In the June 12, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter asks a candidate to remove contact information from a resume before submitting it. Is that normal?

I was contacted by a headhunter about an opportunity. I was asked to provide a resume in Word format. I said I could not, and instead I provided a PDF version so that I could ensure the visual appearance is what I want it to be. Then the headhunter asked me to remove my contact information, but said a PDF version would be okay. I was assured that this was normal, but I wonder about this.

I spoke with the recruiter once after this happened, and we had contact just once more by e-mail. It has been three weeks since our last contact. The recruiter has not returned three voice mails or responded to three e-mails.

What do you think is going on? Do you think my qualifications threw the client or the agency off?

My Advice

This is a classic example of how most headhunters operate. What people don’t know is, these headhunters don’t create resumes for their candidates. They take what the candidate gives them and merely pass it along to their client. This doesn’t add any value to the recruiting process. There’s an insider technical term for this practice: “throwing spaghetti against the wall.”

Headhunters who work this way are wasting your time and their clients’ time. This isn’t recruiting. This is dialing for dollars, also known by yet another technical term: “dumpster diving.”

The worst of these headhunters will bundle any and all resumes they can get their hands on, and send them along to an employer who might pay them a fee. This means the personnel department must sort the incoming drek, just like they sort resumes they buy from job boards. The headhunter adds no value to the process, and any HR department that accepts such resumes should be closed down.

Adding value

A good headhunter doesn’t just find candidates for a client company. A good headhunter interprets how a particular candidate can help the client get a job done. The headhunter carefully interviews the candidate and maps the candidate’s abilities and skills against the requirements of the position. As I explain in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, when I’m done interviewing a candidate for my client, I’ve got all I need to produce a simple, clear, and very compelling resume. It’s exactly what my client needs prior to interviewing the candidate. If the candidate doesn’t match the client’s requirements, why would I even refer the person to my client?

Do you see the problem? The headhunter you’re dealing with is merely pumping resumes into an employer’s sorting process. The headhunter is not carefully assessing and judging you, to ensure he’s sending only qualified candidates to his client. What I’m really saying is, if that headhunter had truly interviewed you, he wouldn’t need your resume. He could and should write a custom resume for you and then present it — with your permission — to his client.

Did the headhunter really interview you?

That’s not to say that the resume you wrote isn’t useful. The headhunter can use it to fill in the blanks surrounding key facts he’s learned by talking with you in depth. But if the headhunter just forwards your resume to the employer, he’s not contributing anything to the recruiting task. He’s not highlighting the specific skills and abilities that prove you’re a good candidate for the job. A smart client demands this from a headhunter — the client wants to know why you would be a good fit. And the fact is, there’s just too much stuff on a resume that a hiring manager doesn’t need to know about you. The headhunter’s job is to demonstrate the match, not to dish the spaghetti.

So this is how you can tell a really good headhunter from a dumpster diver: Did the headhunter conduct a thorough interview with you?

What (most) headhunters do with resumes

The headhunter you’ve described wants your resume in Word format so that he can delete your name and contact information. (A PDF version from which you’ve omitted that information is just as good to him — it’ll save him time.) He doesn’t want his client to know who you are until the client promises a fee before interviewing you. If the headhunter had a solid, healthy relationship with his client, the headhunter wouldn’t be worried about the employer going around his back. That’s why the headhunter wants to control your contact information.

Whether it’s a modified version of the resume you provide, or a new one the headhunter has written, you should always ask to see the document the headhunter will send to his client. You don’t want to defend resume errors in an interview. If you trust the headhunter, a Word version might be best to facilitate his editing it. But if you don’t trust the headhunter, or don’t know his practices, your PDF policy is a good one.


This is how the game is played by many headhunters. Learn to judge headhunters by whether they actually interview you in depth. If they don’t, then they’re not going to present you properly to their client, are they? What I think is going on in this case is that the headhunter is throwing spaghetti against the wall — and yours didn’t stick.

Do you give your resume to people you don’t know — headhunters and/or employers? If you do, I think you’re nuts. You’d have better odds playing the lottery. Have you ever met a headhunter who thoroughly interviewed you even before requesting your resume? If you’re a manager, do headhunters splatter resumes on your wall — stuff that’s not even recognizable as a “right” candidate?

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  1. I never, never, never give a headhunter a Word version of my resume. Why? Once a headhunter was given a Word version and I got an interview. During the interview I was asked questions about technologies I had no knowledge of. I had the unfortunate task of telling the interviewer that I didn’t have this experience and that his headhunter had edited my resume to add this stuff in. Fortunately, I always carry a hard copy resume to all interviews so I could show what the original was supposed to look like.

