In the September 17, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader is looking for the good headhunter in hiding.
How do you find a live, breathing, human and credible headhunter? Internationally? Nationally? Regionally? By State? The top “brands” of executive recruiters are as much of an abyss as job boards. Submit a resume, try to contact them directly — best of luck. Where are the “old school” professional headhunters that are proactive and follow up?
I’m afraid you’re dreaming of the good old days in your imagination, my friend. Good headhunters don’t do what you are looking for — and never have. They don’t find jobs for people. They don’t really want unsolicited resumes. They’re busy working on specific assignments to fill specific jobs. If you’re a good candidate for such an assignment, they will find you. That’s what they get paid for.
Headhunter=“Head” + “hunter.” They hunt. They don’t gather resumes or candidates that come to them. That’s the good headhunters. You may be confusing them with the rest of people that call themselves headhunters. (See How to Judge A Headhunter.) The reason it might seem harder to find good headhunters today is that the explosion of online recruiting has spawned innumerable spammers calling themselves headhunters.
Like Human Resources (HR) people, 95% of today’s so-called “headhunters” aren’t worth spit. They’re keyword pushers dialing for dollars. They spam e-mail lists with “job opportunities,” pitching jobs to people they know nothing about. That’s not “searching” for the right candidates. That’s dumpster diving, and — as you suggest — it’s usually not done by humans anyway, but by spambots and algorithms. (See Suzanne Lucas’s excellent Inc. article, When a Headhunter Makes His Profession Look Bad.)
How to find a headhunter
The best way to find a good headhunter is to call the president, CEO, or manager you’d like to work for and ask what headhunter they use to fill key jobs. It’s the best way to get a credible referral — but even then, it’s no guarantee the headhunter will respond. I discuss this in depth in How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you. This PDF book will tell you loads more about how to work with headhunters, how to vet them in detail – and how to avoid the charlatans.
The few good headhunters out there are worth their weight in gold. But one thing: The odds a headhunter will place you are tiny. Find your own job. That’s what the rest of this website is about.
The reader responds
I’m the President & CEO. Calling the manager is somewhat difficult.
You didn’t say initially that you are a CEO or President. The odds are much higher that a headhunter would handle the search for such a role. But the idea is the same.
Where a headhunter looks for candidates
Headhunters are not likely to find you in their e-mail. That’s not where they look for good candidates, because there’s no more credibility in random incoming resumes than there is in the random e-mail solicitations people receive from spammers.
A good headhunter wants high-value referrals from business people he or she knows and trusts — the headhunter goes to them, not to the e-mail box. At your level, the searches they conduct are usually done quietly and confidentially. If you’re a good candidate, they will find you.
The board of directors
The suggestion I offered about how to find a good headhunter is still the same, but a C-suite executive would talk to members of boards of directors. This is actually more productive at your level, because board members often serve on multiple boards and have more and better connections — not to mention insights about opportunities. Ask them what headhunters they like when they need to fill a C-suite job. Their headhunter isn’t likely to help you directly, but might be a good conduit to a headhunter that’s working on a specific, relevant position.
What I’m really saying is that a good headhunter will find your name on the lips of other respected executives in your industry — because that’s who they’ll ask for candidate referrals. It’s better to invest your time being a respected and known member of your professional community than to chase headhunters. (See Shared Experiences: The key to good networking.)
How many good, credible headhunters do you know? Did you find them, or did they find you? How? What advice would you give to this CEO?