How To Use A Headhunter


Oldies are goldies: I have written the first version of this post in May 2011 and it is one of the most viral ones, being published in print and online by careerbuilder, msn careers, businessinsider, several print media as well as – without my approval – on many obscure sites. Here is a revised version on how to use a headhunter in the most efficient way for your career:

Many job-seekers are reluctant to use a professional recruiter. I consider this a mistake as a good headhunter has inside information and knows of jobs that will never be advertised and inside information you can never achieve from the outside.

Here are 8 tips on how to use a headhunter – written by a headhunter:

  • Prefer a specialist to a generalist: If you work in banking, find a headhunter who deals with banking people all day long as s/he will have a solid understanding of what you are talking about, what the client is looking for and how to councel you best.
  • Be careful: Do not give out confidential information about you or your employer on the phone without having met the headhunter or knowing who their customer is. There are some black sheep out there that are collecting resumes without an assignment. Find furthermore out how your headhunter works: if s/he sends out resumes without asking you or if they send “candidate flashes”, I would personally change the headhunter.
  • Be rare: Do not work with more than 3 headhunters. We try not to present a candidate who has already been sent by our competitor. You, on the other hand, will make a desperate impression if this happens.
  • Be prepared: I see candidates being late for the interview, badly dressed or with an outdated resume to the interview and then tell me “You know, this is only because you are the recruiter. I would never do that for the real interview”… Prepare your interview well, google us beforehand, meet us on eye-level and you will impress us and motivate us to do all for you.
  • Be honest: Do not lie to us as we will probably discover the truth through questioning or ref checks. I immediately stop the interview and blacklist the candidate when s/he is lying to me (usually when it is about the reasons for leaving or the last salary). We can talk about anything and if there are bumpy parts in your career, we will sort out how to explain them to our customer. But we must know.
  • Like us or leave us: Sympathy is an easy thing: If you do not like us, this will probably be the same vice versa. I rarely placed candidates I did not like. We are networker, sales people and if we like you, we will have a more convincing pitch. If you do not trust or like your recruiter, meet a competitor and ask the first one to delete you from his records.
  • Use us: A good headhunter will give you feedback on your presentation, your resume and will brief you thoroughly on the client including the people you will meet there. We know what the biggest challenges will be, what it takes to succeed in this given company and why the job is vacant. We have met your potential boss long before you do. Maybe we have even met former employees and know the weak parts of this organization. Ask for this information if your headhunter does not give it.
  • Keep in touch: Even successful headhunters place only 10% of the candidates they meet. Maybe you will not get the job you applied for – but you should do everything to make sure you get the next one that comes along. The biggest lie headhunters tell every day is “I will call you next Monday”. 9.5 out of 10 times they do not. If we do not call you, be strong and remind us in a gentle yet persistent way every other week of you: call us, send a message via LinkedIn, another time write an email.

A good headhunter with good values and business ethics can be far more efficient in your job search than you. His or her job is to find one for you. Do not forget that we have the same goal: if you get the job, we get the money. Use us wisely and we can be a catalyst for your career.



Jorg Stegemann
Jorg Stegemann - Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer - is head of Kennedy Executive Search. Apart from running Kennedy's company blog, he writes for Forbes, BBC and other media.
  1. Angel Reply


    Very precise and Very Professional !

    People like you seem to make the difference wihtin your sector, and believe me there are not that many.

    Congrats and Thank you so much!

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Angel.

  2. Yves Reply

    Keep in touch:

    Long term relationship with Headhunters is a winning game. Keeping Headhunters aware of our career changes is a good idea even when we do not need them for seeking a new position.

    As we are seeking a new position, we are not in a weak position of deseparately asking for a free service. If we have the skills and the personality to carry out the job, we are a SOLUTION for the headhunter. It is important to establish a relationship that is at same level and take out of our mind that, as a candidate, we are asking for a free help.

    (Furthermore, the headhunter knows that we may very well become his customer the day we will have to hire a professional).

