What is a Headhunter? (+ How to Choose the Right One)

June 1, 2023

They have a bad reputation.

Lawyers. Used car salesmen.

Do Headhunters fall into this category?

What do you think?

There are some stories about ignorant or incompetent Headhunters. But the Headhunter industry exists because it is needed.

Because the honest and hardworking ones among them connect high-quality job seekers with companies.

In this article, you will learn what a Headhunter is, how they work, the difference between a Headhunter and a recruiter, and what to consider when choosing a Headhunter.

2. What is a Headhunter?

A Headhunter (also known as Executive Search) finds highly qualified candidates for open positions in your company.

Headhunters can act as individuals or offer their services as companies. Whether as an individual or as a team, they specialize in locating top-notch candidates, providing an alternative to an internal HR department.

Find out what sets a Headhunter apart from your internal HR department.

3. Difference Between a Headhunter and a Recruiter

Headhunters and recruiters have the same goal: to find a suitable candidate for an open position.

The difference between a Headhunter and a recruiter lies in their approach.

Headhunters are the detectives among recruiters. They identify the best minds in your industry and convince them to join your company. They conduct extensive and thorough research. A Headhunter is characterized by their proactivity in approaching interesting candidates. On the other hand, a recruiter often places ads, sometimes for multiple open positions, and waits for their inbox to fill with applications.

A Headhunter is often called upon to fill positions that require highly specialized skills, are highly competitive, or need to be filled immediately. Headhunters are also called in for high-level or executive positions. The HR department of a company is responsible for positions that are easier to fill and may attract a higher number of applicants. Additionally, recruiters handle positions within the company, moving employees to new roles.

While a recruiter is employed by a specific company and part of the internal HR department, a Headhunter works independently or on behalf of an agency. A recruiter seeks candidates for a specific company, whereas a Headhunter has multiple companies as clients.

Lastly, a recruiter receives a fixed salary, whereas a Headhunter is typically compensated on a commission basis. They get paid when they successfully fill the company’s open position.

4. How Does a Headhunter Work?

The work process of a Headhunter is as follows:

The Briefing

The company that hires the Headhunter explains what they are looking for in a conversation. The Headhunter clarifies the minimum requirements for skills and experience, as well as other details. They often create a job description that serves as a guide and can be shared with potential candidates.

Identifying Candidates

The Headhunter identifies potential candidates and usually creates a shortlist, which they review with the HR representative. Headhunters often directly contact interesting candidates to qualify them.

When hunting for the best, Headhunters rely on their network. They also use social media, industry events, and contacts with executives. They also keep an eye out for passive candidates, who are people working in a similar position but not actively looking. They only approach those who have the right amount of experience and the required qualifications and skills.

Contacting and Arranging Interviews

The Headhunter contacts the candidates and conducts a screening interview to gauge their interest. Ideally, they convince the candidate and arrange a meeting with the HR representative. Additionally, the Headhunter helps prepare the candidate for the interview.

Making an Offer

After the application process, the most suitable candidate is presented with an offer, either directly from the company or through the Headhunter.

5. Benefits of a Headhunter

Job seekers and companies looking for new employees can turn to a Headhunter for several benefits.

Benefits for Job Seekers:

  • You spend less time searching for positions yourself, as the Headhunter searches for suitable opportunities in your field. It expands your job options, as Headhunters have access to hidden job openings.
  • Headhunters can assist you in crafting your resume and cover letter. Can a friend help you with that? Sure. But a Headhunter knows how to grab attention with an application at a specific company.
  • Headhunters have a strong interest in placing you in a position because they are paid on a commission basis. They only get paid when you are selected.
  • If you’re looking to fill an open position in your company, working with a Headhunter gives you access to candidates who may not be actively searching for a new job but are a perfect fit for the role.
  • Benefits for Companies:
  • A Headhunter screens resumes for you, saving your employees time, effort, and costs. With their help, your company receives a pre-selection of candidates with the greatest potential.
  • Your candidate pool expands, as Headhunters also reach out to passive candidates. Professional Headhunters have a large network and maintain contacts with numerous professionals. This can be especially useful in challenging industries or during periods of talent scarcity.
  • Headhunters strive to find the best candidates for your open position because they only get compensated when you hire a candidate. They are results-oriented and deliver top talent to your company.
  • Headhunters facilitate a smooth and efficient recruitment process by pre-selecting candidates. Unsuitable applicants are filtered out from the start, accelerating the hiring process for your company.
  • Headhunters are knowledgeable about the job market and often specialize in specific industries. They can quickly identify top talent in a short amount of time.

6. How to Choose the Right Headhunter?

You can find Headhunters through Google Search, LinkedIn, other social media platforms, or online directories. Once you find one, research their reputation and look for reviews and recommendations.

However, it is even more crucial to know how to distinguish good Headhunters from bad ones. They are not called “people traders” for no reason.

Here are 7 tips for job seekers:

  • Check if the Headhunter has a good reputation.
  • Be cautious if the Headhunter asks about your salary. A good Headhunter knows your market value.
  • If the Headhunter interviews you during the initial conversation, they are not professionals. They should be familiar with your skills and experience.
  • Choose a Headhunter with whom you can communicate easily and who is easily reachable. If they are rude, respond impolitely, make demands, or delay responding to your messages, these are bad signs.
  • If you feel that the Headhunter is playing against you by pressuring you, it’s best to part ways.
  • A good Headhunter will want to stay in touch with you, especially if they consider you a valuable candidate.
  • An honest Headhunter aims to satisfy you because that leads to future assignments.

And 12 tips for companies:

  • Good Headhunters are competent, reliable, and likable.
  • Headhunters specialize in specific industries. If they have experience in your industry, they will better understand the position you need to fill.
  • Trustworthy Headhunters are well-organized and exhibit effective time management. They won’t waste any time during the candidate search.
  • Good Headhunters are persuasive and excellent salespeople. They not only sell candidates to companies but also sell companies to qualified candidates.
  • They listen attentively and understand your company’s needs.
  • Professional Headhunters communicate with quality. They ask the right questions and provide regular updates on the progress of the search.
  • An experienced Headhunter is familiar with sourcing techniques, has practical experience with sourcing tools and recruitment software, and has access to candidate databases.
  • Good Headhunters have extensive networks and connections with industry experts.
  • A suitable Headhunter has clients in their portfolio that resemble your company in terms of industry, size, and revenue.
  • Good Headhunters are like dating apps. They match experts and teams that are compatible. They also assess how well the expert fits into the team and interacts with key decision-makers.
  • A good Headhunter speaks with numerous potential candidates before presenting the final three to five candidates.
  • A good Headhunter is discreet and maintains a balance between pressure and support.

7. Costs of Working with a Headhunter

A Headhunter is only paid when they successfully place a candidate into a company. The compensation typically corresponds to a percentage of the candidate’s first-year salary, ranging from 20% to 30%.

8. Success Rate of Headhunters

Headhunters need to act quickly. They are considered successful if they find a suitable candidate who signs an employment contract within six months.


Headhunters have their justification, even though some of them have a bad reputation. If you plan to work with a Headhunter, conduct a quality check and consider the tips provided in this article.

LemonAd specializes in Social Media Headhunting. Explore how we can bring top candidates to your company.