Did the Headhunter Call You?
By Tom Sorensen
Tuesday, 13th June 2023

So, the headhunter called you? Yes! The way we all link up on LinkedIn, Facebook, Line, and other business and social networks, it was just a matter of time before you too got the call.

But now what? Most headhunters appreciate that you don’t play hard to get.

It’s absolutely fine that you feel a sense of pride being sought after; on the other hand, you don’t want to run around the office with your arms up and let your supervisor and colleagues know who just called you.

Jealousy is always a bad thing

It may even lead to suspicion by your superiors and colleagues that you are contemplating an exit in the near future.

Perhaps more importantly, even though the headhunter called does not mean you already got the job. Better keep your hair on as they say in English (keep calm and do not overreact).

You are in control and if you don’t have complete privacy then don’t even attempt to answer with hints or suggestive comments. Not stating your position in a clear manner will be a disadvantage to your rating with the executive search firm.

And the walls might have ears. Simply state that this is not a good time, but you welcome a talk later in the day. If the call comes in on your office telephone, then give your mobile telephone number to offer more flexibility.

Err, how did you find me?

Most people I call are somewhat surprised when I introduce myself. There is never notice or warning beforehand and the call comes unexpectedly.

I hear comments like “Oh, but I have a job already” or “Err, how did you find me?” Well, finding people is how we make a living. We are good at it. Executive search firms focus on passive candidates and not active job-seeking applicants.

Passive candidates amount to 84% of an average labour market and most are not even in recruitment databases or job boards.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Unless you know how to find these passive candidates, but in particular how to present a compelling sales pitch for your company (HR) or your client (recruiters), this big group of people will never become a hunting ground.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a headhunter on speed dial?
Nice talking to youIf you are perfectly happy where you are and get a call from the headhunter, it is fine. It’s OK to say no. On the other hand, it never hurts to listen to what the headhunter has to say. You may be in for a pleasant surprise.

Listening is the key here. You need to figure out if the headhunter is calling to qualify you as a potential candidate or if they want to tap into your business network for referrals.

Whatever may be the reason, don’t burn your bridges and hang up. A big favour will likely be remembered, and your helpfulness could be your ticket to meet with your favourite headhunter in-person.

Some of us have suddenly been at the wrong company at the wrong time and desperately needed professional advice on how to get the next job.

And during a long career, most of us would have considered a job change, right? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a headhunter on speed dial?

Ask the recruiter this question

Are you looking for a jobTo avoid disappointment and get your expectations right, always ask the recruiter:

Is your search assignment a retained search or a contingency job where your client only pays if you find them a candidate?
Retained means that a client has paid the executive search firm money up front and is working closely with the headhunter on an exclusive basis. Both parties have a keen interest in sticking together over the months it may take to research, prospect, engage and assess talented candidates.

Candidates in executive search will always be interviewed by the headhunter and usually for hours before even being considered for a shortlist to a client.

Psychometric assessments and other tests are normal in this type of recruitment. Holding hands by way of guidance and advice is part and parcel of real executive search.

Contingency then? It means that the recruiter can only invoice their client if one of their candidates is employed by the client.

It’s like real estate agents who only get commission if they close a deal so sell sell sell sell is the name of the game. The more resumes which go out to a client the better chance the contingency recruiter must make money.

A client often uses several agencies so it’s all fast-moving, and business is typically conducted over the telephone.

The first recruiter who presents a box of resumes obviously has a better shot at landing a successful placement and getting paid. Need I say more?

What if the recruiter wants to meet you

Where do we meetIf the recruiter wants to meet you first in-person or on video, that’s a good sign, but there is a but. Ask where such a meeting will take place since many smaller firms tend to suggest meetings at coffee shops and hotel lobbies.

Believe me, this is not serious, and you don’t want to sit in a public place talking about yourself, your career, achievements, compensation, private affairs and what have you.

Due to the current COVID restrictions, a Zoom or Teams video interview is likely. But in any case, if so far so good, you should ask the recruiter to email you their contact details, office address, and website so you can familiarize yourself with the recruitment firm.

Protect yourself

Remember, it’s crucial to be professional and maintain a positive attitude throughout the conversation with the recruiter. Treat him/her with respect, as they are assessing your fit for the position and potentially representing the company you may one day work for.

Thank the recruiter for reaching out and sharing the job opportunity with you. Express your appreciation for their time and consideration.

But you must protect your resume and reputation as if it was your social security number. Too many humbugs will broadcast your personal details unsolicited to make some quick money.

Finally, we headhunters love it when you say: “Just a moment. Let me close my door.”

Tom Sorensen is an executive search veteran with over 25 years of experience recruiting in Asia, Europe, and Africa. He has worked in executive search in Thailand since 2003 and is recognized as one of the country’s top recruiters and most profiled headhunters.


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