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Hunting down a headhunter

Tight job market got you down? Can't find your future in the online employment sites?

Maybe you need a headhunter.

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We've all heard rumors of these shadowy figures in the corporate jungle, how they cut the best and brightest from the working herd and haul them off to better jobs. Too good to be true? Urban myth, you say?

On the contrary, executive recruiters or "headhunters" are a quite real and vital part of the career ecosystem. As independent contractors to corporate clients, they work on either a retainer or per-head fee basis to identify and recruit job candidates for hard-to-fill positions. The hiring company, not the candidate, always pays the headhunter's fee.

Stealth is crucial to their success; corporate clients don't want to appear desperate for help any more than skittish job candidates want word to leak back to the boss that they're eyeing greener pastures.

Which is why, in all likelihood, you have never met a recruiter, much less know how they operate and if or how they might benefit you. But it's in your career's best interest to track down a few.

"It's good to try to develop relationships with a few recruiters in your niche," says Darrell Gurney, a Los Angeles executive recruiter and author of Headhunters Revealed.

"When you're busy in your job, it's good to have somebody out there keeping their thumb on the pulse of the market who can let you know when things are happening that you should know about."

The field guide to headhunters
Even if you're happy at your present watering hole, it never hurts to know a few recruiters. Things do change and it is, after all, a jungle out there.

Headhunters fall into five main categories, ranging from top-executive recruiters to temporary agencies:

  • Retained executive search: Hiring companies retain these firms to fill a particular opening or openings at the executive level. The client typically pays a portion of the fee upfront and the remainder when the candidate is hired. A typical fee would be one-third of the position's first-year total compensation; for example, placing an exec at $210,000 would fetch the headhunter a handsome $70,000. The focus of this service is top-level executives (six-figure salaries and up).
  • Contingency search firms: These firms differ from retained firms in that they only get paid if they successfully fill a position and may be in competition with other search firms to do so. As a result, they typically spend more time developing a buffed and ready pool of candidates. The fee usually is 20 percent to 25 percent of first-year total comp. Middle management placement is the focus of these companies.
  • Employment agencies: These firms typically collect a fixed fee for successful placement. The focus is on lower, non-managerial levels of the organizational chart.
  • Outplacement firms: In a twist on the headhunter model, companies faced with downsizing will retain a recruitment firm to find new positions on a fixed-fee basis for their outbound senior management.
  • Temp services: These agencies fill the temporary staffing needs of their clients. The fee is typically based on a percent of the hourly rate and varies widely. Some temp services offer temp-to-permanent placement that enables the company and the candidate to try each other out before committing. Temp services tend to concentrate on clerical, hospitality and blue-collar placements.

Keith Kefgen, president of HVS Executive Search in Mineola, N.Y., says a common misperception is that recruiters spot talent first and then find them a position. In fact, the industry works exactly the opposite.

"I'm a victim of my client base," he says. "Whatever they're looking for is what I'm looking for.

"The person with the greatest credentials could walk through my door and I might think, my God, this person is a walking placement, but if I don't have the right assignment, I can't create an assignment for them. But I certainly can keep in touch with him and when the need arises, I know that is someone I need to talk to."

Placement protocol
Retained specialists such as Kefgen fill more than 90 percent of their assignments between, on average, 60 and 90 days, and for good reason: They have personal contacts with a relatively small pool of candidates and they don't compete with other companies for the assignment (though in some cases clients may fill a position themselves).

Once the placement company has assembled a short list of candidates, it will usually conduct interviews, perhaps a professional assessment using some sort of assessment tool, and run the candidates past an industrial psychologist, all before presenting them to a client.

"Ultimately, I present no more than five to eight candidates and my client will interview probably no more than three to five," says Kefgen.

Confidentiality is critical, but there are other rules as well. No headhunter should ever demand that you work with him or her exclusively; recruiters such as Kefgen will even give you the names of other recruiters to contact. And you should never be asked to pay a fee -- ever.

 

 

 

 
 
-- Posted: Dec. 7, 2004
   

 

 
 

 

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