Working with Headhunters
The Inside Story
Job seekers and hiring managers often think that headhunters (often referred to as recruiters or
executive search consultants) are the answer to their employment problems. And, while a recruiter
can be incredibly helpful, if not used in the right way, you may be disappointed with the outcome.
We'll help you navigate through the world of executive search, helping you decipher the best
options for your personal situation - whether hiring top talent for your organization or looking for your next
sales job, we'll take the mystery out of working with a headhunter.
Contingency vs. Retained:
Which Recruiter is Right for You?
Whether you're looking for top talent to add to your team, or looking for your next
career opportunity, headhunters may be a part of your search strategy. Search professionals usually
fall into one of two categories - contingency or retained.
Contingency recruiters operate on volume. They get paid only when their candidate is
successfully placed with a client company. Contingency firms can handle positions at any level,
but most commonly work on positions under $100K.
In short, contingency firms are interested in activity that is "closest to the money."
These activities include setting up interviews, prepping candidates and clients for upcoming
interviews, pitching a candidate to a client - things that will lead to a pay day.
Typically, contingency headhunters work on multiple assignments at one time, submitting
three reasonably qualified candidates for each open position. Communication will be at its best
when one of their client companies has interest in your background.
There's a general perception among hiring authorities that contingency firms are less professional
than their retained counterparts. There are few barriers to entry into the contingency search
business, so unfortunately, there are some practitioners who tarnish the business for others.
Avoid buying into these broad brush assessments.
There are a number of highly ethical, highly skilled, contingency practitioners who do as good
a job as any retained search firm. Work only with firms who are recommended by others or who
can convince you of their high ethical standards. Make sure that your resume won't go anywhere
without your knowledge.
DerrJones has put together a fact sheet with inside tips to help you navigate the
ins and outs of Working with Contingency Recruiters. We'll give you a
great overview of what to expect when you get a call from a contingency search firm, regardless of
which side of the desk you're sitting on!
Retained firms are under contract with the hiring company to find the best person for the open
position. Retained headhunters get paid throughout the course of the search - and in fact, get paid
regardless of whether they actually fill the opening. Retained firms typically work on higher level
positions - those with compensation packages in excess of $100K.
When a company hires a retained search consultant, the expectation is that they will see only a
handful of candidates, all of whom meet their requirements to the letter. This means that if you
have transferable skills, but have not worked in the industry the client wants to pull from, the
retained firm will generally not speak with you.
Retained firms are "on the hook" until they fill the position. The hiring process usually takes
more time - at least 4-6 weeks - to even present candidates. Total time to hire can be 3-4 months.
DerrJones has prepared insider tips on Working with
Retained Recruiters to help you understand how to leverage these relationships, again, regardless
of whether you're looking for your next opportunity or if you're interested in hiring a retained
search firm to help your organization fill an open position.
Understanding how recruiters work will help you leverage these relationships to a
One of our most frequently asked questions is where to find a competent recruiter for help
with a job search. Before calling a recruiter, read our inside tips on Working with Contingency
Recruiters and Working with Retained Recruiters. These
two sections will give you some good information on what to expect when turning to a recruiting
Once you make that decision, you can research recruiting firms in your functional specialty, your location, or your industry
to help with your search. The Kennedy Red Book is one of the best
resources you can use. You can buy this book at your local book store, or through Amazon.com, or just head out to your
local library. The Red Book is a comprehensive listing of recruiters by type (contingency vs. retained), location, and functional
While it's not absolutely necessary for success, you'll have better luck connecting with a recruiter
who specializes in your industry or function. Although, as mentioned elsewhere, recruiters often
don't respond to unsolicited resumes unless they have a current opening that matches your background.
And of course, DerrJones would be happy to help you with your job search. Click on
any of the Search Jobs links throughout our site for a position that might fit your background. You can also
post your resume with us and have your background available to hundreds of headhunters in our network. You'll find
openings across industries and functions you can easily apply to.
Don't ignore social media options as you conduct your job search. Networking through social media
channels will boost your results!