  3. Victoria Reply

    Hi Jorg,
    Excellent article.
    You are quite right- the practices of a truly professional recruiter do stand out and can be somewhat rare. It’s good advice for job seekers to align themselves with a headhunter who truly has “best practices”.

    I especially related to the point about calling a person back (or even an email). While not every individual is a potential candidate for a job order (i.e.: someone from whom he/she can earn a fee), every person is just that- a person- not a commodity, who deserves a level respect.

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Victoria, Yves –

      Thanks for the comments. Fully agree.


  4. Suzanne Reply

    One point of slight difference, I have placed people I feel “lukewarm” about but I am not the one who has to like the candidate. It’s easier if one does establish a positive “vibe” I agree

  5. Claudio
    Claudio Reply

    Don’t do any spamming with last minute bunches of CVs ,but create a solid and MUTUAL relationship with one or maximum 2 headhunters, using them as mentors.

    But don’t fotget that you can be a candidate but also a client, and, above all, a source of candidates.

    if you do not reciprocate favours the headhunter will for sure rimember that and behave accordingly.

  6. Tobias Reply

    Thanks, good pointers and article.

    I’ll have these in mind for my search of a new interesting position.

    Kind Regards,

  7. Dudley
    Dudley Reply

    Jorg, yes a good general overview. Often the candidate/recruiter relationship is overlooked for the client/recruiter relationship, however, both are very important. The relationship should be two way and mutually beneficial and needs to be built on trust and understanding. One issue I am particularly concerned about at the moment is the number of recruiters who are sending CVs to clients without the candidates specific permission. However, where the client is aware, or becomes aware, of this it is surely beholden of them to drop the recruiter for unethical behaviour.

  8. Mark Reply

    Why should we stay in touch with headhunters who you *admit* are lying when they say “I’ll call you by the beginning of next week”? What does that glib remark say about the professionalism of you and your headhunter colleagues?

    A professional relationship is a two-way street. Is it really so hard for you to hit the “reply” key or dial a few numbers and leave a message when an anxious job-seeker needs to know the status of a job application or who is waiting for a call you yourself said you would make? Do you mean what you say, or just say things to please (as I hear they do in the world’s oldest profession)?

    When we finally get our new jobs and then are faced with staffing our own teams, which headhunters will we use? The ones who pay lip service to professionalism, or the ones who take the time and effort to be sure all potential candidates are treated with respect?

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Mark –

      I read many frustrations and bad experiences with professional recruiters.

      My advice is to “use” us in a wise way, always be correct yourself but only give full trust to headhunters who have proven they are worth it.

      No, as far as I know recruitment is not the oldest profession in the world. This honour goes to another, very different one…

  9. Jozef
    Jozef Reply

    Good, thank you. Will share with my candidates. :)

  10. Joaquin
    Joaquin Reply

    That´s a good post, Jorg.

    We´ll see soon, that Headhunters will be changing focus and offering services direclty to candidates (and being paid by them), rather than final customers. I discussed this scheme, at one of my last interviews. It might be happening already!

    • PAUL FOREL Reply


      The idea that candidates would pay headhunters is not practical.

      We receive up to 33.3% of the first year salary of a candidate placed.

      Are you suggesting candidates pay us $33,000?

      …and that’s for a salary of $100,000. A higher salary and the fee would increase appropriately.

  11. Adam
    Adam Reply

    Some 7-8 years ago I had a special experience with pt3: At that time I was co-operating with … 16 (!) headhunters at the same time. Lesson learned! I could write a book on why we shouldn’t do it.

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Adam. What happened?


      • Adam
        Adam Reply

        At that time – after my 18-month business-trip to Austria – I was looking for job in Poland. Being already quite experienced in product & business development, I was just a rookie in job search. My attitude “the more the better” led to some unexpected situations. From today’s perspective it may look funny but wasn’t at that time. After all I found great job thanks to… private recommendation. Now, after all these experiences, I am in contact with 3-5 HH: 1-2 for Poland, 1-2 for Western Europe and 1 for former Yugoslavia and Balcans. Well, we learn in time.