  2. Hit the nail on the head. If the recruiter had a genuine and trusting relationship with a client there’s no need to remove identifying info. That was the flag on the play, so blatant the candidate should have run the other way.
    Likely it’s not “client” but trolling for “clients” plural. I worked for a company that loved the tactic of MPC ..”most placeable candidate. pick some one with good bona fides and cold call around touting this candidate you for interest. If you hit some interest, tacitly you had one to show. …bait and most likely switch depending on the direction of the discussion.
    I confess I once sent a sanitized resume to a client I was trying to win. Stripped name and any identifying info they could use to identify him. They weren’t my client. They were a client I wanted to have. I knew what they did for a living and I had a personal contact in my network a subject matter expert that I knew would be a value add to them..and he wanted dearly to get back to his home town where the client was located. They kept blowing me off, a teflon coating that deflected all my overtures. In this case I explained the situation with the candidate and we worked out a collaborative plan. I asked if he was OK with me sanitizing his CV. and how we’d try to play it. I sent an email to the VP who’s door I was trying to beat down. attached the sanitized version of the resume…and added my KISS note. “You guys need to know this guy”.
    The next call was answered. He told me because I understood his business. I did. My candidate didn’t get the job…but he did get flown cross country, and interviewed with the decision makers. The candidate & I tag teamed all the way through.

  3. Great article. You never want to throw spaghetti against a wall. What a mess!

    I would add: a skilled professional resume writer understands that good headhunters are likely to have the inside scoop on exactly what companies are looking for, and will work with clients to target the resume and cover letter to the position per the headhunter’s advice.

  4. Right on, Nick.

    I think many HH and recruiters lose sight of the value add they can provide.

    I think part of the problem I have seen is that many of them don’t have the proper backgrounds to do screening and give recommendations.

  5. In their zeal to automate the job application process by using dubious software, employers and HR drpartments in particular, have backed themselves into a corner. I see the spaghetti throwing recruiters as a natural product of this tupe of system.

  6. @John Z: Bingo! HR has trained the recruiters well. “Throw junk at us, and if we manage to catch any, we’ll pay you!”

    It’s so idiotic. But what reveals staggering mismanagement in business is that the board of directors doesn’t even know this is going on.

  7. There are really two different recruiting models here. The one Nick describes is Executive Search, he is paid upfront by the client to conduct a search. The 2nd model is a contingency search firm – one that is only paid if someone is hired. Many of these firms do not get exclusive searches, so there is a level of competition that does not happen in the Executive Search model. Model 2 would not likely be used to find and hire an executive level candidate. I rarely allowed my resume to be sent by a contingent firm for this reason. The only exception that I can recall to this rule was if the contingent search was an exclusive and that I thought it would be a good match. In this situation, the client/company name would not disclosed, so I had to decide if I wanted to proceed. Most often, I did not.

  8. Maybe we should define the difference between Head Hunter and Recruiter. What has been described in this discussion is the classic dialing for dollars recruiter – whether internal or external they are all the same.

    I understand the desire for a word doc because it gives the basis for ‘development’ of the resume. Yes, I totally agree that someone worth their weight and worthy of a fee must rework a resume. I use a ‘reader friendly’ template because most clients don’t ‘find’ what they need buried in a typical resume.

  9. This may sound like a silly question, but if this is all the “headhunter” is going to do (bundle your résumé with 10,000 other résumés and shoot them all at the HRs of various companies), then why bother with a headhunter? I mean, I could apply myself by going through the company’s online job board with 9,999 other people and hope for the best.

    I know that the general rule is that when dealing with headhunters, the prospective employer is the client, not me, the job seeker. So the headhunter should be sorting through candidates and trying to find the best matches for the client, or even the prospective client, in the event that the company hasn’t signed on for the headhunter’s services yet. If this is all the headhunter will do for them, why not save the fee and just hope someone wanders in via their own job board or that someone happens to fall out of the sky onto an HR jockey’s desk?

    Nick, I like “spaghetti throwing” term. It is a bit more graphic than “kitchen sink” approach (you throw everything you can think of and the kitchen sink and hope that something, anything, sticks).

    And thanks for your advice. I haven’t been contacted by headhunters, but your advice is useful, as always. I wouldn’t ever have thought that some headhunters would do what is described in the letter, and now I’ll be wary and know what to ask.

