Home > Uncategorized > Using a Headhunter versus Applying Direct to a Company

Using a Headhunter versus Applying Direct to a Company

I’ve gotten a big response from this topic on Twitter today so I wanted to move it to the blog so it would be easier for everyone to participate in the conversation.

While I was in line at a coffee joint this morning I overheard a conversation regarding job search.  One man asked the other, “so did you get all your resumes out yet today?” to which the other guy responded, ” I’m finding that sending resumes out to companies does not work so I am focusing my job search efforts on head hunters.

I’m curious what your experiences are with regards to applying direct to companies versus using a headhunter versus job boards.  Please add your thought as a comment

  1. June 2, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I have not yet used a recruiter/headhunter, but I am intrigued by this conversation, looking forward to reading the responses.

  2. EJ
    June 2, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Hey Ken:

    I’m glad we’re having this conversation. I personally have had much more success going directly to companies during my last job search, and as a consultant, I’ve seen clients have mixed results with headhunters.

    My personal belief is that the fewer people between the hiring manager and you, the better. A headhunter is an additional person that can serve as an advocate, but nevertheless, they’re an additional person and often their interests are not in sync with the client’s.

    Overall, I encourage everyone to use a wide variety of job sources in finding permanent, stable work, and a headhunter is one of those sources. I take issue with anyone relying solely upon them.

  3. De
    June 2, 2009 at 11:20 am

    As I noted on Twitter, it felt like I wasting my time more often than not, epsecially having to create profiles for just about every company site only to get the automated response that I’d applied for a job.

    However, I applied to Serco’s company site and received a call back within a day. This was definitely the exception rather than the rule in my case. Thankfully, they were impressed with my resume and I aced the interview. After being unemployed for five weeks, I’m ecstatic to be working again.

    I guess the point of all this is to use every avenue available. The wider you cast your net, etc. etc.

  4. Will Dobbs
    June 2, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Throughout my various positions, I have gotten a job either by networking or applying directly to an employer. Most of the baby boomers I know gave me advice that head hunters did very little for anybody including their clients.

    Over my 8 months of unemployment, I have applied directly to employers via their websites had have been thru multiple interviews for positions. I believe contacting an employer directly whether by phone, job fair, or website is the best way to find work at any company.

  5. Scott Boren
    June 2, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Lawyers are no good. Cops are on the take. Headhunters are scam artists. We’ve heard them all. And no matter what group of people you pick you will find those that are less than honest and up front.

    A good, knowledgable headunter should tell you how many people with your skill set he deals with every year and actually places every year. He/she should be your “agent” and work to get you interviews with qualified companies. But that will only happen if the headhunter believes in your ability. It is a two way street and both parties must be willing to put in the time.

    You must use a number of resources to find a job in any market. OK, in 1998 if you could walk and chew gum you could find a job. But most of the time you have to work at it. Use your personal/professional network. Do apply to jobs online, but maybe try to find out who the internal recruiter is first. And ask your friends for headhunter recommendations.

    There is no silver bullet to finding a job, particularly in these tough economic times. Finding a job is a full-time job in itself.

    • Will
      July 8, 2009 at 5:29 pm

      WRONG. A recruiter is not your agent. Reputable recruiters know that it is their client that they work for..NOT YOU (THE CO-DEPENDENT, UNEMPLOYED JOB SEEKER). That does not give them the right to waste your time or not keep you up to date on potential interviews and post interview feedback. Nothing ticks candidates off more than an unresponsive recruiter.

      Recruiters that market resumes from job boards are the “scam artisits” you refer to so eloquently. They aren’t impartial, they don’t have their clients best interest in mind and they don’t do a thorough job in developing requirements and screening candidates for comparable accomplishments.

      You are correct in that active job seekers should be using a variety of methods to build relationships and activity pipelines that inevitably will result in a higher % of return calls and potential interest by emplyers

  6. David
    June 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Regarding Head Hunters vs. applying directly to the companies.
    I will try to make this short, though it would be hard to put everything in a short paragraph.

