The Skinny on Headhunters

The Difference Between a Recruiter & Headhunter

I’ve talked alot about Recruiters and what they do. But what is the difference between a Recruiter and a Headhunter?

The Skinny on Headhunters

A recruiter typically is an employee of the company they are recruiting for. They are trying to fill various open positions within their organization. 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.

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.

Next time. . . Job Hunting on the Edge

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.

Reader Interactions


  1. Brian Daniel says

    It’s absolutely true that it can be a crap shoot, but that’s because employers are usually acting out of desperation and will hire just any firm.

    Also, headhunters that don’t work on a retainer (that’s most of them) have very short attention spans and just blast employers with resumes in the hopes of scoring a commission.

    The take away: hire a specialist in the field that works on a retainer so the firm will concentrate on an in-depth search instead of a quick buck.


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