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How to work with headhunters

In the December 22, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about how to work with headhunters.

Is it good to work with many headhunters? That’s a question I am asked a lot. You might be surprised at my answer — and at the risks you face if you don’t know what you’re doing. These two Q&As are from “Section 2: Working With Headhunters to Get Ahead” of the best-selling How To Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, pp. 52-53.

christmas-treeQuestion

How many headhunters should I work with at a time? And how do you gauge when it’s time to increase your exposure to more of them?

Nick’s Reply

Don’t confuse real headhunters with people who solicit your resume blindly. These might include employment agencies, job shops and HR recruiters who work within corporations. (See They’re not headhunters.)

Many of these not-headhunters may approach you. Giving them your resume indiscriminately is like giving your credit card number to every telemarketer who calls. You won’t like having lots of recruiters working with you, especially if two or more of them give your resume to the same company.

Don’t let a headhunter’s conflict of interest cost you a job

If, somehow, multiple headhunters approach you at the same time, then you need to know just one thing: Do they each represent a different company?

If yes, then you’d be looking at different job opportunities and it’s fine to work with all of them at once. There should be no overlap in their assignments and no conflict for you.

If there is an overlap, then one company is unwisely using multiple contingency headhunters to fill the same position. (To learn more about contingency headhunters, see How should headhunters fit into your job search?) The company is putting its headhunters into competition with one another. That’s like assigning two sales reps to sell to the same prospect — the company reveals poor judgment and sloppy hiring practices.

Even so, you can still entertain an opportunity, but you would be wise to let just one headhunter present you to the company. Otherwise, you will likely be rejected out of hand because the company could wind up in the middle of a fee fight.

Who would be due the fee if you were hired? If the company interviews you via two headhunters — even if it’s for two completely different jobs — and then hires you, it could owe the fee twice. Don’t get in the middle of it. Work with only one headhunter at a time with respect to a particular employer.

Know what you’re doing

So the answer to your question has two parts. First, understand that if a lot of “headhunters” are soliciting you, it’s probably not wise to work with them because they have not carefully selected you. They are merely interested in blasting your resume around, hoping for a hit. Second, if two or more headhunters contact you about different jobs at different companies, it’s fine to work with all of them — as long as you are sure they are not going to run into one another. This is why it’s so important to control your resume. You must insist that each headhunter take no action on opportunities other than those you discuss specifically.

Question

Is there a way to get multiple headhunters to call on me about legitimate job opportunities?

Nick’s Reply

There are indeed ways to get on the radar to attract multiple good headhunters who want to talk with you about multiple unrelated jobs at different companies. If you want to be visible to good headhunters and lure their calls, then you must use bait. This isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. (Headhunters don’t want everyone.)

Good bait includes:

  • Writing industry articles in respected publications. Headhunters read these to identify the opinion-makers in an industry.
  • Getting noticed in the professional industry press. The only thing better than writing articles is articles written about you. Headhunters notice.
  • Speaking at a conference or industry event. Headhunters sometimes start searches by turning to prominent sources, and that includes prominent events.
  • Being the subject of respectful discussion among notable members of your profession. Headhunters tap into such dialogues in person, online and via e-mail. Professionals tend to talk about the people they respect. That’s who headhunters want.

The quality of the venue matters a lot. For example, just because you blog or someone blogged about you doesn’t mean headhunters will find you. The venue might be big or niche, but its reputation must be solid.

Get the idea? You need to get yourself out there. That’s how headhunters find you. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.) And that’s the crux of the Ask The Headhunter approach to job hunting.

Don’t appear desperate

Most people who want headhunters’ attention take the heavily advertised path, which usually leads nowhere. They promote themselves brazenly. They send their resumes to lots of headhunters using one of the many “headhunter directories” published in paper format or online. I think you’d be wasting your time.

The odds that a headhunter is going to place you are small. If it makes you feel good to flood the headhunting industry with your resume, that’s up to you. My concern is that you will lull yourself into thinking you are conducting a job search when all you’re doing is throwing darts at a wall. And you will make yourself seem desperate for attention. Good headhunters don’t pursue desperate people.


I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from How To Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you!

Want more?

Don’t miss these 62 in-your-face questions answered in a 130-page guide that reads like a series of conversations over a cup of coffee with the headhunter who put the profit equation back into job hunting and hiring. Includes:

  • Why don’t headhunters return my calls?
  • What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list?
  • How can I become the headhunter’s #1 candidate?
  • How can I find a good headhunter?
  • And much, much more!

caneWhat are your rules for working with headhunters? Have you been burned?

A very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah to you and yours — and anything else you celebrate!

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11 Comments
  1. Great column!

