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How to Find the Right Headhunter

No matter what industry you are in, if you are talented and have the right set of experience, skills and pedigree, headhunters are always on the lookout for new talent. You’ll likely get a phone call out of the blue with a cheery, yet unfamiliar voice on the other line asking if you are looking for a new opportunity. If you are in the market, it’s great timing, but if you’re not, these calls can be slightly awkward. Either way, it’s great to know you are attracting someone’s interest. If you happen to want to move forward with a headhunter, how do you know if you’ve found the right one – someone you can trust as the ‘go-to’ person to make your search a success? Here are three suggestions on what to look for from a headhunter.

Find the Right Headhunter for You (Photo: iStockphoto)

A proven record of placing people in the company or industry you are targeting
Admittedly, you may find yourself in a chicken and egg situation here as there may be a new headhunter entering the market dying to work with you, place you and earn a commission. However for most headhunters, follow this rule of thumb – if the headhunter is independent, ask for contact information for the people they have already placed. If they cannot produce such a list, it’s likely this headhunter does not have the connections (yet) to present you with attractive jobs. If the headhunter is new but part of a reputable firm (Spencer Stuart, Oxbridge Group, Adecco, etc.) she has a lot of resources at her disposal so you are smart to form an alliance.

Timeliness, honesty and reliability
If you schedule calls over the phone with a new headhunter you are considering to add to your network, observe how good that person is at keeping appointments. Any sign of flakiness probably means that you are not on that headhunter’s radar and you likely have a profile difficult to place for that headhunter. A headhunter who is truly in your corner and confident that she can place you somewhere should treat you like you with the same respect she would treat her clients (i.e. the company that is paying her commission when she identifies the right talent).

Breadth of knowledge about the industry / company he represents
If you engage a headhunter who doesn’t know the difference between investment banking and equity research and private equity vs. a hedge fund, it’s probably best you avoid that person and find someone else. Headhunters should have a very clear idea of the market, industries and availability of opportunities; if they don’t know the basics, they might promote you to the wrong company and that’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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