Job Search Terminology: Recruiter vs. Hiring Manager vs. Headhunter

There is a lot of mis-information as part of the job search process.  Sometimes that surrounds the fact that the job search is based on hiring manager and recruiter preferences.  Other times it is because job seekers don’t really understand or take the time to research how the job search process works.  I think it’s important to understand the different individual you will encounter as you go forward in your job hunt.

Understanding Corporate Recruiters

A recruiter typically is an employee of the company they are recruiting for. They are trying to fill various open positions within their organization. On average a recruiter is juggling multiple job openings and it was not uncommon for me to be hiring for 40 different positions at a single time. If every opening had 300 resumes at, that means I am sorting through 1,200 job applicants to fill 40 positions.  Sometimes job openings and requisitions remain open for days or months as recruiter continue to hunt searching for the right candidate.  Sometimes positions aren’t filled because of budget or just bad timing.  Usually, the recruiter will conduct the first interview which is typically over the phone. Once you have been pre-qualified, you are then passed on to the hiring manager or manager that has the vacant position.

What is the Role of the Hiring Manager?

The hiring manager is generally the person that will be your boss.  His/her department or team has a job or position opening, and he/she works with the recruiter providing them skills, qualifications, and important qualities they want in their next hire.  Hiring managers generally review resumes after the first initial call or screening by the recruiter, and they are often the decision maker who conducts your face to face interview.

The Skinny on Headhunters

The biggest misnomer in the job search stems around the headhunter.  A headhunter does not work for the company that has the vacant position. They either have a contract to directly fill the position, or they do not have a contract and are representing you as a candidate and trying to sell “you” to the company for a fee or percentage of your annual salary. When speaking with a headhunter than has contacted you, make sure to ask about the position as well as if they have a contract with company “x” to fill the position. Depending on your industry, I believe headhunters who have a direct contract will allow you a better chance of getting your resume in front of the company. The fee headhunter that does not have a contract with company x and tries to represent you to a number of different companies, but unless you are in a very desireable industry like Pharmacy, Healthecare, or a high level Executive position, it’s a crap shoot. The Headhunter needs to have a ton of connections and depending on what industry and where you are located at, can be particularly challenging. If you speak with a fee headhunter, ask questions about their experience in the industry and what their specialities are. I would suggest researching your industry to determine which type of headhunter works best for you.

The headhunter will set up a phone pre-qualifiying interview where they will ask you questions to determine if you are qualified for the position they are contracted to fill or if you are marketable to a number of companies that have open positions. Understand that while you are in the job hunt, you might receive a number of phone calls from headhunters, participate in phone interviews, and possibly never hear from them again. Realize that unless you are marketable and are going to make the headhunter money, they will not contact you as a courtesy or send a turn down letter.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.


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