    I have been unemployed for now 7 months. I have been looking for work in FL where I was laid off from, for six months. I used every resource imaginable, from job search engines, to staffing agencies, to job fairs, networking, and applying to companies directly. I have had only one interview with a company that I looked up on my own, and I had visited with about three or four agencies in Florida.

    I am now in PA seeking job opportunities and again using the same resources here that I have used up in FL. It has been two weeks and I have visited one staffing agency.

    So in my opinion getting a job on your own vs using a staffing agency is greater. It is a matter of where you look and talking to people you know. For staffing agencies it is all about numbers at the end of the month. I would however, continue to use them because three of my five jobs were through agencies.

    I tried to keep it short.

  7. sarakcollins
    June 2, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    People need to remember that headhunters work for companies, not for job seekers. Headhunters may interact with you, but they get paid by the companies. If they have an exclusive with the company, then you can only go with them, but otherwise, you are better off submitting on your own.
    If a company has two equal candidates, one coming in independently, and the other via a headhunter who will charge 20% of the first year’s salary, who do you think will get the offer?
    Job seekers get frustrated with scattershot resume submission because they don’t see the results.
    The number one key to getting the interview is neither sending out resumes blindly nor contacting a headhunter. It is networking. Period.
    I have a client who got a hot job at a huge company (not publicly traded). Through networking, he had his resume hand-delivered to the hiring manager by a VP. Started the job a few weeks later.

  8. June 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Great topic! I am a recruiter and totally understand the good, the bad and the ugly feelings people have toward those in my profession. Of course, I hope to stand out as one of those few who candidates trust, respect and find useful in their search. I think that’s because I come from one major belief system (this is the “Career Coach” in me):

    Your career is YOUR responsibility. It is up to each individual to manage their job search and to take advantage of all avenues that will lead them to that next great job. Headhunters are ONE avenue. Depending on your skill set, industry and level (executive, manager, individual contributor), headhunters will have a varying level of effectiveness for you. (Less than 10% of jobs are filled by third-party recruiters at the lower levels… but more than 60% of exec positions can be filled by search firms). Therefore, use the direct proportion of time putting energy into this resource.

    But let’s look at the OTHER things you are doing for your search. Applying online also has a small percentage of success for candidates. You need to scour the job boards to see what’s out there — and apply! But don’t spend ALL of your time doing this. Limit your time on job boards.

    Where you should spend MOST of your time is talking with people in your network. No, not asking people for jobs. Not saying, “if you hear of anything, let me know.” But actually having meaningful conversations! Help people help you. This is actually a topic of an upcoming blog on my website… so I’ll stop now… and get that blog written by the end of the week.

    • Josh Nelson
      June 4, 2009 at 3:14 pm


      I am now following your blog! Your above is about the most succinct, balanced and valuable summation I’ve seen and echoes other intelligent commentary on this subject

      Thanks so much,

      Josh Nelson
      San Francisco ( 4 months looking )

  9. June 2, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    A job-seeker shouldn’t make a choice between one or the other. Maximizing your resources throughout a job search is key to ensuring success. Select a “headhunter” whose reputation is solid and also understands that integrity is more than just a word in the dictionary. As with attorneys, the good ones aren’t typically going to be found in the yellow pages. Connect with peers and past colleagues for referrals.
    After choosing a trustworthy recruiter, include them in your job search by informing them to which companies you have already applied. Good recruiters make several phone calls and work hard to land interviews for candidates. Nothing lets the wind out of a recruiter’s sail like discovering that a candidate independently submitted their resume to a company after working like a dog to setup an interview with that company’s hiring manager.

  10. RamonaLMorgan
    June 2, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I have spread my job search efforts among a variety of methods and had varying results. But just because a method hasn’t landed me a job yet doesn’t mean I will give up on it. I have refocused my search a number of times throughout my 8 months in transition. Don’t put all your eggs in basket, as they say. Each job search method has pros and cons.

