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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. December 16, 2020

What Does a Headhunter Do?

“It’s a merge of a real estate agent and matchmaker, and it’s a hustle.”

Woman listening on the phone
Photo courtesy of Fezbot2000

This article is part of InHerSight's What Do You Do? series. This series explores the working lives of women by job title. Readers can get a glimpse of what it's like to work as an account executive, software developer, restaurant manager, and more.

What does a headhunter do?

Headhunters require a unique mix of creativity, drive, and industry knowledge. These professionals know exactly how to find the right talent or candidate for an open position at a company. 

Going beyond your average recruiter, headhunters are more focused, homing in on the exact right person for the job. Typically, headhunters work for themselves or as part of an agency, and are not in-house employees for the companies they assist.

We talked to a few experienced headhunters to bring this job title to life. Here’s what they had to say.

Read more: The 12 Questions You Should Be Asking Recruiters


Valerie Schiavon

Technical recruiter for Per Se Group for two and a half years 

What does a headhunter do?

A headhunter, also known as a recruiter, is someone who places contract, contract-to-hire, and/or direct hire personnel in various positions across industries. 

What’s your professional background, and why did you pursue headhunting?

I began my professional career in recruiting. When I was getting ready to graduate college, I began looking for work. I knew I wanted to do something in HR, but was open to the particular work. The vice president of Per Se found me on LinkedIn and sent me a message, and it all took off from there.

How do you help out companies?

I help companies by providing them with the best possible candidate for their position/project. I work closely with our business development team in providing solutions that make the client and candidate happy.

What does a typical workday look like?

A typical workday consists of sourcing for candidates via various job searching platforms, formatting resumes, making lots of phone calls, and building connections. Sourcing for quality candidates includes sending them a message with the type of job I have and why I think they could be a good fit, and from there setting up an initial phone call to introduce myself and talk in more detail about the position. If there is an interest on both sides, the process moves forward with a video interview, resume submittal to the client, and then hopefully moving that candidate through the interviewing process.

At the end of the day, my goal for my candidates is to find them a job that makes them happy and feel inspired; getting them an offer is always the end goal and my job as a recruiter is to have my candidates’ best interest and do whatever I can to get them across the finish line.

What are the three most important parts of your job?

  • Communication: There are a lot of moving pieces between me as a recruiter, clients, and candidates. It is important to over-communicate to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

  • Organization: Structuring my day makes me more efficient as a recruiter and keeps me on task.

  • Efficiency: Recruiting is all about speed and quality.

What skills are necessary for a headhunter?

Good communication skills, not being afraid to negotiate rates with candidates/clients, embracing conflict and having those hard conversations—these are some key skills that I think make the difference between a good headhunter and a great one!

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Firing people or releasing them from an assignment—it hurts my soul every time!

What’s the best part of your job?

Calling my candidate and officially offering them the job and hearing the excitement in their voice. That is what I live for!

What’s something people might not know about what headhunters do?

Headhunters are life changers. It might not seem like that, but we really do change people’s lives by helping them find a great job with an amazing company that can change the trajectory of their career and financial goals.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a headhunter?

Be positive no matter the circumstances and control what you can control! Crazy things happen in the recruiting world, and you will need to put in the work to get the results you want. If you strive to be the best and have a competitive spirit, recruiting may be a good fit for you!


Thea Raskin

Founder and CEO of The Inventory, with 18 years of experience

What does a headhunter do?

A headhunter hunts heads! It sounds macambe, but we identify and approach suitable

candidates, no matter their current employment status, about employment elsewhere. The main difference between a headhunter and a recruiter is that we engage passive candidates and oftentimes are much more targeted with specific nuanced requirements to get clients a needle in the haystack with your exact (or close to your ideal) wishlist of a candidate for your job. We engage candidates currently employed who are not actively looking for work, otherwise known as passive candidates.

What’s your professional background, and why did you pursue headhunting?

