Discussion: March 8, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A (What? You don’t get the newsletter? So you don’t know the story? Sign up now — don’t miss the next one!) a reader complains about headhunters who can’t get past the gaps in his resume. They don’t see how he can help their clients. As I point out in the newsletter, most headhunters simply won’t look past the resume. But some do, especially if you nudge them in the right direction.

Try this: “Look, I know it’s more difficult to make a match from my resume because I’ve been doing consulting since my last traditional job. I don’t expect you to recruit me if I can’t show you what the fit is. During 20 years building a start-up, I was fortunate to learn almost every aspect of growing a business, and that doesn’t all fit into a resume. Let me suggest something. If you can outline one or two specific challenges your client is facing, I’ll show you — step by step — how I’d tackle them. And I’d be glad to walk your client through it.If I can’t show you how it would pay off, you shouldn’t recruit me.”

Some headhunters get that, if you take the time to try and explain it.

We routinely rag on headhunters here — but there are certainly some good ones out there. If you’ve worked with a good headhunter, tell us about the experience. How did you get their attention? Were you able to turn around an interview that was going nowhere?


  1. I am a headhunter based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My concentration lies in Banking & Financial Institutions. I have been doing this job coming close to 3 years.

    I rarely ask for CVs until I meet up with that respective person that would be a potential candidate. A successful candidate mentioned that was the reason why he met up with me. Because I don’t hanker for his CV. Later I met a few more people that mentioned that.

    Anyone feels the same?

  2. I don’t see why resume gaps are such an issue with some people. I have several. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a job or wasn’t ambitious. I climb things and those gaps represent non-commercial activities like hiking in the Himalayas, Alps, or Canadian Rockies, or climbing volcanoes in Patagonia, Central America, etc These sorts of hobbies don’t lend themselves well to the 2-week American vacation 50-week work lifestyle. The Europeans and Aussies have it better, 6-weeks vacation fresh from school, minimum. I’ve found work to fit my life independently.

  3. I am a recruiter. There, I admitted it. I’ve been called narrow-minded too and I hate it. We have clients who have a “laundry list” of qualifications that can be so specific it will make your teeth itch. Try finding a PURCHASING candidate who has ten (not nine, not eleven) years of experience in SALES in ONLY the city of Boston. That is just the beginning. I know candidates who lose their job, and the only way they can pay the bills, keep food on the table and keep from going stark raving insane is to consult. Consulting is hard. You have to find the work, do the work, bill out the work, and at the same time, look for the next gig. That’s a lot of balls to keep in the air. Keeping it all together, with a smile on your face, kissing the spouse every morning to keep him/her from worry, and managing to get to your child’s next soccer match takes an immense amount of effort. Clients we work with have probably never worn those shoes, and therefore, never think about how hard it is to consult. I have found clients who turn into candidates and discover how difficult consulting is, which is a little comforting. Most people just don’t want to know. I have placed candidates who have those gaps. It is possible. But the rest of the laundry list has to be exactly what the client wants-that’s why he pays us. A recruiter who plays UP that consulting time will usually score, because they are presenting a well rounded candidate. Best to everyone out there…things will turn around soon!

  4. @Erika:

    Gaps are a big deal to some because of one word: jealousy!

    I knew a lady who had the good fortune of being financially able to take off 18 months. She traveled and considered what to do with her, especially careerwise. She was really happy of where she went and new ideas she had for products and companies to work for. She proudly spoke about this to potential employers and recruiters.

    Did they respond favorably? No, they did not. Word got back to her that her evaluators (hiring managers, peers, headhunters, etc.) said, “Here I am slaving 60+ hours a week and that broad gets to galavant around the world?” Others tried to justify their desire to not have her, e.g., by saying a person who was out for a year and a half could not have their “skills up to date.”

