How To Be Headhunted: The Dos And The Don’ts

I talk a lot about the dos and the don’ts of recruitment and hunting for work, but what are the rules of being headhunted?

In this episode, Brett Jarman, (the founder and CEO of Experts On Air, the producers of the podcast) joins me again to decipher the tricky subject.

Listen to us discuss this on the podcast or continue reading below. 

Identifying senior executive talent

As with all things in life, there are recruiters who are good at headhunting and recruiters who are poor at head hunting.

The first steps of headhunting are engaging a candidate. The way a candidate is contacted by a recruiter all depends on how visible they are because of course, you need to make yourself seen in order to be headhunted. This is something I talk about in depth in my book, ‘Uncover the Hidden Job Market’ (which you can get for free here).

There are plenty of ways to make yourself visible to potential employers, but LinkedIn plays a huge role in the recruitment sector nowadays. When it comes to headhunting, it may be the number one tool used to identify available people in the talent pool.

If you’re looking for a new role and are available to be headhunted, it is key you have a concise, well-thought-out LinkedIn profile that makes you look like a highly desirable candidate. Most importantly, your profile should be framed by the keywords used to describe your skill. Doing so guarantees headhunters will be drawn to your LinkedIn profile when searching for possible candidates with your skills.

This is something most people don’t do particularly well. I saw this with a client of mine who was a CFO for a global engineering services company. He believed headhunting was “a load of rubbish” simply because he himself had never been headhunted. The reality is he was probably never headhunted because he didn’t make himself known.

Discuss the possibilities

Currently, there are a lot of organisations employing internal recruiters to head hunt, which doesn’t always work out in their favour. There is a common misconception that simply sending candidates an email or a LinkedIn message class as headhunting.

By doing that, these internal recruiters are likely to only attract people who are proactively looking for a new role. The likelihood of potential candidates replying to something like that if they are already in a job they do well and enjoy is very low. A response would be much more likely if they were to receive a phone call, and that’s what you should expect.

When we (Arete Executive) head hunt somebody, we borrow one of Lou Adler’s lines as our first line of communication: “If we could demonstrate this role is better than your current role, are you open to having a talk to us about it?” (Lou Adler is the creator of Performance-based Hiring, a methodology that is core to what we do.)

Of course, 95% of people say yes because being headhunted gives your ego a nice boost, so why wouldn’t you want to have a chat about possibilities? But, that’s where it can become tricky and where many potential candidates hinder their chances of promotion.

Candidate dos and don’ts

The first mistake many candidates make is thinking because they’re being headhunted it means they are highly desirable and therefore have all the power when in discussions. This is most evident when talking about remuneration; candidates tend to ‘go for gold’ because they think they can.

Arete is a headhunting specialist so we know how to manage that, but a less experienced recruiter would probably tell you that your salary expectations are too high. So, if you are intentionally talking yourself up from a money point of view, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on opportunities that otherwise could be excellent.

Another thing you should do as a candidate is take the time to really understand the person who’s calling you. By this, I mean what their motivation is and what authority they have to headhunt you.

For example, many recruiters might ask to present your CV to the employer without actually having the mandate to do that. When that happens, most employers will dismiss your CV and recruit someone else because they didn’t agree to pay the recruiter a fee based on CVs presented to them.

So, it’s very important that you explicitly ask the recruiter that’s headhunting you if they are in fact retained exclusively to recruit the role.

If you know an employer has an appetite for your skillset and they haven’t retained the recruiter exclusively, it might be worth approaching them directly, because if they don’t have to pay a recruitment fee, they may be more inclined to employ you.

It’s all in the recruiter

For recruiters, it’s just as important to grasp a thorough understanding of the role they are trying to help fill. In my experience, most recruiters, including internal recruiters, have a very limited understanding of the role.

As a result, they may headhunt you for a role that you are completely under or overqualified for, or they may present it to you in a way that you’re attracted to, but the actual job is not something you’re attracted to at all.

On top of that, there are many issues surrounding confidentiality and exclusivity. It’s important to remember that this is your career and your future. If you are putting yourself in the hands of a recruiter who is either not competent or unethical, that can seriously compromise you.

For example, a recruiter is not allowed to present a candidate to an employer unless they have explicit written permission from the candidate. And yet, recruiters often breach the Privacy Act.

Loose lips sink ships

While being headhunted comes as a nice surprise to most, it can cause stress for some.

If you are already in a role that is working well for you, you may worry about showing interest in other roles or a competitor of your current employer, but you can never fully protect yourself from your employer finding out.

My biggest advice is to be wary but open to opportunities, no matter where you stand on the career ladder.

You should be able to tell whether the person calling you is legitimate or not. But remember, you are well within your right to say to the recruiter, ”Under no conditions are you to present me to any employer without my explicit permission,” and they should honour that.

Most professional recruiters are dealing with candidates where there is a high degree of confidentiality throughout. Similarly, most employers understand that if a candidate is engaging in a process, they need to maintain confidentiality. But there are situations that the recruiter just simply can’t control; the word can get out. At some point, you just have to trust and hope that your confidentiality is maintained.

Make sure the price is right

The one thing you can rely on with a third party recruiter is having a more forthright conversation about money without potentially insulting people or blowing up the negotiation; it’s one of the main benefits.

Certainly, in initial talks about a role with a recruiter, it’s important to establish the salary and package being offered so you don’t waste your time or theirs.

Being honest about what kind of sum you expect is the way to go, but don’t artificially inflate where you are currently career-wise. Whether you choose to be completely open about your current salary is entirely up to you, but it certainly makes the recruiter’s life easier for you to be honest about it. Whatever you decide, it’s important to get some sense of the money being offered at the beginning of the process to make sure there is some alignment.

When it comes to negotiating the rate for the role, he who puts the money down first loses. So, it’s in the recruiter’s interest to get a successful placement because most are paid a percentage of the salary. If you’re working with a reputable recruiter, they will handle the negotiation process.

At the end of the day, it’s your career and your choice whether you engage with a recruiter or not. The beauty of headhunting is that, even if you’re in a role you love and fits you well, there could be something better waiting for you on the other side.

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