How-To Talk To A Headhunter - 20 Valuable Tips

Here are 20 tips that come from my personal experience and that of my team too




Headhunter is a generic term used to describe recruiters or executive search consultants, usually people searching for senior candidates or people 'really going after a candidate'. Some argue that a recruiter is for low lever jobs, a Headhunter for trained professionals and all Senior Management roles are handled by Executive Search firms. Whatever the case might be, these 20 tips apply universally to anyone approaching you to pre-screen you for a search assignment that they have got from their clients.

Both as a individual person and as a professional Headhunter (I am the owner of HIREghana www.HIREgh.com), I believe that it is important for candidates -of any seniority level- to know how to talk to a Headhunter, while keeping in mind that we are usually working on more than one search assignment at a time and we do talk with several candidates. And it is to our mutual benefit to have the right conversation so that we can hopefully build the right long term relationship.




A Headhunter, the moment we come across a resume/CV that is a good fit for given search assignment that we are working on, the first thing we do is to try to contact you ideally over the phone for a brief pre-screening conversation. The purpose of that call of ours is to make sure that besides what stands on your resume/ CV, you also have the right social skills to work well with your future colleagues.
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Here are 20 tips that come from my personal experience and that of my team too:
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1. Return our calls.
This is a simple rule of professional and personal courtesy and politeness. You see that somebody called and s/he even left you a voice message? Or they did Text/ 'WhatsApp' you? Promptly return their calls please- don't expect them to try call you back 10 more times. You are not the only candidate.
Strange example. We tried to reach a perfect candidate- no voicemail turned on, so one of my associates emailed her to call us. The call back -which I happened to pick up myself- comes from one of her male friends who goes on ‘ballistic’, schooling us about how real Headhunters never ask a candidate to call them. His explanation was that he was once called by a Headhunter (nice) and thus he knows that the Headhunters do the calls and they never ask candidates to call them (really?). Unfortunately that shortlisted ideal candidate lost a real opportunity with a unique client of ours.
2. Be polite and respectful.
We do understand that you might have never had to deal with a Headhunter before, but there is never an excuse for bad manners -even if the Headhunter's offer is not one for you. Bad manners do not put any person at easy so they can recommend you to anyone- that simple.
3. Don't talk to a Headhunter at an inconvenient time or in an inconvenient location
When we call you and you are busy with work or anything else or you are in a place full of noise for example, it is ok to let us know and mutually reschedule the call for a better time. Just please make sure that you do follow through with the rescheduled call.
4. Show up at the pre-screening appointment.
Do you think that if you do not show up (or call in time to reschedule an appointment) any Headhunter will feel comfortable to send you to a client? Will you?
5. Don't argue the salary-range for a given role.
Although a Client might ask our advice on the salary range for a role under current market conditions, they have the budget, so they define what they are willing and/or can afford to pay. We have no power to control that range nor do we get involve into pushing the client do give you the money you want - especially since you are not even a candidate yet.
So, don't start any salary argument with the Headhunter, especially during the first few seconds/minutes of the conversation.
6. 'Make your case' for that role.
Most likely, a Headhunter approaches you for a specific role. Clearly, briefly and concisely tell them whether you are interested for that role and explain to them why you strongly believe that you are a perfect fit. Having taken a course in project management does not automatically qualify you for a project management role; the same way that having a guitar at home does not make you a professional musician.
Don't place the burden on the Headhunter to recognize your genius and your perfect fit for that role - kindly take the time to explain it to them please.
7. Don't ever say 'is on my resume'
We hear that a lot and it makes us wonder whether candidate is someone uncooperative or incapable to explain to us things about their experience or specific aspects (usually technical) about their work. Are they avoiding to give us an answer? Why?
8. Don't be desperate.
Why don’t want to hear about why you need the job - we understand that. What we really want to hear about is why you are the right person for that particular role please.
9. Be Honest
In 2017, we can find on LinkedIn who worked at the same time with you for any of your listed employers. And we can connect and get references. Do you know also how easy is for someone to call any previous employer and simply verify your past employment? It is ok to mention that you got fired - it happens.
Help the Headhunter to understand you better, to really get to know you as a candidate.
10. Asking for Resume/CV Advice
Occasionally, we can offer you some really good and helpful advice. But we did not call you to fix your resume/CV (the company which the Headhunter represents might offer that paid service- but that is up to you to follow it up). But, please don't expect anyone but yourself to write that resume/CV for you. Aren't you really the only one who does know how to state and describe all your professional accomplishments accurately?
