headhunterHeadhunters earn a living by matching the right person with a job. Their success depends on being accurate, but it also depends on the attitude they project and the control they exert over the hiring process. Once they have identified a good match, headhunters use special methods to ensure that their candidate wins a good job offer. You can use the approach, techniques and attitude headhunters employ, and you can be your own headhunter.

Developing the right approach requires understanding why companies use headhunters when the traditional employment process fails. If the common approach worked, companies wouldn’t retain headhunters. The right approach requires an attitude about your work and about the needs of employers that’s very distinct from that of your competition. It means using techniques that are relevant to solving an employer’s problems, rather than appeasing those who pretend to control the employment process. It means sometimes getting a few people upset, while you ensure that you’re always acting ethically and confidently.

In America, there are two ways to find a new job. One is to get a call from a headhunter who will prepare you to impress his client when you go in for an interview. These calls come very infrequently. The other way is to use America’s antiquated Employment System. In this System you work with online job postings, LinkedIn profiles, resumes, cover letters, human resources experts, career counselors, personnel jockeys and curt, robo-e-mails that say, “No thanks, we don’t want you.” You mail out hundreds of resumes, go on countless interviews, and sit waiting by the phone.

America’s Hiring System Doesn’t Work

For decades, hiring in America has been controlled by the rules and methods of the Employment System. Everyone encounters it. The System permeates the job ads, “job hunting” books, resume writing guides, career advice columns, government-issued employment brochures and career counseling seminars. The System is so ingrained in America’s consciousness that people automatically follow it when they need to find a job. It’s the treadmill you get on when you start mailing out resumes and going on interviews. It’s the frustration you experience as you wait and wait for a company to make you an offer. The rules of the System are so pervasive that no one can help but be affected by them. The odd thing is, the people who manage and profit from this System earn a living whether you win a job or not.

There Is A Better Way

Headhunters understand that the System doesn’t work, but they’re not very vocal about it. Their business is to perform the functions the System handles so poorly. Headhunters have developed methods that work because they must. If headhunters don’t win job offers for their candidates, headhunters don’t eat. It’s as simple as that.

Headhunters work outside the System. They are the “hired guns” who live by their wits and their skills. Headhunters have no reason to make a lot of noise about what they do. Because their methods work, corporations retain them every day. (This doesn’t mean all headhunters are good at what they do, and it doesn’t mean that everyone calling themselves “headhunter” is really a headhunter. See They’re Not Headhunters and When Headhunters on LinkedIn Are Scammers.)

The bad news is, you can’t hire a headhunter. Headhunters work for corporate clients. The good news is, you don’t really need a headhunter. You need the headhunter’s insider methods and profit-based attitude about how to match a worker (yourself) with an employer.

Most Americans incorrectly assume there is no option but the System. They’re at its mercy. The more powerful methods of the headhunter have remained quietly buried beneath this burden of ineffective tradition that hinders America’s battle with unemployment.

Now it’s time to blow the lid off. The System doesn’t work, and there is a better way. A way that’s been developed, tested and proven by people who earn a living from it.


As a headhunter, I am often cornered at social and professional gatherings, much like doctors and lawyers are. People are hungry for help and advice about how to keep their jobs, how to find new ones, and how to survive the transition from one to the other.

I left Stanford University in 1979 to become a headhunter in the technology hotbed of California known as Silicon Valley. This is one of the most competitive job markets in America. I have worked with corporate executives, middle managers, highly specialized technical experts who earn more than their bosses, engineers, manufacturing workers, salespeople, programmers, financial people, technicians and administrative and support staff. My clients have included IBM, Microsoft, Merrill Lynch, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, Xerox, Honeywell, and a raft of middle and small-sized companies.

Years of working with both employers and job hunters have taught me what makes companies and people click: the promise of a profitable working relationship.

Headhunters Possess Knowledge You Need

Headhunters possess a rare kind of knowledge:  They know how to navigate the right person into a good job. It’s not that headhunters are so smart. It’s that they spend all their time doing one thing: successfully putting jobs and people together. This is a task most people have to do only a few times in their lives. Headhunters are very good at it because they do it day-in, day-out for a living.

Working as a highly-paid “hired gun,” I have learned a lot about job hunting, and about how and why companies hire people. In the best and worst of times I have used this knowledge to help people win good job offers from good companies. If you’re looking for a new job right now, it may seem to you that it’s the worst of times. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter, because you can be your own headhunter.

In my Fearless Job Hunting books I have laid out much of this practical knowledge. There are no tricks, no questionable tactics or ten easy steps. It requires you to think hard, to understand how you and your employer can profit from your skills, and to work hard to create your own opportunities, like a headhunter does. My commitment is to walk you through all you need to know to accomplish this.

The purpose of this article is to introduce you to some of the ideas covered both in the books and on the online Ask The Headhunter. I hope you find these ideas as useful as many others have.

Simple Rules For Failure And Success

If your job search is failing, it’s for one of two reasons. First, you may be scared because you believe you’re not good at your work. If this is happens to be true, admit it to yourself and do something about it. If you don’t, your work will never make you happy or successful.

