In the August 6, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders when a headhunter will call him about his application:

I’ve applied for a job (online, to a headhunter) for which I easily meet all the criteria. I even have several “value add” items in my past that make me an extra good candidate. But I have not been invited for even a preliminary interview. Should I just give up, or is it acceptable/advisable to contact the headhunter and essentially say, “I can’t believe you’ve overlooked me!”

Nick’s Reply

In How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, there’s a section titled, “How should I judge a headhunter?” (pp. 26-27). It includes 10 tests that reveal a headhunter is a good one. Here are four of them:

  • A good headhunter doesn’t call anyone blindly. He already knows quite a bit about your background, or he wouldn’t call you.
  • He is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions he asks. Rather than rely on your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.
  • He will exhibit a sincere interest in your work and abilities, and in your interests and goals.
  • He will give useful advice if you ask for it.

blind_leading_blindThe root of your problem is that you’ve applied for a job indirectly — you applied (1) online, and (2) through a third party. Consequently, you know very little about the job or the manager. You might meet all the criteria that you know about, but that’s really very limited. What you don’t have is all the insider information that “insider candidates” have.

Applying indirectly puts you so far down on the list of realistic candidates that you’re really wasting your time. But I’m not here to berate you. This is a good learning experience if you understand why you’re wasting your time with this headhunter — who seems to have overlooked you because he’s working blind.

First, if the headhunter were any good, he or she would be actively recruiting you and sharing the inside scoop about the job with you. A headhunter who recruits via job postings is a pretty pathetic headhunter. This should be one big tip-off about how realistic the opportunity is. Please think about it: No one is “hunting” you if they’re waiting for you to come along via a job posting, right?

Second, If you’ve never actually talked to the headhunter, you don’t even know if the job is real, or whether the headhunter is just building his database with resumes. (This is common.) So you’re worrying about something that has never happened: The headhunter has invested nothing in you at this point.

That’s the danger of online job postings: They require no work. This is a trap that job hunters fall into all the time. They take job postings too seriously. The place to invest your time and energy is in people who actually know who you are and who take the time to understand what you can do for the employer. (These might be headhunters or employers themselves.)

Now consider the four tests of a good headhunter that I listed above. The headhunter in this case fails all of them. The main test is that, if the headhunter thinks you’re a good match and that he could make a placement, he’d be calling you. I think your best move is to move on — to opportunities where you have good information and contacts. And if you don’t have good contacts, start making them — that’s where the real opportunities lie.

Some guy posting jobs and waiting for a piece of spaghetti to fly across the Internet and stick to his wall isn’t really a headhunter. He’s not worth bothering with.

Do you apply for jobs online, indirectly, via “headhunters” you don’t know? What’s your hit rate? (Come on, make me laff…)

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  1. Granted that applying online is a long shot waste of time in the majority of cases. Also granted that building contacts within the industry and working directly with hiring managers is the better way. Still if you want the job and you think you are a great fit, don’t sit back and wait for the headhunter to filter through the hundreds of submissions to find your gem of a resume. At the very least – followup with a phone call!!! Not following up is like buying a lottery ticket and then never checking the numbers.

  2. Last time I was in a job hunt when I answered a posting I also look up the recruiter on LinkedIn and let them know I had done so.

    I would also look in my connections for anyone with associations with that company.

    My current position came from one such posting. I couldn’t be happier.

  3. Even during the lowest unemployment years of the late 90’s, I’ve never found a position through headhunters or employment agencies. When I was a hiring manager, I used agencies or headhunters sparingly for very specific areas of expertise: financial analysts, controllers, IT, or VP level etc. I lumped headhunters with employment agencies because I’ve met few if any “real” headhunters by your definition, probably because there are few true headhunters out there.

  4. ER bangs this nail right on the head: “… there are few true headhunters out there.”

    What the reader has run across here is the sort of bottom-feeding scum that latches on the very position that comes to his or her attention (Tech needed in Bangor! CSR needed in San Jose!! Floor sweeper needed in Dead Horse!!!) and advertises them across the whole of the internet universe in hopes some desperate soul will come cheap enough to turn the position-du-jour into fruit hanging low enough to get him/her a contract.

    There are a few honest employment agencies / body shops etc. There are fewer still honest headhunters (I give lip service to their existence as I’ve never been recruited by one either).

  5. I have an idea. If the job hunter knows enough about this position to know that it is a good match, why not search for openings on the web sites of likely companies, or find out about this job through other channels? I trust that sending in an ignored resume does not create a business relationship with the unresponsive headhunter. That would put our job seeker at the head of the line, not way back.

