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Headhunter Job Description

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Headhunters (also known as executive recruiters) are retained by professional firms (such as accounting and law firms), corporations and governmental entities to find highly skilled and educated individuals for various jobs or positions. Executive recruiters use a variety of techniques to secure clients and find qualified candidates for their assigned search.

Headhunting/Executive Recruiting Firms

Headhunters typically work together in what is known as executive recruiting or executive search firms. These firms may be specialists (that is working with one profession such as actuaries, nurses or engineers), or generalists (working with a variety of professions). Generalist firms may have recruiters focus their attention in one area or profession based upon their own work experience and background. For example, a former banker may be assigned as a recruiter in the area of accounting, finance and banking.

Securing Clients

Similar to other professional firms, headhunters must find clients to service. Clients of headhunters vary based upon the specialty of the firm. They may be hospitals, attorneys, financial institutions, school districts or non-profits. Headhunters use a variety of techniques to secure clients. This includes networking with professional organizations, cold calling, social networking and advertising.

Retainer or Contingency

Headhunters are hired on either a retainer or contingency basis. With a retainer, the headhunter is the exclusive recruiter for that position or organization. He is often paid a retainer (or down payment) upon the making of the contract, and then the balance when the job search is complete. With a contingency agreement, the headhunter may or may not be the sole recruiter for that company or position. In a contingency agreement, the headhunter or firm is paid only when a candidate has been found and hired.

Finding Candidates

Once a headhunter has been retained to fill a position, she must then begin a search for the appropriate candidate. To find the candidate, headhunters use a number of sources. Some may post ads on different Internet sites, or publish notices in professional journals or publications. Calls may also be made to associates or others to ask for potential referrals.

Screening/Presenting Candidates

Potential candidates are screened by the headhunter before they are presented to the client. Most often this is done via a resume review along with a telephone interview. There may be more than one phone meeting before a candidate is presented to the client.

After finding several strong candidates, the headhunter will then send the candidates' credentials to the client. Upon the client's request, the headhunter will then schedule a first interview. Often, this is a phone interview, and if the client is interested, a face-to-face meeting will be scheduled.

Follow-Up/Closing the Deal

Lastly, the headhunter will act as a liaison between the potential employee and employer. Often, a headhunter may have to overcome objections from either or both parties. This might involve working with both to come to an agreement concerning issues such as salary or benefits.

Job Requirements/Work Environment

Headhunters most often work in an office. However, because much of their work is done via the Internet and telephone, some may telecommute (or work from home).

Executive recruiting is an extremely competitive field. Often, there are many headhunters vying for the same contract or the same candidate. Consequently, those interested in this field must be hardworking, outgoing, sales-oriented and ambitious. Experience in the specialty in which they wish to recruit is beneficial but not required. A background in human resources, sales, public relations, education or a similar field is also helpful.


Dee Dee (Ford) Smith has been a writer for more than a decade. Her writing specialties include food, travel, golf and career stories, along with marketing literature and product descriptions. Smith holds a Bachelor of Arts in organizational psychology from Wilberforce University in Ohio.