Are you a Headhunter or Search Consultant?


I will go on the record that I don’t like the term “Headhunter” although I know it is often well deserved. I believe it best refers to recruiters who “broker Resumes.” I’ve also heard the term, “Drive By Resume-Shooter” which is apropos. Candidate’s resumes are available in abundance today online. You don’t have to be a recruiter to find active candidates. Let’s face it, all you need to become a recruiter is a telephone and a computer with internet access. That is all one needs in order to qualify them as a “recruiter.” Recruiting takes many forms today and the kind of recruiting that has the greatest value to any organization is one of a true Consultant. Companies will often utilize multiple different recruiters and will task them with different searches to suit their needs. I have no problem with this as I accept that there are different types of recruiters. However, if you are one of those “Headhunters” who are chasing fees through volume, don’t expect to So what kind of recruiter are you? Recruiters who are relegated to the bottom of the “food chain” are what I call “Headhunters.” Headhunters are in a race to the “most available” candidates. The quickest draw often wins the fee with “Headhunters.”

If you are a recruiter and you want to have a meaningful career in search, you better become a Consultant to your clients or you will forever be classified as a “Headhunter” or “Flesh Peddler.” I have found that most “self respecting” Headhunters eventually either become Consultants or eventually place themselves back into a “real job” because of the lack of respect as a “Headhunter.” As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of this type of recruiter and every chance that I get, I encourage people to elevate their game. before you can elevate your game, you need to know where you stand on Search Scale. Are you a Headhunter or a Search Consultant, or somewhere in between? To know whether you are a true Search Consultant or merely a Headhunter, there are a few questions that you must ask yourself and your answers will make the case. The first question is” do you have full, unadulterated access to the decision maker? Or is there an HR person who keeps you under wraps and only allows “supervised visits” while you discuss whatever you need to with the real decision maker. If HR is in control of your every move, then chances are, you’re just a “Headhunter.” The next question is, after an interview, do you debrief the decision maker directly or do you get informed of the decision to move forward to the next stage or not? If you are not able to discuss the interview live with your decision maker, then you are not a valued part of the process. The extent of your contribution is “headhunting.” That isn’t all bad, I guess, if that is all that you aspire to. If you have gone to the length of recruiting passive people, then you have an obligation to both candidate and client to discuss the outcome of the interview and illuminate aspects and qualities of the candidate that were not on display in the first interview. This is what a true Search Consultant does. Presuming that you have spent hours on the phone with this person and vetted them, you will know them far better than the interviewer can in a single call.

Most headhunters will never elevate themselves to the level of a Search Consultant. They will remain in the periphery only to get second-hand information from HR. If this is you, there are things that can be done now to change the way that you work and are perceived by your client. If you can’t convey the value that you bring and the need for direct and timely feedback, then you will likely never make it.

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6 thoughts on “Are you a Headhunter or Search Consultant?

  1. Just wanted to give you some feedback;

    Drue last year we spent £2500.00 on ‘recruitment training’. The contact we used is supposedly a renowned trainer!

    To be honest with you, it just left us feeling confused, frustrated and in my mind was a real waste of money. We took very little from the training. I have been reading your blogs and can safely say I have got more from your blogs than 48hrs of training!

    Thank you and please keep up the good work!

  2. Drue, I find this an interesting look at the recruiting world. Having been a recruiter since 1989 (22 years) I disagree with your comments and your use of terms.

    To me a reruiter is a person that runs a resume mill or as you put it ‘chasing fees through volume’ and a headhunter goes out and hunts (searches) for the right person for the position. I am not offended to be called a Headhunter – I work retained – have since 1993 – don’t talk with HR unless I have a benefit question and I am called by Presidents and CFOs to conduct search work for them. They say I’m their headhunter and that I can find anyone they need. I hunt (search) for the right person.

    A recruiter can call themselves anything – many call them selves consultants and still are ‘flesh peddlers’ – it all comes down to NOT what you call yourself but how you conduct your practice.

    P.S. I started with MRI also and my owner owned a retained search firm at the same time so I learned the MRI process through the eyes and training of a retained ‘search consultant’ that called himself a headhunter because he says you have to go out and hunt (search) for the right person and conducted every contingency search with the same process I used for retained searches.

  3. Cora Mae, Thanks for your comments. When it comes to “semantics,” I realize that it is quite subjective. Titles don’t mean anything. Just because you may be standing in a garage doesn’t mean you are a “car.” I want to encourage good behavior out of people in my profession and the lines are very blurry when it comes to titles that people use. That is a fair point. I appreciate your commentary very much!

  4. Having only recently come across your blog and some excellent posts, I have to disagree on this one.

    I recently attended a dinner in London and they had a guest speaker who basically bored everyone to death. No kidding, the guy seated across from me was actually snoring, everytime the speaker paused for breath this guy would let out a really big sigh and a kind of snuffle.

    Anyway, after the speech I bumped into the speaker at the bar, we shook hands and being former serving soldiers I asked him what he did with his time now. He replied by telling me he was a headhunter, for a major global firm none the less. I was aghast, I asked him how he went about his headhunting, what market he specialised in and so on. He didn’t. He was basically an Client Manager / Account Manager or similar. He had adopted the title Headhunter because he thought in London is was kind of sexy, powerful and had some mystique. I didn’t shake hands when I left his company.

    I have spent a long time working my way to a position where I would classify myself as a headhunter. I worked hard to become a Consultant, and still to this day despise the fact that a 20yr old grad can join a high st recruiter and instantly become a Consultant. No business acumen, no experience, no problem solving skills, nothing. Ridiculous.

    I have an extensive network across the globe. I can reach out almost instantly and begin touching, connecting, speaking and evaluating people. I only work on specific exclusive assignments with well defined specifics in terms of process. I travel the World interviewing people. I attend literally hundreds of events, conferences and so on to establish contacts, new networks, sector and market knowledge.

    I certainly don’t farm CV’s. I don’t chase fee’s. I don’t compromise. I never fail.

    I’m a Headhunter, I’ve earned my spurs.

    I do understand your point. I just disagree with the terminology.

  5. Again, leave it to semantics or nomenclature. The point is there is a difference between data mining for resumes and bringing talent out of the ashes.

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments.

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