The terms “recruiter” and “headhunter” are sometimes confusing to folks outside the human resources realm. What do they mean? How do recruiters vs. headhunters compare? When contacted by a recruiter or headhunter, how do you know if they have your best interest at heart? Are they working for the employer you are hoping will hire you? Or are they an outside recruiter who is representing you to the employer? What’s in it for them?
Basically, there are two types of recruiters: internal recruiters and headhunters. While both are typically referred to as recruiters, there is a big difference between them. Knowing the difference between recruiters vs. headhunters can really help as you seek your next career move.
Recruiters vs. Headhunters
If contacted by a recruiter who is on staff with an employer you are hoping will hire you, they are considered an internal, or in-house, recruiter. As part of the talent acquisition team or HR department, every interaction the internal recruiter will have with you is part of the evaluation process for the role they have in mind for you. They are working through the hiring process to assess you and move you to the next step in the evaluation process until that position has been filled. The internal recruiter likely became aware of you through an application you submitted to the company or they located your profile on a job board. Your communication with that internal recruiter is typically more formal in nature, and rightfully so, as everything you say and do really matters towards that single hiring outcome. With each communication, the internal recruiter is assessing you for fit – not only for a particular role within the company, but also for the company’s overall culture.
External recruiters are often called headhunters. It’s a name they don’t mind being called, although it sounds a bit grisly! For the sake of clarity, I will refer to external recruiters as headhunters for the rest of the article. The role of a headhunter is often misunderstood and underappreciated. Their job is to know the “Who’s Who” within the sector they serve. They could be working as a member of a search agency or possibly working alone to find the best talent available for their clients. And by “available” talent, I mean ALL talent. Everyone is fair game when it comes to headhunters – they consider all professionals within their sector as fair game. You do not necessarily have to proactively apply to a job or have an active profile on a job board to be pursued by a headhunter seeking the qualifications you have to offer. They often learn about you through networking with others and asking for referrals.
Some headhunters specialize in certain professions (accounting and finance or engineering), while others are industry-specific (agriculture or oil and gas). They typically work with companies in a consultant-type arrangement where they are paid a fee for locating specific talent. Companies use headhunters for several reasons. They could be supplementing their talent acquisition or HR team that is already taxed with various searches to ensure they are successful in finding the right talent for a hard-to-fill role. Or they could be very confidentially hiring for the role and need to keep their company name confidential through utilizing an outside source. The headhunter could be a retained consultant (paid a set fee for their ongoing work for the company), or they could be working on a contingent basis (paid a fee only if a successful placement is made).
How Should I Approach Working with a Headhunter?
Headhunters work with a “pipeline” mentality. They are hoping to locate strong talent that they can represent to multiple employers. Good headhunters have strong networks and work with a strong sense of urgency. They seek to build long-term relationships with both the companies they engage with, as well as the professionals they are entrusted to represent. While they work on behalf of their clients, headhunters want to have a more casual, down-to-earth relationship with you to really understand the next role you desire. It is important for them to know what you want to leave behind in your current role and what you want to gain in your next. You should be frank with a headhunter you are working with, so they will have a solid understanding of what will be the very best fit for you and they will not waste your time with unsuitable opportunities. They will have great conversations about you with employers they engage with, keeping your identity confidential until both you and the employer want to know more about each other. The headhunter’s reputation is at stake with both you and the employer, so they work hard to strike a delicate balance between transparency and confidentiality.
Headhunters are often thought of negatively because they don’t directly work for the employer and cannot place every professional they get to know. For every ten professionals they meet, they may place one or two of them in their next role. Headhunters are great resources, even if they are unsuccessful in placing you in your dream job! They can help you sharpen your resume and hone your interviewing skills. They can sometimes repair damage done in a poorly-worded interview response by smoothing things over with the employer in a follow-up call. And they remind you to do important things like send a thank you note after the interview. They will often text you updates to keep interruptions at work a minimum and they will have impromptu phone calls with you – often at night and on the weekends, at your convenience. If you are planning your next career move, it might be a good idea to engage a headhunter to help boost your efforts!
You may have been contacted by a headhunter via e-mail or a phone call and not know what to do. Trust your gut! If you like their style and you are curious about what they have in mind for you, proceed with an initial conversation, followed by sending them your resume. Be honest and open about what you are looking for in your next career move and what your timeline is. And most of all, look at your relationship with the headhunter as a possible long-term one where they will keep your best interests in mind as they become aware of opportunities – even if it’s months later!
If you want to proactively engage with a headhunter, AgCareers.com encourages you to consider contacting one of our Recruiter Partners to begin your search today!