11. Don't argue about anything with the Headhunter.
We frequently get arguments why for example want scanned images of their certificates, or their CV in a specific format, or so many other things. We called you to pre-screen your fitness for a specific role - not to argue. Please...
Also, if you are asked to change something on your resume/CV or its format, don't argue with the Headhunter. Ss/he is trying to help you get that job, so respond to that request in a timely manner. We recently had an exceptionally senior and very good candidate (we have worked with him in the past) and we asked him to make some changes for a new role; it took four months to get his updated resume/CV back but it took a lot shorter for that role to be given to another candidate.
12. Show Your Energy & Enthusiasm!
There is nothing more frustrating and disappointing for us when we talk to a candidate who appears to have no motivation, nor enthusiasm nor energy nor any sign of life inside them. It is extremely frustrating when you just get short or monosyllabic responses and we have to drill deep to find the right answers.
Yes, we do expect some excitement (after all we called you to possibly offer you a job) along with a lively and positive attitude.
We want to understand not only whether you really got the skills for the job but also whether you will be a cultural fit for our client's organization
13. Know what to expect.
Headhunters do not have the time to assist you in rewriting your resume/CV or offer a lot of career counselling. There are career counsellors, or CV writers or interview coaches for things like that.
Don't ever send a message asking them to call you if they have a job in your area of expertise. Apply for it.
14. 'Look at my LinkedIn profile'.
We get that a lot. That simple... one sentence, not even with a please. We have no idea why we would look at that person's profile. You are better off sending your CV to that particular Headhunter. Also comments in a LinkedIn (or other social media) saying 'I am interested' or 'I qualify' do not yield any results. For most Headhunters that implies that you are too lazy to send a cover letter and a resume/CV and you expect us to do most of the work for you. Has this really worked for you so far?
15. The Headhunter works for their Client not for you.
They have a search assignment given by the client to fulfill. They do not work to find a job for the candidate. Always remember that.
But if you build over time a good relationship with a Headhunter, they know and remember you and the moment something close to your skills appears, they will contact you first. We do that too.
16. Take rejection graciously
There will be times that you will not get the job that the Headhunter approached you for. Like any human, we Headhunters do not get any pleasure from rejecting candidates. And unfortunately sometimes, we do not have a clear feedback from the client regarding why you got rejected. Show please some understanding.
A bad reaction will make any human less inclined to call you again, when they have another opportunity. Please respect the fact that someone else was a better match skillswise or culturewise to what our client was looking for this particular role.
Promptly thank the Headhunter for considering you for that role and the time they invested in you. And yes it is ok to tactfully acknowledge your disappointment.
17. If you lost interest, tell it
If -for whatever reason- you are no longer interested in the specific role/ opportunity, kindly let the Headhunter know. Don't 'force' someone to chase you and don't hire/ avoid picking up our calls please.
18. Keep them updated.
Let the Headhunter know if you have a new job and ideally provide them with a new resume/CV. It is rather unethical, rude and disrespect of the Headhunter's time to get involved into a whole discussion about the role just to tell them 10-20 minutes later on that you just have no interest because you just got a new job and you where curious about the role and who is hiring whom.
19. Help them!
You are not the perfect fit or that very role is not for you at this point in time? No problem! Why don't you suggest a colleague or friend who does? That will earn you a different outlook on the Headhunter's eyes. You just put the effort to build a long term relationship with them- you are no more another candidate who just received a prescreening call anymore.
20. Keep it all confidential
Yes, 'it's a small world after all'. Besides the miniscule chance for a competitor to acquire that assignment, if the Client is about to replace/fire someone, they might not want that employee to find out about it from you or your friends or the friends of your friends or other professional connections. Some clients have other reasons why they want their search for a candidate to take place in a stealth mode.
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In Conclusion
All these 20 rules come from real life experience from all 9 of us. These rules will help you not only in having an efficient interaction with a Headhunter, but also in slowly building a long term relationship with them. And - believe me- you will benefit from this.
Thank you and Good Luck!
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About the Author: Irene Gloria Addison is the owner of HIREghana [Human Intelligence Recruitment], a Leader Recruitment Agency and HRM & OD Consultancy. Irene -who has a LinkedIn footprint of 27.000+ connections- and her team have also been constantly mentoring and coaching candidates on how to improve their job-hunting & career- planning skills.
Irene also writes a semi-regular weekend job-advice column at https://www.modernghana.com/editor/IreneWorkplace
Irene welcomes your feedback/ comments/ remarks/ suggestions via your email message to Press@HIREgh.com
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Our website is www.HIREgh.com
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