You are looking for a job, your resume is posted on several job boards and you have a LinkedIn profile among others as well. It’s chum for recruiter infested waters! So, how do you choose between a good headhunter and a bad headhunter, and what should you know about the internal recruiters at companies you are targeting?

Let’s start with headhunters (they hate this name by the way). Many headhunters out there are bottom feeders that are scouring the internet for resumes that can possibly lead them to a fee. It’s a numbers game for many that the more candidates/jobseekers they speak to, the more likely they will make placements regardless of how good or bad a particular candidate may be. These types of recruiters will sound like they are talking at you from a playbook to gather some amount of information (bare minimum) so they can send your resume to wherever they think they can get a fee, and it won’t truly matter to them what you think. When you are contacted by a headhunter you really want to feel like they are listening and responding to your comments and that they are putting your best interests first, before their own. Also, tell them they must contact you about a position prior to submitting your resume in the event you are already into that company through a referral or otherwise.

Okay, that’s some of the bad side of headhunters. There are good ones too, but they can be far and few between. So, how do you indentify the better and/or excellent headhunters?

Good headhunters will actually take an interest in you, your career, your professional aspirations and be seriously interested building a mutually beneficial and sustainable relationship. They know that if they spend valuable time with you in an effort to get to know you, that not only might you become a placement fee, but because they went the extra lengths to take an interest in all that you are, there is a strong likely likelihood that you will refer them to other people you know. Remember, it’s all about networking and who you know. And, bad news travels much faster and greater distances than good news, so negative feedback takes ages to overcome, and good headhunters know that.

Also, when being contacted by a headhunter you should always want to meet them face-face in their office. Making eye contact, shaking someone’s hand and seeing that they are a real professional with a professional establishment versus just a voice on the phone is essential for you to feel confident about anyone that is representing you and your brand to prospective employers.

Finally we come to the internal recruiter that works for the company you are applying to. This is not dissimilar to the people above, however there are few differentiators between good and bad. For example:

  • Did the recruiter sound scripted or were they engaging on the phone?
  • Was the recruiter capable of explaining what the company does and what the job you’re applying for will be doing?
  • Was the recruiter open to answering questions and were they capable of answering the majority of them in detail?
  • Was the recruiter able to give you a feel for the culture of the company?
  • Did the recruiter ask you meaningful questions that were on point and relevant to the job and your experience?
  • Did the recruiter give you ample time to answer questions and ask questions without making you feel like they were doing you a favor?
  • Were they respectful?

We could go on and on, but these are some good things to be aware of when working with recruiters either inside a company or outside. Not everything has to be warm and fuzzy, but you certainly want to know that the individual you are dealing with is focused on a Win-Win outcome for everyone, not just themselves. And you should never be made to feel like you are just another candidate, but if you do feel that way, is that really the person or company you want to be working with?

Views: 257

Comment by Marc Rodriguez on June 17, 2011 at 11:56am
Really ? Another regurgitation of threads that have been said, quoted, repeated, ad nauseam ?
Comment by Steve Jenkins on June 17, 2011 at 12:06pm
The article sounds like just more sour grapes from the ranks of the terminally unemployed.  Sad, in a way.  It's no wonder he is feeling peckish.
Comment by David Kimmelman on June 17, 2011 at 12:18pm
Fully employed, been a headhunter, inside recruiter and HR exec for over 20 years and have seen some horrific agency recruiters and fewer really good ones. Speaking the truth having been on several sides of this.
Comment by Slouch on June 17, 2011 at 12:27pm
I never realized that candidates choose headhunters to work with. When I recruited and it's not so long before I do it again, we chose the candidates we were going to contact and ultimately work with and we worked with candidates we felt had the right stuff for our clients. In terms of the win win outcome, I certainly think if a headhunter is in business he is in business to win and close deals. It never bothered me when I told people I was headhunter let alone when others referred to me as a headhunter. I kind of miss it.
Comment by Scott Pugh on June 17, 2011 at 12:48pm
I want to call it human trafficking but it has negative associations.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 17, 2011 at 2:30pm


As a headhunter.  And man i love that title always have.  Among the ranks of good recruiters a "headhunter" is the elite title.  Unless a candidate reaches out to headhunter in response to an ad (yes headhunters do post ads in all kinds of places)  but mostly we contact people who are referred to us or a result of our research.  If someone as you describe is just gathering resumes to slap them in they are not considered a "headhunter".


A real headhunter has been around for a while is more than happy to talk to a potential candidate about a job, the company, the salary, the position and will always do an indepth interview with a potential candidate.  With the global reach that many of us have we of course do not meet every candidate in person.  Not possible.  A good headhunter can do a sound and indepth phone interview and the candidate knows it was exactly that.


What you have described certainly exists, they are the inexperienced agency recruiters or they work for a resume mill with the attitude of stab and slab em'.  Those should not be confused with a bonofide "headhunter".  Additionally a good headhunter will not take offense to being called one or any of another list of funny terms.  "Body Snatcher", flesh peddler, and on and on.  We are comfortable in our own skin.  Our candidates respect us as do our clients or we would not be considered headhunters and we would have long ago faded into the ranks of internal recruiting where good headhunters would go crazy with all the processes and policies that get in the way of timely hires of good candidates who didn't drop their resume in the ATS.


If you didn't feel good about being called a headhunter when you were one then it is good you moved on.  If you really think that good headhunters are few and far between you didn't have the opportunity to meet the thousands of good ones that i have had the pleasure of meeting and working with for the last three decades.  I'm sorry you didn't you would not have written an article like this if you had met the ones i know.  We get paid for what we do well just as any professional does.

Comment by Ben McGrath on June 17, 2011 at 2:34pm

I disagree with the in person meeting of your chosen recruiter to make you feel more comfy.

We work on an international basis and unless a candidate wants to fly in to our city there isn't a chance that we will ever meet a candidate.

Also, the meet up would indicate to me that the recruiter is only working as local market. You have a much better chance a a candidate with at least a national audience.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on June 17, 2011 at 5:34pm
I started out in light industrial staffing and worked my way up to executive search.  When my kids were small they defined my job as "renting people", then moving up to outright selling them.  LOL I never took offense.  Whenever someone referred to me as a "headhunter" I took it as a compliment, like I'd finally arrived....
Comment by Christopher Young on June 17, 2011 at 5:53pm
I miss my old plates HDHUNTR
Comment by Michael Sullivan on June 17, 2011 at 9:05pm
looking at recruiting thirty years through the rear view mirror and some miles left to go. I feel there are so many variables (location, niche, cultural...) that making general statements is very difficulty, because whatever you say is filtered through your own experience and values. Thinking of 4 (non distinct) recruiting styles and identities: There are clueless recruiters who are generally junior and don't survive an inevitable market downturn unless they gain competencies and confidence; they're con mew (women) recruiters who are ruthless and unethical and, although there are a lot fewer today, are largely responsible for recruiting's bad name, they're cunning recruiters who can be effective but at some times are not trustworthy and sometimes are, my major oroblem with this group is they tend to treat their candidates like commodities, finally there are classy recruiters which I think today is probably the largest category but when I started were pretty rare, these people are honest, ethical  and work in a collaborative way with their candidates and company contacts. In today's market where companies often have more power in the the market than recruiters, to be classy (or maybe collegial is a better term or even  just plain competent)) is, imo, important for sustainable success. I guess looking at your clients as both means and ends is important as well. In the final analysis one has to live with their own conscience (or lack of),


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