Secret Life of a Headhunter: Research & Approach

Have you ever had a call from a headhunter? I mean the real deal – the sort that tracks down specific people for senior leadership positions. Most people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes before they get that call from a headhunter asking ‘do you have a minute to talk?’ 

It’s a mysterious and arcane world and most headhunters like to keep it that way.  However, there is method to their approach and it helps to know what it is, so that you can do what needs to be done to get into their 'line of sight' in the future.

A huge amount of sleuthing and sifting goes on behind the scenes before that call takes place. In this, the first of a three-part series, we go into the early stages. Part 2 will cover the Engagement and Closure stages and in Part 3 we will go into tips on what you can do to improve your prospects.

Step 1. The Client

By far the most important work in headhunting firms goes in to building relationships and trust with clients - the hiring organisations. Appointments at this level require a reputation for success, expertise, market knowledge, senior-level business acumen, trust and discretion. Head-hunters put a lot of time and effort in to developing those skills and attributes. Remember headhunters work for their clients, not for you.

Step 2. The Team

A search assignment team will usually involve three key people: a Researcher, an Associate and a Search Consultant.

Step 3. Research

After receiving a detailed brief from a client the first step is to build a long list of possible suitable candidates who might match that brief. Headhunters have dedicated Researchers who do this and it can take a long time: weeks, maybe months. They will use a variety of means to identify and reputation-check possible candidates and will generate a list of people who may be suitable: maybe 50 to 80 target people, perhaps more or often significantly fewer for particularly tight briefs.

Step 4: Identification

The task is then to whittle the list down to generate prospects closest to the candidate profile. This is done by the team together and the new shortened list will go to the Associate or Consultant for approach. By now the list may been reduced to around 25 candidates.

Step 5: The Approach

Up until this point, you will have no idea that you might be a headhunt target. The initial approach call will usually be made by an Associate, but is sometimes handled by the Search Consultant. The initial call has three functions: to sell the opportunity to the target, to gain more information on suitability and to begin the ‘hooking’ process of generating engagement. 

In Part 2 we will go though what happens next - the Engagement and Closure process. 

For more information or help

See our Career Planning Coaching page, email us or give us a call on 1300 97 87 66. We will be pleased to help.