Is your Headhunter any good?

Headhunters make money by finding, evaluating and targeting candidates for their clients.

Some are exceptional, some are good and some are bad.   How can you tell the difference?

Not easily, there are a lot of headhunters out there and in most cases, the work done is discreet and below the radar, it is very likely that when a headhunter makes contact, that you would have never heard of them.

Headhunters tend to come in two types:

  • Those who get into the business because the cost of entry is low. They’re looking for a quick buck. They’re in a big rush to close deals, and they aren’t very concerned about what anyone thinks about how they’re doing it. That’s not to say they’re all dishonest; just that they aren’t taking the long view. You’ll get pretty frustrated working with them because of the way they treat their clients, their professional community, and their job candidates.
  • Those who are building a business based on reputation, relationships and trust — and on making a contribution to their professional community. They’re in less of a rush, are more willing to take time to establish long term relationships, and they seek to establish their credibility as much as to earn a buck. This doesn’t mean they’ll take anyone’s call, it just means that they tend to act more responsibly.

How do you separate a knowledgeable, trustworthy, conscientious, effective headhunter from the rest?

Try and access them based on the following:

Knowledge
A good headhunter will have tons of valuable information about the company they representing, about the job, the manager and their team, about why the job is open, and about the technology (if applicable). They’ll be able to tell you about the interview itself: how the manager evaluates candidates, how their team will be involved and how the selection process will play out. Most important, the headhunter will be able to coach you in a way that will maximize your chances of winning an offer.

Even good headhunters don’t have all the answers. But the good ones will tell you when they don’t know something.

Ask the headhunter thoughtful questions about the position they called you about. Don’t just focus on the title and salary — get into the work itself. A good headhunter will share lots of their knowledge and in doing so and give you enough information to help you make a decision about whether you want to pursue the job (or recommend someone else). A not-so-good headhunter will quote you the title and the salary, but will be in a rush to get off the phone so they can call the next person on their list.

Integrity
A trustworthy headhunter is proud of their business and glad to talk about it. Their success depends on you trusting them. So, ask thoughtful questions about their background and track record.

The answers matter, of course, but what you’re really looking for is an indication that the headhunter is forthright and willing to tell you about themself. A headhunter who’s in the business for a quick buck won’t have much of a story to tell because they operating on the fringes, picking up fees wherever they can. A good headhunter will demonstrate that they have good clients who respect them, and that they knows the in’s and out’s of the industry they recruit in.

A good headhunter also reveals their trustworthiness by keeping their promises. Don’t let a headhunter slide on this point — you’ll wind up wasting your time in the long run. Does the headhunter call when they promises to call? If they says they will call you early next week that means Monday or Tuesday of next week — not Friday at 6:00PM or two weeks later.

Do they return your calls? Once you’ve established a relationship, a good headhunter always returns your calls, just as you should return theirs. However, if you made the first contact and the headhunter didn’t show any real interest, don’t expect they will talk to you again in the near future. They not being rude, but they also not in business to help you manage your career. Either way, you should expect the headhunter to honour their commitments and to treat you considerately.

Conscientiousness
A good headhunter tries to locate and separate out the best qualified talent for their client company. That’s why they won’t take cold calls or waste time with people who want a “job handout”. Their focus is on the companies and people who will help them do the job. When they working on a search that has led them to you, they will be 100% attentive to you.

A good headhunter won’t just ask for your resume. They’ll do their research by taking the time to ask you the tough, detailed questions that will reveal whether you fit the company, the manager, the job and the technology. Some headhunters will have a researcher on their staff handle this preliminary discussion.  The researcher should be professional and able to answer at least basic questions.

By investing the time to get to know you, a headhunter demonstrates their conscientiousness. So, pay attention to the questions the headhunter asks you: they revealing themselves as much as they probing you.

Effectiveness
A good headhunter finds the right candidate and fills the job. That’s their business. To accomplish this, they have to gain the respect of the people they are recruiting, and they must demonstrate their ability to be right. If they make a few “wrong” placements, their reputation is shot.

When people get frustrated because a headhunter won’t talk to them, it’s often because the headhunter is very good at what he does. And talking to just anyone isn’t their job. A good headhunter usually does not have the time to spend with individuals who contact them unless they happen to have expertise in the exact assignment they currently working on. They have gotten such “lucky” calls only twice in eleven years. Their own specialty is the semi-conductor industry, which means they cannot help the vast majority of the people who find them in the phone book.

What does all this mean to you? If you are actively looking for a job, then take control of your own job search, because the good headhunters won’t talk to you. That seems contradictory, but it makes perfect sense when you consider what we’ve said about the headhunter’s business: they can’t be an effective headhunter if they start acting like a career counsellor. If you’re the person the headhunter is looking for, they prefer to find you themselves. Believe it or not, this is one of the best ways to recognise a good headhunter: they the one who calls you.

But to judge them properly, evaluate the headhunter carefully on all four of the attributes described above. When you encounter a good headhunter, do your best to help them with their search. Because there’s one last attribute you should know about: a good headhunter remembers.