  10. I agree Jan. Many recruiters who work for temp/staffing companies ” throw it up against the wall” to see what sticks. Many HR people encourage the practice by time /date/stamping resumes. I have spoken about this before. Poor recruiters( ones who get paid by the hour, get no bonus, no incentive, training) send resumes without ever speaking to a candidate and without their permission. They pull your resume off a resume sight and off they go! A legitimate recruiter comes along and interviews, checks reference, goes over the job in detail and they discuss the resume with the candidate. What does HR do? Sorry someone already sent that resume. But…but….they do not care!!! As for a resume in WORD…if you are dealing with a reputable recruiter there is no need to worry….sending in a PDF initially is a smart tactic. If a recruiter calls and says,” are you interested in the job” yadyayya for two minutes ” I will get back to you” . Sometimes they do not even leave a name( or one you can understand),talk a mile a minute, never tell you the company name and before you know they are gone. You can bet they just slammed your resume. If they do not call you back…guess what ..they were not interested or you or some other recruiter presented it. You will probably never know. I find this practice and the blase attitudes of HR to be appalling. Be sure of who you are working with. Be direct out of the gate with one of these phone calls…”DO NOT send my resume until we talk further… with ONLY ONE person…if you get “slammed” and find out…call the company and let them know. Temp/Staffing companies rarely get DIRECT HIRES…..and when they do they just get all a flutter and lose their minds!!

  11. The 3 times I’ve gotten work through a headhunter/recruiter, they didn’t care what format they initially got my resume in. They didn’t write or revise a new one themselves, but did work with me on what to emphasize as I did a rewrite to send to the company that was hiring. They all took a pdf of the final version I wrote and a text file or Word version for HR’s stupid screening software to verify that the right keywords (that the headhunter had coached me on assuring were in it, the “must haves”) were in it. In at least two of these the HR screening software had to approve of my resume even if I was already in contact with the hiring manager – madness! (Yes, Very Big Company Madness).

    They all went over company culture and background with me to make sure I’d have a shot being happy there, and none of them kept the company name secret. At one of the headhunters they went so far as to have me come down for an informal ‘meet and greet’ type interview with their own S. VP over all of their recruiters long before they found me a position to make sure we would be comfortable working together…quite the opposite of spaghetti against the wall. The two jobs I may have had a shot at then weren’t a good fit, and they went over them with me and had me decide to send my resume in or not. It was a no from me. A year later they DID find one I was a perfect fit for and we reworked my resume, and I got hired. All three times were against a talent pool of about 200 resumes that made it through to the hiring managers, from which about a dozen were interviewed.

    So yes, they were all nonexclusive contingency headhunters up against the company career page, HR pulling down resumes from job boards and other recruiters. But they did lots of the good things Nick talks about, sent in one well preped candidate, and got me the job….at a higher salary and commision for them than the others on the team.

    So yes, they technically worked for the company needing to fill a job, but you can get your interests and yours going the same way with the ‘how do we both make more money by ME getting the job’ mantra.

    All the spaghetti tossers never did me a damned bit of good in my 17 year career. But I will mention that all three of the good headhunters DID initially find me via job boards and old resumes I’d left up after my last previous job hunt. I don’t view Monster, Dice, Careerbuilder and their ilk as places for me to find jobs, but places to put myself in databases I can be found through. Thats how those 3 did.

  12. Opps, that’s “your interests and theirs” in the next to last paragraph.

  13. As someone mentioned above, I would never ever think a headhunter can change my resume. I worked a lot on it, searched the net for good tips and ideas (my favorite is ), polished to my needs and then someone could even destroy it? Nope. Then really don’t want to waste my time and money, just apply by myself. Thanks for enlightening me, really appreciated!

  14. @John Beier: Your point is well taken. But a good headhunter will always modify a resume to target his client’s needs. That is, he knows which parts of your skills and experience are most relevant to the specific job. So he emphasizes those, and expands on them after talking with you at length. There’s no way your resume could be “tuned” like that when you write it for general consumption by any company you apply to. The headhunter’s job is to fine-tune the match. That said, it’s also important for the headhunter to have you confirm what he wrote!

  15. I have been trying to learn everything I can about executive search firms and what they do. I would never hand my resume over without an interview first. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Nick,

    Please talk to us about recruiting firms that want references and call them up before you are given any information about an interview. My references were recently called and asked about my positive and negative traits before I even went on an interview. The colleague of mine never gives negatives and they pressed him really hard to provide negatives. Of course, they record all this commentary in their databases and I never got to see any of it. It turns out that I eventually had a phone interview with the HR rep of the hiring company and was so turned off by the job shop that I just stopped talking to all of them. My point is, what recourse do you have if they demand to speak to references before you go on the interview?

  17. @Matt. I was an agency recruiter for a # of years and am an internal recruiter now. Agencies are client focused…the recruiters/agency will aim at getting the best candidates to the client. Talking to references is part of the assessment process, if done professionally increases the probability of a good fit & as such is better for all interested parties. Sorry but I think you’re frustrated about something that’s SOP and not a job shop operation. A job shop wouldn’t bother, they do as this blog noted just throw spaghetti against the wall with minimum time investment.