Below is a copy of a blog I wrote elsewhere, my blog is public and read by clients, candidates, friends and randoms from social media.  It was prompted by several people essentially calling into question what I do, I thought I'd recreate the blog here (as my first post!) to see other peoples thoughts on this.  Also as this blog was intended to be read by people not in the recruitment industry so I have in simplistic terms defined recruiter and headhunter within it!




As some of you may know I work as a headhunter, I work mainly in the senior actuarial market and a lot of what I do focuses on investments.  I do work in other sectors and my team covers pretty much every area of actuarial work, we work senior roles from £100,000 up to well into 7 figure salaries and we have a strong network of contacts across consultancies, asset managers, life businesses, insurance companies and banks.  Why am I telling you this?  Well it's a little bit of background really as to the nature of the post.  I've found myself challenged recently as to what I do, both on social media and in real life.  Thankfully though not by my clients!

Recently I've been told I'm barely above bankers in terms of the ethics of my profession, I exist merely to push up 'fat cat salaries', I add no value to the business world and I quote 'humans are not for hunting'.  Well as you might expect, I would like to quibble a little with this!  I think many people either don't understand or don't realise what value you can get from a good headhunter, please don't get me wrong there are some bad ones out there.  I've heard all the shocking tales about dodgy recruiters of all levels, for a flavour of that the Kernel magazine did an excellent report on the good the bad and the ugly amongst technology recruiters. 

Firstly let me distinguish between a recruiter and a headhunter, there is a difference and it can be quite large.  A recruiter is someone who works on a contingent basis ie not paid up front on a variety of roles released to them by their clients.  Those same roles may be released at the same time to several other agencies and a good recruiter works fast to find the best candidate on the market, either through their own database or via advertising or occasionally a headhunt.  Don't get me wrong I'm not disparaging this form of recruitment, until mid way through last year I did it myself.  If you're say a company like RBS with a need for accountants, marketers, procurement professionals etc this is an easy way of getting talent in the door without having a giant HR function to do it for you.  A headhunter works in a couple of different ways, either a direct introduction where a contact is actively seeking a new role and you know a company who may be interested in their skills or a retained up front payment to search for the best candidate on the market to fill a job.  The method we use is search and we actively speak to every person, actively looking or not, who are able to fill that role.  As you can imagine for some roles that is quite a long list!  Of course for others, when the role is niche it can be significantly shorter.

So is this all a headhunter does?  Do we simply find the best talent for our clients?  In doing so don't we bump up the salaries of the people we find?  Well yes, in a simplistic way this is true.  For the sake of argument if you hold a CFO position in one insurance company and a similar sized company asks me to headhunt you to work for them then there has to be an incentive to move.  What can the new company offer that the old one can't?  Yes there can be other factors, the challenge of a failing company is one that some people crave.  Perhaps a better work life balance but realistically at that level I'd doubt it.  Perhaps a greater variety of work?  Possible but realistically your only option is a bit of a cash hike.  So yes in some respects I'm guilty as charged on that one.

So is that all a headhunter does?  It's certainly all we're paid to do but do we add value elsewhere?  You bet we do.  Let me give some examples here of why if you are at a senior level in any organisation you should be in reasonably regular touch with a good specialist headhunter.

A headhunter spends his or her entire life on the phone, either speaking to clients or candidates or HR teams.  When you spend that amount of time speaking to people you build strong relationships, or should do, if you're good!  This makes you become an expert in your field, maybe not in depth (stochastic modelling?  I couldn't model a coin toss!) but certainly in breadth and in the range of contacts we have we're unparalleled.  Who else speaks to both your competitors, your colleagues, not to mention your suppliers and potentially your sales targets all in the same week?  If you're a start up business and you need to meet people, I'm not talking candidates here but contacts, then why aren't you talking to your headhunter?  I've lost count of the amount of people I introduce, I don't get a fee for it even though it may result in some business happening but it builds my credibility while helping build your business.

As a headhunter I don't work with that many clients, I can't or I would have too many 'hands off' agreements.  However again this is something that benefits my clients.  Let's say you're a large company looking to grow, you might not just want one senior person,  you might need a team, or even an acquisition of a smaller company.  Before you pick up the phone to your friendly corporate finance teams who do you think might know of companies that could be potentially up for sale?  That's right your headhunter, we've probably spoken to the CEO or the CFO, we know the state of their business and we know who is ripe for doing a deal.  On this one, yes I'd charge for making the introduction but a tiny percentage of the value this brings to your company. 

You need some market information, what your competitors are doing?  Speak to your retained headhunter, we've after all spoken to candidates who are working for your major competitors.  I'm not suggesting for a minute we'd do anything underhand but in broad brush stroke terms I'm happy to talk to clients about companies I don't work with.  Salary surveys? No problem, free of charge.  Why get your HR teams to do something some headhunters will provide gratis?

If you have fallen foul of this awful economy and you've been made redundant who's the first person you should pick up the phone to?  Your headhunter.  We might not be working on anything right now that fits but if you have an in demand skill and you need introducing to companies where you have no contacts of your own, we're ideally placed to help.  Even if it comes to nothing an introductory chat still increases your own network of people and one day that chat might lead somewhere else.  The pool of talented good people is small and everyone wants the same people, make sure you're well networked and make sure you have a good relationship with a headhunter.  Who knows what benefits it might bring?

In short, yes I'm here to make money but I'm also a repository of information, sometimes useless but sometimes invalueable.  I want, in fact no I need my clients to succeed so anything I can help to do along the way I will.  In the long run, what helps my clients helps me and what helps us all generates more money and benefits the wider economy.

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Comment by Mike Hard on July 19, 2012 at 10:35am


Great post - altho given that this site is probably the widest read forum for third party agencies I think you'll have several that agree. Headhunters/agencies are critical parts of the recruiting ecosystem. In the US alone companies spend between $5-8B/year on contigent fees alone. It's common for US companies to send 3-5% of thier open roles to search, a percentage that is much higher in many countries outside the US. HR will do this for a variety of reasons: lack of a network of candidates for a specialized skill, the need to get a highly qualified candidate fast, all of the above. Whatever the reason, it's clear that companies use "search" as a critical source of talent IN ADDITION to other direct sources like job board, linkedin.   

Comment by Patricia Morrison on July 19, 2012 at 11:18am

Good post but I think you are still selling yourself short.  In addition to being a valuable source of industry information and news; we also provide a personalized branding for the client representing their company and benefits.  If  the client is only interested in filling the position with a qualified candidate then they should use HR and job boards.  If they are interested in searching for an employee who is not only qualified but a fit culturally with matching values and brings a proven track record of accomplishment to the table; then they should hire a headhunter.  Maybe the complaining client should take a look at what else his company is offering potential candidates.  If all he has to offer is more money, than he is lacking in other areas and probably burning through people quickly.

Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman on July 19, 2012 at 11:49am
Very good post. I hope you don't mind -I shared it on my LinkedIn profile.
Patricia, I agree another great reason for using a headhunter is the personal story we can relate regarding the client and find a good cultural match. Warm bodies who can add and subtract are OK at the lower levels but as you move up the career ladder leadership skills and cultural fit make all the difference.


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