I worked in advertising before transitioning into staffing for my industry. I recognized that my strengths lied more in 20,000-foot organizational strategy and relationship-building and wanted to be part of that process for the market that I knew intimately well: design, marketing and advertising. After four years in staffing (which tends to be more transactional), I realized it was wonderful and valuable, but it was not for me long term as I wanted to partner and be more strategic. Therefore I went into executive search, which is headhunting, and I’ve been doing that ever since.

How do you help out companies?

I partner with them on their organizational needs in terms of resourcing--how to best fill the voids they have, consulting on what the market looks like and filling positions that will help their business function at optimal efficiency.

What does a typical workday look like?

Lots of calls. Lots of meetings. Talking to people about their experience, setting up interviews to meet them, consulting them on how to market themselves, and ultimately recommending them to clients for positions. Providing feedback and advice. The job takes a lot of listening. A lot of asking the right questions and being a public-facing ambassador for the companies I’m working with.

What are the three most important parts of your job?

  • Interviewing

  • Business prospecting

  • Keeping up on industry trends, talent, skills, market movings

What skills are necessary for a headhunter?

Listening, caring, marketing, foresight, emotional intelligence, knowing the market, keeping up on business, relationship-building, writing, confidence.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Not being able to help some people and/or rejecting them from an opportunity.

What’s the best part of your job?

Reflecting back to people their worth and experience and how to channel that. Helping a

company overcome a business challenge. That merge of those is what I find exciting.

What’s something people might not know about what headhunters do?

It is more desk bound than the movies portray it to be.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a headhunter?

Try it out before you do it because it’s not as easy as you think it is. It’s a merge of a real estate agent and matchmaker, and it’s a hustle. There is a reward there but you have to have a thick skin for business.


Anna Pietrzyk

Headhunter/executive agency recruiter at DG Recruit

What does a headhunter do?

A headhunter, otherwise known as an external/third-party/agency recruiter (as opposed to internal/corporate recruiters and talent acquisition professionals), matches candidates with a role—however, the fundamental difference is a headhunter can represent candidates to multiple companies instead of just one firm. A headhunter seeks out the top talent in their vertical/niche and "sells" the candidate to a book of clients who are interested in "buying" aka hiring these highly sought-after professionals.

Usually, headhunters are specialized in certain industries or job functions or seniority levels, thus they need to establish long-term relationships with the top professionals, many of whom are not active job seekers. Headhunters aim to be the point of contact for passive candidates who would like to explore the market confidentially without applying to a role and will handle the entire interviewing and salary/offer negotiation process as a mediator, go-between, and influencer during the hiring process.

What’s your professional background, and why did you pursue headhunting?

I started my career in the legal field as a paralegal for years dabbling in the hiring process internally. Once I realized I wanted to transition into recruiting, I first worked as an internal recruiter placing IT professionals in roles with government agencies. After six months of doing internal recruiting, I realized the financial and growth limitations of an internal role, and began exploring agency recruitment, specifically headhunting.

I came across Dandan Zhu’s podcast on the DG Recruit website and started listening to learn more about the industry and started following the DG team on LinkedIn to see headhunters in “action.” From the first conversation with the DG team, I knew I had found my career match, and joined the team a few weeks later to headhunt top agency recruitment professionals across the country.

How do you help out companies?

DG Recruit partners with recruitment agencies (our target client demographic) to find top headhunters who could bring tremendous sales volume and positive cultural influence to their teams (and bottom line!).

By connecting top candidates and clients together, we achieve a twofold win-win:

  1. Our candidates are able to grow their careers in a company that financially rewards their production, values their skill set, and provides a desirable career path.

  2. Our clients can continue scaling their agencies with someone who they love to work with and share in the financial reward together.

What does a typical workday look like?

While you can never fully plan your day with the constant tasks and calls that pop up, there are always hours of phone conversations whether with candidates or clients, sourcing to enhance your pipeline, and reaching out to new prospects.

The primary function of a headhunter is to build relationships with prospective candidates, provide market knowledge and career advice, and manage the candidates through the entire hiring process, so it can look a little different each day (or hour!) of the week.

What are the three most important parts of your job?