    Yes, headhunters work for the employer and will focus their efforts on their open job orders, regardless of whether they are contingent or retained. Are you “Mr. Right”, right now? However, many of them do work to build their network of valuable candidates and contacts, but it is the candidate’s responsibility to stay on their radar. I have built a relationship with a handful of trusted headhunters that are a good “fit” for me, and I stay in touch. I have been submitted for open positions a number of times and have had a few interviews. Yes, in one situation I made it to the final two candidates and lost out to an internal referral solely because of the fee the agency would have charged. That person got the job through networking, but I would have never had the opportunity for consideration had it not been for the headhunter. The position was not posted, I didn’t know the company even existed, nor did any of my contacts. Also keep in mind that some employers use agencies as their only source of recruiting. My last position started as a six-week temporary assignment; I was eventually hired on full time and it became a three-year stint with a lot of great learning opportunities. And a candidate should think long and hard before retaining a headhunter (i.e. $$$ out of your pocket) to find them a job. That is so 20th century.

    So, I lost out to someone who found the job through networking. This proves it is a valuable resource for job leads. Finding a job through networking is a long, arduous process. Networks need to be built, they need to be nurtured. If you are socially challenged, you need to step outside your comfort zone. You need to relentlessly self-promote yourself. You need to keep in mind that networking is a two-way street; it helps to have something in return to offer. Job leads and job lands through networking are a combination of who you know or can get to know, and dumb luck; basically being in the right place at the right time. Job leads and job lands only happen if you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who has a job to fill. In 8 months of job search, my networking has yet to get me an interview for a real job. But that doesn’t mean I will give it up. The statistics say 60-80% of jobs are landed through networking. I will continue to network energetically until I find a job; and then keep nurturing those networking relationships to return the favors I have been given along the way.

    And then there are the job boards and employer websites, which return few “hits” as they are available to the widest competition of job seekers. However, for me, they have shown the greatest “call-back rate” from employers. I will typically get at a minimum of 10% of employers reaching back out to me with a questionnaire, phone interview or personal interview following a job submission online or resume sent via email. It hasn’t resulted in any offers yet, but I have had “face time”, and it has resulted in connections to other professionals. I find postings for positions with companies that my network would have never known of, and I would have never know of had it not been for the job board or employer site.
    On the flip side, I will get inundated with calls/emails from recruiters with which I have no interest each time I update my profile on a job board. I’ve learned to weed through the real and the not-so-real.

    To sum it up: All job search methods lead to jobs, so don’t discount any one method. It’s important to consider all options and shift your efforts to follow the momentum.

  11. John
    June 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Headhunters search for the best candidates and many do not take unsolicted resumes.

    The best remedy is to personally call the hiring manager. Ask what they are looking for, tell them how you offer value and ask for an interview.

  12. Jeff
    June 11, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    In my experience, headhunters (they don’t like being called that now) used to be a lot more useful than they are today. I think part of the reason for that is they are bombarded with candidates and few opportunities. Additionally, employers are being so selective in what they’re looking for, you must be perfect to even get a call.

    When the economy’s great, headhunters are more useful. When its bad like now, you’re better off contacting the company directly or better yet, calling someone you know within the company and networking. This has been a hard pill for me to swallow because I tend to be too quiet at networking events, but am getting better.

    Lastly, it depends on if you’re using a retained recruiter or contingency recruiter. A retained recruiter works for the company and is generally a better one to use because they are paid ahead of time and may be the only one who knows about a position. Contingency recruiters don’t care about you and only want to fill a position. They also tend to ignore you and not return phone calls. That’s been my experience.


  13. June 30, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Frankly, I’m not overly crazy about going the recruiter route in general , at least from the onset of the search.

    There are two basic type of recruiters out there:

    1), the Sourcer and 2), the Consultant.

