Getting the most from a Headhunter


A headhunter can be great news for your career. You can benefit from inside access to jobs that haven’t yet been advertised and, if things go well, your career can move forward with minimal legwork on your part.

But that’s not the whole story. Headhunters don’t get up in the morning to land you a dream job. They work for companies, not for candidates, and earning the commission on successful matches motivates them. Understanding how a headhunter works will help you to utilise this golden opportunity rather than fritter it away.

So, how can you increase your chances of landing a job through a headhunter? There are a few golden rules that you must follow if you want a headhunter to be your ticket to the top.

Holding back information can be tempting but it can also hinder your success. You need to supply the headhunter with comprehensive and specific details about your career to date, your preferences for the future and anything else you think is relevant to your job search. In addition to your position, your qualifications and your compensation expectations, you must mention any personal obligations that might impact your job search. Any hidden, last minute surprises for the headhunter or employer will make you look untrustworthy and complicated – not something you’d like listed on your resume.

Being vague in your job description is unhelpful and makes you difficult to place, meaning the best jobs will go to other candidates who have laid out their capabilities more clearly. Headhunters need to know exactly what you can offer or they – and you – won’t get very far. Leave out the jargon and show specific and measurable results. Be clear about what you have done, and what you can do. If the headhunter or employer has to work too hard to decipher your suitability for a position then they might just look elsewhere.

A generic resume looks lazy. It says to the potential employer: “This is me, I may or may not be right for this position but that’s for you to decide.” But what you want to say is: “There is no one else for this job. I am exactly what you want and here is why.” To do that you need to update your resume for every position you apply for. An employer wants to know at first glance what you can or cannot do for them. They don’t want to have to read through reams of irrelevant information and then work out if you are qualified for the position or not. If you are, spell it out. If you are not, why are you applying?

A headhunter finds suitable candidates to put in front of companies, but that does not guarantee you a job. Ultimately it is down to you to sell yourself and your qualifications and for the employer to really notice you amongst the other resumes. If you end up at the bottom of the pile and your career is floundering, it’s down to you, not the headhunter.

Don’t waste time by applying for jobs that you know you won’t get. Be honest with yourself about your abilities and strengths, otherwise you are just wasting your valuable time and you risk alienating headhunters who value their time too.

Companies don’t pay headhunters to seek out people who are unemployed. They want to be presented with those candidates who are thriving in their careers. These are the people who they want working for them. Ideally, don’t quit your job until you have a new one lined up. Likewise, even if you are happy in your current job, there is no harm in networking and responding to headhunters. You never know when you might need them.

As we mentioned before, a headhunter is not a careers counsellor and is not there to tell you what you should do or what direction your career should take. You need to let the headhunter know what sort of opportunities you are looking for, and then they can go and find it. You must be specific about the direction you want to take, have a think about types of companies, roles, cultures etc….this gives your headhunter clear direction to be able to target the right companies for you.  Even better, email your headhunter a list or your target companies.

Compensation requirements have to be laid out on the table at an early stage in discussion with a headhunter or you risk wasting time. Be confident in your requirements but also flexible. Be clear about what you want but also open to offers.

A touch base call to a headhunter is a great move, but don’t go overboard asking for updates. Headhunters tend to deal with specific requirements from their clients and I promise you, when the right job comes up your headhunter will track you down.


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