Second, you have been brainwashed like most Americans by the media and by America’s Employment System to follow antiquated rules of job hunting. Realize that if this System worked, you wouldn’t have to mail out 200 resumes or go on 20 interviews before finding a job.

There is only one rule for success in a job search, and almost no one follows it: You must prove, to the manager for whom you want to work, that you can do the job he needs to have done and that you can do it profitably.

This is the single most important rule headhunters live by when they prepare a candidate to interview for a job.

Take Control

The Employment System is not in control of anyone’s job search. Headhunters prove this every day when they bypass personnel departments, job postings, online application forms and interview lines. You control your own search. Personnel departments will try to control you. They will tell you not to call the manager you want to work for. But they can’t stop you.

At a recent resume-writers’ convention, personnel managers confessed that your best strategy is to avoid personnel departments. Only you are responsible for the outcome of your search, and for the methods you use. You can use methods that work, or you can follow the conventional wisdom and stand in line behind millions of other job hunters, waiting to be rejected.

Taking control of your job hunt will put you in new waters where there is little competition. By breaking most of the rules of the Employment System, you can win yourself a great job with a manager who will thank you for solving his problem.

The Job Market Is Where Everyone Else Shops

A challenging job market or a climate of corporate downsizing is no excuse for joining the herd of disheartened job hunters. An associate of mine likes to say that 80% of all people are cows. They stand around waiting for something to happen. They’re oblivious. They wait to be herded into interviews and back out the door. They’re guided by outside forces, and they accept it.

If the news tells you the job market is terrible or that downsizing has created daunting numbers of competitors who are seeking the same jobs you are, learn to ignore it. Don’t shop in that market. It’s a flea market for bargain hunters who arrive not knowing what they want. Instead, understand what value you have to offer, and what an employer needs. This will put you in a different category and into a different job market where there is little competition.

In spite of our generally healthy economy, companies have been laying people off at staggering rates. There are many reasons for this. One is that when the economy was booming, many companies got cocky and expanded when they should have cooled their heels. In a hurry to grow, they rushed to hire marginal workers who were not qualified to support the business in times both good and bad. (Worse, these companies have turned to so-called “body shops,” or “job shops,” or “consulting firms” — to rent workers rather than hire them.) Now these companies must make up for losses by laying off good workers along with the unproductive ones. But as companies show workers out one door, they are using headhunters to hire people for critical jobs through another door. Why? Because any company’s goal is to produce profit, and because headhunters prepare the right candidates to demonstrate in the interview that they can add value to a company’s bottom line.

Don’t be a cow following the herd, waiting for something to happen. You can find a good job anytime, if you do it right.

Is the Competition Killing You?

Do you really believe that hundreds of scared people standing in line together, huddled and waiting to be interviewed for a job, pose a threat to you? If you do, it’s because you’re standing in line with them. You’re right: They will trample you and you’ll never know what hit you.

Jump. Get off the hiring line. Ignore the cows. Approach the employer with the solution to his or her problem. Turn your interview into a hands-on work session where you demonstrate the work you do and the job you want. Focus on your abilities and skills. Use your knowledge of what, specifically, an employer needs. Understand the job, be able to show you can do it the way the employer wants it done, and prove you can do it profitably for both of you. That’s how a headhunter prepares a candidate to win a job offer. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

Shun Obstacles

Avoid all meddling intermediaries on your path to the manager who needs to hire you. Only three people have a vested interest in the outcome of your job search: you, the manager who will hire you, and a headhunter if one is involved. Anyone else involved in your search is either in your way, or trying to get in your way.

The hiring manager will actually help you win the job, if you can solve his problem. He stands to gain a lot. A headhunter who has been retained to find you will also gain if you are hired. No one else involved gains: not personnel departments, not resume writers, not career counselors, not job description writers, and not want-ad editors. All of these people get paid whether you win a job or not. The people who matter in your job search are the ones who gain power and profit when you are hired to do the job.

Use Your Power

Never enter an interview without the intent and means to control it. The manager with whom you are meeting wants one thing from you: She wants you to solve a problem she has. To solve it, you must take control of the interview and the problem. You cannot do this by answering questions. You do it only by exercising and demonstrating your power to do the job.

Beware of Advice From Over The Fence

Most approaches to job hunting have been designed by “human resources (HR) experts.” (If you don’t believe me, pick up almost any book on the subject and check the author’s bio.) They work on the other side of the fence. Their view of things is the exact opposite of yours. They can’t help you win a job offer because it’s not their job to win job offers for anyone. Their job is to use algorithms to sort through mountains of resumes. Their interest lies in perpetuating the antiquated system that protects their jobs, not in helping you. Nevertheless, some HR people pretend to offer “expertise” they don’t really have.

Be Your Own Headhunter

If human resources experts were good at matching people with jobs, headhunters would not exist. Managers go to headhunters when they need to fill a position because they know the headhunter’s entire being is focused on one thing: winning a job offer for the person who can do the job. The manager is willing to pay handsomely for a service his own HR department cannot provide. The manager depends on the headhunter’s methods. Whose methods do you want to use?

Learn more about how to be your own headhunter: Start with Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course. Then get a weekly dose of advice in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

: :