    What did she do? She decided not to talk about her time off any more. She, like I, concentrate exclusively on the assignment at hand. If that’s not good enough for the prospective employer, too bad. Yes, it means Rampant Rejection. However, do you really want to spend your professional and personal life with employers who are too hung up on sleeping with the past?

    A gap apparently won’t affect Tiger Woods, given his announcement today. If anything he’ll concentrate on is his upcoming tournament, as employers would be well to do. Gaps, shmaps, schanapps!

  5. @Erika: In my Scandinavian country we have four weeks of vacation each year, plus a few days off work in between (mostly religious holidays). It may add up to five weeks altogether. Just a modification of your six weeks number.

  6. @May: I agree with you. Headhunters are not hired to collect resumes, surf job boards or solicit random candidates. They are hired to do what the HR department does not do: Get off their duffs, go out into the wild, and find the best people for a job. My compliments.

  7. @Linda: Thank you for saying it and being so honest about it. I covered this topic in another way a few years ago in this article: Talent Shortage or Poor Management? http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/hatalentshortage1.htm

    Your candor is striking. I hope some job hunters see that it’s not always the headhunter’s fault. When our clients deploy us with a strict set of criteria, either we fire the client or try to stick to the list. Some of us try to massage the client into a more reasonable state of mind and fill the position with a good candidate nonetheless.

  8. are you that hardup for money that you are now running ads for diet companies?
    Silly me.. its to help us look better for our interviews

  9. I have a question about working with a headhunter and working with a recruiter. Is it appropriate for me to send a small gift? My last name is the same name of a food product. I would like to send a particular company recruiter a gift box of this food. It’s supposed to be clever, an example of my clever marketing skills, and a reminder that I am very interested in her company. Is it appropriate or it is unethical? Thanks for your help.

  10. @Angie: No gifts. If you want to please the headhunter, be a good candidate.

  11. @Alan: Don’t know what you’re talking about. I run GoogleAds on this blog and on the website, with certain advertisers blocked. I can’t believe a diet company would buy an ad here – is that what you saw?

    (Hard up for money? Hosting a blog and producing Ask The Headhunter costs money. Ask your favorite newspaper why it runs ads. Ask your favorite business why it sells products. For that matter, ask why you want a salary to work.)

  12. Nick – The conventional wisdom offered to job seekers usually goes something like this: “Remember, the headhunter doesn’t work for you – he or she works for the organization that is hiring.”


    The headhunter works for him- or herself. At the end of the day, they will always look out for themselves first.

    Several years ago I was up for a job at a large HMO headquartered in Pennsylvania. The Chicago-based recruiter flew me out to the interview with the #2 executive there and it went well. Although the location wasn’t terribly appealing – a smallish to medium-size city in the middle of nowhere – the pay was good and the job was great. In the meantime I received a firm job offer in NYC which was less appealing for money reasons (cost of living, mainly) and because I wanted the PA job, I held off the NYC position as long as I could.

    Every time I spoke to the recruiter about a decision, she kept saying how difficult the client was and that they wouldn’t give her an answer and that they hadn’t made any decision. She even said that for several weeks they hadn’t returned her calls. When I pressed the recruiter, she kept saying she just couldn’t press the matter or she would piss off the client. But this was a retained search, mind you, for which the recruiter would be paid under any circumstances (and it was at least 60k). Of course, she hastened to add that she wanted more business from the client.

    Eventually I gave up the ghost and took the NYC job, which meant a 1000 mile move and a big change in many ways. The recruiter later told me that the client had extended but later withdrawn its offer to their first choice, merely because she’d tried to negotiate a better relocation package from California.

    Then, amazingly, the recruiter called me months later, said the client was again interested and asked if I’d be willing to go back for another look. I said yes…and never heard another word. The recruiter later told me they’d paid her but amazingly never hired anyone.

    The moral of the story…again: Recruiters look out for themselves, and as a candidate you can and often will be jerked around in ways you wouldn’t imagine from “professionals.”

    Pardon me if I say that recruiters are a mostly useless bunch.