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How to Find a Headhunter

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Headhunters work to fill open positions not typically advertised. They look for jobs that seem to be a good fit for both you and the company. Headhunters stay abreast of the movements within industries that are hiring. They have contacts and inside knowledge that job-hunters aren’t always privy to. When choosing a headhunter, look for a professional who is honest about your prospects, answers your questions directly and has experience in your industry.

Do Your Homework

Most headhunters are generalists and work within any industry where they can find clients. That said, you need to know what companies you are willing to work for and what sorts of opportunities are in store for you within those firms. At the same time, various headhunters do specialize. Find a headhunter who specifically works within your industry. You may have to dig a little deeper into the resumes of headhunters, who also may be listed as “consultants.” Ask for references and call those people to find out what kinds of experiences they had. Look for previous clients that were not referred to you by the headhunter you are investigating so that you can get a clear, unbiased review.

Remember Who’s Paying

Headhunters are paid 10 to 30 percent of the salary you receive. Your employer pays for this service, so you should never pay for the services out of your own pocket.That means headhunters work for the company doing the hiring and not you. So while a headhunter may find you a job, the headhunter is filling positions for the company, not in the business of helping job hunters. Beware when a headhunter sends you on a job interview as a “challenger,” because that usually means that you are just filling out the roster the headhunter needed to present to the employer. Ask questions of the employer when you go on an interview about the ethics they require from their headhunters. For example, "How closely does the headhunter match your needs?" and "How many interviewees do they send for each job opening?"

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Headhunters Don’t Give Advice

Headhunters are driven by commissions they receive from employers and typically only represent job candidates who are clear about their objectives. If a headhunter agrees to take your resume and you are not specific about the type of position you want and certain about what you are qualified to do, then you shouldn’t expect to hear back from that headhunter. Use a career counselor before approaching a headhunter. Ask career counselors for references to headhunters. They are in the same line of work, though they may be on different sides of the table. Career coaches know the reputations of headhunters and which ones are trustworthy. Another source of reference is the local chapter of the Society for Human Resources. Their members also keep tabs of local professionals in the industry.

Fine-Tune Your Resume

Headhunters get as many resumes as an employer who posts an ad. To get on a headhunter’s radar, your resume needs to get her attention within five to 10 seconds. Like employers, headhunters briefly look at resumes for tell-tale signs of the job-hunter’s primary background and skill set. Jorg Stegemann, a headhunter, notes in a 2012 "Forbes" article, you should avoid descriptive words like “team player” and “dynamic,” and instead focus on the facts. “MBA with 10 years’ experience as top hospital administrator,” is more targeted. Use a professional resume service if you have doubts about your resume.

About the Author

Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."

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