Thursday, December 04, 2003

Beware Headhunters

In response to my postings about getting job leads, I received an email from a reader wondering "how to get contacted by headhunters". For those of you not familiar with the term, headhunter refers to independent contractors that recruit people for companies. The term does not apply to internal "corporate recruiters" that work inside a company's HR department.

There are two types of headhunters: contingency and contract:

Contingency guys get paid only if/when some company hires you and are generally not under contract by an employer. These guys work on volume, sending anyone's resume they have to any employers that will accept them, figuring if they just get just a small percentage of hits, they will make money. They are the spammers of the HR world and are to be avoided. If they get your resume into an HR department, and you LATER go interview there based on something else, the headhunter still has a "claim" on you for up to a year after they sent in your resume. This claim means the HR department will have to pay the headhunter for hiring you, even if they were not involved. This is referred to having a "price on your head" and could actually HURT your chances of getting a job. This is why you see Principles Only or No Recruiters in some job ads.

Contract headhunters are just that - they are under contract for a particular company for a particular job. They get paid based on their time put it, plus a bonus based on the starting salary once they place a person. Since they want repeat business, they are usually very careful about who they put in front of an employer, so they usually take time to actually do a full interview with you before they even submit your resume with the client. Even if they don't place you, once you talk to these guys you are put into their database, so you may hear from them later about a completely different position. Contract recruiters usually specialize in an industry, geographic location, position (programming, marketing) or "level" (VP and up only , "C" level- CEO, CFO, CTO - only, etc.). Generally speaking, you should cultivate relationships with these guys, but still be careful. I had VERY bad experiences with them during the tech downturn when they felt they could treat unemployed people with contempt (and many of them still do).

Most job advisors will tell you to avoid headhunters and just target the companies you want to work for and do a concerted effort to get into them. Headhunters, however, are useful for finding companies you DIDN'T know about, which is actually how I landed my first job in California (it was a contract recruiter).

Here are some pointers to keep in mind when dealing with headhunters:

1. Don't Publicly Post Your Resume on the Internet - Do not lose control over who has access to your resume. My own resume is on Monster, but listed "anonymously". This means that there is no name or contact number. If anyone finds it interesting, they have to come to me via monster, and still don't know who I am unless I respond. If your entire resume and contact information is out there, then a contingency recruiter can pull it off the site, add it to his database, and spam it out to the world.

2. Always take calls from headhunters - be polite and ask right off if they are contingency or contract (or simply ask if they are calling about a specific job). If it is a contingency, get rid of them, but if a contract, find out more about the position.

3. If you are not interested in a position from a contract headhunter, send them to someone who might be interested - in other words, be helpful. They will remember that and call you back if they have something that is a better fit.

4. Remember that a headhunter does not represent your interests - they are working for the employer. While they may get a bonus based on your starting salary, this is not always the case.

5. If you are in a position to do so, spend money like a drunken sailor on headhunters - Okay, here's the REAL inside scoop on headhunters at the upper levels: If you are in the higher echelon, spend money like there is no tomorrow to contract headhunters to work for your company. I guarantee they will take care of you if you decide to leave or lose your job at that company. (While I have not had direct experience here, I have had several upper echelon people give me this exact advice and have seen it in practice).

The person who sent me the question also wanted to know how to get on a headhunter's list. One way is to get published in some way - as an author or as a quote - in your industry's trade journal since these guys scour the trades for people's name (I have been both quoted and published in my industry rag). In addition, you CAN call some of the contract headhunters that specialize in your area/region and make sure you get into their database. Otherwise, it is really a waiting game to see what comes in.

A good book that covers a lot of this in detail is Rights of Passage at $100,000. I read this a while back before it was updated for the internet and it covers a lot of ground of working with headhunters (its average review is 5 stars).

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