        Best Regards

        • Jorg Stegemann
          Jorg Stegemann Reply

          What do you mean with “unexpected situations”?

  12. Amy
    Amy Reply

    Jorg, a very good read, thank you. As a career recruiter, my mindset has always been to treat others as you expect to be treated. Setting expectations in advance, following up with candidates even if not selected to move forward, etc….what goes around does come around!

    Recruiter diligence, credibility and reputation in this industry are paramount should we expect/deserve star candidates to choose to work with us over our competitors.

  13. Nadia Reply

    Well done! A relationship with a headhunter is like any other valuable relationship; it requires trust, loyalty, and open lines of communication to work. Something I will try and have my candidates read.



  14. Eric Reply

    Excellent Tips !

    I agree on all of them but one : be “rare” … In today’s critical economical situation, when rare interesting jobs fly away as fast as they came, VISIBILITY is a must. And to ensure visibility, Social Networks, publishing a.s.o. are not everything.

    Visibility is also crucial with headhunters, meaning, to my opinion, that we need to build a serious bilateral professional relationship with far more than 3. That’s what I’m doing. Jorg, your comment on that ?

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Eric, thanks for your comment.

      Re: “being rare”, I understand your point. My advice: don’t tell us you are registered with all competitors if you have… “Rare” is often seen as being equivalent with “precious” and this is the message you want to wish to convey.

      Regarding building a relationship, I often quote their persistency and communication skills towards me when I describe my candidates to my clients. And you are doing a good job, Eric!

  15. Sotirios Reply

    Solid, informational, future proof.

  16. Terra Reply

    I agree with most everything, except the “like”, I do not have to like someone to place them and have often placed candidate I did not like. Just like companies have certain teams who can work with certain personalities, I have clients who may work well with someone that I do not.

  17. Bob
    Bob Reply

    Well done. I would suggest that contacting a retained recruiter every other week is possibly overkill. Placing ten percent of the people I meet would be a dream.

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Bob. Did I write “every other week”? Yes, this would be too much…

  18. Paul
    Paul Reply

    Nice post. I sent you a private email. Paul

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Paul. Looking forward.

  19. Pankaj Kumar Reply

    Hey Jorg ,

    Great insight to headhunter world ….thanks for it .
    Can you share info on what a headhunter look for in candidate approaching him ?
    And what questions to ask to access quality of headhunter and headhunting firms ?
    These answers will be very helpful to potential candidates looking into executive positions.

    Sincerely Yours
    Pankaj Kumar

  20. Skip Marler Reply

    I’m from the old school, my first job after college was from a recruiter in which I had to pay a fee upon taking the job.

    Now I get 10 emails a day with companies that just take my resume and throw it against the wall and see if it sticks!!!

    Where can I find the right professional recruiter in the Seattle area????

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply


      I recommend the same postings as for Pankaj here above.

  21. Yvonne Reply

    This was very useful. While I worked for a recruiter, it soon became apparent that more people needed my voice in order to understand that the recruiter doesn’t nab every resume that drops through the door. They need to have a job order in place. I saw my role not as a recruiter but the person who could help the applicant be better prepared to become a good match for the potential opportunity. Much of what you shared is similar to what I dispensed. Much of what you shared goes much farther!

  22. Lance Reply

    Hi Jorg, an interesting and insightful post so thank you. In my experience entering the radar space of a Headhunter is a matter of luck and as such carries a degree of mystique. I think the hard part will be finding a Headhunter; and that said I guess for many the notion of hunting for a Headhunter will seem counter-intuitive. Then the second challenge will be forging a meaningful connection.

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Lance, thanks and agree. Stay loyal to this blog and find out how that goes!

  23. Madhusudhan Reply

    Thanks for the insight. An good heads-up for job seekers.

  24. Carolyn Reply

    Many thanks for sharing. Useful insights.

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