Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Working With Headhunters

I remember the first time I heard the word "headhunter" in connection with employment. I had visions of some wild-eyed, wild-haired person running around with a spear in one hand and a cooking pot in the other, looking for unsuspecting job candidates to have for lunch.

Of course, after decades of writing about the workplace I use the term "headhunter" without worrying about shrunken heads and boiling water, but there still needs to be some education about what headhunters do, and how they can help those looking for work.

Headhunters -- also known as job recruiters -- spend their days looking for people to fill empty job positions. They stake their reputations (and their income) on finding the perfect employee for an employer. If they don't deliver, then they don't collect any money, and down the road, they may be looking for new employment themselves.

But the really good headhunters are able to match the the great employee with the right job, and everyone is happy. The employer has a good fit, the job candidate has a new job and the headhunter makes money.

But there are times when the headhunting process can go wrong. Sometimes it's the job seeker's fault, believing the headhunter works for them (nope...the headhunter works for the employer, much like realtors work for the home seller), or it can be the headhunter's fault, because he or she isn't familiar with the specific industry and doesn't communicate well with the job candidate.

I've interviewed several headhunters over the years, and here are some tips they've provided:
* Be honest. Don't try and exaggerate your accomplishments or fudge on your background. Headhunters are pretty savvy -- they'll ferret out your lies and move on to someone else.
* Trust your gut. If the headhunter seems a little vague on your industry or doesn't have a proven track record, then you may want to move on yourself. Don't tie your reputation or future to a job recruiter that doesn't seem like the real deal.
* Communicate. E-mail the recruiter at least once a week for an update. A recruiter is more likely to keep you in mind for different positions if you are a little bit of a (nice) squeaky wheel.

While there are concerns about the job market getting tougher, most headhunters agree that employers are still looking for key workers. As long as you can make yourself appealing by understanding what your industry is looking for and how your skills and abilities can help an employer's bottom line, then you will probably be appealing to a headhunter (unless they have salt in one hand and a fork in the other...then you should run.)



Kyle Stone said...

Really enjoyed this article! We've re-produced it over at WomenCo.

Having been the unfortunate witness to several bad hires over the last few years, I was wondering if you had any advice on how to differentiate job candidates who are sure-fire, solid hires, from those who simply look good on paper.

WomenCo Web Producer

Anita said...

I think you have to look at more than a job description or where someone attended school. Job seekers are being coached to point out how they helped a company's bottom line, so it should be clear that a person "streamlined an accounting process and saved the company $25,000 in the first year" or "came up with a creative campaign that brought in a new customer estimated to be worth $1 million over two years." That being said, you then need to do your homework and talk to references and always check out the person on the Internet to verify they're legit and not carrying around personal garbage that you would like to avoid. I also think it's a good idea to get more people involved in the hiring process...current employees often get a very good handle on a potential new hire, and can offer a different kind of insight.