For most candidates, it’s highly unlikely that you’ve ever met a headhunter/recruiter who truly listens to you then makes your career dreams come true.
This frustrating phenomenon leads the majority of the candidate community to feel angry, neglected, and upset at the job search process then sadly, unleash their wrath upon recruiters and headhunting professionals who are just doing their jobs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. For the few candidates who really understand how the recruitment ecosystem works, they’re leveraging headhunters and maximizing their career opportunities every day. In other words, they’re ahead of the pack.
In this post, I’ll show you how you can turn the job search process around on its head so you can be one of the few candidates in full control of their careers.
Here are a few ideas of how you can set yourself up to find great headhunters to represent you for full-time roles.
#1. Seniority matters. If you’re a candidate right out of college or a Master’s/PhD program with not enough full-time (NOT intern) job experience, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be singled out by a headhunter*. 3rd party headhunters might give you some job advice, so it’s certainly not a waste of time to contact them. However, chances are that they won’t have any real jobs for you because their clients want more senior candidates. Long story short, headhunters won’t go out of their way to help entry-level candidates because frankly they’re not being paid for recruiting staff that clients can recruit themselves directly from academic institutions, career fairs, and the like.
*UNLESS you’re from a very niche, complicated, cutting-edge or emerging industry/field (usually complicated STEM roles, i.e. biostatistics).
If you’re a candidate with at least 1-3 years of professional FULL-TIME experience in a career track, this is where you’ll start to garner some headhunter interest. Headhunters want to cherry-pick emerging talent with some job experience into their clients’ new roles, so they especially look for those in the 2-3 year mark to poach. You’re in a ripe position to field those recruiter inquiries, yay!
If you’re a candidate with 5+ years of professional experience in any given field, you should start to attract lots of headhunters. If you’re not, it may be because (1)Your LinkedIn and marketing message is disjointed and ineffective, and/or (2)You’ve job-hopped and transitioned too frequently to be of interest for full-time roles, and/or (3) Your expertise is all over the place – there is no succinct career objective or goal.
#2. Specialization matters. If you’re switching industries and roles every couple of months, you’ll find it very hard to garner any interest from employers, headhunters, or anyone else really. Employers want a stable and logical candidate. Not someone who is perpetually trying to “find their passion”. That’s the harsh truth.
No employer wants to be part of your self-realization process if they’re not going to get a good 3-5 years out of you for their investment into you! Paychecks mean money is going out the door. If you’re all over the place, they’re going to view that as a retention risk aka low ROI (return on investment).
You may or may not know this: Furthermore, headhunters choose a specific market, industry, and/or job function(s) to focus on. Usually, they pick a niche, candidate-scarce market, almost exclusively representing white-collar, corporate-based roles that requires higher education past college. That’s why you won’t see any headhunters recruiting for the majority of service jobs. In those industries, those companies’ internal recruiters, hiring managers, and HR handle that. No headhunter can make a living off of service-based jobs because the commission value and candidate barriers of entry are too low. Candidates available outnumber jobs by an abnormally high margin thus there is no need for specialized headhunting services.
Most headhunters also have geographic constraints, so take that into consideration as well. Someone in the west coast* won’t feel obligated to represent an east-coast relocator (more money client needs to fork over) over a local who can interview more easily and cheaply.
*Unless they’re representing a remote role.
Overall, headhunters are judged by the caliber of their candidates, whether it be fit for the role, likability, or strong career track record (or lack thereof).
We cannot survive should we continually represent candidates who don’t fit the bill 100%. Thus, we don’t. We’d rather not take a chance on a fringe* candidate than risk ruining our reputation as a competent headhunter.
*A fringe candidate is one who may qualify, but not really; it’s a stretch, thus it’s a risk we don’t need to take if we have other candidates who are 100% spot-on.
Q: What does this mean to you as a candidate?
A: Be very careful to research which headhunters cover your industry and career vertical. If you’re a programmer, look for headhunting firms and headhunters who specifically work with programmers in your geographic region. Network around your friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues on who helped them on their search. Even if they’ve never been represented by headhunters, they would have also received inquiries from them. Get those names and pick up the phone or write emails to those headhunters.
#3. Manners matter. The best headhunters in any given career vertical or industry have big egos, as with all people who are at the top of the food chain! Headhunting is a very lucrative profession: top performers easily earn well into the $200k-300k+ range. These headhunters, in addition to having lots of pride in themselves, also possess the ability to introduce you to a variety of employers should they choose to represent you. They have the ultimate influence on their clients, some of which have worked with them over a number of years! One negative word from them and you’re out of the running. In other words, they rule.
Some candidates, junior and senior, miss this simple point – As a result, they damage their job prospects!
Many candidates believe that the headhunter is a lowly being that is theirs to command. That’s the entirely wrong approach, logically and morally. Why in the world would you be rude to someone who can potentially influence how you’re perceived to an employer?!
Headhunter secret: Headhunters meticulously keep notes of all they come across candidates in their tracking systems. Everything you’ve written or said could easily be posted for EVERYONE at that ENTIRE headhunting firm to see, no confidentiality inter-firm! If you choose to be rude, you may find yourself shut out of future roles.
#4. Another sad truth: competition exists, so please don’t hate the player – instead, learn the game. As a candidate, you’re always up against other candidates. If you can successfully build a strong relationship with your headhunter, he/she will inevitably want to sway the employer towards your candidacy. People skills reign supreme. Technical skills don’t win the job offer; likability ALWAYS triumphs.
I hope this kicks off some new behaviors, ideas, and strategies of how to leverage relationships with headhunters to your advantage!
Dandan Zhu is a headhunter and career coach for go-getters eager for career, financial, and life success. Meet her in NYC on April 19th, 2017!
Sign-up at Dandan Global for career coaching.