It’s no secret that working with a headhunter or recruiter can be an effective way to advance your career. Headhunters often have access to jobs that are not advertised elsewhere and can speed up the hiring process between an employer and potential candidate.
The trick, however, is understanding how a headhunter operates.
“As a career management coach, it is always surprising to me that even senior level job seekers often don’t know that ‘headhunters’ work for the companies, not the candidates,” says Bettina Seidman of SEIDBET Associates. “Clients sometimes say: ‘I’ll just contact a headhunter who will get me a job.’ Headhunters aren’t career counselors…they’re motivated by earning the commission.”
To find out how to increase your chances of landing a job through a headhunter, we spoke with several executive recruiters and career coaches to get the low-down on the errors job seekers make.
Holding back information can make you look sneaky.
It’s important to be as honest as possible with your recruiter about your career, preferences and anything else that could affect your job search.
“Job seekers sometimes fail to tell their recruiter when their company, position, or compensation preferences change. Second, job seekers hurt themselves by not telling recruiters about personal obligations and other things that might interfere with their job searches,” says Katy Keogh, of the staffing firm Winter, Wyman.
“Bring these things up at the last minute, and they can be a deal-breaker. Why? Changing the game at the last second with a hiring company makes you look sneaky or complicated for no reason at all.”
Providing a vague description of your accomplishments makes it harder for a headhunter to place you.
“Leave out the jargon,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach and co-founder of SixFigureStart. “Show specific and measurable results.”
“Don’t make me as the listener/recruiter/prospective employer have to translate what you’re saying into how it will benefit me or fill my needs. Talk to me in terms of my needs and what you will do for me.”
Don’t assume that a headhunter will do all the work for you.
Jennifer Lenkowsky, a managing partner of The Corporate Ladder, sees it all the time. “The biggest misconception a job seeker makes is that they assume because a headhunter agrees to meet them, that headhunter will find them a job,” she says.
“And then, they (job seekers) tend to put all of their eggs in a headhunter’s basket. Unfortunately if the companies that we work with don’t pick up on your resume, it’s out of our hands.”
“A headhunter’s job is to find the right candidate for the client (company) who hired the recruitment services – not to find a job to every single job seeker who contacts the recruiting firm,” adds Laurent Guerrier, CEO of the staffing firm, Luxe Avenue.
Not tailoring your resume to a specific job tells a recruiter that you are either lazy or the wrong candidate for the position.
“Whether you’re using a headhunter or applying directly through a company’s website, gear your resume towards the position,” says Lenkowsky.
“There is nothing wrong with having different versions of your resume as long as everything you list is truthful. If you are applying for a position that requires event planning experience, then be sure to include all information that’s relatable.”
“A job summary should consist of 4-5 sentences on what you can bring to the table,” adds Terri Lee Ryan, a career coach.
Don’t waste time by applying for jobs that you are not qualified for.
Be realistic about the jobs that you apply for, say recruiters.
“Don’t apply for jobs that you want or think you can get (when you know you can’t) … rather apply for jobs that you are qualified for,” says Lenkowsky.
“For example, I was recently recruiting for a position as the Executive Assistant to the CEO of a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. The salary was listed at $150-200K and asked for candidates will similar experience to apply. Many of the responses were from people who just graduated, had never been an assistant, or were overqualified but unemployed. This is just wasting the job seekers time as well as the headhunter/hiring manager’s time,” she says.
A poor online reputation will torpedo your chances of getting a phone call from a headhunter.
“Recruiters don’t work for you, we work for the employer. When we submit a candidate we are putting our reputations on the line. We are risk adverse, so make our lives as easy as possible so that we don’t consider you to be a risk in any way, shape or form,” says Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.
Remember to monitor your online presence on networking sites such as Facebook and by simply Googling your name. Another way to keep track of what shows up about you online is to create a Google Alert for your first and last name.
The best time to contact a headhunter is when you are employed.
“Headhunters don’t typically work with job candidates that are unemployed,” says Terri Lee Ryan, a career coach and author.
“Companies don’t pay them big money to present workers that aren’t gainfully employed. In this market there are many good workers on the sidelines, yet companies still want to see candidates that are gainfully employed and on the ‘top of their game.’ This is why I tell workers to never quit their job until they have a new one.”
“These days, you never know if your job could disappear tomorrow,” says Erik M. Tomasi, Chief Operating Officer of DTG Consulting Solutions Inc. “Anticipate the problem before it happens by networking and responding to headhunters, even when you’re happy with your current job.”
It is not a headhunter’s responsibility to tell you what you’re good at.
“The biggest mistake most job hunters make when they approach a headhunter is not knowing what job they want,” says David Perry, an executive recruiter and co-founder of Perry-Martel International.
“It’s not a headhunter’s responsibility to tell you what they think you might be good at — that’s the job of a career counselor. The headhunter’s job is to find that opportunity. When the job hunter says that they are ‘open to new opportunities’ a headhunter hears, ‘I’m clueless.’”
“They’ll ask you to ‘send us a résumé’ and you’ll never hear back from them.”
Not revealing your compensation requirements or being inflexible is a huge turn-off.
“I typically ask for this [a job seeker's required compensation] in the first or second phone call and it is usually to make sure that the candidate and the position in question are in the same ballpark,” says Patricia H. Lenkov of Agility Executive Search LLC.
“If not, there is no sense in wasting anyone’s time so it is best to make this as clear as possible early on. It is usually the least-experienced candidates who resist this.”
“More companies now prefer to try an employee out as a contractor, with the possibility of hiring them full-time.” Job seekers should be open to various forms of compensation.
Not personalizing your cover letter practically guarantees your letter will be recycled.
“I get hundreds of cover letters every day and I’m more likely to respond to a personalized cover letter addressed to me,” says Greg Ambrose, president of Catalyst Search Group.
Also, make sure you have the correct spelling and gender of the person to whom you are writing.
“If you can’t do some research to market yourself as a candidate, why would I think you would take the initiative for my client?” he says.
Don’t harass the recruiter.
Following up with a thank you note or email to remind the recruiter of your skills is appreciated.
What is not appreciated are numerous phone calls or emails requesting an update on your status.
Being assertive is a good thing, but be careful of coming across as desperate, warns Ambrose. “Being desperate or overly insistent can make a candidate seem insecure about their abilities,” he says.
“Even if you’re unemployed, the secret to getting a job is acting as if you don’t need one.”
About the author
Writer, Business Insider
Judith Aquino is an intern at Business Insider. She recently graduated from New York University with an M.A. in journalism. She has previously interned at the New York Daily News and TheStreet.com.