An employer’s guide to headhunters recruiters

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An employer’s guide to headhunters recruiters

An employer’s guide to headhunters recruiters


Choosing the right fit headhunters recruiters is essential for employers. It can be the difference between executive level recruitment that drives the success of the business and poor recruitment decisions which stifle growth or present business headaches down the road.

However, as we’ve said before, there’s a huge amount of confusing jargon when it comes to headhunters, recruiters and different methods. We’ve chatted before about the differences between headhunters and recruiters. Realistically though, as long as you are sure that your headhunters or recruiters are doing what you expect of a headhunter at the executive level, then terminology is less important.

Here we look at why employers need headhunters at the senior and executive level and how to select the best headhunter recruiters for the job.

Why do employers need headhunters recruiters?

Headhunters and executive recruiters are specialists responsible for recruitment at the most senior level in a business. They take a fundamentally different approach to recruitment compared to in-house hiring managers or recruitment agencies.

The process used by headhunters recruiters is distinct. Instead of running broad generic advertisements and drawing on highly-populated pools of active candidates, they go after the needle in the haystack – with success. Their goal isn’t simply to find a suitable candidate who can fulfil the role. Their objective is to identify exactly what characteristics will enable greater success of the business and then actively go and hunt down the best person for the job, even though they are probably not even actively looking for a new role.

Headhunters recruiters are – or should be – very distinct in their process. It’s a recruitment process for the executive level, looking at nuances such as diversity on the board through to cultural fit and balance. Headhunters know that finding the right candidate for the role requires a deeper understanding of the organisation, role and industry than a standard recruitment practice affords. They also understand that these ideal candidates for the role are rarely even candidates at all to begin with. Instead they are actively proving their value elsewhere in the industry.

Find out more about why a headhunter is best for executive recruitment.

What to look for in headhunters recruiters

As you can imagine, with this distinctly different approach, there is enormous variety in the quality of headhunters available to businesses looking for assistance with their executive recruitment. Choosing the right headhunter can save (and make) money, but getting it wrong can be disastrous. So what should employers look for when choosing their headhunters recruiters?

As you consider different headhunters, ask yourself these questions:

1.      Do they analyse the role and the organisation?

You can spot a poor headhunter a mile off if they simply ask for the job title you’re recruiting for and run with it. The best headhunters quickly and effectively analyse both the role and the organisation to uncover the true potential of the role well beyond a title that’s as broad as CEO, for example. The best headhunters are excellent at offering an impartial eye and revealing exactly what will make the balance of your executive team more effective.

2.      Do they understand your industry?

There is no one size fits all approach that works across different industries when it comes to recruitment. Instead, successful headhunting requires in-depth and personal knowledge of your industry, within London and the UK, but also across the international landscape. Industry knowledge and specialisation is important, but it’s also wise to choose headhunters with a broad scope so that they can as easily assist with finding your next Financial Director as they can with finding the next Chief of Operations.

3.      Do they use more than databases and adverts to find candidates?

Headhunters may have a database of carefully collated potential candidates, and they may be excellent at knowing where best to discretely advertise for your industry. However, databases and adverts shouldn’t form the central approach of their recruitment strategies.

Instead, headhunters and executive recruiters should use broader skills such as networking and knowledge bases to identify potential passive candidates that aren’t just suitable for your role, but will add value in more beneficial ways.

4.      What do they do beyond finding candidates?

While identifying suitable passive candidates is the mainstay of a headhunter’s role, it shouldn’t stop here. The best headhunters go well beyond this. They need to be skilled at enticing passive candidates into position, keen to move to your organisation. They should be outstanding at screening, interviewing and onboarding candidates too. Their support throughout the hiring process is essential to the successful placement.

5.      Do they work for you even when they aren’t actively recruiting?

Retained search, which is the method of working for the best headhunters, goes far beyond standard recruitment. Once you have selected your headhunters recruiters, they should always be in your corner, never compromising their position by working for competitors or undermining your talent pool. Indeed, the best headhunters will have their eye out for the best talent for you even when you aren’t actively looking. For example, if an exceptional candidate becomes available in your industry, they should alert you and help you snap up the opportunity.

What do headhunters cost compared to other recruiters?

It’s very difficult to compare the two approaches. However, studies repeatedly show that if you choose the best headhunters, it is a cost-effective decision due to increased staff retention and also potential for increased financial success.

Typically a recruitment agency charges you a percentage of the role’s first year’s salary, usually to the tune of 15-20%. A headhunter, with all of the additional work they do, charges more. However, it’s usually charged on a retained search basis.  Typically, this means you pay an amount to commence the research, an instalment once candidates are shortlisted, and then the final amount when the successful candidate is chosen. It may also be possible to work on a contingency basis.

Make the best decision for your executive recruitment

As long as you do your homework and choose a genuine and skilled headhunter, headhunters recruiters are a tried and tested way to ensure the success of your organisation going forwards. Standard recruitment is just not suitable for talent at the highest levels.

At Eagle Headhunters, we have a super-keen eye, bringing you the best talent in your industry. We’re here to support and enable the best hiring decisions for your business. Get in touch.