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The Truth About Headhunters

A common remark from executive job seekers over the years, when asked how they plan to look for their next job:

I plan to contact a few headhunters and see what they come up with.

Guess what: With that approach, what they’ll “come up with” is nothing.

That’s because headhunters (also known as executive recruiters or executive search consultants) are not in business to find you a job. Rather, they are in business to find great candidates for specific jobs for their clients – the hiring companies.

The difference sounds subtle but is enormously important.

Recruiters have a set of specifications, the requirements that the client company has provided. Good, top-level recruiters get involved in shaping those specs, and they provide expert advice on what the employer can realistically expect to find (and at what price) in the market.

But recruiters are not paid to be your career consultant or coach. They are not invested in you and therefore not highly motivated to help you adjust your resume or your message to help you fit a job posting. Rather, they’ll continue looking to find candidates (ideally, passive candidates) who clearly have what the employer wants.

As an executive job seeker, you need to understand that the recruiter doesn’t work for you and is fishing in a well-stocked executive pool. He or she can afford to “throw back” any fish that are not ideal.

This is a tough message for some executives who are accustomed to being highly valued.

My advice? Shrug it off and move on. Don’t take it personally, don’t expect recruiters to conduct your job search for you, and don’t rely on them as your only source for job opportunities. They, too, are just one “fish” in a sea of opportunities!

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