You may have heard the term ‘headhunter’ in your job search, but it can be hard to know what the term means. Headhunters are different from hiring managers, and the way you interact with them will be different as well. Headhunters can work directly for a company and hire directly for that company, or with an external agency. Sometimes they work more within a staffing space, but when it comes to headhunting, they focus on engaging with people that may not be active job seekers.
Internal headhunters often work within companies in high-demand industries that have trouble finding qualified candidates for their job openings. An internal headhunter can help people who are dissatisfied with their current role, maybe feel that they're in a rut, and offer them advice and potential opportunities within a company that will help them achieve their goals going forward.
An external headhunter works with a staffing agency or on their own, and is retained by a company to help them fill their open positions in return for compensation paid when they deliver the candidate that is hired. They don’t work for the company, and they typically get paid a percentage of the first year salary for positions that they successfully fill.
If you are contacted by an external headhunter, they will typically conduct a screening phone interview, and then refer you to the hiring manager if you’re qualified. They often shepherd candidates through the hiring process, answering questions and keeping them apprised of the next steps, whether it be tests to take, forms needed, or further interviews to conduct.
EXPERT TIP: You’ll know for sure that you’re working with an external recruiter if they vaguely hint at or avoid disclosing the name of the company with the job they’re contacting you about.
One thing to remember about external headhunters is that they get paid when their candidate is hired. If you’re removed from consideration during the process for any reason, don’t rely on that headhunter that just hours ago was seemingly head-over-heels for you to help you find something else immediately. They will move on to the remaining candidates, and you should move on to other opportunities as well.
That doesn’t mean you can afford to burn the bridge. Internal and external headhunters can be very powerful allies, even if the job they initially contact you about is not a perfect fit. Headhunters know about jobs that haven’t been posted yet, and they have the inside track with hiring managers to bring them qualified candidates. It’s always in your best interest to maintain relationships with headhunters working in your industry, so you’ll be top of mind when they hear about new openings.