Employers: Don't Make These 4 Mistakes When Working with a Headhunter


As a Search Firm Owner I understand the less than stellar reputation that the headhunting industry has earned over the years due to a few bad apples. Some of it has been rightly earned but much of it is myth that has been built up over the years. I truly believe that most recruiters are well-intentioned and honest individuals. However, as much as I appreciate my career, I am level headed enough to take off the rose colored glasses and comprehend the faults in our broad and loosely defined industry of talent acquisition. I understand that the turnover rate is vastly too high in search firms, training in most firms is typically inadequate, and there are way too many “rookies” making calls and trying to sound like experts in a field they know little to nothing about. I also have come across way too many experienced recruiters who are overly pushy and rude, others that are just chasing the fee above all else, and many who give our industry a black eye for a litany of other reasons. As in all professions and walks of life we have our small share of crooks, cheats, and liars.

However, most of the problems that companies run into when using a Headhunter can be avoided if you know the right way to work with and engage a search firm. Some of the advice to follow will be counter-intuitive to what you may have learned and come to believe but I urge you to keep it in mind next time you decide to engage the services of firm. Let’s begin the myth-busting:


Because the Headhunter’s fee is based most often on the starting salary of the candidate, it behooves the recruiter to drive up the salary the company needs to pay even if it is not necessary to get their top candidate.

Yes, most Headhunters are paid based on a fee determined by the candidate’s salary. No, most Headhunters are not trying to run up the salary. The upside is simply not worth the inherent risks. At best, the recruiter will make a few extra hundred bucks on the deal if he gets the salary up a few thousand dollars. However, this leads to more negotiations, which leads to more time before the deal closes, which leads to potential animosity between employer and candidate, which leads to a higher chance the deal falls apart. It’s just not worth it. A good Headhunter is objective and fair to both sides and gets the deal done as quickly as possible and with the least amount of drama. No one in their right mind risks thousands of dollars in commission over a few extra bucks. 

I urge you to let the Headhunter handle compensation negotiations. I understand you are good at negotiating, however we are experts in our field (as you are in yours). After all, you are paying us a hefty fee for a reason. Furthermore, candidates will typically be more open and honest with their thoughts and concerns with their recruiter. Let us serve as the middle man to buffer any negotiations, avoid confrontation, and allow your relationship with your new employee to start off on a positive note. The headhunter’s main objective is to get the deal done with both sides as happy as possible…not to squeeze a few extra bucks commission out of you.


It’s better for me to have 5 (or 10 or 50) Headhunters working on my job than just one. That way there will be competition and I will see the most amount of candidates possible.

I understand the line of thinking here but it is way off base and part of the reason headhunters get a bad reputation. Let’s walk through the process…if five different recruiters get the search assignment and are aware that they are competing contingently against 4 other headhunters the search has just turned into a race. The couple of headhunters that are really good at their profession will never work on this job – they will put this assignment in their stack of B or C level jobs and begin working on their A-level searches (most likely jobs where they are retained or have exclusivity). The three that work on your search will know that they are on the clock to get candidates in to you before the other firms so they will go after the low hanging fruit…most likely resume boards and their database. Once they identify a candidate or two, they will profile and present them to you as quickly as possible, sacrificing the quality of the candidates they submit and the diligence with which they pre-screen them. You, the employer, will get frustrated by the lack of response, the poorly profiled and low quality of candidates you receive, and surmise that headhunters are horrible at their jobs and a waste of time.

Do the opposite…work with one well-vetted and trusted headhunter. Give him exclusivity. Agree to a fair fee. Then be amazed at the level of service you receive, the remarkable responsiveness, and the high quality of pre-qualified talent you get. After all, one experienced fisherman who knows where the fish are and what kind of bait they prefer will have more success on the lake than a dozen fishing poles lining the shore.


All Headhunters are pretty much the same. Just go with the one you can get the lowest fee with.

When I need to get gasoline for my Jeep I drive over to a crossroads in my town with 4 different gas stations. I look at the signs and go to the one with the lowest price and fill up.

If only choosing a Headhunter were that simple. Headhunters are not a commodity that you should choose simply based on the lowest price. I agree, the fee should be part of the equation. However, do your due diligence and find a firm that has demonstrable experience and expertise in your industry, ask for references, and make sure you and the headhunter have a similar style with personalities that will mesh.

If you simple go by price, I can almost guarantee you will be disappointed with the results. After all, which search firm is most likely to give you the bargain basement price? The inexperienced, the unproven, the desperate, and the most likely to be out of business soon.


Always work with a Headhunter on a contingent basis…never on retainer.

There is a time and place to work with recruiters contingently but most of the time you are better off going with a retained agreement with a firm you trust. What are the aspects you like least about working with a headhunter? Is it the fact that she seems to be more interested in making a placement with any candidate rather than the right candidate? Or possibly you feel like the headhunter may try to “sell” you on unqualified candidates? Maybe you don’t appreciate the poorly profiled and marginally capable candidates they send you? I’m sure you don’t enjoy the constant follow up calls, nagging emails, and endless requests for feedback, right?

A retained search solves all of these issues immediately. As soon as you find a proper firm to work your positions on an exclusive basis and have retained their services you will have removed all of those annoyances. The recruiter can take his time assessing the opportunity, he can work his network and identify the very best candidates (active or passive) while properly qualifying them. Then he will submit the top 3-5 candidates for your review and patiently wait for you to make a decision as to how you would like to proceed. You have taken a game of haste and chance and turned it into a systematic and concise process to find the very best candidate to hire. You have changed the relationship with the recruiter from a salesperson to a consultative partnership. Isn’t that what you wanted all along?


Headhunters, as with all professionals, come in all varieties. Good and bad, honest and unethical, experienced and newbies. We all have heard the horror stories and I understand why many of you have your guards up when choosing a recruiter. However, with the a little diligence you can have a satisfying and successful experience working with a headhunter when the time comes. As with a dentist, a lawyer, or a mechanic, do your homework up front, choose wisely, and stick with a recruiter that is a true expert in their field and is proven trustworthy. If you don’t it may cost you a great deal of pain & frustration. And the myths will be proven true all over again.

About the Author

Roy Munk is President and Founder of GHS Recruiting, a nationally recognized retained and contingency search firm specializing in the recruiting and retention of healthcare professionals. Since 1998, GHS Recruiting has matched thousands of highly qualified job seekers with their new employers.

Views: 293

Comment by PJ Cunningham on April 5, 2017 at 1:36pm

Love your post and I hope you don't mind I am reposting on our website giving you full credit.


Comment by Roy Munk on April 5, 2017 at 2:34pm

Thanks PJ. I appreciate it!


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