How to Find a Job via Headhunters

How to Find a Job via Headhunters

When I was running recruitment firms, I got this a lot.  People would call to ask me (and my team) to find them a job.  In this article, I would like to explain how headhunters work, and how you may or may not get their help to find a job.

Headhunters get paid from employers

Everybody knows this, because no one has paid a headhunter to find a job.  But people don’t think about it when they ask me in parties: “Oh, you are a headhunter! Can you find me a job?”

My response is usually, yeah, send me your CV, we’ll take a look.

What happens is, the CV will automatically go to our database, or I would even forward it to a recruiter in the relevant industry specialization.  Which is not that bad. At least there is a chance a recruiter will look at it. It is a recruiter’s job to look at many CVs everyday.

But the bigger questions is, why aren’t my recruiters already looking at your CV?  And why haven’t you already talked to many recruiters?  You really didn’t need my introduction.

How Headhunters Work

In a good market – good economy – most firms are expanding and hiring, and there is a shortage of talent.  Each recruiter probably would have around 10 assignments on hand. They would prioritize the assignments based on

  • whether the assignment is exclusive
  • whether a retainer was paid (upfront fee)
  • how hard it is to find suitable candidates
  • how well they  know the client – how easy they are to work with

Recruitment is a very competitive industry.  Good recruiters are all very specialized in terms of industry.  A good recruiter knows a particular sector very well, has good relationship with a few clients in that sector, and have spent years talking to many candidates.

The question that follows is, why aren’t you already talking to recruiters in your industry regularly? They should already be calling you to lure you with job opportunities, not you calling them to look for a job.

Why aren’t headhunters calling you already?

It always surprised me that many who called to ask for help looking for jobs actually never bothered to create a Linkedin profile.

If you want a headhunter to ever contact you for job opportunities,

  1. create a nice linkedin profile.  (tons to articles telling you how)
  2. connect to recruiters specializing in your industry
  3. be nice to recruiters when they call. Refer others if you are not interested.  That way they remember you when you actually need to look around.

In not so good economy, recruiters “float” candidate CVs to employers who are not known to have open position for such candidate.  This also happens a lot in some firms who are “candidate based”, notably many Japanese firm which do this on all levels.

Sometimes, it actually works to the benefit of all parties.  I have actually “floated” a senior candidate who was a Japanese banker to a large software company in China.  I was having a chat with client, and understood that they wanted to expand in the Japan market. I suggested they hire this candidate because he has relevant network to build their business in Japan.  It had never occurred to client that they should create such a position.  In the end, the candidate was hired, and a couple years later became their head of Japan.

Feed them ideas – it’s all about a good story

In this example, it was my idea, not the candidate’s idea.  But you should constantly look out for this kind of possible synergy, and suggest stories to senior recruiters with whom have become friendly.  Not every recruiter has the leisure to become creative.

People won’t remember your CV.  CVs are boring.  But people will remember your story (if it is interesting).  Better still, a relevant story in which you are a major actor/actress.  If you would do the research work, and supply the story to your favorite recruiters, it could become a big win-win-win.

In sum, each recruiter only works on a handful of deals at any time.  It is highly unlikely that she just happens to have one right for you. Instead of asking a few of them to help when you need to find a job, you need to start building good relationship when you are not looking, and constantly look out for interesting “float” stories to tell your friendly recruiters.

The author has experience running the China business of a Fortune 500 HR service company. 

Leroy Yue Linkedin Profile

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