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Home  > Article

Can a Headhunter Help You?

By Laura Sweeney

Employment agencies and executive search firms can supplement your job search efforts. But before you enlist the aid of a recruiter, know what you're getting yourself into.

While nothing can replace your own job search efforts, there is some help to be had. Recruiters (also called headhunters or placement specialists) can supplement your search.
As you weed through job postings, churn out cover letters, and make yet another follow-up phone call, you might be wondering: Is there a better way? While nothing can replace your own job search efforts, there is some help to be had. Recruiters (also called headhunters or placement specialists) can supplement your search.

There are two different kinds of recruiting firms. The first, executive search firms, usually fill senior-level positions and deal with a select pool of very experienced candidates. Employment agencies, on the other hand, place job-seekers in entry-level, mid-level, or managerial positions. Their candidates are also qualified, but the jobs that employment agencies seek to fill have less specific criteria.

The rules of the game
Before you enlist the aid of any recruiter, however, know what you're getting yourself into. Above all, you should understand that all executive search firms and most employment agencies work for companies, not for job seekers. Recruiters are hired by employers to find candidates for specific job openings and are paid only if their recruit is hired.

This relationship creates an inherent conflict of interest for headhunters. On one hand, they are motivated to develop a long-term relationship with employers by carefully screening candidates. On the other hand, some recruiters may pressure a job seeker into accepting a less-than-perfect offer just so he can collect the placement fee.

With that warning in mind, here are some tips on dealing with placement agencies and executive search firms.

Placement agencies
Finding a placement agency isn't too difficult. They advertise in the classified section of many newspapers, and they accept phone calls and walk-in appointments. But don't use just any placement firm. There are good ones and not-so-good ones.

Evaluate an agency before you let it represent your professional image. The best endorsement is a recommendation from someone who has used its services before. Otherwise, find out if the agency has been in the business for at least a couple years, and check the local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed.

Once you narrow down your choices, you will have preliminary interviews so that you and the recruiter can get to know each other. Ask plenty of questions to gauge his knowledge of the market. A good agency should be aware of trends and hiring practices in your field, and should be able to assess your marketability.

Executive search firms
Executive recruiting is a "don't-call-us-we'll-call-you" proposition. Typically, these headhunters deal with candidates who have a very specific set of experiences. For this reason, they don't field cold calls; instead, they like to initiate contact with "target" candidates.

That said, we are in a very atypical job market. Many employers are struggling to find employees, and are turning to headhunters more frequently to find qualified candidates. Recruiters are on the look-out for talent more than ever. Take advantage of this chance to get yourself noticed by a headhunter.

  • Target the best. You can find whole directories of executive recruiters in career offices or at the library. Leaf through a couple to find out which firms specialize in your field. You'll also find that many of the major players advertise in trade magazines and newsletters. Talk to colleagues to get their recommendations. Otherwise, you can try cold calling a company that you would consider working for, explain that you value the opinion of the company, and ask what headhunters it uses.
  • Send your resume to the best executive search firms. Include a killer cover letter to get their attention. It's not guaranteed that they will enter you into their databases, but the payoff could be big if they do.
  • Make yourself visible. You're more likely to be targeted by a headhunter if you're visible within your industry. Talk yourself up (tactfully) to people in high places; these are the people that headhunters call for referrals. Join trade associations, take part in professional meetings, and network at every chance you get. There is no substitute, of course, for a solid track record, but a little self-promotion can't hurt.

Again, we don't suggest you replace your own job search efforts with a recruiting service. But one of the keys to finding a position is simply getting yourself exposed to what's available, and recruiters may be able to put you in touch with job opportunities you otherwise would not have access to.

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