    It’s amazing timing because I was just thinking about the best reason(s) why companies shouldn’t use multiple recruiters for the same position(s), and I was stuck with the obvious one (i.e. that there is a limited candidate pool and duplication of effort would more likely bring bad results than good). “Muddying the waters” is how I usually describe it.

    The issue of charging two fees is usually solved by Clients by stating “whoever gets the resume in first” gets credit… but that doesn’t always work, especially if one recruiter prematurely sends a resume without alerting the candidate to the opportunity… and how will the recruiter know who sent the resume in first, unless he/she provides the names of candidates before sending the resume (in which case, a delay by the Client may result in another Recruiter sending in the resume first)… and how does the Recruiter know that the Client doesn’t look up the names of people submitted (like on LinkedIn) and then call them quickly before telling the Recruiter whether or not they had already received that resume?

    I think the analogy of having two salesman try to sell the same prospect (“competing against each other”) is excellent, and shows a lack of accountability on the part of the Client if they want to pursue recruiting this way. I like this comparison a lot, since it makes more obvious and intuitive sense.

    I always read your column from the perspective of a Recruiter, of course, because I am one, but the point is still very valid for the candidate who unfortunately uses two recruiters to try to get one position: this happened to me 29 years ago when I was looking for a job. Net result = Zero.

    I always see the Recruiting profession as being about educating the Client (and the Candidates), but the ‘fly in the ointment’ is when one is dealing with the ineducable. Sometimes people (or companies, as groups of people) fundamentally are unable to grasp the logical points of “The Art and Science of Recruiting” — which is hopefully the exception to the rule.

  2. I always ask the headhunter to send me the job description…..which I then take key pieces of and plug into Google to do a search. If I see it pop up in numerous places like Monster and such, I know this person is just fishing around and trying to carpet bomb the hiring company with resumes. I then politely decline.

    The funniest part is when the search results land me on the hiring company website and they clearly state that they will not work with or pay 3rd party recruiters.

  3. Happy Holidays to you Nick and to the rest of the ATH readers!

    When dealing with these “head hunters,” I would ask them a couple of questions up front:
    * Do you have exclusivity on the role? In other words, are you competing with other “head hunters” or internal HR?
    * How many people have you placed at the company?
    * What insight can you give me on the hiring process and manager/team?

  4. I’m an agency recruiter, and our company often times competes against other agencies. To be honest, especially with larger organizations it is the norm, rather than the exception that several recruiting companies are working on the same position. Many companies have a select pool of recruiters they go to first to find that talent they need before accepting outside bids. That is the reality of the marketplace. So if a recruiter doesn’t have an exclusive, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a viable option to work with that recruiter – it is more feasible to ask that recruiter what their relationship with the company is, and how many people they have placed with their client in the last year. That will give you a better idea than simply asking about exclusivity.

    One other misconception from this article – it is NOT the norm for a company to pay two recruiting agencies a fee for the same candidate. The rule of the game is whomever gets the individual in first gets the fee. Yes, that DOES lead to some recruiters just indiscriminately sending in resumes. Which is why I urge ALL professionals that I speak with to protect their resume. Our company has a hard and fast rule (read; we can get fired for breaking it) that we MUST speak with each candidate in depth about the opportunity (including the client’s name) PRIOR to any information being sent out. This is to protect both our name in industry, as well as our candidates confidentiality.

    A good recruiter in your back pocket can do quite a bit to advance your career. But like any other profession; there are both good apples and bad apples. It is really up to the individual to vet out their recruiter as carefully as the prospective company they are looking to join. Which is why I’m able to work with many candidates multiple times – we have that mutual trust established.

  5. @Nicholas & @Kate: Thanks for chiming in as recruiters. All your points are well-taken. I should have expanded on my point about “which recruiter gets the fee.” As Kate points out, two fees are never paid. But the problem is that an employer involved in such a controversy will sometimes dump the candidate altogether when two agencies are claiming the fee. The employer just doesn’t want to get embroiled in a fee fight. But Kate and Nicholas are correct – the employer will usually pay the fee to the recruiter who “brought the candidate in first.” Having been in this business a long time, however, I can tell you that sometimes it’s just not clear. Is the date-stamped resume the proof? Or is the interview proof? When the candidate allows him/herself to be submitted by multiple agencies, s/he is putting themselves at risk. There is nothing to stop an aggressive recruiter from making a real mess of things. In the end, it’s the candidate who has the most to lose.

    And Kate’s also right that the quality of the relationship between the recruiter and the employer counts for a lot. If a recruiter can show you that they’ve made many placements at a company, that’s a good sign. Nonetheless, employers play a game when they put a search out to multiple recruiters. They corrupt their own process because now they’ve got to deal with duplicate submissions. It makes for a mess. But the bigger problem is that it discourages each of the recruiters from doing their best work because they know they may lose the fee over timing. I think it’s bad practice on the part of employers.