  1. Build a strong candidate pipeline. Understanding what qualifies a candidate to be the top of their industry and having a strong vetting process that aligns us with the people we truly believe in. Unfortunately, not everyone comes at face value. We need to have those tough conversations, ask the right questions, and understand each candidate's motivations to then make the determination of who we want to represent and move forward with.

  2. Have a strong client network. Identifying the right clients to partner with and place your candidates with might be the easier of the two vetting processes. Getting to know the client, negotiating terms with them, showing them you bring real value to their organization by partnering with you, and delivering the candidates they are searching for naturally creates opportunities to learn about the hiring process in each company and see what working with them is like during your candidate processes. The weak clients will identify themselves during the process, at which point we can decide whether or not to continue the business relationship.

  3. Be willing to go the extra mile and show up for both candidates and clients. When headhunting, many of the candidates you’ll work with are not actively looking for a new role. This brings up many emotions prior to interviews, and the best thing a headhunter can do is truly be there for them every step of the way. Whether it's resume writing, interview prep calls, debrief calls, texts checking in, late-night offer comparisons to make sure they are choosing the one that will best fit their career goals, discussing counter offers, we're always here to lend a supporting ear.

    For clients, you’re asking a company to give you thousands of dollars for your service, thus taking that Saturday call, spending time sharing strategies on how to get someone they really want to accept the offer, and remembering the little details about their company to share with potential candidates, can all be really important to show your client partners that you genuinely care about the success of their organization for the long haul, not just to make a quick buck.

What skills are necessary for a headhunter?

  • Time management skills: Important for maintaining the volume on all levels necessary to be successful.

  • Communication and sales skills: Important for thoroughly and accurately communicating information to both candidates and clients effectively while handling negotiations and interpersonal dynamics on all fronts.

  • Professionalism: Important for building real relationships with top-tier candidates and clients in the industries covered and maintaining a high level of confidentiality to earn and maintain trust of all parties.

  • Tenacity: The goal of a headhunter is to introduce candidates that are at the top of the industry, which typically includes many candidates who are employed, paid well, and not actively searching for a new role. Dealing with all the nos to find the few yesses requires a high level of grit, persistence, and consistency.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part about being a headhunter depends on the day! Some days it's the volume of calls, others it’s dealing with a tough situation, or having a placement not work out, which can be really disappointing.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part about being a headhunter also depends on the day! It’s not a secret that headhunting is an extremely lucrative business financially, but other things, such as meeting amazing people, and enhancing someone's life, are incredible parts of being a headhunter.

What’s something people might not know about what headhunters do?

One thing that is a common misconception about headhunters is the relationship-building piece. While there are many recruiters (both internal or agency) that come and go, the ones who last and succeed long term truly care about getting to know each person within a niche, staying in touch with them, and can make deals happen by bringing enough clients to the table for their network to evaluate. With each success and happy placement, the circle of life continues with referrals, word-of-mouth, and repeat business within a network who knows you and loves you.

What’s one piece of advice you could give to someone interested in being a headhunter?

I would first advise them to follow the DG Recruit team on LinkedIn and check out Dandan Zhu’s podcast on DGRecruit.com. It tells you all you need to know about headhunting and the staffing industry. DG Recruit’s primary function is to headhunt headhunters and recruiters, so we speak with industry leaders and recruitment professionals regularly and really care about the industry we work in so check out our content and podcasts! After doing research, understanding the role of a headhunter, taking that first step and setting up networking calls with industry leaders is a great way to evaluate where you'd like to start your career and explore vertical options. Lastly, when it comes to starting your role as a headhunter, the most important skill will be having a good attitude each day and pushing yourself outside comfort zones—show up and be ready to ride the roller coaster of headhunting! 

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Photo of Meredith Boe

Meredith Boe

Contributor

Meredith Boe is a writer, editor, and grant writer, and a regular contributor to InHerSight. Her writing focuses on working women, self-employment, small businesses, finance, and legal, in addition to her literary criticism, poetry, and creative prose. She holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University, and her bylines include the GoDaddy Garage, The Chicago Reader, and the Chicago Review of Books.

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