Tips for headhunters

Headhunters are sometimes seen as a mixed blessing. On the plus side, you’re useful for organizations looking to recruit a talented senior executive, and a lifeline to ambitious professionals stuck in a dull job.

On the downside, while candidates find it flattering to be singled out for a great career move, they can feel hounded if you are over-persistent, particularly if they are happy in their current role. Equally, clients can feel frustrated if you roll up with an unsuitable line-up of candidates at the interview.

The most successful headhunters strike the right balance between being eager and respectful. They also tend to have spent time building up a good relationship with a range of movers and shakers across their specialism. This means that when called upon, they can then make a direct, personal approach discreetly to the person with the right expertise – and both sides are happy.

To identify what works and what doesn’t, we’ve compiled a handful of do’s and don’ts – tried and tested by a selection of fellow headhunters…


Do research the job specification

As you know, headhunters come into their own when a client wants to recruit talent from a competitor, or where there is a small pool of expertise. To narrow the field, work with the client to compile a target list of companies that would most likely employ the calibre of candidate you need.

It also helps if you can spend time with the client, so you can fully understand their working culture, business strategy and get to grips with the recruitment brief. By understanding the industry you are recruiting for, you can approach candidates at companies with a similar culture.

The outcome is that the shortlisted candidates you headhunt will most likely have the right skills and attitude for your client.


Don’t approach candidates randomly

It pays to do your homework on the candidate before you pick up the phone. To avoid wasting time, check out who is active in the relevant industry – who is writing blogs or articles, who is speaking at conferences, winning awards and so on.

Although the internet and networking sites have added a new dimension to headhunting, there is still the time-honoured method of attending networking events, conferences and so on.

Don’t be afraid to network, the more people you get to know, the easier it’ll be to headhunt for a specific role. At the very least, you will probably meet somebody who can pass on a few names.

Armed with information, you’ll be more likely to target someone ready to move up the ladder and less likely to get a bad reception.


Do be discreet

You’re going to fail in your mission, and your career as a headhunter, if you don’t maintain confidentiality. For obvious reasons, most people don’t want their colleagues knowing they may be switching jobs.

So what’s the best way to approach them? Well, a short phone call can work. If you already have a relationship with the individual through networking or working with them in the past, this should be relatively easy, but you still need to be discreet. Whether you know them or not, you should introduce yourself politely, quickly explain your reason for calling and ask when might be a good time to call again, or email them. When you’ve got the information, thank them for taking the call and hang up.

If you already know their email address, send them direct email with a brief outline. Again the key is to be polite, direct and ensure them that everything will be kept confidential.

However, if you’ve found them through researching their company or asking around, you’ll have to be particularly subtle and perhaps expect them to be initially resistant. In this case, it’s better if a mutual contact can introduce you.


Don’t put a candidate forward if they aren’t the right fit

There’s nothing to be gained by putting an unsuitable candidate forward simply because you need to present the client with somebody.

Not only do you need to understand the specific requirements of the client, but you should also make a frank appraisal of your candidate. It’s pointless approaching them or progressing the recruitment process if you discover their previous work experience, expertise or personality match is completely wrong. It will only make both sides frustrated and alienate you in the long-term.

Compile a shortlist of people in relevant roles using research, seeking recommendations and through tracking high-performance professionals. If you are thorough and act with integrity, you will keep everyone happy.


Do follow up phone calls

No matter how busy you are, always return calls. That should be the case even if you don’t recognize the name of the caller. You never know whether they could be a good contact or a potential lead at some point in the future.

You should always return the calls of clients and candidates you are working with as quickly as possible. If you don’t, they are likely to lose their trust in you and may not be so quick to return your calls when you need them to.


Don’t assume you know what’s best for the candidate

It’s important to build up a rapport with the candidate. Find out what they’re already getting from their job in terms of career satisfaction, promotion prospects and salary – and listen to them.

If they are happy in their job and have better career prospects than your client can offer, then back off; don’t pester them with phone-calls to try to change their mind. It’s pointless bullying a candidate into accepting a job they don’t want or wouldn’t enjoy. It’s ok to take no for an answer occasionally, imagine how badly it could reflect on you if they don’t perform well or quit the job within a short period.


Do give feedback

It’s important for your own reputation to manage the expectations of both sides. Provide your client with detailed information about the candidates prior to the interview and vice-versa, so both sides can prepare.

Be encouraging and supportive to the candidate throughout the process and after interview, but give honest feedback or it could backfire.

Whatever way it plays out, you can build a relationship with both sides for the future.


Don’t despair

Take a long-term view. If along the line you realise a candidate isn’t right for the role you are recruiting for, don’t simply drop them. Nurture them as a contact. Who knows, over the coming months or years you may be asked to fill the perfect vacancy for them.

And, don’t forget, you can always ask a candidate who isn’t interested if they know of others they can recommend.

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