How to Choose a Headhunter - Honour Among Headhunters

In my last article about headhunter fees, I wondered how you could trust to get a headhunter to keep the promises they made when they told you they were the very best headhunter in all the world.  The problem is with most service organisations you have to make a start on a "Trust me" basis - until they let you down!

At this juncture, I should point out I have a foot in both camps: I celebrate seven years as a headhunter this month, but before that I employed headhunters to find me senior managers all over Europe in the B2B service sector. I'm sorry to report I wasn't very impressed with any (expect one I found in Norway who was the first and only headhunter who did what he said he would do). Most were far too "wide" in their approach, their chalk-stripe, and their shoulder pads, for my tastes.

There are no guarantees (well there are, but more of that later), but here are some ways to test if the him or her standing in front of you can keep their promises:

1.   Will they commit to your first interview date on the day they're appointed?

Any experienced headhunter should have a sense of how difficult (or easy!) any search is going to be, and how long it will take - NO HEADHUNT SHOULD TAKE MORE THAN SIX WEEKS from the start to the point of you first interview. So they should be able to commit to a specific date right at the start. If they start to wriggle on this: GO ELSEWHERE!

I can always commit to a date right at the start. It can get close, but having a date certainly grabs my attention and makes sure I have a target to hit. I know other headhunters think this is stupid and unnecessary. As a client, I need a damn sight more than a vague promise.

2.   Will they work to a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?

It's easy to commit to some simple and specific service standards. For example, how quickly they will respond to candidate contact, or how regularly they will feedback to the client, or how they will treat candidates to protect the client's brand and market image. It's hardly complicated, so I don't understand why some headhunters don't do it.

3.   Look at their Terms and Conditions.

Read them properly. Yes, I know it's a bore, but just reading them tells you something about the headhunter. If they're full of legal jargon and let-outs and escape routes, that could mean you're left taking the vast bulk of the risk. Is that how you treat your customers?

4.   Will they guarantee their work?

If they've taken the time to understand your needs, and they've worked to your brief, and they've delivered a shortlist of qualified candidates, why wouldn't they? It's easy to give at least a guarantee to replace any failed candidate for no extra charge for 3 months. And they may take that further with a gentle nudge.

5.   Ask them if they use LinkedIn to find people.

If they say they don't - they speak with forked tongue - or they're so out of touch you minds as well not bother. LinkedIn is just a tool like any other. It makes finding people easier, but the skill is still about reaching them and getting their engagement.


There are lot's of other ways to take this further, but these 5 will help you identify those you're likely to get who will work diligently on your behalf - and isolate those you should avoid like the plague. I'm afraid they exist, but we shouldn't give them elbow room.


(Image courtesy of

Views: 289

Comment by PAUL FOREL on March 3, 2014 at 11:22am

Thanks back, Martin!


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