It’s all about the jargon: the differences between headhunters, recruiters and hiring managers

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It’s all about the jargon: the differences between headhunters, recruiters and hiring managers

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As London headhunters on the inside of the industry, we decided it was time to bring some clarity to the different definitions of headhunters, recruiters and hiring manager. Each role is very important, but each is distinct. To discover what you need to secure the right individual for the role, it’s worth having a clear grasp of the definitions.

Bringing Clarity

Those in the recruitment industry are very good at assuming that everyone around them knows exactly what they do. The problem is that the sector has as many nuances as any other sector and by making these assumptions we make it harder for those who need to use our services.

The waters are made murky by those within the industry too – recruitment agencies want to be associated with the big wins and reputations of top headhunters, so they cash in on the name. It makes it very difficult for business leaders needing to recruit for a vacancy to a) know exactly what they need, and b) trust that their chosen recruitment partner does what they expect them to do.


What is a hiring manager?

Chances are that you, our reader, are the hiring manager. It’s someone internal within the organisation that is hiring. It’s the individual who has ultimate responsibility for deciding which candidates make it to interview, and definitely which individual takes the final prize.

However, there can be enormous variety in terms of the amount that a hiring manager does. On one hand they may be a HR professional who literally does all of the leg work of recruitment from formulating job descriptions through to placing adverts and conducting interviews. But they could also simply be a department head who picks up the phone to track down suitable headhunters.

In most circumstances, a hiring manager is not usually a full-time recruiter – they have another job to be doing. They are the central pivot for the recruitment project but generally speaking they aren’t the ones who actively take on the tasks of recruitment. Specialist recruiters and headhunters will use the term ‘hiring manager’ to refer to their client – their contact within the organisation that they are working for. The hiring manager needs to have an excellent working relationship with the recruiter or headhunter. If as a candidate you hear from a hiring manager, you can usually bet that you’re doing well in the recruitment process.


How to find a hiring manager as a candidate

It makes sense that many candidates want to go straight to the source of the recruitment project, and typically they can identify that person as the hiring manager. A little rooting around on LinkedIn or on the company’s website can usually uncover who a hiring manager might be. This enables you to target them directly.

However, do be aware that hiring managers typically have a busy ‘day job’. If they’ve employed a specialist, in terms of a headhunter or recruiter, to do the recruitment process for them, they may not feel inclined to spend their time dealing with the admin of your application.


What is a headhunter?

When it comes to recruitment specialists, you have two main types: headhunters and recruiters. These are effectively how hiring managers and employers can outsource recruitment. There are many good reasons for doing this from saving time to reducing the costs of bad hires. The term ‘headhunter’ has been used too widely and as such can be difficult for those outside the industry to understand and trust.

So, let’s start with a clear definition. A headhunter is an executive headhunter. They are always working on higher level executive positions. With these positions, the best candidates aren’t usually looking for a new role. They are already busy, effective and productive working elsewhere (often for the competition). We call these passive candidates and they are often the best candidates.

It’s incredibly difficult for a hiring manager themselves to attract passive candidates. Even without the issue of ‘poaching’ or any of the other negative associations of high-level recruitment, there are other issues. They cannot, for example, just put out an advert and wait for the applications to roll in. Afterall, passive candidates won’t be on the look-out for adverts.

These passive candidates need to be identified which takes market research, talent identification, organisational knowledge and networking. They then need to be enticed to even consider a move. It’s a far more complex and hands-on process than recruiting for more generic and middle-junior roles. An executive headhunter is working to fill a particular and pivotal role within the organisation. Even without the passive element, the candidate pool is considerably smaller. These are critical positions and they need someone dedicated to the task to hone in on the best individuals.

Typically speaking, top headhunters will always be London headhunters and/or international headhunters. You need to know that they are looking across borders and in the right places to identify and attract the right individuals.


How to find a headhunter as an employer

Typically you will want to use a headhunter for all senior and executive vacancies within the organisation. Therefore, without doubt, your search will be for an executive headhunter. You want to choose a headhunter that has an excellent track record of success within your niche. You should expect clear information about their headhunting process, and you should feel confident that they act at all times with dedication, professionalism and discretion.

It’s also very important that you choose executive headhunters who get to know and understand your business and objectives. They should serve as an extension of your organisation, not only looking at the specifics of the role, but also elements such as cultural fit and recruiting from abroad.

As international headhunters, at Eagle we have London headhunters who specialise across a range of industry sectors. You can register easily as a client.


How to find a headhunter as a candidate

Headhunters work very specifically for very specific roles for a specific client. It is unusual for a candidate to approach a headhunter, rather than the other way around. However, that’s not to say that it’s impossible.
As a candidate, the trick is to identify headhunters who work with the employers you are interested in. You’ll need to take a very personal approach to explain why, specifically, you are approaching them. Remember that they are about filling individual positions of a high-calibre. They make fewer placements at a higher-level, and their loyalty is to their client. Therefore, whilst top headhunters aren’t difficult to find, you are more likely to be successful through them if they find you.

Be realistic if you make the first contact with London headhunters. They may or may not have the right position for you. Be honest about what you are looking for and discuss expectations.


What is a recruiter?

Recruiters sometimes like to characterise themselves as headhunters, and that’s why it can get a bit confusing. However, they are quite different. Recruiters typically work with middle to junior roles and they work for multiple clients covering multiple vacancies simultaneously.

Recruiters are generally considered to be the individuals working for a recruitment agency. They aren’t after passive candidates which is a time-consuming and intense process undertaken by headhunters. Instead, they work with active candidates and match them to open roles.

Again, recruiters work for the employer primarily, in that it is the employer who pays their bill. However, fee structures tend to be quite different and it is possible that a hiring manager will use multiple agencies sometimes. Recruiters also have a vested interest in cultivating a large pool of available candidates so that they can act quickly.

The process is relatively straightforward. The hiring manager approaches a recruiter with their recruitment need, usually providing a job description and person specification. The recruiter then places appropriate adverts, sits back and waits for the applications to roll in. A recruiter uses their visibility and leverage to attract a large number of job seekers for the role. They will then usually simply forward these applications over to the hiring manager who will make decisions about shortlisting and interviewing.

It’s probably fair to say that recruiters are more focused on simply filling the position with a suitable candidate. These aren’t usually business-critical positions and the aim is to simply get someone in the role performing at a high enough skill level as quickly as possible. Recruiters use their position to attract job seekers and present multiple open positions to them. Similarly, they attract multiple clients simultaneously.


How to find a recruiter as an employer

Firstly, double-check that you want a recruiter or recruitment agency over an executive headhunter. Consider the role and its level, as well as how critical it is for the organisation.

If you decide that the role is best filled by a recruitment agency then of course there are dozens to choose from. Compare their success rates, profile and candidate base. Then ask questions about fee structures and guarantees. Ultimately choose a recruitment agency that communicates effectively and will prioritise your needs.


How to find a recruiter as a candidate

As an active candidate, finding recruitment agencies is incredibly easy. Many jobs that you apply for will be advertised through an agency and in applying for the role you will usually go on that agency’s database for other opportunities too. Remember that recruitment agencies typically work for the employer. Therefore, to be noticed, you need to take charge of communication and keep your skills and potential at the front of their mind.

Still not sure what you need?

Hopefully the above explanations will help you to determine whether you require an executive headhunter or a recruiter. If in doubt, the single biggest indicator is the importance of the role itself.

However, don’t be afraid to ask questions to really uncover what the recruitment partner will do for you. We are top London and international headhunters. Get in touch to see how we can help.