    With the former, it’s all about coloring-in all of the squares for a job order written by someone in HR. Much like a realtor does when searching for the perfect house for their client. Scanning resumes for keywords, educational pedigree,relevant experience,etc. For every position posted today, there’s a plethera of candidates that can overkill the qualification requirements. That’s why we have MIT PHD’s driving cabs, right? Lot’s of sourcers out there. Avoid them at all costs.

    The true recruiting consultants have a trusted business advisor relationship with their hiring client developed over time. They usually have a direct line to the hiring manager(VP and above) and are well respected for their advice. They have drilled down in the business to really acsertain the need behind the need when looking for talent. They know the industry and all of the atheletes ouit there. In most cases, it’s not about how many initials the person has behind his or her name. It’s about the person, the attitude, reputation, core values, the desire and passion for success. This type of recruiting professional can spot a good match even when the exact skillsets are not 100% in alignment with the job description. Your skills can be transferable. Keep that in mind. This consultant recruiter also knows that he/she will not receive full payment until after the candidate has made it through a 6 month period so it’s important to “get it right”

    The consulting recruiters I have listed below are all ethical and professional. You may already recognize many of the popular names. Some may be new to you.

    In the end, the business adding to overhead, they’re looking for a return on the investment. Plain and simple. Someone that will actually make an impact. Someone who will represent the core values. What real value will this person add to the organization? Do I want this person on my team? Can he/she hit the ground running? What does this person bring with them to our organization?

    Some recruiters are on retainer and are dialed-in to a position. It’s thier listing exclusively. Others may simply hear about an opening, get your paper(resume) in right away so that they are protected. should there be an interest. Some may bring three candidates in, much like a realtor does for a homebuyer. 2 poopers and the guy/gal that walks on water. Don’t be one of the poopers. Watch out for this scenario. You don’t want to be positioned for another candidate. Remember, these people work on straight commission. Break the Spell…

    I personally like to exhaust my own resources and industry contacts first. It’s not work, it’s NET-WORKING ! That way, you have a clear advantage over the candidate that is going to cost the hiring company 20-30% of the first year pay. Use this to your advantage.

    I like to go with a very powerful, ultra professional cover letter to the targeted hiring manager. Spend some research time about the company. Watch press releases, etc. I would send these carefully crafted letters to the Sr. VP or CEO. Not to be e-mailed, EVER. That way, it sits on a pile of 2-3 versus 200-500 resumes in HR. Hr hates reviewing these resumes anyway. I can give you a few ideas along these lines of a power cover letter. Why they should hire you now ! Why they should schedule an interview. What does hiring you mean to them? How you would hit the ground running. Make them want your resume. Create some desire, buzz and a sense of urgency. Hire you before the competitor hires you!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if they called you requesting your resume after reading your power cover letter?

    • adrianne
      October 14, 2009 at 7:14 pm

      I would love to see your example of a powerful, ultra professional cover letter, is it possible? I am such a visual person, that an example really helps.
      thanks in advance for your assistance!

  14. Lee
    July 10, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    My thoughts are straight forward…(RELATIONSHIPS). I’ve been a recruiter for 13+ years and I believe building trust with clients and candidates is very important. If some recruiters would slow down to build relationships with both the term (HeadHunter) wouldn’t be in use.

    I take the time to know client/candidate because you really can’t do your job well without both.

  15. November 20, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Ramona gets it and so does Lee – it’s about relationships. People help people get jobs.

    A headhunter will only see you as Mr. or Ms. Right if you’re a match for the open requisitions they’ve been handed by their client – the company with a need. Otherwise, you’re probably a footnote for the future.

    Many recruiters can’t slow down today because companies aren’t giving them retainers as much as they used to. That money financed the search. Now my recruiter friends get a small amount up front and the majority of their money at the back end…and what they ultimately net is smaller.

  1. November 20, 2009 at 11:49 pm

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