiters and headhunters in their organizations.

Choosing a network-based recruiting agency, which taps the networks of hundreds of executives to find your next hire, will help you reach the most qualified candidates and most compatible matches for your company.

Pro tip: Sign up with Hunt Club today

Hunt Club provides our clients with a way to access a small pool of highly qualified executive candidates. Let us fuel your talent acquisition efforts with our tech-driven sourcing methods and years of proven experience.

Best Practices for Working With a Headhunter

When human resources and hiring managers don’t have the bandwidth to conduct high-level talent searches in-house, hiring a professional headhunting firm is an intelligent solution.

Even if a company vets the headhunter thoroughly and chooses one experienced who's filling job openings in its industry, company stakeholders must stay involved. Here are four tips for creating a productive hiring strategy with your headhunter.

Treat the Headhunter as a Team Member

Headhunting firms are unlike other vendors: They work with you to find the best candidate who will directly contribute to your company’s vision and success.

Unlike regular employment agencies, you should view a headhunter as part of your company and an extension of your team. They should be privy to your company’s inner workings, culture, and overarching plans. Being treated this way helps them gain an understanding of the organization that is priceless when they’re pinpointing the best candidates.

Understanding the job description is one thing but having insight into the company that's typically reserved for employees is an entirely new knowledge level.

Ask the Right Questions

Think of finding the right headhunter as you would if you were looking for a good employee. Treat your introduction meeting as a job interview and ask open-ended questions. Listen closely to the answers, and make sure you hear concrete answers and ideas. If they feed you vagueness and fluff, keep looking.

Here are some sample questions that will help you gather valuable intelligence.

  • Walk me through the experience you offer in my industry.
  • How many placements did you make for the job title we are hiring for in the past 24 months?
  • What attributes will you look for in a candidate if we partner?
  • Explain how you source candidates.
  • How would you entice a candidate to interview with our company over one of our competitors?
  • How often can we expect to receive updates from you?
  • What if we hire one of the candidates you find, but it doesn’t work out?

Be Transparent With Your Wants and Needs

Companies that haven’t determined their needs or can’t convey them succinctly set headhunters up for failure.

It’s critical to share your needs with the executive recruiter completely, clearly, and accurately. Otherwise, the headhunter will go down the wrong road from the beginning, looking for candidates who won’t match your expectations and needs. From the first touch throughout the process, clearly communicate the hard and soft skills, personality, and other facets you want in your new hire.

Provide Open Feedback

Finding an executive-level new hire is not a one- or two-day initiative — it takes time, and employers should share their thoughts and opinions every step of the way. It may be additional information about the role you want to add to job postings, the interview timeline, or suggestions that decrease candidate requirements. Feedback on the candidates they bring also assists them in hitting the mark next time. Companies should have two-way feedback with their headhunter at every stage of the process to facilitate the ultimate goal: filling the role successfully.

Hire Better Headhunters and Win Over Top Talent With Hunt Club

Finding a headhunter that meets your expectations and delivers the candidate you need is challenging. After all, they aren’t employees and don’t have endless insight into your operations and culture (like your HR department does). However, by following these tips for selecting an executive recruiter and closely (and transparently) working with them during the search, you can create a relationship that benefits both parties.

Hunt Club’s efficient recruiting methods and technology platform can find and present a short list of top-tier candidates to you quickly and seamlessly. Don’t waste time and effort interviewing candidates who are ill-qualified or wrong for the role: Reach out to us today to experience a new level of recruiting strategy.

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