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Home » Articles » Exploring the role of a headhunter

Exploring the role of a headhunter

The world of recruitment is vast and diverse. Various professionals play a crucial role in connecting talented individuals with top-tier job opportunities.

A vital figure in the recruitment landscape is the headhunter.

LinkedIn revealed that 76% of hiring managers say finding the right job candidates is the most challenging. That is a testament to the necessity of headhunters, especially with the rising popularity of recruitment process outsourcing (RPO).

Learn more about headhunters and their roles, responsibilities, advantages, and how to work with them effectively.

What is a headhunter?

A headhunter, also known as an executive recruiter, specializes in identifying and recruiting top talent for businesses.

Headhunters are unlike traditional recruiters who focus on filling specific job openings. These hiring managers go the extra mile to seek out and engage with individuals who may not be actively looking for new job opportunities.

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They proactively approach passive candidates with the skills, qualities, and experience required for executive-level positions.

What is a headhunter

Headhunter vs. Recruiter

It’s important to know the differences between a headhunter and a general recruiter. While both play essential roles in recruitment, their approaches and responsibilities differ significantly.

A headhunter:

  • Focuses on senior-level and executive positions
  • Actively searches for passive candidates who may not be actively seeking new opportunities
  • Builds and maintains a vast network of contacts within specific industries
  • Often works on an exclusive or retained basis for clients, making the search process highly personalized

On the other hand, a recruiter:

  • Handles various roles across different levels within an organization
  • Typically advertises job openings and reviews incoming applications
  • Engages with candidates who are actively seeking employment
  • Works on a contingent basis, receiving payment upon successful placement

Roles and responsibilities of a headhunter

Headhunters are pivotal in finding and securing top talent for crucial leadership positions. Their responsibilities cover several key aspects of the recruitment process, including:

Comprehensive talent mapping

A successful headhunter begins by conducting in-depth research and talent mapping.

This process involves identifying potential candidates with the necessary skills, experience, and qualifications for a specific executive position.

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Headhunters use a combination of market analysis, competitor research, and networking to build a comprehensive candidate pool.

Proactive candidate sourcing

Headhunters employ proactive sourcing strategies to reach out to potential candidates, even if these individuals are not actively looking for new jobs.

This approach allows them to create a strong connection with top performers who might be open to exploring more promising roles. They help increase the chances of finding the right person for their clients.

Candidate evaluation and assessment

Once potential candidates are identified, headhunters conduct rigorous evaluations and assessments to ensure potential hires possess the organization’s required expertise and cultural fit.

This process involves comprehensive interviews, reference checks, and skill assessments to make informed decisions.

Facilitating the hiring process

A headhunter is an intermediary between the client company and the candidate throughout the hiring process.

They provide valuable insights and guidance, helping both parties navigate negotiations and other critical aspects of the recruitment journey.

Confidentiality and discretion

Given the sensitive nature of executive searches, headhunters maintain confidentiality and discretion throughout the process.

This is particularly crucial when dealing with candidates currently employed and discreetly exploring opportunities.

Advantages of using a headhunter

Partnering with a headhunter offers significant advantages for both candidates and organizations.

Here are some of those benefits:

  • Access to elite talent. Headhunters have extensive networks and access to a pool of top-tier candidates. They can tap into this talent pool and present highly qualified individuals who may otherwise be difficult to reach.
  • Time and effort saving. Recruiting for senior-level positions can be a time-consuming and complex process. A headhunter streamlines the process by handling all the initial candidate screening, background checks, and negotiations.
  • Confidentiality. Headhunters ensure that sensitive information remains confidential during recruitment.
  • Industry expertise. A headhunter has specialized knowledge and insights into specific industries and job markets. This allows them to provide valuable guidance to firms and candidates throughout recruitment.
  • Expertise in executive search. Headhunters specialize in executive search, which requires a unique skill set and approach. Their expertise ensures a thorough and tailored recruitment process.
  • Customized recruitment solutions. A headhunter works closely with clients to understand their specific needs. They deliver customized recruitment solutions that align with an organization’s goals and values.
  • Higher success rate. With a laser focus on executive-level roles, headhunters have the experience and resources to find the perfect match for their clients. This results in a higher success rate and a reduced risk of making a wrong hire.
Advantages of using a headhunter

What to look for in a headhunter

Choosing the right headhunter is critical to the success of an executive search. When selecting a headhunter, consider the following factors:

Industry expertise

Look for a headhunter who specializes in your industry or field. Their deep understanding of the sector and its dynamics will be invaluable in finding perfect candidates.

Track record of success

Review the headhunter’s track record and success rate in making executive placements. Testimonials and references from previous clients can offer valuable insights into their capabilities.

Network and reach

An effective headhunter should have an extensive network of contacts within your industry. This network ensures they can identify and approach top talent effectively.

Communication and transparency

Choose a headhunter who communicates openly and transparently throughout the recruitment process. Regular updates and feedback keep you informed and engaged in the search process.

Cultural fit

Assess whether the headhunter understands your organization’s culture and values. A strong cultural fit is essential for the long-term success of an executive hire.

Working with a headhunter

To maximize the benefits of working with a headhunter during a job search, follow these tips:

1. Provide the headhunter with a detailed and clear job description. Outline the specific qualifications and attributes you seek in a candidate. The more precise the requirements, the better the headhunter can tailor their search.

2. Headhunters may present candidates who, at first glance, may not seem like an exact match. However, they could possess transferable skills and potential that align with your needs. Remain open to considering such candidates.

3. Top-tier candidates are often in high demand, and delays in the hiring process can result in missed opportunities. Act promptly and decisively when presented with suitable candidates.

4. Offer constructive feedback to the headhunter after interviews and candidate evaluations. This information will help them fine-tune their search and ensure they are on the right track.

5. Remember that you have engaged a headhunter for their expertise. Trust their judgment and insights; they have the experience to identify the best-fit candidates.

Working with a headhunter

Headhunter fees and compensation

The salary range and compensation structures of headhunters can vary. A headhunter is typically paid either on a retainer or a commission basis.


Headhunters may be paid by commission — a percentage of the hired candidate’s first-year salary or fee paid by the organization.

With this structure, payment is only due when a candidate is successfully placed with the hiring company. At this point, the headhunter receives their agreed-upon commission.


On a retainer basis, the client company pays the headhunter a portion of the agreed-upon fee upfront to secure their services.

The remaining sum is paid upon successfully placing a candidate in a position within the organization.

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Outsource Accelerator is the trusted source of independent information, advisory and expert implementation of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).

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About Derek Gallimore

Derek Gallimore has been in business for 20 years, outsourcing for over eight years, and has been living in Manila (the heart of global outsourcing) since 2014. Derek is the founder and CEO of Outsource Accelerator, and is regarded as a leading expert on all things outsourcing.

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