    Thanks to both of you for demonstrating how good recruiters operate.

    @Chris & @Dave: Great tips and practices for staying out of trouble and to avoid wasting your time! Thanks!

  6. Happy holidays, Nick.
    Great point about getting yourself noticed professionally. It not only increases your visibility to headhunters, but it is good for networking. If you need to make that call to a potential employer, it’s even better if he or she knows who you are.
    But one warning. Employers are sometimes not behind you being professionally active, partly to keep you from being noticed, and partly so you can devote every hour to them until they no longer need you. So you might have to push to make this happen. But it’s worth it.

  7. Great article, especially differentiating between a “head hunter” and employment agencies, job shops and HR recruiters (a.k.a. the low-hanging fruit pickers of the industry) who call everybody from every database they have ever accessed for the one lonely position they saw advertised for a bench tech in East McKeesport this morning on Monster.

    There are days I think that, when it comes to head hunters, there is Nick and then there is everyone else.

    I’d like to once before retire be contacted by a real head hunter who had an exclusive for a real position at a company where I (or my skill set) could bring real value to the equation and there was a real salary involved. There might be a good video idea: What does a real head hunter call sound/feel like.

    Enjoy your vacation, Nick. I think I speak for everyone in saying that we’ll all look forward to reading your wise words again in 2016.

  8. Does the headhunter know anything about what you do? Is he/she just reading off a script and a job description?
    Deal only with headhunters who work in your area of expertise. Ask if he/she specializes in certain areas? Then ask a few technical questions or try a little industry jargon to make sure they are not blowing smoke.
    Headhunters who do everything are usually paperhangers. On the other hand, headhunters who work in your field and understand it will a) not try to sell you on a job that is wrong for you b)
    will be looking for folks like you in the future and c) will understand if a job really is ‘ terrific.’
    PS: get the headhunters contact information if the seem unwilling, smile and hang up.

  9. To all: Have an enjoyable holiday so we can all hit the ground running in 2016. Cheers!

  10. @Scott: Good point. Some employers intentionally make it hard for you to circulate in your professional community. They won’t fund attendance at conferences or for continuing education. They want you under their thumb. The irony is, they lose because employees tend to stagnate when they aren’t encouraged to mingle professionally. The notion that companies will lose good workers this way is nonsense. They lose good workers because they don’t pay well and because they’re lousy places to work. Happy holidays to you, too, Scott – and everyone else!

    @L.T.: Your comment about recruiters picking low-hanging fruit (e.g., pitching resumes to ads they find on Monster) brings back memories. The first search firm I worked for required us to clip ads out of the San Jose Mercury every Sunday, then to submit resumes for those jobs on Monday. One of the other headhunters and I realized how prevalent this was in Silicon Valley, so we saw an opportunity. We quit, started our own firm, bought one of the first pcs. I learned to write spaghetti code (but GOOD spaghetti code). Soon we had the only real database of engineers in Silicon Valley that we used… to let us actually recruit and handle real searches for our clients. We were able to BE good headhunters and we brought value to our clients and candidates. Never looked back.

    @Peter Miller: I love this. You guys are replaying the start of my headhunting career. My first boss (see @L.T. above) taught me to recruit by using a script on the phone. There’s nothing wrong with that for a newbie headhunter, but I quickly learned how to really talk to engineers and Silicon Valley managers. But it’s clear that most headhunters today are forever greenhorns – they really are dialing for dollars. They’re no better than overseas tech support workers who work off a decision tree on a computer screen – they never really learn about what they’re doing. The big problem with this business is that the cost of entry is virtually zero, so it attracts quick-buck artists who don’t last long.

    Your more important point is that a headhunter must specialize, must know the industry/profession they handle in depth. And that tells us that the best way to vet a headhunter is to ask a few questions about “the work.” If they can’t discuss it intelligently, then they can’t work with you (or their clients) intelligently. Move on. When you find a good one, they’ll know what they’re talking about.

  11. Happy holidays to Nick and ATH bloggers!

    I love Dave’s comments re asking them about exclusivity, etc. The thing is, there are headhunters (like Nick) who know the employers, the field(s), and have a stable of good people to bring to employers. The others are doing nothing that job hunters can’t do for themselves–find the ads online and submit résumés, and who know nothing about the employer, the job, etc.

    And there are headhunters who don’t care about the candidate. My brother dealt with a headhunter a few years ago who burned him with his then-employer, and he vowed “never again”. She didn’t care, but he was worried about his job and his reputation with management and his employer until the day he left that employer and beyond. He said that when she calls, be it for him or for anyone else, he doesn’t answer and never responds. Good, ethical behavior (don’t burn people to their employers) is important too.

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