What Is Headhunting? Beginner’s Guide…

Most of you have probably heard about this term. It’s actually not new in recruitment. Headhunting has been used for several years now and sometimes successfully. But did you know that headhunting is not accessible to all recruiters, that some hate doing it and that you need some special skills (similar to those used by sales people) to actually be successful? Did you also know that not all candidates are on the list of headhunters?

Well, in this article I will tell you about headhunting from scratch – my goal is for every potential candidate to be able to identify headhunting when they are facing it. In order to do that I have decided to reply to a few common questions about headhunting for you to get an idea:

  1. What is headhunting?

Headhunting is a form of recruitment and selection where the recruiter finds the contact details of a specific candidate that has some specific skills and contacts him/her in order to convince him/her to participate in the recruitment process. Headhunting doesn’t mean that the recruiter is calling you to make an offer. Just to convince you to participate in the process. They may have liked your CV, but they need to test you, so don’t be super excited. However, if they have called you without you applying for the job, your chances for the job (considering that you do have the skills you mention in your CV), are higher than those of some other regular candidates that applied directly. Headhunting means that the recruiter has done some research concerning you and that they are interested in your knowledge and experience. So, is them calling you a good thing? Of course… if they are interested, it means you are able to have higher demands.

  1. Why do recruiters do it and when?

Recruiters normally use headhunting when they have listed a certain position on the market and nobody interesting applied, when they are looking for certain skills and don’t want to waste their time placing ads that useless candidates would apply to, when a certain position is rather confidential and they don’t want to list it publicly on the market or simply when filling a position is critical and needs to be done fast and they don’t have the time to wait for candidates to apply.

  1. Who is usually on the list of headhunters?

Not everybody of course – just those candidates that have special skills, employees from the competition most of the times. If you are a fresh graduate, don’t wait for recruiters to call you because they won’t. Apply yourself and hope to be called later when you get those special skills they need.

  1. What skills does a headhunter need in order to be successful?

As I said earlier, not all HR people can be headhunters. You need to have some skills similar to those of sales people:

  • you must be tough and don’t take rejections personally (this time the candidate is rejecting you as a company not the other way around);
  • you must have a vivid imagination concerning how to get contact details (candidate’s email and phone number don’t just sit there waiting to be discovered – you must search the internet, call people you know that may know the candidate you are interested in, sometimes invent stories over the phone or email – believable and professional stories – to get to the ones you are interested in);
  • you must be persuasive (to convince the candidate to accept to come meet you or the hiring manager);
  • you must be shrewd sometimes – I told you earlier that sometimes you have no idea how to contact someone; that someone may be a key resource of a competitor, a manager or who knows what important person that won’t just give their contact details to just anyone; you must have believable stories for their secretary, their colleagues who may be answering the phone; sometimes you have to lie, to invent details and all just to get some contacts. If you feel you’re not up to it, just give up;
  • you must be fast – sometimes there may be other headhunters interested in the same candidate – you must be there first;
  1. How should a candidate behave if approached by a headhunter?

Nothing special. If they are interested in the position – ask questions and agree to come to the meeting; if not, simply thank the recruiter for the call or email and explain that they are not interested either at the moment or at all. If some specific project is not allowing you to change jobs right now, it’s fine to accept that the recruiter keeps your CV for later use. You don’t have to be suspicious and ask questions like “Where did you get my phone number?” or “Who gave you permission to call me?” This will only look bad. Just be polite as you may never know what great position they may be offering you in the future.

  1. Is headhunting illegal?

Well, it depends on what the recruiter does with your contact information which should be confidential and protected by law. If they don’t make it public and just use it to contact you while explaining how they got it and what they need from you, then it’s fine. Making headhunting illegal or not depends on how professional the headhunter is.

  1. Where do headhunters find your contact data? Are you allowed to ask how they did it?

First of all, yes, you are allowed to ask. Just be natural and open if you really care so much how they got it. In terms of where they get the data, there are several sources – they may be a connection you had not noticed on LinkedIn, Facebook or other social network, they may have your details from one of their contacts who knows you, they may have bought it from job portals who allow recruiters to unlock your CV after paying a certain amount of money, they may have found it online somewhere if you have a personal website or are a public person, you may have applied at some point in your career to the company they work for and have forgotten since, or you may have applied to some position in another company they worked for and they have saved your contact details just in case (this one is a bit on the edge of illegal, but it’s possible), they may have told someone that knows you a story and convinced them to give them your details, you may have exchanged business cards at some meeting you no longer remember – the possibilities are multiple and they only depend on the imagination of the headhunter;

  1. What are the risks of headhunting?

For the candidate there’s the risk of being heard by someone while answering the phone and accepting to meet a headhunter. So if someone calls you and they tell you they are interested in your CV, just ask them to call you back if you can’t speak and are really interested in finding out more. For the headhunter the main risk is that the candidate rejects the proposal and that the position doesn’t get filled in on time – this is just time wasted. There’s also someone else at risk – the company the headhunter works for – if the candidate is being part of a headhunting process, they may get the idea that they are highly desirable (which is true) and ask for more money than the company intended to pay or can afford.

All in all, is headhunting a misleading black practice? Well, not really. It may be perceived so because headhunters must sometimes turn to almost illegal ways to contact candidates. However, headhunting proves sometimes even more efficient for both the company and the candidates than regular recruitment and selection. Headhunting must be taken as it is and must be practiced in a professional manner.

Take care,


*** Video version of this article available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKel3cQ4INs&feature=youtu.be