In Does the headhunter own my job interviews? we explore where headhunters fit in the recruiting equation — when employers contact the same candidates on their own. Who “owns” the candidate and who “owns” the job interview?

The best question that’s come up in that discussion is, What value does the headhunter add? to recruiting and hiring?

exclusiveThe answer goes back to the employer. If an employer wants to do a sound, thorough search for the best candidates to fill a job, the employer will not post the job. (Do you really want 10,000 applicants? If yes, why? Back to Personnel Hell with you.) The employer will conduct its own quiet search, or use a headhunter to conduct it.

In this case, the headhunter has an exclusive on the job. It’s not posted. The employer isn’t doing the search. Nor is any other headhunter. Basically, no one else knows the job is open. One headhunter, chosen by the employer, under a contract, is handling the search.

I imagine all the personnel jockeys tugging at the underwear wedging itself up their butt cracks. Oooh… How silly not to post the job! How will the world know about the job? You’ll miss tons of great people!

Yep. You’ll miss lots of tire-kickers and the “recruiters” who drive them around the job boards. No job posting. That’s where the headhunter adds value. That’s what the headhunter is paid for.

Here’s what you need to know: Only the best headhunters get assignments like that. The rest are scraping job listings and resumes, trying to talk their way past one another and past the employer itself.

So, you want to know how to screen headhunters that contact you? Ask the headhunter, “Do you have an exclusive on this job?” If the headhunter claims yes, ask who the hiring manager is. If the headhunter has an exclusive assignment, he’s got no worries about divulging his client’s name. The hiring manager isn’t going to “go around him.” The headhunter has a contract. The headhunter controls the interviews at that point. And you’re not competing against tire-kickers and the “recruiters” who are ferrying them around the Net.

If the headhunter doesn’t have an exclusive, or is worried that someone is going to beat him to the placement, you’re probably wasting your time. Hang up.

(For 62 more myth-busting answers about nagging headhunter questions: How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

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  1. Any time I am contacted by a recruiter, I insist to get a confirmation that they are on assignment to fill a given position, the name of the company, specifics on the position, that they will never show my resume to anyone without written consent, and that they understand my limits with respect to geography and position types. Real-deal recruiters always respect this (usually leading to no more contact due to mismatch), BS recruiters never reply or hang up.

  2. A related question for Nick:

    I’ve dealt with recruiters who do have an exclusive agreements with companies, but they often don’t want to divulge the names of these companies.

    On more than one occasion, after drilling down with some questions, I was able to deduce exactly who the company is*…..and then told the recruiter that I’m under a non-compete and that company was a direct competitor….or that I had no interest whatsoever working for that company because of its reputation.

    Yeah, yeah, non-competes are bad, not worth it, can’t be enforced, etc. In my case, the company was not worth my time in terms of the risk/reward with respect to the non-compete issue.

    All this could have been avoided if the recruiter told me up front who the company was.

    Why are these recruiters so secretive if they’ve got exclusive agreements? Are companies afraid people will find out they’re hiring? Sometimes the recruiter says he/she is under a confidentiality agreement. Male bovine waste, IMHO. As soon as they bring someone in for a job interview, all that person’s friends are going to know about it. Spouses are going to know about. Trusted co-workers are going to know.

    (* It always makes chuckle when the recruiter is surprised that I can figure out the company… if my experience, the city, and the product/service isn’t enough to make a good guess. Anybody with more than a couple years experience in a particular field is capable of the same.)

  3. @Chris: Lots of headhunters believe that it’s best to keep stuff secret, no matter what. Sort of like their cousins over in HR, who believe that it’s best for them to know everything.

    It’s a very, very rare situation where a client tells the headhunter the position is confidential and not to disclose who the employer is.

    More likely, someone taught the headhunter that if he tells you who the company is, you will immediately hang up and call the company yourself. Thereby revealing to the company that the headhunter is incapable of conducting a recruiting call properly.

    Best policy is, if the headhunter can’t tell you who the company is, to suggest he go get permission and call you back if they let him. That’ll really mung up his mind.

  4. Thank you Nick for the insight.

    One thing that has bothered me, is especially if the HH/recruiter does have an exclusive agreement, is that the HH/recruiter feels like an albatross around your neck – would one have done better if they didn’t have the “stigma” of a fee attached to them. Maybe I’m totally off base here…

  5. @Dave: If by “albatross” you mean that if the headhunter were not involved, you’d have a better shot at the job because the employer would incur no fee?

    That’s a big misconception. When companies decide to use headhunters, they allocate a budget for it. The fee doesn’t come out of the new hire’s salary. People think it does, and that’s true only in very naive companies or poorly managed ones. In most cases, the employer has a headhunting budget that’s part of HR’s pot. Not the hiring manager’s.

    When a company assigns an exclusive search assignment, it expects a lot from the headhunter, and their relationship with him is usually pretty tight. The info the hh has about the job is almost always much better than if the headhunter shows up at a random company with a random resume trying to close a deal quickly. An exclusive search usually means the hh is actually adding value to the recruiting process, and the candidate and the company should both expect a higher standard of conduct (and recruiting talent!).

  6. Thanks for the clarifications, Nick.

    Completely understand if they decide to use a HH they budget for it.

    I think were people (including myself) get confused is that we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. For example, if I had two people, one comes with a fee and the other doesn’t, all else (salary, talent, experience, education) being equal, one could conclude that they may opt for the one without the fee and save it for something else.

  7. Good information. My inbox has been inundated with job postings from multiple recruiters (sometimes within the same recruitment company)for a very large biotech company I have worked for in the past. What I don’t understand is why this company has opened competition among several recruiting agencies for one or two (contract) jobs to see which one can find the best talent for the least amount of money. I believe this is arrogant and completely absurd on the part of the company and makes me question their ethics. Any thoughts?

  8. @Elaine: Sometimes employers stupidly put a search out to multiple headhunters. But more likely, they put it out to one or none, but also advertised the job online. “Headhunters” find it, and they innundate the company with resumes. They contact you, and act like they have an assignment. All they’re doing is hoping they can throw some good applicants at the company – and earn a fee.