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What is a headhunter and what do they do?

When you need to fill a vacancy urgently, or hire for a niche role, it may be worth using a headhunter to help you. These professionals take care of the hiring process and help you find the best candidate for your company. 



The definition of a headhunter


A headhunter is someone who manages the hiring process on behalf of an employer. Companies employ them to find professionals who satisfy the specific requirements of a job opening. 


Many headhunters specialise in their own corner of the market, where they develop a network of contacts with skills and experience in a specific area.



The difference between a recruiter and a headhunter


It’s important to note that a headhunter is not the same as a recruiter. The main differences between them are that: 


  • A recruiter usually works for a company while a headhunter is an external provider. This means the former usually earns a fixed salary and the latter will take a percentage of the annual salary of the hire. 
  • A recruiter advertises the job vacancy and waits for candidates to get in touch. A headhunter, on the other hand, contacts professionals directly who fulfil the criteria for the opening (even if they are not actively looking for employment at that moment in time).
  • A recruiter will usually cover a variety of roles within their specialist market; but many headhunters focus on very specific job profiles and have their own network of contacts. 
  • Once the headhunter has placed the new hire in their position, that’s their job done. The recruiter, conversely, will keep in touch with this person and make sure they find their feet in the company. 



A headhunter’s main duties


Finding the perfect candidate is not a sure bet. For headhunters to successfully fill a job opening, there is a lot of groundwork involved.  They need to:


  • Meet HR managers or company leaders to understand the functions and requirements of the job opening. 
  • Look for suitable candidates on databases and within their own portfolio. 
  • Advertise the vacancy on job portals, social networks, etc.
  • Get in touch with possible candidates.
  • Attend job fairs to expand their network of contacts.
  • Contact industry professionals to request references
  • Negotiate contract terms with potential candidates.
  • Prepare and present hiring proposal reports to their clients.  



The pros and cons of contracting a headhunter 


Companies use headhunters for the advantages they offer, such as:


  • Fast hires: headhunters usually offer quicker hiring timelines, meaning the company will be able to fill the vacancy a good deal earlier. 
  • Quality candidates: a professional headhunter will bring in higher calibre candidates through their detailed screening processes. 
  • Market experience: these professionals know the labour market inside out and some are even specialised in certain niche areas.  This makes them highly efficient, helping them find the best candidate in a short space of time. 
  • Professional network of contacts: in general, headhunters have a professional network of contacts. When using their services, companies gain access to professionals who are not actively looking for work.  
  • Extra motivation: headhunters charge and receive a commission for successful hires; therefore, it’s in their interest to find the perfect candidate.  


On the other hand, working with a headhunter can have also certain disadvantages


  • More costly: headhunters charge between 20% and 30% of the annual salary for the vacant position.
  • Lack of personalisation: contracting an external service provider means candidates will not get the same feel for the company’s values and culture. 


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Headhunter services


If the client wishes, headhunters can offer other services beyond the hiring process, such as: 


  • Initial consultation: all recruitment processes should start with a preliminary consultation to draft the job description, requirements, financial offering, etc.
  • Candidate review and interviews: headhunters can carry out very reliable candidate evaluations, using technical skills testing and interviews, among other techniques. The client will receive a report with each applicant’s results.
  • Geographical coverage: some headhunters specialise in national, or even international, recruitment processes. 
  • Replacement guarantee: if the hired candidate leaves their position before reaching one to six months at the company, many professionals offer a free of charge replacement guarantee. 



How much does a headhunter charge?


The cost of headhunter services can vary depending on various factors: the services contracted, the level of the vacancy to be filled, whether it’s a national or international search, etc. 


However, in general, most professionals charge a percentage of the gross annual salary of the open position. This can be from 8% up to 30%.


Many ask for an advance to initiate the search or when they reach the stage of sending the first candidates. Others, in contrast, only charge if the process is successful. 



What is the contractual relationship between the headhunter and the company


It’s important that all commercial relationships are governed by a contract which sets out the rights and obligations of each of the parties. In this case, it is important to spell out:


  • How and how much the headhunter charges for their services. 
  • What happens if the candidate leaves their role during a given period. 
  • Whether the headhunter offers the company exclusivity while the process is in progress



5 tips for contracting a headhunter 


Still unsure how to contract a headhunter? Here are a few of our tips: 


  1. Ask colleagues in the sector for recommendations of headhunters they have worked with previously.  
  2. Decide if you want to work with a specialist. It is important that they understand your business and your needs. 
  3. Interview the headhunter to get to know them in person and find out how much they know about your company, what professional experience they have, how many successful hires they have made, etc.  
  4. Request a list of the clients the headhunter has worked with previously. If you can, try to get in touch with them to ask for references.  
  5. Make clear your requirements and expectations regarding the recruitment process before working with any external professional.
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