Executive Search, Direct Search, Recruitment, Talent Finding or Talent Acquisition, and Headhunting. So many different names for an activity which could result somewhat similar to external eyes: Hiring the best people for your company.

What Exactly is a Headhunter?

Also, what is a Head Hunter or what are Headhunters seems to be a very commonly asked question on Google. If you go to Wikipedia, there’s one whole sentence about the topic which goes like this: “Headhunter, an informal name for an employment recruiter, sometimes referred to as executive search”. That’s it, one whole sentence about Headhunter in Wikipedia. No wonder it remains a mystery what Headhunter does.

Most of our time, we spend it actually explaining to clients what we do and what it is like working with a headhunter. Ultimately, it is an intangible service that can be actually delivered in at least 100 different ways, but finally end up in the same desired result: Finding top talent and hiring the best people for your company.

In this article, we try to answer and reveal the secrets behind this mystical and intriguing group of professionals that are integral to the hiring process and are usually behind the most important hires in the business world. We decided to actually take you “behind the scenes” of the Headhunting world for you to get a sneak peek of what being a headhunter is all about.

Why do Companies Use Headhunters?

First of all, why do companies contact us in the first place? Usually, headhunters get the same scenario a good 90% of the time. Company X, sends us a very short email, only mentioning that they would need some help in hiring a specific profile. We then schedule a video call (they used to be coffee meetings in the past) with them and listen more to what their company is about, the position they are looking to fill and why they have been struggling to find potential candidates by themselves.

business people looking at a laptop
Initial meeting with the client either in-person or through a video call

Therefore, most of our clients are in a sort of rush after trying to attract the right profiles from anywhere between 2 to 6 months, with poor to no results. Another main challenge for them is their confidentiality. Imagine a bank trying to call people working at another bank, offering them a job. It would be a business war declaration!

Very often, it is our secrecy and discretion that are mainly sought after. We then generally receive a specific job description, and we explain how our process works, our timeline, and other details.

The client decides if they want to work with us, and then we take care of some paperwork.

Here we can notice the main difference between a headhunter and a recruiter in the vast world of Human Resources. Recruiters or Human Resources Managers tend to place a job opening online, either on LinkedIn, their “We Are Hiring” section of their corporate website or a job board. Then they wait. They are also usually very busy closing contracts with new members of their team, letting some others go, or organizing team-building activities that can boost the team’s motivation.

As headhunters, we do the specific search and interviewing, and we rarely create job openings, we go after the top talents, we “hunt” them. That’s where the expression comes from. We do it with a smile, though, instead of a rifle.

Challenges of being a Headhunter

It actually is a much more challenging job than one would imagine. You are not always offering top positions at Google, Nike, or Apple. What if you need to find profiles at companies that are actually much better established and are doing better? What if Company X cannot offer a skyrocketing salary, but just a regular one? On top of all of this, we headhunters need to remain absolutely attached to reality. We cannot promise anything to the potential candidate that they won’t actually find in their future job. They would otherwise immediately find out and quit the position fast and leave with an enormous amount of rage and frustration.

So, to summarize, we need to be brutally honest, not always can we offer a much better salary at a stronger company, then how on earth are we able to do our magic in just 3-4 weeks?!?

It almost sounds too good to be true, right? Well, we achieve our promise, thanks to the years of experience in the field and as a consequence of a wider understanding of the job market.

We generally start with a deep understanding of the past, present, and future of the company looking to hire. What are the advantages of this position? Is it attractive? Sometimes we will be forced to tell the client that their expectations are simply not realistic.

With the widespread increase of remote work, now the whole world of recruitment has entirely changed. Most companies are by now fully equipped to have you work for them literally from any corner of the earth which has increased the need for global executive search services. All of a sudden, companies can find super professional potential employees, that do not need to pay an insane rent price in Manhattan or Silicon Valley. These people are usually paid 30-50% more than what they would earn locally, and companies pay up to half of a regular salary.

Conducting The Search

After gathering an abundant amount of information from the company and the position, we are then ready actually to start the search, or the “hunt”.

We go online and start contacting profiles that match our client’s description. We need to start with a large base of 100-150 profiles. Many won’t even pick up our calls or answer the phone. Some will clearly refuse, and a smaller minority (10-25) actually accept and make it to the next stage.

This is the crucial part, in which we discuss with them initially with a very short 10-15 minutes call their interest regarding new opportunities. We will then either set up a meeting (now it is mostly a video call) or a second call, to go deeper in what are the candidate’s expectations for the future and here we reveal more details about the company and the position.

business people talking in a video call
Video call with potential candidates

The Shortlist

At this stage, we need some time to just sit down and think. We review our notes from the various interviews, and sometimes we have an external colleague with whom we can go through our ideas about the candidates, to get an external viewpoint. We usually end up with 12 to 15 potential ones and need to narrow it down to 5; we call this “The Shortlist”. We are looking for as much diversity as possible, in gender, age, origin, level of seniority, academic background, and salary expectations.

Once we find the best 5 of the selection, we present this list to the client. Sometimes, psychological tests are offered at this stage to spot the natural areas of expertise of the person.

The Final Round of Interviews

We often join the client at the final round of interviews. This usually gives us a ton of valuable information in case we need to go back to the previous step and select new candidates again.

candidate being interviewed for a job by two people
The final round of candidate interviews

If all goes well, 1-2 potential future employees go to the second round of interviews. If we have done our job right, then it is hard to choose. The candidates tick all the boxes but are very different from each other.

It is extremely rare that it happens, but if no candidate is satisfactory, we return to search, call, meet and then provide a new shortlist of the best talents.

The Follow-up

Our job does not end here! We then follow up with the new employee for up to 12 months. We really feel the responsibility of having had that person quit their previous job to get here.

It is also possible that the employer is doing a horrible job of onboarding the employee. We, therefore, advise the client to take more care of the new person.

Summary

There you have it! A headhunter’s job is to find the best people for the jobs companies are trying to fill. As you now know, this can be challenging, but it provides an invaluable service to companies who are either struggling to find the right candidates or need our expertise in finding the best talent for the position. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what a headhunter does than when you started reading.

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