The headhunting business has never been an easy gig. Finding and (usually) stealing good talent for your clients is a challenge and a half. The best headhunters are those who know how to grasp what a client company needs. In other words, who is it you’re out there trying to recruit?

If you don’t know, pack it in. Go home.

We refer to the headhunting business as search — and the implication is that we know what we’re looking for. That’s what separates good headhunters from the hacks and the wannabes.

So I’m perturbed. You’d think the one thing that all headhunters grasp is the simple (but not easy) concept that you must know what you’re looking for. But when the headhunting industry announces that its theme this year is The New Recruiting Mandate: Defining True Talent, it’s time for employers who use headhunters to head for the hills. Because that’s where they’re going to have to go to avoid the hacks and the wannabes who need a conference to figure this out.

Gimme a break. Knowing how to do what headhunters are paid to do is this year’s clever new marketing theme? That’s like Michelin starting an ad campaign that says, “Our new strategy is learning how to make tires.”

The Kennedy Recruiting Conference is probably the leading event of its kind for headhunters, recruiters, HR folks, and groupies associated with the business. When a leader in the industry puts on a show to teach how to define true talent, that tells us one thing:

Today, the headhunting industry is so full of total novices, fast-buck entrepreneurs, online resume-scrapers, job-board mavens, LinkedIn miners, data-base scavengers, spam spreaders, and clueless franchisees that any company needs to ask one question when it interviews a headhunter:

“Do you know what the hell you’re doing?”

Any company that doesn’t will likely wind up The Horse’s Ass in the Rear-view Mirror.

Unless the good folks at Kennedy are merely signaling that they believe the headhunting biz is imploding under the weight of ignorant practitioners, I suggest that they quickly scrap this year’s conference theme, cancel the registrations of all the wannabes and give them a free pass to a WordPerfect class instead.

Offer a program infinitely more useful.

The New Recruiting Mandate: How to identify headhunters who know what they’re doing.

  1. Nick,
    You are being too wishy washy. Get to the point. Say what you really think. :)

    I agree with just about all your points though I am not clear on what you mean by LinkedIn miners.

    Also as you know accomplishments and skills are only part of it. Another part (and maybe even bigger) is chemistry match. Maybe what Kennedy should change the theme to is “Listening and understanding People’s Personalities”

    I guess I just thought I was always searching for “true” talent. Now I am really confused because it appears I was just looking for names. :)

    Be well,


  2. LinkedIn miners are “headhunters” who spend their day digging through LinkedIn connections for candidates. There’s an entire sub-culture of recruiters who just love to plow data bases. They want lists. They want lots of names. They don’t recruit. They spend their time looking at innumerable straws of hay trying to find a needle. I pity them. Boring! They could be out meeting people.

  3. I have only approved one recruiter on my LinkedIn connections. This is a gentlemen with whom I have worked in the past. I found him to be an ethical and helpful recruiter, the best I’d found. But quite frequently I get solicitations by recruiters to approve them as “connections”, people with whom I’ve had at best brief, passing communications.

    Why would they solicit a stranger? Because once they are approved as a contact on LinkedIn they can, in effect, raid your entire rolodex, complete with names, companies, and job titles.

    Let me tell you a story. Recently a coworker was solicited by a recruiter for a position. He must have approved this person as a LinkedIn contact because the next thing you know half our department is getting solicitations for this same job from this same “recruiter” at or about the same time. This kind of synchrony doesn’t happen with the recruiters who comb through resumes on job boards. The recruiter just lined them up and ran them through the mill.

    Although my coworker was the most qualified among us for the position in question, he inadvertently set up his own competition. Worse yet, having that kind of a list at hand may have contributed to the recruiter’s “you’re not worthy” attitude when my coworker stated the industry standard compensation for the job description.

    I was familiar with the toxic reputation of that particular employer so I declined discussion of that “opportunity”, but the recruiter’s “throw a bunch of candidates at the wall and see what sticks” M.O. should have been the first red flag about the client for whom he was soliciting.

    Unless you have solid confidence in the integrity of a recruiter with whom you’ve worked, repel all solicitations from recruiters on LinkedIn. A lack of discrimination could result in legitimate contacts not wanting to be linked to you. And if you’ve found a recruiter to be top notch, explain their presence in your contacts with a recommendation.

