In the June 14, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what percentage of job-hunting time should be devoted to working with headhunters:
I’ve heard that headhunters fill less than 10% of open jobs, so one should spend no more than 10% of one’s job hunting time working with headhunters. Do you agree? Also, could you please explain the difference between contingency and retained headhunters? Thanks.
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
You should not rely on a headhunter to put you into a job any percentage of the time, because a headhunter is paid by a client to fill a particular position, not to find you a job. To put it another way, you couldn’t devote 10% of your job hunting time to “working with headhunters” even if you wanted to, because it’s not your choice to work with headhunters. They choose to work with you — so it makes no sense to plan to make headhunters part of your job search.
(For what it’s worth, surveys conducted over the past ten years suggest that headhunters and other “third party” recruiters fill only about 3% of jobs, not 10%.)
If a headhunter calls with a position that is suited to you, for a job he believes you can do exceptionally well, then there’s a chance you’ll get a job offer from the headhunter’s client. But a real headhunter is not going to “market” you to his or her clients. You may be confusing headhunters (who focus on finding a specific candidate for a specific assignment) with employment agencies (which focus on spreading your resume around to lots of employers).
(On another note, don’t confuse headhunting with what other career practitioners do: They’re not headhunters.)
When a headhunter identifies the right candidate for a client, that’s when the headhunter coaches (and helps) that candidate. Having identified the right candidate, the headhunter’s mission is to win a job offer and to complete the assignment. Otherwise, headhunters don’t spend time helping job hunters.
When a headhunter works on retainer, the client pays a percentage (usually one third) of the fee up front, to retain the headhunter’s services. The headhunter becomes the exclusive channel to fill the job, and gets paid whether he fills the job, or whether the company hires someone who walks in the front door without the headhunter’s involvement. The next two thirds of the retainer are paid upon certain milestones. The retainer ensures the headhunter’s attention to the project, and usually buys other services for the employer (which I won’t get into here). Employers typically use retained headhunters only for the highest-level positions.
In a contingency arrangement, the headhunter earns a fee only if he actually fills the assigned position. The position may be assigned exclusively to one headhunter, or to more than one.
Is it better to be recruited by a headhunter who is on retainer, than one working on contingency? Nope. The chances of success depend more on the quality of the headhunter than on how he gets paid.
How to Work with Headhunters
Of course, if a good headhunter calls you with a good job opportunity, that’s a good thing. That’s when it’s important to know how to work with headhunters effectively, and how to optimize the outcome. Likewise, it’s good to make yourself “findable” to the best headhunters in your field. Here are a few tips, excerpted from How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you:
1. Judge headhunters before you work with them. Most people who try to “recruit” you are not headhunters. They collect thousands of resumes which they submit to hundreds of employers — unsolicited. Having your resume plastered all over kingdom come does you no good. It can hurt your reputation. So, judge every “headhunter” that calls you. Ask for references. Talk to people they’ve placed, and with companies that use their services. Otherwise, you’ll get frustrated and waste your time.
2. Meet good headhunters before lousy ones find you. Fast-buck artists posing as headhunters scrape the Net to find your name or resume. Legitimate headhunters find good candidates through trusted contacts. Meet those trusted contacts and establish your credibility with them. Who are they? They’re the respected workers in your field. They’re not necessarily famous, but they’re the experts others turn to for advice, guidance and introductions. You’ll find them on industry discussion forums, at professional events, and on the best blogs. Get to know them, and make sure they know you.
3. Be helpful. Most calls from headhunters will not yield job opportunities. The headhunter is usually looking for a referral to the right candidate. Be helpful. Introduce the headhunter to good workers in your field. But, do it only after you follow the two instructions above. Never introduce a headhunter you don’t know to associates you respect. If you think you’re the right candidate, don’t pitch yourself. Instead, ask smart questions about the headhunter’s assignment. Map your skills to the details of the job only after you find out what all of these are. Remember: The headhunter is trying to do his job. Help him, and even if this job isn’t for you, he’ll call you again next time.
If you’re going to work with a headhunter, know who you’re dealing with, and know what you’re doing. Make the experience pay off.
Headhunters work on some of the tastiest jobs. So, how do they figure into your job search strategy? Have you ever been placed by a headhunter who had a positive effect on your career? Ever waste your time with a sleaze ball who called himself a headhunter, but wasn’t?
Let’s talk about headhunters. No holds barred. Useful tips especially welcome!