How to work with a headhunter?
March 28, 2014 7:52 AM   Subscribe

I was contacted on LinkedIn by a headhunter because of my unusual combination of skills. We had a phone interview and the headhunter submitted my resume to the company.

I am a little concerned because the headhunter doesn't seem to know much about the job or the company. Should I be worried? Is it too late to worry? Should I have submitted my resume directly? It was easy for me to figure out the company.

What should I know about working with a headhunter?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Headhunters don't know much about the positions for which they are submitting candidates. It's a numbers game to them, and the more candidates they submit, the more likely the company will fill the position with a candidate submitted by the headhunter, and so the more likely the headhunter will receive a commission.
posted by dfriedman at 8:03 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing about recruiters compared to direct applicants is that you can be a lot more forward about what you want and what the company recruiting wants because recruiters have different skin in the game. If I were you, I would email or call this recruiter and ask for details about what the company is looking for, when they want to move forward, how much they've budgeted for the job, etc.

If you don't think you need the recruiter to get the job, and the recruiter didn't explicitly tell you the company name, I wouldn't consider it unethical to apply directly - you can make an easy thirty percent more salary going this route.

In the meantime, you have the attention of this recruiter, so I suggest you make the most of it and ease your anxiety.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:04 AM on March 28, 2014

The company has probably tried traditional hiring methods, failed to find the person they are looking for, and are now turning to a headhunter out of a sense of, well, if not desperation exactly, perhaps urgency.

The headhunter gets paid a commission (by the hiring company, you don't have to pay anything) for filling the position, so it is in his best interest to sell you to them. Sometimes this leads to them fancying up your resume beyond what you are actually capable of (though they are easily caught out at this, some do it anyway). In general, though, your interests are well aligned. He or she doesn't get anything unless you are hired, and your salary will determine the commission.

The headhunter will give the hiring company a copy of your resume with your contact information elided, to avoid you and the company cutting him or her out of the loop.
posted by kindall at 8:09 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of recruiters can be kind of fuzzy about the jobs they're recruiting for, and this tends to be especially common with specialized positions or skill sets. Their job is to get as many people in as many positions as they can, so they cast a wide net. It's pretty common for them to search LinkedIn for certain keywords and contact any candidate who looks like a possible match. I wouldn't worry about it; it's only a drawback if your headhunter keeps sending you leads that aren't close to what you're looking for.

Just like recruiters will submit multiple candidates for one position, you're free to use multiple recruiters in your job search, so don't feel tied down to this one if you're not confident about them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:44 AM on March 28, 2014

It's too late to try and do an end run around the recruiter.

You don't have anything to worry about, though -- you are still in the discovery phase. If the company decides to pursue you, you'll know soon enough if the job is actually something you might want to consider. Just do the usual due diligence during the interview process. You can opt out at any point in the pre-hire process -- there's no obligation on your part just because you've been submitted.

Keep in mind too that sometimes a recruiter will submit you as their "Plan B" candidate, and blow sunshine up your butt telling you that you are the top candidate and urge you to jump through hoops, when in fact they are positioning someone else for the gig but are using you as part of the strategy. So don't get too emotionally-invested in anything the recruiter says to you...keep your self-protective thinking cap on.
posted by nacho fries at 8:46 AM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've used headhunters before. There are good ones and bad ones. From a potential new hire perspective, let's talk about what makes a good head hunter.

A good head hunter does in fact know the position they want you to fill. They may not know what SAS or SQL really is, or how a join works, but they hopefully know whether those skills are required for a job. More importantly, they should know whether or not the potential new hire needs to be an expert or whether a novice will do. Think of them as prescreening you to better understand your skill level and approach comparative to the employers needs. They are brokering both you and the company.

It is important to know how a headhunter is compensated. In an ideal world, they aren't throwing tons of unqualified people at a job, and they are compensated by the filling the position with someone who will make 90 days. In an ideal world, I like to find out if my salary or sign on bonus is adversely affected by the head hunter's existence. Ideally, I want them working for a fixed commission with a 90 day bonus upon my success in the role. In other words, I want the hunter to be working for me.

The head hunter should have a conversation with you about your abilities. You should be able to give them an explanation of your projects as well as a personal assessment of your relevant skills. They are looking for you to say key words and display competency in order to move on. You should be able to say to them a salary range. Almost always give them your topscale. Headhunters are likely not going to negotiate up unless some additional knowledge is brought up.

A headhunter should send you a job description after the first conversation. While it isn't required, you don't want to find the job behind their back once they give you this. If you do, there is a chance they will undercut your credibility with the hiring manager. What that means is, if you don't like working with them, decline the job req and let them know it doesn't sound like a good fit.

Once they provide you a job req, you should have a second conversation (or extended) with the recruiter about your abilities. Highlight what you meet and exceed, ask questions about what is unclear or seems make or break. Ask about skills you lack which may be deal breakers.

After they respond, give them time to either follow up with your specific questions or provide you with the name of the company and the hiring HR screener.

A good recruiter will provide you with some intelligence about who you are taking to, what their relationship is to the role, and an idea of the technical nature of the interview. They should be somewhat coaching you, but not having you say anything false. Generally you never need to discuss salary with anyone besides the Headhunter, or maybe the HR rep - but then only if the headhunter misrepresented a skill required or job expectation. I have had people ask me to clarify my salary requirements before, and I referred them back to the consistent number I had provided the head hunter. Salary should be a non conversation.

Scheduling appointments should work completely through the headhunter. This may seem inefficient; however it protects you as well. Your headhunter in this case is your advocate. Don't make them do unnecessary work, but they should always be finding out who exactly you'll be interviewing with and have some understanding of the strategy going into the meeting. Your headhunter can ask gouache questions to their HR rep about who, when, and how technical someone is that you'll be interviewing with. You should never be caught off guard by someone's background or anything in the interview process with a head hunter.

Your headhunter should function like a personal admin for you throughout the process. They should be checking in on you, they should braking sure everyone involved is invested in the process.

Much like the actual interview process, you should write your headhunter a thank you note once you have been extended the offer. You should feel compelled to do so - because the service had better seem focused on you. Otherwise, drop the headhunter as soon in the process as possible.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:15 AM on March 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Headhunter with 20 yrs experience replying ...

Nanukthedog pretty much has it right.

The headhunter found you on LinkedIn. Did you go looking for him/her on LinkedIn? What did you see?

ALWAYS decline to have your resume submitted without being told where it's going. There are myriad reasons why you might not want your resume submitted to a given employer. That is your decision to make.

There is a low barrier to entry for recruiting. As with any business where there is a low barrier to entry there are plenty of bottom-feeders. If you have little experience dealing with recruiters, it can be hard to tell the good ones from the bad.

the headhunter doesn't seem to know much about the job or the company

A good recruiter nearly always has at least a minimal amount of information about the position. In those cases where he/she doesn't (it's happened to me) you should hear a good reason why.

Should I be worried?

Nothing in what you've related suggests cause for worry.

Good luck.
posted by John Borrowman at 12:04 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

+1 on you're fine now, but don't let the recruiter send your resume into any position without explicitly asking you first. Tell the recruiter this.

One thing that can happen is that if they submit you first, they get the credit, even if you apply independently. Then if the hiring manager is looking at the final candidates who are both good, but one requires a 20% commission paid to a recruiter, they might go the other way. I've seen it happen.

A good recruiter can coach you, give feedback from the hiring manager that you'd never get directly, and help you ask for more money. A bad recruiter can try to jam you in a position that is not a good fit. Just keep your antennae up and know that you can be in control, say no, etc.
posted by troyer at 1:51 PM on March 28, 2014

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