Your one recruiting decision can help your company gain or lose a competitive edge over your rivals. That is a huge responsibility! But, you can turn this responsibility into an advantage by using headhunters and recruiters.

Attracting the right talent is not easy or quick.

Without a clear, repeatable in-house recruitment strategy, new hires can disrupt your day-to-day HR operations and objectives.

Not to mention — with a substantial increase in social media screening and job hoppers — the chances of a mis-hire are greater. And for a big company, mis-hires can get costly.

Where does this leave your current talent recruitment?

It depends on which position you want to fill or the skill set you want to acquire.

Usually, job postings and employee referrals are sufficient to fill beginner to manager-level positions. A 2016 SilkRoad survey found 1200 companies preferred job advertisements for hiring candidates.

But, what about senior-level talent?

Suppose you want to hire a Chief Information Officer, Head of Finance, or a Global Director of Marketing.

These positions have a significant impact on company revenue and reputation.

Headhunters and recruiters can reduce the hiring cycle timeline

Here, post-and-pray recruiting or employee referrals can fall short for several reasons:

  • You have limited network or contacts
  • You cannot identify ideal candidates
  • You are unsure about how to structure the job offer
  • You are juggling between your HR and talent acquisition tasks
  • You want to target employed candidates

What Does A Headhunter Do?

Headhunters are an outside entity — either an individual or an organization — which find, vet, and present ideal candidates to fill a particular position.

They work on behalf of companies, not the candidates.

Great headhunters evaluate your expectations, define candidate profiles and compensation models, and source talents using their network and expertise.

Headhunters review about 10 candidates and present three to four short-listed profiles you will find ideal.

Once a headhunter shares the list with you, their involvement in the hiring process is over.

It is up to your team to facilitate interview(s), salary negotiations, job responsibilities to see if any candidate is the right match.

When to hire a headhunter

Headhunters are proactive, precise, and quick in their search because they get a commission after a successful placement.

How does this insight relate to hiring a headhunter?

Think of any recruiting decisions which need to happen quickly, with less upfront effort and time.

It can be an open position critical to your business success.

If not fulfilled, it can prove expensive and affect your team morale and performance.

Here, you can work with an agency to fill this urgent role. They already have a premium pool of candidates. Plus, they have a talent-sourcing knack to not only find passive professionals but persuade them too.

From the candidate’s perspective, headhunters have access to roles that are not publicized through traditional mediums.

So, when a headhunter does approach them on your behalf, the candidates are more inclined to listen.

They are also valuable when you have exhausted your other resources.

With recruiting becoming more tech-driven, job applications are coming from all directions: Social media, websites, online career sites/forums, even YouTube.

When you receive hundreds of applications for a single position, it is difficult to:

  1. Sort them based on your criteria
  2. Review the filtered resumes
  3. Reach out to final candidates
  4. Interview them (sometimes, more than once)
  5. Negotiate work terms, benefits, and salary
Headhunters and recruiters can communicate easier with candidates

On top of this, there is one variable you cannot control: Candidates accepting the offer. If they do not, you have to start again.

And what about the quality of candidates you get through job adverts, networking, or referrals?

As noted, a wrong hire or mis-hire is a crucial setback to the company, irrespective of the position.

Working with headhunters can simplify this process. You can better serve company employees while headhunters present the top candidates to you.

Finally, headhunters are extensively used to search for a senior or C-Suite executive or acquire a super-specific skill set.

High-level recruitment decisions can directly influence your company growth. From leadership to revenue, senior executives help shape workplace culture, customer base, and brand awareness.

In such cases, headhunters are ideal. They have industry intelligence. They understand how your vacancy fares against the market standard. And they use online forums to grow their talent bank.

Headhunters Pros and Cons

How Has Headhunting Changed?

Consider this: Almost 95 percent of headhunters use LinkedIn to find talent.

Or the fact that, around 70% of employers now look at a candidate’s social profile to decide if they are right for the role.

These numbers highlight how widespread online recruiting is.

Why is it so? Using online platforms:

  1. You can identify passive candidate, free of cost
  2. You can verify the applicant’s resume claims
  3. You can determine if they are a cultural fit
  4. You can see their traits and passion
  5. You can spot bad behavior
  6. You can validate the recommendations

Thanks to online platforms, the usual recruitment cycle is now shorter.

And headhunters are taking full advantage of this. They regularly monitor the following online avenues to find excellent candidates for you.

  • Niche-centric groups and forums
  • Keyword search
  • University alumni database
  • Competitor’s employee base
  • Candidate’s previous employers
  • Candidate’s first and second connections
  • Google search
  • LinkedIn Recruiter platform

Headhunters even create and/or optimize specific accounts to rank in in-app search results.

A word of caution: Free access to personal and professional data can lead to discrimination or negligent hiring. Please ensure to screen candidates based on position-specific criteria.

How is an in-house recruiter different than a headhunter?

Although many online resources use recruiters and headhunters interchangeably, they are different.

