Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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Headhunters can be a valuable tool in your job search. But finding a good one—or increasing the odds of a good recruiter finding you—can take some effort. Read on for some common questions about headhunting and how you can use it to your advantage.

What’s a headhunter? What’s an in-house recruiter?

The term “headhunter” usually refers to a third-party recruiter hired by a company or organization to find candidates to fill specific positions. Because headhunters generally work for outside headhunting firm, they may not be as informed about the necessary qualifications for the role or the details of the role itself as an in-house recruiter might be. This can lead to frustration for both the candidates and their clients (the businesses looking to hire), since the fits may not line up as well as both groups would prefer. Usually, headhunters are not paid by the business until the position is filled by a candidate they found.

In-house recruiters are employed by the business itself; they don't work for headhunter firms. Often part of human resources departments, recruiters seek to fill open roles within their companies. They are unlikely to seek out candidates, but may be responsible for acting as screeners for the hiring managers, reviewing resumes to identify possible fits, and interviewing potential matches. At many companies, you may have an initial interview with a human resources manager before discussing the role with the hiring manager, so the recruiter can assess your qualifications to determine whether or not you’re a potential fit. If not, she probably won’t have you meet with the hiring manager.

How can a headhunter find me?

Job seekers can increase the likelihood of a headhunter finding and identifying them as a possible candidates by keeping their LinkedIn profiles up to date. Include any work that’s relevant to the jobs or fields your pursuing.

Headhunters may also look in industry publications, blogs, or newsletters, so getting your name out there is always a good idea.

If you work with a headhunter who initially contacted you, and the business doesn’t end up selecting you to fill the role, stay in touch throughout your job search. Most headhunters specialize in certain fields or types of businesses, so you should ask her to keep you in mind for future positions. You can also touch base every few months to ensure that you stay on the headhunter’s radar.

How can I find a headhunter?

You can find a headhunter in the same kind of way a headhunter can find you. Try browsing LinkedIn for recruiters, and check ratings.

Asking colleagues in your field for referrals is an even better way of finding a headhunter. That way, you’ll know what to expect from her services, since a friend or acquaintance can testify to their value.

Some caveats

Headhunters work for the employer, not the job seekers. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still treat you with respect. Good headhunters will understand that your time is valuable and be knowledgeable and courteous. Bad headhunters may be rude and behave as though they’re doing you a service by giving you their time—in reality, you’re the one doing them the service!

You can probably tell what type of recruiter you have on your hands pretty quickly: if she tries to make demands of you, like changing how you present yourself, insults you, or seems disrespectful, she’s not worth your time.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t excellent headhunters out there. There are plenty. You just may have to do some work to find them or let them find you. Also, keep in mind that while headhunters may well find you a great job, you shouldn’t rely on them exclusively in your job search. Headhunters will likely present a pool of candidates for a specific role, and you’re just one of many. While they could be a valuable tool in your search, you should also use other channels, such as networking and responding to job postings.

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