How to Choose a Headhunter Company: Picking an Agency

Headhunters are recruiting professionals who specialize in strategically obtaining key talent for companies large and small. The primary role of a headhunter is to find the right person for a given position. Often, headhunters are used when companies have an important role to fill and they want to go beyond their existing resources to find the very best candidate to fill the role. Learn about how to choose headhunter companies that can enhance your human resources department’s selection process.

Related: 7 Recruiter Interview Questions and Answers

Why do HR departments work with headhunter companies?

Human resource departments may hire a headhunter to try and find the best talent to meet the needs of a specific role. When HR departments work with headhunter recruiters they create a synergy that offers the following benefits to the company. Here are some ways that working with a recruiter can strengthen any HR department’s hiring process and efficiency:

  1. Dedicated service: Headhunters are recruiters who often work directly for a corporation or work on a contract. Headhunter companies enter into contracts with client companies to ensure their hiring needs are met. In this way, they are dedicated solely to filling a strategic position for the company they work for, versus having their attention split across candidates, jobs and industries.
  2. Clearly defined processes: When bringing in a headhunter its important for HR departments to organize and define their hiring practices to ensure everyone involved knows what they are responsible for. This leads to greater efficiency.
  3. Share recruitment strategies and data: When HR departments and headhunters work together they share proven strategies for recruiting in their market and market data. This allows both to grow and learn.
  4. Save time and money: By outsourcing strategic candidate acquisitions to headhunters businesses save time, money and resources and can rest assured they are getting the best candidates for the job.
  5. Access to resources: Outsourced recruiting professionals have access to resources like databases of candidates, professional networks and their own network which strengthens their ability to place the right talent in the position that you’re hiring for.

How to select the right headhunter company

Selecting a headhunter comes with a number of considerations because there are so many options to choose from. Here’s how to choose a headhunter:

  1. Determine if a headhunter is what you need
  2. Make industry accommodations
  3. Interview your recruiter and reference check before hiring

1. Determine if a headhunter is what you need

A headhunter company is just one recruiting resource available to companies looking to grow. Other agencies like temp-to-hire recruiting firms and agencies that specialize in filling positions across all agencies are also an option. Businesses might look at things like cost or hiring strategy to decide which to choose. Generally, headhunters fill positions where specific talent and skills are required and use their deep pool of resources to reach candidates, nationwide.


2. Make industry accommodations

Often, headhunters are skilled in hiring for certain industries. If you’re in a niche industry, like national janitorial services for retail, you might use a headhunter to find an executive with experience in janitorial operations as well as strategic vision. Headhunters are particularly effective at finding candidates within industry niches within which they are familiar. It’s important to consider this when selecting the right headhunter company.


3. Interview your recruiter and reference check before hiring

Interview your recruitment professional like you’re interviewing a new hire. Find out about your headhunter’s experience by asking typical interview questions that seek to uncover things like years of experience, industry and ability to meet goals on a deadline. 


Additionally, ask for verifiable references that you can use to validate client history. Find out if the company you are considering has worked with other companies like yours by asking for references that are similar to your company.


By interviewing your recruiter and checking their references, not only will you get a better understanding of who they are, but they will learn what you expect of anyone brought into the company by the recruiter. 

Related: Recruiting Services


Key selection criteria

If you’ve never thought about selecting a headhunter before, look for the following criteria:

  1. Industry experience: A good headhunter has experience in the industry that you’re hiring for. This way, they understand what daily operations are like and can better fill the position with someone who demonstrates key skills.
  2. A large network: A headhunter should be well-networked within a group of industry professionals. A large network is an important candidate pool for a headhunter.
  3. Clients are similar to you: The right headhunter company will be able to show a portfolio of clients that are similar to you in things like industry, size, revenue and more.
  4. Lots of resources: Your headhunter should have access to external candidate resources like candidate databases and other platform recruiting technology to assist with the search.

Headhunter FAQs

Investing in a headhunter for the first time could mean getting answers to questions about how they operate. Here are some frequently asked questions you might encounter when going through the processes of selecting a headhunter:


How do headhunters get paid?

Headhunters usually work on a contract and offer retained services. That means companies pay a monthly retainer to have a headhunter work with them through the duration of a contract.


How do headhunters find clients?

Headhunters and other recruiters use proven strategies in recruiting to access the best talent. They find people using personalized candidate database resources, business social networking sites, their own personal network and the networks of the professional organizations they join. 


What’s the difference between a recruiter and a headhunter?

A recruiter usually works for an agency to fill positions across a number of roles. The term recruiter often implies a recruiting generalist, while a headhunter is a recruiting specialist who uses advanced knowledge of a niche industry to provide the best candidates for strategic roles within a company, large or small.