Can a ‘Headhunter’ Help You? Maybe, Maybe Not.

6 min read · 6 years ago


shutterstock_157621241When you hear the term “headhunter” what is the first thing that comes to mind? How would you describe what you think a headhunter is, what role he or she plays in the job market? Chances are, if you’re at all like the typical job hunter, here is probably how you would describe a headhunter:

“A headhunter is someone who can help you get a job or help you find a new one.”

There is at least a kernel of truth in this response, this widespread perception, but to be honest about it, only a small kernel.

Let me begin this post with a revelation that many of you may find shocking:

Only SIX percent of the jobs in the marketplace today are filled by headhunters.

Yes, you read that correctly. Just a very small percentage of ALL available jobs are filled by headhunters, or at least by true headhunters. Let me explain.

A true headhunter’s mission is to …

  • Identify
  • Qualify
  • Attract and then
  • Land

… the TOP performing talent for a client hiring company. And, significant to note that, unlike career counselors, outplacement firms and staffing agencies, it is thehiring company that is the client in this transaction, not the job candidate. It is therefore the hiring company that pays any fee(s) involved in a successful placement, not the job candidate. A headhunter’s services to a job candidate are absolutely FREE to him or her, and such services can add significant value to the job candidate.


A true headhunter nearly always focuses on a niche market or markets. For example, our executive recruiting firm, The Hire To Win Group, specializes in placing top candidates in sales, engineering, management and research & development positions in the overall chemical industry. What this means for job candidates: If one is seeking a new job in, say, the advertising industry, not only could we NOT work with the candidate, we wouldn’t even try because his or her professional specialty does not fall within our agency’s market niche(s). The candidate would have to work with a headhunter whose specialty includes the advertising industry.

For the sake of illustration, let’s assume that a new position you seek is within our market niche(s). Does that mean we can or will work with you? Depends. Since a hiring company normally pays a headhunter a fee ranging from 25% to 33% of the successful candidate’s first-year base salary, the company expects the headhunter ONLY to present them candidates who meet, essentially, TWO criteria:

  • They are now doing the work (or very similar work) within the area of hiring interest (referred to as “current and relevant experience”).
  • They have a proven (and provable) track record of quantifiableaccomplishments and professional achievements.

By re-reading the first bullet point above, you should be able to easily infer that, in general, a headhunter cannot present an unemployed job candidate to a hiring company, or more precisely, he or she would be wasting his or her time to do so. Now, this does NOT mean that a hiring company would not consider hiring the unemployed candidate. It simply means the company will not pay a fee to a headhunter to hire the candidate.


So, let’s assume that your professional expertise is in the headhunter’s market niche(s), and he or she agrees to present you to client hiring companies. What services can you expect to receive from the headhunter? Here are some of the more significant:

  • Custom résumé advice and assistance.
  • Informed coaching that can significantly improve your performance—and chances!—during telephone and face-to-face interview.
  • If you are made an offer, assistance with and advice on intelligentlynegotiating salary and/or benefits, based upon marketplace reality, not on “gut feel.”
  • Will present you to appropriate hiring managers and the companies they represent.
  • A thorough, knowledge/awareness of open positions making up the“hidden” job market.

I’m sure you will agree that all of these services (and more!) would be very valuable to you if you are seeking a new career position. They could also provide you atremendous advantage over your “competition,” i.e., those men and women seeking the same positions as you, if they are not also working with a headhunter. But first, you must get on—and then stay on!—a headhunter’s “radar.”


To attract, and then retain, a headhunter’s attention, you must, at a minimum, meet these FOUR criteria:

  • Be findable
  • Be desirable
  • Be contactable
  • Be selectable

To be FINDABLE make sure you develop, and then tightly control and maintain, a professional presence on sites such as the following:

  • Data ( (formerly,
  • Google+ – Your résumé and Google profiles (

To be considered DESIRABLE you must have branded yourself as clearly being (and be perceived as being) among the TOP 20% of all candidates for similar positions you seek. That is,

  • You must clearly be seen as someone who gets results.
  • You must also be seen as someone with the qualities, background and professional skills and experience who can and will immediately andthoroughly address the specific need(s) of a hiring company.

In order to be CONTACTABLE you must ensure that you keep ALL contact information, e.g., email address, contact telephone number, etc., current and up to date everywhere you maintain such information. It won’t make any difference how qualified you are, or how much you can offer a potential employer, if you can’t be easily and readily contacted!

And finally, to be considered SELECTABLE, you must be open to at least discussing career opportunities with a headhunter, if one contacts you. You can be assured that, if a headhunter does contact you, he or she has found something in your professional background and/or credentials that gave him or her “cause for pause.” They are NOT contacting you to sell you something. (Remember, job candidates pay no fee(s) whatsoever to work with a true headhunter!) They are NOT contacting you to offer you a job either.

The headhunter’s primary goal during the initial contact is to try to determine, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, if you are in fact a candidate whom he or she would like to add to his or her “inner circle,” as someone he or she may want to consider for future, appropriate career opportunities. In other words, the headhunter is merely attempting to determine if you may be selectable.


If you are a job hunter who may have been laboring under some false assumptions and perceptions about what a true headhunter is, I hope this post has helped you gain a better, more thorough understanding of his or her role in the job market. Canyou benefit from working with a headhunter? As I point out in the headline to this post, and as I’ve attempted to show you in the body of the post: Maybe, maybe not.

To learn more details, check out my Kindle single entitled, How to be ‘Headhunted’ by TOP Recruiters.


This post is a modified excerpt from Career Stalled?, Skip’s latest job-hunting book in the “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets Series of Career Development & Management publications featured on

Click HERE to watch a one-minute video preview of Career Stalled? on YouTube.

Going on a job interview soon? Know someone who is? Download Skip’s FREE “How to ACE the Job Interview!” publication by clicking HERE. Learn how to interview the way Superstars do!