Recruiters are full-time in-house employees, often working on human resources tasks.

There is an exception, however, with some recruiters joining as third-party consultants.

In either case, they drive the hiring strategy and take an active part to attract and retain a new hire.

Moreover, headhunters locate ideal candidates whereas recruiters fill positions, sometimes multiple. This involves recruitment plan, internal hiring goals, job adverts, interviews, offers, and hiring.

Typically, recruiters start the screening process after a candidate applies.

In case they know a candidate profile or want a particular skill set, she or he may initiate the screening.

Recruiters can also insert their established brand throughout the recruitment process to create a consistent, positive interview experience.

Given that recruiters guide the hiring cycle, they are well-versed in:

  • Company culture and policies
  • Recruitment and skill set gaps
  • Brand value and mission
  • Candidate profiling
  • Compensation and benefits model

But in the end, no one recruiting method is perfect. Both in-house recruiters and headhunters have their set of pros and cons.

Pros And Cons of Headhunters


  • You can hire top-notch professionals, even passive ones
  • You minimize offer rejections
  • You reduce hiring costs and save time
  • You can give time to your current employees
  • You can leverage market intelligence
  • Headhunting shortens hiring cycle
  • You can delegate salary expectations, packages, and benefits negotiation
  • You work with an invested recruiting partner


  • You cannot participate 100% in the hiring process
  • You work with a generalist headhunters
  • It can cause a conflict of interest with customers (in case headhunters poach their employees)
  • Headhunters are commission-driven
  • You may get below-par candidates (to speed up hiring)
  • You can experience communication gaps
Recruiter Pros and Cons

Pros And Cons Of Recruiters


  • You can promote a consistent brand messaging
  • You onboard and actively train new hires
  • You improve employee engagement and attrition
  • You can build stronger relationships
  • You understand organizational understanding
  • You can safeguard intellectual properties


  • Recruiting in-house is time-consuming
  • You have to manage other, equally important, activities
  • You cannot get quality candidates every time
  • Hiring a candidate can drag on for months
  • Candidates may not accept offers
  • You may have to work overtime
  • It can cost more money

Where to find a headhunter to fill a position

LinkedIn is the leading online portal to identify great headhunters.

The professional social networking platform offers easy-to-use functionality and advanced search to discover headhunters who can be your recruitment partner.

Here are a few tips to narrow down your headhunter list:

  1. Always review public recommendations. They highlight headhunter's expertise and customer service.
  2. Check if headhunters have connections with HR managers and senior management. You can quickly measure their network capital.
  3. Lastly, see which industry groups they are a part of. It is an easy way to understand how well-connected they are within a certain niche.

There are also online directories — free and paid — which give lists of headhunters and executive search firms.

You can start with free directories like Find A Recruiter, iRecruit, SearchFirm, Online Recruiters Directory. If you prefer a paid platform, Custom Databanks provides Kindle editions of search firms and headhunters from $6 each.

All these platforms give results by specialty, location, and even types of headhunting agency.

Now that you know how to find a headhunter, here are the fees which come with hiring one.

Costs Of Hiring A Headhunter

When you enter a contingent agreement, you pay a headhunter based on the successful placement of a candidate.

For a retained search, you pay anywhere between 15% to 25% of the employee’s first annual salary in three parts: When you begin the process, when you receive the short-list, and when you hire their candidate.

They can even ask for 30% to 50% of the candidate’s annual salary if their candidate filled a decisive role.

Always remember to clarify headhunter's fees before considering their candidates.

What if you decide to work with an agency?

Different types of recruiting agencies

There are four types of agencies which help you find quality candidates based on your needs.

Contingency firms: You will only pay if you hire their candidate. Usually, they help source low- to mid-level employees. And in some cases, you can pay after an employee works for 3 - 6 months.

Retained search (executive search) firms: Here, you pay an advance to an agency to search, primarily for top-level management. They enter an exclusive agreement with you. Plus, retainer agencies charge a certain percentage of employee’s salary even if you do not hire a candidate.

Temporary agencies: You can use these firms to find and fill temporary positions. For example, you may hire a temp to cover employee vacations, short-term influx in work, or tax season.

Staffing agencies: These firms have employees you can use for short- and long-term work. They also handle employee salaries and benefits. If and when you hire the employee, their relationship with the staffing agency ends.

Conclusion: Which One Is Right For You?

Both headhunters and recruiters help grow your human capital. But, they still have different responsibilities.

Headhunters locate and engage talents directly whereas recruiters hire interested qualified applicants for open position(s).

Headhunting is a great option if you are managing a ton of tasks while struggling to hire skilled, knowledgeable, and culturally-fit employees.

Making it effective, however, is up to you.

Unless you align the recruitment process with business goals and be an active hiring partner, headhunting will not work for you.

  • Have you used a headhunter to hire executives? 
  • What has been your experience with recruiters and sourcing agencies? 
  • Have you used recruiters and headhunters successfully to find candidates?