What to do when a headhunter calls

24 Jan 2012

In today’s challenging economic climate, ‘headhunting’ (or executive search as it is also known) as a practice has never been more popular. Whilst the headhunters’ call has the capacity to flatter and unsettle in equal measure (even for the most senior and accomplished candidates) it’s in your best interests to make the most of this opportunity. The message is: if you haven’t been headhunted yet, you will be.

In almost every sector we are involved with; technology, consumer (in-house positions), corporate (in-house, again) financial PR and healthcare, headhunting is fast becoming the recruitment method of choice. (In healthcare, talented individuals are so scarce that it’s our exclusive modus operandi). It’s the most effective way of identifying and sourcing the best people for a position; it can lead to a fulfilling, long-term relationships with a recruiter who has much wider access to upcoming, unadvertised positions than could ever be realised through professional networking and; let’s face it, it can even be rather flattering.

So, when the call comes, don’t be tempted to dive under the office desk. Instead, make the most of this career-propelling opportunity and be prepared.

  • Step 1: Don’t panic!

Professional headhunters will do everything they can to make you feel comfortable and are well aware that you may be in an open office and unable to talk freely. If a headhunter calls, they’ll request your telephone number or e-mail address so that you can talk at a more convenient, mutually agreeable time. If you are in a position to take the call, listen first, be inquisitive second. Establish why the headhunter is calling and what they want before presenting your case and requirements.

  • Step 2: Be flattered

We only ever headhunt when we are looking for a candidate to fill an active or up-coming position. You will have been identified, through networking or industry word-of-mouth, as a quality, high-calibre candidate. Be flattered rather than freaked out - it’s not every day you are recognised for your talents.

  • Step 3: Make the most of this opportunity

Although headhunting is becoming much more common-place than it was as little as three years ago, you may only receive a few of these calls in your entire career. Even if you are not looking for a job now, don’t dismiss the call out of hand. Instead, try and impress the headhunter as you would a prospective interviewer. If you make a good impression, the headhunter will keep you in mind for future opportunities when you very well may want to move on. Against a backdrop of mergers, restructures and acquisitions, that time may be sooner than you think…

  • Step 4: Headhunters operate at every level, across all sectors

It’s a myth that headhunting only takes place at senior levels. In healthcare, for example, the market space is so select that headhunters are retained to recruit junior positions right through to director level. However, according to Charles Cowan, our specialist healthcare consultant, whilst senior candidates will probably have been contacted by a headhunter before, and know how to handle the call to their best advantage, the same can’t be said of juniors. His advice? Anticipate the call in advance so you won’t be flustered when the opportunity presents itself.

  • Step 5: Confidentiality

Just as a headhunter will treat this call as highly confidential, they are also unlikely to divulge the name of the recruiting client in the initial stages, i.e. the first telephone call. Remember that as much as the headhunter has been tasked with identifying talent, they have also been put in a position of trust by the recruiting client.

So, you’ve had the call - what next? Meet with the head hunter face to face. It is important for anyone representing you to understand your skills set and career aspirations thoroughly. A headhunter can also be an excellent adviser and source of information, as well as someone you trust. And, as basic as it may sound, communication is key. Being open, honest and upfront helps to get the most out of a headhunter. If you are planning to move to Australia in 6 months or have no desire to work for a company they suggest, don’t be afraid to let them know!

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