7 traits to look for in top headhunters

As organizations continue to grow, and the need to find suitable employees becomes more acute, many have been forced to move beyond conventional means of hiring — hiring from within, posting ads, searching job boards — and look to third-party recruiters for help.

Lifting the burden off today’s time-strapped HR department, a headhunter can launch an organization’s search for talent to a whole new level. They search for and contact individuals working in similar positions, scan piles of resumes and, upon identifying prospects, set up interviews. With their experience, contacts, knowledge of various markets, and assertive attitude, they persevere until they get the job done.

Despite the benefits of using headhunters, not all HR professionals are convinced. The lingering perception of headhunters as being overly aggressive and concerned only with personal success continues to taint the recruiting industry, deterring HR professionals from using them.

Today’s third-party recruiter gets his name from headhunters of long ago, who preserved the heads of those they killed. While modern headhunters don’t actually kill those they hunt, abrasive sales tactics sometimes kill HR’s desire to use them.

A common complaint about headhunters is they seem more focused on earning a hefty commission rather than the best interests of the company. Headhunters are paid handsomely for their efforts — anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 if their candidate is selected. As such, some HR recruiters find headhunters promise the moon, but cannot deliver.

Professional, trustworthy and productive headhunters are out there. The key is to spot the great ones in the first meeting before the contract is signed. Here are seven hallmarks of great headhunters.

1. A great headhunter is honest from the start. They never use an aggressive sales approach. They recognize that being honest is the best way to build trust. Once trust is established, a fruitful working relationship can develop, potentially leading to repeat business. In the initial meeting, the headhunter should establish that both sides may say “no” at any time. If both say “yes,” agreed upon steps are then taken.

2. A great headhunter is a problem-solver. They seek to fully understand the needs of the company before looking for a solution. They ask questions about the company and its personnel problems. They want to know how long a problem has existed and what emotional and monetary impacts the HR manager, executive team and company have experienced by not having the right person on staff. Only when they thoroughly understand the problem can they recommend a solution. If the headhunter cannot solve the problem, he is honest and says so.

3. A great headhunter agrees to the salary and commission. Once the salary has been stated and the commission established, the headhunter never tries to renegotiate either. They treat the given salary confidentially.

4. A great headhunter works in conjunction with the HR team. The headhunter establishes right away who is involved in decision-making and how decisions will be made. They agree to the tasks they will complete, and from start to finish, work side by side with the HR department. They avoid upsetting the company’s internal hiring system, working co-operatively to facilitate the hiring process.

5. A great headhunter acts as a liaison, not a gatekeeper. Their job is to partner with the HR manager to build the business by finding the best talent. They agree to find someone who fits well into the corporate culture. They research other companies in the same field to find suitable candidates. They sift through the reams of resumes, qualify candidates and set up interviews. They do not hold back when they find qualified candidates.

6. A great headhunter is a great resource. They have a vast network of industry contacts already established. They work evenings and weekends, mining the mountain of potential employees to find the right talent first time around.

7. A great headhunter respects time. They only present candidates who possess the desired attributes both sides have agreed will solve the company’s problems. If a company seeks a marketing director in the $100,000 range who has an MBA, great people skills and at least 20 years’ experience in retail, the headhunter only sends candidates with those specific qualifications.

Effective headhunters are worth more than their commissions — they save companies the expense and heavy time commitments that go with hiring new staff or hiring the wrong person. The commitment to meet a company’s needs is clear in the initial meeting. Seek to work with headhunters who are resourceful, and a positive working relationship will be underway.

Paul Tindall is president of TINDALL Training Works, a business development centre for recruiters. He can be reached at (416) 255-3602 or visit www.tindall.sandler.com.

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