What is a Headhunter?

R. Kayne

A headhunter is a job recruiter who specializes in matching highly skilled professionals with corporate clients. He or she might be an independent contractor or work through an agency where each agent specializes in particular areas of employment and possibly also in geographic areas.

Headhunters are employed by companies to find and screen potential employees.
Headhunters are employed by companies to find and screen potential employees.

Corporations benefit from using a headhunter or a headhunting service in two ways. It eliminates the need to place an advertisement for the open position and then address the inevitable list of applicants, most of which will be unfit for various reasons. A headhunter does the tedious work of finding good candidates, providing an initial screening mechanism that saves the corporation valuable time. In turn, the recruiter is paid a fee if he or she is able to find the right candidate, typically a small percentage of the annual starting salary of the filled position.

A good resume should be dynamic and engaging.
A good resume should be dynamic and engaging.

This payment arrangement encourages headhunters to build lasting, tight relationships with corporate clients. The more successful someone is in filling recruitment positions, the more likely the client company will look to him or her for other job placement opportunities. Both parties benefit mutually from this relationship, as do those seeking gainful employment.

A headhunter specializes in matching highly skilled professional with corporate clients.
A headhunter specializes in matching highly skilled professional with corporate clients.

While half of the headhunter’s job is working for corporate clients, the other half consists of working for those seeking employment. Anyone can call a headhunting service to be considered for job opportunities. Typically, a resume is submitted to the service, and this is followed by a verbal interview, either in person or over the phone. The recruiter gets a feel for the personality, skills, and needs of the recruit. This will include factors like willingness to travel, to relocate or to work extended hours.

A headhunter may conduct phone interviews.
A headhunter may conduct phone interviews.

In some cases, the fee is paid by the hired recruit rather than the company. People who are considering working with a headhunter to find employment should be sure to clarify who will pay for the service.

Headhunters can present a person with employment opportunities that he or she would otherwise miss. Those who have established, trusting relationships with their corporate clients also act as a positive boon for the applicant. A good word from a trusted recruiter can make a difference in the attitude of the interviewer towards the candidate, warming an otherwise "cold" initial interview.

Headhunters may strive to create more diversity in applicants for a company.
Headhunters may strive to create more diversity in applicants for a company.

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Discussion Comments


@SZapper - Yeah, the term headhunter is pretty funny. It makes me think of someone who is, well, hunting humans (scary!), not someone who is looking for new talent for a company.

On the other hand, it does kind of fit. The headhunter isn't literally hunting "heads," but they are hunting for the talents and skills people hold inside their heads. Or, sometimes they are hunting for a new job for someone.


I just have to say that I love the term headhunter. It sounds so serious! And I guess from what I've heard, the job of headhunter is pretty serious and high stakes, so the job title is pretty fitting.


@betterment - I agree that it's a good idea to find out the terms beforehand if you're going to use job headhunters. However, I don't think that all job seekers would say no to using a headhunter they had to pay.

The job market is tough, so using a headhunter can be really helpful. In fact, I bet for some people using a headhunter could mean the difference between finding a job and remaining unemployed. I know if I had to decide between paying a fee to find a job and not having a job at all, I would just pay the fee.


If you're going to find a headhunter to help you get a job, you should definitely find out who is going to pay them. I think a lot of people would think twice about using a headhunter if they knew they were going to have to give up a percentage of their salary to them!


@Sunny27 - I used to have a friend that worked at a headhunter agency and she worked a lot of hours. She also had to have a sense of urgency because her agency was not the only agency that received the open job orders so if she did not find someone for those jobs another agency would.

She said that she enjoyed finding people for different jobs and gave her a sense of accomplishment because her applicants were happy and so were her clients.


@GreenWeaver -I always wondered about how that worked when a person accepts a job and then quits or gets fired.

I have to say that staffing agencies are great help when you are looking for a job and they actually could be another set of eyes looking out for opportunities for you.

In fact, I had a friend that had a great experience with a job headhunter. She was set up for an interview for a company that she ended up loving. I think that these headhunter companies have clients all over the place and sometimes they don’t advertise a job opening, but if your background fits an open job that they have they will call you in for an interview.

That is what happened with my friend. Even if they don’t have something right away it is always a good idea to keep in touch with them because I am sure they get new positions to fill all of time.


I wanted to say that I used to work in a headhunter agency as a recruiter. Our firm earned about 15% to 25% of the job applicant’s annual salary as our finders fee. We usually had the applicants sign a contract that stated that if the applicant was terminated or quit working at the company before their first 120 days were up they had to reimburse us for the fee.

The contract made people think twice about walking away once they signed the commitment. That is the hardest part of being an employment headhunter because you have to trust your gut instinct and sometimes you are wrong.

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