5 Secrets Headhunters Will Never Tell You

Everyone has secrets

In my years of interfacing with candidates, they often voice an almost similar frustration about headhunters or recruiters.

Many go to them in hope of getting extra help to find their next dream job. Instead what they get is cold, template responses. Which is fine if there is some positive outcome. In most cases, there is none.

Having sat on their side of the fence for more than 11 years, I do understand why we do what we do.

Many candidates come to us with the impression that we are a job agency – that we will help candidates to find and match them to the most suitable jobs.

We are not.

We are recruitment agencies and we help companies find the best talent for the given job at that point in time.

Can you see the clear difference here?

This is exactly why many candidates leave recruitment agencies centric career fair disappointed. On one hand there is probably a huge pool of career switchers; on the other are agencies that can only take in candidates that fit the job description 100%.


It’s a sales role

Although you could frame it under a spectrum of HR, headhunters are essentially a sales role. They make commission from filling their clients’ vacancies successfully. And that means they will want to take on as many job orders as possible so that might correlate with the commission they wish to make.

And who is paying the agencies that in turn pay out the commission? That’s right, it’s the client.

That is why headhunters always align their objective to the specific requirements of the client. So what does that mean for the candidate? It means if you do not fit the role close to a 100%, don’t expect a call from them.

As with all sales roles, there is a KPI involved. If you don’t hit it, out you go. That is the harsh reality of the industry.

I had seen headhunters who meant well and wish to do more for candidate, especially those that fell into a bad situation. They would spend time counselling them, advising of alternate channels to help them, etc. But time spent on non-revenue generating activities will only mean less time to fulfil their own KPI.

Needless to say, such headhunters do not last long in the agency.

No Placement = No Commission

Another uniqueness about the industry is that agencies are mainly paid on a contingency basis. This mean it is very common for clients to engage a handful of agencies (I’ve seen a client with 20 agencies on their panel list). The first one to fulfil that order would get paid. For the rest, well, better luck next time.

This is significantly different from all other professional services businesses. Nobody go to 5 law firms and only pay the one that provide the legal contract you want in the shortest time.

So speed is a key priority and efficient headhunters could not afford to waste time on non-revenue generating activities such as helping a candidate that just doesn’t fit into any of his/her job orders now.

Knowing these will drive certain behaviours and I will break them down later in this article.

So should I still use headhunters?

Certainly using headhunters should always be one of the many strategies to deploy in your career search. But to make it effective, you have to know how they function and what they are thinking so you can extract maximum value with the least amount of effort

Here are 5 secrets headhunters would never tell you but knowing them will immediately help you to maximize your engagement with headhunters:

Secret 1: There are other more suitable headhunters

Not all headhunters are the same. Most of them specializes in a specific industry/function/level that brings them a higher level of success rate. Although there are some that are generalist recruiter, in reality they will gravitate towards a specific segment that seemed to make them more money.

So really all of them specializes, whether they are told to or force to.

That means you have to find the right headhunters to begin with. There are the ones that only deal with HR candidates, some only Oil & Gas candidates, etc.

No point barking up the Medical headhunter if your speciality is in Chemical. You won’t get anywhere.

Secret 2: We screen your resume in about 6 seconds

The sheer volume of resumes a headhunter received varies from day to day and function to function but it should range from 50 to 300, most of the time on the higher side. So that is what they see the first thing they open up their inbox. It can be pretty overwhelming.

So to quickly manage them, headhunters would scan through each and every resume to decide if they should keep it or shelve it.

Research has shown that it takes just six seconds, according to a new study released by TheLadders an online job search site.

The study used “eye tracking” technology, which can measure exactly where recruiters’ eyes looked and how long they stayed on that spot.

So what can you do about it? Know that they spend 80 percent of their brief review on six key elements of your resume: your name, the current company you work for, your previous employment, the start and end dates of your previous position, the start and end dates of your current position and your educational background.

Your resume should be lay out in that sequence.

Secret 3: The computer read your resume first

Many agencies have deployed robust and sophisticated Applicant Tracking System (ATS) so as to better manage the volume of candidates and jobs. This also means that the computer get to parse through your resume first, before recommending to the headhunter which one should he/she spend his 6 seconds on.

How do the ATS decide which are the right ones?

It is based on a very primitive Boolean algorithm – the occurrence of the keywords and how often it repeats itself. Sometime the location of the keyword would play a part as well.

Identify keywords that is most relevant to the job you are applying for and keep repeating them (logically) across your resume.

Secret 4: Reference baiting

Because of how competitive the industry had become and the amount of money invested by entrants, agencies have to scale quickly and start pulling in to the profits in the shortest amount of time.

Many have already bypassed HR departments by targeting the hiring mangers (mush to the dismay of HRs). And some will also attempt to do reference baiting.

You will realized that when the headhunter seemed to be more interested in your referees than about you. The minute the call ended, your referees would be contacted for prospecting reasons.

Unethical, I know.

If you come across such situations, just say that you will reveal more once the application reaches an advance stage. Referees usually are required towards the tail end of a job application, not the beginning.

Secret 5: Why they just don’t respond

There are quite a few reasons to this. The main one being headhunters are just so overwhelmed with work and also they are only paid if they fulfilled a placements. They don’t get paid extras by responding to every single candidates and to counsel them on what is right and what went wrong.

In addition, any feedback might be challenged and not taken sportingly. A one-minute feedback might mushroom into a one-hour debate.

I know of agencies in Japan that will actually call each and every applicant to acknowledge and advise them. But then Japan’s headhunters are billing at average of 30%.

For the rest of the word applicants, take it that there is no progress if there are no responses. Use your time and energy to focus on point 1 to 3 instead.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x