Top Five Questions to Ask Your Headhunter

We’re writing this from the perspective of someone who’s looking to hire a headhunter to help them find some sort of talent for their team. If you’re thinking about hiring a head hunter, it’s likely that you either don’t have the time or resources to conduct searches and sourcing on your own, or you have tried sourcing and searching on your own for candidates and have not come up with anything solid. As an employer or a team manager you should be extremely specific and picky about who you add to your team. It’s so important to find the right match both from the hard and soft skills perspective. You never want to settle on hiring someone that’s not going to be the right person for your team. People are everything at a company and a company can only succeed when it has the right people in the right seats in its company. This is regardless of if you have the best service or best product in the world. It’s not going to happen and your company is not going to do well if you don’t have the right people.


Headhunters can be extremely valuable because they do the massive amount of leg work required to find qualified candidates for your company and for your role. A lot of people think that they can just post a job on a job board or on LinkedIn and the right candidates are going to show up. The truth is this is actually very rare. Yes, sometimes inbound submissions do come that can be a fit. This is mostly when you’re a smaller company with less hiring needs, but as you continue to grow and your hiring needs become more specialized and more frequent, incoming submissions are not going to cut the mustard. And so you have to find a way to have an outbound proactive headhunting and recruiting strategy. You’re going to either need to hire recruiters that are going to work full time internally on your team and your human resources department or you’re going to need to outsource to a headhunter.


An internal recruiter is very different than an external headhunter, so if you’re looking to hire a headhunter you want to really make sure you ask the right kinds of questions to make sure you hire the right person and the right agency for your team. There are a lot of different recruiting companies out there – big, medium, and small – and recruiting companies tend to specialize in different fields. Technology tends to be a very common type of recruiting firm so you’ll be dealing with positions in the technology space like engineering, software development, programming, and so on. Accounting and finances is another very common type of recruiting specialty to be dealing with positions in the financial and accounting space like CPAs, controllers, CFOs, and things of that nature.

Another common area is marketing and sales recruiters who cover a wide gamut of marketing and sales type positions with a variety of different types of companies which also include creative type positions. There are other types of recruiting firms as well that specialize in more or less areas and it’s one of the first places to start when you’re interviewing a recruiter.


You want to find out and ask your recruiter what industries they recruit in. And by industries I mean the types of companies that they work with. Industry can mean a lot of different things and sometimes people think it’s synonymous with the word vertical. Sometimes it’s not, it’s one of those things that isn’t really well defined in the marketplace in a lot of ways. A lot of people use it in different ways. We recommend asking the recruiter to tell you about the different kinds of companies that they work with. Learning about the kinds of companies they work with will give you an idea whether you fit into their ideal client mold.


A solid second question is to ask them about the kinds of positions they fill. Have them tell you some of the more recent positions they have filled at the companies they just told you about. Again, you want to be listening for if the positions they’ve filled are similar to your needs. Don’t worry about getting too caught up in the specifics of this as many positions can be very similar from company to company. You want to be listening for if they’re similar enough to your needs.


Another important question is to find out about their fee structure. Are they a retained firm? Are they a contingency firm? Do they have different fee options? Are they a flat fee agency? Are they crowd sourcing? You want to find out what their fee model is and how they charge. Included in this is you’re going to want to find out about their terms and what their guarantee on candidates is as well.

The industry standard for fees is 20%. And that can go much higher depending on the firm you work with. Some retained search firms have fees as high as 40% on their retained searches. You really do get what you pay for in this world and that goes with recruiting sometimes more than ever. Recruiting is an unregulated industry and anybody can put “recruiter” on their Linkedin profile and start recruiting.


Another important question to ask the recruiter is about their process. What is their sourcing process? What is their interview process? What is the process for when they introduce candidates to you? What happens after they introduce candidates to you? You want to learn what their process is soup to nuts and how hands on they are.

A good full service recruiter is going to be hands on throughout the entire process and particularly is going to help you with offer negotiation and doing counter offer damage control. Many candidates today are getting counter offers and a good recruiter can go a long way to making sure that your offer that gets extended doesn’t get rejected because the candidate gets a counter offer or at least can minimize this. You want to make sure that you have a recruiter that is hands on and experienced throughout the entire recruiting life cycle, not just sourcing or sending you resumes. A resume mill is not as useful as a full cycle recruiter who’s going to be hands on and be your guide throughout the entire process.


The last question I would ask a recruiter in this list is to have them tell you what makes them unique from other recruiting firms out there. There are a lot of recruiters out on the market and you want to find out how this recruiter says they differentiate themselves. What they say here will give you a lot of insight into their understanding of the market, their understanding into your type of company and industry and their expertise an a recruiter. It’s a critical question that can tell you a lot about this person and this company and how they will work with you.


Some companies think they can hire multiple headhunters and that will help them find their position better and faster. This is actually a mistake. You don’t want multiple recruiters out there recruiting on your roll. They will be contacting many of the same people and in turn those people will not feel valued by you. At the end of the day you’re not going to get really good quality work out of either of them because there will be too much risk for them to really put the work into your position that is required. It makes sense to have one maybe two maximum recruiters working on a position that you have.


These five questions are really great starting points when it comes to interviewing and hiring a headhunter. Since you’ll be working with us recruiters it’s important that you hire the right ones! Good luck!

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