How Your Headhunter is Hosing You

I’m a headhunter.

children-wth-hoseThere. I said it. (I’ve been called worse.)

If you’re like most executives looking to hire people, you’re probably using at least 1 of the 90,000 out there.

They’re not all created equally. (Understatement)

So, join me out in the garden and I’ll share some of the ways you may be getting hosed. I won’t name names. But in 25 years of recruiting (I can’t help it… I’m poplar), I’ve met a ton of headhunters.

Unfortunately, the industry has a really seedy side.

So to avoid getting soaked:

Work with a recruiter who caps the number of searches they work on simultaneously. Recruiting in a 3.6% unemployment-rate market takes a lot of hours. You have to kiss a ton of frogs. So, the more searches a headhunter takes on, the fewer hours they have to work on yours. Which means your search will take longer. (In the hiring game, it’s all about time.)

Open the kimono. This one is thorny. In this day and age, there’s no reason your headhunter shouldn’t be providing you with a weekly update of all the candidates in the pipeline and the stage of each. Insist on full transparency.

Pay your recruiter a flat-fee. Most headhunters charge a percentage of first-year compensation which -intentionally or otherwise- sets up a perverse incentive for them to bring you more expensive candidates. Get rid of this temptation by agreeing on a flat fee.

Ask who will be making the calls. Don’t wet your plants on this one. In many cases, you think you’re engaging the legendary Charlie to make the calls to your candidates. But he’s really delegating the work to Kris (who just became a recruiter 12 months ago.) Ask who’s making the calls. If it’s going to be a junior associate, meet that person and name them in the contract. Know who you’re hiring.

Ask to see their off-limits list in advance. This is a dirty little secret. The bigger the recruiting firm, the longer their off-limits list (the employers they can’t poach from because they’ve been a recent client.) If that list is too long, run.



Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman launched his recruiting career at Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, the preeminent global executive search firms. Today, he’s Chief Talent Officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search. Along the way, Jeff created four companies, backed by $50 million in venture capital. He currently teaches the MBA course about recruiting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and hosts the five-star Strong Suit Podcast. Jeff has been featured by Inc., Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, and other media outlets. He holds a master’s degree from Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from The Wharton School.

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