  4. Phil,

    Recruiters used to pay to get internal company phone directories. Now all they need is one employee to put them on their LinkedIn list. Of course, discretion and integrity are the issue. A good headhunter might use that information to discreetly contact other employees. A sleazy one will run through them like meat through a grinder. And everyone winds up hamburger.

    Discretion. It’s a huge part of any relationship. Beware who you deal with, and who you invite into your circle, whether it’s at Joe’s bar for beers, or on your LinkedIn list. Trouble is, it’s far easier to hand out LinkedIn affiliations than to invite people out for beers.

    Moral: Meeting people over beers with friends is smarter than meeting them through a data base.

  5. I had to hit this before someone else does. On the Ask The Headhunter home page ( there appears a Google ad: “Become a headhunter”. Check the link:

    Need I say more? This is what’s wrong with the headhunting business.

  6. Dear Nick,
    Hope I can be of help here.
    The value (other than outsourcing) that Search Professionals provide is to understand what type of person is needed and will fit at the organization, yes, we all agree. What The Recruiting Conference and Expo offer is to develop that expertise to your Corporate counterparts. Kennedy speaks to many different audiences, be it IT Consultants, Inverter Relations professionals, Executive Search or Corporate Recruiters.
    For the retained or contingency professional I would recommend the Executive Search Summit forum, where we strive to address the needs and interest of the Search Professionals.
    Kennedy Information

  7. Linkedin has its uses if used correctly. as a Headhunter, I use it myself more as a research tool than a contact tool but don’t be fooled by it or overestimate what control you think you have on this platform as a potential candidate for Recruiters.

    Phil, you suggest that by connecting to a recruiter you are exposing your contacts to them but this is unlikely to make any difference.

    If you are in the overall network of the recruiter (which you must be to be found) then your first level contacts are also likely to be in it regardless of whether the recruiter is approved by you or not. Besides, if you join Linkedin as a business user or higher, you get access to everyone on Linkedin anyway. A recruiter that relies on Linkedin for their business will always have this level of access.

    In your example given about your co-worker, it is likely that all the names were identified before he was contacted and he was simply one of the names on the list. You don’t need to be a connection to reach people because of inmail, email or even better, picking up the telephone (That will make some recruiters go cold). In other words, they don’t need your acceptance of connection to reach the people they want to get to.

    However, there is an even worse Linkedin Recruiter out there than the Linkedin Miners mentioned by Nick that fit into the profile he highlights above. I call them the Linkedin Leaches and they are the ones that use Linkedin to contact other recruiters to help them fill the positions. They can’t even be bothered to use Linkedin to find the candidates for themselves. They would rather get someone else to do the work for them.

    I get at least 6 requests a month to help fill a position and all from the US. This shows that these recruiters are not fussy or check who they send these messages out to because if they did, they would see that I’m based in the UK.

    Great subject Nick and on the money. Sadly the issue is much deeper and is made worse by our “Corporate Counterparts” trying to be Headhunters (when they are not) and being guided by the self proclaimed experts.

  8. Need we all be reminded that this is why the hiring process is broken?

    Hmmm…let me see. What shall I do since being laid off? Oh — I know. I’ll create web sites. Wait, that’s been done already…

    Hmmm…I know. I’ll be a life coach. Geez; that too has been done already.

    Okay then, I’ll become a recruiter since who is better at knowing the industry that I’ve worked in for over ____ years, ‘eh? (fill in the blanks)

    And, don’t you know that there are many employers out there just waiting on-the-edge-of-their-chairs to find me because I’m hungry and eager to do it!

    Meanwhile, back at the employer’s office, a conversation can be heard with someone saying “…I don’t care where the money comes from just find me that right candidate, now…!”

    Repeat and rinse…

  9. Tom nailed it.

    Real money goes to people who solve real problems. Life coaches, instant headhunters, and Linkedin miners generally don’t do the latter.

    What’s truly amazing is that all three expect the former. PT Barnum had it right…


    I had to check out that website. It’s the best evidence I need _not_ to buy whatever it is selling.

  11. All too true. Thanks for the quick read.