  6. I agree with Nick. But it’s a hard thing for job hunters to 1) understand that recruiters (and many of those who call themselves “headhunters”) are not there to help them. Having the hope that ‘someone’s out there looking for me’ keeps them alive in some way.

    And 2) to actually cut themselves free from all those blind, cyber applications, with the knowledge that it’s a road to nowhere … again, they hope something will come of it.

    My advice would be to follow up instead of just writing it off. Just last week I had a client tell me how she sent her resume to an industry contact. The name didn’t immediately ring a bell for him and it was a typical “white” name (although she was black) and he was looking for an affirmative (a black) person for the position so he just ignored it (I’m in South Africa where whites are flat out just not in contention for many jobs). When she followed up, he was flabbergasted, and immediately he called her in for an interview.

    Anyway my point is that there’s ‘many a slip between cup and lip’ (stuff happens) when it comes to sending resumes. Best to follow up. Despite the frustration it leads to 90% of the time.

  7. I tend to take a dim view of job postings and recruiters/self identified HH’s.

    Most job postings get 100’s of responses, so most people reading them are finding every little nit in order to disqualify people. Secondly, most HR/Recruiters are unqualified to make the call if said canidates are actually qualified.

  8. @Dave: BINGO!!!

    The more applicants you compete with, the more HR looks for goofy reasons to disqualify most applicants, including you.

    The personnel jockeys doing the disqualifying are totally unqualified to disqualify anyone.

    Two bottom lines:
    1. Job hunters are foolish to apply to job postings.
    2. Hiring managers are foolish to let someone else take the first cut at an applicant pool.

    The Story: America’s Employment System is a disaster for structural reasons. Congress would do well to look at our system of recruiting before it points at the economy as the culprit in the “jobs crisis.”

  9. I haven’t yet worked with any headhunters or recruiters. The only time I’ve ever dealt with a middleman for employment purposes was many, many years ago when I signed on with a temp agency and the temp agency placed me in a job. The company where I was placed didn’t do any of their own hiring–they worked with temp agencies and they had their own recruiters who brought prospective employees before them. I suppose you could call those recruiters headhunters. Either way, they decided to let someone else (several someone elses) do the initial screenings and decision-makings. This company was an insurance company, and you would have thought that anyone who wanted to work for an insurance company in myriad areas (underwriters to death benefits to accountants and more) and who had passed the requisite exams should have been able to apply directly to them, but those folks didn’t get considered–and those who knew how the hiring worked there even directed friends looking for an “in” to the temp agencies and recruiters because that was the only way you’d be considered.

    I was having this very conversation with my brother and our folks not long ago–my brother got badly “burned” by a headhunter who exposed him to the HR dept. and his boss at a previous job. He’s so sensitive to headhunters now (and to this headhunter in particular) that he won’t work with them. Our folks couldn’t quite grasp the idea that the headhunter doesn’t work for you but for his/her client. A good headhunter will be sensitive to prospective candidates and won’t do what this headhunter did to my brother, but headhunters, like doctors and lawyers and car mechanics, vary–some are very good and some don’t care a fig about the candidates. So she exposes you to HR and your boss–not her problem, not her client’s problem, but it can be a big problem for you if HR and/or your boss decide that the fact that a headhunter contacted them about you means you’re looking. Our folks couldn’t understand that either, and then our father asked “but if that’s the case, then why would you use a headhunter?”

    @Nick: I agree. But at a time when half the country and most businesses want LESS government and more deregulation, I can imagine that Congress looking at business recruiting and hiring practices is not something they want, although they will continue to howl about the “talent shortage”. There’s no talent shortage except in HR and in companies that have ceded hiring to HR, and HR lets a computer (worse and worse) do the screening.

  10. Probably not. I think there’s a lot of confusion over exactly what headhunters do and who their clients are. Their clients are not the job hunters, but the employers looking to fill positions. And, like any other profession, be it medicine, law, teaching, etc., there are all kinds of doctors, lawyers, teachers. It is no different with headhunters. Some are excellent and hold themselves to the standards set by their professions; others never met an ethical rule they didn’t break, and everything in between.

    I haven’t worked with any headhunters (yet), but my brother has, and he got burned very badly by one, so badly that he won’t have anything to do with her, even if she’s calling about a colleague or former colleague. She exposed him to his boss, a boss above his boss, and to HR at one of his former employers. His direct boss was fine, but he said he was harassed by HR and worried for some time whether he’d be fired by that boss above his boss.